Author Gerald Horne commenting on Russia Today on the Syrian conflict and the hard lessons of history yet to be learned by the US leadership.
Author Gerald Horne commenting on Russia Today on the Syrian conflict and the hard lessons of history yet to be learned by the US leadership.
– from Zoltan Zigedy is available at:
In my last posting, I deplored the state of the US left, citing the rise of utopian and reformist alternatives to socialism. Deeply ingrained anti-Communism explains the ready acceptance of the shallow and muddy alternatives to capitalism served up by academic oracles like Professor Gar Alperovitz. These wishful options come at a time when more and more US citizens, especially young people, are showing a hunger to learn more about socialism. But the thin gruel of cooperatives and other small-scale and locally owned enterprises will not satisfy that hunger. Nor does monopoly capital seem too alarmed by the prescriptions of the good Professor. The threat of one, two, three… thousands of little “socialisms” has left big business singularly unmoved in spite of Alperovitz’s reach well beyond the left establishment.
Among those fans of Alperovitz who wish to slink away from Marxism and revolutionary politics it has become customary to cite Lenin’s essay “On Cooperation” from 1923. This shamefully dishonest tactic rips Lenin’s praise of agricultural cooperatives from its context. Writing at the time of the New Economic Policy, Lenin emphasizes that cooperatives are only viable because of Soviet power, the monopoly of “political power is in the hands of the working-class.” He is crystal clear on the cooperative movement under the capitalist state:
There is a lot of fantasy in the dreams of the old cooperators. Often they are ridiculously fantastic. But why are they fantastic? Because people do not understand the fundamental, the rock-bottom significance of the working-class political struggle for the overthrow of the rule of the exploiters. We have overthrown the rule of the exploiters, and much that was fantastic, even romantic, even banal in the dreams of the old cooperators is now becoming unvarnished reality.
“Fantastic, even romantic, even banal…”
Seasoned veterans of the left know that any strategy that promises to be non-threatening and enters through the front door of the monopoly media should be received with suspicion.
For the above reason, I read a recent The New Yorker article with a jaundiced eye. While nearly everyone acknowledges that the Occupy Movement is –if not dead –splintered and marginalized, a New Yorker “critic at large” Kelefa Sanneh, picked this moment to revisit it. Moreover, the usually attuned-to-the-cutting-edge editors indulged five full pages of copy to the movement’s “godfather” and the allure of anarchism.
Just weeks ago, before the elections in Venezuela, the magazine published a long piece scathingly critical of the Bolivarian Revolution and its late leader, Hugo Chavez. No doubt with the approval of The New Yorker’s dogmatic Cold War editor David Remnick, who still sees Stalin lurking under every bed, the author revived the tired canard of Chavez “preventing a coup like the one that put him in office.” [my italics] Of course Chavez didn’t come to office through a coup, a fact that The New Yorker later acknowledged with a small correction. Certainly joining with the mainstream media to trash Chavez and his socialism doesn’t dispose me to expect The New Yorker to experience a sudden change of heart and promote any genuine alternative to capitalism. And they don’t disappoint.
Paint Bombs: David Graeber’s ‘The Democracy Project’ and the Anarchist Revival (5-13, 2013) is a stealth exercise in distraction and diversion. Where many of us saw the Occupy movement as an incipient anti-capitalist movement degraded through its failure to generate organization and focus, Sanneh sees a noble struggle against “verticals” and in defense of the procedures of the “horizontals.” Sanneh crows: “Occupy resisted those who wanted to stop it and those who wanted to organize it”.
Imagine wanting to organize the Occupy movement! The shame!
The self-styled and New Yorker-anointed guru of the “horizontal” movement is David Graeber, an anthropologist and author of an interesting, eccentric book on debt. Sanneh acclaims Graeber as “the most influential radical political thinker of the moment” (Take that, Gar Alperovitz!). The arch enemies of the “horizontal” movement are “verticals” represented by Marx, the Soviet Union, and parties, leaders, and demands. Sannah claims to see this through the prism of Occupy:
…instead of arguing about economics and ideology, the Occupiers could affirm, instead, their unanimous commitment to freedom of assembly. Occupy may have begun with a grievance against Wall Street, but the process of occupation transformed the movement , peopled by activists demanding the right to demand their rights…
Perhaps no one could say exactly what the Zuccotti Park occupation wanted, but lots of people knew how it worked.
At a critical moment in an economic crisis adversely affecting millions, the “horizontals” were able to transform a movement against Wall Street into a statement “demanding the right to demand… rights.” Thankfully, this does not characterize all Occupy experiences outside of Zuccotti Park. In many cases, Occupiers joined activists in their cities and neighborhoods fighting for health care, jobs, economic justice, and against US aggression. They found righteous demands and learned valuable lessons in organized struggle.
Sanneh concedes that the “rehabilitation of the anarchist movement in America has a lot to do with the fall of the Soviet Union, which lives in popular memory as a quaint and brutal place– an embarrassing precursor that modern, pro-democracy socialists must find ways to disavow.”
So it’s embarrassment and not ideology, disavowal and not commitment that drives the popularity of anarchism. Does this not reek of opportunism? An opportunism that prefers to swiftly and resolutely condemn and separate from the Soviet experience in the face of a “popular” inquisition rather than candidly address both the Soviet strengths and weaknesses?
However, embarrassment should be felt for the anarchist blueprint for forging a new society. Rather than the vision offered by “grim joyless revolutionaries,” Graeber wants “a kind of de-centralized socialism, with decisions made by a patchwork of local assemblies and cooperatives…” – in his own words – “something vaguely like jury duty, except non-compulsory.” Thus, the road to an other-than-capitalist future is paved with “open mics,” assemblies, cooperatives, and a fuzzy analogy.
