In commemoration of the 84th anniversary of his death.
Antonio Gramsci is one of the most relevant theorists in the history of Marxism - he is also one of the most misunderstood. Self-proclaimed heterodox leftists of all latitudes have made “neogramcism” their banner, finding in the Sardinian revolutionary a symbol of the break with real socialism, Marxism-Leninism and the materialist theory of history. Perhaps the best known figure in this intellectual trend has been the Argentine Ernesto Laclau, who once again made a key concept such as hegemony fashionable in the academic mainstream.
Laclau defined his neogramscism as "post-Marxist", having completely abandoned historical and dialectical materialism, and conceived of social reality as a fundamentally discursive, unstable and radically contingent construct, in which the different forces dissatisfied with the present social arrangement could, through the elaboration of highly porous ideas and slogans, join a political force capable of challenging the common sense of society to the powers that be (that is, hegemony). Here, the conquest of socialism and communism gave way to a "radical democracy", in which every area of social life was left open to democratic deliberation to reconfigure the established order.
It is necessary to differentiate Laclau, as well as other self-proclaimed “neo-Gramscians” and followers of Gramsci (whether they are “post-Marxists” or “heterodox Marxists”), from the man himself. For, although there are many who seek to decouple Gramsci and his thought from Marxism-Leninism, his effort cannot be understood if it is not as the attempt of a communist, committed to the revolutionary spirit of the October Revolution, to bring Marxist theory to life in territories that had previously remained unexplored. For, if the Bolshevik triumph had captured the imagination and hopes of Gramsci and a whole generation of Western revolutionaries, the reality of post-World War I Europe forced them to confront failure and the rise of reaction.
Gramsci the Bolshevik
One of the things that is fascinated about Gramsci is the extent to which he emphasizes the role of subjectivity and political will over the relentless inertia of the relations of production and the productive forces. There are those who think that the construction of socialism and emancipation has more to do with the will of human beings than with the creation of certain material conditions that make it possible; however, one must understand the weight that Gramsci gives to the subjective dimension of politics in its context.
The Bolshevik triumph in Russia represented for him “the rebellion against Marx’s Capital ”, insofar as it embodied the triumph of a Marxism (that of Lenin) that came to be understood fundamentally as“ concrete analysis of the concrete situation ”with a view to the strategic organization of political action, over the positivist orthodoxy of the Second International, which clung to a linear and evolutionary model of history, in which the backward countries had to largely imitate the history of the West (necessarily having to go through industrial capitalism and the formation of liberal democracy before attempt a socialist revolution) before making their own. The Social Democrats of the Second International would place their hands on their head with the events in Russia, where the popular masses - mostly peasants - carried out the first successful socialist revolution of the 20th century.
These events would profoundly mark a socialist like Gramsci, whose homeland was part of the southern periphery of Europe. However, none of this implied a voluntaristic understanding of politics: on the contrary, the Italian communist understood perfectly that the possibility of the Russians to create a socialist society was anchored in the availability of advanced technical-scientific resources in other parts of the world, which could be implemented by the communists to develop their productive forces without handing over the reins of government to the bourgeoisie.
The emphasis on revolutionary organization and will did not imply a disregard for the objective conditions that constrained them; on the contrary, the consideration of these conditions should give rise to a form of collective action that found in the present an opportunity to make history, without applying abstract schemes alien to the singularity of the context. If Gramsci emphasized the weight of human agency, it was always from the coordinates of Leninism, which he saw as a truly dialectical materialism, which marked a distance with a mechanistic materialism, as harmful to revolutionary theory as voluntary idealism.
Civil society, hegemony and historical bloc
However, the context that the Italian Communists would have to face would be very different from the Russian one. With the rise of fascism, Gramsci, who had become head of the CPI and had been elected deputy, would be put in prison, and would remain there practically until the end of his short life. It would be there where he would elaborate the bulk of his theoretical writings, gathered in the famous volume known as The Prison Notebooks.
In his writings from this stage of his life, Gramsci touches on a host of highly relevant topics, from history and economics to politics and philosophy, passing through education and culture. However, if there is an axis that articulates this scattered compendium, this will be the problem of the defeat of socialism in Europe (in particular, in Italy): why had the winds of change coming from the East finished evaporating? And why had the bourgeois reaction managed to take hold where socialism and the working class had failed? It is from this fundamental concern that Gramsci's interest in the question of hegemony arises.
In his opinion, the dominance of the capitalist class over the whole of society could not be understood if it was reduced exclusively to a form of violent coercion (political or economic); rather, the power of it was to be thought of as an articulation of coercive force and persuasion. The first would correspond to what Gramsci called "political society": the strictly coercive apparatuses of the State, such as the legal apparatus, the armed forces, the police, etc. However, the second would correspond to “civil society”, which was rather the space of consensus and persuasion, where the beliefs, values and norms shared by the different members of a society were produced: the family environment, educational and religious institutions, the media, unions, etc.
It was in the context of thinking about the formation of this sociocultural "common sense" that Gramsci recovered and expanded the Leninist concept of hegemony, which would come to refer to the political domain of a social class (the bourgeoisie), anchored in its pact with other social classes (such as the petty bourgeoisie) and their undisputed control of the cultural field, making common sense of their particular interests and worldview. From his point of view, it would have been this form of hegemonic control, and not its coercive power, that would have allowed the bourgeoisie to subdue the progressive forces of the continent and strengthen its dominance.
It would be these theoretical elaborations that would lead Gramsci to take an interest in fields that Marxist theory had typically relegated to a more marginal place, such as the culture, tradition and faith of the popular classes. From his point of view, the Bolshevik triumph in Russia, as it had occurred in the context of war, had only been possible because the aristocratic and bourgeois elites had not managed to consolidate hegemony, and this allowed Lenin and the Bolsheviks to win in a war of maneuvers (basically, defeating them in an open confrontation in the period of the Russian Civil War).
On the other hand, where the hegemony of the bourgeoisie and its allies was entrenched, the only way to seize political power and transform the relations of production was through the formation of a “historical bloc” of a “national-popular” character. With the proletariat at the head, an alliance of the popular or subaltern classes (poor and middle peasants, progressive layers of the petty bourgeoisie, and, in a context such as Latin America, the indigenous peoples) had to be formed which, united by a popular progressive culture, (through a new philosophy and a new morality, new artistic and literary expressions, and a new spirituality that articulates the experiences of the people in a key revolutionary manner) could be transformed into a counter-hegemonic force, ready to contest the bourgeois common sense of society in a "war of positions", intervening politically and finally fracturing capitalist control of the means of production.
A good recent example of how the consolidation of this popular hegemony can not only win the ideological dispute to the bourgeoisie, but also guarantee the vitality of a revolutionary process, is the recent victory of the MAS in Bolivia after the coup against Evo Morales in 2019. Despite the tragic political defeat, the forces of reaction could not finish imposing themselves on Bolivian society, since the profound changes in the national culture carried out by the MAS during its years in power, had earned it the massive support of a heterogeneous but ideologically favorable people for their political project. For this reason, eventually the coup plotters had no choice but to stop postponing the elections and accept their defeat and the return to power of their enemies.
Of course, the coup against Morales also leaves the lesson that a victory in the war of positions does not guarantee the uninterrupted continuity of the revolution. It is also necessary to be prepared to win in the war of maneuvers, to defend by arms the transformation of society when the reactionaries make it necessary. However, it is clear that the thought of Antonio Gramsci, far from implying a break with Marxism-Leninism, represents a crucial, truly dialectical development of the materialist theory of history, one that is of great importance for thinking about the context of contemporary bourgeois democracies.
Sebastián León is a philosophy teacher at the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru, where he received his MA in philosophy (2018). His main subject of interest is the history of modernity, understood as a series of cultural, economic, institutional and subjective processes, in which the impetus for emancipation and rational social organization are imbricated with new and sophisticated forms of power and social control. He is a socialist militant, and has collaborated with lectures and workshops for different grassroots organizations.
Translated and Republished from Instituto Marx-Engels.
Aaron Favila / AP
WASHINGTON (PAI)—From coast to coast, demands for passage of the PRO Act, the most pro-worker labor law overhaul in 86 years, will take center stage at May Day marches, teach-ins, and events, preceded by other pro-PRO Act actions that began on April 26.
The AFL-CIO reports more than 700 events are planned, and that count may be low, as individual unions check in with their own marches and meetings. And five big Bay Area labor councils joined together for a May Day march in San Francisco.
Add to those events and marches one big town hall, on May 2, Confronting The Covid Economy: Women Fight Back, sponsored by People’s World and the International Labor Communications Association.
Jobs With Justice Executive Director Erica Smiley, retired Coalition of Labor Union Women Executive Director Carol Rosenblatt, and Unite Here Local 1 shop steward Camilla Carrothers, and Phoenix, Ariz., organizer Haley Carrera will speak at the town hall. Arizona is vital for passing the PRO Act since its Democratic senators have yet to co-sponsor it.
The forum will discuss “demands that can be made of lawmakers and others that will make the most difference in women’s real lives” and effective organization “to demand justice, equality, and an end to the exploitation and special oppression that particularly women of color face in the capitalist economy-in-crisis.”
In the four days before that forum, April 28-May 1, Georgetown University’s Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor and the Labor Network for Sustainability will hold a virtual forum on issues intertwining worker rights and the green economy worldwide. Smiley and Service Employees President Mary Kay Henry, Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten, and International Trades Union Congress General Secretary Sharan Burrows are among the speakers. Details are on the Kalmanovitz website.
And the night of May Day, the DC Labor Film Fest will kick off with a discussion of a film, posted starting April 28, on Haymarket, The Bomb, The Anarchists, And Labor Struggle. Details are on the Metro D.C. Central Labor Council’s website.
All of this ties into the struggle for workers’ rights—and passing the PRO Act is key.
“Millions of Americans would join a union right now if they had the chance, but our outdated labor laws are preventing that from happening. The PRO Act is how we change that. It’s the next frontier for our workers,” David Driscoll-Knight, the AFL-CIO’s eastern regional director, said in a statement.
The key point: To convince the balky U.S. Senate, tied 50-50 and under Democratic control only because of Vice President Kamala Harris’s tie-breaking vote, to both bring the legislation to the floor and to pass it.
But it has to get there first, and there are still three Democratic holdouts: Both Arizona senators, Kyrsten Sinema and Mark Kelly, plus Virginian Mark Warner. That led to daily demonstrations, even before May Day, with several dozen unionists at each, at the Tucson and Phoenix offices of Sinema and Kelly, along with a phone-a-thon to their offices from southern California colleagues.
It also led to unionists parading to Warner’s offices in Tidewater, Va., through the week, something they plan to do on May Day as well in the D.C. suburb of Alexandria. Meanwhile, the Communications Workers hosted a three-day phone-a-thon for the PRO Act on April 26-28, with the Democratic Socialists joining them. The Sunrise Movement and other allies provided sample letters to e-mail senators.
“The PRO Act is historic legislation that will put power in the hands of workers and reverse decades of legislation meant to crush unions. The bill will completely change labor law as we know it and shift power away from CEOs to workers,” says Our Revolution, organizers of the Alexandria event, in Windmill Hill Park.
The PRO Act, organized labor’s top legislative cause, also has Democratic President Joe Biden’s vocal and strong support. It would make a variety of changes in U.S. labor law. Some are: Outlawing “right to work” laws, making union representation elections easier to hold, banning “captive audience” meetings, and legalizing card-check recognition if unions present election authorization cards from a workplace’s majority.
The law would also fine labor law-breakers $50,000 per violation—or $100,000 for repeat offenders—rather than just net back pay for workers restored to jobs. There would be full disclosure of union-busters’ clients and spending and mandatory first-contract arbitration if the two sides can’t agree.
And the National Labor Relations Board could more easily go to court for anti-union-busting orders. If it refused, workers and unions could sue on their own.
The marchers won’t go into all these details. Instead, they’ll emphasize how the PRO Act will help workers economically and level the playing field against corporate greed, intimidation, and exploitation, especially of workers of color. That will be a top topic of an April 29 virtual forum hosted by the New York State AFL-CIO. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., who backs the PRO Act, will speak.
But so will a top organizer from the recent Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union campaign to unionize Amazon’s 5,600-worker warehouse in Bessemer, Ala.—where the workforce is 80%, Black.
The Bessemer worker will detail how Amazon’s illegal intimidation, captive audience meetings, pressure, and even anti-union diatribes in the plant’s bathrooms left RWDSU with the loss—and how the PRO Act would prevent all that. The union has filed a labor law-breaking complaint with the NLRB, which is investigating. It wants a rerun, minus company intimidation, but that ruling could take years.
In some cases, the PRO Act isn’t the only cause of the May Day marchers. In many cities, including San Francisco, it’s intertwined with Workers Memorial Day, April 28—which has turned into Workers Memorial Week.
In lower Manhattan, workers will take to the streets the morning of May Day around the headquarters of Conde Nast Publications, where company intransigence over even bargaining to a first contract has forced workers to consider a potential strike.
“Condé Nast workers need our help!” their rally announcement says. “Members at The New Yorker, Pitchfork, and Ars Technica Unions voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike, and the clock is ticking! Join us for a rally and picket on May Day to demand that Condé Nast and bosses throughout the media industry negotiate in good faith and treat workers fairly.”
The St. Paul Union Advocate reports the May Day “Minneapolis march is being organized by a coalition of Twin Cities area unions, immigrant rights groups, and social justice organizations.”
“The Facebook page publicizing the event says marchers will be calling for labor rights, justice for essential workers, immigrant rights, immigration reform, a halt to police brutality, and climate justice.”
Union sponsors there include AFSCME Locals 2822, 3800, and 3937, the Augsburg Staff Union, Communications Workers Local 7250, SEIU Healthcare Minnesota, SEIU Local 26, and UNITE HERE Local 17.
And in Los Angeles, a massive coalition of labor, community, and immigrant rights groups have joined together to organize a joint march, rally, and car caravan that will work its way through the city Saturday morning.
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 first published by People's World.
Women and men at the barricades in defense of the Paris Commune in 1871. | CC01.0, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
Here in Paris, we are now living through the 150th anniversary of the Commune, identified by Karl Marx as perhaps the first worker’s republic established in the history of humanity. The commune lasted 71 days, beginning March 18, 1871, and ended in violent repression during what was called “the time of the cherries”—the budding of the cherry blossoms—in the bloody week of May 21 to 28.
The commune was a response by the Parisians to the end of a war the emperor Louis-Napoleon had waged to distract the French from the corruption and negligence that characterized the latter stage of his Second Empire. The ill-fated war ended up uniting the German states under Bismarck as the French military, also hollowed out by years of corruption, was quickly defeated.
The German army then became an occupying army and laid siege to Paris, figuring to starve the city into submission.
The French ruling class, industrialists, and remnants of the old aristocracy, led by the emperor’s minister Adolphe Thiers, left the city and fled to the former palace of the king at Versailles, where they would soon collaborate with the Germans to crush the Commune. Inside the city, a new form of government appeared, direct democracy with elements of the national guard on its side and with the working people of the city behind it, and engaged directly in carrying out reforms in health, education, and establishing an equal status for women. Indeed, the face of the Commune that has come down through history is that of the feminist Louise Michel, in the forefront of many of these reforms and, upon the downfall of the Commune, was exiled from France.
The Commune defied the industrialists and issued proclamation after proclamation that pushed the government of Paris toward a worker’s state. Thiers and the German collaborators he represented were furious and finally, with the aid of the German army, still encamped outside the city, moved to annihilate the rebellion, which he did in perhaps the bloodiest week of state terrorism in French history, other than the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre of the Huguenots in 1572. Row after row of these working people were lined up and shot. The most sacred place commemorating the Commune is the Mur des Fédérés, the wall of these victims inside the famous cemetery Père Lachaise.
With the Commune in ruins, its proponents either dead or exiled, Thiers then proclaimed the birth of the French Republic, ending forever the attempts to re-establish the monarchy after it had originally been overthrown in the French Revolution.
Fall of the last vestiges of the monarchy. | Wikipedia, Public Domain
Indeed, French Republicans now proclaim the Commune as a founding moment to establish a representative parliamentary democracy. However, that bourgeois democracy, with the industrialists now firmly back in power, was erected on the bones and coffins of the Parisian citizens who instead had instituted a direct democracy in which the people made decisions together.
Battles over the memory of the Commune continue to be waged. Adolphe Thiers is commemorated in the traditional French manner by having streets and squares named after him in many French cities and towns. However, no street or square bears his name in Paris, the site of his bloody executions.
The Catholic Church, attacked for its corruption by the Commune as it was in the French Revolution, allied with the state to anoint the Church of Sacre Coeur (Sacred Heart), which overlooks the city and stands as a symbol of the triumph of the bourgeoisie. However, just below the Church, in a way that suggests the old specter of revolution is not dead, sits Louise Michel square, with its commemoration of the Commune’s leading spirit.
Released to coincide with the 150th anniversary is La semaine sanglante (The Bloody Week), a work by the French historian Michèle Audin which claims that Thiers’s accounting of the dead is vastly understated. The official figure is over 6,000 casualties, but by checking cemetery records, this new book claims the figure is at least 15,000 and may have been as high as 20,000, with underground mass graves of the Communards still being discovered in the 1920s in the building of a line of the Paris Métro.
Mur des Fédérés – Monument aux victimes des Révolutions | Pascal Radigue, CC4.0, Wikimedia Commons
France celebrated the March 18th date with great fanfare. Still, that celebration quickly gave way to its opposite as the country readies itself for the 200th anniversary in May of the death of Napoleon, a symbol of empire and conquest beloved by the right and no friend of democracy, whose nephew, founder of the second empire named in honor of his uncle’s self-proclaimed first empire, started the war that brought on the siege of Paris.
Marx’s valuing of the experiment of the Commune, a spirit that is yet to be realized, points the way to why it remains at the same time a moment of hope for working people and a moment of fear for their new digital overlords, whether they be Jeff Bezos’s Amazon, Elon Musk’s Tesla, or Emmanuel Macron’s start-up nation:
“The value of these great social experiments cannot be overrated. By deed instead of by argument, they have shown that production on a large scale and in accord with the behests of modern science, may be carried on without the existence of a class of masters; that to bear fruit, the means of labor need not be monopolized as a means of dominion over, and of extortion against, the laboring man [and woman]…; and that, like slave labor, like serf labor, hired labor is but a transitory and inferior form, destined to disappear before associated [fédérés or communal] labor plying its toil with a willing hand, a ready mind, and a joyous heart.”
This website about the Mur des Fédérés has a host of information, resources, songs of the Commune, and photographs.
Dennis Broe’s latest book is Diary of a Digital Plague Year: Coronavirus, Serial TV and the Rise of the Streaming Services. He has taught at the Sorbonne and is currently teaching in the Master’s Program at the École Supérieure de Journalisme. He is an arts critic and correspondent for the British daily Morning Star and for Crime Time, People’s World and Culture Matters, where he is an associate editor.
This article was first published by People's World.
El presente artículo terminó de escribirse el martes 27 de abril, en respuesta a la siguiente publicación de Jorge Frisancho: 'Sobre izquierdas reaccionarias y revolucionarias: una respuesta a Sebastián León'
Read in English HERE
Quiero agradecer a Jorge Frisancho por concederme el honor de responderme, a pesar de mi gesto arrogante y demagógico. Debo decir que yo defiendo mi gesto: creo que gracias a mis críticas ha tenido la oportunidad de explayarse y desarrollar algunas de las ideas que faltaba trabajar en su publicación original (si bien ignora de plano lo que para mí sería la objeción fundamental a su texto: su uso antojado y metodológicamente injustificado de sus redes sociales como si se tratara de una fuente confiable de data empírica).
Dicho esto, puesto que Jorge me ha concedido esta cortesía, me veo obligado a corresponderle de la misma manera. Además, estoy de acuerdo con él en que de nuestro intercambio puede emerger un debate que hoy vale la pena tener en la izquierda. Así que, sin más preámbulos, paso a responder.
Sobre el resentimiento y su relación con la conciencia de clase
El debate sobre el resentimiento, su relación con la conciencia de clase y con la política clasista puede extenderse excesivamente, y creo que en realidad no es lo más importante de mi discusión con Frisancho. Por ello trataré de no detenerme demasiado en este asunto e ir a las cuestiones más importantes.
