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Socialism or “Castles in the Air”?




It’s hardly a secret that the US left is barely alive. While left-wing movements in the US have hardly shaken the foundations of power in my life time, they have known moments of modest success, reshaping the political landscape in significant and irreversible ways. Since World War II, left activism has stirred and nourished important movements like the struggles for African American equality and against US aggression in Vietnam. The left has also played important roles in fueling struggles for women’s and gay rights and for strengthening environmental protection. While 1960s talk of revolution and radical alternatives were more hyperbole than real, the ferment of those days was real.

Unfortunately, little of the US left’s modest success penetrated the labor movement, a social force defanged and declawed by anti-Communism early in the Cold War. And little of the left’s wave of vitality challenged the two-party system in any serious way. As the risings of the sixties recede further and further in our collective memory, the quantity and quality of popular struggle diminishes as well.
It’s not just the number of actions or the size of the crowds that are shrinking, but also the ideological understanding that purports to animate our US left. That is, the ideas embraced by various elements of the left have grown more and more murky and superficial.
What Ails the Left?
There are many symptoms and causes of the relative decline of the US left.
But always looming in the shadows of struggles for social justice is the demon of anti-Communism. Other peoples have suffered periods of hysterical, paranoid anti-Communism, but few countries outside of the US have elevated it to a state religion. While fear of Islam may have currently replaced Cold War fears as the national obsession, anti-Communism remains deeply embedded in the national psyche. Recent movies featuring West Coast and East Coast invasions of the US by forces from the tiny Democratic People’s Republic of Korea only underscore the persistence of this demon.
Of course the US left is neither immune from nor unwelcoming to Red-baiting. From the fifties, “leftists” could earn respectability and credibility with the public ritual of denouncing Communism. It was from this period that critical financial umbilical chords from the most prominent, most influential left and liberal formations to wealthy donors, foundations, and, in some nefarious cases, the security services were established. Any independent organizations deriving grass roots funding from workers’ organizations or the nationally oppressed were routinely looked at suspiciously for Red ties.
By the early sixties, the purge of everything Red or even Pink was largely completed. Everything—words, ideas, associations—even vaguely linked to Communism had disappeared from the mainstream. And the rise of a “new” left reflected the weight of that legacy. Both opportunism and ignorance led most of the left’s new leadership to establish a political camp to the right or left of Communism, demonstrably distant from Communism: radical democracy and social democracy to the right; Maoism and anarchism to the left.
Arguably this failure to establish an honest, objective encounter with Communism, this Cold War attitude of framing all politics as a counterweight to Communism, contributed mightily to the decline of the left in the next decade. The student base and alienation from working people demonstrated the shallowness of New Left ideology. Most leaders and activists turned to careers, the Democratic Party, the social service bureaucracy, or retreated to the universities.
Anti-Communism continued and continues as a blind faith. The fall of Soviet and Eastern European socialism added a new dimension to the anti-Communist canon: Not only was Communism evil, but it didn’t work.
Without the foil of real existing socialism, the US left drifted aimlessly. Some found an ideological anchor in “market socialism,” especially with the rise of Market-Leninism in the Peoples’ Republic of China. Others found romantic answers in Comandante Zero, a pipe-smoking, inscrutable poet/revolutionary diminutive caricature of Che Guevera. Still others attempted to restore life to the New Left of the sixties. One cannot but be reminded of the situation of Russian revolutionaries after the suppressed 1905 uprising as described by Lenin:
The years of reaction (1907-10). Tsarism was victorious. All the revolutionary and opposition parties were smashed. Depression, demoralisation, splits, discord, defection, and pornography took the place of politics. There was an ever greater drift towards philosophical idealism; mysticism became the garb of counter-revolutionary sentiments. (Left Wing Communism: An Infantile Disorder)
Where most European Communists degenerated into social democrats in this period, US leftists, scarred by anti-Communism and with no similar tradition, found hope in narrow-issue activism, cult-like formations, or the unlikely revival of the New Deal Democratic Party.
Obama and the Left
The candidacy of Barack Obama proved to be a disaster for the US left. Anti-war and social justice activists put aside their signs and plans and flocked to the Obama campaign. Grandiose expectations were conjured out of thin air; a candidate associated in the past with conservative Democrats and a professed admirer of Ronald Reagan was imagined to be the second coming of Franklin Delano Roosevelt; and even cautious measures of critical support were overwhelmed by wild-eyed enthusiasm.
After the election, most of the US left kept faith with Obama, a faith that has produced very little of the anticipated change, but succeeded in disarming the left. The big loser was the historically most progressive element in US politics: the African American community. Understandably, African Americans rallied to support the first African American president, but his administration has neither represented African Americans nor lifted a finger to relieve the sinking material conditions of life for that community. In fact, often more has been done for African Americans under Republican presidents when the left is actively and vocally pressuring and Democrats are in opposition! As an example, no Republican president would get away with so few African American appointees or nominees in an administration as has the current President!
The US ruling class has successfully and opportunistically gauged the hard won level of racial tolerance of US voters. The new face of US policy and diplomacy presented by Obama was welcomed everywhere—at home and abroad—over the failed Bush regime. A byproduct of this tactic is the disarming of the left and the silencing of African American leaders. Tragically, the US left has accepted the shallow symbolism of an African American president at the expense of the African American masses.
The Crisis and the Left
For the left in the US and internationally, the profound economic crisis beginning in 2008 and continuing today offers a great opportunity to mount an anti-capitalist offensive and project a clear alternative. For over a century and a half that alternative was socialism. The vision articulated over that period differed from time to time, but shared some straightforward features: the theoretical primacy of class relations, public ownership of productive assets, an end to exploitation, a new democracy based upon the rule of the working majority, and social and economic planning. Each feature clearly addresses a glaring, unacceptable shortcoming of capitalism.
But in the US, our left will not address the devastation wrought by capitalism and embrace these features or even discuss them honestly. One of the most prominent and respected national leaders of the anti-war movement recently said: “I used to think I was a socialist… But I also think that people should have the right to be individually enterprising. I have yet to see the society that I would like to live in but I see pieces of it, bits and pieces of it here and there.” This is hardly encouragement for the 11.7 million US citizens looking for a job, the nearly 8 million who would prefer a full-time job over their part-time employment, or the tens of millions who still lack health insurance, all benefits once guaranteed and delivered by real, existing socialism.
Another prominent left pundit, in reviewing another left oracle’s “new economy” manifesto, remarks that the author’s assumptions are “…that socialism, as we have known it in the 20th century did not work.” He blithely concedes that the book’s author “spends little time critiquing 20th century socialism.” Not deterred by the lack of argument, the reviewer affirms that “I was persuaded… that a glimpse into the future is critical largely due to reality of the failure of 20th century socialism, or more accurately, what is better described as the crisis of socialism.” “…did not work,failure,” “crisis” are the unexamined, easy assumptions of our floundering left.
So what do they offer as an alternative?
Anything but the socialism associated with Communism. They take us back to the foolishness that Marx and Engels called “utopian socialism,” the schemes concocted by Fourier and Owen in the early 19th century. In the Communist Manifesto they conclude that utopians “…therefore, endeavor, and that consistently, to deaden the class struggle and to reconcile the class antagonisms. They still dream of experimental realization of their social utopias, of founding isolated phalansteres, of establishing ‘Home Colonies,’ or setting up a ‘Little Icaria”—pocket editions of the New Jerusalem—and to realize all these castles in the air, and they are compelled to appeal to the feeling and purses of the bourgeois… They, therefore, violently oppose all political action on the part of the working class; such action, according to them, can only result from blind unbelief in the new gospel.”
We find a modern incarnation of utopianism in the “New Economy” movement, the US left’s current flavor of the day. Back in late 2011, Professor Gar Alperovitz reached for the golden ring of utopia with his America Beyond Capitalism: Reclaiming our Wealth, our Liberty, and our Democracy, a book that promised to take the disenfranchised in the US from peasants to lords. Alperovitz, like his utopian predecessors, believes that ideas generously given from a fount of wisdom will, if only embraced by those below, lead to “democratizing capital.” Alperovitz’s magical ideas are the spawning of “thousands of co-ops, worker-owned businesses, land trusts, and municipal enterprises” that will, with time, “democratize the deep structure of the American economic system.” A more romantic version of Marx and Engel’s derisive “new gospel” I cannot imagine.
The very notion of “democratizing” something, let us say “capital,” that doesn’t wish to be “democratized” is mind-boggling. Will capital be embarrassed into sharing the wealth? Will the success of co-ops demonstrate to Exxon that energy should be free to all and produced in an environmentally sound manner? Will the 17-trillion-dollar US-based multinational corporate behemoth shudder in the face of worker-owned enterprises and co-ops, surrendering control of the boards of directors to the people?
I don’t think so.
Alperovitz points to existing self-styled alternative ownership models like ESOPs (Employee Stock Ownership Programs), community development corporations, co-ops, etc. as the way forward (he concedes that ESOPs have a dubious record). As such, they would offer a relatively painless “evolutionary” road different “from traditional theories of ‘revolution’.” Many “businessmen, bankers, and others, in fact, commonly support the idea [of co-ops] on practical and moral grounds,” Alperovitz proclaims. Of course they do; they see no challenge to capitalism and a possible opportunity to cash in!
The fact that “castles in the air” ideas like Alperovitz’s actually gain traction demonstrates the sad state of the US left. The fact that opinion polls show a decided increase in interest in socialism is encouraging; however, the fact that those new to the idea must taste through the unappealing, non-nourishing gruel currently favored by so many on the left is disappointing. 
For more than a century and a half, socialism—the public and democratic ownership of the essential means of production under a majority peoples’ democracy—continues to be the only ultimate answer to a tenuous and destructive capitalist system.
Zoltan Zigedy
zoltanzigedy@gmail.com


“A Lake of Blood and Destruction” — The Voices We Never Hear...

Branfman's book "Voices From The Plain...

“A Lake of Blood and Destruction” — The Voices We Never Hear...

Branfman's book "Voices From The Plain...

Stockman’s Rant




On the rare occasion, an article appears in the mainstream press that takes a deeper, more thoughtful view of human affairs, a document that gives a hint or glimpse of an unspoken truth beyond the pablum that occupies media puppets. Such an occasion was the publishing of The New York Times opinion piece entitled “State Wrecked: The Corruption of Capitalism in America” (3-31-2013) and authored by former Reaganite budget director, David Stockman.

Now Stockman is a renegade from corporate Republicanism; he actually believes in the ancient principles put forward by Adam Smith and other classical capitalist thinkers. While corporate Republicans cozy up to their party’s ugly, fascistic outliers, they always, in the end, make their bed with the rich and powerful. Stockman, on the other hand, actually embraces the mythical virtues of small business ownership and town hall democracy. In classical Marxist terms, he represents the ideology of the petite-bourgeoisie.
In the swamp occupied by Democratic and Republican politicos—the breeding ground for conventional politics—such views are unwelcome. Principled politics from the right or the left are alien equally to the snakes and the rats that prey on the cognitively weak and unwary.
Stockman is in a panic because he sees beyond the stock market euphoria and Pollyanna commentaries that have induced the mass delusions of the last several months. And what he sees angers him.
Stockman constructs an indictment, a list of charges against the current US economy: growth of output is woefully inadequate, jobs are both indecently scarce and low paying, the incomes and the net worth of “ordinary” citizens are dropping while poverty is on the rise. To anyone with a grip on reality, these are not signs of real economic recovery or systemic success. He notes that “we’ve had eight decades of increasingly frenetic fiscal and monetary policy activism intended to counter the cyclical bumps and grinds of the free market and its purported tendency to underproduce jobs and economic output. The toll has been heavy.” And yet imagine the toll if no remedial action had been taken! Surely, this unintended critique of eighty years of state-monopoly governance counts as a devastating charge against modern capitalism. If the era of state-monopoly capitalism can do no better than produce the sad state outlined by Stockman, it is decidedly a failure.
Stockman dares speak the truth so discomforting to liberals and social democrats: [World War II] “did far more to end the Depression than the New Deal did,” though he misleadingly praises the Eisenhower years for its “sound money and fiscal rectitude.” Perhaps he is too young to remember the massive increases in military spending, the ambitious interstate highway system, and the enormous growth of public spending brought on by the Cold War and the Sputnik panic. In any case, the dose of war socialism and the “frenetic… activism” of state-monopoly capitalism kept the capitalist ship afloat, though with fewer and fewer rewards for the majority of US citizens.
Stockman correctly sees that the remedies pursued by US state-monopoly capitalism directed more and more of the lubricant of public funds towards the financial sector over the last decades: the Greenspan “put,” the Long-Term Capital Management bailout, extended ultra-low interest rates, TARP, Fed purchases of bank junk, the support of federal bond prices, and support for equity markets. He calls this, not incorrectly, “Keynesianism—for the wealthy.”
And this is a salient point. It is commonplace to express the differences between Democratic and Republican policy makers since the Reagan era as pro- and anti-Keynesianism. But this is wrong. Ironically, it was only during the Clinton administration that growth of government spending was at all curtailed and today fiscal and monetary expansion remains a ready tool of the ruling class well after Reagan's departure. Certainly Keynesian pump priming has taken new and evolving forms over decades: direct job creation, military spending, massive space programs, infrastructure projects, public-private partnerships, repair of financial institutions, and stimulation of financial demand. While one or the other may be the favored priming tool of rulers at any given time, the similarities of the forms are far more important to recognize than their differences. State intervention in markets continues to be at the core of contemporary state-monopoly capitalism. Stockman sees this; others don't.
In Stockman's account, the enabler of pump priming in all of its forms has been debt. Borrowing or printing money is the means to continue the regimen of “frenetic fiscal and monetary policy activism.” But, in his view, this regimen is running out of steam. “The future is bleak.” And the “Fed has incited a global currency war (Japan just signed up, the Brazilians and Chinese are angry, and the German dominated euro zone is crumbling) that will soon overwhelm it...”
A bleak picture indeed, but one entrenched in reality.
So if modern capitalism-- in its state-monopoly form-- is a disaster, does that mean that Stockman advocates socialism?
Definitely not. Instead he holds out for a nostalgic return to the gold standard. Avoiding what he calls “end-state metastasis,” “would necessitate a sweeping divorce of the state and the market economy [the wholesale rejection of state-monopoly capitalism! ZZ]. It would require a renunciation of crony capitalism and its first cousin: Keynesian economics in all its forms. The state would have to get out of the business of imperial hubris, economic uplift and social insurance and shift its focus to managing and financing an effective, affordable, means-tested safety net.”
 In short, Stockman advocates going back to a conjured idyllic time before state-monopoly capitalism, a time imagined by the petite-bourgeoisie as one of healthy competition, entrepreneurship, and opportunity. For him, the golden age of capitalism would be the pre-depression era of small town USA, family farms, vibrant and expansive industry and foreign policy isolationism. Of course any pretense of continuity or viability of that era was dashed by the Great Depression. In fact, the policies decried by Stockman (and associated by Marxists with state-monopoly capitalism) served as a temporary backstop to the further contraction of the capitalist system produced by that fantastic era.
Stockman may wish for a return to an earlier time just as others may wish to time travel back to the court of Louis XIV, but it isn’t going to happen. Capitalism, like any organism, has its own life span, its own history. Saved from a critical illness, capitalism passed from its laissez faire period to a period of intensifying state intervention and management. Today, that phase of capitalism’s development—state-monopoly capitalism-- is also threatened with a critical illness. I would not be so bold as to predict capitalism’s imminent death, but certainly it will not be revived by reliving its past as Stockman fantasizes.
At a time when liberals and conservatives argue pathetically over the right mix of austerity and stimulus, Stockman is a welcome mainstream herald of the profound crisis pummeling global capitalism. His anxiety and anger reflect a deeper understanding of the contradictions of the moment. His rant, spiked with sarcasm and vitriol, stands in stark relief against the smugness of the lap dog punditry.
Krugman Strides into the Ring
 The Stockman screed generated a storm of opposition. Liberals and the fuzzy, mushy left were particularly affronted. Unlike Stockman, they would like to only turn the clock back to the early seventies, another supposedly “idyllic” time when business unionism was generating satisfactory contracts, the “Great Society” programs were blooming, and war in Vietnam was winding down (at least for US combatants). The fruits of the civil rights struggles and urban uprisings were realized in the creation of programs, bureaucracies, and other buffering agents against domestic insurgency. Jobs servicing the Great Society generated a stratum of social liberals who matured into the base of a social democratic left inside and outside of the Democratic Party. For them, the world turned evil and foreboding with the Reagan “revolution,” a movement they characterize as neo-liberalism.
In the dust-up with Stockman, Paul Krugman, columnist for The New York Times, assumed the role of savior and protector of their interests and perspective. Krugman, the darling of the “respectable” left, attacked Stockman for his audacious critique of the track record of state intervention in the capitalist economy. Anyone who follows Krugman knows that his response to the crisis is a simple solution: spend more public funds and spend freely until growth perks up. The soft left finds this an agreeable solution because it promises to save capitalism (and forestall socialism!) while creating a potential material basis for pet welfare programs. It is simply the fantasy of another New Deal. And never mind that Krugman doesn’t share the fantasy!
Apparently, the Stockman-Krugman battle merited a major media appearance before the Sunday morning gasbags, the big stage for what our media passes off as intellectual fare. While I lacked the stomach to watch the sparring between the two, refereed by the likes of Huffington, van Sustern, and Will, I would commend an entertaining account of the match by Mike Whitney in Counterpunch (Krugman vs. Stockman, April 11, 2013).
The merit of Stockman’s account is that he is righteously indignant with an economic system that has failed the great majority of people and inflicted great pain and uncertainty. He goes beyond the dominant rhetoric of “we are all in this together” and “we are all at fault” to find systemic rot in capitalism. He correctly places the blame for this at the doorstep of state-monopoly capitalism, the stage of capitalism evolved to rescue the system from the accumulated contradictions of laissez faire capitalism, contradictions brought to light by the Great Depression. But he cannot go where logic would take him. He cannot entertain options that would transcend capitalism. Thus, he is resigned to a pathetic nostalgia for a bygone era where the contradictions of capitalism did not appear in such sharp focus. While he stretches the bounds of mainstream thinking, he can not see beyond markets and private ownership; he cannot see socialism.
Krugman and most of the US left are thoroughly conventional in their thinking—they offer a more “enlightened” management of the economic system and a cheerful capitalism with a human face. They would be hard pressed to point to a period when capitalism bore a human face, however. Nonetheless, they are undaunted before a rising tide of interest in the socialist option. They are resolute in their fear and rejection of real socialism.
Pressured by five years of relentless economic crisis and increasing signs of favor towards socialism, especially with the young, our feckless left offers a cold plate of empty slogans of localism, anti-consumerism, platitudinous “participatory” democracy, cooperatives, and a vacuous “new” economy. As if these are answers to the $17 trillion dollar US multinational, monopoly capital behemoth. In truth, these are simply evasions and dissemblance. 
If Stockman is right and capitalism is “state-wrecked,” then its time to leave the wreckage and turn to socialism. 
Zoltan Zigedy
zoltanzigedy@gmail.com


