Subject: ON THE MANAGEMENT OF CRISIS CAPITALISM.
17 August 2009
Dear Colleagues and Friends of CEIMSA,
Henri Lefebvre's critique of Herbert Marcuse's use of the concept of "one dimensional man" is informative in the context of today's crisis management of capitalism :
To subdivide and organize everyday life was not enough; now it had to be programmed. The Bureaucratic Society of Controlled Consumption . . . is attaining its goal and its half-conscious intentions are coming to light: to cybernetize society by the indirect agency of everyday life.(p.64)
The great event of the last few years is that the effects of industrialization on a superficially modified capitalist society of production and property have produced their results: a programmed everyday life in its appropriate urban setting.(p.65)
. . . .
Unlike Riesman, we do not contrast an 'other directed' with an 'inner-directed' man; moreover we would prove that though man is directed, even prefabricated, by outer circumstances (compulsions, stereotypes, functions, patterns, ideologies, etc.) he sees himself none the less as more than ever self-sufficient and dependent only on his own spontaneous conscience even under robotization. But we would also try to prove the failure of such tendencies through 'irreducibles', contradictions that resist repression and transposition. Can terrorist pressures and repression reinforce individual self-repression to the point of closing all the issues? Against Marcuse [see One Dimensional Man] we continue to assert that they cannot.(p.66)
And on the "social function of business concerns" he writes :
In the 7 items below CEIMSA readers will find further evidence of the techniques of crisis management in capitalist society, as a series of strategies imposed on an entire social class to heighten their alienation from one another and from their environment --all in the attempt to introduce a kind of social order (i.e. regimentation) into an inherently unstable political economy where the value of life itself has been severely reduced so as to better accommodate the private-profit motive of capitalist accumulation under stress.
Item A. is an article sent to us by Queens College New York City Professor of Politics, John Gerassi, from the New York Times covering up the U.S.-led Afghan Massacre of 2001 with the denial of U.S. participation.
Item B. is a copy of the documentary film, Afghan Massacre : The Convoy of Death, first sent to us by Professor Gerassi ( and recently made available by Democracy Now!) to illustrate the New York Times' conspiracy of disinformation on this subject of U.S. involvement in mass murder in Afghanistan.
Item C. is a 2002 article from Le Monde diplomatique sent to us by Grenoble graduate student Tanguy Pichetto analyzing (in French) the origins and long-term implications of the War in Afghanistan.
Item D., sent to us by Nanterre graduate student Grance Kpohazounde, is an article exposing future U.S. political strategies in oil-rich Nigeria.
Item E. is an audio interview by George Kenney with l'École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales Professor Jacques Sapir reflecting on the future of the "euro bloc" and on other political matters affecting United States foreign policies.
Item F. is an essay by University of Pennsylvania Professor of Communication, Edward S. Herman, responding to the analysis of UC-Santa Cruz Professor of History of Consciousness, Barbara Epstein, on "Why the US Left Is Weak -- and What to Do About It."
Item G. is an article (please see attachments) by University of Massachusetts Professor of Economics, Richard Wolff, on the current "crisis in Capitalism," not to be mistaken with the looming "crisis of Capitalism".
By way of conclusion, we urge CEIMSA readers to visit Mumia Abu-Jamal's recent series of Death Row Radio broadcasts for an alternative view of American cultural developments :
And finally, for a discussion of information control within the United States today, we post once again, by popular demand, this remarkable documentary film :
Francis McCollum Feeley
Professor of American Studies
Director of Research
Université Stendhal Grenoble 3
from John Gerassi :
Date: 11 July 2009
Subject: Afghan Massacre, The New York Times Denial.
I presume you have read today's NYTimes article about the 2001 massacre. Last semester, Doctors without borders (Medecins sans frontieres) sent me a documentary made sureptitiously by one of them about this massacre. I showed it in class. It shows very clearly the massacre, and interviews Gen. Dotsum, at the very moment he orders the massacre. It also shows US personel standing next to him when he gives that order to shoot all prisoners (after many have died in the transport, as described in the Times). When one of the doctors asks him about being charged with the massacre, he answers no one will, because "they know that I can bring them down with me" pointing to the US personnel present. The Times claims that the FBI and various departments wanted to investigate, as if US forces had nothing to do with the massacre. The Narrator of the documentary says that the Doctors appealed to the US colonel in charge of US supervision of the prison, and he answered: "it's done. Forget it." I will show this documenmtary in every class in the Fall, but now also with the self-innocenting NYTimes article (attached herewith for those who have not read it)
Afghan Massacre : The Convoy of Death
By JAMES RISEN
Published: July 10, 2009
After a mass killing of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Taliban prisoners of war by the forces of an American-backed warlord during the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, Bush administration officials repeatedly discouraged efforts to investigate the episode, according to government officials and human rights organizations.
