jump to navigation

Putin’ it to Putin: the Russian Oligarchy and the Primitive Accumulation of Capital May 1, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Capitalism, Economic Crisis, Labor, Marx and Marxism, Russia, Socialism.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

 

 

BjCHxNICMAAaVSj.jpg largeMeet the 11 Putin cronies and Ukrainian officials facing U.S. sanctions: http://t.co/0WOAuGtABa http://t.co/30T2yhxH4p

 

I don’t intend to go into the politics and economics of the situation in the Ukraine other than to point out the fact that the threats coming from the U.S. president against the Russian government seem to center on economic sanctions against the friends, associates, colleagues – well, let’s use the correct term: cronies – of the Russian president, Vladimir Putin. In other words, the Russian Mafia/Oligarchy. The New York Times reports that Obama’s spies are hard at work to discover Putin’s own fortune. What this circus amounts to then is the government of the nation with the world’s largest collection of parasitic crony capitalists attacking its rival nation’s crony capitalists. Russian Billionaires, take cover!

What his begs, however, is a question that no one seems to be asking: to wit, how did these billionaires come to be billionaires in the first place in Russia’s transition from Soviet “Communism” to Reaganite “Capitalism?” Or, more importantly, what this implies theoretically and philosophically about the very nature of capitalism itself. It indeed takes us to the heart of the origins of capitalism, what is referred to as “primitive accumulation” of capital, which is what this article is all about.

First we have to backtrack with a short discussion of economics. I assert that, despite popular opinion, economics is indeed a science in the sense that its elements can be measured and independently verified. The problem with Economic’s bad reputation is that the vast majority of economists are of the same ilk as biological “Creationists” and atmospheric climate change deniers. What they fail to take into account are the very dynamics that make capitalism what it is (usually in the form of ignoring obvious class divisions or making a fetish of the market place instead of focusing on what is fundamental in any economy, i.e. production).

Definitions are important. A simple but scientifically accurate definition of capital: vast accumulations of wealth (value) that today come in various forms, real estate, industrial and other corporate wealth, high finance, etc. Capital ISM then is the system of producing goods and services based upon the relationship between those who own and manage capital and the rest of us, who do the work that is responsible for the increase in value in the first place; that is, the relationship between capital and labor. It is a relationship that is hierarchic and despotic; that is, inherently undemocratic. A simple, yet accurate definition of socialism (the antithesis to capitalism), then, would be not state ownership of the means of production (as we saw in the former Soviet Union), but economic democracy, that is, direct ownership and control by those who produce the value. Note: it was not Karl Marx, but rather Adam Smith who demonstrated that new value added to land and natural resources can only come from living human labor.

Anyone who has ever had a job knows that the boss is the boss (be it the actual owner or his/her designates). You do not get to vote on what you do. You do what you are told, or you are shown the door (only union organization has mitigated this phenomenon to a degree). There are others waiting to take your place if you don’t like it. You do not get to decide what is produced (be it goods or services), how it is produced, or under what conditions (e.g. safety). But most importantly, you are paid for your creative effort as little as your owner/boss can get away with, and the rest of the value you create goes into his or her pocket (the pockets of heirs, stock holders, bankers, etc., i.e. capitalism’s parasites). This is what Karl Marx called surplus value (and what capitalists call profit), and it is the reason for the reality that we have always been aware of but are coming to see in greater relief more and more every day: the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer. One example: the geometric increase in the proportion of CEO salary in relation to worker salary (according to the Washington Post, “The ratio of CEO pay to average worker pay is 273-1, down from a high of 383-1 in 2000, but up from 20-1 in 1965.” http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/06/26/congrats-ceos-youre-making-273-times-the-pay-of-the-average-worker/). In other words, the average worker has to put in about six weeks of eight hour days to earn what your typical CEO earns in one hour.

 
Forget all the crap that has been that has been shoved down your throat since you came off your mother’s breast (or the bottle) about the wonders of capitalism: the miracle of free enterprise, the invisible hand that makes everything just, the value of competition, capitalists taking all the risk, capitalists creating jobs – as if without capitalists we would all stop working to produce what we need to survive and thrive. Forget about free markets: there haven’t been free markets since Jesus threw the money changers out of the Temple. The deck (the economy) is stacked in favor of capital; capital essentially owns government and uses it to maintain its strangle hold on the rest of us – economically and militarily. And this was true long before the US Supreme Court made corporations into people.

So now let’s go back to “primitive accumulation.” How did there come to be such huge fortunes, such accumulated wealth in the first place; in other words, how did the feudal economy become a capitalist economy?

Here are the contrasting explanations from Adam Smith and Karl Marx:

“In the midst of all the exactions of government, capital has been silently and gradually accumulated by the private frugality and good conduct of individuals, by their universal, continual, and uninterrupted effort to better their own condition. It is this effort, protected by law and allowed by liberty to exert itself in the manner that is most advantageous, which has maintained the progress of England towards opulence and improvement in almost all former times. …

“It is the highest impertinence and presumption, therefore, in kings and ministers, to pretend to watch over the economy of private people, and to restrain their expense. … They are themselves always, and without any exception, the greatest spendthrifts in the society. Let them look well after their own expense, and they may safely trust private people with theirs. If their own extravagance does not ruin the state, that of their subjects never will.”

Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations, Book II, Chapter II
(cited in Toronto Globe and Mail, April 5, 2008)

 
“The discovery of gold and silver in America, the extirpation, enslavement and entombment in mines of the aboriginal population, the beginning of the conquest and looting of the East Indies, the turning of Africa into a warren for the commercial hunting of black-skins, signalled the rosy dawn of the era of capitalist production. These idyllic proceedings are the chief moments of primitive accumulation. On their heels treads the commercial war of the European nations, with the globe for a theatre. It begins with the revolt of the Netherlands from Spain, assumes giant dimensions in England’s Anti-Jacobin War, and is still going on in the opium wars against China, &c. The different moments of primitive accumulation distribute themselves now, more or less in chronological order, particularly over Spain, Portugal, Holland, France, and England. In England at the end of the 17th century, they arrive in a systematic combination, embracing the colonies, the national debt, the modern mode of taxation, and the protectionist system. These methods depend in part on brute force, e.g., the colonial system. But they all employ the power of the State, the concentrated and organised force of society, to hasten, hot-house fashion, the process of transformation of the feudal mode of production into the capitalist mode, and to shorten the transition. Force is the midwife of every old society pregnant with the new one. It is itself an economic power.”

Karl Marx, Capital, Vol . I, Chapter 31

Karl Marx was a philosopher, whose primary concern was human freedom. In order to understand the un-freedom that was obvious to him in his age as well as it is to us in our own, he had to and did become a full-fledged historian and economist. He read, digested, analyzed and critiqued not only the famous economists like Adam Smith, Malthus and Ricardo, but the entire body of political economy of his day. Needless to say, with respect to the primitive accumulation of capital, he was aware and demonstrated how it was ongoing; and we see the unbelievably gigantic proportions it has taken in our own time.

The political economists like Adam Smith, showed us how only human labor can create value, then they proceeded to ignore human labor as they obsessed on the market placed and the distribution of goods and services. Karl Marx corrected the fundamental error by show us scientifically the inherent inequality and un-freedom of capitalist economy. It is ironic that Marxism is often criticized for ignoring the individual in favour of the community, whereas it was Marx who demonstrated how capitalist productive relationship created misery for individuals within their community. It was Marx, for example, who showed us that even if a nation’s economy may be thriving, suffering and injustice can abound for the majority of its citizens. It is the notion of the “economy” that is abstract and ignores the individual, not the notion of community. This is a fact that the vast majority of economists ignore completely.

And anyone who believes that “democratic” political institutions in the form of periodic elections can tame this insane and out of control Monster known as capitalism, is either naïve or uninformed (for which we can thank our bought and paid for mass media and institutions of higher learning).

Now we are ready to go back to Boris Yeltsin, Putin and the collapse of the Soviet Union. Under Stalin, the Soviet Union had become the opposite of its revolutionary class destroying origins. The Soviet State (brutally tyrannical under Stalin, then reformed and softened under Khrushchev) became the single owner of value, i.e. capital, in what is almost universally recognized theoretically as State Capitalism. With the collapse of the Soviet empire, which resulted from massive popular uprisings (aided and abetted by the democratic and progressive reforms of Gorbachev), things could have gone either one of two ways. All of Soviet capital, all that enormous wealth (value) could have been democratized, that is decentralized and put democratically into the hands of those who worked in the various industries (and who create the wealth in the first place). Any genuine Marxist left in Russia would have reminded the angry masses that the original soviets were democratic organizations made up respectively of industrial workers, peasant workers, and soldiers. With the theoretical and organizational backing of the Bolshevik Party, they were the impulse that overthrew the Tsar and established a union of soviets, which for a few years before the Stalin coup was striving for worker democracy at the same time as it was at war with the rest of the capitalist world, fighting for its very survival.

Alas, things didn’t go in that direction. They went instead in the direction of looting of the state’s enormous resources by those Adam Smith like industrious Communist apparatchiks cum Mafia. We see them everywhere today, as they have moved their newly gained capital around the world. We saw them at the Sochi Olympics and we see them as owners of American professional sports teams.

As with the Spanish Conquistadores and the slave traders of African skin, their wealth is stolen. That is what is meant by the slogan “property is theft.” Hegelian Marxism talks of continuing negations, ongoing revolution, if you will. The overthrow of the former Soviet Union was a first negation; the second one did not happen at the same time. We see the same phenomenon with the Ukraine’s “Orange Revolution,” Egypt’s “Arab Spring,” the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, etc.

But some day, if the capitalists do not destroy the earth first with nuclear or environmental catastrophe, it will happen. The capitalist way of creating and sharing wealth will come crumbling down simply because it is not sustainable. Capital will no longer exist, just working people producing and owning outright what they produce. When and how this will happen no one can say. But if it doesn’t, we are surely doomed.

