Violeta Parra (Chile), Untitled (unfinished), 1966. Embroidery on sackcloth, 136 x 200 cm.
The works of art in this dossier belong to Casa de las Américas’ Haydee Santamaría Art of Our America (Nuestra América) collection. Since its founding, Casa de las Américas has established close ties with a significant number of internationally renowned contemporary artists who have set visual arts trends in the region. Casa’s galleries have hosted temporary exhibitions including different artistic genres, expressions, and techniques by several generations of mainly Latin American and Caribbean artists. Many of these works, initially exhibited in Casa’s galleries, awarded prizes in its contests, and donated by the artists, have become part of the Haydee Santamaría Art of Our America collection, representing an exceptional artistic heritage.
Roberto Matta (Chile), Cuba es la capital (‘Cuba Is the Capital’), 1963. Soil and plaster on Masonite (mural), 188 x 340 cm. Located at the entrance to Casa de las Américas.
Cultural Policy and Decolonisation in the Cuban Socialist ProjectAbel Prieto, director of Casa de las Américas
The Cuban Revolution came about in a country subordinated to the US from all points of view. Although we had the façade of a republic, we were a perfect colony, exemplary in economic, commercial, diplomatic, and political terms, and almost in cultural terms.
Our bourgeoisie was constantly looking towards the North: from there, they imported dreams, hopes, fetishes, models of life. They sent their children to study in the North, hoping that they would assimilate the admirable competitive spirit of the Yankee ‘winners’, their style, their unique and superior way of settling in this world and subjugating the ‘losers’.
This ‘vice-bourgeoisie’, as Roberto Fernández Retamar baptised them, were not limited to avidly consuming whatever product of the US cultural industry fell into their hands. Not only that – at the same time, they collaborated in disseminating the ‘American way of life’ in the Ibero-American sphere and kept part of the profits for themselves. Cuba was an effective cultural laboratory at the service of the Empire, conceived to multiply the exaltation of the Chosen Nation and its world domination. Cuban actresses and actors dubbed the most popular American television series into Spanish, which would later flood the continent. In fact, we were among the first countries in the region to have television in 1950. It seemed like a leap forward, towards so-called ‘progress’, but it turned out to be poisoned. Very commercial Cuban television programming functioned as a replica of the ‘made in the USA’ pseudo-culture, with soap operas, Major League and National League baseball games, competition and participation programmes copied from American reality shows, and constant advertising. In 1940, the magazine Selections of the Reader’s Digest, published by a company of the same name, began to appear in Spanish in Havana with all of its poison. This symbol of the idealisation of the Yankee model and the demonisation of the USSR and of any idea close to emancipation was translated and printed on the island and distributed from here to all of Latin America and Spain.
The very image of Cuba that was spread internationally was reduced to a tropical ‘paradise’ manufactured by the Yankee mafia and its Cuban accomplices. Drugs, gambling, and prostitution were all put at the service of VIP tourism from the North. Remember that the Las Vegas project had been designed for our country and failed because of the revolution.
Fanon spoke of the sad role of the ‘national bourgeoisie’ – already formally independent from colonialism – before the elites of the old metropolis, ‘who happen to be tourists enamoured of exoticism, hunting, and casinos’. He added:
We only have to look at what has happened in Latin America if we want proof of the way the ex-colonised bourgeoisie can be transformed into ‘party’ organiser. The casinos in Havana and Mexico City, the beaches of Rio, Copacabana, and Acapulco, the young Brazilian and Mexican girls, the thirteen-year-old mestizas, are the scars of this depravation of the national bourgeoisie.1
Our bourgeoisie, submissive ‘party organisers’ of the Yankees, did everything possible for Cuba to be culturally absorbed by their masters during the neocolonial republic. However, there were three factors that slowed down this process: the work of intellectual minorities that defended, against all odds, the memory and values of the nation; the sowing of Martí’s principles and patriotism among teachers in Cuban public schools; and the resistance of our powerful, mestizo, haughty, and ungovernable popular culture, nurtured by the rich spiritual heritage of African origin.
In his speech ‘History Will Absolve Me’, Fidel listed the six main problems facing Cuba. Among them, he highlighted ‘the problem of education’ and referred to ‘comprehensive education reform’ as one of the most urgent missions that the future liberated republic would have to undertake.2 Hence, the educational and cultural revolution began practically from the triumph of 1 January 1959. On the 29th of that same month, summoned by Fidel, a first detachment of three hundred teachers alongside one hundred doctors and other professionals left for the Sierra Maestra to bring education and health to the most remote areas. Around those same days, Camilo and Che launched a campaign to eradicate illiteracy among the Rebel Army troops since more than 80% of the combatants were illiterate.
On 14 September, the former Columbia Military Camp was handed over to the Ministry of Education so that it could build a large school complex there. The promise of turning barracks into schools was beginning to be fulfilled, and sixty-nine military fortresses became educational centres. On 18 September, Law No. 561 was enacted, creating ten thousand classrooms and accrediting four thousand new teachers. The same year, cultural institutions of great importance were created: the Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry (ICAIC), the National Publishing House, the Casa de las Américas, and the National Theatre of Cuba, which has a department of folklore and an unprejudiced and anti-racist vision unprecedented in the country. All of these new revolutionary institutions were oriented towards a decolonised understanding of Cuban and universal culture.
But 1961 was the key year in which a profound educational and cultural revolution began in Cuba. This was the year when Eisenhower ruptured diplomatic relations with our country. This was the year when our foreign minister, Raúl Roa, condemned ‘the policy of harassment, retaliation, aggression, subversion, isolation, and imminent attack by the US against the Cuban government and people’ at the UN.3 This was the year of the Bay of Pigs invasion and the relentless fight against the armed gangs financed by the CIA. This was the year when the US government, with Kennedy already at the helm, intensified its offensive to suffocate Cuba economically and isolate it from Nuestra América – Our America – and from the entire Western world.4 1961 was also the year when Fidel proclaimed the socialist character of the revolution on 16 April, the eve of the Bay of Pigs invasion, as Roa exposed the plan that was set to play out the following day. This is something that – considering the influence of the Cold War climate and the McCarthyite, anti-Soviet, and anti-communist crusade on the island – showed that the young revolutionary process had been shaping, at incredible speed, cultural hegemony around anti-imperialism, sovereignty, social justice, and the struggle to build a radically different country. But it was also the year of the epic of the literacy campaign; of the creation of the National School of Art Instructors; of Fidel’s meetings with intellectuals and his founding speech on our cultural policy, ‘Words to the Intellectuals’; of the birth of the National Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba (UNEAC) and the National Institute of Ethnology and Folklore.5
In 1999 in Venezuela – almost four decades later – Fidel summed up his thinking regarding the cultural and educational component in any true revolutionary process: ‘A revolution can only be the child of culture and ideas’.6 Even if it makes radical changes, even if it hands over land to the peasants and eliminates large estates, even if it builds houses for those who survive in unhealthy neighbourhoods, even if it puts public health at the service of all, even if it nationalises the country’s resources and defends its sovereignty, a revolution will never be complete or lasting if it does not give a decisive role to education and culture. It is necessary to change human beings’ conditions of material life, and it is necessary to simultaneously change the human being, their conscience, paradigms, and values.
For Fidel, culture was never something ornamental or a propaganda tool – a mistake commonly made throughout history by leaders of the left. Rather, he saw culture as a transformative energy of exceptional scope, which is intimately linked to conduct, to ethics, and is capable of decisively contributing to the ‘human improvement’ in which Martí had so much faith. But Fidel saw culture, above all, as the only imaginable way to achieve the full emancipation of the people: it is what offers them the possibility of defending their freedom, their memory, their origins, and of undoing the vast web of manipulations that limit the steps they take every day. The educated and free citizen who is at the centre of Martí’s and Fidel’s utopia must be prepared to fully understand the national and international environment and to decipher and circumvent the traps of the machinery of cultural domination.
In 1998, at the 6th Congress of the UNEAC, Fidel focused on the topic ‘related to globalisation and culture’. So-called ‘neoliberal globalisation’, he said, is ‘the greatest threat to culture – not only ours, but the world’s’. He explained how we must defend our traditions, our heritage, our creation, against ‘imperialism’s most powerful instrument of domination’. And, he concluded, ‘everything is at stake here: national identity, homeland, social justice, revolution, everything is at stake. These are the battles we have to fight now’.7 This is, of course, about ‘battles’ against cultural colonisation, against what Frei Betto calls ‘globo-colonisation’, against a wave that can liquidate our identity and the revolution itself.
Enrique Tábara (Ecuador), Coloquio de frívolos (‘Colloquium of the Frivolous’), 1982. Acrylic on canvas,140.5 x 140.5 cm.
Fidel was already convinced that, in education, in culture, in ideology, there are advances and setbacks. No conquest can be considered definitive. That is why he returns to the subject of culture in his shocking speech on 17 November 2005 at the University of Havana.8 The media machinery, together with incessant commercial propaganda, Fidel warns us, come to generate ‘conditioned responses’. ‘The lie’, he says, ‘affects one’s knowledge’, but ‘the conditioned response affects the ability to think’.9 In this way, Fidel continued, if the Empire says ‘Cuba is bad’, then ‘all the exploited people around the world, all the illiterate people, and all those who don’t receive medical care or education or have any guarantee of a job or of anything’ repeat that ‘the Cuban Revolution is bad’.10 Hence, the diabolical sum of ignorance and manipulation engenders a pathetic creature: the poor right-winger, that unhappy person who gives his opinion and votes and supports his exploiters.
‘Without culture’, Fidel repeated, ‘no freedom is possible’.11 We revolutionaries, according to him, are obliged to study, to inform ourselves, to nurture our critical thinking day by day. This cultural education, together with essential ethical values, will allow us to liberate ourselves definitively in a world where the enslavement of minds and consciences predominates. His call to ‘emancipat[e] ourselves by ourselves and with our own efforts’ is equivalent to saying that we must decolonise ourselves with our own efforts.12 And culture is, of course, the main instrument of that decolonising process of self-learning and self-emancipation.
In Cuba, we are currently more contaminated by the symbols and fetishes of ‘globo-colonisation’ than we have been at other times in our revolutionary history. We must combat the tendency to underestimate these processes, and we must work in two fundamental directions: intentionally promoting genuine cultural options and fostering a critical view of the products of the hegemonic entertainment industry. It is essential to strengthen the effective coordination of institutions and organisations, communicators, teachers, instructors, intellectuals, artists, and other actors who contribute directly or indirectly to the cultural education of our people. All revolutionary forces of culture must work together more coherently. We must turn the meaning of anti-colonial into an instinct.
In 1959, the Cuban revolutionary leader Haydee Santamaría (1923–1980) arrived at a cultural centre in the heart of Havana. This building, the revolutionaries decided, would be committed to promoting Latin American art and culture, eventually becoming a beacon for the progressive transformation of the hemisphere’s cultural world. Renamed Casa de las Américas (‘Home of the Americas’), it would become the heartbeat of cultural developments from Chile to Mexico. Art saturates the walls of the house, and in an adjacent building sits the massive archive of correspondence and drafts from the most significant writers of the past century. The art from Casa adorns this dossier. The current director of Casa, Abel Prieto – whose words open this dossier – is a novelist, a cultural critic, and a former minister of culture. His mandate is to stimulate discussion and debate in the country.
Over the course of the past decade, Cuba’s intellectuals have been gripped by the debate over decolonisation and culture. Since 1959, the Cuban revolutionary process has – at great cost – established the island’s political sovereignty and has struggled against centuries of poverty to cement its economic sovereignty. From 1959 onwards, under the leadership of the revolutionary forces, Cuba has sought to generate a cultural process that allows the island’s eleven million people to break with the cultural suffocation which is the legacy of both Spanish and US imperialism. Is Cuba, six decades since 1959, able to say that it is sovereign in cultural terms? The balance sheet suggests that the answer is complex since the onslaught of US cultural and intellectual production continues to hit the island like its annual hurricanes.
To that end, Casa de las Américas has been holding a series of encounters on the issue of decolonisation. In July 2022, Vijay Prashad, the director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research, delivered a lecture there that built upon the work being produced by the institute. Dossier no. 56, Ten Theses on Marxism and Decolonisation, draws from and expands upon the themes of that talk.
Antonio Seguí (Argentina), Untitled, 1965. Oil on canvas, 200 x 249 cm.
Ten Theses on Marxism and Decolonisation
Thesis One: The End of History. The collapse of the USSR and the communist state system in Eastern Europe in 1991 came alongside a terrible debt crisis in the Global South that began with Mexico’s default in 1982. These two events – the demise of the USSR and the weakness of the Third World Project – were met with the onslaught of US imperialism and a US-driven globalisation project in the 1990s. For the left, this was a decade of weakness as our left-wing traditions and organisations experienced self-doubt and could not easily advance our clarities around the world. History had ended, said the ideologues of US imperialism, with the only possibility forward being the advance of the US project. The penalty inflicted upon the left by the surrender of Soviet leadership was heavy and led not only to the shutting down of many left parties, but also to the weakened confidence of millions of people with the clarities of Marxist thought.
Thesis Two: The Battle of Ideas. During the 1990s, Cuban President Fidel Castro called upon his fellow Cubans to engage in a ‘battle of ideas’, a phrase borrowed from The German Ideology (1846) by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels.1 What Castro meant by this phrase is that people of the left must not cower before the rising tide of neoliberal ideology but must confidently engage with the fact that neoliberalism is incapable of solving the basic dilemmas of humanity. For instance, neoliberalism has no answer to the obstinate fact of hunger: 7.9 billion people live on a planet with food enough for 15 billion, and yet roughly 3 billion people struggle to eat. This fact can only be addressed by socialism and not by the charity industry.2 The Battle of Ideas refers to the struggle to prevent the conundrums of our time – and the solutions put forth to address them – from being defined by the bourgeoisie. Instead, the political forces for socialism must seek to offer an assessment and solutions far more realistic and credible. For instance, Castro spoke at the United Nations in 1979 with great feeling about the ideas of ‘human rights’ and ‘humanity’:
There is often talk of human rights, but it is also necessary to speak of the rights of humanity. Why should some people walk around barefoot so that others can travel in luxurious automobiles? Why should some live for 35 years so that others can live for 70? Why should some be miserably poor so that others can be overly rich? I speak in the name of the children in the world who do not have a piece of bread. I speak in the name of the sick who do not have medicine. I speak on behalf of those whose right to life and human dignity has been denied.3
When Castro returned to the Battle of Ideas in the 1990s, the left was confronted by two related tendencies that continue to create ideological problems in our time:
The only real decolonisation is anti-imperialism and anti-capitalism. You cannot decolonise your mind unless you also decolonise the conditions of social production that reinforce the colonial mentality. Post-Marxism ignores the fact of social production as well as the need to build social wealth that must be socialised. Afro-pessimism suggests that such a task cannot be accomplished because of permanent racism. Decolonial thought goes beyond Afro-pessimism but cannot go beyond post-Marxism, failing to see the necessity of decolonising the conditions of social production.
Antonio Martorell (Puerto Rico), Silla (‘Chair’), n.d., edition unknown. Woodcut. 100 x 62 cm.
Thesis Three: A Failure of Imagination. In the period from 1991 to the early 2000s, the broad tradition of national liberation Marxism felt flattened, unable to answer the doubts sown by post-Marxism and post-colonial theory. This tradition of Marxism no longer had the kind of institutional support provided in an earlier period, when revolutionary movements and Third World governments assisted each other and when even the United Nations’ institutions worked to advance some of these ideas. Platforms that developed to germinate left forms of internationalism – such as the World Social Forum – seemed to be unwilling to be clear about the intentions of peoples’ movements. The slogan of the World Social Forum, for instance, was ‘another world is possible’, which is a weak statement, since that other world could just as well be defined by fascism. There was little appetite to advance a slogan of precision, such as ‘socialism is necessary’.
One of the great maladies of post-Marxist thought – which derived much of its ammunition from forms of anarchism – has been the purist anxiety about state power. Instead of using the limitations of state power to argue for better management of the state, post-Marxist thought has argued against any attempt to secure power over the state. This is an argument made from privilege by those who do not have to suffer the obstinate facts of hunger and illiteracy, who claim that small-scale forms of mutual aid or charity are not ‘authoritarian’, like state projects to eradicate hunger. This is an argument of purity that ends up renouncing any possibility of abolishing the obstinate facts of hunger and other assaults on human dignity and well-being. In the poorer countries, where small-scale forms of charity and mutual aid have a negligible impact on the enormous challenges before society, nothing less than the seizure of state power and the use of that power to fundamentally eradicate the obstinate facts of inequality and wretchedness is warranted.
To approach the question of socialism requires close consideration of the political forces that must be amassed in order to contest the bourgeoisie for ideological hegemony and for control over the state. These forces experienced a pivotal setback when neoliberal globalisation reorganised production along a global assembly line beginning in the 1970s, fragmenting industrial production across the globe. This weakened trade unions in the most important, high-density sectors and invalidated nationalisation as a possible strategy to build proletarian power. Disorganised, without unions, and with long commute times and workdays, the entire international working class found itself in a situation of precariousness.4 The International Labour Organisation refers to this sector as the precariat – the precarious proletariat. Disorganised forces of the working class and the peasantry, of the unemployed and the barely employed, find it virtually impossible to build the kind of theory and confidence out of their struggles needed to directly confront the forces of capital.
One of the key lessons for working-class and peasant movements comes from the struggles being incubated in India. For the past decade, there have been general strikes that have included up to 300 million workers annually. In 2020–2021, millions of farmers went on a year-long strike that forced the government to retreat from its new laws to uberise agricultural work. How were the farmers’ movement and the trade union movement able to do this in a context in which there is very low union density and over 90% of the workers are in the informal sector?5 Because of the fights led by informal workers – primarily women workers in the care sector – trade unions began to take up the issues of informal workers – again, mainly women workers – as issues of the entire trade union movement over the course of the past two decades. Fights for permanency of tenure, proper wage contracts, dignity for women workers, and so on produced a strong unity between all the different fractions of workers. The main struggles that we have seen in India are led by these informal workers, whose militancy is now channelled through the organised power of the trade union structures. More than half of the global workforce is made up of women – women who do not see issues that pertain to them as women’s issues, but as issues that all workers must fight for and win. This is much the same for issues pertaining to workers’ dignity along the lines of race, caste, and other social distinctions. Furthermore, unions have been taking up issues that impact social life and community welfare outside of the workplace, arguing for the right to water, sewage connections, education for children, and to be free from intolerance of all kinds. These ‘community’ struggles are an integral part of workers’ and peasants’ lives; by entering them, unions are rooting themselves in the project of rescuing collective life, building the social fabric necessary for the advance towards socialism.
Alirio Palacios (Venezuela), Muro público (‘Public Wall’), 1978. Oil on canvas, 180 x 200 cm.
Thesis Four: Return to the Source. It is time to recover and return to the best of the national liberation Marxist tradition. This tradition has its origins in Marxism-Leninism, one that was always widened and deepened by the struggles of hundreds of millions of workers and peasants in the poorer nations. The theories of these struggles were elaborated by people such as José Carlos Mariátegui, Ho Chi Minh, EMS Namboodiripad, Claudia Jones, and Fidel Castro. There are two core aspects to this tradition:
Thesis Five: ‘Slightly Stretched’ Marxism. Marxism entered the anti-colonial struggles not through Marx directly, but more accurately through the important developments that Vladimir Lenin and the Communist International made to the Marxist tradition. When Fanon said that Marxism was ‘slightly stretched’ when it went out of its European context, it was this stretching that he had in mind.6 Five key elements define the character of this ‘slightly stretched’ Marxism across a broad range of political forces:
Thesis Six: Dilemmas of Humanity. Reports come regularly about the terrible situation facing the world, from hunger and illiteracy to the ever more frequent outcomes of the climate catastrophe. Social wealth that could be spent to address these deep dilemmas of humanity is squandered on weapons and tax havens. The United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end hunger and promote peace would require an infusion of $4.2 trillion per year, but, as it stands, an infinitesimal fraction of this amount is spent to address these goals.7 With the pandemic and galloping inflation, even less money will go towards SDGs, and benchmarks measuring human well-being, sovereignty, and dignity will slip further and further away. Hunger, the greatest dilemma of humanity, is no longer within sight of being eradicated (except in China, where absolute poverty was ended in 2021).8 It is estimated that around 3 billion people now struggle with various forms of daily hunger.9
Take the case of Zambia and the fourth SDG to eradicate illiteracy, for example. Approximately 60% of the children in classes 1 to 4 in the Copperbelt cannot read.10 This is a region that produces much of the world’s copper, which is essential to our electronics. The parents of these children bring the copper to the world market, but their children cannot read. Neither post-Marxism nor post-colonialism addresses the fact of illiteracy or these parents’ determination for their children to be able to read. The theory of national liberation Marxism, rooted in sovereignty and dignity, however, does address these questions: it demands that Zambia control copper production and receive higher royalty payments (sovereignty), and it demands that the Zambian working class take a greater share of the surplus value (dignity). Greater sovereignty and dignity are pathways to address the dilemmas facing humanity. But rather than spend social wealth on these elementary advances, those who own property and exercise privilege and power spend over $2 trillion per year on weapons and many trillions on security forces (from the military to the police).11
Hervé Télémaque (Haiti), Fait divers, 1962. Oil on canvas, 130 x 195 cm.
