A changing world order, a shrinking U.S. empire, migrations and related demographic shifts, and major economic crashes have all enhanced religious fundamentalisms around the world. Beyond religions, other ideological fundamentalisms likewise provide widely welcomed reassurances. One of the latter—market fundamentalism—invites and deserves criticism as a major obstacle to navigating this time of rapid social change. Market fundamentalism attributes to that particular social institution a level of perfection and “optimality” quite parallel to what fundamentalist religions attribute to prophets and divinities.
Yet markets are just one among many social means of rationing. Anything scarce relative to demand for it raises the same question: Who will get it and who must do without it? The market is one institutional way to ration the scarce item. In a market, those who want it bid up its price leading others to drop out because they cannot or will not pay the higher price. When higher prices have eliminated the excess of demand over supply, scarcity is gone, and no more bidding up is required. Those able and willing to pay the higher prices are satisfied by receiving distributions of the available supply.
The market has thus rationed out the scarce supply. It has determined who gets and who does not. Clearly, the richer a buyer is, the more likely that buyer will welcome, endorse, and celebrate “the market system.” Markets favor rich buyers. Such buyers in turn will more likely support teachers, clerics, politicians, and others who promote arguments that markets are “efficient,” “socially positive,” or “best for everyone.”
Yet even the economics profession—which routinely celebrates markets—includes a sizable—if underemphasized—literature about how, why, and when free (i.e., unregulated) markets do not work efficiently or in socially positive ways. That literature has developed concepts like “imperfect competition,” “market distortions,” and “externalities,” to pinpoint markets failing to be efficient or benefit social welfare. Social leaders who have had to deal with actual markets in society have likewise repeatedly intervened in them when and because markets worked in socially unacceptable ways. Thus, we have minimum wage laws, maximum interest-rate laws, price-gouging laws, and tariff and trade wars. Practical people know that “leaving matters to the market” has often yielded disasters (e.g., the crashes of 2000, 2008, and 2020) overcome by massive, sustained governmental regulation of and intervention in markets.
So then why do market fundamentalists celebrate a rationing system—the market—that in both theory and practice is more replete with holes than a block of Swiss cheese? Libertarians go so far as to promote a “pure” market economy as a realizable utopia. Such a pure market system is their policy to fix the massive problems they admit exist in contemporary (impure) capitalism. Libertarians are forever frustrated by their lack of success.
For many reasons, markets ought not claim anyone’s loyalty. Among alternative systems of rationing scarcity, markets are clearly inferior. For example, in many religious, ethical, and moral traditions, basic precepts urge or insist that scarcity be addressed by a rationing system based on their respective concepts of human need. Many other rationing systems—including the U.S. version used in World War II—dispensed with the market system and substituted a needs-based rationing system managed by the government.
Rationing systems could likewise be based on age, type of work performed, employment status, family situation, health conditions, distance between home and workplace, or other criteria. Their importance relative to one another and relative to some composite notion of “need,” could and should be determined democratically. Indeed, a genuinely democratic society would let the people decide which (if any) scarcities should be rationed by the market and which (if any) by alternative rationing systems.
Market fetishists will surely trot out their favorite rationalizations with which to regale students. For example, they argue that when buyers bid up prices for scarce items other entrepreneurs will rush in with more supply to capture those higher prices, thereby ending the scarcity. This simple-minded argument fails to grasp that the entrepreneurs cashing in on the higher prices for scarce items have every incentive and many of the means to prevent, delay, or block altogether the entry of new suppliers. Actual business history shows that they often do so successfully. In other words, glib assurances about reactions to market prices are ideological noise and little else.
We can also catch the market fetishizers in their own contradictions. When justifying the sky-high pay packages of mega-corporate CEOs, we are told their scarcity requires their high prices. The same folks explain to us that to overcome scarcity of wage labor, it was necessary to cut U.S. workers’ pandemic-era unemployment supplement, not to raise their wages. During times of scarcity, markets often reveal to capitalists the possibility of earning higher profits on lower volumes of product and sales. If they prioritize profits and when they can afford to bar others’ entry, they will produce and sell less at higher prices to a richer clientele. We are watching that process unfold in the United States now.
The neoliberal turn in U.S. capitalism since the 1970s yielded big profits from a globalized market system. However, outside the purview of neoliberal ideology, that global market catapulted the Chinese economy forward far faster than the United States and far faster than the United States found acceptable. Thus the United States junked its market celebrations (substituting intense “security” concerns) to justify massive governmental interventions in markets to thwart Chinese development: a trade war, tariff wars, chip subsidies, and sanctions. Awkwardly and unpersuasively, the economic profession keeps teaching about the efficiency of free or pure markets, while students learn from the news all about U.S. protectionism, market management, and the need to turn away from the free market gods previously venerated.
Then too the market-based health care system of the United States challenges market fundamentalism: the United States has 4.3 percent of the world population but accounted for 16.9 percent of the world’s COVID-19 deaths. Might the market system bear a significant share of the blame and fault here? So dangerous is the potential disruption of ideological consensus that it becomes vital to avoid asking the question, let alone pursuing a serious answer.
During the pandemic, millions of workers were told that they were “essential” and “front-line responders.” A grateful society appreciated them. As they often noted, the market had not rewarded them accordingly. They got very low wages. They must not have been scarce enough to command better. That’s how markets work. Markets do not reward what is most valuable and essential. They never did. They reward what is scarce relative to people’s ability to buy, no matter the social importance we give to the actual work and roles people play. Markets pander to where the money is. No wonder the rich subsidize market fundamentalism. The wonder is why the rest of society believes or tolerates it.
Richard D. Wolff is professor of economics emeritus at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and a visiting professor in the Graduate Program in International Affairs of the New School University, in New York. Wolff’s weekly show, “Economic Update,” is syndicated by more than 100 radio stations and goes to 55 million TV receivers via Free Speech TV. His three recent books with Democracy at Work are The Sickness Is the System: When Capitalism Fails to Save Us From Pandemics or Itself, Understanding Socialism, and Understanding Marxism, the latter of which is now available in a newly released 2021 hardcover edition with a new introduction by the author.
This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.
The author of a study on the people killed indirectly by the War on Terror calls on the U.S. to step up reconstruction and assistance efforts in post-9/11 war zones.
Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. (Filetime, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons)
The post-9/11 War on Terror may have caused at least 4.5 million deaths in around half a dozen countries, according to a report published Monday by the preeminent academic institution studying the costs, casualties, and consequences of a war in which U.S. bombs and bullets are still killing and wounding people in multiple nations.
The new report from the Costs of War Project at Brown University’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs shows “how death outlives war” by examining people killed indirectly by the War on Terror in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen.
“In a place like Afghanistan, the pressing question is whether any death can today be considered unrelated to war,” Stephanie Savell, Costs of War co-director and author of the report, said in a statement. “Wars often kill far more people indirectly than in direct combat, particularly young children.”
The publication “reviews the latest research to examine the causal pathways that have led to an estimated 3.6-3.7 million indirect deaths in post-9/11 war zones,” while “the total death toll in these war zones could be at least 4.5-4.6 million and counting, though the precise mortality figure remains unknown.”
As The Washington Post — which first reported on the analysis — details:
“Since 2010, a team of 50 scholars, legal experts, human rights practitioners, and physicians participating in theCosts of War project have kept their own calculations. According to their latest assessment, more than 906,000 people, including 387,000 civilians, died directly from post-9/11 wars. Another 38 million people have been displaced or made refugees. The U.S. federal government, meanwhile, has spent over $8 trillion on these wars, the research suggests.
According to the report, “The large majority of indirect war deaths occur due to malnutrition, pregnancy and birth-related problems, and many illnesses including infectious diseases and noncommunicable diseases like cancer.”
One 2012 study found that more than half of the babies born in the Iraqi city of Fallujah between 2007 and 2010 had birth defects. Among the pregnant woman surveyed in the study, more than 45 percent experienced miscarriages in the two-year period following the 2004 U.S. assaults on Fallujah. Geiger counter readings of depleted uranium-contaminated sites in densely populated Iraqi urban areas have consistently shown radiation levels that are 1,000 to 1,900 times higher than normal.
The study also found that some deaths “also result from injuries due to war’s destruction of infrastructure such as traffic signals and from reverberating trauma and interpersonal violence.”
Savell said that “warring parties who damage infrastructure with an impact on population health have a moral responsibility to provide quick and effective assistance and repairs.”
“The United States government, while not solely responsible for the damage, has a significant obligation to invest in humanitarian assistance and reconstruction in post-9/11 war zones,” she added. “The U.S. government could do far more than it currently is to act on this responsibility.”
This article is from Common Dreams.
This article was republished from Consortium News.
Woody Guthrie Prize Given to Punk Rock Group that Supports Escalation of Ukraine War and Overthrow of Russian Government By: Jeremy KuzmarovRead Now
Members of Pussy Riot receiving the Woody Guthrie Prize in Tulsa Oklahoma on May 6. [Source: Photo courtesy of Jeremy Kuzmarov]
As a proponent of peaceful relations with the Soviet Union, Woody Guthrie would likely be rolling over in his grave if he knew how his heirs betrayed his name
Famous for his song “This Land Is Your Land” and for adopting the slogan “This Machine Kills Fascists” on his guitar, the great American folk singer Woody Guthrie was an authentic American dissident and radical.
As a member of the Communist Party, he supported militant labor strikes and spoke out against U.S. foreign policy.
A mere month after the dropping of atomic bombs on two Japanese cities, Guthrie—who served with the Merchant Marines during World War II—wrote a series of songs in The Yank Weekly, which lamented the destruction in Hiroshima and called for the immediate abolition of nuclear weapons.
Woody Guthrie [Source: independent.co.uk]
Subsequently, Woody was part of a songwriters’ collective, considered seditious by the FBI, that supported the 1948 presidential campaign of Henry Wallace, who advocated for peace with Russia and the dismantling of the worldwide network of U.S. military bases.
Henry Wallace [Source: thefamouspeople.com]
More than a dozen songs found at the Woody Guthrie Center Archives in Tulsa, Oklahoma, show that Woody criticized the Korean War in terms that anticipated the New Left critique of the Vietnam War.
In “Bye Bye Big Brass,” (1952) Woody imagined a scenario in which he is shipped off to Korea and, rather than kill a Chinese soldier he encounters, he sits and talks with him by a campfire. After getting to know one another, the two hide out together and fight back against the U.S. Army when it tries to capture them.
In “Hey General Mackymacker” (1952), Woody exposed the lies of General Douglas MacArthur who repeatedly claimed that the U.S. was winning the war and would be home by Christmas, but did not specify to which Christmas he was referring. Woody also condemned MacArthur for threatening to use the atom bomb again, this time on North Korea and China.
If Woody were alive today, he would surely see through the lies of MacArthur’s heirs and the folly of the U.S. government provoking a potential nuclear war, and be horrified by the U.S. government’s support for a regime in Ukraine that has been infiltrated by the far right and suppresses workers’ rights.
Woody would likely also have deep misgivings that a center created in his honor awarded its tenth anniversary prize to Pussy Riot, a punk rock group that supports the government in Ukraine and the overthrow of the Russian government, in line with the goals of U.S. foreign policy.
Nora Guthrie, Woody’s daughter, announcing the granting of the 2023 Woody Guthrie prize to Pussy Riot at Cain’s ballroom in Tulsa, Oklahoma on May 6. [Source: Photo Courtesy of Jeremy Kuzmarov]
While fashioning themselves as anti-war, Pussy Riot is in fact pro-war because they advocate for Ukraine’s victory in the conflict over Russia and not a peace settlement, which Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, backed by the U.S., has so far refused to negotiate.
Pussy Riot singer Maria V. “Masha” Alyokhina in a “Stand With Ukraine” t-shirt at concert at Cain’s ballroom in Tulsa, Oklahoma on May 6. [Source: Photo Courtesy of Jeremy Kuzmarov]
By branding Putin solely responsible for the war, Pussy Riot ignores Ukrainian and U.S. government provocations. They show an egregious double standard in purporting to be against dictatorship and fascism while wanting you to stand with Ukraine when its government has a) banned 12 opposition parties; b) shut down independent media; c) banned churches affiliated with Russia; and d) carried out wide-scale detentions, acts of terrorism, assassinations, and car bombings directed at political opponents and extending into the Russian Federation.
Pussy Riot at Cain’s ballroom in Tulsa on May 6. [Source: Photo Courtesy of Jeremy Kuzmarov]
Woody was adamantly against war profiteering on Wall Street so would have been against the $100 billion plus in military aid that the U.S. government has given to Ukraine as a subsidy to weapons manufacturers like Lockheed Martin and Boeing so their stocks could go up.
A zealous war hawk who has supported missile strikes in Russia and the bombing of an oil pipeline that transfers Russian oil into Hungary according to classified U.S. intelligence documents, Zelensky has further passed regressive new labor laws right out of Chiang’s playbook, and sold out Ukraine’s economy to foreign interests in the way that Chiang did.
Volodymyr Zelensky addressing the U.S Congress with Nancy Pelosi and Kamala Harris holding the Ukrainian flag. [Source: news.sky.com]
Woody’s love of Russia was evident in a November 1942 ode that he wrote to Lyudmila Pavilchenko, a famous Russian sniper said to have killed over 300 Nazis who had invaded her homeland. Woody wrote:
“Miss Pavilichenko’s well known to fame;
Russia’s your country, fighting is your game;
The whole world will love her for a long time to come
For more than three hundred Nazis fell by your gun.”
Lyudmilla Pavilchenko [Source: reddit.com]
While it cannot be predicted if Woody would have written any odes to Russian snipers who have killed Azov battalion neo-Nazis in the current war, it’s almost certain that he would have opposed the fascists on the Ukrainian side who slaughtered trade union activists in Odessa after the 2014 Maidan coup, and have terrorized the people of Eastern Ukraine since that time.
Hooligans Elevated to Heroes in a Twisted World
Pussy Riot first made a name for themselves in February 2012 when they disrupted a service at Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour and performed an obscenity-laced song called “Punk Prayer,” which attacked the Orthodox Church’s support for Vladimir Putin.
Pussy Riot performing their “punk prayer” in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior. [Source: dw.com]
Several weeks after the cathedral stunt—which was broken up by church officials—Maria “Masha” Alyokhina, Yekaterina Samutsevich and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova were arrested and charged with “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred.”
They were subsequently held without bail until their trial when they were convicted and sentenced to two years in prison.
While many Russians believed that the sentence was too severe, a large number also believed that Pussy Riot’s actions were a gross offense to the Orthodox faith and that the group engaged in other vulgar public acts that were morally offensive. These have included filming videos where members of the band kissed Russian police officers in public, urinated on a portrait of Putin, and burned him in effigy.
Elena Doshlygina, a Russian language professor at the University of Tulsa, told me: “To me this group [Pussy Riot] is totally disgusting. [Nadezhda] Tolokonnikova was previously a member of the Voina group. They organized a sex orgy in the Zoological Museum, very close to Red Square, in 2008. I believe it’s associated with the Moscow State University [the most prestigious university in Russia]. Actually my ancestor, [Sergei] Buturlin, a well-known ornithologist donated and sponsored part of his collection in the museum. What Pussy Riot did is a total insult to me. They are vulgar and totally immoral. I can’t even send you the links. They are all so horribly pornographic. There were also other performances before the Church, totally vulgar and disgusting. I resent the fact that they are presented with awards as heroes for the fight for democracy.”
Obviously Pussy Riot is receiving so many awards is because their political message denigrating Vladimir Putin accords with U.S. regime change designs. These stem from a desire to turn back the clock to the 1990s when foreign capitalist interests were able to exploit Russia economically and begin to take control over its abundant natural resources.
Putin may have authoritarian features, but he has restored Russia’s economic sovereignty and regional power while effectively withstanding the U.S. sanctions and enhancing Russia’s trading relations with China.
If a U.S. punk group pulled the kind of stunts as Pussy Riot targeting churches and government officials, it is unlikely they would receive any major awards; rather their members would likely be imprisoned like Pussy Riot was in Russia and be treated like delinquents.
The fake progressive veneer of musicians like Sting, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Madonna was evident in their support for Pussy Riot and call for their release when they were jailed; human rights groups also designated them prisoners of conscience and Time magazine put them on the cover as 2012’s Women of the Year.
In 2013, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), a CIA offshoot that promotes political propaganda and supports dissidents in countries targeted by the U.S. for regime change, sponsored a forum that idealized Pussy Riot.
This breeds suspicion that Pussy Riot may have received covert NED assistance—though this is difficult to verify, as the NED does not disclose the groups to which it provides funding.
Journalist Tony Cartalucci found an indirect connection in that Pussy Riot members associated with Alexei Navalny, an agent of U.S.-funded sedition who formed a political organization, Democratic Alternative, that received NED funding.
Alexei Navalny [Source: theguardian.com]
Cartalucci also found that a woman heading Pussy Riot’s support campaign in Finland, Oksana Chelysheva, was a board member of the Russian-Finnish Civic Forum, which was also funded by the NED, and George Soros’s Open Society Foundation, which is linked to the CIA. Chelysheva was additionally a member of the Russian-Chechen Friendship Society, which was funded by the U.S. State Department to promote Chechen terrorist propaganda.
Pussy Riot’s visit to Tulsa to receive the Woody Guthrie Prize on May 6, tellingly, was financed by George Kaiser, an oil billionaire and chief financier of the Democratic Party in Oklahoma whose foundation may be used as part of some kind of quid pro quo to advance CIA projects—including a cyber-security program at the University of Tulsa, which received a National Security Agency (NSA) excellence award and hosted CIA Director John F. Brennan.
George Kaiser [Source: tulsaworld.com]
Kaiser financed the building of the Woody Guthrie Museum, which opened in 2010. The Kaiser Foundation’s executive director, Ken Levit, served as CIA Director George Tenet’s Special Counsel from 1998 to 2000.
Ken Levit [Source: gkff.org]
Very clearly Pussy Riot’s visit to Tulsa and its receipt of the Woody Guthrie Prize had an explicitly political agenda: to use the name of a legendary anti-war folk singer to undercut the U.S. anti-war movement and promote solidarity among people who identify as leftists for the war in Ukraine as well as for U.S. regime change designs in Russia, which is the end goal of the war.
At the concert on May 6 in Tulsa’s Cain Ballroom following their receipt of the Woody Guthrie Prize, Pussy Riot band members displayed pro-Ukrainian t-shirts and waved the Ukrainian flag—as did some members of the audience.
The musical quality of the show was dubious—nowhere close to Woody Guthrie’s level or that of previous Guthrie Award recipients like Bruce Springsteen and John Cougar Mellencamp—though it was rather entertaining to watch.
At a key moment, Pussy Riot brought out and then proceeded to urinate on and then destroy a portrait of Vladimir Putin.
Pussy Riot also condemned Russian atrocities in Bucha—though independent investigations determined that the majority of civilian deaths there were likely caused by the Ukrainians—and the Russian takeover of Crimea, when Crimeans voted overwhelmingly to rejoin Russia which they had historic and economic ties to.
Part of the Pussy Riot show was a narration of their story of arrest following the 2012 Moscow Cathedral stunt and the hardship that the young women experienced in a prison in the Urals, which they likened to a Soviet-era Gulag.
At one point, a photo was shown of Vladimir Putin with Belarus’s socialist leader Alexander Lukashenko, whom Pussy Riot also hates.
This aligns very neatly again with the position of the U.S. State Department, which has supported numerous color revolutions directed against Lukashenko because he has resisted NATO expansion and the penetration of the Belarusian economy by U.S. corporations.
[Source: Photo Courtesy of Jeremy Kuzmarov]
Pussy Riot advocates for revolution, but the book Riot Days, written by band member Maria Alyokhina, does not explain what economic model they would pursue that would improve the quality of life of the Russian people.
[Source: Photo Courtesy of Jeremy Kuzmarov]
While some aspects of their anger at the Putin government and advocacy is justifiable, one is left with the impression that they just want to sow anarchy for anarchy’s sake.
In a forum at Tulsa’s Circle Cinema, Pussy Riot members admitted that the group was anti-intellectual and tries to play off people’s emotions. They urged Oklahomans to oppose abortion restrictions but had nothing critical to say about U.S. foreign policy and seemed to possess only a limited understanding of world geopolitics.
Members of Pussy Riot speak at forum at Tulsa’s Circle Cinema on May 7. [From left to right: Diana Burkot, Olga Borisova, Maria Alyokhina. [Source: Photo Courtesy of Jeremy Kuzmarov]
One of the girls, Diana Burkot, recounted how her father supports the Russian Special Military operation in Ukraine and has basically disowned her. I felt sorry that while some of her values to me seem good, she is being used by U.S. oligarchs and arch-imperialists of the George Kaiser ilk who want to destroy her homeland so they can dominate Eurasia, loot Russia like they did in the 1990s, and sustain a unipolar world order dominated by the U.S.
[Source: Photo Courtesy of Jeremy Kuzmarov]
In an interview before the show with Bob Santelli, executive director of the Bruce Springsteen Archives and Center for American Music at Monmouth University (NJ), Pussy Riot band members said that Russia has become totalitarian under Putin.
One of the political prisoners whose plight Pussy Riot spotlighted at the show, Alexei Navalny, was arrested on what appears to be legitimate embezzlement charges and is a Western backed political operative who received funding from the NED and British intelligence agents.
If an American in the pay of foreign intelligence agencies were similarly spreading anti-U.S. invective and working to bring down the U.S. government, he would likely meet the same fate as Navalny, if not worse.
The prize should have gone to a dissident American singer/songwriter who, in Woody’s spirit, is trying to challenge the U.S. permanent warfare state, grip of Wall Street, and new Cold War in a renewed climate of McCarthyism.
Someone like David Rovics, a protest singer and truth-teller like Woody who has eloquently spoken out against U.S. policy in Ukraine. Or better yet, Roger Waters, the co-founder of Pink Floyd, who has endured denunciations and blacklisting for his condemnation of U.S. and NATO policy in Ukraine and support for Palestinian rights and Julian Assange.
Roger Waters, a true embodiment of Woody Guthrie’s spirit who has endured vicious attacks for speaking out against U.S. imperial foreign policies in Ukraine and elsewhere. [Source: rt.com]
Instead of choosing to honor these true embodiments of Woody Guthrie’s spirit, we have the sad spectacle of Guthrie’s offspring teaming with a billionaire oil tycoon to host an event headlined by artists known for their crude vulgarity whose political message perfectly aligns with the State Department and CIA.
And we have counter-cultural types who attended the event waving the flag of a country where fascists were empowered in a CIA-backed coup, and which has provoked a conflict that is leading us toward World War III and potential nuclear Armageddon.
Jeremy Kuzmarov is Managing Editor of CovertAction Magazine. He is the author of four books on U.S. foreign policy, including Obama’s Unending Wars (Clarity Press, 2019) and The Russians Are Coming, Again, with John Marciano (Monthly Review Press, 2018). He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article was republished from Covert Action Magazine.
Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, 'The Rebel Girl,' addresses strikers in Paterson, N.J. in 1913.
Although she’s been dead for almost six decades, it looks like Elizabeth Gurley Flynn is still getting under the skin of right-wingers. Just two weeks after it was installed, a historical marker commemorating her birth in Concord, N.H., has been demolished on the order of Republican state officials.
The green and white cast iron plaque—the kind you see on the side of highways or in public places noting where significant events occurred or famous persons once lived—was erected on May Day in downtown Concord, where Flynn was born in 1890.
The sign was barely bolted into place before conservatives demanded its removal, embarrassed apparently that the state might recognize someone who devoted her life to fighting for workers’ rights, women’s right to vote, birth control, civil liberties, and economic equality. But it was Flynn’s leadership in the Communist Party USA that really boiled their blood.
“This is a devout communist,” complained Joseph Kenney, a Republican member of the Executive Council, the five-person body that approves state contracts, judicial nominees, and other positions. “How can we possibly promote her propaganda, which still exists now through this sign in downtown Concord?”
An agitator her entire life
Flynn earned her Rebel Girl nickname doing battle against the same kind of reactionary politics expressed by Kenney. She made her debut as an activist at the age of 15, giving her first public speech, “What Socialism Will Do for Women,” at the Harlem Socialist Club in New York.
Two years later, at just 17, she was already a full-time organizer for the Wobblies, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), a revolutionary labor group that sought to organize all workers into “One Big Union.” She traveled from one end of the country to the other, organizing restaurant workers in New York, garment workers in Pennsylvania, weavers in New Jersey, miners in Minnesota, Montana, and Washington State.
She was immortalized in song for her exploits by famed songwriter Joe Hill, who penned “The Rebel Girl” in 1915, giving Flynn the monicker that would follow her for the rest of her life.
