Smithfield workers on the line during the coronavirus pandemic. | Smithfield Foods
SIOUX FALLS, S.D.—The workers at a huge meatpacking plant here with a history of caring little about whether they lived or died during the coronavirus pandemic defeated this month the company’s attempt to continue crushing them, this time with wage and benefit rollbacks.
Worker determination to do anything and everything to protect their livelihoods became crystal clear on the night of June 7, when the members of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 204 voted 99% to authorize a strike against Smithfield Foods if the company did not agree to substantial wage hikes and to cease its attempts to slash health care and other benefits.
For balking at the idea of making even more sacrifices for a company that endangered their lives and exploited them during the pandemic, they received little or no support from lawmakers, from Gov. Kristi Noem on down, who are beholden to the meatpacking industry. They received massive support, however, from the people in their own community, who turned out in car caravans to support them.
Workers at the Sioux Falls Smithfield plant register to vote on the company’s contract offer, June 3, 2021. The members overwhelmingly against it. | Stephen Groves / AP
The struggles of the people employed at the Smithfield plant in Sioux Falls began to intensify sharply at the beginning of the pandemic last year. Because of company refusal to protect workers and Trump administration refusal to do anything to force the company’s hand, the plant was the epicenter of one of the first major COVID-19 outbreaks in both the meat industry and the country as a whole.
Of the 3,700 workers employed there, 1,294 were infected and four died, according to figures supplied by OSHA. In April 2020, the plant accounted for a large majority of total coronavirus infections in the state of South Dakota. The workers went home at the end of their shifts, where they then unwittingly infected members of their own families and their neighbors.
Yet the governor did nothing to protect them or the other people in her state affected by the contagion originating from the plant. In fact, Noem threw up roadblocks when the town of Sioux Falls attempted to institute its own protective measures. Localities were forbidden from doing anything to protect their residents that the state as a whole was not doing.
Yet the workers, led by their union and with strong backing from the South Dakota AFL-CIO, protested and managed to get the plant to temporarily shut down.
Smithfield’s callous disregard for the need to protect its workers resulted in a plant early this month where hundreds were still out on long-term medical leave, according to reports from Local 304A President B.J. Motley.
Despite the ruined health of many of its workers and the health problems widespread in the community because of Smithfield policy, the company announced this spring that it wanted $200-per-year increases in the out-of-pocket health care expenses paid by workers. On wages, the Smithfield pay of $17 per hour was already well below the industry standard, so a health cost hike would hit workers even harder. Workers, however, had another change in mind; they wanted the $19-per-hour wage paid at the nearby JBS meatpacking plant.
The tally showing workers’ rejection of the company’s proposals, 99% to 1%. | UFCW Local 304A
Considering everything, the UFCW made extremely reasonable requests. They basically only asked the company to rescind the demand for the extra $200 and to increase the starting wage to the same as it was at the nearby JBS plant.
The company said during the pandemic that its workers were “heroes.” The media across the country joined in on nationwide proclamations calling frontline food service workers “heroes.” Suddenly, however, as far as Smithfield was concerned, its Sioux Falls workers had lost that status. “We’re not heroes anymore, are we?” a worker with nine years at the plant, Anthony Yesker, told the Associated Press. “They should at least look at the fact that we all put our lives on the line to keep the company going,” another worker said.
It took bravery for the workers to take their strike vote. The last time workers at the Sioux Falls plant struck was back in 1987, when the company was still called Morell Meatpacking. In response to that strike, the company replaced half the workforce with scabs.
Another demand from the company this time was that the unpaid leave allowances for workers be drastically reduced. This was seen as a direct attack on the hundreds at the plant who originate from West Africa and need to periodically return home to provide relatives with much-needed money.
Only weeks after the strike authorization vote, Smithfield backed down completely on all of its demands and agreed to a starting wage of $18.75, just 25 cents below what the union had demanded. The company also agreed to a cash bonus of $520 for the workers.
It’s not a huge amount of money for people who perform the dangerous, bloody work of cutting up hogs, but it was a solid if unexpectedly fast victory for workers who never had to go on the strike they had so overwhelmingly authorized.
To help figure out why the workers were successful, People’s World talked with Kooper Caraway, the 29-year-old president of the South Dakota AFL-CIO. Caraway, known for his militant fights for worker rights, is the youngest AFL-CIO labor federation president in the nation.
South Dakota AFL-CIO President Kooper Caraway
“The fast and brave strike authorization vote was critical,” he said, “with the workers showing they were unafraid of company intimidation.”
“Then it was a matter of picking a solid group of negotiators. It is important that workers and their unions send strong people to the negotiating table. Strong negotiators who are elected by the memberships to be strong negotiators will do much better when dealing with companies. Who you have at the bargaining table matters.”
“Then it’s a matter of reaching out to the community,” Caraway said. The union movement appealed to the public in and around Sioux Falls, drawing the connection between the conditions faced by the workers and the people of the surrounding community. It worked well with huge car caravans of supporters turning out to back the workers.
Caraway said that another key to the victory was the issue of solidarity. “The labor movement here has worked for years on the issue of solidarity among workers across nationality and national lines,” he said. The plant has Latino, Native American, West African, and white workers. One of the things that happened at Caraway’s urging soon after he was elected head of the Sioux Falls Central Labor Council several years ago was the establishment of an international solidarity committee at the plant itself.
International labor solidarity was not at all high on the agenda of the old labor leadership Caraway and his backers replaced. Nor did they do much to grow the size and influence of the local labor movement itself with “organizing being limited basically to the annual Labor Day picnics,” according to Caraway.
Solidarity: Outside the plant, members of the Sioux Falls community express their support for workers inside the Smithfield plant. | AP
Caraway described what the new UFCW and labor federation leadership did at the plant. “We talked about the importance of being an active member of the union. There were discussions with workers about the need for all of the divergent groups to be united.” The unions organized the first ever Native American Day in Sioux Falls, attended and supported by all the other groups of workers and community members. “The result,” according to Caraway, “was the reduced ability of the company to divide and conquer people along lines of race and nationality.”
He also described how action was taken to protect workers from bad forces inside their unions, including in any and all positions of leadership. “We passed an amendment to our constitution,” he said, “that forbids white supremacists and fascists from holding office in any of our member unions.”
The militancy of an apparently invigorated labor movement in this part of the country, combined with unity among workers and backing from the community, seems to have yielded a much needed victory, at least for now, for the workers at the Sioux Falls Smithfield plant.
John Wojcik is Editor-in-Chief of People's World. He joined the staff as Labor Editor in May 2007 after working as a union meat cutter in northern New Jersey. There, he served as a shop steward, as a member of a UFCW contract negotiating committee, and as an activist in the union's campaign to win public support for Wal-Mart workers. In the 1970s and '80s he was a political action reporter for the Daily World, this newspaper's predecessor, and was active in electoral politics in Brooklyn, New York.
“Well Fred, I see you are ready to start our new discussion. You seem to have a lot of notes from the Chan book.” [Source Book in Chinese Philosophy]
“That I do, Karl, but what is that big black book you have?”
“This is very useful for anyone interested in Eastern philosophy. It’s edited by Ian P. McGreal and it’s called Great Thinkers of the Eastern World, published in 1995 by Harper Collins. It gives a good outline of the Great Learning and I thought I would go over it before we went over the actual text.”
“That’s fine with me. It’s better sometimes to have an advance outline of what’s coming up before you read the actual text itself. What does your book have to say?”
“This section is by Chenyang Li and he gives the Major Ideas in this book as the following: we have to look for the three aims and the eight steps.”
“Yeah? Well, what are they?”
“OK, ‘The three aims are manifesting one’s luminous virtue, renewing the people, and abiding in perfect goodness.’ While, ‘The eight steps are the investigation of things, extension of knowledge, sincerity of will, rectification of the heart, cultivation of the personal life, regulation of the family, national order, and world peace.’”
“That sounds pretty good Karl.”
“It would take ‘Great Learning’ indeed to do all this. But you know, making allowances for time and clime, these aims and steps could be adapted for our own times, of course with different cultural content in some instances.”
“Now I’m going to turn to Chan, but feel free to break in with anything from Chenyang Li’s presentation whenever you feel like it.”
“Thanks, I will.”
“Chan points out that this work really became important in Neo-Confucianism, that is, in the Song Dynasty--that’s 960 to 1279 A.D.--so we have jumped several centuries into the future from our B.C. philosophers, but this is an old book, it was originally chapter 42 of the Book of Rites but now has an independent existence--its very short-- because the greatest of the Neo-Confucianist thinkers, Zhu Xi, 1130 to 1200 A.D., saw it as the epitome of Confucian thinking. As we said in a former discussion it became one of the Four Books as a result. The ‘three aims’ (Chan calls them ‘items’) and the ‘eight steps’, which make up this book, are called by Chan ‘the central Confucian doctrine of humanity “ren” [仁] in application.... The eight steps are the blueprints for translating humanity into actual living.’”
“Now Fred, I want to bring up this observation. Zhu Xi was a really good Confucian because he wanted all the people to be educated. ‘Zhu Xi believed that the Great Learning was a text not only for the ruler, but for the common people as well.’”
“It should be pointed out that the Chinese title, Da Xue, really means ‘adult education.’ Chan, in a note, says, ‘It means, therefore, education for the good man or the gentleman, or using the word in the sense of “great”, education for the great man.’”
“I see, Fred. I also want to note that Zhu Xi thought this was the FIRST book to be read when beginning to study Confucianism, so we really messed up our discussion order!”
“We should be ok, Karl, just think what a good background we now have!”
“You’re right. Let’s get on with it!”
“It gets a little complicated now, Karl, as the Confucianists emphasize learning but ‘have never agreed on how to learn,’ as Chan says. As a result, he writes, ‘the different interpretations of the investigation of things in this Classic eventually created bitter opposition among Neo-Confucianists. To Zhu Xi, ge-wu meant to investigate things, both inductively and deductively, on the premise that principle (li), the reason for being, is inherent in things. He believed that only with a clear knowledge of things can one’s will become sincere. He therefore rearranged the ancient text of the classic [oops!] to have the sections on the investigation of things appear before those on sincerity of the will. Wang Shou-jen, 1472-1529 A.D., on the other hand, believing that principle is inherent in the mind, took ge to mean “to correct,” that is, to correct what is wrong in the mind. To him, sincerity of the will, without which no true knowledge is possible, must come before the investigation of things. Therefore he rejected both Zhu Xi’s arrangement of the text and his doctrine of the investigation of things, and based his whole philosophy on the Great Learning, with sincerity of the will as its first principle.’”
“Lets not get too far ahead of ourselves, Fred. After we do this discussion there are still several centuries to go before we get near to Zhu Xi and Wang.”
“True enough. I’m going to start the Great Learning , Zhu Xi’s edition and with his ‘comments’ now instead of Chan”s.”
“And of course with my pertinent interruptions with Chenyang Li!”
“Here are the three aims: ‘The Way of learning to be great (or adult education) consists in manifesting the clear character, loving the people, and abiding (zhi) in the highest good.’ “
“I see that Chan’s translation is a little different than that in my book, Fred. This is one of the little inconveniences we will have to put up with. I don’t think it really hinders our understanding.”
“No, it is easy to make these little translation adjustments. If there is a BIG difference in meaning we will certainly have to have a discussion about it. Shall I continue?”
“By all means!”
“’Those who wished to bring order to their states would first regulate their families. Those who wished to regulate their families would first cultivate their personal lives. Those who wished to cultivate their personal lives would first rectify their minds. Those who wished to rectify their minds would first make their wills sincere. Those who wished to make their wills sincere would first extend their knowledge.’ Now come the eight steps. ‘The extension of knowledge consists in the investigation of things. When things are investigated, knowledge is extended; when knowledge is extended, the will becomes sincere; when the will becomes sincere, the mind is rectified; when the mind is rectified, the personal life is cultivated; when the personal life is cultivated, the family will be regulated; when the family is regulated, the state will be in order; and when the state is in order, there will be peace throughout the world.’ And then follows a ‘democratic’ admonition that Mencius and all good Confucians would want to support. ‘From the Son of Heaven down to the common people, all must regard cultivation of the personal life as the root or foundation.’”
“I would like to say that despite all the references to ancient Kings and sages we have been thus far exposed to, and taking notice of the objections to this made by the Legalists, it is obvious here that the Great Learning, and thus Confucianism, by stressing the extension of knowledge implies that old models are not really the best models. As knowledge is extended through the investigation of things then society as whole becomes more educated and the people and the state more perfected. This is a completely modern idea. One which the current quasi-Marxist Chinese state could well subscribe to. Chenyang Li says, ‘It should be noted that, in the Confucian view, the state is not a mechanism for balancing various pressure groups of conflicting interests. Rather, it is an enlarged family with mutual trust among its members.’”
“What do you think of that Karl?”
“It is wrong of course. But remember, this is the self-consciousness of the feudal elite living under a totally different type of class system than that produced over the last few centuries by industrial capitalism. States today are so obviously mechanisms for class rule that the Great Learning can not be taken at face value based on the outmoded views of the state that underlie it. Nevertheless, the essential philosophy it delineates can be adapted to modern times. I think, therefore, Confucianism can be harmonized with Marxism. They do not have to be antagonistic. Those Confucians who refuse to see this have turned their backs on the common people, the main concern of Confucius, and are just functioning as mealy mouthed spokespeople for continuing class repression. That's how I think at any rate.”
“I’m almost sorry I asked! But here is a quote that sort of backs up your interpretation. ‘The Book of Odes says, “Although Zhou is an ancient state, the mandate it has received from Heaven is new” Therefore, the superior man tries at all times to do his utmost [in renovating himself and others.]’”
“That’s ode 235 King Wen. He is the King who overthrew the Shang Dynasty. I have Arthur Waley”s translations [The Book of Songs, Grove Press., NY, 1996]. The ode also says, ‘By Zhou [Chou] they were subdued;/Heaven’s charge is not for ever.’ So if you don’t extend knowledge and renovate the people--look out!”
“This is from chapter 6: ‘What is meant by “making the will sincere” is allowing no self-deception, as when we hate a bad smell or love a beautiful color. This is called satisfying oneself. Therefore the superior man will always be watchful over himself when alone.... For other people see him as if they see his very heart. This is what is meant by saying that what is true in a man’s heart will be shown in his outward appearance. Therefore the superior man will always be watchful over himself when alone.... Wealth makes a house shining and virtue makes a person shining. When one’s mind is broad and his heart generous, his body becomes big and is at ease. Therefore the superior man makes his will sincere.’”
“This idea of sincerity is linked to the Confucian ideal of ‘humanity.’ A Confucian pursues ren with single-mindedness, self-cultivation and moral effort. Sincerity comes about by such single-mindedness and that leads to the self cultivation which allows for the perfection of ren. I remember this from Key Concepts in Eastern Philosophy by Oliver Leaman (Routledge, 1999).”
“Good memory. Chapter 8 is a little bit hard for me to understand. ‘What is meant by saying that the regulation of the family depends on the cultivation of the personal life is this: Men are partial toward those from whom they have affection and whom they love, partial toward those whom they despise and dislike, partial towards those whom they fear and revere, partial towards those whom they pity and for whom they have compassion, and partial toward those whom they do not respect. Therefore there are few people in the world who know what is bad in those whom they love and what is good in those whom they dislike. Hence it is said, “People do not know the faults of their sons and do not know (are not satisfied with) the bigness of their seedlings.’”
“I think it means that if one cultivates his or her own personal life, that is if he/she rectifies his/her mind according to Confucian philosophy then that person won’t be blinded by these partialities. We should note it was just these kinds of partialities that Mozi thought could only be eliminated by means of universal love, so he probably had the Great Learning in mind when he composed his own philosophy” (Cf Mozi Discussion).
“Now for chapter 9: ‘What is meant by saying that in order to govern the state it is necessary first to regulate the family is this: There is no one who cannot teach his own family and yet can teach others. Therefore the superior man (ruler) without going beyond his family, can bring education into completion in the whole state.... (Sage emperors) Yao and Shun led the world with humanity and the people followed them. (Wicked kings) Jie and Zhou led the world with violence and the people followed them.[I think the context demands a ‘did not follow’ but you judge Karl.] The people did not follow their orders which were contrary to what they themselves liked. Therefore the superior man must have the good qualities in himself before he may require them in other people.... There has never been a man who does not cherish altruism (shu) in himself and yet can teach other people. Therefore the order of the state depends on the regulation of the family. The Book of Odes says, “His deportment is all correct, and he rectifies all the people of the country.” Because he served as a worthy example as a father, son elder brother, and younger brother, therefore the people imitated him.’”
“Let us not forget that the large extended Chinese families of this time were very unlike our own shattered nuclear groups that have come about to facilitate the mobility of the workforce so necessary to the capitalist as opposed to the feudal system. That quote was from Ode 152 The Cuckoo which Waley renders as ‘The cuckoo is on the mulberry-tree; /Her young on the hazel./ Good people, gentle folk--/ Shape the people of this land./ Shape the people of this land./ And may they do so for ten thousand years!’ Besides a big difference in translation, I think it curious that the cuckoo should be selected as an example of a good family bird.”
“Maybe it was a Confucian cuckoo.”
“We come now to chapter 10, the one explaining how to get world peace. ‘When the ruler treats compassionately the young and the helpless, then the common people will not follow the opposite course. Therefore the ruler has a principle with which, as with a measuring square, he may regulate his conduct.... The Book of Odes says, “Lofty is the Southern Mountain! How massive are the rocks! How massive is the Grand Tutor Yin (of Zhou)! The people all look up to you” Thus rulers of states should never be careless.’”
“They don’t look up to Grand Tutor Yin with much hope, Fred. That is Ode 191 High-Crested Southern Hills and Waley renders the verse as:
High-crested are those southern hills,
With rocks piled high and towering.
Majestic are you, Master Yin,
To whom all the people look.
Grief is burning in their hearts.
But they dare not even speak in jest.
The state lies in ruins,
Why do you not see this?
It appears that Grand Tutor Yin has been careless. The point is that rulers should be looking out for their subjects!
When your cruelty is in full form,
We will indeed meet your spears;
But if you are constant and kind to us,
Then we shall pledge ourselves to you.”
“The Great Learning agrees with that. With respect to rulers it says, ‘by having the support of the people, they have their countries, and by losing the support of the people, they lose their countries. Therefore the ruler will first be watchful over his own virtue.”
