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Why Marx Is More Relevant Than Ever: An Interview With David Harvey

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By Michael Palmieri and Paul SlikerLeft Out 

David Harvey is arguably the most influential living geographer, as well as one of the world’s leading Marxist scholars. He is among the most cited intellectuals of all time across the humanities and social sciences.

Harvey currently works as distinguished professor of anthropology and geography at CUNY, where he has been teaching Marx’s “Capital: Critique of Political Economy” for more than four decades. His course on Marx’s Capital has been downloaded by over 2 million people internationally since appearing online in 2008.

Harvey is also a famous author of several bestselling books, including The Enigma of CapitalA Brief History of Neoliberalism17 Contradictions and the End of Capitalism and many more.

His latest book, Marx, Capital and the Madness of Economic Reason, makes the core of Karl Marx’s thinking in the three volumes of Capital clear and accessible for the lay reader, without compromising their depth and complexity.

Marx’s trilogy concerns the circulation of capital: volume I, how labour increases the value of capital, which he called valorisation; volume II, on the realisation of this value, by selling it and turning it into money or credit; and volume III, on what happens to the value next in processes of distribution.

As Harvey argues in our interview, most people who read Capital often stop after the 1,152 pages of Volume I, which is very problematic if you want to understand the workings of capital as a totality.

We ask Harvey why understanding all three volumes of Capital is so crucial, and why technological, economic and industrial change over the last 150 years makes Marx’s analysis more relevant now than ever.

In the last half of the discussion, we probe into whether it’s necessary for social movements today to develop a stronger institutional basis for understanding how capital and capitalism works, and ask Harvey what should the Left most focus on to effectively organize for a better economy and society.

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license. It may not be reproduced in any form without permission or license from the source.

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Is global warming a reality? ‘VEDIO’

NOVANEWS

 
 

 Image result for global warming CARTOON

Nobel prize winner speaks out
Professor Ivar Giaever
at the 2012 meeting of Nobel Laureates

 

 

A lot of subscribers are not going to like this.

On the other hand, facts are more useful than fiction.

Is the petrochemical industry run by a bunch of thugs?

Yes.

Is global warming a reality?

Better check the facts.

During the early Medieval period, the planet was a lot warmer than it is today.

England was competitive with France for wine growing. Greenland supported agriculture and extensive livestock raising.

The planet is far too cold for that today.

You’re not going to solve the world’s problems with false information.

In contrast to declaring CO2 a pollutant, there are many REAL pollutants in the world, mercury for example and we know exactly who is emitting it.

We know exactly what factories are emitting mercury, where they are located and who owns them.

We know this for hundreds of pollutants.

Thanks to the global warming distraction these polluters able to hide while millions thing they are doing something by wringing their hands about “climate change.”

Think about it.

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Will Artificial Intelligence Make Society Obsolete?

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  • Incredible computer processing power is being applied to heteronomous governance.
    Incredible computer processing power is being applied to heteronomous governance. | Photo: Reuters
Many are concerned about the application of computer processing power to automation of work and the impact on jobs and joblessness.

Source: Le Monde diplomatique

It was Greek/French philosopher Cornelius Castoriadis who argued that individuals in most societies do not depend on themselves to lay down their own law — what he called autonomy.

RELATED: 3D Technology Brings Peru Empress to Life After 1700 Years

Instead, they assume that law is created by some external force found beyond themselves whether it be gods, nature, history, or reason — heteronomy. As an increasingly influential force regulating social, electoral and economic outcomes, algorithms are among today’s new heteronomous powers. In October 2016, the White House, European parliament and UK House of Commons each independently explored how to prepare society for the widespread use of algorithm-driven artificial intelligence (AI).

Reviewing these governments’ reports, researchers argued that the design of a “good AI society” should be based on ‘holistic respect’ that considers ‘the whole context of human flourishing’ and ‘nurturing of human dignity as the grounding foundation of a better world.’ However, they concluded that all three reports lacked an understanding of how this technology can engender responsibility, co-operation and similar values to steer the development and inform the design of a ‘good AI society’.

The word “algorithm” comes from the 9th-century Persian mathematician Muḥammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi. Among his many innovations, al-Khwarizmi’s work led to the creation of algebra and advanced the Hindu-Arabic numeral system that we use today. It is the Latin translation of al-Khwarizmi’s name to “Algoritmi” — combined with an etymological mashup with the Greek word for number (ἀριθμός,pronounced ‘are-eeth-mos’) — that gives us ‘algorithm’.

Oxford University’s Dictionary of Computer Science defines an algorithm as a prescribed set of well-defined rules or instructions for the solution of a problem, such as the performance of a calculation, in a finite number of steps. It is common to describe an algorithm as being similar to a recipe, say, for cooking pasta: 1) boil water, 2) add noodles, 3) stir. More precisely, the instructions need to be detailed enough for a computer to process, such as steps to play a game of tic-tac-toe: “If you occupy two spaces in a row, play the third to get three in a row.”

The work that al-Khwarizmi produced led to solutions for quadratic equations that are today applied to (among other uses) aircrafts taking flight and circuitry for computers and mobile devices. Despite these innovations, algorithms are playing a new role in the social-historical creation of societies, a contest between heteronomy and autonomy. Three interesting and very different books explore their potential use across a wide array of possibilities, from human domination to human liberation.

In his book The Master Algorithm Pedro Domingos, professor of computer science and engineering, provides an exhaustive overview of five rival orientations toward algorithms: 1) the Symbolists, who view learning as the inverse of deduction and take ideas from philosophy, psychology, and logic; 2) the Connectionists, who aspire to reverse engineer the brain and are inspired by neuroscience and physics; 3) the Evolutionaries, who simulate evolution on the computer and draw on genetics and evolutionary biology; 4) the Bayesians, who believe that learning is a form of probabilistic inference and have their roots in statistics; and 5) the Analogisers, who learn by extrapolating from similarity judgments and are influenced by psychology and mathematical optimisation. In his search for the Master Algorithm, Domingos declares his ultimate desideratum: a single algorithm that combines the key features of them all. This is important, he argues, because if it exists, “the Master Algorithm can derive all knowledge in the world — past, present, and future — from data.”

Domingos’s book not only sheds light on the inner technical workings of different types of algorithms that Amazon, Netflix, Facebook, Google and other platform capitalisms use to shape our modern heteronomous experiences, but he also provides a sample algorithm — “Alchemy” — to take for a test drive. His proposal for a Master Algorithm is rooted in pragmatic debates in the field as well as ideas for how to move them forward.

RELATED: US Drone Program Whistleblower Explains Why She Spoke Out

However, the focus on abstract models distracts from discussion of real world negative impacts of this technology. For instance, Domingos’s discussion of “overfitting,” a problem where an algorithm “finds a pattern in the data that is not actually true in the real world,” seemed a woefully insufficient acknowledgment of the dangerous consequences of unaccountable algorithms — their data inputs and code — and the disastrous impact that they can have on people and communities — such as when the postal code you live in helps determine your credit score and whether or not you qualify for a student or home loan. The book provides a window to see what is possible with a Master Algorithm in a general sense, but it delivers a techno-optimistic message when today’s world of vast inequality and global precarity urgently demands that we ask how to leverage such technology for positive social change toward a classless world.

Weapons of Math Destruction by data scientist Cathy O’Neil offers a more sceptical view of algorithms focussed on their negative social costs and consequences. O’Neil documents how algorithms — WMDs — can punish the poor and elevate the privileged in a cycle that worsens capitalism’s class and racial disparities. It is widely believed that in the US, for instance, non-white prisoners from poor neighbourhoods are more likely to commit crimes, and also poised to commit additional crimes and land themselves back in prison.

Recidivism models tracking the tendency of a convicted criminal to reoffend suggest that these people are more likely to be jobless, lack a high school diploma, and have had, with their friends, previous run-ins with police. Another way of looking at the same data, however, is that these people come from poor areas with terrible schools and little opportunity. “So the chance that an ex-convict returning to that neighborhood will have another brush with the law is no doubt larger than that of a tax fraudster who is released into a leafy suburb.” In this system, O’Neil observes, “the poor and non-white are punished more for being who they are and living where they live.”

Weapons of Math Destruction provides many insightful examples of how algorithms can be deployed as an invisible, yet powerful tool to dominate people’s everyday lives. The book is written better than you might expect a quant to write. O’Neil’s human sources provide vivid material illuminating stories of pain and suffering that the algorithm powered predatory lending strategies of credit companies inflict on people.

Drawing from her experience as a data scientist, she reveals problems with data inputs into algorithms and explains how these problems can lead to the destruction of whole communities, from teacher evaluations to those looking for jobs and sending their resumes out. O’Neil’s deployment of thought experiments to imagine how algorithms could inform police tactics in white wealthy neighbourhoods and to combat white collar crime brings the privilege, and immunity from the consequences of poverty that these communities enjoy, to the surface. She reviews examples for how algorithms could be audited and held to standards for accountability. O’Neil’s book has many strengths, highlighting the structural problems of algorithms as a technology, and today’s obscene reality of how the wealthy are still processed by people, while the vast majority are increasingly managed by machines.

