The U.S. Killer Drone Program Stays Afloat on the Back of Lies and Pentagon Propaganda. By: Leonard C. GoodmanRead Now
A wrongly targeted Afghan aid worker and his family are among the latest casualties.
On August 29, in the final days of our 20-year occupation of Afghanistan, the United States launched a drone strike, firing a 20-pound Hellfire missile at an aid worker named Zemari Ahmadi as he parked his car outside his home in a residential neighborhood of Kabul. The lethal strike killed Ahmadi and nine members of his family, including seven children, five of whom were younger than 10. The children had come outside to meet Ahmadi as he returned home from his job at an American NGO where he distributed food to Afghans displaced by the war. He and his family had applied for refugee resettlement in the United States.
When a surviving member of Ahmadi’s family complained publicly about the errant strike that slaughtered so many members of his family, the Pentagon did what it has been doing for 20 years in Afghanistan. It lied.
According to the New York Times, the Pentagon claimed that Ahmadi was a facilitator for the Islamic State, and that his car was packed with explosives, posing an imminent threat to U.S. troops guarding the evacuation at the Kabul airport. General Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., commander of the U.S. Central Command, said the drone strike dealt ISIS Khorasan a crushing blow. General Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, called it a “righteous strike.”
When it was confirmed that children as young as two had died in the strike, the Pentagon suggested that any civilian deaths resulted from the detonation of explosives inside the vehicle that was targeted. The military produced an assessment that the occupants of the vehicle were wearing suicide vests and that the car itself was packed with explosives.
Most of our drone strikes take place in remote areas and no follow-up investigation is ever conducted. However, the slaughter of Ahmadi’s family took place 2 miles from the Kabul airport, at which American reporters were stationed covering the chaotic evacuation of U.S. troops and allies. In the days following the deadly drone strike, reporters from the New York Times conducted a thorough investigation, visiting Ahmadi’s home and place of work, viewing video footage from security cameras, and consulting with weapons experts.
This investigation quickly confirmed that every official statement of the Pentagon was false. Ahmadi did not visit an Islamic State safe house on the day of his death; he visited his office. His car was not loaded with explosives; it was loaded with water canisters he was bringing home to his family because there was a water shortage in his neighborhood.
After the publication of the New York Times investigation, the Pentagon conceded that it had made a tragic, but “honest” mistake when it assassinated Ahmadi and his family by drone. No one has been held accountable for the deadly mistake.
Targeted drone killing is an innovation of the war on terror. It facilitates continuous war by making it appear less costly and more humane. Indeed, President Biden has already announced that the U.S. will continue launching drone strikes from afar after its withdrawal from Afghanistan. Similar language was used when Biden announced an end to American support “for offensive operations in the war in Yemen,” while reserving the right to continue killing Yemenis if it believes they are linked to ISIS or Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
And of course don’t expect any peace dividend from the end of the Afghan war. In September, the House approved, in bipartisan fashion, $778 billion in military spending for 2022, a $37 billion increase over our 2021 military budget. More than half the funds we’ve sent to the Pentagon since 9/11—or about $8 trillion—has ended up in the pockets of private corporations such as Lockheed Martin, Boeing, General Dynamics, Raytheon, and Northrop Grumman. These companies then use some of those taxpayer dollars to lobby Congress and the president to keep the wars going and the money flowing into their pockets.
President Eisenhower warned of the danger that a profit-seeking “military-industrial complex” will produce a state where wars are not fought with an intention of winning them but to ensure that they never end. The author George Orwell articulated these dangers in his classic novel 1984 (published in 1949) wherein he described continuous war as an opaque, low-intensity conflict whose primary purpose was to siphon off resources and perpetuate itself.
Begun under President George W. Bush, the drone program was fully embraced and escalated under the presidencies of Barack Obama and Donald Trump. President Obama assured Americans that our drones are so “exceptionally surgical and precise,” “narrowly target[ed]… against those who want to kill us” while not putting “innocent men, women and children in danger.”
The claim that drones are humane and effective has always been a lie. But by classifying the program as top secret and by aggressively prosecuting whistleblowers, the U.S. has been able to hide the truth about drones from most Americans. Ironically, of course, the people targeted by our drones know the truth about who is being killed. Thus the classification of all information about drones does nothing to protect national security; rather it protects government officials from any accountability.
I have asked several members of the U.S. Senate about the drone program and have never received a straight answer. In the fall of 2009, I attended a fundraiser for Senator Chuck Schumer at a Chicago law firm. The United States had just suffered one of its deadliest months in Afghanistan in which more than 50 Americans were killed. Schumer assured the group that Obama was turning things around with his unmanned killer drone program. I asked Schumer about civilian deaths and whether the CIA (which then ran the drone program) had ever studied whether drones killed more terrorists than they created. The senator said he was pretty sure the CIA did reach such a conclusion.
In fact, as WikiLeaks later revealed, the CIA had conducted such a study in July 2009. But that study, called “CIA Best Practices in Counterinsurgency,” reached the opposite conclusion: that the clandestine drone and assassination program was likely to produce counterproductive outcomes, including strengthening the very “extremist groups” it was allegedly designed to destroy, particularly if “non-combatants are killed in the attacks.” This report was classified as “secret,” meaning it could be read by Senator Schumer, but not by you or me, until 2014, when WikiLeaks released it to the public.
Others have come forward to expose the official lies told about our drone program. In 2014, a former signals intelligence analyst in the U.S. Air Force named Daniel Hale leaked internal documents exposing how, in one five-month period in Afghanistan, 90 percent of the people killed by our drones were not the intended target. Hale also disclosed how children in areas targeted by our drones cannot go out and play on clear days because that is when the drones fly. Hale said that drone operators reported having to kill a part of their conscience to keep doing their job. Hale was prosecuted under the Espionage Act for leaking these documents and has been sentenced to 45 months in prison.
The investigation by the New York Times into the drone assassination of Mr. Ahmadi and his family is an important step in bringing some sunlight into the clandestine world of drone warfare. Sadly, most victims of our drones still remain anonymous as the strikes take place in remote areas of faraway countries such as Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya. Much of the work to reveal the truth about drones still falls on independent investigative journalists and whistleblowers like Mr. Hale. They are our best hope to begin holding those responsible accountable and bringing an end to this dangerous lie.
This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.
Taken together with a sharp increase in union strikes, the mass resignations of individuals indicate a deep worker dissatisfaction across the nation.
On September 14, a young woman in Louisiana named Beth McGrath posted a selfie Facebook video of herself working at Walmart. Her body language shows a nervous energy as she works up the courage to speak on the intercom and announces her resignation to shoppers. “Everyone here is overworked and underpaid,” she begins, before going on to call out specific managers for inappropriate and abusive behavior. “I hope you don’t speak to your families the way you speak to us,” she said before ending with “f**k this job!”
Perhaps McGrath was inspired by Shana Ragland in Lubbock, Texas, who nearly a year ago carried out a similarly public resignation in a TikTok video that she posted from the Walmart store where she worked. Ragland’s complaints were similar to McGrath’s as she accused managers of constantly disparaging workers. “I hope you don’t talk to your daughters the way you talk to me,” she said over the store intercom before signing off with, “F**k the managers, f**k this company.”
The viral resignations of these two young women are bookending a year of volatility in the American workforce that economists have branded the Great Resignation. Women in particular are seen as leading the trend.
The seriousness of the situation was confirmed by the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics report showing that a record 2.9 percent of the workforce quit their jobs in August, which is equivalent to 4.3 million resignations.
If such a high rate of resignations were occurring at a time when jobs were plentiful, it might be seen as a sign of a booming economy where workers have their pick of offers. But the same labor report showed that job openings have also declined, suggesting that something else is going on. A new Harris Poll of people with employment found that more than half of workers want to leave their jobs. Many cite uncaring employers and a lack of scheduling flexibility as reasons for wanting to quit. In other words, millions of American workers have simply had enough.
So serious is the labor market upheaval that Jack Kelly, senior contributor to Forbes.com, a pro-corporate news outlet, has defined the trend as, “a sort of workers’ revolution and uprising against bad bosses and tone-deaf companies that refuse to pay well and take advantage of their staff.” In what might be a reference to viral videos like those of McGrath, Ragland, and the growing trend of #QuitMyJob posts, Kelly goes on to say, “The quitters are making a powerful, positive and self-affirming statement saying that they won’t take the abusive behavior any longer.”
Still, some advisers suggest countering the worker rage with “bonding exercises” such as “Gratitude sharing,” and games. Others suggest increasing trust between workers and bosses or “exercis[ing] empathetic curiosity” with employees. But such superficial approaches entirely miss the point.
The resignations ought to be viewed hand in hand with another powerful current that many economists are ignoring: a growing willingness by unionized workers to go on strike.
Film crews may soon halt work as 60,000 members of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) announced an upcoming national strike. About 10,000 employees of John Deere, who are represented by the United Auto Workers, are also preparing to strike after rejecting a new contract. Kaiser Permanente is facing a potential strike from 24,000 of its nurses and other health care workers in Western states over poor pay and labor conditions. And about 1,400 Kellogg workers in Nebraska, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Tennessee are already striking over poor pay and benefits.
The announced strikes are coming so thick and fast that former U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich has dubbed the situation “an unofficial general strike.”
Yet union representation remains extremely low across the United States—the result of decades of concerted corporate-led efforts to undermine the bargaining power of workers. Today only about 12 percent of workers are in a union.
The number of strikes and of striking workers might be far higher if more workers were unionized. Non-union workers like McGrath and Ragland hired by historically anti-union companies like Walmart might have been able to organize their fellow workers instead of resorting to individual resignations. While viral social media posts of quitting are impactful in driving the conversation around worker dissatisfaction, they have little direct bearing on the lives of the workers and the colleagues they leave behind.
One example of how union organizing made a concrete difference to working conditions is a new contract that 7,000 drug store workers at Rite Aid and CVS stores in Los Angeles just ratified. The United Food and Commercial Workers Local 770 negotiated a nearly 10 percent pay raise for workers as well as improved benefits and safety standards.
And when companies don’t comply, workers have more leverage when acting as a collective bargaining unit than as individuals. Take Nabisco workers who went on strike in five states this summer. Mondelez International, Nabisco’s parent company, saw record profits during the pandemic with surging sales of its snack foods. So flush was the company with cash that it compensated its CEO with a whopping $16.8 million annual pay and spent $1.5 billion on stock buybacks earlier this year. Meanwhile, the average worker salary was an appallingly low $31,000 a year. Many Nabisco jobs were sent across the border to Mexico, where the company was able to further drive down labor costs.
After weeks on the picket line, striking Nabisco workers, represented by the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union, returned to work having won modest retroactive raises of 2.25 percent, $5,000 bonuses and increased employer contributions to their retirement plans. The company, which reported a 12 percent increase in revenue earlier this year, can well afford this and more.
Taken together with mass resignations, such worker strikes reveal a deep dissatisfaction with the nature of American work that has been decades in the making. Corporate America has enjoyed a stranglehold over policy, spending its profits on lobbying the government to ensure even greater profits at the expense of workers’ rights. At the same time, the power of unions has fallen—a trend directly linked to increased economic inequality.
But now, as workers are flexing their power, corporate America is worried.
In the wake of these strikes and resignations, lawmakers are actively trying to strengthen existing federal labor laws. Business groups are lobbying Democrats to weaken pro-labor measures included in the Build Back Better Act that is being debated in Congress.
Currently, corporate employers can violate labor laws with little consequence as the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) lacks the authority to fine offenders. But Democrats want to give the NLRB the authority to impose fines of $50,000 to $100,000 against companies who violate federal labor laws. Also included in the Build Back Better Act is an increase in fines against employers that violate Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards.
The Coalition for a Democratic Workplace, which is a business lobby group that wants anything but democracy in the workplace, is deeply concerned about these proposed changes and sent a letter to lawmakers to that effect.
It remains to be seen if corporate lobbyists will succeed this time around at keeping labor laws toothless. But as workers continue to quit their jobs, and as strikes among unionized workers grow, employers ignore the warning signs of rage and frustration at their peril.
Sonali Kolhatkar is the founder, host and executive producer of “Rising Up With Sonali,” a television and radio show that airs on Free Speech TV and Pacifica stations. She is a writing fellow for the Economy for All project at the Independent Media Institute.
This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.
An inside view of the damaged Gozar-e-Sayed Abad Mosque after a powerful blast ripped through the building full of Shiite worshippers during weekly Friday prayers on October 8, 2021, killing and injuring many, in Kunduz province, northern Afghanistan. Photo: Anadolu Agency via AFP / Zahir Niyazi
On October 8, a terrible blast struck the worshippers attending Friday noon prayers at the Gozar-e-Sayed Abad Mosque in the Khan Abad district of Bandar, the capital of Kunduz, one of Afghanistan’s largest cities in its northern belt. This is a mosque frequented by Shia Muslims, who were referred to as “our compatriots” by Taliban spokesperson Zabiullah Mujahid. Forty-six people died immediately in the blast, and local officials said that many more people were injured in the incident. Not long afterward, the Islamic State in Khorasan Province, ISKP (ISIS-K), took credit for the attack on its Telegram channel. The suicide bomber was identified as Mohammed al-Uyguri by ISIS-K.
The name of the attacker raised red flags across the region. It indicated that he belonged to the Uyghur community and had a relationship with the Xinjiang region of western China, which is home to most of the world’s Uyghur population. That a Chinese extremist attacked a Shia mosque raised eyebrows in Beijing and in Tehran.
In June 2021, the United Nations reported on the presence of between 8,000 and 10,000 “foreign terrorist fighters” in Afghanistan. The report further stated that these fighters were mainly “from Central Asia, the north Caucasus region of the Russian Federation, Pakistan and the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region of China.” Although most of the fighters had reported an affiliation with the Taliban, “many also support Al-Qaida” and “[o]thers are allied with ISIL or have ISIL sympathies,” said the report. ISIL refers to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, whose Afghan franchise is ISIS-K.
In 2019, in Turkey, I encountered a group of Uyghur fighters from various terrorist organizations, including the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), which is now called the Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP). These were hardened fighters, whose main goal was to fight “infidels”; they did not seem interested in anything other than that. The United Nations placed the ETIM on their terrorist list in 2002.
During the war on Syria, large sections of the ETIM—as the TIP—moved to the Syria-Turkey border. The TIP is now largely based in Idlib, Syria, which is the hub of various global jihadi organizations. When it became clear that the Taliban was going to take power in Afghanistan, many jihadis from Central Asia—including from China and Tajikistan—left Idlib for Afghanistan. ETIM’s leader Abdul Haq remains in Syria, where he is also a member of the Shura Council of Al Qaeda.
