The Big Club We Aren’t In

[NOTE: I was originally intending to publish this just after the November elections of 2016, assuming that Hillary Clinton was a shoo-in. Since Trump won instead, I’ve had to make considerable revisions of this post, not only to accommodate the surprise outcome, but also to take into account what a ‘Trump presidency’ would be like. In terms of all the horrible things we were expecting him to do, he certainly ‘didn’t disappoint’. Nonetheless, as unhappy as I am that he is president, I’m also glad she isn’t. This post, though critical of both of them, will focus on why she should never be president, and so much of it focuses on issues from 2016 rather than those of the Trump administration, which is touched on only a bit.]

I expected, a year or so ago, that Hillary Clinton would win not only the Democratic primaries, but in November 2016, too: I was wrong about the second prediction. According to polling data over the months, from various media sources, she was consistently winning against Donald Trump the great majority of the time, but he got it in the end.

Hillary seemed to have this election in the bag right from the beginning; you need only have knowledge of her record as a politician over the decades, allied with who her husband is, to know that she is working for The Big Club, as George Carlin called it in a famous rant. Yet, she still managed to lose. Well, she never had her husband’s charm…

All of the candidates, of course, were and are working for The Big Club, in varying extents and with only mildly varying political agendas, in both mainstream American political parties (what makes Trump ideologically similar to the others is far more important than what makes him different). Not even Bernie Sanders is as committed to ending the rule of the Big Club as he would seem to be, as proven by how he sold his soul to the Democratic devil. The Big Club, needless to say, is the capitalist class…but of all the candidates, Hillary was the most qualified, and the ruling class wanted to ensure that she got the job, just as any boss hires the best one for the job. They never wanted Trump to represent their interests, but this dissident member of the ruling class won, anyway, as surreal as that is.

The new president may have been elected, but she was selected, for it had all been rigged for her up until the end…but even that rigging wasn’t good enough. All the bias in Hillary’s favour among those in the DNC had already been known for months by Sanders and Jill Stein supporters before Wikileaks publicized the DNC e-mails in July 2016. People with eyes to see and ears to hear saw the proof all over the place in the mainstream media, in what was not reported every bit as much as what was reported: glowing op-eds about Hillary’s experience and competence, as against a dearth of coverage about Sanders or Stein, except to say they were both a lost cause from the beginning; about how pro-Hillary Google ensured that pro-Hillary searches were accessible, while searches critical of her were not.

Other evidence of pro-Hillary bias can be seen in how ‘Correct’ the Record (begun in late 2013 by ex-conservative [!] David Brock) paid trolls to harass and annoy online critics of her; a former Facebook friend of mine, who was doing exactly this kind of intensive, constant trolling of many anti-Hillary posts I’d put up, got so cocky when I posted an article on the paid trolling issue as to ask where he could sign up, for allegedly Bernie’s supporters had been doing it first. I should have responded by saying I thought he already was signed up, and knowing how much more money was in the Clinton campaign than in that of Sanders and Stein put together (as to make the claim, ‘Sanders’s trolls started it,’ sound ludicrous), I figured that if my former friend was a paid troll (as opposed to being merely one of Hillary’s useful idiots), he was probably getting so much money by being an asshole that he didn’t need to have a real job. In today’s sluggish economy, caused by the neoliberal agenda that the Clinton family helped establish, combined with neoliberal-caused wealth inequality, it is quite plausible that trolling at least contributes to a comfortable income for those without other options.

The Wikileaks e-mail exposures (claimed, without proof, by a desperate and embarrassed Democratic Party, to have been fabricated) may not have explicitly shown a plan to rig the DNC primary elections, but they did show a sufficient bias in favour of Hillary over Sanders. A suggestion to propagate evidence of possible atheism in Sanders may not have been used, but the bias against him in those e-mails disproves the impartiality that is supposed to exist in the party towards potential candidates. Sanders could have won if there hadn’t been the bias and election fraud during the Democratic primaries, and he certainly could have beaten Trump, unlike Hillary.

The reasons for the DNC’s preference of Hillary are obvious: she has the big money behind her. (Consider her connections with billionaires like George Soros. She also accepted a huge amount of money from UBS.) Sanders, though much more popular at the time, never had the needed huge number of Super PACs, because he wants to help the poor. No wealthy donor is going to support such a politician.

One rationalization Hillary supporters have given for the bias against Sanders is that he’s been an independent politician for most of his career, had only recently joined the Dems, then proceeded to hit Hillary and the DNC with criticisms of party corruption. Why would the butt-hurt DNC want to support this upstart outsider who had just joined their club, only to bash their favoured candidate? Who was he to judge her?

Well, maybe that was the whole point, Dear Dems. Your party is corrupt, right to the core. You’re supposed to be the left-leaning party, as contrasted with the right-wing Republicans. (Or, at least, the Democrats had been the left-leaning party, starting from their 1930s move to the left, until they were moved back to the right by…who were they…the Clintons?) The corruption of the Dems required an outsider to come in and expose what has been going on since the 1990s. It’s exactly the establishment within the Democratic Party that must be exposed for the pro-capitalist frauds that they are, so naturally, those servants of The Big Club are going to be biased against Sanders; but that doesn’t justify the bias.

In popular imagination, Bill Clinton (born William Jefferson Blythe III) is a hero among ‘left-leaning’ liberals. Actually, he and his wife are more conservative than Reagan was (not to say that Ronny didn’t want to be more right-wing, of course). Bill signed and ratified NAFTA (after George HW Bush tried to), which helped take jobs away from unionized workers in the U.S. and kept Mexican poverty about the same over the years, with hardly any economic growth, and with Mexico’s increased dependence on the U.S., Mexico was hit especially hard by the 2008 economic crisis. Small wonder so many Mexicans keep crawling across the border into the U.S. Poverty has forced them to search for decent-paying work in America.

When I touched on Bill Clinton’s contributions to the nefarious growth of neoliberalism in this essay, I was barely scratching the surface. His and Hillary’s betrayal of the left began long before they got into the White House; but when he got in, he did a number of other shameful things, supported by Hillary, during his two terms, including the Crime Bill of 1994, the Welfare Reform Act of 1996, and the Telecommunications Act of 1996.

The first of these heinous forms of legislation resulted in the lopsided levels of incarceration for blacks and other minorities, whom Hillary callously called “superpredators.” The welfare reform destroyed the social safety net. The telecommunications act helped with the merging and acquisitions of so many media sources that now almost all of the US media are controlled by only six corporations (who, of course, decide what political agenda to promote); small wonder so many of us, finding the mainstream media utterly untrustworthy, now flock to alternative sources, including even Russian media, so derided by the establishment Western media, for obvious reasons.

Bill Clinton repealed the Glass-Steagall Act in 1999, which many commentators believe was a major factor leading to the financial crisis of 2008, since it allowed financialization of the economy to go on without let or hindrance.

During his two terms, Bill Clinton also helped US imperialism ruin Russia with Boris Yeltsin by destroying the country’s social safety net. This led to what some have called the economic genocide of Russia. And the demise of the USSR made it easy for the US to extend its global hegemony.

With this background in mind, we must now see why having the Clintons back in the White House, continuing their machinations, was such a dangerous, frightening prospect, and why, in spite of how obviously awful Trump is, we should be glad they didn’t get back in. The military-industrial complex’s habit of removing regimes that go against the interests of the capitalist class has been going on for a much longer time than when the Clintons came onto the scene (consider the CIA’s helping MI6 to oust Mohammad Mosaddegh and bring back the Shah of Iran from exile in 1953, or the CIA’s helping to replace the democratically elected socialist, Salvador Allende, with the capitalist dictator Augusto Pinochet); but the notion of waging “humanitarian wars” against “brutal dictators” really came into its own with the false charge of genocide against socialist Slobodan Milošević, against whom it was recently judged that there was no evidence linking him with the deaths in Yugoslavia in the 1990s. This ousting of “brutal dictators” didn’t start with George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq in 2003; it was continued by him, but popularized by that ‘sensitive liberal,’ Bill Clinton, in the late 1990s.

Now we can put Hillary’s hawkishness in its proper context. Her support of the Iraq War wasn’t just a fearful reaction to the September 11th attacks; her later recanting of that support was a reaction to that war’s unpopularity, in anticipation of her hopes of becoming president in 2008. Given her continuing hawkishness since then, I find it easy to believe that her ‘regret’ over voting for the Iraq War was anything but genuine.

As Secretary of State under Barack Obama, who is as undeserving of a Nobel Peace Prize as anyone can be, Hillary talked him into bombing the Hell out of Libya, resulting in the brutal sodomizing and murder of Muammar Gaddafi, benevolent as far as dictators go, whose government had been providing a host of social programs, including free education, free health care, free electricity, and even interest-free loans. Libya, thanks to the NATO intervention, became a failed state and a haven for terrorists. Hillary boasts of this achievement, instead of being contrite. She’s friends with Henry Kissinger, remember.

She has always supported an aggressive foreign policy against the already besieged and aggrieved Syria, arming “moderate” rebels as well as ISIS, all for the purpose of removing another “brutal dictator,” Bashar al-Assad. How many more Syrian children must be traumatized or killed, just so the U.S. can install a gas pipeline in Syria?

Of course, Russia has been doing airstrikes on Syria, but with the intention of helping the Syrian government stop ISIS (which US imperialism in the region has helped to create, and with Hillary Clinton’s help, allowed its Arab allies to fund), not helping the terrorists. And because of this thwarting of the US’s plans to extend its global hegemony (among other reasons), Vladimir Putin has become the latest “brutal dictator” whom the US and NATO must stop.

It has come to this: the deep state in the U.S. is actually, seriously planning to go to war with Russia, a country as armed to the teeth with nukes as the U.S. is. Does the hubris of U.S. imperialism have no limits? Haven’t the misadventures of the American army (and NATO) in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and Syria proven the limits of their strength? And now they have NATO troops lined up along the Eastern borders of Poland, Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia, doing war-games and preparing for a confrontation with Russia.

The U.S. Navy has also had navy vessels and aircraft in the South China Sea, ready to face China, another growing challenger to U.S. hegemony (Steve Bannon, of course, wants war with China, too). This anti-China and anti-Russian attitude is nothing new from Hillary, of course, but it should be equally obvious that not all of this is solely the Clintons’ fault, either: Obama had been pursuing much of this, because The Big Club want it; hence all the anti-Russian and anti-Chinese propaganda in the U.S. corporate media, including the speculative fantasy that the Russians were behind the Wikileaks hack of the DNC e-mails (US intelligence insiders seem a likelier source of the leaks), as well as the claims that Trump, Sanders, and Stein are, or have been, all puppets of Vladimir Putin. Then, of course, there’s the ridiculous, unsubstantiated claim that Russia manipulated the election to put Trump in the White House.

My criticism of Hillary will lead many to assume that I’m a supporter of Sanders, or Stein, or that right-libertarian Gary Johnson, or–worst of all–Donald Trump. I don’t like any of them. Sanders is at best a mere social democrat, who would help Americans get lots of free stuff while allowing a certain measure of U.S. imperialism to continue unchecked; at worst, he’s a pawn of the system, bullied or bribed into supporting Hillary instead of fighting for his “revolution” to the bitter end. Stein is a nice lady whose heart is, or seems to be, in the right place, but how she plans to implement her radical changes, especially when opposed by the Big Club, remains a mystery. I don’t support Johnson because I’m a left-libertarian, and we shouldn’t need him to legalize weed.

As for Trump, opposing him is all too easy. His charmless, tactless campaign showed what he really is: a lecherous buffoon, a cartoon character. He has a cult of dedicated bigots and simpletons following him, and we’ve always known that lots of Americans are like that (although, to be fair, others among his supporters are better than that; but despite their legitimate feelings of disenfranchisement, they still have the misguided notion that he, a billionaire narcissist, actually cares about them); still, more than enough Americans, including the super-rich, won’t want to let him stay in the Oval Office too long. Most importantly, I’m convinced of the idea, often dismissed as a conspiracy theory of disgruntled Republicans, that Trump was originally a Clinton plant; but later, when he saw how popular he’d become, his narcissism took over, and he didn’t want to be her plant anymore.

You don’t have to be a partisan of the GOP to believe that Trump could have originally intended to run a phoney campaign to help his friends, the Clintons, make all Republicans seem extreme, and ensure that the Clintons easily return to the White House (though the plan ultimately failed). You just need to understand the nature of The Big Club, who are now using the mainstream media to get rid of him by demonizing him.

In any case, the political goalposts keep getting moved further and further to the right, with the GOP goalpost coming closer and closer to Attila-the-Hun right-wing, and the DNC goalpost being more and more neoliberal right-wing…with the illusion of the Dems still being ‘progressive’ relative to the GOP. The extreme goalpost isn’t so much what we need to worry about, since Trump will probably be removed from the White House by the Big Club sooner or later, either through their attempts to impeach him (and replace him with the much more establishment-oriented Pence) by accusing him of being a ‘Putin stooge’, or by defeating him in 2020, or they’ll ‘remove’ his agenda by bullying him into following theirs, or he’ll simply quit the job out of frustration at his unpopularity and the stress of the job; it’s the neoliberal goalpost that is the problem, and Trump is helping that one stay in place forever, in his own, twisted way.

Trump and the Clintons have been friends for years. The Clintons attended Trump’s wedding with Melania in 2005. Bill and Trump play golf together. Bill has played golf at Trump’s golf course for years; Bill, Hillary, Chelsea, and Marc Mezvinsky all played there together once. Chelsea is friends with Ivanka; their husbands introduced the young women to each other, because the young men were already friends! It’s a big club, and we’re not in it! Then, there was that mysterious phone call Bill gave the Donald, just before he announced his bid for the Republican nomination.

Let’s compare Hillary’s history with Trump’s political positions. She, too, has spoken of building a barrier to keep Mexicans out of America. Trump put a ‘temporary’ ban on Muslims? His executive order merely continued and developed something Obama had started in late 2015; furthermore, Obama and Hillary have bombed Muslims (as Trump is doing now in Syria)! Obama was the deporter-in-chief, as well as a bomber of Muslims, so how much worse can Trump be? Trump wants to outlaw burning the US flag; Hillary Clinton backed proposed legislation to do the same thing in 2005. He may have spoken of wanting to ‘drain the swamp’ of Clinton-oriented corruption, but now that he’s president, he’s appointing the same kind of neo-con, neoliberal, pro-banker people who supported the Democrats.

People were afraid when Trump asked why we can’t use nuclear weapons, while Hillary and Obama were and are content to expand NATO along Russia’s border, with troops there, ready to do war with a nuclear-armed superpower. Hillary hasn’t been any less averse to using nukes, either. Trump is actually less hawkish towards Russia, yet we’re all afraid of his itchy finger on the button, instead of hers. He is an awful president, but that’s because there’s never really been a good president. His election isn’t Russia’s fault: it’s the US’s.

Now, Trump was accused of not paying his taxes (which, it turns out, he has payed them); now, avoiding paying one’s fair share is typical of any capitalist billionaire. The Clintons haven’t been much better with that kind of thing, though, with their not-so-charitable foundation. And if Trump is no friend to women, neither is Hillary. To all of those who were so ecstatically hoping to shout, “First woman president! First woman president!” in November 2016: it isn’t the women at the top who matter (there already are lots of women at the top…not so much female politicians, of course, but I mean those women in the families of the ruling class); it’s the women at the bottom who do…working women in the US who would have got no help from Hillary had she become president, women in the Middle East who have had her bombs raining over them, women apparel workers in Haiti whose wages were kept down by her and the then-State Department, etc.

None of this is meant to be a defence of Trump, who as I’ve said above, has been as awful a president as we had all predicted he would be. His bigotry, rudeness, needless increase of spending on the military–side by side with cuts in such areas as the arts, education, the HHS, and the EPA–are all inexcusable. Then there’s his continuation of the ‘War on Terror’. These are also typical moves to expect from The Big Club. Trump’s privatizing of education has parallels in the Obama administration, too.

But as bad as Trump is, none of this means that Hillary would have been any better. The 2016 voting in California and New York State showed election fraud (note how easily hacked electronic voting booths are, how computers can be used to rig elections); the mainstream media favoured Hillary; the FBI director, who was on her payrolltwice wouldn’t indict her for the e-mail scandals; she paid trolls to intimidate her critics; and she got a personal friend to make an ass of himself, and was promoting him to the hilt through the corporate media so she, because of the fear of him being elected, would be ensured a victory, though her plan failed. But because she’s a “liberal progressive” Democrat, she couldn’t have been an authoritarian dictator, or someone working for the plutocrats? And just as everyone is rightly worried that President Trump is showing fascist tendencies, the mainstream media is trying to silence alternative media as ‘fake news’ or ‘Russian propaganda’. This is the new version of book-burning, and both the mainstream GOP and the Dems are supporting the idea.

