Monday, January 15, 2018

Trump's Assault

“Hegel remarks somewhere that all facts and personages of great importance in world history occur, as it were, twice.  He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second as farce.” – Karl Marx 

The assumption of the executive by Donald Trump is a naked expression of the emptiness of United States representative democracy, and consequently the most damning.

Beyond the subversion of democracy by the electoral college, created in the drafting of the Constitution for the purpose of securing slavery and the political power of the slave states, the foundation of representative democracy in the United States is itself an erosion of democracy.  Noam Chomsky observes that the form of ratification whereby two positions are offered and the voter merely selects one of the two positions is an impoverished form of democracy.  He observes further that the electoral process in the United States decades ago became “stage-managed elections, with the public relations industry” managing.  Trump’s campaign turned this tragedy into an utter farce, with a reality-show celebrity and his cadre of ultra-right-wing media propagandists (Bannon and others) turning the election into a complete spectacle.

Ever since the end of the Cold War and the hostilities with jihadi terrorist groups (most of whom were either directly or indirectly organized and armed by the United States) the so-called “war on terror” has effectively replaced the cold war ideology of anti-Communism hysteria.  Trump has taken this already shameful and violent history of aggression and pulled away the masks, revealing the naked racism and bigotry undergirding the rationalizations for imperial hegemony and extending this towards outright ethnic cleansing with, conspicuously, the fight for a “Muslim ban.” 

With the vicious history of the United States’ depredations in the middle east which has stoked the fires of conflict there since the end of WWII (Iran in 1953, etc.) and exacerbated by George W. Bush’s invasion and occupation of Iraq (the international crime of aggression), of Trump’s new developments has been to toss a Molotov cocktail into the fires in the form of declaring Jerusalem the capital of Israel while the Israeli state continues to occupy the Palestinian territories and expanding settlements into them.

Trump’s erratic and unhinged threats to North Korea are putting the entire human species and most others as well into jeopardy.  The international politics of the Trump administration are entirely inadequate and often dangerous, yet the threats to North Korea of a nuclear strike are of altogether another category.  It’s enough that human civilization has since the cold war only by a miracle avoided nuclear holocaust[1] while the United States and others have ensured the failure of the nonproliferation treaty[2], requiring more miracles yet still.  To trespass beyond such a terribly precarious reality and threaten a nuclear armed state with a nuclear strike is something like combining the game of chicken and Russian roulette into the most dangerous, potentially terminal game ever played. 

In light of Trump’s comments about the fascist violence and terrorism in Charlottesville and every comment that he has so far uttered regarding the “Muslim ban,” immigration and the border wall, it is evident that the only consistent position and policies for which Trump advocates and attempts to enforce are those of white Christian supremacy.  It is of principle importance to resist the Trump-led whitelash and one must defend oneself and one's allies by any means necessary.

It is clearer than ever that the impoverished form of democracy within the United States is inadequate for the attending to of the most serious and pressing issues.  It recalls to mind Rosa Luxemburg writing in her Junius Pamphlet, before she was murdered by the Freikorps, elements of which fermented into the Nazi party: “Friedrich Engels once said: ‘Bourgeois society stands at the crossroads, either transition to socialism or regression into barbarism.’  What does ‘regression into barbarism’ mean to our…civilization?...A look around us at this moment shows what the regression of bourgeois society into barbarism means…The triumph of imperialism leads to the annihilation of civilization.  At first, this happens sporadically for the duration of a modern war, but then when the period of unlimited wars begins it progresses toward its inevitable consequences.  Today, we face the choice exactly as Friedrich Engels foresaw it…either the triumph of imperialism and the collapse of all civilization as in ancient Rome, depopulation, desolation, degeneration – a great cemetery.  Or the victory of socialism…”

[1] Chomsky, Noam, (2016). Who Rules the World?, 100-14.

[2] Chomsky, Noam, Barsamian, David, (2017). Global Discontents, 108-9. 

Thursday, January 04, 2018

Observations on contemporary resistance to proto-fascism and violence

To consider the advocating of erratic violence against the proto-fascist elements in the contemporary United States (which have always been latent, yet have taken to the streets more markedly since Trump’s assumption of executive power) it is worth observing some significant elements of the situation. 

There is a conspicuous lack of principle and analysis in the comments advocating violence.  In fact, many of the comments are so utterly devoid of reasoning that there is little to merit the taking of them seriously as genuine expressions of belief and practice.  The phenomenon of trolling, so rampant as it is on the internet, necessitates any serious person posting assertions to buttress them with at least a minimum of evidentiary premises.    

When calculating the ethical calculus of actions and tactics it is required to assess the predictable consequences of the actions and tactics being advocated and engaged in.  As a general principle, physical violence requires meeting a very significant burden of proof.  It must be stressed that within the current United States’ specific situation, violence is only ethically valid as a means of self-defense; in fact, such is essentially always the case. 

When there are confrontations in the streets between the racist, proto-fascist movements and those groups of people opposing them, it is crucial that one be nonviolent, lest one be guilty of igniting a highly combustible situation.  When one is confronted by violence, no doubt self-defense by any means necessary is justified.  Yet when there are racists and proto-fascists in the streets in whatever number they are, charging them and assaulting them with violence is not self-defense, to the contrary.  Further, when assaulting these repugnant people one of the most predictable consequences is their further entrenchment into their hideous ideologies and their engagement of violence in reaction. 

There are by far too many unhinged, armed white supremacists, many of whom are literally itching to harm people and those who are homicidal, if the violence is yet latent, it is irrational and unethical to assault and provoke these elements from their latencies into overt action. 

Those advocating “combat” are a combination of insincere, irrational and unethical in whatever specific composite. 

It is again worth taking account of the conspicuous lack of expressed principle and analysis of those advocating violence.  There has been clearer expressions of principle and analysis, if still fallacious in important ways, by Leninists, Maoists and other deviations from the communism of the “Marxist” movements.  This is another of the instances in which the holders on to the Bolshevism long since passed and discredited are in welcome agreement to other leftists in their revolutionary analysis. 

Don’t advocate assault and violence, instead organize. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

God as First Cause

The “first-cause” argument for God may be one of the most blatantly fallacious arguments ever devised. 