Worries Abound in Iran...
On October 4, four days before the attack on the mosque in Afghanistan, an Iranian delegation arrived in Afghanistan to hold talks about cross-border trade and to seek assurances that the Taliban will not permit attacks on either Afghan Shia or on Iran. Meanwhile, in Kabul, governors of two neighboring border provinces of Iran’s Khorasan Razavi (Mohammad Sadegh Motamedian) and Afghanistan’s Herat (Maulvi Abdul Qayum Rohani) agreed on facilitating more cross-border trade and ensuring that there is no cross-border violence. In another meeting that took place on October 4 with Motamedian at the Iranian border town of Taybad, Rohani’s deputy Maulvi Sher Ahmad Ammar Mohajer said that the Afghan government will “never allow individuals or foreign groups such as ISIS to use Afghan territory against the Islamic Republic of Iran.” “We (Iran and Afghanistan) have defeated the common enemy,” Maulvi Rohani said in reference to the United States.
All signs indicate some sincerity on the part of the Taliban government. On October 7, the day before the ISIS-K attack on the Shia mosque in Kunduz, Maulvi Abdul Salam Hanafi—the deputy prime minister of Afghanistan--met with a group of Shia elders to assure them that the Taliban would not allow anti-Shia activity. Nevertheless, members of the Hazara community—who are the Shia community of Afghanistan—tell me that they fear a return to the previous rule of the Taliban; during that time, documented massacres by the Taliban against the Hazara Shia community provided evidence of the Taliban’s sectarianism. This is why Iran opposed the Taliban, and why Iran has not formally recognized the current government in Kabul. However, for the past few years, the Iranians have been working with the Taliban against ISIS and ISIS-K, with Iran’s Brigadier General Esmail Qaani as the liaison to the Taliban.
…And in China
In the 1990s, the Taliban government allowed the ETIM and other Uyghur groups to operate from Afghanistan. This time, there is already evidence that they will not officially permit such activity. Earlier this year, ETIM fighters had relocated from Syria to the Badakhshan province in Afghanistan; reports suggested that the fighters had gathered in the sparsely populated Wakhan Corridor in the province, which leads to China. But in recent weeks, the Taliban security has moved them from the towns surrounding the “Afghan-Chinese border” to other parts of Afghanistan (rumors have been flying about the Taliban’s intention to extradite the ETIM—if not all the 2,000 Uyghurs in Afghanistan—to China, but these rumors are unconfirmed).
In late August, Mattia Sorbi of Italy’s La Repubblica newspaper met with Taliban spokesperson Zabiullah Mujahid. This was a significant interview for the Taliban because Italy is a key partner of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Mujahid told Sorbi that China is currently assisting Afghanistan with short-term funds (including $31 million in emergency funds) and that the Taliban see the BRI as their “passport to markets around the world.” China’s long-term concession of the Mes Aynak copper mine, south of Kabul, will allow it “to come back to life and be modernized,” said Mujahid. The Taliban is keen on the BRI, he said, “which will lead to reviving the ancient Silk Road.”
The BRI runs on both sides of Afghanistan, the northern route through Tajikistan to Iran and the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor running southward. The mouth of the Wakhan Corridor would be the opening of a third route, running toward Kabul and to Iran (and linking Pakistan’s agricultural goods to markets in Central Asia and Russia).
Isolation from China and Iran is not a welcome thought in Kabul. The United States is prepared to reengage with the Taliban, which could alter the equations on the ground. If the U.S. allows Kabul to access the funds in its central bank, Da Afghanistan Bank, (sitting in New York) or the IMF funds, these funds will help provide the Taliban with a lifeline. But they are not a solution for Afghanistan, which is caught as it is between China and Iran and the possibility of its connection to the new silk road.
Vijay Prashad is an Indian historian, editor, and journalist. He is the chief editor of LeftWord Books and the director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research. He is a senior non-resident fellow at Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China. He has written more than 20 books, including "The Darker Nations" and "The Poorer Nations." His latest book is "Washington Bullets," with an introduction by Evo Morales Ayma.
This article was produced by Globetrotter.
You might think the Ancient Egyptians too remote in time to be anything other than intellectual curiosities. Jan Assmann, the great German Egyptologist, thinks otherwise. Early on in his masterful reconstruction of the Egyptian mind set, he tells us that "ancient Egypt is an intellectual and spiritual world that is linked to our own by numerous strands of tradition." A brief review can only barely touch on the topics discussed in this book, but I will try to give some examples of Assmann’s conclusions with reference to our links to the Ancient Egyptians--they may be more extensive than you might think.
Take for example the ancient work "The Admonitions of Ipuwer" from the thirteenth century B.C., (around the time of Ramesses II, c. 1303–1213 BC) which describes "the nobles" as "full of lament" and the "lowly full of joy." Bertolt Brecht was so impressed by this work that, Assmann says, "he worked part of it into the ‘Song of Chaos’ in his play ‘The Caucasian Chalk Circle.’" Ipuwer was lamenting the overthrow of established order by the lower classes-- so long has the specter of Communism been haunting the world (not just Europe) that Brecht could sense the presence of comrades over three thousand years ago! Brecht made a few slight changes, Assmann says, and the Egyptian sage’s lament became "a triumphal paean to the Revolution.
A useful Egyptian concept to know is that of "ma’at" which Assmann defines as "connective justice" which "holds for Egyptian civilization in general." Basically "connective justice" is the idea that all actions are interconnected with those of others such that it "is the principle that forms individuals into communities and that gives their actions meaning and direction by ensuring that good is rewarded and evil punished."
Assmann likens this concept to what he calls the "connection between memory and altruism." Looking at our own times, he says this Ancient Egyptian concept is manifested in the ideas of Karl Marx (and also in Nietzsche’s "Genealogy of Morals"). He quotes Marx who wrote that [Private] "Interest has no memory, for it thinks only of itself." This is a quote from issue 305 of the Rheinische Zeitung, Nov. 1, 1842 (not as cited by Assmann issue 298 Oct. 25, 1842).
The point being that the State should look to the collective good of all citizens and not be used to further private or individual interests. It must have "memory" directed toward the general good. This is also the point of ma‘at. The Egyptian Middle Kingdom work "Tale of the Eloquent Peasant" makes this point. This implies that we could find basically "Marxist" social values being discussed in Egypt!
As Assmann points out, "Ma‘at is the law liberating the weak from the oppression at the hands of the strong. The idea of liberation from the oppression caused by inequality is informed at least to a rudimentary extent by the idea of the equality of all human beings." It should be noted that the picture many have of ancient Egypt as a repressive slave state is the result of the Old Testament tradition. That tradition does not represent the actual state of affairs with respect to the functioning of the Egyptian state.
An examination of the literary remains of the Egyptians themselves shows an entirely different society than that portrayed in Biblical propaganda. "The Egyptian state," Assmann writes, " is the implementation of a legal order that precludes the natural supremacy of the strong and opens up prospects for the weak (the ‘widows’ and ‘orphans’) that otherwise would not exist.
Besides Biblical misrepresentations of Egyptian thought there were also the misunderstandings of the classical writers. For example, the Greek Diodorus, who left behind a description of the "Judgment of the Dead", presents the "facts" in contradiction to what we know is described in the Egyptian "Book of the Dead." In fact, Assmann avers that the Egyptian account is similar to the 25th Chapter of the "Gospel According to St. Matthew" where the reward of going to the "House of Osiris" is "replaced by the Kingdom of God." In fact, I think, many so-called Christian values and beliefs actually have their origin in Ancient Egyptian religious and ethical concepts.
We should remember that the first "monotheist," after all, was the Egyptian Pharaoh Akhenaten (r. cir. 1352-1338 B.C.) who stood "at the head of a lineage very different from his predecessors’, one represented after him by the Moses of legend, and later by Buddha, Jesus, and Mohammed," according to Assmann. As a truth seeker he also differs from the three aforementioned in that as "a thinker, Akhenaten stands at the head of a line of inquiry that was taken up seven hundred years later by the Milesian philosophers of nature [i.e., the Greeks] with their search for the one all-informing principle, and that ended with the universalist formulas of our own age as embodied in the physics of Einstein and Heisenberg." Assmann has a very high opinion of Akhenaten!
Unlike earlier Egyptologists who think the ideas of Akhenaten were repressed by his successors (due to their--Akhenaten's ideas that is-- "deism" rather than "theism" characteristics), Assmann maintains that they were "elaborated further and integrated into" the religious teachings of the age of Ramesses and his successors. From here they eventually influenced Plato, and, since Plato was the basis of the thought of Augustine, Christianity. However, Christianity ended up the mortal foe of the Egyptian religion and ultimately destroyed it and the culture that produced it.
Today we know more about the civilization of Ancient Egypt than has been known since its own time. We must come to grips with this new knowledge, and especially with the recovered literature of the Egyptians and "attempt" as Assmann says, "to enter into a dialogue with the newly readable messages of ancient Egyptian culture and thus to reestablish them as an integral part of our cultural memory." This ancient African civilization has more to offer us than the distortions of the Old Testament and Euro-Christianity (imposed on the Americas) present.
This review has only skimmed the surface of this important book. I hope it inspires people to read the book itself.
The Mind of Egypt: History and Meaning in the Time of the Pharaohs
by Jan Assmann (translated by Andrew Jenkins)
New York, Metropolitan Books, 2002.
Thomas Riggins is a retired philosophy teacher (NYU, The New School of Social Research, among others) who received a PhD from the CUNY Graduate Center (1983). He has been active in the civil rights and peace movements since the 1960s when he was chairman of the Young People's Socialist League at Florida State University and also worked for CORE in voter registration in north Florida (Leon County). He has written for many online publications such as People's World and Political Affairs where he was an associate editor. He also served on the board of the Bertrand Russell Society and was president of the Corliss Lamont chapter in New York City of the American Humanist Association.
The rituals and celebrations of Bolivia’s miners created spaces for radical organizing and helped build solidarity during the 1952 National Revolution.
The small K’illi K’illi park sits at the top of one of the hillsides cradling the valley that is home to Bolivia’s administrative capital La Paz, providing a striking view of the city below. To the east lies Illimani, a towering, snow-covered mountain. Below and to the west is the tree-lined Plaza Murillo, home to the seat of government and the site of dozens of coups and countless protests. Across the valley, set on the sweeping plains of the altiplano, is El Alto, a booming home to millions of largely Aymara working-class people.
The hills hold the rich past of this city in the clouds. Indigenous rebel Túpac Katari launched crucial assaults on Spanish-controlled colonial La Paz from K’illi K’illi during his army’s 1781 siege. After his brutal quartering by the Spanish, Katari’s head was put on display on this same hill to terrorize his followers. On a moonlit night about 170 years later, rebels crisscrossed the hillsides to launch the 1952 National Revolution, an event that abolished the hacienda, brought about massive land and educational reform and nationalized Bolivia’s lucrative mining industry.
Bolivian miners formed the radical backbone of this revolt, challenging the tin barons who controlled national wealth, pushing political leaders further to the left and demanding transformative change. Some of the roots of the miners’ historic solidarity and organizational power during and after the National Revolution reach back to age-old traditions and celebrations, as well as everyday forms of resistance.
Such cultural spaces and rituals forged by miners brought workers together to imagine and struggle for a better world. These traditions of resistance sustained miners in harsh working conditions and formed the foundations for Bolivia’s revolutionary movements.
BOLIVIA’S NATIONAL REVOLUTION
In the year prior to the revolution, the Revolutionary Nationalist Movement (MNR) party ran the popular pro-worker congressman and exiled party leader Víctor Paz Estenssoro as its presidential candidate. He won a resounding victory at the ballot box, but the military placed General Hugo Ballivián in the presidential palace instead. The MNR concluded that their only option for taking power was armed revolution.
On April 10, 1952, Ballivián called for the lights to be put out in La Paz in order to impede the advance of the MNR rebels — many of whom were factory workers — as they descended into La Paz from the neighboring city of El Alto. Yet a full moon lit the way for the rebels, providing guidance for their march down the steep hills from El Alto into the capital city. Many MNR rebels came from the working-class neighborhoods in El Alto and so knew the terrain well. These forces, along with the crucial participation of miners from Oruro, effectively cut off Ballivián’s troops by blocking key routes and rail lines on the outskirts of the city.
Conflicts flared up in the night, leaving many wounded and dead on both sides. Meanwhile, news of the MNR rebels’ advances in La Paz spread throughout the countryside, inspiring similar uprisings across the nation. Three days later, with over 600 dead from the battles, the rebels vanquished the Ballivián regime and took power.
Euphoria was high in the early days of the MNR’s leadership. Victor Paz returned from his exile in Argentina and flew into the El Alto airport on April 15, 1952. When he entered La Paz he was met by a crowd of some 7,000 people waving signs that read “Nationalization of the Mines,” “Agrarian Reform” and “Welcome, Father of the Poor.” The crowd was so massive that it took Paz a full 30 minutes to arrive at the presidential palace half a block away. As recounted in James Dunkerly’s Rebellion in the Veins, Paz greeted the assembled people in Aymara, the language spoken by most members of the largely Indigenous crowd: “Jaccha t’anta uthjani,” he said. “There will be much bread.”
Soon after, on October 31, the MNR signed a decree — largely the result of pressure from labor organizations and miners — that expropriated the tin barons and nationalized the country’s tin mines, putting the workers in control of management and production of this lucrative industry.
The next year, in August 1953, the MNR passed the Agrarian Reform Law, which sought to abolish pongueaje (a form of obligatory servitude hacienda owners forced on Indigenous tenants of hacienda land), expropriate hacienda land and ultimately redistribute it to landless farmers and Indigenous communities. The National Revolution made historic gains with expanded rights for Bolivian workers, land reform and national economic sovereignty.
SOLIDARITY IN THE MINES
The Bolivian mines were one of the richest sites of resistance in the years surrounding the National Revolution. Following the Spanish colonization of the Andes, miners in what is now Bolivia maintained certain Indigenous traditions and spiritual beliefs that contributed to cultural and physical survival in harsh working conditions. Such practices contributed to the miners’ power and role as a radical labor movement during and after the National Revolution.
Indigenous spiritual traditions had a central place within this labor legacy deep in the mines. Mountains were worshiped in Indigenous Andean cosmology; worshipers requested safety and health from the mountains. The mountains were also spaces where various gods resided and required special attention, sacrifices and offerings. In this spiritual landscape, the figure of Tío plays a special role. Tío is a religious figure widely present in the mines in the form of a statue with horns; he represented both good and evil. Tío has played an important part in the labor and political spaces of miners in Bolivia.
