Object: ON STONE WALLS, IRON BARS, AND "THE FALLACY OF MISPLACED CONCRETENESS".
20 April 2010
Dear Colleagues and Friends of CEIMSA,
I was around fifteen years old when my high school literature teacher required us to learn by heart the poem by Richard Lovelace, Stone Walls do not a Prison Make. It came as a revelation which seemed to offer an escape from the dominant ideology of border politics in south Texas, and some of us ran with it. Years later, dialectical materialism came as another revelation, offering a method to achieve a deeper understanding of why one cannot escape an ideology by espousing a counter-ideology, but rather how freedom comes through the recognition of contradictions, which are found always at a logical level other than where the ideology is located.
In the 1970s, during the Vietnam War, many graduate students at the University of Wisconsin turned to studying Marx for an understanding of what appeared to be a cul-de-sac in American political culture.
The writings of Marx on ideology describe the existence of a necessary link between “inverted” forms of consciousness and men’s material existence. According to Marx, it is this relationship that the concept of ideology represents, a mental activity which produces a distortion of thought that "stems from, and conceals, social contradictions." Consequently, from its inception ideology has a clear-cut negative and critical connotation.
The Hegelian “inversion” consists in converting the subjective into the objective and vice-versa, so the starting from the assumption that the Idea necessarily manifests itself in the empirical world, the Prussian state appears as the self-realization of the Idea, as the “absolute universal which determines civil society instead of being determined by it." The Hegelian "inversion" is by no means the product of an illusory perception. If Hegel’s point of view is abstract it is because “the ‘abstraction’ is that of the political state”. The source of the ideological inversion is an inversion in reality itself.
The same idea informs Marx’s critique of religion. Although he accepts Feuerbach’s basic tenet that man makes religion and that the idea that God makes man is an "inversion," he goes further than Feuerbach in arguing that this "inversion" is more than a philosophical alienation or mere illusion; it expresses the contradictions and sufferings of the real world. The state and society produce religion, “which is an 'inverted' consciousness of the world, because they are an 'inverted' world.” The religious "inversion" compensates in the mind for a deficient reality; it reconstitutes in the imagination a coherent solution which is beyond the real world in order to make up for the contradictions of the real world.
As long as men, because of their limited material mode of activity, are unable to solve these contradictions in practice, they tend to project them in ideological forms of consciousnesses, that is to say in purely mental or discursive solutions which effectively conceal or misrepresent the existence and character of these contradictions. By concealing contradictions, the ideological distortion contributes to their reproduction and therefore serves the interests of the ruling class. Hence ideology appears as a negative and restricted concept. It is negative because it involves a distortion, a misrepresentation of contradictions. It is restricted because it does not cover all kinds of errors and distortions.
The relationship between ideological and non-ideological ideas, Marx concludes, cannot be interpreted as the general relationship between error and truth. Ideological distortions cannot be overcome by criticisms; they can disappear only when the contradictions which give rise to them are practically resolved.
In Grundrisse Marx submitted as early as 1858 a concrete analysis of advanced capitalist social relations. He arrived at the conclusion that if some ideas distorted or “inverted” reality it was because reality itself was upside down. This relationship only appeared to be unmediated and direct, but this specific analysis of capitalist social relations led him to conclude that the relationship between “inverted consciousness” and “inverted reality” is, in fact, mediated by a level of appearances which are constitutive of reality itself.
Hence, ideology serves to conceal the contradictory character of the hidden essential pattern capitalist relationships by focusing upon the way in which the economic relations appear on the surface. This world of appearances does not only generate economic forms of ideology but is also "a very Eden of the innate rights of man. There alone rule Freedom, Equality, Property and Bentham." (Capital I, 1977, p.280). But, of course, the bourgeois ideology of freedom and equality conceals what goes on beneath the surface process of capitalist exchange where “this apparent individual equality and liberty disappear and prove to be inequality and unfreedom” (Grundrisse, 1973, “The Chapter on Capital”).
From his very early critique of religion to the subsequent unmasking of mystified economic appearances of seemingly libertarian and equalitarian principles, there is a remarkable consistency in Marx’s understanding of ideology. The idea of a double inversion, in consciousness and reality, is retained throughout, although in the end it is made more complex by distinguishing a double aspect of reality in the capitalist mode of production. His view of ideology, therefore, maintains a critical and negative connotation, and is used only for those distortions which are connected with the concealment of a contradictory and "inverted" reality. In this sense the often-quoted definition of ideology as "false consciousness" is not adequate in so far as it does not specify the kind of distortion which is criticized, thus opening the way for a confusion of ideology with all sorts of errors.
The 8 items below may remind CEIMSA readers of the walls which are built around us and of the cages which we've so eagerly entered, enticed by illusions that have been carfully maintained in our heads, to the point that we frequently mistake appearances for material realites and thus fail to aprehend the essential contradictions produced everyday by our class-ridden society.
Item A. is an article from Truthdig, in which Christopher Hedges reports on Noam Chomsky's assessment of the signs of incipient fascism that are developing across the United States today.
Item B. is an article by Michael Parenti and Alicia Jrapko on the "political interpretations" of Cuban prisoners, theirs and ours.
Item C., sent to us by The University of Paris Ph.D. student, Ahmed El Aidi, is an article by Muhammed Asadi, on "Individualism, Bureaucracy and the Mass Society."
Item D., from Dahr Jamail's MidEast Dispatches, are two stories from Iraq on democratic resistance to US imperialist policy.
Item E., from ZNet, are excerpts from the transcript of Howard Zinn's last public interview in which he discussed schooling in the United States.
Item F. is an article by Noam Chomsky discussing the need to "sweep away the mists of carefully contrived illusion and reveal the stark reality."
Item G., from Information Clearing House, is an article by Marl Lavie, on more jingoism coming out of Israel promoting the "permanent war economy."
And item H., sent to us by NYU Professor Mark Crispin Miller, is an article by Glenn Greenwald on President Obama's version of "Law and Order" against whistleblowers.
Finally, we invite CEIMSA readers to watch the animated cartoon below about US foreign policy, Produced and directed by Charle Mauch and William Blum :
Noam Chomsky is America’s greatest intellectual. His massive body of work, which includes nearly 100 books, has for decades deflated and exposed the lies of the power elite and the myths they perpetrate. Chomsky has done this despite being blacklisted by the commercial media, turned into a pariah by the academy and, by his own admission, being a pedantic and at times slightly boring speaker. He combines moral autonomy with rigorous scholarship, a remarkable grasp of detail and a searing intellect. He curtly dismisses our two-party system as a mirage orchestrated by the corporate state, excoriates the liberal intelligentsia for being fops and courtiers and describes the drivel of the commercial media as a form of “brainwashing.” And as our nation’s most prescient critic of unregulated capitalism, globalization and the poison of empire, he enters his 81st year warning us that we have little time left to save our anemic democracy.
“It is very similar to late Weimar Germany,” Chomsky told me when I called him at his office in Cambridge, Mass. “The parallels are striking. There was also tremendous disillusionment with the parliamentary system. The most striking fact about Weimar was not that the Nazis managed to destroy the Social Democrats and the Communists but that the traditional parties, the Conservative and Liberal parties, were hated and disappeared. It left a vacuum which the Nazis very cleverly and intelligently managed to take over.”