Some members of the Taliban were held at a prison in Shibarghan in February 2001. A mass grave of Taliban prisoners of war is thought to be in a desert stretch just outside Shibarghan.
Mr. Spry, who is now an F.B.I. consultant, said he did not believe the stories because he knew that Al Qaeda trained members to fabricate tales about mistreatment. Still, the veteran agent said he thought the agency should investigate the reports
The forces of Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum, shown on horseback at a campaign rally, were said to have killed Taliban prisoners.
American officials had been reluctant to pursue an investigation sought by officials from the F.B.I., the State Department, the Red Cross and human rights groups because the warlord, Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum, was on the payroll of the C.I.A. and his militia worked closely with United States Special Forces in 2001, several officials said. They said the United States also worried about undermining the American-supported government of President Hamid Karzai, in which General Dostum had served as a defense official.
“At the White House, nobody said no to an investigation, but nobody ever said yes, either,” said Pierre Prosper, the former American ambassador for war crimes issues. “The first reaction of everybody there was, ‘Oh, this is a sensitive issue; this is a touchy issue politically.’ ”
It is not clear how or if the Obama administration will address the issue. But in recent weeks, State Department officials have quietly tried to thwart General Dostum’s reappointment as military chief of staff to the president, according to several senior officials, and suggested that the administration might not be hostile to an inquiry.
The question of culpability for the prisoner deaths which may have been the most significant mass killing in Afghanistan after the 2001 American-led invasion has taken on new urgency since the general, an important ally of Mr. Karzai, was reinstated to his government post last month. He had been suspended last year and living in exile in Turkey after he was accused of threatening a political rival at gunpoint.
“If you bring Dostum back, it will impact the progress of democracy and the trust people have in the government,” Mr. Prosper said. Arguing that the Obama administration should investigate the 2001 killings, he added, “There is always a time and place for justice.”
While President Obama has deepened the United States’ commitment to Afghanistan, sending 21,000 more American troops there to combat the growing Taliban insurgency, his administration has also tried to distance itself from Mr. Karzai, whose government is deeply unpopular and widely viewed as corrupt.
A senior State Department official said that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Richard C. Holbrooke, the special representative on Afghanistan and Pakistan, had told Mr. Karzai of their objections to reinstating General Dostum. The American officials have also pressed his sponsors in Turkey to delay his return to Afghanistan while talks continue with Mr. Karzai over the general’s role, said an official briefed on the matter. Asked about looking into the prisoner deaths, the official said, “We believe that anyone suspected of war crimes should be thoroughly investigated.”
The Back Story
While the deaths have been previously reported, the back story of the frustrated efforts to investigate them has not been fully told. The killings occurred in late November 2001, just days after the American-led invasion forced the ouster of the Taliban government in Kabul. Thousands of Taliban fighters surrendered to General Dostum’s forces, which were part of the American-backed Northern Alliance, in the city of Kunduz. They were then transported to a prison run by the general’s forces near the town of Shibarghan.
Survivors and witnesses told The New York Times and Newsweek in 2002 that over a three-day period, Taliban prisoners were stuffed into closed metal shipping containers and given no food or water; many suffocated while being trucked to the prison. Other prisoners were killed when guards shot into the containers. The bodies were said to have been buried in a mass grave in Dasht-i-Leili, a stretch of desert just outside Shibarghan.
A recently declassified 2002 State Department intelligence report states that one source, whose identity is redacted, concluded that about 1,500 Taliban prisoners died. Estimates from other witnesses or human rights groups range from several hundred to several thousand. The report also says that several Afghan witnesses were later tortured or killed.
In Afghanistan, rival warlords have had a history of eliminating enemy troops by suffocating them in sealed containers. General Dostum, however, has said previously that any such deaths of the Taliban prisoners were unintentional. He has said that only 200 prisoners died and blamed combat wounds and disease for most of the fatalities. The general could not be reached for comment, and a spokesman declined to comment for this article.