One more theoretical point. It never ceases to amaze me how otherwise intelligent academics and pundits fail to understand the obvious contradiction between political democracy and capitalist economics. It is as if democratic institutions, however primitive, can somehow ensure freedom and justice, while at the same time working people are being systematically bilked by the capitalist Behemoth. Democracy, which is in fact the most highly advanced political notion, is just that, i.e. political. Capitalist economy is just that, i.e. economy. They are two entirely different animals, notwithstanding the fact that they are intimately entwined. Failing to understand this, leftists, progressives, liberals, etc., make a fetish out of the concept of democracy, ignore the economic implications of capital, and end up being entirely irrelevant. Note: capitalism cannot be reformed because it is inherently unjust and undemocratic.

For those who are interested in a truly scientific understanding of capitalist economic relations as outlined in Marx’s Capital, I recommend the first four chapters of Raya Dunayevskaya’s “Marxism and Freedom: from 1776 until Today,” Humanity Books, 2000. Of course, there is no substitute for reading Marx in the original, which I acknowledge is not an easy task. I recommend beginning with the so-called Early Writings or Economic Manuscripts.

 

Marx Was Right: Five Surprising Ways Karl Marx Predicted 2014 February 2, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Marx and Marxism, Revolution.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

Roger’s note: I find it interesting that journalists cannot write positive things about Marx with a caveat to show, I guess, that they are not slavish ideological Marxists.  Marx did not consider himself to be a prophet or a maker of blueprints for the future.  If so much of what he projected has come to be true it is because of his profound intellectual and analytic digging and not because he was some kind of a seer into the future.  First of all Marx was a philosopher, not an economist.  More specifically a philosopher of human liberation.  He realized that he needed a complete understanding of the history of human development and economics (he read and absorbed every one of the political economists of his day, from Adam Smith and Ricardo and Malthus to names you and I have never heard of) in order to develop a philosophy that contained the theory and practice for human individual and social liberation.  Furthermore, it is not untrue but rather misleading to state that “Most of his writing focuses on a critique of capitalism rather than a proposal of what to replace it with.”  With a particular reference to the Paris Commune, he often wrote of a future of “freely associated labor.”  He wrote about the “withering away of the state” and, of course, his most profound “vision” of a future classless world was described in his classic: “from each according to his/her need; to each according to his/her ability” (I added the gender neutrality of which Marx would have approved).  I found the best introduction to Marx was through his so-called “early writings” or “economic manuscripts” (I have the old Bottomore edition); and for a deeper understanding of Marx, the writings of Raya Dunayevskaya, the founder of Marxist-Humanism.

From the iPhone 5S to corporate globalization, modern life is full of evidence of Marx’s foresight

January 30, 2014 12:30 PM ET, Rolling Stone
Karl Marx
Karl Marx
Roger Viollet Collection/Getty Images

There’s a lot of talk of Karl Marx in the air these days – from Rush Limbaugh accusing Pope Francis of promoting “pure Marxism” to a Washington Times writer claiming that New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is an “unrepentant Marxist.” But few people actually understand Marx’s trenchant critique of capitalism. Most people are vaguely aware of the radical economist’s prediction that capitalism would inevitably be replaced by communism, but they often misunderstand why he believed this to be true. And while Marx was wrong about some things, his writings (many of which pre-date the American Civil War) accurately predicted several aspects of contemporary capitalism, from the Great Recession to the iPhone 5S in your pocket.

Here are five facts of life in 2014 that Marx’s analysis of capitalism correctly predicted more than a century ago:

1. The Great Recession (Capitalism’s Chaotic Nature)

The inherently chaotic, crisis-prone nature of capitalism was a key part of Marx’s writings. He argued that the relentless drive for profits would lead companies to mechanize their workplaces, producing more and more goods while squeezing workers’ wages until they could no longer purchase the products they created. Sure enough, modern historical events from the Great Depression to the dot-com bubble can be traced back to what Marx termed “fictitious capital” – financial instruments like stocks and credit-default swaps. We produce and produce until there is simply no one left to purchase our goods, no new markets, no new debts. The cycle is still playing out before our eyes: Broadly speaking, it’s what made the housing market crash in 2008. Decades of deepening inequality reduced incomes, which led more and more Americans to take on debt. When there were no subprime borrows left to scheme, the whole façade fell apart, just as Marx knew it would.

2. The iPhone 5S (Imaginary Appetites)

Marx warned that capitalism’s tendency to concentrate high value on essentially arbitrary products would, over time, lead to what he called “a contriving and ever-calculating subservience to inhuman, sophisticated, unnatural and imaginary appetites.” It’s a harsh but accurate way of describing contemporary America, where we enjoy incredible luxury and yet are driven by a constant need for more and more stuff to buy. Consider the iPhone 5S you may own. Is it really that much better than the iPhone 5 you had last year, or the iPhone 4S a year before that? Is it a real need, or an invented one? While Chinese families fall sick with cancer from our e-waste, megacorporations are creating entire advertising campaigns around the idea that we should destroy perfectly good products for no reason. If Marx could see this kind of thing, he’d nod in recognition.

3. The IMF (The Globalization of Capitalism)

Marx’s ideas about overproduction led him to predict what is now called globalization – the spread of capitalism across the planet in search of new markets. “The need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the entire surface of the globe,” he wrote. “It must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connections everywhere.” While this may seem like an obvious point now, Marx wrote those words in 1848, when globalization was over a century away. And he wasn’t just right about what ended up happening in the late 20th century – he was right about why it happened: The relentless search for new markets and cheap labor, as well as the incessant demand for more natural resources, are beasts that demand constant feeding.

4. Walmart (Monopoly)

The classical theory of economics assumed that competition was natural and therefore self-sustaining. Marx, however, argued that market power would actually be centralized in large monopoly firms as businesses increasingly preyed upon each other. This might have struck his 19th-century readers as odd: As Richard Hofstadter writes, “Americans came to take it for granted that property would be widely diffused, that economic and political power would decentralized.” It was only later, in the 20th century, that the trend Marx foresaw began to accelerate. Today, mom-and-pop shops have been replaced by monolithic big-box stores like Walmart, small community banks have been replaced by global banks like J.P. Morgan Chase and small famers have been replaced by the likes of Archer Daniels Midland. The tech world, too, is already becoming centralized, with big corporations sucking up start-ups as fast as they can. Politicians give lip service to what minimal small-business lobby remains and prosecute the most violent of antitrust abuses – but for the most part, we know big business is here to stay.

5. Low Wages, Big Profits (The Reserve Army of Industrial Labor)

Marx believed that wages would be held down by a “reserve army of labor,” which he explained simply using classical economic techniques: Capitalists wish to pay as little as possible for labor, and this is easiest to do when there are too many workers floating around. Thus, after a recession, using a Marxist analysis, we would predict that high unemployment would keep wages stagnant as profits soared, because workers are too scared of unemployment to quit their terrible, exploitative jobs. And what do you know? No less an authority than the Wall Street Journal warns, “Lately, the U.S. recovery has been displaying some Marxian traits. Corporate profits are on a tear, and rising productivity has allowed companies to grow without doing much to reduce the vast ranks of the unemployed.” That’s because workers are terrified to leave their jobs and therefore lack bargaining power. It’s no surprise that the best time for equitable growth is during times of “full employment,” when unemployment is low and workers can threaten to take another job.

In Conclusion:

Marx was wrong about many things. Most of his writing focuses on a critique of capitalism rather than a proposal of what to replace it with – which left it open to misinterpretation by madmen like Stalin in the 20th century. But his work still shapes our world in a positive way as well. When he argued for a progressive income tax in the Communist Manifesto, no country had one. Now, there is scarcely a country without a progressive income tax, and it’s one small way that the U.S. tries to fight income inequality. Marx’s moral critique of capitalism and his keen insights into its inner workings and historical context are still worth paying attention to. As Robert L. Heilbroner writes, “We turn to Marx, therefore, not because he is infallible, but because he is inescapable.” Today, in a world of both unheard-of wealth and abject poverty, where the richest 85 people have more wealth than the poorest 3 billion, the famous cry, “Workers of the world uniteyou have nothing to lose but your chains,” has yet to lose its potency.

 

Class War??? Elect “Progressive” Democrats??? November 7, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Democracy, Political Commentary, Revolution.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

THE FIRS WEB SITE I GO TO EVERY DAY IS COMMON DREAMS.  I DON’T READ EVERYTHING BECAUSE I HAVE OTHER WEB SITES TO CHECK OUT, BUT I TRY TO FIND WHAT SPEAKS TO THE CRISES IN OUR WORLD TODAY AND WILL HAVE A UNIVERSAL AND HUMANISTIC APPEAL TO THE READERS OF MY BLOG.  AS HAPPENED TODAY, SOMETIMES I READ WHAT I HAVE A FEELING  WILL BE SOMETHING I CANNOT AGREE WITH.  AS WITH THESE KINDS OF ARTICLES, AS WELL AS THOSE WHICH FOR ME ARE RIGHT ON, MORE OFTEN THAN NOT THE COMMENTS AT THE END OF THE ARTICLE FOR THE MOST PART CONTAIN AS MUCH OR MORE WISDOM AS THE ARTICLE ITSELF.  THIS GIVES ME LOTS OF HOPE BECAUSE THESE ARE NOT OPINIONS OF THE SO-CALLED EXPERTS, BUT RATHER ORDINARY JANES AND JOES LIKE YOU AND ME.

I AM NOT GOING TO POST THESE TWO ARTICLES, RATHER GIVE YOU THE LINKS AND SUGGEST YOU DO AS I DID AND TAKE THE TIME TO READ ALL THE COMMENTS.  JUST READING THE TITLES OF THESE TWO ARTICLES GOT MY DANDER UP: “Bill de Blasio: Harbinger of a New Populist Left in America” AND “Class War is a Bad Strategy for Progressive Politics.”

