The US Censors Dissenting Voices: On the Attacks Against the Midwestern Marx Institute. By: Edward Liger Smith, Carlos L. Garrido, and Noah KhrachvikRead Now
The First Amendment of the United States Constitution says that “Congress shall make no law… Abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” Yet in 2023 the United States is attempting to extradite Julian Assange because he published proof of U.S. civilian executions in Iraq, systematic torture at Guantanamo Bay, and the DNC rigging of the 2016 primary election against Democratic Socialist candidate Bernie Sanders, which is itself a violation of the Democratic rights enshrined in the American Constitution. The U.S., with its supposed constitutional guarantee of free speech and media, has indicted four leaders from the African People's Socialist Party (APSP) and Uhuru Movement on flimsy claims of “advancing Russian propaganda,” simply because they challenge the narrative of the imperialist financial cartels and war mongers. Even if we look only at these examples, how can we say there is freedom of speech or press in our modern age of neoliberal capitalist-imperialism? The Political establishment has shown that it will crack down on anyone who shares information that is damaging to its foreign policy interests, and most social media platforms like Facebook or Twitter, owned by wealthy shareholders like Mark Zuckerberg and others, have proven not only to be impressionable to the influence of US intelligence agencies like the FBI and other institutions of the ruling class, but (after the release of the Twitter files) directly steered by them at times.
No social media platform is more tightly linked to the intelligence community, NATO, or US State Department than the incredibly popular Tik Tok app. In 2020 the Midwestern Marx Institute for Marxist Theory and Political Analysis, within a few months of work, amassed 375,000 Tik Tok followers when the app was still owned and operated by the Beijing, China based company Bytedance, a testament to the people-oriented algorithms of Bytedance that allow any content that is genuinely popular to go “viral”, and a stark contrast to the money-centered way our Western software works. Unfortunately, that year the Biden administration would force ByteDance to hand over management of their U.S. servers to the Texas-based company ORACLE, a company with intimate ties to the CIA. No sooner had news of this forced change of control happened would the Institute have its account, which received millions of views on many videos containing factual information that challenged the narratives of the US war machine, banned from the platform. A second account that we started when the first one was wiped quickly accumulated 200,000 followers, and right when a growth parallel to the previous account was evident, the second account would also be banned. This blatant censorship would continue without explanation as the Institute had five more accounts banned by Tik Tok after they started to quickly gain popularity. It was later revealed that Oracle had hired a litany of former US State Department and Intelligence Operatives to manage the content for Tik Tok, as well as a few NATO executives for good measure. Tik Tok said that they deleted 320,000 “Russian accounts” which included many American socialist organizers who have never been associated with Russia in any way, such as an account ran by an organization of socialist organizers called “The Vanguard” that had over 100,000 followers when it was deleted.
Countless hours of our work that helped inform millions of people were stripped from the internet with little to no explanation, while truly hateful and incendiary accounts were allowed to remain up. Our institute's co-founder and editor, Eddie Liger Smith, was doxxed twice during this period, having his phone number, job, private social media profiles, and location shared by two creators working in tandem to attack Midwestern Marx. Both responsible accounts, Cbass429 and ThatDaneshGuy, were allowed to remain up until recently, when Cbass429 was finally banned for a completely unrelated incident. However, ThatDaneshGuy still has 1.6 million followers on Tik Tok, where he consistently calls for his political opposition to be fired from their jobs. ThatDaneshGuy called for his followers to contact Eddie’s place of employment and ask for his firing, claiming that it was deserved because of Eddie’s stance against US backed regime change efforts in Iran, which Danesh conflated with support for the Iranian Government executing people. Similar campaigns to these have been waged against other Institute co-founder Carlos Garrido and Institute contributor Kayla Popuchet, the latter who, like Eddie Smith, was fired from their place of employment because of the work they do for the Institute. On Tik Tok, the voices which speak the truth and champion peace are quickly banned, while those who harass and deceive people with imperialist lies are upheld by the algorithms.
Since the transfer of power to US entities, Tik Tok users have been fed a steady diet of neoliberal and imperialist propaganda, while critical voices are systematically being censored by the app’s content moderation staff. Neoliberal commentators like Philip Defranco are never made to retract errors, such as when Phil claimed that Russia blew up the Nord Stream Pipeline, despite all the evidence at the time pointing towards a Biden Administration sabotage. Award-winning investigative journalist Seymour Hersh later proved this to be the case in his detailed report on the incident. Despite all this, Defranco never had his account suspended or removed for posting this misinformation, and his video remains on the platform to this day, as do his comments accusing anyone who suggested the US might have sabotaged the pipeline of believing “Putin propaganda.” The Midwestern Marx Institute had predicted that Biden sabotaged the pipeline before it was revealed in detail and was unsurprisingly attacked and reported for doing so.
Censorship, clearly, does not emerge out of a void. And so, we must ask the question: what are the social conditions which make censorship necessary? Who does the censored speech threaten? Who does it uplift? In whose interests is censorship carried out? On whose side is truth - a category our moribund imperialist era, dominated by postmodern philosophical irrationalism, scoffs at? The liberal ideal of freedom of press can never be actualized so long as the press is owned by a small ruling class, by corporations and shareholders who profit from war and the exploitation of the mass of people. They will always censor dissent and push coverage that suits their foreign and domestic interests. This has been the case throughout history, and the modern Western ruling class is, in this regard, no different from any other. It lies, it manipulates, it misinforms to the best of its ability. It needs a population that can view its actions as ethical and just, and so it must spend countless hours and dollars papering over every crack that appears in the facade its media apparatus has built around the minds of the people.
A revolving door between the media, intelligence agencies, NATO, and the U.S. State Department is only the logical result of a society based on capitalist relations of production, where capitalists not only control the production of material goods, but the production of information as well. The ruling class sees the media, including social media, as a vital part of the societal superstructure that is needed to maintain and reproduce the relations of production at the core of society. In other words, they see it as an important tool to convince you that capitalism and U.S. Imperialism are good and eternal. Under these social relations, the constitutional right to free speech and media have always been exclusive - it excludes all speech and media which substantially challenges the dominant forms of societal intercourse. The freedom of speech and media is, therefore, actually the freedom of pro-capitalist speech and media. V. I. Lenin’s description of the media in capitalist society rings truer than ever in the 2020s, it is dominated by an “atmosphere of lies and deception in the name of the ‘freedom and equality’ of capital, equality of the starved and the overfed.” Any absolute statements about the freedom of the press must be followed by the Leninist question: “freedom of the press… for which class?” The capitalist media’s freedom to deceive the masses in their defense of the existing order is in contradiction to the masses’ interests in searching for and publicizing the truth.
Those who keep our people misinformed and ignorant, who have made their life’s purpose to attack truth-tellers, do so under the insidiously categorized guise of ‘combating misinformation.’ In their topsy-turvy invented reality, as Michael Parenti called it, they posit themselves as the champions of truth and free speech – a paradox as laughable as a vegan butcher. Anyone with the courage to fight for the freedom to speak truth to power should unite in fighting this blatant attack on our constitutional rights. We must stand against this censorship from our ruling class, those who are the worst purveyors of misinformation imaginable, and who now, in the backwards-world name of ‘fighting misinformation,’ censor the truth.
There is ‘fighting misinformation,’ and there is fighting misinformation. The divide of class interests between the ruling class of the West, and the good, honest, hard-working people who live under their regime could not be clearer. One side finds it necessary to invent a reality, under the guise of fighting the ‘mis-informers,’ that paints the world in a disfigured backwardness, the other side, on the contrary, is sick to death of being lied to by the media machine, and their screams of “fake news” grow more and more common every day. The American people not only deserve the truth, but absolutely need its existence to find commonality in the world, stability, and the ability to pursue lives of meaning and dignity. They are tired of the private monopolization of media that has erased the ability for regular working people to speak on an equal playing field; they feel their voices drowned in a sea of well-funded lies by MSNBC, Fox News, and the rest of them. This struggle has crystallized into a fight over The Truth itself.
And so, if fighting misinformation is to be done, we must begin by asking: Where was the crackdown on the media outlets who got 4.5 million people killed by claiming that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction? Where are the crackdowns on those who are lying us into a third World War with nuclear-armed powers? Where are the crackdowns against those who play the drums for those marching humanity towards nuclear Armageddon? Why is it only the outlets calling for peace that are dubbed “Putin propagandists” and wiped from the internet? Where are the crackdowns on the blood-thirsty warmongers? The answer is: they are nowhere, and they will continue to be nowhere while giant corporate financial interests control the lives and realities of regular Americans. Truth is censored and lies are proliferated because it serves the interests of the ruling capitalist class, and only through the overthrow of this class can a real freedom of thought, not an abstract empty freedom to deceive the people, be achieved. Until then, all we can have – it seems – is a media and culture that elevates the most odious imperialist voices while suppressing those who seek truth and peace. Nonetheless, the fight must continue, and with the dignity that comes from the incessant speaking of truth to power, the enemies of humanity will fall.
Let us remember the words of Julian Assange, whom the imperialists have rotting in a prison because of his sterling bravery… because he is a true journalist and not a lapdog of the powerful: “if wars can be started by lies, peace can be started by TRUTH.”
Edward Liger Smith is an American political scientist and editor at the Midwestern Marx Institute.
Carlos L. Garrido is a philosophy teacher at Southern Illinois University, editor at the Midwestern Marx Institute, and author of The Purity Fetish and the Crisis of Western Marxism and Marxism and the Dialectical Materialist Worldview.
Noah Khrachvik is a working class organizer, teacher, and editor at the Midwestern Marx Institute.
Union organizing is an important part of the class struggle in terms of taking the fight to the shop floor. It’s a fight that many people, socialists included, do not know where to start. My hope in writing this is that it can be learned from and utilized in building and organizing among unions, especially yellow unions.
Let me start by defining what a yellow union is and how it makes it hard for a union to be eﬀective. A yellow union is a union that is not working in the interests of the worker, but is directly controlled or influenced by the employer. Organizing within a yellow union can be diﬃcult because not only are you up against the employer, but you have to deal with an antagonistic relationship with the union leadership. This can make taking action very diﬃcult, as the leadership will fight you on anything that will make a substantial change in working conditions.
I began my employment as a general worker at a direct mail printing company in 2017, and I learned very quickly how dysfunctional the union that was representing us was, as they took 4 months to accept my application to join. Being a new employee in an environment I’ve never worked in before, industrial printing, I had to learn everything from scratch, especially if I wanted to get involved with the union. I had to learn what the working conditions were, how the shop operated, how management operated, what the union was like, and how they dealt with problems. Any person trying to do any kind of organizing or action, union or not, should be asking questions and listening more than they talk.
Through the process of asking questions and investigation I discovered that the pension was drying up, the union had bargained away our breaks for thirty minutes of overtime, that the bosses were being allowed to openly harass workers and threaten them if they didn’t choose to work more overtime (if you didn’t work 12 hours a day, and work at least 2 weekends a month), and numerous safety violations including unlabeled and open chemical containers, missing guards, and not being in compliance with safety protocols related to washing blanket cylinders while they’re spinning (blanket cylinders are the rubber lined cylinders that transfer ink into the paper), among various other safety hazards we were expected to deal with in the shop.
My experience with organizing there really began when I met an anarcho- syndicalist coworker of mine who was heavily involved with the IWW. When he found out I was a marxist we began talking organizing. At this point I had very little experience with union organizing and direct action, so having someone introduce me
to it by getting me involved in it was a real learning experience with both errors and successes that can equally be learned from.
Our first course of action was to address the abhorrent safety conditions that lead to a high rate of injury in the workplace, create a newsletter for the purpose of agitation, and built ties with our Vietnamese and hispanic coworkers who had often times had their concerns be largely ignored and pushed to the side and looked down upon by management and higher positions on the production side (Our shop has 5 tiers of production workers, general workers on the bottom, lead packers in charge of paperwork and changing plates and blankets as well as doing the job of a general worker, feeders who do register and load the paper into the press, 2nd pressmen who do color and set up the inline that folds and trims the paper, and the 1st pressman who runs the press, lines up the ribbons, and reports directly to the bosses).
We started flying the newsletters anywhere they would be seen, on bulletin boards, in the bathrooms, on the presses, and on tables. The supervisors didn’t like this and started taking down our flyers and gave my coworker who was caught doing it a write up. The union didn’t defend him, and took the side of the employer. This was the first sign of yellow unionism, as nothing said in these flyers was incorrect, and other employees had used these bulletin boards for sports gambling, fundraisers for their children, or even just posting up humorous pictures. The minute they were used as an agitation tool to make the workplace a better and safer environment it became a problem.
The next action we took was to address the lack of guards on the machinery and anything that could be addressed in 15 minutes or less by shutting down any press we were on together with other coworkers who would back us up. This angered the 1st and 2nd pressmen because their production numbers are all that matter to them, and if they’re high then they get special treatment from the bosses, it was no concern to them whether guards were in place, as they weren’t the ones webbing up the paper through the press and putting themselves in direct danger. While they were angry with us, our actions were praised by those who did have to do those kinds of things, the general workers, lead packers, and feeders.
Ultimately management had found out who was shutting the presses down, and that it had been largely led by my syndicalist coworker. They attempted to cut it oﬀ at the head by firing him, and ended up having to settle in court for a wrongful termination lawsuit that awarded him $25,000 dollars, forced the company to actually put the guards into the machines, among other safety equipment like automatic blanket washers that would put them in compliance with safety regulations, but he wasn’t allowed to come back.
This experience ultimately uncovered many contradictions within the union and among the laborers themselves. During the process of firing him, the union ultimately refused to defend him, minus one shop steward, and they again took the side of the company. This was another sign that the union did not represent the interests of the
workers in making the workplace a better and safer environment, but was there to make the workers feel like they had a voice when they didn’t. The only thing we ultimately had was the contract, and if the shop stewards weren’t willing to fight to enforce that contract we wouldn’t even have that.
Another contradiction I found was between the first and second pressmen, who would receive special treatment if they had high numbers and helped supervisors enforce a workplace culture of overwork and hostility, and the bottom three positions, who were involved in the majority of the production process. It was in the first and second pressmen’s immediate interest to side with the bosses for their special treatment.
Ultimately I was able to agitate on these contradictions with my coworkers in the bottom three positions, pointing out how the union was failing to represent them, and the pressmen were actively working against them, despite being union members themselves. I was also able to point out that the actions that my coworkers and I had taken had positive results in terms of fixing some of the safety hazards around the shop. I also had to realize that while we might have been successful to a degree, the fact that my coworker had been fired resulted in other coworkers being scared out of taking action, and becoming alienated from the struggle. Our error in this was acting too big too soon, and in order to have had better results we needed a larger group of people committed to taking action in the workplace.
I took this new information back to the shop floor, speaking with people, listening to what complaints they had, and gauging who was willing to act and who was a company rat. I had to take a step back and observe, plan, and build. When I found out who was reliable and willing to listen I began talking to them about marxism, building workers power, and how we can achieve our goals. To those who were willing to do some reading I passed out basic marxist literature, such as Engels “Principles of Communism” and copies of the manifesto of the communist party. We used the cover of the loud machinery to discuss the literature I had passed out, which was eﬀective because it drowned out our voices for anyone outside of a few feet radius.
From this I was able to form a skeleton crew of a coalition of my coworkers with the most class conscious among them. With this skeleton crew we began our organizing eﬀorts again, agitating on the upcoming contract negotiation. We had once again begun the task of talking amongst our coworkers to discover what their concerns were, and what they wanted was higher pay, and to protect our healthcare plan.
Before this I had never been a part of any kind of contract discussion, so rather than running for the committee, I sat back and observed the interaction between the committee and management. In the meantime, after work was done we got our coworkers together to vent, unwind with a few drinks, and discuss how the contract negotiations were going to which I was able to inject theoretical knowledge where it applied. This process of meeting after work to just discuss work, vent, and hang out had made a lot of the workers who were hostile to me for being an open communist in
the workplace become more open minded about it, understanding that I wasn’t just speaking of ideals and that I had knowledge on the subject at hand. While I wasn’t able to convince everyone to denounce liberalism and join the communist cause, I was able to convince a bunch of them that action had to be taken, and gained a number of people to discuss these ideas with and take action, which grew the ranks of my skeleton crew.
With these people we started talking to people and advocating to vote no unless the contract addressed our pay concerns and protected our benefits. The union leadership and shop stewards had told us to tone down our rhetoric, telling us that militancy in the unions was a dead idea, that we were the highest paid shop in the nation (which was only true because we are one of the few union print shops still left in the United States), and that we should be grateful for what we have. We had enough people to vote down the contract and told the leadership to suck lemons. Management hadn’t seen opposition like that in quite some time according to some of the older people working at the shop, and didn’t have a plan to deal with it, so we ended up winning the highest pay increase in a decade among all positions, when before the 1st and 2nd pressman were the only ones getting raises, protected our benefits, and got a provision to adequately staﬀ presses put into the contract which forced the company to hire more general workers. The most important part of this was that we didn’t lose anything.
Over the course of the next year, the one shop steward that actually stood up for us had quit his job. We had no one enforcing the contract at that point and the union made it worse by making a stooge that rubber-stamped all write ups and allowed the company to break contract, understaﬀ us again, and promote people outside of order of seniority a temporary shop steward until the upcoming election. I had decided it was time for me to run for shop steward.
I began my campaign by having meetings in the back parking lot where I would agitate, sing labor songs for people, and just hang out and build bonds and community with each other. Many of the coworkers I had been talking to and meeting with vouched for me and gave me their support, but a lot of the older guys thought I had lacked the experience necessary to do the job. I ultimately came up short, and ended up losing that first run, leaving the worker with no shop steward that was willing to fight for their interests for at least a year.
In this time I kept up the eﬀorts to agitate among the workers, pointing out how the shop stewards were failing to represent them, the lack of leadership we had, and the need for a change in leadership. I also demonstrated how belligerent the bosses had been towards anyone who wasn’t working 12 hours a day, and giving up their weekends to the company. If you weren’t doing this the supervisors would publicly berate you and twist the arms of the first and second pressmen to do the same.
After looking over the contract, I found a provision that said we didn’t have to work the overtime, we could sign oﬀ for 8 hours and oﬀ the weekends any time, so
long as we worked a “reasonable amount of overtime” with no stipulation on what a reasonable amount of overtime looked like. Going back to the union trading oﬀ our lunch breaks for 30 minutes of overtime I argued to my coworkers that we are working at least two and a half hours of overtime during the normal work week, even more on the weekends. The group of workers I had been working with started signing for 8 hours every day and oﬀ the weekends, and when the bosses and the pressmen started berating us, we just laughed in their faces, saying, “having time oﬀ for yourself and to spend with your family is nice, you should try it.”
Quickly other workers began to take note and started following our example. Because at this point almost everyone was doing it the union had no choice but to back us up. Every write up ended up being tossed out, and if the bosses try to harass us the union actually takes care of it. I know this from experience, the plant manager tried to blackmail me into working overtime by denying my vacation requests even though they we’re submitted well ahead of time. He ended up getting in trouble for it and I got a check for filing a grievance.
The COVID-19 pandemic brought us new challenges. Workers were being laid oﬀ for weeks at at time, and the company was trying to tell us that we couldn’t file for unemployment during this time, which isn’t true, but many of my coworkers didn’t know this. I ended up calling several of my coworkers and lending them a hand in filing for unemployment, and they ended up receiving it like I told them they would. This lead to the company putting us back on the schedule as it cost them money.
The company also was refusing to protect us from covid in the workplace, the union was saying they couldn’t do anything about it either. I organized a sick in, a type of unsanctioned strike where as many workers as we could get called in all at once, on various days of the week so that they couldn’t plan for hiring temp workers. We made our safety concerns known to the bosses, and made sure they understood these call ins had been directly related to it without outright saying it. I ended up getting written up for this, but no one had been fired, and the safety concerns had been addressed within a couple weeks. The company had now been enforcing and providing masks in the workplace, doing temperature checks, and putting a general worker on clean up duty, where they would scrub every surface in the building with alcohol. As a result, no one in the workplace ended up getting covid until the state itself decided to open up.
After all this the next contract negotiation was on the horizon. I ran for the committee, but again lost, which raised questions for me as the guys who won were all company guys, who were not very well liked within the shop. Of all the guys who ran for committee positions, these guys were not the ones who had any kind of popular support at all, leading me to believe the union was rigging these elections, but I had zero proof at that point, just the word of my coworkers who had told me and my crew of activists who they were going to vote for and why. The president of the union had already shown which side he was on in the last contract negotiations, and I knew without a real coalition, not just a skeleton crew, we would be in trouble.
The first thing I did was to continue my meetings after work, inviting as many of my coworkers to join us as I could. The largest group of workers in our shop is the general workers, followed by the lead packers and feeders, and so I focused heavily on organizing among them. The first and second pressmen generally had no interest in working with us. I created a Facebook group in order to keep in contact, discuss things with each other, agitate and take action. Through this we had the makings of a real coalition, built on the largest blocks of workers in the shop, and we voted on what actions we should take and discussed what we wanted from this next contract.
The first contract they oﬀered us was abysmal, oﬀering us a mere 15 cent raise across the board, which was actually a pay cut when inflation is taken into account.
They also wanted to take away our seniority rights and be able to move up who they wanted, when they wanted, which would have the eﬀect of turning workers against each other in terms of competing for a position, and giving the bosses the ability to stifle anyone who spoke to loudly against them by refusing to move them up at all.
They wanted to dissolve the pension completely, put a managements rights clause that ultimately would have busted the union and made our contract useless, make us pay more for our healthcare, and delegate what constitutes unsafe activity to a n agreement between union oﬃcials who had already shown they don’t care about the workers, and management themselves, where the way it was is that if you don’t deem something to be safe then no one can force you to do it. They also wanted to stuﬀ a whole bunch of temps in the workplace and phase out the general worker position, which would have cost the largest portion of workers there to lose their job to what is essentially scabs.
The union president constantly told us that this is the best they could do and heavily backed this proposal. They made our job as organizers easy by putting this terrible contract proposal on the table, and we voted it down immediately. This angered the union president and the contract committee, and they ended up giving us the same proposal numerous times, the only diﬀerence being the raise would have been 30 cents rather than 15, which is still a pay cut. We kept voting no, and ended up going half a year without a contract agreement. During this time, the union president threatened us by saying if we keep voting no they could easily just close the shop, or that they could decide to approve the contract proposal anyways. During the meetings I had gotten into direct shouting matches with the union president arguing that what he was doing was a slap in the face to the workers who had built this company, who do the labor and reminded him that without us there is no company. We ended up voting no after all the threats, and in the end the company ultimately gave in to us and took most of the amendments they wanted out.
We ended up getting the managements rights clause taken out, reinforced our seniority, got a 50 cent raise, which still wasn’t enough but it was better than what they were oﬀering, we protected the pension so that older workers would be able to retire in peace, kept the safety rules how they were, and had amended it to say that temps could only make boxes and pile boxes onto pallets, and if they didn’t have the temps to do it a general worker could do it for only 3 hours maximum, and after that the pressman could decide to shut down the press. After we had successfully defeated the
union busting proposal that they wanted to shove down our throats I had many of the workers, including the older ones, coming up to me thanking me and the coalition I had helped to build in the work that we did, and for being so vocal, and that I had their support.
My next goal was to get a shop steward in that actually represented the worker, as elections were coming up again. I decided to run again as many of my coworkers had told me it was time for a change in leadership, and after seeing how the union leadership acted during the last contract negotiation who could possibly blame them. I ended up winning the election, and the former shop steward handed me the paperwork to sign and turn in to the union hall, saying I had the job, congratulations. The next day I went to turn in the paperwork, and the union president was covering the woman at the desk. I handed him the paperwork, to which he turned ghost white, and accepted it. However, the next week the union had announced a whole new election, and this angered a lot of the people at the shop. I had many of my coworkers come up to me saying they were going to vote for me, and even the guys that didn’t agree with me said they were going to vote for me out of principle because they saw it as unfair. It had become blatantly obvious that they were attempting to rig it against me.
The election passed and as expected they had rigged it against me, and one of the supervisors nephews was put in the position. The bosses immediately started watching me like a hawk, writing me up for little things, and threatening my job at the shop. My response was to become essentially the perfect worker, double checking all my work, and never calling in. Meanwhile in secret I utilized and communicated with the coalition that had been formed earlier to continue to act in the workplace despite me not being able to be as visibly present. They ended up getting the safety commission revamped with monthly safety meetings and better safety equipment.
Despite me losing the shop steward election, I had won something else that was much more valuable to me than the union position. I had gained the trust of my coworkers to be able to stand up for them, and did it as an open communist, proving that it is possible to win the minds of the masses and have them stand with you. Many of them come to me to answer union related questions, and often times I’m requested to represent them in the place of the actual shop steward. They trust me to stand up for their interests, and not only me but in the coalition of workers that we had formed together to stand up for our own interests better than the union could as it stands, solidifying it as an organ of dual power within the workplace.
It took me 5 years of constant building, talking with my coworkers, acting in the workers interests in the face of an uphill battle to accomplish what was done there, and there’s still a lot of work to be done. Its tough work, but ultimately a rewarding experience and if I had to do it all again I would do it in a heartbeat. I have trust in my fellow workers here, that even if I was fired, that they now have a tool to actually fight back, and I know that they would use it. Let this be something that can both inspire you to organize in the labor movement in the face of adversity, and show that it is indeed possible to fight back and win as a worker.
BR devotes chapter XXII of his A History of Western Philosophy to Hegel. He doesn’t much like Hegel— all his doctrines are “false” but he has historical significance and is the best representative of “ a certain kind of philosophy” and also Marx was influenced by some of his views. When BR wrote the HWP Hegel’s influence was “diminishing” but since the last half of the 20th century there has been a Hegel revival and he is once again a formidable philosophical presence.
BR seems to think Hegel is a mystic because he denies that “things” (objects externally existing in space and time) do not have completely independent existences but that reality is a big interconnected whole and that we know a thing x only when we know all of its relations and connections with the other things in the whole. Our knowledge of things is therefore partial and relative and we can't absolutely know everything about a thing but for all practical purposes we can know enough about the connections and relations of things of the world that we interact with that we can function and basically, through science and using our understanding and reason we can know all we need to know to function in our environment. It’s an organismic viewpoint— we can’t really understand the heart if that is all we study, we have to know its relations with the brain, lungs, etc. The more we can fit a thing into the knowledge we have of the totality, the whole which makes up the universe, the more we know about it.
