Truthout, May 17, 2015
On April 19, 2014, I sat down with author, journalist and professor Christian Parenti in Chicago. His work, which is wide-ranging and essential, explores some of the most powerful and brutal forces in our society: war, capitalism, prisons, policing and climate change. In this interview, we discussed ideology, climate change, Marxism, activism, the state, militarism, violence and the future. This is the first of a two-part interview.
Vincent Emanuele for Truthout: I’d like to begin by revisiting your 2011 book, Tropic of Chaos: Climate Change and the New Geography of Violence. Right around the time Tropic of Chaos was published, Syria was experiencing record drought and massive livestock and crop losses. The connections between neoliberalism, climate change and Cold War-era militarism, for you, were on full display. However, you’re clear in noting that climate change exacerbates pre-existing crises. In other words, climate change is not necessarily the driver of crises in Syria, or Afghanistan, for example. You call this process the "catastrophic convergence." Can you talk about these various themes in the context of the last four years since Tropic of Chaos was published?
Christian Parenti: Syria is a prime example. There has been a terrible drought there, which coincided with austerity measures imposed by the Assad government cutting aid to Sunni farmers. Many of them were forced to leave the land, partly due to drought, partly due to the lack of support to properly deal with the drought. Then, they arrive in cities, and there’s more austerity taking place. This is experienced as oppression by the Alawite elite against an increasingly impoverished Sunni proletariat who’ve been thrown off their land.
This situation then explodes as religious conflict, which is really the fusion of environmental crises with neoliberal economic policies. Of course, the violent spark to all of this is the fact that the entire region is flooded with weapons. Some of these weapons are from the Cold War, and some of those guns are from recent US militarism in the region. There were a lot of vets of the anti-US struggle in Iraq who are Syrian – Mujahideen veterans who went to Iraq and came back to Syria and started to fight. There were Syrians who were selling guns to Iraqi underground groups. These groups were buying their guns back, and re-importing them to Syria. My friend David Enders has reported on this really well.
So, it’s a perfect example of this catastrophic convergence: The landscape is littered with guns, hammered socially by increasingly market-fundamentalist politics, and at the same time, natural systems are beginning to buckle and break as climate change starts to accelerate. Part of what’s fueling the sectarian conflict in Iraq has to do with this convergence. There’s a very serious lack of water in southern Iraq, partly because Turkey has been taking more water than they should, but there’s also a decline in precipitation, misuse of water resources, etc. In the Shia heartland, life is tough. These young farmers get pulled into the struggle against the Sunni, with militias or within the Iraqi Army. That’s a better deal than trying to struggle on an increasingly decimated farm. But it’s hard to research a lot of this. The violence is so intense that it makes reporting on these issues virtually impossible. Those are some examples that immediately come to mind.
As you’re responding, I’m thinking of Yemen. Really, your book has forced me to constantly examine the underlying environmental context when thinking about conflicts, wars and violence. Yet, this dynamic is left out of the narrative in the mainstream media, and even in many alternative outlets.
People have been reporting on Sanaa’s water crisis for several years. Yemen’s environmental crises is partly fueling the current conflict. Similarly, Boko Haram is capitalizing on and partly produced by environmental crises in northern Nigeria. Large parts of the West African Sahel – meaning the wide arid belt at the bottom edge of the Sahara desert – have been experiencing all sorts of natural precipitation fluctuations; too much rain, too little, at the wrong times. This, plus rising temperatures, has led to increased climate migration, urbanization, poverty, and – surprise, surprise! – political desperation. These chaotic weather patterns are linked to climate change.
Along with environmental crisis, Boko Haram is the byproduct of the brutality of the Nigerian security forces, which have targeted Northern Nigerian Muslims with wide, undisciplined, sometimes almost indiscriminate terror campaigns. Add to that the total corruption of the Nigerian oil state and its inability and unwillingness to redistribute wealth and resources to marginalized populations, and it’s a perfect storm. And out of this drama comes that nightmare we call Boko Haram.
To answer your initial question, what’s new since publishing the book? Seems like more of the same is spreading. But, to be perfectly honest, I find it profoundly depressing to think about this stuff all the time. My research has moved on to other questions.
You focus a lot on the Global South in Tropic of Chaos, but you briefly mention the Global North as well. However, you mention that this catastrophic convergence is experienced in a much different way depending on where one is located. Can you explain these differences?
Climate violence in the Global North looks like counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations abroad, and xenophobic border policing and anti-immigrant repression at home. As we’re speaking, the US has battleships off the coast of Yemen, supporting the Saudi air offensive. Climate violence looks like the special operations base that was in Yemen before US forces were run out a few weeks ago. That base was there partly because of the instability caused by the growing climate crisis that is fueled by US militarism and neoliberalism. The media might not call counter-terror operations climate wars, but that’s certainly part of what drives them.
Similarly, anti-immigrant detention and policing increasingly have a climate angle. Migration is rarely described in terms of its root causes. What is it that drives people off the land and forces them to migrate north? War, environmental crisis, and neoliberal economic restructuring that, by opening markets and removing state supports to popular classes, have destroyed rural economies, peasant livelihoods, all over the world. Much of Latin America, particular Mexico and Central America, have been experiencing the chaotic weather associated with climate change, extreme droughts punctuated by flooding. People are forced by all these factors to seek a better life abroad.
