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.
On the Movimiento Revolucionario de Tupac Amaru
Along the west coast of South America lies the Republic of Peru whose fantastic mountains; kingdom of emerald in the Amazon; and its arid desert of Lima are called home to millions of nations of people, animals, and a plethora of coveted resources.
As a consequence of the latter, Peru had been a subject to Spanish colonization for nearly 300 years with the land pillaged along with centuries of genocide and enslavement of its people. Political domination of the Spanish lasted until the 19th century with the bourgeois revolutions of South America that led to wealthy criollo-rule, merely a republican form of Spanish monarchy. Due to the conditions of the Native, Black, peasantry, and working-class Peruvians, the writings of Jose Carlos Mariátegui, renowned as the father of Peruvian communism, resonated with the masses and contributed to the growth of prominent socialist parties including but not limited to the Partido Comunista de Perú and Partido Comunista del Perú-Marxista-Leninista. These two groups later developed into the two biggest communist insurgent groups in Peru, the Sendero Luminoso for the former and the Movimiento Revolucionario de Túpac Amaru for the latter. It was also during the decades of the communist uprising that the trafficking of cocaine from South America into the United States took the national stage on political debates in the United States. The US empire declared a “war on drugs” that set Draconian and punitive punishments for its users at home and set the justification for intervention abroad. The Peruvian and US governments facilitated the trafficking of drugs through Latin America while scapegoating communist groups as a measure of counter-insurgency, while the US funded right-wing dictatorships and death squads. This piece will explain the actions carried out by the Movimiento Revolucionario de Tupac Amaru through the CIA and the War on Drugs.
The Epoch of Primitive Communism
Pre-Columbian Peru was home to one of the largest empires in the world, the Incan empire. While class hierarchy existed, what Engels would later write about in The Origins of the Family, Private Property, and the State, the Inca’s had a practice called mita which refers to a collective labor system regardless of class status and the equity of the resources produced. In the 17th century, during the spread of the Spanish empire, Francisco Pizarro and the conquistadors slaughtered and destroyed Incan communities all through the lowlands of Peru and nearby areas. The Spanish brought enslaved people from western Africa to replace the rapidly dying native populations in the Peruvian lowlands to produce cash crops for the empire, while also using native labor and stealing gold for the crown and the Catholic Church. The Spanish also brought a new caste system during their colonization of Peru;
Españoles ranked as the most elite, peninsulares.
Criollos who were of Spanish descent born in the colonies. Mestizos were those who were Spanish and Native.
Mulattoes were those who were African and Spanish. Indios were those who were Native.
Negros were for those who were African, and Zambos.
The lowest on the colonizer’s system, were for those who were of Native and African descent (Gaughran Colonial Peru, the Caste System, and the “Purity” of Blood 1).
The Spanish had a process of systematically creating new races through miscegenation of the people they enslaved, called mestizaje. Berta Ares Queija wrote in “Mestizos, Mulattos, and Zambaigos” about the mestizaje in Peru, Ecuador, and Bolivia and brings attention to the miscegenation, especially, people with African origins. She wrote on a Peruvian quote “El que no tiene de Inga tiene de Mandinga”...“...y muchos tienen a la vez un tanto de Inga y un tanto de Mandinga” which means he who does not have Indian blood has African blood and many have a lot of both Indian and African blood. The Spanish caste system was born out of misogyny, racism, and religious imperialism but mostly explains the modern Peruvian racial demographics. 45% of Peru is native, majority being Quechua and Aymara, 37% are mestizo, 15% are white, and 3% being between Afro, Japanese, and/or Chinese Peruvian. However, it is believed the Afro-Peruvian population is about 10% of the population, as Afro Latinidad in Peru was formally recognized in 2017. The colonial history of Peru is key to understanding the particular conditions of the country that sparked decades of revolutionary struggle against capitalism, it serves to understand who were the oppressed and who were the oppressors.
As a result of racialized class systems, many along the bottom of the pyramid found themselves allied with the socialist movement.
The establishment of the MRTA followed the coup d’etat against President-General Velasco who nationalized Peruvian oil from the New Jersey Standard Oil Company, established Quechua, Aymara, and Spanish as Peru’s official languages; levied a much needed land reform and redistribution to the peasantry; and denounced U.S. imperialism into Peru and all of Latin America. President Velasco was ousted by the urban Peruvian bourgeoisie and replaced through another military coup by General Morales Bermudez (Bamat 130), a conservative and pro-capitalist president who adopted IMF policies which plundered the Peruvian economy (Taylor 3).
According to Maoism in the Andes by Lewis Taylor who gathered information through the words of Mercado of Sendero Luminoso, during the Bermudez administration “wages fell by 35%” while “prices rocketed by 221%”. The MRTA developed out of the remnants of several leftist organizations of Peru, as did Sendero Luminoso, but the two differed on execution, tendency, and organization. As for Sendero Luminoso, Chairman of the Peruvian Communist Party Abimael Guzman, better known as Gonzalo, developed a tendency known as Marxism-Leninism-Maoism which his party said mirrored the philosophies of the Chinese revolution and protracted people’s war with Mariáteguismo. In fact, in Mariátegui’s Seven Essays on the Peruvian Reality, which describes the socioeconomic conditions of the country being unique as a former Spanish colony, Mariátegui wrote “el Marxismo-Leninismo es el sendero luminoso del futuro” which means in English “Marxism-Leninism is the shining path of the future”, which inspired the name for the PCP’s newspaper. MRTA, on the other hand, saw the Chinese revolution as Marxism-Leninism applied to Chinese conditions that though are similar, not the conditions of Peru. MRTA had several departments in its overall organization that worked to tackle the Peruvian state such as its mass front groups, theoretical cadre, and armed forces. The MRTA had described itself as stuck between radicalizing the social democrats of the “legal left” and bringing dialectical materialism to the “dogmatic militarists of the Shining Path” (McCormick 7).
While being politically active for over a year and under different banners, the MRTA first gained international attention when the armed wing when it bombed the residence home to U.S. marines stationed in Lima, Peru. Through movement-building in cities like Lima and Trujillo but especially in the rural, extremely impoverished communities, the MRTA’s membership and sympathizers increased to cause alarm first through the intensity of the violence, the loss of private capital, and the level of support from Peruvians. While the MRTA and Sendero Luminoso were struggling against the Peruvian government, the real authority, as all three players knew, was the U.S. government. This is exemplified the CIA’s report on MRTA in 1991 stating that the MRTA had attacked U.S. spheres of influence 100 times.
In 1991, both Sendero Luminoso and the MRTA declared war on the United States, as reported in the CIA’s Terrorism Review of Anti-U.S. Terrorism in Latin America. Later that year, the CIA gathered information on the MRTA’s internationalism, finances, and intra-national affairs. The report said “the MRTA poses one of the most serious threats to U.S. interests in Latin America today”.
But while the Andes were organizing, U.S. and Peruvian capitalists collaborated on policies to crackdown on the indigenous insurgents.
