Author Archive


Socialism and the Global Information War

By Heiko Khoo, April 14, 2013


The battle of ideas is central to the struggle for world socialism. Leaflets, newspapers, books, theatre troupes, radio, film and television have all played an important role in ideological warfare over the last 100 years. Recently the Internet has facilitated the rapid mobilization of rebellions in North Africa and the Middle East, which shattered apparently stable regimes.

However, what Marx wrote in 1845 remains true:

“The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e., the class which is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force.”

The world hegemony of capitalism remains a fact. It is backed by powerful instruments of propaganda, which constantly seek to anchor the outlook of the ruling class within wider society. This continues despite a profound transformation in the balance of power that has accompanied the world economic crisis.

Analysts working for the People’s Liberation Army have long understood the need to study and develop methods of “people’s warfare in the information age.” As early as 1996, the Liberation Army Daily carried an excellent article by Wei Jincheng, where he explained that: “A people’s war in the context of information warfare is carried out by hundreds of millions of people using open-type modern information systems.” The era that he prophesied is now reality. But the tools available are inadequately used to transform global consciousness. Today’s world of network-centric information war, where public perceptions and attitudes are shaped by interaction with the Internet and the global mass media, necessitates a constant struggle to explain reality, and to win hearts and minds to the socialist cause.

Capitalist governments are waging war against their own people in the name of everyone “tightening their belts” meanwhile the super-rich have stashed away US$32tn in offshore tax havens. The justification for the system of wealth distribution is undermined by ruthless cuts targeting the working classes and poor. Nevertheless a barrage of absurd and persistent propaganda seeks to blame the poor for being poor. It accuses public sector workers of being selfish and lazy and promotes the concept of national-patriotic unity to confuse people during times of crisis.


Category : Capitalism | China | Hegemony | Marxism | Socialism | Blog

A Critique of Heinrich in MR on Technology, Value and Crisis

By Keith Joseph

The Kasama Project

Monthly Review published an essay by Michael Heinrich critiquing Marx’s work on the falling rate of profit called:Crisis Theory and the Falling Rate of Profit.  I haven’t seen any response yet.  Here’s mine.

Heirnrich puts forth three basic theses: 1. Marx, at the end of the day, does not present a coherent and final crisis theory.  2. Marx had two more or less distinct economic projects.  The first begins with the Grundrisse (although this text appears to the public last) and includes the three volumes of Das Kapital and the Theories of Surplus Value. This was the project as Marx originally conceived it and announced it in the Preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy (the six book plan). The second, lesser known, project begins after 1865 and see Marx re-working his earlier formulations in light of new evidence and even scaling down his ambitions.  He now believes he will only be able to complete part of his work and others will have to finish it.  3. The math on the falling rate of profit doesn’t add up.

The essay is very interesting and I am certainly eager to investigate Marx’s “second” project more thoroughly.  Heinrich does a fine job of explaining how Marx conceived the critique of political economy  at various moments and his emphasis on Marx’s willingness to continually question and re-think his findings is important and worthy of emulation.

I found Heinrich’s refutation of the falling rate of profit’s math unconvincing because it is not clear that Heinrich understands the falling rate of profit at the conceptual level.  Setting the rate of profit and the rate of surplus value into mathematical formula  is an important step in the proof of the theory and the formalization of theory can bring clarity but the way that Heinrich proceeds obfuscates more than it reveals.  

Simply put, rising productivity of labor manifests itself in a falling profitability of capital.  It is not clear in Heinrich’s critique that he understands this basic point at the conceptual level.

Rising labor productivity means less labor embedded per unit of output so the commodity bears increasingly less value. Additionally, rising labor productivity destroys existing values since value is determined by socially necessary labor times and rising labor productivity shortens socially necessary labor times. So, existing values must compete in the market with values created under the new conditions of production.  Any labor time above the new socially necessary standard is disappeared in the market as a result of competition.  A falling rate of profit can co-exist, for a time, with a rising mass of profit if the capital relation is reaching new places and markets are expanding.  Heinrich ignores all this.  Now he does mention the importance of the credit system (which is the most developed form of money under capitalism) and its importance to understanding modern crisis.  The credit system is no doubt crucial.

Heinrich’s error, I think, is revealed in the following. Heinrich quotes a famous passage from the Grundrisse and then he argues that it is mistaken. 

“In the so-called “Fragment on Machines,” one finds an outline of a theory of capitalist collapse. With the increasing application of science and technology in the capitalist production process, “the immediate labour performed by man himself” is no longer important, but rather “the appropriation of his own general productive power,” which leads Marx to a sweeping conclusion: “As soon as labour in its immediate form has ceased to be the great source of wealth, labour time ceases and must cease to be its measure, and therefore exchange value [must cease to be the measure] of use value. The surplus labour of the masses has ceased to be the condition for the development of general wealth, just as the non-labour of the few has ceased to be the condition for the development of the general powers of the human head. As a result, production based upon exchange value collapses.”