The argument, to compress it into a categorical syllogism, begins by proposing that “everything has a cause.”  It then submits that the universe itself must have a cause and concludes that this cause must be God.

The argument is ridiculous on several grounds and, in fact, is rendered untenable by its own internal reasoning.  Following the logic of the premise that everything must have a cause, God too must have a cause and the cause of God must have a cause and so on to infinity.  If God does not require a cause then the first premise, everything has a cause, is false. 

The above is the most popular form of the argument, known in philosophy as the “cosmological argument”; however, there are more sophisticated versions (to loosely use the term).    

Some have refined the first premise to state, instead of everything has a cause, that everything contingent, or everything caused, has a cause (nothing more than an observation of the trivially true).  This qualified first premise places itself beyond criticism and requires a closer analyzing of the second premise and the conclusion. 

The second premise, refined, states that the universe is contingent and must have a cause.  However, there has never been a serious argument to sustain this premise.  Bertrand Russell rhetorically asks “[j]ust because everything in the universe is contingent, must the universe itself be contingent?” 

The best argument considers time.  It is argued that were the universe to have always existed the very fact would require an infinite amount of time to have already passed and that this would be contradictory and thus impossible because an infinite amount of time would never pass (the passing of an infinite cycle of time would never, by definition, be completed). 

The problem with the argument predicated upon time has been known since at least the work on General and Special Relativity by Albert Einstein.  Einstein calculated that time itself is relative and can be warped.  The Big Bang hypothesis, proposed due to the Doppler Effect, suggests that the observable universe was produced by the explosion of a dense, hot initial state of gravitational singularity and has been offered by many a theologian as support for the cosmological argument’s second premise.  While current work on this is pure speculation, the best guesses by the most acclaimed physicists in the field point out that time is the relative fourth dimension of the universe created by the Big Bang and that time more or less dissolves the closer it gets to the gravitational singularity.  Discussion of time with regards to the origins of the universe and the Big Bang may very well be nonsensical. 

The second premise cannot currently be verified one way or the other and cannot therefore sustain conclusions.  While work is still being conducted on the nature and origins of the cosmos it is beyond rash to draw any definitive statements and arguments about it, which is why the conclusion only further exacerbates current work.  While it remains unknown why there is something rather than nothing it only confounds this question to introduce the further problem of why and how there is also God.

The conclusion now looms.  The first obvious problem with the conclusion is that a sufficient reason is not given as to why God must be the cause.  It would be as logical to argue that extra-dimensional space aliens were the first cause or that the universe is the product of the functioning of a super-computer. 

Furthermore, the argument only establishes a first-cause in the past; it does not demonstrate the continued existence of this first-cause.  The argument that everything contingent must be caused does not demonstrate that the first-cause continues to exist presently or eternally and it does not elaborate any qualities of the first-cause (such as life, consciousness and so on) which undermines the very purpose of the argument.  The argument against an eternal universe being contradictory because of the paradox of an infinite cycle of time concluding equally applies to an eternal God.      
The essential points about this argument are relatively elementary and the fallacies readily identifiable to anyone who takes time to consider them rationally.  This is why there are only ever illiterate charlatans who invoke the argument and never any serious philosophers, at least since St. Thomas Aquinas, and when viewing his philosophical work against the great works of philosophy, it seems to pale in comparison. 

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Karl Marx and the State

Karl Marx is among the most cited of intellectuals.  He is, in fact, the most cited intellectual in the Arts and Humanities Citation Index.  Most people would at least recognize the name.  It is therefore quite odd, given such widespread recognition, that there could be such incredible misunderstanding and confusion regarding Karl Marx and his work. 

In the general sense of the Left it is more than predictable that there should be not only misunderstanding but also an intentional misinformation campaign waged against an individual so greatly associated with revolutionary movements.  Within a hierarchically class structured society where there exists a ruling class with special privileges and power (among them, near absolute domination of the means of communication) it follows almost axiomatically that there should be waged a disinformation campaign against all that which threatens the current relations of power. 

The most common myth regarding Karl Marx involves associating him with Soviet Russia’s Bolshevism and state totalitarianism in general.  Exacerbating this confusion are the various self-described Marxists who are nothing more than the descendents of the Bolsheviks.  A great many so-called Marxists are Leninists, Trotskyites and Maoists of one form or another who, in concert with bourgeois propaganda, hold up Karl Marx and his work as the foundation for their positions and actions regarding the seizing of the state by a party dictatorship. 

With the self-described Marxists who follow in the footsteps of Lenin and company there is a great sense of anachronism.  It may have been quite forgivable for socialists living after Marx and before the dissemination of his unpublished works to assume that Lenin’s work and actions paralleled the work of Marx due to much of it remaining unpublished and unknown as well as suppressed by the Soviets.  Modern Bolshevik sympathizers have no such excuse.  Long has Marx’s unpublished works been rediscovered and distributed by people of a wide variety of political persuasions, largely beginning with the Marxist Humanists such as Raya Dunayevskaya, Erich Fromm and Maximilien Rubel, among many others, who popularized Marx’s Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 (Dunayevskaya was the first to translate the manuscripts), among other lost and obscure texts.

People can no longer pretend as though the Communist Manifesto contains the final word by Marx on the matters of state and revolution.  It is no doubt true that in the Manifesto Marx lays out the revolutionary transition in stages with the first stage seeing to, “little by little,” the means of production, the means of transportation and credit all being centralized into the state.  However, even were the Manifesto to be the last word on the matter it must be observed that Marx does not end socialist transition with centralized state power, as many bourgeois reactionaries often incorrectly shriek, but rather with the eventual dissolution of classes and the state into the association of individuals.  No matter familiarity or lack thereof with the entirety of Marx’s oeuvure, the end goal remains a stateless free association.  It remains libertarian socialism.     

With this established it is quite obvious that the bourgeois misinformation confuses the end whereas the so-called “Marxists” who follow the likes of Lenin, Mao and others confuse the means as well.  For the Manifesto does not contain the final word and was, in fact, itself revised with a forward (dated June, 24 1872), as described in Daniel Geurin’s No Gods No Masters.  Marx and Engels explain in the forward that “in many respects” they would now “rephrase” the Manifesto’s content regarding the state.  Geurin points out that “they cited in support of such redrafting ‘the practical experiences, first of the February [1848] revolution, then, to a much greater extent, of the Paris Commune, when, for the first time, the proletariat held political power in its hands over a two month period.’”  Marx and Engels conclude the forward by stating that all of this “means that, in places, this program is no longer up to the minute.  The Commune in particular has supplied proof that the working class cannot rest content with taking possession of the existing machinery of the State in order to place it in the service of its own aims.”      