There is no reason for BR to say that this viewpoint naturally becomes “a disbelief in the reality of time and space as such, for these, if taken as completely real involve separation and multiplicity,” But Hegel is not denying the multiplicity of things, there are many different things in space and time, but the more we know of their relations to each other and to the whole spacetime continuum the more we know about them.
For Hegel space and time wouldn’t exist if there were no real material physical objects existing because the spacetime continuum is where motion between objects takes place— he is thinking in terms of early 19th century physics and the science of mechanics. These “mystic” ideas are put forth in Hegel’s Philosophy of Nature but Hegel is not trying to ignore what scientists say about space and time. He writes, “Not only must philosophy be in agreement with our empirical knowledge of nature, but the origin and formation of the Philosophy of Nature presupposes and is conditioned by empirical physics” [PN 246, Encyclopedia of Philosophical Sciences]. This quote should be kept in mind whenever Russell says that Hegel rejects empirical knowledge or considers it “unreal.”
Russell nexts turns his attention to a statement Hegel makes in the introduction to his Philosophy of Right: “The real is rational and the rational is real.” Sometimes “actual” is substituted for “real.” This does not mean, as Russell suggests, that anything that exists, that is real (actual) is also rational. You might make a stupid move in chess that exposed your king to an immediate checkmate. This goes against the whole point of a chess game from your point of view — which is to protect your king and checkmate your opponent. But that is the move that exists on the board.
Hegel does not think things are just isolated existents, they are related to other things and everything is ultimately, in one way or another, related to every other thing. This move I mentioned was not rational according to the rules of chess and was not a real move a chess player who knew what he or she was doing would make— it may have been “legal” by the rules (laws) of chess but it was a blunder not a rational or real chess move that anyone would recognize as such.
This is what Hegel means when he speaks of the un-realness and irrationality of states, actions, ethical and moral behaviors, etc. So, Russell is missing Hegel’s point when he remarks that, “the identification of the real and the rational leads unavoidably to some of the complacency inseparable from the belief that ‘whatever is, is right’.” This is unavoidable only if you go out of your way to misrepresent Hegel’s intention.
Here is another misrepresentation by Russell: “The whole in all its complexity is called by Hegel ‘the Absolute’. “The Absolute is spiritual; Spinoza’s view, that it has the attribute of extension as well as that of thought, is rejected.” When Hegel says the Absolute is the whole he means it is everything— it is the sum total of existence, the whole universe (both of Spinoza’s attributes Matter and Mind/Spirit included )—there is nothing outside of it, no separate “spiritual” (I.e., supernatural realm).
Another way to explain the Absolute would be to say “The world is all that is the case.” It is not a “thing” it is the Ground of all other things.Think of the butterfly effect in chaos theory—a butterfly spreads its wings in the Amazon moving the air a bit and later there is an avalanche in the Alps as the movement spreads and contributes its little bit to the whole that finally causes the avalanche. Everything in the Whole relates and influences, to a greater or lesser degree, everything else. The Absolute is the whole shebang, ground and grounded.
Now,Russell tells us there are two distinguishing features of Hegel’s philosophy. First, is his use of logic to deduce the nature of Reality which must not be “self-contradictory.” What he actually does is use logic to show that when you come across apparent self-contradictions you are probably viewing your subject out of context— isolating it from the whole to which it belongs and thus not really being able to understand it properly. Second, is his use of “the triadic movement called the ‘dialectic’.” This is part of his logic and we must understand his Logic to understand his system. Let’s see if Russell fairly presents it.
Russell proceeds to give an exposition of Hegel’s Logic and he gives some quotes that reflect Hegel’s views He concludes by observing, as we have already done above, that Hegel believes “the truth is the whole” and we only can know more about something the more we we know of its relations to the rest of reality. We may know 99.9% about some things but as finite intellects we won’t know 100%. We can’t know the Absolute which contains everything. So far he has stated Hegel’s view but not given any argument against it.
We will see most of the objections to Hegel’s views result from not quite getting his meaning and so they miss the mark. Hegel is partially responsible for this because of his horrible writing style and use of neologisms which make it difficult to follow his arguments. Specialists argue back and forth over what certain passages mean and most specialists take issue with Russell’s reading of Hegel. Hopefully we will avoid these technical conundrums in this article. Another problem is taking quotes out of context from different works by Hegel.
Here is an example. Russell is supposed to be explaining the Logic to us and he observes that Hegel holds that “Reason is the conscious certainty of being all reality.” Russell says since the Real is the Absolute (as the whole) the more we know the more real we are. This sounds like metaphysical nonsense — for any x if x exists it is real (period). But what is Hegel saying in this sentence taken out of context?
In the first place, it’s not from the Logic at all, it’s from the Phenomenology. The Phenomenology traces the development of our consciousness (‘our’ being the human race, the ground on which the Absolute comes into existence) through time. This sentence reaches a conclusion made by philosophers at a certain time in the past. It’s a stage that was reached, but Hegel says, it is much too abstract to actually mean anything to us today. It doesn’t explain HOW Reason can be all reality. It doesn’t tell us how Reason works in the world.
Hegel says we have a problem that leads to contradictory views about what such an abstract pronouncement means. Consciousness must move on to a more concrete, less abstract idea, and etc. Reading Russell, however, could easily give the wrong impression that the sentence in question is a belief held by Hegel, as if it were similar to a belief in one of the 39 Articles of the Anglican Communion. This is misleading.
Russell now addresses himself to Hegel’s concept of the “Absolute Idea.” This is the all encompassing concept at the end of the Logic. What it amounts to, according to Russell, is that: “The Absolute Idea is pure thought thinking about pure thought.” This is Hegel’s ‘God’ for Russell who quotes Hegel: “This unity is consequently the absolute and all truth, the Idea which thinks itself.”
What is this mumbo-jumbo all about? The following is based on the article “Absolute” in Glenn Alexander Magee’s The Hegel Dictionary, an indispensable tool in translating Hegel’s prolix language style into intelligible English.
Philosophy seeks to understand the nature of reality. Humans can only understand things by using ideas and concepts in their brains to order their perceptions and experiences into some kind of intelligible structure. This is what Hegel’s Logic attempts. What are the concepts we have to use to order and understand reality? Starting with the very first logical concept “Being” Hegel derives with logical necessity a schematic description of all the the concepts that logically follow from considering the concept of“Being” — each logically implied new concept necessarily implies additional concepts, and these new ones other new ones etc. until you end up with a complete interlocking set of concepts that will describe all reality.
This set is the Absolute as it appears in human consciousness (especially Hegel’s consciousness). It’s not ‘God’ as that concept is traditionally thought. There is no transcendent Being existing outside of the Being that human thought has figured out to be logically necessary— these thought determinations are all dependent on the deductions from the concept of Being—however they are only thought determinations— but what of the real external physically existing world of Nature?
Well, Nature is the real world existing in space and time. Time is not unreal or just a human illusion. The Absolute Idea of the Logic is just an Idea arrived at by human thinking— it is empty and unless there were really existing external material examples of the ideas in the Logic they wouldn’t represent anything. Hegel thinks his construction of the logically necessary concepts used to understand reality really represent the world as it is actually like and the stages of development developed in the Logic have real world space and time manifestations. Hegel is pre-Darwin and doesn’t believe in “evolution” so Nature just IS and the world is eternal in time, not that time is “unreal.” The discovery that evolution is in fact the case does not have negative consequences for Hegel’s philosophy which can easily be adapted to an evolutionary perspective (Marxism).
The totality of existence is the ABSOLUTE as it has eternally existed. The conceptual scheme of the Logic leading to the Absolute Idea is a mental creation for us by which we can know about the world (AKA the Absolute). Nature has existed before us and will after us and, Hegel says, philosophy must be based on the knowledge of the external world empirically presented to us by physics. As we acquire additional scientific knowledge, science and Logic will harmonize more.
So, the idea that thinks itself boils down to this. You read Hegel’s Logic and you get an idea about reality, and then you think about this idea which is an idea about an idea— this only takes place in human consciousness (AKA ’Spirit’) it’s all going on in your brain, or, in Hegelese: “This unity [the Logic used to understand Nature] is consequently the absolute and all truth, the Idea [the Logic as understood in your brain] which thinks itself [your brain thinking about the thinking described by the Logic].”The Absolute (the knowledge of Reality) is all confined to human consciousness— there is no self-reflective consciousness, so far as we know, anywhere external to the brains of humans— no ‘God’, ‘Angels’, or ‘Spirits’ outside of human thought. If we ever meet the little green men from outer space they will have with them a version of Hegel’s Logic discovered by their own philosophers.
Russell next turns his attention to Hegel’s philosophy of history (Lectures on the The Philosophy of History).
He begins with a long paragraph of ad hominem insults against Hegel’s philosophy and we are told Hegel and Marx among others who have theories of history are both ignorant and distorters of the facts. While Hegel claims to have arrived at his theories about history from studying the history of the world Russell says he just had his theory and made the “facts” conform to the theory. Russell gives no arguments in favor of his judgments of Hegel, he just dumps on Hegel.
After this lame performance he does provide some quotes from Hegel but he doesn’t interpret them properly. This is partially Hegel’s fault for being both prolix and using poetic similes and his own peculiar use of words with a slightly different meaning than they usually have. Some of this he does to avoid the Prussian censorship which was on the lookout for comments that might be critical of religion or the government.
Hegel states that he studies history using the hypothesis that Reason rules the world and history is the record of the advance of Reason in time. Russell really doesn’t like this hypothesis, but Hegel says it is justified as he proved that Reason rules the world in his Logic. In the Logic he showed that Nature and self-consciousness (Spirit) are governed by laws that philosophy and science can discover. We expect the universe to be law-like and that events have causes that can be studied— otherwise science would be impossible. That’s what he means by Reason and if you study history you can detect that there is Reason (law like behavior) behind the events studied by historians.
Prehistory ends and History begins when humans are at a stage of self-consciousness when they reflect on their actions and begin to wonder about what they are and what kind of life humans are capable of living. This is a long drawn out process, but basically humans want to increase their agency and freedom so each historical advance has been marked by humans expanding their concepts of human freedom and rights from ideas about slavery, serfdom, aristocrats and kings and queens and peasants, etc., until we get to Hegel’s day when the concept has developed that humans should all be equal before the law— this principle of human equality was hidden in the concept of agency from the very beginning of history but it took thousands of years before philosophy recognized it applied to all humans and realized history was a blind struggle of this concept to make itself known— this desire for freedom was the secret motivating force behind history and Hegel has discovered it.
Hegel was before Marx but he would say that the statement that all hitherto existing history has been the history of class conflict was an instantiation of his theory as the desire for freedom and equality was at work unconsciously behind the class struggle at first and was now recognized.This is why Hegel says “The world of intelligence and conscious volition is not abandoned to chance, but must show itself in the light of the self-cognizant idea.” The “self-cognizant idea” is an idea we are self consciously aware of— the idea of “freedom.” An individual self-consciousness is aware of itself, and understands the concept of freedom and acts accordingly— this would be a self-cognizant idea.
Russell has a problem with the following two quotes from Hegel. What does Hegel mean? “Spirit is self -contained existence.” Remember, “Spirit” is human self-consciousness for Hegel. So, the next thing he says (left out by Russell) is: “Now this is Freedom exactly. For if I am dependent, my being is referred to something which I am not; I cannot exist independently of something external. I am free, on the contrary, when my existence depends on myself.” No one is absolutely free of all externality so it is a relative concept we are dealing with. History is the progressive enlargement through time of the things we are free from.
“But what is Spirit? It is the one immutable homogeneous Infinite —pure Identity— which in its second phase separates itself from itself and makes this second aspect its own polar opposite, namely, as existence in and for Self as contrasted with the Universal.” OK, it’s true Russell has a point— this is an example of Hegel’s prolixity and most people would have no clue about what he is saying. But Russell is a philosopher and he should have explained what Hegel means, instead he uses this quote to make the reader think that there is something wrong with Hegel.
Hegel’s language is difficult, but here is what he means. “Human being” is a Universal concept, it applies to all human beings. You don’t learn much about Socrates by being informed he was a human being. So separate the self (your self) from this Universal and think that humans really exist as particulars, particular human beings, and more so as an individual self. The particular individual self is the polar opposite of the Universal concept and you can predicate a lot of things to it. Your individual self-identity is unique and separate from the immutable homogeneous Infinite represented by the Universal. Now the individual self confronts itself with the idea of freedom.
Now it is time to go over Russell’s outline of Hegel’s discussion of the growth of the idea of freedom. I am not going to discuss the merits of Hegel’s philosophy. I only want to clear up some of the misrepresentations of Hegel that abound in Russell’s discussion.
We have to give Hegel the benefit of the doubt on some of his assertions. He was writing 200 years ago and the progress that has been since his day in the advance of the concept of freedom has outdistanced Hegel’s concept. He was Euro-centric but the study of other non-European civilizations was not very far advanced in his time but his philosophy is expansive enough to include all of the advanced views we now hold and those of the future as well which will make our time also look backward.
Here is the first big quote Russell presents from the philosophy of history:”The history of the world is the discipline of the uncontrolled natural will, bringing it into obedience to a universal principle and conferring subjective freedom. The East knew, and to the present day knows only that One is free [the absolute ruler, emperor, pharaoh, sultan, etc.] ; the Greek and Roman world, that some are free [citizens, masters, they had slavery]; the German world knows that All are free.”
This isn’t as bad as it sounds. The German world is the medieval European world that replaced the Western Roman Empire with what became the modern states of Western Europe most, if not all, of which were founded by different tribes of German (Teutonic) peoples speaking different dialectics of German. They were converted to Christianity which taught that all were equal In the sight of God. The Pope and his priests were more equal than the lay Christians but this was corrected by Luther and the rise of Protestantism (everyman a priest).
The problem faced by philosophy is how to get this concept that all are free and equal in the sight of God (I.e., in Heaven) down to earth so that it applies to living breathing souls not the souls up in heaven. Hegel seems to have only believed in actually existing breathing souls—no Heaven to go to anyway. History is the record of the struggle for this concept of freedom to become known to all peoples and instantiated in the world.
Russell seems upset that Hegel did not think the best way to bring about “freedom” would be democracy. But Hegel wasn’t interested in democracy— after all Rome was a Republic of slave owners, and Greek democracy also supported slavery (not to mention the USA which was I/2 slave 1/2 free at the time).
Hegel identified “freedom” with “self-consciousness “ and this would lead us to to live under a system of laws in a state that furthers these goals, a state that we rationally choose to live in and under whose laws we choose to follow because they allow us the maximum of self-consciousness and self-control and thus of freedom. That’s what Hegel thinks.
We can disagree about what type of state that will be— his views are not written on stone and we can decide on what kind of state we want— or even a stateless organization of living together. We need not waste our time going over Russel’s attacks on Hegel’s “Germanness” which was a product of the way the Absolute Spirit was expressing itself 200 years ago (i.e., was the way educated Europeans were consciously discussing philosophy as Absolute Spirit only exists within human consciousness. It expresses itself in 3 ways, according to Hegel, as Art (sensuously) Religion (imaginatively) and Philosophy (rationally).
It is important to clear up some of Russell’s misunderstandings. Russell is right to say that Hegel thinks it is important to have laws to live under and that freedom is enhanced by laws. But Russell misinterprets Hegel when he says , “Freedom,” for Hegel, “means little more than the right to obey the law.” Human freedom is enhanced when the laws are those we choose for ourselves, not some foreign set of rules imposed on us from without. Hegel thinks it is possible for people to agree on the most rational way to conduct themselves and what a rational state would be like and insofar as we can construct and live in a state whose laws are those we internalize and desire to live under, then we are-self conscious of our freedom and are actually free to that extent. So, in saying that “is little more” rather than that “is a big deal” is where Russell errs.
Here is the next quote that Russell doesn’t approve of: “The German spirit is the spirit of the new world. Its aim is the realization of absolute Truth as the un-limited self-determination of freedom— that freedom which has its own absolute from itself as its purport.” Russell thinks this is against “liberalism” and won’t keep you out of a ”concentration camp” or support “freedom of the press.” But is this correct?
Let’s translate the above quote into a modern version of what Hegel is saying: “The contemporary consciousness developed in the Reformation by the birth of Protestant [after Luther] thinking [ the German spirit] aims at arriving at complete Truth based on free intellectual speculation using reason [Logic] not authority as its justification.” This is a claim made by Hegel but it is doubtful if the majority of Protestants even in his time were acting this way.They still used the Bible and thus were submitting their self-consciousness to outside control independent of Reason. Only those higher critics who used the Bible no differently than any other secular source (such as Aristotle or Tacitus) would exemplify Hegel’s claim. This has nothing to do with concentration camps or freedom of the press.
Complete truth, Absolute Truth, about what? About the nature of what it means to be a human being, a self-conscious being, Hegel says it is a für sich [Sartre: pour soi] — a being for-itself not just a being in-itself [an sich, en soi]. A consciousness that is (or potentially is) conscious of its freedom and responsible for it. Russell is correct, this will not lead to doctrines such as liberalism as Russell understands it (nor conservatism for that matter). A consciousness stuck in either of these two views (there are many other views as well) has not reached the level of Absolute Truth as it appeared to Hegel in his day.
The next point involves Russell backtracking a bit. He has suggested that Hegel thought history stops with him and that Germany is considered by him to be the best state. None of which can really be found in Hegel’s writings. Russell points out that Hegel also thought that both Russia and the United States had vast territories to expand in and that the next century (the 20th) would be dominated by the rise of these two countries. This shows that Hegel did not think history had come to end with his day and age.
The Weltgeist (World Spirit) had reached the Absolute point in its development however— I.e., human consciousness had reached the point of understanding all human beings were free and equal (equal before the law) qua being human beings— this is the Absolute pinnacle of philosophical development of the concept of human being. The problem is to translate this abstract idea into concrete reality— to bring it into objective existence in historically developed institutions. Hegel is well aware that this is not yet the case. Russell seems to think Hegel is not aware of this and his criticisms of Hegel are misguided and, for a philosopher of his stature, inexplicable.
Russell now moved on to criticize Hegel’s views on the State. Russell dislikes Hegel’s ”glorification of the state.” Here is Russell’s brief summary of how this came about. The state began to be seen as sacred due to the deification of the emperors. With Christianity in the Middle Ages the Church claimed priority over the state [at least in Western Europe]. Luther broke with the Church and with the birth of the Protestant Reformation the state, especially the nation state, took precedence over the national churches. Hobbes, a nominal protestant, advocated the supremacy of the state (The Leviathan 1651) as did Spinoza.
Russell says that Hegel was “vehemently Protestant” (although no Christian theologian of any stripe could accept Hegel’s view of “God” as a non transcendent being existing only in human consciousness) and (his employer) the Prussian state “was an Erastian absolute monarchy.” Erastianism is the view that the State should have the last word over the churches even in religious affairs and doctrines — named after Thomas Erastus 1524-1583 whose views were not that extreme. For the record, Hegel was not for absolute monarchy a la Prussia; he believed in a constitutional monarchy in which the Monarch only crossed the ’t’s and dotted the ‘i’s of submitted legislation— I.e., like Charles III rather than Frederick William III of Prussia (r. 1797-1840).
Now for some quotes from Hegel that Russell thinks are highly objectionable and “would justify every internal tyranny.” Let us see. 1. “The State is the actually existing realized moral life.” Let’s just take the U.S. for example. We all have some kind of moral life, a mixture of good and bad moral actions , etc. These are all subjective. What actually exists outside of our subjective consciousness are the laws that have been established by our Congress and they are supposed to adhere to the Constitution. Whatever we preach and say about morality, justice, fairness, etc., it is a fact the State sends prisoners to Guantanamo Bay prison and tortures them. That is an actually existing place and the actions there are moral (or immoral). For all our talk, that is the actually existing moral life of the U.S. State. Hegel is merely saying that actions speak louder than words. The U.S. State’s actions either positively or negatively bring into existence the values which otherwise are mere phantoms in our noggins.
2. Our spiritual life contains our morals; A person’s “spiritual life consists of this, that his own essence — Reason — is objectively present to him, that it possess objective immediate existence for him….For truth is the unity of the universal and subjective Will, and the universal is to be found in the State, in its laws, its universal and national arrangements.The State the Divine Idea as it exists on earth.”
With regards to the first part of the quote ending with the ellipsis, when this objective unity doesn’t happen you are alienated from your essence, Reason, is unfulfilled. Why is this objectionable? It is just a statement of Hegel’s view on morals. If you agree with what goes on at Guantanamo your essence and objective reality are in harmony, if not, you are alienated by your Reason from the State. I don’t see any problem with this statement.
The universal Will is a heuristic concept —all people would will that justice and rightness always be done (the universal Will) and the subjective Will is what each individual wants, and the State is supposed to represent the universal Will by means of the laws and rules it enforces— applied equally to all. Hegel understands this is the rational State as it should be via logic but real States are in various stages of development. History shows a progressive evolution towards this logically perfect State but no real State has attained this but the best State at any one time is the one that is closest to it. The rational State is the one that provides the most freedom for its citizens.
God is not an independent objective being. God appears in the human consciousness and is not independent of it and as human consciousness develops and awakens to the concept of freedom so to does God (the concept of God = God = the Absolute Idea which is that of the whole interconnections of reality topped by the human consciousness of it and of its freedom —this is not an orthodox use of the word “God” but Hegel thinks it is the proper use and that’s why he says the State is the Divine Idea as it exists on earth— it gets more “divine” as the awareness of the Idea develops through time. Russell himself is a Hegelian without realizing it because he too believes in the progress of the growth of freedom through time. It is better to just ignore Hegel’s views on the “Divine Idea”, etc., as his philosophy can be explained without having to employ “god-talk”.
3.”The State is the embodiment of rational freedom, realizing and recognizing itself in an objective form ….The State is the idea of Spirit in the external manifestation in the human Will and its Freedom” . You get to go vote every 4 years for your leader— you have a voting card in your hand, its rational at this stage of bourgeois democracy to be able to freely vote and the card is the objective embodiment of that freedom and you realize and recognize it— don’t lose that card! Spirit, as you know, is just your self-consciousness, a democratic State is an ideal and your State, the U.S. of A is a manifestation of your Will and Freedom (unless you are alienated from the Rationality represented by the laws of the State). For Hegel if there is a more rational State possible than the one you are in, then human consciousness will eventually become aware of it and it will come about—that is the story of history—history will end when the Absolute Idea is fully manifested in humanity and becomes objectified (it’s doubtful our species will last long enough for this to come about).
4.”The State is the reality of the moral idea — the moral spirit, as the visible substantial will, evident to itself, which thinks and knows itself, and fulfils what it knows in so far as it knows it.” If I have freedom, rights, and a happy life it’s all due to the kind of State I live in. Do I own a slave or am I a slave, or are no slaves allowed? That depends on the State you live in and the level of rational consciousness the citizens and rulers have. If you’re a woman in Afghanistan, Iran, or even the USA where the Equal Rights Amendment can't get passed — you are not in a state where the moral idea is at the highest level, but the government is the objectified substantial existing expression of the moral consciousness of the people or its ruling class. This is the reality of the visible substantial will— or what you see is what you get. Hegel is only describing what is going on in history he is not prescribing but he says a better world is possible as more freedom and a better State is in the future as spirit self-educates. Russell is not warranted in saying Hegel’s views ``justify” tyranny.
5. States are individual entities and relate to one another as individual people do in the hypothetical “state of nature” before any states exist. “Since in this independence the being-for-self of real spirit has its existence, it is the first freedom and highest honour of a people.”
If you are Greek your self-consciousness recognizes this as you enter childhood and discover you speak Greek not Turkish and your culture, values, your whole conscious life is Greek. You find your freedom and choices are predicated on being in this culture. The same happens in all the other cultures and the natural consequence is a pride in being in/of your culture. The negative as well as the positive determines our reality. You are Greek, not Italian, not Turkish etc. Unfortunately, nations, just as individuals, succumb to negative relations and there are wars and conflicts. Hegel thinks the negative and positive are permanent features of reality and so a one united human nation is not possible, there will always be wars.
Since these conflicts are inevitable Hegel tries to put a good spin on it and says at least the wars make us aware of a greater purpose than just our own selfish desires and we can participate in the universal rather than just the particular consciousness. Russell blames Hegel for these sentiments but Hegel is just stating what he thinks the nature of reality is— it is not his fault that the negative exists. No philosophers today are pure Hegelians anyway. Scientific advances make possible an understanding of the causes of war (mostly economic) and it is not impossible that some world organization such as the U.N. could work in the future.
We come now, Russell says to a fundamental point by which to judge Hegel’s philosophy. “Is there more reality, and is there more value in a whole than in its parts?” Hegel says “yes” to both these questions according to Russell and the first is “metaphysical” the second “ethical.” Hegel doesn’t stress this separation but Russell thinks he should have and he will deal with them one at a time.first with the metaphysical.
Hegel thinks every x in the universe is related to every other x in the universe and all the x’s related together make up the universe (=God, the Absolute) and the universe is all that is the case. Russell says Hegel thinks an x alone is less real than the whole of which is part, that it is less true etc— that “nothing is quite real except the whole.” What is Hegel saying? Think of Newton: every bit of matter in the universe attracts every other bit by the law of gravity. The Sun attracts the Earth but the Earth also attracts the Sun. The Sun’s attraction is not ”more real” but we know more about what is going on when we know about both attractions.
Hegel is saying the more we know about x and its Interconnections the more we know about the other x’s it is related to and etc., the more we also know about the whole. Statements are not “more true” as a result, they are just more comprehensive. I don’t think of this as particularly “metaphysical” in any negative sense.
Next, Russell turns to value with respect to the whole and parts. Hegel’s theory of the State is the paradigm.
“The real question we have to ask in connection with Hegel is…whether the state is good per se , as an end: do citizens exist for the sake of the State or the State for the sake of the citizens? Hegel holds the former view; the liberal philosophy that comes from Locke holds the latter.”