Thesis Seven: The Rationality of Racism and Patriarchy. It is important to note that, under the conditions of capitalism, the structures of racism and patriarchy remain rational. Why is this the case? In Capital (1867), Marx detailed two forms for the extraction of surplus value and hinted at a third form. The first two forms (absolute surplus value and relative surplus value) were described and analysed in detail, pointing out how the theft of time over the course of the working day extracts absolute surplus value from the waged worker and how productivity gains both shorten the time needed for workers to produce their wages and increase the amount of surplus produced by them (relative surplus value). Marx also suggested a third form of extraction, writing that, in some situations, workers are paid less than would be justified by any civilised understanding of wages at that historical juncture. He noted that capitalists try to push ‘the wage of the worker down below the value of his labour power’, but he did not discuss this form further because of the importance for his analysis that labour power must be bought and sold at full value.12
This third consideration, which we call super-exploitation, is not immaterial for our analysis since it is central to the discussion of imperialism. How are the suppression of wages and the refusal to increase royalty payments for raw material extraction justified? By a colonial argument that, in certain parts of the world, people have lower expectations for life and therefore their social development can be neglected. This colonial argument applies equally to the theft of wages from women who perform care work, which is either unpaid or grossly underpaid on the grounds that it is ‘women’s work’.13 A socialist project is not trapped by the structures of racism and patriarchy since it does not require these structures to increase the capitalist’s share of surplus value. However, the existence of these structures over centuries, deepened by the capitalist system, has created habits that are difficult to overturn merely by legislation. For that reason, a political, cultural, and ideological struggle must be waged against the structures of racism and patriarchy and must be treated with as much importance as the class struggle.
Thesis Eight: Rescue Collective Life. Neoliberal globalisation vanquished the sense of collective life and deepened the despair of atomisation through two connected processes:
The breakdown of social collectivity and the rise of consumerism harden despair, which morphs into various kinds of retreat. Two examples of this are: a) a retreat into family networks that cannot sustain the pressures placed upon them by the withdrawal of social services, the increasing burden of care work on the family, and ever longer commute times and workdays; b) a move towards forms of social toxicity through avenues such as religion or xenophobia. Though these avenues provide opportunities to organise collective life, they are organised not for human advancement, but for the narrowing of social possibility.
How does one rescue collective life? Forms of public action rooted in social relief and cultural joy are an essential antidote to this bleakness. Imagine days of public action rooted in left traditions taking place each week and each month, drawing more and more people to carry out activities together that rescue collective life. One such activity is Red Books Day, which was inaugurated on 21 February 2020 by the International Union of Left Publishers, the same day that Marx and Engels published The Communist Manifesto in 1848. In 2020, the first Red Books Day, a few hundred thousand people around the world went into public places and read the manifesto in their different languages, from Korean to Spanish. In 2021, due to the pandemic, most of the events went online and we cannot really say how many people participated in Red Books Day, but, in 2022, nearly three-quarters of a million people joined in the various activities.
Part of rescuing collective life was vividly displayed during the pandemic when trade unions, youth organisations, women’s organisations, and student unions took to the public domain in Kerala (India) to build sinks, sew masks, establish community kitchens, deliver food, and conduct house-to-house surveys so that each person’s needs could be taken into account.14
Antonio Berni (Argentina), Juanito Laguna, n.d. Painted wood and metal collage (triptych), 220 x 300 cm.
Thesis Nine: The Battle of Emotions. Fidel Castro provoked a debate in the 1990s around the concept of the Battle of Ideas, the class struggle in thought against the banalities of neoliberal conceptions of human life. A key part of Fidel’s speeches from this period was not just what he said but how he said it, each word suffused with the great compassion of a man committed to the liberation of humanity from the tentacles of property, privilege, and power. In fact, the Battle of Ideas was not merely about the ideas themselves, but also about a ‘battle of emotions’, an attempt to shift the palate of emotions from a fixation on greed to considerations of empathy and hope.
One of the true challenges of our time is the bourgeoisie’s use of the culture industries and the institutions of education and faith to divert attention away from any substantial discussion about real problems – and about finding common solutions to social dilemmas – and towards an obsession with fantasy problems. In 1935, the Marxist philosopher Ernst Bloch called this the ‘swindle of fulfilment’, the seeding of a range of fantasies to mask their impossible realisation. The benefit of social production, Bloch wrote, ‘is reaped by the big capitalist upper stratum, which employs gothic dreams against proletarian realities’.15 The entertainment industry erodes proletarian culture with the acid of aspirations that cannot be fulfilled under the capitalist system. But these aspirations are enough to weaken any working-class project.
A degraded society under capitalism produces a social life that is suffused with atomisation and alienation, desolation and fear, anger and hate, resentment and failure. These are ugly emotions that are shaped and promoted by the culture industries (‘you can have it too!’), educational establishments (‘greed is the prime mover’), and neo-fascists (‘hate immigrants, sexual minorities, and anyone else who denies you your dreams’). The grip of these emotions on society is almost absolute, and the rise of neo-fascists is premised upon this fact. Meaning feels emptied, perhaps the result of a society of spectacles that has now run its course.
From a Marxist perspective, culture is not seen as an isolated and timeless aspect of human reality, nor are emotions seen as a world of their own or as being outside of the developments of history. Since human experiences are defined by the conditions of material life, ideas of fate will linger on as long as poverty is a feature of human life. If poverty is transcended, then fatalism will have a less secure ideological foundation, but it does not automatically get displaced. Cultures are contradictory, bringing together a range of elements in uneven ways out of the social fabric of an unequal society that oscillates between reproducing class hierarchy and resisting elements of social hierarchy. Dominant ideologies suffuse culture through the tentacles of ideological apparatuses like a tidal wave, overwhelming the actual experiences of the working class and the peasantry. It is, after all, through class struggle and through the new social formations created by socialist projects that new cultures will be created – not merely by wishful thinking.
Tilsa Tsuchiya (Peru), Pintura N° 1 (‘Painting N° 1’), 1972. Oil on canvas, 90 x 122 cm.
It is important to recall that, in the early years of each of the revolutionary processes – from Russia in 1917 to Cuba in 1959 – cultural efflorescence was saturated with the emotions of joy and possibility, of intense creativity and experimentation. It is this sensibility that offers a window into something other than the ghoulish emotions of greed and hatred.
Thesis Ten: Dare to Imagine the Future. One of the enduring myths of the post-Soviet era is that there is no possibility of a post-capitalist future. This myth came to us from within the triumphalist US intellectual class, whose ‘end of history’ sensibility helped to strengthen orthodoxy in such fields as economics and political theory, preventing open discussions about post-capitalism. Even when orthodox economics could not explain the prevalence of crises, including the total economic collapse in 2007–08, the field itself retained its legitimacy. These myths were made popular by Hollywood films and television shows, where disaster and dystopian films suggested planetary destruction rather than socialist transformation. It is easier to imagine the end of the earth than a socialist world.
During the economic collapse, the phrase ‘too big to fail’ settled on the public consciousness, reinforcing the eternal nature of capitalism and the dangers of even trying to shake its foundations. The system stood at a standstill. Austerity growled at the precarious. Small businesses crumpled for lack of credit. And yet, there was no mass consideration of going beyond capitalism. World revolution was not seen on the immediate horizon. This partial reality suffocated so much hope in the possibility of going beyond this system, a system – too big to fail – that now seems eternal. Our traditions argue against pessimism, making the point that hope must structure our interventions from start to finish. But what is the material basis for this hope? This basis can be found on three levels:
Capitalism has already failed. It cannot address the basic questions of our times, these obstinate facts – such as hunger and illiteracy – that stare us in the face. It is not enough to be alive. One must be able to live and to flourish. That is the mood that demands a revolutionary transformation.
We need to recover our tradition of national liberation Marxism but also elaborate the theory of our tradition from the work of our movements. We need to draw more attention to the theories of Ho Chi Minh and Fidel, EMS Namboodiripad and Claudia Jones. They did not only do, but they also produced innovative theories. These theories need to be developed and tested in our own contemporary reality, building our Marxism not out of the classics alone – which are useful – but out of the facts of our present. Lenin’s ‘concrete analysis of the concrete conditions’ requires close attention to the concrete, the real, the historical facts. We need more factual assessments of our times, a closer rendition of contemporary imperialism that is imposing its military and political might to prevent the necessity of a socialist world. This is precisely the agenda of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research, of the almost thirty research institutes with which we work closely through the Network of Research Institute, and of the more than 200 political movements whose mass lines inform the development of Tricontinental’s research agenda through the International Peoples’ Assembly.
Certainly, socialism is not going to appear magically. It must be fought for and built, our struggles deepened, our social connections tightened, our cultures enriched. Now is the time for a united front, to bring together the working class and the peasantry as well as allied classes, to increase the confidence of workers, and to clarify our theory. To unite the working class and the peasantry as well as allied classes requires the unity of all left and progressive forces. Our divides in this time of great danger must not be central; our unity is essential. Humanity demands it.
Osmond Watson (Jamaica), Spirit of Festival, 1972. Watercolor and varnished oil on paper, 104 x 78 cm.
1 Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth (New York: Grove Press, 2004), 101.2 Fidel Castro, La historia me absolverá [History Will Absolve Me] (Havana: Editorial de Ciencias Sociales, 2007).3 Raúl Roa, ‘Fundamentos, cargos y pruebas de la denuncia de Cuba’, In Raúl Roa: Canciller de la dignidad (La Habana: Ediciones Políticas, 1986 ).
4 Translator’s note: Nuestra América is a concept stemming from Cuban national hero Jose Martí’s 1891 essay on Latin American nationalism calling for unity among nations to foment a Pan-Latin American identity opposed to the cultural values of Europe and the United States.
5 Fidel Castro, ‘Word to the Intellectuals’, Speech at the conclusion of meetings with Cuban intellectuals held at the National Library on 16, 23, and 30 June 1961, http://www.fidelcastro.cu/es/audio/palabras-los-intelectuales.
6 Fidel Castro, A Revolution Can Only Be the Child of Culture and Ideas (Havana: Editora Política, 1999), http://www.fidelcastro.cu/en/libros/revolution-can-only-be-child-culture-and-ideas.
7 Abel Prieto, ‘Sin cultura no hay libertad posible’. Notas sobre las ideas de Fidel en torno a la cultura’ [‘Without Culture There Is No Possible Freedom’: Notes on Fidel’s Ideas About Culture], La Ventana, 12 August 2021, http://laventana.casa.cult.cu/index.php/2022/08/12/sin-cultura-no-hay-libertad-posible-notas-sobre-las-ideas-de-fidel-en-torno-a-la-cultura/.
8 Fidel Castro, Speech delivered at the Commemoration of the 60th Anniversary of his admission to University of Havana, Aula Magna, University of Havana, 17 November 2005, http://www.fidelcastro.cu/en/discursos/speech-delivered-commemoration-60th-anniversary-his-admission-university-havana-aula-magna.
9 Today, with the use of social networks in electoral campaigns and in subversive projects, this very acute observation by Fidel about ‘conditioned responses’ carries significant weight.
10 Castro, Speech at the Commemoration of the 60th Anniversary of his admission to University of Havana.
11 Fidel Castro, ‘Without Culture There Is No Freedom Possible’, Key address at the opening ceremony of the 18th Havana International Ballet Festival, 19 October 2002, http://www.fidelcastro.cu/en/fragmento-portada/october-19-2002-0.
12 Fidel Castro, ‘Concept of Revolution’, Speech at the mass rally on International Workers’ Day at Revolution Square, 1 May 2000, http://www.cuba.cu/gobierno/discursos/2000/ing/f010500i.html.
Ten Theses on Marxism and Decolonisation
1 Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The German Ideology (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1968), 38.2 Food and Agriculture Organisation, Building a Common Vision for Sustainable Food and Agriculture. Principles and Approaches (Rome: FAO, 2014); FAO, IFAD, UNICEF, WFP and WHO, The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2022: Repurposing Food and Agricultural Policies To Make Healthy Diets More Affordable (Rome: FAO, 2022), vi.3 Fidel Castro, Statement at the UN General Assembly, in capacity of NAM President, 12 October 1979, https://misiones.cubaminrex.cu/en/articulo/fidel-castro-human-rights-statement-un-general-assembly-capacity-nam-president-12-october.
4 Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research, In the Ruins of the Present, working document no. 1, 1 March 2018, https://thetricontinental.org/working-document-1/.
5 Govindan Raveendran and Joann Vanek, ‘Informal Workers in India: A Statistical Profile’, Statistical Brief 24 (Women in Informal Employment: Globalising and Organising, August 2020), 1; Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research, The Farmers’ Revolt in India, dossier 41, 14 June 2021, https://thetricontinental.org/dossier-41-india-agriculture/.
6 Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, trans. Richard Philcox (New York: Grove Press), 5.
7 Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, ‘Global Outlook on Financing for Sustainable Development 2021’, 9 November 2020, https://www.oecd.org/newsroom/covid-19-crisis-threatens-sustainable-development-goals-financing.htm.
8 Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research, Serve the People: The Eradication of Extreme Poverty in China, 23 July 2021, https://thetricontinental.org/studies-1-socialist-construction/.
9 FAO et al., The State of Food Security, vi.
10 Lusaka Times, ‘Over 60% Copperbelt Province Lower Primary Pupils Can’t Read and Write – PEO’, Lusaka Times, 18 January 2018, https://www.lusakatimes.com/2018/01/27/60-copperbelt-province-lower-primary-pupils-cant-read-write-peo/.
11 Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, ‘World Military Expenditure Passes $2 Trillion for First Time’, SIPRI, 25 April 2022, https://www.sipri.org/media/press-release/2022/world-military-expenditure-passes-2-trillion-first-time.
12 Karl Marx, Capital: A Critique of Political Economy – Volume I, trans. Ben Fowkes (London: Penguin Books, 2004), 670.
13 Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research, Uncovering the Crisis: Care Work in the Time of Coronavirus, dossier no. 38, 7 March 2021, https://thetricontinental.org/dossier-38-carework/.
14 Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research, CoronaShock and Socialism, CoronaShock no. 3, https://thetricontinental.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/20200701_Coronashock-3_EN_Web.pdf.
15 Ernst Bloch, Heritage of Our Times, trans. Neville and Stephen Plaice (Berkeley; Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1991), 103.
This article was republished from the Tricontinental Institute.
No institution helps obscure the crimes of empire and buttress class rule and white supremacy as effectively as the British monarchy.
“Off With Her Head.” [Illustration by Mr. Fish]
he fawning adulation of Queen Elizabeth in the United States, which fought a revolution to get rid of the monarchy, and in Great Britain, is in direct proportion to the fear gripping a discredited, incompetent and corrupt global ruling elite.
The global oligarchs are not sure the next generation of royal sock puppets – mediocrities that include a pedophile prince and his brother, a cranky and eccentric king who accepted suitcases and bags stuffed with $3.2 million in cash from the former prime minister of Qatar Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al Thani, and who has millions stashed in offshore accounts – are up to the job. Let’s hope they are right.
“Having a monarchy next door is a little like having a neighbour who’s really into clowns and has daubed their house with clown murals, displays clown dolls in each window and has an insatiable desire to hear about and discuss clown-related news stories,” Patrick Freyne wrote last year in The Irish Times. “More specifically, for the Irish, it’s like having a neighbour who’s really into clowns and, also, your grandfather was murdered by a clown.”
Monarchy obscures the crimes of empire and wraps them in nostalgia. It exalts white supremacy and racial hierarchy. It justifies class rule. It buttresses an economic and social system that callously discards and often consigns to death those considered the lesser breeds, most of whom are people of color. The queen’s husband Prince Phillip, who died in 2021, was notorious for making racist and sexist remarks, politely explained away in the British press as “gaffes.” He described Beijing, for example, as “ghastly” during a 1986 visit and told British students: “If you stay here much longer you’ll all be slitty-eyed.”
The cries of the millions of victims of empire; the thousands killed, tortured, raped and imprisoned during the Mau Mau rebellion in Kenya; the 13 Irish civilians gunned down in “Bloody Sunday;” the more than 4,100 First Nations children who died or went missing in Canada’s residential schools, government-sponsored institutions established to “assimilate” indigenous children into Euro-Canadian culture, and the hundreds of thousands killed during the invasion and occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan are drowned out by cheers for royal processions and the sacral aura an obsequious press weaves around the aristocracy. The coverage of the queen’s death is so mind-numbingly vapid — the BBC sent out a news alert on Saturday when Prince Harry and Prince William, accompanied by their wives, surveyed the floral tributes to their grandmother displayed outside Windsor Castle — that the press might as well turn over the coverage to the mythmakers and publicists employed by the royal family.
The royals are oligarchs. They are guardians of their class. The world’s largest landowners include King Mohammed VI of Morocco with 176 million acres, the Holy Roman Catholic Church with 177 million acres, the heirs of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia with 531 million acres and now, King Charles III with 6.6 billion acres of land. British monarchs are worth almost $28 billion. The British public will provide a $33 million subsidy to the Royal Family over the next two years, although the average household in the U.K. saw its income fall for the longest period since records began in 1955 and 227,000 households experience homelessness in Britain.
Royals, to the ruling class, are worth the expense. They are effective tools of subjugation. British postal and rail workers canceled planned strikes over pay and working conditions after the queen’s death. The Trade Union Congress (TUC) postponed its congress. Labour Party members poured out heartfelt tributes. Even Extinction Rebellion, which should know better, indefinitely canceled its planned “Festival of Resistance.” The BBC’s Clive Myrie dismissed Britain’s energy crisis — caused by the war in Ukraine — that has thrown millions of people into severe financial distress as “insignificant” compared with concerns over the queen’s health. The climate emergency, pandemic, the deadly folly of the U.S. and NATO’s proxy war in Ukraine, soaring inflation, the rise of neo-fascist movements and deepening social inequality will be ignored as the press spews florid encomiums to class rule. There will be 10 days of official mourning.
In 1953, Her Majesty’s Government sent three warships, along with 700 troops, to its colony British Guiana, suspended the constitution and overthrew the democratically elected government of Cheddi Jagan. Her Majesty’s Government helped to build and long supported the apartheid government in South Africa. Her Majesty’s Government savagely crushed the Mau Mau independence movement in Kenya from 1952 to 1960, herding 1.5 million Kenyans into concentration camps where many were tortured. British soldiers castrated suspected rebels and sympathizers, often with pliers, and raped girls and women. Her Majesty’s Government inherited staggering wealth from the $ 45 trillion Great Britain looted from India, wealth accumulated by violently crushing a series of uprisings, including the First War of Independence in 1857. Her Majesty’s Government carried out a dirty war to break the Greek Cypriot War of Independence from 1955 to 1959 and later in Yemen from 1962 to 1969. Torture, extrajudicial assassinations, public hangings and mass executions by the British were routine. Following a protracted lawsuit, the British government agreed to pay nearly £20 million in damages to over 5,000 victims of British abuse during war in Kenya, and in 2019 another payout was made to survivors of torture from the conflict in Cyprus. The British state attempts to obstruct lawsuits stemming from its colonial history. Its settlements are a tiny fraction of the compensation paid to British slave owners in 1835, once it — at least formally — abolished slavery.
During her 70-year reign, the queen never offered an apology or called for reparations.
The point of social hierarchy and aristocracy is to sustain a class system that makes the rest of us feel inferior. Those at the top of the social hierarchy hand out tokens for loyal service, including the Order of the British Empire (OBE). The monarchy is the bedrock of hereditary rule and inherited wealth. This caste system filters down from the Nazi-loving House of Windsor to the organs of state security and the military. It regiments society and keeps people, especially the poor and the working class, in their “proper” place.
The British ruling class clings to the mystique of royalty and fading cultural icons as James Bond, the Beatles and the BBC, along with television shows such as “Downton Abbey” — where in the 2019 film version the aristocrats and servants are convulsed in fevered anticipation when King George V and Queen Mary schedule a visit — to project a global presence. Winston Churchill’s bust remains on loan to the White House. These myth machines sustain Great Britain’s “special” relationship with the United States. Watch the satirical film “In the Loop” to get a sense of what this “special” relationship looks like on the inside.
It was not until the 1960s that “coloured immigrants or foreigners” were permitted to work in clerical roles in the royal household, although they had been hired as domestic servants. The royal household and its heads are legally exempt from laws that prevent race and sex discrimination, what Jonathan Cook calls “an apartheid system benefitting the Royal Family alone.” Meghan Markle, who is of mixed race and who contemplated suicide during her time as a working royal, said that an unnamed royal expressed concern about the skin color of her unborn son.
I got a taste of this suffocating snobbery in 2014 when I participated in an Oxford Union debate asking whether Edward Snowden was a hero or a traitor. I went a day early to be prepped for the debate by Julian Assange, then seeking refuge in the Ecuadorian Embassy and currently in His Majesty’s Prison Belmarsh. At a lugubrious black-tie dinner preceding the event, I sat next to a former MP who asked me two questions I had never been asked before in succession. “When did your family come to America?” he said, followed by “What schools did you attend?” My ancestors, on both sides of my family, arrived from England in the 1630s. My graduate degree is from Harvard. If I had failed to meet his litmus test, he would have acted as if I did not exist.
Those who took part in the debate – my side arguing that Snowden was a hero narrowly won – signed a leather-bound guest book. Taking the pen, I scrawled in large letters that filled an entire page: “Never Forget that your greatest political philosopher, Thomas Paine, never went to Oxford or Cambridge.”
Paine, the author of the most widely read political essays of the 18th century, Rights of Man, The Age of Reason and Common Sense, blasted the monarchy as a con. “A French bastard landing with an armed banditti and establishing himself as King of England against the consent of the natives, is in plain terms a very paltry rascally original…The plain truth is that the antiquity of the English monarchy will not bear looking into,” he wrote of William the Conqueror. He ridiculed hereditary rule. “Of more worth is one honest man to society, and in the sight of God, than all the crowned ruffians that ever lived.” He went on: “One of the strangest natural proofs of the folly of hereditary right in kings is that nature disproves it, otherwise she would not so frequently turn it into ridicule, by giving mankind an ass for a lion.” He called the monarch “the royal brute of England.”
When the British ruling class tried to arrest Paine, he fled to France where he was one of two foreigners elected to serve as a delegate in the National Convention set up after the French Revolution. He denounced the calls to execute Louis XVI. “He that would make his own liberty secure must guard even his enemy from oppression,” Paine said. “For if he violates this duty, he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself.” Unchecked legislatures, he warned, could be as despotic as unchecked monarchs. When he returned to America from France, he condemned slavery and the wealth and privilege accumulated by the new ruling class, including George Washington, who had become the richest man in the country. Even though Paine had done more than any single figure to rouse the country to overthrow the British monarchy, he was turned into a pariah, especially by the press, and forgotten. He had served his usefulness. Six mourners attended his funeral, two of whom were Black.
