Category Archives: the left

Counterpunch Shadowboxes and Loses

In a fair boxing match, opponents enter the ring with similarly padded gloves and battle under the bright lights for the world to see.  There are, of course, cases where one fighter cheats, as in the infamous case in 1983 when Luis Resto wore weakly padded gloves and hand wraps hardened with plaster to make them rock solid.  His opponent, Billy Collins, an up-and-coming boxer from Tennessee with a 14-0 record, was permanently and very seriously injured in the fight at Madison Square Garden. His eyes were battered shut and his vision damaged. He never fought again and died depressed the following year at age twenty-two.

In the fight for truth in the public arena, similar subterfuges occur.

To battle honestly in the open forum, to argue to and fro squarely, is often prevented in advance by eliminating an opponent’s voice from the debate.  This is the typical method used by the corporate mass media that stack the deck with sycophants and refuse dissidents a place to voice their ideas.

Then there is the masquerade of fighting an opponent who is really a collaborator and benefactor, whose punches one counters in a game of shadow boxing meant to convince the audience that the fight is real and you are on their side.  Some alternative media use this technique because they are gatekeepers for the power elite.

Sometimes this ruse is so blatant that the fix becomes transparent because the smart-asses who play this game screw up, yet they still expect their real opponents to shut up and walk away because their fixer’s mantra  is “Never apologize, never explain.”  It has always been the code of the rich and powerful.

Some are brawlers, however, and fight back against this bullshit.

The well-known leftist website Counterpunch is an example of the “never apologize, never explain” school.  A number of writers and journalists who have published many pieces at Counterpunch have been banned from this site in recent years without an explanation, Andre Vltchek and C.J. Hopkins being two who crossed an invisible boundary the Shadow had drawn and were never again published by Counterpunch. Others, smelling an odd odor, have walked away. The numbers are growing.

I’ve recently seen Counterpunch shadowbox and the Shadow won.

On January 29, 2019, I published an article highly critical of the CIA (The CIA Then and Now: Old Wine in New Bottles) that was posted at Global Research. Lew Rockwell picked it up the next day.  Dissident Voice also posted it on the 30th.  Then The Unz Review published it on January 31, 2019. Four ideologically diverse websites that saw value in a harsh and complicated critique of the spy agency. Other sites would also publish it in the following days, including Off-Guardian.  After the piece appeared, I received an email from the editor of Counterpunch, Jeffrey St Clair, telling me that he too was going to publish this article on Friday, February 1, for Counterpunch’s weekend edition. I had written a few dozen pieces that Counterpunch had published and had a very cordial relationship with St Clair.  In fact, when I was in Rome in 2018, he had asked me to place a stone for him on Keats’ and Shelley’s graves when I visited the cemetery where they were buried.  I did that, and my wife took photos that I sent to him.  All was copacetic.  Buddies.  High fives!

On February 1, 2019, shortly after midnight Eastern time (12:02 AM), Counterpunch published my piece for their weekend edition where articles remain for three days.  When I awoke at 4 A.M., I saw it.  Then at 8 A. M., when I arrived at the college where I teach, I again saw it.  At 11 A.M., when I had finished teaching a few classes, I looked again and it had disappeared.  Transitive verb: Counterpunch had disappeared it. Eliminated it. Scratched it. Excised it.

All the other numerous articles remained.  Only mine was gone.  At first I thought it was a mistake.  But as the day wore on I wondered.  So I emailed St Clair and asked my buddy what had happened.  As compatriots don’t do, he did not reply.  But I assumed he was busy, as I am, and gets many emails. So I waited.  When I emailed him again, there was no reply.  A third very cordial email three days later went unanswered.

Unlike Vladimir and Estragon in Waiting for Godot, I am no longer waiting.  No reply is coming, and St Clair isn’t Godot, or on second thought he may be, a chimerical leftist gatekeeper enticing Counterpunch’s followers to wait forever for a revelation that isn’t coming.  Like his mentor and the founder of Counterpunch, Alexander Cockburn, who was so fond of excoriating as “idiots” and “conspiracy nuts” anyone questioning the JFK assassination or the attacks of September 11, 2001 – two fundamental issues that only believers in official government conspiracy theories such as Cockburn could dismiss – St Clair seems similarly dismissive of explaining why a writer’s critique of the CIA would deserve to be eliminated after being published.  As if only an idiot would want to know.

However, any reasonable person would ask: Why would he not respond?  St Clair, the editor-in-chief, published the piece and then disappeared it after 10-11 hours?  This is highly unusual, to put it mildly. Unprecedented for the so-called left-wing alternative media. It is the kind of thing when done by the mainstream corporate media would be denounced and exposed as censorship.  Not publishing an article is a publication’s prerogative, of course, but what could cause one to eliminate an article highly critical of the CIA after people had ten or so hours to read it, and since the author and editor had a very cordial relationship up to that point and the editor had days to read it carefully?

One doesn’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to realize that someone objected to the piece.  But who could that be?  If it were St Clair’s managing editor, Joshua Frank, twenty years his junior (the two run the operation), then St Clair could have explained to me why, since we were on good terms.  I wouldn’t have liked it and argued my points, but at least we could have cordially agreed to disagree.  But the Frank possibility makes no sense, for a managing editor would be intimately involved in the publishing process that was completed the previous day in time for the very early Friday A.M. postings.  And in any case, St Clair is in charge.

Clearly an outside reader objected.  The question is: Who is that reader who could exert such control over a publication that promotes itself as one that “Tells the Facts, Names the Names”?  A publication that is considered radically leftist and in opposition to the ruling elites.

Okay, Counterpunch, would you name the name of the shadowy one who won this fight?

The Need for a Compelling Anti-Capitalist Narrative

There’s a scene in George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia where he describes how the communists propagandized the fascists during the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s. Orwell was with a scruffy, makeshift band of fighters high in the Spanish Alps. Both the communists and fascists were dug into their trenches and a general stalemate had ensued. During the frigid mountain days, certain soldiers were tasked with communicating to the enemy. They would first position themselves in a safe place. Then using a megaphone would recite a prefabricated monologue about how the fascist soldiers were little more than pawns in the service of elite capital interests. They were the disposable implements of war, easily discarded once used. Orwell wrote that nearly everyone on the communist side assumed the efficacy of these communiques. The conscripted fascist, often a teenager and drafted against his will for a fight he had little knowledge of or interest in, would be sunk within a muddy trench, hungry, thirsty, tormented by the alpine freeze of high altitudes. How could the socialist message not appeal to him? Of particular value, Orwell noted, were the segments of the script that announced to the disgruntled fascists that the communist speaker was, at that very moment, consuming a delicious piece of warm, buttered toast. An absurd thing to say, and perhaps the brooding fascist understood how unlikely it was to be true, but the mere image of it, a slightly burnt half of toast slathered in golden melting butter, was enough to destabilize even the most stout-hearted soldier.

The Language of Transformation

The point being, to win “the fight for the minds of men,” as America’s great war propagandist George Creel put it, one must conjure charismatic images, weave imagistic tales, and produce a historical narrative that resonates with and unifies a vast disenfranchised public. Creel served under the Wilson administration and helped turn a pacifist citizenry into a bristling public angry at the fearsome “Hun” it had never actually encountered (not unlike the roving, rape-obsessed immigrants that hysterical Republicans have never encountered, even as they obsessively grease their rifles).

Despite the obvious need for compelling stories, how often do we read interviews or articles with committed leftists or socialists, even the venerable Noam Chomsky, for instance, reminding us in the driest of terms that voting is a mere five-second act that should be given no more attention than a quick, lesser-evil calculation before stepping into the voting booth. Rather, as various authors remind us, like humorless fathers admonishing a frivolous child, that only the hard, laborious, and thankless work of community organizing, conducted tirelessly between elections, will lead to real and lasting change. True as it may be, it is, as framed and presented, a cheerless and dispiriting prospect, a maxim that literally no one wants to hear or is wont to repeat.

What this deadpan delivery misses is how voting is the one event that truly captures the imagination of the public. It is the collective ritual that confirms for many Americans that we are privileged members of a rich and enlightened western democracy. That, despite our problems, we are yet at the forefront of history, participating in the march of human progress with a faith and purpose rivaled on by the Athenian demos and the arbiters of the Magna Carta. It forgets that for many it is a hallowed booth into which we step, where one’s choice is cloaked behind a dark curtain like some kind of secular confessional, and after making their confession, the cleansed citizenry wear bright stickers proclaiming to all and sundry that they did their civic duty.

Voting, perhaps, is the one communal political act which our atomized capitalist society permits us. It rests alongside holiday consumption sprees and sporting rituals as self-defining markers in the firmament of our national consciousness. It may be myth but it is an animating myth of our society. As such, it shouldn’t be discarded with such facile contempt. Rather, it ought to be mined for pointers on how to model a socialist myth that can be evangelized to a public in desperate need of new answers.

Story and Symbol

In Geoffrey Miller’s evolutionary psychology tour de force, The Mating Mind, in which he explores the idea that art and language evolved under sexual selection pressures (rather than by pressures of natural selection), he writes the following:

Imagine some young hominids huddling around a Pleistocene campfire, enjoying their newly evolved language ability. Two males get into an argument about the nature of the world, and start holding forth, displaying their ideologies.

The hominid named Carl proposes: “We are mortal, fallible primates who survive on this fickle savanna only because we cluster in these jealousy-ridden groups. Everywhere we have ever traveled is just a tiny, random corner of a vast continent on an unimaginably huge sphere spinning in a vacuum. There sphere has traveled billions and billions of times around a flaming ball of gas, which will eventually blow up to incinerate our empty, fossilized skulls. I have discovered several compelling lines of evidence in support of these hypotheses…”

The hominid named Candide interrupts: “No, I believe we are immortal spirits gifted with these beautiful bodies because the great god Wug chose us as his favorite creatures. Wug blessed us with this fertile paradise that provides just enough challenges to keep things interesting. Behind the moon, mystic nightingales sing our praises, some of us more than others. Above the azure dome of the sky the smiling sun warms our hearts. After we grow old and enjoy the babbling of our grandchildren, Wug will lift us from these bodies to join our friends to eat roasted gazelle and dance eternally. I think these things because Wug picked me to receive this special wisdom in a dream last night.”

Which ideology do you suppose would prove more sexually attractive? Will Carl’s truth-seeking genes–which may discover some rather ugly truths–out-compete Candide’s wonderful-story genes? The evidence of human history suggests that our ancestors were more like Candide than Carl. Most modern humans are naturally Candides. It usually takes years of watching BBC or PBS science documentaries to become as objective as Carl.

If this is so, is the left guilty of transforming itself into a brooding Carl, arms overflowing with manifestos and tomes, arguing apocalypse to a weary electorate that just wants some good news? Or, at the very least, a piece of escapism, an entertaining tale that removes them from their chronic worries for a couple of hours? Recently, teacher Bruce Lerro illustrated some of the themes he emphasizes in a class he teaches, “Brainwashing Propaganda and Rhetoric: Dark Psychology in the 20th Century”. The gist of his two-part series is that socialism has yet to grasp the theatrical side of human nature that is a requisite of movement building. He points to religion, nationalism, and sports as three fields which have successfully leveraged the tribal, ethnocentric, and ritualistic tendencies within human nature to promote their particular interests.

We know Hollywood and the defense industry often collaborate on films that reify the tropes of patriotic Americanism for each passing generation. We know from marketing that advertising that creates dramatic tension and that draws from the story arcs of conventional dramatic theory improve attention and likability. Metaphors are triggering devices for the senses, hence the durable appeal of the ‘shining city on a hill’ and the visual tropes of the American Dream.

