Bulletin N° 635
Subject: ON THE POLITICS OF SCIENCE AND THE SCIENCE OF POLITICS: A SHORT HISTORY OF THE PRODUCTION AND DISTRIBUTION OF KNOWLEDGE, GOODS AND SERVICES . . . .
21 November 2014
Dear Colleagues and Friends of CEIMSA,
The history of the science of psychoanalysis was much more than the sectarian disputes within the IPA in Vienna, Berlin and Switzerland, between for instance Wilhelm Reich, Carl Jung, and Sigmund Freud. To gain a wider perspective we must travel east of Vienna to Saint Petersburg, to the north-west coast of the Russian Empire and on to China. A world-famous contemporary of Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) was Ivan Pavlov (1849-1936); it was in Saint Petersburg that he developed the scientific theory of the higher nervous system which would challenge the authority of Freudian theories for generations to come.
Like Freud, Pavlov enjoyed a long career and survived, and even prospered, through the transition from Tsarist Russia to Soviet Russia and Stalinism. His international reputation gave him special status, and in 1923, in a typically out-spoken manner, he wrote Lenin that the ‘soviet experiment in Russia was not worth the hind leg of a frog’. In the 1930s he wrote Stalin several times asking for the release of prominent Russian scientists who had been detained for their political deviations. Pavlov, however, remained untouched and continued to receive funding for his original work in the field of physiology.
We will look at the contributions of this great Russian academic from the perspective of the history of the study of psychology in China, as written by MIT researchers, Robert and Ai-il Chin, in their book, Psychological Research in Communist China, 1949-1966 (MIT Press, 1969).
Ivan Pavlov, writes the Chin couple, was, also, unencumbered by the traditional western split between mind and body. This dualism embedded in idealist methodology did not appear in Pavlovian theory. “There was no concern about the question of physiological bases versus the psychological and social bases of the mind. … Pavlov had already solved it by grounding learning and thought processes in the physiological functioning of the organism.”(p.10)
Pavlov considered his major work on the conditioned reflex to belong to neurology and physiology, defining his proper concern as problems of sensation and perception and the origin of consciousness. In fact, he dissociated himself from psychology for most of his life. During the three years before his death in 1936, he became interested in verbal behavior and the function of consciousness. These activities of the higher nervous system he called the second signal system. The second signal system . . . refers to those reflexes in man that respond to verbal stimuli; it is specific to man and is distinguished from the first signal system by the capabilities of abstraction and generalization. This concept enabled Pavlovian physiology to be linked up with psychology, for the physiological process of nervous excitation and inhibition could be applied to mental activity involving language. Nevertheless, psychology in the Soviet Union was never revamped completely into Pavlovian schemes; and certainly, by the late fifties, a good deal of work there went beyond Pavlov’s original position and interest.(p.11)
The Pavlovian School of psychology, which would extend to China after 1949, grew to disdain the ‘bourgeois introspection’ of Freudian psychology, based as it was “on the physiological reaction to the manifestation of mysterious sexual drives.”(from the Chinese Journal of Neuropsychiatry, No.4 (1956), pp.322-325, cited by Robert & Ai-il Chin in Psychological Research in Communist China, 1949-1966 (1969), p.63.)
The psychology being attacked was the ‘bourgeois’ Western approach based on ‘idealism’ –more specifically, the schools of behaviorism, gestaltism, and psychoanalysis.(p.49)
Psychotherapy, which did not win immediate acceptance, gained respectability [in the USSR in the early 1950s] when the theoretical justification was presented in terms of Pavlov’s second signal system –that is, psychotherapy was then viewed as a form of manipulating behavior change through language in place of other external stimuli.(p.64)
Before the Revolution, Chinese psychology was influenced by the Confucian tradition, but increasingly American schools of psychology entered the realm. It was during the intellectual and social ferment of the post-World War I period that western psychology was introduced to Chinese universities. The works of John Dewy (1859-1952) and of his mentor, William James (1842-1910), attracted great national attention “as a means of language reform for the modernization of China.” Psychologists focused on how one learns and, in particular, how language is learned. Great hopes were pinned on psychology as a science, providing knowledge necessary to solve the perplexing problems of modernization.