Adding more to the anarchist strategy are the views of a fellow anthropologist and ally, Yale professor James C. Scott. Scott salutes anarchism for “its tolerance for confusion and improvisation.” He finds anarchism’s foot print in such acts of resistance as “foot-dragging, poaching, pilfering, dissimulation, sabotage, desertion, absenteeism, squatting, and flight.”
“Grim joyless revolutionaries” will be surprised to learn how easy is the road forward. Instead of tiresome organizing, demonstrations and marches, instead of demands and manifestos, instead of meetings and planning sessions, instead of party-building and coalition work, acts of individual and often covert defiance mark the way.
One suspects that despite the rhetoric of radical and participatory democracy advocated by Graeber, Scott, and other anarchist “influentials,” their ideas were not forged in the cauldron of struggle, their thinking was not the product of collective, “horizontal” decisions. The professors decry leadership, but contradictorily speak authoritatively for their movement with little hesitation. They are unsanctioned spokespersons for a leaderless movement. Strange.
To appropriate an old expression: Scratch an anarchist and find an angry, embittered liberal. Like all liberals, modern-day anarchists are obsessed with procedure. It’s not a program that defines their agenda, but the ritual of decision making. It’s no surprise that the liberals at The New Yorker are fascinated. And it’s no surprise that they take us no further from a decadent, crisis-ridden capitalism.
By Nick V. Loew
David Brooks, based in the United States, writes for the progressive Mexican La Jornada newspaper. “There are weeks,” he wrote in February, “when one cannot report from the United States rationally about what frequently is, objectively, a mosaic of craziness. If one does so, there is the suspicion is that it’s only because one has ended up as another inmate in the madhouse.” He had examples:
• Congressional leaders are refusing to ban assault weapons, ostensibly because public support for prohibition had fallen from 52 to 43 percent. Public approval for Congress remains steady at 12 percent.
• In an interview, James Goodale, New York Times lawyer in 1971 when the Pentagon Papers were released, opined that press freedoms are now “antediluvian, conservative, retrograde – worse than under Nixon.”
• A new report indicated that Halliburton Corporation, once headed by former Vice President Dick Cheney, benefited from the U.S. invasion of Iraq to the tune of $39.5 billion.
• The Obama administration appointed nuclear scientist Ernest Morits as Secretary of Energy. Big energy corporations financed his research. He was their consultant and served on their boards of directors.
• Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced that 80 Chicago public schools would be closed because of a municipal budget deficit. Yet, as in other cities closing schools, ample funds are available for establishing new charter schools.
• “In this climate of austerity, there are also funds to build more prisons.” The U.S. penitentiary system costs $70 billion in public funds annually. “States spend almost as much on prisons as on universities,” Brooks observed.
He concluded: “All this and much more are reported as if it were more or less normal. Craziness has been turned into something normal. But surely such information is classified as secret for the good of all of us inside the madhouse.”
Brooks may gain points for the picturesque way he characterizes political turmoil. Certainly the business at hand is serious enough, however, to warrant exploration into why things go wrong and what to do to fix them. Instead he invokes a relic of medical history, the “madhouse,” to dramatize catastrophe that is mysterious and without a ready cure. But a famous scientist long ago succeeded in explaining and offering a solution for another dangerous medical scenario as mysterious as the one Brooks puts forth. That his solution was political suggests rational political analysis may still be possible, even now.
At the request of the Prussian government in 1848, pathologist and cell biologist Rudolf Virchow submitted a report on a typhus epidemic then ravaging the half a million people living in Prussian – occupied Upper Silesia, many of them miners and weavers. The death toll was comparable to the calamitous 1848 famine in Ireland. In one district 10 percent of the population had died from typhus or starvation in one year.
Little else was certain. The idea that microbes caused human illness was not well established, and antibiotic treatment was a century away. Nevertheless Virchow, looking at demographic and sociologic data, found that cause and cure lay in the political realm. Adverse social conditions were to blame, particularly extreme poverty, worker oppression, social stratification, and isolation. He recommended “full and unlimited democracy.” According to a scholar, Virchow “outlined a revolutionary program of social reconstruction, including full employment, higher wages, agricultural cooperatives, universal education, and the disestablishment of the Catholic Church,” He demanded that Upper Silesians be allowed to speak in their native Polish language.
In his report Virchow observed that, “The interests of the human race are not served when, by an absurd concentration of capital and landed property in the hands of single individuals, production is directed into channels that always guide back the flow of profits into the same hands.” Prussian officials were unhappy at Virchow’s foray into politics. He told them, “Medicine is a social science, and politics nothing but medicine at a larger scale.”
Scientists like Dr. Virchow learn by focusing primarily on things rather than on abstractions, things as they are and were. They separate things into their parts, the better to know them. They study data and correlations handed down by scientific forbearers. This is the methodology of choice, we suggest, for anyone in our own era wanting to avoid the intellectual dead end where Mr. Brooks abandoned his readers.
Another famous scientist, a compatriot and contemporary of Virchow, was similarly adept at basing his political conclusions on down to earth realities. Dr. Karl Marx utilized the scientific method in his studies of history, economic, and the daily lives of oppressed people.
The problems Brooks finds with charter schools, prisons, U. S. war-making, the nuclear industry, and gun sales could have been attributed at least in part to profit-taking. The concept of surplus value, a notable discovery of Marx, does clarify the profit phenomenon, but these days, even among the general public, the fact of profiteering by the few is well known. Dr. Marx’ approach of first identifying how things happen and then prescribing is perhaps more to the point as regards Mr. Brooks’ “madhouse.”
