A view of Yucun, a village in Zhejiang Province, in August 11, 2023. Photo: Xinhua
Tuesday, August 15, marks China's first National Ecology Day. On August 15, 2005, 18 years ago, Xi Jinping, then Secretary of the Zhejiang Provincial Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC), first put forward the concept that green mountains are themselves gold mountains, when he visited Yucun, a village in Zhejiang Province.
At a national conference on ecological and environmental protection in July 2023, Chinese President Xi Jinping said China should support high-quality development with a high-quality ecological environment and promote the modernization featuring the harmonious co-existence between human and nature.
Over the past decades, China has made extraordinary progress, emerging as a world leader in renewable energy, electric vehicles, green public transport and biodiversity protection.
A BBC News article of June 29 noted that, of the half a trillion US dollars spent worldwide on wind and solar last year, China accounted for 55 percent. China's solar capacity is now greater than that of the rest of the world combined. Indeed, it can reasonably be considered as the first "renewable energy superpower."
Around 99 percent of the world's electric buses are in China, along with 70 percent of the world's high-speed rail. China is carrying out the largest reforestation project in the world, with forest coverage having doubled from 12 percent in 1980 to 24 percent last year.
And China's commitment to green development is only deepening. Environmental sustainability is a central theme at all levels of government, and the nation's ambitious goals to achieve peak carbon emissions by 2030 and carbon neutrality by 2060 are actively informing China's economic strategy.
A detailed report by the San Francisco-based NGO Global Energy Monitor found that China's green energy targets for 2030 are likely to be reached in 2025. As the British environmentalist Mike Berners Lee wrote: "More than in most countries, if a policy idea is seen as a good thing, the Chinese can bring it about." This is of course a reflection of China's socialist system, which is structured in such a way that political and economic priorities are determined not by capital's drive for constant expansion but by the needs and aspirations of the people.
China's sustained investment in renewable energy has meant a global reduction in costs, such that in much of the world, solar and wind power are increasingly price-competitive with fossil fuels. According to the International Energy Agency, China's huge investment in green energy has "contributed to a cost decline more than 80 percent, helping solar PV to become the most affordable electricity generation technology in many parts of the world."
China's construction of an ecological civilization constitutes a profound contribution to humanity.
One might expect Western countries to be appreciative of China's role. It is precisely these countries that should really be taking the lead on sustainable development; after all, they are responsible for the bulk of historic emissions, and continue to top the charts when it comes to per-capita emissions. The New York Times reported in 2021 that "23 rich, developed countries are responsible for half of all historical CO2 emissions," with the US alone accounting for just under 25 percent, in spite of its representing just 4 percent of the global population.
The principle of Common But Differentiated Responsibilities, agreed at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change of Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, makes it clear that rich, industrialised countries should be blazing a trail on preventing climate breakdown, and should be supporting developing countries to adopt an environmentally-friendly development model.
The unfortunate reality is that these rich countries have made barely any progress on tackling climate change. Inasmuch as they have reduced their greenhouse gas emissions, it has been achieved largely through exporting their industry to manufacturing powerhouses in the developing world, principally China.
Meanwhile, the US' accelerating drive to preserve its hegemony at all costs is causing major setbacks to humanity's shared project of maintaining a planet fit for human habitation.
As part of its proxy war on Russia, the Biden administration has been heavily promoting sanctions on Russian gas and pushing Europe toward reducing its reliance on Russian energy long term. The results of this include a huge increase in US exports of fracked shale gas to Europe; a rise in coal consumption in Europe; and ramped up oil drilling in the North Sea.
This year alone, the US government has approved the enormous Willow oil drilling project on Alaska's North Slope - "a huge climate threat" which is "inconsistent with this administration's promises to take on the climate crisis," according to Jeremy Lieb of the environmental law group Earthjustice. The Biden administration also announced in May that it would sell off more than 73 million acres of waters in the Gulf of Mexico for purposes of offshore oil and gas drilling, thereby locking in fossil fuel development in the region for decades to come.
Germany, for decades a poster child of the renewable energy movement, has started reopening its coal mines. Its coal use is up, corresponding to a decrease in natural gas imported from Russia.
The British government is majorly backtracking on its climate commitments. Just a few days ago, with the world experiencing unprecedented temperatures - along with wildfires and floods - Prime Minister Rishi Sunak pledged to "max out" the country's oil and gas reserves, revealing plans for a new round of North Sea drilling.
The West should be cooperating with China on tackling the climate crisis - developing integrated supply chains, transmission capacity, biodiversity protection systems and more. What the US and its allies do instead is to impose blanket sanctions on China - on the basis of disgusting, absurd and false slanders about human rights abuses in Xinjiang - in a bid to cripple China's solar energy industry. It seems the slogan "better dead than red" lives on in the 21st century.
The governments of the Global South on the other hand, lacking the monstrous motivations of the new cold war, are enthusiastically cooperating with China and benefitting from its experience, support and investment. Prominent Tsinghua University economist Hu Angang writes that China's model can "provide southern countries with a new path leading to ecological civilization and development - the green development path."
Chinese financing for renewable power generation overseas has increased exponentially in the last decade, and now accounts for the large majority of Chinese-financed overseas power generation capacity. China is involved in huge renewable energy projects throughout Africa and Latin America.
Meanwhile, an important set of guidelines has been issued for greening the Belt and Road Initiative, identifying key steps to reduce emissions, reduce pollution and protect biodiversity in China-financed infrastructure projects worldwide.
The countries of the Global South are joining hands to build a greener future, while the West pushes repeatedly on the self-destruct button. Environmentalists in the West should draw the appropriate lessons, resolutely reject anti-China hysteria, oppose decoupling, oppose the new cold war, and promote maximum global cooperation to save the planet.
Carlos Martinez is the author of The End of the Beginning, No Great Wall: On the Continuities of the Chinese Revolution, and of the newly launched book The East is Still Red – Chinese Socialism in the 21st Century (Praxis Press).
Republished from Global Times.
Argentina adopting US dollar to fight inflation would be ‘insane’ neocolonialism, says economist Ha-Joon Chang. By: Ben NortonRead Now
Right-wing politicians in Argentina want to adopt the US dollar as the national currency to fight inflation. Development economist Ha-Joon Chang said this is “insane”, warning dollarization would make the Latin American nation a “colony”.
Argentina is suffering from high rates of inflation, largely due to odious debt owed in US dollars to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and Western vulture funds.
The South American nation sometimes suffers from a current account deficit, and relies heavily on imports of oil, technology, and medical equipment. Low revenue from its mostly agricultural exports means that Argentina faces a chronic shortage of foreign currency – and most of the dollars it gets end up flowing out of the country to paying interest on the unsustainable external debt, draining the country’s foreign-exchange reserves and making it difficult to stabilize the national currency, the peso.
National elections are approaching in October, and among the presidential hopefuls is far-right politician Javier Milei.
Milei describes himself as a “libertarian” and is running on an extreme neoliberal platform, pledging to slash all social spending, privatize the health system, sell off state companies, remove all currency controls, and abolish the central bank – while simultaneously militarizing the country, giving police more authority to arrest “criminals”, and building private prisons.
Despite his “libertarian” pretenses, Milei vowed to make abortion illegal as well, promising to take Argentina “back to being the thriving country that we were at the start of year 1900”.
Milei’s proposed solution to end inflation is for Argentina to abandon its monetary sovereignty, drop the peso, and adopt the US dollar as the country’s official currency.
His call for dollarization has been echoed by fanatical Austrian School economists like former Ronald Reagan advisor Steve Hanke, who is publicly supporting Milei and tweeted, “It’s time to dump the pathetic PESO and DOLLARIZE NOW“.
Prominent South Korean development economist Ha-Joon Chang has shot back, denouncing this as “the worst idea” and “insane”.
Chang warned that dollarization would turn Argentina into a US “colony”.
In an interview during a visit to Argentina this May, first reported on by Nick Corbishley at Naked Capitalism, Chang explained:
If you want to adopt the dollar as your official currency, you should apply to become a colony of the United States of America, because that’s what it makes you. Because this means that your macroeconomic policies will be written in Washington, DC.
Now, in a big country like the United States, actually, when the macroeconomic policies are made in Washington DC, there will be states elsewhere in the US that suffer, because the federal government might be tightening the economy, because in general there is inflation, but then in some regions there might already be recession, and then they’ll be in big trouble.
So the fact [that it is] a single country, what you do is you make transfers to these regions suffering from recession. And, most importantly, people in those regions in economic recession can move elsewhere, to take up jobs in the areas that are doing well.
A fiscal union and labor market integration are the necessary conditions for this to make the currency union viable.
And the reason why the Eurozone had such crisis was because they didn’t do this enough. The labor market is integrated, but there’s a language barrier; so it’s not perfect. There is no fiscal union, so they cannot make a transfer to the poor regions. So this is why they had such trouble.
Now, Argentina unilaterally accepting the US dollar as a currency is insane, because you don’t have labor market integration; you don’t have fiscal transfers.
It’s not as if the [North] Americans are going to say, ‘Oh you cute guys in Argentina, now that you want to use the dollar as your currency, we will accept more immigrants from you; we’ll give you some money’. No.
This is the worst idea.
While Latin America’s left wants to de-dollarize, the region’s right dollarizes
While Argentine right-wingers are calling for dollarization, the left across Latin America – and in many other parts of the Global South – are advocating for de-dollarization.
The government of Brazil’s President Lula da Silva has initiated research to develop a currency for trade within the region, which will tentatively be called the Sur.
This issue is clearly important for Lula, because he used his first foreign trip after returning to the presidency in January, a visit to Argentina for the summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), to publicly announce the plans to develop the pan-Latin American currency.
Argentine’s current, center-left government has joined China’s Belt and Road Initiative and signed several economic agreements with Beijing, including currency swap lines between the countries’ central banks, seeking to replace the dollar with the renminbi in their bilateral trade.
Argentina, which has the third-largest economy in Latin America, has also formally applied to join the BRICS bloc, joining its neighbor Brazil, which has the biggest economy in the region.
There are two countries in Latin America that already use the dollar as their national currency: El Salvador and Ecuador.
El Salvador dollarized starting at the end of 2000, under the conservative government of President Francisco Flores, from the far-right, staunchly pro-US ARENA party.
Flores was notorious for his extreme corruption, and when he died in 2016, he was under house arrest for stealing millions of dollars that were donated by Taiwan, in what was effectively a bribe to maintain diplomatic recognition. (El Salvador formally recognized the People’s Republic of China in 2018, under leftist President Salvador Sánchez Cerén of the socialist FMLN party.)
Ecuador’s right-wing government surrendered its monetary sovereignty and adopted the dollar in 1999, in response to a banking crisis that devalued the national currency.
The economic minister who oversaw that dollarization was Ecuador’s current right-wing president, Guillermo Lasso.
Steve Hanke, the ultra-neoliberal Austrian School economist who is calling for Argentina to dollarize and publicly supporting far-right politician Javier Milei, took credit for Ecuador’s lack of monetary sovereignty, boasting on Twitter: “The only thing stable & reliable in Ecuador is its money: the USD. With an assist from yours truly, Ecuador dollarized in 2000”.
In May 2023, Lasso dissolved Ecuador’s unicameral parliament – the National Assembly, in which the opposition had a majority – and essentially declared himself a dictator.
He is now ruling by decree, and ramming through extreme neoliberal policies.
Lasso plans to impose laws that will cut wages, make new employees work for five months without benefits, and even force workers to pay back their employers a month of their salary if they are unilaterally fired (while making it significantly easier for companies to fire their employees).
The US government has strongly supported Lasso as he has dissolved parliament and declared a de facto dictatorship.
Ben Norton is an investigative journalist and analyst. He is the founder and editor of Geopolitical Economy Report, and is based in Latin America. (Publicaciones en español aquí.)
Republished from Geopolitical Economy Report.
“Cash Rules Everything Around Me, C.R.E.A.M., get the money, dolla’ dolla’ bill, y’all!”
While many people think of this famous line as a glorification of capitalism and “grind culture,” it’s actually the reflections of a prisoner named Raider Ruckus, a close friend of Method Man, a member of the iconic rap group Wu-Tang Clan. At the time of writing this hook for the song “C.R.E.A.M.,” Method Man was a 21-year-old Black man struggling to avoid prison, police murder, gun violence, addiction and an early grave. At its root, the line is a somber acknowledgment of the domination of money, capital, the pursuit of wealth over the lives of young Black people in the boroughs of New York City.
Upon deeper examination, the lyrics of the verses of the song written by rappers Raekwon and Inspectah Deck are actually an advanced criticism of capitalist culture, exposing the misery, stress, and sense of hopelessness that it imposes on the youth who grow up under capitalism in America. The misinterpretation of hip-hop is a key theme throughout the history of this genre. As it turns 50, the world is reflecting on hip-hop, examining its roots, trajectory, and potential impact on the future of our society.
Culture is, perhaps, the product of this history just as the flower is the product of a plant. Like history, or because it is history, culture has as its material base the level of the productive forces and the mode of production. Culture plunges its roots into the physical reality of the environmental humus in which it develops, and it reflects the organic nature of the society, which may be more or less influenced by external factors.
Hip-hop is an art form born in the heart of New York City, bridging the stories and the musical traditions. Its four main elements of rapping or “MCing”, break dancing, DJing, and graffiti have reached every corner of the world, from Los Angeles to London to Gaza to Tokyo to Johannesburg. According to Spotify, hip-hop accounted for nearly a quarter of all of the company’s streams globally with more than 400 million users around the world listening in 2023. For people who grew up in the 1990’s or later, hip-hop can feel like a permanent staple that has always existed as a mainstream genre. But hip-hop, like any phenomenon, has a genesis in a particular time period led by particular oppressed communities living under particular conditions.
What are the roots of hip-hop? What made hip-hop arguably the musical style which spread across the world the fastest? Why is hip-hop so concentrated with anti-police and anti-government lyrics compared to other genres? Why has it faced state repression and also generated billions of dollars?
“How we stop the Black Panthers? Ronald Reagan cooked up an answer
To understand hip-hop, we have to start in the era before its birth: the late 1960s and the early 1970s. The conditions for much of Black America in major cities were the same problems of the “ghettos” today — hunger and malnourishment, unemployment and exploitation, violence and police terror. The struggles against racism, war, sexism and homophobia were igniting the souls of millions. Rebellions exploded in the inner cities across the country from 1964 to 1968. This was a time of major organized struggle in the country, where groups like the Black Panther Party, the Black Liberation Army, SNCC and the League of Revolutionary Black Workers took the Black liberation movement in the direction of explicitly revolutionary politics. These movements moved millions to think and act in new ways, with new comprehensions of the social and political system of this country.
Beyond the borders of the United States, the world was ablaze with revolutionary movements calling for socialism, national liberation and the end of imperialist devastation. Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Mozambique, Angola, Guinea-Bissau, Ethiopia, Iran, Nicaragua, Chile, Afghanistan and many other countries threw off the shackles of imperialism in the 1970’s.
This historical background is what ignites the violent, systematic suppression of the world’s movements. The CIA, FBI, U.S. military, and all of their proxy forces ignited a new phase of global class war using dirty tools like COINTELPRO in the United States and bombing campaigns abroad. It was the war on the Black liberation movement that laid the seeds for an era of intense repression where freedom fighters and organized struggle were forced underground.
“Remember Bronx River, rolling thick with Kool DJ Red Alert and Chuck Chilllout on the mix
August 11, 1973, is known as the birth of hip-hop when DJ Kool Herc hosted a party in the South Bronx. From this genesis, artists like Grand Master Flash and the Furious Five, the Zulu Nation, Boogie Down Productions, The Sugar Hill Gang, and countless other DJs and MCs helped turn hip-hop from a fad to a large-scale cultural phenomenon. From there, the 1980s and 1990s saw a rise in popularity not only in New York, but across the country and the world, turning hip-hop from a niche New York City phenomenon to a genre with international impact and its own legends, myths and history.
One point must be clear: There is no single narrative on hip-hop’s history. Debates around the questions of the greatest rapper, the most significant region, the best era, what counts as “conscious rap,” and even what counts as “hip-hop,” rage on in societies across the world.
However, what is clear is that hip-hop was born in the belly of the beast at a definite point of origin: the South Bronx.
The neoliberal assault of the 1970s hit the South Bronx like a hammer, leading to deteriorating public services, like school budgets, public safety, sanitation and fire protections. “The Bronx is Burning” became a saying to refer to the devastating number of fires in the neighborhood, which led to kids growing up surrounded by rubble, ash and smoke as families lost their possessions and their lives. Out of the ashes, the youth of the South Bronx created a music style that mixed the rapping and spoken word traditions of Black America, the moves of Puerto Ricans dancing to Afro-Cuban rhythms like mambo, and the technological and rhythmic innovations of Jamaican DJs and their sound systems.
With no instruments or band programs due to cuts in public education, the youth turned the turntables into instruments of their own. With no power or generators due to a failing energy grid, they would plug sound systems into street lamps. Out of a crumbling education system, hip-hop created a new form of poetry that was adaptable not only to English, but to all languages. Hip-hop was born out of the rebellion fomented by the long-standing neglect of the needs of poor kids in the South Bronx, which made the perfect formula for youth in other boroughs, other cities and eventually other countries to relate to the themes and struggles of the rappers.
The lyrical content of the past 50 years of hip-hop is filled with the experiences, dreams, imaginations, hopes, passions, fears, concerns and anxieties of generations of young, working-class people. Naturally, there is a wide range of subjects covered — from fun to the politics, from uplifting to demeaning. While some point to a particular era as the “most conscious” — typically older forms of rap from the 1980s or 1990s — all eras had their own internal struggles between more and less “conscious” subject matters, often depending on the artist’s mood, the social movements at play and the desires of the corporations backing them.
But truthfully, it’s deeper than just an era or an artist being rigidly defined as “conscious” or “not conscious,” because the truth is that any given artist can weave across the spectrum in even an individual song. In the same song, a 26-year-old Jay-Z can go from referencing the Soviet Union in one line, to the trauma of witnessing a friend being shot in Uptown Manhattan, to lines about Lexuses and presidential watches.
“Filled with materialistic thoughts of cars and gold, things you just bought, drugs people sold
The all-out assault on the movement led to a break in ideological continuity and popular consciousness. This was a purposeful attack in the battle of ideas, where the ruling class did its best to sever the ties between the organizers from the liberation movements of the 60s and 70s and the youth of today. With fierce brutality, they shattered and fractured the movement into small pieces, but organizations have continued to fight to put the pieces back together.
Hip-hop’s history can carry lessons from this previous era to the youth of the time, passing a torch down the generations for those who couldn’t live to see the previous peaks of people’s power. Tupac Shakur was an outspoken son of the Black Panther movement and an organized communist in his youth, who kept consistently anti-capitalist and revolutionary lyrics at the heart of his work during his short career before his assassination in 1996. He kept the spirit of the movement alive in songs like White Man’z World, which references political prisoners from Ruchell Magee to Geronimo Pratt, and Panther Power, which is an all-out criticism of the American Dream and education system.
Pioneering rap crews like Digable Planets, The Coup, Black Star and Dead Prez, directly promoted the political struggles for Black liberation, the freedom of political prisoners and socialism. There were also groups such as Eric B. and Rakim, A Tribe Called Quest, The Roots, Brand Nubian, Poor Righteous Teachers and Wu-Tang Clan, who represent other ideologies such as Afrocentrism, the Nation of Islam, the Nation of Gods and Earths (or Five Percent Nation). All of these groups rejected white supremacists norms of music and speech, each seeking to advance the pursuit of knowledge within Black America so that the community can understand its role in society. Even with different conclusions and political trajectories, these groups and similar rappers help represent the wide range of radical ideologies present within the Black community.
Ayy, dawg, that label is that slave ship, owners got them whips and rappers is slaves
There is no doubt that the capitalist class has seen hip-hop as somewhere between a threat and a cash cow, depending on the artist and the time period. Hip-hop exists in a duality: both as an industry that helps generate billions for music executives — and fractions of that for its artists — and a thriving culture of people who do it because they love the art. In fact, it exists more as a spectrum with many artists getting involved for some of both reasons — passion and money.
However, even as the number of “rich” artists increases, the exploitation of these artists never lightens up as the virtually all-white top executives of the music industry rake in billions in profit each year. The fact that there is still a de facto apartheid system within hip-hop complicates quick categorizations of rappers who reach $1 million net worth or more as “no longer oppressed” or “part of the bourgeoisie,” especially when estimates are often flimsy and not as they appear on paper.
With many rappers achieving multi-millionaire status, and two reaching billionaire status, many are quick to discount all musical contributions of an artist because of their capitalist aspirations or for opening their own music labels or other businesses. However, like any class, the bourgeoisie has internal strata and fault lines, which are formed in part by the white supremacist character of U.S capitalism. The “Big Four” companies that own 85% of the music industry, Sony Pictures Entertainment, EMI, Universal Music Group, and Warner Brothers Music Group — all with white owners and many Black artists— vastly outweigh any of the independent labels which form the other 15%.
While both are engaging in the system of capitalism using the rules of exploitation and maximizing profits, it would be a mistake to completely dismiss rappers like Jay-Z (worth $2.5 billion) as “the same as” the richest man in the world, Elon Musk (worth $227 billion), even if they both crossed the $1 billion threshold. While Jay-Z narrowly survived a dangerous life in Marcy Projects and built his wealth through drug dealing, rapping and building a business in the white-dominated entertainment industry against extreme odds, Elon Musk’s father owned an emerald mine on stolen land in Zambia and he has lived an entirely privileged life.
On one hand, Jay-Z’s business ventures have led to severe negative consequences, such as gentrification of working-class neighborhoods in Brooklyn, support for elite politicians and exploitation of workers who make products that his companies sell. On the other hand, his lyrics and the lyrics of many of his peers have laid a foundation of political consciousness for countless Black, poor and oppressed working-class youth in the United States who didn’t have a political organization, a teacher or a parent who could guide them through serious political education. In summary, Jay-Z truly exemplifies the contradictions of hip-hop, an art form built in conditions of capitalist decay that has given poor Black youth both the opportunity to climb out of poverty and the opportunity to destroy themselves and their communities in the process.
This distinction does not mean that one type of exploitation is excused while another isn’t. However, for a serious Marxist analysis, it is important to distinguish a white capitalist who leads the charge of imperialist aggression and destruction of the planet from a Black capitalist who has relatively little control of the economy and forces of production in the entertainment industry. In the words of Vladimir Lenin, “Insofar as the bourgeoisie of an oppressed nation fights the oppressor, we are always, in every case, and more strongly than anyone else, in favor, for we are the staunchest and the most consistent enemies of oppression. But insofar as the bourgeoisie of the oppressed nation stands for its own bourgeois nationalism, we stand against it.”
As socialists, we fight for the liberation of oppressed nations and the end of economic exploitation, which can even mean that breaking into an industry dominated by an oppressor nation has both radical and reactionary qualities. “Knowing our enemy” requires us to acknowledge the scale of their crimes and act accordingly.
In the same year, even a “rich” rapper like Young Thug can go from being a multi-millionaire record label executive to a prisoner facing RICO charges. With the epidemics of violence and drug addiction in the rap industry, the genre has a high concentration of talented artists dying young, and the list grows far too quickly. Murders of rappers like Scott La Rock, Stretch, Tupac Shakur, Yaki Kadafi, Notorious B.I.G. and Big L made hip-hop feel like a warzone in its first 30 years. More recently, Nipsey Hussle, Pop Smoke, Mac Miller, King Von, Young Dolph, PnB Rock, Takeoff and Juice WRLD all died in quick succession over just the past five years, each death traumatizing millions of youth who grew up listening to them and respecting their musical contributions. The only way to honor these senseless losses and stop the funerals in hip-hop is with mass movements that can stop violence in the community, heal the mental and physical wounds of Black America and the working class, and lead us toward a revolutionary culture that uplifts rather than destroys.
“We are hip-hop. Me, you, everybody, we are hip-hop. So hip-hop is going where we’re going. So the next time you ask yourself ‘where is hip-hop going?’, ask yourself ‘Where am I going? How am I doing?’ ‘til you get a clear idea.
While hip-hop is currently the subject of mass cultural discussion due to the 50th anniversary, this method of analysis can be used to dissect all forms of culture. In the words of Claudia de la Cruz, “In order for us to effectively intervene and move people’s hearts and minds towards our class interests, we need to be able to know where the mental terrain of our people is.” She adds that we also need to be able to “study the mechanisms that have been utilized by the ruling class for that purpose.”
Even if today we see a relatively low number of political references in mainstream hip-hop, it doesn’t mean that the culture is dead or can’t be salvaged. Every day, rappers outside the mainstream challenge this notion with powerful lyrics that reflect on the social movements and political consciousness of today. Tools like digital software for music production and Soundcloud, YouTube and other streaming services for music distribution have opened up the ability to make and record hip-hop for millions of youth who didn’t have access to these technologies in past decades. Hip-hop will become that which we, the working class, the people’s movements, the socialists and communists, the national liberation fighters, and the union organizers, make it. A cultural revolution that exemplifies the pro-people values that we want to see in music, movies, television and theater can only be achieved in coordination with a political revolution. In the words of de la Cruz, “Art and culture are not a substitute for organized struggle, but rather it is at the heart of organized struggle.”
The elites say that hip-hop isn’t music or doesn’t require talent, but hundreds of millions of people know that it is a never-ending spring of creativity and energy. Detractors say that hip-hop is worthless, but the people know that it is essential. Critics have said hip-hop is dead, but hip-hop lives. Fifty years is only the beginning, and the work of keeping it alive through the turbulent times we are facing will take the constant revolutionizing of our hearts, our minds and our society as a whole.
This article was produced by Liberation.
Enforced separation from the world market has reinforced moves back towards nationalisation and planning.
All serious commentators now agree that, far from bringing Russia to its knees, the need to respond to the sanctions war that was launched in 2014 has motivated a consolidation of its economy and a big shift back towards planning and state control of key industries. Whilst continuing to sing hymns in praise of capitalism, Russia’s leaders are increasingly looking to the period of socialist construction for inspiration.
Ever since the treacherous ‘secret’ speech given by Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev in 1956, the reputation of the revolutionary period of socialist construction in the USSR (personified in the figure of Josef Stalin) has been routinely traduced and slandered to the descendants of those who built it – first by revisionist leaders and then by their openly capitalist successors across the formerly Soviet territory.
This was done in spite of the fact that these leaders stood on the achievements of this period – as even Mikhail Gorbachev was forced to admit in his book Perestroika. Revisionism degenerated to such a degree that by the time the Soviet Union entered its period of counter-revolutionary collapse (1989-91), the leadership of the party and state was dominated by openly anticommunist leaders who sought to bury Stalin – and with him all the great achievements of the revolutionary period.
Advanced economy destroyed by looting and imperialist domination
As the planned economy was destroyed, the 1990s saw the impoverishment on a mass scale of the Russian working class, with devastating effects that President Vladimir Putin has recently stated were similar to a war.
It was indeed a war – a brutal class war unleashed by the Russian comprador bourgeoisie, during which many of the achievements of the Socialist period were destroyed by the ‘market reforms’ enacted by Boris Yeltsin’s regime, under the firm tutelage of the IMF, the World Bank and all those other US-aligned bastions of ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’.
During his speech to the Valdai Club last November, President Putin reflected on the effect that the unrestricted flow of foreign capital had had upon Russian industry.
“How are things going today? If the west is selling medicines or crop seeds to other countries, it tells them to kill their national pharmaceutical industries and selection. In fact, it all comes down to this: its machine tool and equipment supplies destroy the local engineering industry.
“I realised this back when I served as prime minister. Once you open your market to a certain product group, the local manufacturer instantly goes belly up and it is almost impossible for him to raise his head. That’s how they build relationships. That’s how they take over markets and resources, and countries lose their technological and scientific potential.
“This is not progress; it is enslavement and reducing economies to primitive levels.”
This is indeed what happened to Russia in the period of the comprador Yeltsin regime. Many long-established and very advanced industries in Russia were destroyed by the actions of the compradors and their American masters.
The telling description of Russia by the late senator John McCain sums up the approach of imperialism to its victim countries. When McCain called Russia a “gas station run by a dictator”, this was not really a correct definition of Russia in the Putin era, but it was an acturate description of how the American imperialist bloc wishes Russia to be.
As President Putin observed, the effect of western ‘investment’ in Russia during the period of unbridled looting of the Soviet people’s wealth had been to set the country back economically and socially by decades.
Gradual restoration of national sovereignty
The story of the Putin era has been one of a slow, incremental repair of the economy and state, with the US imperialists screaming about Putin the ‘dictator’ every time he took a step to restrict their interests or those of their puppets within Russia. The Putin era represents the slow turn away from the Yeltsin period – and the reassertion of the power of the Russian state over the national economy has become an ever more important factor in this process.
It is in this light that we should understand the moves being made by in Russia’s ruling circles to learn lessons from the great period of industrialisation represented by the five-year plans of the 1930s, 40s and early 1950s.
In June of this year, a meeting was held in the Kremlin as part of the St Petersburg International Economic Forum (Spief). It was attended by high-ranking members of the Putin administration and regional governors including Denis Pushillin, acting head of the Donetsk People’s Republic.
The meeting was focussed on a discussion of a new book entitled Crystal of Growth. To the Russian Economic Miracle, and the Kremlin website read-out of the meeting was remarkable, after decades of anti-Stalin propaganda, for its positive assessment of the Soviet revolutionary period:
“In the face of even stronger western sanctions than today, the [Soviet] economy without external financing grew 14 times, became the first in Europe and the second in the world, and the average annual growth rate was 13.8 percent – excluding four war years. At the same time, life expectancy increased by 26 years, the population – by 46 million people, despite the Great Patriotic War, which falls in the middle of this period of rapid growth.” [Note well this large population growth despite the incredible losses of the war!]