Dating back to the extensive mining industry in colonial Bolivia, Tío functioned in the mines as a bridge uniting European modes of production and Andean Indigenous spiritual beliefs toward nature. As anthropologist Michael Taussig writes, “Each change in the mode of production and each new development of political struggle add new meanings and transformations to the symbolization and understanding of the spirit owner of nature.” In this case, Tío came to embody a god of the mountain, an extension of Indigenous beliefs outside of the mine, but one that translated into the underground reality of the mines born out of colonial exploitation.
Miners provided Tío with cigarettes, food, coca leaves, confetti garlands, chicha (a corn-based beer widely consumed in the Andes) and hard liquor as offerings to keep him happy and to bring good fortune and safety to the miners. The miners combated the dehumanizing labor within the capitalist work model with their own spiritual traditions and meaning. “The cult of the Tío, then, serves to translate the miners’ resistance to alienation and exploitation by the mine owners,” writes Peruvian anthropologist Heraclio Bonilla.
The rituals of the ch’alla, in which miners offer liquor to mother earth or Tío in return for good luck, safety or success in the mines formed important spaces for gatherings between workers. Such practices surrounding Tío strengthened solidarity among miners. Longtime scholar of Bolivian mines June Nash writes in We Eat the Mines and the Mines Eat Us, “That solidarity, cemented by collective complicity in the cult of the gods of the underworld, created the strongest platform from which to resist, and successfully reject, the demands of the so-called tin barons.” These tin barons — the three leading families who owned many of Bolivia’s tin mines — were key enemies in the National Revolution.
Bolivian miner and organizer Manuel explained the political impact of the rituals and ch’allas surrounding Tío: “This tradition inside the mine must be continued because there is no communication more intimate, more sincere, or more beautiful than the moment of the ch’alla, the moment when the workers chew coca together and it is offered to the Tío. There we give voice to our problems, we talk about our work problems, and there is born a generation so revolutionary that the workers begin thinking of making structural change. This is our university. The experience we have in the ch’alla is the best experience we have.”
In this space of self-education, communication and empowerment, Bolivian miners humanized and gave deeper meaning to their working experience and developed personal relationships that led to political action such as strikes, union organizing and outright rebellion.
CELEBRATING THE REVOLUTION
The years before and after Bolivia’s 1952 National Revolution saw a significant rise in the frequency and length of celebrations and ceremonies in mining communities. With the nationalization of the mines, the workers won more control over their workspaces and production; the celebrations corresponded to this expansion of workers’ power and autonomy.
The autobiography of one of the miners, Juan Rojas, includes vivid descriptions of the many festivals that were organized in the months following the nationalization of the tin mines.
On July 31, three months after the revolution, Rojas and the other miners organized a k’araku, a sacrificial offering to the spirits of the mines, including Tío, awichas, the women spirits who accompany him and Supay, the spirit of the hill. The offering was a goat, whose blood miners sprinkled on the entrance to the mine and various workstations. In another offering to the spirits, the miners made a stew from the goat’s meat. In his book, Rojas relates the details of these rituals, which included an elaborate ch’alla, in this case a ceremony involving large offerings of alcohol, red and white wine, beer and papaya juice.
“That night I was at the mine until at least four in the morning,” Rojas recalled. They spent the next few days drinking and celebrating with other workers and bosses around the mining community. “Oh, it was a k’araku that we’ll never see again in a lifetime!” he reminisced in his memoirs.
The extent of this ceremonial fiesta and ritual is significant in that its richness and length reflected the celebratory feelings of revolutionary Bolivia. Miners were not only celebrating their own political victory, but also the camaraderie that had made the revolution successful.
The joy felt toward the political changes brought about by the revolution was further illustrated in Rojas’ account of the Bolivian independence celebrations on August 6, 1952. During the events surrounding the anniversary, miners hired bands and organized parades and dances. Rojas recounts a bullfight, a contest to catch a greased pig, and a milk and bread-eating competition. Dancing went on late into the night.
In the wake of the revolution, the celebrations became more political, an opportunity to bask in an impossible victory. Such celebrations reflected the inversion of power structures the revolution had won; the fiesta symbolically turned an unjust world upside down, where the marginalized were crowned as owners of their labor, land and power.
“It was a grand celebration, such as I had never seen in previous Augusts when the company ran them,” Rojas recalled. “That was the first year that the engineers celebrated with the workers. … That was the one hundred and twenty-eighth year of independence, but, for the first time, we were the lords of national wealth.”
The Bolivian miners’ cultures of resistance demonstrate the importance of such rituals, social spaces and celebrations in the processes of movement building. Far from a distraction from organizing, they can form its very basis. In a global capitalist culture seeking to extract every possible minute of labor from workers, it is important to create and defend spaces for celebrating and socializing beyond labor.
Such practices not only provide much-needed breaks, they can build solidarity, raise consciousness and strengthen crucial social bonds. As the miners’ rituals and celebrations surrounding the National Revolution demonstrate, such bonds and spaces can feed directly into radical organizing and action.
Dr. Benjamin Dangl is a Lecturer of Public Communication at the University of Vermont. He is a longtime journalist in Latin America and the author of three books on Bolivia, most recently The Five Hundred Year Rebellion: Indigenous Movements and the Decolonization of History in Bolivia, which won a Nautilus Book Award.
This article was produced by Roar.
Thousands of John Deere workers strike the agricultural mega-giant. By: Mark Gruenberg & John WojcikRead Now
Meg Mclaughlin/Quad City Times via AP
DES MOINES, Iowa—Company intransigence over changing a bad working environment and refusal to give workers decent pay—plus no pensions for new hires—forced 10,000 UAW members at John Deere heavy farm equipment plants in Illinois, Iowa, and Kansas to strike.
And the only surprise is that it’s no surprise.
In what worker advocates including the AFL-CIO are calling “Striketober,” bosses have forced 30 groups of workers to walk out this month, a level of strikes unseen for one month since at least the 1950s.
And that doesn’t count other instances of worker rebellion against capitalist exploitation:
“The number of quits increased in August to 4.3 million, 242,000 more than the month before, BLS reported on Oct. 12.. The quits rate increased to a series high of 2.9% percent.” The biggest increases in workers walking away were in low-paying categories including hotels, bars, and restaurants (157,000 more quitters in August) and wholesale trade (26,000 more).
Most of the new quitters were in the South, despite its lack of unionization, and the Midwest.
The community news website amNY reported restaurant workers, organized by One Fair Wage, gathered outside the Capital Grille just east of Times Square to demand wage hikes and to support candidates who publicly pledge to end the tipped minimum wage and replace it with $15 an hour plus a union.
They’re launching a Raise The Wage Fund, too, to help “to elect candidates who publicly endorse policies that end the sub-minimum wage.”
In short, the coronavirus-caused crash last year revealed the awful conditions, low pay and declining benefits workers suffered from coast to coast before it. And the strikes and other developments show they’re fed up and not willing to take it anymore.
That’s the sentiment among John Deere workers. Those workers, members of UAW locals in East Moline, Ill., Des Moines, Ottumwa and Waterloo, Iowa plus locals elsewhere in Iowa and Kansas, had to walk out at 12:01 am Oct. 14. They had rejected a six-year contract proposal the union’s own bargainers sent to them. It was inadequate, the workers said.
The workers reportedly sought a 24% increase over the life of the contract, but bargaining cut it down to 11%-12%. The next move is for resumed bargaining.
The Strategic Organizing Center tweeted “John Deere’s revenue climbed 25% to $21 billion in the first half of 2021. They can afford to do right by the workers that make their tractors.”
“The company failed to present an agreement that met our members’ demands and needs,” UAW said in a statement on its website. Chuck Browning, director of the union’s Agricultural Implement Department, added that the workers “strike for the ability to earn a decent living, retire with dignity and establish fair work rules.”
“We stay committed to bargaining until our members’ goals are achieved,” Browning said. Union President Ray Curry noted the John Deere workers were deemed “essential” throughout the ongoing coronavirus pandemic because the farm equipment they produced helps feed the U.S., but the firm isn’t treating them that way now.
Workers overwhelmingly passed a strike authorization on Sept. 12.
“A massive ‘yes’ vote lets the company know we are together and willing to strike if needed,” Local 450 in Des Moines said then. ”Pickets have been set up and our members are organized and ready to hold out and fight for a contract they believe meets their needs,” UAW Region 4 Director Ron McInroy said on the website. “Strikes are not easy, but some things are worth fighting for.”
Company reps have not responded to the issue of how much money Deere is making. Instead, they have simply said they are working to “determine the priorities “of their employees.
Divide and conquer tactics rejected
Workers have been nothing but clear about their priorities. They are saying loud and clear that the wage hikes the company agreed to are insufficient and that they reject the divide and conquer tactic of taking away pensions from new hires. They are openly declaring on their picket lines that a two-tiered system like that drives down the wages of all workers, including the veteran workers.
Not only has John Deere raked in record profits this year but it is getting higher than ever prices for the equipment it is selling to the nation’s farmers. The company is valued at more than $100 billion on the stock market. During the pandemic, the value of its shares has tripled.
The strike wave that has hit John Deere has been building nationwide for more than a month.
Last week Kellogg workers went on strike and over the summer Mondelez, the maker of Nabisco Oreos walked out.
Coal miners in Alabama have been on strike for months.
The activism has hit even non-union workers with workers at places like Amazon and Starbucks stepping up their attempts to unionize.
Because the Deere workers are unionized they have contracts that allow for strike pay and health insurance while they are out on the picket lines.
Under the tentative deal rejected by Deere workers, wages would have increased 5 or 6 percent this year, depending on current pay, and then 3 percent more in 2023 and 2025.
Those increases, plus the elimination of pensions for new workers were issues to which the workers on the picket lines say they objected.
Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.
This article was produced by People's world.
Nikolai Bukharin’s idea of “equilibrium” — a balance between society, technology and nature — helps us to reconceptualize our historical relationship to nature.
Intervening in the unfolding disaster of our climate crisis, Elon Musk recently offered a $100 million bounty for anyone who might be up to inventing planetary-scale carbon sequestering technology. Parroting a TV game show host, the billionaire entrepreneur announced that “this four-year global competition invites innovators and teams from anywhere on the planet to create and demonstrate solutions that can pull carbon dioxide directly from the atmosphere or oceans, and sequester it durably and sustainably.” He added that “the climate math is becoming clear that we will need gigaton-scale carbon removal in the coming decades to avoid the worst effects of climate change.”
The need for carbon sequestration is irrefutable, but Musk’s offer assumes that technological fixes alone can save humanity from global warming. What he fails to realize is that avoiding climate catastrophe requires that any technological solutions accompany a full-scale cultural and social revolution in the way we conceive of our relationship to the natural world. Without a transformation of capitalist social relations, planetary boundaries will always catch up on us.
Fundamentally, the billionaire’s reliance on the profit motive evinces a contradiction with attempts to confront the climate crisis within capitalism. In its singular dependence on a technological solution, the ruling class in this case promotes the most vulgar form of technological determinism, or the belief that technology determines the development of a society and its culture and is therefore the key to its deliverance.
This turn toward open technological determinism within capitalism is quite paradoxical when we consider the attacks that western critics hurled at socialist theory during and immediately after the Cold War. Back then, Cold War warriors, particularly in the social sciences, engaged in a prolonged debate about the “technological determinism” of Marxist, and thus Soviet, thought. Pulling quotes from Marx and other communists out of context, they posited that socialist theory views the natural world and its resources as nothing more than the basis on which to build a technologically advanced socialist utopia.
They then used this reductionist view of socialism to suggest that free markets — not centrally planned economies — were better suited to confront social, economic and cultural problems because competition could incentivize solutions to potentially detrimental social and economic pressures, such as natural disasters and economic collapse.
This view of Marxist technological determinism came out strongest in what is known as the “totalitarian” historiography of the USSR. The underlying idea of the totalitarian school is that the USSR was a party state striving for ideological homogeneity, and that because of its Marxist adherence, it viewed technology as a panacea to its economic, social and political problems. Countless monographs framed the destruction of nature (Aral Sea), nuclear disaster (Chernobyl) and shoddy genetics (Lysenkoism) as inevitable within a self-ascribed Marxist state, where the power of decision making resided exclusively within the party apparatus, which legitimated itself through monopolizing interpretations of Marxist doctrine.
Western experts of the Soviet Union studied major technological accomplishments like Dneprostoi hydroelectric power dam, Magnitagorsk, space travel and disasters like the Virgin Lands campaign under Khrushchev, to argue that the USSR believed it could promote socialist ideology and identity through technological projects of “socialist construction.” Famous historians of science like Alexander Vucinich and Loren Grahm argued that the USSR exclusively promoted a strictly utilitarian view of natural science and technology — one that stressed applied or practical science over “pure” science.
AGAINST THE “MYOPIA” OF CAPITALISM
Thirty years after the end of the Cold War, however, there is a renewed interest in the projects of socialism and communism. The new geological epoch we inhabit — the Anthropocene — is leading people around the world to explore alternative relationships between nature and humanity and to question the claims of socialism’s inherently instrumental and destructive tendencies. The concept of the Anthropocene, first proposed by chemist Paul Crutzen and ecologist Eugene Stoermer in 2000, reasons that humanity has become a geological force unto itself — transitioning us out of the Holocene and into a new geological epoch.
In the political realm, socialism, communism and anarchism have returned in force as viable popular alternatives to capitalism, which in our post-Cold War moment undoubtedly bears the most responsibility for shaping humanity’s current relationship to the natural world. However, one of the many obstacles faced by the left today comes via the rehashing of Cold War arguments that accuse the USSR — the largest anti-capitalist social experiment — of being an outright environmental failure. So long as there is currency to the notion that the USSR committed “ecocide” via a blind faith in technological development, many remain unconvinced by the socialist alternative.
The theory of late Bolshevik ideologue Nikolai Bukharin offers one means of demonstrating that Marxism is worlds apart from any such technological determinism. Instead of what I call the “myopia” of capitalism — which searches for singular origins and solutions to the climate crisis — Bukharin articulated the idea of “equilibrium,” stressing the importance of balance between society, technology and nature. To put it simply, Bukharin reminds us that revolution must be social as much as economic, political, cultural and environmental. Hence, in observance of Bukharin’s birthday, I argue that his ideas offer immense food for thought as we try to reckon with the full scale of the revolution needed to go with our energy transition and technological innovation.
When historians study the Soviet Union’s environmental track record, they inevitably come across the notion of technological determinism as an explanation for how state socialism so thoroughly decimated the land it tended. The real environmental and human costs of collectivization and industrialization in Soviet history, when seen through an already hostile lens, have made for a discourse that has obscurely presented Marxism and environmental stewardship as incompatible.