During the 1880s into the 1950s, U.S. capitalists and pharmacists found the remarkable effects of the coca leaf, which is native to the Andes, of course all of which native Peruvians have already known of and been using for centuries. Paul Gootenburg’s Secret Ingredients: the Politics of U.S.-Peruvian 1915-1965 had quelled my skepticisms over rumors that Coca-Cola had previously used cocaine as its base ingredient. In fact, it was the coca leaf, the base for cocaine in the same way poppy seeds are the base for heroin, that was used in coca-cola which, slowly then, ended up developing into cocaine. Gootenburg wrote “in response to growing medicinal demands after 1884, Peru began busily exporting to the United States and Europe substantial quantities of dried coca-leaf-from the native plant Erythroxylon Coca” leading into the west’s discovery of the effects of cocaine. Afterwards, once criminalized and banned from the U.S., the United States sought to restrict the growing of coca plants by the Peruvian population also at the same time as the privatization of Peruvian lands while Maywood Chemical and Coca-Cola’s, both American companies, investments in Peru were at its height. One may infer that through corporations, the United States facilitated the trafficking of cocaine while criminalizing the Peruvian people for indulging in a cultural plant. As imperialists have done with the FARC, the FMLN, and in modern days the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, the stigma of being attached to the trafficking of drugs and being a Latin American leftist have become inseparable.
The tendency of leftist movements, as with Sendero Luminoso and the MRTA, are to organize and work with the indigenous and the peasantry in rural communities. In the case of Peru, many of the communities in the Cuzco state are underserved and under-developed, leading to a larger support for leftist activity. However, it is also with these native and oppressed groups that grow coca leaves, that the criminalization of their native plant was painted on their skin. Suzanna Reiss wrote in “We Sell Drugs: the Alchemy of U.S. Empire” how despite the U.S. being the top importer and retailer of coca-leaf products, after the prohibition of coca in the U.S., the empire had painted Peruvians, especially natives, as “cocaine addicts” which prompted further U.S. interventionism into Peruvian affairs. The trafficking of cocaine from Peru to the U.S. was pinned on Sendero Luminoso and the MRTA as means of self-financing by American “analysts” and became central in discrediting the efforts of socialism building in Peru to both Limeño and American audiences.
However as with the Iran-Contra Affair, the right-wing accusers of the MRTA had much more than blood on their hands.
In his A Language Older Than Words, Derrick Jensen interviewed former MRTA member, who is in exile in Germany, Isaac Velazco about the MRTA, the U.S., and Peruvians. From his research of the drug trade in Peru, Jensen shares that “in 1996, one hundred and sixty-nine kilos of cocaine were found in the presidential plane, one hundred and twenty kilos were found in one Peruvian warship, and sixty-two in another. Also that year, Demetrio Chavez Petaherrera...testified in a public hearing that since 1991 he’s been personally paying Peru’s drug-czar Vladimiro Montesinos (an ex-CIA informant)...$50,000 per month in exchange for information on United States Drug Enforcement Agency activities”. However, the U.S. imperialist machine still drew connections of cocaine trafficking to the leaders of the communist insurgency. Victor and Jorge Quispe Palomino, leaders of the Sendero Luminoso, had been declared by the U.S. Department of Treasury as narcotic traffickers.
As the War on Drugs grew, so did U.S. intervention in not only Peru, but all of Latin America. Today, there are roughly 800 U.S. military bases outside of U.S. territory, 76 of them are in Latin America with 8 in Peru (Lindsay-Poland 1). In 1992, Clifford Klaus wrote for the New York times under the headline “U.S. Will Assist Peru's Army in Fighting Cocaine and Rebels” sharing that the U.S. will be sending $10 million to the Peruvian government to “to help the Peruvian military fight drug traffickers and Maoist guerrillas involved in the cocaine trade” funding, training, and leading the Peruvian military in a war against its oppressed.
The Internal Armed Conflict in Peru took the lives of 69,000 Peruvians, mostly at the hands of the Peruvian state forces.
In the 1990 Peruvian election, the conditions of Peru dramatically changed with the victory of Alberto Fujimori, emerging from a political machine FREDEMO (Frente Democrático) that is pro-U.S. and pro-capitalist. It was with the reactionary military rule of Fujimori that the Peruvian internal conflict grew increasingly bloody. Grupo Colina was established by Fujimori that was an anti-communist death squad. This combined with millions in defense from the strongest country on the planet proved to be the prevailing threat to the communist insurgency.
Yet the MRTA continued to resist and in 1996 carried out their final major attack: the hostage crisis on the Japanese Embassy. Alberto Fujimori was of Japanese descent and had invited politicians in Japan to Peru to celebrate Japanese Emperor Akihito’s 63rd birthday when 14 members of the MRTA stormed the ambassador’s home and held high-level officials hostage for nearly four months. They treated the officials with relative compassion and once the standoff ended, members of the MRTA were murdered and mutilated in unmarked graves. The aunt of Nestor Cerpas, the leader of the MRTA, was arrested for attempting to honor his memory (Jensen 1).
In 2001, after rewriting the constitution and arranging a self-coup to manage a third term, Alberto Fujimori was arrested and sentenced to 25 years for crimes against humanity. He has two children, Keiko and Kenji Fujimori, who followed in his footsteps of high-level political status in Peru and in 2017, then-President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski gave a humanitarian pardon to Alberto Fujimori which resulted in his resignation with a 17% approval rating. Peru today is regarded as one of the most U.S. friendly countries in Latin America, however, this title was granted just before Brasil’s Bolsonaro ascended to power.
The story of the United States and capitalism in my family’s country is just a part of the larger narrative that is smaller nations losing their sovereignty to the will of larger nations. To the United States empire, the Global South exists for U.S. capital and its people are vessels of free labor. But as Peruvians, our blood is full of struggle and resistance that has been passed down from our ancestors. The conditions of Peru, despite the political climate, still invigor struggle among the masses. While the results of the Peruvian Internal Armed Conflict have resulted in reactionary politics, state sanctioned violence, and extreme state surveillance, the legacy of the communist insurgents inspires and continues to educate the internationalist socialist movement. As our people continue to resist, victory is but on the edge of the Peruvian tongue.
Kayla Popuchet is a Peruvian-American CUNY student studying Latin American and Eastern European History, analyzing these region's histories under a scientific socialist lens. She works as a NYC Housing Rights and Tenants Advocate, helping New York's most marginalized evade eviction. Kayla is also a member of the Party of Communists USA and the Progressive Center for a Pan-American Project.
This article was republished from Kayla Popuchet's Blog.
Two giants who share a birth date and common ideals. Two men who both, in different times, dignified our country's past to illuminate our present and future. Two heroes of the Revolution who are June children, Antonio Maceo Granjales and Ernesto “Che” Guevara de la Serna
Distances matter little – in time and kilometers – if two names remain eternal in the memory of a country, fused as the same reference of integrity and courage. Two giants that history has twinned beyond a shared birth date and common ideals. Two men who both, in different times, dignified our country's past to illuminate our present and future. Two heroes of the Revolution who are June children, Antonio Maceo Granjales and Ernesto “Che” Guevara de la Serna.
In Santiago de Cuba the first was born. It was 1845 when the Maceo family baptized the boy who would become a renowned Mambí leader in Cuba’s wars of independence.
The second came into the world exactly 83 years later. They called him Ernesto, although his memorable life would earn him another international qualification, since that little boy, born in 1928, would leave his native Rosario, in Argentina, at a very young age to heal the "wounds" of a ravaged America.
Their extraordinary lives were amazing and have become legendary.
Maceo fought more than 600 battles and bore on his body 26 scars of war; while Guevara made very much his own the epic feats of the Granma yacht, the Sierra Maestra and the Cuban Revolution, before going off to fight for the freedom of Congo and Bolivia.
San Pedro was not the end for Maceo, just as La Higuera was not for Che. We will carry the memory of the former’s firm voice in Baraguá insisting "No, we don't understand each other" before an enemy who sought to disrespect our homeland; and the latter who, looking his executioner in the eyes, ordered: "Shoot, there is a man here."