The report also made an important observation about the changing international situation:
“The participants of the meeting emphasised that today Russia is at the epicentre of the formation of a new world order, and answers to some questions that need to be addressed in order to form a new model of economic growth can be obtained by analysing historical materials related to the period of phenomenal growth of our economy in 1929-55.” (Our emphasis)
This represents a significant step away from the hysterical anticommunism of the 1990s, which has been slowly fading since then but is still very much present in Russian bourgeois-liberal circles.
And this changing perspective is at the root of the survival of the Russian economy in the face of the attempt to kill it via the imposition of ever-greater sanctions after 2014.
These were meant to destabilise the Russian economy by cutting it off from European markets in particular, but what actually ended up happening turned out to be a net positive for Russian economic development. It has now come to be acknowledged, even by reports in the imperialist press, that the sanctions campaign waged by the USA and its allies against the Russian Federation has failed.
US president Joe Biden promised in 2022 to “reduce the ruble to rubble” as Russia launched its special military operation in Ukraine, and this quickly failed as well.
The strategy that the imperialists had been trying to pursue ever since 2014 (when Crimea voted to rejoin the Russian Federation rather than submit to the diktat of a west-imposed fascist junta in Kiev) was to unbalance and cause a crash in the Russian economy – one which would in turn cause the collapse of President Putin’s government.
All of these attempts have failed, and the Russian economy continues steadily to improve its performance. Despite everything the imperialists have thrown at the country, and amidst a worldwide global crisis of capitalist overproduction, the Russian Central Bank is predicting GDP growth of around 2 percent for this year.
Ending the reign of the comprador class
So why has this happened? One answer lies in the slow reorienting of trade towards China, India and Central Asia over the course of the last decade. This has enabled the Russian government to avoid too negative an impact from the sanctions placed upon the previously lucrative energy trade that had been built up with the countries of the European Union.
According to the work done by Richard Connolly of the University of Birmingham, who has written one of the few serious studies of the Russian economy by a bourgeois academic, the sanctions regimes introduced since 2014 have triggered a fundamental restructuring of the Russian economy that have made it much less reliant on imports and foreign capital.
This has involved the Russian state taking a far greater role in economic planning than was previously the case. Russian government ministers (and President Putin himself) still sing hymns in praise of capitalism, but the reality of their actions tells a different story.
The restoration of capitalism in Russia was defined by extreme parasitism. The comprador elements of the new ruling class (bandits and mafiosi every one) destroyed large areas of the economy as they asset-stripped and closed down production on behalf of their imperialist masters. The only area that saw significant investment during the 1990s was the energy industry, in which British and US-based monopolies had become major players, seizing hold of large sections of the country’s assets.
This period of unbridled gangsterism started to come to an end in 1998, when an economic collapse triggered the devaluation of the rouble and a default on the country’s foreign debt. At that point, the remaining authority of the Yeltsin regime was critically damaged and the Russian parliament (the Duma) forced him to appoint a coalition government, headed by former foreign minister Yevgeny Primakov and including two communists – Yuri Maslyukov (finance minister) and Gennady Khodreyev (anti-monopoly minister).
One can imagine the panicked response of the imperialists after the reappointment of Communist party members to government positions, even if only for eight months. The cabinet lasted from September 1998 to May 1999, but it was an important development in Russia in that it represented a fatal blow to Yeltsin and also set the stage for much of what was to come by increasing state control over the economy, ending the free-for-all that had enriched the comprador clique, and imposing such measures as capital controls.
The Primakov ministry was also significant for its shift in approach to foreign relations. It was the first post-Soviet Russian government to oppose the actions of the USA, with Primakov publicly opposing Nato’s bombing campaign against Yugoslavia.
Although Yeltsin succeeded in dismissing Primakov in May 1999, he was himself forced out of office six months later. The return to elements of state control from 1998 onwards has been noted by Connolly in his analysis:
“The process of building a market economy was uneven and subject to reversal from the late 1990s onward. Consequently, what emerged was not a smoothly functioning market economy based on competition and strong property rights. Instead, a hybrid system of political economy emerged, in which pockets of relative freedom and competition coexisted alongside large swathes of the economy in which market-oriented economic change proved intractable.” (Our emphasis)
The Putin era essentially carried forward the work that the Primakov ministry had already begun, with the Russian state exerting increasing control over the economy – beginning with the removal of the most egregious compradors such as Boris Berezovsky. As Professor Richard Sakwa noted in his book The Putin Paradox:
“Putin threw the old-style oligarchs out of the Kremlin and in the famous roundtable between business and state representatives in July 2000 imposed a new balance in relations. This was accompanied by elements of ‘business capture’ by the state, in which businesses could conduct their affairs as long as they aligned their strategies with those of the state.” (2020, our emphasis)
Increasing state control in the national interest
The model that has emerged through this period is one where the state plays a central role in crucial economic sectors such as energy. In these areas, state-run firms such as Gazprom, Rosatom and Rosneft play a dominant role, and even privately-owned companies are obliged to follow state direction.
According to Connolly, the government has used profits accrued from Gazprom to promote growth in important industrial sectors that had been run down to the point of collapse. The machine tools sector, for example, has had its turnover boosted by the Russian government’s taking a more protectionist line since the 2008 global economic collapse.
This evolved further following the beginning of the Ukraine crisis in 2013. According to Sakwa: “This was not outright nationalisation, but it certainly impeded the implementation of the various plans for privatisation. This was a quasi-war economy, which anticipated confrontation with the west and allowed Russia to weather the sanctions from 2014.”
Recent changes in the defence sector, it must be noted, were starting from a substantial base. Still in existence from the Soviet period were such facilities as the giant tank production plant at Uralvagonzavod. While Gorbachev and Yeltsin had overseen partial privatisation and extensive cuts in production (laying off three million workers in the process), this began to change direction in the late 1990s and reversed definitively in the Putin era.
Now the defence sector is organised under several giant conglomerates over which the state has direct control. According to Connolly, the decision to re-arm was taken in Moscow after the war with Georgia in 2008, which had been instigated by the US puppet regime of Mikhail Saakashvili.
Since that time, Russia’s defence industry has steadily grown in terms of budget and importance in the economy. “By reducing the industry’s dependence on imported items, and by maintaining predominantly Russian ownership (usually by the state) of the means of defence industrial production, the country’s ability to preserve an independent capability to produce a wide spectrum of military equipment was sustained.” (Richard Connolly, op cit)
This has been crucial in allowing Russia to sustain its production of war materiel during the 18 months (so far) of the special military operation. Having decided to boost its defence capabilities, Russia’s leaders were able to make use of their immense Soviet legacy, building up a war industry that was free from foreign interference.
The ability of the Russian war industries to dramatically upscale their production on demand also speaks to a far superior industrial capacity than exists across the entire imperialist bloc – and is a direct legacy of the model of Soviet economic planning.
Meanwhile, the Russian government also encouraged import substitution in the food industry, rebuilding Russian agriculture and drawing upon the legacies of heavy investment made in the Soviet period. This has enabled the Russian government to free itself from dependency on European and US imports – and thus to free its people from many of the tools of imperialist blackmail and coercion.
The ever-more draconian rounds of sanctions enacted against Russia by the US-led imperialist bloc since February 2022 have, therefore, failed because the Russian government had spent almost a decade building up self-reliance in key areas such as energy and food production, as well as creating a system of state planning to direct certain vital economic sectors, having realised that ‘the market’ was in actual fact a very poor master in any area that really matters for a country’s independent survival.
The unparalleled power of Soviet central planning
In this situation, it is not surprising that a greater openness now exists even in government circles towards learning from the period during which the USSR succeeded in the teeth of the opposition of the entire imperialist world – and when the latter was much more powerful than it is today. Added to this is, of course, a growing partnership with the People’s Republic of China, with its rapid advances on all important fronts and its new position as the world’s biggest manufacturing economy.
The renewed Russian interest in the USSR’s successful building of a strong and resilient industrialised economy (one that not only survived imperialist economic attacks but which broke the back of the Nazi war machine in WW2) is perhaps unsurprising after the imperialists have spent a decade trying to put Russia into a state of siege.
Reflecting upon the successes of this period, Russian Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov observed recently in a programme document of his party (CPRF):
“Under the brutal blows of the war, the agriculture of the USSR also confidently survived. In the eastern regions, the acreage increased by five million hectares during the war. Agricultural science had successfully worked on the development of new grain crops, resistant to cold. Winter crops in Siberia increased by 64 percent, in Kazakhstan and in Central Asia by 44 percent. Sixty-seven million wagons of cargo were transported from these regions to the front and other areas of the rear.”
Even after the forces of German imperialism had inflicted horrific damage upon the country, the planned economy was able to secure a recovery of the damaged areas in record time. As Zyuganov stated:
“A third of the fixed assets destroyed by the Nazis were restored before the end of the war. The prewar level in industrial production was reached already in 1948, and in agriculture by 1950. Real per capita incomes in 1950 were 40 percent higher than in 1940. From 1946 to 1955, 201 million square metres of housing were put into operation – almost as much as during all the prewar five-year plans combined.”
These incredible achievements were made possible by the fact that a planned economy makes far more effective use of resources than capitalism can ever do, and also because of high level of involvement of the masses in the planning process. The workers in the USSR during the Stalin period understood that they were playing a vital role in the building of a new society in which they were the rulers.
When speaking of the results of the first five-year plan in 1933, Stalin observed: “The party’s confidence in the feasibility of the five-year plan and its faith in the forces of the working class were so strong that the party found it possible to undertake the fulfilment of this difficult task not in five years, as was provided for in the five-year plan, but in four years, or, strictly speaking, in four years and three months, if the special quarter be added. That is what gave rise to the famous slogan, ‘The Five-Year Plan in Four Years’. And what happened?
“Subsequent facts have shown that the party was right.
“The facts have shown that without this boldness and confidence in the forces of the working class, the party could not have achieved the victory of which we are now so justly proud.” (1933)
What the leadership of Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) understood at the time was that the planned economy was not a bureaucratic process but an expression of the direct role of the masses in the building of socialism.
The same holds true when we examine the achievements of other, even more backward societies that were able to achieve incredible results in reconstruction after the second world war. Albania, for instance, starting from a very low base managed to industrialise, become self-sufficient in food production, and eliminate illiteracy by the mid 1950s.
This was done by harnessing the revolutionary energy of the masses within the framework of a planned economy.
Speaking of these developments in Albania, British communist William Ash wrote: “Socialist economic planning takes the same form of democratic centralism, of the mass line, as every other aspect of Albanian life. It is based on the maximum participation of the masses …
“The meetings of working collectives on the fourth five-year plan, which ended in 1970 with greater increases than those proposed in every branch of the economy, involved 174,000 discussions in which 141,000 proposals were put forward. The fact that state plans for economic and cultural development ‘bear the marks of the people’ guarantees their being successfully put into effect.”
The process by which the direct participation of the masses in the construction of the national economic plan is ensured, and by which the proletariat is thus equipped to truly become the ruling class, has of course been subjected to endless lies by revisionists and bourgeois academia alike. But now that the wheel of history is turning away from the unrestricted domination of the imperialists, much of this buried history is re-emerging – as can be seen from the evolving debate in Russia.
Once the question of the 1929-55 period is reopened in a spirit of learning, the central role of the masses cannot be ignored. The crucial part played by the revolutionary energy and creativity of the people in shaping and implementing the five-year plans of Soviet socialist construction was at the very heart of their success.
As President Putin’s recent speech shows, it is now commonly accepted in Russian government circles that the model imposed on the country via the compradors was a failure. The Russian masses, however, have always remembered the revolutionary period and Stalin far more accurately than the likes of Khrushchev, Gorbachev and Yeltsin would have liked.
It can thus be seen that the return to elements of economic planning marks a very important development within Russia – and is one of the key reasons the imperialists have increased their hostility towards President Putin every year since he came to power more than two decades years ago.
It is Putin’s slow but steady restoration of Russian sovereignty, his government’s slow pushing out of the compradors, and Russia’s moves towards a more state-directed economy that have animated the fury of the imperialists – and of the USA in particular.
All over the world, the long period of suffocating domination by global imperialist system is moving towards a cataclysmic – and potentially final – explosion as the concentration of capital reaches ever more absurd proportions, and the impoverished masses of the world are forced to confront the fact that without socialism and planning there is no way out of the downward death spiral.
The war in Ukraine and the economic changes it has brought about in Russia are all part of this process. There will be much more to come as US imperialist control continues to disintegrate and a new revolutionary wave is unleashed by the deepening crisis of the global imperialist system and its accelerating and self-destructive war drive.
This article was produced by The Communist.
I intend to analyze this 1918 work by Lenin to see what is still relevant for our day and what is for the present historically dated. Many Socialist/Communist parties have at the present time abandoned Marxism as understood by the historical world communist movement and adopted revisionist, rightest, and opportunist positions that are no threat to the imperial powers or the ruling bourgeois parties throughout the world. They have leaders which Lenin would classify as renegades. I will try and determine if that classification is still accurate. There are 11 parts to this work and I will go over them in sequence and highlight the issues that still have contemporary significance.
Lenin wrote this work in response to Kautsky’s The Dictatorship of the Proletariat, 1918. Lenin considers this work to be a complete abandonment of Marxism and full of revisionist errors regarding the nature of democracy and of the state. Lenin says he had to write this reply because the “proletarian revolution is now becoming a practical issue in a number of countries.” We may not feel this urgency today because the proletarian revolution is not now on the agenda as it seemed to be in 1918. Nevertheless, capitalism and US imperialism are in advanced stages of decay and the possibility that a revolutionary outbreak may occur cannot be discounted. In any event, the revisionist views Kautsky has on the nature of the state is his “chief theoretical mistake.” These renegade views are still prevalent in many Socialist and Communist Parties.
HOW KAUTSKY TURNED MARX INTO A COMMON LIBERAL
A working class takeover of the state, violently or not, would constitute a victorious outcome of a proletarian revolution. Kautsky’s work is about what Lenin calls the “very essence” of such a revolution: the dictatorship of the proletariat. Kautsky claims there are two ways to conduct the proletarian revolution — “the dictatorial [Bolshevik] and the democratic [non-Bolshevik.]”
This is not a case of dictatorship versus democracy as Kautsky would have us believe. For Marxists it is a question of what kind of democracy will exist after the revolution. “The question of the dictatorship of the proletariat is a question of the relation of the proletarian state to the bourgeois state, of proletarian democracy to bourgeois democracy.”
The revisionist Kautsky confuses this issue. He speaks just like the liberal bourgeoisie referring to “democracy” with no qualifications. He ignores the “class term” that Marxist use to discuss this issue— I.e., “bourgeois democracy” as the kind of democracy before the revolution that prevails under capitalism. In contrast to bourgeois democracy after the revolution we will have “proletarian democracy.” The difference reflects which class controls the State— the bourgeois exploiters or the working people and their allies.
Lenin quotes Marx (Critique of the Gotha Program) to clarify this: “Between capitalist and communist society lies the period of the revolutionary transformation of the one into the other. Corresponding to this is also a political transition period in which the state can be nothing but the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat”.
This quote from Marx, Lenin says, “sums up the whole of his revolutionary teaching.” Kautsky must have known this, but it is typical of revisionists, renegades, and the bourgeois liberals to try and play down the quote.
Lenin stresses the fact that Marx and Engels never tired of saying that the revolution had to dismantle the bourgeois capitalist state and replace it with a new proletarian state. Kautsky knows but ignores the fact that the term “dictatorship of the proletariat’ is a “historically concrete and scientifically exact formulation of the proletariat’s task of ’smashing’ the bourgeois state machine.”
Revisionists and renegades never tire of disparaging the use of the term “dictatorship of the proletariat” (DP) as used by Marx, Engels and Lenin (MEL). Here is a contemporary quote by an alleged Marxist that could have come from Kautsky’s pen: “‘Dictatorship of the proletariat’. Probably the worst phrase uttered by a political theorist ever. Who wants to live in a dictatorship?” (Joe Sims, “Ten Worst and Best Ideas of Marxism,” Political Affairs 2008).
But MEL never viewed the DP as a typical bourgeois dictatorship such as run by Franco or Pinochet. Marxism maintains that history is the history of class struggle and in class societies we find a ruling class and an exploited class— masters and slaves, feudal lords and serfs, capitalists and proletarians, etc. All of these societies exist as States. And every State has a ruling class that controls it and uses it to control and exploit the productive and abused underclass whose labor makes its continued existence possible.
Marxists maintain that all bourgeois States are real class dictatorships. The State qua State is the instrument for one class to hold down and oppress another. The socialist revolution overthrows the bourgeois dictatorship and installs the proletarian State which deprives the capitalists of all political power and the ability to exploit working people. The DP is a class dictatorship and the State is now a tool of the working class to eliminate the bourgeoisie as a class— not physically, but by depriving it of its power to rule. This is elementary Marxism 101 and all the windbag fulminations against the DP won’t change that, but it will allow us to spot the revisionists and renegades when they raise their heads. These people claim to be defending “democracy” when they reject the DP but Lenin points out “It is natural for a liberal to speak of ‘democracy’ in general; but Marxists will never forget to ask: “for what class.”
The DP is necessary because “The proletarian revolution is impossible without the forcible destruction of the bourgeois state machine and the substitution for it of a new one which, in the words of Engels, is “no longer a state in the proper sense of the word.”
Kautsky tries to convince us that the DP can come about through “universal suffrage” without having to curtail the political rights of the bourgeoisie (the franchise) and he cites the Paris Commune as an example. But the Commune only lasted three months and its early use of “universal [male] suffrage” was not its main merit. “Marx and Engels analyzed the Paris Commune in a most detailed manner and showed that “its merit lay in its attempt to smash, to break up the ‘ready-made state machinery’.”
BOURGEOIS AND PROLETARIAN DEMOCRACY
As long as we live in a capitalist State we cannot just speak of ‘’democracy’’ as if it is some great system we have dispensing ‘’liberty and justice for all’’ as the Pledge would have it. We have two types of democracy to consider. “History knows of bourgeois democracy which takes the place of feudalism, and of proletarian democracy which takes the place of bourgeois democracy.”
This distinction is rarely, if ever made, by the revisionists and renegades that defend the Biden administration against the specter of Trumpism (an ultra-right, racist faction of the monopoly capitalists which controls the Republican Party and which the Democrats want to work with under the guise of bipartisanship.)
The problem of defending bourgeois democracy just as ‘’democracy’’ is that it disarms the workers in the class struggle against fascism and the monopoly capitalist class. Proletarian democracy is a higher state of democracy which preserves what is of value in bourgeois democracy — universal suffrage for all working people, the right to form unions, equal rights for all the oppressed, and eliminates what is no longer historically justified — anti-labor laws (‘’right to work laws’’), election restrictions by gerrymandering, laws which de facto discriminate on the basis of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and it puts forth what is now historically called for— the abolition of private property in the means of production, and the construction of a new people’s economic system, socialism – which puts people before profit. Bourgeois democracy can be defended against Trumpism but not at the expense of not also pointing out its limitations and the need to advance along the road to proletarian democracy. Not to constantly remind our class and allies of our goal, to take their eyes off the prize, is to betray them and to de facto leave them at the mercy of the enemy.
“Bourgeois democracy, although a great historical advance in comparison to medievalism always remains, and under capitalism is bound to remain, restricted, truncated, false and hypocritical, a paradise for the rich and a snare and deception for the exploited, for the poor. It is this truth, which forms a most essential part of Marx’s teaching, that Kautsky the ‘Marxist’ has failed to understand.’’ Not only Kautsky, but the modern-day revisionists and renegades as well.
Lenin says that even in the most democratic of bourgeois states the masses are still oppressed, slaves dependent on the capitalist economy (’wage slaves’’). “It is this contradiction that the agitators and propagandists of socialism are constantly exposing to the people, in order to prepare them for revolution!’’ Ay, there’s the rub. Lenin wrote this because he thought the “the era of revolution has begun.”
Well, it was 1918 and Soviet Russia was coming into its own with the overthrow of the capitalist government (1917) that had replaced the Tsar. World War I had ended and revolutionary movements were breaking out in many countries, the renegade parties in the Second International were beginning to split with their left-wings becoming Communist Parties around the world. The Third International advocating world communism was soon to be founded (1919). International capitalism appeared doomed.
To make a long story short, capitalism wasn’t doomed; it consolidated itself and by 1923 the revolutionary wave had broken, at least in Europe. Lenin was ill and died at the beginning of 1924 and by the end of the year Stalin and the Third International had embarked on the polices of ‘’Socialism in One Country.’’ Did all this mean Kautsky was right after all and Lenin was wrong?
The answer is no. In the theory of democracy Lenin was 100% correct and also in the practice of the new Soviet Russia where Lenin points out proletarian democracy replaced bourgeois democracy. At the time Lenin wrote, Soviets of the workers and exploited people had taken over the ruling of the country and the old State bureaucracy had been scattered. ‘’Proletarian democracy is a million times more democratic than any bourgeois democracy; Soviet power is a million times more democratic than the most democratic bourgeois republic.” The Soviet working class and exploited masses had their own state, if they could keep it.
CAN THERE BE EQUALITY BETWEEN THE EXPLOITED AND THE EXPLOITER?
Kautsky, not understanding Marxism, can’t see why if we can win an election with democracy we need a dictatorship, I.e., the DP. Lenin lists 4 reasons:
1. To break down the resistance of the bourgeoisie (don’t think the ruling class will go quietly into the night).
2. To inspire the reactionaries with fear (regrettable but necessary unless you want to end up like Allende.)
3. To maintain the authority of the armed people against the bourgeoisie (Allende should have armed the workers the day after his election — he must have forgotten this part of MEL).
4. That the proletariat may forcibly hold down its adversaries. (Revolution— once you’ve had that there’s no going back).
Kautsky further argues that there must be “equality” for all, and the DP violates this [bourgeois] principle. We have this in the Pledge: ‘’I pledge allegiance … blah, blah … with liberty and justice for all.’’ In other words, bourgeois democracy treats everyone equally under the law. But Lenin maintains “The exploiter and the exploited cannot be equal.”
Kautsky [and his modern epigones] “takes formal equality (which is nothing but a fraud and hypocrisy under capitalism) for actual equality!” Lenin stresses the fact that, “there can be no real, actual equality until all possibility of the exploitation of one class by another has been totally destroyed.”
Not all the exploited are on the right side of the revolution, we should also note “that a section of the exploited from the least advanced middle-peasant, artisan and similar groups of the population may, and indeed does, follow the exploiters has been proved by all revolutions, including the Commune.” Advanced industrial societies don’t have ‘’peasants’’ but this observation applies to elements both of the middle class and the urban lumpenproletariat [traditionally denizens of the demimonde sans class consciousness and prone to utilization by fascist and reactionary forces].
Now, to be very clear, Lenin was well aware that his views were shaped by the experiences of the Russian Revolution. He would understand perfectly today what the Chinese mean by “Socialism with Chinese characteristics.” The way the DP will treat the bourgeoisie, will it be stripped or not of all political rights, the franchise, etc., “is a nationally specific” question. Other revolutions are not bound by the actions of the Russian Revolution. Stripping the bourgeoisie of the franchise “is not absolutely necessary for the exercise of the dictatorship, it is not an indispensable characteristic of the logical concept ‘’dictatorship,’’ it does not enter as an indispensable condition in the historical and class concept ‘’dictatorship.’’
But, theoretical and practical situations do not always coincide during a revolution. How the exploiters will be dealt with ‘’is a question of the specific national features of this or that capitalism, of this or that revolution.’’ So we can have classes and discuss in theory ‘’is the dictatorship of the proletariat possible without infringing democracy in relation to the exploiting class.” We know pretty much how revisionists, renegades, and those looking to get rid of the worse ideas of Marxism or “reload” it with blanks will answer this question. However, in practice, there is a fact that must be faced. ‘’The proletariat cannot achieve victory without breaking the resistance of the bourgeoisie.’’ This will require [if history is any guide] the proletariat ‘’forcibly suppressing its adversaries.’’ And, “where there is ‘forcible suppression’, where there is no ‘freedom’, there is, of course, no democracy,’’ that is, no bourgeois democracy.
THE SOVIETS DARE NOT BECOME STATE ORGANIZATIONS
Bad as Kautsky was, he was still to the left of those today who advocate such anti-Marxist counter-revolutionary nonsense as ‘’vote for all Democrats, defeat all Republicans’’ or ‘’vote blue no matter who,’’ which does nothing to increase the class consciousness of workers regarding the need for socialism and creates the false impression that the Democratic Party is pro-working class — a view also propagated by the trade union bureaucracy which supports and benefits from the capitalist system and only demands a bigger share of the spoils as their reward for keeping the class struggle confined to parameters acceptable to the bourgeoisie.
What were the Soviets? Lenin said, ‘’The Soviets are the Russian form of the proletarian dictatorship.’’ What did Kautsky say about the Soviets? They first appeared in the 1905 Revolution [the dress rehearsal for October]. He called them “the most all-embracing form of proletarian organization, for it embraced all the wage-workers.” Not only that, but they are the most advanced revolutionary expression of the working-class consciousness. He says, “it appears that everywhere the old methods of the economic and political struggle of the proletariat are inadequate against the gigantic economic and political forces which finance capital has at its disposal.” He also notes that the “trade union bureaucracy’’ is ‘’useless for the purpose of directing the mighty mass battles that are more and more becoming a sign of the times….”
So what’s the problem? The same situation is facing us today 100 years later — we are not in a revolutionary situation, it is true, but we are at least in the beginning of a pre-revolutionary situation as world capitalism — especially in the form of the ‘’American Century” is beginning to crack up. Capitalism could crash as unexpectedly and as suddenly as most of the world Communist movement did 30 years ago. Maybe that is too much to hope, but it is possible. The Romans never expected the Vandals.
Anyway, the above was Kautsky’s view before the Bolsheviks came to power in October 1917 and took up the slogan “All power to the Soviets.” They overthrew the provisional government (Kerensky) which took over in February after the Tsar’s abdication. After the Bolsheviks took over, Kautsky changed his tune. He supported the February Revolution and the attempt to create a bourgeois democratic form of government. He supported the Soviets as a militant force representing the working class and its role to pressure the government progressively from the outside.
Lenin’s “All power to the Soviets” overthrew the government of Kerensky and instituted the DP. The Bolsheviks “destroyed the democracy which the Russian people won in” the February Revolution, Kautsky said. In other words, while the Soviets represented the working people as a whole, (the vast majority by far of the Russian people were workers or peasants [agricultural work]), they had no business becoming the government of Russia. Kautsky had said the Soviets were needed in the “decisive battles” between labour and capital. Well then, Lenin asks, won’t that decisive battle ‘’decide which of the two classes will assume state power?”
It was clear to the revolutionaries of 1917-18 that the Soviets should take state power through the agency of the Bolsheviks. The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was established in 1922 and came to an end in 1991. Just when did the Soviets cease to control state power and power devolved to the party, to a clique, to an individual, to a ‘’new’’ class— was it due to Stalin, Khrushchev, Brezhnev, Gorbachev? The debate still rages and many party leaders just want to blame the CIA and move on — criticism and self-criticism can be unsettling.
At any rate, Lenin concluded: ‘’Bourgeois democracy was progressive compared to medievalism. And it had to be utilized. But now it is not sufficient for the working class. Now we must look forward instead of backward— to replacing the bourgeois democracy with proletarian democracy.’’ Are there any forces in the USA today that can do this, or even want to?
THE CONSTITUENT ASSEMBLY AND THE SOVIET REPUBLIC
‘’The All Russian Constituent Assembly was a constituent assembly convened in Russia after the February Revolution of 1917. It met for 13 hours, from 4 p.m. to 5 a.m., 18–19 January [O.S. 5–6 January] 1918, whereupon it was illegally dissolved by the Bolshevik-led All-Russian Central Executive Committee proclaiming the Third All-Russian Congress of Soviets the new governing body of Russia.’’— Wikipedia.
This action by the Bolsheviks is, Lenin says, “the crux” of the book by Kautsky he is critiquing.
The Bolsheviks are accused of ‘’destroying’’ democracy. ‘’This question is really an interesting and important one, because the relation between bourgeois democracy and proletarian democracy here confronted the revolution in a practical form.”
How does Kautsky justify his attack on Lenin and the Bolsheviks? He wants to use Lenin’s own words against him. He will take quotes from Lenin but, as we shall see, they are taken out of context. This is still a practice today used by revisionists and renegades who take quotes from MEL out of context to justify their deviations from sound Marxist principles.
In the year between the February Revolution and the October one, Lenin often praised the idea of a Constituent Assembly but, as the revolution progressed and the balance for forces shifted away from the Mensheviks and radical bourgeois forces, Lenin’s attitude towards the Constituent Assembly (CA) changed. When the elections were held that formed the basis for the CA the bourgeois democrats had the majority votes and the Bolsheviks were in the minority. But then the Soviets exploded in popularity due to the inability of the bourgeois democratic government to take any actions to improve the wellbeing of the masses.
When the CA finally got seated to begin governing the Bolsheviks were in the majority of the population, but this was not represented in the CA. The Soviets dismissed the CA and proclaimed themselves the government of Russia — this was accepted by the workers and peasants and the soldiers and sailors throughout Russia and Lenin and the Bolsheviks were in power —the Soviet government lasted until 1991. How it lost power is still being debated.
But there was no debate about it in 1918 except by Kautsky, the Mensheviks, and the out of power bourgeois forces. Kautsky says Lenin justified the takeover by the following quote: “The Republic of Soviets is not only a higher type of democratic institution (as compared by the usual bourgeois republic crowned by a Constituent Assembly), but is the only form capable of securing the most painless transition to socialism.”
Kautsky implies Lenin is a hypocrite by saying, “It is a pity that this conclusion was arrived at only after the Bolsheviks found themselves in the minority in the Constituent Assembly. Before that no one had demanded it [the CA] more vociferously than Lenin.”