In a general sense, it could be said that John Dewey created psychology in China through his works, his students, and his personal presence. Dewey was lecturing in China on and off for two years in 1919-1920. Coming at the height of the intellectual revolution that was to encompass every aspect of China’s cultural life, Dewey’s ideas in philosophy and psychology were promulgated with great enthusiasm. Indeed, T’sai Yuan-p’ei, Chancellor of Peking University, introduced Dewey to a Chinese audience in 1918 as a thinker greater than Confucius. The majority of the early Chinese educational and experimental psychologists were trained at either the University of Chicago, where Dewey first worked with the psychologists Angell and Carr, or at Columbia University, where Dewey continued to develop his theories.
Chan Wing-tsit, in his history of modern Chinese philosophy, noted that pragmatism was the first Western philosophy to become a concerted movement in China: ‘It was the guiding philosophy of the renaissance set in motion by Dewey’s pupil, Hu Shih . . . . Its philosophy of ideas as instruments to cope with actual situations and its emphasis on results had special appeal to the reformers.’ As for the content of what was to be studied in psychology, Dewey advocated a functional; definition. Dewey did not believe human responses to be passive, isolated reflexes. Mental and behavioral processes, he insisted, could not be disengaged from their conditions and , more significantly, their consequences. What was to be considered ‘stimulus’ and what was to be considered ‘response’ were not abstract entities but depended on the part each played in the coordinated efforts of the organism to reach a goal or adapt to the environment. These views implied a favorable attitude toward the applied branches of psychology. Indeed, Dewey had already committed himself to a combination of psychology and education prior to going to China.
Under Dewey’s influence, educators in China began to take an interest in the child as an individual; and there was an increased emphasis among educational psychologists on studying those factors that the child brought to the learning situation: his aptitudes and his capabilities. The old, established educational practices of rote learning characterizing the classic Chinese education were now to be judged according to their results for the individual child. In time, the viewpoints of functionalism permeated other technical concepts of educational philosophy and such specialties as testing and teacher training.
Functionalism fitted into the mood of the times; and complemented by the traditional Chinese tendency toward pragmatic behavior, it might be said that Dewey’s pragmatic philosophy became an ideology in China. More important, the new philosophy not only allowed but insisted on revamping and reconstructing no less than all of the behavioral and cultural patterns, subjecting them to the tests of usefulness and adaptability in contemporary situations. With the elaboration of these doctrines into a methodology of ‘scientific testing’ of the functions and consequences of a pattern of acting, there was, indeed, a rallying point for all the revolutionaries in China. The reconstructionists in philosophy represented a methodology and a set of substantial values on how people should act. Social reformers of all kinds in China could find their home in these views. Thus, Dewey inspired Chinese intellectuals in finding a philosophy of change and reform.
With the main course of development defined by functionalism in psychology and pragmatism in education and social reform, other schools of psychology were introduced, too, although in very minor ways. Gestalt psychology, with its abstract emphasis on the whole and on organization, did not have many proponents. Psychoanalysis was present in very circumscribed ways in a few quarters. The other points of view that did take some root were experimental psychology, industrial psychology (the Taylor system), and behaviorism.
Behaviorism came into China via Kuo Zing-yang (Z. Y. Kuo), probably the Chinese psychologist best know to the West for his contribution to psychology. Influenced by J.B. Watson at the University of Chicago, Kuo assumed an even more extreme behaviorist position than Watson’s. In the post-World War I period, when the concepts of instinct and innate human nature and behavior were being attacked by many, including Boas in anthropology and Floyd Allport in social behavior, Kuo moved in 1921-1922 forthrightly to insist on discarding the concept of instinct altogether. Among his arguments, he pointed out that the concept was based on the old exploded notion of innateness and the operation of a mental or spiritual force. He insisted that all so-called instincts were learned and that even reflexes were acquired. At an international meeting of psychology in the twenties, he exclaimed, ‘There are only one and a half true behaviorists in this world; Watson is the half. I am the only true behaviorist.’
Following the line of Kuo, Watson, in his next book on behaviorism, came out strongly for a psychology without instincts. Kuo continued publishing his empirical research on embryonic behavior and reflexes through the early thirties.(pp.6-8)
With the Japanese invasion of China in 1937, Departments of Psychology were removed to universities in the western provinces of China. At the end of World War II, psychologists migrated with the National Government to Taiwan, while others went to work in the United States.