Many books on the environmental history of the USSR foreground words like “Pre-Chernobyl,” “broken,” “troubled” or “conquered,” to use catastrophe to periodize socialist history or abrasively describe the state’s relationship to nature. Starting from an anti-Soviet position, they resolve that the USSR uniquely sought technological fixes for its systemic and structural problems, which always came at the cost of environmental health.
For years, liberal and conservative critics like Jeffrey Sachs have reiterated the same idea in various forms to dismiss socialism as an alternative system to combat the challenges of climate change and social inequality. Yet, condemning socialism based on the technological projects that ultimately sought to improve the living standard of Soviet citizens and industrialize the country ignores the intricate theoretical traditions of Marxist sociology that championed a more ecological view of the world we inhabit. In fact, Nikolai Bukharin — one of the foremost Bolshevik theorists — extrapolated from Marx the view that human societies strive to live in equilibrium with the forces of nature.
Central to Bukharin’s Marxism is the idea of equilibrium. In the early 20th century, the relative place of sociology, an emerging field of social sciences, remained ambiguous in Marxist circles — in a tension that persists today also. In Bukharin’s era, Lenin and others argued that Marxism, in so far as it provided a theory of social formation (the base/superstructure) is an inherently dialectical sociological system — the only sociological system. In fact, Lenin disliked the term “sociology” because he believed it suggested the possibility of a non-dialectic way of understanding historical development. Bukharin, on the other hand, appreciated the new sociological theories coming from places like Vienna, even if he ultimately agreed with Lenin in the supremacy of Marx’s sociological method.
Instead of dismissing the emerging field, Bukharin sought to fuse the new sociological theories with Marxism by providing a material basis for dialectics. He argued that if dialectics says all things are in motion, propelled by conflict and contradiction internal to a given system, existing Marxism — including the works of Marx himself — had failed to provide a causal explanation for the movement beyond abstraction.
Bukharin asked: what material forces move the dialectic? As an answer, he promoted the idea of “mechanistic materialism,” a sort-of ecology of society that sees all things, persons and ideas in constant relation to one another like a series of cog wheels. According to Bukharin, all systems tend toward equilibrium — a balancing of nature, society and ideas — and this effort to achieve equilibrium is what moves the dialectical process from one stage to another.
Looking beyond a crass understanding of base and superstructure, Bukharin sought to provide a deeper analysis of the superstructure, stating that “the interrelation between environment and system is the quantity which determines, in the last analysis, the movement of any system.” Equilibrium is always being disturbed — the dialectic is always moving — and can only be re-established through adaptation of the entire system or revolution. Implied within this broader extrapolation of Marxism is the idea that Marxist theory is open-ended and receptive of innovative theories rather than dogmatic and static.
In his 1921 manuscript Historical Materialism: A System of Sociology,Bukharin wrote that “man can never escape from nature, and even when he ‘controls’ nature, he is merely making use of the laws of nature for his own ends.” He proceeded to demonstrate that a balanced relationship between nature and society — measurable through technology — underpinned the method of sociology defined as historical materialism. In theory, technology acts not as a panacea of problems, but as a reflection of the social, cultural and political health of a social body.
To relate this to our present case, we end up with Elon Musk offering a bounty for carbon sequestering technology because our society and culture — defined by an individualized and alienated relationship from nature — provides little other incentive for such a technological development to emerge otherwise. Even on the precipice of ecological catastrophe, we rely on the profit motive to invent because we cannot fathom an alternative incentive.
From the earliest days of Bolshevism, Bukharin was a loyal advocate and theorist of Marxist-Leninism. He rose to prominence as a party mind by influencing Lenin’s own ideas in Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism and helping Stalin write his most famous theoretical piece, “Marxism and the National Question.” His strength really was in theory rather than politics; he co-authored the USSR’s official “elementary textbook of communist knowledge,” The ABC of Communism (1920), as well as theoretical defenses of the New Economic Policy and the theoretical explication of Stalin’s “Socialism in One Country” (1924) to defend against anti-communist criticism of Soviet nationalities policy. But Historical Materialism was undoubtedly his most personal and innovative piece of theoretical writing.
Bukharin wholeheartedly believed that Marxism was a science capable of elaboration and extrapolation, which meant that one needed to firmly grasp it to understand it in practice. In his system of sociology, technology manifests the balancing of social and natural forces, meaning that a lack of technological development indicated a failing society, while an inadequate environment could not promote the society needed to advance technology. In other words, one can imagine society, nature and technology as three wheels in a cog, with each one mutually helping the others turn. Far from any kind of determinism, Bukharin’s theory promoted a constant striving for balance between those forces.
This system of sociology implies that any movement of one of the three forces (society, nature, technology) requires the others to move as well. Bukharin presented three example scenarios of disequilibrium to illustrate his point. First, if a society has to spend all its working time covering basic needs, then there is a balance between consumption and production that prohibits the expansion of products and technology — innovation suffers but society remains satiated. Second, if on the other hand a society moves to a place with an abundance of resources, it will inevitably devise new tools and methods of extraction — the environment suffers and technology benefits.
Finally, and most tellingly, if a society is required to work twice as hard to produce, if it inhabits a sickly environment, a portion of its numbers and ingenuity will die out and society must adapt to a “narrower and narrower” standard of living. As Bukharin posits,
"Let us further suppose that a highly developed society, with a rich ‘mental culture’, with the most varied wants, an infinite number of different branches of production, with ‘arts and sciences’ in full bloom, suddenly finds difficulty in satisfying its needs…production will be curtailed, the standard of living will go down, the flourishing ‘arts and sciences’ will wither; mental life will be impoverished; society, unless this lowering of its standard is the result of merely temporary causes, will be ‘barbarianized’, will go to sleep."
The Anthropocene, emerging with an expansion of the wealth gap and a deeper alienation from the mode of production, suggests we are entering in the throes of this third scenario. And climate change is not temporary — it threatens our long-term ability to sustain a healthy planet capable of providing for all.
ORIGINS OF THE ANTHROPOCENE?
Today, continuing our path (scenario three) has brought us to an ecological breaking point, where parts per million of carbon in the atmosphere are quickly surpassing political action points, new planetary feedback loops are being activated and climate disasters are increasing proportionately. Under our current neoliberal capitalist system, oceanic and air pollution, urbanization and increasing biodiversity loss are making it impossible to fulfill the needs of a ballooning population.
To be clear, the issue is not population growth as many claim, but capitalism’s inability to match it with responsible resource usage and technological innovation based on environmental stewardship. Instead of recognizing the failures of the current system — the inability of capitalism to maintain an equilibrium — the Elon Musks of the world are advocating adaptation to this scenario and offering bounties for technological breakthroughs to avoid the need to dismantle capitalism. As the bell curve of CO2 emissions continues upward, capital has chosen to bind our limbs and kick us off the cliff.
Attention to Bukharin’s equilibrium offers us a more tenable way out of this freefall. The first step toward diagnosing our “Holocene hangover” is to recognize that the inadequacy of our technological and social infrastructure for combating climate change is part of a self-perpetuating cycle that sustains an imbalance between society, technology and nature. Indeed, for some time in the history of our species, the balance of forces has been progressively dissolving.
Even the most well-intentioned scholars are guilty of focusing on singular causes of a complex system in disequilibrium — as evident in the ongoing debate over the actual starting date of the Anthropocene, where three dominant views vie for explanatory authority. The first, promoted by Mark Maslin, posits that notable changes in CO2 emissions began with European colonization of the Americas in the 16th century: as colonizers decimated indigenous populations, many of the lands they had previously cultivated returned to their natural, forested state, leading to a notable drop in atmospheric carbon dioxide.
This explanation places the onus of responsibility on pre-industrial environmental consequences of imperialism. Still, other scholars contend that humans became a geological force during the Industrial Revolution of the 18th and 19th centuries, considering technology as the breakaway piece of the equilibrium. It was then that the success of machines like the steam engine, spinning jenny and cotton gin among others necessitated increasing exactions on the natural world and an increase in population, which snowballed into an obsession with growth.
An alternative starting point for the Anthropocene, and the most popularly accepted, is from the post-World War II period — “The Great Acceleration” — when CO2 emissions from personal automobiles and other consumer goods skyrocketed. In this case, an increase in population (boomers) and the application of mass production to all forms of consumer culture reinvigorated the social commitment to free enterprise and the market. Individual initiative and private property — the American model — became the standard by which we measured the health of a society. Here, the social component of the triangle intensified the use of existing technology to levels beyond reproach.
What these three options have in common is that they isolate a variable in Bukharin’s equation to ascribe a singular culprit — environment, technology or society. Capitalism’s myopia proves incapable of understanding the root of the Anthropocene as a species phenomenon in which the sheer existence of social formations gave rise to increasingly difficult attempts to maintain equilibrium. All of these explanations can be seen as true — so long as they are understood in relation rather than isolation. Thus, we should not be so committed to pin-pointing a singular date or epoch, and more focused on seeing the Anthropocene as a long-term historical process involving our continuously evolving technology, social relations and relationship to the natural world.
Such a focus on process syncs perfectly with the emerging history of capitalism. But in a culture focused on singular causality, solutions also take on narrow-minded forms. In the case of Musk’s carbon sequestering initiative, a purely technological fix is presented as the cure-all for our climate crisis — blissfully ignoring any notion of fundamentally changing our industrial culture, habits of consumption and social relations. We are at a point where the kind of technological determinism once leveled at Marxism is a mirror reflection of capitalism.
As an alternative to this kind of determinism, Bukharin states that “social technology” — that is, society together with its technology — must adapt to a changing environment. The onus of responsibility for addressing climate change is on the two deficient links not responding to nature’s metamorphosis. To re-establish a healthy relationship with nature, we need a wholesale restructuring of social relations and technology on a planetary scale, a promise partially recognized in the Green New Deal.
But even though the radical reforms envisioned in the Green New Deal seek to initiate a technological transition to renewable energy, it falls short overall of the revolutionary transformation needed to undo our present disequilibrium. Commodifying natural energy sources in the form of solar and wind does nothing to change the way society views nature as something that bends to our will.
As historian William Cronon argues, even that which we deem “wilderness” is socially constructed, and we are happy to pretend as if undeveloped land is not affected by our pollution. This is not to mention the essentially imperialist dynamics which would still be maintained — or refined even — between the Global North and South, in terms of what many sketches of the Green New Deal leave outside the frame. We do not have time for reform, only revolution, and on the global scale of the problems we face.
Bukharin’s theory applied to arguments in his own time that one cog in the machine could be accelerated without changing the others. Historical Materialism was a coy defense of Lenin’s New Economic Policy (NEP), which, to put it crudely, admitted that the pace of social transformation and revolution did not and could not occur as fast as Bolsheviks envisioned without an enormous cost to nature and technology.
To re-build the Soviet economy and society after the Civil War (1917-1922), Lenin realized that the state had to permit petty forms of trade and small-scale capitalism. Bukharin and Lenin came to understand that threatening the balance between nature-society-technology by forcing a transformation of one from above would have grave consequences for the other two. Instead, the NEP sought to build back the social infrastructure lost during the war, so that society could get to a point where it had the leisure and ability to invent and promote new technologies by its own accord.
Such a belief in equilibrium is what ultimately got Bukharin in trouble. Later, as Stalin set the USSR on the course of collectivization and rapid industrialization, Bukharin preached caution, preferring moderation over force. His willingness to engage with the vulnerable aspects of Marxist theory sparked resentment from Stalinist ideologues who preached a more stringent dogmatic line. Bukharin’s opposition to Stalinism finally led to his demotion, but as long as he lived, old Bolsheviks viewed him as an integral thinker of the movement and possible alternative to Stalin.
In the end, Stalin’s power and cult of personality successfully branded Bukharin a traitor and “right oppositionist,” for which he was arrested and subject to a show trial — the most notorious in Soviet history. Archival evidence points toward the use of force to extract a confession, but even under such conditions, Bukharin’s intellect skirted around outright admittance of guilt, declaring instead in his final speech: “There were many specific things which I could not have known, and which I actually did not know, but…this does not relieve me of responsibility.” The last point indicates that even though Bukharin believed in his innocence, he understood his trial to be necessary for the USSR’s path to socialism.
If there was one thing that Bukharin believed in more than scientific socialism, it was in the righteous intentions of the Bolshevik project. Tragically, by the time of his trial and execution, independent thinking had been purged from the party and replaced by loyalty to Stalin.
On this 133rd birthday of Bukharin, as modern-day capitalist barons like Elon Musk seek to pay for technological solutions to the climate crisis, it would serve us well to keep in mind his willingness to develop Marxist thought and his emphasis on equilibrium. As he said in the opening to Historical Materialism, “it would be strange if Marxist theory eternally stood still.”
Despite the technological successes and disasters of the USSR — and Cold War takedowns of Marxist theory — socialism ascribes no definitive deterministic role to technology. If there is any major takeaway from Bukharin’s Historical Materialism, it is that to confront the political, economic, social and environmental problems that we face we must see that their historical causes are inter-relational and complex, not teleological.
In the Anthropocene (or Capitalocene), we need to bring back the idea of equilibrium in order to reconceptualize our historical relationship to nature as co-dependent with technology and each other. The revolution we need does not derive from the wallet of a capitalist technocrat, but from a grassroots social and cultural rejection of the commodity form of nature, a collapsing of the dualistic view of nature as something external to us.
A truly green revolution must be an anti-imperialist transformation in our relationship to, and our place on Earth, where the incentive to save the planet comes from more than just the prospect of getting rich.
Alexander Herbert is a PhD Candidate specializing in the history of late socialist society and culture in Russia. He is also a co-host on the Providence Leftist Radio Podcast, the author of What About Tomorrow? An Oral History of Russian Punk from the Soviet Era to Pussy Riot (Microcosm, 2019), and Fear Before the Fall: Horror Movies in the Late Soviet Union (Zero Books, forthcoming).
This article was produced by Roar.
Peruvian president reshuffles cabinet, changes seven ministers “in favor of governability”. By: Tanya WadhwaRead Now
Peruvian President Pedro Castillo swore in with his new cabinet on October 6. Photo: Peruvian Presidency/Twitter
The political pressure from Peru’s right-wing forces against the newly inaugurated progressive administration of the Free Peru party forced President Pedro Castillo to reshuffle his ministerial cabinet just 70 days after taking office. On October 6, President Castillo swore in his new cabinet with seven new ministers out of a total of 19.