The problem with this is Lenin had been touting the superiority of the proletarian state to a bourgeois state long before the CA had come into existence. “Everyone knows that on the very day of my arrival in Russia, on April 4, 1917, I publicly read my theses in which I proclaimed the superiority of the Paris Commune [Soviet] type of state over the bourgeois parliamentary republic.”
So much for Kautsky’s libels. The important issue is the theoretical one: “Is it true that the bourgeois-democratic parliamentary republic is inferior to the republic of the Paris Commune or Soviet type?”
There was no doubt in 1918 that the answer was yes. The new Soviet government ended the war with Germany, redistributed land to the peasants, and ended the economic and social anarchism that was reigning in Russia and which the bourgeois government was unable to control. There were still many problems, but the majority of the people supported and worked with the Soviets to make the new government succeed.
Lenin wanted to be fair to Kautsky and says that before he got cold feet and afraid of revolution, before he became a Marxist renegade, he had been a real Marxist thinker and from this time “such works of his will remain a permanent possession of the proletariat in spite of his subsequent apostasy.’’
Lenin felt the same way about Plekhanov. We can make the same distinctions today between the works of Stalin, Trotsky, and Mao, among others— I mean between correctly formulated Marxist works and deviationist works when they responded to events hastily and without a correct theoretical grasp of the situation.
Even the current running dogs of the Democratic Party occasionally adopt a correct position in spite of their right-opportunistic pseudo-socialist positions. It is absolutely correct to support workers striking for living wages, for example, but to tell them that President Biden has their backs is problematic – as the rail workers found out when it was a different part of their anatomy he had them by when he forced them not to strike and take a bad contract.
The real problem with Kautsky was he didn’t prioritize in reality proletarian rule over the “formal” ideals of bourgeois democracy. He didn’t see that class struggle was more important than abstractly presented “democratic” struggles. The universal right to vote can produce reactionary, even fascist, governments as well as liberal or progressive ones. Bourgeois democracy gave us Trump (at least the US version did).
The issue regarding the overthrow of the CA and the establishment of the Soviet state boiled down to the fact that the class interests of the bourgeoisie and the proletariat are not compatible — they contradict one another. Despite Kautsky’s views on the value of “pure” or “bourgeois” democracy, the masses of the workers and exploited Russian people had “turned away from petty-bourgeois leadership, from the illusion that it was possible to reach a compromise with the bourgeoisie, and had joined the proletarian revolutionary struggle for the overthrow of the bourgeoisie.”
We haven’t reached this point in the US yet, and we never will as long as our so-called Marxist leaders don’t forcibly tell the masses we must sometimes compromise and even vote for the lesser of two evils, but they are still evils and we have to build the class consciousness of the exploited masses and intensify the class struggle, not confuse it with petty bourgeois radical demands which are also worthy of support but as part of the class struggle. Lenin would likely suggest we give up unrealistic slogans such as ‘’left-center unity’’ (which doesn’t exist), and ‘’coalition partners’’ (only a few really qualify) for temporary cooperation with petty bourgeois progressives and unions on issues of common concern.
THE SOVIET CONSTITUTION
The closing of the CA did not, in fact, exclude the petty bourgeois parties from ‘’democracy’’— these parties were also represented in the Soviets and thus participated in proletarian democracy— only now they were minority parties. The new constitution didn’t come about until the middle of 1918, so the Soviets ran the country directly from 1917 onwards. Besides the Bolsheviks the other main parties were the Mensheviks, the Socialist Revolutionaries, and the Constitutional Democrats (Cadets). The Bolsheviks never set out to ban opposition parties and kick them out of the Soviets, but that is what happened.
Lenin explains what occurred in this section. I am not going over every detail as the historical minutiae are unimportant in the context of this essay (they are readily available in history books.)
What it boils down to is that the bourgeoisie as a class refused to accept the fact that working people controlled the State. Kautsky and his followers attacked the Soviets in the press and at meetings constantly. Fine, Lenin and the Bolsheviks could live with that— reality was on their side politically.
In the time between the Soviet assumption of power in 1917 and the adoption of the constitution in 1918 the bourgeoisie not only formulated military mutinies, but also, with western support, waged a civil war that raged in Russia from 1917 until 1923. The bourgeois parties gave support to the White armies (the anti-Soviet side). The Soviet constitution proclaimed the Russian State to be a proletarian State and outlawed all enemy classes— since the bourgeois parties were engaged in treason, supporting an attempt to overthrow the government, they were outlawed. It was the complete refusal of the bourgeois parties to coexist with the Soviet State that led to a one-party State.
It’s true, however, when you get down to the brass tacks, that Marxists really hate the capitalist system and what it has done to the people of the world. We want to abolish it and all its oppressive institutions. But what about Bill of Rights Socialism? Yes, Lenin would have supported a Bill of Rights under Socialism. What is a rose by any other name? Socialism is itself the living embodiment of any Bill of Rights.
Lenin said this to the bourgeoisie: “You, exploiters and hypocrites, talk about democracy, while at every step you erect thousands of barriers to prevent the oppressed people from taking part in politics. We take you at your word and, in the interests of these people, demand the extension of your bourgeois democracy in order to prepare the people for revolution for the purpose of overthrowing you, the exploiters. And if you exploiters attempt to offer resistance to our proletarian revolution we shall ruthlessly suppress you; we shall deprive you of all rights; more than that, we shall not give you any bread, for in our proletarian revolution the exploiters will have no rights, they will be deprived of Fire and Water, for we are socialists in real earnest, and not in the Scheidemann or Kautsky fashion.” [Phillip Scheidemann 1865-1939 SPD/ Weimar Republic leader; anti-Bolshevik revisionist and de facto fascist enabler.]
There will be a Bill of Rights Socialism for the oppressed and exploited masses who come to power in the revolution (peaceful or not)— it won’t be for the exploiters and oppressors of the people; it will be the essence of Socialism itself.
WHAT IS INTERNATIONALISM?
Marxists are supposed to be internationalists: “Workers of the world unite….” etc. Just what does this mean? After the breakup of the socialist international over WWI, the ensuing peace, and the Russian Revolution, it began to mean different things to different groups of people calling themselves Marxists and socialists. This section will try and elucidate what it means to those who take MEL seriously.
Lenin says he is going to ‘’dwell’’ on Kautsky’s form of “internationalism” because it is the major form taken by the Mensheviks and parties of the Second International. The Mensheviks disbanded as a party in 1921, but their views live on and are mentioned after 1921. Today there are both socialist and Communist Parties practicing, to a greater or lesser degree, Menshevik, revisionist, Euro-communist, and /or purely social-democratic ideas. They comprise a hodgepodge, and if I use one of the four terms to describe a group it is highly probable the other terms could also have been applied.
Kautsky, who was not a Menshevik, was a supporter and agreed with them on the CA and how the war should end. They did not support a separate peace (between Russia and Germany) but wanted to fight on with the Allies until there was a general peace. He said the Bolsheviks wanted a separate peace and were willing to undermine the army to get it. Well, he was right, but that was what the masses in the Soviets wanted, and they overthrew the provisional government (which included the Mensheviks) to get it. Kautsky was totally against the Bolsheviks taking power and dismissing the CA.
What did Lenin think of the idea of prolonging the imperialist war and leaving the bourgeoisie in charge of the government? “Theoretically, this shows a complete inability to disassociate oneself from the social-chauvinists and complete confusion on the question of the defense of the fatherland. Politically, it means substituting petty-bourgeois nationalism for internationalism, deserting to the reformists’ camp and renouncing revolution.”
Here Lenin makes a major distinction between Marxists, Communists, and the revisionist de facto allies of the bourgeoisie. “The proletariat fights for the revolutionary overthrow of the bourgeoisie; the petty bourgeoisie fights for the ‘’reformist’’ improvement of imperialism, for adaptation to it, while submitting to it.”
But, as Lenin said, this is what we must do when we are in a time of revolutionary ferment. But this is not such a time. To pull off a revolution we have to be able to weaken and disorganize the armed forces of the bourgeoisie, and to be successful we have to “smash the old army and replace it with a new one.” In fact, the five only still existing socialist countries did just that. I don’t think any sane Marxist think we are in a time in which the Armed Forces of the USA are about to be smashed by the US working class.
But, Kautsky and the renegades reply, what to do in the meantime. If a war breaks out and people use violence against our country, we have the duty to defend it. Even today we have such arguments extended to our friends” as well. Look, Russia is using violence against Ukraine, our friend, by helping Ukraine we are imposing violence back against Russia. How’s that different than WWI when the working people fought for their own countries? How should Marxists respond to violence?
Lenin says, “Socialism is opposed to violence against nations.” It’s also against individual people using violence against one another. But Socialists are not pacifists. In a revolutionary situation, Lenin says, Socialists have never opposed the use of revolutionary violence when it was necessary. This also includes a revolutionary war such as the one the US colonials proclaimed against the British beginning in 1775-76.
This does not apply to WWI. “The imperialist war of 1914-18 is a war between two groups of imperialist bourgeoisies for the division of the world, for the division of the booty, and for the plunder and strangulation of small and weak nations.’’ The desire to continue to participate in this war until a general settlement is reached, as Kautsky, the Mensheviks, and other renegades propose, has nothing to do with Socialism and is a position of bourgeois lackies.
The position of Kautsky and company (defense of the fatherland/motherland) is commonplace jingoism having nothing to do with class analysis and proletarian internationalism. This is ‘’My country right or wrong” nonsense. The only thing of importance is which class or group is benefitting from the war— the imperialists, the capitalists or the workers, the masses. It “does not depend on who the attacker was, or in whose country the ‘enemy’ is stationed; it depends on what class is waging the war, and what politics this war is a continuation of.’’ Socialists are duty bound to educate the workers and instill in them the basics of MEL— that wars, imperialism, and plunder of the poor by the rich can only be ended by the establishment of Socialism and they must adopt a revolutionary perspective to be ready for revolutionary situations when they occur.
As an example, let’s ask this question concerning the proxy war between the USA and Russia going on now, July 2023. The class question:1. Russia: with a national bourgeoisie recently emerged from the collapse of the USSR. This class is relatively new, weak, and inexperienced. The GDP of Russia, for all its size and great extent, is smaller than that of South Korea. Russia’s economy is #11 in the world. 2. USA: run by a monopoly capitalist bourgeoisie with international connections and controlling the number 1 world economy. It commands a worldwide imperialist empire with 780 military bases in 80 different countries and a military budget larger than the combined budgets of the next 10 nations combined. Russia has about 20 foreign bases— outside of 2 in Syria and 1 in Vietnam the others are in former parts of the USSR.
The politics behind the war: 1) The USA seeks to enlarge its empire using its NATO military alliance and the threat of force in other areas of the world. It is the most aggressive military imperialism in history which has been waging and fomenting wars and overthrowing governments continuously since the end of WWII. 2. Russia, since the end of the USSR, has used its military defensively in two ways 1. Fighting separatist movements mostly in southern Russia against Islamist militants. 2) Taking defensive action against USA provocative and aggressive actions, overt and covert, using NATO expansion along its borders, including Ukraine (de facto) and in Georgia along its southern border. It wants to weaken US imperialism, end its Unipolar control of globalization, and create a multi-polar world free of USA domination.
These are the facts of the current state of internationalism. There will be other events now and in the future in which Marxists will have to decide what is in the best interests of the world’s workers and exploited masses, as well as their own working class. How should they react to events such as above— support one of the two sides or be neutral, or something else. This is important because we are not now in a revolutionary situation and one of, if not the most important, conclusions, Lenin draws in this section of his work is: “It is the ABC of Marxism that the tactics of the socialist proletariat cannot be the same both when there is a revolutionary situation and when there is no revolutionary situation.’’
In the remainder of this section Lenin excoriates Kautsky for attacking the Bolsheviks and other revolutionary sections of the working class from the point of view of positions taken as if there was not a revolutionary situation in 1918, one that was produced by the violence and destruction of the world war. At this time Lenin was clearly correct and Communist movements were springing up all over Europe and the working class was joining and leading them. The Second International had dissolved by 1916 into three different groups— Central Power pro-war ’socialists,’ Triple Entente pro-war ‘socialists,’ and anti-war socialists. The third group carried on the anti-war tradition that had been the official position of the Second International until the actual war broke out. Lenin and the Bolsheviks and their allies realized a new international was needed to unify the third group.
“Bolshevism has created the ideological and tactical foundations of a Third International, of a really proletarian and Communist International, which will take into consideration both the gains of the tranquil epoch and experience of the epoch of revolutions, which has begun.” The Third International was founded in 1919.
A lot has happened in a century. The revolutionary fervor of the immediate post war years died down as capitalism proved more stable than was anticipated by the revolutionary socialists. Lenin had provided for this possibility and stated, regardless of what the future might hold, the “Soviet government has done so much that even if Soviet government in Russia were to be crushed by world imperialism tomorrow….it would still be found that Bolshevik tactics have brought enormous benefit to socialism and have assisted the growth of the invincible world revolution.’’ It took world imperialism almost seventy years to crush the Soviet government and the last word on the world revolution has yet to be written.
SUBSERVIENCE TO THE BOURGEOISIE IN THE GUISE OF ‘’ECONOMIC ANALYSIS’’
It is difficult to get lessons for advanced capitalist states from the economic arguments between Lenin and Kautsky regarding the Russian Revolution since some of the concepts used are not applicable to countries such as the USA today. We have no peasantry which the proletariat needs to ally with, and petty bourgeoisie and semi-proletarians are terms used differently. There is also a classification used by some today, “the professional-managerial class” or PMC that was not in use in Lenin’s day. In traditional Marxist analysis, such as found in MEL, the PMC doesn’t qualify as a “class” but as a mixture of capitalist or proletarian strata based on relations to the means of production either directly expropriating surplus value or by receiving excessively high incomes from wages or salaries paid by those who do.
Basically, there were two approaches, exemplified by Lenin and Kautsky, about how the workers should relate to the bourgeoisie. Kautsky and Lenin were more or less on the same page regarding the 1905 Revolution that broke out and failed. The Mensheviks held that it was a bourgeois democratic revolution because capitalism was not advanced enough in Russia to sustain a proletarian revolution. The aim should be to reform the state and the workers should follow the lead of the bourgeoisie.
The Bolsheviks held that the revolution was bourgeois because the peasants were, and the workers should ally with them and then win over the “semi-proletariat” (all the workers and oppressed not in the industrial proletariat) and overthrow the middle peasants and big bourgeoisie and begin a Socialist Revolution. The peasants were divided into lower (the vast poor majority) the middle, and the rich or higher (Kulaks). Lenin pointed this out in Two Tactics (1905).
The idea that Lenin is rejecting is ‘’that in a bourgeois revolution one must not go farther than the bourgeoisie!’’ Kautsky had come to this Menshevik view by 1918. In terms of the modern tactic of “Left-center Unity” Mensheviks, ever subservient to the bourgeoisie, would urge us not to outstrip the most advanced demands of the Center. Some even refuse to criticize the Center at all— for the sake of ‘’unity.’’
The next few pages concern Kautsky’s claim that the Soviets are exercising a dictatorship in Russia, but that it’s not a proletarian dictatorship but a peasant dictatorship because the proletariat is small and the vast majority are peasants. Lenin says, this is just Kautsky not understanding how the Revolution has developed.
The Soviets first called for unity with the peasantry as such. The rich peasants didn’t go for this and supported the bourgeoisie. The middle peasants began to waver and oscillated between the bourgeoisie and the workers, The poor peasants did unite with and support the workers. The Revolution, therefore established the Soviets of workers and poor peasants. The Bolsheviks were the leading force in these Soviets, so the Revolution was a proletarian revolution of the workers and poor peasants.
It is important to remember that the peasants are members of the petty bourgeoisie and Lenin points out that “owing to the basic features of its economic position, the petty bourgeoisie is incapable of doing anything independently.’’ This is why it broke up with the middle and upper elements supporting bourgeois rule and the lower and poor elements falling in with the proletariat and semi-proletariat.
Lenin says it would have been foolhardy for the Bolsheviks to have proclaimed a socialist revolution right off the bat in 1917. The peasant majority in the rural areas were not prepared for this. The Bolsheviks called for a worker-peasant alliance, when the kulaks balked, they made concessions to the middle peasants, and as the class divisions became clearer, they ended up with a worker- (poor) peasant alliance representing a majority of the population. It is necessary for us ‘’to understand that a general peasant revolution is still a bourgeois revolution, and that without a series of transitions, of transitional stages, it cannot be transformed into a socialist revolution in a backwards country.”
This is a general feature of the petty bourgeoisie as such, wavering, not just the peasant faction. This is why, in our day, Left-center Unity, a revisionist bourgeois Menshevik position, is a failing strategy and leads to the victory of the neoliberals and the defeat of the workers. It’s because the center defects to the right when push comes to shove. Obama, once elected for example, moved to the right and supported neoliberalism and imperialism and gave only a few halfhearted reforms to the workers (Obamacare, for example, rather than Medicare for all, which still leaves over 26 million out in the cold with no coverage). The Center in the USA has its own right, middle, and left wings and what we need now is a Left-Center Left alliance, not a Left-Center alliance because as things fall apart the Center cannot hold.
In alliances it is important to support the demands and slogans that the masses are making, even if they are not as advanced as the vanguard (the party, the Bolsheviks) think they should be. This involves compromises and patience and at the same time keeping the more advanced positions alive and discussing them within the alliance but not trying to force the issue (ultra-leftism). These less advanced positions cannot just be dismissed out of hand.
“And the ideas and demands of the majority of the working people are things that the working people must discard of their own accord: such demands cannot be either ‘abolished’ or ’skipped over.’” Communists must help the masses “to disregard petty bourgeois slogans, to pass from them as quickly and easily as possible to socialist slogans.’’ It is the failure to do this that has led many Communist Parties to fall off the Road to Socialism into revisionism, right opportunism and liberalism, aping organized parties like the Democratic or Republican parties and de facto supporting the bourgeoisie.
All the issues facing the American people, for example, are the same that have been facing them since the end of WWII and even earlier: women’s rights, civil rights, police brutality, constant war, weak unions, homelessness, racism, low wages, lack of proper health care, poverty, etc., etc., whichever party is in control the problems never go away, they go up and down, new ones come, but the old ones never go away. The Left has no program to solve these problems — it just circles around with the same old ideas; build coalitions, fight the ultra-right, target the Republicans, blah, blah, blah, the more they dust off and renew their same old responses to capitalism, the more they stay the same, and now, what some call the “socialist moment,” the socialist “plus” or even their “superpower” based on collectivity (while they purge their ranks of dissidents) the political reality around them has moved beyond the ultra-right towards outright fascism while the same losing tactics remain the same.
In his response to the renegade Kautsky, Lenin outlined what the job of the Left was. The bourgeois democratic revolution in the USA has long ago reached its limit— the two-party system alternating in the White House, a Congress controlled by finance capital whichever party happens to control it, the Supreme Court, as usual, serving the interest of corporations not people.
Marxists have to tell the workers the truth their bourgeois sellout labor leader bureaucrats won’t. The bourgeois democratic revolution which founded the USA has long ago reached its limit as a progressive force.
Any bourgeois revolution that has reached its limit, has stagnated, whether in Russia in 1917 or the USA now in decline, shows that by ‘’reaching its limit, it all the more clearly, rapidly and easily reveals to the people the inadequacy of bourgeois-democratic solutions and the necessity of proceeding beyond their limits, of passing on to socialism.” The only raison d'être for a Communist Party is to lead the working class beyond the limits of bourgeois democracy, not play it up as the be all and end all of the struggle.
It is true we are not yet in a revolutionary environment. The delusions of bourgeois democracy still have a grip on the masses not yet won over to fascism. As long as we live in a society based on private ownership of the means of production and commodity production, “socialism” remains an ideal future solution to the contradictions of poverty and wealth, universal suffrage and voter suppression, justice for all (the rich not the poor), the social production of wealth and its private appropriation – but Marxists have to keep directing the eyes of the workers on the prize and not, like Kautsky and today’s revisionist leaders, present to the workers, “as far as theory is concerned, an incredible hodge-podge which is a complete renunciation of Marxism, and, as far as practice is concerned, a policy of servility to the bourgeoisie and their reformism.’’
Lenin didn’t actually finish this last part of his polemic against Kautsky. Because “news was received from Germany [November 9,1918] announcing the beginning of a victorious revolution….”
North Germany was in turmoil and a revolutionary council had taken power in Berlin. As far as this work was concerned, “The conclusion which still remained to be written to my pamphlet on Kautsky and on the proletarian revolution is now superfluous.’’
The German Revolution of 1918-1919 overthrew the Kaiser and ended with the establishment of the Weimar Republic. It failed to become a socialist revolution because the revisionist leaders of the SPD allied with the military and the bourgeoisie against the workers. I leave it to the perspicacity of the reader to determine whether or not a conclusion would have been superfluous.
There are two items at the end of Lenin’s polemic listed as appendices.
Appendix I. Theses on the Constituent Assembly
The Bolshevik closing of the Constituent Assembly was a big deal in 1918 and I have covered all the arguments for it in the main body of this text. Here we find 19 numbered explanations of why this was a justified action. It is unnecessary for our purposes to go over this appendix, but it is worth reading on your own just to reinforce Lenin’s position given in the main body of the text.
Appendix II. Vandevelde’s New Book on the State
Emile Vandervelde (1866-1938) was, along with Kautsky, a top leader of the Second International and his book Socialism versus the State (1918) was another renegade, revisionist anti-Marxist tract dealing with the State in the same manner as Kautsky dealt with the Dictatorship of the Proletariat. This appendix is a brief review by Lenin along the lines of his criticism of Kautsky. You can read it on your own, but it isn’t necessary here to go over its arguments. The arguments focus on the nature of the State and the transition to socialism and from socialism to the withering away of the State and are the same as or similar to the arguments against Kautsky.
Thomas Riggins is a retired philosophy teacher (NYU, The New School of Social Research, among others) who received a PhD from the CUNY Graduate Center (1983). He has been active in the civil rights and peace movements since the 1960s when he was chairman of the Young People's Socialist League at Florida State University and also worked for CORE in voter registration in north Florida (Leon County). He has written for many online publications such as People's World and Political Affairs where he was an associate editor. He also served on the board of the Bertrand Russell Society and was president of the Corliss Lamont chapter in New York City of the American Humanist Association. He is the author of Reading the Classical Texts of Marxism and Eurocommunism: A Critical Reading of Santiago Carrillo and Eurocommunist Revisionism.
“...If a Communist took it into his head to boast about his Communism because of the ready-made conclusions he had acquired, without putting in a great deal of serious and hard work, without understanding the facts which he must examine critically, he would be a very deplorable Communist. Such superficiality would be decidedly fatal.”
Lenin’s speech to these young Communists in the early twentieth century could very easily be given to young people learning Marxism in the USA of the twenty-first century. It is much easier to talk the talk than it is to walk the walk. It is easy to one day wake up and say, “I think I will call myself a Communist today.” From there, we could buy a t-shirt with Karl Marx’s face on it, and we could put a little hammer and sickle emoji in our Twitter profile, and we could tell everyone we believe in Communism. But would this make us a Communist?
Probably not, right?
If we are interested in viewing things from the Marxist perspective, this is backwards from how we should be going about things. It is not, after all, people’s consciousness that determines their existence, but on the contrary, their social existence that determines their consciousness. From the Marxist perspective, the material world is primary, and our thoughts and ideas are reflections of that primary material world. The idea does not determine reality. It is reality that determines the idea.
And you know, speaking of Lenin - in the Soviet Union, people did not simply decide to call themselves Communists. Being a Communist was something you earned, something you achieved. It meant you had passed all of the tests and joined the Communist Party. You had built yourself into a Communist, rather than made a decision on how you choose to perceive yourself. The difference between the two begins at the level of worldview, of ideology. In twenty-first century America, the way we see things, think, and the characteristics of the way we approach issues and problems is by default a reflection of what Marxists call the “economic base”. That material world is primary, and our thoughts and ideas are reflections of it, right? And so this is a reflection of the brand marketing economy, that what matters is the brand of a thing, rather than the product itself. In this case, the brand is Communist.
There is a whole lot more that goes into how peoples’ identities are shaped these days, but that’s so far outside the scope of this paper that you’d need a telescope to see it from way over there. So we’ll briefly mention that Carlos Garrido dissects this in his recent book The Purity Fetish and the Crisis of Western Marxism, wherein he says, “In the era of profilicity, where, as Hans Georg Moeller and Paul D’Ambrosio argue, identity formation takes the form of profile curation, the socialist identity is most clearly seen in people’s social media bios, where they mention the sort of socialism they identify with, either through the word itself or through emojis (democratic socialist rose, communist hammer and sickle). In the context of the hyper-individualist West’s treatment of socialism as a personal identity, the worst thing that may happen for these ‘socialists’ is for socialism to be achieved. That would mean the total destruction of their counter-cultural fringe identity. Their utter estrangement from the working masses of the country may in part be read as an attempt to make socialist ideas fringe enough to never convince working people, and hence, never conquer political power. The success of socialism would entail a loss of selfhood, a destruction of the socialist-within-capitalism identity. The socialism of the West is grounded on an identity which hates the existing order but hates even more the loss of identity which transcending it would entail. This is how Western Marxism’s purity fetish manifests itself in the sphere of identity formation in the age of profilicity. What matters is having the perfect bio, the perfect posts, the perfect online comeback. The conquest of political power by the working class is, in short, an existential threat for the identity-socialists of the West,” and get back to the matter at hand, shall we?
If we’re speaking of genuinely embodying this thing called “Communist”, and viewing what that is from the Marxist mode of the material being primary, well, then we must understand that a Communist is a universal thing that must concretize in particular form, embodying the process of Communism itself - the new society taking shape in the shell of the old, and embodying the best traits of the revolutionary class in society. Even being a member of a Communist Party isn’t enough. How many members of our own Party have no interest whatsoever in actually overthrowing capitalism or in becoming the type of people capable of carrying out such an immense task? How many lie and cheat and engage in the scummiest of middle class prejudices, looking down on the people of their own country, rather than being guided by a love of the people?
This, my friends, is no Communist. As Che Guevara once said, a true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love. It is IMPOSSIBLE, he explained, to imagine a genuine revolutionary lacking that quality. And a Communist must at the same time be a revolutionary.
But that isn’t the whole list of things we must build ourselves into. Not even close.
A Communist must hold his or herself to the highest standard possible, even if the Party they belong to has not yet built or rebuilt itself into an institution capable of demanding they do so. In fact, in doing this building, they are helping to build that Party into just such an institution, and leading those not there yet, like the folks mentioned above, by setting an example. The Bolsheviks were just such a Party, but we should always be realistic and approach our current situation with clear eyes and clear heads. In 2023, we are in a period of ascendancy, but there is a lot of ground to cover to even bring ourselves to the level of the old Communist Party in the USA, let alone surpassing that and becoming the institution capable of leading the American people through the struggles ahead of us and into revolution. And we’re not going to get there by putting hammer and sickle emojis in our Twitter profiles and then telling everyone who doesn’t have every opinion we do how awful they are. The Bolsheviks did not gain the support and respect of the working masses of the Soviet Union by bragging and talking down to them. The massively powerful and effective Chinese Party doesn’t win their support (an 85% approval rating) by continually organizing witch hunts against each other, or “trolling” each other, or making up wild fantasies about each other in order to look down on each other.
They lead by example.
And an American Communist must do the same.
If we are serious about what we say our goals are; if we intend to overthrow the most powerful ruling class in human history, then even learning our theory, analyzing the world with Marxism, and dropping bourgeois standpoint epistemology is not enough. Shaping the theory of our era is not enough. We must also deal in shaping ourselves into the people who can earn the respect and support of the toiling masses. And, in fact, it is that theory that leads us to this conclusion. If we keep in mind that the default way that the people are trained to view things (without even knowing other ways are possible) is through that brand marketing economy, then we must create a brand of “Communist” that disproves all the lies spread about us from the ruling class over the last hundred years, in ALL their forms. Even being correct is not enough. If we do not package a correct message in a way that appeals to regular working class people, we are learning nothing about the people and allowing middle class prejudices that wormed their way into our organizations over the last period of history to maintain dominance. And I don’t know about you, but pretending we are the enlightened few and hating everyone not as “enlightened” as we think we are seems to be a sign that we have done neither. This is precisely what Mao was talking about when he said that a Communist must humble him or herself before the people. In order for Communists to lead the people, we must recognize that the people are the ones leading Communists.
And this means we must carry ourselves in a certain way. We must work on making ourselves into a certain thing. We must be above reproach and humble, strong, capable, and intelligent. We must never take ourselves too seriously, even as our task is the most serious task in the world.
For every hundred people I see who call themselves Communists these days, I can honestly say I see only one who actually carries themselves as such. So, let’s go over a few qualities a Communist must have, because it is very easy, as noted above, to simply say we are a thing. It is quite another to embody that thing and become a person worthy of leading the working classes, worthy of the word Communist.
Above all, a Communist needs to prove to the rest of the working masses of their society that they are not just worthy of their respect, but of leading them into revolution and a new state that is genuinely of, by, and for the people. A Communist does not demand respect without earning it like a petulant child. A Communist earns that respect through his or her actions.
This is an incredibly difficult task, and I don’t think we can ever be truly done with it. For me, there are certain people I try to imagine the opinions of, when deciding what I should do in a given situation. My father (whom everyone in the union and the neighborhood fondly referred to as “Pops”), who was one of the greatest people I’ve ever known, and taught me everything I know about what it means to be a man - the epitome of what it takes to earn respect through action; Henry Winston, the man who could inspire better in everyone around him and the greatest American Communist in history; and JV Stalin, whose character was above reproach and whose hard work and dedication helped lead the Soviet Union, the first land of the working class, from rural huts to space in a handful of decades. Or I think about whether or not my son can look at me and say, “That’s my dad. I’m proud of him and I want to be more like him when I grow up.”