Before 1949, there was no discernible Soviet influence in Chinese psychological circles, whereas after the Revolution, the flourishing Western-inspired psychology in Chinese schools was systematically uprooted, and Chinese psychology was reconstructed on the premises of Soviet theory and methodology.
The Soviet psychology that Peking modeled itself upon was a Marxist-Leninist psychology with a philosophical base in dialectical materialism and a newly added label, Pavlovianism. This new Soviet psychology leaned heavily on Lenin’s theory of reflection, which was unearthed in his two volumes posthumously published in 1924. Toward the late twenties a group of Soviet research psychologists headed by Vygotskii, along with Luria and Leont’ev, laid the groundwork for a Marxist-Leninist approach to psychic development. Man’s psyche was viewed by this group as a historical, developmental product, with emphasis on the social roots of different aspects of man’s consciousness. Thus, the Soviet psychology that China imported in the fifties proposed dialectical materialism as the only position that truly unites the subjective and objective worlds; image and reality were presented as inseparable parts of the same reflection process. Here, Soviet psychology contrasted itself with Western ‘idealist’ psychology in which, it is maintained, consciousness or the image in man’s mind comes first and objective reality is secondary.
When Lenin’s theory of reflection became popular in the thirties, it provided the philosophical bridge between Pavlovian physiology and psychic processes. In fact, Pavlov was wooed by Lenin and, later, Stalin for may years with awards and sinecures, but during most of his lifetime he expressed contempt and disdain for the Soviet regime and ill-concealed rejection of its interference with science. In 1952, in a seminar sponsored by the Academy of Pedagogical Sciences and attended by over 400 psychologists, it was officially promulgated to build psychology on the philosophical base of dialectical and historical materialism as well as on Pavlov’s teachings of the higher nervous system.(pp.10-11)
In China, the field of psychology evolved between 1949, when the Communist Party took power, and 1966, at the start of the Cultural Revolution. R.&A. Chin’s book describes this evolution in four stages: The first stage, which they call ‘the Soviet phase,’ extends from 1949 to 1958.
It is a period when the Soviet-inspired discipline displaced the US schools of psychology and became the dominant influence in the Chinese institutions of education and research. This inheritance from the Soviet Union was accompanied by economic dependency, and soon the professional controversies which existed in the Soviet Union appeared in China: whether psychology is a natural or a social science; and the ‘fundamental dilemma’ of a dialectical-materialist approach to psychology, namely, between the universalism of psychological processes and the historicism of social class theory. Also present during the first decade of the Chinese Revolution were the residues of ‘the old way of thinking’, namely Dewey’s pragmatism and functionalism.(p.203)
The Great Leap Forward, in 1958-1959, saw the second stage of Chinese development in the field of psychology. In this period, a new activism challenged the scientism-universalism position, representing a theoretical premise of “pragmatically oriented individuality based on class analysis” rather than “process-centered” study. Now, “psychological workers” --including nurses, students, industrial managers—attempted to apply their theories in actual situations” “work, study, and living.”
Traditional boundaries of psychology were dissolved in the name of studying the concrete, whole individual: a spirit of eclecticism pervaded the discipline, and research began to cross national and ideological lines. . . .
The all-out enthusiasm required of every productive enterprise during that period brought about a kind of practical inventiveness among psychologists, resulting in a moderate amount of conceptual clarification and scientific advance. The laboratory-trained, methodology-conscious scientists applied their craft to more practical problems, such as the study of sensory perception in the factory or classroom or the measurement of brain waves on the normal and mentally ill. At the same time, less precise but more action-oriented studies were launched by teams of workers in the medical, labor, and educational branches of psychology to apply the concept of active consciousness to a variety of actual human situations.
In the course of focusing attention on the whole individual, questions that had not been in the foreground previously now became pressing:
What makes one individual produce more than another? What accounts for the optimistic attitude of one person and the pessimistic attitude of another? What, indeed, makes one individual want to change in the desirable socialist direction and another backslide into, for example, the state of neurasthenia? These questions were not yet couched in the concept of motivation, which did not become prominent in research vocabulary till the sixties.