RELATED: Global South to Be ‘Potential Losers’ as Robots Replace Workers: Report

Taking a broader view of how algorithms impact societies, Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow by historian Yuval Noah Harari considers the paradigm shifting proposal that life is all about data processing and that all organisms are machines for making calculations and taking decisions. In this analogy, not only are beehives, bacteria colonies and forests data processing systems, but so too are individuals and human societies. Through this lens, your biochemical algorithms would process an image of George Clooney by collecting data on his facial features such as hair and eye colour, and nose and cheek bone proportions, to cause feelings of attraction, indifference or repulsion.

On a larger scale, whole economies could be seen as data processing centres, mechanisms for gathering data about desires and abilities and turning this data into decisions. Drawing historical comparisons, Harari writes: “According to this view, free-market capitalism and state-controlled communism aren’t competing ideologies, ethical creeds or political institutions. At bottom, they are competing data-processing systems. Capitalism uses distributed processing, whereas communism relies on centralized processing.”

This argument relegates to ghosts wandering history’s graveyard the old debates about technology and equality, such as the “calculation debates” of the 1920s and 30s — between socialists who believed that a central authority could use all available knowledge to arrive at the best possible (in their minds) economic plan for society and those free marketeers who countered that, because the problems of modern society are so complex, economic planning is impossible and only markets could coordinate economic activity.

Harari’s book does not so much make comparative critiques of capitalism and communism based on their desirability, equity or class structures, but leads readers to an altogether different set of questions: are organisms really just algorithms and life really just data processing? More broadly, Harari considers the possibility that technology could emerge to displace existing ideologies to form a new Data Religion. This new religion places all authority in data-driven decision-making and displaces religions that place all authority in God; liberal humanism which places authority of the individual in the self and free will; state communism which places authority in the party and state trade union; and evolutionary humanism which places authority in the survival of the fittest.

In this view, data is the new heteronomous force and technology: in particular, the power of algorithms to process data in intelligent ways could render the ideological foundations of society, as we know them, obsolete, regardless of what we think of them: “As data-processing conditions change again in the twenty-first century, democracy might decline and even disappear. As both the volume and speed of data increase, venerable institutions like elections, parties and parliaments might become obsolete — not because they are unethical, but because they don’t process data efficiently enough.” This argument raises questions about the role of technology in an unethical world built on vast and unjust disparities in power and privilege. Harari’s argument seems to avoid reverting to such concerns, since that would mean a reversion to humanism. But the technology seems to present new utopian possibilities.

RELATED: Google Wants to Prevent a Robot Uprising with an AI Kill Switch

So-called “Smart Cities” and the Internet of Things are indicators that data processing power and algorithms are gaining traction in our seemingly breakneck stampede into the future, but the question remains if this technology will facilitate the self-conscious creation of societies that produce equitable outcomes or enable new and worse configurations of old injustices.

Incredible computer processing power is being applied to heteronomous governance. In the 2012 US presidential election, the Obama campaign collected tremendous amounts of data to create voter models and, using these models, ran 66,000 simulations per night to help determine the optimal campaign strategy. Many are concerned about the similar application of computer processing power to automation of work and the impact on jobs and joblessness.

Imagine instead this technology applied to facilitate autonomous governance by helping determine the best economic inputs and outputs for a classless and ecologically friendly society. While proposals for a universal basic income dominate debates across the left and right, there are no more technological excuses inhibiting the revolutionary possibility of self-governing, directly democratic and scalable autonomous societies. Models such as Castoriadis’s 1957 Workers’ Councils and the Economics of a Self-Managed Society, which proposed a “Plan Factory” relying on computers to decide how the material means of life would be distributed for economic production and consumption no longer need economic planners and managers.

Such a system, and others like it, could allow algorithms — in the form of blockchain style Decentralised Autonomous Organisations (DAOs) and “smart contracts” — to do the heavy lifting of economic planning, and other rote jobs, so that people could get on with enjoying the free social and individual time that an autonomous society would allow. The question now is whether algorithm driven artificial intelligence will know society and people better than we know ourselves or will it empower self-organisation and direct democracy in ways that consider the whole context of human flourishing and dignity as the foundation of a better world?


Chris Spannos is digital editor at New Internationalist.

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Smartphone Separation Anxiety or ‘Nomophobia’ Is Very Real, and on the Rise

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Smartphones

CC0 / Pixabay

Researchers at Hong Kong City University and Seoul’s Sungkyunkwan University have concluded smartphone separation anxiety or “nomophobia” is becoming an increasingly widespread problem, with users feeling panic and stress when they’re unable to access or use their devices, and not merely because they can’t make or receive calls.

Nomophobia has been touted as the 21st century’s leading fad diagnosis — scientists, lawyers, therapists and even legislators have been quick to suggest claims of smartphone addiction are at best exaggerated, at worst self-serving fiction. However, the researchers believe they have conclusively identified the syndrome, based on how individuals perceive and value their smartphones — their research model found a clear link between personal memories and user attachment to phones, leading to pronounced tendencies to phone proximity-seeking behavior.

​Obsessional relationships with phones stem from their highly advanced and increasingly personalized nature — they in effect become an extension of their owner. After all, as well as storing meaningful photos and messages, mobiles act as a gateway to an enormous array of apps, websites and services that let users quickly access content that’s important to them.

While the researchers used a relatively small sample group, of 300 students, and conceded their findings may not be transposable to all smartphone users, they nonetheless contend the symptoms they identified will undoubtedly become more widespread in the future, as technology becomes even more personalized and humans grow ever more reliant upon it.

“As smartphones evoke more personal memories, users extend more of their identity onto their smartphones. When users perceive smartphones as their extended selves, they are more likely to become attached to the devices, which, in turn, leads to nomophobia by heightening the phone proximity-seeking tendency. Recent smartphone and app development seems to inevitably increase users’ attachment, as the technology and related services become increasingly personalised and customisable. This suggests that users should be conscious not to become overly dependent on smartphones while benefitting from the smartness of the technology,” the authors state.

The good news for those infatuated with their iPhones and Android devices is nomophobia is is far from incurable — the team believe “defined and protected” periods of individual separation from smartphones (not unexpected periods of separation) may allow users to “perform better” — not just by reducing interruptions but also by increasing available cognitive capacity.

​Nonetheless, while the syndrome is not officially classified as a specific mental disorder by any medical or psychological body or textbook, numerous studies have shown that smartphone attachment can cause significant problems.

For instance, in 2015 excessive smartphone use was found to facilitate cognitive dysfunction — and a June McCombs School of Business report found simply having a smartphone within reach, even if it’s switched off or placed face-down, reduces brain power. Even putting a smartphone in a different room was found to give brains a boost.

​Despite its lack of medical recognition, in time nomophobia may, along with fear of missing out (FoMo) and fear of being offline (FoBo), join international lists of recognized phobias and neuroses.

In May, the World Health Organization named spending too much time staring at digital screens a major health risk. Their report noted there has been a dramatic increase in the time people spend staring at digital screen time since the turn of the century, and spending a mere two hours in front of tablets, computers and smartphones daily is causing people as young as 11 to suffer an increased risk of poor mental and physical health.

 

: health risks and solutions (Fact Sheet) http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs345/en/ 

Photo published for Adolescents: health risks and solutions

Adolescents: health risks and solutions

WHO fact sheet on adolescents health risks and solutions: includes key facts and provides a definition, information on specific health issues, WHO response.

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Smart’s Dark Side: More Intelligent People More Likely to Judge on Stereotypes

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Darth Vader

CC0 / Pixabay

Those blessed with brains with strong “pattern matching” capabilities enjoy a number of benefits, including a greater aptitude for learning languages, better understanding the feelings of others, and spotting opportunities. However, a New York University (NYU) study suggests they also may have a dark side.

Numerous studies have demonstrated that pattern matching is a major contributor to intelligence, and the greater the capability, the more likely an individual is to work more effectively, earn more money, be physically and mentally healthier, be more independently minded and less likely to subscribe to authoritarian beliefs.

​However, the NYU study suggests it also makes individuals more likely to learn and apply potentially damaging stereotypes. The team theorized people with superior cognitive abilities may be equipped to efficiently learn and exploit stereotypes about groups, be they ethnic, gender, social or otherwise — to test out their hypothesis, they conducted six online studies involving 1,257 individuals, recruited via Amazon’s Mechanical Turk survey website.

In the first two, volunteers saw pictures of aliens that varied on four dimensions (color, face shape, eye size, ears), with most blue aliens associated with an “unfriendly” behavior (such as spitting in another alien’s face) and most of the yellow aliens associated with a friendly behavior (such as giving another alien a bouquet of flowers). The volunteers also completed items from Raven’s Advanced Progressive Matrices, assessing pattern-matching ability.

​A subsequent memory test charged the participants with pairing previously seen faces with their earlier behaviors — but there were also some new blue and yellow faces that hadn’t been seen before in the mix too. Participants better at pattern-matching were more likely to attribute unfriendly behaviors to new blue aliens than new yellow aliens — suggesting they’d learned color-behavior stereotypes more readily, and applied them.

