April 24, 2015
On April 12, 2015 the wildly popular Game of Thrones returned to HBO for a fifth season. No doubt, this season, like all the others, will break ratings records and encourage endless speculation and debate by fans. The television series, based on a projected seven novel series A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin, has a devoted following among viewers who are willing to wade through intricate plots, an enormous cast of characters and a world as rich as our own. The series is set in a fantasy world resembling feudal Europe and on the surface feels like many other “sword and sandal” epics, such as Lord of the Rings. However, the series is more than beach side reading — drawing extensively on history, mythology and literature.
Part of the appeal of Game of Thrones (especially for Marxists) is that, unlike Lord of the Rings, there are few clear cut heroes or villains; instead everyone is a shade of gray and presents a harsh view of the feudal world and its sharp class divisions, bourgeois revolutions from above, subordinate status of women, and brutal realpolitik. 
A historical materialist analysis of Game of Thrones has been the subject of two essays “Can Marxist theory predict the end of Game of Thrones?” by Paul Mason and “Game of Thrones and the End of Marxist Theory” by Sam Kriss (focusing heavily on the collapse of feudalism with arguments we will discuss in detail below). Kriss’ essay also argues that part of the appeal of Game of Thrones is that the series undermines any idealization of feudalism where “its kings aren’t just cruel and stupid but powerless, trying to bat away rapacious financiers and ghoulish monsters with both flapping, ineffectual hands…[and that this] was the last time that all the mystical creatures that hid in the dark places of society were known, named, and understood.” By contrast, capitalism presents itself as rational, while it shrouds real social relations beneath commodity fetishism and the mysteries of the market. The use of Marxist analysis to fantasies such as Game of Thrones, as Kriss rightfully points out, “helps explain our own demon-haunted world.”
The main settings for Game of Thrones are the fictional continents of Westeros and Essos. Westeros is made up of seven kingdoms — the Kingdom of the North, the Kingdom of Mountain and Vale, the Kingdom of the Isles and Rivers, the Kingdom of the Rock, the Kingdom of the Reach, the Kingdom of the Stormlands and Dorne. The Seven Kingdoms have existed for thousands of years largely as a feudal society and undergoing periodic dynastic shifts, civil wars and invasions (the dominant religion known as the “Faith of the Seven” forbids slavery).
One of the major plots of the series is a civil war by the noble kingdoms for control of the Iron Throne following the death of the King Robert Baratheon. The “War of the Five Kings,” which begins at the end of the first season initially involves five separate claimants to the Iron Throne (currently reduced to three by the end of season four) involves bloody battles, massacres and dynastic upheavals which devastate Westeros.
By Bruno Cava
Translated by Devin Beaulieu
The difference between populist discourse and classic liberal discourse is based in that, for the former, the “people” is something that should be constructed, while for liberals the “people” is something already given. In this first case, the construction of the people implies the construction of a new representation. In the second case, the representation is only made to consider a society that precedes it, the pre-existent, is already formed.
In populism, the history of the construction of a people occurs through the division between “us” and “them.”
Populism denounces the false universal of the existing representative order, which does not represent us anymore, in order to directly demand a new universal. During the bourgeois revolutions this was the struggle against theancien regime according to which it was possible to liberate from the parasitic aristocracy in order to form the nation and bourgeois citizen, now considered a universal category. During the anticolonial struggles, this was the struggle against the metropole and imperialism in the name of unity, for national liberation. According to Antonio Gramsci, the construction of the people, the folk, unites intellectuals, workers, and peasants through the national-popular collective consciousness in order to liberate themselves from the bourgeois.
The Construction of the National-Popular
In Brazil, ideas of the national-popular were present in developmentalist versions, where national modernization combined with popular emancipation by means of mobilizing, pedagogical, and organizing actions. The conquest of power would not take place simply as the capture of the State, but would happen through the laborious cultural and ideological dissemination of national formation from the bases. The task of underdeveloped intellectuals in this project consists in leading the process of illumination of the masses, in agreement with an emancipatory program. Thus, whereby, sufficiently industrializing the country to form a conscious proletariat would overt falling into some form of economic determinism. Without the militant work of popular emancipation, modernization, invariably, will produce further class domination.