With bosses and their hired guns in local police departments determined to muzzle anyone demanding rights for workers, the IWW faced many free speech fights. City councils were pressured by employers to ban organizers from speaking in the streets.
During one such battle in Spokane, Wash., Flynn chained herself to a lamppost so the cops wouldn’t be able to drag her off to jail as easily. There, she gave a fiery speech demanding freedom for workers to organize and publish their views. She’d end up behind bars more than ten times during her years with the IWW.
With the first Red Scare in full swing following the Russian Revolution, constitutional freedoms like speech, press, and assembly were under attack across the United States. Workers and their organizations were the primary targets, and foreign-born immigrant workers faced mass deportations. This prompted Flynn and others to found the American Civil Liberties Union to defend democracy against right-wing reactionaries.
She also pushed the ACLU to take an active role in fighting for women’s rights, particularly access to birth control and the right to vote.
When Italian anarchists Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti were framed up on murder charges in 1920, Flynn became a leader in their defense campaign and helped turn their case into an international cause célèbre.
During the global fight against Hitler fascism and Japanese imperialism during World War II, Flynn played a key role on the home front. She led struggles for equal pay for the women who replaced men on the assembly lines and agitated for day care centers for these working mothers.
In 1942, she ran for Congress in New York, making unity in the fight against fascism and the battle for equality at home the primary planks of her campaign. She earned 50,000 votes.
After the war, Red Scare repression returned. A dozen top leaders of the CPUSA were arrested in 1948 and accused of violating the Smith Act under the false charge of “conspiring to advocate the overthrow the government by force and violence.” The Rebel Girl was a central leader in the movement to defend not only the Communist leaders but also the First Amendment from those who wanted to see it destroyed.
When a second wave of anti-communist arrests was launched in 1951, Flynn was thrown in jail with 16 other party members. At the opening of her federal trial, she declared:
“We are not a criminal conspiracy, but a working-class political party devoted to the immediate needs and aspirations of the American people, to the advancement of the workers, farmers, and the Negro people, to the preservation of democracy and culture, and to the advocacy of socialism.”
Nine months later, the court handed down a guilty plea, and Flynn was sent to Alderson Prison in West Virginia for the next two years—along with Claudia Jones and Betty Gannett, two other women party leaders charged under the Smith Act.
As Prisoner #11710, Flynn set down on paper the details of life in a federal women’s correctional facility, published later as My Life as a Political Prisoner: The Alderson Story. She detailed not only the physical brutalities of incarceration but also its psychological toll:
“The heavy shadow of prison fell upon us in those three days—the locked door and the night patrol. The turning of a key on the outside of the door is a weird sensation to which one never became accustomed. One felt like a trapped animal in a cage.”
She also took the opportunity to expose the classist and racist nature of America’s prison-industrial complex. “No rich women were to be found in Alderson,” she wrote, highlighting how the prison system mostly consumed poor and working-class women, the majority Black and Spanish-speaking with past lives defined often by abuse, mental illness, or drug addiction.
Over 25,000 people turned out for her state funeral in Moscow’s Red Square. Her remains were returned to the U.S., where they were buried in Chicago’s Waldheim Cemetery, near the Haymarket Martyrs and other labor heroes.
Flynn described herself as a “professional revolutionary, an agitator” against the injustices of capitalism, racism, and misogyny. As Prof. Mary Anne Trasciatti wrote: “It is no exaggeration to claim that Elizabeth Gurley Flynn was involved in almost every major campaign of the U.S. left in the first two-thirds of the twentieth century.”
And it is that life lived in struggle which so irritates conservatives in New Hampshire; they simply can’t stand for the erection of a historical marker that might remind people of such a figure or prompt them to learn more about her, or, heaven forbid, follow in her footsteps.
So, it is no surprise that Gov. Chris Sununu quickly acted on the demands of his fellow Republicans on the Executive Council who said the historical marker in Concord was “inappropriate, given Flynn’s communist involvement.” Since the marker was on state property, his office had power to order its destruction.
Sununu’s spokesperson, Ben Vihstadt, said on Monday, “All policies and guidelines were followed in removing this controversial marker.
Supporters of accurate history differ with Sununu. They accuse the state of violating its own rules for the markers, rules which say that markers can only be “retired” if they “contain errors of fact, are in a state of disrepair, or require refurbishment.” None of those apply in the Flynn case.
“We still say that under the department’s own guidelines, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn’s birthplace in Concord is a fitting location for a historical marker,” said Mary Lee Sargent, a former U.S. history teacher and labor and women’s rights activist.
With the intervention of Sununu and reactionaries at the highest levels of state government, that tradition is over. Anti-communism may have won out, but perhaps there is a silver lining.
Thanks to all the media coverage conservatives have generated with their contrived controversy, more people will probably learn about Elizabeth Gurley Flynn from articles like this one than would have ever read a plaque at the courthouse in downtown Concord.
C.J. Atkins is the managing editor at People's World. He holds a Ph.D. in political science from York University in Toronto and has a research and teaching background in political economy and the politics and ideas of the American left. In addition to his work at People's World, C.J. currently serves as the Deputy Executive Director of ProudPolitics.
This article was republished from Peoples World.
April 29, 2023 - Cornel West: The Limits of Neo-Pragmatism and the Quest for a Democratic Philosophy By: Anthony Monteiro & Saturday Free SchoolRead Now
We are publishing a transcript of Dr. Anthony Monteiro’s opening remarks from the Saturday Free School’s April 29, 2023 session Continuing Hegel’s Science of Logic. The Free School meets every Saturday at 10:30 AM, and is streamed live on Facebook and YouTube.
Good morning to everybody. We are going to go back to Hegel, but it’s always useful to contextualize the reading of a text like this, and to keep the text itself and our reading of it grounded in the reality that we live, including the ideological reality of this time. And so without going for too long, I just wanted to talk about the Cornel West event that we attended at the University of Pennsylvania, and there were a lot of questions that we had afterwards and perhaps we could even you know go through some of those questions again because they are very fascinating and they are philosophical and they do relate to Hegel, the Science of Logic, the whole concept of a philosophical system which I would wish to explain in a moment.
And then a little talk about unified theories, and the reason I just wanted to touch on that is because in a certain sense we in the Free School are attempting to forge a unified theory of Lenin and Du Bois, or you know the revolutionary and Marxist tradition of Europe and of the Russian Revolution, and the Black Radical Tradition which is grounded in Du Bois, but I’ll come back to that.
Just some things before we read – [I want to] talk a little bit about how we should look at this great work. Frankly, as a not yet complete work, and I think Hegel saw it that way himself – a work in progress. But let’s talk about Cornel West. Last Thursday we attended a really, I think important, lecture by Cornel West. You know, the two most important public intellectuals in the United States today are Noam Chomsky and Cornel West. And there are many, many things philosophically that they hold in common, I think. And there are differences, I also think. As you know, Noam Chomsky is more a social scientist, a cognitive scientist, a theorist of language and grammar and semiotics, et cetera. Cornel West is a philosopher, a pure philosopher. It was a very fascinating lecture. I had not seen Cornel West in a couple of years in person and I’ve only kind of kept up with him in relationship to his political commentary, in effect, as you know, his anti-Trump politics and his claim that Trump is a neo-fascist thug and so on. Which then pushes him of course towards Bernie, and I think that’s a real trap given Bernie’s recent political practice relative to Robert Kennedy’s announcement of his presidency challenging Biden from a very progressive point of view, an anti-war, anti-militarist, anti-corporatist state position.
And Biden could not hardly announce his candidacy before Bernie is endorsing him. I mean in good faith you could have waited at least. I mean, how do you just so quickly and easily jump on the Joe Biden bandwagon, and this is the most dangerous presidency in the history of the country threatening war on two continents just because Trump is an alleged fascist, so I got to go with the guy that’s pushing the world toward maybe a nuclear confrontation. Well it doesn’t make any sense, but it does make a lot of sense if you know that Bernie Sanders is a fake socialist, a fake progressive and a political opportunist of the worst type. And I don’t see any other way to put it. We cannot excuse and we cannot apologize for it.
Cornel, and this was the sad thing – although Cornel’s lecture stayed at the level of philosophy – and theology by the way – he did say in passing that Biden would be better than Trump without making the argument. I think it was some of that which left most of us, and not quite me – I’m a bit biased for reasons that I’ll try to explain – but most of the people in the Free School who were there found the lecture unfulfilling, I’ll use that language. People can use their own. That Cornel’s brilliance, you know, you get a cat with a huge brain and all of this philosophy and literature and theory packed. A guy who also has, apparently, what is a photographic memory.
So he’s a formidable thinker, really a formidable thinker with a big heart. He’s not satisfied with confining himself to his academic office or to a university. He goes into the world, engages with the world, and I should tell you, sometimes putting his own life in jeopardy. There was an instance in about 1998 at the Black Radical Convention in Chicago, and he and I happened to be there and together, and a guy stepped to Cornel in a threatening way. And I happened to step to the guy before he could, you know, accost Cornel. And I never forgot, Cornel was a bit shaken I guess you might say. And he said, you know, “I’m a Christian, but I’m not a pacifist,” you know, blasé blasé blasé. But I’m just saying that to say, I’m certain that for all kinds of reasons, a lot of people feel, because he is accessible, he is in the world, he usually travels alone. Although I kind of sense this time he had a security person with him to help him out, just in the event that somebody stepped to him. But I just say all of that to say that the man has a heart and he has a lot of heart. He’s not a punk. He’s not afraid in that regard. And even in my own case at Temple University, he was so gracious to support me and to even come to a rally that we held, and then to appear at the [Free School’s] Black Radical Tradition conference and speak.
And so I’m a little biased because of all of that. Although of course philosophically, we’re not on the same page. And just in his lecture, his determining category is the category “catastrophe.” And his narrative is, how do you live a principled life in the face of social catastrophe? And then along with that, a principled moral life in the face of so many people bending to the politics of the dominant class.
And so he is, when he speaks – and he deploys everybody from Chekhov to William James to Kierkegaard – I mean, I’m sitting there and I’m saying, “Oh, I’m hating, man. I’m never gonna be able to know all of that.” And then I’m saying, “I got to put some respect on your name.” I mean just to have achieved that, you know, is quite a bit. And to have achieved all of that knowledge and not used it for his own academic promotional reasons, as y’all know, he left Harvard in the early 2000’s I think because the then-president called Cornel, and this when Cornel was a tenured professor, a full tenured professor in fact, at Harvard. And Lawrence Summers, who was the president – he called Cornel in to his office and tried to, to say intimidate is not really the word – literally to put him in his place, literally saying, “You should be grateful that you have this position at Harvard, and you should thank us, meaning we the white establishment, every day of your life. And therefore we want you to cease this engagement with the hip-hop generation, with the younger generation and withdraw into doing polite and acceptable academic things.”
I don’t know what Cornel says but I do know that Cornel can curse. He’s from the hood, you know, Sacramento, so he knows how to curse like I curse. And he may have cursed him out and told him to kiss his behind, and then left Harvard and took a position at Princeton. I don’t know whether Richard Rorty was still around, the philosopher, or who was around but they told him, “Look man, you don’t have to put up with that, come to Princeton.” And then he went to Princeton, and then a few years, maybe ten years later, the black people in particular at Harvard said, “Larry Summers is gone and we want you back here and we will guarantee you tenure, that you will get your tenure back.”
So when he went back to Harvard, everybody said, “Oh, yeah, Cornel’s back at Harvard.” You just assumed he had tenure. But he didn’t have tenure. And I put that on the shoulders of the black professors who told him to come back, and did not do what they needed to do to guarantee tenure. Tenure would give him the protection that a person like him needs because he’s going so much against the grain on so many things.
Then it turns out, about two years ago, it comes out Cornel doesn’t have tenure. And they’re telling him, “Well, we’ll give you a year-by-year contract and don’t worry about it.” And at that point he left Harvard and took a position at Union Theological Seminary. I think that’s where he began his teaching career and that’s where he is today. But you know, with all of that he maintained his dignity and this is important. When you’re betrayed, and he had to be betrayed in that “come back to Harvard” thing. And humiliation in a certain sense, you know ‘cause a lot of people who for jealousy, envy, just don’t like you ‘cause they just don’t like you kind of thing. “You’re too large, talk too much,” all that, were on the sidelines snickering and laughing. You know how that goes, I won’t go into that.
But he handled himself with dignity, he goes back to Union Theological Seminary and hasn’t missed a beat. He continues to be Cornel West and to do what Cornel West does as an intellectual and a public intellectual and a figure that lives with integrity and creates these wide discursive spaces where people like us can both agree and disagree. You see what I’m saying, by keeping the door to discourse, and serious discourse – you know, not just some Afro-centrism kind of, you know, “We are Africans,” and all of that – but drinking from the deep wells of human knowledge wherever he can find it. And of course no one person in his brain can grasp the totality of human civilizations and knowledge, I mean, when I think about string theories and their claim of ten dimensions of space and time, you know I’m often reminded of the Bhagavad Gita, which talk about seven time dimensions. But anyway, I mean, just to wrap your head around the Bhagavad Gita and Plato’s dialogues and Martin Luther, I mean, come on. You need an army of intellectuals who live monastic lives to grasp all of that.
But Cornel, unafraid, unashamed, drinks from the wells of knowledge. And of course he could be canceled, just like, you know, “Why are you quoting Plato? He supported a slave-owning society and plus he’s a white man, and a man.” You know, that kind of cancel culture dismissal. Or his thing with Chekhov. But he doesn’t seem to be fazed by it. He continues pushing this high level of discourse, trying to make what is in the end a principled, moral, ethical argument about how to live a life that resists injustice at this time.
Now, having said all of that, Cornel West is a combination of what we call neo-pragmatism which is a unique American philosophy; pragmatism arose in the United States as a philosophical movement in the middle of the 1800s. It morphed in the 1960s and 1970s into what we call neo-pragmatism. The fundamental argument of neo-pragmatism – first of all it is American but it’s also English, it’s an English American, we call it Anglo-American philosophical move. As you know, the English philosophers going back in many ways to the beginning, we talk about George Berkeley or David Hume, John Locke – the beginning of English serious philosophy – has always staked out its differences with European rationalism. In particular what they call philosophy that attempts to build systems. In our case Kant and Hegel.
Pragmatism, and usually the founder of pragmatism is usually associated with a man named [Charles Sanders] Peirce, whose work I really don’t know, I have to be honest with you. And then further developed by Du Bois’s mentor at Harvard, William James. But what pragmatism argues is that it philosophizes from the standpoint of the ordinary human being, not from the standpoint of a supposed rational system of philosophy and of knowing.
Thus it claims to be a democratic philosophy, a philosophy that upholds, I think Cornel has used this word, plebeian democracy, the democracy of the ordinary person. Hence, they often say it is philosophy without foundations, without prior assumptions, without categories. We’ve gone a bit through this, that Kant and Hegel think through categories. For instance the categories of time and space, the category of being, the category of non-being. Each appeals, Kant and Hegel, to logic. Different logics, of course. Hegel, we know, dialectical logic. Kant, more traditional.
Each, Kant and Hegel, were trying to align philosophy with science, in particular Newton and Copernicus but Newton in particular. And to align science with philosophy, and this is why Hegel said that philosophy is a science. I think Kant would have agreed with that. Hegel said it is the science of sciences; another way of saying that – it is the scaffolding upon which the meaning of scientific experiments and the meaning of scientific discoveries can be elucidated.
This is a huge undertaking by the way, huge undertaking, and remains a part of the way we in the Free School think. We’ll come back to that. But Cornel starts from a pragmatist point of view – that it is the individual seeking meaning in a world that does not in and of itself provide meaning. That is why if you listen to Cornel, there is always on the edge, if you will, or suggesting, that we live on the edge of suicide, of you know, what Jean-Paul Sartre talked, being and nothingness. And how do we realize our being? It is through more moral engagement with a world that will not give us meaning. It is living in good faith, moral good faith in a world where things are commodified, where money trumps principle and hence bad faith. You operate without a moral imperative, without a moral intentionality, you see where I’m coming from.
So, neo-pragmatists. Richard Rorty is big in Cornel West’s graduate studies at Princeton. Richard Rorty is the famous academic philosopher, a neo-pragmatist at Princeton. He wrote his last book, a small book but I think a very important and should-be famous book entitled Achieving Our Country. The title of the book he takes from James Baldwin. And Rorty attacks the intelligentsia and the academics who have abandoned the working class. It is a great book, a great manifesto which takes, you know, the whole question of the plebeian or democratic thrust in philosophy, I think, to an important place of engagement. But this is Cornel, you know a plebeian – a people’s philosophy, a people’s framing. Framing philosophical and moral issues from the standpoint of the ordinary person.
And that is why I think he has this great fidelity, this great commitment to the blues – with critique, and I didn’t quite agree with his critique. But the blues, which is the narrative of the ordinary people. The blues, talking about navigating the narration of disappointment, but the narration of overcoming, of resilience, of “I’m still here in spite of everything.” He considers the blues to be a very high expression of living morally in a world that tries to undermine your efforts to do that. You know, the pressure is to sell out all the time. But here’s the blues man, the blues woman saying that we can still be principled in spite of the pressure to sell out.
So Cornel calls himself a blues man of the mind. He has such interesting formulations. But he sees himself as a blues man and as a traveling musician. He also sees himself in relationship to the blues and John Coltrane. And this scaffolding, this architecture of morality coming out of black resistance is so much a part of him and the way he lives. And you know, even as he talked about music you all might remember, and he really digs Philadelphia, loves Philadelphia because of Philly’s music. And he says Philadelphia’s a soulful city. And he mentioned the O’Jays – and his soundtrack by the way, is the same soundtrack as the Free School. The same music that we listen to, he was gesturing to. The Isley Brothers – did he mention “Harvest For the World”? One of those great calls to morality to resistance. And of course he talked about Stevie Wonder’s love song “Love’s in Need of Love.” You know, which is like us.
And the moderator, who I was not too thrilled by. (‘Cause I know some people weren’t there, so I’m filling in, creating a picture.) But the moderator, when Cornel was talking about the O’Jays and the Isley Brothers, [the moderator] tried to say Meek Mills. Now how do you get from that, to that? I don’t see it. But Cornel resisted it, you know in his generous way of course without saying, “I disagree,” but just saying the music that he stands upon. And he’s absolutely right about this, he’s absolutely right. That blues, jazz and R&B is still the strong hand in our music and poetry.
But along with neo-pragmatism [for Cornel] is existentialism, a contemporary form of existentialism, and this is again where I would find myself in a bit of a difference with Cornel. For him, the important existentialists would be people like Karl Jaspers and Albert Camus, not Jean-Paul Sartre, the radical, the communist, the socialist, the anti-colonialist. Not Jean-Paul Sartre, but Albert Camus who in fact opposed the Algerian independence movement. Oh by the way this is something that James Baldwin spoke about as well in one of the essays in No Name in the Street, I think the first one entitled “Take Me to the Water.” Jimmy Baldwin did not like Albert Camus either and felt, like Sartre, that Albert Camus was pro-colonialist and operated in bad faith.
So it is this sense of the absurd, and in philosophical and existentialist terms, the absurd means non-being or no meaning or lack of meaning. You see what I’m saying. And so it is this tightrope that Cornel navigates upon. To me, it is interesting, it is dramatic, it is exciting. Like I said, “I got to put some respect on your name, hometown. You know, you remain so energized, so hopeful, so alive, you know what I’m saying?” Where it would be easy to say, to throw in the towel, “I’ve been doing this for too long you know. Three of my marriages broke up because of this, I’m going to throw in the towel.” But he stays real, he stays alive and he remains who he is. And welcomes difference and critique. That’s the positive thing.
Philosophically, and in terms of social theory, I feel that his approach does not account for a big part of human history including the Russian and Chinese revolutions, the revolutionary leaderships of these movements and their philosophies and theories. It does not account for philosophies paralleling science, or philosophies in the Hegelian or Kantian sense attempting to correct science, and to clarify for scientists and non-scientists what the discoveries of science suggest, in scientific terms and in human terms. That tradition is usually associated with what is called rationalism although it’s much, much more than that. Can you see what I’m saying?
Cornel’s position is more in the English American tradition of empiricism, pragmatism and existentialism. There is not … I guess we could put it this way using what we’ve already read in Hegel. There is not, in pragmatism and neo-pragmatism – in fact they reject the whole concept of mediation – it is all resolved at the level of the immediate, and of the individual. And not to mention, that English philosophers – I would say everybody from John Stuart Mill through Bertrand Russell and up to till present, have always smeared Hegel as somehow being the source of authoritarianism and even Nazism. That the rationalist tradition, especially as it crystallizes in Hegel’s philosophy, can only lead to anti-democratic practices and that to return democracy to philosophy, you have to separate philosophy from what is called the rational tradition, or thinking through categories. We can come back to that.
So it is a claim and I think this is a problem for Cornel because it generalizes, in fact reduces the question of democracy to an Anglo-Saxon practice. That everything that is not Anglo-Saxon in its theory and practice of democracy is by definition authoritarianism. Well does that sound familiar? Yes it does, because that’s the paradox that the Biden administration and the US ruling class tries to present us with. Either Anglo-Saxon democracy or authoritarianism. Either John Locke and John Stuart Mill – or Hitler. I won’t say my friend, but a guy that I follow, Lex Fridman is always doing, sadly, this conjunction of Mao, Stalin and Hitler – they’re all the same, you know. But that’s the Anglo-Saxon smearing of human revolutionary aspirations.
So when you listen to Cornel, he is operating and thinking within the folds of Anglo-American philosophy, and hence the unusual in the political arena that does not fit the narrative of Anglo-American democratic theorizing and narrative is thereby authoritarian and even neo-fascist. And I want to underline the unusual, because the thing of Anglo-American philosophy has become a dogma rather than a project of scientific critique, of democracy and the possibilities of changing it, of advancing it.
I just want to say a couple of few other things. In this sense, and people who were there, we saw a crescendo in his narrative, and to me it was exciting because I’m trying to, you know – all of these people, you know, I read, I know a little bit about. But he seemed to weave this narrative out of all of these thinkers from Chekhov to Kierkegaard to William James, and just, I mean just unbelievable, man. That’s why I said, “I got to put some respect on your name.” But in the end, he reaches the apogee and he couldn’t go any further. And then it had to be a repeat. It had to be a re-do, re-saying of similar things that he had previously said because he refused to go to the world of contradiction, of possibility, of danger. He stayed within this beautiful narrative, this exciting narrative that he started with.
The other thing is his constant referencing and gesturing to Christianity, in the sense of liberation Christianity or Black Christianity. No problem. As we all know through our own experiences and observations, that Black religion is a religion of resistance, that being is realized in-becoming as Martin Luther King said in one of his graduate school papers. Being is in-becoming. That for Black Christianity, the end is not an end, it is the beginning of something new. And he’s right about that. But then, to me there’s a paradox between Anglo-American political theory and philosophy, and Black Christianity, which is not grounded in the individual or not grounded as Cornel West suggested, in fake hope in the future. It is futuristic but not this Disneyland futurism of the standard ruling class narrative in this country.
And just my last point, I think he gets King wrong. King was not a naive pacifist. If you want any evidence of that just listen to the speech “Why I Oppose the War in Vietnam.” King understood St. Thomas Aquinas’s differentiation between just and unjust wars. I don’t think that Cornel understands the actual and practical real-life meaning of that as it relates in particular to the Ukraine War. Is Russia an imperialist nation, as he says? Or is Russia defending itself against the imperialism, militarism and aggression of the United States. Were the Vietnamese waging a just war? Were Koreans waging a just war? Were they waging a war for peace?
King understood that. He understood the difference between just and unjust wars. And I think that rather than pigeonholing King into this nebulous, ill-defined category of pacifism – you know, King was far too philosophically developed to be reduced to that. What Cornel has not considered is that King in fact was a theorist and practitioner of the struggle for democracy. A peaceful means, a political rather than a civil war path to the democratic and political transformation of the American nation; to disarm the ruling elite in its efforts to pit black against white in the struggle to change the country, for black and white people.
That is what King was saying. He was a theorist and a practitioner of the struggle for democracy. The concept of love. You cannot, in King’s sense, appeal to pragmatist or neo-pragmatist philosophers, or to English theorists of liberal theory or society, to understand King’s concept of love and the Beloved Community. It seems that Cornel missed a tremendous opportunity to further develop, to further deepen, to further extend his own theory of moral behavior and moral action.