To them both we say, Cuba contemplates you proudly.
This article was republished from Granma.
What follows is a draft of the translation of the introduction to Franck Fischbach's La Production des hommes: Marx avec Spinoza which will be published by Edinburgh University Press as Marx with Spinoza: Production, Alienation, History. Posted here in preparation for my forthcoming event with the Marx Education Project, and as part of the process of editing it.
The relation of Marx with Spinoza has often been driven—most notably with respect to Althusser and the Althusserian tradition—by the project of “giving Marxism the metaphysics that it needs,” according to an expression used by Pierre Macherey specifically with respect to Althusser. The intention was laudable, but times having changed, our project can no longer be exactly that. We begin from the idea that the philosophy specific to Marx or the specifically Marxist philosophy is still largely unknown, that Marx as a philosopher is still largely and for the most part unknown. For a long time this was due reasons largely external to the thought of Marx: initially it was due to the urgency of militant practice, then it remains thanks to theme of the rupture with philosophy that is expressed by the eleventh Thesis on Feuerbach or in The German Ideology, any reading of Marx that is resolutely philosophical was suspected as being ideological. Then on the verge of orthodoxy, several authors—and not insignificant ones—both at the heart of the history of Marxism , and outside of it , have maintained that there is a critique of philosophy in Marx , this critique would still be a determinant practice of philosophy. However, the ignorance of “Marx’s philosophy” equally lies in reasons that internal to Marx’s work: the critical relation that Marx enters with philosophy implies in effect that the latter appears in terms of disconcerting new features, which are not those of a doctrine expressed as such (Marx, who never completed any of his grand works, always refused any dogmatic or systematic presentation of his thoughts), but are also not that of fragments. Neither systematic, nor fragmentary, philosophy with respect to Marx, appears diluted, omnipresent but always mixed and everywhere combined with elements of the discourse of history, of political economy, but also the sciences of nature and literature. It is not necessary to reconstruct or reconstitute the philosophy of Marx: that would suggest that it is only present in a fragmentary and dispersed state, and that it is necessary to reassemble and unify—which would lead to dogmatic and systemic presentation that is perfectly alien to the Marxist practice of philosophy.
It would then be a matter of isolating—in the chemical sense of the term—the philosophy of Marx from the non-philosophical elements from which it is amalgamated, on the express condition of returning them to the “compound,” if only in order to see what it becomes and the effects of the philosophical "elements" when they come into contact with elements of another nature. The presupposition here is then quite different, it is no longer that of the dispersion of Marx’s philosophy in order to wait for it to be reassembled: it is that Marx’s thought is in its entirety (one could say from beginning to end) infused, traversed, saturated with philosophy, including and perhaps especially when it appropriates objects and immerses itself in discourses that our not immediately philosophical. It is a matter then of revealing—in the photographic and chemical sense of the word—the philosophy of Marx. It is necessary to have a revealer: for reasons to be explained in what follows, we turn to Spinoza for this role of developer of Marx’s philosophy, in a process which, it should be understood, that does begin with claiming that Marx is basically Spinoza or that Marx was spinozist. The book which you are reading is not a work on Marx and Spinoza, and treating them as two authors or of two “doctrines, “ there is no such equilibrium: it acts first as a book on Marx, but of Marx read in the light of Spinoza in the measure that, or, in this light, the thought of Marx can be seen clearly and properly philosophical.
What result can we expect from such a process? To start off, in order to get to an anticipated fact, there is a simple idea that we find in Merleau-Ponty (but could equally be found elsewhere) “the history that produces capitalism symbolizes the emergence of subjectivity.” An equally simple question which could be posed is to know if this emergence is to the credit or blame of capitalism. For Merleau-Ponty it is clear that it is to its credit, and moreover that Marx himself credits capitalism with the emergence of a society conceived as a subject of its production of itself in which people conceive themselves as subjects. Also in this text when it is a question of Lukács, Merleau-Ponty recognizes that he had the merit of elaborating “a Marxism which incorporates subjectivity into history without making it an epiphenomenon.” As for us, we come to the idea here that, it is true that Marx makes the formation of subjectivity a phenomenon inseparable from the history of capitalism—and therefore something other than an “epiphenomenon” (on this point Merleau-Ponty is right)—it can be seen to be exactly the opposite with respect to the emancipatory process. The history of capitalism (from its formation up to its overcoming) is not that of the increase of the power of subjectivity as the condition of all liberation—the contradiction unique to capitalism is having formed at its center the condition of its overcoming. If Marx only said that, it would be a disarming simplicity, a childish dialectic which would not merit one to dedicate even an hour of time: capitalism has thus produced subjectivity, but it does not produce it without at the same time oppressing and repressing it; what is to be done is to free it. So that, from the retrospective point of view of a liberated subjectivity, a subject emancipated, capitalism appears after such a break as a mode of production which has made a decisive contribution—albeit negatively and in some sense despite itself—in the liberation of humanity finally a subject in and of itself. Depicted in such a way this simplistic version is not without its promoters (more within Marxism than in its adversaries), just because it is simple, nothing would be more false to than to seek in Marx yet another well-meaning description of emergence of the modern subject as a history of progressive liberation.
This is why the contemporary exhaustion of metanarratives of emancipation fundamentally does not concern Marx, so that we cannot conclude from the exhaustion of the former the death of the latter. Because it is a different history that Marx relates to us: what he was concerned with was uncovering the links that inseparably connect the birth of modern subjectivity to economic, political, and ideological processes that have brought about the massive reduction of the majority of people to a total lack of power. It was his task to show that the “pure subjectivity” which is celebrated by theological, political, philosophical, moral, juridical (and nowadays psychologists and media) discourses—is in reality nothing other than the absolute naked exposure of human beings to powers of domination, constraint, and subjection without precedence in history. The problem for Marx was not to examine the possibilities of the liberation of a subjectivity formed in capitalism and oppressed by it, but to comprehend and expose the social, economic, and political processes that have the effect of reducing humanity to a complete individual and collective impotence. In forming subjectivity capitalism has not produced the basis of its proper negation: to the contrary it has engendered and produced an element absolutely indispensable to its own perpetuation.
In brief, our analysis have brought us to conclusions opposed to Merleau-Ponty’s, notably when he writes, “historical materialism…states a kinship between the person and the exterior, between the subject and the object which is at the bottom of the alienation of the subject in the object and, if the movement is reversed, will be the basis for the reintegration of the world with man.” If this is alienation for Marx then one is at pains to demonstrate in what way it differs from Hegel. Merleau-Ponty adds, “Marx's innovation is that he takes this fact as fundamental, whereas, for Hegel, alienation is still an operation of the spirit on itself and thus is already overcome when it manifests itself.” Alienation is thus not radical when it comes to Hegel, and is such in the extent where it would be included in an act of spirit. Everything would thus play out in advance with respect to Hegel: if spirit is capable of going outside of itself, it is also always capable of being recovered and reestablished, of returning to itself to from itself posed by itself as something other than itself. The novelty of Marx consists, if one follows Merleau-Ponty, to not be given this facility, to not have immediately reduced the loss of the subject in the object to an act of the subject itself, but to have started from this loss as a fact, of the originary Faktum. Alienation would thus be a different and more series affair and would cease to be a sort of play of the subject with itself.
