The Real Reason why Socrates is Killed and why Class Society Must Whitewash his Death. By: Carlos L. GarridoRead Now
The killing of Socrates left a stain on the fabric of Athenian society, a stain it nearly expanded 80 years later with similar threats of impiety towards an Aristotle determined not to let Athens “sin twice against philosophy.” This original sin against philosophy has been immortalized in philosophy classrooms for millenniums to come – turning for philosophy the figure of Socrates what for Christian theology is the figure of Jesus. A variety of interpretations concerning the reasons for his sentencing have since arose. The most dominant, though, is that Socrates was killed because of impiety. This interpretation asserts that Socrates was corrupting the youth by shifting them away from the God’s of the state and towards new divinities and spiritualities. This hegemonic reading of his death relies almost exclusively on a reading of Socrates as solely a challenger of the existing forms of religious mysticism in Athens. This essay argues that this interpretation is synechdochal – it takes the part at the top layer to constitute the whole (as if one could explain pizza merely by talking about the cheese). Instead, the death of Socrates is political – he is killed because he challenges the valuative system necessary for the smooth reproduction of the existing social relations in Athens. This challenge, of course, includes the religious dimension, but is not reducible to it. Instead, as Plato has Socrates’ character assert in the Apology, the religious accusation – spearheaded by Meletus – will not be what brings about his destruction.
Our access to the trial of Socrates (399 BCE) is limited to Plato’s Apology of Socrates and Xenophon’s Apology of Socrates to the Jury. Out of these two, Plato’s has remained the most read, in part because Xenophon was not in Athens the day of the trial (making his source secondary), and in part because of the immense prominence of Plato in the history of philosophy. To understand the death sentence, we must thus turn to Plato’s Apology.
The Apology is one of Plato’s early works and the second in the chronology of dialogues concerning Socrates’ final days: Euthyphro (pre-trial), Apology (trial), Crito (imprisonment), and Phaedo (pre-death). Out of the Apology arise some of the most prominent pronouncements in philosophy’s history; viz., “I am better off than he is - for he knows nothing, and thinks that he knows. I neither know nor think that I know” and “the life which is unexamined is not worth living.” Philosophy must thank this dialogue for the plethora of masterful idioms it has given us, but this dialogue must condemn philosophy for its unphilosophical castration of the radical meaning behind Socrates’ death.
In the dialogue Socrates divides his accusers into two groups – the old and the new. He affirms from the start that the more dangerous are the former, for they have been around long enough to socialize people into dogmatically believing their resentful defamation of Socrates. These old accusers, who Socrates states have “took possession of your minds with their falsehoods,” center their accusations around the following:
Socrates is an evil-doer, and a curious person, who searches into things under the earth and in heaven, and he makes the worse appear the better cause; and he teaches the aforesaid doctrines to others.
Before Socrates explains what they specifically mean by this inversion of making the “worse appear the better,” he goes through the story of how he came to make so many enemies in Athens. To do this he tells us of his friend Chaerephon’s trip to Delphi where he asks the Pythian Prophetess’ whether there was anyone wiser than Socrates – to which they respond, “there was no man wiser.” The humble but inquisitive Socrates sought out to prove he could not have been the wisest. He spoke to politicians, poets, and artisans and found each time that his superior wisdom lied in his modesty – insofar as he knew he did not know, he knew more than those who claimed they knew, but who proved themselves ignorant after being questioned. Thus, he concluded that,
Although I do not suppose that either of us knows anything really beautiful and good, I am better off than he is - for he knows nothing, and thinks that he knows. I neither know nor think that I know.
This continual questioning, which he considered his philosophical duty to the Gods, earned him the admiration of the youth who enjoyed watching his method at work and eventually took it upon themselves to do the same. But it also earned him the opposite of youthful admiration – the resentment of those socially-conceived-of wise men who were left in the puzzling states of aporia. His inquisitive quest, guided by an egalitarian pedagogy which freely (as opposed to the charging of the Sophists) taught everyone, “whether he be rich or poor,” earned him the admiration of many and the condemnation of those few who benefitted from having their unquestioned ‘knowledge’ remain unquestioned.
After explaining how his enemies arose, without yet addressing what the old accusations referred to by saying he made the “worse appear the better cause,” he addresses the accusation of Meletus, which spearheads the group of the new accusers. It is Meletus who condemns Socrates from the religious standpoint – first by claiming he shifts people away from the God’s of the state into “some other new divinities or spiritual agencies,” then, in contradiction with himself, by claiming that Socrates is a “complete atheist.” Caught in the web of the Socratic method, Socrates catches the “ingenious contradiction” behind Meletus’ accusations, noting that he might as well had shown up to the trial claiming that “Socrates is guilty of not believing in the gods, and yet of believing in them,” for, after a simple process of questioning, this is ultimately what Meletus’ charges amount to. Socrates thus asserts with confidence that his destruction will not be because of Meletus, Anytus, or any of these new accusers focusing on his atheism. Those which will bring about his destruction, those which from the start he asserted to be more dangerous, are those leaders of Athenian society whose hegemonic conception of the good, just, and virtuous he questioned into trembling.
Having annulled the reason for his death being the atheism charges of Meletus and the new enemies, what insight does he give us into the charges of the old, who claim he made the “worse appear the better cause?” He says,
Why do you who are a citizen of the great and mighty and wise city of Athens, care so much about laying up the greatest amount of money and honor and reputation, and so little about wisdom and truth and the greatest improvement of the soul, which you never regard or heed at all? Are you not ashamed of this?
This passage gets at the pith of his death sentence – he questions the values of accumulating money, power, and status which dominated an Athens whose ‘democracy’ had just recently been restored (403 BCE) after the previous year’s defeat in the Peloponnesian War (404 BCE). This ‘democracy,’ which was limited to adult male citizens, created splits between the citizens, women, children, foreigners, slaves, and semi-free laborers. Nonetheless, the citizen group was not homogenous – sharp class distinctions existed between the periokoi – small landowners who made up the overwhelming majority in the citizen group; the new wealthy business class which partook in “manufacturing, trade, and commerce” (basically an emerging bourgeois class); and the aristoi – a traditional aristocracy which owned most of the land and held most of the political offices.
The existing ruling ideas, determined by the interests and struggle of the aristocracy and emerging bourgeois class, considered the accumulation of money, power, and status to be morally good. These values, integral to the reproduction of the existing social relations of Athens, were being brought under question by Socrates. Socrates was conversing indiscriminately with all – demonstrating to rich, poor, citizen and non-citizen, that the life which pursues wealth, power, and status cannot bring about anything but a shallow ephemeral satisfaction. In contrast, Socrates would postulate that only a life dedicated to the improvement of the soul via the cultivation of virtue can bring about genuine meaning to human life. This is a complete transvaluation of values – the normative goodness in the prioritization of wealth, power, and status has been overturned by an anthropocentric conception of development, that is, a conception of growth centered around humans, not things.
Socrates, then, is not just killed because he questions religion – this is but one factor of many. Instead, Socrates is killed because he leaves nothing unexamined; because he questions the hegemonic values of Athenian society into demonstrating their shamefulness, and in-so-doing proposes a qualitatively new way of theoretically and practically approaching human life. He does not call for a revolutionary overthrow of the aristocracy and for the subsequent installation of a worker’s city-state in Athens, but he does question the root values which allow the Athenian aristocracy to sustain its position of power. Socrates was killed because, as Cornel West says of Jesus, he was “ running out the money changers.”
With this understanding of Socrates’ death sentence, we can also understand why it must be misunderstood. Socrates’ condemnation of Athenian society, if understood properly, would not limit itself to critiquing Athenian society. Instead, it would provide a general condemnation of the money-power driven social values that arise when human societies come into social forms of existence mediated by class antagonisms. Socrates is taught to have been killed for atheism because in a secularized world as ours doing so castrates his radical ethos. If we teach the real reason why Socrates died, we are giving people a profound moral argument, from one of the greatest minds in history, against a capitalist ethos which sustains intensified and modernized forms of the values Socrates condemns.
In modern bourgeois society we are socialized into conceiving of ourselves as monadic individuals separated from nature, community, and our own bodies. There is an ego trapped in our body destined to find its “authentic” self in bourgeois society via the holy trinity of accumulating wealth, brand name commodities, or social media followers. Society provides little to no avenues for an enduring meaningful life – for, human life itself is affirmed only in the inhuman, in inanimate objects. Only in the ownership of lifeless objects does today value arise in human life. The magazine and newspaper stands do not put on their front covers the thousands of preventable deaths that take place around the world because of how the relations of production in capitalism necessarily turn into vastly unequal forms of distributions. Instead, the deaths of the rich and famous are the ones on the covers. Those lives had money, and thus they had meaning, the others did not have the former, and thus neither the latter.
Today Socrates is perhaps even more relevant than in 399 BCE Athenian society. As humanity goes through its most profound crisis of meaning, a philosophical attitude centered on the prioritization of cultivating human virtue, on the movement away from the forms of life which treat life itself as a means, significant only in its relation to commodities (whether as producer, i.e., commodified labor power or as consumer), is of dire necessity. Today we must affirm this Socratic transvaluation of values and sustain his unbreakable principled commitment to doing what is right, even when it implies death. The death of Socrates must be resurrected, for it was a revolutionary death at the hands of a state challenged by the counter-hegemony a 70-year-old was creating. Today the Socratic spirit belongs to the revolutionaries, not to a petty-bourgeois academia which has participated in the generational castration of the meaning of a revolutionary martyr’s death.
 Louise Ropes Loomis, “Introduction,” In Aristotle: On Man in the Universe. (Classics Club, 1971)., p. X.
Carlos L. Garrido is a philosophy graduate student and professor at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale. His specialization is in Marxist philosophy and the history of American socialist thought (esp. early 19th century). He is an editorial board member and co-founder of Midwestern Marx and the Journal of American Socialist Studies.
Featured image: Mercenaries working together with the US Army somewhere in the Middle East. Photo courtesy of AP.
People frequently refer to Colombia as “the coffee-growing country,” due to its high volume of coffee exports, but in recent years Colombia has found itself in headlines for a different commodity. For example, a recent BBC article was titled “Mercenaries: Colombian Export Product.”
In Iraq, Yemen, Libya, Haiti, Venezuela and now also in Afghanistan, there are great numbers of Colombian mercenaries. They perform their nefarious services in all of these disparate lands.
The expansion of Colombia’s culture of death is no longer surprising for neighboring Venezuelans. This dreadful growth caused many to turn to murder for hire, a situation is of course instigated by the real economic crisis that all of Colombia is suffering.
Companies for war
Not only does the United States send regular troops to participate in its military invasions, but also hires “military security companies,” mercenaries subcontracted from various parts of the world for illegal armed invasions. Their use frees North America from responsibility for war crimes, as well as the “security company” itself, placing the responsibility solely with the hitmen in question.
“So many intersecting factors—like those commonly found in the Middle East—including Colombia’s poverty, make the country ideal for mercenary operations,” noted Jorge Mantilla, a criminal investigator from the University of Illinois.
In this way, Colombians are taken advantage of by these profiteers of war, who recruit both criminals and former soldiers of the Colombian Army. The internal war, funded from drug trafficking by the state of Colombia, contributes to the reality that guns are found in the hands of many Colombians on a daily basis. Because of this ease of access, civilians and ex-military men become mercenaries anywhere in the world.
More than six decades of guerrilla war involving military, guerrilla groups and paramilitary forces has exacerbated the culture of violence in Colombia, creating the perfect breeding ground for one of the biggest exporters of mercenaries and violence in the world, all this with the complacent inaction of Colombian authorities.
In the armed events in Afghanistan, many shocking things happened. However, despite its remoteness, one of them was very shameful in particular: confirmation that many Colombian mercenaries served United States’ interests in the war.
The seriousness of these facts is magnified by the participation of Colombian mercenaries in coups, invasions, assassination and regicides, all of which are completely legal, according to the US or Colombia. In this manner they receive protection and even encouragement from the government of Bogotá, a powerful stimulus for those who choose this horrible profession.
(RedRadioVE) by Eduardo Toro, with Orinoco Tribune content
Translation: Orinoco Tribune
This article was republished from Orinoco Tribune.
New ornate streetlights add charm and ambience to Knoxville, Tennessee, even as they help the city dramatically slash energy consumption and save millions of taxpayer dollars each year.
These high-tech lights last for years, require almost zero maintenance and provide better illumination than the old models, leading one grateful official to say they “raised the bar and changed the game” for a city seeking a brighter future.
The United Steelworkers (USW) launched a weeklong bus tour on August 16 to call for historic investments in America’s infrastructure and to underscore the importance of using union-made materials and products, like the lights Knoxville installed, for these much-needed rebuilding projects.
The multistate event, part of the union’s “We Supply America” campaign, included a stop at Holophane’s plant in Newark, Ohio. There’s where members of USW Locals 525T, 4T and 105T manufacture lighting products that not only illuminate Knoxville and other cities but also help to preserve vital supply chains across the economy.
“We pretty much light the world,” said Local 525T President Steve Bishoff, noting he and his coworkers also supply state highway departments, shipping terminals, sewer authorities, energy facilities and military installations, along with numerous industries in the U.S. and overseas. “All the glass is made right here.”
Bishoff strongly supports President Joe Biden’s American Jobs Plan, which would modernize the country and supercharge the economy with long-overdue investments in roads, water systems, communications networks and other infrastructure. He views the Senate’s bipartisan passage of a $1 trillion infrastructure bill on August 10 as an important step in achieving this progress and wants the House to quickly get to work on its own legislation.
However, he knows that these bold investments will deliver the maximum benefits for America’s economy and security only if union workers lead the way.
