Hundreds of thousands of unnecessary deaths, an economic crisis, broken supply chains, killer cops, mass incarceration, government surveillance, nuclear weapons, irrational anti-social mass shootings, normalized racism, homelessness, crumbling schools, depression, fear, suicides, and obscene disparities in incomes and wealth—all the features of a moribund, brutal, anti-human global colonial-capitalist system in the United States—and we are supposed to be defensive about socialism! Give me a break.
Yet, the propagandists of death never sleep. Even as their system is being exposed as the generator of global warming (climate change), nuclear madness, cultural degeneration, and strange, violent societies and people, the ideological dirty workers are busy diverting attention away from the failures of their system to the internal contradictions found within the few examples of societies struggling to remake themselves in ways that center the needs and aspirations of the people.
If the social and economic conditions in Cuba, North Korea and Venezuela are supposed to be the result of the inherent flaws of socialism, why the sanctions, subversions, and outright attacks on those projects? If socialism is such an inherently unproductive and unnatural system, just let them implode based on their own supposed internal contradictions.
But this is where the joke comes in. The propagandists will say these societies would indeed implode if it was not for some dictator or repressive system that keeps the population in check. This is where the trope of the brutal dictator and the suffering fearful people is deployed ready for liberal—and even radical—white saviorism. The social gains under an emerging socialist project like the reduction of poverty, literacy, and inequality, as well as the provision of free healthcare, education, and free or affordable housing are not mentioned or are dismissed as irrelevant because these policies supposedly come at the cost of freedom!
But people in the United States who are still able to think for themselves and have experienced the structural violence of capitalism have gained a new clarity. Sharpened by the revelations of the COVID-19 pandemic—which ripped away the carefully cultivated veneer of social mobility and civilization that hid the ugly inner workings of capitalism—they have discovered their individual experiences of exploitation and fear are shared by millions of people confined by capitalism to a life of toil, stunted humanity, and early death. That is why so many today have turned away from the illusions and corruption of capitalism toward the possibility of organizing a society informed by the values of cooperation, equality, community, peace, and life.
And that is the fear of the denizens of death. Joe Biden can caution Cuba not to “crack down” on protesters with a straight face. The same Joe Biden whose failure to defend democracy in Haiti created the crisis in that country. The same Joe Biden who claimed it was permissible for the Israelis to lob artillery shells into residential neighborhoods in Gaza because the Israeli colonialists had a right to defend themselves against the colonized Palestinians they were oppressing. And the same Joe Biden who has been silent on the over 70 deaths during the recent national strike at the hands of Colombian security forces, who have been armed and trained by the United States.
The Cuban revolution has survived 62 years of consistent subversion and outright attacks from the United States and its white-supremacist colonial allies. The revolution has nothing to be ashamed of. It has been a beacon of hope and a model for millions around the world. That Cuba needs to defend itself against capitalism and against the billions of people around the world living in abject poverty is absurd.
It is capitalism that degrades and destroys Mother Earth. It is capitalism that transforms water into a commodity, food into a luxury, education into an impossibility and basic healthcare into a distant dream. The colonial-capitalist system is responsible for millions dying in genocidal wars. It created race and perpetuates white supremacy. It is U.S. and European state policies in the form of sanctions that deny peoples and nations medicines in the midst of a pandemic. It is the rapacious greed of capitalists and the warmongering states they control that have imposed inhumane conditions on poor states, which has made it impossible to pay back the odious loans they often had been forced to assume. This situation creates devastating consequences for their people. Resources cannot be devoted to providing healthcare, education, housing, a clean environment, food, and a means to a living because the people’s resources must be used to pay bankers in the West.
This is not theoretical, but a fact. This is the reality of a capitalist world.
But across this capitalist world, the people are fighting back. They are taking their histories into their own hands. That is the threat of nations like Venezuela and Cuba. That is why Western capitalist nations slander China and attempt to mobilize their populations for the possibility of war. China has exposed what can be accomplished with central planning and a rational allocation of the people’s resources to address human needs.
To confuse the populations and mobilize them against their own interests, the capitalists deploy not only their traditional liberal and conservative ideologues. They let loose the social-imperialist intelligentsia—who are fundamentally anti-communist and Bernsteinian social democratic, at best—to provide a left cover to imperialist intrigue. This intrigue is framed as being in opposition to “authoritarianism,” a term and idea that bourgeois propagandists discovered through focus groups can be used to undermine left projects by mobilizing the sensibilities of the soft, materially corrupted and NGOed latte-left in the United States and Western Europe.
However, among millions of people in the global South and among the colonized and exploited working classes in global North countries, Cuba and its project will be defended and the call and struggle for socialism will continue. We see the choice. It has always been between the barbarism of the colonial-capitalist North and human freedom and transformation emerging from the South.
For nationally oppressed and exploited African peoples in the United States, we stand with the people of the South, where revolution is emerging. We will defend Cuba, support Venezuela, demand that North Korea’s sovereignty be respected, struggle against global militarization, and oppose U.S. and Western imperialism without equivocation, apology, or hesitation. We are clear on the enemy because we have seen it up close and personal since 1492.
What’s gotten in the way of education in the United States is a theory of social engineering that says there is ONE RIGHT WAY to proceed with growing up.
― John Taylor Gatto, Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling
We used to research the cup of coffee. School. Mostly community colleges, but at two universities — UT-El Paso and Gonzaga. A lot of evening classes I taught. Even on military compounds, and in prisons, and in the bowels of twin plants in Juarez.
In the old days, sleeves rolled up, adults and young people in classrooms, computers, paper and white boards at our ready, would get comfortable and uncomfortable. It was not an easy class, those Composition 101 and 102 mandatory (sometimes ONLY) writing classes for college students (I am so for mandatory 12 classes on writing, thinking, media, rhetoric, propaganda, etc.). Food and drinks, music during essay writing, and face to face consternation and confrontation. Cooperation.
That cup of coffee from the earliest look at where that bean came from originally intrigued the students. Who would have known (we talked about the Colombian exchange, the Doctrine of Discovery, food, animals, other things that came to the Imperialists). Think of the spice islands on steroids:
The original domesticated coffee plant is said to have been from Harar, and the native population is thought to be derived from Ethiopia with distinct nearby populations in Sudan and Kenya. Coffee was primarily consumed in the Islamic world where it originated and was directly related to religious practices.
Fun stuff, this sort of research and writing, and deep dive. We turned these assignments into poetry, poster illustrations, research papers on the diseases of coffee, on the power of coffee like so many thousands of other foods and products, crossing oceans. Many a product of empire and racism, and the coffee paper also turned into “Is There Slavery in Your Chocolate?” essays.
In recent years, a handful of organizations and journalists have exposed the widespread use of child labor, and in some cases slavery, on cocoa farms in Western Africa. Since then, the industry has become increasingly secretive, making it difficult for reporters to not only access farms where human rights violations still occur, but to then disseminate this information to the public. In 2004, the Ivorian First Lady’s entourage allegedly kidnapped and killed a journalist reporting on government corruption in its profitable cocoa industry. In 2010, Ivorian government authorities detained three newspaper journalists after they published an article exposing government corruption in the cocoa sector. The farms of Western Africa supply cocoa to international giants such as Hershey’s, Mars, and Nestlé—revealing the industry’s direct connection to the worst forms of child labor, human trafficking, and slavery. (Source)
So much has happened since I first hit the streets as a newspaper journalist in 1977, and so much has changed since I started teaching college classes in research writing and writing and journalism (1983). The “see, speak, hear no evil” paradigm is the destiny of capitalists. It is the way of who we are every waking nanosecond of our lives. Boycott Divest Sanction my ass. This is where I also pretzel myself into contradiction after contradiction. I should be on an island, or just on 20 acres I have near Mount Adams. Eating mushrooms and stitching moss and bark clothing.
Capitalism is the cancer, virus, prion, the tapeworm, the carrot and the stick. It is the blood sucker of all concepts. Slavery is Capitalism. We talked about this, in so many ways, not always me railing overtly with my anti-Capitalist thesis. I would bring to class small business owners, restaurant owners, ex-military, nonprofit directors, friends who were homeless, living in garages, artists, and dissidents of many kinds. Another thing that is DEAD in the water.
Now, you have to get people vetted and approved to come to a classroom. This is the sickness of our lefty culture. The rightwing has already played this card, too. “Why the hell are you bringing a person from Planned Parenthood to your class? Illegal. Stop. I’m calling the president.”
That coffee, now, looking at a cup, the ecological footprint, the energy used to get a cup of coffee to say, my Spokane students. Because Spokane loves its coffee. The amount of water used to grow a cup of coffee. We’d look at the coffee in Central America, or Colombia. Where that plant is grown. What was bulldozed to bring that plantation there. Who works the finca? Which indigenous group of non-Spanish speakers in Guatemala work these plantation, tends the bushes, picks and dries the cherries. Species lost, pesticides used. Water diverted. And, food crops denied.
Again, young and older adults, blown away in my classes, since I was teaching them to look deeper at any number of topics, and develop critical thinking and discourse skills, in whatever watered down version I’d get with many students who were coming to college ill-prepared to really write “essays.” Variations on a theme. Just the cup of liquid, first grown and processed in poor countries, takes about 38 gallons of water to grow.
We’d try and research more and more on the life-cycle of a ceramic cup or Starbucks thermos, and the life cycle and life span of a coffee maker. Embedded energy, waste, mining, slave warehouses, metals, all that fossil fuel to move those metals, cook them, mill them, ship them around the world. Sure, we could look at at sack of dried but not roasted coffee cherries coming from the Guatemala Highlands, and then where it gets shipped by boat, and then moved by truck, and then the actual cleaning and roasting of the coffee. Packaging, and then, that journey is crossing back and forth, over land, in the air, over seas.
The assignment blows many students’ minds, as it should. In the classroom, and I’d bring in a coffee person, with coffee and snacks, and she’d talk about farms in Mexico and Africa she’s visited. Talk about the flavor, the various types of coffees.
We’d look at Fair Trade, Beyond Fair Trade, Shade Grown and the like. Socially responsible coffee. I’d talk about how Vietnam — where I had gone and worked — was cutting more and more forests down to grow coffee. Coffee pests and diseases, and soil enhancements with fertilizers. The entire life cycle analysis of as many things we could extract from the coffee history and production, well, it blows students’ minds, and it only works in person. Don’t fool yourself with the fucking mouse, keyboard and Zoom camera/mic.
We need to talk about the environmental and human and ecological costs of plantation, mountain-razing coffee:
This pathetic Zoom and remote learning (sic) formula is the deadening of the brain. Recall, Americans already have three quarters of their brains (or more) colonized by lies, propaganda, hate, myth, plain stupidity, largely from terrible K12 (prison with smiling teachers) and all the marketing, and a government whose job is to fleece the masses for the company men, and fleecing includes culling thinking and deep analysis.
All this work, for coffee? Nope, because the students then do some of their own research on any manner of things. Cause and effect, solutions, pro-con, classification, expository, digital rhetoric, and deeper position papers. Research, and while we share sources and do all sorts of things at home, in groups, the big thing is getting the classroom energized, talking, arguing. Debate every minute. We even meet out of class in a, well, coffee shop, and coffee roaster.
Thinking about origins and perspectives. This is a full-time job as an instructor, in the class with all sorts of human beings there taking in and reacting to the work, the talks, the learning and the discourse. This Zoom shit is the death of humanity as I knew it. Radical Pedagogy, 2003 article!
Always with food, something in the class, mostly evening classes.
In 1960, the University of Missouri published a short “Guide for Television Teachers.” Across the country, over 100 different colleges offered nearly 500 televised courses to a half a million students. So professors needed pointers about the best way to teach in this burgeoning new medium.
“Relax,” the Missouri guide underlined. “Try to be yourself.” Male professors should wear “conservative” ties, the guide added, while women should avoid necklines or hemlines that might “cause discomfort or embarrassment” if they leaned over a counter or sat in a low chair. Once they were properly attired, they could loosen up and let their real character shine through. “Remember that the TV camera projects your natural personality best,” the guide urged, “and the more relaxed and natural that you are, the better you will reach your viewers.”
Who are these children forced to work the cocoa plantations of the Ivory Coast?
Shit, those were the days. And here I am, suffering at age 64. I am feeling the burn, the beat-down burn, of more and more people around me stupid, mean, see-speak-hear not evil when it comes to this fucked up Empire, This War Machine. Those were the good old days? Is that my new mindset and refrain?
It is the contradiction to be an American totally — North American, Canadian or citizen of the USA. Every waking and sleeping minute we are covering the world in blood, exploitation, penury, death. Pain and misery is the way of the land. The hollow media, the celebrities in music and film, oh even more viral than the politicians. They are the elite, or the elite’s house boys or house girls.
“So what can we do but go with the flow? Just let it go. They have all the power, so just live your life as best you can. It’s not that bad. If we don’t bomb the world, steal the minerals, colonize space with weapons, then someone else will. What about China, Russia? I want a family, a job, and just a chance to live on weekends and kayak and smell the moose dung.”
I am down — really depressed — because of what that cup of coffee assignment represents: I am old. I am no good as a teacher because it is a digital and PC and cancel culture study body. I am down because most of the people I would have worked with years ago on political issues, as artists, well, they are either dead, or brains deadened by the struggle and the losing. I am depressed because that cup of coffee assignment is not lauded. The entire Western Civilization or Western Culture is in various forms of mental illness. That illness grouping includes a million wrong ways to medicate or mediate the illnesses of the minds.
I am not that, but I am alone, it seems. Now, the coffee, and where it comes from. Do I invest in Folgers Coffee (a division of J.M Smucker Company)? This is what’s depressing me now — my spouse and I are moving some money saved into some investments. Now I have to decide how to put some of it away, or as they say, to invest it. Because there are no interest rates, the average person can’t go to a state bank or any institution and put money into a municipal bond to do some good for society and make a few percentage points above zero. What’s wrong with 4 percent or 5 percent interest? That is the crime, zero or negative interest rates. Criminal. Imagine, there is not one thing on planet Earth, planet Wall Street, planet Retirement Fund which is not heavily tainted with DDDD: death, disease, destruction and destitution. We have been relooking at Socially Responsible Mutual Funds, or ESG’s, and the picture was never pretty:
Oh, you can say, “Broker, find me a fund that isn’t into war, weapons, mining, prisons, guns, germs, exploitation, banks, insurance companies.” It is virtually impossible. You might not want Walmart stock in the mutual fund, but then Amazon and Facebook and Kraft Foods might be in it. Microsoft, Boeing. Any amount of honor or commitment to NOT engaging in investing that gives money to the murderers, the exploiters, the ocean-soil-jungle-forest-wetland-river killers, it is all lost because they all are wrapped up into one big fat thievery corporation — BlackRock and Blackstone and the top 100 banks, hedge funds, and so many other “if-you-can-make-6-or-12-percent-on-yearly-return” investment products are so embedded in the master slavers in Fortune 1000 circles, and even within the 10,000 largest corporations.