The Failure of Laissez Faire Capitalism and Economic Dissolution of the West

paulcroberts

Author’s  Note

I receive numerous questions from readers about our economic situation and the condition of civil liberty.

There is no way I can answer so many inquiries, and no need. I have written two books that provide the answers, and they are inexpensive. I have done my job. It is up to you to inform yourself. Kindle Reader software is available as a free online download that permits you to read ebooks in your own web browser.

My latest, The Failure Of Laissez Faire Capitalism And Economic Dissolution of the West , is available as an ebook in English as of March 2013 from Amazon.com and from Barnes&Noble.

My book is endorsed by Michael Hudson and Nomi Prims and has a 5 star rating from Amazon reviewers (as of March 23, 2013). Pam Martens’ review at Wall Street On Parade is available here

Libertarians who have not read the book have had an ideological knee-jerk reaction to the title. They demand to know how can I call the present system of crony capitalism laissez faire. I don’t. The current system of government supported crony capitalism is the end result of a 25-year process of deregulation.

Deregulation did not produce libertarian nirvana. It produced economic concentration and crony capitalism.

Amazon provides as a free read the introduction by Johannes Maruschzik to the German edition. Below is my Introduction to my book.

Paul Craig Roberts, March 27, 2012

Not only has your economy been stolen from you but also your civil liberties. My coauthor Lawrence Stratton and I provide the scary details of the entire story in The Tyranny of Good Intentions [5]. In the US law is no longer a shield of the people against arbitrary government. Instead, law has been transformed into a weapon in the hands of the government.

Josie Appleton documents that in England also law has been turned into a weapon against the people. http://www.spiked-online.com/site/printable/13420/ [6] Anglo-American law, the foundation of liberty and one of the greatest human achievements, lies in ruins.

Libertarians think that liberty is a natural right, and some Christians think that it is a God-given right. In fact, liberty is a human achievement, fought for by Englishmen over the centuries. In the late 17th century, the achievement of the Glorious Revolution was to hold the British government accountable to law. William Blackstone heralded the achievement in his famous Commentaries On The Laws Of England, a bestseller in pre-revolutionary America and the foundation of the US Constitution.

In the late 20th century and early 21st century, governments in the US and Great Britain chafed under the requirement that government, like the people, is ruled by law and took steps to free government from accountability to law.

Appleton says that the result is a “tectonic shift in the relationship between the state and the citizen.” Citizens of the US and UK are once again without the protection of law and subject to arbitrary arrests and indictments or to indefinite detention in the absence of indictments.

In the US, citizens can be detained indefinitely and even executed without due process of law. There is no basis in the US Constitution for these asserted powers. The unconstitutional powers exist only because Congress, the judiciary and the American people have accepted the lie that the loss of civil liberty is the price paid for protection against terrorists.

In a very short time the raw power of the state has been resurrected. Most Americans are oblivious to this outcome. As long as government is imprisoning and killing without trials demonized individuals whom Americans have been propagandized to fear, Americans approve. Americans do not understand that a point is reached when demonization becomes unnecessary and that precedents have been established that revoke the Bill of Rights.

If you are educated by these two books, you will be better able to understand what is happening and, thus, you will be in a better position to survive what is coming.

Introduction to The Failure of Laissez Faire Capitalism and Economic
Dissolution of the West: Towards a New Economics for a Full World

The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the rise of the high speed Internet have proved to be the economic and political undoing of the West. “The End Of History” caused socialist India and communist China to join the winning side and to open their economies and underutilized labor forces to Western capital and technology. Pushed by Wall Street and large retailers, such as Wal-Mart, American corporations began offshoring the production of goods and services for their domestic markets. Americans ceased to be employed in the manufacture of goods that they consume as corporate executives maximized shareholder earnings and their performance bonuses by substituting cheaper foreign labor for American labor. Many American professional occupations, such as software engineering and Information Technology, also declined as corporations moved this work abroad and brought in foreigners at lower renumeration for many of the jobs that remained domestically. Design and research jobs followed manufacturing abroad, and employment in middle class professional occupations ceased to grow. By taking the lead in offshoring production for domestic markets, US corporations force the same practice on Europe. The demise of First World employment and of Third World agricultural communities, which are supplanted by large scale monoculture, is known as Globalism.

For most Americans income has stagnated and declined for the past two decades. Much of what Americans lost in wages and salaries as their jobs were moved offshore came back to shareholders and executives in the form of capital gains and performance bonuses from the higher profits that flowed from lower foreign labor costs. The distribution of income worsened dramatically with the mega-rich capturing the gains, while the middle class ladders of upward mobility were dismantled. University graduates unable to find employment returned to live with their parents.

The absence of growth in real consumer incomes resulted in the Federal Reserve expanding credit in order to keep consumer demand growing. The growth of consumer debt was substituted for the missing growth in consumer income. The Federal Reserve’s policy of extremely low interest rates fueled a real estate boom. Housing prices rose dramatically, permitting homeowners to monetize the rising equity in their homes by refinancing their mortgages.

Consumers kept the economy alive by assuming larger mortgages and spending the equity in their homes and by accumulating large credit card balances. The explosion of debt was securitized, given fraudulent investment grade ratings, and sold to unsuspecting investors at home and abroad.

Financial deregulation, which began in the Clinton years and leaped forward in the George W. Bush regime, unleashed greed and debt leverage. Brooksley Born, head of the federal Commodity Futures Trading Commission, was prevented from regulating over-the-counter derivatives by the chairman of the Federal Reserve, the Secretary of the Treasury, and the chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission. The financial stability of the world was sacrificed to the ideology of these three stooges that “markets are self-regulating.” Insurance companies sold credit default swaps against junk financial instruments without establishing reserves, and financial institutions leveraged every dollar of equity with $30 dollars of debt.

When the bubble burst, the former bankers running the US Treasury provided massive bailouts at taxpayer expense for the irresponsible gambles made by banks that they formerly headed. The Federal Reserve joined the rescue operation. An audit of the Federal Reserve released in July, 2011, revealed that the Federal Reserve had provided $16 trillion–a sum larger than US GDP or the US public debt–in secret loans to bail out American and foreign banks, while doing nothing to aid the millions of American families being foreclosed out of their homes. Political accountability disappeared as all public assistance was directed to the mega-rich, whose greed had produced the financial crisis.

The financial crisis and plight of the banksters took center stage and prevented recognition that the crisis sprang not only from the financial deregulation but also from the expansion of debt that was used to substitute for the lack of growth in consumer income. As more and more jobs were offshored, Americans were deprived of incomes from employment. To maintain their consumption, Americans went deeper into debt.

The fact that millions of jobs have been moved offshore is the reason why the most expansionary monetary and fiscal policies in US history have had no success in reducing the unemployment rate. In post-World War II 20th century recessions, laid-off workers were called back to work as expansionary monetary and fiscal policies stimulated consumer demand. However, 21st century unemployment is different. The jobs have been moved abroad and no longer exist. Therefore, workers cannot be called back to factories and to professional service jobs that have been moved abroad.

Economists have failed to recognize the threat that jobs offshoring poses to economies and to economic theory itself, because economists confuse offshoring with free trade, which they believe is mutually beneficial. I will show that offshoring is the antithesis of free trade and that the doctrine of free trade itself is found to be incorrect by the latest work in trade theory. Indeed, as we reach toward a new economics, cherished assumptions and comforting theoretical conclusions will be shown to be erroneous.

This book is organized into three sections. The first section explains successes and failures of economic theory and the erosion of the efficacy of economic policy by globalism. Globalism and financial concentration have destroyed the justifications of market capitalism. Corporations that have become “too big to fail” are sustained by public subsidies, thus destroying capitalism’s claim to be an efficient allocator of resources. Profits no longer are a measure of social welfare when they are obtained by creating unemployment and declining living standards in the home country.

The second section documents how jobs offshoring or globalism and financial deregulation wrecked the US economy, producing high rates of unemployment, poverty and a distribution of income and wealth extremely skewed toward a tiny minority at the top. These severe problems cannot be corrected within a system of globalism.

The third section addresses the European debt crisis and how it is being used both to subvert national sovereignty and to protect bankers from losses by imposing austerity and bailout costs on citizens of the member countries of the European Union.

I will suggest that it is in Germany’s interest to leave the EU, revive the mark, and enter into an economic partnership with Russia. German industry, technology, and economic and financial rectitude, combined with Russian energy and raw materials, would pull all of Eastern Europe into a new economic union, with each country retaining its own currency and budgetary and tax authority. This would break up NATO, which has become an instrument for world oppression and is forcing Europeans to assume burdens of the American Empire.

Sixty-seven years after the end of World War II, twenty-two years after the reunification of Germany, and twenty-one years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Germany is still occupied by US troops. Do Europeans desire a future as puppet states of a collapsing empire, or do they desire a more promising future of their own?

Americans’ Economic Prospects And Civil Liberties Have Been Stolen

Not only has your economy been stolen from you but also your civil liberties. My coauthor Lawrence Stratton and I provide the scary details of the entire story in The Tyranny of Good Intentions.

Sixto and the Queen of Versailles




Seventy-five years ago, Christopher Caudwell’s Studies in a Dying Culture was published posthumously. Caudwell, a brilliant young British Communist writer and poet volunteered to fight for the Spanish Republic and was killed in 1937. If Caudwell’s assessment of capitalist culture was appropriate to the mid-twentieth century, that culture has reached a terminal phase in the second decade of the twenty-first century.

The artistic and personal liberties unleashed by the escape from the repressive, conformist 1950s and the energy and optimism accompanying the civil rights and anti-war movements were methodically and overwhelmingly suffocated by corporate cooption. Any and every new spring of creative originality—whether it be a new popular musical form or an original film director—has been damned and channeled by the monopoly entertainment industry. As a result, cultural products with any claim to broad popularity are reduced to either formulaic, safe entertainments or vapid, lifeless expressions of “high” culture.

This is not to demean the tens of thousands of talented cultural workers who struggle at minimum wage jobs while studying and exercising their craft for the few willing to step away from the corporately constructed temples of culture. They labor even more heroically than their predecessors who were occasionally able to hew some measure of independence from the grasp of cultural moguls and business accountants. That is less possible today when only unrestrained vulgarity and violence or unchallenging distraction and fantasy offer the keys to entering the cultural big stage.

In an age where the promise of hip hop has been reduced to a grinding pulse of swagger, violence, and selfishness and the freedom of independent commercial film predictably delivers time-released, regular spasms of ultra-violence, nudity, and sex, relief from the tedium is especially delicious. More and more that relief is coming from documentary film.

I have in mind two documentaries that expose the worst and best of the US. 

The Queen of Versailles

The best documentaries often rise to great heights on sheer dumb luck; the Irish film makers who, by happenstance, captured close-up the coup against Hugo Chavez and its aftermath were extraordinary examples of the film gods in action (The Revolution Will Not Be Televised). Similarly, Lauren Greenfield's 2012 documentary, The Queen of Versailles draws its drama from the impact of the economic crisis upon one of the richest families in the US. What begins as the capture of the excesses and embarrassing vulgarity of the nouveau riche devolves to a tale of blame, self-pity, and neglect, thanks to the impact of the unforeseen crisis.

On the way up, a fortune built around the hustle and shrewd entrapment of the time-share industry allows an orgy of self-indulgence, senseless consumerism, and smugness. David Siegel, the ruler of the empire, brags about his clandestine role in getting Bush elected President; he creates a glitzy tower in Las Vegas to signal his success, and he aspires to build the largest private home in the US to flaunt that success. Siegel embodies Marx’s infamous iconic capitalist: “… The less you eat, drink, and buy books; the less you go to the theater, the dance hall, the public house; the less you think, love, theorize, sing, paint, fence, etc, the more you save—the greater becomes your treasure which neither moths nor dust will devour—your capital.” But as Marx acknowledges, your abstinence and single-minded greed is rewarded, for your accumulated wealth can “appropriate art, learning, the treasures of the past, political power…” And Siegel does all of this.

But the 2008 economic collapse brings the Siegel family to its knees. Dead, unattended pets; dog feces on carpets; fast food; cranky, spoiled children; and sullenness and self-pity replace the former swagger. “It’s the banks, the rotten, greedy banks,” the Siegels exclaim. They angrily protest that “ordinary” people like themselves are victimized by selfish bankers.

As the empire totters, the Siegels scramble to adjust. On a visit to her childhood friends, wife Jackie must subject her children to their first flight on a commercial airline. “Why are these other people on our plane?” they wonder. Jackie asks the rental car agent for the name of the driver; he responds with a puzzled look. The rich are not like the rest of us.

Through their “ordeal,” David Siegel sulks, whines, and wallows in self-pity. While Jackie’s untamed consumerism remains pathological, she shows more character and resilience, serving as both the family’s anchor and morale-booster. This snap shot of the very wealthy in full bloom and under duress shows the shallowness of that life choice and the ugliness of conspicuous self-aggrandizement. It is hard to feel sympathy for the Siegels.

Searching for Sugarman

If the Siegels conjure contempt, even disgust, Sixto Rodriguez—the focus of the documentary, Searching for Sugarman—counts as a glorious expression of the best of us. Rodriguez, a discarded cultural worker, exudes nobility, humility, warmth, and intelligence, whether working in small, marginal clubs, laboring on excavation or demolition sites, raising his children, or enjoying a belated celebrity.