An infrastructure program with domestic procurement requirements “would bring more jobs here,” Bishoff said, noting upgrades to bridges, school buildings and other facilities would dramatically increase demand for Holophane’s products.
An influx of new workers would help the greater Newark community, he added, noting the USW’s contract provides good wages and benefits that enable his coworkers to lead middle-class lives and support local businesses.
He also has other important reasons for insisting that union workers drive the infrastructure upgrades.
Upgraded roads and other improvements will only be as strong and dependable as the materials that go into them. Union members have the skills and dedication to build infrastructure that will be safe to use and stand the test of time.
Officials in Knoxville, for example, chose lighting products made by Bishoff and his colleagues because of the reliability, brightness and safety they bring to streets, highways and other city-owned spaces.
Similarly, the Tennessee Valley Authority chose Holophane’s union-made products to ensure the efficient operation of a gas plant crucial for power needs. And the ports of Los Angeles and Seattle installed Holophane’s lighting systems to maximize safety and productivity at two of the nation’s biggest shipping terminals.
One port official in Seattle noted that the new lights turned darkness into daylight. That’s the kind of compliment Bishoff and his colleagues often hear.
“It’s kind of a long process,” Bishoff, who’s worked at the plant for 44 years, said of the mixing, curing and craftsmanship that go into their top-quality production. “It takes teamwork to do it.”
Shortages of face masks, hand sanitizer and other critical goods during the COVID-19 pandemic revealed the withered state of American manufacturing and exposed gaping holes in the nation’s supply chains.
Carrying out infrastructure improvements with union-made components will help to sustain companies like Holophane, where Bishoff and his coworkers manufacture the kinds of items the nation relies on every day. But Biden’s plan will also stimulate additional manufacturing capacity throughout the economy and help to fill out supply chains, ensuring the nation never again has to rely on imported goods needed for everyday life or emergencies.
It’s essential that America maintain the capacity to produce lenses, bulbs and light fixtures for highways, tunnels, airports and shipping terminals. It’s just as critical that the U.S. be able to supply the raw materials, manufacture parts and assemble finished products for numerous other infrastructure and industrial uses.
The USW launched its “We Supply America” campaign to shine a light on the highly skilled union workers who are eager to deliver new infrastructure, a more powerful economy and stronger national security.
In addition to Newark, the bus tour includes stops at Cleveland-Cliffs steel mills in Indiana and West Virginia, a Goodyear tire factory in Virginia and Corning’s optical-fiber plant in North Carolina.
USW members like those at Cleveland-Cliffs produce the steel that America relies on not only for bridges, school buildings and drinking-water systems but also for shopping centers, athletic complexes and a vast array of consumer goods. Union workers at Goodyear and similar companies make the tires that keep passenger vehicles and tractor-trailers rolling, while also powering the cranes, graders and other heavy equipment essential for construction work.
And USW members at Corning turn glass into optical fiber that’s the brains of cutting-edge broadband systems that help to connect Americans to business and educational opportunities.
“It’s nice to be part of this,” Bishoff said of a union workforce that powers so much of the nation’s economy.
Now, America has an unprecedented opportunity to harness that skill and passion to build not only better infrastructure but also a stronger, more prosperous country.
“It would be good for everyone,” Bishoff said.
This article was produced by the Independent Media Institute.
On August 15, 2021, Afghan president Mohammad Ashraf Ghani made an inglorious exit from Afghanistan. In the words of Russian Embassy spokesman in Kabul Nikita Ishchenko: “the collapse of the regime…is most eloquently characterized by the way Ghani fled Afghanistan. Four cars were full of money, they tried to stuff another part of the money into a helicopter, but not all of it fit. And some of the money was left lying on the tarmac.”
Sitting safely in the United Arab Emirates, he has busied himself with public relations damage control. “Do not believe whoever tells you that your president sold you out and fled for his own advantage and to save his own life…These accusations are baseless... and I strongly reject them…I was expelled from Afghanistan in such a way that I didn't even get the chance to take my slippers off my feet and pull on my boots.”
Many high-ranking individuals have strongly disagreed with Ghani’s attempted dignification of his dishonorable escapade. On August 18, 2021, Afghan Defense Minister Bismillah Khan Mohammadi called on Interpol to arrest him for “selling out the motherland.” On the same day, Afghanistan’s ambassador to Tajikistan told a news conference that Ghani “stole $169m from the state coffers” and called his flight “a betrayal of the state and the nation”.
Ghani’s opportunistic behavior stands in stark contrast to the principled stand taken by Afghanistan’s last left-wing president - Mohammad Najibullah. After assuming power in 1986, he followed a policy of national reconciliation, looking for a political resolution to the proxy war raging in his country. A unilateral ceasefire with the jihadists was proposed and posts were offered to the insurgents in a coalition government.
In an attempt to create a broad-based state, mujahedeen leaders, the former king Zahir Shah and ex-ministers from previous governments were invited to join a government of national unity “to rebuild the war-torn country”. Parliamentary elections in April 1988; a non-party candidate, Mohammad Hassan Sharq, was elected prime minister and 62 parliamentary seats were left vacant for the opposition.
Addressing the UN General Assembly in June 1988, Najibullah stated that the “flexibility of the present leadership of Afghanistan also includes its decision to give up monopoly on power, the introduction of parliament on the basis of party competition and granting of all political, social and economic rights and privileges to those who are returning.”
Significant headway was made in reaching peace accords with local warlords. In 1988, 160 guerrilla commanders had reached agreements and more than 750 were negotiating. An attitude of domestic concord was consistently maintained. On March 2, 1989, Najibullah told Far Eastern Economic Review that all arms shipments to both sides be halted. “If it is said that we get help from the Soviet Union, then let the arms supplies from both superpowers be cut to put an end to the war”.
Pro-imperialist propagandists had believed that Najibullah would fall within months, if not weeks, of the withdrawal of Soviet troops. However, his government continued to enjoy deep support in many parts of Afghanistan. When the Geneva Accords were being signed, the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) - to which Najibullah belonged - claimed a membership of 250,000. Its organizational branches had a combined membership of 750,000. Afghans preferred government-controlled cities over the mujahedeen-dominated refugee camps in Pakistan, or in Iran.
On the military front, the PDPA survived without Soviet intervention. As the last of the Soviet troops were crossing the Amu Darya River, Washington and its faithful auxiliaries withdrew their embassies from Kabul. Shortly, the mujahedeen leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar predicted that “Kabul will fall in weeks, not months, without any major onslaught on the city”.
Najibullah defied the hopes of imperialists. Norm Dixon writes: “The contras and Washington expected wholesale defections of the Afghan armed forces to the mujahedeen. It was not to be. As with Jalalabad and Kandahar, two cities which had been being successfully defended solely by Afghan troops for several months without Soviet troops, Kabul too would hold out.”
The PDPA government’s success in promoting internal stability was suddenly undermined by the 1991 collapse of the USSR. While Soviet military supplies to the Afghan government witnessed an abrupt blockage, American arms and funds continued to flow to the jihadists. Najibullah’s resignation became the sine qua non for any meaningful discussion.
Consequently, on March 18, 1992, Najibullah announced he would resign as soon as an authority could be designated to replace him. Emboldened by these developments, General Abdul Rashid Dostum army’s broke its pact of aggression with Kabul to band together with General Ahmad Shah Massoud in early 1992. On April 15 of the same year, non-Pashtun forces that had been allied to the government mutinied and took control of Kabul airport.
On April 16, 1992, Najibullah was present at the office of Benon V. Sevan - UN secretary-general’s personal representative in Afghanistan and Pakistan - along with the representatives of Pakistan and Iran. When informed of Pakistan’s offer to grant him political asylum at the Pakistan embassy in Kabul, he clarified:
“I said I would submit my resignation in pursuit of the UN peace plan if it would help to end hostilities, and if there would be no assault on Kabul. I warned you that if I announced my intention to resign before an interim government was in place that there would be a power vacuum. This is what is happening today. I fought these developments for three years; I knew what would happen. Once a power vacuum emerges, who will be responsible for law and order and security? Not only the honor and pride of Najibullah are at stake, but also the honor and pride of the UN. I will not go to Pakistan! That is no solution. I prefer to stay at the UN compound. The answer is the UN peace plan, and the Council of Impartials, which will take over as a transitional authority as soon as possible…I offered my resignation today as president of the Republic of Afghanistan, and as leader of the ruling Watan [Homeland] Party [PDPA’s new name, adopted in 1990]. The UN now has the responsibility to make its plan work. I am prepared to sacrifice myself if anyone tries to attack the UN premises, if that will help to bring peace to my country. I am willing to make the ultimate sacrifice.”
Referring to Iran and Pakistan - which had been funding different mujahedeen forces - he added, “I don’t trust you, you bastards! I would rather die than be protected by you. And besides, I don’t believe you will protect me.” Thus, for years, Najibullah remained isolated in a UN compound. On September 27, 1996, Taliban soldiers - after winning a bloody civil war with various mujahedeen factions and warlords - captured, tortured, and killed him, then hanged him in Ariana Square, outside the Presidential palace. A writer notes: “Najibullah…was left hanging from a Kabul lamp post with his genitals stuffed in this mouth. By such methods, the “civilised West” and its paid agents achieved their main objectives in...[Afghanistan].”
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.
Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador wants to revive Simón Bolívar’s dream. By: Andres Manuel LopezRead Now
Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has proposed replacing the Washington-based Organization of American States (OAS) with a more autonomous entity linked to the "history, reality, and identifies" of Latin America and the Caribbean. | Photo released by Government of Mexico
The following speech was given by Mexico’s President Andrés Manuel López Obrador on July 24, 2021, in Mexico City to pay homage to the Liberator Simón Bolívar. AMLO urged the recreation of Bolívar’s project of uniting the peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean, and to rely on history to better face the present and the future. This speech was published on Portside on August 14 and has been slightly edited for length and to match People’s World style.
Born in 1783, exactly 30 years after Miguel Hidalgo, Simón Bolívar decided at a very young age to fight for great, noble, and just causes. Like Hidalgo himself and José María Morelos y Pavón, the fathers of our homeland, the liberator Bolívar encompassed exceptional virtues.
Bolívar is a living example of how a good humanistic education can overcome the indifference or comfort of those who are born with a silver spoon in their mouths. Bolívar belonged to a well-to-do family of landowners, but from childhood on he was educated by Simon Rodríguez, an educator and social reformer who accompanied him in his education until he reached a high degree of intellectual maturity and awareness.
In 1805, when he was only 22 years old, on the Monte Sacro in Rome, Bolívar “swore in the presence of his teacher and namesake not to rest his body or soul until he had succeeded in liberating the Spanish-American world from Spanish tutelage.”
Like his father, Bolívar had a military calling, but at the same time he was an enlightened man and as they used to say, a man of the world, for he traveled extensively in Europe; he lived or visited Spain, France, Italy, England; he spoke French, knew mathematics, history and literature, but he was not only a man of thought but also of action.
He knew the art of war and was at the same time a political leader with a calling and commitment for transformation. He knew the importance of discourse; the power of ideas, the effectiveness of proclamations and was aware of the great usefulness of journalism and the printing press as an instrument for the struggle. He knew the effect caused by the enactment of laws for the benefit of the people and, above all, he valued the importance of not giving up, of perseverance, and of never losing faith in the victory of the cause for which he was fighting for the good of others.
In 1811, Bolívar joined the anti-colonialist army, under the command of Francisco de Miranda, precursor of the Independence Movement. Shortly thereafter, in response to hesitancy on the part of this military leader, Bolívar took command of the troops and in 1813 began the struggle for the liberation of Venezuela. Shortly beforehand, as Manuel Pérez Vila, one of his biographers, writes, the people began to call him The Liberator, “a title solemnly conferred on him, in October 1813, by the municipality and the people of Caracas, and with which he would go down in history.”
In his tireless struggle through the highways and byways of the Americas, victories and defeats are intertwined. Bolívar’s military campaign led him to take refuge in Jamaica and Haiti; from these people and their governments he received support for his campaigns on two occasions, something truly exceptional and an example of solidarity and Latin American brotherhood.
In 1819, he triumphantly entered Bogotá, and soon after the Fundamental Law of the Republic of Colombia was issued. This great state, Gran Colombia, the creation of The Liberator, included the current republics of Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, and Panama.
Not everything was easy in his struggle. He lost battles, faced betrayals, and, as in any transforming or revolutionary movement, internal divisions appeared, which can be even more harmful than the struggles against the real adversaries.
In the struggle to liberate the peoples of our Americas, Bolívar had the tremendous support of General Antonio José de Sucre and in 1822, he met, in Guayaquil, Ecuador, with General José de San Martín, another illustrious titan of South American independence.
At that time the “Bolívar Republic” was established, today known as Bolivia, and the independence of Peru was consummated. On the coast of this country, at the beginning of 1824, Bolívar fell ill, and despite bad news, due to betrayals and defeats, it is said that from the armchair where he was sitting his famous exclamation “Triumph!” emerged. This anecdote was made into poetry by Carlos Pellicer, who intensely admired Bolívar. The verse reads as follows:
Señor don Joaquín Mosquera
from a certain town, he arrived.
He got off his mule
and sought out the Liberator.
Old ramrod saddle
Leaning on the wall
of a miserable house;
The sad body
of Bolívar rested on it.
Don Joaquin embraced him
with very courteous words.
The hero of the New World
After Señor Mosquera
had enumerated the sorrows,
he asked Don Simon:
“And now, what are you going to do?”
“Triumph!” The Liberator
replied with mad faith.
And it was a solid silence
of admiration and horror….