JUST CLICK ON THESE TITLES TO READ THE ARTICLES AND I PROMISE YOU IT WILL BE WORTH YOUR WHILE TO READ ALL THE COMMENTS (THE GREAT PERCENTAGE OF WHICH I CONSIDER TO BE WELL STATED).  THERE IS A QUOTE IN THE COMMENTS OF THE SECOND ARTICLE BY FREDERICK DOUGLAS, WHICH I GIVE YOU HERE AS AN APPETIZER:

“The whole history of the progress of human liberty shows that all concessions yet made to her august claims have been born of earnest struggle. … If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet deprecate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will submit to, and you have found out the exact amount of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them; and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.” – Fredrick Douglas – 1857

images

Political spectacles cannot hide reality of deranged September 30, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Uncategorized.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

Verizon workers all across the
U.S. went out on strike for 15 days to force the company to bargain in good
faith. Represented by the Communications Workers of America and the
International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, they agreed not to strike again
for 30 days. Verizon called for draconian measures that would have destroyed the
union. The workers are ready to resume their strike when
necessary.

by Ron Kelch

www.newsandletters.org, Sept – Oct 2011

At the end of a months-long political spectacle in Washington–manufactured
over irrelevancies concerning what should have been a routine raising of the
national debt limit before the Aug. 2 deadline–reality struck with a bombshell:
the anemic “jobless” recovery in the U.S. has stalled. The economy is getting
worse and there is no solution under capitalism. Revised data revealed that the
economy grew at less than 1% in the first half of the year. The 9.1%
unemployment rate is really over 16% when you consider that at 63.9% the level
of labor participation in the economy is the lowest since the Great Recession
started in 2007.
__________

Economists worry that the global economy is poised for a double dip
recession. Most agree that, for the foreseeable future, at best there will be
low or no growth–namely, a prolonged depression in employment.
The government spared no expense in immediately rescuing the finance sector in
the face of a total meltdown in 2008. A completely inadequate stimulus package,
which is about to run out, barely made a dent in mass unemployment. Now, in the
face of a new downturn, there is the highest long-term unemployment since the
Great Depression.

FANATICAL TEA PARTY POLITICS

Republican Tea Party fanatics, who control the U.S. House of Representatives,
were willing to risk a default on the national debt by refusing to raise the
debt limit. A default would have triggered a “financial Armageddon” and pushed
the already weak U.S. and world economies into an abyss. The
mass misery this would have generated was of no consequence to the Tea Party,
for whom nothing mattered except gutting spending on all social programs and
stopping any tax increases for the wealthy.

The tax structure in the U.S. is so outrageous that billionaire Warren
Buffett pleaded with the politicians to stop “coddling” the rich like him whose
tax burden, at 17.4%, is less than half of the average 36% paid by the other 20
employees in his office. Inequality in the U.S., where the top fifth has 84% of
the national wealth while the bottom two fifths have a mere 0.3%, is one of the
most extreme in the world. One fifth of children in this richest country on
earth grow up in poverty. Thus, as the Aug. 2 deadline approached, without a
care to these facts or the consequences of their actions, the Republicans got
what they wanted. Standard & Poors (S&P) promptly lowered the U.S.
credit rating from AAA to AA+, not because of a U.S. inability to pay its debts,
but because such a deranged political system can no longer be counted on to do
so.

The religious fanatics who control the Republican Party like Michele Bachmann
and Texas governor Rick Perry adhere to “Dominionism,” which holds that certain
Christians should not let anything get in the way of fulfilling their destiny:
to run the government according to their strictures and in turn impose them
throughout society. Dominionist views are totally divorced from reality–whether
on evolution, global warming or the nature of homosexuality–but, when they
include ruining the economy, then many capitalists get scared.
Such a deranged single-minded reach for power on the part of these ideologues
can’t be dismissed, however, precisely because capitalists are still so willing
to use them to force cuts on workers’ pensions, healthcare and education to pay
for deficits from wars, tax cuts for the rich, and speculative excesses that
caused the downturn.

 

KEYNESIANISM AND AUSTERITY-INDUCED DOWNWARD SPIRAL

The capitalist dilemma is that austerity has also revealed itself as a
deranged policy that makes the deficits worse because it drives down economic
growth. In Europe, an austerity-induced downward spiral in employment and living
conditions has been met with mass strikes, riots and “Take the Square” movements
inspired by the Arab Spring and demands for “Real Democracy.” Nationalism is
tearing apart Europe’s economic union as countries like Germany, with financial
prowess due to an export-driven economy, have dictated harsh conditions for
bailouts of other countries. Bailouts became necessary after bond dealers, who
were rescued from their own speculative bubble, forced one country after another
to face exorbitant interest rates on their debt. The contagion spread from
marginal countries like Ireland, Portugal and Greece to Spain and even Italy.
Now economic growth in Germany itself has collapsed to almost nothing.
Economists fear not just another global recession but another financial meltdown
like 2008.

After S&P’s downgrade, far from fleeing from U.S. debt, investors
demanded more of it, making it even cheaper for the government to borrow. The
interest rate on ten-year Treasuries fell to historic lows of under 2%. U.S.
capitalists have a huge cash hoard of nearly $2 trillion that is not being
invested in the real economy. It gets lent to the government for almost nothing.
The near religious faith that capital creates jobs has met the reality
of stalled capital accumulation creating permanent mass
unemployment.

As economists like Paul Krugman and Robert Reich keep saying, Keynesian
economics arose in the 1930s to deal with a similar deranged moment when
capitalism kept digging itself into a deeper hole. Today is said to be akin to
1937, when President Roosevelt listened to those who wanted to cut the deficit
and the Depression returned with a vengeance.

Only when Roosevelt turned to several years of what would in today’s dollars
be $3 trillion deficits in the buildup and execution of World War II did the
U.S. exit the Depression. Krugman claims the economic impact of the war–the
massive physical destruction of capital, which left the U.S. as the lone
economic superpower–wasn’t necessary for ending the Depression and restarting
capital accumulation.

But total war was not separate from the Depression. War was preceded by the
monstrosity of Nazism arising in an advanced capitalist country. A more
thoughtful evaluation came from another renowned academic economist, Simon
Kuznets, who also saw only “transient difficulties” in the collapse in the rate
of capital accumulation, but nevertheless questioned the capitalist basis of
economic growth if it is “susceptible to such a barbaric deformation”
(Postwar Economic Growth, Harvard University Press, 1964).

CAPITALISM’S FALLING RATE OF PROFIT

Karl Marx showed that the collapse in capitalist growth is no “transient
difficulty,” but is rather a reflection, despite many countervailing tendencies,
of an overall tendency for the rate of profit to decline. (See “Deep recession, rate of profit and the supreme
commodity, labor power
“.) A financial meltdown reveals a dramatically lower
rate of profit in the real economy where capitalists balk at investment and
produce not jobs but a growing army of unemployed and mass pauperization.

Profit can only come from surplus value extracted from living labor, and the
rate of profit falls when there is relatively less living labor in proportion to
dead labor or capital. Capital’s self-contradictory motivation is to diminish
living labor as much as possible–this goose that lays their golden eggs–by
constantly revolutionizing production with new dead labor or machines. With a
given level of technological development and ratio of capital to living labor,
the only way to boost profit is to lower the cost of labor through a class war
on labor rights, wages, benefits and pensions.

The capitalist system will not collapse on its own, but will continue as long
as it can in a protracted painful decline. There are persistent new revolts on
the ground searching for a new path as when mass demonstrations and sit-ins in
Wisconsin confronted Governor Walker–not only because of his huge take-backs
but because of the repeal of public workers’ basic labor rights. The opposition
to Walker also came within one vote of taking control of the State Senate in
recall elections and effectively ended his majority for the most extreme of his
agenda items. The political arena of elections, however, is where capitalists
have infinite cash to spin facts in the media according to their inverted
reality.

President Obama, who was elected on a promise of change that inspired masses
of new people to work for his election, behaves as if he also believes fervently
in the political process that operates on a different plane than the conditions
of life and labor of those who elected him. Obama kept exclaiming that high
unemployment is unacceptable and a prime concern, but the political process,
divorced from the aspirations of those who elected him, revolved around deficit
cuts that undermined employment. His new promise to introduce a jobs program has
little credibility.

Workers experience the process of accumulating capital as an alien one, where
the object, capital in the form of a machine, dominates the subject, the living
laborer. The capitalist begins from total costs and views labor not as the
source of value but only as an expense. In this way, says Marx, “the extortion
of surplus-value loses its specific character.” For the capitalists it
always appears as though an increase in value results from technology.

New technology lowers socially necessary labor-time and makes those commodities
issuing from it temporarily sell above their value, which is determined by the
average socially necessary labor-time. The “crisis” hits when all capitalists
get the same technology (or are driven out of business) and all commodities sell
for their now lower value, the amount of labor-time “in” them. What pervades the
totally dysfunctional political system is the capitalist’s fantasy thinking that
treats capital as the generator not only of jobs but of value itself.

The appearance of creating value from nothing through speculative finance
capital is twice removed from the “specific character” of creating value in
production and greatly amplifies the hallucinatory thinking of capitalists and
their political allies. Production is the source of both profit and the
illusions of finance capital.
Under finance capital, as Marx put it,
“the way that surplus-value is transformed into the form of profit…is only
further extension of that inversion of subject and object which already occurs
in the course of the production process itself. We saw in that case how all the
subjective forces of labor present themselves as productive forces of capital”
(Capital, Vol. 3, Fernbach trans, p. 136).

DIGGING HUMANITY OUT OF A MENTAL HOLE

Ideologues never tire of projecting anew this disordered consciousness in
which humans begin from reality not as our own creative powers in metabolism
with nature, but bow to technology as capital. In Foreign Affairs
(July/August, 2011), Michael Spence warns of “structural underpinnings” driving
a divergence between “growth and employment,” which means “the United States
should brace itself for a long period of high unemployment” because of the
impending loss of even “high-value-added” jobs that revolutionize technology.
“Value-added” fantastically becomes “capital and labor that turn the inputs into
outputs.” Capital produces no new value. Only living labor, whose proportion
diminishes relative to dead labor, creates new value even as it transfers the
value of the machine over its lifetime in production.