Others have written of his strange, magical journey from a quickly emerging and falling talent forty years ago to the re-discovered celebrity of today. In between, Rodriguez worked and raised his children like millions of others, but with uncommon dignity and strength. The film, Sugarman,attests to the man’s resilience, but also celebrates his incredible impact upon others.

Unmistakably, Rodriguez, himself a former autoworker and the son of an immigrant Mexican autoworker, is a legacy of the US multi-national working class—a living example of the best of working class values. He, like his co-workers interviewed in the film, has an unassuming intellect and unqualified respect for others.

And he and his music are consummately “political.” Not in any clumsy or preachy sense, but in a way that speaks to and for the disadvantaged, that resonates with those who seek change. Early in his career he associated in Detroit with John Sinclair, the political commissar of the proto-proletarian-punk group, the MC5. Later, when his music arrived in Australia, he opened in live performances for Australia’s most widely known politically outspoken rock group, Midnight Oil.

But the greatest testament to his strong politics is the curious and bizarre impact on South African youth. After Angolan independence at the end of 1975, South Africa intensified its military interventions in that country and Namibia. Over the next decade, conscription of white South Africans into the military met further and further resistance. For reasons that remain obscure, the music of Rodriguez, commercially a flop in the US, found a following in South Africa. Rodriguez became the voice of resistance and change for many young, white South Africans. His music created the sound track for the anti-conscription movement. And by the mid-eighties he inspired other musical groups to propel the End Conscription Campaign. The Kalahari Surfers, Cherry Faced Lurchers, and other alternative musical groups gave expression to disenchanted white youth (see Forces Favourites, Rounder Records, 1986). The resounding defeat of the South African military by the Angolan military and its Cuban internationalist ally, the growing militancy of the African National Congress and the South African Communist Party, and the disenchantment of white South Africans brought apartheid to its knees and paved the way to South African liberation.

In a real way, this modest worker in Detroit helped rock the foundations of the racist, repressive apartheid system in South Africa-- quite an accomplishment for an artist without recognition in his homeland. Quite an achievement for a talent initially crushed by the gears of an industry driven by immediacy and profit.

Where The Queen of Versailles drains the spirit with its celebration of accumulation and ostentation, Searching for Sugarman brings joy and inspiration. Both are revealing. Watch them both, one after the other. Hang your head in embarrassment with the decadence that the unbridled capitalist system has wrought. Raise your head with hope for the nobility that people like Rodriguez bring to us.

Zoltan Zigedy
zoltanzigedy@gmail.com      


Spotting ‘fashion fingerprints’: Google Glass app helps locate friends

Published time: March 08, 2013 12:47

A Google employee wears Glass at Google's Developers Conference. (AFP Photo / Mathew Sumner)

New Google Glass app InSight takes the experience of spotting your friends to the next level, as it recognizes your peers by their clothes and accessories – matching specific color patterns and textures to the user.

This new human recognition software makes it impossible to lose your friends in a packed place, such as an airport, concert hall or shopping center.

The app creates a ‘fashion fingerprint’ for every friend based on the outfit they are wearing including clothes, jewelry, glasses, etc.

‘Fashion fingerprint’ is generated by snapping pictures of the user and creating a file of that image called a ‘spatiogram’, which calculates patterns and spatial distribution of colors on the user and analyzes the information to identify that particular person later on in the distance or from a different angle. 

The new system is being partly funded by Google and was presented at the HotMobile technology conference last week, while currently still being developed by the Duke University in North Carolina.

So far the app has been tested by 15 volunteers and managed to identify people correctly 93 per cent of the time.

The software does not use facial recognition systems to locate individuals since it is unlikely that the users will be looking straight into the Google Glass’ camera, InSight developer Srihari Nelakuditi told New Scientist.

He also noted that the ‘fashion fingerprint’ lasts only as long as the user does not change clothes. Afterwards, a new snapshot must be made and a new ‘fingerprint’ created. Thus, for privacy protection, all the user has to do is change outfits, argues Nelakuditi.

Google Glass is a new wearable computer with a head-mounted display. It displays information in a smartphone-like format hands-free and can interact with the internet via natural language voice commands.

The new product does raise new privacy issues, especially considering that users will be able to video record everything through Google Glass without being noticed by others.

Australian Senator Cory Bernardi believes that Google Glass will be “the end of privacy as we know it” because the device can be used for massive surveillance, The Register quoted him as saying.

“A single Google Glass wearer in your favorite restaurant could capture your image and your conversation without you ever knowing,” argues Bernardi. “The footage would be stored on the Google servers, your voice could be translated into text and with the use of facial recognition, could be actually matched to your Google profile.”

Google also has been facing a row of privacy battles in EU and US for its current products.

Just last month European data protection agencies said they intend to crack down on the US internet giant Google before summer after it allegedly failed to follow their orders to comply with EU privacy laws.

Previously, the data protection agencies warned Google that its new confidentiality policy was not in line with EU laws. The regulators included a list of 12 "practical recommendations" which would bring Google’s privacy policy and data collection up to standard. The advisory centers on the firm’s automatic collection of personal data, ranging from browsing histories, to real-time location, to credit card details.

Since January, Google has also been embroiled in its biggest privacy battle yet in the UK over reportedly tracking users’ online habits. At least 10 UK citizens began legal action with dozens more lining up. According to media estimates up to 10 million Britons could join in.

Google is accused of evading security settings on Apple’s devices and Safari’s web browser in order to keep tabs on people’s online preferences.

Was 2012 the Best Year for Documentaries?

Was 2012 the Best Year for Documentaries?

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Posted on Mar 1, 2013
Anonymous9000 (CC-BY)

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The ABC of Bourgeois Politics


From the Russian Revolution until the demise of Soviet and Eastern European socialism, one dominant, uncompromising and persistent theme has obsessed ruling elites in the capitalist world and their allies: Anything but Communism(ABC). The ABC doctrine has led to the seemingly contradictory consequence of “champions” of democracy and human rights embracing anti-Communist despots and torturers. It has led the same celebrated values to be compromised in capitalist countries by the violent repression of Communists, leftists, and workers. The doctrine has placed arbitrary limits on the rights of self-determination for any emerging nation daring to flirt with a non-capitalist path. And when Communism threatens to breach the barriers constructed by the capitalist class, that class resorts to the most extreme form of Anything but Communism: fascism. 

For the left, ABC has often appeared to be an insurmountable hurdle to the goal of peoples’ power and socialism. Too often the task of overcoming ABC overwhelms the advocates of socialism, leading to compromise, concession and ideological dilution. Certainly, many of the formerly powerful Communist Parties of Western Europe succumbed to this lure. The self-described Euro-Communists, especially, hoped to convince their opponents that they were reliable and docile contestants unworthy of the class hatred embodied in ABC. They thought that by demonstrating their fealty to bourgeois standards of political conduct and by donning the trappings of civil parliamentarians, they would win the respect of their class foes. But the illusion of acceptance through “historical compromise” and electoral coalition proved to be just that—an illusion. Today, these parties have thoroughly demonstrated their “trustworthiness” by totally abandoning Communism for tepid class-neutral reformism.

ABC and Syriza

In the wake of the twenty-first-century crisis of capitalism, the need for a revolutionary movement of peoples’ power and socialism becomes both more apparent and more urgent with every passing day. The material conditions of most poor and working people have sunk to a level demanding far more radical solutions than those offered by the traditional bourgeois parties. Their failure to correct, or even address, the harsh deterioration of mass living standards over the last five years confirms their political irrelevance.

Nor are the romantic and spontaneous movements of the recent past of any use in the face of the ravages of a capitalist economic, social, and political crisis. Subcommandante Marcos or the leader-eschewing leaders of the Occupy movement are incapable of combating the ravages of a wounded capitalism despite the enthusiasm and encouragement of much of the US and European left.

Indeed, the objective conditions call for an organized movement determined to overthrow capitalism and replace it with peoples’ rule and the construction of socialism.

Yet the US left and much of the European left are still captured by the mentality of Anything but Communism. They subjectively hope to manage capitalism and yearn to return to the pre-crisis world of life-style advocacy, promotion of social harmony and tolerance, and incremental social welfare; they imagine class struggle without class conflict; and they share the make-believe hope of class justice without class domination.

This hope is found in the most recent celebrity of the Greek party, Syriza, and its attractive and agreeable leader, Alexis Tsipras. Syriza embodies the delusions of the US and European soft-left in the post-Soviet era: it advocates a noisy but vacuous anti-capitalist posture attached to a program of “enlightened” management of capitalism. Like its forebears in Social Democracy and Euro-Communism, it offers to appease the bourgeoisie while promising a distant goal with no more clarity than that of William Blake’s poetic Jerusalem.

Tsipras reveals the timidity and conservatism of the Syriza program in two recent documents: an interview with Bret Stephens of The Wall Street Journal published as a glowing opinion piece (The Conscience of a Radical) on January 28, 2013 and an article authored by Tsipras in Le Monde Diplomatique (The Greek Revival Plan, February 16, 2013).

The WSJ interview occurred when Tsipras visited New York to “meet with think-tank scholars, journalists and International Monetary Fund officials, and to be dined at the State Department,” to quote Stephens. It is hard to envision anyone frightening capitalism while maintaining this itinerary. As the friendly Stephens noted: “It definitely amused me to meet him in the breakfast room at his hotel, the Helmsley Park Lane on Central Park South. Not exactly the cafeteria of the proletariat.”  

The trusted spokesperson for monopoly capital, Stephens, found much to like in the spokesperson for Syriza. He concludes that: “If the radical in Syriza means a party capable of thinking for itself and posing the right questions, maybe the right answers won’t be far behind.”

Apart from this ringing endorsement, what answers does Tsipras offer to the growing devastation of Greece and the capitalist crisis?

Tsipras assures Stephens that he advocates neither a default on Greek debt nor an exit from the euro zone.
Instead, Syriza is committed to a “conference” with the European Union to discuss negotiating a restructuring of Greece’s debt (Tsipras writes of the “public debt” though he also calls for the recapitalization of Greek banks, presumably mainly private banks). The model for this maneuver is the 1953 conference called to renegotiate the debt of the Federal Republic of Germany (Tsipras fails to acknowledge that there were two Germanys in 1953!) where 21 countries agreed to reduce the FRG debt and invoke less onerous terms. Unsaid in his proposal is the Cold War context of the 1953 conference. Conferees remembered well the consequences for the world of the heavy reparations and debt imposed on Germany after World War I. They were equally anxious to draw the FRG into the Cold War (the FRG joined NATO IN 1955) and in need of the FRG’s growing industrial might. Nothing remotely like these considerations weighs on the other EU members in deciding Greece’s fate today.

But how would Syriza secure such a conference today? By moral suasion? By calling on historical parallels? Neither would move EU leaders or their Central Bankers to participate in a plan that they would perceive as disordering financial markets. To believe so is to vastly misunderstand the logic of contemporary capitalism. There is something remarkably naïve in believing that the Greek crisis can be solved by merely calling a conference of EU leaders.

Tsipras, in both his interview and article, blames Greece’s sorry state on corruption. He does not place the capitalist system, the capitalist crisis, inequality, or any other systemic element or process in Syriza’s sights; rather, he sees Greece declining because of corruption and cronyism. Surely the leader of a “radical left” party must recognize that capitalism breeds corruption just as surely as it generates crisis. Corruption is an inevitable byproduct of capitalism and will reappear and expand as long as capitalism exists. To attack it, one must attack capitalism.

But there is no attack on capitalism in Tsipras’ or Syriza’s plans. Instead, there is “…breaking with the past… working for social justice, equal rights, political and fiscal transparency—in other words, democracy.”

Fine. But these broad slogans are not socialist. They are not even anti-capitalist. In fact, they could be embraced easily by Social Democrats in Europe or even Democrats in the US.

For those who were quick to condemn the Greek Communists (KKE) for not joining with Syriza in an electoral coalition, Tsipras’ and Syriza’s program should cause pause to reconsider. Like previous appeasers of Anything but Communism, Syriza trades on its differences with Communists. It offers a pledge of fidelity to the bourgeois rules of the game. Like other appeasers, it sacrifices principled advocacy of socialism to political expediency, a sacrifice that gets us no closer to peoples’ power or to socialism. Once Syriza is compelled to come forth with a program, it is impossible to locate a common ground with revolutionary Communists.

Tackling global capitalism—essential to reversing the continuing devastation of this deep and profound crisis—requires more than a conference and a series of slogans. Real solutions are not to be found with those promising to guide capitalism out of an inhuman crisis of its own making.

Zoltan Zigedy
zoltanzigedy@gmail.com 

Iran online game tops German contest

Iranian online video game wins at German intl. game contest

Iranian online video game Asmandez II (Sky Fortress II) has won at the German Massively Multiplayer Online Game (MMO) 2013 contest.

Asmandez II beat out four other competitors and picked up the Best Indie Game Award of the eighth edition of the contest.

Asmandez II is a browser-based science-fiction strategy MMOG in space opera genre. The game uses the latest web technologies of HTML5 and CSS3 and can be played in both English and Persian languages.

The online strategy game Asmandez II is sequel of the Iranian first online video game Asmandez I that was released in July, 2010, and quickly gathered over 100 000 online users.

Both versions of Asmandez are set in future when inhabitants of the Solar System are engaged in a war with robots and try to go to another system called Limbas.

The sequel which has been made with more advanced narrative strategies and high artistic techniques is available for playing on phone, tablet, or PC.

Produced by Iran's National Foundation for Computer Games, Asmandez II is capable of supporting over 5,000 users at the same time.

The science fiction games were developed by a group of young Iranian experts in an effort to promote computer science in the country.

Iran had earlier released its first three-dimensional video game titled the Age of Heroes in 2009, which was designed based on the stories narrated in the Persian epic poet Ferdowsi's magnum opus, The Shahnameh.

“Some 10 million people use computer games in Iran, only 100 of which can design and develop video games,” Head of Iran's National Foundation for Computer Games Behrouz Minaie had earlier said.

A Massively Multiplayer Online Game (MMO or MMOG) is a multiplayer video game which is capable of supporting hundreds or thousands of players simultaneously on the Internet.

FGP/FGP

Google Wallet Intentionally Shares Private Information

Google-privacy
An Australian software developer has raised concerns over Google's app store, after being sent the full names, email and some postal code information of everyone who bought his mobile app.

Notes from the Brink: The Economy in the Winter of 2013



Workers’ Woes

Workers at a non-union Toyota plant in Kentucky have been offered incentives to retire early in order for management to replace them with new hires at a lower starting wage. The labor cost advantages formerly enjoyed by Toyota—the non-union premium—is no longer available to non-union plants in the auto industry. It seems the wages and benefits long ago won by a more aggressive UAW have retreated to the extent that non-union plants must now secure lower compensation in order to compete!

Since the UAW has conceded starting pay in the unionized industry down to about $14-16 per hour, Toyota seeks to replace older workers making around $26 per hour in their Kentucky plant with new hires at $16 per hour. Thus, the union shops are paradoxically pressuring downward the wages and benefits of non-union employees .

As reported in The Wall Street Journal, industry experts claim that the non-union manufacturers enjoyed a $29 an hour competitive advantage in wages and benefits as recently as 2008. By the end of 2011, they report that non-union labor costs were about equal with General Motors and actually higher than Chrysler!

It is hard to imagine a more demoralizing consequence for the union movement in the US: if only the market, and not a fighting union, is to competitively determine wages and benefits, how does one entice workers to join the union? For the bankrupt UAW leadership, union growth comes only from striking a deal with the employers-- a deal that would promise collaboration and stability at the expense of workers’ pay and benefits.

The decimation of the living standards of US unionized auto workers came with the bailout and subsequent temporary stewardship of the auto industry by a Democratic Party administration. That same administration demanded plant closings and layoffs as a condition of the bailout.

With friends like these, workers are sadly in dire straits.

Clearly, radical changes are in order, changes that cry out for class struggle unionism and independent political action. Without a new direction, US workers will continue the descent towards Depression-era living standards.

Currency Wars 

The 1917 text of Lenin’s Imperialism projected intense struggles between rival capitalist powers. Written during an unprecedented total war between the most economically advanced countries, a war that when settled cost the lives of millions of  people, Lenin’s tract explained the First World War as a contest between empires seeking global advantage for the spoils of capitalist exploitation.