This is too simple and undialectical, as was discussed above. No man is an island. The relation is one of codependency. Locke’s State existed not for the sake of the citizens but for the sake of the protection of private property. The State would sanction the killing of the poor if they tried to seize private property in order to live. Hegel’s State would sanction just the opposite - so whose State cares more about its citizens? This is a case of the right of private property versus the right to life. This is thoroughly discussed in D. Losurdo”s Hegel and the Freedom of Moderns where it is concluded that “”Hegel’s superiority, or greater modernity, becomes evident when compared to the liberal tradition.``
In the last part of his chapter on Hegel, Russell gets down to brass tacts. The real issue is which kind of philosophy should one use to try and understand things— one like Hegel’s or one favored by Russell which he denominates as “Analysis”— analytic philosophy or philosophical analysis, logical analysis. He takes an example from Smuts to explain Hegel’s philosophy at work. [Jan Smuts 1870-1950 was a philosopher (psychologist) who wrote Holism and Evolution and a major racist segregationist political and military leader in South Africa just before full apartheid was enacted in1948. He was one of the founders of the British Commonwealth, League of Nations and the United Nations. In 1925 W.E.B. DuBois said of him “Jan Smuts is today, in his world aspects, the greatest protagonist of the white race.” That’s Joe Biden’s job today as the leader of Euro-American world hegemony.]
Russell: “Suppose I say ‘John is the father of James.’ Hegel and all who believe in what [Field]Marshal Smuts calls ‘Holism,’ will say: ‘Before you can understand this statement, you must know who John and James are.’” This requires that you know everything about them, their ages, marital status, who their relatives are, their preferences in food. what planet they are on, etc., and all those things all those other things relate to and “you will be led to take into account the whole universe.” In the end your statement is not about John and James but the universe. Russell says, “If the above argument were sound, how could knowledge ever begin.”
First, the above was not an argument, it was a claim about Hegel et al. Second, I don’t know about Smuts, but Hegel would not say you have to begin with this knowledge of the universe, but since everything is related to everything else if you begin with “John is the father of James” (which Hegel would understand immediately) and you keep going asking questions you will end up (in theory but not in real time—it would take to long) with the universe. So this claim about Hegel is bogus. The remaining two paragraphs of the article, devoted to refuting this bogus Hegelian position can be skipped in so far as they concern Hegel. You can read them to see how Russell does analysis.
Finally, what is living in Hegel’s philosophy has been sublated into Marxist theory, especially the dialectic and lives on as Dialectical Materialism. The purpose of reading Hegel today is because we think he has many important insights that we need to think about unlike Russell who, it seems, would have been happy to commit his works to the flames.
This article is a prelude to Russel’s chapter in HWP on Karl Marx.
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. He is the author of Reading the Classical Texts of Marxism.
Thirty years ago today, the leader of the Grenadian Revolution, Maurice Bishop, was gunned down by his own comrades, the result of a disastrous split within the governing New Jewel Movement.
There are many stones still to be unturned in connection with the revolution’s collapse and the anti-popular coup that paved the way for US invasion, but it’s clear that the movement fell victim to the sectarianism, dogmatism and individualism that emerge with frustrating frequency on the left. Combined with the systematic campaign of destabilisation and psychological warfare waged by the US, these factors led to the destruction of one of the most promising political processes of the latter part of the 20th century.
Maurice Bishop was a popular, creative and intelligent revolutionary, with an intuitive grasp of where the masses were at. The clear leader of the Grenadian Revolution of 1979 that overthrew the corrupt and pro-imperialist administration of Eric Gairy, Bishop was a brilliant communicator, and his mutual empathy with the masses of the people was one of the major driving forces of the revolution – not unlike the relationship between Fidel and the Cuban people, or Chávez and Venezuelan people. In many ways, Bishop could be considered as the Hugo Chávez of his time. The Cuban government’s statement on the day after his death sums him up nicely:
“Bishop was one of the political leaders best liked and most respected by our people because of his talent, modesty, sincerity, revolutionary honesty and proven friendship with our country.”
In addition to leading the fight for economic, political, social, racial, gender and cultural justice in Grenada; and in addition to working tirelessly to improve the lot of ordinary Grenadian people; Bishop was also a great friend to the socialist and anti-imperialist world. Fidel Castro saw him as a true brother and comrade, and Cuba embraced Grenada whole-heartedly, giving desperately-needed aid and expertise. Grenada built up close relations with (Sandinista) Nicaragua, the Soviet Union, Vietnam, East Germany, DPR Korea, Mozambique, Libya and Syria. Grenada also became a pole of attraction for black power activists from the US. Little wonder it was considered such a threat by the forces of imperialism. An example had to made of the first English-speaking country in the western hemisphere to walk the road of socialism.
Hugh O’Shaughnessy writes: “[Washington’s] rage reached paranoiac proportions when Grenada started close co-operation with Cuba and the USSR. Grenada’s action challenged the hegemony that Washington was expecting to extend throughout the Caribbean after the withdrawal of the British who had dominated it for two centuries.” (‘Grenada – Revolution, Invasion and Aftermath’)
The arrest and murder of Bishop and his close comrades by members of the Grenadian armed forces created a favourable context for the US to enact its invasion plans, which had been “nursed in secret at the State Department and the Pentagon for four and a half years” (O’Shaughnessy). The assassination was carried out by army officers acting under the instructions of the NJM faction centred around Bernard Coard. This group considered itself the ‘Marxist-Leninist’ trend to counter Bishop’s ‘petit bourgeois’ trend; however, its supposedly revolutionary actions were to set Grenada back by decades.
Fidel commented on this issue in some detail at the time:
“Today no one can yet say whether those who used the dagger of division and internal confrontation did so motu proprio or were inspired and egged on by imperialism. It is something that could have been done by the CIA – and, if somebody else was responsible, the CIA could not have done it any better. The fact is that allegedly revolutionary arguments were used, invoking the purest principles of Marxism-Leninism and charging Bishop with practising a personality-cult and drawing away from the Leninist norms and methods of leadership. In our view, nothing could be more absurd than to attribute such tendencies to Bishop. It was impossible to imagine anyone more noble, modest and unselfish. He could never have been guilty of being authoritarian; if he had any defect, it was his excessive tolerance and trust. In our view, Coard’s group objectively destroyed the Revolution and opened the door to imperialist aggression … Look at the history of the revolutionary movement, and you will find more than one connection between imperialism and those who take positions that appear to be on the extreme left.”
The Cuban government’s statement of 20 October 1983 predicted: “Now imperialism will try to use this tragedy and the serious mistakes made by the Grenadian revolutionaries to sweep away the revolutionary process in Grenada and place the country under imperial and neocolonialist rule once again.”
A week later, this prediction was proven painfully correct, as Reagan sent tens of thousands of troops to ensure that the Grenadian Revolution was comprehensively wiped out.
There is much research still to be done on the Grenadian Revolution, and many lessons to be learned. Such lessons are all the more relevant in today’s context of several Latin American and Caribbean countries pursuing their own roads to socialism. The US and their allies would love to do to Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Ecuador, Uruguay, Brazil and Argentina what they did to Grenada. Destabilisation continues in a thousand different ways.
Meanwhile, the successes of Grenadian socialism – even if short-lived – continue to inspire progressive people around the world. The legacy of Maurice Bishop and the New Jewel Movement must be kept alive.
What follows is a selection of interesting quotes from Bishop, sourced from:
On the danger of Grenada’s example
“We are obviously no threat to America. Nor is Cuba for that matter. I think Washington fears that we could set an example for the rest of the region if our Revolution succeeds. In the Caribbean region you’re talking about small countries with small populations and limited resources, countries that over the years have been classic examples of neo-capitalist dependencies. Now you have these new governments like Nicaragua and Grenada that are attempting a different experiment. They are no longer looking at development as how many hotels you have on the beach but in terms of what benefits people get. How many have jobs? How many are being fed, housed, and clothed? How many of the children receive education? We certainly believe in Grenada that the people of the English-speaking Caribbean want to see an experiment like that succeed. They want to see what we are trying to build come about. America understands that and obviously if we are able to succeed where previous governments following different models failed, that would be very, very subversive.”
On revolutionary spirit and vigilance
“Revolutionaries do not have the right to be cowards. We have to stand up to fight for our country because, the country is ours. It does not belong to anybody else”
On propaganda, education, cultural imperialism and decolonisation
“We hold the truth itself to be revolutionary and we shall stand firm by its side.”
On free speech, human rights and democracy
“There are those (some of them our friends) who believe that you cannot have a democracy unless there is a situation where every five years, and for five seconds in those five years, a people are allowed to put an ‘X’ next to some candidate’s name, and for those five seconds in those five years they become democrats, and for the remainder of the time, four years and 364 days, they return to being non-people without the right to say anything to their government, without any right to be involved in running their country.”
“Destabilisation is the name given to the most recently developed (or newest) method of controlling and exploiting the lives and resources of a country and its people by a bigger and more powerful country through bullying, intimidation and violence. In the old days, such countries – the colonialist and imperialist powers – sent in gunboats or marines to directly take over the country by sheer force. Later on mercenaries were often used in place of soldiers, navy and marines. Today, more and more the new weapon and the new menace is destabilization. This method was used against a number of Caribbean and Third World countries in the 1960s, and also against Jamaica and Guyana in the 1970s. Now, as we predicted, it has come to Grenada. Destabilisation takes many forms – there is propaganda destabilization, when the foreign media, and sometimes our own Caribbean press, prints lies and distortions against us; there is economic destabilization, when our trade and our industries are sabotaged and disrupted; and there is violent destabilization, criminal acts of death and destruction… As we show the world – clearly and unflinchingly – that we intend to remain free and independent; that we intend to consolidate and strengthen the principles and goals of our revolution; as we show this to the world, there will be attacks on us.”
“Grenada is a sovereign and independent country, although a tiny speck on the world map, and we expect all countries to strictly respect our independence just as we will respect theirs. No country has the right to tell us what to do or how to run our country or who to be friendly with. We certainly would not attempt to tell any other country what to do. We are not in anybody’s backyard, and we are definitely not for sale. Anybody who thinks they can bully us or threaten us clearly has no understanding, idea, or clue as to what material we are made of. They clearly have no idea of the tremendous struggles which our people have fought over the past seven years. Though small and poor, we are proud and determined. We would sooner give up our lives before we compromise, sell out, or betray our sovereignty, our independence, our integrity, our manhood, and the right of our people to national self-determination and social progress.”
On Chile and the hypocrisy of imperialism
“Has Reagan ever been interested in elections and democracy? When did Reagan ever call on Haiti to hold elections? When did Reagan ever call on the butcher Pinochet in Chile or on South Korea to hold elections? Is he calling upon racist South Africa to hold elections? No! Even when Allende in Chile had in fact won power through elections what did the American President – Nixon at the time do? Nixon, Kissinger and Helms sat down the night after Allende won the elections in September 1970 and they worked out their plan of aggression and destabilisation against President Allende. Allende didn’t say no more elections. He didn’t arm working people to try to close down the reactionary paper El Mercurio as he should have done. Allende relied on the parliamentary form that they wanted him to rely on. But because he was a socialist and was independent and was bringing benefits and justice to his people, the American elite went out of their way to crush him ruthlessly. And the criminal they put into power has yet to be told by the so-called democratic United States to call an election.”
On the role of repression under socialism
“All revolutions involve temporary dislocations and, for a period, it is always necessary to restrain the abuses and excesses of a violent or disruptive minority in the interests of consolidating the revolution and bringing concrete benefits to the long-suffering and formerly oppressed majority.”
On the long path towards socialism
“It took several hundred years for feudalism to be finally wiped out and capitalism to emerge as the new dominant mode of production and it will take several hundred years for capitalism to be finally wiped out before socialism becomes the new dominant mode.”
Carlos Martinez is the author of The End of the Beginning: Lessons of the Soviet Collapse, co-founder of No Cold War and co-editor of Friends of Socialist China. He also runs the blog Invent the Future.
This article was republished from Invent the Future.
The rich nations of the group of seven are intent on maintaining their collective interest as world powers at the expense of the global South. Pretending otherwise doesn’t stand up to scrutiny, writes CARLOS MARTINEZ
The stunning hubris and hypocrisy of the imperialist powers was on full display in Hiroshima last weekend, with the G7 condemning China for a “disturbing rise” in its “weaponisation of economic vulnerabilities.”
Coercion is, after all, at the heart of what unites the countries of the G7 — a for-us-by-us club of rich nations with a collective interest in maintaining their place at the top of the geopolitical pyramid.
Each member state built its wealth to a significant degree on the basis of colonialism and the exploitation of the land, labour, resources and markets of the global South.
That the G7’s role in global affairs is to bolster the US-led so-called “international rules-based order” is amply confirmed by the 2014 exclusion of Russia following its intervention in Crimea.
Why wasn’t such an extraordinary measure taken in response to the illegal and genocidal war on Iraq? Or in response to the war of regime change against Muammar Gadaffi, during which Nato countries bombed Libya into the stone age?
Any thinking person can understand the basis of this double standard: that G7 membership is predicated on an acceptance of the US-led imperialist system.
The US is the global champion of economic coercion
The G7 states are all involved in multiple forms of economic coercion, and thus to accuse China of doing so is hypocritical in the extreme.
All G7 member states are currently imposing illegal, unilateral sanctions on Russia and Belarus. The US is applying unilateral sanctions against China, North Korea, Iran, Syria, Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Eritrea, Zimbabwe and many other countries.
It is a sanctions superpower, “by far the world’s biggest deployer of unilateral coercive measures,” in the words of Columbia University economist Jeffrey Sachs.
According to the US Department of the Treasury’s 2021 Sanctions Review, sanctions designations have increased by a factor of 10 in the period from 2000.
The US imposes unilateral economic sanctions on nearly 40 countries, affecting literally billions of people.
Extraterritoriality and long-arm jurisdiction are used liberally by the US in order to inflict punishment on Iran, Venezuela, Russia and others.
It would be difficult to imagine a more flagrant example of economic coercion than the Helms-Burton Act, under which the US can penalise any company or country that doesn’t comply with its inhumane blockade of Cuba.
These sanctions have no legitimate basis in international law; they are only enforceable to the extent that the US has sufficient economic and military strength to enforce them. That is to say, the US is an international bully and a rogue state.
Furthermore, Western banks and Western-dominated multilateral lending institutions have a long history of issuing predatory loans, with conditions of privatisation and brutal austerity.
China a victim of economic coercion
China is not a perpetrator but a victim of economic coercion. What is the Trump-Biden trade war against China other than an attempt to use tariffs, sanctions, threats and penalties in order to contain China’s development; in order to force China’s government and companies to change their behaviour in order to better serve the interests of US capitalism rather than the Chinese people?
In an attempt to maintain a stranglehold on advanced semi-conductor technology, the Biden administration is implementing a full-spectrum strategy to prevent China from accessing chips made in the US or incorporating US intellectual property.
British economist Michael Roberts described the CHIPS and Science Act, signed into law by Biden in August 2022, as “the next stage in a series of measures to weaken China’s tech capabilities and global influence,” to “crush China’s tech advancement.”
Martin Wolf wrote in the Financial Times that the aim of the chip war “is clearly to slow China’s economic development” and that the CHIPS and Science Act is an “act of economic warfare.”
A notable absurdity here is that Taiwan, a region of China, is forced to comply with the US sanctions regime, and therefore Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) — the world’s biggest semi-conductor manufacturer — has been forced to stop its exports to the companies on the US Entity List, including Huawei.
Meanwhile, disgruntled at China’s lead in the renewable energy sector, and under the pretext of slander about human rights abuses, the Biden administration has imposed sweeping sanctions on Chinese-manufactured solar energy materials.
This is peak capitalist dystopia, combining economic coercion, propaganda war and ecocide.
Debt trap debunked
It has become fashionable in recent years for Western politicians to accuse China of luring African and Latin American countries into a “debt trap.”
Such accusations are another part of a broader anti-China vilification campaign and have been easily disproved.
Even the most recent edition of the Economist noted that “this criticism is largely unfair” and that in fact “China has financed roads, ports, railways and other needed infrastructure, when private lenders and other countries were often unwilling to do so.”
Tim Jones, head of policy at the charity Debt Justice, said recently: “Western leaders blame China for debt crises in Africa, but this is a distraction. The truth is their own banks, asset managers and oil traders are far more responsible but the G7 are letting them off the hook. China took part in the G20’s debt suspension scheme during the pandemic, private lenders did not.”
China is a major source of finance to developing world countries, but unlike the West, China does not impose loan conditions of austerity and privatisation; its interest rates are typically around half those of Western banks; and it tends to be far more flexible in relation to renegotiation, restructuring and debt relief.
What’s more, the bulk of China’s loans are used to address the infrastructure gap in the developing world. Writing about Chinese lending to Africa, Johns Hopkins University researcher Deborah Brautigam has noted that Chinese loans are “performing a useful service: financing Africa’s serious infrastructure gap.
“On a continent where over 600 million Africans have no access to electricity, 40 per cent of the Chinese loans paid for power generation and transmission. Another 30 per cent went to modernising Africa’s crumbling transport infrastructure.”
Economic coercion this is not.
“Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.” The G7 would do well to address its own shocking record of economic coercion before pointing fingers at China.
Carlos Martinez is the author of the newly launched book The East is Still Red – Chinese Socialism in the 21st Century (Praxis Press).
This article was republished from Morning Star.
Aymeric Monville, French philosopher, director of the Les éditions Delga publishing house in Paris, deputy editor-in-chief of La Pensée magazine, in an interview with the Pravda correspondent in Western Europe, Andrei Dultsev, about the problems of perception of the historical and theoretical legacy of J.V. Stalin in Western European historiography.
Andrei Dultsev [AD]: You have just published a book about Stalin, And For a Few More Canards: Counter-inquiry on Stalin and the Soviet Union. What do you think is the problem of the perception of Stalin in the West today?
Aymeric Monville [AM]: In the West, historical analysis, if you can call it that, is based on a comparison of Hitler and Stalin, which is necessary above all to justify Western democracy. The vision of World War II is based on the fact that an objective collusion between Western capitalism and Nazism, which are in fact two sides of the same economic formation at different stages of political development, is being pushed into the background, and the term ‘totalitarianism, itself ill-founded, is used as a propaganda and ideological tool to show that Nazi Germany and “Stalinism” are the main threats to the society of Western values’.
With my book, I want to return the Marxist view of things to the public space. That is, a conspiracy between Western democracies and Nazism, the perception of which suffered in the West under the influence of the ferocious anti-communism of the post-war era, which was also implanted in France, which is the weakest link in the political structure of the West. After all, France is the country of the Commune, a country of a very strong workers’ movement, a country where (along with Italy) there was the most powerful Communist Party outside the socialist community. Therefore, it is interesting to analyse the development of the vision of the USSR and the Stalin era here.
The Black Book of Communism, which was imposed on us, received extremely negative international reviews from the scientific community, due to its intellectual fatuousness. But it was in France that this book was written, to begin to change
the way things are viewed in the scientific community.
If in the countries of Latin America there is a coup d’état and the coming to power of a military junta, then universities are surrounded by tanks and professors are killed. But in France Marxists are tolerated even in universities. Here there is a different revolutionary tradition, which some time ago was once again confirmed by the example of the movement of ‘yellow vests’; therefore intellectuals are waging a fierce struggle, trying to change minds by ‘soft methods”, from within.
This intellectual battle for minds is being waged by the infantile method of demonising such an ordinary phenomenon as the cult of personality’; and, judging by the result, this method has so far been effective in deforming consciousness.
Demonisation is part of the construction of a picture of the apocalypse, with Stalin as a ‘red tyrant’ and Katyn executioner. In fact, all this serves anti-Soviet propaganda, denigrating the USSR and deepening modern Russophobia. It is here that the friendly attitude of the French people towards the Soviet people, their gratitude, is a lump in the throat of anti-communists of all stripes, because, as Maurice Thorez once said, “France will never enter a war against the USSR.” This statement by Thorez is primarily associated with the sacrifices made by the Soviet people on the altar of victory in the struggle for the liberation of Europe from fascism.
When the representative of the Russian Federation was not invited to the May 8 celebration in France last year, the memory of the Soviet feat, the memory of the 27 million victims of the Soviet people in this massacre unleashed by Hitlerite Germany, was spat upon for the first time. The demonisation of Stalin certainly contributes to the whipping up of this hysteria. This is reflected in the results of opinion polls: while, at the end of the war, the majority of French people were convinced that it was the Soviet Union that played a decisive role in the defeat of Nazism, today the situation is the opposite – most people believe that the United States won the war.
This is first of all a consequence of the influence of Hollywood. American films have led the population here to believe that it was the United States who came to liberate France, when in fact they came to impose Operation Overlord, which aimed to make France a vassal of the United States. We owe our relative independence to the strong Communist Party, which actively participated in the struggle against the German fascist occupation.
It should also be noted that it was General de Gaulle (few people mention this fact, since they usually write only about his merits) who ordered the destruction of the chapel at Fort Mont-Valérien near Paris, where many Resistance fighters were shot [the walls were demolished, the crypt was preserved -AD]. On the walls of the chapel, the Resistance fighters wrote before their execution: “Long live Stalin!” For General de Gaulle, this was a thorn in the eye, because it became obvious that the role of the communists in the Resistance movement was overwhelming and the traces of this memory had to be erased.
AD: Although in the municipalities where the communists remained in power in the post-war years, both squares and boulevards with the name “Stalingrad’ have been preserved ….
AM: Undoubtedly, Khrushchev’s report at the XX Congress of the CPSU influenced the French Communist Party.
Nevertheless, the PCF remained a party that did not immediately recognise those parts of the report that seemed simply insane (for example, that the USSR was allegedly not ready for war). The French communists refused to renounce Stalin. But in the end, revisionism won out, and today it is very strong. For real communists, the issue has not been resolved.
I will cite as an example a collaboration with the wonderful writer, Domenico Losurdo, which is very important for me. I translated Losurdo’s works from Italian into French and facilitated the translation of his books into other European languages, and this is where I ran into censorship. As long as Losurdo criticised liberalism, he was published, including in English publishing houses. Criticism of liberalism is perfectly permitted.
But as soon as he came out in defence of real socialism, even China, the British stopped publishing him. This is censorship. It’s not even a matter of the author’s personality, but the fact that a certain theme is rejected – Lenin’s thinking and a clear orientation towards socialism as a social model. Leftists refer to all sorts of Trotskyist stereotypes – “party bureaucracy” etc – but just don’t talk about the construction of real socialism.
AD: As a member of the Honecker Committee on the Affairs of Political Prisoners – the leaders of the former German Democratic Republic who were persecuted in the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) after the collapse of the Wall – do you think that this battle against Stalin, which is being waged by the European pseudo-leftists (Greens. Social Democrats, the ARTE channel), is a continuation of the historical revisionism to revise the results of the Second World War, initiated by historians and politicians of the FRG?
AM: The best example of this is the ARTE channel’s documentary about Katyn, where authoritative European historians in all seriousness rely on the documents transferred to Poland by Yeltsin, on which in 1940 instead of VKP(b)” was written “CPSU”, which testifies to the grossest historical fake. The same is the case with the Mednoye memorial complex, where 6,000 shot Poles were allegedly buried, but whose bodies were never found. Unfortunately, only historians are aware of these inconsistencies.
But, far worse than these historical disputes, the film does not recognise the real borders of modern Poland. It is wrong to say that Stalin ‘invaded Poland after the German-Soviet pact. These were the Belarussian and Ukrainian lands captured by the Poles after the Civil War in Russia. The problem of Poland’s borders is important for the Germans. This means that for the Germans Poland should be pushed to the east, so Germany could lay claim to the territory of today’s western Poland, which would open the door for the new Drang nach Osten [Drive to the East].
One can, of course, argue that current politicians do not know history and are not interested in it, but I think that this is sometimes a trick, because among them there are those who know it very well. I think that responsible politicians knew what they were doing on 22 June 2021, when Europe announced sanctions against Belarus. Considering the brazen financing of Nazi movements in Ukraine, one can safely assert there are plans for a new ‘fourth Reich’, hence solidarity with the German communists is urgently needed. We see the extent to which the German Communist Party (DKP) is persecuted, and the same applies to Junge Welt, which for me, like Pravda, is the standard of Marxist thought today. But Junge Welt in Germany is actually under threat of extinction.
Last year, even the Association of Victims of the Nazi Regime was attacked in Germany under the pretext of “extremism.” Undoubtedly, our creation of the Honecker Committee in France was symbolic, because it was this communist that the West German authorities imprisoned in the early 1990s in the same Moabit prison in which the Nazis threw him in the 1930s. West German justice knew perfectly well what it was doing. We must defend communists everywhere, all over the world in the face of anti-communist repression.
AD: One of the books that came out recently in your publishing house is a book by Italian historians Daniele Burgio, Massimo Leoni and Roberto Sidoli about Trotsky’s collusion with the Nazis, about previously unknown documents of the second ‘Moscow trial’ (against Pyatakov and Radek).
AM. This book seems to me absolutely necessary, because it talks about the second ‘Moscow trial’ in January 1937 and provides irrefutable evidence of the collaboration of Trotsky and the Trotskyist centre in the USSR with the Nazis. I insist on the word “irrefutable”, given that Khrushchev’s report cast doubt on this entire period.
Undoubtedly, the period of party purges had its dark spots, but it is necessary to distinguish between the activities of the People’s Commissar Yezhov and ‘Yezhovism’ and the Moscow trials. The problem is that “Yezhovism”, and later the very report of Khrushchev at the XX Congress, defamed the “Moscow trials”: this term has become in Europe a synonym for a falsifed trial.
Through this publication, I want to demonstrate that the second “Moscow trial”, in particular, was justified. This is confirmed by the state of the sources of the case, which cannot be denied; this is the problem of Trotsky’s archives, which the inconsistency of his texts of that period, his statements before the Dewey Commission. The book carefully compiles Trotsky’s lapses, his previously unknown letters that were found in the archives which prove, for example, that he was in con tact with Radek, although both denied this,
The main subject of the investigation of the historians was the secret flight of Yuri Pyatakov to Trotsky in Oslo in December, 1935. We have all the evidence that the Norwegian authorities lied by denying it. To meet with Trotsky, Pyatakov took advantage of an official mission: in December 1935, he flew to Berlin on the instructions of the Party in order to search for suppliers of industrial goods (after the Nazis came to power, economic relations between the USSR and Germany which at the end of the 1920s were more than intense, and remained so for some time). Then, from Berlin, Pyatakov flew to Oslo lo see Trotsky for a one-day meeting, which could not be done without the complicity of the German authorities, who gave him a visa.
The question is, rather, why did Pyatakoy undertake such an action, knowing that he was under the supervision of the Soviet embassy? Because Trotsky presented him with the fait accompli of an alliance with the Nazis. And because Pyatakov decided to meet with Trotsky at any cost and with such a risk, since from their point of view there was a possibility of a coup d’état in the USSR.
AD: Do you agree that behind the attack on Stalin lies an attack on anti-fascism and the ideas of socialism in general?