The Paris Commune discussed in the forward is discussed at much greater length in perhaps Marx’s most underappreciated and ignored work: the three addresses drafted by Marx for the General Council of the Workers’ International on the situation in Paris, better known under the pamphlet name The Civil War in France.  The Paris Commune saw to the implementation in Paris of the federation of communes, the basis of libertarian socialism, and at once the negation of state power.    

Arthur Lehning writes that Marx’s addresses involve not a “’withering away’, but rather” the “utter extirpation of the state.”  This could not possibly be any clearer when in the third part of the third address given by Karl Marx he writes that “the working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made state machinery, and wield it for its own purposes.” 

Following the unequivocal comment about state power, Marx then further analyzes the role of the state within developing industrial society.  He writes that “[a]t the same pace at which the progress of modern industry developed, widened, intensified the class antagonism between capital and labor, the state power assumed more and more the character of the national power of capital over labor, of a public force organized for social enslavement, of an engine of class despotism.”  He continues the analysis several paragraphs later when he writes that “[i]mperialism is, at the same time, the most prostitute and the ultimate form of the state power which nascent middle class society had commenced to elaborate as a means of its own emancipation from feudalism, and which full-grown bourgeois society had finally transformed into a means for the enslavement of labor by capital.” 

Marx’s analysis of the state is in this sense virtually indistinguishable from the analyses of many anarchists.  Rudolf Rocker is in a sense paraphrasing Marx’s analysis when he writes that “[a]s long as within society a possessing and a non-possessing group of human beings face one another in enmity, the state will be indispensable to the possessing minority for the protection of its privileges.”

Marx’s analysis, in fact, anticipated the role of the state within Soviet Russia and the form of state capitalism ruled by a single-party dictatorship centralized within the state as manifested in Soviet Russia and in China.  It must not be overlooked that socialism never existed within Russia and has never existed in China (the two nations most readily misidentified as socialist or communist).  Many anarchists, libertarian socialists and, in this sense, true Marxists (such as Gorter, Ruhle, Pannekoek, Luxemburg and so on) predicted that the policy of the Bolsheviks was going to lead to the state despotism that sunk the Russian people into the Soviet dungeon.  They argued that rather than replacing capitalist relations with socialist relations the Bolsheviks were merely condensing many capitalists into the single capitalist of the state.  The political economy of Soviet Russia remained capitalist.  It was the ultimate form of state capitalism, where the state is sole capitalist. 

Nothing could be more counterrevolutionary and nothing could be more contrary to the totality of Marx’s work than turning the state into the single capitalist and centralizing all power therein.  Doing justice to Marx’s work and doing justice in the real world period means dismantling the state altogether.  Not piece by piece or with the hope, after seizing it, that it will simply disappear on its own accord with the dissolution of the antagonism of classes.  Instead, the state must be rendered superfluous and powerless through the instituting of the power of the federation of communes (the workers’ councils, community cooperatives and so on), in the face of which the state can only dissolve into irrelevance and out of existence and history altogether. 

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Mark Twain, Huckleberry Finn and Censorship

Shame on all those who are currently advocating the censorship of Mark Twain’s masterful The Adventures of Huckelberry Finn and disgraced are they who support such malfeasant censorship. However, one must not be overly worried by the transgression, for America has quite an inspiring tradition of respect and defense for freedom of expression thanks to countless activists, organizations and the right kind of lawyers and judges. Furthermore, in a positive sense, as is often observed, bad publicity is good publicity and when the publicity is for the American treasure Mark Twain and one of the greatest works of American literature it is all the better.

Mark Twain is rightly regarded by many as one of the greatest American writers and as the originator of American literature (influencing later writers of such scope and achievement as T.S. Eliot, F. Scott Fitzgerald, William Faulkner and Ernest Hemingway) who first developed characters who spoke in the unique and authentic American languages and dialects found in the regions and cultures he wrote about. Ernest Hemmingway claimed that “[a]ll American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn…All American writing comes from that. There was nothing before. There has been nothing as good since.” T.S. Eliot compared Twain’s character, Huck, to other “permanent symbolic figures of fiction” such as “Ulysses, Faust, Don Quixote, Don Juan, Hamlet and other great discoveries…” The book is perhaps the best example of Twain’s invention using, as he prefaces the book himself with, “a number of dialects.”

Mark Twain is also known, unfortunately to a lesser extent, for his radical views grounded in a strong and independent moral vision of right and wrong. He was involved with the Anti-Imperialist League with its links to civil rights activism. He was an opponent to slavery and to racism (he was acquainted with Frederick Douglass and married into the abolitionist Langdon family, being the son-in-law to a leading conductor of the New York Underground Railroad) and Huck Finn is an ingenious expression of this.

The current movement by the publishing establishment advocating censorship is due to the fact that the word “nigger” is used commonly throughout the book, as the word was for sure used by such characters at the time, in accordance with reality (the commonplace usage of the word, I also must insist, is by no means yet a pastime).

Through Huck Finn Twain exposed the ugly everyday realities of racist ideology (such as the common use of the word “nigger”) and developed a main character, Huck Finn, who was immersed in such racist ideology, indoctrinated into believing that it was not only right, but God’s Will.

In the story Huck Finn lives with an abusive and alcoholic father and decides to escape by faking his own death and floating down the Mississippi. In the process of so doing he runs into a slave, Jim, who has escaped because he fears being sold and sent to New Orleans and they set off down the river together.

The book is about the adventures of Huck and Jim on the river and contains quite a breathtaking moral statement about racism and slavery. Huck Finn has been indoctrinated into believing that slavery is sanctioned by God and that to help a slave escape is theft (immoral and illegal) because a slave is actually a piece of property the Master rightfully owns and to help in such an escape would earn one an eternity in hell’s burning furnace.

