Australia has joined the U.S. and UK games to contain China, leaving India unclear in the Quad and isolated in Asia. Tied to the waning imperial power of the U.S., India is gradually losing strategic autonomy.
The recent Quad leaders meeting in the White House on September 24 appears to have shifted focus away from its original framing as a security dialogue between four countries, the United States, India, Japan and Australia. Instead, the United States seems to be moving much closer to Australia as a strategic partner and providing it with nuclear submarines.
Supplying Australia with U.S. nuclear submarines that use bomb-grade uranium can violate the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) protocols. Considering that the United States wants Iran not to enrich uranium beyond 3.67 percent, this is blowing a big hole in its so-called rule-based international order—unless we all agree that the rule-based international order is essentially the United States and its allies making up all the rules.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had initiated the idea of the Quad in 2007 as a security dialogue. In the statement issued after the first formal meeting of the Quad countries dated March 12, 2021, “security” was used in the sense of strategic security. Before the recent meeting of the Quad, both the United States and the Indian sides denied that it was a military alliance, even though the Quad countries conduct joint naval exercises—the Malabar exercises—and have signed various military agreements. The September 24 Quad joint statement focuses more on other “security” issues: health security, supply chain and cybersecurity.
Has India decided that it still needs to retain strategic autonomy even if it has serious differences with China on its northern borders and therefore stepped away from the Quad as an Asian NATO? Or has the United States itself downgraded the Quad now that Australia has joined its geostrategic game of containing China?
Before the Quad meeting in Washington, the United States and the UK signed an agreement with Australia to supply eight nuclear submarines—the AUKUS agreement. Earlier, the United States had transferred nuclear submarine technology to the UK, and it may have some subcontracting role here. Nuclear submarines, unlike diesel-powered submarines, are not meant for defensive purposes. They are for force projection far away from home. Their ability to travel large distances and remain submerged for long periods makes them effective strike weapons against other countries.
The AUKUS agreement means that Australia is canceling its earlier French contract to supply 12 diesel-powered submarines. The French are livid that they, one of NATO’s lynchpins, have been treated this way with no consultation by the United States or Australia on the cancellation. The U.S. administration has followed it up with “discreet disclosures” to the media and U.S. think tanks that the agreement to supply nuclear submarines also includes Australia providing naval and air bases to the United States. In other words, Australia is joining the United States and the UK in a military alliance in the “Indo-Pacific.”
Earlier, President Macron had been fully on board with the U.S. policy of containing China and participated in Freedom of Navigation exercises in the South China Sea. France had even offered its Pacific Island colonies—and yes, France still has colonies—and its navy for the U.S. project of containing China in the Indo-Pacific. France has two sets of island chains in the Pacific Ocean that the United Nations terms as non-self-governing territories—read colonies—giving France a vast exclusive economic zone, larger even than that of the United States. The United States considers these islands less strategically valuable than Australia, which explains its willingness to face France’s anger. In the U.S. worldview, NATO and the Quad are both being downgraded for a new military strategy of a naval thrust against China.
Australia has very little manufacturing capacity. If the eight nuclear submarines are to be manufactured partially in Australia, the infrastructure required for manufacturing nuclear submarines and producing/handling of highly enriched uranium that the U.S. submarines use will probably require a minimum time of 20 years. That is the reason behind the talk of U.S. naval and air bases in Australia, with the United States providing the nuclear submarines and fighter-bomber aircraft either on lease, or simply locating them in Australia.
I have previously argued that the term Indo-Pacific may make sense to the United States, the UK or even Australia, which are essentially maritime nations. The optics of three maritime powers, two of which are settler-colonial, while the other, the erstwhile largest colonial power, talking about a rule-based international order do not appeal to most of the world. Oceans are important to maritime powers, who have used naval dominance to create colonies. This was the basis of the dominance of British, French and later U.S. imperial powers. That is why they all have large aircraft carriers: they are naval powers who believe that the gunboat diplomacy through which they built their empires still works. The United States has 700-800 military bases spread worldwide; Russia has about 10; and China has only one base in Djibouti, Africa.
Behind the rhetoric about the Indo-Pacific and open seas is the U.S. play in Southeast Asia. Here, the talk of the Indo-Pacific has little resonance for most people. Its main interest is in the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), which was spearheaded by the ASEAN countries. Even with the United States and India walking out of the RCEP negotiations, the 15-member trading bloc is the largest trading bloc in the world, with nearly 30 percent of the world’s GDP and population. Two of the Quad partners—Japan and Australia—are in the RCEP.
The U.S. strategic vision is to project its maritime power against China and contest for control over even Chinese waters and economic zones. This is the 2018 U.S. Pacific strategy doctrine that it has itself put forward, which it de-classified recently. The doctrine states that the U.S. naval strategy is to deny China sustained air and sea dominance even inside the first island chain and dominate all domains outside the first island chain. For those interested in how the U.S. views the Quad and India’s role in it, this document is a good education.
The United States wants to use the disputes that Vietnam, the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia have with China over the boundaries of their respective exclusive economic zones. While some of them may look to the United States for support against China, none of these Southeast Asian countries supports the U.S. interpretation of the Freedom of Navigation, under which it carries out its Freedom of Navigation Operations, or FONOPS. As India found to its cost in Lakshadweep, the U.S. definition of the freedom of navigation does not square with India’s either. For all its talk about rule-based world order, the United States has not signed the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) either. So when India and other partners of the United States sign on to Freedom of Navigation statements of the United States, they are signing on to the U.S. understanding of the freedom of navigation, which is at variance with theirs.
The 1973 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty created two classes of countries, ones who would be allowed to a set of technologies that could lead to bomb-grade uranium or plutonium, and others who would be denied these technologies. There was, however, a submarine loophole in the NPT and its complementary IAEA Safeguards for the peaceful use of atomic energy. Under the NPT, non-nuclear-weapon-state parties must place all nuclear materials under International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards, except nuclear materials for nonexplosive military purposes. No country until now has utilized this submarine loophole to withdraw weapon-grade uranium from safeguards. If this exception is utilized by Australia, how will the United States continue to argue against Iran’s right to enrich uranium, say for nuclear submarines, which is within its right to develop under the NPT?
India was never a signatory to the NPT, and therefore is a different case than that of Australia. If Australia, a signatory, is allowed to use the submarine loophole, what prevents other countries from doing so as well?
Australia did not have to travel this route if it wanted nuclear submarines. The French submarines that they were buying were originally nuclear submarines but using low-enriched uranium. It is retrofitting diesel engines that has created delays in their supplies to Australia. It appears that under the current Australian leadership of Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Australia wants to flex its muscles in the neighborhood, therefore tying up with Big Brother, the United States.
For the United States, if Southeast Asia is the terrain of struggle against China, Australia is a very useful springboard. It also substantiates what has been apparent for some time now—that the Indo-Pacific is only cover for a geostrategic competition between the United States and China over Southeast Asia. And unfortunately for the United States, East Asia and Southeast Asia have reciprocal economic interests that bring them closer to each other. And Australia, with its brutal settler-colonial past of genocide and neocolonial interventions in Southeast Asia, is not seen as a natural partner by countries there.
India under Prime Minister Narendra Modi seems to have lost the plot completely. Does it want strategic autonomy, as was its policy post-independence? Or does it want to tie itself to a waning imperial power, the United States? The first gave it respect well beyond its economic or military clout. The current path seems more and more a path toward losing its stature as an independent player.
Prabir Purkayastha is the founding editor of Newsclick.in, a digital media platform. He is an activist for science and the free software movement.
New revelations by a whistleblower prove that the world’s largest social media platform understands clearly its negative impact on society, but that profits are a greater lure than preserving democracy.
Facebook’s former employee Frances Haugen, in an interview on “60 Minutes,” explained to host Scott Pelley that the social media giant has conducted internal experiments that demonstrate just how quickly and efficiently its users are driven down rabbit holes of white supremacist beliefs.
The 37-year-old data scientist who resigned from Facebook earlier this year and became a whistleblower explained how the company knows its algorithms lead users down extremist paths. Facebook, according to Haugen, created new test accounts that followed former President Donald Trump, his wife Melania Trump, Fox News and a local news outlet. After simply clicking on the first suggested links that Facebook’s algorithm offered up, those accounts were then automatically shown white supremacist content. “Within a week you see QAnon; in two weeks you see things about ‘white genocide,’” said Haugen.
Haugen’s testimony and the documents she shared confirm what critics have known for a long time. “We’ve already known that hate speech, bigotry, lies about COVID, about the pandemic, about the election, about a number of other issues, are prolific across Facebook’s platforms,” said Jessica González, co-CEO of Free Press, in an interview. However, “what we didn’t know is the extent of what Facebook knew,” she added.
Three and a half years ago, in the midst of the Trump presidency, I wrote about giving up on an older white man related to me via marriage and who, generally speaking, has been a loving and kind parent and grandparent to his nonwhite relatives. This man’s hate-filled and lie-filled Facebook reposts alienated me so deeply that I cut off ties with him. In light of Haugen’s testimony, the trajectory of hate that he followed makes far more sense to me now than it did in 2018. Active on Facebook, he constantly reposted memes and fake news posts that he likely didn’t seek out but that he was exposed to.
I imagine such content resonated with some nascent sense of outrage he harbored over fears that immigrants and people of color were taking advantage of a system that was rigged against whites by Black and Brown politicians like Barack Obama and Ilhan Omar. My relative fit the profile of the thousands of right-wing white Americans who mobbed the Capitol building on January 6, 2021, egged on by a sense of outrage that Facebook helped whip up.
In fact, Haugen related that Facebook turned off its tools to stem election misinformation soon after the November 2020 election—a move that she says the company’s employees cited internally as a significant contributor to the January 6 riot in the nation’s capital. The House Select Committee investigating the riot has now invited Haugen to meet with members about Facebook’s role.
Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg understands exactly what Haugen blames his company for, saying in a lengthy post, “At the heart of these accusations is this idea that we prioritize profit over safety and well-being.” Of course, he maintains, “That’s just not true,” and goes on to call her analysis “illogical,” and that it is a “false picture of the company that is being painted.”
Except that Haugen isn’t just sharing her opinions of the company’s motives and practices. She has a massive trove of internal documents from Facebook to back up her claims—documents that were analyzed and published in an in-depth investigation in the Wall Street Journal, hardly a marginal media outlet.
The Wall Street Journal says that its “central finding” is that “Facebook Inc. knows, in acute detail, that its platforms are riddled with flaws that cause harm, often in ways only the company fully understands.”
The crux of Facebook’s defense against such accusations is that it does its best to combat misinformation while balancing the need to protect free speech and that if it were to crack down anymore, it would violate the First Amendment rights of users. In his testimony before House Representatives this March, Zuckerberg said, “It’s not possible to catch every piece of harmful content without infringing on people’s freedoms in a way that I don’t think that we’d be comfortable with as a society.”
In other words, the social media platform maintains that it is doing as much as it possibly can to combat hate speech, misinformation, and fake news on its platform. One might imagine that this means a majority of material is being flagged and removed. But Haugen maintains that while Facebook says it removes 94 percent of hate speech, its “internal documents say we get 3 percent to 5 percent of hate speech.” Ultimately, “Facebook makes more money when you consume more content,” she explained. And hate and rage are great motivators for keeping people engaged on the platform.
Based on what Haugen has revealed, González concluded that “Facebook had a very clear picture about the major societal harms that its platform was causing.” And, worse, the company “largely decided to do nothing to mitigate those problems, and then it proceeded to lie and mislead the U.S. public, including members of Congress.”
González is hopeful that Haugen’s decision to become a whistleblower will have a positive impact on an issue that has stymied Congress. During Haugen’s testimony to a Senate panel on October 5, she faced largely reasonable and thoughtful questioning from lawmakers with little of the partisan political grandstanding that has marked many hearings on social media-based misinformation. “We saw senators from both sides of the aisle asking serious questions,” she said. “It was much less of a circus than we usually see in the United States Senate.”
What González hopes is that Congress passes a data privacy law that treats the protection of data gathered from users as a civil right. This is critical because Facebook makes its money from selling user data to advertisers, and González wants to see that “our personal data and the personal data of our children isn’t used to push damaging content… that doesn’t provoke hate and violence and spread massive amounts of lies.”
The calculus of Facebook’s intent is very simple. In spite of Zuckerberg’s denials, González says, “the system is built on a hate-and-lie for profit model, and Facebook has made a decision that it would rather make money than keep people safe.” It isn’t as though Facebook is selling hate because it has an agenda to destroy democracy. It’s just that destroying democracy is not a deal-breaker when huge profits are at stake.
Sonali Kolhatkar is the founder, host and executive producer of “Rising Up With Sonali,” a television and radio show that airs on Free Speech TV and Pacifica stations. She is a writing fellow for the Economy for All project at the Independent Media Institute.
This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.
Australia’s Intelligence Organizations Helped Overthrow the Allende Government in 1973. By: Rodrigo AcuñaRead Now
Recently declassified documents confirm what researchers have long claimed: that Australian intelligence worked with the CIA to instigate a coup in Chile during the Cold War.
President Salvador Allende in Rancagua, Chile in 1971. (Biblioteca del Congreso Nacional Chile, Wikimedia Commons)
On June 2, the Australian government conceded for the first time that the Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) supported CIA covert operations in Chile in the early 1970s. These operations created the climate for a coup against the democratically elected socialist president Salvador Allende and his Popular Unity government. The National Security Archive (NSA) recently published some of the ASIS’ station reports in Santiago, and the story has drawn attention in the Australian media.
The subject of ASIS and the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) activities in Chile have been the subject of inquiry by journalists, politicians, and researchers for decades. But the Australian government has long worked to cover its paper trail in Chile. Even though the declassification of these documents for the first time is a significant development, few details are revealed by the heavily redacted documents beyond the admission that Australia had an ASIS station in Santiago and collaborated to some degree with the CIA.
Clinton Fernandes, a professor of politics at the University of New South Wales began the process to declassify the ASIS’ station reports in Chile in 2017 with barrister Ian Latham and solicitor Hugh Macken. According to Fernandes, when he started searching for the archives on ASIS records in Chile, the Australian “government's response was that we can't even confirm or deny the existence of records.”
On May 26, Fernandes and his legal team filed a 16-page set of arguments for the declassification of ASIS records on Chile and in early June, Fernandes was finally given files on ASIS activities in Chile.
Decades of Secrecy
Fernandes was not the first to look into ASIS’ activities in Chile in the early 1970s. Journalist Ian Frykberg published an article in October 1974 in the Sydney Morning Herald citing two former intelligence agents who claimed it was likely that the Australian mission in Chile was working with the CIA by “acting as the conduct for money passing from the CIA to newspapers and individuals leaking propaganda information to newspapers and other influential people.”
On December 2, 1974, Clyde Cameron, the Labor and Immigration Minister wrote to the Attorney General Senator Lionel Murphy about ASIO agents in Chile.
“I am particularly disturbed to learn that ASIO agents have been posing as migration officers in South America,” Cameron wrote, “and I am now convinced—though firm denials are to be expected—that the reports of ASIO collaboration with the CIA in bringing about the overthrow of the Allende Government is very close to the mark.”
In 1977, a Royal Commission into Australia’s Intelligence and Security (popularly known as the Hope Royal Commission) was tabled before the Australian Parliament. At the commission, Prime Minister Gough Whitlam stated: “It has been written—and I cannot deny it—that when my Government took office, Australian intelligence personnel were working as proxies of the CIA in destabilising the government of Chile.”
In 1983, Seymour Hersh published a biography on ex-U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger entitled The Price of Power. In that book, the New York Times investigative journalist claimed that since the CIA was aware that its agents were under close surveillance by the new Allende administration, Washington turned to its allies— in this case, Australia. By 1971, Hersh argues that the CIA station in Santiago “was collecting the kind of information that would be essential for a military dictatorship in the days following a coup–lists of civilians to be arrested, those to be provided with protection, and government installations to be occupied immediately.” A year later, Australia “agreed to monitor and control three agents on behalf of the CIA and relay their information to Washington.”
"Australia’s involvement in the events following the coup continued for decades."
Australia’s involvement in the events following the coup continued for decades. In 1989, journalists Brian Toohey and William Pinwill published a book on ASIS entitled Oyster: The Story of The Australian Secret Intelligence Service. Another Labor administration in Canberra took the authors to court to prevent them from publishing any material on ASIS that had not been vetted by the government. Toohey and Pinwill’s final manuscript was negotiated with officials from ASIS and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. It reported that, while the November 1970 CIA proposal for ASIS to become involved in Chile was accepted by the Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs, ASIS itself “noted there was no vital Australian political or economic interests in Chile at that time.”
In recent years, Special Broadcasting Service (SBS) journalist Florencia Melgar broke the international story that notorious Pinochet secret police agent and alleged torturer Adriana Rivas (at the time on the run from Chilean authorities) was living in Sydney. For the story, Melgar said she submitted a formal request to the Australian government to investigate ASIS activities in Chile, but her request was turned down, and she was “warned” that she “risked legal prosecution” if some of the material she obtained through Chile’s Foreign Affairs official records went to print.
Thus what Fernandes and his legal team achieved is no small feat. Australia, as an article in the New York Times accurately noted recently, may be the world’s most secretive democracy.
The Contents of the ASIS Station Reports
Although this was the first time reports officially recognized that the Australian government had an ASIS station in Santiago, Chile from 1971 to July 1973, the information published at the NSA is mainly technical. According to the NSA itself, the “documents turned over to Fernandes contain few revelations of actual covert operations, intelligence gathering or liaison relations with the CIA in Chile; those sections of the records are completely censored.”
"Most of the communications relate to the difficulties that Australians faced carrying out their tasks in Chile."
Most of the communications relate to the difficulties that Australians faced carrying out their tasks in Chile. Reports include comments on everyday events like communication delays, station vehicle deliveries, agent lodgings, and observations like “[a] fluent knowledge of Spanish in SANTIAGO is a necessity.” According to Fernandes, another document notes the difficulty ASIS had in getting a safe while “there are several mentions about how beautiful Chilean women are.”
Despite these seemingly insignificant reports, an April 1973 memorandum states that if Australia’s role in Chile at the request of the CIA became public, Prime Minister Whitlam “would find himself in an extremely difficult political situation as, quite clearly, it would be impossible for him to present the MO9 [ASIS] presence in Santiago as being in the direct Australian national interest.”
