In the Brazilian Amazon, as deforestation reaches record levels and rivers are increasingly polluted, the illegal gold mining contributing to these problems continues largely unabated. The response of the government has been to increase military action to curb environmental crimes in Brazil. Far from achieving this purpose, however, the military intervention has only led to tragedies in the region, directly or indirectly.
A source from the Brazilian Amazon wrote to us at Revista Opera two years ago to warn us about something strange that was going on there: illegally mined gold was being sold at the same price as legally mined gold. “If the nugget is a big one,” said the source, “they give the miner extra [money].” There was no investigation based on this information since it would have required great resources and risks, neither of which we could afford. It was just another fascinating story that was buried in the green hell (Inferno Verde) or El Dorado—terms often used to describe the immensity of the Amazon rainforest.
In August 2021, a study by the Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG) in partnership with the Brazilian Federal Public Ministry (MPF) showed that in two years—2019 and 2020—28 percent of all gold that was both produced by and sold in Brazil appeared to have been mined illegally. Perhaps such a large influx of gold for some exceptional reason had an effect on the price paid out for mining it at a given time, or perhaps the information provided was fabricated by the source, we thought.
The study further stated that of the gold produced in the Amazon, 44 percent was found to be “irregular” or illegal, revealing how the activity continued unchecked in the region.
The Amazon has been a multifaceted obsession of Brazil’s military for some time now. During the military dictatorship, which began in 1964, the motto regarding the policy to be followed in the Amazon was “integrate not to surrender.” Later on, the motto conformed to the view that the forest was a site for a possible insurrection. In the ’80s and ’90s, Brazil’s generals would focus their attention on the incursion of Colombian left-wing guerrillas and on the trafficking of drugs and weapons. For them, the integration of the Amazon was a part of what the country’s military institutes now call a “national project.”
Media attention has focused on deforestation during the tenure of the government under Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. Despite the press coverage of the dark skies that were witnessed by Brazil’s major cities during the daytime in August 2019, as the smoke from the wildfires enveloped the cities, revealing the extent of deforestation in the Amazon, one fact remained hidden: the militarization of the Amazon.
During Bolsonaro’s rule, three military Law and Order Assurance Operations (GLOs) for reducing deforestation in the Amazon have been enacted: Operation Verde Brasil, which ran from August to October 2019; Operation Verde Brasil 2, between May 2020 and April 2021; and Operation Samaúma, between June and August 2021. The decrees of the operations provided Brazil’s Armed Forces with powers to take “preventive and repressive actions against environmental crimes,” and for “surveying and fighting fires.” In total, out of the 41 months that have elapsed since Bolsonaro’s government came to power, the Amazon has been under military control for almost 17 of them.
In addition, in February 2020, the National Council of the Legal Amazon was also reestablished, with its presidency being transferred from the Ministry of the Environment to the vice presidency. The council is now chaired by Army General and Brazilian Vice President Hamilton Mourão and is composed of 16 ministries (seven of which were being directed by army officials at the time the decree established the council). The general purpose of the council is to coordinate and integrate the action of the ministries on the issues related to the Amazon, “strengthen the state’s presence in the Legal Amazon” and “coordinate actions for the prevention, inspection and repression of illicit acts.” In addition, the council is responsible for establishing special subcommittees and inviting “specialists and representatives of public or private, national or international bodies or entities to participate in the meetings.”
Despite this mandate of the council, governors, representatives of the Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (Ibama), the National Indian Foundation (Funai)—two governmental organizations working for the protection of the environment and the traditional populations of the Amazon—Indigenous peoples, and traditional communities weren’t invited to be part of it, and 19 military officials were appointed to the thematic committees of the body—whose composition is decided by vice president Mourão—in addition to four delegates from Brazil’s Federal Police.
An article by journalist Marta Salomon in Piauí magazine in October 2020 stated how there was a “Military Buildup With Money From the Amazon” during Operation Verde Brasil 2: renovations in barracks that included painting walls, replacing floors, doors, coatings and roofs were part of the operating expenses—in addition to the secret expenses in the contracts of the Army Intelligence Center with private companies. As spending on preservation of the forest by the Ministry of the Environment fell, investments in GLO military missions in the Amazon grew by 178 percent: in 2021, 37 percent of the total spending to stop deforestation was allocated to military actions.
Another government measure involving the military (or military measure involving the government) was the “intervention” in Funai, Brazil’s official agency that is responsible for protecting and promoting Indigenous rights. An article by Daniel Giovanaz in February 2021 revealed that “[o]f the 24 regional coordinations of the National Indian Foundation (Funai) in the Legal Amazon, 14 [were] led by the military.” One of these coordinators was Jussielson Golçalves Silva, an inactive navy soldier arrested in March this year for brokering the leasing of Indigenous lands to cattle ranchers in Ribeirão Cascalheira, Mato Grosso. Another article by Marta Salomon in October 2021 mentioned the case of Army Captain Raimundo Pereira dos Santos Neto, regional coordinator of Funai in Pará state, who had sent a letter to the organization informing them that a “collaborator,” Antônio Júlio Martins de Oliveira, had built a shed on the banks of the Iriri River under the pretext of serving the Kayapó Indigenous people of the region. The collaborator was an illegal miner, and the Funai shed was being used for his illegal activities, according to Salomon’s article.
As reported before, the three GLO operations that constituted the direct military intervention over the Amazon for a year and a half cost R$550 million—almost six times the budget allocated to Ibama for environmental inspection, licensing and biodiversity management in 2020—and failed to curb deforestation in the Amazon, according to Folha de S. Paulo. Brazil’s government said that the operations “attest to intransigence in the defense of our territory.” Vice President General Mourão, president of the Amazon Council, declared that the results of Operation Samaúma were “extremely positive,” despite data showing that during the GLO operations, deforestation continued to increase. In April this year, the vice president said that the data on deforestation in the Amazon rainforest for the month—when military operations were no longer active—were “terrible, horrible.” This raises questions about the contradictions in the statements made by Mourão during and after the GLO operations and the end-results of the military intervention in the Amazon; with the situation going from “extremely positive” in August 2021 during Operation Samaúma to “terrible, horrible” a few months later, once the operation ended.
The killings of indigenist Bruno Pereira and English journalist Dom Phillips, who disappeared on June 5 in Vale do Javari, Amazonas state, certainly has nothing to do, directly, with the military intervention in the Amazon, despite the delay in beginning the search operation by the armed forces and the scandal over the notes that the Amazônia Military Command (CMA) issued, saying it was “awaiting command from the upper echelons.” Indirectly, however, the title of an article written by Phillips in 2018 explains the role played by the military intervention in their killings clearly: “Tribes in Deep Water: Gold, Guns and the Amazon’s Last Frontier.”
Pedro Marin is the editor-in-chief and founder of Revista Opera. Previously, he was a correspondent in Venezuela for Revista Opera and a columnist and international correspondent in Brazil for a German publication. He is the author of Golpe é Guerra--teses para enterrar 2016, on the impeachment of Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff, and coauthor of Carta no Coturno--A volta do Partido Fardado no Brasil, on the role of the military in Brazilian politics.
Will powerful men be held accountable? Will links to "intelligence" be meaningfully investigated? If it was blackmail, what was the actual target?
Ghislaine Maxwell was sentenced to 20 years in prison for conspiring with Jeffrey Epstein to sexually abuse minors on Tuesday. Her lawyers have stated they will appeal the sentence.
The timing of events often strikes me as notable. Surprise witness Cassidy Hutchinson testified at the Jan. 6 hearings just as Maxwell's sentence was announced on Tuesday.
This virtually assured minimal coverage for the Maxwell verdict.
A serious hypothesis needs to be on the table that there is a massive apparatus to distract and manage information and the public mind.
Also ironic is that rapper R. Kelly was sentenced to 30 years on Wednesday for abusing young women and girls.
Meanwhile, all the other wealthy and establishment white men implicated in the Epstein/Maxwell scandal seem to have evaded any meaningful justice.
Pulitzer-prize winning reporter Chris Hedges wrote during Maxwell's trial that it will "not hold to account the powerful and wealthy men who are also complicit in the sexual assaults of girls as young as twelve Maxwell allegedly procured for billionaire Jeffrey Epstein.
"Donald Trump, Bill Clinton, Bill Gates, hedge-fund billionaire Glenn Dubin, former New Mexico governor Bill Richardson, former Secretary of the Treasury and former president of Harvard Larry Summers, Stephen Pinker, Prince Andrew, Alan Dershowitz, billionaire Victoria's Secret CEO Les Wexner, the J.P. Morgan banker Jes Staley, former Israeli prime minister Ehud Barack, real estate mogul Mort Zuckerman, former Maine senator George Mitchell, Harvey Weinstein and many others who were at least present and most likely participated in Epstein's perpetual Bacchanalia, are not in court. ... Epstein’s death in a New York jail cell, while officially ruled a suicide, is in the eyes of many credible investigators a murder."
In February, the British Independent reported "Prince Andrew and Virginia Giuffre reach ‘£10m’ settlement over sexual abuse claim." Giuffre was one of the girls targeted by Maxwell.
New York magazine just published the piece: "How Leslie Wexner Helped Create Jeffrey Epstein" about how the billionaire Wexner, whose company at one point owned Victoria’s Secret, Abercrombie & Fitch, Express, and Bath & Body Works, funded Esptein. "Epstein’s money, Upper East Side mansion, and even the Lolita Express -- originally a Boeing 727 owned by L Brands -- would all come from Wexner."
The investigative reporter Whitney Webb -- who now writes at UnlimitedHangout.com -- has been pointing to these connections for years. She has noted: “The fact the FBI won’t even touch or question Les Wexner (‘head of the snake’ of the whole op) tells you that any effort to go after Ghislaine is superficial.”
In her piece, “Hidden in Plain Sight: The Shocking Origins of the Jeffrey Epstein Case,” Webb reports that “Alex Acosta -- who arranged Epstein’s ‘sweetheart’ deal in 2008 and resigned as Donald Trump’s labor secretary following Epstein’s arrest -- claimed that the mysterious billionaire had worked for ‘intelligence.’"
Webb also wrote about Maxwell’s father, Robert, who worked with the Mossad “according to several books including Seymour Hersh’s The Samson Option: Israel’s Nuclear Arsenal and American Foreign Policy.” She adds: “In exchange for his services, the Mossad helped Maxwell satisfy his sexual appetite during his visits to Israel, providing him with prostitutes, [whom] ‘the service maintained for blackmail purposes.’” [Quoting the book Gideon’s Spies: The Secret History of the Mossad by Gordon Thomas.] Webb's book One Nation Under Blackmail: The Sordid Union Between Intelligence and Crime that Gave Rise to Jeffrey Epstein is scheduled to be released later this year.
It's truly remarkable how little attention this story has gotten.
The claim is often made that the media love sensationalism and sex.
The Epstein story was ignored for years and years.
And then when it finally broke, it was still limited in vital ways.
If -- as Webb charges -- the Epstein/Maxwell operation was part of a blackmail operation, the young females they targeted, used and abused would only be the most obvious victims.
It would be very different than a typical sexual abuser whose sole goal is the actual abuse.
If this was done for blackmail, with Epstein allegedly taping these powerful men having sex with underage girls, then the girls and young women would be almost a commodity used in a larger, even more heinous scheme.
The wider intended victims would then be all the people -- likely numbering millions if not billions -- on the receiving end of the policies that were enacted because of the leverage of the blackmail. The question then becomes, if it was blackmail, what was the actual goal of the operation?
"The least we owe Ukraine is full support, and to do this we need a stronger Nato [...] Today, one cannot be a leftist if one does not unequivocally stand behind Ukraine” (The Guardian, June 21, 2022).
Who is the author of the above words? Is it NATO Secretary Jens Stoltenberg? Or German Chancellor Olaf Scholz? Maybe Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez? None of them. The phrase belongs to a celebrity of contemporary left-wing intelligentsia. The much publicized “Hegelian Marxist” philosopher Slavoj Žižek.
Žižek's opinion on Ukraine would have been completely insignificant if the Slovenian thinker and cultural theorist had not received so much publicity in the Western media, establishing himself as one of the “most important living intellectuals”. For more than two decades, Žižek has a prominent position not only in the bourgeois press but also in the most prestigious academic institutes and think tanks in Europe and the United States.
The reality is that Slavoj Žižek is the embodiment of pseudo-marxist charlatanism who, through grandiloquent analyses, incoherent and frequently contradictory philosophical mumbo-jumbo and pompous expressions, tries to “whitewash” the exploitative system itself.
It is no coincidence that the charlatan who is now calling for a “stronger NATO” to defend Ukraine, is the same guy who in 1999 was an outspoken supporter of NATO's imperialist intervention and bombing of Yugoslavia. In his article titled “NATO, the Left Hand of God”, Žižek was writing among other things:
"Today we can see that the paradox of the bombing of Yugoslavia is not the one that Western pacifists have been complaining about -- that NATO set off the very ethnic cleansing that it was supposed to be preventing. No, the ideology of victimization is the real problem: it's perfectly fine to help the helpless Albanians against the Serbian monsters, but under no circumstances must they be permitted to throw off this helplessness, to get a hold on themselves as a sovereign and independent political subject [...] But it's not only NATO that depoliticized the conflict. So has its opponents on the pseudo-Left. For them, the bombing of Yugoslavia played out the last act of the dismemberment of Tito's Yugoslavia. It acted out the end of a promise, the collapse of a Utopia of multi-ethnic and authentic socialism into the confusion of an ethnic war. Even so sharp-sighted a political philosopher as Alain Badiou still maintains that all sides are equally guilty. There were ethnic cleansers on all sides, he says, among the Serbs, the Slovenes and the Bosnians. [...] It seems to me that this represents a leftist yearning for Yugoslavia lost. The irony is that this nostalgia considers the Serbia of Slobovan Milosevic to be the successor of that dream state -- i.e., exactly the force that so effectively killed that old Yugoslavia" (lacan.com/zizek-nato.html, June 29, 1999).
Slavoj, the outspoken supporter of NATO's horrendous crime in Yugoslavia, wasn't pleased enough of the barbarity unleashed against the Serbian people. He wanted even more bombs: “So, precisely as a Leftist, my answer to the dilemma "Bomb or not?" is: not yet ENOUGH bombs, and they are TOO LATE” (Slavoj Žižek, Against the Double Blackmail, New Left Review, 04/1999).
Four years after the crime in Yugoslavia, in 2003, the Slovenian “philosopher” was stressing out during an interview: “To the horror of many leftists, even I did show some understanding for the NATO bombing of ex-Yugoslavia. Sorry, but this bombing did stop a terrible conflict" (Left Business Observer #105, August 2003).
In 2012, Žižek openly supported SYRIZA by participating in joint political events with Alexis Tsipras, while he didn't hesitate to unleash slanders against the KKE by saying that “it is the party of the people who are still alive because they forgot to die”. He is the same charlatan who, following the terrorist attacks in Paris in 2015, suggested that the antidote to the deadlock of global capitalism is the militarization of society: "Democratically motivated grassroots movements are seemingly doomed to failure, so perhaps it’s best to break global capitalism’s vicious cycle through ‘militarization,’ which means suspending the power of self-regulating economies.” (Slavoj Žižek: In the Wake of Paris Attacks the Left Must Embrace Its Radical Western Roots, inthesetimes.com, November 16, 2015).
A year later, in 2016, the flamboyant thinker endorsed ultra-reactionary billionaire Donald Trump for the US Presidency, calling him a “centrist liberal”. More recently, he has been seen in political panels alongside other self-proclaimed “erratic marxists”, like former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis.
No, Slavoj Žižek is neither a Marxist nor a radical philosopher. He isn't a lunatic who expresses nonsense just because he wants to draw attention. On the contrary, he is a very well-read apologist of capitalist barbarism and a conscious anti-communist. As such, he vilifies the 20th century's socialism, he shamelessly attacks Lenin and promotes, either openly or covertly, the murderous imperialist alliance of NATO. Even when he pretends to defend communism, Žižek does it only in words, as an abstract theoretical issue, deliberately separating it from its social and political field of application.
So, what does Slavoj Žižek represent? He himself has provided the answer. “In short, what the sensitive liberals want is a decaffeinated revolution, a revolution which doesn't smell of a revolution” he wrote once. That is exactly what Žižek and other widely-publicized by the bourgeois media “Marxist intellectuals” (like A. Badiou, A. Negri, T. Eagleton, etc) are: Ideological waiters of a “decaffeinated revolution” and the best apologists of the exploitative capitalist system.
Nikos Mottas is the Editor-in-Chief of In Defense of Communism.
This article was republished from In Defense of Communism.