Empiezo diciendo que lo que Frisancho llama “ressentiment”, apelando como explica a cierta tradición de la sociología y la psicología, en realidad no es distinto de lo que en la tradición filosófica autores como Nietzsche y Spinoza llamaron “resentimiento”. Por ello, de saque, me permito no usar el término francés. De hecho, no hay un malentendido sobre el hecho de que él achaca a Perú libre una política, digamos, más de la performance de radicalidad a una política realmente radical o revolucionaria. Mi primer cuestionamiento a su texto, que a mi parecer es el más fundamental, es la cuestión metodológica: Frisancho se permite reducir los esfuerzos de una organización que hoy marcha a disputarle su existencia a la cara más rancia del neoliberalismo local a vísperas del bicentenario a lo que infiere a partir de su algoritmo de Facebook (reforzador de burbujas informativas y sesgos de confirmación). La cuestión no era si le gustaba o no Perú Libre o si le daba buena espina; era que, como teórico autoproclamado marxista, debía ser más responsable y riguroso en sus análisis.
En su respuesta a mis críticas, Frisancho hace varias afirmaciones sobre el resentimiento y su relación con la conciencia de clase que, si debemos ser honestos, no podían inferirse de su texto original (enhorabuena por el desarrollo de sus ideas); en todo caso, estoy de acuerdo con algunas de ellas. No obstante, toca hacer algunas aclaraciones de rigor sobre aquello con lo que no estoy tan de acuerdo.
La primera es que da igual si el texto de Frisancho se centraba exclusivamente en el resentimiento o en los afectos en general; mis críticas iban, fundamentalmente, a su tratamiento del resentimiento y la manera en que este se relaciona con el proceso de adquisición de conciencia de clase. Frisancho se felicita a sí mismo por haber empleado varias veces el término “conciencia de clase” en su artículo, pero la verdad es que en él no explica nunca dicho proceso. Quien lo hizo fui yo, aunque me haya “resistido” a nombrarlo.
Lo segundo es que, si bien Frisancho considera que el resentimiento no es “ni bueno ni malo”, ni “racional ni irracional”, yo pienso que en cierto sentido sí va cargado de cierta racionalidad o irracionalidad. Esto porque, como expliqué, los afectos en los seres humanos no están nunca “dados” por sí solos, sino que se enmarcan en horizontes culturales de sentido. En una formación histórica determinada, habrá situaciones en las que un afecto como el resentimiento podrá considerarse justificado, o, digamos, habrá buenas razones para sentirse injuriado (aunque, y esto es fundamental, habrá que ubicar adecuadamente la causa). Esto no quiere decir, por supuesto, que el resentimiento sea bueno o malo en sí mismo; lo que quiere decir es que, en circunstancias determinadas, como cuando es producto de la afrenta histórica y sistemática, sentir resentimiento es razonable.
Extrañamente, Frisancho piensa que se le señala como un “racionalista rancio” por no reconocer el lugar de los afectos y por “insistir” (nombrar varias veces) en la importancia de la conciencia de clase. Pero se equivoca: la razón por la que lo califiqué de tal manera es porque, como ya he mencionado, en su artículo original no explicó el proceso de mediación por el que se adquiere la conciencia de clase. Dice, ciertamente, que resentimiento y conciencia de clase son dos cosas diferentes, y distingue entre lo que para él hace una organización cegada por aquel afecto y lo que hace una organización dirigida por revolucionarios con conciencia de clase, pero no nos dice nunca cómo se pasa de uno a otra. De hecho, su respuesta a mis críticas todavía me genera algunas dudas sobre cómo entiende dicho proceso: dice que el argumento de su texto original puede resumirse en que el resentimiento “bloquea la conciencia de clase” (pese a que esto jamás se afirma en dicho texto), pero también dice que para ir más allá del resentimiento se necesita la mediación de la conciencia de clase. Esto no me resulta tan claro, y debo decir que la impresión que me da es que para Frisancho debe haber una intervención externa para sacar a los sujetos resentidos del atolladero. Al final, hay que decir que en el texto original sí que daba la impresión de que había una cesura entre el resentimiento y la conciencia de clase, y si bien en la respuesta a mis críticas insiste en que no hay interrupción entre procesos afectivos e intelectuales en su adquisición, sigue sin esclarecer de qué manera incorpora el resentimiento al desarrollo de la conciencia de clase conciencia de clase.
Aquí hay una diferencia fundamental, me parece, entre mi postura y la de Frisancho: para mí el resentimiento (y afectos semejantes como la ira) justificado es una condición material necesaria (aunque no suficiente) para que pueda haber algo así como una conciencia de clase, y es la clase de narrativa histórica que Mariátegui llamaba “Mito” lo que puede dinamizar este y otros afectos y hacerlos políticamente operativos (es decir, para suscitar la ganancia en conciencia de clase). Otra cuestión importante, me parece, es que si bien Frisancho considera que en este punto él y yo estamos de acuerdo en lo fundamental (en que el resentimiento debe ser trascendido), no me queda otra opción que responderle: sí, pero no. Estamos de acuerdo en que el resentimiento por sí solo no es revolucionario, y que se hace necesaria una mediación dialéctica, pero yo no pienso que el resentimiento pueda literalmente ser superado o trascendido con la llegada de la conciencia de clase. Creo que esta le da una direccionalidad (digamos, lo modifica o lo “refina”), que es distinto; sin embargo, como yo lo entiendo, el resentimiento y otros afectos negativos presentes en la política clasista solo pueden terminar de superarse con la abolición de las condiciones históricas que lo producen (momento en el que desaparecen, junto con las relaciones de clase y la conciencia de clase como tal). Por eso digo que “el resentimiento y demás afectos corrosivos pueden ser sublimados en el proceso en el que surge un nuevo orden social a partir del viejo”. El resentimiento de una clase históricamente oprimida, con conciencia de su situación, solo desaparece con el surgimiento del comunismo.
Sobre la cuestión de la verdadera izquierda
Ahora llegamos a la parte realmente importante de nuestro intercambio: la cuestión de “qué hace revolucionaria a una organización”. Frisancho da su propia definición, y debo decir que yo no podría haberlo expresado mejor. Paso a citarlo:
Una organización política es revolucionaria en la medida en que lucha, en última instancia y a partir de la conciencia de clase de las clases trabajadoras, para derogar la totalidad del orden social e instaurar uno nuevo. Obviamente, esta definición es teórica y solo sirve como orientación general; las situaciones, coyunturas y experiencias concretas son las que dan forma práctica a las cosas, y la separación entre ambos planos es útil únicamente como ejercicio de análisis. Ningún conjunto de ideas políticas tiene contenido independiente de la praxis. Además, las demandas tácticas y estratégicas obligan, necesariamente, a decidir qué confrontaciones se enfatiza y qué pasos se da para ir avanzando en cada momento determinado. Esa es la función del liderazgo, o una de ellas. Pero pongo el asunto en ese terreno porque me permite señalar el problema al que apunto, que en mi artículo expresé como la existencia de una “izquierda reaccionaria”.
Aquí Frisancho añade, básicamente, que una organización que se declare marxista que no trabaje para derogar todas aquellas las relaciones sociales (“instituciones, aparatos y prácticas”) que producen situaciones de opresión (de clase, de género, de los miembros de la comunidad LGTBIQ+) es reaccionaria, pues todas estas luchas son expresión de las formas de coerción específicas del orden social burgués. Está haciendo una clara alusión a Perú Libre, y es una manera de reafirmarse en su posición de que se trata de una organización de izquierda que puede ser calificada merecidamente como “reaccionaria”.
En este punto surgen una vez más mis discrepancias con Frisancho. No porque discrepe con que la cuestión de género o la lucha por los derechos de las personas LGTBIQ+ son luchas tan fundamentales como las de los obreros, los campesinos o los pueblos indígenas (de hecho, concebirlas de manera separada es siempre una abstracción, pues, por ejemplo, quien pertenece a una clase social siempre tiene además un género y una orientación sexual), o que respondan a contradicciones específicas de la totalidad social capitalista (y que por tanto no pueden ser desestimadas como “luchas burguesas”). Sino porque yo no pienso que se pueda afirmar tan tranquilamente que si una organización socialista y marxista no está comprometida con todas las formas de opresión desde el comienzo esta deba ser descartada como reaccionaria, como si el carácter revolucionario apareciera solo en el momento en el que se marcan todos los ítems en una lista; eso está muy bien para el mundo de las izquierdas y los movimientos sociales ideales, pero la política se hace en el mundo real, con organizaciones políticas y movimientos sociales reales. ¿Hay elementos reaccionarios en una organización como Perú Libre, que descuida las luchas de las poblaciones LGTBIQ+? Por supuesto que los hay; pero, ¿se puede decir realmente que esto hace de Perú Libre una organización de izquierda reaccionaria? Pero lo que más me llama la atención es que Frisancho ponga la valla tan alta para Perú Libre, pero la baje convenientemente para la organización que apoyó en la primera vuelta (Juntos por el Perú). Porque bajo el mismo criterio que utiliza Frisancho, podríamos decir sin problemas que Juntos por el Perú también sería una izquierda reaccionaria: una izquierda que aunque se reclame representante de los intereses de las clases populares, dedicó casi por entero su táctica electoral a ganarse a las clases medias y en desmedro de obreros, campesinos e indígenas (realidad que se veía reflejada en las encuestas que mostraban en qué sectores de la población se encontraban sus votantes, que se hizo explícita con el desafortunado audio de Marité Bustamente, y que terminó de confirmarse con los resultados de las elecciones); o que una y otra vez pisoteó en su discurso la solidaridad antiimperialista y anticolonial, plegándose a las exigencias de la derecha de denunciar procesos como el venezolano por dictatoriales, reproduciendo la narrativa imperial sobre una comunidad internacional dividida en “dictaduras” y “democracias”, que legitima atrocidades como los ínfames bloqueos económicos, que no son otra cosa que formas contemporáneas de asedio. Si ninguna de estas luchas es más fundamental que otra ni puede ser desestimada en las coordenadas del capitalismo contemporáneo, hay que decir, pues, que JPP está, al menos, tan lejos del estándar ideal de Frisancho como PL (aunque me inclino a pensar que mi interlocutor podría no dar demasiada importancia a una lucha como la que se da en el campo internacional; me explayaré sobre ello en la parte final de mi artículo). Creo que es importante añadir, asimismo, que si bien PL tiene un serio déficit en lo que respecta a la consideración de las luchas LGTBIQ+, no es cierto que lo tenga también en la cuestión de género; quien haya leído el “Programa e Ideario” de la organización podrá comprobar que este contiene un capítulo entero dedicado a “La mujer socialista”, elaborado por las militantes de la organización, en el que se posicionan a favor de la emancipación de la mujer, se asumen reivindicaciones históricas como el aborto y se denuncia el machismo como un mal estructural del capitalismo y el colonialismo (de hecho, candidatas al congreso como Zaira Arias y Angélica Apolinario fueron vocales sobre estos temas durante sus campañas). Así que hay decir, en honor a la verdad, que al contrastar el número de casillas marcadas en la lista de ítems de ambas organizaciones saldría favorecido Perú Libre (por supuesto, yo no comparto este criterio idealista para designar a una organización como revolucionaria o reaccionaria).
Aquí quisiera hablar un poco desde mi experiencia como militante de izquierda. En la coyuntura del 2017 en la que muchos conocimos a Pedro Castillo, cuando el magisterio rompió con el PCP-Patria Roja para ir marchar a Lima a hacer valer sus reclamos, muchas organizaciones de izquierda y sindicatos de trabajadores decidimos apoyarlos; entre dichas organizaciones estaba presente Perú Libre, pero la bancada de Nuevo Perú (que junto a PR conforma JPP) decidió no recibir a los maestros para no mancharse, debido al terruqueo del que estos fueron víctimas. Ese mismo año, en diciembre, en la coyuntura de la vacancia presidencial contra PPK, una vez más un sector importante de la izquierda (que también incluía a PL) nos posicionamos a favor de la vacancia y formamos parte del Frente Popular Anticorrupción por una Nueva Constitución, y luego del Comando Nacional Unitario de Lucha; fue en ese tiempo que nació la consigna “que se vayan todos”, que denunciaba el orden institucional neoliberal en su totalidad, pero la bancada del NP prefirió defender a PPK y la institucionalidad democrática (finalmente se plegarían a la causa, después de que PPK decidió indultar a Alberto Fujimori para permanecer en el cargo). A finales del 2018, ya con Vizcarra en el poder, este promulgó el Decreto Supremo N° 237-2019-EF, por el que entraba en vigencia el Plan Nacional de Competitividad y Productividad (probablemente el paquetazo antilaboral más violento que haya habido desde los tiempos del fujimorato; la infame “Suspensión perfecta de labores”, que en el contexto de esta pandemia ha costado a tantos peruanos su empleo, formaba parte del PNCP); en lugar de ir a las calles con la clase trabajadora en dicha coyuntura, el MNP privilegió secundar a Vizcarra en su pantomima de lucha anticorrupción, siendo los principales defensores de una reforma política puramente cosmética, secundando, una vez más, al gobierno de turno. ¿Por qué menciono todo esto? Porque en los últimos años, con todos sus errores y limitaciones, PL, a diferencia del NP, ha sido una organización a la que siempre he encontrado al lado de la gente en sus luchas (por supuesto, no pretendo argüir que mi experiencia personal sea la mejor fuente de evidencia para establecer un juicio objetivo, pero estoy convencido de que es largamente más fiable que mi algoritmo de Facebook). Las críticas a JPP y las organizaciones que la componen, que tanto parecen molestar a Frisancho y a otros simpatizantes de dicha coalición, pueden no ser del todo justas; no obstante, considero que tienen algo de sustento.
A riesgo de que Frisancho nos acuse de espontaneistas que andamos tras las masas aceptando acríticamente todos sus posicionamientos inmediatos para sentirnos radicales, hay que decir que PL ha sido coherente con la idea que revolucionarios como Lenin o Mao tenían del papel de una vanguardia: ni se ha contentado con acomodarse a la espontaneidad de los distintos sectores del pueblo, ni ha pretendido imponerse como una élite tutelar a la usanza del progresismo más cortesano. Ha sabido entablar un diálogo con ellas, agitar, educar y organizar. Esto no quiere decir que la gente (o la organización) tenga razón en todo, pero hay una correcta comprensión de que el proceso revolucionario nace desde abajo, y que la labor de la organización socialista en dicho proceso (que es siempre un proceso de acumulación de experiencia mediante la lucha) es acompañar y orientar a las masas, ayudarlas a ganar claridad sobre sí misma y sobre sus luchas. Tampoco quiere decir, como podría temer Frisancho, que, si un sector mayoritario de la gente no ve con buenos ojos la defensa de ciertas causas, estas deban ser abandonadas; más bien, quiere decir que no se trata de descartar a priori a ningún grupo oprimido como reaccionario in toto, sino de dirigirse a este como un interlocutor válido, con el que se puede dialogar y razonar, y que puede aprender de la vanguardia en la misma medida en que es capaz de educarla. Es esta la manera en que se superan las contradicciones en el seno del pueblo, y, hay que decirlo, es también la manera en que se gana su confianza. No hay evidencia más clara de ello que el apoyo popular que terminó recibiendo PL en contraste a JPP durante la primera vuelta; de hecho, quienes seguimos la campaña de Pedro Castillo desde el principio, sabemos que, a partir de cierto momento, las propias bases regionales de JPP comenzaron a reconocer a Castillo como su candidato, y lo recibían codo a codo con las bases de PL. Sería importante que los simpatizantes de la organización de Mendoza comiencen a reflexionar sobre esta derrota táctica.
El trabajo de bases metódico por parte de PL y Pedro Castillo también es importante por otras razones de índole pragmática: sumado a su coherencia en el discurso en lo que respecta a la voluntad de sacar adelante una Asamblea Popular Constituyente (causa que me consta personalmente que vienen defendiendo desde hace años) y de desmantelar el modelo neoliberal (fuerte contraste con un JPP y una Mendoza altamente inconsistentes, propensos a desdecirse según los vaivenes de la campaña, y que en determinado punto incluso llegaron a alabar el programa Reactiva Perú, por el que Vizcarra y la ex-Ministra Alba pusieron 60 mil millones de soles en manos del gran empresariado peruano), el apoyo de las masas obreras, de las rondas campesinas, del magisterio y de organizaciones indígenas, daba al partido una fuerza material real, la posibilidad de llegar al poder con un contrapeso que pudiera mantener a raya los esfuerzos del empresariado por coaptarlos. Aunque a Frisancho y otros simpatizantes de JPP les sorprenda, esta credibilidad incluso ganó a Castillo y PL votantes entre los sectores populares y más radicalizados del feminismo limeño y de la comunidad LGTBIQ+. Como manifestaron varios de mis compañeros durante esta primera vuelta: lo que sectores más privilegiados de estos colectivos muchas veces no llegan a comprender es que entre una izquierda comprometida con derechos individuales pero indispuesta a atacar el modelo económico que nos impide disfrutar de dichos derechos, y otra que no asume dichos compromisos pero que manifiesta de manera creíble la voluntad de reemplazar dicho modelo por otro que eventualmente permita disfrutar de esos derechos, hay quienes creerían que desde un punto de vista táctico la segunda es una mejor opción. Al final del día, el progresismo no se mide de manera absoluta por cuántas consignas uno levante; más bien, es siempre relativo a la correlación de fuerzas y las luchas de clases en un momento histórico determinado. Por eso, entre un MHOL que actualmente afirma que es igual de bueno para el colectivo LGTBIQ+ votar por la activista Gahela Cari que por un ultraderechista como Alejandro Cavero, y una organización socialista que, sin levantar la bandera LGTBIQ+, hoy tiene la posibilidad de crear condiciones para que jóvenes homosexuales o trans que no tienen estabilidad laboral, la posibilidad de acceder a educación o servicios de salud básicos, a un seguro y/o a una pensión (condiciones materiales necesarias para independizarse de entornos abusivos y para disfrutar en el futuro del derecho a crear una familia junto a sus personas amadas), me inclino a pensar que, en el presente, lo segundo es más cercano a una fuerza progresista. Y, por tanto, más cercano al ideal revolucionario propuesto por Frisancho.
Pedro Castillo -Peru Libre.
Respuesta a la nota final:¿marxismo-leninismo o socialdemocracia?
Frisancho cierra su respuesta a mis críticas extrañado por mi referencia al debate entre comunistas y socialdemócratas en la Segunda Internacional. Él, comenta, no está tan seguro como yo de que la historia haya favorecido a los comunistas (al leninismo) en ese debate; según nos dice, él considera que al final ninguna de las dos tenía razón, y que ambas experiencias habrían tenido tanto aciertos como desaciertos (esto último innegable, por supuesto). Esto debido a que, pese a la grandeza que Frisancho reconoce a Lenin como figura seminal del marxismo, la URSS habría dejado de existir, como consecuencia “tanto a la tenacidad y potencia de sus enemigos como sus propias falencias internas, y si de lo que se trata es de construir un socialismo que perdure, que consiga oponerse de forma efectiva a la dictadura de las clases capitalistas y que emancipe a los trabajadores, no parece que lo más recomendable sea levantar como bandera una apuesta que terminó en derrota.”
Debo confesar que la idea general de esta respuesta (el que a juicio de Frisancho, entre el leninismo y la socialdemocracia, ninguna de las dos tuvo razón) no me sorprende en absoluto. Me sorprende más que Frisancho use como argumento para defender su postura la caída de la URSS. Creo que el debate entre comunistas y socialdemócratas es vigente porque se centra en una problemática que sigue siendo fundamental, y que, a mi juicio, Frisancho y el sector de la izquierda por la que se inclinó en la primera vuelta electoral descuidan en exceso (de hecho, a mi juicio, y ciñéndome sus criterios, es aquí donde se ve el lado más reaccionario de sus posicionamientos). La razón fundamental del desacuerdo entre comunistas y socialdemócratas fue la problemática del imperialismo y la colonialidad: mientras que los socialdemócratas de la Segunda Internacional consideraban que el socialismo era algo que no competía a los países atrasados de la periferia global, donde prevalecían formaciones socioeconómicas agrarias y las masas eran mayoritariamente campesinos “reaccionarios” (muchos socialdemócratas, como Bernstein, llegaron a favorecer el ideal de un tutelaje de la metrópoli capitalista europea sobre las colonias, que por un lado permitiría mejorar las condiciones de vida de los obreros europeos, y por el otro ayudaría a desarrollar el capitalismo en los países atrasados), los comunistas consideraban, más en línea con las ideas de Marx y Engels, que lo que competía al movimiento obrero internacional era solidarizarse con las luchas nacionales de los países periféricos, ayudarlos independizarse y hacer valer su soberanía nacional (política y económica) frente a Europa, debilitando en el proceso al capitalismo occidental y, a la larga, ganando mayor libertad e igualdad para los pueblos coloniales en las coordenadas globales del capitalismo. Esta fue la bandera del leninismo desde el principio, y pese a todos los problemas y desaciertos que menciona Frisancho, la levantaron una y otra vez durante la historia del siglo XX (en China, en Corea, en Cuba, en Vietnam, en Argelia, en Angola, en Palestina, en Sudáfrica, en Burkina-Faso, etc.); aunque hoy muchos lo olviden y se inclinen por señalar la caída de la URSS como evidencia del fracaso del marxismo-leninismo, la verdad es que este posicionamiento de los comunistas cambió la cara de la correlación de fuerzas internacional, en especial en Asia y África, donde muchas veces las poblaciones nativas estaban excluidas del derecho burgués que tantos marxistas occidentales vilipendian y dan por sentado. De hecho, este papel de la URSS y el comunismo internacional, como muchos han reconocido, influyó enormemente, para bien, en la lucha por los derechos civiles y la conformación de los Estados de bienestar en occidente: en lugares como EEUU, fue el apoyo de los comunistas a poblaciones oprimidas como la afroestadounidense, el movimiento feminista, los migrantes hispanoamericanos o los pueblos indígenas, sumado al gran temor de las autoridades de que estas (o los trabajadores) pudieran radicalizarse, lo que llevó al gobierno a reconocerles progresivamente una serie de derechos fundamentales. El temor de los países europeos al avance de los comunistas permitió a los socialdemócratas llegar al gobierno y poner en práctica sus políticas reformistas, vistas por las clases dominantes como un recurso desesperado para proteger la propiedad privada; y hay que resaltar que, aunque Frisancho lo ignore, muchas de las políticas de bienestar de estos gobiernos progresistas solo pudieron sostenerse gracias a las políticas predatoriales que estos mismos países llevaron a cabo en el Tercer Mundo. Es por esto que me permito señalar confiadamente que, entre los comunistas y los socialdemócratas, serían los primeros los que fueron favorecidos por la historia (es decir, quienes tuvieron más aciertos, quienes más hicieron para mejorar las condiciones de vida de las poblaciones oprimidas alrededor del mundo y más tienen que enseñar a una organización de izquierda revolucionaria contemporánea).