While a dozen or so bodies were examined and several were autopsied, a full exhumation was never performed, and human rights groups are concerned that evidence has been destroyed. In 2008, a medical forensics team working with the United Nations discovered excavations that suggested the mass grave had been moved. Satellite photos obtained by The Times show that the site was disturbed even earlier, in 2006.
“Our repeated efforts to protect witnesses, secure evidence and get a full investigation have been met by the U.S. and its allies with buck-passing, delays and obstruction,” said Nathaniel Raymond, a researcher for Physicians for Human Rights, a group based in Boston that discovered the mass grave site in 2002.
Seeking an Investigation
The first calls for an investigation came from his group and the International Committee of the Red Cross. A military commander in the United States-led coalition rejected a request by a Red Cross official for an inquiry in late 2001, according to the official, who, in keeping with his organization’s policy, would speak only on condition of anonymity and declined to identify the commander.
A few months later, Dell Spry, the F.B.I.’s senior representative at the detainee prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, heard accounts of the deaths from agents he supervised there. Separately, 10 or so prisoners brought from Afghanistan reported that they had been “stacked like cordwood” in shipping containers and had to lick the perspiration off one another to survive, Mr. Spry recalled. They told similar accounts of suffocations and shootings, he said. A declassified F.B.I. report, dated January 2003, confirms that the detainees provided such accounts.
Mr. Spry, who is now an F.B.I. consultant, said he did not believe the stories because he knew that Al Qaeda trained members to fabricate tales about mistreatment. Still, the veteran agent said he thought the agency should investigate the reports “so they could be debunked.”
But a senior official at F.B.I. headquarters, whom Mr. Spry declined to identify, told him to drop the matter, saying it was not part of his mission and it would be up to the American military to investigate.
“I was disappointed because I believed that, true or untrue, we had to be in front of this story, because someday it may turn out to be a problem,” Mr. Spry said.
The Pentagon, however, showed little interest in the matter. In 2002, Physicians for Human Rights asked Defense Department officials to open an investigation and provide security for its forensics team to conduct a more thorough examination of the gravesite. “We met with blanket denials from the Pentagon,” recalls Jennifer Leaning, a board member with the group. “They said nothing happened.”
Pentagon spokesmen have said that the United States Central Command conducted an “informal inquiry,” asking Special Forces personnel members who worked with General Dostum if they knew of a mass killing by his forces. When they said they did not, the inquiry went no further.
“I did get the sense that there was little appetite for this matter within parts of D.O.D.,” said Marshall Billingslea, former acting assistant defense secretary for special operations, referring to the Department of Defense.
Another former defense official, who would speak only on condition of anonymity, recalled that the prisoner deaths came up in a conversation with Paul D. Wolfowitz, the deputy secretary of defense at the time, in early 2003.
“Somebody mentioned Dostum and the story about the containers and the possibility that this was a war crime,” the official said. “And Wolfowitz said we are not going to be going after him for that.”
In an interview, Mr. Wolfowitz said he did not recall the conversation. However, Pentagon documents obtained by Physicians for Human Rights through a Freedom of Information Act request confirm that the issue was debated by Mr. Wolfowitz and other officials.
As evidence mounted about the deaths, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell assigned Mr. Prosper, the United States ambassador at large for war crimes, to look into them in 2002. He met with General Dostum, who denied the allegations, Mr. Prosper recalled. Meanwhile, Karzai government officials told him that they opposed any investigation.
“They made it clear that this was going to cause a problem,” said Mr. Prosper, who left the Bush administration in 2005 and is now a lawyer in Los Angeles. “They would say, ‘We have had decades of war crimes. Where do you start?’ ”
In Washington, Mr. Prosper encountered similar attitudes. In 2002, Zalmay M. Khalilzad, then the White House coordinator for Afghanistan, made it clear that he was concerned about efforts to investigate General Dostum, Mr. Prosper said. “Khalilzad never opposed an investigation,” Mr. Prosper recalled. “But he definitely raised the political implications of it.”
Mr. Khalilzad, who later served as the American ambassador to Afghanistan, did not respond to a request for comment.
Mr. Prosper said that because of the resistance from American and Afghan officials, his office dropped its inquiry. The State Department mentioned the episode in its annual human rights report for 2002, but took no further action.
from John Gerassi :
Date: 10 August 2009
Subject: Afghan Massacre, The Documentary Film.
Hi Francis. I've been fighting a loosing battle with my students over Obama. Thought you might be interested in my last piece :
So many of you have emailed me the question why is Obama betraying us that I feel I have to answer.