How beautiful might it have been if he could have turned or extended that discourse to King’s notion of the Beloved Community, which goes hand-in-hand with his idea of the means to radical transformation as important – this is King – as important as the ends themselves. So King was talking about a democratic path to achieve a new democracy, that unites and transforms the people in the process. I don’t think the philosophies that ground Cornel necessarily predisposed him to that kind of Kingian or even Baldwinian thinking. I’ll stop there and just say that we had a rich discussion for the time that it lasted on Thursday evening.
Dr. Anthony Montiero is a long-time activist in the struggle for socialism and black liberation, scholar, and expert in the work of WEB Dubois. In fact, he is one of the most cited Dubois scholars in the entire world. He’s worked and taught longer than most of us have been alive. Currently, he organizes with the Saturday Free School for Philosophy and Black Liberation in Philadelphia.
This article was republished from Positive Peace Blog.
Talk of economic issues in the media often gives the distinct impression that what is being discussed is obvious—or at least beyond control—though it rarely is. It is always conveyed by talk, but the suggestion is that there is really nothing to discuss, think about, let alone contest or even object to. Consider, as the case in point now, the state of the economy and the continuous talk of inflation which has persisted since the onset of the Covid 19 pandemic. The virtual consensus of experts and elites on this topic is that inflation is happening and that it is obviously a bad thing, though they do not go into any further detail. Who could disagree with the claim that we want a good economy, rather than a bad one? Inflation means consistently and rapidly rising prices. And this might seem to be something which is obviously bad for everyone. Yet there is no further discussion of the inflation of prices of which kinds of things, or for whose harm or benefit changes will occur, as though they were all the same. Occasionally, however, the opinion-doctors, political-economic elites, and managers make statements which make one wonder: Good or bad in what sense? Good or bad for whom? And such occasions must be seized upon. For instance, it is claimed, workers’ wages and employment are simply too high, because they are causing inflation, which is bad. But anyone who works for a living is right to be suspicious here. In what follows, several such conspicuous statements will be considered as the expressions of class warfare which they are.
The Battle over Inflation is Class Warfare
To begin, let’s get clear on what “inflation” is supposed to mean and the ways in which it might be good or bad and for whom that would be so. Inflation is supposed to be the general, consistent, and rapid rise in prices. The neo-liberal view which now dominates mainstream opinion is what economists call “monetarism” or the so-called quantity theory of money. And in the terms of that view, inflation is characterized as “too much money chasing too few goods”. On the basis of this view, there are two ways in which inflation can be counteracted: one can decrease the amount of money in circulation, or one can increase the amount of goods which are produced and offered for sale in the market in relation to money, such that there is not “too much money chasing too few goods”.
The mainstream view that one hears in the media only advocates the first way (“less money”). And it could be pursued in three versions: by cutting public, government spending; or by creating unemployment, which decreases consumer spending; or by increasing the rate of interest that the federal reserve pays to the holders of bonds (i.e., monetized government deficits made into interest paying debts). Increasing the rate of interest on government bonds is meant to have the same effect as the first two versions of this solution (“decreasing money”), because it is supposed to redirect money away from investment in the economy or demand for products—into bond-holding. Wealthy people putting money into bonds, instead of investing it into production which would employ workers who are the consumers of products, would mean less money is fueling demand in relation to the supply of those goods. And so it is supposed to “cool off” the inflation of prices of products.
It is curious that influential voices and powerful interests never advocate that we simply adopt the second way that their formula also includes. They never suggest that we simply increase the amount of goods which are produced and offered for sale on the market in relation to money and demand, even though it would increase the aggregate wealth and prosperity of the nation. In other words, you could also decrease inflation by producing something! And this is a conspicuous fact which requires deeper consideration, because it suggests that someone benefits while others lose in that particular kind of “solution”. There is more to the matter than the mainstream view presents to the untrained eye. And so, it is worth asking who says so and why they might put it that way. In other words, cui bono?
One must step back to consider the issue on a larger scale to clarify the deeper political-economic significance of the discussion—and cut through the noise which is obscuring the issue.
Prominent voices often claim that government spending or “printing money” causes inflation. Yet matters are not quite so simple. One must note that the amount of real goods, products, is the term in relation to which there is too much or too little money in circulation in an economy, such that their prices rise or fall. Moreover, when the government spends, it does not spend money that it gathers by taxing the population. Rather, government spending creates money, and taxation destroys money, but private banks also create money when they lend credits to someone which correspond to the debts of other people that they also create. This is obviously politically significant.
Even Alan Greenspan himself has clearly stated that it is not simply the amount of government spending or money-creation which causes problems. Government spending or creation of money by itself, such as the Covid 19 Stimulus checks, does not automatically increase prices of real goods for consumers across the board for everyone. (Private banks, which also create money, can also contribute to inflation, and we should criticize them for that.) Understanding the causes at work here requires that we take a step back and consider the matter more deeply.
The determinant factor in relation to which prices rise or fall is not simply the amount of money in circulation but also the amount of goods in circulation—or the level of production in an economy, because economies can produce more or fewer goods in relation to which there is “too much” or “too little” money in circulation. First, recalls the standard story of “supply and demand”. When supply exceeds demand, the story goes, prices fall, and when demand exceeds supply, prices rise. In order to understand inflation, however, one must not only consider the quantity of money spent or “printed” into existence, or even simply the brute supply and demand of products, but rather what macroeconomists call “effective demand” in relation to the supply of products as well. Effective demand is demand which has buying power, disposable income (e.g., wages), or money to back it up, money with which one actually pays for products, which makes that demand “effective”. Otherwise, moneyless demand or absolute human needs as such, which doesn’t have money to back it up, are on par with an impotent wish which cannot realize itself in the economy—and thus cannot even end up in capitalists’ profits or rentiers’ monopoly rents.
If worker-consumers suddenly have more money or disposable income such that they are willing and able to buy and pay for more goods with that money, however, effective demand would increase in relation to the supply of goods which have been produced. In this case, the companies which produce those goods would respond, in the first instance, by increasing production to meet that increased demand. Companies, which are motivated by profit-seeking, will attempt to increase their profit by producing more products for sale first, before they simply raise prices of products. But then, when those companies reach the point at which they cannot easily produce any more, when they are have reached their capacity, they will respond to increased effective demand for their products in the market by simply raising the prices of their products in order to obtain more profit, if they know they can squeeze more money out of worker-consumers. In other words, inflation is what happens when customers’ effective demand bids up prices on the market after the present capacity has been reached. And this is why increasing the money in circulation by itself is not sufficient to cause the inflation of prices; and, for the same reason, decreasing the amount of money in circulation by itself is also not enough to decrease prices. Here one must not lose sight of the fact that companies ultimately decide to raise their prices to obtain higher profits. That is, profit-seeking companies decide to raise prices in a way which we call “inflation”. They could also change their capacity. So, inflation is neither natural nor an automatic mechanism. Rather, it is the political core of the “private” sphere of the economy in capitalist societies. And price-gouging is all the easier for companies which are basically monopolies, who are fleecing workers who live from paycheck to paycheck. If there is someone to blame, one could start with them.
In this light, it is clear why government spending, the creation of more, new money, does not cause inflation by itself. If that money were promptly hoarded—put under a mattress somewhere in Kansas, for example—or if it were immediately paid to a creditor to cancel a debt, then it would hardly remain in circulation long enough to bid up prices (i.e., inflation). Hence the creation of money per se does not automatically lead to inflation, because it is not necessarily an excess of money in relation to the amount of real goods on offer in the market. Indeed, many stimulus payments were immediately paid to creditors to cancel debts (i.e., debt deflation) or were spent on unproductive speculative assets (e.g., cryptocurrency, Gamestop shares). Money itself is not the only cause.
For Asset Owners, against Working People
In order to focus the issue at hand as clearly as possible in political terms, one must reformulate the question. It is not simply “who does inflation hurt, and who does it help?” Rather, the question is, what kinds of inflation are there, which kinds of inflation are discussed, which kinds are not discussed, and who do the different kinds of inflation help or hurt? Indeed, some kinds are discussed and some kinds aren’t. Ultimately, the issue of “inflation” is a question of the distribution of wealth in society, and this is why the rich are so furious about it.
When the prices of financial or real assets, such as stocks or real estate increase (i.e., “asset-price inflation”), this helps the class of asset owners who gain and benefit from the purchase and resale of those assets (“arbitrage”, “capital gains”), and this kind of inflation is neither discussed nor targeted, no doubt because the people whom it helps have more influence over the media. For example, people who are already wealthy benefit from the increasing prices of stocks or real estate, if they are involved in buying the said assets at a lower price and selling them at a higher price. Hence they do not complain, but rather silently pass over the inflation of these prices. When the prices of real goods increase, however, this is discussed and targeted, not because it hurts working people who do not benefit from asset-price inflation, but because it hurts the value or relative buying-power of the assets of the owner class—and hence their wealth or political-economic power. In other words, if the prices of consumer goods increase, but the prices of assets of wealthy people remain the same, then the relative value of their assets (i.e., buying power and political power) has decreased. It does not matter to the wealthy interest groups if the increased prices of consumer goods only hurt the class of ordinary worker-consumers, who comprise the overwhelming majority of the population. And so, this issue only appears in the media at all to the extent that they can use it for their own interests.
The asset owning class only dislikes rising prices of consumer goods, and it likes rising prices of financial and real assets, because it’s in its political-economic interest. In order to see how this is the case, imagine that suddenly the prices of all products were doubled or even tripled, but wages paid to workers who consume those products were also increased in the same proportion. Let’s say, for example, that the cost of a gallon of milk is $3 in the first week of the month, $6 in the second week, $12 in the third week, and $24 in the final week; and let’s imagine that the minimum wage, meanwhile, is at $15 per hour in the first week, $30 in the second, $60 in the third, and $120 in the final week. This clearly would be a case of so-called hyper-inflation. And if we only look at the absolute figures, then these do look like radical increases. But looked at in relation to one another, we see that the proportions between the costs of goods and the money with which one buys them (i.e., wages, the cost of labor) have not changed at all. Indeed, nothing has really changed. Neither the seller of milk nor the buyer has been harmed—or helped. If wages remain the same, while prices go up, then the real wage of working people falls, which is to say that they get less of the total wealth, while someone else would be getting more. This is why talking heads claim that inflation hurts working people. But if the price labor—i.e., wages—and prices of consumer goods go up, then this would not hurt workers or producers, because, in fact, this question is a matter of the distribution of wealth. Generalized inflation of goods as well as wages of labor does not hurt worker-consumers or producers. It only hurts people whose income is derived from the ownership of financial or real assets (i.e., creditors or landlords).
For instance, in the example just given, it would be much easier for a worker who previously earned $15 per hour and now receives $120 per hour to pay his or her rent or debts at the end of the month than it was at the beginning—eight times easier, in fact. And the landlord or the creditor would receive the same amount of money (e.g., $1000), but it would be less valuable, or it would be able to buy fewer goods than before, because prices are eight times greater now. It’s no problem for all consumers to pay four times as much money for milk, if they are also receiving four times as much wages from their employers. And it would not even hurt the milk-producers, if they would be getting four eight times as much revenue as well. But it would hurt people who do nothing and receive their income passively merely because they own some piece of property, given the current conventions in our society. Indeed, this change would economically and political break those rentiers as a class almost immediately, because the buying power of their fixed incomes would have fallen eightfold. Given that they are the powerful interests which have captured our public institutions, however, they have every incentive to crush such a development, even if doing so hurts working people. This is why financial interests try to squeeze workers’ real income from one side by trying to increase unemployment or lower wages and thereby trigger the kind of deflation that benefits that class, while industrial monopolies squeeze workers’ real income from the other side when they engage in the kind of price gouging which motivates rentiers and talking heads to speak in favor of deflationary recessions. Worker-consumers are the center of this tug-of-war over the distribution of aggregate wealth.
The discussion about inflation is really about a deeply political conflict over distribution of the wealth which labor produces not only in America but all over the world. But what is occurring now is also something more specific. Inflation is not only a matter of class conflict. The war on inflation is also a class war. Though it might not be obvious, it is waged for the interests, power, and wealth, which is just power itself, of an already wealthy minority—not for, but rather against, that of the majority of the population. On the one hand, there is the class which “owns” nearly everything, while there is also the managerial class which “controls” nearly everything for the sake of the former, and on the other hand there is, finally, the working class that “owns” nothing more than the ability to work, which it sells just to survive. Inflation of the kind at issue only harms those persons whose income is fixed in contracts such as landlords or creditors, the class of so-called rentiers, the recipients of rent or interest, which Thorstein Veblen called “absentee owners”, the recipients of “passive, unearned income”—who Lenin once described as “living by ‘clipping coupons’”. In more contemporary terms, it is the so-called FIRE sector (i.e., finance, insurance, and real estate), those who aim to “get something for nothing” and always simply charge as much and “whatever the market can bear”.
And it is important to note that this is not merely a recent feature of contemporary society. Rather, it is an ideology which goes all the way back to the beginning. As John Jay once put it: “Those who own the country ought to govern it.” Similarly, James Madison states: “…if elections were open to all classes of people, the property of the landed proprietors would be insecure. […] our government ought to secure the permanent interests of the country against innovation. […] [it] ought to be so constituted as to protect the minority of the opulent against the majority. […] The Senate ought to represent the opulent Minority…” And indeed, the protection of the asset-owning class and its opposition to the vast majority of the American population is even written into the Constitution itself: “…nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”
Surely, this could never be openly acknowledged in such plain terms. So, experts code matters in technical jargon which few can understand and which makes the situation appear to be a natural matter of course, which has the effect of bypassing any critical discussion or political opposition. One must keep calm and carry on, as the saying goes, or simply obey. Yet the road being advocated by political-economic elites and managers is only good for the class of owners of financial assets — which are just equal to other people’s liabilities — not for everyone else. This is why canceling private debts is equivalent to liquidating the wealth and control of the owner class over society, on the one hand, while fighting inflation means defending the economic power of the class of persons whose income is extracted by owning financial or real assets (e.g., lenders or landlords), on the other. This is why the fight against inflation is done primarily for the advantage of the “rentiers”, “absentee owners”, recipients of “passive, unearned income”, to the disadvantage of normal working people and even industry. Indeed, these people hate inflation and love deflation of prices, as economic experts constantly attest to. It is a good thing for them. They have a vested interest in lobbying the state to act in ways that benefit them and promote their economic interest, rather than that of the majority of people who live in a very different situation and perhaps do not even understand the economic situation at all. And indeed, that is exactly what they are doing and what is happening in the argument about inflation. It is not a neutral economic mechanism at stake here, but a deeply political fight over wealth.
The Federal Grift
It is often claimed and considered a good thing that the Federal Reserve is “independent”. But independent of what? It is said that it is independent of “political interference”, though this can hardly be true, if it is serving the political-economic interests of the class of asset-owners, not those of the majority of working people who do not own considerable financial or real assets from which they receive their income. Its sole mission of controlling inflation is often discussed in the language of “price stability”, which sounds as though it is good for everyone, though, recall, a rapid rise of prices across the board primarily hurts rentiers and helps everyone else. The Federal Reserve is “independent” from the political sovereignty and control of the majority of the American population, it is anti-democratic, and it does not serve the interests of most people. This is clear from the fact that the government does actually not perform its stated dual-task — not only price stability, but also a policy of full employment. Indeed, now it is explicitly contradicting it by trying to create unemployment. Regarding price stability, inflation and deflation should both be considered equally evil, but only inflation is said to be an evil, because it hurts the wealth, power and interests of the asset-owning class, while deflation helps them. Regarding full employment, powerful voices sacrifice it to the detriment of the livelihoods of the working class, to boost the wealth and power of the asset-owning class, because it is of no use to them. In other words, the class of asset-owners want prices to fall (deflation) not to rise (inflation), because it makes their financial assets more valuable and increases the buying power of their fixed incomes. That is, the livelihoods of working people must be sacrificed to the inflation gods to protect the value of the assets of the wealthy and powerful elites of this country, whose opinions are heard in the media—and no one else’s.
Let’s consider how some prominent voices – whose opinions influence political decisions and economic outcomes – are very selective about the ways in which they suggest we must deal with inflation. It is not only curious, but also to be expected, in light of what has just been said. And the opinion of “experts” is virtually unanimous here. There is the mainstream assumption of orthodox theory, that there is a natural “trade off” between employment and prices, standing behind it, the so-called “non-accelerating inflation rate of unemployment”, NAIRU. This is the basis on which talking-heads proclaim that the only solution is that workers must make sacrifices, rather than wealthy asset-owners. It is the basis on which talking-heads say the problem primarily hurts working people, and the solution is fewer jobs, more unemployment, and lower wages. Hence their perspectives and prescriptions are clearly suspicious.
The influential economist and political advisor, Lawrence (“Larry”) Summers, for example, has repeatedly stated that drastic action of a very specific kind must be taken on the issue of inflation. The way to solve the problem, he claims, which ostensibly hurts everyone generally, yet particularly working people the most, is to create more unemployment, according to Summers. Yes, you heard that correctly: the way to stop hurting working people is to create unemployment among workers. Most recently, he made this argument on Jon Stewart’s Apple TV series, though he has also been making this argument for a while. Somewhat earlier this year, he already claimed that “there’s going to need to be increases in unemployment to contain inflation.” He states:
We need five years of unemployment above 5 percent to contain inflation—in other words, we need two years of 7.5 percent unemployment or five years of 6 percent unemployment or one year of 10 percent unemployment. We are unlikely to achieve inflation stability without a recession of a magnitude that would take unemployment towards the 6% range.
As Summers sees it, 6% unemployment will be necessary to achieve a level of inflation which he thinks is more desirable, which is 2%. Coincidentally, this is the percentage of the population which would benefit most from his advice—the asset-owning or ruling class of this country.
Similarly, the chair of the Federal Reserve, Jerome Powell, a lawyer (not an economist), has claimed that “reducing inflation” will require “below-trend growth”, which will “bring some pain to households and businesses. These are the unfortunate costs of reducing inflation. But a failure to restore price stability would mean far greater pain”. Certainly, not painfulful costs to himself, though. Claims such as these, that a better economy requires more unemployment and “pain”, are curious, because this is surely not better not for the unemployed. Presumably, the story would go, it would be better for everyone else if we just sacrifice a few victims — 6% or about 20,000 people — to the fickle and mysterious gods of the market, which is a small price indeed to pay for those who do not pay or suffer at all. In other words, aristocracy is great, as long as you belong to it.
More recently, however, the Federal Reserve has indicated that it will pause its increases in interest rate hikes, which have been the most radical action since the “Volcker shock” of the Reagan era, which also tried to decrease inflation by causing a recession—by pushing the damage off onto working people. The real reason for doing so, which might be obvious to anyone who understands and is paying attention, is that those actions have caused massive financial crises. (In the 1980s it was a crisis of the so-called savings and loans institutions.) After years of zero interest rates inaugurated by Barack Obama, which were meant to save the financial sector from collapse after the Crisis of 2008, rather than ordinary citizens, the Fed has now backed itself into a corner: it can only try to stop inflation by raising rates on bonds. But if it raises rates on bonds, then investors will pull their money out of banks to buy those new bonds which have higher interest rates, and so their banks, which hold the older, devalued bonds, will not have enough reserves on hand to pay up. This means they will come up short on reserves and become illiquid or insolvent—as the recent series of bankruptcies and bank-runs since Silicon Valley Bank have shown. The consequence is potentially another general financial crisis.
The pressing question here is just: for whom is the “better economy”, which experts and elites seek by tinkering with interest rates on government bonds, “better” or “best”? This is arguably a case in which the cure prescribed is worse for the patient than the disease. Why not rather a cut for the asset owning class? The answer here is obvious. Because they have captured the institutions which are making the decisions.
Simply put, the public, state-financial institutions in this country have been captured and are working for the interests of the private class of asset-owners—to keep the value of their assets inflated (equity, rents, stocks, bonds, interest), to keep their capital gains high, and to force the costs of unemployment and lower wages on the working majority. And here we reach the uncomfortable moment when Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s definition of “fascism” appears simply to be a description of the dominant brand of finance-capitalism: “ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power”.
A Solution to Inflation that Works for the Majority
If we accept for the sake of argument that inflation is just “too much money chasing too few goods”, then there are clearly two possible cures. The first would be to cut the amount of money in circulation that is “chasing” after goods. And one could do this in a number of ways, as I have already said: by cutting government spending, by creating unemployment which cuts consumer spending, or by increasing interest rates on bonds to attract money out of markets for goods into speculative markets in search of capital gains. This would favor and distribute wealth to the asset-owner class which already has political control of public institutions. On the other hand, however, inflation could also be stemmed by increasing the amount of products on the market which are being chased by money. The amount of products is not fixed, but rather variable, in the short run, and in the longer run, even the capacity of the economy to produce more is variable, rather than fixed. Indeed, in order for capacity to be fully utilized and full employment to be obtained, it must be constantly expanded. So, instead of simply cutting spending, it is possible simply to increase production so that effective demand does not exceed supply and cause inflation. If the well-being of the majority of Americans is really what is at stake, only the second option is the one to take.
Indeed, it is worth asking why the creditor-class of asset-owners consistently dislikes the option of increased production and increased government spending (i.e., currency creation, public deficits). The short answer is that their maximum relative benefit occurs only if the credits and debts which are created are those issued by private banks, which pay higher interest to them, and if the economy deflates, because public government deficit spending and inflation only benefits the vast majority of the population, but not themselves, as they might not get so much interest from it. The political character of the debate is clearest here.
Their howling about inflation is arguably unwarranted, however. If maximum capacity is not exceeded, and if what is occurring is not just price-gouging, then the problematic inflation in question will not follow. If there are fears of inflation, then just produce more or increase capacity! Doing so would benefit worker-consumers, and indeed it would benefit the majority of the population disproportionately. It would even benefit industrial capitalists as well but not at all the asset-owning class, the wealthiest minority. The owners of financial and real assets (e.g., real estate) do not stand to benefit from public spending (i.e., government deficit spending), because they do not get any interest payments from credit creation which is public, rather than private, unless they buy the bonds which the government is currently choosing to offer at abnormally high rates of interest to induce recessions—with massive collateral damage to the financial sector itself. And so, it is clear that the policy prescriptions of elites like Summers or Powell are motivated by their own class interests, or those of whoever pays them (i.e., patronage networks), rather than any neutral or objective view of the entire economy and the wellbeing of everyone in it. The powerful voices which represent the asset-owning class do not like any possible “solution” from which they do not immediately benefit.
In this light, the problem of inflation — higher prices — is just the problem that we are not producing enough and a fight over the distribution of wealth. The class of owners and the political class always oppose public spending because they have little to gain from the increasing industrial prosperity of a nation which they have struggled to deindustrialize for their own gain. Payments for goods made in China might no longer benefit them. And so they are ready to hang American worker-consumers out to dry. The private financial sector does not benefit at all from public deficit spending, though they profit immensely from increasing private consumer debt. Yet if the state spends less for the benefit of the majority of the population, then the private financial sector of banks will benefit more.
Things don’t have to be this way, as Michael Hudson often puts it. At full employment a country could also tax its highest incomes—to stem inflation but keep the entire working class employed at a decent standard of living. Conservatives might complain that taxing high incomes — the mythical “job creators” — will harm productivity and everyone else, because, if they cannot spend their wealth, then it will not “trickle down”. But this is generally false: whatever money they have must also have “trickled up” (i.e., effective demand) and cannot circulate at all if it concentrates at the top. Or rather, it is true only if the wealthiest citizens of a country invest their wealth and income into productive activities which produce real goods and actually employ working people who are also consumers of products. But the ultra-wealthy do not do so. They buy unproductive assets for “capital gains” (i.e. arbitrage). Thus a financialized economy such as the United States of America depends upon the underdeveloped economies of other countries for its industrial products. Archetypically, the owner-class invests in assets already in place instead of real production or employment—in speculation in property, in rent-seeking assets like shares or intellectual property rights, in cryptocurrency, and ultimately in asset-price inflation which forces working people out of home ownership (“gentrification”). These do not produce or employ anyone, but simply redistribute wealth upward, where it permanently stays. These voices have long since ceased to be pro-capitalist, but rather are now clearly reactionary, neo-feudalist advocates of the rent-seeking class. The classical mythology which was meant to legitimate capitalist development was that workers would get an absolutely larger piece of a (relatively smaller) pie which was growing. Neoliberals today, however, are happy to get a greater share in the distribution of pieces of a rapidly shrinking national pie, which is a fact that financialization and deindustrialization have positively contributed to, and leave only crumbs to be “equitably” distributed amongst the rest. The reason to tax that wealth and income at the top, then, would not be to fund anything through the state. The state does not need revenue, which it produces. We need to “stop pretending that we need them to pay for the good society”. Rather, the reason to tax the wealthiest members of society would be the functional outcome to which it would give rise: destroying their wealth and power, as well as cooling off the inflationary economy, without sacrificing working people to involuntary unemployment—the abolition of the kind of inequality which makes modern economies fail and functioning republics impossible. And the fact that someone like Summers thinks creating 6% unemployment obviously is the solution, but taxing the wealthy obviously is not a possibility, shows how this is a matter of class warfare.