AM: Further in 1939, Trotsky took a position in support of the independence of Ukraine, publishing four articles in which he passionately stood for it, supporting nationalists and knowing full well that Ukraine was the key for the Germans to the Caucasus and the oil rigs of Baku. These facts must be matched with the positions of today’s Trotskyists and Western leftists. Being anti-Stalinists, and following Trotsky’s line, they side with the social democrats in defending the European Union.
Take, for example, the Dimitrov trial in Nazi Germany in the face of absolute lawlessness and the Nazi terrorist regime, Dimitrov courageously defended himself, and Goering could not prove anything against him. So why did Pyatakov and Radek, who had all the means of defence, in the face of socialist democratic justice, not do something like this?
Of course, the Stalinist period is controversial, but considering it, one must understand that Stalin was a man endowed with the greatest political responsibility for the fate of the world in the twentieth century. Yes, Stalin is a man of contrasts, who sometimes had to make difficult political choices. But it is a shame that the books of this ‘wonderful Georgian’, as Lenin called him, are not being published in Europe today.
AD: In your book A Few More Canards you also return to the real number of repressions in the USSR, rejecting the nonsense about “hundreds of millions murdered”. To what extent is your book capable of making a breakthrough in changing the balance of power in the battle for historical truth?
AM: I like to participate in debates using the slightest opportunity and platform. But given the West’s strategy against the USSR and Stalin, I have little hope. In the case of our new book, Pyatakov’s Flight, we prove to our opponents the historical correctness of the Moscow trials. Moreover, if you familiarise yourself with the materials of those trials, you will see that such an amount of evidence is impossible to fake.
However, what, in fact, to prove? If in December 1935 Trotsky boasted that Pyatakov had come to him in Norway, then later Trotsky perjured himself before the Dewey Commission in saying that he, while in Norway, fell on skis and could not meet with anyone. Yes, there was a fall, but it happened ten days later, after Pyatakov’s visit. We also proved the inconsistency of the reports of the Oslo airport, where the words “not a single foreign plane arrived” were played up. But Pyatakov flew in from Berlin on a Norwegian plane.
Further: Trotsky’s diary up to 1935 has been published, but his notes of the last years of his life were never published…. We are pleased to disclose all these facts. Our main task is to restore historical justice with an approach open even to non-Marxists. I believe that in the long run, we will prevail.
AM: At the same time, Stalin’s texts are extremely important and modern: it is necessary to study his works on linguistics, on the national question, on the problems of socialism in the USSR. It is necessary to study Stalin precisely as a theoretician. I read the book by Viktor Trushkov, Stalin as a Theorist, with great interest and I have great respect for the tremendous work he has done.
In France, we are far from this, we must first study the historical role of Stalin, understand the organisation of the Land of Soviets, the architecture of the economic breakthrough of the first five-year plans, the role of market mechanisms in the transition from capitalism to socialism. This is all part of the analysis we need in France.
AD: This year in France Hitler’s book Mein Kampf was republished, with commentaries by historians, in a circulation of 55,000 copies, which is a record today. At the same time, no one publishes Stalin’s works, and Lenin and Marx are extremely rare on the shelves ….
AM: In les Éditions Delga we do not publish the classics of Marxism-Leninism, this is not our format, but we are going to publish, for example, the transcripts of the “Moscow trials” in order to expose the lie in the West that they were falsified. Many people here have a false opinion that, after the assassination of Kirov, Stalin, like a crazy tyrant, pressed all buttons on all floors. That’s bullshit.
AD: Why is Stalin the first target for anti-communists of all stripes?
AM: Jean-Paul Sartre once said that, after the Hungarian events of 1956, the bourgeoisie breathed a sigh of relief: they found something to criticise behind the Iron Curtain”. Until 1956, the bourgeoisie was constantly under attack unilaterally due to the injustice of capitalist society, its internal disorder, and in 1956 they saw that a conflict was brewing within the socialist bloc – and they played this card. This is the whole tragedy of the XX Congress.
For the bourgeoisie, after the war, Stalin became a kind of monolith that had to be destroyed at any cost. They promoted tales of the horrors of the Gulag to justify their own crimes – while the Soviet penitentiary system based on re-education, in which there were libraries, independent activities of prisoners and treatment (the same Solzhenitsyn was cured of cancer), is incomparable with the Nazi death camps, in which lampshades were covered with human skin.
In the same way, it is wrong to call Stalin the red tsar – he never was, he remained until the end of his days a Bolshevik. a Leninist. Stalin is a collective image of what the anti-communists cannot accept. The Soviet experience, Stalin, and to some extent the success of today’s China, are causing headaches for the capitalists. For them, this is an incomprehensible matrix. They are unable to comprehend the reasons for the economic and military miracle of the Stalinist USSR. Hatred of Stalin gives us Marxist Leninists the key to realising the hatred of the imperialists for any form of social organisation more modern than capitalism.
Interview published in Russian in Pravda No 140 (31200). 21-22 December 2021, and available online at https://tinyurl.com/2p9xhk6f.
This article was https://tinyurl.com/2p9xhk6fpublished in Communist Review (Britain) Spring 2022, with translation into English by the CR editor, using online facilities. Aymeric Monville’s book, Et pour quelques bobards de plus (And for a Few More Canards) was published by les Éditions Delga in 2020 and 2021 [pbk, 106 pp. €10+ p&p, ISBN: 978-2-37607-189-1] and may be ordered from https://editionsdelga.fr/produit/et-por-quelques-de-bobards-de-plus/.
This article was republished from Marxism-Leninism Today.
Editor’s Note: The following is the transcript of a special live episode of the Working People podcast. It was produced in collaboration with the Action Builder / Action Network team on March 21 in Atlanta, Georgia. In this panel discussion, Max speaks with local organizers about the specific challenges workers in the South face in their workplaces and in their efforts to organize—and how they are finding creative ways to overcome those challenges today. Panelists include: Chris Daniel of the Georgia AFL-CIO; Melanie Barron of the Communications Workers of America / United Campus Workers; and Maurice “Mo” Haskins of the Union of Southern Service Workers.
Mariah Brown: Hi, everyone. Hello. There’s also some seats up here in the front, so you all don’t have to stand. But no pressure, no pressure. Hi, everyone. My name is Mariah Brown. I am the strategic partnerships manager here at Action Network/Action Builder. We want to welcome you all to Build Power Atlanta. So please give yourselves a round of applause. You made it out of rush hour traffic. We appreciate you. [applause]
So, Build Power is where we connect with people in the labor movement, community organizing, who have a vision and goal of building power in their communities. I would like to introduce our executive director, Brian Young. And then, shortly after Brian speaks, we’re going to pass it along to Max, who is our facilitator and host for this evening. And I’m going to give a brief bio on Max before I pass it over to Brian. Max Alvarez is the editor-in-chief of The Real News Network, and he’s also the host of Working People podcast, and the author of the book The Work of Living: Working People Talk About Their Lives and the Year the World Broke. And so, thank you.
Brian Young: Thanks, Mariah. And again, thank you all for coming. As Mariah said, this is Build Power Atlanta. It’s the third. We had DC, New York, Atlanta. Next is Montreal, maybe. So we’re going global with these. These are events, as the title says, about building power. We build technology. For those of you who don’t know, Action Network and Action Builder are the two tool sets. We’re a nonprofit, and we build technology in partnership with users. We all come from the progressive movement. And the idea was always the best way to build tools for the movement is to build it with the movement. So every feature, every piece of technology we’ve ever built, has been guided by organizers and activists. Because in the end, the goal is not to sell technology; we’re a nonprofit. It’s to build power, and we always keep the end goal in mind.
But technology is a tool. They don’t actually do anything. The people using technology are what does something, and getting people together to talk about how to build power is consistent with our mission. We build the tools for the end result. And conversations like this – This is now the third that Max has facilitated for us – Is a way to get people together and start sharing notes, start building community around building power for workers in our economy in the US. So I’ll turn it over quickly. Thank you again for coming, and I look forward to hearing from all of you. [applause]
Maximillian Alvarez: All right. Thank you all so much for being here. It’s really great to be back in Atlanta. I am Max Alvarez. I will be your host for this evening, and we are going to be hosting this panel as a live show of Working People. So a heads up that we will be – [to stagehand] Are we recording already? – Yep, we are recording. So please, before we get rolling, if you could silence your cell phones so we don’t pick it up on the recording. And during the Q&A portion, I want to encourage folks to use the free floating mic so that we can get your question on the recording. If you’re not comfortable being on the recording, please come up to us afterwards, and we’ll be available to chat if you don’t want to talk on the recording.
But thank you again for being here. And without further ado, we can get going. But first, let’s get the energy up. So we’re going to do formal introductions. Everyone’s going to introduce themselves, once we get the episode rolling. But to give some quick shout outs, I wanted to thank the Action Network/Action Builder team. Let’s give it up to them for hosting us. [applause]
[To stagehand] Thank you for running the audio for us. We really, really appreciate it, man over there in the booth. Let’s give it up for the support staff [applause]. And on our incredible panel, we’ve got Melanie from the Communications Workers of America, United Campus Workers. Let’s give it up for Mel. [applause] We’ve got Christopher from the Georgia AFL-CIO. Let’s give it up for Chris. [applause] And we’ve got Mo from the Union of Southern Service Workers. Let’s give it up for Mo. [applause] Alright, so let’s do this. So I’ll hop in with a little live introduction, and then we’ll get rolling into the discussion.
Welcome, everyone, to another special live show of Working People, a podcast about the lives, jobs, dreams, and struggles of the working class today. Brought to you in partnership with In These Times magazine and The Real News Network, produced by Jules Taylor, and made possible by the support of listeners like you.
So I am truly honored to be here with all of y’all here in Atlanta for our third collaborative live show with the great folks at Action Builder/Action Network. We are taking this national. We are going around to different parts of the country, talking to workers and organizers on the frontline to learn more about the struggles that they are engaged in, how they are winning, what we can learn from failures and missteps and setbacks. And, most importantly, what we can all do to better support one another and continue to grow as a labor movement and to continue to make connections with other social movements. And I want to pause on that for a second, because I’d be remiss if I didn’t say, up top, that, speaking for myself and on behalf of The Real News Network, we stand unequivocally with the people of Atlanta, and we condemn the actions taken against the protestors who are trying to stop Cop City here in Atlanta. [applause]
And make no mistake, to everyone listening to this, after the day’s events, this is all of our fight. SWAT murdered tree defender Tortuguita and lied about it. Police raided the six-acre property of the Lakewood Environmental Arts Foundation. Police also raided a peaceful festival, detaining over 30 festival goers and charging over 20 of them with domestic terrorism. Cops are swarming peaceful protesters around the city who are handing out flyers, giving information about Cop City. This is a serious crisis, and we all need to be invested in the fight against it. And I wanted to note that there has been a really positive development on that front. I was very pleased to see that The International Union of Painters and Allied Trades general president Jimmy Williams Jr. actually released a statement condemning the violence against Cop City protesters this week.
I wanted to read a quick passage from Jimmy’s statement, which reads, “The right to speak up and peacefully protest is fundamental to our union and to all working people. Since the protest began, we’ve seen violence; including the death of one protester, as well as dozens of arrests and incredulous charges of domestic terrorism, in some cases, stemming from the Defend the Atlanta Forest Movement. I believe these tactics are designed more to quell dissent and to dissuade working people from exercising their rights to protest and demonstrate than they are to legitimately uphold the law. It has to stop. Our rights as working people must be upheld, and we deserve to live in a society free from police violence.” Shout out to Jimmy and The Painters Union, and I encourage more folks in labor to join this necessary struggle and to speak out openly about it. And what Jimmy says about workers being able to express their rights is obviously what has brought us all here. And the right to not organize in the workplace, but to exercise our free speech, is fundamentally a labor issue.
I am currently wearing one of my two shirts from the United Mine Workers of America, this one featuring a great quote from MWA president Cecil Roberts about how the Constitution gives me the right to stand on a picket line and call a scab a scab. As great and as true as this quote is – The Warrior Met Coal strike in Alabama, as you all know, the longest strike in Alabama’s history, which came to an end or entered a new phase, with workers unconditionally returning to work without securing the contract that they hit the picket line for – Throughout this strike, workers have had their rights to speak stripped. Business-friendly judges have granted injunction after injunction, limiting their abilities to picket, thus curtailing their right to go on strike and to strike effectively. They’re not the only ones. As we covered relentlessly at The Real News and on my podcast, Working People, as I’m sure everyone here knows, railroad workers are among the class of workers who basically don’t have these rights.
We saw what that looked like last year when scab Joe Biden and Congress forced railroad workers back to work, effectively making their ability to strike illegal in late November. So again, this is fundamentally connected to the struggle against Cop City. It is connected to the struggle of workers here in the South, who have historically been really up against it – Both in terms of legal barriers to exercising our rights to extra legal barriers, violent barriers, racist, and sexist barriers, that have made worker organizing, particularly for poor Black and Brown people, incredibly hard, if not next to impossible – But that’s what makes this event so crucial. And what folks here in the South, like you all, like our incredible panelists, what you’re doing is so important. Because folks are banding together and finding creative ways to get around those barriers. We are thinking outside of the structures of laws that were written by racists and that enforce racist and sexist and classist policies.
And I really, really couldn’t be more honored to be joined by this incredible panel of folks, who are going to talk to us about how they – And the folks that they work with – Are doing that, here in the South, on a day-to-day basis. So without further ado, let’s get to the good stuff. I want to start by quickly having our amazing panelists introduce themselves to you, and then we’ll go back around and we’re going to talk more pointedly about how y’all got into organizing and what that looks like. Normally on this show, I get to sit down and talk with workers one-on-one about their backstories, how they came to be the people they are, work the places they work, and what that work entails. We’re doing a condensed version of that with these live shows, focusing specifically on how we got into organizing. So we’re going to do that in the second round. But first, let’s go around the table and introduce ourselves to the good Working People listeners. Melanie, why don’t we start with you?
Melanie Barron: Hi, my name is Melanie Barron. I’m a senior campaign lead with the Communications Workers of America. I work with United Campus Workers. We’re organizing public higher education workers all over the Southeast and increasingly out West as well. [applause]
Chris Daniel: Hello, everyone. I’m Chris Daniel. I work with the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations here in Georgia. Nationwide, we are Democratic Voluntary Federation of 60 National and International Labor Unions, and we represent about 12.5 million working people. Here in Georgia, that number is about 200,000 working people that we represent. So I’m glad to be here and learn more about what everybody’s doing. [applause]
Mo Haskins: Hey, I’m Mo, I’m part of the USSW, The Union of Southern Service Workers. I also have a lot of experience cooking, serving for a decade now; between Zaxby’s, Waffle House, and now working over at EAV. I have a lot of experience in it. I’ve noticed a lot of discrimination, struggles, and abuse, and people taking advantage of workers for a long time. And through USSW, I really see an opportunity to learn and grow. [applause]
Maximillian Alvarez: Hell yeah. We have a real kick-ass panel here, and I am super excited to learn more about you all and the work that you’re doing and that your unions are doing and that the workers that you organize with are doing. Normally on the show, I get to do interviews that start with digging into people’s backstories, how they came to be the people they are, the path that led them to doing the work that they do, and I want to do a shortened version of that, specifically in regards to your organizing history.
So let’s start by going back around the table, and tell us about your own path into organizing. I imagine present company may be excluded, but most of us don’t grow up thinking, I want to be a labor organizer. There’s always an interesting story with how people get into the movement. So tell us a bit about your story, and tell us more about what the day-to-day work of organizing looks like for you. What did you originally think that work would look like? And how has your experience been compared to those expectations?
Melanie Barron: What a question. You are correct that I did not grow up thinking I would be a union organizer. I grew up in Dalton, Georgia, Northwest Georgia, Marjorie Taylor Greene’s district if anybody... I know. It’s very scary. We’re all very scared up there. There’s nobody there that cares about anything. No, it’s not true. There’s a lot of people out there, like me. We don’t have a very strong voice. And so, my path to organizing is long and winding. I’ll shorten it by saying that I graduated from Georgia Southern University in the midst of the recession. There were no jobs at that time. And so, I had the opportunity to go to grad school and I took it, because it paid me real money. It felt like real money at the time, and it was more money than I had ever made, making $17,000 a year as a graduate student.
And once I started working it, I realized how little money that really is, and I ended up taking out a lot of student loans. I really loved what I was doing. I really believed in it. I thought that there was a really important role to play working in a university, and I still deeply believe that. I believe in public education, and I feel that we are not given a fair shake. I started grad school in 2010, learned about my union, United Campus Workers, in 2012, and fell in love with the labor movement.
It is the most beautiful thing to be a part of, and especially where I joined my union at the University of Tennessee, there’s a long history of United Campus workers and people that have been organizing there since the early 2000s, who taught me how to do everything, who taught me the methods that it takes to change the world. And it starts right in your workplace. I became a Superunion member, got involved in a campaign called Tennessee Is Not For Sale, where we defeated our billionaire governor’s attempt to outsource facilities workers across the state. [applause]
That was the campaign that got me hooked, and I was able to join the staff of my local [UCW-CWA Local 3865] and continue to organize and continue to show people those methods in changing the world. And I get to do that now as an organizer with the Communications Workers of America, who’s continued to invest in United Campus Workers and organizing public sector, higher education workers, all across the Southeast. And so, on a day-to-day level, at this point, my life looks like training more and more people to do the work that we do. One of the most challenging parts of organizing in the South, but probably in a lot of parts of the US, is that people don’t know how to do any of this stuff. What do you mean? A petition? What do I do with my petition next? Where do I take it? How do I do...? Wait, will the person that needs the petition, can they get there? Wait, where...?
So there’s a whole series of questions and a whole series of things that you can show other people how to do. And that’s what I do on a day-to-day basis; whether I’m training other union staff who are like me, or I’m training people in the rank and file to do this work as part of their day-to-day life, challenging the boss in day-to-day life. And that rules. So I’m excited to hear from the other panelists. Thanks for the opportunity to be here.
Chris Daniel: Awesome. Well, we have a lot of organizers in the room, I’m sure. And every other week, I have a family member asking me, what in the hell is an organizer? And what do y’all do? And I don’t care how many times I explain what I do, it’s still hard to understand, but I tell them that we do whatever we need to do for working folks. So sometimes that means I’m stuffing envelopes. Sometimes that means I’m calling up 100 affiliates. Sometimes that means I’m talking to rank and file members. It means a lot. But I got into this work from my senior year in college. I really didn’t have a direction in where I wanted to go. I was always interested in what’s going on in the community. And I started with a group called Voices for Working Families, which was convened by Arlene Holt Baker, who was one of the first high-ranking African American females in the AFL-CIO, along with Helen Butler.
Helen came onto my campus, she plucked a few students. She said, look, y’all are going to be leaders here. And she went about and made it her business to train us on how to become a leader in community organizing. We did a lot of work around voting rights during that time. And from there it was a natural progression to start with the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees as an international organizer. I did that for a good while. Long story, I moved to Kenya, came back, did some work with the UAW, and now, I’m excited to be able to be in Georgia at this time. Because we have a tremendous opportunity now to change what the face of the union looks like here in the South. So I’m excited to be here and learn more from our panels and talk to you a little bit more about what’s going on here in Georgia. [applause]
Mo Haskins: So I joined the union while I was working at my current job. I couldn’t get no [inaudible]. It was a weird experience. I never had any experience with unions. I never understood what it meant, but the whole thing was always foreign to me. There have always been bad things said about it. It hurts companies, hurts the economy. It’s bad overall. And it’s people being selfish. Once I joined the USSW specifically, they really showed me that it was a weird concept they’re forcing down your throat, which I always thought was weird. It’s people having power over the workplace. You come in every day, you make all the money every day, you do things your GM can never figure out by themselves. [audience laughter] And it is you working every day, day in day out, sweating, breaking your back, people working like 17-hour shifts, two jobs, and still getting the crumbs.
But yeah, that’s what brought it to me. But when I joined it, I expected to be doing strike after strike. I go from one strike, well, that’s done. Let’s go to another one. Wake up, going to do two this day. But it’s nothing like that actually. [laughter] It’s being down in the dirt every day. It’s talking to workers every single day, whether it’s at Zaxby’s, whether it’s at McDonald’s, whether it’s at your favorite restaurant, gas station worker, healthcare worker, it doesn’t matter. Everyone’s a service worker.
You pass them every day, you probably worked a service job, and it’s inescapable. But somehow, they’ve always been treated like dirt, less than people, machines, a cog in it. And if you’re broken, it feels like you get replaced, but no one understands that you are the machine. Without you, there’s nothing. And that’s really the purpose of worker power that I really appreciate and love.
Maximillian Alvarez: Hell yeah. Well, let’s drill down on some of the stuff that y’all already brought to the table. Because like Mo was saying, there are a lot of challenges and obstacles to organizing – Many of which are the perceptions that we have of ourselves as workers who even deserve to have a say in the workplace, that we deserve better than a $17,000 stipend a year, or that we deserve some regularity with our scheduling instead of having to figure out who’s going to watch our kids, how we’re going to get home, and accepting that we are as worthless as the system teaches us we are.
And that can look different in different sectors. I know in higher ed – Speaking from experience – On top of those other challenges, you have the additional challenges of convincing folks that they are workers in the first place in higher education and that, as such, they deserve the same rights as every other worker. You also have the arms race to try to get grants or try to get jobs or try to get noticed for your work, so you feel competitive with your fellow workers.
So that’s one example of the challenges to the organizing that you’re doing that I want us to dig into here, both to organizing workers in general, beyond the South. What sorts of challenges and obstacles do we face in labor organizing today? And what challenges are we facing in the South specifically? And since we’re fortunate enough to have such an incredible range of folks on this panel, let’s talk about what those challenges look like in different sectors, and then we’ll talk about how we get around them.
Chris Daniel: I’ll start, if y’all don’t mind. I’m talking specifically right now about the Delta flight attendants, the ramp workers, and mechanics that are organizing. And one of the major challenges that we are having right now is how big Delta is and the type of immense wealth that they have to fight our efforts. And the way that we are getting around that, we are creating this type of synergy here in this state where we’re not fighting each other about jurisdictional issues right now. What we’re doing is combining our efforts, and we are moving together on these huge employers like Delta. So the thing that I’m most encouraged about in Georgia and in the South right now is the way that these unions are coming together and forming these multi-union organizing spaces. There’s going to be a lot more of that happening here in the future. We’re going to do a lot more winning; we’re going to kick some butt in that way. [applause]
Maximillian Alvarez: Before we move on – For folks who are listening to this, maybe outside the South – Delta has its hub here for a reason. Could you say a little more about that?
Chris Daniel: Well, a lot of people don’t know. So Delta is the largest employer here in the state. They employ more than 30,000 workers. Pre-pandemic, there were more than 33,000 workers. The type of revenue that they bring into the state is immense. So they have the funds to fight us, but we have the manpower, we have the will, we have the synergy that we’ve created, and we have some really amazing organizers and worker committees that have been developed to kick some ass. [cheering] So we’ve got people power. They may have a little money power, but we’ve got people power. And that’s going to get us where we need to go.
Maximillian Alvarez: Hell yeah.
Melanie Barron: That rules, go Delta. I’m excited to see some of my coworkers in the back of the room, who showed up, who were organizing the campaign. [applause] It is huge, and I hope that all of us, in this city and across the South, participate in that amazing and transformative campaign. To build on what you were saying, part of one of the challenges that working people face in the South – And in many parts of the US, more generally – Is the lack of organization itself. The employers that we’re going up against have unimaginable resources, unimaginable resources compared to the everyday people who are working for them.
And so, the intervention that we are making in United Campus Workers, a lot of the time, is we lack organization as working people, period. We’re completely disparate. We’re not talking to each other. I was at the University of Alabama last night, and one of the things that strikes me about that institution in particular is how separate people are on a day-to-day basis. And it is a college campus, it is a unit, it is a geographic unit. You can walk around and talk to different people, but on a day-to-day basis, people don’t interact. And that’s by design.
So the union that workers there are building functions as this connective tissue to share information, to share struggles that they’re facing on campus; whether it’s people who are teaching college classes and don’t have health insurance, to people who are working in the dining halls or working in residence halls, who make very little money. It varies from campus to campus, but sometimes people are making way less than $10 an hour, very close to that $7.25 line. And so, that’s unacceptable. The amount of challenges that people have to face in their day-to-day life to get by in the US economy is enough to be a huge challenge to organizing.
And then, let’s say somebody gets fired up and wants to do something about it. Where do they go? Who do they call? Often there’s not anything there. What we’re able to do with organizing, outside of the traditional labor framework in the US, is to create a place where people can go and learn the skills and be with their coworkers to organize more. I feel like a broken record about it – And many of us in CWA probably do – But building organization in itself and the lack of organization among working people is the fundamental challenge that we face as the working class.
Maximillian Alvarez: Hell yeah. Let’s give it up. [applause]
Mo Haskins: In the South – Specifically the Black Belt – It’s known for its racism, its sexism. That’s been going on for... Yeah, it’s been existing for as long as the South’s existed. And there’s been laws created since back then that still hold up to this day, laws that are here today – Like the right-to-work law – Laws created to stop the raising of minimum wage. All these are based in racist and sexist origin. And there’s nothing being done about it still. Service workers have been struggling with this for, I don’t even know how long, but there’s always been a fight going on in the South for it, for as long as I can remember, since the origin of civil rights movements and the labor movements. And I’m happy that we, including the USSW, can carry on that fight today.
Maximillian Alvarez: So I want to focus even more on the specific campaigns that y’all are working on, are part of, and how, on a day-to-day level, you are working to get around these major obstacles. Because, Melanie, you said something that we should all take to heart, and Mo as well: even if we play by their rules, those rules are stacked in their favor, for very shitty historical reasons, that are meant to make it harder for us to actually win what we’re trying to win. So we know that, but even if we do play by their rules, they could always change them. And that has happened; we’ve gotten two object lessons in the span of a week.
I also produce this labor segment, occasionally, for Breaking Points, called The Art of Class War. The last episode I did was on legislators in the state of Iowa trying to roll back child labor laws. Here in the South, of course, there was the bombshell story about parts manufacturers for Hyundai and other car manufacturers having child labor. They should be a national scandal. And what does fucking Arkansas do? – Pardon my French – They changed the laws to make it easier for children to go to work, to do more dangerous jobs, to work longer hours. This is how craven the ruling class is in general, but this is also how they’re weaponizing that here at the legislative level in the South on top of that.