“The United States is extremely lucky that no honest, charismatic figure has arisen,” Chomsky went on. “Every charismatic figure is such an obvious crook that he destroys himself, like McCarthy or Nixon or the evangelist preachers. If somebody comes along who is charismatic and honest this country is in real trouble because of the frustration, disillusionment, the justified anger and the absence of any coherent response. What are people supposed to think if someone says ‘I have got an answer, we have an enemy’? There it was the Jews. Here it will be the illegal immigrants and the blacks. We will be told that white males are a persecuted minority. We will be told we have to defend ourselves and the honor of the nation. Military force will be exalted. People will be beaten up. This could become an overwhelming force. And if it happens it will be more dangerous than Germany. The United States is the world power. Germany was powerful but had more powerful antagonists. I don’t think all this is very far away. If the polls are accurate it is not the Republicans but the right-wing Republicans, the crazed Republicans, who will sweep the next election.”
“I have never seen anything like this in my lifetime,” Chomsky added. “I am old enough to remember the 1930s. My whole family was unemployed. There were far more desperate conditions than today. But it was hopeful. People had hope. The CIO was organizing. No one wants to say it anymore but the Communist Party was the spearhead for labor and civil rights organizing. Even things like giving my unemployed seamstress aunt a week in the country. It was a life. There is nothing like that now. The mood of the country is frightening. The level of anger, frustration and hatred of institutions is not organized in a constructive way. It is going off into self-destructive fantasies.”
“I listen to talk radio,” Chomsky said. “I don’t want to hear Rush Limbaugh. I want to hear the people calling in. They are like [suicide pilot] Joe Stack. What is happening to me? I have done all the right things. I am a God-fearing Christian. I work hard for my family. I have a gun. I believe in the values of the country and my life is collapsing.”
Chomsky has, more than any other American intellectual, charted the downward spiral of the American political and economic system, in works such as “On Power and Ideology: The Managua Lectures,” “Rethinking Camelot: JFK, the Vietnam War, and US Political Culture,” “A New Generation Draws the Line: Kosovo, East Timor and the Standards of the West,” “Understanding Power: The Indispensable Chomsky,” “Manufacturing Consent” and “Letters From Lexington: Reflections on Propaganda.” He reminds us that genuine intellectual inquiry is always subversive. It challenges cultural and political assumptions. It critiques structures. It is relentlessly self-critical. It implodes the self-indulgent myths and stereotypes we use to elevate ourselves and ignore our complicity in acts of violence and oppression. And it makes the powerful, as well as their liberal apologists, deeply uncomfortable.
Chomsky reserves his fiercest venom for the liberal elite in the press, the universities and the political system who serve as a smoke screen for the cruelty of unchecked capitalism and imperial war. He exposes their moral and intellectual posturing as a fraud. And this is why Chomsky is hated, and perhaps feared, more among liberal elites than among the right wing he also excoriates. When Christopher Hitchens decided to become a windup doll for the Bush administration after the attacks of 9/11, one of the first things he did was write a vicious article attacking Chomsky. Hitchens, unlike most of those he served, knew which intellectual in America mattered. [Editor’s note: To see some of the articles in the 2001 exchanges between Hitchens and Chomsky, click here, here, here and here.]
“I don’t bother writing about Fox News,” Chomsky said. “It is too easy. What I talk about are the liberal intellectuals, the ones who portray themselves and perceive themselves as challenging power, as courageous, as standing up for truth and justice. They are basically the guardians of the faith. They set the limits. They tell us how far we can go. They say, ‘Look how courageous I am.’ But do not go one millimeter beyond that. At least for the educated sectors, they are the most dangerous in supporting power.”
Chomsky, because he steps outside of every group and eschews all ideologies, has been crucial to American discourse for decades, from his work on the Vietnam War to his criticisms of the Obama administration. He stubbornly maintains his position as an iconoclast, one who distrusts power in any form.
“Most intellectuals have a self-understanding of themselves as the conscience of humanity,” said the Middle East scholar Norman Finkelstein. “They revel in and admire someone like Vaclav Havel. Chomsky is contemptuous of Havel. Chomsky embraces the Julien Benda view of the world. There are two sets of principles. They are the principles of power and privilege and the principles of truth and justice. If you pursue truth and justice it will always mean a diminution of power and privilege. If you pursue power and privilege it will always be at the expense of truth and justice. Benda says that the credo of any true intellectual has to be, as Christ said, ‘my kingdom is not of this world.’ Chomsky exposes the pretenses of those who claim to be the bearers of truth and justice. He shows that in fact these intellectuals are the bearers of power and privilege and all the evil that attends it.”
“Some of Chomsky’s books will consist of things like analyzing the misrepresentations of the Arias plan in Central America, and he will devote 200 pages to it,” Finkelstein said. “And two years later, who will have heard of Oscar Arias? It causes you to wonder would Chomsky have been wiser to write things on a grander scale, things with a more enduring quality so that you read them forty or sixty years later. This is what Russell did in books like ‘Marriage and Morals.’ Can you even read any longer what Chomsky wrote on Vietnam and Central America? The answer has to often be no. This tells you something about him. He is not writing for ego. If he were writing for ego he would have written in a grand style that would have buttressed his legacy. He is writing because he wants to effect political change. He cares about the lives of people and there the details count. He is trying to refute the daily lies spewed out by the establishment media. He could have devoted his time to writing philosophical treatises that would have endured like Kant or Russell. But he invested in the tiny details which make a difference to win a political battle.”
“I try to encourage people to think for themselves, to question standard assumptions,” Chomsky said when asked about his goals. “Don’t take assumptions for granted. Begin by taking a skeptical attitude toward anything that is conventional wisdom. Make it justify itself. It usually can’t. Be willing to ask questions about what is taken for granted. Try to think things through for yourself. There is plenty of information. You have got to learn how to judge, evaluate and compare it with other things. You have to take some things on trust or you can’t survive. But if there is something significant and important don’t take it on trust. As soon as you read anything that is anonymous you should immediately distrust it. If you read in the newspapers that Iran is defying the international community, ask who is the international community? India is opposed to sanctions. China is opposed to sanctions. Brazil is opposed to sanctions. The Non-Aligned Movement is vigorously opposed to sanctions and has been for years. Who is the international community? It is Washington and anyone who happens to agree with it. You can figure that out, but you have to do work. It is the same on issue after issue.”
Chomsky’s courage to speak on behalf of those, such as the Palestinians, whose suffering is often minimized or ignored in mass culture, holds up the possibility of the moral life. And, perhaps even more than his scholarship, his example of intellectual and moral independence sustains all who defy the cant of the crowd to speak the truth.
“I cannot tell you how many people, myself included, and this is not hyperbole, whose lives were changed by him,” said Finkelstein, who has been driven out of several university posts for his intellectual courage and independence. “Were it not for Chomsky I would have long ago succumbed. I was beaten and battered in my professional life. It was only the knowledge that one of the greatest minds in human history has faith in me that compensates for this constant, relentless and vicious battering. There are many people who are considered nonentities, the so-called little people of this world, who suddenly get an e-mail from Noam Chomsky. It breathes new life into you. Chomsky has stirred many, many people to realize a level of their potential that would forever been lost.”
from Michael Parenti :
Date: 16 April 2010
Subject: [Clarity] Cuban Prisoners, Here and There.
Cuban Prisoners, Here and There
by Michael Parenti and Alicia Jrapko
For more than half a century western political leaders and their corporate media have waged a disinformation war against socialist Cuba. Nor is there any sign that they are easing up. A recent example is the case of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, an inmate who died in a Cuban prison in February 2010 after an 82-day hunger strike.
Zapata’s death sparked an outcry from western capitalist media and official sources, including of course the United States. Almost without exception, in literally thousands of reports the corporate media portrayed him as a “political prisoner” and a “political dissident”---without offering any supporting specifics. In March 2010 the European Union voted to condemn Cuba for his demise.
