Category Archives: Communism/Marxism/Maoism

Three Guys and a Podcast Questioning the SOP of the ‘traditional’ Left

I was asked to appear on What’s Left?, a podcast put on by three fellows, all identifying as socialist, and all concerned about the shut down of critical thinking, the shuttling of alternative narratives and censoring of plain old questioning paradigms and authorities of any ilk. Their concern covers why questioning the scientism of today’s Corona Craziness is somehow verboten, or why we can’t discuss what the Lockdowns do and do not do, or worse, how the censoring of medical treatments (like ivermectin) — life saving ones — by mass media, left media and by so-called leftists has killed thousands.

They have a more far-ranging repertoire, and in these various podcasts, they take on sacred cows and traditional paradigms coming from “the left.” What is Left; i.e. What’s Left, is something that has been tackled here at DV:

What Is Progressivism? by Kim Petersen

This Is the Left? by Steve Church

Don’t Confuse the Left with the Right But Beware of the False Left by Kim Petersen

What Is (and Is Not) Left-Wing? by Kieran Kelly

The Left: Sleepwalking among the Workless Class by Kim Petersen

A great idea — self-reflective, rhetorical, didactic — turned into a regular twice-a-month discourse with a guest (many times) and these three dudes — Eduardo, Kenny and Andy. Sometimes it’s just the three of them grappling with modernity and history, the collision of left with consumerism, how capitalism is a disease but one we live with or under. Many times, the shows are awakenings, as the three of them come at the respective topics from very defined and diverse backgrounds. Connotation versus denotation, and then all the heralded processed of analytical thinking, and discourse and debate (they do not always agree on issues or spins).

There is a refreshing openness to what the three do, and how many times the topics are picked out of a bucket one week while then the three go about researching each topic to bring some construction to the podcast. They lean into discovery, and how their own more or less generalized collective social justice ethos dovetails into the realities of Xenophobia, Colonizing minds, collective delusion, and, yes, why leftists in general have a slew of topics they just will not venture toward, or worse, topics for which leftists will not entertain multiple discourses and perspectives around, albeit, what we see now, a cancelling, or censoring of discussion and debate, de facto or overtly pronounced. Like a house of cards, lies and ameliorating toward some cherished false balance or invented purity come tumbling down.

Above all, don’t lie to yourself. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others. Not respecting anyone, he ceases to love, and having no love, he gives himself up to the passions and coarse pleasures, in order to occupy and amuse himself, and in his vices reaches complete bestiality, and it all comes from lying continually to others and to himself.

— Zosima makes this speech to Fyodor Pavlovich in Book II:  Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov

Here, recent shows:

  • JUL 17, 2021 — Biden’s Sleight of Hand in Afghanistan
  • JUL 10, 2021 — Abolish the Police! I Mean, Defund the Police! Never mind, Fund the Police!
  • JUL 3, 2021 — Haeder’s Reimagining Sanity – Batty Bioweapons, 5G, Star Wars
  • JUN 26, 2021 — The Lowdown on Higher Ed
  • JUN 19, 2021 — Secret Societies and the New World Order
  • JUN 13, 2021 — What is the New World Order?

Even Kenny was interviewed a while back on the show — What’s Left? interviews Kenny Zepeda on his journey from Guatemala to the United States and from liberal reformist to socialist revolutionary. Previous What’s Left? Episodes Kenny on revolts in Chile and Latin America, Kenny on Climate Change Nicaragua and Fake Socialism, What’s Left? Kenny Z.: The Revolutionary Road

Their first episodes dealt with myriad of issues — beginning August 2018

  • Sacrificing Everything for Nike
  • Prison Strike 2018!
  • Interview with a Pro-Capitalist Anarchist
  • What’s Left of Abortion Rights?
  • Is the U.S. Turning to Fascism?

As teachers, Andy and Eduardo have been dealing with lockdowns and Zoom doom rooms for educating (sic) youth. They are dealing with fellow teachers who have taken the Covid-19 pill that has turned them into Covidians.

They are concerned about the censorship of leftists who might question the bioweapon theories, or promulgate them, citing USA DARPA and other nefarious actors in higher ed, industry, etc.

The Jab, Star Wars, and the Bubble Net of Digital Gulags

In the new world, it is not the big fish which eats the small fish, it’s the fast fish which eats the slow fish. — Klaus Schwab

That was May 22, 2021. The episode was great, far-ranging and with my own brand of frenetic fervor, and, alas, it was taken down from YouTube:

Pulled from YouTube”: Mantra of Our Age by Paul Haeder,  July 13th, 2021

I am of the opinion that people have the right to decide whether to accept vaccines or not, especially since these are experimental vaccines … My concern is I know there are risks but we don’t have access to the data … We don’t really have the information we need to make a reasonable decision.

— Dr. Robert Malone, “Inventor of mRNA Interviewed About Injection Dangers“

Now, I will give readers the entire interview I did with them, via email, here, to give the reader a decent look at three very different men and their narratives, their avocations, their work now, and what makes them tick as socialists-Marxists.

Hear no Evil, See no Evil, Speak no Evil by Gavin Mayhew

They have moved into the Fourth Industrial Revolution to what is a new world order.

For me, I was asked to handle the ungainly topics of Covid-19 as a bioweaponized monster, possibly put into the world intentionally by USA, and then 5G and 6G, what that means to public and environmental health, and then tying in the militarization of space as part and parcel of the pogrom.

What's Left? (podcast) - Eduardo Abarca & Andy Libson | Listen Notes

Now, I believe Andy at first gravitated to me because I am an unapologetic communist, and that is a refined term in some sense since I’m not espousing a communism that has been bastardized by USA, by the media, even by some history.

Tolerance is another buzzword, and for all those gigs I worked where I questioned the management, the deans, the presidents, provosts, the managers, the editors, et al, well, this country is propaganda central, wink and a nod, smoke and mirrors, and triangulating those who doubt the goals of management and the leadership — triangulating us out of the discussion, the discourse, hence, the death of critical debate/thinking/questioning.

Now, I don’t see on What’s Left?, 163 episodes, a deep look at some of these shenanigans, in the world, and not just Rogue State USA. Israel.

That in a nutshell is the death knell:

Here, a far-ranging discussion on Israel and on the Covid program:

Listen to  Julianne Romanello, Gilad Atzmon, and Jason Bosch go deep into “ideological and spiritual thoughts that have turned our world into an open air prison.” This sort of show, well, scrubbed, and right along the lines of looking at this concept of “chosenness, and then at the work of Leo Strauss, Athens & Jerusalem, Noahide fundamentals, the origin of Zionism and many other crucial topics most intellectuals insist to avoid…”

Better Dead Than Red Sticker & Decal - Ballistic Ink

These are the times, but they were the times for me a long time ago, when I was 13, questioning cruise ships knocking over coral reefs, or bulldozers destroying the Sonora, or the Vietnam War narratives, and it just continued every place I ended up as a worker: the people “in power” are lunatics, for the most part. On one level, sure, let’s do some trauma informed care, but in the end, this society’s underbelly  — USA, Canada, UK, Europe and Australia — has to be questioned!

Education, since all of us are educators, that is, with the What’s Left? reference, is amazingly entrenched in indoctrination and deadening of critical thinking:

Weapons of Mass Instruction: A Schoolteacher's Journey Through The Dark World of Compulsory Schooling by John Taylor Gatto

And, the narrative around Israel and what’s happening globally, well, that is shut down all the time:

ESSENTIAL READING:

  • Microsoft, Google join Whatsapp lawsuit vs. Israeli spyware developer
  • Stuxnet: The Israeli-American Computer Virus That Started Cyber-Warfare

RELATED READING:

  • Snowden: Israeli technology may have helped Saudis kill journalist
  • Israeli Spying on US, Perfecting 24/7 Surveillance Tech
  • Why did Microsoft fund an Israeli firm that surveils West Bank Palestinians?
  • Israel Launches Internet “Command Center” to Monitor Social Media
  • Julian Assange exposed the crimes of powerful actors, including Israel
  • Israel advocate Ravich named to senior intelligence post, planned US-Israel cyber project against BDS

VIDEOS:

  • ADL to Build Silicon Valley Center to Monitor & Fight “Cyberhate” [Video]
  • Israel is Training U.S. Police

Check out more here — If Americans Knew and Palestine News:

Identified by Google, an Israeli spyware company has enabled government hacking of social media and email accounts of over 100 journalists, activists, and others.

Israeli Hackers

The American Federation of Teachers, all those colleges and universities, and K12 ordering everyone to get an mRNA experimental treatment (sic), they will use the tools of oppression, from Google to Israel’s hacking and tracking and ripping up tools. Andy did a live event, with social distancing (sic), even masks, outside, with parental permission, on circuits. The honchos at his school in the Mission District of San Francisco came down hard on him. We know the feeling, Andy, we being the royal “we.”

Check out an interview of Andy on Left Lockdown Skeptics —  “Fighting lockdown in California: A US teacher speaks

Q & A for Paul Haeder

Paul Haeder: What is “What’s Left?” and how did it come about?

Eduardo: Oh, golly… I think, for me, it started back in 2017 in the aftermath of the “Unite the Right rally” in Charlottesville as I was attempting to politically make sense of the times and debate a childhood friend of mine on a public social platform. I had watched many Oxford debates before and wanted to do something similar. I really thought my friendship was on the line. Fortunately, Andy had come along at that time and shared with me he was interested in taking our own café political discussions online. So, we had a long conversation about the idea of “What’s Left?” and its intention. Something we both agreed on early on was to have open, honest discussions about our personal politics and ideas. We wanted to create a space for alternative points of view that challenged the mainstream Left. We had noticed there was a growing tribalistic way of thinking on the Left that seemed to cancel all deviant political discourse. Hence, “What’s Left?” came into being.

Andy: Eduardo and I started “What’s Left?” 3 years ago.  For me, I had been politically frustrated at not having an outlet for discussing my own political ideas and thoughts that came up as events happened.  At the same time, I watched YouTube channels on groups of friends who would get together and review movies or video games.  They seemed to have fun doing that and I approached Eduardo about trying to do the same thing but with politics.  I have always enjoyed talking with Eduardo and I trusted him to be passionate and honest about his beliefs (just as I was trying to be).  It has been both rewarding and fun despite YouTube’s censorship nonsense.

Kenny: I joined the show a couple years ago. I first joined Andy and Eduardo in a conversation about the events unfolding in Nicaragua in 2018. From then on, I participated as an occasional contributor regarding Latin America related topics until I was approached to contribute on a weekly basis.

PH: “What’s Left?” is composed of three hosts. Can each of you share your background?

Kenny: I’ve been a restaurant worker and a manager at a small mom and pop restaurant in San Francisco, CA. most of my working age life. I grew up in Guatemala until the age of 12 when we emigrated to California. Much of what has informed my road to Marxism has to do with lived experiences such as migration from Guatemala to the U.S. A , my father’s dealing with immigration and eventual  deportation, attending public school in San Francisco, entering and dropping out of UC Berkeley, growing up around sex work, growing up in a U.S. backed military dictatorship in Guatemala among other things. The search for answers that actually make sense has shaped my life and led me to Marxism.

Eduardo: I was a “cross cultural kid” having lived in México with all of my tías/tíos, abuelitos and primos, then as I got older went to public school in San Francisco, CA. I would study in San Francisco then spend my rather long summers back home. It was an atypical Latino experience of back and forth. I cannot say I had the common undocumented Latino experience for most families in the USA. I mean most families are not crossing the border over skies multiple times a year. So, it shapes one in a way. But I would say my 18 years as a Jehovah’s Witness had the most impact in my life. I would read forbidden literature late into the wee hours, be curious of all things deprived of me and learned never to trust ANY person, organization or ideology claiming to be the “right way.” I will say it fulfilled my desire to be of service to others. It was just an awful sort of service of conversion. Although, I did teach many illiterate people how to read over that time. I found another way to fulfill that void when I witnessed the massive anti-war protests of 2003 and joined the school walkouts. From there it was joining many Lefty movements and campaigns, such as supporting progressive candidates. I think my skills as an organizer and activist of rallies and protests, though, were sharpened by Occupy Wall Street and protests against GMO companies. Those experiences have influenced the way I think and do things. If I had to label myself, I would say I am anarchist-leaning-syndicalist-Leftist-libertarian. If you have an issue with that mouthful, too bad.

 Andy: I am a school teacher in San Francisco (who lives in Oakland).  I have been teaching science (physics and chemistry) for over 20 years.  I have been a Marxist for that long as well.  I have been in socialist organizations and active in my union over that time.  Currently, while still active in my union, I am pretty much a solo communist trying to find a political community to work with.  “What’s Left?” has been a big part of rebuilding that community.

PH: What for you are some of the more compelling topics and issues you all have covered?

Andy: I think the one episode that stands out for me is our interviews with Eric Lerner (part 1 and part 2) challenging the notion of the Big Bang as a theory that explains our current universe.  This was such a surprising issue for me and uprooted a core premise of my beliefs in an area that caught me completely off guard.  At the same time, it explained the nagging sense I had that there was some real problems with these things like dark matter and dark energy.  So these episodes, for me, symbolize the way my world has been continually shifted and uprooted as I take this political journey with Eduardo and Kenny.  It also symbolizes my attempt to use truth as my North Star, not ideology.

Eduardo: Oh, there are so many. But I think I’ll go with what has recently changed me in many ways. The topics around the Internet of Things with Alison McDowell, and, what I call “my COVID journey”, the reopening schools debate as well as the vaccines. It’s been a rollercoaster and re-traumatising being rejected and attacked on a personal level from friends on the Left who disagree with everything we have recently discussed. I also realize we have to discuss unpopular topics or say more than “We oppose Trump!”.

Kenny: For me, the show has been instrumental in processing and dissecting a number of topics, but most especially everything related to the pandemic. I’ve been particularly captivated by the fast encroachment of tech into our lives and the implications it will have for dissenting working class voices.

PH: What topics would you like to cover in the future on “What’s Left?”

Kenny: I’d love to continue covering relevant topics to fellow workers, in ways that are accessible and not elitist, in the hopes that we can spark interest in thinking outside the parameters chosen by our ruling class. I would definitely love to continue tracking the implementation of the techno-fascist world being built in the name of social justice with rhetoric of inclusion. I’d love to continue processing the implications of current events outside the mainstream manufactured narratives.

Andy: “What’s Left?” has really been a labor of love, and we have pretty much been able to interview the people and cover the subjects we want. I would say that I hope that it can increasingly become a locus of organizing for me as I try to build a community of parents, teachers, activists and even students who are prepared to join me in fighting the implementation of the 4th industrial revolution in education.

Eduardo: We have to continue covering on-the-ground workers’ experience and any significant mobilization. However, if it’s slow and there isn’t much going on currently, I’d like to delve into more labor history and revolutions. Hopefully that will inspire more workers to organize.

PH: Your channel has experienced a lot of censorship with YouTube taking many of your videos down and threatening you with “community strikes”. How has this affected your channel? How has it affected you personally?

Eduardo: The ruthless censorship of YouTube and big social media platforms is outrageous. I don’t understand how we can criticize China and North Korea for their censorship when we have it going on here as well. The recent strikes on our channel have been eye-opening. I just don’t get why it hasn’t been for others. I wish our channel could reach more people. Unfortunately, we started at a time when the play of algorithms has been used against us. On a personal level, sometimes it feels discouraging because I imagined we would reach more people. Andy and I discussed from the beginning, though, that our intention wasn’t to gain “followers” or “subscribers” for popularity contests. I just hope our political conversations reach more folks as we see people really relieved to have found us when they write to us on our blog. They feel connected and not so alone anymore.

Kenny: I suspect that regardless if we are straight up taken down, the algorithm gods will manage our content’s diffusion. In my perspective, this is only the beginning of the even more dystopian doctored sense of ‘reality”. YouTube’s censorship hasn’t affected me personally in any significant way. At least not now. I expected it in some form or another. It does shed some light into the fast approaching dystopian future. The censorship and political isolation in my community is another story.

Andy: YouTube’s censorship is bullshit. It has definitely been a disruption to getting our message out on YouTube, but from what I understand, even without the censorship, YouTube’s ‘algorithm’ has kept our channel in check. But, I think one good thing about it (if you can call it that) is that it has forced me to really challenge my beliefs in pushing me to speak my beliefs in the face of censorship or isolation. Of course, I want our channel to be seen by more people, but not at the expense of us staying true to our vision of “What’s Left?” is a place where people can speak honestly. So, I am going to stick with honesty and let YouTube decide for themselves if we can do so there. If not, I am content with the idea that we will find other places to have our discussions.

 PH:  Given the sort of culling of discussion and debate and information flow back and forth being by the elites, what would you tell students who might ask you why all the websites and podcasts and videos are coming down?

 Andy: As a teacher, my political focus has always been on organizing and talking with other adults (co-workers and parents). The best way to help students organize is to be a model for them in my pursuit of getting us adults to wage a fight for our collective liberation. I have found this road a difficult one, but I do not think I can teach my students anything about the fight for our own liberation unless I engage in that pursuit with my fellow workers right now. I do talk with students who ask me about my beliefs but I rarely use the classroom as a vehicle for getting my politics out there, although I will facilitate discussions when they come up to see what students’ ideas are.

Eduardo: I think there are enough great episodes from Black Mirror to ease the conversation into the idea that we are increasingly approaching a dystopian future if we don’t organize to intervene. From there, I would share and facilitate discussions around the culling of our political freedom of speech. But I think it goes beyond the classroom. So many educators want to contain or effect change within the confines of the classroom. We have to organize together alongside them to create the change we want to see.

Kenny: I’m not a teacher/educator. I’ll sit this one out.

PH: If you were stuck with a stranger on an elevator and could only talk briefly, how would you describe the core of your political beliefs?

Kenny: I’m highly suspicious of power and strongly believe in the power of community. I think capitalism rewards antisocial behavior and it’s inherently coercive. Capitalism cannot be contained  with legislative reform as advocated by liberal ideology. I think we live in a world technologically capable of sustaining organized human life and only a socialist revolution can and must take over the wealth workers create for the good of the masses and away from the truly privileged few. Capitalism, through its inherent violent and competitive nature, cannot bring about a world of peace and abundance for the masses. Only a revolution that suppresses wage slavery and other coercive and destructive mechanisms of capitalism can change the course of the cataclysm ahead of us. The profit motive must be obliterated out of production. What we produce must serve life, NOT  profit.

Andy: I am a Communist. I believe the collective working class is the only force that can make a revolutionary change of our current system, Capitalism. Capitalism is the organized theft of our labor by a minority and is at the root of virtually all the problems we see in society today —  war, racism, sexism, environmental destruction and the deep isolation and alienation all workers feel. The only way out of this is a socialist revolution that eliminates the profit motive for production and establishes worker’s rule through mass working class democracy.

Eduardo: I am an anarchist-syndicalist-Leftist-libertarian-anti-capitalist. I don’t claim to have the answers. I don’t know what is the best approach. I am skeptical of many things. But what I do know is that the current system that we are living in isn’t working for us. It’s detrimental and we are going to suffer greatly if we don’t put a stop to this system. I believe we have to organize as workers and see that the Leftist identity politics isn’t getting us anywhere. We can’t be shutting down or shutting out other people because of their political positions. We have to challenge them and we have to continue sorting it out together… but by working together.

PH: Are you a pacifist, and if so, why, and if not, then what, and why?

Eduardo: I want to say yes. I dream of a world where our revolution could be achieved in such a way. Unfortunately, I am struggling seeing how that could become possible. The capitalist class and all people with power have waged violence on us. They have started this fight and are willing to massively destroy us if we don’t defend ourselves. I still have a lot of conflicting feelings over this topic.

Kenny: “For the oppressor, peace is the absence of a response to their violence.” I think history has been sanitized to make us believe fundamental change arrives through Disneyfied slogans and appealing to the morality of the oppressor. Capitalism is inherently violent, and it attempts to have a monopoly of violence in the hands of the police/military  and other coercive institutions. If we pretend to rattle the cage of power, we have to be ready to respond to the unleashing of the institutions built to protect a violent system. We have to be able to contend with their monopoly of violence. My mother taught me to exhaust all the means necessary to avoid violence, but she also taught me some abusers can only be pushed out of the way by punching them in the face when you must.

Andy: No. I believe we will ultimately need to be armed to liberate ourselves from Capitalism. A class war will be necessary and I do believe violence has a role in workers’ experience of liberation (such as anti-colonial struggles or anti-occupation resistance).  We live in a system where two great classes are in opposition to each other (Capitalist and Worker), and we live under their violent boot every second of every day that Capitalism exists.  This system will require violence to uproot it.  The better we are organized, the less violence required, but we must recognize our struggle as a war if we are to understand both the stakes and the seriousness of the struggle we are engaged in.

PH: Where do you see the world in 20 years?

Andy: I believe in the possibility of working class revolution, but currently I don’t believe we will make it happen in time.  I think Capitalism is headed to its 3rd global war which will embroil China, United States, Russia, Europe, and India as the major players in a life and death struggle to see who will control the globe (and secure maximum profits, resources and markets for itself).  Unless stopped (and I believe working class revolution is the only way to stop this inevitability), we will have a war that will go nuclear and kill billions and likely destroy the world enough to push all of us back into feudal existence at best.  I think some of the sci-fi depictions we see in “The Road” or “Mad Max” are pretty good descriptors of where things are headed.  That’s what I see for us in the next 20 years unless we do something to stop it.

Kenny: I think we need a global workers’ socialist revolution with the most decisive battle happening in the economic north. The U.S., the world’s dominant hegemon, is being challenged and will continue to be challenged as it overextends itself. All empires suffer a violent end. The U.S. threatens to bring the entirety of organized human life down with it. Cooperation in capitalism is only a tenuous illusion. The illusion of cooperation will be exposed as the major powers come into a competitive clash under the pressures of dwindling resources and markets.

Eduardo: It’s unfortunate that I don’t think the world will get any better if we don’t do something about it now. My view is quite grim. Alison McDowell has been on our show many times and has shown us how fast the fourth industrial revolution is accelerating. I fear we are losing a part of ourselves, our humanity. But I think we each have to continue this lucha one step at a time.

PH: Define what it means to be a human?

 Eduardo: To be human is to be of service, to think, to understand we are linked and interconnected. In the USA there is a strong selfish individualistic culture. Where I am from people live together communally as families and neighbors for years, if not forever. I fear we have lost that in many ways here. I think we can only come to an understanding by building those long-term relationships to understand such values as compassion, care and love beyond our immediate selves.

Andy: Being human means being free to both express yourself, be yourself and through that find out who you truly are.  But humans are social, so society must be free to have free associations so that a community can likewise be free to find and express itself through the free participation of its individual members.  At the root of being human is being free to be yourself and free to associate with whomever best fits your true self.

Kenny: Being human is the ability to understand processes beyond our individual survival. Being human is the ability to understand how our destinies are inter-connected with other life forms. Being human is the recognition that we are social beings and that our individual well being rests on the well being of our communities and our environment both locally and globally.

PH: What does community mean to you?

Kenny: Community is a pillar of humanity.

Eduardo: Bees come to mind. I mean I can think of many animal examples we could admire for their systems of communities. We can be more than that. I think we would not allow much of what is happening, such as the destruction of our environment, the occupation of lands and other profit-driven acts if we felt that pull and tie to one another. If we work together, if we think of all our comrades/companions, we would build a stronger and brighter future.