Por supuesto, entiendo que Frisancho no comparta este punto de vista, pues veo que la solidaridad antiimperialista (aunque pueda decir que la defienda en abstracto) no es un tema al que le dé demasiada importancia; de ahí que no solo minimice el descuido de JPP en estos temas, sino que además se permita cuestionar las credenciales socialistas de organizaciones y países que establezcan alianzas con figuras que a él le resultan cuestionables (como el presidente ruso Vladimir Putin, a quien en su momento le dedicara un artículo). Frisancho, después de todo, no parece tomar muy en serio el compromiso leninista de la no intervención o el derecho de la soberanía de los países periféricos, el hecho de que, nos guste o no el gobierno de un determinado país, los únicos que pueden cambiarlo (o derrocarlo) son sus ciudadanos, y que los países y organizaciones que defienden este derecho de cada pueblo a la soberanía en la arena internacional deben hacer una causa común para resistir los embates del imperialismo de EEUU y occidente; tampoco el hecho de que un país o una organización política y económicamente aislada, que se toma la libertad de aliarse solo con aquellos con quienes mantiene plena coincidencia ideológica, está de antemano condenada al fracaso. Pues figuras como Putin pueden parecernos cuestionables o hasta reaccionarias en las coordenadas nacionales de sus respectivos países, pero lo cierto es que, sin su apoyo económico, político y militar (o el de países comunistas como China o Vietnam), países como Cuba, Venezuela o Siria hace tiempo se habrían convertido en nuevas Libias (a diez años después de la intervención de la OTAN, el países africano sigue completamente devastado, con tres fuerzas políticas diferentes disputándose el gobierno).
Al final, vuelvo a insistir en ello, las fuerzas políticas progresistas y revolucionarias se construyen a partir de las condiciones materiales realmente existentes. Y aunque la realidad raras veces coincide plenamente con nuestros criterios ideales, resulta políticamente inoperante denunciarla por sus impurezas.
 Una última aclaración sobre este punto, de carácter conceptual y no tan importante para nuestra discusión, pero que no quería dejar de tocar en este artículo. En su respuesta, Frisancho hace otra afirmación que me resulta extraña: dice que hay que entender, cuando se habla de conciencia de clase, que “conciencia no es razón”. Su afirmación me resulta extraña porque, si uno tiene presente la discusión filosófica sobre la subjetividad, la conciencia y la razón que históricamente precedió a Marx, y que es parte de su herencia teórica, es claro que “conciencia de clase” debe ser entendido como razón, y no como mera conciencia. Paso a explicarme brevemente: la conciencia de clase es conciencia de sí (o, mejor dicho, “para sí”), en tanto sujeto que pertenece a una clase social (la clase deja de ser “clase en sí”, una mera facticidad empírica, y pasa a ser “clase para sí”: es decir, pasa a ser consciente de sí misma de manera reflexiva, de sus propias condiciones materiales de existencia, de sus intereses, y de su conciencia de sí misma, de su actividad consciente, en tanto clase social). Así pues, si debemos ser precisos, la conciencia de clase no es una mera conciencia pasiva (como la que tiene un animal que se percibe a sí mismo y a su entorno), sino lo que los idealistas alemanes llamaban una “autoconciencia”, que emerge necesariamente como parte de un proceso social e histórico de autodescubrimiento, siempre en relaciones con otros seres autoconscientes y con un trasfondo histórico determinado en el que se hace posible comprender, de manera progresiva, las implicancias o el sentido de las acciones, pensamientos, afectos, etc., propios y ajenos. La palabra más común que se ha usado para hablar de esta forma de autoconciencia es, precisamente, “razón” (Vernunft). Afirmar que la conciencia de clase es mera conciencia y no razón implicaría, desde un punto de vista filosófico, un retroceso hacia un paradigma cartesiano y psicologista de la conciencia, irreconciliable con una teoría materialista de la historia. Hago esta aclaración en un pie de página para no hastiar a nuestros lectores con disquisiciones demasiado abstractas.
 A muchas personas en la órbita de JPP les ha sabido mal que en el mismo capítulo se critique el feminismo como contraparte del machismo, pero hay que entender que fuera de círculos activistas y académicos, hay organizaciones y movimientos de mujeres que enarbolan el estandarte de la emancipación de la mujer sin reconocerse a sí mismas como feministas, y defendiendo intereses que, si bien convergen en algunos puntos con el del feminismo exportado de occidente, se diferencian de este en varios otros, por el sencillo hecho de que en varios aspectos las condiciones de vida de una mujer obrera o una rondera son diferentes que las de una activista o una académica de clase media. Creo que más allá de que se rechace el término (por asociarlo a un feminismo exportado de la realidad occidental) o del machismo rampante de algunos militantes (que, por cierto, aunque a algunos les parezca, no es un mal que aqueje exclusivamente en Perú Libre), habría que entender que sencillamente se defiende feminismos diferentes.
 Y ya que hablamos de mi algoritmo de Facebook, alguien debería comentarle a Frisancho que así como en sus redes sociales él se encontró con despliegues de chovinismo por parte de los simpatizantes de Perú Libre, otros nos encontramos con despliegues semejantes por parte de los simpatizantes de Nuevo Perú: desde persistentes mensajes ninguneando la opción por Castillo y airadas exigencias de que se renunciara a su candidatura, hasta acusaciones de traición, racismo rampante, terruqueo, burlas por no ser tenidos en cuenta por el resto de la izquierda latinoamericana, y una repetición acrítica de la versión de la derecha sobre la sentencia a Vladimir Cerrón (quien no tiene que gustarle personalmente a nadie, pero cuya sentencia ha sido desestimada incluso por personajes externos a la izquierda, como el periodista Ricardo Uceda, como un caso más del lawfare al que los dirigentes de la izquierda regional, desde Gregorio Santos a Walter Aduviri pasando por el propio Cerrón, son sometidos en nuestro país). La lista sigue, pero creo que mi punto se deja entender.
 Esto incluye la acusación de “oenegera”, que no debe ser desestimada sin más como una manifestación de resentimiento; es bien sabido que ONG’s estadounidenses como USAID, la NED o HRW, financiadas por el departamento de Estado estadounidense, mantienen vínculos con numerosos personajes que son o han sido parte de JPP. Le guste o no a Frisancho, tales organizaciones tienen una agenda en nuestro país que suele coincidir con la de su embajada, y es por eso que líderes de izquierda como Evo Morales las han expulsado de sus países. Tampoco se trata de mera conspiranoia; es reconocer, más bien, el simple hecho de que la lucha por la emancipación se da también en el campo internacional y que el enemigo es rico en recursos.
 Fue el joven Marx quien, en una carta a Arnold Ruge, hizo valer primero esta consigna de las organizaciones revolucionarias que se convirtiera en principio fundamental del leninismo:
 Hablo en plural porque no creo que las luchas de clases puedan ser reducidas exclusivamente a la problemática de la producción, a la explotación de los obreros o los campesinos. Pienso, por ejemplo, que la problemática de género y de los derechos reproductivos de la mujer es una problemática de clase, en la medida en que el género ata a un sector mayoritario de las mujeres a una relación de explotación y dependencia económica y moral frente a sus pares varones (Engels mismo habla de la opresión de las mujeres como la primera opresión de clase); asimismo, pienso que la problemática (neo)colonial en el plano internacional debe abordarse de manera semejante.
 Todo esto sin mencionar la modernización de países como los de la ex-URSS, China y Vietnam en términos de infraestructura, transportes, ciencia y tecnología, educación, etc., todos dirigidos por partidos marxistas-leninistas, que a la larga han redundado en mejoras sustanciales en la calidad de vida de millones de personas. No me parece una cuestión menor.
Sebastián León is a philosophy teacher at the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru, where he received his MA in philosophy (2018). His main subject of interest is the history of modernity, understood as a series of cultural, economic, institutional and subjective processes, in which the impetus for emancipation and rational social organization are imbricated with new and sophisticated forms of power and social control. He is a socialist militant, and has collaborated with lectures and workshops for different grassroots organizations.
Veteran combatant of Cuba’s revolutionary struggles, Comandante Víctor Dreke, in 2017.
Photo: Le Soir/Dominique Duchesnes.
Víctor Dreke, legendary commander of the Cuban Revolutionary Armed Forces, called for those defending the Revolution today to recognize that the battlefield of the 21st century is the media.
The comments were made at a conference held on Thursday, April 22, commemorating the 60-year anniversary of the Bay of Pigs—Playa Girón to the Spanish-speaking world. Comandante Dreke, now retired at age 84, spoke alongside author, historian, and journalist Tariq Ali; Cuba’s Ambassador to the United Kingdom, Bárbara Montalvo Álvarez; and National Secretary of Great Britain’s Cuba Solidarity Campaign, Bernard Regan.
“It is no longer about us, the over-80s,” said Dreke. “It is the next generation, those who are here, who are going to be even better than us. It will no longer be a case of combat… Right now, the media across the world has to defend the Cuban Revolution, and we and you have to be capable of accessing the media across the world to spread the truth about the Cuban Revolution. That is the battle we are waging today—to fight attempts to weaken the people, to soften the people, to try to take the country again. They have changed their tactics. We are ready, but we want to say to our friends in the Americas and around the world that Cuba, the Cuba of Fidel Castro, Raúl Castro, Juan Almeida, the Cuba of Che Guevara, will never fail, neither with us nor with the future generations.”
Dreke joined the 26 July Movement in 1954, fought under Che Guevara in the Cuban Revolutionary War and in Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1965, and commanded two companies in Cuba’s historic defeat of US imperialism at the Bay of Pigs. Dreke’s autobiography, From the Escambray to the Congo: In the Whirlwind of the Cuban Revolution, was published in 2002.
Cuba and Venezuela provide inspiration for Latin America and the world
Comandante Víctor Dreke drew a comparison between Cuba’s historic defense of the revolution and that of Venezuela, as both countries now face a common weapon in the arsenal of imperialism: the economic blockade.
“They block medicines for Cuba, they block aid for Cuba,” said Dreke. “They blockade the disposition of aid for Venezuela because of the principles of Venezuela, the principles of Chávez, the principles of Maduro, the principles of Díaz-Canel, the principles of this people, due to the historical continuity of this people.”
Regarding the failed 1961 US invasion of Cuba, Dreke remarked, “it was an example for Latin America that proved that the US was not invincible; that the US could be defeated with the morality and dignity of the people—because we did not have the weapons at that time that we later acquired. It had a meaning for Cuba, the Americas, and the dignified peoples of Latin America and around the world.”
Tariq Ali: we must see through ideological fabrications to defeat imperialism
Tariq Ali, esteemed author of more than 40 books, recalled the precursor of the US invasion of Cuba, the 1954 CIA coup in Guatemala in which President Jacobo Árbenz was overthrown and forced into exile. A young Ernesto Guevara was living in Guatemala at that time and bore witness to the multifaceted CIA operation PBSuccess, which included bombing campaigns with unmarked aircraft and a propaganda blitz of leaflets and radio broadcasts. Ali described the evolution of CIA tactics since then:
“Normally the way they choose is to occupy a tiny bit of territory, find a puppet president, and recognize the puppet president. They are doing that in the Arab world today, or have been trying to do it. They did it with Guaidó in Venezuela, except that the Venezuelan army would not play that game and it blew up in their face, their attempt to topple the Maduro regime. They are trying it in parts of Africa. The weaponry has changed, it is more sophisticated, but the actual method they use, ideologically, is the same. That’s why it always amazes me as to why so many people believe the rubbish they read when a war is taking place.”
Ali also weighed in with a forecast for US foreign policy under the Biden administration:
“We can be hopeful for surprises… But effectively, whoever becomes president of the United States, whether it is Obama, or Biden, or Trump, or Clinton, or Bush, they are presidents of an imperial country, an imperial state, and this imperial state is not run all the time by the Congress or the Senate or the Supreme Court. The military plays a very important role in the institutions of the state, and the National Security Council, the Pentagon, the Defense Intelligence Agency, and the Central Intelligence Agency are in and out of the White House, so the president who decides to make a sharp shift—it can be done, I am not saying it cannot be done—would have to be very brave and courageous indeed.”
“Whoever from the Democrats gets elected—whatever their position—immediately comes under very heavy pressure,” Ali elaborated. “If you look at AOC [Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez]… initially very radical, but now she is totally on board… I have never heard her say sanctions should be lifted, and she certainly supports even the old Trump line on Venezuela.”
Hybrid warfare in the information age
“Direct warfare in the past may have been marked by bombers and tanks, but if the pattern that the US has presently applied in Syria and Ukraine is any indication, then indirect warfare in the future will be marked by ‘protesters’ and insurgents,” detailed Andrew Korybko in the publication Hybrid Wars: The Indirect Adaptive Approach To Regime Change. “Fifth columns will be formed less by secret agents and covert saboteurs and more by non-state actors that publicly behave as civilians. Social media and similar technologies will come to replace precision-guided munitions as the ‘surgical strike’ capability of the aggressive party, and chat rooms and Facebook pages will become the new ‘militants’ den.’ Instead of directly confronting the targets on their home turf, proxy conflicts will be waged in their near vicinity in order to destabilize their periphery. Traditional occupations may give way to coups and indirect regime-change operations that are more cost effective and less politically sensitive.”
Hybrid warfare, waged today by the US and its political allies in conjunction with transnational corporations that wield powerful influence over mass media and political institutions, comprises the fields of economic warfare, lawfare, conventional armed warfare, and the information war. This last and most important—according to Commander Dreke—element in turn includes the manipulation of the press to serve capitalist and imperialist interests, the manufacture of fake news stories out of whole cloth, and targeted attacks on individuals, parties, or peoples who speak out against the failings of the present order. Moreover, hybrid warfare extends to interference in the political field and in electoral processes, the mounting of media campaigns to drive public attention into particular channels, and myriad assaults on our consciousness that attempt to turn us against each other, prevent us from seeing our common interests, and confuse us as we try to overcome defeatism and work to build a better world.
Steve Lalla is a journalist, researcher and analyst. His areas of interest include geopolitics, history, and current affairs. He has contributed to Counterpunch, Monthly Review, ANTICONQUISTA, Hampton Institute, Resumen LatinoAmericano English, Orinoco Tribune, and others.
Originally published by Orinoco Tribune
The three pillars of American republicanism
“Bill of Rights Socialism” was first put forward by Gus Hall, Chairman of the Communist Party, USA, in his 1990 pamphlet The American Way to Bill of Rights Socialism. Emile Shaw wrote in 1996 that Bill of Rights Socialism “conveys the idea that we will incorporate U.S. traditions into the structure of socialism that the working class will create.” Since then, the CPUSA has continued to deepen and expand this theory to correspond with the real needs of struggle.
The CPUSA is not alone in this project; other communist parties have also been applying Marxism-Leninism creatively to produce important innovations, bringing socialist construction into the modern age while also adapting their own path to their unique national conditions.
How could it be otherwise? All struggles for socialism have unfolded within the context of their particular national circumstances. In Vietnam, it produced “Ho Chi Minh Thought.” In Cuba, the revolution linked itself to the legacy of Jose Martí. The many innovations in China are known as “Socialism with Chinese Characteristics.” No struggle has ever discounted their unique political traditions and general national conditions and been successful in achieving liberation.
US republican traditions were deeply influenced by the Roman republic, where political sovereignty was derived from a free citizenry rather than a single monarch. According to Irish philosopher and world-renowned political theorist Philip Pettit, this centuries-old tradition of republicanism can be defined by “three core ideas” familiar to any US citizen:
The first idea, unsurprisingly, is that the equal freedom of its citizens, in particular their freedom as non-domination — the freedom that goes with not having to live under the potentially harmful power of another — is the primary concern of the state or republic. The second is that if the republic is to secure the freedom of its citizens then it must satisfy a range of constitutional constraints associated broadly with the mixed constitution. And the third idea is that if the citizens are to keep the republic to its proper business then they had better have the collective and individual virtue to track and contest public policies and initiatives: the price of liberty, in the old republican adage, is eternal vigilance.1
These “three core ideas” form the bedrock of the political tradition of the U.S. republic. Bill of Rights Socialism, then, must grapple with these three core ideas if we are to synthesize the revolutionary struggle of the working class with the unique political conditions of the United States.
Freedom and the republic
The ideological core of the U.S. is its emphasis on the concept of “freedom.” Anyone with even a passing familiarity of U.S. politics knows that every single other question revolves around this core ideal. No other single concept, even that of democracy, holds as much power as this idea. Pettit distinguishes two approaches to freedom: liberalism and republicanism, both of which were present at the birth of the United States.
Liberalism developed out of the European enlightenment period. It was a product of the rising bourgeoisie, which sought to guarantee freedom of commerce while leaving many other areas of domination untouched. Its basis is the freedom of the individual to own and dispose of property with a minimum of state interference.
Republican freedom is rooted in the Roman idea that to be free, a person must not suffer dominatio. This means that a free person must be free not only of active interference of political power but also inactive, latent interference by any outside force. Freedom is not only an act, but a status. The real enemy of freedom in the republican tradition is not just interference by political authorities; it is the arbitrary power that some people may have over others.2 Pettit elaborates: “[Freedom] means that you must not be exposed to a power of interference on the part of any others, even if they happen to like you and do not exercise that power against you.”3
Specifically, this means you are not free if you have a good boss or a good landlord who has the power to arbitrarily intervene against your employment or housing, but simply chooses not to do so. If that power exists, even in a latent and unexercised way, working-class people cannot be understood to have the status of freedom, since this “freedom” may arbitrarily change at any given moment. Working people under capitalism live in day-to-day dependence on the employing class.
Pettit articulates what he refers to as the “eyeball test” to help clarify what republican freedom means:
[Citizens] can look others in the eye without reason for the fear or deference that a power of interference might inspire; they can walk tall and assume the public status, objective and subjective, of being equal in this regard with the best. . . . The satisfaction of the test would mean for each person that others were unable, in the received phrase, to interfere at will and with impunity in their affairs.4
This definition of freedom should be intuitively familiar to all working-class people. Are you free if you have to pretend to be friends with your boss, bite your tongue, or fake your laughter to stay on the boss’s good side? When at-will employment prevails in so many workplaces, can working-class people be free if they can be fired for any reason or no reason at all? According to the republican definition of freedom, the answer is unequivocal: Working people are not free under capitalism.
Crucially, this means republicanism is distinct from the libertarian theory of freedom. Rather than being concerned exclusively with a vertical theory of freedom, where the state alone is seen as a threat to freedom, republicanism is also concerned with the arbitrary power private citizens can have over one another. Republican freedom means freedom not only from arbitrary state interference, but also from abusive partners, racial and national discrimination, and the private tyrannies of modern capitalism. Republican freedom has always meant more than just free markets.