The importance of the April 1973 memorandum cannot be understated. Domestically, Whitlam came to power with the support of a large movement against the war in Vietnam. Once in office, his was the most progressive administration Canberra had seen in decades, promoting a wide range of social policies. If Australia’s activities in Chile had been discovered during Whitlam’s term in office, a section of his own Labor base could have become hostile.
By July 1973, the ASIS station was allegedly disbanded, although NSA documents indicate that “one ASIS agent reportedly stayed in Santiago until after the September 11, 1973, military coup.”
During the time that this final Australian ASIS agent was allegedly in Chile, leftists were being violently tortured and executed by the Chilean military. Peter Kornbluh, Director of Cuba and Chile Documentation Projects at the NSA would not speculate on that agent’s activities.
“That information” said Kornbluh “is contained in still-classified documents that the Australian government should release for the verdict of history.”
Australia and the Pinochet Connection Today
In November, former Pinochet secret police agent Rivas will return to the Federal Court in Sydney to continue fighting her extradition. She is wanted by the judicial system in Chile for the alleged kidnapping and disappearance of seven members of the Chilean Communist Party. Rivas, a former member of the Dirección de Inteligencia Nacional (Directorate of National Intelligence, DINA) and personal secretary to Manuel Contreras, the head of Chilean intelligence (1973-1977), has already lost two appeals. The eventual conclusion of her case could set a precedent.
According to Chilean-Australian journalist Juan Miranda, there is “real proof that other members of Pinochet’s secret service” could be “living in Australia.” Miranda claims these possible members of the regime are being investigated, and at some point their presence will be raised with authorities in Australia.
Diego Andrés Peñaloza Pinto is a 28-year-old law graduate from the University of West Sydney whose family emigrated to Australia from Chile in order to escape political persecution. Several of his family members were disappeared or killed by the Chilean secret police.
“It is concerning and disappointing to know that the Australian taxpayer was duped into funding Australia's involvement in the toppling of a democratically elected government,” said Peñaloza after ASIS’ activities in Chile were confirmed.
Peñaloza’s mother, Sandra del Carmen Pinto, added that it saddens her “that the country that gave me so much helped people that took so much from me.”
Together with 70 Chilean-Australians, Pinto has added her name to an open letter sent to Australia's Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) demanding that the Australian government apologise for its participation in the overthrow of the Allende government. The open letter also requests that “the government of Australia declassify all necessary files regarding ASIS activities in Chile in the 1970s.”
"Fernandes has few hopes that he will ever see the full declassification of Canberra’s reports on Chile or countries like East Timor and Cambodia."
Although his work led to the Australian government admitting ASIS role in the overthrow of Allende, Fernandes has few hopes that he will ever see the full declassification of Canberra’s reports on Chile or countries like East Timor and Cambodia. If those reports were published, Fernandes is sure that they would show Australia’s intelligence agencies' “total immersion in the CIA’s activities.”
The Australian government signed the new strategic defence alliance AUKUS with the U.K. and United States last month to build a series of nuclear-powered submarines and deepen cyber and artificial intelligence cooperation. In light of a recent series of Australian journalists and whistle blowers being threatened with legal actions or even arrested for their attempts to expose abuses by the Australian government, Fernandes’ comments should come as no surprise. Australia’s secretive nature, and who its key international allies are, has largely remained unchanged since September 11, 1973 when president Allende was violently removed from office in Chile.
Rodrigo Acuña is an independent journalist on Latin American politics and host of Alborada’s Indestructible Podcast. He holds a PhD from Macquarie University. You can follow him on Twitter at @rodrigoac7.
This article was produced by Nacla.
In a lecture delivered at the Sverdlov University on July 11, 1919, Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov remarked, “The state is a machine for maintaining the rule of one class over another.” In other words, the bourgeois state is a political product and institutional precipitate of the social dominance of capitalists. What does this dominance consists of? It comprises the successful management of the irreconcilable class antagonisms of a given social formation. Now, insofar that the state is a site historically occupied by the ruling class, it is an instrument deployed exclusively by it to maintain power, one which is constantly re-configured so as to be effective against the efforts of the subalterns to impose controls on its operations.
The fact that the state is a transformed form of social power – alienated from class society and so beyond its control – derives from the class domination of the bourgeoisie, which encompasses the whole set of economic, political and ideological forms of domination. Since the state arose in conjunction with the division of human societies into classes, it draws its sustenance from the hegemonic requirements of the dominant class, serving as the regulatory node where its economic rule is translated into political power; it is where it becomes centralized and condensed, reinforced with the power and authority of various state apparatuses.
As the state is the primary agency through which the ruling class gives appropriate socio-political forms to its economic clout, the basis for state apparatuses is defined by the constitutive violence of the wage labour-capital relation; i.e., the bourgeoisie’s claim to the juridical right to appropriate the surplus-value produced by the proletariat. The class character of the state, therefore, is linked to its status as a machine which recognizes only the force and violence of the bourgeoisie, which transforms the basic fact of economic exploitation into elaborate and dense networks of consent and coercion. G. M. Goshgarian’s introduction to Louis Althusser’s “Philosophy of the Encounter Later Writings, 1978-87” notes:
Because the state results from the transformation of an excess of class force, the differential between the class struggle of the dominant class and all the others (friend or foe), it is by definition the preserve of the victors in the struggle. And it is such whatever the ‘political form’ through which the dominant exercise state domination: the dominion of the landed nobility persists under absolutism, that of the capitalist class is not necessarily diminished – the contrary generally holds – with the advent of parliamentary democracy.
In short, the conflictual differential between the force of the dominant classes and that of the dominated classes – the dynamics of class struggle – gives structure to the state. However, as the state is based on this differential, class struggle is inscribed in a new framework within which only one force – the force of the bourgeoisie – is recognized, which is then transformed into hegemonic power. That is why Lenin said:
Every state in which private ownership of the land and means of production exists, in which capital dominates, however democratic it may be, is a capitalist state, a machine used by the capitalists to keep the working class and the poor peasants in subjection.
While the capitalist state is an instrument of the ruling class – functioning as an articulated whole and existing by virtue of specific hegemonic objectives – it is not structurally static. If we try to understand the state historically – as an instance of the combination of the singular elements that give rise to it, as ensemble of social relations in which real people move and act, as an ensemble of objective conditions – it becomes clear that the state is always-already embedded in a hegemonic matrix. Even though state apparatuses are in the service of the dominant class, the complex, uneven and contradictory logic of class struggle results in the continuous accrual of internal contradictions between different branches, the accentuation of the ideological role of a given apparatus, or the consolidation of violence.
However, the regular rhythms of class struggle never impact the fundamental structures of the state. While the proletariat can expand its influence in civil society and even gain parliamentary power, an elementary fact remains: since the derivative base of the state is class society and the violence upon which it rests, and its purpose is to transform the surplus of violence into legitimate force, what an electoral victory damages – through the creation of an alternative architecture of consent – is the transmission system of the state-machine. To comprehensively destroy the bourgeois state – and gain full-fledged hegemony – the proletariat has to not only open ruptures but confront the very materiality of the repressive apparatuses of the state. This process involves the construction of hegemonic apparatuses – the series of institutions, practices, and initiatives by means of which subalterns create popular organizations opposed to the logic of the bourgeois state.
Yanis Iqbal is an independent researcher and freelance writer based in Aligarh, India and can be contacted at email@example.com. His articles have been published in the USA, UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India and several countries of Latin America.
This article was produced by Dissident Voice.
Paul Ricoeur died at the age of 92 in 2006 and on May 24 of that year the New York Times reported the death of one of France’s most famous philosophers in an obituary by Margalit Fox”). Many of Ricoeur’s ideas are interesting even when they clash with the Marxist philosophical outlook. We can always learn from those who don’t share our philosophical commitments.
Fox quotes Dr. C. E. Reagan who said about Ricoeur, “In the history of philosophy, he would take positions that appeared to be diametrically opposed, and he’d work to see if there was a middle ground.” In that spirit I propose to see what middle ground Marxists might be able to share with Ricoeur ( I don't think we will find too many-- but at least two come to mind: peace is better than war and democracy is a positive good) whose philosophy, forbiddingly, is a species of “phenomenological hermeneutics.”
This is not as bad as it sounds. Phenomenology is the “science” of how we experience the world and hermeneutics is a fancy word for “interpretation.” It comes from the Greek for ”interpret” (originally used for interpreting the Bible) and ultimately from the name of the Greek God “Hermes” (Roman Mercury) who was the messenger of Zeus (Jupiter).
Christopher Norris (The Oxford Companion to Philosophy, ed. by Ted Honderich) wrote that Ricoeur found in his “middle ground” way of thinking a “kindred dialectic” with Marxism. Norris points out the double aspect of interpretation (it has a “positive” and “negative” moment). His interpretation of Freud is one example: the negative-- psychoanalysis looks for the past repressed information in the unconscious mind in order to find the positive-- a cure to repression and a new possibility for the future. He also sees this in Marxism: the negative-- class struggle, oppression, revolution leads to the positive-- a new society of human equality [hopefully].
G. B. Madson (The Columbia History of Western Philosophy, ed. by Richard H. Popkin) tells us that Ricoeur comes out of the tradition of the German Fascist philosopher Martin Heidegger (this sounds bad and it is bad but not as bad as it sounds). This tradition breaks with the mainstream of modern philosophy from Descartes through Russell and their contemporary followers (almost all philosophers but not professors of literature and cultural criticism).
The first part of the break is not so bad. Modern philosophers have a tendency to start with the isolated consciousness of a particular person, the ego, and then try to see how this ego can get to an external world independent of its own thinking mind. We can agree with Heidegger that human beings find themselves, “always already”, as Madson says “in a world.” Madson quotes Ricoeur: “The gesture of hermeneutics is a humble one of acknowledging the historical conditions to which all human understanding is subsumed in the reign of finitude.” No problem. We awake to find ourselves always already in a specific historical context-- e.g., I’m a French worker or a German bourgeois, etc. Let’s agree not to start with the ego without its environment. But we are going to go downhill from here.
We all agree with the historical consciousness as a starting point. We do not need Heidegger or his followers to tell us this. It is a basic core belief of Marxism already. Let us assume that I am a sugarcane cutter in 1950’s Cuba. My consciousness is determined by what Ricoeur calls its “historicality.” Madson says, “As Ricoeur characterizes it, effective historical consciousness is ‘the massive and global fact whereby consciousness, even before its awakening as such, belongs to and depends on that which affects it.” In other words, Mr. Sugarcane Cutter belongs to and depends upon the world dominated by Mr. Plantation Owner and overseen by Mr. President Batista (and globally Uncle Sam).
Ricoeur continues, “The action of tradition [effective history] and historical investigation are fused by a bond which no critical consciousness could dissolve without rendering the research itself nonsensical.” This leads to the conclusion, Madson says, that the Enlightenment is wrong in thinking effective history must be overcome in order to really understand the “truth.” When Ricoeur proclaims that truth is historical you begin to think he must be on to something. But wait!
We are informed that this way of thinking rejects the “correspondence theory of truth”. This is the theory accepted by Marxism. A proposition is true if it corresponds to a state of the external world. “My car is red” is true if and only if my car is red. But we find out, says Madson, that “a core tenet of philosophical hermeneutics is that genuine understanding is not representational but essentially transformative.”
Mr.Sugarcane Cutter has been reading the Communist Manifesto (or listening to Fidel broadcasting from the the Sierra Maestra mountains) and has decided that there is no correspondence between a just society and the world of Mr. Plantation Owner. He is told, “I’m sorry, but we don’t use the correspondence theory anymore.” What does it mean to say the truth is transformative. Well, you read the Manifesto and it transforms you, you “appropriate” it and interpret it in your historical context-- Cuba 1950”s-- very different from Germany in 1848.
Mr. Sugarcane Cutter objects. He thinks the Manifesto is appropriate for any class society, that Marx and Engels had it in mind to lay down general truths corresponding to the entire historical epoch of capitalism. Well then, we have missed “one of the most distinctive tenets of philosophical hermeneutics: The meaning of a text is not reducible to the meaning intended by its author.” Its meaning is now what you make of it.
Ricoeur is quoted: “The text’s career escapes the finite horizon lived by its author. What the text says now matters more than what the author meant to say, and every exegesis unfolds its procedures within the circumference of a meaning that has broken its moorings to the psychology of its author.” Mr. Plantation Owner thinks the Manifesto is really pro-capitalist since it calls his class the most revolutionary in history and has spread all over the world, so whatever Marx and Engels thought they were doing doesn’t matter, their work escapes their finite horizon and celebrates the achievements of capitalism.
This may be going too far. Original intent is important. We must first understand the text before we can interpret it. How to make sense of the phrase “what the text says now’’? This means to Ricoeur something like “what it says to me”. But this sounds like relativism. Anyone can read Marx, etc., anyway s/he chooses. It is not relativism, says Madson. Philosophers in this school reject dogmatism and “maintain that it is never possible to demonstrate conclusively the validity of one’s interpretations, they also maintain, against all forms of relativism, that it is nevertheless always possible to argue for one’s interpretations in cogent nonarbitrary, reasoned ways [the Enlightenment lives on!]. In other words... if our interpretations can reasonably lay claim to being true, they must adhere to certain argumentative criteria, such as coherence and comprehensiveness.”
Mr. Sugarcane Cutter decides that the Manifesto is both coherent and comprehensive and runs off to the mountains to join Fidel. Was he right to do so? Our philosophers, following Ricoeur, think that the purpose of interpretation, of understanding, of finding the “truth” is ultimately to better understand ourselves [the return of the ego]. They reject “objectivism” and want to suborn it to “communicative rationality. “People, Madson says, “reason together in such a way as to enable them to arrive at common agreements or understandings (however provisional) that enable them to live together peacefully, whether as members of a particular scientific discipline or as members of society.” A revolution would seem to be a breakdown of "communicative rationality”. The US blockade of Cuba would be another.
But Mr. Sugarcane Cutter and Mr. Plantation Owner can’t reason together. They don’t have a “human” relation-- only an exploitative economic one. What this philosophy represents is bourgeois liberalism. It represents “none other than the core values of liberal democracy.” Remember “truth” is not “objective.” It really is for these thinkers, “subjective.” Madson quotes Ricoeur: “The truth is... the lighted place in which it is possible to continue to live and think.” That really doesn’t say anything! Madson continues, “Ricoeur has asserted that “democracy is the [only] political space in which [the conflict of interpretations] can be pursued with a respect for differences”-- that is to say, with a respect for the pursuit of truth on the part of each and every individual human being. When all is said and done, the basic tenet of philosophical hermeneutics is that there is only one truth, which is the democratic process itself.”
Here is another quote from Ricoeur, from Le Monde  (via BBC News):
“If I had to lay out my vision of the world... I would say: given
the place where I was born, the culture I received, what I read,
what I learned (and) what I thought about, there exists for me
a result that constitutes, here and now, the best thing to do. I
call it the action that suits.”
This is an interesting quote, but what does it mean? This is true for everybody, including cats and dogs. It sounds like fatalism-- my actions are the result of my past history. A strange quote from someone associated with the existentialist (via Heidegger) movement. Why not try thinking outside the box? Anyway, who cares what Ricouer meant? I can interpret this to suit myself as long as I am coherent and comprehensive.
Mr. Sugarcane Cutter was right to run off to the mountains. In this class riven world where profits come before people this was the action that suits. The thinking of Paul Ricoeur cannot lead to the liberation of humanity from the bestial reality of monopoly capitalism and imperialism. We will have to evaluate him again when we live in a classless society.
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.
Better Family Planning Can Improve Public Health, Inequality and the Environment. By: Carter DillardRead Now
Smaller, more sustainable families would create massive long-term savings and catalyze sustainable development.
Existential crises, from accelerating climate change to a pandemic that is mutating to overcome the defenses of our immune system, have prompted talk of the need for fundamental change. This talk rarely, if ever, touches on the one form of change that is the most fundamental: Altering the way we have kids or create future generations. It is a choice that would change who we as a society are—and who we are becoming.
This option is almost never discussed, despite the disproportionate long-term positive impact better family planning policies can have on the environmental, inequality, and public health crises we face, because it means making decisions that are not individualistic in nature, but are, instead, shaped by the need to ensure a better and a more sustainable future for everyone. Whatever happens in the world, for many, that sense of familial autonomy and privacy—the right to have as many kids as they want, when they want, irrespective of the needs of both their own families and the environment, the opportunities the children will or won’t have—gives them a feeling of power and freedom. Most people are at best unaware of and at worst uncaring about how their decisions impact the freedom of others—future generations’ freedom to a fair start in life, and freedom from the ravages of the climate and other ecological crises.
Much like the refusal to wear a mask during the peak of the pandemic, the assertion of autonomy relating to the questions of having kids is absurd and cruel in the current circumstances. It’s a power-grab masquerading as an assertion, rather than the praxis, of freedom. Unlike those who refuse to wear masks to protect others from the spread of COVID-19, however, people asserting the self-contradiction of procreative autonomy are buoyed up by the population growth culture pushed by governments and big business because baby-making grows the pyramid--which Nobel laureate Steven Chu decried—atop which these parties sit.
In my experience—having spent over a decade wrestling with leadership in civil society and social justice to stop treating the right to have kids as an unlimited right, instead of something more nuanced like free speech—I have found that the dilemma boils down simply to being a collective action problem. Most people would plan for and have children more sustainably and equitably if they could be assured others would too. But there is a lack of trust that whoever goes first will see others follow suit. Such problems are nothing new. That is why we have a social contract and government, which can help us act collectively, and perhaps lead us to a more child-centered thinking of working together to give every child a fair start in life.
What would that look like?
In the United States, Black families typically have one-tenth the wealth of white families. The impacts of this wealth disparity are especially hard on kids, and can ripple forward into future generations. President Biden’s child care and tax credit proposal is a step in the right direction, but it could be better. All benefits to wealthy families who don’t need the funding could be cut. Those savings could then be used as cash incentives to power up family planning and early childhood investment systems in the United States to target child abuse by amending the federal child abuse law, incentivizing having kids only when parents are really ready, and promoting smaller and more sustainable families, as well as fostering and adoption. These changes can have 20 times the impact on climate emissions, as compared to short-term fixes, and when they are made as part of recognizing our sacred constitutional right to nature, they will create massive long-term savings and catalyze sustainable development.
Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) has already proposed a vehicle called “baby bonds,” which would “create a new American birthright—giving every child a fair chance at economic opportunity and mobility,” and if these changes are made progressively, they can accomplish significant sustainable changes.