Like I said, we’re recording this as a live show of Working People. The episode that is going to be published this week is a panel that I recorded with campus workers, graduate student workers at Duke University, North Carolina, and faculty workers at Rutgers in New Jersey, who were prepared to go on strike as well. The Duke grad student workers played by the rules. Now, the Duke University administration is not only refusing to recognize the union, they are flipping over the chess board, and they are vowing to challenge the National Labor Relations Board 2016 ruling that basically solidified the right of graduate student workers at private universities to unionize. So what Duke is saying is, not only are we not going to recognize you, our graduate student workers, as a union, we don’t believe you have a place at the bargaining table with us. But we’re going to go to the national level and try to rip this right away from grad workers at universities across the country. That is what we’re up against.
But there are signs of incredible hope and struggle and folks who, like y’all, are working around that. One example I would give, before I toss it back to our great panel, last week, I reported at The Real News Network on the five-day march, led by the Coalition of Immokalee Farm Workers in Florida. I don’t know if folks heard about that, but they’re an incredible group that emerged also out of the fact that, for very explicitly racist reasons, farm workers were written out of the National Labor Relations Act a century ago.
So they don’t have a lot of the same rights that other workers do, and that opens the door for hyper-exploitation, especially of migrant workers who can have their immigration status held over them. There’s rampant sexual abuse and harassment in the field, so on and so forth. And yet, this group of workers in Florida that could not band together in formal capacity banded together anyway, and they have managed to get huge corporations like Taco Bell and Walmart to say they will not purchase produce from farms that do not abide by a certain code of conduct that the workers themselves have crafted. [applause]
So they did it again last week; they did a five-day march. They are demanding that other companies that have refused to sign onto that pledge, other companies that have refused to say, we will not source produce from producers and growers where slave labor happens, where rampant abuse and exploitation happens. Those companies have names. They are: Wendy’s. Wendy’s has refused to sign on to this pledge for many, many years; Kroger: Kroger has also refused to sign this pledge. And so, workers, at great risk to themselves and their families, marched five days through the South of Florida to demand that these companies sign that pledge. That’s one example of how we can still use people’s power to work around the racist structures and barriers that are put in our way.
So I want to go back around the table and ask a bit more about the different campaigns that y’all are working on. How, with the Union of Southern Service workers, with campus workers, how you are still harnessing labor organization, people power, infrastructure building, so on and so forth, to make gains, even with all of these ridiculous barriers that are put in your way? So who wants to go first?
Chris Daniel: I’ll take it.
Melanie Barron: Great, take it. There you go.
Chris Daniel: Sounds good. So I’m going to start by saying this: the South got something to say. You’ll hear people say all the time, nothing is happening in labor down in the South, y’all aren’t doing nothing down there. Density is decreasing. It is not labor friendly in the South. But the South got something to say, workers here have something to say. What they don’t tell you about that statistic is that, actually, in the South, membership is growing around – Especially in Georgia – Membership is growing. It’s that the pool of workers is also growing. So density may be decreasing, but that doesn’t mean we’re not growing our numbers. So the South got something to say, people are ready now to organize and get this thing done. And I’m going to go back to it. We are facing immense challenges from folks who don’t think the way that we do.
When I think about this state, in the next couple of years, clean energy jobs will be here. We’ve got electric vehicle plants coming. There are about 13,000 jobs coming in electric vehicles in the next couple of years here. And talking about those challenges that we have, our governor sent a letter during the last election cycle to our congressional delegates in DC, basically telling them, do not negotiate with unions about this new clean energy money that’s coming out. So those are the challenges that we face. We face immense challenges. But what we have – And you talked about it – We have the fact that all of our work connects us. And now, our unions understand that, and they’re taking this challenge on together. So we’re not fighting as one small union against these huge organizations. We’re coming together and doing this thing together.
So what I hope that you take away from my conversation today is that we don’t have to fight these battles alone. One thing that our team is doing right now, we’re reaching out to all of our community allies. Our community allies, they face the same issues. The issues that we face in the communities are the issues that we face in the workplace. So it’s time to create that synergy, together with community and labor, and start to fight these fights together. And that’s what we’re doing at the Georgia AFL-CIO: we are creating spaces where we can connect the community with labor, connect labor with the clergy. We want to make sure that we connect all of these different connective tissues and fight this fight together. So that’s what we’re doing, and that’s how we’re ganging up on the boss.
Maximillian Alvarez: Hell yeah. [applause]
Melanie Barron: In United Campus Workers – For the most part, with very few exceptions – We have no collective bargaining rights, we have no pathway to that unless we change laws, and in some cases, change state constitutions. There’s a whole world of legal barriers. So we’ve been able to organize a union anyway, because a union is an organization made up of people who do things together collectively. One of the main ways around some of the challenges that we face is, like, what are y’all going to do to us? We’re talking about organizing with our First Amendment rights. If you’re going to take that away from us, then we have very big problems as a country, my friends. So we really lean on those rights, and we exercise those rights, in some ways to be able to protect them in the first place, in the political climate that we’re in.
But we also collect dues. Everyone who’s a member of United Campus Workers pays dues through a bank draft system. And with that, we’re able to build a serious resource base with which to fund ongoing organizing all over the place. That’s a really important angle of how we get around it. There’s also all kinds of fun campaigning that you can do, when you don’t necessarily have a lot of legal restrictions that you’ve got to call the legal department about all of the time. Usually, we can march on the boss, or have a picket, or do all kinds of tactics like that, because we’re exercising our rights as people who live in the US. We can do that, and it is effective.
There’s a lot of different campaigns active in United Campus Workers right now. Many places are fighting for a raise in the minimum wage, in particular, to match the real cost of living in our country right now, with the rising cost of living and inflation. So $25 by 2025 is a prevailing demand that’s being expressed in Atlanta, in Arizona, and lots of other places.
We also have grad students who are organizing. There’s a lot of energy in higher education organizing in general around graduate workers, and they’re routinely screwed over all the time. It’s so silly, not even being able to get paid on time. So workers at the University of Virginia this year rang in the new year by getting their paychecks sent to them on time. Workers at the University of Southern Mississippi made sure that they were going to get paid on time in the fall, because the university wanted to make sure that they didn’t. So there’s all kinds of different campaigns happening, and putting people in motion really does work over time. It’s good. [applause]
Mo Haskins: So the USSW really builds itself around being an anti-racist, multiracial union, which, in the South, is a very important thing to have. Honestly, It’s essential. And the five things we do are our five demands, which I really feel like gives us the basics that we deserve: higher pay; a fair schedule; being treated equally; a seat at the table; and very importantly, safety and concern at a workplace. I feel like safety is ignored at the workplace. You know how many times we walk to McDonald’s, you see them get into a fight with someone and right away, it’s McDonald’s. You go into these places and it’s a normalized thing that’s expected of them. They’re ghetto folks though. Doing what ghetto folks do.
[long pause] Sorry, I’ve got some points I have to make sure I get to… And what we do that’s very important is direct action. Instead of going through the NLRB, when we unionize, we prefer to unionize the individual instead of the store. Since you’re in a service industry, odds are their jobs can have a high turnover and you’re going to be working two jobs, at least. And by giving the individual a union, you can create consistency throughout all their jobs, and that’s really important. The way we do this is by worker power. We do have organizers there to help us with the tools that we need, but honestly, it’s the workers with the power.
So we’re out there every day. I’m out there every day. When I’m not working, whenever I’m going by a place, if I see that they’re not being treated the way they need to be, I’ll tell them about it. I’ll tell them they have options. I worked in the industry for almost a decade and I never knew this. I came in there, I worked as hard as I could, I got shitty pay, and then I went home. And I did it over again. That’s how it’s supposed to be. That’s a job. But it’s not right, it’s not right at all.
So I made sure I told people that, and it actually took me a long time to learn that. My good friend, Monica – I love you, Monica – For as long as I’ve been working, she’s been over there telling me, that’s not fair. You shouldn’t be dealing with that. Don’t deal with that. Say something. I’m like, that’s your job. I ain’t trying to get fired, it’s not worth it. Keep doing it. She said it every day, over and over again, for years actually, until it finally clicked to me. Maybe I should say something. So I finally decided to speak up and say something. And it made a difference, my voice was heard. And that’s the thing about it. Closed mouths don’t get fed. If you want something to happen, you gotta make it happen. And I’m happy I figured that out through this.
Chris Daniel: I want to circle back and acknowledge a few campaigns. I know we’ve talked about Delta, and we’ve got some amazing organizers here from the Delta campaign, from AFA, from IAM, as well as the Teamsters. But also, today, we, about 7 different labor unions, went to support our sister, Jennifer Bennett, and the IATSE 798. [applause] Today, we went down to the NLRB to support them as they voted to have their own union. Now, that has been a tremendous fight for them over the past couple of years, and I didn’t want it to get lost in the conversation, that they are now ready to take that next step.
With that being said, while they did vote unanimously for their union, [applause] you know the boss ain’t going to let this thing happen easily, so the boss immediately contested it. But what we do know is that same synergy that you had today, all of the unions are behind you, and we’ll be there fighting along to make sure that this thing happens. So I wanted to prop up that fight.
Maximillian Alvarez: Hell yeah. Give it up one more time. [applause] And I want to be clear that this is a live recording, this is a live show, so we’re playing by those rules. But when we’re talking about certain campaigns or certain actions coming up, we don’t want to put all our goddamn cards on the table. We don’t want to tell the boss everything that we’re doing. So again, if you have questions about that, you can talk to us afterwards, but I don’t want to ask any of our guests to talk about anything that’s going to compromise them or the campaigns, so on and so forth. So I wanted to make that disclaimer.
And speaking of one of the really common threads that I’m hearing from y’all, which again is so exciting, not just for the South, but something that organizers everywhere should learn, is that your enemy does not shape the rules for you to play so that you can win easier; they do it for the opposite reason. And so, if you keep playing by those rules, there’s only going to be so much that you can do. But there actually can be real moments of liberation and creativity and exciting power when we start looking beyond those restrictive protocols for, say, organizing a union in a single shop, or, how are we going to get this worker who’s having their wages stolen from them their wages back?
I would point people to connect this across the continent, one of the most exciting labor stories that we’ve reported on at The Real News in the past year is by a group called the Naujawan Support Network in Toronto. Has anyone heard of them by any chance? They kick ass. Go Google them. They’re doing what y’all are doing in a really exciting way, because these are primarily Punjabi immigrant student workers in – [cheering] Hell yeah.
…In Canada, because of their student visas, they can only work, say, 20 hours a week. But they’re working to not only live in Toronto, but send money back home. And so, because of their immigration status, because of the restrictions on how much they can work, they are a rife for hyper-exploitation, which happens all the time in Toronto, which is very sad and infuriating. But like you said, individually, they have no power. And even as a workforce, they don’t have a whole lot of power, because the hammer can come down on them, they can get deported. There’s so much at stake, and the bosses know that. And they’ve been exploiting that. And they also can’t unionize because of their immigration status.
So what do they do? They essentially turn the community into a union, and they have grandmas, aunts, uncles, kids marching with them on the boss en masse, with signs saying, this guy’s a wage thief. They’re publicly shaming, they are adopting tactics that the farmers in India used when they launched the most massive worker mobilization in the modern era. And they’re taking that to Toronto, and it’s working. The bosses don’t like being called out in their neighborhoods and having their neighbors see the chalk written in front of their house saying, this guy’s a wage thief. So I’m not saying you necessarily have to do that, but that people across the working class are figuring this stuff out. And it’s very exciting to be amidst others like you all here, who are doing that as well.
And I wanted us to round out on that point, before we open it up to Q&A, because like the other live shows that we’ve done in New York and DC, we ultimately want folks who listen to this, after the fact, to realize we’re talking about them too. We all have a stake in this. This is all of our fight, and we can all learn really valuable lessons from everything that y’all have been sharing here. And so I want to focus on that on our final turn around the table. We should talk about some of the practical points, tips, and stories that we can build on and learn from in our own workplaces and beyond.
How has Action Builder played into the organizing work that you’ve done? And what can others do with tools like Action Builder? But even more broadly, what lessons do you think people can learn from your successes, setbacks, and approaches to organizing? And lastly, what can all of us learn from each other about how to fight and win? And how can we better support one another as a labor movement that isn’t in competition with our brothers and sisters and siblings on the other side?
Mo Haskins: Well, my failure is what I spoke about earlier: how I ignored good advice over and over again. Someone kept telling me something, but I kept believing the lies I’ve been told before. I chose to be ignorant. I never decided to really look into it and understand it, and I’m happy I did. Educating yourself on what’s really out there, your other options, your choices. It’s so important to do.
And honestly, communicating with other people around you. Everyone here has the knowledge in the room that they need to change the world. Now, not every single person has it, but the room together, we all have what we need. Talk to each other, communicate with each other, share information, and solidarity. That shit’s real, people power. It’s an important thing that we all have, and I feel like we should really focus on it as much as we can. Really uplift each other. [applause]
Chris Daniel: Yes, I’m with you, Mo, that was basically one of the points that I wanted to make. Solidarity. Every day, we make calls to affiliate leaders and community leaders, and we want to figure out where those connective issues are. We want to make sure that we can connect our issues with the issues of folks in the community. One of the big failures that we have as an organized labor body is that we sometimes let these jurisdictional fights – And the belief that we can better serve these workers – Sometimes that gets in the way of our progress.
But what we really should be doing is fixing the jurisdictional stuff in the beginning, figuring out where we have some common ground, and moving that way. Because we’ve been talking about it – And I know this has been a common theme that I’ve been talking about – Is some of these fights that we’re fighting, it’s going to take faith-based communities, with labor, to win these things. We talked about the Delta fight, we talked about the opera. It’s going to be hard to win these things on our own, but we know the amazing work that these different organizations do. If we get together, there’s no way we can be stopped. So that’s my thing is, like you said, solidarity. That’s how we win. And lack of solidarity is how we lose a lot of the time.
Melanie Barron: Amen to all of that. Talking to your coworkers about the things that you care about at work, you can do it. So many people are afraid to do it and are afraid to break those social boundaries. And that is the most powerful thing that you can do in your day-to-day life is say no, fuck you, to the boss, together, with your coworkers. And that does make a difference. It adds up over time. And I will be on brand for this panel and say I love Action Builder. I think it’s great.
And those tools can help you make sure that the knowledge that you’re gaining on a day-to-day basis from those conversations with your coworkers and other people across your workplace actually gets saved somewhere, actually can contribute toward building something over the long term. If we’re serious about building working-class power, then we also want to be serious about – Even at these beginning stages – Dreaming about, what does it mean to have a majority of people on this campus or in this workplace agree with us?
And it takes a really long time to do that. The people who are organizing in Delta right now, those databases are gold. You really need to know how people think and shift and change over time. And those tools are really helpful. And to all organizations out there, this is a really important tool to be investing in. And I want to shout out to my coworker, Taylor Mills, who is the best data specialist ever, [applause] and has built Action Builder for our campaigns, to be extremely useful. And I’m training people on it all the time and really evangelizing about it. So don’t be afraid of the tools that are there to help you. You can learn it, you can do it, and it will help you. Don’t shy away from that stuff. It’s very helpful.
Chris Daniel: I’m going to circle back around to, I’ll be taking the Action Builder training in the next couple of days, so I’m excited about being able to take what – And I know that they have reworked Action Builder for the AFL-CIO – So I’m excited about the possibility of using it and getting our affiliates on board, to make sure that we are using data, to make sure our work is efficient. Because data is really important in the work that our affiliates do. And Action Builder, I’m chomping at the bit to learn more, and I’ll be calling you –
Melanie Barron: Call Taylor. Sorry, Taylor.
Chris Daniel: …I’ll be calling you, Taylor.
Maximillian Alvarez: And rapid fire, final closeout round. For any working person who is in the South listening to this, what is your message to them about this moment and why they should get off the sidelines?
Melanie Barron: It can’t wait. Do it now. Do it today. Do it because your life is important. Do it because your coworkers’ lives are important. Yeah, do it now.
Chris Daniel: For me, the enduring point that I would leave with you is that work connects us all, and that’s it. Work connects us all.
Mo Haskins: I agree with both of them. Now is really the time. Ain’t no one got time to waste time. You really gotta do what you can. Communicate with everyone that you can. Create a community, because honestly, you already got a community. You got to bond it together.
Chris Daniel: I want to bring up one last point, and I’ll leave it here. For all of my folks who are seasoned labor folks, make sure you reach back and bring us some young folks, not to bring them in as grunt workers. Bring them in and let them lead. I remember a brother named the Rev. James Orange, and he was one of the folks that helped bring me up in this labor movement. And one thing that he would always do, I don’t care where we were, if you were with brother James Orange, he was going to prop you up into the forefront, and he was going to make you a leader that day. So the last enduring thought that I would leave you with is to bring up some young person behind you and make them a leader.
Maximillian Alvarez: Let’s give it up for our panel, everyone. [applause] All right, well, we have a floating microphone here. Let’s open it up to Q&A. If you have questions for our amazing panelists or struggles that you want to spotlight, things that you want to address, let’s go for it.
Shelly Anand: Hi, thank you so much for sharing all your knowledge. It’s so, so inspiring. My name’s Shelly Anand. I’m the co-founder and executive director of Sur Legal Collaborative. And we mostly work with poultry workers in Gainesville, Georgia, who’ve survived toxic chemical leaks. And I would love to hear the strategies that you’re using now, or strategies that you dream about using, to bring undocumented workers into the fold of this amazing moment in labor history.
Chris Daniel: I can speak a little bit to that. So the AFL-CIO is embarking on this new campaign. We are going to start naturalization clinics. So next month, my team will be going over to Austin to learn how to bring naturalization clinics here to Georgia. So if anybody’s working in that realm, please get at me, because we want to figure out how we can work together on that.
Speaker 1: [inaudible]
Chris Daniel: Yes. So I’ve been talking to IUPAT, I know they’ve been doing a lot around deferred action clinics. We’ve been talking about how we can marry those two clinics, so let’s get it done. It’s important. There’s some estimates that say 500,000 people in this state are eligible to naturalize. And you can imagine that could be a huge part of the electorate come 2024. So it’s going to be important for us, not because it could be an important part of the electorate, but because it’s the human thing to do.
Speaker 1: Hoffman Plastics will not apply anymore. They have a work permit. They have all the rights of [inaudible].
Chris Daniel: Yep, yep, yep, yep.
Maximillian Alvarez: Well, and I wanted to hook this back to our last live show, where we had Taf Sourov from Laborers Local 79, the Construction Workers Union in New York City. I’ve been very, very heartened to see the work that they are doing, because as we know, construction workers in NYC don’t have the greatest track record on this question. And unions in general have a pretty bad history – In terms of seeing their undocumented fellow workers, returning citizens, folks who are in fact the most exploited and the most ripe for exploitation, somehow, as their enemy, as the ones undercutting their wage – And the only one who wins in that situation is the boss, as we know.
And so, it’s really heartening to see unions like Local 79 in NYC, not really focus a lot of their organizing resources on workers at companies and contractors in the city, that are known to be the most exploitative of undocumented workers: like Alba Demolition – I interviewed some workers in Spanish for The Real News Network. You can check that out. It was posted in January – Who were working with the union to hold Alba accountable for its disgusting practices, from having workers remove asbestos with nothing more than some goggles and throwing it into some black bags, to workers falling through floors, because the foremen aren’t actually keeping things up to code.
Laborers Local 79 is really devoting resources, organizing resources, financial resources, to reaching out to undocumented workers. But also, one thing they really deserve a shout out for is that they have been instrumental in pushing to create the Excluded Workers Fund in NYC, which was designed during COVID to provide social aid for workers, domestic workers, undocumented workers, who were not eligible for the unemployment benefits and so on and so forth when COVID hit. So there are examples of unions figuring this out and correcting past mistakes, but we need more of it. Much, much more of it. Do we have another question? Okay.
Michael McClure: How are you guys doing? My name is Michael McClure. I’m an organizer for AFA, Association of Flight Attendants, working on the Delta campaign here in Atlanta. I would firstly want to let you all know I have buttons for everyone here. Chris will be mad at me if I don’t tell you. I have some buttons for you guys to sport. But my question is this. We live in a city that’s been heralded as one of the most progressive places in the South. It’s this city on the hill, where people look across the South about how progressive we are. But there have been so many labor abuses, so many abuses against working class folks, that are really based right here from this city. We are in a space where we’re creating this campaign, creating opportunities, creating conversations from scratch, because the fact is that Atlanta feels and says and uses a progressive messaging while also doing everything they can to tear down poor and working class people.
So my question for the folks on the panel, what are you doing to, firstly, broaden that narrative about what it means to really hold these labor ideals too highly and holding folks accountable? How do we build community around, not messaging, but around new realities for folks here in the South? And I definitely want to commend each one of you for the work you’re doing. Also, I want to add this point, the Georgia Democratic Party doesn’t even have a labor caucus. It shows how far we are away from the point where we work towards every single day as a group, but as a city, as a state, we are so far from the mark. So how do we work towards getting there?
Mo Haskins: I’ve said this before, I’m going to say it a hundred times again. I’m really sorry about that. But I’m going to say it a hundred times: worker power, people power. No one’s going to do a thing for us. We have to go out there, we have to force action. And USW loves to take direct action, between walkouts, petitions. We like petitions. We like to do strikes and media, a very important thing, media. Because honestly, sometimes you have to shame them into understanding that we’re out here too, that we exist.
Chris Daniel: Something important that we can do here, for instance, in the Delta campaign, it’d be dope if we had a CBA with the community. We had an agreement with the community that says, look, we need to hold these folks to a different standard, and this is that standard. So CBAs are a way that we can mitigate some of the ugliness from these folks. For instance, Fulton County, Clayton County, East Point, all of those folks, we have some friends that are in those cities. They’re on the board at the airport. We should be able to get a CBA that our friends help us get. So those are the types of things that we can do as organized labor to help move our organizing along here. So CBAs is something that I’m thinking we can prop up as a tool here.
Melanie Barron: And in regard to the labor conditions in Atlanta, tell the truth, tell it loud, say it over and over and over again. Georgia State University, down the street here, it blows my mind every time I’m on that campus and talking to people. Y’all thought my $17,000 at the University of Tennessee was low. Go talk to some of the workers there who make less than $10,000 a year today.
It’s unreal. It’s unreal. And they definitely get away with it. We need to keep building and we need to keep encouraging each other to be very brave and speak out against these institutions that get away with really, really horrible things on a day-to-day basis. And your organization is a place where you can find safety and community in that, and that’s really important. So building that organization, in regard to building more of a voice for working people in the political apparatus in this state, we need to build unity and get involved and make sure that we’re bringing all the right people to the table, to make a caucus like that happen. It needs to happen here. [applause]
Mariah Brown: Okay. We have time for one more question. Go ahead. [inaudible]
Speaker 10: Okay, that’s me. Thank you all so much for your work. I would love to hear from each of you. How would you describe the world that you are working for, the world that you want to live in? If we weren’t fighting day in, day out, for our lives, for dignity, for respect, for health, all the things. How would you paint the picture of what you’re fighting for?
Mo Haskins: What I’m fighting for, it’s a sense of respect. I like to feel like, when I help someone with something, which we’re doing, we’re helping a business grow stronger every day. I feel like I deserve some form of respect for it, some dignity. I want to feel like what I do matters, because it does matter. If I disappear today, it’s going to make a big difference. But in the right world, it wouldn’t be this obvious line in between what’s happening here and what’s happening there. That’s obviously some people are being run over and ran out, and I don’t know, my perfect world would be different. Yeah.
Chris Daniel: One of your questions was, what does that world look like? And then, what are we fighting for? So I have two daughters. I don’t know if anybody has children. If you have children in this room, you can probably attest to this. What I fight for is to make sure that they have a world where they can work with dignity. So that’s what I fight for. That’s it.
Melanie Barron: Fairness, at the end of the day, is the thing that I think about the most, in addition to the words you all said; respect and dignity and fairness. Our world is deeply, deeply unfair, and people deserve a fair shake day in and day out, no matter what circumstances they were born into. And that’s part of why I believe in public education and why I fight for it every day is because that’s one pathway to having some amount of fairness in our society. Worker power is the realest pathway that I can see.
Maximillian Alvarez: Well, that seems like a great spot to end on. So thank you all so much. Let’s give it up for our panel one more time. [applause] Thank you to Action Builder/Action Network. Thank you for hosting us. And please, if you have more questions, want to come up, meet our great panelists.
Chris Daniel: Don’t forget those pins.
Maximillian Alvarez: Get those pins.
Maximillian Alvarez is the editor-in-chief of The Real News Network.
"such power and the people who excercised it, embodied a mystique, expressed not simply in guns but in books, uniforms, social behavior and a mass of manufactured products. Only by accepting these things and those who brought them would it be possible to penetrate this mystique and grasp the power which lay behind it" (Chris Clapham, Third World Politics: an introduction, 1985)
The Middle East Institute, a Washington-based think-tank, assesses Hezbollah as the "most formidable" armed non-state actor in the world. Hezbollah has developed exponentially since the 1980s growing to be the largest political party in the Arab world: spearheading the Axis of Resistance coalition against Zionism and US imperialism [and its Arab allies] in West Asia at large. The political strategy toward Hezbollah has recurrently caused sharp disagreements among the Left in the Arab World and abroad: whereby some would promote anti-imperialist solidarity with the party, and others would explain away the party's anti-imperialist achievements to critique other factors.
In “Fighting Imperialism and Authoritarian Regimes: Between the Devil and the Deep Sea”, Sumanta Banerjee introduces a pertinent debate of leftist circles into academia (2003). Banerjee offers a critique of post-soviet anti-imperialism: contrasting old leftist anti-imperialist liberation movements with contemporary identity-based anti-imperialist liberation movements which presumably fall short of leftist standards of social liberation. He argues that the Left is regressing by uncritically prioritizing the contradiction of imperialism while overlooking other tenants of social liberation which he characterizes as violating “the beliefs and operative norms” of “the Left and democratic forces” (S. Banerjee, 2003, p:183).
The regression and eventual dissolution of the USSR stifled the popularity of socialist ideals and did away with the blanket ideology that most anti-imperialist actors adopted a variant of. It became a notable trend of liberation movements, especially in West Asia, to turn towards their respective cultures for revolutionary inspiration rather than turning to the literature of scientific socialism. The prior leftwing secular character of liberation movements was replaced by cultural indigenous ideologies: the most distinguished among which is Hezbollah.