[Modern-Day Robber Baron: The Sins of Blackstone CEO Stephen Schwarzman]
The system is rigged for brokers to use brokerage houses, big ones, and those fees — buy, sell, trade, manage — more money and profits made for NOT producing one potato or bicycle. Yet, MBAs and the others in this crew believe that they don’t want their precious children to work the slave fields of Ivory Coast, or to be soccer ball stitchers, or to be at the wrong end of a toxic waste discharge hose. But invest in Hershey’s, or Nike, or Smithfield, well, out of sight, out of mind. Yep, they would not want their precious families bombed with the amazing number of components tied to an amazing number of businesses wrapped up in one missile. Screws, wires, capacitors, metal shrouding, telemetry, paint, seals, nuts and bolts, precision metal parts, tubes and coils and electronic guidance systems and batteries and, well, you get the picture. But goddamn, you can make bank on investing in defense (sic) companies because there is an endless demand by governments to have that shit in stock. We the taxpayer pay for those Hellfire’s:
Lockheed Martin, Boeing (previous second source), and Northrop Grumman (seeker only for AGM-114L Longbow Hellfire) Unit cost US$150,000 (FY 2021)!
It’s much more than just those three companies making bank for these missiles. There is an entire contingent (armies) of companies and service economies tied to this murder weapon:
In the past, I have studied mutual funds I have invested in, to squirrel away some savings, and the picture is pretty ugly. There are no SRI’s that are nothing more than just market washing. Socially Responsible Investing, NOT:
Look at what Warren Buffett owns as part of Berkshire Hathaway. Products — Diversified investments, property and casualty insurance, Utilities, Restaurants, Food processing, Aerospace, Media, Toys, Automotive, Sporting goods, Consumer products, Internet, Real estate, Railroad
So the average Joe and Jane, if they get a mutual fund or two for some long-term investment, this is the reality — you might be a social justice warrior, an anti-racist campaigner, an anti-war proponent, an environmentalist, community crusader, a socialist, an anti-capitalist, but if you stick your toe just a bit into the pond for minimal investments, just to protect a few thousand dollars here and there, this is what you get — money into the pockets of madmen: school to prison pipeline experts, war lords, surveillance capitalists, drug pushers, bad loan chieftains, medical fraudsters, real estate thugs, polluters, mountaintop removers, river toxifiers, land thieves, propaganda priests.
I am so serious about this now — where does the money go, and which company is being supported by stockholders shoveling money into their companies? Look at the union busters, at the price gougers, at the political lobbying arms, all these giant corporations and their networks of bunkos!
You can turn blue in the face decrying Monsanto (Bayer) for its pesticide poisons or Exxon for climate change propaganda or Sackler/Purdue Pharmacy for opioid addictions, but if you have a mutual fund, there is a chance that somehow those companies are entwined somewhere in the formula of a “strong mutual fund.”
The corporate giants are also demanding that Congress allow the repatriation of about $2.5 trillion stashed abroad without paying more than 5% tax. They say the money would be used to grow the economy and create jobs. Last time CEOs promised this result in 2004, Congress approved, and then was double-crossed. The companies spent the bulk on stock buybacks, their own pay raises and some dividend increases.
There are more shenanigans. With low interest rates that are deductible, companies actually borrow money to finance their stock buybacks. If the stock market tanks, these companies will have a self-created debt load to handle. A former Citigroup executive, Richard Parsons, has expressed worry about a “massively manipulated” stock market which “scares the crap” out of him.
Banks that pay you near zero interest on your savings announced on June 28, 2017 the biggest single buyback in history – a $92.8 billion extraction. Drug companies who say their sky-high drug prices are needed to fund R&D. But between 2006 and 2017, 18 drug company CEOs spent a combined staggering $516 billion on buybacks and dividends – more than their inflated claims of spending for R&D. — Nader
We all are sinners in capitalism — just paying our tax bill: death and destruction raining down on Palestinians, for example:
“Seven deadly sins: Wealth without work, Pleasure without conscience, Science without humanity, Knowledge without character, Politics without principle, Commerce without morality, Worship without sacrifice.” – Mahatma Gandhi
Oh, we all think we have found the formula for living in this insane and murderous country. Oh, we have to put nose to the grindstone. Follow the leaders. Get the jab. Do as you are told. You home is not your castle. There are no 40 acres and a mule. No handouts. Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps. Pinch your nose, cover your eyes, plug your ears, muffle your mouth!
So, you end up throwing in the towel — no purity test, no selective boycotting of this or that product or service. No true anti-Imperialist leaning, when tax filing time comes. Nothing free in this un-Democratic land of thieves, murderers and thugs. Almost every step you take in America is full of landmines, cow pies, toxic puddles and electrified fences. The horizon is one theater of the absurd after another. The amount of nonsense and self-congratulatory verbiage from all manner of people who think they are enlightened or vaunted or above the dirty, scab-sucking, ripoff fray of capitalism, well, that is the self-delusion, the big lie.
So, the role of k12, and of higher education? One of the key foundations for a society — good education, robust, and deep learning, deep thinking, and systems thinking growing. Under capitalism and consumerism and conformist ideology that is US of Amnesia, there are so many broken things about face to face education, and I have written tons on this. Taking it to Zoom, to televised classes, remote learning, well, all the bad gets funneled into this new normal-abnormal.
In addition to education, colleges and universities provide indoctrination in the values and shared beliefs that our society deems important. These commonly shared values and tenets must be instilled, importantly beginning in grade school and before (the Jesuit boast, variously stated, is “Give me the first seven years and you can have all the rest”), and continued and reinforced through high school and college.
It is at the university where young men and women of indoctrinated conviction are most typically apt and able to respond to what is going on in the world around them, perhaps even take to the streets. Indoctrination can be overt or subtle. — George Heitmann
A mass rally with the Free German Youth that marked the founding of the German Democratic Republic in the Soviet Occupation Zone, October 1949.
A full generation has elapsed since the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) collapsed in late 1991. Two years earlier, in 1989, the communist states of Eastern Europe dissolved, with the first salvo fired when Hungary opened its border. On 3 March 1989, Hungary’s last communist prime minister Miklós Németh asked the USSR’s last President Mikhail Gorbachev whether the border to Western Europe could be opened. ‘We have a strict regime on our borders’, Gorbachev told Németh, ‘but we are also becoming more open’. Three months later, on 15 June, Gorbachev told the press in Bonn (West Germany) that the Berlin Wall ‘could disappear when the preconditions, which brought it about, cease to exist’. He did not list the preconditions, but he said, ‘Nothing is permanent under the Moon’. On 9 November 1989, the Berlin Wall was knocked down. By October 1990, the German Democratic Republic (Deutsche Demokratische Republik or DDR) was absorbed into a unified Germany dominated by West Germany.
As part of the unification, the structures of the DDR had to be demolished. Headed by the Social Democratic politician Detlev Rohwedder, the new rulers created the Treuhandanstalt (‘Trust Agency’) to privatise 8,500 public enterprises that employed over 4 million workers. ‘Privatise quickly, restructure resolutely, and shut down carefully’, Rohwedder said. But before he could do this, Rohwedder was assassinated in April 1991. He was succeeded by the economist Birgit Breuel who told the Washington Post, ‘We can try to explain ourselves to people, but they will never love us. Because whatever we do, it’s hard for people. With every one of the 8,500 enterprises, we either privatise or restructure or close them down. In every case, people lose jobs’. Hundreds of firms that had been public property (Volkseigentum) fell into private hands and millions of people lost their jobs; during this time, 70% of women lost their jobs. The stunning scale of the corruption and cronyism only came out decades later in a German parliamentary inquiry in 2009.
Cooperative farmers handing over a flag of solidarity with the motto ‘Solidarity Hastens Victory’ written on it to the Ambassador of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, 1972.
Not only did the public property of the DDR slip into the pockets of private capital, but the entire history of the project vanished in a haze of anti-communist rhetoric. The only word that remained to define the forty years of DDR history was stasi, the colloquial name for the Ministry for State Security. Nothing else mattered. Neither the de-Nazification of that part of Germany – which was not conducted in the West – nor the impressive gains in terms of housing, health, education, and social life occupy space in the public imagination. There is little mention of the DDR’s contribution to the anti-colonial struggle or to the socialist construction experiments from Vietnam to Tanzania. All this vanished, the earthquake of the reunification swallowing up the achievements of the DDR and leaving behind the ash heap of social despair and amnesia. Little wonder that poll after poll – whether in the 1990s or the 2000s – show that large numbers of people living in the former East Germany look back longingly for the DDR past. This Ostalgie (‘nostalgia’) for the East remains intact, reinforced by the greater unemployment and lower incomes in the eastern over the western part of Germany.
In 1998, the German parliament set up the Federal Foundation for the Study of Communist Dictatorship in East Germany, which set the terms for the national appraisal of communist history. The organisation’s mandate was to fund research on the DDR that would portray it as a criminal enterprise rather than a historical project. Fury governed the historical undertaking. The attempt to delegitimise Marxism and Communism in Germany mirrored attempts in other countries in Europe and North America that hastened to snuff out the reappearance of these left ideologies. The ferocity of efforts to rewrite history suggested that they feared its return.
This month, Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research partnered with the Internationale Forschungsstelle DDR (IF DDR) to produce the first of a new series, Studies on the DDR. The first study, Risen from the Ruins: The Economic History of Socialism in the German Democratic Republic, goes beneath the anti-communist sludge to unearth, in a reasonable way, the historical development of the forty-year project in the DDR. Based in Berlin, the authors of the text sifted through the archives and memories, interviewing those who helped construct socialism in Germany at different levels of society.
Peter Hacks, a poet of the DDR, said in retrospect, ‘The worst socialism is better than the best capitalism. Socialism, that society that was toppled because it was virtuous (a fault on the world market). That society whose economy respects values other than the accumulation of capital: the rights of its citizens to life, happiness, and health; art and science; utility and the reduction of waste’. For when socialism is involved, Hacks said, it is not economic growth, but ‘the growth of its people that is the actual goal of the economy’. Risen from the Ruins lays out the story of the DDR and its people from the ashes of Germany after the defeat of fascism to the economic pillage of the DDR after 1989.
A monument to Patrice Lumumba built by Leipzig’s Free German Youth; the street was later renamed ‘Lumumba Street’ in a ceremony with Congolese students, 1961.
One of the least known parts of the DDR’s history is its internationalism, wonderfully explored in this study. Three brief extracts make the point:
Solidarity Work. Between 1964 and 1988, sixty friendship brigades of the Free German Youth (the DDR youth mass organisation) were deployed to twenty-seven countries in order to share their knowledge, help with construction, and create training opportunities and conditions for economic self-sufficiency. A number of these projects still exist today, though some have taken on different names, such as the Carlos Marx Hospital in Managua, Nicaragua; the German-Vietnamese Friendship Hospital in Hanoi, Vietnam; and the Karl Marx Cement Factory in Cienfuegos, Cuba, to name but a few.
Learning and Exchange Opportunities. Overall, more than 50,000 foreign students successfully completed their education at the universities and colleges of the DDR. The studies were financed by the DDR’s state budget. As a rule, there were no tuition fees, a large number of foreign students received scholarships, and accommodation was provided for them in student halls of residence. In addition to the students, many contract workers came to the DDR from allied states such as Mozambique, Vietnam, and Angola as well as from Poland and Hungary seeking job training and work in production. Right until the end, foreign workers remained a priority, with contract workers growing from 24,000 to 94,000 (1981-1989). In 1989, all foreigners in the DDR received full municipal voting rights and began to nominate candidates themselves.
Political Support. While the West was slandering Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress (ANC) as terrorists and ‘racists’ and conducting business with the apartheid regime in South Africa – even providing arms shipments – the DDR supported the ANC, provided the freedom fighters with military training, printed their publications, and cared for its wounded. After black students in the township of Soweto launched an uprising against the apartheid regime on 16 June 1976, the DDR began to commemorate international Soweto Day as a sign of solidarity with the South African people and their struggle. Solidarity was even extended to those in the belly of the beast: when Angela Davis was tried as a terrorist in the United States, a DDR correspondent presented her with flowers for Women’s Day and students led the One Million Roses for Angela Davis campaign, during which they delivered truckloads of cards with hand-painted roses to her in prison.
The memory of this solidarity no longer remains either in Germany or in South Africa. Without the material support provided by the DDR, the USSR, and Cuba, it is unlikely that national liberation in South Africa would have come when it did. Cuban military support for the national liberation fighters at the 1987 Battle of Cuito Cuanavale was crucial for this defeat of the South African apartheid army, leading eventually to the collapse of the apartheid project in 1994.
The Free German Youth, a member of the World Federation of Democratic Youth, hosted the Tenth World Festival of Youth and Students in Berlin, 1973.
Organisations such as the Federal Foundation for the Study of Communist Dictatorship in East Germany (Berlin) and the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation (Washington, United States) exist not only to denigrate the communist past and to malign communism, but also to make sure that communist projects in the present carry the penalty of their caricatures. To advance a left project in our time – which is imperative – is made much more difficult if it must carry the albatross of anti-communist fabrications on its back. That is the reason why this project, led by IF DDR, is so important. It is not merely an argument about the DDR; it is also, at its core, a broader argument about the possibilities opened by experiments to create a socialist society and the material improvements they create, and have created, in the lives of the people.
Socialism does not emerge fully fledged nor perfectly formed. A socialist project inherits all the limitations of the past. It takes effort and patience to transform a country, with its rigidities and class hierarchies, into a socialist society. The DDR lasted for a mere forty years, half the life expectancy of the average German citizen. In its aftermath, the adversaries of socialism exaggerated all its problems to eclipse its achievements.