This change can help combat climate change and widen the opportunities for children, all while achieving goals that go beyond U.S. partisan values. It specifically prioritizes children and social equity over big business (as leftists seek to do) and improves the possibility of personal autonomy without the interference of so-called big government (thus satisfying the interests of the right wing).
This is not a loss of control—when we take into account future generations, it’s a net gain, where future generations have control over their lives that a fair start would provide, control over systems of governance, and control over the environment that can help us deal with the climate change crisis in an effective manner.
Carter Dillard is the policy adviser for the Fair Start Movement. He served as an Honors Program attorney at the U.S. Department of Justice and served with a national security law agency before developing a comprehensive account of reforming family planning for the Yale Human Rights and Development Law Journal.
This article was produced by Earth | Food | Life, a project of the Independent Media Institute.
Afghanistan and Tajikistan share a 1,400-kilometer border. Recently, a war of words has erupted between Tajikistan’s President Emomali Rahmon and the Taliban government in Kabul. Rahmon censures the Taliban for the destabilization of Central Asia by the export of militant groups, while the Taliban leadership has accused Tajikistan’s government of interference.
Earlier this summer, Rahmon mobilized 20,000 troops to the border, and held military exercises and discussions with Russia and other members of the Collective Security Treaty Organization. Meanwhile, the spokesperson for the Afghan government—Zabihullah Mujahid--tweeted pictures of Afghan troops deployed to Takhar province on the border of the two countries. The escalation of harsh language continues. Prospects of war between these two countries should not be discounted, but—given the role Russia plays in Tajikistan—it is unlikely.
On September 3, 2021, Afghanistan’s former Vice President Amrullah Saleh tweeted, “The RESISTANCE is continuing and will continue. I am here with my soil, for my soil & defending its dignity.” A few days later, the Taliban took the Panjshir Valley, where Saleh had taken refuge for the past fortnight, and Saleh slipped across the border into Tajikistan. The resistance inside Afghanistan died down.
From 2001, Saleh had worked closely with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) of the United States and then had become the head of Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security (2004-2010). He had previously worked closely with Ahmad Shah Massoud of the right-wing Jamiat-e Islami and of the Northern Alliance.
Saleh fled by helicopter to Tajikistan with Massoud’s son Ahmad. They were later joined in Tajikistan’s capital of Dushanbe by Abdul Latif Pedram, leader of the National Congress Party of Afghanistan. These men followed the lead of the Northern Alliance, which had taken refuge in Tajikistan’s Kulob region after the Taliban victory in 1996. The personal ties between Ahmad Shah Massoud and Tajikistan’s President Rahmon go back to the early 1990s. In March 2021, Afghanistan’s ambassador to Tajikistan Mohammad Zahir Aghbar remembered that in the early 1990s Massoud told a group of Tajik fighters in Kabul, “I do not want the war in Afghanistan to be transferred to Tajikistan under the banner of Islam. It is enough that our country has been fraudulently destroyed. Go and make peace in your country.” That Massoud had backed the anti-government United Tajik Opposition, led by the Islamic Renaissance Party, is conveniently forgotten.
After the Taliban took Kabul on August 15, 2021, and just before Saleh and Massoud escaped to Dushanbe, on September 2 Rahmon conferred upon the late Ahmad Shah Massoud the highest civilian award of Tajikistan, the Order of Ismoili Somoni. This, the protection afforded to the Saleh-led resistance movement, and Tajikistan’s refusal to recognize the Taliban government in Kabul sent a clear signal to the Taliban from Rahmon’s government.
Rahmon says that the main reason is that he is dismayed by the Taliban’s anti-Tajik stance. But this is not entirely the case. One in four Afghans are Tajiks, while half of Kabul claims Tajik ancestry. The economy minister--Qari Din Mohammad Hanif—is not only Tajik, but comes from the Badakhshan province that borders Tajikistan. The real reason is Rahmon’s concerns about regional destabilization.
On September 11, 2021, Saidmukarram Abdulqodirzoda, the head of Tajikistan’s Islamic Council of Ulema, condemned the Taliban as being anti-Islamic in its treatment of women and in its promotion of terrorism. Abdulqodirzoda, the lead imam in Tajikistan, has led a decade-long process to purge “extremists” from the ranks of the mosque leaders. Many foreign-trained imams have been replaced (Abdulqodirzoda had been trained in Islamabad, Pakistan), and foreign funding of mosques has been closely monitored.
Abdulqodirzoda frequently talks about the bloody civil war that tore Tajikistan apart between 1992 and 1997. Between 1990, when the USSR began to collapse, and 1992, when the civil war began, a thousand mosques—more than one a day—opened across the country. Saudi Arabia’s money and influence rushed into the country, as did the influence of the right-wing Afghan leaders Massoud and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. Rahmon—as chair of the Supreme Assembly of Tajikistan (1992-1994) and then as president (from 1994)—led the fight against the Islamic Renaissance Party (IRP), which was eventually crushed by 1997.
The ghost of the civil war reappeared in 2010, when Mullah Amriddin Tabarov, a commander in the IRP, founded Jamaat Ansarullah. In 1997, Tabarov fled to join the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), one of the fiercest of the extremist groups in that era. The IMU and Tabarov developed close ties with Al Qaeda, fleeing Afghanistan and Uzbekistan after the U.S. invasion of 2001 for Iraq, later Syria. Tabarov was caught by the Afghan government of Ashraf Ghani in July 2015 and killed.
As the Taliban began to make gains in Afghanistan late last year, a thousand Ansarullah fighters arrived from their sojourn with the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. When Darwaz fell to the Taliban in November 2020, it was these Ansarullah fighters who took the lead.
Tajikistan’s Rahmon has made it clear that he fears a spillover of Ansarullah into his country, dragging it back into the war of the 1990s. The fear of that war has allowed Rahmon to remain in power, using every means to squash any democratic opening in Tajikistan.
In mid-September, Dushanbe hosted the 21st meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization Council of the Heads of State. Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan had several talks with Rahmon about the situation in Afghanistan. As the war of words escalated, Khan called Rahmon on October 3 to ask that the tension be reduced. Russia and China have also called for restraint.
It is unlikely that guns will be fired across the border; neither Dushanbe nor Kabul would like to see that outcome. But both sides are using the tension for their own ends—for Rahmon, to ensure that the Taliban will keep Ansarullah in check, and for the Taliban, for Rahmon to recognize their government.
Vijay Prashad is an Indian historian, editor, and journalist. He is the chief editor of LeftWord Books and the director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research. He is a senior non-resident fellow at Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China. He has written more than 20 books, including "The Darker Nations" and "The Poorer Nations." His latest book is "Washington Bullets," with an introduction by Evo Morales Ayma.
This article was produced by Globetrotter.
A Vietnamese girl holds Vietnamese and Chinese flags prior to the arrival of Chinese President Xi Jinping for a visit to Hanoi in November 2017. | Hoang Dinh Nam / Pool Photo via AP
One of the oldest military and political strategies known to humanity is “divide and conquer,” which can be traced back to ancient Macedonia. In modern times, Nixon’s Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, successfully used it to play China and the USSR off against each other to the advantage of the United States. Lately, the U.S. government has been trying to utilize it again, attempting to sow division between Vietnam and China. The hope in Washington is that Vietnam might be drawn into an anti-China coalition. These attempts have failed and will continue to do so.
The U.S. ruling class sees the rise of China as a threat to the unipolar, capitalist world order that prevailed after the Cold War and is desperate to draft countries into the anti-China camp. Recently, the U.S. corralled Australia into canceling a major weapons contract with France and into joining the U.S. and U.K. in the “AUKUS” nuclear submarine deal aimed at China. The U.S. government also sought to pressure Vietnam to allow construction of a U.S. naval base on Vietnamese territory, a move Washington seemed confident would be successful.
The reason the U.S. government was so optimistic it could pressure Vietnam to join its coalition was its reliance, once again, on the divide and conquer strategy. Vietnam and China have a long-standing territorial disagreement over the Paracel and Spratly Islands in the South China Sea (known in Vietnam as the East Sea). U.S. military planners believed this dispute could be used to drive a wedge between the two countries. However, the U.S. government fails to understand or refuses to respect, several important aspects of Vietnam’s foreign policy.
The Vietnamese government is firm in its pursuit of friendly relations with all countries, despite any disagreements they may have. In fact, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) of which Vietnam is a leading member, recently affirmed that only peaceful means will be pursued to settle the various territorial disputes in the South China Sea.
If the above reasons weren’t enough to show that the United States was barking up the wrong tree, there is one other important reason. Despite any disagreements that may exist between the two socialist countries, the material reality is that the relationship between them is quite strong. This has become especially apparent in the last year, as there have been numerous high-level meetings between Chinese and Vietnamese government officials and between representatives from the two respective Communist Parties that govern the countries.
In April 2021, after the Vietnamese elections, President Xi Jinping of China spoke with President Nguyen Xuan Phuc of Vietnam. In that conversation, Xi spoke about how the two governments must aid each other as they work to build socialism in their countries. Later in the same month, China’s defense minister, Sr. Lt. Gen. Wei Fenghe, visited Hanoi, where he met with his Vietnamese counterpart, Sr. Lt. Gen. Phan Van Giang.
At this meeting, Giang stated that maintaining a strategic partnership and defense cooperation was important for both countries. At the end of the meeting, the two ministers oversaw the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between the two militaries. This is not the behavior of two forces that want conflict with each other, no matter how much the United States government might wish it was so.
Then, at the end August, hours before U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris arrived in Vietnam for an official visit, Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh met with the Chinese ambassador in Hanoi, Xiong Bo. At this meeting aspects of Vietnamese and Chinese relations were discussed, including inter-party ties, foreign relations, and security links. Most notably, the two officials discussed the need to be “on guard” against any foreign forces trying to divide and create conflict between their two countries.
Just last week, on Sept. 24, Xi Jinping, who is also the General Secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC), spoke with his Vietnamese counterpart, Nguyen Phu Trong, General Secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV). In this conversation, the two spoke about working together to continue the ever growing trade and economic ties between China and Vietnam, fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, and ensuring peace in the South China Sea. Xi added that it was in both countries’ interest to work together to safeguard their socialist systems.
The ties between China and Vietnam have their complications, as do all relationships between sovereign countries. However, the picture that the anti-China powers would like to paint of two countries on the brink of war is simply fantasy at best or a lie at worst. Those in Washington banging the drums for a new Cold War probably won’t stop trying to incite conflict between Vietnam and China and draw Vietnam into their anti-China club.
They fail to understand, however, that such a conflict goes against the policies of the Vietnamese government, the principles of the Communist Party of Vietnam, and the best interests of the Vietnamese people.
Amiad Horowitz studied history with a specific focus on Vietnam and Ho Chi Minh. He lives in Hanoi, Vietnam.
This article was produced by People's World.
The Child Tax Credit Is a Proven Boost to American Families—Why Are Conservative Democrats Trying to Stop It? By: Sonali KolhatkarRead Now
Even though the expanded CTC is a win-win for families and the economy, conservative Democrats are finding ways to oppose it.
American families have struggled for decades to make ends meet with wages simply not rising as fast as the cost of living and a government social safety net that has been so deeply decimated that the U.S. now spends less on children than nearly any other wealthy nation.
This year there was a small glimmer of hope that such a trend might be halted and even reversed. Democrats, using their razor-thin control of the Senate and marginal control of the House, passed an expanded child tax credit (CTC) in March 2021 as part of the American Rescue Plan that not only increased the tax refund received by families with young children but also began sending them a monthly advance instead of making them wait until they filed their annual tax return.
By any measure, the amounts are embarrassingly modest and only offer an increase of $1,000 to $1,600 over the entire year. Families whose incomes are low enough to qualify and have children aged 6 through 17 are now receiving $3,000 a year instead of $2,000, while those with children younger than 6 are getting checks that add up to $3,600 a year.
Putting cash, however small an amount, into the hands of ordinary Americans is a win-win proposition for all but the most conservative pundits. As the 2020 CARES Act unemployment benefits--amounting to a $15 an hour wage—demonstrated, the economy as a whole is buoyed when people have more money in their pockets to spend on basic necessities. And, just as importantly, the benefits helped the most vulnerable, particularly Black and Latino workers, to stave off financial ruin.
Now, the monthly CTC payments are already showing similar promise. The Center on Poverty and Social Policy at Columbia University documented “a notable drop in child poverty” after just the first month of payments. Additionally, the benefits are particularly helpful for Black and Latino children, who the center estimates have twice the poverty rate of white children. Still, because the CTC relies on tax returns filed in the previous year, white children benefited more than children of color as their families were “more likely to have filed taxes.”
The U.S. Census Bureau also found that after just one month of payments, food insecurity among vulnerable families dropped significantly, and families receiving checks also had less difficulty paying for weekly expenses. So convincing are the expanded CTC’s proven benefits that nearly 450 economists wrote an open letter to Congress urging them to extend the program.
The CTC payments benefit roughly 39 million American families who are currently receiving monthly checks of up to $300 per child per month. Meanwhile, the cost of child care in the U.S. is exorbitant, averaging at about $1,300 per month for infants and nearly $900 per month for preschool-aged children. For families with multiple children and parents in low-wage jobs, child care is simply out of reach, and the modest CTC payments don’t even come close to covering the costs.
At the same time, child care workers are so underpaid that in the wake of the pandemic, more than 120,000 have simply quit their jobs nationwide. Even the U.S. government is so concerned that the Treasury Department issued a report admitting that “the existing child care system in the United States, which relies on private financing to provide care for most children… fails to adequately serve many families.”
This is not a new problem. In a 2014 speech at the White House Summit on Working Families, former President Barack Obama acknowledged that, “in 31 states, decent childcare costs more than in-state college tuition,” and that “there are other countries that know how to do childcare well.”
Child care is such an important factor for families with young children that the latest Harris Poll survey found that 76 percent of working parents felt that child care decisions were a major factor in their employment decisions.
The cost of raising a child is estimated to be nearly a quarter of a million dollars—a sum that is wildly out of reach for low-income families. Combined with persistent wealth and income inequality, it is no wonder that, as per a recent CDC report, 2020 was “the sixth consecutive year that the number of births [in the U.S.] has declined.”
One 2009 study concluded that cheaper child care is the key to reversing falling birth rates. There are two simple ways to make child care cheaper: heavily subsidize the child care industry (the U.S. government, after all, subsidizes fossil fuel and agricultural industries), or put more money into the hands of parents with children.
Currently, the expanded CTC benefits are valid only for a year, and some Democrats want to make them permanent. But President Joe Biden wants them extended for only four years via a $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation bill called the Build Back Better Act. And some conservative Democrats want to roll back the expanded benefit right away. Accountable.US identifies nine House Democrats and two Senate Democrats opposing the extension of an expanded CTC. Of these 11 naysayers, eight are millionaires.
In spite of its clear benefits, the CTC is in very real political danger of being rolled back. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ), who is one of its biggest proponents, said, “There’s nothing bigger than this… if you just want to look at the impact of a child’s life, this is the biggest thing that we’re doing.” Indeed, it’s hard to argue against helping vulnerable American children, but some Democrats like Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) are managing to do so as they stand in the way of the current iteration of the CTC.
Manchin in particular has adopted a posture far closer to the Republican way of thinking: that benefits aimed at wealthy interests are good for the nation, while benefits to vulnerable individuals are effectively “entitlements.” Using Republican-favored buzzwords, Manchin recently said that while he supports the CTC in theory, “anything that can be added should be means tested,” and that it is important that the U.S. not turn into an “entitlement society.” One critic explained that “‘Means testing’ is just a nicer way to say, ‘We want people to jump through more hoops, so fewer people can get help.’”
The West Virginia senator exudes such hubris in opposing his own party that in a New York Times interview earlier this year, he essentially dared Democrats to try to oust him, saying, “What are they going to do, [are] they going to go into West Virginia and campaign against me? Please, that would help me more than anything.” With friends like Manchin, Republicans can sit out the discussion and have no clear policy position on the matter.
With many progressive Democrats going on the defensive to protect the expansion of the CTC, some are going on the offensive in trying to get money into the hands of low-income and middle-income Americans by other means. Minnesota Democratic Representative Ilhan Omar in July introduced a guaranteed income bill that would ensure individuals making up to $75,000 a year receive $1,200 monthly checks. The SUPPORT Act, backed by progressive stalwarts such as Cori Bush (D-MO) and Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), includes running a pilot program initially to prove that monthly payments would have a positive impact on families.
Such approaches embody the opposite of the trickle-down economic model long championed by many establishment economists in the face of progressive opposition. Now, the trickle-down model is so discredited that even Biden has explicitly rejected it. Rather than infusing the top tiers of society with money, tax breaks and subsidies, based on a fantasy that those riches will eventually reach the bottom tiers, policymakers are getting on board with direct benefits to vulnerable Americans. Whether or not the CTC survives Washington’s political wrangling remains to be seen, even as tens of millions of Americans rely on it.
Sonali Kolhatkar is the founder, host and executive producer of “Rising Up With Sonali,” a television and radio show that airs on Free Speech TV and Pacifica stations. She is a writing fellow for the Economy for All project at the Independent Media Institute.
This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.
In the Manifesto of the Communist Party the authors raised a list of 10 immediate objectives, the very first of which read’s:
‘1. Abolition of property in land and application of all rents of land to public purposes.’
So the communists aimed to get rid of landed property, but what did they propose to replace it with?
They wanted land nationalisation. The state would own all land and insofar as land was cultivated by entities that were not state farms, these would pay rent to the state for its use.
Marx was quite adamant that it was not in the interest of the working class to allow land to pass into the ownership of rural associations. In his article The Nationalisation of Land [The International Herald No. 11, June 15, 1872;] he wrote:
To nationalise the land, in order to let it out in small plots to individuals or working men's societies, would, under a middle-class government, only engender a reckless competition among themselves and thus result in a progressive increase of "Rent" which, in its turn, would afford new facilities to the appropriators of feeding upon the producers.
"Small private property in land is doomed by the verdict of science, large land property by that of justice. There remains then but one alternative. The soil must become the property of rural associations or the property of the whole nation. The future will decide that question."
I say on the contrary; the social movement will lead to this decision that the land can but be owned by the nation itself. To give up the soil to the hands of associated rural labourers, would be to surrender society to one exclusive class of producers
Marx in this article argued against a system of small peasant proprietorship, arguing that the experience of France indicated that it led to the gradual subdivision of land into smaller and smaller family plots and that these small farms could not sustain the large scale mechanised agriculture needed to adequately feed a large working class.