Why We Can’t Have Nice Things
The reason why the battle over inflation is class warfare conducted by the class which already owns all the wealth against the class which does not own any wealth, but produces it, is that inflation is a matter of the distribution of extant wealth, rather than the production of wealth for everyone. And indeed, the interest of the wealthy consists in deflation which means less for the workers, while inflation which means less for the wealthy and more for the workers. But there is also a further political dimension at stake here. It is the reason why industrial capitalists sacrifice a portion of their own potential profits in their class-alliance with rentiers to control and dominate the working class which they exploit. And were it not politically efficacious in certain respects, it would be deeply irrational in economic terms.
In his essay, Political Aspects of Full Employment, Michael Kalecki clearly outlines this political-economic situation in a way that helps us make sense of Summers’ argument—that it would be good to have more unemployment, much as Marx and Luxemburg also emphasize that capitalists want unemployment. There are two reasons at work here. First, business management likes unemployment for political reasons, because it is easier to control workers if they can be threatened with being fired, only if there is someone ready and happy to take their job. Solidarity among workers does not benefit the rich. If there is full-employment, that is, then there is no one ready to take the job of a worker who management would like to discipline, and their threats are powerless. Second, the owner class of rentiers, which hates inflation, and likes deflation for the reason that it increases the value of their assets, also likes unemployment. In his essay, Kalecki writes:
… strong opposition by business leaders is likely to be encountered. As has already been argued, lasting full employment is not at all to their liking. The workers would ‘get out of hand’ and the ‘captains of industry’ would be anxious to ‘teach them a lesson’. Moreover, the price increase in the upswing is to the disadvantage of small and big rentiers, and makes them ‘boom-tired’. In this situation a powerful alliance is likely to be formed between big business and rentier interests, and they would probably find more than one economist to declare that the situation was manifestly unsound.
Is it any wonder, then, that people like Summers or Powell, the mercenary guardians of the owner-class, make the arguments which they make? They simply expresses the interest of the alliance of big business and rentiers. This is the context in which Marxists, socialists, leftists, and the rest must all hear statements such as Summers’s claim that “there’s going to need to be increases in unemployment to contain inflation” and that we need a “recession” in order to have a good, working economy. An economy that is good for whom? An economy that works for whom? Clearly, if he is railing against an economy that manages to keep full employment at decent wages, then he is not talking about an economy that is good and works for the majority of the population which is the working class. Rather, he is openly advocating that the majority of the population which is the working class works for an economy which is really only goods for the wealthy minority of the asset owning class. He does so in a coded language which few seem to understand. But he is illustrating perfectly the political problem which Kalecki points out. Thus it must be heard as the piece of class warfare that it is. And once we recognize it for what it is, we can expect nothing more from this approach to politics and economy than the black cloud of managed decline which is looming on the horizon. The time to change course is indeed at hand, though we can expect no changes from those who currently hold any power.
 “When demand rises, some combination of output and price increases will absorb the increased demand, with the proportions varying across industries up to the point of economy-wide full employment. Once that is reached, only prices can rise because firms cannot find more resources to produce more” (Mitchell, Wray, Watts, Macroeconomics, 240). “…if an economy could meet the growth in nominal expected demand by rapidly expanding the capacity to produce goods and services, [then] an inflationary gap would not open. […] Circumstances change somewhat when the economy approaches full productive capacity. Then the mix between output growth and price rises becomes more likely to be biased toward price rises (depending on the bottlenecks in specific areas of productive activity. At full capacity, GDP can only grow via inflation (that is, nominal values increase only). At this point, the inflationary gap is breached” (Mitchell, Wray, Watts, Macroeconomics, 260-1).
 Equally perverse is the mainstream view of “full employment”, which is meant to be achieved when the total of real wages which capitalist employers are willing to pay is divided among everyone who needs to work. Cf. Leftwich, Sharp, Miree, Economics of Social Issues (1980), 274: “The economic aspect of unemployment originates from a situation in which the quantity of labor demanded [by capitalists] is less than the quantity [of labor] supplies [by workers] at the market wage rate. This results in involuntary unemployment”. “The general solution to involuntary unemployment is a reduction in real wage rates until the amount of labor demanded equals the amount supplied. In a competitive market, the reduction in real wage rates would take place automatically” (ibid., 287). In other words, lower wages for the employed so the unemployed get something too—never mind whether this might present a catastrophic lack of effective demand! For a contemporary discussion of this view from a macroeconomic perspective, cf. Mitchell, Wray, Watts, Macroeconomics (2019), 169- 70 and chapters 11-14; on “NAIRU”, cf. ibid., 283f.
 This might come as no surprise to anyone who is familiar with the founders actual statements about their hostility to majority-rule. John Jay reportedly said: “Those who own the country ought to govern it.” And James Madison similarly stated: “if elections were open to all classes of people, the property of the landed proprietors would be insecure. […] our government ought to secure the permanent interests of the country against innovation. […] [it] ought to be so constituted as to protect the minority of the opulent against the majority. […] The Senate ought to represent the opulent Minority…” (https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Madison/01-10-02-0044)
 Cf. Kalecki 1990, 161: “In order for existing capital equipment to be fully employed, it must be continually expanded, since then retained profits are invested. If these investments are not made, profits fall, and along with them the employment of existing plants. [/] Let us assume, as often happens in the USA, that two competing railway lines run between two cities. Traffic on both lines is weak. How does one deal with this? Paradoxically, one should build a third railway line, for then materials and people for construction of the third will be transported on the first two. What should be done when the third one is finished? Then one should build a fourth and a fifth one. . . . This example, as we warned, is paradoxical, since unquestionably it would be better to undertake some other investment near the first two railway lines rather than build a third one; nevertheless, it perfectly illustrates the laws of development of the capitalist system as a whole”.
This article was republished from Class Unity.
There was a time when the International Monetary Fund’s “recommendations” on how to reorganize an economy were read, defended and executed as if they were a divine mandate. Those were the 90s of the last century, when every study of the course of the world economy or agreement reached with this or that country, not only emanated an enlightened historical optimism with what was being proposed, but was also accompanied by a blind endorsement that went from ministers of economy to parliamentarians; from government economic advisors to renowned local businessmen; from prestigious universities to television and newspaper commentators; from academics to coffee-brewers, who licked their lips with every sentence, every piece of information, every suggestion made by this international organization.
Those were the times of the “great social consensus” woven by a profuse molecular network of public opinion, dedicated to agreeing that the collective sacrifices of the loss of rights, of the expropriation of public goods and state abandonment, were going to be redeemed with the brilliant individual success of becoming a businessman, shareholder or company director. Privatize everything, unprotect everything and let the free market take care of the rest were the founding credos of a new world of entrepreneurs, which the clerics of this religion immediately accompanied, amidst adherence and incence, with hollow phrases such as “shrink the state to enlarge the nation”, “country of winners”, “trickle-down distribution” or “end of history”.
But at the dawn of the 21st century, everything began to fracture. Poverty, hidden under the carpet of “entrepreneurship”, exploded. Brutal inequalities broke consensuses and the free market rushed to kneel before the State to demand financial bailouts or subsidies; first in the face of the subprime mortgage crisis; then in the face of the great encirclement of the covid-19; then in the face of China’s productive power; then in the face of rising fuel prices; then in the face of bank failures; then in the face of climate change. Exceptionality has become the rule.
And now it turns out that, of that great supreme organizing principle of late capitalism, the “free market”, there is nothing left but nostalgia. In 2020, the State has saved the companies and stock exchanges of the great economies of the North. Global trade and cross-border capital have structurally slowed their growth; energy, food and consumption subsidies have displaced free supply and demand. National security” or geopolitical expansionism have killed the law of supply and demand to define the prices of fuels, telecommunications networks, microprocessors or the energy transition. Europeans and North Americans reward with public money the entrepreneurs who bring their value chains back to each country and punish the efficiency of cost externalization. Globalism is being replaced by economic nationalism and geopolitics.
The IMF knows this. And infinitely regrets it. In a recent study, it recounts this catastrophic setback of the free market. It shows how, after a long globalist flux from 1980 to 2010, it has entered an ebb that could last for decades. To this end, it provides data on the decline of world trade in goods, services and finance, with respect to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), from 45% to 33%. The worldwide increase, up to 400%, of restrictive and protectionist measures. It speaks of surveys that reveal the substantial increase in social distrust of globalization (50%) and the growth in the demand for projective measures (33%). The study also provides data on the earthquake in the collective imaginary that is accompanying all this by verifying how the words “national security”, “nearshoring” or “offshoring” are overwhelmingly replacing the old mercantilist lexicon in international institutions, entrepreneurs and business managers. To top off this adverse panorama, the latest April report on the world economy (World Economic Outlook) shows how foreign direct investment, from having reached 5% of GDP in 2008, has fallen to less than 2% by 2022. To overshadow the effect of these facts, the reports also point out that these “misfortunes” will bring a possible fall in world GDP in the order of 2 to 7% in the following years. But, in spite of this, it can only admit that far from being a bend in the road that will be straightened out by an immediate and triumphant return of the free market, this “slow globalization” is a structural and long-lasting fact.
Saying these things to an institution that for decades was the oracle of the inevitable triumph of the free market is not easy. It brings with it internal traumas, existential frustrations and a cataract of almost paranoid contradictions.
This was already evident in 2020, when at the end of the “great encirclement” in the face of the pandemic, the IMF recommended to the governments of the countries to raise taxes on the rich and increase public investment, both in social protection and in capital (World Economic Outlook, 2020); exactly the opposite of what it had demanded for all the previous 40 years.
But where this logical inversion of the world reaches gross heights is when, in the same document, two antagonistic paths are offered for the same problem. Faced with the sovereign debt crisis that has exploded worldwide in the last 5 years, the IMF demands, on the one hand, “fiscal consolidation”, a euphemism for reducing public investment, cutting social spending and laying off personnel, as it is trying to impose in Argentina. But, on the other hand, it dedicates a whole chapter to demonstrate that, according to the historical experience of 33 emerging market economies and 21 developed economies, between 1980 and 2019, the cases of fiscal contraction have not generated a significant reduction in indebtedness. And, on the contrary, factual data show that expansion of fiscal spending aimed at increasing GDP through a “positive supply and demand shock” significantly reduces public debt ratios by as much as one-third. Certainly this is a truism. Only by increasing the economy and the State’s income can the debt percentages be reduced and the credits paid; even more so in a world in which there is a structural withdrawal of foreign investment, which is opting to take refuge in the economically stronger countries, due to the high interest rates they grant and the economic uncertainty that has corroded any hint of confidence in the future.
Milton Friedman, spiritual guide of neoliberal times, recommended knowing “when the tide is turning” in order to make an economic doctrine effective. He was referring to having the sensitivity to understand changes in public opinion, in the intellectual atmosphere and in ordinary people. He was able to perceive this in the 1970s, when the Keynesian framework was crumbling and, together with others, was able to radiate the new economic creed. But it is clear that today, in order to understand the new “sea change”, his IMF acolytes are not doing so with sufficient insight.
But where the cognitive derangement is much greater is in the ideological children of the international organizations of the globalist order. Bearers of a liberal enthusiasm that compensates for a limited talent, the whole army of “economic analysts”, consultants, professors, politicians and promoters of the free market who drank from the dogma poured from the IMF or the World Bank, have been left with their heads cut off. Their flat world is sinking and they do not understand why.
Some have opted for paralyzing stupor. They feel betrayed by a reality that did not match their prophecies and changed their questions to their answers. The result is bewilderment before a society that has lost its way.
Others have become weeping specters of an economic order that is vanishing along with its certainties and, faced with the evidence, there is nothing left but to cling to the melancholy memories of compromises for which history was not yet prepared.
And finally, there are the zombie children, ruthless creatures born and nurtured by a historical time, paradigms and economic circumstances that no longer exist today. The globalist consensus and optimism that breathed life into them has died and so have they. But they have not yet realized it or do not accept it; and they wander around furiously proselytizing the corrupted threads of the old order dragged by inertia and the wind. Unlike the specter, which only wanders in the corners of pathetic consciences, the zombie is violent and destructive. Since it no longer seeks to seduce with the free market but to impose and punish its detractors, it proposes to “dynamite” the economic rules; it competes for the speed of “shock therapies” and there are even those who resurrect botched proposals of educational “vouchers”. They are liberals willing to defend a liberalism with sticks.
All in all, they represent the fossil memory of a failure that led to the continental outbursts of 2001-2003. With the aggravating factor that, unlike then, they promise not to be “soft” and to put the unruly in order, that is to say, more disasters is a spiral. Perhaps that is what Gramsci was referring to when he spoke of the morbid or monstrous expressions of a flagging hegemony typical of an “interregnum”.
Álvaro García Linera was Vice President of Bolivia from 2006 to 2019 and a member of the Movement for Socialism (MAS), in the early 1990s he was a leader of the Túpac Katari Guerrilla Army
This article was republished from Resumen.
The International People’s Assembly (IPA) organized an online event to mark 75 years of the Nakba and the Palestinians’ continued resistance against the Zionist colonial apartheid occupation of Israel
Around 800,000 people are believed to have been displaced during the Nakba in 1948.
Today’s Israel is built over the ruins of hundreds of Palestinian villages which were destroyed by Zionist militias during Israel’s formation in 1948, said professor and historian Ilan Pappé. He emphasized that the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from their lands and homes was nothing but ethnic cleansing carried out by Israeli armed forces.
Professor Pappé was speaking during an online event called “75 years of Nakba, 75 years of people’s resistance,” organized by the International People’s Assembly (IPA) on Wednesday, May 10, ahead of the Palestinian Nakba Day which is commemorated annually on May 15.
Thousands of Palestinians were killed and hundreds of thousands (according to some estimates around 750,000 to 800,000) were forcefully expelled by Israeli forces from their lands and villages inside the historic Palestine during the months leading up to Israel’s creation in 1948. Each year, Palestinians commemorate their forceful expulsion and dispossession as the Nakba, or the “great catastrophe” in Arabic.
Apart from Professor Pappé, Bassam al-Salhi, Secretary General of the Palestinian People’s Party and a member of the executive committee of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), Palestinian journalist Mariam Barghouti, and Mehdi Salhi from the Belgium Workers Party also spoke during the event moderated by Georgia Gusciglio of INTAL Belgium.
The occupation is unleashing Nakba every day
All the speakers underlined the fact that Nakba was not a one-time event and that Palestinians continue to face Israeli oppression, atrocities, discrimination, killings, and forceful displacement on a daily basis.
Pappé pointed out that contrary to common understanding, even in 1948, the Nakba was not a brief event but, as now established by professional historians, went on for months between November 1947 and December 1948. He claimed that during these months, more than half of all Palestinian villages in historical Palestine were demolished (530 villages) and nearly half of the Palestinian population was forced to become refugees.
Pappé claimed that with the collaboration of the colonial powers at the time, Zionists were able to undertake this ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in order to establish the “facts on the ground” to legitimize their occupation of the land. He categorically refuted Israeli claims that Palestinians were asked to leave their homes by the Arab armies, who were in fact trying to defend the Palestinian land from Israeli aggression.
Now, “the only possible way of rectifying the past evil is by respecting Palestinian refugees’ right to return and by the establishment of a state all over the historical Palestine based on the principles of democracy, equality and social justice built through the process of restitutive justice which compensates the people who have lost land, careers, and lives,” Pappé emphasized.
Palestinian resistance has never ceased
Agreeing with Pappé, Bassam Salhi said that Palestinians “continue to fight against the apartheid Zionist system on a day-to-day basis and a third intifada is already building up” in the occupied territories. However, he also emphasized the need to promote international solidarity movements such as Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) to build greater popular pressure on the occupation.
Mariam Barghouti, who was unable to attend the event, sent her views in writing which were read by Gusciglio. She reiterated that the Nakba neither started nor ended on May 15, 1948. The date is remembered because on this day, the massacre and bloodbath of Palestinians was institutionalized by the creation of Israel. She pointed out that Israel still continues to massacre Palestinians because the world community is silent and the Palestinians are termed as “terrorists.”
Noting that it has been a year since senior Al-Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was killed by Israeli forces and no one has been held guilty for the crime yet, and that Gaza is being bombed again—as in the last several years with scores of innocent civilians killed—Barghouti questioned the logic of peace as propagated by the West, which asks Palestinians to make peace with the entity that has killed and massacred their family members.
Mehdi Salihi spoke on the growing strength of Palestinian solidarity movements in Europe. He highlighted that due to growing engagements with larger working class sections across Europe, a new solidarity with Palestinians is emerging. He cited examples of how public campaigns have led to city councils in Barcelona in Spain and Liege in Belgium, among others, taking proactive positions in support of Palestine and against Israeli apartheid.
All speakers noted the need to expand movements like BDS which are facing greater challenges due to the weaponization of anti-Semitism as well as anti-BDS legislation in several countries. They also acknowledged the growing significance of anti-apartheid committees across the globe.
This article was republished from Peoples Dispatch.
Why I’m pro-Russia & pro-Rage Against the War Machine: anti-imperialists can’t win with idealism By: Rainer SheaRead Now
When somebody rejects all of the practical paths towards fighting imperialism and class exploitation, on the basis that they feel we should be taking a purer path, then you had better make sure this other path is viable. If it’s not viable, and they’re saying this simply to complain rather than to offer a serious alternative, then you shouldn’t even entertain them. Because what’s the point of validating somebody who has nothing constructive to say? Unless an option is practicable, it’s not worth bringing up.
So is the case for the ways that Marxists who hold on to ultra-left ideas are proposing how we should struggle for justice during the era of the new cold war. They say that it’s not ideal for one capitalist state to be fighting another capitalist state, as is happening in the Russia-Ukraine conflict, and therefore we shouldn’t pick sides in this conflict. A meme within these idealistic left communities is that this war ought to simply be a war between the workers, and the capitalist ruling classes on both the Russian and Ukrainian sides. The problem is that’s not the war the conditions have presented us with. The war in front of us is one where Russia’s capitalist state has been pressured by the country’s anti-imperialist elements to fight for the liberation of the Donbass people from a fascist state, which would by now have invaded and ethnically cleansed the region if not for Russia’s intervention. On a broader scale, this is a war between a semi-peripheral country that has a right to sovereignty and pursuit of national self-interest, and an imperialist power that seeks to subjugate that country. With the effect of Russia’s intervention being an acceleration of the U.S. empire’s decline, as more BRI expansion opportunities have been created by this attack upon U.S. hegemony.
The progression towards worldwide workers victory isn’t helped by declaring that both sides in the conflict are bad. Russia’s contradictions aren’t the primary issue. The primary contradiction is U.S. hegemony, which Washington seeks to defend by cultivating a new genocide threat within eastern Ukraine. Operation Z was the only practical way to get rid of this threat and speed up U.S. imperial decline, which brings global proletarian revolution closer. The job of us in the imperial center when it comes to this matter is to sabotage our government’s narrative management operation, which keeps the war machine running. As the anti-Russian psyops get discredited, the empire loses the control over mass consciousness necessary for continuing its war against Russia, and the anti-imperialist side is helped. Thereby, the workers movement gets advanced.
Multipolarity is not the end goal for communists, it’s only an indispensable step towards completing the transition to global socialism. To try to impede the narrative effort to bring multipolarity by pointing out Russia’s contradictions is the opposite of helpful. It’s what the ruling class wants those on the left to do, as it makes the left into something compatible with imperialism.
What I’ve also had to learn is that the contradictions of the USA’s internal anti-imperialist movement, like the contradictions of U.S. imperialism’s enemies, are a secondary issue. It would be foolish of me at this stage to put much focus on pointing out the things that are wrong with the individuals and organizations which challenge imperialism’s psyops. It would only make me feel self-righteous, at the expense of hindering the anti-imperialist struggle. What the purity-obsessed leftists and Marxists do is ignore this reality about the consequences of creating needless antagonisms within the anti-imperialist front.
Building a multi-tendency anti-imperialist coalition is the only way to break the Democratic Party’s stifling influence over the antiwar movement. As long as the movement is dominated by organizations that tail the Democrats, and that therefore make sure to denounce Russia whenever they denounce NATO, the war machine won’t be disrupted. To become truly offensive towards the ruling class, we’ll need to build an antiwar movement that’s independent from the Democrats. And we can’t do this without forming bonds between the communist movement, and the other ideological elements that are anti-NATO.
To adopt a practice where we isolate ourselves from these elements, and expect to be able to build a sufficiently strong anti-imperialist movement while shunning many of the most conscious parts of the people, would be to willingly fail. It’s the same idea that Lenin lambasted in Should Revolutionaries Work in Reactionary Trade Unions:
We cannot but regard as equally ridiculous and childish nonsense the pompous, very learned, and frightfully revolutionary disquisitions of the German Lefts to the effect that Communists cannot and should not work in reactionary trade unions, that it is permissible to turn down such work, that it is necessary to withdraw from the trade unions and create a brand-new and immaculate “Workers’ Union” invented by very pleasant (and, probably, for the most part very youthful) Communists, etc., etc. Capitalism inevitably leaves socialism the legacy, on the one hand, of the old trade and craft distinctions among the workers, distinctions evolved in the course of centuries; on the other hand, trade unions, which only very slowly, in the course of years and years, can and will develop into broader industrial unions with less of the craft union about them (embracing entire industries, and not only crafts, trades and occupations), and later proceed, through these industrial unions, to eliminate the division of labour among people, to educate and school people, give them all-round development and an all-round training, so that they are able to do everything. Communism is advancing and must advance towards that goal, and will reach it, but only after very many years. To attempt in practice, today, to anticipate this future result of a fully developed, fully stabilised and constituted, fully comprehensive and mature communism would be like trying to teach higher mathematics to a child of four.
Why is this applicable to the question of working with antiwar organizing forces like the libertarians? Because in an era where leftists have been successfully brought towards the anti-Russia stance in vast proportions, it’s not the left that’s most compatible with anti-imperialism. The element that’s most compatible are the types of non-leftists who’ve come to see anti-imperialism as the foremost priority, rather than become assimilated into the culture wars like many other conservatives have. And that element is largely made up of libertarians.
They’re the ones that have been willing to partner with the pro-Russian communist organizations, even though the libertarians don’t exactly share our pro-Z stance. They don’t have to share all of our ideas, because they know that defeating NATO is what’s most important. They’ve ironically proven themselves to be better for the movement than the types of socialists who also don’t support Z. As well as the types of socialists who say they’re pro-China and pro-Russia, while continuing to act sectarian against RAWM. The Trotskyists, radical liberals, and Democrat tailists who share the “neither NATO nor Russia” stance have attacked the pro-Russia communists for working with the Libertarian Party. (I’m referring to the attacks on Rage Against the War Machine from the Trotskyist World Socialist Website, from Black Agenda Report, and from the ANSWER organizers who shared BAR’s content about RAWM.) They’ve attacked RAWM for the same reason they lack the correct geopolitical analysis.
Why have the anti-Russia socialists attacked us, while the libertarians have worked with us, even though the libertarians are the ones who fundamentally oppose us on economics? Because western Marxists have a purity fetish. This is the conclusion come to by Carlos Garrido, author of The Purity Fetish and the Crisis of Western Marxism. In his critique that’s adjacent to the book, Garrido observes how these types of Marxists render themselves ineffectual:
Western Marxists ignore the necessity of the process. They expect socialism, as a qualitatively new stage of human history, to exist immediately in the pure form they conceived of in their minds. They expect a child to act like a grown up and find themselves angered when the child is unable to recite Shakespeare and solve algebraic equations. They forget to contextualize whatever deficiencies they might observe within the embryonic stage the global movement towards socialism is in. They forget the world is still dominated by capitalist imperialism and expect the pockets of socialist resistance to be purely cleansed from the corrupting influence of the old world. They forget, as Marx noted in his Critique of the Gotha Program, that socialist society exists “as it emerges from capitalist society which is thus in every respect, economically, morally and intellectually, still stamped with the birth marks of the old society from whose womb it emerges”. Where is Hegel, in concrete analysis, for these Western Marxists? The answer is simple, he is dead. But Hegel does not die without a revenge, they too are dead in the eyes of Hegel. Their anti-dialectical lens of interpreting the material world in general, and the struggle for socialism in specific, leaves them in the lifeless position Hegel called Dogmatism.