The figure of the charismatic leader has lately done a number on the American imagination. If we are so addicted to facts, as the interminable and farcical Russiagate campaign has so many of us believing, then why is Barack Obama still revered as a peace candidate? A man who as Commander in Chief dropped 26,000 bombs in a single calendar year. Who bombed the Middle East for eight years with the implacable consistency of a religious rite. Who was at war in some fashion or another his entire presidency. Yet Obama was just last month handed the RFK Human Rights Ripple of Hope Award. The organization tweeted an image of the former president in a popular pose: impeccably dressed in an expensive suit of muted azure thread, his face is a portrait of composure and gentle optimism, as his eyes gaze placidly at some unnamable dream far and high and away from where he–and we–are. The gap between the man and the myth is abyssal. Yet one can recall the masterfully rendered illustrations of the young Obama gazing determinedly into the near distance, above bolded letterings of “HOPE” and “CHANGE”, and the flowing waves of the campaign logo.

The Need for a New Myth

All this to say that without a more stirring socialist vision, imbued with the symbols and ritual that instantiate human myth, we will continue to find our attempts to inspire revolution co-opted by monopoly capital, which tend to better stories than the left does. As Henry Giroux points out, “…the lack of mass resistance to [neoliberal] oppression signals more than apathy or indifference, it also suggests that we don’t have an informed and energizing vision of the world for which we want to struggle.” Are we fighting for socialism or against neoliberalism? Are we battling neoliberalism or capitalism itself? Are we after a New Deal or a new society? Is the enemy neoconservatism or the white supremacist? Are we fighting racism, sexism, imperialism, neoliberalism, or all of the above?

This messaging mayhem is not an issue for the establishment. Rather than issuing harsh systemic critiques, the establishment paints pictures. For liberal audiences, Democrats fulminate about Donald Trump as the living manifestation of evil and traffic in the language of tyranny and resistance. For white supremacists, Republicans rouse racist enmities with images of impoverished refugees moving steadily toward our borders, which take on a monstrous character in the minds of MAGA minions. For uncompromising patriots, the armed forces air commercials of heroic young men jumping from helicopters and landing crafts and running across smoke-filled landscapes “toward the sound of chaos.” For bootstrap conservatives, there are Reagan’s welfare queens arriving at the unemployment office in waxed Cadillacs. For humanitarian interventionists, there is Colin Powell’s imagery of a team of mad scientists zigzagging Mesopotamia in mobile weapons labs, or Tony Blair brandishing a dossier warning that a nuclear-tipped WMD could hit central London in just 45 minutes.

In a mediascape littered with symbols, calls for the head of corporate capitalism on a gilded platter are thus swept aside by an interdependent duopoly that thrives on facilitating corporate exploitation with one hand and teasing the inexhaustible well of mass credulity with the other. Belief is the dodgy virtue that venal duopolists deploy the most. Each election cycle is an exercise in peddling hope and fear in alternating cycles, like a trafficker controlling his prisoners by a devious alternation of drug and deprivation. The left has done well illustrating the monstrosities of corporate capital, and the need to colorfully adumbrate the crimes of the ruling class will always be crucial. But so too is the need to craft more compelling stories of a world without war and a land where health and education and work are rites of passage rather than a lifelong ordeal. Can the traditional bearers of bad tidings shape an electrifying vision of a socialist society? A companion narrative that finally replaces the extant portrait of collectivism as a bloodbath of mayhem and menace? The left’s chances for mass appeal likely depend on it. Even the Bolsheviks, who were scathing critics of socialist opportunism, let alone capitalists, headlined their 1917 revolution with the triple promise of, “Peace! Land! Bread!” The workers and the peasants knew exactly what they were fighting for.

In 2020 Once Again, the Urgent Task: Making the Election a Struggle for Peace and Economic Security

If 2016 election taught us anything, it is that the U.S. working class is searching for alternatives to the two major parties, both of which they find unresponsive to their grievances and needs. By 2016, the working class, as well as young people, had become thoroughly dissatisfied by those representing the two establishment parties. This sentiment paved the way for Donald Trump to take over the GOP and for Bernie Sanders to come close to defeating the center-right, neo-liberal wing of the Democratic Party, symbolized by Hillary Clinton. What’s the road ahead?

In Desmond Greaves’ biography of Irish socialist leader James Connolly (1868-1916), Greaves quotes John Leslie, Connolly’s friend and comrade, as saying that “…the progress of Ireland depends on the independent organization of the working class.”

Such advice has gone unheeded by most of the U.S. Left, including trade union and progressive forces that remain tied to the program and candidates of the Democratic Party. I suggest a paraphrase of Leslie’s idea as a means to chart a course that could break the predictable pendulum swing from the GOP to the Democrats: “The political future of the United States depends on the independent organization of the working class.” The task then is to act to promote and organize such a political force.

To date, even though opportunities have been ripe for at least a decade, labor, progressive, civil rights and peace organizations have been unwilling, unable and/or uncertain as to how to act on such advice. Clearly the working class, in all its ethnic and national diversity, has been ready. Trump and Sanders, although through much different lenses, saw this and demonstrated the possibilities. The GOP establishment was forced to yield to those who gathered at his record-breaking rallies during the primary, while the Democratic Party’s rigged nominating system doomed Sanders.

Working class grievances…or deplorables?

This is the background analysis that sets the context for this article. Without a change in strategy it is reasonable to predict the future will be more of the same or worse. The mass of the American working class is fed up with politics as usual. For the time being a significant portion of the working class, mostly among white workers, finds Trump’s anti-establishment, working-class rhetoric appealing, even though many might reject to his xenophobic and racist rhetoric.

On the other hand, the Democratic Party has shown it is incapable, and I think unwilling, to make its case to the “deplorables,” as Hillary so casually named Trump supporters, thus contributing to her own defeat.

So, what do the “deplorables” want?  What are their grievances? Their needs?  Number one is economic security. Two is respect for working class work that produces the necessities of life and more. Neither major party, nor Trump, will deliver what the working class needs: a political vehicle that does not just represent them but is their own.

For many, this need is not well thought out but is a visceral reaction to political events. Election after election they have hired one or the other party with their votes but find both wanting. When both Sanders and Trump called the system “rigged,” it affirmed a conclusion drawn long ago by the working class.

The historical marker that began the working class break with the two parties is the betrayal by Bill Clinton, who promised labor unions during his 1992 campaign he would not support NAFTA. The GOP under H.W. Bush led the NAFTA negotiations, but Clinton and Al Gore backed by Big Business were hired to push it through Congress.

During the campaign, labor union leaders pressed their members to break from the GOP’s Reagan era and give the “progressive,” pro-labor nominee from Arkansas a chance. I recall having lunch with a local trade union leader in my home state of Minnesota just 100 days into the Clinton presidency, when he said it was already clear labor had been betrayed.

Labor and progressive organizations next challenge was to promote Barack Obama to their constituencies after he defeated Hillary Clinton in the 2008 primary. It turned into a replay of 1992. Obama sidelined labor’s number one pitch to convince its members, his pledge to support the Employee Free Choice Act that would make union organizing easier. And Obama, like Bill Clinton, soon after being elected embraced free trade pacts that labor unions opposed.

NAFTA came back to haunt Hillary Clinton in 2016. She lost key states she needed where NAFTA and other free-trade agreements had arguably done significant damage to living standards: Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. Trump hammered away at Clinton’s support for job-killing free trade agreements and her dismissal of the “deplorables,” taken to mean white workers who supported Trump. No doubt there is very real problem of racism among white Americans, working and middle class, but such a characterization further alienated white workers from the Democratic Party.

So, what can be done?

Prepare to endorse and run candidates, inside or outside the Democratic Party, on an independent working-class political program and a plan for peace. It is not difficult to mount a campaign for a House seat. More difficult is in identifying and recruiting a good candidate. Commit to running through the General Election, not just a primary bid. Such challenges could cause some centrist Democrats to lose to GOP candidates. Liberals who cling to the Democratic Party will criticize this as what they consider spoiler candidates; however, workers and youth will see the challengers as a breath of fresh political air. In the long run, Leslie’s message of working class independence from bourgeois parties is what history shows is a proven path to progressive and even revolutionary change. Every year this task is postponed or avoided means capitalists are more likely to employ more reactionary political and military solutions to the still unresolved capitalist economic crisis that began in 2008.

Left political analyses, like this article, often end without developing concrete steps to implement a program of action. As such, this next section poses practical steps that could be taken by individuals or by ad hoc groups, with or without a formal political organization to work through. Think of it as agitation and organizing to recruit masses of people to join the struggle.

First, a program is needed that fits the historical circumstances, that addresses the real problems people face and one that is possible to achieve with a shift in the balance of power.

In a Washington Post opinion piece in November 2018, Bernie Sanders outlined a 10-point domestic program similar to what he ran on in 2016 campaign. A program, we should recall, that inspired millions of working-class voters to join his campaign. His plan, if it were to be implemented, would greatly reduce the economic strain of working-class families. It includes single-payer health insurance, free post-secondary education, expanded social security benefits, immigration reform and increasing the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour. In addition to enhancing economic security, such a program of shared benefits and reforms could also lead to a lessening of racism and xenophobia, as shared social benefits reduce the competition among workers that capitalism cultivates to divide and rule.

The missing ingredient

What is sorely lacking in Sanders’ program, however, is a plan for peace. Americans are tired of war. His program avoids the elephant in the room: the military budget and U.S. imperialist aggression. As we saw in 2014, 2016 and 2018, nearly all Democratic candidates avoided taking critical positions against U.S. foreign policies, even those few who may have been inclined. Such a critical perspective and program for peace will need to come from outside the two parties. There can be no meaningful struggle for a domestic economic program if the war budget is not addressed.

In late November, a group of over 100 U.S. activists, writers and scholars published an open letter to Sanders imploring him to speak out against U.S. militarism abroad and the growing Pentagon budget. In it they said, “A public policy that avoids mentioning its existence is not a public policy at all.”

Since then Sanders has made some overtures but he still appears reticent to more aggressively challenge the bi-partisan agreements on foreign policy. In this writer’s opinion such a challenge could have been his winning card in 2016.1 There are three possibilities for his reticence. He is either opposed to taking on the issue as he thinks it may detract from his chances to win; he acquiesces to the status quo out of fear of reprisal; or, as at least some of his voting record shows, he supports some of the aggressive economic and military policies.2 However, it is possible  he could be pushed to risk a break and embrace an eleventh point: a plan for peace. Even if he cannot be moved, his candidacy presents a public venue in which to agitate for placing war and peace on the 2020 agenda more broadly.

The degree to which this is possible will depend on whether or not peace organizations and social justice activists can bring to the surface the latent widespread opposition to the U.S. foreign policy among the working class and youth.3 Sanders and candidates at other state and federal levels can be moved by a mass show of support for a change in foreign policy and a plan for peace. There is no other way.

Action and organizing ideas

Consider how Sanders domestic program, plus a plan for peace, might be injected into the 2020 election, particularly in congressional districts and races. The object is to appeal directly to voters to create a groundswell of support so candidates for the House and Senate cannot avoid speaking to the question of war and peace. This is the means to both expose the often-unstated positions of those who support the status quo as well as to create the political conditions for those opposed to U.S. foreign polices to speak out. It’s also the first step to determine whether or not it is possible to run challengers on a peace program. It means agitating for Sanders’ 10 points and a peace program via independent organizing efforts, with priority given to organizing among the working class and youth. Some practical ideas follow.

  1. Even a simple individual action could become a spark. For example, mail a copy of Sanders’ domestic program along with a personal letter pointing out Sanders’ omission of a plan for peace. At the same time, send a copy to a few friends and to local political reporters. Ask others to do the same. To have an impact requires perhaps 1,000 letters. This figure is an intuitive guess of the minimum number required to break through the media and spark an open public debate. It is doable in many districts.
  2. Consider developing an ad hoc flier with Sanders 10-point program or some version of it, along with a message for a change in foreign policy. Distribute it at factories and workplaces, neighborhoods and campuses. Sign it, perhaps, “Ad hoc committee for peace and economic security.” Or, “Citizens for peace and social renewal” or just “Concerned Citizens.” Mass distribution of the message and the program is the key to organizing.
  3. Plan district forums in your neighborhood, city and district. Invite elected officials and candidates to speak to the peace and economic program.
  4. Ask your labor union, civic, or advocacy group to endorse Sanders’ program and a plan for peace.