The media might not call counter-terror operations climate wars, but that’s certainly part of what drives them.
Greeting them upon arrival in the Global North – be that Texas or Sicily – are the ideology and infrastructure of xenophobia and militarized policing. The right, both in Europe and the US, uses racist, fear-mongering, anti-immigrant rhetoric to great effect in mobilizing their constituencies. Remember, the right needs emotionally charged electoral spectacle, because their real agenda is the upward redistribution of wealth from the working classes to the rich. But right-wing politicians cannot run on that platform: there aren’t enough rich people. So, the right must appeal to the real fears of regular people, but they pander to these fears using fake issues. Thus in the right-wing imaginary, it’s not the erosion of social democracy and the rise of deregulated, deindustrialized, hyper-privatized, financialized, boom and bust, neoliberal capitalism that has fucked the common person. No, it is foreigners and immigrants. Unfortunately, this rhetoric works with many.
[Editor’s note: The following interesting piece is from an ‘independent’ group of private US intelligence analysts, and reflects the views of ruling elites. We should note, however, that there is nothing accidental or new in the US empire, embodied from the early days of the Republic in the widely embraced notion of ‘Manifest Destiny.’]
By George Friedman
Stratfor’s Geopolitical Weekly
April 14, 12015 – "Empire" is a dirty word. Considering the behavior of many empires, that is not unreasonable. But empire is also simply a description of a condition, many times unplanned and rarely intended. It is a condition that arises from a massive imbalance of power. Indeed, the empires created on purpose, such as Napoleonic France and Nazi Germany, have rarely lasted. Most empires do not plan to become one. They become one and then realize what they are. Sometimes they do not realize what they are for a long time, and that failure to see reality can have massive consequences.
World War II and the Birth of an Empire
The United States became an empire in 1945. It is true that in the Spanish-American War, the United States intentionally took control of the Philippines and Cuba. It is also true that it began thinking of itself as an empire, but it really was not. Cuba and the Philippines were the fantasy of empire, and this illusion dissolved during World War I, the subsequent period of isolationism and the Great Depression.
The genuine American empire that emerged thereafter was a byproduct of other events. There was no great conspiracy. In some ways, the circumstances of its creation made it more powerful. The dynamic of World War II led to the collapse of the European Peninsula and its occupation by the Soviets and the Americans. The same dynamic led to the occupation of Japan and its direct governance by the United States as a de facto colony, with Gen. Douglas MacArthur as viceroy.
The United States found itself with an extraordinary empire, which it also intended to abandon. This was a genuine wish and not mere propaganda. First, the United States was the first anti-imperial project in modernity. It opposed empire in principle. More important, this empire was a drain on American resources and not a source of wealth. World War II had shattered both Japan and Western Europe. The United States gained little or no economic advantage in holding on to these countries. Finally, the United States ended World War II largely untouched by war and as perhaps one of the few countries that profited from it. The money was to be made in the United States, not in the empire. The troops and the generals wanted to go home.
But unlike after World War I, the Americans couldn’t let go. That earlier war ruined nearly all of the participants. No one had the energy to attempt hegemony. The United States was content to leave Europe to its own dynamics. World War II ended differently. The Soviet Union had been wrecked but nevertheless it remained powerful. It was a hegemon in the east, and absent the United States, it conceivably could dominate all of Europe. This represented a problem for Washington, since a genuinely united Europe — whether a voluntary and effective federation or dominated by a single country — had sufficient resources to challenge U.S. power.
The United States could not leave. It did not think of itself as overseeing an empire, and it certainly permitted more internal political autonomy than the Soviets did in their region. Yet, in addition to maintaining a military presence, the United States organized the European economy and created and participated in the European defense system. If the essence of sovereignty is the ability to decide whether or not to go to war, that power was not in London, Paris or Warsaw. It was in Moscow and Washington.
The organizing principle of American strategy was the idea of containment. Unable to invade the Soviet Union, Washington’s default strategy was to check it. U.S. influence spread through Europe to Iran. The Soviet strategy was to flank the containment system by supporting insurgencies and allied movements as far to the rear of the U.S. line as possible. The European empires were collapsing and fragmenting. The Soviets sought to create an alliance structure out of the remnants, and the Americans sought to counter them.