To that extent, the problem takes care of itself. These sectarians who’ve sided against China, Russia, Rage Against the War Machine, or all three have made themselves unable to be the defining forces in the class struggle. Their role is to obstruct the struggle’s progress by acting as assets for the Democratic Party’s discourse manipulation, which is a thankless job. The BRI’s dismantling of the neo-colonial order, Russia’s successful demilitarization of Ukrainian fascism, RAWM’s permanent and now expanding organizing coalition; these developments can’t be taken advantage of by those who adhere to dogmatism. It’s through embracing the dialectical path that we can make progress in advancing the class struggle.
This article was republished from News with Theory.
A young soldier of the People's Liberation Army shows off his rifle skills in the Burmese jungle. | Photo via PLA
“Why can’t they wait for the new government to sort out? ‘All in good time,’ and ‘they must wait for their turn,’ they say. When you don’t know where your next meal is coming from, when your children go hungry, how long are you willing and prepared to wait?”— Popular Struggle, Communist Party of Burma, June 20, 2016.
Khing Hnin Wai started her day like any other. A resident of Naypyidaw, the capital of Myanmar—formerly known as Burma—she spent many mornings recording aerobic exercise videos for her online followers. On the morning of Feb. 1, 2021, as Khing Hnin Wai did her exercises, however, her video feed captured footage that shocked the world: a military convoy’s arrival at parliament.
The Grand Army of Myanmar, known as the Tatmadaw, had initiated a military coup. Khing Hnin Wai, oblivious to what was happening behind her, had unintentionally filmed the Tatmadaw’s operation to seize control of the civilian government. State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi—the famed leader of the Burmese democracy movement—was arrested.
In the immediate aftermath of the coup, the country was plunged deeper into disarray. Since gaining its independence in 1948, Myanmar has been plagued by a never-ending series of insurgencies, uprisings, and other internal conflicts.
As General Min Aung Hlaing inaugurated a new military dictatorship in the wake of this latest coup, popular protests and armed resistance swept the country. As unrest spread and government repression intensified, more groups rose up, including new ones that had formed as a result of the coup and instability in its aftermath. Also re-appearing were older movements that had previously ceased to exist—or so it was thought.
Following the events of that period, English-language reporting on the CPB ran cold. Although some loyalists maintained a party website since the late-1990s, the presumption was that any remaining leaders were all either killed, in hiding, or in exile neighboring China. For all intents and purposes, it appeared the CPB was defunct.
Less than 24 hours prior to the military coup, however, on Jan. 31, 2021, a statement was released by the CPB seemingly out of nowhere. The party warned of what was to come, and reaffirmed its rejection of the earlier 2008 constitutional referendum, which had been overseen by a previous military government.
Likewise, the party asserted its opposition to another military government taking power in the country. Shortly thereafter, as reported by Morning Star and People’s World, the CPB announced the formal re-establishing of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). Not only was the Communist Party of Burma back, it was armed and ready to do battle against the dictatorship.
Given the chaos of the situation, conflicting reports and assessments, as well as a general lack of readily available information, many questions were raised as to the legitimacy of the statements issued in the name of the CPB. Questions swirled among those resisting the military and observers in the region about the trustworthiness of what little was being released.
Many found the timing of these events suspicious and noted that the U.S. foreign policy establishment seemed very keen to support so-called “pro-democracy” forces—a common trope in campaigns of destabilization. Truth, however, is often far stranger than fiction, as this author soon discovered.
Shortly after relocating to Laos in 2022, more than a year after the coup in Naypyidaw, I was introduced to a source living in Myanmar who had strong opinions regarding the current political situation: U.S. interests are at play in the region, but the military junta also maintains a tight grip on power that most (especially younger) Burmese people do not want. I inquired about the alleged resurgence of the Communist Party.
The following article is based the ensuing discussions with two individuals affiliated with the Communist Party of Burma and the People’s Liberation Army. They were recorded between March and April 2023.
Generational transition amidst political instability
Mr. Champo is a friendly, energetic middle-aged man involved in the local business community. His associate, Mr. Denpo, is an equally energetic older scholar. Both men declined to share the details of their affiliation or to speak about how long they had been involved in political affairs. For safety reasons, pseudonyms have been used for both.
Mr. Champo explained that a delineation exists in the CPB between “old cadres” and the “youth generation,” with the former teaching the latter. It appears that the ideological positioning of the CPB is in line with its official public statements of adherence to “Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought.” Given the overall rural character of Burmese society and the central role of agriculture in its economy, this more peasant-based ideological focus is not so surprising. While in word it aligns more with the views of Mao-era China, the CPB has also eschewed what it describes as both “left” and “right” deviations.
There does appear to exist a degree of diverse thought within the party, though, especially given the generational divide. As Mr. Champo noted: “Some old [CPB] cadres may be Maoists, and some may be socialists.” In the context of this discussion, the term “Maoist” was used to imply an affinity for the political views of late-1970s China and is not related to later movements elsewhere who’ve adopted some version of Mao’s thinking. Similarly, “socialist” implies something more akin to what Westerners might call democratic socialism or social democracy.
This is likewise reflected in attitudes towards both the Communist Party of China (CPC) and United Wa State Party (UWSP). Mr. Champo said he could neither confirm nor deny rumors that the CPB is currently supported by either organization and suggested that views towards those two organizations varied within the CPB.
Setting aside questions of any organizational “alliances,” Mr. Champo said the CPB is highly active in union and community organizing across Myanmar. Many, he says, call themselves “leftists” or “reds” without having received training or education in political ideology or revolutionary strategy—a key void that the CPB is seeking to fulfill.
“Their unity,” he stressed, “is [based] upon individual issues and political situations.” In other words, the image one gets of the fluidity and ever-shifting situation in Myanmar’s political landscape is not merely a result of bad reporting. It is also a reflection of the fluidity and ever-shifting relations between the numerous organizations and actors on the ground.
Mr. Champo lamented the situation, attributing Myanmar’s continuous instability over the past seven decades to “military gangsters and the rotten politicians.” The revolutionary forces lack strong leadership, he said, and this is something the Communist Party is seeking to correct.
A variety of tactics for a variety of struggles
When asked about the history and current situation of the party, the two men were able to offer some clarity. They confirmed the existence of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) as the armed wing of the CPB and offered further details on its operations. Strikingly, they shared that the PLA, contrary to popular belief, is not merely concentrated in the northern areas along the Chinese border.
While officially holding no territory, the PLA “is like a ghost troop” that operates throughout the country. Not only are is it active in the north (described as the “2nd Front”), where it maintains at least two full battalions, it is also engaged in the south, along the coast near the Thai border (“1st Front”), as well as in the central areas of the country (“3rd Front”). In actuality, the men say, the only area where the PLA currently isn’t active is in the western areas near the Indian border.
Questioned about the continuity of the PLA and CPB as they exist today with their previous operations during the 1980s, both men balked. According to Mr. Champo, the party’s headquarters had been moved in 1989, roughly corresponding to the period of internal strife. However, those years, they said, are “difficult to talk about” and that information was “restricted.” One simply remarked, with a frown, “Danger.” They were able to confirm that the current chief of the PLA is in fact an “old cadre” from the CPB, but any further details were off the table.
The policies supported by the CPB today mirror both historic policy positions supported by Communist Parties around the world during the Second World War, as well as those expressed by ruling parties in neighboring China and Laos. When asked what the CPB’s goals are at this time, they said the first task is to end the military dictatorship. The second, once the dictatorship is ended, is to win full liberation and people’s democracy, to build real “people power” in the country.
They envision a people’s democracy for Myanmar structured as a federated state, wherein all of the various ethnic groups and autonomous regions will be respected and united together under one government while still being allowed to oversee their own affairs. This policy has been upheld by the CPB for as long as it has existed and puts it in a position sometimes at odds with other ethno-nationalist separatist organizations in the country seeking complete independence.
Furthermore, the party envisions the construction of this “people power” as a process of “three revolutions”—cultural, economic, and technological. People’s World readers may note that this policy, which the CPB attributes to Chinese leader Mao Zedong, was also undertaken by Lao leader Kaysone Phomvihane following the establishment of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic in 1975.
When asked if the CPB participated in elections, both men laughed. No elections have been held in the country since the Tatmadaw seized power in 2021, and while elections are supposedly planned for August of this year, the common view appears to be that such a vote (if it isn’t postponed) will be little more than an attempt to legitimize the military regime.
It would be a mistake to identify such rhetoric as merely warmongering or longing for violence, however. Elaborating further on the history of political struggle in their country, both men were quick to highlight that the CPB has learned hard lessons from its struggle for liberation. So-called “hardlining,” or ultra-leftism, was once a real problem. With the rise of the “second generation” of leaders in the Communist Party of China (corresponding with the period of Deng Xiaoping’s economic reform), the CPB undertook changes of its own; overemphasis on ideological rigor took a back seat to practicality.
“People need to eat, people have to live,” Mr. Champo said of the realizations of that time. “First, the people need to eat, then we can change their thinking.” Given that the time during which this rectification occurred (the late-1980s) corresponds with the party’s return to underground organizing, further inquiry regarding the exact developments that occurred was not possible.
It is perhaps noteworthy, however, that prior to the period in question, two senior leaders of the CPB had been denounced as “the Burmese Deng Xiaoping” and “the Burmese Liu Shaoqi”—referring to the two pragmatic Communist leaders purged by Mao—before being executed. Such violent and zealous actions were in line with the style of political discourse occurring in the latter period of China’s Cultural Revolution. With the death of Mao, such political maneuvers were ended and rightly regarded as a mistake. It is unclear whether the CPB today holds the same opinion of its own ultra-leftist period. As for the party’s focus today, however, Mr. Champo explained it straightforwardly: “We are very simple, we want to liberate the people.”
The men both agreed that learning the history of Myanmar is very difficult, as all sides maintain an interest in how things are remembered—and what things are forgotten. Burmese independence in the late 1940s, they say, was merely a “trade-off” with British authorities. The Communist Party hopes to achieve “the whole thing.” While some cadres do utilize the internet, including Facebook, as a means for spreading the party’s message, the majority of content is in Burmese, and is therefore less accessible to Western audiences. Other sources have indicated to People’s World that internet and electricity blackouts remain a common occurrence, especially in the cities, hampering the party’s online organizing.
Finally, the conversation ended with a question the interview subjects found humorous: “What is the CPB/PLA’s view of the United States and alleged U.S. involvement in the conflict in Myanmar?” Both men grinned, and Mr. Champo provided a diplomatic assessment: “The U.S. is very clever.” It will come as no surprise that the party believes foreign interests are at play in stoking the ongoing conflict in their country or that, in general, they have a negative view of U.S. foreign policy and involvement in their region.
A people’s army
While Mr. Champo and Mr. Denpo discussed history and politics, a group of soldiers had excitedly gathered in the unnamed location, somewhere deep in the Burmese jungle, eager to listen and watch. Their woodland camouflage uniforms were decorated with bright red epaulets and patches emblazoned with writing in Burmese.
“Comrade Thet,” speaking on condition of total anonymity, is a People’s Liberation Army commander, fighting on the 2nd Front in northern Myanmar, where the PLA claims at least two full battalions (roughly 2,000 men) are based. A young woman assists in translating; Thet explains that she is his wife. Beside him sit an unnamed Lieutenant, who leads a column of riflemen, and a likewise unnamed Supply Officer, who assisted in making the meeting possible.
These seasoned guerillas all appear quite young, perhaps in their 20s or 30s. Their wide smiles are matched only by the gleam of the bright five-pointed stars affixed to their caps. If not for their uniforms and black assault rifles, one would assume they were all students. This is not a coincidence, as Thet explained they were in fact students until the military coup in 2021.
Beneath their polished uniforms and grins lay a stern commitment and a determined outlook: Forced by circumstance to trade their school books for bullets, those who have survived are now battle-hardened revolutionaries.
“A difficult choice had to be made,” Thet said, but as the military increased its attacks against democracy activists, the answer, for them, became clear. On March 15, 2021, they mobilized. One month later, in April 2021, the first armed battle took place against the junta’s forces: 13 comrades were martyred.
The meeting formally begins with introductions, as well as confirmation that recent local reports are accurate: On April 11, 2023, mere days before the Burmese New Year (Thingyan) festival, government jets and gunships unleashed an unprecedented bombardment on the village of Pazigyi, in north-central Sagaing region.
Attempts to rescue survivors and to collect the corpses of the men, women, and children who had perished, were postponed as another wave of bombardment followed. While official accounts estimate around 160 casualties, Thet confirms at least 200 civilians were killed.
In response, anti-junta troops under the flag of the People’s Defence Forces (PDF)—the broad coalition fighting against what they describe as a military dictatorship, of which the PLA is a participant—carried out an ambush against government forces during the holiday weekend.
Mr. Champo explained that the Burmese military’s strategy has been changing. The use of aerial bombardment, helicopters, and gunships has increased. As seen in Pazigyi, “They burn villages and kill groups of villagers.” Mr. Champo said this has led to a general division in society, with the “Greens” supporting the military, sometimes for no other reason than fear, and the “Reds,” consisting of a large coalition of different organizations and camps whose overarching goal is to end the dictatorship.
Thet spoke further of conditions on the ground, sharing that the military’s increasing brutality has resulted in growing support for the Communist Party and the People’s Liberation Army. In northern Myanmar, he says, the people have only one choice: to fight. The increasingly violent crackdowns by the dictatorship, rather than breaking the people’s will to fight for freedom, is instead making more and more of them come to terms with what the CPB describes as the necessity for revolution.
“We have to end this war by war,” he said. “An eye for an eye; we have no choice.” In this pursuit, the Communist Party seeks to play a central role in organizing workers, farmers, students, and other laborers in order to fight for their democratic and human rights. “PLA has the biggest responsibility for the revolution and organizing people to fight back for their liberation,” Thet said.
While studying military organization and fighting skills, the Burmese revolutionaries also undergo intense training in Communist ideology. Their zeal and drive to serve the people is expressed in their bright smiles and proud faces. Following the line that “the party commands the gun,” they explained that their primary strategy isn’t to hold specific territory for long periods of time. Rather, they move from area to area, a ghost troop, as Mr. Champo had said, combatting government forces and working to organize local people wherever they go.
“People are people,” the commander said, and the PLA’s goal is to help organize wherever the people are. So far, it appears to be working. “We have continuously overrun [the junta] and tried to expand our area of operation,” he said. The PLA hopes that as their area grows, and the people become more organized, the junta will eventually be overpowered.
The brutality and violence of war is not to be romanticized, however, and the PLA knows that many challenges lie ahead. “Material conditions are difficult,” Thet said. While the vast majority of Burmese society are farmers and workers, the bourgeois elites would prefer prolonged brutal conflict, if necessary, rather than lose the wealth they’ve gained through exploitation and tyranny.
“Wherever the people are struggling, we try to support them and organize them to fight for democracy and human rights.” This requires manpower and resources, and while the revolutionaries appear to be faring well enough, they are under no illusions as to the difficulty of the task ahead.
Nevertheless, their caps shine brightly in the hot Burmese sun—just like their commitment. They show determination in the face of what skeptics might say is certain death against the professionally-trained and technologically superior forces of the dictatorship. But their resolve is evidence of their commitment to build the Party, win people’s power, and, someday, they hope, establish a people’s democracy with human rights and dignity for all.
He concluded that, in the future, he hopes volunteers, technicians, and aid workers will come to Myanmar and help them build the people’s democracy they have fought and bled for.
“Please share this with the people of the world.”
Michael Christopher born and raised in Southwest Virginia, Michael Christopher is former secretary of the Virginia District of the Communist Party USA. He studied in Chinese Taipei in 2016, and in Mainland China in 2017. In 2022, he became the editor of Mount Tai Press. He currently resides in the Lao People's Democratic Republic.
This article was republished from Peoples World.
We are pleased to publish this important and well-researched article by Gabriel Martinez on ideological work and struggle in China since the beginning of ‘reform and opening up’ at the end of the 1970s. Gabriel is a postgraduate student from Brazil, currently finishing his studies in Marxist Philosophy at Beijing Normal University. He has lived in China for the last five years.
The Reform and Opening policy, initiated by the Communist Party of China in 1978, has produced important transformations in the economic sphere of the country. The transformation in the structure of property, little by little, caused the basic structure of property relations in the country to change to a system where the state public economy was considered its backbone, but coexisting with multiple forms of property, which exist and develop together (including domestic and foreign private property). These transformations were accompanied by a series of ideological changes, changes that have an influence on the most varied sectors of social life. This influence can be seen in the way of life of the population, in the economy, in culture, in the arts, and also in politics. Chinese society, from an ideological point of view, has become more “diversified”, and such diversification, obviously, not only has positive aspects, but also produces negative consequences and brings new challenges for the development of socialism in China. In this article I will try to outline some aspects of the formulations of the Communist Party of China on ideological work and how this work is acquiring a new role in China led by Xi Jinping.
The struggle against bourgeois liberalization in the new era of socialism
After the beginning of the reforms, an ideological trend emerged in China called “bourgeois liberalization. The phenomenon of bourgeois liberalization, to this day, exerts a pernicious influence on China’s development process and the building of a socialist culture. How does the Communist Party define this liberalization? According to Deng Xiaoping:
Since the fall of the Gang of Four an ideological trend that we call bourgeois liberalization has emerged. Its exponents idolize the “democracy” and “freedom” of Western capitalist countries and reject socialism. This cannot be tolerated. China must modernize, but she must not promote liberalization or take the capitalist path, as Western countries have done. 
Deng Xiaoping’s quotation clearly shows us that, from the very beginning, the problem of bourgeois liberalization has always been the object of attention by the leaders of the Communist Party of China. Deng Xiaoping, Chen Yun, Jiang Zemin, Hu Jintao, etc., dealt with this problem several times. However, it is not wrong to say that over the years, far from being solved, it still exists and exerts considerable influence. Faced with the new political line approved after the 3rd Plenary Session of the 11th Central Committee of the CCP held in 1978, which established a break with the previous line of “taking class struggle as the main link,” placing economic construction and socialist modernization at the center of the Party’s activity, a very active political tendency arose, which defended the idea that besides reforms in the economic sphere, it was also necessary to carry out reforms of a political nature, calling for more “democracy” and “freedom. This ideological current became quite politically active, especially from the 1980s onwards, seeking to divert the Reform and Opening from its original path and direction of perfecting the socialist system, to the path of restoring capitalism and the bourgeois-type political system, as happened in the Soviet Union.
At first, especially among intellectual circles, an anti-Mao Zedong wave swept the country, leading to an open contestation of the resolutions presented by the CCP in its historic document On Some Problems in the History of Our Party from the Founding of the PRC to the Present Day in 1981. The document, while stating that Mao Zedong made some mistakes at the end of his life, is quite clear in its recognition and exaltation of the Chinese leader’s historical role in the history of Party and Republic building. The document clearly states that Mao Zedong’s successes far outweigh his mistakes. Says the resolution:
Comrade Mao Zedong was a great Marxist and a great proletarian revolutionary, strategist and theoretician. It is true that he made serious mistakes during the “cultural revolution,” but if we judge his activities as a whole, his contributions to the Chinese revolution arguably outweigh his mistakes. His merits are of the first order and his mistakes of the second order. He rendered invaluable service in founding and building our Party and the People’s Liberation Army of China, winning victory for the cause of liberating the Chinese people, founding the People’s Republic of China, and advancing our socialist cause. He made great contributions to the liberation of the oppressed nations of the world and the progress of humanity. 
The advocates of bourgeois liberalization, taking advantage of the debates started all over the country on how to evaluate the first thirty years of China’s socialist construction process, used it as an excuse to put forward their anti-communist ideas. The problem of bourgeois liberalization reached alarming levels and ended up resulting in the counter-revolutionary riots of 1989, showing that even though the Party had carried out campaigns to fight the so-called “spiritual pollution”, at that time, several mistakes and failures were committed by the Party in terms of the way it conducted the work of political and ideological education of the Party cadres, and of the population in general. Such a mistake was recognized by Deng Xiaoping himself, who stated at that time, “Our most serious mistake was in education – we did not provide enough education for the youth, including the students.” 
The founding leaders of the People’s Republic of China have always paid great attention to the problem of ideological education. Mao Zedong, in the classic work How to Correctly Solve the Contradiction Among the People draws attention to the protracted character of the ideological struggle between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. According to Mao Zedong:
A long period is still needed to decide the outcome of the ideological struggle waged in our country between socialism and capitalism, since the influence of the bourgeoisie and the intellectuals who come from the old society will persist in China for a long time as a class ideology. If we do not understand this situation well, or if we do not understand it fully, we run the risk of making the gravest of mistakes, that of ignoring the need to conduct the struggle on the ideological plane. 
The CCP has over the years developed a very consistent ideological political line to deal with the problem of bourgeois liberalization. Jiang Zemin, for example, stated, “The practice of ideological work confirms that if proletarian thought does not occupy its position, it will be occupied by non-proletarian thoughts. We must pay attention and learn from these lessons.” 
However, while recognizing that the Party has always called attention to the need to strengthen ideological work, one cannot fail to recognize that Xi Jinping’s coming to power represents a turning point in the Communist Party of China’s political line. Particularly important for us to understand the political and ideological content of Xi Jinping’s thinking is the analysis of his speech delivered at a conference on propaganda and ideological work on August 19, 2013. In this speech, while remaining faithful to the principles established by previous leaders (Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping, Jiang Zemin, and Hu Jintao), Xi Jinping advances important reflections and formulations on how to develop political and ideological work in China. Although at that time the Communist Party of China had not yet coined the term “new era of socialism,” it is clear that the ideas contained in this important document are the compass that will guide the Party in what they call the “new era of socialism,” an era that officially begins as of the holding of the 19th Congress, held in 2017. In this speech, Xi Jinping says:
Economic construction is the central work of the Party, ideological work is extremely important work of the Party. Everyone clearly understands the positions of both areas of work, but in some localities and departments, it is clear that there is the phenomenon that in words the importance of both aspects of work is recognized, but there is no clarity when it comes to applying this principle. Doing the ideological and propaganda work requires that, first of all, this problem be solved. 
Economic construction of the country is still the central work of the entire Party. This important definition, first put forward during the 3rd Plenary Session of the 11th Communist Party of China in 1978, starts from the understanding that China, being a still backward country (especially when compared to the developed emphasising central capitalist countries), needs to put economic construction and the promotion of the development of the productive forces at the center of its attention. As Marxist economist Zhou Xincheng recognizes, establishing economic construction as the central work is “the result of the main contradiction of society,” so it cannot be understood as a subjective decision.  In emphasizing that ideological work is an “extremely important work”, Xi Jinping calls attention to the need for the entire Party to have a correct understanding of this work, recognizing that in many respects it has not been correctly performed, and has even been neglected.
Wang Qishan, current Vice President of the People’s Republic of China and a member of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China, in an article published in the People’s Daily, emphasized that Xi Jinping has “clarified confused ideas, recovering lost positions, reversing the wrong path, establishing the authority of the Central Committee, basically reversing the situation of weakening Party leadership.” 
The statements made by Wang Qishan are a recognition, by a senior Party and government leader, that many things need to be corrected if the cause of socialism in China is to continue advancing along a correct path. The weakening of the Party leadership is something that is closely related to ideological and educational work. Ideological work is precisely one of the main fronts on which the Party must exercise its leadership role, making sure that the mistakes made in this area are rectified, and the cause of socialism in China continues to advance in a healthy way. Ideological work, being a “work of utmost importance,” cannot be neglected under the excuse that “developing the economy” is the central aspect of Party work. As former leader Chen Yun stated:
If we promote socialist material progress and not socialist cultural and ideological progress at the same time, we will deviate from the correct path. If institutions or leading cadres forget or slow down their efforts to build socialist civilization, culturally and ideologically, they will not be able to do a good job in building socialist civilization materially and will even turn away from socialist and communist ideals. This is very dangerous. 
In this sense, the events in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe are the most concrete example of what are the results produced by the underestimation of political and ideological work, as well as of a mistaken political line, in which the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, especially after the death of Josef Stalin, began to gradually distance itself from Marxism-Leninism. To illustrate with an example: American professor David Kotz, in an article where he recounts his experience in the Soviet Union, talks about an episode where he allegedly asked an official if he was a member of the Communist Party. According to Kotz, the officer replied, “Yes, I am a member of the Communist Party, but I am not a Communist. 