“This is obviously the source of Mencius’ view of the ‘Mandate of Heaven’ and his views on the right to remove bad rulers.”
“Chapter 10 continues, ‘Virtue is the root, while wealth is the branch. If he [the ruler] regards the root as external (or secondary) and the branch as internal (or essential), he will compete with the people in robbing each other. Therefore when wealth is gathered in the ruler’s hand, the people will scatter away from him; and when wealth is scattered (among the people), they will gather round him. Therefore if the ruler’s words are uttered in an evil way, the same words will be uttered back to him in an evil way; and if he acquires wealth in an evil way, it will be taken away from
him in an evil way.’
“This is very good advice. This is a practical handbook on how to rule and stay in power. Machiavelli is supposed to have composed the first such handbook, The Prince, and it’s pretty good, but the Great Learning isn’t that bad and I venture to say applying its maxims would keep one’s power just as well.”
“It probably wouldn’t hurt to have them both on the nightstand.”
“A good idea. One always needs a fall back position.”
“This is next--its from the ‘Oath of Qin’ but, long before First Emperor. If First Emperor had been more aware of it Li Si would have been in hot water, he ultimately came to a bad end under the next emperor (executed by being cut in two at the waist). ‘In the “Oath of Qin” it is said, “Let me have but one minister, sincere and single minded, not pretending to other abilities, but broad and upright of mind, generous and tolerant towards others. When he sees that another person has a certain kind of ability, he is happy as though he himself had it, and when he sees another man who is elegant and wise, he loves him in his heart as much as if he said so in so many words, thus showing that he can really tolerate others. Such a person can preserve my sons, and grandsons and the black-haired people (the common people). He may well be a great benefit to the country. But when a minister sees another person with a certain kind of ability, he is jealous and hates him, and when he sees another person who is elegant and wise, he blocks him so he cannot advance, thus showing that he really cannot tolerate others. Such a person cannot preserve my sons, grandsons, and the black haired people. He is a danger to the country”’.”
“This describes the relationship that came about between Han Fei and Li Si. One wonders if Han Fei had lasted (Li Si had him forced to commit suicide) and been an influence on First Emperor instead of Li Si, if the emperor would have behaved better and thus his empire would have outlived him for more than just a few years.”
“I don’t know Karl. But, First Emperor obviously violated this last precept from the Great Learning, to wit, ‘To love what the people hate and to hate what the people love--that is to act contrary to human nature, and disaster will come to such a person. Thus we see that the ruler has a great principle to follow.’”
“Or, as Machiavelli would say, This is what he must SEEM to follow. Now, if we have finished with the Great Learning, I want to suggest what we should go over next.”
“Another one of the ‘Four Books.’ This one, also from the Book of Rites, is called the Doctrine of the Mean.”
“OK, that’s next.”
Thomas Riggins is a retired philosophy teacher (NYU, The New School of Social Research, among others) who received a PhD from the CUNY Graduate Center (1983). He has been active in the civil rights and peace movements since the 1960s when he was chairman of the Young People's Socialist League at Florida State University and also worked for CORE in voter registration in north Florida (Leon County). He has written for many online publications such as People's World and Political Affairs where he was an associate editor. He also served on the board of the Bertrand Russell Society and was president of the Corliss Lamont chapter in New York City of the American Humanist Association.
To read the Confucius Dialogue click here.
To read the Mencius Dialogue click here.
To read the Xunzi Dialogue click here.
To read the Mozi Dialogue click here.
To read the Laozi Dialogue click here.
To read the Zhuangzi Dialogue click here.
To read the Gongsun Dialogue click here.
A socialist moment has sprouted up on the American landscape and is beginning to take firm root, as most recently evidenced by India Walton’s stunning victory in working-class Buffalo. While not yet a trend, Walton’s election continues the spate of left candidates’ victories in Congress, state legislatures, and city councils across the country, reflecting a deep discontent in the body politic.
In a word, America is growing more radical. But what is the meaning of this word that falls so easily from our lips? Radicalization is an objective process born out of the class struggle and capitalist crisis. Yet, like all objective processes, it has subjective ripples. These eddies, while influenced by basic class conflicts, are not limited to them. As a result, different people are radicalized for different reasons. The environment, police violence, sexism, and other forms of gender discrimination, the treatment of animals, in addition to poverty, racism, immigrant rights, voter suppression, unemployment, and discrimination on the job can lead to folks seeking deeper, more radical solutions.
In general, the communist movement welcomes the growing radicalization of the broad public, particularly its working-class majority. It means people are waking up. But after getting out of bed, do folks step to the right or to the left? This is an issue often dismissed as a “war over words,” since the word “radical” literally means “to the root.”
But the roots, indeed, the entire tree of radicalization has many branches. And the winds of change blow them in myriad directions. Today, in bourgeois discourse, anything to the left or right of the political or religious center is often labeled “radical” by the ruling-class hegemony. This war of words should not be dismissed — it’s an important part of the ideological struggle.
For example, in the mainstream media, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is often referred to as “radical,” along with the right-wing “radicals” who attacked the Capitol earlier this year. On the other hand, the Republicans in Congress attack Medicare for All for being a “radical socialist demand” while condemning Black Lives Matter marches as the product of “radical anarchism.”
Here a class analysis is helpful in determining what’s really radical, that is, what actually goes to the root, and what doesn’t.
For us, policies that get to the root of solving the problem of working-class exploitation and promote greater equality and democracy are radical. Simply put, those that don’t are not.
Suppressing the vote isn’t radical — it’s deeply conservative. Neither is opposing marriage equality. On the other hand, proportional representation, a voting method that could greatly expand democracy for minority parties, is a positive, radical democratic demand.
Historically, as capitalism became a world system and grew into imperialism, the radicalization of the broad working-class public led to the creation of what’s called the world revolutionary process. Frustrated and angered by inequality and exploitation, middle- and working-class forces formed unions and political parties to press forward their just demands and interests. The October Revolution was born out of this struggle and brought with it a new stage in the process, the period of the transition from capitalism to socialism.
There is also a worldwide counter-revolutionary process at work that has led to world wars, as well as regional and local armed conflicts. It has promoted repression and the growth of fascism. U.S. imperialism is one of the leading, if not the leading sponsors. The Trump movement and its international counterparts are contemporary examples of these efforts. Notwithstanding important differences on domestic policy, the Biden administration’s policy toward China and Venezuela continues the anti-socialist drive.
Today’s radicalization process is drawing millions . . . some toward revolutionary Marxism.
On the other side of the class and democratic ledger, a deep and thoroughgoing radicalization process is at work today in the U.S. Beginning first with Occupy Wall Street, followed by the movements for Black lives and the mass protests led by women in the initial days of the Trump administration, today’s radicalization process is drawing millions into its various orbits, some of whom are, as if by the very force of gravity itself, drawn toward the working-class and revolutionary Marxism. It has crystallized in what we’ve called the socialist moment.
Communists highly value the growth of these radical democratic trends. Their contributions, new ideas, and victories are very important.
Those trends that gravitate toward the working class and Marxism are adding fresh forces along with new opportunities and challenges. One of the challenges is the growth in the influence of what might be termed “middle-class” or “petty bourgeois radicalism.”
By middle-class radicalism is meant a rather eclectic set of ideas and practices that historically have their origins in this strata’s frustration and primitive rebellion. Pressed on all sides and stuck between capitalism’s two main classes, the petite bourgeoisie’s class aspirations are crushed time and again. Viewing the world from a frog’s perspective — always looking up — they are ever being pushed down into the ranks of the working class.
Their political practices and outlook are largely shaped by these conflicted conditions of life. Absent the experience of working in large groups and being forced to collectively bargain, they tend to seek basic change along narrow, individual paths as opposed to seeing the need for moving masses in struggle, an outlook that lends itself to anarchism, individual acts of terrorism, and an unfounded confidence in the actions of small groups and self-styled “vanguards.” Some tend to be anti-corporate but not yet anti-capitalist, “anti-establishment” but out of touch with working-class needs, modalities, and political imperatives.
Middle-class radicalism is a mass concept and political trend.
As a result, these trends run up against and counter to the realities of struggle, a reality that is framed today by the broad democratic fight against the fascist danger. Mass electoral movements of both right and left are defining characteristics of these days and times, but the need to build political majorities for real change, particularly in the electoral arena, is largely lost on this trend, disdained in favor of allegedly more militant, revolutionary action such as abstract calls for general strikes regardless of whether or not the conditions for such important actions exist.
Middle-class radicalism should be treated not so much as the expression of this or that individual or organization but rather as a mass concept and political trend, one that rises and falls in tempo with the class, democratic, and anti-imperialist struggles both domestically and worldwide. Needless to say, each episode brings with it the unique features of the political terrain on which it’s born.
For example, after the defeat of the McCarthy period in the 1960s, the labor left was confronted with the growing influence of radical middle-class strata who were approaching but had not yet reached consistent working-class positions. These forces viewed Marxism-Leninism as old hat, the communist parties as outmoded, the working class as no longer revolutionary, unity an unrealistic watchword, and the class struggle a pipe dream. Inspired by the likes of Régis Debray, Herbert Marcuse, and others, they sought to forge a New Left, with new sources of revolutionary activity.
Regarding their class backgrounds, CPUSA leader James E. Jackson wrote, “They have come to the party out of the non-proletarian classes … from the poor workers in agriculture and the urban petite-bourgeoisie — the students, the intellectuals, the professionals.”
Applauding this development, Jackson also warned of potential conflicts:
It is a welcome sign of the times that the petty-bourgeois militants — from the cities or countryside — enroll in movements of mass actions and the best among them come to the party. At the same time, they generate mass pressure and constitute the primary source for the current attacks upon vital features of the Communist Party’s policies in the spheres of ideology, organization and tactics.
Today a new wave of radicalism is presenting itself in a climate quite different from the one that was confronted by Jackson and his comrades. Importantly, a new, New Left is once again emerging. The difference is that its roots now are closer to the working class and people’s movements. This is due, in part, to the class’s changing composition. Sections of the population once considered middle class have become “proletarianized,” that is, pushed into the working class. At the same time, a wider section of the working class have access to higher education and have become politically literate. Add to this the increase in women, people of color, and of course the growth in the service sector, and you have a very different situation indeed.
Thus the problem today is not so much the influx of middle-class elements but the remaining influence, that is, the residue of petty-bourgeois ideology, a problem exacerbated by the relative weakness of the Marxist left and the growth of the internet.
The impact of this residue should not be underestimated. With respect to ideological trends it reflects the ongoing impact of remnants of Maoism, Trotskyism, and to varying degrees strands of anarchism.
What, then, are the main challenges presented by middle-class radicalism?
It’s inevitable that each generation’s initial imbibing of Marxism not only is shaped by the conditions and influences of the times but also is necessarily incomplete due to newness itself. During the wave of radicalization that swept Russia at the beginning of the 20th century, for example, Lenin complained of Marx and Engels’ doctrine being learned in an “extremely one-sided and mutilated form.” In the U.S. during the radical ’60s, one-sided interpretations repeated themselves, this time influenced not only by the New Left but also by a middle-class radicalism of a special type in the form practiced by the Mao leadership in China.
On the other hand, the problem is exacerbated by the relative state of the communist movement itself. After the collapse of what was called “really existing socialism” due to right pressures, a serious ideological crisis and disintegration occurred within the communist movement. In response, there were manifest tendencies to over-correct to the left. These right and left opportunist swings exist to this day, in response to conditions on the ground and the communist’s relative maturity in addressing them. As Gus Hall pointed out, middle-class radical leftist errors cannot be effectively addressed unless right mistakes are corrected as well.
In this regard, slowness in recognizing and responding to new circumstances contributes to the problem. One of the criticisms of the Communist Party from emerging young revolutionary forces is its approach to united front policy, electoral politics, and fighting the extreme right. Here, an understanding of the party’s correct policy with respect to fighting the fascist danger was somewhat confounded by its not taking initiative and fielding its own candidates. As a result, the CPUSA was accused of tailing the Democratic Party. In this regard, a long overdue decision to run communist candidates for office was taken recently by the CPUSA National Committee.
With respect to tactics, it is vitally important to have an accurate assessment of where the struggle is at any given point in time. Tactics, as Gus Hall used to say, is timing. Take for example the issue of prison abolition and defunding the police, two important slogans that emerged in the fight against racist police murder. The key question is when and how these end goals can be obtained.
Communists understand that the prison-industrial complex and the police force are institutions of the capitalist state. Our long-term vision anticipates the “withering away,” to use Marx’s phrase, of the state. This includes the socialist state as well. That’s what communism is all about: human freedom.
How, then, is it possible to build a mass movement powerful enough to bring this about? The end goal has been established — are there way stations along the route, radical reforms that will take us, a quarter or one-half the way there?
Of course there are.
An approach advanced by ourselves and others, most notably the National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, believes that the election of civilian control boards is one such step. We believe that the fight for such institutions is an important part of the fight for democracy and working-class empowerment. Think about it: These community boards would control hiring, firing, funding, the whole nine yards. They would help create conditions where alternatives to policing could be enacted, including the allocation of money to do so.
This approach was often attacked by those who do not believe defunding the police is a “radical” enough step at this point in time. But why pit one goal against a step in the direction of achieving it?
This relationship between means and ends is an ongoing tension in almost every arena. Maximum goals are placed over and against partial means for achieving them. In the fight for health care, a national health service is prioritized over Medicare for All; in the fight to end the Afghan war the demand to “Bring the troops home now” is placed against setting a date; and in the battle to end racist policing, abolition is posed as more revolutionary than the “reformist” position of community control.
Mastering the relationship between reform and revolution.
At bottom, what’s at stake here is mastering the relationship between reform and revolution. The issue is always how does the working-class and people’s movement marshal the forces necessary to achieve its goals. The promised land is over there on the hill, right across that river. How do we build a bridge to get there? Today the struggle for advanced democracy, that is, advanced democratic reforms, is that bridge.
This raises the issue of what Marxist-Leninists regard as the fight for “consistent democracy” — the need to take consistent working-class positions with respect to the interests of the class as a whole. Because our working class is multi-racial and multi-gendered, a revolutionary party must champion the special measures necessary to address the demands of each section of the class, the racially and sexually oppressed in particular, including advanced democratic ones, like community control. A failure to do so weakens the fight for class unity with potentially devastating consequences.
The middle-class radical chafing at community control steps away from taking consistent working-class positions. Objectively, it weakens the ability of people of color to have control over their lives.
Another example of the failure to take consistent democratic positions is the Trotskyist critique of the 1619 Project, which locates racism at the very founding of colonial America. They claim 1619 is a disunifying Democratic Party capitulation to “identity politics.” But disunifying to whom? What kind of unity can be built on denying the slave trade and the genocide against Native Americans and their presence in the very DNA of the colonial republic? To paraphrase Marx here, labor in white skin cannot be free while labor in the black skin is bound and branded by historical cover-ups and lies.
These questions over and again raise the issue of what it’s going to take to bring about “radical” change to this country. Where and when will the tipping point be reached? As dialectical materialists, we cannot be too speculative about how deep the capitalist crisis can get. We do know that it’s going to take a broad working-class and people’s unity to bring about real change.
“Unity, united front” as Gus Hall writes, “are class-mass concepts.” In the past, middle-class radicals did not, he argued, “see themselves as being exploited or oppressed as a class. They do not react to oppression as a class.”
The good news as we’ve argued above is that this is changing. Today there’s a greater recognition of common class and democratic interests. And on the slopes of that momentous change lives hope. Let’s build bridges to the future together, keeping ever present our cherished goals while collectively exploring how to get there. While doing so, the role of our revolutionary party is to help drive the radicalization process towards unity and socialist consciousness, that is, towards the working class and working-class power.
Joe Sims is co-chair of the Communist Party USA (2019-). He is also a senior editor of People's World and loves biking.
This article was republished from CPUSA.
As I predicted this spring, polls now show that Nina Turner could easily have won this November’s 11th Ohio Congressional District special election as an independent, avoiding co-opting herself into the August 3rd Democratic Party primary, thereby striking a gut punch to the two party stranglehold of establishment capitalism in Northeast Ohio. A whopping 35 point lead over completely pointless Cuyahoga County Democratic Party Chair Shontel Brown surely showed up in Nina’s internal polling long before the first public poll conducted in late May, pressuring the establishment to hurry up and endorse. The green light came from notoriously aloof and outgoing Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson who endorsed Nina back in March. Jackson rarely endorses anything, including his own policies (about which he incoherently likes to say “it is what it is”), getting on board a train that’s already left the station. Jackson’s endorsement gave the signal that this summer’s ultra low voter turnout primary was more than likely all over but the shouting.
Whore house of capital duly comforted, media moths now swarm Nina’s OH11 flame, most predictably The Young Turks’ Cenk Uygur who snuck into Cleveland Saturday June 26th under cover of his event page. No location has ever been public for his “Economic Justice Town Hall” with Nina Turner and Killer Mike. It was somewhere in Cleveland, but before Cenk let anyone know exactly where, Cenk forced you to pay $3 (ching) and register (email addresses to sell, double ching) thereby consenting to Cenk’s “terms and conditions” for attendance (more ching) then your “reservation” has to be “confirmed”, notice of which will be sent in an email, and ONLY THEN did Cenk tell you the address. Even one day before the event, TYT would not dare reveal the location online in response to a direct question, as below.
A labyrinthine guessing game whose answers only Cenk knows, and only provides once you pay not just with money but by your voluntary enforcement of Cenk’s own rules, all no doubt drafted by the same lawyers handling his billionaire venture capital backing. Doesn’t that sound a lot like capitalism?
Here we see Gramscian cultural hegemony demanding your acquiescence to the value system of capital instantly and repeatedly, with humiliating subservience at every conceivable level, not merely to attend an event with a candidate for public office, but even just to know where it’s occurring. Gramsci would recognize in this instance that capital is not itself enforcing its hegemony, nor is “the state”, but through an educative organ of “civil society”, Cenk’s private corporation functioning as both enforcer and teacher.