Heinrich’s then says:

These lines have often been quoted, but without regard for how insufficiently secure the categorical foundations of the Grundrisse are. The distinction between concrete and abstract labor, which Marx refers to in Capital as “crucial to an understanding of political economy,” is not at all present in the Grundrisse.6 And in Capital, “labor in the immediate form” is also not the source of wealth. The sources of material wealth are concrete, useful labor and nature. The social substance of wealth or value in capitalism is abstract labor, whereby it does not matter whether this abstract labor can be traced back to labor-power expended in the process of production, or to the transfer of value of used means of production. If abstract labor remains the substance of value, then it is not clear why labor time can no longer be its intrinsic measure, and it’s not clear why “production based on exchange value” should necessarily collapse. When, for example, Hardt and Negri argue that labor is no longer the measure of value, they do not really refer to the value theory of Capital but to the unclear statements of the Grundrisse.7

Hardt and Negri’s arguments, regardless of what they may assert, are not consistent with the Grundrisse and that they appeal to the authority of the Grundrisse is not a mark against that text.  But that is a minor point.  Heinrich points out that value embedded in a machine (that is the labor time embedded in the machine) is transferred from the machine to the product.  This is correct. 

But when Heinrich says:


Category : Capitalism | Marxism | Technology | Blog

A group of volunteers wave green handkerchiefs as they ride their bicycles in Beijing on November 21, 2012 for the launch of a world-tour to promote low-carbon lifestyles. The activity, which will see volunteers set off on a global tour from Libo County in Guizhou Province, was launched under the themes of bringing back the handkerchief, using less tissue paper, travelling by environmentally friendly means, and living a low-carbon lifestyle. / Xinhua (Photo by Zhao Jing)


Creating an Ecological Civilization

By Jiang Chunyun

From: English Edition of Qiushi Journal. a publication of the CCP  Central Committee

Vol.5 No.1 January 1, 2013

As the old Chinese proverb goes, “To return a kindness with gratitude is a good deed, the act of an upright man; to treat a kindness with ingratitude is a bad deed, the act of a petty man.” These words, “good” and “bad,” “gratitude” and “ingratitude,” have long been the most fundamental criteria for judging the morality and action of an individual. Do children treat their parents with respect out of gratitude for the loving care their parents have given them? Do countrymen serve their motherland wholeheartedly out of gratitude for everything their motherland has afforded them? And do human beings have awe for and cherish their green home out of gratitude for the life that nature has granted them? Everybody on earth, individuals and groups alike, must find rational answers to these questions, regardless of their nationality, race, gender, class, and occupation, and must require both themselves and others to act in accordance with a just code of speaking out for good and doing good instead of evil.

Life on earth began as early as several hundred million years ago, while the story of human evolution started only several million years ago. This means that humans are latecomers. At every step of human evolution—from our transformation from Australopithecus to Homo erectus, and again from archaic Homo sapiens to Homo sapiens—we have been cared for by nature, which, like a great and holy mother, has allowed humankind to grow from a species with few members to one with several billion members. In comparison with family and country, the care that nature has bestowed on us is more fundamental, more worthy of our gratitude. Yet how have we treated nature? This may be a difficult question to answer, but it is one that we must answer as a matter of conscience.

Frankly speaking, there are many people who are able to show appreciation towards nature. These people have made active contributions to ecological protection and the improvement of the environment. But at the same time, there are also people who have no sense of gratitude towards nature. These people are indifferent towards the changes that are affecting nature and the environment. Moreover, there are even people who are so ungrateful towards nature that they would wantonly damage the environment. These people are by no means few in number, and their violations against nature are on the increase. This is the root cause of the ecological degradation and environmental deterioration that has plunged the human race into a survival crisis.

Ecological and environmental issues began to emerge with the advent of agricultural society, although at that time the impact of human activities on the environment was gradual and relatively minor. However, with the arrival of the Industrial Revolution and the rapid development of science and technology, human beings began to deal serious damage to the environment as they created great material wealth and cultural achievements. This damage has become increasingly serious in modern times. Air pollution, water pollution, soil pollution, desertification, global warming, the melting of the glaciers, the depletion of the ozone, the spread of acid rain, the sharp drop in biodiversity, and the frequent occurrence of fatal diseases and natural disasters—these startling facts are a warning that the earth’s biosphere, which mankind relies on for its survival, is damaged. They tell us that the major ecological systems supporting the earth’s biosphere, such as forests, grasslands, wetlands, rivers, lakes, farmlands, mountains, the atmosphere, and oceans, are bruised all over, weakened, and that untold dangers lurk amongst them. The biosphere is like a cracked fish tank which is losing its water. As the water seeps out of the tank at an increasing rate, the survival of the fish inside is coming under threat. Therefore, if we are unable to repair the biosphere quickly, the damage will only become worse and worse. This will continue until the biosphere eventually ceases to function, being no longer able to operate, and when that happens humankind will descend into a desperate struggle for its survival. This is not alarmist talk, but a real depiction of a hidden crisis that will threaten the survival of the human race.