In answering these questions, psychologists began with the socialist axiom that the ultimate and primary source of motivation lies in the socialist society itself. This is the where the key concept of active consciousness come in, for through it the movement of society toward its socialist goal is transplanted into motivation of the individual who participates in history. The critical issue is thus the extent to which the individual ‘reflects’ in his active consciousness this march of history. The problem was how to mobilize this positive spirit. . . .
In every research setting, the studies concluded with the demonstration that active consciousness, or the recognition aspect within it, plays a decisive role in affecting the functioning of the individual: the neurasthenia patient improved, the worker produced more or became moiré inventive, the student learned his arithmetic aoir language or moral lesson better. In short more the individual understands, the more he does what society wants of him.(204-207)
Events leading to the Sino-Soviet split had provoked a surge of voluntarism in Chinese society. The Great Leap spirit of psychological research was eclectic and the slackening of ideological constraints allowed psychologists to gather new data that would push against the limits of existing theoretical assumptions.
This relatively short period of high creative energy was followed by the third stage in the development of psychology in China, according to these authors; 1959 to 1965 was an era of “consolidation and exploration.” Psychologists belonging to “action-oriented teams” began to slow down their frenzied research activities and scientifically oriented, methodologically sophisticated studies again appeared. “Pure science” projects emerged, like those connected with information theory and human engineering, while research in education continued to pursue the central question of motivation; soon the psychological factor played by recognition was discovered as being inadequate to explain learning deficiencies. Children were behaving in anti-social ways, not because of a lack of understanding, or because of their social class relationships; rather it appeared to be due to such mental processes as compromises and rationalizations. In other words, these social disruptions were not because of the existence of the residues of capitalist behavior and insufficient socialist indoctrination, but rather the result of relationships within socialist society, and no amount of “knowledge-building” would eliminate this cause. New concepts were created to account for this phenomenon: among them were recognition motivation and reality motivation. In this third stage, individuality and individual differences were a new focus of attention. They had always been present, of course, but in the first stage, when psychology focused on abstract, universal processes, this subject of study was irrelevant or unimportant; in the second stage, the Great Leap aimed at mass results and the individual was again ignored. Now, in the third stage, psychology was looking at the whole individual and asking how he/she got to be the way he/she is. Instead of the earlier belief that all individuals were potentially equal and could be raised to “the same level of excellence and health,” it was now permissible to recognize the existence of innate inequalities among individuals and the uneven development within a single individual. By focusing on the individual, psychologists were challenging the constraints imposed by the ideological dictum that social class relationships determine the psychology of people, for non-class factors were now being studied. Before the events of 1965, psychological inquiry was relatively unhampered because of the comparative ideological relaxation in society. The Cultural Revolution brought this period to an abrupt halt in 1965.
In early 1965, the sayings of Mao began to appear in professional journals, and the scientific branch of psychology was again attacked for its “abstractism” and its “biologism,” which was characterized as producing the “capitalist concept of the nature of man.” In this fourth stage of development, the critiques of psychology did not attack the work of Pavlov per se, but rather insisted that his work was not in the field of psychology at all. His theory of the higher nervous system was described as a ‘great physiological discovery” which nevertheless cannot be transferred from physiology to psychology.
The new order was out: abandon ‘naturalism’ so that psychology can ‘march forward toward dialectical matierialism.’
The new dogma was that psychology was not a science, but rather a technology for implementing politically defined objectives. This belief led to the corollary thought that Marxism-Leninism-Maoism was the only revolutionary theory and that only those who lived in particular social class relationships could understand the laws of social development and historical materialism.
Capitalists, reactionaries, and revisionists cannot discover the law of social development and are unable and unwilling to promote the march of history. It therefore follows that the function of will or volition, an unexplored aspect of the active consciousness, is also said to be a function of class position.(p211)
The authors conclude this book in 1966, be observing that the Cultural Revolution in China cannot possibly efface the history of China and particularly the history of psychological study in this nation, but nevertheless it may very well bring to the fore a vast network of local community relationships unlike anything that exists in industrial societies. The notable absence of a chief in study groups and work teams, seems to be an organic development in this society, which is rarely seen elsewhere, rendering the interpretations of ideas and reality a collective practice and not an individual therapy.
The 13 items below offer CEIMSA readers a glimpse of the material reality which shapes (and sometimes distorts) our perceptions and our behavior. A right-wing political agenda drives this reality, and yet the attempt to control billions of people with ideas that fail to connect with their reality is doomed to failure. A practical question facing all of us is: What price must we pay before these artificial controls fail and we are permitted to get along with our lives?