Why did Marx demand the allocation of rent to public purposes as part of the Nationalisation of land. Lenin explains this :
Nationalisation of the land under capitalist relations is neither more nor less than the transfer of rent to the state. What is rent in capitalist society? It is not income from the land in general. It is that part of surplus value which re— mains after average profit on capital is deducted. Hence, rent presupposes wage-labour in agriculture, the transformation of the cultivator into a capitalist farmer, into an entrepreneur. Nationalisation (in its pure form) assumes that the state receives rent from the agricultural entrepreneur who pays wages to wage-workers and receives average profit on his capital—average for all enterprises, agricultural and non-agricultural, in the given country or group of countries.
The aim therefore is to ensure that the portion of surplus, that must under relations of commodity production take the form of rent, is centrally appropriated and used for the development of the nation as a whole.
The effectiveness of this policy is clearly born out by the comparative histories of China and India after independence. In China land was nationalised. The private appropriation of rent by a parasitic landlord class came to an end. In India that class survived, and continued to appropriate a large part of the surplus product. Without the drain imposed by landlords, China was able to develop rapidly, raise life expectancy and become the largest economy in the world.
China/India GDP per capita current US$ , (World Bank)
In addition to agricultural rent, capitalist society generates rent for minerals and urban land. The owners of land under which oil lies are able to extort a huge rent revenue. This revenue arises from the difference between the labour time necessary to produce oil on the most marginal reserves - those that for example require extensive fracking or those offshore in deep water - and the labour time necessary to produce oil on easily exploited reserves like those in Saudi Arabia.
Similarly for urban land the rental that can be obtained relates to the differential labour costs of getting to work. A house 20 miles from the main employment center will command less rent than the same sized house 10 miles away. Workers must give up time and money to travel to work. Any saving they can make by living closer to work tends to end up in the hands of landlords who can charge more for a house close in to a great metropolis.
It is evident, if the two houses are the same size and quality, that the premium in the second case is due to the land on which the house rests.
Owner occupiers do not escape this. The price of property in a capitalist market is set by the price landlords are willing to bid to buy houses and flats as rental investment. A landlord will be willing to buy a house if the expected rent revenue is less than the interest he would pay on a bank loan used to purchase it.
As cities expand, areas which were once marginal suburbs become embedded within the metropolis. Houses in them which originally commanded low rents are now let for high rents. This reacts back on property prices as illustrated from the following figure from my book How The World Works
So landowners not only gain from increased rent, but make additional profits from the appreciation of property prices. Such speculative unearned income becomes a major driving force for the upper classes.
I understand that slogans about ‘land back’ have started to be advanced in the USA, with the reference ‘back’ referring to the descendants of the indigenous or aboriginal peoples of the United States.
Consider some possible interpretations of this.
These are the typical scenarios that would play out in the USA. In all of which the effect is to transform the indigenous group into collective exploiters of one or more sections of the rest of the population.
That is because the mass of the direct producers in the USA are not from the indigenous population. Under these circumstances where they to acquire ownership of all land they would inevitably become and exploiting minority.
The situation is quite different in some Southern American countries where a class of landowners of European descent has historically exploited a peasantry of indigenous descent. In that case the indigenous comprise the majority of the direct producers and the transfer of private land to regional governments elected mainly by the indigenous farmers would correspond to the programme of land Nationalisation advocated by Marx.
Paul Cockshott is an economist and computer scientist. His best known books on economics are Towards a New Socialism, and How The World Works. In computing he has worked on cellular automata machines, database machines, video encoding and 3D TV. In economics he works on Marxist value theory and the theory of socialist economy.
City of London Corporation coat of arms
“Land back”, like anarchism a decade ago during Occupy Wall Street, is the latest refuge of what is always an infinitesimally tiny group of (very vocal) violence preaching dead enders who always (conveniently for capital) carbuncle their cancer onto American “leftism”. Like the Occupy anarchists, the term “working class” is gone from this leftism, in favor of festooning a new dead end slogan with woke idpol trappings calling for violence. (FYI - it always comes down to violence. Always.) For the uninitiated (i.e. nearly everyone), the “land back movement” (which just so happens to find favor with typically oligarchic NGO funders), demands all working class Americans be deemed “settlers” on “stolen land”, who must be removed from it, then the land be given “back” to indigenous tribes. Today’s “settlers”, all 300 million of us, must then be sent, well, somewhere else, or become tenants of our new kumbaya utopian indigenous landlords, whose untaxed “non-profit” casino corporations already exist on whatever indigenous land they do hold. So laughably facile, the FBI is most certainly already resident somewhere in the land back “movement”, as it was for months among Occupy Cleveland’s anarchists from October, 2011 until the FBI sprang their FBI conceived FBI funded “bridge bomb plot” April 30, 2012, waiting with the infinite patience only Joe Biden’s carefully crafted police state can possess.
Layer upon layer of dialectical debunking can be had, so have at it. I will merely introduce here the corporate entity that created settler colonialism in America. That corporation still exists today, functioning exactly as it did when it created settler colonial imperialism, a diseased petri dish of capital still springing cancerous capitalist lesions, entirely unchanged from its birth, the date of which no one knows. If any “land back” folks live in London, they could quite literally walk to the spot settler colonialism was born, and have a go at it, instead of targeting working class Americans who’ve been exploited by the same corporation, and its endless progeny, their entire lives. Sadly, not even Jeremy Corbyn bothered with the black hole of capital known as the City of London Corporation. Neither will the land back “movement”.
The literal spot where British settler colonial imperialism was born, and where the legal framework of the British empire remains today, is the deadest dead zone of capital in the world, a tiny square mile hugging the north shore of the Thames in London. Almost the moment one crosses an invisible border from the bustling boroughs around it, silence descends like a phantom, the only thing missing is tumbleweeds. Neither Marx nor Engels ever bothered much about this ghost town of capital, if at all.
The terms “The City”, “The Corporation”, or “the Square Mile”[i], as most widely understood today refer to the British financial industry, just as “Wall Street” refers to the American financial industry. However, in addition to being the heart of British finance, today, as it has been for a millennium, this spot is in fact the “Corporation of the City of London”, a 1.2 square mile nominally municipal division permanently tucked into the heart of the London metropolis. Unlike any corporation or municipality on earth, there is no single document or paper trail creating the Corporation, let alone establishing its sovereignty. Its origins are totally unknown, according to the City’s own chief executive in 2002 who treated these murky origins quaintly thus.
"The corporation emerged from a 'missed time' and there is no direct evidence of it coming into existence," he said. "There is no charter that constituted the corporation as a corporate body." City people joke that it dates its "modern period" from 1067, the year when William the Conqueror "came friendly" to the City and let it keep its ancient rights as he subdued the rest of the country.[ii]
The City’s eastern boundary borders the Tower of London, where William the Conqueror built his Tower outside of the City’s walls; the first known objectively observable exercise of the Corporation’s international legal sovereignty, i.e. recognition, both by the Corporation and by the Conqueror who chose not to conquer the City itself. The location of the Tower outside of the Corporation predates the concept of Westphalian sovereignty by 600 years. By 1215 King John’s Magna Carta treated the City with the same sovereign recognition William did in 1066, granting the Corporation the right to elect its own Lord Mayor, beginning eight centuries of one hundred more royal charters[iii] that would embed the Corporation’s sovereignty into the Square Mile. Emerging during the reign of Elizabeth I was the office of the Remembrancer, whose title is explicitly crafted to remind the Crown who is boss; the official representative of the Corporation to Parliament. Current commentators call the Remembrancer a mere “lobbyist”, but the position more resembles an ambassador in all but name. Seated across from the Speaker in both the House of Commons and the House of Lords, the City itself says “The Remembrancer is charged with maintaining and enhancing the City's status and ensuring that its established rights are safeguarded."[iv]
Capitalism’s First Refugees
As capitalism began to emerge under the watchful eye of the Remembrancer in the 17th century, feudal lords clearing peasants off land for profit created one of the first of capitalism’s grotesque side effects; vast numbers of unemployed English refugees, who took to the roads, the outskirts of towns and villages, becoming quite an unpleasantness. What to do? In 1637, the Corporation explicitly refused the Crown’s request to deal with London’s now teeming suburbs by incorporating the suburbs around the City into the City’s charter.[v] Known as “The Great Refusal”, instead, the City of London Corporation forcibly sent thousands of capitalism’s first refugees to England’s new colonies, themselves chartered by the City as subsidiary corporations, such as Northern Ireland.
Instead of seeking to integrate the new arrivals, the Corporation put large resources into transferring its unwanted excess population to the Ulster Plantation and the Corporation of Londonderry, which were established for that purpose. The bowler hats and umbrellas of the Orange Orders derive from their sponsorship by the Corporation of London.[vi]
This is precisely the same legal machinery that created the trans-Atlantic slave trade of British colonial imperialism, born in the exact same legal manner as the Orange Orders and bowler hats of the Great Refusal, at the very same time, the articles of incorporation even drafted by the very same people. During this period, every single corporate entity of the trans-Atlantic slave trade was chartered by the City of London Corporation; the Virginia Company, the Maryland Company, even beyond America to the East India Company, and so on.
In the 2021 second edition of her book, Birth of a White Nation, Jacqueline Battalora traces the invention the “white” race, from whole cloth, solely to defend capital by dividing the working class of the new colonies into privileged and non-privileged racial groups under law. The very first appearance in law, in history, of the term “white,” is in the 1681 Maryland anti-miscegenation law responding to Bacon’s Rebellion, a “law” legislated by Maryland’s royally appointed barons, whose only legitimacy, if any at all, is traced to their legal creation by the City of London Corporation. Bacon’s Rebellion itself was populated by the City of London’s previous decades of industrial shipping of human beings for profit, ranging from indentured to lifetime slaves, the first of whom were by far mostly English men. These first refugees of clearing land for capital mixed in America with Africans brought both as slaves and freedman by other subsidiary corporations and indigenous tribes to become the first cross cultural working class revolt against capitalism in history. From 1607 to 1682, the City’s shipped humans were not just, nor in the first instance, Africans; they included tens of thousands of political trouble makers, prisoners of war, Catholics, Jews, Germans, Swiss, Quakers, Irish, petty thieves, even “vagrant” English children, whose going price the City of London Corporation negotiated with its subsidiary the Virginia Company to be £5 - a gigantic sum if given to the homeless child, a trifle to the City of London shipping that child to slavery[vii].
Capitalism’s global black hole
Not just parliament, but no London governmental authority has, nor has ever had, any jurisdiction whatsoever over the spot where settler colonial imperialism was created, the Square Mile. The most recent claim to create a unified London government, New Labour’s 2002 “reforms” of London elections under Tony Blair, merely cemented the City’s sovereignty ever further. Elections for the Greater London Authority’s assembly and mayor are entirely separate from the City of London. The GLA and London mayor created in 2002 are subject to a voting process recognizable to all of us. In the City itself, corporations domiciled there control the show in precisely the same way slavery functioned in the City’s subsidiary corporations’ colonies three centuries ago.
First, it established a legislative innovation unprecedented in English history. Clause Four of this new Act bases the size of a company’s vote, the number of votes it will be allocated in elections to the Corporation of London, on a human unit – the workforce – which has no civic status other than as a unit of calculation. The only comparable franchise which based the size of a voting entitlement on a human unit that had no civic personality and was entirely mute, was the voting rights accorded to the owners of chattel in the Antebellum American South at the time of the American Revolution.[viii]
Called “the slavery franchise”[ix], which no sovereign state would allow in a municipality under its jurisdiction, the math of the 2002 New Labour London government “reforms” leave the few actual human beings living within the City’s boundaries, about 6,000, many of whom are in public housing, outvoted by tens of thousands of Corporation of the City of London registered companies’ “employees” who “vote” by proxy through their companies’ representative at the City’s elections, merely packing the ballot box to bursting with ever more financial industry power.
Before 2002, the 17,000 business votes (only business partnerships and sole traders could take part) already swamped the 6,000-odd residents. Blair's reforms proposed to expand the business vote to about 32,000 and to give a say, based on the size of their workforce in the Square Mile, to international banks and other big players. Voting would reflect the wishes not of the City's 300,000 workers, but of corporate managements. So Goldman Sachs and the People's Bank of China would get to vote in what is arguably Britain's most important local election.[x]
Worthy of an episode of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, these voting proxies packing the ballot box must also be members of one of the ancient associations within the Corporation. An incomplete list includes “the Worshipful Company of Broderers, dating from the 13th century, to the unfortunately named Worshipful Company of Launderers, to the more modern Worshipful Company of Tax Advisers,”[xi]
…medieval guilds such as the worshipful company of costermongers, cutpurses and safecrackers. To become a sheriff, you must be elected from among the aldermen by the Livery. How do you join a livery company? Don't even ask.[xii]
There is even a medieval succession announced years in advance for the Lord Mayor. Three months before the “election” of the 2014 Lord Mayor, then Lord Mayor Alan Yarrow, in “About Mayoral Appraisal process,” instructed …
The Court's position on the Mayoralty for 2014/15 is, I think, already clear but I will recap. At the election of the Lord Mayor this year, if Alderman Alan Yarrow is one of the two Aldermen whose name is returned by the Livery to the Court, then he will be elected.
Since Lord Mayor Alan Yarrow, the mayoral successions thus arranged included a member of the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths, the Worshipful Company of Bankers, to today’s Lord Mayor, stockbroker William Russell, a member of the Worshipful Company of Haberdashers.
The City’s capitalist cancer today
By the 18th century, the City took on its current ideological political stand advocating Adam Smith, laissez faire, free market capitalism.[xiv] Today, the office of Lord Mayor is the self proclaimed “ambassador” for free market neoliberalism, “supporting and promoting the City as the world leader in international finance and business services, the Lord Mayor travels extensively… fostering goodwill and boosting British trade, particularly the markets and services of the City.”[xv]
As the British Empire began to disintegrate in the 20th century, the Corporation still sat atop the entire financial legal infrastructure of the empire, globally. Slavery may have gone, the colonies too, but most of those colonies remained legal entities whose sovereignty is still traced today to the City of London Corporation. We know their names - the Caymans, Bermuda, Jersey, the Channel Islands, etc. A 2018 film, The Spider’s Web, Britain’s Second Empire, details how these legal remnants evolved from settler colonial imerialism’s creator to creator of the offshore tax haven financial system, resident in the nominally “British Commonwealth” former colonies, but legally within the Corporation. The sun never did set on the City’s empire.
Susan Strange, in her prescient indictment of what in 1999 she called the “Westfailure system”, describes the first age of globalization, led by these legal tendrils of the City of London in the British Empire, thus; “the value of the pound sterling in terms of gold remained unchanged for a century, thus creating the first stable international money.”[xvi] Perfected as the telegraph, the steamship, and electricity first embedded the City’s offshore into world finance, The Corporation’s meticulously laid rent extracting miles of path dependence for the movement of this first stable international money remained quite intact once Britain emerged from World War II to assess the ruin.
“Early telegraph links were progressively upgraded as new technologies emerged, first with telephone trunk lines and then fiber optic cables. As a result, financial firms looking to establish branches and subsidiaries outside the sovereign oversight of an onshore jurisdiction found that these locations already satisfied their communications requirements…the decisions made in the 19th century resulted a hundred years later in the emergence of offshore finance in these specific locations in the Caribbean rather than elsewhere.”[xvii]
Ronan Palan wrote in 2010, “Formalities aside, we should treat the City of London, Jersey, Cayman Islands, BVI, Bermuda and the rest of the territories as one integrated global financial center that serves as the world’s largest tax haven and a conduit for money laundering.”[xviii] Predictably, this financial hall of mirrors set off a spectacular evolutionary reproduction of countless financial product life forms accelerating to this day. The “spider’s web” of offshore tax havens, centered in the City, today plays a central role in the now regular international monetary crises whose intensity increases with each iteration, including the most recent of 2008. “Tax havens are the underlying constant theme of the financial crisis of 2008-9.”[xix] Today, even China is getting in on the act, as efforts to internationalize the renminbi realized in the Corporation in October, 2014, with the UK the first non-Chinese state to issue bonds in RMB, the profits immediately destined for the offshore.
It is the world’s first non-Chinese issuance of sovereign RMB debt and will be used to finance Britain’s reserves… In particular, the proceeds are expected to be reinvested in the renminbi offshore market.[xx]
The scale of the recurring crises is now incomprehensible. The City of London Corporation’s offshore financial archipelago in 2021 likely dwarfs even the size of the entire world economy. Estimates of the money residing in the City’s offshore have ranged from Palan’s conservative 2010 estimate of $16 trillion, to the Tax Justice Network’s 2012 estimate of $32 trillion, both of which now seem laughably low balled after the post 2008 and Covid-19 era of loose monetary policy. Evolving within the seamless unseen financial remnants of the British Empire, this systemic risk to the international monetary system manifests repeatedly, with increasing intensity.
The City had a fight to survive. Once.
The only real threat ever to concern this comically absurd medieval black hole of world finance was nonviolent. From 1875-1890 a bare knuckle, public relations campaign defeated repeated Parliamentary attempts to bring the City of London Corporation within London government. Centered on reviving the long dormant Lord Mayor’s Show parade, the City launched an all out media campaign, featuring meetings packed with City-paid rabble-rousers, ostentatious “charity”, secret slush funds, fraudulent signature campaigns, powered by a passive-aggressive dripping ironic message of “envy” that sounds eerily familiar to 21st century ears.[xxii]
The City seems to have believed that the various, diverse reformers were united by two ambitions: greed, and a quest for “self-aggrandizement.” The City was not above launching personal attacks… “deluded dupes,” the City wrote, were merely interested in getting their hands on the City’s enormous wealth.”
The pinnacle of the City’s Victorian fight for survival was the annual Lord Mayor’s Show; a parade, creating through ever more spectacular displays of royalty and ritual a shared sense of empire among the population, royal privilege as a shared glory from rich to poor, “a calculated attempt to use the past to justify the present in order not to face the future.”[xxiii] The robes, the scepters, the fuzzy hats of today’s tourist shows were in fact invented out of whole cloth, the parade’s costumes chosen strategically from each of the seven previous centuries of the City’s history, plus the then current empire’s camels from Egypt, and elephants from India…
As for the extravagant Lord Mayor’s Show of 1884, the most original and significant innovation was the introduction of what The Times called the “historical element.” Two knights carried a banner bearing the inscription “The Charter, A.D. 1067”…a car drawn by four horses displayed a facsimile of the original charter in a gold box, guarded by “citizens”, their swords drawn. There followed a banner reminding all those present that the City had sent forty ships to defeat the Spanish Armada. The most prominent banner read: “London would not be London without the Lord Mayor’s Show.”[xxiv]
Drawing hundreds of thousands, growing every November for a decade, the final triumph, after successively more spectacular Lord Mayor’s Parades finally defeated reform, was the 1889 show victory lap, drawing an estimated 2.5 million Londoners of every class to see the spectacle[xxv]; reform of the City was done in, for good. Sensing the real fight unfolding before them for years, the “stunt” or “PR trick” did not go unnoticed in The Standard.