It begins before you click anything at all. Capital first demands you consent to a change in your own mind to the previously understood meaning of the term “town hall”, with your voluntary acquiescence that Cenk may charge you $3 for such a “town hall” with a candidate for public office, thus privatizing what is public in your brain. Once you’ve re-wired these synapses in your own head at no cost to capital for the benefit of capital, you voluntarily enter multiple private contracts by your every move, down a spiral of clicks, registrations, days waiting for “confirmation”. If you attend, you enter another private, perpetual contract with Cenk, a cherry on top prancing with Pete Buttigieg McKinsey PowerPoint grotesquery;
“By attending this event, I agree to appear in video, and I grant TYT all rights to my appearance in the video show, in recorded videos from the event, and in promotional video for TYT or for the event or future events. I acknowledge that the video and my likeness rights associated with the video is the sole property of TYT.”
What’s a Marxist to do? Gramsci would at least advocate waging a “war of position” by refusal to attend, thereby denying acquiescence to any of this, let alone paying Cenk the $3, thereby enforcing a new value system in pursuit of a new hegemony. This is the bare minimum, which Nina Turner should (and could) have done by refusing to enter the Democratic Primary in the first place (saying “no”), running as an independent outside capital’s hegemony, enforcing a new one. Saying “no” to any unjust rule or norm is a Gandhian nonviolent seizure of Gramscian hegemonic ground, and like daily life in capitalism, TYT’s terms and conditions present at least a half dozen opportunities to seize such ground.
But let’s say you’re feeling a bit frisky, a passive “war of position” of refusal to attend not enough for your revolutionary zeal. Good news! Gramsci’s “war of maneuver” beckons. Any attempt to attend the event without consenting to Cenk’s demand that you acquiesce to his enforcement of the cultural hegemony of capital is a frontal assault on existing hegemony. So, being a frisky fellow, I attempted to attend as press without agreeing to, acquiescing to, or enforcing, any of these policies.
First, I had to learn where to go, without paying Cenk $3, which of course I accomplished (a long story for another day). After crafting myself a Midwestern Marx press pass, off I went to the Beachland Ballroom in Cleveland’s east side Collinwood neighborhood, smack dab in the center of the 11th Congressional district. Built in 1950 as the Croatian Liberty Hall, in 2000 it was repurposed by owners Cindy Barber and Mark Leddy, becoming Cleveland’s premier live music venue ever since. (For example, I’ve seen Joe Walsh and the James Gang, English Beat, Rusted Root, and countless local bands there.) The pandemic closed Beachland for more than a year, re-opening this month. Apparently, whatever contract the Beachland signed with Cenk also requires total secrecy, as there was nothing promoting the event on any of Beachland’s social media. Top secret! At the entrance, I introduced myself as press, being very clear I had no intention of agreeing to any policies in order to maintain my publication’s independence. Entry was granted. It was that simple.
My fox safely in the hen house, outside, it was clear Nina’s campaign had at least told volunteers of the location, her campaign bus in front of the entrance. Here’s East Cleveland’s Patricia Blochowiak in front of the pretty cool campaign bus with a spinning Nina head on top.
Inside, I counted 81 seated attendees, about 37 standing, a total of about 130 people in the ballroom. It’s unclear exactly how many paid attendees were there, as there were at least 6 TYT staff (not counting camera and sound crew), another dozen or so Nina campaign staff and volunteers, plus another half dozen or so security bouncers. TYT Community Director Alison Hartson told me 200 tickets were sold, half of which they expected to attend. Given the number of predictable Cleveland politico types I recognized, looked to me like maybe 50-60 paid ticket holders showed up. Here’s Patricia inside the Beachland.
Questions from the audience had to be submitted before hand after you entered all the myriad contracts with Cenk, and it was clear those questions were carefully screened. Of the 4 questions “asked,” one came (predictably) from Our Revolution paid staff Diane Morgan, who asked the deeply thought out question, “what about poverty?” Thanks, Diane.
An air of paranoia hovered over the entire affair behind the wafer thin veneer of normalcy, carnival atmosphere, enjoyment, dare I say “public”. It reminded me of my days as a Clintonista Third Way Blairite in the 1990’s British Labour Party, whose obsession with micromanaging coined the term “control freakery”. In Tony Blair’s New Labour, “control freakery” of this sort consumed party staff like nothing else (and still does), a sheer terror of anything going off script, ever. Newburgh Hts. Mayor Trevor Elkins, a Nina endorser and the most Blue Lives Matter, cop loving. traffic camera reliant elected official you will ever meet (think Sheriff Joe Arpaio in Dem sheep’s clothing), was so paranoid, when I asked him “how’s your turnout operation”, Trevor practically choked on his own sweat, declaring weirdly he cannot speak for the campaign. “You’re press!” Trevor told me. Hey Trevor - get over your cop boot licking self already.
Afterward I spoke with Alison Hartson to ask why all the hush hush. “Security,” was the answer, which was no surprise. Security was clearly the top priority at this event, maybe the only priority, a mini police state created where not one thing was left to chance. Alison even cited as a reason for all the security the Trump rally occurring at the same time in Lorain County, 40 miles away, as a reason for all the security. I’m like....what? I wonder if Alison noticed my confusion.
I then asked Alison if she was aware of the deep grinding poverty in the 11th Ohio Congressional district, and if she understood that $3 was a lot of money for people in this neighborhood. Alison seemed shocked, which is odd, because if you walk 50 feet away from the Beachland Ballroom, there’s the poverty. Credit where it’s due, Alison did seem genuinely interested in improving such events and asked for any ideas to address these issues. So I told Alison there’ll be plenty of ideas in this article. Holla back Alison!
I spoke to Nina briefly outside afterward to ask for an interview with Midwestern Marx, and Nina handed me off to her press secretary. I’ve known Nina many years, so we’ll see if she’d like to sit down with our fearless leaders Eddie Liger Smith and Carlos Garrido on Zoom one day. Could be fun Nina!
I also spoke with Cenk briefly afterward and asked about his evolving position on the Armenian genocide - it’s well known that Cenk was once at least skeptical of the genocide, if not an outright denier of it. The issue is close to my heart having lived and worked in Armenia in a previous neoliberal international man of mystery life. Cenk was very kind and gracious, saying he supports the Biden administration’s recognition of the Armenian genocide. Cenk explained that as a Turk growing up you get fed a lifetime of (cultural hegemony) propaganda which takes years to peel back; an experience we all share with capitalism, don’t we.
So let’s peel back those layers of cultural hegemony, Cenk, shall we? Takes a long time, as you know. To assist, (putting lawyer hat on) this article is further notice, on top of what I told TYT staff at the event, that I do not, and did not, nor does nor did Midwestern Marx, agree to any of TYT’s terms and conditions alleging I entered into a contract by merely attending your event as press. Shove that shit up Pete Buttigieg’s PowerPoint. Capitalism presents us all with countless such moments of decision, every hour of every day, to which we can either consent, thus enforcing capital’s value system, or refuse, thus building a new world. Let’s build that new world.
Tim Russo is author of Ghosts of Plum Run, an ongoing historical fiction series about the charge of the First Minnesota at Gettysburg. Tim's career as an attorney and international relations professional took him to two years living in the former soviet republics, work in Eastern Europe, the West Bank & Gaza, and with the British Labour Party. Tim has had a role in nearly every election cycle in Ohio since 1988, including Bernie Sanders in 2016 and 2020. Tim ran for local office in Cleveland twice, earned his 1993 JD from Case Western Reserve University, and a 2017 masters in international relations from Cleveland State University where he earned his undergraduate degree in political science in 1989. Currently interested in the intersection between Gramscian cultural hegemony and Gandhian nonviolence, Tim is a lifelong Clevelander.
In late April 2021, US President Joe Biden announced a withdrawal from Afghanistan. In other words, the US has been trounced in Afghanistan by its very own jihadist Frankenstein, the Taliban. The defeat of USA is covered with the ugly debris of history. The dirty war on Afghanistan was part of a disastrous process of occupying and controlling large swathes of the world. On September 16, 2001, President George W. Bush vowed to “rid the world of evil-doers,” then cautioned: “This crusade, this war on terrorism, is going to take a while.” The word “crusade” comes from the Latin for the cross, crux, and implies the warlike march of Christianity against the infidel, recalling one of the most shameful blots on the medieval maps of Western imperialism. The new Crusade by the American empire was waged in defense of a different professed faith, not Christianity but rather liberal democracy. But this belief also concealed less noble designs.
Like the original Crusaders, the US and its European partners have been concerned with geopolitical advantage in a strategically important area of the world. For the Crusaders, Jerusalem was an important site of pilgrimage but also a vital trade route. Today’s Crusaders have been more concerned about energy sources, whether the oil of Iraq or the natural gas pipelines that pass through Central Asia. To realize these more mundane goals, the West has made certain tactical alliances with actors in the Muslim world - the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan, Sunni fighters in Iraq, and the illiberal governments of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Yemen. Hard-headed strategies aimed at gaining imperialist dominance translated into the infliction of calculated barbarity upon the people of Muslim majority countries. Slowly and steadily, the Crusade against terrorism spawned the monstrous machine of Islamophobia as the warmongers of the West deployed racist narratives and tropes against Muslims. This ideological idiom of anti-Muslim hatred is historically rooted in the Crusades of the late 11th and 14th centuries.
Emergence of Islam
Islam emerged in the 7th century in the Hijaz region of Arabia, which includes the cities of Mecca and Medina. The area was a major hub for trade activity, and the Arabs who lived there were in constant contact with their Christian Byzantine and Persian Sassanid neighbors. These economic and cultural linkages formed the context in which Prophet Muhammad, a trader by profession, began to devote time to spiritual matters. Prophet Muhammad worked for his wife, whose caravans traded with Syria. It is believed that in the year 610, while Prophet Muhammad was in the hills near Mecca, the angel Gabriel appeared to him to deliver a message from God. Over the course of the next two decades (610-32 CE), Prophet Muhammad had several such revelations, and on that basis he propagated a new religion called Islam. In the beginning there were very few converts to Islam. The people of Mecca greeted Prophet Muhammad with hostility. This was partly due to the welfarist message he preached - God expects people to share their wealth with those needier than them.
In 622, Prophet Muhammad and his followers left Mecca to travel to Medina, a journey referred to as the Hijra. Here, Prophet Muhammad became a spiritual and a political leader, creating a strong and growing community of believers; by the time of his death in 632, Islam had spread beyond the Hijaz and into other parts of Arabia. Within 20 years of Prophet Muhammad’s death in 632, his followers had laid the foundations of the first Islamic empire in the Fertile Crescent. Arab armies not only defeated the Sassanid dynasty (which had ruled Persia and the neighboring regions for centuries) but also took over parts of the Byzantine Empire’s territories. These victories were no doubt possible only because the Persian and Byzantine Empires had been engaged for almost a 100 years in a war that had enfeebled both sides, alienated their populations and opened a possibility of new conquests. Syria and Egypt were part of the Byzantine Empire; Iraq was ruled by Sassanid Persia. All three now fell to the force and ardor of a unified tribal force.
Impressed by these successes, entire tribes adopted the new religion. Mosques began to appear in the desolate deserts, and the army was augmented. Islam’s swift triumphs were seen as a sign that Allah was both omnipotent and on the side of the Believers. The expansion of Islam continued under the Umayyad dynasty (661–750 CE) into North Africa, and then into Europe in the early eighth century. Their conquests began in Spain, continued through the entire Iberian Peninsula (Portugal, and parts of southern France), and reached into Italy. Numerical strength and military strategy only partly accounted for these victories. The ability of the Muslim generals to maneuver their camel cavalry and combine it with an effective guerrilla-style infantry confused an enemy used to small-scale nomadic raids. However, much more important was the active sympathy which a significant minority of the local people demonstrated for the Muslims. A majority remained passive, waiting to see which side would triumph, but they were no longer prepared to fight for or help the old empires.
As the rest of Europe endured a period of cultural stagnation known as the Dark Ages, al-Andalus - as the Iberian Peninsula came to be known under Muslim rule - saw the growth and development of human knowledge. The works of various great societies, from the Greeks to the Persians, were translated into Arabic in the many libraries created by Muslim rulers (not only in al-Andalus but also in Baghdad under the Abbasid dynasty). One great site of learning was Córdoba in Spain. Here, as elsewhere, tremendous advances were made in the fields of philosophy, medicine, astronomy, architecture, and even urban development. While Europe was socially paralyzed, the citizens of Córdoba enjoyed streetlights and running water. Europe finally began the process of moving out of the Dark Ages in the early 12th century, and intellectuals visited the diverse libraries of the Muslim empires to regain lost knowledge. This period saw the retranslation of various works from Arabic back into European languages. Through this process, European intellectuals came to absorb the profound contributions made by Eastern thinkers.
Translated Arabic writings on medicine, mathematics, astronomy and other sciences were for centuries used as textbooks in medieval Europe, while the writings of Muslim philosophers like Ibn Sina (980-1037, known in the West as Avicenna) and Ibn Rushd (1126-98, known as Averroes), and Jewish philosophers who wrote mainly in Arabic like Maimonides (Rabbi Moses ben Maimon, 1135-1204), were eagerly read and discussed and influenced several generations of medieval Christian philosophers and theologians. The period of European intellectual growth in the 11thcentury was accompanied by growth in commerce and trade. Markets and towns began to spring up. At this point, Muslims were one of the major obstacles to European expansion; the pagan raiders (such as the Normans and Magyars) that had relentlessly invaded Christian Europe in the 9th and 10th centuries had been converted and assimilated. The only enemy that remained was the Muslims.
Islam became a convenient “other” to mobilize support for the territorial ambitions of different rulers. In Spain, Christian rulers in the north began a war to retake the Iberian Peninsula from the “Muslim enemy” in what came to be known as the Reconquista (reconquest). In the East, the Christian Byzantine Empire (or Eastern Rome) suffered a series of defeats at the hands of the Muslim Seljuq Turks. The emperor wrote to Pope Urban II to seek Europe’s help against the Turks. His call was heeded. On November 27, 1095, Urban launched a holy war (known as the Crusades) and called upon all Christians in Europe to unite and fight against the “enemies of God.” This charge wasn’t simply about religion. For the Pope, the call to the defense of the faith and Jerusalem provided an ideal opportunity to cement the papal authority’s role in legitimating temporal rulers, and to reunite the Eastern (Greek) and Western (Latin) churches. Religion became the screen behind which social and economic conflicts were played out.
European rulers took up the clarion call of the Holy War for multiple reasons. Christian rulers, knights, and merchants were driven by the political, military, and economic advantages that would result from the establishment of a kingdom in the Middle East. Moreover, Europe consisted of a number of rival feudal regimes that constantly fought each other. The Crusades served as a means to reduce this intra-European conflict and to deflect attention onto an external enemy. Using religion to solidify identity and loyalty, the papacy sought to create a united Christian Europe over which it could hold spiritual authority. Those who responded to Urban’s declaration and joined the Crusader armies, however, were motivated by everything - from religious zeal to the rewards of plunder. A great feudal army entered Syria in 1097, captured Antioch in 1098, and then entered Jerusalem. In 1099, after a 40-day siege, the Crusaders took Jerusalem. The scale of the massacre traumatized the entire region.
The killing lasted two whole days at the end of which most of the Muslim population - men, women and children - had been killed. The Jews had fought side by side with the Muslims to defend the city but the entry of the Crusaders created a sense of panic. In remembrance of past ritual, the elders instructed the entire Jewish population to gather in the synagogue and in its surrounds to offer a collective prayer. The Crusaders surrounded the perimeter of the synagogue, set fire to the building and made sure that every single Jew was burnt to death. To maintain their dominance, the Crusaders needed to consolidate their military capabilities. This was accomplished through intensified accumulation. The result was: a) extreme exploitation of the Arab peasantry; and b) routine plundering of trade-caravans. Crusaders’ successes were primarily a result of internecine warfare within the Arab world. Sectarian schisms, notably a 30-year war between the Sunni and Shia factions, had weakened the Islamic camp.
Key rulers, politicians and military leaders on both sides had died in the years immediately preceding the First Crusade. “This year,” the historian Ibn Taghribirdi wrote in 1094, “is called the year of the death of caliphs and commanders.” The deaths sparked off wars of succession in both Sunni and Shia sects, further debilitating the Arab world. These sectarian divisions were exacerbated by the political disunity of the Islamic world. At first, the vast area the Arabs had conquered remained a single geopolitical entity under the Umayyad caliphs of Damascus. But the geography of the new Arab world contained several natural economic units in which separate ruling classes with interests of their own quickly developed. Distance limited the effectiveness of Umayyad rule. Nor was this the only problem. The Umayyads represented the Arab warrior aristocracy who had carried out the initial Islamic conquests and had settled in the ancient cities of Syria.
Their rule was increasingly resented by other sections of the population. The result was a revolution led by Abbasids - the cosmopolitan Persian faction within Islam. Rebels from Iran led by a descendant of the Prophet raised an army, overthrew the Umayyad caliphate, established a new dynasty, and laid down a wider and more secure base for continued Arab rule. However, the victory of the Abbasids disrupted the political cohesion of the Islamic world. During the 9th and 10th centuries, three centers of power emerged: the Abbasid caliph in Baghdad, the Fatimid caliph in Cairo (belonging to the Shia tradition, which claimed descent from the fourth caliph, Ali, and his wife Fatima, the daughter of the Prophet) and the Umayyad caliph in Cordoba, established by the last remaining prince of the Umayyads, Abdel Rahman, who managed to escape to al-Andalus. Conflicts between and within these entities overstrained state power, drained national treasuries, and further weakened the rulers. During the 11th century the Abbasid caliphate effectively collapsed. The caliph’s Seljuk Turkish mercenaries seized power for themselves.
Islamic Resistance: Resurgence and Decline
As the Crusaders incurred the anger of large swathes of Muslim population, the Islamic states began regrouping. Northern Syria and Northern Iraq were united in 1128. Edessa was recaptured and added to the growing Islamic state in 1144. The Second Crusade of 1146-1148, organized in response to the Islamic resurgence, was an utter failure. Damascus and Southern Syria were added to the new state, and the Crusader Principality of Antioch shrank to a small coastal enclave. In 1183, Egypt was merged with the new Syrian super-state. The fusion of Egypt and Syria under the leadership of Saladin, a Kurdish warrior, greatly invigorated Muslim resistance. Saladin answered the Crusade with a call for popular jihad. On July 4, 1187, at the Battle of Hattin, Saladin, at the head of 30,000 men, destroyed the entire army of the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem. The recapture of the holy city followed soon after. There was nothing to compare with the wholesale massacres at Antioch and Jerusalem during the First Crusade.