Hillary and Kaine aren’t progressive in the slightest, if the word ‘progressive’ actually means anything. The notion of the Democratic Party as ‘left-leaning’ is a lie. The Republican Party isn’t the only repugnant party. Don’t ‘correct’ the record on Hillary, consider her record. Here’s a hint: a number of neocons and Republicans were either supporting her, or had at least considered supporting her. Being a ‘liberal’ Democrat is nowhere near left enough. The ‘Third Way’ is what brought the Democrats and the Labour Party to the right. Imperialism with the Dems is the same as it ever has been with the GOP. Democrats have been no less war-mongering than Republicans, for both parties serve the same capitalist masters. The US really has two Republican parties: the neoliberal Republicans (Hillary ‘Democrats’), and the Attila-the-Hun Republicans (President Trump).

So, what can we do? Anyone with a modicum of common sense will know that The Big Club won’t allow anyone to legislate them out of their wealth. Such is the nature of so-called liberal democracy, which is really the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. And a soft Left won’t suffice in fixing this problem; ‘libertarian socialist’ Noam Chomsky has seriously disappointed me in supporting a Hillary vote to prevent Trump from winning in swing states.

What we need is a revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat. And what is the dictatorship of the proletariat? It means various things to different leftists, of course. For Marx, it was exemplified in the short-lived but exhilarating Paris Commune. For others, it was the USSR, it’s Castro’s Cuba, or North Korea, and socialist Eastern Europe during the Cold War. That’s not how I, leaning towards a more libertarian left, would prefer it. But in any case, it’s about having a worker-ruled society that is protected from a resurgence of capitalism through an arming of the workers. This is real democracy, a worker-ruled society, democracy from the bottom-up, for a change. This is to be achieved by any means necessary, and necessarily involving force.

I personally don’t like violence; my advocacy of violence comes not out of personal preference, but out of a lack of viable alternatives. The only thing that will fix America, and by extension, the world, is a bloody, violent revolution. Lots of Americans own guns, thereby making them physically equipped (to an extent, at least) to carry out this uprising. Sadly, too many of these people fetishize capitalism, and therefore won’t want to make the necessary political changes. They’ll simply replace Trump’s right-wing government with a neoliberal one in ‘left-wing’ garb (think of those Hillary supporters who don’t accept the Trump victory), or with a right-libertarian one.

Leftists will have to arm themselves; they’ll also have to get over their differences. A divided Left is an impotent Left. Now is not the time to debate on Facebook whether Bakunin or Marx, Kropotkin or Lenin, Makhno or Mao, or Trotsky or Stalin had the right ideas. Nor is it the time to debate how many died under communism in order to invalidate those forms of leftism we don’t particularly like. Now is the time to organize and plan a revolution. Online communication will have to be kept to a minimum, for fear of all that internet spying. In-person meetings will have to be made at the local level, off the radar.

Sadly, we in the First World have next to no revolutionary potential: we stare at our phones like zombies, eat unhealthy food, and get far too little exercise. We need to be in a state of desperation to be in a revolutionary situation. I try not to be as pessimistic as Jason Unruhe about First World revolutionary potential; it’s not that I think he’s wrong, but if he’s right, why are any of us leftists still spreading the message? Are we just ego-tripping? The Third World may be desperate enough to be in a revolutionary situation, but they lack the wherewithal to prepare an uprising; they can barely feed their families.

Our situation is urgent: the Big Club, with or without Trump, is sure not only to continue to exacerbate the problems of income inequality, environmental dangers (i.e., fracking), and imperialist wars, including a possible nuclear confrontation with Russia or war with China; they will use a mass media the DNC largely controls to divert the masses’ attention from the real issues.

The Big Club must be torn down, not just because of our yearning for justice, but for the sake of our very survival. It’s either socialism, or barbarism. Since the people make up a much bigger club than the capitalist club, we all need to come together. We have nothing to lose but our chains.

The choice is ours…for we have no other choice.

Analysis of ‘Gaslight’

Gaslight is a 1944 thriller film starring Ingrid Bergman, Charles Boyer, and Joseph Cotten, and co-starring Angela Lansbury and Dame May Whitty. It was directed by George Cukor, and based on the 1938 stage play Gas Light, written by Patrick Hamilton. Another movie version was done in 1940, adhering more closely to the original play; but when MGM did the 1944 remake so soon after this first film, they wanted to have all existing prints of it destroyed. Fortunately, the original film wasn’t ever destroyed, but this 1944 version still eclipsed it.

Bergman won her first Academy Award for Best Actress with this movie, while Boyer was nominated for Best Actor, and Angela Lansbury was nominated for Best Supporting Actress. The film was also nominated for Best Picture, and it won Best Art Direction. The film got a total of seven Oscar nominations.

It is from this film that the term ‘gaslighting‘ originated, for the villain, Gregory Anton (Boyer), uses this very tactic–tricking his wife, Paula (Bergman), into doubting her own perception, memory, and sanity by staging bizarre scenarios for her–in an elaborate scheme to drive her mad, have her committed to an insane asylum, then take possession of her old London house, originally owned by her aunt, Alice Alquist, whom he murdered years before.

Normally, emotional abuse is used on a victim for the purpose of having power and control over him or her; but Gregory, or Sergius Bauer, to use his real name, only wants to get rid of Paula so he can freely search about that old house, to find the coveted items he killed Alquist to steal–her jewels.

In one scene, he speaks of his great lust for precious jewels (about a half-hour into the movie). In another scene, we see him in the attic, searching furiously for those jewels, using a knife to hack through the cushion of the back of an old chair in a desperate hope to find them (about an hour and a half into the movie). This ruthless searching for treasure, violating other people’s property in the process, reminds us of the plunder of the Third World for resources, diamonds, etc., by Western imperialists. Remember that, just as an emotional abuser often controls his victim’s finances, imperialism deliberately stifles the economic growth of Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

Since Patrick Hamilton had communist sympathies, especially in the late 1930s, when he wrote Gas Light, I feel at least some justification in making a leftist allegory out of this movie.

Gregory, who–as I see it–represents bourgeois imperialism, tricks Paula, who represents both the proletariat and those ‘brutal dictators’ that imperialism wants to remove, into thinking she is a forgetful kleptomaniac. He does this by deliberately moving items when she isn’t looking, then claiming she took them and forgot she had. He reveals her ‘forgotten thefts’ with a cruel frown, causing her to be frightened and hysterical.

When he leaves her alone in the house, ostensibly to go out somewhere and work on composing classical music, but actually to sneak up into the attic from the back to search for the jewels, she notices the gaslight dimming in the rooms. This frightens her, for she has no idea who is causing it to dim. The servants honestly deny any knowledge of the gaslight dimming (just as the average worker doesn’t know of the ruling class’s tricks), and Gregory pretends not to know either; for it is he who is dimming it–hence the term ‘gaslighting’.

Always claiming Paula is ill, Gregory never lets her out of the house to be sociable, like a typical emotional abuser. (Symbolically, this isolation is also like how imperialism economically isolates such countries as Cuba by imposing embargoes on them, to bring an end to the regimes of those ‘brutal dictators’.) The servants believe she’s ill, too, and are cool towards her, upsetting her all the more. Of course, it is Gregory who has made the servants believe she’s ill, through triangulation; just as the corporate mainstream media tricks us into thinking ‘brutal dictators’ like Milosevic, Saddam Hussein, Gaddafi, et al, are madmen who must be removed from power.

By the climax of the film, Paula has been manipulated so thoroughly that she plods about, eyes half shut, as if she’s half-asleep, just like the average Western citizen, brainwashed and distracted by media nonsense. She believes her mind is going, that all she sees and hears is just a dream, as her cruel husband has convinced her.

I have elsewhere gone into detail about the nature and effects of emotional abuse, as well as about narcissism; hence my political interpretation of this film, instead of just elaborating on psychological abuse again. I feel a political interpretation is useful and necessary, because I see political gaslighting going on everywhere, all the time.

The media tricks Americans, for example, into thinking that one political party is evil, while the other is good, or at least has the potential for good, once the ‘good’ political party has been cleansed of corruption; when in reality, both political parties are working for the plutocrats, as are the media.

We are tricked into forgetting the imperialist crimes of previous years and decades, and even made to think that the Western imperialists are among the victims, rather than the victimizers. Here we see the microcosm of the narcissist, seeing himself as the victim and projecting his guilt outward, expanded into the macrocosm of the imperialists, who blame Muslims for terrorism instead of taking responsibility for US or NATO bombings of, or proxy wars in, places like Libya, Syria, Kosovo, or Iraq. Like Gregory, capitalists are murderers.

Gregory accuses Paula of stealing and forgetting her thefts, when in fact he is the thief (and a murderer). Similarly, the capitalist class excoriates socialists and social democrats for ‘stealing’ the money of the wealthy (through progressive income taxes), when in fact it’s the capitalists who originally stole from the workers (by overworking and underpaying them). Furthermore, the Western media has propagandized against socialist states like the USSR, calling them ‘totalitarian dictatorships’, when currently America has by far the highest incarceration rate of any country in the world, and polls have consistently shown that a majority of Russians prefer the USSR to their current state of affairs. All of this media deception can be called political gaslighting.

Gregory leaves Paula alone, and the gaslight dims, frightening her; then he denies this dimming. This is symbolic of capitalism’s alienating of workers, leaving them in a darkness of misery, then denying that the capitalist system is responsible for these problems. The servants go along with Gregory’s thinking, just as so many workers, police officers, and soldiers refuse to resist the system.

Scotland Yard Inspector Brian Cameron (Cotten), who revives the case of Paula’s murdered aunt, Alice Alquist, after the police have considered it unsolvable, admired Alquist’s singing; this admiration arouses his empathy for Paula, and he puts the pieces together and saves her. Now he is a policeman, and therefore an unlikely hero in any anti-capitalist allegory; but because he’s the only inspector among the British police still interested in this case, out of his empathy for Paula, his authority can be seen to represent one other than that of the establishment. (Furthermore, in the 1940 film version, there’s a scene in which the inspector–originally named Rough–invites a group of poor street urchins into a pastry shop to buy them something to eat [about 21 minutes or so into the film], suggesting his sympathy for the poor. Recall in this context Hamilton’s communist sympathies around the time of the writing of his play.) His fighting with and subduing of Gregory can thus represent the vanguard of a revolution against the imperialist bourgeoisie.

I admit that my allegorizing here isn’t as smooth as that of my previous analyses, but I feel it’s necessary to make a link between gaslighting in relationships and that of politics; for I see the latter as an extension of the former, an extension that mustn’t be overlooked. Now, if my emphasis on contemporary imperialism seems odd when allegorizing a story written so many decades earlier, consider how much older capitalist imperialism really is: equally disturbing examples of it can be seen in Churchill’s disparaging of Muslims and the Indians he allowed to starve to death in the Bengal Famine; or in the late Victorian Holocausts of the late 19th century.

Emotional abuse in families, extending to other relationships, is a lot more common than most people realize. In the US, it has been found to be almost universal. America is a country where authoritarianism, disguising itself as ‘liberty‘ (check out the gaslighting there!), is also rampant; religious fundamentalism, an intrusive state, mass incarceration, police brutality, and neoliberal capitalism being the most notable manifestations. It isn’t a wide leap of logic to go from American dysfunctional families to this authoritarianism, then to imperialism: it’s all about power imbalances.

A useful link between family abuse and the authoritarian political establishment, given from the perspective of a prickly American cop, is in this disturbing video (a scene from the TV series Southland), in which a truant pre-teen boy with a ‘bleeding-heart liberal’ attitude is lectured that “discipline is not child abuse”–this after his mother has hit him with a belt two or three times for truancy. To some, this may seem like a mild punishment in itself, but many families have wildly different interpretations of what ‘mild punishment’ is, especially as regards hitting a boy with a belt. Consider the end of this scene in Goodfellas, again, ‘punishment’ for truancy.

The point is that there is always a ’cause’ for the abuser to fly off the handle and assault the victim either verbally, physically, or even sexually. This ’cause’ does not justify an abusive reaction, which is then minimized as “discipline” or ‘punishment’.

Similarly, and by extension, Western imperialists always have ’causes’ for their bombings of other countries, typically vilifying the leaders of those countries by calling them ‘brutal dictators’. To be sure, the dictators of the world have more than their share of flaws; but for the West to be judging them, given all the corruption that favours the rich and powerful in the West, is really the pot calling the kettle black. The corporate-owned media, ever in the service of imperialism, engages in gaslighting by giving us biased accounts of what is happening in, for example, Kosovo, Iraq, Libya, Syria, and now Russia, so we will see the bombings as ‘humanitarian’, a truly obscene series of lies.

Once the bombing campaign is over and the victimized country is subjugated (if not more or less destroyed), the ‘brutal dictator’ is removed or killed, and the imperialists take over, just as Gregory tries to remove Paula, then take ownership of her home so he can finally search freely for the jewels, which could be seen to represent the oil and other resources of the conquered countries.

Remember how Iraq was regarded sympathetically by America during the Iran/Iraq War, then the US turned on Saddam Hussein in the 1990s? Or how Osama bin Laden and the mujahideen had the sympathy of the US when repelling the USSR from Afghanistan (we all know what happened after that)? Remember how the West briefly warmed up to Gaddafi during the 2000s…then in 2011…? Or how Syria was an intermittent ally until the 2010s? Gregory’s attitude to Paula can be seen to symbolize this kind of political relationship. At first, the victims have their uses; then they’re devalued and discarded.

In order to solve the problems of political oppression around the world, we must first solve the problems of our own social relations. This must begin with the family, the foundation of all social relations.

To optimize family relations, parents must be as sensitive as they can to the emotional development of their children, starting right from the first months of infancy. Attachment theory explains the different ways a child learns how to connect with primary caregivers, then with other people; this includes unhealthy forms of attachment. When these forms of attachment are unhealthy, the child grows up with these bad object relations, which become the blueprint for all future relationships.

This leaves such a person vulnerable to the schemes of psychopaths like Gregory. Paula’s childhood trauma, of having seen the dead body of her strangled aunt, would represent the kind of ruptured attachment, or bad object relation, that has led to her being susceptible to the charms of Gregory, who idealized her during their courtship, devalued her during their married life in London, and almost discarded her into a mental institution, but for the intervention of Inspector Cameron.

Just as we must be warned of the idealize/devalue/discard tactics of psychopaths, sociopaths, or narcissists, we must also do the necessary healing work if we’ve already been traumatized by them, be they our ex-boyfriends, ex-girlfriends, ex-husbands, ex-wives, or bullying parents. The healing work includes learning about toxic people, engaging in self-care and self-compassion, meditation, cathartic writing about one’s own problems, and joining communities (including online ones) of other survivors, to give them support as well as receive it from them.

When the needed emotional health is either established, through good parenting (not ‘perfect’ parenting, but the good enough parenting that DW Winnicott advocated), maintained, by being wary of the fake idealizing of potential toxic boyfriends or girlfriends, or restored after surviving an ordeal of emotional abuse, then people can organize into communities, and develop the solidarity needed to combat the greatest emotional abusers of them all–the capitalist class and their stooge governments, their political flying monkeys.

As for the Cluster B individuals themselves, psychiatrists must work tirelessly to discover a cure for each of those pathologies, whether those pathologies be genetically basedphysiologically based, or caused by trauma.

We as a people need to learn what love really is: not just a pretty-sounding word, not empty sentimentality, but a genuine connection between people, a connection brought about not by stern moralizing or authoritarian forms of religion, but by empathy…the empathy Inspector Cameron felt for Paula, because of how she reminded him of her aunt.

Only through empathy can we hope to build a better world, one in which bosses don’t rule over workers by overworking and underpaying them, and by gaslighting them into thinking they are worthless if they can’t help bosses make a profit; a world where all racial, ethnic and religious groups are treated as equals, and gaslighting isn’t used to make people equate blacks with criminals or Muslims with terrorists; where the sexes are regarded as equals, and gaslighting isn’t used to make women feel worthless if they don’t provide pleasure, or to make men feel worthless if they don’t provide money; where LGBT people are given dignity, and gaslighting isn’t used to make them seem perverted.