In the third and fourth studies, volunteers were shown realistic pictures of male human faces, manipulated so most with a wide nose (for some participants) or a narrow nose (for others) were paired with negative behaviors such as jeering at a homeless person. Most of the faces with the other nose type were paired with friendly behaviors, such as, again, sending flowers to someone.

​After viewing the faces, the volunteers played a trust game, involving sharing money, which they were led to believe was an interlude unrelated to the study. Before the game began, they each chose an avatar from a large group of faces to represent them online, they played 12 rounds the game, each time with a different partner who was represented by their own avatar.

The volunteers were not in fact playing with real partners, and the researchers manipulated their “partners'” avatars, so some had wider noses, and others had narrower noses. There were also female “partners” whose nose width did not systematically vary. The team found volunteers who did better on the test of pattern detection gave less money to partners whose avatars had a nose width related, in the earlier trial, to unfriendly behavior.

​Such results suggest there may be a dark, depressing side to greater intelligence, although they run contrary to previous research, such as a 2012 Brock University paper that found a strong correlation between lower abstract reasoning abilities and homophobia, and a 2016 University of Toronto study which concluded individuals with better verbal abilities were less likely to be prejudiced against other races, more likely to acknowledge racial discrimination, and more likely to support racial equality in principle.

Indeed, results in other areas were more promising, when these volunteers were given new information that contradicted stereotypes they had developed, the better pattern-detectors were also quicker to update their stereotype, reversing their biases in the process.

In a final experiment, the team used real-world stereotypes, traits believed to be commonly associated with men (such as being more authoritative) and with women (such as being more submissive).After counter-stereotype training, being told being authoritative is more associated with women rather than men, for example — good pattern-detectors showed a stronger decrease in stereotyping. In essence, individuals with superior pattern detection abilities are naive empiricists, learning and updating their conception of stereotypes based on changing information.

​However, there are almost certainly drawbacks to greater pattern-recognition, including an increased propensity for obsessive-compulsive behavior.

Related:

Stereotype-Smashing Study Shows White Youth Most Likely to Abuse Hard Drugs
Stereotypes About ‘Russian Threats’: Will Western Russophobia Cease?
The Falsity of Common Stereotypes About Muslims
The ‘Cold War’ and Russophobic Stereotypes are Here to Stay

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Decolonizing the Classroom: Embracing Radical Internationalism

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By Chris Steele

Students need classes that emphasize histories of resistance. (Photo: iStock / Getty Images Plus)

Students need classes that emphasize histories of resistance. (Photo: iStock / Getty Images Plus)

What first enthralled me about historian Gerald Horne was reading his book Black and Brown: African Americans and the Mexican Revolution, 1910-1920, where he tells the story of the boxer Jack Johnson, who was denied food in Mexico City by a US store owner thinking he could uphold Jim Crow laws. Jack left the store and returned later with three or four generals who revoked the store owner’s license, made him apologize and told him that Mexico was no “white man’s country.”

These are histories of resistance seldom heard to which Horne gives a voice. While there should be no illusions about the Obama presidency, the age of Trump is a caravan of injustices. Horne’s analysis of the legacy of white supremacy and the refusal of mainstream US history and education to acknowledge colonialism shows us how the age of Trump came about.

While teaching political science in the community college circuit in Colorado, I was faced with preassigned textbooks that presented history from a Eurocentric male perspective, devoid of a critique of capitalism, patriarchy and colonialism.

On the first day of teaching comparative government, a student in the course asked why the textbook didn’t cover any of the genocides in Africa, such as Belgian King Leopold II’s genocide of an estimated 10 million in the Congo for rubber, or Germany’s genocide of the Herero and Nama in 1904. I reflected on my white colonial mind and college education and realized I was never assigned readings that had to do with genocides in Africa.

I decided to rework the course readings with student input to change this pattern of reproducing global white supremacy in the classroom, as well as the cultural, intergenerational and historical trauma that students of color often endure throughout education by not receiving the whole picture of history.

Historian Gerald Horne offers a sober perspective that was indispensable in this endeavor: He seeks to stab through hagiography and dismount from historical mythology, allowing his readers to see the connection to capitalism, slavery, the genocide of Indigenous peoples, Pan-Africanism and liberation struggles with a worldview that is often absent in the classroom and mainstream discussions. Horne holds the John J. and Rebecca Moores Chair of History and African American Studies at the University of Houston.

Known for his stunning use of historical archives, Horne has authored more than 30 books on topics ranging from biographical works on W.E.B. Du Bois and Shirley Graham Du Bois to white supremacy’s legacy in Fiji, Hawaii and Australia. His newest book, titled, The Apocalypse of Settler Colonialism: The Roots of Slavery, White Supremacy, and Capitalism in Seventeenth-Century North America and the Caribbean, is set to be released in January 2018.

In this interview, Horne discusses radical internationalism and the importance of educators teaching history in a way that honors how Black and Indigenous resistance have shaped history.

Chris Steele: What is one’s role in the classroom as an educator and framer of history?

Gerald Horne: With regards to the United States of America — since the United States of America is a nation that was built on slave labor, particularly of Africans — it’s mandatory to have that story embedded in the basic narrative and it’s mandatory for the teacher to frame the narrative of the construction of the United States of America through the lens of the African slave trade and the enslavement of Africans.

Can you speak about how teachers can avoid the pitfall of just describing atrocities of colonialism instead of also addressing the perseverance, resistance and complexities of people of color throughout history, such as the 1712 revolt in Manhattan and other slave revolts?

Well, I think even today in 2017, you have historians who even consider themselves to be progressive who tend to downplay the question of resistance, which I think does a disservice to history and certainly it does a disservice to Black people. In some ways, it reminds me of the reaction to Trump in liberal and left circles; there’s a lot of denunciation of Trump, which is fine, I can resonate with a denunciation of Trump. But what we really need is an explanation of how this happened and likewise, if you don’t have a story of resistance along with the story of enslavement, you really can’t provide an explanation of how we got to this point, and therefore you are doing a disservice to history and you’re doing a disservice to those who are trying to resist today.

Can you speak about representation and resistance in the classroom, tying in Indigenous history — which is US history — or other issues, such as patriarchy throughout US history?

Well, certainly if you look at the revolt of 1776 that led to the creation of the United States, in my book [The Counter-Revolution of 1776: Slave Resistance and the Origins of the United States of America], I stress the question of slavery and only mention the Royal Proclamation of 1763 in passing. The Royal Proclamation, of course, was London’s attempt to avoid expending more blood and treasure fighting Native Americans for their land, but the settlers … resisted this Royal Proclamation and [it] led directly to kicking London out of what is now the United States.

Certainly, in the state of Colorado where you’re sitting, Native American resistance has shaped the history of that state. For example, unfortunately in terms of writing about the US Civil War, many historians do not engage the question of how that led directly to more expropriation of Native American land — I’m thinking of the Sand Creek Massacre in Colorado, for example. Certainly, we need an integrated history of the United States that braids and threads the question of African suffering and African resistance, Native American suffering and Native American resistance, the question of patriarchy, the question of ethnic cleansing — all of that needs to be incorporated into a grander narrative history of North America.

Two of the principles you routinely talk about are organization and what civil rights leader and Black intellectual Paul Robeson called “radical internationalism.” Can you talk about how these can be applied to education?

With regard to radical internationalism, I would say that given the unsavory origins of the United States, which led to the empowerment of powerful white supremacists and right-wing forces … in order to overcome that tendency, the victims of capitalism and white supremacy have had to reach across the oceans and reach across the borders. In order to reach across the oceans and reach across the borders for solidarity and assistance, you need organization. I mean, otherwise it doesn’t work very well and certainly that’s a central lesson that needs to be imparted in the classroom.

Have you researched how this colonizer form of history in the classroom can reproduce cultural or intergenerational trauma?

Oh sure. I haven’t researched it, but I have an opinion, which is that if those who are the victims of white supremacy and ethnic cleansing are not told in the classroom about the history that has led us up to the present moment, then there might be a tendency to feel that their present unfortunate circumstance is a personal individual issue as opposed to the result of the tides of history. Obviously, that can lead to a kind of individual trauma, which I would say could be avoided if there was more engagement with an accurate portrayal of history in the classroom.

You are working on a new book about anarchists, communists and Black nationalists and how they have confronted the seat of national power. What is your perception of anarchism and US history?

It’s complicated. I haven’t begun to research deeply into this project, but I wrote a book a couple years ago on William Patterson, who was a Black communist … inducted into the communist movement through his engagement with anarchists, particularly with the Sacco and Vanzetti case of the 1920s in Massachusetts. From my past reading, I also know that in Mexico and in Spain in particular, there’s been a strong anarchist movement. Now, of course there have been tensions between and amongst these three forces that I’ve mentioned — anarchists, Black nationalism and communism — but one of the purposes of my project when I finally get lift off and take off is to try to deal with those differences, because I think if we’re going to build a more stable and more productive and more progressive environment, we’re going to have to grapple honestly with these differences so that we can build that more productive environment.