Item A., from The Real News Network, is the report on yesterday’s US Senate vote which defeated by a narrow margin the Keystone XL Pipe Line project.
Item B., from NYU Professor Mark Crispin Miller, founder of News from the Underground, is an article by Max Blumenthal, describing how the Israel lobby in Washington D.C. led the campaign to defeat US Representative John Conyers’ amendment intended to neutralize the neo-Nazi forces in Ukraine and reduce the violent confrontations between Ukrainian forces and Russian separatists.
Item C., from Information Clearing House, is an article by the former bureau chief for the International Herald Tribune in Hong Kong and then Tokyo from 1985 to 1992, Patrick Smith, which was first published in Salon and invites readers to participate in a deep analysis of US foreign policy’s Grand Strategy.
Item D., from ZNet, is a video interview with Noam Chomsky discussing NATO, the puppet master and his puppets.
Item E., from Information Clearing House, is an article by John Pilger describing British impatience with the expensive Swedish delay to recognize the legal rights of Julain Assange.
Item F., from Information Clearing House, is an interview with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Russia’s commitment to the Russian-speaking population living in Ukraine.
Item G., from Jim O’Brien of Historians Against War, is a series of recommended recent articles and US war resisters in Canada links.
Item H., from Information Clearing House, is an
article by James Cogan on President Obama’s schizoid speech against
China delivered on November 15, during the G20 Leaders Summit at the University
of Queensland in Australia.
Item I., from Information Clearing House, is an article by Chris Hedges describing the last days of Tomas Young, a veteran against the war.
Item K., from C. Sham, is a home video coverage (in French) of the demonstration against the Israeli Consul in Montpellier on 13 November 2014.
Item L., from Truth Out, is an article by Henri Giroux defending ‘the first casualty of war.’
Item M., from Michael Parenti, is an excerpt from his book discussing ‘The Great War’ of 1914-18.
An finally, we invite CEIMSA readers to watch with us a series from the popular source of information and reflection, created by satirists Giordano Nanni and Hugo Farrant, using hip-hop to transform news reporting beginning with the with the current Nov. 17 production of :
Professor of American Studies
University of Grenoble-3
Director of Research
University of Paris-Nanterre
Center for the Advanced Study of American Institutions and Social Movements
The University of California-San Diego
From The Real News Network :
Date : 19 November 2014
Subject: The Keystone XL Pipeline defeated in the US Senate Vote.
Obama has quietly approved the Alberta Clipper, a cross-border pipeline between the U.S and Canada that will connect with the southern half of the Keystone XL pipeline, say journalists Steve Horn of DeSmogBlog and Cherri Foytlin of bridgethegulfproject.org
From Mark Crispin Miller :
Date : 19 November 2014
Subject: How the Israel lobby protected Ukraine's neo-Nazis.
AlterNet has learned that an amendment to the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would have forbidden US assistance, training and weapons to neo-Nazis and other extremists in Ukraine was kept out of the final bill by the Republican-led House Rules Committee. Introduced by Democratic Representative John Conyers, the amendment was intended to help tamp down on violent confrontations between Ukrainian forces and Russian separatists.
How the Israel Lobby Protected Ukrainian
By Max Blumenthal
From Information Clearing House :
Date : 16 November 2014
Subject: Connecting the Dots to Understand American Foreign Policy and It’s Future.
Ukraine, Iran's nukes, the price of oil: There are ties worthy of a Bourne film, if the media connected the dots. “Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
What Really Happened in Beijing: Putin,
Obama, Xi And
The Back Story The Media Won’t Tell You
by Patrick L. Smith
From Z Magazine :
Date : 13 November 2014
Subject: The Puppet-Master and his Puppets.
How did Russia and the West slip back into what seems like the Cold War all over again? How dangerous is the current confrontation? Should the world be ready to face a nuclear war? World-famous academic, linguist, philosopher and political commentator Noam Chomsky is on Sophie&Co.
NATO became US-run intervention force
by Noam Chomsky
From Information Clearing House :
Date : 16 November 2014
Subject: States at War Against theTruth and Julian Assange.
Hell hath no fury like great power scorned.