To fix the world, we must start with the family, the foundation of society.

Analysis of ‘Titus Andronicus’

Long time, no Shakespeare!

I’m going to do this analysis differently from my previous analyses of Shakespeare plays. I’m doing this for two reasons: as Titus Andronicus isn’t one of the famous classic plays, I won’t be doing a separate synopsis of the play for the sake of my students; though historically detested, Titus Andronicus has been experiencing something of a revival due to how its themes of cruelty and revenge are relevant in today’s increasingly harsh world; so unlike with my other Shakespeare analyses, I’ll be relating events in TA with contemporary issues.

Titus Andronicus is a tragedy Shakespeare apparently co-wrote (with George Peele, who many scholars think wrote the first act, as well as the the first scenes of Acts II and IV) between 1588 and 1593. It was his first tragedy, though his first great play, The Tragedy of King Richard III (actually a history) may have been finished earlier (in 1592). TA was a hit when first produced, since Elizabethan audiences loved gore in their plays, and revenge plays were very popular at the time.

It didn’t take long, however, for the play’s reputation to sink. Indeed, from the 17th century up till the mid-20th, TA was considered by many to be Shakespeare’s worst play. Its excesses of gore and cruelty are too much for many people to stomach. I, on the other hand, would say that Love’s Labour Lost, with its dated humour and pedantic, Baroque prolixity, is the Bard’s least successful play (Consider Kenneth Branagh‘s failed attempt at a film version, whose replacement of much of the text with old jazz standards was considered, if anything, one of the movie’s high points!). TA, however, has a relevance to today’s world that actually indicts contemporary violence, thus vindicating the play.

I feel no discomfort in thinking that Shakespeare wrote the whole play, even though it may very well have been a collaboration. It seems that scholars don’t want to credit the immortal Bard with such a harsh play, claiming it was a collaboration, a play written before his talents had matured, or one erroneously attributed to him. I believe TA has been derided because Shakespeare was exploring the dark shadows in our psyches, shadows we’d prefer to believe don’t exist. Cruelty is not a pleasant theme to develop, and Shakespeare developed themes to the hilt.

I believe Shakespeare was satirizing his contemporaries’ fondness for gore and revenge plays (as he had pastoral plays, I believe, with As You Like It) by delivering the violence in such extreme doses: fourteen killings, including two filicides, a rape, an act of cannibalism, six examples of dismembering, and a live burial. When we compare the Elizabethan love of gore with that of today (note the blood and guts in so many contemporary horror movies), we realize that Elizabethan bloodlust was not unique to their time. The fascination with the writings of the Marquis de Sade further illustrate my point, as do Freud’s writings on the death instinct, a result of his sorrow over the destructiveness of World War I.

Julie Taymor did a flamboyant movie adaptation of TA, Titus, and the BBC did a TV adaptation back in 1985. Both versions begin with Titus returning to Rome from victories against the Goths, taking their queen Tamora, her sons Alarbus, Chiron, and Demetrius, as well as Aaron the Moor, as captives; the written play, however, begins with brothers Saturninus and Bassanius with their respective followers, vying to be the next Roman emperor after the recent death of Caesar, their father. This switching of scenes is made to accommodate an often-omitted continuity error in the text (Act I, scene i, beginning at line 35), which refers to the killing of Alarbus, which hasn’t happened yet in the story.

This killing of Alarbus is the first act of cruelty in the play; it sets in motion all the violence and revenge to follow. He is to be killed in a rite of human sacrifice to appease the ghosts of those sons of Titus already killed in battle. His eldest son, Lucius, willingly carries out the slaying of Alarbus, which involves burning him alive and hacking off his limbs. Of course, Tamora begs and pleads for Titus to spare her first-born son, though Titus is deaf to her cries. All she can do is complain about “cruel, irreligious piety!”, a reference to how religion, founded largely on scientific ignorance, leads all too often to cruelty. Apparently, the capturing of the Goths and Aaron, a product of Roman imperialism, isn’t cruel enough.

Now, this act of cruelty merely gives Tamora and her sons a motive for revenge. Titus’ foolish declining of the offer of succession to be emperor, along with his support for Saturninus to succeed, leads eventually to the new emperor’s choice in Tamora to be his bride. Now, she and her sons have the opportunity for revenge.

Before the choice of Tamora for his queen, Saturninus chooses, in all capriciousness, Bassanius’ betrothed, Lavinia. This choice seems to be an act of spite towards his brother, cruelly depriving him and Lavinia of having each other’s love. When Bassanius takes her away, through the force of Titus’ sons, their again-foolish father, blindly loyal to Saturninus over his own family, kills his son, Mutius (this video from the 1985 BBC production) for blocking his way in the chase after Lavinia.

Indeed, we see a lot of foolishness in Titus, as in all the cruelty and violence seen in this play: his murder for religion (Alarbus); his filicides (Mutius and, in the end, Lavinia); his giving up of an opportunity to be emperor and thus protect his family from future reprisals; his all-too-quick giving up of his hand in a vain attempt to save the lives of his other two sons, Quintus and Martius; and his eventual descent into madness.

One criticism of this play is in how the excesses of violence seem more like a black comedy than tragedy; indeed, Harold Bloom once said that the best director for the play would be Mel Brooks. Consider the stage direction of having Titus’ severed hand carried in the mouth of handless Lavinia. But the whole point of the play is that cruelty is absurd and senseless.

Let us remember such atrocities as when the colonial rule of Belgian King Leopold II caused the deaths of about ten million Congolese back in the late 19th century. Consider the Armenian genocide in 1915, when between 800,000 and 1.5 million were killed. Or the Holocaust, in which not only were about six million Jews murdered, but also from 220,000 to 1.5 million Roma were murdered, as well as 2-3 million Soviet POWs; German gay men (from 5,000 to 15,000 imprisoned–it is uncertain how many died), leftists (among the first to be put in concentration camps), the disabled/mentally ill (about 270,000 killed), political and religious opponents, and Jehovah’s Witnesses were also among those persecuted.

Added to the absurdity of cruelty is that of revenge. How does revenge make the pain of the original wrong go away? For the killing of Alarbus, Tamora says, “I’ll find a day to massacre them all,/And raze their faction and their family,/The cruel father and his traitorous sons,/To whom I sued for my dear son’s life;/And make them know, what ‘t is to let a queen/Kneel in the streets and beg for grace in vain.”

With the help of her sons, Chiron and Demetrius, as well as Aaron the Moor, Tamora has Bassanius murdered and Titus’ sons, Quintus and Martius, framed for the crime, leading to their execution. Worse, she allows her sons to rape and mutilate Lavinia. Added to these outrages, Lucius is exiled, and Aaron tricks Titus into cutting off his hand in a fruitless ransom to save his two condemned sons. His reward is to be presented his hand with the heads of his sons. Tamara may have grinned maliciously at her achieved revenge, but how has this carnage brought Alarbus back to her?

The rape of Lavinia is especially cruel. One of the recurring themes of TA is that of begging for grace in vain. Lavinia thus pleads to leave her chastity intact, saying that slaying her unstained would make Tamora “a charitable murderer” (Act II, scene iii, line 178). All such pleas, including an appeal to Tamora’s womanhood, fall on deaf ears, just as Tamora’s weren’t heard by Titus, and his pleas to save Quintus and Martius, in turn, aren’t heard by the tribunes. Aaron pleads to spare the life of his illegitimate son by Tamora: by the end of the play, is the baby spared?

Not only is Lavinia brutally raped by Chiron and Demetrius, but they also cut off her hands and cut out her tongue, to ensure she has no way to accuse them. Any woman (or man or child) who has been raped feels every bit as unable to accuse, even with hands and tongue intact. Such is the power of the bully to silence the victim.

Next comes Titus’ final revenge on all his enemies. First, his exiled son joins the Goths and raises an army to invade betraying Rome, “a wilderness of tigers” (Act III, scene i, line 54), now considered as barbarous as the Goths. So upset is Saturninus with the bad news of  Titus’ complaints to the gods of the emperor’s wickedness, sent in notes fired by arrows up into the sky, that he has a clown needlessly hanged. But this is only the beginning…

Titus’ men apprehend Chiron and Demetrius. Before slitting their throats as Lavinia watches and holds between her stumps a bowl to catch the drops of blood, he tells them his plan to cook their flesh in meat pies and serve them to their mother in a feast! Indeed, as Tamora is unwittingly eating her sons’ cooked flesh, Titus kills his daughter in a kind of honour killing, rationalizing it more as an ending of his misery than hers, and an ending of her shame, when it is her rapists who truly bear the shame.

Consider how some Muslims, victims of the terrible crimes of Western imperialism, often turn to forms of extremism like  Wahhabism, then turn their violence on each other in such forms as honour killings, or resort to the terrorist killings of Western civilians, many of whom sympathize with their plight. Too often, we turn our wrath against the wrong people.

Next, we see a quick cycle of violence and revenge: when Titus tells Tamora she’s been feasting on the flesh of her sons, he kills her; then Saturninus immediately rises and kills Titus in a fury; then Lucius avenges his father by killing Saturninus.

We see similarly absurd violence in the imperialist violence against Iraq, Libya, and Syria, giving rise to ISIS, whose violence in such attacks as those in Paris prompts retaliations in Syria, out of which refugees are pouring. Violence merely begets more violence, which never ends.

The play ends with Aaron being buried alive, up to the neck, and left to starve to death. Anyone feeding or pitying him will be executed. His last words are, “If one good deed in all my life I did,/I do repent it from my very soul.” (Act V, scene iii, lines 189-190) This is what becomes of the soul of a man consumed by hate and malice: “Aaron will have his soul black like his face.” (Act III, scene i, line 206)

Lucius ends the play by commanding that Tamora’s body not be buried, and that she, having been without pity in her life, can “let birds on her take pity.” (Act V, scene iii, line 200) He is thus the dubious redeemer of the play, having started the cycle of violence with the ‘hewing’ of Alarbus’ limbs, and having ended it with these final cruelties.

Ending the play on such a dark note, the essence of its profound tragedy, leaves so many with such queasy feelings that that TA has had such a bad reputation. Few of us can bear to see the darkest shadows of ourselves explored so thoroughly, and taken to such cruel conclusions. Yet the violence of today’s world shows us the relevance of this play, with such examples as the Rwandan genocide, whose own cycle of violence was ended with a relatively lenient punishment of most of the perpetrators. This ability to forgive is what we can learn about how to deal with our darker shadows.

Analysis of ‘Brave New World’

Brave New World is a novel written by Aldous Huxley and published in 1932. Like George Orwell‘s Nineteen Eighty-Four, it is a dystopian novel about a future world tightly controlled by a totalitarian government. There is, however, a crucial difference between these two dystopias: Orwell’s Hell is a totalitarianism predicated on brute force, surveillance, and a manipulation of logic called doublethink; Huxley’s tyranny is more like a Heaven, or a Spenserian Bower of Bliss, predicated on a mindless pursuit of pleasure (promiscuous sex, getting high on soma, and watching ‘feelies’, this last being comparable to the 4DX experience in movies) to distract people from questioning the world around them.

At the same time, there are similarities between these two tyrannies: both involve intolerance of nonconformity, though where Orwell’s thought-criminals are tortured and killed, Huxley’s are simply exiled; and both systems of power do their utmost to erase history to ensure that their citizens never get a taste of an alternative culture, which might lead to a dangerous wish to rise up against the current regime. “‘When the individual feels, the community reels,’ Lenina pronounced.” (Chapter 6)

As with my analysis of Nineteen Eighty-Four, I can’t resist comparing Huxley’s dystopia with our world today. Indeed, in Brave New World Revisited, Huxley himself compared the world of his ‘fable’, as he called it, to the world he saw around him in the late 1950s, and found it disturbingly close in many ways to his fictitious world. He also contrasted his predictions to those of Orwell’s: “It is worth remembering that, in 1984, the members of the Party are compelled to conform to a sexual ethic of more than Puritan severity. In Brave New World, on the other hand, all are permitted to indulge their sexual impulses without let or hindrance.” (page 34)

Neil Postman, in his book Amusing Ourselves to Death, also made a comparison of Huxley’s novel with our world over thirty years ago, feeling that the America of the 1980s was far more like Huxley’s heavenly Hell than Orwell’s more blatant one. The whole idea of Postman’s book was how the once serious discussion of politics, which involved lengthy speeches, detailed analyses of the issues, and fierce debates, all by a literate public, has degenerated into mere TV entertainment. We are not so much bludgeoned by fascistic cops as we’re lulled to sleep with amusement. If Postman were alive today, he would see how much more correct, and prophetic, his analysis was by watching the clownish likes of Donald Trump on TV.

In my opinion, today’s world is about half Orwellian and half Huxleyan. For my comparison of Nineteen Eighty-Four with our world, please go here. And now, for my comparison of our world with that of Brave New World.

One thing to remember about Huxley’s novel is that it is a satiric exaggeration of the early 1930s (and, by extension, today’s world). We haven’t done away with families, procreation, pregnancy, parenthood, and monogamy, as has been done in World State society, but in many ways we are already well on our way to abolishing such things (and, recall above, that Huxley in Brave New World Revisited also believed that in the late 1950s our world was coming closer to such a state of affairs than he’d originally imagined). Western divorce rates are absurdly high, many people are opting out of marriage completely, artificial insemination has existed for decades, and in spite of the fear of STDs, or of men taking advantage of drunk or stoned women, one-night stands in Western countries are as common as the common cold.

As Huxley says in Brave New World Revisited: “The society described in Brave New World is a world-state in which war has been eliminated and where the first aim of the rulers is at all cost to keep their subjects from making trouble. This they achieve by (among other methods) legalizing a degree of sexual freedom (made possible by the abolition of the family) that practically guarantees the Brave New Worlders against any form of destructive (or creative) emotional tension.” (page 34)

A few words need to be said about Huxley’s World State when compared with today’s political world. The notion of an oppressive, global government is the subject of a popular conspiracy theory that sells lots of books and makes lots of money for right-wing kooks like Alex Jones. Needless to say, I don’t subscribe to such nonsense. I once read the beginning of a webpage about the ‘NWO‘ in which the writer claimed there are two ways to interpret all the phenomena of history: they’re either accidents–coincidences; or they’re all planned (i.e., conspiratorial). The belief in this false dichotomy among ‘truthers’ and the like was confirmed whenever I read their use of the term ‘coincidence theorist’ as a straw-man against any doubters of their paranoid ideas.

What’s especially interesting about these conspiracy theorists is how many of them are either right-libertarians or religious fundamentalists (Christian or Muslim). They fancy themselves anti-authoritarian, but they’re in total denial of the hierarchy and authoritarianism inherent in capitalism and religion. They won’t trust the mainstream media, but they don’t mind referring to it when it criticizes ‘socialist’ Big Government. And while we’re on the topic of conspiratorial thinking, since there has been, from the Reagan and Thatcher years to the present, a push towards greater and greater deregulation and tax cuts for the rich–which, as I’ve argued elsewhere, leads ironically to bigger rather than smaller government–it doesn’t seem an ill-founded suspicion to think that the rich oligarchy is more than happy to promote these conspiracy theories. After all, they criticize only the state, while leaving ‘free market’ capitalism and religion well alone. And if the elite is so incredibly powerful, we can’t do anything about it…so don’t bother trying. The capitalists have already won. They would love us to be so pessimistic.

As I see it, a more accurate contemporary parallel to the World State is globalization. The so-called ‘free market’ doesn’t pulverize the state, as the right-libertarians would have us think: it merely privatizes the state. World governments are increasingly being run by capitalists, as such shady deals as the TPP show; multinational corporations can use the TPP to sue any government that makes regulations that limit their profits. To know who has the power, follow where the money is going…and capitalism is all about making as much money as possible.

The state is just the bouncer of the World Casino, if you will; and who is the state’s boss, if he isn’t a capitalist? Huxley’s satire is as much a critique of capitalism as it is of the state. Indeed, in the 1946 Foreword to Brave New World (page xliii), he described his ideal society as being economically Georgist (which can be considered a variant on left-libertarianism) and politically ‘Kropotkinesque’, and it was he who thus introduced me to anarcho-communism.