The philosophers Hans Georg Moeller and Paul J. D’Ambrosio argue in their text You and Your Profile: Identity After Authenticity, that society has undergone a qualitative transformation in the dominant identity building technology. Building on Lionel Trilling’s Sincerity and Authenticity, and on Niklas Luhmann’s theory of second-order observation, Moeller and D’Ambrosio hold that in an age like ours, where “second-order observation is pervasive,” profilicity is the dominant “technology for achieving identity.” Although their text is thorough and contextual, one of the things absent is an examination of how profilicity is used to advance the interests of capital in its imperialist stage. It is this analysis which I will provide. First, this will be done by looking at the role profilic morality and ‘wokeism’ have played in imperialist narratives on targeted countries; and secondly, by looking at how general peer manipulation, through bots and censorship, was used by the US and its allies in the 2019 imperialist coup in Bolivia. To do this I must first clarify some of the terms central to Moeller and D’Ambrosio’s thesis.
Sincerity, Authenticity, and Profilicity
“In earlier times,” Moeller and D’Ambrosio state, identification “consisted in committing to the roles people found themselves in by embracing the norms and internalizing the values attached to these roles.” This form of identity technology is called sincerity, it is “a mental and social method of achieving identity based on sincere role enactment.” As capitalism and modernity develop, the hegemony of traditional role identities (i.e., sincerity) “began to appear as external facades imposed on people whose real self was to be found somewhere underneath.” In this epochal transformation, authenticity emerges as the dominant identity technology for the new age. Here the social roles which dominated the age of sincerity appear as a ‘mask’ covering one’s authentic self. In the ”age of authenticity,” as Charles Tayler called it, we are asked to “discover or create an original self.”
Accompanied by the ideology of individualism, authenticity has been central in all fields of capitalist culture. From Shakespeare, to Whitman, to endless Netflix movies and shows about finding or creating your ‘true self,’ modernity has breastfed us all with the jargon of authenticity. However, just like the contradictions of sincerity gave way to the development of authenticity, the contradictions of authenticity are giving way to the development of profilicity.
While identity is itself paradoxical (given that it attempts to pin down that which is inherently multifaceted and dynamic), each identity building mechanism developed its own specific contradictions. In sincerity one finds themselves torn by the “incompatible demands” of the “different roles held by a single person.” This conflict reflects itself in most classical literature and can be archetypically seen in Sophocles’ Antigone, where a sister (Antigone) is torn between the duty she has to bury her brother (Polyneices), and the duty she has as a citizen to follow King Creon’s decry, which considers Polyneices a traitor undeserving of a formal burial. This contradiction in sincerity is depicted nicely in Hegel’s Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, where he says that “both are in the wrong because they are one-sided, but both are also in the right.”
Similarly, in authenticity we find another unique contradiction. As soon as “one follows the advice to ‘make one’s own path,’ one is already following a path recommended by others.” As Elena Esposito said, “nothing is as unoriginal as the desire to be original.” The paradox of authenticity is captured nicely in Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha, where the son of a Brahman (Siddhartha) breaks with the traditional role he would have had to enact under conditions of sincerity, and pursues to find (or create) himself. As Siddhartha says, “In the school of myself I want to learn, that is where I want to be a pupil, I want to get to know myself, the secret that is Siddhartha.” Siddhartha’s path eventually leads him to recognize the general paradox of identity, namely, as Hegel elucidates in the Science of Logic, that “to be different belongs to identity, not externally, but within it, in its nature.” This, for Siddhartha, is captured in the Om, where a “thousand voices” are embodied in “one single word.”
Although not focused on by Moeller and D’Ambrosio, it is important to note that these transformations in the hegemonic identity technology were grounded on radical material transformations in society. Authenticity, for instance, arose in the context of a full transformation in the mode of production, i.e., a qualitatively new system (capitalism) emerged. Without capitalism the shift to authenticity is impossible. Likewise, profilicity has arisen under conditions of a revolutionized means of production – albeit not under a revolutionized mode of production, for in much of the world the dominant relations of production are still capitalist. Nonetheless, without the development brought about by the technological revolution of the recent decades, profilicity could not have hegemonized.
Profilicity, as the dominant mode of identity technology, is centered on second-order observation. As opposed to seeing something directly (first-order observation), second-order observation “sees something, or oneself, as being seen.” Under these conditions the “complexity of the observation is significantly increased,” one has to observe not just a phenomenon, but how one is seen observing that phenomenon.
For Sean Parker, the first president of Facebook, the platform was merely seeking to “exploit a vulnerability in human psychology” by creating “social validation feedback loops” (SVFL) which function as a “little dopamine hit every once in a while.” However, what he failed to foresee was the sociological influence Facebook would have as an identity building technology in the age of profilicity. In the age of profilicity, how the general peer views the world mediates my engagement with it – the movies I watch, the restaurants I go to, the hotels I stay in, etc., all of these decisions are mediated by my engagement with how the movie, restaurant, and hotel are rated. This mode of observation dominates not just how one sees the world, but also how one builds their identity in this world. Through our construction of profiles of various sorts (personal, business, academic, etc.), we curate a ”type of self-image that is not just seen but seen as being seen.”
All “personal identity needs to be socially validated.” In sincerity and authenticity this is done by “present peers,” that is, the specific individuals one is in direct contact with (family, friends, coworkers, etc.). Under profilicity, social validation is given by the general peer, an impersonal abstract collective (e.g., number of viewers, subscribers, likes, etc.). Since our profiles are situated in different social settings, each social setting has its own general peer. The audience who reacts to one’s post on Facebook is different (sometimes more, sometimes less) from the audience who reacts to one’s posts on Instagram, and different from the audience who reacts to one’s posts on Academia. Each profile, however, engages with general peers which effect social validation feedback loops (SVFL). The success of our profile, i.e., of our identity, is measured by the reactions (likes, shares, retweets, etc.) of the general peer. Second-order observation allows us to curate our profile image as we would like to be seen as being seen, an assessment which shifts depending on the changing reactions of the general peer.
It is important to note that “new modes of identity do not simply replace older ones but coexist with them;” authenticity and sincerity are still around in the age of profilicity, but are in most cases “put in the service” of profilicity. For instance, all the shows and movies on Netflix and other platforms championing authenticity are all working within the conditions of profilicity. The Black Mirror episode “Nosedive,” which presents a profile-dystopic world wherein all human interactions are mediated through profile ratings, is itself participating in profilicity. The show, the platform hosting it (Netflix), and the production team and cast all participate in their own profile curations, wherein all of these interconnected profiles reciprocally boost each other and perpetuate positive social validation feedback loops. In essence, the hegemony of profilicity has created the conditions wherein critique of profilicity is necessarily done through profilicity itself.
Now that some of the central terms of Moeller and D’Ambrosio’s text are laid out, we can proceed to analyze some of the ways today’s hegemon imperial power (the US) attempts to spread its spheres of influence in the age of profilicity.
How Imperialism Functions Under Conditions of Profilicity
“Imperialism,” Lenin showed, “is capitalism at that stage of development at which the dominance of monopolies and finance capital is established; in which the export of capital has acquired pronounced importance; in which the division of the world among the international trusts has begun, in which the division of all territories of the globe among the biggest capitalist powers has been completed.” The countries in the mid/late 20th and 21st century which have broken out of this world order; which have been able to nationalize their industries and resources; which have become independent, to a greater or lesser extent, from global financial organizations such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank; and which have opted for a society which functions to promote the flourishing of their masses and the raising of their living standards; have all been subject to the full toolbox of imperialism in its attempt to resubordinate these regions under their sphere of influence.
1- Profilic Morality and ‘Wokeism'
The recent technological revolution which grounds the hegemonization of profilicity affords ‘new’ tools for the imperialist toolbox. Moeller, in his YouTube channel, Carefree Wondering, has explored how ‘Wokeism’ (a phenomenon he describes as a ‘civil religion’) has been utilized by the Central intelligence Agency (CIA) in their recent recruiting video depicting an anxiety disordered, ‘intersectional feminist’ woman of color from an immigrant background who is “unapologetically me” in the agency. The agency which has functioned as the arm of US imperialism since its founding must also curate its profile in tune with the ‘woke’ attitudes of the general peers in western liberal societies. It must be able to show how it too “embraces diversity.” The CIA’s woke moral profile, as Moeller rightly depicts, provides a “moral whitewashing” which “moralizes that which is immoral.”
Like the CIA commercial, Moeller and D’Ambrosio argue that companies must participate in profile curation, given that “in profilic capitalism, profiles rather than products have become the primary source of profit, and this is what capitalists care about most.” The speed at which the major companies in the West share #BLM during the 2020 protests, the pride flag in June, the #StandwithUkraine in the last few months, etc., shows how necessary participating in profilic morality is for companies today. However, Moeller and D’Ambrosio’s analysis of the relation of profilicity and capitalism is incomplete, for it omits an explanation of how profilicity relates to the central characteristics which make today’s capitalism a capitalist imperialism.
In the context of capitalist imperialism, Marius Trotter’s article on the “Rise of Woke Empire” fills in some of the gaps in Moeller’s analysis of the wokeism civil religion, and by extension, the gaps present in how Moeller and D’Ambrosio’s text observes the connection of capitalism and profilicity. In his article, Trotter argues that wokeism represents the new form in which “the United States will justify the right to dominate the world,” given that its “progressive cultural liberalism” will afford it the “moral superiority” to do so.” CIA “coups would now be about deconstructing white supremacy and heteropatriarchy.” Trotter nicely adds,
Facing a rising China and a resurgent Russia, the American ruling class needs a moralizing crusade to motivate its counter offensive against its enemies, both at home and abroad. Under the banners of Black Lives Matter, multi-colored Pride flags and trumpets announcing the correct gender pronouns, the guns of the American Empire will spread the creed of Woke Empire.
It cannot go without notice that each ‘regime change’ attempt the US empire has waged over the last few years has sought to manufacture consent through woke profilic morality: Venezuela must be overthrown because Maduro is a dictator who oppresses his people and the LGBTQ community; Cuba must be overthrown because it is totalitarian and represses black and POC artists; a new cold war must be waged against China because it is committing a genocide against its Muslim Uyghur minority; Putin must be overthrown because he is anti-LGBTQ; the list can go on to include all countries which challenge, in various ways, the hegemony of US/NATO imperialism. Some claims, of course, are more factual than others. It is usually the case that the accusations made against socialist countries carry as much legitimate evidence as one could provide for Santa’s existence.
The hypocrisy of these condemnations is also clear to all familiar with the racist, sexist, and homophobic history of the US; a history often intertwined with the ruling class and state’s ardent anti-communism. However, the hypocrisy and the falsity of the allegations are beyond the scope of the analysis I seek to provide here. The point is that none of these ‘woke’ legitimations of imperialist narratives and ends are isolated; wokeism has developed as a necessary component of imperialist propaganda, it is today an essential element of the empire’s profilic morality, and hence, a key ideological foundation to attain and retain legitimacy. Today the moral crusade of woke imperialism masquerades as liberatory the most exploitative, oppressive, and environmentally destructive order humanity has seen.
However, it is essential to emphasize that attacking imperialist wokeism does not equate to an attack on the civil rights struggles for oppressed minorities or even an attack on their seeking of ‘recognition’ in bourgeois society. Communists have always been at the forefront of the struggles against racism, sexism, national chauvinism, and all other forms of bigotry. I am not condemning these struggles in the least bit, on the contrary, these are central to the struggle for socialism. However, the essential role wokeism is playing for imperialist propaganda is a truth we must tarry with. We cannot ignore this or label all who bring it up in a comradely manner ‘bigots.’ This ‘stick your head in the sand’ strategy is useless in the struggle for socialism. There is an objective contradiction here that we must study concretely, and on the basis of a concrete investigation, decide what are the best ways to overcome it.
There is no magic 8-ball which gives us answers to how current contradictions will be overcome in the future. However, the central and decisive role the class struggle should have in our political practice and theory cannot be forgotten. All that shines is not gold, and all that screams ‘liberation’ is not liberatory. As the Marxist tradition demonstrates, the struggles of oppressed and marginalized communities have not only been intertwined with the producing classes’ struggles against the dominant economic power, but have themselves – as Domenico Losurdo eloquently notes – been class struggles.
Nonetheless, these struggles are qualitatively different from the astroturfed ‘struggles’ fabricated by the US and NATO to gloss their conquest of resources, markets, labor, etc., with the ‘woke’ profilic ethic needed to legitimatize imperialist expansion today. If we are unable to comprehend the dialectical relation of form and content, we will constantly be fooled by an empire which provides the form of liberation devoid of liberatory content, and which uses this form to perpetuate the social order which requires liberation in the first place.
The purity fetish Marxists of the West (as I have called it in my previous work), lack the dialectical materialist analysis needed to see through these imperialist narratives. Hence, their left-wing anti-communism, grounded on both this theoretical deficiency and on the fact that, as Vijay Prashad has said, they “live on the other side of imperialism,” puts them at the forefront of these imperialist narratives, and leads them to be the vanguard of a left-wing delegitimation of socialist and anti-imperialist projects in the global south and east. This is the ‘compatible’ left for Western capitalist-imperialism, and, as the work of Gabriel Rockhill on the global theory industry has shown, has been greatly funded and legitimized by the institutions of the capitalist-imperialism they fraudulently claim to be against.
Today critique of imperialism necessitates a critique of the woke legitimations of imperialism; and just like we cannot allow the critique of woke imperialism to metamorphize into right-wing criticism of the struggle of oppressed and marginalized communities, neither can we let the tokenization of these struggles by the imperialist propaganda machine fool us into supporting their agenda of death and destruction.
2- The Artificial General Peer – A Tale of Bots: The Case of Bolivia
Besides the role profilic morality plays as a tool of imperialism, there are other forms in which profilicity can serve imperialism. As we noted above, the reactions of the general peer to contemporary events influences, through social validation feedback loops, how profiles are curated, and hence, how identity is formed. When posts which favor one interpretation of a specific contemporary event begin to spread, like wildfire, it creates the conditions for its further proliferation. How people will interpret that contemporary event will be mediated by the sorts of reactions they observe from the reactions their general peer has had to what has been posted – this is how second-order observation functions. Since morality under conditions of profilicity is determined by what is posted, that is, what you have put on your profile, to be ‘moral’ one is forced to put up content in line with the interpretation of the general peer.
However, if one is able to artificially manipulate the general peer to favor one or another interpretation of a specific contemporary event, then one contains in their hand the torch which decides which forests are worthy of fires, that is, which narratives will dominate the general peer, and hence, which view will hegemonize. And given that, as Lenin described, there is a “personal link-up” of monopoly capital and the government, the Silicon Valley monopolists which control the platforms on which profilicity takes place allow this narrative torch to be used at will by the state and the monopolist interests which it represents. Effectively, this means that the general peer which people are seeking validation from is freely manipulatable to serve the interests of capitalist imperialism, and further, guaranteed to never let any dissenting ideas hegemonize. With bots the empire accomplishes the former, and if the bots fail and dissenting views arise, by censoring the key voices of dissent it accomplishes the latter.
In 2005, the Movement Towards Socialism Party (MAS) in Bolivia achieved a historic victory, bringing to power a plurinational, indigenist, and socialist party headed by the person who would become the countries’ first indigenous president, the trade unionist Evo Morales. Within three years of its arrival to power, the MAS was promulgating a new constitution assuring that it had “left the colonial, republican and neo-liberal State in the past;” adding that they are forming,
A State based on respect and equality for all, on principles of sovereignty, dignity, interdependence, solidarity, harmony, and equity in the distribution and redistribution of the social wealth, where the search for a good life predominates; based on respect for the economic, social, juridical, political and cultural pluralism of the inhabitants of this land; and on collective coexistence with access to water, work, education, health and housing for all.
The MAS fulfilled its constitutional promises, since 2006 “Bolivia’s real per capita GDP has grown at two times the rate for Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC).” Given the socialist character of the growth, centered on “state-led industrialization under five-year development plan[s],” it slashed poverty by more than half; increased life expectancy by nine years; increased wages fivefold; cut unemployment in half (making it the lowest in the region); abolished illiteracy; reduced infant mortality by 56%; underwent the construction of a universal health system which “guarantee[d] that 100 percent of Bolivians [could] access free, dignified service;” it implemented state-owned banks and financial service measures to remove the previous decade’s neoliberalizations; it nationalized the countries’ natural gas and other key industries and resources, using the revenues from these and other mixed industries to fund public projects and infrastructure, creating more than 670 thousand jobs in the process. The list of achievements can continue, but this should provide a good idea of how the socialist transformation of the country released it from the hands of imperialism and allowed it to invest in its people and the all-round betterment of their living conditions.