Bill of Rights Socialism, then, recognizes the inherent contradiction of “freedom” in monopoly capitalism — it is a smokescreen for the objective increase of unfreedom for the sake of profit. In today’s stage of capitalist development, the objective condition of most of U.S. society and the broader world is to be unfree and dominated by finance monopoly capitalism and imperialism. Second, Bill of Rights Socialism asserts that this contradiction can be resolved only by putting an end to the dictatorship of monopoly capital through a popular, democratic revolution that elevates the working class to the leading, decisive social element constituting state power.
The mixed constitution as a class balancing act
The second “core idea” of republicanism is the “range of constitutional constraints associated broadly with the mixed constitution.” This tradition of the “mixed constitution” (mixed government) developed out of revolutionary class struggle as a way to balance the contradiction between the general “human” struggle for emancipation and the particular class project upon which the new state must be founded.
The most well-known republic in ancient history was formed in Rome with the overthrow of the Roman monarch Lucius Tarquinius Superbus by the patrician aristocracy of Rome. Tarquinius’ rule had become so intolerable to the aristocracy that they resolved by degrees to overthrow him.
Yet the patricians by themselves could not bring to bear enough force to decisively win in their revolutionary struggle. The revolution was sparked when the masses of plebians rioted over the rape of Lucretius by Tarquinius’ son and her subsequent suicide. This mass activity was critical for the aristocracy to unite and banish the monarchy and replace it with two consuls who would be able to “check” one another through a veto.
The mixed constitutions of republics emerged out of this historical process as the institutionalization of a balanced form of class rule. The Roman aristocracy was able to secure its position of power in the Roman Senate. Yet spontaneous plebian activity in the revolutionary struggle forced the patricians to integrate the popular class into its republican system as well. Checks and balances in a republic are reflections of the underlying balance of class forces at a particular moment when that republic is first constituted.
Machiavelli makes this observation explicitly in his Discourses on Livy:
I say that those who condemn the dissensions between the nobility and the people seem to me to be finding fault with what as a first course kept Rome free, and to be considering quarrels and the noise that resulted from these dissensions rather than the good effects they brought about, they are not considering that in every republic there are two opposed factions, that of the people and that of the rich, and that all laws made in favor of liberty result from their discord.5
According to political scientist Kent Brudney, Machiavelli “accepted the class basis of political life and believed that class conflict could be beneficial to a republic.” The “creative possibilities of class conflict” were recognized for “their importance to the maintenance of Roman liberty.” Brudney continues: “The episodes of conflict between the Roman patriciate and the Roman people were vital to the development of good laws and to the continuity of Rome’s founding principles.”6
This class-struggle understanding of mixed constitutionalism was also at the fore in the debates around the ratification of the U.S. Constitution. Scholar James Wallner directly connects the debates around the creation of the Senate with Machiavelli’s theory of institutionalized class struggle:
The U.S. Senate exists for one overriding reason: to check the popularly elected U.S. House of Representatives. Throughout the summer of 1787, James Madison and his fellow delegates to the Federal Convention highlight, again and again, the Machiavellian observation that institutionalized conflict was essential to the preservation of the republic. Trying to inject an updated understanding of Machiavelli’s dictum into the heart of the new federal government, they created a Senate whose institutional features — size, membership-selection process, nature of representation, length of term of office, compensation — are properly understood only in relation to the body’s House checking role.7
Wallner points to Federalist Paper No. 62, where James Madison wrote: “The necessity of a senate is not less indicated by the propensity of all single and numerous assemblies to yield to the impulse of sudden and violent passions, and to be seduced by factious leaders into intemperate and pernicious resolutions.”
The recent Shay’s Rebellion had been sparked by Massachusetts farmers demanding debt relief that was opposed by the merchant class that dominated the state government. This rebellion pressed the Federalist framers to consider the inclusion of an “aristocratic” senate capable of effectively subduing the “violent passions” of the masses, something missing from the Articles of Confederation that had preceded it.8
Thus, we see that “mixed constitutions” of republics are only the institutionalization of class struggle. If the republic is supposed to make the affairs of public power a question of public input, it must always balance the class foundation of the state with at least the nominal political participation of the masses. Ruling class power in a republic is always concentrated in the senate, and popular power is always located in a “lower” branch of government. This balance creates a dynamism between the two while also developing a hegemonic understanding of the state as representing “the whole people,” even if the state is always constituted under a specific class basis.
Bill of Rights Socialism deepens the theory of the mixed constitution and gives it a proletarian character. Rather than calling for the abolition of the senate as such, Bill of Rights Socialism recognizes the need to reconstitute the republic along proletarian class lines, transforming the current senate founded on the “wisdom” of slave owners and oligarchs into an “industrial” senate that is instead based on the wisdom and experience of the leaders of the working class.
Like Lenin’s soviets, the industrial senate would be built out of “the direct organisation of the working and exploited people themselves, which helps them to organise and administer their own state in every possible way.” Leaders, drawn from the broad working-class majority, would carry with them both an intimate knowledge of all parts of the production process and a distinct working-class perspective into the development of public policy. And like both the soviets and senates past, the industrial senate would be insulated from universal direct election, with a focus on cultivating tested working-class leadership collaborating to build and protect a common vision of a democratic socialist republic. The class character of the senate would serve as a “check” on one side of the equation.9
But Bill of Rights Socialism can grow only out of the success of a massive people’s front. Led by the organized working class, this front would also contain all progressive people and class allies, including small farmers, small- and medium-size-business owners, the self-employed, and independent intellectuals and professionals. The primary stage of socialism does not end class struggle but transforms it under the decisive political rule of the working class. A “People’s House” would provide a democratic space for these other class elements to make constructive and progressive contributions to building socialism without sacrificing or obscuring the working-class nature of the new republic.
Further, experience from the last century indicates that even a working-class state can degenerate bureaucratically without broader popular participation and oversight. In addition to incorporating non-proletarian class elements constructively into the workers’ republic, the lower house would also provide a space for the exercise of universal suffrage and the direct election of representatives by the whole people. These popular representatives could play a consultative role to the industrial senate and provide institutional oversight. This would provide a “check” on the other side of the equation.
The “checks and balances” between the industrial senate and the people’s house would capture the “quarrels and the noise” familiar to American democracy while preserving absolutely the republic’s fundamental class nature. This dynamic interrelationship creates the conditions for the third core idea of republicanism to prevail, the “contestatory citizenry.”
It is right to rebel (within limits)
The third core idea of republicanism depends on the active engagement of its citizens “to track and contest public policies and initiatives.” Freedom can be secured only through struggle. This ideal has been a fundamental political principle of all oppressed people struggling for their democratic rights and freedom in the United States. Frederick Douglass taught us years ago the price of freedom:
If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters.10
The contestatory citizenry forms a fundamental basis for the Bill of Rights and so must serve as a basis for Bill of Rights Socialism. These rights include freedom of speech, of assembly, of faith and conscience, and the right to be informed about the functioning of public power. Politically critical art, protests, and organizations must play a fundamental role in the construction of socialism in the United States and thus must be protected under Bill of Rights Socialism.
Struggle does not only occur between oppressor and oppressed, between exploiter and exploited. Struggle also goes on within the oppressed and exploited. Historical development has created an unevenness within the working class: divisions around race, sex, sexuality, religion, cultural beliefs, nationality, language, and so on. This unevenness can be overcome only after a long period of struggle to resolve these divisions and build a unity through our diversity; to give real content to the national motto “E Pluribus Unum.” While the initial steps in this process of internal struggle for unity within the working class and democratic forces must be made before the establishment of socialism by building a people’s front, the establishment of socialism does not mechanically erase the social unevenness within that people’s front overnight.
Revolution and reform are distinct, but also deeply interrelated. The development of social scientific methods and professional specialization has produced the historical capacity to carry out deep and broad reforms to the social system in a planned, scientific, and rational way. Reform can and must always go on, improving social institutions and making sure they advance with the times. However, reform does not happen abstractly, but according to the degree of political will brought to bear on the process. Reform in a social system hits a wall when the ruling class is no longer willing to exercise its political will to allow the reform process to deepen and expand according to the needs of the populace.
Revolution is not in and of itself the solution to social problems; revolution is the punctuated transformation from one form of class rule to the next. This transformation in class rule does not replace reform, but unlocks it to unfold more deeply, at a faster pace, and in a more thoroughgoing way than the degenerate ruling class that was replaced could or would allow. By elevating the working class to the level of the ruling class in a workers’ republic, the struggle for reforms is not ended but transformed. Republicanism allows this reform struggle to take place both on an individual, contestatory foundation protected by a socialist Bill of Rights, as well as within the bounds of law constrained by socialist constitutional forms.
Peace, prosperity, democracy, and freedom
Let us be crystal clear: the United States needs a socialist revolution. The old ruling class, dominated by finance monopoly capital and incapable of keeping pace with the needs of the time, must be overthrown and in its place the working class, at the head of a mass democratic movement of all oppressed people and classes, must be elevated to rule in its place. The class basis of the current republic must not be ignored but instead placed at the center of the conversation.
But the struggle is not to “abolish” the republican form outright. There are no serious ideas, to be perfectly frank, on what to put in its place. The soviet system was for the Soviets, the Chinese system for the Chinese, so on.
The struggle is to revolutionize the republic to preserve the republican system at a higher level of development. Indeed, the fundamental argument of Bill of Rights Socialism must be that only a socialist revolution can preserve the republican liberties and democratic rights that so many oppressed and exploited people have fought hard and made tremendous sacrifices to secure. Socialist revolution means the deepening of democracy under the decisive state leadership of the working class.
This essay is only a theoretical sketch to show the consistency between Marxism-Leninism and the “core ideas” of the republican political tradition. There are an almost limitless number of questions that arise from its premise: Can a workers’ republic be secured through the amendment process or through a new Constitutional Convention? How exactly should an industrial senate be ordered and secured? Should it be through indirect election, sortition (selection by lottery), selection, or a combination? How does federalism fit into this picture? How can we more explicitly articulate its relationship to imperialism and oppressed nations? And many more.
Only through thoughtful struggle — not isolated contemplation or outrageous sloganeering — can the political soil be tilled to allow new possibilities to develop. Bill of Rights Socialism is not an “answer” in itself but a path to be blazed by combining the creative leadership of the Communist Party with the limitless dynamism and transformative potential of millions of Americans from all backgrounds linked together in the struggle for peace, prosperity, democracy, and republican freedom.
Bradley Crowder was born and raised in the Permian Basin oil patch that spans eastern New Mexico and west Texas. He is a labor organizer that has worked with the American Federation of Teachers and the Fight For 15. He has his undergraduate in economics from Texas State University and currently working on his master's degree in labor studies at UMass - Amherst. He is a proud member of the Communist Party, USA.
Republished from CPUSA
Peter Daszak’s EcoHealth Alliance Has Hidden Almost $40 Million In Pentagon Funding And Militarized Pandemic Science. By: Sam HusseiniRead Now
The Pentagon (Credit the Smithsonian)
“Pandemics are like terrorist attacks: We know roughly where they originate and what’s responsible for them, but we don’t know exactly when the next one will happen. They need to be handled the same way — by identifying all possible sources and dismantling those before the next pandemic strikes.”
This statement was written in the New York Times earlier this year by Peter Daszak. Daszak is the longtime president of the EcoHealth Alliance, a New York-based non-profit whose claimed focus is pandemic prevention. But the EcoHealth Alliance, it turns out, is at the very centre of the COVID-19 pandemic in many ways.
To depict the pandemic in such militarized terms is, for Daszak, a commonplace. In an Oct. 7 online talk organized by Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, Daszak presented a slide titled “Donald Rumsfeld’s Prescient Speech.”:
“There are known knowns; there are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns; that is to say, there are things that we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns — there are things we don’t know we don’t know.” (This Rumsfeld quote is in fact from a news conference)
In the subsequent online discussion, Daszak emphasized the parallels between his own crusade and Rumsfeld’s, since, according to Daszak, the “potential for unknown attacks” is “the same for viruses”.
Daszak then proceeded with a not terribly subtle pitch for over a billion dollars. This money would support a fledgling virus hunting and surveillance project of his, the Global Virome Project — a “doable project” he assured watchers — given the cost of the pandemic to governments and various industries.
Also on the video was Columbia University professor Jeffrey Sachs. Sachs is a former special advisor to the UN, the former head of the Millennium Villages Project, and was recently appointed Chair of the newly-formed EAT Lancet Commission on the pandemic. In September, Sachs’ commission named Daszak to head up its committee on the pandemic’s origins. Daszak is also on the WHO’s committee to investigate the pandemic’s origin. He is the only individual on both committees.
These leadership positions are not the only reason why Peter Daszak is such a central figure in the COVID-19 pandemic, however. His appointment dismayed many of those who are aware that Daszak’s EcoHealth Alliance funded bat coronavirus research, including virus collection, at the Wuhan Institute for Virology (WIV) and thus could themselves be directly implicated in the outbreak.
For his part, Daszak has repeatedly dismissed the notion that the pandemic could have a lab origin. In fact, a recent FOIA by the transparency group U.S. Right To Know revealed that Peter Daszak drafted an influential multi-author letter published on February 18 in the Lancet. That letter dismissed lab origin hypothesese as “conspiracy theory.” Daszak was revealed to have orchestrated the letter such as to “avoid the appearance of a political statement.”
Sachs for his part seemed surprised by Daszak’s depiction of Rumsfeld but Daszak reassured him. “It’s an awesome quote! And yes, it’s Donald Rumsfeld, Jeff, and I know he’s a Republican, but — what a genius!”
Following the EcoHealth Alliance’s money trail to the Pentagon
Collecting dangerous viruses is typically justified as a preventive and defensive activity, getting ahead of what “Nature” or “The Terrorists” might throw at us. But by its nature, this work is “dual use”. “Biodefense” is often just as easily biowarfare since biodefense and the products of biowarfare are identical. It’s simply a matter of what the stated goals are.
This is openly acknowledged [See below] by scientists associated with EcoHealth Alliance when talking about alleged programs in other counties — like Iraq.
For much of this year, Daszak’s EcoHealth Alliance garnered a great deal of sympathetic media coverage after its $3.7 million five-year NIH grant was prematurely cut when the Trump administration learned that EcoHealth Alliance funded bat coronavirus research at the WIV.
The temporary cut was widely depicted in major media as Trump undermining the EcoHealth Alliance’s noble fight against pandemics. The termination was reversed by NIH in late August, and even upped to $7.5 million. But entirely overlooked amid the claims and counter-claims was that far more funding for the EcoHealth Alliance comes from the Pentagon than the NIH.
To be strictly fair to the media, Daszak’s EcoHealth Alliance obscures its Pentagon funding. On its website EcoHealth Alliance states that “A copy of the EHA Grant Management Manual is available upon request to the EHA Chief Financial Officer at finance ( at ) ecohealthalliance.org”. But an email to that address and numerous others, including Peter Daszak’s, requesting that Manual, as well as other financial information, was not returned. Neither were repeated voicemails.
Even this listing is deceptive. It obscures that its two largest funders are the Pentagon and the State Department (USAID); whereas the US Fish and Wildlife Service, which accounts for a minuscule $74,487, comes before either.
Meticulous investigation of U.S. government databases reveals that Pentagon funding for the EcoHealth Alliance from 2013 to 2020, including contracts, grants and subcontracts, was just under $39 million. Most, $34.6 million, was from the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA), which is a branch of the DOD which states it is tasked to “counter and deter weapons of mass destruction and improvised threat networks.”
Most of the remaining money to EHA was from USAID (State Dept.), comprising at least $64,700,000 (1). These two sources thus total over $103 million. (See Fig).
Summary of EHA Grants and Contracts. Note this figure doesn’t count subcontracts so it undercounts USAID’s contribution, see footnote (1) below (Credit: James Baratta and Mariamne Everett)
Another $20 million came from Health and Human Services ($13 million, which includes National Institutes of Health and Centers for Disease Control), National Science Foundation ($2.6 million), Department of Homeland Security ($2.3 million), Department of Commerce ($1.2 million), Department of Agriculture ($0.6 million), and Department of Interior ($0.3 million). So, total U.S. government funding for EHA to-date stands at $123 million, approximately one third of which comes from the Pentagon directly. The full funding breakdown is available here and is summarized by year, source, and type, in a spreadsheet format.
Pdf versions of this the spreadsheet are available to download. The summary is here and all Federal grants and contracts are here.
More military connections
The military links of the EcoHealth Alliance are not limited to money and mindset. One noteworthy ‘policy advisor’ to the EcoHealth Alliance is David Franz. Franz is former commander of Fort Detrick, which is the principal U.S. government biowarfare/biodefense facility.
David Franz was part of UNSCOM which inspected Iraq for alleged bioweapons — what were constantly referred to as WMDs or Weapons of Mass Destruction by the U.S. government and the media. Franz has been one of those eager to state, at least when discussing alleged Iraqi programs, that “in biology … everything is dual use — the people, the facilities and the equipment.” (NPR, May 14, 2003; link no longer available).
Just this year Franz wrote a piece with former New York Times journalist Judith Miller, whose stories of Iraqi WMDs did much to misinform the US public regarding the case for the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Their joint article, “A Biosecurity Failure: America’s key lab for fighting infectious disease has become a Pentagon backwater,” urges more funding for Fort Detrick.
Miller and Franz are long-time associates. Miller co-wrote the book Germs, released amid the 2001 false flag anthrax attacks, which repeatedly quotes Franz. Miller at the time received a hoax letter with a harmless white powder, increasing her prominence.
Franz continued hyping the existence of Iraqi WMDs even after the invasion of Iraq. While she was still with the Times, Miller quoted him in a story “U.S. Analysts Link Iraq Labs To Germ Arms” on May 21, 2003 pushing the theory that Iraq had mobile biological WMD units. (This theory was debunked by the British scientist Dr David Kelly, who would die, apparently by suicide, soon thereafter.)
Four significant insights emerge from all this. First, although it is called the EcoHealth Alliance, Peter Daszak and his non-profit work closely with the military. Second, the EcoHealth Alliance attempts to conceal these military connections. Third, through militaristic language and analogies Daszak and his colleagues promote what is often referred to as, and even then somewhat euphemistically, an ongoing agenda known as “securitization“. In this case it is the securitization of infectious diseases and of global public health. That is, they argue that pandemics constitute a vast and existential threat. They minimize the very real risks associated with their work, and sell it as a billion dollar solution. The fourth insight is that Daszak himself, as the Godfather of the Global Virome Project, stands to benefit from the likely outlay of public funds.
Thanks to James Baratta and Mariamne Everett for researching the funding sources.
Republished from Independent Science News
3,000 Workers Are On Strike at the Largest Volvo Truck Manufacturing Plant in the World. By: James Dennis HoffRead Now
Workers at the Mack and Volvo Truck of North America manufacturing plant in Dublin, Virginia — which makes regional and long distance hauling vehicles for the entire country — have been on strike for almost a week now and show no signs of backing down.
Photo: UAW 2069
Last week workers at Volvo’s New River Valley Plant in Dublin, Virginia — the largest truck manufacturing facility in the United States — downed their tools and walked off the job. Since then, almost 3,000 members of United Auto Workers (UAW) local 2069 have taken up picket lines around the plant, demanding higher wages, extended health benefits for retirees, safer working conditions, and an end to the multi-tier wage system that allows new hires to make as little as half the wages of more senior workers.
The walkout, which began April 17, follows a successful strike vote passed in February just before the expiration of the last contract. That strike was delayed, however, when the UAW leadership — seemingly against the wishes of the rank-and-file members who voted overwhelmingly (98.6 percent) to strike — agreed to a month-long extension of negotiations. Many workers complain this extension was a conscious decision on the part of the business union leadership to allow Volvo more time to prepare to weather both a strike, as well as a massive nationwide semiconductor shortage. An earlier strike in late February or March would have put more pressure on management to make concessions. In fact, freight industry news outlets are reporting that the strike now may actually help Volvo move chips to other plants around the world, thereby reducing overall downtime. As one anonymous worker at the plant told Left Voice: “We all knew the chip shortage would affect production and knew there would be three to six months down time to get them. So the company needed us to go out.”
While even long-time workers at the manufacturing plant are being paid as little as $16 an hour, Mack and Volvo Truck of North America (VTNA), which is owned by Volvo Group, continues to make massive earnings. Last year, thanks to the pandemic, VTNA saw reductions in new truck orders, but still posted more than $3 billion in profits. This year, however, orders have increased dramatically and class 8 truck orders are up more than 242 percent over 2020. This high demand will mean even greater profits for VTNA in 2021. Workers on the picket lines say they expect to see a share of this new wealth and that they are determined to stay out as long as it takes to win higher wages and safer working conditions during the pandemic. “No matter how long we need to stay we will get it or they can hire 3,000 more people, because in the last few years they had trouble finding 1,000” said one worker.