We could go on, but what the points illustrate are grassroots organizing independent of the two-parties and their candidates. It is not about lobbying officials or candidates. It is not about holding small protests or occupying a congressional office. It is about creating the political consciousness on which candidates can challenge those unwilling to lead a fight for peace and economic security.

Is it possible? Will people respond?  It is overly optimistic? I would say the answers would be: Yes, maybe and perhaps. Still, we need to start someplace. We need to look at the process as one where we learn from trial and error. No trial, no error, no learning, no movement. The past will be repeated.  For a different outcome, we need a different approach that, as Leslie reminds us, is that which promotes “the independent organization of the working class.”

What labor and progressives often now find themselves doing is organizing the working class to support a candidate of two parties, typically Democrats. Typically, they support imperialist foreign policies, even though they may be better on some other issues. Most don’t even support health care for all. Uncritical support must end or there will be no opening for more robust public debate. An accommodating strategy can only lead to more discontent and cynicism among Americans. As such, unintentionally, it can lay the psychological ground on fascist thinking that grows during prolonged periods of crisis and instability.

If neither party’s program will resolve the crisis and address the grievances, then an independent program and organizing is the only means to channel the discontent and cynicism into productive struggles. To replace xenophobia with a sense of solidarity with workers across our borders. To forge solidarity for social and economic uplift within our borders across our diverse, multi-national working class and youth.

Without an independent program there will be no independent organization of the working class. There will be no opposition to the two parties of capitalism. There will be no basis for productive alliances with the most progressive elected officials in forging a struggle for peace and economic security. There will be no independent candidates to challenge the centrists. No independent political party of the working class will arise. These are the dead-end results of subsuming struggles within the orbit of the two-party system. If independent political action is taken now, in the first half of 2019, a breakthrough may be possible in the 2020 election.

  1. See my article, “Missing Ingredient in the Sanders Revolution,” January 2016, published in the Adonde Press pamphlet, The 2016 Election: Analysis, Lessons and the Tasks Ahead, December 2017 at adondepress.org.

  2. See my article, “Evaluating the Candidacy of Bernie Sanders,” July 2015, published in the above-named pamphlet. NOTE: Readers may find Sanders, September 2017, foreign policy address at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri a helpful insight into his thinking. My first thought was to wonder why he chose Westminster to deliver his address, the site of Winston Churchill’s infamous 1946 speech that set the stage for the long and bloody Cold War. Setting this question aside, I wrote, shortly after his speech that “No other prominent American politician in decades has offered such a wide-ranging critique of U.S. foreign policy. However, the aspects of Bernie’s speech that create openings for peace education and organizing, will fall flat without challenging Sanders’ shortcomings and contradictions. At times, like when he addresses the conflict with Russia, he projects a misleading and dangerous narrative. In this respect, to call his address an anti-war speech, as some suggest, is to overlook its weaknesses. Foremost in this respect is his reluctance to offer Americans a plan for peace.”
  3. See my 2015 book, Which Way Forward? for data and evidence. As well as articles on the 2016 election in my 2017 pamphlet, The 2016 Election: Analysis, Lessons and Tasks Ahead.

A Liberal Elite Still Luring Us Towards the Abyss

A group of 30 respected intellectuals, writers and historians has published a manifesto bewailing the imminent collapse of Europe and its supposed Enlightenment values of liberalism and rationalism. The idea of Europe, they warn, “is falling apart before our eyes”, as Britain prepares for Brexit and “populist and nationalist” parties look poised to make sweeping gains in elections across the continent.

The short manifesto has been published in the liberal elite’s European house journals, newspapers such as the Guardian. “We must now fight for the idea of Europe or see it perish beneath the waves of populism,” their document reads. Failure means “resentment, hatred and their cortege of sad passions will surround and submerge us.”

Unless the tide can be turned, elections across the European Union will be “the most calamitous that we have ever known: victory for the wreckers; disgrace for those who still believe in the legacy of Erasmus, Dante, Goethe, and Comenius; disdain for intelligence and culture; explosions of xenophobia and antisemitism; disaster”.

The manifesto was penned by Bernard-Henri Levy, the French philosopher and devotee of Alexis de Tocqueville, a theorist of classical liberalism. Its signatories include novelists Ian McEwan, Milan Kundera and Salman Rushdie, the historian Simon Shama, and Nobel prize laureates Svetlana Alexievitch, Herta Müller, Orhan Pamuk and Elfriede Jelinek.

Though unnamed, their European political heroes appear to be Emmanuel Macron of France, currently trying to crush the popular, anti-austerity protests of the Yellow Vests, and German chancellor Angela Merkel, manning the barricades for the liberal elite against a resurgence of the nationalist right in Germany.

Let us set aside, on this occasion, the strange irony that several of the manifesto’s signatories – not least Henri-Levy himself – have a well-known passion for Israel, a state that has always rejected the universal principles ostensibly embodied in liberal ideology and that instead openly espouses the kind of ethnic nationalism that nearly tore Europe apart in two world wars last century.

Instead let us focus on their claim that “populism and nationalism” are on the verge of slaying Europe’s liberal democratic tradition and the values held dearest by this distinguished group. Their hope presumably is that their manifesto will serve as a wake-up call before things take an irreversible turn for the worse.

Liberalism’s collapse

In one sense, their diagnosis is correct: Europe and the liberal tradition are coming apart at the seams. But not because, as they strongly imply, European politicians are pandering to the basest instincts of a mindless rabble – the ordinary people they have so little faith in. Rather, it is because a long experiment in liberalism has finally run its course. Liberalism has patently failed — and failed catastrophically.

These intellectuals are standing, like the rest of us, on a precipice from which we are about to jump or topple. But the abyss has not opened up, as they suppose, because liberalism is being rejected. Rather, the abyss is the inevitable outcome of this shrinking elite’s continuing promotion – against all rational evidence – of liberalism as a solution to our current predicament. It is the continuing transformation of a deeply flawed ideology into a religion. It is idol worship of a value system hellbent on destroying us.

Liberalism, like most ideologies, has an upside. Its respect for the individual and his freedoms, its interest in nurturing human creativity, and its promotion of universal values and human rights over tribal attachment have had some positive consequences.

But liberal ideology has been very effective at hiding its dark side – or more accurately, at persuading us that this dark side is the consequence of liberalism’s abandonment rather than inherent to the liberal’s political project.

The loss of traditional social bonds – tribal, sectarian, geographic – has left people today more lonely, more isolated than was true of any previous human society. We may pay lip service to universal values, but in our atomised communities, we feel adrift, abandoned and angry.

Humanitarian resource grabs

The liberal’s professed concern for others’ welfare and their rights has, in reality, provided cynical cover for a series of ever-more transparent resource grabs. The parading of liberalism’s humanitarian credentials has entitled our elites to leave a trail of carnage and wreckage in their wake in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria and soon, it seems, in Venezuela. We have killed with our kindness and then stolen our victims’ inheritance.

Unfettered individual creativity may have fostered some great – if fetishised – art, as well as rapid mechanical and technological developments. But it has also encouraged unbridled competition in every sphere of life, whether beneficial to humankind or not, and however wasteful of resources.

At its worst, it has unleashed quite literally an arms race, one that – because of a mix of our unconstrained creativity, our godlessness and the economic logic of the military-industrial complex – culminated in the development of nuclear weapons. We have now devised the most complete and horrific ways imaginable to kill each other. We can commit genocide on a global scale.

Meanwhile, the absolute prioritising of the individual has sanctioned a pathological self-absorption, a selfishness that has provided fertile ground not only for capitalism, materialism and consumerism but for the fusing of all of them into a turbo-charged neoliberalism. That has entitled a tiny elite to amass and squirrel away most of the planet’s wealth out of reach of the rest of humankind.

Worst of all, our rampant creativity, our self-regard and our competitiveness have blinded us to all things bigger and smaller than ourselves. We lack an emotional and spiritual connection to our planet, to other animals, to future generations, to the chaotic harmony of our universe. What we cannot understand or control, we ignore or mock.

And so the liberal impulse has driven us to the brink of extinguishing our species and possibly all life on our planet. Our drive to asset-strip, to hoard resources for personal gain, to plunder nature’s riches without respect to the consequences is so overwhelming, so compulsive that the planet will have to find a way to rebalance itself. And if we carry on, that new balance – what we limply term “climate change” – will necessitate that we are stripped from the planet.

Nadir of a dangerous arrogance

One can plausibly argue that humans have been on this suicidal path for some time. Competition, creativity, selfishness predate liberalism, after all. But liberalism removed the last restraints, it crushed any opposing sentiment as irrational, as uncivilised, as primitive.

Liberalism isn’t the cause of our predicament. It is the nadir of a dangerous arrogance we as a species have been indulging for too long, where the individual’s good trumps any collective good, defined in the widest possible sense.

The liberal reveres his small, partial field of knowledge and expertise, eclipsing ancient and future wisdoms, those rooted in natural cycles, the seasons and a wonder at the ineffable and unknowable. The liberal’s relentless and exclusive focus is on “progress”, growth, accumulation.

What is needed to save us is radical change. Not tinkering, not reform, but an entirely new vision that removes the individual and his personal gratification from the centre of our social organisation.

This is impossible to contemplate for the elites who think more liberalism, not less, is the solution. Anyone departing from their prescriptions, anyone who aspires to be more than a technocrat correcting minor defects in the status quo, is presented as a menace. Despite the modesty of their proposals, Jeremy Corbyn in the UK and Bernie Sanders in the US have been reviled by a media, political and intellectual elite heavily invested in blindly pursuing the path to self-destruction.

Status-quo cheerleaders

As a result, we now have three clear political trends.

The first is the status-quo cheerleaders like the European writers of liberalism’s latest – last? – manifesto. With every utterance they prove how irrelevant they have become, how incapable they are of supplying answers to the question of where we must head next. They adamantly refuse both to look inwards to see where liberalism went wrong and to look outwards to consider how we might extricate ourselves.

Irresponsibly, these guardians of the status quo lump together the second and third trends in the futile hope of preserving their grip on power. Both trends are derided indiscriminately as “populism”, as the politics of envy, the politics of the mob. These two fundamentally opposed, alternative trends are treated as indistinguishable.

This will not save liberalism, but it will assist in promoting the much worse of the two alternatives.

Those among the elites who understand that liberalism has had its day are exploiting the old ideology of grab-it-for-yourself capitalism while deflecting attention from their greed and the maintenance of their privilege by sowing discord and insinuating dark threats.

The criticisms of the liberal elite made by the ethnic nationalists sound persuasive because they are rooted in truths about liberalism’s failure. But as critics, they are disingenuous. They have no solutions apart from their own personal advancement in the existing, failed, self-sabotaging system.

The new authoritarians are reverting to old, trusted models of xenophobic nationalism, scapegoating others to shore up their own power. They are ditching the ostentatious, conscience-salving sensitivities of the liberal so that they can continue plundering with heady abandon. If the ship is going down, then they will be gorging on the buffet till the waters reach the dining-hall ceiling.

Where hope can reside

The third trend is the only place where hope can reside. This trend – what I have previously ascribed to a group I call the “dissenters” – understands that radical new thinking is required. But given that this group is being actively crushed by the old liberal elite and the new authoritarians, it has little public and political space to explore its ideas, to experiment, to collaborate, as it urgently needs to.

Social media provides a potentially vital platform to begin critiquing the old, failed system, to raise awareness of what has gone wrong, to contemplate and share radical new ideas, and to mobilise. But the liberals and authoritarians understand this as threat to their own privilege and, under a confected hysteria about “fake news”, are rapidly working to snuff out even this small space.

We have so little time, but still the old guard wants to block any possible path to salvation – even as seas filled with plastic start to rise, as insect populations disappear across the globe, and as the planet prepares to cough us out like a lump of infected mucus.

We must not be hoodwinked by these posturing, manifesto-spouting liberals: the philosophers, historians and writers – the public relations wing – of our suicidal status quo. They did not warn us of the beast lying cradled in our midst. They failed to see the danger looming, and their narcissism blinds them still.