Volker Braun, an East German poet, wrote an elegy to his forgotten country in October 1989 called Das Eigentum or Property.
I’m still here: my country has gone West.
PEACE FOR THE PALACES AND WAR ON THE SHACKS.
I myself have given my country the boot.
What little virtue it possessed burns in the fire.
Winter is followed by a summer of desire.
I might as well get lost, who cares what’s next
And no one will ever again decipher my texts.
What I never possessed, from me was taken.
I will eternally long for what I didn’t partake in.
Hope appeared on the path like a trap
You grope and grab at the property I had.
When will I say mine again and mean we and ours.
Our quest here is not to reverse direction and exaggerate all the achievements while hiding the problems. The past is a resource to understand the complexities of social development so that lessons can be learnt about what went wrong and what went right. The IF DDR project, in collaboration with Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research, is invested in this kind of archaeology to dig amongst the bones to discover how to improve the way we humans stretch our spines and stand upright with dignity.
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.
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?
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 Gulagmerely 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
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.
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’?
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.
Raymond Rosenthal, ‘Solzhenitsyn and the defeated’ Nation, February 12, 1973.
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.
Sunday Times Bookshop, February 15, 1998.
The Sunni equivalent is not tribal monarchy Saudi Arabia, but the ill-fated Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt, Jordan, and Syria.
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.
1994 interview and Der Spiegel in 2007. Op. cit., p237.
The television series Star Trek has appeared in several iterations with a few handfuls of movies thrown in that have fired the imaginations of viewers of all ages for nigh 55 years. In particular, Star Trek captured the viewership of many progressives because Star Trek was much more than science-fiction intrigues or the swashbuckling adventures of humans exploring outer space.
The flavor of the universe was now different. Star Trek: The Original Series (ST:TOS) was set in the 23rd century on a planet Earth where poverty and wars were atavistic remnants of an inglorious past.
The Star Trek series presented a future where humans had overcome so much of the negative baggage that had plagued humankind. The progressivist1 fancy is rooted in tales of morality where the galaxy provides a most interesting backdrop. Humanity’s strengths and foibles are explored. And there is the diversity of the cast of ST:TOS — a big deal for the 1960s. Included among the bridge complement is an African female communications officer, a Russian navigator, an Asian as senior helmsman, and an alien as the chief science officer. The crew regardless of origin, for the most part, were very collegial.
Not a Perfect Progressivism
There might be some druthers. For example, the Enterprise’s Dr McCoy occasionally engaged in irreverent banter with the Vulcan science officer, targeting his alien demeanor and green-bloodedness. And depending on how one defines sexism, the nubile women on TOS were invariably shown wearing tiny mini-skirts and skimpy attire, and frequently women found that captain James Kirk had glommed onto both their shoulders, ostensibly in an attempt to exude 1960’s machismo.
Exploiting sexuality would seem to apply to the skintight catsuit that Jeri Ryan had to wear as the character Seven of Nine. Ryan was fine with it: “I have no problem with the costume…. And it… got the desired effect.” A bevy of female characters appearing on Star Trek are considered beautiful. Is that objectification or is it a facet of the human condition? Ask yourself if you prefer seeing a physically attractive male actor versus a plain Jim with a beer belly or a physically attractive female actor versus a plain Jane with flaccid underarms. The ratings for ST:VOY spiked after the voluptuous Ryan joined the cast.
There is also a rigid hierarchy that can cause friction at times among crew. This is very apparent in the ST:VOY episode “The Omega Directive.” Starship Voyager captain Kathryn Janeway sees fit to keep the entire crew uninformed about the presence of Omega molecules because protocol forbids it. Of course, the entire crew is curious and speculating; an in-the-dark commander Chakotay tells Janeway that she is not always a reasonable woman; Seven of Nine is in conflict with Janeway’s order to destroy the Omega molecules; ensign Harry Kim is upset at Seven’s deployment of crew to set up a chamber to safely contain the Omega molecules; Seven and the doctor argue about access to a patient suffering from Omega particle exposure in sick bay; Seven upsets the patient.”
ST:TOS never properly found its ratings footing in the 1960s. Season 3 had a new man at the reins, producer Fred Freiberger. TOS was made on a sharply reduced budget, scheduled in a terrible time slot (Fridays at 10 PM, a “death slot” in those days), and it had experienced a dramatic turnover in the quality of the writers room. Thus, season 3 ratings were dismal (… or not). NBC would cancel TOS at the end of season 3, a move generally considered one of the biggest blunders in entertainment history.
Star Trek, however, went on to become a sensation in syndication. Reruns would spread domestically and internationally. An animated series ran for two seasons. The resurgent popularity eventually spawned movies with the TOS cast.
Next up: flash forward to the 24th century and ST: The Next Generation. The cast is still diverse; miniskirts are less common;2 sentience is accepted in whatever form; the Trekverse doesn’t use money; and replicators have eliminated scarcity.3 Three more series followed TNG in a similar progressivist vein: ST: Deep Space 9, ST: Voyager, and ST: Enterprise.
Then, after a four-year run, just as the series ST:ENT was seemingly finding its footing with engaging story lines, the plug was pulled. Star Trek producer Rick Berman pointed to “franchise fatigue” as the reason for a drop in viewership. Actor Connor Trinneer, who played the chief engineer Trip on the show, cited poor scheduling by the UPN network and the departure of a corporate supporter in 2001 as leading to the show’s eventual demise with the final episode airing in May 2005.
An attempt was made to resurrect the ST:TOS brand in 2009 — same characters but played by different actors. The movie Star Trek was highly successful at the box office. This can be attributed to pent-up demand from long-time Trekkies, interest from sci-fi aficionados, as well as good promotion that attracted younger, curious fans. However, the writers, director, and producers had not captured the essence of Star Trek, especially the progressivism.
Writer David Gerrold who worked on Star Trek: The Next Generation gave his thoughts about the first two JJ Abrams Star Trek films:
… a lot of the movies being produced by the studios have fallen into the blockbuster trap of we have to have big moments, big blockbuster, CGI, exciting moments. And so what gets sacrificed is the emotional growth of the characters. There is no emotional through line. For me that is the problem in the JJ pictures is that they [are] very exciting but they don’t get us back to the heart and soul of the original Star Trek which is that Kirk has an interesting problem to solve that forces him to deal with a moral dilemma of the prime directive, being a Starfleet captain, and following the rules. And if you look back there was a severe limit on what Kirk could do because he was a Starfleet captain.
Moreover, because of corporate intricacies, there was a stipulation that the movies had to differ at least 25 percent from the original source material. Based on the initial box office success, two more movies would follow. But the numbers of movie-goers would diminish, and a fourth movie could not muster sufficient corporate backing. Given that we now live in the age of COVID-19, cinemas regaining popularity might be a fraught proposition.
Franchise fatigue? Yet when considering the comics, paperbacks, magazines, memes, action figures, model ships, cosplay, the number of people attending ST conventions, cameos and mentions in other TV series (e.g., Stargate, Family Guy, Big Bang, etc), and the plethora of ST fan films produced over the years, one would surmise that ST has always been in vogue.
An article in the culture section of GQ, “This Is How Star Trek Invented Fandom,” posed two questions that point to a disconnect in Roddenberry’s progressivist Trekverse and the corporate world within which Star Trek finds itself immersed:
Star Trek Las Vegas is perhaps the largest meeting of pop culture’s most famous fandom and certainly its priciest. The questions hover above the convention like a cloud of Tachyon particles: to whom does Star Trek really belong? How much, exactly, is that worth?
Despite the unwavering popularity of ST conventions and the ongoing making of fan films, currently produced ST television series had mirrored the vacuity of outer space. The fans were out there and clamoring for ST, but the corporate number crunchers were wary about what the eventual bottom line would be.
The long on-air gap between production of new Star Trek episodes or series spurred some among its fan base to create new fan episodes. Among these fan films were ST: New Voyages and then the 11 episodes of ST: Continues, both of which told stories of the further adventures of Kirk and crew.
A novel fan film is Star Trek: Aurora, a two-episode CGI animation about the experiences of a Vulcan and a human who crew a cargo ship in the Trekverse.4 It was exceedingly well done, with appealing characters and fascinating storylines.
Then along came a documentary-style ST fan film, Prelude to Axanar, which drew a large audience on Youtube — over 5 million viewers. Subsequently, a Kickstarter to produce a Star Trek: Axanar movie raised over a million dollars. That was too much popularity for CBS. That corporation, apparently, feared dollars flowing into pockets not its own. CBS launched a lawsuit for copyright violations and issued “onerous” guidelines for fan-film productions based on the Star Trek brand. Is that any way to treat your fans? The strict guidelines raised quite a kerfuffle among fandom, and CBS felt compelled to trot out an official to offer explanation.
No film and the failure to reimburse all donors to ST: Axanar has placed creator Alec Peters at the center of controversy since.
The world of television continues, but it faces new challenges from streaming services, such as Netflix. This has caused a ripple through the marketplace. CBS introduced its own streaming service, CBS All Access,5 and sought to revive and profit from its dormant Star Trek brand. Thus, in September 2017, Star Trek would reappear with a new TV series, titled Star Trek: Discovery.
Following the disappointing 2009 Star Trek movie, I wrote of a hope that:
… any future TV series will preserve the dynamism but also engage its audience with episodes exploring, for example, the depths of humanity, moral dilemmas surrounding the Prime Directive and cherished principles of the Federation, and progress toward egalitarianism in the future. In this way, Star Trek might recapture the progressivist attraction of the earlier series and appeal to the sanguinity of many viewers.
Yet, the ST:Disco series has stirred up extreme consternation among many Star Trek fans, often called Trekkies.
Marina Sirtis, who played Counselor Deanna Troi on ST:TNG, opined about subsequent Star Trek series:
I actually think that Star Trek got it right in our show and in the original show because the shows were about something. They weren’t just entertainment… They were little morality plays and that is what Star Trek lost after we were done. And it ought to go back to that.
I will agree with Sirtis insofar as the new iterations of Star Trek — created by Alex Kurtzman — have spectacularly missed the mark on what drew so many devoted fans to Star Trek in the first place. Many Trekkies reject these newer iterations as being Star Trek and refer to it instead as NuTrek. Or sometimes the difference between pre-2009 and subsequent Trek as “Old Trek” versus “New Trek.”
To be fair, the musical scores in NuTrek are excellent, the special effects are first rate, exotic shooting locales are used, and the acting is professional. But the core progressivist tenets of the Trekverse established under Roddenberry have been obliterated under Kurtzman.
The half century of Star Trek canon, built up by six previous Star Trek TV series and 10 movies, was swept aside through intentionality and ignorance. Continuity between the ST iterations has been irrevocably ruptured.6 Right away, longtime fans would notice that a popular alien species, the Klingons, had completely morphed into what appeared to be an unrecognizable species. This is despite the physical differences between the TOS Klingons and later Klingons, who had developed prominent forehead ridges, having been satisfactorily and cleverly explained in ST:ENT — seemingly all for naught now.
At the time ST:Disco was about to be launched, fans of Star Trek were informed by executive producer Akiva Goldsman that ST:Disco would take place in the prime timeline, preserving the canon therein. Yet during season 3, ST:Disco had officially declared the Kelvin-timeline movies canon.
Wokism on Steroids
Another criticism of NuTrek is that wokism and identity politics were now being rammed down the throats of viewers, although Roddenberry’s Trekverse saw humanity as having evolved beyond this.
Mosley went on to explain that the individual in HR said that while he was free to use that word in a script, he “could not say it.” Mosley then clarified, “I hadn’t called anyone it. I just told a story about a cop who explained to me, on the streets of Los Angeles, that he stopped all n—ers in paddy neighborhoods and all paddies in n—er neighborhoods, because they were usually up to no good. I was telling a true story as I remembered it.”
Mosley wrote that he is unaware who complained about his use of the word. “There I was, a black man in America who shares with millions of others the history of racism. And more often than not, treated as subhuman,” he continued. “If addressed at all that history had to be rendered in words my employers regarded as acceptable.”
Contrast this approach with that in the ST:TOS episode “The Savage Curtain.” When the attractive lieutenant Uhura approaches, Abraham Lincoln is moved to exclaim, “What a charming Negress.”
Fearing that his wording may have been inappropriate, the former president apologizes: “Oh. Forgive me, my dear. I know that in my time, some used that term as a description of property.”
Uhura replies, “But why should I object to that term, sir? You see, in our century, we’ve learned not to fear words.”
To this, Lincoln states, “The foolishness of my century had me apologizing when no offense was given.”
Too often missing from woke consideration is intentionality. It is necessary to discern what were the intentions of a person using a word that some people consider inappropriate. Thus, Walter Mosley found himself attacked despite not having sinister intentions. Uhura recognized the innocuous terminology of Lincoln and was not offended. It was just a word anyway. Lincoln was engaged by Uhura instead of attacked for what some might have deemed been inappropriate wording. A willingness to engage in respectful discussion along with the attempt to understand are required to change minds and improve the human vocabulary. To attack a person without attempting dialogue risks a backlash from a person who might otherwise have been found to be well-intentioned or, at least, not ill-intentioned.
Any Vulcan will inform you of the simple logic that, in human parlance, honey is far likelier to attract bees than vinegar.
This is not to say everything was artful and hunky-dory in the pre-Bad Robot (read JJ Abrams) and pre-Secret Hideout (read Alex Kurtzman) ST. There are some clunker episodes such as “And the Children Shall Lead” in TOS, “Code of Honor” in TNG, and “These are the Voyages” in ENT. There are inconsistencies with canon, albeit usually not blatant and usually not intentional. And it is granted that in the TOS era, the special effects and technology to produce aliens and creatures was sorely lacking by today’s standards. For instance, in TOS’s “Arena,” captain Kirk fights the Gorn which is obviously a man in a lizard suit.