Andy: A community is a set of people I trust enough to be my true self with.  A community is a collection of people who make worthwhile the sacrifice of my time and abilities to make that community stronger and more able to bring the best out of all of its members.  A true community celebrates and strengthens its individual members and is strengthened and celebrated by the individuals who compose it.

PH: What have been some of your biggest influencers in your life to have gotten you where you are now? And, exactly where are you now?

Andy: Politically, my development as a Marxist who tries to blend my ideas (theory) with practice, I would say my friend, Brian Belknap, has been the most significant influence.  Personally, there are many people I could cite, but I think I would put my decision to engage in counseling over the last 15 years as the most significant decision to help me integrate my current self with my past self and integrate my political self with my personal self.  In terms of historical political influences, I would put the major ones as Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin, and Rosa Luxemburg as the biggest influences who help me orient myself as I try to make my way in the confusing journey of trying to change the world.

Kenny: My mother has always advocated for the marginalized by putting her well being in harms ways. She influenced me by showing up for others and for justice. My mother inspired me to speak against inhumane and despicable acts and to side with the weak and abused while advocating for myself. Even though she never engages in theory, my mother has always been a communist in practice. A passionate enemy of maliciousness.

Eduardo: Oh so many… Noam Chomsky helped me make sense of world politics. How wars, greed and power trips make these empires run the world. Christopher Hitchens gave me a way to leave my former Jehovah’s Witness life. Subcomandante Marcos, from the Zapatista movement, was an inspiration early on and provided the hope that class/native action can happen. Though small, they have achieved something that you won’t find anywhere in the USA. I think these are the top three figures that have paved the way for me.

Note: We’d like to thank Paul Haeder for the opportunity to share our story and our thoughts on Dissident Voice.  If you like what we have to say and want to talk to us on “What’s Left?” feel free to contact us at:  what’s left? 

https://www.elcohetealaluna.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/Cuba-resiste.jpg

At a 1969 Students for a Democratic Society conference, a 27-year old graduate of the University of Chicago’s Law School, Bernardine Dohrn, proposed:

The best thing that we can be doing for ourselves, as well as for the Panthers and the revolutionary black liberation struggle, is to build a fucking white revolutionary movement.

The post Three Guys and a Podcast Questioning the SOP of the ‘traditional’ Left first appeared on Dissident Voice.

What do you really know about U.S.-Cuba relations?

The need to possess Cuba is the oldest issue in U.S. foreign policy.
— Noam Chomsky, Excerpted from Rogue States, 2000

When you watch the latest news stories about unrest in Cuba, are you relying on critical thought to process them, or are you lazily falling back on decades of deeply embedded propaganda about Castro, communism, etc.? Are you familiar with your country’s history with Cuba? Are you open to accepting that God’s Country™ may have committed atrocities far worse than anything you’ve been told about the Cuban regime?

If you claim to hate communism, do you ever ask yourself why? Is it based solely on official textbooks, news stories, and flag-waving speeches by U.S. politicians? Do you know what communism actually is? Can you differentiate between communism, socialism, Marxism, etc.? Do you know for sure that genuine communism has ever actually existed in practice?

My point here is not to defend or condemn or even juxtapose communism and capitalism. I’m not a fan of either and I pledge no allegiance to Cuba. I do, however, pledge allegiance to context, nuance, perspective, and truth. For example, when you assess current Cuban society, it cannot be accurately done without factoring in six decades of the U.S. embargo. FYI: The U.S. Chamber of Commerce estimates that the ongoing embargo costs the U.S. economy $1.2 billion per year in lost sales and exports, while the Cuban government estimates that the embargo has cost the island itself $753.69 billion. To discuss Cuban politics, culture, or economics without factoring in the blockade is an act of intellectual dishonesty.

But there’s more — much more. The history of Cuba features a litany of abuses rained down upon it by its powerful neighbor to the north. To follow is just a small sampling to keep in mind whenever you decide to spout off about the current situation.

In 1897, U.S. President Teddy Roosevelt stated bluntly, “I should welcome almost any war, for I think this country needs one.” His wait lasted less than a year. February 15, 1898, was a muggy Tuesday night in Havana Harbor. Some 350 crew and officers settled in onboard the U.S.S. Maine. “At 9:40 p.m., the ship’s forward end abruptly lifted itself from the water,” writes author Tom Miller. “Along the pier, passersby could hear a rumbling explosion. Within seconds, another eruption — this one deafening and massive — splintered the bow, sending anything that wasn’t battened down, and most that were, flying more than 200 feet into the air.”

By the time the sleeping giant was jarred into alertness by the Maine explosion, Cuban and Filipino rebels were already fighting Spain for independence in their respective lands. The Maine was in Havana Harbor in 1898 on a purportedly friendly mission. “Yet,” writes Miller, “the visit was neither spontaneous nor altruistic; the United States had been eyeing Cuba for almost a century.”

“At a certain point in that spring, McKinley and the business community began to see that their object, to get Spain out of Cuba, could not be accomplished without war,” adds historian Howard Zinn, “and that their accompanying object, the securing of American military and economic influence in Cuba, could not be left to the Cuban rebels, but could be ensured only by U.S. intervention.”

American newspapers, especially those run by William Randolph Hearst (New York Journal) and Joseph Pulitzer (New York World), jumped on the Maine explosion as the ideal justification to drum up public support for a war of imperialism. “Tabloid headlines depicting Spanish atrocities against Cubans became commonplace, and the influential papers of both men were outdoing each other in the sensationalized screaming for war,” says historian Kenneth C. Davis. When Hearst sent artist Frederick Remington to Cuba to supply pictures, Remington reported that he could not find a war. “You furnish the pictures,” Hearst replied, “and I’ll furnish the war.”

Spain was easily defeated, the legend of Teddy Roosevelt was manufactured whole cloth, and the Cubans (and Puerto Ricans) found themselves exchanging one colonial ruler for another. In the Philippines, where U.S. soldiers were ordered to “Burn all and kill all,” over the next decade, six hundred thousand Filipinos were eventually wiped out… all to the war cry of “Remember the Maine! To hell with Spain!”

These myths do more than justify actions at the time. They become part of our concept of our country and get exhumed and pressed into service when needed. These myths survive despite careful studies that expose reality. For example, in 1976, Admiral Hyman Rickover of the U.S. Navy mounted an investigation of the Maine disaster. Rickover and his team of experts concluded that the explosion was probably caused by “spontaneous combustion inside the ship’s coal bins,” a problem common to ships of that era. Oops

Today’s perception of Cuba has little to do with the fabricated heroics of one of the faces carved on Mount Rushmore. Since 1959, it’s mostly been about Fidel Castro and his legacy. The Cuban Revolution, the ensuing U.S. blockade, and events like the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban Missile Crisis have all been documented — in varying degrees of veracity — elsewhere. We know much less about the lower intensity U.S. assaults on Cuba… and even if we did, they are automatically justified by an ever-ready catalog of Castro’s atrocities (real and imagined) and his ties to the USSR.

Under Castro, explains Noam Chomsky, Cuba was portrayed as “an agent of the Kremlin, bent on taking over Latin America and taking over the United States.” The communism angle, combined with Castro’s authoritarian rule, lent free reign to U.S. policy planners to sell Castro as the devil in our backyard. Effective agrarian, educational, and medical reforms were all cleverly omitted from any discussion about Cuba. The focus remained on the communist in charge… keeping the public distracted from what was being done behind the scenes by their own government.

The Cuba Project, a.k.a. “Operation Mongoose,” was initiated by the Kennedy administration in January 1962 with the stated U.S. objective of helping the Cubans “overthrow the communist regime from within Cuba and institute a new government with which the United States can live in peace.”

“What has happened is a level of international terrorism that as far as I know has no counterpart, apart from direct aggression,” says Chomsky. “It’s included attacking civilian installations, bombing hotels, sinking fishing vessels, destroying petrochemical installations, poisoning crops and livestock, on quite a significant scale, assassination attempts, actual murders, bombing airplanes, the bombing of Cuban missions abroad, etc. It’s a massive terrorist attack.”

The U.S. demonization of Castro and subsequent aggression toward communist Cuba since 1959 is a blueprint of spin and deception and served to strangle the revolution in its infancy. “The world will never know what kind of society Cuba could have produced if left alone,” says historian William Blum.

Right about now, I can hear some of you bellowing about Castro aligning with the Soviets. But the Cuban leader did come to Washington in April 1959 to discuss relations between the two governments. A different course could’ve been chosen by the Home of the Brave™. Instead, President Dwight Eisenhower refused to meet with Castro. He was too busy golfing in Georgia so he sent Vice President Richard Nixon in his place. The rest, as they say, is history. But, then again, Cuba has never really stood a chance.

For a glimpse into how the U.S. views Cuba (and other nations in that geographical area), consider what Marine Brigadier General Smedley D. Butler said all the way back in the 1930s.

Calling war “possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious” racket of all, in which “profits are reckoned in dollars and losses in lives.” Summing up his career, Butler explained: “I spent 33 years being a high-class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer for capitalism. I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers in 1909-1912. I helped make Mexico safe for American oil interests in 1916. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City [Bank] boys to collect revenue in. I helped in the rape of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street.”

As far back as the American Revolution, Secretary of State John Quincy Adams announced that U.S. control of Cuba was “of transcendent importance.” This brings us back to today’s headlines.

The post What do you really know about U.S.-Cuba relations? first appeared on Dissident Voice.

What do you really know about U.S.-Cuba relations?

The need to possess Cuba is the oldest issue in U.S. foreign policy.
— Noam Chomsky, Excerpted from Rogue States, 2000

When you watch the latest news stories about unrest in Cuba, are you relying on critical thought to process them, or are you lazily falling back on decades of deeply embedded propaganda about Castro, communism, etc.? Are you familiar with your country’s history with Cuba? Are you open to accepting that God’s Country™ may have committed atrocities far worse than anything you’ve been told about the Cuban regime?

If you claim to hate communism, do you ever ask yourself why? Is it based solely on official textbooks, news stories, and flag-waving speeches by U.S. politicians? Do you know what communism actually is? Can you differentiate between communism, socialism, Marxism, etc.? Do you know for sure that genuine communism has ever actually existed in practice?

My point here is not to defend or condemn or even juxtapose communism and capitalism. I’m not a fan of either and I pledge no allegiance to Cuba. I do, however, pledge allegiance to context, nuance, perspective, and truth. For example, when you assess current Cuban society, it cannot be accurately done without factoring in six decades of the U.S. embargo. FYI: The U.S. Chamber of Commerce estimates that the ongoing embargo costs the U.S. economy $1.2 billion per year in lost sales and exports, while the Cuban government estimates that the embargo has cost the island itself $753.69 billion. To discuss Cuban politics, culture, or economics without factoring in the blockade is an act of intellectual dishonesty.

But there’s more — much more. The history of Cuba features a litany of abuses rained down upon it by its powerful neighbor to the north. To follow is just a small sampling to keep in mind whenever you decide to spout off about the current situation.

In 1897, U.S. President Teddy Roosevelt stated bluntly, “I should welcome almost any war, for I think this country needs one.” His wait lasted less than a year. February 15, 1898, was a muggy Tuesday night in Havana Harbor. Some 350 crew and officers settled in onboard the U.S.S. Maine. “At 9:40 p.m., the ship’s forward end abruptly lifted itself from the water,” writes author Tom Miller. “Along the pier, passersby could hear a rumbling explosion. Within seconds, another eruption — this one deafening and massive — splintered the bow, sending anything that wasn’t battened down, and most that were, flying more than 200 feet into the air.”

By the time the sleeping giant was jarred into alertness by the Maine explosion, Cuban and Filipino rebels were already fighting Spain for independence in their respective lands. The Maine was in Havana Harbor in 1898 on a purportedly friendly mission. “Yet,” writes Miller, “the visit was neither spontaneous nor altruistic; the United States had been eyeing Cuba for almost a century.”

“At a certain point in that spring, McKinley and the business community began to see that their object, to get Spain out of Cuba, could not be accomplished without war,” adds historian Howard Zinn, “and that their accompanying object, the securing of American military and economic influence in Cuba, could not be left to the Cuban rebels, but could be ensured only by U.S. intervention.”

American newspapers, especially those run by William Randolph Hearst (New York Journal) and Joseph Pulitzer (New York World), jumped on the Maine explosion as the ideal justification to drum up public support for a war of imperialism. “Tabloid headlines depicting Spanish atrocities against Cubans became commonplace, and the influential papers of both men were outdoing each other in the sensationalized screaming for war,” says historian Kenneth C. Davis. When Hearst sent artist Frederick Remington to Cuba to supply pictures, Remington reported that he could not find a war. “You furnish the pictures,” Hearst replied, “and I’ll furnish the war.”

Spain was easily defeated, the legend of Teddy Roosevelt was manufactured whole cloth, and the Cubans (and Puerto Ricans) found themselves exchanging one colonial ruler for another. In the Philippines, where U.S. soldiers were ordered to “Burn all and kill all,” over the next decade, six hundred thousand Filipinos were eventually wiped out… all to the war cry of “Remember the Maine! To hell with Spain!”

These myths do more than justify actions at the time. They become part of our concept of our country and get exhumed and pressed into service when needed. These myths survive despite careful studies that expose reality. For example, in 1976, Admiral Hyman Rickover of the U.S. Navy mounted an investigation of the Maine disaster. Rickover and his team of experts concluded that the explosion was probably caused by “spontaneous combustion inside the ship’s coal bins,” a problem common to ships of that era. Oops

Today’s perception of Cuba has little to do with the fabricated heroics of one of the faces carved on Mount Rushmore. Since 1959, it’s mostly been about Fidel Castro and his legacy. The Cuban Revolution, the ensuing U.S. blockade, and events like the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban Missile Crisis have all been documented — in varying degrees of veracity — elsewhere. We know much less about the lower intensity U.S. assaults on Cuba… and even if we did, they are automatically justified by an ever-ready catalog of Castro’s atrocities (real and imagined) and his ties to the USSR.

Under Castro, explains Noam Chomsky, Cuba was portrayed as “an agent of the Kremlin, bent on taking over Latin America and taking over the United States.” The communism angle, combined with Castro’s authoritarian rule, lent free reign to U.S. policy planners to sell Castro as the devil in our backyard. Effective agrarian, educational, and medical reforms were all cleverly omitted from any discussion about Cuba. The focus remained on the communist in charge… keeping the public distracted from what was being done behind the scenes by their own government.

The Cuba Project, a.k.a. “Operation Mongoose,” was initiated by the Kennedy administration in January 1962 with the stated U.S. objective of helping the Cubans “overthrow the communist regime from within Cuba and institute a new government with which the United States can live in peace.”

“What has happened is a level of international terrorism that as far as I know has no counterpart, apart from direct aggression,” says Chomsky. “It’s included attacking civilian installations, bombing hotels, sinking fishing vessels, destroying petrochemical installations, poisoning crops and livestock, on quite a significant scale, assassination attempts, actual murders, bombing airplanes, the bombing of Cuban missions abroad, etc. It’s a massive terrorist attack.”

The U.S. demonization of Castro and subsequent aggression toward communist Cuba since 1959 is a blueprint of spin and deception and served to strangle the revolution in its infancy. “The world will never know what kind of society Cuba could have produced if left alone,” says historian William Blum.

Right about now, I can hear some of you bellowing about Castro aligning with the Soviets. But the Cuban leader did come to Washington in April 1959 to discuss relations between the two governments. A different course could’ve been chosen by the Home of the Brave™. Instead, President Dwight Eisenhower refused to meet with Castro. He was too busy golfing in Georgia so he sent Vice President Richard Nixon in his place. The rest, as they say, is history. But, then again, Cuba has never really stood a chance.

For a glimpse into how the U.S. views Cuba (and other nations in that geographical area), consider what Marine Brigadier General Smedley D. Butler said all the way back in the 1930s.

Calling war “possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious” racket of all, in which “profits are reckoned in dollars and losses in lives.” Summing up his career, Butler explained: “I spent 33 years being a high-class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer for capitalism. I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers in 1909-1912. I helped make Mexico safe for American oil interests in 1916. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City [Bank] boys to collect revenue in. I helped in the rape of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street.”

As far back as the American Revolution, Secretary of State John Quincy Adams announced that U.S. control of Cuba was “of transcendent importance.” This brings us back to today’s headlines.

The post What do you really know about U.S.-Cuba relations? first appeared on Dissident Voice.

What do you really know about U.S.-Cuba relations?

The need to possess Cuba is the oldest issue in U.S. foreign policy.
— Noam Chomsky, Excerpted from Rogue States, 2000

When you watch the latest news stories about unrest in Cuba, are you relying on critical thought to process them, or are you lazily falling back on decades of deeply embedded propaganda about Castro, communism, etc.? Are you familiar with your country’s history with Cuba? Are you open to accepting that God’s Country™ may have committed atrocities far worse than anything you’ve been told about the Cuban regime?

If you claim to hate communism, do you ever ask yourself why? Is it based solely on official textbooks, news stories, and flag-waving speeches by U.S. politicians? Do you know what communism actually is? Can you differentiate between communism, socialism, Marxism, etc.? Do you know for sure that genuine communism has ever actually existed in practice?

My point here is not to defend or condemn or even juxtapose communism and capitalism. I’m not a fan of either and I pledge no allegiance to Cuba. I do, however, pledge allegiance to context, nuance, perspective, and truth. For example, when you assess current Cuban society, it cannot be accurately done without factoring in six decades of the U.S. embargo. FYI: The U.S. Chamber of Commerce estimates that the ongoing embargo costs the U.S. economy $1.2 billion per year in lost sales and exports, while the Cuban government estimates that the embargo has cost the island itself $753.69 billion. To discuss Cuban politics, culture, or economics without factoring in the blockade is an act of intellectual dishonesty.

But there’s more — much more. The history of Cuba features a litany of abuses rained down upon it by its powerful neighbor to the north. To follow is just a small sampling to keep in mind whenever you decide to spout off about the current situation.

In 1897, U.S. President Teddy Roosevelt stated bluntly, “I should welcome almost any war, for I think this country needs one.” His wait lasted less than a year. February 15, 1898, was a muggy Tuesday night in Havana Harbor. Some 350 crew and officers settled in onboard the U.S.S. Maine. “At 9:40 p.m., the ship’s forward end abruptly lifted itself from the water,” writes author Tom Miller. “Along the pier, passersby could hear a rumbling explosion. Within seconds, another eruption — this one deafening and massive — splintered the bow, sending anything that wasn’t battened down, and most that were, flying more than 200 feet into the air.”

By the time the sleeping giant was jarred into alertness by the Maine explosion, Cuban and Filipino rebels were already fighting Spain for independence in their respective lands. The Maine was in Havana Harbor in 1898 on a purportedly friendly mission. “Yet,” writes Miller, “the visit was neither spontaneous nor altruistic; the United States had been eyeing Cuba for almost a century.”

“At a certain point in that spring, McKinley and the business community began to see that their object, to get Spain out of Cuba, could not be accomplished without war,” adds historian Howard Zinn, “and that their accompanying object, the securing of American military and economic influence in Cuba, could not be left to the Cuban rebels, but could be ensured only by U.S. intervention.”

American newspapers, especially those run by William Randolph Hearst (New York Journal) and Joseph Pulitzer (New York World), jumped on the Maine explosion as the ideal justification to drum up public support for a war of imperialism. “Tabloid headlines depicting Spanish atrocities against Cubans became commonplace, and the influential papers of both men were outdoing each other in the sensationalized screaming for war,” says historian Kenneth C. Davis. When Hearst sent artist Frederick Remington to Cuba to supply pictures, Remington reported that he could not find a war. “You furnish the pictures,” Hearst replied, “and I’ll furnish the war.”

Spain was easily defeated, the legend of Teddy Roosevelt was manufactured whole cloth, and the Cubans (and Puerto Ricans) found themselves exchanging one colonial ruler for another. In the Philippines, where U.S. soldiers were ordered to “Burn all and kill all,” over the next decade, six hundred thousand Filipinos were eventually wiped out… all to the war cry of “Remember the Maine! To hell with Spain!”

These myths do more than justify actions at the time. They become part of our concept of our country and get exhumed and pressed into service when needed. These myths survive despite careful studies that expose reality. For example, in 1976, Admiral Hyman Rickover of the U.S. Navy mounted an investigation of the Maine disaster. Rickover and his team of experts concluded that the explosion was probably caused by “spontaneous combustion inside the ship’s coal bins,” a problem common to ships of that era. Oops

Today’s perception of Cuba has little to do with the fabricated heroics of one of the faces carved on Mount Rushmore. Since 1959, it’s mostly been about Fidel Castro and his legacy. The Cuban Revolution, the ensuing U.S. blockade, and events like the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban Missile Crisis have all been documented — in varying degrees of veracity — elsewhere. We know much less about the lower intensity U.S. assaults on Cuba… and even if we did, they are automatically justified by an ever-ready catalog of Castro’s atrocities (real and imagined) and his ties to the USSR.

Under Castro, explains Noam Chomsky, Cuba was portrayed as “an agent of the Kremlin, bent on taking over Latin America and taking over the United States.” The communism angle, combined with Castro’s authoritarian rule, lent free reign to U.S. policy planners to sell Castro as the devil in our backyard. Effective agrarian, educational, and medical reforms were all cleverly omitted from any discussion about Cuba. The focus remained on the communist in charge… keeping the public distracted from what was being done behind the scenes by their own government.

The Cuba Project, a.k.a. “Operation Mongoose,” was initiated by the Kennedy administration in January 1962 with the stated U.S. objective of helping the Cubans “overthrow the communist regime from within Cuba and institute a new government with which the United States can live in peace.”

“What has happened is a level of international terrorism that as far as I know has no counterpart, apart from direct aggression,” says Chomsky. “It’s included attacking civilian installations, bombing hotels, sinking fishing vessels, destroying petrochemical installations, poisoning crops and livestock, on quite a significant scale, assassination attempts, actual murders, bombing airplanes, the bombing of Cuban missions abroad, etc. It’s a massive terrorist attack.”

The U.S. demonization of Castro and subsequent aggression toward communist Cuba since 1959 is a blueprint of spin and deception and served to strangle the revolution in its infancy. “The world will never know what kind of society Cuba could have produced if left alone,” says historian William Blum.

Right about now, I can hear some of you bellowing about Castro aligning with the Soviets. But the Cuban leader did come to Washington in April 1959 to discuss relations between the two governments. A different course could’ve been chosen by the Home of the Brave™. Instead, President Dwight Eisenhower refused to meet with Castro. He was too busy golfing in Georgia so he sent Vice President Richard Nixon in his place. The rest, as they say, is history. But, then again, Cuba has never really stood a chance.

For a glimpse into how the U.S. views Cuba (and other nations in that geographical area), consider what Marine Brigadier General Smedley D. Butler said all the way back in the 1930s.

Calling war “possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious” racket of all, in which “profits are reckoned in dollars and losses in lives.” Summing up his career, Butler explained: “I spent 33 years being a high-class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer for capitalism. I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers in 1909-1912. I helped make Mexico safe for American oil interests in 1916. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City [Bank] boys to collect revenue in. I helped in the rape of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street.”

As far back as the American Revolution, Secretary of State John Quincy Adams announced that U.S. control of Cuba was “of transcendent importance.” This brings us back to today’s headlines.

The post What do you really know about U.S.-Cuba relations? first appeared on Dissident Voice.