And so, if we are deciding on a course of action, think about having to explain it to your children (or maybe your future children), or your parents, or… Henry Winston, if you don’t have any of these in your situation. Would they respond by saying what you are doing is a good thing? Would they respect it? Would Henry Winston see you trying to bring yourself up at the expense of a random stranger online and greet it with admiration, or with disappointment?
If we can embody all of the traits above, if we can approach that question with honesty and humility, we can begin to build ourselves into the kind of people worthy of the respect of the toiling masses.
The contradictions of capitalism are growing more acute every day. We have run out of time to waste. Our ruling class is quickly leading us to destitution and nuclear war. The impossibility of continuing on in the old way grows as re-proletarianization does. The time for childishness and larping is over. The time for action is now.
So let’s get to action.
Noah Khrachvik is a proud working class member of the Communist Party USA. He is 40 years old, married to the most understanding and patient woman on planet Earth (who puts up with all his deep-theory rants when he wakes up at two in the morning and can't get back to sleep) and has a twelve-year-old son who is far too smart for his own good. When he isn't busy writing, organizing the working class, or fixing rich people's houses all day, he enjoys doing absolutely nothing on the couch, surrounded by his family and books by Gus Hall.
From the American System to the Chinese Dream: A materialist Understanding of the American Revolution's Place in Global History. By: Marius TrotterRead Now
This is part 2 in a series of articles on the American Revolution. Here is Part 1.
Before we go into the reasons the liberal/left intelligentsia has decided to disown the American Revolution (the subject of part 3), it is important to take a step back and re-examine the event with new eyes.
The American Revolution as a Developmental Project
The American Revolution was not merely a war of independence. It was also an economic revolution- the creation of the first major power that broke free of the laissez-faire free market empire of the British elites who held the world in thrall for the better part of two or three centuries.
The problem with the popular conception of the American Revolution is viewing the war of Independence as a singular event, confined to the iconic year 1776. But if one were to take a more holistic interpretation, the American Revolution was a more prolonged process. It spanned generations and its key tasks were not fully resolved until the cataclysm of the American Civil War/Reconstruction period of 1861-77. Instead of the War of Independence and the Civil War being two separate events, they were bookends of the same revolutionary transformation.
The Founding Fathers were concerned with how independence, tenuously won, could be maintained. Starting with Alexander Hamilton, the (later) Thomas Jefferson, Congressional leader Henry Clay and finally culminating with Abraham Lincoln, these far-sighted leaders represented the most politically advanced sections of the ascendant bourgeoisie. They enacted protectionist, non-free market policies which made the United States into the first successful large scale developmentalist state. In the decades and centuries to come, aspects of this state would be imitated, built and improved upon in many national liberation movements, including socialist and nationalist governments across the Americas, Europe, Africa and Asia.
Like all their colonies, Britain had designed the 13 colonies to be little more than a trading hub for its merchants and an extraction point for raw materials. Royal law had in fact forbidden independent colonial manufacturing. William Pitt the Elder, the British Prime Minister and otherwise known to be a sympathizer of the American colonial’s cause, famously said “if the Americans should manufacture a lock of wool or a horseshoe, I shall fill their ports with ships and their towns with troops.”
Coming from a place of colonial underdevelopment, the American Revolution was a premature bourgeois revolution. Once the Americans had managed to oust the British, the mercantile capitalists and bankers of the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states found themselves unable to hold onto state power. The newly freed colonies had only embryonic industry and the urban working class barely existed. The overwhelming majority of the new country’s working population were small yeoman farmers, artisans, indentured servants, and in the South chattel slaves. Thus, the economic base of their class was extremely weak in the 18th century.
The new American republic was in a perilous position. The Southern planter aristocracy was wealthy yet parochial and stagnant in its overall worldview. They had no interest in supporting industrialization in America, being content with importing manufactured goods from Europe. This is especially true between the War of 1812 (when the cotton boom began and saturated the Atlantic markets with the commodity) and the Civil War, where the South can essentially be seen as a sort of neo colony of Britain, only semi-independent and a source of raw materials for foreign powers, who subsidized an indolent comprador aristocracy. In league with them were the financial capitalists headquartered in New York City, who cared little for the industrial development of the nation overall as long as they could speculate on the cotton trade.
The slavocracy and their allies had little interest in putting the government behind infrastructure construction, since they ruled their home states like jealous feudal fiefdoms and viewed a too powerful federal government as a potentially hostile power center. Modern roads and canals would make direct trade with Northern states easier, but it would also make it easier for slaves to escape, for impoverished Southern whites to migrate North in search of better wages and for federal troops to march in. An agrarian, un-urbanized, un-industrialized America dependent on manufactured imports from its sworn enemy Great Britain would have inevitably been brought back under the Crown’s sway financially, if not outright militarily.
It was Alexander Hamilton, the first Secretary of the Treasury and aptly named ‘Father of American Capitalism’, who devised a strategy for how the Northern capitalists could build up their economic strength while also saving the new Republic from falling back into the clutches of foreign powers.
Advocating the ‘American School’ of economics, Hamilton pushed several key tenets which were seriously at odds with Adam Smith’s free market orthodoxy. First was the creation of a National bank that would extend credit to development projects deemed to be of long term national interest and not merely short term profit. Second was heavy tariffs against manufactured goods from Britain that would provide a protective wall behind which American manufacturers could grow. Third was using money from these taxes and other sources for ‘internal improvements’ (roads, canals) which would stimulate interstate and internal commerce, designed to pull the republic away from the British dominated maritime economy.
As the First US Secretary of the Treasury, Hamilton succeeded in founding the First Bank of the United States in 1791, and he succeeded in getting the Tariff of 1789 enacted. This tariff, the second piece of legislation ever passed by Congress, was signed into law by President George Washington on July 4, 1789. It was originally conceived as a way to pay off debts accrued by the states during the War of Independence. While not officially protective, in actual practice it was. Imported china and glassware were taxed at 15 percent, cotton and woolen clothing taxed at 7.5 percent, as well as all metal manufactures.
Jefferson’s Democratic Republicans, at odds with the Federalists, decried these measures as against the principles of liberal free trade. Thomas Jefferson, a romantic rather than a realist, banked on the salvation of the new American republic through the spread of bourgeois democratic revolutions across the Atlantic to Europe, ideally leading new anti-monarchical allies to come to America’s aid.
In Jefferson’s analysis, the American republic could hold foreign enemies at bay and remain a decentralized, primarily rural society of free, small property-owning yeoman farmers-the ideal republican citizens in Jefferson’s mind. Jefferson feared that the expansion of federal powers, intertwined with the nascent influence of banks, was a threat to his vision of a decentralized agrarian republic.
Hamilton had planted the germ of the idea into political discourse that short term profit motive should be subordinated to the national interests of the country as a whole. This vision of a semi planned economy was not, to be clear, for the benefit of the proletariat. Rather, it was a strategy for an immature and new economic polity to hold its own and eventually prevail over much more well established and wealthy mercantile powers who had rigged the global trade system in their favor.
Hamilton’s meteoric political career was cut short with the fatal duel with Aaron Burr on July 11, 1804. This, along with the passing of George Washington in 1799, deprived the Federalist Party of respectable leadership with a national vision, leading to the party’s unraveling. Seven years later in 1811, the bank’s charter wasn’t renewed, with the deciding vote being cast by James Madison’s vice president George Clinton.
Seemingly stillborn, the American System was jolted back to life by the threat of counterrevolution. Thomas Jefferson in his later years as President began to embrace some of Hamilton’s policies, although he never admitted it as such. Jefferson’s hatred and fear of Britain, and the pragmatic exigencies of the Napoleonic wars which threatened to pull the United States into the titanic conflict between Britain and France, led him to embrace the Embargo Act of 1807, which essentially cut off the American republic from commerce with Europe as well as the British Empire.
No longer able to receive manufactured goods from Europe, private capital in the Northeastern US was forced to invest in manufacturing at home. Thousands of unemployed dock workers, sailors and merchant men became an eager labor force for the new factory system. Thus it was Jefferson who ironically played a key role in helping bring about the urbanized industrial capitalist empire he would have detested had he seen it come to its final fruition. Historian Henry Adams (descendant of John and John Quincy Adams) made the observation that “American manufactures owe more to Jefferson than to northern statesmen who encouraged them after they were established”.
The British retaliated against Jefferson’s punitive trade measures by attacking American shipping, forcibly impressing American seamen into the British navy, and escalating hostilities to the point where Jefferson’s successor, James Madison, felt he had no choice but to declare war on London five years later.
The War of 1812 resulted in a series of alarming defeats for the young American Republic at the hands of the British, culminating in the burning of the White House in August 1814. The backward, poorly armed United States barely avoided catastrophe. The prospect that independence could be lost, that the Revolution could be reversed, spurred a wave of nationalism that demanded the government take measures to ensure US economic independence from the stranglehold of British domination. Even the South temporarily abandoned its sectional interests in this climate.
Henry Clay, a young speaker of the House from Kentucky of Jeffersonian Democratic convictions (the first and only to become speaker in his first term as Congressman, obtaining the position at 34), rode the wave of this new national fervor to implement what he called ‘The American System’- resting on the same essential principles Hamilton had formulated: the tariff, the national bank and ‘internal improvements’.
Henry Charles Carey, the economist most famous for providing the intellectual ammunition for the American System (and later an economic advisor to Abraham Lincoln), elaborated in his book A Harmony of Interests how this model differed from that practiced by the British Empire:
“Two systems are before the world; the one looks to increasing the proportion of persons and of capital engaged in trade and transportation, and therefore to diminishing the proportion engaged in producing commodities with which to trade, with necessarily diminished return to the labor of all; while the other looks to increasing the proportion engaged in the work of production, and diminishing that engaged in trade and transportation, with increased return to all, giving to the labor good wages, and the owner of capital good profits.
…One looks to compelling the farmers and planters of the Union to continue their contributions for the support of the fleets and the armies, the paupers, the nobles, and the sovereigns of Europe; the other to enabling ourselves to apply the same means to the moral and intellectual improvement of the sovereigns of America.
…One looks to underworking the Hindoo, and sinking the rest of the world to his level; the other to raising the standard of man throughout the world to our level. One looks to pauperism, ignorance, depopulation, and barbarism; the other to increasing wealth, comfort, intelligence, combination of action, and civilization. One looks towards universal war; the other towards universal peace.
One is the English system; the other we
may be proud to call the American system”
This time, the nation at large and the political elites were receptive to an activist government on economic matters. In rapid succession a Second National Bank was established with its headquarters in Philadelphia, and in 1816 a heavy tariff was introduced on British goods, with duties on commodities deemed threatening to American manufactures, such as iron, glass, paper, taxed at 20-30%. Thomas Jefferson, who had previously opposed such policies, expressed his support for them:
“...to be independent for the comforts of life we must fabricate them ourselves. We must now place the manufacturer by the side of the agriculturist. The former question is suppressed; or rather assumes a new form: shall we make our own comforts, or go without them, at the will of a foreign nation? He therefore who is now against domestic manufacture must be for reducing us either to dependance on that foreign nation, or to be clothed in skins, & to live like wild beasts in dens & caverns. I am not one of these. Experience has taught me that manufactures are now as necessary to our independence as to our comfort…for in so complicated a science as political economy, no one axiom can be laid down as wise and expedient for all times and circumstances…[there are] those who use their former opinion only as a stalking horse to cover their disloyal propensities to keep us in eternal vassalage to a foreign & unfriendly people” (emphasis added).
The British correctly perceived the threat these new policies posed to their hold over the transatlantic economy and engaged in a form of retaliatory economic warfare against the United States by oversaturating American markets with their goods, even taking profit losses to do so. This contributed to a depression in 1819, but the country recovered in two years.
Starting during the administration of James Monroe (1817-25) and accelerating during the administration of John Qunicy Adams (1825-29), a plethora of massive state sponsored infrastructure projects took shape. Clay, first as Speaker of the House and later as Secretary of State under Adams, was instrumental in marshaling political support for many of them.
The first notable example was the National Road, also known as the Cumberland Road. Beginning in Cumberland, Maryland, this road ultimately extended over 600 miles, cutting through the Appalachian Mountains into the agricultural heartland of North America. Work had already begun on the road in 1806, but it originally was to go no further than Wheeling, [West] Virginia. Clay, as speaker of the House, led Congress to fund further extensions of this road throughout the 1810’s and 1820’s, so that it finally reached hundreds of additional miles, stretching as far as Vandalia, then the capital of the new state of Illinois. This major work of public infrastructure connected the east coast with the rich agricultural valleys of the Ohio and upper Mississippi for free farmers, who poured across the mountains to settle what became the most prosperous farming region in human history.
Another example was the Erie Canal, constructed between 1817 and 1825 under the leadership of Governor Dewitt Clinton. This canal connected the Hudson Valley, and thus the Atlantic Ocean, with the Great Lakes, circumventing the Appalachians and facilitating direct river traffic between the Midwest and the East Coast, reducing transport costs by as high as 90%.
Although not technically receiving federal funding (most of the money came from the state government of New York and private philanthropists), government assistance to this project was nonetheless crucial. Work on the canal began directly across the river from the West Point Military Academy (established by President Jefferson in 1802), which at the time was the only school in the entire United States that trained engineers. The West Point Foundry reportedly designed the locks which were crucial to the canals functioning.
As New York City rapidly grew and became a flourishing global trade hub in the subsequent 20-30 years, the West Point Foundry also built much of the sewage pipe system of NYC in the 1830’s and 40’s, and in 1830 built ‘The Best Friend of Charleston’, the first locomotive for revenue service built entirely in the United States.
The Ohio and Erie Canal was built with the finances of the state government/state bank of the newly established state of Ohio between 1825 and 1832, and was surveyed/designed by the US Army Corps of Engineers under the supervision of General Simon Bernard, a Frenchman who had served Napoleon and defected to the United States after Waterloo. The canal connected Lake Erie with the Ohio River, stretching over 300 miles with 146 river locks. The cities of Cleveland, Toledo, and Columbus grew along this canal route, flourishing from new direct commerce with the East Coast.
The Second National Bank played a key role in financing numerous canals, railroads and roads. Printing one quarter of the United States’ entire currency, and having 25 branches across the country, the national bank was in a unique position to provide financing to infrastructure projects of national interest, either through direct funding, buying the land upon which the infrastructure would be built, or extending credit to private actors so that they’d be willing to invest in such projects long term. Among the vital infrastructure financed by the bank was:
Delaware and Chesapeake Canal- A canal constructed between 1825 and 1829 that connected the Delaware river with Chesapeake Bay, removing a major natural obstacle to internal and international maritime commerce. The canal is still in use to this day.
Morris Canal- A New Jersey canal, constructed between 1829 to 1839, that was primarily used to transport anthracite coal from the coal fields of Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley to blast furnaces in New Jersey and the New York City area. The canal also transported iron ore westwards to places like Bethlehem, Pennsylvania which was the embryo of enterprises like Bethlehem Steel.
New Orleans Canal- A canal built between 1831 and 1838 to cut through swampland and connect the cities ports with the Gulf of Mexico. Slave labor was not used, but Irish migrant wage laborers were. Tragically, the harsh work conditions led many to perish from yellow fever. The canal was nonetheless so effective that it served as the city's main canal until World War II.
Reading Railroad- A railway connecting the coal producing region of northeastern Pennsylvania with Port Richmond, the single largest tidewater rail terminal in the world at the time, enabling coal exports across the world that could compete with the British coal industry.
(The information is available in a report on the national banks activities issued by a committee of financier stockholders in 1841).
All these projects kick-started industrialization and stimulated commerce between the East Coast and the new territories of the Midwest, especially because they made the flow of agricultural goods, iron, coal and other raw materials of the Midwestern breadbasket/Appalachian Mountains to the coastal manufacturing hubs easier and cheaper than ever before. The mileage of railroads connecting different regions of the country went from zero to thousands of miles. The continental, land-based economy in North America began to take shape, free of the maritime trade dominated by the trade ships and war vessels of the British Empire.
By increasing the wealth and autonomous economic muscle of Northeastern and Midwestern industrial as well as agricultural capital, leaders like Clay built up the strength of their class for the looming violent confrontation with the slave holding aristocracy of the South, and its international allies.
The nature of this escalating conflict was personified by what was called the “Triumvirate”- the three giants of Congress and the Senate who dominated American politics in the second quarter of the 19th century. These men were Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, and John C. Calhoun. Clay represented the up-and-coming landholding entrepreneurs of the newly forming Western states. A slave holder himself, he nonetheless supported gradual, compensated emancipation and believed that increased interstate commerce would enable the West as well as the South to catch up to the Northeast in terms of economic development, and thus ease sectional tensions over time.
Webster represented the old established mercantile shipping interests and industrial capitalists of the East Coast. As an acclaimed Massachusetts lawyer, he had personally represented the interests of Francis Cabot Lowell, the owner of the first big textile factory in the United States Boston Manufacturing Company, and John Jacob Astor, the fur trader, opium dealer, and real estate mogul of early 19th century NYC and the USA’s first multi-millionaire. He was widely considered the wealthiest lawyer of his era. An opportunist, he had at first opposed protectionist policies in the name of the dogmas of free trade, but shifted his positions when he saw that Northeastern industry would turn more of a profit in the long term by keeping British manufactured goods out of the market. In short, he represented the more cautious and conservative faction of the pro developmental bourgeoisie.
Lastly was John C Calhoun, the South Carolina Senator who represented the most reactionary interests of the Southern slave plantation owners. Historian Richard Hofstadter called Calhoun the “Marx of the Master Class”, a social and economic theorist who recognized class conflict as the motor force of history, and yet for that precise reason rejected industrial capitalism which he thought gave too many freedoms to the laborers, arguing that only the ultra-hierarchical system of chattel slavery could subdue the unholy horror of class warfare.
Of the three men, Clay was the most forward looking, seeing in the American System not only a good development plan for the United States, but the beginning of an entirely different global economic order. Clay foresaw an interconnected economy of mutual prosperity spanning the entire Americas, free of the fetters of feudalism, colonialism and hereditary privilege that weighed down the Old World. As Secretary of State under John Quincy Adams, Clay vocally supported the freedom struggles of Simon Bolivar in South America, and also supported American recognition of the revolutionary Republic of Haiti, to the scandalization and horror of most Southern slave owners.
The American System more or less prevailed from 1816 to around 1833 and gave American industrialization a vital boost, but was derailed by a reactionary backlash represented by the rise of Andrew Jackson to the presidency. Jackson represented all the worst aspects of Jeffersonianism without any of its redeeming qualities. A narrow-minded parochial champion of petit bourgeois interests in cahoots with parasitic finance capital centered in New York, Jackson utilized vulgar populism to bring down Clay’s national bank, claiming that it was a corrupt institution unfairly favoring certain politically connected business interests over others, stifling American capitalist meritocracy.
The two hammer blows to the American System came in 1832-33. First, in 1832, the Southern slave owners, led by Calhoun, effectively blackmailed the rest of the country into rolling back the protectionist tariff. South Carolina threatened to secede unless the 1828 protectionist tariff, called by Southern demagogues ‘The Tariff of Abominations’, was repealed. Calhoun considered the high tariff a Northern plot to economically ruin the South, just one step removed from emancipating the slaves- to him, the tariff and abolitionist agitation were one and the same (‘While the tariff takes from us the proceeds of our labor, abolition strikes at the labor itself’ Calhoun said).
Although President Jackson’s threat of using military force cowed the secessionists into not crossing the final red line, the Northern bourgeoisie gave in to the threats. Clay (by now a Senator) and Webster crafted the Compromise of 1833 whereby the 40% tariff on manufactured imports would gradually be lowered to 25% over a period of several years. Passionate as Clay was in support of the American System, he prioritized preserving the Union above all else. His enemies did not.
Then came the great attack on the national bank. Under the direction of his Secretary of the Treasury Roger B Taney (the later Supreme Court Chief Justice infamous for the pro slavery Dredd Scott decision), the national developmental bank was drained of its funds, the funds were put in local state banks run by Jackson’s political cronies (described by Whig critics as ‘pet banks’), who instead of spending the funds on internal improvements, spent the money on land sales to those settling the West.
In the subsequent ‘free banks’ era from 1837 to 1863, the average life expectancy of a bank was five years, given reckless speculation and lack of a sound currency.
Despite Jackson’s reactionary sabotage, the American System lived on at a state level, with Northeastern and Midwestern state governments led by the Whigs putting up the money for internal improvement projects. One of the most prolific politicians in this endeavor was the young Abraham Lincoln, who in his eight years in Illinois’s state legislature(1834-1842) succeeded in pushing through legislation creating a State Bank of Illinois, as well as appropriating 8.5 million dollars in state funds for the creation of the Illinois and Michigan Canal which connected the Great Lakes with the Mississippi river basin. Such was his enthusiasm for this project that he served on the state commission overseeing the canal's construction. The canal diverted trading activity from southern and central Illinois to Chicago which sat where the canal connected to the Great Lakes, leading to Chicago’s meteoric rise into the Midwest's greatest metropolis.
This and other projects only widened the gap between the development of the productive forces of the Northeast and the Midwest vis-a-vis the South, leading to the slavocrats' position being weakened in the economy. Their only hope lay in a rigged political system that granted disproportionate representation through the Senate and the Supreme Court, and failing that, the threat of civil war and possible British intervention on their behalf.
The Whigs led by Clay attempted in vain to re-implement the American System on a national level. Jackson was followed by Van Buren, who was ruined politically by the economic crash of 1837, brought about in part by usurious interest rates at the hands of Wall Street and local banks no longer restrained or regulated by a national bank. William Henry Harrison, a Whig, was elected in 1840 but died after only a month in office, leading to him being replaced by his running mate John Tyler. Tyler treacherously abandoned his own party's platform once in office and sided with the Jacksonian Democrats in vetoing a new national bank (which resulted in a riot by Clays supporters in front of the White House). In a final rally for the nationalist cause, Whigs in Congress passed a protectionist tariff in 1842 over Tyler's veto. Clay then ran for President in 1844 against the rabidly pro free market, pro slavery expansionist James K. Polk and narrowly lost. Abraham Lincoln and other Whigs charged, on the floor of Congress, that Polk had been elected with financial and propaganda assistance from the British.
Jacksonian Democrats hammered the nail in the coffin to the American System when they passed the Walker Tariff in 1846, the most pro free market tariff measure passed to date. They also embarked on a predatory war of conquest against Mexico to expand the territories available for slaveholders. Although there was a temporary economic boom with the explosion of land speculation following the annexation of vast Mexican territories, lack of regulation of interest rates led to a major economic crash in 1857, bringing Northern factory owners to the point of ruin.
The newly annexed Mexican territories reignited the slavery controversy, due to disagreements over whether slavery would be allowed into these western lands or not. Senators Clay and Webster, summoning all their rhetorical and political gifts one last time, crafted the Compromise of 1850. The agreement admitted California as a free state and banned the slave trade in the nation’s capital Washington DC. However, to placate the South, it also included the hideous Fugitive Slave Act, which gave license to Southern slave patrols to pursue runaways in Northern states. Thus, an illustrious career in public service ended in disgrace for both men. The only good thing that can be said about the compromise is that it gave the North another ten precious years to industrialize further and prepare for the coming storm.
In 1852 both Henry Clay and Daniel Webster died within months of each other, depriving the Whig Party of its most able leadership. Simmering sectional differences over slavery, kept at bay for over 30 years, could no longer be suppressed. The ‘Conscience Whigs’, tired of their party’s compromises with slavery, broke from the party, forming the nucleus of the new Republican Party. The pro slavery faction, the ‘Cotton Whigs’, joined the Southern Democrats.
The newly ascendant Republican Party represented the consolidation of a cross class alliance between Northern industrial capitalists, workers, Midwestern free farmers and a small but growing group of reformers and abolitionists to push the Slave Power off its throne. Their ranks grew until they triumphed in the election of 1860.
With the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860, the industrial bourgeoisie was finally able to capture the commanding heights of state power. In 1861, the Morrill tariff was passed, which reversed the free trade policies of the previous 15 years, to the great boon of Northern industry. A single centralized national bank was not re-established, but on the advice of Lincoln’s economic advisor Henry Charles Carey, a nationwide network of Federal banks in each state was created, issuing ‘greenback’ paper money backed by the federal treasury and creating a standardized fiat currency. The state banks were heavily taxed to discourage competition with the federal banks. This made raising money for the upcoming war effort far more efficient.
In response to the loss of its power, the Southern slavocracy seceded and made war, declaring itself the Confederacy (whose constitution, in addition to codifying slavery into law forever, included a provision forbidding the government providing funding for internal improvements).
The process of economic decoupling from Britain was completed when the slavocracy was crushed at the cost of 750,000 lives in four years of brutal civil war. The decisive blow was inflicted by the slaves themselves in the ‘General Strike’ eloquently described by W.E.B. Dubois in Chapter 4 of Black Reconstruction, in which hundreds of thousands of runaways fled to the Union lines, depriving the plantation system its vital labor force, and providing 200,000 additional soldiers to crush the rebellion, tipping the balance of forces decisively for the Union cause.
In the immediate post war period, the Northern bourgeoisie was faced with a dilemma. The emancipation of the slaves meant that they no longer counted as three fifths of a person, but a full person in the eyes of the law. This meant increased Southern representation in Congress. Without black suffrage and votes, this opened the door for unreconstructed reactionaries from the ranks of the just recently defeated planters to take seats in the new Congress. The Northern business interests didn’t care one way or another about black suffrage, but they knew such a Congress would lift the tariff and attack other policies the industrialists prized deeply. If there had been an industrial bourgeoisie in the South for their Northern counterparts to make common cause with against the Southern oligarchy, they would have done so. But given the South’s extreme underdevelopment, the only available ally that could produce Southern state governments aligned with Northern capital was the newly emancipated black proletariat, along with some Unionist white proletarians.
The Northern industrial capitalists made a move unprecedented in any bourgeois revolutionary process- they backed, with the full force of the United States military, a dictatorship of the proletariat in the American South. The political and military leadership of the defeated Confederacy, the Southern nobility, were denied the right to vote and hold political office. The American Revolution, in its final culmination, resulted in the brief but unprecedented acquisition of state power for laboring people, backed by the bayonets of the United States Army. Three years before the Paris Commune, fifty years before the Bolsheviks stormed the Winter Palace in Russia.
Central to this new order was the establishment of the Freedmen's Bureau in the reconstructed South, a federal government entity under the command of the War Department with broad powers to provide food, clothing, shelter, and other welfare programs for emancipated blacks, build schools and educational facilities for the freedmen and poor whites, defend the voting rights of the freedmen, provide an alternative court system for the freedmen, run a government bank for the freedmen’s finances, and rebuild the damaged infrastructure of the war torn South.
Dubois described this massive government agency, the first of its kind ever entrusted with such wide-ranging authorities, as a proto socialist institution, the embryo of a true workers republic. Had it been allowed to grow unimpeded, it had the potential to become a “vast and single eyed dictatorship [that] could guide us up from murder in the South and robbery and cheating in the North into a nation whose infinite resources would be developed in the interest of the mass of the nation- that is, of the laboring poor.”
The forces of reaction gathered against this nascent workers power in the form of the Ku Klux Klan, the White League, the Red Shirts and other paramilitaries. These organizations constituted the shock troops of the decayed remnants of the deposed Southern planter oligarchy, as well as the upcoming new Southern bourgeoisie drawn from the ranks of former slave overseers and traders. This was an alliance of declassed aristocrats and lumpen against the workers, in essence a form of proto fascism. They waged a terrorist Contra war against the proletarian dictatorship, murdering thousands of black men and pro Reconstruction whites.
In 1876-77 they triumphed, when the Northern bourgeoisie pulled the rug out from under the proletariat of the South and came to a gentleman’s agreement with the Southern reactionaries in the infamous Compromise of 1877, in a private meeting held at the Wormley Hotel in Washington DC. According to progressive Southern historian C Vann Woodward, the nascent new Southern bourgeoisie was promised Northern investment in canals, railroads and bridges to rebuild their war damaged economy. In exchange, Radical Reconstruction was to end and the black proletariat stripped of its political power, and all federal troops protecting their rights were to be withdrawn.
The black proletarians of the South were thrown to the wolves of lynch mob terror and disenfranchisement, while the Northern industrial interests (especially the railway giants) acquired what they wanted- domination of the vital economic infrastructure of the South. Thus the South went from being a source of raw materials for Britain to being a source of raw materials for the industrial hubs of New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Illinois, lorded over by the Vanderbilts and the Carnegies.
Thus, the real counterrevolution in American history was not 1776 but 1876. The bourgeois democratic revolutionary project which had begun in 1776 had at last achieved full independence from British domination both direct and indirect, had rid itself of comprador traitors to national liberation, and stood on the precipice of a social republic built on the uplift of all workers regardless of skin color.
Instead, the ascendant industrial mega bourgeoisie set up a new dictatorship of banking/steel/railroad/mining/canal monopolies. It was at this moment that the American bourgeoisie ended what revolutionary role it had and became yet another predatory imperial powerhouse, glutting itself on the labor and resources of its own working class North and South, and later, much of the world.
The tragedy of the defeat of the dictatorship of the proletariat in the South is that it occurred just as the labor movement in the North was coming into maturity. In the summer of 1877, the United States was rocked by a massive rebellion by railway workers, the largest in American history. Upwards of 100,000 laborers took part in a spontaneous explosion against starvation wages, unemployment due to the depression of 1873, and dangerous working conditions. Half of all freight being carried by trains in the US came to a halt. In Chicago, Pittsburgh, Baltimore and other cities, workers battled with strikers and company goons. St. Louis was briefly governed by a workers' soviet in July 1877, led by the Workingmen's Party of the United States, an early US Marxist organization. President Rutherford B. Hayes, who had taken office thanks to the Compromise of 1877, called out the army to crush the rebellion, killing 100 people nationwide and injuring/jailing thousands. The very federal troops which were enforcing the dictatorship of labor only months earlier immediately turned their guns around in defense of the dictatorship of capital.