Less than twenty years later, the same empire-building forces were again unleashed to carve the world in a desperate attempt to secure markets and sources of strategic resources. World War Two further confirmed Lenin’s thesis that competing capitalist powers were unable to collaborate and cooperate for some greater, universal good. Instead, competition always begets aggression, national chauvinism, and war.

Many were dismissive of Lenin’s prophecies when witnessing the Cold War expediencies of inter-imperial cooperation against the emerging post-war socialist community. With well over a third of the world’s population in the socialist camp, the imperial rivals found a temporary basis of unity around fears and resistance to the success of socialist revolution. The survival of capitalism tamed the inherent rivalries for that moment.

The demise of that threat with the collapse of Eastern European socialism and the accommodation with capitalism by Asian Communists has unleashed the beast of imperial competition. The global economic crisis only serves to fuel the tensions and expose the rivalries.

I wrote in November of 2008 of the “global crackup”, noting that the US was no longer in a position to impose its will on the rest of the world, unable to slough its problems easily upon others. I drew attention to the logic of capitalist competition that, in the long run, denies any hope of cooperation and common solutions.

Today, that tendency— aggressive imperialist rivalry—has found its expression in a new war, a war waged around the relative value of national currencies.

Rulers understand that in a climate of stagnant or declining world trade, nation-states will draw an advantage from devaluing national currencies; by cheapening money—the medium of exchange— domestic enterprises will be able to offer their products at a more favorable price in international markets.

The US tepid “recovery” from the depths of the crisis has largely been won by hyper-exploitation of a docile work force and the dramatic expansion of exports through the Federal Reserve’s massive devaluation of the dollar via the printing press. The Qualitative Easing programs aim to suppress interest rates and remove the corporate garbage generated by the financial promiscuity of the period before the collapse of 2008. But they also have the not-so-unintended consequence of bolstering the competitiveness of US export manufacturing.

At the same time, US policy makers pointed an accusatory finger at the Peoples’ Republic of China, charging its leaders with currency manipulation. While the charge got little traction from those who closely studied these relationships, it served as a useful diversion from US policies and bolstered rounds of anti-China bashing by do-nothing politicians and labor mis-leaders.

European Union leaders, occupied with the desperate effort to save the Euro, offered little resistance to US currency manipulation.

But with the election of Shinzo Abe in Japan, the currency war was joined. Abe, a right-wing nationalist, exploited the Japanese public’s frustration with years of ineffective governance and economic stagnation to scorn cooperation and offer an aggressive economic program geared towards restoring Japanese competitiveness. Assuming the office of Prime Minister, he launched an aggressive campaign to devalue the Yen. His pressure on the Bank of Japan has already (in less than two months!) produced a drop of 10% in the Yen’s value against the dollar and 15% against the Euro. This means that Japanese products are enjoying a growing competitive advantage in international markets.

International bankers see these moves clearly as the opening salvos in a major escalation of the currency/trade wars. Politicians in countries throughout the world have quietly made similar moves to spur competitiveness, but never with the open audacity shown by Abe.

Perhaps even more disturbing is the unabashed belligerence and arrogant nationalism accompanying these economic moves. The Japanese government has provoked disputes with nearly every Asian Pacific government over barren islands claimed as part of Greater Japan. Imperial aggression is as great a danger today as it was nearly a hundred years ago when Lenin established it as a structural feature of mature capitalism.

A Hushed Mea Culpa       

Capital’s policeman, the International Monetary Fund, has offered a quiet confession of an arcane theoretical mistake of enormous consequence. As the leading cheerleader for decades of the “fiscal responsibility” approach to public programs, the IMF can take dubious credit for the policy of austerity as a general panacea for economic duress. A cursory look at the IMF legacy shows a constant, unrelenting enforcement of balanced budgets and meager public spending. Developing countries seeking IMF loans have felt the lash of austerity as a condition of relief.

A cornerstone of IMF thinking was a little discussed macro-economic assumption of the compounding effects of debt reduction. Where “unschooled” common sense might suggest that removing a dollar of public spending from economic activity would remove at least a dollar from a nation’s gross domestic product, the IMF postulated that it would reduce economic activity by only half of a dollar. That is, the “multiplier” for a reduction of public spending was only .5. The assumption, of course, is the neo-liberal axiom that the dollar spent elsewhere in the private sector MUST always be far more productive, must always be greater than unity and, therefore, must always outweigh the loss of “inefficient” public sector spending.

Unfortunately, the axiom is wrong. IMF empirical studies show that, in fact, the multiplier of public spending reductions ranges between .9 and 1.7. In other words, the negative impact of public spending cuts was underestimated by two to three times! The IMF confessed as much in its October report. Unstated, however, is the negative impact of this “error” on hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of people who have lost public benefits to the discipline of IMF imposed “fiscal responsibility”. Even more have suffered from the constraint on economic growth produced by the regimen of austerity.

And yet debt reduction through choking government spending remains a priority of political parties from the far right to the social democratic left.

The Sky is Falling, but not on Everyone yet!  

You would never know it from the Wall Street pundits loudly proclaiming the best January stock market in two years, but the US GDP shrank in the final quarter of 2012 (as it did in the UK, the EU, and even the seemingly bullet-proof German economy).

Generally, negative GDP panics investors and disrupts markets, but we live in special times. To the extent that labor remains quiescent and social movements fail to translate into anti-capitalist uprisings, investors and the capitalist class have made their peace with historically unacceptable unemployment and stagnating, but stable economic growth. It’s the earnings that catch the eye of the investors and the wealthy. And they have been holding up rather well so far.

In fact, they are creating the conditions for another round of risk-taking. Money market funds are flush with cash and seeking greater returns, securitization of debt is on the rise again (securities built on auto loans are greater than at any time since 2005), and banks are again growing their real-estate loan portfolios. Capitalism and the lust for ever greater accumulation never sleep!

Of course it is the very mechanism of accumulation, the search for yield on swelling capital (and the accompanying pressures on profitability), that announces the next round in the crisis.

Zoltan Zigedy
zoltanzigedy@gmail.com




    

   
    

Russia’s Yandex overtakes Microsoft in world wide searching

RIA Novosti / Mikhail Fomichev

RIA Novosti / Mikhail Fomichev

Russia’s Yandex search engine has pushed Microsoft’s Bing aside in global search statistics, climbing to fourth place after Google, Baidu and Yahoo!

­The world-wide search statistics are compiled by comScore’s qsearch.

The trend started November, Yandex representative Tatyana Komarova told Vedomosti daily. Then Yandex processed 4.62 billion search requests compared to Microsoft’s 4.48 billion requests that meant each had roughly a 2.6 percent share. In December the trend continued, as Yandex handled 4.84 billion requests (2.8 percent share) and Microsoft 4.48 billion (2.5 percent share). In the number of unique searchers the companies change places – in December with Microsoft having 268.6 million, and Yandex just 74.4 million.

The growth in searches through Yandex happened because of increase of Russian internet use, according to Komarova. The Russian segment grew 17% in 2012 up to 42.2 million users.

Even through it improved its performance worldwide Moscow-based Yandex NV (YNDX) is a long way behind Google, which retains its position of the world’s search leader. Google handled 114.73 billion requests in December for a 65.2 percent market share. China’s Baidu came next with 14.5 billion (8.2 percent), followed by Yahoo with 8.63 billion (4.9 percent).

However, while Google dominates American and European markets – over 65 percent of American searches and over 90 percent of European searches are made with the Google; in Russia it gives ground to Yandex. In Russia, Yahoo accounts for twice as many searches as Google, having 60.5 percent of Russia’s web-search market compared to 26.4 percent for Google. Like Google Yandex’s core business is in search and also has innovative projects from data and mobile to mapping.

Yandex has become the first Russian company to get access to the vast database of the CERN nuclear research establishment in Switzerland. Last fall Yandex rolled out its own web browser and Android app store in Russia, hoping to expand them worldwide. Yandex also developed a voice-activated visual search engine for Facebook called Wonder, which lets people find local businesses friends had visited or taken photos at, what music they’d been listening to, and what news they had been reading. However, Facebook had to cut its data access (along with Twitter’s Vine app, among others) due to its data policy.

Taking advantage of Russia’s rapidly growing internet market, Yandex has opened up in Turkey. The company says it hopes to raise its market share to 35 percent in five years from 1.4 percent today.  Google has 93.7 percent market share in Turkey according to ComScore. “The target looks ambitious,” Aleksandr Vengranovich, an analyst at Otkritie Capital in Moscow, told Bloomberg. He noted that it took Google about five years to reach 26 percent in Russia, with most of its gains coming from Yandex. 

Yandex says it chose Turkey because of its population of 75 million, and an increasing online audience, Bloomberg reports. The country is now the No. 6 web search market. In November, Yandex became the default search on handsets running the Windows Phone operating system in Turkey, even though Microsoft’s Bing search engine is available. In Turkey, Yandex also developed technology for street-view maps that blurs the face of Kemal Ataturk statues and street portraits to comply with a ban on photographing images of the country’s founder.

250,000 Twitter accounts compromised in sophisticated cyber attack

AFP Photo / Lionel Bonaventure

AFP Photo / Lionel Bonaventure

Twitter has become the latest target of a sophisticated cyber attack, with around 250,000 accounts exposed. The breach appears to be the latest in a string of attacks on news content sites that’s being blamed on Chinese hackers.

­In its blog, Twitter has announced that it has detected “unusual access” patterns to user’s data and one live attack, which the company has successfully disabled. However, the company states that quarter of a million users have had their information hacked.

“This attack was not the work of amateurs, and we do not believe it was an isolated incident. The attackers were extremely sophisticated, and we believe other companies and organizations have also been recently similarly attacked,” statement explained.

As a precautionary security measure, Twitter has reset passwords and revoked session tokens for those accounts it believes were compromised. The company also warns of increased cyber-attack activity throughout the internet and encourages strengthening one’s account passwords.

The social media giant, which arguably revolutionized the news world with immediate access to information, concurs with the recent US Department of Homeland Security warning to disable Java on internet browsers. The company is also “helping government and federal law enforcement in their effort to find and prosecute these attackers to make the Internet safer for all users.”

Twitter fell short of accusing anyone of the attack, but indirectly indicated that it followed a pattern previously reported by the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times.

On Wednesday, the NYT have announced that passwords and accounts of their staff have been infiltrated for four months by hackers from China.

The timing of the attacks coincided with an investigative report into the wealth of Wen Jiabao, China’s prime minister. 

The Times hired an expert to determine the source of the attack who concluded that “the attacks started from the same university computers used by the Chinese military to attack United States military contractors in the past.”

China’s Ministry of National Defense responded to the accusations “Chinese laws prohibit any action including hacking that damages Internet security.” It added that “to accuse the Chinese military of launching cyberattacks without solid proof is unprofessional and baseless,” NYT quotes.

On Thursday, the Wall Street Journal made similar accusations, “Chinese hackers believed to have government links have been conducting wide-ranging electronic surveillance of media companies including The Wall Street Journal.”

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei was quoted by the WSJ as saying “Cyber-attacks are transnational and anonymous. It's very hard to track the source of attack,” he said. “To presume the source of a hacking attack based on speculation is irresponsible and unprofessional.” He added that “Chinese authorities make serious efforts in fighting cyber-attacks.”

Also on Thursday, Bloomberg announced that unsuccessful attempts had been made to access its system.

Lawsuit: Google Secretly Tracking Users

Over 100 Brits are taking landmark action against the company over the way it tracked their online habits.

Does Porn Hurt Relationships?

An unscientific new survey says it does. But experts argue that it can actually help.

January 22, 2013  |  

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Looking for further proof of the  damaging effects of porn? Lucky for you, the pre-eminent scientific journal Cosmopolitan magazine has weighed in with a survey purporting to show that porn is ruining sex.

I kid, of course. The glossy surveyed 68 “relationship experts” and found that the majority think X-rated material can harm relationships. The magazine also found that said experts believe porn damages women’s confidence, which is rich coming from a publication that inflames women’s insecurities in order to sell them a consumerist wet dream. I’m not going to even address the countless glaring research flaws here — that would be giving the survey far too much credit — instead, this seems a good excuse to talk about about how porn can be used to the benefit of relationships.

This isn’t at all to negate the potential for porn to be legitimately damaging. Reasonable people can agree that mainstream porn, as with most popular media, often produces unrealistic aesthetics and expectations — not to mention poor sex education and instruction, right? That’s something worth discussing in a relationship, no doubt. But instead of condemning all erotic material as an enemy to sex, what about taking the more productive route of talking about how porn can actually be good for relationships.

First off, it’s important to note that porn “is by no means monolithic,” as  Carol Queen, Good Vibrations’ staff sexologist, puts it to me in an email. “Choosing what to watch can be a great communication exercise by itself. Say one partner wants to watch gonzo and the other wants to see feminist porn; what a useful conversation that might be!” Similarly, Debby Herbenick, a research scientist at Indiana University and author of  “Sex Made Easy,” tells me in an email that porn “is so many things” — from professional to amateur, vanilla to kinky, natural bodies to artificially enhanced. ”I’m always a bit wary when I hear people say that ‘porn’ does anything specific unless they are willing to say what type of porn they mean and under what circumstances,” she says.

To the extent that porn can be damaging to relationships, it is, as with most things, often in our refusal to communicate honestly about it with our partners (and that tendency toward shame isn’t helped by surveys like this one). It’s easy to make incorrect inferences about a partner’s real-life desires and expectations by secretly reviewing their browser history. It’s also easy to jump to worst-case conclusions about what a partner might think of our own fantasy material of choice. Assumptions build on miscommunications which build on resentments — and before long you’re having really, truly horrible sex.

Ian Kerner, a sexuality counselor and author of  “She Comes First,” tells me, “There are a lot of people who would prefer to be somewhat private about their masturbatory habits and that’s to be respected,” but he adds that communicating clearly about sexual fantasies can inject novelty and healthy experimentation into a couple’s sex life. Herbenick tells me that porn can help couples “learn how to talk ‘dirty’” and “exposes people to any number of things that they try, or not try, as they see fit.” Watching porn together is not only a way “to make it easier to become aroused or to experience orgasm” during partnered sex, but also to “open up communication about what they like or don’t like or would or would not be into (which can help them draw boundaries about no-go areas as well as ‘want to try’ areas).”

Kerner also sees porn as a way to deal with a sex drive disparity. “There are cases where couples have mismatched libidos and taking responsibility for your own sexuality is a great way of balancing libido in your relationship,” he says. “Masturbation is a completely healthy activity and porn is an easy source of erotic stimuli.” It may be too easy for some, and he encourages clients to explore their erotic imagination, but “for the vast majority of men of all ages it’s not an issue,” he says.

Chile, a Revolution Denied




This coming September 11 will mark the fortieth anniversary of the coup overthrowing the elected government of Chile, a country that, at the time, enjoyed the longest enduring tradition of electoral stability in South America. Despite the uninterrupted existence of a constitutional parliamentary system from 1932, the Chilean military—aided by US covert services—overthrew the President, Doctor Salvador Allende Gossens, and violently suppressed his supporters, installing a military junta that ruled for 26 years.

What prompted the US government and its traitorous allies in the Chilean military to destroy the fabric of Chilean civil society in 1973? What “sin” could possibly warrant the installation of a murderous, fascistic regime under the leadership of General Pinochet and his collaborators?

The answer is found in one word: socialism. Not the grafting of a tepid welfare safety net to the fringes of capitalism as promised by social democrats, not the “socialism” of workers’ token participation in management, not the bad faith of class collaboration or the regulation and management of a voracious and predatory profit system, but the real and robust pursuit of revolutionary and transformative change.

For Salvador Allende and Popular Unity-- the coalition of Communists, Socialists, and other worker and peasant organizations that backed his election in 1970, the vote was the opening steps on the unique “Chilean road to Socialism,” a road that would hopefully lead to working class political power and social ownership superseding the private ownership of the leading economic enterprises and giant agricultural estates.