In an effort to address the human crisis that has been triggered by environmental deterioration, the international community and the countries of the world have frequently convened meetings, signed conventions and accords, issued declarations, made commitments, and taken action. While in some cases these efforts have led to positive results, in overall terms our efforts to restore ecosystems and rectify environments have yielded few results. At most we can say that there has been partial improvement. The trend of environmental deterioration on a global scale is yet to be reversed, and there are even signs that it is becoming more serious. James Speth, the Dean of the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies at Yale University and former Administrator of the United Nations Development Program, says that the trend of environmental decline, which has made the international community uneasy, is yet to be fundamentally mitigated. Ill omens still exist, and these problems are becoming more ingrained, bringing about immediate danger. Speth believes that problems such as global warming, environmental pollution, resource depletion, ecological degradation, and the loss of biodiversity are much worse than we are able to understand, willing to admit, or tend to estimate.

The reasons for global environmental deterioration are deep-seated. Though we cannot rule out the influence of reverse ecological succession, the fact remains that the most fundamental cause of global environmental deterioration is humankind’s failure to treat nature correctly. Human beings have made irreparable mistakes due to their biased understanding of the relationship between humans and nature. The predatory exploitation of resources and irrational modes of production and lifestyles that came with the Industrial Revolution have had a devastating impact on ecosystems and the environment. Traditional industrial civilization was undoubtedly a revolutionary step forward from agricultural civilization, creating much higher productivity, huge material wealth, as well as technological and cultural achievements. However, the shortcomings of industrial civilization are not difficult to see: it is extremely profit-driven, greedy, predatory, aggressive, and even crazy in nature, its values and approach to development being the rapid accumulation of wealth and capital at any cost. In recent centuries, under the influence of these ideas, developed industrial countries in the West engaged in an unprecedented campaign to conquer, plunder, and destroy nature. With this came a long succession of colonial wars which not only saw millions die and hundreds of millions become slaves, but also caused the world’s ecological environments to suffer on an unprecedented scale. Many of those who plundered the world’s natural resources were proponents of anthropocentrism, the view that human beings are the masters of nature and that all other things in the natural world are mankind’s possessions, consumables, and servants. Guided by these notions, they robbed, seized and destroyed without restraint, and led extravagant, luxurious, and extremely wasteful lifestyles. In more than 200 years of industrial history, developed countries in the West have consumed around half of the world’s non-renewable resources, which took billions of years to form.

Fact has repeatedly warned us that we cannot rely on traditional industrial civilization to correct its own mistakes when it comes to the environment. Traditional industrial civilization has therefore come to a dead end. Despite this, however, certain developing countries have failed to break away from the developmental mode of traditional industrial civilization as they have sought to industrialize. As a result, within the space of just decades, they have encountered the kind of environmental pollution and ecological degradation that took one or two hundred years to emerge in the West. These countries must now meet the challenge of maintaining a balance between economic development and environmental protection.

Since the latter half of the last century, we have come to the profound realization that industrial civilization is unsustainable. Drawing from the lessons of the past, we have proposed the creation of an ecological civilization, which is characterized by sustainable development and harmony between mankind and nature. Ecological civilization provides us with broader prospects for resolving the environmental crisis and maintaining balance between development and the environment. It represents a substantive step forward from industrial civilization, because it not only embodies the strengths of industrial civilization, but is also able to address its weaknesses and failings by applying brand new ideas. The basic features of ecological civilization can be summarized as follows.

First, human beings are a part of nature. The relationship between human beings and other creatures should be one of equality, friendship, and mutual reliance, as opposed to a relationship in which humans are supreme.

Second, since it is nature that has given us life, we should feel gratitude towards nature, repay nature, and treat nature well. We should not forget the debt that we owe to nature, or treat nature and other creatures violently.

Third, humans are entitled to exploit natural resources, but we must take the tolerance of ecosystems and the environment into account when doing so in order to avoid overexploitation.

Fourth, human beings must follow the moral principles of ensuring equity between people, between countries and between generations in resource exploitation. We should refrain from violating the rights and interests of other people, other countries, and future generations.