While workers are currently being issued strike pay from the UAW national strike fund, they are unsure whether Volvo will continue to honor their health insurance, since their contract expired in February. Cutting health insurance for striking workers has been used by bosses to break or weaken their resolve, and was a tactic used as recently as the UAW Chrysler strike in 2019. This practice would remain legal even if the PRO Act were to miraculously pass the Senate.
Among the many demands put forward by the union, the issue of the multi-tier wage system is one that workers say they are especially concerned about. Such multi-tier wage systems have been a powerful weapon against workers that have allowed the auto industry, often abetted by union bureaucracies like the UAW, to chip away at decades of hard won wage gains. This wage system has more recently allowed multinational companies like Volvo to ramp up production by hiring more low-paid workers, while squeezing out higher earners and making billions in additional profits. Such wage disparities also tend to have a debilitating effect on union solidarity, often weakening union power by pitting one group of workers against another, which is exactly what the bosses want. In addition, workers are asking that the company fund health insurance for retirees, who currently have to begin paying for their insurance when they retire, leading many to indefinitely postpone retirement.
This strike also comes amid a sharp increase in strikes of more than 1,000 employees across the country. From coal miners in Alabama, to Massachusetts nurses and Columbia graduate workers, there have already been more strikes this year than the entire first half of 2020, signaling that 2021, like 2019, could be a banner year for major work stoppages. As the economy recovers from the low point of the economic crisis, and as demand for manufacturing and logistical labor in particular increases, workers, many of whom have suffered greatly due to the pandemic, may be more willing to take on the boss even when their unions are not. Indeed, it’s clear that the strike at Volvo was driven by the anger of the frontline workers themselves and that bureaucracy is being pulled forward by the rank and file.
Currently the union says it will not engage in any further negotiations until April 26. But if the spirit on display on the picket lines is any indication of the resilience of these workers to keep fighting, there is a strong chance they may win many of their demands.
James Dennis Hoff is a writer, educator, and activist. He teaches at The City University of New York.
This article was first published by Left Voice.
In her 2020 text Marxism and Intersectionality: Race, Gender, Class and Sexuality under Contemporary Capitalism, Ashley J. Bohrer sets out to demystify the erroneous conception that the traditions of Marxism and Intersectionality are incompatible. In finding that in academia the interactions between these two traditions have been “grounded more in caricature than in close reading,” Bohrer sets out to expose and correct what she calls the “synecdochal straw person fallacy” present in the way each tradition has interacted with the other (AB, 14, 20). In noting that both traditions represent active ways of “reading, understanding, thinking, and dreaming beyond the deep structures of exploitation and oppression that frame our world,” her starting point is historical, i.e., she begins by outlining the historical precursors of the intersectional tradition (AB, 21). In doing so, she situates the origins of intersectional thought in spaces inseparably linked to communist and socialist activism, organizations, and parties. Nonetheless, it is important to note before we continue that her goal is not to ‘synthesize’ the two traditions, or to subsume the one under the other, but to articulate a ‘both-and’ approach, in which the conditions for the possibility of “theoretical coalitions between perspectives, in which the strengths of each perspective are preserved” arises (AB, 23).
Bohrer sets the groundwork for her project by situating the historical unity of the intersectional tradition and socialism. She begins by examining the 19th century thinkers Maria Stewart, Sojourner Truth, and Ida B. Wells-Barnett. Bohrer argues that these three central foremothers of the intersectional tradition had concerns not limited to the dynamics of race and gender, i.e., the three understood that concerns of “labor, class, capitalism, and political economy” were inseparable from concerns of race and gender (AB, 35). In Stewart she demonstrates the presence of an early (1830s) notion of surplus value at hand in the analysis of enslaved black women’s work, who she saw as performing the labor that allowed for the profits of the owner. In Truth she examines her lucid development of the structural role reproductive labor played for capitalism, and more specifically, how the exploitation of this reproductive labor takes a variety of forms according to race. Lastly, in Wells-Barnett she examines how her groundbreaking work on lynching not only demystifies the narrative of the black male rapist, but postulates that “lynching was predominantly a tool of economic control,” used to keep the black community economically subordinated to white capitalist (AB, 40).
Bohrer proceeds to examine the three key intersectional forerunners of the first half of the 20th century: Louise Thompson Patterson, Claudia Jones, and W.E.B. Du Bois, all which were at some point members of the Communist Party. In Patterson we see the development of the concept of ‘triple exploitation’ used to describe the unique position black working-class women have under capitalism, placing them in a context in which they are exploited as workers, women, and blacks. Influenced by Patterson’s notion of ‘triple-exploitation’ and the Marxist-Leninist concept of ‘superexploitation,’ Claudia Jones refurnishes and expands on both – reconceptualizing the former as ‘triple-oppression,’ and redefining the latter to account for the uniquely exploitative position black women occupy under capitalism. In postulating black women’s position as ‘superexploited,’ Jones considers black women, not the white industrial proletariat, the “most revolutionary segment of the working class” (AB, 50). Lastly, in Du Bois we see expressed a profound understanding that race, class, and gender are tied with “simultaneous significance” to the structural contradictions of capitalism (AB, 51). This simultaneous significance of the three requires an individual and systematic understanding of oppression to be fully comprehended.
Bohrer closes out her historical contextualization by looking at the last half of the 20th century. She begins by looking at the three approaches to thinking about the relations of class, race, and gender that arise in the 1960s-80s. These three are: double and triple jeopardy, standpoint theory, and sexist racism. Bohrer argues that although these three played a great role in the development of the intersectional tradition, they are still “distinct from a full theory of intersectionality,” for they contain, in different ways, the reifying, homogenizing, and essentializing ways of thinking of race, class, and gender that intersectionality attempts to move beyond (AB, 35). Bohrer then examines the anti-capitalist critiques present in the intersectional thought of the Combahee River Collective, Patricia Hill Collins, Angela Davis, bell hooks, and Audre Lorde. In the Combahee River Collective, we see the inclusion of class, race, gender, and sexuality as interlocking systems of oppression that “permeate all moments of capitalist exploitation” (AB, 74). The same sentiment, conceptualized in various ways, permeates throughout the work of Collins (matrix of domination), Davis, hooks (white supremacist capitalist patriarchy), and Lorde (white male heterosexual capitalism).
Having contextualized the historical unfolding of the intersectional tradition, Bohrer moves on to examine what she considers to be the best forms of intersectionality, i.e., the ones that do not leave class behind, and the best forms of Marxism, i.e., the ones that do not consider race, sex, and other forms of oppression secondary and epiphenomenal to class-based exploitation. Beyond this, she also examines the disputes each side has with the other, and how these end up being largely based on synecdochal straw person fallacies.
Bohrer begins by attempting to lay out as refined a definition as possible to the question ‘what is intersectionality?’. To get to the refined, Bohrer starts with the general, stating that broadly “intersectionality is a term that brings together a variety of positions on the relationships between modes of oppression and identity in the contemporary world” (AB, 81). From here, Bohrer goes on to postulate five definitions of intersectionality as presented by some of its key theorists: Kimberlé Crenshaw, Leslie McCall, Patricia Hill Collins, Ange-Marie Hancock, and Vivian May. By showing there is disputes between intersectional thinkers on how intersectionality should be thought of, Bohrer breaks the conceptions of intersectionality as a homogenous theoretical approach, and demonstrates that there is plurality, disputes, and discussion actively happening within the tradition. Nonetheless, she marks six central postulates of intersectional thinking that permeate in most intersectional theorists. These are: 1- anti single axis thinking – the various forms of oppression are enmeshed within each other and inseparable; 2- anti ranking oppressions – no one oppression is any more important than another, i.e., being constructed relationally, you cannot solve one without solving the others; 3- Think of oppression in multiple registers – structurally, individually, representationally, etc.; 4- Identity is politically and theoretically important – identity is never pure, it is always “multi-pronged, group-based, historically-constituted, and heterogenous;” 5- Inextricable link of theory and practice – activism and the theoretical are linked; and 6- Power is described and attacked – intersectionality is not neutral, it is both “descriptive and normative,” it describes and critiques power (AB, 93, 95).
Having laid out the plurality of approaches, and also the unifying central postulates of intersectionality, Bohrer proceeds to examine the ways in which some Marxist theorists distort and fallaciously critique intersectionality. I will here lay what I take to be the six (out of eight) most important and frequent critiques of intersectionality, and the responses Bohrer gives to each. The first critique argues that intersectionality is individualistic, and thus, in line with the ethos of capitalism. But, as we saw in the previous postulates, identity for the intersectional theorist is group based and historically constructed. The second critique reduces intersectionality to postmodernism and poststructuralism. In doing so, Bohrer references Sirma Bilge in arguing that what is taking place is the “whitening of intersectionality,” i.e., a framework originated and guided by black women is subsumed under a white man predominated field (AB, 107). The third critique postulates intersectionality as liberal multiculturalism, falling within the logic of neoliberalism. Bohrer argues that although intersectional discourse is whitewashed and misused by neoliberal representationalism, intersectional theorists are ardent critics of this and fight to sustain the radical ethos of intersectionality. The fourth critique argues that intersectionality does not sufficiently account for issues of class. Bohrer contends, through Linda Alcoff, that in order to properly understand class, one must understand it enmeshed in race, sex, and gender. The fifth critique argues that intersectional theorists fail to account for the historical causes of that which they describe and critique. Bohrer responds that the intersectional theorists do account for the historical causes of the matrices of domination, but that instead of attributing the cause to one thing, they take a multi-dimensional approach. The last critique we will examine states that intersectionality multiplies identities and makes it harder for solidarity to arise. Bohrer’s response to this is that we must refrain from thinking of solidarity as the lowest common denominator of sameness, solidarity must be thought of as the building of coalitions of difference, united by a sameness in interest, not identity.
Bohrer now embarks on repeating with Marxism what she just did with intersectionality. She begins by devoting her time to demonstrating that what she calls the reductive ‘orthodox story’ of Marxism, which postulates Marxism “as a fundamentally class-oriented, economically-reductionist, teleological theory of waged factory labor,” is not the only form of Marxism (AB, 124). Bohrer approaches this task by postulating seven assumptions the ‘orthodox story’ makes, and then responds to each in a way that demonstrates how Marx, Engels, and queer, feminist, anti-racist, and anti-imperialist Marxists have addressed these questions free of the reductive assumptions of the ‘orthodox story.’ Some of these non-reductive approaches include: 1- looking beyond waged labor to examine the labor that is structurally necessary but unpaid; 2- looking at how the division of labor is racialized and sexualized; 3- examining the necessary role violence and oppression attendant in colonialism, land expropriation, and slavery played in the development of capitalism, not just as a function, but as an integral structural part of the system; 4- looking at the non-homogeneity of capitalism, i.e., examining how it can take different forms; and 5- looking at the politico-social apparatuses developed to reinforce these practices.
Building on the non-reductive forms of Marxism she just espoused, Bohrer now embarks on the task of showing how many critiques of Marxism coming from the intersectional tradition, like the Marxist critique of intersectionality previously examined, are based largely on misunderstandings or understandings limited to the reductive ‘orthodox story.’ Concretely, Bohrer examines four common criticisms of Marxism from intersectional theorist:
1-“Marxism is economically reductive”…; 2-“it necessarily treats all other forms of oppression as mere epiphenomena of the ‘true’ oppression of class”; 3-“Marxism is inherently a male, Eurocentric form of analysis that can therefore never speak to the oppression of women, people of color, and people from the Global South”; 4-“a Marxist understanding of exploitation is founded on the binary opposition of capitalist and proletarian, making it incapable of thinking through the complex and nuanced organizations of exploitation and oppression” (159).
Bohrer argues these critiques are largely limited in scope to the ‘orthodox story’ of Marxism which she has already established is merely one form out of many in the Marxist tradition. These intersectional critiques of Marxism become unwarranted when the form of Marxism examined is of the non-reductive type she appraised in chapter three.
The theoretically novel portion of her text begins by her looking at the relationship between exploitation and oppression. She argues that instead of reducing one onto the other, like has been done by the intersectional and Marxist traditions in the past, we must conceive of the two as having an ‘elective affinity,’ i.e., a “kind of consonance or amenability.” (AB, 200) This means, she argues, that we must think of the two as ‘equiprimordial’, i.e., related to each other as “equally fundamental, equally deep-rooted, and equally anchoring of the contemporary world” (AB, 199). In order to fully understand a phenomenon in capitalism we must understand how exploitation and oppression “feed off and play into one another as mutually reinforcing and co-constituting aspects of the organization of capitalist society” (AB, 201). Beyond this, she argues that “a full understanding of how class functions under capitalism requires understanding how exploitation and oppression function equiprimordially” (Ibid.). Therefore, four central points must be understood to capture capitalism non-reductively: “1) capitalism cannot be reduced to exploitation alone; 2) capitalism cannot be reduced to class alone; 3) class cannot be reduced to exploitation alone; 4) race, gender, sexuality cannot be reduced to oppression alone” (AB, 204).
Although the equiprimordial lens Bohrer introduces for thinking of the relationship between oppression and exploitation may be helpful, the development of the concept is stifled by her limited understanding of the notion of class in Marx’s work. Bohrer argues that instead of limiting class to being constituted only through exploitation, like in Marx, thinking of class equiprimordially allows us to see it constituted through exploitation and oppression. To expand on her point Bohrer references Rita Mae Brown who states that, “Class is much more than Marx’s definition of relationship to the means of production. Class involves your behavior, your basic assumptions about life[…]how you are taught to behave, what you expect from yourself and from others, your concept of a future, how you understand problems and solve them, how you think, feel, act…” (AB, 202). Although Marx never provides an explicit systematic study of class, for when he attempts the task in Ch. 52 of Capital Vol 3 the manuscript breaks off after a few paragraphs, we can nonetheless see his conception of class throughout his political works. Examining how Marx deals with class in his 18th Brumaire on Louis Bonaparte shows the previous sentiment from Brown and Bohrer to be problematic. In relation to the French peasantry, he states that,
Insofar as millions of families live under conditions of existence that separate their mode of life, their interests, and their culture from those of the other classes, and put them in hostile opposition to the latter, they form a class.[i]
This constitutes a notion of class that although influenced, is not reducible to the group’s relation to the means of production. It would seem then, that Marx’s notion of class is fundamentally relational in two ways, first as a relation a group bears to the means of production, and second as the relation a group’s mode of life and culture bears to another. Thus, unlike Bohrer states, already in Marx’s conception of class, when understood fully and not synecdochally, class can already be constituted through exploitation and oppression.
Bohrer also develops what she refers to as the ‘dialectics of difference’ present in both traditions as the way of understanding capitalism as a “structure and a logic” (AB, 208). In demonstrating how both traditions show capitalism developing contradictions in the real world, Bohrer’s first move is rejecting the reductive Aristotelean binary logic that finds contradiction to designate falsehood and which attributes normative statuses of ‘superior’ and ‘inferior’ to the polarities. Instead, Bohrer argues that in both traditions the world is understood dialectically, i.e., in a way in which the plurality of the ‘middle’ that binary logic excludes is included, and in a way in which the polarities of the binary are taken to be in a dynamic tension, not a static opposition. Dialectics of difference does not ignore or flatten polarities and contradictions but engages with them and resists through the inclusion of the excluded middle. This dialectic has nothing to do with the simplified and progressivist triad (thesis-antithesis-greater synthesis) present in popular conception. Instead of the beaten down reductive triad, Bohrer concludes by offering three metaphors for modeling dialectics: Collins’ matrix, the Frankfurt school’s constellation, and the prism metaphor. These three metaphors, to be effective, must be used together as “overlapping on one another” (AB, 229).
Having examined the descriptive potential of a non-reductive dialectic, Bohrer proceeds to espouse its prescriptive implications, i.e., “how do we organize from these contradictions? how do we put the dialectic of difference into transformative practice?” (Ibid.) Bohrer begins by postulating that we must develop a theoretical framework that accounts for the intergroup differentiation logic of capitalist incommensurability (the inconsistent logics of racialization: logic of elimination – natives, logic of exclusion – blacks, and the logic of inclusion – latino/a) and that accounts for the intragroup homogenization logic of capitalist commensurability. Her response is a redefinition of how we conceive of solidarity. Solidarity must not be understood as the lowest common denominator of identity sameness, but as based on coalitions of difference and incommensurability united by mutual interest in transcending a system in which life is suppressed and molded in and by structures of exploitation and oppression. These coalitions, she argues, are to be built from the structural interconnectedness that capitalism already provides. It is, therefore, solidarity based on unity, not uniformity. As she states:
Capitalism thus links us together, in a tie that binds us, often painfully, in relation to one another. This moment of relation is the true ground of solidarity. Solidarity does not require the erasing our differences or the rooting of our political projects in the moments that our interests are aligned. Solidarity is thus the name for affirming the differences that exploitation and oppression produce within and between us; it is also the name for recognizing that every time I fight against anyone’s oppression or exploitation, I fight against my own, I fight against everyone’s (259).
[i] Marx, Karl. “The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte” In The Communist Manifesto and Other Writings. (Barnes and Nobles Classics, 2005), p. 159.
Carlos is a Cuban-American Marxist who graduated with a B.A. in Philosophy from Loras College and is currently a graduate student and Teachers Assistant in Philosophy at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale. His area of specialization is Marxist Philosophy. His current research interests are in the history of American radical thought (esp. 19th century), and phenomenology . He also runs the philosophy YouTube channel Tu Esquina Filosofica and Co-Hosts the Midwestern Marx Podcast, the Midwestern Marx hosted 'The Chapter 10 Podcast' and does occasional Marxist Theory videos on the Midwestern Marx YouTube Channel.
Biden's Appeasement of Hawks and Neocons Is Crippling His Diplomacy. By: Medea Benjamin & Nicolas J. S. DaviesRead Now
Photo credit: haramjedder.blogspot.com - Biden with NATO’s Stoltenberg
President Biden took office promising a new era of American international leadership and diplomacy. But with a few exceptions, he has so far allowed self-serving foreign allies, hawkish U.S. interest groups and his own imperial delusions to undermine diplomacy and stoke the fires of war.
Biden’s failure to quickly recommit to the Iran nuclear deal, or JCPOA, as Senator Sanders promised to do on his first day as president, provided a critical delay that has been used by opponents to undermine the difficult shuttle diplomacy taking place in Vienna to restore the agreement.
The attempts to derail talks range from the introduction of the Maximum Pressure Act on April 21 to codify the Trump administration’s sanctions against Iran to Israel’s cyberattack on Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility. Biden’s procrastination has only strengthened the influence of the hawkish Washington foreign policy “blob,” Republicans and Democratic hawks in Congress and foreign allies like Netanyahu in Israel.
In Afghanistan, Biden has won praise for his decision to withdraw U.S. troops by September 11, but his refusal to abide by the May 1 deadline for withdrawal as negotiated under the Trump administration has led the Taliban to back out of the planned UN-led peace conference in Istanbul. A member of the Taliban military commission told the Daily Beast that “the U.S. has shattered the Taliban’s trust.”
Now active and retired Pentagon officials are regaling the New York Times with accounts of how they plan to prolong the U.S. war without “boots on the ground” after September, undoubtedly further infuriating the Taliban, making a ceasefire and peace talks all the more difficult.
In Ukraine, the government has launched a new offensive in its civil war against the ethnically Russian provinces in the eastern Donbass region, which declared unilateral independence after the U.S.-backed coup in 2014. On April 1, Ukraine’s military chief of staff said publicly that “the participation of NATO allies is envisaged” in the government offensive, prompting warnings from Moscow that Russia could intervene to protect Russians in Donbass.
Sticking to their usual tired script, U.S. and NATO officials are pretending that Russia is the aggressor for conducting military exercises and troop movements within its own borders in response to Kiev’s escalation. But even the BBC is challenging this false narrative, explaining that Russia is acting competently and effectively to deter an escalation of the Ukrainian offensive and U.S. and NATO threats. The U.S has turned around two U.S. guided-missile destroyers that were steaming toward the Black Sea, where they would only have been sitting ducks for Russia’s advanced missile defenses.
Tensions have escalated with China, as the U.S. Navy and Marines stalk Chinese ships in the South China Sea, well inside the island chains China uses for self defense. The Pentagon is hoping to drag NATO allies into participating in these operations, and the U.S. Air Force plans to shift more bombers to new bases in Asia and the Pacific, supported by existing larger bases in Guam, Japan, Australia and South Korea.
Meanwhile, despite a promising initial pause and policy review, Biden has decided to keep selling tens of billion dollars worth of weapons to authoritarian regimes in Saudi Arabia, the UAE and other Persian Gulf sheikdoms, even as they keep bombing and blockading famine-stricken Yemen. Biden’s unconditional support for the most brutal authoritarian dictators on Earth lays bare the bankruptcy of the Democrats’ attempts to frame America’s regurgitated Cold War on Russia and China as a struggle between “democracy” and “authoritarianism.”