After that fateful moment, The Liberator lived through many others of equal misfortune. The final leg of his existence was marked by the constant divisions in the liberal ranks, which even led Venezuela to proclaim itself a state independent of Gran Colombia on the eve of his death. On December 17, 1830, the great liberator Simón Bolívar closed his eyes and never woke up.
Bolivarismo in history
The struggle for the integrity of the peoples of our Americas continues to be a beautiful ideal. It has not been easy to turn that beautiful goal into reality. Its main obstacles have been the conservative movement in nations of the Americas, the divisions in the ranks of the liberal movement, and the predominance of the United States in the hemisphere. Let’s not forget that almost at the same time that our countries were gaining independence from Spain and other European nations, the new metropolis of hegemonic domination was emerging in this hemisphere.
During the difficult period of the wars of independence, which generally began around 1810, the rulers of the United States followed events with discreet interest and an entirely pragmatic approach. The United States maneuvered at different times in accordance with a unilateral game plan. Extreme caution at the beginning, so as not to irritate Spain, Great Britain, the Holy Alliance, without hindering decolonization, which at times looked doubtful. However, around 1822, Washington began the rapid recognition of the independence achieved in order to close the door to interventionism from abroad, and in 1823, at last, a defined policy emerged.
In October, [former U.S. President Thomas] Jefferson, who inspired the Declaration of Independence and who was by then a sort of oracle, responded by letter to a query on the issue from President James Monroe. In a significant paragraph, Jefferson says: “Our first and fundamental maxim should be, never to entangle ourselves in the broils of Europe; our second, never to allow Europe to meddle in affairs on this side of the Atlantic.” In December, Monroe delivered the famous speech in which the doctrine that bears his name was outlined.
The slogan of “America for the Americans” ended up disintegrating the peoples of our continent and destroying what Bolívar had built. Throughout almost the entire 19th century we experienced constant occupations, invasions, annexations and it cost us the loss of half of our territory, with the great blow of 1848.
This territorial and violent expansion of the United States was consecrated when Cuba, Spain’s last bastion in the Americas, fell in 1898, with the suspicious sinking of the battleship Maine in Havana. This gave rise to the Platt Amendment and the occupation of Guantánamo. In other words, by then the United States had finished defining its vital physical space throughout the Americas.
Since that time, Washington has never ceased carrying out overt or covert operations against the independent countries south of the Río Grande. The influence of U.S. foreign policy is overwhelming in the Americas. There is only one special exception, that of Cuba, the country that for more than half a century has asserted its independence by politically confronting the United States. We may or may not agree with the Cuban Revolution and its government, but to have resisted 62 years without being subjugated, is quite a feat. My words may provoke anger in some or many, but as the song by René Pérez Joglar of Calle 13 goes, “I always say what I think.”
Therefore, I believe that, for its struggle in defense of its country’s sovereignty, the people of Cuba deserve the prize of dignity, and this island should be considered the new Numantia for its example of resistance, and I think that for that very reason it should be declared a world heritage site.
Exploring another option
But I also maintain that now is the time for a new coexistence among all the countries of the Americas, because the model imposed more than two centuries ago is exhausted, has no future, and no way out, and no longer benefits anyone. We must put aside the dilemma of either integrating with the United States or opposing it defensively.
It is time to explore another option, that of having a dialogue with U.S. leaders and convincing and persuading them that a new relationship between the countries of the Americas is possible.
I believe that at present there are excellent conditions to achieve this goal of respecting each other and going forward together without anyone being left behind.
With this in mind, our experience of economic integration with respect for our sovereignty, which we have been carrying out in the conception and implementation of the economic and trade agreement with the United States and Canada, may be helpful.
Obviously, it is no minor thing to have a nation like the United States as a neighbor. Our proximity forces us to seek agreements and it would be a serious mistake to physically confront Samson, but at the same time we have powerful reasons to assert our sovereignty and demonstrate with arguments and without idle chatter, that we are not a protectorate, a colony or their backyard. Furthermore, with the passage of time, a factor favorable to our country has gradually been accepted: China’s disproportionate growth has strengthened the opinion in the United States that we should be seen as allies and not as distant neighbors.
The integration process has been taking place since 1994, when the first trade agreement was signed, which, although incomplete because it did not address the issue of labor rights, as is the case today, allowed for the installation of auto parts plants and factories in other branches and the creation of production chains that make us mutually indispensable. It can be said that even the U.S. military industry depends on auto parts manufactured in Mexico. I say this not out of pride, but to underscore the interdependence that exists. But speaking of this question, as I said to President Joseph Biden, we prefer an economic integration with sovereignty with the United States and Canada, in order to recover what we have lost in terms of production and trade with China, rather than continuing to weaken ourselves as a region and having a scenario in the Pacific plagued by war clouds. In other words, it is in our interest for the United States to be strong economically and not only militarily. Achieving this balance and not the hegemony of any country is the most responsible and advisable way to maintain peace for the good of future generations and humanity.
To start with, we must be realistic and accept, as I stated in my speech at the White House in July of last year, that while China dominates 12.2 percent of the global export and services market, the United States controls only 9.5 percent. This disparity dates back just 30 years since in 1990, China’s share was 1.3 percent and the United States’ was 12.4 percent. Imagine if this trend of the last three decades were to continue, and there is nothing that can legally or legitimately be done to prevent it, in another 30 years, by 2051, China would dominate 64.8 percent of the world market and the United States between 4 and 10 percent; which, I insist, in addition to being an unacceptable disproportionate division on an economic level, would keep alive the temptation to wager on resolving this disparity with the use of force, which would endanger us all.
It could be simplistically assumed that it is up to each nation to take on its responsibility, but in the case of such a delicate matter so close to our hearts, with respect for the rights of others and the independence of each country, we think that the best thing to do would be to strengthen ourselves economically and commercially in North America and throughout the hemisphere. Besides, I do not see any other way out; we cannot close our economies or wager on the application of tariffs on exporting countries of the world, and much less should we declare a trade war on anyone. I think the best thing to do is to be efficient, creative, strengthen our regional market, and compete with any country or region in the world.
Of course, this involves jointly planning our development; nothing on the order of live and let live. We must jointly define very precise goals; for example, to stop rejecting migrants, mostly young people, when in order to grow we need a labor force that, in reality, is not sufficiently available in the United States or Canada. Why not study the demand for labor and open the migratory flow in an orderly manner? And within the framework of this new joint development plan, we should consider policies on investment, labor, environmental protection, and other issues of mutual interest to our nations.
It is obvious that this must involve cooperation for the development and welfare of all the peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean. The policy of the last two centuries, characterized by invasions to put in place or remove governments at the whim of the superpower, is no longer acceptable: Let’s bid farewell to impositions, interference, sanctions, exclusions, and blockades.
Let’s instead apply the principles of non-intervention, self-determination of peoples, and peaceful settlement of disputes. Let’s initiate a relationship in our hemisphere based on the premise of George Washington, according to which “nations should not take advantage of the misfortune of other peoples.”
I am aware that this is a complex issue that requires a new political and economic outlook. The proposal is no more and no less than to build something similar to the European Union, but in accordance with our history, our reality, and our identities. In this spirit, the replacement of the OAS [Organization of American States] by a truly autonomous organization, not a lackey of anyone, but a mediator at the request and acceptance of the parties in conflict, in matters of human rights and democracy, should not be ruled out. It is a great task for good diplomats and political leaders such as those who, fortunately, exist in all the countries of our hemisphere.
What is proposed here may seem utopian. However, it should be considered that without the horizon of ideals we will get nowhere and, consequently, it is worth trying. Let’s keep Bolívar’s dream alive.
Andrés Manuel López Obrador is the President of Mexico.
This article was produced by People's World.
Remembering Anahita Ratebzad, socialist leader and mother of Afghan women’s liberation. By: Tim WheelerRead Now
Anahita Ratebzad, standing at right, speaks with a group of activists. | Ratebzad Family via Twitter
All the newspapers and television news programs right now are filled with stories about the dark future hanging over Afghan women and girls as the Taliban retakes control of their country. The Guardian late last week featured an article by an unnamed Afghan woman who said she is now hiding the two university degrees she earned, searching for a burqa to cover every inch of herself as the women-hating fundamentalists of the Taliban close in.
She said she taught English language classes. “Every time I remember that my beautiful little girl students should stop their education and stay at their home, my tears fall…. As a woman, I feel like I am the victim of the political war that men started.”
For over half the population of Afghanistan, the women, all the gains they have won could now be stripped from them. And for a large majority of men, they too will lose their democratic rights.
We should not forget that the U.S. played a treacherous role in determining Afghanistan’s fate, sending in the CIA to arm the counter-revolutionary mujahideen to overthrow the progressive April Revolution back in the 1980s. Among the killers the CIA trained and equipped for these death squads was Osama bin Laden, ringleader in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
It is also a good time to remember Anahita Ratebzad, the mother of Afghan women’s liberation, and to uphold the gender equality she fought so hard to achieve. When the April Revolution erupted in Afghanistan in 1978, Ratebzad was in the thick of the battle, a leader of the People’s Democratic Party.
She wrote a famous polemic that appeared in the May 28, 1978, edition of New Kabul Times: “Privileges which women by right must have are equal education, job security, health services, and free time to rear a healthy generation for building the future of the country…. Educating and enlightening women is now the subject of close government attention.”
When the April Revolution triumphed, the new prime minister, Nur Mohammad Turaki, named Ratebzad as Minister of Social Affairs.
She was born in the village of Gildara, Kabul Province, on Nov. 1, 1931. Her father supported democratic reforms and was forced by the reactionary monarchist regime into exile in Iran. She saw little of her father as she grew up in poverty, attending a French-language school. She was forced to marry at age 15 to Dr. Keramuddin Kakar, one of the few foreign-educated Afghan men, a surgeon. She and her husband had three children, a daughter and two sons.
But in the years that followed, she was targeted for vicious defamation by Islamic fundamentalists for this bold initiative. Her husband, who supported Afghan monarch Zahir Khan, separated from Ratebzad. They remained separated, although they did not get divorced.
Also in 1957, Ratebzad led a delegation of Afghan women to attend the Asian Conference on Women in Ceylon (Sri Lanka), the first time ever that Afghan women attended such a conference. By 1964, she had founded the Democratic Organization of Afghan Women, and on March 8, 1965, Ratebzad and other Afghan women organized the first ever march through Kabul in celebration of International Women’s Day.
Ratebzad was also a reader, writer, and thinker. In the course of her political work, she became a Marxist-Leninist. She was one of four women elected to Afghanistan’s parliament in 1965 representing Kabul province—the first group of women legislators in the country’s history.
Later, during the years of Afghanistan’s socialist revolution, she held several cabinet posts and also served as ambassador to Yugoslavia and Bulgaria at various times. From 1980 to 1985, she was Deputy Chair of the Revolutionary Council—the equivalent of vice president of Afghanistan. No woman before or since has held such a high position in the country.
Political pundits are spewing out a torrent of invective, “Who lost Afghanistan?” Washington and the media are full of finger-pointing. But there is scarcely a mention of Afghanistan’s April Revolution. And when it is mentioned at all, the government that led it is brushed aside as merely a “Soviet puppet.” Anahita Ratebzad was nobody’s puppet. She was a strong, independent woman, the face of a new Afghanistan.
Tim Wheeler estimates he has written 10,000 news reports, exposés, op-eds, and commentaries in his half-century as a journalist for the Worker, Daily World and People’s World. Tim also served as editor of the People’s Weekly World newspaper. He lives in Sequim, Wash., in the home he shared with his beloved late wife Joyce Wheeler. His book News for the 99% is a selection of his writings over the last 50 years representing a kind of history of the nation and the world from a working-class point of view.
This article was produced by People's World.
Image: Afghan soldier, Scott Cohen (Wikipedia, public domain).
The decision to withdraw U.S. forces from Afghanistan was correct. They had no business there in the first place. The manner of leaving is a tragedy. U.S. imperialist foreign and military policy is in deep crisis, and the lessons must be drawn — the most important of which is that war was never a viable option or solution.
Comparisons have been made to Vietnam. This by far will be worse: in both the human toll and its political consequences. Remember there was no internet when Saigon fell to Vietnam’s heroic fighters who liberated and then rebuilt a war-devastated country. But the Taliban is no NLF. What will play out in the next days, weeks, and months will likely have a far more devastating impact in almost every way possible.
With the fall of Kabul and the video of people desperately trying to leave the country, there is much hand-wringing and recriminations in the capitalist press over how Afghanistan was “lost.” Losing a war is equated with “losing” a country. This mindset is the problem — Afghanistan is not “ours” to lose. But the U.S. is an imperialist nation, and this thinking, repeated by politicians and the media, accurately reflects the problem.
One answer to the question of why Kabul fell so quickly is that the soldiers and police, funded and trained by the U.S., at a cost estimated at $2 trillion, simply did not support the government. The kind of government imposed by the U.S., not its own people, was completely contrary to traditional centers of power. The U.S. demand that Afghanis defend a corrupt government imposed by the U.S. occupying army is arrogant.
A U.S.-created “mess”
U.S. imperialism is responsible for the “mess” that pundits call Afghanistan. The Bush government started the war on October 7, 2001, ostensibly to end the terrorism emanating from that country, defeat Al-Qaeda, and get rid of Osama bin Laden. But Bin Laden left Afghanistan for Pakistan in December 2001, and instead of pursuing him there, Bush and Company expanded the war to impose their will on an entire people and supposedly engage in “nation building,” that is, profit making.