“It was impossible to witness the procession and the undiminished enthusiasm with which it was everywhere greeted…without feeling something more of a suspicion that the end of all this was a long way off yet, and that an amount of public feeling was enlisted on the side of the old civic constitution which would not be very readily overcome.”[xxvi]
Today, both the Lord Mayor’s Show website[xxvii] and the Corporation’s website mention nothing of the life and death battle between 1875-1890 resulting in the extravaganza the Lord Mayor’s Show is today. And to this day, it is a royal event if the British sovereign visits the sovereign City. Queen Elizabeth II is invited into the City by the Lord Mayor after an elaborate ritual during which Her Majesty passes through a red rope at the Temple Bar entrance to the Square Mile. For tourists, the Queen passing through a red rope at Temple Bar is just another fancy royal spectacle.
As the new tide of radical socialism across Europe in the early 20th century began to notice the City again, the newly formed Labour Party wrote the abolition of the Corporation of the City of London into its manifesto in its early history, calling the City “the home of the devilry of modern finance”.
In 1917, Peter Mandelson's grandfather Herbert Morrison, a rising star in Labour ranks, put the party's antipathy plainly. "Is it not time London faced up to the pretentious buffoonery of the City of London Corporation and wipe it off the municipal map?" he asked. "The City is now a square mile of entrenched reaction, the home of the devilry of modern finance." Clement Attlee took up the baton in 1937. "Over and over again we have seen that there is in this country another power than that which has its seat at Westminster," he said. "Those who control money can pursue a policy at home and abroad contrary to that which has been decided by the people."[xxviii]
Alas, Labour, and even the most radical British left, would flip in no time. Not one Labour candidate for London government at any level has ever once echoed the party’s early attempts to abolish the City. The first London mayor elected under Blair’s New Labour London municipal elections law in 2000, Ken Livingstone, himself a Labour defector otherwise so far left his nickname was “Red Ken”, never uttered a word about the City of London in his 2000 campaign, nor did Red Ken as mayor ever once attempt to exert any jurisdiction whatsoever over the Corporation, let alone the offshore. By 2008, Red Ken was replaced as London Mayor by current UK Prime Minister Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, a Tory so deliciously caricaturing the City’s essence his visage will likely reappear as a “historical element” representing the 21st century in a Lord Mayor’s Show parade a century from now. The GLA constituency which includes the City, City and East, is today represented by current Labour councilor Ummesh Desai, himself never speaking of the Corporation, despite being Labour’s London Assembly chair for Audit, police and crime.
Not even the two Jeremy Corbyn Labour Party general election manifestos mentioned a single whisper of the City’s sovereignty, the Corporation, the Remembrancer, or the worshipful whatnots. Corbyn, twice, merely promised to abolish the non-domicile, and thus tax exempt status of certain British citizens[xxix]. Even the Occupy Wall Street movement’s London manifestation at St. Paul’s Cathedral within the City’s limits in 2011 meekly asked to see the City’s books[xxx], specifically the bluntly termed “City Cash”, representing the City’s own budget which has never seen the light of day, not in 1,000 years. Laughably, in December, 2012, the Corporation responded to this “pressure” by announcing the City Cash had accumulated over its 1,000 year history sitting atop the financial center of the world an absurdly tiny amount of £1.3 billion, 70% of it being property holdings in London, thus not even cash.[xxxi] For comparison, this amount would not crack the top ten American university endowments; if the Corporation is to be believed, it’s City Cash is dwarfed by Harvard’s endowment alone, estimated in 2015 at $32 billion.[xxxii]
Do your homework, land backers
The land back “movement” knows none of this rather brief introduction to the entity which created the harm they claim to address, an entity still lording (literally) over us today, functioning exactly as it did when it first shipped its wretched refuse across the seas. The American working class are not “settlers” to be targeted with rhetoric of violence from people calling themselves leftists. We are the heirs to the exploitation of centuries, first created by a medieval black hole these land backers could simply walk into, right now, and destroy with nonviolence. Let’s hope they figure that out.
[i] This paper will use all three terms interchangeably, depending on the context, as is the custom.
[ii] Shaxson, Nicholas, “The Tax Haven in the heart of Britain,” New Statesman, February 24, 2011 (http://www.newstatesman.com/economy/2011/02/london-corporation-city)
[iii] Smith, Timothy, “In Defense of Privilege: The City of London and the Challenge of Municipal Reform, 1875-1890”, Journal of Social History, George Mason University, Fall 1993, p. 60.
[iv] Quinn, Ben, “Corporation of London; an ancient institution that favours big business”, The Guardian, October 31, 2011, http://www.theguardian.com/uk/2011/oct/31/corporation-london-institution-big-business
[v] Doolittle, Ian, “The Great Refusal: Why does the City of London Corporation Only Govern the Square Mile?”, The London Journal, Vol. 39 No. 1, March, 2014, p.24.
[vi] Glasman, Maurice, “The City of London’s strange history”, Financial Times, September 29, 2014. (http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/2/7c8f24fa-3aa5-11e4-bd08-00144feabdc0.html#axzz3WAGprjJO)
[vii] Battalora, Jacqueline, Birth of a White Nation, Rutledge (2021) p. 17-18.
[viii] Brown, Matthew, “A Tale of Two Cities” Independent Labour Publications, September 13, 2012, http://www.independentlabour.org.uk/main/2012/09/13/a-tale-of-two-cities/
[ix] Shaxson, New Statesman, 2011.
[xi] Shaxson, Nicholas, “The Much-too Special Relationship”, The American Interest, March 19, 2014 http://www.the-american-interest.com/2014/03/19/the-much-too-special-relationship/
[xii] Monbiot, George, “The medieval, unaccountable Corporation of London is ripe for protest”, The Guardian, October 31, 2011 http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2011/oct/31/corporation-london-city-medieval
[xiii] City of London, “About Mayoral Appraisal Process”, http://www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/about-the-city/the-lord-mayor/Pages/letter-to-the-livery-about-mayoral-appraisal-process.aspx
[xiv] Glasman argues one early manifestation of this ideology was the City’s financial support for the American Revolution against the Crown, even sending men to fight with George Washington’s army. Glasman, 2014.
[xv] City of London website, http://www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/about-the-city/the-lord-mayor/Pages/default.aspx
[xvi] Strange, Susan, “The Westfailure system”, Review of International Studies, Vol. 25, 1999, pp. 345-354, p. 348.
[xvii] Vleck, William, “Behind an Offshore Mask: sovereignty games in the global political economy,” Third World Quarterly, Vol. 30, No. 8 (2009), pp. 1465-1481, p.1468.
[xviii] Palan, p. 135.
[xix] Palan, p.1.
[xx] HM Treasury, “Britain issues western world’s first sovereign RMB bond, largest ever RMB bond by non-Chinese issuer” https://www.gov.uk/government/news/britain-issues-western-worlds-first-sovereign-rmb-bond-largest-ever-rmb-bond-by-non-chinese-issuer
[xxii] Smith, p.68.
[xxiii] Ibid, p.60.
[xxiv] Ibid, p.68.
[xxv] Ibid, p.71.
[xxvi] Ibid, p.69
[xxvii] Lord Mayor’s Show Website, http://lordmayorsshow.london/history. The only mention of this period is on the page where a visitor can purchase a book of the history of the show, in which “Section 3 – Noteworthy Shows and Lord Mayors” mentions “The 1876 Show, with 13 elephants”.
[xxviii] Shaxson, New Statesman, 2011.
[xxix] Mason, Rowena, “Labour Manifesto 2015 – the key points”, The Guardian, April 13, 2015, http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/apr/13/labour-election-manifesto-key-points?CMP=mic-88
[xxx] Statement of Occupy London General Assembly, November 8, 2011, http://occupylondon.org.uk/occupy-london-gets-moving-on-policy-first-statement-of-the-city-of-london-policy-group/
[xxxi] Mathiason, Nick, “City of London Corporation reveals its secret £1.3bn bank account”, The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, December 20, 2012 http://www.thebureauinvestigates.com/2012/12/20/city-of-london-corporation-reveals-its-secret-1-3bn-bank-account/
[xxxii] Snider, Susannah, “10 Universities With the Largest Financial Endowments”, US News & World Report, January 13, 2015, http://www.usnews.com/education/best-colleges/the-short-list-college/articles/2015/01/13/10-universities-with-the-largest-financial-endowments
Brown, Matthew, “A Tale of Two Cities” Independent Labour Publications, September 13, 2012, http://www.independentlabour.org.uk/main/2012/09/13/a-tale-of-two-cities/
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City of London website, http://www.cityoflondon.gov.uk
Cohan, John A., “Sovereignty in a Postsovereign World”, Florida Journal of International Law, Vol. 18, 2006
Crowley, Kevin & Choudhury, Ambereen, “Made-in-London Scandals Risk City Reputation as Money Center”, Bloomberg Business, July 5, 2012. http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2012-07-05/made-in-london-scandals-risk-city-s-reputation-as-finance-center
Doolittle, Ian, “The Great Refusal: Why does the City of London Corporation Only Govern the Square Mile?” The London Journal, Vol. 39 No. 1, March, 2014
Ferguson, Niall, The Ascent of Money, Penguin Books (2009)
Glasman, Maurice, “The City of London’s strange history”, September 29, 2014. (http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/2/7c8f24fa-3aa5-11e4-bd08-00144feabdc0.html#axzz3WAGprjJO)
HM Treasury, https://www.gov.uk/government/news/britain-issues-western-worlds-first-sovereign-rmb-bond-largest-ever-rmb-bond-by-non-chinese-issuer
Henry, James S., “The Price of Offshore Revisited”, Tax Justice Network, July 2012
Krasner, Stephen D., Sovereignty; Organized Hypocrisy, Princeton University Press, (1999)
Lord Mayor’s Show Website, http://lordmayorsshow.london/history
Mason, Rowena, “Labour Manifesto 2015 – the key points”, The Guardian, April 13, 2015, http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/apr/13/labour-election-manifesto-key-points?CMP=mic-88
Mathiason, Nick, “City of London Corporation reveals its secret £1.3bn bank account”, The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, December 20, 2012 http://www.thebureauinvestigates.com/2012/12/20/city-of-london-corporation-reveals-its-secret-1-3bn-bank-account/
Monbiot, George, “The medieval, unaccountable Corporation of London is ripe for protest”, The Guardian, October 31, 2011 http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2011/oct/31/corporation-london-city-medieval
Occupy London General Assembly Statement, November 8, 2011, http://occupylondon.org.uk/occupy-london-gets-moving-on-policy-first-statement-of-the-city-of-london-policy-group/
Palan, Ronen, Tax Havens: How Globalization Really Works, Cornell University Press, 2010.
Quinn, Ben, “Corporation of London; an ancient institution that favours big business”, The Guardian, October 31, 2011, http://www.theguardian.com/uk/2011/oct/31/corporation-london-institution-big-business
Schenk, Catherine, “The Origins of the Eurodollar Market in London: 1955-1963”, Explorations in Economic History, Vol. 35 (1998)
Shaxson, Nicholas, “The Much-too Special Relationship”, The American Interest, March 19, 2014 http://www.the-american-interest.com/2014/03/19/the-much-too-special-relationship/
Shaxson, Nicholas, “The Tax Haven in the heart of Britain,” New Statesman, February 24, 2011 (http://www.newstatesman.com/economy/2011/02/london-corporation-city)
Smith, Timothy, “In Defense of Privilege: The City of London and the Challenge of Municipal Reform, 1875-1890”, Journal of Social History, George Mason University, Fall 1993
Snider, Susannah, “10 Universities With the Largest Financial Endowments”, US News & World Report, January 13, 2015, http://www.usnews.com/education/best-colleges/the-short-list-college/articles/2015/01/13/10-universities-with-the-largest-financial-endowments
Strange, Susan, “The Westfailure system”, Review of International Studies, Vol. 25, (1999)
Vleck, William, “Behind an Offshore Mask: sovereignty games in the global political economy,” Third World Quarterly, Vol. 30, No. 8 (2009), pp. 1465-1481.
Tim Russo is author of Ghosts of Plum Run, an ongoing historical fiction series about the charge of the First Minnesota at Gettysburg. Tim's career as an attorney and international relations professional took him to two years living in the former soviet republics, work in Eastern Europe, the West Bank & Gaza, and with the British Labour Party. Tim has had a role in nearly every election cycle in Ohio since 1988, including Bernie Sanders in 2016 and 2020. Tim ran for local office in Cleveland twice, earned his 1993 JD from Case Western Reserve University, and a 2017 masters in international relations from Cleveland State University where he earned his undergraduate degree in political science in 1989. Currently interested in the intersection between Gramscian cultural hegemony and Gandhian nonviolence, Tim is a lifelong Clevelander.
To mark twenty years since the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, recent media have been saturated with commemorations, recollections, and reflections. “9/11 changed everything” is a common refrain, with the event serving to divide recent history to “before” and “after.” Much is made of the large number of people who were not old enough to remember the horror and fear of that day, seen as a defining moment of a generation. The trauma of loss experienced by so many individuals is a focus, along with the persistent health problems that first responders are still experiencing two decades on. Mostly, these reflections zero in the emotional, personal, and individual. James Poniewozik, a New York Times television critic, reviews this year’s coverage and finds that the documentaries this year are very much like the coverage produced at the ten-year mark:
There are wrenching interviews with survivors and with those whose loved ones died; uplifting stories of rescues and agonizing stories of those who perished in the attempt; footage of the conflagration, chaos and shock, as seen on morning newscasts and in the ash-blanketed streets; images of the first responders and volunteers digging through wreckage.
That critic asks, “Is 9/11 a day or is it an era?” and laments the lack of films that look beyond the day. Among those that do, the best is Spike Lee’s four-part documentary NYC Epicenters: 9/11 2021½, which combines individual New Yorkers’ experiences with criticism of government messaging from George W. Bush to Donald Trump (here called “President Agent Orange”). But even that documentary treats 9/11 as a beginning point and doesn’t open the question of what came before.
What 9/11 Unleashed
It’s easy to feel the “before” and “after” of 9/11 for those who remember it. It did seem to “change everything,” setting off consequences that had a profound impact, well beyond the initial losses of life. Almost immediately Congress passed the Authorization for the Use of Military Force, with Representative Barbara Lee casting the sole no vote. Almost a million people died as a direct result of the forever wars launched in 9/11’s wake by the Bush/Cheney administration. In October 2001, the U.S. passed the USA Patriot Act, giving government broad powers of surveillance and detention.
Furthermore, Islamophobia spiked immediately. Four incidents of anti-Muslim violence were reported in the four months before 9/11; in the four months after, 96 such incidents were reported. After 9/11, Islamophobia became a guiding principle of official policy (Nguyen 2005), with an immediate round-up and detention of 1,200 Muslim, Arab, and South Asian men; FBI visits to 11,000 more; and a registration system requiring men from certain countries to register with the government — almost 300,000. Surveillance of the Muslim population has spiked, especially in New York City, where the Police Department has spent more than $3 billion since 2006 on license-plate readers, facial recognition software, mobile surveillance vans that have X-ray capabilities, etc. “Flying while Muslim” became a difficult, sometimes humiliating, experience.
9/11 ushered in the era of internet-propelled conspiracy theories, starting with the 9/11 “Truthers,” whose film Loose Change was the internet’s first viral video. Even Spike Lee’s documentary about 9/11 originally gave credence to these theories. In the years after, this path merged with Islamophobia in the “Birther” conspiracy and the Islamophobic violence set off years after 9/11 by Donald Trump.
We need to step back and ask: Is the way that the story is usually told, concentrating on the events of the day as experienced by individuals, the best way to understand 9/11? Why do some details get included in the narrative, while others are excluded? What messages does the narrative send, and whose political interests does it serve?
A historical materialist approach recognizes official historical narratives as cultural productions that serve the interests of the ruling corporate class and the politicians it has cultivated in government. These narratives are some of the “ruling ideas” developed by the intellectuals of the ruling class to reflect and perfect “the illusion of the class about itself,” as Marx and Engels put it in the German Ideology. Historical narratives that reflect ruling ideas deflect attention from the material basis of social change, and instead view events as isolated and disconnected from their social, political, and economic contexts. Of course, they are also constructed to see the ruling class as blameless victims of fate, deserving of the power that they wield in society.
How did the Official Narrative Begin?
One of the first exhibits about 9/11 set the tone for the way the story has been told for years after. The Smithsonian launched “September 11: Bearing Witness to History” in 2003. The exhibit emphasized “individual pain and resilience” but rarely addressed any of the social and political antecedents that led to that day, according to political scientist Amy Fried (2006). The curation staff reported that they deliberately tried to construct a “non-political exhibit,” using media clips and images, while introducing as little interpretation as possible. In the process, though, they ended up producing an exhibit with very clear political messages, according to Fried. For example, the post-9/11 roles of George W. Bush and Rudy Giuliani were exalted, their rise treated as one “of individuals who are transmuted from their prior, less exalted condition.” The exhibit lasted only four months and was shut down before the 2004 election got underway, but this first exhibit reportedly pleased the U.S. Department of Justice and the FBI specifically.
Political sociologist Patricia Leavy (2007) shows that the war hawks of the Bush administration, and those in media who sometimes inadvertently supported them, crafted a narrative of 9/11 specifically suited to their purposes, that is, justifying the so-called war on terror. This narrative was solidified with four practices: naming the event (we know it as 9/11), saturation coverage of the event (this year we saw the same footage again), the use of superlatives (stressing its disconnection from history), and “selective use of historical metaphors” (comparisons to Pearl Harbor for example were used to make the U.S. “war on terrorism” seem a defensive one). Repeatedly calling it “senseless” made a deeper understanding seem permanently out of reach. A dichotomy was stoked that removed all nuance, contrasting the “terrorists” and the “patriots,” the villains and heroes, and echoing George Bush, those with us and those against us. This narrative, Leavy said, carried over into other aspects of the conservative agenda, even the anti-choice campaign. Leavy describes one bumper sticker from an anti-choice group that appeared in the years after 9/11, showing smoke billowing from the twin towers and the slogan “Every year 3,200 people are murdered by the TERROR of abortion.”