The question is wrong. He is not betraying us. He is part of the system, got elected with this system, and cannot change it from within. As I told many of you, I voted for him for one reason, and only one, the satisfaction of seeing a black man living in a white house built by black slaves. There is no way that one can expect fundamental changes to a system which is totally self-enclosed and self-perpetuating. True during his campaign, Obama promised us the moon, and now has delivered not even the earth. But even if he had wanted to he couldn't. If he did, he'd get killed, like Wellstone.
As a senator, Obama voted for the 2008 bill authorizing increased secret surveillance program. He voted for more financing for the war. He refused to vote against the CIA's "extraordinary rendition" program which he continues to use. He campaigned against the CIA's "black hole" secret prisons and has ordered them closed, but instead supports the indefinite detention program, and has proposed a new system of preventive detention without trial for anyone the government (he and his aides?) consider dangerous terrorists. Why does that all shock you?
Even if he is personally against these unconstitutional measures, he has to work with a Congress made up of whores. That's right, almost every Congressman is elected because he or she manages to outspend opponents, and where does that money come from? Obama himself for his primary and then presidential campaign, spent $30 billion. No matter how many dollars ordinary Americans sent him, it would not make up even half of one of those billions. His electoral victories were paid by the big corporations and especially the banks, advised by, yes, Geithner and Summers, precisely those who under Bill Clinton convinced the big banks to start their sub-prime lending program. That's why they are now running Obama"s economy; he owes them. And they don't care about ordinary people's mortgages: not one borrower who owed $200,000 or less mortgage on his/her home and was defaulting has been saved by Obama, not one.
Citibank alone, the major recipient of Obama's "salvage" incentives, had foreclosed on 6200 such homes by June 1st and counting. As Becker and Morgenson revealed in the Times last April, Geithner is tied to his mentor Robert Rubin, and to Sanford Weill who pushed Geithner to head Citigroup, and to BlackRock which got a no-bid bailout contract from Geithner when he bossed New York Fed.
One of Geithner and Summers' "modernization" programs was to shift credit functions outside regulated banks and into a variety of unregulated money pots, " the so-called shadow banking system of hedge-funds and private-equity firm," as William Greider writes in the Nation magazine (June 24, 2009). "That was the goal of financial deregulation enacted by Bill Clinton, arm in arm with the GOP Congress." And, so that you don't blame those two corporativists (which in my day was the definition of a fascist), Obama blames the whole collapsing economy on you and me, "a culture of irresponsibility" from Wall Street "to Main Street."
Nothing has changed since Obama's election -- except the rhetoric. Obama is absolutely brilliant at making you think his pro-bank, pro-industrial-military complex, pro-imperial stance is pro-people. He talks very well, and hugs poor losers whenever he travels and cameras are present, and is adored by folks impressed by talk rather than acts. Especially Europeans, who can't be bothered with the facts but like the style. As they did with that other flaming hawk, JFK.
But, as Jack Goldsmith, Bush's top legal official, says in the NYTimes today (July 2, page A14), it "just serves almost everyone's political interest to make it seem like something brand new is happening, but it's mostly window dressing for just what was going on before." The secrecy act is in full force; no transparency. The rendition program is on at full speed, but the talk is that the CIA doesn't torture anymore (let others do it, thank you). The surveillance program is being applied to hundreds of thousands of Americans, but the cry is that the Constitution is being repaired. The military commissions, passed by Congress, are being upheld and enforced with more secret trials. And Obama has declared that no Afghani prisoner is entitled to habeas corpus, meaning all those poor peasants who are sold "as al qaedans" to the US military cops (going price: $5000 each) can be held for ever in one of the black holes which will now be defined as white. By law, no one has the right to challenge such detention. Obama has even proposed a "preventive detention" act to deal with suspects, everywhere, anywhere, you or me, who cannot be tried for lack of evidence. "President Obama may mouth very different rhetoric," concluded Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, "but in the end, there is no substantive break from the policies of the Bush administration."
Afghan Massacre : The Convoy of Death
In Afghanistan, filmmaker Jamie Doran has uncovered evidence of a massacre: Taliban prisoners of war suffocated in containers, shot in the desert under the watch of American troops.
The film has been broadcast on national television in countries all over the world and has been screened by the European parliament. Human rights lawyers are calling for investigation into whether U.S. forces are guilty of war crimes. But no U.S. media outlet has broadcast the film.
from Tanguy Pichetto :
Date: 12 July 2009
Subject: Afghanistan: The New Vietnam?