The political theory closest to this national-popular promise, although elaborated in the context of industrialized societies of the economic center, is Gramscian theory. According to Gramsci, who wrote in the first half of the past century, the exercise of power in capitalism is not sustained only through coercion and fear. It has to produce, above all, a diffuse legitimacy that, through innumerable collective cultural institutions, continually captures the consent of the majority. The representative field in its ensemble, composed of governments, parties, and unions can, in this way, operate as if representing the “general interest,” closing fissures and stopping deviations.
Ideology, then, does not appear as a system of systematic mystification. As if ideology were a veil opposite to reality, a mystical curtain that separates the people from the truth about the real relations of power. Further, ideology has a material character: that determines behavior and penetrates habits. Capitalism, in essence, does not fool anyone. Perspectives that capitalism can lose strength by means of denouncing its mystifications are naïve. Individuals already know that capitalism is a complex of exploitation that generates, at one extreme, luxury and waste and, at the other, misery and violence.
Hegemony and Counter-Hegemony
This is what Gramsci named hegemony: the normal form of politics in developed and complex societies, in which representative democracies prevail. Hegemony is a cultural operation on a large scale, which precedes a unity forced by the state, determining the existence of a hegemonic group that emerges as the bearer of “general interest.” In terms of hegemony, the crux of the question is not to question how capitalism functions, but rather, how we, ourselves, make it function. Capitalism possesses an evidence and emotion, permeated, in which we are involved in elaborating in our daily lives, our plans and ourselves.
[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 the Weekly Sift
Tea Partiers say you don’t understand them because you don’t understand American history. That’s probably true, but not in the way they want you to think.
Late in 2012, I came out of the Lincoln movie with two historical mysteries to solve:
How did the two parties switch places regarding the South, white supremacy, and civil rights? In Lincoln’s day, a radical Republican was an abolitionist, and when blacks did get the vote, they almost unanimously voted Republican. Today, the archetypal Republican is a Southern white, and blacks are almost all Democrats. How did American politics get from there to here?
One of the movie’s themes was how heavily the war’s continuing carnage weighed on Lincoln. (It particularly came through during Grant’s guided tour of the Richmond battlefield.) Could any cause, however lofty, justify this incredible slaughter? And yet, I realized, Lincoln was winning. What must the Confederate leaders have been thinking, as an even larger percentage of their citizens died, as their cities burned, and as the accumulated wealth of generations crumbled? Where was their urge to end this on any terms, rather than wait for complete destruction?
The first question took some work, but yielded readily to patient googling. I wrote up the answer in “A Short History of White Racism in the Two-Party System“. The second turned out to be much deeper than I expected, and set off a reading project that has eaten an enormous amount of my time over the last two years. (Chunks of that research have shown up in posts like “Slavery Lasted Until Pearl Harbor“, “Cliven Bundy and the Klan Komplex“, and my review of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ article on reparations.) Along the way, I came to see how I (along with just about everyone I know) have misunderstood large chunks of American history, and how that misunderstanding clouds our perception of what is happening today.
Who really won the Civil War? The first hint at how deep the second mystery ran came from the biography Jefferson Davis: American by William J. Cooper. In 1865, not only was Davis not agonizing over how to end the destruction, he wanted to keep it going longer. He disapproved of Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, and when U. S. troops finally captured him, he was on his way to Texas, where an intact army might continue the war.
That sounded crazy until I read about Reconstruction. In my high school history class, Reconstruction was a mysterious blank period between Lincoln’s assassination and Edison’s light bulb. Congress impeached Andrew Johnson for some reason, the transcontinental railroad got built, corruption scandals engulfed the Grant administration, and Custer lost at Little Big Horn. But none of it seemed to have much to do with present-day events.