Nonetheless, the president and revolutionary movement which held an 80% approval rating amongst the Bolivian masses was challenged in the 2019 election on allegations of “irregularities” and “fraud” by the OAS Department of Electoral Cooperation and Observation. These allegations, which were challenged by the Center for Economic and Policy Research and which have been confirmed by MIT scientists and others to be false, nevertheless did their damage. Soon after, the electoral minority opposition, united with “the chiefs of police and the armed forces,” demanded the “immediate resignation of Morales.” As Vijay Prashad reports, “had the military stayed neutral… Morales might have remained in power,” however, “General Williams Kaliman, who was trained by the US military, asked Morales to step down.” “It was,” as Prashad notes, “less a request than a demand. Morales had no choice. He had to resign.” The White House promoted and praised this, stating that “Morales’s departure preserves democracy and paves the way for the Bolivian people to have their voices heard.”
“Hours after the resignation of Morales,” as Tathagatan Ravindran reported, “masked men removed the wiphala, the flag of indigenous self-determination from the top of the presidential palace and burnt it.” The far-right had officially come to power. Jeanine Áñez, “which only won around 4% of the votes in the country in the 2019 elections,” proclaimed herself interim president. From one day to the next, the US backed coup removed the successful socialist indigenous president and implemented a fundamentalist racist which called “indigenous religious practices ‘satanic’” and which warned against allowing the “savages” to return to power. The month of the coup was marked not just by the persecution of MAS party leaders, but by the brutal killings of civilians protesting against the coup. As Harvard Law reports, the month after the coup was “the second-deadliest month in terms of civilian deaths committed by state forces since Bolivia became a democracy nearly 40 years ago.”
The reasons for the coup were obvious. As the Country Commercial Guide (CCG) from the US embassy in Bolivia states,
Bolivia is rich in non-renewable natural resources. Mining and hydrocarbons are some of Bolivia’s largest export sectors, and there is still room to grow. In addition to presently mined minerals such as zinc, silver, lead, and tin, Bolivia boasts significant lithium deposits, which remain mostly unexploited.
This wealth of resources was no longer up for grabs by US monopolies. The US State Department was open about this, stating in their 2019 Investment Climate Statements on Bolivia that “to comply with the 2009 Constitution… Bolivia abrogated the Bilateral Investment Treaties (BIT) it signed with the U.S. and a number of other countries.” BIT, as Yanis Iqbal states,
Is a form of international law that creates legally enforceable rights and entitlements for foreign investors. Under the international system of investor protection created by BITs, private investors can sue for damages while citizens of host states have no way to take direct action. Therefore, BITs are legal instruments of capitalist power consolidation.
As Lenin had already foreseen, under conditions of capitalist-imperialism “the more strongly the shortage of raw materials is felt, the more intense the competition and the hunt for sources of raw materials throughout the whole world.” In this context, as Iqbal states, “it is evident that American businesses were salivating at the prospect of accessing [Bolivia’s] lucrative natural resources and the only barrier to this was socialism.” As the owner of the electric car monopoly Tesla (who would greatly benefit from access to Bolivia’s lithium) shows, Elon Musk’s salivation over the coup in Bolivia reached the point where, like a dog waiting for its owner to serve their food, he barked desperately on Twitter that “we will coup whoever we want.”
A plethora of factors were behind the coup’s success – from repressive state apparatuses such as the police and military, to ideological state apparatuses such as the OAS, whose role in calling the election fraudulent set the justification down for the coup. Amongst the ideological apparatuses which provided the space to manufacture consent for the coup were social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter.
For instance, the head of social networks at Unidas Podemos, Julián Macías Tovar, showed how “more than 68,000 fake accounts were created on Twitter to support the coup in Bolivia.” Within days the accounts of far-right opposition leaders Luis Fernando Camacho and Jeanine Áñez exploded in following. As Tovar notes, “Camacho’s account in just a few days went from having 2,000 followers to almost 130,000, of which 50,000 are accounts created during the first two weeks of November,” likewise, Áñez’s account “went from 8,000 followers to 150,000, more than 41,000 of those accounts were created in the last 15 days.” Tovar adds that “in addition to following [the] coup plotters so that they have more followers and notoriety, [these accounts] also make RTs [retweets], comments and interact with other comments to place them in the high trending level.”
On Facebook the infamous CLS Strategies, a US PR firm which runs, as Ben Norton showed, “industrial grade propaganda operations on social media,” made “55 fake accounts and 42 pages, along with 36 Instagram profiles” promoting Áñez, Camacho, and regime change propaganda. A total of “509,000 unique accounts followed” these pages, liking, sharing, and boosting their content. Although the narratives these fake accounts shared were the same, to broaden their reach, the angles they would present the narratives from varied. For instance, one of CLS’s accounts was a page called “MAS for Bolivia” which “sought to drive a wedge between Bolivians who had previously voted for the Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) party and the former President Evo Morales.” Effectively, they worked to manipulate as many broad and diverse general peers as possible towards the same imperialist narrative.
The imperialist usage of bots and fake accounts engender an artificial general peer which functions as the condition for the possibility of imperialism’s control of a real one. This is because, at a certain nodal point, when the fake accounts and booster bots make something trend, the artificiality of the general peer’s reaction loses its artificial character, a real-people composed general peer picks up the baton from there and glazes the reaction with an ‘organic’ and ‘spontaneous’ vestment. In the age of profilicity, imperialism’s ability to control general peers is an indispensable tool for the attainment of its ends.
Regardless of how powerful the armed forces of an empire are, if it is not able to hegemonize the discourse on historical and contemporary events, its legitimacy – both nationally and internationally – will totter and make it susceptible to being overthrown. Firms like CLS Strategies, along with the complicit Silicon Valley social media monopolies, function as indispensable tools of capitalist-imperialism in the age of profilicity. At a time when identity is constructed through the curation of profiles mediated by second-order observation and general peer powered social validation feedback loops, the ability to manipulate general peers amounts to the unprecedented capacity of capital and the state to control what people think.
Additionally, the abstract character of this general peer conceals the manipulation itself. People construct their profile identities on the basis of how they would like to be seen as being seen, but the general peer doing the seeing has its eyes filtered through parental control imperialist glasses. How an event will be seen is determined by them – fake accounts will be made and boosted, dissenting accounts will be censored. This condition is depicted well in an old Soviet joke where a Russian and an American diplomat meet: the American asks “what are you here for,” the Russian replies “to learn about American propaganda techniques,” the American says, “what propaganda,” and the Russian replies “exactly.”
A year after the coup, the MAS, led now by Luis Arce, would return to power in Bolivia. The revolution’s successes entrenched socialist consciousness deep in the masses, and no coup was going to remove them from the path of their revolutionary construction. Nonetheless, the hiccup presented a necessary learning experience, both for Bolivia and for the region, on how new profilic tactics are being mixed with the old tactics of imperialism.
A successful resistance to imperialism today requires an understanding of how profilicity is used to hegemonize imperialist narratives. Whether through profilic morality or through general peer manipulation, imperialism has adapted and expanded its tactics to guarantee success in the age of profilicity. To combat this, we must first study the defining features of today’s dominant identity technology – Moeller and D’Ambrosio’s text is essential for this. Then, we must take their analysis back into the world and concretely study the ways profilicity serves imperialism. Once the new tactics of capitalist-imperialism are grasped concretely, we are in a better position to struggle against it. However, we are ourselves bound by the age of profilicity, and how we can use profilicity to our advantage – in light of free-range imperialist censorship – is a monster question we must attempt to answer through our struggles in the decades to come.
Notes and References
 Hans Georg Moeller and Paul J. D’Ambriosio (2021), You and Your Profile: Identity After Authenticity, Columbia University Press. pp. 47.
 Ibid., pp. 10
 Ibid., pp. 12.
 Ibid., pp. 164.
 Ibid., 147.
 G. W. F. Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion Vol 2, Translated by Peter C. Hodgson, Oxford University Press., pp. 665.
 Moeller and D’Ambrosio, You and Your Profile., Ibid., pp. 13.
 Ibid., pp. 172.
 Hermann Hesse (1922), Siddhartha, Barnes and Nobles Classics (2007)., pp. 34.
 G. W. F. Hegel, The Science of Logic., Cambridge (2015)., pp. 358.
 Hesse, Siddhartha., pp. 106.
 Ibid., pp. 39
 Ibid., pp. 51.
 Ibid., pp. 55.
 Ibid., pp. 52.
 Ibid., pp. 225-6.
 V. I. Lenin, Collected Works Vol. 22. Progress Publishers (1974)., pp. 266-7.
 Moller and D’Ambrosio, You and Your Profile., pp. 108.
 Marius Trotter, “Rise of Woke Empire,” Midwestern Marx (January 03, 2022). Retrieved from: https://www.midwesternmarx.com/articles/rise-of-woke-empire-by-marius-trotter
 Class, of course, understood in a non-dogmatic sense, in line with the richness with which Marx, Engels, and Lenin understand it, and which Domenico Losurdo describes it in his text, Class Struggle.
 Carlos L. Garrido, “A Critique of Western Marxism’s Purity Fetish,” Midwestern Marx (October 13, 2021). Retrieved from: https://www.midwesternmarx.com/articles/a-critique-of-western-marxisms-purity-fetish-by-carlos-l-garrido
 See: Gabriel Rockhill, “Foucault, Anti-Communism, and the Global Theory Industry,” The Philosophical Salon (February 01, 2021). Retrieved from: https://thephilosophicalsalon.com/foucault-anti-communism-the-global-theory-industry-a-reply-to-critics/
 Lenin, CW Vol. 22., pp. 221.
 “Bolivia (Plurinational State of)'s Constitution of 2009,” Oxford University Press., pp. 3. Retrieved from: https://www.constituteproject.org/constitution/Bolivia_2009.pdf
 Yanis Iqbal, “Resurgence of Socialism in Bolivia,” Dissident Voice (October 28th, 2020).
 Yehenew Endegnanew and Dawit Tessema, “IMF Working Paper - Public Investment in Bolivia: Prospects and Implications,” International Monetary Fund (July 2019)., pp. 2. Retrieved from: file:///C:/Users/carli/Downloads/WPIEA2019151.pdf
 “Address by Mr. Evo Morales Ayma, Constitutional President of the Plurinational State of Bolivia,” United Nations General Assembly, Seventy-fourth session, 3rd plenary meeting (September 24, 2019)., pp. 37/60. Retrieved from: https://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N19/291/63/PDF/N1929163.pdf?OpenElement
 Natalya Naqvi, “Renationalizing finance for development: policy space and public economic control in Bolivia,” Review of International Political Economy, Volume 28, 2021 - Issue 3. https://doi.org/10.1080/09692290.2019.1696870
 “Nationalization Added 670,000 Jobs to Bolivia’s Economy: CELAG,” teleSUR (October 8th, 2019). Retrieved from: https://www.telesurenglish.net/news/Nationalization-Added-670000-Jobs-to-Bolivias-Economy-CELAG-20191008-0006.html
 “Evo Morales Receives 80 Percent Approval Rating,” teleSUR (July 27, 2014). Retrieved from: https://www.telesurenglish.net/news/Evo-Morales-Receives-80-Percent-Approval-Rating--20140727-0026.html
 “Did the OAS lie about Bolivia?,” CODEPINK. Retrieved from: https://www.codepink.org/did_the_oas_lie_about_bolivia and Mark Weisbrot, “The OAS Lied to the Public About the Bolivian Election and Coup,” Common Dreams (November 19th, 2019). Retrieved from: https://www.commondreams.org/views/2019/11/19/oas-lied-public-about-bolivian-election-and-coup
 Tathagatan Ravindran, “Neo-liberal Restoration at the Barrel of a Gun: Dissecting the Racist Coup in Bolivia,” Economic and Political Weekly (July 2020)., pp. 21.
 Vijay Prahsad (2020), Washington Bullets, LeftWord Books., pp. 166.
 Mark Weisbrot, “Silence reigns on the US-backed coup against Evo Morales in Bolivia,” The Guardian (September 18, 2020). Retrieved from: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/sep/18/silence-us-backed-coup-evo-morales-bolivia-american-states
 Tathagatan Ravindran, “Neo-liberal Restoration at the Barrel of a Gun: Dissecting the Racist Coup in Bolivia.,” pp. 21.
 Ibid., pp. 22.
 Mark Weisbrot, “Silence reigns on the US-backed coup against Evo Morales in Bolivia.”
 Fabiola Alvelais et. al., “Summary executions and widespread repression under Bolivia’s interim government reports rights advocates from Harvard and University Network for Human Rights,” Harvard Law Blog (July 27, 2020). Retrieved from: https://hrp.law.harvard.edu/press-releases/black-november-report/
 “Bolivia - Market Overview,” Export.Gov (July 12th, 2019). Retrieved from: https://www.export.gov/article?series=a0pt0000000PAtLAAW&type=Country_Commercial__kav
 “2019 Investment Climate Statements: Bolivia,” US Department of State. Retrieved from: https://www.state.gov/reports/2019-investment-climate-statements/bolivia/
 Iqbal, “Resurgence of Socialism in Bolivia.”
 Lenin, CW Vol. 22., pp. 260.
 Iqbal, “Resurgence of Socialism in Bolivia.”
 “‘We will coup whoever we want’: Elon Musk sparks online riot with quip about overthrow of Bolivia’s Evo Morales,” RT (July 25th, 2020). Retrieved from: https://www.rt.com/news/495820-musk-coup-bolivia-lithium-tesla/
 “Non-Existent Support: 68,000 Fake Twitter Accounts Supporting the Coup in Bolivia,” Orinoco Tribune, (November 27th, 2019). Retrieved from: https://orinocotribune.com/non-existent-support-68000-fake-twitter-accounts-supporting-the-coup-in-bolivia/
 Ben Norton, “U.S. govt-linked PR firm ran fake news networks for right-wing Latin American regimes,” The Grayzone (September 6th, 2020). Retrieved from: https://thegrayzone.com/2020/09/06/cls-strategies-facebook-propaganda-venezuela-bolivia/
 Although I have focused on Bolivia here, similar profilic tactics have been used in the empire’s attacks on Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua, and other anti-imperialist countries in the region. To read more on how these tactics have appeared in the attacks on Cuba check out my article “Anti-Government Protests in Cuba Provoked by U.S. Embargo Has Right-Wingers Salivating at the Prospect of Regime Change,” CovertAction Magazine (August 12th, 2021). https://covertactionmagazine.com/2021/08/12/anti-government-protests-in-cuba-provoked-by-u-s-embargo-has-right-wingers-salivating-at-the-prospect-of-regime-change/ and for more on how these tactics have been used in Venezuela, Nicaragua, Honduras, Mexico, etc. see Ben Norton, “U.S. govt-linked PR firm ran fake news networks for right-wing Latin American regimes,” The Grayzone (September 6th, 2020). Retrieved from: https://thegrayzone.com/2020/09/06/cls-strategies-facebook-propaganda-venezuela-bolivia/
Carlos L. Garrido is a Cuban American PhD student and instructor in philosophy at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale (with an M.A. in philosophy from the same institution). His research focuses include Marxism, Hegel, and early 19th century American socialism. His academic work has appeared in Critical Sociology, The Journal of American Socialist Studies, and Peace, Land, and Bread. Along with various editors from The Journal of American Socialist Studies, Carlos is currently working on a serial anthology of American socialism. His popular theoretical and political work has appeared in dozens of magazines around the world and in various languages, including Monthly Review Online, CovertAction Magazine, The International Magazine, The Marx-Engels Institute of Peru, Countercurrents, Janata Weekly, Hampton Institute, Orinoco Tribune, Workers Today, Delinking, Friends of Socialist China, Associazione Svizerra-Cuba, Arkansas Worker, Intervención y Coyuntura, Marxism-Leninism Today, and in Midwestern Marx, which he co-founded and where he serves as an editorial board member. As a political analyst with a focus on Latin America (esp. Cuba), he has appeared in dozens of radio and video interviews in the US and around the world.
Virtually all socialists today are direct descendants of the Second International of 1889 to 1914. Also known as the Socialist International, this movement grouped the greater part of the world’s organized working class under the banner of socialist revolution, and was viewed by capitalists everywhere as a threat to their existence. Yet relatively few twenty-first-century socialists know much about this organization’s history or what it represented.
For left-wing socialists in particular, the Second International is often associated almost exclusively with its betrayal of internationalism in 1914 at the start of the First World War. At that time the Second International suffered an ignominious collapse, as its leading parties abandoned socialist principles and gave open support to their respective governments’ war efforts.