References to capitalism in Brave New World include the World State’s class system, with people like Mustapha Mond, one of ten World Controllers composing the ruling class. Then there are Alpha-plus people like Helmholtz Watson and Bernard Marx, beneath whom are upper-middle-class Betas, then the Gammas, Deltas, and Epsilons, the equivalents of such groups as the petite bourgeoisie and the working classes who are conditioned into being content to stay in their respective castes and/or do menial labour. Note that there is nothing even remotely socialist about such a world, since socialism aims to create a classless, worker-ruled society.

Elsewhere, capitalism in Huxley’s world is seen in the World State’s promotion of consumerism, a constant buying and fetishizing of commodities (“Ending is better than mending. The more stitches, the less riches.”–Chapter 3). Indeed, with the World State’s requiring of its citizens to engage in promiscuous sex (“Every one belongs to every one else.”–Chapter 3), we see even a commodifying of people. In the Hatcheries, where babies, including cloned ones, are mass-produced instead of born the natural way, we see human commodification taken to a satirical extreme.

Speaking of mass production, a worship of Henry Ford has replaced that of Christ; there is even a regular singing of ‘Solidarity Hymns’ to Ford (Chapter 5, part 2). The crucifix is replaced by a T (i.e., the Ford Model T), and A.D. is replaced with A.F., “After Ford,” a new dating system beginning with the year that the first Model T was produced. Ford is honoured because of his development of assembly-line production, which represents the capitalist ideal in World State society. He is so godlike to the World State that expressions like “O, Lord, Lord, Lord,” and “Thank the Lord” are replaced with “O, Ford, Ford, Ford,” and “Thank Ford!” World State citizens worship capitalism just as today’s free market fundamentalists do, with their God-like ‘invisible hand,’ which allegedly guides consumers to making wise decisions in buying products. (I wonder how many of them are aware that such things as their coffee, chocolate, and diamonds are often produced through slave labour in the Third World.) World State citizens, just like so many of today’s conspiracy theorists (who are so above all those unthinking ‘sheeple’), worship capitalism as a religion.

Now, how are the citizens conditioned to be content with their lot, wherever it may be in the caste system? One way is through hypnopaedic conditioning: as children are sleeping, they hear recordings that subliminally teach them to conform. This is comparable to how we passively, thoughtlessly watch TV and accept every entertaining image, as if we were sleeping. TV, movies, and popular music these days are all mindless nonsense, or they bombard us with propaganda, either that of divisive political correctness, or of materialist pleasure (overt sexuality, the ‘He who dies with the most toys wins’ would-be philosophy, etc.). The CIA started influencing world media with Operation Mockingbird back in the 1950s, and it is doubtful if they ever stopped; one of the most influential feminists of the 1970s, 80s, and 90s, Gloria Steinem, who helped in the shift from second wave to third wave and radical ‘Marxist’ feminism, had CIA connections.

Another way the World State controls the people is through a drug called soma, which gives people a high to help them forget their troubles (“A gramme is better than a damn.”–Chapter 3). This is like how disruptive children in the US are constantly given psychiatric drugs to treat conditions like ADHD or ODD. Pharma for profit, rather than for actually helping people. Elsewhere, people enjoy coffee and nicotine to keep them contented workers, and alcohol to make those workers forget their problems over the weekend. Sure, narcotics are illegal (the gradual legalizing of marijuana notwithstanding), but the prison-for-profit industry in America is all too happy to incarcerate drug addicts and traffickers (consider what a failure the ‘War on Drugs’ has been).

Then there’s all that sugary, fattening food we enjoy: our very own soma. Combining that with the dumbing-down of our society, consider what Huxley had to say in Brave New World Revisited: “And now let us consider the case of the rich, industrialized and democratic society, in which, owing to the random but effective practice of dysgenics, IQs and physical vigour are on the decline. For how long can such a society maintain its traditions of individual liberty and democratic government? Fifty or a hundred years from now our children will learn the answer to this question.” (page 21) Indeed, I think we have.

Of course, all these attempts to make the people conform don’t always succeed. Bernard Marx is unhappy because he is too small in physical stature. Lenina is criticized for not being polygamous enough. Helmholtz is too smart and creative a writer for the World State’s insistence on superficial slogans (for example,”A gramme in time saves nine.”–Chapter 6). Still, all three of them are conditioned enough either to want to fit in (Bernard, Lenina), or at least to accept the contrived World State morality (Helmholtz). Even Mustapha Mond owns forbidden literature, and has read it, and though he as a youth had a dangerously inquisitive mind (in scientific matters), he accepts and defends the need to keep conformity as an indispensable part of life, for the sake of social stability.

Another non-conformist, who nonetheless aches to fit into World State society, is Linda, mother of John the Savage. She is branded a whore both in the World State for accidentally getting pregnant (during a visit to a reservation in New Mexico), and in the reservation, where a conservative sexual morality condemns her for sleeping with the aboriginal women’s husbands.

These people are like most of us, who try to conform either to conservative or to liberal forms of morality, but fail to do so, to varying extents. We’re all trapped in a world of pursuing pleasure and social status.

Then there’s the greatest non-conformist of them all–John the Savage. Given the prejudices of conservative Westerners, there is an amusing irony in labelling John–a white man born to World State citizens (Linda and Thomas, the Director of Hatcheries and Conditioning), but raised among aboriginals in the New Mexico reservation–a ‘savage’. Added to that irony is how his conservative morality, including such traditional values as monogamy, piety in family and religion, and a love of classic literature (John constantly quotes Shakespeare), is regarded as uncivilized among the people of the World State. Is this not like the scorn left-leaning liberals have for what they deem to be backward conservative ideas?

While I personally don’t believe in God, I don’t feel the need to stick my tongue out at religious people; as long as they keep their faith to themselves, I’ll tolerate it. Still, many of the New Atheists use their disdain for religion to justify Western imperialism in the Middle East. I’m no defender of anti-woman, anti-LGBT sharia law, but the American invasions of Iraq, Libya, and Syria have exacerbated the problem of Muslim extremism rather than diminished it.

This issue leads to my next point. Though John is a white man born out of wedlock and raised among aboriginals, I find it interesting to compare him to today’s Muslims living in the secular West. Like Muslims in America, Canada, and Europe, John is a fish out of water who has great difficulty adjusting to life in the World State. In chapters 8 and 15, John quotes Miranda in The Tempest, who, when she first sees people not from the island she’s been raised on, says, “O wonder!/How many goodly creatures are there here!/How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world/That has such people in’t.” But quickly, the novelty of the World State wears off, and John comes to despise this new world around him, as many alienated Muslims in the West must feel.

In the World State, notions of marriage, family, and religious tradition are laughed at and even abominated. In our world, such people as radical feminists on the one side (far more influential in the media than many care to admit) and MGTOWs on the other consider straight marriage to be a trap for their respective sex, a life-ruining decision to be avoided. Because of high divorce rates, Western families way too often are broken. And since religious authoritarianism has caused much more pain than given the comfort and black-and-white assurances it so dubiously promises, many in the West feel more than justified in criticizing religion, if not outright lampooning it.

John, however, believes that marriage, family, and religion fill our lives with a meaning that soma, consumerism, and promiscuous sex cannot. Muslims feel the same way, and just as John takes umbrage at Helmholtz’s laughing at Shakespeare’s writing of mothers and marriage (Chapter 12), or Mustapha Mond’s invalidating of religion (Chapter 17) or the values embodied in the literary classics (Chapter 16), so does the Muslim take offence at the stereotyping of his faith as being, essentially, violent fanaticism.

While we sympathize with John’s alienation, we shouldn’t idealize his alternative to the World State’s philosophy of happiness, either. His self-flagellations and over-reliance on Shakespearian poetry to give him meaning lapse into absurdity. The same can be said of the endless conflict between his desire for Lenina and his prudish refusal to satisfy that desire: consider his melodramatic reaction when she makes sexual advances on him, quoting Othello and calling her an “impudent strumpet!” (Chapter 13) Compare these absurdities to the Muslim insistence that the Arabic poetry of the Koran, for all of its undeniable beauty, is the eternal word of Allah rather than man-made dogma and religious laws created to help 7th-century Arabic tribes cope with the socio-economic and political pressures of their time. The Christian fundamentalist has similar problems with his ‘infallible’ Bible, as does the Mormon with his clumsilywritten appendix to the ‘Word of God’.

Again, I can empathize with the isolated Muslim in the Western world, with his people in the Middle East routinely being killed by drone strikes, with countries like Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and Syria needlessly torn apart by Western imperialists (Iran likely to be the next victim), alongside Israel’s endless persecution of the Palestinians, and the media’s constant blackening of his religion. On the other side, freedom of speech, including the freedom to criticize all religions, must be respected. There are no straightforward answers to these problems.

John is right, however, to try to destroy all the soma (Chapter 15). Too many of us indulge in various forms of substance abuse instead of dealing with our problems directly. While smoking marijuana from time to time may be acceptable, it should be legal, and it’s certainly a lot of fun, many people ‘medicate’ themselves with it every day; and research has shown that there is a link–though a by-no-means straightforward one–between constant marijuana use and schizophrenia. Avoiding pain may be preferable to enduring it, but experiencing pain is part of being human; and people like Lenina and Linda are like living corpses when on soma. Indeed, the death of John’s mother (Chapter 14) from excessive soma use is what throws him over the edge.

Bernard and Helmholtz are exiled to far-away islands, these being almost pleasant punishments in Huxley’s dystopia. Indeed, they’re a far cry from Room 101. But John exiles himself, as it were, by leaving the cities and living in an abandoned ‘air-lighthouse‘ (Chapter 18). The nosy World State media and sight-seers, ever fascinated with this ‘savage’, follow him and do news stories of him beating himself. This is comparable to how the American media (mostly controlled by only six corporations) focus on Muslim extremism instead of Muslim acts of kindness and charity (or Muslim condemnation of Islamic extremism), to feed anti-Muslim sentiment and fuel more imperialist aggression in the Middle East, as well as to distract Westerners from many contemporary examples of capitalist corruption, like the Panama Papers.

John just wants to be left alone, just as Muslims want the US military bases out of the Middle East. Lenina wants him, and tries to seduce him again, just as Muslim men must be tempted by all those ‘half-naked’ Western women. Finally, John lashes out at Lenina, shouting “Kill it, kill it, kill it…” This could be compared to the scurrilous behaviour of what seems to have been mostly North African men (mostly not refugees) towards German women during New Year’s Eve, 2015-2016.

John’s attack on Lenina leads to an orgy with the other World State citizens present, in which he participates, to his shame. Overwhelmed with self-hate for having given in to his desire, John hangs himself. His despair is comparable to how many suicide bombers must feel. After all, however one may criticize the world John has been raised in, the World State is clearly much more at fault. The parallels of these two worlds with, respectively, the Muslim and modern Western worlds, should be obvious.

Aldous Huxley, Brave New World, Vintage, London, 2007 (first published in Great Britain by Chatto and Windus, 1932)

Aldous Huxley, Brave New World Revisited, Vintage, London, 2004 (first published in Great Britain by Chatto and Windus, 1959)

Analysis of ‘The Godfather’

The Godfather is a trilogy of films by Francis Ford Coppola, written by him and Mario Puzo, based on Puzo’s 1969 novel. As a trio of crime dramas, its depiction of the mafia is understood to symbolize general corruption in American politics, though I will be carrying my analysis far beyond just that. I will be focusing on the first two films, generally considered to be two of the greatest films ever made; while Part III, being good only in parts (and I don’t think mine is a minority opinion), will be touched on more lightly. I’ll also discuss parts of Puzo’s novel.

In general, the social, political, and economic critiques in The Godfather are those of hierarchy and authority. Mafia families represent competing capitalists, and the Corleone family in particular represents the traditional patriarchal family. Mafia Don Vito Andolini, who would change his surname to Corleone (‘Lionheart’), the name of the town in Sicily where he was born, has “all the judges and politicians in his pocket,” as so many US billionaires do in today’s neoliberal world. Here we see the source of corruption in American politics, or the politics of any other country: capitalism’s use of the state to protect its interests.

Here are some famous quotes from all three movies:

Part I

“Bonasera, Bonasera. What have I ever done to make you treat me so disrespectfully? If you’d come to me in friendship, then that scum that ruined your daughter would be suffering this very day. And if by chance an honest man like yourself should make enemies, then they would become my enemies. And then they would fear you.” –Don Corleone

“I’m going to make him an offer he can’t refuse.” –Don Corleone (ranked #2 in American Film Institute’s list of the top 100 movie quotations.)

“It’s a Sicilian message. It means Luca Brasi sleeps with the fishes.” —Tessio

“Leave the gun, take the cannoli.” –Clemenza

“It’s not personal, Sonny. It’s strictly business.” –Michael

“Times have changed. It’s not like the old days when we could do anything we want. A refusal is not the act of a friend. Don Corleone had all the judges and the politicians in New York, and he must share them. He must let us draw the water from the well. Certainly, he can present a bill for such services. After all, we are not Communists.” –Don Barzini

“Only, don’t tell me you’re innocent, because it insults my intelligence. It makes me very angry.” –Michael, to Carlo

Part II

“There are many things my father taught me here in this room. He taught me: keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.” —Michael (the bolded portion is ranked #58 in the American Film Institute’s list of the top 100 movie quotations )

“If I could only live to see it, to be there with you. What I wouldn’t give for twenty more years! Here we are, protected, free to make our profits without Kefauver, the goddamn Justice Department and the F.B.I. ninety miles away, in partnership with a friendly government. Ninety miles! It’s nothing! Just one small step, looking for a man who wants to be President of the United States, and having the cash to make it possible. Michael, we’re bigger than U.S. Steel.” –Hyman Roth

“I know it was you, Fredo. You broke my heart. You broke my heart!” –Michael

“Fredo, you’re nothing to me now. You’re not a brother. You’re not a friend. I don’t wanna know you or what you do. I don’t wanna see you at the hotels. I don’t want you near my house. When you see our mother, I want to know a day in advance, so I won’t be there. You understand?” –Michael

“Oh, Michael. Michael, you are blind. It wasn’t a miscarriage. It was an abortion. An abortion, Michael! Just like our marriage is an abortion. Something that’s unholy and evil. I didn’t want your son, Michael! I wouldn’t bring another one of your sons into this world! It was an abortion, Michael! It was a son, Michael! A son! And I had it killed because this must all end! I know now that it’s over. I knew it then. There would be no way, Michael… no way you could ever forgive me, not with this Sicilian thing that’s been going on for 2,000 years!” –Kay

“Tom, you know you surprise me. If anything in this life is certain, if history has taught us anything, it’s that you can kill anyone.” –Michael

Part III

“No, I don’t hate you, Michael. I dread you.” –Kay

“Finance is a gun. Politics is knowing when to pull the trigger.” –Don Lucchesi

“Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.” –Michael

“Your sins are terrible, and it is just that you suffer. Your life could be redeemed, but I know you do not believe that. You will not change.” –Cardinal Lamberto, to Michael

The first movie begins with Amerigo Bonasera, an undertaker whose daughter has been beaten by two men who attempted to rape her. Though he begins by saying, “I believe in America” (i.e., ‘the land of the free’), he quickly learns how corrupt the judges are when one of them gives her attackers a suspended sentence, allowing them to go free that very day. Now that he knows that might makes right in America as much as it does everywhere else, he comes to the mafia for ‘justice’, to have them killed.

This corruption of justice is similar to how social services offered by the state decline in effectiveness due to corruption or insufficient funding from taxes, then (as Noam Chomsky once pointed out) we go to the private sector for these services, which are given only for a price, as Don Vito will expect a favour in return one day from Bonasera for beating up his daughter’s attackers. After all, Vito is only a moderate mafioso/capitalist, who knows that killing the “scum that ruined [Bonasera’s] daughter” isn’t justice, since she’s still alive.

Bonasera, in his naïveté about how the mafia does things, assumes he can simply pay Vito to have his soldiers murder her two attackers. Having unwittingly insulted Vito, Bonasera learns the importance of getting Vito’s “friendship”, which leads to the beating up of the two men “as a gift on [Vito’s] daughter’s wedding day.” This friendship shows the hypocrisy in the Corleone family, in how they try to pass themselves off as decent people, always keeping up appearances, the way the bourgeoisie does in general.

The juxtaposition of Bonasera’s failed attempts at protecting his daughter with the wedding day of Vito’s daughter Connie, is an interesting one. In the traditional patriarchal family, a girl’s marrying into another family involves her father giving her away to her husband-to-be, an old protector being replaced by a new one. Throughout most of this scene, Vito is so busy granting requests that he can rarely, if ever, leave his office and participate in the wedding party outside. After all, no Sicilian can refuse a request on his daughter’s wedding day, symbolizing the honour and love he has for her.