USA’s Sordid Role in Afghanistan

The situation in Afghanistan remains bleak. In late April 2021, US President Joe Biden announced  an apparent withdrawal from the Central Asian country. However, the facts on the ground indicate that America’s longest war has merely been downsized. 16,000 military contractors and more than 1,000 US troops will stay in Afghanistan; aerial bombardments, drone strikes and Special Forces missions will continue.

Meanwhile, Taliban has been intensifying its attacks on provincial capitals, districts, bases and checkpoints across the nation. In the period of June 4-10, 2021, 263 Afghan security forces and 56 civilians were killed by the Taliban; at least 11 districts were captured by the group. The Pentagon is already considering seeking authorization to carry out airstrikes to support Afghan security forces if Kabul or another major city is in danger of falling to the Taliban.

Amid all the bloodshed and chaos, a central question arises: how did Afghans get caught between two exceedingly lethal military forces – one that uses suicide bombers and the other employing pilotless, heavily-armed drones? Responses to this issue are fraught with historical amnesia. People generally ignore the fundamental role of the American empire in giving rise to the current reality in Afghanistan.

Communist Revolt

In 1964, King Zahir Shah attempted to contain growing resistance against his monarchical rule with a constitution, initiating a process called “New Democracy.” This gave rise to three different political actors: (1) the communists, organized in the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA), which split into two factions in 1967, Khalq (masses) and Parcham (flag); (2) the Islamists, with Burhanuddin Rabbani’s Jamiat-i-Islami becoming the main organization from 1973; (3) constitutional reformers (such as Muhammad Daoud, cousin of Zahir Shah, whose coup of July 1973 abolished the monarchy).

Daoud’s repression of theocratic elements pushed them into exile where they collaborated with the Pakistani Jama’at-i-Islami and the Saudi Rabitat al-Alam aI-lsiami, to topple Afghanistan’s secular regime. Domestic instability, corruption and an unwillingness to implement land reforms led to a communist coup in 1978. The immediate trigger was the police’s decision to act against a huge protest march; left-wing officers in the military – on the asking of the PDPA – stopped the police and turned over the government to Noor Mohammed Taraki, a communist professor who became the President of the Revolutionary Council of Afghanistan. These developments – which were extensively supported by USSR – came to be known as the Saur Revolution.

Imperialist Destabilization

The communists’ policies of secularization and economic modernization soon incurred the wrath of reactionary mullahs and feudal landlords. The anti-communist revolt that began at Herat in western Afghanistan in March 1979 originated in a government initiative to teach girls to read. The fundamentalist Afghans opposed to this were supported by a triumvirate of nations – the US, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia. In July 1979, Jimmy Carter administration decided to aid forces fighting the Soviet-backed government, with the goal, as National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski put it, of “giving the USSR its Vietnam War.”

Pakistani weaponry and training, Saudi financing and American political backing strengthened the mujahedeen attacks. By midsummer 1979, the PDPA government controlled perhaps no more than half the country. Growing territorial loss was exacerbated by the resurfacing of the longstanding split within the PDPA between the Khalq (led by president Taraki and his minister of national defense, Hafizullah Amin) and the Parcham (led by Vice-president Babrak Karmal). Prominent Parchamites were sent as ambassadors to various far-flung countries, and many lower-ranking ones were shot.

Throughout 1979, the Afghan government repeatedly requested the USSR to intervene militarily to save the communist government from a reactionary, US-backed uprising. The Soviet leadership was not keen to get directly involved since this would have meant a significant loss in diplomatic clout. The turning point came when an intense power struggle erupted between the leading Khalq members, Taraki and Amin.

Amin gained the upper hand, removing Taraki from power and ordering his death on September 14, 1979. This instance of infighting within the Left forced to Soviets to reassess their strategy vis-à-vis Afghanistan. They had considered Taraki more reliable than Amin, and were justifiably afraid that the internal fragmentation of the PDPA was damaging the efforts to defeat the jihadist insurgency. Thus, on December 25, 1979, the first Russian troops crossed the border into Afghanistan. This was exactly what Brzezinski had been hoping for.

The Russian leaders fell headlong into the trap. The entry of Soviet troops into Afghanistan transformed an unpleasant civil war funded by Washington into a jihad, enabling the mujahidin (“holy warriors”) to appear as the only defenders of Afghan sovereignty against the foreign, infidel army of occupation. Brzezinski soon appeared posing for photographs in a Pathan turban on the Khyber Pass and shouting “Allah is on your side”, while Afghan fundamentalists were being feted as freedom-fighters in the White House.

Rise of Taliban

After the Soviet withdrawal in 1989, the alliance of states that had backed different factions of the mujahedeen fragmented. Islamabad did not want any socially representative government of reconstruction, preferring – with US and Saudi support – to impose its own pawn, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, on the country. The result was a cycle of civil wars, punctuated by ephemeral ceasefires. Hazaras (backed by Iran), Ahmed Shah Masud (backed by France), and the Uzbek general Dostum (backed by Russia) resolutely opposed Pakistani plans.

When it became obvious that Hekmatyar’s forces were incapable of defeating these varied forces, the Pakistan Army shifted its backing to the students it had been training in religious schools in the North-West Frontier since 1980. These students eventually became the Taliban. Formed in 1994 under the tutelage of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (lSI) and General Naseerullah Khan (Pakistan’s Interior Minister), the Taliban comprises southern Pashtun tribes who are united by a vision of a society under Wahhabism which extols a form of Islam (Tariqa Muhammadiya) based on an ultra-dogmatic interpretation of Quran.

On September 26, 1996, the Taliban conquered Kabul. The Clinton administration endorsed its takeover as the best prospect for restoring “stability.” The next day Taliban killed the communist President Mohammed Najibullah, expelled 8,000 female undergraduate students from Kabul University, and fired a similar number of women schoolteachers. As the mujahedeen closed in on his palace, Najibullah told reporters: “If fundamentalism comes to Afghanistan, war will continue for many years. Afghanistan will turn into a center of world smuggling for narcotic drugs. Afghanistan will be turned into a center for terrorism.” His comments prove all too accurate today.

By the time the American establishment woke up, at the end of the 1990s, Taliban had established its government in Kabul. Recognized only by Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, it granted Osama bin Laden – himself funded and supported by the CIA in the 1980s – freedom of action and offered him protection from American efforts to capture or kill him. Angered by Taliban’s insubordination, the US invaded Afghanistan and then occupied it for decades, resulting in the current situation.

The US’s partial pullover from Afghanistan forcefully foregrounds the futility of imperialist interventions. In its quest to mold Afghanistan according to its own desires, America has left a murderous legacy – the creation of a jihadist Frankenstein, the conversion of an entire country into a charnel house, the rising toll of civilian casualties and the imposition of a government of thieves, embezzlers, and neoliberal functionaries. A decisive end to these brutalities does not seem to be on the cards for Afghanistan.

The post USA’s Sordid Role in Afghanistan first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Left-Wing Psychotherapy Cults: Sullivanians from Hedonism to Group Terror

Photo Image:  FilmDaily

Orientation

My Purpose

A few months ago, I wrote an article titled “Political and Spiritual Cults“. My purpose was to show the commonalties among all cults, whether they are political, spiritual or psychological. In this article I want to narrow the focus to discuss a left-wing psychological cult, the Sullivanians, a countercultural organization that made its mark on the Upper West Side of New York City between 1970 and the early 1990s. Why bother to do this? Because as a socialist I have to face that any socialist organization I join, whether it be social democratic, Leninist or even anarchist has the potential to become a cult. The more we know about the conditions under which cults emerge, the more we can combat them.

Overcoming Media Biases Against Cults

When mass media compares cults members to the general population, cult members are portrayed as:

  • Mentally unstable
  • Less educated
  • Lonelier
  • From the poor and working-class backgrounds
  • Physically intimidated into joining
  • Brainwashed
  • Drawn from criminal elements
  • Less moral as people

Research has shown none of this to be true.

Plan of the Article

For the most part I will be following the architecture I built in my previous article, including what is a totalistic institution; the ten characteristics of cults; the stages cults go through; the mechanisms of control in each stage; why people stay; what kind of qualities the leaders have and what is the impact of leaving on cult members.

I will be adding a short section on the theoretical assumptions of the Sullivanians at the beginning. For each of these units I will say something about how it applies to the Sullivanians. Besides my article, I will be referring to two books on the Sullivanians: Amy Siskind’s sociological analysis, The Sullivan Institute/Fourth Wall Community: The Relationship of Radical Individualism and Authoritarianism and a book by a participant, Artie Honan How Did A Smart Guy Like me….For my general understanding of cults, I owe the most to Margret Singer, Janja Lalich, Joel Kramer and Diana Alstad.

Theoretical Assumptions

The Sullivanian Institute was a spin-off organization that broke away in 1957 from the work of Harry Stack Sullivan. Sullivan was sensitive to the social side of psychological dynamics and among other insights blamed the nuclear family for the formation of the ideal capitalist consumer. Both Dr. Jane Pearce and Saul Newton took these criticisms of the nuclear family much further. In 1963, Pearce and Newton coauthored a book called Conditions of Human Growth. In that book they identified the family as socially isolating the individual from developing healthy relationships with friends, especially in adolescence and adulthood.

Open-ended friendships, both sexual and otherwise, were the way out of the infantilization of the nuclear family and the road to maturity. For them, friendships are the first potential of experience of love between equals. A big part of therapeutic work was to get their patients to expand their friendships as they withdrew from their families. Newton and Pearce considered the desire for the security of exclusive relationships among their patients to be a neurotic symptom. In fact, one of the first things on the agenda of the Sullivanians therapists was to separate the patients from their parents. On the whole the two foundation stones of the Sullivanians community were:

  • To break from their family of origin
  • To have non-monogamous sexual relations among friends

What is a Totalistic Institution?

Calling an organization a cult has more to do with how an organization is run than what people believe. Cults are a subcategory of organizations which includes mental health institutions, prisons, army barracks, orphanages, and religious institutions such as monasteries. As opposed to this, in what Erving Goffman calls “pluralistic institutions”, people come and go as they please in and out of various institutions throughout the day as they go from playing one role to another. Within each institution, the group dynamics and power relationships vary. An individual can have great control in one area and little control in another. What produces critical thinking within the individual is the habit, whether conscious or unconscious, of comparing one institution to another, each with their strengths and weaknesses.

In totalistic social formations, all institutions are rolled into one. Economic exchanges, livelihood, sacred beliefs, political dynamics, living situations and sexual encounters are all concentrated within a single institution. In the more extreme institutions like prisons or in the military, working and play activities are done all at the same time, in the same place with uniform expectations. Boundaries between inside and outside are rigid. The authorities are centralized and there is little room for feedback. There are surveillance systems, spying and little privacy, and this breeds insecurity and paranoia.

Sullivanians as a Total Institution

The Sullivanian community was divided into four tiers. The four therapists at the top were Saul Newton, Joan Harvey, Ralph Klein and Helen Moses; a secondary tier of therapists in training; a third tier of psychotherapy patients and lastly, community members who were friends of the people in the first three tiers. When the Sullivanians morphed into the Fourth Wall Theatre community in 1977, the fourth tier were people living in Manhattan who came to see the plays, often from poor areas of the city. The biggest factor that made the Sullivanians a totalistic institution was the collapsed boundaries between the tiers. Members of all tiers were invited to have sex with each other, including therapists with clients, clients and those in therapy training. Sleeping alone was considered an interpersonal failure. Furthermore, the therapists ignored confidentiality and talked openly about the problems of their patients. The most important people – the therapists – knew everyone else’s business and encouraged others to be spies to report on any dissatisfactions anyone had with the leadership. This led to mistrust among people in the second and third tiers as well as paranoia.

The Sullivanians were not as rigid as a prison or an army barracks. Community members worked at different jobs and they lived in different apartment buildings.  However, all households occupied most of an apartment building and each household apparently consisted only of members of the Sullivanian community. These households made enough money to hire people from the outside to cook, clean and babysit. House members had regular meetings in which they talked about household problems but also about their lives. Members also knew each other’s weaknesses and these weaknesses got back to the leadership in one way or another.

The dependency of community members on the leadership ran deep. Therapists in training were dependent on leadership economically to provide them with referrals. People were dependent personally for their identity through therapy. Interpersonally they played together, lived together and in the 1980s, did political work together. All this supported the authoritarian control by the leaders and made the Sullivanians a totalistic institution.

Ten Characteristics of Cults

From my previous article on cults, I named ten characteristics.

  • It emerged out of a political, economic or ecological crisis.
  • It recruited young adults between 17 and 24 of middle-class and upper middle-class origins who were likely to be undergoing some developmental crisis in their personal lives.
  • It has an authoritarian, charismatic leader.
  • It has a revolutionary, dualistic ideology.
  • It possesses a social-psychological array of tools for luring in new members and sustaining their commitment.
  • It lacks mechanisms for critical feedback from the membership.
  • It requires a small group of lieutenants to isolate and keep atomized the membership through spying so that no coherent opposition can form.
  • It develops rituals, myths and celebrations that allow the group to mark time.
  • It demonizes outside groups that are in competition with the cult.
  • It has rigid, terrorized boundaries that make it extremely difficult to leave.

Sullivanians’ Characteristics of Cults

It is not true that the Sullivanians cult emerged as a reaction to a political, economic or ecological crisis. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the economy was not contracting. It was possible for community members to work at low paying jobs in the arts, have leisure time and still make the rent, especially because of group living. However, the decline of the Sullivanians community in the 1980s was definitely connected to contracting economic conditions where rents skyrocketed and jobs in the arts shrank. AIDS and the nuclear reactor meltdown at Three Mile Island added to the group paranoia.

The Sullivanians did appeal to upper middle-class adults. They weren’t in any serious psychological crisis. They were relatively healthy adults who were attracted to an alternative lifestyle including art. music, theatre and dance. Sexual exploration was part of the counterculture and not unique to the Sullivanians. In Saul Newton they had an authoritarian working-class leader who was once a member of the Communist Party and claimed to have fought in the Spanish Civil War. Both men and women in the community agreed he was charismatic. Newton was also erratic and explosive and most members were scared of him. There were no institutionalized feedback mechanisms for criticizing the leadership. Complaining behind his back was dangerous because of surveillance and could easily get back to the leaders.

Although Newton was either a Stalinist or a Maoist, in the first nine years of the community, he was not heavy-handed politically. It was in the descendent phase when the nuclear meltdown occurred, the AIDS epidemic spread and Yankeedom had become more conservative in the 1980s that his Stalinist or Maoist politics became more hard-edged.  Relations between the Sullivanians and other leftists became increasingly hostile, and their political ideology became more dualistic and sectarian. Here is where the characteristic of the demonization of outsiders took place.

The psychological array of tools for drawing people in and holding them was pretty straightforward. In all cults, sex is used to control people. However, in most cults sex flows one way, from the members to the leaders. Among the Sullivanians sex among members was immediate and expected. Secondly, unlike other cults, women were encouraged to have more than one partner at a time. Besides immediate and sustained sex for both men and women, there was the opportunity to work with therapists on their problems and to do so for a low fee, compared to the much higher going rate. Thirdly, friendships were made quickly and developed through household living arrangements. Fourthly, the Sullivanians were very supportive of the members developing their creativity. Siskind points out that many of them became famous in the arts, filmmaking, and dance. The Sullivanians were also a utopian community, so joining it helped people to feel that they were a special group, superior to others, in addition to being part of a movements which was going to overthrow capitalism.

Symbolism and ritual were a strong part of the Sullivanians community. They played hard together at parties and vacations, but this was all secular enjoyment. There was no celebration of revolutionary holidays or the singing of the Internationale, as we might expect of an aspiring socialist community. Neither was there a dramatic change of identity based on change of hair or clothes that I found.

Stages of Cults

As I said in my article Political and Spiritual Cults:

In their book, The Guru Papers, Joel Kramer and Diana Alstad identify two stages of cults: the proselytizing stage and the apocalyptic paranoia stage.

In the proselytizing ascendant stage, the guru sees the possibility of realizing his ambitions. The group is touted as being at the cutting edge of new knowledge. Outsiders are welcomed although they are treated with a kind of benign superiority. In the ascendant phase, the guru rewards the enthusiasm of his followers and grants them positions which have opened up within the hierarchy. The tone of the community is celebratory. The guru is accessible to the public and is charming and playful. In terms of the recruitment, this is the “honeymoon phase”. The focus is to expand the organization and the emphasis is on the present.

The apocalyptic, paranoiac, decadent phase is when the numbers of recruits have leveled off and explanations need to be found. The public is now seen as too stupid and blind to acknowledge the merits of the cult. In the declining stage, the message becomes pessimistic, with a doomsday “I told you so” tone. Outsiders cease to be welcomed in a spirit of satisfying their curiosity. Rather they are seen as enemies out to destroy the organization. Part of the descendent phase also involves the guru making more grandiose claims while promising to invoke occult power. The membership begins to have doubts.

Sullivanians’ Stages of Cults

The Sullivanians definitely went through these stages. Siskind, in her sociological analysis of them, calls the proselytizing phase the “Halcyon Years” from 1969-1978. Siskind calls the apocalyptic phase “the Revolutionary period of 1979-1983. Between 1984 and 1992 there was a steep decline in membership. In the first period the emphasis was on the psychology of the individual and their full development, including taking classes and the practice of the arts. The full enjoyment of life through sex, friendship, creativity and community was all supported. They also had a comedy club run by a very talented member, Luba Elman who was also responsible for early theatrical productions which later turned into the Fourth Wall Theatre Company. Between 1970 and 1974 the Sullivanian community grew at a steady rate of 100 new members a year, culminating at a peak of 400 in 1974. Political relations with other leftists had some tension but that did not stop cooperation in large protests.

There were four shock waves which were scattered across the landscape of the Sullivanian community between 1977 to 1983 that turned it from growing, hopeful community into a more stagnant, paranoid and isolated community. The first was the driving out of Luba Elman as the organizer of the Fourth Wall Repertory Company and her replacement by therapist turned playwright and actress, Joan Harvey. Both she and her partner Saul were dictatorial in their expectations of the members of the stage crew and everyone else in the Fourth Wall community.

Another very dramatic event was the Fourth Wall takeover of the Truck and Warehouse Theatre. The previous company refused to leave the building although the lease was up. They were forced out in an orchestrated attack, with waves of Fourth Wall people invading the building. Some took over the stage sets, rebuilt them with the carpentry and electrical skills of the Fourth Wall community. Two hours after the initial takeover, 160 more members came to support the takeover and guard the building. Then they set up an elaborate security system to guard the building. The violent nature of the whole process must have affected the moral of people. Artie Honan, one of the chief organizers of the takeover, said: ”Looking back, I feel that this was a senseless act of violence. Something I wouldn’t have done if I hadn’t been taking direction from Saul. (What’s a Smart Guy Like Me…) I doubt he was alone in these sentiments. Later he said I was preoccupied about having to organize security coverages …I had no time to reflect on the experience or to think about how it ran against the grain of my values. Lack of time to think is characteristic of all cults.

A third major event was the Three Mile Island nuclear accident in 1979. This spread fear in the community. It led to a panic in which 200 community members en masse fled to Florida to avoid radiation. This event turned the Sullivanians into an explicitly political community as Saul’s Maoist orientation came to the fore. House meetings went from every day discussions about household and personal problems to political book readings and discussion groups. It was in this period that Saul implemented a Maoism anti-intellectual campaign in which community members would renounce their class background in group self-confession circles.

A fourth major event was the AIDS crisis of the early 1980s. This directly impacted the size of the community and the sex-economy of the organization. The Fourth Wallers were naturally wary of having sex with outsiders and limited the sexual activity to the already existing members. Since, on average, the women outnumbered the men two to one, the shortage affected the women more than the men. There was even a Male Chauvinism campaign within the community to force the men to have sex with women who didn’t have partners! Please see Table A for a contrast between the two stages within the Sullivan community

Characteristics of Sociopathic Leaders

In their book Take Back Your Life: Recovering from Cults and Abusive Relationships, Janja Lalich and Madeleine Tobias identify fifteen characteristics of a sociopath that could apply to a cult leader. Here they are:

  • Glibness and superficial charm
  • Conning and maneuvering
  • Grandiose sense of self
  • Pathological lying
  • Lack of remorse, shame or guilt
  • Shallow emotions
  • Incapacity to love
  • Sensation seeking
  • Impulsivity and lack of behavioral control
  • Early behavior problems with juvenile delinquency
  • Scapegoating
  • Promiscuous sexual behavior and infidelity
  • Erratic work history of fits and starts
  • Materialistic lifestyle
  • Criminal and entrepreneurial versatility

Saul Newton as a Sociopath

As repulsive as Saul Newton might be to you and to me, he did not have all fifteen characteristics of a sociopath. I will begin by eliminating the characteristics he did not possess. We know very little of his history, so we don’t know anything about whether his teenage behavior might be categorized as juvenile delinquency or whether he had an erratic work history. From my reading I did not find instances of sensation-seeking. He put members in the Sullivanians community in risky situations, but he seemed to be sure that he and any of his wives were well-protected. It would be unfair to characterize him as having shallow emotions. He had problems controlling his anger, as in beating his wives. There is nothing I’ve read that indicated that Newton showed any deep emotion but anger. It is reasonable to say he was emotionally repressed, rather than being shallow.

Criminal and entrepreneurial creativity in cults usually means if one cult group fails and goes bankrupt, the leader wheels and deals and repackages himself with a new name and organization as Werner Erhard did. As far as I know, Saul Newton did not do this. He stuck with the Sullivanian community all his life. Lastly, a “materialistic lifestyle” is a very vague term. How many cars, boats, planes and houses does a leader have to possess to qualify as being materialistic? From my reading, I would classify Newton as upper middle-class, akin to a doctor, lawyer or architect living on the Upper West Side of New York City. He and his wives had their own chefs, childcare providers and shoppers. He owned a brownstone building. Newton lived well, but he didn’t have seven Cadillacs, as Rajneesh had. He did not own any boats or planes, nor did he buy other buildings and deal in real estate. He did not have the lifestyle of L. Ron Hubbard, Reverend Moon or Werner Erhard.

However, Newton had all the remaining characteristics of a sociopath big-time. He had superficial charm, and as I said earlier, both men and women characterized him as charismatic. He clearly was conning and manipulating the community all his life. He got them to take over a theatre building, told them who could and couldn’t date and set up an elaborate surveillance system for tracking people while convincing the members to do all the work. He maneuvered with Joan Harvey to oust Luba Elman from the Fourth Wall community and put themselves in the leadership position. He seemed to be a pathological liar, meaning he lied so much he lost track of the boundaries between truth and falsehood. There is no indication in either of the books I read that he has the slightest regret or remorse for anything he did. Neither were there any examples in which Newton claimed to love anyone. He was not loved by community members, but feared. In a small funeral gathering in 1992 not a single member of the Sullivan community showed up.

Newton definably had a grandiose sense of himself. What kind of person would have put himself at the head of a psychotherapy organization with no degree in the field or even having been in therapy himself? He was almost compulsively promiscuous. He had no problem asking his female patients for sex as part of the sessions. At the end of his life when he was suffering from dementia, he continued to see clients even when his memory was failing him. Newton was clearly impulsive (at least around getting angry) and could not control himself. However, in other situations he was extremely deliberative as he plotted and schemed to manipulate community members. Lastly, he was always blaming community members when things didn’t go right. He showed no power of self-reflection in seeing how his behavior was partly responsible for anything.