The fact that the Second International was re-created in 1919 as a formation committed to maintaining the capitalist order, with a few reforms, has contributed to such an image. Not only did the post-1919 Second International oppose the Bolshevik-led revolution in Russia, but it worked energetically to suppress the revolutionary wave that engulfed much of Europe and Asia following the end of the war. Its social-democratic successors have largely continued along these lines up to the present day.
This image of the pre-1914 Second International helps explain the fact that prior to the publication of my book, Under the Socialist Banner, the resolutions of its nine congresses had never before been assembled and published in English. Some of these resolutions were virtually unknown. Many had been exceedingly difficult to even find.
While there are good reasons to reject what the Second International became after 1914, ignoring or downplaying its legacy is nevertheless a mistake. Doing so means turning one’s back on an important part of the socialist movement’s history and traditions. Moreover, it means ceding this legacy to social-democratic currents that have betrayed or distorted socialism’s message for over a century. The best of this legacy, however, legitimately belongs to revolutionary socialists. Understanding the Second International’s strengths, weaknesses, and contradictions can be of major benefit for the movement today.
Revolutionary origins and program
Through reading all the resolutions adopted by Second International congresses between 1889 and 1912, one conclusion is inescapable: these documents were guided, as a whole, by revolutionary Marxism.
While Second International congresses championed the fight for reforms in the interests of working people—the eight-hour day, state-sponsored insurance and pensions, public education, votes for women, the right to asylum, and other reform measures—they rejected the idea that capitalism as a system could be reformed. They called for the working class to take political power and expropriate the capitalist owners of the major industries. They insisted that the working class itself was the agent of its own emancipation.
Such a perspective was firmly established at the Second International’s founding congress in 1889 held in Paris by the Marxist wing of the workers’ movement. A rival congress was organized by reformist forces in France—the “Possibilists,” who held that working people should restrict themselves to fighting for what they considered possible under capitalism. From the very beginning the Second International therefore needed to counterpose a revolutionary program to a reformist one.
One resolution adopted by the 1889 congress summarized the revolutionary goal of the new movement—known at the time as Social Democracy—declaring “that the emancipation of labor and humanity cannot occur without the international action of the proletariat—organized in class-based parties—which seizes political power through the expropriation of the capitalist class and the social appropriation of the means of production.”1
One generally overlooked fact is the key role played by Frederick Engels in the Second International’s birth. As the lifelong collaborator of Karl Marx, Engels worked tirelessly on the organization and preparation of the Second International’s founding congress. He gave special attention to ensuring that it not compromise on programmatic questions with the Possibilists. While not opposed in principle to a united congress with them, he insisted that only a clear revolutionary program could lay the foundations for a successful international movement. Engels’s extensive correspondence with the congress organizers would fill a small volume.2
Through his work, Engels helped link the Second International back to the Communist Manifesto that he had co-authored with Marx forty years earlier. Until his death in 1895, Engels played an important advisory role in the world movement, helping to ensure that it maintained its perspective as an irreconcilable revolutionary opponent of capitalism.
Strengths and weaknesses
In the quarter century of its existence prior to World War I, the Second International had a number of important accomplishments to its credit. Among these were its efforts to unify the global working-class movement under the banner of Marxism and to popularize the movement’s strategic aim: the revolutionary overturn of the capitalist class and its replacement by the rule of the proletariat, as a first step toward the establishment of socialism.
Two dates on the calendar today owe their existence to the Second International: May Day, established at the movement’s founding congress in 1889 as a demonstration of working-class power around the world; and International Women’s Day, initiated in 1910 as a worldwide day of action for working women in the fight for full social and political rights.
The Second International showed the potential power of the organized working class and its capacity to remake society. By winning millions of working people to socialism and organizing them into the fight against capitalism, the Second International helped create the preconditions for successful revolutionary struggle.
But behind this real and potential power were significant weaknesses and contradictions.
One such weakness involved its geographic axis. Even though the Second International’s reach extended to many countries, it still remained predominantly a European and North American organization, and never became a truly world movement. While congress resolutions gave support to anticolonial struggles in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, most sections of the Second International still possessed an underappreciation of them.
Similarly, the International’s resolutions often lacked an adequate appreciation of the strategic allies the working class would need in its struggle—from toilers in the colonial world to working farmers and peasants, small shopkeepers, victims of national oppression, and others.
More importantly, even though congress resolutions formally called for the revolutionary replacement of capitalism, the Second International as a whole lacked a clear perspective on the role of revolutionary action in such a transformation. The relationship between reform and revolution was a constant point of friction and debate.
Gap between word and deed
Perhaps the biggest weakness of the Second International, however, was the gap that developed between word and deed.
During the early twentieth century, the day-to-day practice of most Social Democratic parties became increasingly dominated by a reformist and nonrevolutionary perspective, focused around winning incremental reforms and putting the perspective of socialist transformation off to the distant future. Within the trade unions—most of which were led by socialist parties—bureaucracies developed with a class-collaborationist outlook.
The consequences of this evolution were fully seen in 1914. In clear violation of numerous the Second International resolutions, the main parties of the Second International renounced their past pledges and lined up, one by one, behind their governments’ efforts in World War I. Millions of workers and others were sent to their deaths with the support of these parties.
It was precisely this gap between word and deed that revolutionary socialists at the time pointed to as the central problem of the Second International. The biggest critics of the betrayal of 1914, such as V. I. Lenin and Rosa Luxemburg, spoke of this gap in the sharpest terms.
In making these criticisms, however, Lenin and Luxemburg never renounced the resolutions the Second International had adopted. Quite the contrary. During the years of the First World War, they constantly referred to the best of these resolutions as a way of illustrating the extent to which the Second International’s majority leaders were violating these resolutions in practice.
When the Communist International was organized in 1919, it openly stated that its intention was to bridge the gap between word and deed. The manifesto of the Comintern’s First Congress, in fact, openly described itself as “the International of the deed.”3
Issues of relevance today
Most of the major questions facing socialists at the present time are not new, having come up previously in different forms and in other contexts. Many of the issues in the fight today nevertheless bear a similarity to what the Second International took up over a century ago:
Political power: Probably the single biggest thread running through the resolutions adopted at Second International congresses was that every major issue facing working people was inextricably tied to the question of political power, and the need to replace domination by capitalists and landlords with the rule of working people. A revolutionary transformation of the entire social order was necessary.
War and militarism: Workers need to oppose all imperialist wars, Second International resolutions asserted. Not an ounce of support should be extended to these ventures, they insisted. The fight against militarism and war, together with the entire war machine, is a key task, part of the overall working-class struggle.
Democratic rights: Resolutions adopted at international congresses stressed the centrality of political and democratic rights. They viewed these rights as tools in the revolutionary struggle, and pointed to why the working class has the biggest stake in the fight to win them.
Trade unions: Central importance was placed on unions, seeing them as the most basic organization to defend workers’ interests. The right to unionization needs to be defended, along with eliminating all restrictions on the exercise of union power.
Imperialism and colonialism: Colonial conquest and plunder of the Third World was seen as simply an extension of capitalist exploitation, according to the Second International’s adopted resolutions. Workers therefore need to actively support and champion the struggle for freedom by oppressed peoples fighting imperialist and colonialist domination, along with its racist justifications and rationalizations.
Immigration: The Second International’s resolution of 1907 pointed to the need to oppose all restrictions on the free immigration and emigration of workers, as well as to combat all forms of racist scapegoating. Immigrant workers should be viewed not as helpless victims but as allies and reinforcements in the struggle against capitalism.
Labor legislation: The fight for laws limiting working hours, regulating working conditions, banning child labor, mandating equal pay for equal work, and guaranteeing workers the right to organize was central to socialists in the Second International.
Public education and cultural advancement: As socialists recognized over a century ago, the right of public education is a conquest of the working class in the fight to advance society. Access to education—including higher education—must be available to all, free of charge.
Women’s emancipation: Multiple resolutions of the Second International addressed the oppression of women and how it is built into the very structure of capitalism. The fight against this oppression will play a central part in the overall revolutionary struggle, they pointed out.
As can be seen, adopted Second International resolutions from the pre-1914 period presented arevolutionary perspective on a number of questions that still remain before us today. While much has changed in the world, the Second International’s resolutions on these questions nevertheless retain their value and indicate an approach that twenty-first century socialists can learn from.
Why continuity matters
In today’s world, working people and youth confront numerous issues that will require intense struggle in the years ahead—battles over the consequences of climate change, over imperialist wars and war moves, abortion and women’s rights, racist police killings, the health care crisis, assaults on the rights of working people and unions, the threat from ultrarightist and fascist forces, and numerous other issues.
These struggles will pose both opportunities and challenges for socialists and all fighters for social change: How can we fight most effectively? What must be done to maximize our chances of success?
To answer these questions, a study of socialist legacy and continuity can be of major benefit. Doing so is not merely of interest to scholars and specialists. Rather, it relates to the most pressing day-to-day tasks of activists in the struggle.
Obviously the Second International of 1889 to 1912 cannot offer a guidebook for today. Nevertheless, by properly examining this movement in context, it can help point us in the right direction on many questions. The goal should be not to re-create the pre-1914 Second International, but rather to understand its strengths and its weaknesses, its accomplishments and its failings.
Today a new generation of young people and others are being won to socialism, having seen the dead end of capitalism and its threat to human existence. A challenge before these activists is to help situate themselves within the socialist tradition going back to the Communist Manifesto of Marx and Engels, through the major revolutions of the twentieth century, and continuing right up to the social movements of recent years.
By seriously studying the Second International’s tradition and legacy—without overlooking its contradictions and weaknesses—those coming to the socialist movement today can help find their place within the socialist movement’s proud history, and its fight for a revolutionary transformation of society.
Mike Taber is editor of 'Under the Socialist Banner: Resolutions of the Second International 1889-1912' (Haymarket Books, 2021). He has edited and prepared numerous books on the history of the revolutionary and working-class movements—from collections of documents of the Communist International under Lenin to works by Malcolm X, Che Guevara, and other leaders of the Cuban Revolution.
This article was republished from MRonline.
In our neoliberal times, the figure of the commodity has come to dominate all aspects of social life, giving rise to a form of turbo-consumerism. This is a result of the economic logic of late-stage monopoly capitalism, which is afflicted with the problem of under-consumption – an abundance of production always runs up against saturated consumption and investment markets. In order to absorb potential economic surplus and preempt excess capacity, “business interests,” writes Mary V. Wrenn, “must continuously search for new markets to exploit or entice existing customers who stand ready to buy the latest product, iteration, or service, and to induce new investment.” This expansion of market shares and reach is done through “marketing efforts: research and development of new, marginally improved, or slightly more specialized products; packaging and re-packaging design and materials; and general promotional efforts such as advertising campaigns, public relations events, and consumer relationship management”.
The structurally entrenched presence of commodity culture relies on aesthetic promises of use-value that autonomize the image of the commodity, detaching its “surface, sensuality and meaning in a way that its aesthetic ‘second skin’ becomes completely disembodied and ‘drifts unencumbered like a multi-colored spirit of the commodity into every household, preparing the way for the real distribution of the commodity’.” Corporate honchos flood our phenomenological experience with these aesthetic abstractions, preventing us from seeing the commodity as it is steadily made omnipresent throughout all areas of society. With the help of its economic power, the bourgeoisie mechanically produces and reproduces the commodity at multiple levels of reality and representation, manufacturing what Guy Debord calls a “spectacle”: “The Spectacle is not a collection of images; rather it is a social relationship between people that is mediated by images”.
By emphasizing that the bourgeoisie’s basic operations consist of the mediation of society through commodity-images, Debord points towards the ontologically distorted nature of capitalist accumulation. In the words of Clayton Rosati, capitalist society is “trapped in the particular mediation of social intercourse by images of its own production…we are not trapped by just any images or distractions; the enslavement of society by images describes the absolute compulsion to work, to acquire symbols, in order to return them to our masters for survival.” Thus, the spectacle is rooted in the undemocratic nature of capitalist production, in which the producers have no substantive control over what is being produced, how it is being produced, or how the surplus is being distributed. This lack of human regulation means that the products of proletarian labour get appropriated by those who exercise authoritarian power over the labor process – they become the wealth of the capitalist owners. Commodities become an alien power, one that is used by the bourgeoisie to increase the misery and poverty of the working class.
The spectacle, insofar as it is embedded in the alienating effects of capitalism, presents the power of human capacities in a perverse and disempowering fashion. Debord notes: “The worker does not produce himself; he produces an independent power. The success of this production, its abundance, returns to the producer as an abundance of dispossession. All the time and space of his world become foreign to him with the accumulation of his alienated products. The spectacle is the map of this new world, a map which exactly covers its territory. The very powers which escaped us show themselves to us in all their force…The Spectacle grasped in its totality is both the result and the project of the existing mode of production. It is not a supplement to the real world, an additional decoration. It is the heart of the unrealism of the real society.” In other words, the spectacle has important effects on the political ontology of subalterns, disallowing them from seeing the commodity in a totalizing perspective, one that enables them to explore its socio-historical basis. In the absence of this denaturalizing viewpoint, the phenomenal experience of everyday life comes in conflict with the universal structuring principle of that life.
“We encounter a commodity,” comments Anna Kornbluh, “like a pair of sneakers or an iced latte, and the bounded contours of the object incline us to think that the object exists for its own sake, possessing intrinsic properties.” In this way, self-perception comes to be based on objectified and individuated reality, a reality wherein the structural-genetic preconditions and processual character of social facts are forgotten. “The shoes are cool; the latte is delicious. It is hard to hold in our head the thought that the coolness is the product of the labor of marketers, designers, seamstresses, and rubber harvesters, that the latte is the product of early rising baristas, ice-maker mechanics, and foreign farmers. This difficulty means that our experience is akin to constant, instantaneous encounter with free-floating chimeras: we see, use, and enjoy commodities without the ability to integrate them into the relational system that produces them.” This dissolution of the constitutive processes of social life into separated fragments greatly weakens the political capacities of proletarian subjectivity.
In opposition to the atomizing tendency of the commodity-form, we need to retrieve the viewpoint of totality. However, totality has to be regarded not as an affirmative category but a critical-experimental tool. This methodological approach has crucial political implications. Johan F. Hartle remarks that the integrative standpoint of totality “cannot simply be read as a matter of pure reflection – mirroring pre-given structures in consciousness, in scientific analysis”. The kind of structural interconnections implied by a totalizing viewpoint are “not pre-given by any kind of directly accessible empirical reality”. Given this fact, totality has to be aspired to and actively created, “in the concrete sense that it has to break with the already known reality of the habitualized knowledge of facts.” And such a break with the mundane oppressiveness of reality can only come through communist mutinies that boldly refuse to comply with the dazzling dictates of the commodity.
Yanis Iqbal is an independent researcher and freelance writer based in Aligarh, India and can be contacted at email@example.com. His articles have been published in the USA, UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India and several countries of Latin America.
Book Review: The Weather Makers: How Man is Changing the Climate and What it Means for Life on Earth-Tim Flannery. Reviewed By: Thomas Riggins (3/7)Read Now
For the last 8000 years the Earth's climate has been stable and Flannery says this period of time has been the most crucial in the long history of our species. It allowed us to develop agriculture and create the industrial civilization we now have. Agriculture is older than the "long summer" but it was "during this period that we acquired most of our major crops and domestic animals...."
A few hundred years ago, after the inventions of Newcomen and Watt (Newcomen engine and improved steam engine) coal was in great demand as a cheap fuel. Flannery points out that Edison, in 1882, opened the first electric light power station in New York City and it was powered by coal. Steam engines are no longer in vogue and today coal is more or less confined to the production of electric power (there is some use of it in home heating but oil is more likely here).
Oil is a major source of energy production these days, but by 1995 it began to look like we might run out of it. Cheap oil [under $40 a barrel] was becoming a thing of the past and while we were finding new oil at about the rate of 9.6 billion barrels a year we were using about 24 billion barrels.
Flannery reports that scientists estimate it takes 100 tons of ancient plant life to yield one gallon of gas. You can imagine the vast sizes of the prehistoric forests of the Carboniferous period [286-380 million years ago] which now rest under our feet in great pools of oil. Oil is ultimately nothing more than fossil sunlight, Flannery says. How much sunlight did it take to grow 100 tons of plant life in the Carboniferous period? It can be calculated. Flannery gives the figures for 1997. All the oil we consumed that year took 422 years of plant life to supply. In one year we consumed what it took 422 years "of blazing light from a Carboniferous sun" to produce.
Some of our resources are renewable and some are not. The oil in the ground is not renewable. As far as renewable resources are concerned, we are already using them up at a rate of 20% more "than the planet can sustainably provide." Flannery reminds us that in 1961 there were 3 billion of us on the planet and now we number 6 billion and growing. By 1986 we were using each year 100% of what the earth could reproduce for us in a sustainable manner. In that year we "reached Earth's carrying capacity." Every year since "we have been running the environmental equivalent of a budget deficit, which is sustained only by plundering our capital base."