Here we see the contradictions inherent in the patriarchal family: the overzealousness with which ‘our girls’ must be protected leads to a failure to protect them; Vito’s symbolic honouring of his daughter by granting all wishes on her wedding day leads to his hardly ever being with her until the end of the party, a symbolic failure to protect. Similarly, he does nothing to help Connie when her husband Carlo beats her later, rationalizing (in the novel, Book IV, Chapter 16, page 238) that she should submit to Carlo’s authority, and saying the rest of the family shouldn’t interfere with her and Carlo’s private business (an attitude Vito’s wife, Carmela, agrees with).

Bonasera has been very lax in his protection of his daughter, allowing her to stay out late drinking with the two men who assault her; but the failure to protect Connie, coupled with overzealous protectiveness, is symptomatic of the failure of the Corleone family to protect themselves in general, as we’ll explore later.

The corruption that the mafia represents extends to Hollywood, where movie producer Jack Woltz is intimidated into giving a role to Johnny Fontane, a singer/actor the producer hates for having made him look bad. The corruption Woltz represents is seen in his lecherous taste in underage girls, one of whom we learn has been in his bedroom when consigliere Tom Hagen has visited (this lechery is evident in the novel, Book I, Chapter 1, pages 62-63, and in one deleted scene in the movie).

All of the mafia families represent competing capitalists, but Don Corleone is only a moderate capitalist, wanting nothing to do with the heroin business Virgil Sollozzo wants to bring into New York. The Tattaglia family, as well as that of Barzini, wanting Corleone to share his political and police protection so they can get in on the new heroin business, represents the expansion and accumulation of capital, and its growing evil.

The conflict of interests between the Five Families, with Corleone’s on one side and the other four opposing him, represents the contradictions inherent in capitalism. The war that erupts between the Corleone and Tattaglia families symbolizes those contradictions escalating into an economic crisis, for indeed, as the war continues, Tom warns Sonny, who is acting Don while Vito’s in hospital, that business is suffering. Similarly, Clemenza tells Michael that these wars have to happen every (five or) ten years or so…the same time period that, sans Keynesian state interventions, usually comes between economic crises. The violence and killings can thus be seen to symbolize the suffering caused by capitalism’s instability.

Capitalists typically deny malicious intent, as do these gangsters. Sollozzo tells Hagen,”I don’t like violence, Tom. I’m a businessman. Blood is a big expense.” Sonny, Tom, and Michael all repeat the mantra that this mob violence is nothing personal–it’s just business…when Michael’s wish to kill Sollozzo for trying to have his father killed, as well as the corrupt cop McCluskey for breaking his jaw, is clearly personal (see also the novel, Book I, Chapter 11, page 145).

Indeed, bringing Michael into “the family business”, when he was originally intended by Vito to be a senator or governor in the “legitimate”, respectable part of society, shows how capitalism seeps into everything, a corruption we’ll continue to see spreading through the rest of this movie/novel and its sequels.

Michael goes into hiding in Sicily, where he wishes to see the town of Corleone, to get a sense of his family roots. Here we see beautiful countryside as well as simple town life, a pleasant contrast to the harsh modern life of New York City. This idyllic life suggests how the world was before capitalism grew into the monster it is today.

Still, there are dangers in Sicily that Michael must be wary of. Apart from all the deaths from local vendettas, the Italian-American mafia is trying to find and kill him in revenge for Sollozzo and McCluskey. This symbolizes how capitalism, in an earlier stage of development, is creeping into rustic Sicilian life, as it had in the enclosures of the Commons in 18th-century England. On the other hand, a deleted scene in the movie shows a group of communists marching about Sicily, hoping to recruit new members. Fleeting references to communism appear here and there in the first two movies, like a spectre haunting Europe, America, and Cuba. The class war is growing.

Meanwhile, back in America, Sonny learns that Carlo, sore that he’s being excluded from the family business, has beaten up Connie. Though Sonny has previously been warned not to interfere by his mother, echoing Vito’s insensitivity to Carlo’s increasing abusiveness, the hothead beats up Carlo, warning he’ll kill him if he ever hurts Connie again. The intensity of the beating that Sonny gives Carlo shows the dangers of zealous over-protection, since violence only begets more violence. Indeed, Carlo plots with Barzini to have Sonny gunned down, and beats up Connie to lure Sonny to his death.

Vito, still the moderate gangster, wants no revenge, but instead arranges a meeting of the Five Families to end the war. Barzini and Tattaglia complain about Vito’s refusal to cooperate in the new heroin business, which would have resulted in giving the other families police protection. But we learn that “times have changed”, and police and politicians now can be bought to ensure safety from prison in the new drug business. At one point, Barzini reminds us that the mafia “are not communists.” Of course not: mafia are capitalists…and capitalists are mafia; that’s what The Godfather is all about.

One significant part of the class conflict caused by such systems as capitalism is racism. Earlier, Sonny mentioned how “Niggers are having a good time with [Corleone] policy banks in Harlem”. During the meeting of the Five Families, Don Stracchi says his men leave the drug trafficking among “the dark people, the coloureds. They’re animals, anyway, so let them lose their souls.” The others at the meeting seem to agree to this arrangement, and ‘peace’ is achieved between Corleone and Tattaglia.

Michael returns to America, and is now the new Don of the Corleone family, Vito having retired. Michael meets Kay, his old American girlfriend, and asks her to marry him. While he gives an empty promise that the Corleone family will be “completely legitimate” one day, he also tells her the cynical reality that senators do have men killed, just as the mafia does. Of course they do: politicians do much of the dirty work of capitalists, because the state works for capitalism…even though right-libertarians promise that a laissez-faire form of capitalism will purify the market of state corruption. But instead, when Michael has the other heads of the Five Families all killed, and he becomes the sole mafia head in New York, we see symbolically how laissez-faire, in wiping out competition (thanks to the tax cuts and deregulation that give large corporations an unfair advantage over small businesses), leads to the very crony capitalism, or monopoly capitalism, it claims it will eradicate. (For a thorough discussion on how that happens, look here.)

The killing of all those men happens in a particularly chilling way: Michael is standing as godfather to Carlo’s and Connie’s baby, telling the priest in the cathedral that he does “renounce Satan”, and that he believes in God the Father, Jesus, His Son, and the Holy Spirit! ‘Godfather’ is a perfect name for this movie, as well as for Vito and Michael, for it exemplifies the authoritarian nature of the mafia, of capitalism, of religion, and of the traditional patriarchal family, all in one fell swoop. This scene, in which Michael ruthlessly pretends to be a good Christian while knowing full well that a bunch of people are about to be brutally murdered (Stracchi, shot in an elevator by Clemenza; Moe Greene with a bullet in his eye; Cuneo, shot by Cicci in a revolving door; Barzini, shot by Al Neri-who’s dressed as a cop [in the novel, he’s a former cop who used to beat people with a large flashlight–Book VIII, Chapter 30, pages 413-414]; and Tattaglia, shot in bed with one of his prostitutes, by Rocco Lompone), starkly shows the hypocrisy of the bourgeoisie in its pretence of virtue.

To top everything off, when Michael tells Carlo these men were all killed by his orders, he tells Carlo that he has “settled all family business.” Just like a capitalist. And having promised he won’t make Connie a widow, Michael has Carlo garrotted by Clemenza.

With the Corleone move to Las Vegas, hence the killing of Moe Greene, we see how capitalism expands and accumulates, wiping out the competition. First, there was the Genco Olive Oil business in New York; now, there’s the gambling business in Nevada.

Though one would imagine Connie to be grateful to her brother for ridding her of her abusive, adulterous husband, she’s in tears and furious with Michael. When she tells Kay about the murders of the other heads of the Five Families, saying, “That’s your husband! That’s your husband!”, frowning Kay asks him if it’s true. He lies and denies it, of course, and the first movie ends with her frowning, suspecting the lie. An outtake shows Kay in church lighting candles, and the novel ends with her praying for Michael.

Part II begins with Vito Andolini as a nine-year-old boy in Corleone, Sicily. His whole family gets killed by the local mafia, whose chieftain is Don Ciccio, and he must leave before they find and kill him. He emigrates to New York.

The smaller mafia of Corleone, like the family Vito establishes in New York, can be seen to represent the early stages of capitalism. The scenes that follow his rise (also in Puzo’s novel, Book III, Chapter 14) alternate with scenes of the continued story of Michael as Don of his father’s family. These contrasting scenes symbolize capitalism’s seemingly benevolent beginnings and ugly maturation.

In late 1950s Nevada, we see Michael’s growing business empire. We also see more of the pretence of respectability in the party celebrating his son’s First Communion at Lake Tahoe. Michael meets with Senator Pat Geary about getting a gaming licence. In a combination of prejudice against Italians and a disgust with mafia corruption (though he’s no better), the senator wants an exorbitant bribe for the licence; he also bluntly insults Michael’s family to his face. Michael, always one to defend his family and their honour, insists that the hypocrisy of his business and Geary’s government doesn’t apply to his wife and children. Their innocence is always protected: that’s why the family business is never discussed around them…even though they know full well that Michael’s business is anything but innocent.

Geary’s wish “to squeeze” Michael could be seen to represent the agenda of left-leaning or social democratic governments, which tax capitalists as much as possible. Indeed, the post-war world seen in The Godfather, Parts I and II, and continuing up till the 1970s, saw the rich being taxed much more than they are today. Geary’s later hypocritical praise of Italian-Americans during Michael’s trial can be seen to indicate the phoney, would-be egalitarianism promoted by the politically correct aspects of the left, always expressing sympathy for the darker-complexioned, but typically leaving the Third World in the lurch.

When Geary is caught in a Fredo-run whorehouse with a bloodily murdered prostitute (apparently killed by Al Neri to blackmail Geary into helping the Corleone family), he is assured by Tom Hagen that he is safe. From then on, Geary is fully on Michael’s side. Here we see a symbolic indication of how the capitalist class can get even ‘left-leaning’ politicians to represent right-wing interests, as would happen increasingly with the Clintons and the Democratic Party in America, and with Tony Blair in the Labour Party in the UK.

Meanwhile, we have the usual capitalist contradictions symbolized in the competing families of Michael, Pentangeli, and Hyman Roth, as well as the Rosato Brothers. Racism and capitalism tend to go hand in hand, hence Pentangeli’s antisemitic attitude towards Roth and his use of racial slurs against blacks and Hispanics.

When an attempt is made on Michael’s life, in his and Kay’s bedroom, he quickly crawls over to her, covering her body with his. Here we see one of the main purposes of sex roles: the male obligation to protect women, the nucleus of matriarchy within every cell of the traditional patriarchal family, which is seen elsewhere in Michael’s preoccupation with whether or not the unborn child in Kay’s womb is a boy.

We see the spread of capitalism represented in the presence of mafia families in Nevada (Corleone), New York (young Vito and Pentangeli), Florida (Roth), Sicily (Ciccio), and Cuba, where Michael and Roth meet with Fulgencio Batista, who felt no discomfort allowing foreign capitalists, including the American mafia, to exploit his impoverished people. Interestingly, this visit to Cuba happens when Fidel Castro’s communists take over.

On the night when the Cuban Revolution prevails, around midnight on New Year’s Eve/Day in 1959, all the capitalists, including Michael and his older brother Fredo, must get off the island. Music (<<at 2:30) reminiscent of an early section of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring (a ballet about a human sacrifice) is heard, suggesting the brutality of the material conditions necessary to bring about revolution: the brutality of the extreme contradictions of capitalism that cause the whole system to come tumbling down.

And indeed, brutal contradictions reach even to the extent of the Corleone’s family’s integrity, for Michael has learned who the traitor in his family is, the one who made a secret deal with Roth and Johnny Ola–Fredo. This indicates one of the main themes of Part II: betrayal.

Pentangeli feels betrayed by Michael, since Michael’s business dealings with “that Jew” Roth undermine Pentangeli’s ability to deal with the Rosato Brothers; Roth feels betrayed by Michael, his business partner, when he’s learned that Michael gave the order to kill Moe Greene, a fellow Jewish gangster. Michael feels betrayed not only by Fredo, but by Kay when she tells him the unborn male child in her womb didn’t die of a miscarriage, but was aborted (the look of rage on Al Pacino’s face here is, in my opinion, some of his very best acting). Michael ultimately betrays his whole family by having Fredo killed by Al Neri, who mercifully allows him first to do a ‘Hail, Mary’ prayer.

Once again we see, in the Corleones’ overzealous wish to protect the family, they end up killing their own.

Kay aborts the son out of a wish to end the mob violence; Michael has Fredo killed out of a wish to punish and therefore deter treason. This self-destructive cycle of violence and revenge can represent the contradictions of capitalism: the excessive lust for profits (a wish to protect oneself financially) creates huge wealth inequality and imperialist wars (symbolized by all the mafia violence), resulting in the poor not being able to buy much of anything, stopping the circulation of money and commodity exchange, and leading to financial crises.

Going back to the story of young Vito, he must deal with Don Fanucci, The Black Hand, who can be seen to represent either a competing capitalist or the feudalism that preceded capitalism. There was never any feudalism in American history (apart from British hegemony over the early American settlers, provoking the American Revolution), of course, but we’re discussing the language of symbol here. Vito’s killing of Fanucci (who, like feudal lords’ taxing of their vassals and peasants, wants a cut of Vito’s money in exchange for his ‘protection’) can thus be compared to bourgeois uprisings like the French Revolution in 1789, or the one that brought about the Republic of China in 1911.

As Vito’s mafia family rises in power, including the creation of his Genco Olive Oil Company in the 1920s, we see his benevolence towards an old lady whose landlord wants to evict her. This kindness and growth in power are comparable to the generosity that the bourgeoisie claims to have; they justify their class privileges by pointing out the raised standard of living they create (while neglecting to mention how they alone enjoy the vast majority of the benefits of that economic growth); they also talk about donating to charity, instead of trying to change society’s material conditions, such that charity becomes no longer necessary.

Estes Kefauver’s investigations into the mafia in the 1950s are reflected in Michael’s trial. The state’s attempt to put him in jail can be compared to the postwar period in American history when greater state regulation, including higher taxes for the rich, reduced income inequality and produced a large middle class. But Michael manages to beat Questadt, who is working for Roth, by implying a threat to the life of Pentangeli’s brother (who has just flown in from Sicily) if Pentangeli testifies against Michael. Symbolically, this shows that, even when capitalism is regulated by the state (or because it is regulated, because of competing interests–i.e., Roth), it is still corrupt to the core. Nothing can reform it.

In spite of this ever-present capitalist corruption, some communists have acknowledged the necessity of a capitalist stage superseding feudalism, before the world is ready for socialism. The temporary period of young Vito’s benevolent bourgeois rule can be seen in this light; but by the time Michael takes over, the oppressiveness of capitalism can no longer be ignored.

In Part III, we see Michael about twenty years after the end of Part II, racked with guilt and trying to redeem himself by going completely legitimate at last, after years of failing to keep this promise to Kay, whom he’s divorced. His wish to control International Immobiliare, a real estate holding company known as “the world’s biggest landlord”, must have no mafia connections at all. To his dismay, he learns that those involved in Immobiliare, such as Lucchesi, are either mafiosi or are connected with them…including the Vatican. A cigarette-smoking archbishop named Gilday, who attempts to swindle Michael out of his money, symbolizes Church corruption.

Elsewhere, Michael meets a good man of God, Cardinal Lamberto, who receives Michael’s tearful confession; though, like Hamlet’s uncle Claudius, Michael cannot repent, since to do so necessitates giving up his money and power, as well as being incarcerated for his crimes. Lamberto is Pope for a brief time, then a plot by Archbishop Gilday, Lucchesi, and Keinszig results in him being served poisoned tea.

Michael’s gifts to charities, as generous as they are, also cannot redeem him. Kay watches his show of goodwill, and is disgusted at the hypocrisy she sees. She actually prefers him as a common hood; his pretence as an ‘honest’ businessman makes him even more dangerous now. As we can see, all attempts to reform and legitimize capitalism fail, for it is inherently criminal. It always has been, and it always will be.

And again, try as Michael might, he cannot protect his family from danger; he tries to get out of the mafia, and they pull him back in. He wants Vincent Mancini to stay away from his daughter Mary, Vincent’s cousin, for her safety, but she is shot and killed. Finally, Michael dies alone in the garden of a Sicilian villa as an old man. The self-destruction of capitalism and authoritarianism is complete.