This understanding of the “novelty” of Marx is not sufficient in our eyes, notably because it does not make it possible for us to comprehend the difference between Marx and Feuerbach, a difference that Marx never wanted to stop making. One could also ask if such a view of alienation as a “primitive fact” is compatible with a philosophy which moreover, cannot comprehend as alienation as anything other than the result of a historical process and not an ahistorical fact. This is why we interpret Marx’s concept of alienation not as a new version of a loss of the subject in the object, but as a radically new thought, of the loss of the essential and vital objects for an existence that is itself essentially objective and vital. Alienation would not be a primitive fact, but the result of a process that we describe (following Etienne Balibar ) as the becoming-labor of production.
On the relation between “the person and the exterior,” Merleau-Ponty is right, but he does not see how this relation is radicalized by Marx: it is not necessary to restrict the “person” to the status of the subject. In other terms, the relation of humanity with the world is for Marx the fact that the human beings are immediately a being of the world, or, as he writes in the 1844 Manuscripts, an “objective being” conceived according to an expression of Spinoza reprised by Marx, part of nature (pars naturae, Teil de Natur). This leads Marx to totally rethink the concept of alienation: it is not the loss of subject in the object, rather it consists, for objective beings such as humans as a loss of their “essential objects” that is to say the loss of their proper objectivity (“because a being which has no object outside of itself does not have objective being” and “a non-objective being is a non being”) It is precisely this loss of objectivity that constitutes essentially the becoming subject of humanity, that is to say the formation of the modern subject: subjectivity befalls precisely the being from whom all objective dimension of his or her existence has been withdrawn, which all of its vital and essential objects (those which it depends on to persevere in its being) have been subtracted. Alienation is not therefore the loss of the subject in the object it is “the loss of object” for a being that is itself objective. But the loss of its objects and the objectivity of its proper being is also the loss of all possible inscription of one’s activity in objectivity, it is the loss of all possible mastery of objectivity, as well as other effects: in brief, the becoming subject is essentially a reduction to impotence. The becoming subject or the subjectivation of human beings is thus inseparable according to Marx from what is absolutely indispensable for capitalism, the existence of a mass of “naked workers”—that is to say pure subjects possessors of a perfectly abstract capacity to work—individual agents of a purely subjective power of labor and constrained to sell its use to another to the same extent that they are totally dispossessed of the entirety of objective conditions (means and tools of production, matter to work on) to put to actual work their capacity to work.
Under these conditions, the perspective of emancipation and liberation cannot consist, according to an expression of Merleau-Ponty, in “the reintegration of the world in humanity,” but, to the contrary, in the reintegration of humanity in the world: it is not a matter of resorbing the object in the subject, but to the contrary of realizing the subject in the object, of desubjectivizing people and reobjectivating in the world which is no longer for them, but the conditions of which are in them, which are their at with which they are in a vital and objective relation of dependence. In brief, emancipation does not consist in in integrating the world into humanity but of realizing humanity in the world.
It is necessary on this point, as well on others, to be attentive to the letter of Marx’s text, here for example in The Holy Family: “if man takes all knowledge, sensation, etc., from the sensible world, and the experience at the heart of the world, what matters, is how to organize the empirical world in such a way that man experiences it and becomes accustomed to what is truly human, let him experience his quality as a human being in the world…if human beings are made by experiences we must make experiences humanly.” To human beings grasped as a subject outside of the world, confronted with an alien objectivity that they must reintegrate into themselves, Marx opposes with the inverse process of the reinscription and reinsertion of humans in the world that are such that people are made in the world, the experience of their “human qualities,” or, that they can get used to what is human: if there is for Marx a humanization of the world, its precondition is the worlding of humanity. Only under precondition can make that one does not understand the humanization of the world as a human interiorization of the world, as a subjectivation of the object (that is to say as a purely speculative play of the subject with itself), but that one comprehends, to the contrary, that this process of humanization unfolds entirely in the immanence in a world understood as pure exteriority to itself, without interiority—and that implies and imposes a practical and active transformation of the world such that it is.
To put it briefly, as Spinoza before him and as Heidegger after him, Marx does not begin with the subject, but from the world, a situation of the world understood as unlimited ensemble, without beginning or end, that is to say as a non-totalizable totality of social historical relations woven and knotted with their natural and living existence and determined to produce the means for the permanent perpetuation of their existence in the world. When one begins from the world and not the subject, from the exterior and not the interior, from a plane of immanence and not whatever position of exteriority, foundation or of transcendence, the task cannot be to bring back the exterior into the interior (interiorize the exterior), nor to return the world to the subject (subjectivize the object). Beginning from the exterior, from what Marx refers to as “circumstances,” that is to say from the world insofar as it is an unlimited ensemble of relations necessarily engendered by encounters that are themselves contingent, and, from that, arrives at human beings insofar as they are products of the same circumstances, which is to say at human beings that are always fundamentally beings affected, and therefore being for which the relation with the world is primarily of the order of an encounter with events that happen in the world,--thus starting from there, the task is, as Marx says, of forming these circumstances humanely.
Which is to say what? Certainly not that one acts to transform the world in such a way that human subjectivity recognizes itself and rediscovers itself, is able to see the world as the moment of its own auto-objectification, in such a way that it is indispensable from its return to the self. Considering that human beings, in their existence in the world are not at all subjects exterior to the world, but are also products, themselves objective, of quotidian circumstances of events and encounters, in the sense of what happens to them from and in the world, “forming these circumstances humanely,” cannot mean for Marx forming circumstances in the manner in which they conform and are adequate to the essence of humanity already posed, this could not mean “giving circumstances a human form” since that would return to the supposition that the human form or essence can exist for and by itself independent of circumstances and before them—which Marx negates.
To understand what is at stake here, it is necessary to proceed from the fact that in the world such that it is, the majority of the circumstances that effect human beings, most of the events that happen to them and the encounters that they undergo are not favorable or useful to human beings, that people are the products of circumstances, events, and encounters that are neither generally nor immediately favorable or useful. From there “forming circumstances humanly” is first to produce and engender as many situations as possible and to select the maximum of encounters that are useful and favorable to human beings, that is to say those that aid and affirm their existence and persevering in their being. The transformation of the world must first be grasped as its reorganization: it is a question of organizing the world in such a way that the events, circumstances and meetings favorable to human beings multiply in number and intensity to the point where human beings find in the world a human way of living. Far from starting from a predetermined essence of man that it would be a question of realizing in the world by transforming this world, and the world only, human beings, according to Marx, are only able to grasp what it is to be human under the conditions of organizing the world that events favorable and useful to human beings are multiplied.
The concept of habit, introduced here by Marx, is decisive: it acts clearly as a reference to Aristotle’s concept of hexis via Hegel’s reprise of the same theme in the Introduction of to the Principles of the Philosophy of Right where Hegel, in defining the “world of spirit” or the objective spirit of “second nature,” indicates that the ethical world is that in which human beings actually form themselves as human through their integration into institutions (family, civil society, corporations, and, finally, the institution that encompasses the former and founds them, the state), within which they experience the repetition of always already objectified humanity. It is from this that Marx writes that it "what has to be done is to arrange the empirical world way that… man experiences and becomes accustomed to what is truly human in it.” Far from knowing immediately what it is to be human and deriving a practical norm from the knowledge of this essence in order to orient the transformation of the world to make it conform with what it must be, it is on the contrary it is through their experience of the world that human beings are susceptible to progressively understand what it means to be human. The difference with Hegel, however, is that this habit does not for Marx entail a reference to the problem of the institution of a second nature irreducible to a first nature: closer to Aristotle than Hegel, habit is considered by Marx to be the formation of a natural character which does not function as an essence valued as a norm superimposing itself, that is itself superimposed and finally substituting itself for nature. (On this point see Ogilvie's book on Second Nature) The formation of human character is not a function of the sense of humanity that is already present in the world and objectified in institutions of “second nature” that makes up “ethical life,” but it is a function of a model of the human which human beings become immanently aware of through their experiences of what suits them by nature, which is to say what is useful and favorable to them. The problem is thus for Marx to organize the world in such a way that one is able to accumulate as much as possible the events and opportunities in which human beings experience the more often what the 1844 Manuscripts calls their “activation” (Betätigung), which is to say a confirmation (Bestätigung) of themselves which is also a renewal of their being and an increase of their individual and collective capacity to act.