Marx would say that victims in Brooks’ version of events have much in common with each other. As beleaguered individuals, insecure in one way or another, they come together as a large class of people – workers and their allies. It’s a class long at odds with another class –based conglomeration of interests notorious for monopolizing resources and manipulating the state to its advantage. And, says Marx, confrontation between oppressed groups and the rich and powerful will continue. And for the sake of change, it must continue. Notions of banning assault weapons, cutting off war contractors, slowing down prison construction, protecting public schools are moral, fair, and reasonable ideas. The point is, however, that qualifications of an idea are not enough for it to take root in real life. Instead, aggrieved peoples must come together and fight for ideas. People’s power is what works, not the virtue of good ideas. Marx, the agitator, might have observed too that fighting over gun control separates potential allies and impedes their joining together.
The method of these two scientists is not complicated and obviously not new, yet it remains elusive. The turmoil so vividly depicted by the Jornada correspondent morphs into a laboratory experiment of sorts calling for analysis based on so-called historical materialism. It’s an exercise where orderly thought processes would prevail over intellectual chaos. All too many in our era are clueless about that way of proceeding. The challenge for consciousness-raising is clear.
Letter to President Barack Obama from Jacqueline Roussie:
(Ms. Roussie, a retired professor living in Southern France, has written President Obama on behalf of the Five every month for several years. She is a member of the [French] Committee for the Freedom of the Five.)
May 1, 2013, President Obama, the White House, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue N.W., Washington DC 20500
For more than 14 years your country has kept the Five Cubans Gerardo Hernández, Antonio Guerrero, Fernando González, Ramón Labañino, and René González in prison.
You know very well Mr. President that these Five patriots are perfectly innocent and the trick in convicting them was to charge them of “conspiracy to” [do something]. That does not require any evidence. Like the proverb says – “Anyone wanting to kill his dog accuses him of rabies!”
We focus attention this month on the charge of “conspiracy to spy.”
Specialists in various areas of U.S. intelligence like Col. George Bücker, Admiral Eugene Carroll, and Generals Charles Wilhelm and Edward Atkeson, said that these Five Cubans had no access to any information of a strategic nature, either at close range or from far away. No document containing state secrets was ever in their hands! Those Five men nevertheless received very severe sentence for just having the idea of spying.
Nevertheless, true spies apprehended with important documents receive only relatively light sentences. Some are just released under bail. Here are three examples – and there are others – who were processed during the presidency of your predecessor
To begin: there is the incredible case of Leandro Aragoncillo, a former U.S. marine, detained on October 5, 2005 in New Jersey. He had in his possession the little trifle of 733 secret documents from the White House, from the Pentagon, and from the Defense Department. He was spying on them all, while working first for Al Gore and then for Dick Cheney. He was sentenced to ten years in prison.
One of the most spectacular cases is that of agent Donald W. Keyser of the Central Intelligence Agency, who on December 12, 2005 confessed to Judge T. S. Ellis in Washington that he had stolen 28 documents classified “top secret.” 1976 documents classified “secret,” and 1655 documents classified as “confidential.” These documents had been handed over to Isabelle Cheng of the Taiwanese intelligence service.
Keyser remained free on $500,000 bail. He was electronically monitored. On January 22, 2007 he was sentenced to a year and a day in prison and a fine of $25,000. Without being accused of spying or conspiracy to spy! In the year 2000 he had already stolen the portable computer of Secretary of State Madeline Albright, which didn’t keep him from being appointed to the office of the Director General of the Foreign Service. (Keyser’s association with the CIA is not clear, despite such a claim by Cuba’s Granma newspaper in 2007. Keyser’s wife was a long time CIA agent.)
I will finish: with the example of Lawrence A. Franklin, a colleague of Donald Rumsfeld, who spied for Israel for many years. He delivered an impressive quantity of Pentagon information about Iran to Israeli agents Steve Rosen, Keith Weismann, and Naor Gilon. The first two agents had as protection their jobs with the “American Israel Political Affairs Committee,” the biggest Israeli lobby in Washington. The third was political councilor of the Israeli Embassy in Washington (He is presently Israel’s ambassador to Italy). Laurence A. Franklin was sentenced to a year in jail before being released on bail. (He actually received a sentence of 10 months of house arrest followed by 100 hours of community service.)
As you can see, Mr. President, the Five Cubans are not spies. They are a children’s choir compared with big league espionage hitters. Their mission was to infiltrate Mafia groups in Miami, which is hardly the same. The Five permitted delivery to the FBI on June of 1998 of a considerable number of documents by which several [terrorist] attacks were avoided.
Ramón Labañino and Gerardo Hernández have had to endure the grief of losing their mothers during their incarceration. René González who has been free on probation in the United States since 2011 even though he finished his sentence satisfactorily, can’t return to Cuba until 2014. In 2012 he lost his brother Roberto. He has just lost his father and was unable to be present to comfort him at the end of his life. (On May 3 Rene, while in Cuba to attend memorial services for his father, learned that he may remain there.)
Since their arrest in September, 1998, hopes of Gerardo Hernández, Fernando González, and their wives of being able to have children are waning every day. Your country continues to deny a visa for entry into the United States to allow the wives of Gerardo Hernández and René González [to visit them]. That’s an inhuman situation for those two couples.
Often persecution, especially against Gerardo Hernández who still remains in a high security prison, is added to these injustices. For example, on April 7 the actor Danny Glover went to his prison in California to visit him. Sadly, he had to return without seeing him. The visit was denied even though Danny Glover is one of the people authorized to visit Gerardo Hernández.
As you can see Mr. President, your administration carries out real ferocity against these Five patriots, and purposively so. We really do demand on your part a return to the worthy values of the Nobel Prize you received. You have the possibility of putting an end to so much injustice against the Five. You must act speedily!