Look at it this way. Our economy is tanking. Well so is the Earth. President Obama might have gotten us out of the financial crisis-- but the crisis we are putting the Earth through, by maintaining capitalism, may finish us off. The oceans are more and more polluted, the coral reefs are dying, the fisheries are on the verge of collapse, the rain forests are being cut down, the Arctic is melting, and the Japanese still want to hunt whales.
If we don't get rid of capitalism, capitalism will get rid of us. The capitalist countries, despite all the talk about doing something, have no intention of taking meaningful action. This is all due to CO2 and other greenhouse gases. Hey hey, ho, ho, oil and coal have got to go! [And natural gas too.]
There have been two important years in the last thirty that stand out as having heralded major changes due to greenhouse gases. One is 1976. Before that date the tropical Pacific often had a surface temperature that often dipped below 66.5 degrees F. Since then the temperature rarely gets below 77 degrees F. This changes wind currents in the atmosphere and the distribution of rain. One of the biggest such disturbances happened in 1998 which dried out much of Southeast Asia which lost around 25 million acres to fire (50% was of old rain forest). Flannery says 2 million additional acres were lost on Borneo alone. The climate of the world has never been the same since.
However, climate change is slower in tropical and temperate zones. It takes longer to reveal itself. At the poles, however, Flannery reveals, "climate change is occurring now at TWICE the rate seen anywhere else." This is why, by the way, we all have been reading about the plight of polar bears and penguins and have seen on TV the glaciers falling apart and crashing into the ocean. All this drama is on its way here too. It’s just a matter of time. It’s already hinted at by the increase in the amount and intensity of the fires on the west coast of the U.S., the flooding in the midwest, and the number of hurricanes coming our way.
Next Wednesday, Part Four
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.
A Lemming Leading the Lemmings: Slavoj Zizek and the Terminal Collapse of the Anti-War Left. By: Jonathan CookRead Now
Have you noticed how every major foreign policy crisis since the U.S. and U.K.’s invasion of Iraq in 2003 has peeled off another layer of the left into joining the pro-NATO, pro-war camp?
It is now hard to remember that many millions marched in the U.S. and Europe against the attack on Iraq. It sometimes feels like there is no one left who is not cheerleading the next wave of profits for the West’s military-industrial complex (usually referred to as the “defense industry” by those very same profiteers).
Washington learned a hard lesson from the unpopularity of its 2003 attack on Iraq aimed at controlling more of the Middle East’s oil reserves. Ordinary people do not like seeing the public coffers ransacked or suffering years of austerity, simply to line the pockets of Blackwater, Halliburton, and Raytheon. And all the more so when such a war is sold to them on the basis of a huge deception.
So since then, the U.S. has been repackaging its neocolonialism via proxy wars that are a much easier sell. There have been a succession of them: Libya, Syria, Yemen, Iran, Venezuela and now Ukraine. Each time, a few more leftists are lured into the camp of the war hawks by the West’s selfless, humanitarian instincts – promoted, of course, through the barrel of a Western-supplied arsenal. That process has reached its nadir with Ukraine.
I recently wrote about the paranoid ravings of celebrity “left-wing” journalist Paul Mason, who now sees the Kremlin’s hand behind any dissension from a full-throttle charge towards a nuclear face-off with Russia.
Behind the scenes, he has been sounding out Western intelligence agencies in a bid to covertly deplatform and demonetize any independent journalists who still dare to wonder whether arming Ukraine to the hilt or recruiting it into NATO – even though it shares a border that Russia views as existentially important – might not be an entirely wise use of taxpayers’ money.
It is not hard to imagine that Mason is representative of the wider thinking of establishment journalists, even those who claim to be on the left.
But I want to take on here a more serious proponent of this kind of ideology than the increasingly preposterous Mason. Because swelling kneejerk support for U.S. imperial wars – as long, of course, as Washington’s role is thinly disguised – is becoming ever more common among leftwing academics too.
The latest cheerleader for the military-industrial complex is Slavoj Zizek, the famed Slovenian philosopher and public intellectual whose work has gained him international prominence. His latest piece – published where else but The Guardian – is a morass of sloppy thinking, moral evasion and double speak. Which is why I think it is worth deconstructing. It encapsulates all the worst geostrategic misconceptions of Western intellectuals at the moment.
Zizek, who is supposedly an expert on ideology and propaganda, and has even written and starred in a couple of documentaries on the subject, seems now to be utterly blind to his own susceptibility to propaganda.
He starts, naturally enough, with a straw man: that those opposed to the West’s focus on arming Ukraine rather than using its considerable muscle to force Kyiv and Moscow to the negotiating table are in the wrong. Opposition to dragging out the war for as long as possible, however many Ukrainians and Russians die, with the aim of “weakening Russia”, as US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin wants; and opposition to leaving millions of people in poorer parts of the world to be plunged deeper into poverty or to starve is equated by Zizek to “pacifism.”
“Those who cling to pacifism in the face of the Russian attack on Ukraine remain caught in their own version of [John Lennon’s song] ‘Imagine’,” writes Zizek. But the only one dwelling in the world of the imaginary is Zizek and those who think like him.
The left’s mantra of “Stop the war!” can’t be reduced to kneejerk pacifism. It derives from a political and moral worldview. It opposes the militarism of competitive, resource-hungry nation-states. It opposes the war industries that not only destroy whole countries but risk global nuclear annihilation in advancing their interests. It opposes the profit motive for a war that has incentivised a global elite to continue investing in planet-wide rape and pillage rather than addressing a looming ecological catastrophe. All of that context is ignored in Zizek’s lengthy essay.
Instead, he prefers to take a detour into cod psychology, telling us that Russian president Vladimir Putin sees himself as Peter the Great. Putin will not be satisfied simply with regaining the parts of Ukraine that historically belonged to Russia and have always provided its navy with its only access to the Black Sea. No, the Russian president is hell-bent on global conquest. And Europe is next – or so Zizek argues.
Even if we naively take the rhetoric of embattled leaders at face value (remember those weapons of mass destruction Iraq’s Saddam Hussein supposedly had?), it is still a major stretch for Zizek to cite one speech by Putin as proof that the Russian leader wants his own version of the Third Reich.
Not least, we must address the glaring cognitive dissonance at the heart of the Western, NATO-inspired discourse on Ukraine, something Zizek refuses to do. How can Russia be so weak it has managed only to subdue small parts of Ukraine at great military cost, while it is at the same time a military superpower poised to take over the whole of Europe?
Zizek is horrified by Putin’s conceptual division of the world into those states that are sovereign and those that are colonized. Or as he quotes Putin observing: “Any country, any people, any ethnic group should ensure their sovereignty. Because there is no in-between, no intermediate state: either a country is sovereign, or it is a colony, no matter what the colonies are called.”
SOVEREIGN OR COLONIZED?
The famed philosopher reads this as proof that Russia wants as its colonies: “Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Finland, the Baltic states … and ultimately Europe itself”. But if he weren’t so blinded by NATO ideology, he might read Putin’s words in a quite different way. Isn’t Putin simply restating Washington realpolitik? The U.S., through NATO, is the real sovereign in Europe and is pushing its sovereignty ever closer to Russia’s borders.
Putin’s concern about Ukraine being colonized by the U.S. military-industrial complex is essentially the same as U.S. concerns in the 1960s about the Soviet Union filling Cuba with its nuclear missiles. Washington’s concern justified a confrontation that moved the world possibly the closest it has ever come to nuclear annihilation.
Both Russia and the U.S. are wedded to the idea of their own “spheres of influence”. It is just that the U.S. sphere now encircles the globe through many hundreds of overseas military bases. By contrast, the West cries to the heavens when Russia secures a single military base in Crimea.
We may not like the sentiments Putin is espousing, but they are not especially his. They are the reality of the framework of modern military power the West was intimately involved in creating. It was our centuries of colonialism – our greed and theft – that divided the world into the sovereign and the colonized. Putin is simply stating that Russia needs to act in ways that ensure it remains sovereign, rather than joining the colonized.
We may disagree with Putin’s perception of the threat posed by NATO, and the need to annex eastern Ukraine, but to pretend his speech means that he aims for world domination is nothing more than the regurgitation of a CIA talking point.
Zizek, of course, intersperses this silliness with more valid observations, like this one: “To insist on full sovereignty in the face of global warming is sheer madness since our very survival hinges on tight global cooperation.” Of course, it is madness. But why is this relevant to Putin and his supposed “imperial ambition”? Is there any major state on the planet – those in Europe, the United States, China, Brazil, Australia – that has avoided this madness, that is seeking genuine “tight global cooperation” to end the threat of climate breakdown.
No, our world is in the grip of terminal delusion, propelled ever closer to the precipice by capitalism’s requirement of endless economic growth on a finite planet. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is causing great ecological damage, but so are lots of other things – including NATO’s rationalization of ever-expanding military budgets.
But Zizek has the bit between his teeth. He now singles out Russia because it is maneuvering to exploit the consequences of global warming, such as new trade routes opened up by a thawing Arctic.
“Russia’s strategic plan is to profit from global warming: control the world’s main transport route, plus develop Siberia and control Ukraine,” he writes. “In this way, Russia will dominate so much food production that it will be able to blackmail the whole world.”
But what does he imagine? As we transform the world’s climate and its trade routes, as new parts of the world turn into deserts, as whole populations are forced to make migrations to different regions, does he think only Putin and Russia are jostling to avoid sinking below the rising sea waters. Does he presume the policy hawks in Washington, or their satraps in Europe, have missed all this and are simply putting their feet up? In reality, maneuvering on the international stage – what I have called elsewhere a brutal nation-state version of the children’s party game musical chairs – has been going on for decades.
Ukraine is the latest front in a long-running war for resource control on a dying planet. It is another battleground in the renewed great power game that the U.S. revived by expanding NATO across Eastern Europe in one pincer movement and then bolstered it with its wars and proxy wars across the Middle East. Where was the urge for “tight global cooperation” then? To perceive Ukraine as simply the victim of Putin’s “imperialism” requires turning a blind eye to everything that has occurred since the fall of the Soviet Union three decades ago.
Zizek gets to the heart of what should matter in his next, throw-away line:
Those who advocate less support for Ukraine and more pressure on it to negotiate, inclusive of accepting painful territorial renunciations, like to repeat that Ukraine simply cannot win the war against Russia. True, but I see exactly in this the greatness of Ukrainian resistance.”
Zizek briefly recognises the reality of Ukraine’s situation – that it cannot win, that Russia has a bigger, better-equipped army – but then deflects to the “greatness” of Ukraine’s defiance. Yes, it is glorious that Ukrainians are ready to die to defend their country’s sovereignty. But that is not the issue we in the West need to consider when Kyiv demands we arm its resistance.
The question of whether Ukrainians can win, or whether they will be slaughtered, is highly pertinent to deciding whether we in the West should help drag out the war, using Ukrainians as cannon fodder, to no purpose other than our being able to marvel as spectators at their heroism. Whether Ukrainians can win is also pertinent to the matter of how urgent it is to draw the war to a close so that millions don’t starve in Africa because of the loss of crops, the fall in exports and rocketing fuel prices. And arming a futile, if valiant, Ukrainian struggle against Russia to weaken Moscow must be judged in the context that we risk backing Russia into a geostrategic corner – as we have been doing for more than two decades – from which, we may surmise, Moscow could ultimately decide to extricate itself by resorting to nuclear weapons.
INTELLECTUAL CUL DE SAC
Having propelled himself into an intellectual cul de sac, Zizek switches tack. He suddenly changes the terms of the debate entirely. Having completely ignored the U.S. role in bringing us to this point, he now observes:
Not just Ukraine, Europe itself is becoming the place of the proxy war between [the] U.S. and Russia, which may well end up by a compromise between the two at Europe’s expense. There are only two ways for Europe to step out of this place: to play the game of neutrality – a short-cut to catastrophe – or to become an autonomous agent."
So, we are in a U.S. proxy war – one played out under the bogus auspices of NATO and its “defensive” expansion – but the solution to this problem for Europe is to gain its “autonomy” by …
Well, from everything Zizek has previously asserted in the piece, it seems such autonomy must be expressed by silently agreeing to the U.S. pumping Ukraine full of weapons to fight Russia in a proxy war that is really about weakening Russia rather than saving Ukraine. Only a world-renowned philosopher could bring us to such an intellectually and morally barren place.
The biggest problem for Zizek, it seems, isn’t the U.S. proxy war or Russian “imperialism”, it is the left’s disillusionment with the military industrial complex: “Their true message to Ukraine is: OK, you are victims of a brutal aggression, but do not rely on our arms because in this way you play into the hands of the industrial-military complex,” he writes.
But the concern here is not that Ukraine is playing into the arms of the war industries. It is that Western populations are being played by their leaders – and intellectuals like Zizek – so that they can be delivered, once again, into the arms of the military-industrial complex. The West’s war industries have precisely no interest in negotiations, which is why they are not taking place. It is also the reason why events over three decades have led us to a Russian invasion of Ukraine that most of Washington’s policy makers warned would happen if the U.S. continued to encroach on Russia’s “sphere of influence”.
The left’s message is that we are being conned yet again and that it is long past the time to start a debate. Those debates should have taken place when the U.S. broke its promise not to expand “one inch” beyond Germany. Or when NATO flirted with offering Ukraine membership 14 years ago. Or when the U.S. meddled in the ousting of the elected government of Ukraine in 2014. Or when Kyiv integrated neo-Nazi groups into the Ukrainian army and engaged in a civil war against the Russian parts of its own populace. Or when the U.S. and NATO allowed Kyiv – on the best interpretation – to ignore its obligations under the Minsk agreements with Russia.
None of those debates happened. Which is why a debate in the West is still needed now, at this terribly late stage. Only then might there be a hope that genuine negotiations can take place – before Ukraine is obliterated.
Having exhausted all his hollow preliminary arguments, we get to Zizek’s main beef. With the world polarizing around a sole military superpower, the U.S., and a sole economic superpower, China, Europe and Russia may be forced into each other’s arms in a “Eurasian” block that would swamp European values. For Zizek, that would lead to “fascism”. He writes: “At that point, the European legacy will be lost, and Europe will be de facto divided between an American and a Russian sphere of influence. In short, Europe itself will become the place of a war that seems to have no end.”
Let us set aside whether Europe – all of it, parts of it? – is really a bulwark against fascism, as Zizek assumes. How exactly is Europe to find its power, its sovereignty, in this battle between superpowers? What vehicle is Zizek proposing to guarantee Europe’s autonomy, and how does it differ from the NATO one that is – even Zizek now seems to be conceding – actually just a vassal of the U.S., there to enforce Washington’s global-spanning “sphere of influence” against Russia and China.
Faced with this problem, Zizek quickly retreats into mindless sloganeering: “One cannot be a leftist if one does not unequivocally stand behind Ukraine.” This Bushism – “You are either with us or with the terrorists” – really is as foolish as it sounds.
What does “unequivocal” mean here? Must we “unequivocally stand behind” all of Ukraine’s actions – even should, say, neo-Nazi elements of the Ukrainian military like the Azov Brigade carry out pogroms against the ethnic Russian communities living in Ukraine?
But even more seriously, what does it mean for Europeans to stand “unequivocally” behind Ukraine? Must we approve the supply of U.S. weapons, even though, as Zizek also concedes, Ukraine cannot win the war and is serving primarily as a proxy battleground?
Would “unequivocal support” not require us to pretend that Europe, rather than the U.S., is in charge of NATO policy? Would it not require too that we pretend NATO’s actions are defensive rather intimately tied to advancing the U.S. “sphere of influence” designed to weaken Russia?
And how can our participation in the U.S. ambition to weaken Russia not provoke greater fear in Russia for its future, greater militarism in Moscow, and ensure Europe becomes more of a battleground rather than less of one?
What does “unequivocal” support for Ukraine mean given that Zizek has agreed that the U.S. and Russia are fighting a proxy war, and that Europe is caught in the middle of it? Zizek’s answer is no answer at all. It is nothing more than evasion. It is the rationalization of unprincipled European inaction, of acting as a spectator while the U.S. continues to use Ukrainians as cannon fodder.
MUDDYING THE WATERS
After thoroughly muddying the waters on Ukraine, Zizek briefly seeks safer territory as he winds down his argument. He points out, two decades on, that George W. Bush was similarly a war criminal in invading Iraq, and notes the irony that Julian Assange is being extradited to the U.S. because Wikileaks helped expose those war crimes. To even things up, he makes a counter-demand on “those who oppose Russian invasion” that they fight for Assange’s release – and in doing so implicitly accuses the anti-war movement of supporting Russia’s invasion.