You can watch my talk with Cornel West and Richard Wolff on Thomas Paine here.
There is a pathetic yearning among many in the U.S. and Britain to be linked in some tangential way to royalty. White British friends often have stories about ancestors that tie them to some obscure aristocrat. Donald Trump, who fashioned his own heraldic coat of arms, was obsessed with obtaining a state visit with the queen. This desire to be part of the club, or validated by the club, is a potent force the ruling class has no intention of giving up, even if hapless King Charles III, who along with his family treated his first wife Diana with contempt, makes a mess of it.
NOTE TO SCHEERPOST READERS FROM CHRIS HEDGES: There is now no way left for me to continue to write a weekly column for ScheerPost and produce my weekly television show without your help. The walls are closing in, with startling rapidity, on independent journalism, with the elites, including the Democratic Party elites, clamoring for more and more censorship. Bob Scheer, who runs ScheerPost on a shoestring budget, and I will not waver in our commitment to independent and honest journalism, and we will never put ScheerPost behind a paywall, charge a subscription for it, sell your data or accept advertising. Please, if you can, sign up at chrishedges.substack.com so I can continue to post my now weekly Monday column on ScheerPost and produce my weekly television show, The Chris Hedges Report.
Chris Hedges is a Truthdig columnist, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, a New York Times best-selling author, a professor in the college degree program offered to New Jersey state prisoners by Rutgers University, and an ordained Presbyterian minister. He has written 12 books, including the New York Times best-seller “Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt” (2012), which he co-authored with the cartoonist Joe Sacco. His other books include "Wages of Rebellion: The Moral Imperative of Revolt," (2015) “Death of the Liberal Class” (2010), “Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle” (2009), “I Don’t Believe in Atheists” (2008) and the best-selling “American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America” (2008). His latest book is "America: The Farewell Tour" (2018). His book “War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning” (2003) was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction and has sold over 400,000 copies. He writes a weekly column for the website Truthdig and hosts a show, "On Contact," on RT America.
This article was republished from SheerPost.
"A reverse-glass export painting of the Thirteen Factories in Guangzhou." By: Unknown Chinese artist. Source: Wikimedia.
" This article was originally published on Liberation School on September 15, 2022."
Throughout most of recorded history, Asia has been the wealthiest region in the world. The riches of Asia attracted people from around the Old World, as exemplified by the travels of figures like the Venetian Marco Polo or the North African Ibn Battuta, who ventured to Asia in the 13th and 14th centuries and brought word of the lands and peoples he encountered, information which helped spark the age of Western exploration that began to establish ongoing interactions between Europe, India, China, and other parts of the continent. The rise of European capitalism drove the creation of commercial exchanges with Asia, as Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch, and English traders built up networks of trade. With the Industrial Revolution the European powers, first the British and then others, were able to exert direct military power over Asian countries, and launched a period of imperialist domination which would persist until they were driven out in the middle years of the 20th century. The extraction of wealth from Asia created, for a while, a global economy in which the West held the levers of power based on the exploitation of labor both in the factories of the metropole and in the workshops, commercial farms, and plantations of Asia, Africa, and Latin America.
In the course of the 19th century, a radical critique of capitalism emerged, primarily in the work of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, which was further elaborated and extended in analyses of imperialism by revolutionaries like V.I. Lenin and Rosa Luxemburg. These efforts were naturally focused first and foremost on Europe and its colonial extensions. This was the battleground on which the developing class struggle was taking its course. The dynamics of capitalist production, the imperatives of accumulation, and the social and cultural effects of exploitation and oppression were the critical arenas of the investigation and interpretation of the contemporary world.
The analysis of the organization and functioning of capitalism, as well as its historical origins and development, remain the dynamic core of Marxist political economy. From the broad overview presented in the Communist Manifesto of 1848 through the exploration and elaboration of ideas and arguments in the notebooks he kept, including the Grundrisse from 1857-58 and the drafts of 1864-65, the Preface and Introduction to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy in 1859, and his published magnum opus, Capital in three volumes (the second and third edited by Engels posthumously), Marx produced a careful and precise explanation and understanding of the capitalist system. He was clear that his subject was primarily capitalism as it had developed in Britain, but with relevance to the geographically adjacent economies of France or Germany, and the historically antecedent formations of northern Italy and the Netherlands.
The “Asiatic mode of production”
Marx was also interested in and concerned with questions of the economic history of the rest of the world, both in terms of how European capitalism was reshaping global relations in his own time, and in how non-European societies had developed economically. He never produced a comprehensive exposition of his views on these topics, but there are scattered comments throughout his economic writings. One area about which Marx made numerous observations was Asia. Some of these gave rise to later debates and discussions about what has been called the Asiatic Mode of Production . This, in turn, became part of the elaboration of a theory of the sequential development of modes of production, though in the official orthodoxy of the Soviet Communist Party in the 1930s, the Asiatic mode itself was no longer invoked, with the sequence rather beginning with a stage of primitive communal ownership (and it’s worth noting that “primitive” was not a value judgment but a descriptive category) .
The question of “Asia” is more than a matter of historical-materialist theory. In the wake of the Bolshevik Revolution, and with the failure of revolutionary uprisings in Hungary and Germany after the end of World War I, the Communist International (The “Comintern” or the “Third International”) became a vital force for supporting and coordinating communist movements around the world. The question of revolution in the colonial world, in countries that were not part of the industrialized capitalist core of Western Europe and North America, became central to the work of the International. Some of the most dynamic movements emerged in places like China, the Dutch East Indies, French Indochina, and British India. There were intense debates about how these revolutions should be organized, about the nature of the political struggle in these societies, about what class forces were involved . Marx’s ideas about “Asia” were important in these discussions, as Marxists tried to assimilate the social economies of Asian countries into their understanding of the development of capitalism and its place in the contemporary world dominated by Western imperialism . These debates were also embroiled in the internal struggles for leadership of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, with Stalin and Trotsky sharply disagreeing. In the end, of course, Stalin consolidated his position as the dominant figure in the Soviet system, and his view of the five-stage sequence of the historical development of modes of production became the only acceptable theoretical position by the late 1930s, as noted above.
The influence of this model has remained significant in Marxist historical thought ever since. As scholars like Harry Harootunian have noted, a model like this was not intended by Marx to be a rigid, empirical description of a system, but more of a methodological device for abstracting an understanding of historical and economic dynamics . In other words, the Asiatic Mode of Production was not an anthropological claim but rather a theoretical tool that allowed Marx to distinguish the particularities of capitalism from other social formations and modes of production.
All of this leaves open the question of what Marx actually thought about Asia and how Asian societies related to the historical development of modes of production and the eventual emergence of capitalism in Europe. The idea that capitalism is a uniquely European development, that the rest of the world remained in some “pre-capitalist” stage and would only be incorporated into capitalism through direct encounters with European, or later American, capitalist imperialism, has shaped both Marxist and bourgeois understandings of history. Whether this is an accurate assessment of global economic history is perhaps not so simple a question to resolve. Recent scholarship on questions of “early modernity” have suggested that there were many aspects of economic and cultural life in Asian countries that were quite similar to features normally associated with the rise of capitalism in Europe . Other studies have raised questions about the degree to which commercial capitalism may have developed in some non-European economies, and about Marx’s own views of the nature of some non-European societies . Scholars in the “post-colonial” tradition, for example, often misread or selectively read Marx’s comments while neglecting to read his writings on colonialism and non-European social formations to portray him as Eurocentric or an advocate of colonialism .
It is in this context that I want to explore Marx’s economic writings to see how he portrayed and understood Asia— particularly India and China—and to raise the question of how Marxists today might apply Marx’s historical-materialist methodology to the analysis of the historical political economies of Asia as we have come to know them through more recent studies, with a breadth and depth of knowledge not available to Marx in the middle years of the 19th century. I will argue that, while Marx’s understanding of Asia was certainly flawed—especially in light of more recent evidence—this was the result of the information with which he was able to work. However, Marx’s method of historical-materialist inquiry provides the path to a very different understanding of the economic history of China that has been prevalent in both Marxist and bourgeois scholarship.
Before considering Marx’s statements regarding Asia, it will be useful to consider what the term means. The name originates in European antiquity and was used by the Greeks to refer to everything to their east, often with overtones of barbarism and otherness. Asia, though only vaguely understood, remained a realm of great interest to Europeans through the Middle Ages, with a trickle of commerce linking the West to the wealth of China or India via trans-Eurasian trade routes, both overland and maritime. By the early modern period, there was a heightened engagement with Asia as first the Portuguese and Spanish, and later the Dutch and English launched their voyages in search of access to the riches brought to their attention by Marco Polo and others .
In modern geography, Asia refers to a huge space encompassing the territory from the Ural Mountains in Russia, the Caspian Sea, and the Anatolian Peninsula across to the Pacific Ocean and extending down through the Malay Peninsula and across the Indonesian and Philippine archipelagoes. It includes countries ranging from Russia to Turkey, Iran and India to Pakistan, China, and the Central Asian states, Korea to Japan, the countries of mainland Southeast Asia to Indonesia, and others. Nearly 5 billion people live in what is called Asia, with a hugely complex range of variation in languages and cultures, and, of course, in economic conditions. In many ways, it designates a space that is not Europe, an otherness beyond the Eurocentric core.
Marx’s deeper inquiry into Asia can be traced to his earliest economic writings, by which I especially mean his notebooks of 1857-58, known as the Grundrisse, the economic notebooks of 1864-65 (recently published in English for the first time), the three volumes of Capital (the third of which was edited by Engels from the material in the 1864-65 notebooks), and some additional comments in texts including the 1848 Communist Manifesto and the Preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy from 1859. These works include two basic kinds of comments about Asia. Some of these refer to Asia generically, while others refer more specifically to India and/or China. One kind of comment refers to developments taking place in the contemporary world, in the ongoing dynamic of the relationship between Europe and Asia which was unfolding in Marx’s own times. The other type, which are the main focus of my consideration here, are descriptions or characterizations of the political and economic features of Asia throughout history, a delineation of a social economic order which was outside the narrative of capitalist development Marx articulated for Europe.
Marx was, of course, a creature of his own time, operating within a particular knowledge economy, an intellectual environment with specific contents and limitations. He was literate in several languages, both modern and classical, but not in any Asian language. The serious study of Asian history was in its infancy in Europe in the mid-19th century. More was known about India because of the activities of the East India Company and its merchants and administrators up to 1857, and a good deal of information about China had been accumulated from the two centuries of reports sent back by Jesuit missionaries and others (although these were strongly shaped by the specific contexts in which they were produced). But the bulk of information about Asia to which Marx had ready access was concerned with trade and with the challenges of colonial administration and control. Merchants, military leaders, and colonial or diplomatic officials, while perhaps personally intrigued by the customs or cultures of the lands they were exploiting, for the most part, did not devote themselves to acquiring the linguistic or historical knowledge which would have deepened their understanding of Asia’s long and complex past.
Marx’s statements on Asia
Perhaps the most famous of Marx’s pronouncements about an Asian topic came early, in the Communist Manifesto, which he published along with Friedrich Engels in 1848. In a long discussion of the rise of the bourgeois economic system and its spread around the world Marx wrote, “The cheap prices of its commodities are the heavy artillery with which it batters down all Chinese walls, with which it forces the barbarians’ intensely obstinate hatred of foreigners to capitulate” . This passage, while not a serious analysis of the functions of the capitalist system, nonetheless invokes some key concepts which recur throughout Marx’s observations about Asia. The use of the image of the “Chinese wall” which must be broken down, and the characterization of a “barbarian” other, highlight the idea that Asia is a place apart from, and different from, Europe, the birthplace of the bourgeois order. It’s important to note, however, that Marx used “civilization” in a derisive manner and never equated it with “progress” or “advancement.” Just after writing about how capital would break down the “Chinese walls,” for example, Marx and Engels state that capitalism forces “all nations, on the pain of extinction, to adopt the bourgeois mode of production; it compels them to introduce what it calls civilization into their midst” .
These basic motifs are elaborated in more substantive ways in Marx’s specifically economic writings, to which we will now turn. I will present these in chronological order from the succession of texts in which they appear, and then draw some overall conclusions about the essential features of Marx’s view of Asia and its political-economic history.
After the tumultuous years of revolutionary activity in the late 1840s and the trauma of the post-revolutionary retreat of communist activities across Europe, Marx moved to London, where he would live for the rest of his life. The first half of the 1850s was a difficult period, during which Marx struggled to maintain his family and to work with many of the other continental political refugees that wound up in Britain. But by the second half of the decade, he was able to settle into the period of deep study of political economy which would culminate in the writing of Capital. He spent long hours in the Reading Room of the British Library and in his makeshift study at home. He took copious notes on a wide range of primary and secondary sources, keeping massive notebooks and drafting and re-working versions of what would become the three volumes of his masterwork, Capital. Some of Marx’s writings reached published form in his lifetime or shortly thereafter, as with the final two volumes of Capital. Others, especially the notebooks he kept in the late 1850s and early-to-mid 1860s, were long neglected and not published until the mid-20th or early 21st centuries.
The first set of notebooks, published under the title Grundrisse (ground plan/outline/rough sketch), were compiled in 1857-58, although only the “Introduction” was released and translated before 1939. The Grundrisse contains numerous comments on trade with India or China, including information about exchange rates for silver and gold and other materials dealing with the contemporary development of relations between Europe and Asia. These are beyond the scope of this study, which is concerned with Marx’s understanding of the historical nature of Asian economies. Much of this material is presented in Kevin Anderson’s Marx at the Margins, where he also engages with Marx’s journalistic writings about China, India, and other Asian questions .
In these notebooks, Marx makes several comments on what he calls the “Asiatic form” of economic society, as well as other observations about Asia or the Orient. Many of these are found in the section on “Forms which precede capitalist production” at the end of Notebook IV and in Notebook V. In a section on property Marx writes:
Amidst Oriental despotism and the propertylessness which seems legally to exist there, this clan or communal property exists in fact as the foundation, created mostly by a combination of manufactures and agriculture within the small commune, which thus becomes altogether self-sustaining, and contains all the conditions of reproduction and surplus production within itself .
Shortly after this, while reflecting on the nature of cities in pre-capitalist societies, he comments that “Asiatic history is a kind of indifferent unity of town and countryside (the really large cities must be regarded here merely as royal camps, as works of artifice erected over the economic construction proper)” . This is followed over the next few pages by two statements on the “Asiatic form:”
In the Asiatic form (at least, predominantly) the individual has no property, but only possession; the real proprietor, proper, is the commune—hence property only as communal property in land… The Asiatic form necessarily hangs on most tenaciously and for the longest time. This is due to its presupposition that the individual does not become independent vis-à-vis the commune; that there is a self-sustaining circle of production; unity of agriculture and manufactures, etc. .
Marx adds a further reference to common property in India, writing that “common property in the older, simpler form, such as is found in India and among the Slavs” .
He continues this discussion and looks forward to the development of subsequent modes of production in the slave and feudal forms, while noting that the Asiatic form is particularly resistant to historical change:
Slavery and serfdom as thus only further developments in the form of property resting on the clan system. They necessarily modify all of the latter’s forms. They can do this least of all in the Asiatic form. In the self-sustaining unity of manufacture and agriculture, on which this form rests, conquest [of neighboring territories] is not so necessary a condition as where landed property, agriculture, are exclusively predominant .
Marx elaborates that in these new modes of production the individual loses the organic integration in a community which gave them the dual status of being a member of the group and a proprietor of a share of the communal resources:
In the oriental form this loss is hardly possible, except by means of altogether external influences, since the individual member of the commune never enters into the relation of freedom towards it in which he could lose his (objective, economic) bond with it…Slavery, bondage etc., where the worker himself appears among the natural conditions of production for a third individual or community (this is not the case e.g. with the general slavery of the orient, only from the European point of view) .
In summarizing his thoughts on pre-capitalist forms, he returns to his basic characterization of historical Asiatic or oriental social economies, where “the original form of this property is therefore itself direct common property (oriental form)” .
The Grundrisse includes one additional comment which relates the general nature of the Asiatic form to a supposed specific practical feature, particularly, but not solely, associated with India: “In the original, self-sustaining communes of Asia, on one side no need for roads; on the other side the lack of them locks them into their closed-off isolation and thus forms an essential moment of their survival without alteration (as in India)” .
Two years after his compilation of the Grundrisse, Marx wrote a preface A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, a project which included a modified form of the first three chapters of Capital. In the preface, he outlined a sequence of the historical development of modes of production. “In broad outline,” as he writes, “the Asian, ancient, feudal, and modern bourgeois modes of production may be designated as progressive epochs of the socio-economic order .
This concept of a step-by-step succession of forms, with the Asian form as the starting point, is not developed further here, but it gave rise to a tradition of thought among certain later writers, such as Karl Kautsky, of taking this sequence as a universal template that could be applied to any given society around the world. Yet it’s important to note that Marx’s presentation here is didactic and schematic in nature and can’t be isolated to imply that Marx held a “stageist” approach to history. Early in the mid-1840s, Marx wrote that “to hold that every nation goes through this development internally would be as absurd as the idea of that every nation is bound to go through the political development of France” . Nonetheless, Kautsky’s interpretation dominated many Marxist debates in the early-mid 20th century.
The specification of the Asian form gave way to the invocation of a “primitive” or “primitive communal” form in later versions. This was ultimately enshrined, with effects which will concern us further, in Stalin’s proclamation of the stages of historical development set out in his essay “Dialectical and Historical Materialism” and in the History of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (Short Course). Thus, it’s worth restating that Marx was presenting a didactic model that was necessarily rough and schematic, rather than articulating a fully fleshed-out theory of development.
Marx made several further statements of his ideas about historical Asian economies and societies in the notebooks which he kept in 1864-1865—which were the basis of the second and third volumes of Capital as edited by Engels—and in the first volume, which was the only one published (and republished) by Marx starting in 1867. In the 1864-1865 notebooks, Marx returns to the topic of property:
The legal conception [of landed private property] itself means nothing more than that the landowner can behave in relation to the land just as any commodity owner can with his commodities; and this idea—the legal notion of free private landed property—arises in the ancient world only at the time of the dissolution of the organic bonds of society, and in the modern world only with the development of the capitalist mode of production. In Asia it has simply been imported here and there by Europeans.
He also gives a basic description of the organization of production in Asian economies, specifically referring to India in one instance, and to Asia more broadly in another, and invoking the idea of a “natural economy:”
The existence of domestic handicrafts and manufacture as an ancillary pursuit to agriculture, which is the basic activity, is the condition for the mode of production on which this natural economy rests, both in European antiquity and medieval times…
The first volume of Capital, which is devoted to the analysis of the capitalist mode of production using England as a “chief ground” to elaborate an abstract model of capitalist production in general, includes a number of comments on trade with India, China, or Asia more broadly. Neither Marx nor Engels considered England to be a “closed national economy” and, from the 1840s onwards, analyzed England as a colonial power. Yet in Capital Marx has little to say about what he thought of as “pre-capitalist” economics, save for one important characterization of the nature of political economy in Asian history:
The simplicity of the productive organism in these self-sufficing communities which constantly reproduce themselves in the same form and, when accidentally destroyed, spring up again on the same spot and with the same name—this simplicity supplies the key to the riddle of the unchangeability of Asiatic societies, which is in such striking contrast with the constant dissolution and refounding of Asiatic states, and their never-ceasing changes of dynasty. The structure of the fundamental economic elements of society remains untouched by the storms which blow up in the cloudy regions of politics .
These passages yield a number of defining features that Marx felt characterized Asian societies and economies over the long sweep of history . These can be summarized as follows:
This model of an Asian form of political economy, with the geographic extent of its applicability left ill-defined but expansive, along with the concept of history as a set succession of modes of production in a sequence that was universal for human societies around the planet, became fixed in some later forms Marxist thought. As noted above, the German Social Democratic leader Karl Kautsky wrote about China and Asia in 1886 using exactly this model of an “Asiatic” form of political economy and of the successive stages of social development . Indeed, these same concepts featured in non-Marxist portrayals of Asia as autarkic and unchanging by such influential thinkers as Max Weber as well .
Asia and Chinese Marxism in the 21st centuryNot all Marxist students of Chinese history accepted these defining features. In 1926-1927, the Bolshevik Karl Radek, at that time the Director of the Sun Yat-sen University for the Toilers of China in Moscow, gave a series of lectures on China in which he challenged both the characterization of China as static and unchanging and the effort to assimilate Chinese history to the European-derived model of successive stages. Working with recent scholarship on China that had not been available to Marx, Radek rejected the idea that China remained in a feudal stage until the arrival of European imperialism in the 19th century, and argued instead for an understanding of China’s historical political economy which was dynamic and featured elements of mercantile capital and highly commercialized agricultural production .
Radek’s views, however, did not become widely accepted among Marxists in the Soviet Union or beyond. Radek was embroiled in the political controversies within the Soviet leadership, being closely associated with Trotsky, in opposition to the rising power of Stalin in the later 1920s . As Stalin consolidated his dominance and Trotsky went into exile, Radek was largely silenced and came to conform to the orthodox version of historical materialism, including the view of successive stages of development applicable to all societies. Given the leading, guiding role of the Soviet Union in the world Marxist movement through the middle of the 20th century, Stalin’s version of a universal template of historical development through successive modes of production, and the characterization of Asia, especially China, as a static, feudal, pre-capitalist system, came to be accepted by Marxist scholars in both the socialist states and in the capitalist world.