Since 2004, Amnesty International has treated Zapata Tamayo as one of Cuba’s 75 “prisoners of conscience,” without offering evidence to buttress this assertion. Like the western media, Amnesty failed to specify what were the political activities that had led to Zapata’s imprisonment.
An Amnesty International article (24 February 2010) stated that in May 2004 Zapata Tamayo was sentenced to three years in prison for “public disorder” and “resistance.” According to some reports he launched his hunger strike not only to protest his conditions of detention but to demand a personal kitchen in his cell, a television set, and a cell phone, amenities that were not likely to materialize.
Zapata was subsequently tried several times on charges of assaulting guards and “disorder in a penal establishment.” The offenses began to add up. At the time of his fast he was facing a total sentence of 36 years. Again Amnesty made no mention of any political activities.
Cuban doctors attempted to keep Zapata alive with intravenous feedings and other stratagems. One psychologist testified that she tried to convince him to cease the hunger strike and try to register his grievances by other means. Zapata’s mother remarked that her son had the best Cuban doctors at his bedside and she thanked them for their assistance. Later she would change her story and claim that he was a “dissident” who had been mistreated.
According to the Cuban writer Enrique Ubieta Gomez, Zapata was a common criminal who was convicted of “unlawful break-in” (1993), “assault” (2000), “fraud” (2000), and “public disorder” (2002). One of his serious transgressions occurred in 2000 when he attacked someone named Leonardo Simón with a machete, fracturing his skull and inflicting other injuries.
Ubieta Gomez concluded that Zapata had been involved in a wide range of criminal doings, none of which were remotely political. He was in jail for breaching the peace, “public damage,” resistance to authority, two charges of fraud, “public exhibitionism,” repeated charges of felonious assault, and being illegally armed.
Despite this extensive rap sheet Zapata was paroled in March 2003, eleven days before the arrests of the 75 so-called “prisoners of conscience.” Later that same month he was charged with another crime and imprisoned for parole violation.
To repeat: while his 2003 arrest happened to come within days of the imprisonment of the 75, Zapata was never part of that group. The Cuban government never accused him of conspiring with---or accepting funds and materials from---a foreign power, charges that were leveled against the 75.
Contrary to what was claimed by the Spanish news agency EFE, Zapata’s name does not appear on the list of the 75 Cuban prisoners drawn up by the United Nations Human Rights Commission in 2003.
Since 2003, at least 20 of the 75 have been released due to health problems, shrinking the number still incarcerated to 55---a level of humanitarian leniency not likely to be emulated in the US criminal justice system. Apparently this news has yet to reach the US media. As of 17 March 2010 the New York Times still referred to the “imprisonment of 75 dissidents.” Even more recently (5 April 2010) an NPR commentator referred to the “75 dissidents being held in Cuba’s prisons.”
The Cuban government argues that to describe the 75 (or 55) as being “prisoners of conscience” or “political dissidents” is to misrepresent the issue. They were never tried for holding dissenting views but for unlawfully collaborating with a hostile foreign power, receiving funds and materials from the US interest section, with the intent to subvert the existing political system in Cuba.
Many countries have such laws, including the USA. As Arnold August points out, the US Penal Code, under Chapter 115 entitled “Treason, Sedition, and Subversion,” Section 2381 stipulates that any US citizen who “adheres to” or gives “aid and comfort . . . within the United States or elsewhere” to a country that US authorities consider to be an enemy “is guilty of treason and shall suffer death, or shall be imprisoned not less than five years and fined under this title but not less than $10,000.” So too, Cuba has legislation directed at those who are funded by hostile foreign powers.
In comparison to the media’s tidal outcry on behalf of Cubans imprisoned in Cuba, consider the coverage accorded the five Cubans imprisoned in the United States. During almost 12 years of incarceration, the Cuban Five have been largely ignored by the corporate media and consequently remain mostly unknown to the US public.
The Five possessed no weapons and committed no act of terror, sabotage or espionage. Gerardo Hernandez, Fernando Gonzalez, Ramon Labañino, Antonio Guerrero and Rene Gonzalez came to the United States during the 1990s to infiltrate and monitor the terrorist activities of private right-wing groups of Cuban exiles. The information they gathered in their undercover work was forwarded to the Cuban government which in turn passed much of it on to the US government with the understanding that the two nations were now supposedly cooperating in a war against terrorism.
In 1998 after receiving evidence of impending terrorist activities planned against Cuba, the FBI went into action. But instead of arresting the right-wing Cubans who were planning the attacks from US soil, the feds apprehended the five Cubans who were working at uncovering such plots.
The five were tried in a federal court in Miami, home to over half a million Cuban exiles. Miami is a community with a long history of hostility toward the Cuban government---a record that a federal appellate court in the United States later described as a “perfect storm” of prejudice, designed to make a fair trial impossible.
The Cuban Five were kept in solitary confinement for 17 months, denied their right to bail and the right to a change of venue. After the longest trial in the history of the United States, they were sentenced by a jury in Miami to four life sentences plus 77 years collectively. The US public outside Miami heard next to nothing about this case---in striking contrast to the lavish treatment later accorded to Zapata Tamayo.
Of those who have managed to hear about the Cuban Five through alternative channels, many have denounced the unfair and unwarranted convictions. On March 6, 2009 in an unprecedented show of support, twelve amicus briefs called upon the US Supreme Court to review the case. Numbering among the Cuban Five’s supporters were ten Nobel Prize winners, the entire Mexican Senate, the National Assembly of Panama, members from every political group within the European Parliament, including three current vice-presidents and two former Presidents, and hundreds of lawmakers from Brazil, Belgium, Chile, Germany, Ireland, Japan, Mexico, Scotland and the United Kingdom.
In 2009 the US Supreme Court, giving no reason, refused to review the case, and the US corporate media continued to ignore it. Meanwhile the Cuban Five, hailed in Cuba as heroes defending their homeland against US sponsored terrorism, continue to serve inflated sentences in US prisons on trumped-up charges.
If US rulers really are interested in fighting oppression and injustice, they might start closer to home. Thus far President Barrack Obama has shown no interest in the case. (Why does this not surprise us?) But other more genuine souls at home and abroad continue to press for justice.
Michael Parenti’s most recent books are God and His Demons (Prometheus, 2010) and Contrary Notions (City Lights, 2007).
Alicia Jrapko is the coordinator in the US of the International Committee for the Freedom of the Cuban Five.
from Ahmed El Aidi :
Date: 16 April 2010
Subject: Individualism, Bureaucracy and the Mass Society.
Hello Mr Feeley,
Hope you're doing fine.
I think this site could be of some interest for my colleagues therefore I wanted to share it. But before that, I wanted to show it to you. It's true that Muhammad Asadi has his own ideas about religion. That's another problem...
However when it comes to grasping the current aims of the "Empire" he is at his best...
Best regards and see you on Wednesday.
Individualism, Bureaucracy and the Mass Society
by Muhammed Asadi
"Once it is fully established bureaucracy is among those social structures which are the hardest to destroy. Bureaucracy is the means of carrying 'community action' over into rationally ordered 'societal action'. Therefore as an instrument for 'societalizing' relations of power, bureaucracy is and has been a power instrument of the first order- for the one who controls the bureaucratic apparatus…Everywhere the modern state is undergoing bureaucratization."(Weber, Gerth and Mills 1946:230, 232)
The bureaucratization of the modern state, according to Max Weber results in a kind of standardization, a homogenization of those that are controlled by such structures. These functionally rational structures therefore offer unprecedented power within a highly specialized division of labor to those that control it. The origin of the global Power Elite can be located in an historical epoch that can be described as post-modern. In this epoch we observe the world as a rapidly rationalizing mega-bureaucracy, in which the 'pathologies' of the now past 'modern' era (that were of concern to the classical theorists) have become generalized as 'normal'. The key to understanding the power of bureaucracy is not only in its rules of conduct or its hierarchy, it is also in the roles it assigns to people as it distributes them throughout society and in the larger global division among the nation states. Not only is every state undergoing 'bureaucratization', such bureaucratization is located within a highly rationalized International System that has linked military and political systems together with the well known economic links through transnational corporations.