In his article, Banerjee condemns these non-socialist anti-imperialist movements as 'authoritarian'. He doesn't directly address Hezbollah but poses a critique generally to all non-socialist anti-imperialist actors. He argues that they are hardly any better than their imperialist oppressors such that they too stifle social liberation: thus allegorizing the latter as the ‘Devil’ and the former as the ‘Deep Sea’ (S. Banerjee, 2003, p:184). He adds that the anti-imperialist struggle against US hegemony has been distorted since the time of ‘Che Guevara’ and ‘Nelson Mandela’ (S. Banerjee, 2003, p:183). Many leftists, he argues, have remained uncritically fixated on supporting any party opposing US hegemony regardless of other factors; he theorizes that they have been so blinded by the evils of the Devil that they have obliviously backed up into the embrace of the Deep Sea (S. Banerjee, 2003).
Banerjeee's argument, essentially, challenges the precedence of the struggle against imperialism in leftist lore and activism. The novel significance of his article is that it formulates a topic heatedly debated in vintage cafes and niche pubs and introduces it into academia where it can be scientifically unpacked. While he doesn't address Hezbollah directly, his arguments echo those posed by some leftists against initiatives for political affinity with Hezbollah.
Imad Salamey (2019) comports the aforementioned argument to be point-precise geared toward Hezbollah by introducing the prospect of "communitarianism". Salamey explains in “Hezbollah, Communitarianism, and Anti-Imperialism” that Hezbollah is one byproduct of the global trend of communitarianism (2019). Communitarianism, Salamey explains, arises as a result of the ferocious expansion of capitalism and the equivocal decline of nation-states caused by the curbing of government intervention in favor of laissez-faire market policies (2019).
In the absence of the state’s welfare role, communities turn inwards for a safety net. Hezbollah’s inception in Lebanon came in this context: in light of the Shia community’s social marginalization, the sectarian chaos of the Lebanese civil war, and the recurrent Zionist attacks on the predominantly shia-populated south. Hezbollah arose as the safety net for its immediate community against the ills of capitalism and imperialism.
Salamey explains that communitarianism is rooted in a “primordial cultural solidarity” which undermines the nation-state (2019); In the case of Hezbollah, this underlying cultural solidarity was of that between the Iranian and Lebanese Shias: which was optimized ultimately in the form of the robust alliance between Hezbollah and the Islamic Revolution's Guard Corps.
In addition to unpacking the communitarian basis of Hezbollah, Salamey synthesized the general conception of anti-imperialism in Marxist lore and then presented the two as incompatible. He argues that:
The conclusion of Salamey’s article builds on that of Banerjee’s: leftists in support of Hezbollah under the pretext of anti-imperialist solidarity are violating the ideological beliefs and operative norms of the Left (Salamey, Hezbollah, Communitarianism, and Anti-Imperialism, 2019; Banerjee, Between the Devil and the Deep Sea, 2003). This Post-Soviet Communitarian critique of Hezbollah roughly presents some arguments typically posed by western and westernized leftists denouncing affinity with Hezbollah.
Argument 1: Hezbollah isn’t Leftist
One of the typical discourse narratives posed against affinity with Hezbollah is by wistfully contrasting Hezbollah with romanticized leftist anti-imperialist icons like Che Guevara or Nelson Mandela. While this is an unscientific criticism of Hezbollah that is uncommon among credible Leftist intellectuals or noteworthy parties, it is popular among the contemporary 'woke' left as a to-go-to argument.
The objective of conjuring the picturesque revolutionary experiences of Guevara and Mandela is to undermine Hezbollah’s strive for liberation in contrast. Proponents of such speaking points aim to marginalize Hezbollah’s achievements against Zionist colonialism and Takfiri fascism by putting it in competition with icons like Guevara or Mandela: In an effort to present Hezbollah's anti-imperialist efforts as ‘accidental’ or ‘isolated incidents’ sidelining them in the assessment of Hezbollah’s character.
These speaking points offer no real critique but only employ symbolic smearing to discredit Hezbollah: in an effort to contain Hezbollah’s popularity momentum from extending to the Left-wing in the Arab World and the West. Argument 1 marginalizes Hezbollah’s admirable strife against the Zionist and Takfiri footsoldiers of US imperialism. It conditions support for Hezbollah upon the party's self-identification as a leftist party, factoring out the consequential significance of Hezbollah's strife against the forces of reaction. A bullet that pierces the heart of a colonizing soldier or a fanatic fascist promotes people's liberation regardless of the ideological incentives which motivate the soldier.
Argument 2: Hezbollah isn't Secular
While Argument 1 stands as a strawman argument against leftist solidarity with Hezbollah, other arguments present a more sophisticated version of Argument 1. Primarily, and most commonly, is the argument referring to the Islamic ideology of Hezbollah: an argument that is alluded to by the aforementioned prospect of communitarianism (Salamey, 2019).
It is argued that Leftists can’t stand in solidarity with Hezbollah despite its anti-imperialist practice and stance because of its Islamic ideology. The Shia Islamic 'communitarian' character (or the ‘sectarian’ character of Hezbollah, to put it in the language of Lebanese political discourse), is argued, to devalue Hezbollah’s revolutionary anti-imperialist character.
Proponents of this argument explain that Hezbollah’s strife against Zionists and Takfiris arises from an in-group (shia community) vis-à-vis out-group (non-shia communities) rationale rather than a scientific understanding of imperialism. The scientific conception of imperialism, defined by socialist theorists, explains imperialist violence as the byproduct of the disproportionate accumulation of capital in favor of some nations at the expense of others, which entails the exploitation of the latter by the former for the purposes of maximizing economic interests (Lenin, Imperialism: the Highest Stage of Capitalism, 1917).
Hezbollah, however, isn't sectarian despite adopting a religious ideology and employing religious discourse. The party’s praxis isn't a zero-sum game of competition with other religious groups and this is assessed consequentially (i.e. in terms of results). Even if we were to entertain this faulty accusation and grant the validity of inferring chauvinistic sectarianism from religiosity, Hezbollah’s anti-imperialist character still holds. Assuming that Hezbollah is a “sectarian” communitarian party and interpreting wars in the “middle east”, from an orientalist lens, as irrational wars between different tribes motivated by identitarian chauvinism, Hezbollah’s praxis remains consequentially anti-imperialist praxis. Even if we were to assume that the Party’s wars against Zionists and Takfiris is motivated by an inter-communitarian feud, this doesn't change the fact that (1) Zionists and Takfiris were acting as footsoldiers of Imperialism and (2) Hezbollah’s strife against them was successful and effective.
This line of reasoning is cited by prominent theorists of Scientific Socialism. Marx and Engels hailed the Irish struggle for independence from British colonialism while acknowledging that the Irish liberation movement was prominently led by Catholic clergymen and that the conflict of decolonization had manifested for the Irish fighters as a war for protecting the catholicization of the indigenous population of the Island against the Protestant British invaders (Marx &Engels, On the Irish Question,1867).
Additionally, Stalin, in “Foundations of Leninism” when addressing the monarchist Emir’s efforts for liberation in Afghanistan, emphasized assessing liberation movements according to the results which they yield rather than according to a checklist of democratic standards (1924). “The national movement of the oppressed countries should be appraised not from the point of view of formal democracy, but from the point of view of actual results, as shown by the general balance sheet of the struggle against imperialism. The revolutionary character of a national movement under the conditions of imperialist oppression does not necessarily presuppose the existence of proletarian elements in the movement, the existence of a revolutionary or a republican program of the movement, or the existence of a democratic basis of the movement.” (Stalin, 1924).
More so, however, Hezbollah stands as significantly more politically sophisticated than the Irish liberation movement in the 1860s (endorsed by Marx and Engels) or the Afghan Emir's liberation attempt (endorsed by Stalin). The party's religious and cultural ideology doesn’t exclude a scientific conception of imperialism as expressly stated in their 2009 manifesto. In the Chapter on Domination and Hegemony, it reads “Savage capitalism forces - embodied mainly in international monopoly networks of companies that cross the nations and continents, networks of various international establishments especially the financial ones backed by superior military force have led to more contradictions and conflicts - of which not less important - are the conflicts of identities, cultures, civilizations, in addition to the conflicts of poverty and wealth. These savage capitalism forces have turned into mechanisms of sowing dissension and destruction of identities as well as imposing the most dangerous type of cultural, national, economic as well as social theft. Globalization reached its most dangerous facet when it turned into a military one led by those following the Western scheme of domination - of which it was most reflected in the Middle East, in Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine, and Lebanon, where the latter’s share was the July 2006 aggression by the ‘Israelis’ ”(2009).
Marxism isn't as vehemently anti-religion as McCarthyists and infantile leftists make it seem. Dominoquo Losurdo unpacks this adequately in “Class Struggle: A Political and Philosophical History” (2016). He explains that, historically, the classes of society achieved initial awareness of the national question through religion: that It was through religious idioms and prospects that people became conscious of real material contradictions. “Marx and Engels carefully avoided indiscriminate liquidation of movements inspired by religion... Religious affiliation can be experienced very intensely and mobilized effectively in political and historical upheaval, but is not the primary cause of such conflict" (Losurdo, 2016).
In the case of Hezbollah, political theory and praxis of anti-zionism and anti-imperialism was developed in reference to the Epic of Karbala, in which Al-Hussein fought ferociously for justice against the tyranny of Yazid. This cultural narrative is native to the Lebanese Shia even prior to the inception of Hezbollah. The cultural significance and religious rituals of Aashura weren't parachuted from Iran on the eve of the Islamic revolution. Aashura is a historic watershed of Arab history. It symbolizes an indigenous revolution against the tyranny of the Islamic caliphate: the descendants of the Prophet contended the distorted interpretation of Islam which manufactured political legitimacy for tyrant caliphs by triumphing the authentic interpretation of Islam which promotes the normative ideal of justice.
One would dismiss this, citing Marx: "religion is the opiate of the masses" (Marx, Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of the Right, 1843). Aashura, however, unlike the religious narratives which promote pacifism referenced by Marx in his opiate metaphor, acted as a catalyst for the masses of the Lebanese Shia community to bear arms against Imperialist projects.
Hezbollah capitalized on the Epic of Aashura which has long been transmitted from generation to generation in this community. The narrative was allegorically projected to contemporary politics following a scientific analysis of the material contradictions as the 2009 manifesto expressly elaborates. The cultural spite against Yazid's injustice and tyranny was evoked by Hezbollah's clergymen to be compared to the hegemony of the US empire, and consequently mobilizing hundreds against the proxies of imperialism. This tactic of mobilization proved exceptionally effective in consolidating the world's most powerful non-state actor, reversing the Arab nation's setback in their struggle against Israeli colonialism, and snuffing out the deviant Takfiri fascist enterprise in the Levant.
"What human consciousness does is try to understand the world. When social life is calm, so are ideologies; when class conflicts come to existence so too do competing ideologies and conscious statements; and only when a revolutionary class arises can revolutionary ideas come into being" (Peter Stillman, Marx Myths and Legends, 2005)
Picturesquely, it is the whispered Islamic idioms that teemed serenity and discipline in the hearts of fighters fortified in Bint Jbeil as they took on the full brunt of the Israeli war machine, and it is the battle cry of “Ya Zaynab” which resounded as Kornet ATGMs flattened Israeli tanks back in 2006.
The Compatible Left
However, acknowledging criticism and engaging in self-criticism is central to the development and optimization of political praxis. A scientific analysis, regardless of the conclusion it's comported towards, is generally beneficial. It introduces theoretical concepts that allow one to think better of complicated issues and theorize about them: like the allegory of the devil and the deep sea (S. Banerjee, 2003) or the trend of 'communitarianism' (I. Salamey, 2019).
In the same context, to frame the discourse and filter critique from smear campaigning, it is notable to introduce a term coined by CIA strategists: The Compatible Left. Which refers to leftist intellectuals and parties coopted by the CIA in an effort to manufacture a Left that is compatible with imperialism. The Compatible Left is also comparable with the Neo-comprador class which James Petras theorizes about in "NGOs: In the Service of Imperialism" (2007). The compatible left is an inconsequential left: it employs leftist lore and language while ensuring that the status quo of imperialism remains robust and unchallenged.
Sammy Ismail Lebanese communist, Philosophy and Political Science graduate from the Lebanese American University, columnist and news-editor at Al Mayadeen English, twitter: @klashinkovv
This article was originally published at Al-Mayadeen English.
Ideology and Hypocrisy Amid Slavery and Democracy - Strange Bedfellows from Time Immemorial By: Stephen Joseph ScottRead Now
The history of the existence of slavery as an institution in antiquity and beyond is one of the most common; and, at the same time, one of the most complex tales to be told. Virtually every society, touching almost all the continents of the world, has had its own form of enslavement. The implication being that, nearly, every group of humankind whether racially, ethnically, or culturally categorized as diverse, unattached, or essentially separate, has been marked by the legacy and tradition of human bondage geographically and/or ancestrally. This work will be focusing on the origins and culturally supportive underpinnings of ancient Greek identity, its philosophy, law, ideology, and ethnicity; and, those extant essentialist elements, such as class, that not only made slavery in the ancient Greek world possible but normalized its place within a societal hierarchy that helped define who and what an ancient Athenian was - pitched against a broader Mediterranean ethos. Beyond that, this work will address how ancient Greek thought, as to what essentially constituted a slave versus a free person, later ignites a heated counterpoint which asserts hypocrisy lies at the core of ancient Greek thinking when it comes to the fundamental differences: physical, psychological, and emotional, that inexorably lie between free-persons and human-beings in captivity – made evident by how that debate rages to this day in contemporary historiography….
It is best that we start at the beginning with Homer: ancient Greek storyteller and legendary poet, who lived as early as the 8th century BCE; and, is still considered one of the most celebrated and influential writers of antiquity - for good reason. Homer is brought to the fore because his illustration as evidenced below reveals the essential deleterious effect of human bondage, which, poignantly foreshadows the debate mentioned above by millennia, ‘For Zeus who views the wide world takes away half the manhood of a man, that day he goes into captivity and slavery’ (Homer, Odyssey 17.367-9). Homer is explicitly defining the enslavement of a man as the diminishment, in a purely ontological sense, of one’s inherent human dignity. Aristotle, on the other hand (ancient aristocratic Greek philosopher and polymath extraordinaire), who penned his work in the latter 4th century BCE, some four hundred years after Homer, sets a foundational opposition and enduring precedent of his very own when it comes to the quality, status, value, and condition of enslaved persons.
Aristotle, as is broadly known, defined an enslaved person (doulos), that is, a human-being held in bondage, as ‘a live article of property’ (Aristotle, Pol. 1253b33). The great thinker himself, speaking on behalf of his class interests, goes on to define the value he derived from such persons defined as property, ‘Of property, the first and most indispensable kind is that which is … most amenable to Housecraft; and this is the human chattel.’ He then goes on, with a decisively imperialist tone, ‘Our first step therefore must be to procure good slaves (doulous)’ (Arist. Oec. 1344a23-26). Aristotle makes clear his essentialist views which not only defined a slave as property, but goes further, stating that the value, status, utility, and material condition of persons classified as slaves is not only a useful one, but a natural one:
These considerations therefore make clear the nature of the slave and his essential quality; one who is a human being (anthrôpos) belonging by nature not to himself but to another is by nature a slave, and a human being belongs to another if, although a human being, he is a piece of property (ktêma) (Arist. Pol. 1254a14-18).
Aristotle’s proposition is an important one given this work’s purpose which is to bring forth these precise notions, or conflicting theories, that have significantly undergirded, influenced and/or reinforced conceptions of class, personhood, value, and status interwoven within western thought throughout the ages.
Which brings us inevitably to the longstanding property versus domination argument spearheaded, in modern scholarship, by Orlando Patterson in his 1982 book entitled Slavery and Social Death. Patterson delivers a scathing rebuke to Aristotle’s customary formulation of slavery in terms of property. He unequivocally argues that slavery, from his learned vantagepoint, is, in fact, ‘the permanent, violent domination of natally alienated and generally dishonored persons’. Which poignantly parallels Homer’s description that human beings, held in captivity against their will, are not only persons dominated physically, but are individuals essentially diminished morally, emotionally, and psychologically. The conventional view, as presented by Aristotle, is unsound, according to Patterson based on two distinct factors. Firstly, Patterson argues, ‘to define slavery … as property fails as a definition, since it does not really specify any distinct category of persons.’ Because everyone, whether ‘beggar or king, can be the object of a property relation.’ One can only construe that what Patterson is saying, when it comes specifically to slavery, is that the term ‘property’ obscures, diminishes or diverts one’s attention away from the overt and brutal nature of an enslaved person’s everyday lived experience. Secondly, Patterson contends that the term property is inconsistent in substance when it comes to diversity of culture - meaning many societies, however archaic, lacked the very concept of ownership. Denoting that slavery has accompanied mankind through time immemorial, from primitive village societies to ancient Mesopotamia and beyond, where, he argues, the laws and social mores of any given society didn’t precisely match that of Aristotle’s definition of property – therefore it generally fails as a classification of slavery .
David M. Lewis counters Patterson’s argument on the ‘property point’ as stated above by proclaiming that during the Neo-Babylonian and Persian periods, the evidence clearly demonstrates in abundant detail, that the circumstance between slave and master, in legal terms, was ‘a relationship based on the fact that the slave was the property of his or her owner’-exhibiting all the elementary features necessary, per legal theory, to reach the standard of ‘property’ . Lewis challenges Patterson’s stance further by stating:
[The popular] view that esteems private property rights to be an advanced development of Roman legal theory ignores the findings of almost a century of legal anthropology, which has observed private property systems in a variety of tribal social systems that were far less advanced in terms of technological and social complexity than even the society imagined in Homer’s epics .
While Lewis’ examination proves ‘slavery as a form of property’ in a legal context, there is still validity in Patterson’s position given the fact that persons in bondage (from a humanist perspective) reduced to the level of property in a solely ‘legal sense’ nullifies their individual agency and all that essentially makes them human.
In fact, slavery, and democracy, in ancient Athens and beyond is a multidimensional and multifaceted story of innate human capacity and agency, dignity, adaptability, fortitude, and resistance. Meaning, ‘…slaves were not passive objects, whose identity and existence was completely dominated by their masters.’ As described by Xenophon (Greek military leader and philosopher), there were without a doubt slaves forced into strenuous domestic work: ‘baking, cooking, spinning’ and scrubbing under their owner’s will (Xen. Oec. 9.9). That said, we are also told of others that gained valuable skill-sets outside the home, coinciding with their inherent intelligence and creativity, from potters to builders to bankers and shoemakers (Hyperides, 3.1-9; and Aeschines, 1.97). These slaves participated in communal undertakings (such as workshops and spiritual associations) together with other free and enslaved persons. Even Aristotle, who had little love (agape) for the underclasses, had to acknowledge, albeit cautiously, the inherent democratic nature (and/or threat thereof) made evident by the sheer numbers of this uniquely collective phenomenon - what the great theorist himself branded as koinônia, simply defined as fellowship of the masses. But the politikê koinônia (he warns) was specifically formed for the benefit of its members (Arist. Eth. Nic. 1160a4-6). Influenced by his celebrated teacher, renowned philosopher Plato, who argued that the limits of citizenship and its influence correlate with ‘the precise form of constitution and law’ in place (Plato, Laws 714c) - Aristotle’s well-known anti-democratic discourse on ‘mob-rule’ and the necessity for the ‘rule of law’ as fundamental to ‘the natural order of things’ thus becomes most evident. While in agreement with Pericles’ famed proclamation on the importance of the ‘rule of law’ in the ancient Greek city-state; when it came to what Pericles professed as the virtues of democracy defined, the two-men parted ways in dramatic fashion. In what is considered the ideal of a democratic philosophical vision, Pericles outlines demokratia (in his famed funeral speech of 431 BCE), as follows:
Its administration favors the many instead of the few…equal justice to all…class considerations not being allowed to interfere with merit; nor again does poverty bar the way. The freedom which we enjoy in our government…[teaches] us to obey the magistrates and the laws, particularly as regard [to] the protection of the injured (Thucydides, 2.37).
On the contrary, Aristotle’s depiction of a ‘democratic regime’ and/or constitution is one with an inherent propensity toward ‘license and lawlessness.’ He defines, ‘radical democracy,’ in that of Athens for example, as having two critical flaws: firstly, the influence of the demos can potentially supersede the law (Arist. Pol. 1292a4ff.); and secondly, the demos hold the power to impeach magistrates for wrongdoing (such as malfeasance) which Aristotle intimates are both a step too far (Arist. Pol. 1292a30, and cf.1298a29-35). That said, as threatening as he might have interpreted it, the concept of koinônia permits us to observe enslaved persons actively utilizing their intrinsic agency within a broader collective milieu.
Returning to the question as stated at the outset of this work, Lewis’ focus on the laws of ancient societies, in lieu of the contention outlined above, is immensely valuable when it comes to understanding the conventions per Athenian slave society and their ramifications. Broadly viewed as a protection mechanism for slaves, given a singular example, the Greek law on ‘hybris,’ in ancient Athens, expressly defined as the negation of the deliberate implementation of violence to humiliate, demean, or degrade - is not as straightforward as it might appear. Yet again, hypocrisy abounds as evidenced: to presume that the Athenian law pertained to an owner’s mis-conduct toward his ‘property’ obliges us to disregard the ‘abundant proof’ of regular and generally habitual violence toward slaves by their masters (Lewis, 2018, 43). Beyond that, it is difficult to correlate the law as ‘protectionary’ given this evocative assertion by Plato, ‘[a slave] when wronged or insulted, is unable to protect himself or anyone else for whom he cares’ (Plato, Gorg. 483b). The following statement is as definitive as it gets when revealing the underlying deceit interwoven within Athenian law itself when it came to enslaved persons and their standing, ‘[the] law included slaves [simply] because the lawgiver wished to curtail the spread of hubristic [or anti-social] behaviour among the citizens tout court … the hubris law was designed to engender respect and orderly conduct among citizens not to protect slaves’ . Meaning, that the Athenian lawgivers were not overly concerned with the physical wellbeing of persons classified as slaves, but perhaps were more intent on curtailing their judicial workload.
The reality was that the right of masters to physically abuse their slaves in ancient Athens was, if not absolute, certainly extensive. Xenophon affirms the practical necessity on behalf of owners to punish their slaves, but simply asks for them not to do so in a state of rage (Xen. Hell. 5.3.7; cf. Hdt. 1.137). Demonstrating that, violence toward persons in bondage in ancient Athens was perfectly acceptable if it was executed in a manner of equanimity. According to Xenophon, however, slaves should never resist. He goes on to say, that masters could, or should, ‘clap fetters on them so that they can’t run away’ (Xen. Mem. 2.1.16). Hence, so it is argued, in summary, that what helps clarify, or defend, Aristotle’s assertion that ‘the slave [is] an article of property imbued with a soul’ (Arist. Pol. 1253b32), is justified due to the fact that ‘this view of the slave as an article of property’ was a generally held belief of society at large when it came to the status of enslaved persons within the ancient Greek ethos .
That said, when it comes to hypocrisy, the law and excessive abuse – domination, as defined by Patterson permeates the historical record. A poignant example of the common acceptance in ancient Athens of emotional and physical abuse (or the threat thereof) cast upon slaves, and the like, is provided by Lysias, where he describes in detail the testimony of a plaintiff in an Athenian court recounting the brutal (and pervasive) threat of torture (and even death) that hung over the heads of enslaved mill workers - commonly known ‘as mill-roaches’ (Lysias 1. 18-22). In addition, owners of enslaved persons were generally granted legal leeway, under the authority of judges, to sexually abuse their slaves. Signifying that when a slave was purchased, they were in fact the owners’ possession to do with as they desired - which helps lend even more credence to Patterson’s analyses of domination as described.
A question of further importance is what defined, or signified, a slave and their station in ancient Athens? Was it one of ideology or innate difference that helped delineate the distinction between a Greek and a non-Greek? As understood in the broadest sense of the term, barbarian is the word used to describe not only a non-Greek speaking immigrant, but in fact, a definitional term which explicitly portrayed an enslaved person of foreign origin, as, ‘non-Greeks imported from foreign lands via the slave trade’. An Athenian essentialist view, as noted, between native slave and foreign slave, (that is, between natural born Greeks and outsiders) is underscored by Aristotle’s description of an enslaved Greek as ‘an accident contrary to nature’ (Arist. Pol. 1255a1). These Greek essentialist views, of one people’s ethnic superiority over another, are noteworthy because they significantly impact western thought and societal conditions throughout the ages – emphasizing race and class as inherent points of difference develop into a clear normative of class hierarchy.
Fast forwarding to the 18th century Anglo-world for example, Francis Hutcheson (elite 18th century British moral philosopher) proclaimed that permanent enslavement should be ‘the ordinary punishment of … idle vagrants.’ ‘Idle vagrants,’ being defined as most anyone with what Hutcheson considered, ‘slave like attributes,’ from the idle poor and indigent to confiscated and subjugated human cargo - principally Africans . Conversely, in something of a confessional, Thomas Jefferson (slave owner, philosopher, and 18th century American statesman) recognized and voiced the odious elements of the dominion argument, as defined, some two hundred years prior to Orlando Patterson, ‘[the] commerce between master and slave is a perpetual exercise of … the most unremitting despotism on the one part, and degrading submissions on the other.’ He then goes on in a revelatory tone, to inform just how these elite classes, throughout the millennia, bequeathed attitudes of dominion from one generation to the next. Stating that, the children of the elite were thus ‘nursed, educated and exercised in the daily art of tyranny.’ Virginia’s slave plantations as he describes, were by their very nature, ‘schools of iniquity and domination’. Consequently, Aristotle’s, early, and pervasive, theory of the ‘natural order of things,’ when it comes to class and ethnicity, is made brazenly evident (Arist. Pol. 1252a-1253b).
Finally, how common place was slave society in the ancient Greek world and what was its magnitude? It is said that the importation of slaves was a lasting one, being that Greek slave society lasted enduringly throughout both the archaic and classical periods until its absorption by Rome in 146 BCE. Although the Roman slave trade surpassed that of the Greek numerically, given Rome’s imperial might over the Mediterranean world, it is said that ‘the Greek slave system was both the elder and the longer-lived.’ The Greeks had helped set a historic precedent by perfecting their own imperial prowess through the conquering of their neighbors . But, where in fact were these subjugated and enslaved persons extracted from and how common were they in ancient Greece? Ancient Greek inscriptions help make evident that enslaved peoples, represented a wide breadth of humanity throughout the known world at the time. These people included men, women, and children in a variety of hues, from such far-off places as Thrace, Phrygia, Syria, Caria in southwest Anatolia, Illyria on the western Balkan Isthmus, Scythians from eastern Iran; and, Colchians from the eastern Black Sea - depicted by Herodotus, in the 5th century BCE, as a ‘dark-skinned and woolly haired’ people (Hdt. 2.104.2). What Herodotus’ quote helps to highlight for us is an ancient Athenian social construct. That being, the prevalent belief (when it came to the stature of imported slaves), of a clear and innate delineation based on race (and/or phenotype), accentuating a natural taxonomic classification or difference between indigenous Greeks and all others – especially slaves.