Huck Finn several times faces this moral dilemma. When Huck and Jim first run into each other Huck promises not to tell on Jim: “But mind, you said you wouldn’t tell – you know you said you wouldn’t tell, Huck.”
“Well, I did. I said I wouldn’t and I’ll stick to it. Honest injun I will. People would call me a low-down Abolitionist and despise me for keeping mum – but that don’t make no difference. I ain’t a-going to tell.”

In one instant Huck lies to some people passing them, telling them that his family has smallpox so the men make sure to stay away, saving Jim from being found, caught and sent back. Huck then feels regret for not doing what he was taught he should do, report a runaway slave, but he feels good that Jim was not caught: “They went off, and I got aboard the raft, feeling bad and low, because I knowed very well I had done wrong, and I see it warn’t no use for me to try to learn to do right; a boy that don’t get started right when he’s little, ain’t got no show…Then I thought a minute, and says to myself, hold on; - s’pose you’d ‘a’ done right and give Jim up, would you felt better than what you do now? No, says I, I’d feel bad – I’d feel just the same way I do now. Well, then, says I, what’s the use you learning to do right, when it’s troublesome to do right and ain’t no trouble to do wrong, and the wages is just the same? I was stuck. I couldn’t answer that.”

Later on Huck begins to think about helping Jim escape and the possible consequences and becomes torn: “The more I studied about this the more my conscience went to grinding me, and the more wicked and low-down and ornery I got to feeling. And at last, when it hit me all of a sudden that here was the plain hand of Providence…letting me know my wickedness was being watched all the time…I most dropped in my tracks I was so scared.”

He recalls that had he gone to Sunday school they would have taught him that the way he was acting now would send him “to everlasting fire.” The thought makes him shiver and he decides to pray but cannot and he realizes he cannot pray of giving up the sin of harboring a runaway slave because it was a lie, he wasn’t going to and he knew it. He decides that he should write a letter to Jim’s owner and then pray.

He writes the letter and feels washed of sin but then begins to think of Jim and their trip down the river, he recalls “a-floating along, talking, singing and laughing” and finds that he is unable “to strike no places to harden” him against Jim, “but only the other kind.” He remembers how Jim would stand Huck’s watch on top of his own so that he could “go on sleeping,” how Jim called Huck “honey” and “do everything he could think of” for him and how “grateful” Jim was when Huck told the lie about smallpox, preventing Jim from being caught and how Jim said that Huck “was the best friend old Jim ever had in the world, and the only one he’s got now.”

Huck then sees the letter he just wrote: “I took it up, and held it in my hand. I was a-trembling, because I’d got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself: ‘All right, then, I’ll go to hell’ – and tore it up.”

Such a profound situation and moral statement provides the proper context for Twain’s use of the word “nigger” throughout the rest of the book and, after all, it is the context that is most important in matters such as these. The word is most assuredly an ugly, horrible word that conjures images of lynching, slavery, murder and the darkness of America’s past and present or, as Chester Stevens put it, the word “rings out like the sound of rifle fire,” and that is precisely Mark Twain’s point. Twain uses the word almost as a bludgeon by which he beats the heads of the complacent and the unconcerned. He is showing a little bit of the reality in all its ugliness and forcing one to confront it honestly and forthrightly.

It was in this sense that Booker T. Washington wrote that he could “not believe any one can read this story closely without becoming aware of the deep sympathy of the author in ‘Jim’…[O]ne cannot fail to observe that in some way or other the author without making any comment and without going out of his way, has somehow succeeded in making his readers feel a genuine respect for ‘Jim,’ in spite of the ignorance he displays. I cannot help feeling that in this character Mark Twain has, perhaps, exhibited his sympathy and interest in the masses of the negro people.”

Mark Twain has always been controversial and there have always been attempts to censure and ban several of his books, notably Huck Finn. In fact, Huck Finn was first banned just a few weeks after publication in 1885 in Concord Massachusetts due to the dialects used; deemed too course and vulgar and only fit for the slums by the well-to-do bourgeoisie of Concord. As recently as 2000 there was a move in Enid Oklahoma to have the book removed from the local high school’s required reading curriculum. The debate was heated.

Michelle M. Houle writes that “the school district contacted Jocelyn Chadwick” who was a leading Mark Twain scholar and an assistant professor at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education “to ease some tension.” Houle notes that Chadwick is “an African American whose ancestors were slaves on both sides of her family. Her parents were active in the civil rights movement when she was young, and she says that they gave her Adventures of Huckleberry Finn when she was just a child.”

Chadwick believes that “[t]hrough the controversy surrounding this book alone, Twain brings into schools what all of us in this country desperately need, yet fear, most: discussions – frank discussions – about race, race relations, interracial relations, race language, racial stereotypes and profiling, and, ultimately, true and unadulterated racial equality.”

Eventually the Enid school board voted to keep the book in the curriculum after Chadwick had visited, spoken with people and held a workshop (the workshop “included discussions about the book’s place in history, teaching strategies, and useful resources”).

The move to censor Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is essentially the move to efface the stark and dreadful realities of slavery and racism from history and to evade the difficult issues Twain illustrated in Huck Finn to which Chadwick refers to above.

NewSouth publishers has already censored their 2011 editions of the book, replacing "nigger" with "slave" (a change that makes little sense considering Jim, on the escape, is no longer a slave) and erasing the word "injun" altogether. NewSouth holds up Auburn University at Montgomery in Alabama English Professor Alan Gribben as justifying their censorship.

Gribben argues that the censoring places Twain's "ideas" and novel in the 21st century and prevents the book from possibly being banned. The latter argument is an affront to any notion of freedom of expression - you do not prevent a wrong, a book being banned, by committing a perceived lesser wrong, censoring - and should be discarded as nothing more than unprincipled confusion. The former argument is perhaps an even greater affront.

The argument that the censoring brings the book into the 21st century is hopelessly unknowing and misguided. The characters in the book are not 21st century characters driving down the highway in an SUV, they are characters who emerge from and exist within the Antebellum South and float down the Mississippi on a raft (the book is an obvious period piece, documenting a specific region in time).

If Twain’s Huck Finn is to be censored of the word shall then Frederick Douglass’ “Narrative” of his life be so censored as well? The book, being as it is Douglass’ autobiography, obviously contains the offensive word. Oddly enough, Douglass edits such vulgarity as “dumb bitch,” writing instead “d-b b-h,” while leaving “nigger” wholly intact.