With the rise of the right wing, can you speak about the KKK in Cuba and Fiji?

It’s interesting, I guess you’re familiar with my book, The White Pacific, where I deal with the KKK in Fiji, which of course, was in the context of the attempt to revive Black slavery — this time focusing on Melanesians as opposed to Africans, with the site of the exploitation being Queensland, Australia and Fiji. I’m doing a book on Southern Africa now, and of course, there are many ties between the masters of apartheid in South Africa and the KKK and white supremacist organizations here in the United States. I mean, there’s been this sort of “white right international” … and it certainly needs more attention, particularly nowadays, because as you know, in the United States, there has been a resurgence of what’s euphemistically called the “alt-right” and what could be more accurately called white supremacist, white nationalist organizations. I think now more than ever we need close scrutiny of these organizations and their history so we can better defeat them.

Throughout your research have you studied the so-called Doctrine of Discovery and the implications it had on the Indigenous population?

Yes, it is sort of ridiculous. It’s like if I come to where you are staying in Colorado and bust into your apartment and say, “I think I discovered your laptop and under the ‘right of discovery’ I’m going to claim it.” I mean, the arrogance of the ridiculous nature — but obviously it was deadly serious, obviously the Christian church, particularly the Roman Catholic church, has a lot of explaining to do … a lot of apologies to craft since we know that that rise of that doctrine has been congruent with the expansion of Catholicism and in particular in the Americas, but of course, this takes place in the context of religious conflict.

I have a book coming out early next year on the 17th century, and of course, the 17th century — that is to say the 1600s — marks the rise of the expropriation of the Indigenous population and enslavement of the Africans, and this is taking place against the backdrop of religious conflict, particularly between Christians and Protestants and the reconciliation ultimately between Christians and Protestants (or an attempted reconciliation, I should say) reaches its zenith in North America, in the trade union movement in the United States.

This used to be called pork chop unity. That is to say … folks would bury their contradictions and intentions in order to get those pork chops — with the pork chops being in this case the land of the Native Americans and the bodies of the Africans and certainly that whole Doctrine of Discovery. The more I think about it, [it] is obviously so utterly ridiculous.

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The Plot to Scapegoat Russia

NOVANEWS
Book Review of Dan Kovalik’s Book
 

The Cold War we are familiar with ended with the collapse of the Soviet Union. In his new book “The Plot to Scapegoat Russia,” lawyer and human rights activist Dan Kovalik writes about a new Cold War against Russia – and about the peace that never came. He discusses the role of the Democratic Party and the CIA, but his book centers on exploring the cause of why hostilities are back.

The real motivations of revived confrontation are hardly the stuff of day-to-day news, and so the author relies upon the historical record for discovering the origins of a new Cold War. Along the way he explains why the old Cold War was waged.

He regards the commonly – accepted explanation as a pretext: “the Cold War, at least from the vantage point of the US, had little to do with fighting ‘Communism,’ and more to do with making the world safe for corporate plunder.”Implicitly this proposition serves to account for other U. S. wars and interventions.

Without elaborating, Kovalik casts the CIA as the lead plotter in these intrusions. It has the right skills, he suggests, because it is “a nefarious, criminal organization which often misleads the Ameri­can public and government into wars and misadventures,” In his own book, “The Devil’s Chessboard,” David Talbottraced the Cold War machinations of former CIA head Allen Dulles’ and thus was well qualified to provide an introduction for the present volume.

According to Talbot,

“Russia (long with China) is the only country capable of even marginally standing in the way of Washington’s vast imperial ventures.”

These two themes – the real reason for why the United States fights wars and the CIA’s role in such wars – set the tone for the history Kovalik recounts in his highly recommended book.

Image result for dan kovalik

Author, Dan Kovalik

Readers hungry to know about the “plot” advertised in the book’s title will need patience. At the point Kovalik is discussing the current U. S. – Russia confrontation, he has already conducted a tour over time and across the world that surveyed U. S. interventions and foreign meddling. Having identified patterns of U. S. aggression, he presents a scenario that clarifies U. S. motivations for abusing Russia.

This book offers materialso encompassing as to belie its small size. Kovalik’s writing is clear, evocative, and readable. Along the way, he recalls those causes and the outrage that fired up activists who were his contemporaries. That’s a side benefit.

In college Kovalik learned about CIA machinations in Central America. Revelations from former agents Philip Agee, Ray McGovern, and John Stockman astonished him. His first trip to Nicaragua exposed him to a harvest of killings and terror. He learned first-hand about the role of Contra paramilitaries, recruited and paid for by the CIA. At one point he was comforting a father burying his son, killed by the Contras, along with 50,000 other Nicaraguans.

The author recalls the four churchwomen and six Jesuit priests murdered by U. S. – trained soldiers in El Salvador, U. S. support for soldiers and paramilitaries who killed and displaced populations in Colombia, and the CIA’s Operation Condor by which South American client states murderedpolitical enemies. He recounts U. S – instigated coups in Iran, 1953; Guatemala, 1954; and Chile, 1973. Along the way he mentions U.S. war in Vietnam, occupation and war in Korea, nuclear bombs dropped on Japan, nuclear testing and dying in the Marshall Islands, and the CIA’srecruitment of the anti-Soviet Mujahideen in Afghan­istan.

This was the justification: keeping “the world safe from the threat of Soviet totalitarianism.” Then the Soviet Union was no more and the search was on for a new pretext. Having turned to “humanitarian intervention,” the Clinton administration soon was assisting the Paul Kagame regime in Rwanda and other African nations as they assaulted the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

“US mining interests” were satisfied, Kovalik says, but “nearly six million people” people died.

Clinton’s government intervened in Haiti and participated in the destruction of Yugoslavia, Europe’s last socialist state.Supposed humanitarian motivations were behind the United States role in delivering Libya into chaos. For the author, U. S. pretensions and brutality stand in contrast to the relatively benign nature of Russian misdeeds.

More recently, in Kovalik’s telling, the U. S. government settled upon the rationalization of  “American exceptionalism.” This is

“the belief that the US is a uniquely benign actor in the world, spreading peace and democracy.”

Thus terror was exported to Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, and Yemen, where Saudi Arabia acted as a U. S. proxy. The list includes the 2009 military coup in Honduras facilitated by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

For the author,

“The US’s outsized military exists not only to ensure the US’s quite unjust share of the world’s riches, but also to ensure that those riches are not shared with the poor huddled masses in this country.”

Good relations with Russia would be

“simply bad for business, in particular the business of war which so profoundly undergirds the US economy … As of 2015, the US had at least 800 military bases in over 70 nations, while Britain, France and Russia had only 30 military bases combined.”

And,

“under Obama alone, the US had Special Forces deployed in about 138 countries.”

Having surveyed decades worth of U.S. interventions abroad, military and otherwise, Kovalik turns to Russia. In the early 1990s that fledgling capitalist state was in crisis, he reports. Life expectancy had plummeted, the poverty rate was 75 percent, and investments in the economy were down 80 percent. National pride was in the cellar, the more so after the United States backed away from Secretary of State Baker’s 1991 promise that NATO would never move east, after the United States attacked Russia’s ally Serbia, and after the United States attacked Iraq in 2003 and Libya in 2011 without consulting Russia.

He regards Russia’s approach to Ukraine as defensible while reminding readers that Russia offered to cooperate with the United States in ending war in Syria. And U. S. claims about lack of democracy in Russia seem strained, especially when, as Kovalik insists, the United States abuses peoples the world over and itself suffers from a “severe democracy deficit.”

He argues that the Obama administration, particularly Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, was obsessed with Russia and that Democrats currently are fueling hostilities, backed by a compliant media. He discusses WikiLeaks revelations about the Democratic Party and hacking attributed to the Russians.

He also suggests, without offering specifics, that the CIA is involved. Kovalik doesn’t comment on possible interaction between Trump campaign personnel and Russian officials.

US Army training in Iraq in support of the ‘Global War on Terrorism’

But prior to his discussion of confrontation with Russia, Kovalik had devoted considerable attention to why and how the United States harasses other countries. The reader, therefore, already knows never to expect U.S. imperialism to give Russia a break and knows why that is so.

Kovalik’s treatment of the Soviet Union is an essential part of his narrative. For one thing, many of the U. S. military interventions he reports on wouldn’t have occurred if the Soviet Union still existed. But basically,

“the Soviet Union, did wield sizable polit­ical and ideological influence in the world for some time, due to the appeal of its socialist message as well as its critical role in winning [World War] II.”

Kovalik acknowledges “periods of great repression.” He adds, however, that

“the Russian Revolution and the USSR … delivered on many of their promises, and against great odds. …. In any case, the goals of the Russian Revolution—equality, worker control of the economy, universal health care and social security— were laudable ones.”

And,

“One of the reasons that the West continues to dance on the grave of the Soviet Union, and to emphasize the worst parts of that society and downplay its achievements, is to make sure that, as the world-wide economy worsens, and as the suffering of work­ing people around the world deepens, they don’t get any notions in their head to organize some new socialist revolution with such ideals.”