The Siege of Julian Assange
is a Farce
by John Pilger
From Information Clearing House :
Date : 16 November 2014
Subject: Russian Resolve in Ukraine !
The Ukrainian central authorities have sent the armed forces there and they even use ballistic missiles. Does anybody speak about it? Not a single word. And what does it mean?
"We Won't Let It Happen"
Vladimir Putin Interview With German TV
From Historians Against The War :
Date : 19 November 2014
Subject: [haw-info] HAW Notes 11/19/14: Links to recent articles of interest.
Links to Recent Articles of Interest
By William R. Polk, History News Network, posted November 16
A, eloquent, historically based article by a former State Department official and history professor
By Fredrik Logevall and Gordon M. Goldstein, Politico, posted November 16
Fredrick Logevall teaches history at Cornell University; both authors have written books about the US war in Vietnam.
By Lawrence S. Wittner, History News Network, posted November 16
The author is a professor of history emeritus at SUNY Albany.
By the National Security Archives, posted November 16
Includes links to newly released US documents from November 1989, showing an effort to deflect blame from the Salvadoran military hierarchy.
By Bekah Wolf, Middle East Research and Information Project (MERIP), posted November 14
By David Vine, TomDispatch.com, posted November 13
By Colleen McGuire, Mondoweiss.net, posted November 11
By Jerry Lembcke, CounterPunch.org, posted November 10
The author is a Vietnam veteran who teaches sociology at the College of the Holy Cross.
By Trita Parsi, Foreign Affairs, posted November 5
By Andrew J. Becevich, Los Angeles Times, posted November 1
The author, retired from teaching history at Boston University, is now a fellow at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs.
This list was edited by Steve Gosch and Jim O'Brien, with thanks to Rosalyn Baxandall and an anonymous reader for suggesting articles that are included. Suggestions can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
From Information Clearing House :
Date : 16 November 2014
Subject: A War with China?
A bellicose restatement that the US will use every means, including war, to prevent any challenge by China to American dominance over the Asia-Pacific.
Obama’s Speech in Australia:
A Threat of War Against China
by James Cogan
From Truth Out :
Date : 16 November 2014
Subject: The Death of Thomas Young.
“Maybe he got so exhausted by the enduring of it all that he took a last sleep and never came back,” Cuellar wrote. “My conclusion is that he died in pain from the exhaustion of having to endure it. Early morning Monday, when I thought he was sleeping, I heard a silence I had never heard before.
The Last Days of Tomas Young
by Chris Hedges
From William Blum :
Dates: 19 November 2014
Subject : Anti-Empire Report, November 19, 2014.
Anti-Empire Report, November 19, 2014
From C. Sham :
Date : 19 November 2014
Subject: Contenu interessant : le CONSUL À LA CCI DE MONTPELLIER.
BONJOUR À TOUTES ET TOUS
VIDÉO DE L’ACTION DU COMITÉ BDS FRANCE 34
CONTRE LE CONSUL D’ISRAËL À LA CCI DE MONTPELLIER
From Truth Out :
Date : 18 November 2014
Subject: The First Casualty of War is Truth; then the Messengers of Truth.
Ideological fundamentalism and political purity appear to have a strong grip on US and Canadian societies as can be seen in the endless attacks on reason, truth, critical thinking and informed exchange. In Canada, Prime Minister Stephen Harper decries what he derisively attacks as intellectuals and journalists who are "committing sociology" by which he means holding power accountable.
Academic Madness and the Politics of Exile
From Michael Parenti :
Date : 20 November 2014
Subject: [Clarity] 1918 ...if you missed it the first time.
I wrote a narrative piece about World War I,
done in "poetic prose" (I'm told);
sent out a couple of weeks ago. But a number of people did not get it. It was posted on CommonDreams.com and DandelionSalad and a few other online publications.
Below is a second try for my group mailing:
by Michael Parenti
Looking back at the years of fury and carnage, Colonel Angelo Gatti, staff officer of the Italian Army (Austrian front), wrote in his diary: "This whole war has been a pile of lies. We came into war because a few men in authority, the dreamers, flung us into it."
No, Gatti, caro mio, those few men are not dreamers; they are schemers. They perch above us. See how their armament contracts are turned into private fortunes---while the young men are turned into dust: more blood, more money; good for business this war.