The usage and context of the word in Douglass’ work is on a whole far more offensive than in any place in Huck Finn, having been derived from actual events rather than Twain’s sympathetic imagination. For just two such examples one should consult the last paragraph on page 35 and the last paragraph on page 40 that continues onto page 41 (cited in the Barnes & Noble Classics edition).

The examples quoted and recounted by Douglass consist of the true realities of racism and slavery and it is intellectually and morally acceptable to include these realities in a work of fiction that deals honestly with these realities. It is morally misguided and intellectually lost to suggest otherwise.

As observed earlier the word "nigger" is an incredibly offensive racial slur, but so too was the culture of racism and the structure of slavery and Jim Crow within which the word commonly existed. It is to sanitize and diminish the ugliness and terror of these realities to begin erasing the very details that constructed the horrific racist edifice in its totality.

First the ugly language of racism and slavery are erased, then what? Shall depictions of the whipping of slaves be banned or censored? For, certainly, the whipping of a slave, the chaining of slaves together, the selling off of slave children, the hanging of slaves and the whole of violence, murder and terrorism, all integral aspects of the evils of racism and slavery, are all an order of magnitude more offensive than the word "nigger."

The evils of racism and slavery must never be sanitized. Not in any detail. NewSouth must be boycotted and their products never purchased again.

The only thing more disgusting and repulsive than the everyday, commonplace realities of slavery and its aftermath is to compound these horrors by pretending that they did not happen and attempting to efface them from history.

Douglass, Frederick, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass an American Slave

Houle, Michelle M., Mark Twain: Banned, Challenged, and Censored

Twain, Mark, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Williams, Tenley, Mark Twain: “The Lincoln of our Literature,” Bloom’s BioCritiques Mark Twain

Friday, November 05, 2010

The Democratic Debacle

The Republican Party picked up a swath of seats within the House of Representatives and several seats in the senate, although the Democrats retained their Senate dominance, riding a wave of enthusiasm among Republican supporters and taking advantage of the receding crest that is the demoralized and disgusted Democratic party’s progressive base and that is, speaking truthfully, the majority of American citizens.

The corporate press will no doubt spin elaborate and not so elaborate lies about how the Obama Democratic Party was for the most part dismissed in the midterms because the United States is actually a right leaning country and President Obama took the country too far to the left. Nothing could be more ridiculous.

The American citizenry holds social democratic positions on most issues. For example, an overwhelming majority of U.S. voters when polled have supported a universal healthcare system for decades[1] and viewed the lame, pro-corporate “healthcare reform” bill that did little more than mandate people to buy into the outrageously high-cost, dismally low-coverage, privatized, for-profit healthcare industry as a betrayal of trust and a selling out to precisely the same-old Wall Street friendly politics-as-usual apparatchiks that Obama’s campaign opportunistically and deceitfully ran against. The “financial reform” bill tells the same story, as does most of Obama’s policies, that is, when they are not significantly worse.[2]

Perhaps one of the single most painful losses is that of principled and independent liberal Russ Feingold in Wisconsin to Tea Party supported Republican businessman Ron Johnson. Feingold essentially lost by being associated with the status quo Democratic Party and the pro-corporate health care reform bill, an association so unfortunate it is difficult to formulate with concision.

Feingold was party to some of the best legislation and attempted legislation that has appeared in the last several decades. He struggled and achieved the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, along with pre-2004 John McCain, that took seven years to pass in opposition to the overwhelming might of corporate interests. Feingold was opposed to NAFTA and the spate of “free trade” agreements that serve as the foundation for the flood of jobs being outsourced to other countries. He was one of the sole principled opponents to the heinously illegal, anti-democratic, unconstitutional USA Patriot Act and, despite his support for President Obama’s healthcare bill, which he was repeatedly castigated for by Ron Johnson, he has long supported universal healthcare. In 2006 he authored the State-Based Health Care Reform Act that was to act as a “pilot program” for universal health care.

Katharine Seelye quotes Ken Goldstein, a University of Wisconsin at Madison political scientist, for the New York Times observing that “Independents deserted Democrats, period. This was not about Feingold’s record or the money or the advertising. It was about the anger of independents at the status quo.” Seelye observes that “the loss came…despite Mr. Feingold’s record of one maverick vote after another” and despite his independence and principled opposition to the status quo.

This is a distilled expression of John Judis’ observation that while “Obama deserved to lose…the country doesn’t deserve the consequences.” Nothing could illustrate this better than the situation in Wisconsin where one of the rare and unique liberal independents led by principle alone in opposition to moneyed, corporate interests was thrown overboard in favor of a Tea Party supported Republican businessman (sure to be as status quo and reactionary as anyone). The consequences of this alone are already quite unfortunate (although it is not too soon to predict a successful Feingold campaign in 2012).

The bourgeois press, certainly the outrageously partisan Fox News and its minions, are already beginning to churn out nonsense about the American people rejecting President Obama’s liberal agenda and that he must therefore turn to the right in order to regain confidence. However, the reality is that there is always a low turnout for midterm elections, those getting out to vote typically being of the right, there was enthusiasm within the Republican base which manifested itself in high voter turnout in Republican strongholds and there was a significant lack of enthusiasm within the Democratic base, manifested in low voter turnout in Democratic strongholds.

Patricia Elizondo, the Milwaukee International Association of Machinists local president discussed this lack of enthusiasm when interviewed by the New York Times. Elizondo observed that the union was not able to mobilize its members to vote in the same way they had been able to in 2008: “People have been unemployed for two years, and they’re unhappy that the health care bill was not as good as they expected…Two years ago, I had many members going door-to-door to campaign. Now they’re saying, ‘Why should I? We supported that candidate, but he didn’t follow through.’”

The only way for President Obama to regain the confidence of a majority of Americans is to keep to his campaign pledges, to stop being a business-as-usual functionary and to stop caving into some of the most extreme elements and compromising with them on far too important issues, but as any analysis of American political economy reveals, such a departure from within is practically impossible.