The question remains, then, how well this representation fits the actual history of Asian, especially Chinese, political economies. Modern studies of Chinese economic history especially have yielded radically different understandings, beginning with Naitō Torajiro’s work on the commercial revolution of the Tang-Song period in the 1920s through recent works like William Liu’s study of the Chinese market economy from 1500-1800, or Richard von Glahn’s comprehensive economic history of China. Even these works, however, refrain from referring to China’s historical economy as capitalist, let alone applying that definition to Asia more broadly. Scholars such as Kenneth Pomeranz and Prasannan Parthasarathi, cited above, have argued that the economies of China and India in fact were equivalent to those of Western Europe on the threshold of the Industrial Revolution in many important ways. It is beyond the scope of this essay to set out a full investigation of how China’s economy, especially over the last millennium of imperial history, may have accorded with Marx’s own descriptions of the essential features of capitalist production. Further work must be done on this matter.
For the moment, I want to simply conclude with a reminder and a suggestion. The reminder is that throughout Marx’s development, he moved beyond associating the “Asiatic Mode of Production” with “oriental despotism” precisely because he “was very concerned about the question of sources, and criticised the poverty of the empirical data on which British writers based their arguments, which were often dictated by colonial interests” . The suggestion is that a critical task for Marxists is to apply the historical-materialist methodology embodied in Capital and other texts of political economy to the understanding of Asia and China in order to reach a new appreciation of the complex global history of capital and the rich diversity of economic forms and developmental trajectories that preceded, accompanied, and followed the transformative expansion of European and American imperialism and the consolidation, for a brief period, of a Western-dominated global capitalist system. Contemporary struggles against imperialism and for building a socialist future will be strengthened by a more accurate understanding of the dynamics of Asian history and its implications for the path ahead.
Marxist historical materialism has played a central role in the Chinese revolution since its introduction there in the early twentieth century. Chinese scholars and activists, perhaps most prominently Mao Zedong, have used this creatively and adapted Marxist theory to the concrete material realities of China. Applying this methodology to China’s historical political economy extends and deepens this work, and will provide not only a greater understanding of the past, but also insights into the contemporary development of socialism in China.
 Timothy Brook, The Asiatic Mode of Production in China (Armonk: M.E. Sharpe, 1989).
 Central Committee of the CPSU, History of CPSU (Short Course) (New York: International Publishers, 1939); and Joseph Stalin, Dialectical and Historical Materialism and Other Writings (New York: International Publishers, 2020).
 E.H.Carr, The Bolshevik Revolution (Vol. 3) (London: Pelican Books, 1966).
 V.I. Lenin, Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism (Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 1976).
 Harry Harootunian, Marx After Marx: History and Time in the Expansion of Capitalism (New York: Columbia University Press, 2017).
 See the “Early Modernities” special issue of Daedalus 127, no. 3 (1998); Kenneth Pomeranz, The Great Divergence (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2021); Prasannan Parthasarathi, Why Europe Became Rich and Asia Did Not: Global Economic Divergence, 1600-1850 (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2011); Ken Hammond, “Beyond the Sprouts of Capitalism: China’s Early Capitalist Development and Contemporary Socialist Project,” Liberation School, 13 September 2021. Available here.
 Jairus Bannajee, A Brief History of Commercial Capitalism (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2020); and Kevin B. Anderson, Marx at the Margins: on Nationalism, Ethnicity, and Non-Western Societies (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010).
 Lucia Pradella, “Marx and the Global South: Connecting History and Value Theory,” Sociology 51, no. 1 (2017): 147.
 An overview of the historical awareness and understanding of Asia by Europeans down to the 18 century is found in Jürgen Osterhammel, Unfabling the East: The Enlightenment’s Encounter with Asia (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2018). More critical analyses of the construction of European conceptions of Asia by the beginning of the 19th century and down to Marx’s time are in Geoffrey C. Gunn, First Globalization: The Eurasian Exchange, 1500-1800 (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2003); and Andre Gunder Frank, ReOrient: Global Economy in the Asian Age (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998), 8-34.
 Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, The Communist Manifesto (New York: International Publishers, 1948/2021), 13.
 Anderson, Marx at the Margins.
 Karl Marx, Grundrisse: Foundations of a Critique of Political Economy, trans. M. Nicolaus (London: Penguin Books, 1939/1973), 473.
 Ibid., 484.
 Ibid., 484, 486.
 Ibid., 490.
 Ibid., 493.
 Ibid., 494, 495-496.
 Ibid., 497.
 Ibid., 525.
 Karl Marx, Preface and Introduction to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy (Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 1959/1976), 4.
 Karl Marx, “Draft of an Article of Friedrich List’s book Das Nationale System der Politischen: Draft of an Article on Friedrich List’s Book Das Nationale Oekonomie,” in Marx-Engels Collected Works (Vol. 4) (New York: International Publishers, 1975), 281.
 Karl Marx, Marx’s Economic Manuscript of 1864-1865, trans. B. Fowkes and ed. F. Moseley (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2017), 715, 778.
 Ibid., 774, 782.
 Karl Marx, Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, trans. B. Fowkes (London: Penguin Books, 1867/1976), 479.
 In his introduction to the edited volume The Asiatic Mode of Production in China, Timothy Brook sets out a set of such characteristics as defined by scholars in the People’s Republic in the 1970s and ‘80s. These are similar to those in this essay, but include a focus on the hydraulic thesis of oriental despotism, which is absent from the texts considered here.
 Karl Kautsky, “Die Chinesischen Eisenbahnen und das Europäische Proletariat,” Die Neue Zeit 4 (1886): 515-549.
 Max Weber, The Religion of China (New York: Free Press, 1968).
 Alexander V. Pantsov, ed., Karl Radek on China: Documents from the Former Secret Soviet Archives (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2020), 22-78, 208-225.
 These controversies and policy disputes, especially as related to China, are delineated in fine detail in Carr,The Bolshevik Revolution, 1917-1923 (Vol. 3), 484-540; and Carr, Socialism in One Country, 1924-1926, (Vol. 3) (London: Pelican Books, 1972), 693-830.
 Lucia Pradella, “Beijing between Smith and Marx,” Historical Materialism 18, no. 1 (2010): 94.
After the death of Queen Elizebeth, some attempt to silence discussion of colonialism while others effectively limit it to the past
In the aftermath of the announcement of the death of the British Queen Elizabeth, Uju Anya tweeted: “I heard the chief monarch of a thieving raping genocidal empire is finally dying. May her pain be excruciating.”
(Anya is a professor at Carnegie Mellon University, my alma mater, though the phrase literally means “nourishing mother” and I can’t say I got that from Carnegie Mellon. Some seem to feel that they somehow got that from the late monarch, and I can’t say that I see that either.)
Twitter deleted the tweet and Carnegie Mellon put out a statement effectively condemning Anya’s remarks, each of which I think are absurd and dubious as others have noted.
But then Anya retweeted a tweet from Eugene Scott, national political reporter at the Washington Post:
The answer to Scott’s question, “When is the appropriate time to talk about the negative impact of colonialism?” is everyday. You’re swimming in it.
Today, 9/11, is a good day to talk about the negative impacts of colonialism: How the U.S., British and French governments cut up the Mideast leading to the rise of a colonial Israel and oppressive monarchies; how the U.S. undermining the Arab nationalist Gamal Abdel Nasser in the 1950s and 1960s and then attacking Iraq beginning in 1990 led inevitably to impoverishment, suffering and increasing instability in the region, including what is euphemistically called “blowback”.
The massive propaganda campaign that effectively began 20 years ago to invade Iraq should now be the focus of sustained attention if we had a cultural and media environment wanting to finally come to terms with its imperialist mindset, waging wars of aggression, occupying entire countries and employing systematic torture for those ends in the 21st Century.
In July, Michael Langley was tapped to become head of the United States Africa Command. Scott, over at the Washington Post, took this occasion to effectively celebrate him:
The Black Alliance for Peace meanwhile has been running a campaign against AFRICOM to the silence of many: “The purpose of AFRICOM is to use U.S. military power to impose U.S. control of African land, resources and labor to service the needs of U.S. multi-national corporations and the wealthy in the United States.”
The Black Alliance for Peace reports that African countries initially rejected AFRICOM, but with a more sophisticated approach by the Obama administration “corrupt African leaders began to allow AFRICOM forces to operate in their countries and establish military-to-military relations with the United States.”
Bringing up colonialism only in the context of the death of the nearly 100-year-old British monarch is actually functional at a certain level for the establishment. It pretends it’s a relic of the past rather than a force that continues to maliciously mold the world today.
Postings relating the late monarch and colonialism on various lefty, progressive and even mainstream websites have good information about horrific British oppression in Kenya, India and Yemen and elsewhere. Yet, they have a tendency to drop off in the 1960s or 1970s, as if various U.S. and British invasions and bombings since then have not been an effective continuation of the imperial project.
What is needed is the hard work of scrutinizing the mechanisms of power. Colonialism may not today provide the photo-op of a brazen sword in hand of a monarch, but there are entire military and economic systems as well as “soft power” mechanisms that have allowed colonialism to effectively mutate into more effective but deadly strains.
Consider for example that with the invasion of Iraq, the main U.S. government partner in crime was Britain. But in the case of bombing Syria and intervention there, the main U.S. government collaborator was France. Then consider that Iraq was a British colony and Syria was a French colony. Then consider that virtually no one in the U.S. pointed this out. (I attempted to do so repeatedly.)
Colonialism continues to not only cast a massive shadow, but to actively mold the world around us.
At times this is done by shallow rebranding, at times such tendencies are manifested through more subtle instruments.
The Kenyan activist Njoki Njoroge Njehû once told me: “After slavery and colonialism, the latest tool for imposing foreign interests on us is the lethal combination of debt and the economic conditions of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.”
Sometimes it’s somewhat more brazen. Consider Hillary Clinton’s remarks on the Iran nuclear deal: "I don't see Iran as the partner in this agreement, I see Iran as the subject of this agreement."
Israel is a main continuation of actual settler colonialism. A critical point that even Queen Elizabeth, according to one recent report, seemed capable of seeing.
The Bank of England in 2018 announced a policy of refusing to release hundreds of millions of dollars of Venezuelan gold.
Currently, as Afghans face starvation, Biden is withholding $7 billion of their money.
Colonialism, or at least its rebranded oppressive offspring, is all around us and should be talked about Every. Single. Day.
Feature photo | Illustration by MintPress News
Anyone in the UK who imagined they lived in a representative democracy – one in which leaders are elected and accountable to the people – will be in for a rude awakening over the next days and weeks.
TV schedules have been swept aside. Presenters must wear black and talk in hushed tones. Front pages are uniformly somber. Britain’s media speak with a single, respectful voice about the Queen and her unimpeachable legacy.
Westminster, meanwhile, has been stripped of left and right. The Conservative, Liberal Democrat and Labour parties have set aside politics to grieve as one. Even the Scottish nationalists – supposedly trying to rid themselves of the yoke of centuries of English rule presided over by the monarch – appear to be in effusive mourning.
The world’s urgent problems – from the war in Europe to a looming climate catastrophe – are no longer of interest or relevance. They can wait till Britons emerge from a more pressing national trauma.
Domestically, the BBC has told those facing a long winter in which they will not be able to afford to heat their homes that their suffering is “insignificant” compared to that of the family of a 96-year-old woman who died peacefully in the lap of luxury. They can wait too.
In this moment there is no public room for ambivalence or indifference, for reticence, for critical thinking – and most certainly not for Republicanism, even if nearly a third of the public, mostly the young, desire the monarchy’s abolition. The British establishment expects every man, woman, and child to do their duty by lowering their head.
Twenty-first-century Britain never felt so medieval.
There are reasons a critical gaze is needed right now, as the British public is corralled into reverential mourning.
The wall-to-wall eulogies are intended to fill our nostrils with the perfume of nostalgia to cover the stench of a rotting institution, one at the heart of the very establishment doing the eulogising.
The demand is that everyone shows respect for the Queen and her family and that now is not the time for criticism or even analysis.
Indeed, the Royal Family have every right to be left in peace to grieve. But privacy is not what they, or the establishment they belong to, crave.
The Royals’ loss is public in every sense. There will be a lavish state funeral, paid for by the taxpayer. There will be an equally lavish coronation of her son, Charles, also paid for by the taxpayer.
And in the meantime, the British public will be force-fed the same official messages by every TV channel – not neutrally, impartially or objectively, but as state propaganda – paid for, once again, by the British taxpayer.
Reverence and veneration are the only types of coverage of the Queen and her family that is now allowed.
But there is a deeper sense in which the Royals are public figures – more so even than those thrust into the spotlight by their celebrity or talent for accumulating money.
The British public has entirely footed the bill for the Royals’ lives of privilege and pampered luxury. Like the kings of old, they have given themselves the right to enclose vast tracts of the British Isles as their private dominion. The Queen’s death, for example, means the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have just added the whole of Cornwall to their estate.
If anyone is public property, it is the British Royals. They have no right to claim an exemption from scrutiny just when scrutiny is most needed – as the anti-democratic privileges of monarchy pass from one set of hands to another.
The demand for silence is not a politically neutral act. It is a demand that we collude in a corrupt system of establishment rule and hierarchical privilege.
The establishment has a vested interest in enforcing silence and obedience until the public’s attention has moved on to other matters. Anyone who complies leaves the terrain open over the coming weeks for the establishment to reinforce and deepen the public’s deference to elite privilege.
CONTINUITY OF RULE
Undoubtedly, the Queen carried out her duties supremely well during her 70 years on the throne. As BBC pundits keep telling us, she helped maintain social “stability” and ensured “continuity” of rule.
The start of her reign in 1952 coincided with her government ordering the suppression of the Mau Mau independence uprising in Kenya. Much of the population were put in concentration camps and used as slave labour – if they weren’t murdered by British soldiers.
At the height of her rule, 20 years later, British troops were given a green light to massacre 14 civilians in Northern Ireland on a protest march against Britain’s policy of jailing Catholics without trial. Those shot and killed were fleeing or tending the wounded. The British establishment oversaw cover-up inquiries into what became known as “Bloody Sunday”.
And in the twilight years of her rule, her government rode roughshod over international law, invading Iraq on the pretext of destroying non-existent weapons of mass destruction. During the long years of a joint British and US occupation, it is likely that more than a million Iraqis died and millions more were driven from their homes.
The Queen, of course, was not personally responsible for any of those events – nor the many others that occurred while she maintained a dignified silence.
But she did provide regal cover for those crimes – in life, just as she is now being recruited to do in death.
It was her Royal Armed Forces that killed Johnny Foreigner.
It was her Commonwealth that repackaged the jackbooted British empire as a new, more media-savvy form of colonialism.
It was the Union Jacks, Beefeaters, black cabs, bowler hats – the ludicrous paraphernalia somehow associated with the Royals in the rest of the world’s mind – that the new power across the Atlantic regularly relied on from its sidekick to add a veneer of supposed civility to its ugly imperial designs.
Paradoxically, given US history, the special-ness of the special relationship hinged on having a much-beloved, esteemed Queen providing “continuity” as the British and US governments went about tearing up the rulebook on the laws of war in places like Afghanistan and Iraq.
And therein lies the rub. The Queen is dead. Long live the King!
But King Charles III is not Queen Elizabeth II.
The Queen had the advantage of ascending to the throne in a very different era, when the media avoided Royal scandals unless they were entirely unavoidable, such as when Edward VIII caused a constitutional crisis in 1936 by announcing his plan to marry an American “commoner”.
With the arrival of 24-hour rolling news in the 1980s and the later advent of digital media, the Royals became just another celebrity family like the Kardashians. They were fair game for the paparazzi. Their scandals sold newspapers. Their indiscretions and feuds chimed with the period’s ever more salacious and incendiary soap opera plots on TV.
But none of that dirt stuck to the Queen, even when recently it was revealed – to no consequence – that her officials had secretly and regularly rigged legislation to exempt her from the rules that applied to everyone else, under a principle known as Queen’s Consent. An apartheid system benefiting the Royal Family alone.
By remaining above the fray, she offered “continuity”. Even the recent revelation that her son, Prince Andrew, consorted with young girls alongside the late Jeffrey Epstein, and kept up the friendship even after Epstein was convicted of paedophilia, did nothing to harm the Teflon Monarch.
Charles III, by contrast, is best remembered – at least by the older half of the population – for screwing up his marriage to a fairy-tale princess, Diana, killed in tragic circumstances. In preferring Camilla, Charles traded Cinderella for the evil stepmother, Lady Tremaine.
If the monarch is the narrative glue holding society and empire together, Charles could represent the moment when that project starts to come unstuck.
Which is why the black suits, hushed tones, and air of reverence are needed so desperately right now. The establishment is in frantic holding mode as they prepare to begin the difficult task of reinventing Charles and Camilla in the public imagination. Charles must now do the heavy lifting for the establishment that the Queen managed for so long, even as she grew increasingly frail physically.
The outlines of that plan have been visible for a while. Charles will be rechristened the King of the Green New Deal. He will symbolise Britain’s global leadership against the climate crisis.
If the Queen’s job was to rebrand empire as Commonwealth, transmuting the Mau Mau massacre into gold medals for Kenyan long-distance runners, Charles’ job will be to rebrand as a Green Renewal the death march led by transnational corporations.
Which is why now is no time for silence or obedience. Now is precisely the moment – as the mask slips, as the establishment needs time to refortify its claim to deference – to go on the attack.
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 MintPress News.
Saint Domingue, the territory that is today known as Haiti, was a French colony from 1659 to 1804. Known as the “Pearl of the Antilles”, this colony was a source of enormous wealth, producing 40% of all the sugar and 60% of all the coffee consumed in Europe. These riches were produced on the backs of brutally exploited African slaves.
The colonial society of Saint Domingue had four different class strata:
(a) The “grand blancs”(Big Whites), the wealthy white plantation owners
(b) The “petit blancs”(Small Whites), smaller white landowners, merchants and artisans
(c ) The “coloreds”, mixed race, many of whom were plantation owners themselves
(d) On the bottom, the masses of African slaves
By 1789, the total white population was around 50,000, while the black slaves numbered half a million, outnumbering whites by a factor of ten to one.
Such a system could only be held together through extreme violence and terror. Many slaves were literally worked to death. Conditions were so brutal that roughly every 20 years, nearly the entire black population was replaced, it being cheaper to import new slaves directly from Africa than to keep the current ones alive. The colony was essentially an open air concentration camp.
In 1789, the French Revolution upended the aristocratic order in France, and eventually, all of Europe. The shock waves rolled outward across the Atlantic and upset the rigid racial colonial hierarchy. The proclamations of Liberty, Equality and the Brotherhood of all mankind were picked up by the colonies’ subjects and interpreted to mean that it applied to them too.
The first to make a move were the so called ‘Coloreds’. A number of them had been educated in France itself, had been exposed to the Enlightenment ideas of Rousseau and Voltaire and others preaching natural rights of men, and were also men of wealth. They came to believe that they were entitled to the new rights the white Frenchmen had won for themselves. Vincent Oge, a mixed race aristocrat and himself a slave owner, was in Paris on business when the French Revolution broke out. He unsuccessfully petitioned the new government to give mixed race men full citizenship rights, but was stonewalled. The gains of the revolution were for whites only.
In frustration, Oge returned to Saint Domingue and began an armed rebellion against the white planters in 1790. He and his followers were quickly defeated, and he was brutally tortured to death in public.
The plantation owners extinguished a small fire, yet a volcanic eruption was coming.
One August 14, 1791, thousands of slaves gathered in secret at Bois Caman for a voodoo religious ceremony. This mass meeting, headed by a shaman known as Dutty Boukman, was used as a cover for planning a revolt.
A week later on August 22, the revolution began. The northern plains of Saint Domingue, around the port of Le Cap, exploded in a cataclysm of violence. Using fires to give the signal to revolt, tens of thousands of slaves rose up. Avenging centuries of oppression, the Africans killed every white person they could find. In just the first two months of the rebellion 4,000 whites were killed and 180 sugar plantations were destroyed. Eyewitness accounts said that you could read your letters at night from the light of the burning plantations.
Initially, the rebelling slaves were not fighting for independence from France. They believed (falsely) that the French King Louis XVI had issued a proclamation abolishing slavery, which the colonial governor had suppressed. Nonetheless, the French government recognized the seriousness of the situation, fearing losing their most valuable colony. In 1792, they passed a law giving full citizenship rights to free blacks and mixed race people. They also dispatched Léger-Félicité Sonthonax, a Girondin and an abolitionist, to be the colony’s new governor and enforce the new policies.
Meanwhile, a new leader of the rebellion was emerging to prominence- Toussaint L’Ouverture. Boukman, the original instigator of the rebellion, was captured and beheaded by the French. Into the leadership vacuum stepped Toussaint, who unlike the other slaves was literate and educated. He had had an unusually enlightened master who encouraged him to learn to read and write. He had read all the great Enlightenment thinkers, as well as the military tactics of Julius Caesar.
Toussaint approached the Spanish, who controlled the other two thirds of the same island Saint Domingue was on, to make a tactical alliance. Spain wanted to take advantage of the chaos to seize the French colony for themselves. With Spanish weapons and supplies, Toussaint turned the rowdy mobs of rebelling slaves into a disciplined army capable of waging regular battles.
With Toussaint’s forces making steady gains and one third of the colony already in rebel hands, Sonthonax realized he had to take more radical measures to save the colony for France. In August 1793 he declared slavery abolished in the northern part of the colony.
This blew up in his face. The French plantation owners, overwhelmingly monarchists who hated Sonthonax for his republican views anyway, exploded with rage. They welcomed and assisted a British invasion of Saint Domingue, in September 1793. British troops put the slaves back in chains everywhere they went.
Toussaint’s forces kept advancing from the east, while British troops closed in from the west. France, fighting its enemies on all sides back in Europe, did not have sufficient troops available in Saint Domingue to both repel the British and suppress the slave revolt at the same time. Toussaint presented Paris with an offer- he would switch his allegiance to France, but only in exchange for the emancipation of all the slaves, no exceptions.
In February 1794, the French National Assembly passed a law declaring all one million of the slaves in France’s colonies free.
Now that the cause of France and the cause of liberty were one and the same, Toussaint turned his back on the Spanish and allied with the French in May 1794. His forces fought alongside regular French troops to push the British off the island.