Armed with the cultural apparatus that is the mass media and formal education, the captains of bureaucracy (the corporate, state and military elite), ensure that the status quo of inequality is maintained without revolt or redress. The system is automatic because bureaucracy works through social institutions, implicitly forcing people to adapt in order to participate in society. It therefore generates the definition of what is a 'human being' through a personality market that defines the â€˜ideal typeâ€™ men and women, that purchases for the job not only people's time but their personalities as well (Mills 1951). This misery-management machinery has channeled revolution in benign directions, generating propagandistic symbols that have through structural reproduction (self-fulfilling prophecies of behavior) automated the 'divide and rule' phenomenon, dividing people against each other for the benefit of an elite that is highly cohesive as a group. Hiding behind the man are manifest symbols of their legitimating philosophy are the ulterior motives that describe the deeper relationships of capitalist production and markets, globe over.
The global power elite are a status group in whose control is the bureaucracy of the global order. Their subjective belief of considering themselves superior, a 'breed apart' compared to the rest of humanity is displayed in the objective global structure and its dominating ideology, in its stratified distribution of 'life chances' and indeed life itself, a 'caste-like' stratification has been recreated and its boundaries solidified. In order to understand the global order, understanding the personality type of these elite is of paramount importance. Their lifestyle is far removed from Weber's 'puritan ethic' and his caricature of the capitalist 'calling'. It is not in the ethic of 'frugality' that their 'calling' is located, rather they display conspicuous consumption for the purpose of solidarity with other members of their in-group, and those from the political and military spheres they have been forced to accommodate due to necessity. Contrived scarcity, which they force upon the world, is the only 'rugality' they subscribe to. Themselves, they are far above the constraints of any bureaucratic structure, neither the boundaries of nation-states nor any 'constitution' restricts them. Hidden within Weber's quote above (see note), is Durkheim's 'missing link' on how community (mechanical solidarity) can be recreated under maximal division of labor (organic solidarity).
In the post-modern era, both 'modernity' and tribalism have been combined, it is within bureaucracy that not only stifles the freedom of the individual through its impersonal rules and procedures, converting him/her into a standardized 'heerful' robot, who is made cheerful through thinking that he/she is free even though in their false consciousness they play the little roles that are prescribed for them, that this missing-link can be found. For most in such a system of 'masses', there exists a fleeting life because of narrow memories due to a rule rigged existence, in which every day is more or less the same, which ensures a life lived for the corporation, for which one works the best years of his or her life and for which one's leisure activities are standardized and for whom one's kids are nurtured and educated and indeed sacrificed in wars.
The Military Metaphysic, the view of the world in military terms and the resulting continuous war has become a 'taken for granted' state of affairs whose justification is sought by sweeping generalizations about history without any reference to the various types of societies that existed therein, which can never be compared in broad generalizations. Were it not for the implicit control of bureaucracy, never could such a celebration of life though causing mass death as is peculiar to our era have become possible. Never would have religion become so perverted (as under a capitalist system) that it celebrated these inequities and tolerated the perversions of an elite that makes Lucifer look like a saint. A rationalized form of the 'worship of the dead' has been reinvented in that life is meaningless and alienating, attaining meaning only vicariously through the world of movies and entertainment, or thorough (addiction based) escape and death. Mass ignorance of structural
constraints ensures that only in death do the vast majority escape from the confines of the 'Iron Cage'.
Note: Part of Weber's quote above "…the means of carrying 'community action' over into rationally ordered 'societal action'…" [Community would refer to Tonnies' gemeinschaft (similar to Durkheim's Mechanical solidarity) and Society to gesellschaft, based on 'rational will' (similar to Durkheim's Organic Solidarity).
Mills, C. Wright. 1951. White Collar. New York: Oxford University Press.
Mills, C. Wright. 1956. The Power Elite. New York: Oxford University Press.
Weber, Max, Hans Gerth and C. Wright Mills.1946. From Max Weber. New York: Oxford University Press.
from Dahr Jamail :
Date: 18 April 2010
Subject: 2 Stories: Soldier Jailed for Rap Lyrics Is Discharged, and, Iraq Election Sets Off New Political Tussle.
I have two new stories from this past week:
Until April 17, US Army Spc. Marc Hall sat in a military brig at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, facing an imminent court-martial for challenging the US military’s stop-loss policy in a song. Sunday morning, Spc. Hall was granted a discharge by the military.
I've begun co-authoring articles with an Iraqi colleague in Baghdad. This one was posted on April 11 by Inter Press Service:
In 2008 Rethinking Schools and the Washington, D.C.-based education nonprofit Teaching for Change joined together to form the Zinn Education Project, dedicated to promoting the teaching of a people's history in middle and high schools throughout the United States. The Zinn Education Project recently launched a new website, www.zinnedproject.org, that features over 75 downloadable teaching articles, drawn mostly from the archives of Rethinking Schools magazine, and hundreds of teaching resource recommendations: books, curricula, and audiovisual materials.
In early January, the Zinn Education Project joined with HarperCollins, publisher of Howard Zinn's classic A People's History of the United States, to sponsor an "Ask Howard" online radio interview, and invited teachers from around the country to participate. Sixty teachers and students submitted written questions to Professor Zinn. The Jan. 19 interview was conducted by Rethinking Schools Curriculum Editor Bill Bigelow. This turned out to be Howard Zinn's last broadcast interview. He died in California just eight days later.
We are honored to present these excerpts from that interview, edited for length and clarity. The full audio version can be accessed in the news section at www.zinnedproject.org. -- the editors
Bill Bigelow: Howard, thank you for agreeing to answer teachers' questions about teaching a people's history.
Howard Zinn: How could I refuse?
Bigelow: With the horrific events of the last week, I'd like to begin with Haiti. Randall Robinson, the founder of TransAfrica Forum, was on Democracy Now! recently, and he said that now is an opportunity "for the American people to at long last learn the full truth about Haiti and about our relationship with Haiti." What do you think this means for history teachers? What should we be teaching to help students make sense of what's going on there today?
Zinn: The first thing we ought to recognize is that in American education we learn nothing about Haiti -- which is remarkable. Think of how close Haiti is to us and how significant Haiti is. Haiti's was the first war for independence in this hemisphere after the American Revolution. Haiti was an independent republic. It had fought against Napoleon's France, stimulated by the French Revolution, and then had won independence. This was a remarkable thing.
The United States, interestingly enough -- and this is the first thing that people should know because it is such a forerunner of what happens in the next several centuries -- the United States, which had just gone through a revolution itself, refused to recognize the independent country of Haiti, refused to recognize the revolutionary regime. And from that time on, the United States' relationship to Haiti has been paternal, imperialist, negligent. So we become the richest country in the hemisphere and Haiti the poorest country in the hemisphere, and the United States does nothing to alleviate the poverty or help the people of Haiti. In fact, just the opposite: The United States maintains and supports the brutal military regime of the Duvalier government in Haiti after World War II. And the United States is hostile to the first popularly elected president of Haiti, [Jean-Bertrand] Aristide. And the United States has essentially carried on an embargo against Haiti, which has kept that country poor. And in recent years the International Monetary Fund, which is mostly a creature of the United States, has ruined Haiti's agricultural situation, preventing them from growing their own food and sugar and insisting on them buying from other countries. And so, we have contributed to the ruin of Haiti, to their lack of food self-sufficiency. They grew a lot of rice, but now they don't grow rice because they're forced to buy rice from other countries.