Ultimately, Kovalik sides with Martin Luther King, who remarked that,

‘The US is on the wrong side of the world-wide revolution’–

and with Daniel Ellsberg’s clarification:

‘The US is not on the wrong side; it is the wrong side.’”

*     *     *

Excerpt from the book:

An in-depth look at the decades-long effort to escalate hostilities with Russia and what it portends for the future.

Since 1945, the US has justified numerous wars, interventions, and military build-ups based on the pretext of the Russian Red Menace, even after the Soviet Union collapsed at the end of 1991 and Russia stopped being Red. In fact, the two biggest post-war American conflicts, the Korean and Vietnam wars, were not, as has been frequently claimed, about stopping Soviet aggression or even influence, but about maintaining old colonial relationships. Similarly, many lesser interventions and conflicts, such as those in Latin America, were also based upon an alleged Soviet threat, which was greatly overblown or nonexistent. And now the specter of a Russian Menace has been raised again in the wake of Donald Trump’s election.

The Plot to Scapegoat Russia examines the recent proliferation of stories, usually sourced from American state actors, blaming and manipulating the threat of Russia, and the long history of which this episode is but the latest chapter. It will show readers two key things: (1) the ways in which the United States has needlessly provoked Russia, especially after the collapse of the USSR, thereby squandering hopes for peace and cooperation; and (2) how Americans have lost out from this missed opportunity, and from decades of conflicts based upon false premises. These revelations, amongst other, make The Plot to Scapegoat Russia one of the timeliest reads of 2017.

Author: Dan Kovalik

Print ISBN:  978-1-5107-3032-8

Ebook ISBN: 978-1-5107-3033-5

Year: 2017

Click to order

Posted in USA, Education, RussiaComments Off on The Plot to Scapegoat Russia

Organisational failure of the Socialist movement and its interventional impotence

NOVANEWS
DSM

As in many post-colonies, the Socialist movement in Nigeria has failed due to the organic divorce of the movement from the struggles of the oppressed. Revolution is no longer seen as a practical necessity, largely because of the movement’s petty bourgeoisie class origins. To revive the movement, this class needs a deep and radicalising experience of privation and oppression out of which it can find no escape but revolution.

By organisational failure of the Nigerian Socialist movement we mean its inability to sustain itself as a body of independent, more or less stable and coherent organisations capable of effective effort to connect with, learn from and influence the oppressed social forces in their struggles against the bourgeoisie and imperialism in pursuit of Socialist aims. Quite a few groupings of Socialists exist, some of which self-delusionally describe themselves as “the Socialist Party” or “the Communist Party” of Nigeria. However, the brutal truth is that all of them fail by the crucial criterion of possessing sufficient interventional capacity for sustained and broad-based influence over the agenda, course, pace, and outcomes of the social conflict between the oppressed and the oppressors.

There is certainly no more eloquent testimony of this than the extremely odd phenomenon of the social conflict in Nigeria being at this time primarily of a system-safe and system-reproductive character despite the devastating attacks on the interests of the oppressed occasioned by the bourgeoisie’s programme of neoliberal restructuring of the economy. That an otherwise objectively radicalising material situation has not resulted in a subjectively radicalised mass of the oppressed is, of course, primarily a function of the ideological hegemony of the bourgeoisie. That this hegemony itself has remained unchallenged, however, is in significant part a function of the organisational failure and impotence of the Nigerian Socialist movement.

Nigerian Socialists have sought to explain this failure and impotence by one or a combination of the following: the repression of the Socialist movement by the bourgeois state; the outbreak and consolidation of opportunism within the movement; and the movement’s ideological collapse following the fall of existing Socialism in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

It is indubitable that these factors have indeed featured in the organisational failure of the Nigerian Socialist movement and in its impotence in the social conflict since at least 1966. [1] Repression by the bourgeois state – under colonialism as well as under the military dictatorships of Olusegun Obasanjo and Ibrahim Babangida – repeatedly decimated the movement as an organised structure by degrading its capacity to reproduce itself. Employing measures including the detention of activists and leaders without trial, the outright banning of Socialist organisations, and the suppression of public activities by these organisations, these campaigns of decimation have sought to prevent the process of organic interaction and interchanges between the movement as an organised social force and the oppressed social forces, the very process that builds them into a unified social force in the class struggle against the bourgeoisie and its own allied forces.

For the Socialist movement – the possessor and material embodiment of the most advanced and best-organised consciousness of the proletariat in its pursuit of its immanent and transcendent interests – is effectual in the social conflict only to the extent that it transforms in its own image the consciousness and practice of the class and its allies. This transformation cannot take place except by this organic interaction between the movement and the oppressed; theory cannot grip the masses and become a material force in the social conflict except by the two-way interaction of the two. By preventing this interaction, the bourgeois state sought to prevent the establishment of the organic relationship between the movement and the oppressed, which is necessary for the interventional capacity of the former; it sought to prevent theory from becoming a material force. The effectiveness of this campaign of repression is certainly a key factor in the impotence of the Nigerian Socialist movement.

The cancer of opportunism in the movement is similarly a key factor. If state repression aimed to incapacitate the socialist movement by preventing its interaction with the oppressed masses, opportunism functioned objectively – i.e. irrespective of the intentions or rationalisations by its agents in the movement – to subject the extent and terms of that interaction to the accumulation and career interests of these agents.

Sacrificing the interests of the whole working class and other oppressed groups for their own sectional interests, these agents built a Socialist movement whose organisation, operation and intervention in the social conflict was governed not by the dictates of the struggle of the oppressed but by those of their personal interests. Thus, “the struggle” meant for these agents and the Socialist movement they created not really the engagement of the oppressed with the oppressor but the conflict with rival groups (of other opportunists in some cases but also of genuine revolutionaries in others) over control of power and the resources of the movement’s organisations.

In other words, the dynamics of conflict in the Socialist movement found its basis, just like those of conflict in the bourgeois polity, in the contradictions of the process of accumulation of power and wealth. This, rather than any serious ideological, programmatic, or strategy differences, has been the principal source of the long and pernicious history of factionalism and splits within the movement, even to this day. Driven by the imperatives of personal accumulation, a leader (and the group built around him or her) who cannot gain control or adequate access to the resources of the organisation would rather destroy it or split off to create another that would be under his or her own control.

Similarly, as the demise of the 1964 Joint Action Committee demonstrates, these leaders prefer to lead tiny organisations over which they have personal control – although such organisations have little capacity to intervene in and influence the social conflict – than to merge them into a larger and more effective organisation over which, however, they would have no personal control or over whose resources they would not have unrestricted access. This has been a key factor in the organisational failure of the Nigerian Socialist movement.

Finally, there is the ideological collapse of the Nigerian Socialist movement, by which we mean the more or less complete disintegration of its organic body of premises, methodological principles, theories, concepts, practical goals, ethics, and strategies that receive their logical coherence and social rationale from the transcendent interests of the proletariat and that constitute the movement’s instruments of ideological intervention in the social conflict as an organised social force. This collapse involved any one or combination of the following in the political practice of the organisations or individuals that previously constituted the Socialist movement and many of which still considered themselves socialists:

1.  Rejection of a proletariat-led Socialist revolution in Nigeria as a socio-historical necessity whose realisation should be the goal of immediate political practice;

2.  Abandonment of the perspective of the proletariat in the analysis of social reality;

3.  Abandonment of Socialist propaganda among the oppressed classes in the practical social conflict.

Crisis of existing Socialism

Babangida’s war on the Socialist movement left its organisational structure in tatters and severely degraded its interventional capacity. However, the movement would probably have recovered subsequently and begun to rebuild its organisations and capacity, especially in the less repressive environment that came with the demise of General Sani Abacha in 1998 and the advent of bourgeois civilian rule in 1999. That it did not do so was due primarily to its ideological collapse following the fall of existing Socialism in the last years of the 1980s and the early ones of the 1990s.

This ideological collapse of the socialist movement resulted directly from the crisis and collapse of the formations of existing Socialism and of the ideology of their ruling classes. In its history having attained a generally high degree of theoretical development, Socialist thought in Nigeria – especially in its dominant tendencies – always was susceptible to a sterile dogmatism that equated existing Socialism with the only socialism possible in existing world conditions and took the ideology of its ruling classes to be the true Marxism of the epoch. Thus, for the dominant sections of the Nigerian Socialist movement, the crisis of the countries of existing Socialism translated more or less directly into the crisis of Socialism and of Marxism, and the eventual collapse of those countries meant for these sections the collapse of Socialism as a historical project and of Marxism as a worldview and a science of society.

The ideological collapse paralysed much of the movement and threw it into disarray. Having lost its own ideological bearings, the movement could not provide enlightenment and ideological leadership as an organised body representing a viable alternative to the variety of bourgeois ideologies present in the mass of the oppressed. Indeed, in many a case, the Socialist organisation simply collapsed and expired, or, what amounts to the same thing, lost itself in bourgeois ideologies in the self-delusion of radicalising them.

