Bulletin N°514


6 January 2012
Grenoble, France

4 January 2012
Grenoble, France

Dear Colleagues and Friends of CEIMSA,

It was the French historian Marc Bloch, I believe, who in his book Strange Defeat,  (written in 1940, and published posthumously after 1944, following his execution by the Gestapo), wrote of the surreal nature of daily life in Vichy France. People had become caricatures of themselves: during this Fascist period plumbers plumbed; carpenters constructed; salesmen sold; buyers bought; teachers taught; repairmen repaired --and life went on as just as before, if you didn't notice the "incidences" around you which might remind you that fascist policies were being implemented continuously. It was one of those things just "too big to see," but people could only pretended to be normal; their social lives became empty rituals, re-enacting what once had been their vital activities with positive results. (A similar experience of inauthentic behavior was found inside concentration camps, where the Kapo was silently hated and feared.)

British communications professor, Anthony Wilden, has contributed to our understanding of such contradictions (as opposed to mere oppositions). Both verbal and material contradictions, he points out in his book, The Rules Are No Game (1987), involve a leap to a different logical level. The recognition of such a leap can produce a laugh; it can also produce a revolution, bearing in mind that such changes occur collectively and at the local level, or they don’t occur at all . . . .

The verbal contradiction, on the one hand, is illustrated in the joke about the man who announced to his friend that he had recently met a person with a wooden leg named Smith. 
His friend inquired, "What was the name of the other leg?"

A material sort of contradiction, on the other hand, is found in an event in the life of my university friend, Brian Peterson, who studied in graduate school with me at Wisconsin and who was fond of identifying oppositions and resolving contradictions. He had grown up in a farming community in Ohio, and he had an artificial leg due to a childhood accident on his father's farm. He was working with his father during corn harvest and stepped into a grinding machine which caught his right leg. Brian's father was determined that his son would grow up like a "normal" child, which in Ohio meant that he would play high school football, despite his handicap. He suffered considerable humiliation for a long time, he told me, but also grew interested in epistemological questions such as the limits of our knowledge of material reality. He studied German and Russian languages and eventually got his Ph.D. in history, with a deep understanding of Hegel, Marx, Soviet Marxism, and his father.

Another father’s advice, some 3000 years ago is recorded on an Egyptian papyrus, which reads:

Put writing in your heart [my son] that you may protect yourself from hard labor of any kind, and be a magistrate of high repute. The scribe is released from all manual tasks; it is he who commands. I have seen the metal worker at his task at the mouth of his furnace, with fingers like a crocodile. He stank worse than fish-spawn. I have not seen a blacksmith on a commission, a founder who goes on an embassy." (cited by Stephen Mason, in A History of the Sciences, 1962, p. 23.)

Often contradictions cannot be avoided; they are usually felt, but seldom are they recognized for what they are. As Henri Lefebvre pointed out in Everyday Life in the Modern World, we are more likely to produce alibis, with the help of caricatures and stereotypes, than cogent analyses of what is actually happening and how it affects us.  In the multiple crises we are now living, not a few of my fellow petit bourgeoisie are attempting to feather their nests, preparing for a very cold winter. Investments in second houses have become fashionable for those who can afford it, with the hope of being able to supplement their monthly incomes with rental property, mostly studios and apartments for students, who seem to be willing to go without meals when it is necessary in order for them to pay their rents . . . .

In an altogether different context, writing about political symbolism and social class consciousness during the French Revolution Lynn Hunt, in her book, Politics, Culture, and Class in the French Revolution (1984), discussed what appropriate description might best fit the new political class of "democratic republicans."

    Was the new political class 'bourgeois' in a Marxist sense? If Marxist is interpreted somewhat loosely, the answer is Yes. There are two distinct  parts to the answer, because  there are two analytically separate parts in the Marxist concept of class: social position in the relations of production and class consciousness. Marx himself emphasized the former in his theoretical works (e.g., Capital), but he gave considerable emphasis to the latter in his historical works (especially his various writings on the 1848 revolutions in France and Germany); Marx's classic statement of their interrelation can be found in The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte: 'In so far as millions of families live under economic conditions of existence that separate their mode of life, their interests, and their culture from those of the other classes, and put them in hostile opposition to the latter, they form a class. In so far as there is merely a local interconnection among [them], and the identity of their interests begets no community, no national bond, and no political organization among them, they do not form a class.' For Marx, class formation depends on both economic condition and culture, social category and consciousness. In this particular passage, Marx was concerned to explain the general passivity of peasants during the 1848 revolution in France; peasants failed to act together because they did not form a class. Marx's analysis can also be taken as an explanation of the peasantry's relative underrepresentation in the 1789 revolution; peasants were usually isolated from the mainstream of political life, and they depended on others (innkeepers, tailors, shopkeepers, etc.) for information and representation of their interests.
     The revolutionary political class can be termed 'bourgeois' both in terms of social position and of class consciousness. The revolutionary officials were the owners of the means of production; they were either merchants with capital, professionals with skills, artisans with their own shops, or, more rarely, peasants with land. The unskilled, the wageworkers, and the landless peasants were not found in positions of leadership or even in large numbers among the rank and file. The 'consciousness' of the revolutionary elite can be labeled bourgeois in so far as it was distinctly anti-feudal, anti-aristocratic, and anti-absolutist.   . . .  The revolutionary elite was made up of new men dedicated to fashioning a new France. (pp. 176-177)