Had the proletarian power in the South not been crushed under heel, they may have linked arms with the emerging proletarian behemoth of the North and changed the trajectory of the distribution of the spoils of America’s burgeoning industrial empire. The cause of economic democracy for all Americans, black and white, was set back for sixty years, until the Franklin Roosevelt era (which will be addressed in the next article).
The case of China
Just as the American Revolution of 1776 was an arguably premature bourgeois revolution in a society where the industrial capitalist class was weak, so the Chinese Revolution of 1949 was an arguably premature socialist revolution in a country where the modern urban proletariat was small and barely formed in most areas outside a few coastal ports, with the overwhelming majority of the population being serfs who worked the land in feudal power relations. In addition to this, the nation had been devastated by thirty seven years of continuous warfare- ten years of fighting between rival warlords, then ten years of fighting between the Communists and Chiang Kai Shek’s Nationalists, followed by eight years of a war of national self-defense against the Japanese, and finally another four years of renewed fighting between the Communists and Nationalists.
As a result, Mao Zedong did not advocate an immediate transition to full socialism at first, but a period of ‘New Democracy’- a transitional state whereby the proletariat and peasantry would govern in cooperation with the urban petit bourgeois and the national bourgeoisie (capitalists who had opposed China’s subordination to foreign powers). Known as the ‘Bloc of Four Classes’, these classes had allied with each other in opposition to feudalism and imperialism. Mao did not specify how long this period would last, saying that it would “need quite a long time and cannot be accomplished overnight. We are not utopians and cannot divorce ourselves from the actual conditions confronting us.”
The assumption behind the policy of New Democracy was that with the assistance of its sister Communist giant the Soviet Union, the People's Republic would industrialize and with time, would be able to achieve a developed socialism- ‘the Soviet Union’s present is our tomorrow’ being a popular slogan of 1950’s China. Until that time, a certain level of private enterprise would be tolerated, and foreign investment from capitalist countries allowed, provided it ‘did not dominate the economic livelihood of the people’. In this time, relations with the USSR were amicable, and the Soviets assisted in providing money, technical/engineering expertise, and materials for 150 major industrial projects in China- mostly in the sectors of energy, manufacturing, and extraction of raw materials. This became the core of modern China’s industrial base.
During 1957-60, this period of a mixed economy ended when Chinese relations with the USSR went south. Khruschev’s 1956 Secret Speech denouncing Stalin was seen by Mao as an ideological capitulation to Western imperialism. Mao publicly denounced the Soviets as betrayers of the communist project. A war of insults between Moscow and Beijing escalated, and thousands of Soviet technical, engineering and scientific advisors were abruptly withdrawn from China in July 1960, many in mid-project, crippling China's development at a crucial moment. Coupled with an American embargo and nuclear threats, China was confronted with the prospect of developing in extreme isolation from both the Eastern Bloc and the capitalist world. From that point forward, China took its own independent path.
From the mid to late 1950’s until his death in 1976, Mao took a turn towards state socialism, which was largely an autarky. To be certain, enormous accomplishments were achieved in this period. Literacy rose from 20% to 90%, no worker or farmer went without healthcare, the average life expectancy rose from a mere 32 years to 65 years in a generation. For those who want to separate the Mao and subsequent Deng period as two entirely different phenomena, the fact remains that without the education of the population and the beginnings of industrialization of China, the subsequent reforms by Deng Xiaoping would not have taken off in the form that they did. Mao uprooted not just feudal relations but semi colonial dependency in a manner that never occurred in India, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, or elsewhere in Asia.
This progress, while substantial, was almost derailed by Mao’s deepening slide into ideological rigidity over pragmatic considerations, which reached a crescendo during the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. To what extent the worst excesses of the GPCR were the result of Mao himself, the result of Mao falling under the sway of the Gang of Four (which included his wife, Jiang Qing), or somewhere in between is something no one can tell for sure. Suffice to say that a large segment of the party vanguard was seized by a paralyzing fear of fifth columnists and traitors to socialism from within, and the hunt for turn coats turned all China upside down.
The ultra left Red Guards who were followers of the Gang of Four, while extremely politically far removed from Andrew Jackson’s Democrats and the Southern oligarchy of the 19th century US, nonetheless played a similar destructive role towards China’s socialist development as the former did towards America’s bourgeois economic development. The Gang of Four fetishized the peasant masses as the source of untainted revolutionary virtue, much as the Jackson Democrats fetishized the farmer and the small property owner as the vessel of bourgeois democratic purity. The Gang of Four’s belief that ideological fealty to communism in the abstract would achieve an ideal form of socialism mirrored the Jacksonian Democrats zeal in unleashing liberal market forces without restraint or a plan. Appeals to ‘the market’ and ‘the masses’ functioned as thought terminating cliches that evaded concrete strategy or planning. In reality, the objective actions of both slowed the industrialization of both new republics and crippled their development.
The Red Guards of the Cultural Revolution’s violence was directed inwards at ‘capitalist roaders’ and ‘imperialist running dogs’ (many of them loyal Communists who ran afoul of demagogues), while the Jacksonian Democrats violence was directed outwards towards Native Americans, Mexicans and others who dared to stand in the way of Manifest Destiny settler colonial expansionism. The most fervent advocates of ‘Democracy’ and ‘Communism’ in rhetoric proved to be most destructive towards both political projects in practice.
Not only were millions humiliated, persecuted and in a number of cases killed, but the very foundations that the People’s Republic were built on were destabilized. The urban petit bourgeois intelligentsia was severely persecuted during the Cultural Revolution; as anyone who had been an educated specialist before the Communists took power was treated with suspicion. When Zhou Enlai, Mao’s foreign minister (who had been seen as sympathetic to the intelligentsia’s plight) died in April 1976, his funeral in Tiananmen Square turned into a mass demonstration led by intelligentsia elements against the Gang of Four, and by extension against the Communist Party itself. If the Party lost the support of this strata, China’s prospects of economic development would be quite bleak. There was a serious legitimacy crisis.
Only a month after Mao died, the Gang of Four were toppled from power, arrested, and jailed. Just as the American Revolution underwent a ‘course correction’ with the establishment of the American System in 1816 and then again in 1860 with the election of Lincoln, so the Chinese Revolution underwent a course correction in the late 1970’s and 1980’s with the rise to the fore of three remarkable leaders in particular: Deng Xiaoping, Chen Yun, and Li Xiannian. In that order, they are generally considered the three most powerful figures in China in the last two decades of the 20th century.
Deng Xiaoping was originally from a middle level landowning family in Sichuan. As a teenager he had studied in France and acquired experience in mechanics at a French factory. Returning to China, he joined the Communists in their fight against warlordism and foreign imperialists. He achieved distinction as a military commander in the Long March and in the One Hundred Regiments campaign against the Japanese in World War II. In Mao’s revolutionary government he served as an economic planner, where he tried to emphasize a focus on more consumer goods and using prices as an indicator of enterprise’s success. These views led him to be accused of being a ‘capitalist roader’ by the Gang of Four. He was exiled into the countryside for his ideological ‘mistakes’, and his eldest son was severely beaten by Red Guards and crippled for life when he threw himself out of a window trying to escape his torturers. After the arrest of the Four, Deng was allowed back into politics, and quickly became the most powerful man in the party.
Deng Xiaoping was the strategist who charted the path by which the PRC could stave off internal counterrevolution as well as develop its internal productive forces, which included selectively opening sectors of China’s economy to foreign capitalist investment in the so called SEZ’s (Special Economic Zones). These zones, with their low taxes, lax regulations and less restrictions on foreign enterprises, were meant to attract foreign investment in China and thus acquire badly needed revenue for the Chinese state. The first four SEZ’s were established in Guangdong, Shenzhen and Fuijan in southern China in 1979. Five years later, 14 additional ports were designated SEZ’s as well, and more were added in the coming decades. These islands of capitalism, where economic activity was monitored but not dictated by the Communist Party, became important engines of China’s growth.
Why did Deng pursue this strategy? An explanation is needed.
State socialist projects of the 20th century were bedeviled by the following conundrum: Since they took power in extremely impoverished, semi feudal nations where the local bourgeoisie was relatively weak (‘weak links in the chain’ as Lenin famously said), how could they sustain continuing economic growth? The Soviet model of top to bottom state control was extremely effective at helping underdeveloped countries clear the initial hurdles of industrialization, eliminate extreme poverty and spur modernization which Third World capitalist countries could only dream of. However, in nations where Communists were in power long enough, after those tasks were achieved such systems had a tendency to stagnate 30-40 years down the line.
Because their economies were nationalized, such states were almost completely closed off from commerce with much of the world, and kept to trading with fellow socialist states for ideological reasons, thus lacking the capital to develop further. The pie was evenly divided, but it was a relatively small pie. As Deng explained:
“When a backward country is trying to build socialism, it is natural that during the long initial period its productive forces will not be up to the level of those in developed capitalist countries and that it will not be able to eliminate poverty completely. Accordingly, in building socialism we must do all we can to develop the productive forces and gradually eliminate poverty, constantly raising the people’s living standards… If we don’t do everything possible to increase production, how can we expand the economy? How can we demonstrate the superiority of socialism and communism?”
Deng’s point was that while orthodox Marxism Leninism had succeeded in proving existing socialism was superior to capitalism in the developing world, in living standards they were still far behind the developed capitalist West and Japan. Socialism would not triumph in the world unless it broke through to that next level. To do that, a departure in orthodoxy was needed. If markets were necessary to stimulate the forces of production, they should be used. As Deng’s famous expression went ‘it does not matter if it is a black cat or a white cat, as long as it catches mice’.
Deng encouraged China’s engineers, economists, technicians and intellectuals to learn everything they could from the capitalist world in terms of technical expertise, laws of supply and demand, and manufacturing design. Even the expertise of the World Bank, the arch neoliberal institution, was consulted. One of the greatest sources of inspiration was Japan’s economic model, which although capitalist, had significant state ownership, major trade barriers to protect domestic manufacturers, and was closer culturally to China than Western capitalist nations. Deng was able to look past the enormous death and destruction Japan had inflicted on China (Deng himself had served as a military commander against the Japanese in World War II), to objectively study what had made their country prosperous, and instructed the party vanguard to do the same. Full scale Japanese factories were built in China for the purposes of training the Chinese in Japanese production techniques. (This is not unprecedented by a Communist state. Stalin hired engineers and specialists from the Ford company to assist in building Soviet factories during the USSR’s industrialization drive in the 1930’s. Stalin even said that ‘The combination of Russian revolutionary sweep with American efficiency is the essence of Leninism in Party and state work.’).
It is worth noting that Japan’s paternalistic capitalism was built from the Meiji period (1868-1912) onward by Japanese leaders and economists inspired by the protectionist ideas of the German economist Friedrich List, who in turn had been influenced by Hamilton and Clay. Thus, in an indirect, roundabout fashion, the American System did influence Deng.
Not as well-known as Deng, but widely considered the second most powerful political figure in China throughout the ‘reform and opening up’ period, was Chen Yun. Li Xiannian was the third most powerful. Both came from comparatively more humble backgrounds than Deng.
Chen Yun had been an urban worker in Shanghai, working in a publishing house from the age of 15. He became a union organizer and organized a strike five years later, joining the Communists around this time. In 1925, he witnessed British colonial troops massacre striking Chinese laborers. He became an urban guerilla and fought Chiang Kai Shek in an underground capacity. Such experiences made him deeply hate and distrust Western imperialism and capitalist exploitation for the rest of his life. As a statesman, he refused to even meet with Western leaders.
Eventually escaping to the countryside and linking up with Mao, Chen Yun rose to prominence in the Party because of his talents as an economic planner and a rigorous attention to detail. He was put in charge of economic management of Harbin, the first major industrial center to come under the control of Communist forces, and his methods there became a model for Communist management of production in every city they occupied. When Mao took Beijing, he was put in charge of managing the national economy. He was most notable for cracking down relentlessly and successfully on illegal speculation and succeeded in bringing down inflation. When Mao enacted disastrous policies during the Great Leap Forward, it was Chen Yun who saved the day, instituting reforms that helped the economy recover in the early 1960’s.
In this period Chen Yun introduced material incentives for increased productivity and stressed economic growth goals as opposed to ideological ones. A famous phrase of his from the time, which he used a lot more later, was that market forces could be like a ‘bird in a cage’- allowed to operate within certain limits, but always boxed in by the party and the state. This made him a target of criticism during the Cultural Revolution as a ‘capitalist roader’, although Chen Yun was skilled at avoiding direct confrontations or overtly contradicting party leadership in a way that would get him into trouble.
After the downfall of the Gang of Four, Yun was initially supportive of Deng’s market reforms, but in the early to mid-1980’s he was increasingly critical. He denounced the evils of capitalism the SEZ’s brought with them- drugs, prostitution, pornography, gambling, and parasitic financial speculation. He was instrumental in the campaigns ‘Against Spiritual Pollution’ which pushed back against Western values of liberal individualism and consumerism, and reasserted the overall authority of the Party even as economic changes were underway.
Li Xiannian, like Chen Yun, came from a humble background, being born to an impoverished peasant family in Hubei. He distinguished himself as a commander in the Huai-Hai campaign of November 1949-January 1949, the decisive battles of the Chinese Civil War which broke the back of Chiang Kai Shek’s army. From 1954 onward he was the Minister of Finance in the Communist government. He and a number of leading Communist officials were known as the ‘February Countercurrent’ in 1967 who opposed the fanaticism of the Gang of Four and criticized them for destabilizing the country. Xiannan was closely aligned with the so-called ‘oil clique’ whose power base was the Daqing oil fields, the single largest petroleum reserves within China. These generals (most notably Yu Qiuli), out of both Communist convictions and Chinese nationalist sentiments, were big proponents of the state run sector, especially in energy. Due to the Daqing fields providing for so many of China’s energy needs after the break with the USSR, Li and Yu exerted great influence.
Under the influence of Chen Yun and Li, important sections of China’s economy remained under the control of the state, especially energy and heavy industry. The 1950 Land Law made all land the collective property of the Chinese people and nation and remained in effect (private entities cannot own land, they can only lease it from the state. Revisions in the law in the 1980’s made it possible to own buildings but not the land the buildings are on, and private property can be nationalized at any point if the state deems it necessary). Perhaps most significantly, China’s largest banks remained under state control, meaning that access to hard currency was (and still is) a state monopoly, forcing private enterprise to rely on the state for good credit. These are the parameters of the ‘cage’.
Deng, Chen and Li had different power bases they appealed to and spoke for- Deng appealed to the urban petit bourgeoisie that approved of market reforms, meanwhile Chen Yun and Li Xiannian spoke for the masses of workers and farmers who were loyal to the core socialist values of the revolution and skeptical of the West. By creating a vibrant consumer economy, Deng slowly but surely won back the loyalties of the urban petit bourgeois and intelligentsia to the Communist Party. Thus Deng tried to accelerate the reforms, while Chen and Li reigned them in and limited their scope (and by extension, pushed back on the efforts of even more right wing proponents of market reforms like Zhao Ziyang and Hu Yaobang, who wanted to take the reforms in an outright laissez-faire direction).
The dialectic between these opposing forces ensured that the market reforms went ahead, but slowly and controlled enough that the socialist state was able to absorb them and not get overwhelmed. Deng and Chen Yun were the Communist equivalents to Clay and Webster, the innovative risk taker and the conservative reformer. Deng's faction was described as the ‘builders’ while Chen Yun and Li Xiannian were called the ‘balancers’.
Deng, Yun, and Xiannian’s tenures are the bridge between China’s first revolutionary generation led by Mao and the current revolutionary generation of Xi Jinping, just as Henry Clay was the bridge between the original Founding Fathers and Lincoln. Just as Hamilton and Clay departed from free market liberal orthodoxy to make the American republic’s economy one that could compete with Britain, so China under Deng departed from what had been Marxist Leninist orthodoxy up to that point to survive, and prevail over the Washington consensus.
The reforms, while benefiting the port cities and creating entirely new ones (most famously Shenzhen), nonetheless created a huge gap in living standards and economic development between China’s coastal cities and the countryside, an imbalance which was deep and pronounced by the time both Deng and Yun both died in the mid 1990’s. This was reversed in the wake of the 2008 recession, when due to the economic downturn in the West, China’s export industries suffered and faced mass layoffs.
Thanks to the fact that public planning remained in command, 27 million workers were transferred from export sector industries to building infrastructure in China's interior provinces. Using the immense capital accumulated from three decades of Western and Japanese investment, the Chinese state starting in 2008-2009 invested 4 trillion yuan (over $500 billion) in infrastructure and social spending. An enormous drive in internal improvements began. Between 2008 and 2020, 18,305 miles of high speed rail have been constructed in China under the direction of the state run China Railway Rolling Stock Corporation. The scale of the transportation boom is something unseen since the rise of the railroad in the United States from the 1830’s-1870’s. By contrast, the Western capitalist nations responded to the 2008 crisis with cuts to the welfare state, social spending, and increasing austerity to the working class, simultaneously giving enormous bailouts to unproductive finance capital.
To this day, China maintains an economy which many observers describe as ‘mercantilists’ or ‘neo-mercantilist’. Many aspects of the American System, which the United States itself has long since abandoned, can be seen in Beijing’s contemporary economic practices. These include:
Heavy tariffs on foreign imports to protect its own industries- the average Chinese tariff on imported foreign goods was 9.6%, while the USA’s was just 3.5%. For computer and video technology the tariffs were 20-30% or higher. In response to Trump’s trade war in 2018-2019, China raised its average tariff on American imported goods to 20%. In addition to tariffs, China uses heavy documentation requirements and selectively applied bureaucratic red tape to discourage imports of various forms of machinery and technology which are technically allowed.
The Chinese state also heavily subsidizes its own exports, even though this is against the rules of the World Trade Organization (which China is officially a member of). China’s steel industry has gotten billions in subsidies from state run banks (the United States took legal action against China within the WTO in an attempt to stop this practice). Clean energy industries such as solar and wind power have gotten similar state support.
The core of this Communist mercantilism, which enables this artificial subsidization, is China’s state run banking system, which is largely concentrated in the ‘big four’: Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, China Construction Bank, Agricultural Bank of China, and the Bank of China, With nearly 19 trillion in assets they dwarf the total assets of JP Morgan, Bank of America, Wells Fargo and Goldman Sachs combined.
The American System for Eurasia and beyond
In November 2012, Xi Jinping became the General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party. Xi immediately moved to address some of the long festering contradictions in the PRC’s construction boom that had been unleashed from 2008 onwards. The main one was corruption within the Party, caused by many high-ranking Party members taking bribes from private actors in exchange for their approval of building and development projects. This was a threefold problem: first, it damaged the Communist Party’s trust amongst the masses and undermined its legitimacy, second it blurred what should have been an iron wall between the private sector and the state, third and most serious of all, it constituted a dire national security threat, since a number of these corrupt officials were also in the pay of the CIA, giving foreign intelligence access to the government’s innermost secrets.
The latter was of particular concern given the changing international political climate. The US had tolerated the PRC and even aided its rise in the 80’s to a degree because of the Late Cold War strategy of propping up China against the USSR, and with the exception of the 1989-92 period around the Tiananmen crisis, the US had refrained from overt efforts to encourage regime change in Beijing from the 1980’s to the 2000’s. This had provided the PRC breathing room for its experiment in market socialism. In 2012 this all changed with Obama’s declaration of a ‘Pivot to Asia’. The reallocation of US troops to Asia and the Pacific from the Middle East in that year began a massive decade-long US military buildup confronting China. It thus became imperative that Beijing rid itself of its own fifth column at home while simultaneously breaking out of Washington’s military, diplomatic and economic encirclement.
The ‘Tiger Hunt’ of 2012-2022, as it’s been called, resulted in the prosecution, jailing and expulsion from the Party of 2 million members- the greatest turnover in Party membership since the Cultural Revolution. This included over 120 high ranking officials, among which were several current and former members of the Politburo. Five of them were heads of state-owned enterprises who were illegally selling off or leasing state run assets for a price, and/or enriching themselves off of rent seeking at the state’s expense.
Thanks to the Tiger Hunt campaign, Party and government officials were increasingly reluctant to enter into any sort of partnership with private entities, especially in the areas of real estate, to avoid even the appearance of corruption. Thus the state owned enterprises achieved new pre-eminence, and took over considerable areas of the economy which had been private up to that point. With the state owned enterprises under the watchful eye of the powerful Central Committee for Discipline Inspection (the anti-corruption organization tasked with investigations), the ability of the capitalists to buy influence within the Party and undermine its role as the vanguard was crippled.
The economic and political rearguard secured, Xi and his allies were able to implement the breakout strategy called The Belt and Road Initiative. A multi decade, $4-8 trillion project, this program of building infrastructure and economic corridors aims to create an alternative network of commerce that completely bypasses the Atlanticist economy that’s dominated the globe for centuries. Given overwhelming US naval power, China has a great interest in investing in land-based trade routes that cannot be potentially disrupted by a US naval embargo (especially the vulnerable Straits of Malacca), as well as giving countries China has an interest in deepening relations with, such as Russia and Iran, a direct line to China. The first great linkage across Eurasia has been the New Silk Road railway completed in 2016, stretching over 6,000 miles from Yiwu City in Zhejiang province in eastern China to Tehran in Iran- making it possible to deliver freight goods in only 14 days, 30 days shorter than delivery takes over sea. The second has been the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, an 1,864 mile network of roads, railroads, power plants and electric lines that directly connects China to the Indian Ocean via Gwadar, one of the world’s largest deep water ports (this network now accounts for one quarter of all Pakistan’s electricity). Gwadar is one of the so-called ‘String of Pearls’, a network of Chinese financed ports stretching from Myanmar to Kenya. The BRI has built over 3,700 miles of roads and railroads each in Africa alone, almost 20 ports and over 80 power plants.
Much of the financing for these mega projects is carried out by the Asian Infrastructure and Investment Bank, founded in 2016 and headquartered in Beijing. After the World Bank, it is the single largest multilateral investment institution on the planet. It is truly the developmental infrastructure banking institution of the World Island (Eurasia and Africa) that the likes of Hamilton and Clay only envisioned for the Americas but never achieved. The economic opportunities offered by the bank are so lucrative that even close US allies such as the UK and Germany are members of the bank, along with the overwhelming majority of Asian and African nations.
There have, however, been setbacks. The trade war unleashed by the Trump administration in 2018 (which continues under Biden), landed several blows against China. The COVID pandemic slowed, but did not stop, China’s economic growth, forcing Beijing to abandon or at least scale back several major projects. Political turmoil in Sri Lanka resulted in the overthrow of the Beijing friendly government in 2022, putting the future of the Hambantota Harbor port, which Chinese companies have a majority stake in, in jeopardy, ultimately imperiling the entire ‘String of Pearls’. Russia’s war with the collective West puts attempts to extend the Belt and Road through Russia to Europe on hold, possibly permanently, although the China brokered peace agreement between Saudi Arabia and Iran holds out the possibility of the BRI extending deeper into the core oil producing region of the world, further threatening the dominance of the US petrodollar.
As Xi Jinping stated in his speech during the trade war on May 20, 2019: “We are here at the starting point of the Long March where the Red Army began its journey. We are now embarking on a new Long March, and must start all over again”. In August of 2023 the BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) will enter into discussions about an entirely new currency separate from the US dollar, its value based on rare earth minerals in China and Russia.
China studied and learned from the World Bank, so it could build institutions capable of surpassing and supplanting the World Bank. The short-term investment opportunities the opening of China presented to Western multinationals blinded them to the fact that they were building up a mortal enemy.
A Note on Contrasts
An obvious difference between the two revolutions is that China's developmental process was (and is) guided by a single party, while much of the American revolutionary trajectory was operating in the context of a two-party system. It was not necessarily destined to be so. George Washington, John Adams and numerous other founders made statements to the effect that there shouldn’t be a competitive party system in the United States at all, fearing that factional infighting would doom the American republic to collapse the same way the Greek and Roman republics had. The Federalist and Whig parties attempted and failed to be the guiding parties of America’s bourgeois developmentalism. They faltered in the face of the narrow sectional interests of the South that increasingly dominated the Democratic Party, leading to a crisis that eventually could only be resolved through a civil war that very nearly torpedoed the entire experiment.
China’s process of socialist development being led by a Marxist party, with a well worked out ideological line and iron discipline, has been both a blessing and a curse. It was a blessing in the initial victory of China’s national liberation when the feudalists were crushed, but became a curse when the party apparatus was taken over by the fanatics of the Gang of Four. After the purging of the Gang, however, the CPC was able to make effective long term economic plans. China has capitalists and comprador elements in league with foreign finance capital, but given the nature of China’s system, they have not been able to consolidate into a politically independent and active element, like the Democrats in the antebellum US did.
The World Historic Place of the American and Chinese projects
In conclusion, we may assess the world historic impact of the American and Chinese revolutions by laying them side by side with their sister bourgeois and socialist revolutions, the French and Russian revolutions, respectively. Each has played a roughly analogous role in the global transition from feudalism to capitalism, and from capitalism to socialism.
Revolutionary France, like the Soviet Union, took on the old order it was struggling against in the form of a full-fledged, frontal attack. Revolutionary/Napoleonic France was at war with its aristocratic and feudal enemies throughout nearly the whole of its existence, from 1792 to 1815. Its strategy for victory hinged on full mobilization of the entire French nation against the decadent nobility of the Hapsburgs, the Prussians and the British, while swelling its ranks with emancipated peasants as French armies marched across Europe.
The Russian revolutionary experiment likewise can be seen as a series of military assaults that expropriated the resources of one enemy after another to expand its project- first the Russian bourgeoisie and aristocracy in 1917-18, then the kulak landowners in collectivization to assist industrialization, then the taking of industry from eastern Germany as reparations for the losses of the Great Patriotic War. After 1945 the USSR settled into a protracted frozen conflict with the West and was dragged into an arms race. The Soviets funneled arms into national liberation struggles worldwide, hoping the accumulation of allies in the Third World would tip the power balance in their favor.
Both strategies, while bold and Earth shaking, ultimately failed. The French strategy could only succeed with an uninterrupted string of military victories, which came to an end with Napoleon’s disastrous invasion of Russia in 1812. Only three years later, the Bourbon monarchs were restored to the throne in France and the vengeful conservative aristocrats of the Congress of Vienna imposed a reactionary order on all of Europe for decades.
The USSR was never outright conquered due to the factor of nuclear weapons, but the arms race drained much of the resources it needed for robust social spending. Neglect of the home front, especially under Brezhnev (1964-1982), proved disastrous. Economic stagnation set in, and the vanguard party became complacent, out of touch with the working class grassroots, and corrupt. This demoralized the population and enabled the rise of a capitulationist wing of the Soviet Communist Party willing to surrender to the West, which happened in 1989-1991. The Communists won in Vietnam, Angola and Cuba, only to lose in Moscow.
By contrast, both the post ‘reform and opening up’ People's Republic of China and the American Republic from the 1810’s until the 1870’s fought the rival economic order in an indirect and circuitous fashion. Both steadily built up their own independent economic base on their respective continents, while avoiding inciting or directly supporting revolutions abroad. In doing so, they provided ‘strategic depth’, a rear area if you will, of an alternative economic order. And eventually became such an economic juggernaut that direct war or conquest of their adversaries became unnecessary- the entire economic center of gravity shifted in their direction, towards America by the time of the First World War when much of Europe including Britain became indebted to Wall Street banks, and towards China in the last decade or so as the Belt and Road Initiative has taken off.
The mere existence of the United States put pressure on the 19th century European despotisms to reform, as the serfs and reform minded middle classes of Ireland, Germany and elsewhere now had the option of migrating to America, where they could themselves be landholders. Feudalism withered as the new industrial powerhouse in North America rose. China, by contrast, brings development to other countries rather than encouraging emigration to its own shores. Thus, it uplifts people from countless nationalities while not contributing to a ‘brain drain’ from the developing world that the Western imperial core has, nor facilitating polarizing culture clashes that mass immigration to the West has. But it has the same dynamic of creating mounting pressure on the old financial capitalist order- nation after nation in the Third World migrates from the debt bondage offered to them by the IMF and the World Bank to the Belt and Road Initiative which offers them a better deal.
The American System lives on, but in Eurasia. And Wall Street is now the new London, attempting to crush all developmental projects that are not indebted to them. This is the essence of the New Cold War.
The role of American and Western intellectuals in this state of affairs will be addressed in Part 3.
 Charles Halstead Van Thyne, England and America: Rivals in the American Revolution (Cambridge University Press, 1927), 33.
 Alexander Hamilton, ‘Report on the Subject of Manufactures’, 5 December 1791. Accessed via the National Archives:
 Douglas A. Irwin and Richard Sylla, Founding Choices:American Economic Policy in the 1790’s(University of Chicago Press, 2009), 100.
 Richard Hofstadter, The American Political Tradition and the Men Who Made It (Vintage Books, 1989 edition), 52.
 Henry Charles Carey, “A Harmony of Interests: Agricultural, Manufacturing and Commercial’ (New York, Myron Finch, 1856), 228-229.
Karl Marx considered Carey to be ‘the only American economist of importance’ in his era.
 Thomas Jefferson’s letter to Benjamin Austin, January 9, 1816. Accessed via the National Archives website:
 Charles McFarland and Nevin E. Neal, “The Nascence of American Protectionism: American Tariff Policies, 1816-24”, Land Economics, Vol.45, No.1(Feb.1969): 23, University of Wisconsin Press.
 Maurice A. Baxter, Henry Clay and the American System(The University Press of Kentucky, 1995), 110-111.
 T. Arron Kotlensky, “West Point Foundry and the Great Feats of Mechanical Engineering Before the Civil War”(The American Society of Mechanical Engineers, published 2019): 3, 6: :
 William H. Carter, “Bvt. Maj. Gen. Simon Bernard”, Professional Memoirs, Corps of Engineers, United States Army, and Engineer Department at Large, Vol. 5, No. 21 (May-June, 1913): 312.