The Economics of Empire
One of the advantages of alliance with the Soviets, particularly for insurgent groups, was a generous supply of weapons. The advantage of alignment with the United States was belonging to a dynamic trade zone and having access to investment capital and technology. Some nations, such as South Korea, benefited extraordinarily from this. Others didn’t. Leaders in countries like Nicaragua felt they had more to gain from Soviet political and military support than in trade with the United States. (Continued)
By John Bellamy Foster
Monthly Review – April 2015
On October 20, 2012, less than two weeks after being reelected to his fourth term as Venezuelan president and only months before his death, Hugo Chávez delivered his crucial El Golpe de Timón (“Strike at the Helm”) speech to the first meeting of his ministers in the new revolutionary cycle.1 Chávez surprised even some of his strongest supporters by his insistence on the need for changes at the top in order to promote an immediate leap forward in the creation of what is referred to as “the communal state.” This was to accelerate the shift of power to the population that had begun with the formation of the communal councils (groupings of families involved in self-governance projects—in densely populated urban areas, 200–400 families; in rural areas, 50–100 families). The main aim in the new revolutionary cycle, he insisted, was to speed up the registration of communes, the key structure of the communal state. In the communes, residents in geographical areas smaller than a city unite in a number of community councils with the object of self-governance through a communal parliament, constructed on participatory principles. The communes are political-economic-cultural structures engaged in such areas as food production, food security, housing, communications, culture, communal exchange, community banking, and justice systems. All of this had been legally constituted by the passage of the Organic Laws of Popular Power in 2010, including, most notably, the Organic Law of the Communes and the Organic Law of the Communal Economic System.
Chávez’s “Strike at the Helm” speech, which insisted on the rapid construction of communes, was to be one of the most important and memorable speeches of his career. It offers the key to the past, present, and future of the Venezuelan revolution. More than that, it presents us with new insights into the whole question of the transition to socialism in the twenty-first century.2
In March 2011, when I was the sole U.S. participant in a small group of socialist intellectuals from the Americas and Europe invited to Caracas to confer with the country’s top ministers on the future of the Bolivarian Revolution, it was already apparent that the full implementation of Venezuela’s 2010 “Organic Law of the Commons,” the most crucial enactment of the revolution, faced major obstacles.3 Although there were thousands of communal councils there were as yet no registered communes—the larger territorial organizations of which communal councils were to form a part, and which would represent the real basis for popular power. Nor at that point, during a presidential election cycle that was to determine the future of the Bolivarian Revolution, was it easy to move forward in this respect. Indeed, there was clearly considerable confusion at the ministerial level around the question of how the establishment of the communes, the most important element in the revolutionary process, would be accomplished, if at all.4
Hence, it was a historic moment when Chávez in his October 2012 speech crossed this Rubicon. He insisted on a full-scale socialist political transformation, with the intention of decisively shifting political power to the people, and by that means making the revolution irreversible. In addressing the communes in his “Strike at the Helm” speech, Chávez commenced by referring to István Mészáros’s Beyond Capital, not only in order to lay down certain basic principles, but also with the aim of once again urging those engaged in the Bolivarian Revolution to study Mészáros’s analysis, as the most developed and strategic theory of socialist transition:
Here I have a [book written by] István Mészáros, chapter XIX called “The Communal System and the Law of Value.” There is a sentence that I underlined a while ago, I am going to read it to you, ministers and vice president, speaking of the economy, of economic development, speaking of the social impulses of the revolution: “The yardstick,” says Mészáros, “of socialist achievements is the extent to which the adopted measures and policies actively contribute to the constitution and deep-rooted consolidation of a substantively democratic…mode of overall social control and self-management.”
Therefore we arrive at the issue of democracy. Socialism is in its essence truly democratic, while, on the other hand, there is capitalism: quintessentially anti-democratic and exclusive, the imposition of capital by the capitalist elite. But socialism is none of these things, socialism liberates; socialism is democracy and democracy is socialism, in politics, the social sphere, and in economics.5
Presenting an age-old principle of revolutionary theory, associated most famously with Marx, Chávez argued: “It must always be this way: first the political revolution, political liberation and then economic revolution. We must maintain political liberation and from that point the political battle is a permanent one, the cultural battle, the social battle.”6 The problem of a transition to socialism was then, first of all, a political one: creating an alternative popular, participatory, protagonist base. Only then could changes in economics, production, and property take place. This new popular base of power had to have equivalent power in the organization of what Mészáros called the necessary “social metabolic reproduction” to that of capital itself, displacing the latter. It needed, in Chávez’s words, to “form part of a systematic plan, of something new, like a network…a network that works like a gigantic spider’s web covering the new territory.” Indeed, “if it didn’t work this way,” he insisted, “it would all be doomed to fail; it would be absorbed by the old system, which would swallow it up, because capitalism is an enormous amoeba, it is a monster.” (Continued)
By Zhang Yu
Chinese Social Sciences Today
March 3, 2015 – Since reform and opening-up, China has succeeded in taking the new path of socialist economic development with Chinese characteristics. The vigor and vitality of the Chinese economy has attracted the attention of the world. However, there are various opinions about how to summarize the experience and significance of China’s economic reform and development.
In recent years, a new dogmatic thought has been in vogue in economics. It claims that there is only one type of economics all over the world: Western mainstream economics. This model, it is held, is a universal science without borders, like natural science, and is a general principle that China’s economic reform and development must follow.
Dominated by such a logic, a version of the mainstream economics on the Chinese experience has been formed: the Chinese experience, at best, is “transition economics,” which is a form of transition to capitalist standard market economy and has no universal significance of economics. Achievements of the Chinese economy are owed to the effective application of these “general principles,” such as developing the private economy, free markets and the opening-up to the outside world.