Of the prisoners taken at Hattin, only one was executed (by Saladin himself), along with the Templar and Hospitaller knights, barbaric warriors who had waged a war of bigotry and genocide. Despite further expeditions, the Crusaders never recovered. Though it took a century to complete the process, their castles were reduced one by one, their territory gradually stripped away. Saladin’s victories had temporarily halted the Crusades, but the internal structures of the caliphate were permanently damaged, and new invaders were on the way. A Mongol army from Central Asia led by Hulagu Khan laid siege to Baghdad in 1258, calling on the caliph to surrender and promising that if he did so, the city would be spared. The caliph refused. The Mongol armies carried out their threat, laid waste to the city and executed the last Abbasid caliph. An entire culture perished as libraries were put to the torch.
The inglorious exist of the caliphate segued into the destruction of the Iberian Peninsula. The Christian kingdoms in the north of Spain had already been engaged in a tug-of-war with the southern Moorish states; the religious frenzy of the First Crusade turned this belligerent peace into a full-blown Crusade. In 1085, the city of Toledo in central Spain was taken by the Catholic kings, and by 1250 the Moorish empire was reduced to the emirate of Granada on the coastal strip in the south of Spain. In 1492, Ferdinand and Isabella, the Catholic monarchs of Spain, took control of Granada, thus completing the ethnic cleansing of Muslims and Jews from the Iberian Peninsula. It is important to note that during the period of Muslim rule over the Iberian Peninsula, Christians and Jews were tolerated as “people of the book” and were allowed to practice their religion if they paid a fee.
In the 14th and 15th centuries, as Europe began to come out of the Middle Ages and into the modern era, its relationship with Islam changed. There was a slow abatement in the discursive construction of Islam as an acute threat to the existence of the West. This shift was the result of a number of processes. First, the incomplete project of a united Christian Europe started to break down around this time due to the rise of nationalism. The emergence of proto-nationalist currents internally fragmented Europe and prevented any attempts aimed at forging a common front against Islam. Second, the renaissance of European culture further weakened the authority of the Church. The key source of anti-Muslim religious hatred, the Church, was no longer able to drum up holy wars; the Crusades came to an end. Third, the Mongols had now entered the picture and posed a threat to Europe. This recognition of lands beyond Europe, and of threats beyond the Muslims, put an end to the Manichean division of the world into Christianity and Islam.
The Crusader mentality continued in the 21st as century US Presidents used interventionist tactics in pursuit of the American empire’s economic interests. While Bush considered himself a noble Crusader, Osama bin Laden compared himself to Saladin. As Karl Marx noted, “all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice…the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.” The dualistic schema of Crusader-Saladin - and the Islamophobia it promotes - will not end soon. America’s morbid fixation with a perpetual 11th-century battle of “us” against “them” is a hideous way of motivating soldiers, ennobling the otherwise bloodthirsty and fattening the pockets of the rich. To put it in other words, the binarizing discourses of the contemporary world are materially engraved in imperial structures; we are witnessing a clash of civilizations not on the ground but only in the violent jihadist visions of warriors in the East and neo-colonial West. As long as the US believes that it has the absolute right to destroy and imperialistically intervene in the affairs of any country, this cycle of hatred and prejudice will go on in an excruciating and endless manner.
Yanis Iqbal is an independent researcher and freelance writer based in Aligarh, India and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. His articles have been published in the USA, UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India and several countries of Latin America.
This article was republished from Dissident Voice.
In today’s historic UN General Assembly vote, 184 supported ending the US blockade of Cuba and only the United States and Israel voted against
Cuba won another diplomatic victory in the General Assembly of the United Nations this Wednesday against the government of the United States. The majority of countries (184) voted in favor of the resolution which calls for the lifting of the blockade against Cuba. The resolution has been brought to the UN every year since 1992, except in 2020 when the government of Havana was unable to present it due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This victory is a reminder of the Cuban people’s long wait for an act of justice that can rectify the worrying situation, which is a mix of the abuse of authority, the disproportionate use of violence, and the very specific intention to “destroy, totally or in part, a national, ethnic or racial group, in its totality,” the UN’s definition of genocide in its 1948 Convention.
Only very few cases of mass killings have been considered genocides unequivocally by the international community. However, there is no other name for this horror which has lasted for more than 60 years and has forced several generations of Cubans to go about their daily lives under a heavy fog. This powerful elite carries out inhuman monstrosities against millions of people for the mere crime of existing. Is it not genocide to deny people, in the middle of a pandemic, medicine and food, access to internet services to the majority of people, to finance and trade between equals? If so, we must then, like Raphael Lemkin, invent a word for this nameless crime.
It is difficult to account for how many in Cuba have died because they did not have the medicine they needed or because it did not arrive on time. The report presented by the Cuba’s Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez, on the damages of the blockade in 2020, has 60 pages without one adjective. The report is merely a list of what happened, excessive costs, items that did not arrive on time because they had some component from the US –from a plane to a respirator that was destined for an intensive care unit-, names of companies that have refused to supply the island with the technology, raw materials, reactive agents, diagnostic kits, medicine, devices, equipment and replacement parts needed by a public health system.
A friend told me that the images of George Floyd’s assassination had a strong impact in Cuba. Being suffocated on the ground by the police officer who refused to lift his knee off his neck, despite the cries of the victim saying that he couldn’t breathe. The video went viral across the world and was the catalyst for the largest anti-racist protest in the United States since the civil rights movement of the 1960s.
We understand the feeling of impotence of the people of the United States who feel rightly so that this is a systematic abuse of power. In the case of the 8 minutes and 46 seconds of George’s agony, it was key that the entire incident was recorded. The question that remains, after the conviction of the killer cop, is how many other people have been killed or have suffered in silence simply because there was no camera when the system didn’t let them breathe. We know that there is always a knee on someone’s neck, suffocating them. This is what happens with the blockade. This strange word that may seem to be abstract for many, but not for the person who finds themselves in the emergency room in Cuba, has a sick child or has spent six hours in line to buy food that before the 242 additional sanctions added by Donald Trump and before the damn pandemic, could be found with less difficulty.
Joe Biden’s representative at the UN reached new levels of cynicism when they said that the blockade is the responsibility of the Cuban government which uses it as a pretext to remain in power. This is like George Floyd’s killer saying his knee on somebody else’s neck was the victim’s excuse for suffocating.
As such, these are moments of joy in Cuba as we learn that once again that from the New York headquarters of the UN, the world said no to the US blockade. This coincided with more hopeful news: Cuban scientists were able to finalize the first two Latin American vaccines. One of them, Abdala, has a 92.28% rate of efficacy.
Rosa Miriam Elizalde is a Cuban journalist and founder of the site Cubadebate. She is vice president of both the Union of Cuban Journalists (UPEC) and the Latin American Federation of Journalists (FELAP). She has written and co-written several books including Jineteros en la Habana and Our Chavez. She has received the Juan Gualberto Gómez National Prize for Journalism on multiple occasions for her outstanding work. She is currently a weekly columnist for La Jornada of Mexico City.
This article was republished from People Dispatch.
The crewed spacecraft Shenzhou-12, atop a Long March-2F carrier rocket, is launched from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China’s Gobi Desert, June 17, 2021. Credit: Xinhua/Ju Zhenhua
China’s new Tiangong space station received its first three astronauts June 17, marking a major milestone in the country’s rapid scientific and technological development. Tang Hongbo, Nie Haisheng and Liu Boming, known as “taikonauts,” successfully docked their Shenzhou-12 spacecraft with the Tianhe-1 core module, which had been placed into orbit during a previous uncrewed launch. Together with a cargo ship, these three components form the first phase of the world’s newest space station.
Completing the station will require a total of 11 launches through 2022: four crewed missions, four cargo missions and three module launches. In addition to the Tianhe-1 core module, two laboratory modules will form the station’s habitable areas. Expandable in design, additional launches through 2030 will see the station potentially grow to 180 metric tons in mass and operate for 15 years. (CGTN, June 18)
By contrast, the International Space Station, launched in 1998, will be decommissioned in the coming years, likely making Tiangong humanity’s only permanent outpost in space. This is ironic, considering the U.S. had banned China from participating in the ISS. Russia has announced it will likely pull out of the ISS by 2025. The station shows signs of aging, with leaks becoming a periodic concern. (sciencemag.org, April 20)
Tiangong comes with cutting-edge features, such as an automated docking system that drastically reduces the time from launch to completed docking. China’s previous mission, Shenzhou-11 took 40 hours to dock with a prototype module in 2016. Shenzhou-12 took just six and a half hours. (Global Times, June 17) By contrast, SpaceX’s Dragon Capsule, which docked with the ISS in April, took 23 hours.
Tiangong has an innovative QR code system, so that everything on the station can be quickly located. It features two robotic arms on its exterior to help with construction and resupplying. Likened to a three-bedroom apartment, it has sleeping areas, a dining area and kitchen, a gym and a sanitation area. With onboard WiFi, a smartphone app controls such indoor environments as lighting and temperature. Each person onboard has a private line to talk with their families back on Earth. (Global Times, June 18)
Crews of three will rotate on missions lasting six months, and the station will be open to other countries. Seventeen countries have officially confirmed their participation, and astronauts from several countries are now learning Chinese. Astronauts from the European Space Agency have already trained on a mock Shenzhou spacecraft and could participate in future missions to Tiangong.
Russia may pursue its own space station, but is cooperating with China on other projects, including constructing a groundbreaking lunar base which could host its first cosmonauts and taikonauts by 2030.
China rises despite U.S. hostility
The U.S. government, however, will not participate in any Chinese space project. The head of the U.S. Space Command ridiculously charged in a May congressional hearing that the station’s large robotic arms could potentially “grapple” a satellite, making it a “threat” to the U.S. military. Despite the fact that the U.S. has been using robotic arms since the 1990s, the U.S. media and government hyped up this “threat” and turned it into yet another justification for conflict with China.
Such scare tactics show up repeatedly in U.S. foreign policy, as when former Secretary of State Colin Powell in 2003 held up a mock vial of anthrax at the United Nations to scare nations into backing the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Now the specter of a “giant Chinese robotic space arm” has provided Space Command, hastily created by President Donald Trump, with more reason to exist.
Despite the hostile actions of the U.S. to undermine China’s overall development, it has nevertheless achieved a remarkable ascent. In fact decisions like excluding China from the ISS only motivated it to independently develop its own, newer station. The foundations for China’s success were laid with the 1949 Chinese Revolution, which created the conditions for its technological development.
China first produced airplanes and cars in the 1950s. It launched its first satellite in 1970. Many capitalist countries even today do not produce cars, airplanes or satellites, which require a high level of technical development and industrial capacity. These were tremendous achievements for a country that had so recently been devastated by wars and imperialism.
China’s space program continues to progress since its first satellite launch more than 50 years ago. The Chang’e-4 mission in 2019 made China the first to land a rover on the far side of the moon. The Chang’e-5 returned lunar soil samples to Earth. In May this year, its ambitious Tianwen-1 mission to Mars succeeded in placing an orbiter around the planet, plus a lander and rover on its surface.
China is the only country to accomplish all three on a first mission. China is planning robotic missions to capture and return samples from asteroids and crewed missions to the moon and Mars.
Perhaps the most profound part of Tiangong is not the technology, but the fact that all three members of the first crew come from rural farming families. Just a few generations ago before the Chinese Revolution, this would be inconceivable — not only from a scientific perspective but also from a social one. Peasants, the vast majority of the population then, were harshly oppressed by semifeudal landlords. The Chinese nation was under foreign imperialist domination.
Tiangong means “heavenly palace.” Now, 100 years since the founding of the Communist Party of China, the children of farmers have entered the heavenly palace. The first human in space, Yuri Gagarin of the Soviet Union, was the son of a bricklayer and a milkmaid. The first woman in space, Valentina Tereshkova, also of the USSR, had been a textile factory worker.
Workers, whether on Earth or in space, make everything run.
Joshua Hanks is a writer, activist and organizer based in Portland, Oregon. Originally from southeast Texas, he attended the Gerald D. Hines College of Architecture at the University of Houston and moved to the Pacific Northwest in 2013. He began writing for Workers World newspaper in 2018 and has reported on anti-racist, anti-imperialist, and anti-capitalist movements and protests in Portland and Seattle, environmental issues around the Pacific Northwest, and current events in east Asia, particularly China and its many scientific and technological developments. Joshua lives with his husband and their dog and believes that through a united, organized, and multinational working class movement we can build a better future for all humanity, a socialist future
This article was republished from Workers World.
Member, Communication Workers Local 14156
What are the differences between unions in capitalist countries and socialist countries? What is labor’s role in a socialist country? I first became a supporter of socialist Cuba as a labor activist in the San Francisco Bay Area, and I learned about Cuba’s unions in the course of two trips to Cuba, 27 years apart.
In 1992, I joined a group of 22 members of over a dozen U.S. unions for the U.S.-Cuba Labor Exchange’s second trip. As guests of the Confederation of Cuban Workers (CTC), we visited all manner of workplaces — factories, ports, agricultural projects, hospitals, clinics and schools. We met with many Cuban union members and leaders. And we had most evenings free to explore Havana!
Our visit was during the Special Period, when Cuba lost 85% of its trade as a consequence of the fall of the Soviet Union and Eastern European socialist countries. Cuba had to make do with less than half its usual oil supply.
Many shortages resulted as the U.S. intensified its economic war on Cuba’s ability to sell its nickel ore, sugar cane and other agricultural products. Cubans made up shortages of some foodstuffs with what was available, in order to ensure adequate nutrition. In 1992, Cuba was selling its entire lobster catch to buy milk for first-grade children.
CTC Secretariat member Joaquin Bernal Camero told us: “You will never find a Cuban union leader asking for privatization of enterprise. We’re not going to give back the land to the former landowners or corporations. Our unions are independent, but also independent of the capitalists. We don’t take a coin from the government, and all the dues collected go back into the union work.”
Membership is voluntary, yet we found out that 97% of Cuban workers belonged to unions, which are entirely self-financed from dues. Cuban unionists enact their own laws and constitutions. The rank and file directly nominate and elect their own leaderships in a regular series of elections far outnumbering those of other countries.
We learned Cuba had free health care and free or affordable daycare, and rents were limited to 10% of income. Women had three months paid leave before giving birth, six months paid leave afterward and the right to return to their jobs. (Parental leave was later extended to fathers.)
The CTC reviews all new laws before they are enacted, and labor law has workers’ rights at its center. In a joint-venture hotel with Spain, the workers voted out three managers in a row before they got one who complied with Cuban labor law.
But in 1992 what most impressed me — coming from white-supremacist U.S. during the Rodney King Rebellion — was the deep respect the working people displayed toward each other and the kindnesses we visiting unionists experienced.
Our final workplace visit was to the H. Uppmann tobacco factory. The workers told us they worked six months, then took a month’s vacation. Windows were wide open while they worked with their hands, some singing, others smoking — I could be happy working there!
May Day, Havana, 1992
WW Photo: Stephanie Hedgecoke
Going back to Cuba
In the Special Period, Cuba increased resources and built up its biopharmaceutical and tourism industries. But in 2019 former President Donald Trump invoked Title III of the Helms Burton Act, further increasing the illegal blockade’s economic strangulation, threatening the working people.
I returned in summer 2019 with the 50th Venceremos Brigade, which travels in solidarity with the Revolution to contribute materially to it. The day after we arrived, we toured Las Terrazas in the Sierra del Rosario region, where in 1968 local villagers created a reforestation plan with support from the revolutionary government.
Within eight years, the rural people in the valley had planted 6 million trees in an area totally denuded during Spanish colonization. Over 80% of the food eaten in the biosphere is locally grown, all organic. Some 7 million indigenous trees have now been planted; biodiversity of flora and fauna has recovered. In 1985, the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization recognized the first Biosphere Reserve in Cuba.
Our guide Ida explained the impacts of global warming. Some varieties of plants have disappeared from the forest due to the heat; others are in season earlier and longer, like mangoes. The past average year-round temperature in Cuba was 75 to 77°F; in 2019 they had a new high of 103.64°F.
The next day, the Brigade sent me to work in a lime orchard to clear invasive vines choking the trees. Afterward, the local workers regaled us with a fiery recounting of historic Cuban freedom fighters on horseback, machetes in both hands, terrifying the Spanish overlords!
Later that week, several Brigadistas gathered in the camp library to hear Ismael Drullet Pérez, General Secretary of the National Union of Education, Science and Sports Workers, the largest Cuban union. Pérez said the CTC’s main mission is to represent the needs of the workers and their families before the state and society.
Ismael Drullet Pérez, General Secretary of the National Union of Education, Science and Sports Workers, Cuba’s largest union
Workers are active in the CTC at municipal, provincial and national levels. In a national survey, Cuban workers wanted the work of the CTC strengthened.
Although there was no single opinion, it was clear “all workers understood the continued need for their trade unions in the process of construction of our socialism.” Pérez emphasized, “the enemies of the Revolution lie that the CTC is under the government. But we were a union 20 years before the Revolution. The unions were strengthened with the coming of the Revolution.”
Cuban union members meet every two months to ask questions, to get answers — in each of the 19 sectoral unions, at every level. All managers are required to account for the budget, given from the government, to a general assembly of the workers. Union membership remains voluntary, with membership held by 95% of workers in the state sector and 65% of the workers in the private sector. And as we were visiting, the entire state sector had just received significant salary increases after economic studies by the CTC.
The increased blockade by the U.S. has shut down Cuba’s ability to obtain machinery parts from overseas. Pérez said, “Our factories are old; our machinery needs parts and frequently breaks down. We keep them running through the creativity of the workers solving the problems. But we won’t accept the loss of our independence, our social justice and equity. We are not paradise, and we are not hell.”
Brigadistas asked about the private sector and what role unions have with prisoners. As blockade-imposed hardships resulted in some turning to crime, Pérez said the CTC represents those who were arrested for petty crimes of corruption; “insertados” have representation to help them transition to get work.
The CTC still has final say over new laws; workers in joint ventures can still vote out hostile managers. Pérez noted, “The Labor Code of Cuba regulates all joint ventures and private employers. Problems that come from the past we reshape and eliminate. We accept the workers as they are.”
The CTC sometimes intervenes with small employers in the private sector; for example, in one case the union had to enforce labor law against gender discrimination in restaurant work. Pérez emphasized: “We are working on this issue on an inherited legacy of slavery and colonialism — hundreds of years of colonialism vs. 60 years of revolution.”