Nonetheless, NuTrek does have its fans. I appreciate that there are people who derive enjoyment from viewing NuTrek. One Youtube channel that is somewhat predisposed toward NuTrek but makes a reasoned case for its leaning is Ketwolski. Ketwolski acknowledged problems early on with ST:Disco. However, he contends that by the conclusion of season 3 that Disco has grown its beard; that “thematically, it was all very, very connected…”
In his review and breakdown of ST:Picard season 1, a NuTrek series based on the ST:TNG captain Jean Luc Picard a few decades hence, Ketwolski described parts of the finale as “frustrating,” “very weird,” and noted how the plot lines were disjointed. But he concludes, “Overall, I can say that Star Trek: Picard is the best first season of any Star Trek show to date, and that is quite the feat.”
Burnett disagrees: “I’ve been a Star Trek fan pretty much all my life. It’s pretty much my favorite thing.” But he feels baffled and perplexed looking at ST:Picard.
Burnett posed a question to himself about ST:Picard: “What is the element that I cannot stand about this show?” To which he replied, “The callousness with which it approaches life, humanoid life specifically.” He pointed to an example in episode 4 that left him “gobsmacked,” that of Picard walking into a Romulan bar “to stir up shit” that resulted in a Romulan migrant being beheaded. The message being that it is okay to murder your enemy — which, he said, is “straight up antithetical to Star Trek.” To adduce that this iteration of ST is “painfully stupid on every level,” Burnett noted that the sign at the Romulan bar was written in English.
NuTrek’s Absence of Likeable Characters
Probably the biggest gripe about NuTrek is the inferior writing and storytelling. The creator, writers, and showrunners do not seem to have a handle on what ST has been about and why it attracted such a fervent fanbase. This is despite clinging to the species and characters that comprised previous Star Trek. Thus Klingons and Romulans are recycled. We are presented with a bastardized captain Picard and the iconic Spock, as first played by Leonard Nimoy, has been reduced to a caricature. Thus the contradiction that what is labeled NuTrek is relying on previous Star Trek without grasping the ethos of Star trek.
I do not complain about the actors or the acting in NuTrek. But I am thoroughly unimpressed with the writing and storytelling. It must be quite difficult for actors to perform in an appealing manner to viewers when the script they base their acting upon is one of inferior writing with poorly developed characters or on previously developed characters that have been pretzeled into incoherent aberrations. While the crew of the spaceship Discovery is still diverse, the characters are all so unlikeable.
This is particularly so with the lead character of Michael Burnham who is played by actor Sonequa Martin-Green. Much of the fandom concurs about disenchantment with this character. Michael Burnham is often referred to as a Mary Sue; which has come to mean something along the lines of a young woman too extraordinarily capable at everything. (The male equivalent has come to be called Marty Stu.)
A Youtube channel, Trekpertise, asked the question: “Is Michael Burnham a Mary Sue?” Trekpertise concluded she wasn’t, and this conclusion was much pilloried in the comments section (albeit some especially devastating critiques seem to have been removed).
Many NuTrekkers dismissed complaints about the Michael Burnham protagonist as racism. This is an ad hominem argument, and it does not hold water. Racists are highly unlikely to be attracted to Star Trek because of its embrace of diversity. Then there are the facts that Uhura was a Black bridge officer in ST:TOS, Geordi La Forge was the Black chief engineer in ST:TNG, and Avery Brooks played the Black captain in ST:DS9. One excellent DS9 episode, in particular, “Far Beyond the Stars,” stirred abhorrence for the mental weakness and anti-humanism of racism.7
A comment by W PlasmaHam reads:
It seems as if the ultimate goal of this [Trekpertise] video was to defend Burnham by asserting that all criticism was motivated by race, gender, or dislike of a serialized format. I feel that such an argument is quite dismissive of legitimate criticism towards her. It appears that the majority of people in the comments agree that Burnham is a flat or unlikable character, even those who say that Mary Sue accusations are unfounded. Will you address those? Because it feels as if you took a quite easy approach to analyzing her character.
To which Trekpertise replied:
That wasn’t the purpose of this video. The purpose of this video is too illustrate that the Mary Sue criticism isn’t applicable to Michael Burnham, or indeed any other character in film and TV. It belongs to the fanzines of the 1970s. There is plenty else to discuss with Michael Burnham.
Even Ketwolski answered the question of whether Michael Burnham is a Mary Sue with a tempered: “Yes! kinda.”8
Early on there was the intriguing and mildly charismatic Saru, a Kelpian who represents a new species introduced by ST:Disco. However, the writers would later have Saru neutered (figuratively) by Michael Burnham. The writers also saw fit to promote ensign Tilly in one fell swoop to number one. A fan favorite character, Spock, was also diminished beside the perfection of his sister-through-adoption, Burnham.9
Is NuTrek a Copycat?
The writing is so egregious that several seeming instances of plagiarism are apparent in ST:Disco. For example, some scenes appear to have been lifted from the films Die Hard, Total Recall, and The Day After Tomorrow.
Is it Disco paying homage? But there is no acknowledgement of the idea emanating from elsewhere.
A comment by OneBagTravel opined that “… these similarities is that they’re not just ideas being borrowed, they’re visuals nearly shot for shot stolen. It’s far too blatant to just say it’s coincidental.”
The criticism of plagiarism by Disco, however, started right off the bat when a lawsuit was launched against CBS and ST:Disco over the alleged stealing of the idea of a mycelial network traversed by a giant tardigrade across space-time and other similarities from the game “Tardigrades” created by Anas Abdin. The lawsuit was dismissed because Abdin had to “prove” the idea theft by CBS.
This points to NuTrek sadly lacking creativity and imagination.
How Popular is NuTrek?
In 2009, J.J. Abrams directed the science fiction action film Star Trek, written by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman. Rotten Tomatoes had critics rate it 94% and fans 91%; it had a gross in the US of $257.7M.
The next film was titled Star Trek into Darkness. Again the ratings were favorable at Rotten Tomatoes: critics rated it 84% and fans 89%; it grossed $228.8M in the US.
The third film was Star Trek Beyond. Rotten Tomatoes had critics rate it 86% and fans 80%; the gross in USA had dropped to $158.8M — still a significant number.
The NuTrek TV series present a different picture. For ST:Disco there is a notable distinction between the ratings of critics and fans:
ST:Disco Season 1; Rotten Tomatoes had critics rate it 82% and fans 50%
ST:Disco Season 2; Rotten Tomatoes had critics rate it 81% and fans 36%
ST:Disco Season 3; Rotten Tomatoes had critics rate it 90% and fans 46%
Short Treks: fans only at 37%
This notable distinction between the ratings of critics and fans also applies to ST:Picard:
ST:Picard Season 1; Rotten Tomatoes had critics rate it 87% and fans 56%
A NuTrek animation series also completed its first season:
ST:Lower Decks Season 1; Rotten Tomatoes had critics rate it 65% and fans 44%
Of interest is a series called The Orville that is contemporaneous with NuTrek. It was created by the Star Trek fan Seth MacFarlane who was enamored with ST’s morality, writing, and characters. Although campier than ST, The Orville has captured the essence of ST’s progressivism and crew camaraderie. Work on season 3 of The Orville is, reportedly, underway, having been disrupted by the pandemic. For The Orville, the fan and critic ratings are the obverse of that for NuTrek in season 1. It was loved by both fans and critics in season 2:
The Orville Season 1; Rotten Tomatoes had critics rate it 30% and fans 94%
The Orville Season 2; Rotten Tomatoes had critics rate it 100% and fans 94%
The numbers indicate that The Orville, obviously an homage to Star Trek, is quite popular with viewers.
Intellectual Property and the Rights of Fans
Intellectual property rights accord priority to the owner of an idea over the benefits that could accrue to the wider society from access to the idea. Intellectual property rights have been used to hamstring the greater good for humanity, as well a ST fan films.
There has been no other TV show in history that could be considered as “open source” as Star Trek. In true open source fashion, fans have used the universe originally created by Gene Roddenberry in 1964 as “the source code” for fan-made films, cartoons, games, etc. If one considers the characters, settings and general plots of Star Trek, then it’s easy to understand how Star Trek has been a true open source universe.
Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek, would seem to agree. He wrote in the foreword to Star Trek: The New Voyages (1976):
Television viewers by the millions began to take Star Trek to heart as their own personal optimistic view of the Human condition and future. They fought for the show, honored it, cherished it, wrote about it–and have continued to do their level best to make certain that it will live again.
…We were particularly amazed when thousands, then tens of thousands of people began creating their own personal Star Trek adventures. Stories, and paintings, and sculptures, and cookbooks. And songs, and poems, and fashions. And more. The list is still growing. It took some time for us to fully understand and appreciate what these people were saying. Eventually we realized that there is no more profound way in which people could express what Star Trek has meant to them than by creating their own very personal Star Trek things.
Intellectual Property and Freedom of Expression exert very different forces upon cultural productions
Intellectual Property applies economic principles to the realm of creative expression
Freedom of Expression does not contribute to an oppressive power dynamic, and supports the work of all creators
Intellectual Property should not be invoked in discussions about creative products – it simply doesn’t apply, and demonstrates deeply harmful effects
Gene Roddenberry passed away in 1991. Unfortunately, Roddenberry had sold the rights to Star Trek to Paramount for one-third of future profits.10
In the meantime, as far as Star Trek is concerned, the corporatocracy determines what will be produced and when it can be viewed. The only power of the fans is to tune in or not to tune in; in the end, this is a mighty power. It is the fans who will determine whether a show is profitable or not. The corporations may control what is made available for viewing, but the public decides what they will view.
Hope for a Star Trek Future?
The world is far from achieving the morality of 23rd or 24th century Star Trek.
Nonetheless, Star Trek is important because it presents a vision of what the future could be, something people could aspire to. Becoming an astrophysicist, astronaut, scientist, film industry writer, social justice campaigner, etc. To work toward the abolishment of poverty, racism, the penal system11 and war. However, we don’t need to wait for the 23rd century. We can start right now in the 21st century. It is a matter of will and determination. China didn’t wait for the 23rd century. It took action and demonstrated that absolute poverty can be eliminated now.
In the Star Trek future, Earth is united under one government. Humans of all ethnicities and nationalities are as one. That doesn’t mean Star Trek is free from propaganda. For instance, prominent human characters in the Trekverse tend to be American, although countries are a thing of the past. In the film Star Trek: First Contact, Zefram Cochrane invents the first warp drive spaceship in Montana, leading to first contact with Vulcans. Captain Kirk is from Iowa. Captain Pike who preceded Kirk is from California.
The TOS episode “The Omega Glory,” features the Yangs (Yankees) and Kohms (Communists), the Pledge of Allegiance, and the flag of the United States. This patriotic reverence for Americana takes place in a distant solar system on the planet Omega IV. However, this is not surprising for a series produced by an American TV network for an American audience.
Twenty-first century Earth is a planet riven by militarism and violence, imperialism, hegemony, factionalism, classism, racism, prejudice, poverty, inequality and inequity. It is the moneyed classes that control the media. It is the moneyed classes that will determine what appears in mass media. Warring is normalized as patriotic, and that may well explain the militarism and warring among planetary factions that is so prevalent in NuTrek. The rich thus become richer by launching wars to be fought by the poor who are speciously told they fight for honor and country.
In NuTrek, the United Federation of Planets is no longer governing, and Earth, one of the founding members, is no longer a member. The principles of the Federation lie at the core of what Star Trek is about: “liberty, equality, peace, justice, and progress, with the purpose of furthering the universal rights of all sentient life. Federation members exchange knowledge and resources to facilitate peaceful cooperation, scientific development, space exploration, and mutual defense.” Yet NuTrek even goes as far as to depict the much more distant future as regressivist, factional, battle-scarred, wracked by poverty, and dealing with energy scarcity. This is what the crew of the USS Discovery encounter after exiting a time vortex to emerge in the 32nd century.
What is this message from NuTrek? Clearly, the 32nd century is not aspirational. This is why NuTrek is anathema to so many Trekkies.
Finally, midway through season 3 of Disco, I gave up on watching what I hoped would be Star Trek because I finally reached the inescapable conclusion that NuTrek up to now (i.e., Disco, Picard, and Lower Decks) was not Star Trek. I had watched (and rewatched) every episode of every ST production until this moment. Nonetheless, I will hope that future ST series will reconnect to serious grappling with moral dilemmas, the advancement of the human condition, the positivity of what is to come, and the writing of thoughtful scripts with developed characters (some of who are appealing) in line with previous ST series (i.e., before NuTrek).
Poor audience ratings and criticisms have plagued NuTrek from the start. Surely those criticisms have been heard by the corporate suits, but will they respond to what the fans want? Netflix didn’t pick up ST:Picard for international distribution. ST:LD went without an international distributor well into its season. Clearly streaming services weren’t fighting each other for NuTrek.
The financial markets became bearish for ViacomCBS in late March, as the stock began to precipitously plummet.
Yet, NuTrek is filming a fourth season of the much reviled ST:Disco and a second season of the already tired retread ST:Picard, which tries to slip in many cameos for Patrick Stewart’s former colleagues with mixed results; e.g., Data, the android who doesn’t age, has appreciably aged. NuTrek didn’t even bother in a few cases to hire actors who previously had played the ST characters, so viewers were expected to overlook the incongruencies.
Knowing that there is a hardcore Trekkie fanbase seems to have jaundiced some in the NuTrekverse to a possibly negative reaction. Did Jason Isaacs who played captain Lorca in season 1 of Disco take this fanbase for granted when he said:
I don’t mean to sound irreverent when I say I don’t care about the die-hard Trek fans. I only ‘don’t care’ about them in the sense that I know they’re all going to watch anyway. I look forward to having the fun of them being outraged, so they can sit up all night and talk about it with each other.
An antipathy has arisen among a section of NuTrekkers toward those who do not share their appreciation for NuTrek. They frequently call critics of NuTrek “haters.” While some of these people probably would admit to hating NuTrek, most people do not respond well to be called a hater.
What I hate is ad hominem, so I am unimpressed when people resort to the tactic of disparaging other people through name-calling. Calling others “haters” is illogical, regressivist, and antithetical to the Trekverse as conceived by Roddenberry.
A glimmer of hope?
Season 2 of Disco saw captain Pike of the USS Enterprise injected into that series for one season. Afterwards, fans clamored for more of Pike and the Enterprise, and such a series is, reportedly, in the works. It offers a ray of hope for the fans. But given the NuTrek track record, don’t hold your breath.
Next: In Part 2, B.J. Sabri will discuss Star Trek from an expanded political viewpoint.