Mario Puzo, The Godfather, Signet Fiction, New York, 1969 (30th anniversary edition)

Analysis of ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’

Nineteen Eighty-Four is a dystopian novel written by George Orwell in 1948 and published the following year (the title of the novel seems to come from a reversing of the last two numbers of the year he was writing it). It is a political satire whose main target is the Stalinist USSR, but it can also be seen to satirize any totalitarian society, such as Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, Francoist Spain, or even contemporary neoliberalism and the intrusive state apparatus that protects today’s capitalist class.

Given the current geo-political climate, I find it irresistible to compare Orwell’s Hell with ours today; and because this story is so rich with possible political interpretations, I will explore many of those here. Not all of these necessarily reflect my own personal political beliefs, but they’re here to show all the interpretive possibilities in such a literary masterwork.

Some right-libertarians like to misuse this novel, as well as Animal Farm, to suggest that Orwell was attacking socialism as a whole (while, adding to that, idiotically saying that Fascist or Nazi totalitarianism was also a brand of socialism, of which it was really the opposite). Actually, Orwell was committed to the ideal of democratic socialism; these two literary criticisms of Stalinism really show his anti-authoritarianism, not anti-socialism. His book, Homage to Catalonia, clearly shows his sympathies for a worker-ruled society.

In the 1930s, however, neither Stalin nor the leftist media, which propagandized for him, was very sympathetic to the Spanish Revolution, on the Republican side of which Orwell fought in the Spanish Civil War; indeed, they denied that a socialist revolution was even going on there, because Stalin wanted to control the Spanish Republicans and purge them of Trotskyists and anarchists. Instead, Stalin’s meagre support of the Republicans against Franco‘s right-wing coalition of Nationalists was in the name of ‘defending liberal democracy’, not socialism, in order to appease Britain, France, America, and he hoped, get their help in fighting Nazi Germany later on. This Soviet betrayal of the Spanish leftists was what embittered Orwell against Stalin.

So, the ‘socialism’ that Orwell was criticizing in Nineteen Eighty-Four wasn’t really socialism per se; rather, Stalinism, as Orwell saw it, was a perversion of socialism, a bureaucratized bastardization of it, as symbolized by the Newspeak corruption of Oceania‘s ‘English socialism’ into ‘Ingsoc’ (this ‘socialism in England’, as opposed to worldwide socialism, suggests Stalin’s ‘socialism in one country‘). Similarly, Eurasia‘s political system is called ‘Neo-Bolshevism‘, implying a corruption of Leninism; and Eastasia‘s system is a kind of ‘Death-Worship’, or ‘Obliteration of the Self’. This religion-like quality brings to mind aspects of Juche in North Korea, with its infallible ‘Great Leader’, who does all the masses’ thinking for them. In other words, Orwell was satirizing authoritarianism, not socialism.

In fact, the Ingsoc short form resembles the Nazi short form for Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei. This suggests the state capitalism of fascism rather than socialism, since all left-leaning Nazis (except Goebbels) were purged from the party when Hitler came to power, propped up by big business. Moreover, the first people put in Nazi concentration camps were leftists. So Big Brother’s moustache may not only represent Stalin’s, but also Hitler’s. Not only Big Brother, but also BIG BUSINESS IS WATCHING YOU.

Another interesting concept in this novel is doublethink, in which two contradictory ideas can be simultaneously true. It can be considered a corruption of the notion of Marxist dialectics, when contradictions in material conditions are contemplated, and a unity seen in the contradictions leads to a refinement of one’s philosophy, then to be contradicted and refined, again and again. But where dialectics bring out a refinement, or improvement, in philosophy, doublethink uses contradictions for the sake of self-serving politicians.

Winston Smith‘s name was deliberately chosen by Orwell, suggesting the character’s everyman quality through Smith, a common English surname, and his anti-totalitarian stance (Winston, i.e., Churchill…not that Churchill is any kind of hero to self-respecting leftists, mind you; and just as we shouldn’t idealize Stalin, nor should we ignore Orwell’s faults). Indeed, the juxtaposition, Winston Smith, could be seen as an example of doublethink in itself: Winston Smith indicating that, if you will, IMPERIALISM IS POPULISM; after all, for all of Orwell’s faults, he always despised British imperialism, of which Churchill was its personification at the time, despite his anti-fascism.

Julia, as Winston’s love interest, suggests Juliet.

As members of the Outer Party, Winston and Julia are in a position analogous to the middle class (the Inner Party being the ruling class state capitalists, and the ‘proles‘, or proletarians, being the working class). Oddly, the Outer Party members are the most repressed in this society, since they are the biggest potential threat to the Inner Party. The proles, on the other hand, are given more lenience, since they, in their ‘low-class’ ignorance of political matters, are more easily controlled through pleasurable distractions (pornography, beer, football, etc.).

This acute repression of the middle-class Outer Party seems to presage the near-annihilation of the middle class by neoliberalism over the past thirty to forty years. Though Orwell’s novel has only a totalitarian state as the collective antagonist, we must remember the principles of doublethink. Since WAR IS PEACE, FREEDOM IS SLAVERY, and IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH, then, if you will, the FREE MARKET IS STATISM, too.

As I’ve argued elsewhere, deregulating capitalism and giving tax cuts to the rich allows them to accumulate obscenely large amounts of wealth, enabling them to buy corrupt politicians; elsewhere, they can use free trade deals (more deregulation) to get cheap labour overseas instead of paying local, unionized labourers; and endless imperialist war means profits through the sale of weapons, and through the plundering of Third World resources. All of this results in more private property that needs protection, hence the state expands rather than contracts, contrary to the fantasies of right-libertarians. The ‘free market’ (of which there really is no such thing, anyway) creates crony capitalism, or another kind of state capitalism.

Winston Smith’s job in the Ministry of Truth–whose short form, Minitrue, suggests the half-truth nature of the propaganda it spreads (TRUTH IS LIES, if you will)–is to eliminate all elements of the past considered politically troublesome to the Inner Party. He will eliminate all evidence of the existence of anyone guilty of thoughtcrime, those now rendered unpersons, just as Stalin used to take old photos including people considered enemies of the state and eliminate them from the pictures, so no memory of the hated people remains.

Similarly, today’s capitalist class can rely on us to forget the past provocations (e.g., the CIA giving money and weapons to Bin Laden and the mujahideen in the 80s, America and other Western countries aiding Iraq by helping develop chemical weapons during the Iran/Iraq War, the US creating the conditions out of which ISIS arose) that have led to the ‘War on Terror‘. Instead of blaming Western imperialism, we blame Muslims, just as the people of Oceania spit out their hostility to Emmanuel Goldstein during the Two Minutes Hate, then swoon in ecstatic adoration of Big Brother, whose Inner Party is their real oppressor.

Interestingly, the remaining part of the globe that isn’t a part of Oceania, Eurasia, or Eastasia–the disputed area where most of the war is going on–is most of Africa, much of the Arab world, and all of southeast Asia, or the Third World, which is the area most oppressed by Western imperialism today. How little things change.

The people of Oceania shout so loudly at the video of Goldstein–a Jew just like Leon Trotsky, so hated by Stalin; yet also a man representative of all the Jews, so hated by Nazis and today’s antisemites among the conspiracy theorists–that not one word of his can be heard. This is like how so many people today, so committed to one ideology, hate its antithesis so virulently that they won’t listen to its despised ideas. The ruling class, like the nomenklatura or the fascist totalitarian state, always makes sure we hate the wrong people.

The cult of personality surrounding Big Brother–just like that of Stalin, Hitler, Mussolini, Mao, or even, arguably, Obama–makes him into a Godlike figure in opposition to the ‘devil’ Goldstein. Here we can see a critique even of religious authoritarianism: Jesus is Lord, but the liberal left are the spawn of Satan; Allahu Akbar, but the West is the Great Satan; etc. Accordingly, we aren’t even sure if Big Brother exists (or Goldstein, for that matter), as with God or the Devil. Big Brother is like a kindly older brother who protects us from bullies, but we sometimes forget that an older brother himself often bullies us, too.

The notion, ‘Who controls the past…controls the future: who controls the present controls the past,’ is pregnant with thought-provoking interpretations. It expresses the essence of propagandistic white-washing of the past. The current regime is free to vilify whoever was in power previously, comparing the present state of affairs favourably to that of the past by showing only the light side of now and only the shadows of yesterday. And in perpetuating this propaganda, the current regime will ensure that future generations have the ‘correct’ opinions.

Consider how synagogues, churches, and mosques have all blackened the memory of their pagan or secular predecessors or enemies, to ensure that the flock remains faithful. And not only did Stalin’s regime denigrate the names of ‘revisionists’ and ‘reactionaries’ like Trotsky to ensure the survival of his rule, but today the capitalist class portrays socialist states like the USSR (misusing Orwell, as we know) as evil dictatorships to discourage any reconsideration of socialism in today’s neoliberal society.

Similarly, the memory of the Black Panther Party is vilified to deter anyone in the struggle against white racism. Conservatives stereotype feminists as all being like Andrea Dworkin or Catherine MacKinnon to discourage any move away from traditional sex roles; while, on the other side of the coin, radical and third wave feminists propagandize about the past and about ‘patriarchy’ to justify current gynocentrism. And apologists of Western imperialism exaggerate the jihadist history of Islam to deaden sympathy for Muslims. The list of examples can go on and on.

Everywhere in Airstrip One, a deliberately dull choice for a name for England, there are telescreens, or two-way televisions through which the Inner Party and the Thought Police can watch everyone 24/7 in order to catch ‘thought criminals’. Today’s telescreen is the ubiquitous internet surveillance, through not only the NSA and other government organizations out to get any subversive types they can find, but also through capitalists who monitor all our online shopping and other interests to present us with products they hope we’ll waste our money on and fatten their wallets. Consumerism distracts us from activism.

Marriages and other relationships are bereft of affection in Orwell’s Hell, as they are in much of today’s society, with almost half of Western marriages ending in divorce. People would rather stare at a smartphone, tablet, or computer than communicate face to face with people; the emotionless conversations of all Outer Party members, including the public chats of Winston’s and Julia’s, reflect this grey reality. And while Winston is already guilty of thoughtcrime from the first word he’s written in his journal (actually, from when he bought it), it’s not until he and Julia have become lovers, copulating for their mutual enjoyment (‘sexcrime’) instead of for the sake of producing offspring for the state (‘goodsex‘), that they are finally arrested.

And when they are arrested, the symbolism is powerful. Winston and Julia–made to hold their hands behind their heads–are completely naked in the second-floor room of Mr. Charrington’s shop (he secretly working for the Thought Police). The lovers’ nakedness symbolizes their vulnerability and powerlessness, their secrets all known while their fully-clothed intruders needn’t worry about their own secrets being known.

Held in the Ministry of Love (a place of torture), Winston sees not only the usual police rough-housing of prostitutes and other common criminals among the proles, but also the detainment of Tom Parsons, a character known for his sycophantic adherence to Big Brother. Even a bootlicker like him can be a thought criminal! Parsons, a man who happily incorporates the corruption of English known as Newspeak into his speech, has been betrayed by his own daughter, a member of the Party Youth, who are like the Hitler Youth, or like today’s Social Justice Warriors, typically being young university students who have been fully indoctrinated in political correctness by the mainstream corporate media and the corporately controlled universities.

Newspeak is in itself a fascinating concept. Syme speaks of the beauty of the destruction of language. If no words exist for a concept, for example, freedom, then that idea won’t exist anymore, either. This is comparable to how political correctness tries to eliminate bad ideas by doing away with all those words associated with unacceptable ideas. Apparently,  if we dispense with words associating a job with only one sex–businessman, stewardess–and replace them with ‘gender-neutral’ language–businessperson, flight attendant–social attitudes will change such that people won’t be tricked into thinking that these jobs are exclusive to one sex or the other (Never mind that at least a whole generation using politically correct English has gone by, and there are still far more businessmen than businesswomen, and far more female flight attendants than male ones.). Similarly, if we do away with ‘ableist’ language–‘retarded’ as a synonym for stupid–it seems that people will stop showing contempt for mentally handicapped people (Never mind that the still-used words idiot, cretin, imbecile, and moron were once words used for mentally disabled people.).

In today’s world, we hardly need a totalitarian state to condemn someone for thoughtcrime. Merely use the ‘wrong’ vocabulary, or tell a politically incorrect joke, and the masses will go mad on Twitter, Facebook, or other social media, doxxing and shaming you, or destroying your career and reputation by spreading the word about what a ‘bad person’ you are. Though today’s militarized police are certainly frightening, we the common people are our own Thought Police. And remember: “Thoughtcrime does not entail death, thoughtcrime IS death”.

Winston’s next shock is seeing O’Brien, the man who gave him Goldstein’s book (The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism, a parody of Trotsky’s The Revolution Betrayed), come into the room. But the greatest shock is knowing that O’Brien hasn’t been helping the resistance (which, incidentally, is called The Brotherhood), but has been working with the Thought Police all along. Like O’Brien, so many of us only seem to be against the system: ‘anarcho’-capitalists, who oppose the state, but support an economic system that can’t exist without the state; bickering leftists who get hung up on minor ideological differences instead of building solidarity, and betray each other in the manner described in the above paragraph; or ‘Democratic’ leaders like Obama who at first claim to want to ‘spread the wealth around’, then end up serving the same ruling class as eagerly as the Republican Party.

Along with the physical torture that O’Brien subjects Winston to, there is also psychological manipulation in the form of gaslighting. This includes bullying Winston into acceding that 2 + 2 = 5. Those in power can coerce or trick us into accepting all kinds of nonsensical beliefs, including the notion that more capitalism (the ‘free market’) is the solution to the evils of our current capitalist system, which apparently is so merely because the state is involved in it. Just minimize or remove the state and its regulations, and capitalism will be ‘purified’, demagogues like Ron Paul tell us. This is also what the Koch brothers have always said; and instead of liberating society, all their political influence has intensified our troubles. FREEDOM IS SLAVERY.

O’Brien burns pictures of the unpersons Aaronson, Jones, and Rutherford by dumping the photos down a memory hole, saying the men never existed, the lack of extant evidence of their existence being ‘proof’ of their never having existed. That they still exist in Winston’s mind is evidence only of his ‘mental illness’. This is like how authoritarian societies of all kinds, whether left or right-wing, disregard all memory of past offences, pretending they never happened, then pretend that defiant people are mentally ill (i.e. oppositional defiant disorder). “If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face–forever,” O’Brien tells Winston.

Finally, Winston must be brought to ‘love’ Big Brother. Of course, to love Big Brother is to be a traitor to oneself, as loving Stalin was betraying the working class (from the anti-Stalinist point of view, at least), or loving Hitler was betraying Germany. To make Winston betray himself and Julia, he is brought to Room 101, with the cage of hungry rats strapped to the front of his face.

Earlier in the novel, he shrieked at the sight of a rat in Charrington’s second-floor room, when he was with Julia; later, Charrington revealed himself to be a rat, having informed the Thought Police of Winston’s and Julia’s affair. Now, Winston sees terrifying rats right before his face.

While, on the surface, his fear is of having his face destroyed by the rats, on a deeper level, his fear of them symbolizes his fear of himself as a rat, about to betray Julia. Seeing those rats is Winston looking at his own mirror reflection (all of which raises the question of how self-conscious Orwell may have been of his own ratting out of pro-Stalin communists). Those in power, whether they be Stalinists, fascists, religious fanatics, or capitalists, always stay in power by making us betray ourselves. Winston the anti-authoritarian is Churchill the imperialist.

We all long for freedom, but when the pressure is on, when we’re taken out of our comfort zone, our spirit is broken, sooner or later, as Winston’s is. We lack the necessary backbone; we are too complacent, especially in the First World; we lack true revolutionary potential. We all give in, and then everything is all right, we’re finished with the struggle, and we resume our obedient following of authority.

We love Big Brother.

Analysis of ‘Animal Farm’

Animal Farm is a novella written by George Orwell and published in 1945. Written in the form of a ‘fairy story’ with talking farm animals, it is a satirical political allegory of the first twenty-five years or so of Soviet Russia. It has been said that almost every detail of the story allegorically represented something of political importance from early Soviet history.