Fifth, we should advocate conservation, efficiency, and recycling in the utilization of resources so as to maximize efficiency whilst keeping consumption and the impact on nature to a minimum.

Sixth, we should view sustainable development as our highest goal, rejecting the overexploitation of resources and short-sighted acts aimed at gaining quick results.

Seventh, the fruits of development must be enjoyed by all members of society and not monopolized by a small minority.

It is essential that we correct the way we treat nature and assume our rightful position in nature. As the wisest of all creatures, we should give full play to our intelligence and capacity for thought by shouldering the responsibility of caring for, protecting, guiding, and strengthening nature, and ensuring that all of nature’s creatures are able to live in harmony and develop in a balanced, orderly, and continuous fashion.

It must be noted that while China has made remarkable achievements in socialist modernization during more than 30 years of reform and opening up, it has also encountered serious environmental problems that are undermining its sustainable development. Fact has demonstrated and will continue to demonstrate that we must take Marxism-Leninism, Mao Zedong Thought, and the theories of socialism with Chinese characteristics as our guide, commit to the path of socialism with Chinese characteristics, implement the Scientific Outlook on Development, which puts people first and seeks to promote comprehensive, balanced, and sustainable development, and build a resource-conserving and environmentally friendly society. These are not only the essence for promoting ecological progress and realizing the transformation of human civilization, but also a prerequisite and solid foundation for ensuring the sound and rapid development of economy and society, the balancing of economic development and environmental protection, the establishment of a harmonious society, and the improvement of people’s wellbeing.

There are two old Chinese sayings which, through their dialectical materialism, reveal to us the key to success in any undertaking. The first is: to go undefeated in a hundred battles, you must know both the enemy and yourself. The second is: success belongs to those who are prepared, and failure to those who are not. If we are to reverse the trend of environmental degradation and save the biosphere, we must correctly assess the state of our living environment, face up to environmental problems instead of trying to conceal them, use scientific means to anticipate dangers that lurk ahead, and sincerely reflect on our maltreatment of nature. Once we have acknowledged our errors we must take action to correct them. To do this, we must enhance our sense of mission, danger, and responsibility, and take the necessary measures to turn a precarious situation into a favorable one, so as to realize a sound balance between development and the environment.

It is about time that we changed our way of thinking and discarded our concept of a traditional industrial civilization in favor of a modern ecological one. It is about time that we put an end to our irrational modes of development and consumption, and made efforts to save the earth’s biosphere.

The struggle to save the biosphere and transform our civilization from a traditional industrial civilization to a modern ecological civilization will be an endeavor more magnificent than any seen before in human history, and a complex social undertaking of huge proportions. It will require that we humans carefully consider, correctly understand, and answer a series of questions, some of which are as follows: What is the relationship between human beings and nature? Is it one of the conqueror and the conquered, the dominator and the dominated, and the ruler and the ruled? Or is it one of equality, friendship, harmony, coexistence, and mutual flourishing? Why is earth the only cradle of life among the vast number of celestial bodies in universe? What is the earth’s biosphere, and how will ordinal or reversed ecological succession affect the survival and development of human beings? Which biological systems support and maintain the earth’s biosphere? Is it inevitable that the survival and development of the human race will come at the expense of ecosystems and the environment? How should we understand the relationship between promoting an ecological civilization and transforming our modes of development and consumption? How should we deal with the contradiction between limited natural resources and limitless human desire? Should we make up for the huge damage caused to nature by long-term overexploitation? If so, how do we repay this debt? Should we let nature rest and regain its strength like humans do when they become old or ill? What is the role of science and technology in saving the biosphere? What is the relationship between population growth and resources, environment and sustainable development? What do the constant wars of human beings mean to nature? How do we give full play to the role of law and ethics as effective means of guaranteeing environmental protection and the salvation of the biosphere? Why must we improve our methods and standards for evaluating economic and social development? How should the countries of the world cooperate and coordinate with one another in saving the earth’s biosphere and developing ecological civilization?

Drawing lessons from both our successes and failures in interacting with nature, we must see the global environmental crisis for what it is, and work out the relevant theories, ways of thinking, and countermeasures as we commit ourselves to the path of promoting ecological civilization.

(Originally appeared in Red Flag Manuscript, No.22, 2012)

Author: Former Vice Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress of China

Note: This article is a slightly abridged version of the preface of the book Saving the Earth’s Biosphere—Concerning the Transformation of Human Civilization, which was edited by the author and published by Xinhua Press in September 2012.

Category : Capitalism | China | Ecology | Socialism | Blog

Collective Ownership Won’t Narrow Wealth Gap

A system that accelerates social disparity must be reformed before problems with resource allocation and social justice can be addressed

By Liu Shangxi March 29, 2013

In theory, public ownership, including ownership by all the people and collective ownership, is conducive to narrowing the gap between the rich and the poor. In reality it’s not.