It is the rich old men, i pauci, "the few," as Cicero called the Senate oligarchs whom he faithfully served in ancient Rome. It is the few, who together constitute a bloc of industrialists and landlords, who think war will bring bigger markets abroad and civic discipline at home. One of i pauci in 1914 saw war as a way of promoting compliance and obedience on the labor front and---as he himself said---war "would permit the hierarchal reorganization of class relations."
Just awhile ago the heresies of Karl Marx were spreading among Europe's lower ranks. The proletariats of each country, growing in numbers and strength, are made to wage war against each other. What better way to confine and misdirect them than with the swirl of mutual destruction.
Then there are the generals and other militarists who started plotting this war as early as 1906, eight years before the first shots were fired. War for them means glory, medals, promotions, financial rewards, inside favors, and dining with ministers, bankers, and diplomats: the whole prosperity of death. When the war finally comes, it is greeted with quiet satisfaction by the generals.
But the young men are ripped by waves of machine-gun fire or blown apart by exploding shells. War comes with gas attacks and sniper shots: grenades, mortars, and artillery barrages; the roar of a great inferno and the sickening smell of rotting corpses. Torn bodies hang sadly on the barbed wire, and trench rats try to eat away at us, even while we are still alive.
Farewell, my loving hearts at home, those who send us their precious tears wrapped in crumpled letters. And farewell my comrades. When the people's wisdom fails, moguls and monarchs prevail and there seems to be no way out.
Fools dance and the pit sinks deeper as if bottomless. No one can see the sky, or hear the music, or deflect the swarms of lies that cloud our minds like the countless lice that torture our flesh. Crusted with blood and filth, regiments of lost souls drag themselves to the devil's pit. "Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch'entrate." (Abandon all hope, ye who enter.)
Meanwhile from above the Vatican wall, the pope himself begs the world leaders to put an end to hostilities "lest there be no young men left alive in Europe." But the war industry pays him no heed.
Finally the casualties are more than we can bear. There are mutinies in the French trenches! Agitators in the Czar's army cry out for "Peace, Land, and Bread"! At home, our families grow bitter. There comes a breaking point as the oligarchs seem to be losing their grip.
At last the guns are mute in the morning air. A strange almost pious silence takes over. The fog and rain seem to wash our wounds and cool our fever. "Still alive," the sergeant grins, "still alive." He cups a cigarette in his hand. "Stack those rifles, you lazy bastards." He grins again, two teeth missing. Never did his ugly face look so good as on this day in November 1918. Armistice embraces us like a quiet rapture.
A big piece of the encrusted aristocratic world breaks off. The Romanovs, Czar and family, are all executed in 1918 in Revolutionary Russia. That same year, the House of Hohenzollern collapses as Kaiser Wilhelm II flees Germany. Also in 1918, the Ottoman empire is shattered. And on Armistice Day, November 11, 1918, at 11:00 a.m.---the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month---we mark the end of the war and with it the dissolution of the Habsburg dynasty.
Four indestructible monarchies: Russian, German, Turkish, and Austro-Hungarian, four great empires, each with millions of bayonets and cannon at the ready, now twisting in the dim shadows of history.
Will our children ever forgive us for our dismal confusion? Will they ever understand what we went through? Will we ? By 1918, four aristocratic autocracies fade away, leaving so many victims mangled in their wake, and so many bereaved crying through the night.
Back in the trenches, the agitators among us prove right. The mutinous Reds standing before the firing squad last year were right. Their truths must not be buried with them. Why are impoverished workers and peasants killing other impoverished workers and peasants? Now we know that our real foe is not in the weave of trenches; not at Ypres, nor at the Somme, or Verdun or Caporetto. Closer to home, closer to the deceptive peace that follows a deceptive war.
Now comes a different conflict. We have enemies at home: the schemers who trade our blood for sacks of gold, who make the world safe for hypocrisy, safe for themselves, readying themselves for the next "humanitarian war." See how sleek and self-satisfied they look, riding our backs, distracting our minds, filling us with fright about wicked foes. Important things keep happening, but not enough to finish them off. Not yet enough.
Michael Parenti's most recent books are The Face of Imperialism (2011); Waiting for Yesterday: Pages from a Street Kid's Life (2013); and Profit Pathology and Other Indecencies (forthcoming January 2015). See his website: www.michaelparenti.org.