And oh, those blacks Lincoln emancipated? Except for Booker T. Washington and George Washington Carver, they vanished like the Lost Tribes of Israel. They wouldn’t re-enter history until the 1950s, when for some reason they still weren’t free.
Here’s what my teachers’ should have told me: “Reconstruction was the second phase of the Civil War. It lasted until 1877, when the Confederates won.” I think that would have gotten my attention.
It wasn’t just that Confederates wanted to continue the war. They did continue it, and they ultimately prevailed. They weren’t crazy, they were just stubborn. (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)
Black Youth Project 100 action to #DecriminalizeBlack (Photo Credit: Sarah Jane Rhee)
Che Guevara, Before the United Nations, 12-11-1964
March 4, 2015 – In my lifetime young people rose up to challenge and change the world in Little Rock and Birmingham, in Soweto and Tiananmen, in Palestine and Chiapas. In the last decade we saw the rise of Arab Spring and Occupy, and now we are in the midst of vivid mass resistance to the police killing of unarmed Black men and women spurred by the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Now and historically, it is the youth who reject taken-for-granted injustices. In this moment, young people are the social actors – the leadership, catalysts, the activists, and the organizers – who seized and defined a continuing travesty of North American life: the police murder of Black lives. Rising up against the thickening layers of institutionalized white supremacy, young people are insisting that Black Lives Matter.
With their radical impulse to revolt, that spirit of hopefulness and possibility, the laser-like insight of adolescents into the hypocrisies of the adult world, propel youth to break the rules, resist together, and transcend the immoral status quo. Inspired by the courage and determination of Ferguson youth, young people across the nation walked out of schools, sat-in, died-in, blocked highways and bridges – becoming the fresh, searing forces for equality, racial justice, and dignity.
Youth were not unaware of the risks they were taking by challenging police violence. In fact, it is young people who were painfully and brutally aware of the police targeting of Black youth, and pervasive US institutionalized de-valuing of Black lives.
Though many young activists had already been challenging police violence and the criminalization of Black lives in their own communities, the harrowing, police stalking and shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown on August 9, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri, became the spark that generated a fresh wave of youth uprisings. This new movement in the long struggle for racial justice brought young people together across the country to become more than the sum of their parts.
The activism of the Black Lives Matter movement not only illustrates the brilliance and clarity of young people, but also flies in the face of popular currency that children and youth are less competent, less thoughtful, less wise and more dangerous than adults. The continuing reality of young people as social actors stands in opposition to official policies of silencing, suppressing, expelling and punishing our youth, depriving them of an education and denying their creativity and right to be heard.
Think of young peoples’ loss of rights, for example, through truancy laws; school censorship of high school newspapers, email communication and graduation speeches; the banning of books; relentless harassment and violence against LGTBQ and trans youth; school locker searches and drug testing without reasonable suspicion or due process; school zero tolerance policies that include punishments, school suspensions and expulsions, gang terrorism profiling, stop and frisk, and the calling of police for minor misbehavior. Control, cameras, drug searches, testing, arrests, and school exclusion have replaced dignity.
Children and youth, in fact, are whole persons who bear human and constitutional rights. They are inevitably an active part of their time and place, their culture and community, their race, class, and ethnicity, and their extended family. Simultaneously, they may also be more vulnerable, more easily manipulated and used by adults, such that they must be, to the extent possible, protected, sheltered and insulated from serious harm, both from their own impulses, and adults who might prey upon them or use youth for their own purposes. This is why human rights activists, for example, advocate for children to be protected from the harshest consequences of war and hazardous labor and family violence.
Of course, young people are becoming-persons, not yet fully adults; but what kind of a person is a child? In considering children as social actors, this contradiction is worthy of continuing deliberation and nuance. How can society heed this paradox – rights versus protections – and tilt toward children as bearers of rights while taking the responsibility for providing youth with equal access, due process, Constitutional rights, economic rights, and human rights? Are youth not right to see the adult world as compromised, duplicitous, and worst of all—indifferent to the crimes and suffering around them? (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.