In other words, people should learn -- students should learn -- that the relationship between Haiti and the United States has been the relationship of an oppressed colony to an imperial power. That's the background of what is happening today.
Bigelow: This reminds me of the article that you wrote, "Empire or Humanity: What the Classroom Didn't Teach Me About the American Empire." Students have no way to fit Haiti into a broader pattern of U.S. involvement throughout the world.
Zinn: Yes. Think of this: Woodrow Wilson is considered one of our great presidents and they talk about him as an idealist who created or helped create the League of Nations, and so on and so forth -- for self-determined nations. But he did not want self-determination for the Haitians. In 1915, Woodrow Wilson sent in the army to put down a Haitian rebellion so that the United States could continue maintaining control over Haiti, and that occupation lasted for a long time. It lasted from 1915 to 1934. So again, our relationship with Haiti has been very cruel and unjust and that is the background of what is going on today.
Absent from the Curriculum
Bigelow: As long as you bring up Woodrow Wilson, I want to mention the high school history textbook that's adopted in Portland Public Schools here. It's called History Alive!: Pursuing American Ideals, copyright 2008. In its 900 pages, it includes three mentions of Haiti. The first one is in a section called "Wilson Champions Democracy Around the Globe." It says that Wilson's "principles were tested by more turmoil in Latin America. In 1915, a revolt in Haiti prompted him to send Marines to protect American lives and investments." That's the extent of explanation that students get about U.S. intervention or occupation. Which leads to a question from Robert Roth, a U.S. history teacher at Mission High School in San Francisco. This question came in before the earthquake. Robert wants to know why Haiti is so absent in history textbooks and even in progressive texts.
Zinn: It's a small country; it's a poor country. And as happens with so many places in the world, it doesn't loom as important even to the progressive movement. Haiti has been sort of off the map. It's a very common thing that progressive people who will focus on certain very important issues will neglect other issues, and they're left behind.
Just to give you an example which is a little different, here in the United States, we're focusing on various foreign policies and domestic policies but nobody pays any attention to the plight of prisoners in the United States. So we have two million prisoners in the United States. By the way, that's a little nation by itself. And they're invisible. There are certain parts in the world that are simply invisible and certain peoples of the world.
For a long time, Africa, with several hundred million people, was invisible. Much of Latin America is still invisible. Most of our history and history teaching -- and I think teachers can corroborate this -- or they may tell me that it's changed -- most of our history was about Western Europe, European history. And in fact, only in recent decades with the rise of movements in the Third World did they suddenly start giving courses in world history, Third World history. But Europe has always been the center of our attention when we moved outside the United States. And the truth is, we didn't move out of the United States very much.
from : ZNet :
Date: 20 April 2010
Subject: The need for a new radical strategy.
The Center Cannot Hold: Rekindling the Radical Imagination
by Noam Chomsky
One month ago, Joseph Andrew Stack crashed his small plane into an office building in Austin Texas, hitting an IRS office, committing suicide. He left a Manifesto explaining his actions. It was mostly ridiculed, but it deserves much better, I think.
Stack’s manifesto traces the life history that led him to this final desperate act. The story begins when he was a teenage student living on a pittance in Harrisburg PA near the heart of what was once a great industrial center. His neighbor was a woman in her ‘80s, surviving on cat food, the “widowed wife of a retired steel worker. Her husband had worked all his life in the steel mills of central Pennsylvania with promises from big business and the union that, for his 30 years of service, he would have a pension and medical care to look forward to in his retirement. Instead he was one of the thousands who got nothing because the incompetent mill management and corrupt union (not to mention the government) raided their pension funds and stole their retirement. All she had was social security to live on”; and Stack could have added that there have been concerted and continuing efforts by the superrich and their political allies to take even that away on spurious grounds. Stack decided then that he couldn’t trust big business and would strike out on his own, only to discover that he couldn’t trust a government that cared nothing about people like him but only about the rich and privileged; or a legal system in which, in his words, “there are two `interpretations’ for every law, one for the very rich, and one for the rest of us.” A government that leaves us with “the joke we call the American medical system, including the drug and insurance companies [that] are murdering tens of thousands of people a year,” with care rationed largely by wealth, not need. All in a social order in which “a handful of thugs and plunderers can commit unthinkable atrocities… and when it’s time for their gravy train to crash under the weight of their gluttony and overwhelming stupidity, the force of the full federal government has no difficulty coming to their aid within days if not hours.” And much more.
Stack tells us that his desperate final act was an effort to join those who are willing to die for their freedom, in the hope of awakening others from their torpor. It wouldn’t surprise me if he had in mind the premature death of the steel worker that taught him about the real world as a teen-ager. That steel worker didn’t literally commit suicide after having been discarded to the trash heap, but it’s far from an isolated case; we can add his and many similar cases to the colossal toll of the institutional crimes of state capitalism. There are poignant studies of the indignation and rage of those who have been cast aside as the state-corporate programs of financialization and deindustrialization have closed plants and destroyed families and communities. They reveal the sense of acute betrayal on the part of working people who believed they had a fulfilled their duty to society in a moral compact with business and government, only to discover that they had been only instruments for profit and power, truisms from which they had been carefully protected by doctrinal institutions.
There are striking similarities in the world’s second largest economy, investigated by Ching Kwan Lee in her penetrating inquiry into Chinese labor. Lee draws the close comparison between working class outrage and desperation in the discarded industrial sectors of the US and the fury among workers in what she calls China’s rustbelt -- the state socialist industrial center in the Northeast, now abandoned by the state in favor of state capitalist development of the southeast sunbelt. In both regions Lee finds massive labor protests, but different in character. In the rustbelt workers express the same sense of betrayal as their counterparts here, but in their case betrayal of the Maoist principles of solidarity and dedication to development of the society that they thought had been a moral compact, only to discover that whatever it was, it is now bitter fraud. In the sunbelt, the workers lack that cultural tradition and still rely on their home villages for support and family life. They denounce the failure of authorities to live up to even the minimal legal requirements of barely livable workplace conditions and payment of the pittance called salaries. According to official statistics there were 58,000 “mass incidents” of protest in 2003 in one province of the rustbelt, with 3 million people participating. Some 30-40 million workers who were dropped from work units “are plagued by a profound sense of insecurity,” arousing “rage and desperation” around the country, in Lee’s words. She expects that there may be worse to come as a looming crisis of landlessness in the countryside undermines the base for survival of the sunbelt workers, who lack even a semblance of independent unions, while in the rustbelt, workers do not have anything like the civil society support that often exists here. Both Lee’s work and the studies of the US rustbelt make clear that we should not underestimate the depth of moral indignation that lies behind the furious and often self-destructive bitterness about government and business power.
We find something similar in rural India, where food consumption has sharply declined for the great majority since the neoliberal reforms were partially implemented, while peasant suicides are increasing at about the same rate as the number of billionaires, amidst accolades for India’s fabulous growth. Fabulous growth for some, that is – but not so attractive for the workers transferred to India to reduce labor costs by IBM, which now has three-fourths of its work force abroad. Business Week calls IBM the “quintessential American company,” not inappropriately: it became the global giant in computing thanks in large part to the unwitting munificence of the US taxpayer, who also substantially funded the IT revolution on which IBM relies along with most of the rest of the high tech economy – mostly under the pretext that the Russians are coming.