Hello Dr. Feeley,
Thank you for republishing the very interesting essay by Rick Rozoff. And by the way here's an old article (2002) from le monde diplomatique entitled "l'histoire secrète des négociations entre washington et les talibans", i.e. negociations concerning the secured transit of caspian oil.
It sheds some much needed light on the mechanisms that led to the current war in Afghanistan, and it totally connects to Mr Rozoff's study. I very strongly recommend it.
from Grace Kpohazounde :
Date 17 August 2009
Subject: America's corporate interests in Nigeria's future.
I hope this meets you well. I came across this very interesting article about a war scenario in Nigeria in 2013 set out by the Pentagon and i thought you might be interested in it.
Have a very nice day,
The United States military had, in May 2008, conducted a war games test called Unified Quest 2008, to ascertain how its military might respond to a war in parts of Africa including Nigeria and Somalia.
According to an article written by Director of the African Security Research Project in Washington, DC and Guest Columnist of AllAfrica Global Media, Mr. Daniel Volman, the Nigerian scenario was predicated upon a possible war in 2013. The article observed that it was the first time the African scenarios were included, as part of Pentagon's plan to create a new military command for Africa: the United States Africa Command (AFRICOM). It also emerged that "the free flow of natural resources from Africa to the global market" was one of the "guiding principles" of AFRICOM, as articulated by Vice Admiral Robert Moeller at an AFRICOM conference held at Fort McNair on February 18, 2008.
The 2013 war date, the article said, was a test of how AFRICOM could respond to a crisis in Nigeria in the event that rival factions and rebels fight for control of the oil fields of the Niger Delta and the government was near collapse.
Among scenarios examined, Volman said, were the possibility of direct American military intervention involving some 20,000 US troops in order to "secure the oil," bearing in mind that Nigeria is a major supplier of US oil needs.
Also, the question of how to handle possible splits between factions within the Nigerian government was tested.
Other options included diplomatic pressure, military action, with or without the aid of European and African nations.
One participant, US Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel Mark Stanovich, drew up a plan that called for the deployment of thousands of U.S. troops within 60 days, which even he thought was undesirable, Volman stated.
"American intervention could send the wrong message: that we are backing a government that we don't intend to," Stanovich said. Other participants suggested that it would be better if the U.S. government sent a request to South Africa or Ghana to send troops into Nigeria instead," the article stated.
According to Major Robert Thornton, an officer with the Joint Center for International Security Force Assistance at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, "it became apparent that it was actually green (the host nation government) which had the initiative, and that any blue [the U.S. government and its allies] actions within the frame were contingent upon what green was willing to tolerate and accommodate."As the game progressed, according to former U.S. ambassador David Lyon, it became clear that the government of Nigeria was a large part of the problem. As he put it, "we have a circle of elites [the government of Nigeria] who have seized resources and are trying to perpetuate themselves. Their interests are not exactly those of the people," said the article.
"The recommendations which the participants drew up for the Army's Chief of Staff, General George Casey, do not appear to be publicly available, as what the participants finally concluded was not known. But since the war games took place in the midst of the presidential election campaign, General Casey decided to brief both John McCain and Barack Obama on its results," the article stated.
The game ended without military intervention because one of the rival factions executed a successful coup and formed a new government that sought stability.
AFRICOM representatives were said to be in communication throughout the test, but non of their officers were part of the event, said Volman.
Volman observed that neither the General of AFRICOM William Ward nor Vice Admiral Mueller "were under illusions about the" purpose of the command." Thus when General Ward appeared before the House Armed Services Committee on March 13, 2008, he cited America's growing dependence on African oil as a priority issue for AFRICOM and went on to proclaim that combating terrorism would be "AFRICOM's number one theatre-wide goal." He barely mentioned development, humanitarian aid, peace-keeping or conflict resolution.
"Since then, as General Ward has demonstrated in an interview with AllAfrica, he has become more adept at sticking to the US government official public position on AFRICOM's aims and on its escalating military operations on the African continent," stated the piece. Volman argued that contrary to expectations, President Obama had chosen to increase US military intervention in Africa by providing arms and training to the Transitional Government in Somalia, an attempt to make the continent a central battlefield in the "global war on terrorism."
He further argued that the operations of AFRICOM had been expanded through a proposed budget for financial year 2010, which will provide increased security assistance to repressive regimes in Nigeria, Niger, Chad, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and key US allies such as Ethiopia, Kenya, Djibouti, Rwanda and Uganda..