After four years of protracted, brutal fighting, the British were completely defeated. Toussaint entered the colonial capital of Port Au Prince in triumph in 1798. The British lost a total of 100,000 soldiers in Saint Domingue- both from the fighting and yellow fever.
Almost as soon as the British were expelled, a civil war broke out in the colony. Two mixed race generals, Rigaud and Petion, challenged Toussaint’s authority. They rebelled in the south of Saint Domingue, alarmed that the emancipation of black people would threaten their (relative) privileges. They massacred both blacks and whites. Toussaint crushed this revolt in the so-called “War of the Knives”. By 1800 he was completely in control, although still officially running things on behalf of France.
Toussaint declared to the Directory, the ruling body of France: “We have known how to face dangers to achieve our liberty, we shall know how to brave death to attain it”. Slave owners throughout the Caribbean quaked in terror.
In 1799, Napoleon Bonaparte took power in France in a military coup. His rise represented the consolidation of the bourgeois state in France and thus, the curtailing of its more radical egalitarianism. The displaced plantation owners petitioned Napoleon in Paris to restore their properties and wealth in Saint Domingue, and he heeded their advice.
In 1802, Napoleon assembled a massive invasion force of 30,000 soldiers aboard 60 warships to reconquer the colony. He put his brother in law, Charles Leclerc, in charge of the expedition. Officially the purpose of the expedition was only to oust Toussaint, who was accused of overstepping his bounds as the governor of Saint Domingue and illegally usurping power. But the secret instructions were also to restore slavery.
Outnumbered and outgunned by the invaders when they made landfall, Toussaint retreated from the coast into the interior. He intended to wear the French down in the forests and mountains. A major battle unfolded in La Crete a Pierrot in March 1802, a fortress guarding a strategic mountain pass into the center of the island. The black forces holding the fort, numbering 2,000 men and women, repelled successive attacks by 15,000 of Napoleon's best troops for almost a month. The French prevailed but with heavy losses- over 1,500 dead and wounded. They massacred the black prisoners after they surrendered.
Two of Toussaint’s key commanders, Henri Cristophe and Jean Jacques Dessalines, concluded that the rebel cause was doomed. They switched sides to the French after they were told they could keep their military commands. Toussaint agreed to negotiations with the French. In May 1802, he was betrayed and taken prisoner at the site of the peace conference. Toussaint’s wife and children were sold back into slavery. The proud leader was shackled and put on a ship back to Europe, where he was imprisoned in a fortress in the Swiss Alps. He died in prison a year later.
Toussaint told his captors: “In overthrowing me you have cut down only the trunk of the tree of liberty; it will spring up again from its roots, for they are many and they are deep”
Shortly after Toussaint’s capture, word reached Saint Domingue that slavery had been restored in the French colony of Guadeloupe. Fearing (accurately) that Saint Domingue was next, armed resistance to the French spread like wildfire everywhere. The French were no longer fighting only rebels but an entire population- men, women and children.
General Leclerc died of yellow fever in November 1802 and his succeeding commander General Rochambeau used unprecedented terror to put down the revolt. Man eating dogs were brought in from Cuba to maul black prisoners. Prisoners were packed into the hulls of French ships and were mass murdered with burning sulfur. But all these barbarities failed.
Leading the rebels in this final phase of the war was Jean Jacques Dessalines, who had once again turned against the French. Dessalines was not in any way sentimental. He knew that this was a war of annihilation- one that would either result in the extermination of the whites or the re enslavement of the blacks. He fought fire with fire, answering Rochambeau’s massacres with his own.
Napoleon had brought over regiments of Poles to fight in Saint Domingue, dubbed the Polish Legion. Once there, the Poles realized they sympathized with the black rebels, who were fighting for their independence just like their compatriots back in Poland were struggling for independence from Tsarist Russia. In an inspiring display of internationalism, the Poles switched sides and fought with the slave revolution. Dessalines praised these men as the “white Negroes of Haiti”.
Dying like flies from incessant rebel attacks and yellow fever, the French position in Saint Domingue was increasingly hopeless. The final great battle was at Vertieres in November 1803, where Dessalines military forces overwhelmed a major French stronghold.
In December 1803 the last regular French military units left the island. The only successful slave rebellion in human history had occurred. The French had lost somewhere around 75,000 of their soldiers in total, and the black rebellion had sacrificed 200,000 of their people-nearly half of the entire population- for their freedom.
In January 1804, Dessalines officially declared the independence of the Republic of Haiti, after the indigenous Arawak name for the island. All the remaining white French plantation owners and their families were massacred- three to five thousand people. The white of the French flag was ripped out so that only the red and blue remained in the flag of the new republic.
Dessalines declared “I have avenged America”
Unfortunately, Dessalines was less able as a ruler than he was as a war leader. He abandoned republicanism quickly and turned to monarchy, crowning himself Emperor. He ordered the black population back to the plantations to get sugar exports back up and running, making people feel little had changed since slavery.
Resentment of his autocratic rule grew and he was assassinated by his own soldiers in 1806. This began a long, sad tradition of military dictatorships and coups in Haiti, one which continues to the present day.
Dessaline's successor, Henri Cristophe, ordered the construction of a massive mountain fortress to deter any possible future French invasion, which became known as the Citadelle Laferriere. It took 20,000 laborers 15 years to build, and was completed in 1820. On top of a 3,000 foot mountain, this fortress had over 300 cannons and enough provisions to feed 5,000 soldiers for over a year. This fortress still stands to this day, surviving Haiti’s numerous earthquakes.
The independent black state was economically strangled. It had no allies. None of the white colonial powers would recognize the government or trade with them. Haiti was subjected to international isolation and a harsh trade embargo for 20 years.
Facing starvation, Haiti entered into a humiliating agreement with France in 1825 where they were agreed to pay reparations for the lost property of the French slave owners. For over a century, Haiti paid France the equivalent of 21 billion dollars in today’s currency. They didn’t fully pay off the last of this debt until 1947- 120 years later. At times, 80% of Haiti’s entire budget was consumed with paying this debt. One of the main creditors of this debt was the National City Bank of New York, which later became Citibank.
This permanently crippled Haiti’s ability to develop economically, and played a decisive role in making Haiti the most impoverished country in the Western Hemisphere to this day. Imperialism has a long and vindictive memory, and will make a harsh example out of any people who dares to resist them.
May the world never forget the heroes of Haiti who struck a blow for liberty that reverberates across centuries, terrifying tyrants, slavers and imperialists everywhere.
CLR James, The Black Jacobins (Vintage Press, 1989).
Michel-Rolph Trouillot, Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (Beacon Press, 1995).
It’s a momentous day! Not for the world—for which it’s nothing special. But for me! Just seventy years ago, in nervous panic, I took off my U.S. Army jacket, shoes and sleeve insignia and stepped into the swift Danube River which, at Linz in still-occupied Austria, divided the USA Zone from the USSR Zone. Although very wet at this short sector, it was part of the long Iron Curtain. And I was swimming across it in what most Americans would consider a very wrong direction!
It was not really my free choice! In 1950 the McCarran Act ruled that all members of a long list of “Communist Front” organizations must immediately register as foreign agents. I had been in a dozen; American Youth for Democracy, the Anti-Fascist Spanish Refugee Committee, the Southern Negro Youth Congress (I gave them a dollar in solidarity), the Sam Adams School, the American Labor Party, Young Progressives and—most heinous of all, the Communist Party. The maximum penalty for not registering could be $10,000 and—PER DAY!—5 years in prison!! Neither I nor anyone else bowed to this monstrosity!
But in January 1951, during the Korean War, I was drafted—and required to sign that I was never in any of those on that long, long list. Should I risk years in prison by admitting my infamy? Or sign and, by staying mum, hope to survive two army years with no one checking up? I signed.
However, they did check up! Decades later, thanks to the FOIA, 1100 pages (!) of FBI files aboutme (at 10c/page) revealed that J. Edgar Hoover’s boys had watched me closely, as a leftist Harvard student (the names of seven informants were redacted) and as a worker in Buffalo, where I had hoped to help in saving the fighting 1930s character of the CIO unions.
In August 1952 a Pentagon letter listed seven of my memberships and ordered me to “report on Monday to HQ”. The threatened penalty for my perjury: up to 5 years, perhaps in Leavenworth. By then dozens of Communists had been indicted; many were sent to prison. I had luckily been sent not to Korea but to Bavaria, next to Austria. With no-one to advise me, I chose the Danube.
Across the river, in a surprisingly quiet landscape, in no way like an Iron Curtain, the Soviets kept me two weeks in a barred but polite lock-up, then sent me north to the German Democratic Republic, East Germany. I was lucky again; the GDR was the most successful, most untroubled of all in the “East Bloc.” For the next 38 years, as an American, raised with a broad, varied education (six public schools, Bronx Science, Dalton, Fieldston, Harvard), I watched, with left-leaning but not dogmatically limited eyes, the rise, then fall of this western outpost of socialism (or Communism, “state socialism”, “totalitarianism,” or whatever).
I found neither Utopia nor, back then or ever, the hunger, poverty and general misery the American media might have led me to expect. Even in the crucial, difficult year 1952-1953, less than eight years after the war, while shop offerings were limited, lacking variety, style, and often just that very item you were looking for, they were stocked well enough with the basics. East Germany was much smaller and in terms of industry and natural resources far poorer than West Germany. It had borne over 90% of the war reparations burden; the heavily-destroyed USSR did not drop these until 1953. The GDR lacked the huge investment possibilities of war criminal monopolies like Krupp, Siemens, Bayer or BASF, whose factories it nationalized, as well as the politically-aimed assistance of the Marshall Plan. Large numbers of its scientific, management and academic staffs, mostly pro-Nazi, had fled from the occupying Red Army and the leftist, mostly Communist administrators who came with it—and got jobs with their former bosses who were soon prospering again along the Rhine and Ruhr. This seriously weakened the economic revival, but I felt happy that the war criminals were gone.
As an ardent (and Jewish) anti-fascist, I rejoiced to find that the entire atmosphere was anti-Nazi! Unlike West Germany, the schools, universities, courts, police departments, all were cleansed of the swastika crowd, even when at first this meant new, barely-trained replacements, like my father-in-law, a pro-union carpenter, as village mayor or my two brothers-in-law as teachers. My wife trembled when she was reminded of her brutal teachers before 1945. Then, in the altered East German schools, corporal punishment was immediately forbidden.
Of course there were countless problems in a country ruled by Hitler & Co. for twelve years, where cynicism was widespread and Stalin’s cultural views and anti-Semitism exerted undue influence until his death in 1953. Luckily, the aged Communist leader Wilhelm Pieck was able to shield the GDR to a large degree in this regard. And from the start anti-Nazi leftists, often returned Jewish exiles, became leaders in the entire cultural scene; theater, music, opera, literature, journalism and film, where true masterpieces were created, often against fascism, but boycotted and hence unknown in West Germany and the USA. In the all-powerful Politburo of the ruling party Hermann Axen had barely survived Auschwitz and Buchenwald (his brother and parents did not). Albert Norden had escaped to the USA; the Nazis killed his father, a rabbi, in Theresienstadt. In the GDR, except for 3 or 4 mild word-clichés, I met no anti-Semitism in all those 38 years. Those still infected with fascist ideology were careful, except with family or buddies, to keep their mouths shut. Which was OK with me!
Step by step our living standard—of my very dear wife, who saved me from homesickness, our two sons, and myself, kept improving, like that of nearly everyone in the GDR, as it pulled itself up by its own thin bootstraps. Impressing me most as an American: no layoffs, no unemployment; there were jobs for everyone. Rents averaged less than 10% of most incomes; evictions were forbidden by law. In the early years large apartments were divided up when needed; no-one slept in the streets or went begging. Food pantries were unneeded, even the word was unknown. So was student debt. All education was free and monthly stipends covered basic costs, making all jobbing while at college unnecessary.
A monthly medical tax on wages or fees (max. 10%) covered everything: in my case, nine (free) hospital weeks with hepatitis plus four weeks at a health spa to recuperate and four more a year later in Karlsbad. My wife had three rheumatism cures, four weeks each, in the Polish and Harz mountains. All costs were covered and we also got 90% of our salaries. Prescribed drugs were fully covered, also dental care, glasses, hearing aids; I had no need of my wallet or checkbook to pay for my daily insulin shots or my ten-year active pace-maker. Nor for my wife’s two maternal leaves (six months paid, the rest, if wanted, with guaranteed job ). No charge for full child care, participation in sports, summer camps, not for contraception aid nor for free abortions after a new law was passed in 1982. So many fears were gone—so many were totally unknown!
I participated fully in the generally very normal life. First as a factory worker, an apprentice lathe operator, then a student, editor, director of a new Paul/Eslanda Robeson archive, finally as a free lance journalist, lecturer and author. I was not treated as a privileged “American,” as some assume, but my last three occupations meant that—in my series of four little two-stroke Trabant cars I really “got around”—to nearly all areas, with all age levels, in all possible milieus.
A monthly tax (max. 10%) on wages or fees covered everything: my nine hospital weeks with hepatitis, four weeks in a curative spa and four more a year later in Karlsbad, plus my wife’s four-week rheumatism spa cures in the Polish and Harz mountains, again all expenses covered plus 90% of our salaries. All prescribed drugs were covered 100%, so were dental care, glasses, hearing aids—nor did I need wallet, purse or checkbook for my daily insulin shots or my later pace-maker. A year’s maternal leave (six months paid, the rest, if wanted, with guaranteed job) could be followed by full cost-free child care, sports participation, summer camps, free contraception aid or (if neglected)—ever since the breakthrough in 1982—free abortions. So many fears were gone—in fact unknown!
This may really seem almost Utopian. Then why did some risk their lives to leave? Why was a wall built to keep them in? Why did they vote to join West Germany—and ditch the GDR? Why did it fail?
There were all too many reasons. East Germany was occupied by a country it had been taught to hate, whose soldiers had fought it hardest, were often violent in the first weeks, and were poorer and more difficult to love than prosperous, hence generous, gum-chewing GI’s, who came from a wealthy, undamaged homeland. Many but certainly not all East Germans appreciated the Soviets’ major role in defeating the Nazis and their pressure and guidance in confiscating major industry and breaking the power of those worst enemies of the world and theGermans, the Krupps, Siemens and IG Farbens, and the ousting of giant Prussian landowners, the Junkers, who so often officered Germany into mass bloodshed and disaster.
The Russians offered lots of good culture, such as Tolstoy and Dostoevski, top quality dancing, to “Peter and the Wolf” and “The Cranes Are Flying”. But these could rarely compete in mass popularity with the Beatles and Stones, Elvin Presley and suspense-laden Hollywood B-films.
Such enticements, which included some of high quality, based on an unusual American mix of Anglo-Scot, Irish, Jewish, Italian and especially Black cultures, were cleverly misused to increase political and economic influence and power in the world, especially in the East Bloc. They were paired, above all in Germany, with clever propaganda adapted from both Goebbels and that master peddler-publicist of anything from toothpaste to capitalism, Edward L. Bernays. They threaten the great old cultures of France, Italy, India, even China. While GDR leaders, in full power, did aim at noble goals, how could such elderly men, hardened by years of life-and-death struggle against Nazi murderers but usually trained with Stalinist clichés, grow flexible enough to find rapport in printed or spoken word with the average, changeable citizen? There were indeed successes—but too few and far between.
In the 1980s difficulties increased, upward trends slowed and slipped downward. The USSR, with its own problems, offered no assistance. Such problems were difficult but, in a changing world, hardly rare or insurmountable—except that here every problem was utilized in the unceasing attempts to retake East Germany, use its skilled but exploitable working class and move eastwards from there. The State Security or “Stasi,” created to oppose such doings, was crude enough to make the situation worse.
And yet the GDR had probably come closer than any country in the world to achieving that legendary goal of abolishing poverty, while sharply decreasing the frightful, growing rich-poor gap based on an obscene profit system. But it could not afford the immense assortment of goods—foods, apparel, appliances, electronics, vehicles and travel which the West offered, above all the USA and West Germany. The GDR citizenry took all its amazing social advantages for granted and dreamt of scarce bananas and unavailable VWs, of Golden Arch and Golden Gate—without realizing that these are largely available and affordable due to the poverty of children in West Africa or Brazil, of exploited pickers in Andalusian or Californian fields and orchards. Some are just now beginning to realize that those billionaire giants, after cheating so many people of color, wrecking world climate and wielding ever deadlier weapons of annihilation, may soon feel impelled to squeeze and break the comfortable middle classes in their own countries. The start is already felt by many families.
I look back at my seventy years as an ex-pat, and still consider myself a patriotic American—never for the USA of Morgan or Rockefeller but for that of John Brown, Harriet Tubman, Eugene Debs and Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, DuBois, Robeson, Malcolm and Martin.
I also love and admire great Germans: Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Karl Liebknecht, the great Polish-German Rosa Luxemburg—or great writers: Lessing, Goethe, Heinrich Heine, Thomas Mann, Bertolt Brecht. And I respect and empathize with people from all lands, my brothers and sisters, from Guam to Guatemala—and Gaza.
I can only hope that new generations learn from the GDR, and not only from its blunders, nasty habits and limitations, born of its history and all too realistic fears of being overthrown.
It was finally overthrown and stands no longer as a barrier to renewed billionaire expansion—economic, political and military—to the south and east. It is still being belittled or maligned—largely out of fear that it has not yet been sufficiently erased and forgotten. Despite my sometime feelings in those years of despair, even anger at mistaken paths or missed opportunities, I still look back with a mixture of nostalgia, regret and also pride at its many hard-won achievements, in culture, in living together, in partly overcoming the cult of greed and rivalry, in unflinching GDR support for the Mandelas, the Allendes and Ho Chi Minhs, for Angela Davis, too—and not, like its ultimately stronger and victorious opponents in Bonn, for the Pinochets, Francos, racists and apartheid tyrants. I recall our achievements in avoiding war and striving for lives without fear or hatred. By and large they were good years. I am glad I lived through them.
Victor Grossman, born in NYC, fled McCarthy-era menaces as a young draftee, landed in East Germany where he observed the rise and fall of its German Democratic Republic (GDR). He has described his own life in his autobiography Crossing the River: A Memoir of the American Left, the Cold War, and Life in East Germany (University of Massachusetts Press, 2003), and analyzed the GDR and questions of capitalism and socialism in Germany and the USA, with his provocative conclusions, along with humor, irony and occasional sarcasm in all directions, in A Socialist Defector: From Harvard to Karl-Marx-Allee (New York: Monthly Review Press). His address is wechsler_grossman [at] yahoo.de (also for a free sub to the Berlin Bulletins sent out by MR Online).
This article was republished from Monthly Review.
Since the end of the Second World War, the bourgeois historiography has tried to distort various incidents in order to vilify Socialism and the USSR. One of these incidents- which has been a "banner" of imperialism's apologists and other anticommunists- is the so-called “Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact” which was signed in 1939. In it's unscientific, unhistorical effort to equate Communism with Nazism, the bourgeois propaganda presents the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact as a medium of expansive policy by the USSR and Hitler's Germany. The distortion of historical events, the amalgamation of lies and the half-truths by the Imperialists and their collaborators aim in defaming the huge role of the Soviet Union in the anti-fascist struggle of WW2.
However, the reality is different than the one presented by the bourgeois historiography. Here, we will examine the circumstances and the events which led to the Molotov-Ribbentrop non-aggression pact, in an effort to debunk the anti-communist propaganda on this matter.
Having the financial and technical support of US and European monopolies, Hitler's Germany began to strengthen its armed forces in the mid-1930s. In 1936, the Nazis proceeded to the militarization of Rhineland, helped Mussolini in capturing Abyssinia (Ethiopia) while they played a crucial role in the imposition of Franco's fascist dictatorship in Spain. The strengthening of Nazi Germany and the beginning of fascism's expansion in Europe took place under the tolerance of the then powerful “democratic” imperialist powers; Britain, France and the US.
After the annexation of Austria into Nazi Germany in March 1938, the Allies (Britain, France) proceed to the Munich Agreement (30 September 1938). The apologists of Imperialism usually try to downgrade the importance of this agreement between Britain, France, Mussolini's Italy and Hitler's Germany. However, the impact of the Munich agreement- an act of appeasement towards the Nazis- was definitely significant. With the signatures of the then British and French Prime Ministers, Neville Chamberlain and Édouard Daladier, the Nazis annexed Czechoslovakia and intensified their expansionist aggressiveness towards Eastern Europe.
A few months later, on April 7, 1939 the fascist regime of Italy invaded and captured Albania. On March 31, 1939, the governments of Britain and France guaranteed the protection of Poland in case of a Nazi attack- Both London and Paris signed bilateral agreements of mutual aid with Poland. When Germany invaded Poland on September 1st, 1939, Britain and France declared war against Hitler but without taking any military action until next year! From their side, the United States declared their neutrality.
The participants of Munich Conference, 1938. From left to right:
Neville Chamberlain, Eduard Daladier, Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini.
Before the invasion of the Nazi army in Poland, the government in Warsaw had tried to negotiate with Hitler a possible joint attack against the Soviet Union. The negotiations failed, as long as the Polish bourgeoisie preferred instead to sign defense agreements with Britain and France. What is important here is that Poland had rejected an agreement of mutual defense (against Nazis) offered by the Soviet Union.
The Imperialist propaganda tries to obfuscate Britain and France's stance of appeasement towards the Nazis and hides the reasons behind the US “neutrality”. The words of US Senator Robert A. Taft are characteristic: “A victory of communism would be much more dangerous for the United States than a victory for fascism” (CBS, 25 June 1941). According to historian John Snell, the western powers regarded the Third Reich as a “barrier” against the Soviet Union in central Europe. The strategic aim of the “democratic” imperialist states was to turn Hitler against the Soviet Union; in a few words, to use the Nazis as a weapon against the construction of Socialism in the USSR. That was the initial aim of the so-called “allies”.