He then plunges straight back into sloganeering in his concluding paragraph: “Ukraine fights for global freedom, inclusive of the freedom of Russians themselves. That’s why the heart of every true Russian patriot beats for Ukraine.” Maybe he should try telling that to the thousands of ethnic Russian families mourning their loved ones killed by the civil war that began raging in eastern Ukraine long before Putin launched his invasion and supposedly initiated his campaign for world domination. Those kinds of Ukrainians may beg to differ, as may Russians worried about the safety and future of their ethnic kin in Ukraine.
As with most things in life, there are no easy answers for Ukraine. But Zizek’s warmongering dressed up as European enlightenment and humanitarianism is a particularly wretched example of the current climate of intellectual and moral vacuity. What we need from public thinkers like Zizek is a clear-sighted roadmap for how we move back from the precipice we are rushing, lemming-like, towards. Instead he is urging us on. A lemming leading the lemmings.
Jonathan Cook is a MintPress contributor. Cook won the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East (Pluto Press) and Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair (Zed Books). His website is www.jonathan-cook.net.
This article was republished from Mint Press News.
The fact that a handful of companies produce the majority of our food means that small disruptions will have big impacts. This time the impacts are borne by American babies.
It’s a tough time to be the parent of a newborn in the United States today. Not only is child care prohibitively expensive, but the cost of all things including baby products is rising, COVID-19 poses a threat to children too young to be vaccinated—and there has been a months-long shortage of baby formula.
The formula scarcity began when the COVID-19 pandemic led to a disruption of ingredient supply chains and transportation delays. Then, this past February, the Food and Drug Administration found that several leading brands produced by Abbott Laboratories were contaminated with dangerous bacteria leading to a recall and a temporary closure of Abbott’s main Michigan factory where government inspectors found “shocking” conditions. Then, just as the Michigan plant reopened, torrential flooding forced it to shut down again.
There is nothing more important to a parent than providing for their child, especially during the most vulnerable, early years of their child’s life. As a mother who was unable to breastfeed when my children were newborns, I relied on formula and remember once having to drive quite far to a store in a neighboring town because my local store was out of the brand I relied on and that my child was used to. It was a stressful experience, one that is a mild example of what millions of parents are feeling right now as they face store shelves emptied of formula.
The shortage has driven prices up—yay, capitalism! For a variety of systemic reasons that include economics, geography, and health, Black and Latino parents are disproportionately more likely to rely on formula feeding. To add to that, low-income parents of color are also disproportionately impacted by the formula shortage, as they may live in food deserts with fewer options for formula, and they may be unable to drive long distances to search other stores or pay premium prices for online shipping.
There is a simple reason why such a shortage has transpired: global capitalism and the food monopolies it has fostered. Although store shelves (when fully stocked) appear to offer a wide variety of baby formula products, some with different name brands, only two companies produce more than 70 percent of these products, at a small handful of factories: Abbott and Mead Johnson. A third company, Nestlé, produces about 12 percent.
Therefore, when Abbott shuttered its Michigan plant, that single closure affected a very significant portion of the nation’s stock of formula.
The U.S. government has encouraged this monopoly by choosing to buy formula for the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program from Abbott alone.
It’s the definition of putting all of one’s eggs in one basket. If that basket breaks, a shortage of eggs is inevitable.
And it’s not just baby formula. In the U.S. market, only three companies produce 81.7 percent of all baby food products; four companies produce 85.4 percent of all canned tuna; three companies make 80.3 percent of all chocolate; three companies make 78.5 percent of all pasta products; and so on.
Now, food prices overall are sharply rising this year as inflation hits grocery suppliers. In response, manufacturers are engaging in “shrinkflation,” a form of theft: shrinking their package sizes while maintaining the same price so as to dupe customers into believing they’re paying the same amount.
Meanwhile, big food manufacturers are reaping record profits, undermining claims that they’re simply passing on their higher costs to customers.
Decades ago, food policy analysts warned of the pitfalls of food monopolies, such as Vandana Shiva, author of the 2000 book Stolen Harvest: The Hijacking of the Global Food Supply, and Raj Patel, author of the 2007 book Stuffed and Starved: The Hidden Battle for the World Food System.
Both Shiva and Patel linked the profits of the world’s wealthiest food corporations to the plight of the world’s poorest farmers, and pointed out that in the relentless corporate drive to lower costs and maximize profits, food supply chains were consolidating and becoming more vulnerable to disruptions.
They also highlighted the folly of a global food supply chain relying on subsidized fossil-fuel-based global transportation systems that exacerbate climate change. The extreme flooding in Michigan that led to the closure of Abbott’s formula factory only two weeks after it reopened is a consequence of the carbon dioxide we’ve been pumping into the Earth’s atmosphere.
Advocacy organizations like Farm Action and Food and Water Watch have likewise been sounding the alarm about food monopolies for years. In late 2020, Farm Action released a report titled “The Food System: Concentration and Its Impacts” in which it drew attention to the growing monopoly power of food corporations. The report’s authors warned against the “concentration of ownership, wealth and power” in our food system, where “just a few companies dominate almost all aspects of food production.”
A year ago, Food and Water Watch did the same, warning the federal government in a report titled “Well-Fed: A Roadmap to a Sustainable Food System That Works For All” of the looming food crisis in the U.S., and saying that the only solution to creating a sustainable food future was to break up the corporate food monopolies. The organization recommended that the federal government ban the expansion of factory farms, place a moratorium on food corporate mergers, and invest in small, organic and sustainable farming systems.
On one end of the food chain there are starving farmers, and on the other end there are starving families—including babies. In the middle are a handful of fat cats—massive corporations like Abbott and Cargill—that keep getting fatter.
As is the case with most economic problems that can be traced back to corporate greed, the solutions are simple, and can be easily enacted if there is a political will to do so.
The Biden-Harris administration claims to understand the problem and the solution. For example, in a January 2022 fact sheet about the meat industry, the White House released its plan for “a Fairer, More Competitive, and More Resilient Meat and Poultry Supply Chain,” in which it acknowledged problems such as how “[f]our large meat-packing companies control 85 percent of the beef market.”
But the administration’s solutions to the problem of food monopolies did not even touch upon preventing mergers. Instead, it announced a toothless “portal” for “reporting concerns about potential violations of the competition laws.”
Representative Mark Pocan of Wisconsin has gone further than Biden, however, in sponsoring a new bill called the Food and Agribusiness Merger Moratorium and Antitrust Review Act of 2022, which would enact a moratorium on food industry mergers.
In the meantime, what are formula-feeding parents to do in order to feed their babies? Baby formula is a product that can be neither made at home nor watered down. Parents often search for the product that best suits their newborn’s sensitive digestive systems.
One mother, Laura Stewart, told the Associated Press how difficult it has been for her 10-month-old daughter to deal with switching to whatever brands are available: “She spits up more. She’s just more cranky. She is typically a very happy girl,” said Stewart. “When she has the right formula, she doesn’t spit up. She’s perfectly fine.”
Now that corporate food monopolies are impacting the most vulnerable human beings in our society—babies—will government take drastic measures to break them up?
Sonali Kolhatkar is the founder, host and executive producer of “Rising Up With Sonali,” a television and radio show that airs on Free Speech TV and Pacifica stations. She is a writing fellow for the Economy for All project at the Independent Media Institute.
This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.
This short book (155 pages) by John Monaghan and Peter Just from Oxford University Press is a really good introduction to this subject. Although it does not transcend a bourgeois worldview it will give you the needed information to cope with literature in this field.
The book cuts to the heart of a scientific discipline too many people shy away from as too difficult, remote, or bazaar. The book is part of an Oxford University series designed to make any subject matter easily accessible to anyone interested enough to read a short, very short, introductory text that will, nevertheless, give the reader a grasp of the main points of the subject under discussion along with excellent bibliographic references for further independent study. This volume will be a welcome addition to anyone's library on ‘Third World’ issues, or more importantly, on those of the ‘Fourth World’ of indigenous peoples restricted to the margins of the world imperialist system.
Anthropology deals, historically least, with the cultures and social institutions of pre-industrial, pre-state, and pre-literate peoples. This book is designed to provide an understanding as to how such societies function, and how they relate to, and are being destroyed by, the modern world system of imperialist globalization (my term, not the authors).
I suggest this book for all activists with no prior exposure to anthropology: the more we know about Third and Fourth World peoples, especially the indigenous peoples of Africa, Asia, the Americas and the Pacific islands, the more we can understand the scope of the struggle against imperialism and the way to win allies against a common enemy.
Social and Cultural Anthropology, useful as it is as an introduction to a complicated social science, is yet a product of the bourgeois US university system. I will outline some of the problems that Marxists must keep in mind while reading this book. First, you might not be getting the names of real persons and places in anthropology books. This is because anthropology is used by the US and other repressive governments to keep tabs on groups that may be a “problem.” Wounded Knees are still a daily occurrence for indigenous peoples, and the same US government which sponsored the original is tacitly behind the replicas throughout the world.
Second, the author’s discussion of “Cultural Relativism” is muddled and weak. They seem to confuse two different concepts: Different cultures have different values, and all cultural values are equal.
For example, the authors discuss the practice of female genital mutilation (they call it “female circumcision”) practiced by the Hofriyati people of the Northern Sudan. They say: ” We may find the consequences of such practices repellent, but we are hard pressed to find a moral basis for advocating its suppression that does not also violate the cultural autonomy of the Hofriyati. One wonders , ultimately, if it is logically possible to simultaneously subscribe to both the notion of universal human rights and a belief in the relativity of cultures.”
I remember being told in a carpet factory outlet in India that objection to children laboring sixteen hours a day in a factory was Western cultural inference with Indian traditions. I wonder when maximizing surplus value in factories became part of the Indian tradition. In any event, I refer the authors to another book in the Oxford series, Logic: A Very Short Introduction, for the resolution of their logical conundrum.
Third, the authors use a lot of “post-modern” terms, which they don’t define and are quite meaningless, such as the “post-industrial” West. Is the West also “post-pollution”?
There is an interesting section on Marxism and ‘’neoevolutionary anthropology’’ where the older categories of Morgan and Engels — savagery, barbarism, civilization — are replaced by the now more generally accepted “four basic patterns of human society”— namely, foraging societies, tribal societies, chiefdoms, and states.
This scheme is also the one used in a book previously reviewed here, Guns, Germs, and Steel, and both should be compared to The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State by Engels which was based on Henry Lewis Morgan’s Ancient Society.
Other subjects discussed in this book are religion as it relates to social structure, gender as defined in different cultures, and the “positive” side of relativism.
“When someone begins a peroration with the phrase ‘but of course it’s human nature to…’
start looking for the exit! Because what you are about to hear will most likely reflect the speaker’s most deeply held prejudices rather than the product of a genuine cross-cultural understanding. Every time anthropologists have attempted to generate universal rules governing human behavior, the rules have either been proven empirically wrong or are so trivial as to be uninteresting.”
I suggest this short book to anyone who has an interest in other cultures and peoples outside the ambit of “Western Civilization” — of course with the caveat any Marxist must keep in mind when reading a bourgeois, even a progressive bourgeois, work, namely to be en garde.
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.
On the Movimiento Revolucionario de Tupac Amaru
Along the west coast of South America lies the Republic of Peru whose fantastic mountains; kingdom of emerald in the Amazon; and its arid desert of Lima are called home to millions of nations of people, animals, and a plethora of coveted resources.
As a consequence of the latter, Peru had been a subject to Spanish colonization for nearly 300 years with the land pillaged along with centuries of genocide and enslavement of its people. Political domination of the Spanish lasted until the 19th century with the bourgeois revolutions of South America that led to wealthy criollo-rule, merely a republican form of Spanish monarchy. Due to the conditions of the Native, Black, peasantry, and working-class Peruvians, the writings of Jose Carlos Mariátegui, renowned as the father of Peruvian communism, resonated with the masses and contributed to the growth of prominent socialist parties including but not limited to the Partido Comunista de Perú and Partido Comunista del Perú-Marxista-Leninista. These two groups later developed into the two biggest communist insurgent groups in Peru, the Sendero Luminoso for the former and the Movimiento Revolucionario de Túpac Amaru for the latter. It was also during the decades of the communist uprising that the trafficking of cocaine from South America into the United States took the national stage on political debates in the United States. The US empire declared a “war on drugs” that set Draconian and punitive punishments for its users at home and set the justification for intervention abroad. The Peruvian and US governments facilitated the trafficking of drugs through Latin America while scapegoating communist groups as a measure of counter-insurgency, while the US funded right-wing dictatorships and death squads. This piece will explain the actions carried out by the Movimiento Revolucionario de Tupac Amaru through the CIA and the War on Drugs.
The Epoch of Primitive Communism
Pre-Columbian Peru was home to one of the largest empires in the world, the Incan empire. While class hierarchy existed, what Engels would later write about in The Origins of the Family, Private Property, and the State, the Inca’s had a practice called mita which refers to a collective labor system regardless of class status and the equity of the resources produced. In the 17th century, during the spread of the Spanish empire, Francisco Pizarro and the conquistadors slaughtered and destroyed Incan communities all through the lowlands of Peru and nearby areas. The Spanish brought enslaved people from western Africa to replace the rapidly dying native populations in the Peruvian lowlands to produce cash crops for the empire, while also using native labor and stealing gold for the crown and the Catholic Church. The Spanish also brought a new caste system during their colonization of Peru;
Españoles ranked as the most elite, peninsulares.
Criollos who were of Spanish descent born in the colonies. Mestizos were those who were Spanish and Native.
Mulattoes were those who were African and Spanish. Indios were those who were Native.
Negros were for those who were African, and Zambos.
The lowest on the colonizer’s system, were for those who were of Native and African descent (Gaughran Colonial Peru, the Caste System, and the “Purity” of Blood 1).
The Spanish had a process of systematically creating new races through miscegenation of the people they enslaved, called mestizaje. Berta Ares Queija wrote in “Mestizos, Mulattos, and Zambaigos” about the mestizaje in Peru, Ecuador, and Bolivia and brings attention to the miscegenation, especially, people with African origins. She wrote on a Peruvian quote “El que no tiene de Inga tiene de Mandinga”...“...y muchos tienen a la vez un tanto de Inga y un tanto de Mandinga” which means he who does not have Indian blood has African blood and many have a lot of both Indian and African blood. The Spanish caste system was born out of misogyny, racism, and religious imperialism but mostly explains the modern Peruvian racial demographics. 45% of Peru is native, majority being Quechua and Aymara, 37% are mestizo, 15% are white, and 3% being between Afro, Japanese, and/or Chinese Peruvian. However, it is believed the Afro-Peruvian population is about 10% of the population, as Afro Latinidad in Peru was formally recognized in 2017. The colonial history of Peru is key to understanding the particular conditions of the country that sparked decades of revolutionary struggle against capitalism, it serves to understand who were the oppressed and who were the oppressors.
As a result of racialized class systems, many along the bottom of the pyramid found themselves allied with the socialist movement.
The establishment of the MRTA followed the coup d’etat against President-General Velasco who nationalized Peruvian oil from the New Jersey Standard Oil Company, established Quechua, Aymara, and Spanish as Peru’s official languages; levied a much needed land reform and redistribution to the peasantry; and denounced U.S. imperialism into Peru and all of Latin America. President Velasco was ousted by the urban Peruvian bourgeoisie and replaced through another military coup by General Morales Bermudez (Bamat 130), a conservative and pro-capitalist president who adopted IMF policies which plundered the Peruvian economy (Taylor 3).
According to Maoism in the Andes by Lewis Taylor who gathered information through the words of Mercado of Sendero Luminoso, during the Bermudez administration “wages fell by 35%” while “prices rocketed by 221%”. The MRTA developed out of the remnants of several leftist organizations of Peru, as did Sendero Luminoso, but the two differed on execution, tendency, and organization. As for Sendero Luminoso, Chairman of the Peruvian Communist Party Abimael Guzman, better known as Gonzalo, developed a tendency known as Marxism-Leninism-Maoism which his party said mirrored the philosophies of the Chinese revolution and protracted people’s war with Mariáteguismo. In fact, in Mariátegui’s Seven Essays on the Peruvian Reality, which describes the socioeconomic conditions of the country being unique as a former Spanish colony, Mariátegui wrote “el Marxismo-Leninismo es el sendero luminoso del futuro” which means in English “Marxism-Leninism is the shining path of the future”, which inspired the name for the PCP’s newspaper. MRTA, on the other hand, saw the Chinese revolution as Marxism-Leninism applied to Chinese conditions that though are similar, not the conditions of Peru. MRTA had several departments in its overall organization that worked to tackle the Peruvian state such as its mass front groups, theoretical cadre, and armed forces. The MRTA had described itself as stuck between radicalizing the social democrats of the “legal left” and bringing dialectical materialism to the “dogmatic militarists of the Shining Path” (McCormick 7).