Reasons People Stayed in the Community

Why do People Stay?

Lalich and Tobias lay down the following most common reasons people stay in cults:

  • Attachment to new beliefs
  • Cognitive dissonance
  • Entrapment
  • Peer pressure
  • Exhaustion from overwork allows little time for objectivity or self-reflection
  • Burned bridges separate members from their past
  • Being ridiculed and called names by cult members is very painful
  • Fear for your life
  • Guilt and embarrassment over having participated in the group to begin with

From the two books I’ve read about the Sullivanians, I would say virtually every one of these psychological conditions were operating. In the early years, the major belief centered around a conviction that their nuclear family was the major part of their problems. Giving up their belief would mean facing they were dupes who then burned their bridges and hurt their families badly. It would definitely cause cognitive dissonance. Community members were clearly entrapped. Most spend anywhere between 5 and 20 years in the community, forging deep friendships. They spent hundreds of hours in therapy and in the last years of the community, that was not cheap. For many, their livelihoods were dependent on the community and their living situations were all tied together. It is completely understandable they would not want to cut their losses.

There was a great deal of peer pressure to stay in the group. It was difficult to think clearly about whether or not to leave when they could not easily discuss openly their reservations about staying. They could never be sure if what they said would get back to the leadership. In addition, by the early 1980s, the economy was contracting, requiring members to work longer. Also, Newton was becoming increasingly demanding of members to be available for work on the Fourth Wall community. As Artie Honan says many times in his autobiography, there was little time to reflect on the big picture. Most were like frogs in slowly boiling water. They couldn’t see what was happening to them.

Unlike other leftist cults, there didn’t seem to be a great deal of name calling, but Saul Newton was brutal about getting rid of any community member he felt was too much trouble and, perhaps more painfully, community members executed his wishes. People were kicked out of the community quickly, often told they had 24 hours to leave their group housing situations. In at least one instance a person’s things were thrown in the street. Ex-members were shunned and ignored in public and the Upper West Side of New York is not a place to easily find anonymity.

Saul Newton was a violent man. He beat his wives and occasionally publicly punched a few of the men in the community. The violence he used in orchestrating the takeover of the theatre was probably never forgotten by anyone. When one of Saul’s psychological proteges decided to leave, upon Newton’s instruction he was followed, grabbed from behind and held over the subway tracks.

If members decided to leave, they had little in the way of a support system. Their families were heart-broken, angry and some members were disowned. The road back was unknown, lonely and full of doubt. There was no recovery groups from cult in those days. I don’t really know that the Sullivanian community felt a sense of guilt upon leaving the way members of other cults might. If a member got into the cult early, in the good days of the first seven years, those memories must have been breath-taking, intense and not easily forgettable compared to whatever normal life followed. It was the period from the early 1980s on they might have felt regretful about.

Aftermath for Cult Members

In their book Cults in Our Midst, Margaret Thaler Singer and Janja Lalich identify five major areas of life ex-cult members have to deal with:

  • Practical everyday life
  • Emotional volitivity
  • Cognitive inefficiencies
  • Theoretical instabilities
  • Lack of a social network

How Ex- Sullivanians Members Managed Their Lives in The Aftermath

Practical, everyday life

The two books I read on this subject do not have much information about how group members managed after the community broke up. Most of what follows will be what I would call reasonable speculation. In the area of everyday living, I believe the Sullivanians did better than ex-members of other cults. For example, Sullivanians had to find work to support themselves while in the cult and they succeeded in landing jobs in the arts or doing technical work. While ex-members who became therapists were dependent on referrals, this was not a community that was totally dependent economically. The same was true about managing money and finding an apartment. Members had practice in doing these things even when in the cult. While the Sullivanians were not provided with their own medical and health care, as upper middle-class urbanites they would not go without health and medical care as many members of other cults did. All this doesn’t mean they did not suffer. But compared to other cults, the climb back up might not have been as steep.

Emotional volatility

In terms of emotional volatility, I suspect the Sullivanians were more like other cults in that members suffered from PTSD, insomnia and dissociation at times. I don’t think difficulty concentrating or flashbacks were part of the psychological processes they had to constantly fight off because there were not that many bad experiences. I don’t believe a loss of a sense of humor was a psychological condition. Membership in households provided opportunity for play and laughter. It wouldn’t take much to bring them back. Depression over loss of the Sullivanian community and its vision must have been great. Before the community as a whole broke up, Saul‘s treatment of those who left would give them every reason to fear for themselves and their loved ones.

Cognitive inefficiencies

Many members of other cults have trouble thinking critically when they leave. Especially in spiritual cults which place a great deal of emphasis on meditation, and other altered states of consciousness, where critical thinking is frowned upon. Some young members of cults never learned to think critically. They simply did not know how to set up spread sheets for weighing the pros and cons of different job offers, school choices or romantic partners. After being in cults which for years explained causes and consequences by good and evil forces, it is difficult to reason about complex causes and intended and unintended consequences. I don’t think members of the Sullivanian community ran into these problems much. While they suspended judgment and criticality when under the spell of the leadership, they had to make analytical and comparative judgment while at work, with their partners and at house meetings when they were away from the leadership.

However, there is one area of cognition which must have been difficult and that is de-toxifying their vocabulary. All cults control their members thinking by narrowing the complexity of their language. When the leaders train someone’s vocabulary to use virtue and vice words, they are training them in dualistic thinking. Dualistic thinking makes people more controllable. This definitely went on in the Sullivanian community. It would take time to reintroduce previously “banned” vice words and repressed virtue words.

Theoretical instabilities

The overwhelming majority of cults are spin-offs from major theoretical schools in the fields of spirituality, politics or psychology. Spiritual cults might be spinoffs from Buddhism, Hinduism or Christianity. Political cults may draw from the work of Marx or Lenin. Psychological cults may have drawn from Freud, Jung or Humanistic psychology of Maslow. Upon leaving the cult, the ex-cult member is in a theoretical no-man’s-land. Does the psychological cult member whose leader drew from Freud therefore reject Freud completely or are they able to separate Freud from the cult interpretation of Freud? In the case of spirituality, can a member of the Hindu cult like the Hari Krishna’s reject the cult but hang on to Hinduism? In the case of the Sullivanians, Saul Newton was probably a Maoist. Can ex- Sullivanians separate Maoism as practiced by the Sullivanians from Maoist groups in general? Will they remain Leninists and switch from Mao to Stalin? Will they remain Leninists and become Trotskyists? Will they become democratic socialists?

A more extreme strategy is to reject the field entirely. So, a follower of a spiritual cult may become an atheist. A member of a political cult might become anti-political or apolitical. A member of a psychology cult might join a group that is anti-psychological, such as Thomas Szasz, a psychiatrist who led the movement against his own field. This may be a good choice because you are starting from scratch. This may also be a bad choice because you are starting from scratch with no infrastructure. There are no easy answers.

Lack of a social network

As I mentioned earlier, leaving a cult is devastating for a support system. Most cult members have burned bridges with their family and friends, church and clubs they were once a part of. However, relative to other cults, with the Sullivanians the situation may have been different. I can imagine that anybody who left the cult in the early 1980s when the community was still functioning well would have a rough time. However, once the community itself was disbanded, it was a different story. Why? Because the members of this cult had lived together for years unsupervised directly by the leadership. They played together, they made art together and they made love together, hard and often. These types of connections are easy to remember and hard to forget. Artie Honan says he is still Facebook friends with many former members. He also reports that in 2007, they had a reunion in Harlem. One hundred and fifty people came. Considering the Sullivanians peaked in membership in 1974 at 400, this turnout shows there is something of quality in this community that superseded Saul Newton and the rest of the cult leadership.

How the Sullivanians Compared to the Experience of Other Cults

I have a number of reasons for suspecting that the Sullivanians had it better than other cults. In the first place, they did not emerge out of an ecological, economic or political crisis. Neither did they come into the cult at an impressionable age of late teens or early twenties. My sense is that most members were in their mid to late 20s when they joined and were probably more grounded. That meant people were less desperate when they joined the group. Secondly, unlike most, if not all cults, the sexual economy was far more horizontal. Members slept with each other, not just with the leadership, as in other cults. Thirdly, women were as sexually free as the men. Though Saul Newton was definitely patriarchal, women still had many sexual relationships with their peers, just as the men did. Lastly, as I mentioned earlier, the social networks that were built had relative autonomy from the leadership, especially in the living situations. This allowed them to form subgroups with their own experiences, independently of the leadership. In most cults, subgroups are not allowed to form. It was these experiences in subgroups that made it possible not to lose complete touch with each other after the Sullivanians broke up as an institution. It made it possible to have a reunion 15 years later.

The Socialist Political Spectrum: Which Tendencies are Most Likely to Form Cults

So, what does the fate of the Sullivanians tell us (if anything) about which tendencies on the political spectrum are likely to form cults? Are Leninists, democratic socialists and anarchists all equally likely to form cults or are some more likely to form than others? Remember earlier I said that the key element in determining a cult is not the beliefs but rather how the cult was organized. In addition, charisma, by itself is not enough to institutionalize a cult.

A good example of a socialist organizer who was charismatic but never turned his group into a cult was Murray Bookchin. I met Murray 50 years ago on the lower East Side of Manhattan and I can testify that he had a great deal of charisma and a significant following among young hippie anarchists. This continued as he moved to Vermont to teach and founded the Institute for Social Ecology.  But the Institute for Social Ecology or any other organization he was involved in did not became a cult because the egalitarian principles of anarchism blocked this from happening.

It would be unfair to characterize the Sullivanians as a pure political group. It was not a real political group until the 1980s. Yet the leader of the organization, Saul Newton, was a Maoist and during the last years of the group, he did use Maoist tactics like self-confession of the members’ class backgrounds, along with criticism and self-criticism.  In my previous article, a major focus was on a group called the Democratic Workers Party which definitely was a cult with a Leninist focus. What about other Leninists groups?

In their hostile analysis of Leninist organization, On the Edge: Political Cults Right and Left, Dennis Tourish and Tim Wohlforth identify five other Leninist groups that were either cults or might have at least cultlike characterhoods. Harvey Jackins’ Reevaluation Counseling and Fred Newman’s New Alliance Party and social therapy, Gerry Healy; Ted Grant and Gino Perente also led organizations that had cult-like characteristics which were either Stalinist or Trotskyist in orientation. Each received a chapter’s attention in the book On the Edge.

Tourish and Wohlforth summarize their book:

Each and every Marxist Leninist grouping has exhibited the same cultic symptoms: Authoritarianism, conformity, ideological rigidity, fetishistic dwelling on apocalyptic fantasies. Not all Leninist groups are full-blown cults. However, we have yet to discover one that did not have some cultic features (213).

As Lenin spelled out in 1910 in What is to Be Done, socialist ideas were to be introduced to the working class from the outside by professional revolutionaries drawn largely from the middle class. They view themselves as a chosen people, the possessor of a gnosis beyond the grasp of ordinary folk. Therefore, a separate organization is in order, tight discipline is required and superhuman sacrifice is demanded from members. Democratic centralism is required so that all members publicly defend the agreed positions of the party, whenever opinions they might hold to the contrary in private. (214) The communist front organization is particularly suited to political cult-manipulation (216).

In contrast to this, the organization of the Democratic Socialists of America has loosely associated chapters and the whole organization is opposed to any kind of authoritarian organization. In fact, they organized themselves intentionally so they would have no resemblance to Leninism.

Qualification

I do not mean to imply that Leninism is not successful as a political tendency in the world. Russia, China and Cuba have all offered working class people significant improvements in their lives by way of steady employment, good wages, safe and reasonably priced housing, free healthcare and literacy over the last 100 years. With the exception of Sweden between the 1930s and the 1970s, social democracy has not had a good track record with the poor and working class. As for anarchism, it certainly had a great deal of success in revolutionary movements in Russia, Spain and recently in Rojava. The problem with the anarchists is that it is harder to tell what successes have carried over after the revolutionary period ended.

The issue in this article, however, is not how successful each of the three socialist tendencies are in the end. Which group is most likely to use cult-like methods to get there? It is clear to me that Leninism has the most cult-like potential according to the criteria in this article.

• First published in Socialist Planning Beyond Capitalism

The post Left-Wing Psychotherapy Cults: Sullivanians from Hedonism to Group Terror first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Put the Banks Under State Control!


In recent years, the ripping off of customers, deceit and even outright fraud practiced by Australian finance sector businesses has gained much attention. Four years ago it was revealed how CommInsure, the insurance arm of the Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA), had refused to make promised life insurance payments to heart attack survivors. They “justified” this by using a definition of a heart attack that was so dodgy that even some people who had such a severe heart attack that they had to be resuscitated were denied their entitled pay outs! Such devious practices have been undertaken by finance sector enterprises big and small – from the big four banks and insurance giants to brokers and loan enablers and to retail businesses that hand out loans. As a result the banks, insurance companies and the brokers and others connected to them are widely hated by the masses. With good reason! Yet finance sector institutions have a decisive influence on society. For it is they who determine how credit is distributed and credit is absolutely critical to the running of modern economies. Especially at this desperate time when this country and much of the world face both a public health emergency and economic collapse, it is vital that credit is allocated in ways that can best respond to the COVID-19 virus threat and into areas that can best ensure that the jobs and wages of millions of working class people are guaranteed. Yet would you trust the lying, greed-driven bosses of the banks and insurance companies to do this? You would be totally nuts if you did! We need to put all the banks and insurance companies under state control! In other words, we need to nationalise the finance sector.

In late 2017, there was so much anger built up against the banks, insurance giants and brokers that former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull, realising the need to “restore the credibility” of the finance sector, finally acceded to widespread demands for a royal commission into the banking and insurance industry. That Royal Commission revealed more details of what many of us already knew. Banks were giving secret commissions to brokers to entice them to get home buyers to take out home loans with their particular banks. Banks hid these payments in order to trick their customers into believing that their customers’ “own” brokers were “independent.” But, actually, the payments that these brokers received from particular banks gave them an incentive to get people to take out mortgages with these same particular banks even if that was not the best option for the broker’s customer. And the brokers did this in spades! Moreover, since the commission received by the broker got larger the bigger the loan taken out by their customers, the brokers, with a nod and a wink from the banks paying them, often pushed their customers into buying a more expensive house than they could actually afford. That is part of why household debt is so frighteningly high in Australia.

One of the aspects of the finance sector industry that was exposed is the practice of charging clients fees for no service. Banks and insurance companies and their financial planning and superannuation subsidiaries were found to be charging people “advice” and “service” fees for their investments and superannuation accounts but then providing no advice at all. Put simply, the banks and insurance companies were downright stealing from hundreds of thousands of their customers. AMP, NAB, CBA, ANZ and Westpac were found to be the worst offenders. The amount that these companies stole from their customers through fees for no service was officially estimated to be well over a billion dollars. The real figure could be even higher. Moreover, some of these institutions had even knowingly continued to charge their customers fees for no service … after they had died! The fees would then be paid out of the estate of the deceased customers – in other words, be paid largely by the close relatives of the deceased customers, most often their spouses and children. The Commonwealth Bank even knowingly charged one of their dead clients fees for “financial planning advice” for more than a decade after they died! Meanwhile, insurance giant AMP continued to charge some of their dead customers life insurance premiums.

A Slap on the Wrists for the Swindling Banks and Insurance Companies

The banking royal commission and the media coverage surrounding it tended to focus on atrocities committed against small business owners, farmers and other middle class customers – especially upper-middle class ones – or against better paid workers able to acquire substantial savings. Indeed, under the capitalist system the big capitalists – at the apex of which stand the bank owners – rip off the small-scale capitalist exploiters and all of them, while leaching the most from wage workers, skim off also from the middle class, even from the upper middle class. Yet, the people most hurt by the thieving greed of the banks and insurance companies are average income workers and especially lower-paid, casual and unemployed workers. They are the people most hurt by the banks charging large set fees as these fees often make up such a big proportion of their modest savings. It is poorly paid workers, retrenched workers and long term unemployed workers who are also the most burdened by the extortionate interest rates charged by banks in credit card accounts. It is the low income of these people which pushed them to get into debt in the first place, while the cruel interest rate they must pay off with their debts plus their meagre incomes ensures that many have little possibility of ever paying off these debts. And often desperate for credit, casual and unemployed workers, low income single mothers and people with disabilities are the most vulnerable to being ripped off by loan brokers and short term credit providers handing out loans with exorbitant interest rates.

The banking royal commission did hear about how insurance companies were using aggressive telemarketing and deceptive policies to rip off Aboriginal customers, many struggling on low incomes. It was told of how insurance companies operating in remote Aboriginal communities took advantage of language barriers and Aboriginal people’s tendency to be friendly and polite to sign up on the phone Aboriginal people to life and funeral insurance that they neither truly consented to nor even needed. One of the enterprises exposed for pushing unnecessary funeral insurance on Aboriginal people is the “Aboriginal Community Benefit Fund” (ABCF). With its name including “Aboriginal Community” and its use of a rainbow serpent image, ABCF gave the impression that it was an Aboriginal community-run organisation. But it was not! It was a private, profit-driven company that was neither owned nor managed by Aboriginal people. However, ABCF used the trust gained by the appearance of being a community-run organisation to push Aboriginal people into forking out large amounts for funeral insurance that they did not need. Thus ABCF often signed up healthy young Aboriginal woman in their twenties and early thirties for funeral insurance. They even pushed thousands of Aboriginal parents into getting funeral insurance for their babies in schemes that would cost up to $100,000 over a lifetime! ABCF owners then quietly excluded families of Aboriginal people who died from suicide from receiving payouts, thus ensuring that they would not to have to pay claims of a very large proportion of the insured children that actually did die young.

The banking royal commission did also hear snippets about the massive exploitation of low-income people by businesses handing out consumer leases and so-called payday loans – where people are lent money until their next pay check at massive interest rates. Aboriginal financial counsellor, Lynda Edwards, also told of how car dealers took advantage of the necessity for cars in remote areas to sell Aboriginal people dud cars with ultra-high interest loans. A report published a year ago by Flinders University detailed how one Aboriginal customer was made to pay $52,000 for an $18,000 car at an interest rate of 35% despite the fact that the over-priced used car stopped working long before the loan was repaid! Indeed, the royal commission was told of how some Aboriginal people had been charged even higher interest rates for car loans, rates of 48%!

Yet the nature of the Royal Commission was such that it did not compel those involved in such scams and high-interest loan pushing to defend their actions. As senior counsel assisting the commission, Rowena Orr QC, explained: “We will not be considering consumer leases, payday loans or in-store credit arrangements in these hearings because they do not fall within the terms of reference of the commission.” Put simply, the Royal Commission was not meant to truly protect the interests of low-income people from the predatory behaviour of banks, insurance firms and retail business owners. To the extent that the banking royal commission was not entirely about “restoring the credibility of the finance sector” or simply about allowing the furious masses to vent steam in a way that does not actually harm the interests of the finance industry bigwigs, the investigation was aimed at curbing the excesses of the bank owners in the interests of other sections of the capitalist class – including retail sector bigwigs, “small and medium size” enterprise bosses and big farm owners – as well as the more privileged sections of the middle class that the upper class rely on for social and political support. After all, the state in capitalist countries is an executive committee for managing the affairs of the capitalist labour-exploiting class as a whole. At times they have to slightly clip the wings of even their most powerful section – the finance sector bigwigs – in order to ensure the interests of the rich ruling class as a whole. But even here the Royal Commission’s impact was minimal. Sure, there were some stunning revelations of the depth of the banks and insurers’ greed and deceit. Several finance sector CEOs and directors also had to resign from their positions in the wake of the revelations and, mind you, then take away multi-million dollar severance pay and shareholdings, thank you very much. Yet Royal Commission head, Kenneth Hayne, did not recommend one single charge against any specific finance sector boss despite the fact that the hearings of the commission plainly showed that banks and insurance companies had stolen and swindled well over a billion dollars from hundreds of thousands of their customers. Instead, the commissioner handed over 24 recommendations to the regulators over instances of misconduct and charged them with the responsibility of considering any action. However, he refused to even name the people and institutions involved. And over a year since the final report of the commission was handed down, not a single finance sector boss has been charged let alone been put behind bars. Meanwhile, even after having promised to implement nearly all of Commissioner Hayne’s recommendations, the government has yet to even introduce legislation to turn several of the recommendations into law.

The more important point is that Commissioner Hayne’s report only recommended cosmetic changes to the finance sector. Cold calling of financial products over the phone was recommended to be banned and mortgage brokers would be required to act in the best interests of their customers (as if that is going to actually happen!). However, the economic power, profitability and overall impunity of the finance sector corporations will be largely untouched. In fact, the bank owners were so delighted with the outcome of the Royal Commission that the first stock market trading after the commissioner handed down his final report saw the share prices of the big four banks skyrocket by almost A$20 billion – their biggest one day rise ever!

The limp recommendations of the Royal Commission are, indeed, what the right-wing Australian government always intended to be the outcome. Indeed, the Liberal government was so intent on enhancing the reputation of the bank bosses that shortly before the Royal Commission was announced, they and the bank heads arranged for the bank bosses to send a letter to the government themselves calling for the Royal Commission! This enabled the government to put the bank bigwigs in good light by saying that the banks themselves wanted the inquiry. Indeed, the relationship between bank owners and the government is so cosy that the letter from the heads of the big four banks to the government calling for the Royal Commission was first sent in draft form to the then treasurer, Scott Morrison, to be vetted by him before being made an official letter the next day! Let’s not forget that the then prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, who, kicking and screaming, called the Royal Commission was himself the owner of an investment banking firm and later a managing director for the Australian arm of U.S. banking giant, Goldman Sachs.

In order to appease their working class base and appeal to widespread middle class public opinion, the ALP Opposition has been more critical of the banks than the Coalition government. But let us remember that when they were in government previously from 2007 to 2013, when some of the most blatant fraud by the finance sector companies was being committed, the ALP also did nothing to stop it. Today in the wake of the Royal Commission, the ALP only called for implementing its weak recommendations. Nothing more. The ALP are certainly not calling for putting the banks under state control or even under greater regulation. After all it was the former Hawke-Keating ALP government that carried out the biggest deregulation of the finance sector in Australian history. They removed the cap on the interest rates that banks could charge for home loans and abolished other controls on bank interest rates. In short, the Hawke-Keating Labor government freed up bank owners to do whatever it takes to maximise profits regardless of the consequences to society. Most harmfully, they also privatised the formerly state-owned Commonwealth Bank.

While the ALP is a party with a working class base, its futile program of trying to improve the lot of workers while accepting the capitalist order means that it necessarily needs to collaborate with – and ultimately kowtow to – that apex of capitalist power, finance capital. Thus, the ALP’s ties to the bank bosses are not far behind those of the conservatives. The investment banking firm that Malcolm Turnbull established, referred to above, was actually set up in a partnership with none other than former NSW ALP premier, Neville Wran, and Nicholas Whitlam – the son of former prime minister and ALP icon, Gough Whitlam. The bank was actually called Whitlam Turnbull & Co Ltd. Today, the CEO of the Australian Banking Association, who has done so much to deceive the population by being the chief apologist for the bank bosses is former Queensland ALP premier, Anna Bligh. Meanwhile, during the last financial year that disclosures of political donations have been revealed, 2018-19, the ALP received more than $2.5 million from Westpac alone! They were also given $50,000 from the main body representing general insurance firms, the Insurance Council of Australia, as well as plenty of other big donations from individual insurance companies and other banks. And that does not include the large amount of political donations that are disguised or hidden.