Subsequent to a corporate merger, it has now been renamed Paramount+.
Why didn’t Secret Hideout (Kurtzmann’s production company) hire a super knowledgeable Trekkie or two to check the scripts for canon and continuity errors? If Secret Hideout did do this, then it has a bad HR department. But I suspect that Secret Hideout intended to rip up ST canon and continuity.
Having added an adjective denoting preponderent skin pigmentation in this essay was very frustrating, and so some level offensive, to this writer because fans of ST do not see race; they just see humans. And it is hoped that all humans would recognize that we all are that: humans.
“For progressives and anti-imperialists all over the world, the mention of the Bay of Pigs—known in the Spanish-speaking world as Playa Girón—evokes joy and celebration,” wrote Carmelo Ruiz. “The United States, an empire accustomed to imposing itself even in the farthest corners of the world, could not prevail and enforce its will on an island country 90 miles away from its shores. The empire could be defeated after all.”1
In mid-April, 1961, the island nation of Cuba repelled a US military invasion at Playa Girón and captured over 1,200 invaders. Cuba’s victory, in self-defense, was a direct result of the people’s popular support for the Revolution, which was not anticipated by the invading army. In fact, the US planners hoped or imagined that the attack would trigger the people to rise up against the Cuban Revolution. Instead, the opposite happened.
The people’s militia
Following the 1959 Revolution, Cuba had armed and trained its people to form a civic-military alliance to defend their land. Cuba faced US attacks from day one of the Revolution — in addition to the all-out military assault at the Bay of Pigs, there were hundreds of documented terrorist attacks, bombings, and assassination attempts from 1959 onwards.2
On April 15, 1961, three Cuban airports were bombed by planes flying false Cuban decals that took off from CIA landing strips in Somoza’s Nicaragua, killing eight Cubans. Under the United Nations Geneva Convention, flying a false national flag constitutes the war crime of perfidy.3 The next day Fidel Castro told the people of Cuba to prepare for a full scale invasion, and declared the socialist character of the Cuban Revolution.
On April 17, 1961, about 1,500 troops armed, funded, and trained by the CIA, on a mission approved by first Eisenhower and then JFK, invaded the island of Cuba. The ground troops were supported by tanks, artillery, and army jeeps that disembarked from fourteen US army transport planes and five cargo ships, accompanied by a squadron of B-26 bombers.
The invading force was immediately spotted by Cuban fishermen, who alerted the local militia. The people’s militia of Cuba, the National Revolutionary Militia, sprung into action. 200,000 Cuban civilians, armed and trained by the Revolution, rose to defend their homeland, and Fidel came to the front lines to direct the operations of the Cuban Revolutionary Armed Forces.
Within three days the fighting was over, the invading army had been subdued, and over 1,200 invaders had been captured. The invading forces consisted of CIA agents and officers, CIA-trained mercenaries, soldiers, and generals from the defeated army of the Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista, and the sons of rich Cubans who had left the island when their plantations were expropriated by the Revolution.
The lies of imperialism
US State Department records reveal that they planned the attack “in such a manner to avoid any appearance of US intervention,” a tactic that should be recalled when we learn about contemporary military operations—often through the prism of the US media — whether in Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, or Venezuela.4 US Ambassador to the United Nations Adlai Stevenson actually denied US involvement in the attack when it was first reported. It was planned to appear as a case of bitter in-fighting between Cubans. Like the Romans, the US imperialists always try to create a justification for their murderous wars, so that they never appear to be the aggressor—whether it’s framed as a humanitarian intervention, a defense of democracy or, perhaps the most farcical, as a pre-emptive strike.
Instead of killing all the invaders, or keeping them for years in illegal prisons and torturing them, as the US does at Guantánamo Naval Base, Cuba traded the survivors back to the US for $50 million worth of food, tractors, and medical supplies.
“There can be no discipline without conscience,” Fidel Castro commented. “We sentenced them to pay compensation of $100,000 per prisoner, or alternatively a prison sentence. What we wanted was payment of compensation, not because of any need for money but rather as a recognition by the United States government of the Revolution’s victory—it was almost a kind of moral punishment.” The CIA tried to assassinate Castro during the negotiations.5
“Cuban workers and peasants decided more than 60 years ago they would no longer be servants for US imperialism or capitalism,” wrote Zach Farber for Liberation News. “They have been collectively punished for it ever since.”6
“The US attempt to invade Cuba at Playa Girón took place at a time when the US imperialists had already caused many tragedies through coups, military interventions and other interference in Latin America and the Caribbean,” wrote Canada’s Marxist-Leninist Communist Party. “Thus, the decisive victory of Cuba over the enemy forces at the Bay of Pigs, regarded as the first defeat of US imperialism in Latin America, had significance not only for Cuba but for all the peoples of the Americas.”7
“Current and future generations of Cubans will continue on, no matter how great the difficulties may be,” said Fidel Castro during an interview with Ignacio Ramonet. “With ever greater energy, we will face up to our own shortcomings and errors. We will continue to fight. We will continue to resist. We will continue to defeat every imperialist aggression, every lie in their propaganda, every cunning political and diplomatic maneuver.
“We will continue to resist the consequences of the blockade, which will someday be defeated by the dignity of the Cuban people, the solidarity of other nations, and the almost universal opposition of the governments of the world, and also by the growing rejection on the part of the American people of that absurd policy which flagrantly violates their own constitutional rights.
“Just as the imperialists and their pawns suffered the consequences of a Playa Girón multiplied many times over in Angola, the nation that comes to this land to wage war will find itself facing thousands of Quifangondos, Cabindas, Morros de Medundas, Cangambas, Sumbes, Ruacanas, Tchipas, Calueques, and Cuito Cuanavales, and defeats such as those dealt to colonialism and apartheid in heroic nations such as Angola, Namibia and South Africa—defeats they’d never imagined would be linked to the history of this small Caribbean nation.”5
From left to right: Vijay Prashad, Fred M’membe, Diego Sequera, and Erika Farías in Caracas, 2019. Photograph taken by Yeimi Salinas.
On 12 August 2021, the people of Zambia will vote to elect a new president, who will be the seventh person elected to the office since Zambia won its independence from the United Kingdom in 1964 if the incumbent loses. The incumbent, President Edgar Lungu, is facing a strong challenge from Fred M’membe, the presidential candidate of the Socialist Party Zambia.
M’membe knows the importance of a challenge. As the editor of The Post since its creation in 1991, M’membe has long faced malicious harassment and political persecution. The voice of M’membe’s The Post sizzled with truth-telling; silenced in 2016, it was reborn as The Mast.
In 2009, an editorial in The Post described how, despite decades of independence, Zambia remained in the claws of an unjust world system. ‘Economically speaking, Zambia is the tip of the tail of the global dog,’ wrote The Post. ‘When the dog is happy, we find ourselves merrily flicking from side to side; when the dog is miserable, we find ourselves coiled up in a dark and smelly place’. No wonder that every government from Frederick Chiluba (1991-2002) to sitting President Edgar Lungu has tried to muzzle the paper and its editor, who cast a spotlight on the awful surrender of the Zambian political elite to multinational corporations and foreign bondholders. Now the editor of The Post is a presidential candidate.
Mapopa Manda (Zambia), Visionary, 2019.
Fred M’membe is a humble man who demurs about his presidential run through a warm smile. ‘Ours is a collective leadership’, he tells me of the Socialist Party, which was launched in March 2018. The manifesto of the Party pledges to reverse Zambia’s slide into privatisation and de-industrialisation, social processes that have damaged social life in the country and created a sense of despondency amongst the masses. A reading of that manifesto in these COVID-19 times is chilling: ‘Due to the poor state of water and sanitation, urban areas are prone to water-borne diseases that break out almost every year’, with water scarce and half the population without connection to sanitation systems.
The neoliberal policies pushed since the end of the government of Zambia’s first president, Kenneth Kaunda (1964-1991), have been catastrophic for Zambians. These policies, M’membe told me, ‘are creating an enormous time bomb in our country. We shouldn’t resign ourselves to hunger, unemployment, squalor, disease, ignorance, hopelessness, and despair. Struggling for a better Zambia means, in part, to build a better Zambia’.
Lutanda Mwamba (Zambia), Chuma Grocery, 1993.
Zambia is a rich country with a poor population. Zambia’s poverty rate is estimated between 40% and 60% (the country only has statistics up to 2015). A World Bank household survey conducted in early June 2020 found that half of the families who relied on agriculture saw a substantial loss of income and 82% of families that earned income from non-farm businesses saw their livelihoods shrink. The World Bank found that remittance flows into Zambia also precipitously declined.
Because of the drop in income, households reduced their consumption of goods, especially food. In 2019, before the pandemic, the Global Hunger Index found the hunger situation in Zambia to be ‘alarming’. But there is no reliable data on the growth of hunger caused by the pandemic, which prevented the Index from properly assessing the situation. Instead, it assessed the situation as ‘serious’. ‘Zambia’, M’membe told me, ‘stands at the brink of a major catastrophe’.
In November 2020, Zambia defaulted on a $42.5 million payment towards a Eurobond. President Lungu’s government has been talking to the IMF ever since, hoping to get a bailout without stringent austerity measures. Such austerity measures – including cuts in public services that the country can ill afford during the pandemic – would jeopardise Lungu’s chances in the August 2021 elections. In early March, the IMF’s staff visit concluded that ‘significant progress’ has been made toward an ‘appropriate policy package’, but no details or timetable have been released.
Mulenga Chafilwa (Zambia), Drip Drip Drip, 2014.
A month before the IMF team met with Zambian officials, the country’s minister of mines Richard Musukwa announced that the country’s copper production had reached 882,061 tonnes. This was an increase by 10.8% from 2019 figures, a ‘historical high’ according to Musukwa. Given the move to electric cars and to more high-tech appliances, copper wiring is certain to be in high demand, which is why Zambia hopes to produce more than 1 million tonnes a year in the next few years. Copper prices are inching upwards ($4 per pound) toward the highs of 2011 ($4.54 per pound). There is plenty of money to be made from copper, particularly for the Zambian people.
Four companies dominate Zambian copper: Barrick Lumwana of Canada’s Barrick Gold, FQM Kansanshi of Canada’s First Quantum, Mopani of Switzerland’s Glencore, and Konkola Copper Mines of the UK’s Vedanta. These are major mining companies that leech Zambia of its resources through creative means such as transfer mispricing and bribery. In 2019, Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research spoke to Gyekye Tanoh, head of the Political Economy Unit at the Third World Network-Africa based in Accra (Ghana), about the situation of ‘resource sovereignty’. His comments on Zambia merit re-reading:
Because Zambia is now utterly reliant on copper exports, the international copper price movements have a preponderant and distorting effect on the exchange rate of the Kwacha [Zambia’s currency]. This distortion and the limited revenue from copper exports impacts the competitiveness and viability of other, non-copper exports as a result of the fluctuations of the Kwacha. The fluctuations also impact the social sector. A study done in 2018 showed that changes in the exchange rates oscillated between -11.1% to +13.4% in the period between 1997 and 2008. The loss of funds from donors to the Ministry of Health in Zambia amounted to US $13.4 million or $1.1 million per year. Because of the collapse of the Kwacha between 2015 and 2016, per capita health expenditure in Zambia fell from $44 (2015) to $23 (2016).
M’membe told me that poverty levels in the Copperbelt Province, the heart of Zambia’s wealth, are very high. It is striking that 60% of the children in this copper-rich area cannot read. ‘Foreign multinational corporations have been the major beneficiaries’, he explained. A cozy relationship with the Zambian elites enables these firms to pay low taxes and take their profits out of the country, as well as to use techniques such as outsourcing and subcontracting to skirt Zambia’s labour laws. This industry, M’membe said, ‘still operates along colonial lines’. Indeed, in Phyllis Deane’s Colonial Social Accounting (1953), she shows that in Northern Rhodesia – Zambia’s name during colonial rule – two-thirds of the profits were taken out of the territory to pay foreign shareholders, while two-thirds of the remainder went to the European workers and the minuscule leftovers went to the vast majority, the African miners.
‘Reliance on non-renewable resources like minerals for growth is, by definition, unsustainable’, M’membe reflected. Any government in Zambia will have to rely on copper – only a third of it mined to date – until the country’s economy and society are properly diversified. The Socialist Party has proposed a range of policies to harness the copper resources, from cutting better deals with the current owners to full-scale nationalisation (a policy that is currently being imposed on Zambia, as First Quantum and Glencore have cut back on their investments, forcing the government to step in). M’membe laid out seven points for a just mining policy for the immediate period:
The socialist government will declare minerals as strategic metals and provide a protective legal environment for their extraction. The export of concentrates will be outlawed, and the marketing of minerals will be coordinated by the state.
Zambian labour will have their power strengthened by laws and by political will.
Mining firms will have to source at least 30% of their industrial inputs from Zambia, which would encourage manufacturing.
Zambia Consolidated Copper Mines Limited-Investment Holdings (ZCCM-IH), a state-owned corporation, will take a controlling interest in all new mines.
Resource rent or variable income tax will be introduced to secure additional mineral rents.
All proceeds from mineral sales will first be credited in Bank of Zambia accounts – an essential aspect of currency and balance of payments management and stability.
Mines will have to adhere to state-of-the-art environmental technologies, practices, and standards.
Beyond this, the socialist government will encourage the creation of miners’ cooperatives, particularly for manganese, which is cheaper to mine.
Mwamba Mulangala (Zambia), Political Strategies, 2009.
There is seriousness of purpose in the Socialist Party’s agenda for Zambia. M’membe travels the length and breadth of his country speaking about this agenda. ‘We should win because of what we believe in’, he tells me. He believes that every child in Zambia should be able to read and should be able to go to sleep without hunger pangs. This is a belief that should be shared by every human being.
The United States of America is victim of its own propaganda. Since being founded, the USA has always depicted itself as a beacon of democracy and liberty, a land of opportunity and hope where a person can accomplish rags to riches through hard work and initiative. For many the American Dream is viewed as a reality and can we be surprised that the Statue of Liberty’s inscription is taken literally:
Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!
The impoverished peoples in countries south of the United States suffering deprivations unimaginable to the majority of Americans have sought escape from failed nation-states crime ridden societies and the encroaching effects of climate change to achieve a better life for themselves and their children.