We should have no use for the guardians of the old, those who held our hands, who shone a light along a path that has led to the brink of our own extinction. We need to discard them, to close our ears their siren song.

There are small voices struggling to be heard above the roar of the dying liberal elites and the trumpeting of the new authoritarians. They need to be listened to, to be helped to share and collaborate, to offer us their visions of a different world. One where the individual is no longer king. Where we learn some modesty and humility – and how to love in our infinitely small corner of the universe.

Re-enchanting Socialism: How Not To Throw The Baby Out With The Bathwater

Summary of Part I

In part I of this article Facing the Music I began by arguing that religion very skillfully uses propaganda to convince people they should behave in a docile way relative to elites. It uses architecture, statues, rites of passage, liturgy, sacred music, pilgrimages, holy days, visual symbols and techniques for altering states of consciousness as a means for introducing and sustaining this docility. Though nationalism and sports have different ends than religion, surprisingly the techniques used to induce loyalty are very similar. Nationalism and sports have been built on a religious foundation. The work of Anthony D. Smith is devoted to showing how nationalism has used religious techniques to start and sustain itself. Also, George Mosse’s book Nationalization of the Masses discusses similar themes.

In the case of sports, whether it is through the personal experience of participating in a team sport or following a professional team as a fan, these games often create “flashbulb memories” that are remembered, retold and spread to friends, acquaintances and workmates.

My claim in Part I was that:

  • The socialist movement has failed miserably to understand how religion, nationalism and sports inspire and sustain the interest of the Yankee population over months and years.
  • But even worse, it makes little attempt to use the techniques of religion, nationalism and sports to draw people to it.

In part, the failure of socialists to understand what religion, sports and nationalism give people has to do with whether the socialists are from Protestant or Catholic countries. Historically, Protestants condemned all image-making, singing, dancing and sensual gratification as degenerate Catholicism. Whether they are aware of it or not, I think socialists who live in Protestant countries have unconsciously internalized Protestant cynicism about pageantry and ritual. They think it is nothing but smoke and mirrors since it creates illusions.

On the other hand, Catholicism has been the mothership from which most of the religious techniques are derived. This impacts how people in Catholic countries relate to nationalism and sports in their countries. Furthermore, in Catholic countries, even socialists who are anti-clerical atheists have some appreciation of collective theatricality as being important to socialist gatherings. This can be seen in Spain or Italy on May Day.

I The Means By Which to Enchant Socialism

The importance of remembering the big picture

Religion at its very best invites people to remember the big picture. On a micro level that means that amidst the petty aggravations of the week-day world, there is Sunday, a time for reflection. What is the reflection designed to do? To answer three questions:

  1. What are we?
  2. Where have we been?
  3. Where are we going?

These questions are designed to encourage people to remember that:

  1. The whole (God) is greater than the sum of the parts (human individuals).
  2. The whole is in all the parts.

Optimally, at a micro level, on Sunday, religion is designed to guide people as we descend into the detail of another work-week. In temperate climates in the West, at a macro level, we have religious holidays throughout the year (rather than the week) which are ultimately grounded in the four seasons.

If as socialists, we want people to stay with us despite all distractions of capitalist commodities, despite all the distortions or marginalization of our work, despite the repression we have to deal with, doesn’t it make sense that we try to rejuvenate socialists? We remind them by answering the big questions in our own way:

  1. What are we? Socio-historical beings who shape and control our destiny for better or for worse.
  2. Where have we been? We are a young movement which has many proud moments – the French revolution, the Paris Commune, the Russian Revolution and the Spanish Revolution, to name a few.
  3. Where are we going? We are moving in a direction of communism where all resources are collectively owned.

Isn’t it worth reminding people of these questions and answers, if not weekly, at least seasonally? Why can’t socialists have quarterly seasonal celebrations just the way religion has various Catholic, Jewish or Muslim holy days?

Celebrating revolutionary holidays and socialist heroes

On average, there might be ten holy days per year for Catholics. Nationalism, at least in Yankeedom, has close to the same. Sports has opening day, the All-Star game and the World Series as temporal markers. Does socialism have any “holy days?” We have May Day. But we have many more days than that if we take the time to collect and display them. Recently we bought a 2019 calendar of radical labor history which is filled with labor strikes and revolutionary events every month throughout the year. Conservatively speaking, there are at least five major radical strikes and revolutionary dates per month. Why don’t socialists commit to a project of celebrating clusters of these holidays four times a year? Why aren’t these days celebrated the way May Day is celebrated?

What about socialist heroes and heroines? Baseball has Cooperstown. Musically, we have the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and the Country Music Hall of Fame. Why is there no socialist Cooperstown Hall of Fame? Do we have no socialist heroines or heroes to put into this Hall of Fame? Just in Yankeedom alone, off the top of my head I can name a few – Big Bill Haywood, Eugene Debs, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, Kate Richards O’Hare, Carlo Tresca, Mother Jones, Sacco and Vanzetti. Why hasn’t the socialist movement seen fit to celebrate their birthdays the way religion celebrates its saints days and nationalism has its presidents days? During the French Revolution, busts of Rousseau and Voltaire were paraded through the streets of Paris. Why then can’t we celebrate regularly and seasonally the birthdays of our heroes and heroines?

But isn’t this too costly?

One reasonable objection is the time and the cost of doing this. A sympathetic skeptic might say “You are not considering that religious institutions, political organizations and the owners of football teams are extremely wealthy. They have the money to pay people to work full time to create productions for these holy days and patron saints. Socialists do not have this kind of money.”

This is a good point. We know that it takes a great deal of effort to put on, say, a socialist conference on a national level. The cost of roundtrip plane fare alone makes this difficult. But is the same thing true at a local level? Celebrating socialist heroes and special days can be done locally in major cities. The important thing is to celebrate them all at the same time on a given day so that people living in big cities can see and share their presence in other cities.

We don’t have time

Another objection a socialist might make is to say, “look, it is enough to get people together to coordinate their efforts around a campaign like the fight for $15 dollars an hour” or a 35-hour workweek. We can’t afford to add to that these celebrations.

This way of looking at things separates content and form. It says specific campaigns (the content) and the celebrations (the form) are separate processes. But do they have to be? Whether or not people are pressed for time and money, the content and form should be part of the same process. It is true that at socialist conferences there is time for recreation, but recreation is not ritual.

If we are to make room for reenchanting rituals that means there is less time to discuss specific socialist current events. I would argue that it is worth it. We must consolidate and support other socialists through renewal and replenishment techniques. In fact, the content of various campaigns should be organized so that they are a sub categorical expression of the historical celebration of revolutionary memories and the celebrations of socialist heroes. I’ll discuss this more later in this article.

Singing and dancing

Of course, the mighty Internationale heads any list of music. Any of you who have seen the movie Reds will remember the scene of Jack Reed talking to Russian workers as the Internationale swelled in the background and the red flags flew. However, we have much more than this song. Some of the best radical songs in the world came out of the Industrial Workers of the World songbook. Why aren’t these songs sung on a regular basis throughout the year by socialists, not just Wobblies? Do socialists dance? Well, of course we do, but not as much as we could. As Red Emma Goldman once said “If I can’t dance to it, its not my revolution”

Rites of passage

The socialist and communist movements used to have youth groups which initiated them into socialism. People of different ages were given very specific tasks to do relative to up-coming campaigns. There were socialist children’s magazines and books. In his book Ritual, Politics and Power, David Kertzer points out that the communist party in Italy once competed with the Catholic Church over the right to baptize. They did something similar at funerals, according to Kertzer:

“Comrades carry bright red flags, baring the name of the deceased’s party section as well as those of neighboring sections…A local party official delivers the eulogy which, rather than extolling the deceased Christian virtues, pays tribute to his or her dedication to the Communist cause.” (Ritual, Politics and Power, 118)

Socialists badly need to get re-involved in rites of passage once again: socialist births and baptism, coming of age rituals, socialist marriages and socialist deaths. We can’t cede this to religious traditions.

Making pilgrimages

In San Francisco, once a year in July there is something called “Laborfest”. This is a month-long series of movies, talks, panels and plays held at various locations around the city. A comrade of mine would give a walking tour of downtown Oakland and revisit some of the various scenes of the General Strike in San Francisco. Between 50 and 100 people attend this walk every year. Most major cities in the United States have their version of special places connected to labor strikes. Why aren’t they celebrated? There could be Laborfests in every major city in Yankeedom.

Sacred sites and new calendars

In her book Romance of the Communist Party, Vivian Gornick reports that one of her interviewees told her of a cooperative housing development called United Workers Coop Association consisting of two five-story buildings, each a block square. There were club rooms, meeting halls, a library, nursery schools, a community center, a print shop and an auditorium. People read, talked, held meetings, danced and flirted. It was a little city within a city. Janet Biehl, Murray Bookchin’s biographer, tells a story of how these places were a substitute home away from home for Murray. The buildings stayed open to the wee small hours of the morning. Why can’t we have these kinds of sacred sites again?

During and after the French Revolution, the leaders created a revolutionary calendar to symbolize the breaking with the old world. Capitalism is failing badly. Don’t we need to get busy with drafts of a new world socialist calendar?

We can’t afford to own these buildings

One objection to this “sacred site” renewal might he the cost of owning, let alone renting a building in a downtown metropolitan area. It is true that the cost of renting or owning city buildings is much higher than fifty or seventy years ago before the gentrification of cities drove out working-class people to the periphery. Still, there are liberal fellow travelers or even upper middle-class socialists who might be in a position to buy buildings through a joint pooling of funds. If these socialists withdrew their money from “socially responsible investments” for the project of building at least semi-permanent socialist centers, it would be a huge advance. With the newfound sympathy and support for socialism in the US among people under 30, those upper middle-class socialists could really make a difference by investing their money or their inheritance in a sacred home for socialists. Is that too far-fetched? I hope not. It is hard to sustain a movement when you don’t have a home you can call your own.

Bringing it on home

To summarize, what we need is designated times of the year, perhaps every season, in which socialists in every major city come together, sing and dance across generations, celebrating “holy days”, the birthdays of the great socialists. At the same gatherings, there is time allotted to celebrate rites of passage and make pilgrimages to the scenes of the great labor struggles in that city.

II Fertile Ground: The Unexplored Relationship Between Materialists and Pagans

Cranky materialists, dry as sawdust

A number of years ago I joined the Humanist community of San Jose. This was an organization for people who hated religion and were either agnostics or atheists and met every Sunday morning for a lecture, discussion and lunch. They were classical left-wing Enlightenment people: pro-science and pro-technology. They looked at religion as deception by religious authorities, errors in human cognition and ignorance or emotional insecurity of the population. For Humanists, as for the Protestants, all music, dance, ritual and imagery would lead you down the road to religious enslavement. It was difficult to have any kind of ceremony – lighting a candle or burning incense – that was not dismissed as superstition.

Unfortunately, many Marxists are cranky materialists as well. While denouncing all the religious holidays, they find themselves isolated and lonely around Christmas time. They see through the commercial side of Christmas, they might not even like Christ, but they haven’t built the institutions to replace it. The winter solstice has meaning for human beings and we must give it up. Marxists need neo-paganism, only they don’t know it.

While neo-paganism is a diverse movement, it is safe to say that what it shares with materialists includes:

  • A belief that the material world and matter is good, rather than an illusion or a reform school for sinners;
  • An appreciation of this life, rather than an afterlife;
  • A sense that nature is self-regulating and not in need of divine intervention; and,
  • A belief that nature and society are evolving as opposed to being created once and for all.

What pagans have that most materialist Marxists, at least the Protestant ones, lack is a sense that ritual, singing, dancing rites of passage and all the rest are not superstitious illusions but important ingredients in what makes us human.