When it comes to how common slaves were, Josiah Ober estimates the slave population of fourth-century BCE Athens to be around 35 per cent of the total population of roughly 227,000 . Which made slavery quite pervasive throughout ancient Athens and helps to explain the essentialist Greek/Other dichotomy as such. As Vincent Rosivach makes evident, ‘[When] Athenians thought about slaves, they habitually thought about barbaroi, and when they thought about barbaroi they habitually thought about slaves’. Suggesting that this was commonplace in classical Athens - legislatively undergirded by the proposed law of Pericles of 451 BCE which confined citizenship solely to persons of Athenian birthparents on both sides. Ultimately defining in ethnocentric terms, an essentialist difference (between Greeks and others), based on birth lineage and cultural origin (Arist. Const. Ath. 26.3). In paralleling slave societies throughout the epochs, ‘the slave system of the fourth-century Greek world was of roughly the same numerical magnitude as that of the United States ca. 1800.’ By the early 19th century, in the South, ‘30-40 percent of the population’ was made up of chattel slavery under the brutal control of concentrated wealth and political power, land, and resources… . Both societies (separated by millennia) became indulgently rich and hegemonically powerful in their respective spheres of influence – primarily based on the wealth created by their slave societies thus implemented. As mentioned, due to the commonality of the everyday interaction between slave and non-slave, and its oblique dangers in ancient Athens, elite class interests reinforced ‘the construction of local and wider Hellenic ethnicities, as well as of non-Greek ethnicities, must have been fundamentally imbricated with the ideological needs of the slave trade…’ . The main point being that the possibility of a unifying or coming together of freeborn citizens, of lower-class status, and slaves, posed a direct structural (and numerical) threat to the established order of things. Ideology, woven within Greek identity, plays a key role in the hegemonic control of social norms, but not an absolute one.
The understanding by the masses (and a small number of elites alike) that extreme concentrations of wealth played a destabilizing role in the Athenian political and social realms, when it came to privilege, power and class, is made obvious by the following quote from Demosthenes, ‘for the demos to have nothing and for those who oppose the demos to have a superabundance of wealth is an amazing and terrifying (thaumaston kai phoberon) state of affairs’ (Ober, 1990, 214; Dem. Ex. 2.3). Which helps make evident an ancient Athens as not only the well-known paradigm of direct democracy (or rule by the many), but also its intrinsic contradictions (or threats thereof) when it came to status, class, and wealth – which has echoed, as argued, throughout the centuries. As presented, Lewis and Canevaro, bring to the fore, a carefully crafted top-down societal prejudice designed to sow division amongst the masses using class distinctions and/or differences as its exclusionary tool of choice:
Since it was in fact slaves who were more naturally associated with manual labor—they were the prototypical manual laborers— elitist writers and reformers found in this proximity a productive avenue for attacking their suitability for political participation—for having a voice. For elite Greeks and Romans this was a productive strategy for denigrating and dehumanizing ‘the poor’ in political as well as daily life .
Paradoxically, these notions of disdain toward the poor (or the slavish), defined (mostly) by the ancient Greek elite as, ‘anyone who had to work for living’ (Arist. Pol. 1277b5-7; 1255b23-38), were not limited to the Athenian upper classes. In fact, as Lucia Cecchet suggests, due to the sheer force of elite ideological thought and its pervasive influence (in the 4th and 5th centuries), even within the jury courts of democratic Athens, the repulsion of poverty (including slaves) became commonly offered as a widely conventional view, ‘a communis opinio that the rich and poor shared alike’ ; attitudes that permeate western societies to this day, making evident, the powerful effects of elite capture through hegemonic cultural influence in ancient Athens and beyond.
In conclusion, throughout western history, ancient Athens has been viewed as the ultimate model of democracy in a political, ideological, philosophical, and ethical sense – as presented in this work. At the same time, hypocrisy, pertaining to these epitomes of democracy (demokratia – or rule by the many – as outlined by Pericles), adversely permeated its upper classes and beyond with lasting ramifications. Thucydides, Plato, Aristotle and Xenophon, for example, were all critical of democracy, focusing their ire upon the populous; the possibility of its bad decision making; and (what they believed to be), as ‘the [intrinsic] ignorance … of the demos, demagoguery and civil strife’ . Again, these great theorists thought of democracy not as the rule of the many (which was the general Athenian ideal of demokratia), but they portrayed it in a more threatening or hostile sense, such as, ‘the rule of the poor or the mob,’ which helps taint Athenian demokratia within recorded history with a prejudicial top-down class perspective throughout the millennia . The proximity between, slave and poor within the democratic confines of ancient Athens, made them susceptible, in both high-level institutional deliberation and, sometimes, in daily collaborations, to manipulative stratagems which ‘aimed to denigrate and even disenfranchise them by stressing the “slavish” nature of their occupations, as incompatible with the virtue required for political participation’ . Furthermore, enslavement, as implemented in ancient Athens and across time, populations and locations could differ enormously or, in fact, possess significant similarities. As is inferred, by ancient Greek scholars throughout this work, the characteristics which helped mold Greek slave culture and its expansion comprised, but were in no way limited to, the amount of prosperity slavery added to the fundamental aspects of that society’s supposed wellbeing, especially its economic growth and military strength. In most instances, throughout the ancient world and beyond, the capturing and subjugation of persons classified as salves was meant to possess, chastise, and/or diminish an economic rival. Thus, as noted, chattel slavery was quite widespread throughout the ancient world and beyond. That said, the agency and humanity, as offered by Orlando Patterson, of subjugated persons, and their relentless struggle for freedom, permeates the historical record (from Athens to Virginia) - which cannot and should not be ignored. Enslaved human beings left behind a powerful legacy of opposition and struggle to free themselves and the family members they so loved. Through the common bond (of unrelenting misery) they forged powerful alliances of resistance and revolt, despite the cultural forces arrayed against them – their historical age or geographical setting.
Orlando Patterson, Slavery and Social Death: A Comparative Study (Harvard University Press, 1982), 13.
David M. Lewis, Greek Slave Systems in Their Eastern Mediterranean Context, c.800-146 BC, First edition. (Oxford, United Kingdom: Oxford University Press, 2018), 34.
Kostas Vlassopoulos, “Greek Slavery: From Domination to Property and Back Again,” The Journal of Hellenic Studies 131 (2011): 195.
Edward E. Cohen, Athenian Economy and Society: A Banking Perspective (Princeton University Press, 1992), 61–109.
Mirko Canevaro, “The Public Charge for Hubris Against Slaves: The Honour of the Victim and the Honour of the Hubristēs,” The Journal of Hellenic Studies 138 (2018): 100–126.
Lewis, Greek Slave Systems in Their Eastern Mediterranean Context, c.800-146 BC, 42–43.
David M. Lewis and Mirko Canevaro, “Poverty, Race, and Ethnicity,” in A Cultural History of Poverty in Antiquity (500 BCE – 800 AD), ed. Claire Taylor (Bloomsbury).
Edmund S. Morgan, American Slavery, American Freedom: The Ordeal of Colonial Virginia (New York: Norton, 1995), 324.
Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia: An Annotated Edition, Notes on the State of Virginia (Yale University Press, 2022), 249.
Lewis and Canevaro, “Poverty, Race, and Ethnicity,” 7.
Lewis and Canevaro, 4.
Josiah Ober, “Inequality in Late-Classical Democratic Athens: Evidence and Models,” in Democracy and an Open-Economy World Order, ed. George C. Bitros and Nicholas C. Kyriazis (Cham: Springer International Publishing, 2017), 129–129.
Vincent J. Rosivach, “Enslaving ‘Barbaroi’ and the Athenian Ideology of Slavery,” Historia: Zeitschrift Für Alte Geschichte 48, no. 2 (1999): 129.
Peter Kolchin, American Slavery, 1619-1877 (New York: Hill and Wang, 1993), 242.
Lewis and Canevaro, “Poverty, Race, and Ethnicity,” 15.
Thomas Harrison, “Classical Greek Ethnography and the Slave Trade,” Classical Antiquity 38, no. 1 (2019): 36–57.
Lewis and Canevaro, “Poverty, Race, and Ethnicity,” 29–30.
Lucia Cecchet, “Poverty as Argument in Athenian Forensic Speeches,” 2013, 61.
Ober quoted in Mirko Canevaro, “Democratic Deliberation in the Athenian Assembly: Procedures and Behaviours towards Legitimacy,” Annals HSS 73, 2019, 3.
Mogens Herman Hansen, The Tradition of Ancient Greek Democracy and Its Importance for Modern Democracy, Historisk-Filosofiske Meddelelser 93 (Copenhagen: Det Kongelige Danske Videnskabernes Selskab, 2005), 8.
Lewis and Canevaro, “Poverty, Race, and Ethnicity,” 29–30.
Stephen Joseph Scott is an essayist associated with The University of Edinburgh, School of History; a singer/songwriter, humanist/activist – a self-taught musician, and performer. As a musician, he uses American Roots Music to illustrate the current American social and political landscape.
On May 15, 2023, Berkshire Hathaway reported in a Form 13F filing to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission that it had completed the sale of its $4 billion stake in Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co (TSMC). This sale completed a process that began in February 2023, when Berkshire Hathaway announced that it sold 86 percent of its holdings in TSMC. In April, Berkshire Hathaway’s leader Warren Buffett told Nikkei that the geopolitical tension between the United States and China was “certainly a consideration” in his decision to divest from TSMC. TSMC told Nikkei, is a “well-managed company” but that Berkshire Hathaway would find other places for its capital. At his May 6 morning meeting, Buffett said that TSMC “is one of the best-managed companies and important companies in the world, and you’ll be able to say the same thing five, ten or twenty years from now. I don’t like its location and reevaluated that.” By “location,” Buffett meant Taiwan, in the context of the threats made by the United States against China. He decided to wind down his investment in TSMC “in the light of certain things that were going on.” Buffett announced that he would move some of this capital towards the building of a fledgling U.S. domestic semiconductor industry.
TSMC, based in Hsinchu, Taiwan,, is the world’s largest semiconductor manufacturer. In 2022, it accounted for 56 percent of the share of the global market and over 90 percent of advanced chip manufacturing. Warren Buffett’s investment in TSMC was based on the Taiwanese company’s immense grip on the world semiconductor market. In August 2022, U.S. President Biden signed the CHIPS and Science Act into law, which will provide $280 billion to fund semiconductor manufacturing inside the United States. On December 6, 2022, Biden joined TSMC’s Chairman Dr. Mark Liu at the $40 billion expansion of TSMC’s semiconductor factories in North Phoenix, Arizona. Dr. Liu said at the project’s announcement that the second TSMC factory is “a testimony that TSMC is also taking a giant step forward to help build a vibrant semiconductor ecosystem in the United States.”
The first TSMC plant will open in 2024 and the second, which was announced in December, will open in 2026. On February 22, 2023, the New York Times ran a long article (“Inside Taiwanese Chip Giant, a U.S. Expansion Stokes Tensions”), which pointed out—based on interviews with TSMC employees—that “high costs and managerial challenges” show “how difficult it is to transplant one of the most complicated manufacturing processes known to man halfway across the world.” At the December 6 announcement, Biden said, “American manufacturing is back,” but it is only back at a much higher cost (the plant’s construction cost is ten times more than it would have cost in Taiwan). “The most difficult thing about wafer manufacturing is not technology,” Wayne Chiu—an engineer who left TSMC in 2022—told the New York Times. “The most difficult thing is personnel management. Americans are the worst at this because Americans are the most difficult to manage.”
Blow up Taiwan
U.S. Ambassador Robert O’Brien, the former National Security Advisor of Donald Trump, told Steve Clemons, an editor at Semafor, at the Global Security Forum in Doha, Qatar, on March 13, 2023, “The United States and its allies are never going to let those [semiconductor] factories fall into Chinese hands.” China, O’Brien said, could build “the new OPEC of silicon chips” and thereby, “control the world economy.” The United States will prevent this possibility, he said, even if it means a military strike. On May 2, 2023, at a Milken Institute event, U.S. Congressman Seth Moulton said that if Chinese forces move into Taiwan, “we will blow up TSMC. … Of course, the Taiwanese really don’t like this idea.”
These outlandish statements by O’Brien and Moulton have a basis in a widely circulated paper from the U.S. Army War College, published in November 2021, by Jared M. McKinney and Peter Harris (“Broken Nest: Deterring China from Invading Taiwan”). “The United States and Taiwan should lay plans for a targeted scorched-earth strategy that would render Taiwan not just unattractive if ever seized by force, but positively costly to maintain. This could be done effectively by threatening to destroy facilities belonging to the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company,” they write.
Right after Moulton made these incendiary remarks, former U.S. defense undersecretary Michèle Flournoy said that it was a “terrible idea” and that such an attack would have a “$2 trillion impact on the global economy within the first year and you put manufacturing around the world at a standstill.”
Taiwan’s officials responded swiftly to Moulton, with minister of defense Chiu Kuo-cheng asking, “How can our national army tolerate this situation if he says he wants to bomb this or that?” While Chiu responded to Moulton’s statement about a military strike on TSMC, in fact, the U.S. government has already attacked the ability of this Taiwanese company to remain in Taiwan.
Taiwan’s economics vice minister Lin Chuan-neng said in response to these threats and Buffett’s sale of TSMC that his government “will do its utmost to let the world know that Taiwan is stable and safe.” These incendiary remarks aimed at China now threaten the collapse of Taiwan’s economy.
Made in Japan
In his May 6 meeting, Warren Buffett said something that gives a clue about where the semiconductor manufacturing might be diverted. “I feel better about the capital that we’ve got deployed in Japan than Taiwan,” he said. In 1988, 51 percent of the world’s semiconductors were made in Japan, but as of 2022, the number is merely 9 percent. In June 2022, Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry (METI) announced it would put in 40 percent of a planned $8.6 billion for a semiconductor manufacturing plant by TSMC in Kumamoto. METI said in November that it has selected the Rapidus Corporation—which includes a stake by NTT, SoftBank, Sony, and Toyota—to manufacture next-generation 2-nanometer chips. It is likely that Berkshire Hathaway will invest in this new business.
Vijay Prashad is an Indian historian, editor, and journalist. He is a writing fellow and chief correspondent at Globetrotter. He is an editor of LeftWord Books and the director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research. He is a senior non-resident fellow at Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China. He has written more than 20 books, including The Darker Nations and The Poorer Nations. His latest books are Struggle Makes Us Human: Learning from Movements for Socialism and (with Noam Chomsky) The Withdrawal: Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, and the Fragility of U.S. Power.
This article was produced by Globetrotter.
Workers at Blue Bird Corporation in Fort Valley, Georgia, launched a union drive to secure better wages, work-life balance, and a voice on the job.
The company resisted them. History defied them. Geography worked against them.
But they stood together, believed in themselves, and achieved a historic victory that’s reverberating throughout the South.
About 1,400 workers at the electric bus manufacturer voted overwhelmingly in May 2023 to join the United Steelworkers (USW), reflecting the rise of collective power in a part of the country where bosses and right-wing politicians long contrived to foil it.
“It’s just time for a change,” explained Rinardo Cooper, a member of USW Local 572 and a paper machine operator at Graphic Packaging in Macon, Georgia.
Cooper, who assisted the workers at Blue Bird with their union drive, expects more Southerners to follow suit even if they face their own uphill battles.
Given the South’s pro-corporate environment, it’s no surprise that Georgia has one of the nation’s lowest union membership rates, 4.4 percent. North Carolina’s rate is even lower, at 2.8 percent. And South Carolina’s is 1.7 percent.
Many corporations actually choose to locate in the South because the low union density enables them to pay poor wages, skimp on safety, and perpetuate the system of oppression.
In a 2019 study, “The Double Standard at Work,” the AFL-CIO found that even European-based companies with good records in their home countries take advantage of workers they employ in America’s South.
They’ve “interfered with freedom of association, launched aggressive campaigns against employees’ organizing attempts, and failed to bargain in good faith when workers choose union representation,” noted the report, citing, among other abuses, Volkswagen’s union-busting efforts at a Tennessee plant.
“They keep stuffing their pockets and paying pennies on the dollar,” Cooper said of companies cashing in at workers’ expense.
The consequences are dire.
States with low union membership have significantly higher poverty, according to a 2021 study by researchers at the University of Minnesota and the University of California, Riverside. Georgia’s 14 percent poverty rate, for example, is among the worst in the country.
However, the tide is turning as workers increasingly see union membership as a clear path forward, observed Cooper, who left his own job at Blue Bird several months before the union win because the grueling schedule left him little time to spend with family.
Now, as a union paper worker, he not only makes higher wages than he did at Blue Bird but also benefits from safer working conditions and a voice on the job. And with the USW holding the company accountable, he’s free to take the vacation and other time off he earns.
Cooper’s story helped to inspire the bus company workers’ quest for better lives. But they also resolved to fight for their fair share as Blue Bird increasingly leans on their knowledge, skills, and dedication in the coming years.
The company stands to land tens of millions in subsidies from President Joe Biden’s Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and other federal programs aimed at putting more electric vehicles on the roads, supercharging the manufacturing economy, and supporting good jobs.
These goals are inextricably linked, as Biden made clear in a statement congratulating the bus company workers on their USW vote. “The fact is: The middle class built America,” he said. “And unions built the middle class.”
Worker power is spreading not only in manufacturing but across numerous industries in the South.
About 500 ramp agents, truck drivers, and other workers at Charlotte Douglas International Airport in North Carolina also voted in May to form a union. Workers in Knoxville, Tennessee, in 2022 unionized the first Starbucks in the South.
And first responders in Virginia and utility workers in Georgia and Kentucky also formed unions in early 2023, while workers at Lowe’s in Louisiana launched groundbreaking efforts to unionize the home-improvement giant.
“I wouldn’t hesitate to tell any worker at any manufacturing place here that the route you need to take is the union. That’s the only fairness you’re going to get,” declared Anthony Ploof, who helped to lead dozens of co-workers at Carfair Composites USA into the USW in 2023.
Workers at the Anniston, Alabama, branch of the company make fiberglass-reinforced polymer components for vehicles, including hybrid and electric buses. Like all workers, they decided to unionize to gain a seat at the table and a means of holding their employer accountable.
Instead of fighting the union effort, as many companies do, Carfair remained neutral so the workers could exercise their will. In the end, 98 percent voted to join the USW, showing that workers overwhelmingly want unions when they’re free to choose without bullying, threats, or retaliation.
“It didn’t take much here,” said Ploof, noting workers had little experience with unions but educated themselves about the benefits and quickly came to a consensus on joining the USW.
“It’s reaching out from Carfair,” he added, noting workers at other companies in the area have approached him to ask, “How is that working out? How do we organize?”
As his new union brothers and sisters at Blue Bird prepare to negotiate their first contract, Cooper hopes to get involved in other organizing drives, lift up more workers, and continue changing the trajectory of the South.
“We just really need to keep putting the message out there, letting people know that there is a better way than what the employers are wanting you to believe,” he said.
Tom Conway is the international president of the United Steelworkers Union (USW).
This article was produced by the Independent Media Institute.
Instead, an independent foreign policy is desperately needed—and gaining support.
Recently, the United States has been followed by a number of European countries in supporting a cold war policy toward Russia and China. This has created increasing problems in Europe—bringing a major war to the continent, creating serious economic difficulties, and intensifying a decline in living standards.
In this context, the case for Europe establishing an independent foreign policy has gained support, as a way of ensuring security and prosperity.
The U.S. Brings Hot War to Europe
Starting with the most extreme expression of the situation, the war in Ukraine has claimed tens of thousands of lives. The UN calculates nearly 18 million people need humanitarian assistance and millions have been displaced.
This tragedy was avoidable. The underlying cause of the war was the U.S. policy to expand NATO up to Russia’s border, including the proposal that Ukraine join NATO when Russia has repeatedly made clear that that is a ‘red line’ threat to its security interests. The U.S. continued to push for NATO expansion despite this.
The absence of an independent European foreign policy has been demonstrated in the policy of major European governments during the past year, with these governments supporting U.S. policy in Ukraine.
This has been extraordinarily expensive. In 2022, NATO powers allocated huge sums to Ukraine—about $50 billion from the U.S., €52 billion from the EU and its member states, and £2.3 billion from Britain. In 2023, there has been an escalation in military aid sent. After pressure from the U.S., Germany approved the deployment of their Leopard tanks, while the British government is sending depleted uranium munitions.
Militarization in Europe is clearly on the rise, in the past year, with major European governments increasing military spending—something the U.S. has called for over many years.
Last year, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz pledged €100 billion in military spending, committing Germany to spend 2 percent of GDP on defense going forward. President Emmanuel Macron is increasing France’s military spending to around €60 billion by 2030—approximately double 2017’s allocation. Britain, historically the U.S.’s closest European ally, already spends 2.2 percent of GDP on the military, £48 billion a year.
The U.S., in turn, has 100,000 troops stationed in Europe and numerous military bases, including 119 in Germany.
The impact of this has negatively affected Europe’s interests. Without an effort to negotiate peace in Ukraine, rather than escalation, many will die and be displaced. Meanwhile, across Europe, there is an impact of high energy prices as a result of sanctions on Russia, while increased military spending diverts resources away from addressing the cost-of-living crisis. Europe has become more dangerous and poorer.
The U.S. has not supported recent proposals for peace in Ukraine, such as those from China, which means a prolonged war. European countries could pursue a different path and play a role in backing negotiations to end the conflict.
Global Cooperation Is the Key to Economic Prosperity
Economically, Europe faces a parallel crisis. Slow economic growth, high inflation, and government austerity policies are hitting living standards while some European governments’ policies toward Russia and China have made the situation worse.
Europe has been seriously damaged by participation in sanctions against Russia. These have increased energy prices while the U.S. has profited from selling more expensive liquefied gas to Europe to replace cheaper Russian gas delivered by pipelines. Journalist Seymour Hersh has made a serious case that the U.S. was also responsible for blowing up the Nord Stream pipelines between Russia and Germany. But European governments have failed to support the call for an independent investigation into this attack on Europe’s energy infrastructure.
The U.S. has also urged Europe to pursue a more anti-China posture. This recently led to Europe’s relationship with China deteriorating. The Comprehensive Agreement on Investment between China and the EU, agreed in principle in December 2020, has not been signed despite the economic opportunities it opens for Europe. European governments are also being asked to join the U.S. attacks on China’s technology industry, some recently banning TikTok from government work phones with pressure for a wider ban.
The economic consequences of this direction would be serious for Europe. China is the EU’s largest trading partner and the most rapidly growing major economy. The IMF’s latest growth projections for 2023 estimate China will grow by 5.2 percent—six times faster than the euro area’s 0.8 percent. The potential benefits for Europe of increasing win-win economic cooperation with China are therefore considerable.
The Struggle for an Independent Foreign Policy
The U.S.’s new cold war policy has therefore tended to produce chaos in Europe. In light of this, there are now signs some major European politicians do not wish to continue down this course.
President Macron made a widely reported comment following his April 2023 visit to China. He stated that Europe must not be a “follower” of the U.S. when it comes to Taiwan, a key issue, and should instead pursue “strategic autonomy.” This followed significant economic deals struck between France and China during Macron’s visit. It remains to be seen whether Macron will have the political strength to follow through on such an independent approach, particularly given the backlash these comments immediately received from Washington.
In March 2023, Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez struck a similarly independent tone, stating, “Relations between Europe and China do not need to be confrontational. There is ample room for win-win cooperation.”
Globally, the pursuit of an independent foreign policy is a growing trend. Such an approach has sustained peace in Asia with most countries focusing on economic development rather than confrontation. The recent breakthrough restoring diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran, established with China aiding negotiations, opens up the possibility of overcoming a number of conflicts in the Middle East. In Latin America, Lula’s recent reelection in Brazil strengthens the political forces in favor of regional independence and development.
Trends in Europe seeing an independent foreign policy as important for the region’s future are therefore in line with this overall global development.
This article was produced by Globetrotter.
Claiming to protect children, Republicans are going after libraries and librarians instead of the police, gun manufacturers, and actual child sexual abusers.
Missouri Republicans in early April voted to cut all public funding for libraries as part of their state budget proposal.
Leading the move was Cody Smith, a top Republican lawmaker and chair of the state’s budget committee, who made no attempt to hide the fact that he was retaliating against librarians because they dared to join the ACLU in suing the state over a Republican-led book ban. Smith said, “I don’t think we should subsidize the attempts to overturn laws that we also created,” even though the ACLU is entirely funding the lawsuit.
Indeed, Republicans forced Missouri’s librarians into suing their state in what appears to be yet another flashpoint in the GOP’s increasingly desperate culture wars. In 2022 the GOP passed SB 775, criminalizing librarians for providing “sexually explicit” material to minors. They face a $2,000 fine or up to a year in jail if found in violation of the bizarre law.
Thankfully, the state Senate Appropriations Committee moved quickly to restore public library funding, with Senate Republican Lincoln Hough admitting, “I think it was kind of a punitive cut that the House made.”
But the threat still remains after Missouri’s Republican State Secretary Jay Ashcroft pushed through an administrative rule that threatens funding if libraries violate the book ban. He did so in an explicitly undemocratic manner, saying, “I have to figure out how to do this, because by rule I can get it done much more quickly than if I wait on the legislature.”
“Defund the Library” could be the GOP’s new slogan, succinctly encompassing a free-market agenda to destroy public funding of institutions that enlighten and educate, all under the disingenuous banner of “protecting children.”
Missouri’s library debacle isn’t an isolated incident. Patmos Library in Jamestown, Michigan, lost its public funding last November after it refused to ban books that conservative voters deemed objectionable.
Louisiana Republicans are also advancing a state bill that threatens library funding over material deemed objectionable.
And Texas Republicans voted to cut library funding in retaliation for “drag queen story hour” readings, again claiming to do so in order to protect children from being exposed to men and gender-nonconforming individuals wearing makeup and dresses with pride.