The “mess” goes back to 1979–89, when the U.S. funded the Mujahidin, the ultra-conservative forces fighting the Soviet-backed government. The CIA-engineered program, “Operation Cyclone,” began under the Carter administration and was ramped up under Reagan, ultimately costing taxpayers about $3 billion. The political outlook of the Mujahidin was irrelevant; all they wanted was to oust the Soviets during the Cold War. During the civil war, many of these forces formed the Taliban, which became the predominant power in 1996. The U.S. trained, armed, and financed the very forces it then fought for 20 years.
The cost of war
After 20 years of an “illegitimate, illegal, immoral, inhuman” war, what did we get? Reportedly, over 38,000 Afghan civilians lost their lives, but the government didn’t track the numbers of deaths, and 100,000 lives lost is more likely. Over 2,400 U.S. troops were killed, and four times as many troops have committed suicide as were killed in wars since 9/11.
The war was expensive in terms of financial cost, too. The U.S. spent more money on Afghanistan than it did on the Marshall Plan, the massive effort to rebuild Western Europe after World War II. Our government spent about $90 billion to train Afghan soldiers and police, $10 billion to fight the narcotics trade while seeing opium production rise, and $24 billion on economic development — all to no avail.
Who benefitted from this massive outpouring of tax dollars? Private corporations, of course. Contractors took over services once provided by the military: food preparation, laundry, transportation, air traffic control, and even security. Contractors range from well-known corporations like FedEx, Boeing, and Raytheon to companies you never heard of: Fluor Corporation, the recipient of $3.1 billion during 2016–21, Columbia Helicopters, Inc., and Amentum (air traffic control). Contractors so far have reaped $104 billion since 2002. With this much money floating around, there’s bound to be corruption and over-charging, as in the case of Fluor.
General Smedley Butler, who in the early 1900s helped make Central America safe for United Fruit Company and later regretted it, commented that “war is a racket,” one “in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives.” War is indeed a money maker.
What of the women?
Phyllis Bennis, Middle East expert and Fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies, pointed out in a CodePink webinar that women are hardly better off for having their land occupied by the U.S. Some women in cities took advantage of U.S. involvement, obtaining an education and jobs, and they will undoubtedly suffer under Taliban rule. Already, the Taliban is removing women from public-sector positions. But 75% of the population live in rural areas, and few rural women benefited from reforms. Bennis pointed out that, when the Taliban ruled Afghanistan before 2001, infant mortality was the highest of any nation. After 20 years of U.S. intervention, Afghanistan remains at the top of the list.
Bennis notes in a Nation article that the first woman member of the Afghanistan parliament, Malalai Joya, reminded us before the withdrawal that “women and civil society in Afghanistan have three enemies — the Taliban, the warlords disguised as a government, and the US military occupation. If you can get rid of one of them, she said, we’d only have two.”
For now, the number of enemies may have been reduced to one, the Taliban, but the threat of U.S. interference, in the form of continuing bombing raids and drone strikes or economic sanctions, is ever-present.
What we should do now
Once again, we agree with Rep. Barbara Lee: “There is no military solution” in Afghanistan or to terrorism. Instead, we must hold our government accountable and demand the end of the bombing raids and drone attacks that were ramped up a few weeks ago.
We also demand that the Biden Administration do the following:
End all mercenary and military contractor activity;
Work with regional powers and the UN to resolve the crisis.
Support the creation of a humanitarian corridor to ensure that Afghan and international humanitarian workers can leave safely.
Allow refugees and asylum seekers to resettle in the U.S.
Officially acknowledge U.S. responsibility for the harm the war has done to the Afghan people and pay reparations that will serve the Afghan people instead of the Taliban.
Further, we must insist that Congress retain its Constitutional responsibility to wage war and not leave it to a president to make this life-and-death decision. Demand deep cuts in the military budget, close the military bases located in over 135 countries, end the nuclear program, and use that money for human needs at home and humanitarian causes abroad. Create a cabinet-level Department of Peace that has status equal to the DoD.
War is rarely about “right vs. wrong”; it’s about imperial power and money. We’re already against the next war. By working for a just, equal society at home, we can prevent the next war.
It’s time we reckon with the militaristic nature of U.S. policy and capitalism. Let’s end the mindset that Afghanistan, or any other country, is “ours” to win or lose.
The Communist Party USA is a working class organization founded in 1919 in Chicago, IL. The Communist Party stands for the interests of the American working class and the American people. It stands for our interests in both the present and the future. Solidarity with workers of other countries is also part of our work. We work in coalition with the labor movement, the peace movement, the student movement, organizations fighting for equality and social justice, the environmental movement, immigrants rights groups and the health care for all campaign. But to win a better life for working families, we believe that we must go further. We believe that the American people can replace capitalism with a system that puts people before profit — socialism. We are rooted in our country's revolutionary history and its struggles for democracy. We call for "Bill of Rights" socialism, guaranteeing full individual freedoms.
This article was produced by CPUSA.
Biden’s Botched Withdrawal From Afghanistan Is Consistent With Two Decades of America’s Missteps There. By: Sonali KolhatkarRead Now
The criticisms against Biden’s withdrawal from Afghanistan are coming from all corners. But most are missing the point.
President Joe Biden is under a tremendous amount of pressure from his own Democratic Party and the liberal media establishment for daring to withdraw American troops from Afghanistan and allowing the country to fall back into the hands of the fundamentalist Taliban regime. Biden, in a statement on August 14, said, “One more year, or five more years, of U.S. military presence would not have made a difference if the Afghan military cannot or will not hold its own country.” Just two days later, after the Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled and the Taliban stormed into the capital, Kabul, President Biden in a speech from the White House defiantly maintained that “there was never a good time to withdraw U.S. forces,” but was forced to admit that the Taliban resumed control of Afghanistan “more quickly than we had anticipated.”
Republicans predictably jumped on this demonstrable foreign policy failure, neglecting to mention that it was Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump who laid the groundwork for the withdrawal of U.S. troops and worked with the Taliban to do so. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) expostulated, “This debacle was not only foreseeable, it was foreseen,” as if Trump would have done any better as a second-term president. Trump’s former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in an interview on Fox News with Chris Wallace chimed in, saying, “It looks like the Biden administration has just failed in its execution of its own plan,” even though of course the Democratic president was essentially carrying out Trump’s plan. The Republican National Committee has now deleted a page on its website that had celebrated Trump’s dealings with the Taliban, perhaps hoping no one would notice.
The corporate media was equally unforgiving of Biden. The Washington Post’s editorial board issued a scathing opinion blaming Biden for any future deaths, saying that the U.S. “assumed at least partial responsibility for all Afghans. Leaving them now means walking away from that responsibility.” The Post also worried about America’s global prestige, saying, “at risk is the United States’ reputation as a partner, as would-be allies around the world watch and calculate the value of an American commitment.”
In a similar vein, the New York Times’ Bret Stephens demanded to know, “What on earth was Joe Biden thinking—if, that is, he was thinking?” Like the Post, Stephens was deeply concerned about the nation’s reputation, asking, “What kind of ally is the United States?”
Such criticisms miss several glaring points. First, if a foreign military occupation made no progress toward democracy and human rights in 20 years, it is unlikely to do so in 20 more. Second, they are more concerned about the U.S.’s reputation as a global superpower (which is what the term “ally” really implies) than human lives. And third, although a majority of Americans once supported the Afghanistan War and occupation, today most Americans want the occupation to end.
Moreover, most critics of Biden’s botched exit from Afghanistan appear to have missed the fact that the entirety of the occupation has been flawed and led to the debacle of the Taliban’s resurgence. Biden’s missteps were apropos of the entire occupation. Every step of the way, the United States made the wrong choice, regardless of which president, Republican or Democrat, was in power, from George W. Bush’s decision to work with corrupt and violent warlords, to Barack Obama’s choice to validate the Taliban by being the first to engage in peace talks with the ostensible enemy forces.
Biden’s fellow Democrats also joined in the criticism against him but got much closer to the questions that really need to be asked about the disastrous turn of events in Afghanistan. Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said, “I am disappointed that the Biden administration clearly did not accurately assess the implications of a rapid U.S. withdrawal.” More importantly, he made the astute observation that “We are now witnessing the horrifying results of many years of policy and intelligence failures.”
Even though the U.S.-backed Afghan government has been ineffectual and corrupt directly as a result of choices that successive administrations made over the years, the Biden administration could have chosen to coordinate more closely with the institution if only to ensure that billions of dollars of U.S.-bought weapons would not fall into Taliban hands. Instead, according to Associated Press, “the ultimate beneficiary of the American investment [in Afghanistan’s military] turned out to be the Taliban,” who “grabbed not only political power but also U.S.-supplied firepower—guns, ammunition, helicopters and more.”
To summarize, the U.S. went to war against Afghanistan in October 2001 in order to punish the Taliban and Al Qaeda for the September 11 terrorist attacks, spent nearly two decades fighting a “war on terror,” and ended up leaving its ostensible enemy empowered both politically and militarily. American taxpayers, who naively backed the invasion and occupation, spent trillions of dollars in a brutal decades-long exercise in futility that resulted in lost lives, a traumatized Afghan population and a renewal of the forces that terrorized them.
The Taliban couldn’t have asked for a better war.
It may be hard to believe that things could have been even worse under Trump. But if the former Republican president were in power now, it is likely we would be witnessing a similar situation but with even more violence. Former Secretary of State Pompeo in his Fox interview advised the Biden administration to “crush these Taliban who are surrounding Kabul,” adding, “We should do it with American airpower, we should put pressure on them, we should inflict cost and pain on them.” Past wars have demonstrated with striking reliability that such infliction of pain is never precise and always results in so-called “collateral damage,” a euphemism for civilian casualties. Trump had a proven penchant for using massive firepower with no regard for civilians, and with Pompeo offering him advice, we would likely have seen the same situation as we are seeing today but with the added horror of bombs falling on people attempting to flee the Taliban.
The Taliban’s takeover of Kabul is being likened by many to the fall of Saigon. Before the Afghanistan War, there was the Vietnam War. And there were many other wars during and before Vietnam and Afghanistan that garnered less attention. If there is a lesson that Americans as a nation ought to take away from these devastating militaristic exercises that consistently do more harm than good, it is to ensure we never again rally behind a desire to bomb, raid, occupy and militarily strike another nation. This means standing up to the liberal and conservative establishments that find a detached comfort in the cold calculus of warfare with no concern for life, safety, or democracy.
Sonali Kolhatkar is the founder, host and executive producer of “Rising Up With Sonali,” a television and radio show that airs on Free Speech TV and Pacifica stations. She is a writing fellow for the Economy for All project at the Independent Media Institute.
This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.
Despite significant advances made by governments around the world in humanizing drug control systems since the turn of the century, human rights abuses still seem to be taking place in the course of enforcing drug prohibitions in recent years and, in some cases, have only gotten worse.
The United States continues to imprison hundreds of thousands of people for drug offenses and imposes state surveillance (probation and parole) on millions more. The Mexican military rides roughshod over the rule of law, disappearing, torturing, and killing people with impunity as it wages war on (or sometimes works with) the infamous drug cartels. Russia and Southeast Asian countries, meanwhile, hold drug users in “treatment centers” that are little more than prison camps.
A July virtual event, which ran parallel to the United Nations High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development, shined a harsh light on brutal human rights abuses by the Philippines and Indonesia in the name of the war on drugs and also highlighted one method of combating impunity for drug war crimes: by imposing sanctions.
The event, “SDG 16: The Global War on Drugs vs. Rule of Law and Human Rights,” was organized by DRCNet Foundation (a sister organization of the Drug Reform Coordination Network/StoptheDrugWar.org), a U.S.-based nonprofit in consultative status with the UN Economic and Social Council. The “SDG 16” refers to Sustainable Development Goal 16—Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions—of the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
Event organizer and DRCNet Foundation executive director David Borden opened the meeting with a discussion about the broad drug policy issues and challenges being witnessed on the global stage.
“Drug policy affects and is affected by many of these broad sustainable development goals,” he said. “One of the very important issues is the shortfall in global AIDS funding, especially in the area of harm reduction programs. Another goal—Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions—is implicated in the Philippines, where President [Rodrigo] Duterte was elected in 2016 and initiated a mass killing campaign admitted by him—although sometimes denied by his defenders—in which the police acknowledged killing over 6,000 people in [anti-drug] operations [since 2016], almost all of whom resisted arrests, according to police reports. NGOs put the true number [of those who were] killed at over 30,000, with many executed by shadowy vigilantes.”
The International Criminal Court (ICC) has proposed a formal investigation of human rights abuses in the Philippines drug war, but the court seems hampered by a chronic shortfall in funding, Borden pointed out.
“Former prosecutors have warned pointedly on multiple occasions of a mismatch between the court’s mission and its budget,” he said. “Recent activity at the conclusion of three different preliminary investigations shows that while the prosecutor in the Philippines moved forward, in both Nigeria and Ukraine, the office concluded there should be formal investigations, but did not [submit] investigation requests, leaving it [up to the] new prosecutors [to do so]. The hope is [that the ICC] will move as expeditiously as possible on the Philippines investigation, but resources will affect that, as will the [Philippine] government’s current stance.”
The government’s current stance is perhaps best illustrated by President Duterte’s remarks at his final State of the Nation address on July 26. In his speech, Duterte dared the ICC to “record his threats against those who ‘destroy’ the country with illegal drugs,” the Rappler reported. “I never denied—and the ICC can record it—those who destroy my country, I will kill you,” said Duterte. “And those who destroy the young people of my country, I will kill you, because I love my country.” He added that pursuing anti-drug strategies through the criminal justice system “would take you months and years,” and again told police to kill drug users and dealers.
At the virtual event, Philippines human rights attorney Justine Balane, secretary-general of Akbayan Youth, the youth wing of the progressive, democratic socialist Akbayan Citizens’ Action Party, provided a blunt and chilling update on the Duterte government’s bloody five-year-long drug war.