Greek mythology in the service of re-enchanting socialism

In Greek mythology, the gods and goddesses all had strengths and weaknesses. In addition, they were in charge of a specific domain of human life. So, for example, Aphrodite was the goddess to go to in matters of love. Hermes was the god of travel and he would be consulted before taking a dangerous journey. If a socialist group wanted to get behind a campaign around building mass transit or lowering the cost of public transportation, if they were operating within the Greek mythology, there would be a celebration or a ritual around the god Hermes. All the major areas of human life were covered by the various gods or goddesses: agriculture, industry, family life, friendships, the arts, sciences, physical health, everything. Pagans would have rituals before and after these activities.

Typical areas socialists are interested in are democracy in the work place, harnessing energy, technological innovation, transportation, city life, food production, housing, water, education, circulation of products (money, wages, financial planning), child care, health care and mental health. Every one of these areas can easily be connected to the 10 or 12 gods and goddesses that exist in Greece or in other parts of the world. In the case of May Day, there is a clear relationship with the pagan spring festival and International Workers Day. We can easily connect up the other areas of socialists’ interests to the gods and goddesses.

The same thing could be done with socialist heroes. The characteristics of socialist heroines and heroes can be mapped onto the gods and goddesses of Greece. The value of using an already built-up pagan system is that we don’t have to reinvent the wheel. I am intentionally drawing on Greek mythology because many socialists may object to using any of the symbols and artifacts of Catholicism. Pagan traditions are full of rich history and they can be easily connected to the wiccan feminism that began in the early 1970’s. Relatively speaking, socialism is a very young movement, not even 200 years old. We should take an existing system which has been in place for thousands of years and use it as our skeleton.

I have no doubt many pagan socialists like Starhawk have already stepped forward to connect political activity with pagan rituals. There are many more processes to be connected and many more people are needed. Any socialists who have an appreciation for theatre, interior design and social psychology should step forward. Socialists rightly have no need of God, but we do need the gods and goddesses. More earth, less air; more water, less air; more fire, less air.

• First published at Planning Beyond Capitalism

Singing The Internationale

In Defense of ‘Conspiracy Theories’: From ‘Fake News’ to the Art World

To remain innocent may also be to remain ignorant.
― John Berger, Ways of Seeing

This November 22nd marked fifty-five years since the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Perhaps no other major incident in U.S. history has generated more uncertainty and skepticism towards its official account than his Dallas killing in 1963. A 2013 Gallup poll showed that a clear majority of Americans still doubt the Warren Commission’s determination that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone as the accused sniper, with many suspecting that others in government and organized crime were involved in a secret plot to kill the president. Although its etymological origins can be traced back further, as a cultural phenomenon the notion of belief in so-called ‘conspiracy theories’ is widely attributed to a surge in distrust of government and media institutions that followed JFK’s murder. Perhaps its only rival would be September 11th, which surveys have similarly indicated a trend of doubt towards the 9/11 Commission Report’s version of events leading up to the attacks in 2001. In other words, most people believe in a major conspiracy theory — yet they generally remain a mark of disgrace and public ridicule.

At no point in time have conspiracy theories been as stigmatized as in the wake of the 2016 U.S. election. Incidentally, what is classified as such is no longer consigned to the societal fringe or ever been more popular. It is alleged that the spreading of “fake news” on social media, featuring debunked viral conspiracies like Pizzagate, was what tipped the voting scales in Donald Trump’s favor. Or was it the very real conspiracy revealed in leaked emails published by WikiLeaks that the Democratic National Committee rigged the party primary for Hillary Clinton? We’re supposed to consider that fake news too, apparently. Regardless, what is consistently never addressed is the reasons why people turn to unofficial narratives because it would require the media to address its own negligence to hold those in power to account.

An examination of the media‘s systemic failure would draw attention to its actual role in society as a tool of mass persuasion on behalf of the ruling elite. Perhaps if the official doctrines of the over-staged Warren and 9/11 Commission Reports were not treated as articles of faith, people wouldn’t be suspicious of a rogue shadow government hidden behind such obvious dog-and-pony shows. If there is no incriminating evidence in the JFK files, why on earth is the public forbidden to see them half a century later? Instead, it is the working class who are demonized for expressing the human need to grasp the social totality denied by a corporate-controlled media that performs the opposite of its expected function. They are left with no choice but to fill in the enormous blanks left gaping by a press in service of the status quo and a government with no transparency. It is always the people who are blamed for the media’s failure to do its job.

The same can be said across the pond or for the West in general. Look no further than a recent article in British newspaper The Guardian alleging that “60% of Britons believe in conspiracy theories.” Its definition of ‘conspiracy’ is so broad that it doesn’t simply refer to beliefs about UFOs or the moon landing, but a general distrust of institutions, official narratives and authority figures in any form. The article then conflates Brexit voters who hold anti-immigrant views with anyone polled who believes that the world is run by a secret global cabal of people who control events together”, and then almost comically states “the most widespread conspiracy belief in the UK, shared by 44% of people, was that ‘even though we live in what’s called a democracy, a few people will always run things in this country anyway.’” That is to say, The Guardian regards a view generally held by most rational people with an accurate understanding of life under capitalism as a ‘conspiracy’ belief equivalent to racism. The article even concludes thatdistrust of company bosses”, a feeling unsurprisingly held by three-fourths of those surveyed, falls under the label of a conspiracy view. Yes, clearly anyone who doesn’t love their oppressors is in equal standing with bigots who want to leave the EU. The world’s self declared ‘leading liberal voice’ is a guardian of power, indeed.

The term ‘conspiracy theory’ itself is a weapon. Its use is so ubiquitous that it automatically implies unconvincing improbability and worthiness of dismissal. How and when did it come to be so widely dispersed in the cultural lexicon? In the 1970s, the CIA had been the subject of numerous scandals with disclosures about its activities ranging from meddling in the affairs of sovereign countries to administering mind-control experiments on citizens in MK-ULTRA. The revelations about its clandestine influence on the press was yet another divulgence. It turns out that a likely possibility for the genesis of the phrase ‘conspiracy theory’ and its far-reaching dissemination was revealed in an important 1976 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request by The New York Times in CIA Document 1035–960. The dispatch showed that by the late 1960s, the spy agency was so worried about pervasive skepticism toward the Warren Commission ruling that it issued a bulletin to its elite liaisons in the press to quell subversion. Entitled “Concerning Criticism of the Warren Report”, the communique encouraged the fourth estate to discredit doubters by spreading propaganda. It specifically employed the term while stressing the need to rein in dissenting opinion among journalists and the public:

Just because of the standing of the Commissioners, efforts to impugn their rectitude and wisdom tend to cast doubt on the whole leadership of American society. Moreover, there seems to be an increasing tendency to hint that President Johnson himself, as the one person who might be said to have benefited, was in some way responsible for the assassination. Innuendo of such seriousness affects not only the individual concerned, but also the whole reputation of the American government. Our organization itself is directly involved: among other facts, we contributed information to the investigation. Conspiracy theories have frequently thrown suspicion on our organization, for example by falsely alleging that Lee Harvey Oswald worked for us. The aim of this dispatch is to provide material countering and discrediting the claims of the conspiracy theorists, so as to inhibit the circulation of such claims in other countries.

Whether or not the specific document’s usage of the label is directly attributable to its subsequent omnipresence in the cultural vocabulary is beside the point. It was yet another example of the CIA’s efforts to engineer public opinion with media bias and disinformation, ordering its recruits to “employ propaganda assets to [negate] and refute the attacks of the critics. Book reviews and feature articles are particularly appropriate for this purpose.” Only on occasion does an event like the Kennedy assassination occur where the deep state’s savage nature is glimpsed by the public at large, if only for a brief moment. Such instances require a counterintelligence response if the majority is to stay plugged into the matrix.

The unpleasant truth is that the 35th U.S. President became so despised by the most right-wing and militarist elements in the intelligence apparatus — provoked by his perceived treachery in diplomacy toward Cuba and placation of the Soviet Union following the foreign policy disasters of the Cuban Missile Crisis and Bay of Pigs and apparent desire to deescalate the war in Vietnam — that they most likely removed him in a coup. The extent to which Kennedy was sincere in those efforts is another matter, although it was confirmed in declassified documents last year that he had rejected the proposed Operation Northwoods which would have carried out ‘false flag’ bombings in Miami to be blamed on Fidel Castro which shockingly made it all the way up the chain of command past the Joint Chiefs of Staff for approval. Why is it outlandish for people to suspect they could have done something similar on 9/11?

For Americans to learn the ugly facts behind JFK’s murder, plausibly located in the more than 15,000 documents still concealed from public view, would destroy the foundations of the national security state and the establishment it safeguards. It is on this basis that for more than half a century, corporate-owned media has stifled the multitude of admissions about the assassination brought to light, even when they’ve come from Hollywood movies. What we are witnessing today in the Russiagate fiasco with the “fake news” PSY-OP is an updated version of the CIA’s enlistment of the media following the JFK assassination to orchestrate public opinion which made the phrase ‘conspiracy theory’ a universal pejorative.

Coincidentally, currently on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Breuer satellite location in New York is the exhibition Everything is Connected: Art and Conspiracy. The show covers more than fifty-years of artists working in painting, sculpture, photography, collage, video and installations addressing a variety of themes ranging from secret torture at CIA black-sites to COINTELPRO to Henry Kissinger’s role in ‘the first 9/11’, the September 1973 coup in Chile which ousted Salvador Allende and installed Augusto Pinochet and Milton Friedman’s Chicago Boys. There are many provocative pieces in the show, such as a Calder-like sculpture of Iraqi oil fields exploring imperialism to an abstract painting suggesting that the WTC towers could have been destroyed by controlled demolition using planted super-thermite explosives.

The timing of such an exposition immediately prompts curiosity. One would assume that the Met was capitalizing on the unprecedented popularity of conspiracies with the “fake news” phenomenon surrounding the Trump presidency, but apparently the lead curator conceived of the show concept a decade prior. Nevertheless, for one of the biggest and wealthiest museums in the world founded by robber barons to permit such a showcase still required a selling point which came in the form of its marketability to satisfy the public’s palate for kitsch. Leaving that aside, however, the content of the exhibit is admittedly of bona fide quality, featuring everything from Black Panther graphic designer Emory Douglas to the late conceptual artist Mike Kelley.

The Kennedy assassination is featured heavily as a spectral motif and the first pieces visitors encounter are two striking neon-colored paintings of Lee Harvey Oswald and his assassin, Jack Ruby, by New York-based artist Wayne Gonzales which sets an ominous tone. Although the individual works of the inspired show are of high caliber, its main shortcoming is the sensationalized presentation. Despite seemingly authentic intentions, it inevitably institutionalizes the idea that when two-thirds of Americans reject the official story of a Kennedy assassination or 9/11, it is ultimately still just a ‘conspiracy.’ Although the exhibit itself is not as culpable as the surrounding cultural context in which it has appeared, it ultimately reifies that what is construed as hypothetical and imaginary conjecture (in the case of the JFK assassination a legitimate consensus) only merits attention as something tacky or niche to be appreciated ironically.

This is particularly advantageous to the establishment at the present moment which is relentlessly selling the naïve idea that we are now living in a “post-truth” era, as if prior to the Trump administration we were in a glory age of ‘truth.’ In order for art to portray such subject matter and be given a platform, it cannot avoid being allocated as novelty of unrefined taste by such a powerful institution. A podcast interview with the gallery curators revealed that one of the artists featured in the show, Hans Haacke, had to earn their trust as he was hesitant to participate in the show because he didn’t wish his work “to be associated with fiction.” Perhaps for related reasons, the curators refreshingly chose to omit the term ‘theory’ from the title while providing a thorough investigation of such themes by artists which reveal what they describe as “conspiracies that turned out not be theories at all, but truths.”