Therefore, let the establishment burn. Let this serve as a lesson to those politically coming of age that the left hand of the business party is no more to be trusted than the right hand and that the only way forward is to build an organized socialist movement guided democratically by the participants involved and beholden only to the people united.

[1] Noam Chomsky observes within Failed States that “[a] large majority of the population supports extensive government intervention…An NBC-Wall Street Journal poll found that ‘over 2/3 of all Americans thought the government should guarantee ‘everyone’ the best and most advanced health care that technology can supply’; a Washington Post-ABC News poll found that 80 percent regard universal health care as ‘more important than holding down taxes’; polls reported in Business Week found that ‘67% of Americans think it’s a good idea to guarantee health care for all U.S. citizens, as Canada and Britain do, with just 27% dissenting’; the Pew Research Center found that 64 percent of Americans favor the ‘U.S. government guaranteeing health insurance for all citizens, even if it means raising taxes’ (30 percent opposed). By the late 1980’s, more than 70 percent of Americans ‘thought health care should be a constitutional guarantee,’ while 40 percent ‘thought it already was.’”

[2]Such as, for instance, his alleged opposition to kidnapping, torture and special rendition that consists in reality of Obama’s Justice Department claiming that prisoners being detained indefinitely without charge or trial at a U.S. prison at Bagram air base in Afghanistan have no right to challenge these illegal transgressions through American courts. According to a UN report “ex-Bagram detainees reported being subjected to repeated interrogation involving torture or abuse.(James Cogan)”

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Discussing Anarchism and Marxism

With Eric Kerl’s recent article entitled “Contemporary Anarchism” in issue 72 of the International Socialist Review we at long last have an example of the ISR putting forth some effort to take anarchism a bit more seriously than in the past. While there is much to be desired and quite a bit lacking from the article, there is acknowledgement of the growing international anarchist movement, the significant influence of anarchism within the global movements and the outstanding call for “Marxists and…anarchists” to “stand shoulder-to-shoulder in every aspect of struggle…” That is a call not seen from the ISR in the past and it is a very welcome one indeed.

There are a few central points Kerl proposes with regards to what he calls “contemporary anarchism.” Principle among them is the claim that contemporary anarchism has drifted from classical opposition to state power and now merely “attempts to resolve the problem of state power by going around it. It claims to do this by creating space independent of authoritarian control by establishing autonomous zones.” Kerl then cites as evidence an excerpt from Hakim Bey’s The Temporary Autonomous Zone wherein Bey essentially calls for the passive retreat into one’s self, what he conceives to be the real revolutionary arena, where one must not only, as Kerl observes, cease waiting for revolutionary transition, but cease wanting it.

While it is true that Bey has become very popular and even, during the 90’s, became something of a Priest of anarchy among certain segments, it is quite open to debate how much influence this tract of lifestylism has had upon the activist anarchist movement. It is certainly without dispute that various anarchists and anarchist groups have roundly critiqued Bey and the TAZ, one of the more notorious critiques, to be sure, being Murray Bookchin’s critique in his polemic Social Anarchism or Lifestyle Anarchism that Kerl is certainly aware of considering he cites it within another context.

Rudolf Rocker provides one of the best distillations of the anarchist conception of state power in his Anarcho-Syndicalism wherein he writes that “[a]s long as within society a possessing and a non-possessing group of human beings face one another in enmity, the state will be indispensable to the possessing minority for the protection of its privileges.”

Kerl proclaims that anarchists “wish away the demands of history, as if the state will either simply evaporate or become somehow irrelevant – with no alternative prepared to fill the needs of reconstructing society.” Such a statement indicates a severe absence of knowledge of anarchist history and, in particular, Spanish anarchist history.

Rocker writes that “the problem that is set for our time is that of freeing man from the curse of economic exploitation and political and social enslavement” and Noam Chomsky, discussing this in his famous Notes on Anarchism, explains that “the method is not the conquest and exercise of state power, nor stultifying parliamentarianism, but rather ‘to reconstruct the economic life of the peoples from the ground up and build it up in the spirit of Socialism.’”

Continuing on the subjects of anarchism with regards to state power and the way in which to dismantle it Chomsky writes that “prior to the outbreak of the [Spanish] revolution, the anarchosyndicalist economist Diego Abad de Santillan had written: ‘…in facing the problem of social transformation, the Revolution cannot consider the state as a medium, but must depend on the organization of producers. We have followed this norm and we find no need for the hypothesis of a superior power to organized labor, in order to establish a new order of things. We would thank anyone to point out to us what function, if any, the State can have in an economic organization, where private property has been abolished and in which parasitism and special privilege have no place. The suppression of the State cannot be a languid affair; it must be the task of the Revolution to finish with the State. Either the Revolution gives social wealth to the producers in which case the producers organize themselves for due collective distribution and the State has nothing to do; or the Revolution does not give social wealth to the producers, in which case the Revolution has been a lie and the State would continue. Our federal council of economy is not a political power but an economic and administrative regulating power. It receives its orientation from below and operates in accordance with the resolutions of the regional and national assemblies. It is a liaison corps and nothing else.’”

During the course of the Spanish Revolution, the so-called Civil War, Gaston Leval documented collectivization and appropriation of land and industry by the revolutionary CNT (Confederacion National del Trabajo) in his Collectives in the Spanish Civil War. In Catalonia three-fourths of the land had been collectivized and workers’ syndicates appropriated the administration of industry. While collectivization existed during the Revolution, essentially while libertarian socialism existed, the state had been rendered superfluous. It was the federal council of economy, manifested through the CNT that became the “economic and administrative regulating power” as Santillan had written.

Kerl commits absolute violence against this history by dismissing the incredible heroism, diversity, nuance and achievement (however temporary) of the Spanish experiment with a few dismissive sentences. Kerl’s only source on this expansive subject appears to be the self-referential, he offers that for more on “the role anarchists played in the Spanish Civil War” we should look up Geoff Bailey’s “Anarchists in the Civil War’ in issue 24 of the ISR. Not a very promising prospect considering the ISR’s previous treatment, or mistreatment, of anarchism and anarchists. One would do much better by reading Murray Bookchin’s The Spanish Anarchists: The Heroic Years 1868-1936 and, in particular, the masterful Durruti in the Spanish Revolution by Abel Paz which offers one of the most in-depth accounts available.