In the planned economy under public ownership, China appeared to have achieved social equity, but this was accompanied by low efficiency and slow development. After reform and opening up started in the late 1970s, China implemented a market economy, though one that was still dominated by public ownership. Economic efficiency improved, but the income distribution gap has exceeded that of many other market economies dominated by the private ownership system. Why has the public ownership system failed to close the gap between rich and poor and instead widened it?

In fact, whether a public ownership system can enhance social equity depends on whether there is a sound property rights system in place.

Under a planned economy, the system of ownership and the system of property rights are made one. Property rights, operating rights, usage rights and the right to financial gain are all of the same entity.

Under a market economy, however, the system of ownership and the property rights system are separated, and operating rights and usage rights fall under different entities. For instance, farmers have the right to use farmland but no ownership. Their financial gain is shared between farmers and the rural collective. All the land, mineral resources, forests, water, and other factors of production of the country are also split off into operating rights and use rights, forming independent property rights entities that share revenue rights with the ultimate owner – the state. In this way, public resources can be better allocated under the push of the market, and each property rights entity can obtain corresponding revenue. Then, revenue obtained from collective and state ownership can be shared by its members. In theory it looks good.


Category : Capitalism | China | Socialism | Blog

By Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz
Monthly Review

We were like Custer. We were surrounded.

—Sgt. James J. Riley explaining why he ordered surrender in an engagement in Nasiriyah, Iraq on March 23, 2003. 1

At the onset of the U.S. military invasion of Iraq, Senator Robert Byrd emotionally queried: “What is happening to this country? When did we become a nation which ignores and berates our friends? When did we decide to risk undermining international order by adopting a radical and doctrinaire approach to using our awesome military might? How can we abandon diplomacy when the turmoil in the world cries out for diplomacy?”

As a historian, I would have to respond to Senator Byrd that 1776 or thereabouts was when. Many admirable U.S. anti-imperialists have been making the same point as Senator Byrd. An erasure of history is at the heart of some of the most anti-imperialist critiques of the Bush administration’s foreign policy. Continuity is hidden, and a small departure is exaggerated. From Gore Vidal to Manning Marable to Michael Moore “lost democracy” is a refrain. Edward Said writes: “The doctrine of military pre-emption was never voted on by the American people or their representatives… It seems so monumentally criminal that important words like democracy and freedom have been hijacked, used as a mask for pillage, taking over territory and settling scores.” Said ends his essay by, correctly, stating: “Bush looks like a cowboy.”2

That observation is also common to critics of the war around the world. Although it is meant to be understood as a bad thing, in fact, the cowboy is not a negative metaphor for many U.S. citizens, particularly those who are descendants of the old settler class, as are the majority of the ruling class and officers of the military. How many generations of children now have grown up gleefully playing cowboys and Indians?

Perhaps the fact that I grew up as a child of a cowboy father and Indian mother narrows my view of this metaphor, making it loom too large and out of perspective. Then again, maybe that experience brings with it some insider knowledge.

The Rise of White Supremacy and Imperialism/Capitalism

To allow no dissent from the truth was exactly the reason they had come to America.3

Are your garments spotless?Are they white as snow?

Are they washed in the blood of the lamb?

As this traditional evangelical Christian hymn suggests, whiteness as an ideology is far more complex than mere skin color, although skin color has been and continues to be a key component of racism within the United States. The origins of white supremacy as it is now experienced and institutionalized—and denied—in the United States (and, due to colonialism and imperialism, throughout the world) can be traced to the prior colonizing ventures of Christian Crusades into Muslim-controlled territories, and to the Calvinist Protestant colonization of Ireland. These were the models for the colonization of the Western Hemisphere, and are the two strands that merge in the genetic makeup of U.S. society.

The Christian Crusades against Islam/Africa gave birth to the law of limpieza de sangre, cleanliness of blood, which the Spanish Inquisition was mandated to investigate and determine. The Christian Crusades, particularly the Castilian conquest of the Iberian Peninsula and expulsion of Jews and Muslims, created the seed ideology and institutions for modern colonialism with its necessary tools—racist ideology and justification for genocide. The law of limpieza de sangre was perhaps the most important cargo on the 1492 voyage of Christopher Columbus, sailing under the flag of Spain.

Great Britain emerged as an overseas colonial power a century later than Spain, and absorbed aspects of the Spanish caste system into its colonialist rationalizations, particularly regarding African slavery, within the context of chosen people/New Jerusalem Calvinism and Puritanism.