Orwell was prompted to write Animal Farm (and Nineteen Eighty-Four) by his disquieting experiences as a Republican soldier in the Spanish Civil War, fighting with the POUM, an anti-Stalinist Marxist group who were slandered by the Stalinists as Trotskyist, and, more fantastically, as sympathizing with Franco. In Homage to Catalonia and numerous letters, he wrote of how inconsistently the USSR was ‘helping’ the Republican side, who should have been their allies as fellow leftists. Stalin seemed more interested in making alliances with the capitalist West (i.e., England, France, and America, whose ‘neutral,’ non-interventionist policy actually aided the Fascists) against the growing threat of Naziism, and in crushing any manifestations of Trotskyism among the Spanish communists, than in helping his comrades in Spain. Hence, the leftist media, following the Stalinist agenda, denied the socialist revolution going on in Spain at the time, insisting instead that the struggle against Fascism was about preserving ‘liberal democracy’. Indeed, what Stalin really wanted was to crush the Spanish revolution. Hence, Orwell’s bitterness against the USSR. Now, let’s look at the allegory of Animal Farm.

Mr. Jones, the owner of the Manor Farm, represents Tsar Nicholas II and the Russian capitalist class. The Manor Farm, therefore, represents Russia in the 19th and 20th centuries, up until World War I.

Old Major, an aging pig that hasn’t long to live, represents Karl Marx and, to a lesser extent, Lenin (later in the story, Old Major’s skull is reverently put on public display, recalling Lenin’s Mausoleum). So his speech, in which he describes the deplorable state of the overworked, underfed farm animals, represents the conditions of the disenfranchised working class in 19th century England, as described in Capital, as well as autocratic, tsarist Russia in Lenin’s writings. Old Major’s prophecy of a day when the animals will revolt against Jones and take over the farm represents Marx’s prophecy of the eventual collapse of capitalism and the workers seizing control of the means of production in a communist revolution.

When Old Major warns of the danger of the animals adopting human vices, and becoming as oppressive as man is after emancipating themselves, this can be seen as a reflection both of Orwell’s and Marx’s later anti-authoritarian stance (in the Grundrisse and The Civil War in France), as opposed to his more statist stance in The Communist Manifesto.

After Old Major dies, the animals prepare for the day of revolution, with the pigs in leadership positions; this represents how, after Marx died, Lenin and his vanguard party, the Bolsheviks, led the working class in Russia in preparation for revolution there.

Jones is kinder to Moses, a raven that promises ‘Sugarcandy Mountain’, a kind of animal heaven, to all hardworking animals on the farm. Moses thus represents the Russian Orthodox Church, an authoritarian structure propped up by the tsar and ruling class, to placate the frustrated workers and keep them under control.

Finally, on a day when Jones has got too drunk to remember to feed the animals, they rebel against the farmhands and kick them off the farm. Even Jones and his wife run off, with Moses flying close behind her. This moment represents the abdication of Tsar Nicholas II and of the Russian Revolution of October 1917, when Lenin and the Bolsheviks took power.

The feeling of freedom is exhilarating for the animals, as it must have been for the Russian  communists in 1917. The animals change the name of the farm, from the Manor Farm, to Animal Farm. A green flag, with a white hoof and horn crossing each other, is hoisted on a flagpole; it obviously represents the red communist flag, with the hammer and sickle.

The pigs being the smartest of the animals, just like the educated Bolsheviks, have the animals go into the fields to begin the harvest after the pigs have milked the cows. Later, it is discovered that the milk has gone missing. The Seven Commandments, painted on the barn wall, suggest a religious-like idealism for the new values of ‘Animalism,’ which represents communism, but which may also be a pun on anarchism, since full communism includes a withered-away state; also, the Bolshevik bureaucracy hadn’t developed in Russia yet. Finally, there was Nestor Makhno‘s anarcho-communist Free Territory in the Ukraine.

Not accepting defeat easily, the humans mount a counter-attack, just as the capitalist class did in Russia in 1918. The Battle of the Cowshed, which involves men from other farms helping Jones retake his farm, thus represents the Russian Civil War of 1918-1922, in which the White Army of the capitalist class included help from capitalists from other countries, like the US. The farmers lose the Battle of the Cowshed, being chased off the farm thanks in particular to the bravery of the pig Snowball; just as the White Army lost the Russian Civil War thanks to the leadership of Leon Trotsky (whom Snowball represents) and the Red Army.

Before this battle, the pig Napoleon has already secretly taken in a litter of puppies to rear them. This represents the secret machinations of Stalin (Napoleon) and his rise to power. Later, we learn that not only the milk but also the apples are being eaten by the pigs rather than shared by all the animals. This privilege represents the continuing bureaucratization of the Soviet Union, with the Bolsheviks creating a hierarchy of power, as well as advocating working with reactionary unions and bourgeois parliaments (though only when considered justified and necessary), the kind of thing that German and British Left Communists were complaining about even under the rule of Lenin, who dismissed his critics as having ‘an infantile disorder‘.

Mollie doesn’t like living on Animal Farm; she prefers the old days when men ran the farm and gave her sugar and ribbons for her mane, to make her look cute. She’s been caught by her animal comrades taking secret gifts from humans, and she eventually leaves Animal Farm to live on another farm. She represents how women can be as bourgeois as men; and even though Orwell was unlikely to have known Ayn Rand, Mollie can be seen to represent such pro-capitalist women, who left Russia with their noses firmly out of joint.

Ideological struggles begin to grow between the pigs. Snowball advocates encouraging animals all over the farms of England to revolt against their human masters; for if all farms become like Animal Farm, there will be no need to defend them against humans, since the revolution will be complete. Napoleon, on the other hand, prefers focusing on protecting Animal Farm alone, getting firearms and learning how to use them. This discord represents the ideological rift between Trotskyism and permanent revolution on the one side, and Stalinism and ‘socialism in one country‘ on the other.

Similarly, Snowball proposes building a windmill to provide electricity for the farm; this, he promises, will reduce the workload for the animals and make their lives much easier. In this, we see that Snowball, though mostly based on Trotsky, also has a bit of Lenin in him, since Lenin wanted to promote electrification in the USSR; one need only read Lenin’s writing, ‘Communism and Electrification’, from 1920: “Communism is Soviet power plus the electrification of the whole country.” [Lenin’s emphasis] (Tucker, p. 492-495). As S.A. Smith says in The Russian Revolution: “Productivism was evident in Lenin’s enthusiasm for electrification, which he avowed would ‘produce a decisive victory of the principles of communism in our country’ by transforming small-scale agriculture, by eliminating drudgery from the home, and by dramatically improving public health and sanitation.” (p. 104)

(Incidentally, I find it interesting how Lenin, represented slightly in Old Major and here in Snowball, doesn’t have his own pig to represent him in full. Odd.)

Napoleon rejects Snowball’s idea, even pissing on his windmill drawings; but after having his now-fully-grown dogs (which represent the secret police of the USSR) chase Snowball off the farm, he later pretends that the windmill was his idea all along.

The chasing off of Snowball represents the exile of Leon Trotsky after he lost the power struggle with Stalin in the mid to late 1920s. Napoleon’s adoption of the plan to build the windmill, and the three attempts to build it, represent Stalin’s three Five-Year Plans to industrialize the Soviet Union, carried out mostly during the 1930s.

The animals are getting suspicious of the pigs, as were many communists of the bureaucracy in the USSR. Napoleon is now doing business with humans, namely, Mr. Whymper, trading hay, some of the wheat crop, and the chickens’ eggs for urgently needed things in order to build the windmill…but later on, also to obtain such things as booklets on brewing and distillery, for liquor. Weren’t the animals forbidden to drink alcohol, according to the Seven Commandments? Wasn’t the whole reason for ridding themselves of their human masters that the animals were to keep all the products of their labour? Weren’t all humans the enemy (‘four legs good, two legs bad’), never to be associated with?

The end of the regular animal meetings on Sunday mornings represents the fading of the influence of the Soviets, or workers’ councils, the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat‘ replaced by a dictatorship of the vanguard. Napoleon doing business with the humans represents Stalin doing business with American capitalists like Ford Motor Company.

During one bitter winter, the animals’ food falls short, and they are faced with starvation. This represents the Great Famine of 1932-33.

Unwilling to part with their eggs, the chickens revolt against the pigs, and are rounded up by the dogs. The chickens, along with other animals said to be guilty of ‘treason’ against Animal Farm, are executed. This killing represents the Great Purge of the 1930s, which killed such high-profile communists as Nikolai Bukharin, and also Stalin’s use of state terror to keep his people in line. Napoleon even has the song ‘Beasts of England’ replaced with one praising him.

Napoleon is doing business with Whymper and other farms, making deals with Frederick‘s farm and Pilkington‘s (or trying to), as Stalin did with Nazi Germany (i.e., the non-aggression pact, purging the USSR of Jews, etc.) and tried to do with England. Clearly, Animal Farm isn’t so much different from other farms, as Stalin’s regime was much like any other.

The Seven Commandments are being increasingly modified, and thus discarded: the pigs are sleeping in beds, they have given themselves licence to kill any animal that is a threat to them, and they can even get drunk if they like.

Orwell is often criticized on the grounds that he never set foot in the Soviet Union; but his observations were largely confirmed by Milovan Djilas (who personally met and worked with Stalin on several occasions) in such books as The New Class and Conversations With Stalin. A new Russian elite was replacing the old, tsarist one; capitalist imperialism was traded in for Soviet imperialism. This would explain such things as the meagre help Stalin gave the Spanish communists and anarchists in the late 1930s.

In Conversations With Stalin, Djilas noted, “It is time something was said about Stalin’s attitude toward revolutions, and thus toward the Yugoslav revolution. Because Moscow abstained, always in decisive moments, from supporting the Chinese, Spanish, and in many ways even the Yugoslav revolutions, the view prevailed, not without reason, that Stalin was generally against revolutions. This is, however, not entirely correct. He was opposed only conditionally, that is, to the degree to which the revolution went beyond the interests of the Soviet state. He felt instinctively that the creation of revolutionary centres outside of Moscow could endanger its supremacy in world Communism, and of course that is what actually happened. That is why he helped revolutions only up to a certain point–up to where he could control them–but he was always ready to leave them in the lurch whenever they slipped out of his grasp.” (pp. 92-93)

Now, the erosion of animal rights needn’t symbolize only the erosion of workers’ rights in the USSR: this erosion can also represent such things as the change from liberation movements in the 60s and 70s into such mutant forms of today as political correctness, postmodernism, social justice warriors, and identity politics. The struggle against racism, sexism, homophobia, etc., was carried out with much more solidarity forty years ago than it is today. Interestingly, forty years ago, neoliberalism hadn’t quite gotten off the ground yet, either. Hmm…

The decision by farmers led by Mr. Frederick to go in and take back Animal Farm for human control results in the violent Battle of the Windmill, so called because the second windmill has been dynamited (by Mr. Frederick and his men). This battle represents the Nazi invasion of Russia during the Second World War, since Frederick represents Hitler, who, contrary to right-libertarians’ portrayal as a ‘socialist’, was as much a whore to big business as any other capitalist politician. The violence of this battle corresponds to that of the Battle of Stalingrad, often considered the bloodiest battle in military history.

A third windmill is finally built, at the cost of Boxer‘s life: its construction represents the completed transformation of the Soviet Union from an agrarian country to an industrialized superpower. But all the benefits of the windmill go to the pigs, who are now wearing clothes and walking on their hind legs! No longer do the sycophantic, mindless sheep bleat ‘four legs good, two legs bad’; now, it’s ‘four legs good, two legs better‘! The Seven Commandments have been replaced with one: ‘All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.’ This chilling commandment can be seen to represent not only the New Class, the nomenklatura of the Soviet bureaucracy set up and bloated by the Leninists and Stalinists, but also the reverse discrimination championed by politically correct-thinking social justice warriors.

That said, however, Orwell was not trying to attack all forms of leftism, as the right-libertarians like to think. Indeed, the political right is fond of misusing Orwell for their own propagandistic purposes, as this CIA-funded cartoon movie of Animal Farm shows. This movie’s depiction of the Soviet Union, as with every right-wing distortion of socialism, paints a much darker portrait of Stalinism than even Orwell had intended.

Ironically, the Stalinists and Maoists also seem to think Orwell was opposed to all of socialism. Actually, he was opposed only to authoritarian forms of socialism, as well as to Fascism.

Now, sometimes Orwell’s antipathy to the USSR went too far, and the attitude he had towards blacks, gays, and Jews does him no credit at all. Furthermore, one shouldn’t be too negative towards Stalin. After all, his Red Army marched into Berlin and defeated the Nazis. And his transformation of Soviet Russia, from a backward agrarian country into a modernized superpower, within just a few decades, can only be described as impressive.

The vices of Bolshevik rule tend to be exaggerated, too. Not all of Leninist authoritarianism can be so simplistically reduced to government corruption. Much of the bureaucratization, especially in the wake of the Russian Civil War, was inevitable, as S.A. Smith observes in The Russian Revolution–A Very Short Introduction: “The massive problems of recruiting, feeding, and transporting the Red Army, of squeezing grain from an unwilling peasantry, and of overcoming parochialism and inertia at the local level created irresistible pressures to centralize decision-making at the apex of the party. Moreover the constant emergencies of war fed the pressure to take instant decisions and to implement them forcefully, with the result that the party came increasingly to operate like an army.” (p. 66)

What’s more, polls have been taken in Russia, repeatedly indicating that the majority of Russians would prefer a return of the USSR. Surely, Soviet Russia wasn’t as bad as Orwell was portraying it. All this said, though, apart from the collectivization of the farms, was the USSR genuinely socialist?

Orwell’s opposition to the USSR was based on the Stalinist reality that he’d experienced in Spain (i.e., the repression of the POUM), and it wasn’t a condemnation of socialism as a whole. Consider what he had to say about anarchist Catalonia:

“It was the first time I had ever been in a town where the working class was in the saddle. Practically every building of any size had been seized by the workers and was draped with red flags or with the red and black flag of the Anarchists; every wall was scrawled with the hammer and sickle and with the initials of the revolutionary parties; almost every church had been gutted and its images burnt. Churches here and there were being systematically demolished by gangs of workmen. Every shop and café had an inscription saying that it had been collectivised; even the bootblacks had been collectivised and their boxes painted red and black. Waiters and shop-walkers looked you in the face and treated you as an equal…All this was queer and moving. There was much in it that I did not understand, in some ways I did not even like it, but I recognized it immediately as a state of affairs worth fighting for.” (Homage to Catalonia, from Orwell In Spain, pp. 32-33)

“As far as my purely personal preferences went I would have liked to join the Anarchists.” (Homage to Catalonia, p. 116–not from Orwell in Spain)

These are hardly the words of an anti-socialist.

His point about the pigs being indistinguishable from the humans was that the Soviets were indistinguishable from Western capitalists. Soviet ‘socialism’ was really just state capitalism, with the state–rather than the workers–controlling the means of production. This is why the Marxist state never withered away, or even approached such fading.

As Milovan Djilas explains in The New Class: “In the course of industrialization, the property of those elements who were not opposed to, or even assisted, the revolution is taken over. As a matter of form, the state also becomes the owner of this property. The state administers and manages the property. Private ownership ceases, or decreases to a role of secondary importance, but its complete disappearance is subject to the whim of the new men in authority.” (p. 30)

The pigs’ meeting with the humans at the end of the story represents the Tehran Conference of Stalin with Churchill and Roosevelt. Calling the farm ‘the Manor Farm’ (note the pun on man in Manor) again shows the reality of state capitalism rather than real socialism. Napoleon and Mr. Pilkington accusing each other of cheating when they both play the ace of spades simultaneously is an anticipation of the troubles of the Cold War.

Now, Orwell’s criticism of authoritarianism isn’t limited to the bullying of the Stalinists. He was also pointing out the weakness and conformity of the animals, who blindly follow whatever propaganda the pigs throw at them. Boxer, though loveable, isn’t very smart. His motto, “I will work harder,” is noble, but foolish. His getting up earlier and earlier in the morning to lift heavy rocks for the building of the windmills is what causes his death. Even more foolish is his saying, “If Comrade Napoleon says it, it must be right.” We mustn’t idealize our leaders, or be too willing to sacrifice ourselves for them, expecting a reward that will never come. Boxer never gets the retirement he’s deserved.

And whenever a commandment on the barn wall is altered, the animals passively accept it, imagining they have just forgotten that it has always said what it only now says. Indeed, those in authority often exploit our tendency to forget what has happened even as little as, say, ten years ago; thus, they trick us into making the same mistakes we’ve made so many times before.