However, rather than a welcome, they meet with a wall, not just the physical one Trump tried to build but a wall of indifference and outright rejection. Political commentators declare that America can no longer afford to accept any more newcomers, no matter how ‘deserving’ or contrary to international treaties it has signed up to. The present pandemic is even being used as justification to turn away the needy and the vulnerable. The change of president has brought a superficial change of policy at the southern border but it has not departed from being one of deterrence, albeit Biden’s approach is ‘softer’ than Trump’s draconian hard attitude. Biden remains attached to the belief that the solution is better management to slow down and reverse the flow of peoples wishing to make the USA their new home. He still does not treat the migration of hundreds of thousands of Central Americans as a genuine humanitarian crisis where the proper response would be to facilitate and expedite the reception of these desperate people. America has dealt with mass migrations in the past such as the Dustbowl and the Black exodus from the Southern states, not to mention the influx of European migrants arriving at Ellis Island. The United States is now far better placed to allocate the necessary resources.
A common argument made by the likes of Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity, but even by some on the liberal left, is that the United States is full, that it is already an over-crowded country and no longer able to take any extra people. Such claims are providing ‘intellectual’ succor to the mass-murderer, Patrick Crusius, who targeted Hispanics and killed 23 at El Paso in Texas.
But just how many is too many?
Using 2019 figures and the present migrant bottleneck US state of Texas as an example
There is approximately 7,268,730,000 people on the planet. The land-mass of Texas is 268,820 square miles (7,494,271,488,000 square feet). If we divide 7,494,271,488,000 square feet by 7,268,730,000 people, we get 1031 square feet per person. This is enough space for everyone on earth to live in a town-house while altogether fitting on a landmass the size of Texas. And we’re not even accounting for the average four-person family who would most likely share a home.
Of course, there are large tracts of Texas uninhabitable and we have not included the necessary space for the resources to support such a population. This is just to give an idea of how it isn’t actual space that is lacking but to show that America is not running out of room any time soon.
Again, we can compare actual density of the United States by taking the example of New York City which is far and away the most populous city in the U.S., home to an estimated 8.5 million people in 2016. More people live in this one city than in the entire states of Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, New Mexico, Vermont, and the District of Columbia combined. For sure, New York City is rather crammed, but it is certainly not an uncomfortable place to live in terms of space as many New Yorkers would affirm. Besides, many cities in other countries are far more densely populated.
New York City consists of five boroughs spanning five counties, the most densely populated of which is New York County. This county, which consists principally of the island of Manhattan, is far and away the most densely populated county in the U.S., housing 72,000 people per square mile. At that population density, the entire population of the United States could reside in the tiny State of Connecticut. Brooklyn has slightly less than half the population density of Manhattan. The top four most densely populated counties in America are all in New York City.
If all Americans lived at the same population density as the average population density of all five of New York City’s boroughs (approximately 28,000 people per square mile), we’d all fit comfortably in the combined area of Delaware and Maryland.
Or we can take the 10 million plus residents who call Los Angeles County home. If you are familiar with Los Angeles County, you know that life at this level of urbanization is not too uncomfortable nor unbearable, providing ample parks and open spaces. At a similar population density of Los Angeles County, the entire U.S. population could fit inside the state of New Mexico.
Again in reality we would still need to figure in access to adequate water resources and would need much more land area to account for agricultural purposes, public services, transportation and, of course, sustainability and conservation. But, this is merely another thought experiment to demonstrate that if America has enough room to fit its entire population comfortably into an area the size of New Mexico, the US has enough space for far many more people from outside its borders unlike what the anti-immigration lobby assert.
If truth is to be said, the USA’s fertility rate is falling below the replacement rate for the existing population and only because of immigration has an actual population decline been avoided and a future demographic problem averted. Rather than US politicians reacting with sanctions to turn away arrivals, for the health and wealth of the nation, they should be welcoming many more newcomers.
Numbers don’t matter, the type of system matters. It is not overpopulation that is the problem but the chronic underproduction that is a built in feature of capitalism.
The ‘overpopulation problem’ is really a misuse of resources problem. Capitalism, as a system of rationing via the market, is justified in people’s minds by a belief in scarcity. ‘There isn’t enough to go round’, so we must be restricted in what we are allowed to consume. It has become a cliché to speak of, ’this overcrowded country.’
We should not give the impression that everything is easy, that a massive expansion of available resources is a simple matter. For one thing, there may be environmental implications. But a socialist society is the best-equipped to handle these implications and to strike a balance. Not only is capitalism in effect a system of artificial scarcity, it is also a system of organised waste. Socialist society will use the resources of the Earth to ensure that every man, woman and child is amply fed, clothed and sheltered. Capitalism cannot do this — it does not exist for this purpose.
Many of you in the middle class are opposed to socialism. You still think there is some chance for you under capitalism and you fear that the socialists will take what little you have and divide it among the shiftless and thriftless. You need not have the slightest fear. The socialist has no use for your small capital; it would do (them) not the least good. (They are) after the earth, the trusts, and the machinery of production. Besides, soon you will have nothing to divide. When the big capitalists get through with you, you will be ready for us. You may not be ready yet, but you are ripening very rapidly. When you have been stripped of what you have, when you have become proletarians, when you have become expropriated, you will be ready to join us in expropriating the expropriators.
— Speech by Eugene Debs over 100 years ago in Chicago about the middle-class fear of socialism
Almost five years ago I wrote an article in Counterpunch: “Lost at Sea: Left Liberals Have No Party.” In that article I challenged the blithe interchangeability of the words “liberal” and “democrat”. I tracked eight historical changes of liberalism from left-liberal, to centrist-liberal to right-center liberals (neoliberals). I also argued that the words liberal and democracy are used interchangeably by liberals, even though it wasn’t until the 20th century that liberals were clearly for democracy (translated as universal suffrage for white males).
In my first article I slurred the differences between the upper-middle-class and the middle-class, advocating for both classes to get out of the Democratic Party. I have since come to see (as I will get into later) that the upper-middle-class has done very well under the umbrella of the Democrats and it is not in their material interests to leave. This is no longer true of the middle-class. Historically, the material interests of the middle-class and the upper-middle-class has more in common with each other than the working-class. In other words, the difference between news anchors, lawyers, senior managers on the one hand and high school teachers, librarians and supervisors on the other hand are more differences of degree than kind. After all, they all did mental work, as opposed to the physical work of the working-class. However, in the last 50 years middle-class life has gotten far worse than the life of the upper middle-class. It has gotten bad enough to be able to say it is closer to the working-class. Whether they realize it or not, for middle-class left liberals, the Democratic Party has left the building 40 years ago.
My claim in this article is that:
Middle-class FDR liberals need to leave the democrats and be part of building a new party
Middle-class left liberals need to form alliances with the working-class and the poor, not the upper middle-class
The new party should advocate for socialism
What follows is why this should be so.
Difference Between FDR Liberals and Neoliberals
Left liberal values
Left liberals are broadly for the following. They are pro-science as well as for investing in scientific research and development as well as investing in infrastructure. They are for the separation of church and state as well as for the use of reason in problem-solving, such as raising children through what is called “authoritative parenting”. They support the matriarchal state: universal health care, unemployment, pensions, food stamps and a minimum wage automatically raised to keep up with inflation. They expect the state to intervene in the economy to soften the hard edges of capitalism, following a Keynesian economic policy. They are committed to gradual change and a lessening of race and gender stratification. Left liberals support an expansion of unions. This left liberalism has been present in the United States for roughly 40 years, from the mid-1930s to the mid-1970s. Since then, Democratic Party has slid further and further right to the point that their platform today is a center-right neoliberal party which embodies none of these values. The problem is the collective denial left liberals have in ignoring this fact.
Right-wing neoliberal values
Neoliberals are directly opposed to the matriarchal state. They support the economic policies of Milton Friedman and Friedrich Von Hayek with minimum state involvement in the economy. Neoliberals have withdrawn funding from long-term science programs. They have presided over the rise of New Age thinking initiated by Marilyn Ferguson’s book TheAquarian Conspiracy. Neoliberals have become extreme relativists championing the rise of identity politics which began in the early 1970s. Neoliberals have lost hope and have failed to bring the principles of the Enlightenment forward. They have abandoned investment in profits made on manufacturing and instead make their profits on the defense industry, arming the entire world. Under their rein most of the remaining profit is invested in finance capital.
Neoliberals have presided over the destruction of unions over last fifty years. They have stood by and watched the full-time, well paid secure working-class jobs disappear. Work hours under neoliberalism have gone from 40 hours per week to at least 50 hours per week for those lucky enough to be employed full-time. In general, the standard of living has declined in the US so that the next generation can expect to make less than their parents. It’s no accident that credit cards became available to the working-class in the early 1970s, so workers didn’t have to directly face the fact that their standard of living had declined. The civil rights movement spoke to what minorities had in common with organized labor, which was low-cost housing and fair wages. Today we have individualist identity politics where being recognized for your identity along with using politically correct language is all that is asked for. In the 1960s, community college was free. In the last 50 years the cost of college education is so high that student debt appears to be debt for life.
Neoliberals have supported the explosion of the prison-industrial complex which has expanded many times over since the 60s despite the rate of crime going down. The police departments have been equipped with military weapons that make the equipment of police prior to the 1970s pale in comparison. They have presided over the growth of the insurance industry and the pharmaceutical companies which now have control over our physical and mental health. The official diagnostic manual was 50 pages in 1950. Today the same manual is well over 1000 pages. Today upper-middle-class parents are no longer authoritative but instead are practicing a form of “permissive parenting”, which easily results in spoiled, narcissistic children, with helicopter parents fretting endlessly over their little darling’s self-esteem. Please see Table A for a comparison.
Differences Between Middle Class and Upper Middle Class
Not everyone is middle-class
In the United States, most people think of themselves as middle-class. Last time I checked 80% of the working-class mistakenly thought they were middle-class. Why? Because in Yankeedom, it’s an embarrassment to be working-class. So too, upper-middle-class people, nervous about being seen as well-to-do, play down their wealth. Nevertheless, there are real parameters around what it means to be middle-class, as I’ll get to. But first the social class composition.
Social class composition
Based on the work of William Domhoff, in his books Who Rules America and The Powers That Be, the ruling-class and the upper-class together compose about 5% of the population. They live off stocks and bonds and don’t have to work. Their investments are principally in oil, mining, the military and banking. They have been characterized as “old money” and are mostly Republicans.
The upper-middle-class is about 10% of the population. They make most of their money off scientific innovations like computers, internet and electronics. They are called “new money” and are mostly Democrats. Upper-middle-class people are also doctors, lawyers, architects, senior managers, scientists and engineers, as well as media professionals such as news commentators, magazine and newspaper editors, college administrators and religious authorities.
The middle-class consists of about 25% of the population. Occupational examples include high school and grammar school teachers, registered nurses, librarians, corporate middle managers, self-employed artisans and tiny little mom-and-pop operations. The middle-class is at the bottom rung of the Democratic Party not well-represented at all.
The working-class is about 40% of the population and consists of skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled workers. The skilled working-class include carpenters, welders and electricians, wait-staff and store clerks who are likely to vote Democrat. Their interests are not represented by the Democratic Party either. The semi-skilled are bus drivers or train operators and along with unskilled are less likely to vote. The last 10% consist of what Marx called the “lumpenproletariat” who live by their wits as prostitutes, hustlers, gamblers or those on welfare. These folks are not likely to vote either.
Income is not the most important determinant of social class: the nine dimensions of social class
When most Yankees try to understand social class, the first thing they think of is how much income a person has. But this is only one of the nine dimensions of social class, and not the most important one. Most of these dimensions are covered in the work of Marxist Erik Olin Wright as well as some of the followers of Max Weber. The first dimension of social class is technical, and this consists of three parts: a) the proportion of mental and physical work the job requires; b) the amount of independence or interdependence the kind of work involves; and c) the proportion of the work that is mechanical rote work versus creativity. So typically, a good upper-middle-class job will involve mental work, be independent from others and involve creativity. At the other end of the spectrum is unskilled working-class labor which predominantly involves physical labor and working with other people, while the work itself is repetitive. Other social classes have various combinations in between.
The second dimension of social class is political and economic authority relations. This consists of two sub-categories. The first is the degree of power the person has over resources, tools, goods and services. A capitalist has control over all these things. Workers usually have control over none of them, except that skilled workers might own their own tools. The second sub-category has to do with the proportion of order-giving and order-taking involved. The owner of a company gives orders and takes no orders. His workers take orders and don’t give orders. Middle-class people in corporations may give orders to workers but must take orders from senior management. This category is simply – who gets to boss around who and under what conditions.
The third dimension of social class is mobility. How easy is it to move up or down the class hierarchy both within one’s lifetime or across generations? The fourth dimension of social class is resources. Most people think of resources in terms of income. But wealth also includes assets such as inheritance, real estate, stocks, bonds and property. Sometimes upper-class people may work only part time, but it would be deceptive to make sense of their class position by some part-time job when they have an inheritance.
The fifth dimension of social class is education. This consists of the number of years of school completed as well as the quality of the school attended. The sixth dimension of social class is status. This is the degree of prestige in which one’s occupation is held by others. One reason why income is unstable as an indicator of social class is that some workers can make a good deal of money, such as unionized garbage collectors, but have low status. Conversely, an adjunct college instructor can have high status among the Yankee population but make significantly less money than a garbage collector.
The seventh dimension of social class is lifestyle and consumption patterns. This has four sub-categories. The first is health – birth and death rates. As many of you know, working-class people die on average seven years younger than people in the middle and upper-middle-classes. The second sub-category is how people dress, their speech patterns, body mannerisms and manners. The third sub-category is their recreational habits – whether they ski, play baseball or go bowling. The last sub-category is their religious beliefs. Religions are class divided. In the case of the protestants, there are the Unitarians, Episcopalians and Presbyterians near the top and Baptists and fundamentalists at the bottom.