It is then with subjectivity as with philosophy, if only because the second is essentially presented up to now as the thought of the first, one cannot realize it without negating it, and negate it without realizing it. Reobjectifying humans, that is to negate their subjectivity as otherworldly subjectivity, it is negating that they are subjects exterior to the world that act on it insofar as it is an object, but at the same time it is to adopt a point of view in which that which philosophers call “human subjectivity” appears as a reality that effectively and objectively exists in the world. What remains of what up until now has been called subjectivity when one undertakes making it worldly, objective, and natural? What follows is that activity (Tätigkiet), more specifically vital productive activity, is to be understood not as the production of objects by subjects (that is productive labor, which is not the same thing as productive activity) but as a production which is always in the same time self-production, as a production of things which is at the same time a production of the self by the self, thus confirmation and activation of the self. The activity by which human beings constitute themselves as objective beings, as things in the world, is thus at the same time the destructive activity from which, in the same world, constitutes the reduction of human beings to an impotence of a bare and otherworldly subjectivity. Human beings are only able to affirm their actual power to by destroying at the same time and effectively the real causes of their lack of power: that is why “The coincidence of the changing of circumstances and of human activity or self-changing can be conceived and rationally understood only as revolutionary practice.” If “communism the real movement that destroys the present state of things” it is in the sense in which it is the process of the negation and destruction of the actual circumstances which reduce human beings to impotence, which separate them from their power. This is not just a theoretical transformation, the act of shifting from a conception of themselves as subjects to a conception of themselves as “beings of nature,” but a practical transformation effectively lived as an increase of power, as the individual and collective appropriation of a hitherto unknown power. Communism is therefore the real process, the ethical experience conducted by which people in changing life also change their life.
Returning human beings to the world: this was already the project of Feuerbach, except that for Marx it is not sufficient, all it can do is return to L’Anschaueung, that is an sensible intuition that is essentially contemplative and therefore passive. Overcoming this conception (that Spinoza calls imaginary) of human beings as subjects exterior to the world and for which there is an objective world, that can only be made by a massive transformation of their relation to humanity, that is to say a practical transformation of their consciousness of self, and therefore by an self-production and self-engendering of new ways of being a self and a thing in the world. This is what give philosophy, for Marx as well as Spinoza, a properly ethical transformation of the self, a radical modification of in theory and practice of the self and the world. But can one transform practically their way of being without at the same time revolutionizing the world, that is to say without reorganizing practically the space in which that self is proven and confirmed.
To the question that Foucault poses, “How can the world be the object of knowledge and the at the same time the place of the subjects test?” and that he considered to be the fundamental problem of western philosophy, Marx, had he been able to respond, would state that the world, as the natural world, is not for beings that—as human beings—are themselves part of nature, an external object to know via tekhné, and that, as a historical world (but, to say the truth, it is always the same world that one acts in), it is not, in the actual state of things, a space where “oneself” can test itself as an ethical subject of truth --and that it can only become at the prices of its radical transformation. Moreover, from the point of Marx, the two aspects of the question formulated by Foucault are indissociable: the world can only become the space of the real and positive experience of the self, an experience which is also an affirmation of the self—on the condition of surmounting the conditions which make the world a simple object delivered over to tekhné or to subjects. These conditions have their existence primarily in the mode of production: it is in this element that reigns the conditions that reduce at one time the self to the impotence of the subject and the world to the objectivity of a manipulable object. These are the conditions that engender the separation between, one the one side, subjects as owners of purely subjective labor power, and, on the other, the objective conditions that put to work this power (in as much as these conditions appear that are less the conditions of the labor process than the conditions of the valorization of capital ). This separation makes it so that the subjective power of labor is defined as an impotent power, a power that can do nothing by itself because it is separated from the conditions of its proper objectivity. Conquering the objective conditions for an affirmative and powerful experience, that is to say the joy of the self in the world, making the conditions of individual and collective self-affirmation, that is what it means for Spinoza and Marx to change one’s life.
Jason Read is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Southern Maine. He is the author of The Micro-Politics of Capital: Marx and the Prehistory of the Present (SUNY 2003) and The Politics of Transindividuality (Brill 2015/Haymarket 2016) and a forthcoming collection of essays, The Production of Subjectivity: Between Marxism and Post-Structuralism (Brill 2022) as well as The Double Shift: Marx and Spinoza on the Politics and Ideology of Work (Verso 2023). He blogs on popular culture, philosophy, and politics at unemployednegativity.com.
This article was republished from Unemployed Negativity.
Police using guns, clubs, and tear gas attack marching strikers outside Chicago's Republic Steel plant, May 30, 1937. | Carl Linde / AP
An earlier version of this article appeared in People’s Weekly World on May 31, 1997.
South Chicago, Memorial Day 1937: Mollie West was there with a group of high school seniors. Curtis Strong was there for the hell of it. Aaron Cohen was there because of the responsibilities assigned to him by the Communist Party.
“There” was the field fronting the Republic Steel plant in South Chicago, site of the Memorial Day Massacre of May 30, 1937.
It was the first warm day of spring. Hundreds of steelworkers, on strike against the “Little Steel” companies and backed by hundreds of supporters, some dressed in their Sunday best, had come to assert the right of the Steel Workers Organizing Committee (SWOC) to establish a picket line at the gate of the Republic Steel plant.
The line was never established. Before day’s end, they would be attacked by an army of gun-toting, stick-wielding Chicago cops. Ten men would be dead or mortally wounded, countless others severely beaten and many more temporarily blinded by tear gas.
Mollie was walking near the front of the group when Chicago’s finest opened fire with tear gas and pistols. “I started to run and fell down. Several others stumbled on top of me. It wasn’t very comfortable,” Mollie said in a telephone interview from Chicago. “But it may have saved my life. And it certainly kept me from being beaten with those riot sticks the cops were using.”
By the time Mollie came up for air, the worst was over. “It was unbelievable what I saw,” she said. “The place looked like a battlefield.” And she saw—or felt—something else: “I looked around to see a policeman holding his gun against my back. ‘Get off the field,’ he ordered, ‘or I’ll shoot you.’”
Several doctors had responded to the call for public support. “They never imagined that they would need to turn it into a field hospital,” Mollie said. “But they did—just like in M*A*S*H.”
Curtis hadn’t planned on doing anything that day. He was working at the Gary Works of U.S. Steel and was an active SWOC member of what is now Local 1014 of the Steelworkers union. “I thought, why should I go? Shortly after General Motors capitulated to the Auto Workers union, U.S. Steel signed a contract with SWOC.”
But ever one to seek adventure, Curtis decided to go, “I thought—what the hell, why not?” he said when reached at his home in Gary. “What started as a lark became one of the most damnable experiences in my life.”
Curtis thought the first shots were meant to scare people. “I just knew that no one, not even Chicago’s notoriously anti-union police, would open fire on peaceful demonstrators who were demanding the right to put up a picket line at the Republic plant.”