 “Report of the Committee of Investigation Appointed at the Meeting of the Stockholders of the Bank of the United States”, Philadelphia, 1841. Relevant information on funding for internal improvements is on pages 28-30 of the report:
 Robert V. Remni, Daniel Webster: The Man and his Time (W.W. Norton & Company,1997), 146.
 Hofstadter, p.89-90
 HW Brands, Heirs of the Founders: Henry Clay, John Calhoun and Daniel Webster(New York: Anchor Books, 2018),124-126.
 Hofstadter, 102
 Brands, 229-230.
 Daniel S. Shaffer, Profiting in Economic Storms (New Jersey: Wiley & Sons, 2005), 102.
 Emir Philips. “Lincoln’s Well Considered Political Economy(The American System) Trumped the British System”, Cambridge Journal of Economics, Volume 43, Issue 6(November 2019): 1445, Oxford University Press
 Philips, 1441.
 Perhaps because of his guilt over this, as well as his own lifelong status as a slave owner, Clay freed his female slaves in his last will and testament, made instructions for their education and apprenticeships for gainful employment, and stipulated that they should be given compensation for their labors:
 David A. Dieterle & Kathleen M. Simmons, Government and the Economy: An Encyclopedia (Holtzbrinck, 2014), 249–250.
 Article 1. Section 8, part 3 of the Confederate Constitution, March 11, 1861:
 W.E.B. Dubois, Black Reconstruction in America 1860-1880 (New York: Free Press edition, 1998), 212-213.
 Dubois, 585.
 The book in question is ‘Reunion and Reaction: The Compromise of 1877 and the End of Reconstruction’ by C. Vann Woodward(Oxford University Press, 1951).
 Joseph Adamczyk, “Great Railroad Strike of 1877: History, Facts, and Significance”, www.brittanica.com. Accessed July 20, 2023.
 Mao Zedong, ‘On New Democracy’, January 1940: https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/mao/selected-works/volume-2/mswv2_26.htm
 Baichun Zhang, Jiuchun Zhang, Fang Yao, “Technology Transfer from the Soviet Union to the People’s Republic of China”, Comparative Technology Transfer and Society Vol. 4. Number 2 (August 2006): 110-111, Project MUSE.
 Zhang, Zhang, and Yao, 145-146.
 When the anticommunist massacres in Indonesia took place in 1965-66 (in which a million people were murdered), there was a simultaneous genocide of the ethnic Chinese population, who were suspected of pro-Communist sympathies. Some survivors fled to the Chinese mainland. Mass public meetings were held by Communist cadre where stories by these witnesses were recounted. The fact that Indonesia, which had been a bastion of progressive anti-imperialism under Sukarno, was turned into a fascist terror state seemingly overnight, held a lesson, in the eyes of Maoist idealogues: that the enemies of socialism were hiding amongst the people and the party apparatus, and had to be rooted out without mercy before they stabbed the revolution in the back. Vincent Bevins notes this vital detail in his book ‘The Jakarta Method’ (New York, Public Affairs, 2020). This may have been an important precipitating factor of the extreme zealotry that defined the Cultural Revolution.
 Guo Jian, Yongyi Song, and Yuan Zhou, Historical Dictionary of the Cultural Revolution (Rowan and Littlefield Publishers, 2015), 287-88.
 Ezra F. Vogel, Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China (Harvard University Press, 2011), 53.
 Vogel, p. 398.
 Deng Xiaoping, ‘We Shall Concentrate on Economic Development’, 1982.
 Vogel, pages 456-461.
 Vogel, pages 297-310, 462-464.
 Stalin, Josef. ‘The Foundations of Leninism’, 1924.
 Shaun Breslin, “Friedrich List to a Chinese mode of
Governance”, International Affairs (Royal Institute of International Affairs 1944-) Vol. 87, No. 6 (November 2011), 1323-1343.
 ‘In economic policy, the two most important elders were Chen Yun and Li Xiannian’
Loren Brandt and Thomas G. Rawski, China’s Great Economic Transformation(Cambridge University Press, 2008), 102.
 Vogel, 718.
 Vogel, 721
 Patrick E. Tyler, “Chen Yun, Who Slowed China’s Shift to Market, Dies at 89”, New York Times, April 12, 1995: https://www.nytimes.com/1995/04/12/obituaries/chen-yun-who-slowed-china-s-shift-to-market-dies-at-89.html
 Li Hou. Building for Oil: Daqing and the Formation of the Chinese Socialist State (Harvard University Press, 2021), 168-201.
 Vogel, p. 424
 ‘China’s Stimulus Package: A Breakdown in Spending’. Economic Observer website, March 7, 2009,
The breakdown was 1.5 trillion yuan in public infrastructure, 1 trillion in rebuilding from the 2008 earthquake in Sichuan, 400 billion in social welfare, 370 billion in rural development.
 Vera Baginova, Andrey Baginov, & Dmitry Kuzmin. “High Speed Rail System in China: Best practice, state of affairs and prospects for development”.E3S Web of Conferences Volume 164(May 2020): 3.
 Fu-Lai Tony Yu, “Neo Mercantilist Policy and China’s Rise as a Global Power”,. Contemporary Chinese Political Economy and Strategic Relations: An International Journal, Vol. 3, No. 3, (Dec. 2017): 1053.
 Chad P. Bown (PIIE), Euijin Jung (PIIE) & Eva (Yiwen) Zhang (PIIE). Peterson Institute for International Economics website, June 24, 2019. “China is Raising Tariffs on American Exports and Lowering them for Everybody Else”. https://www.piie.com/research/piie-charts/china-raising-tariffs-united-states-and-lowering-them-everybody-else
 Yu, 1054
 Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian, “Xi Jinping’s anti corruption drive had a counterintelligence motive”, Axios News, December 22 2020, https://www.axios.com/2020/12/22/xi-jinping-corruption-drive-intelligence-china
 Himing Fang, Jing Wu, Ronjie Zhang, & Li-An Zhou, “Understanding the Resurgence of the SOE’s in China: Evidence From the Real Estate Sector”, National Bureau of Economic Research, Working Paper No. 29688 (January 2022): 26-27.
 Mian Sufur Rahman & Asif Mehmood Butt, “Chinese support to Pak economy will continue: Nong Rong”, The News International, January 9, 2023, https://www.thenews.com.pk/print/1028685-chinese-support-to-pak-economy-will-continue-nong-rong
 “China has built over 6,000 kilometers of roads in Africa”, Seetao News, February 22, 2023,
 Joseph W. Sullivan, “A BRICS Currency Could Shake the US Dollars Dominance”, Foreign Policy, April 24, 2023, https://foreignpolicy.com/2023/04/24/brics-currency-end-dollar-dominance-united-states-russia-china/
Marius Trotter is a writer residing in Massachusetts. He comments on history, politics, philosophy and theory. He can be reached by his email email@example.com
We talk about US presidents all the time — Obama did this, Trump did that, blah blah blah. But really it’s never the president doing those things, it’s the empire. The president is just the face of the operation, the name they put on the door that they change every few years to create the illusion that the US government is responsive to the will of the electorate.
Really if you look solely at the raw data of the US power structure around the world (where the weapons are going, where the resources are going, where the money is and isn’t going, where the diplomats are and aren’t going, etc), you can’t tell from year to year when the White House is changing hands. You can’t tell from that raw data what political party the current president belongs to or what platform he campaigned on, and you can’t tell when he’s replaced by someone from the other party with another platform. The raw data of the empire keeps moving in basically the same way without any meaningful interruption.
So it’s not really true to say “Obama did this” or “Trump did that”; really they’re just the face that happened to be on the operation when it was time to kill Gaddafi or begin the Pivot to Asia or sanction Venezuela or start arming Ukraine or whatever. They’re not leaders leading the US government in various directions based on what they think the best policies are, they’re empire managers who are responding to whatever the needs of the empire happen to be each day — using whatever justifications or partisan leverage they can muster in that moment.
And Americans don’t get to vote on any of that stuff. They don’t get to vote on what will have to be done to facilitate the needs of a globe-spanning empire, or if there should be a globe-spanning empire at all. The behavior of the empire is never on the ballot. The only things that are ever on the ballot are issues which stand no possibility of ever interfering in the operation of the empire, like whether the president will appoint Supreme Court justices who oppose abortion or support gun control. And the voting populace is continually kept at a 50/50 split on as many of those issues as possible to keep both sides tugging on the rope with all their might so they don’t look up and notice that the real large-scale behavior of their government is completely unaffected by the small back and forth gains and losses of the tug-o-war game.
Really the only reason to talk about US presidents in terms of “Obama did this” and “Trump did that” is to highlight this point. To highlight the fact that Obama continued and expanded all the most malignant policies of his predecessor, and that Trump continued and expanded all the most malignant policies of his. To disrupt all the dopey partisan narratives about things getting better under Biden or worse under Trump or that Obama was a progressive or Trump was a peacemaker.
By pointing out the horrible things that happened under each administration, regardless of party affiliation or platform, the illusion that Americans are controlling the behavior of their government using their votes can be worn away. You can in this sense use the illusion to fight the illusion — use people’s intense interest in presidents and electoral politics to draw them into the insight that it’s all a performance designed to keep the eyes of the masses away from the inner workings of the machine.
And then the possibility for real change opens up. The longer Americans are convinced that they can vote their way out of problems they never voted their way into in the first place, the longer they can be dissuaded from using the power of their numbers to force real material changes by real material means.
This article was produced by Caitlin's Newsletter.
Right-Wing Has Not Tried to Suppress Teaching the History of Anti-Imperialist Movements Because They Are Rarely Discussed in Any Course By: David StarrRead Now
Meeting of the Anti-Imperialist League circa. 1900. [Source: zloetscher001.weebly.com]
On February 20, journalist Max Blumenthal gave a powerful address at the Rage Against the War Machine rally across from the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., in which he emphasized how Ukrainians had been used as pawns to advance U.S. imperial interests.
Blumenthal said that people on the other side of the U.S. empire did not care whether people identified as leftist or rightist—what they wanted was for people in the U.S. to “rage against the sick, satanic, neo-conservative war machine” that has caused so much destruction.
Max Blumenthal with former Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein, who also gave a great speech at the Rage Against the War Machine rally on February 20. [Source: Photo courtesy of Jeremy Kuzmarov]
Blumenthal was followed on the podium by journalist Chris Hedges, who emphasized that the Ukraine War had been waged by the same intellectually dishonest “high priests of empire” who had advanced the original Cold War and War on Terror. These “pimps of war never see the corpses of their victims”; subscribe to “delusional fantasies”; and are “parasites vomited up in the dying days of empire.”
Chris Hedges [Source: youtube.com]
Blumenthal and Hedges were carrying on the tradition of homegrown anti-imperialism in the U.S. that is too often left out of history textbooks, school curricula and historical commemorations.
Participants in the February Rage Against the War Machine rally. [Source: Photo courtesy of Jeremy Kuzmarov]
The right wing that has tried to block the teaching of critical race theory in schools would surely try to censor the teaching of the history of anti-imperialist movements in the U.S.—if it were actually taught. Most teachers may not know about it or partake in self-censorship out of fear of being branded “anti-American.”
But the anti-imperialist tradition is very much in line with the spirit of the nation’s founding in rebellion against one of the most brutal imperialist powers of its day: Great Britain, which the U.S. has since replaced.
This article will spotlight anti-imperialist resistance to four unjust U.S. wars. The people opposing those wars present excellent role models for today’s growing anti-imperialist movement which was vividly on display at the Rage Against the War Machine rally in Washington, D.C., this past February.
Scene from Rage Against the War Machine rally. [Source: Photo courtesy of Jeremy Kuzmarov]
The Mexican-American War
The Mexican-American War foreshadowed the Vietnam War as one of the most unjust wars in history; it lies at the root of the inequality between the U.S. and Mexico.
According to an essay by Roger Peace on a remarkable Peace History website, the war originated as a result of a) a dispute over the border of Texas; and b) the Polk administration’s desire to acquire Mexico’s northern territories of Alta California and Nuevo Mexico.
The Polk administration initiated hostilities when it imposed a naval blockade of the Rio Grande River and had the Texas Rangers engage in provocative maneuvers, though President Polk disingenuously claimed that the U.S. had to fight the war in self-defense. Initially, many U.S. citizens supported the war, with the All of Mexico Movement demanding the annexation of all of Mexico. The slogan, “Remember the Alamo!” was used as a way to fuel anger and to motivate Texans to fight.
Popular U.S. culture thrived on stories of American heroism and Mexican treachery, eliding the fact that U.S. troops were invading and occupying Mexico. [Source: peacehistory-usfp.org]
Major Danny Sjursen, writing for Truthdig, explained that the slogan “remains a potent battle cry, especially in Texas, but also across the American continent. In the comforting tale, a myth really,  Texans, fighting for their freedom against a dictator’s numerically superior force, lost a battle but won the war—inflicting such losses that Mexico’s defeat became inevitable. Never is the word ‘slavery’ or the term ‘illegal immigration’ mentioned. There is no room in the legend for critical thinking or fresh analysis.”
The Alamo in San Antonio. [Source: peacehistory-usfp.org]
White settlement and the resulting clash between the Mexican army and U.S. citizens culminated in the “Texas War of Independence,” which was a victory for the United States. The president of Mexico, Antonio López de Santa Anna, was forced to sign a treaty which gave the territory of Texas to the U.S. The Mexican Congress dismissed the treaty. But the Mexican Army was in no condition to successfully recapture Texas, although it tried. “Texas was ‘free,’ and a thrilled—and no doubt proud—President [Andrew] Jackson recognized [the] Republic of Texas…” Eventually, 125,000 (mostly Anglo) U.S. citizens poured into Texas with 27,000 slaves.
Texans fighting for their independence against Mexicans. [Source: pinterest.com]
There were 9,200 men who deserted the U.S. Army in Mexico. Some joined the Mexican Army. “Dozens were later captured and hanged by their former comrades.” War crimes were committed by volunteers in the U.S. Army. “[Gen. Zachary Taylor’s] army of mostly volunteers regularly pillaged villages, murdering Mexican citizens either for retaliation or sport. Many regular Army officers decried the behavior of these volunteers, and one officer wrote, ‘The majority of volunteers sent here are a disgrace to the nation.’”
Representative Luther Severance ridiculed Polk’s claim that American blood was spilt on American soil, the latter being a falsehood based on the conquering of Mexican territory. Severance exclaimed, “[i]t is on Mexican soil that blood had been shed” and that Mexicans “should be honored and applauded” for their “manly resistance.”
Lincoln concluded with the following:
“But now, at the end of about twenty months, during which time our arms have given us the most splendid successes–every department, and every part, land and water, officers and privates, regulars and volunteers doing all that men could do, and the hundreds of things which it ever before been thought men could not do–after all this, this same president gives us a long message, without showing us, as to the end, he himself, has, even an imaginary conception. He is a bewildered, confounded, and miserably perplexed man.”
“In other words, when a sixth of the population of a nation, which has undertaken to be the refuge of liberty, are slaves, and a whole country [Mexico] is unjustly overrun and conquered by a foreign army, and subjected to military law, I think that it is not too soon for honest men to rebel and revolutionize.”
This opposition from soldiers like Grant was a monumental occasion, since it was the first time there was dissent by U.S. citizens against a U.S.-provoked war. It paved the way for other anti-war movements in the future, some of which were led by ex-soldiers.
In Santa Clara University’s Historical Perspectives, a journal of history, Andrew Clem, originally from the Philippines, wrote a paper that accurately called it “The Filipino Genocide.” Clem revealed what U.S soldiers said about Filipinos, calling them “n_______,” and “monkeys.” Clem went further: “Being depicted as animals, children, or even devils, was unfortunately reflected in American action against Filipinos.”
The revolutionary army then tried guerrilla warfare in an attempt to wear down the enemy. As Clem wrote: “This strategy, while probably the only means of fighting the superior American forces, also resulted in atrocities. The American military was not constrained by the typical rules of warfare. If the Filipinos were unable to be a part of an American-based society, they would be exterminated.” (The Final Solution?)
February 5, 1899: Filipino men and women killed in the battle of Manila. [Source: peacehistory-usfp.org]
Clem further wrote, “American empire building coupled with widespread racism and the excuse of total war permitted the use of extreme measures such as relocation, concentration camps, and torture. This set the conditions for and inevitably resulted in the genocide of the people residing in the Philippines.”
In the Berkeley News, Ivan Natividad interviewed cultural studies professor Dylan Rodriguez, a first-generation U.S. citizen, about the consequences of war in the Philippines. Natividad quoted Rodriguez: “They [U.S. forces] exterminated entire villages, including elderly people, children and everybody in between. These were war crimes, and the U.S. military was unapologetic and proud of its actions. The narratives that valorize the U.S. are fraudulent….it has been over 100 years, and the United States has still not acknowledged this genocidal conquest.”
During the war, a small but vocal opposition called out the U.S. The Anti-Imperialist League was created in the U.S. in 1898. Its platform strongly opposed U.S. imperialism:
“We hold that the policy known as imperialism is hostile to liberty and tends toward militarism. We maintain that governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed.
“We earnestly condemn the policy of the present national administration in the Philippines. We deplore the sacrifice of our soldiers and sailors, whose bravery deserves admiration even in an unjust war. We denounce the slaughter of the Filipinos as a needless horror.
“We urge that Congress be promptly convened to announce to the Filipinos our purpose to concede to them the independence for which they have so long fought and which of right is theirs…Imperialists assume that with the destruction of self-government in the Philippines by American hands, all opposition here will cease. This is a grievous error. Much as we abhor the war of “criminal aggression” in the Philippines, greatly as we regret that the blood of the Filipinos is on American hands, we more deeply resent the betrayal of American institutions at home.”
U.S. powerbrokers were considering annexing the Philippines, something which the League condemned.
One of the more well-known members of the Anti-Imperialist League was author and lecturer Mark Twain. The following were his views about the Philippines:
New York Herald, October 15, 1900 –
“I left these shores, at Vancouver, a red-hot imperialist. I wanted the American eagle to go screaming into the Pacific. Why not spread its wings over the Philippines, I asked myself? And I thought it would be a real good thing to do.
“General Wood was present and looking on. His order had been, ‘Kill or capture those savages.’ Apparently our little army considered that the ‘or’ left them authorized to kill or capture according to taste, and that their taste had remained what it has been for eight years in our army out there—the taste of Christian butchers.”
Massacre of Moro in the Philippines by U.S. troops under the command of General Leonard Wood. [Source: peacehistory-usfp.org]
A February 1901 article titled, “To the Person Sitting in Darkness” –
“There must be two Americas: one that sets the captive free, and one that takes a once-captive’s new freedom away from him, and picks a quarrel with him with nothing to found it on; then kills him to get his land. We have robbed a trusting friend of his liberty; we have debauched America’s honor and blackened her face before the world.
“And as for a flag for the Philippine Province, it is easily managed. We can have a special one: we can have our usual flag, with the white stripes painted black and the stars replaced by the skull and cross-bones.”
One individual who has been virtually an unknown to the U.S. establishment (but known in the Black community in the 1900s) was David Fagen, an African-American soldier sent to the Philippines along with others who were known as “Buffalo Soldiers.”
Fagen was originally from Tampa, Florida, and experienced overt racism there. Writing for CounterPunch, Jonathan Melrod asserted that Fagen “grew up where Jim Crow segregation laws prevailed. With the specter of lynching, race riots and the chain gang looming over Tampa’s Blacks, Fagen ‘lived in dread at all times.’”
Deciding to escape the racism, Fagen enlisted in the military, the 24th Infantry Regiment, “a unit of so-called Buffalo Soldiers,” who numbered 2,100 out of 6,000 African-American soldiers who were sent to the Philippines. Fagen and other Blacks continued to experience racism in the ranks of the army. There were clashes between Fagen and white commanding officer Lt. James A. Moss, a West Point graduate. From that, Fagen hated the commanding officer. The latter in turn punished Fagen for stepping out of line.
David Fagen [Source: istoryadista.net]
African-American soldiers were expendable, treating them like second-class citizens. It was that and the persuasion of Filipino revolutionaries for Blacks to join their cause, in which Fagen decided to rebel and switch sides.
After all, both African-Americans and Filipinos had the same racist oppressors. Melrod wrote that 15 Buffalo Soldiers defected to the other side. “The ‘deserters’ of the 24th infantry proved one thing: systemic racism and oppression by white Americans was enough to forge alliances across vast national and ethnic lines.”
According to Melrod, “Fagen was never captured or killed.” While the U.S. military considered Fagen to be a “deserter and traitor,” Filipinos respected him as a guerrilla leader.
It is said that Fagen eventually fell in love with a Filipina and both went into the mountains and lived a peaceful life.
The Vietnam War
The Eisenhower administration in turn began trying to build a client regime in South Vietnam under Catholic anti-communist Ngo Dinh Diem who was assassinated in 1963 after he made overtures toward peace with North Vietnam.
Ngo Dinh Diem was warmly greeted by President Eisenhower and Secretary of State John Foster Dulles upon arriving in Washington in May 1957. [Source: peacehistory-usfp.org]
The Kennedy administration expanded the war, sending 16,000 military advisers while intensifying bombing operations in South Vietnam and initiated aerial defoliation operations in an attempt to destroy the forest cover of the National Liberation Front (NLF-southern based guerrillas nicknamed “Vietcong”).
The Johnson administration ordered a full-scale U.S. military invasion after falsely claiming that a U.S. naval ship had suffered an unprovoked attack on the South China Sea (the Gulf of Tonkin incident). [As a young history teacher, President Lyndon B. Johnson had taught students a romanticized view of the Texas revolution and viewed the Vietnamese similarly to the Mexicans; socially inferior beings who should easily be bended to the American will).
South Vietnamese army raid on Tay Ninh. [Source: peacehistory-usfp.org]
Anti-war opposition was very limited in the 1950s and early 1960s, confined to dedicated activists like Reverend A.J. Muste who suffered from societal ostracism in the heart of the McCarthy era.
A.J. Muste, with anti-war dissenters at rally against the Vietnam War in the mid 1960s. [Source: hope.edu]
However, as news reports of the horrors in Vietnam spread, people in the 1960s began speaking out. Soon, there was talk of rebellion and revolution. And the rank-and-file of the U.S. military were not immune to it.
There were, for example, conscientious objectors who resisted the military draft, which mainly obligated minorities and low and middle-class whites to join the military and fight for a false cause.
Demonstrations in 1965 started a groundswell of protest, the main reason being the escalation of more troops going to Vietnam, thanks to Lyndon Johnson.
The protests tied into other movements, like African-American civil rights, feminism and organized labor. The anti-war movement, combined with the other movements, sparked controversy and fervent debate in the U.S., virtually shaking the foundations of the establishment. Protesters chanted “Hell, no, we won’t go!” and “1,2,3,4, we don’t want your fucking war!”
GIs increasingly became disillusioned with the war, seeing it more as a means for their country to conquer territory, rather than promoting freedom and democracy. The pro-war excuse was that communism would spread all over Southeast Asia, this being called the domino theory (countries would fall like dominos). GIs rejected this, and instead rebelled against the U.S.’s imperial objectives.
Vietnam GIs say no to war. [Source: vietnamfulldisclosure.org]
A major revelation occurred when Daniel Ellsberg leaked the Pentagon Papers, a collection of secret government planning documents, which showed how the American public had been lied to and that the war was un-winnable.
The Nixon administration was determined to stop the leaks. Nixon’s Attorney General, John Mitchell, demanded that The New York Times halt publication. The Times refused, and the government sought a restraining order to prevent it from publishing the documents. The Times won the case. In the meantime, Ellsberg leaked the documents to other newspapers.
Ellsberg was adamant in saying what the truth was about the Vietnam War:
Daniel Ellsberg [Source: nexusnewsfeed.com]
“It was no more a ‘civil war’ after 1955 or 1960 than it had been during the U.S.-supported French attempt at colonial reconquest. A war in which one side was entirely equipped and paid by a foreign power – which dictated the nature of the local regime – was not a civil war. To say that we had ‘interfered’ in what is ‘really a civil war,’ simply screened a more painful reality and was as much a myth as the earlier official one of ‘aggression from the North.’ In terms of the UN Charter and of our own ideals, it was a war of foreign aggression, American aggression.”
A major factor was the formidable opposition to it. Rebellion and resistance reached a level where it could not be denied, or stopped.
The Iraq War
Because of the U.S.’s imperial foreign policy, lies from the government and the media have remained consistent. It was blatant where the George W. Bush regime is concerned. Lying became an Orwellian act. The often-used right-wing slogan “Freedom isn’t Free!” bears this out. It was as pathetic as the renaming of French fries into “Freedom Fries.”
Unfortunately, many citizens in the U.S. were at first gung-ho about the Iraq war. According to the Pew Research Center, 73% of U.S. citizens supported the war in 2002, before it was launched. At the same time, hundreds of thousands of Americans took to the streets in cities across the country to protest the war in an unprecedented antiwar display.
Mass protests in major American cities against criminal U.S. invasion of Iraq. [Source: theatlantic.com]
Bush and others in his administration claimed that Saddam Hussein harbored WMDs, had ties to al-Qaeda, and was involved in the 9/11 attacks. The regime was sure these accusations would sway the U.S. public to support war.
Two examples of such accusations were:
Vice President Dick Cheney’s speech to the VFW, saying, “Simply stated, there is no doubt Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction. There is no doubt he is amassing them to use against our friends, our allies, and us.”
Colin Powell, Secretary of State, made a shameful presentation to the UN, claiming, there were “facts and conclusions based on solid evidence” that Iraq did not comply with UN weapons inspections. Powell added, “Leaving Hussein in possession of [WMDs] for a few more months or years is not an option, not in a post-September 11 world.”
Dissenters against criminal U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. [Source: philipjonesgriffith.org]
The U.S. empire’s war began in 2003, with the Bush Jr. regime boasting that it would result in “shock and awe.” Most U.S. leaders like to condemn others for terrorist acts, but what the empire did in Iraq was a form of terrorism. Predictably, an Iraqi resistance formed to combat U.S. soldiers and ensured that the war dragged on in a quagmire like Vietnam.
Public opinion shifted irrevocably against the war following revelations about torture committed by U.S. troops in the barbaric Abu Ghraib prison. Photos of torture were posted on the internet by individuals who could only be described as sadists.
Iraqi being tortured at Abu Ghraib. [Source: nydailynews.com]
By 2007, about 54% of Americans were against sending more troops to Iraq. Both GIs and civilians had become outraged by the obvious illegality of the war and revelations of U.S. atrocities and war crimes.
Ruins of Baghdad resulting from U.S. invasion of Iraq. [Source: unsplash.com]
Veterans Against the War made it known that the war was based on lies. In their publication called About Face, it stated that “terror will rain from the sky upon the people of Iraq, violence will flood the streets of a sovereign nation, and 7,000 miles away U.S. politicians and media will lockstep in their lies to justify it all.”
It continued: “we were lied into the war by politicians shilling for war-profiteering contractors, [and] incalculable Iraqi lives were cut short or forever changed. Though George W. Bush and his cronies may wish to repaint their images from blood-thirsty barons to affable retirees, we must continue to accurately recount the Bush administration’s role in manufacturing societal consent for war.”
The publication goes on to condemn the “War on Terror,” the “so-called ‘Defense Budget,’” and condemning “war profiteering contractors like Boeing, Raytheon, and Lockheed Martin.”
Just as important, the publication mentioned the worldwide protests against the war: “We must continue to tell the stories of the nearly 36 million people worldwide who protested the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, the stories of countless dissenting veterans who put down their [arms] in Iraq,” and to “continue to tell the stories of the millions of Iraqis killed or traumatized by U.S.-led terror who are still fighting for self-determination.”
In a piece published in Al Jazeera, veterans offered their feedback on the war. Naveed Shah, like many recruits, was inspired to enlist after the 9/11 attacks. He joined the army in 2006, oblivious to the Bush Jr. regime’s lies about Iraq. But on the 20th anniversary of the Iraq War, Shah was not so gung-ho: “The war was based on a lie. It was wrong for us to be there in the first place.”
Kristofer Goldsmith served in Iraq and now has regrets: “My year in Iraq wasn’t pleasant. I can’t say any American, much less any Iraqi, is better off for me having served there.” Eventually, Goldsmith was discharged after attempting suicide: “When I left the military, I lost a big part of my identity. Sharing my story and my experiences really helped me get out of a dark place.”
Al Jazeera cited a poll by the Pew Research Center conducted in 2019. It found that 64% of veterans thought the war was not worth fighting. For all U.S. adults, 62% agreed.
It is evident that the military-industrial complex has not learned any lessons about war. Ukraine is an example of the U.S. funding a proxy war that is in essence an imperial war which has its supporters sadly on the left.
Those who do not support the war are ostracized by these groups. It is a case of “either you are with us or against us.”
The U.S., as an empire, must be opposed because it causes vast amounts of devastation all around the world and is sustained by violent political coercion and deception.
This fact has been recognized by anti-imperialists who should be regarded as visionaries that care about people around the world and would like to see their country behave in a more civilized and decent way.
David Starr acknowledged his interest in politics in 1986 when he lived in Hawai’i. From there, he became active, joining such groups as the Latin American and Caribbean Solidarity Association (LACASA), the Hawai’i Union of Socialists (HUS) and Ka Lehui Hawai’i (The Hawaiian Nation). Starr also created a publication entitled Voices of Change, and had articles published in the Honolulu Weekly and Toward Freedom during the 1990s. Now Connecticut-based, Starr has published many pieces in Reader Supported News, the Daily Kos, and has been published in the LA Progressive. David can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article was produced by CovertAction Magazine.