In the pre-formation of the United States, Puritanism and Calvinist Protestantism uniquely refined white supremacy as a political/religious ideology (a covenant with God) requiring the shedding of white blood for purification. The Ulster-Scots Calvinists were the settler/colonizers of Northern Ireland and constituted a majority of settlers in the western lands over the Appalachian/Allegheny spine of English North America. Their origin story became the origin story of the United States. It tells of pilgrim/settlers doing God’s will and forging into the promised land, being surrounded by savages, and killing the heathen (first the Irish in Ulster, then the Native Americans in North America). Thereby, the sacrifice and blood shed is perceived as proof of the sanctity and purity of the nation itself. All the descendants of those who made such sacrifices are the true inheritors of the land.


Category : Capitalism | Racism | US History | Blog

Resistance Is Surrender

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‘Bombard Those in Power with Strategically Well-selected, Precise, Finite Demands…’

By Slavoj Žižek

London Review of Books

One of the clearest lessons of the last few decades is that capitalism is indestructible. Marx compared it to a vampire, and one of the salient points of comparison now appears to be that vampires always rise up again after being stabbed to death. Even Mao’s attempt, in the Cultural Revolution, to wipe out the traces of capitalism, ended up in its triumphant return.

Today’s Left reacts in a wide variety of ways to the hegemony of global capitalism and its political supplement, liberal democracy. It might, for example, accept the hegemony, but continue to fight for reform within its rules (this is Third Way social democracy).

Or, it accepts that the hegemony is here to stay, but should nonetheless be resisted from its ‘interstices’.

Or, it accepts the futility of all struggle, since the hegemony is so all-encompassing that nothing can really be done except wait for an outburst of ‘divine violence’ – a revolutionary version of Heidegger’s ‘only God can save us.’

Or, it recognises the temporary futility of the struggle. In today’s triumph of global capitalism, the argument goes, true resistance is not possible, so all we can do till the revolutionary spirit of the global working class is renewed is defend what remains of the welfare state, confronting those in power with demands we know they cannot fulfil, and otherwise withdraw into cultural studies, where one can quietly pursue the work of criticism.


Category : Capitalism | Marxism | Socialism | Strategy and Tactics | Blog

Legacies of the Musical Cultural Front:

Robeson, Guthrie, and Seeger [1]

By Harry Targ
Purdue University

This paper was a presentation at “Woody at 100: Woody Guthrie’s Legacy to Working Men and Women”, a conferences at Penn State University, September 8-9, 2012 [2]


Several key concepts in the Marxian tradition influenced the consciousness and political practice of Paul Robeson, Woody Guthrie, and Pete Seeger. First, all three were historical and dialectical materialists. They conceived of the socio-economic condition of people’s lives as fundamental to the shaping of their activities and consciousness. They were historical materialists in that they understood that the material conditions of people’s lives changed as the economic system in which they lived changed. And they were dialectical in that they were sensitive to the contradictory character of human existence.

Second, class as the fundamental conceptual tool for examining a society shaped their thinking. Increasingly they realized that class struggle was a fundamental force for social change. Given the American historical context they saw that class and race were inextricably interconnected.

Third, all three addressed a theory of imperialism which they regarded as critical to understanding international relations. Living in an age of colonialism and neo-colonialism all three performer/activists, but particularly Paul Robeson, saw imperialism as a central structural feature  of relations between nations, peoples and classes. They were inspired by those resisting the yoke of foreign domination.

Fourth, Robeson, Guthrie, and Seeger saw that community, harmony, and socialism would represent the next stage of societal development. They believed that the vision of socialism had the potential for improving the quality of life of humankind. Robeson’s experiences in the Soviet Union led him to a greater degree to regard the experience of existing socialist states as free of the kind of racism endemic to the United States.

Fifth, Robeson, Guthrie, and Seeger emphasized the connection between theory and practice. Each artist in his own way articulated what Robeson proclaimed in 1937 in the context of supporting the Loyalists in the Spanish Civil War that every artist must take a stand. The artist (i.e., the intellectual) must act in the context of a world of exploitation. One was either on the side of the ongoing oppressive order or on the side of change.

Armed with these insights, the three folk artist/activists discussed below committed themselves to action; action grounded in the struggles of their day. In Gramsci’s terms, they were organic intellectuals. They joined anti-racist, anti-colonial, labor and peace struggles. They walked picket lines, entertained Spanish Civil War loyalists, striking workers and other protesters, and sought to lend support to international socialist solidarity. Being an organic intellectual in the 1930s and 40s, and in the case of Pete Seeger the 1940s and beyond, meant participating in what Michael Denning called “the cultural front.” The ambience of the CIO, the Communist movement, civil rights and anti-war struggles, and building the New Deal provided the social forces out of which Robeson, Guthrie, and Seeger could thrive and grow.  The three,–Robeson, Guthrie, and Seeger–artists and activists, were both agents and products of Marxist ideas engaged in practical political work as organic intellectuals participating in a broad cultural front.