Problems with the Chinese economy are attributed to deviation from these “general principles,” such as retaining the state economy, government intervention and independence, which will bring about the collapse of the Chinese economy sooner or later if they are not completely resolved. Suffice to say all elements that don’t conform to the standard patterns of mainstream economics are considered to have deviated from and distorted “general principles.” However, this idea is quite wrong and harmful.
We may learn from modern Western economics, which is universal since it reflects the motion law of the market economy to some extent. Meanwhile, it is specific. There are different schools of Western economics as well as different mainstream theories in different eras and countries.
Take neoclassical economics currently viewed as the Western mainstream, for example. It has been widely criticized by other schools of economics. It is thought to emphasize logic and neglect history, deny differences between people’s behaviors in different social systems and historical conditions, and exclude the influence of complex factors, such as technology, politics and culture.
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Yanis Varoufakis: ‘Karl Marx was responsible for framing my perspective of the world we live in, from my childhood to this day.’
By Yanis Varoufakis
The Guardian / UK
Feb 18 2015 – In 2008, capitalism had its second global spasm. The financial crisis set off a chain reaction that pushed Europe into a downward spiral that continues to this day. Europe’s present situation is not merely a threat for workers, for the dispossessed, for the bankers, for social classes or, indeed, nations. No, Europe’s current posture poses a threat to civilisation as we know it.
If my prognosis is correct, and we are not facing just another cyclical slump soon to be overcome, the question that arises for radicals is this: should we welcome this crisis of European capitalism as an opportunity to replace it with a better system? Or should we be so worried about it as to embark upon a campaign for stabilising European capitalism?
To me, the answer is clear. Europe’s crisis is far less likely to give birth to a better alternative to capitalism than it is to unleash dangerously regressive forces that have the capacity to cause a humanitarian bloodbath, while extinguishing the hope for any progressive moves for generations to come.
For this view I have been accused, by well-meaning radical voices, of being “defeatist” and of trying to save an indefensible European socioeconomic system. This criticism, I confess, hurts. And it hurts because it contains more than a kernel of truth.
I share the view that this European Union is typified by a large democratic deficit that, in combination with the denial of the faulty architecture of its monetary union, has put Europe’s peoples on a path to permanent recession. And I also bow to the criticism that I have campaigned on an agenda founded on the assumption that the left was, and remains, squarely defeated. I confess I would much rather be promoting a radical agenda, the raison d’être of which is to replace European capitalism with a different system.
Yet my aim here is to offer a window into my view of a repugnant European capitalism whose implosion, despite its many ills, should be avoided at all costs. It is a confession intended to convince radicals that we have a contradictory mission: to arrest the freefall of European capitalism in order to buy the time we need to formulate its alternative.
Why a Marxist?
When I chose the subject of my doctoral thesis, back in 1982, I deliberately focused on a highly mathematical topic within which Marx’s thought was irrelevant. When, later on, I embarked on an academic career, as a lecturer in mainstream economics departments, the implicit contract between myself and the departments that offered me lectureships was that I would be teaching the type of economic theory that left no room for Marx. In the late 1980s, I was hired by the University of Sydney’s school of economics in order to keep out a leftwing candidate (although I did not know this at the time).
After I returned to Greece in 2000, I threw my lot in with the future prime minister George Papandreou, hoping to help stem the return to power of a resurgent right wing that wanted to push Greece towards xenophobia both domestically and in its foreign policy. As the whole world now knows, Papandreou’s party not only failed to stem xenophobia but, in the end, presided over the most virulent neoliberal macroeconomic policies that spearheaded the eurozone’s so-called bailouts thus, unwittingly, causing the return of Nazis to the streets of Athens. Even though I resigned as Papandreou’s adviser early in 2006, and turned into his government’s staunchest critic during his mishandling of the post-2009 Greek implosion, my public interventions in the debate on Greece and Europe have carried no whiff of Marxism.
Given all this, you may be puzzled to hear me call myself a Marxist. But, in truth, Karl Marx was responsible for framing my perspective of the world we live in, from my childhood to this day. This is not something that I often volunteer to talk about in “polite society” because the very mention of the M-word switches audiences off. But I never deny it either. After a few years of addressing audiences with whom I do not share an ideology, a need has crept up on me to talk about Marx’s imprint on my thinking. To explain why, while an unapologetic Marxist, I think it is important to resist him passionately in a variety of ways. To be, in other words, erratic in one’s Marxism.
If my whole academic career largely ignored Marx, and my current policy recommendations are impossible to describe as Marxist, why bring up my Marxism now? The answer is simple: Even my non-Marxist economics was guided by a mindset influenced by Marx.
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By James M. McPherson
During the fateful years of 1860 and 1861 James A. Garfield, a representative in the Ohio legislature, corresponded with his former student at Hiram College, Burke Hinsdale, about the alarming developments in national affairs. They agreed that this "present revolution" of Southern secession from the Union was sure to spark a future revolution of freedom for the slaves.
Garfield quoted with approval the famous speech by Republican leader William H. Seward, in which Seward had characterized the ideological conflict between the proslavery South and the free-labor North as "an irrepressible conflict between opposing and enduring forces" which "means that the United States must and will, sooner or later, become either a slave-holding nation, or a free-labor nation." Garfield echoed Seward’s certainty of the outcome. The rise of the Republican party, they agreed, was a "revolution," and "revolutions never go backward." Southern secession meant that this revolution would probably triumph in the violence of civil war.