The eighth dimensions of social class is the degree of awareness people have of their social class. Generally, the upper class and the ruling class are extremely class conscious and are very fussy about who is allowed into their circles. The upper-middle-class and the middle-class tend to be less class conscious. In countries other than the United States, the working-class is very class conscious. But here in Yankeedom, workers see themselves as “temporarily indisposed millionaires”. The last social dimension of class is the ability to take collective action. Capitalists at the end of World War II and soon thereafter organized a big campaign to win back the allegiance of workers. The ruling class has exclusive clubs in which they organize class strategy. The World Economic Forum and the Bilderberg group are examples. At the other end of the spectrum, when workers join unions or strike, they are showing class consciousness. No social class fits neatly into each dimension. There are what Wright calls “contradictory class locations” where a person is caught between two classes either between generations or within their lifetime.
Why does class count?
Why have I gone over the dimensions of social class in such detail? One reason is to show that upper middle-class people and middle-class people are not interchangeable. They vary in the technical division of labor, authority relations, class mobility, resources, education, status, lifestyle, degree of class consciousness and their willingness to take collective action. They also differ in their attitudes towards the meaning of work, as well as in their attitudes towards time and eating habits. If we want to suggest that the middle-class should break its alliance with the upper middle-class and get out of the Democratic Party, we have to expand and deepen their differences as I am starting to demonstrate.
Summary: two reasons why middle-class left liberal should get out the Democratic Party
Summarizing, the first thing we needed to do is to establish that the Democratic Party is a center-right neoliberal party which has next to nothing to do with being left-liberal. This is reason A to get out of the Democratic Party. The second reason is that the Democratic Party serves the interests of the upper-middle-class not the middle-class. The most obvious indicator of why the middle-class should no longer align themselves with the upper-middle-class is to understand what has happened since the crash of 2008. Both Thomas Piketty and Richard Wolff argue that the “economic recovery” was very class specific. The rulers, the upper class and the upper middle-class have done considerably better in that “recovery”. All other social classes, including the middle-class, have done worse. The middle-class, economically and in other dimensions, is far closer to the working-class than it has ever been. Reason B to get out of the Democratic Party.
But can these two classes really get along? There is a built-in tension and discomfort about doing mental work and physical work; there are differences in the degree of status in the two classes’ occupations. If we want to move middle-class people and working-class people closer together, we have to understand their commonalities and where the tension points are in their differences.
Similarities and Differences Between Middle Class and Working Class People
The biggest similarity between the two classes is a decline in the standard of living. This includes income, work stability, increase in hours worked and lack of benefits. Another commonality is sports. Working-class people and middle-class people can unite around being fans of baseball, football and basketball professional teams. In terms of music, rock or country rock might bring these two classes together. Another commonality is that both classes have what sociologists have defined as achieved status. Unlike the upper classes, they usually do not come into life with an inheritance. Lastly, both classes see hard work as a virtue.
One of the major differences between these two classes is that middle-class people make their living primarily by doing mental and/or supervisory work. Working-class people make their living primarily with their hands and their bodies. A second major obstacle to overcome is that middle-class jobs usually have higher status. The third difference is that middle-class people often give orders to working-class people, but the reverse is not the case. This can lead to jealousy and resentment among working-class people. Middle-class people are very individualistic and not likely to organize as a class. There is likely to be tension between the classes when the working-class agitates to start a union or take strike action. There are also differences between the classes around the meaning of work. For working-class people, the meaning of work is less important than the money and material benefits. Some middle-class people might trade off a higher paying job for work that seems socially redeeming to them.
In terms of resources middle-class people today are likely to own their own home and have stocks and bonds. Working-class people’s assets are usually a car and possibly a home. Mostly they do not own stocks. Whatever savings account they have, that is it. There are also differences in their health conditions. Working-class people are likely to have eating, drinking and smoking problems and middle-class people are healthier. Working-class people are more likely to go to gambling casinos and play the lottery. Middle-class people see that as a waste of time and money.
Another tension point is education. Usually, middle-class people will have a bachelor’s or master’s degree, while working-class people will have no degree or an associate degree at best. Middle-class people will dress, speak and have manners that will be different from the working-class, and this will produce class tensions. Middle-class and working-class people will attend different religious denominations. Working-class religious services invite submission, confessions of being a sinner as well as altered states of consciousness like speaking in tongues, singing and dancing in the church aisles. In middle-class religions, there is less pressure to make you feel like you are a sinner. At the same time, sermons are designed to appeal to what is reasonable rather than to force you to have a revelatory experience which alters one’s state of consciousness.
Middle Class People Meet Socialists
Surely you are kidding
Let’s suppose middle-class left liberals have enough doubts about the Democratic Party because they are no longer New Deal liberals, and they’re starting to see that the party no longer looks out for middle-class interests. Let’s assume that economic, political and ecological disasters will continue to plague capitalism, and somehow a third party – a mass party – has emerged founded on socialism and is getting up a head of steam. This party has some working-class support as well as some union support. What would it take for middle-class left liberals to join?
Fears Middle-class Liberals Have About Socialists
Dictatorship and one-party rule
In its propaganda war with socialism, capitalists inevitably point out some of what it perceives to be the dictatorial tendencies of communism – in Russia, China and Cuba – as the archetypal example of socialism. What it does not do is study the conditions under which one-party rule occurred and what the authorities were up against. I am not going to get into pros and cons of this here because this kind of socialism – whether Stalinist or Maoist – is only one type of socialism. There are six types of socialism. Starting from the right and moving leftward there are social democrats and then three kinds of Leninists – Maoists, Stalinists and Trotskyists. Continuing leftward, there are left communists or council communists and the anarchists. In my efforts to convince middle-class liberals of the feasibility of socialism I will address as much as I can what most or all of these types are in agreement on. For now, let’s just say that dictatorial rule is not a foundational principle of socialism, even for the Stalinist and Maoist parties that have been called dictatorial by capitalists.
Furthermore, I think it is ludicrous for members of the Democratic Party to complain about the one-party rule of socialists when in Yankeedom there are only two parties. The Democratic Party is hardly democratic when it only serves the interests of the about 10% of the population (Republicans serve the ruling and upper classes) and leaves over 85% with no representation at all. The party I call the “Republicrats”, representing 15% of the population, is one party, the party of capital.
Confusion of personal property with social property
We socialists have a running joke on our Facebook posts, mostly in reaction to over-the-top conservatives who think we want to abolish personal property. We say “yes indeed, we are coming for your tooth brush.” That perceived threat is accompanied by imagining that socialists are all having group sex. But seriously, when we socialists say we want to abolish private property we only mean social property. We want to abolish capitalist control over water, food, energy systems, tools, all the necessities that people need to live. We don’t believe resources that everyone needs in order to live should be privately owned. On the other hand, personal property will remain with the individual as it would under capitalism.
Discouragement of innovation
Capitalism has a very shallow and narrow understanding of human nature. Capitalists imagine that people are lazy at heart and unless the carrot is held in front of people – the prospect of being a millionaire – they will do nothing. Further, they look at the types of “leisure” activities a working-class person enjoys after another 50-hour work week and take those as representing what human nature is really like. For example, on Friday night the worker wants to play cards. On Saturday he watches a ball game and have a few beers and on Sunday he sleeps in. For the capitalist this is lazy. What the capitalist thinks is that if workers did not have to work, then playing cards, watching football, drinking, getting laid and sleeping is all he would ever do. What the capitalist doesn’t understand is that the entire weekend is not leisure at all. Its recovery from the week and preparation for the new week.
Under conditions of socialist work, alienation would be minor – and I am being conservative here. The natural collective creativity on the job will arise. People will work less, perhaps 30 hours a week at first. Because workers will control the workplaces as well as decide what to produce, how to produce it, how much they should work and how they will be compensated, work will be a joy, not a curse as under capitalism. There will be plenty of room for innovation, in fact, much more than under capitalism where most workers are imprisoned in wage labor and told not to be curious and not have their own ideas about how things should be run.
All this collective creativity gives the lie to the ridiculous capitalist notion that people want socialism because they want “free stuff” with no contribution. All socialist plans have a budget and decisions have to be made about what and how the budget will be spent. No one will “get out of working”. What the capitalist cannot imagine is that under socialism people will want to work. The idea of not working would be painful – not liberating.
Equality of poverty
In its heyday, between the 1930s and the 1970s, the Swedish Social Democratic Labor Party was a socialist society which produced great material wealth. The socialist countries that have been showcased by capitalists as poor – the Soviet Union, China and Cuba – were only poor during certain times of their existence. What capitalists fail to inform us of is that before the socialist revolutions, as Michael Parenti points out, those countries were even more poor. What material wealth does exist in capitalist societies has taken hundreds of years to build up. In China today, absolute poverty was eradicated within 40 years.
There will be far more innovation than existed under capitalism because under socialism the workplaces will be controlled by the workers and workers’ activities will be guided by an overall plan. To cite one instance, before Yugoslavia was destroyed by capitalists, Yugoslavian productivity under worker self-management was higher than in any capitalist country. The same was true during the Spanish Revolution under worker self-management in both industry and in agriculture.
People are naturally greedy
Cross-cultural research on happiness has found that there is a direct correlation between money and happiness when people move from poverty to a middle-class life. However, the movement from middle-class to upper-middle-class and beyond is no longer correlated to happiness. In other words, people who are upper class or upper-middle-class are not any more likely to be happy than are middle-class people. This gives the lie to the capitalist notion that people are greedy and that everyone secretly wants to be a millionaire. What is more likely is that people want to be middle-class. They want basics in material security. After that they want other things; creativity on the job, to be able to contribute to society and to be recognized for their work, to mention only a few things.
Socialists will want to abolish religion
I admit that the state socialist attempt to decree the abolition of religion was a big mistake. I also think that doing so was contrary to the principles of materialism Marxists aspire to. While I stand firm in the ontological belief that there are no gods or god, at the same time I understand the degree to which people wish to hold on to religion as an expression of their alienation of social life. As generations pass and prosperous ways of life become normalized, I predict three things will happen. First, more people will become atheists. Secondly, those who continue to believe in religion will notice that the nature of the gods, or god, will change. The gods or god will blend more with the nature we know because social life will be more likely to begin to resemble heaven on earth. Third, the fundamentalist religions that plague many working-class people will disappear because the working-class will no longer consider themselves sinners or need fire and brimstone to make things right.
Commonalities Between Middle-Class Left Liberals and Socialists
Need for a mass party
We socialists think you’ll agree with us that we badly need a mass party that can speak to the needs of the 25% of us who are middle-class and the 40% percent of us who are working-class. This party will develop a program and a step-by-step plan for implementation of the plan over the next 5, 10 and 15 years. It will be a dues-paying party and we will implement methods for getting input into what the plan will be. The issues will be prioritized, and everyone will have a say in carrying out the plan. Once the plan is set, people will be able to sign up for tasks they agree to carry out over the course of weeks and months. In addition to a thirty-hour work week, approximately five hours per week will be devoted to this “political” work.
Massive support for Unions
We socialists know that you left liberals have supported unions from the 1930s to the early 1970s. However, we also know that it was under liberal presidents that the best organizers of unions, the communists and the socialists, were drummed out of unions in the 1950s. This limited the vision of unions as they turned into “business unions”. We also think you should be very upset with the neoliberals in the Democratic Party who have not supported unions for the last 50 years, causing union representation in Yankeedom to be now less than 10%. We hold neoliberals directly responsible for the fact that wages, working conditions and job security are pretty much last in the industrial capitalist societies. The vision of unions needs to be built back up to the ways of the Industrial Workers of the World who saw unions as workshops for how to run a society, not merely a way to sustain and improve everyday working conditions.
Society can be engineered
Like you, we socialists agree with the great project of the Enlightenment that a better society can be engineered by its members. Unlike conservatives, we do not accept that social organizations should be ruled by kings, aristocrats, priests or any traditional authorities. Neither do we think society is some kind of reform school in preparation for the next life. We also don’t think society is best governed by the automatic preservation of traditional institutions that have been here the longest. Like you, we agree in the notion of progress.
The value of science and technology in producing a society of abundance
Like you we are very disappointed and angry that capitalists have chosen to invest their profits in warfare and in finance capital rather than in scientific research that could make our lives better. We also think you should blame the neoliberals for allowing this to happen over the course of the last 50 years. As socialists we have always felt that the scientific method is the best way to know things and that science is a crucial ingredient in Marx’s call to “develop the productive forces”. For us, the creation of socialism was never any kind of sacrifice or doing with less. Nor are we unrealistic about human nature. We fully understand that the foundation of socialism has to be the production of more than enough wealth to go around. With abundance in place, there is no motivation for stealing or wanting what others have.
The value of the state overview
We socialists are in complete agreement with the value you hold about the importance of the functions of the matriarchically state. We also think it is important that the matriarchal state take over the realm of overall planning. This does not mean that all social production and distribution is centrally planned with no feedback from the local and regional levels. We see the relationship between the three in a dialectical manner. The local and regional levels feed up to the state level what products and services are needed. The state incorporates our feedback but then makes adjustments based on the fact that at the local and regional level we cannot see the whole. Once the state produces an over-all plan, that is then fed down to the local and regional levels. It will no doubt take a number of times for there to be a smooth “cybernetic” rhythm established.
Micro-level – the value of cooperative learning and authoritative parenting
We socialists are well aware that you middle-class left liberals have always supported public schools. Some of the more visionary of you might have had the money to send your children to a Montessori school. Some of you might have heard the name Lev Vygotsky and associated him with cooperative learning, which is used in Montessori education. What you probably were never told was that Vygotsky was a communist and he and his followers, Alexander Luria and Aleksei N Leontiev, founded a whole school of psychology, the “socio-historical school of psychology”. They developed a theory of cooperative learning that has been applied not only in school settings but in the design of social intelligence tests, the development of theories of cognitive development and in working with the deaf. Vygotsky’s work could be massively applied to the fields of social psychology, and possibly to therapy, as one group in New York City is currently doing.
Lastly, we admire the way that many of you have raised your children using authoritative child-rearing methods. You have avoided both extremes in child rearing. On the one hand are the authoritarian methods of conservative child rearing which raises children who are repressed, frightened and lack curiosity. On the other hand, it is the permissive parenting of upper-middle-class neoliberal parents that has turned out a generation of narcissistic, entitled, ungrateful brats who are the product of neoliberal schooling where the focus was on raising self-esteem in every school program. We think the authoritative (as opposed to authoritarian) method with its flexible structure, welcoming of dialogue, appeal to reason, rather than emotion is the best way to raise children. We are on the same page with you.