Experiences such as those reported by Professor David Kotz help us to understand what was the internal ideological environment prevailing in the PCUS and in Soviet society itself, already on the eve of its dissolution. The Soviet example should also serve as a lesson for the Chinese Communists, since this phenomenon is not uncommon in country either. Here we are facing a problem closely related to the question of political and ideological convictions that should guide the activity and action of Party members. As for this problem, the Chinese have been aware of its existence from the moment it began to manifest itself in an acute way.
Thus, the reasons that made the dissolution of the Soviet Union possible are the subject of constant reflection by the leaders of the CCP. Xi Jinping also went so far as to explicitly refer to the Soviet example to issue a warning to the CCP. According to Xi Jinping, by starting with the denial of Lenin and Stalin, the Soviet Union embarked on the path of historical nihilism, something that prepared the ideological ground for the justification of the “peaceful evolution” from socialism to capitalism. According to Xi Jinping:
Why did the Soviet Union disintegrate? Why did the Soviet Communist Party fall from power? One important reason was that the struggle in the field of ideology was extremely intense, completely denying the history of the Soviet Union, denying the history of the Soviet Communist Party, denying Lenin, denying Stalin, creating historical nihilism and muddled thinking. Party organs at all levels had lost their functions, the military was no longer under Party leadership. In the end, the Soviet Communist Party, a great party, dispersed, the Soviet Union, a great socialist country, disintegrated. 
It was on the ideological terrain and the lack of vigilance in the face of forces hostile to socialism that the Soviet Union was defeated. Mao Zedong, many years earlier, analyzing the importance of ideology in the process of seizing political power, whether from revolutionary or reactionary classes, stated: “Anyone who wants to overthrow a political regime must first create public opinion and do some ideological preparatory work. This goes for the counter-revolutionary classes as well as the revolutionary classes.” 
As soon as this problem appeared before the socialist camp and the Communist Parties, the Communist Party of China was in the front line of its denunciation, going on to develop a constant ideological struggle against the revisionist ideas which were propagated by the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, ideas which in practice contributed to the strategy being put forward by US imperialism. However, especially after the beginning of the Reform and Opening, at various levels the Party let down its guard in the face of the danger of peaceful evolution, which gave free course to the strengthening of imperialist cultural influence and the propagation of bourgeois liberalization. The anti-communist protests, which peaked in 1989 in the events in Tiananmen Square, prove such a thesis. Deng Xiaoping himself, commenting on the end of the Cold War and the general crisis of the socialist camp, recognized that:
It seems that one Cold War has come to an end, but that two others have already begun: one is being waged against all the countries of the South and the Third World, and the other against socialism. The Western countries are staging a third world war without firearms. By this I mean that they want to promote the peaceful evolution of socialist countries to capitalism. 
The beginning of the trade war against China, the fierce campaign promoted by imperialism on the issue of Xinjiang and the attempt to politicize and blame China for the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, are nothing more than aspects of this ideological struggle promoted by US imperialism against Chinese socialism. To face this new challenge, it is essential that the Party and society strengthen ideological work and strengthen their understanding of Marxist theory. The question of ideological work and education, far from being something trivial, is a vital issue for the continuity and permanence of the Communist Party of China as the leading force of the Chinese nation and the cause of building socialism in China. The fact that such a problem has been recognized by the highest leaders as something pressing reveals how serious the ideological situation was in the country before Xi Jinping came to power.
The struggle against the marginalization of Marxism and the reaffirmation of its actuality
One of the main evidences of this problem in the ideological realm is the marginalization suffered by Marxism in recent years. Xi Jinping has been paying close attention to this problem, aiming to restore and consolidate the authority and leading role occupied by Marxism as the theoretical basis guiding socialist construction and modernization in China. To warn about the problem of marginalization of Marxism, far from being an exaggeration, is something quite clear to anyone minimally familiar with the internal situation of the country and with the prevailing ideological environment within Chinese society. The Marxist economist Liu Guoguang, in analyzing the ideological situation in theoretical circles – especially in the field of political economy – in China stated:
For some time, in the field of economic science research and teaching, the influence of western economics has increased and the guiding position of economic science of Marxism has been weakened and marginalized. In the field of economic theory research and teaching, it seems that nowadays Western economics has become the dominant trend; many students consciously or unconsciously take Western economics as the dominant economic trend in our country. Some people consider Western political economy to be the guiding thought for development and reform in China, some economists openly advocate that Western political economy should be seen as the dominant trend, replacing the guiding position of Marxist economics. Western bourgeois ideology permeates both economic research work and the work of formulating economic decisions. I am very concerned about this phenomenon. 
It is not only in the realm of the study and teaching of economics that Marxism undergoes a process of marginalization. Also in the fields of history, philosophy, arts, etc., Marxism has been marginalized to various degrees. The Party uses the term “historical nihilism” to describe all sorts of ideas that seek to explain Chinese history, especially the history of the CCP and the construction of socialism, in a distorted way. In the ideological realm, the main target of “historical nihilism” is precisely Marxism, the official state ideology that should theoretically guide and direct all activities and sectors of the country. Historian Gong Yun, a member of the Chinese Academy of Social Scientists, explaining the influence of historical nihilism in today’s China, said:
In the last two decades, although historical nihilism has been criticized in academic circles, the effect of these criticisms has not yet been obvious. The views advocated by historical nihilism have a wide social influence, especially in the new media, some newspapers, and among ordinary people. Historical nihilism has formed a certain social soil and created serious consequences of division and antagonism. 
Since the 18th CCP Congress, several internal ideological campaigns to combat historical nihilism have been carried out, and Xi Jinping himself even analyzed such a phenomenon in one of his speeches. At the February 20, 2021, in a Party history study conference, Xi Jinping said, “We must take a clear stand against historical nihilism, strengthen ideological orientation and theoretical analysis, clarifying the vague and one-sided understandings regarding some historical events in our Party’s history.” 
It is precisely because the situation has reached such a critical level that Xi Jinping pays close attention to the problem of the need to consolidate the leading position of Marxism in the ideological field. It is also for this reason that in recent years there have been repeated calls for Party cadres to raise their ideological-political level and deepen their study and knowledge of the classics of Marxism. Speaking specifically about the marginalization of Marxism, Xi Jinping said that:
Some people consider Marxism outdated, that China currently does not follow Marxism; some people consider Marxism to be just ideological “preaching” without rationality and scientific systematization. In practical work, in some fields Marxism has been marginalized, turned into something empty, symbolic. 
The strengthening of the guiding role of Marxism is fundamental to ensuring that the Party cadres have a correct view of the trends of social development, understand the fundamental differences between capitalism and socialism, and increase their political, ideological and cultural confidence in the political system of socialism with Chinese characteristics. Only by mastering Marxism can one correctly understand the real goals of the Reform and Opening up policy, and ensure that it continues to move in the right direction. This is the reason why Xi Jinping insists on the need to consolidate the position of Marxism as the guiding ideology of the Reform and Opening up process, as well as of all the political work undertaken by the Communist Party of China. As Xi Jinping stated:
At the present time, the environment, target, scope and methods of ideological propaganda are undergoing great changes, but the main task of ideological and propaganda work has not and cannot change. Ideological and propaganda work must consolidate the guiding position of Marxism in the ideological sphere and consolidate a common ideological basis for the united struggle of the entire Party and people. 
Consolidating the guiding role of Marxism, making it increasingly a real material force guiding the process of building socialism in China, is a mandatory condition for the Party to strengthen its leadership and governance capacity, as well as to continue achieving new successes in the process of building socialism with Chinese characteristics.
The existence of capitalist relations of production in the primary stage of socialism and their effects on the ideological sphere
As we stated at the beginning of the article, the restructuring of the property system in China has given rise to capitalist-type relations of production, so they produce a certain type of ideology that corresponds to the character of these relations. Economist Wu Xuangong defends the idea that currently “there are a large number of economic phenomena and problems in China that did not exist in the past and are contrary to the nature and principles of socialism. Such problems stem from the fact that in present-day China, in addition to the “main contradiction of socialist society, there is also the main contradiction of capitalism.” 
It is therefore correct for us to analyze what role the ideology produced by these new capitalist relations of production play in the general set of socialism with Chinese characteristics, and how the Party will deal with this contradiction in the medium and long term. The recognition of the contradictions and problems that have appeared in the country in the last 40 years – and their effects in the realm of ideology – reveals a great concern on the part of Chinese Marxist theorists to seek and find the appropriate explanations to correctly solve the problem. To do so, one must keep in mind the basic principle of Marxism that existence determines consciousness, or the economic base determines the superstructure; therefore, it would not be correct to consider that the increased dangers presented by bourgeois liberalization are works of chance, or that they arise magically. They manifest themselves ultimately as ideological representations of new petty-bourgeois and bourgeois social classes that are bound by multiple ties to capitalist private property, and are also the product of the increased ideological infiltration promoted by Western countries, especially the United States and all its ideological apparatus of political and cultural domination, to the extent that there has been a certain loosening of ideological and class education, as well as an advance in the penetration of foreign capital in the country. As Wu Xuangong stated, “The belief in socialism gradually weakened, so that Marxism was marginalized; the emphasis on self-interest, as well as the pursuit of material interests, became a trend.” 
In the 1990s, Deng Xiaoping and many Party cadres considered the idea of explaining the problem of bourgeois liberalization through the analysis of economic relations to be mistaken, because they saw it as an attempt to put a brake on the advance of reforms. Under those conditions it was not wrong to put the problem in those terms. However, today this problem presents itself in a completely different way than it did in the 1980s and 1990s. At that time a new bourgeoisie had not completely formed, and the problem of class struggle manifested itself basically only as a struggle against the remnants of backward ideologies and elements directly linked to imperialism working to sabotage socialist construction. Today capitalist private property has acquired an infinitely more important position and role than it did in the past, which has resulted in a significant change in the economic and ownership structure in China. This has fundamentally changed the way in which the Chinese working masses relate to the means of production, a fact that poses serious risks to the Party and the very cause of socialism in the country. Without taking into account the influence that the relations of production originating in capitalist private property and the pressure they exert for the reforms as a whole to take the direction of bourgeois liberalization, it is impossible to understand the essence of the problem. This is a question that needs to be observed by all those who wish to make a realistic analysis of the current stage of development of socialism in China. As the economist Liu Guoguang warned:
Bourgeois liberalization occurs not only in the political field, but also in the economic field. Privatization, liberalization, and marketization; opposition to public ownership, government intervention, and opposition to socialism, these are all things that are all related to the economic field. It is not enough to oppose bourgeois liberalization, politically. To prevent bourgeois liberalization in the economic field is to prevent the economic field from deteriorating. If the economic field deteriorates (is privatized, turned into capitalism), the political field will also deteriorate. This is a basic common principle of Marxism. 
Capitalist private property, even though in the primary stage of socialism it may play a positive role as an accessory element in the development of the socialist economy, ultimately represents the relations of production of a capitalist type, possessing objectives and laws of operation distinct from socialist property in its most varied forms. It is necessary, therefore, to differentiate between what are the positive effects that capitalist private property can create for the development of the productive forces, from what is the ideology it inevitably produces, and the negative effects generated by capitalist relations of production in the most varied domains of social life. It is natural that, as private property increases in importance and influence in the overall economy, its laws start to influence the various levels of Chinese social-economic formation (including influencing and exerting pressure on socialist public property), broadening and expanding its capacity for political, economic and ideological intervention. Therefore, it is not an exaggeration to say that the most serious economic and social problems that exist in China today are the direct result of the intervention of the contradictions produced by the capitalist relations of production.
In view of this inevitability, it is of utmost importance that the Party be very clear that the goal of the Reform and Opening-Up is to perfect the development of the socialist system, to promote the development of the productive forces and gradually consolidate and broaden the influence and extension of the public sector of the economy, the sector that represents the socialist relations of production. The existence of private property in China is justified by the relative backwardness of the level of development of the productive forces. With the advance and development of the productive forces, with the advance of modernization, the duty of the reforms is to adjust the role of the socialist relations of production, in a first moment expanding the influence and the scope of action of the public ownership of the means of production, gradually putting an end to the tendency that has persisted since the beginning of the Reform and Opening policy, namely, the tendency of much faster increase and development of private property and the gradual decrease of the participation of the state and public sector, creating the economic and material conditions to overcome the primary stage of socialism. Obviously, such changes and adjustments will be accompanied by a sharp ideological struggle, which is also one of the forms in which class struggle manifests itself. Thus, the theories and ideas that seek to present capitalist relations of production as “socialist,” or ideas that say that, in the Chinese case, “private property is not synonymous with capitalism,” are not correct.
The advance towards a more advanced stage of socialist construction is not yet completely on the agenda (the new era of socialism is situated in the scope of the primary stage of socialism), but it is clear that the problems and contradictions that China is facing today are already quite different from the problems that confronted the country in the preceding decades, something recognized by the 19th Congress of the Communist Party of China, which defined that there is a “new principal contradiction” in the new era of socialism. The old definition, which said that the main contradiction in China was the contradiction between the low level of development of the productive forces and the growing demands of the masses, has given way to a new main contradiction, this being the contradiction between unbalanced and inadequate development and the growing needs of the people for a better life.
Many Marxist intellectuals in China consider that, at the present stage, in order to overcome the negative effects of unbalanced development, the most important mission facing the Communist Party is to struggle to effectively build a harmonious society, to combat the negative effects produced by the expansion of private property, and to regain certain positions lost by the public economy in recent years. For such a major operation, it is more than necessary to strengthen ideological work and prepare public opinion. Objectively, this is a problem that places in opposition two projects of society that correspond to distinct worldviews and class interests. The attacks on Marxism and the tendencies that seek to diminish its role – or even deny it – are evidently expressions of the class interests of those social groups and actors who do not want to advance along the path of socialism. Many of these groups use the banner of reform and openness to justify their reactionary ideas and their opposition to the system of socialism with Chinese characteristics, although they often do this in a veiled way.
Ideological work and class struggle
The struggle between bourgeois ideas, with all their effects, and the ideas of the proletariat, represented by Marxism, is a long-lasting struggle, which will exist intensely throughout the period of the primary stage of socialism in China (and even afterwards), a context where China still needs to promote its development in a hegemonically capitalist world. In the primary stage of socialism, even if within a determined scale, class struggle still exists and it obviously exerts its influence in the ideological field. On the need to keep guard and initiative on the ideological front, pointing out that in socialism there is still class struggle, Jiang Zemin, in his speech commemorating the 78th anniversary of the Party’s founding, stated:
Class struggle is no longer the main contradiction in our country, but for a certain period it will continue to exist within a certain limit, moreover under certain conditions it may intensify. This kind of struggle expresses in a concentrated way the opposition of bourgeois liberalization to the four fundamental principles. The core of this struggle is still a problem of political power. This type of struggle is closely connected with the struggle between infiltration and anti-infiltration, subversion and counter-subversion, peaceful evolution and fighting the peaceful evolution that exists between us and hostile forces. 
The Communist Party of China’s position on class struggle under socialism has always been very consistent and has not changed much since the beginning of the Reform and Opening-up policy. After criticizing the conception of class struggle that was in force during the period of the “cultural revolution”, the Party started to defend that the class struggle in socialism does not occupy the position of main contradiction, but that it still continues to exist within certain limits. However, some figures, already completely influenced by revisionism and imperialist ideas, allege that the Marxist concept of class struggle is “outdated” and when any mention is made of this basic concept of Marxism, they immediately claim that there is a danger of the resurgence of a new “cultural revolution”. It is important to point out that there is a significant difference between saying that the “class struggle continues to exist within certain limits” and saying that “the class struggle does not exist” or that such a theory would be something “outdated”. As Xi Jinping stated:
We must adhere to the political position of Marxism. The political position of Marxism is primarily a class position, which implements class analysis. Some people say that this idea no longer corresponds to the present era, which is a mistaken point of view. When we say that the class struggle in our country is not the main contradiction, we are not saying that in our country the class struggle within certain limits no longer exists, or that in the international sphere it doesn’t exist either. After the Reform and Opening, our Party’s ideas on this problem have always been quite clear. 
The definition, which recognizes that class struggle exists within certain limits, takes into account the concrete reality of China today, a reality where the various contradictions that exist can be resolved within the framework of the socialist system. The Communist Party of China, being the leading force of the state, has in its hands the political, economic and institutional instruments that enable it to adjust, modify and apply policies that help solve the problems and contradictions that exist between the various social classes, including the contradictions between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. This does not mean that, also in this sphere of work, there are no errors and shortcomings, almost always produced by errors in the sphere of political and ideological work. Without a firm Marxist vision the Party cannot correctly exercise its role as the vanguard of the working masses in China, nor can it firmly defend the interests of these classes.
The fundamental error of the Communist Party of China view’s of class struggle in the period of the “cultural revolution” was precisely that it broadened the scope of class struggle, which in practice contributed to the Party’s treating certain contradictions that existed within the people as if they were antagonistic contradictions. It was a view that did not correspond to the concrete situation of the Chinese society at the time; today the main mistake regarding the theory of class struggle is committed by those who deny its objective existence. The historical experience of the history of the construction of socialism at a world level teaches that class struggle continues to exist in socialism – even though it is not the main contradiction in socialist societies -, therefore, it is not correct to deny or underestimate its action.
To deny the existence of class struggle in socialism is as serious an error as trying to artificially broaden its scope. The errors of the “cultural revolution” do not alter the fact that class struggle is an objective reality, and that it continues to exist in the primary stage of socialism. In the Chinese case, given the expansion of capitalist relations of production, it is obvious that class contradictions, including the contradiction between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, can intensify again. Without recognizing the existence of class struggle, it is impossible to adopt measures to resolve the various social contradictions that exist in Chinese society, which in the medium and long term would result in the amplification of social contradictions, causing contradictions that are currently non-antagonistic in character to quickly become antagonistic contradictions.
Without Marxism and the October Revolution there would be no “Chinese miracle”: a short critique of certain conceptions of the “China’s rise”
The success achieved by the CCP in leading the Chinese nation along the path of socialism has shown the world the vitality and scientificity of Marxist theory. In view of the undeniable successes achieved by the Party, given the intense political and ideological struggle going on, it is to some extent inevitable that abroad certain figures who follow the Chinese development process try to explain it by turning a blind eye to the most important and essential elements that define such process. Quite popular are the ideas that China’s development would be the result produced by a “developmentalist” state in the style of Taiwan, Singapore, or South Korea, or a “civilizational state,” emphasizing here the “civilizational superiority” of the Chinese nation. To give an example of the confusions, Martin Jacques, an author who plays a very important role in investigating the Chinese development process, and openly opposes attempts to launch a new cold war against the Asian country, in an article published by the Global Times, stressed that “it is impossible to understand China in terms of traditional Marxism,” adding that the CCP is “deeply influenced by Confucianism” and that the best way to understand it would be to describe it as a “hybrid between Confucianism and Marxism. Also in the article the author makes a point of highlighting the fact that the CCP is quite different from the former Communist Party of the Soviet Union and that they would have “very little in common.” 
We recognize that in all these statements – with the exception that the Communist Party of China and the Communist Party of the Soviet Union have very little in common” – there is a portion of truth, however, we believe it is not unreasonable to say that the author does not address the crux of the problem, which is precisely to analyze how the sinicization of Marxism is the main element that explains the success and rise of China, and that the ideological system of socialism with Chinese characteristics is not an eclectic mix between two philosophies with completely different bases and goals (Marxism and Confucianism). Confucianism, of course, is an important pillar of the millennial traditional Chinese culture, and obviously the Communist Party of China recognizes and incorporates its progressive elements. However, it cannot be denied that throughout its century-old history, the Chinese progressive and revolutionary movement, of which the Communist Party of China is a direct product, has always been very critical of Confucianism, and all this long before the “great proletarian cultural revolution” emerged on the scene of history in the late 1960s. Martin Jacques’ statement that the Communist Party of China is “rooted and deeply influenced by Confucianism” is a “half-truth” turned into an “absolute truth,” for it denies another basic fact that needs to be taken into consideration, namely, that the Communist Party of China was born amidst an intense ideological and political struggle against Confucian ideology and all that it represented and still represents in the developmental history of the Chinese nation. That there are Chinese authors and personalities – including within the Party – who advocate a “new Confucianism,” or who try to explain Chinese success within the framework of “Confucianism,” is another problem, very much related to the ideological confusion generated by years of a relatively uncontrolled development of bourgeois ideas, something we have already discussed in this article.
In fact, the problem of the relationship between traditional Chinese culture and Marxism in China is a topic that deserves a separate article, such is the complexity of the subject. However, this is not to say that for the Communist Party of China, Confucianism and Marxism are two philosophies on the same footing, or, in Martin Jacques’ own words, a “hybrid between Confucianism and Marxism. As Hou Weimin, a member of the Institute of Marxism of the Chinese Academy of Social Scientists, put it:
Since the Reformation and the Opening-up, there have been two types of anti-Marxist thinking. One is the ideological tendency to promote the restoration of feudalism; cultural conservatism and neo-Confucianism belong to this category. This trend of thought is characterized by advocating the “Confucianization of China “and “Confucianization of the Communist Party” under the banner of carrying forward traditional culture by establishing “Confucian colleges” in which Confucian scholars familiar with Confucian classics rule China. Supported by some people abroad, this thinking prevailed for some time. However, its absurdity is obvious if a more proper investigation is made. Its main points have the smell of feudal zombies, so it is hard for it to get a response from the masses. The other thought is the tendency to promote the restoration of capitalism, called bourgeois liberalization by Deng Xiaoping. 
About the “few similarities” between the Communist Party of China and the former Communist Party of Soviet Union, it is evident how the way Martin Jacques throws such information into his article misleads the reader into confusion. Which Communist Party of the Soviet Union is he referring to? The Party of Lenin and Stalin or the Party of Khrushchev, Brezhnev and Gorbachev? Superficial statements such as those made by the author open much room for confusion and misinterpretation regarding the history of the Communist Party of China and its evolution over the years. It is necessary to point out that between the Communist Party of China and the former Communist Party of the Soviet Union there is the difference that the former was able to integrate Marxism to the Chinese reality, avoiding committing the same mistakes that the Soviet Party committed in the past, due to its complete abandonment of Marxist theory; the latter, on the other hand, gradually distanced itself from Marxism and capitulated before the ideological offensive promoted by the capitalist countries. However, it is undeniable that the Communist Party of China learned many things from the Soviet experience, so that it is correct to state that there were “great similarities” between both parties, and that the Soviet experience was, from the beginning, a source of inspiration and study for the Chinese communists. As Zhou Xincheng noted:
Initially, we had no experience in how to build socialism. We could only learn from the Soviet Union, which had decades of experience in socialist construction. The basic experience of socialist construction in the Soviet Union was to be studied, including its political adherence to the Communist Party leadership and the dictatorship of the proletariat; economic adherence to the system of public ownership of the means of material production, distribution according to labor, elimination of exploitation and elimination of polarization; ideological adherence to Marxism as a guide, etc. This reflects the basic principles of scientific socialism, its common law, possessing universal value. Therefore, we have always regarded our socialist cause as a continuation of the October Revolution. 
Even today many elements in the Chinese political system bear great similarities to the model that was gradually established in the Soviet Union in the late 1920s and early 1930s. The political model that establishes the Communist Party’s direction over the activities of the state and society – a system that today even some bourgeois theorists sympathetic to China tend to defend – is a direct influence of the Soviet-type political system, even if between them there are some differences (e.g. in the Chinese case there is at the same time a system of political consultation that allows the existence of other parties). Although perhaps this is not his intention, in practice Martin Jacques ends up establishing an opposition between two historical phenomena umbilically connected -the Russian and Chinese revolution- diminishing the position of Marxism-Leninism and concealing the direct link that the process of building socialism with Chinese characteristics has with the struggle of the international proletariat and also with the Russian revolution itself, in the name of the idea that the Communist Party of China “is different from all the other parties in the world.
Still on the relationship between socialism with Chinese characteristics and Soviet socialism, it is interesting to note that Xi Jinping, when analyzing the various stages of the development of the history of socialist thought and movement, divides it into six stages, citing precisely Lenin’s experience and his leadership in the October Revolution as an integral part of these stages, as well as the gradual formation of the Soviet system already in the Stalin period (respectively, the third and fourth stage of the development of the history of socialism). In other words, Xi Jinping highlights as an integral part of the development of socialist thought – in which, obviously, socialism with Chinese characteristics is included – the experience of the construction of socialism in Russia, from the victory of the October Revolution to the formation of the Soviet system with the foundation and construction of socialism in the Soviet Union, an experience led by the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.
 Deng Xiaoping 邓小平. “Gao zichan jieji ziyou hua jiushi zou ziben zhuyi daolu 搞资产阶级自由化就是走资本主义道路 [To engage in bourgeois liberalization is to take the path of capitalism],” Dengxiaoping wenxuan, v.3, Renmin chuban she 人民出版社，2008, pg.123.