The focus on the horror of the day, its “senselessness” and “evil,” served to hide a more materialist approach, which looks at the event in the broad, interconnected context of resources, people, and production. It diverted attention from access to and control over oil resources, hid U.S. complicity in propping up authoritarian dictators, and looked the other way while bankers’ greed led us into the Great Recession of 2008.
Counter-narratives that challenge the official history were rare but not absent, and they were, for the most part, decisively policed. Rapper KRS-One recounted his childhood memory of being chased out of the financial district where the World Trade Center was located. Cops, he said, pushed him toward the subway and told him to return to his own neighborhood and “leave the rich white folks alone” (Simko 2015). For reasons like that, KRS-One said, African-Americans “cheered when 9/11 happened.” Immediately and roundly denounced for being “in solidarity with Al-Qaeda,” he quickly walked back the tone-deaf comments and was still explaining himself a dozen years later.
Even more vitriolic was the silencing of Ward Churchill, a Native American academic who lost his job as a professor of ethnic studies at the University of Colorado Boulder following outrage over a bombastic essay he wrote entitled “‘Some People Push Back’: The Justice of Roosting Chickens.” Churchill’s essay puts the 9/11 attacks into its context, arguing that it was a counter strike in a long war the U.S. and the West in general have waged against the people of the Middle East, from Lyndon Johnson’s assistance to Israel in displacing Palestinians, through George H. W. Bush’s systematic bombing of Iraqi water purification infrastructure, which contributed to the deaths of a half-million Iraqi children. Churchill claims that there were few ways to push back against a system of oppression that is carried out in the clean and seemingly innocent confines of Wall Street offices. He used a term for these technocrats, “little Eichmanns,” that had been used since the 1960s. But this was the phrase that was repeated in the news media, and a fierce backlash against Churchill led to his dismissal from the university faculty.
Recognizing the danger posed by the narrative that justified a “war on terror” instead of a more appropriate targeted law enforcement action in response to the attacks, the CPUSA convened a Peace and Solidarity Conference in Chicago early in 2002, and called out the Bush administration’s use of 9/11 to cover for their ambitions for war:
With the nation in a state of shock after 9/11, the administration was all too willing to take advantage of our collective sorrow and quickly move towards an aggressive policy of retaliation and war. It is not only the looting of the public treasury to fund this unending war, nor the dangerous assault on our basic democratic freedoms in the pursuit of ‘security,’ that we are organizing to stop. It is not only the brutal destruction of Afghanistan and the direct killing of over 3,500 Afghani civilians to which we demand an end. . . . We also call for an end to the very military doctrine now being pursued that threatens to catapult all of humanity into nuclear annihilation.
This analysis sadly remained valid for the next two decades, when over 100,000 Afghans died in the “forever war” that followed.
With the emphasis on the “senselessness” of 9/11 and the reluctance of exhibit curators and op-ed writers to view the events within the context of the global political economy in which it emerged, it is no wonder that young people interviewed recently by the New York Times called on their teachers to do a better job of explaining why it happened, including “a bit more of . . . the history of the U.S. in the Middle East.” 9/11 was set into motion by decades of U.S. and Western imperialist policies that denied people the right of self-determination; an early example was in 1958 when the U.S. sent 15,000 armed forces into Lebanon in 1958 to prop up Maronite Christian President Camille Chamun. Chamun was unpopular with Lebanese people, but he was cooperating with the West in preventing the Arab unity that Gamal Abdul Nasser of Egypt was promoting. The U.S. has been involved in the region ever since.
People will commemorate 9/11 — it’s natural to revisit events on important anniversaries — but we need to view it as one point in a dynamic history of material political-economic conditions and multiple global actors and strive for deeper understanding of the event and its causes in world history. We need to view narratives embedded in documentaries and public exhibits critically, and not “take every epoch at its word and believe that everything it says and imagines about itself is true” (Marx & Engels 1970, 67).
Amy Fried, “The Personalization of Collective Memory: The Smithsonian’s September 11 Exhibit.” Political Communication 23 (4) 2006, 387–405.
Patricia Leavy, “Writing 9/11 Memory: American Journalists and Special Interest Groups as Complicit Partners in 9/11 Political Appropriation.” Journal of Political and Military Sociology 35 (1) 2007, 85–101.
Marx & Engels, The German Ideology. International Publishers, 1970. Also in Marxists.org.
Tram Nguyen, “We Are All Suspects Now”: Untold Stories from Immigrant Communities after 9/11. Beacon Press, 2005.
Christina Simko, The Politics of Consolation: Memory and the Meaning of September 11. Oxford University Press, 2015.
Image: Charles Edward Miller (CC BY-SA 2.0).
Anita Waters received a Ph.D. in sociology from Columbia University and is retired from the faculty of sociology and anthropology at Denison University in Granville, Ohio. She’s the author of two books and many articles about Caribbean politics and other topics, and is a member of the National Committee and the Chair of the Ohio District of the Communist Party USA.
This article was first produced in CPUSA.
This is the foreword to the new edition of Marika Sherwood’s Claudia Jones: A Life in Exile (Lawrence Wishart, 2021).
Too often, a revolutionary life appears free of tedium. Revolutionaries emerge from whatever page or screen we discover them on seemingly fully formed. Their lives unfold as a series of events that continually evidence an iron-clad political commitment to building a livable world and securing freedom for all oppressed people. Because of this romanticized picture, the gulf between our lives and theirs expands. It is hard to imagine that they ever really existed at all — harder still to grapple with the true complexity of that existence. They remain ghosts, die righteous, too soon or vindicated.
In an effort to recover them, we begin to name the turning points: a critical speech or event that helps us trace the growth of their political concerns and aspirations. With this historical material, we piece together a political trajectory, taking into account their experiences, influences and ideas. The archive is a treasure trove. It enables us to reconstruct what we think we know about their personal lives, providing a glimpse of close friendships with other political actors and artists; it keeps us guessing. What is hidden is the bureaucracy of living: the question of how the revolutionary survived monetarily, who they loved, how they worked and the intricacies of the relationships they formed along the way.
In this way, Claudia Jones’ reputation precedes her. She is omitted from certain parts of the Communist Party of Great Britain’s history and narratives of the radical left during the 1950-1990s in part because she challenged their failure to acknowledge the plight of colonial subjects, or to integrate an understanding of race as a modality through which class is lived into their critique of capitalism. Jones made herself both a threat and a nuisance. She was unsatisfied with a Communist Party that claimed to offer the worker emancipation while refusing to recognize Black workers, and Black women workers especially, as co-collaborators in that vision.
“Rediscovered” by Buzz Johnson in the 1980s, what we know about Claudia’s life we know through the process of excavation. Archivists have pieced together the details of her expulsion from the US under McCarthyism, her life in prison and her political organizing in the UK from her papers, political speeches and the memories of those she touched.
Though insufficient, excavation seems fitting for Claudia. It makes sense that we can only know her through other people because hers was a life lived for others, mirroring her belief in a core feminist principle: collective liberation.
We only have scraps of her autobiography, but like all those whose lives are defined by struggle, she always had one eye on tomorrow. In surviving pages of her autobiography, included in Sherwood’s Claudia Jones: A Life in Exile, she writes: “Tonight I tried to imagine what life would be like in the future … on the broad highway of Tomorrow, despite craggy hills and unforeseen fullies, I am certain that mankind will take the high road to a socialist future.” She was surer of this than anything else: “My certitude for this broad future has never matched my certitude for my personal fortunes.”
An Internationalist Out of Necessity
Jones’ life was one of service; one lived in the pursuit of dignified existence, in search of the promise of the communist horizon. On this side of the temporal ledge looking back, we ask: do you remember Claudia Jones? Perhaps it is better to ask: how do we remember Jones and the women who emerged from her legacy, in ways that articulate their persistence against hegemony, against militarism, against the misery of the economic base and ideological superstructure that continue to shape the way we live?
In her treatise “An end to the neglect of the problems of the Negro woman!” published in 1949, she wrote in the spirit of the Marxist tradition, “The bourgeoisie is fearful of the militancy of the black woman, and for good reason.” Jones understood her own power and the menacing potential of political consciousness. Throughout her life, her position as a communist was no doubt contentious, no doubt alienating, but always the basis of her political endeavors. Indeed, Claudia’s leadership, organizing work and recruitment strategies were so threatening to the state that she was put under surveillance, imprisoned four times and finally deported from the US to Britain in 1955 for her affiliations to the Communist Party of the USA.
A revolutionary life often involves risks to personal freedom and safety. Jones’ imprisonment and the long-lasting connections she forged with other political prisoners illustrate the consequences of principled resistance. In many ways, her strategy was simple: to give the worker the tools needed to understand their position under extractive capitalism. Becoming a member of the Communist Youth League in 1936, Jones’ years in the CPUSA were spent honing an analysis of the position of the Black woman worker; building a framework to understand her standing in the party as well as the conditions and confinement of her wage under capitalism. She found a way to articulate the historical circumstances that led to Black people’s illegibility under the category “worker” and thus their widespread exclusion from trade union affairs.
It is not an understatement to claim that Jones expanded Marxist-Leninist notions of super-exploitation in order to apply them to the condition of Black workers, including women, in the colonies and the imperial core. She developed an anti-imperialist analysis of racialism that clarified its origins in the colonial project. Jones’ staunch anti-imperialism contoured her liberatory work; she began several initiatives to organize formerly colonized peoples in the UK, affirming a political consciousness that eschewed borders. She was determined to understand how workers across the world could unite.
Despite the grand nature of her political vision, the problem of citizenship marked her life. Jones’ location was determined by which nations she could enter and what permissions they gave her to travel. One might argue that she was an internationalist out of necessity; being so forcefully expelled from the US and curtailed in her travels due to the denial of a passport by the British state, what allegiance could someone like her have had to the nation or the fictions that uphold it?
Alongside her commitment to internationalism came an insistence that the Communist Party of Great Britain provide a vision of liberation that articulated how the worker’s struggle was inseparable from the struggle against imperialism. When she represented Vauxhall and Tulse Hill at the 25th Congress of the CPGB in 1957, she pressed that, “Colonial, and particularly colored peoples in Britain will also want to know what policy the Party Congress advances to meet the special problems facing them in the present economic situation – the same monopoly capitalists in Britain who exploit the British working class, but who super-exploit the colonies.”
When her “comrades” branded those in the colonies “backward” she struck back, arguing:
The ‘backwards’ people of China and the backward people of Czarist Russia were the first to throw off the old regimes, and are now going forward with the most advanced ideology … whilst the technically advanced peoples in the Western bourgeois democratic tradition are still steeped in the mire of backward imperialist ideology. The anti-imperialist struggles of the backward Afro-Asian nations, from Egypt to Ghana, are today leading the anti-imperialist ideological struggle.
Thus, whilst Claudia was admonished by some sects of the Communist Party in the UK, her name was known across the world. The struggle took her to the USSR, to China; she had comrades in Ghana, South Africa and across the African continent. Upon her death, Tang Ming Chao of the China Peace Committee wrote, “Comrade Jones was a proletarian internationalist. Her whole life was that of a revolutionary and militant fighter.” The Soviet Women’s Committee remembered her as “a tireless fighter for the triumph of the brightest ideals, and peace and friendship among nations.” She left echoes and traces everywhere.
LIBERATION IS THE WORK OF MANY HANDS
There is a tendency to downplay Jones’ political tenacity in biographies of her life — to remember her solely as “the mother of carnival” is to do her a disservice. Her presence and memory looms large; what is clear is that she touched people across a myriad of political spheres and, in doing so, changed their conception of what was possible to demand for themselves and others. Friends remember her as an orator, capable of isolating, distilling and then elucidating a problem. Trinidadian actress Corinne Skinner-Carter remembers how, “She pulled out the things in people that they thought could never be done,” always framing analysis in terms that could be widely understood. She skillfully reminded comrades that editorials in the West Indian Gazette — the newspaper she helped to found — were not “a treatise or a legal argument” but were intended to be understood by everyone.
Claudia recognized the areas where her work and organizing abilities would be most constructive and moved strategically, using her knowledge and skill as a journalist as a means of radicalization. The West Indian Gazette’s seven-year run is perhaps one of the greatest attempts at diasporic mobilization and political education in recent history. It is important to note that with others, Jones managed its finances and editorial output, in the face of threats from the Klu Klux Klan, fascists marshaled by Oswald Mosley, and amid a backdrop of constant threats against her life.
When the CPGB became a dead end in 1958, Jones set her sights on organizing against the color bar. She mobilized hundreds, including artists and community leaders, to take up the fight against the Immigration Act of 1962, in the wake of race riots in Notting Hill in 1958 and the murder of Kelso Cochrane in 1959. Her wide array of friends and acquaintances — Paul and Essie Robeson, Pearl Prescod, A. Manchanda, Elizabeth Gurley-Flynn, Amy Ashwood Garvey, George Lamming, Ben Davis — and brief encounters with the likes of Martin Luther King, Pablo Picasso and Mao Zedong tells us something about the plurality of her political mission.
Claudia Jones understood that the work of liberation is the work of many hands and that a political life without space for joy, creation, music and artistry was incomplete. Her work with others establishing the UK’s first Caribbean carnival must be understood as an extension of her political love for people, for the Caribbean community and a dynamic Black culture that continues to evolve.
Claudia’s Caribbean Carnival Committee began in response to the riots of the late 1950s and part of its proceeds went towards the fines imposed on Black youth harassed by the police. Contemporary political movements have much to learn from her imaginative response to state violence and her ability to temporarily transform the treacherous conditions of post-war Britain into a space capable of sustaining Black life.
Jones is rarely remembered as an artist in her own right. Her political practice survives in her poetry, which, more so than any speech or diary entry, best captures her belief in the fraternity of peoples and their ability to love, protect and provide for one another. To Puerto Rican nationalist, Blanca Canales, in an unpublished poem entitled “For Consuela, Anti-fascista,” she wrote:
It seems I knew you long before our common ties—of conscious choice
In 1964, on a plane to Peking, she wrote:
Change the mind of Man
Claudia’s poetic voice is infused with a radical determination to name the structures that exploit, oppress and restrict us, and then to destroy them. She understood, like Black feminist writer and scholar Toni Cade Bambara, that the role of the artist is to make the revolution irresistible by any and all means necessary. Poetry was another arena in which to hone and express her liberatory desire, to tap into the affective realm of political imagination — what freedom would feel like. Among her friends were artists, performers and writers, many wary of her political discipline but drawn to her skill for translation, for shape-shifting and for illustrating connections between race, gender and class, between art and emancipation, between the individual worker and the means of production that were there for the taking.
A Life Lived in Struggle
Claudia Jones: A Life in Exile offers a refreshing approach to Claudia’s life. It is a book of memories of her time in the UK that is littered with holes. There are gaps, omissions, archival material that is contentious, hints at what is yet to be recovered. All of it highlights Claudia’s strange magic, the ability to live many lives in a single body. It goes beyond an account of her life in terms of location and action and instead attempts to recreate the general mood of her political work and her relationships with others. In a non-linear and fragmentary way, it elucidates the conditions that make a revolutionary and the mess we make of remembering them.
Many will know that Claudia is buried to the left of Karl Marx but not that she suffered debilitating illness, including persistent heart problems linked to tuberculosis throughout her most active political years. This fact is important; her life and work exist in the context of a world determined to kill her, in part by blocking access to financial and medical resources that might have extended her life. Many know her work as a journalist, founder of The West Indian Gazette and key member of the Caribbean Carnival Committee, but not as a poet and a communist.
Though we can run our fingers along the threads she sewed that extend into the moment I am writing this, many do not know that Claudia died in relative poverty, alone. Even those in closest proximity to her, who loved her unendingly, claim that she kept them at arm’s length.
Perhaps the task is not to try and know Claudia Jones in her entirety, as if such a thing were possible. Perhaps the task is to understand how the political promise she dedicated her life to lives on through others and can live on in us too, if we take seriously the promise of the communist horizon. This book prompts reflection on how unglamorous a life lived in struggle can be. It suggests that to remember Claudia is to commit ourselves to defending life against all those systems that kill us prematurely, just as she did.
Lola Olufemi is a Black feminist writer and organizer from London. She is author of Feminism Interrupted: Disrupting Power (Pluto Press, 2020) and co-author of A FLY Girl’s Guide to University (Verve Poetry Press, 2019). She was shortlisted for the 2020 Queen Mary Wasafiri New Writing Prize in Fiction and is currently researching for a PhD with the Stuart Hall Foundation.
This article was first produced by Roar Magazine.
A conversation between Günter Gaus and Rudi Dutschke
Original broadcast date: December 3rd, 1967.
Rudi Dutschke, born March 7th, 1940 in Schönefeld (East Germany), died December 24th, 1979 in Arhus (Denmark).
Dutschke completed his Abitur in 1958 and trained as an industrial clerk. He refused to serve in the National People’s Army. Later, he studied sociology in West Berlin and joined the Socialist German Student Union (SDS). Dutschke soon became a leading figure in the Extraparliamentary Opposition (APO) and in the student movement. He gave countless interviews, talks, and essays. In April of 1968, serious riots followed in the wake of an assassination attempt against him. These riots mainly targeted the Springer Press, which was seen as complicit in this act of violence because of its previous reporting on the APO. Dutschke later became a lecturer in Arhus, where he died from the late consequences of his gunshot wound. This interview was broadcast December 3rd, 1967.
Gaus: This evening, you will see an interview that I conducted with Rudi Dutschke a few weeks ago. Rudi Dutschke is 27 years old, he left East Germany some time ago for political reasons, and he is currently a student of sociology at the Free University of Berlin. He is the most eminent spokesman for a movement of radical students who not only want to reform West Germany’s colleges and universities but also seek to upend the entire social order as we know it. These students are a small minority. The great uproar that precedes them cannot obscure this fact. The overwhelming majority of German students is likely still apolitical. Most of them are not even interested in higher education reform to the extent that we should want them to be. And within that minority of students who take an interest in these bitterly-desired, overdue reforms, Dutschke’s followers are still quite a small group. Should this be any reason not to concern ourselves with him? Dutschke and his friends must admit that their style of argumentation occasionally makes it difficult to see them as serious conversational partners. In my view, this should not prevent us from making sense of what these young revolutionaries want to be – what they consciously desire to be – in a time when one can no longer take the idea of revolution seriously. One asks what these young revolutionaries really have in mind.