120 Years of Du Bois’s Souls of Black Folk: Education and Progress in “Of the Meaning of Progress.” By: Carlos L. GarridoRead Now
Aristotle famously starts his Metaphysics with the claim that “all men by nature desire to know.” For Dubois, if there are a people in the U.S. who have immaculately embodied this statement, it is black folk. In Black Reconstruction, for instance, Du Bois says that “the eagerness to learn among American Negroes was exceptional in the case of a poor and recently emancipated folk.” In The Souls of Black Folk, he highlights “how faithfully, how piteously, this people strove to learn.” This was a stark contrast with the “white laborers,” who unfortunately, as Du Bois notes, “did not demand education, and saw no need of it, save in exceptional cases.”
Out of the black community’s longing to know, and out of this longing taking material and organizational form through the Freedman’s Bureau, came one of the most important accomplishments of that revolutionary period of reconstruction – the public schools and black colleges. It was these schools and colleges, Du Bois argued, which educated black leaders, and ultimately, prevented the rushed revolts and vengeance which could have driven the mass of black people back into the old form of slavery.
This year marks the 120th anniversary of Dubois's masterful work, The Souls of Black Folk. In this essay, I will be concentrating my analysis on the fourth chapter, titled "Of the Meaning of Progress," where I will peruse how the subjects of education and progress are presented within a greatly racialized American capitalism.
The Tragedy of Josie
The chapter retells a story which is first set a dozen or so years after the counterrevolution of property in 1876. It is embedded in the context of the previous two decades of post-emancipation lynchings, second class citizenship, and poverty for those on the dark side of the veil.
Du Bois is a student at Fisk and is looking around in Tennessee for a teaching position. After much unsuccessful searching, he finally finds a small school shut out from the world by forests and hills. He was told about this school by Josie, the central character of the narrative. Along with a white fellow who wished to create a white school, Du Bois rode to the commissioner’s house to secure the school. After having the commissioner accept his proposal and invite him to dinner, the “shadow of the veil” fell upon him as they ate first, and he ate alone.
Upon arriving at the school, he noticed its destitute condition – a stark contrast to the schools he was used to. The students, while poor and largely uneducated, expressed an insatiable longing to learn – Josie especially had her appetite for knowledge “hover like a star above … her work and worry, and she,” Du Bois says, “studied doggedly.” While certainly having a “desire to rise out of [her] condition by means of education,” Josie’s quest for knowledge also went deeper than that. It was, in a sense, an existential longing for education – a deeply human enterprise upon which a life-or-death struggle for being fully human ensued. “Education and work,” as Du Bois had noted in the Talented Tenth, “are the levers to uplift a people;” but “education must not simply teach work-it must teach Life.” “It is the trained, living human soul,” Du Bois argues, “cultivated and strengthened by long study and thought, that breathes the real breath of life into boys and girls and makes them human, whether they be black or white, Greek, Russian or American.”
Josie understood this well. She strove for that kind of human excellence and virtue the Greeks referred to as arete. But her quest was stopped in its track by the shadow of the veil; by the reality of poverty, superexploited labor, and racism which characterized the dominant social relations for the black worker.
A decade after he completed his teaching duties, Du Bois returned to that small Tennessee town. What he encountered warranted the questioning of progress itself. Josie’s family, which at one point he considered himself an adopted part of, had gone through a “heap of trouble.” Lingering in destitute poverty, her brother was arrested for stealing, and her sister, “flushed with the passion of youth … brought home a nameless child.” As the eldest child, Josie took it upon herself to sustain the family. She was overworked, and this was killing her; first spiritually, then materially. As Du Bois says, Josie “shivered and worked on, with the vision of schooldays all fled, with a face wan and tired,—worked until, on a summer's day, someone married another; then Josie crept to her mother like a hurt child, and slept—and sleeps.”
In his youth Du Bois had asked: “to what end” might “[we] seek to strengthen character and purpose” if “people have nothing to eat or, to wear?” Josie’s insatiable thirst for knowledge required leisure time, i.e., time that is unrestricted by the labor one does for their subsistence, nor by the weariness and fatigue which lingers after. Aristotle had already noted that it “was when almost all the necessities of life and the things that make for comfort and recreation had been secured,” that philosophy and the pursuit of science “in order to know, and not for any utilitarian end… began to be sought.” Josie’s quest for knowledge, her longing for enlightenment, was made impossible by capitalist relations of production, and the racialized form they take in the U.S. As dilemmas within her family developed, she was forced to spend every ounce of her energy on working to sustain the meagre living conditions of the household. Afterall, as Du Bois eloquently says, “to be a poor man is hard, but to be a poor race in a land of dollars is the very bottom of hardships.”
It is true, as Kant said, that “all that is required for enlightenment is freedom;” but it is not true that, while being necessary, “the freedom for man to make public use of his reason in all matters” is sufficient! This freedom presupposes another – the freedom to have the necessaries of life guaranteed for oneself. What good can be made of the right to free speech by the person too famished to think properly? What good is this right to those homeless souls with constricted jaws and clenched teach in the winter? The artifices intended to keep people down, as Kant calls it, are also material – that is, they refer not only to the absence of opportunities for civic and political participation, but also to the absence of economic opportunities for securing the necessities of life.
The great writer can emanate universal truths from their portraits of individuals. Du Bois accomplished this with Josie, who is a concrete manifestation of black folk’s trajectory post-emancipation. In both Josie and black folk at the turn of the century, the longing to learn, the thirst for knowledge, is met by the desert of poverty common to working folk, especially those on the dark side of the veil, where opportunity doesn’t make the rounds. As an unfree, “segregated servile caste, with restricted rights and privileges,” it is not only the bodies, but the spirit and minds of black folk’s humanity which were under attack. It is a natural result of a cold world – one that beats black souls and bodies down with racist violence, superexploitation, and poverty – that a “shadow of a vast despair” can hover over some black folk. And yet, Du Bois argues, “democracy died save in the hearts of black folk;” and “there are to-day no truer exponents of the pure human spirit of the Declaration of Independence than the American Negroes.”
A Universally Dehumanizing System
Although intensified in the experience of poor and working class black folk – especially those in the U.S. – the crippling of working people’s humanity and intellect is a central component of the capitalist mode of life in general. This was already being observed by key thinkers of the 18th century Scottish enlightenment (e.g., Adam Smith, Adam Ferguson, et. al.). For instance, in Smith’s magnus opus, The Wealth of Nations, he would argue that the development of the division of labor with modern industry created a class of “men whose whole life is spent in performing a few simple operations,” of which “no occasion to exert his understanding” occur, leaving them to “become as stupid and ignorant as it is possible for a human creature to become.” “His dexterity at his own particular trade,” he argues, is “acquired at the expense of his intellectual, social, and martial virtues.” “In every improved and civilized society,” Smith observes, “this is the state into which the labouring poor, that is, the great body of the people, must necessarily fall, unless government takes some pains to prevent it.”
Writing almost a century later, and hence, having the opportunity of observing a more developed capitalist social totality, Marx and Engels saw that the degree of specialization acquired by the division of labor in manufacturing had even more profound dehumanizing and stupefying effects on the working class. “A labourer,” Marx argues, “who all his life performs one and the same simple operation, converts his whole body into the automatic, specialized implement of that operation.” In echoing similar critiques brought forth by Ferguson and Smith, Marx explains how the worker’s productive activity is turned into “a mere appendage of the capitalist’s workshop,” and the laborer themself is converted into “a crippled monstrosity.” It is a form of relationality which reduces working people to “spiritually and physically dehumanized beings.” As Engels noted, capitalist manufacturing’s division of labor divides the human being and produces a “stunting of man.” Alongside commodity production is the production of fractured human beings whose abilities are reduced to the activities they perform at work.
This mental and physical crippling of the worker under the capitalist process of production provides an obstacle not only to their human development, but to their struggle for liberation itself. No successful struggle against the dominant order can take place without educating, without changing the minds and hearts, of the masses being mobilized in the struggle. Education aimed at the acquisition of truth is revolutionary, that is why ignorance is an indispensable component of capitalist control. The “Socratic spirit,” as I have previously argued, “belongs to the revolutionaries;” it is in socialist revolutionary processes where education is prioritized as a central component of creating a new, fully human, people. As Du Bois put it, “education among all kinds of men always has had, and always will have, an element of danger and revolution, of dissatisfaction and discontent. Nevertheless, men strive to know.” “The final purpose of education,” as Hegel wrote, “is liberation and the struggle for a higher liberation still.”
“How shall man measure Progress there where the dark-faced Josie lies?”
In the capitalist mode of life, this contradiction between the un-development of human life and the development of the forces of production has always gone hand in hand. From the lens of universal history, this is one of the central antinomies of the system. Progress of a certain kind has always been conjoined with retrogression in another. Du Bois says that “Progress, I understand, is necessarily ugly.” He is quite correct in a dual sense. Not only has class society – and specifically, capitalist class society – always developed the productive forces at the expense of the un-development of human life in the mass of people, but also, when progress has been achieved in the social realm, it has never been thanks to the kindness and generosity of owning classes, it has never been the result of anything but an ugly, often bloody, struggle. As Fredrick Douglass famously said, “if there is no struggle, there is no progress.”
However, it is the first sense in which Du Bois’s statement on the ugliness of progress is meant. He asks, “how shall man measure Progress there where the dark-faced Josie lies?” What is our standard for progress going to be? Human life and the real capacity for human flourishing? Or the development of industrial technologies and the accumulation of capital? Under the current order, all metrics are aimed at measuring progress in accordance with the latter. As I have argued before,
The economist’s obsession with gross domestic product measures is a good example. For such quantifiability to take place, qualitatively incommensurable activities must transmute themselves into being qualitatively commensurable... The consumption of a pack of cigarettes and the consumption of an apple loses the distinction which makes one cancerous and the other healthy, they’re differences boil down to the quantitative differences in the price of purchase.
This standard for measuring progress corresponds to a mode of social life where, as the young Marx had observed, “the increasing value of the world of things proceeds in direct proportion [to] the devaluation of the world of men.” In socialist China, where the people – through their Communist Party – are in charge of developing a new social order, metrics are being developed to account for growth in human-centered terms. As Cheng Enfu has proposed, a “new economic accounting indicator, ‘Gross Domestic Product of Welfare,’” (GDPW) is needed:
GDPW, unlike GDP, encompasses the total value of the welfare created by the production and business activities of all residential units in a country (or region) during a certain period. As an alternative concept of modernization, it is the aggregate of the positive and negative utility produced by the three systems of economy, nature, and society, and essentially reflects the sum of objective welfare.
While forcing the reader to think critically about the notion of progress, it would be incorrect to suggest that Du Bois would like to entirely dispose of the notion. His oeuvre in general is deeply rooted in enlightenment sensibilities, in a belief in a common humanity, in the power of human reason, and in the real potential for historical progress. These are all things that, as Susan Neiman writes in Left is Not Woke, are rejected by the modern Heidegger-Schmidt-Foucualt rooted post-modern ‘woke left,’ and which stem, as Georg Lukács noted in his 1948 masterpiece, The Destruction of Reason, from the fact that capitalism, especially after the 1848 revolutions, had become a reactionary force, a phenomenon reflected in the intellectual orders by a turn away from Kant and Hegel and towards Schopenhauer, Eduard von Hartmann, Nietzsche, and various other forms of philosophical irrationalism.
Instead of rejecting the notion of progress, Du Bois would urge us to understand the dialectical character of history’s unfolding – that is, the role that the ‘ugly’ has played in progress. He would urge us to reject the mythologized ‘pure’ notion of progress which prevails in quotidian society and the halls of bourgeois academia; and to understand the impurities of progress to be a necessary component of it – at least in this period of human history.
Du Bois would also urge us to understand that, while progress in the sphere of the productive forces has often not translated itself into progress at the human level, this fact does not negate the genuine potential for progress in the human sphere represented by such developments in industry, agriculture, and the sciences and technologies. Progress in the human sphere that is left unrealized by developments in the productive forces within capitalist relations ends up taking the form, to use Andrew Haas’ concept, of Being-as-Implication. As Ioannis Trisokkas has recently elaborated, beyond simply being either present-at-hand (vorhandenseit) or absent, implication is another form of being; things can be implied, their being takes the form of a real potential capable of becoming actual.
It is true, under the current relations of production, that the lives of people get worse while simultaneously the real potential for them being better than ever before continues to increase. This is the paradoxical character of capitalist progress. When a new machine capable of duplicating the current output in a specific industry is introduced into the productive process, this represents a genuine potential for cutting working hours in half, and allowing people to have more leisure time for creative – more human – endeavors. The development of the productive forces reduces the socially necessary labor time and can therefore potentially increase what Martin Hägglund has called socially available free time. This is the time that Josie – and quite frankly, all of us poor working class people – need in order to flourish as humans. The fact that it does not do this, and often does the opposite, is not rooted in the machines and technologies themselves, but in the historically constituted social relations which mediate our relationship with these developments.
We can have a form of progress which overcomes the contradictions of the current form; but this requires revolutionizing the social relations we exist in. It requires a society where working people are in power, where the telos of production is not profit and capital accumulation in the hands of a few, but the satisfaction of human needs – both spiritual and material. A society where the state is genuinely of, by, and for the people, and not an instrument of the owners of capital. In other words, it requires socialism, what Du Bois considered to be “the only way of human life.”
 Aristotle, Metaphysics, in The Basic Works of Aristotle (Chapel Hill: The Modern Library, 2001), 689 (980a).
 W. E. B. Du Bois, Black Reconstruction (New York: Library of America, 2021), 766.
 W. E. B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk, in Writings (New York: The Library of America, 1986), 367-368.
 Du Bois, Black Reconstruction, 770.
 Du Bois, Black Reconstruction, 770.
 Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk, 407.
 Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk, 406-407.
 Du Bois, Black Reconstruction, 766.
 Du Bois, “The Talented Tenth, In Writings, 861.
 Du Bois, “The Talented Tenth,” 854.
 Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk, 411.
 Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk, 411.
 Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk, 411.
 Du Bois, “The Talented Tenth,” 853.
 Aristotle, Metaphysics, 692 (982b).
 Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk, 368.
 Immanuel Kant, “What is Enlightenment,” in Basic Writings of Kant (New York: The Modern Library, 2001) 136.
 Kant, “What is Enlightenment,” 141.
 Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk, 390.
 Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk, 368.
 Du Bois, Black Reconstruction, 40; Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk, 370.
 Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations Vol II (New York: E.P. Dutton, 1910), 263-264.
 Smith, The Wealth of Nations Vol. II, 264.
 Smith, The Wealth of Nations Vol. II, 264.
 Karl Marx, Capital Volume: I (New York: International Publishers, 1974), 339.
 Marx, Capital Vol. I, 360.
 Karl Marx, The Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844 (New York: Prometheus Books, 1988), 86.
 Friedrich Engels, Anti-Dühring (Peking: Foreign Language Press, 1976), 291.
 Carlos L. Garrido, “The Real Reason Why Socrates Was Killed and Why Class Society Must Whitewash His Death,” Countercurrents (August 23, 2021): https://countercurrents.org/2021/08/the-real-reason-why-socrates-is-killed-and-why-class-society-must-whitewash-his-death/. In every revolutionary movement we’ve seen the pivotal role education is given – this is evident in the Soviet process, the Korean, the Chinese, Cuban, etc. As I am sure most know, even while engaged in guerilla warfare Che was making revolutionaries study. Education was so important that, as he mentioned in the famous letter Socialism and Man in Cuba, under socialism “the whole society… [would function] as a gigantic school.” For more see: Carlos L. Garrido and Edward Liger Smith, “Pioneros por el comunismo: Seremos como el Che,” intervención y Coyuntura: Revista de Crítica Política (October 11, 2022): https://intervencionycoyuntura.org/pioneros-por-el-comunismo-seremos-como-el-che/
 Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk, 385.
 G. W. F. Hegel, Philosophy of Right, trans. T. M. Knox (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1978), 125.
 Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk, 412.
 Fredrick Douglass, Selected Speeches and Writings, ed. by Philip S. Foner (Chicago: Chicago Review Press, 1999), 367.
 Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk, 414.
 Carlos L. Garrido, “John Dewey and the American Tradition of Socialist Democracy, Dewey Studies 6(2) (2022), 87.
 Marx, Manuscripts of 1844, 71.
 Cheng Enfu, China’s Economic Dialectic (New York: International Publishers, 2019), 13.
 Enfu, China’s Economic Dialectic, 13.
 Susan Neiman, Left is Not Woke (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2023). Georg Lukács, The Destruction of Reason (Brooklyn: Verso Books, 2021). For more on the modern forms of philosophical irrationalism, see: John Bellamy Foster, “The New Irrationalism,” Monthly Review 74 (9) (February 2023): https://monthlyreview.org/2023/02/01/the-new-irrationalism/ and my interview with him for the Midwestern Marx Institute: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E4uyNEzLlRw.
 Andrew Haas, “On Being in Heidegger and Hegel,” Hegel Bulletin 38(1) (2017), 162-4: doi:10.1017/hgl.2016.64.
 Ioannis Trisokkas, “Being, Presence, and Implication in Heidegger's Critique of Hegel,” Hegel Bulletin 44(2) (August 2023), 346: DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/hgl.2022.3 Trisokkas here provides a great defense of Hegel from Heidegger’s critique of his treatment of being.
 Martin Hägglund, This Life (New York: Pantheon Books, 2019), 301-304.
 W. E. B. Du Bois, “Letter from W. E. B. Du Bois to Communist Party of the U.S.A., October 1, 1961,” W. E. B. Du Bois Archive: https://credo.library.umass.edu/view/full/mums312-b153-i071
Carlos L. Garrido is a philosophy teacher at Southern Illinois University, editor at the Midwestern Marx Institute, and author of The Purity Fetish and the Crisis of Western Marxism and Marxism and the Dialectical Materialist Worldview.
With the public support for a national single payer system remaining strong and the need greater than ever, why is the movement stalled? What are the key sources of our power? Who are our allies? What can we do and how do we focus our energies to build the power necessary to end profiteering and make health care free at the point of service?
More than a decade after the misnamed Affordable Care Act, (ACA) we still have tens of millions without any coverage while millions more are saddled with high deductible, narrow network “junk health insurance” plans. The pandemic exposed the USA’s bankrupt for-profit privatized “healthcare system.” The industry and bipartisan political response continues to prioritize profits over public health, resulting in more than a million deaths – including hundreds of thousands who died due to the lack of basic health care. Rather than expose this system of corporatized healthcare fiefdoms and push for national single payer, both Democrats and Republicans continue to support billions in tax subsidies to prop up the alleged “market based” plans that would collapse without them.
A Society in Crisis
This healthcare catastrophe is but one part of the systemic social, economic, and political crises now unfolding in the USA. Clarity is required. Root causes must be identified, and we must unite around real solutions.
Income inequality is rising, almost fifty-eight percent of Americans live paycheck to paycheck, medical debt is the largest form of consumer debt, plaguing nearly two-in-ten, of which 60% are covered with health insurance. Student and credit card debts are literally killing the working class. Poverty is now the fourth leading cause of death. As Biden, Democrats, and Republicans united to cut 15 million poor from Medicaid health benefits and millions more from Food Stamps (including new “work requirements” added for those aged 50-54 in the “debt ceiling” deal), liberals, labor, and NGOs remained silent.
Despite the fact that traditional Medicare was created because insurance companies could not make enough profit covering seniors, the decades-long privatization of traditional Medicare continues under Biden as with Trump and all previous Presidents and Congresses. The ACA has even immortalized a Fraud and Abuse Waiver that voids prosecution and literally encourages corporations and private equity to privatize Medicare under the guise of “innovation.” It has no Congressional oversight.
The USA has the highest maternal and infant mortality rate among any other high income countries despite spending the most on health care. Lifespans are down, food pantries are overwhelmed. Corporate profits from the world’s top 722 companies were more than 1 billion in 2021 and 2022, 89% higher than their average over the previous four years. While profits are sky high, real wages remain stagnant and homelessness is growing, but there is always billions and billions of dollars for war. And all these crises have a much greater impact on the poor, minorities, women, seniors and children.
Weak Ineffective Insider Strategy is Not The Solution
As Ralph Nader recently stated, many have succumbed to “the satiety of exposing and denouncing, without moving to action.” Is describing the evils of privatization, war spending and corporate profiteering enough? There is a need for new and bold initiatives exposing not just the “bad actors” and their enablers, but the wholesale corporate takeover of America as the source of our dilemma.
Instead of organizing a real fight, we have the siren song of incrementalism pushed by the Democrat Party and aligned nonprofit groups who are now openly discouraging the fight for national single payer because the ”political climate” is just not right.
It undermines, demoralizes, and weakens the movement’s principles and makes it incapable of providing the necessary practical and bold program the country needs and wants. It reduces the fight for healthcare as a human right to the whims of opportunistic politicians and political horse trading. It shows a total lack of confidence in the necessary strategy of winning people over to support single payer when the “political climate” of public opinion is in fact receptive to our message. As if the corporate monster and their political enablers are receptive to piecemeal legislation when every social and labor gain won through mass struggle in the USA is now under attack. We must have the courage and endurance to understand and fight back.
Inside the unions, the top leaders are following a similar Democrat Party line that falsely merges labor and the public interest with corporatism. Going backwards from over 600 union endorsements for John Conyers’s HR 676 more than a decade ago, labor leaders
parrot the corporate line of privatization which includes selling tax-subsidized for-profit Medicare Advantageplans and ignoring the ongoing privatization of traditional Medicare. Rather than raising the demand to take healthcare “off the table,” they continue the approach that pigeonholes each union into making health coverage an individual “bargaining item,” extracted at the expense of improved wages and working conditions. This strategy has already proven it can not lower costs or provide secure benefits to union members, retirees or the public.
Similarly, many Democrat and labor operatives attribute the privatization of traditional Medicare to Republicans and Donald Trump – when in fact the program has been under constant attack by corporate interests supported by both parties since its inception. Trump picked up and used the program created by the Affordable Care Act under Obama to accelerate the corporatization of Medicare which Biden continues. The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation was originally given a ten year billion dollar budget to privatize under the guise of innovation.
Not surprisingly, the AFL-CIO refuses to issue any statement against Medicare privatization since they too are selling the “product.”
How Can We Make A Difference?
National Single Payer welcomes and encourages a vigorous debate to help shift the direction of our struggle to create a nonpartisan independent popular movement, connecting healthcare to the broader issues of inequality.
We need labor unions that will initiate rank and file and public education programs that explain and expose the for profit healthcare system and how national single payer can change people’s lives for the better.
In the late 1990’s the local Central Labor Council in Pennsylvania where I was President held a public Town Hall on the threat of Social Security privatization. Hundreds attended, including union members and the public. Many remarked that you could see and feel the untapped potential to change the political discourse if hundreds of similar town halls were organized by labor in conjunction with allies. A good example of the kind of independent politics that is both possible and incredibly necessary today.
Let’s use this understanding to reach out and explain, build relationships with everyday people and the organizations they are involved in to help push them into action. We need to garner popular support by encouraging grassroots organizing activities like town halls, rallies, teach-ins, voter referendums, petition drives, mass meetings with public officials that encourage citizen involvement and the building of coalitions of like minded people. Do we have the clarity to understand the necessity of a peoples solution as the only way out?
Ed Grystar has more than 40 years experience in the labor and healthcare justice movements. He is co-founder and current chair of the Western Pennsylvania Coalition for Single Payer Healthcare. Served as the President of the Butler County (PA) United Labor Council for 15 years. Has decades of experience organizing and negotiating contracts for health care employees with the Service Employees International Union and the Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses & Allied Professionals.
Originally published in Counterpunch.
For centuries, Africa has been subject to hyper-exploitation by the colonial West. From the plunder of resources, the facilitation of multiple waves of the slave trade, and the outright genocide -- the cruel subjugation of the continent and its resources has known no bounds.
To this day, African countries are subjected to exploitation. France imposes a colonial-era tax that ensures Africans live subsistence-level lives while ensnaring state enterprises with predatory loans.
The United States also joins in, using the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to destroy the public sector, privatizing them for the gain of American capitalists.
Any steps to deviate outside of these instruments are met with unilateral and ruthless sanctions.
Interestingly, the citizens of colonial countries that benefit most from the plunder of Africa are taught that Africa is poor. That if it were not for the West, Africa would still be centuries behind in the past.
However, nothing could be further from the truth.
Colonial countries do not ransack “poor” countries. They do not spend billions of dollars per year to maintain military bases and outposts in “poor” countries. They do not create economic structures of exploitation to keep countries in check if there is no value to exploit.
The fact of the matter is that Africa is rich and powerful. And the West knows this - which is why it is intent on keeping the continent subjugated. It is no surprise then that African nations have been looking eastward for sustainable partnerships, rather than doubling down with the predatory West.
In July alone, African nations have taken a step forward towards development - all while rejecting the apparatuses and rhetoric of the West, particularly the widely condemned US sanctions regime.
Meetings with China, Iran, and Russia highlight a much-needed focus toward African autonomy - something the West has invested billions of dollars to prevent.
July started halfway through the third China-Africa Economic and Trade Expo, which focused on the theme of “Common Development for a Shared Future." Central to the meeting is the Chinese Belt-and-Road initiative, which 52 out of the 54 African countries have signed onto.
Over the last decade, Chinese projects have exceeded $700 billion in Africa. Projects include power facilities, roads, and railways, which are created and facilitated by local leadership.
Critics and officials in the West decry this as “Chinese imperialism.” But this is a smokescreen for their pure hypocrisy - all one needs to do is take a look at the developments and who they benefit.
When the West subjugated Africa, they built railroads that lead from natural resources like rubber and iron to ports meant for Europe. These railways did not benefit the African people, as they were meant to make plundering easier and smoother.
However, the Belt and Road initiative is interlinking African countries to ease transport and facilitate trade between African countries, all while connecting them with Asia and Europe for global trade facilitation.
This allows for independent trade endeavors without the approval and predatory benefit of colonial Western nations.
Iran’s President Ebrahim Raeisi also embarked on a tour of Uganda, Kenya, and Zimbabwe earlier this month, signing a series of agreements with the three African countries.
The Islamic Republic of Iran has made notable steps towards its economic growth this year while dodging illegal sanctions of Western countries at the behest of the United States.
It should come as no shock that African nations would want to expand ties with a country that has navigated through illegal sanctions while continuing to grow and prosper.
Prior to the visit, trade between Iran and African countries, in general, remained somewhat stagnant. Now, trade is expected to increase to the tune of nearly 10 billion dollars over the next three years.
All without the predatory loopholes and schemes that would come with Western governments.
Iran’s cooperation with the African nations seeks to improve economic trade but also empower Africa with new technologies - such as drones for agricultural purposes - to help counter the economic pressure mechanisms of the West.
“With Africa's assistance, we should prevent the US and certain states that still have a colonial mindset from utilizing the deadly tool of sanctions against nations,” Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said following the hugely successful three-nation tour.
Russian leadership also met with African leaders this month as Russian President Vladimir Putin invited six African nations to Moscow for a Russia-Africa Summit.
Putin pledged “joint determination to counter neocolonialism, the practice of applying illegitimate sanctions” before promising the delivery of grain to the countries and writing off billions in debt.
Burkina Faso President Ibrahaim Traore, who has boosted relations with Russia, condemned Western exploitation at the summit, saying African leaders “shouldn’t behave like puppets in the hands of imperialism. We must ensure that our countries are self-sufficient, including food supplies...”
“Self-sufficient” holds the key. The “development projects” of the West have long kept African nations ensnared. When African nations would not bend to the political demands of the United States, for example, they were slapped with sanctions that would destroy their economies.
Eritrea President Isaias Afwerki would agree. At the summit, he denounced the US-led sanctions that Eritrea has struggled against.
“They are not manufacturing anything at all, it's printing money. This has been one of their weapons globally - the monetary system... sanctions here, sanctions there... We need a new financial architecture globally,” Afwerki was quoted as saying.
The new shifts from African countries won’t come without its challenges. Countries seeking independence from neocolonial structures can expect the usual assortment of tricks from the West - coup attempts, “uprisings” engineered by foreign adversaries, and sabotage.
African nations must be prepared. Investment into security and intelligence will be much needed, and perhaps even just as important - trustworthy allies.
When push comes to shove, solidarity and cooperation among nations not seeking to exploit situations will be necessary. This is precisely why the West has sought to keep African nations isolated, engineering conflicts to keep African nations atomized.
The recent partnerships between Africa and the East are foundational to a new, global economic system that is not dominated by the dollar. Mutual benefit and respect for independence is paving the way for the destruction of the “rules-based order” which is designed to only benefit American capitalists.
Late Burkina Faso leader Thomas Sankara, who was murdered by French-backed militants, said it best: “Imperialism is a system of exploitation that occurs not only in the brutal form of those who come with guns to conquer territory. Imperialism often occurs in more subtle forms, as loans, food aid, and blackmail. We are fighting this system that allows a handful of men on Earth to rule all of humanity.”
Shabbir Rizvi Political analyst that specializes in US foreign and domestic policy, geopolitics, and military science; Anti-war organizer.
Originally published in Press TV.
Russia helped Africa reach these anti-imperialist victories. The western left was wrong to disavow it. By: Rainer SheaRead Now
It’s no coincidence that multiple African countries have begun to carry out unprecedented measures towards breaking from neo-colonial control at the same time when American power has been seeing an acceleration in its decline. At a time when we’re two decades into the process of realignment of global power which started in the 2000s; where the world’s anti-imperialist forces began to regain their strength, while Washington’s criminal actions brought upon it compounding self-destructive consequences.
And when it comes to Russia’s role within this series of progressive victories, there’s a reality that Marxists need to recognize amid the recent events in Africa: even though Africa absolutely could have come to be able to start expelling the imperialists if not for Russia’s assistance, Russia’s efforts to defy the hegemon have tangibly contributed to the events that led to this outcome. Many smaller actions made this great triumph possible, and if Russia has been behind any number of them, it deserves credit.