Apple Corp. came to be the iconic center of high-tech jobs and briefly the
company with the largest market capitalization in the world based on an
abundance of alienated, sweated labor. Foxconn, which employs a million workers
in China manufacturing high-tech gadgets for Apple and others, has an
ignominious reputation for workplace injuries and a rash of suicides from long
hours and high production quotas. Workers, who make at most $200 a month, must
sign a promise to not commit suicide. Safety nets have been placed outside
factory windows. Foxconn chairman Terry Gou wants to deal with these erratic
humans by replacing as many as possible with a million robots by 2013. This is
in the name of wanting his employees to move “higher up the value chain” (“Cheap
Robots vs. Cheap Labor”, New York Times, Aug. 14, 2011) in a country
which still has 300 million peasants. Nothing will stop China, rife with worker
revolts, from a reckoning, not only with speculative excesses in finance, but
with its own internal barriers to accumulation.

New revolts, emerging outside the familiar players like political parties and
labor unions–including the mass demonstrations that forced the shutdown of an
ecologically disastrous chemical plant in Dalian, China, or the new people’s
assemblies that have filled the public squares in Europe–reveal masses of
people searching for a way out of capitalism’s upside-down thinking. It’s time
to stop digging ourselves into not only deeper economic stagnation but also the
stagnation of the mental hole that just reproduces capitalist illusions. For
Marx, the only way to wipe away those illusions is when production is run by
freely associated laborers, a conceptual guide-rail for all the new spontaneous
and self-organized revolts.

It doesn’t take an Einstein … or does it? May 27, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in Socialism.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
2 comments

“We shall require a substantially new manner of thinking if mankind is to survive.”

Why Socialism?
by Albert Einstein

This essay was originally published in the first issue of Monthly Review (May 1949).

Is it advisable for one who is not an expert on economic and social issues to express views on the subject of socialism? I believe for a number of reasons that it is.

Let us first consider the question from the point of view of scientific knowledge. It might appear that there are no essential methodological differences between astronomy and economics: scientists in both fields attempt to discover laws of general acceptability for a circumscribed group of phenomena in order to make the interconnection of these phenomena as clearly understandable as possible. But in reality such methodological differences do exist. The discovery of general laws in the field of economics is made difficult by the circumstance that observed economic phenomena are often affected by many factors which are very hard to evaluate separately. In addition, the experience which has accumulated since the beginning of the so-called civilized period of human history has—as is well known—been largely influenced and limited by causes which are by no means exclusively economic in nature. For example, most of the major states of history owed their existence to conquest. The conquering peoples established themselves, legally and economically, as the privileged class of the conquered country. They seized for themselves a monopoly of the land ownership and appointed a priesthood from among their own ranks. The priests, in control of education, made the class division of society into a permanent institution and created a system of values by which the people were thenceforth, to a large extent unconsciously, guided in their social behavior.

But historic tradition is, so to speak, of yesterday; nowhere have we really overcome what Thorstein Veblen called “the predatory phase” of human development. The observable economic facts belong to that phase and even such laws as we can derive from them are not applicable to other phases. Since the real purpose of socialism is precisely to overcome and advance beyond the predatory phase of human development, economic science in its present state can throw little light on the socialist society of the future.

Second, socialism is directed towards a social-ethical end. Science, however, cannot create ends and, even less, instill them in human beings; science, at most, can supply the means by which to attain certain ends. But the ends themselves are conceived by personalities with lofty ethical ideals and—if these ends are not stillborn, but vital and vigorous—are adopted and carried forward by those many human beings who, half unconsciously, determine the slow evolution of society.

For these reasons, we should be on our guard not to overestimate science and scientific methods when it is a question of human problems; and we should not assume that experts are the only ones who have a right to express themselves on questions affecting the organization of society.

Innumerable voices have been asserting for some time now that human society is passing through a crisis, that its stability has been gravely shattered. It is characteristic of such a situation that individuals feel indifferent or even hostile toward the group, small or large, to which they belong. In order to illustrate my meaning, let me record here a personal experience. I recently discussed with an intelligent and well-disposed man the threat of another war, which in my opinion would seriously endanger the existence of mankind, and I remarked that only a supra-national organization would offer protection from that danger. Thereupon my visitor, very calmly and coolly, said to me: “Why are you so deeply opposed to the disappearance of the human race?”

I am sure that as little as a century ago no one would have so lightly made a statement of this kind. It is the statement of a man who has striven in vain to attain an equilibrium within himself and has more or less lost hope of succeeding. It is the expression of a painful solitude and isolation from which so many people are suffering in these days. What is the cause? Is there a way out?

It is easy to raise such questions, but difficult to answer them with any degree of assurance. I must try, however, as best I can, although I am very conscious of the fact that our feelings and strivings are often contradictory and obscure and that they cannot be expressed in easy and simple formulas.

Man is, at one and the same time, a solitary being and a social being. As a solitary being, he attempts to protect his own existence and that of those who are closest to him, to satisfy his personal desires, and to develop his innate abilities. As a social being, he seeks to gain the recognition and affection of his fellow human beings, to share in their pleasures, to comfort them in their sorrows, and to improve their conditions of life. Only the existence of these varied, frequently conflicting, strivings accounts for the special character of a man, and their specific combination determines the extent to which an individual can achieve an inner equilibrium and can contribute to the well-being of society. It is quite possible that the relative strength of these two drives is, in the main, fixed by inheritance. But the personality that finally emerges is largely formed by the environment in which a man happens to find himself during his development, by the structure of the society in which he grows up, by the tradition of that society, and by its appraisal of particular types of behavior. The abstract concept “society” means to the individual human being the sum total of his direct and indirect relations to his contemporaries and to all the people of earlier generations. The individual is able to think, feel, strive, and work by himself; but he depends so much upon society—in his physical, intellectual, and emotional existence—that it is impossible to think of him, or to understand him, outside the framework of society. It is “society” which provides man with food, clothing, a home, the tools of work, language, the forms of thought, and most of the content of thought; his life is made possible through the labor and the accomplishments of the many millions past and present who are all hidden behind the small word “society.”

It is evident, therefore, that the dependence of the individual upon society is a fact of nature which cannot be abolished—just as in the case of ants and bees. However, while the whole life process of ants and bees is fixed down to the smallest detail by rigid, hereditary instincts, the social pattern and interrelationships of human beings are very variable and susceptible to change. Memory, the capacity to make new combinations, the gift of oral communication have made possible developments among human being which are not dictated by biological necessities. Such developments manifest themselves in traditions, institutions, and organizations; in literature; in scientific and engineering accomplishments; in works of art. This explains how it happens that, in a certain sense, man can influence his life through his own conduct, and that in this process conscious thinking and wanting can play a part.

Man acquires at birth, through heredity, a biological constitution which we must consider fixed and unalterable, including the natural urges which are characteristic of the human species. In addition, during his lifetime, he acquires a cultural constitution which he adopts from society through communication and through many other types of influences. It is this cultural constitution which, with the passage of time, is subject to change and which determines to a very large extent the relationship between the individual and society. Modern anthropology has taught us, through comparative investigation of so-called primitive cultures, that the social behavior of human beings may differ greatly, depending upon prevailing cultural patterns and the types of organization which predominate in society. It is on this that those who are striving to improve the lot of man may ground their hopes: human beings are not condemned, because of their biological constitution, to annihilate each other or to be at the mercy of a cruel, self-inflicted fate.

If we ask ourselves how the structure of society and the cultural attitude of man should be changed in order to make human life as satisfying as possible, we should constantly be conscious of the fact that there are certain conditions which we are unable to modify. As mentioned before, the biological nature of man is, for all practical purposes, not subject to change. Furthermore, technological and demographic developments of the last few centuries have created conditions which are here to stay. In relatively densely settled populations with the goods which are indispensable to their continued existence, an extreme division of labor and a highly-centralized productive apparatus are absolutely necessary. The time—which, looking back, seems so idyllic—is gone forever when individuals or relatively small groups could be completely self-sufficient. It is only a slight exaggeration to say that mankind constitutes even now a planetary community of production and consumption.

I have now reached the point where I may indicate briefly what to me constitutes the essence of the crisis of our time. It concerns the relationship of the individual to society. The individual has become more conscious than ever of his dependence upon society. But he does not experience this dependence as a positive asset, as an organic tie, as a protective force, but rather as a threat to his natural rights, or even to his economic existence. Moreover, his position in society is such that the egotistical drives of his make-up are constantly being accentuated, while his social drives, which are by nature weaker, progressively deteriorate. All human beings, whatever their position in society, are suffering from this process of deterioration. Unknowingly prisoners of their own egotism, they feel insecure, lonely, and deprived of the naive, simple, and unsophisticated enjoyment of life. Man can find meaning in life, short and perilous as it is, only through devoting himself to society.

The economic anarchy of capitalist society as it exists today is, in my opinion, the real source of the evil. We see before us a huge community of producers the members of which are unceasingly striving to deprive each other of the fruits of their collective labor—not by force, but on the whole in faithful compliance with legally established rules. In this respect, it is important to realize that the means of production—that is to say, the entire productive capacity that is needed for producing consumer goods as well as additional capital goods—may legally be, and for the most part are, the private property of individuals.

For the sake of simplicity, in the discussion that follows I shall call “workers” all those who do not share in the ownership of the means of production—although this does not quite correspond to the customary use of the term. The owner of the means of production is in a position to purchase the labor power of the worker. By using the means of production, the worker produces new goods which become the property of the capitalist. The essential point about this process is the relation between what the worker produces and what he is paid, both measured in terms of real value. Insofar as the labor contract is “free,” what the worker receives is determined not by the real value of the goods he produces, but by his minimum needs and by the capitalists’ requirements for labor power in relation to the number of workers competing for jobs. It is important to understand that even in theory the payment of the worker is not determined by the value of his product.