I think this is the reason why an interview with Rudi Dutschke has value. This will not have as much to do with concrete references to current events as with the general principles that guide Dutschke’s thinking. These are the principles he is attempting to impose on our society. With that, we welcome you to our program: “On the record – Rudi Dutschke.”
Mr. Dutschke, you would like to transform the social order of the Federal Republic of Germany. According to you, everything must be changed from the ground up. Why?
Dutschke: Yes – let us start by going back to the year 1918. That was when German councils of workers and soldiers first secured the 8-hour working day. In 1967, our blue-collar and white-collar workers alike have been spared a measly four to five hours of work per week. And this despite a colossal development of productive forces, a development of technical achievements that could theoretically bring about an equally-colossal reduction in working hours. In the interest of maintaining the established system of rule, this historically-actualized reduction in working hours has been put on hold in order to maintain a state of unconsciousness. This unconsciousness stands in connection with the length of the workday. Here is an example: after World War II, the two German governments spoke incessantly about unification. Over twenty years later, we have no unification. Instead, we have systematically received a series of regimes that one may call institutionalized lying instruments, in a manner of speaking. These are instruments of half-truth, of distortion – the people are not being told the truth. No dialogue is being established with the masses, no critical dialogue that could explain what is happening with our society. Now that the economic miracle has come to an end, why has there been no progress on the issue of unification? One speaks of ‘humanitarian concessions’ while referring to nothing other than the maintenance of political rule.
Gaus: Mr. Dutschke, why do you believe that the changes you’re looking for cannot be achieved by working with the existing parties?
Dutschke: There has been a long tradition of parties: social-democratic, conservative, liberal. Without going into too much historical detail, we have had a very clear development of parties since 1945, the result of which is that they are no longer instruments for raising the consciousness of all the people in our society. They are now merely instruments for stabilizing the prevailing order; they make it possible for a particular layer of the apparatus of party functionaries to reproduce themselves within their own framework, and thus the possibility that upward pressure and upward attainment of consciousness could prevail qua party institution has already become impossible. I think that many people are no longer willing to participate in these parties. Even those who still vote are ill at ease with the parties that exist. And… build another two-party system, and it’s over for good.
Gaus: We’re about to touch on your conceptions for a political society, and we will certainly have more to say about that. For now, I’d like to know what sets you apart from the prevailing political system. If one studies what you have written and said thus far, Mr. Dutschke, one concludes that the opposition embodied by you and your friends in the SDS is not only extraparliamentary, but also anti-parliamentary. This was my impression, at least. One question: do you agree with this finding? Do you believe that the parliamentary system is unusable?
Dutschke: I regard the existing parliamentary system as unusable. That is, we have no representatives in our current parliament who express the interests of the population – their actual interests. Now, you might ask: what actual interests? But there are in fact demands, even within the parliament. There are demands for unification, for securing jobs and public finances, for an economy that can bring everything into order. Those are all demands, and the parliament is responsible for fulfilling them. But it can only fulfill them by establishing a critical dialogue with the public. Well, there is currently an absolute division between the representatives in the parliament and the people, who are being kept in a state of disempowerment.
Gaus: For the moment, we have both agreed to make a record of your assertions before we begin discussing them. Please tell me: how would your ideal society organize, manage, and govern itself?
Dutschke: The society we strive for is the result of a drawn-out process, which means that we cannot make grand sketches of how the future will look. We only can say that it will have its own structuration that differs from the current one in principle.
Gaus: How so?
Dutschke: In the sense that under the current conditions, we have elections every four years, and we have the opportunity to affirm the existing parties. We have ever fewer chances to choose new parties, and thus fewer alternatives to the prevailing order…
Gaus: The NPD is one counterexample.
Dutschke: The NPD is not a counterexample – its emergence is inseparable from the unease towards existing parties on one hand and the end of the reconstruction period (uncritically: the so-called economic miracle) on the other hand. Both factors have enabled the advent of the NPD. But this does not mean that the NPD has no chance of winning majorities among the masses…
Gaus: Let’s return to your ideal conception of society, which you want to construct politically.
Dutschke: The fundamental difference is that we’ve begun to establish organizations that differ from traditional party structures. For one, there are no active career politicians within our ranks. We have no party apparatus. The needs and interests of participants in this institution are represented, whereas the parties contain an apparatus that manipulates the interests of the people rather than expressing them.
Gaus: When your revolutionary movement becomes large enough and adapts to the sort of apparatus that naturally belongs to large organisms, how do you want to avoid that?
Dutschke: That is an assumption on your part; I mean, there is no natural law stating that an evolving movement must have an apparatus. It depends on the movement and whether it can join the various levels of its development with the changing levels of consciousness. To put it more precisely, when we succeed in structuring this drawn-out transformation as a process of attaining consciousness among the individual members of the movement, we will achieve the conditions that make it impossible for the elites to manipulate us. That there is a new class…
Gaus: You assume that the human being is absolutely capable of education, that human beings can become better.
Dutschke: I assume that the human being is not condemned to remain subject to a blind interplay of historical coincidences.
Gaus: People can take history into their own hands?
Dutschke: They have always done so. They simply haven’t done so consciously yet. And now they must finally do so consciously – they must take control of history.
Gaus: How do these new human beings govern themselves, who leads them, how do they determine who leads them, and how do they vote their leader out of office?
Dutschke: They lead themselves – and this self-organization doesn’t mean that I am letting strangers decide things for me. When I say that people have always made history for themselves, albeit not consciously, this implies that if they were to do so consciously, the problem of elites and apparatuses assuming an independent existence would not arise. The problem consists in recalling elected officials and in having the ability to do so at will, and also in being conscious of the need for a recall.
Gaus: Which basic characteristics need to be ‘excised’ from human beings so that they can achieve what you’re expecting from them?
Dutschke: Not a single one. It’s just that the repressed characteristics must finally be set free. I am referring to the repressed capacity of mutual aid, the ability for people to transform their understanding into reasoning, and also their ability to understand the society they live in rather than being manipulated by it.
Gaus: How do you and your friends want to bring about this level of consciousness within humanity?
Dutschke: We’ve started to develop a method by which an education on social facts in the whole world and in one’s own society are paired with actions. By mediating and pairing this education – a systematic enlightenment – with what is happening, with all the daily events that are repressed in the newspapers, the radio broadcasts, and even on television; there are 122 countries in the world… when you open the BILD newspaper, you see one country at most, and you don’t even see what is happening in this country. This is a phenomenon not of information overload but of the systematic suppression of information and the non-structuring of information that is given. We want to break this apart. We want to share actual news about what is happening in the world, to enlighten people, and to lead campaigns that produce a new public sphere that takes note of this information, understanding that the existing public sphere is not the only option.
Gaus: What distinguishes your program of “revolutionary enlightenment” and your political goal of remodeling the world from the earlier revolutionary movements? What’s the difference?
Dutschke: I would say that the decisive difference is the historical situation we’re working with. In earlier epochs, revolutionaries worked mainly within the framework of the nation-state. Our work today deals with world-historical conditions in a very real sense. The Federal Republic of Germany can by no means be called a nation-state; we find ourselves in a system of international relationships. We are in NATO. Our populace has no idea what this means for the future. In 1970, one half of the world population will possess only one sixth of their labor value in the form of goods. Revolutionaries in various continents are working to alleviate their misery. We are stuck in this web, and we need a world market that doesn’t constantly impoverish one half of the world, producing even more conflicts in the process. This has to be dismantled, this is what we find ourselves in, and in this respect, we differ fundamentally from various situations…
Gaus: The communist revolution was supposed to be international, at least in theory.
Dutschke: Yes, and it couldn’t manage that in real history. When the Communist International was beginning to form in 1919, of course the idea of an international class struggle existed. But really, there wasn’t even a true movement in the various continents…
Gaus: Do you believe that the nation-state has been overcome across the world as an obstacle to such an international movement?
Dutschke: The nation-state has not been overcome as an obstacle. It is trapped in the human consciousness. The problem lies in eliminating this ideological obstacle, in making this international mediation visible – both the way we are embedded in it and the way we can get out of it.
Gaus: But that’s the same problem that the communists had in 1919.
Dutschke: But they wouldn’t have been able to solve it back then. We can solve it today with help from telecommunications and other forms of global networking.
Gaus: Va bene. Mr. Dutschke, I’m assuming that the consciousness of people in highly-industrialized states today is determined by an insight into the futility of revolutions. Note well: these are industrialized states, not developing countries. The two great European revolutions, the French and the Russian, have undoubtedly transformed political and social relations, but the practically Edenic ‘end stage’ of each (the long-term goal) was never attained. The revolutionaries were frozen in their tracks, sometimes struck by dreadful side effects. Mr. Dutschke, what makes you think that your revolution will be different, that is, more complete? How will you stop your long-term goal from vanishing in the distance before you reach it?
Dutschke: We know the conditions under which the Russian Revolution faltered. It’s a historical problem; we have an explanation for why it didn’t work. Why Lenin’s theory of the party appeared as a notable roadblock in 1921. Why the lag in industrialization in Russia was a condition for this failure. These are factors that we can name. There is no guarantee that we won’t fail in the future. But if a free society is unlikely, that’s all the more reason to work hard to create a historical possibility for it, even if success is not a given. It’s a question of human will whether we’re able to succeed, and if we don’t succeed, we’ve wasted one period of history. Maybe the alternative is barbarism!
Gaus: Now that’s the point I’d like to address, Mr. Dutschke: on the way to your long-term goal, however humanitarian and well-intentioned that goal may be, it may happen that you have to take highly inhumane measures. To avoid interruptions along the march to your distant paradise, there is no way you’d be able to avoid the possibility of having to construct prisons and concentration camps.
Dutschke: That’s what minority revolutions had to contend with. The difference from previous revolutions is also the fact that our process of revolution will be a very long one, a long march. During this long march, either the problem of becoming conscious will be raised and then solved, or we will fail.
Gaus: If I understand correctly, your revolution will develop in very long stages, and each of these stages will only be completed once humanity has reached the level of consciousness necessary for that stage. But once this has been done, there is no need for prisons or concentration camps. Is that correct?
Dutschke: Yes. That’s the precondition for doing away with prisons as prisons.
Gaus: How long is the march? Will you get there in 1980?
Dutschke: You see, there’s one data point in particular. Back in 1871, there was the Paris Commune…
Gaus: Yes; that’s an exemplar for you!
Dutschke: An exemplar for us. The dominion of producers over their products. No manipulation, regular elections and recalls, and so on…
Gaus: I know. Of all the accompanying phenomena, it was the decisive one…
Dutschke: The decisive model for the future, one we must keep reaching for. But the length of this fight won’t be a deterrent for us. It will take a long time, but many people are already leading the fight, and not only from within the established institutions.
Gaus: We’ll eventually get to discussing the size of your movement. First, I’d like to ask another question. Mr. Dutschke, you were born in 1940, and I believe the key distinction between your generation and those who are currently in their 40s and 50s is that you, the youth, haven’t come to the realization over the past several decades that ideologies have been depleted. I mean to say that your generation is ideologically capable. Do you accept this generational difference?
Dutschke: I wouldn’t think of it as a generational difference; I would say that there are a few grounding experiences. But these aren’t necessarily a generational difference. Grounding experiences can be processed in a variety of ways. To me, the key difference would lie in this variety of approaches. And so before 1914, there was certainly a grounding experience, but it wasn’t directed against the political institutions. We, however, do direct ourselves against them.
Gaus: Still, I would argue that every ideologically stamped politics of our day, in our industrialized states, is fundamentally inhuman. It forces people to follow a route that is mapped out in advance so that later generations may be better off.
Dutschke: No, nothing is being mapped out in advance. The act of mapping out is precisely the hallmark of the established institutions, which force people to accept something as fact. Our starting point is the self-organization of individual interests and needs, this is the form of the problem of…
Gaus: But this presupposes a rise in human consciousness. At the very least, you have to convince people to accept this rise in consciousness. People won’t undertake it voluntarily; you must bring them to it. What will you do if someone says they’d rather sit at home every evening in peace, watching crime shows on TV, instead of letting Mr. Dutschke and his friends ‘enlighten’ them?
Dutschke: We do not claim to be raising the consciousness of the whole population. We know that for now it’s possible to enlighten minorities that historically have the chance of becoming majorities. As of today, we are still few. But that doesn’t exclude the possibility that more and more people – especially now at the end of the so-called economic miracle, with many international events on the docket that have the power to raise consciousness – will perhaps see our insights as the correct ones.
Gaus: I’d like to make two comments on that. Firstly: how do you – as a minority revolution – plan to avoid having to repress majorities if you ever come to power? How do you avoid the danger that other revolutions have been subjected to, according to your own definition?
Dutschke: Nowadays, only right-wing minorities can win, not left-wing ones. A right-wing minority could win in Greece. But there will be no chance for left-wing minorities to win in the organized late capitalism of today, where the international counterrevolution has already built all the necessary conditions for avoiding minority revolutions. That’s good, though, that’s all right.
Gaus: This means that the counterrevolution saves you from the danger…
Dutschke: … of becoming like the Bolsheviks.
Gaus: I understand. And a second question along those lines: what gives you the confidence to assume that people who are distraught by recessions, economic decline, and unemployment in places like the Federal Republic will listen to your appeal? You’re telling them: “You must begin to understand yourself and your situation better.” Why should they choose this rather than the more comfortable solution offered by leaders of parties like the NPD? They don’t ask people to learn anything; they just have a ready-made prescription.
Dutschke: They don’t have any ready-made prescriptions to offer. They only offer irrational and emotional forms of appearance.
Gaus: That’s the danger I’m speaking of.
Dutschke: Yes, that’s the danger, but danger is precisely the starting point of our work. In the process of doing our work, we are continually reducing the chances that powerful NPD-like leaders will be able to captivate the masses. Instead, we are improving the chances that awareness can increase, perhaps as the starting point for left minorities in the sense of teaching the majority. This is currently not the case.
Gaus: Mr. Dutschke, the bourgeois German youth of the “Great Peace of 1914” – as I like to call it – were so tired of the prevailing conditions of the era that they called for a molten bath in the proverbial sense, which they ultimately got at Langemark. Today, your circle of friends is calling for two, three, many Vietnams. Out of this will emerge the New Man who saves the world. Is this a parallel?
Dutschke: No, that isn’t a parallel. That’s the call of the revolutionaries in the Third World, in the underdeveloped world. This is our call: get out of NATO now so that we don’t end up in this “molten bath” ourselves. That is, if we are still complicit in 1969, this means that among other things we will continue participating in the international counterrevolution in 1970-71, which has no choice but to crush movements in the Third World, and this includes Latin America, Africa, and Asia. America is no longer able to crush revolutionary social movements all on its own; Greece is now on the verge of doing the same. Sooner or later – and this isn’t far away – the Federal Republic will be mired in this too if it continues to recognize NATO as the ultimate constituent of its political authority.
Gaus: So, you brush off the possibility that some of your supporters are merely bored of the welfare state and are following you for that reason?
Dutschke: For us, boredom can be a starting point for political consciousness. But this is boredom made aware: why are we bored, what bothers us about the state, what can be improved, what needs to be abolished. This is how boredom becomes consciousness. And this is how a politically productive power against our society is formed.
Gaus: Mr. Dutschke, you hail from the region of Brandenburg, you’ve lived in East Germany, and as a student you were a member of the youth division of the Evangelical Church, which was occasionally suppressed with force in the GDR. You once described yourself as being influenced quite a bit by Christian socialism (at least that’s how I read it), and you even had the mettle to refuse military service in the National People’s Army. If it were necessary, would you fight for your revolutionary goals with a weapon in your hand?
Dutschke: The clear answer: if I were in Latin America, I would fight with a weapon in my hand. I am not in Latin America; I am in the Federal Republic of Germany. We are fighting so that weapons never have to be used. But that isn’t up to us. We aren’t the ones in power. People are not aware of their own destiny. And so, if we don’t exit NATO by 1969, if we are mired in international conflicts, we will certainly resort to weapons while the Federal Republic’s troops are fighting in Vietnam, Bolivia, or elsewhere. If that’s the case, we will also be fighting in our own country.
Gaus: That’s what you want to do?
Dutschke: Who was it that conjured up this misfortune? Not us; we were the ones who tried to avoid it. It’s up to the prevailing powers to avoid this future misfortune and to develop political alternatives.
Gaus: Why don’t you step out of politics? Wouldn’t that be a better expression of pity for the poor devils for whom these terrible times are looming? Why don’t you rather say, “we can’t change it, just let it go?”
Dutschke: We can change it. We aren’t hopeless fools of history, incapable of taking destiny into their own hands. They’ve tried to convince us for centuries that this is all we are. Many historical signs point to the fact that history itself is not an endless roundabout where the negative side always triumphs. Why should we stop just before this historical possibility and say: “Let’s step out now, we’re not going to make it… The world is going to end sooner or later.” Quite the opposite. We can give shape to a world that has never been seen before, a world that knows no war or hunger, and we can make that happen across the whole planet. That is our historical possibility. Why step out there? I’m no career politician. We are simply people who don’t want the world to continue down its current path. That’s why we’ve been fighting, and that’s why we’ll continue to fight.
Gaus: And if there are people who wish to step out, will you force them to stay?
Dutschke: No one is fighting alongside us without doing it out of their own awareness. As for those who conjured up all this misery… the degree of violence has been determined by the other side, not by us. And that’s the point of departure for our own estimation of the role of violence in history.
Gaus: If I were able to interview Lenin in 1907, or better yet, in 1903 – before the first Revolution – wouldn’t he have made arguments very similar to yours?
Dutschke: No, I don’t think so. Lenin certainly couldn’t have made arguments like these. He was lucky enough to have a clear (or relatively clear) picture of class society and a proletarian class ready to be set into motion. We don’t have this picture. We can’t have one because our process is much more complicated, longer, and more difficult.
Gaus: That’s correct. But in one point, he may have had similar arguments, namely in the fact that the goal of his revolution was making the world a peaceful place.
Dutschke: It is certainly a goal of socialism, while it exists, to create a world where war has been eliminated.
Gaus: Yes. So, Lenin would have made arguments like yours in this point.
Dutschke: Only in the continuity of international socialism, which began long before Lenin.