Each artist/activist projected an image of human oneness. They saw the connections between the defense of democracy in Spain and the U.S. South and the necessity of building a peaceful and democratic post-World War II order to achieve justice for the working classes of all lands.  Robeson’s consciousness was shaped by the vision of a common pentagonal chord structure in the world’s folk music; a metaphor that privileges difference and unity. The musical visions of Guthrie and Seeger celebrated what was common in the human experience as well.

In sum, the remarks below address the implicit Marxist lens that shaped the consciousness and behavior of three giants-Paul Robeson, Woody Guthrie, and Pete Seeger. It addresses how their artistic and political work was shaped by and shaped the social movements of the period from the 1930s to the present. It draws upon cultural theory, particularly Michael Denning’s idea of a multilayered “cultural front.” And it links the theory, practice and context to the political strategy of the “popular front.”

Finally, the paper suggests that the theory and practice of Robeson, Guthrie, and Seeger represent a model for building contemporary mass movements in the face of economic and political crises. Over the past two years the world has seen mass mobilizations against dictatorship in Middle Eastern regimes; emerging new socialist forces in France, the Netherlands, and Denmark; mass movements against wars on workers, women, and minorities in the United States; and the emergence of grassroots mobilizations, particularly the Occupy Movement, all across the North American continent. The framework of struggle-the 99 percent versus the one percent-while not expressly Marxist, can have the same animating effect on workers, youth, minorities, and women, that the songs of Robeson, Guthrie, and Seeger did from the 1930s to the present time.

Marxist Ideas: Historical and Dialectical Materialism

Marxist analysis begins with the presupposition that humans create the conditions for the production and reproduction of life. These involve the satisfaction of basic needs. To do so requires the organization of production: of human labor, technology, science, and society. “This connection is ever taking on new forms, and thus presents a ‘history’ independently of the existence of any political or religious nonsense which in addition may hold men together.” [3]


Category : Culture | Hegemony | US History | Working Class | Blog

China 2013

By Samir Amin
Monthly Review

Samir Amin is director of the Third World Forum in Dakar, Senegal. His books include The Liberal Virus, The World We Wish to See, and The Law of Worldwide Value (all published by Monthly Review Press). This article was translated from the French by James Membrez.

The debates concerning the present and future of China—an “emerging” power—always leave me unconvinced. Some argue that China has chosen, once and for all, the “capitalist road” and intends even to accelerate its integration into contemporary capitalist globalization. They are quite pleased with this and hope only that this “return to normality” (capitalism being the “end of history”) is accompanied by development towards Western-style democracy (multiple parties, elections, human rights). They believe—or need to believe—in the possibility that China shall by this means “catch up” in terms of per capita income to the opulent societies of the West, even if gradually, which I do not believe is possible. The Chinese right shares this point of view. Others deplore this in the name of the values of a “betrayed socialism.” Some associate themselves with the dominant expressions of the practice of China bashing1 in the West. Still others—those in power in Beijing—describe the chosen path as “Chinese-style socialism,” without being more precise. However, one can discern its characteristics by reading official texts closely, particularly the Five-Year Plans, which are precise and taken quite seriously.

In fact the question, “Is China capitalist or socialist?” is badly posed, too general and abstract for any response to make sense in terms of this absolute alternative. In fact, China has actually been following an original path since 1950, and perhaps even since the Taiping Revolution in the nineteenth century. I shall attempt here to clarify the nature of this original path at each of the stages of its development from 1950 to today—2013.

The Agrarian Question

Mao described the nature of the revolution carried out in China by its Communist Party as an anti-imperialist/anti-feudal revolution looking toward socialism. Mao never assumed that, after having dealt with imperialism and feudalism, the Chinese people had “constructed” a socialist society. He always characterized this construction as the first phase of the long path to socialism.

I must emphasize the quite specific nature of the response given to the agrarian question by the Chinese Revolution. The distributed (agricultural) land was not privatized; it remained the property of the nation represented by village communes and only the use was given to rural families. That had not been the case in Russia where Lenin, faced with the fait accompli of the peasant insurrection in 1917, recognized the private property of the beneficiaries of land distribution.

Why was the implementation of the principle that agricultural land is not a commodity possible in China (and Vietnam)? It is constantly repeated that peasants around the world long for property and that alone. If such had been the case in China, the decision to nationalize the land would have led to an endless peasant war, as was the case when Stalin began forced collectivization in the Soviet Union.

The attitude of the peasants of China and Vietnam (and nowhere else) cannot be explained by a supposed “tradition” in which they are unaware of property. It is the product of an intelligent and exceptional political line implemented by the Communist Parties of these two countries.