While everyone is aware of the intimate relationship between the art world and the ultra-wealthy benefactors of its museums, less familiar is its history with the CIA. As part of its psychological warfare during the Cold War, the agency spent millions promoting Modern Art, particularly the Abstract Expressionists like Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning, a fact only briefly mentioned by the gallery text of the exhibit. The CIA saw the aesthetic individualism and free form style of Abstract Expressionism as emblematic of Western values of ‘freedom of expression’ in antithesis to the socialist realism of the Soviet Union. The CIA provided covert financial support through the establishment of phony foundations with innocuous names that secretly subsidized exhibitions. The primary front organization was the Congress for Cultural Freedom (CCF) whose leading operative was CIA officer Thomas Braden. Braden was even selected as the executive secretary of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York by Nelson Rockefeller as he oversaw the CIA’s hush-hush cultural activities in the CCF. He would later go on to become a columnist and co-host of CNN’s Crossfire.

The CIA did not just work stringently to relegate leeriness of its activities under a catch-all misnomer at the low brow level. The Congress for Cultural Freedom’s ideological weaponry even extended to the level of high intellectual theory for its gatekeeping. The CCF and other front groups like the Farfield Foundation secretly sponsored literary magazines such as Commentary and The Paris Review as an effort to redirect the sympathies of the non-communist left in the West away from the Soviet Union toward liberal democracy. Another literary publication that received undercover sponsoring from the CCF was the British-based Encounter magazine, founded by the essayist and intellectual Irving Kristol who later became the “godfather of neo-conservatism” and real life father of ultra-hawk pundit Bill Kristol of The Weekly Standard. During the 1930s, as a college student Irving Kristol was a member of the New York Intellectuals, a group of Jewish literary critics and writers who mostly were Trotskyists that embraced left-wing politics but were staunchly opposed to the Soviet Union under Stalin. These included prominent figures such as Isaiah Berlin, Irving Howe and Hannah Arendt who over time moved to the center and became liberals, or in the case of Kristol eventually further to arch-conservatism.

The intellectual voyage from Trotskyism to neoconservatism was a common thread throughout the 20th century, from David Horowitz to the late Christopher Hitchens. Irving Kristol and his intellectual circle were funded by the CIA in order to influence the political leanings of their cohorts in the European left to move toward liberal democracy and away from communism which fractured the left as a whole. To great effect, this split coalitions between social democratic and communist parties across Europe. If European leftists weren’t swayed by the CIA-sponsored intelligentsia, they were likely discouraged from holding any remaining Soviet sympathies by the ‘false flag’ terrorist attacks carried out during Operation Gladio in NATO-member countries by recruited fascist paramilitaries which were falsely blamed on communist organizations to tarnish their reputations.

Along with the FBI’s COINTELPRO program, the consequences of the CIA’s clandestine activities from the arts to the intelligentsia can be seen in the dominant pseudo-left of today which has further degenerated into excessive preoccupation with toothless reformism and fetishization of gender and race-based identity politics. If the current generation of resolute Marxists are looking to place blame for the dominance of incrementalist politics emphasizing gradual change through existing institutions that has infected the entire left, they shouldn’t be shocked to learn much of it lands on the world’s most powerful spy agency during the Cold War. The CIA wasn’t just in the business of overthrowing democratic leaders of third world nations for Western business interests but equally engaged in cloak-and-dagger cultural operations which successfully altered the focus of leftist politics away from transformative anti-capitalist positions toward centrist liberal stances. To this day, the reverberations of these PSY-OPs can be felt in the contemporary left’s neglect and obfuscation of issues like imperialism and the class struggle. Without knowing this history, one can only have a vague understanding of how the left came to be what it is at present. The military-intelligence complex’s manipulation of the art world is incontrovertible fact, not a fanciful story, and it was just one element of a larger cultural campaign to splinter the Western left.

As the exhibit aptly points out, often what are designated as conspiracy theories in bygone times become indisputable facts years later. If there is now an abundant market for misinformation online exploiting the appetite of a public disillusioned by establishment media in desperate search of an alternative, the presstitutes only have themselves to blame. Claims on the right-wing margins about school shootings being hoaxes will never even begin to approach the irreparable damage done by every major news outlet in the country selling the lies of the Bush administration that Saddam Hussein had Weapons of Mass Destruction to go to war in Iraq, not just to the millions of human lives lost but the trust of the masses in the mass media orthodoxy. The same can be said about their unwillingness to truly investigate the Kennedy assassination and 9/11. Following the 2016 election, the censorship campaign by social network giants against alternative media under the banner of stopping the spread of “fake news” can be seen as confirmation of the effectiveness of real independent journalism and its growing audience. Otherwise, it would not provoke such suppression. This development can either disenchant those hungry for the truth or be interpreted as a positive sign for the future, that people are starting to resist drinking the kool-aid— for now let’s choose the latter.

• Everything is Connected: Art and Conspiracy is on view at the Met Breuer until January 6th, 2019.

In Defense of ‘Conspiracy Theories’: From ‘Fake News’ to the Art World

To remain innocent may also be to remain ignorant.
― John Berger, Ways of Seeing

This November 22nd marked fifty-five years since the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Perhaps no other major incident in U.S. history has generated more uncertainty and skepticism towards its official account than his Dallas killing in 1963. A 2013 Gallup poll showed that a clear majority of Americans still doubt the Warren Commission’s determination that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone as the accused sniper, with many suspecting that others in government and organized crime were involved in a secret plot to kill the president. Although its etymological origins can be traced back further, as a cultural phenomenon the notion of belief in so-called ‘conspiracy theories’ is widely attributed to a surge in distrust of government and media institutions that followed JFK’s murder. Perhaps its only rival would be September 11th, which surveys have similarly indicated a trend of doubt towards the 9/11 Commission Report’s version of events leading up to the attacks in 2001. In other words, most people believe in a major conspiracy theory — yet they generally remain a mark of disgrace and public ridicule.

At no point in time have conspiracy theories been as stigmatized as in the wake of the 2016 U.S. election. Incidentally, what is classified as such is no longer consigned to the societal fringe or ever been more popular. It is alleged that the spreading of “fake news” on social media, featuring debunked viral conspiracies like Pizzagate, was what tipped the voting scales in Donald Trump’s favor. Or was it the very real conspiracy revealed in leaked emails published by WikiLeaks that the Democratic National Committee rigged the party primary for Hillary Clinton? We’re supposed to consider that fake news too, apparently. Regardless, what is consistently never addressed is the reasons why people turn to unofficial narratives because it would require the media to address its own negligence to hold those in power to account.

An examination of the media‘s systemic failure would draw attention to its actual role in society as a tool of mass persuasion on behalf of the ruling elite. Perhaps if the official doctrines of the over-staged Warren and 9/11 Commission Reports were not treated as articles of faith, people wouldn’t be suspicious of a rogue shadow government hidden behind such obvious dog-and-pony shows. If there is no incriminating evidence in the JFK files, why on earth is the public forbidden to see them half a century later? Instead, it is the working class who are demonized for expressing the human need to grasp the social totality denied by a corporate-controlled media that performs the opposite of its expected function. They are left with no choice but to fill in the enormous blanks left gaping by a press in service of the status quo and a government with no transparency. It is always the people who are blamed for the media’s failure to do its job.

The same can be said across the pond or for the West in general. Look no further than a recent article in British newspaper The Guardian alleging that “60% of Britons believe in conspiracy theories.” Its definition of ‘conspiracy’ is so broad that it doesn’t simply refer to beliefs about UFOs or the moon landing, but a general distrust of institutions, official narratives and authority figures in any form. The article then conflates Brexit voters who hold anti-immigrant views with anyone polled who believes that the world is run by a secret global cabal of people who control events together”, and then almost comically states “the most widespread conspiracy belief in the UK, shared by 44% of people, was that ‘even though we live in what’s called a democracy, a few people will always run things in this country anyway.’” That is to say, The Guardian regards a view generally held by most rational people with an accurate understanding of life under capitalism as a ‘conspiracy’ belief equivalent to racism. The article even concludes thatdistrust of company bosses”, a feeling unsurprisingly held by three-fourths of those surveyed, falls under the label of a conspiracy view. Yes, clearly anyone who doesn’t love their oppressors is in equal standing with bigots who want to leave the EU. The world’s self declared ‘leading liberal voice’ is a guardian of power, indeed.

The term ‘conspiracy theory’ itself is a weapon. Its use is so ubiquitous that it automatically implies unconvincing improbability and worthiness of dismissal. How and when did it come to be so widely dispersed in the cultural lexicon? In the 1970s, the CIA had been the subject of numerous scandals with disclosures about its activities ranging from meddling in the affairs of sovereign countries to administering mind-control experiments on citizens in MK-ULTRA. The revelations about its clandestine influence on the press was yet another divulgence. It turns out that a likely possibility for the genesis of the phrase ‘conspiracy theory’ and its far-reaching dissemination was revealed in an important 1976 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request by The New York Times in CIA Document 1035–960. The dispatch showed that by the late 1960s, the spy agency was so worried about pervasive skepticism toward the Warren Commission ruling that it issued a bulletin to its elite liaisons in the press to quell subversion. Entitled “Concerning Criticism of the Warren Report”, the communique encouraged the fourth estate to discredit doubters by spreading propaganda. It specifically employed the term while stressing the need to rein in dissenting opinion among journalists and the public:

Just because of the standing of the Commissioners, efforts to impugn their rectitude and wisdom tend to cast doubt on the whole leadership of American society. Moreover, there seems to be an increasing tendency to hint that President Johnson himself, as the one person who might be said to have benefited, was in some way responsible for the assassination. Innuendo of such seriousness affects not only the individual concerned, but also the whole reputation of the American government. Our organization itself is directly involved: among other facts, we contributed information to the investigation. Conspiracy theories have frequently thrown suspicion on our organization, for example by falsely alleging that Lee Harvey Oswald worked for us. The aim of this dispatch is to provide material countering and discrediting the claims of the conspiracy theorists, so as to inhibit the circulation of such claims in other countries.

Whether or not the specific document’s usage of the label is directly attributable to its subsequent omnipresence in the cultural vocabulary is beside the point. It was yet another example of the CIA’s efforts to engineer public opinion with media bias and disinformation, ordering its recruits to “employ propaganda assets to [negate] and refute the attacks of the critics. Book reviews and feature articles are particularly appropriate for this purpose.” Only on occasion does an event like the Kennedy assassination occur where the deep state’s savage nature is glimpsed by the public at large, if only for a brief moment. Such instances require a counterintelligence response if the majority is to stay plugged into the matrix.

The unpleasant truth is that the 35th U.S. President became so despised by the most right-wing and militarist elements in the intelligence apparatus — provoked by his perceived treachery in diplomacy toward Cuba and placation of the Soviet Union following the foreign policy disasters of the Cuban Missile Crisis and Bay of Pigs and apparent desire to deescalate the war in Vietnam — that they most likely removed him in a coup. The extent to which Kennedy was sincere in those efforts is another matter, although it was confirmed in declassified documents last year that he had rejected the proposed Operation Northwoods which would have carried out ‘false flag’ bombings in Miami to be blamed on Fidel Castro which shockingly made it all the way up the chain of command past the Joint Chiefs of Staff for approval. Why is it outlandish for people to suspect they could have done something similar on 9/11?

For Americans to learn the ugly facts behind JFK’s murder, plausibly located in the more than 15,000 documents still concealed from public view, would destroy the foundations of the national security state and the establishment it safeguards. It is on this basis that for more than half a century, corporate-owned media has stifled the multitude of admissions about the assassination brought to light, even when they’ve come from Hollywood movies. What we are witnessing today in the Russiagate fiasco with the “fake news” PSY-OP is an updated version of the CIA’s enlistment of the media following the JFK assassination to orchestrate public opinion which made the phrase ‘conspiracy theory’ a universal pejorative.

Coincidentally, currently on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Breuer satellite location in New York is the exhibition Everything is Connected: Art and Conspiracy. The show covers more than fifty-years of artists working in painting, sculpture, photography, collage, video and installations addressing a variety of themes ranging from secret torture at CIA black-sites to COINTELPRO to Henry Kissinger’s role in ‘the first 9/11’, the September 1973 coup in Chile which ousted Salvador Allende and installed Augusto Pinochet and Milton Friedman’s Chicago Boys. There are many provocative pieces in the show, such as a Calder-like sculpture of Iraqi oil fields exploring imperialism to an abstract painting suggesting that the WTC towers could have been destroyed by controlled demolition using planted super-thermite explosives.