During the COVID pandemic, tourism has taken an enormous hit. Yet Cuban science workers created their own vaccines. In 1992 Bernal Camero had said that during the Revolution, “Cuban workers occupied the factories.” Cuba’s unions continue to remain key to building socialism in that Caribbean island nation.
This article was republished from Workers World.
“So, Fred, are you ready to begin our discussion of the Logicians of ancient China?”
“Yes, I am. First thing we should note is what Chan says about this school [Source Book in Chinese Philosophy]. He points out that ‘logic’ as a special subject was never in vogue in China. No Chinese Aristotle ever developed logic as a separate science. The school we call the ‘Logicians’ (primarily the two thinkers Hui Shih and Gongsun Longzi) was the only one devoted to what we might call ‘logic’ per se and ‘it constituted one of the smallest schools and exercised no influence whatsoever’ on the later development of philosophy in China.”
“Let me add a few words from Fung Yu-lan [Short History of Chinese Philosophy], Fred. He says the school was founded by the ancient Chinese ‘lawyers.’ Like all lawyers, winning one’s case was more important to them than some abstract ‘truth.’ While the two thinkers you just mentioned were the most famous, there were many lesser lights associated with this movement. They seem to have formed a group analogous to the Sophists in Ancient Greece. What is interesting is that Fung describes the contemporary opinion about one of these (Deng Xi) with almost the same words used in the indictment of Socrates as recorded in Plato’s ‘Apology’. That is, Deng Xi ‘succeeded in changing right into wrong and wrong into right, until no standards of right and wrong remained, so that what was regarded as possible and impossible fluctuated from day to day.’ And Plato wrote that Anytus charged Socrates by saying ‘he makes the worse into the stronger argument, and he teaches these same things to others’ ( ‘Apology’ 19b).”
“Chan tells us also that Hui Shih (c. 380-305 B.C.) used to hang out with Zhuangzi. Hui was a relativist holding just the opposite position of his fellow ‘sophist’ Gongsun Longzi who was an ‘absolutist.’ This shows there was no unanimity in this school. The Chinese call it ‘The School of Names’ as the members seem to be squabbling over what names to apply to things. Not much of Hui’s works have survived, just some quotes in other people’s works, especially Zhuangzi’s. As a result of this we can’t make any sense of his writings since what has come down to us are a lot of paradoxes but none of Hui’s reasons or explanations of them. These writings are so corrupted that it is almost impossible to figure out what they meant.”
“Fung makes the same point.”
“Here is what Zhuangzi said: ‘Hui Shih had many tricks. His books filled five carts. His doctrines are contradictory and his sayings miss the truth.’”
“Before going any further Fred, I want to point out what Fung says is the root of the problem that these thinkers were dealing with. This is the distinction between two Chinese words meaning ‘name’ (ming) and ‘actuality (shih). If we remember that Confucius was interested in the ‘Rectification of Names’, we can see that philosophy must deal with the proper relation between language and reality so that we will not misunderstand the nature of the world by being misled by the use of language to incorrectly describe reality.”
“Well, Karl, here are some of the statements of Hui Shih that have survived. The first one, there are thirty one preserved in the ‘Zhuangzi’, has a Taoist flavor: ‘The greatest has nothing beyond itself: it is called the great unit. The smallest has nothing within itself; it is called the small unit.’ I will now quote a few more of these propositions from Chan. I have selected those that I think we can make some sense out of in discussion.”
“Lets hear them.”
“Here goes: ‘5.) A great similarity is different from a small similarity; this is called the lesser similarity-and-difference. All things are similar to one another and different from one another; this is called the great similarity-and-difference. 6.) The South has no limit and yet has a limit. 10.) Love all things extensively. Heaven and earth form one body. 21.) Take a stick one foot long and cut it in half every day and you will never exhaust it even after ten thousand generations.’ That's it Karl.”
“That's it? Only four out of the thirty one?”
“If you don’t believe me I’ll give a few examples of the remaining quotes. They are more or less just like these. But first note that the quotes are in two groups of 1-10 and 1-21.All the above quotes except the last come from the first group. The ones I’m giving now come from the second. ‘1.) The egg has hair; 5.) The horse has eggs; 10.) The eye does not see; 15) The shadow of a flying bird never moves; 20.) An orphan colt has never had a mother.’”
“In other words, most of what remains doesn’t make any sense.”
“That's right Karl, and Chan leaves it at that basically. He then moves on to ‘The Gongsun Longzi’.”
“Before we go there, perhaps Fung Yu-lan can throw a little light on Hui Shih. In his ‘Short History’ he maintains that what Hui is trying to do is articulate a theory of relativism. He is, I might add, like Heraclitus ‘the obscure’ whose fragments are also often unintelligible--because they are fragments. Anyway, Fung gives some interpretations, of which I will quote a few, to back up his view. He also leaves many of the positions unremarked, however. Here is what he says about #5 in the first group. If we take people, for instance, (we could take anything) they are similar--being part of the ‘universal’ concept ‘human being’ but also different in each being an ‘individual.’ “Thus since we can say that all things are similar to each other, and yet can also say that all things are different from each other, this shows that their similarity and difference are both relative. This argument of the School of Names was a famous one in ancient China, and was known as the “argument for the unity of similarity and difference”[Fung:1948:86].’”
“Wait, there is more. Look at #6 above, about the limit of the South. Fung points out that the ancient Chinese didn’t know much about the South. They thought it just ‘went on’. Hui Shih probably knew better. At any rate it’s a good example of Fung’s relativity interpretation as , ‘Most probably, however, it means to say that the limited and the unlimited are both only relatively so.’ Also #10 in the first group, about loving all things equally. ‘Hui Shih argues that all things are relative and in a state of flux. There is no absolute difference, or absolute separation among them. Everything is constantly changing into something else. It is a logical conclusion, therefore, that all things are one, and hence that we should love all things equally without discrimination [Ibid., p.87].’ Of course the trouble with this is that everything is also not one (to be a consistent flux- relativist) so we should love everything both equally and with discrimination! To op for just one of the alternatives is to make an absolutist commitment. There, Fred, I have just set you up for Gongsun Long!”
“‘The Gongsun Longzi’ is very brief, only six confusing chapters. I’m going to go over what I got out of it and you can use Fung to explicate what's really going on.”
“I’ll give it a shot.”
“The book is in a question and answer dialogue form just like our discussion. ‘A’ asks questions and ‘B’ gives the answers of Gongsun Long. By the way, he lived around 380 to 305 B.C. just like Hui. His most famous pronouncement is ‘A white horse is not a horse.’ All the quotes are from Chan’s translation. This is from 1) ‘On the White Horse.’ And the reason he says this is,”Because “horse” denotes the form and “white denotes the color. What denotes the color does not denote the form. Therefore we say a white horse is not a horse.’ But since all horses have color ‘A’ asks if there are no horses in the world. He gets this response, ‘Horses of course have color. Therefore there are white horses. If horses had no color, there would simply be horses. Where do white horses come in? Therefore whiteness is different from horse. A white horse means a horse combined with whiteness. [Thus in one case it is] horse and [in the other it is] a white horse. Therefore we say that a white horse is not a horse.’ “
“its beginning to make sense, sort of.”
“It gets better. ‘A’ now says, ‘[Since you say that] before the horse is combined with whiteness, it is simply a horse, before whiteness is combined with horse it is simply, and when the horse and whiteness are combined they are collectively called a white horse, you are calling a combination by what is not a combination. This is incorrect. Therefore it is incorrect to say that a white horse is not a horse.’ Chan says this sentence is unclear.”
“His translation makes sense, but not the logic. It seems as if it means whiteness is not a combination, nor is horse, so you can’t make a combination from two non-combinations but this is just going against the way the word ‘combination’ is used in language.”
“A also makes this critique, “[When we say that] a white horse cannot be said to be not a horse, we are separating the whiteness from the horse. If [the whiteness] is not separated from the horse, then there would be a white horse and we would not say there is [just] a horse. Therefore when we say that there is a horse, we do so simply because it is a horse and not because it is a white horse.’ And the reply by ‘B’ is, ‘The term “horse” does not involve any choice of color and therefore either a yellow horse or a black one may answer. But the term “white horse” does involve a choice of color. Both the yellow horse and the black one are excluded because of their color. Only a white horse may answer. What does not exclude [color] is not the same as what excludes [color]. Therefore we say that a white horse is not a horse.’”
“He is making a distinction between universals. The universal ‘horse’ is different from the universal ‘white horse.’ That is clear. Horse is one universal [general idea] and white horse is a combination of two universals, ‘white’ and ‘horse.’ I get this from Fung’s comments on the Platonic universal which he says is what Gongsun Long has in mind.
This was in his discussion of Chan’s ‘2. On Marks (chih) and Things.’”
“I didn’t go over it because Chan says the text is so corrupt no one can figure out what it actually means.”
“What do you want to go over?”
“This from ‘3. On the Explanation of Change.’ You tell me, what is anyone to make of the following pronouncements? ‘A horse has a mane but both a ram and an ox have none. Therefore I say that a ram and an ox together are not a horse. By that I mean there is no horse [in this case]. As there is no horse, neither a ram nor an ox is two, but a ram and an ox are two. Consequently it is correct to say that a ram and an ox together are not a horse.’ And this is also noteworthy. ‘When we speak of an ox or a ram’s leg [as such], it is one. But when we count their [particular] legs, they are four. Four and one put together make five. Thus a ram or an ox have five legs while a fowl has three. Therefore I say that an ox or a ram together are not a fowl. There is no other reason that [an ox or a ram] are not a fowl.’ And if this is not enough, there is this gem from a discussion about colors. Here he is explaining why white and green don’t mix to become yellow. They have different positions. Here is green, here is white. So they can’t mix because left and right cannot be mixed, ‘Therefore it is impossible to unite [white] with green, nor is it possible to unite [green] with white. Then where does yellow come in? Yellow is a standard color, and can be given as a correct case. This is like the relation between the ruler (corresponding to white) and the minister (corresponding to green) in the state (corresponding to yellow). Hence there are health and long life.’ So what do you make of all this?”
“You know Fred, these paradoxes have often been compared to those of Zeno in Ancient Greece. You know, the arrow can never hit the target because it first has to go half way, but first it must go one quarter way, but first one eighth, etc., ad infinitum so it never gets to go anywhere.”
“So the moving arrow doesn’t move, as Gongsun Long might say.”
“Exactly. These people were just beginning to fool around with logic and the literal meaning of words and the relations of concepts to things. As you noted, formal logical studies never got off the ground in China. If these statements seem nonsensical it is because they are, but not simply due to their being nonsense. These are aborted attempts to come to grips with the relation between language and reality. As Bertrand Russell said in another context ( a critique of Plato’s theory of Ideas): ‘Such troubles are among the infantile diseases of philosophy ‘(Russell:1945, p. 129 of ‘History of Western Philosophy’).”
“The next section, number 4 in Chan, is called ‘On Hardness and Whiteness.’ Using the logicians, now familiar way of speaking, Gongsun Long is asked if hardness, whiteness and stone make three. The answer is they don’t. Stone and whiteness make two as do stone and hardness. Why? Because different senses are involved. Hardness doesn’t exist for seeing nor whiteness for touch. He says, ‘Whether one perceives the whiteness [of the stone] or perceives the hardness [of the stone] depends on whether one sees or not. Seeing and not seeing are separate from each other. Neither one perceives the other, and therefore they are separate. To be separate means to be hidden.’ I guess that means ‘hidden’ from the other senses. We should also note that he says hardness and whiteness are common to many things, not just the stone. He adds, ‘As it does not have to be combined with things to be hardness, it is hardness by necessity of its being hardness.’”
“This looks like a universal to me, Fred.”
“He becomes more obscure. ‘If whiteness is necessarily white, it is then white not because it is the whiteness of a thing. It is the same with yellow and black. However the stone is no longer there. How can we speak of a hard stone or a white stone? Therefore they are separate.’”
“Fung has some interesting comments on all this.”
“OK, but save them. Chan has comments on Fung’s comments, but there is one last interesting section, and this one I can even understand (sort of).”
“Well then, by all means, let’s hear it.”
“It’s Chan’s number 5, ‘On Names and Actually.’ Gongsun Long says, ‘Heaven, earth, and their products are all things. When things possess the characteristics of things without exceeding them, there is actuality. When actuality actually fulfills its function as actuality, without wanting, there is order. To be out of order is to fall into disorder.To remain in order is to be correct. What is correct is used to rectify what is incorrect. [What is incorrect is not used to] doubt what is correct. To rectify is to rectify actuality, and to rectify actually is to rectify the name corresponding to it.’ He goes on about the ‘this’ and the ‘that’, like the Hegel example you used in the beginning of our discussion on Zhuangzi, but we don’t really have to go there.”
“I like this passage Fred. It is the good old ‘Rectification of Names’ program we have seen so many times before. If we use words correctly we should not have too many philosophical or practical problems that we don’t understand. This program for the rectification of names is similar to Wittgenstein’s idea that the purpose of philosophy was to show ‘the fly the way out of the fly bottle.’ Which is to say, that we can’t get out of philosophical predicaments until we start using the proper meanings for words and concepts.”
“You said Fung had some comments you wanted to present.”
“Just for the record. Then you can give Chan’s comments on Fung.”
“This is from the section ‘Significance of the Theories of Hui Shih and Gongsun Long’ from his chapter on the School of Names in the ‘Short History’. Fung says, ‘In Chinese philosophy a distinction is made between “being that lies within shapes and features,” and “being that lies beyond shapes and features.” “Being that lies within shapes and features” is the actual. the shih. For instance, the big and the small, the square and the round, the long and the short, the white and the black, are each one class of shapes and features. Anything that is the object or possible object of experience has shape and feature, and lies within the actual world. Conversely, any object in the actual world that has shape and feature is the object or possible object of experience.’ In the above quotes from Gongsun Long, he was discussing what lies beyond shapes and features, because, says Fung, ‘the universals he discussed can... not be objects of experience. One can see a white something, but one cannot see the universal whiteness as such.’”
“Chan objects to Fung’s use of the term ‘universal’ in Gongsun Long’s philosophy. Chan maintains the word at issue (chih) which he renders as ‘marks” as in ‘Marks are what do not exist in the world, but things are what do exist in the world’ ( #2 ‘On Marks (chih) and Things’) is a better translation than ‘Universals are what do not exist in the world, but things [particulars] are what do exist in the world.’ Chan says, ‘The word chih has so many meanings that scholars have found it easy and even tempting to read their own philosophies into Gongsun Long.... But the text is simply too corrupt to enable anyone to be absolutely sure [of the meaning of chih].’ Chan thinks Fung is guilty of falling into this temptation. He says Fung ‘is reading the ‘Gongsun Longzi’ in the framework of the Neo-realists to whom particulars exist while universals subsist.’ But again it all hinges on the uncertain meaning of chih.”
“That's very interesting. Here is a bit of info from Reese [Dictionary of Philosophy and Religion] with respect to ‘existence’ and ‘subsistence.’ ‘In chapter nine of Problems of Philosophy [Bertrand] Russell discussed [these] two categories. We say of objects that they exist, he suggested, and of universals that they subsist, i.e., have a timeless being (Reese, 1980:555).’ But I don’t want to get into Neo-realism. We will eventually get to Fung’s philosophy itself. Here, I only want to say that Fung’s interpretation is one possible interpretation and it has only its usefulness in interpreting the history of Chinese philosophical development in its favor. The School of Names, however, is not an end but a beginning to these problems. I am going to give Fung the last word in this discussion. “Hui Shih spoke of “loving all things equally,” and Gongsun Long also “wished to extend his argument in order to correct the relations between names and actualities, so as thus to transform the whole world.” Both men thus apparently considered their philosophy as comprising the “Dao of sageliness within and kingliness without.” But it was left to the Daoists fully to apply the discovery made by the School of Names of what lies beyond shapes and features. The Daoists were the opponents of this school, but they were also its true inheritors.’”
“So it's Daoism rather than either Moism or Confucianism that the School of Names people had the most influence on.”
“It would seem to be so, according to Fung. Yet Gongsun Long’s discussion on the rectification of names is, I think, fully in accord with the ideas of Confucius. But this doesn’t mean Fung’s assessment is off base. I think it shows that the School of Names was influenced by Confucius and tried to give a more technical account of what might be involved in name rectification.”
Now we should look at a famous Confucian book. We have discussed Confucius, Mencius and Xunzi but as Chinese civilization advanced from ancient times to the modern world and developed a “civil service system’’ to employ the most educated people in ruling the empire there were four books that everyone had to study because the examinations were based on them — they were The Analects, the Mengzi (Mencius), the Great Learning, and the Doctrine of the Mean (Xunzi, Mozi, the Daoists, and everyone else were left out!). So our next discussion will be on The Great Learning.
Thomas Riggins is a retired philosophy teacher (NYU, The New School of Social Research, among others) who received a PhD from the CUNY Graduate Center (1983). He has been active in the civil rights and peace movements since the 1960s when he was chairman of the Young People's Socialist League at Florida State University and also worked for CORE in voter registration in north Florida (Leon County). He has written for many online publications such as People's World and Political Affairs where he was an associate editor. He also served on the board of the Bertrand Russell Society and was president of the Corliss Lamont chapter in New York City of the American Humanist Association.
To read the Confucius Dialogue click here.
To read the Mencius Dialogue click here.
To read the Xunzi Dialogue click here.
To read the Mozi Dialogue click here.
To read the Laozi Dialogue click here.
To read the Zhuangzi Dialogue click here.