On that point, we must remind that, before the war and while Hitler's regime was building a powerful military, the Soviet Union took numerous initiatives in order to deal a defensive agreement with the European capitalist states. Despite the Soviet calls for the preparation of a common front against the Nazis, the western European “allies” declined such a perspective. For example, before the 1938 Munich Agreement, when Hitler annexed Austria, the Soviet Union proposed an International conference (March 1938) which would deal with the confrontation of Nazi aggressiveness.
On July 23, 1939, the Soviet Union proposed to Britain and French the beginning of negotiations for the formation of a defense plan in case of a German attack. However, the British government had other priorities: to secretly negotiate a non-aggression pact with Hitler's representatives in London. Indeed, while the Soviet Union was proposing to the capitalist states an anti-fascist front, the British government was secretly negotiating with the Nazis the “spheres of influence” in Europe!
What the bourgeois historiography deliberately hides is the fact that the Soviet Union was the only state that had not an aggressive, expansionist policy. Both the two sides of international imperialism (the “democratic” capitalist allies and, on the other hand, the Nazi-fascist Axis) were aiming at the elimination of the Soviet Union. The real enemy of both sides was the Socialist construction in the USSR and for that they didn't hesitate to use each other against Moscow.
The temporary non-aggression pact between the Soviet Union and Germany came after numerous efforts by the Soviets to deal a defense agreement with Britain and France. Therefore, being under the continuous threat of the expanding Nazi army and in order to prepare itself for an extensive war, the Soviet state forced to sign the non-aggression pact with Berlin. What bourgeois historians and apologists of Imperialism call an “alliance between Hitler and Stalin” was in fact a necessary diplomatic maneuver by the Soviet Union in order to gain time and prepare effectively for a full-scale war. Even bourgeois historians admit that the Soviet policy was complete realistic, given the then circumstances and the danger of a German attack (F.Dulles, The road to Tehran, New York, 1944, p.203-207).
According to the imperialist propaganda, the Molotov-Ribbentrop non-aggression pact led to the Soviet “capture” of a part of Poland and the Baltic states of Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia. Such arguments- about the supposed “Soviet occupation”- have fostered the rise of fascist, neo-Nazi groups in these countries after the counter-revolution in the USSR. However, the truth is also quite different. Poland had participated actively in the allied imperialist attack which was launched against the newly-founded Soviet state in 1918. With the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk (3 March 1918) the Bolshevik leadership had renounced Tsarist claims to Poland. The Polish government kept under it's control a number of areas in the Baltic region, including western Belarus, western Ukraine and a part of Lithuania). After the Nazi invasion in Poland in 1939, the Red Army moved towards the Soviet-Polish borders and liberated the above-mentioned areas.
The imperialist propaganda regarding the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact consists one of the numerous cases of blatant anticommunist lies. Through bourgeois historiography, Imperialism tries to equate communism and fascism, to vilify Socialism and the Soviet Union. In order to do this, Imperialism's apologists distort history and invent the most hideous slanders against the Soviet Union and the socialist states; from the “Moscow trials” and the “gulags” to the supposed “Stalin-Hitler alliance” and the “Soviet invasion” in Afghanistan. What the Imperialists want to hide is the fact that fascism is just another kind of bourgeois authority- the simple fact that, as Bertolt Brecht said, fascism is the “most naked, brazen, oppressive and deceitful form of capitalism”.
*The Soviet-German non-Aggression Pact took it's name from the surnames of the two Ministers of Foreign Affairs who signed it: Soviet diplomat Vyacheslav Mikhailovich Molotov (1891-1986) and Nazi Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop (1893-1946).
Nikos Mottas is the Editor-in-Chief of In Defense of Communism.
This article was republished from In Defense of Communism.
In this May 1966 file photo, a U.S. Air Force C-123 flies low along a South Vietnamese highway spraying defoliants on dense jungle growth beside the road. During the Vietnam War, U.S. planes sprayed millions of gallons of herbicides and chemical poisons over the jungles of Southeast Asia to destroy crops and tree cover. | U.S. Department of Defense via AP
HANOI—On the evening of Aug. 10, 2022, the Vietnamese Association for Victims of Agent Orange/Dioxin (VAVA) and Vietnamese Military TV held a special event marking the 61st year since the United States military first dropped the chemical weapon known as “Agent Orange” on the people of Vietnam. People’s World was invited to attend this important event. The goal was to raise awareness and funds for Agent Orange clean up and for resources to care for the victims.
The program opened with remarks from Senior Lt. General Nguyen Van Trinh, director of VAVA. The program then shared some success stories, such as the clearing of Da Nang International Airport of the remaining dioxin. Examples of other places still in the process of being cleared were also shared. The program featured interviews with victims, their families, and their caregivers.
The program ended with thanking various people from across Vietnam that have raised funds, donated, or volunteered to help those suffering the ill effects of the toxins. This aid came from across the social and economic spectrum. Philanthropists, students, youth groups, and other grassroots initiatives were all well represented.
Starting in August 1961, until the end of the war in 1973, the U.S. military dropped Agent Orange and similar chemical weapons on 5.6 million acres of Vietnamese land. Over 90% of these lands were poisoned at least twice. By the end of the war, an estimated five million Vietnamese people were poisoned by these illegal weapons.
But the crime didn’t end with the U.S. retreat from Vietnam. The awful effects of Agent Orange have been passed down from parent to child and from child to grandchild. This means that every year there are new victims born. Every year there are new victims that suffer the horrible disabilities and deformities caused by the toxins in Agent Orange and other dioxin weapons. Today, there are nearly 4.8 million Vietnamese still suffering from the toxins first dropped on Vietnam 61 years ago.
Today, Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., remains the only consistent voice calling for the U.S. government to take responsibility for its past crimes in Vietnam. Year after year, Lee proposes legislation to help care for the victims of Agent Orange. She is joined by the Vietnam Agent Orange Relief & Responsibility Campaign (VAORRC) and other advocacy groups that try and lobby for funding for the victims. Unfortunately, year after year, the rest of Congress fails to give the initiative enough support, leading to its failure.
It is important to note that the victims of Agent Orange were not exclusively those bombed by the U.S. military. Many U.S. veterans who handled and managed the containers of the chemicals and their decedents fell ill due to their handling of the toxins. While some veterans did receive minimal compensation, the chemical companies that made the toxins have been protected by the U.S. courts from having to take any responsibility for their crimes.
Earlier this year, it was revealed that the U.S. government was running biological labs in Ukraine. This horrifying revelation suggests the lessons from history have not been learned. While other countries seek to ban the use of unconventional weapons and create safeguards to deter their use, the U.S. military still goes in the other direction.
Amiad Horowitz studied history with a specific focus on Vietnam and Ho Chi Minh. He lives in Hanoi, Vietnam.
This article was republished from People's World.
By now, many will be familiar with Project MKULTRA. For decades, the CIA conducted highly unethical experiments on humans in order to perfect brainwashing, mind control and torture techniques.
Perhaps the program’s most notorious aspect was the administration of high doses of psychoactive drugs to targets, particularly LSD. These substances were brought to Langley’s attention in 1948 by Richard Kuhn, one of 1,600 Nazi scientists covertly spirited to the U.S. via Operation Paperclip following World War II. When MKULTRA was formally established five years later, some individuals consulted directly on the project.
The unwitting dosing of U.S. citizens with LSD is infamous; among those spiked were CIA operatives themselves. That the Agency exploited mental patients, prisoners, and drug addicts for the purpose – “people who could not fight back,” in the words of an unnamed Agency operative – is less well-known.
A study by academics at the University of Ottawa’s Culture and Mental Health Disparities Lab sheds significant new light on this underexplored component of MKULTRA and illuminates a hitherto wholly unknown dimension of the program; people of color, overwhelmingly Black Americans, were disproportionately targeted by the CIA in its service.
SPOKEN OF AS ANIMALS AND TREATED AS SUCH
In 1973, due to fears CIA covert action might be officially audited in the wake of the Watergate scandal, then-Agency chief Richard Helms ordered all papers related to MKULTRA destroyed.
Tens of thousands of documents somehow survived the purge. Even more conveniently, a significant portion of the research yielded by the project’s experiments was published in freely-accessible, peer-reviewed scientific journals, as over 80 private and public universities, prisons, and hospitals – whether knowingly or not – conducted psychedelic drug experiments on behalf of the CIA. While LSD was the preponderant substance of interest, the effects of DMT, mescaline, psilocybin, and THC were also extensively explored.
In all, the University of Ottawa team analyzed 49 of these papers, published from the 1950s to the 1970s. Forty percent related to experiments conducted at the Addiction Research Center in Kentucky, which the CIA directly managed.
The site included a prison for individuals charged with violating narcotics laws, a “special ward” for drug research, and a prison populated by purported “addicts.” Researchers employed there avowedly preferred to perform tests on former and current drug users, as they were considered to be “experienced” in the effects of illicit substances and therefore better able to give informed consent than the abstinent. In practice, the CIA’s guinea pigs frequently had no idea what was being administered.
In analyzing available literature, the academics examined participants’ stated race and ethnicity, recruitment strategies, methodology, and potential dangers to participants. All studies used captured, incarcerated test subjects, coercive incentives for participation, unsafe dosing levels, and had questionable scientific merit.
In almost 90% of cases, at least one ethical violation was identified, over three-quarters employed a high-risk dosing schedule that would be unacceptable under modern guidelines, and 15% used participants with psychotic disorders. Roughly 30% exploited people of color.
While in many studies, the race or ethnicity of test subjects was not recorded, further investigation by the Ottawa academics revealed Black Americans were significantly overrepresented in the recruitment sites from which test subjects were drawn. It is inevitable that the actual number of MKULTRA studies that abused people of color is far larger. For example, while people of color constituted just 7% of Kentucky’s population at the time of experiments at the Addiction Research Center, Black and Mexican Americans represented 66% of the site’s inmate population.
Culture and Mental Health Disparities Lab | University of Ottawa
In any event, that people of color suffered to a far greater degree than White test subjects at the proverbial hands of the CIA is starkly set forth in the experiments’ bloodcurdling details. For instance, a 1957 study records how numerous vulnerable individuals were psychologically and physically tortured, in particular one Black participant, who was described by researchers as if he were an animal and treated accordingly.
Dosed with LSD, he exhibited a “wild frightened look” and asked for “medicines to relieve his fear.” Their response was to place him in restraints and administer a further cocktail of drugs at far higher doses than other participants – whose race was not recorded – and to continue doing so against his will.
Similarly, the previous year, an experiment was conducted in which Black participants were given 180 micrograms of LSD each day for 85 days, while White participants received 75 micrograms each day over just eight days. One Black subject had a “very severe” reaction to their dosage and asked to drop out of the study once they had recovered. After “considerable persuasion,” however, they agreed to continue.
Undue influence was a recurrent theme identified by the academics across the papers analyzed. A variety of coercive techniques were frequently employed to solicit and maintain participation in brutal and, at times, life-threatening examinations.
For example, Addiction Research Center inmates were offered a choice of reduced sentences, or drugs such as heroin, in return for volunteering. These drugs could be taken upon completion of a study or saved in a “bank account” for subsequent “withdrawals.” Test subjects almost always chose to feed their addictions rather than get out of prison earlier.
‘DR. X, THIS IS SERIOUS BUSINESS….'
The settings in which participants were experimented upon also differed wildly according to race – even in the same study. One in 1960 observed side-by-side the effects of LSD on a group of “Negro” men convicted of drug charges, who were dosed in a prison research ward, and another comprised of professional White Americans, who freely volunteered and received their doses in the cozy confines of the principal investigator’s home, “under social conditions designed to reduce anxiety.”
Such cases give the appearance of having been expressly conducted to gauge potentially varying reactions to psychedelic drugs in Black and White participants, which raises the obvious question of whether the CIA had a specific – or indeed greater – interest in the effect of certain drugs on people of color, rather than the civilian population in general.
A volunteer undergoes LSD research project at an honor camp in Viejas, California, Sept. 6, 1966. Photo | AP
Dana Strauss, who led the Ottawa University investigation, argues that the disproportionate representation of Black Americans in MKULTRA experiments, while intensely racially charged, was simply a reflection the ethnic compositions of the institutions targeted by the CIA – although she’s certain that if the Agency’s researchers did not have a readily available prison population at their disposal, they would still have opted to targeted people of color, in the manner of the Tuskegee syphilis study.
As Strauss explained to MintPress:
"Prisons were already filled with Black bodies. They could have experimented on free individuals, but they would not have been able to get away with these kinds of experiments. There were no protections at this time for vulnerable populations such as incarcerated research participants, so the researchers could basically do what they wanted…These people were targeted for these dangerous studies specifically because they were Black and prisoners and therefore less valued."
Just as the closed environments of Nazi concentration camps permitted monsters like Josef Mengele to conduct callous, horrific experiments on humans with no regard for health or safety, so too did incarcerated and/or institutionalized people of color afford the CIA an endless supply of test subjects “who could not fight back,” to be exploited and violated however Langley wished, without scrutiny or consequence.
In the process, Strauss says, researchers tested human responses to psychedelic drugs to the absolute limit. Yet while MKULTRA researchers did not quite match the evil and barbarity unleashed in Auschwitz, at least as far as we know, a comparable contempt for test subjects is evident in several studies. Such disregard may account for the wanton and excessive nature of certain experiments, which served no clear purpose and the scientific value of which was far from clear.
In 1955, a team of researchers conducted a study on four schizophrenic patients at Spring Grove State Hospital, in Baltimore, Maryland, a now majority Black city. The test subjects were given enormous amounts of LSD over an extended period – 100 micrograms per day for two weeks, which was increased by a further 100 micrograms daily thereafter to combat rising tolerance levels. For comparison, current psychedelic research guidelines mandate a 200 microgram dose of LSD as an absolute maximum per day, and warn against extended dosing periods.
All along, the researchers monitored participants without compassion, disrespecting and dehumanizing them. Objectifying language in their resultant report reflected this depraved outlook. Their perverse voyeurism extended to observing “toilet habits” and “eroticism”, and reporting on how often the four “soiled themselves” and “smeared feces”. They also noted how often the patients “masturbated or talked about sex,” and even recorded how one patient protested desperately about their mistreatment: “Dr. X, this is serious business…we are pathetic people… don’t play with us.”
“GLARING RESEARCH INJUSTICES”
For Strauss, that MKULTRA’s racial component remained unacknowledged and hidden in plain sight so long “speaks to where we are as a society.”
Just as CIA researchers devalued the lives of Black Americans and prison inmates, so to have academics ever since, even if unconsciously. Contemporarily, Strauss notes, scholars remain intensely uninterested in how non-White individuals respond to mental health treatments. She points to a recent study that found over 80% of participants in modern psychedelic research studies are non-Hispanic White.
“Psychedelic research, psychology and academia as a whole are still White-dominated fields. In 2015, over 85% of psychologists in the U.S. were White, and less than 5% were Black. A Black psychologist, Dr. Monnica Williams, was the first to investigate the research abuses and ethical violations in MKULTRA,” Strauss tells MintPress. “I think the real question is, why didn’t anybody else investigate these glaring research injustices?”
Even more shockingly, while the morality of scientists and medical professionals using inhumane and illegal Nazi research continues to be hotly debated, no such concerns are apparent in respect of the highly unethical and fundamentally racist MKULTRA studies examined by Strauss and her team; they continue to be cited as legitimate academic work today.
Chemist Cecil Hider displays a sample of LSD during testimony in March 1966 about the control of hallucinogenic drugs. Walter Zeboski | AP
Strauss hopes their paper will trigger a wider debate about the ways in which research abuses have impacted and continue to impact people of color and how mental health research can become more socially responsible and culturally competent.
More generally, there is clearly a pressing need for an official MKULTRA truth and reconciliation committee. No CIA official or participating academic was ever held accountable or punished in any way for any of the countless crimes against humanity committed under its auspices, and the Project’s full extent remains opaque and mysterious. All the time, though, in spite of ongoing obfuscation, we learn ever more about the sinister secret program, including its overseas component, MKDELTA.
In December 2021, it was revealed that for decades, the CIA had conducted invasive experiments on Danish children, many of them orphans, without their informed consent. When one of the victims attempted to access locally-held documents on the macabre connivance, authorities began shredding the papers. Questions abound as to where else in Europe the Agency may have undertaken similar efforts.
Evidently, the coverup continues – suppression surely not only motivated by a reflexive desire to conceal historic crimes, but because such records may well have relevance to CIA activities in the present.
As MintPress revealed in April, many of the techniques of torture and mental manipulation honed by the Agency over the course of MKULTRA’s official existence were employed to devastating effect on the inmates of Guantanamo Bay. There is no reason to believe they aren’t still in use elsewhere now or won’t be in the future.
Richard Helms’ fears of congressional probes into MKULTRA eventually came to pass in 1977. Among those who testified was Edward M. Flowers, the only surviving prisoner participant of CIA mind control experiments to have been located. Flowers took part in psychedelic tests at the Addiction Research Center in the 1950s while incarcerated. While the hearings granted him a new, disquieting understanding of what had been done to him in the name of science, nothing came of it.
“I really got a first-hand insight about some things when we had the hearings…I got in touch with the fact that the CIA was behind all this…They used my ass and took advantage of me,” he recalled many years later. “I went back up on The Hill a second time. I sat down with a couple of people, and they talked about some things that had to do with compensation…and that was the last I heard of it.”
By contrast, in November 1996, as the furor over allegations the CIA had facilitated the sale of crack cocaine in California in order to finance covert operations in Nicaragua reached a crescendo, then-Agency chief John Deutch was compelled to field difficult questions from residents of Los Angeles about the reported conspiracy at an unprecedented face-to-face meeting.
There is no reason that public outcry over the Ottawa University study’s findings could not again pressure Langley representatives to explain themselves in public. And every reason that it should.
Kit Klarenberg is an investigative journalist and MintPresss News contributor exploring the role of intelligence services in shaping politics and perceptions. His work has previously appeared in The Cradle, Declassified UK, and Grayzone. Follow him on Twitter @KitKlarenberg.
This article was republished from MintPress News.
" This article was originally published on Liberation School on August 1, 2022."
In a recent book on the ongoing relevance of Walter Rodney’s work, Karim F. Hirji notes that, “as with scores of progressive intellectuals and activists of the past, the prevailing ideology functions to relegate Rodney into the deepest, almost unreachable, ravines of memory. A person who was widely known is now a nonentity, a stranger to the youth in Africa and the Caribbean” and the U.S. . Rodney’s theoretical and practical contributions to the socialist movement warrant an ongoing engagement with his life story and major texts.
Rodney’s most recent, posthumously-published text, The Russian Revolution: A View from the Third World, offers an important perspective on the time period in which it was written and the internal position of the author. Rodney’s family worked with Robin Kelley in taking Walter’s extensive lecture notes on the Russian revolutionary era and forming them into a complete manuscript.
This essay, which complements our new study guide on The Russian Revolution, offers a brief overview of Rodney’s background historical context. Highlighting aspects of Rodney’s individual life demonstrates that his commitments were not just the result of his own individual experiences and conclusions, but were part of and emerged from the revolutionary crisis ripping through the world at the time. To better comprehend A View from the Third World, we turn to Groundings with My Brothers, which Rodney produced as a relatively new professor in Jamaica. In that book, Rodney reflects on the dialectical pedagogy he developed to make his academic labor part of the global movement against capitalist imperialism, which he also called the white power structure .
What is clear throughout Rodney’s work is the influence of the materialist insight that, while people make history, they cannot make it as they please, but it in the context of existing material conditions. Rather than start with abstract slogans or formulas, Rodney’s place of departure is an assessment of concrete conditions. For example, Rodney begins Groundings with a political assessment of the situation in Jamaica and he begins A View from the Third World with his analysis of the historical situation that gave way to Russia’s revolutionary era.
Raised in struggle
Walter Rodney was born March 23, 1942 into a working-class Guyanese family. According to Walter’s partner, Dr. Patricia Rodney, his parents introduced him to community activism at an early age. Growing up in Guyana in the 1950s, when the socialist movement was influential, “sociopolitical engagement was not uncommon among Guyanese youth” . This was an incredibly exciting era to be a part of. It was a time of qualitative changes as the people of Guyana set out to build a whole new social and political system. “Walter and I, and our peers,” Patricia writes, “were strongly influenced by the political climate and the infectious spirit for independence that called and moved Guyanese of all generations to action” .
In contemporary U.S. society—a society that has been gripped by a deep reactionary counter-revolutionary force in response to the era of Walter Rodney’s generation—critical education tends to be viewed as something that can assist students in developing a critical consciousness. During the era that preceded the current one, when the colonized and oppressed world was in rebellion against colonialism and imperialist capitalism, it was the people, as Patricia Rodney alludes to above, who brought revolutionary commitments to education, not the other way around.
Walter Rodney was therefore one of countless students who took a sense of possibility with him to Queens College in Guyana. While at Queens College, Rodney became president of the historical society and deepened his interest in activism. In 1960, he won an Open Arts scholarship to the University of the West Indies in Mona, Jamaica. Patricia notes that “it was as a student in Jamaica that Walter first felt the disconnect between his life on campus and the grassroots community that surrounded the university” . Rodney then attended the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, earning a doctorate in history in 1966 at the age of 24.
While in London Rodney deepened his political commitments through a deep study of Marxism with a group of Caribbean students who would meet at the home of C. L. R. James on Friday evenings for hours on end.
Becoming a people’s history professor
Rodney accepted his first teaching position at the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania in 1966, but only stayed a year. However, Rodney would return to Tanzania for five years in 1969. Vijay Prashad says that Tanzania at the time was at the “highpoint” of its “experiment with self-reliance and non-alignment, which was then called ‘African socialism’” .
Shortly after beginning teaching in Tanzania, “the radical students from across the region formed the University Students’ African Revolutionary Front” as a response to Tanzania’s president Dr. Julius Nyerere’s Arusha Declaration of 1967, which called for a more direct move to socialism . Nyerere was the leader of the Tanganyika African National Union (TANU), one of the post-WWII independence movements under British-controlled Tanganyika. Support for TANU grew and by 1960 the first elections were planned for the East African country. On December 9, 1961, Tanganyika became an independent republic and changed its name to Tanzania. In 1969, C. L. R. James concluded that, as a result of these developments, Tanzania stood “as one of the foremost political phenomena of the twentieth century” .