The Allende government pressed forward with its agenda, nationalizing key industries and creating new and parallel organizations and institutions of local and workplace power. Of course this did not go well with the wealthy and powerful in Chile or unnoticed by their North American allies. Millions of our tax dollars were devoted to funding counter-revolutionary groups and actions in Chile. Provocative strikes were organized by middle-strata shop keepers, transportation owners, and managers to disrupt the economy. Demonstrations were instigated to bring sections of the middle strata—the “momios”—into the street in protest. Sabotage and vandalism were pressed. Even neo-Nazi terrorist groups were encouraged and funded by the CIA. And, of course, the US government did everything it could to isolate the Popular Unity government from international assistance, credits, and trade.

In the face of these provocations, Allende and his supporters urged workers and peasants to step forward in defense of the economy and the bourgeois democracy. And they did, in great numbers.

Thus, the expected rejection of Popular Unity in the elections of March, 1973 never materialized. Despite an unprecedented destabilization campaign, the Right was unable to muster enough votes to depose Allende. The only path left open to the enemies of popular power was the military coup. Six months later, Allende was dead and tens of thousands were about to be killed, jailed, tortured, disappeared or in hiding.

The Guzman Chronicles

It is rare to have a vivid and detailed account of such an important and tragic historical process. But thanks to the hours of video documentation secured by film maker Patricio Guzman, we can trace the powerful people’s movement that coalesced around Salvador Allende, the excitement and empowerment of the masses as they forged ahead, the hopes and disappointments of workers and the poor, and the betrayal and destruction of national aspirations. Guzman was a partisan of Popular Unity, yet open to recording the views and movements of the opposition. He captures the euphoria of workers and peasants finding their voices, the explosion of meetings and discussions of the formerly powerless, and the new-found confidence of the liberated.

His trilogy, The Battle of Chile (The Insurrection of the Bourgeoisie, The Coup d’Etat, and Popular Power) is available on DVD (Icarus Films) along with the 1996 film (Chile, Obstinate Memory) of his return to Chile to show his work in the post-Pinochet era.

Guzman’s prescient sense of the significance of Popular Unity seemingly put him on every corner, in every demonstration, in the mines and factories, and in the seats of governance. The visual imagery of workers, peasants, and ethnic minorities in the tens of thousands rallying to the cause of Popular Unity is unforgettable. Conversely, the faces of the “momios” and the military leaders reflect the ugliness of both their fear and their arrogance. Nor will one will ever forget the footage of a camera operator filming his own death at the hands of a soldier.

Far better than the many written accounts of the Chile tragedy, Guzman’s films expose the truths of class and ethnic divisions without adornment. In most cases, one can identify whether an interviewee on the streets of Santiago supports or opposes Popular Unity before he or she even speaks. Class identity is transparent.

Yes, it is class war, conscious class war. But class war that the long-ruling oligarchs, the industrialists, landlords and their minions could only win with the intervention of the military and their powerful friends to the north.  

While the popular forces lost the battle of Chile, the collective memory of the peoples’ rising had to be extinguished before Chile could be returned to anything close to a “normal” bourgeois republic. For some time after elections were restored, Chile still lay in the shadows of the Generals, fearful of their return.

When Guzman arrived to present The Battle of Chile for the first time in his native land, he recorded the responses of a group of youth, both before the showing and after. Before the viewing and with only modest exceptions, the students mouthed the views received from Pinochet-era textbooks and documentaries. They showed some sympathy for the conditions of the very poor that might move them to support Popular Unity, only to charge the partisans with impatience, irresponsibility, or poor judgment. The views expressed were remarkably similar to those one might encounter in an upper-middle class suburban school in the US.

When the lights came on after the screening, the students were visibly moved—some were reduced to tears, others spoke openly for the first time of relatives who were repressed.  Despite the concerted effort to remove the memory of Popular Unity, The Battle of Chile shocked the young people into a sympathetic encounter with their own history. This moment is captured vividly in Guzman’s Chile, Obstinate Memory.

A Vital Source

But the events of these three years, as revealed by the film and other chronicles, constitutes more than the nostalgia of those of us who placed so much hope in Popular Unity. Rather, the Chilean experience was a case study of the struggle to throw off the yoke of imperialism and capitalism. This episode bore many features unique to the conditions existing at that time and the pathway chosen by the movement’s leaders. At the same time, the Chilean revolutionaries faced adversaries and obstacles that are universal in any profound social change. In short, we have much to learn from Chile’s tragedy.

Today’s militancy, emerging slowly, but inexorably from the crushing impoverishment and stark inequities spawned by the global crisis, constitutes a new and promising assault on wealth and power. However, a new generation of the angry and defiant risk failure and disillusionment unless it draws lessons from the successes and failures of the past. History is cruel to those who turn away from those lessons.

Only those who are terminally jaded can but admire the energy of the “Occupy” militants in the US and the “Indignados” in Europe. But any who view The Battle of Chile will quickly recognize that powerful ruling classes with far-reaching police, a sophisticated intelligence apparatus, and a modern military at their beck and call are not readily moved to surrender power and position to forces organized in open-air general assemblies or in urban street encampments. Nor will they accommodate demands issued with the nobility of moral authority. Chile’s legacy reminds us that transformational change is about overcoming the nexus of economic and state power.

Recognition of the fusion of economic and state power in our time—what Marxists call “state-monopoly capitalism”—is essential to any credible assault on the fortress of wealth and privilege. To reach for state power, the majority must begin to disable the economic might wielded by the few. But to accomplish this, the many must act to take the power of the state that preserves and protects the economic basis of the ruling elites. 

Solving these two challenges simultaneously is the task of revolutionaries. In Chile, Popular Unity hoped to meet the challenges by establishing loci of peoples’ organizations in neighborhoods and workplaces and nationalizing the heights of the economy. They understood that presidential power was only a fragile link to state power and far from sufficient to neutralize the economic might of the Chilean capitalists and their courtiers and attendants. Our modern day would-be revolutionaries are well-advised to grasp these realities.

The Battle for Chile is cold water in the face of so many erstwhile advocates of social justice who have turned to timid or utopian schemes to address a capitalist social system that has only become more aggressive and rapacious since the era of Chile’s interrupted revolution. While the loss of a counter-force to the US and its allies—the European socialist community—has vastly strengthened the hand of global capitalism, it neither excuses nor justifies a retreat from an anti-capitalist program. We see alternative schemes emerging from those disillusioned with the politics of reformism, but uneasy with revolutionary politics; they advocate motley theories of “radical democracy,” cooperatives, “The New Economy,” various strains of anarchism and kindred rejections of “hierarchies,” among others.

Marx and Engels anticipated these developments over a century and a half ago when they wrote in the Communist Manifesto:

Historical action is to yield to their personal inventive action; historically created conditions of emancipation to fantastic ones; and the gradual, spontaneous class organisation of the proletariat to an organisation of society especially contrived by these inventors. Future history resolves itself, in their eyes, into the propaganda and the practical carrying out of their social plans.
In the formation of their plans, they are conscious of caring chiefly for the interests of the working class, as being the most suffering class. Only from the point of view of being the most suffering class does the proletariat exist for them.
The undeveloped state of the class struggle, as well as their own surroundings, causes [activists] of this kind to consider themselves far superior to all class antagonisms. They want to improve the condition of every member of society, even that of the most favoured. Hence, they habitually appeal to society at large, without the distinction of class... For how can people, when once they understand their system, fail to see in it the best possible plan of the best possible state of society?
Hence, they reject all political, and especially all revolutionary action; they wish to attain their ends by peaceful means, necessarily doomed to failure, and by the force of example, to pave the way for the new social Gospel.
Such fantastic pictures of future society, painted at a time when the proletariat is still in a very undeveloped state and has but a fantastic conception of its own position, correspond with the first instinctive yearnings of that class for a general reconstruction of society…
They, therefore, endeavour, and that consistently, to deaden the class struggle and to reconcile the class antagonisms. They still dream of experimental realisation of their social Utopias, of founding isolated “phalansteres”, of establishing “Home Colonies”, or setting up a “Little Icaria” — duodecimo editions of the New Jerusalem — and to realise all these castles in the air, they are compelled to appeal to the feelings and purses of the bourgeois…
They, therefore, violently oppose all political action…; such action, according to them, can only result from blind unbelief in the new Gospel.
Revolutionaries must and will put these “castles in the air” behind them as the struggle for social justice sharpens.

And ahead are the many obstacles underscored by the Chilean events chronicled in Guzman’s film. Two critical problems of revolutionary theory that loom large in the battle for Chile are (1) the question of the military and other “security” organs and (2) the question of the “middle class.”

Clearly, Popular Unity failed to solve the problem of the military in 1973, though its leaders certainly recognized it. In our time, the near-coup in 2002 against President Hugo Chavez in Venezuela demonstrates the continuing dangers from those social elements holding a near monopoly on physical force: the military. Like the police and other organs of social control, the military invariably align with those opposing change. Without Chavez’s uniquely strong links to long-cultivated and sympathetic elements of the military, the coup would have undoubtedly led to a bloody and uncertain outcome. Any real quest for transformative change must wrestle with this question.

The question of the “middle classes” is really the problem posed by those who occupy the social space between the ownership class (the 1%) and those consciousof their diminished status resulting from employment by or servitude to the ownership class. While those who occupy this space are, in reality, also subservient to the rich and powerful, they see their status as above the poor and working class and identify their aspirations with the fate of those who rule. Labor leaders and other image shapers foster illusions about a broad and inclusive “middle class.” They offer the fantasy that auto workers and bus drivers have the same class interests as corporate lawyers and bond traders. In this imaginary world, their lives intersect at the shopping mall, the stadium, and the television set. Of course they really don’t. Even arch conservatives like Charles Murray have concluded that this view is nonsense, but the view persists widely in the mainstreams of both the US and Europe.

The dangers of these illusions are demonstrated well in The Battle of Chile. The “momios” who provided a mass base for the opposition to Popular Unity would, by and large, have eventually benefited from the Chilean road to socialism. But seduced by the lure of consumerism, vulgar culture, crass individualism and the delusional promise of joining the ranks of the privileged few, they proved to be an enormous obstacle to advancing the Popular Unity program.

In the more prosperous capitalist countries, the problem of the middle strata is even more acute today. While Marx’s judgment that the “…individual members of this class… are being constantly hurled down into the proletariat…” may be somewhat affirmed by the global economic crisis, the fact remains that the middle-class world view is resilient and will persist for some time. Belief in personal exceptionalism, like belief in spirits, is a difficult deception to shed.

“To be young and a revolutionary is a biological imperative” was a piece of graffiti scrawled on a wall in Santiago and translated for me by my friend Kay when we visited Santiago in the fall of 1990. After Pinochet, this was a welcome inspiration for those of us who placed hope in the Chilean revolutionary process. But biology will only take revolutionaries so far without a study of history. In fact, without heeding the lessons of history—in this case the Allende government and its violent suppression—the imperatives and energy of youth will dissipate and give way to cynicism and disappointment. The Battle of Chile offers these hard lessons, but also profound inspiration.

Zoltan Zigedy
zoltanzigedy@gmail.com


Electronic Sanctions: Targeting Iran’s Media, Preventing Iranians from Using the Internet

internet

The inhumane sanctions of the United States and its European allies against Iran know no boundaries. At the cost of the lives of thousands of Iranian patients suffering from different types of cancer, thalassemia, hemophilia, HIV/Aids, psychiatric disorders and other diseases, the West has banned the export of life-saving medicines and medical equipments to Iran and this is deteriorating the lives of those patients who cannot find medicines needed for their survival. The companies that do business with Iran will be immediately penalized by the U.S. government and so far no exemptions have been made to ensure that ordinary Iranian citizens will at least get access to foodstuff, medicines and other humanitarian goods.

The recent wave of sanctions have also targeted Iranian media as several satellite providers across Asia, Europe, Latin America and North America have taken Iranian television channels off air, denying millions of viewers around the world the chance to find an alternative, Iranian perspective on the world affairs.

However, the sanctions have been so extensive and widespread that they even deprive the Iranian citizens from enjoying the latest productions of technology.

The internet explorer “Google Chrome” is unavailable for downloading to the Iranian users, and so are the instant messaging software “Google Chrome”, picture sharing platform “Picasa” and the geographical surveying application “Google Earth.” Although the Iranian computer geeks know tricks to circumvent these limitations, for the majority of Iranian computer users these services are not easy-to-access.

Ironically, Google lifted the limitations in early 2011 when the opponents of President Ahmadinejad had taken to the streets and staged demonstrations. Google announced that it will ease the restrictions to allow the protesters communicate more smoothly and organize rallies and mass demonstrations. “There are many activist layers on Google Earth. Anyone can create a layer to show exactly what is going on in Iran,” said Google’s head of public policy Scott Rubin.

Rubin also said that having access to Google Chrome will be also useful for the protesters: “in a country with a history of government surveillance it is useful having a browser that can’t easily be hacked.”

So it’s clear that even when the American internet giant made some concessions, it did not intend to serve the interests of the Iranian people in general, but only meant to contribute to the weakening of the government and empowerment of the opposition.

But the limitations imposed on Iranian internet users by the United States are not new or unprecedented. On August 19, 1997, President Clinton signed the 13059 executive order which stipulated harsh restrictions on Iranian internet users and computer companies in terms of using the U.S.-produced software, hardware and other technology products.

According to this order, “the exportation, reexportation, sale, or supply, directly or indirectly, from the United States, or by a United States person, wherever located, of any goods, technology, or services to Iran or the Government of Iran, including the exportation, reexportation, sale, or supply of any goods, technology, or services to a person in a third country” will be prohibited.

According to the U.S. Department of Treasury, only a handful of commonplace computer applications including document readers such as Acrobat Reader, plug-ins such as Flashplayer and Shockwave and “free mobile apps related to personal communications” are legally downloadable in Iran.

In April 2003, it was reported that in a racially discriminatory and politically motivated decision, the popular career and job-finding website Monster.com removed the profiles and résumés of users from a number of countries on the U.S. Department of State’s blacklist including Iran, Syria, Sudan, Myanmar, Cuba, Libya and North Korea.

In a March 21, 2012 report, the CNet’s political correspondent Declan McCullagh wrote that Google has also restricted Iranian users’ access to Android Market, known as Google Play.

Collin Anderson, an independent researcher in North Dakota has listed a number of U.S.-based technology products that are unavailable to Iranian users. These products include, but are not limited to, Apple’s iOS app store, McAfee’s antivirus software, Oracle’s Java and MySQL, Adobe Acrobat Reader, DropBox, Real Player, Google AdWords, and Google Android Market.

But the unfair measures taken by the U.S. government as dictated to the American internet, IT and other technology-related service providers have gone beyond the pale and are now taking the form of racial discrimination. It was reported in June 2012 that an Apple Store in Alpharetta, Georgia refused to sell an iPhone and iPad to the Persian-speaking customers, resorting to the excuse that they may send at least one of these devices to their friends in Iran!

When Sara Sabet, a 19-year-old student of the Georgia University went to an Apple Store in a local mall with her friend to buy a couple of iDevices, the salesperson found her speaking in a foreign language. The employee asked her what language she spoke, where she was from and where the iPad and iPhone she were heading to. She responded by saying that she is from Iran and wants to send the devices to her friend in Iran. It was then that the Apple employee responded by saying, “I just can’t sell this to you. Our countries have bad relations.” Sabet said that the left the store and shed tears all the way back to home.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations called the Apple Store’s treatment of the Iranian student discriminatory in a statement issued in condemnation: “Apple must revise its policies to ensure that customers do not face discriminatory treatment based on their religion, ethnicity or national origin,” said CAIR National Executive Director Nihad Awad. “If the actions of these Apple employees reflected company policy, that policy must be changed and all employees retrained.”

Overall, this is how the Iranians are being treated by a government which has always been busy trumpeting its anxiety and nervousness for the protection of human rights around the world. Perhaps Iranians are paying the price for the independence of their nation and their refusal to be brought under the hegemonic domination of the United States. These sanctions which directly affect the daily lives of ordinary citizens show the extent to which the U.S. government can be brutal and ruthless to deprive a nation of its most rudimentary and basic rights. Can anyone really understand what Uncle Sam is doing?

Did Porn Warp Me Forever?