There is much excited talk these days about a great global shift of power, with speculation about whether (or when) China might displace the US as the dominant global power, along with India – which, if it happened, would mean that the global system would be returning to something like what it was before the European conquests. Their recent GDP growth has indeed been spectacular. But there is more to say. In the UN human development index, India retains its place near the bottom, now 134th, slightly above Cambodia, below Laos and Tajikistan. China ranks 92nd, a bit above Jordan, below the Dominican Republic and Iran. By comparison, Cuba, under harsh US attack for 50 years, is ranked 52nd, the highest in Central America and the Caribbean, barely below Argentina and Uruguay. India and China also suffer from extremely high inequality, so well over a billion of their inhabitants fall far lower in the scale. Furthermore, an accurate accounting would go beyond conventional measures to include serious costs that China and India cannot long ignore: ecological, resource depletion, and others.
The speculations about global shift of power overlook something that we all know: nations divorced from the internal distribution of power are not the real actors in international affairs, a truism brought to our attention by that incorrigible radical Adam Smith. He recognized that the principal architects of power in England were the owners of the society, in his day the merchants and manufacturers, who made sure that policy would attend scrupulously to their interests however “grievous” the impact on the people of England and worse, the victims of “the savage injustice of the Europeans” abroad: British crimes in India were the main concern of an old-fashioned conservative with moral values.
To his modern worshippers, Smith’s truisms are ridiculed as “elaborate theories of how world history was being manipulated by shadowy corporatist/imperialist networks,” one of the tragic legacies of the ‘60s, to quote NYT thinker David Brooks; actually the ‘70s, 1776 to be exact. One of many illustrations of how the intellectual and moral level of today’s “conservatism” compares to what its heroes understood full well.
In the interests of full disclosure, I should mention that I’m identified as the villain who adopts Adam Smith’s heresy.
Bearing Smith’s radical truism in mind, we can see that there is indeed a global shift of power, though not the one that occupies center stage: a shift from the global work force to transnational capital, sharply escalating during the neoliberal years. The cost is substantial, including the Joe Stacks of the US, starving peasants in India, and millions of protesting workers in China, where labor share in national income is declining even more rapidly than in most of the world.
In his very illuminating work, Martin Hart-Landsberg observes that China plays a leading role in the real global shift of power, having become largely an assembly plant for a regional production system. Japan, Taiwan, other Asian economies export parts and components to China, and provide most of the advanced technology. Much concern has been aroused by the growing US trade deficit with China, but less noticed is the fact that the trade deficit with Japan and rest of Asia has sharply declined as the new regional production system takes shape. US manufacturers are following the same course, providing parts and components for China to assemble and export, mostly back to the US. For the financial institutions, retail giants, ownership and management of manufacturing industries, and sectors closely related to this nexus of power, all if this is heavenly. Not for Joe Stack and many others like him.
To understand the public mood it is worthwhile to recall that the conventional use of GDP to measure economic growth is highly misleading. There have been efforts to devise more realistic measures, such as the General Progress Indicator, which subtracts from GDP expenditures that harm the public (crime, pollution, etc.) and adds estimated value of authentic benefits (volunteer work, leisure, etc.). In the US, GPI has stagnated since the 1970s, though GDP has increased, the growth going into very few pockets. That result correlates with studies of social indicators, the standard measure of health of a society. They tracked economic growth until the mid-1970s, then began to decline, reaching the level of 1960 by 2000 (the latest figures available). The correlation with financialization of the economy and neoliberal socio-economic measures is hard to miss, and not unique to the US by any means.
It’s true that there is nothing essentially new in the process of deindustrialization. Owners and managers naturally seek the lowest labor costs; efforts to do otherwise, famously by Henry Ford, were struck down by the courts, so now it is a legal obligation. One means is shifting production. In earlier days the shift was mostly internal, especially to the southern states, where labor could be more harshly repressed. Major corporations, like the US steel corporation of the sainted philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, could also profit from the new slave labor force created by the criminalization of black life after the end of Reconstruction in 1877, a core part of the American industrial revolution, continuing until World War II. It is being reproduced in part during the recent neoliberal period, with the drug war used as a pretext to drive the superfluous population, mostly black, back to the prisons, also providing a new supply of prison labor in state or private prisons, much of it in violation of international labor conventions. For many African-Americans, since they were exported to the colonies life has scarcely escaped the bonds of slavery, or sometimes worse.
In the ultra-respectable Bulletin of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, we can read that “The prison system in America has grown into a leviathan unmatched in human history,” making the US “the home to the largest custodial infrastructure for the mass depredation of liberty to be found on the planet,” mostly black, a product of the past 30 years, as is the fact that the US “leads the world not only in incarceration rates but in executive compensation,” facts that are “increasingly recognized to be linked, a Harvard Business School professor points out, as is the fact the fact that the US is lagging far behind much of the world, particularly China but Europe as well, in green technologies.
It is easy to ridicule some of the ways in which Joe Stack and others like him articulate their very genuine and just concerns, but it’s far more appropriate to understand what lies behind their perceptions and actions, and particularly, to ask ourselves why the radical imagination is failing to offer them a constructive path while the center is very visibly not holding, and those who have real grievances are being mobilized in ways that pose no slight danger, to themselves and others.
Stack’s manifesto ends with two evocative sentences: “The communist creed: From each according to his ability, to each according to his need. The capitalist creed: From each according to his gullibility, to each according to his greed.”
Stack minces no words about the capitalist creed. We can only speculate about what he meant by the communist creed that he counterposed to it. It’s not unlikely that he regarded it as an ideal with gemuine moral force. If so, that would not be too surprising. Some of you may recall a poll in 1976, on the bicentennial, in which people were given a list of statements and asked which they thought were in the Constitution. At that time, no one had a clue what was in the Constitution, so the answer “in the Constitution” presumably meant: “so obviously correct that it must be in the Constitution.” One statement that received a solid majority was Joe Stack’s “Communist creed.”
I qualified the comment with the phrase “at that time.” Today, a segment of the population memorizes and worships the Constitution, the words at least. The recent Tea Party convention produced its catechism for candidates: one requirement is that they must agree to scrap the tax code and replace it with one no longer than 4,543 words -- to match the length of the Constitution, unamended. Only some amendments share this holy status, particularly the Second under the recent interpretation by the Supreme Court reactionaries, but the First Amendment is more questionable because of what it might be taken to imply about separation of Church and State. On the same day, Texas announced its new textbook requirements, which apply to the whole country because of the size of the Texas market. Jefferson was cut from the list of those who inspired 18th and 19th century revolutions, replaced by Thomas Aquinas, Calvin and Blackstone. The decision reflects the distaste for Jefferson because, among other heresies, he coined the phrase “separation between church and state.” For today’s version of conservatism the US is a Christian country, something like the Islamic Republic of Iran, or the Jewish State of Israel. In that connection, Golda Meir is listed as required learning for children, but no Hispanics. Along with normal racism, that reflects the curious amalgam of extreme anti-Semitism and support for Israel among right-wing religious sectors. Such matters are of no slight significance when we try to look ahead.
The anti-tax extremism of the Tea Party movement is not as immediately suicidal as Joe Stack’s desperate action, but it is suicidal nonetheless, for reasons that need no elaboration. California today is a dramatic illustration. The world’s greatest public system of higher education is being dismantled. Governor Schwarzenegger says he'll have to eliminate state health and welfare programs unless the federal government forks over some $7 billion, and other governors are joining in. At the same time a powerful states rights movement is taking shape demanding that the federal government not intrude into our affairs – a nice illustration of what Orwell called “doublethink”: the ability to hold two contradictory ideas in mind while believing both of them, practically a motto for the times. California’s plight results in large part from anti-tax fanaticism. It’s much the same elsewhere, even in affluent suburbs.