Mr. President, please accept this most sincere expression of my humanistic feelings.
(signed) Jacqueline Roussie
64360 Monein, France Copies to Michelle Obama, Nancy Pelosi, Kathryn Ruemmler, Janet Napolitano, Joe Biden, John F. Kerry, Denis Macdonough, Harry Reid, Eric Holder, Pete Rouse, Rick Scott, and U. S. Ambassador in France Charles Rifkin.
Source: http://martianos.ning.com/profiles/blogs/carta-a-obama-desde-los-pirineos-por-jacqueline-roussie-9 Translated by W. T. Whitney Jr.
(N.B. Ms. Roussie points out that at least one of these real spies entered into a plea bargain with U.S. government prosecutors. That the Cuban Five, true to the purpose of their U. S. mission, refused such deals testifies to their heroism.)
Por Jacqueline Roussie
1º de mayo de 2013, Señor Presidente Obama, The White House, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue N.W., Washington DC 20500
Hace más de catorce años que su país tiene presos a los Cinco cubanos Gerardo Hernández, Antonio Guerrero, Fernando González, Ramón Labañino y René González.
Usted lo sabe Señor Presidente, estos Cinco patriotas son perfectamente inocentes y la astucia para condenarlos fue acusarles de “conspiración para… “, que no requiere ninguna evidencia. Como dice el proverbio ¡quien quiere matar a su perro, lo acusa de rabia! Veamos este mes con atención la acusación de “conspiración para espiar”.
Especialistas de diferentes áreas de la Inteligencia de los Estados Unidos como el coronel George Bücker, el Almirante Eugene Carroll, los Generales Edward Atkeson o Charles Wilhelm, dijeron que estos Cinco cubanos no tenían acceso, ni de cerca ni de lejos a cualquiera información de carácter estratégico. ¡Ningún documento conteniendo secreto de estado ha estado jamás, en poder de ellos! Sin embargo estos Cinco hombres fueron condenados a penas muy pesadas por tener la intención de espiar
Verdaderos espías quienes fueron tomados con documentos importantes, solo tuvieron sin embargo relativamente ligeras condenas, e incluso libertades bajo fianza. Aquí tres ejemplos entre otros, que se llevaron a cabo bajo la Presidencia de su predecesor.
Para comenzar, el increíble caso de Leandro Aragoncillo, un ex marine del ejército de los Estados Unidos, detenido el 5 de octubre de 2005 en Nueva Jersey. Él tenía en su posesión la bagatela de 733 documentos secretos de la Casa Blanca, del Pentágono y del Departamento de defensa. Espiaba todo, mientras trabajaba primero para Al Gore, luego para Dick Cheney. Fue condenado a diez años de prisión.
Uno de los casos más espectaculares es el del agente Donald W. Keyser de la Agencia Central de Inteligencia, quién, el 12 de diciembre de 2005, ha confesado al juez T. S. Ellis de Washington, haber robado 28 documentos clasificados “top secret”, 1976 documentos clasificados “secreto”, 1655 documentos clasificados como “confidencial”. Estos documentos habían sido entregados a Isabelle Cheng, del servicio de inteligencia de Taiwán.
Keiser ha quedado en libertad con fianza de 500000 dólares y con una pulsera electrónica. El 22 de enero de 2007 fue condenado a un año y un día de prisión y una multa de $25000, ¡sin ser acusado de espionaje o conspiración de espionaje! Él ya en el año 2000 había robado la computadora portátil de la Secretaria de Estado Madeleine Albright, lo que no impidió que fuera nombrado a la Dirección General de los Servicios Exteriores.
Para acabar, el ejemplo del espía Lawrence A. Franklin. Este colaborador de Donald Rumsfeld ha espiado durante años por cuenta de Israel. Entregó una cantidad impresionante de informaciones del Pentágono sobre Irán a los agentes de Israel Steve Rosen, Keith Weissman, y Naor Gilon. Los dos primeros agentes tuvieron como protección un trabajo en el “American Israel Political Committee”, el mayor grupo de lobby israelí en Washington, el tercero fue consejero político en la Embajada en Tel Aviv en Washington.
Lawrence A. Franklin fue condenado a un año de cárcel en 2006 antes de ser A. frankin was sentenced to a year in jail before being released on bail.
Como lo puede ver Usted Señor Presidente, los Cinco cubanos no son espías, son un coro infantil al lado de estos grandes bateadores del espionaje. Ellos tenían por misión infiltrar a los grupos de la mafia de Miami, lo que no es igual. Los Cinco permitieron en junio de 1998 la entrega al FBI de un número considerable de documentos y haber evitado muchos atentados. Esperando su liberación que tarde o temprano va a ocurrir porque la justicia vencerá, estos Cinco hombres siguen privados de libertad.
Ramón Labañino y Gerardo Hernández han tenido el dolor de perder a su madre durante su detención. Ramón Labañino and Gerardo Hernández have had to endure the grief of losing their mothers during their incarceration. René González que está en libertad condicional en los Estados Unidos desde el año 2011, aunque purgó completamente su condena, no puede regresar a Cuba antes de 2014. En 2012 perdió a su hermano Roberto. Acaba de perder a su padre, sin poder por su presencia, ablandar el final de su vida. Desde su arresto en septiembre de 1998, la esperanza de Gerardo Hernández, Fernando González y sus esposas, de poder tener hijos está disminuyendo cada día. Su país continúa negando el visado de entrada a Estados Unidos a las esposas de Gerardo Hernández y de René González, inhumana situación para estas dos parejas.