If that turned out to be the case, wrote Garfield, so be it, for the Bible taught that "without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sins." Or as Hinsdale put it: "All the great charters of humanity have been writ in blood . . . England’s was engrossed in [the blood] of the Stuarts – and that of the United States in [the blood] of England." Soon, perhaps, the slaves, would achieve their charter of freedom in the blood of their masters.1
Shortly after the beginning of the Civil War, James Garfield joined the Union army and rose eventually to the rank of major general. From the outset, he believed that Northern victory would accomplish the revolution of freedom for the slaves. In October, 1862 he insisted that the war must and would destroy "the old slaveholding, aristocratic social dynasty" that had ruled the nation, and replace it with a "new Republican one." A few months later, while reading Louis Adolph Thier’s ten-volume History of the French Revolution, Garfield was "constantly struck" with "the remarkable analogy which the events of that day bear to our own rebellious times."2
In December 1863 Garfield doffed his army uniform for the civilian garb of a congressman. During the first three of his seventeen years in Congress, Garfield was one of the most radical of the radical Republicans. He continued to view the Civil War and Reconstruction as a revolution that must wipe out all traces of the ancien regime in the South. In his maiden speech to the House of Representatives on January 28, 1864, he called for the confiscation of the land of Confederate planters and the redistribution of this land among freed slaves and white Unionists in the South. To illustrate the need for such action, Garfield drew upon the experience of the English revolutions against the Stuart kings in the seventeenth century and the American Revolution against Britain in the eighteenth. "Our situation," he said, "affords a singular parallel to that of the people of Great Britian in their great revolution" and an even more important parallel to our forefathers of 1776. "The Union had its origin in revolution," Garfield pointed out, and "confiscation played a very important part in that revolution . . . Every one of the thirteen States, with a single exception, confiscated the real and personal property of Tories in arms." The Southern planters were the Tories of this second American revolution, he continued, and to break their power we must not only emancipate their slaves, "we must [also] take away the platform on which slavery stands – the great landed estates of the armed rebels . . . Take that land away, and divide it into homes for the men who have saved our country." And after their land was taken away, Garfield went on, "the leaders of this rebellion must be executed or banished from the republic. They must follow the fate of the Tories of the Revolution." These were harsh measures, Garfield admitted, but "let no weak sentiments of misplaced sympathy deter us from inaugurating a measure which will cleanse our nation and make it the fit home of freedom . . . Let us not despise the severe wisdom of our Revolutionary fathers when they served their generation in a similar way."3
Garfield later receded from his commitment to confiscation and his belief in execution or banishment. But he continued to insist on the enfranchisement of freed slaves as voters, a measure that many contemporaries viewed as revolutionary. Garfield linked this also to the ideas of the first American Revolution. The Declaration of Independence, he said in a speech on July 4, 1865, proclaimed the equality of birthright of all men and the need for the consent of the governed for a just government. This meant black men as well as white men, said Garfield, and to exclude emancipated slaves from equal participation in the government would be a denial of "the very axioms of the Declaration of Indepedence."4
In 1866, Congress passed the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution as a moderate compromise that granted blacks equal civil rights but not equal political rights. When the Southern states refused to ratify this moderate measure, Garfield renewed his call for revolutionary change to be imposed on the South by its Northern conquerors. Since the Southern whites, he said in early 1867, "would not cooperate with us in rebuilding what they had destroyed, we must remove the rubbish and rebuild from the bottom . . . We must lay the heavy hand of military authority upon these Rebel communities, and . . . plant liberty on the ruins of slavery."5
By Yang Chungui
Translated by Jiang Yajuan and Zhang Hongyan, from Zhongguo shehui kexue, 2000, no. 1 Revised by Yu Sheng and Su Xuetao
January 9 2012
Tremendous changes have taken place in the history of mankind during the twentieth century. In the first half of the century socialism shocked the world with its great successes over large areas of the earth. However, in the final years of the century its setbacks also astounded the world, especially its failure in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. These great changes raised the question of the future and destiny of socialism.
In view of the ecstatic response of Western hostile forces to the "grand failure of communism," and the pessimism of those who once believed in socialism, Deng Xiaoping said categorically, "After a long time, socialism will necessarily supersede capitalism. This is an irreversible general trend of historical development…..Some countries have suffered major setbacks, and socialism appears to have been weakened. But the people have been tempered by the setbacks and have drawn lessons from them, and that will make socialism develop in a healthier direction."[i] This conclusion has been borne out by the successful practice of socialism with Chinese characteristics in China and will be further borne out in the coming century by socialist practice throughout the world, including that in China.