Encouraging anti-tax sentiment has long been a staple of the business propaganda that dominates the doctrinal system. People must be indoctrinated to hate and fear the government, for good reasons: of existing power systems, the government is the one that in principle, and sometimes in fact, is answerable to the public and can impose some constraints on the depredations of private power; the corollary to “getting government off our backs” is groaning beneath the even greater weight of unaccountable private tyrannies. But business anti-government propaganda has to be nuanced: business of course favors a very powerful state that works for Adam Smith’s principal architects, today not merchants and manufacturers, but multinationals and financial institutions. Constructing this internally contradictory propaganda message is no easy task. Thus people have to be trained to hate and fear the deficit, a necessary means to stimulate the economy after its destruction at the hands of the dominant financial institutions and their cohorts in Washington. But at the same time the population must favor the deficits, almost half attributable to the growing military budget, which is breaking records, and the rest predicted to overwhelm the budget thanks to the cruel and hopelessly inefficient privatized health care system, a gift to the insurance companies and big Pharma.
Despite such difficulties, the propaganda tasks have been carried with impressive success. One illustration is the public attitude towards April 15, when tax returns are due. Let’s put aside for the moment the thought of a much more free and just society. In a functioning democracy of the kind that formally exists, April 15 would be a day of celebration: we are coming together to implement programs that we have chosen. Here it is a day of mourning: some alien force is descending upon us to steal our hard-earned money. That’s one graphic indication of the success of the intense efforts of the highly class-conscious business community to win what its publications call “the everlasting battle for the minds of men,” and like even the most vulgar propaganda it has grains of truth that the Joe Stacks perceive.
Another stunning illustration of the success of propaganda, with considerable import for the future, is the cult of the killer and torturer Ronald Reagan, one of the grand criminals of the modern era, who also had an unerring instinct for favoring the most brutal terrorists and murderers around the world, from Zia ul-Haq and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar in today’s Afpak to the most dedicated killers in Central America to the South African racists who killed an estimated 1.5 million people and had to be supported because they were under attack by Nelson Mandela’s ANC, one of “more notorious terrorist groups” in the world, the Reaganites determined in 1988. And on and on, with remarkable consistency. His grisly record was quickly expunged in favor of mythic constructions that would have impressed Kim il-Sung. Among other feats, he was anointed as the apostle of free markets while raising protectionist barriers more than any postwar president – probably more than all others combined -- and implementing massive government intervention in the economy. He is hailed as the grand exponent of small government and of law and order. Government grew relative to GDP during his years in office, while he informed the business world that labor laws would not be enforced, so that illegal firing of union organizers tripled under his supervision. His hatred of working people was exceeded perhaps only by his contempt for the rich black women driving in limousines to collect their welfare checks.
There should be no need to continue with the record, but the outcome tells us a lot about the intellectual and moral culture. For President Obama, this monstrous creature was a “transformative figure.”At Stanford University’s prestigious Hoover Institution, he is revered as a colossal figure whose “spirit seems to stride the country, watching us like a warm and friendly ghost.” We arrive in Washington at Reagan International Airport – or if we prefer, at John Foster Dulles International Airport, honoring another prominent terrorist commander. His achievements include installing the torture regime of the Shah and the reign of the most vicious of the terrorists of Central America, whose exploits reached true genocide in the highlands while Reagan praised the worst of the mass murderers, Rioss Montt, as “a man of great personal integrity” who was “totally dedicated to democracy” and was receiving a “bum rap” from human rights organizations.
Painfully to record, many of the Joe Stacks whose lives the “warm and friendly ghost” was ruining join in the adulation, and hasten to shelter under the umbrella of the power and violence that he symbolized.
All of this evokes memories of other days when the center did not hold. One example that should not be forgotten is the Weimar Republic: the peak of western civilization in the sciences and the arts, also regarded as a model of democracy. Through the 1920s the traditional liberal and conservative parties that had always governed the Reich entered into inexorable decline, well before the process was intensified by the Great Depression. The coalition that elected General Hindenburg in 1925 was not very different from the mass base that swept Hitler into office 8 years later, compelling the aristocratic Hindenburg to select as Chancellor the “little corporal” he despised. As late as 1928 the Nazis had less than 3% of the vote. Two years later the most respectable Berlin press was lamenting the sight of the many millions in this “highly civilized country” who had “given their vote to the commonest, hollowest and crudest charlatanism.” The center was collapsing. The public was coming to despise the incessant wrangling of Weimar politics, the service of the traditional parties to powerful interests and their failure to deal with popular grievances. They were drawn to the forces dedicated to upholding the greatness of the nation and defending it against perceived threats in a revitalized, armed and unified state, marching to a glorious future, led by the charismatic figure who was carrying out “the will of eternal Providence, the Creator of the universe,” as he orated to the mesmerized masses. By May 1933 the Nazis had largely destroyed not only the traditional ruling parties but even the huge working class parties, the Social Democrats and Communists, along with their very powerful associations. The Nazis declared May Day 1933 to be a workers holiday, something the left parties had never been able to achieve. Many working people took part in the enormous patriotic demonstrations, with more than a million people at the heart of Red Berlin, joining farmers, artisans, shopkeepers, paramilitary forces, Christian organizations, athletic and riflery clubs, and the rest of the coalition that was taking shape as the center collapsed. By the onset of the war perhaps 90% of Germans were marching with the brownshirts.
The world is too complex for history to repeat, but there are nevertheless lessons to keep in mind, and even memories. I am just old enough to remember those chilling and ominous days of Germany’s descent from decency to Nazi barbarism, in the words of the distinguished scholar of German history Fritz Stern, who tells us that he has the future of the United States in mind when he reviews “a historic process in which resentment against a disenchanted secular world found deliverance in the ecstatic escape of unreason.”
That is one possible outcome of collapse of the center when the radical imagination, though powerful at the time, nonetheless fell short.
The popular mood today is complex, in ways that are both hopeful and troubling. One illustration is attitudes towards social spending on the part of those who identify themselves in polls as “anti-government.” A recent scholarly study finds that by large majorities, they support “maintaining or expanding spending on Social Security, child care, and aid to poor people” and other social welfare measures, though support falls off significantly “when it came to aid to blacks and welfare recipients.” Half of these advocates of reducing the role of government believe “that spending is too little [on] assistance to the poor.” In the population as a whole, majorities, in some cases substantial, feel the government is spending too little to improve and protect the nation’s health, and on Social Security, drug addiction, and child care programs – though again, there is an exception on aid for blacks and welfare recipients, partly a tribute to Reaganite thuggery, I suspect.
The results give some indication of what might be achieved by commitments even far short of the radical imagination, and of some of the impediments that will have to be overcome for these and much more far-reaching purposes.
The Massachusetts election in January, which undermined majority rule in the Senate, gives some further insight into what can happen when the center does not hold and those who believe in even limited measures of reform fail to reach the population. In the election to fill the seat of the Senate’s “liberal lion,” Ted Kennedy, Scott Brown ran as the 41st vote against health care, which Kennedy had fought for throughout his political life. A majority opposed Obama’s proposals, but primarily because they gave away too much to the insurance industry. Much the same is true nationally.
One interesting feature was the voting pattern among union members, Obama’s natural constituency. Of those who bothered to vote, a majority chose Brown. Union leaders and activists reported that workers were angered at Obama’s record generally, but particularly incensed over his stand on health care. As one reported, “He didn’t insist on a public option nor a strong employer mandate to provide insurance. It was hard not to notice that the only issue on which he took a firm stand was taxing benefits” for the health care won by union struggles, retracting his campaign pledge.