A estas injusticias se añade a menudo persecuciones, especialmente para Gerardo Hernández que se encuentra todavía en una prisión de alta seguridad. Por ejemplo el 7 de abril, el actor Danny Glover fue a su prisión de California a visitarlo. Lamentablemente tuvo que regresar sin verlo, la visita le fue negada. Danny Glover es sin embargo, parte de las personas autorizadas a visitar a Gerardo Hernández.
Como puede ver Señor Presidente, su administración se dedica a un real encarnizamiento contra esos Cinco patriotas. Realmente queremos por su parte una vuelta a los valores dignos del Premio Nobel que le fue atribuido. Tiene la posibilidad de poner fin a tal injusticia contra los Cinco, ¡debe usted actuar con rapidez!
Reciba Señor Presidente, la expresión de mis sentimientos humanistas más sinceros.
64360 Monein, France Copias a: las Señoras Michelle Obama, Nancy Pelosi, Kathryn Ruemmler, Janet Napolitano, los Señores Joe Biden, John F. Kerry, Denis MacDonough, Harry Reid, Eric Holder, Pete Rouse, Rick Scott, y Charles Rivkin, Embajador de EE.UU. en Francia.
Jacqueline Roussie profesora retirada y miembro del Comité por la Libertad de los CINCO
– from Zoltan Zigedy is available at:
It’s hardly a secret that the US left is barely alive. While left-wing movements in the US have hardly shaken the foundations of power in my life time, they have known moments of modest success, reshaping the political landscape in significant and irreversible ways. Since World War II, left activism has stirred and nourished important movements like the struggles for African American equality and against US aggression in Vietnam. The left has also played important roles in fueling struggles for women’s and gay rights and for strengthening environmental protection. While 1960s talk of revolution and radical alternatives were more hyperbole than real, the ferment of those days was real.
Unfortunately, little of the US left’s modest success penetrated the labor movement, a social force defanged and declawed by anti-Communism early in the Cold War. And little of the left’s wave of vitality challenged the two-party system in any serious way. As the risings of the sixties recede further and further in our collective memory, the quantity and quality of popular struggle diminishes as well.
It’s not just the number of actions or the size of the crowds that are shrinking, but also the ideological understanding that purports to animate our US left. That is, the ideas embraced by various elements of the left have grown more and more murky and superficial.
What Ails the Left?
There are many symptoms and causes of the relative decline of the US left.
But always looming in the shadows of struggles for social justice is the demon of anti-Communism. Other peoples have suffered periods of hysterical, paranoid anti-Communism, but few countries outside of the US have elevated it to a state religion. While fear of Islam may have currently replaced Cold War fears as the national obsession, anti-Communism remains deeply embedded in the national psyche. Recent movies featuring West Coast and East Coast invasions of the US by forces from the tiny Democratic People’s Republic of Korea only underscore the persistence of this demon.
Of course the US left is neither immune from nor unwelcoming to Red-baiting. From the fifties, “leftists” could earn respectability and credibility with the public ritual of denouncing Communism. It was from this period that critical financial umbilical chords from the most prominent, most influential left and liberal formations to wealthy donors, foundations, and, in some nefarious cases, the security services were established. Any independent organizations deriving grass roots funding from workers’ organizations or the nationally oppressed were routinely looked at suspiciously for Red ties.
By the early sixties, the purge of everything Red or even Pink was largely completed. Everything—words, ideas, associations—even vaguely linked to Communism had disappeared from the mainstream. And the rise of a “new” left reflected the weight of that legacy. Both opportunism and ignorance led most of the left’s new leadership to establish a political camp to the right or left of Communism, demonstrably distant from Communism: radical democracy and social democracy to the right; Maoism and anarchism to the left.
Arguably this failure to establish an honest, objective encounter with Communism, this Cold War attitude of framing all politics as a counterweight to Communism, contributed mightily to the decline of the left in the next decade. The student base and alienation from working people demonstrated the shallowness of New Left ideology. Most leaders and activists turned to careers, the Democratic Party, the social service bureaucracy, or retreated to the universities.
Anti-Communism continued and continues as a blind faith. The fall of Soviet and Eastern European socialism added a new dimension to the anti-Communist canon: Not only was Communism evil, but it didn’t work.
Without the foil of real existing socialism, the US left drifted aimlessly. Some found an ideological anchor in “market socialism,” especially with the rise of Market-Leninism in the Peoples’ Republic of China. Others found romantic answers in Comandante Zero, a pipe-smoking, inscrutable poet/revolutionary diminutive caricature of Che Guevera. Still others attempted to restore life to the New Left of the sixties. One cannot but be reminded of the situation of Russian revolutionaries after the suppressed 1905 uprising as described by Lenin:
The years of reaction (1907-10). Tsarism was victorious. All the revolutionary and opposition parties were smashed. Depression, demoralisation, splits, discord, defection, and pornography took the place of politics. There was an ever greater drift towards philosophical idealism; mysticism became the garb of counter-revolutionary sentiments. (Left Wing Communism: An Infantile Disorder)
Where most European Communists degenerated into social democrats in this period, US leftists, scarred by anti-Communism and with no similar tradition, found hope in narrow-issue activism, cult-like formations, or the unlikely revival of the New Deal Democratic Party.
Obama and the Left
The candidacy of Barack Obama proved to be a disaster for the US left. Anti-war and social justice activists put aside their signs and plans and flocked to the Obama campaign. Grandiose expectations were conjured out of thin air; a candidate associated in the past with conservative Democrats and a professed admirer of Ronald Reagan was imagined to be the second coming of Franklin Delano Roosevelt; and even cautious measures of critical support were overwhelmed by wild-eyed enthusiasm.