A Vox analysis of libraries under attack explained the disturbing trend: “Usually, lawmakers start with book bans. If the bans aren’t as effective as they’d hope, they escalate to threatening to defund local libraries.”
U.S. libraries have long been institutions embodying freedom: the freedom to learn, and to do so anonymously, without regard to one’s financial status. When Congress rushed through the USA PATRIOT Act in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, librarians were among the first to counter the anti-democratic law, refusing to spy on their users for the government. They stood up to the federal government and even the Federal Bureau of Investigation. One Connecticut librarian named Peter Chase, who was bound by a government gag order over a requirement to turn over records, said, “As a librarian, I believe it is my duty and responsibility to speak out about any infringement to the intellectual freedom of library patrons.”
Libraries offer free use of computers and free internet service, an especially important service for people living in low-income neighborhoods, rural areas, and tribal communities. During the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, when lockdowns forced children out of classrooms, many libraries created community hot spots and enabled Wi-Fi access in their parking lots so that kids without home internet could connect remotely with their classrooms.
Libraries do so much more than lend books. They offer passport services, help with job applications and school research, and provide low-cost or free spaces for community events. They promote local authors and participate in city-wide reading programs and book clubs. A 2021 California report on libraries in the state concluded that “Through digital labs, makerspaces, career centers and business resources, memory labs, public programs, community partnerships, and online resources, public libraries help communities explore, learn, connect, and have fun beyond their traditional ‘library’ brand.”
When Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders ran for president in the 2016 election, he cited public funding of libraries as an example of democratic socialism in action, and libraries as “socialist institutions.”
Indeed, these socialist institutions are hugely popular. A Gallup poll of leisure activities conducted every 10 years found in 2019 that going to the library was “the most common cultural activity Americans engage in,” even more so than going to the movie theater. Libraries were far more popular among women than men, and low-income residents were far more likely to use their local library’s services than their higher-income neighbors.
In Michigan, where several libraries are dealing with book bans and where Patmos Library in Jamestown faced defunding, a March 2023 poll found broad support among the public, across party lines and political affiliations, to support libraries and the free dissemination of information.
These days it seems as though any public institution that actually helps and protects Americans is ripe for Republican-led destruction. It’s no wonder that conservatives are taking aim at this pillar of American democracy, deeming libraries “bastions of Marxism,” and “woke” purveyors of material that encourages racial justice and questions sexual orthodoxy. Not only have hundreds of books been banned across the country, but Republicans, like the ones in Missouri, are threatening librarians across the nation with fines and imprisonment. The Washington Post in a May 2023 analysis found that “[a]t least seven states have passed such laws in the last two years.”
Unlike police, who routinely kill and maim Americans, and who rightfully deserve to be targeted with defunding, and unlike gun manufacturers whose weapons continue to wreak constant violence and death across the country, librarians are the ones protecting and serving the public and its right to access information freely. But the GOP prefers to protect police and weapons makers while attacking librarians.
One New Jersey high school librarian named Martha Hickson was shocked to face unfounded accusations from a conservative of being “a pedophile, a pornographer, and a groomer of children,” during a heated debate over a book ban.
It turns out that not only do Republicans have a deep disdain for librarians, but also for children, the purported focus of their vociferous concerns.
Setting aside the GOP’s failure to protect children from mass shooters, Republican lawmakers have often shielded sexual predators. Pennsylvania Republicans refused to hold the church accountable for years of sexual abuse of children. Dozens of House Republicans refused to vote for the Respect for Child Survivors Act, a bill that would have protected child victims of sexual abuse. And Republican Congressman Louie Gohmert even praised a pastor friend and read his sermon on the House floor—a pastor who was a convicted child sexual abuser.
In fact, Daily Kos has a forum where readers submit news reports of “Republican Sexual Predators, Abusers, and Enablers.” The list is shockingly long.
Indeed, we should not be surprised to find out then that a Kansas City right-wing activist named Ryan Utterback, who pushed for Missouri’s book ban on the basis of protecting kids from LGBT-themed books, turned out to be an accused sexual predator. Utterback faces a felony charge of second-degree child sexual molestation.
In the battle over who really protects our children—librarians or Republicans—librarians are the ones who belong in our good books.
Sonali Kolhatkar is an award-winning multimedia journalist. She is the founder, host, and executive producer of “Rising Up With Sonali,” a weekly television and radio show that airs on Free Speech TV and Pacifica stations. Her forthcoming book is Rising Up: The Power of Narrative in Pursuing Racial Justice (City Lights Books, 2023). She is a writing fellow for the Economy for All project at the Independent Media Institute and the racial justice and civil liberties editor at Yes! Magazine. She serves as the co-director of the nonprofit solidarity organization the Afghan Women’s Mission and is a co-author of Bleeding Afghanistan. She also sits on the board of directors of Justice Action Center, an immigrant rights organization.
This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.
The recent developments in East Asia, such as the détente between South Korea and Japan, South Korea's increasing hostility toward China, and the talk of a liaison office of NATO in Tokyo, have raised alert of observers, as the US escalates confrontation with China. What are the obstacles for East Asia to maintain peace? Global Times (GT) reporter Wang Wenwen discussed these issues with K.J. Noh (Noh), a US-based journalist, political analyst, writer and educator specializing in the geopolitics and political economy of the Asia-Pacific region. He is a member of Veterans for Peace and Pivot to Peace.
GT: It is hyped by some Western media outlets that an East Asian NATO that comprises the US, Japan, South Korea and even China's Taiwan region should be established. What do you think?
Noh: I think it's an act of madness. NATO is the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, neither Japan or South Korea is in the North Atlantic. They are all in the Pacific. NATO is a Cold War relic that should have been disbanded after the fall of the Soviet Union. But since then, it served and it still serves as the military arm of US imperialism and US force projection around the world. It comes into the Pacific to threaten China, and talks of preserving peace or upholding human rights, which is hypocrisy beyond belief.
GT: Japan is in talks to open a NATO office. How will it affect regional stability, as the US pursues confrontation with China?
Noh: It will destroy regional stability. Anytime you hear the word "stability" from the US media, they are really talking about destabilization. Anytime you hear the word "deterrence," they are really talking about provocation. It will escalate the threat. It's not just a liaison office, it is an office to prepare for interoperability between the US and Japan.
So it is very threatening. The idea behind this is to expand the theater of war and the number of forces that are pinching China. But it's an extraordinarily dangerous confrontation and provocative act, and everybody in the West would be opposing it.
GT: What are the obstacles for East Asia to maintain peace? What lessons should East Asia draw from the ongoing Ukraine crisis?
Noh: The key obstacle for peace in East Asia is the US. Asia wants peace. China certainly wants peace, but the US wants war. It's good at waging war. I'm talking not just hybrid warfare, greyzone warfare, technological warfare, trade warfare, academic warfare, legal warfare, cultural warfare, information warfare. It's doing all of that. But it is also preparing for shooting war, for kinetic war. It will go to war to maintain its hegemony. The US would rather see the end of the world, rather than the end of their supremacy.
As for the lessons of the Ukraine war, it's important for all the countries in East Asia not to engage in a proxy war and not to be provoked into responding. The US will do everything to cross every red-line to provoke a war. It wants to create a kind of bandwagon strategy against China and get the entire world to sanction China as it has done with Ukraine.
What China is doing is very important, because it has proposed peace and it's acting as the wise mediator. I believe that over the long term peace defeats war, just as the soft defeats the hard, civilization defeats barbarism, ethics defeats wrong. Taking the higher road and engaging with diplomacy and working for peace, China is setting an example for the world that the rest of the world will eventually follow. At this extraordinary, dangerous and difficult moment, it really is the fact that the US wants to trigger war. The US certainly doesn't want peace that China has mediated or ushered in, because that would be just as bad as losing the war, and it would lose its global legitimacy.
We are in a very dangerous moment, but the lessons that we should learn is to look at Ukraine and don't let the US bring war to your shores. We have to work for peace and not be fooled by the lies of a failing patron that is so intent on either having its way or wreaking havoc around the world.
GT: The G7 Summit was held from Friday to Sunday. In recent years, the G7's original nature of economic cooperation has weakened, but its military and ideological nature has continued to increase. What do you think of G7's role as an accomplice of war and economic coercion?
Noh: These countries are going along, not because they see China as a threat, but because the US is actually the threat to them. If they don't bandwagon with the US, there will be mistreated sanctions. In a certain sense, they are an unwilling coalition.
The US wants to create as many gang members as it can to do its bidding to gang up against China, so that they can criticize China and say China is a threat to the rules-based order. It's the US usual propaganda. We can also note that there is a dissension within the G7 itself. France has made some noises about being more independent.
On a foundation level, economic cooperation with China is essential for all the Western states. China is the only major economy that's growing, and the only economy that has the capacity to bring these Western Atlantic states out of the economic morass. If they were thinking rationally and if they had their own interests at heart, they would be seeking to build and strengthen relations with China, and they would do away with this absurd demonization of China.
But to a large extent, the US is the ventriloquist behind the scenes, and the G7 largely are going to be capitulating and repeating the US lies. They will use every symbolic and rhetorical strategy to reinforce their hostility to China. That is a great mistake and a great tragedy.
GT: It seems that South Korea is tilting more toward the US. There has also been a growing negative trend in China-South Korea relations, as South Korea's president touched upon China's core issue, the Taiwan question. Do you think Seoul is jeopardizing its diplomatic balance and losing strategic independence?
Noh: It's true that South Korea is leaning more towards the US. The Yoon administration has put all of its chips onto aligning with the US. The key thing to understand is that inside South Korea's DNA in its history, South Korea has always been a US client state. The state of South Korea was created artificially by the US, by dividing the peninsula into two.
What we're seeing now is a reversion to the historical template. Yoon is giving the US everything it wants. Not long after he was elected, he came up with the South Korean Indo-Pacific strategy. This is essentially the US Indo-Pacific strategy. The US' pivot to Asia strategy is rebranded. It is a plan to prevent China from developing and even to encircle and attack it.
The US is provoking South Korea as a proxy or a pretext to escalate against China. Essentially, the key point is that South Korea does not have strategic independence.
This article was republished from Global Times.
Image credit: Left Voice.
The history of Marxism has a parallel history of counter-Marxism — intellectual currents that posture as the true Marxism.
Even before Marxism came into being as a coherent ideology, Marx and Engels devoted an often-neglected section of their 1848 Communist Manifesto to debunking the existing contenders for true socialism.
As the workers’ movement painfully sought a system of beliefs to animate its response to capitalism, the ideas of Karl Marx and Frederick Engels gradually won over workers, peasants, and the oppressed. It was not an easy victory. Liberalism — the dominant ideology of the capitalist class — served workers and peasants in their fight against absolutist tyranny.
With capitalism and liberal institutions firmly established, anarchism — the ideology of the disgruntled petty-bourgeois — rivalled Marxism for the leadership of the workers’ movement. Contradictorily, embracing extreme individualism and Utopian democracy distilled from capitalism, yet voicing a bitter hatred of capitalist institutions and economic arrangements, the anarchists failed to offer a viable escape from the crushing weight of capitalism.
Once Bolshevism seized power in 1917, the workers’ movement found an example of real-existing-socialism led by real-avowed-Marxists, a powerful beacon for the way forward in the struggle against capitalism. The victory of the Russian Revolution established Marxism as the most promising road for an exploited majority, with Leninism the only successful ideology for revolutionary change and socialism. To this day, Leninism has remained the only proven guide to socialism.
Immediately after the revolution, rival “Marxisms” sprang up.
The failure of subsequent European revolutions outside of Russia, especially Germany, sheared away numerous intellectuals, like Karl Korsch and György Lukács,who imagined a different, supposedly better, path to proletarian revolution. Buoyed by material support from benefactors, university appointments, and the many eager sponsors of class betrayal, critics and detractors of Leninism abounded.
Especially in the West — North America and Europe– where the working class was significant and growing dramatically, dissidence, class betrayal, and opportunism proved disruptive forces in the world Communist movement, forces that capitalist rulers were eager to support. Young people, inexperienced workers, aspiring intellectuals, and the déclassé, were especially vulnerable to the appeal of independence, purity, idealism, and liberal values. Money, career opportunities, and celebrity were readily available to those who were willing to sell these ideas.
Indeed, not every critic of Marxism-Leninism — revolutionary Communism — was or is insincere or without merit, but honesty demands recognition that no real advocate for overthrowing capitalism could achieve prominence, celebrity, or a mainstream soap box in the capitalist West. He or she could be a curiosity or a token for the sake of appearances — a stooge.
Conversely, any intellectual or political figure who does achieve wide-spread prominence or influence cannot represent a serious, existential challenge to capitalism when the road to prominence and influence is patrolled by the guardians of capitalism.
Nonetheless, the workers’ movement has been plagued by divisive ideological trends or fads spawned by independent voices who, wittingly or not, are exploited by and render service to the capitalist class.
In the West, it is almost impossible to be a young radical and not be tempted by a veritable ideological marketplace of putative anti-capitalist or socialist theories, vying with one another for allegiance. Since the demise of unvarnished, real-existing socialism in the Soviet Union and the disorientation of many Communist and Workers’ parties, the competition of ideas has created even more confusion.
Clearly, the working-class movement, the revolutionary socialist movement, needs guidance to avoid distractions, bogus theories, and corrupted ideas. The march of political neophytes through the arcade of specious, fantastic ideas is a great tragedy, especially regarding those ideas posing as Marxist.
Happily, a new generation of Marxist thinkers are challenging the allure of Marxist pretenders, more specifically, those associated with what has come to be called “Western Marxism.” A sympathetic Wikipedia article offers about as accurate a definition of the words as one might want: “The term denotes a loose collection of theorists who advanced an interpretation of Marxism distinct from both classical and Orthodox Marxism and the Marxism-Leninism of the Soviet Union.” It couldn’t be made clearer: Western Marxism is anything but the Marxism-Leninism that has buttressed worker-engaged revolutionary parties since the time of the Bolshevik revolution!
Marxist historian and journalist, Vijay Prashad, gave a seminar at the Marx Memorial Library on November 21, 2022, in which he excoriated the Western Marxism of the 1980s:
"There was a sustained attack on Marxism in this period, led by New Left Books, now Verso Books, in London, which published Hegemony and Socialist Strategy by Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe in 1985. The book mischievously utilised the work of Antonio Gramsci to make an attack at Marxism, to in fact champion something they called “post-Marxism.” Post-structuralism, post-Marxism, post-colonialism: this became the flavour of academic literature coming out of Western countries from the 1980s… Particularly after the collapse of the Soviet Union there was a great weakness in our ability to fight back against this denigration of Marxism in the name of post-Marxism… When they [Laclau and Mouffe] talk about “agency” and “the subject” and so on, they have basically walked away from the structuring impact of political economy and returned to a pre-Marxist time; they have in fact not gone beyond Marxism but back to a time before Marxism." (“Viewing Decolonization through a Marxist Lens,” published in Communist Review, Winter 2022/2023)
Prashad places the influential works of Hardt and Negri and Deleuze and Guattari in the same post-Marxist mix.
He regrets the multiculturalism turn because it ”basically took the guts out of the anticolonial, anti-racist critique, at the global level you had the arrival of ‘postcolonial’ thought, and also ‘decoloniality’ — in other words, let’s look at power, let’s look at culture, but let’s not look at the political economy that structures everyday life and behavior and reproduces the colonial mentality; that has to be off the table… So, we entered into a kind of academic morass, where Marxism was not, in a sense, permitted to enter.”
Prashad might well have added the intrusion of rational-choice theory into Marxism in the 1980s, an uninvited analysis of Marxist theory through the lens of methodological individualism and liberal egalitarianism. One leading exponent of what came to be called “analytical Marxism” eviscerated the robust Marxist concept of exploitation by proving that if we have inequality as an initial condition, we will quite logically reproduce inequality– a trivial derivation with little relevance to understanding the historically evolved concept of labor exploitation..
Prashad might have noted the continuing influence of postmodern relativism upon Marxist theory in the 1980s and beyond, a denigration of any claim that Marxism is the science of society. For the postmodernist, Marxism can only be, at best, one of several competing interpretations of society, coherent within Marxist circles, but forbidden from making any greater claim for universality. Moreover, the postmodernist denies that there can ever be any valid overarching theory of capitalism, any “metanarrative” that plots a socio-economic system’s trajectory. While its flaws can not be addressed here, the late Marxist historian Ellen Meiksins Wood exposed the academic trend with great clarity.
Another excellent, contemporary critique of Western Marxism can be found in the writings of Marxist author Gabriel Rockhill. Rockhill skillfully and thoroughly discredits the Frankfurt School of neo-Marxism, especially its most celebrated thinkers, Hockheimer, Habermas, Adorno, and Marcuse, exposing their fealty to various sponsors. Those who paid the bills enjoyed sympathetic ideas, an outcome often found with the practitioners of Western Marxism.
Rockhill also does a scathing exposé of today’s most prominent Marxist poseur, Slavoj Žižek. I was happy to heap praise on Rockhill’s deflation of Žižek’s unmatched ego in an earlier post. Both Rockhill’s unmasking of the Frankfurt School and his destruction of the Žižek cult are essential reading in contesting Western Marxism.
Western Marxists can conveniently overlook capitalism’s history of genocidal, undemocratic, and exploitative sins while excoriating the Fidelistas for settling accounts with a few hundred Batista torturers. They deplore the sweeping changes that Soviet and Chinese Communists implemented in agriculture to overcome the frequent famines that devastated their countries when the changes unfortunately coincided with severe famines, as though great change for the better could evade natural events and tragedy anywhere but in their imagination.
They turn a blind eye to the human costs imposed on humanity by ruling elites’ resistance to great change, while denouncing revolutionaries for seeking that change and risking a better future. Western Marxism diminishes the great accomplishments of real existing socialism, while relentlessly denouncing the errors incurred in socialist construction. Garrido effectively underscores the necessary pains and errors in realizing a new world, in escaping the clutches of ruthless capitalism.
As Garrido notes:
This is the sort of ‘Marxism’ that imperialism appreciates, the type which CIA agent Thomas Braden called “the compatible left.” This is the ‘Marxism’ which functions as the vanguard of controlled counter-hegemony.
He eloquently summarizes:
Socialism for the Western Marxists is, in the words of Marx, a purely scholastic question. They are not interested in real struggle, in changing the world, but in continuously purifying an idea, one that is debated amongst other ivory-tower Marxists and which is used to measure against the real world. The label of ‘socialist’ or ‘Marxist’ is sustained merely as a counter-cultural and edgy identity which exists in the fringes of quotidian society. That is what Marxism is reduced to in the West — a personal identity.
I might add that it is also a commonplace for Western Marxists to invest heavily in other-people’s-socialism. Rather than engaging their own working classes, Western Marxists fight surrogate struggles for socialism through the solidarity movement, picking and choosing the “purest” struggles and debating the merits of various socialisms vicariously.
Garrido elaborates on socialism-as-an-investment-in-identity:
In the context of the hyper-individualist West’s treatment of socialism as a personal identity, the worst thing that may happen for these ‘socialists’ is for socialism to be achieved. That would mean the total destruction of their counter-cultural fringe identity. Their utter estrangement from the working masses of the country may in part be read as an attempt to make socialist ideas fringe enough to never convince working people, and hence, never conquer political power.
The success of socialism would entail a loss of selfhood, a destruction of the socialist-within-capitalism identity. The socialism of the West is grounded on an identity which hates the existing order but hates even more the loss of identity which transcending it would entail.
Garrido’s objectives are not completed with his masterful dissection of Western Marxism. In addition, he devotes great attention to Western Marxism’s critique of the Peoples’ Republic of China (PRC) in a section entitled China and the Purity Fetish of Western Marxism. Of course, he is correct to deplore Western Marxism’s unprincipled collaboration with bourgeois ideologues in attacking every policy or act of Peoples’ China since its revolution in 1949. As with the USSR, any honest, deeply considered estimation of the trajectory of the PRC must — warts and all — see it as a positive in humanity’s necessary transcendence of capitalism.
As anti-imperialists, we must defend the PRC’s right (and other countries’ rights) to choose its own course.
As Marxists, we must defend the Chinese Communist Party’s right to find its own road to socialism.
But Garrido goes further, by mounting an impassioned, but one-sided defense of Chinese socialism. As a militant advocate of the dialectical method, this is an odd departure. As esteemed Marxist R. Palme Dutt argued in the 1960s, the pregnant question for a dialectical materialist is Whither China? not: Does the PRC measure up to some pure Platonic form of socialism?
A more balanced view of the PRC road would reference the significance of the Communist Party’s overwhelmingly peasant class base in its foundation, its engagement with Chinese nationalism, and the strong voluntarist tendency in Mao Zedong Thought. It would consider the 1960s’ break with the World Communist movement and the rapprochement with the most reactionary elements in US ruling circles in the 1970s, capped by the shameful material support for US and South African surrogates in the liberation wars of Southern Africa. PRC was funding Jonas Savimbi and UNITA while Cuban internationalists were dying fighting them and their apartheid allies. Which suggests the question: Could Peoples’ China do more to help Cuba overcome the US blockade, as did the Soviet Union?
A fair account would address the PRC invasion of Vietnam in 1979 and Peoples’ China’s unwavering defense of the Khmer Rouge. Surely, all these factors play a role in assessing the PRC’s road to socialism.
These uncomfortable facts make it hard to agree with Garrido that the PRC has been “a beacon in the anti-imperialist struggle.”
Of course, today is another matter. My own view is that the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party is “riding the tiger” of a substantial capitalist sector, to use imagery reminiscent of high Maoism. How well they are riding it is in question, but they are indeed riding it. There are many promising developments, but also some that are worrisome.
In any case, the comrades who are critical or skeptical of the Chinese road should not be summarily swept into the dustbin with Western Marxism.
Garrido brings his purity fetish home when he discusses US socialist organizing. He casts a critical eye on the class character of most of the US left, rooting it in the petty-bourgeoisie and the influence of petty-bourgeois ideas. He locates the conveyor for these ideas in academia, the media, and NGOs. Additional material support for petty-bourgeois ideology comes from non-profit corporations and, of course, the Democratic Party.
The petty-bourgeois bias of the US left reinforces its hyper-critical attitude toward movements attempting to actually secure a socialist future. Wherever socialists or socialist-oriented militants tackle the enormous obstacles before them, many on the left will insist that they adhere to courteous liberal standards, an unrealistic demand guaranteeing failure. Garrido mocks the insistence on revolutionary purity: “…the problem is that those things in the real world called socialism were never actually socialism; socialism is really this beautiful idea that exists in a pure form in my head….”
The purity fetish of the middle strata extends to radicals who scorn workers as “backward” or “deplorable.” Garrido counters this purity obsession with a wonderful quote from Lenin: one “can (and must) begin to build socialism, not with abstract human material, or with human material especially prepared by us, but with the human material bequeathed to us by capitalism.”
Regarding the Trump vote and the working class, Garrido scolds the US left:
…they don’t see that what is implicit in that vote is a desire for something new, something which only the socialist movement, not Trump or any bourgeois party, could provide. Instead, they see in this chunk of the working class a bunch of racists bringing forth a ‘fascist’ threat which can only be defeated by giving up on the class struggle and tailing the Democrats. Silly as it may sound, this policy dominates the contemporary communist movement in the U.S.
While not all of the left is guilty of this failure, the charge is not far off the mark.
Finally, Garrido faults much of the US left for its blanket dismissal of progressive trends and achievements in US history. Many leftists debase heroic struggles in US history by painting a portrait of a relentless trajectory of reaction, racism, and imperialism. Garrido correctly sees this as an instantiation of a negative purity fetish– denouncing every page of US history as fatally wanting and inauthentic: “…purity fetish Marxists add on to their futility in developing subjective conditions for revolution by completely disconnecting themselves from the traditions the American masses have come to accept.”
While this is true, it must be remembered that there is always the danger that US history would be celebrated so vigorously that the country’s legacy of cruelty and bloody massacre might be muted by patriotic zeal. During the Popular Front era, for example, Communist leader Earl Browder’s slogan that “Communism is twentieth century Americanism” invested too much social justice in Americanism and too little in Communism.
US history and tradition is contradictory and Marxists should always expose that contradiction– a legacy of both great, historic social change and ugly inhumanity. The country’s origin shares a tragic settler-colonial past with countries like Australia and South Africa in its genocidal treatment of indigenous people. Those same settlers established or tolerated the brutal exploitation of Africans forced into chattel slavery. While we could lay the blame at the doorstep of the US ruling class, it is US history as well.
At the same time, the US revolution was the most radical for its time and every generation produced a consequential movement to correct the failings of the legacy or advance the horizon of social progress. An emancipating civil war, the expansion of suffrage, workers’ gains against corporations, social welfare and insurance, and a host of other milestones mark the peoples’ history.
While writing and reflecting on the 200th anniversary of the French Revolution (Echoes of the Marsellaise), Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm couldn’t help but be struck by the lesser global influence of the earlier US revolution upon nineteenth-century social change. He thought that reformers and revolutionaries of the time could recognize their point of departure “more readily in the Ancien Régime of France than in the free colonists and slave-holders of North America.” Undoubtedly, the stain of the genocide of indigenous peoples and brutal slavery influenced that disposition.
Indeed, Hobsbawn’s observation underscores the contradictory character of the US past. It is not a “purity fetish” that explains this judgment, but the cold, harsh facts of US history.
Nonetheless, it is appropriate for Garrido to remind us of the many revolutionaries — Marx, Lenin, Mao, Ho Chi Minh, William Z Foster, Herbert Aptheker, Fidel, and more — who have both drawn inspiration and offered inspiration from the victories of the people as well as the fierce resistance to ruling-class oppression contained in US history. He effectively cites Communist leader Georgi Dimitrov who rejects the practice of national nihilism — the denigration of all expressions of national pride and accomplishment. Within every national identity is an identity to be celebrated in its resistance to oppression and its dedication to a better way of life. Workers must draw national humility from the failures of the past, while drawing national pride from the victories over injustice. A left that attends to only one and not both will fail the working class.
Western Marxism — Marxist scholasticism, disconnected from revolutionary practice — distracts far-too-many well-meaning, hungry-for-change potential allies on the arduous road to socialism. It is heartening to find voices rising to challenge the sterile, obscurantism of this distraction, while defending and promoting the tradition of Marxism-Leninism and Communism. We should encourage and support Marxists like Prashad, Rockhill, and Garrido in conducting this struggle.
This article was republished from Dissident Voice.