Anarchism, in the libertarian socialist tradition, has quite definitive views about State power and how to dismantle it and they go well beyond theory and have in history entered into the realm of action and practice. It is ironically Marxism that never definitively deals with the dismantling of State power, leaving the problem, as with most socialist transformation and social organization within Marxism, to the dim, hazy future. Kerl illustrates this himself when he writes that “Marx once wrote, ‘All socialists see anarchy as the following program: Once the aim of the proletarian movement – i.e., abolition of classes – is attained, the power of the state, which serves to keep the great majority of producers in bondage to a very small exploiter minority, disappears, and the functions of government become simple administrative functions.’”

Marx only ever claims that the State will simply disappear, apparently by itself, with the abolition of classes. He does not explain how or why this is, he merely assumes it. However, the assumption, as Bakunin and others pointed out, was flawed. Bakunin wrote that “[n]o state, however democratic, not even the reddest republic – can ever give the people what they really want, i.e. the free self-organization and administration of their own affairs from the bottom upward, without any interference or violence from above, because every state, even the pseudo-People’s State concocted by Mr. Marx, is in essence only a machine ruling the masses from above, through a privileged minority of conceited intellectuals, who imagine that they know what the people need and want better than do the people themselves.(quoted in Chomsky’s Notes on Anarchism)”

The left-Marxist Anton Pannekoek (head of education for the international Marxist movement) agreed, writing in his Five Theses on the Class Struggle that “[t]he goal of the working class is liberation from exploitation. This goal is not reached and cannot be reached by a new directing and governing class substituting itself for the bourgeoisie. It is only realized by the workers themselves being master over production.” Chomsky quotes one of the better expressions of this view by William Paul (member of the Marxist-De Leonist Socialist Labor Party) writing in The State: its Origins and Function that “[t]he revolutionary Socialist denies that State ownership can end in anything other than a bureaucratic despotism…Industry can only be democratically owned and controlled by the workers electing directly from their own ranks industrial administrative committees.”

Anarchists contend that the State exists as Rocker wrote, to serve and secure the interests of those wielding State power and that whether they be the bourgeoisie or the vanguard of the radical intelligentsia they will perpetuate it for their own interests, for, as Bakunin observed, even workers entering into the bureaucracy of the state cease being members of the proletariat.

Preceding Kerl’s claim that anarchists have no alternative to seizing State power is a quote from Leon Trotsky on “dual power” and a quote from Engels asking whether the Paris Commune would have lasted “a single day” if not for the use of authority by the armed people. Kerl here goes awry. Firstly he conflates Bey’s TAZ with an anarchist failure to grasp Trotsky’s insightful analysis and, secondly, he conflates the authority of the collective people of the Paris Commune, presumably, with the State.

Having previously written a flawed review of Staughton Lynd’s and Andrej Grubacic’s Wobblies and Zapatistas and having here cited it Kerl should at least be aware of the notions of counter/dual power that exists within anarchism, that is what the Zapatista program is partially based upon: expanding the floor of the cage (to borrow a concept from Buenos Aires anarchists) while also creating autonomous sociopolitical space and Bey’s amorphous individualist TAZ does not constitute the latter, rather collective villages, municipalities, organizations and so on do. It is something of an irony that Kerl quotes Engels in this capacity for Engels also wrote, due to the fact that the Paris Commune demonstrated the fact that the Marxist notion that the State must first be seized was fallacious (which is what prompted Marx to write, in his pamphlet The Civil War in France, that “the working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made State machinery and wield it for its own purposes”, among other things), that anarchists have “the thing upside down.” He observes that anarchists “declare that the proletarian revolution must begin by doing away with the political organization of the state” and that this “must end in a new defeat and in a mass slaughter of the workers similar to those after the Paris commune.” It should be here noted that it was Marx who altered the Communist Manifesto’s position on the State in his The Civil War in France pamphlet, about which Engels later, after Marx’s death, reversed back to the original premise.

Kerl writes that “the fundamentals of Marxism are about full and complete human liberation – not so different from anarchist aspirations…However, political differences do exist, particularly over the means to achieve human liberation, and what social forces or classes can accomplish it.” It is true that the fundamentals of Marxism, conspicuously the writing of Marx himself and the left-Marxist tradition (Luxemburg, Pannekoek, Gorter, Ruhle, Korsch, Mattick, etcetera) consist of complete human liberation and it should further be argued that not only are they “not so different from anarchist aspirations,” they are the same aspirations and actually parallel remarkably (as I have written about with the specific examples of Rudolf Rocker, Anton Pannekoek, Rosa Luxemburg and Paul Mattick). The means to achieve liberation may differ in various ways, conspicuously with regards to seizing state power, although considering Marx’s writing on the Paris Commune, Marx himself came to agree more with the anarchists than many later self-professed “Marxists,” but the differences within the libertarian left (Marxist and anarchist) is more or less superficial and virtually negligible.

The single most significant difference between anarchism and Marxism would be that anarchism derives great strength from being a tradition or tendency that continually evolves, led by specific principles, and views revolutionary struggle as a ceaseless process rather than a doctrine and practice sealed by ideological and tactical limits and commandments. Past anarchist theorists and tacticians are understood to be flawed human beings working within the specific context of their historical and social reality who have offered great insight but who may have been wrong in various ways about a multitude of issues or whose insights may no longer apply to the constant flowing currents of history.

Marxism is similar to anarchism in having various tendencies and strains but is unlike anarchism in that it is defined by a single person, Karl Marx, who was merely a person rather than an omniscient god. In an interview entitled “The Manufacture of Consent” Noam Chomsky explains that “Marx was a major intellectual figure and it would be foolish not to learn from him or to value his contributions properly. He was, like anyone, limited in his perceptions and understanding.” He certainly wrote some of the most revolutionary analysis of capitalist production and relations, but it must be kept in mind that he did so in the 19th century and while much of it remains relevant, some of it is no longer. Treating everything Marx wrote and said as though it were the Gospel of the Lord quite simply has nothing to do with a rational scientific endeavor (Marxism self-proclaims to “scientific socialism”). For a rational science is not built upon a concrete theory set in stone that is not to be deviated from, science is actually predicated upon the attempt to falsify itself and established theory, it proceeds from various principles and axioms and is guided by theory and experimentation, discarding that which is found to be incorrect and misleading and accepting that which is found to be valid and of some pragmatic value.