After the election, most of the US left kept faith with Obama, a faith that has produced very little of the anticipated change, but succeeded in disarming the left. The big loser was the historically most progressive element in US politics: the African American community. Understandably, African Americans rallied to support the first African American president, but his administration has neither represented African Americans nor lifted a finger to relieve the sinking material conditions of life for that community. In fact, often more has been done for African Americans under Republican presidents when the left is actively and vocally pressuring and Democrats are in opposition! As an example, no Republican president would get away with so few African American appointees or nominees in an administration as has the current President!
The US ruling class has successfully and opportunistically gauged the hard won level of racial tolerance of US voters. The new face of US policy and diplomacy presented by Obama was welcomed everywhere—at home and abroad—over the failed Bush regime. A byproduct of this tactic is the disarming of the left and the silencing of African American leaders. Tragically, the US left has accepted the shallow symbolism of an African American president at the expense of the African American masses.
The Crisis and the Left
For the left in the US and internationally, the profound economic crisis beginning in 2008 and continuing today offers a great opportunity to mount an anti-capitalist offensive and project a clear alternative. For over a century and a half that alternative was socialism. The vision articulated over that period differed from time to time, but shared some straightforward features: the theoretical primacy of class relations, public ownership of productive assets, an end to exploitation, a new democracy based upon the rule of the working majority, and social and economic planning. Each feature clearly addresses a glaring, unacceptable shortcoming of capitalism.
But in the US, our left will not address the devastation wrought by capitalism and embrace these features or even discuss them honestly. One of the most prominent and respected national leaders of the anti-war movement recently said: “I used to think I was a socialist… But I also think that people should have the right to be individually enterprising. I have yet to see the society that I would like to live in but I see pieces of it, bits and pieces of it here and there.” This is hardly encouragement for the 11.7 million US citizens looking for a job, the nearly 8 million who would prefer a full-time job over their part-time employment, or the tens of millions who still lack health insurance, all benefits once guaranteed and delivered by real, existing socialism.
Another prominent left pundit, in reviewing another left oracle’s “new economy” manifesto, remarks that the author’s assumptions are “…that socialism, as we have known it in the 20th century did not work.” He blithely concedes that the book’s author “spends little time critiquing 20th century socialism.” Not deterred by the lack of argument, the reviewer affirms that “I was persuaded… that a glimpse into the future is critical largely due to reality of the failure of 20th century socialism, or more accurately, what is better described as the crisis of socialism.” “…did not work, “failure,” “crisis” are the unexamined, easy assumptions of our floundering left.
So what do they offer as an alternative?
Anything but the socialism associated with Communism. They take us back to the foolishness that Marx and Engels called “utopian socialism,” the schemes concocted by Fourier and Owen in the early 19th century. In the Communist Manifesto they conclude that utopians “…therefore, endeavor, and that consistently, to deaden the class struggle and to reconcile the class antagonisms. They still dream of experimental realization of their social utopias, of founding isolated phalansteres, of establishing ‘Home Colonies,’ or setting up a ‘Little Icaria”—pocket editions of the New Jerusalem—and to realize all these castles in the air, and they are compelled to appeal to the feeling and purses of the bourgeois… They, therefore, violently oppose all political action on the part of the working class; such action, according to them, can only result from blind unbelief in the new gospel.”
We find a modern incarnation of utopianism in the “New Economy” movement, the US left’s current flavor of the day. Back in late 2011, Professor Gar Alperovitz reached for the golden ring of utopia with his America Beyond Capitalism: Reclaiming our Wealth, our Liberty, and our Democracy, a book that promised to take the disenfranchised in the US from peasants to lords. Alperovitz, like his utopian predecessors, believes that ideas generously given from a fount of wisdom will, if only embraced by those below, lead to “democratizing capital.” Alperovitz’s magical ideas are the spawning of “thousands of co-ops, worker-owned businesses, land trusts, and municipal enterprises” that will, with time, “democratize the deep structure of the American economic system.” A more romantic version of Marx and Engel’s derisive “new gospel” I cannot imagine.
The very notion of “democratizing” something, let us say “capital,” that doesn’t wish to be “democratized” is mind-boggling. Will capital be embarrassed into sharing the wealth? Will the success of co-ops demonstrate to Exxon that energy should be free to all and produced in an environmentally sound manner? Will the 17-trillion-dollar US-based multinational corporate behemoth shudder in the face of worker-owned enterprises and co-ops, surrendering control of the boards of directors to the people?
I don’t think so.
Alperovitz points to existing self-styled alternative ownership models like ESOPs (Employee Stock Ownership Programs), community development corporations, co-ops, etc. as the way forward (he concedes that ESOPs have a dubious record). As such, they would offer a relatively painless “evolutionary” road different “from traditional theories of ‘revolution’.” Many “businessmen, bankers, and others, in fact, commonly support the idea [of co-ops] on practical and moral grounds,” Alperovitz proclaims. Of course they do; they see no challenge to capitalism and a possible opportunity to cash in!
The fact that “castles in the air” ideas like Alperovitz’s actually gain traction demonstrates the sad state of the US left. The fact that opinion polls show a decided increase in interest in socialism is encouraging; however, the fact that those new to the idea must taste through the unappealing, non-nourishing gruel currently favored by so many on the left is disappointing.
For more than a century and a half, socialism—the public and democratic ownership of the essential means of production under a majority peoples’ democracy—continues to be the only ultimate answer to a tenuous and destructive capitalist system.
By Tom Whitney
May 8, 2013
Bombs set off near the finish line of the Boston Marathon on April 15 killed three and wounded over 200 people. The metropolitan area became a virtual war zone. Officials at every level let loose with doomsday-style retaliatory proclamations. For many, however, the clamor served to resurrect memories of U.S. terrorism against Cuba and anti-terrorist verbiage that is full of contradictions.