Of course, the banks and insurance companies also made big donations to the Liberal Party too. The Insurance Council of Australia gave them $27,500 and Anna Bligh’s Australian Banking Association the same amount. For its part, CBA donated $55,000. Westpac Bank donated a hefty $82,500 to the Liberals but that pales against their $2.5 million donations to the ALP during 2018-19. Likely, the Westpac bigwigs knew that they already had the Liberals fully in their bag!

The Myth that the Big Corporations are Owned by “Everyday Australians” through Our Superannuation

The problem isn’t simply that the banks and other finance businesses sometimes engage in open theft from their customers and other deceptive conduct. It’s the normal working of these enterprises that is the main problem. Banks make their money by extracting fees from account holders and primarily by charging a higher interest rate on the loans that they give out than the rate that they pay depositors. And they leach a lot of money that way! In the 2018-19 financial year, the “big four” Australian banks and the three biggest Australian-owned insurance companies, IAG, Suncorp and QBE, together extracted nearly $29 billion from us and that’s not including the huge amounts also grabbed by smaller banks and insurers as well as by mortgage brokers, consumer lease providers and payday cash operators. And that was considered a bad year for them! All this money extracted by the finance sector businesses is like an extra tax on the masses. But it is a tax where the proceeds don’t go into the public budget but into the hands of the wealthy finance sector business owners. If we note that there are currently about 9.8 million households and then do a quick calculation we find that the biggest four Australian-owned banks and largest three Australian-owned insurers are leaching $3,000 in profit, on average, from each household every year. To put that in perspective, that is more than one in five dollars of what an unemployed single person receives in the Newstart Allowance (if one excludes the temporary increase to the Newstart Allowance granted during the Covid-19 pandemic)!

Most working class and middle class people are only too aware that “The Banks” are ripping us off. But who do we exactly mean when we talk about “The Banks” that leach from us. Most of us think of the CEOs and the directors that award themselves huge salary packages. And with good reason! Last year, Westpac’s CEO took home over $5 million, ANZ CEO Shayne Elliot even more and IAG CEO Peter Harmer topped the lot receiving a five and a half million dollars package. And that was all in a year when the bank bosses, aware that they were under the spotlight, wanted to pretend that that they were feeling contrition for their devious deeds by awarding themselves lower payments than usual!

Yet as obscene are the payments are to the bank executives, that is still only a small percentage of bank profits. Where else are banks gigantic earnings going? Certainly not to their rank and file employees! So let’s take a look at Australia’s biggest bank, CBA. Last financial year CBA had a total operating income of $24 billion. Some of it they spent on equipment, wages, occupancy and operating costs. Most of their income then, after paying tax, ends up as profit for their owners. Nearly $8.5 billion to be precise. Of that nearly a billion went to beef up the assets of the bank to help its owners make greater profits in the future and $7.6 billion was given as dividends to the banks shareholders, i.e. to the banks owners. That’s who is taking most of the wealth extracted from the masses by the banks. By contrast, the more than 48,000 employees of the CBA received $5.5 billion in salaries and superannuation, which is a lot less than the shareholders received for doing absolutely no work at all. The amount received by the bank employees is also less than a quarter of the bank’s overall operating income. And of these more than 48,000 employees, the majority of them, the rank and file employees – say at least 40,000 of the workers – would each receive small slices of the salary cake while the managers and executives each take gluttonously big slices. After all, the bank’s top executives and other directors (there are just 20 of them), alone were paid $40 million last year; and that is counted as a “staff” cost. By contrast the average salary package, including superannuation, of CBA’s other employees is $114,000 – which is 40 times less than what the CEO took home. Moreover, when you exclude the managers and others in the top 20% of highest paid staff who would bring up that average income number, one would find that the annual wage of the vast majority of CBA workers wouldn’t be much more than – and in many cases less than – $75,000 and certainly well below $100,000. Moreover, to the bank bigwigs, these bank workers are expendable. As soon as the bank bosses decide that they can make a still higher profit with fewer workers, they will throw into the dole queues the employees whose hard work has allowed bank executives and big shareholders to acquire such immense wealth. Over the last several years, the bigwigs of the big four banks have together retrenched tens of thousands of workers. In late 2017, then NAB CEO, Andrew Thorburn, infamously announced the axing of 6,600 jobs at the very same time that he gloatingly announced that the bank had made a whopping annual profit of $6.6 billion.

So, who then are the shareholders who are reaping the rewards of the banks’ ripping off of the masses’ money? The finance corporations’ bosses and their bigwigs try to sell us the line that their companies are owned mostly by superannuation funds and through the dividends distributed to these funds their profits end up going to “ordinary, everyday Australians.” Nothing could be further from the truth! But before exploring this point in more detail, it is important to here make a point about superannuation more broadly. Superannuation, as a means of distributing income to the aged, in contrast to pensions, is not fair. It is not fair not only in practice but in the very concept of it.

Under the superannuation system a proportion of people’s income (9.5% of their gross wage currently) when they are working goes into their personal accounts which gets managed by superannuation companies and is then accessible when they retire. So a worker on the minimum wage in a full-time job gets $3,467 of superannuation put into their account each year. By contrast, the Westpac CEO last year received $44,320 in superannuation payments, nearly 13 times more than a worker on the minimum wage gets. Many bosses get even more. Last year, the CEO of Australian-owned mining giant, BHP, received a staggering $425,000 in superannuation payments – that’s more than 120 times greater than what a worker on the minimum wage gets! By contrast if you are a worker unfortunate enough to be either unemployed or one of the increasing number of cash in hand workers or a domestic worker or a casual worker who gets only a few hours in a month of work you get no super whatsoever. Yet it is precisely these people who need higher payments when they are aged because they would have much less savings and assets than people who had been receiving higher superannuation contributions. Moreover, the superannuation system reinforces the discrimination in employment affecting women, Aboriginal people and migrants from African, Middle Eastern and Asian countries. For in addition to the gender pay gap that women endure, the racist discrimination that causes Aboriginal people to have a much higher rate of unemployment than the broader population and the greater propensity of migrants to only be given lower paid jobs, women and migrants are much more likely to be in non-super receiving cash in hand and domestic work jobs than their male and Australian-born counterparts.

There is one rationale for superannuation – that wealth produced today needs to be set aside for when we have an ageing population in the future – that does have validity. But this should be addressed by making the bosses pay into a single, common pension fund out of which aged pensions can be paid equally to all of the elderly. Instead of the system of low pensions supplemented by people’s individual superannuation accounts, there should be much higher pensions for all and no individual superannuation. At least when a group of people are at an age when none of them are working, they should finally get paid equally! The current system, instead, carries through all the terrible inequality when people are of working age through to when people are retired.

So given how unequal people’s superannuation balances are, even if it were true that the banks and other big corporations are owned mainly by superannuation funds this would be grossly unfair. However, the truth is even more inequitable. For it is the very rich who own most of the stocks of the banks and other big companies. Superannuation funds own just a minority. How small a minority? Let us calculate that here using publicly available data. Given how much mythology there is about superannuation funds owning corporations, we will show each stage of the calculation. According to the Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia, i.e. the industry body of the superannuation companies themselves, at the end of December 2019 these funds had a total of 1.9 trillion dollars in assets of which 22.0% was invested in Australian equities (https://www.superannuation.asn.au/resources/superannuation-statistics , accessed 3 April 2020). That comes to a figure of $418 billion for the total holdings in the Australian share market by the superannuation funds. Now the total market capitalisation of the Australian share market at the same time, the end of December, was $2339.71 billion (see https://www.gurufocus.com/global-market-valuation.php?country=AUS and scroll to 20 December 2019 in the graph “Australian Total Market Cap”). That gives the proportion of the shares in the Australian stock market owned by domestic superannuation funds at just 17.9%. That is a lot less than one in five shares.

To see the significance of this truth that local superannuation funds own just a minority of major Australian corporations, let us consider the following scenario. Imagine in the year 2022, after having to prune their profits slightly in 2019 following the exposure of some of their fraudulent practices and the lower profits that they could expect in the coming two years in the wake of the COVID-19 induced recession, the banks seek to raise their profits back to the extreme levels of a few years ago. Through hitting their customers with still higher fees and by charging a high interest rate on the loans they lend out relative to that which they give to depositors the banks raise their profits by, say, an extra $10 billion. Now the bank bosses and their many apologists in parliament would then spin the line that these higher profits are a good thing as they end up in the pockets of “ordinary everyday Australians” through the dividends being accumulated by superannuation funds investing in the banks. However, if all these additional profits end up being distributed as dividends to shareholders and assuming that the percentage of bank shares owned by Australian super funds is about the same as the overall proportion of Australian stocks owned by these funds, just $1.79 billion of these extra share dividends would go to these funds. Even less would make their way into actual superannuation accounts. For the superannuation companies would take a healthy portion of the dividends as commissions and fees – and as we know even as advice fees when they give no advice! And guess what, many of these superannuation companies are themselves directly owned by banks or insurance companies. So part of the bank profits supposedly going into superannuation funds end up going back to the bank and, thus, into the pockets of its big non-superannuation shareholders. The amount actually going to the superannuation accounts of the public may be closer to $1.4 billion. Yet, to get to this scenario of higher bank profits, we have paid out $10 billion in extra fees and higher interest payments. So, excluding the big shareholders of the banks, the public end up much worse off overall, worse off by about $10 billion less the approximately $1.4 billion that we reclaim in higher returns on our super; i.e. we together end up about overall $8.6 billion worse off. And it is working class people who would suffer the pain disproportionately. For a low-paid worker, while paying the higher fees and higher interest rates paid by others, gets very little back in the way of higher returns on their superannuation and many workers none at all.

While we are dealing with this subject, the same analogy would apply to the issue of wages and profits. If the bosses managed to drive down our wages throughout the economy so that they collectively make a $10 billion higher profit than they otherwise would, the apology that business leaders give, that this ends up back in workers’ pockets through increases to their superannuation, is completely false. Wage and salary earners would collectively end up about $8.6 billion worse off. And again the pain would be borne most by lower paid, cash-in-hand and unemployed workers. So, the next time a co-worker, who has been influenced by ruling class propaganda, tries to tell you that higher profits for banks and other corporations is good for us, please, please, please educate them about the reality!

Who are “the Banks”?

So now that it is clear that we are not the indirect owners of the banks through our superannuation funds, who then are the actual owners of these hated corporations? The second lie that apologists for the banks promote, other than the one about superannuation funds, is that the banks are simply owned by “ordinary, everyday Australians” – so called “mum and dad shareholders.” This is actually an even bigger lie than the first one! Why? Firstly, most working class people don’t have the significant savings that would enable them to invest in the stock market. Low paid workers, unemployed workers and casual workers struggle to replace worn out clothes, deal with high electricity costs, pay the rent and often keep up with credit card debts too, let alone save significants amounts of money. Meanwhile, more decently paid workers often spend most of their working life paying off their home mortgage. Far from the majority of the working class being able to invest in shares, the reality is that household debt in Australia is at record levels. A small layer of better paid, more skilled and often older workers do sometimes invest in shares or alternatively in wealth management schemes that in turn invest in shares. However, most of the people holding shares are members of the capitalist, business-owning upper class and the more comfortable layers of the middle class – especially high-paid, upper-middle class professionals. So the “mum and dad shareholders” who supposedly hold most of the banks should more precisely be referred to as the “affluent mum and dad shareholders.” However, even this tells only a small part of the story. For average middle class shareholders – and even the upper middle class ones – while they are large in number only hold a very small portion of bank ownership. To see this, let us have a look at the latest annual report, the one for 2019, for Australia’s largest bank, CBA. According to the bank’s own report, those owning less than a 1,000 shares, who make up nearly three quarters of shareholders, own just one in ten of all shares. Now, given that the share price of the bank at the time that those figures were quoted for (15 July 2019) was $81.06, any one shareholder who was not in this category, i.e. was a shareholder who had more than 1,000 shares in the bank, had more than $81,060 invested there. These big investors who each invested more than $81,060 in the bank own 90% of the bank. Few workers and average middle class people could afford to put that kind of money in the shares of one company. Moreover, even amongst the upper middle class and wealthy capitalists who own most of the bank shares, it is the latter who own the lion’s share. Thus, the people and institutions who own more than 5,000 shares – that is who have the spare cash to invest more than $405,000 in the shares of just one company – own over two-thirds of the CBA. Moreover, the top 20 shareholders alone own nearly half the bank!

So who then are these very rich individuals owning most of Australia’s banks? That is censored information! The wealthy own much of their stakes in the finance sector through other banks acting as nominees for them. In other words, these rich investors get other banks to hold shares on their behalf in a way that hides their own identities. Without exception, in Australia’s big four banks at least the top six shareholders in each bank are these bank nominee holders. In the case of ANZ, all the top eight shareholders, who own 57% of the bank, are these nominee holders. That about typifies the nature of “democracy” within capitalist countries. The ruling class talk a lot about “transparency” but really it is only things that don’t matter too much that are transparent whereas the really important stuff is hidden from the masses. So here we have the most powerful economic institutions in the country, the ones who decide how credit is distributed and whose combined assets of $3.4 trillion (for the big four banks alone) are almost twice the country’s entire annual GDP … and we don’t even really know who owns them!

We do, however, know a few things about the major owners of the Australian banks and insurance companies. One thing that we do know is that they are rich Australians rather than people from overseas. CBA, for instance, is nearly four-fifths Australian-owned. You can bet that among the major owners of the banks and insurance companies, hidden through bank nominee holders, are many of Australia’s richest 200 people – capitalists whose combined wealth last year was found to be a staggering $342 billion! So if you managed to break through the secrecy wall of nominee holdings you would surely find that among the major shareholders of the banks would be people of the ilk of Andrew Forrest, Gina Rinehart, James Packer, Anthony Pratt, Clive Palmer and Kerry Stokes.

The $160 million mega-yacht bought in 2017 by financial executive John Symond. Symond is one of the largest individual shareholders of the Commonwealth Bank of Australia. The ultra-rich Australian owners and executives of Australia’s banks and other finance sector companies leach billions off the masses while the institutions that they control misdirect credit away from the areas most needed by working class people.

Where there is greater transparency is in the holdings of the executives and directors of these finance sector corporations. And they do have big shareholdings. ANZ CEO, Shayne Elliot, held nearly $5 million of shares in that bank. IAG boss, Peter Harmer, owned an even larger stake in his corporation, owning $7.6 million of shares. However, compared to the murky holdings held in secret by nominee companies, even these huge numbers are pretty small. One big bank shareholder who is not hidden behind a nominee company is the couple, Barry and Joy Lambert, who at the time of the CBA’s last annual report owned a whopping $220 million dollar stake. Joy and Barry Lambert are indeed, by the way, a “mum” and a “dad” – and these are precisely the type of “Australian mums and dads shareholders” that own the lion’s share of this country’s banks and other major corporations!

The Big Banks, Big Insurers and the Owners of Smaller Finance Companies

What about the institutions holding major stakes in the big finance corporations – that is, other than the companies acting as nominees for others? One such institutional investor, which is among the top twenty shareholders of each of Australia’s big four banks as well as of the big insurers, Suncorp and QBE, is Netwealth Investments. If we look at the last annual reports of these big finance corporations, we find that at that time, Netwealth held a total stake of $814 million in them. Now Netwealth Investments are a wealth management firm, so they are largely investing the money of other capitalists and upper middle class individuals in the big finance corporations. But Netwealth also takes a big chunk out of the money invested through these shareholdings as commissions and management fees. And who owns Netwealth? More than half of it is owned by the joint managing directors of the firm, Michael Heine and his son Matt. The last published Australian rich list has the family holding a combined wealth of more than $1.5 billion. As we can see, a big part of this wealth comes from grabbing a share of the profits that the banking and insurance corporations leach out of all of us.

So there you have it, the big banks and insurance companies act as a big collective feeding trough for capitalist pigs. Different capitalist exploiters come to put their snouts into the mega-earnings extracted by the big banks and insurers. And when they do so, they get a huge feed. The last CBA annual report, for example, boasted that shareholders gained a total return on their investments of 21% in just one year. That means, for instance, that the Lambert family’s stake in the bank would have given them a $46 million return in just one year … and that from doing no work whatsoever! By contrast a full-time cleaner doing hard and especially crucial and dangerous work at this time of pandemic will get 1,200 times less than this and only if her boss actually pays her the minimum wage.

The Heine family who own Netwealth are one of many owners of smaller finance sector businesses that have made a fortune by engaging in a similar kind of parasitism as the big banks do. At least fifteen of the people on Australia’s list of the richest 200 people extracted much of their money by running such enterprises. You very often see these people being interviewed on ABC current affairs programs related to the economy, which is worth noting for anyone who thinks that the ABC is substantially fairer and more independent of capitalist influence than the tycoon-owned media outlets. Among the finance sector bigwigs are Hamish Douglass, the biggest shareholder of wealth management firm, Magellan Financial; Jeff Chapman, owner of Bennelong Funds Management; Graham Tuckwell, owner of investment management firm, ETF Securities; David Paradice, owner of Paradice Investment Management and Kerr Neilson, the billionaire who owns the main stake in Platinum Asset Management. Supporters of public housing may recognise the latter name. Neilson was one of the ultra-rich people who notoriously bought up former public housing and publicly-owned buildings in Sydney’s inner-city Millers Point after the right-wing NSW government drove out low-income working class tenants and sold off the housing to wealthy individuals and speculators. In 2018, Neilson bought up three historic dwellings in Millers Point, known collectively as the George Talbots Townhouses, for $5 million.

The $30.5 million Point Piper mansion bought in 2014 by Nick Langley, owner of investment management firm RARE Infrastructure. Australia’s banks and other finance sector companies are largely owned by filthy rich capitalists and not by “everyday mum and dad shareholders.”

Another filthy rich owner of a finance sector corporation is the boss of buy-now-pay-later company, Flexigroup, Andrew Abercrombie. Abercrombie is also a Liberal Party powerbroker and major donor and is notorious for having stridently supported right-wing extremist, media commentator Andrew Bolt, when Aboriginal people took legal action against Bolt over vile racist slurs. Recently, Abercrombie was in the news after a high-society party that he hosted at his extravagant chalet in the US Aspen ski resort became the source of COVID-19 infection clusters after several of the super-rich guests refused to self-isolate and after returning to Australia spread the disease acquired at the party to Melbourne, Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula and Sydney.

Many of the finance sector bosses in Australia’s rich list run businesses that not only make profits from operations here but also leach profits from people overseas. That is to be expected from major components of a ruling class that is not only capitalist but imperialist. However, as well as making profits from their own operations, these owners of smaller finance sector companies stand alongside mining magnates, media moguls and industrial capitalists in grabbing hefty slices of the loot extracted by the operations of the big banks and big insurers. This is both through their own major shareholdings in the banks – like those of the Lambert family who made their initial wealth through Barry Lambert’s previously owned financial planning company, Count Financial – and through gaining a big slice of the dividends from bank shares received by the funds that they manage. In this sense, the big banking and insurance companies operate like a legal, crime syndicate. Different, loosely connected capitalists come together through these corporations to jointly loot the masses.

Nationalize the Banks! Nationalize the Entire Health System!

The banks extract money from the masses in four different ways. The first two ways are obvious: through charging interest and fees and through exploiting the mental labour of their own workers. Thirdly, by lending to those buying investment properties, banks, from the interest that they receive, gain a share of the rent extracted by greedy landlords from tenants. There is also an important additional way that banks extract their revenue. For banks, insurance companies and investment managers put some of the money under their control into the shares and bonds of other businesses. In the case of banks they also make loans to these other firms. These other business bosses, whether they be those of manufacturing firms, retailers, developers, telecommunication and IT firms, transportation companies, mining corporations or agribusiness operations in turn make a profit through exploiting their own workers. Part of the wealth extracted from these workers is then returned to the banks as interest on loans and on any bonds held by the banks and also returned to finance sector firms more broadly as dividends on the stocks that they hold in these other companies. In this way, the owners of the finance sector companies gain a share of the profits exploited from workers throughout the economy.

This role of the finance sector – and the banks in particular – in the whole economy points to perhaps the biggest problem with the capitalist-owned finance sector. It is not simply that they leach from the people, it is also the way that they allocate credit and financial resources. And like everything else they do, they allocate credit almost solely on the basis of what can bring them the highest returns. That is partly why there is so much speculation in the housing sector and so little affordable housing available, both to buy or to rent. Banks know that they can gain much higher and more secure returns by giving loans to wealthy people buying multiple holiday homes and speculative high-end investment properties than to lend for the construction of cheaper housing for working class people to buy or to rent. Similarly, banks would rather allocate loans and investments to climate change-inducing coal mines and fossil fuel power stations that have little long term future than to focus their credit allocation into renewable power projects even if the former bring only slighter higher and more secure returns to the bank. Meanwhile, the profit-driven mode of the banks mean that medical research in Australia can struggle to get funding unless the chances of an immediate profit-making breakthrough are immediate. Yet medical science cannot but advance except through the trialling of many different ideas, only a tiny proportion of which will end up being used. Similarly in Australia, important technological development and scientific research – especially in basic sciences where the monetary benefits are not immediate – struggle to get bank loans or investment. By contrast, casino operators and advertising firms – who produce no net benefit to society but instead only help one lot of business owners to get richer at the expense of their rivals (and then vice versa!) – don’t seem to have any trouble raising credit.

One of the growing number of people in Australia forced to sleep the streets. A major reason for the large amount of homelessness is that Australia’s profit-driven banks, rather than directing credit to the building of public housing and housing affordable for the poor, divert credit to more lucrative high-end housing projects as well as for speculative housing investments.
Photo credit: ABC

If the misdirection of credit causes terrible problems in “normal” times, it can be literally fatal at a time of public health emergency and economic implosion like we are experiencing right now. Although, as we go to press, the rate of new infections in Australia appears to be slowing, people continue to die from COVID-19 and, what is more, the threat of much greater virus spread will emerge once social distancing measures are eased. That is why immediately, we need financial resources directed to urgent medical research to help find vaccines and better treatments for COVID-19. We need this research not only for the few projects seemingly most likely to bring financial profits in the future but for a wide range of research. That includes work into developing any non-vaccine treatment methods for the virus. Such research into treatment methods can be hugely life-saving but its results are also likely non-patentable and would bring the researchers – and thus their bank creditors – no real financial rewards. Even more urgently we need loans directed to particular manufacturers that are able to very quickly turn their factories into making personal protective equipment, infra-red thermometers, virus testing kits and ventilators. We also need credit being allocated into areas that will help reduce the level of job losses and at the same time direct jobs into areas that would aid the virus response – for instance by making home delivery of groceries and food more widespread. Yet the only way any of this has even a chance of happening is if control of the organisations that have the power over lending – that is, the banks – are taken out of the hands of their profit-driven owners and brought under state control. This gives the potential to plan the allocation of financial resources to both respond to the virus threat and avert economic collapse. For such planning to be effective, the banks really need to be run together as a single national entity. Modern computing technology and big data make that quite simple whether or not the banks actually operate under one logo. In summary what we need is the nationalisation of the banks and their conversion into a single state-run bank. We need that right now and we need that all the time!