Book Review: Domenico Losurdo -Nietzsche, the Aristocratic Rebel: Intellectual Biography and Critical Balance-Sheet. Reviewed By: Rory JeffsRead Now
What is most remarkable about Nietzsche’s post-war ascendancy in the philosophico-cultural field is that it emerges out of a prior history of his philosophy’s use in legitimating the Nazi and fascist regimes of Europe in the 1930s. Unlike Heidegger, whose Nazism has certainly impacted his readership, Nietzsche’s reputation was able to attain an efficacious divorce from his Nazi appropriation. This was due in part to Walter Kaufman’s ‘rehabilitation’ of Nietzsche for Anglo-American readership after World War II, with his updated English translations and commentaries that cited Nietzsche’s correspondences that contained critical attitudes to anti-Semitism. It has now become nearly almost commonplace that Nietzsche is innocent not only of any association with Nazism, but that any view of him as conservative, reactionary or proto-fascist, because those interpretations were always based on a selectively biased or distorted reading of his work. This legacy is an effect of what Domenico Losurdo calls the ‘hermeneutics of innocence’ – not simply propagated by theorists and commentators, but also editors and translators of the complete works and Nachlass. Losurdo’s epic historiography of Nietzsche’s philosophy extensively exposes the ‘hermeneutics of innocence’ for failing to attend to the historical-social origins and wider context of Nietzsche’s thought. For this reason, Losurdo’s book is long overdue in the English scholarship where ‘innocent’ or trusting readings of Nietzsche have arguably prevailed and become ‘canonical’ (734), and where there is a need for a more ‘critical balance sheet’, especially amidst the rise of the far-right in recent decades that continue to feed on Nietzsche’s work.
What emerges from Losurdo’s reconstruction effort of ‘unifying’ Nietzsche’s thought in its various stages (e.g. ‘Young Nietzsche’, ‘Solitary Rebel’, ‘Enlightener’, ‘Mature Nietzsche’) is a core central argument that there exists from beginning to end in Nietzsche’s prolific output, a politics of ‘aristocratic radicalism’. That is, the seeds of a political ‘movement’ or ‘programme’ to counter ‘two millennia of history’ that has led to a crisis of civilisation in the West (862). The importance of this term ‘aristocratic radicalism’ – a term Nietzsche himself accepted as a legitimate description of his philosophy by friend Georg Brandes (355) – is that it helps Losurdo bridge Nietzsche’s wide-sweeping radical critique of metaphysics and modernity with a specific political project that animates or motivates it. Whereas the ‘aristocratic’ aspect of Nietzsche’s thinking has been noted before, it has often been so from an ‘apolitical’ or anarchistic context from Nietzsche’s assumed descriptive or amoralistic ‘genealogy’. In one sense, Losurdo recognises that Nietzsche is psychologically penetrating in his critique of bourgeois (liberal) society on the basis of a ‘tragic disposition’ and ‘crisis of culture’. And furthermore, that his critique of revolution – which Losurdo analyses in terms of Nietzsche ‘four stages’ – exposes a metaphysical faith in historical progress or objectivity. However, understood under the thread of aristocratic radicalism, Losurdo argues Nietzsche’s form of critique is a ‘metacritique’ that offers no progressive possibilities with modern civilisation. Whilst metacritique adopts and even mimics the ‘nonconformist flag’ of socialism, it does so for the sake of a ‘singular revolution’: the use of genealogical destruction of democratic-slave ideology underpinning modernity and revolution as a ‘precondition for aristocratic social engineering’ (355-56, 979). And it is on this point where Losurdo disturbs the assumed ‘postmodern’ narrative that Nietzsche’s genealogical method was the critique or deconstruction of power itself.
It is not until Part Three of the book that Losurdo elaborates in detail on how aristocratic radicalism equates to a praxis or political programme of ‘social engineering’. The first thing to note about Losurdo use of a ‘wide-context’ method for a reconstruction of Nietzsche’s thinking is that it subtly shows how Nietzsche formulated reactionary ideas without being under the influence of the German nationalism characterised by Bismarck’s term as Chancellor of the Second Reich (‘Germomania’, ‘national liberalism’) and its extension in anti-Semitism (Wagner-Förster-Dühring). For in comparison to these trends, Nietzsche self-consciously distances himself from historical influences, presenting himself as ‘European soul’ and ‘untimely’ or politically ineffectual figure watching events from above with the ‘pathos of distance’ (a la his protagonist Zarathustra). However, to glean from this distance that Nietzsche was a deeply ‘antipolitical’ philosopher because there was no timely political project fit for his vision, is for Losurdo simply perpetuating Nietzsche’s self-mythmaking. The nuances of Nietzsche’s political project for Losurdo can be identified by way of a closer study of how Nietzsche re-theorises a set of reactionary tropes in a radical modern mode rather than in terms of classic conservative counter-revolutionary mode of a ‘return’ to the past. The central tenets consistently crossing over Nietzsche’s stages that outline such a program concern the real meaning of the last stage of his planned but unfinished project of ‘the revaluation of all values’, which Losurdo reconfigures in terms of Nietzsche’s ‘alternative’ revolution (alluded to in The Gay Science) of aristocratic radicalism that becomes defined by the call for a ‘new slavery’, ‘new nobility’ and a ‘new party of life’ (352-57).
In terms of a new slavery, Losurdo compares Nietzsche’s thinking on the topic of slavery via the views of other groups, such as the Junker class in Germany, the American slave-owners and the Czarist monarchy in Russia. Core to all of them was their support of the institution of slavery and aristocratic values of otium et bellum (672-91) – which Losurdo underlines as a ‘watchword’ throughout Nietzsche’s writings. As Losurdo recounts, Nietzsche had formed in his early writings (e.g. ‘The Greek State ’), a view that ‘slavery was the essence of culture’ (678). This view becomes the basis for Nietzsche’s later use of otium et bellum, where war is represented as an aristocratic ‘virtue’ and leisure is characterised by activities exclusive to the aristocracy that also are the source of higher culture (art, music, literature). What the phrase consciously excludes, as Losurdo notes, is labour as the source of virtue or culture – yet paradoxically, Nietzsche acknowledges that otium et bellum will always depend upon the institution of exploited labour of slave-classes in freeing the higher classes from having to work themselves. Therefore, any recovery of aristocratic virtues in a new age of ‘free spirits’ would require a new slave-class rather than the further democratisation of societies. For Losurdo, these links help explain why the crisis of culture was intrinsically connected by Nietzsche to the expansion of otium to the workers that would reduce it to values of peace, pleasure and commodification (929-30).
The key for this project of recovery Losurdo claims is in finding a ‘new nobility’ or model of ‘rank-ordering’ for future societies. In his ‘mature’ period, Nietzsche himself reflected that the problem and aim of his philosophy had always been ‘rank-ordering’ (339, 966). Losurdo refers to Nietzsche’s sought-after model of social hierarchy as a form of ‘transversal racialisation’ (760-62, 780-85), where a social division is always marked between masters and servants and results from the expression of ‘noble’ (well-formed) and ‘base’ (malformed) natures or instincts that in turn determine the meaning of ‘race’. Losurdo distinguishes such a form of ‘rank-ordering’ from the fascist ‘horizontal racialisation’ of biological racism or white supremacy (783). This further explains the peculiarity of Nietzsche’s ‘anti-anti-Semitism’ that in effect even supports the idea of future society ruled by aristocrats and Jewish ‘Big Capital’ (543-45). However, how the noble natures or virtues are generated is an issue in the writings of the ‘mature’ Nietzsche as he refers to aristocratic societies (‘master moralities’) and caste orders of the past (‘Code of Manu’, cited at 793) – which all were ‘corrupted’ by Judaeo-Christianity. Here, Losurdo argues Nietzsche’s transversal racism adopts the caste distinction of ‘Aryans’ and ‘Chandalas’ because it can be applied within one nation or race and thus potentially undermine the modern egalitarian value-base of nation-states.
In seeking to establish a clearer outline of Nietzsche’s ‘political programme of aristocratic radicalism’ that would base it in the socio-political circumstances of his own times, Losurdo compares Nietzsche’s ideas within the horizon of eugenic discourse of the mid-to-late nineteenth century (582-600, 692-710). Here, the later or ‘mature Nietzsche’ (from the Gay Science  to 1889) is central to the comparative argument – given that his concepts of the will to power, eternal return and Ubermensch emerge in this period. Whilst there are some cited exceptions in the published texts of this period, ultimately, the posthumously published fragments of The Will to Power underline much of the source material used by Losurdo to discuss Nietzsche’s thoughts on a ‘new Party of Life’. This phrase affirmatively used by Nietzsche, as Losurdo cites, originates from the social Darwinist (and eugenicist) Frederic Galton (699). In Nietzsche’s hands, the ‘party’ will be of an intellectual vanguard of free Spirits and Übermenschen who will be unafraid to advocate (not necessarily employ) eugenic measures, for in Nietzsche’s own words, ‘the annihilation [vernichtung] of the millions of malformed’ (596-601). Despite the harshness of Nietzsche’s language in these kinds of passages, left-Nietzscheans such as Gianni Vattimo and Gilles Deleuze have attempted to allegorise or metaphorise these radical concepts on life and their relation to the will to power and the eternal return. Losurdo reveals the absurdity of such an approach that would discount any historical-social origins to the theory and ignore the brutality and danger with which Nietzsche seeks to shock his readers. Hence, the usual interpretation of Nietzsche as a ‘life-affirming’ philosopher is brought to bear on a darker political implication by Losurdo’s rendering here, knowing that where Nietzsche says life, he also states ‘the great majority of men have no right to existence’ (Nietzsche 1967: 464).
Bearing on these sections of the book that dare to go into the eugenic question, the issue of the Nazi ‘appropriation’ is also inevitably addressed by Losurdo. He argues that the rehabilitative work of Nietzsche’s postwar editors (namely, Kaufmann and Colli and Montinari) was successful largely due to their attribution to Nietzsche’s sister, Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche, as the key instigator in rendering a Nazi-friendly Nietzsche in her assemblage and ‘forgery’ of the posthumous editions of The Will to Power (1901-06). However, Losurdo argues such defences of Nietzsche discount several important historical details. Firstly, he claims the official account of Elisabeth’s role in creating Nietzsche’s anti-Semitism is an ‘unsustainable conspiracy theory’ (711-15). Nietzsche’s defenders on this front never address Elisabeth’s own distancing of Nietzsche from anti-Semitism in her biography of him (Förster-Nietzsche 1895-1904). Furthermore, there is never any discussion of the fact that Nietzsche was attracting a right-wing audience of his published works before The Will to Power was released (566, 720-22). Whilst this does not necessarily resolve the issue of Nietzsche’s influence on Nazism, it does reveal something arbitrary about the ‘hermeneutics of innocence’ when it comes to the distinctions it makes over the ideological precursors to the Third Reich.
With 1000+ pages critically re-examining the Nietzsche legacy, can Losurdo claim posthumously himself (having sadly passed in 2018) to have settled the ‘critical balance sheet’ on Nietzsche? Nothing of course written on Nietzsche has ever been settled, and Losurdo himself avows as much, following Gadamer’s own assessment (1001). Whilst Losurdo, of course, was never going to wait on deconstruction or hermeneutics to work out the questions of interpretation by way of their ‘speculative connections’, he makes a point that a gap steadily widens vis-à-vis Nietzsche between the defence of interpretation or theoretical licence and the historical research or record (726-27, 730-33). One of the risks of any unifying method, especially as politically applied, is what it leaves for future readers of Nietzsche. Throughout his account of Nietzsche’s intellectual history, Losurdo continues to remind us that to extract or ignore these unpalatable aspects of Nietzsche’s writings or his influence on the political right, would not actually ‘save’ Nietzsche, nor would it provide a more consistent method for understanding him. For Losurdo, a ‘theoretical surplus’ can only be recognised in Nietzsche’s work from seeing the whole of his philosophy as ‘totus politicus’ (827-28, 949). But it is this premise of unifying a thinker’s philosophy, via an ‘aristocratic’-political project, that would itself be contested by the hermeneuts of innocence. And as Losurdo notes, his contribution here exposes how deep a ‘conflict of the faculties’ exists, between history and philosophy departments who begin, at least in the case of Nietzsche, from different pages.
Rory Jeffs is a teaching fellow at University College, University of Tasmania.
This Book review was republished from Marx and Philosophy.
UMWA FB page.
BROOKWOOD, Ala. (PAI)—Some 1,100 Mine Workers and their allies are standing strong against corporate refusal to make them whole as the strike the Warrior Met coal mining firm in Alabama forced them to call passed the 10-week mark in mid-June.
“We’ll be here one day longer than y’all can stand!” the union tweeted on June 15, accompanying a video from the hashtags #warriormetcoalaintgotnosoul and #UnitedWeStand.
But the workers took their fight beyond the mine itself. On June 22, led by union President Cecil Roberts, they descended on the Manhattan offices of the hedge funds who finance and back Warrior Met—and who reap the profits.
The miners, labor, and community supporters will leaflet in front of Manhattan office buildings that house BlackRock Fund Advisors, Inc., State Street Global Advisors, and Renaissance Technologies. Stuart Applebaum, President of the Retail, Wholesale, Department Store Workers Union and Sara Nelson, Association of Flight Attendants president, are scheduled to picket, too, UMWA Legislative Director Phil Smith reported.
“These hedge funds are among several entities that invested in Warrior Met five years ago when the company emerged from bankruptcy,” Roberts said. “But they insisted on dramatic sacrifices from the workers to the tune of $1.1 billion. The company has enjoyed revenues amounting to another $3.4 billion since then, much of which flowed into these funds’ accounts. It’s time to share that wealth with the people who created it – the workers.”
Warrior Met, which emerged from the ruins of bankrupt Jim Walter Energy several years ago, is now profitable but forced the workers at its mines to walk. A lot of its profits came from the first, post-bankruptcy, contract it forced on workers, which included $6-per-hour pay cuts, to $22, among other givebacks.
At the time, company bosses promised the workers would be made whole once Warrior Met made money. Now it’s making money, and bosses don’t want to make the workers whole. That’s forced the UMWA members into the union’s first strike in Alabama in 40 years, after the old contract expired on April 1.
Company refusal to keep its word is important for workers anywhere, but especially in northern Alabama, which had a prior history of union solidarity and strength, an exception in the otherwise union-hating South.
While talks are ongoing, they’re not getting very far, so UMWA has reached out for both community support and labor solidarity.
Several unions, notably the United Food and Commercial Workers, sent checks to the strike fund run by the four UMWA locals which represent workers at Warrior Met‘s two mines, its central shop, and its processing plant.
The fund is not only paying miners forced to strike but bought health care coverage for them, too—an important point for coal miners exposed to the dangers of black lung disease.
And union leaders, including AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler and AFA-CWA President Sara Nelson—the two women widely assumed to be leading contenders to succeed Richard Trumka atop the labor federation when he steps down—have traveled to Brookwood, Ala., the firm’s center, to stand in solidarity, encourage the miners and march on picket lines.
“Instead of rewarding the sacrifices and work of the miners, Warrior Met is seeking even further sacrifices from them, while demonstrating perhaps some of the worst labor-management relations we’ve seen in this industry since the days of the company town and company store,” Mine Workers President Cecil Roberts said when the forced strike began.
“We have always been ready to reach a fair agreement that recognizes the sacrifices our members and their families made to keep this company alive. At this point, Warrior Met is not….Despite Warrior Met’s apparent appetite for this conflict, we will prevail.”
Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.
Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega's government is alleging U.S. interference in the country's upcoming elections. | Ariana Cubillos / AP
Nicaragua has demanded an end to “all illegal and coercive measures,” including U.S. sanctions, as it warned of a dirty tricks campaign ahead of November’s presidential and parliamentary elections.
“An unprecedented and relentless attack is unfolding against Nicaragua’s government and people are driven by false narratives advanced by right-wing, U.S.-financed media outlets and ‘opposition’ figures,” the Sandinista government warned in a statement.
A number of Western media reports accuse the Nicaraguan authorities of detaining opposition figures, a narrative that critics say is part of a broader attempt to discredit the government and sow discord in the run-up to the elections.
But those who have been taken into custody are under investigation for serious crimes, including money laundering, treason, and seditious conspiracy, with the government insisting that it is operating in an open and transparent manner in accordance with Nicaraguan law.
The detained opposition figures include Cristiana Chamorro, whose Violeta Barrios de Chamorro Foundation for Reconciliation and Democracy is accused of receiving millions of dollars from U.S. organizations including the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), which was formed in 1983 “to do today what was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA.”
That money was allegedly then funneled to various family members and a number of opposition media organizations, including Channel 10, Channel 11, Channel 12, and Vos TV, Radio Corporacion, and the Cafe con Voz radio show, as well as online outlets 100% Noticias, Articulo 66, Nicaragua Investiga, Nicaragua Actual, BacanalNica, and Despacho 505.
This is a tried and tested method of Washington’s intelligence services. During the Cold War, the CIA funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty as an explicitly anti-communist news organization pumping propaganda into the socialist states. At one stage, it even employed several former Nazi agents who had been involved in anti-Soviet activities under Adolf Hitler’s direction.
Nicaraguan authorities explained that the legal status of the Conservative Party had been revoked because it had said that it would not take part in the elections, participation being a legal requirement in the Central American country.
The Democratic Restoration Party was also deemed ineligible as it had not updated electoral authorities on changes to its statutes and bylaws, as all parties are required to do.
A number of “opposition usurpers” are under investigation for receiving millions of dollars from the U.S. government through NED, USAid, and other agencies, with the aim of “overthrowing the government of President Daniel Ortega.”
A total of 19 parties have registered to contest the elections, either individually or as part of an alliance.
“Nicaragua is committed to the celebration of free, fair, and transparent general elections this November 7,” a government statement said, demanding an end to foreign interference. It also called for the lifting of sanctions, which it described as “a crime against humanity” while the country is facing the challenges of the global coronavirus pandemic.
Steve Sweeney writes for the Morning Star, the socialist daily newspaper published in Great Britain. He is also a People's Assembly National Committee member, patron of the Peace in Kurdistan campaign, and a proud trade unionist.
Todos somos atingidos
A person can go a few weeks without food, years without proper shelter, but only a few days without water. Water is fundamental, yet we often forget how much we rely on it. Only 37 percent of the world’s rivers remain free-flowing and numerous hydro dams have destroyed freshwater systems on every continent, threatening food security for millions of people and contributing to the decimation of freshwater non-human life.
Dams and dam failures have catastrophic socio-environmental consequences. In the 20th century alone, large dam projects displaced 40 to 80 million people globally. At the same time, the communities most impacted by dams have been typically excluded from the political decision-making processes affecting their lives.
In Brazil there is an extensive network of mining companies, electric companies and other corporate powers that construct, own and operate dams throughout the country. But for the communities directly affected by hydro dam projects, water and energy are not commodities. Brazil’s Movement of People Affected by Dams (Movimento dos Atingidos por Barragens, or MAB — pronounced “mah-bee”) fights against the displacement and privatization of water, rivers and other natural resources in the belief that everyday people should have sovereignty and control over their own resources.