Almost one year before the Marathon bombings, on April 27, 2012, the office of a tourist agency in Coral Gables, Florida that promotes charter flights and legal travel to Cuba was firebombed and destroyed. A local blogger said of owner Vivian Mannerud, “Too bad she was not inside the office.
Ms. Mannerud pointed out recently that, to this day, not one elected official and in particular, James Cason, mayor of Coral Gables has ever come out to denounce this act of terrorism. There are still no suspects and few signs of ongoing investigation. The Boston and Florida situations are very different, and perhaps the lack of deaths and injuries in the Florida case account for some of the muted response there. But in the past even when Cuba and supporters of Cuba are beset with chaos and calamity reminiscent of the Boston experience, impunity prevailed.
Orlando Bosch and Luis Posada engineered the murderous downing of a fully loaded Cuban airliner at sea in 1976. Posada alone arranged for hotel bombings in Cuba in 1997. They found safe haven in Florida.
The U.S. government itself is a purveyor of terrorism. Wars, drones, economic sanctions, puppet insurgencies, torture regimens, and prison abuses terrorize peoples throughout the world. The United States exports spies and informants and supports the militarized police forces and national armies of puppet governments. Terror fostered by the United States aggravates hostilities and swells enemy ranks. Vicious cycles ensue and conflicts expand. Openings multiply for the U.S. government to claim victimization and to rationalize its own terror attacks.
Cuba stands alone as remaining apart from this deadly interchange. Anti-Cuban terror flows in only one direction. Cuban sources indicate that U.S. – based terrorists have killed almost 3500 people over 50 years, either Cubans or friends of Cuba. By contrast, U.S. military and intelligence officials now and then reiterate that Cuba represents no military or economic threat to the United States.
Yet the U. S. government maintains Cuba on its list of state sponsors of terrorism. Apologists point to Basque separatists welcomed in Cuba and to sanctuary given leftist Colombian guerrillas. Spain, of course, asked that Cuba take in the Basques, and Colombia embraced Cubas offer to host government negotiations with the guerrillas. And political refuge provided for Assata Shakur has long been cited.
Having escaped from a U.S. prison, the black liberation combatant moved to Cuba. Conveniently enough, the United States was recently able simultaneously to announce that Cuba will remain on its list of terror sponsoring states and that Assata Shakur was being placed on the FBIs ten most wanted terrorist list, also that the bounty for her capture and return to the United States was re-set at $2 million. Many legal observers remain highly critical of the prosecution and trial in 1977 through which she was convicted of murdering a New Jersey policeman.
Why then, if Cuba is quite blameless as a sponsor of terrorism, have terror attacks against Cuba continued?
The assumption here is that the U.S. government, as minder of an empire, is serious about its duty to counter revolutionary and anti-imperialist movements from their earliest stirrings to their taking of power and beyond. U.S. governments have been dealing with Cuban revolutionaries for almost 150 years. In reaction to anti-annexationist, anti-racist independence struggles led by Jose Marti and Antonio Maceo, the United States ended up invading Cuba. U. S. troops helped beat down an Afro-Cuban uprising in 1912. In the early 1930s student and labor mobilizations, anti-imperialist in nature, were harbingers of a socialist revolution that took charge in 1959. Special treatment for Cuba may stem, in part, from an anti-imperialism that never quit.
Thats not all U.S. power brokers have to worry about. Despite bashings, Cuba poses the threat of a good example. The socialist state has ensured prolonged life expectancy, low infant mortality, ready access to high quality education and jobs, adequate nutrition and housing, and inculcation of ethical, communitarian, and culturally-inherited values. Cubans even weather natural disasters in exemplary fashion. Cubas adventures in international solidarity add insult to injury. Beleaguered Cuba contested apartheid in southern Africa, cares for the sick and injured throughout the world, and educates young people from all over.
And annoyingly Cuba defends itself against terror in targeted, non-violent ways not likely to provoke retaliation. Cuban volunteers moved to Florida to monitor U.S. based terrorists so that Cuba could prepare against attacks, maybe prevent them. For their pains, the Cuban Five, as they are known, were subjected to a biased trial and long, cruel sentences. A worldwide movement is demanding that U.S. President Obama release them.
Because the Five targeted violent private organizations operating from bases in Florida, their activities and their trial highlighted the general role of proxy warriors. Use of proxies frees central authorities from having publically to take responsibility for state – sponsored terror campaigns. In effect, the Five helped elucidate similarities among a variety of non-state perpetrators, specifically between Florida private paramilitary groups and terrorist individuals and autonomous groups elsewhere, even those at war with the United States. That bit of political education may have earned the Cuban Five a good part of their wildly excessive penalties.
America’s health care system is collapsing, and we can blame the Economics
profession. Most economists approach health care in the wrong way,
viewing it as a commodity like shoes or the laptop on which I write.
Instead, health care is an idiosyncratic commodity, subject to uncertainty
and “asymmetric information” leading to destructive behavior. Trying to
force health care into a box, treating it like other commodities,
economists have promoted cost sharing, market competition, and insurance
oversight of health care providers that have inflated the administrative
burden while denying ever more Americans access.
Health care spending has been rising throughout the world as aging and
more affluent populations spend on their health. Nowhere, however, has
the cost of health care risen as fast as in the United States where costs
soared because of rising administrative expense. Compared with other
affluent countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and
Development (the OECD), the United States spends over twice as much per
person as is spent elsewhere. Before 1971 when Canada enacted its
Medicare program, a single-payer government funded health care system,
Canada spent a higher share of its national income on health care than did
the United States; since then, however, while Canada has controlled costs,
spending has soared in the United States so that we now spend over $3000
more per person. That is $12,000 for a family of four that is not
available for travel, education, housing, or food.