Private capital tends to become concentrated in few hands, partly because of competition among the capitalists, and partly because technological development and the increasing division of labor encourage the formation of larger units of production at the expense of smaller ones. The result of these developments is an oligarchy of private capital the enormous power of which cannot be effectively checked even by a democratically organized political society. This is true since the members of legislative bodies are selected by political parties, largely financed or otherwise influenced by private capitalists who, for all practical purposes, separate the electorate from the legislature. The consequence is that the representatives of the people do not in fact sufficiently protect the interests of the underprivileged sections of the population. Moreover, under existing conditions, private capitalists inevitably control, directly or indirectly, the main sources of information (press, radio, education). It is thus extremely difficult, and indeed in most cases quite impossible, for the individual citizen to come to objective conclusions and to make intelligent use of his political rights.

The situation prevailing in an economy based on the private ownership of capital is thus characterized by two main principles: first, means of production (capital) are privately owned and the owners dispose of them as they see fit; second, the labor contract is free. Of course, there is no such thing as a pure capitalist society in this sense. In particular, it should be noted that the workers, through long and bitter political struggles, have succeeded in securing a somewhat improved form of the “free labor contract” for certain categories of workers. But taken as a whole, the present day economy does not differ much from “pure” capitalism.

Production is carried on for profit, not for use. There is no provision that all those able and willing to work will always be in a position to find employment; an “army of unemployed” almost always exists. The worker is constantly in fear of losing his job. Since unemployed and poorly paid workers do not provide a profitable market, the production of consumers’ goods is restricted, and great hardship is the consequence. Technological progress frequently results in more unemployment rather than in an easing of the burden of work for all. The profit motive, in conjunction with competition among capitalists, is responsible for an instability in the accumulation and utilization of capital which leads to increasingly severe depressions. Unlimited competition leads to a huge waste of labor, and to that crippling of the social consciousness of individuals which I mentioned before.

This crippling of individuals I consider the worst evil of capitalism. Our whole educational system suffers from this evil. An exaggerated competitive attitude is inculcated into the student, who is trained to worship acquisitive success as a preparation for his future career.

I am convinced there is only one way to eliminate these grave evils, namely through the establishment of a socialist economy, accompanied by an educational system which would be oriented toward social goals. In such an economy, the means of production are owned by society itself and are utilized in a planned fashion. A planned economy, which adjusts production to the needs of the community, would distribute the work to be done among all those able to work and would guarantee a livelihood to every man, woman, and child. The education of the individual, in addition to promoting his own innate abilities, would attempt to develop in him a sense of responsibility for his fellow men in place of the glorification of power and success in our present society.

Nevertheless, it is necessary to remember that a planned economy is not yet socialism. A planned economy as such may be accompanied by the complete enslavement of the individual. The achievement of socialism requires the solution of some extremely difficult socio-political problems: how is it possible, in view of the far-reaching centralization of political and economic power, to prevent bureaucracy from becoming all-powerful and overweening? How can the rights of the individual be protected and therewith a democratic counterweight to the power of bureaucracy be assured?

Clarity about the aims and problems of socialism is of greatest significance in our age of transition. Since, under present circumstances, free and unhindered discussion of these problems has come under a powerful taboo, I consider the foundation of this magazine to be an important public service

Albert Einstein, Radical:
A Political Profile

by John J. Simon

2005 marks the fiftieth anniversary of the death of Albert Einstein and the centennial of the publication of five of his major scientific papers that transformed the study of physics. Einstein’s insights were so revolutionary that they challenged not only established doctrine in the natural sciences, but even altered the way ordinary people saw their world. By the 1920s he had achieved international popular renown on a scale that would not become usual until the rise of the contemporary celebrity saturated tabloids and cable news channels. His recondite scientific papers as well as interviews with the popular press were front page news and fodder for the newsreels. Usually absent, however, was any sober discussion of his participation in the political life of his times as an outspoken radical—especially in profiles and biographies after his death.

Albert Einstein was born on March 14, 1879, into a liberal, secular, and bourgeois German Jewish family. Young Albert’s childhood and early adolescence does not seem to have been out of the ordinary. Like many late nineteenth century young men, he was curious, read Darwin, and was interested in the material, that is the natural, world and wished to fathom “the arcana of nature, so as to discern ‘the law within the law.’”

In 1895, Einstein, aged sixteen, renounced his German citizenship and moved to Switzerland. His main reason was to avoid military service and also to complete his education at Zurich’s Polytechnic Institute. There he eventually earned his Ph.D. in a climate relatively free of the anti-Semitism that pervaded German and Austrian universities. But Zurich had other rewards. Einstein spent much time at the Odeon Café, a hangout for Russian radicals, including Alexandra Kollontai, Leon Trotsky, and, a few years later, Lenin. Einstein admitted to spending much time at the Odeon, even missing classes to participate in the coffee shop’s intoxicating political debates.

Unable to find an academic job, Einstein went to work in 1902 in the Swiss patent office in Berne. It was there in 1905 that he had his annus mirabilus, publishing articles on the special theory of relativity, quantum mechanics, and Brownian motion. In 1914 he was offered and accepted a full professorship in Berlin. Fred Jerome, author of The Einstein File,* notes that the job offer was probably a result of a bidding competition among universities in Britain, France, and Germany looking for scientific and technological talent to abet their respective governments’ imperial objectives. Unfortunately, Einstein took up his post just as the First World War broke out with Germany among the chief belligerents.

Einstein opposed the war, putting him at odds with the German Social Democrats to whom he had been previously sympathetic, instead aligning himself with the party’s minority who saw the war as a dispute among the ruling classes of the belligerents. Einstein also found himself in disagreement with most of his scientific colleagues. Max Planck, then a physicist of roughly equivalent stature to Einstein, and nearly a hundred other scientists signed a supernationalist “Manifesto to the Civilized World,” endorsing Germany’s war aims in language that prefigured the Nazi rants of a generation later, rationalizing the war as justifiable resistance to “Russian hordes,” “Mongols,” and “Negroes” who had been “unleashed against the white race.” Einstein and only three others replied in a document suppressed at the time by the German government, describing the behavior of the scientists (sadly joined by numerous writers and artists) as shameful. At least one of the signatories of the reply was jailed. Einstein was not; it was the first instance of the power of his newly acquired celebrity not only to protect himself, but to allow him to speak out when others couldn’t.

In the turbulent aftermath of the war Einstein continued to speak out. Famously, on the day Kaiser Wilhelm abdicated—it was during a fortnight that saw not only the armistice, but the fall of seven other European monarchies, all replaced, for the moment, by liberal and socialist regimes—Einstein posted a sign on his classroom’s door that read “CLASS CANCELLED—REVOLUTION.” He had joined with and defended liberal and radical students and colleagues for their wartime opposition; now he was with them in their postwar resistance to the burgeoning revanchist militarism that would quickly morph into Nazism.

Einstein’s visibility made him a focus of the revival of virulent anti-Semitism. His work on relativity was denounced as a “Jewish perversion” not only by far right-wing politicians, but even by fellow German scientists. Einstein was by now an illustrious international figure. In 1921 he received the Nobel Prize for Physics for work on the photo-electric effect, which demonstrated the quantum nature of light. He was also a visible presence in the cultural and social life of the Weimar Republic. At the same time, Einstein became increasingly outspoken in his political views. Opposing the mounting racist and jingoist violence and ultranationalism in Germany in the 1920s, he worked for European unity and supported organizations seeking to protect Jews against growing anti-Semitic violence. His egalitarian streak was irrepressible: confronting rising course fees poorer students couldn’t afford, Einstein routinely offered free after-hours physics classes. As the European economic and political crises grew more acute, Einstein increasingly used platforms at scientific conferences to address political questions. “He had no problem,” Jerome notes, “discussing relativity at a university lecture in the morning, and, on that same evening, urging young people to refuse military service.”

By 1930 Hitler’s National Socialist party was poised to become the dominant political force in Germany and Einstein, while still vocal at home, more and more found himself looking abroad for congenial outlets for both his scientific and political expression. He lectured in Britain, the Netherlands and elsewhere in Europe and, from 1930 on, annually as a visiting professor at the California Institute of Technology. On January 30, 1933, the Nazis seized power and confiscated Einstein’s Berlin property. In May, Goebbels, Hitler’s propaganda minister, organized a public book burning, prominently featuring Einstein’s work; photos of the atrocity were published worldwide. Following the offer of a large cash bounty for his murder in Nazi newspapers, Einstein was forced to complete a speaking tour in the Netherlands with the protection of bodyguards. That winter, while at Cal Tech, he and his family decided not to return to Berlin. Instead he accepted a lifetime appointment from the Institute for Advanced Studies in Princeton, New Jersey, settling into a modest house on Mercer Street.

There, while trying to orient himself to his new country, Einstein worked doggedly on his Unified Field Theory, an attempt to demonstrate that electromagnetism and gravity were different manifestations of a single fundamental phenomenon. It would be his main scientific concern for the rest of his life and remains one that continues to animate contemporary physics and cosmology.

In the years before he was granted U.S. citizenship in 1940, Einstein’s political concerns were focused on the depredations of Nazi anti-Semitism and the rise of fascism. Once again, making use of his renown, he petitioned the government to allow refugees to migrate to the United States, but to no avail. He then joined with other European intellectuals to ask Eleanor Roosevelt to intervene with her husband, but the result was the same. This was not Einstein’s first conflict with FDR’s administration. He vigorously and publicly supported the anti-Franco forces in the Spanish Civil War. While the Nazi Luftwaffe bombed Spanish villages, the United States, along with Britain and France, enforced a phony “neutrality” embargo, denying Republican troops needed munitions. Despite organized demonstrations and appeals to which Einstein lent his name, the blockade was never lifted and the fascist regime imposed on Spain survived (with postwar U.S. aid) for nearly four decades. Nearly 3,000 American volunteers of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade defied their government to fight with the Republic, with Einstein an early and zealous supporter.