These are the principal explanations socialists have offered of the organisational failure of the Nigeria socialist movement. However, deeper thought reveals these to be only immediate and contingent factors in a mediated causation with deeper and in fact structural roots. This becomes obvious as soon as we consider the fact that many Socialist movements across the world and particularly in the capitalist periphery have experienced these same conditions without then suffering organisational failure in such a sustained and apparently intractable manner as has the Nigerian movement.

The socialist movements in Brazil and other South American countries in the 1960s and 1970s and in South Africa and other Southern African countries all through the 1960s to the late 1980s suffered repression of such brutality, intensity, duration, and totality as the Nigerian socialist movement has never experienced. Yet they were able to sustain themselves in most cases and for most of these periods and after as a body of more or less coherent and effective organisations with the capacity to intervene in the social conflict on a class-wide basis. Even granting for a moment that the Nigerian movement has experienced repression with similar features and that this has played a key role in the persistency of its organisational failure, it still remains to explain this failure in periods relatively devoid of such repression. The movement has experienced the sort of repression capable of incapacitating it and decimating its organisational structure only under the Babangida regime (and to a much lesser extent under the military regime of Obasanjo). Before, between, and after these episodes of repression–which in all cases were relatively brief–the political conditions were relatively benign (even if not conducive) and the Socialist movement could have reconstituted itself organisationally, even if only operating illegally. Why could it not do this?

The problem of opportunism does not answer this question satisfactorily. Many Nigerian Marxists have given a correct explanation of opportunism in the movement. The question is why it has produced organisational failure in the Nigerian movement when it has not in many others. For opportunism has been a global problem in the world Socialist movement since the rise of imperialism in the later decades of the 19th century. It has not, however, had the same organisational result in all the national Socialist movements: some have disintegrated under its influence but others have not. What differentiates the first group from the second? Why has opportunism resulted specifically in organisational failure in the Nigerian Socialist movement when it has not in many others?

Similarly, the ideological collapse of the movement cannot be taken as given datum but must itself be problematised. This collapse only took place in the late 1980s and early 1990s; yet the problem of organisational failure has been with the movement since its inception in the 1940s. While it is certainly a factor in explaining the current organisational state of the movement, this collapse itself still needs explanation. For not all national Socialist movements experienced ideological collapse due to the fall of existing Socialism. Why was the Nigerian socialist movement so ideologically susceptible to the fall?

This indeed is the crux of the matter: why has the Nigerian movement been so susceptible to the organisationally destructive effects of repression, opportunism, and ideological collapse when other socialist movements have not? Why have these important but nonetheless contingent and immediate factors resulted in its organisational failure when they have not in other movements?

Organic divorce from the oppressed

As we already said above, the causation of this problem is mediated and has structural roots. These consist in the organic divorce of the Nigerian Socialist movement from the oppressed and their struggle, i.e., the fact that its organisations have functioned not as organic instruments of the struggle of the oppressed, but either as interventional instruments in that struggle by an affinitive but nonetheless extraneous social force or as instruments for the internalisation of alien conflicts. [2]

As an organic instrument of the struggle of the oppressed, the Socialist organisation is called up by the objective necessities of the domestic struggle of the oppressed and is given both its purpose and reason by those necessities. As we have said above, the organic interaction and interchanges between the Socialist organisation and these oppressed social forces build both into a unified social force in the class struggle. On the one hand, this makes the organisation not just a necessary product of the struggle but also a necessary instrument for furthering it, which gives the oppressed a stake in its survival and effective operation. [3] On the other, the interests of the oppressed and the demands of the struggle for those interests become the governing imperatives of the organisation’s operation and self-reproduction, defining what practices, attitudes, and beliefs are acceptable and what are not, i.e. defining its organisational morality. Thus, the necessities of the struggle provide not only the being and purpose of the organisation, but also its morality and the enforcer of that morality.

As either interventional instruments of extraneous social forces or instruments for the internalisation of alien conflicts, the Socialist organisation is called up by the necessities of an alien struggle or of the ideological persuasion of an extraneous social force, and it receives both its purpose and reason from those necessities, which become the governing imperatives of its operation and self-reproduction. Unless it somehow transforms into an organic instrument of the domestic struggle, such a Socialist organisation has little need for the organic interaction with the oppressed that we have described above and its interaction with them remains entirely theoretical, perfunctory, and decorative; for its real driving force is external to their struggle. Thus, the oppressed have little stake in it and no reason to take an interest in its survival and proper operation, and the organic interstices created by its divorce from the necessities of the domestic struggle become room for the sprouting and flourishing of practices, attitudes, and moralities other than those disciplined by those necessities.

Thus, the organic socialist organisation is disciplined by the necessities of the struggle of the oppressed of which it is an instrument; those necessities define the mores of the organisation, provide the enforcers of the mores, and furnishes them with a powerful incentive for action to enforce them. The non-organic organisation lacks this disciplining force and the disciplining mechanism it creates. Its discipline is only as strict as the personal discipline and morality of its individual members and no external force exists to control its internal conflicts.

The foregoing provides the basis for understanding the structural susceptibility of the Nigerian socialist movement to the devastating organisational effects of opportunism, repression and ideological collapse.

The dominance of opportunism (as opposed to its mere presence) and its resulting in organisational failure in the Nigerian Socialist movement are a structural function of the absence of an organic relationship between Socialist organisations and the struggle of the oppressed masses. Freedom from the harsh discipline of the necessities of this struggle invites into these organisations persons who cannot bear that discipline and provides liberty for opportunism to flourish in them and to overwhelm them. For, here, the governing principle in every discussion and manoeuvre is not the implications for the interests of the oppressed as a whole but the implications for the personal or factional interests of the leaders and members of the organisation. This freedom from the discipline of the struggle at once also prevents the development of any mechanism that can counter and correct the flourishing of opportunism. Since the organisation is not to the oppressed a necessary instrument in the struggle to achieve their goals, they have no reason to become part of it or, if they are members, to enforce the morality of the struggle in its theory and practice. Either they shun it or themselves become more or less willing instruments of the opportunism of its leaders. Thus, where this opportunism is not only an ideological one but also involves the pillage of the resources of the organisation – as it has often been in Nigeria – there exists no mechanism to control the avarice of the leaders and to subject it to the dictates of the struggle. The conflict over the pillage of the organisation, therefore, knows no bounds and it spirals until it destroys the organisation.

This absence of an organic relationship between the socialist organisations and the struggle of the oppressed masses also explains the absence of organisational tenacity and durability in the Nigerian socialist movement in the face of repression, why repression so easily results in the failure of its organisations. A socialist organisation that functions as an organic instrument of the struggle of the oppressed is a practical necessity, one that drives Socialists who are committed to this struggle: if the organisation does not exist, they must create it; if it exists but is under repression, they must protect it; if it existed but has been destroyed by repression, they must re-create it. Thus, they invest every ingenuity they possess into creating and sustaining the organic socialist organisation. Although repression could be so severe as to cripple such an organisation and to make its open operation impossible, it has hardly ever been so severe anywhere as to make absolutely any operation impossible. Even in the face of the most severe repression many Socialist movements have been able to undertake measures to sustain their organisations and to maintain some level of operation, including going underground, relocating their command and control organs beyond the reach of the repression, etc. That the Nigerian Socialist movement has collapsed under repression in most cases – i.e. dissolved its organisations – is a function of the absence of an organic relationship between those organisations and the struggle of the oppressed masses, a function of their structural superfluity in the struggle.

Ideological dependence

The ideological collapse of the Nigerian socialist movement in the face of the fall of existing Socialism was immediately a function of the ideological dependence of the bulk of the movement on the states of that Socialism, which itself was due to the absence of an organic relationship between Nigerian socialist organisations and the struggle of the oppressed masses. Governed by the necessities and challenges of the struggle of the oppressed, an organic socialist organisation develops its theories, programmes and strategies under the imperative of achieving the goals of that struggle. Although it may borrow ideas, lessons, and insights from another Socialist movement, its perspectives and borrowings are determined in the final analysis by the needs and realities of the struggle in which it is a necessary, organic instrument. [4] This is because its performance – in terms of the correctness of its perspectives, programmes, strategies and tactics, and of their effectiveness in the struggle – determines not only the fate of that struggle but also its own fate as an organisation; for it will quickly lose relevance in the struggle if it keeps failing in it. It, therefore, cannot afford to depend blindly – i.e., uncritically – on a foreign socialist movement for its theories, programmes, and strategies.

This imperative does not exist for the non-organic Socialist organisation, which can therefore afford such ideological dependency. That the bulk of the Nigerian Socialist movement was so ideologically dependent on foreign Socialist movements and for so long is supreme evidence of its organic superfluity in the struggle of the oppressed. That is why with a very few exceptions it has made little contribution of any great significance to Socialist theory but has engaged mostly in wooden and deadbeat academic Marxism, or in merely exhortatory and declamatory popular Marxism. Lacking that organic interaction with the practical struggles of the oppressed that at once grounds theory in concrete reality and yet challenges it to soaring flights of creativity and insight, Nigerian Marxism has mostly just waddled and hopped along the ground after Soviet Marxism like a quacking duckling after Mother Duck.