On the evening of October 6, prime minister and head of the council of ministers, Guido Bellido, resigned from his position at the request of the president due to conflicts with the Congress, dominated by the right-wing opposition parties. Bellido’s resignation automatically prompted the resignation of the entire cabinet. The same night, Castillo appointed Mirtha Vasquez of left-wing Broad Front party as the country’s new prime minister. Along with Vasquez, six other new ministers, with only one of them belonging to the ruling Free Peru party that helped to put Castillo into power, were incorporated in the new cabinet.
In a brief television address, Castillo said that it was “time to put Peru above ideologies and isolated party impositions” and thanked Bellido for his services. The head of state added that he had “made these decisions in favor of governability” and that “the balance of powers is the bridge between the rule of law and democracy. It must seek tranquility and cohesion in government.” The president also said that his administration would “promote private investment,” but “without corruption and with social responsibility, and prioritizing productive diversification.”
Castillo swore in former police officer and lawyer Luis Roberto Barranzuela as interior minister, replacing Juan Manuel Carrasco; former dean of the College of Teachers Carlos Alfonso Gallardo as education minister, replacing Juan Cadillo; legislator of Free Peru Betsy Chávez as labor minister, replacing Iber Maraví; former state official José Incio as production minister, replacing Yván Quispe; human rights activist Gisela Ortiz Perea as cultural minister, replacing Ciro Gálvez; and businessman Eduardo González Toro as energy and mines minister, Iván Merino Aguirre.
Meanwhile, the head of state ratified Óscar Maúrtua as foreign minister; Walter Ayala as defense minister; Pedro Francke as economic minister; Aníbal Torres as justice minister; Hernando Cevallos as health minister; Roberto Sánchez as foreign trade minister; Anahí Durand as women’s minister; Dina Boluarte as minister of development and social inclusion; Juan Silva as transport and communications minister; Geiner Alvarado as minister of housing; and Rubén Ramírez as environment minister.
Political response to the new cabinet
The conservative opposition sectors in the Congress, which had been demanding Bellido’s resignation for his strong left-wing stance, expressed their general satisfaction over the new cabinet. However, some far-right legislators raised concerns about the presence of Gallardo, because she belongs to a “radical” teachers’ union; and of Barranzuela, because he is the lawyer of the party and its founder Vladimir Cerrón.
Meanwhile, the cabinet reshuffle triggered internal conflict in the ruling party. The spokesman for the parliamentarian bench of the Free Peru party, Waldemar Cerrón, considered the formation of the new cabinet a betrayal and demanded that the president rectify it. The bench publicly announced that it did not accept the new cabinet, but that it would not obstruct the functioning of the government either.
Nevertheless, the left in Peru, including the Broad Front and the New Peru party, called to maintain unity in the face of the right-wing’s maneuvers to prevent the government from bringing about social changes in the country. The parties vowed to support the second agrarian reform, presented last Sunday by the president; the comprehensive health reform, as well as the creation of a Constituent Assembly to rewrite the current Constitution, among others.
Why was Bellido targeted?
In recent weeks, Bellido had openly supported the nationalization of Peru’s natural gas sector. He had asked the foreign companies managing natural gas projects in the country to be prepared to pay increased tax revenue to support the government’s social programs or face nationalization. This was not welcomed by the conservative sectors, which advocate the interests and profits of big corporations.
He also defended the now-replaced labor minister Maraví, who had been facing a motion of censure in the Congress for allegedly having been a part of a Maoist insurgency in his youth.
Bellido also suggested that the government should be prepared to shut down the Congress if the legislators tried to impeach the president. This statement came in response to the recent threats by the president of the Congress, María del Carmen Alva Prieto, who declared that the National Assembly would seek a presidential vacancy if Castillo defended any of his ministers before parliamentary censorship.
What lies ahead for the government?
The progressive sectors believe that the far-right sectors, which have been constantly attacking politically, mediatically and judicialy the socialist government in attempts to destabilize it, will continue to pressurize the government to submit to their demands and disrupt its social plans.
The platform Social Movements of ALBA, which brings together more than 400 social movements from 25 Latin American countries, in August, warned that a coup d’état was in progress against Castillo’s government and that it was promoted by the Congress.
This article was produced by Peoples dispatch.
Why John Deere Workers Needed to Strike - Who Profits from the Labor of Midwestern Workers? By: Edward Liger SmithRead Now
Today, Thursday, October 15th, Ten-Thousand UAW workers at John Deere set up picket lines and went on strike. The strike comes following the vast majority of UAW workers voting to reject the companies contract proposal, which would have increased workers’ healthcare premiums from 0-20%, ended a moratorium on plant closures, and put an end to mandated overtime pay for daily work beyond 8 hours.
After seeing this contract you might have assumed that John Deere was struggling to stay afloat and maintain profits during Covid-19. Why on earth would any successful company offer such a disrespectful contract and attempt to cut benefits for their most valuable workers? However, John Deere is on pace to rake in a record sum of profits of over $6 billion in this year alone. As a result of such financial success, the Company decided to increase dividend payouts for stock owners by 17%. This means that simultaneously as the company tried to cut healthcare benefits for Midwestern families, they increased the amount of money flowing out of the Midwest into the pockets of investors like Bill Gates who owns over $1 billion in John Deere shares.
The largest shareholders in John Deere are hedge funds like ‘The Vanguard Group’ which owns 6.82% of shares, which is part of the $7 trillion in investments the organization maintains in total. The second-largest investor behind Vanguard Group who holds 6.82% of shares, is the New York-based BlackRock Fund Advisors with 4.42%. Both hedge funds are headed by boards of multibillionaires who saw a 17% increase in their payouts from John Deere despite never stepping foot in a John Deere plant. At least not to do any actual work.
The list of John Deere’s largest shareholders is filled with these kinds of elite investment groups who funnel vast sums of money into the bank accounts of multi-billionaires like Bill Gates. Most of these investors don’t live anywhere near the Midwest, and none of them have worked a single day at John Deere this year. Despite that, John Deere decided these folks have earned 17% bump in pay, while the Midwestern workers whose labor creates these vast payouts have not yet done enough to deserve healthcare.
Unfortunately for billionaire investors like Gates, however, the source of his wealth is the labor of workers such as those on strike at John Deere. This means that if workers collectively withhold their labor parasitical investors lose the source of their profits. John Deere’s equipment is crafted in the hands of Midwestern workers before being sold to farmers. The money made from these sales goes towards maintaining production costs including the wages of workers. The billions of dollars in surplus-value not expended in maintaining production are then funneled out of the Midwest, and into the bank accounts of people who have likely never created a piece of farming equipment in their lives.
If Bill Gates were to disappear from the face of the earth (wishful thinking) it would have zero impact on the physical production of farming equipment. In terms of agriculture and the necessary production of food for human society, Bill Gates and investors like him contribute nothing. Yet because these folks own the factories Midwesterners work in, and the farmland that grows our food, they are able to extract billions of dollars from the process of food production without contributing even a second of their own labor to the actual process. (Gates also owns 269,000 acres of farmland).
John Deere’s decision to use their $6 billion in profits to increase investor payouts while cutting healthcare benefits for workers is but one example of how this nonsensical system plays out in real life. Those who produce the food we all rely on to survive are told that they haven’t worked hard enough to deserve basic medical care, while those who produce nothing live in unimaginable luxury.
These UAW workers’ decision to strike is a long overdue FUCK YOU to this system and the parasitical billionaires who profit from it. In the coming weeks, corporate media outlets will begin pressuring these workers into ending the strike at the behest of the billionaire investors who control them. Now is the time of year when John Deere stands to lose the most, as farmers will be looking to restock on equipment following the end of harvest. The company and its shareholders will desperately miss the labor which serves as their source of profits.
Workers must not fall for the media onslaught that is coming! They will surely call you lazy for not going back to work so you can keep up the profits of people who do no work at all. Don’t listen to them. They are liars who want to continue robbing the Midwest of the value that our workers create.
Tell them that if Bill Gates and his buddies want to make money off the Midwest, they can come here and get a job like everyone else.
Edward Liger Smith is an American Political Scientist and specialist in anti-imperialist and socialist projects, especially Venezuela and China. He also has research interests in the role southern slavery played in the development of American and European capitalism. He is a co-founder and editor of Midwestern Marx and the Journal of American Socialist Studies. He is currently a graduate student, assistant, and wrestling coach at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville.
Western Marxism suffers largely from the same symptom as Scott Fitzgerald’s Jay Gatsby – each’s fixation on perfection and purity leaves perpetually unfulfilled all that it claims to desire. On one hand, Jay seeks a return to the purity of his first encounter with Daisy, and in the impossibility of this return to purity, the actual potential for a relationship is lost. On the other hand, western Marxists seek a pure form of socialism, but in the impossibility of such a purity arising, they lose the potential to actuate or defend any socialist revolution. The purity of each is met with the reality that reality itself is never pure – it always contains mistakes, negations, breaks and splits.
Jay Gatsby cannot officially reestablish himself with Daisy insofar as she admits to having loved Tom Buchanan – her husband – during the intermediate time before she re-connects with Jay. This imperfection, this negation of purity, is unacceptable – Daisy must tell Tom she never loved him to reestablish the purity of their first encounter. With no purity, there can be no relationship.
Similarly, for Western Marxists the triumphant socialist experiments of the 20th and 21st century, in their mistakes and ‘totalitarianisms’, desecrate the purity in the holiness of their conception of socialism. The USSR must be rejected, the Spanish civil war upheld; Cuban socialism must be condemned, but the 1959 revolution praised; Allende and Sankara are idols, Fidel and Kim Il-Sung tyrants, etc. What has died in purity can be supported, what has had to grapple with the mistakes and pressures that arise out of the complexities and contradictions of building socialism in the imperialist phase of capitalism, that must be denied.
As was diagnosed by Brazilian communist Jones Manoel’s essay, ‘Western Marxism Loves Purity and Martyrdom, But Not Real Revolution’, western Marxists’ fetishization of purity, failures, and resistance as an end in itself creates “a kind of narcissistic orgasm of defeat and purity”. Comrade Manoel rightly points out the fact that western “Marxism preserves the purity of theory to the detriment of the fact that it has never produced a revolution anywhere on the face of the Earth”. Western Marxists celebrate the emergence of a revolutionary movement; but, when this revolutionary movement is triumphant in taking power, and hence faced with making the difficult decisions the concrete reality of imperialism, a national bourgeoisie, economic backwardness, etc. force it into, the western Marxists flee with shouts of betrayal! For the western Marxists, all practical deviation from their purity is seen as a betrayal of the revolution, and thus, the cries of ‘state capitalism’ and ‘authoritarianism’ emerge.
Manoel, reflecting on the work of the late Domenico Losurdo’s Western Marxism, does a superb job in providing the meat for this thesis. Nonetheless, he (as well as Losurdo) conceives of this theoretical lapse as being “smuggled in as contraband from Christianity”. I will argue that although Christian mysticism may be present here, the root of the rot is not Christian contraband, but western metaphysics (which precedes Christian mysticism itself). The root, in essence, is found in the fixated categories that have permeated western philosophy; in the general conception that Truth is in the unchanging, in the permanent, in substance; and only indirectly in the mystical forms these have taken under the Christian tradition. The diagnosis Engels gave reductive Marxists in 1890 applies to today’s western Marxists – “what all these gentlemen lack is dialectics”.
Parmenides Contra Heraclitus
Whereas Manoel and Losurdo see the root of this purity fixation in Christianity, it is in the classical Greek debates on the question of change – taking place 500 years or so before Christ – where this fixation emerges. It will be necessary to paint with a broad stroke the history of philosophy to explain this thesis.
The Heraclitan philosophy of universal flux, which posits that “everything flows and nothing abides; everything gives way and nothing stays fixed”, would lose its battle against the Parmenidean philosophy of permanence.[i] Parmenides, who held that foolish is the mind who thinks “that everything is in a state of movement and countermovement”, would dominate the conceptions of truth in the ancient, medieval, modern, and contemporary world.[ii] Although various aspects of Heraclitus’ thought would become influential in scattered minds, the dialectical aspect of his thought would never be centered by any philosophical era.
Plato, as the next best dialectician of the ancient world, attempted a reconciliation of Parmenides and Heraclitus. In the realm of Forms, the Parmenidean philosophy of permanence would reign; in the physical realm, the Heraclitan philosophy of flux would. In his Phaedo, Plato would note that the realm of the physical world is changing and composed of concrete opposites in an interpenetrative, i.e., dialectical, relationship to one another. In the realm of the “unchanging forms”, however, “essential opposites will never… admit of generation into or out of one another”.[iii] Truth, ultimately, is in the realm of the Forms, where “purity, eternity, immortality, and unchangeableness” reign.[iv] Hence, although attempting to provide a synthesis of Parmenides’ and Heraclitus’ philosophy of permanence and change, the philosophy of purity and fixation found in Parmenides dominates Plato’s conception of the realm of the really real, that is, the realm of Forms or Idea.
Aristotle, a student of Plato, would move a step further away from the Heraclitan philosophy of flux. In Aristotle we have a metaphysical system which considers the law of non-contradiction the most primary principle – “the same attribute cannot at the same time belong and not belong to the same subject and in the same respect”.[v] In addition, in Aristotle we have the development of the west's first logical system, an impressive feat, but nonetheless composed of abstract fixated categories completely indifferent to content. The fixation found in the logic would mirror the fixation and purity with which the eidos (essence) of things would be treated. Forms, although not existing in a separate realm as in Plato, nonetheless exist with the same rigidity. The thinking of essences, that is, the thinking of what makes a species, a type of thing, the type of thing it is, would remain in the realm of science within this fixated Aristotelian framework. Although the 16th century’s scientific revolution begins to tear away the Aristotelianism which dominated the prevalent scholastic philosophy, only with the publication of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species would Aristotelian essentialism be dealt its decisive blow. This essentialism, undeniably, is an inheritance of the Parmenidean philosophy of permanence.
The philosophy of Plato, in the form of Neo-Platonists like Plotinus, would be incredibly influential in the formation of Christian thought – especially in Augustine of Hippo. Christianity would remain with a Platonic philosophical foundation up until the 12th-13th century’s rediscovery of Aristotle and the synthetization of his philosophy with Christian doctrine via Thomas Aquinas. Centuries later the protestant reformation’s rejection of Aristotelianism would mark the return of Plato to the Christian scene. All in all, the Christianity which Manoel and Losurdo see as the root of the fetishization of purity in every moment of its unfolding presupposes Greek philosophy. It is fair, then, to go beyond Christianity and ask the critical question – “what is presupposed here”? : what we find is that in every instance, whether mediated through Plato or Aristotle, there is a Parmenidean epistemic and ontological fixation which posits the eternal and unchanging as synonymous with truth, and the perishable and corporeal as synonymous with false.