But he soon found out how mistaken he was. “A guy about six feet away from me was hit and I started to run—and damn fast. I had set state track records when I was in high school.”
This article was part of the 2019 People’s World series: 100 Years of the Communist Party USA. Read the other articles published in the series.
Aaron Cohen had been a coal miner in southern Illinois and a leader in the reform movement of the United Mine Workers of America. As such, he earned the wrath of one Van A. Bittner, UMWA district director, whose goons once beat Aaron within an inch of his life.
But the heat of the class struggle can melt old relationships and forge new ones—and such was the case with Aaron Cohen and Van A. Bittner. By the time SWOC launched its drive to organize the steel industry, Bittner was running the show in Illinois and Cohen, then 28 years old, was a member of the Communist Party leadership in Chicago.
Shortly after setting up shop, Bittner invited Aaron and Bill Gebert, head of Illinois CP, to a meeting where he asked Aaron to find SWOC organizers among the various nationality groups and to help get favorable coverage of the campaign in the foreign-language press.
“It was a bit frosty at first,” Aaron remembers, “Bittner didn’t quite know how to deal with me. But I made the first move. I stuck out my hand and said something like, ‘We’re in this together, Van,’ and that was it.”
Aaron, who now lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, described the Memorial Day event as—at least in the beginning—a “jolly kind of affair. There was a holiday spirit. Guys were walking with their girlfriends. Some brought their families and picnic lunches. There was a baseball game and things for the kids to do.”
The strike began at 11 p.m. on May 26 and police had prevented the union from establishing a picket line at the Republic plant. “So we decided that the whole bunch would go down and set up a mass picket line. After all, Mayor Kelly said SWOC had the right to picket,” Aaron said.
Aaron, too, couldn’t believe what was happening. “But when Alfred Causey, who was standing less than arm’s length from me, fell with four bullets in his back, I became a believer.” Aaron’s voice hardened when he added: “There was Causey laying there dead—and they were still beating him.”
When the group—“at least 1,000 strong” according to George Patterson, who led the demonstration—neared Republic property, they were met by police lined up for about a quarter of a mile “protecting” the mill.
“For once, we had as many pickets as there were police,” Patterson said in his oral history of the massacre. “I went up to Police Commander Kilroy who was reading from a document. ‘I ask you in the name of the people of the State of Illinois to disperse,’ he read and dropped the paper to his side with a flourish.”
There was no verbal command, Patterson remembered. “When Kilroy lowered the paper, all hell broke loose. Bullets were flying, gas was flying, and then the clubbing.”
When Patterson stopped running, he looked at the carnage—at the young boy limping by, bleeding from a bullet wound in his heel, at men and women lying on the ground, some dead, others mortally wounded.
Patterson said he “learned about death” on the prairie before the Republic plant. “It doesn’t take long to know when a man falls forward on his face that he’s been killed, he’s dead, he doesn’t move anymore.”
Police may have been able to cover up the massacre had it not been for Orlando Lippert, a news cameraman for the Paramount Newsreel division and his motion picture camera.
Within seconds—“fewer than seven,” Lippert told a Senate investigating committee—after the assault began, he had his camera grinding away, eventually shooting several magazines of film which he sent to New York.
Paramount executives withheld the film, labeling it “restrictive negatives. Clips and printing of this material absolutely forbidden.”
However, the film was subpoenaed by Sen. Robert La Follette’s subcommittee of the Senate Education and Labor Committee and shown to a closed-door meeting that included Commander Kilroy, Patterson, and several reporters, some of whom wrote stories of the events depicted in the film.
A short clip of the film shot by Paramount cameraman Orlando Lippert, originally hidden from the public. | Illinois Labor History Society
Republic Steel’s Tom Girdler was the lead dog in the employer’s sleigh team that not only provoked the strike but made plans to drown it in blood in a holy war to prevent “the Communists” from taking over. And they meant business.
The La Follette hearings, which began on July 2, did more than expose the Memorial Day events. Committee investigators found that Republic was the largest buyer of tear and sickening gas in the country. Republic’s private arsenal was stocked with 552 revolvers, 64 rifles, 245 shotguns, and 83,000 rounds of ammunition. The other companies had similar arms caches.
— The Mohawk Valley Formula, with its “citizens’ committees,” back-to-work movements, and other strike-breaking techniques was applied with vigor.
— “Friends of labor” in public office betrayed SWOC, as witnessed by Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “curse on both your houses” remark at a press conference.
Although the Little Steel Strike ended with only Inland signing an agreement, it has earned a place in the annals of the great battles of the American working class.
In 1937—as they had been in the Great Strike of 1919—steelworkers were in the vanguard of the class struggle.
Fred Gaboury was a member of the Editorial Board of the print edition of People’s Weekly World/Nuestro Mundo and wrote frequently on economic, labor and political issues. Gaboury died in 2004. Here is a small selection of Fred’s significant writings: Eight days in May Birmingham and the struggle for civil rights; Remembering the Rev. James Orange; Memphis 1968: We remember; June 19, 1953: The murder of the Rosenbergs; World Bank and International Monetary Fund strangle economies of Third World countries
This article was republished from Peoples World.
Inge Deutschkron, Holocaust survivor, author, and lecturer, was a force of nature. She died at the age of 99 on March 9, 2022, and was buried on April 8 in her hometown of Berlin, where she fought for justice against right-wing extremists.
She was honored by officials and political leaders from Berlin, few of whom knew her personally, at the funeral she planned at the Südwestkirchhof Stahnsdorf cemetery near Potsdam, Germany. It has architecturally striking tombs and burial places of famous people, but is difficult for friends to reach.
I happened to be in Berlin that day. I was not one of the invited guests but was told about it. Inge Deutschkron and I met in 1970 in Bonn, then the German capital. She worked out of the Reuters office for the Israeli paper Maariv and often stood over my shoulder, lecturing me as I struggled with news and the German language. We met over the years when I worked in and visited Berlin.
‘I Wore the Yellow Star'
Inge left Germany in 1968 for Israel where she worked in the foreign affairs section of Maariv. I had known she escaped the Nazis by living underground but not much more. When I was visiting Israel while working for Reuters, she gave me a copy of her book Ich trug den gelben Stern (German for “I Wore the Yellow Star”; Outcast is the English title), for which she became famous. It was her first of many books.
Inge wrote of the life-threatening experiences she and her mother faced while fleeing the Nazis—using a false identity, hiding in 22 places (backyards, garden sheds, and abandoned apartments), and constantly fearing capture. Her father, an educator and Social Democratic Party activist, fled to England before the war, but Inge and her mother were denied entry until after the war.
In one notable scene, when starved for food, she and her mother joined refugees fleeing to Berlin. Asked at a collection site her address, she said: “Giesen, Adolf Hitler Strasse, 2” (a guess she made that a town square had been named after Hitler in the village of Giesen), rightly assuming the Fuhrer was cited everywhere. She got the food.
Of the 200,000 Jews in Berlin before World War II, about 7,000 Berlin Jews had gone into hiding, and only 1,700 of them survived.
Among those who helped Inge survive was Otto Weidt, who hired her and other Jews (many of them blind and deaf) under false names for his factory that made brooms and brushes. He was the Oskar Schindler in her life, and she honored him by helping to resurrect his workshop into a museum. She told me how the blind Jews whom Weidt had harbored were finally ordered to a Nazi deportation site. They walked along streetcar tracks, single file, one by one.
A play based on her book, which is still performed in theaters in the German-speaking world, “Ab heute heist du Sara” (“From Now On, Your Name Is Sara”), depicted her odyssey during the war. I once joined the “Saras” at a party for Inge.