In 1939, at the urging of the physicist and fellow refugee from the Nazis, Leo Szilard, Einstein wrote to President Roosevelt to warn about German advances in nuclear research and the prospect that they might develop an atomic weapon. The letter led to the U.S. effort to build such a bomb. It remains Einstein’s most remembered public act. However, a combination of government fear of Einstein’s radicalism and his own reluctance kept Einstein from having any role in the Manhattan Project.

After the war, Einstein protested the incineration of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Fred Jerome cites a 1946 interview with the London Sunday Express, in which Einstein “blamed the atomic bombing of Japan on [President] Truman’s anti-Soviet foreign policy” and expressed the opinion that “if FDR had lived through the war, Hiroshima would never have been bombed.” Jerome notes that the interview was immediately added to Einstein’s growing FBI file.

The early postwar years were marked by a manipulated anticommunist frenzy in government and business circles to support U.S. international and domestic goals. Manhattan Project scientists, who had earlier debated the use of the bomb in the months between Germany’s defeat in May 1945 and the Hiroshima bombing in August, were well versed in the issues the bomb raised. Many feared a nuclear arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union. To lobby against that prospect, they founded the Emergency Committee of Atomic Scientists (ECAS), which Einstein agreed to chair. In that role, Einstein sought first to try to meet with Secretary of State George C. Marshall to discuss what he saw as the militarist expansion of U.S. power. He was rebuffed, but in an interview with a mid-level Atomic Energy Commission official he described Truman’s foreign policy as anti-Soviet expansionism—Pax Americana were the words he used to describe what he saw as U.S. imperial ambition. There was a substantial public response to ECAS’s antinuclear message, but, in the end, the group was unable to reach its goal of removing atomic development from the military and placing it under international control.

Another major political concern of Einstein in the 1940s was the persistence of racism, segregation, lynching, and other manifestations of white supremacy in the United States. During the war, the country had been mobilized to support the war effort, both on the battlefield and the home front with the promise of equality. In fact, however, the official message on racial justice was, at best, mixed. FDR set up a Fair Employment Practices Committee, an entity with much promise but with little power to affect discrimination in the work place. And the eleven million member-strong military remained segregated. In the aftermath of the war, economic dislocations, job shifts, and housing shortages were all dealt with in the usual Jim Crow manner: in the words of Leadbelly’s song “if you’re black, get back, get back, get back.”

The town of Princeton, New Jersey, where Einstein lived (and for that matter, its university), though only a short drive from New York, might well have been in the old southern Confederacy. Paul Robeson, who was born in Princeton, called it a “Georgia plantation town.” Access to housing, jobs, and the university itself (once led by the segregationist Woodrow Wilson) were routinely denied to African Americans; protest or defiance were often met with police violence. Einstein, who had witnessed similar scenes in Germany and who, in any event was a longtime anti-racism militant, reacted against every outrage. In 1937, when the contralto Marion Anderson gave a critically acclaimed concert in Princeton but was denied lodging at the segregated Nassau Inn, Einstein, who had attended the performance, instantly invited her to stay at his house. She did so, and continued to be his guest whenever she sang in New Jersey, even after the hotel was integrated.

In 1946, in the face of a major nationwide wave of lynching, Paul Robeson invited Einstein to join him as co-chair of the American Crusade to End Lynching. The group, which also included W. E. B. Du Bois and others in the civil rights movement, held a rally in Washington at which Einstein was scheduled to speak. Illness prevented that, but he wrote a letter to President Truman calling for prosecution of lynchers, passage of a federal anti-lynching law, and the ouster of racist Mississippi Senator Theodore G. Bilbo. The letter was delivered by Robeson, but the meeting was cut short when he told Truman that if the government would not protect blacks they would have to do so themselves. An uproar followed, but Einstein, in his letter, agreed with Robeson, writing, “There is always a way to overcome legal obstacles whenever there is an inflexible will at work in the service of a just cause.”

Einstein was willing to use his fame on behalf of social justice, but steadfastly refused to accept honors his celebrity might have brought his way. There was one exception, however. In May 1946, Horace Mann Bond, president of Lincoln University, a historically black institution in Pennsylvania, awarded the scientist an honorary degree. Einstein, accepted, spending the day lecturing to undergraduates and talking, even playing, with faculty children. One of them was Julian Bond, then the young son of the university’s president, who later went on to be a leader in the civil rights movement and is now chair of the NAACP. The press ignored the event, but, in his address Einstein said, “The social outlook of Americans…their sense of equality and human dignity is limited to men of white skins. The more I feel an American, the more this situation pains me. I can escape complicity in it only by speaking out.”

That impulse to political commitment led Einstein to take action on both the domestic crisis in race relations and the simultaneous Cold War-fostered nuclear menace. It also led him to support the new Progressive Party along with his old compatriot Thomas Mann and his friend and neighbor Ben Shahn—famed for his paintings on the Sacco and Vanzetti case, among many others with political themes. The party, formed by the left wing of Roosevelt’s old New Deal coalition, including radicals, socialists, and communists, was established as a vehicle to run former vice president Henry A. Wallace for president in 1948. Einstein especially admired the party’s stand against Jim Crow and lent it his prestige and endorsement, being photographed with Wallace and fellow third party supporter Paul Robeson. The latter two campaigning in the South, despite violent attacks on them, refused to appear before segregated audiences or stay in Jim Crow hotels. With Einstein’s support, Wallace also called for the international control and outlawing of nuclear weapons. In the end, however, a mix of anti-Soviet jingoism and Truman’s belated promises of liberal, New Deal-type social programs caused the collapse of the Wallace movement. Truman’s surprise reelection removed whatever barriers to the accelerating Cold War and the ideological repression that accompanied it.

Some among Wallace’s supporters chafed at his party’s failure to move beyond New Deal liberalism. They thought the party should have taken explicitly socialist positions on questions like public ownership of basic industries, for example. Among those who held such views were Leo Huberman and Paul M. Sweezy, founders of this magazine as a venue for ongoing comprehensive analysis and commentary from a socialist and Marxist perspective. Einstein applauded the founding of Monthly Review, and, at the request of Huberman’s friend Otto Nathan, wrote his essay, Why Socialism?, for the first issue in May 1949. Together with Einstein’s celebrity, the article’s clear statement of the case for socialism in logical, moral, and political terms drew attention to the birth of this small left-wing magazine.* In the hostile political climate of that time, the article surely provided necessary encouragement both to the authority and the circulation of this magazine.

At the end of the Second World War Einstein was also drawn to the crisis of European Jewry following the Nazi genocide. Self-identified as a secular Jew, at least since his first encounters with anti-Semitism as a child, he was an intimate observer and intermittent victim of this ultra-nationalist disease and reacted to it as he did to other hate crimes. As early as 1921, when he made his first trip to the United States to raise funds for the establishment of Jewish settlements in Palestine, he sought solutions to the impending catastrophe confronting Europe’s Jewish community. He resisted growing legal and extra-legal restrictions on Jewish life in Central and Eastern Europe, supported (with little success) Jewish migration to the Americas, and advocated for the creation of what he and others called a “Jewish national home” in Palestine. As such he was identified with Zionism, a label that does not precisely fit but that he did not actively avoid. Nonetheless, he separated himself from Zionist jingoists and bigots including Vladimir Jabotinsky and Menachem Begin, and often from mainstream Zionists like Chaim Weizmann and David Ben Gurion. In 1930, Einstein wrote, “Oppressive nationalism must be conquered…I can see a future for Palestine only on the basis of peaceful cooperation between the two peoples who are at home in the country…come together they must in spite of all.” He went on to support a binational Jewish and Palestinian state both before and after the war.

In 1946, with hundreds of thousands of European Jews still “displaced” and with the victorious allies unwilling to absorb even a portion of the refugee population, Einstein appeared before an Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry on Palestine, calling for a “Jewish homeland.” The Zionist establishment seemed to have intentionally misread this as a call for Jewish sovereignty, so with help from his friend Rabbi Stephen Wise, he clarified his position. Jews, he said, should be able to migrate freely within the limits of the economic absorptive possibilities of Palestine, which in turn should have a government that made sure there was no “‘Majorisation’ of one group by the other.” Resisting Wise’s demands for a more forceful statement, Einstein replied that a “rigid demand for a Jewish State will have only undesirable results for us.” Radical journalist I. F. Stone praised him for rising above “ethnic limitations.” (Einstein later became a charter subscriber to I. F. Stone’s Weekly.)

Nevertheless, like many Jewish radicals—including many socialists and communists—Einstein had difficulty overcoming his emotional ambivalence about the Zionist project and ultimately applauded Israel’s establishment. Given the often inconsistent response of some radicals to Israel’s subjugation of Palestinians after the 1967 war, it is difficult to guess how he would have responded. But he was clearly concerned with the implications of Jewish settlement on indigenous Palestinians; it’s not much of a stretch to suggest that he would have been appalled by the four decades of oppression of the latter by Israel.

The mid-century “red scare” occupied much of Einstein’s last years. He wrote, “The German calamity of years ago repeats itself.” Watching Americans lose themselves in the suburbia- and Korean War-driven affluence of the early 1950s, Einstein deplored the fact that “honest people [in the United States] constitute a hopeless minority.” But determined to fight back he looked for a forum—and found one in a reply to a 1953 letter from a New York City school teacher who had been fired for his refusal to discuss his politics and name names before a Senate investigating committee. Einstein wrote to William Frauenglass, an innovative teacher who prepared intercultural lessons for his English classes as a way of overcoming prejudicial stereotypes. Einstein exhorted “Every intellectual who is called before the committees ought to refuse to testify…If enough people are ready to take this grave step, they will be successful. If not, then the intellectuals deserve nothing better than the slavery which is intended for them.” The letter was national front-page news and had its desired effect. The movement to resist the witch hunt grew stronger. Einstein was supported by voices as distant as that of philosopher Bertrand Russell, who wrote to the New York Times from London when they published an editorial disagreeing with Einstein, “Do you condemn the Christian Martyrs who refuse to sacrifice to the Emperor? Do you condemn John Brown?”