MAB is a member of La Via Campesina, a transnational social movement representing 300 million people across five continents with over 150 member organizations committed to food sovereignty and climate justice. MAB also works with social movements across Brazil, including the more widely-known Landless Workers Movement (MST), unions and human rights organizations. These alliances speak to the importance of peasant movements and Global South movements in constructing globalizations from below.
MAB focuses its fights on six interconnected areas: human rights, energy, water, dams, the Amazon and international solidarity. The movement organizes for tangible policy and system-level changes and actively creates an alternative to capitalist globalization.
Just over two years ago, on January 25, 2019, the worst environmental crime in Brazil’s history resulted in the loss of 272 lives. In Córrego do Feijão in Brumadinho, in the state of Minas Gerais, a dam owned by the transnational mining company Vale collapsed. Originally a state-owned company, Vale was privatized in 1997 and since then has made untold billions of dollars mining iron ore and other minerals.
Brazil is the world’s second-largest producer of mineral ores and in 2018 iron ore accounted for 20 percent of all exports from Brazil to the United States. More than 45 percent of Vale’s shareholders are international, including some of the world’s largest investment management companies based in the US such as BlackRock and Capital Group.
The logic of profit has dispossessed people of their sovereignty, their wealth and their water, the very essence of life. The massive dams Vale uses in its mining operations privatize and pollute water used by thousands of people.
When you fly over the state of Minas Gerais, you can see the iron mines as large gaping holes in the ground. Vale and its subsidiaries own and control 175 dams in Brazil, of which 129 are iron ore dams and Minas Gerais accounts for the vast majority of these. Minas Gerais is a region where thousands of people depend upon the water for their livelihood and survival, but the mining leaves the water contaminated. Agriculture and fishing are disrupted or halted, and residents struggle to live without access to potable water.
Exacerbating the problems associated with the privatization and contamination of water for residents, local economy and ecosystems, the dams themselves are vulnerable: the types of dams Vale uses are relatively cheap to build, but also present higher security risks because of their poor structure.
When the Brumadinho iron ore mine collapsed, it released a mudflow that swept through a worker cafeteria at lunchtime before wiping out homes, farms and infrastructure. The disaster killed 272 people and an additional 11 people were never found. What made it a crime was that Vale knew something like this could happen. In an earlier assessment, Vale had classified the dam as “two times more likely to fail than the maximum level of risk tolerated under internal guidelines.”
The Associação Estadual de Defesa Ambiental e Social (State Association of Environmental and Social Defense) conducted an assessment and released a report in collaboration with more than 7,000 residents in the regions impacted by the dam collapse. This report shows that depending on the town — the effects of the collapse vary from those communities buried in mud, to those impacted further downstream — 55 to 65 percent of people currently lack employment due to the dam disaster.
MAB occupied a highway in Juatuba, Minas Gerais last January to demand the right to water and to income. Photo by Nádia Nicolau via Mídia Ninja.
Brumadinho is considered one of the worst socio-environmental crimes in the history of Brazil, but it is far from the only one. Five years ago, a dam collapsed in Mariana, killing 20 people; the impacted communities still suffer the effects and are without reparations. On the second anniversary of the Brumadinho collapse, on January 24, 2021, another dam collapsed in Santa Catarina. On March 25, 2021, a dam in Maranhão state, owned by a subsidiary of the Canadian company Equinox Gold, collapsed, polluting the water reservoir of the city of Godofredo Viana, leaving 4,000 people without potable water.
On January 22, 2021, MAB held a virtual international press conference to commemorate two years since the Brumadinho collapse. Jôelisia Feitosa, an atingida (an “affected person”) from Juatuba, one of the communities affected by the dam collapse, described the fallout. People are suffering from skin diseases due to the contaminated water; small farmers cannot continue with their livelihood; people who relied on fishing can no longer do so. As a result, many people have been forced to leave. The lack of potable water has created an emergency. Feitosa said that presently, there are “not conditions for surviving here” anymore. The after-effects of the collapse, compounded by the pandemic, continue to take lives.
There are more than 100,000 atingidos in the region, but people do not know what is going to happen or when emergency aid will come. Further, government negotiations with Vale for “reparations” were conducted without the participation of atingidos. On February 4, 2021, the Brazilian government and Vale reached an accord. Nearly US$7 billion was awarded to the state of Minas Gerais, making it the largest settlement in Brazil’s history, along with murder charges for company officials.
To MAB, however, the accord is illegitimate. It was made under false pretenses, the affected population was not included in the process, and the money, which is not even going to those who are most impacted, does not begin to cover the irreparable and continuing damages. As José Geraldo Martins, a member of the MAB state coordination, said: “[Vale’s] crime destroyed ways of life, dreams, personal projects and the possibility of a future as planned. This leads to people becoming ill, emotionally, mentally, and physically. It aggravates existing health problems and creates new ones.”
As Feitosa put it: “Vale is manipulating the government, manipulating justice.” The accord was reached without the full participation of atingidos, and to make matters worse, Vale decided who qualifies as an atingido based on whether or not people have formal titles to ancestral lands. Vale’s actions create a dangerous precedent that allows corporations to extract, exploit and take human life with impunity. Nearly 300 people died from the 2019 dam collapse, and since then almost 400,000 people have died in Brazil from COVID-19. Yet, during this time, Vale has made a record profit. Neither the dam collapse nor the pandemic has stopped production or profits, even as workers are dying.
FIGHTING BACK: MAB’S STRUGGLE FOR WATER AND LIFE
MAB is committed to continued resistance and will bring the case to the Supreme Court. MAB organizes marches and direct actions and also partners with other movements in activities all across Brazil. They have recently occupied highways and blocked the entrance and exit of trucks to Vale’s facilities. MAB also uses powerful, embodied art and theater called mística that tells a real story and asks participants to put themselves into mindset that “we are all affected.”
MAB emphasizes popular education to understand how historical processes inform present-day struggles. Drawing heavily on Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, they focus on collaborative learning and literacy by making use, for example, of small break-out groups where people take turns reading and discussing short passages. In these projects, there is an intentional effort to fight against interlocking systems of oppression: classism, racism, heterosexism and patriarchy, which are viewed as interlinked with capitalism at the root.
MAB also has a skilled communication team that makes use of online media, including holding frequent talks and panels broadcast via Facebook Live. A recent MAP pamphlet entitled, “Our fight is for life, Enough with Impunity!” details four women important to MAB’s struggle: Dilma, Nicinha, Berta and Marielle. Dilma and Nichina are two women atingidas who were murdered in their fights against dam projects in their communities. Berta was a Honduran environmentalist who also engaged in dam struggles and was murdered. Marielle was a Black, lesbian, socialist city-councilwoman (with Brazil’s Socialism and Liberty Party) in Rio who was murdered in 2018.
For MAB, the struggles of those who have died in their fight for a better world serve as seeds of resistance, a theme further explored in their film “Women Embroidering Resistance.”
MAB occupied a highway in Juatuba, Minas Gerais last January to demand the right to water and to income. Photo by Nádia Nicolau via Mídia Ninja.
For the past two years, MAB has organized events to commemorate the anniversary of the crime committed by Vale in Brumadinho. In 2020, MAB organized a five-day march and international seminar, beginning in Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais’ state capital, and ending in Córrego do Feijão with a memorial service. Hundreds of people from around Brazil as well as allies from 17 countries marched through Belo Horizonte, chanting, “Vale killed the people, killed the river, killed the fish!”
Famed liberation theologian Leonardo Boff is a supporter of MAB and spoke at the seminar, decrying that letting people starve is a sin and asserting that “everyone has the right to land; everyone has the right to education; everyone has the right to culture; we all need security and have the right to housing—these are common and basic rights.” He went on: “We don’t get this world by voting — we need participatory democracy.”
MAB commemorated the second anniversary of Brumadinho this past January with various symbolic actions. In one such event, people tossed 11 roses into the water to honor the 11 people who have still not been found, with additional petals to honor the river that has been killed by the mining company. They also organized various virtual actions since the pandemic precluded an in-person convergence like the one held the year before.
JUSTICE THROUGH STRUGGLE AND ORGANIZATION
Less than a month after commemorating Brumadinho in 2020, COVID-19 exploded and the world went into lockdown. Brazil is now one of the hardest-hit countries with the actions and inactions of right-wing president Jair Bolsonaro — from calling COVID-19 a “little flu” to encouraging people to take hydroxychloroquine as a remedy, to defunding the public health system, and cutting back social services — leading to a dire situation.
In April, Brazil recorded over 4,000 COVID-19 deaths in 24 hours, with a death toll second only to the United States. On May 30, the official death toll from COVID-19 was 461,931. Brazil will not soon realize vaccine distribution to the entire population, and people continue to die from lack of oxygen in some regions, prompting an investigation of Bolsonaro and the health minister for mismanagement.
On May 29, 2021, MAB participated in protests with other social movements, unions and the population in general that spanned across 213 cities in Brazil (and 14 cities around the world). The protesters called for Bolsonaro’s impeachment, demanded vaccines and emergency aid for all, and denounced cuts to public health care and education as well as efforts to privatize public services.
In the past five years, the number of Brazilians experiencing hunger has grown to nearly 37 percent. The COVID-19 crisis has only worsened this reality. In August 2020, Bolsonaro vetoed a bill that would have granted emergency assistance to family farmers.
But Brazil’s story is one of resistance, resilience and hope. Efforts bringing together many social movements, unions and other popular organizations have mounted critical mutual aid efforts. MAB is a leader in these efforts, putting together baskets with essential food, hand sanitizer and other essential goods for families in need. The pandemic presents significant challenges, but MAB has continued to resist Bolsonaro’s policies. For example, they are fighting against the defunding of the national public health care system and continuing to organize in communities impacted by dam projects or threatened by new ones.
The fight for the right to water and against the socio-environmental impacts of dams is global. MAB’s struggle is one of resistance against the capitalist system for a world where the rights of people come ahead of profit. As MAB has said: “In 2020, Brazil did not sow rights; on the contrary, the country took lives, especially the lives of women, Black and poor people, all with a lot of violence and impunity.”
MAB’s struggle extends beyond the fight against water privatization. It is part of a global effort to regain the commons of water and fight against the commodification and privatization of life. MAB’s insistence that all forms of oppression are interconnected is also a statement of hope and a catalyst for envisioning a different world. Imagining new possibilities is a prerequisite for creating them.
This year, MAB celebrates 30 years of fighting to guarantee rights and their message is that the only way is to fight and organize: “Justice only with struggle and organization.” In doing so, they are sending a strong message to Vale: they cannot commit a crime like Brumadinho again and profit will not be valued over life.
Caitlin Schroering holds a PhD in Sociology from the University of Pittsburgh. She has 16 years of experience in community, political, environmental and labor organizing.
This article was republished from Roar.
One of the more interesting establishment philosophers, MacIntyre has recently had two volumes of his essays and articles published: "The Tasks of Philosophy" and "Ethics and Politics." These observations are based on Constantine Sandis' review of these volumes ("Torn away from sureness") in the TLS of August 15, 2008. Some of MacIntyre's work has relevance to Marxist thought. He says for instance, as Sandis points out, that the concepts that are used to delineate an ideology (and this includes Marxism) cannot be understood free of their original contexts from which they derive their meaning. Treating them outside of this context makes them appear unwarranted or nonsensical. If we, for example, decide to adopt Marxism as a guiding light but lack the requisite background contextual knowledge regarding the origin of its concepts and doctrines, we run the risk of mixing up the ideological statements of Marxism with the ideological statements of other points of view (Liberalism,Buddhism, etc.)and we could end up with an incoherent mishmash of different points of views which will prevent us from having a proper understanding of reality.
It is the job of philosophy to prevent this from happening. We must, as Sandis says, engage "in socio-linguistic palaeontology aimed at unearthing previously hidden meanings and connections." We can then see how our concepts are related to our own tradition and to that of others. Marx, for instance, was influenced by Hegel and some of Hegel's concepts have come over into Marxism. The concept of "Reason", for example, reappears in Marxism as the concept of "Scientific Method." Lenin tends to rule out all theories that are not capable of scientific treatment (all religious explanations of reality, for instance). But, Sandis says, "MacIntyre rejects Hegel's faith in reason's ability to grasp absolute reality, substituting in its place a critical blend of Imre Lakatos, Thomas Kuhn and W.V. Quine's more pragmatic approaches." This rejection of Hegel, as we will see, has led MacIntyre to abandon Marxism and convert to Roman Catholicism. This is always, to my way of thinking, an unhealthy sign. It does not however, negate, his contention that an ideology must be contextually understood.
Sandis reproduces a quote from the British philosopher Frank Ramsey: "it is a heuristic maxim that the truth lies not in one of the two disputed views but in some third possibility which has not yet been thought of, which we can only discover by rejecting something assumed as obvious by both disputants." This looks suspiciously like the Hegelian dialectic heuristically applied. Ramsey, along with the physicist Heinrich Hertz and Ludwig Wittgenstein have all influenced MacIntyre. He. for instance, applies Ramsey's dictum to resolve conceptual problems between competing ideologies by rejecting some of the premises of both, and especially the idea that one is "right" and the other "wrong." His application of this method is not too bright.
He rejected voting in the 2004 election seeing the difference between Bush's policies (war and more war) and those of Kerry as insignificant. He said that "when offered a choice between two politically intolerable alternatives, it is important to choose neither. And when that choice is presented in rival arguments and debates that exclude from public consideration any other set of possibilities, it becomes a duty to withdraw from those arguments and debates, so as to resist the imposition of this false choice by those who have arrogated to themselves the power of framing the alternatives." MacIntyre is completely divorced from reality here. The choice between Bush and Kerry was not "false." Only propositions can be false. It was the historic choice that our history presented to us at that time. There were also other choices: Nader, the Greens, etc. To advocate simply sitting out an election that would determine the lives and deaths of thousands of people over a four year period may not be the most ethical behavior for a philosopher to engage in.
In the early 1980s MacIntyre converted to Roman Catholicism because, Sandis suggests, he no longer thought he could make philosophical progress within a Marxist framework.The reason for this was has adoption of a view called "confirmation holism." This view says that an ideology, say Marxism, can only be understood holistically. This means its doctrines have to accepted completely and made to harmonize with one another and cannot be taken more or less generally and supplemented with doctrines from other traditions or ideologies. Sandis says, "Rationality may consequently require us to readily abandon our commitment to any world-view that comes to face an overbearing obstacle." Sandis doesn't tell us what the "overbearing obstacle" was that mandated a switch from the Marxist world-view to that of Roman Catholicism. Non Marxists, I am sure, can think of many just as non Catholics can think of the "overbearing obstacles" that prevent the adoption of that world-view. This looks like relativism, but Sandis tells us MacIntyre is trying to forge an anti-relativist philosophy.
Here is what MacIntyre says about the language used to explain an ideology: "the languages-in-use of some social and cultural orders are more adequate than those of some others in this and that respect." He also says, "the existence of continuing disagreement, even between highly intelligent people, should not lead us to suppose that there are not adequate resources available for the rational resolution of such disagreement." This is supposed to escape from relativism. But a Marxist will judge Catholic positions from the point of view of Marxism, and vice versa. So I don't see how relativism is overcome.
Sandis says that the "holistic answer is simply that some practices are pragmatically far more attractive than others...." That "attraction", however, will be in the eye of the beholder. Sandis then quotes MacIntyre's "famous" definition of a "practice"-- viz., "any coherent and complex form of socially established co-operative human activity through which goods internal to that form of activity are realized in the course of trying to achieve those standards of excellence which are appropriate to, and partially definitive of, that form of activity, with the result that human powers to achieve excellence, and human conceptions of the ends and goods involved are systematically extended." Whew! And we must keep in mind that any given practice, say Nazism, can be replaced by one that is better. That's encouraging.
Since a better practice may always be available any particular practice I hold to must be justified probabilistically. If I think Marxism is "true" [since only propositions can be "true" this is not a good word to use]or rather the most useful theoretical system for describing social reality, then I must realize, as Sandis points out, "one must aim for truth by aiming for justification, and the latter is in principle always open to revision."
MacIntyre's ethical system is cast in a Kantian mould rather that a utilitarian one (i.e., a consequentialist one). He thinks there are some moral rules that we can never be justified in breaking. Against this view stand those who contend "the moral polarity of any act [is] (at least partly) determined by the circumstances in which it was performed." That is that there is no universal ban on any act but each must be judged either by its results and/or motives and the context surrounding it taken into consideration.
Marx in his day didn't think much of utilitarianism, nor did Lenin of Kantianism. How sould a Marxist react to this choice? Sandis indicates that MacIntyre's position is not ironclad and plausible exceptions to it have been suggested. Sandis suggests that morality may be a disposition. To paraphrase him, we might say that if "fragility" is a disposition to break at certain times and not to break at others, so morality is a disposition to act in a certain way in certain cases and not in others. He gives as an example that "an act of intentionally not telling the truth need not be vicious, for there might always be circumstances where one virtuous disposition (say that of kindness) can only be manifested if another (say that of honesty, or of justice) is not."
Marxists can learn something from MacIntyre. I think his views on holism are useful, as are his remarks on the coherence of our ideas and their need for justification as well as his attempt to avoid relativism. A Marxist proposition should be part of a system of coherent (non contradictory)co-propositions which can be justified by an appeal to practice and that serve the interests, broadly defined, of the working class in its efforts to abolish the capitalist system. The construction of this holistic system is the task of 21st century Marxists.
Thomas Riggins is a retired philosophy teacher (NYU, The New School of Social Research, among others) who received a PhD from the CUNY Graduate Center (1983). He has been active in the civil rights and peace movements since the 1960s when he was chairman of the Young People's Socialist League at Florida State University and also worked for CORE in voter registration in north Florida (Leon County). He has written for many online publications such as People's World and Political Affairs where he was an associate editor. He also served on the board of the Bertrand Russell Society and was president of the Corliss Lamont chapter in New York City of the American Humanist Association.
This article was republished from Counter currents.
This is not a new post but a corrected transcript of a talk given by me, as one of the Worker’s Party of Scotland representatives to the Open Polemic Conference about 25 years ago. Open Polemic was a journal that was formed in the wake of the Soviet collapse by anti-revisionist communists in the UK. Its eventual outcome was the CPGB(ML).