While being politically active for over a year and under different banners, the MRTA first gained international attention when the armed wing when it bombed the residence home to U.S. marines stationed in Lima, Peru. Through movement-building in cities like Lima and Trujillo but especially in the rural, extremely impoverished communities, the MRTA’s membership and sympathizers increased to cause alarm first through the intensity of the violence, the loss of private capital, and the level of support from Peruvians. While the MRTA and Sendero Luminoso were struggling against the Peruvian government, the real authority, as all three players knew, was the U.S. government. This is exemplified the CIA’s report on MRTA in 1991 stating that the MRTA had attacked U.S. spheres of influence 100 times.
In 1991, both Sendero Luminoso and the MRTA declared war on the United States, as reported in the CIA’s Terrorism Review of Anti-U.S. Terrorism in Latin America. Later that year, the CIA gathered information on the MRTA’s internationalism, finances, and intra-national affairs. The report said “the MRTA poses one of the most serious threats to U.S. interests in Latin America today”.
But while the Andes were organizing, U.S. and Peruvian capitalists collaborated on policies to crackdown on the indigenous insurgents.
During the 1880s into the 1950s, U.S. capitalists and pharmacists found the remarkable effects of the coca leaf, which is native to the Andes, of course all of which native Peruvians have already known of and been using for centuries. Paul Gootenburg’s Secret Ingredients: the Politics of U.S.-Peruvian 1915-1965 had quelled my skepticisms over rumors that Coca-Cola had previously used cocaine as its base ingredient. In fact, it was the coca leaf, the base for cocaine in the same way poppy seeds are the base for heroin, that was used in coca-cola which, slowly then, ended up developing into cocaine. Gootenburg wrote “in response to growing medicinal demands after 1884, Peru began busily exporting to the United States and Europe substantial quantities of dried coca-leaf-from the native plant Erythroxylon Coca” leading into the west’s discovery of the effects of cocaine. Afterwards, once criminalized and banned from the U.S., the United States sought to restrict the growing of coca plants by the Peruvian population also at the same time as the privatization of Peruvian lands while Maywood Chemical and Coca-Cola’s, both American companies, investments in Peru were at its height. One may infer that through corporations, the United States facilitated the trafficking of cocaine while criminalizing the Peruvian people for indulging in a cultural plant. As imperialists have done with the FARC, the FMLN, and in modern days the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, the stigma of being attached to the trafficking of drugs and being a Latin American leftist have become inseparable.
The tendency of leftist movements, as with Sendero Luminoso and the MRTA, are to organize and work with the indigenous and the peasantry in rural communities. In the case of Peru, many of the communities in the Cuzco state are underserved and under-developed, leading to a larger support for leftist activity. However, it is also with these native and oppressed groups that grow coca leaves, that the criminalization of their native plant was painted on their skin. Suzanna Reiss wrote in “We Sell Drugs: the Alchemy of U.S. Empire” how despite the U.S. being the top importer and retailer of coca-leaf products, after the prohibition of coca in the U.S., the empire had painted Peruvians, especially natives, as “cocaine addicts” which prompted further U.S. interventionism into Peruvian affairs. The trafficking of cocaine from Peru to the U.S. was pinned on Sendero Luminoso and the MRTA as means of self-financing by American “analysts” and became central in discrediting the efforts of socialism building in Peru to both Limeño and American audiences.
However as with the Iran-Contra Affair, the right-wing accusers of the MRTA had much more than blood on their hands.
In his A Language Older Than Words, Derrick Jensen interviewed former MRTA member, who is in exile in Germany, Isaac Velazco about the MRTA, the U.S., and Peruvians. From his research of the drug trade in Peru, Jensen shares that “in 1996, one hundred and sixty-nine kilos of cocaine were found in the presidential plane, one hundred and twenty kilos were found in one Peruvian warship, and sixty-two in another. Also that year, Demetrio Chavez Petaherrera...testified in a public hearing that since 1991 he’s been personally paying Peru’s drug-czar Vladimiro Montesinos (an ex-CIA informant)...$50,000 per month in exchange for information on United States Drug Enforcement Agency activities”. However, the U.S. imperialist machine still drew connections of cocaine trafficking to the leaders of the communist insurgency. Victor and Jorge Quispe Palomino, leaders of the Sendero Luminoso, had been declared by the U.S. Department of Treasury as narcotic traffickers.
As the War on Drugs grew, so did U.S. intervention in not only Peru, but all of Latin America. Today, there are roughly 800 U.S. military bases outside of U.S. territory, 76 of them are in Latin America with 8 in Peru (Lindsay-Poland 1). In 1992, Clifford Klaus wrote for the New York times under the headline “U.S. Will Assist Peru's Army in Fighting Cocaine and Rebels” sharing that the U.S. will be sending $10 million to the Peruvian government to “to help the Peruvian military fight drug traffickers and Maoist guerrillas involved in the cocaine trade” funding, training, and leading the Peruvian military in a war against its oppressed.
The Internal Armed Conflict in Peru took the lives of 69,000 Peruvians, mostly at the hands of the Peruvian state forces.
In the 1990 Peruvian election, the conditions of Peru dramatically changed with the victory of Alberto Fujimori, emerging from a political machine FREDEMO (Frente Democrático) that is pro-U.S. and pro-capitalist. It was with the reactionary military rule of Fujimori that the Peruvian internal conflict grew increasingly bloody. Grupo Colina was established by Fujimori that was an anti-communist death squad. This combined with millions in defense from the strongest country on the planet proved to be the prevailing threat to the communist insurgency.
Yet the MRTA continued to resist and in 1996 carried out their final major attack: the hostage crisis on the Japanese Embassy. Alberto Fujimori was of Japanese descent and had invited politicians in Japan to Peru to celebrate Japanese Emperor Akihito’s 63rd birthday when 14 members of the MRTA stormed the ambassador’s home and held high-level officials hostage for nearly four months. They treated the officials with relative compassion and once the standoff ended, members of the MRTA were murdered and mutilated in unmarked graves. The aunt of Nestor Cerpas, the leader of the MRTA, was arrested for attempting to honor his memory (Jensen 1).
In 2001, after rewriting the constitution and arranging a self-coup to manage a third term, Alberto Fujimori was arrested and sentenced to 25 years for crimes against humanity. He has two children, Keiko and Kenji Fujimori, who followed in his footsteps of high-level political status in Peru and in 2017, then-President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski gave a humanitarian pardon to Alberto Fujimori which resulted in his resignation with a 17% approval rating. Peru today is regarded as one of the most U.S. friendly countries in Latin America, however, this title was granted just before Brasil’s Bolsonaro ascended to power.
The story of the United States and capitalism in my family’s country is just a part of the larger narrative that is smaller nations losing their sovereignty to the will of larger nations. To the United States empire, the Global South exists for U.S. capital and its people are vessels of free labor. But as Peruvians, our blood is full of struggle and resistance that has been passed down from our ancestors. The conditions of Peru, despite the political climate, still invigor struggle among the masses. While the results of the Peruvian Internal Armed Conflict have resulted in reactionary politics, state sanctioned violence, and extreme state surveillance, the legacy of the communist insurgents inspires and continues to educate the internationalist socialist movement. As our people continue to resist, victory is but on the edge of the Peruvian tongue.
Kayla Popuchet is a Peruvian-American CUNY student studying Latin American and Eastern European History, analyzing these region's histories under a scientific socialist lens. She works as a NYC Housing Rights and Tenants Advocate, helping New York's most marginalized evade eviction. Kayla is also a member of the Party of Communists USA and the Progressive Center for a Pan-American Project.
This article was republished from Kayla Popuchet's Blog.
Francia Márquez (left) and Gustavo Petro (right) during a campaign activity. File photo: EuropaPress.
Caracas, June 20, 2022 (OrinocoTribune.com)—This Sunday, June 19, just a few minutes after the release of the latest quick count indicated that leftist Gustavo Petro would win Colombia’s presidential election, an avalanche of congratulatory messages inundated social media networks, particularly Twitter. Petro’s opponent, Rodolfo Hernández, conceded defeat, while Colombia’s outgoing President Iván Duque congratulated Petro.
“I congratulate Gustavo Petro and Francia Márquez for the historical victory in Colombia’s presidential elections,” wrote Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro on Twitter. “The will of the Colombian people was heard, who went out to defend the path towards democracy and peace. New times are coming for our brother country.”
On the same platform, Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel expressed his “fraternal congratulation to Gustavo Petro for his election as president of Colombia in a historical people’s victory. We reiterate our willingness to advance in the development of bilateral relations for the good of our peoples.”
Mexico’s President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) wrote a congratulatory message with a commentary on Colombian politics: “Gustavo Petro’s triumph is historic. Colombia’s conservatives have always been tenacious and tough. The writer José María Vargas Vila recounted that the dictators of his country ‘dipped their daggers in holy water before killing.'”
“In 1948,” added AMLO, “that same procedure caused the assassination of the great liberal leader Jorge Eliécer Gaitán. The people, inflamed by the crime, destroyed all public buildings in Bogotá and there were thousands of deaths, in a spontaneous and cruel popular revolution… Gabriel García Márquez wrote that his friend Wilfrido Mathieu warned him of what had happened and said: ‘This country was screwed.’ Today’s triumph may be the end of that curse and the dawn for that brotherly and worthy people. Congratulations.”
For his part, Chilean liberal President Gabriel Boric wrote: “I just spoke with Gustavo Petro to congratulate him for his victory in Colombia’s presidency alongside Francia Márquez. Happiness for Latin America! We will work together for the unity of our continent amid the challenges of a world that changes rapidly. We keep going forward!”
The Chilean president’s words contrasted with his statements during the failed Summit of the Americas organized by the White House in Los Angeles. In several media statements and speeches, the so-called leftist president accused Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela of human rights abuses. Meanwhile, Chile has brought its Mapuche land to the brink of civil war, with civil liberties suspended following violent incidents between police and Mapuche land defenders.
The president of Argentina, Alberto Fernández, wrote: “I’m filled with joy by the victory of Gustavo Petro and Francia Márquez at the conclusion of the electoral process in Colombia. I just finished transmitting my congratulations to the president elect, for the trust that the Colombian people have placed in him.”
Pedro Castillo, the troubled leftist president of Peru, posted a tweet stating: “I just called Gustavo Petro to congratulate him for his historic democratic victory in Colombia. We are united by a common feeling that seeks collective and social improvements along with the regional unity of our peoples. Brother Gustavo, always count on the support of Peru.”
“Congratulations to the Colombian people!” wrote Bolivia’s President Luis Arce. “Our congratulations to brother Gustavo Petro and sister Francia Márquez for their victory at the polls. Latin American unity strengthens. We join the party of all Colombians, Jallalla!”
Guillermo Lasso, the president of Ecuador—currently besieged by powerful Indigenous protests against his neoliberal policies—posted the following tweet: “I have congratulated Gustavo Petro by telephone for being elected president in our sister Republic of Colombia, and I remarked the will of our government to strengthen friendship and cooperation, prioritizing development and unity of our peoples.”
Xiomara Castro, Honduran president, wrote: “in the name of the Honduran people I congratulate the brave Colombian people for choosing the historical social change represented by president elect Gustavo Petro.
Former president of Brazil and leading candidate in its upcoming October presidential elections, Luis Ignacio Lula da Silva also wrote a congratulatory message on Twitter: “I warmly congratulate companions Gustavo Petro and Francia Márquez and all Colombian people for the important victory in this Sunday elections. I wish success to Petro in his government. His victory will strengthen democracy and progressive forces in Latin America.”
As of Sunday night, Jair Bolsonaro, the current president of Brazil, had not posted a congratulatory message to the next Colombian president. Similarly, the right-wing presidents of Uruguay, Luis Lacalle Pou, and Paraguay, Mario Abdo, had not posted congratulatory messages.
Evo Morales, Indigenous leader and former president of Bolivia, wrote: “We congratulate the people of Colombia, brother Gustavo Petro, brand new president elect, and sister Francia Márquez, first afro-descendent vice president in the history of that country, for their indisputable victory in the ballots. This is a victory for peace, truth, and dignity.”
The official voting results are yet to be announced, but Colombia’s electoral tradition relies heavily on quick count results, which gave Petro a lead of more than three percentage points over his opponent Rodolfo Hernández. Regional progressives breathed a collective sigh of relief following the admission of defeat by Hernández, a candidate who represented the continuation of the status quo. It was feared that Hernández would not go down without a fight.
Many analysts recognized the key role played by Petro’s running mate, Francia Márquez, due to her personal charisma and deep-rooted connection with social movements. Márquez likely represented the decisive factor for Petro’s victory, following two unsuccessful previous election runs by the center-left politician and former guerrilla fighter, now president elect of Colombia.
Special for Orinoco Tribune by staff
This article was republished from Orinoco Tribune.
Fate of Ukrainian Communist youth leaders unknown 100 days after their imprisonment. By: Steve SweeneyRead Now
Mikhail Kononovich, and his brother, Aleksander Kononovich, are activists with the Communist Youth Union of Ukraine. They were arrested by the Ukrainian government on accusations that they were Russian spies. | Photo via WFDY
Communists around the world have called for the redoubling of international solidarity efforts to free two young Ukrainian communists jailed by Kiev authorities in March. Mikhail and Aleksander Kononovich were hauled into custody by security forces soon after the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24.
Fears were raised that the pair—both prominent members of the Communist Party of Ukraine’s youth wing—could be executed.
They have been held for more than 100 days, the World Federation of Democratic Youth said, adding it feared they had been “brutally tortured by the reactionary Ukrainian regime.”
The Kononvich brothers are understood to have been accused of spying for Russia and Belarus, claims their supporters say are baseless.
The Leninist Communist Youth Union of Ukraine, which is led by Mikhail Kononovich, had led a campaign for a peaceful resolution to the Donbass conflict since 2014 as well as for severing Ukraine’s ties with NATO.
The WFDY has led the campaign for the release of the brothers and reiterated calls for their release.
“The suffering of the Kononovich comrades will be the responsibility of both the Ukrainian government and the imperialists of NATO, the European Union, and the United States, who support this criminal regime,” it said.
“We demand their immediate release and call for redoubled solidarity to stop the unjust kidnapping of comrades Mikhail and Aleksander Kononovich.”
The Communist Party of Ukraine was barred from standing in elections in the aftermath of the 2014 Maidan coup which ousted Ukraine’s elected government after it rejected an EU trade deal.
Communist symbols were banned and statues were taken down across the country, with many replaced by those of far-right nationalists, including those that collaborated with the Nazi Holocaust.
Steve Sweeney writes for Morning Star, the socialist daily newspaper published in Great Britain. He is also a People's Assembly National Committee member, patron of the Peace in Kurdistan campaign, and a proud trade unionist. Steve Sweeney escribe para Morning Star, el diario socialista publicado en Gran Bretaña. También es miembro del Comité Nacional de la Asamblea Popular, patrocinador de la campaña Paz en Kurdistán y un orgulloso sindicalista.
This article was republished from Peoples World.
President-elect Gustavo Petro celebrates victory with his vice presidential running mate, Francia Márquez. Photo: Mauricio Dueñas Castaneda/EFE.
What polls predicted in recent weeks has been fulfilled: Gustavo Petro is the president-elect of Colombia. The Historical Pact (PH) coalition achieved an unprecedented victory for a progressive political formation in a country undermined by the violence of a social and armed conflict spanning several decades.
Alongside Petro, the first Afro-Colombian woman from the working class to reach the vice presidency, Francia Márquez, brought in support from various grassroots sectors, including those that have been historically excluded from the political process.
This political ticket undoubtedly contrasts with the figures who have dominated Colombia’s government during 200 years of its republican history (after the separation from Gran Colombia), as Márquez referred to in her speech this Sunday, June 19.
In the first electoral round, on May 29, PH obtained 8.53 million votes (40.3% of the total). In the second round, this rose to 11.3 million (50.4%), an increase of about 2.75 million in its favor.
The League of Anticorruption Governors (LIGA) party, led by Rodolfo Hernández and Marelen Castillo, received 5.95 million votes in the first round (28.2% of the total). For the second round, this rose by 4.63 million to reach 10.58 million (47.3%).
The support of other candidates who did not advance to the second round was significant for Hernández and Castillo, yet was insufficient to reverse a very clear trend in favor of PH.