The war game test drew various participants from the State Department and other US government agencies, foreign military officers (including military representatives from several NATO countries, Australia and Israel), journalists, academics, and the private military contractors that helped run the war games: the Rand Corporation and Booz-Allen.
Another of the four scenarios that were war-gamed was a test of how AFRICOM could respond to a crisis in Somalia "set in 2025" caused by escalating insurgency and piracy. Unfortunately, no information on the details of the scenario is available.
The five-day game was designed to look at what crisis might erupt in different parts of the world in five to 25 years and how the US might respond. Back in 2005, the US had predicted that Nigeria would break-up in 2015. The report was highly criticised by Nigerian leaders.
from George Kenney :
Date: 17 July 2009
Subject: Podcast interview re various political subjects w/ Dr. Jacques Sapir.
Here's a conversation with a leading French intellectual that would be pretty much impossible to hear from an American, whether left, right, or center. Dr. Jacques Sapir is the director of studies at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, the top research establishment in France for the social sciences, located in Paris. Jacques takes on economic theory, and in our conversation shows how a revised view of theory is relevant for understanding the potential demise of the Eurozone and perhaps even the EU itself. Jacques also talks about the virtues of protectionism -- a view, again, very rarely heard in the U.S. and almost never from anyone in a position of responsibility in the establishment, whether inside or outside government. We also discuss the European left, and what lessons might be learned from it by the U.S. left, including from its mistakes...
The conversation starts out on a somewhat abstract level, but returns quickly enough to concrete examples and I hope you follow the threads connecting theory to practice. As the French might say, the confection makes sense at the end.
I must say, I find Jacques' message a very optimistic one.
And a big "Thank You" to Diana Johnstone, in Paris, for having sent me one of Jacques' recent essays (in French), on the EU elections, which motivated me to seek out the interview.
A technical note: on international calls I can't disable call waiting, and there are two calls incoming on my side which are a minor annoyance. Sorry about that.
As always, if you feel that the podcast is worthwhile please feel free to forward the link.
Thanks for listening!
from Edward S. Herman:
Date: 8 July 2009
Subject: A critique of Barbara Epstein’s analysis of the American left.
Unimagining the Left
Edward S. Herman
While she has a number of useful things to say about left history and problems in her article "Why the US Left Is Weak -- and What to Do About It" (Reimagining Society, ZNet, July 14, 2009), in the end Barbara Epstein’s analysis and recommendations themselves illustrate why the left is weak and weakening, as I will describe below.
Epstein writes her article in the context of the dispute on the left about the proper treatment of Iran and its election, and the essence of her stance, and criticism of the left she doesn’t like, is laid out in this key paragraph:
Many people, not only in the left, recognize that the US has sought to impose its will on the rest of the world, and that this is not good for those whom the US seeks to dominate or for the US itself. But it has become glaringly obvious that movements and states that oppose the US are as likely to be reactionary as progressive. Those who twist themselves into knots trying to find reasons to support Ahmadinejad, or Al Queda, only discredit themselves and the left. It has also become obvious that the world is too complex to fit into a simple opposition between the US, or the West generally, and everyone else. There are dictatorships that are opposed to the US, and there are liberation movements that identify with the West. The US continues to do a great deal of damage in the world, as in the case of the US occupation of Iraq. But as the ability of the US to determine world events declines, it becomes less and less convincing to portray US imperialism as the source of all evil.
This tendentious set of remarks is dubious at a number of levels, and its tone is clearly apologetic as regards the threat of US imperialism. The US is “not the source of all evil,” but who said it was? But a genuine US left would recognize that it is the source of a great deal of evil and not just “in the case of the US occupation of Iraq.” It would recognize that even in decline it is immensely dangerous, its huge military budget still growing, Obama asking for $6 billion more for nuclear arms improvement, escalating the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan, still supporting Israeli ethnic cleansing, still threatening Iran, expanding military bases in Colombia (see Miguel Tinker-Salas, "On the Current Right-Wing Backlash in Latin America," Mostly Water, August 5, 2009), and with NATO, under strong U.S. influence, still expanding despite the fall of the Soviet Union, stimulating an arms race, and continuing to encircle and threaten Russia (to follow the NATO expansion process, see Rick Rozoff’s valuable StopNato web site: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/stopnato/messages). What kind of left, in this context, would explicitly downplay the threat of imperialism?