James specifically points to Nyerere’s focus on rethinking secondary and higher education as Tanzania’s “most revolutionary change of all…in order to fit the children and youth…for the new society which the government…seeks to build” . Many of the students from across the continent Rodney encountered at the University of Dar es Salaam brought transformative, revolutionary determination, optimism, and organizational capacities with them. As a product himself of this revolutionary era, Rodney was well positioned to not just learn from, but contribute to, the radical student movement.
In 1967, Rodney was offered a position as a history professor in Jamaica at the University of the West Indies (UWI), where his contributions flourished. As a professor in Jamaica, Rodney was “torn by the lack of connection between academia and the working class” and having “a strong desire to bridge these worlds” . It is fitting then that “unlike other professors at UWI, he chose to live with his young family outside the insular university compound housing” . Rodney continued to use his position as a university professor to untether his academic labor (e.g., writing and teaching) from the white power structure of bourgeois state forces to contribute to the liberation struggles of the oppressed. Refusing to put the narrow self-interest of his academic position before the broader interests of the working class, Rodney’s commitment to revolution represents not only a recurring theme throughout his work (including A View from the Third World) but of the broader liberatory atmosphere of the times.
Rodney developed a practice for bridging the gap between academia and the working class called groundings. Groundings are a dialectical process of dialogue and exchange aimed at building the revolutionary movement. Rodney saw his studies, travels, and experiences as contributions to groundings, which he shared informally in working-class public spaces and privately through formal lectures.
Groundings with My Brothers is a collection of lectures developed for their practical relevance. These lectures include tidbits of reflections on practice and pedagogy, but mostly include the content that contributed to the process of groundings. In offering a class analysis of Jamaica and various contributions to the Black Power movement, Rodney situates the Soviet example within this broad framework. His interest in revolutionary Russia was part of this larger project of charting “a new direction for Black Studies and African studies” . As he writes in the second essay in Groundings:
Since 1911, white power has been slowly reduced. The Russian Revolution put an end to Russian imperialism in the Far East, and the Chinese Revolution, by 1949, had emancipated the world’s largest single ethnic group from the white power complex. The rest of Asia, Africa and Latin America (with minor exceptions such as North Korea, North Vietnam and Cuba) have remained within the white power network to this day. We live in a section of the world under white domination—the imperialist world. The Russians are white and have power, but they are not a colonial power oppressing black peoples. The white power which is our enemy is that which is exercised over black peoples, irrespective of which group is in the majority and irrespective of whether the particular country belonged originally to whites or blacks .
For Rodney, the Russian Revolution represented the first major victory in the global movement against racist capitalism and imperialism, which he experienced in various forms as a young person in Guyana and as an adult in Tanzania. Since capitalism is essentially a globally interconnected system, all progressive movements in the capitalist era are also related to and connected with others, while unavoidably maintaining their context-specific uniqueness. Beyond the larger historical interconnections of popular uprisings in the capitalist era, Rodney draws parallels between the experiences of poor peasants in tsarist Russia and the formerly enslaved of the Third World. The practical lessons gleaned from these connections, as highlighted below, are the raw materials for his groundings.
The Third World’s perspective
Reflecting on his own position as a professor, Rodney asks if “people like us here at the university” will follow the example of Cuba and join the Soviet and Chinese-led struggle against white power, against capitalism/imperialism? Even though most who have studied at the University of the West Indies are Black, reasons Rodney, “we are undeniably part of the white imperialist system” and “a few are actively pro-imperialist” and therefore “have no confidence in anything that is not white.” Even if the professoriate is not actively and openly anti-Black but still “say nothing against the system…we are acquiescing in the exploitation of our brethren” . This silence, Rodney points out, is secured through an individualistic approach to progress, displacing the long tradition of collective struggle. As a result, “this has recruited us into their ranks and deprived the [B]lack masses of articulate leadership.” Part of the answer to the question, what is to be done is for Rodney, “Black Power in the West Indies” which “aim[s] at transforming the intelligentsia into the servants of the [B]lack masses” .
Like his other works, Rodney’s approach in A View from the Third World is an example of what commitments to Black liberation looked like in practice. In the Foreword to Rodney’s first posthumously published book, A History of the Guyanese Working People, 1881-1905, George Lamming offers some crucial insights into the practical lessons Rodney saw in past movements, relevant to our understanding of his approach in A View from the Third World: “every struggle planted a seed of creative disruption and aided the process that released new social forces” .
Groundings and the Russian Revolution
Revolutionary Russia was an important source of hope in Rodney’s groundings. A View from the Third World deepens the practical relevance of his groundings on the subject by offering a thorough rebuttal and exposure of bourgeois propaganda aimed at discrediting the Russian Revolution as authoritarian, anti-democratic, and so on. Rodney also speaks to the practicality of revolution by engaging the questions of organization, assessment, and tactics and by examining, for example, the differences between the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks. Finally, while demonstrating the correctness of the Bolsheviks, Rodney does not shy away from surfacing their mistakes, highlighting the insights their successes and mistakes offer contemporary organizers.
Rodney engages these tasks through the method of historiography. A View from the Third World compares and contrasts bourgeois, Soviet, and independent socialist writings on the Russian revolutionary era with an eye toward underscoring relevant lessons for the liberation struggles of his time and place. For example, in the first chapter, Rodney points to the international context to situate his “dialectical materialist” approach to historiography noting that, “there is every reason to be suspicious of the Western European (and American) view of the Soviet Revolution, and there is every reason to seek an African view” . Rodney argues for the necessity of historical accounts that advance the view of the oppressed, of those systematically underdeveloped by the capitalist-imperialist system from which Russia was the first to make a break. In developing this view, he addresses various accusations that the Russian revolutionary era was anti-democratic or authoritarian.
Rodney describes many of the critiques against the Soviet Union, from multiple political positions, as idealist, deterministic, or stageist, because they do not deal with the concrete, materialist balance of class forces but rather with abstract concepts of the ideal, such as predetermined stages of development. Rodney engages the question of Marx and Engels’ predictions regarding where socialism would first emerge as a point mobilized to discredit either Marx and Engels or to claim the Russian revolution was a departure from Marxism.
Marx and Engels’ predictions of the socialist future—which were far and few in between—were informed by dialectical or historical materialism rather than idealism, since they were based on the information they had available rather than on predetermined, universal stages of development. Rodney writes that “historical or dialectical materialism is a method that can be applied to different situations to give different answers. Marx’s comments on Western Europe were based on a thoroughly comprehensive study of the evidence that he had before him… Hence to say anything about Russia would also require close study of what was going on in Russia” .
The practical relevance of Rodney’s groundings work to build a mass movement is readily apparent here: without an assessment of concrete conditions, organizers are left with irrelevant and/or incorrect abstractions and formulas not likely to gain much traction. Driving home the practical implications of this point for organizers, Rodney is instructive:
Marxism is not a finished and complete product contained in a given number of texts… Marxism is a method and a worldview. Neither Marx nor Engels believed their interpretations were unassailable given the limited amount of scientific and accurate data available to them, as well as their own limitations. Furthermore, new situations arising after their time required new analysis. This is where Lenin made his major contributions” .
From questions of spontaneity in the February Revolution to the issue of dissolving the Constituent Assembly in the October Revolution, Rodney makes a strong case for supporting the Russian Revolution and its Bolshevik leadership. He refutes the claim that the U.S., for example, was more democratic than the Soviet Union because it had two major parties. The difference, Rodney points out, is that the U.S. had a bourgeois democracy where the major parties represented the interest of the capitalist class, while the Soviet Union had a proletarian democracy whose ruling party was responsible to–and largely emerged from–the working class and peasantry.
Rodney also addresses the major debates within the international socialist movement. For one example, he foregrounds the international significance of the harsh condemnation of the Bolsheviks by the German socialist Karl Kautsky, “who had known both Marx and Engels since his youth, and after their deaths he became their principal literary executor” . Kautsky argued that Marx’s conception of the dictatorship of the proletariat as proletarian democracy was not yet possible in Russia since the proletariat were not the majority. Consequently, Kautsky concluded that the Bolsheviks’ seizure of state power represented an anti-democratic dictatorship that imposed its will on the peasantry. Rodney summarizes Lenin’s response to Kautsky, setting the record straight that the dictatorship of the proletariat is the political domination of the exploited classes over their former exploiting ones.
Groundings against reactionary academia
Rodney exposes the counter-revolutionary role of academia as one of the primary locations producing anti-Soviet propaganda. Explaining the hegemony or dominance of the bourgeois approach to revolutionary Russia and history more generally, he interrogates “the university institutions that are responsible for the vast majority of research and publications in the field” as “an important element in the superstructure.” Elite universities exist to “serve the interests of the capitalist or bourgeois class” . At the individual level, for example, “the conservative historians always expose themselves by their contemptuous attitude toward the working people” .
Even more explicitly exposing the role of universities in serving the larger interests of the bourgeoisie, Rodney points to a 1957 publication by R.N. Carew Hunt, who was “widely believed to be a British intelligence agent” parading as a “scholar and authority on the Soviet Union” . Beyond individual professors, Rodney implicates entire university projects such as Stanford University’s Hoover Institution for War and Peace, which “is notorious for its connections with the CIA, the Pentagon and the State Department” .
Using himself as an example to deepen the practical relevance of his critique, Rodney rhetorically asks, “what is my position? What is the position of all of us because we fall into the category of the black West Indian intellectual, a privilege in our society? What do we do with that privilege? The traditional pattern is that we join the establishment…How do we break out of this…captivity” . He offers three suggestions for academics: 1) to confront pro-imperialist and racist knowledge production; 2) to challenge the idea that racial harmony defines our “post-racial society” by moving beyond the intellectual division of labor in bourgeois academies; and 3) to connect with the masses of Black working and poor people.
Expanding on these directives, Rodney makes an important pedagogical statement that, in challenging the many myths of white supremacist imperialism in the process of connecting with the masses, “you do not have to teach them anything. You just have to say it, and they will add something to what you are saying” . As a result of engaging the Jamaican working class as subjects with valuable knowledge, “Rodney encountered a Black Power movement in Jamaica that was already well underway” . But it was a two-way street, and what Rodney contributed was “a framework that critically examined the impact of slavery and colonialism and that gave a foundation for interpreting the current situation of Black and oppressed peoples in these newly independent countries, who continued to be marginalized” . In the Introduction to A View from the Third World, Robin Kelley affirms this contention, writing that “the way Rodney engaged society as a university lecturer was considered ‘strange’ and even dangerous that it was interpreted as a challenge to the establishment” . Outlining what this pedagogy, this practice, looked like in motion, in action, Rodney elaborates:
“I lectured at the university, outside of the classroom that is. I had public lectures, I talked about Black Power, and then I left there, I went from the campus. I was prepared to go anywhere that any group of [B]lack people were prepared to sit down to talk and listen. Because that is Black Power, that is one of the elements, a sitting-down together to reason, to ‘ground’ as the brothers say. We have to ‘ground together.’…[T]his…must have puzzled the Jamaican government. I must be mad, surely; a man we are giving a job, we are giving status, what is he doing with these guys, [people they call] ‘criminals and hooligans’[?]…I was trying to contribute something. I was trying to contribute my experience in , in reading, my analysis; and I was also gaining, as I will indicate” .
Rodney’s groundings emerged from this powerful combination of research and teaching with his eagerness to learn from, and be taught by, those looked down on by mainstream academia. Committed to the revolutionary fervor of the times, the resulting perception and treatment of Rodney as a threat to the establishment was not an effective deterrent. Rodney’s remarkable and unyielding achievements are among the fruits of the post-WWII revolutionary crisis. As the crisis of capitalism and of the white power structure deepens, so too does the influence of Rodney’s life and legacy.
By the age of 38, Rodney had become part of the same “tradition of intellectual leadership among Africans and people of African descent in the Americas” that includes “Marcus Garvey and W.E.B. DuBois, George Padmore and C. L. R. James” . It is important to note that for Rodney, scholarship was not simply an academic exercise but one central to making the academy relevant to the liberation of the oppressed. Jamaican professor Verene A. Shepherd argues that it is Rodney’s pedagogy that is the model for the activist academic, a model that remains relevant because activists in academia are still rare and still desperately needed .
A recurring theme throughout not only A View from the Third World, but throughout all of Rodney’s work, is Marx and Engels’ caution against “applying the dialectic mechanically” because the specific historical development of the balance of competing class interests does not proceed in predetermined, inevitable ways, and that what people do matters .
The Liberation School study guide for A View from the Third World will help today’s organizers and activists do just that.
 Karim F. Hirji, The Enduring Relevance of Walter Rodney’s How Europe Underdeveloped Africa (New York: Daraja Press, 2017), xi.
 For a more in-depth analysis of Rodney’s pedagogy see Jesse Benjamin and Devyn Springer, “Groundings: A Revolutionary Pan-African Pedagogy for Guerilla Intellectuals,” in Keywords in Radical Philosophy and Education: Common Concepts for Contemporary Movements, ed. D. Ford, (Boston: Brill, 2019), 210-225. For more on Rodney’s life, legacy, and pedagogy, see Devyn Springer and Derek Ford, “Walter Rodney’s Revolutionary Praxis: An Interview with Devyn Springer,” Liberation School, 12 August 2021. Available here.
 Patricia Rodney, “Living the Groundings–A Personal Context,” in W. Rodney, The Groundings with My Brothers, ed. A.T Rodney and J. Benjamin (New York: Verso, 2019), 77-85, 77.
 Ibid., 77-78.
 Ibid., 78.
 Vijay Prashad, “Foreword,” in W. Rodney, The Russian Revolution: A View from the Third World (New York: Verso, 2018), vii-xiii, viii.
 Ibid., viii.
 C.L.R. James, A History of Pan-African Revolt (Oakland, CA: PM Press, 2012), 118.
 Ibid., 128.
 Rodney, “Living the Groundings,” 80.
 Robin D. G. Kelley, “Introduction,” in W. Rodney, The Russian Revolution, xix-lxxiii, xxviii.
 Carole Boyce Davies, “Introduction: Re-grounding the Intellectual-Activist Model of Walter Rodney,” in W. Rodney, The Groundings with My Brothers, xi-xxii, xvi.
 Walter Rodney, Groundings with My Brothers (New York: Verso, 1969/2019), 11.
 Ibid., 28.
 Ibid., 29.
 George Lamming, “Foreword,” in Walter Rodney, A History of the Guyanese Working People, 1881-1905 (Kingston, Jamaica: Heinemann, 1981), xvii-xxv, xix.
 Walter Rodney, The Russian Revolution: A View from the Third World, (New York: Verso, 2018), 3.
 Ibid., 50.
 Ibid., 150.
 Ibid., 105.
 Ibid., 12.
 Ibid., 15.
 Ibid., 14.
 Ibid., 18. For a different example of the same line of inquiry, see Gabriel Rockhill, “The CIA & the Frankfurt School’s Anti-Communism,” Monthly Review, 27 June 2022. Available here.
 Rodney, Groundings with My Brothers, 66.
 Ibid., 67.
 Kelley, “Introduction,” xxviii.
 Ibid., xxviii.
 Lamming, “Foreword,” Rodney, xvii.
 Verene A. Shepherd, “The Continued Relevance of Rodney’s Groundings,” In W. Rodney, The Groundings with My Brothers, 101-108.
 Rodney, A View from the Third World, 170.
Percy Bysshe Shelley by Alfred Clint (1819) / Public Domain
Two hundred years ago, on July 8, 1822, the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley drowned. He was less than a month short of thirty.
Revolutionary socialist Friedrich Engels’s enthusiasm for Shelley lasted a lifetime. Even before he went to England as a young man, he tried his hand at translations of the English revolutionary romantic, who had been enthusiastically received by both the English and German working classes. In bourgeois cultural circles, his name was unfamiliar—even Goethe and Heine did not know him, unlike Byron, one of the most celebrated poets of his time.
In his Letters from England, Engels wrote, “Byron and Shelley are read almost exclusively by the lower classes; no ‘respectable’ man is likely to have the latter’s work on his table without coming into the most terrible disrepute.” Together with some poet friends, he even planned a German edition of Shelley and translated some of the poems into German himself, which he later made available to Eleanor Marx (daughter of Karl Marx) for her ‘Shelley and Socialism’ lecture, when it was published in translation in the German Social Democratic press.
Shelley was born shortly after the French Revolution, heir to a substantial estate and also to a seat in Parliament, on August 4, 1792, in Sussex, England. As a son of the upper classes, he attended Eton College and was subsequently enrolled at Oxford University. Britain was in political turmoil in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, with food riots, Luddite rebellion, unrest in Ireland, the threat of Napoleon’s armies, and a growing bourgeois reform movement. The ruling class feared the example set by the French might infect their own working class and reacted with repression. The young Shelley took part in campaigns for the release of imprisoned democrats and worked to create an association of radical democratic people. At Eton, he began to write and also to express atheist views. Atheism was deemed infinitely more dangerous in repressive Britain than the suspect Dissenters and Catholics. In 1811 Shelley was expelled from Oxford University and disowned by his family for publishing The Necessity of Atheism.
The Necessity of Atheism is one of the earliest treatises in England on atheism and argues that since faith is not governed by reason, there is no evidence for the existence of a god. The universe could always have existed, and if there had been an initial impetus, it need not have been a god.
This text led to his exclusion from the circles of power to which he was entitled by birth. In the same year, at 19, Shelley also eloped with Harriet Westbrook, three years his junior, and married her in Scotland. This led to further estrangement from his family, as well as from the Westbrook family. Shelley was a follower of the radical publicist William Godwin, author of An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice (1793), who argued, among other things, for gender equality and against the marital morality of the time. Both Godwin and Shelley respected the views of the women around them, which included unmarried couples, as well as independent women who worked and raised their “illegitimate” children. Shelley rejected the marriage institution as deeply misogynistic and was one of the early advocates of women’s emancipation.
In February 1812, Shelley and Harriet sailed to Dublin. Here they campaigned vigorously for the emancipation of Catholics and the abolition of the Union. As early as 1811 Shelley had written a “poetical essay” in support of the imprisoned Irish journalist Peter Finnerty, a former editor of the United Irishmen’s journal, The Press. In preparation for his campaign in Ireland, Shelley had penned An Address to the Irish People. His second pamphlet, Proposals for an Association, even appealed to the remaining United Irishmen to give Irish politics a more radical direction by peaceful means. Shelley was a great admirer of Robert Emmet and the United Irishmen and wanted to form an association that openly worked toward an egalitarian republic, and supported legal equality and freedom of the press. He also had a Declaration of Rights printed in Dublin in the tradition of the American Revolution, distributed it, and appeared at various events. Together with John Lawless, an associate of Daniel O’Connell, he planned to found a radical newspaper and publish a new history of Ireland. Shelley advocated peaceful means throughout his life, despite Godwin’s disapproval that he was planning “bloody scenes.” Nevertheless, he realized that he had to go beyond Godwin and Thomas Paine.
The Shelleys moved to Wales to agitate for better conditions among the agricultural workers. This even led to an assassination attempt on Shelley in early 1813, probably instigated by the landowner Robert Leeson, son of one of the wealthiest Ascendancy families in Ireland, whereupon Shelley fled from Wales back to Ireland. There, in the seclusion of Ross Island in Killarney, he completed his first major verse narrative, Queen Mab, and returned to London shortly afterward. Here he met with Godwin, whose An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice alongside Rights of Man, by Godwin’s friend Thomas Paine, had become one of the best-known political pamphlets in England. Godwin’s wife Mary Wollstonecraft, who died in childbirth, had written A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, a foundational document of the early women’s movement, following Paine’s Rights of Man.
Shelley’s relationship with Harriet had become difficult. In 1814 he fell in love with Godwin’s daughter Mary and fled with her to war-torn France and Switzerland at the end of July; they returned in mid-September. In November 1814 Harriet gave birth to a son, and in February 1815 Mary Godwin delivered a premature daughter who died days later; the following January, Mary had a son. Byron left England at the end of April 1816. Shelley and Mary followed him to Switzerland in May. In December 1816, Harriet Shelley committed suicide by drowning, pregnant again by another brief relationship. Shelley, who had continued to care for Harriet, then married Mary Godwin. He lost custody of his two children when Harriet’s family cited Queen Mab as evidence of his atheism and rejection of marriage. The children were placed in the care of a clergyman.
The deaths of two more children left deep scars, and as late as June 1822, a few weeks before Shelley’s death, Mary miscarried and nearly died herself. After the suspension of habeas corpus in March 1817, opposition journalists fled or were imprisoned. Shelley wrote Laon and Cythna, which appeared edited as The Revolt of Islam at the end of the year. In March 1818, the Shelleys emigrated to Italy. In the remaining four years of his life in exile, Shelley wrote his major works.
Two hundred years ago, on July 8, 1822, Shelley drowned in a sailing accident. Condemned by conservative critics as an immoral outsider, he did not live to see the bourgeois-democratic and burgeoning proletarian movements take possession of his work.
Eleanor Marx continued Marx and Engels’s Shelley enthusiasm. In her Shelley lecture, she answered the question of Shelley’s socialism as follows:
“Shelley was on the side of the bourgeoisie when struggling for freedom, but raged against them when in their turn they became the oppressors of the working class. He saw more clearly than Byron, who seems scarcely to have seen it at all, that the epic of the nineteenth century was to be the contest between the possessing and the producing classes.”
Moreover, Eleanor Marx underlines the influence on him of Mary Shelley and her mother, the feminist Mary Wollstonecraft:
“All through his work, this oneness with his wife shines out…. The woman is to the man as the producing class is to the possessing. Her ‘inferiority,’ in its actuality and in its assumed existence, is the outcome of the holding of economic power by man to her exclusion. And this Shelley understood not only in its application to the most unfortunate of women but in its application to every woman.”