In all these international crises (along with Cuba, Haiti, Iraq, North Korea, Palestine, Syria and Venezuela, which are bedevilled by the same U.S. unilateralism), President Biden and the hawks egging him on are pursuing unilateral policies that ignore solemn commitments in international agreements and treaties, riding roughshod over the good faith of America’s allies and negotiating partners.
As the Russian foreign ministry bluntly put it when it announced its countermeasures to the latest round of U.S. sanctions, “Washington is unwilling to accept that there is no room for unilateral dictates in the new geopolitical reality.”
Chinese President Xi Jinping echoed the same multipolar perspective on April 20th at the annual Boao Asian international business forum. “The destiny and future of the world should be decided by all nations, and rules set up just by one or several countries should not be imposed on others,” Xi said. “The whole world should not be led by unilateralism of individual countries.”
The near-universal failure of Biden’s diplomacy in his first months in office reflects how badly he and those who have his ear are failing to accurately read the limits of American power and predict the consequences of his unilateral decisions.
Unilateral, irresponsible decision-making has been endemic in U.S. foreign policy for decades, but America’s economic and military dominance created an international environment that was extraordinarily forgiving of American “mistakes,” even as they ruined the lives of millions of people in the countries directly affected. Now America no longer dominates the world, and it is critical for U.S. officials to more accurately assess the relative power and positions of the United States and the countries and people it is confronting or negotiating with.
Under Trump, Defense Secretary Mattis launched negotiations to persuade Vietnam to host U.S. missiles aimed at China. The negotiations went on for three years, but they were based entirely on wishful thinking and misreadings of Vietnam’s responses by U.S. officials and Rand Corp contractors. Experts agree that Vietnam would never violate a formal, declared policy of neutrality it has held and repeatedly reiterated since 1998.
As Gareth Porter summarized this silly saga, “The story of the Pentagon’s pursuit of Vietnam as a potential military partner against China reveals an extraordinary degree of self-deception surrounding the entire endeavor. And it adds further detail to the already well-established picture of a muddled and desperate bureaucracy seizing on any vehicle possible to enable it to claim that U.S. power in the Pacific can still prevail in a war with China.”
Unlike Trump, Biden has been at the heart of American politics and foreign policy since the 1970s. So the degree to which he too is out of touch with today’s international reality is a measure of how much and how quickly that reality has changed and continues to change. But the habits of empire die hard. The tragic irony of Biden’s ascent to power in 2020 is that his lifetime of service to a triumphalist American empire has left him ill-equipped to craft a more constructive and cooperative brand of American diplomacy for today’s multipolar world.
Amid the American triumphalism that followed the end of the Cold War, the neocons developed a simplistic ideology to persuade America’s leaders that they need no longer be constrained in their use of military power by domestic opposition, peer competitors or international law. They claimed that America had virtually unlimited military freedom of action and a responsibility to use it aggressively, because, as Biden parroted them recently, “the world doesn’t organize itself.”
The international violence and chaos Biden has inherited in 2021 is a measure of the failure of the neocons’ ambitions. But there is one place that they conquered, occupied and still rule to this day, and that is Washington D.C.
The dangerous disconnect at the heart of Biden’s foreign policy is the result of this dichotomy between the neocons’ conquest of Washington and their abject failure to conquer the rest of the world.
For most of Biden’s career, the politically safe path on foreign policy for corporate Democrats has been to talk a good game about human rights and diplomacy, but not to deviate too far from hawkish, neoconservative policies on war, military spending, and support for often repressive and corrupt allies throughout America’s neocolonial empire.
The tragedy of such compromises by Democratic Party leaders is that they perpetuate the suffering of millions of people affected by the real-world problems they fail to fix. But the Democrats’ subservience to simplistic neoconservative ideas also fails to satisfy the hawks they are trying to appease, who only smell more political blood in the water at every display of moral weakness by the Democrats.
In his first three months in office, Biden’s weakness in resisting the bullying of hawks and neocons has led him to betray the most significant diplomatic achievements of each of his predecessors, Obama and Trump, in the JCPOA with Iran and the May 1 withdrawal agreement with the Taliban respectively, while perpetuating the violence and chaos the neocons unleashed on the world.
For a president who promised a new era of American diplomacy, this has been a dreadful start. We hope he and his advisers are not too blinded by anachronistic imperial thinking or too intimidated by the neocons to make a fresh start and engage with the world as it actually exists in 2021.
Medea Benjamin is cofounder of CODEPINK for Peace, and author of several books, including Inside Iran: The Real History and Politics of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
This article was first published by Code Pink.
As rich nations stockpile COVID-19 vaccines, China is providing a lifeline to Global South nations spurned by Western pharmaceuticals and excluded by the West’s neocolonial vaccine nationalism. So why is China being smeared for its efforts?
United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres called it “the biggest moral test” facing the world today. World Health Organization Director General Tedros Adhanom warned of a “catastrophic moral failure” whose price would be paid with the lives of those in the world’s poorest countries.
Such cautionings of inequitable global vaccine distribution have been shunted to the margins; instead, optimistic chatter of “returning to normal” is circulating once again as Global North citizens line up for their long-awaited COVID-19 vaccine. But normal, as ever, is relative: public health advocates warn that some countries may not be able to even begin their vaccination campaigns until 2024.
Vaccine apartheid is here, and it is revealing once more the ways our world continues to be structured by the geopolitical binaries of colonialism, capitalism, and racism. The People’s Vaccine Alliance reports that rich countries have bought enough doses to vaccinate their populations three times over. Canada alone has ordered enough vaccines to cover each Canadian five times over. Until March, the United States was hoarding tens of millions of AstraZeneca vaccines—not yet approved for domestic use—and refusing to share them with other countries (only under immense pressure did the Biden administration announce it would send doses to Mexico and Canada). Israeli officials, lauded for delivering a first dose to more than half of its citizens, have likened their responsibility to vaccinate Palestinians living under apartheid to Palestinians’ obligation to “take care of dolphins in the Mediterranean.” The European Union has extended controversial “ban options” which allow member states to block vaccine exports to non-EU nations. Meanwhile, countries like South Africa and Uganda are paying two to three times more for vaccines than the EU.
As of March 2021, China had shared 48% of domestically-manufactured vaccines with other countries through donations and exports. By contrast, the United States and United Kingdom had shared zero.
While the Global North hoards global vaccine stockpiles, China—alongside other much-maligned states such as Russia and Cuba—is modeling a very different practice of vaccine internationalism. As of April 5th, the Foreign Ministry reported that China had donated vaccines to more than 80 countries and exported vaccines to more than 40 countries. Science analytics firm Airfinity reported that as of March 2021, China had shared 48% of domestically-manufactured vaccines with other countries through donations and exports. By contrast, the United States and United Kingdom had shared zero. China has also partnered with more than 10 countries on vaccine research, development, and production, including a joint vaccine in collaboration with Cuba.
Crucially, China’s vaccine sharing has provided a lifeline to low-income Global South nations who have been out-bidded by rich nations racing to stockpile Western-made vaccines. Donations to African nations including Zimbabwe and Republic of Guinea, which both received 200,000 Sinopharm doses in February, have allowed those countries to begin vaccine rollouts for medical workers and the elderly rather than wait months or even years for access to vaccines through other channels. Just a week after Joe Biden ruled out sharing vaccines with Mexico in the short term, the country finalized an order for 22 million doses of China’s Sinovac vaccine to fill critical shortages.
Even more, Chinese vaccine aid has reached countries isolated from global markets by sanctions and embargoes enforced by the United States and its allies. In March, China donated 100,000 vaccines to Palestine, a move praised by the Palestinian health ministry for enabling the inoculation of 50,000 health workers and eldery in Gaza and the West Bank who have been cut off from accessing Israeli vaccine rollouts. Venezuela, with many of its overseas assets frozen by U.S. sanctions, received 500,000 vaccines donated by China in a gesture praised by Nicolás Maduro as a sign of the Chinese people’s “spirit of cooperation and solidarity.” China’s international vaccine policy follows the broad pattern of China’s early pandemic aid, which similarly equipped low-income and sanctions-starved nations with the tools to combat the pandemic at home.
From Venezuela to Palestine, Chinese vaccine aid has reached countries isolated from global markets by sanctions and embargoes enforced by the United States and its allies.
In the face of a global pandemic that the U.S. alliance has used as a political cudgel against China, China’s vaccine internationalism has been a natural outgrowth of its philosophy of mutual cooperation and solidarity. From rapidly sequencing the viral genome and making it immediately publicly accessible to world researchers, to sending medical delegations to dozens of nations around the world, China’s pandemic response has been guided by a simple axiom of global solidarity. Xi Jinping made China the first nation to commit to making a COVID-19 vaccine a global public good in May 2020, meaning any Chinese vaccine would be produced and distributed on a non-rivalrous, non-excludable basis. In a telling contrast, that commitment came just as President Donald Trump threatened to permanently freeze U.S. funding to the World Health Organization in an attempt to punish the organization for daring to work cooperatively with Chinese health officials. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi has similarly emphasized vaccine solidarity, urging his colleagues at the United Nations Human Rights Council in February that “solidarity and cooperation is our only option.” Wang chastised countries that he noted are “obsessed with politicizing the virus and stigmatizing other nations” and implored that global vaccine distribution be made “accessible and affordable to developing countries.” China’s record to date shows it is working to follow through on the lofty rhetoric its officials have used to implore global solidarity to defeat the pandemic.
Workers unload a donated shipment of Chinese Sinopharm vaccines in the West Bank city of Nablus. [Photo by Ayman Nobani/Xinhua]
Because China’s vaccine internationalism models a form of multilateral cooperation beyond the scope of U.S. hegemony, it has been met with relentless media propaganda designed to cast China’s vaccination efforts as shady, manipulative, and unsafe. In November 2020, the Wall Street Journal gleefully announced that Brazil had suspended trials of the Sinovac vaccine following an “severe adverse event.” Jair Bolsonaro, the right-wing Brazilian president and Trump ally, declared it a “victory.” Casual observers would reasonably assume that there were serious safety issues with the Chinese vaccine; only closer reading would fill in the crucial context, that the cause of death of the participant was in fact suicide. A similar ruse was exploited in January, as headlines blasted that a Peruvian volunteer had died in the midst of a Sinopharm vaccine trial. Again, behind the salacious headlines was a crucial detail: the volunteer, who died of COVID-19 complications, had received the placebo rather than the vaccine.
Because China’s vaccine internationalism models a form of multilateral cooperation beyond the scope of U.S. hegemony, it has been met with relentless media propaganda designed to cast China’s vaccination efforts as shady, manipulative, and unsafe.
As study after study shows the efficacy of Chinese and Russian vaccines, the media has turned to painting vaccine aid and exports as a dangerous form of “vaccine diplomacy.” Human Rights Watch nonsensically described China’s vaccine aid as a “dangerous game,” citing conspiracies about the research development of Chinese-made vaccines. The New York Times wondered if China had “done too well” against COVID-19, claiming that the government was “over-exporting vaccines made in China in a bid to expand its influence internationally.” Headline after headline bemoaned that China was “winning” at vaccine diplomacy, making clear that Western pundits view the lives of Global South peoples as pawns in a zero-sum game valued only insofar as they further the interests of Western hegemony.
Some advocates say the bias against Chinese vaccines is based both on geopolitics and racist notions of scientific expertise. Achal Prabhala, coordinator of the AccessIBSA project, which coordinates medical access in India, Brazil and South Africa, said “the entire world—not just the West—is incredulous at the idea that you could have useful science in this pandemic come out of places not in the West.” Yet he emphasized the importance of Chinese and Indian vaccines as a “lifeline” to low and middle-income countries, both in addressing vaccine gaps in the developing world and as a “useful cudgel” for negotiations with Western pharmaceuticals.
Despite mainstream media tropes of Chinese “vaccine diplomacy,” it is the United States—not China—whose pharmaceutical companies are employing exploitative tactics to profit from vaccine sales. Pfizer, for instance, has been accused of “intimidating” Latin American governments in their vaccine sale negotiations, asking countries to put up embassy buildings and military bases as collateral to reimburse any future litigation costs—leading countries like Argentina and Brazil to reject the vaccine outright. One can only imagine the media hysteria which would ensue were Sinopharm to be caught demanding overseas military bases as collateral for its vaccine exports. But because it is a U.S. company, Pfizer’s medical neocolonialism has been absolved and flown under the radar.
Despite allegations of Chinese vaccine opportunism, it is the United States which has politicized its recent foray into vaccine exports. During his first meeting with leaders of the “Quad,” an anti-China alliance likened to NATO and consisting of the United States, Australia, India, and Japan, Joe Biden announced his intention to use the alliance to produce one billion vaccines for distribution in Asia in an explicit bid to “counter” China. It is telling that while China stresses global cooperation through channels such as COVAX (to which it has donated 10 million doses) the WHO, and the UN peacekeeper’s vaccination program, the United States is pursuing vaccine diplomacy through a highly-politicized military alliance designed to contain China. Likewise, despite the Biden administration’s lofty rhetoric about its leadership over a global “rules-based order,” it is the United States which has violated a UN Security Council resolution demanding a global military ceasefire to facilitate pandemic cooperation with recent airstrikes in Syria.
Perhaps most egregiously, the United States and other rich nations have blocked a proposed World Trade Organization waiver on intellectual property restrictions which would enable Global South countries to manufacture generic versions of COVID-19 vaccines. Proposed by South Africa and India with the backing of China, Russia, and the majority of Global South nations, Global North obstruction of vaccine IP waivers in the WTO makes clear that the status quo of vaccine apartheid is not an accident, but a product of deliberate policy by Western nations to put the profits of their pharmaceutical companies above the lives of the world’s poor.
Obstruction of vaccine IP waivers in the WTO makes clear that the status quo of vaccine apartheid is not an accident, but a product of deliberate policy by Western nations to put the profits of their pharmaceutical companies above the lives of the world’s poor.
With Global North nations stockpiling vaccines and experts warning that new rounds of vaccinations may be necessary to combat COVID-19 variants, critical vaccine shortages are here to stay. China’s manufacturing power and macroeconomic policy puts it in a position to continue to be the world leader in vaccine production. As of April, China’s Sinovac announced it had reached the capacity to produce a whopping 2 billion doses of CoronaVac per year, thanks in part to Beijing district government efforts to secure the company additional land for vaccine production. China’s vaccine production builds on the successful model of state intervention and coordination through which state-owned enterprises and private companies rallied to construct hospitals, manufacture PPE, and coordinate food supplies during China’s February 2020 outbreak.
The vaccine policies forwarded by China versus the U.S. and its allies serves as a microcosm for two very different worldviews: where China has insisted on global solidarity to defeat the pandemic, the Western world has refused to ease the pressures of its neocolonial regime. While China supports bids for vaccine equity in the WTO and UN, the Global North is bolstering vaccine apartheid for the sake of corporate profits. These differences alone ought to be enough to put to rest vacuous assertions that render U.S.-China conflict as a matter of “competing imperialisms.”
Xi Jinping stressed at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic a commitment to “protect people's lives and health at all costs.” Not when it is profitable, not when it is geopolitically expedient—at all costs. Western obstruction of efforts towards vaccine equity forwarded by China, Cuba, South Africa, and other Global South nations only reveals the very different calculus which governs the West’s continuing neocolonial regime.
Qiao Collective is a diaspora Chinese media collective challenging U.S. aggression on China.
This article was first published by Qiao Collective
A group of men and a boy carrying groceries during the Seattle general strike, February 7, 1919. | Museum of History and Industry, Seattle.
The Centennial of the Russian Revolution
November 7, 2017 marks the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution and the establishment of the world’s first socialist state. To commemorate the occasion, People’s World presents a series of articles providing wide-angled assessments of the revolution’s legacy, the Soviet Union and world communist movement which were born out of it, and the revolution’s relevance to radical politics today. Other articles in the series can be read here.
Just before Christmas, on December 21, 1917, a strange freighter pulled into Elliott Bay in Seattle. This vessel bore an unfamiliar flag—a red flag. This was a Russian ship, the Shilka, out of Vladivostok, Russia. Only a few weeks before, on November 7, a Bolshevik revolution had taken place in Russia and its leader, Vladimir Lenin, proclaimed a workers’ and farmers’ state.
The Seattle city fathers were disturbed by this sight. After all, they had just gone through a tumultuous lumber strike. Several local issues were stirring the AFL Central Labor Council. What was the purpose of this ship? Rumors circulated that it carried weapons and gold to foster a revolution in Seattle and the U.S.
The U.S. had just entered WWI, the “Great War,” back in April, and patriotic fervor was at a high pitch. And the new revolutionary government had declared peace with our German enemy. This ship could be a potential threat.
Given these fears, port authorities refused to allow the Shilka to land, and it sat stranded in the harbor. But the ever resourceful Bolshevik sailors managed to sneak ashore and make contact with the IWW and the labor movement. (Some of the socialist sailors had lived in the U.S. and spoke English.)
Eventually, the ship docked at Pier 5. Rather than guns and gold, investigators found the cargo to be beans, peas, and licorice root—destined for Baltimore. And, oh yes, some suspicious Russian vodka laced with red peppers.
By this time, of course, newspaper headlines around the country screamed about the “Bolshevik ship of mystery” and IWW plots. Socialist leader Eugene V. Debs commented, “Everything that happens nowadays that the ruling classes do not like is laid at the feet of the IWW.”
Seattle’s socialist newspaper, the Socialist Daily Call, regularly carried articles about the Shilka by journalist Anna Louise Strong. Although the AFL Central Labor Council was critical of the IWW, the Seattle Union Record also expressed concern for the Russian sailors and how they were being treated. The Central Labor Council also drafted a letter to Russian workers expressing their fraternal greetings and best wishes to all who aspired to “establish a true and free industrial democracy” in Russia. The Tacoma IWW wrote a message cheering the revolution and declaring their support for a “worldwide industrial commonwealth based on the brotherhood of man.”
Nicolai Kryukov, a Bolshevik from the sailor’s committee, met with IWW members a number of times and spoke at their meetings about the revolution and what it hoped to achieve. The members, probably led by lumberjack Roy Brown, wrote a congratulatory message to Russian workers: “To Nicholai Lenin and the Representatives of the Bolshevik Government and Through Them to the Workers of Russia.” The sailors carefully secreted the letter on their ship.
As the ship left port on January 5, a crowd of over 200 well-wishers cheered. A band played La Marseillaise—one of the anthems of the Russian workers then. The sailors also carefully secreted messages from the IWW and the Seattle Central Labor Council, to be delivered in Vladivostok.
Following the ship’s departure, there was a right-wing backlash in which the offices of the Socialist Daily Call were burned to the ground and several local radicals were arrested.
The Shilka docked in Vladivostok, and the newspaper Red Banner printed the IWW letter on March 20, 1918. The message from the Seattle Central Labor Council had been entrusted to the non-Bolshevik captain, who apparently jumped ship during refueling in Japan. Nothing more was heard from him, and the letter was lost to history.
In November 1920, Kryukov met Lenin at a conference. Lenin told him that he had read the letter and answered it. When he learned that Kryukov and his comrades had been on the ship, Lenin warmly embraced him.
Lenin had written his reply on August 26, 1918. It was a very dark and dangerous time for the Russian Revolution. Armies from the U.S., Britain, France, and Japan had invaded Russia in an attempt to crush the revolution. Insurgent generals Kolchak, Wrangel, Denikin, Yudenich, and others initiated civil war aimed at restoring the Czarist autocracy.
U.S. troops had landed in Murmansk and later, beginning in August 1918, in Vladivostok. By the end of September, there were 7,500 U.S. troops operating out of Vladivostok. About 3,000 Canadian and Australian troops were sent by Britain. Kolchak ran a hideously brutal “government” which appalled the allied troops. A Canadian soldier wrote, “However much one may deprecate the Bolshevik methods, we Canadians in Siberia could neither hear or see anything which inspire in us any confidence in the Kolchak government… There came to our ears stories of the workings of that government which savored more of Caesar Borgia that any democratic government.”
The main contingent of troops in Siberia, however, came from Japan. Estimates of the Japanese forces ran as high as 70,000 troops. It became obvious that the Japanese were interested in reclaiming Siberian lands lost in previous wars with Russia.
When the Germans signed the armistice ending WWI on November 11, 1918, U.S. and other occupying troops remained in Russia, not leaving until January 1920. The Japanese remained until 1922—and continued to occupy Sakhalin Island, which the Soviets recaptured in 1945.
But what of Lenin’s letter to the American workers?