Now, how do we explain this organic divorce of the Nigerian socialist movement from the struggle of the oppressed? The movement has failed to establish an organic relationship with the oppressed, not simply because of its predominantly petty bourgeois class origins, but because the Nigerian petty bourgeoisie as a class has until the advent of neoliberal structural adjustment generally escaped the extreme privation and oppression that the labouring classes have experienced. It has yet to have a deeply and generally radicalising experience, an experience of privation and oppression out of which it can find no escape but revolution.

The class was generally comfortable and upwardly mobile in the pre-SAP period, receiving a good share of the surplus from the exploitation of the labouring classes and the dispossession of the oil-bearing communities. Although the neoliberal restructuring of the neocolonial formation has occasioned a drastic reduction in state-mediated transfers to the petty bourgeoisie, the class still receives a significant portion of the social surplus through various sources. These include transfers through expanded employment by foreign monopoly capital operating in Nigeria, foreign and domestic grants to non-governmental organisations, and legitimate and illegitimate enrichment through politics and political activities. Occupational emigration (the brain-drain problem, American Visa Lottery, etc.) and the booming music and film industries serve as important options and escape routes for many of those who cannot find accommodation within these other mechanisms. Although unemployment and underemployment are rife within the petty bourgeoisie – as within the proletariat – a large and growing portion of the class staves off complete destitution by entering into the informal sector.

The class has also experienced little political repression. The period of its most intense and extensive repression – Babangida’s and Abacha’s war from 1986 to 1998 to squash anti-SAP and anti-military rule forces – ended in a bourgeois civilian rule that has restored many liberties of the class almost completely. Thus, this general absence of an objectively radicalising situation has enabled the bulk of the petty bourgeoisie to still see options and escape routes from its situation and to continue nursing hopes of actually escaping.

Those who have come to the struggle of the oppressed have, therefore, not done so as of practical necessity but in most cases as an expression of ideological conviction or as the necessary conclusion of their theoretical analysis. Others have come out of occupational necessity (trade union and human rights workers, for instance). In both cases, they have come to the struggle of the oppressed as extraneous social forces and their Socialist organisations have served as interventional instruments without organic links to that struggle. This has also made possible the transformation of these organisations into instruments of the internalisation within it of alien conflicts.

Thus, Socialists who are absolutely committed to the struggle of the oppressed have been few and far between. Their efforts at forging organic links with the oppressed have been generally hindered and frustrated by the majority who cannot or will not make that commitment. That is why they are heroes.

It follows from the foregoing that the structural basis for overcoming the organic divorce between the Nigerian Socialist movement and the struggle of the oppressed – and, therefore, of overcoming the organisational failure of the movement – is that the Nigerian petty bourgeoisie (at least a significant portion of it) must undergo an experience of privation and oppression out of which it can find no escape but revolution. The movement’s history provides strong evidence of this.

It was surely no coincidence that the most successful bottom-up organising effort of the Socialist movement – in which it established a nationwide network of base and intermediate structures with good links with the struggle of the oppressed – occurred during the 1978-1995 structural crisis of Nigeria’s neocolonial formation and during the worst years of the structural adjustment programmes pursued by the bourgeoisie and imperialism to resolve it at the expense of the working people and the middle classes. While the problems of opportunism and infantile schism were abundantly in evidence in the movement in this period, it is a telling fact that it took the brutal campaign of repression by the Babangida regime to break the developing organic links between the movement and the oppressed masses and to decimate the movement itself as an organised force. The privation and oppression suffered specifically by the petty bourgeoisie in the period was such a radicalising experience for the class that it was driven increasingly to revolution and increasingly to make efforts at forging organic links with the urban working masses, in the realisation that it could not make revolution without them. In addition to Babangida’s war against the movement, the momentum toward an organic socialist movement was frustrated by the de-radicalising effects of, on the one hand, the massive infusion of funds from countries of the capitalist centre into the growing civil society movement and, on the other, the corruption-fuelling introduction of “free money” into the economy by the military regime.

Similarly, we find that in South Africa, Guinea-Bissau, Angola, Mozambique, Cuba, Nicaragua, Brazil and many other countries, the radical petty bourgeoisie predominantly formed an organic link with the oppressed masses in the social conflict when and where they suffered such privation and oppression as they could find no escape from but by the revolutionary path. To the extent and as long as they saw or thought they saw a way out of their situation, they tended to pursue a reformist approach and built alliances with the oppressed masses only to harness them to their reformist programme.

More directly relevant to the question we are dealing with, those who in these circumstances nevertheless chose a revolutionary path tended to intervene in the struggles of the oppressed masses as extraneous agents acting on their behalf, as messiahs bringing salvation to the hapless multitudes; and their organisations tended to remain insulated from the masses. In other words, although they intervened in the struggle of the oppressed masses and in many cases made great sacrifices in aid of that struggle, they did not build organic relations with the oppressed masses and their struggle. They did not themselves become one with the oppressed and their organisations did not become the oppressed themselves organised for their struggle against their oppressors; they remained an extraneous, alien social force intervening in the struggle of the oppressed on their behalf.

A radicalizing experience

Any meaningful prospect, therefore, of the Nigerian socialist movement becoming organic, i.e. developing organic links with the oppressed masses on a structural basis, depends on the petty bourgeoisie – or at least significant sections of it – having a radicalising experience of privation and oppression so severe, total, and implacable that it can find no way out but through revolution. It is, of course, in the very nature of historical things that we cannot predict them with exact scientific rigour. It is, therefore, not possible – and in fact not necessary – to fix exactly when and exactly how this radicalising experience will occur. Yet Marxism would not be the revolutionary science that it is of society in both its diachronic and synchronic dimensions if it did not consist in analytical tools enabling thought to grasp the material premises and logic of social dynamics and statics.

We are, therefore, able to offer the prognosis that the current immiseration and pauperisation of the Nigerian petty bourgeoisie will worsen in the course and immediate aftermath of the next structural crisis of the neocolonial formation if it is grave and long enough. As we have said above, we believe the probability of such a crisis to be very good in light of the current structural crisis of global capitalism and given the structural vulnerability of the Nigerian formation to the vicissitudes of the global capitalist system.

Already, the crisis in the countries of the capitalist centre is occasioning deep cuts in development aid for sub-Saharan Africa, with the result that the externally-dependent civil society is experiencing a funding crisis that is causing many CSOs to downsize drastically or even to suspend operations. The crisis is causing a slowdown in the economies of the centre, thus limiting their capacity to absorb migrant labour from the periphery and especially from Africa. If the analyses of Marxists like Samir Amin and Istvan Mészáros are correct, we should expect the crisis to be persistent and to grow worse over time, with any recovery being weak, short-lived, and followed by another long and intractable crisis.[5]

Should the Nigerian neocolonial capitalist formation go into a prolonged and severe structural crisis in these circumstances, the situation will indeed be most dire for the working masses but also for greater sections of the petty bourgeoisie. This will block off the routes of escape for more and more of the latter and almost certainly drive more of their numbers to revolution, creating simultaneously objective and subjective grounds for the forging of organic relations between them and the struggle of the oppressed.

This is not to say, however, that all effort at building a socialist movement with such relations with the struggle of the oppressed must wait until the next structural crisis. That would be to subscribe to the most brutish sort of mechanistic determinism; it would be to reject the Marxist notion of the dialectical determination of the superstructure by the substructure. For such crude determinism is completely alien to Marxism, a scientific worldview that accords full recognition to the creative and thus active role of the subjective factor in the historical labour process both of reproducing the existing social relations and of fashioning a new society.

That is surely the import of the first of Marx’s Theses on Feuerbach: “The chief defect of all hitherto existing materialism – that of Feuerbach included – is that the thing, reality, sensuousness, is conceived only in the form of the object or of contemplation, but not as sensuous human activity, practice, not subjectively…” [6] Thus, all through its history there have been individuals and organisations in the Nigerian socialist movement who have tried to build organic links with the oppressed and their struggles, even in the periods of greatest affluence ever enjoyed by the petty bourgeoisie.

The task of building an organic socialist movement in Nigeria must commence today even as we anticipate the next structural crisis of the neocolonial formation and the infinitely more favourable circumstances it will create for success at the task. The question is how to do that.