Shortly after the Frauenglass affair, another unfriendly witness, Al Shadowitz, told Senator McCarthy that he was refusing to testify saying “I take my advice from Doctor Einstein.” McCarthy went ballistic, but, ultimately, the contagion spread both to the Supreme Court, which in 1957 put the brakes on the red hunters (one of the cases involved MR founder Paul Sweezy) and to young New Left students who, beginning in 1960, began to literally break up committee hearings, often with caustic satire and ridicule. It was only ten years after Einstein’s letter that Martin Luther King Jr. also employed civil disobedience to fuel the modern civil rights movement.

In 1954, in response to the denial of security clearance to his colleague, the wartime leader of the Manhattan Project, J. Robert Oppenheimer, and other violations of the freedom of scientific inquiry, Einstein wrote, with typical humor, that if he were young again, “I would not try to be a scientist or scholar or teacher, I would rather choose to be a plumber or a peddler, in the hope of finding that modest degree of independence still available under present circumstances.”

Einstein also undertook other, more difficult and potentially more dangerous political acts.

Perhaps none attracted as much international attention as his effort to intervene in the case against Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. In 1953, Einstein wrote to trial Judge Irving Kauffman pointing out that the trial record did not establish the defendants’ guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt.” He also noted that the scientific evidence against them, even if accurate, did not reveal any vital secret. When he received no response, he wrote to the president with his views. Truman also did not respond, so Einstein released the text of his letter to the media and later wrote to the New York Times asking for executive clemency. Tragically, in this circumstance, Einstein’s celebrity was to no avail. The Rosenbergs died in Sing Sing’s electric chair on June 19.

Two years earlier, in 1951, when his friend W. E. B. Du Bois was indicted for his pro-peace activities on the trumped up charge of being a “Soviet agent,” Einstein, along with Robeson and civil rights heroine Mary McLeod Bethune, sponsored a dinner and rally to raise funds for Du Bois’s defense. Du Bois’s lawyer, the fiery radical ex-Congressman Vito Marcantonio, managed to reduce the trial to a shambles even before the prosecution had finished its case. But had the trial continued, Marcantonio planned to call Einstein as the first defense witness.

Perhaps no one had been more pilloried or isolated during the “red scare” than Einstein’s great ally from the struggle against lynching, Paul Robeson. Attacked as much for his militant stands against white supremacy as for his radicalism and his call for pan-African independence, Robeson had become a virtual non-person in his own country, denied an income, venues for concerts, and the right to travel. In 1952, in a very public act to break the curtain of silence around Robeson, Einstein invited him and his accompanist Lloyd Brown to lunch. The three spent a long afternoon discussing science, music, and politics, all subjects of mutual interest. At one point, when Robeson left the room, Brown remarked about what an honor it was to be in the presence of such a great man. To which Einstein replied, “but it is you who have brought the great man.”

Einstein’s last years were taken up with both private and public acts of resistance. He used his still considerable network of acquaintance and influence to try to find jobs for those, who, like Frauenglass and others, who had been fired for non-cooperation with investigating committees. And in 1954 he permitted the celebration of his seventy-fifth birthday to be the occasion for a conference on civil liberties fight-back by the Emergency Civil Liberties Committee (ECLC). The committee had been formed in response to the failure of the American Civil Liberties Union to defend Communists and to take on civil liberties questions raised by the Rosenberg case. The conference, with speakers including I. F. Stone, astronomer and activist Harlow Shapley, sociologists E. Franklin Frazier and Henry Pratt Fairchild, and political scientist H. H. Wilson, launched ECLC on a forty-six-year trajectory defending freedom of expression, the rights of labor, and multifaceted campaigns for civil rights.

It is difficult to know how to conclude this brief and necessarily incomplete summary of Einstein’s politics. Not discussed here, for example, are Einstein’s lifelong commitments to pacifism and to some sort of world order, nor his long association with the physicist and Marxist Leopold Infeld. Einstein was also deeply committed, as were a number of other left-wing scientists, to mass education in the sciences as a tool against obscurantism and mystical pseudo-science, often used then—and again today—in aid of political and social reaction.

Days before he died on April 18, 1955, Einstein signed what became known as The Einstein-Russell Manifesto. In it, the theoretical physicist and the philosopher-mathematician Bertrand Russell, go beyond vague moral arguments for pacifism. Instead they posed political choices: “There lies before us, if we choose, continual progress in happiness, knowledge, and wisdom. Shall we, instead, choose death, because we cannot forget our quarrels? We appeal as human beings to human beings: Remember your humanity, and forget the rest. If you can do so, the way lies open to a new Paradise; if you cannot, there lies before you the risk of universal death.”

Einstein was a radical from his student days until his dying breath. In the last year of his life, ruminating about the political affairs of the day and his world outlook, he told a friend that he remained a “revolutionary,” and was still a “fire-belching Vesuvius.”

Note on Sources and Suggested Further Reading

Fred Jerome, The Einstein File: J. Edgar Hoover’s Secret War Against the World’s Most Famous Scientist (New York: Saint Martin’s Press/Griffin, 2002); see also Fred Jerome, “The Hidden Half-Life of Albert Einstein: Anti-Racism,” in Socialism and Democracy 18, no. 2 (http://www.sdonline.org/33/fred_jerome.htm).

Jerome’s important work uses the huge FBI-compiled file on Einstein, not only to expose Hoover’s machinations as well as the covert mechanisms and techniques of character assassination, but as a vehicle to introduce readers to the much hidden activist radical and socialist the scientist was. Forthcoming in July is Fred Jerome and Rodger Taylor, Einstein On Race And Racism (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press).

Two useful biographies are: Jeremy Bernstein, Einstein (New York: Viking Press, 1973); and Ronald W. Clark, Einstein: The Life and Times (New York: Avon Books, 1984), the standard biography, but with almost no mention of Einstein’s politics other than Zionism.

Books by Einstein for the general reader include: Ideas and Opinions (New York: Three Rivers Press, 1995); The World As I See It(New York: Citadel Press, 1993); Out of My Later Years (New York: Gramercy Books, 1993); and (with Leopold Infeld) The Evolution of Physics (New York: Free Press, 1967), still the most accessible and the best description of the progression from Newtonian to modern quantum mechanics and relativity.

Notes

* This narrative makes extensive use of research and insights found in Jerome’s book (its full title is The Einstein File: J. Edgar Hoover’s Secret War Against the World’s Most Famous Scientist [New York: Saint Martin’s Press/Griffin, 2002]), for which this writer is grateful.

* This article has been frequently reprinted in Monthly Review over the last half-century and can be found on the MR website at http://www.monthlyreview.org/598einst.php.

Marxists Must Stand Firm Against Ahmadinejad July 16, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Iran, Labor, Latin America, Revolution, Venezuela.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

By Maziar Razi

London Progessive Journal (http://www.londonprogressivejournal.com/issue/show/78?article_id=481), July 10-16, 2009

Open letter to the workers of Venezuela on Hugo Chávez’s support for Ahmadinejad

Honourable workers of Venezuela,

The Revolutionary Marxists of Iran are aware of your achievements as part of the Bolivarian Movement and have always supported this movement against the widespread lies and the open and covert interference of imperialism. In order to defend your invaluable movement and to confront the attacks and interference of US imperialism in Venezuela, labour and student activists in Iran have set up the ‘Hands Off Venezuela’ campaign in Iran and during the past few years have stood together with you in confronting the imperialist attacks. It is obvious that your achievements were gained under the leadership of Hugo Chávez and, for this reason, you reserve deep respect for him.

In terms of his foreign policy, however, Chávez has made a mistake. With his support for Ahmadinejad he has ignored the solidarity of the workers and students of Iran with your revolution, and in a word, made it look worthless. Most are aware that two weeks ago Ahmadinejad, with the direct support of Khamenei, committed the biggest fraud in the history of presidential elections in Iran and then, with great ferocity, spilt the blood of those protesting against this fraud. You just have to take notice of the international media reports to be aware of the depths of this tragedy. All over the world millions of workers and students, and also those of Marxist and revolutionary tendencies (which mostly are the supporters of the Bolivarian revolution), protested against these attacks.

In of spite this, Chávez was one of the first people to support Ahmadinejad. In his weekly TV speech he said: “Ahmadinejad’s triumph is a total victory. They’re trying to stain Ahmadinejad’s victory, and by doing so they aim to weaken the government and the Islamic revolution. I know they won’t be able to do it.” And that “We ask the world for respect.” These rash and baseless remarks from your President are a great and direct insult to the millions of youth who in recent days rose up against tyranny. Some of them even lost their lives. Many of these youths came out on the streets spontaneously and without becoming infected with the regime’s internal disputes, or becoming aligned with the policy that US imperialism is following for taking over the movement. In addition, the remarks of your President are an insult to millions of workers in Iran. Workers whose leaders are today being tortured in the prisons of the Ahmadinejad government and some of them are even believed to be being punished with flogging. Workers who were brutally repressed by the mercenaries of the Ahmadinejad government for commemorating May Day in Tehran this year are still in prison.

So far Chávez has travelled to Iran seven times and each time he has hugged one of the most hated people in this country and called him his “brother”. He does not realise that the economic, social and political situations of Venezuela and Iran are going in opposite directions. Although both countries have seen a similarly significant boost to their oil (and gas) revenues the contrast between the ways in which this extra money has been used by the two governments could not be more marked. In Venezuela this income is used for building hospitals, schools, universities and other infrastructure of the country, but in Iran it is used for lining the pockets of just a few parasitic capitalists.