A 1935 edition of Lenin’s “Letter to American Workers,” from International Publishers.
What Lenin desperately needed was for U.S. troops to be removed from Siberia and for aid to counterrevolutionaries to be stopped. He recognized the importance of the U.S. in the Allied Coalition—and as a future trading partner.
When Lenin finished his letter, the question became how to deliver it? Again, it was a Russian seaman who was called upon to sail to America and see that the letter was published. He was also given a secret letter to President Woodrow Wilson from Lenin, who called for peaceful and friendly relations. (Wilson never revealed the contents of this letter.)
Lenin’s letter to American workers was handed to John Reed, who had just returned from Russia, and who set about getting the letter printed in socialist newspapers far and wide.
So what did Lenin have to say in his Letter to American Workers?
First, he sought to make connections between the American Revolution of 1776 and the Russian Revolution of 1917:
“The history of modern, civilized America opened with one of those great, really liberating, really revolutionary wars of which there have been so few compared to the vast number of wars of conquest which, like the present imperialist war, were caused by squabbles among kings, landowners, or capitalists over the division of usurped lands or ill-gotten gains. That was the war the American people waged against the British robbers who oppressed America and held her in colonial slavery, in the same way as these “civilized” bloodsuckers are still oppressing and holding in colonial slavery hundreds of millions of people in India, Egypt, and all parts of the world.”
Lenin also commented on the U.S. Civil War:
“The American people have a revolutionary tradition which has been adopted by the best representatives of the American proletariat, who have repeatedly expressed their complete solidarity with us Bolsheviks. That tradition is the war of liberation against the British in the eighteenth century and the Civil War in the nineteenth century. In some respects, if we only take into consideration the ‘destruction’ of some branches of industry and of the national economy, America in 1870 was behind 1860. But what a pedant, what an idiot would anyone be to deny on these grounds the immense, world-historic, progressive and revolutionary significance of the American Civil War of 1863-65!
“The representatives of the bourgeoisie understand that for the sake of overthrowing Negro slavery, of overthrowing the rule of the slave owners, it was worth letting the country go through long years of civil war, through the abysmal ruin, destruction, and terror that accompany every war. But now, when we are confronted with the vastly greater task of overthrowing capitalist wage-slavery, of overthrowing the rule of the bourgeoisie—now, the representatives and defenders of the bourgeoisie, and also the reformist socialists who have been frightened by the bourgeoisie and are shunning the revolution, cannot and do not want to understand that civil war is necessary and legitimate.”
Pointing to the revolutionary and socialist traditions of American workers, he added:
“The American workers will not follow the bourgeoisie. They will be with us, for civil war against the bourgeoisie. The whole history of the world and of the American labor movement strengthens my conviction that this is so. I also recall the words of one of the most beloved leaders of the American proletariat, Eugene Debs, who wrote in the Appeal to Reason, I believe towards the end of 1915, in the article, “What Shall I Fight For” (I quoted this article at the beginning of 1916 at a public meeting of workers in Berne, Switzerland)—that he, Debs, would rather be shot than vote credits for the present criminal and reactionary war; that he, Debs, knows of only one holy and, from the proletarian standpoint, legitimate war, namely: the war against the capitalists, the war to liberate mankind from wage-slavery.”
Lenin knew, of course, that help was not on the way and that it would require a world-wide effort to guarantee the success of the Russian socialists:
“We know that help from you will probably not come soon, comrade American workers, for the revolution is developing in different countries in different forms and at different tempos (and it cannot be otherwise). We know that although the European proletarian revolution has been maturing very rapidly lately, it may, after all, not flare up within the next few weeks. We are banking on the inevitability of the world revolution, but this does not mean that we are such fools as to bank on the revolution inevitably coming on a definite and early date. We have seen two great revolutions in our country, 1905 and 1917, and we know revolutions are not made to order, or by agreement. We know that circumstances brought our Russian detachment of the socialist proletariat to the fore not because of our merits, but because of the exceptional backwardness of Russia, and that before the world revolution breaks out a number of separate revolutions may be defeated.”
Did Lenin’s article ever reach the Seattle workers? Did it somehow play a role in the General Strike of 1919? This is a yet-unsettled question, and we will leave it for another time—but one has hopes.
This article is based on a paper presented at the Pacific Northwest Labor History Association conference in Vancouver, British Columbia.
James H. Williams is a retired professor and long-time labor and community activist living in Tacoma, Washington.
This article was first published by People's World
Comrades: A Russian Bolshevik who participated in the Revolution of 1905 and for many years afterwards lived in your country has offered to transmit this letter to you. I have grasped this opportunity joyfully for the revolutionary proletariat of America — insofar as it is the enemy of American imperialism — is destined to perform an important task at this time.
The history of modern civilized America opens with one of those really revolutionary wars of liberation of which there have been so few compared with the enormous number of wars of conquest that were caused, like the present imperialistic war, by squabbles among kings, landholders and capitalists over the division of ill-gotten lands and profits. It was a war of the American people against the English who despoiled America of its resources and held in colonial subjection, just as their "civilized" descendants are draining the lifeblood of hundreds of millions of human beings in India, Egypt and all corners and ends of the world to keep them in sub- jection.
Since that war 150 years have passed. Bourgeois civilization has born its most luxuriant fruit. By developing the productive forces of organized human labor, by utilizing machines and all the wonders of technique America has taken the first place among free and civilized nations. But at the same time America, like a few other nations, has become characteristic for the depth of the abyss that divide a handful of brutal millionaires who are stagnating in a mire of luxury, and millions of laboring starving men and women who are always staring want in the face.
Four years of imperialistic slaughter have left their trace. Irrefutably and clearly events have shown to the people that both imperialistic groups, the English as well as the German, have been playing false. The four years of war have shown in their effects the great law of capitalism in all wars ; that he who is richest and mightiest profits the most, takes the great- est share of the spoils while he who is weakest is exploited, martyred, oppressed and outraged to the utmost.
In the number of its colonial possessions, English imperial- ism has always been more powerful than any of the other countries. England has lost not a span of its "acquired" land. On the other hand it has acquired control of all German colonies in Africa, has occupied Mesopotamia and Palestine.
German imperialism was stronger because of the wonderful organization and ruthless discipline of "its" armies, but as far as colonies are concerned, is much weaker than its opponent. It has now lofet all of its colonies, but has robbed half of Europe and throttled most of the small countries and weaker peoples.. What a high conception of "liberation" on either side! How well they have defended their fatherlands, these "gentlemen" of both groups, the Anglo-French and the German cap- italists together with their lackeys, the Social-Patriots.
American plutocrats are wealthier than those of any other country partly because they are geographically more favorably situated. They have made the greatest profits. They have made all, even the weakest countries, their debtors. They have amassed gigantic fortunes during the war. And every dollar is stained with the blood that was shed by mil- lions of murdered and crippled men, shed in the high, honor- able and holy war of freedom.
Had the Anglo-French and American bourgeoisie accepted the Soviet invitation , to participate in peace negotiations at Brest-Litovsk, instead of leaving Russia to the mercy of brutal Germany a just peace without annexations and indemnities, a peace based upon complete equality could have been forced upon Germany, and millions of lives might have been saved. Because they hoped to reestablish the Eastern Front by once more drawing us into the whirlpool of warfare, they refused to attend peace negotiations and gave Germany a free hand to cram its shameful terms down the throat of the Russian people. It lay in the power of. the Allied countries to make the Brest-Litovsk negotiations the forerunner of a general peace. It ill becomes them to throw the blame for the Russo-German peace upon our shoulders!
The workers of the whole world, in whatever country they may live, rejoice with us and sympathize with us, applaud us for having burst the iron ring of imperialistic agreements and treaties, for having dreaded no sacrifice, however great, to free ourselves, for having established ourselves as a socialist republic, even so rent asunder and plundered by German imperial- ists, for having raised the banner of peace, the banner of Socialism over the world. What wonder that, we are hated by the capitalist class the world over. But this hatred of imperialism and the sympathy of the class-conscious workers of all countries give us assurance of the righteousness of our cause.
He is no Socialist who cannot understand that one cannot and must not hesitate to bring even that greatest of sacrifice, the sacrifice of territory, that one must be ready to accept even military defeat at the hands of imperialism in the interests of victory over the bourgeoisie, in the interests of a transfer of power to the working-class. For the sake of "their" cause, that is for the conquest of world-power, the imperialists of England and Germany have not hesitated to ruin a whole of row of nations, from Belgium and Servia to Palestine and Mesopotamia. Shall we then hesitate to act in the name of the liberation of the workers of the world from the yoke of capitalism, in the name of a general honorable peace; shall , we wait until we can find a way that entails no sacrifice ; shall we be afraid to begin the fight until an easy victory is assured ; shall we place the integrity and safety of this "fatherland" created by the bourgeoisie over the interests of the international socialist revolution?
We have been attacked for coming to terms with German militarism. Is there no difference between a pact entered upon by Socialists and a bourgeoisie (native or foreign) against the working-class, against labor, and an agreement that is made between a working-class that has overthrown its own bour- geoisie and a bourgeoisie of one side against a bourgeoisie of another nationality for the protection of the proletariat? Shall we not exploit the antagonism that exists between the various groups of the bourgeoisie. In reality every European under- stands this difference, and the American people, as I will presently show, have had a very similar experience in its own his- tory. There are agreements and agreements, fagots et fagots, as the Frenchman says.
When the robber-barons of German imperialism threw their armies into defenseless, demobilized Russia in February 1918, when Russia had staked its hopes upon the international solidarity of the proletariat before the international revolution had completely ripened, I did not hesitate for a moment to come to certain agreements with French Monarchists. The French captain Sadoul, who sympathized in words with the Bolshe- viki while in deeds he was the faithful servant of French im- perialism, brought the French officer de Lubersac to me. "I am a Monarchist. My only purpose is the overthrow of Ger- many," de Lubersac declared to me. "That is self understood (cela va sans dire)," I replied. But this by no means prevented me from coming to an understanding with de Lubersac concerning certain services that French experts in explosives were ready to render in order to hold up the German advance by the destruction of railroad lines. This is an example of the kind of agreement that every class-conscious worker must be ready to adopt, an agreement in the interest of Socialism. We shook hands with the French Monarchists although we knew that each one of us would rather have seen the other hang. But temporarily our interests were identical. To throw back the rapacious advancing German army we made use of the equally greedy interests of their opponents, thereby serving the interests of the Russian and the international socialist revolution.
In this way we furthered the cause of the working-class of Russia and of other countries; in this way we strengthened the proletariat and weakened the bourgeoisie of the world by mak- ing use of the usual and absolutely legal practice of manoever- ing, shifting and waiting for the moment the rapidly growing proletarian revolution in the more highly developed nations had ripened.
Long ago the American people used these tactics to the advantage of its revolution. When America waged its great war of liberation against the English oppressors, it likewise entered into negotiations with other oppressors, with the French and the Spaniards who at that time owned a considerable portion of what is now the United States. In its desperate struggle for freedom the American people made "agree- ments" with one group of oppressors against the other for the purpose of weakening all oppressors and strengthening those who were struggling against tyranny. The American people utilized the antagonism that existed between the English and the French, at times even fighting side by side with the armies of one group of oppressors, the French and the Spanish against the others, the English. Thus it vanquished first the English and then freed itself (partly by purchase) from the dangerous proximity of the French and Spanish possessions.
The great Russian revolutionist Tchernychewski once said: Political activity is not as smooth as the pavement of the Nevski Prospect. He is no revolutionist who would have the revolution of the proletariat only under the "condition" that it proceed smoothly and in an orderly manner, that guarantees against defeat be given beforehand, that the revolution go forward along the broad, free, straight path to victory, that there shall not be here and there the heaviest sacrifices, that we shall not have to lie in wait in besieged fortresses, shall not have to climb up along the narrowest path, the most impassible, winding, dangerous mountain roads. He is no revolution- ist, he has not yet freed himself from the pendantry of bourgeois intellectualism, he will fall back, again and again, into the camp of the counter-revolutionary bourgeoisie.
They are little more than imitators of the bourgeoisie, these gentlemen who delight in holding up to us the "chaos" of revolution, the "destruction" of industry, the unemployment, the lack of food. Can there be anything more hypocritical than such accusations from people who greeted and supported the imperialistic war and made common cause with Kerensky when he continued the war? Is not this imperialistic war the cause of all our misfortune? The revolution that was born by the war must necessarily go on through the terrible difficulties and sufferings that war created, through this heritage of destruction and reactionary mass murder. To accuse us of "destruction" of industries and "terror" is hypocrisy or clumsy pedantry, sho*vs an incapability of understanding the most elemental fundamentals of the raging, climatic force of the class struggle, called Revolution.
In words our accusers "recognize" this kind of class struggle, in deeds they revert again and again to the middle class Utopia of "class-harmony" and the mutual "interdependence" of classes upon one another. In reality the class struggle in revolutionary times has always inevitably taken on the form of civil war, and civil war is unthinkable without the worst kind of destruction, without terror and limitations of form of democracy in the interests of the war. One must be a sickly sentimentalist not to be able to see, to understand and appreciate this necessity. Only the Tchechov type of the life- less "Man in the Box" can denounce the Revolution for this reason instead of throwing himself into the fight with the whole vehemence and decision of his soul at a moment when history demands that the highest problems of humanity be solved by struggle and war.
The best representatives of the American proletariat — those representatives who have repeatedly given expression to their full solidarity with us, the Bolsheviki, are the expression of this revolutionary tradition in the life of the American people. This tradition originated in the war of liberation against the English in the 18th and the Civil War in the 19th century. Industry and commerce in 1870 were in a much worse position than in 1860. But where can you find an American so pendantic, so absolutely idiotic who would deny the revolutionary and progressive significance of the American Civil War of 1860-1865?
The representatives of the bourgeoisie understand very well that the overthrow of slavery was well worth the three years of Civil War, the depth of destruction, devastation and terror that were its accompaniment. But these same gentlemen and the reform socialists who have allowed themselves to be cowed by the bourgeoisie and tremble at the thought of a revolution, cannot, nay will not, see the necessity and righteousness of a civil war in Russia, though it is facing a far greater task, the work of abolishing capitalist wage slavery and overthrowing the rule of the bourgeoisie.
The American working class will not follow the lead of its bourgeoisie. It will go with us against the bourgeoisie. The whole history of the American people gives me this confidence, this conviction. I recall with pride the words of one of the best loved leaders of the American proletariat, Eugene V. Debs, who said in the "Appeal to Reason" at the end of 1915, when it was still a socialist paper, in an article entitled "Why Should I Fight?" that he would rather be shot than vote for war credits to support the present criminal and reactionary war, that he knows only one war that is sanctified and justified from the standpoint of the proletariat: the war against the capital- ist class, the war for the liberation of mankind from wage slavery. I am not surprised that this fearless man was thrown into prison by the American bourgeoisie. Let them brutalize true internationalists, the real representatives of the revolutionary proletariat. The greater the bitterness and brutality they sow, the nearer is the day of the victorious proletarian revolution.
We are accused of having brought devastation upon Russia. Who is it that makes these accusations? The train-bearers of the bourgeoisie, of that same bourgeoisie that almost completely destroyed the culture of Europe, that has dragged the whole continent back to barbarism, that has brought hunger and destruction to the world. This bourgeoisie now demands that we find a different basis for our Revolution than that of destruction, that we shall not build it up upon the ruins of war, with human beings degraded and brutalized by years of war- fare. O, how human, how just is this bourgeoisie!
Its servants charge us with the use of terroristic methods. — Have the English forgotten their 1649, the French their 1793? Terror was just and justified when it was employed by the bourgeoisie for its own purposes against feudal domina- tion. But terror becomes criminal when workingmen and poverty stricken peasants dare to use it against the bourgeoisie. Terror was just and justified when it was used to put one exploiting minority in the place of another. But terror becomes horrible and criminal when it is used to abolish all ex- ploiting minorities, when it is employed in the cause of the ac- tual majority, in the cause of the proletariat and the semi-pro- letariat, of the working-class and the poor peasantry.
The bourgeoisie of international imperalism has succeeded in slaughtering 10 millions, in crippling 20 millions in its war. Should our war, the war of the oppressed and the exploited, against oppressors and exploiters cost a half or a whole million victims in all countries, the bourgeoisie would still maintain that the victims of the world war died a righteous death, that those of the civil war were sacrificed for a criminal cause.
But the proletariat, even now, in the midst of the horrors of war, is learning the great truth that all revolutions teach, the truth that has been handed down to us by our best teachers, the founders of modern Socialism. From them we have learned that a successful revolution is inconceivable unless it breaks the resistance of the exploiting class. When the work- ers and the laboring peasants took hold of the powers of state, it became our duty to quell the resistance of the exploiting class. We are proud that we have done it, that we are doing it. We only regret that we did not do it, at the beginning, with sufficient firmness and decision.
We realize that the mad resistance of the bourgeoisie against the socialist revolution in all countries is unavoidable. We know too, that with the development of this revolution, this resistance will grow. But the proletariat will break down this resistance and in the course of its struggle against the bourgeoisie the proletariat will finally become ripe for victory and power.
Let the corrupt bourgeois press trumpet every mistake that is made by our Revolution out into the world. We are not afraid of our mistakes. The beginning of the revolution has not sanctified humanity. It is not to be expected that the working classes who have been exploited and forcibly held down by the clutches of want, of ignorance and degradation for cen- turies should conduct its revolution without mistakes. The dead body of bourgeois society cannot simply be put into a coffin and buried. It rots in our midst, poisons the air we breathe, pollutes our lives, clings to the new, the fresh, the living with a thousand threads and tendrils of old customs, of death and decay.
But for every hundred of our mistakes that are heralded in- to the world by the bourgeoisie and its sycophants, there are ten thousand great deeds of heroism, greater and more heroic because they seem so simple and unpretentious, because they take place in the everyday life of the factory districts or in se- cluded villages, because they are the deeds of people who are not in the habit of proclaiming their every success to the world, who have no opportunity to do so.
But even if the contrary were true, — I know, of course, that this is not so — but even if we had committed 10,000 mistakes to every 100 wise and righteous deeds, yes, even then our re- volution would be great and invincible. And it will go down in the history of the world as unconquerable. For the first time in the history of the world not the minority, not alone the rich and the educated, but the real masses, the huge majority of the working-class itself, are building up a new world, are deciding the most difficult questions of social organization from out of their own experience.
Every mistake that is made in this work, in this honestly conscientious cooperation of ten million plain workingmen and peasants in the re-creation of their entire lives — every such mistake is worth thousands and millions of "faultless" successes of the exploiting minority, in outwitting and taking advantage of the laboring masses. For only through these mistakes can the workers and peasants learn to organize their new existence, to get along without the capitalist class. Only thus will they Be able to blaze their way, through thousands of hindrances to victorious socialism.
Mistakes are being made by our peasants who, at one stroke, in the night from October 25 to October 26, (Russian Calen- dar) 1917, did away with all private ownership of land, and are now struggling, from month to month, under the greatest difficulties, to correct their own mistakes, trying to solve in practice the most difficult problems of organizing a new so- cial state, fighting against profiteers to secure the possession of the land for the worker instead of for the speculator, to car- ry on agricultural production under a system of communist farming on a large scale.
Mistakes are being made by our workmen in their revolutionary activity, who, in a few short months, have placed prac-tically all of the larger factories and workers under state ownership, and are now learning, from day to day, under the greatest difficulties, to conduct the management of entire in- dustries, to reorganize industries already organized, to over-come the deadly resistance of laziness and middle-class reac-tion and egotism. Stone upon stone they are building the foundation for a new social community, the self-discipline of labor, the new rule of the labor organizations of the working- class over their members.
Mistakes are being made in their revolutionary activity by the Soviets which were first created in 1905 by the gigantic upheaval of the masses. The Workmen's and Peasant's Soviets are a new type of state, a new highest form of Democracy, a particular form of the dictatorship of the proletariat, a mode of conducting the business of the state without the bourgeoisie and against the bourgeoisie. For the first time democracy is placed at the service of the masses, of the workers, and ceases to be a democracy for the rich, as it is, in the last analysis, in all capitalist, yes, in all democratic republics. For the first time the masses of the people, in a nation of hundreds of millions, are fulfilling the task of realizing the dictatorship of the proletariat and the semi-proletariat, without which social- ism is not to be thought of.
Let incurable pedants, crammed full of bourgeois democrat- ic and parliamentary prejudices, shake their heads gravely over our Soviets, let them deplore the fact that we have no direct elections. These people have forgotten nothing, have learned nothing in the great upheaval of 1914-1918. The com- bination of the dictatorship of the proletariat with the new democracy of the proletariat, of civil war with the widest ap- plication of the masses to political problems, such a combina- tion cannot be achieved in a day, cannot be forced into the battered forms of formal parliamentary democratism. In the Soviet Republic there arises before us a new world, the world of Socialism. Such a world cannot be materialized as if by magic, complete in every detail, as Minerva sprang from Jupi- ter's head.