End notes

[1] Edwin Madunagu, The Tragedy of the Nigerian Socialist Movement and Other Essays (Calabar, Nigeria: Centaur Press Ltd., 1980), p.2.) dates the impotence of the movement from 1966, but this is tenable only if one accepts his implied conflation of the socialist movement and the workers movement (Ibid.). We insist, however, on differentiating them from each other. We therefore define the socialist movement as that body of organisations and individuals engaged in the struggle to abolish the social relations undergirding Nigeria’s neocolonial capitalist formation and to replace them with socialist ones. This at once differentiates between the two movements. For it is obvious that not all organisations of the workers movement are engaged in the struggle for socialism, some of them limiting their goals only to achieving the immanent (bourgeois) interests of the working class. They reject its transcendent (communist) ones – the latter however being precisely those that demand the abolition of capitalist social relations and their replacement with socialist ones. Based on this distinction, it becomes possible and indeed necessary to reconsider the question of dating the impotence of the socialist movement. For instance, was the 1944 General strike or even that of 1964 evidence of the potency and interventional capacity of the socialist movement as such or of the workers movement under the influence of bourgeois radicalism rather than socialist ideology? This is one of the very few flaws in Madunagu’s otherwise splendid (although too brief) study of the Nigerian socialist movement.

[2] For instance, the global struggle between the USA and the USSR, or between Maoism or Trotskyism and Stalinism.

[3] Fanon said something relevant to this in connection with the nationalist party in the decolonisation struggle. See Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth (Middlesex, England: Penguin Books, 1982).

[4] We see this clearly in the case of Maoism, for example. See Isaac Deutscher, “Maoism: Its Origins, Background, and Outlook,” The Socialist Register 1, no. 1 (1964): 11–37. The South African Communist Party furnishes an interesting case of a socialist organisation that experienced a measure of ideological dependence on the Soviet Union but survived the collapse of Existing Socialism and struggled to re-establish its own independent ideological bearings. See “Focus on Socialism,” South African Labour Bulletin 15, no. 3 (September 1990); and “Towards a New Internationalism?,” South African Labour Bulletin 15, no. 7 (April 1991). See also the continuation of the debate in the pages of The African Communist.

[5] See the following by Samir Amin: “A New Phase of Capitalism, or Rejuvenating Treatment for Senile Capitalism,” accessed December 4, 2012, http://www.forumtiersmonde.net/fren/index.php?option=com_content&view=ar… of-capitalism-or-rejuvenating-treatment-for-senile-capitalism&catid=54:critical-analysis-of- capitalism&Itemid=116; and Ending the Crisis of Capitalism or Ending Capitalism, trans. Victoria Bawtree (Cape Town, South Africa: Pambazuka Press, 2011). See also the following by Istvan Meszaros: “A Structural Crisis of the System,” interview by Judith Orr and Patrick Ward, Socialist Review, January 2009, http://www.socialistreview.org.uk/article.php?articlenumber=10672; “Structural Crisis Needs Structural Change,” Monthly Review 63, no. 10 (2012), http://monthlyreview.org/2012/03/01/structural-crisis-needs- structural-change; and The Structural Crisis of Capital (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2009), http://www.readingfromtheleft.com/Books/MR/structural%20crisis%20of%20ca…http://monthlyreview.org/press/books/pb2082/.

[6] Karl Marx, Theses on Feuerbach, 1888

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The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War II by John W. Dower

NOVANEWS
Author: John Dower
The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War II by John W. Dower

World War II marked the apogee of industrialized “total war.” Great powers savaged one another. Hostilities engulfed the globe. Mobilization extended to virtually every sector of every nation. Air war, including the terror bombing of civilians, emerged as a central strategy of the victorious Anglo-American powers. The devastation was catastrophic almost everywhere, with the notable exception of the United States, which exited the strife unscathed and unmatched in power and influence. The death toll of fighting forces plus civilians worldwide was staggering.

The Violent “American Century” addresses the U.S.-led transformations in war conduct and strategizing that followed 1945—beginning with brutal localized hostilities, proxy wars, and the nuclear terror of the Cold War, and ending with the asymmetrical conflicts of the present day. The military playbook now meshes brute force with a focus on non-state terrorism, counterinsurgency, clandestine operations, a vast web of overseas American military bases, and—most touted of all—a revolutionary new era of computerized “precision” warfare. By contrast to World War II, postwar death and destruction has been comparatively small. By any other measure, it has been appalling—and shows no sign of abating.

The winner of numerous national prizes for his historical writings, including the Pulitzer and the National Book Award, Dower draws heavily on hard data and internal U.S. planning and pronouncements in this concise analysis of war and terror in our time. In doing so, he places U.S. policy and practice firmly within the broader context of global mayhem, havoc, and slaughter since World War II—always with bottom-line attentiveness to the human costs of this legacy of unceasing violence.

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The omnipresent pressure to conform

NOVANEWS

Conformity

By Graham Peebles

It was the school holidays and there were lots of teenagers in my local park. I sometimes spot them meandering home, but I rarely see them en masse as it were. Blind to the bluebells, peacocks and glories of nature all around us, they were glued to their palm-sized screens. What were they so engrossed in – some kind of game or trivial video, a map of the park perhaps, unnecessary given the proliferation of signs? Are they texting, emailing, or trawling through the internet, or all of the above? If one did not know what these shiny seductive objects were, one might think that they controlled the person, rather than the other way round. And to a large degree they do.

For parents of teenagers, seeing groups of young people within a smartphone bubble, isolated from and, crucially, with no awareness of the environment around them or other people, is, I expect, commonplace. For me it was shocking. Equally startling and somewhat depressing was the herd-like behaviour. Where was the individuality here? Has the uniformity of the high street or shopping centre, the café or restaurant, hotel or housing development infiltrated the minds of human beings, young and not so young? So it would appear.

We’re no longer persons anymore, of course. We’re vessels of consumption into which stuff, mostly stuff we don’t need, can be endlessly poured.

There is tremendous pressure on everyone to conform to a particular stereotype, to be easily categorised as a certain type of person. The reasons are clear and predictably crude: to allow governments to build a database of who we are and what we think, and to enable advertisers to better target “consumers”. We’re no longer persons anymore, of course. We’re vessels of consumption into which stuff, mostly stuff we don’t need, can be endlessly poured.

The pressure to conform to a constructed ideal is perhaps most acute within youth culture: to look and dress in a particular way, act in a certain manner and want a specific lifestyle. Girls and young women are expected to be slim, beautiful, dressed in the latest high street fashions, which of course change with every season to maintain the consumer frenzy; they should be sexy and sexually active, glossy, as well as achieving high marks at school or university. For men or boys, the predominantly macho image presented on TV, in films, video games, etc. is perhaps even more prescriptive and inhibiting. The pressure is colossal: it is not accidental, and it is making lots of people, young and not so young, ill.

Independent thinking and creative exploration are key enemies of the forces behind this worldwide attack on true individuality, and so an assault on the creative arts is being waged in many developed countries. Under the spurious banner of “austerity” and “fiscal responsibility” – a set of far-right excuses to justify demolishing public services – funding to the creative arts – theatres, dance groups, opera, ballet – is being slashed. The scope of work groups can offer is reduced, admission prices, already too high, increased, further restricting access to a predominantly elitist world.

The problem with creative education from the point of view of those who want a drowsy, frightened population that won’t challenge the status quo too loudly or think of alternative ways of running society, is that it stimulates independent thought, allows for individuality and feeds anarchic discontent.

Education budgets are being attacked in many countries, and art education (together with social science and physical exercise) in schools is the first to be axed or drastically reduced – despite the fact that it improves students’ academic results. According to the National Endowment for the Arts, “students who study art are four times more likely to be recognised for academic achievement and three times more likely to be awarded for school attendance”. The problem with creative education from the point of view of those who want a drowsy, frightened population that won’t challenge the status quo too loudly or think of alternative ways of running society, is that it stimulates independent thought, allows for individuality and feeds anarchic discontent.

Conformity, together with fear, is the cornerstone of control, and the current education system in most developed countries drives both into children from beginning to end. Conformity and competition are built into the system; both are crippling and inhibiting, feeding fear, and conditioning the mind, not just for childhood and early adulthood but often for life. As Krishnamurti made clear in Education and the Significance of Life,

conventional education makes independent thinking extremely difficult. Conformity leads to mediocrity. To be different from the group or to resist [one’s] environment is not easy and is often risky as long as we worship success… the search for inward or outward security, the desire for comfort – this whole process smothers discontent, puts an end to spontaneity and breeds fear; and fear blocks the intelligent understanding of life. With increasing age, dullness of mind and heart sets in.

And whatever fight there was in the man or woman to begin with is drained away.

Add to the inhibiting education environment in which many young people find themselves, a social media blanket of uniformity, mainstream media – TV, radio, crass gossip magazines, trashy tabloids and dishonest advertising selling a hollow materialistic life-style – and the many headed hydra pushing people to think and act in a certain way, begins to raise its ugly head above the sea of stress, self-harm, and suicide. The inability to express oneself’ naturally and freely for fear of being seen to be “different”, inevitably results in stasis of some kind, which may lead to so-called disruptive behaviour, or some form of disease, mental or physiological.

Of course, we all need to live within the moral codes agreed by society, but psychological and sociological conformity has nothing to do with respecting the laws and traditions of a country. They are to do with control and fear, and with the rise of the right that is now taking place throughout the world, such suppressive methods are set to become even more intense.

True individuality – the manifestation of our innate nature, not the distorted individuality that places selfish desire and ambition above the welfare of others, should be encouraged and fostered, and conformity in all its devious, pernicious forms called out and resisted.

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