Elsewhere, increases in health care spending have been associated with
improvements in the provision of health care and, therefore, go with
increasing life expectancy. In the United States, however, spending has
increased because of rising administrative costs and increases in the
price of prescription drugs and, therefore, has yielded relatively few
benefits in improvements in care. Comparing changes in health-care
spending and life expectancy between 1971 and 2008, other affluent OECD
members gained a year of life expectancy for every $453 in spending; in
the United States, however, life expectancy has increased less and
spending has risen sharply more so that each year of increased life
expectancy has cost over twice as much as in these other countries.
Health care spending in the United States has increased by $1283 for every
additional year of life expectancy; had our spending per year of added
life increased at only the rate of other countries we would be spending
over $4500 less per person, $18,000 saved for the average family of four.
Most of the difference in relative expenditures, most of the growing waste
in spending in the United States, is due to increasing administrative
costs in the provision of private health insurance and in the billing and
insurance operations within doctors’ offices and in hospitals. The
average physician in the United States now spends four-times as much
interacting with insurance companies as does the average physician in
Ontario, Canada, over $80,000 per physician compared with a little over
$20,000 in Ontario. Prescription drug prices and administrative expenses
have been the fastest rising costs in the United States health care
system; from 1980 to 2005, administrative costs rose by 1300% while drug
prices rose by nearly 2000%. There are now 2.5 million administrative
support personnel in the American health care system; more than the number
of nurses, and five times the number of physicians. We now have more
health-care managers than physicians and surgeons.
Rising costs drive up health insurance premiums so that a family health
insurance plan now costs about 40% of the average family wage income, up
from 7% in 1960. Rising costs are denying ever more Americans access to
health care even while businesses and governments wrestle with rising
health care spending that squeezes resources available for other purposes.
While other countries have controlled health care costs by restraining
administrative expenses and drug prices, ballooning costs in the United
States come from policies promoted by economists who have urged
governments and providers to control costs by making consumers responsible
for more of the costs even while raising administrative costs and ignoring
monopolistic pricing of pharmaceuticals. Viewing the injured, sick, and
disabled as “consumers,” economists see insurance as the source of rising
costs because they are not responsible for the costs of care they receive
and, therefore, overuse health care. Rising copayments and deductibles
are intended to discourage “consumers” from “abusing” health care, as if
the victims of auto accidents or cancer should shop around for cheaper,
and competition among insurers while limiting provider services by
providing more administrative supervision. Ignoring evidence that
Americans are less likely to see doctors and other health providers than
are residents of other affluent countries, these economists have blamed
the high cost of our health care on insurance which, they assume, leads to
wasteful over-practice and the provision of unnecessary health care
services. Their solution is greater cost sharing, more regulation of
providers, capitation, and even the end to insurance by substituting
medical savings accounts for insurance.
For 40 years, many economists’ have promoted increasing cost sharing
through higher copayments and deductibles, the replacement of
fee-for-service payment systems with capitation where providers are paid a
fixed amount for patients as in Health Maintenance Organizations, and
competition where multiple insurers offer a variety of plans catered to
individual consumer’s interests and in competition with each other. Far
from limiting health care cost increases, these practices have produced
the worst of all worlds, rising costs along with restrictions on access.
Costs have risen because these recommendations have inflated the
administrative burden in health care, the costs of the billing and
insurance activities within provider offices as well as the cost of the
health insurance industry itself. While restricting access, limiting the
benefit to Americans of some of the dramatic improvements in health care
practice of the last decades, these practices have not bent the cost curve
or slowed health care inflation even while denying more and more Americans
access to affordable health care.
The failure of price incentives and competition to control health care
costs could have been predicted had economists appreciated that health
insurance is not a commodity and the sick are not consumers like those
shopping for the best pair of sandals or brand of peanut butter.
Producers of commodities might try to accommodate consumer wishes because
they can profit by selling more. Health insurers, on the contrary, can
better increase their profits by selling less, by identifying people
likely to need care and driving them away (“lemon dropping”) even while
attracting the lucky and healthy (“cherry picking”). Most health care
expenditures go to a relatively few people, the unlucky who develop an
illness or suffer an accident; insurers, therefore, can dramatically lower
their costs by finding those who will be expensive and getting rid of
their business; encouraging them to find another insurance plan or even to
A form of “adverse selection,” or screening of potential customers by
insurance companies, can be profitable for the individual firm but it
comes at the cost of raising costs for the community as a whole. As a
country, we now spend almost $200 billion administering the health
insurance industry and over $800 billion in administering the health care
industry, or over a quarter of total spending. Add to this the
inefficiency in delivery that comes from a fragmented finance system that
inhibits coordination of care, and the inflated prices for prescription
drugs, and easily a third of total spending is wasted or going to
The waste involved in the current system has a redeeming feature: it
provides abundant space for an improved system that could improve access
and services even while dramatically lowering costs by eliminating
administrative waste. If we lowered administrative costs and drug prices
to the Canadian level, we could save nearly $600 billion dollars, more
than enough to provide coverage to all of the uninsured while improving
access for the millions of underinsured. If we see past the bad
recommendations of market-fundamentalists, we can improve health care and
save money. An outcome that even economists should favor.
Professor of Economics
University of Massachusetts at Amherst, Amherst, MA. 01003
Professor Friedman has written extensively on single payer health care and
HR 676. His article explaining the economics of single payer is available
All Unions Committee for Single Payer Health Care–HR 676
c/o Nurses Professional Organization (NPO)
1169 Eastern Parkway, Suite 2218
Louisville, KY 40217
(502) 636 1551