Like other boys my age, I grew up with unlimited access to smut. At 23, I wonder if it's totally screwed me up

January 14, 2013  |  

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It was the era of Kazaa and we knew no better. Among my group of male friends at my austere private elementary school, watching, discussing and even sharing pornography became a sexual outlet. With the ease of downloading, we would burn CDs and swap them in school with “clever” titles taken from some album with a vague penis reference (like Will Smith’s ignominious “Big Willie Style”). That way, we could talk about porn in public, asking each other on field trips, “What did you think of that new Craig David CD I burned for you?” The “inside joke” rose to evil middle-school comic genius when other students bought the actual music albums to get in on the trend. It was a typical preteen hijink, except that the images on those CDs were far more raw than the traditional Playboy pin-up.

Both of my parents were shrinks, and even though I was generally comfortable talking about sex in my household, porn — especially the porn I was watching — just had to be taboo. It was inexplicably gross, divorced from the concept of sex as it had been explained to me. If sex was a man inserting his penis into a woman’s vagina, then how did girls drinking cum out of champagne glasses fit into that picture? Because of its unspeakable nature, Internet porn became inextricably linked with the anxiety of being caught.

I would sneak downstairs to the family computer once the house was dark. As I would settle into the polyester-cotton seat of the swivel chair and open a browser, my heart would thump with a mix of thrill and shame, my ears perked for any reason to abort my mission — zip, pull and dart with an excuse ready about checking the weather for tomorrow. (An excuse that worked more than once. I was a tidy kid). The terror and guilt would only be overridden with lust once the videos began to stream. It was an addict’s high, a high-stakes heist for sexual pleasure — an association that would not soon recede in my primal brain.

I distinctly remember the first time I ejaculated. Even back then it felt weirdly insidious — an innocent, exuberant, almost ancient moment of sexual development, stained with the futuristic debasement of a flashing screen. I leapt up from the chair at the family computer and bounded upstairs to the bathroom. I looked into the mirror, truly proud that I could now fulfill my procreative proclivities, and raised my arms and said out loud to myself, “I can be a dad.”

When I was 13, we moved to a new house with a lock on the computer room door. I was still cautious, but a few times I had my pants down when I heard the clicking of someone jiggling the locked doorknob.

Were you watching pornography?

No.

We checked the history, and there were porn sites on it.

Must be a virus.

It’s an impasse that many parents and children have known. It’s not just that it’s embarrassing, it’s paralyzing — no one knows how or exactly why to move forward. What, you want me to admit that I was watching porn? What does that do? Am I supposed to be ashamed of this? Do you expect me to stop? Everyone I know is doing this!

* * *

Those of you who’ve browsed youporn.com or redtube.com or any other porn site know the set up. The sidebar will list the categories: Mature, Hentai, S&M, gangbang, foot fetish, redhead. Under each category there are pictures and videos (but c’mon, who would look at pictures when there are videos?), and with a fast enough Internet connection, you can skip to your favorite part of a video and move on to another.

Three Monopolies We Need to Keep an Eye on

Who doesn’t use Google? Shop on Amazon? Own, or covet, some Apple device? Who doesn’t give thanks to this triumvirate of technology companies for the ways in which they add to our lives?

But is it possible that these companies are well on their way to becoming too big for their, and our own, good?

1. Google: As dominant as ever when we’re searching the Internet

Last week, after a two-year investigation, the FTC absolved Goggle of violating anti-trust laws for favoring its own services in its lucrative search engine. At issue was how Google produces its search results via its top-secret algorithm which, the company maintains, it cannot disclose for competitive reasons.

In its ruling, the FTC said that it found that “Google’s primary purpose … [is] to improve the user experience.” Google itself contends that it is “unbiased and objective” and that its search results are “the best we know how to produce.” But given that its enormous revenue is derived from this very source, questions remain.

Google made an all-out offensive to lobby Washington, a lesson learned from studying the 1990s experience of Microsoft, which was charged with monopolization for tying its Internet Explorer browser to closely go with its Windows operating system. From this, some critics think the FTC let Google off too easy  though, as Ars Technica points out, more than a few of those who have been expressing displeasure at the FTC’s ruling are precisely Google’s rivals including Microsoft.

The European Commission is to issue a ruling on Google soon and is expected to be less lenient. The reason is that “American antitrust regulators tend to focus on whether a company’s dominance harms consumers; the European system seeks to keep competitors in the market,” says the New York Times. Another factor is that Google holds an 83 percent share of the European search market, vs. 67 percent of the U.S.’s. It could be only a matter of time before the “antitrust rap” could catch up to Google — or maybe not.

2. Amazon: Poised to become the only store on earth

Holiday sales at Barnes and Noble were down 12 percent from last year’s. While there been reports of some independent bookstores thriving (hooray!), Amazon, for all that it does not make a profit (indeed, its profit was down by 96 percent in the second quarter of 2012) inexorably continues its domination as the world’s online purveyor of seemingly everything from clothes to food to books (real and electronic).

Amazon’s prices are always hard to beat and every time you turn around it seems Amazon’s added yet another business, be it streaming movies or its cloud service. Who hasn’t heard of an independent book or other store that closes its doors because it couldn’t compete with Amazon? Yet we still keep going back.

3. Apple: Does any tablet beside the iPad matter?

The iPad’s touchscreen and size made it the device I (and quite a few others) had been looking for. It was the first device my teenage autistic son could use on his own to hear music, watch videos, look at photos after years of deep frustration trying, unsuccessfully, to use a computer mouse. The iPad’s design was the answer.

The iPad’s marketshare has declined from an all-time high in August due to competition from Google’s Android and Amazon’s Kindle. Analysts are predicting that increased adoption by businesses will help Apple to reconquer the market; Germany could even be called “Appleland” due to the popularity of the company’s products there, says the Frankfurter Allgemeine.

Back in June, Microsoft’s Surface tablet was announced with much fanfare but has since been little heard from and sales of software for PCs have been in decline, as well as sales of PCs themselves. It’s certainly harder and harder not to think of the iPads and tablet computers as one in the same.

It took someone with a novel way of thinking to design the iPad and other Apple devices that have made a big difference. But we can’t expect one company to keep producing all the innovative ideas. Just at the end of last week, Pinterest announced that it was taking over recipe site Punchfork. This is probably not the greatest loss or saddest occasion in the history of either the Internet or of corporate mergers. But as Alex Hern writes in the New Statesman, the annexation (ok, swallowing up) of Punchfork by Pinterest means that another idea, another novel way of doing something, will no longer exist.

It’s a loss of diversity on the web perhaps comparable in some ways to the shrinking biodiversity of wildlife as more species of animals and plants face extinction. A world of only McDonalds, Starbucks and Walmart sounds hardly appealing — a world in which Google, Amazon and Apple are the only big players would be just as poor.

UNDERSTANDING THE CRISIS




For a student of Marxist political economy, one of the last year’s highlights was the seven-part discussion of the global economic crisis, its causes, and consequences which was featured in Socialist Voice, the excellent monthly publication of the Communist Party of Ireland. Beginning in January with the review of a book on the crisis, two interlocutors—identified as NC and NL-- surveyed the landscape of radical and Marxist explanations of economic crises and their meaning for the working class movement.

Several features of the discussion were remarkable.

First, the discussion was conducted in a comradely and respectful manner. Much of the academic “Marxist” dialogue is about scoring points and splitting hairs. The SV exchange, on the other hand, sought to construct and unify.

Second, the articles were free of jargon and pretension. Too often self-styled Marxist economists feel compelled to package their views in fashionable or “sophisticated” language to create an aura of profundity.

Third, the dialogue owes little to bourgeois economics. Outside of a few distinguished Marxists like Maurice Dobb, Ronald Meek, and Victor Perlo, in the English-speaking world, training in mainstream bourgeois economics has been more of a hindrance than a help in grasping and advancing Marxism. Likewise, formalism—the fetish of mathematical and logical constructs-- has elevated issues like the so-called transformation problem or the “Okishio Theorem” to center stage at the expense of pursuing and elaborating the insights of Marx, Engels, and their successors. In most cases, the formalists and academicians would be well advised to return to a study of the opening chapters of Capital, an exercise that would render much of their exercises pettifoggery.

The Socialist Voice contributions cover briefly, but clearly and seriously, the theories of crisis ranging from the tendency-of-the-falling-rate-of-profit through underconsumptionism, stagnation, long cycles, and the general crisis of capitalism. They draw on a diverse group of theorists from Andrew Kliman and the Monthly Review adherents through Nikolai Kondratiev and Hans Heinz Holz.

The articles are to be found in the January, April, May, June, October, November, and December issues of Socialist Voice or online at:     http://www.communistpartyofireland.ie/sv/index.html.

I urge everyone interested in Marxist political economy to read them. Hopefully, this discussion will generate further research and debate over the many issues addressed. Developing a clear and full Marxist account of the current crisis is a work in progress. My own thoughts, offered in the same comradely spirit, are below:

SYSTEMIC CRISIS
1. Capitalist economic crises are of two types: cyclical and systemic. In the course of capitalist economic activity, imbalances occur between various departments of production, between suppliers and producers, between production and consumption, etc. These imbalances result in slumps or slowdowns in productive activity. Bourgeois economists refer to these as “business cycle” events, meaning that they are cyclical or self-correcting; recovery is on the horizon, perhaps the distant horizon, but on the horizon. Generally, bourgeois politicians apply conventional nostrums—interest rate adjustments, state spending, incentives or inducements—to adjust these cycles to their political ends. Even though these are episodic events, the ensuing damage generally falls on the backs of working people.

2. Systemic crises, on the other hand, are reflective of deep contradictions inherent in the capitalist system. As such, they are not subject to either patience or the usual menu of remedies. Capitalism, like a perpetual motion machine, violates the laws of nature. A system cannot continue forever that depends upon increasing complex social interactions while awarding the riches produced by those interactions to a few who are dissociated from the same social processes. In the long run, the accumulation of private, concentrated wealth tends to choke off the further accumulation of that wealth.

3. Systemic crises do not pass, but are temporarily suppressed or resolved through transformative change. That is, policy makers may blunt or postpone the harshest consequences of systemic crises, but eventually systemic changes are necessitated to exit the crisis. For example, despite New Deal boasts about resolving the Great Depression in the US, the Depression’s demise only came with the vast systemic changes that accompanied a world war— socialist-like economic planning, organization, investment, and production in war supplies and the massive destruction of material assets. In our time, the full impact of the 2001 technology crisis was suppressed only to exacerbate the 2008 crisis. The underlying dynamics of capitalist crisis remained, and still remain. 

4. Systemic crises are, in the final analysis, crises of accumulation. What cripples the mechanism of capitalism most decisively is the inability to generate sufficient profit. Conversely, those factors which restrain the growth of accumulation-- retard the rate of profit-- largely account for systemic crises. Thus, broadly speaking, crises are caused by a tendency within the system for the rate of profit to fall.

5. Basing systemic crisis on failing accumulation and not imbalances or unrealized consumption has the following political consequence: it cannot be overcome with liberal or social democratic panaceas. Wealth redistribution, public sector jobs programs, social insurance etc. will not directly restore profitability unless these programs are actually subterfuges for surplus transfer. Only the restoration of profit growth will stabilize the economy. We saw this in the US after mid-2009 when profits rebounded sharply (generated by intensified exploitation!). But even then earnings began to recede again by mid-2012. Thus, for the working class, the choice is really only between helping the capitalists restore profit or working to eliminate the capitalist system!

6. Paradoxically, the crisis exists because the accumulation process is overwhelmed by the huge pool of surplus in the hands of the few, the owners of the means of production, distribution, service, and finance. Just as before the Great Depression, investment opportunities in productive activities are outstripped by the sheer weight of accumulated surplus. The rate, as well as the expected rate, of profit sinks against the aggregate capital held by corporations, banks, and the rich.  They turn to speculation in scarce resources, property and financial schemes, the ever-active “hunt for yield.” And they take on debt which amplifies the folly of this ceaseless search for a return on available capital.

7. The systemic crisis should not be understood as foretelling an ultimate breakdown of the system. Henryk Grossmann’s pioneering work on Marx’s tendency of the falling rate of profit—because of its strict logical exposition—mistakenly led some to believe that capitalism would implode by its own logic. Similarly, academic Marxists divorced from the working class movement lean heavily on projected stagnation to force the departure of capitalism from the world stage. But capitalism always has extreme measures to fall back on for its self-preservation: a re-shuffling of the cards through war, forced-march capitalism through fascism, and many forms of direct and indirect enslavement. The only escape from capitalism is through the efforts of the most advanced, organized elements of the working class armed with an understanding of capitalism. 

MONOPOLY AND STATE-MONOPOLY-CAPITALISM

1. The theorists at Monthly Review are correct to persistently point to the never-ending concentration of capital into fewer and fewer hands as evidence for the rise of monopoly capital. Mergers and acquisitions, bankruptcies, and integration ensure that leading corporations grow stronger and fewer. At the same time, they understate the resiliency of capitalism to create and re-create new arenas of competition. Frederick Engels stated it well in the very first Marxist tract on political economy (Outlines of a Critique of Political Economy): “Competition is based on self-interest, and self-interest in turn breeds monopoly. In short, competition passes over into monopoly. On the other hand, monopoly cannot stem the tide of competition—indeed, it itself breeds competition…” It is this seemingly small point that eludes the “Monopoly Capital” (MC) school associated with Monthly Review.

2. Even in a hugely capital-intensive industry and a paragon of monopoly like automobile production, competition persists with new producers entering the industry through new technologies (e.g., electric cars) or national initiatives (Japan, Korea, and today China and India). While price competition persists (contrary to the MC school), competition is also expressed through technological features, fuel consumption, performance, warranty protection, and a host of other differences. Moreover, these differences are based in the techniques of production and costs of production and not merely sloughed away as “the sales effort” as Sweezy and Baran do in Monopoly Capital. They equally sidestep the competition between old and new, mainstream and alternate industries.

3. Despite the persistent concentration of capital, competition among capitalists and the thirst for a return on capital stocks will always steer the system towards systemic crisis.

4. Of greater use to the working class movement is the theory of state-monopoly-capitalism. While monopolization may bend, but not break the logic of capitalism, enormous monopoly corporations have succeeded in merging their interests with the functions of the state. The enormous power and reach of monopoly enterprises have commandeered all organs of the state and harnessed the state’s actions to the promoting of capital accumulation. While the theory of state-monopoly-capitalism has been dismissed in left circles since the demise of European socialism, the priority by the state given to the US/European bank bailouts surely underscores its validity and makes the critics pause to reconsider. The theory is an essential tool for understanding the behavior of EU and US policy-makers through the course of the crisis.

“FINANCIALIZATION” AND DEBT

1. “Financialization” is an unfortunate term—fashionable, but adding little light to our understanding. The growing role of finance has been noted since before the time of Lenin. The process culminated in finance accounting for over 40% of corporate profits in the US by the early twenty-first century—in part by its increasing absorption of stampeding surplus and in part by the decline and departure of manufacturing that formerly accounted for a far greater share of US profits.

2. Unquestionably finance took on a leading role in the US, the UK, and a few other advanced capitalist countries with the creation of a vast new pool of low-wage workers available to manufacturing after the destruction of Eastern European socialism, its socialist-oriented allies and the PRC’s opening to global markets. This reflected the new national division of labor in the global economy— manufacturing and export in the East and South and finance, management, and services in the West and North.

3. As the leading financial center, the US became the Mecca for those with pockets overflowing with cash and fewer investment opportunities in an era of low interest rates and cheap money.

4. Unlike in the world of commodity production where value is produced in real time, finance offers opportunities to appropriate future value through contractual instruments like mortgages, bonds, futures, and, in our era, even more exotic creations. These instruments trade in future value, hence challenging capitalism to find even more marginal investment opportunities to absorb surplus and potential surplus.

5. Debt—the offspring of easy credit and low interest rates—serves as an amplifier of financial investment, the critical bridge to ever-more reckless speculation. Thus, finance served up its many “innovations” designed to absorb the ocean of surplus accumulated over decades and in search of another round of accumulation in an environment of diminishing returns. In this manner, the tendency for accumulation to retard its own re-production found its expression in the financial crisis that broke out in the US in 2007-2008.      