“The killings remain widespread, systematic, and ongoing,” he said. “We’ve documented 186 deaths, equal to two a day for the first quarter of the year. Of those, 137 were connected to the Philippine National Police, the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, or the armed forces, and 49 were committed by unidentified assailants.”
The “unidentified assailants”—vigilante death squads of shadowy provenance—are responsible for the majority of killings since 2016.
“Of the 137 killed, 96 were small-time pushers, highlighting the fact that the drug war is also class warfare targeting small-time pushers or people just caught in the wrong place or wrong time,” Balane said.
He also provided an update on the Duterte administration’s response to ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda’s June 14 decision concluding her preliminary examination of human rights abuses in the Philippine drug war with a request to the ICC to open a formal investigation into “the situation in the Philippines.”
In a bid to fend off the ICC, in 2020, the Philippine Justice Department announced it had created a panel to study the killings carried out by agents of the state—police or military—but Balane was critical of these efforts.
“[In the second half of 2020], the Justice Department said it had finished the initial investigations, but no complaints or charges were filed,” he said. “They said it was difficult to find witnesses [who were willing to testify about the killings], but [the victims’] families said they were not approached [by the review panel].”
The Justice Department is also undercutting the Philippine Commission on Human Rights, an independent constitutional office whose primary mission is to investigate human rights abuses, Balane pointed out.
“The Justice Department said the commission would be involved [in the investigation process by the panel], but the commission says [that the] Justice [Department] has yet to clarify its rules and their requests have been left unanswered,” Balane said. “The commission is the constitutional body tasked to investigate abuses by the armed forces, and they are being excluded by the Justice Department review panel.”
The Justice Department review is also barely scraping the surface of the carnage, Balane said, noting that while in May the Philippine National Police (PNP) announced they would be granting the review panel access to 61 investigations—which accounts for less than 1 percent of the killings that the government acknowledged were part of the official operations since 2016—the PNP has now decreased that number to 53.
“The domestic review by [the] Justice [Department] appears influenced by Duterte himself,” said Balane. “This erodes the credibility of the drug war review by the Justice Department, which is the government’s defense for their calls against international human rights mechanisms.”
The bottom line, according to Balane, is that “the killings continue, they are still systematic, and they are still widespread.”
In Indonesia—where, like Duterte in the Philippines, President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) also declared a war on drugs in 2016—it is not only extrajudicial killings that are the issue but also the increasing willingness of the government to resort to the death penalty for drug offenses.
“Extrajudicial killings [as a result of] the drug war are happening in Indonesia,” said Iftitah Sari, a researcher with the Indonesian Institute for Criminal Justice Reform, who cited 99 extrajudicial killings that took place in 2017 and 68 that happened in 2018, with a big jump to 287 from June 2019 through June 2020. She also mentioned another 390 violent drug law enforcement “incidents” that took place from July 2020 through May 2021, of which an estimated 40 percent are killings.
“The problem of extrajudicial killings [in Indonesia] is broader than [just] the war on drugs; we [also] have the problem of police brutality,” Sari said. “Police have a very broad authority and a lack of accountability. There is no effective oversight mechanism, and there are no developments on this issue because we have no mechanisms to hold [the] police accountable.”
Indonesia is also using its courts to kill people. Since 2015, Sari reported, 18 people—15 of them foreigners—have been executed for drug offenses.
“In addition to extrajudicial killings, there is a tendency to use harsher punishment, capital punishment, with the number of death penalties rising since 2016,” she said.
Statistics Sari presented bore that out. Death penalty cases jumped from 22 in 2016 to 99 in 2019 and 149 in 2020, according to the figures she provided during the virtual event.
Not only are the courts increasingly handing down death sentences for drug offenses, but defendants are also often faced with human rights abuses within the legal system, Sari said.
“Violations of the right to a fair trial are very common in drug-related death penalty cases,” she said. “There are violations of the right to be free from torture, not [to] be arbitrarily arrested and detained, and of the right to counsel. There are also rights violations during trials, including the lack of the right to cross-examination, the right to non-self-incrimination, trial without undue delay, and denial of an interpreter.”
With authoritarian governments such as those in Indonesia and the Philippines providing cover for such human rights abuses in the name of the war on drugs, impunity is a key problem. During the virtual event’s panel discussion, Scott Johnston, of the U.S.-based nonprofit Human Rights First, discussed one possible way of making human rights abusers pay a price: imposing sanctions, especially under the Global Magnitsky Act.
That U.S. law, originally enacted in 2012 to target Russian officials deemed responsible for the death of Sergei Magnitsky in a Russian prison, was expanded in 2016 to punish human rights violators around the globe by freezing their assets and denying them visas to enter the United States.
“In an era [when]… rising human rights abuses and also rising impunity for committing those abuses [are]… a hallmark of what’s happening around the world, we see countries adopting these types of targeted human rights mechanisms [imposing sanctions] at a rate that would have been shocking even five or six years ago,” said Johnston. “Targeted sanctions [like the Global Magnitsky Act] are those aimed against specific individual actors and entities, as opposed to countrywide embargos,” he explained.
The Global Magnitsky program is one such mechanism specifically targeted at human rights abuses and corruption, and the United States has imposed it against some 319 perpetrators of human rights abuses or corruption, Johnston said. (The most recent sanctions imposed under the act include Cuban officials involved in repressing recent protests in Cuba, corrupt Bulgarian officials, and corrupt Guatemalan officials.)
“We’ve seen a continued emphasis on using these tools in the transition to the Biden administration, with 73 cases [of sanctions having been reported] since Biden took office,” he noted.
And it is increasingly not just the United States.
“The U.S. was the first country to use this mechanism, but it is spreading,” Johnston said. “Canada, Norway, the United Kingdom, [and] the European Union all have these mechanisms, and Australia, Japan, and New Zealand are all considering them. This is a significant pivot toward increasing multilateral use of these mechanisms.”
While getting governments to impose targeted sanctions is not a sure thing, the voices of global civil society can make a difference, Johnston said.
“These are wholly discretionary and [it]… can be difficult to [ensure that they are]… imposed in practice,” he said. “To give the U.S. government credit, we have seen them really listen to NGOs, and about 35 percent of all sanctions have a basis in complaints [nonprofits]… facilitated from civil society groups around the world.”
And while such sanctions can be politicized, the United States has imposed them on allied countries, such as members of the Saudi government involved in the killing of U.S.-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi and in cases of honor killings in Pakistan, Johnston noted.
“But we still have never seen them used in the context of the Philippines and Indonesia.”
Maybe it is time.
Phillip Smith is a writing fellow and the editor and chief correspondent of Drug Reporter, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has been a drug policy journalist for more than two decades. He is the longtime writer and editor of the Drug War Chronicle, the online publication of the nonprofit Stop the Drug War, and was the editor of AlterNet’s coverage of drug policy from 2015 to 2018. He was awarded the Drug Policy Alliance’s Edwin M. Brecher Award for Excellence in Media in 2013.
This article was produced by Drug Reporter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.
“Well, Fred, are you ready to discuss Liezi?”
“There isn’t much to discuss, Karl. Only four pages of text in Chan [Source Book in Chinese Philosophy] are devoted to him.”
“He has to be in there for something. What’s his claim to fame?”
“Why don’t you look in your Great Thinkers of the Eastern World book?”
“I will, then it’s back to Chan. James D. Sellman wrote this article on Liez. Listen to this: ‘Liezi is the third major classic of philosophical Daoism (Taoism). As with the other two classics--- the Laozi (Lao Tzu) and the Zhuangzi (Chuang Tzu), the author and the date of composition of the Liezi are obscured by a lack of historical evidence...”
“At least we know we have the third Daoist classic-- all four pages of it in Chan!”
“And note this from The Encyclopedia of Eastern Philosophy and Religion. ‘Liezi was fond of transmitting his ideas and thoughts by reinterpreting ancient folk tales and myths. A characteristic feature of his view of life were mechanical processes, not admitting of free will.’”
“We will see something of that aspect of his thought in the last section I’ll read Karl.”
“It sounds a lot like Wang Chong to me.”
“Let me tell you Karl, that I don’t think Liezi’s book is really third in rank. Chan says it’s unoriginal, except perhaps for his skepticism, and borrows heavily from Zhuangzi. We should also note that the book dates from around 300 AD and that Liezi lived around 400 BC! so how many of his own views are present is questionable. The book is a compilation by much later scholars. Also the section right after Wang Chong and before Liezi in Chan is on the Daoist Huainanzi He dies in 122 BC and Chan calls him ‘the most prominent Taoist philosopher between ancient Daoism of the fourth century B.C and Neo-Daoism of the third and fourth centuries A.D.’”
“So why did we skip him?”
“Chan says his ‘originality is negligible.’ He just reiterated Lao and Zhuang. And he was very politically active, not just taking the world as it comes. He had to commit suicide due to a failed plot of rebellion. He was also rationalistic like Wang Chong and the Liezi.”
“So Daoism is not so passive as we have been led to think! Let’s get back to ‘LIezi’ then.”
“The selection is divided into A and B sections. Section A is called ‘The Yang Zhu Chapter.’”
“ Yes, I remember Yang Zhu from our discussion on Mencius. Yang was the fellow who advocated egoism and wouldn’t sacrifice even one hair to help the world.”
“That’s right Karl. Here is the quote from Mencius: ‘7A:26. Mencius said, ‘Yang Zhu’s choice was “everyone for himself.” Though he might save the entire world by plucking out a single hair, he would not do it.’ The ‘Yang Zhu Chapter’ is included as one of the eight chapters (its actually number seven) of the Liezi, but it was probably a separate work, according to many scholars, and just ended up being part of the Liezi when it was eventually compiled in the Third Century AD.”
“Go ahead and read some of the chapter.”
“The following is Liezi's view of life. He starts by saying how ‘Pain and sickness, sorrow and suffering, death [of relatives] and worry and fear’ take up so much of one’s life.’ Then he asks, ‘This being the case, what is life for?’ “
“If he were Sartre he might say it’s not ‘for’ anything other than what you choose to make of it.”
“But he has a negative view anyway. He says, ‘Being alone ourselves, we pay great care to what our ears hear and what our eyes see, and are much concerned with what is right and wrong for our bodies and minds. Thus we lose the great happiness of the present and cannot give ourselves free rein for a single moment. What is the difference between this and many chains and double prisons?’”
“The Buddhist view to be sure! Life is suffering.”
“He goes on, sounding Daoist to me, ‘Men of great antiquity knew that life meant to be temporarily present and death meant to be temporarily away. Therefore they acted as they pleased and did not turn away from what they naturally desired. They would not give up what could amuse their own persons at the time. Therefore they were not exhorted by fame. They roamed as their nature directed and would not be at odds with anything.’”
“Chan calls this Daoism?”
“He calls it ‘negative Daoism’. He says this compilation of writings came about because, as many scholars suggest, ‘that at the time of political chaos in the third century, some writers, trying to escape from intolerable situations, utilized the names of Liezi and Yang Zhu and took refuge under the purely negative aspects of Daoism.’”
“That political chaos was occasioned by the fall of the Han Dynasty in 220 AD and the contentions of three kingdoms fighting each other to build up an Empire again (the states of Shu, Wu and Wei.) Wei finally won out and set up the Jin Dynasty which lasted until 420 AD. Just thought you would like to know the history.”
“Thanks for the info Karl. I have one last quote from Yang here; ‘Yang Zhu said, “The myriad creatures are different in life but the same in death. In life they mat be worthy or stupid, honorable or humble. This is where they differ. In death they all stink, rot, disintegrate, and disappear. This is where they are the same. However, being worthy, stupid, honorable or humble is beyond their power, and to stink, rot, disintegrate, and disappear is also beyond their power. Thus life, death, worthiness, stupidity, honor, and humble station are not of their own making. All creatures are equal in these, [that is, they all return to nature]. The one who lives for ten years dies. The one who lives for a hundred years also dies. The man of virtue and the sage both die; the wicked and the stupid also die. In life they were (sage-emperors) Yao and Shun; in death they were rotten bones. Thus they all became rotten bones just the same. Who knows their difference? Let us hasten to enjoy our present life. Why bother about what comes after death?”...’.”
“Spoken like a true Daoist, or perhaps, a contemporary secular humanist. What do we have from the rest of the Liezi?”
“Chan has two sections so we can get a ‘feeling tone’ from Lie’s philosophy.”
“A ‘feeling tone’? An interesting term you lifted from Christopher Caudwell’s Illusion and Reality.”
“Actually I lifted it from you Karl. You use it a lot when we discuss art and I know you like Caudwell.”
“Its a good term Fred. In art or philosophy or a poem, when you experience these things, besides their rational content they should also provide a ‘feeling tone.’ Caudwell, a major Marxist thinker, maintained that all our experience is a fusion of objective and subjective reality. I would say the larger our intellectual and emotional consciousness, the larger our understanding of the world. We have a larger intellectual world and a world of feeling tones (i.e., of emotional responses) for having studied Chinese philosophy as well as Western philosophy.”
“That’s why I said ‘feeling tone’ Fred. The type of feeling tone in this case is not just ‘pure’ emotion but a feeling we get from rationally directed emotional understanding. Reason ruling emotions in a Platonic or Spinoza sense. Does what follows ‘feel’ like Daoism from what you know about it. If it does and we can rationally explain why then our emotions and reasons are harmonious.”
“We are getting too far afield here Fred. Read the passages.”