As John Moore illustrates, instead of “being determined by a set of fixed theoretical and organizational concepts, anarchism develops within an ideological framework susceptible to dynamic and extensive transformations. Hence, while certain conceptual tendencies and continuities are perceptible, these are rarely permitted to ossify into dogmatic or static definition…” Anarchism here bears more resemblance to a scientific endeavor.

Perhaps an equally significant difference is that anarchism places hierarchy and domination at the center. All socially produced hierarchical relations are, unless justified in some fashion, critiqued and found to be in need of dismantling. Indeed, as Graham Purchase observes in his critique of post-modern anarchism, “anti-hierarchical ideology differentiates anarchism from All other major alternative political philosophies and practices.”

In what is perhaps Murray Bookchin’s enduring masterpiece, The Ecology of Freedom: The Emergence and Dissolution of Hierarchy, he demonstrates how anti-hierarchical ideology in anarchism differentiates it from Marxism by tracing the socially constructed origins of hierarchy back through patriarchic social constructions and gerontocracy, among other forms. Bookchin defines hierarchy as “the cultural, traditional and psychological systems of obedience and command, not merely the economic and political systems to which the terms class and State most appropriately refer. Accordingly, hierarchy and domination could easily continue to exist in a ‘classless’ or ‘Stateless’ society. I refer to the domination of the young by the old, of women by men, of one ethnic group by another, of ‘masses’ by bureaucrats who profess to speak in their ‘higher social interests,’ of countryside by town, and in a more subtle psychological sense, of body by mind, of spirit by a shallow instrumental rationality, and of nature by society and technology.” To be sure, for the sake of clarity for those unfamiliar, Bookchin was a conscious descendent of the secular Enlightenment and by sprit he meant a deep, conscious-feeling and awareness and contrasted reason with instrumental rationality, the former imparting “meaning and coherence to reality at all levels of existence” while the latter “reduced reason to rationalization…to a mere technique for achieving practical ends.” As the founder of social ecology he was also strongly opposed to anarcho-primitivism and its anti-technics, he insisted upon a rational, humane balance between natural ecology and human social technology.

Whereas Marxism is entirely predicated upon the economic realm of exploitation and oppression, anarchism is an open opposition to all forms of unjustified hierarchy and domination wherever the roots may lie.

Rudolf Rocker summarizes this well when he writes that anarchism “recognizes only the relative significance of ideas, institutions and social forms. It is, therefore, not a fixed, self-enclosed social system, but rather a definite trend in historical development of [human]kind, which, in contrast with the intellectual guardianship of all clerical and governmental institutions, strives for the free unhindered unfolding of all the individual and social forces in life. Even freedom is only a relative, not an absolute concept, since it tends constantly to become broader and to affect wider circles in more manifold ways. For the Anarchist, freedom is not an abstract philosophical concept, but the vital concrete possibility for every human being to bring to full development all the powers, capacities, and talents with which nature has endowed him[/her], and turn them to social account.”

The preceding representing differences and disagreements there is actually much of Kerl’s critique of contemporary anarchism that many anarchists would not only agree with but critique just as forcefully.

Coincidentally, while Kerl critiqued the trend in “contemporary anarchism” to espouse post-modern ideas and, in particular, the view that “the working class” is “just another socially constructed identity” with little to no revolutionary agency and potential. Graham Purchase made much the same critique in issue 54 of the Anarcho-Syndicalist Review within his “Post-anarchism and other blind spots.”

Kerl critiques the anarchist “black bloc” tactics of protest wherein a group of more or less lifestyle anarchists attempt to reach Bey’s TAZ by forming tight, militant groups for the engagement of property destruction (the smashing of corporate lobby windows, the burning of cars and so on) and street fights with the riot police in order to illustrate to the general public the hegemony of the State. While these tactics may be exciting for the lifestyle anarchists involved and make for good cannon fodder for the bourgeois press, they are wholly disengaged with the goal of attracting sympathy and good-will, raising consciousness and winning over more and more of the public.

Civil disobedience and protests are an integral aspect to any social transition and, in particular, American history. The purpose and utility behind protests is to raise the consciousness of the public, to awaken the mass slumber that is sleeping on various issues and to stir the public to mass action. Property destruction and violence prove to be the worst enemies of such a goal. The Civil Rights movement was incredibly effective because people have a general sympathy and inclination towards the nonviolent when confronted with violence. It is difficult for even a segregation sympathizer to witness the unleashing of police dogs, batons and harsh blasts of fire-hose water upon innocent, nonviolent black children. Conversely, even many of the radical left look upon adolescents throwing bricks through windows, burning cars and openly and aggressively challenging the police with disgust and regret.

While Kerl is correct when he writes that “[s]ometimes, confronting the police is necessary to win, or to defend our movement” and while there is no doubt that if there is ever to be socialist transformation there will come a point in time when the Movement will necessarily have to meet and defeat the reactionary violent retribution of the State, it remains true that unnecessary provocation that alienates and turns off the public and wonton, senseless destruction are nothing more than the self-defeating stuff of the oppositions wildest dreams.

Even the nonviolent, more passive elements of the global movement in many ways pose no real challenge or threat. Purchase writes that “[w]hile carnivals [against capital] may be fun, and certainly contain important elements of self-organization, many have become major tourist attractions that disrupt the normal flow of events (and sometimes assert diversity), but pose no real challenge to capital or the state. If the global capitalist offensive is to be contained and defeated, strategies that strike at its economic heart will have to be developed.”

Therefore many anarchists are in accord with Kerl when he writes that “[r]ather than emboldening and empowering the mass forces whose self-activity are at the heart of any successful struggle, these elitist, provocative tactics accomplish little more than offering an excuse for the state to justify its violence against social movements.”

There are, as Kerl writes, differences and disagreements between Marxists and anarchists on various issues, such as those described here, yet there are also similarities and agreements, far more than many realize. There needs to be a free, open and fair exchange of ideas and a fraternal discussion about differences (Kerl’s article is a worthy effort) and, above all, there needs to be solidarity in the struggle. For as one of the slogans of the Movement goes, “the people united will never be defeated.”