Putting the banks under state control is not the only thing that the working class masses need right now. To respond to the COVID-19 threat we need health resources mobilised in a planned way. The government has announced that it would requisition the resources of private hospitals to deal with the crisis. But this measure is partial and predicated on a massive bailout of private hospital owners. In contrast to the Morrison government’s half-baked hospital plan we need the immediate nationalisation of the entire health system – including not only private hospitals but smaller health facilities like pathology labs. This must remain even after this epidemic is over. Having a big part of the Medicare budget going into the bank accounts of greedy private health operators – for example, Medicare pays 75% of the schedule fee of private patients – as opposed to the actual treatment of patients not only drains the public budget but means that less resources are available for the long overdue tasks of increasing the number of available public hospital beds and public health nurses and reducing the waiting times at public hospitals. Furthermore, for the level of one’s access to health care to depend on the “logic of the market” – in other words how much money one has to fork out for health care – goes against the needs of the working class and all principles of decency. The irrationality of having health facilities being run by for profit operators has been proved during this COVID-19 crisis by the fact that private health care operators like Healthe Care in March stood down, or laid off, hundreds of nurses at a time when the virus was spreading rampantly and nurses were needed more than ever.

The section of Australia’s population most vulnerable to contracting COVID-19 is the well over hundred thousand homeless people. This includes not only those forced to sleep the streets but those “couch surfing” in the homes of friends and relatives. With so many people thrown out of work or stood down on reduced or no pay, homelessness is set to skyrocket. The government’s tentative six-month moratorium on evictions does not provide adequate security to tenants. There are so many loopholes that landlords are already evicting tenants. Moreover, current measures do not stop landlords and estate agents from pressuring tenants to pay rent even when they have little income. Therefore, there must be a six month halt to all rent payments for residential tenants from now. We also need an immediate halt to the sell-off of public housing and for homeless people to be housed in public housing dwellings slated for sale. This will help but will not in itself be enough to house all homeless people. Therefore, we also need a massive increase in public housing. Another crucial reason why we need more public housing is so that low-income women can move away from any abusive relationships and know that they will still have a roof over their heads if they do so. This is an even more urgent matter now than ever as COVID-19 restrictions are leaving women copping domestic abuse in situations where they are more socially isolated and, thus, more vulnerable to violent attack. But new public housing cannot be built fast enough right now in the midst of a pandemic. Therefore, the state must requisition the unoccupied holiday homes and investment properties of people owning more than three homes and convert them immediately into public housing.

We must also demand that the millions of casual workers in this country be immediately granted permanency with all the rights of permanent workers – including being granted guaranteed minimum work hours and sick leave. This is necessary to both protect the rights of casual workers and to ensure that such workers have no compulsion to risk their own well-being and that of others by going to work when ill. Similarly, we must ensure that all workers be granted special paid pandemic leave for self-isolation, quarantining and treatment if they may have COVID-19, or to care for ill family members. The government’s new scheme only allows for unpaid leave which for many low-paid workers will not only cause hardship but may push them to try sticking it out at work when they could be a risk to themselves and others.

At this time of economic crisis, temporary migrant workers and wage-working international students are the hardest hit section of the working class. Many have lost jobs or are casual workers who have suffered big cuts to the number of shifts that they get and, like most casual workers, the government’s much touted scheme to pay bosses of businesses that have lost significant revenue to retain workers will not help them at all. Moreover, unlike all other workers they will not get any Centrelink payments and international students are not even covered by Medicare. This is outrageous! These migrant workers face destitution and many now not only have no money to return to their home countries but cannot even do so due to travel restrictions. That is why it is absolutely urgent that we demand that all workers resident here get the same rights as people who are citizens. Full citizenship rights for everyone who is here! Moreover, in counter-position to the government’s JobKeeper scheme that will still allow hundreds of thousands of workers to lose their jobs while giving a windfall to many bosses, we must fight for jobs for all through preventing companies that have been making a profit over the years from cutting their workforce and by forcing still profitable companies to increase hiring at the expense of their profits.

Such an agenda can only be won through working class-led struggle. Although, at this moment, it may even be from the point of view of the overall interests of the capitalist class partly rational to put the banks under state control in order to avert an economic collapse, the exploiting class will resist any demands for such measures, not least because such a nationalisation would immediately pose the question that if the capitalist owners cannot be trusted to run the banks themselves then why shouldn’t the banks and the rest of the economy be taken completely out of their hands and put into public ownership. As a crucial part of any working-class fightback the workers movement must champion the cause of all other sections of the oppressed. In particular the working class must support Aboriginal people’s struggle against racist state killings of black people in custody, a movement that has been injected with renewed energy in the wake of the mass anti-racist resistance struggles in the U.S.

Mass struggle at this time of pandemic is, of course, difficult. However, let’s not forget that the working class movement has had to struggle in the past – and often in the present too in not only openly capitalist dictatorships but to some degree in the so-called “democracies” as well – in difficult conditions where protests, strikes and leftist political activity have faced repression or even been outright outlawed. This time of virus-related restrictions is, of course, very different in that we ourselves uphold – and actually actively promote – genuine social-distancing measures. However, like in times of intense of police-state repression, it is still a matter of finding ways to overcome major obstacles. We certainly don’t need to come up with all the ways that we can have an impact here. Politically active working class people will themselves come up with suitable methods – the masses are very innovative and that has been proven over decades and decades of struggle.

State-Controlled Banks and COVID-19 Response: A Case Study

If anyone wants to see why we need to put the banks under state control they should look at how the finance sector works in the world’s most populous country – and Australia’s biggest trading partner – the Peoples Republic of China (PRC). In China all the major banks are nationalised. And that was part of why the PRC was so effectively able to respond to the COVID-19 threat. Although China was the place where the virus – whose exact origin remains unknown – first spread in a really big known way, the PRC was able to respond so effectively and quickly that today in China, and even in the city of Wuhan, the former centre of the outbreak, people are again socialising, starting to resume eating out at cafes and restaurants, travelling long distances on public transport, slowly returning to tourist sites, working at factories and other works sites and gradually returning to full school operations. More importantly, the PRC’s response has been so successful that per million residents, far less people have died from the virus in China than have died in wealthier countries that have had much, much more time to prepare for the virus spread. Thus, the number of deaths per resident as of July 18 is already 45% higher in Australia than in China, 133 times higher in the U.S. than in China and in Switzerland, the country famous for its free-wheeling, scantily regulated capitalist banks, the number of deaths per resident is already 71 times higher than in China.

It is important to see why the PRC has been able to respond so effectively to the virus threat. In particular let us see how having a nationalised banking sector made a difference. Crucially, as soon as it become apparent just how contagious and deadly the then newly discovered virus was, China’s banks started supplementing PRC government outlays to firms to boost production of – or in many cases to entirely switch over the output of their operations to produce – items crucial to the epidemic response. Such products included surgical masks, goggles and full protective suits for medical workers, face masks for the public, COVID-19 testing kits, ambulances, disinfectant and ventilators. Within two weeks, PRC banks had already lent out tens of billions of dollars in very low interest rate loans to support the production of these items. By March 13, the amount that the PRC’s state-controlled banks had lent out to contain the impact of the virus had grown to $330 billion!

Left: Medical workers in full head-to-toe, spacesuit-style protective gear at Wuhan’s Fan Cang Makeshift Hospital in February 2020. Right: Medical workers at Tasmania’s North West Regional Hospital. Australian health workers have usually not been provided with the same level of protective gear that medical workers in China have been equipped with. Often the faces and necks of Australian health workers are left exposed and sometimes they are only equipped with normal face masks rather than surgical grade N95 masks. As a result, the coronavirus transferred from infected patients to medical staff at Tasmania’s North West Regional Hospital causing an outbreak that took eleven lives. Moreover, as of 21 July 2020, 429 health workers have been infected with COVID-19 in Victoria alone. The capitalist system is unable to ensure the switching over of production to meet pandemic response needs anywhere as decisively as a system dominated by public ownership, like that in the PRC.
Photo credit (photo on Right): Mitchell Woolnough

The production of pandemic relief goods – especially PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) for medical workers – is absolutely vital in the fight against this pandemic. Unfortunately, in the very early days of the outbreak in Wuhan, before it was realised just how contagious the virus was – and even what it was – and how crucial was the need for protective gear, many medical staff in Wuhan became infected with the virus and also spread it to other colleagues, and several of the infected staff later died. In late January, with a large number of ill people pouring into Wuhan hospitals the hospital system in Wuhan was obviously overwhelmed and there was a shortage of protective gear, medicine and equipment. However, before long, with PRC manufacturers, armed with cheap credit doled out at lightning speed by her nationalised banks, rapidly switching over to producing protective gear, all nurses, hospital cleaners and doctors in China were wearing full space-suit-style head-to-toe protective gear. As a result, not a single one of the more than 42,600 health workers who travelled from other parts of China to Hubei Province to aid the virus response became infected, let alone died from the disease. By contrast, the capitalist countries with their private, profit-driven banks have not been able to equip their health workers with PPE effectively. Capitalist banks resist any loans that do not guarantee them a sizable and secure return. Moreover, they would also take considerable time approving any loans made for epidemic response as they ponder and calculate what they can get out of lending large amounts to any particular project for manufacturing epidemic prevention materials. In Australia, any switching over of production to aid the pandemic response by manufacturers is happening way too little and way too late. Therefore, even though authorities in countries like the U.S., Australia and Italy have had the big advantage of knowing for several weeks, if not months, just how infectious the virus was before it spread widely in their own countries, they have not even been able to ensure adequate protective equipment for their health workers. In the U.S., many nurses have had to resort to wearing home-made “protective gear,” like garbage bags, as poor substitutes for personal protective equipment. In Italy, as of April 17, at least 159 medical workers had died from COVID-19. Apart from the personal tragedies here, the effects of health workers becoming infected is devastating for the overall pandemic response. It means that large numbers of medical staff are not able to contribute to the response effort as they languish in quarantine, while other doctors and nurses, before they are identified as having COVID-19, end up passing on the virus to other medical staff and to patients who have come in for non-COVID-19 illnesses. In Australia, the failure to be able to outfit all health workers with the head-to-toe PPE that China’s nurses, doctors and janitors are equipped with has meant that as of July 18 over 400 nurses, doctors and health workers in Victoria alone have been infected. The failure to provide adequate PPE for health and aged care workers is also a key reason for the deadly virus spreads in North-West Tasmanian hospitals and in the Christian-run nursing home in Sydney’s Outer West that took the lives of 30 people between them.

Build toward the Future Confiscation of Banks, Industry, Mines, Communications Infrastructure and Agricultural Land and their Transfer into Public Ownership

It is not only in responding to the direct virus threat that the PRC’s nationalised banks have come into their own. To avert mass layoffs and economic shocks during this pandemic, China’s banks have sacrificed profits by rolling over and extending loans to hard-hit firms and self-employed people and by lending large amounts of money at low interest rates to assist enterprises to re-start production with the curbing of the epidemic spread. In a similar way, the PRC’s nationalised banking sector played a crucial role in allowing China to sail through the late noughties Global Recession as they lent huge amounts of money to finance high-speed rail lines, water conservation projects, environmental projects and the massive construction of low-rent public housing.

Yet it is not just during a crisis that the advantages of the PRC’s state-controlled finance sector is apparent. These Chinese banks have been directed to ensure that their lending practices are in lockstep with the PRC’s “Homes Are For Living In, Not for Speculation” policy. Thus, they have provided much credit to support public housing construction. Moreover, very different to Australia’s profit-obsessed banks, China’s banks charge any family seeking a bank loan for buying a second home a much higher interest rate than they charge those buying their first home, while they don’t lend at all to anyone trying to buy a third home. More broadly, China’s state-controlled banks are directed to lend to projects that may not be very profitable for the banks but which are important for the society and for the people’s economic development. Thus, these banks have specially lent to research and development projects in areas that are important for that country’s future economic progress like nanotechnology, advanced materials, artificial intelligence, advanced electronic hardware, aircraft research etc. Meanwhile, given that the PRC state has identified environmental protection as one of its three principal tasks, alongside poverty alleviation and curbing financial risks, the banks have directed a significant part of their lending to projects aimed at curbing water and air pollution. In particular, by supporting renewable energy projects with credit, they have helped China to become the world leader in renewable energy, with more than three times the installed solar power capacity of any other country and more than twice the wind generation capacity of the next biggest wind power producer. However, the most crucial practice of the PRC’s nationalised banking sector is its support for the country’s poverty alleviation drive. Over the last several years, as part of the PRC’s drive to lift every resident out of extreme poverty by the end of 2020, China’s state banks have lent literally hundreds of billions of dollars to poverty alleviation projects in poorer parts of the country. Many of these projects involve renovation of shantytowns and upgrading of infrastructure in impoverished and remote parts of the country as well as supporting community-based aged care facilities provided for lower income residents. Crucially, the PRC’s state-controlled banks have also provided credit for the development of job-creating industries in poorer, rural parts of the country including food processing operations, agricultural co-operatives, rural tourism and renewable energy projects. Partly as a result of such support for her poverty alleviation drive from her nationalised finance sector, China remains on track to achieve her poverty alleviation target by the end of this year despite the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

It is important to be aware that the PRC’s banks are not just state-controlled, they are overwhelmingly also state-owned. Thus, each and every one of China’s big four commercial banks are state-owned. Indeed, even if we include all the medium-sized banks in China, we find that majority state-owned banks so dominate the PRC’s finance sector that there is really only one significant sized bank – China’s tenth largest bank – that can be considered to be truly privately-owned; and even in that one case state-owned companies have recently become its largest shareholders owning around a quarter of the bank. Moreover, in addition to her commercial banks, the PRC has three massive, 100% state-owned policy banks whose lending is completed devoted to projects that are deemed in society’s overall interest. Two of these policy banks in particular, the China Development Bank and the Agricultural Development Bank of China, whose combined assets would make them China’s second largest bank, have been at the forefront of lending to support China’s poverty alleviation drive and more recently for the pandemic response effort.

There is a notable difference between banks being merely state-controlled and being actually state-owned. For one, even if banks are state-controlled, if they remain privately-owned their wealthy owners will act as a constant pressure on the state pushing for the banks to be run largely according to the profit motive as opposed to according to social needs. Secondly, if banks remain only state-controlled their massive profits would still be flowing into the hands of their largely ultra-rich owners rather than into the public budget. Remember, last year, in a “bad” year for them, Australia’s big four banks alone leached $26 billion in profits. To be sure, if they became state-controlled their profits would drop somewhat as their lending and investment becomes partially re-directed away from areas that simply bring the highest return. Nevertheless, even if their profits were halved as a result of being placed under state control, that’s still $13 billion that could go into the public budget if these corporations were only brought into state ownership. How much badly needed public housing could we get with that?! Well, actually, we can calculate that. According to the government’s own figures (see Table 18A.43 in the appendix of Excel spreadsheets under Part G, Section 18 of the Report on Government Services 2020 in the Australian Government Productivity Commission website https://www.pc.gov.au/research/ongoing/report-on-government-services/2020/housing-and-homelessness/housing), the average annual cost of a public house unit, including the capital cost, is $39,714 per dwelling. So if we had even half the current profits extracted by the biggest banks in Australia go into the public coffers we could support an extra 327,340 public housing dwellings which would easily more than double the existing stock of public housing. That could really solve the problem of homelessness and make good strides towards addressing the extreme shortage of low-rent housing in Australia.

That is why what is finally needed is to confiscate all the banks, insurance corporations, superannuation companies, wealth management firms and securities businesses from their ultra-wealthy owners and bring them all into state-ownership. This should be accomplished without giving any compensation to the big shareholders. However, to avoid unnecessarily antagonising the middle class, the stock holdings of the numerous small shareholders who together own a tiny fraction of these corporations can be bought out. Since the superannuation firms will be confiscated too, workers won’t need to worry about losing their super when the banks get taken. They will still get their retirement funds from the now publicly owned providers and with less eaten in fees by billionaire finance sector bosses to boot. However, the retirement payment system will progressively be switched from one based on individual superannuation accounts to one based on a higher and equal pension for all.

Our agitational demand to put the banks under state control, that is to nationalise the banks, that we made in the headline of this article, is not in itself a call to confiscate the banks and put them into public ownership. Russian revolutionary leader Vladimir Lenin made a similar call some six weeks prior to the working class seizure of power in the October 1917 Russian Revolution. As Lenin explained:

It is absurd to control and regulate deliveries of grain, or the production and distribution of goods generally, without controlling and regulating bank operations….

The ownership of the capital wielded by and concentrated in the banks is certified by printed and written certificates called shares, bonds, bills, receipts, etc. Not a single one of these certificates would be invalidated or altered if the banks were nationalised, i.e. if all banks were amalgamated into a single state bank…. whoever owned fifteen million rubles would continue after the nationalisation of the banks to have fifteen million rubles in the form of shares, bonds, bills, commercial certificates and so on.

— V.I. Lenin, The Impending Catastrophe and How to Combat It, September 1917

Lenin’s Bolsheviks made the demand for the nationalisation of the banks in this period as an urgent measure to control economic life at a time when Russia’s masses were being struck down by mass unemployment, disorganised industry and terrible shortages of food and other staple items. However, the revolutionaries also understood that by showing the masses the need to take the control of the banks out of the hands of the capitalists they were thus leading working class people to the conclusion that they ultimately need to also take the ownership of the banks from the capitalists. Indeed, in the period after the October Revolution, the new workers government of Soviet Russia confiscated the banks along with the railways, industries and agricultural land and transferred them into public ownership.

Putting the banks under state control or even confiscating the finance sector, while a vital measure, does not solve all problems – not even the most urgent ones. So while we need state banks to lend to certain manufacturers to aid them to switch their operations to produce vitally needed pandemic relief goods, if the manufacturing bosses still can’t find a way to make a big profit out of those operations, even with low-interest loans, they are very unlikely to change over their factories; and if they do many would do it too slowly or only in a token way to gain positive publicity. So we need to have a perspective of confiscating not only the finance sector but also taking the key industries, the mines that produce the raw materials, transport and distribution means, power, communications and other infrastructure as well as construction out of the hands of the profit-driven capitalists and placing them into the collective hands of the people. In China it is not just their banks that are under state-ownership but all their key sectors. As a result when there was a need for firms to switch over their production to make pandemic relief goods, the relevant state-owned enterprises not only got access to cheap credit to assist them but were basically ordered to make the conversion. That is why you have all sorts of Chinese industries, seemingly unrelated to making protective and medical gear, contributing to China’s pandemic relief effort. For example, state-owned Shanghai Three Gun group, China’s biggest producer of underwear, is now producing more than one million masks per day.

What a society where public ownership plays the backbone role can do was seen most clearly in the way that the PRC built two large brand new hospitals from the ground up in less than two weeks when the number of people getting seriously ill from COVID-19 started surging in late January. The challenge in building these hospitals in Wuhan so quickly was especially steep given that these specialist infectious disease hospitals, unlike other hospitals, needed to have negative pressure wards to ensure that the air leaving wards with the infected patients is ejected safely rather than seeping out to potentially infect hospital workers and others. The first of these hospitals put into service, the 1,000 bed Huoshenshan (“Fire God Mountain”) Hospital was built in just 10 days. The second, the 1,600 bed Leishenshan (“Thunder God Mountain”) Hospital was put into service just days later. And it was thousands of workers organised through the PRC firms under public ownership that played the key role in pulling off these amazing feats. Financing for the project was provided both from the central government and by the 100% state-owned policy bank, the China Development Bank. The design of the hospital was performed by the CITIC General Institute of Architectural Design and Research, a subsidiary of the giant PRC public-owned conglomerate, CITIC. The actual construction of the hospitals was undertaken by the Third Engineering Bureau of state-owned China State Construction Engineering, the largest construction company in the world. Meanwhile, China State Grid organised 260 workers in around the clock shifts to ensure that the power connection was ready in time. Communications within the hospital and a stable 5G internet connection was achieved within 36 hours through a collaborative effort of China’s state-owned communication giants China Mobile, China Telecom, China Unicom and China Tower. Meanwhile, CT scanning equipment and X-rays were provided by Shanghai United Imaging, a high-tech firm jointly held by a range of PRC state-owned firms.

18 February 2020: One of the first two patients to recover from COVID-19 at the Leishenshan infectious disease hospital in China’s Wuhan says farewell to nurses and doctors. The specialised 1,600 bed Leishenshan Hospital was built in less than two weeks by the Third Engineering Bureau of China State Construction Engineering, one of China’s huge socialistic state-owned enterprises.

Right now the mass of working class people in Australia does not yet appreciate the need for the confiscation of the banks and industry from the capitalists and their transfer into public ownership. The very most politically advanced workers and leftist activists do understand that this is what is needed. However, ruling class propaganda has been able to tentatively convince the majority of working class people that private ownership of the economy should be “respected.” Nevertheless, right now there is widespread distrust of the banking system at the very same moment that many working class people are very worried about the pandemic, about whether they will have a job and about their ability to pay rent and buy essentials. That is why we today emphasise the call for the nationalisation of the banks as a slogan around which to mobilise united front struggle that will, on the one hand, demand this immediate measure necessary for both the COVID-19 response effort and to protect the masses from unemployment and poverty and that will, on the other hand, in the course of their struggle to win this demand, point working class people towards the ultimate need for the confiscation of the banks and all key sectors and their transferal into public ownership.

We Need a Workers State

If powerful working class struggle were able to force the capitalist government to nationalise the banks, the question then becomes posed: who would be administering this now state-run finance system? Sure, a finance system under state control would face more mass pressure to run its operations according to people’s interests than privately owned banks do. However, would you trust the anti-working class Morrison government or the desperate-to-not-scare-the-capitalists-Albanese led ALP to ensure that a state bank would actually serve the masses rather than the big end of town?

The problem is not simply the government but the bureaucracy. No matter the political stripe of who sits in ministers’ chairs and who wins elections, the fact is that the same layer of high-ranking state officials who have been allowing the finance sector corporations to fleece the public will still be the ones “regulating” them. The “regulator” of the finance sector, ASIC (Australian Securities and Investments Commission) has been so deferential to the finance industry bosses that even the limp Royal Commission criticised it for its “softly, softly approach” to illegal activity by the banks. However, ASIC is not going to fundamentally change. If you see who leads it, even now after getting a slap on the wrist from the Royal Commission, you will know why. ASIC’s leadership remains people with strong ties to the finance sector bosses and other corporate bigwigs. Thus ASIC chair, James Shipton, spent ten years as the managing director of various divisions of the Asia-Pacific office of American banking giant, Goldman Sachs. Of the six other commissioners who lead ASIC, one previously had senior roles in NAB and ANZ (and does anyone expect him to now go hard on them?!!), two had been top bosses of other finance services companies and one had been most recently CEO of the Myer Family Company.