In the conclusion of her study of 18th-century French politics, culture, and class, Professor Hunt asserts that,

Democratic republicanism was made possible by contradiction in Old Regime political culture, but it only took definite shape in the midst of revolution, when it was given voice and form by a new political class, which itself was molded by its responses to new ideas and new symbols. Democratic and revolutionary republicanism is France did not lead directly to capitalism, socialism, the rule of notables, or a strong central state.  . . .  The core of the Napoleonic elite was made up of disenchanted republicans who preferred a stabilizing modernization to the upheavals and uncertainties of widespread political participation. (Hunt, pp.233 & 235)

The legacy of the French middle-class revolution is summed up by Alexis de Tocqueville in his book, The Old Regime and the French Revolution (1856), which Lynn Hunt quotes at the end of her work:

Thus the French are at once the most brilliant and the most dangerous of all European nations, and the best qualified to become, in the eyes of other people, an object of admiration, of hatred, of compassion, or alarm –never of indifference.” (de Tocqueville, p. 13, cited by Hunt, p.236)

The same problematic –social order or social change-- was raised nearly two hundred years after the French Revolution: the famous graffiti that was written on a wall at the University of Paris in 1968 read: " HUMANITY WON’T BE HAPPY TILL THE LAST BUREAUCRAT IS HUNG WITH THE GUTS OF THE LAST CAPITALIST" (This was obviously inspired by of the popular 18th-century slogan: Humanity won’t be happy till the last aristocrat is hung with the guts of the last priest.)

Such fierce cries for political freedom were typical of the student movement on campuses from Berlin to Berkeley. Students in Paris, echoing the revolutionary bourgeoisie during the Revolution --the majority of the Jacobins called for "liberty" from the tyranny of the rich and powerful, but as the tide turned one heard less and less the cry for "economic equality," for the redistribution of wealth; and almost never for "the abolition of private ownership of property." The latter-day Marats and Babeufs in 1968 had no "Sections," no "Communes,"and no "Club Cordeliers" to listen to and to interact with. As a result their cry was for political freedom, and they were almost silent on the question of abolishing the private ownership of property.

What occurred in the eighteenth century is the leaders of the Jacobins, like those of the Girondins before them, formed an alliance with the forces of order who represented the interests of the "revolutionary" property owners, who now sought to consolidate their wealth and  who wanted only the freedom to grow richer, to secure their private ownership of property, and together with their former enemies --the aristocracy-- defend themselves from the masses of poor peasants and artisans by stopping the revolution and institutionalizing its short-term gains. The call for "economic equality" and "the abolition of private property" was displaced by the cry for "liberty." This unfinished revolution produced a tradition of "ex-revolutionaries" who have adopted the authoritarianism common to both Jacobin and Napoleonic strategies by constantly militating toward "standardizations" and "social order," and against direct democracy. –the former has proven to be practical (if we accept the necessary human sacrifices which are required); the latter is thought to be chimerical; the rest is history . . . .

Peter Kropotkin, a defender of direct democracy in his study of the Great French Revolution, emphasized that the call for "economic equality" is not identical to the demand that the institution of private ownership of property must be abolished. Human fulfillment cannot be measured by mathematical formulas attempting to impose some abstract idea of Equality; rather the understanding that "private" ownership involves the act of "de-priving" people of the necessities of life is to focus attention on the systemic nature of social relationships, and to assign a top priority to "human fulfillment," which requires collective ownership in human society so that humanity can develop in all its diversity in interconnected spaces which are governed directly by the occupants in an everyday fashion.

Today, we see the ghosts of this unfulfilled revolutionary mandate wandering the streets of large cities and towns, and in the depressed rural regions of Europe and of the Americas, constantly harassed by the forces of order. Mike Davis' book Planet of Slums reminds readers of where we are standing and in what direction fundamental contradictions are taking us. If you close your eyes and think of something else, of course, you may find temporary relief in the distraction. But we seem to be moving ineluctably in a direction toward increasing authoritarianism and institutionalized prejudices –and this movement is occurring whether our eyes are open or closed. “According to the United Nations, more than one billion people now live in the slums of the cities of the South.