There was a massive infusion of funds from financial executives in the final days of the campaign. That was one part of a broader phenomenon, which reveals dramatically why Joe Stack and others have every reason to be disgusted at the farce that they were taught to honor as democracy.
Obama’s primary constituency was financial institutions, which have gained such dominance in the economy that their share of corporate profits rose from a few percent in the ‘70s to almost 1/3 today. They preferred Obama to McCain, and largely bought the election for him. They expected to be rewarded, and were. But a few months ago, responding to the rising anger of the Joe Stacks, Obama began to criticize the “greedy bankers” who had been rescued by the public, and even proposed some measures to constrain their excesses. Punishment for his deviation was swift. The major banks announced prominently that they would shift funding to Republicans if Obama persisted with his offensive rhetoric.
Obama heard the message. Within days he informed the business press that bankers are fine “guys.” He singled out for special praise the chairs of the two leading beneficiaries of public largesse, JP Morgan Chase and Goldman Sachs, and assured the business world that “I, like most of the American people, don’t begrudge people success or wealth,” such as the huge bonuses and profits that are infuriating the public. “That’s part of the free market system,” Obama continued; not inaccurately, as “free markets” are interpreted in state capitalist doctrine. His retreat however was not in time to curb the flow of cash to help gain the 41 street seat.
In fairness, we should concede that the greedy bankers have a point. Their task is to maximize profit and market share, in fact that’s their legal obligation. If they don’t do it, they’ll be replaced by someone who will. These are institutional facts, as are the inherent market inefficiencies that require them to ignore systemic risk. They know full well that this oversight is likely to tank the economy, but such externalities are not their business, and cannot be, for institutional reasons. It is also unfair to accuse them of “irrational exuberance,” to borrow Alan Greenspan’s brief recognition of reality during the tech boom of the late ‘90s. Their exuberance was hardly irrational: it was quite rational, in the knowledge that when it all collapses, they can flee to the shelter of the nanny state, clutching their copies of Hayek, Friedman, and Rand. The same is true of the Chamber of Commerce, the American Petroleum Institute, and the rest of the business leaders who are running a massive propaganda campaign to convince the public to dismiss concerns about anthropogenic global warming – with great success; those who believe in this liberal hoax have reduced to barely a third of the population. The executives dedicated to this task know as well as the rest of us that the liberal hoax is real, and the prospects grim. But they are fulfilling their institutional role. The fate of the species is an externality that they must ignore, to the extent that market systems prevail.
Returning to the very instructive Massachusetts election, the major factor was voting patterns. In the affluent suburbs, voting was high and enthusiastic. In the urban areas, heavily Democratic, voting was low and apathetic. The headlines were right to report that voters were sending Obama a message: the message from the rich was that we want even more than what you are doing for us. And from the rest, the message was Joe Stack’s: in his words, the politicians are not “the least bit interested in me or anything I have to say,” though very much interested in the voices of the masters. Doubtless there was some impact of the populist image crafted by the PR machine (“I’m Scott Brown, this is my truck,” “regular guy,” nude model, etc.). But this appears to have had only a secondary role. The popular anger is real and entirely understandable, with the banks thriving thanks to bailouts and many other gifts from the nanny state while the population remains in deep recession. Even official unemployment is at 10% and in manufacturing industry at the level of the Great Depression, with one out of six unemployed, and with few prospects for recovering the kinds of jobs that are lost as the economy is being reshaped.
National polls reveal much the same phenomenon. The latest, a few days ago, shows a 21-point enthusiasm gap between the parties, with 67% of Republicans saying they are very interested in the November elections, compared with 46% of Democrats. In a major shift from the norm, by a 10-point margin registered voters with the highest interest in the November elections said they believe the Republicans are better at dealing with the economy, a combination of a solid Republican (mostly affluent) sector and disillusioned Democrats. Half of Americans would like to see every member of Congress defeated in the election, including their own representative. The public conception of democracy is almost as negative as that of the business world, which is now lobbying fiercely to ensure that even shareholders should have no say in choice of managers, let alone stakeholders, the workforce and communities; though some liberals are seeking to find “`a fair position’ that straddles the divide between companies and shareholders,” as the Wall Street Journal puts it, implicitly recognizing the decision of the courts a century ago that the corporation is identical to the management.
It is true that there was a stimulus, much too small but it had an effect – saving over 2 million jobs according to the Congressional Budget Office. But the perception of the Joe Stacks that it was a bust is not without basis. Over a third of government spending is by states, and the decline in state spending approximated the federal stimulus, so the aggregate fiscal expenditure stimulus was flat, according to a study by the prestigious National Bureau of Economic Research.
The center is clearly not holding, and those who are harmed are once again shooting themselves in the foot. The immediate consequence in Massachusetts was a vote to block the appointment of a pro-union voice at the NLRB, which has been virtually defunct since Reagan’s successful war against working people. That is what can be expected in the absence of constructive alternatives.
Do these exist? Let’s have a look at the industrial heartland, in Ohio, where GM continues to close plants. A few weeks ago, Louis Uchitelle of the New York Times, one of the few journalists who pays attention to labor issues, reported from the scene of one recently closed plant. He writes that President Obama “never sought to reopen the factory even after the federal government became controlling shareholder in G.M. during the auto bailout. What he has done instead is try to ease some of the pain by sending an ambassador as a salve for the community’s wounds, offer[ing] hope and aid” – the aid mostly suggestions. Meanwhile another Ambassador, Secretary of Transportation Roy Lahood, was in Spain, offering federal stimulus money to Spanish firms to produce the high speed rail facilities that the US badly needs, and that could surely be produced by the highly skilled work force that is reduced to penury in Ohio. Joe Stack’s experience in Harrisburg again.
In 1999, as a Republican Congressman, Lahood introduced a bill that would have provided federal financing for transportation infrastructure. It would have authorized the Treasury to provide $72 billion a year in interest-free loans to state and local governments for capital investments, including investment in transportation infrastructure, not borrowing the money but issuing US notes, much as Lincoln did to finance the Civil War and as FDR did during the Great Depression. Today’s Lahood is using federal stimulus money to obtain contracts in Spain for the same purpose. Another sign of how the center has been shifting to the right in the past 40 years.
The radical imagination should suggest an answer. The factory could be taken over by the workforce with the support of the communities that are left desolate, and converted to production of high speed rail facilities and other badly needed goods. The idea is not particularly radical. In the 19th century, it was intuitively obvious to New England workers that “those who work in the mills should own them,” and the idea that wage labor differed from slavery only in that it was temporary was so common that it was even a slogan of Lincoln’s Republican party. During the recent years of financialization and deindustrialization there have been repeated efforts to implement worker and community takeover of closing plants. The ideas not only have immediate moral appeal to the affected workforce and communities, but should be quite feasible with sufficient public support. And far-reaching in their implications.
For the radical imagination to be rekindled and to lead the way out of this desert what is needed is people who will work to sweep away the mists of carefully contrived illusion and reveal the stark reality, and to be directly engaged in popular struggles that they sometimes help galvanize. What we need, in short, is the late Howard Zinn, a terrible loss. There won’t be another Howard Zinn, but we can take to heart his praise for “the countless small actions of unknown people” that lie at the roots of the great moments of history, the countless Joe Stacks who are destroying themselves, and maybe the world, when they could be leading the way to a better future.
from ICH :
Date: 19 April 2010
Subject: More from the makers of "The Permanent War Economcy". . . .
Iran is a danger to the whole civilized world, not just Israel, President Shimon Peres warned Sunday, setting an especially somber tone for his nation's annual memorial day for soldiers and civilians killed in wars and terror attacks.
from Mark Crispin Miller :
Date: 19 April 2010
Subject: Obama/Holder nail a whistleblower (something BushCo never did).