 Communist Party of China. Resolution on Certain Historical Issues in the History of Our Party since the Founding of the People’s Republic of China – Adopted by the Sixth Plenary Session of the Eleventh Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, 1981. Accessed at: https://www.marxists.org/portugues/tematica/1981/06/27.html
 Deng Xiaoping 邓小平. “Women youxinxin ba zhongguo de shijian hao chengji 我们有信心把中国的事情做得更好 [We are confident that we can handle China’s affairs well],” Dengxiaoping wenxuan, Renmin chubanshe 人民出版社，2008，pg.327
 Mao Tsetung. On the Correct Handling of Contradictions Among the People: Selected Readings from the Works of Mao Tsetung, Foreign Language Press, 1971, pg.
 Jiang Zemin 江泽民. “Zai jinian zhongguo gongchandang chengli qishiba zhounian zuotan hui shang de jianghua 在纪念中国共产党成立七十八周年座谈会上的讲话 [Speech commemorating the 78th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party of China],” 1997. Accessed at: http://www.peopledaily.com.cn/item/ldhd/Jiangzm/1999/jianghua/jh0007.html
 Xi Jinping 习近平. “Ba xuanchuan sixiang gongzuo zuo de geng hao 把宣传思想工作做得更好 [Do ideological and propaganda work better].” Lun jianchi dang yiqie gongzuo de lingdao 论坚持党一切工作的领导, Zhongyang wenxian chuban she 中央文献出版社, 2019, pg. 23.
 Zhou Xincheng 周新城. “Guandu zhongguo thesis shehui zhuyi de ruogan lilun wenti 关于中国特色社会主义的若干理论问题 [On some theoretical problems of socialism with Chinese characteristics],” Jingji ribao chubanshe 经济日报出版社，2015, pg. 357.
 Wang Qishan 王崎上. “Kaiqi xin shidai, ta shang xin zhengcheng 开启新时代，踏上新征程 [Starting a new era and embarking on a new journey],” Renmin Ribao 人民日报， 2017, November 7, 2017. Acessado em: http://www.xinhuanet.com//2017-11/07/c_1121915946.htm
 Chen Yun 陈云. “Bixu jiuzheng hushi jingshen wenming jianshe de xianxiang 必须纠正忽视精神文明建设的现象 [We should correct the tendency to neglect the establishment of spiritual civilization],” Chenyun Wenxuan 陈云文选, v.3, Renmin chubanshe, 2015, pg. 354.
 David M. Kotz 大卫-科茨. “Sulian jieti yuanyin shi jingying jituan zhuzhang ziben zhuyi 苏联解体原因是精英集团主张资本主义 [The reason for the collapse of the Soviet Union was that elitist groups advocated capitalism].” Zhongguo jingji wang 中国经济网, 2013. Accessed at: http://www.wyzxwk.com/Article/lishi/2013/09/306710.html
 Xi Jinping 习近平. “Guanyu jianchi he fazhan zhongguo thesis shehui zhuyi de ji ge wenti 关于坚持和发展中国特色社会主义的几个问题 [Some questions on maintaining and developing socialism with Chinese characteristics],” Qiushi 求实, n.7, 2009. Accessed at: http://www.qstheory.cn/dukan/qs/2019-03/31/c_1124302776.htm
 Mao Zedong. Speech At The Tenth Plenum Of The Eighth Central Committee, 1962. Accessed at: https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/mao/selected-works/volume-8/mswv8_63.htm
 Liang Zhu 梁柱. “Mozedong fanfa sixiang yong bu tuishai 毛泽东反腐思想永不褪色 [Mao Zedong’s thoughts on corruption will never dissipate],” Zhongguo shehui kexue bao 中国社会科学报, 2014. Acessado em: http://dangshi.people.com.cn/n/2014/0116/c85037-24142270.html
 Deng Xiaoping 邓小平. “Jianchi shehui zhuyi, fangzhi heping yanbian 坚持社会主义，防止和平演变 [Adhering to socialism and preventing peaceful evolution],” Dengxiaoping wenxuan 邓小平文选, v.3, Renmin chubanshe 人民出版社, 2008, pg. 344.
 Liu Guoguang 刘国光. “Zhongguo shehuizhuyi zhengzhi jingjixue de ruogan wenti 中国社会主义政治经济学的若干问题 [Some problems of the political economy of socialism with Chinese characteristics],” Jinan chubanshe 济南出版社, 2017, pg. 33.
 Gong Yun 龚云. “Zai lishi xuwu zhuyi zhong jianchi lishi weiwu zhuyi 在历史虚无主义中坚持历史唯物主义 [Criticizing historical nihilism by persisting in historical materialism].” Accessed at: http://www.wyzxwk.com/Article/yulun/2016/07/367869.html
 Xi Jinping 习近平. “Zai dang shu xuexi jiaoyu dongyuan dahui shang de jianghua 在党史学习教育动员大会上的讲话 [Speech at the mobilization and study conference on Party history],” 2021. Acessado em: https://www.ccps.gov.cn/xtt/202103/t20210331_148208.shtml
 Xi Jinping 习近平. “Zai zhexue shehui kexue gongzuo zuotan zhong de sikao 在哲学社会科学工作座谈会上的讲话 [Speech at the philosophy and social science workers seminar],” 2016. Acessado em: http://www.xinhuanet.com/politics/2016-05/18/c_1118891128_2.htm
 Xi Jinping 习近平. “Ba xuanchuan sixiang gongzuo zuo de geng hao 把宣传思想工作做得更好 [Do ideological and propaganda work better].” Lun jianchi dang yiqie gongzuo de lingdao 论坚持党一切工作的领导, Zhongyang wenxian chuban she 中央文献出版社, 2019, pg. 23.
 Wu Xuangong 吴宣恭. “Yunyong lishi weiwuzhuyi jianshe zhongguo thesis shehui zhuyi zhengzhi jingji xue 运用历史唯物主义建设中国特色社会主义政治经济学 [Use historical materialism to build the political economy of socialism with Chinese characteristics].” Fujian shifan daxue xuebao (zhexue shehui kexue ban) 福建师范大学学报 ( 哲学社会科学版), 2017.
 Liu Guoguang 刘国光. “Zhongguo shehuizhuyi zhengzhi jingjixue de ruogan wenti 中国社会主义政治经济学的若干问题 [Some problems of the political economy of socialism with Chinese characteristics],” Jinan chubanshe 济南出版社, 2017, pg. 33.
 Jiang Zemin 江泽民. “Jiāngzémín zài qìngzhù jiàndǎng qishi zhōunián dàhuì shàng de jiǎnghuà 江泽民在庆祝建党70周年大会上的讲话 [Speech at the celebration of the 70th anniversary of the founding of the party],” 1991. Accessed at: http://www.qunzh.com/pub/jsqzw/xxzt/jd95zn/zyls/201606/t20160601_20990.html
 Speech by Xi Jinping at the School of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China. February 17, 2014. Quoted in Zhou Xincheng 周新城，”Jianchi jiqiao jiben yuanli fenxi shehui wenti坚持运用马克思主义基本原理分析社会经济问题 [Adhere in using the principles of Marxism in investigating economic and social problems].” Jingji ribao chuban she 经济日报出版社, 2016, pg. 228 .
 Martin Jacques. Why there has been an overwhelming failure to understand CPC in West, Global Times, April 6, 2021. Accessed at: https://www.globaltimes.cn/page/202104/1220314.shtml
 Hou Weimin 侯为民. “Pipan yu chuangxin- Zhou xincheng jiaoshou jingji sixiang sumiao 批判与创新–周新城教授经济思想素描 [Critique and Innovation: an outline of Professor Zhou Xincheng’s economic thought]”，Guanli xue kan 管理学刊, 2014.
 Zhou Xincheng 周新城. “Jianguo qishi nian shi qingzhu shehui zhuyi lishi fazhan, jinian zhonghua renmin gongheguo chengli qishi zhounián 建国70年是庆祝社会主义历史发展, 纪念中华人民共和国成立70周年. Accessed at: http://www.kunlunce.com/llyj/fl1/2019-05-17/133451.html
This article was republished from Friends of Socialist China.
He was known to be aggressive and argumentative, the kind of patron who made others at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh branch uneasy.
But one day last year, the man walked into the building in a much darker mood, harassed a librarian, and threatened to kill her.
Fortunately, library workers had joined the United Steelworkers (USW) in 2019 and built safeguards into their first contract to address dangers exactly like this.
The librarian received a temporary transfer to another building. And the library system banned the patron, ensuring he wouldn’t turn up again either to look for the person he threatened or target somebody else.
April 28 is Workers Memorial Day in America and the Day of Mourning in Canada, a time to remember those killed, injured, or sickened at work. It’s also a day when union workers rededicate themselves to the fight for safer working conditions and renew their pledge to look out for one another, along with others in the workplace, leveraging all of the power that collective action provides.
“We are open to the public, which means everybody is welcome to come in, and we do our best to serve everybody,” explained David King, a steward for USW Local 9562 and a librarian in the music, film, and audio department at the system’s main location in Oakland.
“We’re proud of that. We’re sincerely proud that we’re one of the few truly public spaces still left. But that does come with some of these dangers,” he added, noting that library workers face patrons who create disruptions, brawl, carry in weapons, damage property, overdose in restrooms, and even stalk them.
Because library management failed to adequately address these risks, union members stood in solidarity together and negotiated a contract that not only provides temporary transfers for endangered workers but also includes notification procedures to alert workers at various branches when a patron is banned.
“That is a huge change from before we negotiated the contract,” King pointed out, noting that workers previously “had no recourse” if they were harassed. “They just had to put up with it. They just had to stay in the same location.”
The contract also establishes minimum staffing at the 19 branches to ensure the safety of workers and visitors, said King, noting some locations have delayed opening at times because of worker shortages.
And the union advocates for workers as other issues arise, such as when it forced repairs to the fire alarm system on the third floor of the Oakland building last summer, secured increased security after a student brawl and other violent incidents at another branch several months ago, and won systemwide protections at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Unionization gave us the power to say, ‘You need to listen to us,’” recalled Kate Buick, a Local 9562 steward who works at the North Side branch, noting the pandemic measures included remote work options, safe spacing of computers at every branch, safety walkthroughs of the buildings, and creation of a labor-management safety committee.
“Having that committee was a game-changer,” she said. “We at least knew there would be no retaliation and we could say what we wanted.”
Because they deliver these kinds of protections, unions help to ensure that workers return safely home at the end of their shifts.
A study by the Illinois Economic Policy Institute and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, for example, found that union construction sites had significantly fewer health and safety violations than nonunion ones. Another study, led by researchers at George Washington University and other institutions, revealed that unionized nursing homes had much lower COVID-19 infection and death rates than nonunion facilities.
When incidents occur, unions fight to hold employers accountable. But the drive for safer working conditions needn’t be adversarial, as a recent collaboration between the USW and Safety-Kleen in East Chicago, Indiana, shows.
The union and company sometimes disagreed on various issues. But Local 1011 President Steven Serrano repeatedly pointed out the benefits of cooperation and responded enthusiastically a few months ago when Safety-Kleen, which provides environmental services to various industries, sought the union’s help on a new safety initiative.
The parties negotiated a memorandum of agreement that, among other improvements, convened a union-management health and safety committee, established union-management incident investigations, and empowered workers to unilaterally stop work when confronted with hazardous conditions or processes.
The union’s involvement boosts the company’s efforts to obtain Voluntary Protection Program recognition from the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
And it built solidarity among the 80 or so USW members at Safety-Kleen, who belong to Local 1011 along with hundreds of workers from the nearby Cleveland-Cliffs steel plant.
“Now, they have a seat at the table,” said Serrano, noting workers understand the dangers of their workplace better than anyone else. “Now, they have a voice.”
Tom Conway is the international president of the United Steelworkers Union (USW).
This article was produced by the Independent Media Institute.
We celebrate World Press Freedom Day in May as a reminder that the role of news organizations is to speak truth to power. Not for manufacturing consent—to use Chomsky’s famous words—for the government and the ruling classes.
It’s an occasion to remember three people who exemplify the need to speak the truth: Daniel Ellsberg of Pentagon Papers fame and Julian Assange of WikiLeaks; and also of Chelsea Manning, without whom we would not have the proof of what the United States was doing, not only in Iraq and Afghanistan but all across the globe. In doing so, I will also deal with the changing nature of government “secrets”, what outing them means then and now.
In today’s day and world, just as the scale of the government’s powers to pry into our lives and activities has increased exponentially—for example, NSA’s Prism and NSO’s Pegasus—so has the scale of the leaks. Ellsberg’s Pentagon Papers were a mere 7,000 pages, and he photocopied them by hand (Daniel Ellsberg, The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner). Chelsea Manning’s “papers”, which Assange outed, earning the U.S. government’s enmity, consisted of about 750,000 documents (Iraq War logs, Afghanistan War logs and U.S. diplomatic cables). Manning used her computer to copy this enormous cache of data. Ellsberg had one of the highest security clearances in the U.S. government. Snowden, a system administrator, is assumed to have “exfiltrated” more than a million NSA documents.
Manning was low down in the military ranks and a mere corporal. Assange had identified one key characteristic of our epoch: the digital revolution means the enormous centralization of information and also the ease with which it can release. In a conference in 1984, Stewart Brand, an author, in a conversation with Steve Wozniak, the co-founder of Apple, had brought this duality of information in the digital age: the centralization of information as it is so valuable for the rulers. And also the ease of its duplication and therefore liberating it from the rulers. This is why Assange set up WikiLeaks. People, who had access to this valuable information stored in “secure” government vaults, could use WikiLeaks to reach the people. Both use the power of digital technologies and their ability to produce copies but for completely different purposes.
In 1971, a little over 50 years ago that Daniel Ellsberg leaked a study carried out by the U.S. Defense Department—the Pentagon Papers—on the Vietnam War to the New York Times and subsequently to a host of other news organizations. The anti-Vietnam War movement, which had exploded in the United States then, with cascading effects around the world for my generation, had turned Ellsberg into a radical. Just as it did many of us around the world who demonstrated against the United States and its war. The Vietnam War had discredited the U.S. empire and produced a radical generation, of which Daniel Ellsberg was a proud member.
The Pentagon Papers laid out in detail why the Vietnam War was already a lost cause and why Vietnamese people would defeat the neocolonial puppet government of Ngo Dinh Diem backed by the United States in South Vietnam. Though the study was completed in 1968 that the United States could not win, the United States had enlarged the war from a land and air war against the Vietnamese liberation forces in South Vietnam to the aerial bombardment of North Vietnam and Cambodia as well. Ellsberg believed that if the U.S. public learned the truth about the Vietnam War, they would help stop the war. This is why he, and a former colleague Anthony Russo, shared the Pentagon papers with the press. The U.S. people, he believed, had a right to know about the war being waged in their name.
The exposure of Pentagon papers helped the anti-war movement but did not stop the war. It took another four years—April 1975—before Vietnamese freedom fighters liberated Saigon. The pictures of the U.S. forces leaving in ignominy, clinging to helicopters as they lifted off from the roof of the U.S. embassy, are similar to what we saw recently in Kabul.
By the time we reached the Iraq War, the world of information had changed. Information was no longer in paper form. Copies were also not on paper. Digitizing information meant that enormous amounts could be collected, stored and used in real-time for the purpose of war: both its physical-kinetic variety and also the information war. The full power of the United States, its technology might, and its money power could be wielded to build not only the U.S. war machine but also what we now call the surveillance state. Not simply its invasion of every aspect of our lives but also in creating new, invisible hands of the Ministry of Truth. This is an information war of a different kind than in the days of Ellsberg photocopying the Pentagon Papers.
This is the world that Assange saw and understood. If Ellsberg understood the world of power, Assange understood the changing nature of how information is created in vast amounts continuously by the government, stored and transmitted. The very nature of technology that permits this almost costless duplication of information and its flows also makes it vulnerable to being shared and made available to the public.
Let us look at some numbers here. At the time of Ellsberg, there were perhaps a few hundred, maybe a maximum of 1,000, who had access to Pentagon papers and could have photocopied them by hand as he did. He had a security level of GS-18, a civilian equivalent to a clearance level somewhere between major general and lieutenant general in the military. Chelsea Manning was a “specialist”, the rank equivalent to that of a corporal in the U.S. armed forces. It is the nature of the change in technology that made it possible for a specialist holding a rank of a corporal to strike a body blow in the U.S. war in Iraq and Afghanistan. You need tech specialists to make the nuts and bolts of the global information infrastructure run. They may have “low” ranks but by virtue of being closest to the information on these vast military and diplomatic networks maintained by the Governments, they have complete access. And the computer, as a copying device, is a much more potent device for copying information. And lastly, the discs on which we copy data today, including our lowly thumb drive/memory stick, can store hundreds of thousands of pages!
It was Assange and WikiLeaks that made possible for Manning’s information to reach people across the globe. And even when he and Manning have been arrested, jailed and isolated, the information on Wikileaks still continues to be accessible to all of us. Even today. the Baghdad video of Collateral Murder, posted on WikiLeaks, was seen across the world and brought home that the United States was lying and involved in a massive cover-up of its war crimes. The Diplomatic Cables on Wikileaks informed the Tunisian people about the kleptocratic rule of the Ben Ali family and started what was later named as Arab Spring.
The battle of the Chagos islanders in the International Court of Justice (ICJ), illegally removed by the UK and the United States to set up the U.S. naval base in Diego Garcia, was partly based on documents from WikiLeaks. This is only a very small fraction of the information that is now available to activists, and it cannot be erased either from the Internet or from our memory. Just as the surveillance state has invaded every nook and corner of our lives, the pathological need of the surveillance state to access and store all this information also makes the state porous and vulnerable.
The latest example of this vulnerability is that a 21-year-old lowly Air National Guard, Jack Teixeira, had access to the top secret documents of the Pentagon and the CIA on Ukraine. He shared these documents on a private Discord gaming server, not for any noble purpose of stopping the war, but for simply getting bragging rights. Whether this was the only leak, are others also leaking documents to create a fog of war, is a mixture of leaks, or are they also plants is another story. What is important to this story is that Airman Teixeira, though near the bottom of the ladder in the U.S. Air Force, has access to top secret documents, normally seen by the top echelons of the armed forces and the intelligence authorities of the United States. He was part of a team that managed the core network and was one of the 1.5 million people who had this level of access.
Yes, we today are in a panopticon of the surveillance state where our rulers can look into every part of our lives. But what Manning and Teixeira show us is that the same technology that allows them to look at what we are doing also works in reverse. As long as we have Assange, Ellsberg, Manning and others, they are also visible to us. As the English poet Shelly wrote in 1819 after the Peterloo Massacre, “Ye are many, they are few.” This has not changed in the digital age as well.
Prabir Purkayastha is the founding editor of Newsclick.in, a digital media platform. He is an activist for science and the free software movement.
This article was produced in partnership by Newsclick and Globetrotter.
Future historians will likely look back at the debt ceiling rituals being reenacted these days with a frustrated shaking of their heads. That otherwise reasonable people would be so readily deceived raises the question that will provoke those historians: How could this happen?
The U.S. Congress has imposed successive ceilings on the national debt, each one higher than the last. Ceilings were intended to limit the amount of federal borrowing. But the same U.S. Congress so managed its taxing and spending that it created ever more excesses of spending over tax revenues (deficits). Those excesses required borrowing to cover them. The borrowings accumulated to hit successive ceilings. A highly political ritual of threats and counterthreats accompanied each rise of the ceiling required by the need to borrow to finance deficits.
It is elementary economics to note that if Congress raised more taxes or cut federal spending—or both—there would be no need to borrow and thus no ceiling on borrowing to worry about. The ceiling would become irrelevant or merely symbolic. Further, if taxes were raised enough and spending cut enough, the existing U.S. national debt could be reduced. That situation has happened occasionally in U.S. history.
The real issue then is that when borrowing approaches any ceiling, the policy choices are these three: raise the ceiling (to borrow more), raise taxes, or cut spending. Of course, combinations of them would also be possible.
In contrast to this reality, U.S. politics deceives by constricting its debate. Politicians, the mainstream media, and academics simply omit—basically by refusing to admit or consider—tax increases. The GOP demands spending cuts or else it will block raising the ceiling. The Democrats insist that raising the ceiling is the better choice than cutting spending. Democrats threaten to blame the GOP for the consequences of not raising the debt ceiling. They paint those consequences in lurid colors depicting U.S. bondholders denied interest or repayment, Social Security recipients denied their pensions, and government employees denied their wages. The unspoken agreement between the two major parties is to omit any serious discussion of raising taxes to avoid hitting the debt ceiling. That omission entails deception.
Here are some tax increases that could help solve the problem by avoiding any need to raise the debt ceiling. The social security tax could be applied to all wage and salary incomes, not only those of $160,000 or less as is now the case. The social security tax could be applied to nonwage income such as interest dividends, capital gains, and rents. The corporate profits tax could be raised back to what it was a few decades ago: near or above 50 percent versus the current 37 percent rate. A property tax could be levied on property that takes the form of stocks and bonds. The current property tax in the United States (levied mostly at the local level) includes land, houses, automobiles, and business inventories, while it excludes stocks and bonds. Perhaps that is because the richest 10 percent of Americans own roughly 80 percent of stocks and bonds. The current property tax system in the United States is very nice for that 10 percent. Another logical candidate is the federal estate tax which a few years ago exempted under $1 million of an estate from the tax, but now exempts over $12 million per person (over $25 million per couple). That exemption makes a mockery of the idea that all Americans start or live their lives on a level playing field where merit counts more than inheritance. The U.S. could and should go back from that tax giveaway to the richest. There are many more possible tax increases.
Of course, there are strengths and weaknesses entailed in raising every tax, positive and negative consequences. But the exact same is true of raising the debt ceiling and thereby increasing the U.S. national debt. Likewise cutting spending has its pluses and minuses in terms of pain and gain. There is no logical or reasonable basis for excluding tax increases from the national debate and discussion about raising the debt ceiling and thereby the national debt.
It is rather the shared political commitments of both major parties that require and motivate the exclusion. There is no reason for U.S. citizens to accept, tolerate, endorse, or otherwise validate the debt ceiling deception perpetrated against us.
Nor is the debt ceiling deception alone. The previous national debate over responding to inflation by having the Federal Reserve raise interest rates provides another quite parallel example. That debate proceeded by debating the pros and cons of interest rate increases as if no other anti-inflationary policy existed or was even worth mentioning. Once again elementary economics teaches that wage-price freezes and rationing have been used against inflations in the past—including in the United States—as alternatives to raising interest rates or alongside them. U.S. President Nixon in 1971 used wage-price freezes. U.S. President Roosevelt used rationing during World War II. But the government, Federal Reserve, major media, and major academic leaders carried on their recent policy debates as if those other anti-inflationary tools did not exist or were not worth including in the debate.
Wage-price freezes and rationing have their strengths and weaknesses—just as tax increases do—but once again the same applies to raising interest rates. No justification exists for proceeding as if alternative options are not there. The U.S. national debate over fighting inflation was deceptive in the same way that the debate over the debt ceiling is.
Nor is the deception any less if it is covered by a claim of “realism.” Those who grasp elementary economics enough to know that tax increases could “solve” the debt ceiling issue become complicit in the deception by invoking “realism.” Since the two major parties are jointly subservient to corporations and the rich, they rule out tax increases on them. It thus becomes “realistic” to exclude that option from the debt ceiling debate. What is best for corporations and the rich thus gets equated to what is “realistic.” It is worth remembering that throughout history ruling classes have discovered, to their shock and surprise, that the ruled can and often do quickly alter what is “realistic.”
The debt ceiling deceptions favor corporations over individuals and the richest individuals over the rest of us. In our thinking and speaking too, the nation’s class structure and class struggles exhibit their influential power. The mainstream debt ceiling debate deceives by lying by omission rather than commission.
Richard D. Wolff is professor of economics emeritus at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and a visiting professor in the Graduate Program in International Affairs of the New School University, in New York. Wolff’s weekly show, “Economic Update,” is syndicated by more than 100 radio stations and goes to 55 million TV receivers via Free Speech TV. His three recent books with Democracy at Work are The Sickness Is the System: When Capitalism Fails to Save Us From Pandemics or Itself, Understanding Socialism, and Understanding Marxism, the latter of which is now available in a newly released 2021 hardcover edition with a new introduction by the author.
This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.
We are publishing a transcript of Dr. Anthony Monteiro’s opening remarks from the Saturday Free School’s April 15, 2023 session on Hegel’s Science of Logic and Artificial Intelligence. The Free School meets every Saturday at 10:30 AM, and is streamed live on Facebook and YouTube.