The Pentagon’s best minds have dared to venture where most United Nations, World Bank or Department of State types fear to go: down the road that logically follows from the abdication of urban reform.  . . .  With coldblooded lucidity, they now assert that the ‘feral, failed cities’ of the Third World –especially their slum outskirts —will be the distinctive battlespace of the twenty-first century. Pentagon doctrine is being reshaped accordingly to support a low-intensity world war of
unlimited duration against criminalized segments of the urban poor. This is the true ‘clash of civilizations.’ (Davis, p.205)

In this ancient theater of Ideology, religious thought has played a classic role. Take, for example, the history of African American slaves. They were kidnapped from their homelands by the tens of millions and bought and sold as slaves on American plantations. The wretched material conditions of this labor exploitation are well known and so is the ideology to which it gave rise. The slaves’ belief in an all-powerful God and the promise of reward in an afterlife represents the very opposite of the belief in one's own power to change the here-and-now. The creation of the idea of a personal God constitutes an inversion, an imaginary reversal of real material relationships within a systemic political economy of which we are all a part. Furthermore, this imaginary inversion of real material relationships conceals fundamental contradictions, such as the fact that a small category of people are dominating a much larger category of people by soliciting their cooperation in various ways. Here we see how an ideology successfully conceals the power of the vast majority of people, who if organized would be capable at any moment of ending this relationship of domination/subjugation, the creation and maintenance of which they themselves have played an active role. Thus, as if by an act of magic, ideology makes the powerful appear to be powerless, and imaginary relationships serve to conceal real ones. This is the "distorting" function of all ideologies, according to the original writings of  Karl Marx.

From a human point of reference --which is to say historically (as opposed to geologically, cosmically, or theologically)-- our collective situation is bad and getting worse. With this most social scientists concur, and in  the midst of this debacle a new species of thought seems to have appeared, carried out by a legion of professionals, trained and prepared to bury all casualties in a catacomb of fantastic oratory --words constructing imaginary escape routes from the inevitable collision ahead.

In the 5 items below CEIMSA readers will be able to see what the world might look like without imaginary inversions of material relationships that constitute ideologies which conceal fundamental contradictions. We all would be free to use our powers consciously and creatively without depriving others of their rights.

Item A. is an essay by former Senator James Abourezk, commenting on the buildup of another war in the Middle East, this time in Iran.
Item B., sent to us by Michael Parenti, is a video of the Hitchens vs. Parenti Debate of 2004.

Item C., from Reader Supported News, is an article by Gar Alperovitz suggesting an alternative US political economy: “worker-owned enterprises.”

Item D., sent to us by Truth Out, is an article by Henry A. Giroux and Susan Searls Giroux on “Big Money, Big Sports, Big Scandal, and American Universities Gone Wild.”
Item E. is a series of informative Internet links from Historians Against War

Item F. is William Blum’s latest Anti-Empire Report, 3 Janaury 2012.

Item G. is an article by Jonathan M. Feldman reporting on a recent debate over the feasibility of Capitalist Reconstruction in the near future.

And finally, we offer CEIMSA readers a lengthy illustration of the bourgeois property-owners' declaration :

I'll never be hungry again !


Francis McCollum Feeley
Professor of American Studies
Director of Research
Université Stendhal Grenoble 3

James Abourezk :
Date: 4 January 2012
The War Drums Against Iran.

There They Go Again
Pounding the War Drums Against Iran

by James Abourezk

I watched another news program today­this one on MSNBC­with Dylan Ratigan shouting into the camera that if Iran shuts down the Strait of Hormuz through which 40 per cent of the world’s oil flows, it is an act of war.

That’s true.

However, like most everything we watch on news programs, history does not begin with the latest reaction of someone who feels aggrieved. Much like a football referee seeing only the last fist flying, blind to the first punch, the retaliating party is the one who gets the penalty.

With many other Americans, I’ve been watching the buildup to another war in the Middle East ­this one with Iran. And it scares me to death. The President lays more and more sanctions on Iran because of fears of its nuclear program­fears that it might by, in Condee Rice’s terminology, “a mushroom cloud.” Forgive me for comparing the language of today with what we heard just before George W. Bush gave the order to invade Iraq.

But just like the run-up to the Iraq War, we are being pushed by pro-Israeli supporters here in America into doing Israel’s dirty work. Then, when the final butcher’s bill is paid­by American blood and American money­the government of Israel sits back and denies having anything to do with the war. And American politicians will allow them to sell this denial.

Just as Saddam Hussein was a danger only to his own population, Iran has no means or reason to start a war against anyone in the Middle East, especially Israel. As mouthy as Ahmedinejad is, Iran has no offensive capability. If it is developing a nuclear warhead, and even the IAEA is not certain about it, the mullahs who run Iran are not crazy enough to use such a weapon without causing their entire nation­including themselves–to be destroyed by Israel’s 200 plus nuclear warheads.