There’s a reason why the supporters of Burkina Faso’s anti-imperialist president Traoré have been displaying the red, white, and blue, except not in the form of the U.S. flag but rather the Russian flag: due to internal popular pressure upon Russia’s bourgeois government, post-Soviet Russia has been continuing its predecessor’s tradition of aiding those seeking freedom from colonial rule. It’s thereby been embodying the virtuous liberatory spirit which those colors are supposed to represent. The members of Burkina Faso’s anti-imperialist movement have demonstrated love for Russia not only because of Russia’s deciding to strike back against imperialist crimes within Europe; but also because of Russia’s providing their own country, and other formerly colonized countries, with the tools for fighting off U.S.-created terrorists.
Associated Press wrote this spring about the country’s pivot away from dependence on France, and towards partnership with Russia: “The anti-French sentiment coincides with increasing Russian support, including demonstrations in the capital, Ouagadougou, where hundreds of protesters have waved Russian flags. France has had troops in West Africa’s Sahel region since 2013 when it helped drive Islamic extremists from power in northern Mali. But it’s facing growing pushback from populations who say France’s military presence has yielded little results as jihadi attacks are escalating. Burkina Faso’s junta says it has nothing against France but wants to diversify its military partners in its fight against the extremists and, notably, has turned to Russia.” In response, the hegemon’s narrative managers have been working to try to portray Russia’s assistance to countries like Burkina Faso as an overall negative; and the western left has been inclined to accept this backward view of these developments.
In the same report, AP repeats the accusations made against Russia’s military contractors by the U.S. government, the EU, the American-controlled UN, and the rights groups that have a financial incentive to appease these entities. When you look at the strongest “evidence” that these groups have used to “expose” the supposed crimes of the Russian mercenaries, you see propaganda tactics similar to the ones in which “China watchers” shared satellite images of buildings within Xinjiang that “proved” Uyghur concentration camps existed. It’s easy to find an image of explosions happening, and easier to attach words to it claiming it depicts innocents being slaughtered; it’s harder to produce more veracious evidence for these claims, the kinds that American whistleblowers have been able to give of the U.S. military committing war crimes.
Then there’s the question these charges beg: why would these countries keep requesting that Russian contractors assist them if these contractors have been undeniably proven to be menaces towards civilian citizens? This story is too convenient for the imperialists, too good of a reason for them to declare: “see? You should have remained colonies of ours, instead of trying to get help from our rivals!” The truth is that Russia has been providing these countries with the means to attain civil stability, amid attempts by the imperialists to dominate and destabilize them via neo-colonial occupation tools such as AFRICOM.
Perhaps the most meaningful way that Russia has furthered Burkina Faso’s journey towards becoming a fearless fighter of empire, though, has simply been the inspiration it’s provided the country’s anti-imperialist movement. (The equivalent applies to Mali, which has joined Burkina Faso in defying the imperialists.) The pro-Russia demonstrations have represented a galvanization of popular will towards defying the colonizers, expanding revolutionary consciousness throughout the people by making the anti-imperialist struggle more visible. Russia’s Operation Z is showing the formerly colonized world a demonstrable example of a country which used to be a U.S. client state successfully working to weaken the hegemon. When freedom fighters know they have strong allies, and know these allies are winning their fights against the oppressors, the morale that they need in order to win becomes more abundant. The same thing has been happening with the communists in the heart of imperialism who’ve taken the pro-Russia stance, and thereby become ideologically motivated to build an anti-imperialist movement which seriously threatens our ruling institutions.
The predominant elements of the western left, though, have in effect rejected this encouragement that comes from aligning with the most powerful anti-hegemonic forces. This is because these elements have a purity fetish, where essentially no real progress is viewed as worth celebrating or learning from due to this progress not being pure enough. In The Purity Fetish and the Crisis of Western Marxism, the communist Carlos Garrido explains the features of this mentality:
The purity fetish, I will argue, is an integral component of the Western metaphysical outlook, an outlook which which concretizes itself in a variety of ways throughout history, but which sustains, with very few exceptions, key philosophical assumptions traceable to Parmenidean metaphysics. In the US left this can be found in three major areas, all of which prevent both the acquisition of truth and the development of socialist movement: 1) in the assessment of socialist (and non-socialist but anti-imperialist) struggles abroad, where the phenomenon Max Scheler (elaborated from Nitezsche) calls ressentiment is indubitably present; 2) in the assessment of the diverse character of the working class at home; and 3) in their national nihilistic assessment of US history. In each of these areas, the purity fetish limits their judgment to being at best one-sided and fetters their practical efforts to develop the subjective factor in the working masses.
These beliefs reinforce each other. Because modern U.S. leftist has only seen failure for revolutionary politics within their lifetime, they forget the history of successful progressive struggles by the people in their country. Because they have this nihilistic assessment of their people’s past, they view the people within their own conditions as fundamentally reactionary, and therefore untrustworthy as potential revolutionary allies. Because of this alienation from the people, they view America as exceptional, in that this is essentially the only place where consistently promoting solidarity with anti-imperialist struggles (such as Russia’s) wouldn’t be an effective tactic.
Because of this impulse to compromise on anti-imperialism, they adopt certain rationales; rationales that make it seem justifiable to break from the view of anti-imperialism shared by existing socialist states (like the DPRK, which has voiced support for Russia) and by Global South movements. They reject Kim Il Sung’s conclusion that the contradictions within the forces opposing imperialism are the secondary issue, becoming too fixated on these contradictions to be able to effectively contribute to the anti-imperialist cause.
Garrido writes that the purity fetish comes from an impotency within the western left, because “broiling in this impotency envy develops into ressentiment: the success in the East, because it has been impure, is deemed a failure in the West, because purity has been sustained, is deemed a success. It is a topsy-turvy world which the Western Marxist sees.”
The consequence is that these leftists and “Marxists” come to a detached, infantile view of the conflicts between imperialist and anti-imperialist forces, even when the imperialist side in these conflicts is clearly fascist in character. Garrido writes of Zizek and his pro-NATO, anti-Cuba stance: “he ignores that the Donbass people had been asking for Russian aid since they began getting attacked in 2014, and that the communist parties of the Russian Federation, Ukraine, Donetsk and Lugansk, the most progressive forces in the region, were the ones who first called for Russian aid…Cuba is too ‘impure’ to support, they don’t measure up to his pure socialism; however, the US, NATO, and the Nazi friendly fascist state of Ukraine are not ‘impure’ enough to support against the Russian menace, a ‘menace’ which is supported by the former colonized countries (those without US puppet governments at least) and by the contemporary socialist camp.”
There’s a deeper reason behind why the purity fetish exists. Behind why it’s now driving western Marxists to react to the events in Africa by cheering one contributor to this victory (the African progressive forces) while disavowing another (Russia); or worse by dismissing not just Russia, but also the other great African revolutionary ally China, and even the African progressives themselves. The reason is that these leftists, being in the heart of imperialism, are sheltered. They haven’t sufficiently experienced the practical realities of fighting a vastly superior enemy. They could experience these realities if they wanted to, but that would require them giving up the purity fetish which has kept American radicalism ineffectual since the U.S. communist movement got destroyed and co-opted. It would require them adopting a serious anti-imperialist practice, and then becoming a major target of the state; such as orgs like the African People’s Socialist Party have after deciding to consistently fight the Ukraine psyop.
The effect of this liberal tailist attitude is to render the left insular, uninterested in doing anything that could bring one out the movement and into the masses. Therefore even if an American leftist has invested themselves in the most radical parts of the domestic struggle, they undermine their own cause should they neglect the international struggle; you can only become an effective revolutionary, one that can reach the people, when you’ve given up the liberal tailist stances that keep you isolated to “left” circles. Staying limited to these circles is a willful embrace of the detached role that the communist Jay Tharappel has observed the western left inhabits:
To justify empire building, colonising cultures produce racism of two kinds, one which justifies conquest on the grounds of naked national self-interest, and another which justifies conquest by claiming to ‘civilise’ conquered nations and ‘save’ them from ‘despots’, and ‘evil dictators’ (a saviour complex). Anti-Stalinism is comparable with the latter kind in the sense that it encourages its followers to believe they’re on the side of The People ™ but who are these people exactly? In the Syrian war, Anti-Stalinists today support the overthrow of President Assad’s government by “the people” while also claiming to oppose the actual armed militias that make up the actual people that are attempting that overthrow. “The people” who “rise up” against a “brutal dictator” demanding “freedom and democracy” has become the Anti-Stalinist chorus over the past decade, one accompanied by imagery of homogenous mobs of poor oppressed victims bullied into submission by a cartoonishly evil ‘oppressive’ ‘brutal’ ‘tyrant’, be it Stalin, Mao, Gaddafi, or Assad – all spinoffs of the ‘Stalinist’ caricature projected by Anti-Stalinists…Inability to think in a logical and consequential manner is why Anti-Stalinists often forget they have the privilege of living in a state that isn’t threatened by other states, this includes Anarchists.
Nations that establish their dominance can afford to be more liberal especially if they’re not threatened by more powerful enemies, whereas countries that find themselves actively fending off aggression by more powerful enemies do not have the luxury of adhering to ‘liberal’ standards premised on a privileged place in global affairs. It’s a hard pill to swallow, but many of the ‘liberal’ freedoms Anti-Stalinists take for granted at home are founded upon a history of being the colonial masters abroad, and not solely due to domestic struggles. Inheriting the memory of an arrogant colonising culture, the first–world Left in general has the weakest historic memory of having fought off a foreign colonial power compared to the socialist and postcolonial worlds against whom extreme genocidal levels of violence have been inflicted over the last several centuries.
It’s so easy for those within the safety of the imperial center to say that Russia shouldn’t have taken action in Ukraine, when their neighborhoods have never been threatened by a genocidal fascist invasion like the communities of the Donbass were last year. Or for them to minimize the historically progressive role that Russia has been having within the historically colonized countries, uncritically believing the atrocity propaganda and acting aghast about the great Wagner villain. Wagner isn’t the thing within these conflicts they should be focused on; they should be more concerned about ending the actually documented crimes of AFRICOM, and of the fascist U.S.-backed Ukrainian forces. Their perspectives would be different if they were to break from the safe, Democratic Party-adjacent “left” space which they’ve invested themselves in, and adopt the practice of groups like APSP.
That’s what makes the American left’s ongoing failures on anti-imperialism so inexcusable: to become serious about the cause, socialists in the United States wouldn’t even need to travel to Ukraine or Africa to join in on the battles there. All they would have to do is stop tailing the Democrats, join with a broad anti-imperialist coalition, and work to influence the discourse in a way which genuinely threatens the state. This means not disavowing the anti-imperialist actions of Russia or other countries simply because these countries have internal contradictions. To forsake solidarity with the Russian people’s struggle (and by extension the African people’s struggle) because reactionary coupists imposed capitalist restoration onto Russia is, in effect, to punish the global proletariat for having had a crime committed upon it.
It’s not the Russian people’s fault that they’re for now stuck with a bourgeois government, and it’s certainly not the fault of these revolutionary movement members across the Global South who’ve been flying this government’s flag. In the context of what these people are doing, and of how they’ve seen Russia advance their liberatory cause, displaying this flag makes sense. It would be chauvinistic, even racist in the way that Tharappel talks about, to try to invalidate their perspective by strawmanning any pro-Russian sentiment as necessarily being in suppor of Russia’s internal counterrevolution. As our class and geopolitical conflict keeps escalating, though, we’re more and more going to see the “left” political actors in imperialism’s heart embrace such chauvinism. We must reject these counterproductive attitudes, and instead embrace a project to build unity with the world’s anti-imperialist forces.
First published in News with Theory.
Burkina Faso’s President Traoré Delivers Anti-Imperialist Speech at Russia–Africa Summit. By: Steve LallaRead Now
On the second day of the Russia–Africa summit, the president of Burkina Faso, Ibrahim Traoré, delivered an anti-imperialist address and employed slogans identified with the Cuban Revolution.
Traoré assumed the presidency on September 30, 2022. At age 35, he is the world’s youngest head of state. Traoré has paid homage to Burkinabé socialist revolutionary Thomas Sankara who, in 1983, at age 33, took power in what was then Upper Volta. During his brief tenure, Sankara met with Fidel Castro, set up Committees for the Defence of the Revolution modeled on similar civilian defense organizations in Cuba, launched a nationwide literacy campaign, and instituted a series of reforms to improve housing and healthcare for Burkina Faso’s most vulnerable.
In October 2022, Traoré appointed lifelong Marxist and Sankarist Apollinaire Joachim Kyélem de Tambèla as Prime Minister of Burkina Faso. “Burkina Faso cannot be developed outside the lines drawn by Thomas Sankara,” reiterated Kyélem de Tambèla shortly after his appointment.
The Russia–Africa summit was held in St. Petersburg, Russia, July 27 and 28. Representatives from 49 African nations, including 17 heads of state, defied pressure from the West and attended the conference. Speaking in French, Traoré closed his speech with the slogans “homeland or death” and “we will prevail,” direct translations of the Cuban revolutionary slogans “patria o muerte” and “venceremos.”
Below, we provide a few excerpts from President Traoré’s speech:
Here, we can air our dirty laundry because we feel like we are with our family. We feel like a family in the sense that Russia is a family for Africa. It is a family because we have the same history. Russia made enormous sacrifices to liberate the world from Nazism during the Second World War. The African people, our grandfathers, were also forcibly deported to help Europe rid itself of Nazism. We share the same history in the sense that we are the forgotten peoples of the world, whether in the history books, in the documentaries on film that sweep aside the leading role played by Russia and Africa in this fight against Nazism. We are together because now we are here to speak of the future of our peoples, about what is going to happen tomorrow in this free world to which we aspire, in this world without interference in our internal affairs. We have the same perspectives, and I hope that this summit will be an opportunity, therefore, to be able to weave very good relations for a better future for our peoples…
Today, we are confronted—for more than eight years—by the most barbaric form, the most violent manifestation, of neocolonialism and imperialism. Slavery continues to be imposed upon us. Our ancestors have taught us one thing: the slave who is not able to take up his own revolt does not deserve our support for his destiny… We do not ask that anyone intervene to affect our destiny. The Burkinabé people have decided to fight — to fight against terrorism, in order to improve our development. In this fight, valiant peoples of our population have pledged to take up arms in the face of terrorism—what we have affectionately called the VDP, volunteers [Volunteers for the Defense of the Homeland]. We are surprised to see the imperialists refer to these VDP as “militias.” It is disappointing, because in Europe, when the people take up arms to defend their homeland, they are referred to as patriots. Our grandfathers were deported to save Europe. It wasn’t with their consent, it was against their will. But on their return, we remember well that at Thiaroye, when they wanted to claim their basic rights, they were massacred.…
The problem is seeing African heads of state who bring nothing to peoples who are struggling, but who sing the same thing as the imperialists, calling us “militia,” and therefore referring to us as men who do not respect human rights. What human rights are we talking about? We take offense at this. It is shameful. Against this, we African heads of state must stop acting like marionettes who dance each time the imperialists pull on our strings. Yesterday, President Vladimir Putin announced that grain would be shipped to Africa. This is pleasing, and we say thank you for this. However, this is also a message to our African heads of state, because at the next forum, we must not come here without having ensured… the self-sufficiency of the food supply for our people. We must learn from the experience of those who have succeeded in achieving this in Africa, weaving good relations here, and weaving better relations with the Russian Federation, in order to provide for the needs of our peoples…
Power to our people. Dignity to our people. Victory to our people. Homeland or death. We will prevail.
Steve Lalla is a journalist, researcher and analyst. His areas of interest include geopolitics, history, and current affairs. He has contributed to Counterpunch, Resumen LatinoAmericano English, ANTICONQUISTA, Orinoco Tribune, and others.
Republished from Orinoco Tribune.
I just returned from my third trip to Russia and my second trip to Donbass (now standing for the republics of Donetsk and Lugansk collectively) in about 8 months. This time, I flew into lovely Tallinn, Estonia, and took what should be about a 6-hour bus ride to St. Petersburg. In the end, the bus trip took me about 12 hours due to a long wait in customs on the Russian side of the border.
Having a U.S. passport and trying to pass the frontier from a hostile, NATO country into Russia during wartime got me immediately flagged for questioning. And then, it turned out that I didn’t have all my papers in order as I was still without my journalist credential from the Russian Foreign Ministry, which was necessary, given that I told the border patrol that I was traveling to do reporting. I was treated very nicely, though the long layover forced me to lose my bus, which understandably went on without me.
However, sometimes we find opportunity in seemingly inconvenient detours, and that was true in this case. Thus, I became a witness to a number of Ukrainians, some of them entire families, trying to cross the border and immigrate to Russia. Indeed, the only other type of passport (besides my U.S. passport) I saw among those held over for questioning and processing was the blue Ukrainian passport. This is evidence of an inconvenient fact to the Western narrative of the war which portrays Russia as an invader of Ukraine. In fact, many Ukrainians have an affinity for Russia and have voluntarily chosen to live there over the years.
Between 2014—the real start of the war when the Ukrainian government began attacking its own people in the Donbass—and the beginning of Russia’s intervention in February of 2022, around 1 million Ukrainians had already immigrated to Russia. This was reported in the mainstream press back then, with the BBC writing about these 1 million refugees and also explaining, “[s]eparatists in the eastern regions of Donetsk and Lugansk declared independence after Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine. Since the violence erupted, some 2,600 people have been killed and thousands more wounded. The city of Luhansk has been under siege by government forces for the past month and is without proper supplies of food and water.” The number of dead in this war would grow to 14,000 by February of 2022, again before Russia’s Special Military Operations (SMO) had even begun.
Around 1.3 million additional Ukrainians have immigrated to Russia since February of 2022, making Russia the largest recipient of Ukrainian refugees in the world since the beginning of the SMO.
When I commented to one of the Russian border officials, Kirill is his name, about the stack of Ukrainian passports sitting on his desk, he made a point to tell me that they treat the Ukrainians coming in “as human beings.” When my contact in St. Petersburg, Boris, was able to send a photo of my newly-acquired press credential to Kirill, I was sent on my way with a handshake and was able to catch the next bus coming through to St. Petersburg almost immediately.
Once in St. Petersburg, I went to Boris’ house for a short rest and then was off by car to Rostov-on-Don, the last Russian city before Donetsk. I was driven in a black Lexus by a kind Russian businessman named Vladimir along with a German, the founder of the humanitarian aid group known as “Leningrad Volunteers”. The car was indeed loaded with humanitarian aid to take to Donbass. After some short introductions, and my dad’s joke about the “Lexus from Texas,” we were off on our 20-hour journey at a brisk pace of about 110 miles an hour.
We arrived in Rostov in the evening and checked into the Sholokhov Lofts Hotel, named after Mikhail Sholokhov, Rostov’s favorite son who wrote the great novel “And Quite Flows the Don.” We were told that, up until recently, a portrait of the titular head of the Wagner Group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, had adorned the lobby wall. They took this down after members of the Wagner Group invaded Rostov, putting fear in many of the residents. Now, the hotel only has Hollywood movie posters decorating the walls.
In the early afternoon of the next day, my translator Sasha arrived from her hometown of Krasnodar, Russia—a 7-hour train ride from Rostov. Sasha, who is just 22 years old, is a tiny red-headed woman who quickly turned out to be one of the most interesting people I met on my journey. As she explained to me, Sasha has been supporting humanitarian work in Donbass since the age of 12. She told me that she derived her interest in this work from her grandmother who raised her in the “patriotic spirit” of the USSR. As Sasha explained, her parents were too busy working to do much raising of her at all. Sasha, who is from the mainland of Russia, attends the University of Donetsk to live in solidarity with the people who have been under attack there since 2014.
At age 22, Sasha, who wore open-toed sandals even when we traveled to the frontlines, is one of the bravest people I have ever met, and she certainly disabused me of any notion that I was doing anything especially brave by going to the Donbass. But of course, as Graham Greene once wrote, “With a return ticket, courage becomes an intellectual exercise” anyway.
We quickly set out on our approximately 3-to-4-hour drive to Donetsk City, with a brief stop at a passport control office now run by the Russian Federation subsequent to the September 2022 referendum in which the people of Donetsk and three other Ukrainian republics voted to join Russia. I was again questioned by officials at this stop but for only 15 minutes or so. I just resigned myself to the fact that, as an American traveling through Russia at this time, I was not going to go through any border area without some level of questioning. However, the tone of the questioning was always friendly.
We arrived in Donetsk City, a small but lovely town along the Kalmius River, without incident. Our first stop was at the “Leningrad Volunteers” warehouse to unload some of the aid we had brought and to meet some of the local volunteers. Almost all of these volunteers are lifelong residents of Donetsk, and nearly all of them wore military fatigues and have been fighting the Ukrainian forces as part of the Donetsk militia for years, many since the beginning of the conflict in 2014. This is something I cannot impress upon the reader enough. While we are often told that these fighters in the Donbass are Russians or “Russian proxies”, this is simply not true. The lion’s share of these fighters are locals of varying ages, some quite old, who have been fighting for their homes, families, and survival since 2014. While there have been Russian and international volunteers who have supported these forces—just as there were international volunteers who went to support the Republicans in Spain in the 1930s—they are mostly local. Of course, this changed in February of 2022 when Russia began the SMO. But even still, the locals of Donetsk continue to fight on, now alongside the Russian forces.
The lie of “Russian proxies” fighting in the Donbass after 2014 is actually one of the smaller ones of the Western mainstream press, for the claim at least acknowledges that there has been such fighting. Of course, the mainstream media has tried to convince us that there was never such fighting at all and that the Russian SMO beginning in February of 2022 was completely “unprovoked”. This is the big lie that has been peddled in order to gain the consent of the Western populations to militarily support Ukraine. What is also ignored is the fact that this war was escalating greatly before the beginning of the SMO, and this escalation indeed provoked it. Thus, according to the Organization for European Security and Cooperation (OESC)—a 57-member organization of many Western countries, including the United States—there were around 2000 ceasefire violations in the Donbass on the weekend just before the SMO began on February 24, 2022. In a rare moment of candor, Reuters reported on February 19, 2022,
Almost 2,000 ceasefire violations were registered in eastern Ukraine by monitors for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe on Saturday, a diplomatic source told Reuters on Sunday. Ukrainian government and separatist forces have been fighting in eastern Ukraine since 2014.
Jacques Baud, a Swiss intelligence and security consultant and former NATO military analyst, further explains the precipitating events of the SMO:
As early as February 16, Joe Biden knew that the Ukrainians had begun shelling the civilian population of Donbass, putting Vladimir Putin in front of a difficult choice: to help Donbass militarily and create an international problem or stand by and watch the Russian-speaking people of Donbass being crushed.
Of course, none of this was news to the people I met in Donetsk, for they had been living this reality for years. For example, Dimitri, a young resident of Donetsk who has been fighting since 2014 along with his mother and father, told me quite exasperated as he pointed to some of the weapons and ammunition behind him, “What is all this stuff doing here? Why have we been getting this since 2014? Because the war has been going on since then.” Dimitri, who was studying at the university when the conflict began, can no longer fight due to injuries received in the war, including damage to his hearing, which is evidenced by the earplugs he wears. He hopes he can go back to his studies.
Just a few days before my arrival in Donetsk, Dimitri’s apartment building was shelled by Ukrainian forces, just as it had been before in 2016. Like many in Donetsk, he is used to quickly repairing the damage and going on with his life.
Dimitri took me to the Donetsk airport and the nearby Orthodox church and monastery, which were destroyed in fighting between the Ukrainian military and Donetsk militia forces back in 2014-2015. Dimitri participated in the fighting in this area back then, explaining that during that time, this was the area of the most intense fighting in the world. But you would not know this from the mainstream press coverage which has largely ignored this war before February of 2022.
One of the first individuals I interviewed in Donetsk was 36-year-old Vitaly, a big guy with a chubby, boyish face who wore a baseball hat with the red Soviet flag with the hammer and sickle. Vitaly, the father of three children, is from Donetsk and has been fighting there for four years, including in the very tough battle for the steel plant in Mariupol in the summer of 2022. He decided to take up arms after friends of his were killed by Ukrainian forces, including some who were killed by being burned alive by fascist forces–the same forces, we are told, don’t exist. Vitaly, referring to the mainstream Western media, laughed when saying,
They’ve been saying we’ve been shelling ourselves for 9 years.
Vitaly has personally fought against soldiers wearing Nazi insignia, and he is very clear that he is fighting fascism. Indeed, when I asked him what the Soviet flag on his hat meant to him, he said it signified the defeat of Nazism, and he hopes he will contribute to this again. When I asked him about claims that Russia had intervened with soldiers in the war prior to February of 2022 as some allege, he adamantly denied this, as did everyone else I interviewed in Donetsk. However, he has witnessed the fact that Polish and UK soldiers have been fighting with the Ukrainian military since the beginning. Vitaly opined that, given what has transpired over the past 9 years, he does not believe that the Donbass will ever return to Ukraine, and he certainly hopes it will not. Vitaly told me quite stoically that he believes he will not see peace in his lifetime.
During my stay in Donetsk, I twice had dinner with Anastasia, my interpreter during my first trip to the Donbass in November. Anastasia teaches at the University of Donetsk. She has been traveling around Russia, including to the far east, telling of what has been happening in the Donbass since 2014 because many in Russia themselves do not fully understand what has been going on. She told me that when she was recounting her story, she found herself reliving her trauma from 9 years of war and feeling overwhelmed. Anastasia’s parents and 13-year-old brother live near the frontlines in the Donetsk Republic, and she worries greatly about them. Olga is glad that Russia has intervened in the conflict, and she indeed corrected me when I once referred to the Russian SMO as an “invasion”, telling me that Russia did not invade. Rather, they were invited and welcomed in. That does seem to be the prevailing view in Donetsk as far as I can tell.
During my 5-day trip to Donetsk, I was taken to two cities within the conflict zone—Yasinovataya and Gorlovka. I was required to wear body armor and a helmet during this journey, though wearing a seatbelt was optional, if not frowned upon. While Donetsk City, which certainly sees its share of shelling, is largely intact and with teeming traffic and a brisk restaurant and café scene, once we got out of the city, this changed pretty quickly. Yasinovataya showed signs of great destruction, and I was told that a lot of this dated back to 2014. The destruction going back that far included a machine factory which is now being used as a base of operations for Donetsk forces and the adjacent administrative building which looks like it could have been an opera house before its being shelled. For its part, the city center of Gorlovka looked largely unmolested with signs of street life and even had an old trolley, clearly from the Soviet era, running through the center of town. But the outskirts of Gorlovka certainly showed signs of war. In both cities, one could hear the sound of shelling in the distance quite frequently.
In Gorlovka, we met with Nikoli, nicknamed “Heavy”. Nikoli looks like a Greek god, standing at probably 6 feet, 5 inches, and all muscle. I joked with him while I was standing next to him that I felt like I was appearing next to Ivan Drago in Rocky IV. He got the joke and laughed. While a giant of a man seemed very nice and with a strong moral compass, he led us over to a makeshift Orthodox chapel in the cafeteria of what was a school, but which is now the base of operations for his Donetsk militia forces. He told us that, even now after the SMO began, about 90 percent of the forces in Gorlovka are still local Donetsk soldiers, and the other 10 percent are Russian. Again, this is something we rarely get a sense of from the mainstream press.
Nikoli, while sitting in front of the makeshift chapel, explained that while he still considers himself Ukrainian, for after all he was born in Ukraine, he said Donetsk would never go back to Ukraine because Ukraine had “acted against God” when it began to attack its own people in the Donbass. He made it clear that he was prepared to fight to the end to ensure the survival of the people of Donetsk, and I had no doubt that he was telling the truth about that.
At my request, I met with the First Secretary of the Donetsk section of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF), Boris Litvinov. Boris, who has also served in the Donetsk parliament, explained that the Communist Party under his leadership had been one of the leaders and initiators of the 2014 Referendum in which the people of Donetsk voted to become an autonomous republic and leave Ukraine. According to Boris, about 100 members of the Donetsk section of the CPRF are serving on the frontlines of the conflict. Indeed, as Boris explained, the CPRF supports the Russian SMO, only wishing that it had commenced in 2014. Boris is clear that the war in Ukraine is one over the very survival of Russia (regardless of whether it is capitalist or socialist) and that Russia is fighting the collective West which wants to destroy Russia.
Boris compares the fight in the Donbass to the fight of the Republicans against the fascists in Spain in the 1930s, and he says that there are international fighters from all over the world (Americans, Israelis, Spanish, and Colombians, for example) who are fighting alongside the people of Donbass against the fascists just as international fighters helped in Spain.
The last person I interviewed, again at my own request, was Olga Tseselskaya, assistant to the head of the Union of Women of the Republic of Donetsk and First Secretary of the Mothers’ United organization. The Mothers’ United organization, which has 6000 members throughout the Donetsk Republic, advocates for and provides social services to the mothers of children killed in the conflict since 2014. I was excited that Olga opened our discussion by saying that she was glad to be talking to someone from Pittsburgh because Pittsburgh and Donetsk City had once been sister cities.
I asked Olga about how she viewed the Russian forces now in Donetsk, and she made it clear that she supported their presence in Donetsk and believed that they were treating the population well. She adamantly denied the claims of mass rape made against the Russians earlier in the conflict. Of course, it should be noted, the Ukrainian parliament’s commissioner for human rights, Lyudmila Denisova, who was the source of these claims, was ultimately fired because her claims were found to be unverified and without substantiation, but again the Western media has barely reported on that fact.
When I asked Olga whether she agreed with some Western peace groups, such as the Stop the War Coalition in the UK, that Russia should pull its troops out of the Donbass, she disagreed, saying she hates to think what would happen to the people of the Donbass if they did. I think that this is something the people of the West need to come to grips with—that the government of Ukraine has done great violence against its own people in the Donbass, and that the people of the Donbass had every right to choose to leave Ukraine and join Russia. If Westerners understood this reality, they would think twice about “standing with” and continuing to arm Ukraine.
Daniel Kovalik is an Author and International Human Rights Professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law.
This article was produced by Monthly Review.