Yet, it is not only their leaders’ previous links to the corporate bosses that tie state institutions like ASIC to the capitalist class. For one, the wealth that these ASIC heads would have acquired when they were high fliers in the banking and broader corporate world – and the ensuing investing of part of this wealth that they have no doubt made into shares and/or share-investing wealth management schemes – would make them very much identify their interests with those of the big end of town and not with working class people. Moreover, since wealthy business owners control the economy and, thus, largely determine who gets hired and at what pay, they can, without even saying a word, entice senior bureaucrats at state institutions with the prospect of future lucrative jobs at their companies should they “respect” their interests; and, in effect, threaten these state officials with being locked out of future employment prospects should these bureaucrats dare step on their toes. One only has to look at who are the directors leading the big finance sector companies and other corporations and one will see how this works. Let’s take ANZ bank as a case study. ANZ’s David Gonski, prior to being appointed chairman in 2014, had been a top official of a number of Australian state bodies. He had been head of the Future Fund which directs government investments into long-term projects. From 2010 to 2011 he also headed a government commission to look into education funding which produced the well-known Gonski Report. In the year prior to becoming ANZ chairman, Gonski had also been appointed to ASIC’s External Advisory Panel and actually continued there until last year. Consider this: say Gonski had, if he hypothetically wanted to, tried to direct Future Fund investments in a way that actually benefited working class people rather than the corporate owners, had in his Gonski Report called to slash public funding for private schools rather than agree to perpetuate it and while on ASIC’s External Advisory Panel pushed for a severe crackdown on the banks, does anyone think that ANZ’s big shareholders would have then appointed him their chairman? And wouldn’t being aware of how his future career prospects in the corporate world are affected by how he acts while heading state institutions colour his conduct when being a high-ranking Australian state bureaucrat? Actually, Gonski is not the only ANZ boss who had been on ASIC’s External Advisory Panel. One of ANZ’s top executives had previously been Vice-Chair of this ASIC body and the current chairman of Suncorp is still on that panel, all of which highlights further the links between ASIC and the finance sector bosses that they supposedly “regulate.” Meanwhile, an ANZ director had previously held the top bureaucrat position, Secretary, in both the Australian Department of Finance and the Australian Department of Health. This director, Jane Halton, is currently also one of the ten council members that lead the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, the state defence think tank notorious for being the most fanatical force promoting Australia’s military build up and its war-mongering hostility to socialistic China. This also highlights the fact that some capitalists hold key positions in the state machinery even while they are still directors of corporations. Thus, one of the NAB’s directors, is also a director of Infrastructure Victoria. Moreover, the chairman of the NDIS, Helen Nugent, is also a director of insurance corporation IAG. So if disabled and ill workers are wondering why they often face intrusive interrogations from the NDIS and sometimes even cop bullying threats to cut them off the Disability Support Pension just know this, the boss of the NDIS is a director of one of the leaching insurance giants who holds over $220,000 worth of shares in that corporation (according to their last annual report) and is paid by them almost a quarter of a million dollars a year for basically attending a meeting every 16 days (on average) and reading some reports. Prior to being appointed NDIS supremo in 2017, Nugent had been up until 2014 a director of Macquarie Group for 15 years. And controversially, the NDIS has awarded Macquarie a contract to build disability housing for them while Nugent actually conducts her leadership of the NDIS in an office rented from Macquarie!

Left: One of the ANZ Bank’s super high-paid directors is Jane Halton. As well as also being a director of James Packer’s Crown Resorts, Halton is one of the ten council members that lead the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, the government defence think tank notorious for being the force most fanatically promoting Australia’s military build up and its aggressive military posture. Through shared occupancy of leading positions, personal ties and the economic dominance of capitalist corporations, Australia’s capitalist class ensure that all state institutions are subordinate to their interests. Right: One of the many unarmed civilians being murdered by Australian SAS special forces troops in Afghanistan. This particular war crime took place in May 2012 in Uruzgan province. The unarmed person being executed in cold blood was a man in his mid-twenties known as Dad Mohammad, a married father of two young children.

The intertwining between the capitalist bosses and the upper echelons of the bureaucracy extends into state institutions crucial to shaping the ideological direction of society. Thus, much of the leadership of the universities is held by corporate bigwigs. The chancellor of UTS is, for example, none other than the chairman of CBA. Meanwhile the deputy chairman of the broadcaster SBS, George Savvides, is a director of IAG, while another member of the nine-member board that sets SBS’s direction, Peeyush Gupta, is a director of NAB. This is worth knowing in case anyone is tempted to believe that SBS is any more “independent” of the capitalists than the Murdoch media or the commercial TV and radio stations.

Through their economic power and wealth, the capitalists not only ensure that the upper ranks of the state bureaucracy are tied to them by thousands of threads – if they are not actually personally holding these positions themselves – they also subordinate to their interests all the other coercive bodies of the state. This includes the legal system. ASIC have not only been extremely timid when facing the banks because of their ties to the bank bosses. That is, of course, very true. However, part of the reason for ASIC’s prostration is that they are downright intimidated at the prospects of taking on the banks in the courts. Since the courts are biased towards the corporate bigwigs and since the bank bosses have enormous financial resources to hire the best, most expensive barristers and to fund expensive court proceedings and appeals, ASIC fears losing expensive court battles with the banks.

Left: Former Commonwealth Bank of Australia top executive, Annabel Spring. She had been responsible for some of the sections of CBA most responsible for charging customers fees for no service and for setting up dodgy insurance schemes with contracts so tightly worded that customers were basically ineligible to claim anything on the policies. In 2015, the then CBA wealth boss bought a Centennial Park trophy home (Centre) for nearly $10 million from one of NSW’s top judges, Antony Meagher (Right). Meagher is a judge at the Court of Appeal of the NSW Supreme Court, the highest court for civil matters in NSW. The high-paid judges, bureaucrats and other officials at the top of Australia’s state organs share much in common with the corporate bigwigs and have numerous financial, social and familial ties to them.

That is why alongside agitating for putting the finance system under state control, we need to fight for people’s supervision of the banks. We cannot trust state institutions tied to the capitalists to regulate even a state-controlled finance system. Therefore, we must demand – and indeed assert – inspection of all commercial bank transactions and big accounts by committees consisting of unionised bank employees’ representatives alongside of representatives of other unions and mass organisations. Such committees can call in financial experts as consultants to help make sense of information but the great advantage of having class-conscious finance sector employees involved in these inspections is that they themselves understand all the terminology of the finance world. These working peoples’ committees can then collate the information and highlight the key results – as well as egregious cases of fraud and manipulation by the very rich – to the public in a form easily understood by the masses. In that way the people can know to which businesses and which sectors credit is being lent and what is the proportion of housing loans going into homes for the debtors to actually live in as opposed to for the sake of housing speculation. Moreover, we will be able to finally discover who the exact owners of the finance sector corporations are. We will also be able to expose which wealthy capitalists have been hiding their true income to avoid tax and by how much. Similarly, the extent to which corporate bosses have been ripping off the public budget when acting as contractors for state projects as well as bribery of state officials by the capitalists can be exposed.

Thus, a state-controlled finance sector where working people’s committees make transparent to the masses the operations of a united state bank will enable the masses to exert enough pressure to have some control over this key pivot of a modern economy. Yet this will only be some control. For as long as the state as a whole – including its key coercive organs of the courts, the police, the prison, army, the regulators and the broader bureaucracy – remains the existing capitalist state that has been created and built up to serve the interests of the wealthy business owners then any attempt to exert workers’ control over the economy will face sabotage and obfuscation through bureaucratic means. As Leon Trotsky, leader of the Fourth International, which at the time (albeit with some mis-steps) continued the fight for the revolutionary internationalist program that guided Lenin’s Bolsheviks, emphasised in The Transitional Program, the program that the Fourth International adopted in 1938 at a time of acute capitalist crisis in the lead up to World War II:

“… the state-ization of the banks will produce these favourable results [large scale industry and transport directed by a public bank to serve the vital interests of the workers and all other toilers] only if the state power itself passes completely from the hands of the exploiters into the hands of the toilers.”

This is the goal that we must advance towards: the sweeping away of the capitalist state and the construction of a new state to serve the interests of the working class and all the other oppressed. The building of such a workers state is needed not only to ensure that any state bank truly operates for the masses but as the pre-condition necessary to enable the confiscation of all the backbone sectors of the economy and their transferral into socialist, that is public, ownership. For while the capitalist class, in a crisis, may, to save their system as a whole, nationalise some sectors and in other cases may acquiesce to some nationalisations as a concession to powerful working class struggle, they will never accept the wholesale dispossession of their ownership of the economy unless they are actually deposed from political power.

China’s Bank’s are Genuinely under Public Ownership because the PRC is a Workers State

It took the revolutionary overthrow from power of the capitalists, the agricultural landlords and the henchmen of Western imperialism in 1949 to enable China’s banks, industry, mines and agricultural land to be transferred into collective ownership by the people. The 1949 Revolution was a heroic struggle in which tens of millions of agricultural labourers, poor tenant farmers and workers directly participated. However, although this great revolution brought the toiling classes to power, because the revolutionary forces were heavily based on hard-to-unite tenant farmers (unlike the 1917 October Revolution that was based on united workers organised through elected workers-led councils) who, while suffering common exploitation by greedy landlords, nevertheless produced for themselves and competed in the markets to sell their produce, the new society had to be held together and administered from above. The ruling middle class bureaucracy, while they still had to administer the society in the interests of the victorious toilers, did so in an imperfect way and in a manner that ensured their own privileges. In the late 1970s, the bureaucratic PRC government, faced with the need to boost production and in the face of intense pressure from the surrounding capitalist world, turned to pro-market reforms. In the following years, a sizeable private sector has developed in China, far in excess of the partial concessions to a private sector that can sometimes be needed in the transition phase between capitalism and socialism. This has brought with it some of the vices of capitalist society such as inequality. Nevertheless, the socialistic public sector still thoroughly dominates the key means of production in China.

Moreover, the fact that the PRC is a socialistic state and the mostly smaller private businesses rely on state-owned giants for raw materials, transportation and energy means that even China’s private sector is sometimes constrained to partially serve broader social goals. If we compare China with capitalist countries, we find that the relationship between private bosses and the state are the very opposite of each other. In Australia, Indonesia, India, Italy or the U.S., the capitalist state and its officials suck up to the rich capitalists who are the real power. In contrast in Red China, the private business owners that do exist suck up to the workers state and are desperate to show their deference to the socialistic order. As a result, during this COVID-19 pandemic even some privately-owned businesses contributed to the relief effort. Indeed, even greedy capitalist billionaire, Jack Ma, with rumours swirling that he was forced to retire last year to try and head off being cracked down upon – as has deservedly happened to so many other high-flying capitalist exploiters in China before him – tried to win favour with authorities by making significant donations to the pandemic response.

However, the existence of a too large private sector remains a problem in China. Although the PRC was able to mobilise its state-dominated economy to very quickly and effectively build hospitals and produce urgently needed items for the pandemic response, the fact is China would have been able to respond even faster had the proportion of the economy under state ownership been even higher. And that would have saved still more lives. Moreover, the existence of a sizeable capitalist class with wealth and influence presents a mortal threat to China’s socialistic system. These capitalists are not happy that they are largely cut out of the most profitable sectors of the Chinese economy like the banks, the oil and gas companies and the other strategic sectors. They resent being pressured to sometimes sacrifice their profits for the social good. These frustrated capitalists are, thus, constantly seeking to expand their tenuous “right” to “freely” exploit labour unrestricted by any constraints. Moreover, many of these capitalists quietly harbour more ambitious aims. They are waiting for the moment, during some sort of social or economic crisis, when they can make a bid for power. They know that they will have the full backing of the capitalist powers around the world in this endeavour.

Indeed, the COVID-19 pandemic has seen the already intense hostility towards China of the U.S., Australian, British, Japanese, German and other imperialist rulers rise to still higher levels. These imperialist ruling classes have engaged in a hysterical campaign of lies to blame socialistic China for the pandemic spread. The capitalist rulers fear that their own working class masses will compare China’s effective and successful response to the virus threat with their own flawed and ineffective response and will thus draw the conclusion that the socialist system is superior and needs to be fought for in their own countries. This is, in fact, the greatest fear of the capitalist rulers. But for the very same reason that the capitalists hate the fact that the world’s most populous country is under socialistic rule – and is actually proving that socialism works – the working classes in the capitalist world should defend socialistic rule in China. For the existence of the PRC workers state – despite all its bureaucratic deformations, its concessions to capitalists and its resulting fragility – makes the struggle for working class rule in Australia and the rest of the capitalist world stronger. That is why the workers movement must oppose the Australian regime’s military build up against China and her socialistic North Korean ally, must stand against the U.S. and Australian Navy’s military’s provocations against China in the South China Sea, must oppose Australian support for anticommunist forces within China (from the far-right Falun Dafa outfit to the pro-colonial, rich kid rioters in Hong Kong) and must resist the Australian regime’s attempts to intimidate and silence pro-PRC voices within Australia – including those of pro-PRC Chinese international students. Right now we especially need to refute all the China-bashing lies being spread over the COVID-19 pandemic. We also need to explain to the masses that for all the incompleteness of China’s transition to socialism, the fact that public ownership plays the backbone role in her economy was what made the PRC so effectively able to respond to the virus threat. In doing so we will at the same time motivate the need to fight here for a system of public ownership based on working class rule, i.e. a socialist system.

However, working class people will not be won to seeing the need for socialist revolution simply through hearing explanations of its necessity. The masses learn mainly through participating in – and drawing lessons from the experience of – struggles for their immediate interests. That is why all those who understand the need for a socialist future must fight to build such campaigns. At the same time, we must work hard to ensure that these struggles for immediate gains are waged in such a manner as they teach the working class to distrust all the parties and factions of the capitalist class, convince the masses to trust only their own power, place no reliance on any institutions of the capitalist state and are based on slogans that advance the working class towards the conclusion that they will in the future need to take both the economy and state power into their own collective hands. Today that means building struggles to fight for the nationalisation of the banks and for the winning of jobs for all through forcing companies to hire (and in many cases re-hire) more workers at the expense of their profits.

The Program of Nationalization of the Banks vs the Green Party’s Agenda

If anyone thinks that urgently needed measures like the nationalisation of the banks can be won merely through the parliamentary process, one has only to look at the agenda of the current parliamentary parties to see why not. Of all the parliamentary parties the Australian Greens have been the most critical of the current banking system. So their program deserves to be given some scrutiny. The Greens call for more regulation of the banks. As a policy principle, they say that, “Publicly-owned financial institutions should form a key component of Australia’s banking sector”, without offering any program about how that would arise. But they fail, even now during this time of public health and economic emergency, to call for the nationalisation of the banks. At most their agenda amounts to a return to the system that we had before the Hawke-Keating reforms of the 1980s and 1990s – and in some ways not even that since the Greens do not call for the reimposition of state control over bank interest rates. Yet, while the banks were slightly more constrained in their operations before the Hawke-Keating reforms, they hardly operated even then in the service of the people. They were still largely driven by the imperative to maximise profits.

A major part of The Greens agenda for turning back the clock is to split up financial planning and superannuation operations from the banks. However, the banks themselves are doing this now in the wake of bad publicity. Indeed, in good part they have already completed this. Last year Westpac sold off its financial advice arm BT Financial and CBA sold off its financial planning arm, Count Financial. The Greens hope that making the banks smaller will reduce abuses by them. However, the new broken up or sold off, but still massive, corporations will still be run for profits. Moreover, the new wealth management corporations will likely be significantly owned by the very same very rich people – yes and through those “bank nominee” fronts – as the banks are. The bank owners quite happily pursued this break up option because by separating out its wealth management arms that had a particularly bad reputation, their banking operations can be shielded from the foul publicity arising from the openly fraudulent practices of the financial planning operations.

Much of the remainder of The Greens practical program for the finance sector like calling for “effective regulatory supervision to enforce prudential regulation” is very similar to what the limp Royal Commission recommended. Overall, The Greens platform will not fundamentally change the way the financial system operates. Banks will still be run largely on the profit motive and will still have freedom to decide who they lend to and at what rates. And many working class people couldn’t care less if the banks own wealth management operations or not because they have little money to put into these funds anyway! So even though The Greens say in the abstract that the “banking and finance industry should serve the broader public interest”, their actual program will not get anyway near this. The reason that The Greens’ agenda cannot come even close to advocating what is really needed to begin to make “banking and finance industry serve the broader public interest,” that is the nationalisation of the banks, is that such an agenda can only be won through working class struggle against the capitalist class. But The Greens cannot truly promote such an agenda as their party includes and appeals to all classes – including capitalists. Owning operations in areas like renewable energy, services, online business, hospitality, tourism and the arts, the full-blown capitalist exploiters that support The Greens feel that the Greens push to favour their sectors over fossil-fuel and energy guzzling sectors would dovetail with their own business interests. Sure, these capitalists accept a more far-sighted view of the threat of climate change than coal mining bosses do. But they are still capitalists who exploit workers! To even speak of nationalisation of any sector would scare these “enlightened capitalist” exploiters as it would make them fear that their own operations could face nationalisation next. Meanwhile, playing a very prominent role in The Greens are well-heeled, upper-middle class professionals. This latter chunk of Greens supporters are, to be sure, somewhat “progressive” minded. But, just like the actual capitalists in The Greens, this does not stop them from having considerable sums put into wealth management products – who in turn invest this money in shares (including bank shares) – or into their own direct shareholdings. So, they would not be too thrilled about any measures that could radically slash the profits of banks.

This same dilemma faces The Greens more broadly – an abstract wish for less inequality and a more “people-oriented society” but no program that would deliver this. Take, for instance, the signature policy of The Greens and its new leader Adam Bandt: “A Green New Deal.” They say that the aims of this “Green New Deal” are “tackling social and economic inequality,” reducing underemployment, increasing wages, having more secure jobs, giving young people more hope of buying a house and ensuring action to beat the climate crisis. OK, but The Greens say this would be achieved through “a government-led plan of investment and action.” However, any reduction of inequality requires struggle against the exploiting class by the working class masses. Government investment in social programs and “clean jobs” requires someone to pay for such measures which requires a struggle against the capitalists to make them pay. The Greens do not even mention this crucial element of class struggle without which talk of building “a caring society” is meaningless. They want to make capitalist society fairer without standing up to capitalist power. And how could they when actual capitalists play a significant role in their own party! Without challenging capitalist power, any government spending and policies will inevitably bend to the demands of this powerful class. That is why when The Greens have actually been in office they have administered society in a way barely different to the other pro-capitalist parties. As part of a coalition with the ALP, the Greens had two ministries in the Tasmanian governments from 2010 to 2014 that cut the jobs of hundreds of nurses, closed public hospital beds, reduced funding for ambulance services, slashed funding for public housing maintenance, cut public sector jobs and reduced public sector pay increases below inflation. In his portfolio as minister for Education and Corrections in these governments, then Tasmanian Greens leader, Nick McKim, oversaw a prison system with substandard conditions for prisoners and tried to close 20 public schools before angry mass opposition forced him to back down. Meanwhile, the Australian Greens counterpart in Austria proved the commitment of this brand of politics to the anti-working class status quo by earlier this year joining in a government coalition with the right-wing, anti-union and anti-immigrant Austrian People’s Party.

Therefore, while we support action to fight for certain particular policies that Bandt has also advocated – like dental into Medicare and free education – we oppose overall The Greens and Bandt’s program of refusing any challenge to the power of the capitalists, while greening capitalism, under a “Green New Deal.” Remember how The Greens’ platform, including the Green New Deal, does not even call for the nationalisation of the banks. Unfortunately, however, much of the far-left in Australia have been cheering The Greens program. The Socialist Alliance have been the most enthusiastic. The Solidarity group are not far behind, only adding that “Adam Bandt’s Green New Deal won’t be won through electoral dead end.” The Communist Party of Australia (CPA) meanwhile ran an editorial in the February 17 issue of their paper, The Guardian, that pushed for overall (albeit qualified) support for Bandt’s Green New Deal, even while very correctly acknowledging that The Greens are a bourgeois party. This despite several contributors to their newspaper insightfully and convincingly attacking the Green New Deal agenda last year. Thus, in the 19 September 2019 issue of the CPA’s newspaper, an article titled “Socialism or perish” rightly argued that “we should be openly and loudly challenging the ideas put forward by many young climate activists and NGO groups who argue for a `Green New Deal’ or other policies that amount to the greening of capitalism.” In effect, in response to such points, the February 17 CPA editorial raises the argument that supporting the Green New Deal would be a united front with The Greens. Here they confuse agreements between communists and one or more reformist tendencies within the workers movement – which may include Laborite union leaders, “democratic socialist” groups and mass social democratic parties based on our unions (of which the ALP is a very right-wing version) – to launch particular united-front actions, or a series of actions, when common demands arise (like supporting a strike for higher wages or a protest march against right-wing welfare cuts) with ongoing support, however qualified, for the program of a bourgeois party. In the former case, building workers’ united front actions, when it is advantageous for the overall struggle to do so, will result in increased class struggle of the working class against the capitalists and an opportunity for communists to explain to the masses the need for more deep-going attacks on the power of the capitalists. However, in the latter case, a “people’s front” alliance between leftist workers parties and a bourgeois party (that is, a party like The Greens that does not even see itself as a party for workers’ particular class interests and which includes – and is thus subordinate to – members of the dominant capitalist class), the effect is to retard class struggle by promoting the notion of salvation through a supposed “progressive” wing of the exploiting class. Now it must be said that those nominally Marxist groups that promote The Greens party’s signature platform do in their own right call for class struggle against the capitalists and for policies that do begin to challenge capitalist influence, like calling for the nationalisation of the banks. However, promoting the platform of a bourgeois party like The Greens and seeking an ongoing alliance with such a party undercuts the class struggle aspects of these left groups’ own agenda, because it ties the workers that they influence to a section of the capitalists and, thus, also promotes the illusion that the masses can win concessions without struggle against the exploiting class.

The Struggles of Today that Can Blaze the Path to a Socialist Future

There is another reason why genuine socialists should not be promoting The Greens party, in however a qualified form. For The Greens are just as much as the Liberal-Nationals, the ALP and the far-right One Nation Party part of the Cold War drive against the world’s biggest socialistic country. Indeed, Greens NSW upper house MP, David Shoebridge, has been just as fanatical in inciting hostility to the PRC workers state as the likes of hard-right Coalition politicians like Peter Dutton, Andrew Hastie, Tim Wilson and Eric Abetz. Although Shoebridge seems to be today rejecting the far-right conspiracy theories about the World Health Organisation and China, he has spent the last several years energetically promoting other far-right conspiracy theories against China, including the ridiculous claims that China is executing members of the extreme right-wing (and rabid Trump-supporting) Falun Dafa group to harvest their organs.

Left: Filthy rich developer and tech capitalist, Graeme Wood, has donated millions to the Greens including Australia’s largest single, individual political donation. The Greens embrace of such capitalist exploiters among their ranks and donors ensures that despite objecting to the inequality of the current society and despite being critical of Australia’s financial sector, the Greens recoil from any sort of class struggle opposition to the capitalist exploiting class or any call for the nationalisation of the banks. Instead, the Greens only offer a toothless strategy of liberal middle class pressure and parliamentary manoeuvres to try and ameliorate the worst excesses of capitalism. At the same time, on fundamental issues, the Greens often line up with the rest of the capitalist class – including vehemently supporting the Australian rulers’ Cold War drive against socialistic China. Centre: NSW Greens upper house MP, David Shoebridge, hosting a rally supporting the extreme right-wing, pro-Donald Trump, Chinese opposition outfit, Falun Dafa in its propaganda campaign against Red China. Shoebridge has been among the most fervent supporters of this anti-communist campaign. Right: Notorious far-right Liberal Party federal MP, Craig Kelly, speaks at a similar Falun Dafa event.