Category : Capitalism | China | Socialism | Blog

Historian Mark Solomon looks at the prospects for a new socialist left

By Mark Solomon

Published by Portside March 6, 2013

On February 4, 2010 The Gallop Poll released its latest data on the public’s political attitudes. The headline read: “Socialism Viewed Positively by 36% of Americans.” While the poll did not attempt the daunting task of exploring what a diverse public understood socialism to mean, it nevertheless revealed an unmistakably sympathetic image of a system that had been pilloried for generations by all of capitalism’s dominant instruments of learning and information as well as by its power to suppress and slander socialist ideas and organization.

In sheer numbers, that means a population at the teen- age level and above of tens of millions with a favorable view of socialism.

Why then is the organized socialist movement in the United States so small and so clearly wanting in light of the potential for building its numbers and influence?

That is a crucial question. At every major juncture in the history of the country, radical individuals and organizations in advance of the mainstream have played essential roles in influencing, guiding and consolidating broad currents for social change. In the revolution that birthed this country, radical activists articulated demands from the grass roots for an uncompromising and transforming revolution to crush colonial oppression. Black and white abolitionists fought to make the erasure of slavery the core objective of the Civil War while also linking that struggle to women’s suffrage and trade unionism. A mass Socialist Party in the early 20th century fought for state intervention to combat the ravages of an increasingly exploitative economic system while advancing the vision of a socialist commonwealth. In the Great Depression, the Communist Party and its allies fought the devastations of the crisis – helping to build popular movements to expand democracy, grow industrial unions and defend protections for labor embodied in the historic New Deal.

Small left and socialist organizations in the sixties supported a range of progressive struggles from peace to civil rights to women’s liberation to gay rights and beyond. The limited resources of those groups were effective in galvanizing massive peace demonstrations and in campaigns against racist and sexist oppression. But the Cold War and McCarthyism had eviscerated any hope for a major influential socialist current. Consequently, no large and impacting force existed to extend to the peace movement a coherent anti-imperial analysis that might have contributed to its continuity and readiness to confront the wars of the nineties and the new century. Nor was there a strong socialist organization to contribute to the civil rights struggle by advocating for reform joined to a commitment to deeper social transformation. Had such a current existed, it might have contributed to building a broad protective barrier against the devastating FBI and local police violence against sectors of the movement like the Black Panthers.

There should be little debate today on the left over the need for a strong socialist voice and movement in light of festering economic stagnation, war on the working class, looming environmental catastrophe, a widening chasm between the super-rich and the rest of us, massive joblessness and incarceration savaging African Americans and other oppressed nationalities, crises in health care, housing and education. Such a strong socialist presence could offer a searching analysis of the present situation, help stimulate a broad public debate on short term solutions and formulate a vision of a socialist future that could begin to reach the minds and hearts of the 36 percent who claim to be sympathetic to that vision.


Category : Organizing | Socialism | Strategy and Tactics | Blog

By Noam Chomsky, March 5, 2013

There is “capitalism” and then there is “really existing capitalism.”

The term “capitalism” is commonly used to refer to the U.S. economic system, with substantial state intervention ranging from subsidies for creative innovation to the “too-big-to-fail” government insurance policy for banks.

The system is highly monopolized, further limiting reliance on the market, and increasingly so: In the past 20 years the share of profits of the 200 largest enterprises has risen sharply, reports scholar Robert W. McChesney in his new book “Digital Disconnect.”

“Capitalism” is a term now commonly used to describe systems in which there are no capitalists: for example, the worker-owned Mondragon conglomerate in the Basque region of Spain, or the worker-owned enterprises expanding in northern Ohio, often with conservative support – both are discussed in important work by the scholar Gar Alperovitz.

Some might even use the term “capitalism” to refer to the industrial democracy advocated by John Dewey, America’s leading social philosopher, in the late 19th century and early 20th century.

Dewey called for workers to be “masters of their own industrial fate” and for all institutions to be brought under public control, including the means of production, exchange, publicity, transportation and communication. Short of this, Dewey argued, politics will remain “the shadow cast on society by big business.”

The truncated democracy that Dewey condemned has been left in tatters in recent years. Now control of government is narrowly concentrated at the peak of the income scale, while the large majority “down below” has been virtually disenfranchised. The current political-economic system is a form of plutocracy, diverging sharply from democracy, if by that concept we mean political arrangements in which policy is significantly influenced by the public will.

There have been serious debates over the years about whether capitalism is compatible with democracy. If we keep to really existing capitalist democracy – RECD for short – the question is effectively answered: They are radically incompatible.


Category : Capitalism | Marxism | Socialism | Blog