With U.S. influence--“ability to determine world events”supposedly declining, Epstein tells us we have to focus more on our “core principles,” listed later in her article, which include “anti-militarism” among other matters, but not “anti-imperialism.” In short, any focus on the U.S. and its power projection must give way to other matters, including the need to recognize that there are “dictatorships that are opposed to the US, and there are liberation movements that identify with the West.”
Epstein’s stress on the fact that some dictatorships are “opposed” to the United States is deceptive, ignoring that a great many of them love and are supported by the US and failing to note that those that are opposed may be in opposition because the United States threatens them although they don’t threaten the United States (e.g., Cuba, Ho Chi Minh’s Vietnam). Equally dubious is the implication that it may be our business and that of the “left” to support intervention in those “dictatorships” that are opposed to the US. There is a strand of the left, or ex-left, that goes in for “democracy promotion” in distant places. And how often those democracy promoters latch on to dictatorships or alleged dictatorships that are targets of U.S. foreign policy! With imperialism in a supposed decline and many dictatorships “opposed to the US,” what a goldmine of opportunities for doing good by aligning with US foreign policy in bringing democracy to the benighted! And what a tremendous basis for a further splintering of the left.
Barbara Epstein says that “Those who twist themselves into knots trying to find reasons to support Ahmadinejad, or Al Queda, only discredit themselves and the left.” But those who combine Ahmadinejad and Al Qaeda are doing a bit of twisting, and what leftists support Al Qaeda? Those who oppose expanding the war on Afghanistan and Pakistan? Isn’t it a bit of a twister to fail to distinguish between those who “support Ahmadinejad” and those who oppose focusing all their “left” energies on discrediting the Iran election, or are simply worried about its use, even if unintended, in the ongoing destabilization of another US target? Isn’t it a bit devious to deny any link between the huge focus on the Iran election and the longstanding U.S.-Israeli campaign for regime change in Iran? Don’t the democracy promoters who are so engaged and passionate about the Iran election but pay little or no attention to the closer events in Honduras, also discredit themselves and the left?
Epstein mentions the great left surge in opposition to the Vietnam war, but she ignores the fact that at that time a segment of the left assailed the peace movement and its support of the Vietcong “terrorists” and Ho Chi Minh’s “dictatorship,” and that in each subsequent case of U.S. aggression a segment of the left peeled off to denounce the extremist left’s support of some demonized dictator or another. The moderates could never understand or acknowledge the difference between opposing aggression and supporting a demonized villain under attack.
Epstein’s “reimagining” of the left does a creditable job in helping along the realignment of the left to a world of supposedly declining US influence and dictatorships needing constructive intervention, but God save the left!
from Richard Wolff:
Date: 11 July 2009
Subject: The current crisis in capitalism.
Dear Francis Feeley,
For your possible interest and use (see attachments below) :
Crises in versus of Capitalism
by Rick Wolff
Capitalism has generated recurring "crises" everywhere and throughout its history. It alternates bursts of growth and prosperity with crisis periods when many workers lose jobs and homes, bankruptcies close enterprises, production shrinks, and governments reduce public services. Growth periods almost always promote speculation, overproduction, inflation, and excess debts that crises then erase or even reverse. As crises deepen, the increasingly desperate unemployed accept lower wages and poorer working conditions. Business "revives" if and when lower wages and poorer working conditions provide sufficiently attractive profit opportunities for capitalists to resume production and hiring. Crises are thereby overcome. Growth and prosperity return to build toward the next crisis. Capitalism's ups and downs vary in length; their oscillating pattern remains the same.
Crises in capitalism (depressions, recessions, cyclical downturns, etc.) are neither new nor unusual. Because capitalism works that way, its supporters came to label the more severe or protracted down periods crises because they feared that capitalism's victims would turn against it and seek basic social change. Capitalism's defenders eventually developed a set of policies to manage its inherent economic instability. They include automatic and discretionary "stabilizers" derived from Keynes' Depression-era writings, stimulus and bailout programs, deficit spending, and so on. Past and present advocates of such policies have believed they would both overcome whatever crisis existed then and also prevent future crises. No policies have ever, to date, achieved the latter goal. Today's global crisis proves that. Nor is there agreement about whether these policies ever overcame a crisis. For example, scholars continue to debate whether FDR's economic policies ended the Great Depression or whether it passed because falling wages and business bankruptcies eventually renewed profit opportunities for new investments or because of the government's build-up toward World War 2.