Iran has a small navy, although a large number of soldiers, no air force to speak of, and, I repeat here, no offensive capability. What worries Israel is the fear that Iran will prevent Israel from achieving hegemony over the entire Arab World. Israel fears Iran’s allies, such as Hizbollah in Lebanon, and Syria, and now Shiite Iraq, all of them preventing Israel from controlling any of those neighbors.

Israel also fears a slowdown of Jewish immigrants to Israel and tourists to Israel, all reacting to the drumbeat of fear begun by Israel itself.

What worries me is that Barack Obama is so afraid of the Israeli Lobby that he will do virtually anything to secure the Jewish vote this year. Every time he is accused of being soft on Iran, he increases his anti-Iran actions another notch. It would be nice to know that he fears the American people, who are sick and tired of paying for Middle East wars, more than he does the Israeli Lobby. But the Lobby knows what the Republican Congress has learned just a couple of years ago–pressure works on our President.

Like many people I know, I pray for some political courage on Barack Obama’s part, primarily to keep us out of a war, but even more, keeping us out of the grasp of the crazies who run the Republican Party.

JAMES ABOUREZK is a former U.S. Senator who practices law in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. He is the author of Advise and Dissent, a memoir of his life in South Dakota and in the U.S. Senate. He can be reached at georgepatton45@gmail.com.

from Michael Parenti :
Date: 24 December 2011
Subject: [Clarity] Debate: Hitchens vs. Parenti.

Here is a debate held at Wesleyan University in 2005 between Christopher Hitchens and me. Hitchens went to his grave as a supporter of the Bush/Cheney venture. He supported Bush in 2004. His turn to the right (from weak leftish/center) won him the attention of all the mass media, especially Fox and the like, and lecture invitations at fat fees. Others of us were less enthralled about his anti-Islam warrior politics.
Feel free to share and circulate or post. This event is in the public domain.

from Reader Supported News :
Date: 19 December 2011
Subject: An Alternative US Political Economy?

The Occupy Wall Street protests have come and mostly gone, and whether they continue to have an impact or not, they have brought an astounding fact to the public's attention: a mere 1 percent of Americans own just under half of the country's financial assets and other investments. America, it would seem, is less equitable than ever, thanks to our no-holds-barred capitalist system."
Worker-Owners of America, Unite!
by Gar Alperovitz
from Truth Out :
Date: 5 January 2012
Subject: Big Money, Big Sports, Big Scandal: Universities Gone Wild.


Much media attention has been drawn to the fact that Penn State pulls in tens of millions of dollars in football revenue, but nothing has been said of the fact that it also receives millions from Defense Department contracts and grants, ranking sixth among universities and colleges receiving funds for military research.

Universities Gone Wild: Big Money, Big Sports and Scandalous Abuse at Penn State
by Henry A. Giroux and Susan Searls Giroux

from Historians Against War :
Date: 14 December 2011.
[haw-info] HAW Notes 12/14/11, including links to recent articles of interest.

Links to Recent Articles of Interest

"Washington's Actions on Palestine Don't Differ from Gingrich's Words"

By Juan Cole, Informed Comment blog, posted December 11
The author teaches history at the University of Michigan

"David Montgomery Obituary"
By Eric Foner, The Guardian, posted December 11
The author teaches history at Columbia University

"War on Iran Has Already Begun: Act before It Threatens All of Us"
By Seamas Milne, The Guardian, posted December 7

"Playing with Fire: Obama's Risky Oil Threat to China"
By Michael Klare, TomDispatch.com, posted December 6

"U.S. Budget Cuts and the Next War of Choice"
By Bennett Ramberg, Japan Times, posted December 5

"Israeli Ads against Marriage with American Jews Are Part of a Population War"
By Juan Cole, Informed Comment blog, posted December 3

"Occupy the American Historical Association: Demand a WPA Federal Writers' Project"
By Jesse Lemisch, History News Network, posted November 28
The author is a professor emeritus of history at John Jay College, CUNY

Thanks to Rusti Eisenberg and Rosalyn Baxandall for suggesting items that are included in the above list.  Suggestions can be sent to jimobrien48@gmail.com.

from William Blum :
Date: 2 December 2011
Subject: “THE BIG LIE.”

Anti-Empire Report, January 3, 2012

from Jonathan M. Feldman :
Date: 6 January 2012
Subject: Is Capitalist Reconstruction once again possible?

Please find above a link for my article on Economic Reconstruction as a solution to environmental and economic
crises.  I apologize in advance for any double posting.
Best reagards, Jonathan Feldman



Dr. Jonathan M. Feldman
Visiting Researcher, REMESO Institutet för forskning om migration,
ethnicitet och samhälle, Linköping University
SMART Fellow, University of Michigan
Associate Professor, Department of Economic History,
Stockholm University
S-106 91 Stockholm, Sweden
Phone: +46 707981634 or +468162843