OTHER CRISIS THEORIES

1. Wave theory-- the notion that economic activity exhibits a wave-like trajectory from boom to bust and back to boom again—enjoys an almost mystical, spiritual attraction for many. Associated with the views of Nikolai Kondratiev in Marxist circles, the theory of a regular, periodic wave—long or short—is flawed for two distinct, but fatal reasons.

2. From an empirical perspective, it is impossible to settle on those features of economic history that are decisive in expressing the upturns and downturns of regularcycles. That is to say, the dependent variables are illusive and hazy. Moreover, when they are clearly stipulated—GDP, labor productivity, profits, etc—no incontrovertible pattern is revealed. Instead, only intuitive patterns are seen by those already disposed to see them.

3. From a theoretical point of view, there is no candidate for an independent variable that demonstrates a consistent and regular wave-like behavior throughout economic history (or the history of capitalism). Neither technological innovation, cultural or demographic change, nor any other candidate for the cause of cycles exhibits the kind of wave-like nature that would account for regular, periodic waves in the historic record. And where we find wave-like motion in nature (eg. Lunar cycles), there is no obvious causal connection with economic life.

4. In short, long cycles are impossible to discern without appealing to Rorschach-like impressionism and impossible to explain without assuming what it sets out to illustrate. When you want to see a face on the moon, you’ll see one.

5. We owe a great debt to Hans Heinz Holz, the late German Marxist philosopher, who brought new life to the long-standing Communist concept of the General Crisis of Capitalism (GCC). As Holz points out, Soviet social science mechanically and empirically attached the GCC to the historical stages ushered in by the Bolshevik revolution and the Second World War. This was a misleading interpretation dissolved by the setbacks to socialism.

6. Holz is correct in rehabilitating the GCC as a truly general crisis generated by capitalism’s internal mechanisms independently of important, but external events. He is correct to conceive of the GCC as a total crisis, not limited to the economic sphere but including social life, culture, ideology, and all other human relations.

7. Thus the GCC is not a theory of economic crisis. Instead, the systemic crisis of capitalism is one element—one causal element-- in the General Crisis of Capitalism.

8. Much more work needs to be done in developing a full theory of the GCC with its consequences in every aspect of everyday life.

Zoltan Zigedy
zoltanzigedy@gmail.com

It’s Back!!!




Red-baiting lives!

Actually it never waned. Like most evils, it lurks in the shadows and under rocks until it is called on again to serve the rich and powerful. Like racism, red-baiting is a tool of division and distraction. It is designed to separate those who are weak or wavering from those determined to change a malignant political and social system. Red-baiting harnesses fear to tarnish those seeking social justice. Red-baiters sow cynicism, dampen ardor, nurture doubts and dissolve unity.

A renewed and virulent strain of anti-Communism has surfaced in the US, stretching from the imbecilic film Red Dawn to the rabid media bashing of Oliver Stone’s ten-part television series, The Untold History of the United States.

Red Dawn, currently showing in hundreds of theaters, has grossed over $31 million in revenue through December 2. Based on a moronic plot of an invasion of the Pacific Northwest by troops of the Peoples’ Democratic Republic of Korea, the movie postures young patriots as forging a resistance movement against their Asian aggressors. Only in Hollywood could writers craft a plot that features a relatively poor country of twenty-five million people mounting a naked, distant aggression against the most economically powerful country in history with well over ten times the population. What next, an invasion of the Southwest from Nicaragua?

Oh, sorry, that movie was made in 1984! Actually, the current Red Dawn, found its dubious inspiration in the Reagan-era movie with the same title and an equally virulent commitment to red-baiting. We have John Milius, and his equally demented Hollywood colleagues, to thank for the fear-mongering of Red Dawn I.  Screenwriter/Director Milius bears responsibility for such stupid --though less politically dishonest – movies like Magnum Force and Conan, the Barbarian. But where those movies only enshrined ugly politics and employed right-wing icons, Red Dawn Iadvanced the political agenda of US imperialism and crudely served to prod domestic reaction. At a time when the struggle for international peace and détente was at a critical juncture, the film was heartily welcomed by opponents of rapprochement.

Today, Red Dawn II emerges not as a counterforce to the left, but as a pre-emption of a feared rising of the left. Even with most of the US left’s leaders chained to the Democratic Party or mired in opportunism, the rich, the powerful, and their minions recognize that the profoundly wounded economy and the dysfunctional political system provide both the seeds and fertile soil for a powerful peoples’ movement. And they hope to pollute it with red-baiting before any sprouts arise. Even with its crude, wildly implausible plot, Red Dawn II is meant to discredit any “red” or even “pink” movement before it matures.

Likewise, Oliver Stone’s new TV series on Showtime has been met with furious bashing on the part of the professional anti-Communist toadies of the mainstream media. Setting out to correct the “official” high school civics class histories of the Cold War period, Stone and his historian collaborator, Peter Kuznick, produced a ten-part serial that challenges knee-jerk anti-Communism and seeks to balance the slanders of Cold Warriors. The Untold History of the United States proposes a counter history, an account built around a number of “what ifs…” that chart a different historical trajectory absent a rapacious and predatory military-industrial complex and a destructive CIA.

Of course this does not set well with the rabid guardians of the anti-red canon. As Peter Kuznick chronicles in a recent appeal to Historians Against the War, the red-baiters are out in force.

Ronald Radosh – famous for crafting a career from equating Reds or “fellow travelers” with NKVD or MVD agents—makes an astonishing leap to connect Stone and Kuznick to the long-departed Soviet security agencies. He claims to detect similarities just short of plagiarism (leaving his claim just short of libelous) between The Untold History and a book by the late Carl Marzani, We Can Be Friends. To square his circle, Radosh proffers that Marzani “…told this very story in We Can Be Friends. A secret member of the American Communist party who had worked during the war in the OSS, Marzani later was proved by evidence from Soviet archives and Venona decryptions to have been a KGB (then the NKVD) operative. His book was published privately by his own Soviet-subsidized firm. It was the first example of what came to be called “Cold War revisionism.”

Thus, by association—a favorite tactic of red-baiters—Stone/Kuznick becomes linked to the KGB through the alleged operative, Carl Marzani. Others have shown how fast and loose Radosh has toyed with the charges of “operative” or “agent” based on the thin evidence of “association.” But Marzani’s “secret” or open identification with Communism in 1952 is of no relevance to the truth conveyed by We Can Be Friends or The Untold History. Marzani argues for the following:

The next step to peace is to sit down around a conference table and negotiate. Negotiations, it should be emphasized, do not require friendship. Negotiators can sit down unsmiling and bargain grimly, yet both sides are aware that a settlement must be reached.(p.369)
If Marzani’s simple, but sane formula for improving US/Soviet relations was inspired by the NKVD, then credit to the NKVD!

We Can Be Friends was published by Topical Book Publishers. For those Reds with something to say in 1952, self-publication was often the only route. In the teeth of McCarthyite repression, leftists could not get mainstream publishers to even consider their manuscripts. Outside of the exceptional renegade publishers like Cameron and Associates, left-wing authors were forced to turn to funding a few hundred copies, as did Howard Fast with his now celebrated historical novel, Spartacus. The dark ages of the 1950s were certainly made brighter, if it was necessary for the NKVD to subsidize these fine books!

The quality of Radosh’s scholarship can be judged by his emphatic claim that We Can Be Friends “…was the first example of what came to be called ‘Cold War revisionism.’” A casual glance at my tattered old copy reveals a bibliography that cites earlier writers like Frederick L. Schuman and I. F. Stone who decisively rejected the Cold War canon well before Marzani’s book arrived on the scene.

Following Radosh’s lead, other rabid anti-Communists like Michael Moynihan joined the fray in attacking Stone and Kuznick. And to its shame, The New York Times unleashed its slime merchant hireling, Andrew Goldman, to mount a bizarre ad hominem against Oliver Stone. Goldman had just served his four-week suspension for publicly inquiring of two female interlocutors whether they had slept their way to the top of their professions. Sadly, this attack well represented the level of integrity shown by most of these ruling class courtiers.

To these professional red-baiters must be added the host of professors who peddle lurid books on the “Evil Empire.” Most active is Anne Applebaum, journalist turned academic, who authors books portraying the Soviet and socialist Eastern European experience as wholly oppressive and thoroughly unpopular. Her current book, Iron Curtain, enjoys wide circulation and copious publicity from the corporate media. Applebaum’s ideological bias (her husband is Minister of Foreign Affairs in the ultra-nationalist Polish government) and selective scholarship are seldom challenged by her colleagues.

Applebaum’s work indirectly suggests that Soviet “evil” is on a par with Nazi evil or, as she and her ilk crudely put it, “Stalin’s crimes were the same or worse than Hitler’s crimes.” Yale professor, Timothy Snyder, shares no such hesitation. His popular book, Badlands, boldly embraces the equation of Hitler and Stalin. Indeed, his current career seems based upon his widely speculative, broadly calculated, and poorly evidenced victim calculation. For Snyder, there would seem to be no natural deaths in the Soviet Union or socialist Eastern Europe. In his energetic counting, victims of the Warsaw insurrection in 1944, urged by the Polish government-in-exile to rise, arguably belong on the Soviet side of the ledger since the Red Army didn’t rescue them. Of course the victims of natural famines are also laid at the Soviet doorstep. Snyder pursues his head counting with an almost perverse determination and a theological certainty.

The revival of open and widespread red-baiting is ignored by liberals at their own peril. Like the inquisitions of old, the immediate object may be the dissidents, the ideological deviants, but the real design is to terrorize the majority into submission and conformity. In the US, anti-Communism and its counterpart, racism, directly target ideological and ethnic minorities, but prove to be of even greater use in fracturing, distracting, and deluding the majority. Rampant racism and rabid anti-Communism serve the rich and powerful well by closing avenues to unity and social justice. Surely the red-baiting charges of “socialism” leveled at right-centrist Obama underline this point and send a clear message to liberals of the dangers lurking in accommodating the alarm of “Reds!” 

Zoltan Zigedy
zoltanzigedy@gmail.com


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Human Rights or Imperial Partnership?




Amnesty International has a bee under its bonnet.

A human rights advocate, educator, and labor attorney, Dan Kovalik, mustered the audacity to challenge the world’s most prominent and highly regarded rights-based advocacy group. Claiming over three million members since its birth in 1961, AI is the poster child for modern “non-governmental organizations” or NGOs, the hundreds of thousands of hazy entities that play an ever-growing, influential role in international affairs.

Despite AI’s sterling reputation among middle class liberals in the English-speaking world, Kovalik was troubled by AI’s stance on the war in Libya and its role in cheer leading US and NATO involvement. After his October 23 Counterpuncharticle “Libya and the West’s Human Rights Hypocrisy” appeared, AI launched a counter attack authored by AI official, Sunjeev Bery. Bery’s response circulated widely among the AI-friendly internet community as an example of “getting it wrong” on AI’s principles and goals.

Kovalik demonstrates that he is more than capable of answering Bery in a November 8 Counterpunch response. He shows with even greater clarity how AI helped crack open the door for outside intervention in Libya and, knowingly or unknowingly (it’s hard to imagine how anyone could notknow), offered dubious but influential justification for that intervention.

AI and other advocates for a similarly narrow and myopic interpretation of human rights have a long and discreditable history of service to those on the wrong side of the struggle for justice. By ignoring material inequities, power imbalances, and class and ethnic oppressions, they dilute the question of justice to matters of individual conscience and a conservative set of negative rights. That is not to say that these concerns are wrong, but that they touch on only a corner of the concerns of the vast majority of the world’s people. In fact, they loom largest for those least touched by the ravages of predatory capitalism and its military enforcers—those in the most developed countries and those most privileged within its middle and upper strata.

When AI was founded in 1961, much of the world was engaged in an intense struggle for independence from imperialism and neo-colonialism. From Algeria to Vietnam, from the Republic of the Congo to Cuba, from the segregated deep south of the US to South Africa and the Portuguese African colonies, millions of people were committed to resolute battles for self-determination. Under the yoke of the rich and powerful, the peoples of Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and the ghettos and barrios of the First World were rising against their oppressors. The UN recognized this powerful movement, certified its authenticity, and attested to its legitimacy with the 1960 Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples that declared the following:  


1. The subjection of peoples to alien subjugation, domination and exploitation constitutes a denial of fundamental human rights, is contrary to the Charter of the United Nations and is an impediment to the promotion of world peace and co-operation.
2. All peoples have the right to self-determination; by virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.
3. Inadequacy of political, economic, social or educational preparedness should never serve as a pretext for delaying independence.
 4. All armed action or repressive measures of all kinds directed against dependent peoples shall cease in order to enable them to exercise peacefully and freely their right to complete independence, and the integrity of their national territory shall be respected.

Perhaps it was a coincidence, but just as these struggles took center stage, AI chose to take human rights questions in a different direction, away from the rights of subjugated people to the rights of individuals, vetted and dubbed “prisoners of conscience” by the AI establishment. By the mid-sixties, internationally recognized leaders of anti-colonial independence movements like imprisoned Nelson Mandela were ruled out as “prisoners of conscience” because they advocated armed resistance against their oppressors. At the same time, artists, writers, and other dissident intellectuals in the socialist and less developed countries seemed to be the most common candidates for AI’s attention, especially by its US and Western European affiliates.

Whether by collaboration or happenstance, the wrongs targeted by the AI leadership were readily embraced by the major capitalist media and fully congruent with the foreign policy positions of the US and its European Cold War allies. The few reports on alleged Western human rights violations gained no traction, while claims against governments in the East or South played a greater and greater role in Western diplomacy and intervention. Even AI’s founder, Peter Benenson, expressed concerns in the mid-sixties that the organization was unduly influenced by British intelligence.

In the Cold War battle of ideas, AI proved to be a great asset to the US and its allies, crafting issues that became pillars of policy and levers of negotiation. The narrow interpretation of the Final Act of the Helsinki Conference of 1975—an interpretation that elevated Article Seven over the other nine Articles and all other provisions—marked the most important collaborative victory of Western human rights organizations and Western governments in the Cold War. Most rights and social justice activists in Amnesty International’s areas of influence would be hard pressed to identify any other provision beyond the endorsement of an indistinct freedom of conscience.

Especially Article Six, the principle of non-intervention in the affairs of other governments, was neither acknowledged nor respected by Western rights groups or governments. Constructing their efforts around Article Seven, capitalist governments mounted a massive human rights offensive against socialist and anti-imperialist countries, overshadowing the national liberation, anti-nuclear, and anti-war movements of gravest concern to most of the less affluent world at that moment. Much of the credit for shaping this agenda can be laid at the doorstep of the human rights organizations. Their narrow, facile approach to social justice baited them into a calculated campaign against the tide of socialism so apparent in the mid-seventies.

Of course the positive rights of equality, education, leisure, shelter, peace, etc. were swept aside as well before the celebration of individuality and self-expression—what Marx called “…the rights of egoistic man, of man separated from other men and from the community.”

After the Cold War

With the demise of the European socialist community and the establishment of a new balance of power favorable to Western capitalist powers, imperialism further co-opted the human rights cause, contorting it into a justification for wars of aggression. With no one to advocate or enforce the rights of nations to self-determination, the US and its NATO allies cynically crafted a predatory foreign policy around protecting or promoting human rights and democracy, a policy used to justify overt armed intervention in the Balkans and the Middle East and covertly in dozens of other countries. And the Western human rights community said nothing.

Emboldened by the efficacy of the human rights cover, the US and its allies sponsored hundreds of “human rights” and “democracy” NGOs claiming to promote higher values while subverting governments hostile to US and NATO goals. Funded by USAID and other government agencies and carrying innocuous names like “Republican” and “Democratic” Institutes, they meddle in elections, foment coups, and manipulate oppositions in countries like Ukraine, Lebanon, Venezuela, and many others. Slipping into the human rights tent, these organizations exploited the Western regard for individual human rights against the rights guaranteed by the 1960 UN Declaration and other Declarations affirming the right of self-determination. And the Western human rights community said nothing.

If the leading lights in human rights circles—organizations like AI and Human Rights Watch— are to claim any moral legitimacy, they must resolutely dissociate their campaigns from those seeking to use them for predation and aggression. But they have not.