“This is from the one on ‘Skepticism.’ We have a discussion between King Tang of Yin [part of the Shang Dynasty] and his minister Xia Ji. The King wants to know about the existence of the past and asks ‘don’t things have before or after.’ Xia Ji tells him ‘There is no ultimate in the beginning or end of things. The beginning may be the end and the end may be the beginning. Who knows their order? As to what exists outside of things or before the beginning of events, I do not know.’ Next King Tang asks, ‘Is there any limit to the above, the below, or the eight directions?’ Xia Ji responds, ‘If there is nothing, then it is infinite. If there is something, then there must be a limit. How do I know?’”
“Looks to me like King Tang should get a new minister since Xia doesn't know anything.”
“Very funny Karl. But this is the nature of skepticism. I think Xia is trying to make the point that people, even kings, ask a lot meaningless questions that don’t have much to do with the important things in life. Here is a more practical question. The King wants to know what the world outside of China is like. Xia tells him the world outside China is just as the same as China. He knows from traveling around many places and talking to people from remote places. He then speculates, ‘ From this I know the regions within the four seas, the four wildernesses, and the four outermost regions are no different. Thus the lesser is always enclosed by the greater, and so on without end. Heaven and earth, which enclose the myriad things, never reach a limit. Likewise, the enclosing of heaven and earth never reaches an end. How do I know that there is not a greater universe outside our own? This is something I do not know?’”
“He has the same basic ignorance of the ultimate nature of reality as do our contemporary speculative cosmologists.”
“That he does. He ends by saying, ‘Those who maintain that heaven and earth are destructible are wrong and those who maintain that they are indestructible are also wrong. Whether they are destructible or indestructible, I do not know.’ He adds, however, that practically speaking this type of knowledge doesn’t affect our lives. ‘However, it is the same in one case and also the same in the other.’ In other words what difference does it make to us if, to use a modern example, the Sun explodes in four billion years or not!. Socrates also didn’t have much interest in cosmological speculations”.
“This is a bit like Confucius’ refusal to discuss abstract metaphysical problems divorced from the real world. In Lie it is called ‘skepticism.’ The feeling tone I am getting is that Daoists shouldn’t bother themselves with such questions.”
“What do you think of this last excerpt on ‘Fatalism’? ‘Effort said to Fate (Ming, Destiny), “How can your achievement be equal to mine?” “What effect do you have on things,” replied Fate, “that you wish to compare with me?” “Well,” said Effort, “longevity and brevity of life, obscurity and prominence, honorable and humble stations, and poverty and richness, are all within my power.”’ Effort is making quite a claim here. I guess we like to think these things may be in our control. But Fate produces examples along the line of ‘why do bad things happen to good people’ if it’s all due to Effort. Finally Fate says, ‘If what you mentioned were all within your power, how is it that one enjoyed longevity while the other suffered brevity of life [i.e., wicked King Zhou vs.Yan Hui, Confucius’ favorite student, who died young), that the sage was obscure while a violator of virtue was in a prominent position, that the worthy had a humble station while the stupid enjoyed honor, and that the good were poor but the wicked were rich?’ Then ‘Effort said. “If, as you say, I have no effect on things, then are things, being what they are, the result of your control?” “Since you already speak of it as fate,” replied Fate, “how can there be any control? As for me, if a thing is straight, I push it straighter, and if it is crooked, I let it remain so. Longevity, brevity of life, obscurity, prominence, humble and honorable stations, and richness and poverty all come of themselves.”’”
“Well, Fred, it looks like Effort gets kicked out of the picture entirely. Perhaps it would be better for us, as opposed to Lie, to agree that Fate pushes things along or leaves them alone, but that Effort joins in on the side of agents so that Effort is also present when the results ‘all come of themselves.’ “
“That makes more sense to me Karl, and I don’t want to get into a big discussion on ‘freedom vs. determinism’, but what you propose is NOT the negative Daoism of the Liezi.”
“C’est la vie.”
“Well it’s getting Late, Karl. How about we study another Neo-Daoist around this time tomorrow, namely Guo Xiang”.
OK, next up, Guo Xiang”.
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.
To read the Great Learning Dialogue click here.
To read the Doctrine of The Mean Dialogue click here.
To read the Book of Changes Dialogue click here.
To read the Dong Zhongshu Dialogue click here.
To read the Wang Chong Dialogue click here.
On August 15, the Taliban arrived in Kabul. The Taliban’s leadership entered the presidential palace, which Afghan President Ashraf Ghani had vacated when he fled into exile abroad hours before. The country’s borders shut down and Kabul’s main international airport lay silent, except for the cries of those Afghans who had worked for the U.S. and NATO; they knew that their lives would now be at serious risk. The Taliban’s leadership, meanwhile, tried to reassure the public of a “peaceful transition” by saying in several statements that they would not seek retribution, but would go after corruption and lawlessness.
The Taliban’s Entry in Kabul Is a Defeat for the United States
In recent years, the United States has failed to accomplish any of the objectives of its wars. The U.S. entered Afghanistan with horrendous bombing and a lawless campaign of extraordinary rendition in October 2001 with the objective of ejecting the Taliban from the country; now, 20 years later, the Taliban is back. In 2003, two years after the U.S. unleashed a war in Afghanistan, it opened an illegal war against Iraq, which ultimately resulted in an unconditional withdrawal of the United States in 2011 after the refusal by the Iraqi parliament to allow U.S. troops extralegal protections. As the U.S. withdrew from Iraq, it opened a terrible war against Libya in 2011, which resulted in the creation of chaos in the region.
Not one of these wars—Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya—resulted in the creation of a pro-U.S. government. Each of these wars created needless suffering for the civilian populations. Millions of people had their lives disrupted, while hundreds of thousands of people lost their lives in these senseless wars. What faith in humanity can now be expected from a young person in Jalalabad or in Sirte? Will they now turn inward, fearing that any possibility of change has been seized from them by the barbaric wars inflicted upon them and other residents of their countries?
There is no question that the United States continues to have the world’s largest military and that by using its base structure and its aerial and naval power, the U.S. can strike any country at any time. But what is the point of bombing a country if that violence attains no political ends? The U.S. used its advanced drones to assassinate the Taliban leaders, but for each leader that it killed, another half a dozen have emerged. Besides, the men in charge of the Taliban now—including the co-founder of the Taliban and head of its political commission, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar—were there from the start; it would never have been possible to decapitate the entire Taliban leadership. More than $2 trillion has been spent by the United States on a war that it knew could not be won.
Corruption Was the Trojan Horse
In early statements, Mullah Baradar said that his government will focus its attention on the endemic corruption in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, stories spread across Kabul about ministers of Ashraf Ghani’s government attempting to leave the country in cars filled with dollar bills, which was supposed to be the money that was provided by the U.S. to Afghanistan for aid and infrastructure. The drain of wealth from the aid given to the country has been significant. In a 2016 report by the U.S. government’s Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) relating to the “Lessons Learned from the U.S. Experience with Corruption in Afghanistan,” the investigators write, “Corruption significantly undermined the U.S. mission in Afghanistan by damaging the legitimacy of the Afghan government, strengthening popular support for the insurgency, and channeling material resources to insurgent groups.” SIGAR created a “gallery of greed,” which listed U.S. contractors who siphoned aid money and pocketed it through fraud. More than $2 trillion has been spent on the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan, but it went neither to provide relief nor to build the country’s infrastructure. The money fattened the rich in the United States, Pakistan, and Afghanistan.
Corruption at the very top of the government depleted morale below. The U.S. pinned its hopes on the training of 300,000 soldiers of the Afghan National Army (ANA), spending $88 billion on this pursuit. In 2019, a purge of “ghost soldiers” in the rolls—soldiers who did not exist—led to the loss of 42,000 troops; it is likely that the number might have been higher. Morale in the ANA has plunged over the past few years, with defections from the army to other forces escalating. Defense of the provincial capitals was also weak, with Kabul falling to the Taliban almost without a fight.
To this end, the recently appointed defense minister to the Ghani government, General Bismillah Mohammadi, commented on Twitter about the governments that have been in power in Afghanistan since late 2001, “They tied our hands behind our backs and sold the homeland. Damn the rich man [Ghani] and his people.” This captures the popular mood in Afghanistan right now.
Afghanistan and Its Neighbors
Hours after taking power, a spokesperson for the Taliban’s political office, Dr. M. Naeem, said that all embassies will be protected, while another spokesperson for the Taliban, Zabihullah Mujahid, said that all former government officials did not need to fear for their lives. These are reassuring messages for now.
It has also been reassuring that the Taliban has said that it is not averse to a government of national unity, although there should be no doubt that such a government would be a rubber stamp for the Taliban’s own political agenda. So far, the Taliban has not articulated a plan for Afghanistan, which is something that the country has needed for at least a generation.
On July 28, Taliban leader Mullah Baradar met with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Tianjin, China. The outlines of the discussion have not been fully revealed, but what is known is that the Chinese extracted a promise from the Taliban not to allow attacks on China from Afghanistan and not to allow attacks on the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) infrastructure in Central Asia. In return, China would continue its BRI investments in the region, including in Pakistan, which is a key Taliban supporter.
Whether or not the Taliban will be able to control extremist groups is not clear, but what is abundantly clear—in the absence of any credible Afghan opposition to the Taliban—is that the regional powers will have to exert their influence on Kabul to ameliorate the harsh program of the Taliban and its history of support for extremist groups. For instance, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (set up in 2001) revived in 2017 its Afghanistan Contact Group, which held a meeting in Dushanbe in July 2021, and called for a national unity government.
At that meeting, India’s External Affairs Minister Dr. S. Jaishankar laid out a three-point plan, which achieved near consensus among the fractious neighbors:
“1. An independent, neutral, unified, peaceful, democratic and prosperous nation.
“2. Ceasing violence and terrorist attacks against civilians and state representatives, settle conflict through political dialogue, and respect interests of all ethnic groups, and
“3. Ensure that neighbors are not threatened by terrorism, separatism and extremism.”
That’s the most that can be expected at this moment. The plan promises peace, which is a great advance from what the people of Afghanistan have experienced over the past decades. But what kind of peace? This “peace” does not include the rights of women and children to a world of possibilities. During 20 years of the U.S. occupation, that “peace” was not in evidence either. This peace has no real political power behind it, but there are social movements beneath the surface that might emerge to put such a definition of “peace” on the table. Hope lies there.
Vijay Prashad is an Indian historian, editor, and journalist. He is the chief editor of LeftWord Books and the director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research. He is a senior non-resident fellow at Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China. He has written more than 20 books, including "The Darker Nations" and "The Poorer Nations." His latest book is "Washington Bullets," with an introduction by Evo Morales Ayma.
This article was produced by Globetrotter.
I sat in Court 4 in the Royal Courts of Justice in London on August 11 with Stella Moris, Julian Assange’s partner. I have known Stella for as long as I have known Julian. She, too, is a voice of freedom, coming from a family that fought the fascism of Apartheid. On August 12, her name was uttered in court by a barrister and a judge, forgettable people were it not for the power of their endowed privilege.
The barrister, Clair Dobbin, is in the pay of the regime in Washington, first Trump’s then Biden’s. She is America’s hired gun, or “silk,” as she would prefer. Her target is Julian Assange, who has committed no crime and has performed an historic public service by exposing the criminal actions and secrets on which governments, especially those claiming to be democracies, base their authority.
For those who may have forgotten, WikiLeaks, of which Assange is founder and publisher, exposed the secrets and lies that led to the invasion of Iraq, Syria and Yemen, the murderous role of the Pentagon in dozens of countries, the blueprint for the 20-year catastrophe in Afghanistan, the attempts by Washington to overthrow elected governments, such as Venezuela’s, the collusion between nominal political opponents (Bush and Obama) to stifle a torture investigation and the CIA’s Vault 7 campaign that turned your mobile phone, even your TV set, into a spy in your midst.
WikiLeaks released almost a million documents from Russia which allowed Russian citizens to stand up for their rights. It revealed the Australian government had colluded with the U.S. against its own citizen, Assange. It named those Australian politicians who have “informed” for the U.S. It made the connection between the Clinton Foundation and the rise of jihadism in American-armed states in the Gulf.
There is more: WikiLeaks disclosed the U.S. campaign to suppress wages in sweatshop countries like Haiti, India’s campaign of torture in Kashmir, the British government’s secret agreement to shield “U.S. interests” in its official Iraq inquiry and the British Foreign Office’s plan to create a fake “marine protection zone” in the Indian Ocean to cheat the Chagos islanders out of their right of return.
In other words, WikiLeaks has given us real news about those who govern us and take us to war, not the preordained, repetitive spin that fills newspapers and television screens. This is real journalism; and for the crime of real journalism, Assange has spent most of the past decade in one form of incarceration or another, including Belmarsh prison, a horrific place.
Diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, he is a gentle, intellectual visionary driven by his belief that a democracy is not a democracy unless it is transparent, and accountable.
On August 11, the United States sought the approval of Britain’s High Court to extend the terms of its appeal against a decision by a district judge, Vanessa Baraitser, in January to bar Assange’s extradition. Baraitser accepted the deeply disturbing evidence of a number of experts that Assange would be at great risk if he were incarcerated in the U.S.’s infamous prison system.
Professor Michael Kopelman, a world authority on neuropsychiatry, had said Assange would find a way to take his own life—the direct result of what Professor Nils Melzer, the United Nations Rapporteur on Torture, described as the craven “mobbing” of Assange by governments—and their media echoes.
Those of us who were in the Old Bailey last September to hear Kopelman’s evidence were shocked and moved. I sat with Julian’s father, John Shipton, whose head was in his hands. The court was also told about the discovery of a razor blade in Julian’s Belmarsh cell and that he had made desperate calls to the Samaritans and written notes and much else that filled us with more than sadness.