It should be noted that Uribismo in its entirety did not come out to vote in favor of LIGA, if we take into account that the Federico Gutiérrez-Rodrigo Lara duo had achieved 5.58 million votes in the first round. The apparent abstention by supporters of the Democratic Center and other parties allied with Uribismo paved the way for the victory of Petro and Márquez.
Voter turnout was 54.9% in the first round and 58.1% in the second.
PH strengthened its support while the Colombian establishment media, such as Revista Semana, clearly tried to cover the presidential campaign in a manner biased against Petro and Márquez.
Periphery and polarization
Another important fact to highlight lies in the high PH vote in the departments of the Pacific, the poorest areas of Colombia, where the population is victimized of a greater degree of narco-paramilitary violence, and where the “armed strike” of the Clan del Golfo occurred in early May.
In Chocó, PH received 81.9% of the vote, in Valle del Cauca 63.9%, in Cauca 79%, in Nariño 80.9%, in Putumayo 79.7%, and in Amazonas 54.6%.
In the departments of northern Colombia (Córdoba, Sucre, Bolívar, Atlántico, Magdalena, and La Guajira), PH obtained more than 60% of the votes, except in Cesar, where it received 53%. PH also achieved a high number of votes in Vaupés (74%) and Guainía (52.5%), in the southeast of the country. In Bogotá, it obtained 58.6%.
Map of Colombia according to the votes of the second presidential round (Photo: El País)
The image above is clear: where the Colombian right and extreme right have dominated, PH’s candidates did not make a dent, but there was great support for PH where social and armed conflict and criminal economies prevail, except in Antioquia, Arauca, Norte de Santander, Caquetá, and Guaviare.
This in itself reveals a polarized political landscape, which will lead to challenges due, in addition, to a fragmented Congress, in which PH will seek to seal alliances built during the electoral campaign.
Social and economic programs that PH intends to apply will most likely be counteracted by a parliament in which politicians of the traditional Colombian establishment stand out, affected by ideology as well as oligarchic and Uribista interests.
This polarization is only increased by the narratives deployed by hegemonic local media and the propaganda apparatus, which had already chosen their sides prior to the campaign—they had backed the opposition.
Petro-Márquez’s policies regarding historic violence and insecurity, tax issues, and the productive economy, among other issues, will be presented in a controversial light by the media and debated loudly in Congress, because the proposals of PH differ critically from government actions during the last two decades of Uribismo.
A crucial issue is that of compliance with the peace agreements signed in 2016, sabotaged by the presidency of Iván Duque and his political and media acolytes. In addition, the proposal to hold talks to end the armed conflict with the National Liberation Army (ELN), the main active guerrilla group, would complete a cycle of aspirations for peace and security that the opposing sides will not want to see resolved.
According to a report by the Peace and Reconciliation Foundation (Fundación Paz y Reconciliación, or PARES), 37% of Colombia is affected by the presence of armed groups, both guerrillas and narco-paramilitaries. Due to the “strengthening” and “expansion” of this in the last four years of the Uribista government, the challenge regarding peace and security in Colombia is of historical dimensions, after seven decades of conflict supported by the state.
In his speech as president-elect, Gustavo Petro emphasized a desire to carry out a “great national agreement” with various sectors to achieve significant progress in the social, economic, political, and environmental proposals of PH. In addition, he invited his political opponents to dialogue with PH. Medium and long-term reactions of his opponents remain to be seen.
International relations and the South American landscape
Petro had announced in advance that his government would resume relations with Venezuela, broken since 2019, in the diplomatic and commercial fields.
The initiative must come from the Casa de Nariño [the seat of Colombia’s presidency], since the government of Iván Duque destroyed all cooperation with Miraflores Palace due to Colombia’s support for the United States’ “Guaidó Project.”
Bogotá has been accused on multiple occasions of having collaborated in regime-change operations against the government of Nicolás Maduro, including the so-called Battle of the Bridges in 2019, and Operation Gideon in 2020. In addition, Colombian territory has served as a refuge and conspiracy headquarters for fugitives from Venezuelan justice escaping crimes related to politics, economy, and security, such as Julio Borges.
Therefore, PH has an immediate task that would change the way in which Colombia carries out its international relations.
However, the fact that Colombia has close ties with the foreign and military policy of the United States is not compatible with the high expectations held by some progressive sectors in Our America, regarding the new Colombian presidency. Although Petro and Márquez represent a left welcomed by other South American personalities of the same political-ideological tendency, such as Lula da Silva (Brazil), Luis Arce (Bolivia), and Xiomara Castro (Honduras), polarization and challenges to the governability of Colombia play a preponderant political role that cannot be underestimated.
The economic-financial-commercial, military, and geopolitical agreements between Bogotá and Washington cannot be damaged without there being a significant shakeup by the coming Petro administration, especially considering that Colombia is a NATO “global partner”—not to mention the interests of local groups that are openly in favor of good relations between the United States and Colombia.
The steps that the new administration will take regarding relations with Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela will be the turning point (if there is to be one) regarding PH’s foreign policy, in a scenario where it is intended to politically and ideologically isolate the core countries of ALBA-TCP, CELAC, and UNASUR as a different left (“the troika of tyranny,” as they were baptized by US warmonger John Bolton), distinct from the “new progressivism” represented by Alberto Fernández, Gabriel Boric and Gustavo Petro himself.
Misión Verdad is a Venezuelan investigative journalism website with a socialist perspective in defense of the Bolivarian Revolution
This article was republished from Orinoco Tribune. Translated by Orinoco Tribune.
The House January 6th Committee Hearings come at a very critical point in time, not just in regard to the future of American politics but also along the evolution of my personal political behaviors. During undergraduate I was one to keep C-SPAN on in the background while refreshing social media feeds, watching Senate filibusters and political commentators as if it were a sporting event. I know for certain that if I were still early in my studies, I would be eagerly watching the hearings out of excitement and fascination. However, today I watch the hearings out of anxiety, meticulously calculating what our future may hold.
The contents of the Hearings are not surprising to me, nor would they be to most who have been following along with the rise of fascism in the United States. It certainly is laid out clearly in front of us what transpired that day, yet we’re all too familiar with this violence and collaboration (especially those on the ground and actively involved in community events). The contents of the Hearings then are not what I am focused on. Rather, it is the result of these Hearings that are important to watch. I am not holding onto much hope that the results will push back against fascist forces and individuals, and I am especially fearful that individuals wielding power and status will face little to no consequences. That will be a massive blow to what little democracy exists in America today.
A lack of consequences for those who rallied far right groups and supported their efforts, both financially and politically, sends a clear message to fascists across America that only with slight delays and weak pushbacks can they utilize violence and suppression to intimidate opponents and popularize nationalistic tendencies across society. That with a disorganized left and an ineffective government, nationalistic groups are the means by which society’s economic and political concerns are resolved. Those of us on the left and engaged with our communities know the devastation and violence fascism will bring. It is then that this article is not a persuasive piece meant to change the minds on the left or shift the focus onto the current administration’s actions, but to motivate groups and organizations to come together and build a strong foundation for what the future may hold. We are in a period where left unity is not just a slogan, but a necessity for survival.
Notes on Fascism by Paul Sering
When examining the rise of Christian Nationalism in America, we can not only look at recent trends and sociopolitical conditions but also the past conditions of other nations that saw a rise in nationalism and far right rhetoric. What has been an interesting read in light of our current predicament is Paul Sering’s Notes on Fascism (title supplied by Irving Howe, editor of Essential Works of Socialism). In his writings, Sering discusses the blending of capitalism with imperialism that facilitates capital’s influence and inclusion in government’s decision making. This is certainly relevant to our current situation, but his observations on the rise of fascism in Germany and Italy deserve greater attention and review. Specifically, how has fascism’s social base given power to fascist political campaigns.
Sering notes that both Italian fascism and German National Socialism organized mass social movements that aided in their ascent to power. They appealed to a broad section of society, not just one specific class or group interest, through “three main slogans: nationalism; attack on parliamentary democracy; and struggle against the workers’ movement.” Both movements took advantage of the political and economic instability in their homelands, highlighting how ineffective and elitist government officials only worsened the economic conditions and created burdensome circumstances for businesses and family structures. The state needed to step in and eject all forces that appeared to actively subvert national and social stability. The failure to make substantial transformations and economic overhauls in the wake of a global depression gave fuel to fascists groups to exploit the frustration and suffering of the masses and direct their anger not towards the capitalists but towards the socialists and their allies.
Where 1920s Germany and Italy certainly differ from America is the fact that the former nations had not enshrined a long history and practice of democracy. Anti-democratic groups still held a strong foundation in the political arena and had stronger justifications for removing the newly implemented political system. This is not to say that fascism cannot happen here in America, but that the transformation into fascism in Germany and Italy may have been greatly facilitated by that lack of democratic history and engagement. However, fascists, both then and now, greatly used antisocialist tactics to mobilize the masses and oppose any efforts to dismantle capitalism and the power structure that benefited workers and marginalized communities.
Early fascist groups in Germany, as Sering writes, were more than just propaganda machines exploiting society’s despair. They were “terroristic fighting organizations with a centralized military structure, adapted for demonstrating their strength, intimidating their enemies, and taking over the state apparatus as soon as the party entered the government.” Fascists were able to back up their propaganda and speech through the organization and use of physical violence against groups it saw as weak or counter to their goals. We’ve seen bits and pieces of this in America but have started to witness a substantial growth in far-right militia groups, from the January 6th insurrection to the Proud Boys attempting to intimidate LGBT groups and Pride events. We cannot view these instances as isolated cases of far-right individuals and groups falling into a frenzy. We must acknowledge the formation and actions of these groups as an arm of fascism, eager to take part in the fascists’ plans to hijack government and societal control.
We must also remember that fascism and capitalism are intrinsically connected and benefit from one another’s existence, namely in the construction of socio-political hierarchies and suppression in workers’ movements and the rights of minorities. Profit and power with the ability to direct the masses in their preferred direction has been the goal of both fascism and capitalism. I certainly encourage others to read this section, as there is so much that can be learned from the rise of fascism in 1920s Europe and its comparison to today’s socio-political environment. But I will include Sering’s final remark, that the Marxian prophecy (that the alternative to socialism would be a decline into barbarism) “became terrible reality in the nihilism in the Third Reich. The wanderer between two worlds became a wanderer into nothingness.”
Midterm Elections and Beyond
Anyone engaged in American politics is aware of how telling Midterm Elections tend to be. We saw the Tea Party movement organize in 2009 ahead of the ’10 Midterms and the “Blue Wave” in 2018 in response to a Republican dominated government. It’s no secret that Biden is merely a temporary solution to Trump, although his election does little to nothing to address systemic issues and dismantle the failed economic system that is Capitalism. But the key thing to focus on is not what a Democrat or a Republican can do in office but how the makeup of political institutions reflects political thought in America. Midterms then serve as a litmus test for what we can expect in the following election, typically the election that sees the highest turnout. Certainly, one can get into the data and analyze the makeup of voters during the Midterms, especially in conservative states where Republican voters far exceed Democratic voters in turnout, but the success of nationalistic candidates in their primaries and general election should still serve as a warning of the power and influence of nationalistic rhetoric with American voters.
We can look at two different tactics utilized by each party. As I have touched on in my previous article “On Political Participation in Conservative States,” we’ve seen Democratic leadership support centrist and conservative incumbents over progressive challengers, with Henry Cuellar v. Jessica Cisneros being the most recent and obvious case. The justifications given by both party members and conservative Democrats vary, from minimizing intra-party conflicts to maintaining a big tent status to attract dissatisfied Republican voters. There is a prevailing assumption that regardless of what the Democrats do or don’t do, progressives and anyone left of center will vote for them. Paired with “Vote Blue No Matter Who” voices who shame anyone who does not vote Democrat, even if they are anti-choice and anti-worker, the mainstream Democratic Party has little reason to appease progressive concerns or allow greater progressive presence in leadership and decision-making. And no, Joe Biden, Barack Obama, and others may appear progressive to the average American voter (as moderate Democrats have claimed) but their policies have failed to reduce America’s imperialist nature or it’s harsh treatment of lower-class Americans. They offered bandages when we need surgery.
The Republican Party continues to feign concern and disappointment in public when asked about far right nationalistic candidates unless their actions are more costly to the Republican image than beneficial (as we saw with Madison Cawthorn). Certainly, the party has radicalized far beyond what we’ve seen in previous elections, at least outwardly. Republicans have continuously supported deregulation in an already underregulated capitalist economy and the promotion of going to war for the sake of “Democracy,” but the 2016 election has condoned the use of Christian Nationalism and even encouraged the formation of grassroots fascist groups for the sake of taking political power and minimizing any left leaning groups (or moderate conservatives for that matter). And Republican leaders have little to no desire to actively combat the rise of fascism, especially when this frenzy encourages a greater number of registered Republicans to turn out and vote them into power. It’s a fantastic fundraising tool and political weapon, but sooner or later it will backfire on anyone deemed sympathetic to the old guard and the state. Former Vice President Pence can certainly attest to that.
Given the declining popularity of Biden among the left and the lack of significant progress in socioeconomic conditions (low wages, high costs of health care, college, etc.) paired with the frenzy of far-right candidates calling for a return of Trump-era politics, the 2022 Midterm Election will be a bloodbath. Even in a best-case scenario, conservatives will certainly gain seats in the House of Representatives. But the composition of Congress in 2022 and 2024 is insignificant to what a surge of Christian Nationalist politicians entails. It emboldens nationalists to continue their efforts, it signals to them that political offices and the means of exercising power is within their reach. And their elected representatives do not have to lift a finger, what with blaming the “Deep State” and “RINOs” for any difficulties or inabilities to get policies passed. A hallmark of fascism is that enemies are both formidable and all knowing yet weak and unintelligent. It’s endless fuel for an extremist campaign.
As long as we maintain a two-party system in American politics that profits off of reactionary movements and leadership that heavily sways elections, meaningful reform is near impossible. We may navigate the American political system and pass relief and some reform that benefits working class Americans, but it is incorrect to assume that at this point in time we are able to make significant political transformations through the system itself. There are too many safeguards in place that uphold the capitalist system and too much of the American public see elections as the primary method for any form of reform or change. We must encourage class consciousness, awareness of the limitations of our current political system, and the formation of mutual aid and support networks.
Importance of Left Unity
Anyone participating in leftist spaces, especially online, is aware of the divisions within American leftist groups on specific policies, tactics, positions, and management. And this is not a new phenomenon. It’s often a challenge to unify leftist groups, from Social Democrats to Communists, into one large, organized force fighting together for change and protections for the most vulnerable among us. We’re all working towards the same goal, but the fractures that exist often leave groups working parallel to each other as opposed to together. We can recognize the vast differences between ideologies and political parties, but none of that matters in the immediate future.
We are watching in real time the rise of fascism in the United States. We are seeing the formation and strength of far-right nationalistic groups that are actively seeking to harm marginalized groups and suppress any form of left leaning movements. We certainly recognize that America has historically supported right wing policies both domestically and internationally and understand how the system perpetuates exploitation and violence from Philadelphia to Palestine. However, we are witnessing a political crisis in front of our eyes that demand our attention and our efforts. Call it what you will, but now more than ever we must push for left unity. We have millions of Americans facing socioeconomic crises and growing political movements that call for cutting public spending, the construction of more prisons, censorship and closures of public schools, and the allowance of corporations to continue exploiting workers. We must fight this however possible.
This may be done through the establishment of local mutual aid systems, city wide tenant unions, supporting labor strikes and informing workers how to take power into their own hands, and other methods of community and worker empowerment. It may be offering security to vulnerable populations, offering self-defense courses, and creating safe environments for those facing violence or fearful of their surroundings. It may be running for political office and building class consciousness or passing some form of relief. It may be educating the masses, holding book clubs, and providing easy to access information. There is so much that we can do to help our communities and build working class groups both political and non-political. But we face a daunting task of getting these projects done when we fail to unite and work together as one.
We can certainly discuss the pathway towards socialism in America, but that pathway becomes obfuscated should nationalism take hold and destroy our communities. Left unity then is necessary for our survival as well as the survival of marginalized communities at this point in American history.
Jordan Shepherd is a community organizer and local activist currently in Northwest Arkansas. They have worked with local Socialist Alternative, PSL, and IWW chapters as well as a diverse group of leftists and poverty alleviation groups. Jordan has a Bachelor's Degree in Middle Eastern Studies and a Master's Degree in Political Science with an emphasis on marginalized communities and the American political system. They have worked on local level political campaigns in Arkansas and continues to work with both non electoral groups and progressive political candidates to advance working class policies.