I. Socialism Is a Historical Process With Twist and Turns in Its Development
Dialectical materialism tells us that things develop with a combination of progress and reverses. The general trend in towards progress and development, but the road is full of twists and turns. This is the case in the natural world and also in social life. Every new social system undergoes numerous difficulties during its birth and development. Capitalism was finally substituted for feudalism after 48 years of struggle against the restoration of feudalism in Britain, and 86 years of repeated trails of strength in France. It took two to three hundred years for capitalism as a whole to grow from its infancy to a mature stage amidst continuous economic and political crises. This was the case in the development of capitalism, in which a new form of exploitation replaced the old, let alone the socialist movement that will destroy all systems of exploitation. It is entirely impractical to expect socialism to enjoy a favorable wind all the way and encounter no resistance.
Socialism has experience many setbacks and low ebbs, but the general trend towards socialism replacing capitalism has never changed. During the more than 150 years since the appearance of the theory of scientific socialism, it has developed from the conception of revolutionary teachers into the guiding principle of the workers’ movement all over the world, from theory into practice, and from the practice in one country into that in many countries, presenting a constantly growing dynamic movement. It is inevitable that there will be local reverses and temporary low tides or even reverses during this process. Marxists who keep a clear head with regard to the development law of human society do not feel puzzled by these outward phenomena, but unswervingly believe in the final victory of socialism and communism, and face the harsh realities with high morale, calmly taking up the gauntlet.
In 1987 during the Paris Commune uprising, Karl Marx scientifically predicted that, "whatever therefore its fate in Paris, it will make le tour du monde."[ii] More than forty years later, the victory of the October Revolution in Russia confirmed Marx’s brilliant foresight. When the first socialist country in the world faced grave crises due to armed intervention from fourteen imperialist states, in addition to domestic rebellion, Lenin firmly pointed out that, "Only a proletarian socialist revolution can lead humanity out of the impasse which imperialism and imperialist wars have created. Whatever difficulties the revolution may have to encounter, whatever possible temporary setbacks or waves of counter-revolution it may have to contend with, the final victory of the proletariat is inevitable."[iii] The revolutionary road followed by the Chinese people was even more difficult and convoluted. In the 28 years before the founding of the People’s Republic of China, the Chinese democratic revolution suffered repeated setbacks and failures. On 12 April 1927, Jiang Jieshi staged a bloody coup d’etat against the revolution and threw the Chinese people into bloodshed. But the Communist Party of China (CPC) and the Chinese people were neither cowed, conquered nor exterminated. They picked themselves up, wiped off the blood, buried their fallen comrades and went into battle again. Furthermore, they learned to use armed revolution against armed counterrevolution and went to the countryside to build rural base areas. In the beginning, in the face of a very powerful enemy, some people asked: "How long will the red flag fly?" With foresight comrade Mao Zedong pointed out that, "A single spark can start a prairie fire." But the prairie fire also experienced many ups and downs and, particularly the last days of the land revolution, Wang Ming’s "Left error led to the loss of 90 per cent of the Party and revolutionary forcers in the base areas and an almost complete loss in the Guomindang-controlled areas. However, after the Red Army arrived in northern Shaanxi, the CPC summed up its experiences and lessons learned and went on to defeat all its enemies and win the final victory of the democratic revolution.
The road to socialist construction was equally uneven. In addition to minor upheavals, there were two events of major significance; the three-years Great Leap Forward beginning in 1958, and the ten-year "cultural revolution" beginning in 1966. These errors caused enormous losses and led to grave crises in China. However, after the Third Session of the Eleventh Central Committee of the CPC we became more mature and initiated a new phase of constructing socialism with Chinese characteristics. History is a mirror and tells us that no matter how difficult the situation, and whatever setbacks the revolution may experience, it will win in the end because it follows the law and direction of historical development.
Violent changes took place in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe in the late 1980s and early 90s. The communist parties lost their ruling position, socialism was abandoned, and the world socialist movement suffered its greatest setback this century. Hostile forces in the West were excited and asserted categorically that Marxism and socialism were bankrupt. The future and destiny were pregnant with grim possibilities and some people became pessimistic. Confronted by local failure and temporary setbacks, Comrade Deng Xiaoping solemnly stated with the foresight of a great statesman, "Don’t panic, don’t think that Marxism has disappeared, that it’s not useful any more and that it has been defeated. Nothing of the sort!"[iv] When socialism was at a low ebb across the world it radiated vigor and dynamism in China. China’s economy has been developing rapidly and in a healthy manner, the living conditions of the people have been improving and the overall capacity of the country has been strengthened. All these indisputable achievements have been highly appreciated by all those who harbor no prejudice against China. The great cause of building socialism with Chinese characteristics under the guidance of Deng Xiaoping theory is not only a pioneering undertaking in. China but also of world significance. Deng Xiaoping pointed out that if we can achieve the strategic goal of reaching the level of moderately developed countries by the middle of the next century, "we shall not only have blazed a new path for the peoples of the Third World, who represent three quarters of world’s population, but also – and is even more important – we shall have demonstrated to mankind that socialism is the only path and that it is superior to capitalism."[v]