Hegel Contra Parmenides
The spirit of the Heraclitan dialectic will be rekindled by Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, who argued philosophy came to finally see “land” with Heraclitus. In his Lectures on the History of Philosophy, Hegel says that “there is no proposition of Heraclitus which I have not adopted in my Logic”[vi]. It is in Heraclitus, Hegel argues, where we “see the perfection of knowledge so far as it has gone”; for, Heraclitus “understands the absolute as just this process of the dialectic”.[vii] Heraclitus’ dialectics understood, as Hegel notes, that “truth only is as the unity of distinct opposites and, indeed, of the pure opposition of being and non-being”.[viii] This unity of pure being and non-being is the starting point for Hegel’s Science of Logic. Here, he argues:
[Pure] being, the indeterminate immediate, is in fact nothing, and neither more nor less than nothing… Pure being and nothing are, therefore, the same. What is truth is neither being nor nothing, but that being – does not pass over but has passed over – into nothing, and nothing into being.[ix]
Insofar as being exists in a condition of purity, it is indistinguishable from nothingness. Being must take the risk of facing and tarrying with its opposite in order to be. Being only takes place within the impurity present in the oscillation and mediation from being and non-being, that is, being only takes place when sublated into becoming qua determinate being, as “coming-to-be and ceasing-to-be”.[x] This is why, in his Phenomenology of Spirit, Hegel understands that “Substance is being which is in truth Subject”.[xi] Substance, whose purity holds the crowning jewel of Truth for western philosophy, can be only insofar as it is “self-othering” itself.[xii] Like Spirit, Substance, must look the “negative in the face, and tarry with it”.[xiii] Only insofar as something can self-otherize itself, which is to say, only insofar as a thing can immanently provide a negation for itself and desecrate its purity by wrestling with the impure, can conditions for the possibility of it actually being arise. Hence, the “truth of being” is “characterized as Becoming”; truth is won “only when, in utter dismemberment, it finds itself”.[xiv] Purity, the “[shrinking] from death [to] keep itself untouched by devastation”, is lifeless.[xv] Jay cannot be with Daisy insofar as he wishes to retain the relationship in purity. Western Marxists will never build socialism, or find a socialism to support, insofar as they expect socialism to arise in the pure forms in which it exists in their heads.
The Paradox of Western Marxists
Having shifted our focus from Christianity to the purity fixated epistemology-ontology of western philosophy, we can now see the fundamental paradox in Western Marxism: on the one hand, in hopes of differentiating themselves from the ‘positivistic’ and ‘mechanistic’ Marxism that arose in the Soviet Union it seeks to return to Hegel in their fight against ‘orthodox dogma’; on the other hand, although producing remarkable works on Hegel and dialectics, Western Marxist’s interpretive lens for looking at the world remains with a Parmenidean rigidity and Aristotelian form of binary thinking. Western Marxists, although claiming to be the ones who rekindle the spirit of Hegel into Marxism, are the least bit dialectical when it comes to analysis of the concrete world.
They are unable to understand, as Hegel did, the necessary role apparent ‘failures’ play as a moment in the unfolding of truth. For Hegel, that which is seen as ‘false’ is part of “the process of distinguishing in general” and constitutes an “essential moment” of Truth.[xvi] The bud (one of Hegel’s favorite examples which consistently reappears in his work) is not proven ‘false’ when the blossom arises. Instead, Hegel notes, each sustains a “mutual necessity” as “moments of an organic unity”.[xvii] Socialism is not ‘betrayed’ when it, encountering the external and internal pressures of imperialism and a national bourgeois class, is forced to take more so-called ‘authoritarian’ positions to protect the revolution. Socialism is not ‘betrayed’ or transformed into ‘state capitalism’ (in the derogatory, non-Leninist sense) when faced with a backwards economy it takes the risk of tarrying with its opposite and engages a process of opening up to foreign capital to develop its productive forces.
The ‘authoritarian’ moment, or the moment of ‘opening up to foreign capital’, are not the absolute negation[xviii]of socialism – as western Marxists would have you believe – but the partial negation, that is, the sublation of the idealistic conceptions of a socialist purity. These two moments present themselves where they appear as the historically necessary negations needed to develop socialism. A less ‘authoritarian’ treatment of the Batista goons after the Cuban revolution would have opened the window for imperialism and national counter-revolutionary forces to overthrow the popular revolution. A China which would not have taken the frightening risk of opening up would not have been able to lift 800 million out of poverty (eradicating extreme poverty) and be the beacon of socialist construction and anti-imperialist resistance in the world today.
Hegel understood that every leap towards a qualitatively new stage required a long process, consisting of various moments of ‘failures’ and ‘successes’, for this new stage to mature into its new shape. Using for Spirit the metaphor of a child he says,
But just as the first breath drawn by a child after its long, quiet nourishment breaks the gradualness of merely quantitative growth-there is a qualitative leap, and the child is born-so likewise the Spirit in its formation matures slowly and quietly into its new shape, dissolving bit by bit the structure of its previous world, whose tottering state is only hinted at by isolated symptoms.[xix]
Western Marxists ignore the necessity of the process. They expect socialism, as a qualitatively new stage of human history, to exist immediately in the pure form they conceived of in their minds. They expect a child to act like a grown up and find themselves angered when the child is unable to recite Shakespeare and solve algebraic equations. They forget to contextualize whatever deficiencies they might observe within the embryonic stage the global movement towards socialism is in. They forget the world is still dominated by capitalist imperialism and expect the pockets of socialist resistance to be purely cleansed from the corrupting influence of the old world. They forget, as Marx noted in his Critique of the Gotha Program, that socialist society exists “as it emerges from capitalist society which is thus in every respect, economically, morally and intellectually, still stamped with the birth marks of the old society from whose womb it emerges”.[xx]
Where is Hegel, in concrete analysis, for these Western Marxists? The answer is simple, he is dead. But Hegel does not die without a revenge, they too are dead in the eyes of Hegel. Their anti-dialectical lens of interpreting the material world in general, and the struggle for socialism in specific, leaves them in the lifeless position Hegel called Dogmatism. For Hegel,
Dogmatism as a way of thinking, whether in ordinary knowing or in the study of philosophy, is nothing else but the opinion that the True consists in a proposition which is a fixed result, or which is immediately known.[xxi]
Western Marxist dogmatist fetishize binaries, the immediate (either intuitive or empirical), and the pure. To them, something is either socialism (if it is pure) or not-socialism (if it is impure). They cannot grapple, in practice at least, with the concept of becoming, that is, with the reality of the construction of socialism. Socialism must be constructed, it is an active enterprise emersed necessarily in a world riddled by imperialist pressures, contradictions, and violence – both active and passive. Western Marxist will write splendid critiques of positivism’s fetish of the ‘fact’, but in their own practical analysis of socialist construction in the world they too castrate facts from the factors that allowed them to exist.
Hence Žižek, the most prominent Hegelian Marxist today, couches his anti-dialectical bourgeois critiques of socialism in Cuba (as well as China and pretty much every other socialist experiment) within a reified analysis that strips the Cuban reality from its context. It ignores the historical pressures of being a small island 90 miles away from the world’s largest empire; an empire which has spent the last 60+ years using a plethora of techniques – from internationally condemned blockades, to chemical attacks, terrorist fundings, and 600+ CIA led attempts on Fidel’s life – to overthrow the Cuban revolution. Only in ignoring this context and how it emerges can Žižek come to the purist and anti-dialectical conclusion that the revolution failed and that the daily life of Cubans is reducible to “inertia, misery, escapism in drugs, in sex, [and] pleasures”.
The Panacea to the Fetishes of Western Marxism
In sum, expanding upon the analysis of comrade Manoel, it can be seen that the purity fetish, and the subsequent infatuation with failed experiments and struggles which, although never achieving the conquest of power, stayed ‘pure’, can be traced back to a Parmenidean conception of Truth as Unchanging Permanence which has permeated, in different forms, all throughout the various moments of western philosophy’s history.
This interpretive phenomenon may be referred to as an intellectual rot because; 1) at some point, it might have been a fresh fruit, a genuine truth in a particular moment; 2) like all fruits which are not consumed, they outlive their moment of ripeness and rot. Hence, the various forms the Parmenidean conception of Truth took throughout the various moments it permeated might have been justified for those moments, but today, after achieving a proper scientific understanding of the dialectical movement in nature, species, human social formation and thought, Parmenidean purity has been overthrown – it has spoiled, and this death fertilizes the soil for dialectical self-consciousness.
Although all theorists are still class subjects, bound to the material and ideological conditioning of their class and geographical standpoint (in relation to imperialism specifically) – the panacea for Western Marxists’ purity fetish is dialectics. Dialectics must not be limited simply to the theoretical realm in which they engage with it. If it stays in this pure realm, it will suffer the same fate socialism has for them – nothingness, absolute negation. Dialectical logic must be brought beyond the textbook and used as the interpretive framework with which we analyze the world in general, and the construction of socialism in specific. Only then will Western Marxism gain the possibility of being something more than a ‘radical’ niche of Western academia, focused only on aesthetics and other trivialities where purity can be sustained without risk of desecration.
[i] Wheelwright, Phillip. The Presocratics. (The Odyssey Press, 1975). pp. 70.
[ii] Ibid., pp. 97.
[iii] Plato. “Phaedo” in The Harvard Classics. (P.F. Collier & Son Corporation, 1937). pp. 70, 90.
[iv] Ibid., pp. 71.
[v] Aristotle. “Metaphysics” In The Basic Works of Aristotle. (The Modern Library, 2001)., pp. 736.
[vi] Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich. Lectures on the History of Philosophy Vol I. (K. Paul, Trench, Trübner, & Company, 1892)., pp. 278.
[vii] Ibid., pp. 282, 278.
[viii] Ibid., pp. 282.
[ix] Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich. Science of Logic. § 132-134.
[x] Ibid., § 187
[xi] Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich. Phenomenology of Spirit. (Oxford University Press, 1977)., pp. 10.
[xiii] pp. 19.
[xiv] Hegel’s Lectures pp. 283 and Phenomenology pp. 19.
[xv] Phenomenology., pp. 19.
[xvi] Ibid., pp. 23.
[xvii] Ibid., pp. 2.
[xviii] In Hegel's jargon, 'absolute negation/negativity' refers to the second negation, i.e., the negation of the negation. This is not how I am using it here. Instead, what I intend to mean by 'absolute negation' here is simply the complete annihilation of the original conception, as opposed to the process of aufhebung, where the cancelation is partial and a part of the old conception is sustained or elevated into the new one in a higher 'level'.
[xix] Phenomenology., pp.6.
[xx] Marx, Karl. “Critique of the Gotha Program” In Robert C. Tucker’s The Marx-Engels Reader. (W.W. Norton and Company, 1978)., pp. 529.
[xxi] Phenomenology., pp. 23.
Carlos L. Garrido is a Cuban American graduate student and assistant in philosophy at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale. His research focuses include Marxism, Hegel, and early 19th century American socialism. His academic work has appeared in Critical Sociology, The Journal of American Socialist Studies, and Peace, Land, and Bread. Along with various editors from The Journal of American Socialist Studies, Carlos is currently working on a serial anthology of American socialism. His popular theoretical and political work has appeared in Monthly Review Online, CovertAction Magazine, The International Magazine, The Marx-Engels Institute of Peru, Countercurrents, Janata Weekly, Hampton Institute, and in Midwestern Marx, which he co-founded and where he serves as an editorial board member. As a political analyst with a focus on Latin America (esp. Cuba) he has been interviewed by Russia Today and has appeared in dozens of radio interviews in the US and around the world.
Ahead of the general elections in Chile on November 21, we look at the leading presidential candidates, their backgrounds and their proposals to address the various issues in the country
Leading presidential candidates in Chile’s presidential elections: Gabriel Boric, Sebastián Sichel, Yasna Provoste and José Antonio Kast. Photo: Midhun Puthupattu
On November 21, over 18 million Chileans will go to the polls to elect the country’s next president, 155 members of the Chamber of Deputies and 27 of 50 members of the Senate for the period 2022-2026. These elections come after the historic electoral process to elect the members of the constituent assembly to draft a new constitution; the regional and municipal elections to elect mayors, councilors and governors; and the primaries to choose candidates from the major coalitions earlier this year.
In the presidential race, a total number of 7 candidates are contesting. If no candidate receives a simple majority (50% of the votes) in the first round, a run-off will be held between the two leading candidates on December 19. The new president and the newly elected legislators will be sworn in on March 11, 2022.
According to various opinion polls, the candidates who are leading the voting intention include Gabriel Boric of the left-wing ‘Approve Dignity’ coalition, José Antonio Kast of the far-right Republican Party, Sebastián Sichel of the ruling right-wing ‘Chile We Can (Do) More’ coalition, and Yasna Provoste of the center-left New Social Pact coalition.
The majority of opinion polls suggest that the second round will be inevitable, and will most probably be between Boric and Kast, as Sichel’s numbers fell sharply in the month of September. The recent polls by pollsters Activa, Cadem, Criteria and Data Influye show that Boric is leading with between 19.9% to 26.5% of votes. Meanwhile, Kast follows him with between 16.1% and 18% of the votes. Sichel and Provoste follow with between 10% and 15%, and between 11% and 13% respectively. The recent crises in Chile regarding the anti-migrant protests and the implication of sitting-president Sebastian Piñera in the Pandora papers regarding the use of offshore accounts, is likely to impact the vote in the country.
Who is Gabriel Boric?
35-year-old Boric is a former student leader and a member of the Chamber of Deputies. He emerged as a prominent young leader during the 2011-12 student protests, which demanded free university education for all and pointed to the glaring inequalities in the country. In the 2013 legislative elections, he was elected as an independent candidate to represent the Magallanes and Antarctic region in the lower house of Congress. He was re-elected in 2017 with an increased majority. Presently, he is a member of the progressive Social Convergence Party, a part of the left-wing Broad Front bloc in Congress.
Boric won the ‘Approve Dignity’ primary election against Recoleta mayor Daniel Jadue of the Chilean Communist Party, receiving approximately 60% of the votes in July. If Boric wins the elections, he will become Chile’s youngest president ever.
Boric advocates government decentralization and climate change mitigation. Boric plans to recover the economy through green investments. He has promised to guarantee universal social benefits. He has vowed to increase state spending on social services, such as universal health insurance and environment friendly economic solutions.
He has also pledged to replace the country’s pension system (AFP), which is managed by private insurers and has been a cause of dispute between the government and the population since last year, with a public alternative. He proposes to introduce progressive taxes on corporations and wealthy individuals. He has sworn to reform the national police force, the Carabineros, which has been called out for its brutality countless times by organizations within and outside Chile since the 2019 protests.