Kovalik and other critics of “humanitarian intervention” and the duplicity of human rights organizations are correct in perceiving an odor of hypocrisy. As Kovalik points out, the “even handedness” espoused by AI in regard to belligerent forces completely obscures ever-present power inequities.

Within the insular bubble of rights-based moral calculation, asymmetries of power, wealth, or development count for nothing. The rural guerrilla in sandals and armed with a rifle must respect the same etiquette of war as the foreign interloper astride a 70-ton tank. In the strange universe of the human rights industry, it doesn’t matter whether a regime’s opponents are paid by the CIA or patriotically motivated; their rights to dissent have equal legitimacy.

And the same respect for human rights is expected of a popular regime (for example, Cuba or Venezuela) under overt and covert threat from powerful foes as is expected of a country (like the US) devoid of any serious external or internal peril. One would think that a serious “human rights” organization would hail the direction of civil rights in countries like Cuba and Venezuela that have improved the health and well being of the disadvantaged in order to fully enjoy rights while condemning a country like the US that has moved dramatically toward a police state. But that is not the case. 

Nor does history extenuate the force of human rights standards as held by Western human rights organizations. Countries emerging from the civil distortions of colonial occupation, suffering the legacy of feudal social and economic relations, or holding to non-Western traditions are held to the same human rights standards by AI as the Euro-American countries that forged those standards over two centuries ago. This lack of understanding and tolerance too often reveals gross cultural and ethnic chauvinism. 

With the US and its NATO allies hijacking its principles, human rights organizations like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have to answer for a lot. While millions of their members honestly want to help those deserving solace, they can no longer ignore the harm that comes from the coalescence of the institutional human rights agenda and the malignant foreign policy of the US and its allies. And the naïve notion that the sins of the victim are no less grave than the sins of the bully is untenable and morally cynical.   

Zoltan Zigedy
zoltanzigedy@gmail.com

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Where have All the Profits Gone?




Mid September marked the fourth anniversary of the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy, widely viewed as the final trigger of the global economic collapse, a shock that remains the dominant factor in global economic life. Friday, October 19 brought a dramatic drop in US equity values, caused, commentators speculate, by dismal reports of US corporate earnings. The most observant of these commentators did not fail to point out that Friday was also the twenty-fifth anniversary of the largest US one-day percentage drop in stock values. The fact that such an anniversary came to mind reflects a general and widespread fear that more economic turbulence is forthcoming.

The growing gloom overshadows the glowing September report of retail sales released earlier in the week. Despite stagnant or slipping incomes, the US consumer turned to the credit card to boost purchases at retail stores, online, and in restaurants. Signs of an improving housing market also fueled optimism.

Opinions change quickly. A week earlier---Tuesday, October 9---the International Monetary Fund released its World Economic Report. While raising fears of a global downturn, the report cut the probability of a US recession by nearly a quarter from its April forecast!

Taken together, the sentiments of the last two weeks demonstrate widespread confusion and uncertainty.

Big Problems, Little Ideas

Most of the conversation about the global economy, about capitalism, is shaped by ideological bias, academic dogma, distorted history and wishful thinking.

The global economy has never “recovered” from the shock of 2008. Nor does it teeter on the edge of another recession. In fact, it is fully in the grip of a profound systemic crisis, a crisis that has no certain conclusion. In this regard, the crisis is very much like its antecedent in the 1930s. The popular picture of The Great Depression as a massive collapse followed by the New Deal recovery is myth. Instead, like our current economic fortunes, it was like climbing a metaphorical grease pole— repeatedly advancing a few feet and then slipping down. Serious students of the Great Depression understand that its “solution” was World War II, with its state-driven, planned, military “socialism.”

Of course war itself is no solution, but the organized, collective, and social effort that capitalism only countenances for violence and aggressionis a solution. Similarly, the success of the People’s Republic of China in sidestepping the harsh edges of the 2008 collapse is due to the remaining features of socialism—public ownership of banks, state enterprises, and economic planning. Never mind that much of the PRC leadership hopes to jettison these features, the advantages are there for all to see. Yet few see.

Distorted history begets foolish theory. The two ideological poles that dominate economic discussion—classical liberalism and Keynesianism—both owe their claimed legitimacy to favored, but mistaken views of the source and solution to the Great Depression. While expressions of these poles are found across the political policy spectrum, classical liberalism—often called neo-liberalism—is generally associated with the political right. 

Political liberals and the left, on the other hand, often advocate for the analyses and prescriptions of the school associated with the views of John Maynard Keynes.

Since classical liberalism has been the dominant economic philosophy governing the global economy for many decades, common sense would dictate that, after four years of economic chaos and general immiseration, neo-liberalism would be in disrepute. But thanks to the tenacity of ruling elites and the profound dogmatism of their intellectual lackeys, the market fetish of neo-liberalism still reigns outside of Latin America and a few other outliers. 

But Keynesianism—broadly understood as central government intervention in markets—enjoys a growing advocacy, particularly with liberals, leftists, and, sadly, “Marxists.” Centrist Keynesians advocate intervention in markets from the supply side, most often through credit mechanisms and tax cuts that encourage investment and corporate confidence. Liberal and left interventionists argue for stimulating economic recovery and stability by generating consumption and expanding demand from government-funded projects or government-funded jobs.

The panic of 2008 turned most policy makers toward flirtation with supply-side intervention and generally meager demand-based stimulus, a fact that liberal Keynesians like Paul Krugman are fond of pointing out. Only China adopted a full-blown demand-oriented stimulus program. Yet that tact also brought a host of new contradictions in its wake.

Austerity versus Growth

Pundits like Krugman and politicians like Francois Hollande posture the theoretical divide as one between austerity and growth, a choice between rational growth stimulation and the irrationality of shrinking government spending to reduce debt. In an idealized classless world, this point would be well taken—austerity is an enemy of growth. However, it is naïve and misleading to fantasize such a world.

In our era of global capitalism, the idea of cutting government spending and lowering taxes makes all the sense in the world to the ownership class. The resultant transfer of value counts as a significant element in restoring profit growth and expanding accumulation. In a real sense, the popular and apt anti-austerity slogan-- “we will not pay for your crisis”-- tells only half the story. The other half should be “we will not pay for your recovery.”

In the end, it is profit that determines the success and failure of the capitalist system. Accumulation of economic surplus—the value remaining after the bills are paid--is the engine of capitalism, necessary for its motion and its trajectory. The dramatic drop in the Dow Jones industrial stock averages resulting from poor earnings this past Friday only underscores this point. Those who see consumption as the critical element in growth and recovery should recognize that this loss of momentum is independent of, as well as more decisive than, the September report of strong retail demand. 

The Tendency of the Falling Rate of Profit

The central role of profit, its growth and momentum in understanding capitalism and its recurrent structural crises has been overshadowed, even among most Marxists, by the infection of left thought with Keynes’ crisis theory. Theories of crisis that rest on underconsumption, overproduction, or imbalances reflect this infection and reduce political economy to the study of business cycles and avoidable and terminable economic hiccups—consumption can be expanded, production can be regulated, and balance can be restored. These are the assumptions of social democratic theory and what divides it from revolutionary Marxism.

Marx saw crisis as fundamentally embedded in capitalism’s structure. Processes in the capitalist mode of production unerringly bring on crises. And he locates the most basic of these processes is the mechanism of accumulation, a process that tends to restrain the growth of the rate of profit.

While it is good to see a rebirth of interest in and advocacy of Marx's law of the tendency for the rate of profit to fall, most of its worthy supporters remain needlessly confined to Marx’s expository formulae that serve well in revealing the anatomy of capitalism, but less so in exposing its disorders.

Yet the intuition behind Marx’s law is easily grasped. When unmediated by the encroachment of working class forces, the capitalists’ accumulation of surplus results in the extreme concentration of wealth, a concentration that reduces the opportunities to gather the expected return in the next and each successive cycle. Whether restrained by the physical limitations of workers, the potential length of the work day, diminished return on physical investment, rapacious competition, super-inflated investment reserves, or the myriad other possible forces or factors, the rate of profit is under constant and persistent duress.

Leading up to the 2007 economic slowdown that presaged the 2008 collapse, the enormous pool of capital available for profitable investment was acknowledged by all reporters. Its sheer volume alone depressed interest and profit rates in the face of limited productive investment opportunities. The desperate search for a rate of return drove investors toward riskier and riskier ventures that generated the financial collapse which has been well documented. It was the pressure on profits—an expression of the tendency—that drove the investor class to a lemming-like indulgence in arcane financial wizardry.

The neglect of Marx’s tendential law since the popularity of Keynes and underconsumption/overproduction crisis theories has retarded Marxist and Communist understanding of capitalist crisis while bolstering reformist policies within the Communist movement. Happily, there is a renewed interest in Marx’s law, though a full and satisfactory understanding of its application to and operation within contemporary capitalism is yet to be given.

At any rate, the decline of earnings now emerging in the latest financial news indicates that counter-crisis and counter-tendency measures are now exhausted in the US. Despite the euphoria of rising consumption spending and housing sales, the profit-driven engine of US capitalism is slowing, likely allowing the US economy to drift closer to the whirlpool already drowning the European economies.

Tough times are ahead, but a fertile period to plant the seeds of socialism. 

Zoltan Zigedy
zoltanzigedy@gmail.com   


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Hypocrisy, Cynicism, Corruption and the Persecution of the Cuban Five




Toronto, Canada in late September was the setting for a Peoples’ Tribunal established to secure justice for the five Cuban patriots victimized by the US criminal justice system. Appropriately dubbed “Breaking the Silence,” the tribunal sought to bring attention to a gross injustice largely ignored or distorted by the North American media.

Held over the September 21-23 weekend, the tribunal drew several hundred participants to a review of the bogus case brought against five Cuban agents planted in the midst of the virulently anti-Communist, Miami-based Cuban defector community. As instruments of Cuban State Security, the Cuban Five were charged with ferreting out violent plots concocted to overthrow the Cuban government and harm the Cuban people and their friends. Necessarily operating clandestinely, they were essential counterweights to the US government's long established and deep engagement with organized criminal elements freely operating out of South Florida with CIA support.

To not employ all available means, including infiltration, would have been tantamount to abandoning the Cuban revolution. No honest person could but see the intervention of the five Cubans in the Miami cesspool of reaction and crime as anything other than an act of national defense and internationalist vigilance.

The Peoples’ Tribunal drove these points home. Speakers developed a detailed case supporting the existence of a dangerous nest of violent, reactionary ex-Cubans organizing in the Miami area with the knowledge and support of US security agencies. Reports to the tribunal established a long history of subversion and assassination on the part of Miami-based paramilitary organizations with the complicity of US officials. Testimony left little doubt of both the reasonableness and urgency of infiltrating these organizations. Nothing underscored the unchecked violence of the Miami murderers more movingly than the testimony of Livio Di Celmo, the brother of Italian tourist, Fabio Di Celmo, who was killed in a brutal bombing of a Havana hotel. The attack was orchestrated by the US government agent and career assassin, Luis Posades Carriles. Carriles bragged openly to the media that “The Italian was in the wrong place at the wrong time.” 

Further, tribunal witnesses exposed the hand of the US government in railroading these patriots with exaggerated charges, a polluted political atmosphere, extra-judicial pressure, and corrupted evidence. A clear picture emerged that nothing even approaching a fair trial landed the Five in Federal penal facilities, an unjust incarceration that has taken 14 years of freedom from them.

Speaker after speaker stressed the necessity of building an international campaign for their freedom. As Elizabeth Labañino, wife of imprisoned Ramón Labañino, stated so eloquently, “We don’t trust in this system, we trust in solidarity.”

Serving on a panel of “magistrates of conscience”-- de facto jurors-- in the proceedings were fourteen distinguished figures including leading US anti-war activist, Cindy Sheehan, and noted US filmmaker, Saul Landau. Adding gravity to the panel were leaders of the Canadian labor movement: Marie Clarke Walker (Vice-President of the Canadian Labor Congress), Denis Lemelin (National President of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers), Ken Neumann (National Director for Canada of the United Steelworkers), and Naveen Mehta (General Council of United Food and Commercial Workers Canada). Joining the panel from the UK was Tony Woodley (Former Joint General Secretary and current Head of Organizing of the 1.5 million members of UNITE the UNION). 

The panel asserted that “…this Peoples’ Tribunal concludes that the Cuban Five were unjustly detained, unjustly prosecuted, and unjustly sentenced, all contrary to international and U.S. domestic law including the U.S. Constitution.  This Peoples’ Tribunal proposes the convictions be quashed, and that Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino, Antonio Guerrero, Fernando González Llort and René González be set free immediately, without any restrictions on their liberty.”

But the tribunal served as more than an urgent call for solidarity with the Cuban Five; it also exposed the corruption, hypocrisy and cynicism of the US government.

Judicial Corruption: The collusion of the highest levels of government with the judicial frame-up demonstrated what should be in no need of demonstration, namely, that the US judicial system answers to the needs of the rich and powerful. There are no broad interests of the US people served by maintaining a nest of violent anti-Communist thugs in Southern Florida. Nor do the US people support them anymore than they support an internationally abhorred, legally unsanctioned blockade of Cuba. Judicial rulings are fitted to conform to the interests of the US ruling class, just as they were in the Citizens United vs Federal Election Commission Supreme Court decision.

The Hypocrisy of “Terrorism”: The term “terrorism” has been appropriated by colonial and imperial powers to demonize the resistance of subjugated or weaker peoples. Whenever the oppressed rise up, they are labeled “terrorists.” Whether it was the anti-colonial Mau Mau movement, the Algerian National Liberation Front, or the African National Congress in South Africa, those audacious enough to defy British or French imperialism or colonial settlers were tagged as agents of terror. Perhaps the original “terrorists” were the aboriginal peoples of the New World who refused to acquiesce to those stealing their lands.

It is deemed “unsporting” of the weak to use extreme or unorthodox methods in the face of the powerful, overwhelming killing machines of bullies. Hence, they are guilty of terror!

It is another story when powerful states or their agents slaughter defenseless civilians or political adversaries. The North American and European media never saw terrorism when the Indonesian military killed over a million civilian Communists and their supporters. Nor do they see terrorism in the daily violence against Palestinian civilians by the Israeli Defense Force. And, of course, the capitalist media is incapable of finding terrorism in the acts of the Miami mafia and their bombings, assassinations, and intimidation at the behest of US security agencies. It was left to the Cuban Five to expose these dangers and work to prevent their realization. Every day the fear-mongering of a hypocritical “War on Terror” justifies another act of terror inflicted on innocent civilians in some far-away country by the US military.

The Cynicism of Human Rights: One of the most inviolable of rights is the right of self-defense, a right that applies equally to a person or a state. Through most of the twentieth century, aggression against another country, regardless of how illegitimate the government or how odious the country's internal policies, was recognized as a violation of the country’s sovereign rights. Conversely, any victim of aggression had a right to respond in self-defense. While Western “democracies” often fell short in aiding those exercising this right against aggression (Abyssinia, Spain, etc), they enshrined the doctrine as an essential condition of peace in both the League of Nations and the United Nations. Recently—especially since the demise of the Socialist bloc as a counter force—the US and its NATO allies have openly and often violated the right under the cynical and illegal excuse of “humanitarian intervention.” At the same time, the US shamelessly embraces its own right of self-defense with its global and perpetual “War on Terror,” a war that has brought death and destruction throughout Asia, Africa, and the Middle East.

But the violations of sovereignty in the former Yugoslavia, Libya, and Syria and other victims of Western “humanitarianism” are preceded by the example of Cuba. Since the revolution, the US and its Cuban-renegade mercenaries have used invasion, infiltration, bombings, assassinations, sabotage, and other forms of aggression to undermine and destroy the revolutionary government. The US and its allies have trampled Cuba’s right of self-defense, but the revolution has persevered. The judicial persecution of the Cuban Five is another instance of the denial of Cuba’s right to self-defense against outside aggression.

There is no excuse for the North American media silence or popular hesitation in defense of the Cuban Five. These brave, selfless and principled fighters have suffered 14 years of imprisonment for values that any fair-minded person would acknowledge. Their honor is secure, standing up to the corruption, hypocrisy, and cynicism of a ruthless imperial power.

Zoltan Zigedy
zoltanzigedy@gmail.com


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