The timing of such an exposition immediately prompts curiosity. One would assume that the Met was capitalizing on the unprecedented popularity of conspiracies with the “fake news” phenomenon surrounding the Trump presidency, but apparently the lead curator conceived of the show concept a decade prior. Nevertheless, for one of the biggest and wealthiest museums in the world founded by robber barons to permit such a showcase still required a selling point which came in the form of its marketability to satisfy the public’s palate for kitsch. Leaving that aside, however, the content of the exhibit is admittedly of bona fide quality, featuring everything from Black Panther graphic designer Emory Douglas to the late conceptual artist Mike Kelley.

The Kennedy assassination is featured heavily as a spectral motif and the first pieces visitors encounter are two striking neon-colored paintings of Lee Harvey Oswald and his assassin, Jack Ruby, by New York-based artist Wayne Gonzales which sets an ominous tone. Although the individual works of the inspired show are of high caliber, its main shortcoming is the sensationalized presentation. Despite seemingly authentic intentions, it inevitably institutionalizes the idea that when two-thirds of Americans reject the official story of a Kennedy assassination or 9/11, it is ultimately still just a ‘conspiracy.’ Although the exhibit itself is not as culpable as the surrounding cultural context in which it has appeared, it ultimately reifies that what is construed as hypothetical and imaginary conjecture (in the case of the JFK assassination a legitimate consensus) only merits attention as something tacky or niche to be appreciated ironically.

This is particularly advantageous to the establishment at the present moment which is relentlessly selling the naïve idea that we are now living in a “post-truth” era, as if prior to the Trump administration we were in a glory age of ‘truth.’ In order for art to portray such subject matter and be given a platform, it cannot avoid being allocated as novelty of unrefined taste by such a powerful institution. A podcast interview with the gallery curators revealed that one of the artists featured in the show, Hans Haacke, had to earn their trust as he was hesitant to participate in the show because he didn’t wish his work “to be associated with fiction.” Perhaps for related reasons, the curators refreshingly chose to omit the term ‘theory’ from the title while providing a thorough investigation of such themes by artists which reveal what they describe as “conspiracies that turned out not be theories at all, but truths.”

While everyone is aware of the intimate relationship between the art world and the ultra-wealthy benefactors of its museums, less familiar is its history with the CIA. As part of its psychological warfare during the Cold War, the agency spent millions promoting Modern Art, particularly the Abstract Expressionists like Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning, a fact only briefly mentioned by the gallery text of the exhibit. The CIA saw the aesthetic individualism and free form style of Abstract Expressionism as emblematic of Western values of ‘freedom of expression’ in antithesis to the socialist realism of the Soviet Union. The CIA provided covert financial support through the establishment of phony foundations with innocuous names that secretly subsidized exhibitions. The primary front organization was the Congress for Cultural Freedom (CCF) whose leading operative was CIA officer Thomas Braden. Braden was even selected as the executive secretary of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York by Nelson Rockefeller as he oversaw the CIA’s hush-hush cultural activities in the CCF. He would later go on to become a columnist and co-host of CNN’s Crossfire.

The CIA did not just work stringently to relegate leeriness of its activities under a catch-all misnomer at the low brow level. The Congress for Cultural Freedom’s ideological weaponry even extended to the level of high intellectual theory for its gatekeeping. The CCF and other front groups like the Farfield Foundation secretly sponsored literary magazines such as Commentary and The Paris Review as an effort to redirect the sympathies of the non-communist left in the West away from the Soviet Union toward liberal democracy. Another literary publication that received undercover sponsoring from the CCF was the British-based Encounter magazine, founded by the essayist and intellectual Irving Kristol who later became the “godfather of neo-conservatism” and real life father of ultra-hawk pundit Bill Kristol of The Weekly Standard. During the 1930s, as a college student Irving Kristol was a member of the New York Intellectuals, a group of Jewish literary critics and writers who mostly were Trotskyists that embraced left-wing politics but were staunchly opposed to the Soviet Union under Stalin. These included prominent figures such as Isaiah Berlin, Irving Howe and Hannah Arendt who over time moved to the center and became liberals, or in the case of Kristol eventually further to arch-conservatism.

The intellectual voyage from Trotskyism to neoconservatism was a common thread throughout the 20th century, from David Horowitz to the late Christopher Hitchens. Irving Kristol and his intellectual circle were funded by the CIA in order to influence the political leanings of their cohorts in the European left to move toward liberal democracy and away from communism which fractured the left as a whole. To great effect, this split coalitions between social democratic and communist parties across Europe. If European leftists weren’t swayed by the CIA-sponsored intelligentsia, they were likely discouraged from holding any remaining Soviet sympathies by the ‘false flag’ terrorist attacks carried out during Operation Gladio in NATO-member countries by recruited fascist paramilitaries which were falsely blamed on communist organizations to tarnish their reputations.

Along with the FBI’s COINTELPRO program, the consequences of the CIA’s clandestine activities from the arts to the intelligentsia can be seen in the dominant pseudo-left of today which has further degenerated into excessive preoccupation with toothless reformism and fetishization of gender and race-based identity politics. If the current generation of resolute Marxists are looking to place blame for the dominance of incrementalist politics emphasizing gradual change through existing institutions that has infected the entire left, they shouldn’t be shocked to learn much of it lands on the world’s most powerful spy agency during the Cold War. The CIA wasn’t just in the business of overthrowing democratic leaders of third world nations for Western business interests but equally engaged in cloak-and-dagger cultural operations which successfully altered the focus of leftist politics away from transformative anti-capitalist positions toward centrist liberal stances. To this day, the reverberations of these PSY-OPs can be felt in the contemporary left’s neglect and obfuscation of issues like imperialism and the class struggle. Without knowing this history, one can only have a vague understanding of how the left came to be what it is at present. The military-intelligence complex’s manipulation of the art world is incontrovertible fact, not a fanciful story, and it was just one element of a larger cultural campaign to splinter the Western left.

As the exhibit aptly points out, often what are designated as conspiracy theories in bygone times become indisputable facts years later. If there is now an abundant market for misinformation online exploiting the appetite of a public disillusioned by establishment media in desperate search of an alternative, the presstitutes only have themselves to blame. Claims on the right-wing margins about school shootings being hoaxes will never even begin to approach the irreparable damage done by every major news outlet in the country selling the lies of the Bush administration that Saddam Hussein had Weapons of Mass Destruction to go to war in Iraq, not just to the millions of human lives lost but the trust of the masses in the mass media orthodoxy. The same can be said about their unwillingness to truly investigate the Kennedy assassination and 9/11. Following the 2016 election, the censorship campaign by social network giants against alternative media under the banner of stopping the spread of “fake news” can be seen as confirmation of the effectiveness of real independent journalism and its growing audience. Otherwise, it would not provoke such suppression. This development can either disenchant those hungry for the truth or be interpreted as a positive sign for the future, that people are starting to resist drinking the kool-aid— for now let’s choose the latter.

• Everything is Connected: Art and Conspiracy is on view at the Met Breuer until January 6th, 2019.

Beware the Trumpenleft!

Unless you move in certain leftist circles, you may not have heard about one of the Russians’ most insidiously evil active measures, an active measure so insidiously evil that it could only have been dreamed up in Moscow, the current wellspring of insidious evil. Its official Russo-Nazi-sounding code name is still being decided on by leftist cryptographers, but most people know it as the “Trumpenleft.”

The Trumpenleft (or “Sputnik Left,” as it is also called by professional anti-Putin-Nazi intelligence analysts) is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. It is a gang of nefarious Putin-Nazi infiltrators posing as respectable leftists in order to disseminate Trumpian ideology and Putin-Nazi propaganda among an assortment of online leftist magazines that hardly anyone ever actually reads. The aim of these insidious Trumpenleft infiltrators is to sow confusion, chaos, and discord among actual, real, authentic leftists who are going about the serious business of calling Donald Trump a fascist on the Internet twenty-five times a day, verbally abusing Julian Assange, occasionally pulling down oppressive statues, and sharing videos of racist idiots acting like racist idiots in public.

The Trumpenleft is determined to sabotage (or momentarily disrupt) this revolutionary work, mostly by tricking these actual leftists into critically thinking about a host of issues that there is no good reason to critically think about … global capitalism, national sovereignty, immigration, identity politics, corporate censorship, and other issues that there is no conceivable reason to discuss, or debate, or even casually mention, unless you’re some kind of Russia-loving Nazi.

Angela Nagle’s recent piece in American Affairs is a perfect example. Nagle (who is certainly Trumpenleft) puts forth the fascistic proposition that mass migration won’t help the world’s poor, and she claims that it creates “a race to the bottom for workers” in wealthier, developed countries and “a brain drain” in poorer, less developed countries. After deploying a variety of Trumpenleft sophistry (i.e., fact-based analysis, logic, and so on), she goes so far as to openly suggest that “progressives should focus on addressing the systemic exploitation at the root of mass migration rather than retreating to a shallow moralism” … a shallow moralism that reifies the dominant neoliberal ideology that is causing mass migration in the first place.

This is the type of gobbledegook the Trumpenleft use to try to dupe real leftists into putting down their phones for a minute and actually thinking through political issues! Fortunately, no one is falling for it. As any bona fide leftist knows, there is no “mass migration problem.” The whole thing is simply a racist hoax concocted by Putin, Alex Jones, and other Trumpian disinformationists. The only thing real leftists need to know about immigration is that immigrants are good, and Trump, and walls, and borders are bad! All that other fancy gibberish about global capitalism, Milton Friedman, labor markets, and national sovereignty is nothing but fascist propaganda (which needs to be censored, or at least deplatformed, or demonetized, or otherwise suppressed).

But Angela Nagle is just one example. The Trumpenleft is legion, and growing. Its membership includes a handful of prominent (and rather less prominent) fake leftist figures: Glenn Greenwald, who many among the “Resistance” would like to see renditioned and indefinitely detained in some offshore Trumpenleft gulag somewhere; Matt Taibbi, who just published a treasonous article challenging the right of the US government to prosecute publishers as “enemy agents” for publishing material they don’t want published; Julian Assange, who is one such publisher, and who the US has scheduled for public crucifixion just as soon as they can get their hands on him; Aaron Maté of the Real News Network, a notorious Trump-Russia “collusion denialist“; Caitlin Johnstone, an Australian blogger and poet who the Red-Brown Putin-Nazi hunters at CounterPunch have become totally obsessed with; Diana Johnstone, who they also don’t like; and (full disclosure) your humble narrator.

Now, normally, the opinions of some political journalists and rather marginal political writers wouldn’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world, but there’s a war on, so there’s no room for neutrality. As I mentioned in my latest essay, over the course of the next two years, the global capitalist ruling classes need to make an example of Trump, and Assange, and anyone else who has had the gall to fuck with their global empire. Part of how they are going to do this is to further polarize the already extremely polarized ideological spectrum until everyone is forced onto one or the other side of a pro- or anti-Trump equation, or a pro- or anti-populist equation … or a pro- or anti-fascist equation.

As you probably noticed, The Guardian has just launched a special six-week “investigative series” exploring the whole “new populism” phenomenon (which began with a lot of scary photos of Steve Bannon next to the word “populism”). We are going to be hearing a lot about “populism” over the course of the next two years. We are going to be hearing how “populism” is actually not that different from fascism, or at the very least is inherently racist, and anti-Semitic, and xenophobic, and how, basically, anyone who criticizes neoliberal elites or the corporate media is Russia-loving, pro-Trump Nazi.

And this is where this “Trumpenleft” malarkey fits into the ruling classes’ broader campaign to eliminate any kind of critical thinking and force people to mindlessly root for their “team.” See, the problem with us “Trumpenleft” types is not that we support Donald Trump. For the record, none of us really do. Some of us think he us a dangerous demagogue. Others of us think he is a blithering idiot. None of us think he’s Fidel Castro, or that he cares one iota about the working classes, or about anyone other than Donald Trump.