Boric’s position on foreign policy has been met with disapproval by progressives in Chile. He hasn’t spoken against imperialist powers and has openly criticized the socialist governments of president Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela and president Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua for being “autocratic”.
Who is José Antonio Kast?
55-year-old Kast is a lawyer and former congressman. Between 1996 and 2000, he was a councilor of Buin city. In 2001, he was elected as a member of the Chamber of Deputies for Santiago’s district 30. He was re-elected consecutively and served in the lower house from 2002 to 2018. This is the second time he is running for presidency. In 2017, he received the fourth highest number of votes.
Kast was against the drafting of a new constitution, written and imposed under the military dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990). On several occasions, he had even defended Pinochet’s dictatorship.
Kast is the most extremist and conservative candidate. His proposals include strengthening support for security forces, particularly following the 2019 popular uprising, and creating stricter immigration policies, including a police force similar to the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). He has also stated that he would try to reverse a law, passed in 2017, which allows abortion in three conditions. He has said that he would deploy military forces in regions where the indigenous communities are often in conflict with law enforcement forces.
Apart from these four contenders, Eduardo Artés Brichetti of the left-wing Patriotic Union party, Marco Enríquez-Ominami of the left-wing Progressive party and Franco Aldo Parisi right-wing Party of the People are also running for presidency and are polling below 10% of the votes.
Who is Sebastián Sichel?
43-year-old Sichel is a lawyer and has served in different positions in the ruling government, but is yet to hold an elected public office. This is his third run for a public office after two unsuccessful bids. He ran twice for Congress in 2009 and 2013 as a member of the center-left Christian Democratic party. Two years later, in 2015, he joined the center-left Citizens Party. Then again two years later, in 2017, he expressed his support for the ruling right-wing President Sebastián Piñera. In 2018, Piñera appointed him as vice president of the Production Development Corporation (CORFO). In 2019, Piñera named Sichel as his minister of social development. The following year, in 2020, he left the office to become the president of Chile’s state bank. In December 2020, he resigned from the position to run for presidency as an independent candidate in the primary election of ‘Chile We Can Do More’.
Sichel won the coalition’s primary, beating Ignacio Briones of the Political Evolution party, Mario Desbordes of the National Renewal party and Joaquín Lavín of the Independent Democratic Union party (UDI). He received 49% of the votes.
Sichel proposes to make the government more efficient by, among other things, reducing the number of ministries from 24 to 18. He has said that he supports the country’s free-market economic policies, but will also introduce social policies. He has promised to aid childhood food programs, housing, and mental health services. He has also vowed to support same-sex marriage and adoption by same-sex couples.
Who is Yasna Provoste?
51-year-old Provoste is a senator of the Christian Democratic party. She is the only woman and person with an indigenous background among the leading candidates. She served as planning minister from 2004 to 2006, and education minister from 2006 to 2008 until she was removed from office following allegations of financial irregularities in the ministry. Her impeachment, widely perceived as politically motivated, barred her from public office for five years. In 2013, she won a seat in the lower house of Congress, and in 2017 she was elected to the Senate. She was the president of the Senate from March to August 2021.
Provoste won the alliance’s primary, defeating Carlos Maldonado of the Radical Party and Paula Narváez of the Socialist Party, securing over 60% of the votes. She will give a good fight to both Boric for the left’s vote and Sichel for the center’s.
Provoste plans to expand the state’s participation in public sectors and supports progressive social policies such as universal basic income. She has proposed to reform the current private pension system instead of replacing it with a public system like Boric. She has promised to make changes to the national police force.
This article was produced by Peoples Dispatch.
The United States marked a grim milestone Oct. 1 as the 700,000th death from COVID-19 was officially registered. Since January of 2020 the United States has also counted over 43 million cases, the most of any country on the planet for both deaths and infections.
This period has tragically revealed the contradictions between the enormous resources society has to combat the disease and the inability of the capitalist ruling class to take the necessary steps to address the public health crisis. The pandemic shows the fundamental law of capitalism is that nothing must get in the way of exploitation of the human and natural resources of the planet. It can be summed up in three words, “Profits over people.”
The Trump administration led an all-out attack on all social programs at the state and federal level that addressed everything from reducing inequality, poverty and hunger, homelessness to protecting the environment and the rights of labor. His administration gave credence to those who promote conspiracy theories and dismiss science and any historical facts that didn’t fit their world view. The Trump administration and the capitalist class dismissed the significance of the virus and did little to prepare. Once the virus arrived on the continent, the country was ill-prepared.
Public health departments across the country implemented standard practices proven historically effective to contain airborne viruses: quarantine, masking, handwashing and social distancing were implemented.
Congress rushed to pass the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, which funded $2.2 trillion to address the pandemic with measures such as stimulus checks, and emergency funds for medical and hospital costs. Other programs extended unemployment benefits, and created supplemental unemployment benefits and Emergency Rental Assistance.
The CDC issued a ban on evictions because putting people out into the streets during a communicable disease public health crisis would accelerate the spread of the deadly virus. The eviction ban was implemented when no vaccine existed.
Hospitals were overwhelmed with the sick and dying and forced to implement Emergency Standards of Care, which lowered the level of care so that hospital workers could care for the thousands of unexpected patients.
The pandemic has shone a spotlight on the millions of heroic essential workers, who are largely low-wage workers and disproportionately people of color and women. It was clear who really makes society run. It isn’t Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson, who insultingly thanked those same essential workers for paying for their hobbies and sacrificing their lives, who are essential — it’s the working class.
A rush to develop a vaccine was underway with the federal government bankrolling $18 billion in research and development for private corporations like Moderna and Pfizer.
While all this was being done the business of capitalism kept on. Forbes magazine reported that in 2020 the United States counted 98 new billionaires. While those 98 were celebrating their wealth, over 20 million people lost their jobs during the same year. In addition, eleven million people who have been unable to pay their rent since the start of the pandemic have no way to do so and could face eviction if rent debt is not canceled.
Capitalists demand “back to normal”, no matter the death toll
Throughout the pandemic federal, state and local governments and agencies have sent mixed messages about what to do and not do. Governments tell workers and businesses to shut down, then to open up. They say that dine-in is okay then it’s not, masks are mandatory and then they’re optional.
This reflects two things. One: there is a debate inside the ruling class on how best to address the pandemic. How much of a safety net is needed? How much do we need to spend? How much death is “acceptable”? Two: guidelines evolve as knowledge of the virus and our understanding of the virus changes.
An unprecedented amount of money was allocated to alleviate the financial crisis facing millions of people and businesses, but the plan was always being calibrated to get the economy back at full pre-pandemic capacity. The plan’s goal was never truly to do whatever is needed to save people.
What if the government had guaranteed an income to anyone who lost their jobs or small businesses from the shutdown, or that no one would lose their home and their rents or mortgages would be covered by the government? The pressure people felt to go to work and challenge the mandates would be viewed very differently by the population.
Absent a “people’s first” program to deal with the pandemic, the economic uncertainty people experience contributes to making people hostile to mandates, wearing a mask, social distance and other public health measures. For a section of the population already won over by the right wing, the acts of the government are just one more infraction on their individual constitutional rights.
The broader problem for the ruling class is if the population gets used to the idea of a safety net for COVID-19, what’s to prevent the population from demanding that kind of safety net for other emergencies: the hundreds of thousands of people experiencing homelessness, or the 48 million who live in poverty, or the people with over $1.73 trillion in student debt?
That is why there is a campaign by politicians and the corporate media to get people to return to work and the “normal” conditions of capitalist exploitation before the pandemic. Media articles on heroic essential workers are being replaced by frantic demands by business leaders to cut all the CARES and related benefits and end the eviction moratorium. They want to force people back to work because there is a labor shortage. These demands were answered by dozens of governors who refused the federal unemployment benefits and opted out of the program before the September 30th end date.
Another part of the “return to normal” campaign is the message that the COVID-19 virus is here to stay and we should just get used to it. We should treat it like the Flu, adapt and go about our regular lives. For instance, this view was expressed in an article in The Atlantic by former Trump administration Food and Drug Administration commissioner Scott Gottlieb. This is the cruel future the U.S. capitalist class has in mind for workers.
It will take a broad-based movement of millions of people to force Congress and Biden to turn the emergency measures found in the CARES Act and other pandemic relief measures into a benefit like social security, and refuse to give in on public health efforts to decisively end the pandemic.
This article was produced by Liberation News.
A lonely balloon floats through the hall of the election party of Die Linke in the Karl-Liebknecht-Haus in Berlin on Sunday after everyone left. With its vote share declining precipitously, The Left party averted total disaster by having three of its candidates winning seats outright. | Jan Woitas / dpa via AP
BERLIN—Germany’s long election campaign, full of ups and downs, marked the end of 16 more or less placid years with Angela Merkel, 67, and her “Christian double party” (CDU and CSU) known as the “Union” (though the Christian Democratic Union’s Bavarian component, the Christian Social Union, stays somewhat separate). Until now it had joined up with the Social Democrats (SPD) as increasingly uncomfortable junior partners. But now, without Angela, her unlucky Union followers ended up with the worst vote in their history (24.1 %) and an embarrassing second place.
They were edged out by their SPD ex-partners, headed by Olaf Scholz, 63, with 25.7%. A pillar of the right wing of his party, he is burdened by shady corruption scandals from his earlier days as mayor of Hamburg and his recent years as Minister of Finance. But his confident, nonchalant personality and his party’s position as lesser evil won out after an amazing upward swoop from its hand-wringing debility and despondency less than a year ago.
But to head a new government a majority of the Bundestag seats is necessary. In the past, this always required a twosome. But the big chamber, jammed with 735 deputies, is now split up among six (or seven parties if one counts the Bavarian “Christians” separately), making it almost impossible for even two parties to reach a majority; so Scholz now needs two partners for a threesome.
A threesome, but with whom?
The two always disliked each other. The FDP openly and unashamedly favors untaxed, unregulated big business, and they downplay ecology. Perhaps due to a well-spoken leader who skilfully sold voters on pure “trickle-down” economics with “digitalization,” the FDP shinned upward to an unexpectedly high 11.5%.
The Greens have long scorned such reactionaries. But now, increasingly conservative, they have become friendlier with sectors of big business, especially auto giants like Daimler and Porsche. After an amazing but very brief stay at the top of the ladder in the polls, they slipped back to a far more modest 14.8%, which was still the best in their history.
So now, with the Free Democrats smelling a chance at some of those warm, comfortable, perk-laden cabinet seats they have done without for so many years, the two seem to be smoothing over differences and will most likely opt for Olaf. We should soon know their decision.
What about the other two Bundestag parties? The Alternative for Germany (AfD) has now chosen two co-chairs; one from the ranks of more rabid pro-fascists, the other from its cultivated all-for-democracy (“Who? Us, Nazis?) wing, only slightly embarrassed when the other wing betrays all too soon its genuine beliefs and plans. Although the rabid wing won alarming first places in two East German states (Saxony 24.6% and Thuringia 24%), on the national level they only just held on to a two-digit result (10.3%)—far too high but far less than they expected and down 2.3% from 2017. As yet, no other party dares to have anything to do with them.
The most important election result is hardly discussed in the media—and when it is, then with satisfaction or joy. It is, in fact, a truly sad result; Die Linke (The Left) came out worst of all the Bundestag parties, losing about two million votes, getting barely over half the 9.2 % it received in 2017 (when it became the leading opposition party) and coming close to losing its entire status in the Bundestag, which requires a vote total of at least 5% in the national vote.
The Left, with only 4.9%, was just saved from total defeat by a special rule in Germany’s complex but democratic election rules.
When Germans vote, they make two crosses on their ballots; first, for a candidate in their own district, and second, for the party they prefer. The winner of the first vote gets a seat directly. The percentage a party obtains in the second vote determines how many seats it will receive, even if it doesn’t win out in a single district. Who gets these seats is decided by a list chosen by each party before the election; the more crosses obtained in that second column, the more of the nominees on the list will get a seat. If 5% is not reached nationally then none on the list get in, but only those—if any—who won out on their own in their own district. It’s a complicated system, but it does guarantee smaller parties a voice—if they can reach 5%.
Sadly, the Left missed that red line level—but was miraculously saved by a special rule. If three or more delegates of a party win out in their own districts—with those first crosses—then their parties and their proportionate lists are saved, just as if they had reached 5%. And, thanks be to God or some secular deity, the Left managed to barely squeeze through. Two candidates won seats in (East) Berlin and another in eastern Germany’s second city, Leipzig. Its 4.9% will thus get it 39 seats, far less than the previous 69, but enough to form a caucus with all of its rights, rooms, staff jobs, and privileges.
This near total disaster, saved by a thin thread, is of great importance. Germany, the most powerful country in Europe, is intent on economic and military expansion on a scale second only to the United States (and/or China). In a quest for supremacy, it still plays second fiddle to the Pentagon and Wall Street but is aiming at bass viol strength. All the German parties support these endeavors, and all have ties—some very close, some more complex—with powers-that-be like Bayer-Monsanto, BASF, Daimler, Aldi, Krupp, Rheinmetall, and Deutsche Bank.
All but The Left, that is, with no such ties and alone in opposing a dangerous course which, despite good business with both, moves ever more belligerently towards confrontation with Russia, China, or both. A few voices in the SPD have called for the removal of American nuclear bombs from German soil or opposed armed drones, but they were not the voices of Olaf Scholz or Foreign Minister Heiko Maas. As for the Green leaders, they are loudest in demanding that Germany “stand up” to Russia. In the Bundestag, The Left has been alone.
Why the Die Linke disaster?
Why has The Left lost so severely, reducing its solo voice to an even smaller whisper?
One reason, doubtless, was a red-baiting campaign by the Union’s Armin Laschet. In the last weeks of the campaign, desperate to regain party strength, he warned dramatically of a threatening SPD-Green-Left takeover which would plunge poor Germany into a Bolshevik hell like that still peddled daily as typical of the German Democratic Republic, the old East Germany. But that was neither new nor successful. The pressures of the coronavirus also played a part, limiting efforts of smaller parties to reach voters.
Far more injurious, though, were the endless quarrels among its leaders, gladly played up in the mass media, and often centering around the personality of Sahra Wagenknecht, the party’s finest orator and best known media figure but who, step by step, has broken with her former leading positions in the party. Whether this was based on personal animosities and jealousies, personal ambition, or genuine strategy differences, it boiled up during the campaign and did plenty of damage to the party’s image.