Deeper Differences between Middle-Class Left Liberals and Socialists
Commitment to an antiwar international policy
We socialists have always been against wars because we know they are usually turf wars between capitalists about resources and that it is the workers and the poor people who do the fighting, not the capitalists. As far as wars go, we know that your class has supported the Cold War and the war in Vietnam. Beyond the 1970s you seem to have treated these wars with less enthusiasm except for perhaps, the war on Iraq. As it stands now, the capitalists in Yankeedom not only make a fortune in military warfare to “protect our borders” but they also arm the entire world. If counties decided to end their wars the capitalists here would be destitute. These wars need to end, not just because of the senseless deaths at home and abroad, but for pragmatic reasons. All this money could go into the trillions of dollars’ worth of infrastructural work that is left undone. Suppose the military was employed on these infrastructural projects. Suppose the military was employed to build low-cost housing in every city. Living in a society of abundance requires the reinvestment in the military from wars abroad to infrastructure and natural disaster relief at home.
Anti-imperialist international policy
We socialists are also against imperialist wars where capitalists invade other countries to steal their political or economic resources, land and labor to make a profit. This can be most blatantly seen in Africa. Yankeedom also continues its imperialist ventures in Latin America, regularly attempting to overthrow governments there. Why? For the simple reason that freely elected governments (socialist or not) may have the nerve to set their own economic policy, which might not necessarily be friendly to transnational corporations.
Yankee capitalists want to rule the world and they don’t want any competition.
China, Russia and Iran refuse to tow the line and have formed an alliance. The Chinese represent the best hope of the world now. Why are they such a threat to the United States? Because they are making a profit through building infrastructures, not just in China but in other parts of the world. China, Russia and Iran have also withdrawn from the US dollar as a use of international currency, which costs the western banks in significant loss of profits. Yankee capitalists are slitting their own throats, and ours as well, by acting like big-shot imperialists fifty years after their time has passed and their own territory is falling apart. As middle-class people we think you can see that nothing good can come from this and we need to rebuild our own society.
Dismantling the Deep State
Unfortunately, most middle-class people don’t know any more about the FBI and the CIA and what these organizations do to promote themselves, including what is on television and in movies. The FBI has upended or ruined the lives of socialists for decades. Their role in undermining the New Left has been documented in David Cunningham’s book There’s Something Happening Here. The CIA is in a class by itself, the world’s most powerful terrorist organization. I will limit myself to three books: The Mighty Wurlitzer by Hugh Wilford; The Cultural Cold War by Frances Stoner Saunders and The Devil’s Chessboard by David Talbot. Funding for these organization should be ended, and the sooner the better.
Class Dismissed, Where Left Liberals Missed the Boat
For socialists of any stripe, social class has been the foundation for understanding capitalism. The capitalist class makes its profits by exploiting the working-class. As Marx points out, workers produce all the wealth, but they are given only about 40% in the form of wages (the first four hours of their labor) which allows them to support themselves. But the worker works another 6 hours. Who gets the value from that? The employer. The employer uses the rest of the surplus value produced by the worker to pay the middle-class managers, pay landlords for the use of plant and set aside funds to pay the state in taxes. They claim the remainder of the surplus as profit. Middle-class people have stood structurally between the working-class and the capitalists, giving orders to workers, taking orders from capitalists. There are other social classes as I’ve discussed earlier but the major dynamic is between the capitalist and the worker.
Middle-class people, like most other classes, do not talk about this because class is about political and economic power between groups. It is uncomfortable and middle-class people among others have been afraid to discuss this. Why? Because they feel guilty, that maybe it is their fault they have a better life? Maybe they owe the workers something? Middle-class people need to get over this, because the fact is, you are sliding south, in the same direction as the working-class. In fact, you now have more in common with working-class people than upper middle-class people.
Race relations: Social Movements vs Individualist Identity Politics
Strange as it may seem, middle-class people have been more comfortable talking about race than class. After all, many middle-class people prided themselves as left liberals by supporting the civil rights movement. This was a social movement in which racial minorities joined together to fix objective conditions such as higher pay, better housing, legal rights. I suspect most of you did not know that Martin Luther King, a paradigm of middle-class respectability, was a socialist.
However, since the mid 1970s, but especially from the 1990s on, race relations have turned from a social movement into something different. Identity politics is a psychological spin-off from the civil rights movement with a very different agenda. In the hands of upper middle-class, neoliberals of all colors, including lawyers and university professors, identity politics has been used to win political seats in the Democratic Party. They do this by focusing on the rights of individuals to recognition, the right to be called a certain pronoun and rights to declare being offended by this or that innuendo. Identity politics has crippled the ability of working-class and middle-class people to form alliances by dragging meetings through competitive battles as to who is more offended than whom. When an organization as corrupt as the ruling class Democratic Party starts babbling about “white privilege” it’s time to get off that sinking ship. The mess that race relations are today is made worse by the upper middle-class neoliberals seizing on identity politics. Here is yet another reason to dump the Democratic Party and any alliance with the upper middle-class. A terrific short book that lays out the limitations of identity politics is Mistaken Identity by Asad Haider.
Democracy is economic and participatory more than political representation
Middle-class left liberals in the 20th century have thought of democracy as synonymous with voting. Democracy was having the right to vote for one of the two major parties. For socialists this is a sham. Both parties are ruling class parties and workers have nothing to say about what candidates are running and what they will do after the election. For us, democracy is economic. We think it is ridiculous to imagine we live in a democracy when we go to work to be bossed around from beginning to the end of the day by the employer. For us, democracy begins and ends in the workplace. Workers should have a say in what is produced, how it is produced, where it is distributed, how long we work and how we are compensated. In addition, within socialism democracy is also present by its involvement in city planning. This includes participatory planning councils at the local level, participating in setting agendas and deciding how city revenue should be spent. Under socialism, political parties will still have their place, but they will operate under direct democracy, not representational democracy.
The future of capitalism
All socialists are against capitalism except for some right-wing social democrats who believe in a mixed economy. For us, capitalism is a system plagued by crises and inherently unstable. Various Marxist crisis theorists have developed theories about how and why capitalism will end. Even non-Marxist political economists have theories about how it will end. Please see my article “Name Me One Capitalist Country That Works: A Thirty Year Reckoning” for more sources. Where I think we can agree is that capitalist profits should not be made on wars, or on fictitious capital. It is the neoliberals, not you, who have made profits on fictitious capital and wars over the past 50 years. Rather, capitalist profits should be made on the production of goods and services. We still think that eventually capitalism will fail even if it only produces goods and services, but we can’t convince you of that until we are further down the road.
What is the place of competitive markets? Some of you might feel that having markets is a better mechanism for quickly finding out what people need and how those goods and services have been delivered. As Michael Parenti writes in Black Shirts and Reds, the central planning mechanisms in the USSR were no bargain. At the same time, we know that during the Spanish Revolution, the workers and peasants self-organized in industry and on farms for 3 years, covering millions of people and had better production records than the Spanish government had before the revolution. So, our choices are more than choosing between the state and the market. In the new society perhaps there might be a minor place for markets instead of state planning or worker planning, but the markets should never be among the major players. We can do better than markets.
Anujath Sindhu Vinaylal (India), My mother and the mothers in the neighborhood, 2017.
Indian farmers and agricultural workers have crossed the hundred-day mark of their protest against the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. They will not withdraw until the government repeals laws that deliver the advantages of agriculture to large corporate houses. This, the farmers and agricultural workers say, is an existential struggle. Surrender is equivalent to death: even before these laws were passed, more than 315,000 Indian farmers had committed suicide since 1995 because of the debt burden placed on them.
Over the next one and a half months, assembly elections will take place in four Indian states (Assam, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and West Bengal) and in one union territory (Puducherry). There are 225 million people who live in these four states, which would, if measured by itself, make this area the fifth largest country in the world after Indonesia. Prime Minister Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is not a serious contender in any of these states.
Gopika Babu (India), Community, 2021.
In Kerala (population 35 million), the Left Democratic Front has been in the government for the past five years, during which it has confronted a number of serious crises: the aftereffects of Cyclone Ockhi in 2017, the Nipah virus outbreak of 2018, the floods of 2018 and 2019, and then the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, Kerala’s health minister, K.K. Shailaja, has earned the nickname the ‘Coronavirus Slayer’ because of the state’s rapid and comprehensive approach to breaking the chain of infection. All polls indicate that the Left will return to the government, breaking an anti-incumbency trend in the state since 1980.
Vijay Prashad speaks to Kerala’s Finance Minister Thomas Isaac about the upcoming legislative elections in Kerala, courtesy of Peoples Dispatch.
To better understand the great gains made by the Left Democratic Front government over the past five years, I spoke to Kerala’s Finance Minister T. M. Thomas Isaac, a Central Committee member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist). Isaac begins by telling me that the switch back and forth between the Left Front and the Right Front, as he called it, has ‘cost Kerala a lot of social advancement’. If the Left wins again, he says, it will ‘be in power continuously for ten years. That is a sufficiently long period to leave a very substantial imprint upon Kerala’s development process’.
The general orientation of the Left’s approach toward Kerala’s development, Isaac said, has been ‘a kind of hop, step, and jump’:
The hop, the first stage, is redistributive politics. Kerala has been very noted for that. Our trade union movement has succeeded in having significant redistribution of income. Kerala has the highest wage rates in the country. Our peasant movement has been able to redistribute landed assets through a very successful land reform programme. Powerful social movements which pre-date even the Left movement in Kerala, [and] whose tradition the Left has carried forward, have pressurised successive governments which have been in power in Kerala to provide education, healthcare, [and for the] basic needs of everyone. Therefore, in Kerala, an ordinary person enjoys a quality of life which is much superior to the rest of India.
But there is a problem with this process. Because we have to spend so much on the social sector, there won’t be sufficient money [or] resources for building infrastructure. So [after] a programme of social development spread over more than half a century, there’s a serious infrastructure deficit in Kerala.
Our present government has been very remarkable in meeting the crises, ensuring that there is no social breakdown, ensuring that nobody in Kerala would go hungry, and [that] everybody will get treatment during COVID times and so on. But we did something more remarkable.
Junaina Muhammed (India), Green Kerala, 2021.
What the government did was to build the state’s infrastructure and begin to pivot to another economic foundation. The amount needed to upgrade the infrastructure is staggering, about Rs. 60,000 crores (or $11 billion). How does a Left government raise the funds to finance this kind of infrastructural development? Kerala, as a state within India, cannot borrow beyond a certain limit, so the Left government set up instruments such as the Kerala Infrastructure Investment Fund Board (KIIFB). Through the Board, the government was able to spend Rs. 10,000 crores (US$1.85 billion) and ‘has produced a remarkable change in the infrastructure’. After the hop (redistribution) and infrastructural development (step), comes the jump:
The jump is the programme that we have placed before the people. Now that infrastructure is there, [such as] transmission lines, assured electricity, industrial parks for investors to come and invest, we will have K-FON [Kerala-Fibre Optic Network], a super-highway of internet owned by the state, which is available to any service provider. [It ensures] equal treatment to everybody; nobody will have an [undue] advantage. And we are going to provide internet to everybody. It is the right of every individual. All the poor are going to get broadband connectivity for free.
All of this has provided a background for us to take the next big jump. That is, we now want to change the economic base of our economy. Our economic base is commercial crops, which are in serious crisis because of opening up [to ‘free trade’], or labour-intensive traditional industries, or very polluting chemical industries and so on. Therefore, we realise now, industries which are of our core competence would be knowledge industries, service industries, skill-based industries, and so on. Now how do you make this paradigm shift from your traditional economic base to the new [one]?
Kadambari Vaiga (India), High-tech School, 2020.
What will the new economic opportunities be for Kerala? First, because of the shift to the digital platform economy, Kerala will now develop its IT industry with the immense advantages of the state’s high literacy rates as well as 100% state-funded internet connectivity that will soon be available to the entire population. This, Isaac said, ‘is going to have a tremendous impact upon women’s employment’. Second, Kerala’s Left government will restructure higher education to promote innovation and deepen Kerala’s history of cooperative production (the example here is the Uralungal Labour Contract Cooperative Society, which recently rebuilt an old bridge in five months, seven months ahead of schedule).
Kerala aims to go beyond the paradigms of the Gujarat Model (high rates of growth for capitalist firms, but little social security and welfare for the people), the Uttar Pradesh Model (neither high growth nor social welfare), and the model that would provide high welfare but little industrial growth. The new Kerala project would go for high but managed growth and high welfare. ‘We want to create in Kerala [the basis for] individual dignity of life, security, and welfare’, Isaac says, which requires both industry and welfare. ‘We are not a socialist country’, he reminds me; ‘we are part of Indian capitalism. But in this part, within the limitations, we shall design a society which will inspire all progressive-thinking people in India. Yes, it is possible to build something different. That’s the idea of Kerala’.
A key element in the Kerala Model is the powerful social movements that grip the state. Amongst them is a mass front of the hundred-year-old communist movement and the All-India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA), which formed forty years ago in 1981 and which has a membership in excess of ten million women. One of the founders of AIDWA was Kanak Mukherjee (1921-2005). Kanakdi, as she was called, joined the freedom movement at the age of ten and never stopped fighting to emancipate our world from the chains of colonialism and capitalism. In 1938, at the age of seventeen, Kanakdi joined the Communist Party of India, using her immense talents to organise students and industrial workers. In 1942, as part of the anti-fascist struggle, Kanakdi helped found the Mahila Atma Raksha Samiti (‘Women’s Self Defence Committee’), which played a key role in helping those devastated by the Bengal Famine of 1943 – a famine created by imperialist policy that resulted in as many as three million deaths. These experiences deepened Kanakdi’s commitment to the communist struggle, to which she devoted the rest of her life.
To honour this pioneer communist, Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research dedicated our second feminisms study (Women of Struggle, Women in Struggle) to her life and work. Professor Elisabeth Armstrong, who was a key contributor to this study, recently published a book on AIDWA, which is now out as a paperback from LeftWord Books.
Today, organisations such as AIDWA continue to lift the confidence and power of working-class and peasant women, whose role has been considerable in Kerala and in the farmer’s revolt, as well as in struggles across the world. They speak out not only about their suffering but also about their aspirations, their great dreams of a socialist society – dreams that need to be built alongside other instruments such as the Left Democratic Front government in Kerala.