On the one hand, in Venezuela, we have seen the nationalisation of an increasing number of companies and factories, the free provision of healthcare, education, civil liberties and so on. By contrast in Iran privatisation is on the government’s agenda, even at the cost of trampling on Article 44 of the Constitution of the country and using the excuse of inefficiency and low productivity of state companies and factories. All these advances of the workers and the poor in Venezuela have given them greater control over the way they work and the way they live. Most importantly, the expropriation of factories and the encouragement of workers’ control and participation have transformed the character of the workers’ movement in Venezuela, advancing it by many stages. The Bolivarian movement and the policies of the government have brought about a huge shift in the balance of class forces in Venezuela in favour of the working class. Not only has the government encouraged the Venezuelan workers to build the Unión Nacional de los Trabajadores as an alternative to the Confederación de Trabajadores de Venezuela (CTV), but the workers have become involved in running and managing factories and other enterprises. The whole world knows that your government has even drawn up a list of 1,149 closed-down factories and given their owners an ultimatum: re-open them under workers’ control or the government will expropriate them.

In Iran, on the other hand, on top of the lack of many basic democratic rights, the workers are also without any independent trade union rights. Today the workers of Iran do not even have a confederation like the Confederación de Trabajadores de Venezuela. All they have are the Labour House, the Islamic Labour Councils and other anti-working class bodies tied to the state.

But this has not always been so: the overthrow of the Shah brought about many freedoms for workers including, in some cases, control over production and even distribution. Then, however, through repression the Islamic hierarchy managed to take back all the workers’ gains. The leaders that your President hugs killed thousands of workers, destroyed the workers’ movement and pushed it back by several decades. In Iranian society even the ‘yellow’ pro-boss unions – that the Shah had tolerated – became and remain illegal. Even a CTV-style trade union confederation is illegal in Iran.

In Iran the official (and underestimated) unemployment rate stands at 10.85 per cent, with unemployment among the youth (15-24 year-olds) standing at 22.35 per cent. Even when workers are employed they are often not paid – in many cases for more than a year. Even those who get their wages face an impossible task in paying for the basic necessities of life, because their wage is not enough for living costs. For example, with the rent for a two-bedroom flat at $422 a month, a civil servant on $120 wages, or a teacher on $180, or even a doctor on $600 a month struggle to survive. It is no wonder that some 90 per cent of the population live below the poverty line.

The capitalist government of Iran has no fundamental disagreements or contradictions with US imperialism. It is in a ‘cold war’ with America and when it receives enough concessions, it will quickly enter into political dealings with the US and will turn its back on you. Indeed, the Iran regime has already helped the Americans in their military invasion and occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq – and installing the puppet regimes of Karzai and Maliki through significant trade, security and other deals. The capitalist government of Iran, despite the current apparent differences, is busy in close negotiations with the Obama government on resolving the problems of Afghanistan. This government, despite the “anti-imperialist” rhetoric, is heading towards re-establishing old links with the US. Ahmadinejad’s selection demonstrates the final turn of the regime towards resolving its problems with imperialism. Despite all the “enmity” and “anti-imperialist” gestures the regime is ready to resolve all its differences with America. The government of Iran wants to turn Iran into a society like Colombia (in Colombia thousands of trade unionists have been killed so that multinational companies can exploit workers and plunder the country’s natural resources without any obstacles). It is not without reason that the Iranian government has been implementing the bankrupt neo-liberal prescriptions of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund and counting the minutes until it joins the World Trade Organisation.

The close and regular links of your leader, Chávez, with the leaders of this regime will eventually make the Iranian masses turn their back on the great lessons of the revolutionary process in Venezuela. Winning the hearts and minds of the masses in Iran and similar countries is the best long-term solution to breaking Washington’s stranglehold on Latin America. Your leader’s closeness with the capitalist government of Iran, a government that has the blood of thousands of workers and youth on its hands, shows that his anti-imperialist foreign policy has a major flaw. Being close to reactionary regimes will never be able to bring the anti-imperialist foreign policy to a successful conclusion. Only the unity of the real representatives of the workers and toilers can confront imperialism.

Stand together with the Iranian workers and condemn the foreign policy of your leaders. Support for Ahmadinejad means support for the repression of Iranian workers and youth. Challenge the flawed positions of Chávez and reject them. Support for the government of Ahmadinejad, especially after the recent events, is at worst an open betrayal of the toilers of Iran and at best a political blunder in foreign policy.

 

The Concept of Other in Latin American Liberation: Fusing Emancipatory Thought and Social Revolt, by Eugene Gogol December 31, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in Concept of Other in Latin American Liberation.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

(This book review was published in the August-September 2003 of “News & Letters,” the bi-monthly publication of the U.S. Marxist Humanist organization of the same name)

 

Anyone who has lived and/or followed the Latin American experience/reality in the post-World War II era will have experienced a Sisyphean frustration with respect to the rise and fall of liberation movements and the hope for new human relations to which they aspire. In the eight years I have lived in Ecuador I have witnessed two successful “leftist” coup d’etat that have resulted in absolutely no fundamental social, political, or economic change whatsoever – to the contrary, the economic/political crisis deepens.

 

In Ecuador, the 1980s saw intense grassroots organization within the indigenous community that culminated in the formation of a national indigenous organization, CONAIE, whose power was expressed in the 1990s through massive protests against oil exploitation in the Amazon rainforest, privatization of social security, and reactionary agricultural laws.

 

The indigenous revolt of 2000, its contradictions and the reasons for its ultimate failure is taken up in The Concept of Other in Latin American Liberation (Lexington Books, 20002). Gogol points out the contradictions within the leadership of the indigenous movement between those who relied on the creativity of the masses and those who allied themselves with government power. This has come to a tragic fruition with the Gutiérrez government, causing disunity within the indigenous movement that may take decades to repair. These events in Ecuador are in a sense a paradigm of the failures encountered in post-World War II Latin America.

 

In the first section of the book, Gogol argues that the Hegelian-Marxian dialectic is a sine qua non of truly liberatory revolutionary activity that intersects most dramatically with Latin American historical reality. To those who dismiss Hegel, Gogol shows that they do so at the peril of sacrificing the methodology that can keep revolutionary thought and revolutionary activity dynamic and in sync with social reality.

 

He takes us upon a philosophical journey touching upon the concept of Other and consideration of the dialectic in the writings of Latin American thinkers including Octavio Paz, Leopoldo Zea, Augusto Salazar Bondy, Anibal Quijano, Enrique Dussel, and Arturo Andrés Roig. He outlines the unique, important and positive contributions made by each, but concludes that in each one encounters an inability or unwillingness to delve deeply into Hegel’s “voyage of discovery.”

In the second section – “Imprisonment of the Other: the Logic of Capital on Latin American Soil” – we find a review of major Latin American thinkers of the 20th century–like José Carlos Mariátegui, Enrique Semo and Roger Bartra. Again, we encounter a richness in thought and analysis of capital’s stranglehold on the masses, showing us that the work of Marx as well as Hegel has taken root in Latin American soil. But we do not yet see the Other unbound. What we find again is the failure to recognize the second negation, the positive in the negative, the pathway to genuine liberation.

 

In discussing liberation theology’s inability to sustain its momentum in the face of the changing realities and setbacks of movements in Nicaragua, Guatemala and El Salvador, Gogol asks: “If one develops a concept of social change, without such a theoretical labor flowing from a fullness of philosophy of revolution, then what happens to one’s theory when the social movement, the historic moment, has changed?” (p. 115).

 

Referring to Marx’s economics, not as economic determinism, but rather as a “unity of humanism and philosophy;” not a mere sociology but as a philosophy of liberation. Gogol demonstrates how one expression of revolutionary subjectivity after another has fallen prey to the dead end of state-capitalism or reformist accommodation with different forms of capitalism.

The third section of the work is a journey through selected contemporary liberation movements in Latin America. From the Rio Grande to Tierra del Fuego, we see different forms of revolutionary subjectivity in action: urban, rural, indigenous, women, workers, students, and others. In each of these, be it the tin miners in Bolivia, campesinos in Guatemala, labor organizers in Bolivia, labor organizers in Mexico’s maquiladoras, the Madres de la Plaza of Argentina, or the Landless Workers’ Movement in Brazil, Gogol shows us how self-liberation re-creates itself in its own social environment, creating new pathways towards liberation.

 

In the Zapatistas of Chiapas, he finds the freshest and most innovative expression of revolutionary subjectivity. In their rejection of focoism, and in aiming not to take state power for themselves but rather to unify the various expressions of Other in Mexico, the Zapatistas broke new ground. Instead of adopting the dead-end, vanguardist “dictatorship of the proletariat” strategies and philosophies which the original urban radicals had brought to Chiapas, what emerged was a re-creation of the principles of collectivity in decision making, that were already inherent and deeply seated in the ways of the indigenous peoples of Chiapas.

 

As one concerned with understanding and changing Latin America, I see this work as of supreme importance. Although there are a few omissions (the most glaring being a failure to discuss the Colombian situation), the work is comprehensive and probing.

 

The book concludes with a discussion of philosophy and organization, noting, “It is the theoretician-philosopher(s) who catches the mass self-activity from below, and labors to give it meaning by rooting it within the Marxist-Hegelian philosophic expression…Marx was not afraid to speak of ‘our party’ even in the times when it was only he and Engels” (p. 343).

 

As one who lives and observes on a daily basis both the ravages of globalized capitalism and the frustration of liberation movements in Ecuador, I can attest to the urgent need for new beginnings in Latin America.  And in the light of the Bush doctrine of permanent war and his plans to augment existing U.S. military force in Ecuador, Colombia, Peru, Aruba, Puerto Rico, Cuba and Honduras, and with new bases in the Galápagos, Brazil, El Salvador and Argentina, the Marxist-Humanist primary task takes on renewed urgency: “To the barbarism of war we pose the new society.”

 

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 235 other followers