Artwork by Serafina Harris
I just wanted to say a few things about why Hegel, why we’re reading Hegel and how we want to read Hegel and the context for our reading of Hegel, and for a reading of Du Bois or anything – what is the ideological and political context?
We’re in a moment of what is perhaps the most consequential ideological struggle in the modern epoch and maybe in the ideological history of humanity. In part, this is so because of the sheer magnitude and numbers of people involved, literally billions of people. Now the fact that the masses of humanity are no longer passive, ignorant and unconscious of this great ideological struggle – and they are [conscious], and of course we must begin, unlike let us say, revolutionaries of the past who had to assume that the majority of people were not themselves conscious of the revolutionary struggle. And so the idea that a few people would storm the barricades, or storm the Winter Palace – that approach is radically, even fundamentally different from what must be assumed in these times.
We must assume, as I think it is a fact, that the majority of humanity – the majority of the eight billion human beings that constitute humanity in one or another way – are conscious of the world that they live in, are conscious of ideas, and are in one or another way conscious of the consequences of ideas and of themselves as agents of history.
This has never been the case. Most people lived in isolation from the main currents of ideas up until the present time, and by the present time I’m talking of the last 125 years.
Why and what brought about this change? There are, I think, two fundamental reasons. A lot of people, you’ll hear talk – “Well it’s social media – oh, it’s the Internet that has awakened the consciousness of the broad masses of people.” And that’s a form of what we would call technological determinism. It is not that. It is the socialist revolutions and the anti-colonial struggles that freed the vast majority of humanity to be makers of history. And by makers of history we mean in the sense of not just acting upon other people’s plans but themselves having a consciousness and understanding and a plan. So it is fatal to assume that the majority of mankind is ignorant and unconscious of where history is and where history might go.
To put it another way, the majority of humanity has an imaginary, a futuristic outlook that things as they are today can change. If we went back over a hundred years ago, most people believe that the way their ancestors, their great-great-grandparents, their grandparents had lived – they too would live that way. Today people don’t think that way. And while I mentioned the Socialist Revolutions, of course the Russian Revolution, Chinese Revolution and going forward, and the anti-colonial struggles – we must also indicate, and this is the greatest part of the great scientific value of [Du Bois’s] Black Reconstruction – the awakening of the enslaved proletariat who were being told over and over again – and I would say the majority of human beings on the planet to the extent they knew about it, believed that slavery was natural, and that Africans were naturally inferior.
What Du Bois establishes is that the enslaved proletariat itself, in its consciousness of itself, was in the vanguard of the human struggle for liberation. It is also the black freedom movement that as well awakens humanity not only to the fact that things could change, but that things inevitably will change. As King often quotes from the abolitionist preacher Theodore Parker, “The arc of the moral universe is long and it bends to justice.” The concept of freedom as an inevitable part of the human condition.
Most human beings on the planet now would believe that in one or another way. I don’t care where you go. So the ideological struggle is inevitable and central to the radical and revolutionary remaking of the planet. To put it another way, no ruling class, including the ruling class of the United States, can assume that they can just dictate to people what should be and what they should do and what they shouldn’t do. They have to at least make an effort to ideologically win people to their side.
Well, to say that for today, we also have to say that even the bourgeois democratic revolutions – when the bourgeoisie was weak and a small part of the population of let us say France or Germany or England or of even of the United States, the bourgeoisie had to convince the people that they the bourgeoisie as opposed to the aristocrats and the kings and the landowners and the the popes and the bishops, that they, the bourgeoisie could bring into existence another system that would establish liberty, what we today would call freedom, and emancipate the masses from the the drudgery, the misery, of the old feudal system.
We see the same thing in the Indian independence movement where Gandhi took on the garments of the peasantry and lived like a peasant, went among the peasants and day-by-day won them to the struggle for independence from British rule. The same thing with the Chinese revolutionaries, when Mao said we have to go to the countryside ‘cause that’s where the people are. It was a strategy of winning the majority of people to the cause of revolution, not the dogmatic idea that the working class will lead the peasantry, enter into an alliance but lead the peasantry. What Mao ‘n those were saying is that the peasantry on its own is a revolutionary force and the fact is the majority can and should be won to the cause of democratic change in China.
So today we’re talking about processes, which Hegel could never have imagined – the Hegelian idea that the history of humanity is the history of ideas, that human beings were the manifestation, human societies were the manifestations of great ideas, et cetera. He could have never imagined the majority of humanity being involved, first of all and its own liberation, but also in the struggle of ideas. So again, to understand how we got to a point in a matter of a brief period, I mean we could say 125 years, we could say maybe a little bit longer if you include the civil war and black reconstruction and that kind of thing.
What we call the ideological struggle, which is maybe not the best way to talk about this thing, the word ideology or ideological comes from the German. And ideology in German philosophy and political theory is what we would call ideas, big ideas. So the ideological struggle is really the struggle over ideas and more importantly, the human future.
Therefore the struggle of ideas or the ideological struggle must be broadly conceived and not narrowly, as in a conflict between “left” or “revolutionary groups” about who is more pure in their ideology. That is a superficial way, but it’s really a trivialization of the magnitude of what we’re talking about, and of course it is a throwback to a situation that existed over 150 years, 200 years ago, where the majority of human beings were not involved. So the question of “ideological purity” or “ideological correctness” of a “revolutionary vanguard” is so out of step with where humanity is at this point as to literally be something that would fit more and into a Saturday Night Live, or what we used to call a black exploitation film, it’s a joke. It is not serious.
What we’re talking about in terms of ideas and the struggle of ideas is ultimately the struggle of the people. Hence, for us we talk about the centrality of the ideological struggle. Now a lot of people would say, and they say it all the time, the so-called left – and whenever you say left you always have to put quotations around it or the word so-called – a lot of this is a joke, frankly. They will say for example, “well, the people are not interested in your ideas – the people are not interested in you reading Hegel. What black people are interested in that?” Well first of all, you don’t know what black people are interested in, and just because you’re not [interested], you might be an outlier. You might not represent black folk or the working class. “They’re more interested in putting food on their tables, and therefore they’re interested in activism, it is the activist that has the greatest appeal to the masses of people.” Well I can tell you from my own experience of course here in Philadelphia, but I think it’s other places, that a lot of people don’t trust activists, especially those who proceed from a “woke” or “identity politics” position. People are interested in a future, hence they are interested in ideas. And they’re interested in ideas in the organic sense. They’re interested in ideas in the same ways that we are interested in ideas.
The sites of the struggle that we’re talking about, the ideological struggle, are everywheres but some of them – philosophy, art literature and science, often or most times in academic circles, philosophers or professors of literature and art will say that we’re not doing ideology, we’re doing deep readings and deconstructive readings, et cetera. That we’re not bringing any externalities or biases to the question. Most philosophers would say that what we’re doing is a reconsideration based upon our own time and all of that of the great philosophers, and so on. And to claim that, for example, as we claim that philosophy is politics by other means, they would find that not only transgressive but demeaning of the high calling of what they do. And of course all professors think they’ve been summoned by a higher calling, something greater than any of us can understand, and they’re not driven by money and other things, crude things like that.
And certainly when you get to science, especially the Natural Sciences, most theoretical or experimental physicists, biologists, chemists, act like and will dispute anyone who would make the argument that science, and especially at the theoretical level, is a branch of philosophy and hence of ideological engagement. In other words the experiments that they do, the instruments that they build, are not the result of just the internal dialectics of their particular discipline and groups of theorists and scientists that they interact with. What we are saying is that as parts of societies, they are as ideologically shaped as anybody else. And so the work of theoretical physics, including quantum mechanics or relativity theory, or string theory, the way these things are thought about, talked about are really philosophical questions, which again are ideological questions.
Our return to Hegel and philosophy through Hegel – not exclusively Hegel, and I want to underline that – not exclusively Hegel – is our doing in another way what we did with Black Reconstruction, and what we’ve done with so many other things, and what we plan to do going forward with the year of James Baldwin and all of that type of thing. We are doing ideology and in substance doing, or participating, I should say, in the great work of the people to free themselves from a system that has no way out for them.
Frankly any ethnography, that is to say, the sociological work of going among the people, observing them, talking to them – always shows a profound interest, especially that mature part of the working class – a profound interest in ideas. And always seeking out honest thinkers that are not using ideas to make them themselves the “thinker” – look smarter than everybody else. That’s why people are so interested in a person like Baldwin and wanting to know him better, are so interested in King, and to the extent that we make it available, Du Bois and so on, Gandhi, et cetera.
Being concerned with philosophy brings us into certain areas of knowledge that are central to what philosophy does. Let me just name a few of them: logic, and I want to return to this because that’s a big question as we get into AI and even quantum mechanics. Logic, methodologies, methods. Logic and methodology I don’t think are that separate, at least in Hegel’s sense. They are ways of knowing, of discovering truth.
Phenomenology, and again I find Hegel’s definition of phenomenology to be the best, although it is not the only one – where he defines phenomenology as a science of human consciousness. The existentialist would define phenomenology as the science or study of being, or what they would call existence. We’ll come back to that. And there’s an important separation between existentialist phenomenology and Hegelian phenomenology.
I would just throw one other philosopher’s name in here when we get to this kind of existential phenomenology and that is Frederick Nietzsche. He could be the start of that kind of phenomenology. But nonetheless, phenomenology. And the other which is bound up with phenomenology and logic and that is epistemology, or theories of philosophies of knowledge, how we know. Epistemology is very connected to so much going on in the fields again of quantum physics and string theory.
String theory is one of those areas that has been mathematized. In other words, physicists that work in string theory talk to each other through mathematical equations, which means the rest of us don’t know what the hell they’re talking about. And I think they like it like that. But string theory is sometimes called a “theory of everything.”
Can there be a huge theory which unites classical physics? That is, the physics of Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein, rooted in an understanding of gravity. And for Einstein, a theory of time really – can that school of physics, the physics of large bodies, be united with a physics of subatomic particles? Thus far, as far as science is concerned to my knowledge, theoretical physics is concerned, the behavior of subatomic particles goes against the theories of gravity that apply to large bodies.
And so the challenge is, can there be a steering to unite these two apparently disparate, two conflicting things, and thus it is called string theory, or better, a theory of everything, or a unifying theory of Einstein and quantum mechanics? Relativity theory and quantum mechanical theory. This is huge and has gone unsolved since – well, the real great meeting to see if there could be some reconciliation occurred in 1925 in Copenhagen. We talked about that before. Up to this point they have not been reconciled; there has not been a unified theory of everything. In fact, there seems to be among theoretical physicists who deal with particle physics or quantum mechanics, a movement away from a recognition of the existence of a world outside of the human consciousness.
In other words, there are people in recent times who get Nobel prizes in theoretical physics who have made the claim that subatomic particles do not exist in and of themselves. They exist because our consciousness brings them into existence. This is a huge assertion because it would deny the existence of a world outside of consciousness. The consequences of that, ultimately for the transformation of the world in a sense from the epoch of Western hegemony to the epoch of humanity is not possible and can only be seen as a dead end. I’ll explain that a little bit more. I would say that that type of philosophy – the philosophy of this is not new – the philosophy that they’re asserting – the claims that they are making have a philosophical history going back to what we call British empiricism and the first philosopher Berkeley and then of course the major one in the British empiricist tradition David Hume, who said we can only claim the existence of the world as a result of our consciousness. We’ll come back to that.
If there is no world outside of our consciousness, then what is truth? This philosophical problem, or as I would say the geography, the structure of this problem of the existence of the world outside of consciousness, has its reflection in the discussion of artificial intelligence.
Again, not a small matter. A very important matter because of the conclusions that they are drawing, because AI through the devices of the internet and iPhones and other things is a greater reality in the lives of everyday people than quantum mechanics – the type of philosophical assertions that they make either openly or as subtext, has greater influence upon the ways that billions of people will view themselves and their futures.
Our approaches in philosophy and of course Hegel, and again I want to emphasize, not as the last word – we are not making a god of Hegel the way some people in AI want to make a god of AGI, that is artificial intelligence that becomes God-like, or artificial intelligence which through the evolution of machine intelligence can arrive at absolute truths, a kind of an end game where God-like means all-knowing. But even they in the AI discourse say that in arriving at that civilization itself will be destroyed. We’ll come back to that. A lot of these guys I don’t take too seriously, the chatter as it were. We’ll come back to that.
We are concerned with logic and phenomenology. We are concerned first of all with Hegel’s assertion and maybe one of the most important claims in the history of modern philosophy,that Aristotle did not have it right, that the substance of the logic of real things in the real world is dialectical and not formal.
Formal logic is that logic associated most with Aristotle. Aristotle established that the laws of logic were laws designed to bring clarity to philosophical and other claims, and to establish what in fact were the logical conditions of truth. No small matter, not to be trivialized. Nor because of Hegel’s dialectic can we dispense with Aristotelian logic. We cannot, for all kinds of reasons, including that science is so bound up with Aristotelian logic. The ways that scientists think, the ways that experiments are constructed, the ways that they evaluate truth, et cetera, are all bound up strongly with Aristotelian logic and not with Hegelian dialectics.
There are philosophers of science and of mathematics, for instance Bertrand Russell, who will say – and I think he was all out of school on this one – “I never read Hegel’s Science of Logic and I don’t think it’s worth reading. It’s conflicted and confused.” And then he goes on to attempt to establish a system whereby logic could clarify the statements of philosophy. This is a kind of symbolic or mathematical logic – a lot of people try to replace ordinary language with mathematical formula and therefore you would have a committee of philosophers let us say and linguists who would take all of the statements – I guess this is part of what they think AI will do – take all the statements ever made by philosophy, all the statements ever made by anybody and use a criteria of mathematics to clarify what those statements really meant, to indicate what the contradictions in this statement versus the other statement a person made. In other words, a return to what Aristotle wanted to achieve. Logic as a way of achieving clarity about truth claims.
Now there are three laws of Aristotelian logic. And it’s very simple, but in its evolution very complex because it relates so much to all fields of mathematics as far as I can see, or can apply to all fields of mathematics, including calculus and geometry and algebra. You know, these simple laws. First of all, the law of identity: a thing is always itself. The second is the law of negation: a thing cannot be itself and its opposite at the same time. And the third is the most fascinating of them, and that is the law of the excluded middle, which is kind of a combination of the two previous ones. Nothing can exist as itself and its opposite at the same time – the law of excluded middle. Which, for Aristotle to base logic on anything but the law of identity would mean to clutter knowledge with other types of claims and contradictions. Remember, logic in this sense is to bring clarity and to eliminate all contradictions. The law of the excluded middle is a denial of the existence of contradiction and statements of truth or methods seeking to know the truth.
However, Hegel in his logic says that in fact, all things exist in a state of contradiction and that the principal law of logic is the law of negation. Or to put it another way, the negation of the negation. That seems so odd or so out of bounds because we don’t talk about things in that way, but that is where Hegel begins and that in the end is the subversive and revolutionary character of his thinking
Hegel is a student of Immanuel Kant – by the way, Immanuel Kant is my favorite modern philosopher. I use my favorite for several reasons, not because I agree with him more than I agree with Hegel. But Hegel comes forward with what in fact is a revolutionary proposition, that the logic of real things, the logic of real ideas, the logic of things that we live with, the logic of what we are is grounded in the unity of opposites. Hegel therefore proposed a logic of things in motion and change, as opposed to a logic of things in a static and lifeless existence
I’ve already mentioned about phenomenology, I won’t go back to that except to say that there is a kind of empty and an infantile, childish, more popular existentialism today associated with the word wokeness, identity, associated with pop psychology, intersectionality. And we should be very clear, intersectional analysis is not a dialectical analysis. This existential phenomenology centers upon the individual, is ahistorical, is unable to deal with the great philosophical questions. In a lot of ways identity politics and the philosophies of it and intersectionality are distractions from the great struggles of this time. It is completely subjective and self-oriented, egotistical in the sense of the self – the individual is the main center of philosophy. Isn’t that a real backward move from Hegel?
But it is not an unusual evolution in Anglo-American philosophy. I’m of the opinion that people like John Stuart Mill would be very comfortable with this outcome. And there are philosophers who from an “existentialist” point of view analyze everything from hip-hop to gender sexuality, through the lens of identity and frankly of Aristotelian logic. There are so many ironies with this – these people who are so much against white men who said anything in the past are really basing their philosophy, their theories in Aristotle and John Stuart Mill and maybe John Locke if you will.
The other application of phenomenology which is not Hegel necessarily is Immanuel Kant and I would say even David Hume, who use phenomenon to mean our sensual experiences. Sensual, that feeling, tasting, seeing, etcetera experience. And Kant made a distinction between what he called phenomena: those things that are available to our reasoning process, our logical process. And noumena: those things beyond our feeling or experience.
Phenomena, where all of those things that are available to us through our experience and are available to knowledge, to reason. Noumena is that universe, that world which is beyond anything we can experience, hence beyond anything we can know. So the world of knowledge is the world of phenomena.
Hegel, on the other side, said that because we and all things exist in time. Because of that, and because all things exist in motion, while we might never get to be absolute, i.e. we become God, we can increasingly know not only our experiences but that which is beyond our experience, perhaps in the realm of the abstract. I don’t want to get into that right now, but Hegel excoriated and criticized Kant for limiting the possibilities of knowledge to our immediate experience. We can come back to that.
As I said already, we’re going back into this philosophical thing as a way to engage the ideological struggle and the ideological struggles today. I don’t know how you do it without philosophy. A lot of this is empty, uninformed discourse by poorly educated professors and others. A lot of it wouldn’t be acceptable to Kant or Hegel or Du Bois or Baldwin, or anybody. It’s so empty, so superficial.
To think that you can have a discourse on gender and race over here, and a discourse on quantum mechanics and AI over here, and they have nothing in common. My argument is they have a whole lot in common and each of them in their logics, in their methods, in the phenomenologies weigh in heavily upon humanity’s future, or the majority of humanity’s imaginary of their future. Woke identity politics is a way of in fact taking billions of people out of the struggle for their own future. AI discussions do the same thing – well, what links them? I think there are common philosophical assumptions, whether stated or not. Common philosophical assumptions, and that at one cannot effectively wage the struggle for ideas without getting at the deep structure of ideas. Kant called it a transcendental logic. Aristotle is right – there’s something more to this than just what you say or how you construct your argument. What are the assumptions grounding what you say and grounding your argument?
Again, whenever you deal with Hegel, you’re gonna get all the blowback in the world. From every anti-revolutionary force no matter where they are in academic disciplines or in public discourse, they will blow back against Hegel as unrealistic, unworkable and confused. And again it is because of the two things. Time, which is indispensable in Hegel, not just as a structure, but time as inseparable from the existence of things themselves – things exist in time and motion. But also the fundamental law of Hegelian dialectics: the negation of the negation. That just doesn’t sit well with a lot of people. You know, you say “Well it’s a logic based in the negation of the negation.” “Oh there you go again, you’re negative.” “No, I’m not negative at all.” You see what I’m saying?
So, the liberal mind, they have this happy-happy positive thing. No, we’re not talking about your personal feeling, we’re talking about the way things exist in motion. What Hegel said is the logic of actual existing things is a logic based upon negation. The new emergence from the old. And the two become a synthesis. You know, in social philosophy, social theory, revolutionary thinking. If one does not engage that or acknowledge that, one is condemning oneself to dogmatism and repeating over and over and over again formulations that may have applied adequately and scientifically to one set of circumstances but might not apply in this. In the realm of theory and ideas, to deny dialectics in my estimate is to deny the creative potential of all great ideas to birth new ideas. Out of the old comes the new. The old is not completely destroyed, it is synthesized with the new to produce something new. It is a creative process, the unity of opposites leads to a higher synthesis.
We’re reading the Science of Logic in the same way we read Black Reconstruction. We read the Science of Logic the way not that Bertrand Russell read it – or didn’t read it – but the ways that Marx and Lenin, among others, have read Science of Logic. We read Science of Logic and Hegel’s Phenomenology of Mind the way Du Bois did, and the ways that Hegel is implemented and deployed in Black Reconstruction. If you know Hegel, you can see Du Bois working through a dialectical logic to explain reconstruction and the anti-slavery struggle. And in fact, reading Black Reconstruction the way we read him, creates creative possibilities to think about the world. We read Hegel the way the now-defunct Soviet Academy of Philosophy did. In other words, we read him in a revolutionary way, and why shouldn’t we? We’re not anti-revolutionary.
And frankly I don’t think there’s a moral way to exist in the world – and I get this from Baldwin – if you’re not revolutionary in revolutionary times, that is in times of revolutionary change in technology, philosophy, systems of governance and et cetera. We do not read Hegel in the limited bourgeois way – we do not read Hegel or Black Reconstruction in a way to uphold the rule of the current so-called liberal bourgeois elite. We do not read Hegel the way Bertrand Russell or John Stuart Mill did, or more recently the way George di Giovanni, the translator and writer of the introduction in the current Cambridge edition of Science of Logic. Di Giovanni says in his introduction, “Let’s be real, the Science of Logic is antiquated; it has no relevance to now.”
Well, if your standpoint is the permanence, end-of-history permanence of liberal bourgeois rule then of course it’s antiquated. Any philosophy that talks about the inevitability of change would not be to your personal liking because you see this system as the best representation of human aspiration. A person like di Giovanni would provide a great deal of argumentation and support to a person like Joe Biden. That seems strange, doesn’t it. Or at least his speech writers, who would say that the struggle on the world scale is between democracies and autocracies, and once you get up off the floor having fell on the floor laughing at such nonsense, and especially coming out of the mouth of a warmonger like Joe Biden, you know, you have to say, well let’s be more sober about this question. Is that, as you stated, Joe Biden, the fundamental dialectic of this time? Since you want to say that there is a dialectic in world history, at least at this time, and if you want to say that – well Joe Biden, are you prepared to embrace the law of the excluded middle? That all things exist as a negation of negation, and is the negation of the current system something completely different from it, leading to a new synthesis?
Hence, even in your broke-down ignorant way, or your speechwriters, you have to acknowledge that history and time compel all matter, all things, including human consciousness, to exist in a state of movement. Why do we have time, anyway? In this sense, I guess it’s fair for us to say that we take a stance against the privileging, without contextualizing, of mathematical and symbolic logics, or linguistic logics. In other words, the great achievements of mathematics and mathematical logic and linguistic theories are undeniable, but is that the end of the story, is that the final say?
There are those who operate on behalf of, and are themselves a part of the ruling elite who are waging an existential battle for their existence in a time where they have fallen into a crisis of legitimacy – the people don’t believe them and don’t want to hear much that they have to say. That they come forward suddenly with a new technology. That if you think you people are like us, or average people, that you were so smart – we now have technology that will replace you with a quickness. And it’s known as artificial intelligence. And if you think you’re so smart, I’m using their words, if you think you are so smart – this technology can go through its own evolutionary process, on its own, producing a form of superhuman intelligence that is “God-like.” And if you eff with us, the liberal bourgeois elite, we will unleash God-like intelligence on all of y’all and destroy civilization as such. Listen to some of the Lex Fridman discussions with these MIT engineers and tech entrepreneurs and AI experts and all-around near-God intellects. If you can listen to that for any length of time, you will literally hear them literally saying something close to what I’m saying. We got the technology to take most of your fucking asses out of history, and it’s called AI. If you mess with us for too long, we’re going to unleash God-like intelligence on your buns. You think Francis Fukuyama had something to say about the end of history – we can do it now, and it’s known as AGI – artificial general intelligence or otherwise referred to as God-like intelligence.
This is an ideological question. It’s a money question too because Silicon Valley, they have to market themselves and get people to invest in them. But anyway, I’ll just say my last thing. Look, even if you put aside woke and identity politics which is, you know – it’s a weak hand for the bourgeoisie, very weak hand, and the thinkers in that field are so weak that they didn’t stay around too long and almost self-destructed and you don’t really hear too much from them. But it’s a weak hand. The strong hand from the standpoint of the bourgeoisie, of the ruling class which must be concerned with not just ruling the United States, or ruling France, but managing humanity – their strongest hands are in quantum mechanics, string theory, and in artificial intelligence, and this is the context, the framework that shapes and in a sense organizes our approach to the reading of Hegel’s Science of Logic.
Dr. Anthony Montiero is a long-time activist in the struggle for socialism and black liberation, scholar, and expert in the work of WEB Dubois. In fact, he is one of the most cited Dubois scholars in the entire world. He’s worked and taught longer than most of us have been alive. Currently, he organizes with the Saturday Free School for Philosophy and Black Liberation in Philadelphia.
This article was republished from Positive Peace Blog.