Gaus: Correct. And you say that you won’t follow the same path as Lenin and his revolution because you never want to repress majorities as a minority.
Dutschke: We can never take power as a minority, and we don’t want to. That’s our big opportunity.
Gaus: That’s true. What led you away from the evangelical basis for your first social-political engagements, namely your membership in the youth division of the Evangelical Church?
Dutschke: Religion really played a major role for me. I think it’s a fantastic explanation of the essence of human beings and their possibilities. But this fantastic explanation must be actualized in real history. And so, that which I understood in the past as a Christian now plays a part in my political work, which may include realizing peace on earth. If you want to put it that way.
Gaus: You’re still a Christian?
Dutschke: What is a Christian? These days, Christians and Marxists agree on these crucial questions such as peace, and they share a virtually emancipatory interest. We are fighting for the same goals. The priest in Columbia who’s at the forefront of the guerillas, fighting with a weapon in his hand, is himself a Christian! And the revolutionary Marxist elsewhere is also one…
Gaus: But what role does the transcendental play for you?
Dutschke: The “God question” was never a question to me. The most critical, historically grounded question was this: what was Jesus actually doing back then? How did he want to change his society, and what methods did he use? That was always the key question. The question of transcendence is for me a historical one as well. How to transcend the current society, how to create a new framework for a future society. Maybe that’s a materialistic form of transcendence…
Gaus: Do you think that compassion is the mainspring of your political activity?
Dutschke: I don’t think compassion is the single most important thing. I think there’s not only a historical law of mutual conflict, but maybe also a historical law of mutual aid and solidarity. One mainspring of my political activity seems to be making this law a reality so that people can really live with one another as brothers and sisters.
Gaus: You study at the university in West Berlin. What has disgusted you the most about the conditions in Berlin and in the Federal Republic?
Dutschke: Yes… maybe it’s the inability of the parties to show me something I’d find attractive. By that I mean something that relates to me, something that engages me. But that’s the sick thing about our parties. They can’t lay bare the interests and needs of party members, let alone those of the members of society at large. To work together in relating to people, engaging with them…
Gaus: In all honesty, now you’re just complaining about the lack of a social utopia.
Dutschke: Yes – I do understand that. Not just social utopia, but rather the inability of the parties to use that which they call politics to work out something that affects the people. Why are election rallies so boring? Why are there elections that differ in no way from the elections at Stalinist party conventions? Why is there an aspect of elections that amounts to nothing more than: “Yeah, that’s just an event one attends on a certain day…” It’s meaningless for the individual person because he knows that this election does not decide the fate of the nation. He has already agreed to this swindle, to be sure, but he knows that it’s fundamentally a swindle.
Gaus: But one may grant that he’s alive after being overburdened for such a long time.
Dutschke: He hasn’t been overburdened.
Gaus: I would say that he was overburdened in a terrible way until 1945.
Dutschke: We can even name the reasons why the parties of the 20s and 30s failed, the SPD and the KPD. We can say why it was possible for the NSDAP to steer the masses in the direction of fascism and to develop the germ forms of anti-capitalism into fascism, which is the culmination of anti-Semitic perversion. We can explain that…
Gaus: As a result of a thoroughly-ideologized politics. And what concerns me with your desires is their ideological basis.
Dutschke: No, not an ideologized politics, but certain principles of political activity. Not the development of the autonomous activity of the masses, but rather the Führer principle and the terroristic pressure imposed on all people. Those were the key components of fascistic action. But these are the key components for our group: autonomous action, self-organization, developing the people’s initiative and awareness, not having a Führer principle…
Gaus: We agree that you’re speaking of your intentions…
Dutschke: And of what may already be visible in rudimentary ways.
Gaus: … whether they will be realized, only time will tell. How big is your following in West Berlin and in the Federal Republic?
Dutschke: In West Berlin, we have about 15 to 20 people who are really working hard. That doesn’t mean that they’re career politicians, but they are devoting all their time, activity, and studies to this work of raising awareness.
Gaus: Something about that is blatantly unjust. You say that these 15 people are devoting all their labor to political education, and I have a lot of respect for that. You say that this is a requirement for your movement. But then you say that they aren’t career politicians. That’s unfair to career politicians.
Dutschke: Yes, but we have known for centuries what career politicians have done…
Gaus: How do career politicians differ from these 15 people, of whom Rudi Dutschke is a member? Could you name a prime example?
Dutschke: When you talk about the career politician as an ideal type – say, for example, a Kennedy or a Rathenau or whoever else – those are people whose material and financial basis, their material reproduction, etc. have been absolutely secured for their entire lives thanks to family tradition.
Gaus: You can’t say the same for Erich Mende.
Dutschke: I didn’t mention him.
Gaus: But he was a career politician.
Dutschke: He was a career politician. But all these career politicians, especially someone like Mende, are characterized precisely by never having attempted to combine the concept of career politics with the concept of historical truth and the need to always tell their constituents where they stand. What is actually going on, what can be improved…
Gaus: I think Mende would dispute that.
Dutschke: I think so, too.
Gaus: So, how big is your following beyond those 15 people?
Dutschke: You see, we have about 150 to 200 active members. An interesting comparison might be made with the Black Power Movement in America. They have 90 members who are highly committed and maybe 300 to 400 active members. When we’re talking about these relative numbers – 15, 150, 300 members in West Berlin – since the SDS doesn’t constitute the movement, we could maybe say that the most conscious part of our movement consists of four to five thousand truly engaged university students who take part in educational events and campaigns, who are ready to face consequences for participating.
Gaus: How many people in the Federal Republic could you bring out onto the streets for a demonstration against Vietnam, against America’s policies on Vietnam…
Dutschke: We aren’t a Leninist cadre party. We’re a completely decentralized organization, and that’s a big advantage, but that also means that I can’t say who we’d be able to mobilize across the Federal Republic from today to tomorrow. I can only say that it happens very quickly for us because we’re decentralized and are always able to set the movement into motion. People are always ready to participate, and we don’t need to coerce them. It’s a voluntary matter.
Gaus: You need a longer start-up time; you need to win people over. Once you’ve won them over, how many people can you get out onto the streets?
Dutschke: In West Berlin, we can get about five to six thousand people onto the streets overnight. Now, what party in the Federal Republic can count on four to five thousand conscious people? Wouldn’t that be interesting…
Gaus: Who’s financing you? Where do you and your friends get the money for your campaigns?
Dutschke: Of course, there’s always the suggestion from places like the Springer Press that our people are somehow financed by the East.
Gaus: I didn’t say that. Am I allowed to mention that explicitly?
Dutschke: Yes, you do need to mention it. This prejudice is passed along from the top down again and again, and I think it’s absolutely untenable. We reproduce our finances by our own effort. We have membership dues, and we receive donations from liberals and leftists who feel somewhat alone within the party apparatus, those who are afraid and feel guilty, reinsurers, people who are sympathetic to our cause. They all give us donations. That’s how we’re able to keep our heads above water. Look at the difference compared to career politicians – we have recourse to that which is fundamentally our own. These people are ready to participate.
Gaus: Has Augstein ever donated?
Dutschke: Augstein has certainly donated.
Gaus: I’ve heard that you don’t want to establish a party for the 1969 elections; you don’t want to participate as a party. What do you plan to do during those elections?
Dutschke: If we’re still allowed to do anything at that point – there’s no guarantee that things will stay the same by then – we’ll try to use the elections to show that nothing will change in this country through voting. Our activities during the elections should give us the possibility of expanding our base through awareness processes and actions, and we will not transfer this potential to existing institutions but to our own institutions, our political clubs, our small, tentative approaches to self-organization.
We will try to direct it there and maybe create something like a subculture, a counter-milieu, and that should involve creating a total state of cohesion where people are able to live better. This even includes doing certain things as a group, having our own facilities, whether those are cinemas or other establishments. There we will meet one another, educate one another; there we will get to know young workers in both the professions and the trades, and we will have political discussions and prepare for future campaigns. That is our path, and it goes on outside of the existing institutions.
Gaus: Allow me to ask one last question, Mr. Dutschke. Would you be willing to provoke the established powers of the Federal Republic to such an extent that you’d be put in jail?
Dutschke: I’ve already been to jail, and no one in our group is afraid of that possibility. It doesn’t mean much anymore when we’re apprehended during demonstrations, charged, and put in jail. The next day, there are always 100, 200, 300, maybe even more confessions from other friends who were also participating. That way, the individual never feels isolated as an individual. It’s not the way it was in the past, where someone could be held captive by the bureaucracy, by the executive authority of the state, and then be broken down. We’re no longer afraid to accept the possibility of imprisonment. There’s no alternative for us in our fight; imprisonment is simply part and parcel of it all. If it has to be that way, we’ll accept it, but it won’t stop us from continuing our fight.
 Original broadcast of “Zu Protokoll” can be found here: https://youtu.be/SeIsyuoNfOg
 Sentence fragments rephrased for clarity.
 The Wirtschaftswunder – an economic boom in West Germany that began during the reconstruction era of the 1950s. Dutschke uses the term facetiously.
 Ellipses indicate pauses and interruptions in the original interview transcript. Gaus’s characteristic interview style is conversational, allowing for false starts and incomplete formulations. This translation attempts to convey the original meaning of Dutschke’s statements, though some of them have been rephrased for clarity.
 The Socialist German Student Union, not to be confused with Students for a Democratic Society (US). The German SDS was formerly associated with the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) before it became an independent extraparliamentary organization in 1961.
 The German Unmündigkeit here suggests that the people are considered incapable of making independent, adult decisions (mündig sein). Dutschke seems to imply that the public is being treated as children.
 Herbert Marcuse agreed with Dutschke’s notion of a “long march through the institutions.” By this point, he was already considered the patron philosopher of the German and American student movements. Marcuse’s One-Dimensional Man (1964) was widely read throughout the 1960s.
 The National Democratic Party of Germany, a neo-Nazi party formed in 1964. The prevailing order Dutschke speaks of is an unchallenged grand coalition (große Koalition) consisting of the two largest parties: the CDU/CSU and the aforementioned SPD. At its height, the grand coalition controlled over 90% of the Bundestag.
 The transcription of this sentence is somewhat ambiguous. However, Dutschke’s point is that a large portion of the world’s population is not compensated for its labor, which is exploited primarily by the countries belonging to NATO.
 Dutschke critiques some features associated with the Soviet Union and its genesis, including vanguardism and socialism in one country. This is evident in his later remarks on Lenin.
 Gaus is alluding to the Hegelian concept of sublation (Aufhebung).
 In 1967, a right-wing military junta had already taken power in Greece at the time of this interview.
 Erscheinungsformen in German. Dutschke is using a term found in Marx’s writing, where exchange-value is the “form of appearance” of something distinct from it.
 In this context, the German Stahlbad is an idiom along the lines of a “baptism of fire.”
 The Belgian village of Langemark was the site of early German gas attacks during World War I. The ensuing bloodbath was used as a patriotic fable in Nazi Germany and was the namesake for a Belgian division of the Waffen-SS. Gaus suggests a parallel between the reactionaries and Dutschke’s group.
 A reference to Che Guevara’s “Message to the Tricontinental.”
 The Greek junta received support from the US following the precedent of the Truman Doctrine.
 Dutschke is most likely referring to Camilo Torres, who was killed in combat a year before this interview.
 Dutschke’s theological positions are somewhat ambiguous. According to his diaries, he seems to have believed in the resurrection of Christ, but here he is primarily interested in the social and historical dimension of Christ’s ministry as a prototype for the revolution. See also: Dutschke, Rudi. Die Tagebücher: 1963-1979. Edited by Gretchen Dutschke, Kiepenheuer & Witsch GmbH, 2015.
 Rosa Luxemburg’s concept of spontaneism had a strong influence on Dutschke.
 Former Vice Chancellor of West Germany and leader of the laissez-faire Free Democratic Party during most of the 1960s. Mende was also a former soldier.
 This is a tongue-in-cheek statement. At the time, the Springer Press was a conservative publication critical of the student movement at large.
 Rudolf Augstein, founder of the magazine Der Spiegel.
Translated with comments from:
Vince K is a Minnesota-based PhD student whose research interests include urban studies, social control, surveillance, and theories of alienation. Outside of academia, he has seven years of experience as a professional translator in various countries.
This book is one of a kind. Tatakis published it in French in 1949 and it had to wait well over fifty yers before an English edition appeared. The wait was worth it. This is the only book in English that covers the development of the history of philosophy and its intersection with Christianity during the entire course of the history of the eastern half of the Roman Empire from the fall of Rome and the western half of the Roman Empire (476 A.D.) to the fall of the eastern in 1453 A.D.
Americans and Western Europeans are familiar with our local history-- Rome falls, then the Middle Ages dominated by Latin Christianity (Catholicism), the Renaissance, Reformation, and modern times.
Our way of looking at politics and religion was born out of this sequence. Marxism, is in fact, the logical outgrowth of just this history. It is sometimes difficult to understand other types of Marxisms, i.e., I mean those that have developed in the non-Western European context. Think of “Marxism with Chinese characteristics” or “the Juche Principle.”
What we learn from Tatakis’ book is that a different Christianity (Eastern Orthodox) and a different philosophical development was taking place in the Greek speaking half of the Roman Empire surviving in the Mediterranean world throughout the entire period we in the West associate with our Middle Ages. The eastern world, dominated by Constantinople (the second Rome), retained its high level of civilization to the end. Its culture forms the background of Russia and other East European cultures.
If we want to understand Soviet Marxism we may have to look at it through the lenses of Byzantine philosophy rather than just assimilating it to the Western tradition. Even if this turns out not to be the case, this book is still a good read and opens up a world most of us have missed out on with our parochial education.
Tatakis seems not to have a secular outlook, but this rarely intrudes in his history. Early in the book we can see the coming fight between philosophy and religion (Christianity) – that is, between reason and faith. Two great schools of early Christianity were duking it out in the first couple of centuries of the Christian era – one in the great city of Alexandria, the other in Antioch. Alexandria stood for mysticism and a dogma “inaccessible to human reasoning” while Antioch stood for a non-mystical analysis of religious texts just as one “would scrutinize any human text, thus,” Tatakis says, “the reader falls into the trap of scientific rationalism.” Well, we certainly wouldn’t want that to happen! Antioch lost this fight – the eastern Romans remained mystical by and large. (Note: Byzantium was the name of the little town upon which Constantinople was built so the eastern Romans are called, by us, “Byzantines” – they called themselves “Romans”).
In the chapter on the sixth and seventh centuries we come across a bad attitude developing in Christianity that we can see is still with us. This is that “revelation” is better than our human type of “observational knowledge” and therefore “every advance in human thought” is viewed “as promoted by the devil.” Technology was OK (needed for warfare) but science as a way of explaining the world was neglected.
Nevertheless, there were some philosophers who tried to carry on the classical tradition of rational thought while being Christian at the same time (an impossible task). John Philoponos is especially important as his works on Aristotle, along with Aristotle, were translated into Syrian (and later into Arabic) and he was “an important agent in the formation of Syrian-Arabian philosophy.” We all know that the Arabs had a great and flowering civilization while we in the West were flea ridden barbarians – but they got it from (and added to it) the Greeks of the eastern Empire.
The next chapter covers the eighth, ninth and tenth centuries. A new attitude to government developed – called “Caesaropapism” – that is, the emperor, not the pope (or in this case the Patriarch) runs the show. This reversed a 300 year tradition initiated by the thinker Themistios who taught that “virtue and piety cannot be coerced”. He convinced the emperor Valens (r. 364-368) of this and Valens allowed “everyone the freedom of choosing whatever religion he liked.” The good old days.
Caesaropapism was eventually defeated by the Church. A work called “The Epanagogy” was adopted (ninth century) “which stated that the emperor, as the executor of the law, becomes the common bond for all the subjects and distributes rewards to all with perfect objectivity and according to their merits. In the Patriarch [of Constantinople], the image of the living Jesus [the Pope wouldn’t like this], being that he is committed in a profound sense to truth in acts and speech, resides the right of interpretation.”
In later times the Russians adopted this work and “it became the standard from which [they] regulated their political and ecclesiastical life.” Substitute “the party” for “the emperor” and “General Secretary” for “Patriarch” and “Marxism-Leninism” for “Jesus” and maybe we can see the cultural background upon which Soviet Marxism was built-- maybe.
Since the emperor and the Patriarch tell us all that we need to know and do (which self love should make us want to accept) this leads “to the responsibility of not allowing heretics to prevent one’s salvation.” The defenders of the faith are noted for “fanaticism and inflexibility.”
We should note that east Roman philosophers in the eighth century, by concentrating on the study of the classical Greeks and their culture, laid the foundations for what would become the Renaissance in Italy. There was always contact between the Latin West and Greek East and westerners were always coming to study at the great schools and universities in Constantinople. The East was always ahead of the West, however.
In the chapter on the eleventh and twelfth centuries we meet Michael Psellos (1018-1096) who wrote about the philosophy of Plato and became “the promoter of philosophical movement in Byzantium, an initiative that continued from the 11th through the 15th century and was disseminated by Plethon [c.1360-1450] and Bessarion [1403-1472] to the Italy of the Renaissance and then to the rest of Western Europe.” Tatakis ends this chapter by saying, “it is not enough to say that in the 11th and 12th centuries speculative thought in the Latin West runs on the same track as it did in Byzantium. We must acknowledge that in all of the essential points of this intellectual movement, Byzantium led the way.”
We will end this review with the chapter on the last three centuries with some comments about George Gemistos Plethon who came to live in Italy. Plethon was very advanced and definitely put philosophy in the first place ahead of religion. In “his most important work, The Laws,... [he says] philosophical thinking... reveals the naked truth to the spirit that has been liberated from dogmatism and compels the person, every person, to accept it ‘with one accord and with the same spirit.’ The position of the enlightenment philosophers would not be very different.”
We should feel some solidarity with Plethon even 550 years on as, Tatakis says, he believed “happiness emanates from the organization of the state” and in his memoirs, he “emerges... as the forerunner and anticipator of many socialist and other modern concepts.”
Does this sound like “From each according to his abilities to each according to his work”:
I mean his view that “the right to wealth is proportional to the services each person renders, a principle that secures social justice and elevates the value of labor.” A fundamental principle of Marxism re the lower stage (Socialism) of Communism.
I certainly hope we won’t have to wait another 550 years to see this come about!
by Basil Tatakis
translated by Nicholas J. Moutafakis
Hackett Publishing Co., 2003. 424pp.
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.