I am reposting it now because it relates to the debate that has ensued on Facebook after I posted against the baneful influence of Hegelianism. It draws on concepts from the Marxist legal theorist Pashukanis which are also relevant to the postings here and here I made last year critiquing the Althusserian theory of the subject.
The text was lifted from the version online here including the images and captions which are not my own.
Original Text Begins Here
I am an engineer, so I was naturally pleased when the leading materialist philosopher of today, Daniel Dennet came out in defence of the significance of the engineering viewpoint to philosophy in his book Darwin’s Dangerous Idea.
In what follows I will present some observations on the materialism of Marx, from an engineer’s viewpoint – the materialism of a Watt, Shannon and Turing.
Comrade Dennett continues the hirsute defence of materialism
The leitmotif of these observations is an antagonism to subjectivism and the idealist concept of the subject and of the will, both of which have, I believe, no place in the materialist world-view.
Those familiar with the current state of penetration of idealism into ‘Marxism’, will doubtless be able to identify the schools against whom I am arguing.
Is value the ‘subject’ of Capital?
In Capital, the idea of the circuits of money and of capital play an important roles. In both c-m-c and m-c-m’, value in a sense plays the role of subject. It is tempting to see the whole of the argument in Capital as an investigation into the self development of capital/subject. My grasp of Hegel is not sure enough for me to say if this view of things is actually Hegelian, but whether or not this is the case, it does suffer from drawbacks. One of them is philosophical, the other is historical.
If we see capital as a subject, then the real material subjects of the system of production are not adequately represented, or, if represented at all, appear just as instantiations of the ideal subject.
By the real material subjects I mean abstract legal personalities or subjects of right. Under capitalist systems of law, some of these legal subjects correspond to human bodies, others to bodies corporate. It is these juridical subjects that buy and sell commodities and reproduce themselves in the process. In this reproduction process they are reproduced both as proprietors, and as physical processes (human metabolisms, active oil refineries, … ).
From the standpoint of the self development of capital/subject, material subjects, firms, are thought of as ‘capitals’, instantiations of CAPITAL. This way of looking at things is an idealist inversion.
The second problem is that the notion of capital as a subject is tied up with the idea of capital as self expanding value. This is what the formula m-c-m’ is all about. Where gold is money, the formula is realistic. But even as it was written this was historically obsolete. Commercial transactions were not carried out using gold. Capitalist trade is a balancing of accounts, either, in Marx’s day, through the circulation of bills of exchange or through the clearance of cheques.
If commerce occurs through cheque clearance, then there is no longer a circuit of value through the forms m-c-m’. An account with a bank, unlike a hoard, has no value. It is instead a record of entitlement to value. I think, therefore, that the use of the circuit m-c-m’ by Marx must be seen as a paedagogic device, presenting what goes on in a simple to understand but nevertheless anachronistic form.
When one is steeped in an old literature, one’s mind become inhabited by dead social relations. Christians today think in categories like Christ the Lord, Christ the Redeemer, which are concepts of a slave society — and which arise, therefore, from practices such as the institution of manumission by a powerful aristocrat. Such practices are without direct equivalence to the modern world but the conceptual categories linger on. We Marxists have our thoughts about money shaped by a presentation, intuitive to workers in Victoria’s day, to whom money was gold, without correlates in a world of debit cards.
If we focus instead on material subjects and their conditions of reproduction, then money appears clearly in the form in which Smith presents it: the power to command the labour of others. A bank balance is power over labour. It is necessary to focus not on the self evolution of sums of value but on how juridical subjects, firms, reproduce their despotism over labour.
Is capital the ‘subject’ of Capital?
Is Marx’s Capital about the self development of the subject ‘capital’, or is it about capitalism? My immediate bias is to say it is about capitalism, since to say that capital was the object of investigation might imply a Hegelian presumption that from the concept of capital all the concrete features of capitalism could be deduced — something which I feel to be mistaken.
Then the issue arises of whether there is one or many laws of motion of modern society, which is clearly related to the above.
My first thought is that one requires several laws to have motion and dynamics — in mechanics one assumes several conservation laws plus the force laws. This would then reinforce the objection to a Hegelian deduction of the development of capitalism from a concept of capital. Then it struck me that work in cellular automata theory has demonstrated that one can derive highly complex laws of motion from a single evolution function of a cell and its neighbours. In fact as Margulis has shown, one can, given a universe of this type, set up a configuration that is Turing machine equivalent.
This indicates that it is not philosophically absurd that one law may be a sufficient foundation for the motion of a very complex system. But although this law may be a foundation for the motion of the whole system, there are other preconditions before you get something of Turing equivalent complexity: e.g. a set of boundary conditions. These initial configurations are guaranteed a certain stability by the underlying cellular evolution law, but in their turn impose other constraints on the future evolution of the system and these constraints become higher level laws.
Thus the simple law may allow a multiplicity of different configurations to evolve and some of these different configurations would have their own, higher level laws of motion — which would not necessarily all be equivalent.
Did Marx ever clearly state the economic law of motion of modern society?
I think that we have to say no, not as a single clearly defined law. Can we say, then, that the law of value is this foundational law? We have the problem that he never stated this explicitly as a law either, i.e. in the sense of Hooke’s law or the laws of thermodynamics. I think, however, one can reconstruct the concept of law that he had beneath the texts on value.
At the level of explanation in Volume 1 the law would state that ‘In the exchange of commodities, abstract socially necessary labour time is conserved.’
Although he does not state this explicitly, I think that it is clearly a logical presupposition of much of his argument. I agree that he does not establish the correctness of this law, but that does not mean that it may not both be a valid law empirically, and one whose assumption allows one to model or simulate the important features of capitalism. There is now a growing body of evidence that the law actually applies, but it would be true to say that we do not know why it applies.
But one could, using the same law of value, hypothesise other systems than capitalism. If we made the auxiliary hypothesis that there was a tendency for the value of labour power to be equal to the value created by labour, then you would not get capitalism but some other social system, perhaps a system of workers’ co-operatives.
The assumption that the value of labour power is systematically below the value creating power of labour is, it seems to me, a boundary condition that is specifically reproduced by capitalism. In this sense, although the law of value is the underlying law of motion of modern society, it is abstractly the law of motion of more than one possible sort of modern society. This incidentally raises the question of what we mean by abstraction.
Abstraction and abstract labour
Is it only in the process of exchange that labour become abstract? There is a confusion here between the role of abstraction in science and the partial way in which the abstract categories discovered by science become apparent to quotidian perception.
Science must always seek the general behind the concrete, the abstract behind the particular. Thus in the development of thermodynamics one has the formation of the abstract concept of heat, which is distinguished from the forms in which it becomes apparent as warmth, temperature or thermal radiation. To measure heat one needs to co-ordinate several distinct observations and data. If you want to measure the number of calories released by by burning 10 grams of sugar under a bombe calorimeter, one must know the starting temperature of the calorimeter, the volume of water it contains, the final temperature, the specific heat of water, etc.
Prior to the development of a coherent theory of heat, and data on the specific heat of water one might come up with regularities like ‘other things being equal, the rise in temperature was proportional to the sugar burnt’, but this is not a measure of abstract heat.
The similarity to exchange is clear, a capitalist can observe that, other things being equal, his turnover is roughly proportional to the number of workers in his employment, but this proportionality does not yet give him a measure of abstract necessary labour time. The fact that such proportionalities exist is an indication that there is an underlying material cause for them, just as the proportionality between temperature rise and fuel burned indicates a similar abstract cause.
A scientific measurement of abstract labour needs the analogue of adjustments for different specific heats and calorimeter volumes, the fact that in a given factory the techniques of production are worse than average, will indicate that the measure of actual expended labour has to be corrected to arrive at a measure of abstract labour.
The existence of objective material causes underlying the phenomenal forms to which they give rise is one of the basic postulates of philosophical materialism. That these causes not only exist but are discoverable and measurable is a further necessary postulate for scientific materialism. This, it seems to me is one of the fundamental distinctions between Marxism and Hayekism, and more generally between materialism and empiricism. For Hayek, the worth of things is in principle unknowable outside of market exchange. Thus the Marxist programme of a communist society in which economic calculation transcends the market, is hopelessly utopian, scientism, the engineering fallacy etc.
I think, therefore, that it is a fundamental philosophical error and one which, moreover can be exploited by our enemies, to say that it is only through market exchanges that abstract labour can be measured. This may be the only form in which it becomes apparent to the practical concerns of bourgeois society, but that does not exhaust the matter.
One must distinguish the scientific abstraction, abstract labour as the expression on a polymorphous human potential, from the empirical abstraction performed by the market.
An analogous polymorphous potential, one regularly used in industry is the computing machine cycle. One costs algorithms in terms of the number of machine cycles they cost. A computer is a universal machine, its computation power can be expressed in a vast variety of concrete forms, so there are different sequences of machine cycles with different concrete effects. But when one uses machine cycles as a metric of algorithmic costs, one abstracts from what these cycles are – adds, subtracts, moves etc, and reduces them to the abstract measure of an almost infinitely plastic potential. The abstraction over labour is analogous.
We cannot use wages to measure abstract labour, although for certain purposes they may be a useful statistical surrogate where other data are lacking. If we measure wages we are measuring the price of labour power not the amount of abstract labour time necessary to manufacture a use value.
To measure the latter, it has obviously to be done in natural units of time, which as such, already abstracts from the concrete form of the labour. As such its study starts with Babbage in his Economy of Machinery, proceeds with Taylor in the machine shop of the Midvale Steel Company and his successors like Charles Bedaux, whose unit of abstract labour the B was defined as ‘ A “B” is a fraction of a minuit of work plus a fraction of a minuit of rest, always aggregating to unity, but varying in proportion according to the nature of the strain’.
There is nothing impossible in principle about such measurement, indeed, the science of systematic exploitation had depended on it for years. But within the capitalist social order such computations are restricted to the factory, the comparative statistics necessary for a social calculus of labour time do not exist. But this is not to say that they could never be produced under some future social order.
James Watt, and the concept of Labour Power
At about the same time as one Adam Smith was professor of Moral Philosophy here, and was setting out a coherent formulation of the labour theory of value, Dr Black of the department of Natural Philosophy along with a technician, one James Watt, were laying the foundations for a proper understanding of heat and temperature. These two exercises have more in common than might be imagined. Reflection upon it, brings out how concepts from engineering science, from the practice of material production, parallel and become the foundation for materialist political economy.
One might, if one were a bourgeois economist, argue that values cannot be measured independently of market prices just as temperature can not be measured independently of the height of mercury on a thermometer. I think that this is basically a fair comparison. But if we rest our analysis at this level, whether in political economy or in natural philosophy, we have a pre-Smithian political economy and a pre-Watt understanding of heat.
What Smith did, drawing on others, was to show that behind relative prices there was an underlying objective cause — the labour required to produce things: ‘’The real price of every thing, what every thing really costs to the man who wants to acquire it, is the toil or trouble of acquiring it.” We will leave out for the moment that one can also measure the temperature of a body by analysing its black body radiation spectrum, and concentrate on the analogy between temperature and price. This was a great scientific advance since it related the immediately visible phenomenon — price measured in money — to something behind the scenes: labour time.
Both of the entities involved in the causal theory are independently observable and measurable. This contrasts with the notions of ‘utility’ in vulgar economics which are not objectively observable, but have to be deduced from the observed prices.
The parallel advance by Black and Watt, was the introduction of the notion of heat as something independent of temperature. A necessary component of this theory was the notions of specific and latent heats. Thus, by experiment, they were able to establish that the change in temperature of a body was proportional to the heat input divided by the specific heat of the substance concerned. This again related the observed measurement — temperature to something behind the scenes — heat.
Like labour, heat was independently measurable, for instance in terms of the amount of coal burned. Later, with Carnot, the equation between heat and work is made. Not only does this make the analogy with value and labour even closer in terms of the then existing conceptual framework, but it opens up the way for more accurate objective measures of heat energy. By use of a dissipative calorimeter, Carnot could show that the work of a given weight falling a known distance would produce a definite rise in temperature of water. This then gives a fixed and external measure of heat energy.
Let me construct table of analogy between terms in the two domains of Moral and Natural Philosophy, with a subject matter befiting the Scottish Enlightenment.
1. Price in gold guineas of whisky
2. Specific labour content of gold
3. Value of whisky
4. Labour required to distill whisky measured in hours
5. Ability to work or labouring power of distillery workers
1. Temperature on an alcohol thermometer of whisky
2. Specific heat of whisky
3. Heat content of the whisky
4. Thermal energy of hot whisky measured in foot pounds or horse-power seconds
5. Ability to work or horse-power of the distillery engine (raising barrels?)
Thus the two schools of philosophy reduce the phenomena they are concerned with to indirect manifestations of work done, Smith taking human labour as his standard, Watt taking the labour of horses.
However, in compiling this table I have shown 5 rows. Smith and Watt would probably only have recognised 3 (Smith 1,2,4) Watt (1,2,3). If, however, we take Smith enhanced by Marx and Watt by Carnot, we get the 5 rows. Now the interesting thing about rows 3, 4, and 5 is that in each case they are different ways of considering the same thing. One may measure heat in calories, but it is the same thing as energy in terms of joules, Watt, ergs, foot-pounds, horsepower hours etc. Similarly value is the same thing as labour time.
But value is not price, nor is heat temperature. To obtain a price from a value we need the intervention of gold with its own specific labour/value content per ounce. To obtain a temperature from the heat one needs the specific heat of the substance being heated.
The polemical status of Labour Power
I am using labour in the sense of labour hours, which, to use Watt’s terminology is Work Done (horse-power hours). I think that it is pretty clear that the concept of labour-power could not have been formulated until the genius of Watt had made the concept of horse-power or power in general part of the universal inheritance of the industrial age.
My chief concern is to defend the scientific superiority of the labour theory of value vis-à-vis bourgeois subjectivist ones. What makes the labour theory scientific and the others unscientific is that there is no way that one can determine whether prices do exchange in proportion to marginal utility, since utility has no independent measure.
Labour time, by contrast, is susceptible to measurement. Its measurement, just like that of temperature, presupposed a definite technology. Measurement of temperature depended on the invention of the thermometer, measurement of labour time depended upon the invention, with Galileo, of the pendulum escapement mechanism. In using a clock to determine the time taken to perform a task, one must of course average one’s measures over a large number of runs and a large number of individuals to obtain the average necessary time taken.
If labour-power is ability to perform work, then its dimension must be work-performable/per hour. Clearly if the working day is lengthened with the daily wage being the same, the wage rate per hour has declined. Whether the value of labour power has similarly declined or has remained the same is indeterminate, since we have no means of measuring the value of labour power other than the price paid for it.
I would thus argue that the concept ‘value of labour power’ has no scientific explanatory power and its presence in Capital must be understood as deriving from Marx’s intention to perform a critique of political economy using its own categories. He thus assumes the exchange of equivalents, and assumes that workers, like other sellers get a fair price for their commodity. This necessitates that a value be imputed to labour power.
Ironic answers to a Marxist idealist
I was recently asked, what objective force led me to write a particular polemic against subjectivism. Was it not an expression of my will and thus a living reproof to my anti-subjectivist world-view? That such questions could be raised, and raised by a Marxist, indicates a retreat towards idealism.
Force is an important concept. As a mechanical process, a depression of keys, my writing certainly involved forces exerted by muscle on bone. But the concept of force is quite limited, it relates to the ability to impart motion, to overcome mechanical inertia. Its compass does not extend to explaining the creation of a complex information structure like an article.
Here we need to explain how this particular sequence of characters was generated. This page is so astronomically improbable, its probability of arising by chance being of the order of 1 in 10 raised to the power of 4000, that its particularity demands explanation. Force, the mere overcoming of momentum, can not explain such order. So what is left?
“The will and its creativity”, suggests the humanist.
But is this really an explanation?
I would suggest that it is not an explanation but a place-holder, a linguistic token demanded by a set of possible sentences. This may seem a little obscure, but to illustrate the sort of thing that I am refering to, consider the sentences:
”It is raining.”
”Paul is writing.”
What is the it that rains? There is obviously no real it that does the raining, but English grammar demands a subject for the sentence, structurally equivalent to the Paul who writes. The it is a placeholder demanded by the sentence form. We gain no understanding of the weather pattern that led to the rain by using it, but it is impermissible for us to say simply ”Is raining”.
The question ”what led me to write”, demands an answer of the form ”x led me to write”, with some linguistic subject x. Grammar allows the substitution of a proper name for x, as in ”William led me to write”, or \my Will led me to write”. Instead the abstract noun ‘will’ can be used: ”my will led me to write”.
The word ‘will’ is then a placeholding subject, analogous to the it responsible for the bad weather this last week. The ‘will’ is philosophically more sophisticated, than ‘it’, being one of the conventional tokens that idealist philosophy uses to translate a non-terminal symbol of a grammar into a constituent category of reality. The ‘will’ is the symbolic grammatical subject in philosophical garb, the linguistic subject becomes The Subject.
An explanation of what is causing rain to fall, would go something along the lines of ”an updraft of warm moist air is causing condensation as pressure falls, and this precipitates as rain”. Here, instead of a placemarker, we have a description, albeit abstract, of a physical process. One can give a highly abstract description of my writing in terms of my brain being a probabalistic state machine that undergoes state transitions whose probability amplitudes are functions of it current state and its current input symbols, and whose output symbols are a lagged function of current state. For my article the relevant input symbol would have been the argument that I was replying to, and my current state would be the cartesian product of the states of my individual neurones.
It may be objected that this hopelessly abstract, as abstract almost, as talking about will. But there is an important difference. The approach of treating the brain as an automaton has engendered a productive research program. One can, as Chomsky did in the 1950s ask what class of automaton is required to recognise languages with different classes of grammars, and show that some features of natural language imply automata that are at least Turing equivalent. One can begin to look at how it is that things like visual perception can occur, as neurophysiology has done over the last 30 years, etc. In contrast, ‘will’ will take us nowhere. It closes of discussion.
This is an edited version of a talk given at an ‘Open Polemic’ conference back in the distant 1990s.
Paul Cockshott is an economist and computer scientist. His best known books on economics are Towards a New Socialism, and How The World Works. In computing he has worked on cellular automata machines, database machines, video encoding and 3D TV. In economics he works on Marxist value theory and the theory of socialist economy.
This article was first published by Paul Cockshott.