No, the problem is not that we’re on the wrong team; the problem is that we are asking people to question the propaganda of the team that we’re supposed to be on, or at least be rooting for. We are asking people to pay attention to how the global capitalist ruling establishment is going about quashing this “populist” insurgency (of which Brexit and Trump are manifestations, not causes) so they can get back to the business of relentlessly restructuring, privatizing, and debt-enslaving everything, as they’ve been doing since the end of the Cold War. We’re asking folks, not to join “the other team,” but to pay close attention to how they are being manipulated into believing that there are only two “teams,” and that they have to join one, and then mindlessly parrot whatever nonsense their team decides they need to disseminate in order to win a game that is merely a simulation they have conjured up (i.e., the ruling classes have conjured up) in order to inoculate themselves against an actual conflict they cannot win and so must prevent at all costs from ever beginning … which, they are doing a pretty good job of that so far.

In other words, the problem with us Trumpenlefters is, the prospect of defeating a fake Russian Hitler, and restoring neoliberal normality in the USA and the rest of the West, is just not all that terribly inspiring. So, rather than regurgitating the Russia hysteria and the fascism hysteria that is being produced by the global capitalist ruling establishment to gin up support for their counterinsurgency, we are continuing to focus on the capitalist ruling classes, which are actually still running things, globally, and will be running things long after Trump is gone (and the Imminent Threat of Global Fascist Takeover of Everything has disappeared, as the Imminent Threat of Nookular Terrorist Backpack Attack disappeared before it).

Or maybe all that is just a ruse, an attempt on my part to dupe you into going out and buying a MAGA hat and shouting racist abuse at Honduran kids, assuming you can find some in your vicinity. You never know with us Trumpenleft types. Probably the safest thing to do to protect yourself from our insidious treachery is to start your own personal Trumpenleft blacklist, and spread lies about us all over the Internet, or just report us to Twitter, or Facebook, or somebody, whoever you feel are the proper authorities. The main thing is to shut us up, or prophylactically delegitimize us, to keep us from infecting other leftists with our filthy, nonconformist ideas. The last thing we need at a time like this is a bunch of leftists thinking for themselves and questioning official leftist dogma. Who knows what that kind of behavior might lead to?

*****

N.B. As far as I could gather from my research, the “Trumpenleft” label was coined by Paul Street, a regular columnist at Truthdig and CounterPunch and all-around professional leftist. Like the editors of The New York Times, Street understands the importance of sloppily Germanicizing terms you want to frighten people with, because there’s nothing quite as terrifying as Nazi morphology!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Running in Circles

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

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

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

Brecht’s Stance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Non-striving

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Time

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

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

On the Horizon

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

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

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

Chaos Theory

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Contradiction, Paradox, Nuance

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

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

The whites accuse him of being dark. Guilty

The dark ones accuse him of being white. Guilty

The authentics accuse him of being indigenous. Guilty

The treasonous indigenous accuse him of being mestizo. Guilty

The machos accuse him of being feminine. Guilty

The feminists accuse him of being macho. Guilty

The communists accuse him of being anarchist. Guilty

The anarchists accuse him of being orthodox. Guilty

The Anglos accuse him of being Chicano. Guilty

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

The Jews accuse him of being pro-Arab. Guilty

The Europeans accuse him of being Asiatic. Guilty

The government officials accuse him of being oppositionist. Guilty

The reformists accuse him of being ultra. Guilty

The ultras accuse him of being reformist. Guilty

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

The civic society accuses him of disturbing their tranquility. Guilty

The Stock Exchange accuses him of ruining their breakfast. Guilty

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

The serious ones accuse of being a jokester. Guilty

The adults accuse him of being a child. Guilty

The children accuse him of being an adult. Guilty

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

The theoreticians accuse of being a practitioner. Guilty

The practicioners accuse of being a theorist. Guilty

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

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

Quantum Theory

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gaia Theory

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Planting Seeds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How the Rats Revolt: “Ratting Out” Democrats’ Electoral Extortion

Introduction: The Rat as a Compelling Symbol of Needed Revolt

In his recent Truthdig piece,  “The Rats Revolt“, journalist Chris Hedges discusses a fable for activists just published by legendary political dissident Ralph Nader. I haven’t read Nader’s book, but it’s enough for organizers like me to know that two of the left’s leading public intellectuals are united in calling for revolt. And (since symbols are vital to movements) that they’ve given us a highly effective symbol for organizing current revolt: the rat.

With crucial strategy to discuss, it would waste precious time to dwell long on movement symbolism here. But, besides its adoption by leftist opinion leaders like Hedges and Nader, the rat splendidly serves the purposes of organizing revolt. In the face of onrushing climate apocalypse, we are all rats on a sinking ship. And to the elites blithely ignoring climate apocalypse—partying on the Titanic—we who care deeply about the matter are clearly noxious vermin; the brutal treatment of the Standing Rock water protectors as terrorists (championed by Republican pols with scarcely a murmur of protest by Democrats) is both telling and typical. My family’s experience resisting fracking under PA’s Democratic governor Rendell (Virginia Cody is my wife) was parallel.

But—provided the revolt movement chooses appropriate action—there’s a positive, active side to the rat symbol; it needn’t just represent passive victimhood. Indeed, my case here is that Democrats are engaged in mafia-like behavior—electoral extortion—that demands “ratting out.” Finally, it’s appropriate in view of rats’ historical role in transmitting the bubonic plague, since the movement strategy I propose here is heavily focused on plaguing Democrats.

Revolt Basis: Democrats Criminally Extort Votes against Climate Justice

Say what? Why plague Democrats, with a president as horrible as Trump in charge and ruling Republicans arguably turning ever more fascist?  Indeed, hasn’t Noam Chomsky himself, an icon to most leftists, branded today’s Republican Party “the most dangerous organization in human history“? So what’s up with organizing a mass revolt against Democrats? Isn’t it insane to elect the most dangerous organization in human history?

First off, I’m not saying we should vote Republican, or even run the risk of electing Republicans by voting for third parties. Far from it! Asserting we should vote Republican, or even risk Republicans winning, would contradict my fundamental assertion that Democrats extort our votes. Anyone who takes Chomsky’s assertion that Republicans are the most dangerous organization in human history seriously—and no one takes it more seriously than climate justice activists like me—is poised to understand how Democrats exploit the threat of brutal Republican misrule as a turbocharged tool of electoral extortion.

If Democrats didn’t make a rationally compelling threat, they wouldn’t be practicing extortion. Just as the mob makes a rationally compelling threat: they provably can and will kill your whole family. That Democrats make their totally rational threat unsuccessfully is suggestive evidence of just how loathsome voters find today’s Democrats. Even more so, it’s compelling evidence that U.S. voters on neither the right nor the left are terribly rational. The left, in particular, has shown a piss-poor grasp of Chomsky’s logic.

Anyone acquainted with Chomsky’s dry, matter-of-fact speaking style should realize that he’s not given to emotionally charged hyperbole. In fact, I seem to recall that he adopts that style deliberately, wishing to persuade by facts and logic rather than emotional appeals. So when he makes an assertion as outrageous sounding as calling Republicans the most dangerous organization in human history—and openly acknowledges how outrageous his assertion sounds—he’s basing it on the scientific logic of climate apocalypse, a logic regrettably almost totally absent from U.S. political discourse.

With an unprecedented climate fiasco menacing our species—perhaps to the point of extinction—a Republican Party not merely rejecting climate science, but proactively attacking it as a dangerous conspiracy, is logically humanity’s most dangerous enemy ever. Which is why leftists must choke back our vomit and vote for Democrats. But we hardly need to stop there. We should torture Democrats with righteous wrath for strong-arming us into voting for their own loathsome party. A party with no room whatsoever for climate justice.

By voting for Democrats, we’re voting for a party that overwhelmingly supports fracking and militarism—the first a direct, and the second an indirect, assault on the prerequisites of emergency climate action, as ably laid out by Naomi Klein in This Changes Everything. If leftists needed a scathing indictment of Democrats and their policies, the latest IPCC report is clearly that indictment. Anyone secretly hell-bent on promoting human extinction need not look crazy by backing Republicans; Democrats’ policy commitments will work just fine. But in a political system with only two viable parties, Republicans are demonstrably far worse, beyond appeal to reason (just like any other mob enforcer). For any reasonable person concerned about climate, Democrats’ electoral extortion must succeed. And must be repaid with bitter resentment. That’s what movement organizing—and the time between elections—is for.

So, the logic of U.S. politics cries out specifically for a Rats’ Revolt, one devoted to “ratting out” Democrats for their anti-climate electoral extortion. Moreover, the notion of “ratting out” couldn’t be more appropriate to the nature of Democrats’ extortion. After all, ratting out mob higher-ups to the feds is a disloyal act of revenge or self-protection (both apply here) undertaken by fellow members of the mob. Perhaps those future “rats” were even coerced into the mob under threat of force and therefore owe the mob no real loyalty. Such is the case for all climate justice voters strong-armed into voting Democrat—coerced into the Democrat mob—under the rationally unthinkable threat of Republican rule. Climate justice voters in our hearts, we would—in a genuine democracy—vote for a climate justice party like Greens in a heartbeat. We owe neither love nor loyalty to a Democratic Party that holds our votes hostage—in fact, we hate it—but we will never be safe or free until we “rat out” Democrats’ electoral extortion racket. And torture Democrats—the ones we were coerced into electing—into providing effective remedies.

Making U.S. Elections Safe for Democracy

Democrats clearly have a vested interest in quashing democracy through electoral extortion. And their pretenses of wishing to protect us from Republican fascism and insanity are the purest hypocritical lip service. For there’s a vastly more effective method of sparing us Republican barbarity than demanding we vote for Democrats. It’s called ranked choice voting, and if Democrats really gave a damn about protecting us from Republicans, they’d be tripping over one another to sponsor bills to make it U.S. electoral law.

While I don’t have space here to discuss ranked choice voting in detail (all people who cherish democracy should use the link above to inform themselves), ranked choice voting would forcefully close the curtain on Democratic Party extortion. Every climate justice voter who wished to vote third party—right now, that should mean every climate justice voter—could safely vote, say, for the Green Party candidate and list the Democrat as a second choice. If the Green candidate didn’t win enough first-place votes to stay in the race, the Green voters’ votes would then go to the Democratic candidate. In that way, voting Green would not automatically entail taking a vote away from Democrats. Prospective Green voters would no longer face a compelling dilemma of conscience when voting for their (vastly) preferred party. And climate justice activists like me could—in good conscience—throw all energies into working to build Greens (or the most promising climate justice party). And Democrats would be faced with serious competition from the environmentally and socially conscious left. The same sort of competition that forced 1930s Democrats to embrace the New Deal.

Coercing Democrats to embrace ranked choice voting would open the door to further reforms crucial to “making U.S. elections safe for democracy.” I speak of the hurdles deliberately placed to keep third parties from appealing to voters, whether it be ridiculous barriers to ballot access or scandalous exclusion from major media debates. Currently, both Democrats and Republican show their “mafia” thuggishness by reveling in these anti-democratic practices. With Republicans, this should be no surprise, since fascistic anti-democracy thuggishness is actually a large part of GOP appeal. Whereas Democrats have zero rational grounds for anti-democratically suppressing progressive third parties—except, of course, the threadbare argument of risking electing Republicans. A risk easily removed by enacting ranked choice voting. Democrats’ flagrant resistance to ranked choice voting, like their persistence in third-party-suppressing practices, makes an utter mockery of the party name.

But Democrats’ role models in strong-armed extortion—the mafia—never showed much interest in democracy either.

Conclusion

In this article, I indicated why leftist activists—especially climate justice activists—should take up Chris Hedges’ and Ralph Nader’s call to start a “Rats’ Revolt.” I also sketched the organizing theme and overall strategy for such a revolt. In my next piece, “Chuck Schumer, Democrats’ Low-Profile Teflon Don,” I’ll illustrate the needed tactics for executing our strategy of “ratting on” and “plaguing” Democrats who extort our votes.