Why Did I Survive?
In 2013, 90-year-old Inge Deutschkron gave a speech in the German parliament on Auschwitz Memorial Day recalling those who had not survived the Holocaust: “At night, I saw them in front of me, and could not stop thinking of them. Where were they? What was done to them?… What right did I have to hide, to duck out of a fate that should have been mine as well? That feeling of guilt haunted me, it never let me go.”
In her speech, Inge also recalled the early postwar years in Bonn under Chancellor Konrad Adenauer. She said that Chancellor Adenauer “had claimed in a government statement in parliament that the majority of Germans had opposed crimes against the Jews” and that “many of them even helped the Jews escape their killers.” “Ah, if only that had been the truth!” she said.
Parliamentarians stood and applauded—except for delegates from the right-wing Alternative for Germany (AFD) party, who sat in stony silence.
Was Returning to Berlin a Wise Choice?
Inge Deutschkron returned to Berlin from Israel in 1988. Annette von Broecker, the former editor-in-chief of the Reuters German-language news service, thinks the move was a mistake and believes Inge thought so too. Annette mentored Inge during her last years.
“She could have gone back to Israel and had a nice life and even written about her own experiences as an exile,” Annette told me.
While in Israel, she and Annette often took holidays together. “She was interested in so many things and enjoyed life,” Annette recalled. But in Berlin, where Inge lectured in schools and elsewhere, “she was confined to one topic: the Holocaust.”
Inge Deutschkron had the potential to have done so much more in other areas, and yet she dedicated her life to the remembrance of the Holocaust and the rise of fascism. As the number of Holocaust survivors dwindles, it is remarkable that she made such a significant contribution to educating the public about a horrific history—one that could be repeated if its memory is left to wilt.
Evelyn Leopold is a writing fellow and correspondent for Globetrotter. She is an independent journalist based at the United Nations and the winner of a UN Correspondents Association gold medal for her reporting. She served at Reuters as a manager, editor and correspondent in New York, Washington, London, Berlin and Nairobi. She is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and head of the Dag Hammarskjöld Fund for Journalists.
This article was produced by Globetrotter.
Featured image: King delivering his speech “Beyond Vietnam” at New York City’s Riverside Church in 1967. Photo John C. Goodwin.
It is disheartening to hear movement leaders say they are inspired by Martin Luther King while also supporting the U.S. proxy war against Russia. Like all wars it endangers the lives of civilian populations, enriches the military industrial complex, and robs Americans of public resources. Once King chose an anti-war stance he did not waiver in his condemnations of U.S. empire.
On April 4, 1967 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave one of the most significant speeches of his career. In “Beyond Vietnam – Time to Break Silence ” King declared his unequivocal opposition to the war in Vietnam. His very public break with Lyndon Johnson was greeted with derision, including from his own allies, who believed that the president was an ally who should not be attacked. The NAACP board passed a resolution calling King’s statement a “serious tactical mistake” that would neither “serve the cause of civil rights nor of peace.” The media joined in the condemnation, with the New York Times characterizing his comments as “facile” and “slander.” Even Black newspapers such as The Pittsburgh Courier judged his remarks to be “tragically misleading.”
It is important to remember this speech in which he declared that the United States was “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.” There are individuals and organizations who routinely claim King’s mantle until they fall prey to the war propaganda promoted by the present day purveyors of violence.
The Rev. Dr. William Barber is sadly one such person. In an April 30, 2022 email on the subject Moral Clarity About Our Own Atrocities he made many specious arguments on the issue of war as it pertains to U.S. policy in Ukraine.
“To see the butchery at Bucha or the massacre at Mariupol and do nothing would be to forfeit any claim to moral authority. We know this instinctively. It is why, despite the political gridlock on Capitol Hill, Republicans and Democrats have acted swiftly to approve historic military aid to Ukraine. In the face of such a moral imperative, it would be anathema for either party to ask, “How are we going to pay for it?”
There is no independent investigation of what the Biden administration and corporate media label as “massacres.” No one who claims to act in the interests of humanity should praise the historic levels of military aid to Ukraine, an oligarchic kleptocracy under U.S. control which depends upon military and police support from openly neo-Nazi formations. So blatant are the connections that in past years members of congress have moved to ensure that these groups are denied U.S. aid .
Furthermore, Rev. Barber ought to know that questions of funding for domestic needs must always be raised. Joe Biden is requesting $33 billion in aid to Ukraine, which means money for the military industrial complex, after ending stimulus payments and other support for struggling people in this country. Barber opens his email with the story of a woman who lost children in her care to a child welfare agency after the termination of the child tax credit program plunged her into poverty. It is disturbing to see Barber’s attempt to have it both ways, demanding help for the poor while also supporting the system that keeps them in their condition.
The child tax credit which kept families afloat disappeared, along with enhanced unemployment benefits, anti-eviction protection, and free covid related treatments to the uninsured. The much vaunted Build Back Better bill is dead and Biden seems uninterested in resurrecting it. It is reasonable to ask the Biden administration for a monetary accounting and for an explanation of how their actions led to a humanitarian disaster for the Ukrainian people, mass theft from Americans’ public resources, and a risk of hot war with the Russian Federation.
Barber and the Poor People’s Campaign are preparing for a Poor People’s and Low-Wage Workers Assembly and Moral March on Washington and to the Polls taking place on June 18, 2022. His ill conceived email was meant to bring attention to this event but instead he brought attention to the deep connections that liberal politics has with right wing forces. Barber is not alone in his capitulation as members of congress who claim to be progressive march in lock step with imperialism and austerity which create suffering in this country and around the world.
Then again, perhaps Barber was directing his words to people who support the anti-Russia proxy war in Ukraine.The non-profit industrial complex and the Black political class have cast their lot with the democratic wing of the war party. At this moment they all demand obedience to the status quo which gives a veneer of concern for low wage workers who suffer because of military adventurism personified by the anti-Russia proxy war in Ukraine. What better way to kill two birds with one stone than to mobilize for the poor while also praising what King called the “giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism.”
It is sad to see the name Poor People’s Campaign, which was launched by Martin Luther King, being used to support the war machine. It is even sadder to see a man like Rev. Barber succumb to the very worst narratives of American exceptionalism and demonization of another nation.
“As we all watch the unfolding tragedy in Ukraine, Americans are aware that the main difference between us and the Russian people is that we see the truth of the human slaughter that is hidden from them by Putin’s propaganda.”
The U.S. is rife with propaganda emanating from the state and corporate media. What truths do Americans recognize and expose? Sadly, too many of them believe that their nation is superior to Russia while knowing very little about that country or how living standards there compare to theirs. Do Russian police kill three people every day? Do Russians have medical debt? Are they consigned to lifetime debt peonage after attending university? Military spending in their country is a fraction , less than 10%, of what the U.S. spends. Despite all the stories of Russian atrocities and human rights violations it is the U.S. which invaded and occupied Iraq and Afghanistan, destroyed Libya in a proxy war, and now is helping its ally Saudi Arabia practice a genocide in Yemen.
We cannot separate the treatment of the marginalized from the foundational inequities present in this country. Barber cannot get justice for the poor and also uphold the contradictions he mentions. His words are troubling and frankly sad. Ignoring their harm is to give them undeserved credence.
Margaret Kimberley’s Freedom Rider column appears weekly in Black Agenda Report, and is widely reprinted elsewhere. She maintains a frequently updated blog as well at patreon.com/margaretkimberley and she regularly posts on Twitter @freedomrideblog. Ms. Kimberley lives in New York City, and can be reached via e-Mail at Margaret.Kimberley(at)BlackAgendaReport.com.