Complex objective and subjective reasons account for the twist and turns in the development of socialism. First, the long-term existence of class struggle both at home and abroad. "The tree desires stillness but the wind will not cease." Class struggle exists independent of man’s will. Where there is a struggle there will inevitably be fluctuations, and high and low tides, victory and defeat, and progress and setbacks are just normal phenomena and are not unexpected. Second, the socialist system is a completely new social system in the history of mankind and its development has to undergo a long historical process from inexperience to experience, from imperfect to perfect, from immature to mature. It is hard to completely avoid mistakes, twists and reverses during this process. We can try to arrive at a correct understanding by following the patter, "practice, knowledge, and then back to practice, knowledge," constantly summing up our experiences and moving step by step from the realm of necessity to the realm of freedom. Third, if the party and government leadership of a socialist country cannot earnestly correct their political errors or effectively combat corruption within their ranks, the situation will become complex and grave, and major reverses or even great historical retrogression will follow. The first two are objective in nature, while the third is subjective. If no major problems occur with regard to the leadership, the wheel of history will not be turned back even though it is impossible to avoid minor setbacks. However, from a long-term perspective, no matter what twists and turns may take place, these only constitute a link in the whole chain of historical development, they do not, and cannot, after the general trend of historical development. This is just like the, Yellow River: it has many turns and meanderings, but it nevertheless continues to flow into the eastern seas. In this regard we must pay attention to the following points: 1. Do not take the temporary setbacks as the end of point of historical development. On the contrary, we should observe things from the perspective of historical development and take the setbacks for what they reality are, a temporary phenomenon and a link in the chain in human history. We must be firm in our faith and conviction in the face of any difficulties and grasp the general trend of historical development. 2. We should earnestly summarize our experience and the lessons learned and try by every means to avoid losses that could be avoided. The pivotal point in this connection is to strengthen the building of the Party and maintain the correctness of leadership. 3. We are convinced that even in the Soviet Union and Eastern European countries in which there have been great historical reverses, the broad masses and the true communists will re-select the socialist road after conscientious reflection – this process may be and painful, but undoubtedly things will develop in this direction – this is a historical law independent of man’s will.
II. Summarizing the Historical Experience of Socialism in a Scientific Way
Engels pointed out that, "There is no better road to theoretical clearness of comprehension than to learn by one’s mistakes, durch Schaden klug werden."[vi] Deng Xiaoping said, "In building socialism we have had both positive and negative experience, and they are equally useful to us."[vii] "The experience of successes is valuable, and so is the experience of mistakes and defeats. Formulating principles and policies in this way enables us to unify the thinking of the whole Party so as to achieve a new unity: unity formed on this basis is most reliable."[viii]
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By Sven Beckert
Dec 12, 2014 – Few topics have animated today’s chattering classes more than capitalism. In the wake of the global economic crisis, the discussion has spanned political boundaries, with conservative newspapers in Britain and Germany running stories on the "future of capitalism" (as if that were in doubt) and Korean Marxists analyzing its allegedly self-destructive tendencies. Pope Francis has made capitalism a central theme of his papacy, while the French economist Thomas Piketty attained rock-star status with a 700-page book full of tables and statistics and the succinct but decisively unsexy title Capital in the Twenty-First Century (Harvard University Press).
With such contemporary drama, historians have taken notice. They observe, quite rightly, that the world we live in cannot be understood without coming to terms with the long history of capitalism—a process that has arguably unfolded over more than half a millennium. They are further encouraged by the all-too-frequent failings of economists, who have tended to naturalize particular economic arrangements by defining the "laws" of their development with mathematical precision and preferring short-term over long-term perspectives. What distinguishes today’s historians of capitalism is that they insist on its contingent nature, tracing how it has changed over time as it has revolutionized societies, technologies, states, and many if not all facets of life.
Nowhere is this scholarly trend more visible than in the United States. And no issue currently attracts more attention than the relationship between capitalism and slavery.
If capitalism, as many believe, is about wage labor, markets, contracts, and the rule of law, and, most important, if it is based on the idea that markets naturally tend toward maximizing human freedom, then how do we understand slavery’s role within it? No other national story raises that question with quite the same urgency as the history of the United States: The quintessential capitalist society of our time, it also looks back on long complicity with slavery. But the topic goes well beyond one nation. The relationship of slavery and capitalism is, in fact, one of the keys to understanding the origins of the modern world.
For too long, many historians saw no problem in the opposition between capitalism and slavery. They depicted the history of American capitalism without slavery, and slavery as quintessentially noncapitalist. Instead of analyzing it as the modern institution that it was, they described it as premodern: cruel, but marginal to the larger history of capitalist modernity, an unproductive system that retarded economic growth, an artifact of an earlier world. Slavery was a Southern pathology, invested in mastery for mastery’s sake, supported by fanatics, and finally removed from the world stage by a costly and bloody war.
Some scholars have always disagree with such accounts. In the 1930s and 1940s, C.L.R. James and Eric Williams argued for the centrality of slavery to capitalism, though their findings were largely ignored. Nearly half a century later, two American economists, Stanley L. Engerman and Robert William Fogel, observed in their controversial book Time on the Cross (Little, Brown, 1974) the modernity and profitability of slavery in the United States. Now a flurry of books and conferences are building on those often unacknowledged foundations. They emphasize the dynamic nature of New World slavery, its modernity, profitability, expansiveness, and centrality to capitalism in general and to the economic development of the United States in particular.