While the old bourgeoisie democratic constitutions, for in- stance, proclaimed formal equality and the right of free as- semblage, the constitution of the Soviet Republic repudiates the hypocrisy of a formal equality of all human beings. When the bourgeoisie republicans overturned feudal thrones, they did not recognize the rules of formal equality of monarchists. Since we here are concerned with the task of overthrowing the bourgeoisie, only fools or traitors will insist on the formal equality of the bourgeoisie. The right of free assemblage is not worth an iota to the workman and to the peasant when all better meeting places are in the hands of the bourgeoisie. Our Soviets have taken over all usable buildings in the cities and towns out of the hands of the rich and have placed them at the disposal of the worknien and peasants for meeting and organi- zation purposes. That is how our right of assemblage looks — for the workers. That is the meaning and content of our Soviet, of our socialist constitution.
And for this reason we are all firmly convinced that the Sov- iet Republic, whatever misfortune may still lie in store for it, is unconquerable.
It is unconquerable because every blow that comes from the powers of madly raging imperialism, every new attack by the international bourgeoisie will bring new, and hitherto unaf- fected strata of workingmen and peasants into the fight, will educate them at the cost of the greatest sacrifice, making them hard as steel, awakening a new heroism in the masses.
We know that it may take a long time before help can come from you', comrades, American Workingmen, for the develop- ment of the revolution in the different countries proceeds along various paths, with varying rapidity (how could it be otherwise!) We know fullwell that the outbreak of the Europ- ean proletarian revolution may take many weeks to come, quickly as it is ripening in these days. We are counting on the inevitability of the international revolution. But that does not mean that we count upon its coming at some definite, nearby date. We have experienced two great revolutions in our own country, that of 1905 and that of 1917, and we know that revo- lutions cannot come neither at a word of command nor accord- ing to prearranged plans. We know that circumstances alone have pushed us, the proletariat of Russia, forward, that we have reached this new stage in the social life of the world not because of our superiority but because of the peculiarly reac- tionary character of Russia. But until the outbreak of the in- ternational revolution, revolutions in individual countries may still meet with a number Of serious setbacks and overthrows.
And yet we are certain that we are invincible, for if humanity will not emerge from this imperialistic massacre broken in spirit, it will triumph. Ours was the first country to break the chains of.imperialistic warfare. We broke them with the great- est sacrifice, but they are broken. We stand outside of imper- ialistic duties and considerations, we have raised the banner of the fight for the complete overthrow of imperialism for the world.
We are in a beleaguered fortress, so long as no other interna- tional socialist revolution comes to our assistance with its ar- mies. But these armies exist, they are stronger than ours, they grow, they strive, they become more invincible the longer im- perialism with its brutalities continues. Workingmen the world over are breaking with their betrayers, with their Gompers rand their Scheidemanns. Inevitably labor is approaching communistic Bolshevistic tactics, is preparing for the prole- tarian revolution that alone is capable of preserving culture land humanity from destruction.
We are invincible, for invincible is the Proletarian Revolution.
This Letter was republished from Wikisource
On April 13, 2021, two US transport helicopters escorted by an Apache attack helicopter transferred a group of at least 50 extremists belonging to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) to the Al-Omar oil field controlled by the American military in the eastern Syrian province of Deir Ez-Zur. These fighters were then trained at the Shaddadi base south of Hasakeh. The mission of these jihadists is focused on destabilizing the areas under President Bashar al-Assad’s government by attacking outposts of the Syrian army and civilian communities, in addition to protecting the oil facilities occupied by US troops.
US support for jihadist groups reflects the stalemate in Syria. The war in Syria has gradually settled around various zones of domination and influence: the government-controlled Damascus-Latakia corridor and Hama and Homs in the Western part of the country; the areas under the control of opposition forces, including Idlib in the North and small environs of Dara’a in the South.
The mainly Kurdish areas in the North that the Democratic Union Party (YPG) intends to unite under the name of Rojava; the North-Eastern parts of the country weakly held by the residues of ISIS; and, an Israeli occupation zone (which has lasted more than 50 years) in Al Qunaytirah (Syria’s smallest province, two-thirds of which Israel conquered and ethnically cleansed in 1967. The conqueror changed the name to the Golan Heights).
The only significant pocket of territory still held by the anti-Assad opposition is in and around Idlib - and even that has shrunk to a third of the size it was in 2017 after repeated offensives by Russia-backed Syrian government forces. Assad - with the help of Russia - re-seized the vital northern city of Aleppo and other opposition-held areas in 2020, placing himself in control of 70% of the country.
Now, he wants to take control of Idlib and bring the 3 million people there back under its control. But Turkey too, which controls areas surrounding Idlib, has an interest in defending at least parts of Idlib from the regime, and has troops on the ground inside the province. Yet the costs of retaking the province may simply be too high. A three-way fight among Damascus, backed by Russian fighter jets, Turkey, and militant groups like Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS) would be devastating - displacing hundreds of thousands of refugees into Turkish areas and further into Europe.
In a scenario like this, the aim of the US is no longer to overthrow Assad - something that became impossible after the Russian military intervention began in 2015 - but to prevent him and his Russian and Iranian backers winning a decisive victory. In the final analysis, the US and its European allies refuse to accept the prospect of Assad remaining in power, although they lost the proxy war. How did this situation come about?
In 2011, the Arab Spring protests began in Syria. From 2005 to 2010, Syria had witnessed a 10% increase in poverty, geographically concentrated in the northeast and south of the country. Growing poverty was exacerbated by the flight of more than 1.2 million people from the land (according to the most conservative estimates) as a result of drought and economic crisis. These material conditions acted as the ingredients for the demonstrations.
The 2011 uprising was the biggest domestic challenge to the Assad family since the early 1980s, when President Hafez al-Assad crushed a Sunni revolt centered on Hama where at least 10,000 people were killed in 1982. The protests were secular in tone, but Deraa and Hama were Sunni strongholds resentful of the influence of the Alawites, a heterodox Shia sect to which 12% of Syrians belong, including Assad and many members of the ruling elite. Thus, there was a sectarian dimension to the protests which external powers would later exploit to further their own interests.
Increased government violence against the uprising did stimulate increased military defections: not of whole units, hence not threatening the regime’s core, but enough individual defections that, combined with the external provision of safe havens (in Turkey) and external arming, enabled the construction of the “Free Syrian Army.” At the same time, the incremental depletion of the government’s military manpower debilitated its capacity to secure territory.
As the government lost its monopoly of violence, territorial contestation increased, forcing it to withdraw from the far east of the country, leaving much of the country’s grain-growing areas and oil resources to opposition factions. In parallel, Western powers and Gulf Arab monarchies began the jihadisation of the anti-government Sunni rural underclass, which, together with the trans-state movement of non-Syrian militants into Syria, empowered jihadist groups like Jabhat al-Nusra (now known as Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham) and Ahrar al-Sham.
With the engagement of multiple actors, Syria soon turned into a battle arena for rival interests. Five distinct conflicts have become tangled together in Syria: a popular uprising against neoliberal authoritarianism; a sectarian battle between Sunni and Alawites; a regional struggle between Shia and Sunni; a conflict between an Iranian-led grouping and Iran’s traditional enemies, notably the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia; and a reborn Cold War confrontation: Russia and China versus the West. These entanglements have resulted in the current stalemate in Syria.
From an early stage in the Syrian uprising the US, Israel and the Sunni Arab states openly exulted at the blow that would soon be dealt to Iran and to Hezbollah in Lebanon: Assad’s imminent fall would deprive them of their most important ally in the Arab world. Sunni leaders saw the uprising not as a triumph of democracy but as the beginning of a campaign directed at Shia or Shia-dominated states. Hezbollah and Iran believed they had no alternative but to fight and that it is better to get on with it while they still have friends in power in Damascus.
Turkey regarded the Assad government and Syrian Kurds as enemies whom it would like to see defeated. Erdogan was one of the first regional leaders to publicly call for the removal of Assad. Turkey opened its 510-miles long border to the rebels, allowing them to move supplies and fighters into Syria. It allowed a Syrian political opposition group to take up residence in Istanbul and it gave this platform - mainly composed of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood - full political support and encouragement.
Since 2011, Russia and China have blocked any attempt by the West to gain a United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolution for a war on Syria. Both these countries have formed strong relationships with Syria. In 2008, Assad agreed to allow Russia to convert a naval port located at the Syrian town of Tartous into a permanent military base for Russian warships. It would be Russia’s only such base in the region. Without Tartous, every Russian naval vessel in the sea would have to return through the Bosphorous to Odessa for single thing it needs.
The agreement signified that Syria had become Russia’s most important ally in the Middle East, a fact reflected in Russian arms exports to Syria, which accounted for about 10% of Russia’s total weapons sales during the 2000s. China is likewise tightly linked to Syria as the largest exporter to the country and its biggest source of FDI. The latter investments have been concentrated in Syria’s Al Furat Petroleum Company - Syria’s main oil producer, which was partially privatized over the 2000s - as well as in construction and utility projects.
In his 1965 book “The Struggle for Syria”, Irish journalist Patrick Seale wrote that the country is a “mirror of rival interests on an international scale”. This statement is pertinent even today where the conflicting aims of different countries have produced a ruinous stalemate for ordinary Syrians.
Yanis Iqbal is an independent researcher and freelance writer based in Aligarh, India and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. His articles have been published in the USA, UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India and several countries of Latin America.
Midwestern Marx's Editorial Board does not necessarily endorse the views of all articles shared on the Midwestern Marx website. Our goal is to provide a healthy space for multilateral discourse on advancing the class struggle. - Editorial Board
Reflections on Thomas Nagel's critique (of Michael Sandel's book “Public Philosophy: Essays on Morality in Politics”) “Progressive but Not Liberal," THE NEW YORK REVIEW OF BOOKS, May 25, 2006.
Thomas Nagel entitles his essay on the social philosophy of Michael J. Sandel "Progressive but Not Liberal." Non-liberal progressives are most often to be found in socialist and communist organizations but not Sandel who is a professor of government at Harvard and referred to as a "communitarian" by Nagel. Nagel is happy to be a liberal and takes Sandel to task for having "defective" views about "liberalism." Nagel in fact defends the liberal cause by his critique of Sandel. I intend to analyze Nagel's critique from a Marxist perspective.
Nagel points out that the political system in the US is more volatile and heterogeneous than what one would find in Western Europe. The US is, in fact, "radically divided over issues of war, taxes, race, religion, abortion, and sex." He maintains that these differences are deep rooted and about "ultimate values." Yet these divisions do not threaten the stability of our political system. He says that "the cohesion of American society is stronger than its divisions" can be seen by the fact that people with radically incompatible basic value systems cohabit in a common political system and strive to express those values legally through open political processes. And, he maintains, this can be done "only because of a general commitment to the principles of limited government embodied in the Constitution."
Well times have changed since Nagel penned this. American society is far from the stability outlined above: Après Trump le déluge. The election of Biden and the Republican response shows that the “general commitment” to the Constitution is under extreme duress.
Nagel goes on to divide the US political universe into two broad sections—based on how they respond to the problems listed above-- i.e., war, taxes, race,etc.
The conservatives, we are told, "are more interested in enforcing moral standards [and they think their standards are the only right ones--tr] on the community and protecting private property, and less interested in protecting personal liberty [libertarian conservatives would dispute this--tr] and reducing inequality." It is just the opposite with progressives, he says.
Progressives have to decide how to pursue their principles-- as "first" or "second" order principles. First order principles are those deeply held "fundamental beliefs" or core principles. The second order principles are those "concerning what kind of first order-principles may be used to justify the exercise of political and legal power". For example, should we try and have the state outlaw capital punishment based on the first order principle that all killing by the state is immoral [excluding the military], or should we use a different principle such as the corruption of the legal system or the racism in the sentencing procedures without calling into question the ultimate moral status of capital punishment itself.
Nagel allies himself with liberalism which he identifies more or less with the political philosophy of another Harvard professor, the late John Rawls, author of such books as "Political Liberalism" and "A Theory of Justice." According to Nagel liberalism tends to rely on second order principles and not confront the conservative positions with head on challenges of first order magnitude. Nagel says, for example that gay rights can be defended by liberals on the principle that the government should not be controlling "private sexual conduct" without getting into the issue of the moral status of homosexuality.
The target of Nagel's article, Sandel, represents another school of progressives which Nagel says is "not liberal." These progressives want to argue their positions on first order principles and duke it out with the conservatives on core values. Sandel wants to replace "liberalism" with what he thinks the "communal" republican spirit of the early US was, which he contrasts with the present day liberal concern with "individualism." What Sandel is interested in is (his words) "soul craft." Nagel explains this as "the cultivation of virtue in the citizenry by the design of political, social and economic institutions."
Wait a minute! This sounds familiar. This sounds like a species of the program of social engineering embarked upon in the Soviet Union in the 1930s and subverted and fought with tooth and claw by the big capitalist powers, first with their rebellious cat's paw Hitler, then continued as the Cold War by Hitler's anti-communist successors. Nagel senses this as well, as we shall see.
More immediately, however, Nagel attacks Sandel for having a "defective" understanding of Liberalism and misinterpreting the social philosophy of John Rawls. Nagel tells us that there are many forms of "Liberalism" but he contrasts only two-- European and American. The former is characterized by "the libertarianism of economic laissez-faire" (which sounds to me suspiciously like current neocon thought) while the latter represents "the democratic egalitarianism of the welfare state" (the owl of Minerva really does take flight at dusk, someone should tell Nagel that the welfare state is history).
But, he tells us, "all liberal theories have this in common: they hold that the sovereign power of the state over the individual is bounded by a requirement that individuals remain inviolable in certain respects, and that they must be treated equally." Basically this means equality before the law and equal political status (one person one vote, unless you are Black or Hispanic and your votes are tossed) and in American Liberalism "equality of opportunity and fairness in the social and economic structure of the society." I don't know what planet Nagel is from, maybe a parallel universe where Sweden is the only superpower, but the US definitely does not fit this description. Well, maybe not, but those are the goals to be reached and John Rawls represents this kind of Liberalism which stresses "distributive justice that combats poverty and large inequalities perpetuated by inheritance and class." Yes, Liberalism wants to combat poverty and inequality based on the observation that "the poor ye shall always have with you" but Marxism, unlike Liberalism which wants to tinker with the bad consequences of Capitalism without ever questioning the system itself, wants to eliminate poverty , not just combat it, by getting rid of the economic system that breeds it, i.e., capitalism.
Sandel rejects Rawls "Liberalism." He has, as Nagel says "spent his career" opposing Rawls and Rawls’ form of "egalitarian liberalism." What he contests is "Rawls’ central claim that individual rights and principles of social justice should take precedence over the broad advancement of human welfare according to some standard of what constitutes the good life." This is wrongly framed from the Marxist perspective. We certainly are in favor of "broad advancement of human welfare" but not based on some bourgeois idealist concept of "the good life" but based on what we claim to be a scientific understanding of the motive force of the capitalist system, its directionality and the real possibility of restructuring of society in such a way that classes are abolished and all people will truly escape from the realm of necessity to that of freedom. This may sound utopian, but it is actually more realistic than the schemes of Rawls, Nagel or Sandel.
Meanwhile, while Rawls subordinates the "broad advancement of human welfare" to "individual rights", Sandel maintains that, in his own words, "Principles of justice depend for their justification on the moral worth or intrinsic good of the ends they serve." Nagel doesn't like this formulation. Sandel would ban Nazis from holding rallies but uphold the rights of people demonstrating for equality and against racism, for example. But, Nagel says, using Sandel's principle, people opposed to homosexuality ought to be opposed to gay people holding rallies. But it is the state that guarantees the rights of citizens and decides which ends are ultimately of "moral worth or intrinsic good." Nazis and KKK folk fail on both counts besides the fact that they would on principle end the rights of others to demonstrate if they could while gay people are not demanding the suppression of heterosexuals they are only asking for civil rights. So, I don't think the analogy a good one to use against Sandel.
What Nagel really objects too is that Sandel thinks "the priority of right as being intelligible only if it serves the good." Liberals would "bracket" the question about if abortion, for example, was "murder" and defend the right to it on the grounds that a woman's right to choose should not be denied because of the "religious convictions of the majority." Sandel thinks that in order to approve of or support abortion we must "first determine that the Catholic position is false." This is a requirement for bracketing the question of its mortal status. 'The more confident we are," Sandel writes, "that fetuses are, in the relevant moral sense, different from babies, the more confident we can be in affirming a political conception of justice that sets aside the controversy about the moral status of fetuses."
Nagel says this is begging the question not bracketing it but this is because of how he has set up the question in the first place. Being a Liberal he is looking for a Liberal answer, based on a second order principle, and Sandel, not being a Liberal, looks for first order principles. I think Marxists are more akin to Sandel than to Nagel. Surely we want to decide if abortion is murder or not before we support it. Do women have a right to commit murder? What are the Catholic reasons for thinking this is murder? When we find out that the reasons are not based on science or an intelligent open minded examination of the evidence but only upon superstition and close minded adherence to dogma this surely must be the basis for our rejection of the anti-abortion viewpoint. This way of thinking does not make Sandel's views of Liberalism "obtuse."
There are many behaviors that can be sanctioned by the state, Nagel says, that the state does not have to have an official position on with respect to their rightness or moral status. The state can be neutral in other words. But Sandel, says Nagel, "thinks justice and rights depend on what is actually good, and what rules and institutions serve those ends; he is not a relativist." This is also good Marxism. Marxists should, to the best standards available, try to determine the actual states of affairs they are dealing with and not bracket truth conditions. This would have prevented many of the catastrophes of the 20th century socialist project.
These different positions lead, as Nagel points out, to a "deep issue." Namely, "Do all moral standards derive from a single principle, or are there different principles for different kinds of entities?" Rawls and Sandel have very different views on this. Rawls does not hold that there is a common moral principle from which both personal rights and public rights derive. Rawls "thought that justice, which is the special virtue of social institutions like the state, depended on the distinctive moral character of the state itself, as an immensely powerful form of collective agency." In a Liberal democracy we are subject to majority rule. Actually, however, this has ceased to be the case in the US. The two elections won by George W. Bush were most likely won as a result of vote fraud consciously carried out in disregard for any moral commitment to democratic values and solely to attain state power for the personal enrichment of corporate class entities at the expense of the majority of the population. This looks like a trend that has further developed. The tactic was also attempted by Trump to stay in power but in his case failed because he had lost the support of the corporate ruling class. Even his legal first victory did not represent “majority rule” because the majority voted for Clinton.
Nevertheless, Rawls thinks in terms of a functioning bourgeois democracy with majority will "coercively enforced." But Rawls also believes in "fairness." This means that in addition to political and civil equalities the state must also "combat racial, sexual, and socioeconomic inequality." With regard to this duty of the state, Nagel says, "This is the fairness that Sandel derides." But I don't think that Sandel is for racial, sexual and socioeconomic inequality, nor do I think his social philosophy (or Marxism) entails any such consequences.
Nagel says that the state has no special moral status for Sandel. Sandel thinks once the people have decided on the ends to be sought (for Marxists this would be the abolition of property, classes and the state as well as the construction of socialism and communism) which for Sandel are ("seems to be" Nagel writes, which shows some confusion on this) "an unmaterialistic culture of closely knit communities and strong family ties" then the state will be used to construct this type of social reality (under socialism being eventually abolished or "withering away)."
But this kind of thinking will also lead, says Nagel, "to theocracy, fascism or communism for those who accept alternative conceptions of the human good." Nagel thinks this is a telling point against Sandel but it isn't. The same thing can happen under the limited constitutional state that Liberals like Rawls and Nagel think can be constructed or maybe is even exemplified by the US today. Constitutions and philosophical models are not what guarantee freedom and rights. Only an informed, educated and alert citizenry can do that, and that is what we currently lack, and lack by governmental and corporate design, in the US today.
Nagel concludes by saying that "A hunger that demands more from the state [than "constitutional patriotism"] will lead us where history has shown we should not want to go." I am afraid we are on that road already and we have got on this road not only by reading direction signs put up by non-Liberal progressives, but by following those posted by Rawls and his followers as well. To halt the current slide towards fascism ("the national security state") we will need the combined forces of the progressive left, the working class, the establishment union movement as well as those in the “center” of the political spectrum(always an unreliable section—i.e., the AFL-CIO leadership) who still believe in democracy and take the Bill of Rights seriously. Rawlsian Liberalism alone will not suffice.
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.
This article is a modified and republished version of the article that was first published by Political Affairs Magazine.