Watching the lead barrister acting for Washington, James Lewis—a man from a military background who deploys a cringingly theatrical “aha!” formula with defense witnesses—reduce these facts to “malingering” and smearing witnesses, especially Kopelman, we were heartened by Kopelman’s revealing response that Lewis’s abuse was “a bit rich” as Lewis himself had sought to hire Kopelman’s expertise in another case.
Lewis’s sidekick is Clair Dobbin, and August 11 was her day. Completing the smearing of Professor Kopelman was down to her. An American with some authority sat behind her in court.
Dobbin said Kopelman had “misled” Judge Baraitser in September because he had not disclosed that Julian Assange and Stella Moris were partners, and their two young children, Gabriel and Max, were conceived during the period Assange had taken refuge in the Ecuadorean embassy in London.
The implication was that this somehow lessened Kopelman’s medical diagnosis: that Julian, locked up in solitary in Belmarsh prison and facing extradition to the U.S. on bogus “espionage” charges, had suffered severe psychotic depression and had planned, if he had not already attempted, to take his own life.
For her part, Judge Baraitser saw no contradiction. The full nature of the relationship between Stella and Julian had been explained to her in March 2020, and Professor Kopelman had made full reference to it in his report in August 2020. So the judge and the court knew all about it before the main extradition hearing last September. In her judgment in January, Baraitser said this:
“[Professor Kopelman] assessed Mr. Assange during the period May to December 2019 and was best placed to consider at first-hand his symptoms. He has taken great care to provide an informed account of Mr. Assange’s background and psychiatric history. He has given close attention to the prison medical notes and provided a detailed summary annexed to his December report. He is an experienced clinician and he was well aware of the possibility of exaggeration and malingering. I had no reason to doubt his clinical opinion.”
She added that she had “not been misled” by the exclusion in Kopelman’s first report of the Stella-Julian relationship and that she understood that Kopelman was protecting the privacy of Stella and her two young children.
In fact, as I know well, the family’s safety was under constant threat to the point when an embassy security guard confessed he had been told to steal one of the baby’s nappies so that a CIA-contracted company could analyze its DNA. There has been a stream of unpublicized threats against Stella and her children.
For the U.S. and its legal hirelings in London, damaging the credibility of a renowned expert by suggesting he withheld this information was a way, they no doubt reckoned, to rescue their crumbling case against Assange. In June, the Icelandic newspaper Stundin reported that a key prosecution witness against Assange has admitted fabricating his evidence. The one “hacking” charge the Americans hoped to bring against Assange if they could get their hands on him depended on this source and witness, Sigurdur Thordarson, an FBI informant.
Thordarson had worked as a volunteer for WikiLeaks in Iceland between 2010 and 2011. In 2011, as several criminal charges were brought against him, he contacted the FBI and offered to become an informant in return for immunity from all prosecution. It emerged that he was a convicted fraudster who embezzled $55,000 from WikiLeaks, and served two years in prison. In 2015, he was sentenced to three years for sex offenses against teenage boys. The Washington Post described Thordarson’s credibility as the “core” of the case against Assange.
On August 11, Lord Chief Justice Holroyde made no mention of this witness. His concern was that it was “arguable” that Judge Baraitser had attached too much weight to the evidence of Professor Kopelman, a man revered in his field. He said it was “very unusual” for an appeal court to have to reconsider evidence from an expert accepted by a lower court, but he agreed with Ms. Dobbin it was “misleading” even though he accepted Kopelman’s “understandable human response” to protect the privacy of Stella and the children.
If you can unravel the arcane logic of this, you have a better grasp than I who have sat through this case from the beginning. It is clear Kopelman misled nobody. Judge Baraitser—whose hostility to Assange personally was a presence in her court—said that she was not misled; it was not an issue; it did not matter. So why had Lord Chief Justice Holroyde spun the language with its weasel legalese and sent Julian back to his cell and its nightmares? There, he now waits for the High Court’s final decision in October—for Julian Assange, a life or death decision.
And why did Holroyde send Stella from the court trembling with anguish? Why is this case “unusual”? Why did he throw the gang of prosecutor-thugs at the Department of Justice in Washington -—who got their big chance under Trump, having been rejected by Obama—a life raft as their rotting, corrupt case against a principled journalist sunk as surely as Titanic?
This does not necessarily mean that in October the full bench of the High Court will order Julian to be extradited. In the upper reaches of the masonry that is the British judiciary there are, I understand, still those who believe in real law and real justice from which the term “British justice” takes its sanctified reputation in the land of the Magna Carta. It now rests on their ermined shoulders whether that history lives on or dies.
I sat with Stella in the court’s colonnade while she drafted words to say to the crowd of media and well-wishers outside in the sunshine. Clip-clopping along came Clair Dobbin, spruced, ponytail swinging, bearing her carton of files: a figure of certainty: she who said Julian Assange was “not so ill” that he would consider suicide. How does she know?
Has Ms. Dobbin worked her way through the medieval maze at Belmarsh to sit with Julian in his yellow arm band, as Professors Koppelman and Melzer have done, and Stella has done, and I have done? Never mind. The Americans have now “promised” not to put him in a hellhole, just as they “promised” not to torture Chelsea Manning, just as they promised. …
And has she read the WikiLeaks’ leak of a Pentagon document dated March 15, 2009? This foretold the current war on journalism. U.S. intelligence, it said, intended to destroy WikiLeaks’ and Julian Assange’s “center of gravity” with threats and “criminal prosecution.” Read all 32 pages and you are left in no doubt that silencing and criminalizing independent journalism was the aim, smear the method.
I tried to catch Ms. Dobbin’s gaze, but she was on her way: job done.
Outside, Stella struggled to contain her emotion. This is one brave woman, as indeed her man is an exemplar of courage. “What has not been discussed today,” said Stella, “is why I feared for my safety and the safety of our children and for Julian’s life. The constant threats and intimidation we endured for years, which has been terrorizing us and has been terrorizing Julian for 10 years. We have a right to live, we have a right to exist and we have a right for this nightmare to come to an end once and for all.”
This article was produced by Globetrotter.
The pandemic-induced disruption of the global economy of neoliberal capitalism has strengthened the appeal of Modern Monetary Theory (MMT). The fundamental idea of this policy prescription is that state spending, a national budget deficit, can be used to combat recession. Raising overall demand in a given country will facilitate a recovery insofar as there is the disposable productive capacity (unemployed workers, stocks of raw materials, machines working below capacity). These unused resources are mobilized by the additional purchasing power created by the budget deficit.
While governments generally fund their deficit spending by selling interest-bearing bonds and owing their debts to bondholders, MMT suggest that the central bank buy up these bonds with money that it has the power to create. In this way, the central bank becomes the one to whom the government owes money. Since no central bank has any need to insist on a government ever paying off a debt created with money it simply printed, the government debt to the central bank is of no real significance. Central bank money creation does not actually involve “printing money”; it involves an expansion of the figures in the electronically-recorded central bank balance sheet, and a corresponding growth in the bank account balances of the government.
A number of criticisms can be made of MMT. First, it is inapplicable to the poorer countries. MMT does not convincingly address the constraints upon fiscal deficit imposed by the financial markets, current account imbalances and exchange rates, thus making it mostly inapplicable in the context of a financially globalized, open economy. As Neville Spencer writes: “Printing money in countries with less favored currencies risks those currencies being dumped in preference to what are seen as more reliable currencies. This can potentially put the local currency into a hyperinflationary spiral. There are also governments that don’t have their own currency, such as members of the Eurozone. For them, MMT simply isn’t an option.”
Monetarily non-sovereign countries have open capital markets which are subject to the inflows and outflows of globally mobile “hot money” - financial capital that travels freely and quickly around the world looking to earn the best rate of return or to exploit interest rate differentials. Surges in hot money are associated with increased liabilities on the balance sheets of local borrowers, instability in exchange rates, and difficulties managing liquidity conditions. Such inflows can often lead to overvalued exchange rates, current account deficits, and rapid capital outflows, leaving local financial institutions and businesses with increasing debts that are hard to service and repay.
Within the confines of capitalism, a strong assertion of monetary independence by poorer countries would alarm the financial oligarchy, leading to an economic crisis. Capitalists would either move their money out of the country or carry out a strike of capital; the currency would become worthless, leading to rampant inflation - heavily impacting the real wages of workers. To bring an end to this turmoil, the government would be forced to hike up interest rates in order to attract investors, leading to a strong restriction on investments of capital in the productive economy. Now, most of the money the state would collect through the bonds would be used to repay the interest rather than to fund social welfare programs or public infrastructure. While proving to be catastrophic for the working class, this profit scheme would enrich bankers.
Even in the limited context of the US, which enjoys a great amount of latitude to pursue fiscally expansionary policies, thanks to the special status enjoyed by the dollar (“as good as gold”), there are institutional constraints on monetization of fiscal deficits imposed through the autonomy granted to the Federal Reserve vis-à-vis the Treasury. Second, while a sovereign state can generate simple fiat money in the domestic economy, this power is structurally circumscribed by the realities of production and exchange. While the state can create money, it cannot guarantee that this money has any value. Without a productive economy behind it, money is meaningless. Money, as the universal equivalent of the values of the commodities, is the counter-value of quantities of socially necessary labour.
This means that real value is created in production, as a result of the application of labour-power. As Fred Paterson - a popular Australian communist - succinctly put it:
“Some people think that all you have to do to solve the economic and money problem is to print money and keep on printing it, and everything will be satisfactory. I, for one, as a member of the Communist Party, suggest that is absurd…Everyone knows that no matter how much money you issue by the printing press you could not produce an extra gun or an extra tank, or an extra plane, or produce an extra bushel of wheat or maize, unless you have available resources of manpower and materials…On the basis of production we get the amount of goods and services at our disposal. Once we have the goods and services there is the question of the creation and issue of money: therefore, that is a secondary matter.”
The money that a state creates, therefore, will only be of any worth in so far as it reflects the value that is in circulation in the economy, in the form of the production and exchange of commodities. Where this is not the case, destabilizing inflation will set in. In other words, money-financed deficit spending is at best a temporary free lunch. Once the economy reaches full employment, taxes become necessary to restrain aggregate demand and prevent inflation. Even MMT proponents acknowledge this. In the words of Stephanie Kelton: “Can we just print our way to prosperity? Absolutely not! MMT is not a free lunch. There are very real limits, and failing to identify - and respect - those limits could bring great harm. MMT is about distinguishing the real limits from the self-imposed constraints that we have the power to change.”
Insofar government programs ultimately have to be paid for via taxes, an appropriate form of class politics needs to be developed for taxation. Tax outcomes are ultimately shaped by class conflict and depend on power relations, which in turn are determined by the economic mechanics of capitalism. Instead of paying adequate attention to these issues, prominent representatives of MMT spend their time convincing the rich that they don’t need to pay taxes. In 2019, Kelton wrote: “My wealthy friend doesn’t want to pay for your child care. He doesn’t want to help pay off your student loans. And he sure as heck doesn’t want to shell out the big bucks for a multi-trillion-dollar Green New Deal…consider what happens if we simply invest in programs to benefit the non-rich…without treating the super-rich as our piggy bank.”
Kelton’s pro-rich proclivity raises the following question: who must give up portions of their incomes so that we can meet collective needs? If income is expropriated from the working masses of taxpayers, the efficacy of deficit-financed government spending would decline as the propensity to consume is much higher for those with lower incomes. To avoid the negative effects of a pattern of distribution skewed toward top earners, the government can tax companies. Capitalists will primarily react to it by postponing investment. Furthermore, disposable wages can drop even if the government taxes firms, since firms can offload taxes onto prices, thus negatively affecting real wages. Hence, it is the state’s dependence on the private sector which erodes its economic power. As Costas Lapavistas and Nicolas Aguilla argue:
“[T]he state does not produce output and value (nationalised industries aside) and merely claims those of others. It is true…that the state can boost aggregate demand through its own expenditures and thus support, and even expand, the overall production of output and value. Yet, the creation of output and value also follows its own internal logic summed up by the profits of private producers, which depend on far more than aggregate demand…capitalism is about accumulation through the extraction of surplus-value in production. The state can protect and support accumulation by boosting aggregate demand but cannot direct accumulation without radical supply reforms”.
If the government increases the workers’ wages to counteract price increases, a cost-push inflationary spiral would be initiated, with money wages and prices chasing one another; this would inevitably happen because any increase in the “relative wage” - defined by Rosa Luxemburg as “the share that the worker’s wage makes up out of the total product of his labor” - cuts into the capitalist’s share of profits. If deficit-driven inflation is to be decelerated through the taxation of the bourgeoisie, then pricing of products cannot be left to capitalist enterprises (for that would cause a wage-price spiral). There must then be state intervention in the form of an incomes and prices policy. The state in such an economy must then not only carry out demand management; it must also engage in distribution management.
As is evident, the maintenance of monetary financing and an economy at near-full employment requires increasing intervention by the state which undermines the social legitimacy of the capitalist system and which therefore is impossible to sustain within the barriers of the capitalist system. When the unutilized capacity has been eliminated, governments wanting to sustain a people-centered economy have no other choice than to resolve such problems through radical measures, such as prices and incomes policies, nationalizations, workers’ management of factories etc. As Michal Kalecki said, if capitalism cannot maintain full employment, “it will show itself as an outmoded system which must be scrapped”.
It is important to note that the employment policies envisioned by MMT - employer of last resort (ELR) - are not up to the mark. According to the ELR scheme, the government should “buy up” any excess stock of workers by offering employment to “surplus” labour during downturns, so that the government effectively acts as an employer of last resort. Government-employed “stocks” of workers are then released to the private sector on demand, whenever the economy picks up. The buffer stock employment wage must be less that the private sector employment wage in order to avoid incentivizing buffer stock employment and thus effectively converting the public sector into an employer of first resort.