Political and cultural policies also seek to manage capitalism's recurring crises. FDR thus orchestrated a political New Deal and renewed nationalist cultural themes. These focused attention away from questioning capitalism. Similarly, Pope Benedict's Charity in Truth encyclical, released last week, responds to today's crisis by calling for a recommitment in business affairs to Christian values of love, charity, and truth. Crises in capitalism have persisted across all such efforts -- economic, political, and cultural -- to prevent them. So long as capitalism survives so do its recurring crises.
A crisis of capitalism is different. It is not a recurring event. A crisis of capitalism happens when cultural, political, and economic conditions combine to persuade many people that capitalism as a system has outlived its historical usefulness. Seeing it as a barrier to social progress and believing that human communities can organize their economic systems in better, post-capitalist ways, these people begin to move politically. Crises of capitalism may but need not stem from crises in capitalism. For example, potential crises of capitalism loomed at moments in the 1930s and again in the 1960s. The former coincided with a crisis in capitalism; the latter did not. Neither moment had sufficiently extensive support or lasted long enough for those potentials to be realized.
One obstacle preventing crises in capitalism from becoming crises of capitalism is belief that no alternative to capitalism exists. All enterprises are then thought to require the usual division between workers and boards of directors. They must have shareholders electing those boards to hire and fire all employees and make key business decisions alone or with major shareholders. Interactions among businesses, workers, and consumers must happen chiefly by market exchanges. Only then, this belief holds, are modern civilization and standards of living possible. This belief shapes the Obama administration's response to the global crisis.
A more subtle obstacle is belief that an achievable and superior alternative to capitalism exists. That alternative involves larger or smaller shifts from private enterprises to state-regulated or state-owned enterprises, from shareholder-elected boards of directors to state officials (chosen democratically or otherwise) regulating or functioning as such boards, from markets to state-planning as the mechanism to allocate resources and products. However, that alternative largely ignores and so leaves basically unchanged the internal organization of enterprises (whether private or state), their division between the mass of productive employees and the small groups making the decisions about what, how, and where to produce and how to dispose of products and profits. Those small groups have retained their positions either as state-regulated but still private boards of directors, or, under state ownership, as state officials running state enterprises.
Transitions from capitalism to such an alternative have often been understood as transitions to socialism or communism. They repeatedly inspired heroic struggles by capitalism's victims and critics. Those struggles often yielded progressive social changes. Today in Latin America, important voices propose such transitions in response to the global capitalist crisis.
However, such transitions to socialism and communism have serious contradictions. They distract capitalism's victims and critics from organizational transformations inside enterprises to focus instead on various kinds and degrees of state economic interventions. The distraction secures capitalism's survival in two ways. First, those transitional movements preserve enterprises' internal divisions between employers and employees. Marx emphasized the centrality to capitalism of this relation between two different groups inside each enterprise; he defined "exploitation" as the relation whereby one group, productive laborers, produces a surplus appropriated and distributed by the other. To maintain exploitation inside enterprises (private or state) keeps in place a foundational dimension of capitalism. Second, maintaining exploitation gives the exploiters the incentive and the resources (the surplus they appropriate) to evade, weaken, and eventually eradicate whatever regulations, taxes, and other changes reformers win in responding to any crisis. Thus, in the decades after FDR's economic reforms, US corporate boards of directors utilized the surpluses they appropriated to roll back the New Deal. Similarly, in the 1980s, state officials atop Soviet enterprises utilized the surpluses generated there to roll back the USSR's 1917 transition to socialism.
Two lessons: (1) crises in capitalism will recur until a crisis of capitalism provokes a transition out of capitalism that includes ending exploitation inside enterprises, and (2) the alternative to exploitation requires workers themselves democratically and collectively to appropriate and distribute the surpluses they produce.
Richard Wolff has been a professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst since 1981. He has been a visiting professor in the Graduate Program in International Affairs, at the New School in New York since 2007. Wolff's major recent interests and publications include studies of US economic history to ascertain the basic structural causes of the current economic crisis and the examination of how alternative economic theories (neoclassical, Keynesian, and Marxian) understand and respond to the crisis in very different ways. His past work involves application of advanced class analysis to contemporary global capitalism. He has written, co-authored, and co-edited many books and dozens of scholarly and popular journal articles. His recent analyses of current economic events appear regularly in the webzine of the Monthly Review. In 2009, Capitalism Hits the Fan, the documentary on the current economic crisis, was released by Media Education Foundation (www.mediaed.org). Visit http://www.rdwolff.com for more information.