This article was republished from Black Agenda Report.
Cinco de Mayo is commonly associated with drinking, sombreros and many other Mexican stereotypes. It is actually a holiday celebrating the defeat of a French army by the Mexicans. Karl Marx, who’s birthday is May 5th, denounced the French invasion and sided with the Mexican people.
Mexico’s history during the 19th century was turbulent. A young country that had recently gained its independence, Mexico had to deal with both a vast territory and the unresolved question of which form of government to establish. After a brief period of monarchy, headed by Agustín de Iturbide, in the first half of the 19th century, Mexico had several coups d’etat and republican administrations that shifted between centralist (conservative) and federalist (liberal) forms of government.
After the defeat of Antonio López de Santa Anna in the US-Mexico war, the so-called Ayutla Revolution put younger politicians in power with demands for liberal reforms, including the separation of church and state as well as land reform.
The liberals’ victory in 1857 brought a new constitution that legalised the Reform laws. These laws represented first steps towards the establishment of capitalism in Mexico. However, the Conservative Party still had relatively wide support among the population. Tensions came to a breaking point as president Ignacio Comonfort carried out a self-coup and did not recognise the 1857 Constitution, reigniting the civil war. This marked the beginning of the Reform War (1858-1861)
The liberal victory in this war forced the conservatives—including many staunch monarchists—to contact the European monarchs in search of political and material aid to restore their power.
Meanwhile, Benito Juárez—who became president after Comonfort’s coup—was cornered in a tough financial situation and declared the suspension of payments of the foreign debt.
Spain, Britain and France sent troops to demand that the Mexican government immediately resume repayment of the debt. Negotiations ensued and British and Spanish troops eventually withdrew. France, however, kept its soldiers in Mexican territory. France’s second intervention in Mexico had begun.
Napoleon III: from Tragedy to Farce
Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.
This is how Marx described the coup d’etat of Louis Bonaparte in France in 1852. In his famous work The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, Marx drew numerous parallels between Napoleon’s original coup and the “farce” carried out by his nephew five decades later, attempting to rebuild the old French Empire that the Congress of Vienna had dismantled.
Louis Bonaparte, renamed Napoleon III, entered into discussions with the Mexican conservatives and saw an opportunity to win an ally against the growing hegemony of the United States on the American double continent. Thus, he sent Maximilian von Hapsburg to establish a puppet government for Mexico.
At the time Marx was working as a journalist and correspondent of the New York Tribune. In its pages he denounced the intervention:
The contemplated intervention in Mexico by England, France, and Spain, is, in my opinion, one of the most monstrous enterprises ever chronicled in the annals of international history. […] But, nevertheless, it is certain that the French plan was far from being matured, and that both France and Spain strove hard against a joint expedition to Mexico under English leadership.
Marx condemned the joint intervention, while at the same time apparently distancing himself from his early stance in 1848 (when he favoured the U.S. invasion of Mexico) since he now criticized how the independence of Texas was used to expand slavery.
The Battle of Puebla and the French Retreat
On May 5, 1862, Mexican troops under General Ignacio Zaragoza defended the city of Puebla from the French. Fighting alongside indigenous people from the Pueblan sierra and the villages of Xochiapulco, Tetela and Zacapoaxtla, armed with machetes, they managed to defeat the French zouaves of General Latrille de Lorencez.
Marx’s last article in the New York Tribune, coincidentally enough, refers to Mexico. Published in 1862, Marx once again denounced the joint intervention and accused the British government of taking advantage of weaker nations.
Although the war between France and Mexico—known in Mexico as “the Second French Intervention” (the first being the so-called “Pastry War” of 1838)—did not end until 1867, the heroism of the Mexicans, who resorted to guerrilla warfare, was able to defeat Maximilian’s puppet empire. Simultaneously, the growing presence of Prussia on the European and international stage pressured Napoleon III to withdraw his armies and in preparation for war against the Germans.
The end result of that war, the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71, was the first working-class government of history: the Paris Commune. The preface for this was Napoleon III’s failed adventure in America, defeated by the heroism of the Mexican people. This did not escape the keen eye of Karl Marx.
Óscar Ferńandez is a member of the Socialist Workers' Movement (MTS) in Mexico and a graduate of political science at the Universidad Iberoamericana. He is a Left Voice correspondant in Mexico City and a member of the editorial staff of our sister site La Izquierda Diario México as well as the magazine Ideas de Izquierda México.
This article was republished from Leftvoice.
Like many folks these days, I’ve become dependent on modern gadgetry to get through the day. I don’t leave the house without my smartphone. I don’t have much use for stamps anymore; most of my correspondence and bill-paying occurs online. I haven’t owned a camera that requires film in almost a decade. It seems that almost every aspect of my life has been replaced by a digital version, and leading this high-tech revolution is a thing called Facebook, a website I spend entirely too much time on.
Facebook has really changed the way people do things. When we throw a party, we don’t send each other invitations in the mail; we create an event on the web and invite everyone on our friends list. In fact, I’m constantly bombarded by events, including ones that are thousands of miles away, which I have no hope of ever attending even if I wanted to. But just when I thought I’d seen it all, I got one last week that was good for a chuckle.
I’d been invited to Karl Marx’s birthday party!
May 5 marks the 197th birthday of the esteemed Karl Marx, and some creative soul took the time to create a Facebook event to commemorate the occasion. I’m sure that good old Karl never imagined that people sitting in front of computer screens would be sending out invitations to his birthday celebration, the message crisscrossing the globe to friends near and far at the speed of light.
Of course, Marx was no stranger to the role of technology in society. It was he who realized that it was technology that separated humanity from the other species of our planet. Technology allowed us to rise above subsistence living, create a surplus value and a division of labor, and do more interesting things with our lives than forage for the bare necessities. He also realized that as technology became more sophisticated and the group of people who could get their hands on the latest productive property became fewer and fewer, it would push ever more people into the proletariat, the class of workers who had nothing to bring to the marketplace except labor which could easily be extorted from them. Marx saw that it was technology that carried humanity from one epoch to the next.
When you really think about it, perhaps a high-tech invitation to Marx’s birthday party isn’t so bizarre after all. But the question at the heart of the issue is whether a man born almost 200 years ago has a role to play in the era of Facebook. Have his ideas gone the way of the rotary phone?
There have been plenty of folks who have argued that the works of Marx are flawed. They say that his analyses were detached from the reality of his day and that most of his predictions didn’t come true within his lifetime. Many have pointed to the fall of Soviet socialism as an example of what they perceive as Marx’s folly. It would seem to them that there’s no room for Karl Marx in the 21st century.
I have a different opinion, however. To me, the ideas of Marxism are like a vintage wine. In many ways they’re just now coming into full bloom. If there is any kernel of truth to the claims of the naysayers, it’s because Marx, and many of those who were inspired by him during the 20th century, were ahead of their time. When we look at the defining economic phenomena of the past 40 years – globalization, corporate mega-mergers, the boom and bust economy, the decline of post-industrial America, the “proletarianizing” of the middle class in nearly every industry – we can finally see the wisdom of Marx confirmed in material reality over a century later.
Are the ideas of a 19th-century bearded guy relevant in the age of Facebook? I have no doubt in my mind that his works are more important now than ever. I just wonder what kind of embarrassing photos he would be tagged in if he had been alive to attend the party.
This article, updated this year, was originally posted in People’s World on May 5, 2010.
This article was republished from People's World.