Through the decoupling of the hiring process from productivity and skill, ELR creates a population that is distinct from both public and private sector workers. Whereas public and private sector workers face a competitive job market and need to match their skills to a relevant job, ELR workers get hired on-the-spot to do work that is by its nature temporary and low-skill. The poor nature of these jobs means that the ELR population is ready and waiting to be hired by capitalists. In this way, a “reserve army of the employed” is created, which is made up of workers who, occupying a position in the working class separate from those who are employed in the private and public sector, constitute a threat to the traditionally employed.
As David Sligar states, “compared to the regular unemployed, participants in a job guarantee are more likely to be the sort of compliant job-ready eager beavers that are attractive to employers. Thus they pose a greater threat to those in employment than the unemployed when wage bargaining is underway.” In addition, the job guarantee pay rate is fixed - participants have no right to collectively bargain in the manner of conventional employees - so its effect on labour markets is same as an unemployment benefit. Summarizing these contradictions, Hugh Sturgess writes of an “impossible quadrilateral” which “expects the JG [job guarantee] to eliminate involuntary unemployment through jobs that are accessible to all regardless of skill, but are of social value, yet not currently done by the private or public sectors, and can be started and stopped at any time”.
To conclude, MMT remains hesitant to take the decision-making on investment and jobs out of the hands of the capitalist sector. As long as the bulk of investment and employment remains under the control of capitalism, government expenditure can’t be raised permanently since deficit-financed spending ultimately meets its limits in the contradictions at work in the sphere of private production. In the long run, the concentrated dominance of big business and private monopolies needs to be broken down if the effects of monetary financing are to be sustainably continued even after the exhaustion of unused resources. In short, MMT provides an anti-neoliberal opening but does not reach the socialist conclusion that a radical reconstitution of the system is not only desirable but necessary. As Sam Gindin says:
“At bottom, how societies determine the allocation of their labour and resources - who is in charge, what the priorities are, who gets what - rests on considerations of social power and corresponding values/priorities. Transforming how this is done is conditional on developing and organizing popular support for challenging the private power of banks and corporations over our lives and with this, accepting the risks this entails. Controlling the money presses is certainly an element in this, but hardly the core challenge.”
Yanis Iqbal is an independent researcher and freelance writer based in Aligarh, India and can be contacted at email@example.com. His articles have been published in the USA, UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India and several countries of Latin America.
This short book [Bertrand Russell in 90 Minutes by Paul Strathern, Chicago, Ivan R. Dee, 2001] of 92 pages is one of many (24 at the time it was published) in Strathern’s 90 Minutes series. If you know absolutely nothing about Russell, perhaps the greatest English speaking philosopher (bourgeois) of the 20th century, you could begin with this book – but you will need more than it provides to really understand Russell. Nevertheless, if Russell is a stranger this isn’t a bad first meeting.
Russell (1872-1970) was both a technical philosopher in the empiricist tradition (Locke, Hume, Mill) and a socially engaged activist – most famously in the “Ban the Bomb Movement”, co-founded with Einstein, of the 1950s and 1960s. He also co-chaired, with Jean Paul Sartre, the war crimes tribunal that exposed the Nazi like criminal behavior of the US in Vietnam, although Strathern doesn’t mention this. Russell got the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1950. His best known popular works are A History of Western Philosophy (1945), “Why I am Not A Christian” (1927), and The Problems of Philosophy (1912).
Strathern’s short introduction made me a little cautious since he refers to Wittgenstein as “the philosopher who succeeded to his mantle.” This is not an apt comment as Wittgenstein was the moving force behind a philosophical school not endorsed by Russell (ordinary language analysis). No one really succeeded to Russell’s mantle.
Strathern does point out the three great passions that Russell always said drove his life, “the longing for love, the quest for knowledge, and heart-rending pity for the suffering of humanity.” He also points out that Russell’s philosophy was rooted in a scientific world outlook. I think, however, he misrepresents Russell when he writes that he “sought to establish a demonstrably certain logical philosophy....”
Russell maintained that philosophy, like science, was always provisional and dealt with probabilities not “demonstrably certain” knowledge. I think Strathern confused Russell’s empirically based philosophy with his early attempt to deduce arithmetic from logic in Principia Mathematica (co-authored with A. N. Whitehead). Russell was one of the founders of modern mathematical logic. Actually, philosophy was the no man’s land between what we can reliably know (science) and bull shit (religion and related ways of thinking). Philosophy is the set of beliefs we hold until they end up in the former or are consigned to the latter two divisions.
The heart of this book is the 63 page essay “Russell’s Life and Works.” Strathern describes how Russell, who was educated at Cambridge, revolted against the prevailing neo-Hegelian idealism he found at the university and developed a philosophy based on logical analysis which he later called “logical atomism” because it stressed the discreteness of things rather than seeing them as all interrelated parts of the neo-Hegelian “Absolute.”
The best part of this book is Strathern’s explanation of Russell’s Paradox [consider the set of all sets that are not members of themselves; such a set appears to be a member of itself if and only if it is not a member of itself] and his Theory of Types [ to deal with this paradox]. He presents these technical topics that Russell dealt with in mathematical class theory in an easily understandable way so that lay readers can follow the arguments that took place in early 20th century philosophy of mathematics and logic.
Unfortunately, Strathern does not present Russell’s mature philosophy. After the excellent mathematical exposition he gives an overview of Russell’s thought based on works from which he later diverged. This is especially the case with the 1912 The Problems of Philosophy. Strathern should have consulted Russell’s 1959 My Philosophical Development where he gives his final views on many of the topics discussed in the 90 Minutes book. Russell may need more than ninety minutes! This later book is also a good intro Russell”s thought.
Strathern barely mentions Russell’s political views just noting The Theory and Practice of Bolshevism, Russell’s diatribe against the Russian Revolution (which also, paradoxically, has great things to say about it) and he never points out Russell’s misreading of Hegel and Marx which mar his reputation as an historian of philosophy.
He also relies too much on Ray Monk’s biography of Russell – which he calls “superb, possibility definitive” without pointing out that many, if not most, Russell scholars react negatively to Monk’s work.
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.
In this time he travelled to Mexico (his second choice after Cuba), learned Spanish, lived and learned among the urban and rural poor, radicalising him further and altering his perspective on the nature of capitalist imperialism in the global south and the struggles of human liberation. Writing on his experience he said “I have seen in four days more poverty, deprivation and practical deformatity of the human condition than thought possible. The villagers of the Western coast are not indolent or inferior, but have been simply defiled to the point of becoming pitiful robots, mechanised to their expecting duties and roles.”
Robinson would eventually complete his degree and go on to complete an MA in Political Science and a PhD in Political Theory, challenging the basic concepts of the entire discipline so much so that some members of his PhD panel resigned. Later on in his career, Robinson became the director of the Center for Black Studies Research and joined the Political Science Department at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB). He went on to create a life-long association with anti-racist organisations such as the London based Institute of Race Relations, writing for its journal Race and Class, and working with A. Sivanandan, Colin Prescod, Hazel Waters, Paul Gilroy, and C. L. R. James among others (Robin Kelley, 2016).
Always, however, Robinson’s focus was on the possibilities of human action and its ability to affect change so as to create alternatives to the ongoing oppressive social forces of racism, capitalism, imperialism and colonialism. Despite Robinson being closely associated with the concept and framework of Racial Capitalism, he only spent one chapter on this in his most famous book, Black Marxism: The Making of the Black Radical Tradition (although he investigated its structure and historiography in other works).
More profoundly, Robinson was interested in the practices of existence and liberation that existed outside the theorisations and imaginaries of European intellectual and political traditions (including in this attack Liberalism, Marxism, and Anarchism). Traditions and frameworks that he described as maintaining an “insistence [which] stemmed largely from their uncritical application and the unquestioned presumption that regardless of their historical origins they were universal” (Black Marxism, 1983, p. 167).
His first book, The Terms of Order: Political Science and the Myth of Leadership (1980), was an extension of his PhD thesis, Leadership: A Mythic Paradigm. It is described by Robin Kelley as having “demolished the Western presumption that mass movements reflect social order and are maintained and rationalised by the authority of leadership. Critiquing both liberal and Marxist theories of political change, Robinson argued that leadership and political order are essentially fictions … [Concluding] that it is not enough to reshape or reformulate Marxism to fit the needs of Third World revolution, but that we must reject all universalist theories of political and social order” (Amarigilio et al, 2019, pp. 158-159). In other words, Robinson recognised that the total configuration of human experience required other forms of existence, resistance and therefore other forms of analysis and knowledge so as to comprehend their meaning and continuing importance for social and political liberation.
This was the ultimate intention of Black Marxism (1983) which is too often read as simply a critique of Marxism from a Black Radical perspective. Black Marxism’s deeper meaning worked to illuminate not only the existence of a Black Radical Tradition, both socially among mass movements and intellectually in its academic ideologues (such as W.E.B. Du Bois, C.L.R. James, Richard Wright, Angela Davis, Walter Rodney, Aime Cesaire), but the existence of a system of ideas, of knowledge, of culture, of resistance which emerged independently and organically of European society.
Stating “The social cauldron of Black radicalism is Western society. Western society, however, has been its location and its objective condition but not-except in a most perverse fashion-its specific inspiration. Black radicalism is a negation of Western civilisation, but not in the direct sense of a simple dialectical negation … Black radicalism, consequently, cannot be understood within the particular context of its genesis. It is not a variant of Western radicalism whose proponents happen to be Black. Rather, it is a specifically African response to an oppression emergent from the immediate determinants of European development in the modern era and framed by orders of human exploitation woven into the interstices of European social life from the inception of Western civilisation” (Black Marxism, 1983, pp. 72-73).
Despite criticisms of being Black-centric or essentialist, Robinson’s view of the ability of the masses of people to not only envision worlds beyond the material conditions of oppression but to actively make those worlds a reality extended to other traditions such as European Socialism. A tradition he saw as related to, but not dependent upon, the development of Marxism as an intellectual, ideological or political movement in 19th century Europe. In his 2001 book, An Anthropology of Marxism, Robinson criticises Marx and Engels for not including radical previous iterations of the Socialist tradition within Europe, which drew upon theological and ideological systems more so than material conditions, to overturn the oppressive structures of property and poverty.
Associating the impulse of the masses of people to create societies not dependent upon the exclusive structures of property and wealth not with a single European political tradition, but rather concluding “Western socialism had older and different roots. It radiated from the desperation, anguish and rage of the rural poor of the medieval era, assuming expressions as diverse as the politically secular, the mystical and the heretical. … Both in the West and the world beyond, the socialist impulse will survive Marxism’s conceits … The warrant for such an assertion, I have argued, is located in history and the persistence of the human spirit. As the past and our present demonstrate, domination and oppression inspire that spirit in ways we may never-fully understand. That a socialist discourse is an irrepressible response to social injustice has been repeatedly confirmed. On that score it has been immaterial whether it was generated by peasants or slaves, workers or intellectuals, or whether it took root in the metropole or the periphery” (An Anthropology of Marxism, 2001, p. 156-157).
Cedric Robinson’s work emerged out of his role as a life-long political organiser and he sought to expose to us the traditions of thought, of resistance and the alternatives of liberation which have been so long omitted, denied or obscured by the dominating frameworks of Eurocentric epistemologies and political theories. With a mind toward the destruction of a world-system dependent upon the brutal subjugations of human beings by racism, capitalism and imperialism, Robinson repeatedly reminds us that intellectual and theoretical work must be grounded in the ongoing resistance of the masses of people to oppression and the other configurations that human beings exist and resist through.
The last words of Black Marxism are some of his most relevant and prescient “It is not the province of one people to be the solution or the problem. But a civilisation maddened by its own perverse assumptions and contradictions is loose in the world. A Black radical tradition formed in opposition to that civilisation and conscious of itself is one part of the solution. Whether the other oppositions generated from within Western society and without will mature remains problematical. But for now we must be as one.” (Black Marxism, 1983, p. 318).
Robinson, C. (1980 ) The Terms of Order: Political Science and the Myth of Leadership, North Carolina: The University of North Carolina Press.
Robinson, C. (1983 ) Black Marxism: The Making of the Black Radical Tradition, London: Penguin.
Robinson, C. (2001 ) An Anthropology of Marxism, London: Pluto Press.
Kelley, R. (2021) Why Black Marxism Why Now? Boston Review
Kelley, R. (2019) Solidarity is not a market exchange: An RM Interview with Robin D. G. Kelley, Part 2
Kelley, R. (2016) Cedric J. Robinson: the Making of a Black Radical Intellectual
Makalani, M. (2021). Cedric Robinson and the Origins of Race Boston Review
Myers, J. (2021) Cedric Robinson: Black Radicalism Beyond the Order of Time, Oxford: Polity Press [Forthcoming]
Robinson, C. (2007) Forgeries of Memory and Meaning: Blacks and the Regimes of Race in American Theater and Film before World War II, North Carolina: The University of North Carolina Press.
Robinson, C. Quan, H.L.T. (2019) Cedric J. Robinson: On Racial Capitalism, Black Internationalism, and Cultures of Resistance, London: Pluto Press.
What is the “Black Radical Tradition” and what is its nature?
What other traditions could exist as oppositions “from within … and without” to Western civilisation?
How does Robinson understand eurocentrism at its “epistemological substratum”?
How does Robinson understand the relationship between politics, knowledge and “the masses”?
What are the implications for Marxism, if a “Socialist impulse” exists independently of it?
What does it mean to say that “the total configuration of human experience required other forms” in relation to both the Black Radical Tradition, and other radical traditions?
This article was produced by Global Social Theory.