The historians Robin Blackburn in England, Rafael Marquese in Brazil, Dale Tomich in the United States, and Michael Zeuske in Germany led the study of slavery in the Atlantic world. They have now been joined by a group of mostly younger American historians, like Walter Johnson, Seth Rockman, and Caitlin C. Rosenthal, looking at the United States.
Oct. 27, 2014 – AMBERG, Germany–The next front in Germany’s effort to keep up with the digital revolution lies in a factory in this sleepy industrial town.
At stake isn’t what the Siemens AG plant produces–in this case, automated machines to be used in other industrial factories–but how its 1,000 manufacturing units communicate through the Web.
As a result, most units in this 100,000-plus square-foot factory are able to fetch and assemble components without further human input.
The Amberg plant is an early-stage example of a concerted effort by the German government, companies, universities and research institutions to develop fully automated, Internet-based "smart" factories.
Such factories would make products fully customizable while on the shop floor: An incomplete product on the assembly line would tell "the machine itself what services it needs" and the final product would immediately be put together, said Wolfgang Wahlster, a co-chairman of Industrie 4.0, as the collective project is known.
The initiative seeks to help German industrial manufacturing–the backbone of Europe’s largest economy–keep its competitive edge against the labor-cost advantages of developing countries and a resurgence in U.S. manufacturing.
Underpinning the effort is the Internet of Things, where the Web meets real-world equipment. Google Inc. made a big push on the consumer front this year with its $3.2 billion purchase of Nest Labs Inc., which makes thermostats that can be remotely controlled by smartphones and other connected devices.
Full-fledged smart manufacturing is still in the pilot phase. But the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence has worked with German industrial companies to engineer some of the most advanced demonstrations in the field.
Part of the CCDS team at the conference: Kathy Sykes, Janet Tucker, Harry Targ, Paul Krehbiel
By Paul Krehbiel
Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism
"The capitalist class is in a serious crisis without solution," said David Schweikart at the Moving Beyond Capitalism conference held in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico from July 30-August 5, 2014. "But there is a solution," he said, "economic democracy, democratic socialism." Over 200 people from 15 countries discussed how to make this happen, organized by the Center for Global Justice.
Chronic high unemployment, depression of wages and benefits, cuts in social services, and growing inequality and repression, and social and political resistance are endemic to nearly all capitalist countries, said Schweikart, a Philosophy professor at Loyola University in Chicago, and author of After Capitalism.
Schweikart’s model of democratic socialism calls for a regulated competitive market economy, socialized means of production and democratic workplaces (he advocates worker-run cooperatives as an example), non-profit public banks to finance projects, full employment, and a guarantee that human needs will be meet for everyone.
Cliff DuRand, a conference organizer, said people are creating alternatives to capitalism today all over the world. "If we’ve built these alternative institutions, the next time the capitalist system collapses…we will be able to survive without it."
Gustavo Esteva, a former Mexican government official, founder of the University of the Land in Oxaca, and an advisor to the Zapatistas in Chiapas in southern Mexico, gave a good account of how the indigenous people of this region are creating a new democratic and socialist-oriented society that they control, within the borders of a capitalist Mexico. The Zapatistas launched an armed uprising in the mid-1990′s to stop NAFTA and the Mexican government from allowing multi-national corporations to come into Chiapas to extract minerals to enrich the corporations and destroy their lives and their local economy.
Ana Maldonado of the Venezuelan Ministry of Communal Economy could not attend, so University of Utah Professor Al Campbell filled in for her. Campbell has worked in Venezuelan with the Community Councils, a new form of grassroots democracy and socialism. Created in 2006 by the late socialist president Hugo Chavez, there are 20,000 Community Councils today, each holding meetings in neighborhoods where all residents can attend, discuss, and vote on decisions for their community.
Private, for-profit banks came under sharp attack for causing the 2008 Great Recession, and for ripping off billions of dollars from people world-wide, primarily through charging high interest rates. Ellen Brown, founder of the Public Banking Institute based in California, declared, "Without interest payments, there would be no national debt," which now stands at over $15 trillion. Politicians use the debt as an excuse to cut funds for education, health care and other social programs. An example of local bank rip-offs is a bank loan for the purchase of a house, where the homeowner pays the bank 2-3 times or more than the cost of the house due to interest payments.
Brown said the solution is to set up not-for-profit public or state banks — like the Bank of North Dakota. She describes how to do it in her book Democratizing Money: The Public Bank Solution. Since the 2008 economic crash, 20 other states including California have introduced bills to study or establish publicly-owned state banks.
"The US controls third world countries," Brown explained, "by putting them in debt and then forcing repayment with high interest rates," which they can’t afford to pay. Brown said the book, Confessions of an Economic Hitman, by John Perkins, explains how devastating this is.
Coops in Cuba
Camila Pineiro Harnecker, a leader of the cooperative movement in socialist Cuba, explained that her country is giving much more attention to the development of worker-run cooperatives as a way to help workers create jobs for themselves, and learn how to become masters of their work and work lives. The state socialist sector dominates the economy, but coops now comprise 12% of the workforce and are expected to increase in number.