Love was a central category in Shelley’s thinking. In open rebellion to the norms of bourgeois aristocratic society and the Church of his time, love is the capacity for true humanity and the purpose of human life. With this core category, his poetry expresses a concrete utopia: what is conceivable, becomes a possibility, and inspires action to bring about this vision. Love requires solidarity and action against the enemies of humanity. In this sense, Shelley’s utopia was perceived as anti-religious and subversive.
“Bible of the Chartists”
Completed in 1813, Queen Mab, a blank verse narrative, has the character of a poetic credo and a political poem. In a cosmic dream journey, the fairy queen reveals to young Ianthe the misery of humanity in history and the present. Shelley emphatically rejects religious arguments of something intrinsically “sinful” in humankind and cites the real culprits:
Man’s evil nature, that apology
Shelley becomes even more specific, naming “the poor man” as his own liberator: “And unrestrained but by the arm of power,/ That knows and dreads his enmity.” Only people committed to reason and to love are able to realize a humane future, which includes the free association of women and men. In his notes on Queen Mab, he further underlines the insights quoted here:
“Kings, and ministers of state, the real authors of the calamity, sit unmolested in their cabinet, while those against whom the fury of the storm is directed are, for the most part, persons who have been trepanned into the service, or who are dragged unwillingly from their peaceful homes into the field of battle. A soldier is a man whose business it is to kill those who never offended him….
“The poor are set to labour,—for what? Not the food for which they famish: not the blankets for want of which their babes are frozen by the cold of their miserable hovels…no; for the…false pleasures of the hundredth part of society.”
This poem was so enthusiastically circulated among radicals and the rising working class that it became known as the “Bible of the Chartists.”
The emancipatory aim of poetry
After the war with Napoleon ended, Britain was hit by a new wave of mass unemployment, food riots, and new state reprisals. The Holy Alliance’s struggle against all emancipation efforts on the continent led to a desperate search among radicals for new means of resistance. When Mary and Shelley met Byron in Switzerland in the summer of 1816, a new phase in Shelley’s work began.
In Hymn to Intellectual Beauty, beauty has left this “dim vast vale of tears, vacant and desolate” and “No voice from some sublimer world hath ever/ To sage or poet these responses given.” Only when “musing deeply on the lot/ Of life…/ Sudden, thy shadow fell on me.” No religion can bind beauty as a vision of a humane society to the “vale of tears”; only one’s own thinking can evoke it. Beauty is as anti-religious and deeply connected to a humane society for Shelley as it was for his contemporary and friend John Keats, also one of the revolutionary Romantics.
The theme of Shelley’s longest verse narrative, Laon and Cythyna (The Revolt of Islam), is the French Revolution. Building on visions from Queen Mab, it develops its great historical subject through the plot. Two lovers inspire a revolution against the Turkish Sultan. The course of the French Revolution is symbolically represented in the action of the lovers: Laon and Cythna are revolutionaries. Laon inspires resistance against the soldiers who capture Cythna. Sailors rescue her and she persuades the sailors to release their cargo of female slaves, which becomes an act of self-liberation. Cythna is celebrated as a folk heroine. Together with Laon, she plays a leading role in the revolution that overthrows Othman. The revolutionaries spare Othman, who then instigates a counter-revolution and massacres the people; famine and epidemics follow. The Christian priest, in league with Othman, persuades the people to sacrifice Laon and Cythna. Laon asks for Cythna to be spared, Othman breaks his word and Cythna is burnt at the stake along with Laon. Although Laon tells the story, Cythna makes the most impassioned speeches, arguing that the revolution will one day succeed. Shelley portrays the revolution as a little bloody, but the counter-revolution as brutal. In the preface, Shelley refers to the emancipatory aim of poetry. In his effort to combat the disappointment following the hopes of the French Revolution, and through his explanation of the historical as well as social causes of its bloody character, he reaffirms its ideals.
Love shall govern the world
Thus he also justifies the bloodshed of the insurgents as forced by their oppressors. Despite intensified repression, Shelley not only defends the French Revolution but also addresses issues regarding the role of the artist in the struggle. He highlights the sensual, concrete equality of women and men by emphasizing their common struggle, which is part of their love. In his preface, Shelley writes: “There is no quarter given to revenge, or envy, or prejudice. Love is celebrated everywhere as the sole law which should govern the moral world.”
In the poetry and prose written in Italy from 1819 onwards, Shelley reached the peak of his achievement. He produced his best-known poem, Ode to the West Wind, the lyric drama Prometheus Unbound, Song to the Men of England, and The Mask of Anarchy, one of the greatest political protest poems in the English language.
The Peterloo Massacre (August 1819) aroused in Shelley the hope of resistance, and he wrote with renewed vigor. With the Prometheus drama, he hoped to kindle revolutionary fire and continued to insist on his revolutionary core, the need for a humane society. In this drama, he shapes a complex reality, a condensation of everything written so far, and it takes familiarity with Shelley’s world and language to fully unlock the meaning of this work.
Shelley expanded the immediate classical-mythological reference from Greek mythology and its later interpretations through to Milton, as well as elements of his own. Added to this is the Christian world of ideas, whereby Shelley, through his radical humanization, undertakes an inversion of the biblical story. Thus there is a consistent reference to the present. Prometheus, representative and protector of humanity, is directly connected to nature as a child of Mother Earth; he is her consciousness taken shape. As the epitome of humanity, he has foresight. Prometheus is bound, powerless and suffering because he is separated from Asia, who represents Love; he needs her as she needs him. His revolutionary revolt against violent oppression is doomed to fail without love. Jupiter, through Mercury, a tool of the rulers, can expose Prometheus to the Furies. Prometheus knows when Jupiter’s hour has come; he can endure his sufferings until then. But Prometheus must become active himself, which only becomes possible after the union with Asia, which in turn releases a force immanent in nature and society in the figure of Demogorgon. This triggers Jupiter’s fall from hell and, in a reversal of the Christian legends, Prometheus, bound to the rock, is redeemed by Herculean power. Paradisiacal beauty can now blossom on earth. Prometheus and Asia wed and unite. Nevertheless, the force of nature, Demorgogon, warns at the end of humanity’s capacity for despotism: “Man, who wert once a despot and a slave,/ A dupe and a deceiver!” He then names love as the healing force:
This is the day which down the void abysm
The power of poetry
In A Defense of Poetry, Shelley writes about the power of poetry, its social role, and the responsibility of poets. This power of poetry is expressed in the great Ode to the West Wind, Shelley’s metaphor for the advance of historical movement:
…Be thou, Spirit fierce,
Poems such as The Mask of Anarchy and Song to the Men of England speak directly to the struggling workers and became an integral part of the culture of the labor movement. Although Shelley did not advocate armed struggle, he also knew that at times it was unavoidable:
Next to Burns, Shelley had the greatest influence on 19th-century working-class literature in England. His vision applies undiminished today.
Dr. Jenny Farrell was born in Berlin. She has lived in Ireland since 1985, working as a lecturer in Galway Mayo Institute of Technology. Her main fields of interest are Irish and English poetry and the work of William Shakespeare. She writes for Culture Matters and for Socialist Voice, the newspaper of the Communist party of Ireland.
This article was republished from Peoples World.
Julius Caesar: Working Class Hero or Tyrant - On Michael Parenti’s People’s History of Ancient Rome. Reviewed By: Thomas RigginsRead Now
We often hear the United States compared to ancient Rome – usually negatively. Critics of US foreign policy refer to a new Roman Empire and to Paul Bremer as a proconsul in Iraq. These references are comprehensible because Rome and its institutions, both religious and secular (especially Roman law) are part of the foundations on which so-called Western civilization is based. The founders of the United States used many Roman symbols in representing the new republic (res publica). The imperial eagle, the arrows of war, the olive branch, the idea of a Senate – even the classical architecture of Washington, DC is based on the public buildings of Rome (and Athens). Now that many elements of the right see this country as the dominant world power, the analogies with ancient Rome as a universal empire are becoming more numerous even in the popular media.
Michael Parenti’s People’s History of Ancient Rome is thus both timely and relevant. Written in his usual popular and accessible style, this book will make available to a wide working-class audience an easily understandable and reliable portrait of Rome at one of its most important historical junctures: the transition from an oligarchical republic to a full-blown imperial system.
The life and death of Julius Caesar is the focal point of this work. Departing from the consensus of classical scholars who refer to Caesar as a tyrant who trampled on the personal liberties and freedoms of Republican Rome symbolized by the rule of the Senate, Parenti marshals convincing evidence to support what has been the minority view – that Caesar was actually a representative of popular democratic tendencies among the Roman people and that his enemies and assassins really stood for the interests of a small elite portion of the ruling class who used the power of the Roman state for personal enrichment and the exploitation of the masses.
The class struggle in Rome was basically between the optimates (the best) who represented the wealthy latifundistas (plantation owners) and the popularis (relating to the people) who tried to improve the living standards of regular citizens of the republic. 'As a popularis, Julius Caesar introduced ‘laws to better the condition of the poor,’ as [the ancient historian] Appian wrote,' Parenti points out. This is what ultimately cost him his life on March 15, 44 B.C.
The optimates were also the creditor class, and Parenti remarks that their policies created 'penury and debt' that crushed average citizens. It was Caesar who tried to alleviate this suffering and prevent the loss of freedom for the debtor, actions 'upon which today’s bankruptcy laws are based' – a citizen’s freedom was to be 'inborn and unalienable.'
Caesar has also been blamed for the destruction of the great library at Alexandria. Parenti shows, however, that the destruction of ancient culture, the burning of books and the closing down of libraries and educational institutions was done by the 'Christ worshipers' when they came to power. 'Though depicted as an oasis of learning amidst the brutish ignorance of the Dark Ages, the Christian church actually was the major purveyor of that ignorance.' Parenti even suggests that Caesar’s rule was 'a dictatorship of the proletarii' since he ruled against the 'plutocracy on behalf of the citizenry’s substantive interests.' And, he says Cicero, one the most dedicated of the optimates, is quoted as lamenting the fact that Caesar wanted to bestow Roman 'citizenship not merely on individuals but on entire nations and provinces.' It is no surprise then to discover that even to this day people leave flowers at the site of Caesar’s murder every March 15.
Parenti also criticizes contemporary classicists who ignore the class struggles of the ancient world – seeing the masses as rabble and expressing sympathy for ancient ruling-class elites and their treatment of the common people. Parenti says he has 'tried to show [that] what we know of the common people tells us that they displayed a social consciousness and sense of justice that was usually superior to anything possessed by their would-be superiors.'
Parenti lists four tenets of the ideology of the optimates which he says characterize 'all ruling propertied classes.' Namely, 1) the ruling class treats its interests as the general interest; 2) social welfare programs are bad for those who receive them as they 'undermine the moral fiber' of the poor; 3) the redistribution of wealth at the expense of the wealthy is detrimental to society as a whole; and 4) attacking the reformers and their characters is a better way to defeat reform than attacking the particular reform itself.
This is an excellent book and a good read. By understanding the class struggle in ancient Rome, as presented by Parenti, we will better understand the struggle being waged in the world of today.
The Assassination of Julius Caesar: A People's History of Ancient Rome By Michael Parenti New York New Press, 2003.
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.
“Appeals to all civilized and reasonable people.”
Volume I of Hitler’s Mein Kampf [My Struggle] was published in 1925. Volume II was published in 1926.  It’s important to bear these dates in mind because, according to historian David Schmitz, in 1933, when Hitler first became Chancellor of Germany, US officialdom was “not distraught.” In fact, George A. Gordon, the US charge d’affaires in Berlin, told Washington that Hitler led a “moderate” faction of the Nazis, which “appeals to all civilized and reasonable people.”  In 2015, footage emerged of British Royal Family members giving Nazi salutes in 1933. Defending the footage, Buckingham Palace said that “No one at that time had any sense how it would evolve. To imply anything else is misleading and dishonest.” 
This is nonsense.
western governments were obviously capable of doing rudimentary intelligence work like reading Mein Kampf, which Hitler wrote while in prison after attempting a coup. So, what was it about Mein Kampf that might have put western imperialists at ease? The short answer is that Hitler also happened to be a western imperialist who was obsessed with annihilating Marxists.
His explicitly stated intention in Mein Kampf was, through mass murder, to eradicate Marxism in Germany and Eastern Europe. The primary goal was the destruction of Soviet Russia in order to transform Germany into a major European super-state: “This colossal Empire in the East is ripe for dissolution” he wrote.  After this goal was accomplished — and Marxism eradicated — Germany could then get to work seizing colonies outside Europe: “The German people will have no right to engage in a colonial policy until they shall have brought all their children together in the one State.” 
Marxists were not a secondary target for Hitler
Hitler’s savage antisemitism was inextricably linked to his anti-Marxism. As an aspiring young artist in Vienna (he was born and raised in Austria) he said “my eyes were opened to two perils, the names of which I scarcely knew hitherto and had no notion whatsoever of their terrible significance for the existence of the German people. These two perils were Marxism and Judaism.”  Throughout the book he conflates Jewish people with Marxists, or else depicts Marxism as the deadliest weapon deployed by Jews in a quest for world domination:
On the day when Marxism is broken in Germany the chains that bind Germany will be smashed for ever. 
Hitler said that Bolshevism (Marxism as applied in Soviet Russia) was ultimately driven by “the aspiration of the Jewish people to become the despots of the world” and that it would triumph in Germany if it is not crushed in Russia: “The struggle against the Jewish Bolshevization of the world demands that we should declare our position towards Soviet Russia.” 
In Mein Kampf, it seems Hitler more frequently conflates Jews with Marxists (or social democrats) than with capitalists. His theory was that Jews first infiltrated powerful circles as financiers, then disarmed the hatred of the masses towards them by controlling the press. Lastly, Jews solidified their power by seizing control of anti-capitalist forces: “the Jew […] in a short while became the leader of their struggle against himself. […] And thus the Marxist doctrine was invented.” 
In Marxism, Hitler saw anti-racist and anti-elitist ideas that were a complete negation of his own, and a dire threat:
Such is the true essence of the Marxist Weltanschauung [worldview] […] The destruction of the concept of personality and of race removes the chief obstacle which barred the way to domination of the social body by its inferior elements, which are the Jews. […] in reality its aim is to enslave and thereby annihilate the non-Jewish races. 
Referring to Marxism, Hitler asked “Is it possible to eradicate ideas by force of arms? Could a Weltanschauung be attacked by means of physical force?” He concluded that it could be, but only if the extermination campaign has the “moral support” that comes from working “in the service of a new idea or Weltanschauung which burns with a new flame.” 
It’s important to add that Hitler regarded most people, including his beloved German “Aryans,” as quite stupid. German schools, Hitler said, should have students spend less time reading and more time developing their physical fitness; basically producing “real men” who’d become soldiers, and producing the healthy women who would give birth to them.  Hitler’s book only once cautioned against getting carried away with the premise that most people were stupid: “Generally speaking, one should guard against considering the broad masses more stupid than they really are.”  He also said that orators were more effective propagandists than writers for reaching “the masses,” and that written propaganda should be very concise and dumbed down.  Hitler clearly wrote Mein Kampf (which is 600 pages long) for a trusted audience with whom he believed he could be fairly honest. 
Emphasis on stealing working class support from Marxists
In the last chapter of Volume I, Hitler stated that his growing movement “must try to recruit its followers mainly from the ranks of the working class. It must include members of the intellectual classes only in so far as such members have rightly understood and accepted without reserve the ideal towards which the movement is striving.” Hitler lashed out at industrialists who hurt the fight against the “internationalism” promoted by Marxists:
“A movement which sincerely endeavors to bring the German worker back into his folk-community, and rescue him from the folly of internationalism, must wage a vigorous campaign against certain notions that are prevalent among the industrialists. One of these notions is that according to the concept of the folk-community, the employee is obliged to surrender all his economic rights to the employer and, further, that the workers would come into conflict with the folk-community if they should attempt to defend their own just and vital interests. Those who try to propagate such a notion are deliberate liars.”
Hitler saw class solidarity as an abomination (a Judeo-Marxist abomination of course) that must be replaced with racial solidarity. He actually defined a state as a “racial organism” but feared that excessive inequality could undermine racial solidarity, and thereby thwart the eradication of Marxism. He declared that “the paramount purpose of the State is to preserve and improve the race; […] Those States which do not serve this purpose have no justification for their existence. They are monstrosities.” 
Hitler said that use of the color red in Nazi posters was deliberately intended as a provocation (“our intention being to irritate the Left”). He wrote that “ordinary bourgeois” were shocked to see Nazis use the “symbolic red of Bolshevism” and call each other “Party Comrade.” But Hitler and his inner circle were delighted with accusations that they were Marxists: “We used to roar with laughter at these silly faint-hearted bourgeois and their efforts to puzzle out our origin, our intentions and our aims.” 
In that same Chapter, he recounts with pride the initial exploits of the goons he formed to beat up “Reds” and enforce order during his speeches: the first Nazi “Storm Troops.” However, Hitler did not believe Nazi unions could compete with the trades unions that he saw as thoroughly controlled by Marxists:
The Marxist trade-unionist citadel may be governed to-day by mediocre leaders, but it cannot be taken by assault except through the dauntless energy and genius of a superior leader on the other side. 
In a rare display of modesty, Hitler said no such leader existed for this particular task, so he said it was best to wait until they had state power to establish Nazi trade unions (while of course also using state power to smash the “Marxist trade-unionist citadel”). Until they had state power, Hitler advised his followers to either leave the Marxist unions, or remain but disrupt them as much as possible.
Hitler’s racist pecking order and admiration of the British Empire
Though he hated Jewish people so much that he claimed to be repulsed by their very odor, he at least credited them with cunning, or intelligence as in the case of Karl Marx.  Africans on the other hand, Hitler likened to dogs:
From time to time our illustrated papers publish […] the news that in some quarter or other of the globe, and for the first time in that locality, a Negro has become a lawyer, a teacher, a pastor, even a grand opera tenor or something else of that kind. […] the more cunning Jew sees in this fact a new proof to be utilized for the theory with which he wants to infect the public, namely that all men are equal. […] The bourgeois mind does not realize that it is a sin against the will of the eternal Creator to allow hundreds of thousands of highly gifted people to remain floundering in the swamp of proletarian misery while Hottentots and Zulus are drilled to fill positions in the intellectual professions. For here we have the product only of a drilling technique, just as in the case of the performing dog. 
Hitler also alleged that the “cunning Jew” was happy with an “influx of negroid blood” in France which was “infecting the white race with the blood of an inferior stock” in order to “destroy the foundations of its independent existence,” and turning that region bordering Germany “into a playground for hordes of African niggers.”
In another passage of the same chapter Hitler assailed the idea that merely speaking German and living in Germany could make anyone a German: “it is almost inconceivable how such a mistake could be made as to think that a Nigger or a Chinaman will become a German because he has learned the German language.”
What does it say about George Orwell that he could review this obscene book and still remark that “I should like to put it on record that I have never been able to dislike Hitler”?  What does it say about Steve Wadhams of the CBC (in 2016!) praising Orwell’s “courage” for writing that? 
It’s also worth recalling that when Hitler wrote Mein Kampf the US was an apartheid state plagued with lynchings of African-Americans.  It was also militarily occupying Haiti, a majority black republic established by a sucessfull slave revolt in 1804 (and punished by European and US white supremacists ever since). How troubling could Hitler’s virulent racism have really been to US officialdom back then, or even now  as it ships weapons to neo-Nazis in Ukraine to fight a proxy war with Russia?  And of course Winston Churchill’s racism and brutality  were comparable to Hitler’s. 
Orwell’s review dubiously claimed that Mein Kampf contained an “implied intention of smashing England” after dealing with Russia. The book clearly conveyed Hitler’s wish to one day see Germany surpass Britain as an imperial power, but preferably by making it subordinate to Germany as an ally (as Britain is today to the US) not by destroying it — the fate he undeniably intended for Marxists, Jews and Slavs. In fact, Hitler often expressed admiration and, most importantly for him, racial solidarity with the British Empire.
Consider one of the reasons Hitler rejected the idea of an alliance with India’s independence movement just after World War I: “I as a German would far rather see India under British domination than under that of any other nation.” Moreover, he wrote that groups advocating an alliance showed that they had “learned nothing from the world war” of “Anglo-Saxon determination.” 
Reminiscing of World War I, Hitler said that
No sacrifice should have been considered too great if it was a necessary means of gaining England’s friendship. Colonial and naval ambitions should have been abandoned and attempts should not have been made to compete against British industries. […] This policy would have involved a period of temporary self-denial, for the sake of a great and powerful future. 
After the war, despite the ruin and humiliation Britain helped impose on Germany, Hitler continued to advocate for an alliance with Britain. He lamented, “Of course it is difficult for us to propose England as our possible ally in the future. Our Jewish Press has always been adept in concentrating hatred against England particularly.”
Lessons in movement-building?
Any movement, whether it be noble or evil, will grapple with similar kinds of growing pains and tactical dilemmas: internal power struggles driven by petty jealousy, difficulties merging with like minded groups, decisions about how careful to be admitting new members. Generally, when writing about movement-building tactics and propaganda, Hitler’s hateful fantasies and obsessions are toned down and he appears practical. His description of the first German Labor Party meeting he attended and is one of the few times he shows any sense of humor. He basically barged into a comfortable little club that had no interest in growing or really doing much of anything.  But he guessed correctly that he could take it over and do something with it.
Given the success he had building his movement, and its humble origins, there is no denying that he had good political instincts for the time and place in which he lived. He stressed intensity, action, and results. He brought in his army buddies (battle-hardened racist fanatics like himself) to make sure that happened, and to ensure he kept control. He said that calling his movement a “party” was a great way to scare away “dreamers” he thought were useless. 
However, Hitler was a genocidal maniac who succeeded for many years because he lived a world run by like-minded genocidal maniacs. To a large extent, far from bursting down walls, he was walking through doors left wide open by centuries of western imperialism. That’s ultimately the most important lesson to take from his book.
this article was republished from Orinoco Tribune.
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.