But for many on the left, the main cause of defeat was the hope of some party leaders to join with the SPD and the Greens in a coalition government. For years this was only a tiny possibility, but when the Greens and the SPD gained so swiftly in the polls, it began to look as if they might look to The Left for the necessary delegate majority to harness up a troika team and rule the German roost.
With this goal in sight, The Left electioneering turned more and more against the Christian Union and the big-biz Free Democrats, while sparing the Greens and the SPD so as not to hurt their feelings, alluding only to mild differences which could surely be ironed out.
This, however, required a willingness to compromise on basic questions, while both SPD and Greens stuck to their guns—almost literally. Could The Left, if in the government, further oppose NATO and call for a wider and peaceful combination of European states—including Russia? Would it continue to reject deploying Bundeswehr troops to foreign conflicts or on foreign missions? If it did, it was insisted, they could be not be included in any governing coalition.
Despite the agreed-upon Left party program, this is where some of its candidates and leaders weakened: “We should not remain too hard-headed,” “We must distinguish between good missions and bad ones,” “We must weigh each mission individually,” etc.
Those on the left in The Left said: “No means No! These are excuses, means of letting the camel ‘put just one toe in the tent’ to start with!” The Bundeswehr is a vital part of German expansion plans, a successor to German military aggression in Africa around 1900, in World War I, and, above all, in World War II. There can be no compromises on this issue; The Left should instead remain in opposition, save its political soul and forgo the pleasures and honors of a minor cabinet seat or two and a bit more respectability in western Germany, where—for transparent reasons—it is largely ostracized or ignored.
This policy of going easy on the SPD, the Greens, and its own principles backfired disastrously. Voters who disliked or feared the post-Merkel Union did not so often vote for the far-right AfD (except in embittered Saxony and Thuringia) as for the SPD and the Greens, leaving The Left in the lurch—as a weak and hardly effective part of the Establishment. Its main candidate, Janine Wissler, did her best to counteract this trend but felt compelled to walk a narrow, rocky path in debates and interviews. And 600,000 former Left voters switched to the SPD.
On many economic issues, and especially on war and peace, the delegates of The Left fought valiantly in the Bundestag. But the party was far too rarely visible in struggles in the streets, in the shops, fighting evictions, or in other sectors of everyday life and struggle where people felt most affected. Its candidates were almost always intellectuals or, if from the working class, then from its white or pink collar sectors. Few even hard-hit voters connected The Left with their personal problems.
There were exceptions. In Bremen, the active Left was strong enough to get into the city-state government—and keep fighting. The Left delegate in Leipzig who saved the party from near oblivion, the teacher Sören Pellman, went frequently to marketplaces or wherever people gathered, spoke with them, and tried to help them whenever he could, a conduct he recommended for others. He received an amazing 22.8% of the vote, far more than any other—or his own party.
Happily, The Left supported the group; within a few months, it helped in getting 350,000 signatures to put it as an “initiative” on the ballot. The Greens also supported it, but only in a lukewarm limited way. The SPD opposed it; it has too many ties to the real estate biggies who, greatly frightened of this new movement, threw everything they could muster against it—but lost.
In a glorious victory—a lone bright spot in the election—the initiative received a fantastic 59% of the votes. It must now be debated and ruled upon in the newly elected city-state legislature. Despite its betrayal, the SPD won the city-state election; its popular candidate will soon be the capital city’s first female mayor, who also opposes confiscation. Perhaps, if The Left had pushed this issue more visibly, and on a national level, it might have had better results. But the issue is still very hot and can become contagious—a good contagion for a change!
The big questions are now: Can The Left become a street- and shop-level fighter in coming struggles? Can it maintain its positions against armaments and military interference around the globe? Can it hold onto and spread its convictions that the billionaires and their monopolies are the biggest menaces to German democracy, to the environment, and to peace? Can it mobilize a vigorous, rousing movement, involving people of Turkish, Kurdish, and other national backgrounds, but especially all the underprivileged and most heavily exploited?
Those are no easy tasks, but they indicate the direction The Left must take if it wishes to play a renewed, growing, and vitally necessary role in adding strong stones while developing the world’s rapidly changing architecture.
Victor Grossman is a journalist from the U.S. now living in Berlin. He fled in the 1950s in danger of reprisals for his left-wing activities at Harvard and in Buffalo, New York. He landed in the former German Democratic Republic (Socialist East Germany), studied journalism, founded a Paul Robeson Archive and became a freelance journalist and author. His books available in English: Crossing the River. A Memoir of the American Left, the Cold War, and Life in East Germany. His latest book, A Socialist Defector: From Harvard to Karl-Marx-Allee, is about his life in the German Democratic Republic from 1949 – 1990, tremendous improvements for the people under socialism, reasons for the fall of socialism, and importance of today's struggles.
Demonstrators opposed to the government of Cuba rally outside the White House, July 17, 2021. New information suggests Washington-backed groups are planning new rounds of protests on the island. | Jose Luis Magana / AP
Washington-backed anti-government forces are plotting a new series of protests in Cuba over the next two months, according to information posted on a private Facebook group. MintPress News discovered that the organizations behind July’s riots in the capital Havana are organizing a general strike for Oct. 11, the day after Cuban Independence Day.
This will be followed by a series of nationwide demonstrations on Nov. 20, according to the investigative news website’s report.
An announcement shared by Facebook page La Villa del Humour, among other groups, urges organizations and individuals to prepare for next week’s strike.
“We summon all worthy Cubans, lovers of freedom, their neighbors, their friends, and their families to a national strike on Monday, October 11,” the message says.
No single organization or individual has been named as the organizer of the forthcoming action, and there are suspicions of U.S. involvement as part of its longstanding operations towards regime change in Cuba.
Washington has pumped billions of dollars into subversive anti-government media operations for decades, and July’s protests were backed by a social media campaign with origins in the United States.
Next month’s demonstration is badged as “a peaceful march in favor of human rights and against violence” which will converge at the National Capitol building in Havana.
La Villa del Humour spokesman Alex Perez Rodriguez has struck a different tone, however, calling on Cubans to “hit the streets” until the government falls.
The group started as an innocuous Facebook page for residents of the town of San Antonio de los Baños and is named after a local comedy festival. But it soon became a forum for the exchange of anti-communist memes and the promotion of anti-government actions, with many of the frequent posters residing in the U.S. state of Florida.
One prolific commenter even lists his employer as the Miami Herald, a notoriously anti-Cuba newspaper which has helped to agitate for regime change in Havana.
U.S. efforts to oust the Cuban government have intensified in recent months, with $20 million allocated from the House appropriations budget to promote “democracy programs” and “free enterprise and private business organizations” in the country.
A similar amount has been gifted by the U.S. government’s Agency for Global Media, which is used to spread anti-government propaganda in Cuba via media and online organizations.
During July’s protests, Miami Mayor Francis Suarez called for airstrikes and other military intervention against Cuba in order to oust its government.
Steve Sweeney writes for the Morning Star, the socialist daily newspaper published in Great Britain. He is also a People's Assembly National Committee member, patron of the Peace in Kurdistan campaign, and a proud trade unionist.
The massive document leak known as the 'Pandora Papers' reveals that several U.S. states are repositories for large amounts of hidden wealth. | LM Otero / AP
WASHINGTON—A trove of almost 12 million internal documents, e-mails, and memos from tax havens where the rich set up secret trusts to hide from taxes—while using their corporate clout to stick tax tabs to the rest of us—highlight stateside tax havens, notably South Dakota, available to the wealthy and well-connected.
And the multipart “Pandora Papers” series by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) adds that the rich and well-connected include Middle Eastern rulers who align their nations with U.S. policy and interference in the Levant.
One is Jordan’s King Abdullah II, who despite his nation’s poverty, used $106 million in the last decade hidden in 36 trusts to buy 14 luxury homes, including a $33 million gated estate in Malibu, Calif.
Others include the emirs of Qatar and Dubai. Those Persian Gulf sultanates sit atop a trove of oil but are also now home base and R&R site for the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet.
And the papers list several members of the Saudi royal family, though not, so far, the kingdom’s notorious U.S. ally and ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
The hidden trusts aren’t the exclusive province of Middle Eastern potentates. They include the two rulers of Hong Kong, several close allies of Russian ruler Vladimir Putin, and a prominent Israeli right-wing politician.
Others include Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta (son of the nation’s liberator from the British), former British “New Labour” leader and Prime Minister Tony Blair, and Czech Premier and billionaire Andrej Babis, who’s seeking re-election this week.
One law for the rich, another for the rest of us
But the bad news in all of this is that in almost all cases, the secret, hidden trusts and troves of cash, and the manipulations the rich use to keep them that way—and evade taxes, too—are perfectly legal. They’re also evidence of how the rich and the corporate class have gamed the system to enrich themselves while impoverishing the rest of us.
“This is where our missing hospitals are,” Susana Ruiz, tax policy lead at Oxfam International, said in a statement. “This is where the pay-packets sit of all the extra teachers and firefighters and public servants we need. Whenever a politician or business leader claims there is ‘no money’ to pay for climate damage and innovation, for more and better jobs, for a fair post-Covid recovery, for more overseas aid, they know where to look.”
“The biggest blockers to transparency are the U.S. and the United Kingdom, the leader of the world’s biggest tax haven network,” blogged Alex Cobham, director of the Tax Justice Network. “We need full transparency so we can hold tax abusers accountable, especially when our politicians are among them. U.S. President (Joe) Biden must match his own rhetoric on shutting down global illicit finance, and start with the biggest offender—his own country.
“But it is important that we don’t lose sight of one crucial fact: Few of the individuals had any role in turning the global tax system into an ATM for the super-rich. That honor goes to the professional enablers—banks, law firms, and accountants—and countries that facilitate them.”
The ICIJ found a summary Pandora Papers document reporting banks worldwide—including Barclays, Deutsche Bank, and JPMorganStanley—helped customers set up at least 3,926 offshore companies. Morgan Stanley set up 312 accounts in the offshore tax haven British Virgin Islands alone.
ICIJ also reported the largest U.S. law firm, Baker McKenzie, helped create the modern offshore system, by lobbying governments here and abroad to shape weak financial regulations and laws. Some of its clients seeking to shelter income gained it from fraud and corruption, ICIJ reported. Morgan Stanley said it didn’t anything wrong, but admitted it didn’t ask its clients the source of their big money.
The individual offenders, so far, are mostly outside the U.S., even if some did shovel their money into trusts headquartered in Sioux Falls, S.D. It’s home to 23 trusts, out of 206 total such tax havens here.
Rich, Republican, right-wing
Which reinforces the fact that the U.S. lacks clean hands in chasing such tax-evading trusts. Behind South Dakota, with 81 such secret private trusts, sheltering $367 billion, are Florida (37 trusts), Delaware (35), Texas (24), and Nevada (14).
“My concern is that…we become like Switzerland or Panama,” former State Sen. Craig Kennedy, D-Huron, who questioned the growing industry, ICIJ reported. But as a member of the minority party from 2017-21 in the GOP-run legislature, he didn’t get far.
“I don’t know who the beneficiaries are, what kind of assets are being managed. People use banking and trust laws for inappropriate purposes. I can’t say that’s happening in South Dakota. But I don’t know.”
Even though Trump isn’t yet listed in the Pandora Papers, he doesn’t get away scot-free. That’s because ICIJ pointed out that it’s still combing through the papers and expects to identify other prominent users of tax avoidance schemes. Probing tax avoidance is the aim of New York Attorney General Letitia “Tish” James’s ongoing investigation of Trump’s finances.
All this came after ICIJ said Zelensky “owned a stake” in film production and distribution companies registered in the British Virgin Islands, another foreign offshore tax haven. A month before his 2019 election, Zelensky transferred his shares to his business partner.
Another connection to Trump is the main source of this latest ICIJ trove, the Panamanian law firm of Alemán, Cordero, Galindo, & Lee, or Alcogal. Its leaked files accounted for around half the documents ICIJ and its media partners, including the British Broadcasting Corporation, the U.K. newspaper The Guardian, the Washington Post, and the Organized Crime and Corruption Project, pored through.
ICIJ identified Alcogal as “a go-to offshore provider for top politicians and elites in Latin America and beyond.” It numbered both The Trump Organization—the former Oval Office occupant’s company—and the late Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet as past clients.
That shows how long such overseas tax avoidance and wealth-hiding has been going on. Indeed, one trust listed among the clients of another conduit for the rich’s cash, Germany’s Deutsche Bank, dated back to 1949.
Other current right-wing leaders within democracies appear in ICIJ’s lists, too. Former “New Labour” leader and British Prime Minister Blair, known for neoliberal economic policies while giving the back of his hand to Labour’s trade union base, is one.
“In 2017, Blair and his wife, Cherie, became the owners of an $8.8 million Victorian building by acquiring the British Virgin Islands [BVI] company that held the property. The London building now hosts Cherie Blair’s law firm,” ICIJ reported. BVI is a longtime international tax haven.
Another implicated leader is Nir Barkat, a potential successor to former far-right Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu as Likud Party chief. Barkat’s already running for the job. A tech company owner worth $139 million and past Mayor of Jerusalem, Birkat is an ally of the settler movement that sponsors and pushes Israeli land confiscation and housing projects in Muslim East Jerusalem—projects illegal under international law.
“Through a set of three companies, Barkat held shares in a British Virgin Islands shell company that owns the Russian, British, and Israeli subsidiaries of the online trading platform eToro,” in a blind trust, ICIJ’s Israeli investigative media partner, Shomrim, reported. Barkat says eToro’s directors decided on the blind trust, and the location.
Back in the U.S., there’s a reason South Dakota is such a tax and trust haven. The state, now run by Trumpite GOP Gov. Kristi Noem and a GOP-heavy legislature, not only lets the rich hide their cash in secret trusts, but imposes no caps on interest rates banks and credit card firms may charge depositors—something anyone who’s gotten a dunning phone call from a big U.S. financial institution learns.
Payday lenders, the worst financial sector for consumers, face a South Dakotan 36% monthly interest rate cap, but a newspaper investigation last year showed firms were able to evade it, charging up to 160%.
“Trusts set up in South Dakota and many other U.S. states remain cloaked in secrecy, despite enactment this year of the federal Corporate Transparency Act, which makes it harder for owners of certain types of companies to hide their identities,” ICIJ said.
“The law is not expected to apply to trusts popular with non-U.S. citizens. Another glaring exemption, financial crime experts say, is that many lawyers who set up trusts and shell companies have no obligations to examine the sources of their client’s wealth.
“Clearly the U.S. is a big, big loophole in the world,” said Yehuda Shaffer, former head of the Israeli financial intelligence unit. “The U.S. is criticizing all the rest of the world, but in their own backyard, this is a very, very serious issue.”
Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.