The harm done by The Greens’ support for the anti-communist drive against the PRC does not only consist of the anti-Asian racist violence that it is fuelling and the blows against the Chinese workers state that it is landing. For by attacking the world’s largest socialistic state, The Greens, no matter what else they may say, are assisting the Australian ruling class to trick the masses into believing that there is no real alternative to capitalist “democracy” and that a socialistic state dominated by public ownership would be a nightmare. In other words, The Greens’ opposition to Red China makes them an enemy of the fight for socialism in this country.

That The Greens, a party that many young leftists have hopes in, and the Labour Party, the party that retains the support of most workers, have agendas that support the ruling class drive against the world’s biggest socialistic country, that fail to call for putting the banks under state control and which accept the “right” of capitalists to sack workers whenever it is most profitable to do so proves that we need to build a new workers’ party that will truly serve the interests of the exploited and oppressed. Such a party would refuse to restrict its program to what can be tolerated by the capitalists but would, instead, lay out an agenda based on what the working class and all the downtrodden actually need. Instead of feeding into the nauseating talk, that we are hearing so much of lately, that we are “all in the same boat”, the workers party that we need would be based on a clear understanding that the interests of the working class are counterposed to those of their capitalist exploiters. Thus rejecting “national unity” with the capitalists, such a party would instead fight for the closest possible alliance between the working class in Australia and the working classes of the world. In summary, the workers party that we need must be an authentic communist party like the Bolshevik party that led the Russian Revolution. We in Trotskyist Platform work hard to contribute to the building of such a party. We understand that such a party will be built in the course of laying out a perspective based on militant class struggle in the course of joining in actions that fight for the urgent needs of the masses. Today, at this time of public health emergency, massive unemployment and growing immiseration of the masses that means agitating and mobilising to demand: Put the banks and insurance companies under state control! For the complete and permanent nationalisation of the health system! For jobs for all workers through preventing companies that have been making a profit over the years from cutting their workforce and by forcing still profitable companies to increase hiring at the expense of their profits! Permanency for all casual workers! Grant the rights of citizenship to all migrants, refugees and international students! For a six-month halt to all rent payments for residential tenants! Requisition the unoccupied dwellings of people owning more than three homes and convert this immediately into public housing!

24 July 2020: Woolworths workers on a picket line as part of a 24-hour strike. Five hundred workers at Woolworths’ warehouse in Wyong, NSW took the action to demand decent pay and conversion of long-term casuals to permanency. We need militant class struggle to win permanency for casuals, to force profitable companies to increase hiring at the expense of their profits, to win the nationalisation of the banks and to fight for a massive increase in public housing.
Photo Credit: United Workers Union
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    Solzhenitsyn: Everyone’s Pain in the Neck

    When you are too close to something, someone, you are not the best analyst. Your feelings get in the way. You reveal more about who you are than who or what you love/hate. But you can see better from afar. That sums up Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who, despite accurately predicting the collapse of the Soviet Union, and being instrumental in achieving that, was deeply flawed in his understanding of his nemesis, provided really bad advice on how to extricate the huge Eurasian, multinational entity from its many crises, and contributed to the suffering of, in the first place, his beloved Russians. Hardly the most Christian act for the devout soul he claimed to be.

    Live not by the lie! is a great sound byte, but lacks any prescription about how to live, and how to get rid of the lies. His prescription was to break up the Soviet federation, keep only the Slavic bits, ethnically cleanse the whole complex web of life, privatize everything (slowly!), keep the safety net, and cut the military budget. That’s more or less what happened, but everyone (except US-Israel) was unhappy with the results. Amazingly, he insisted all the time that he was not interested in politics, that he was ‘above politics’, but, oh yes, politics must be based on morality and don’t forget to destroy communism. Let the reader who expects this book [Gulag] to be a political expose slam its covers shut right now. The lady doth protest too much.

    Yes, morality trumps politics. But that is the US liberal rally cry, too. Biden would agree, though US presidents despised Solzhenitsyn, and from Ford (Solzhenitsyn is a goddam horse’s ass), to Reagan (Solzhenitsyn loved him), right up to Bush II, refused to fete him at the White House. And who has a good word for US pious human rights activism? The results of US ‘morality’ in politics has been a disaster. Solzhenitsyn was blind to his own highly politicized life and work, even as he fired off diatribes to the Central Committee, the Writers Union, sundry western media, blinded by intense anticommunism, which did nothing to improve the lot of his people, a biblical figure like Samson, who brought the temple crashing down around, killing one and all.

    Solzhenitsyn led a truly remarkable life: humble beginnings, university, war, prison camps, return to Moscow, writer, dissident, Nobel prize, celebrity abroad, triumphal return, the ear of Putin. When I first heard his voice when he hit the world stage in 1974, he was a bete noire for me, expelled in 1974 by the Soviets, celebrated by imperialists, THE angry anticommunist. A dour, unpleasant face, scraggly beard. Women were attracted to his grim, macho, crusader energy, but I suspect he didn’t have any real friends.

    Babyboomer truth

    The 1970s for my generation were heady days: the liberation (not ‘defeat’) of Vietnam brought a long overdue realism to East-West relations, the flowering of detente. Though the Soviet Union by then did not attract the fervent left-wing enthusiasts of the 1930s-40s, its longstanding policy of peace and disarmament was finally embraced, not only by young people, but even by US politicians! The Soviets had been proven right: imperialism is nasty business, and mercifully the US was in a rare period of remorse, even repentance, for its warlike behavior. Solzhenitsyn would have none of this.

    Despite his hysterical soap opera, I ‘caught the bug’ and became a sovietophile, fascinated at the real, live experiment to build a noncapitalist modern society. I learned Russian, studied Russian/ Soviet history, trying to sort the wheat from the chaff. No question, lots of chaff, but lots of nuggets of a better way too. Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago was jarring and so full of anticommunist hatred, it felt like, it was a replay of the odious McCarthyism of the 1950s. When he was soon dismissed by everyone as a reactionary crank, I put him aside, wanting to see and judge Soviet reality for myself. I did, and was both disturbed and, despite misgivings, confirmed in my belief that socialism was the way forward, and that the Soviet Union, though flawed, was the key to that future, hardly ‘radiant’ but not a prison full of unhappy slaves. Then Afghanistan, Gorbachev, and — poof! — the Soviet Union was gone. No key. No future. Thatcherism. TINA. The collapse of the left, invasions, wars, arms race ad infinitum.

    What went wrong? One of the worst things about the Soviet Union had been its state-imposed atheism. I witnessed the Soviet Union at its most smug, prudish, and at the same time, paranoid in the 1970s. Revolutions were succeeding, mostly, in Africa (Ethiopia, Angola), Asia, but Maoist China and the dissident movement challenged Sovietism. Though economic frustrations were pressing, there was no room for debate about the radical reforms which clearly were needed. Intellectual life required lip-service to orthodoxy. Yes, lies. But what politicians speak the truth?

    Roschild-Clausewitz truth

    Despite all this evidence, I knew that any positive future for mankind required some kind of socialism. Marx (Solzhenitsyn’s advice to Soviet leaders was to chuck Marx) taught me that. But how to get there? Russia’s revolution ultimately failed. Christianity was already down there with the Russian revolution as a failure, reduced to irrelevance under capitalism. My own journey since then led me to Islam, as much a radical shift as becoming a communist. Unlike Christianity and Judaism (at least in their present form), Islam is still against usury. And reading about the Prophet while in a hospital bed in Tashkent in the 1990s, after ‘the Fall’, showed me a world figure almost for the first time, as our western upbringing, whether Christian or secular, has no room for such a real life revolutionary.

    The Judaic prophets, followed by Jesus and Muhammad, and the nineteenth century secular prophet of revolution Marx, rejected usury and interest, as representing ill-gotten gain, with good reason. Marx condemned this mode of extraction of surplus as the highest form of fetishism, based on private property and exploitation of labor. They all rejected this exploitation on a moral basis as unjust, insisting that morality be embedded in the economy, a principle which was abandoned when capitalism took hold. While Judaism and Christianity adapted, Islam did not. (All of this seems to have passed Solzhenitsyn by.)

    Interest, and today’s money based on US military might alone, are the root cause of the current world financial crisis; A corollary to Rothschild’s dictum about money and politics (Give me control of a nation’s currency and I’ve got control of its politics), and Clausewitz’s dictum about politics and war (War is the continuation of politics) is: Bankers determines politics in the interest (sic) of waging war. Interest is the primary instrument facilitating (and benefiting from) the wars today in the Middle East and Central Asia, and the world political crisis. QED.

    And what stands in the way? However beleaguered? Islam. AND it is under intense pressure, subversion, occupation where necessary, to destroy Islam. Just as the socialist world was, from the get-go, under intense pressure, subversion, occupation where necessary, to destroy any shred of communism. I finally started to read some Solzhenitsyn. (I’m a sucker for Nobel prizes.) Cancer Ward (1965) was thought-provoking, well written, critical but without Solzhenitsyn’s hatred of the system swamping the text. It turns out it was almost published in 1966 in the Soviet Union, but the neoStalinists in the leadership stalled it until Solzhenitsyn gave up and went into high gear with his jeremiad.

    Then I struggled through some of Gulag. Solzhenitsyn’s first wife Natalia Reshetovskaya in an interview with Le Figaro in 1974, called Gulag merely a collection of camp folklore, an unscholarly study of a narrow theme blown out of all proportion in West. Solzhenitsyn used facts that supported his preconceived notions. Gulag is very uneven, hardly a text worthy of the highest literary award. I dare anyone to read Gulag‘s three volumes. This Nobel gift is surely the most underread, especially by Russians. It does have merit, but more as the story of how suffering leads to transcendence, belief in God. Solzhenitsyn is a born-again Orthodox Christian and his subsequent work is infused with this spirituality. Gulag was just something Solzhenitsyn had to do before he got on to his real love – Russian history. His August 1914 is up there with Tolstoy’s War and Peace, but was dismissed in the West as ‘medieval rubbish’.1

    Yes, Stalinism was a blight on humanity. But that one tyrant doesn’t disprove the iron logic of socialism. The things that Hitler did right (full employment, control of the economy and money supply, connection with the land, uniting the nation) are all socialistic. I was more struck by Solzhenitsyn’s transformation in prison, his and other prisoners’ belief that prison is where they felt free-est, that they are grateful for it. Freedom is not ‘more consumption’. On the contrary, it is freedom from things. The key to freedom and happiness is self-restraint. The paradox of the golden rule: liberty points the way to virtue and heroism. Liberty devoid of responsibility is the road to ruin. If we shirk responsibility, evil triumphs. Great message, but Solzhenitsyn is now remembered, if at all, as the dour Gulag guy. Without the hope.

    Could i keep it up? The day when I deliberately let myself sink to the bottom and felt it firm under my feet–the hard, rocky bottom which is the same for all–was the beginning of the most important years in my life, which put the finishing touches to my character. Life is more than just the physical day-to-day reality. Our relationships take place on a different level too. The fortunate few are graced with this kind of insight.

    Suddenly, the reactionary crank who shouted ‘live not by the lie!’ until the Soviet walls came tumblin’ down, loathed and despised by both communists and capitalists, was making sense. His message of spirituality and hope is universal.

    Default to truth

    Truth sayers are never popular, and are usually unpleasant people. Harry Markopolos, the man who exposed Madoff, is a classic example. A ‘quant guy’, only numbers, so as not to make a ‘Neville Chamberlain mistake’. He had solid proof of the financial theft going on, but was dismissed as a crank until Madoff had, well, ‘made off’ with millions, and the whole banking system collapsed in 2008. All his efforts had little effect and no one remembers him. Unlike Markopolos, Solzhenitsyn had the trump card of anticommunism that allowed this unpleasant truth teller his (brief) moment of fame in the West.

    We have an inner program in our make-up to default to truth.You give the benefit of the doubt, often accepting lies in the interest of social harmony, the compassion gene. A survival mechanism. People are excellent judges of who is telling the truth (90% of the time). Only 10% of the time do we mistakenly accuse someone of lying. Solzhenitsyn came to believe that everything was a lie in the Soviet Union, that citizens were too stupid or brainwashed to see that. One of those 10%.2

    Solzhenitsyn is the classic truth sayer. But his truth was flawed. He was even sued (successfully) for libel in 1983 for implying that a notorious American publisher of smut, Alexander Flegon, had KGB connections. He was fixated on destroying the Soviet system, to replace it with what? a theocracy? Certainly not western consumerism. The result of his Reagan-like anticommunism, the collapse of the Soviet Union, was worse than he imagined it would be, and led to the ‘third time of troubles’ 1985-2000 (no 1 in 1600, no 2 in 1917). Mr Truthie whined, went home in the aftermath, was politely ignored, then became a grudging fan of Putin. So Solzhenitsyn and I came to the same view, but mine from a Marxist perspective, which according to Solzhenitsyn is evil and wrong.

    Solzhenitsyn’s rapid eclipse in post-Soviet Russia suggests that Russians were/are quite capable of seeing the great lie that lay at the root of his great ‘Truth’: communism was not all bad and was superior to the West in many ways. 60% of Russia believe that 30 years after its collapse. Solzhenitsyn became a comical figure in Moscow — a sort of The End Is Nigh, sandwich-board old man with feet of clay.3

    Enlightenment truths

    Solzhenitsyn was right about the real problem being the Enlightenment, ‘materialism’ and godlessness. Yes, communism was/is the logical end of the Enlightenment game. Get rid of the exploiters and we all live happily ever after (or, for Solzhenitsyn, as prisoners in a living hell). And it’s wrong to divorce morality from political, to dismiss categories of Good and Evil from our discourse. There are fundamental truths. My Rothschild-Clausewitz clincher in the first place.

    But his understanding of Marx must have been from rigid Stalinist textbooks, because Marx’s ‘materialism’ is an indictment of capitalism, a freeing of humanity from material cares, needs. And that’s precisely what Solzhenitsyn is after too. Solzhenitsyn was a communist true believer but a bad Marxist. His prescription from his retreat in Vermont was ‘defeat the godless communists’. No room for detente, no tolerance for the Evil Empire. Ironically, Reagan was talked out of any special meeting with Solzhenitsyn at the White House by Kissinger, despite Solzhenitsyn’s approval of Reagan. (By then, Solzhenitsyn’s fervent Orthodox Christianity was an embarrassment to everyone, including evangelical Bush II.)

    So the Soviet critique — that Solzhenitsyn was a dupe of the imperialists — was more or less true, as Solzhenitsyn had no use for imperialism of any kind and yet relied on the imperialists to destroy communism. He loathed communism and approved of capitalism. Solzhenitsyn was wrong about communism = evil, but not about his broader critique of the Enlightenment.

    Islamic truths

    Solzhenitsyn gave no thought to Islam, even though it was clear to all that a genuine theocracy, Solzhenitsyn’s implied ‘good society’, came about on the Soviet Union’s southern border, even as the faux communist utopias (both the Soviet Union and Afghanistan) were disintegrating. Shia Iran pretty much fills Solzhenitsyn’s checklist.4 Though persecuted, Iran was distant enough and with a strong enough culture to resist the capitalist trap, and its 1979 revolution was overwhelmingly popular, unlike the mini-revolution in Afghanistan in 1978, which was really more a palace coup.

    On the contrary, Solzhenitsyn was recommending that the Soviet government abandon its Muslim republics and unite only the ‘good’ Slavs. No room for Islam in Solzhenitsyn’s god’s earthly kingdom. The most Solzhenitsyn did was to taunt the West after 9/11, describing radical Islam as an understandable reaction to western secularism and inequalities of wealth. But by then no one was listening.

    Contrast this with Iran at the time, where the revolution reached out to likeminded (i.e., anti-imperialist) nations, including the Soviet Union. In 1988, just a year and a half before he died, Ayatollah Khomeini reached out to Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, in a gesture of anti-imperialist solidarity. This was at a time of war against Iraq and continued subversion of Iran by the US and Israel. The Soviet Union was the first nation to recognize the new Islamic government in 1979, but Khomeini ruled that close relations with atheist Soviet Union were not Islamic, and then the Soviet Union sold arms to both Iraq and Iran during the 1980s Iraq-Iran war, as if to prove his point. But as religion became acceptable in Gorbachev’s perestroika, Khomeini sent Gorbachev his only written message to a foreign leader. An Iranian delegation to Moscow brought a sincere offer of support to the faltering Soviet leader. The Ayatollah warned him not to trust the West, which should have been crystal, crystal to Gorbachev, as the last Soviet troops were retreating in a hail of US-made bullets, as Afghan basmachi (the Soviets’ term for 1920s mujahideen) were downing Soviet helicopters with Reagan’s gift of Stinger missiles. Khomeini: “If you hope, at this juncture, to cut the economic Gordian knots of socialism and communism by appealing to the center of western capitalism, you will, far from remedying any ill of your society, commit a mistake which those to come will have to erase.” Gorbachev dismissed the offer as interfering with Soviet internal affairs.

    What was Solzhenitsyn doing then? He was exhorting Reagan to kill as many commies as possible. So who is the religious leader genuinely committed to peace? Solzhenitsyn had fewer illusions about the West at this point, but his illusions about socialism/ communism were alive and well. He was soon bemoaning the post-Soviet oligarchy, but his tears were crocodile tears. Meanwhile, Russia and Iran are already playing key roles in establishing a new anti-imperialist reality, building on the first step taken by Ayatollah Khomeini in 1988. The world’s problems will only be solved based on a new geopolitical reality with Russia and Iran at its heart, the kernel of truth in the Ayatollah’s historic gesture in 1988. No thanks to ‘apolitical’ Solzhenitsyn.

    Solzhenitsyn was wrong about socialism, wrong about nonSlavs and non-Christians, but right about the godless West, and the need for morality to be the foundation of our economics, politics, art. His writings are ‘true’ only if you believe that (and if you ignore his anticommunism). The West couldn’t abide Solzhenitsyn’s fire-and-brimstone Orthodox Christianity, his denunciation of western society’s decadent materialism (though it loved his anticommunism). The West can’t abide Iran’s fire-and-brimstone Islam, its denunciation of western society’s decadent materialism, and, what’s worse, its enmity with US-Israel. Which, to remind the reader, was the basis of Soviet foreign policy, which was why it had to be destroyed. And just like communism, Islamic resistance to imperialism must be destroyed. Solzhenitsyn’s vision was of a religious leadership of society. But Solzhenitsyn is no perennialist. It’s my (Slavic Orthodox) road or no road.

    Solzhenitsyn denounced the West for its immorality and said we must return to a truly Christian society. Everyone laughed at him. Couldn’t he see that the West was godless? But the current crises are making it clearer every day that Solzhenitsyn was right about a moral foundation for our society. And it is Iran that is an important experiment in building a new world order with spirituality at its core, much like the secular Soviet Union was in its day, but minus God. Both have a wealth of experience to share. They were/are not the ‘enemy’. We are our own worst enemy, and we must repent and atone for our sins. Amen.

    Is Iran’s Islamic revolution of 1979 more robust than Russia’s 1917? Is it perhaps the logical end of the Enlightenment journey from capitalism to communism? That nagging suspicion of mine about legislating atheism being, well, wrong suggests to me that Iran has a fighting chance. That is if US-Israel don’t succeed in destroying it first. As for Solzhenitsyn’s hope for a Christian moral Russia, that’s at least as iffy. By the late 1980s, Christianity was restored and Russians flocked to churches to be baptized. But interest soon waned. Since 2017, atheists have gone from from 7% to 14% of the population. Is it the fault of Soviet godlessness or just the same drift to godlessness everywhere (except the Muslim world)? After an initial flurry of baptizing in the 1990s, Orthodoxy never really caught on. But both nationalism and Islam are alive and well in Russia.

    My biggest gripe with Solzhenitsyn is the way he interprets Truth as a thing, an end, that a Word can vanquish Evil. No! Truth is the process of bring thought, action into harmony with the divine will (Stoicism), the dialectic of history (Marxism). There are moral values underlying our actions, and if the actions are in harmony with God, with the world, that correspondence will be true. But Solzhenitsyn’s equating the Soviet Union with Evil, and (once he had experienced it) the West too, and then the new Russia, suggests the flaw, the great lie, in his thinking. In his Nobel prize speech, Solzhenitsyn whines about solipsistic writers, exhorting writers to imitate in microcosm the original creator’s making of the real world, to sense more keenly the harmony of world, the beauty and ugliness of man’s role in it, to communicate this to mankind. Great stuff, but he’s hoisted on his own (anticommunist) petard. His rueful attitude to post-Soviet Russia suggests his truth was conditional, subjective, after all. Where is God’s will in post-Soviet reality, Russian or the West? His fetishizing the old (Russian, of course) saw: ‘One word of truth shall outweigh the whole world’, my foot. How about ‘5 chess moves ahead well analyzed’, ‘don’t shake the boat’, ‘a stitch in time’?

    Peasant truth

    Solzhenitsyn was a master of media manipulation. He delayed his return to Russia until 1994 and then came via Alaska to Magadan, considered the capital of the gulag, as a member of the zek nation-within-a-nation. He kissed the ground and intoned: “Under ancient Christian tradition, the land where innocent victims are buried becomes holy ground. The need for purification comes from repentance for both individual and national transgressions of the Soviet era.” Then by train, with lots of pit stops along the way, the BBC in tow.

    But he was given a dose of his own truthiness at one Siberian stop by a babushka: “It is you and your writing that started it all and brought our country to the verge of collapse and devastation. Russia doesn’t need you. So go back to your blessed America.”

    Unfazed, Solzhenitsyn shot back: “To my dying day I will keep fighting against the evil ideology that was capable of slaying a third of my country.” Solzhenitsyn saw — with horror — that communism has remained in our hearts, in our souls and in our minds. But Russians complicit in Soviet ‘evils’ (i.e., everyone) resent this self-righteous jeremiad.

    Heritage Foundation’s Ariel Cohen strips Solzhenitsyn’s vision bare: “This revived orthodox world view makes Russia closer to China and the Muslim world. The Polish pope was shunned, but the ayatollahs, Hamas and even Chinese Godless Communists are embraced. Catholicism and Protestantism are declared alien, while Islam is hailed as an ‘authentic’ religion of Russia.”5

    There are bits of truth in both these thrusts, and self-serving lies. Use your own judgment of who’s really telling the truth.

    And compare Solzhenitsyn’s fate with Vaclav Havel, whose life had a similar trajectory as writer, dissident and underminer of socialism, and who became figurehead president of a Disneyland NATO satrap. In contrast, and to his credit, Solzhenitsyn refused such token public political plums (he refused Yeltsin’s offer of the Order of St Andrew from a state authority that had brought Russia to its present state of ruin) and predicted: “If we look far into the future, one can see a time in the 21st century when both Europe and the US will be in dire need of Russia as an ally.”6

    My truth — thinking 5 chess moves ahead to try to align with the universal moral truth – tells me he’s finally got it right.

    1. Raymond Rosenthal, ‘Solzhenitsyn and the defeated’ Nation, February 12, 1973.
    2. Malcolm Gladwell, Talking to Strangers (2019). We are good at recognizing when someone tells the truth, but lousy at discerning liars. We miss them 90% of the time.
    3. Sunday Times Bookshop, February 15, 1998.
    4. The Sunni equivalent is not tribal monarchy Saudi Arabia, but the ill-fated Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt, Jordan, and Syria.
    5. The new cool war’, May 17, 2006. see ed Edward Ericson jr and Alexis Klimoff, The Soul and barbed wire: An introduction to Solzhenitsyn, 2008, p237.
    6. 1994 interview and Der Spiegel in 2007. Op. cit., p237.
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