Part of ending authoritarianism is the vigilance of the people to root it out whenever it’s seen. There will always be power-hungry people out there, ready to subvert justice for their own selfish ends. We, the people, have to keep watch against such demagogues, never letting their guile get the better of us.

Indeed, a similar corrupting of the ideals of personal liberty can be seen in the rise of contemporary neoliberalism. In the 1970s and 80s, right-libertarians (a kind of ‘Old Major’ in their own right) promoted the idea of the ‘free market,’ insisting that too much government regulation was bad for the economy, and akin to Stalinism. Deregulation and tax cuts ensued, allowing the rich to grow into the super-rich of today.

Ironically, instead of resulting in greater liberty, all we’ve seen is the kind of centralization that comes from capitalist accumulation, which Marx wrote about in Capital. Instead of less government, we have more of it, thanks to the excessive influence that the super-rich have over politicians (consider Hillary Clinton’s ties to Wall Street).

With the growing of capitalism has come the growing of imperialism and the ‘War On Terror.’ Now the state interferes with our lives more than ever, but the right-libertarians propagandize that the problem is too much ‘socialist’ government, rather than too much capitalism. Today, Napoleon and the pigs aren’t the state capitalists of the USSR; now, they’re all just plain capitalists, pretending to be anti-statists.

Today, Orwell’s story is more relevant than ever, if for reasons totally different from the original ones.

S.A. Smith, The Russian Revolution: a Very Short Introduction, Oxford University Press, New York, 2002

Robert C. Tucker, The Lenin Anthology, W.W. Norton and Company, New York, 1975

Neoliberalism’s Unwitting Dupes

Introduction

About half a year before the beginning preparations for this essay, I published another called The ‘Right’ Definition of Socialism?  I received a generally positive response to it (from the few who actually read it); about the only criticisms I got from it at the time were my clumsy conflating of the terms ‘social democracy’ and ‘democratic socialism,’ as well as my far-too-facile description of the Nordic model as socialist (social democratic was what I meant), when the Scandinavian countries’ political and economic systems would be more accurately described as hybrids of capitalism with strong welfare states.  Oh, well: no blogger is perfect.

I did get one other criticism, though.  It came from a free marketeer who, in a brief rant, called my arguments “silly”; apparently fond of that word, he used it several times in the paragraph he typed.  From what I gather, he’d read only to the passage where I said, “we’ve been drowning in [laissez-faire] for over thirty years,” and decided that what I’d been arguing was so “silly” that he didn’t need to read any further, where I would eventually explain what I meant, namely, that the ‘free market’ has been increasingly dominating world politics and economics since the 70s and 80s.  No criticism of what I said later was ever mentioned.  So, he probably read about one-fifth of my essay, and felt he knew my entire argument just from having read that much.  Hmm…

What was the basis of his judgement that my line of argument was “silly”?  As any ‘anarcho’-capitalist will tell us, it is “impossible” (his word, I must emphasize) for the free market and the state to coexist; bear in mind that later in my essay, I not only explained how they can coexist, but also must coexist.  He addressed none of that section in his rant, hence my very safe assumption that he never read that far (unless his cognitive dissonance conveniently blotted out that part from his memory).

He then accused my writing style of having been full of “histrionics”: now I’m aware that I’d used exclamation marks and italics occasionally, but I’m not aware that my arguing had involved histrionics (just as I suspect he wasn’t aware of his own histrionics in his rant against me).  I’ll leave it to you, dear reader, to judge whether my writing of that essay, as well as this one, is a flurry of “histrionics”.

He finished off his rant by dropping a number of names of writers for me to read, and therefore enlighten my terribly uninformed mind.  I’m afraid I never bothered to commit those names to memory, so I suppose I’ll never enjoy that enlightenment (perhaps if he’d simply told me what insights those writers had for me, instead of just giving me a reading list, I would have been more convinced of his point of view, one that, frankly, was even more weakly argued than the one I’d got from the Facebook troll who inspired my last essay).  Therefore, still shrouded in ignorance, I will respond to his position in this essay.  After all, the following arguments, already largely dealt with in my previous essay, obviously must be given with more emphasis and elaboration to cut through all that cognitive dissonance.

I: Not a Laughing Matter

It is easy to laugh at right-libertarians and their naive, ill-informed opinions, but there’s actually a danger with so many people thinking the ‘free market’, with its ever-increasing deregulation and ending of provisions for the poor and disadvantaged, is the solution to contemporary problems.  More chimeric still is the idea that the free market will end crony capitalism instead of intensifying it.  This delusion of free marketeers only adds to the neoliberal agenda.

On Facebook pages like Still Laughing at ‘Anarcho’-Capitalism (SLANCAP) and Ancap vs. Ancom Debate, anarcho-communists (an-coms) and anarcho-syndicalists like me, indeed, laugh at the ideology of ‘anarcho’-capitalists (an-caps), who really should just call themselves capitalists or free marketeers, since, as I explained in my previous essay, and will again explain below (for such is an-caps’ adamant refusal to listen that these explanations must be ever repeated), anarchism and capitalism cannot coexist.

Now, Martin Luther used to propose laughing at the Devil to make him go away; but the advocacy of capitalism is a kind of ‘devil’ we leftists cannot get rid of merely by laughing at it, as the admins of SLANCAP have observed of every annoying an-cap troll on that page.

However clownish my comrades and I may find the free marketeers’ feeble attempts at logic, churned out like so many fetishized commodities, we must remember that those fools are really the useful idiots of the very cronies they claim to be opposed to, as I will try to prove.  It doesn’t matter how well we can out-argue them: they are unwittingly helping the mindless capitalism that is destroying everything.

II: The Relationship Between the State and Capitalism

An-caps dream about a stateless capitalist society, but anyone with a brain knows such an idea is beyond utopian.  Capitalists need the state, its laws, and police enforcement to protect private property.  This isn’t rocket science: it’s common sense, and it is why many socialists are also, like me, anarchists…the genuine kind.

On the other side of the coin, if the state seizes control of the means of production (nationalization), instead of the workers taking control (as we anarcho-communists would have it), capitalism still wouldn’t disappear.  Instead, the state would simply become the new capitalists.  The socialist state might use government revenue generously and create universal healthcare and education, as well as other welfare programs to help the poor, but the state would still be the new boss.  Indeed, Milovan Dilas’s New Class theory is all about how the bureaucratized Soviet Union created a new ruling class (the Nomenklatura) in spite of its promise to create a classless society.  Similarly, countries with mixed economies can each be seen as a kind of state capitalism, with their mix of private and state control of the means of production.

So as we can see, the state and capitalism are always together in some form or another.  They are eternal lovers, and so to get rid of the one, we must get rid of the other.  Both Romeo and Juliet must die.  Even Marxist-Leninists, in a way, imply an acknowledgement of this reality in their theorizing.  Once all capitalist societies around the world are annihilated, all the transitional socialist states–set up to replace the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie with that of the proletariat–will become superfluous.  The state won’t be abolished, Marx and Engels say, it will die out.  It will wither away.  No more capitalism, so no more state.

The common explanation given by the average an-cap to explain our current–and ongoing–political and economic woes is to claim that the cause isn’t capitalism per se, but rather ‘crony capitalism,’ or ‘corporatism.’  To leftists, such verbiage is redundant.  Now for the an-cap, the solution isn’t to eradicate capitalism, but to ‘purity’ it somehow.  As the free marketeer sees it, the current incarnation of capitalism is controlled by the state, and therefore corrupted.  What he cannot see is that he has the problem upside-down: it is capitalism that is directing the state; this is how things have been ever since capitalism emerged and began replacing feudalism several centuries ago.

An-caps imagine that the solution to our problems is to have free market capitalism, something they bizarrely think has never truly existed.  Supposedly, if the state exists, and with it taxes, regulation of the economy, and the like, then ‘real’ capitalism never has existed.  This is a would-be clever evasion of responsibility for all the havoc capitalism has caused around the world, except for the fact that no leftist is buying such a disingenuous excuse.

Of course, every benefit of the modern world that we enjoy–every convenience, our smartphones, our computers, and all our other forms of the latest technology–is the creation of a capitalism that ‘has never existed,’ rather than made by over-worked, underpaid factory workers; so we socialists are hypocrites, apparently, for making use of such technology (the fact that socialists need to participate in this economic system in order just to survive, apparently, is no excuse).  But I digress…

More to the point, though: why should we believe that the solution to our woes is an intensification of the same neoliberalism we’ve already been increasingly enduring for the past thirty-five to forty years?  Now we must understand what the ‘free market’ really is.

III: What Is the Free Market?

An-caps subscribe to a predictably simple-minded definition of the free market, and therefore of capitalism in general: the total absence of a state, leaving businesses to buy and sell freely, and to compete fairly, without any government favouritism.  We would thus have a level playing field, where employers and employees make ‘voluntary’ agreements: bosses can pay their workers as little as they like, and make them work as long a set of hours as they wish.  Workers would be content in this Never-never land, or if not, they would be ‘free’ to quit and perhaps start their own businesses…though how they would get such an opportunity, with such small scraps of a salary, is never explained.  Still, we’re expected to buy into this idea uncritically and think, What joy!  What bliss!  Indeed, I can see Julie Andrews now, twirling in an Austrian (!) field, singing, “The hills are alive with the sound of markets!”  (I hope my histrionics aren’t irritating you too much, dear reader.)

What makes this definition so ridiculously obtuse is not so much its Randian utopianism, but also its dichotomous absolutism, with black capitalism on one side and white centralized government on the other.  The truth is that the free market and regulation exist on a continuum of varying shades of grey: sometimes more regulation, sometimes less.

Furthermore, it isn’t a matter regulation per se: regulation is a matter of which things ‘ought’ to be regulated, and which not.  Is it regulation for the sake of workers’ rights?  Is it regulation to stop businesses from harming the environment?  Or, as in the case of regulating against monopolies, is it regulation for the sake of fairness in the market?  That latter kind of regulation can prevent the crony capitalism that an-caps claim only an absolutely free market can prevent.

What must be emphasized, ultimately, is that there is no one objective definition of the free market.  With varying extents of regulation or deregulation appealing to different capitalists’ or socialists’ needs, how could there be only one?

I don’t subscribe to this writer’s proposed solutions to our economic problems by any stretch of the imagination, but as Ha-Joon Chang relates in his book 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism, regulations are like the invisible strings holding up kung fu fighters in movies: we don’t see them, but they’re still there (see pages 3-6, Penguin Books, London, 2010).  Many of the laws that we consider humane today, such as those against child labour, were considered unjust from the point of view of free market advocates in the 19th century.  Do an-caps want to return to that kind of barbarism?  Judging by the not only callous but outright bizarre comments made by an-caps about allowing rape or murder in a stateless society, it doesn’t seem too much of a stretch to assume that many of them do want such a return (In my previous essay, The ‘Right’ Definition of Socialism?, scroll down to the SLANCAP meme to see what I’m getting at.).

Unlike the regulations analogous to the invisible strings of movie kung fu fighters, though, there are other regulatory strings that are more like the strings on UFOs in low budget movies: strings obvious to most people, but always missed by an-caps, those Ed Woods of politics.  How would a stateless capitalist society be able to protect the capitalists’ private property?  Regardless of one’s attitude towards the validity or invalidity of ‘property rights,’ surely common sense would cause even advocates of private property to realize that a state, its laws, and police would all be necessary to keep the capitalist system intact.

IV: The Free Market and the State Must Coexist

An-caps make all kinds of absurd counterarguments in their vain attempts to invalidate this simple fact, ranging from weird ideas like getting their guns and firing at all thieves trying to break in and seize their property (I wonder if the an-caps plan to take amphetamines and stay awake 24/7 so they’re always on guard.  Will their employees do it for them?  How do the an-caps know their hired guards won’t turn on them?), to employing security services of some kind (privatized police, in other words).  With this latter idea, the ‘free market’ will ensure, apparently, that ‘rational self-interest’ will motivate these competing businesses of capitalist cops to do a much better job of protecting property rights than state police, with its monopoly on force and, therefore, lesser incentive to do a better job.  We pay the cops, and they curb crime.  This might work…if you’re rich.

How are the poor supposed to get protection with such a system, when their pay is so low (no more state-enforced minimum wage, not even a shitty one) they can barely even support themselves?  This question remains unanswered.  And what of the benefits of privatized police for the rich?  How will that pan out?  This should not be too difficult to figure out.  These hypothetical security services will either be each preferred by each of the many competing companies, making them essentially the soldiers of rival mafias, or the most successful of them will be the shared police force of all Big Business in Ancapistan, the less successful police companies being merged with and/or acquired by the top one.  Laws will evolve, giving structure and justification for the new system…and voila!  We have a free market STATE.

Police in their present incarnation are already contemptible as it is.  In fact, they’ve always been contemptible.  They’re bullies with bullets.  Can one even begin to imagine how thuggish they would be in Ancapistan?

Here’s the thing about an-caps: the particularly stupid ones clearly haven’t carefully thought through how their utopia will be; the more intelligent (and thus more disingenuous) ones secretly know that it was never their intention to pulverize the state–they merely want to privatize it.  Put another way, they want to do what successful right-libertarians have already largely done.  They want to be the cronies of their own corporatism.

That ‘real’ capitalism would result in a level playing field, with perfectly fair competition, is false both to capitalism and to human nature.  The very competitive nature of capitalism not only makes rival businesses want to come out on top–using any sleazy method they can possibly come up with, including taking advantage of state favouritism–but also compels those businesses to do so.  Companies not only want to win in competition, they need to win; and considering all the difficulties a company may have in achieving a victory, it isn’t surprising that many would use quick, easy ways to get that victory, including government regulation in their favour at the expense of their rivals.

Still, an-caps can’t imagine how their idealized conception of ‘true capitalism’ could possibly have a state propping it up.  Of course, they have it all arse-backwards, as they do so many things.  They imagine that the state has capitalism in chains.  And of course, these chains are generally some variety of an abhorrent tyranny called socialism!

Apparently, not only communism, social democracy, and anarchism (the real kind, mind you) are examples of the socialist despotism of the state (Gosh: anarchism, too?), but, according to right-libertarians, so are Fascism, Nazism (whose National Socialist German Worker’s Party is a name taken too much at face value), and, bizarrely, the Obama administration.  Ergo, the state and capitalism must be mutually exclusive.  Bollocks.

V: The Free Market and the State Can Coexist

Firstly, the state is frequently oppressive, enough for anarchists like me to oppose it, but it isn’t always so in an absolute sense.  Some are clearly worse than others.  While Salvador Allende’s vision of a socialist Chilean state is far from my own ideals, I would have preferred it over Augusto Pinochet’s free market, authoritarian nightmare any day.  The worst states are generally right-wing monstrosities, like his, Hitler’s, Franco’s, or the Bushes’.  The best states may be socialist, or quasi-socialist, but are unreliable, as the hopes of creating a just society tend to degenerate into bureaucracies that either result in some kind of Stalinism, or create a Nomenklatura New Class.

Secondly, socialism needs to be clearly defined, and free of right-wing propaganda.  Socialism advocates a worker-ruled society.  Some socialists advocate using the state to make a transition from capitalism to classlessness (either through a revolutionary vanguard, as the Leninists would have it, or through gradual nonviolent voting, as the social democrats would have it).  Others, like me, want a revolution, then complete anarchy immediately afterwards.  We all want liberation; we don’t want anything redolent of tyranny.

Many right-libertarians subscribe to the ideas discussed in Jonah Goldberg’s book, Liberal Fascism, which contends that there is much that was left-wing in Mussolini’s Fascism, and in Nazi Germany, and much that has been fascist in the American Left.  Goldberg’s weakly-argued thesis was actually meant as a kind of devil’s advocate rejoinder to the Left’s frequent labeling of conservatives in general as ‘fascists’.  Now, admittedly, the Left does tend to use the label of ‘fascist’ too…liberally…to describe our ideological enemies.  Fascism does refer to a more specific ideology than the popular use of the term does.

But to describe socialism as synonymous with fascism is patently absurd.  Painting all conservatives with the same fascist brush may be a stretch, but to paint all leftists with it, even those of the authoritarian variety, is just plain wrong.  There have been times when demagogues like Joseph Goebells spoke the language of socialism, and fascism in theory may mix elements of left and right; but this all must be put in its proper political context.

Fascists were essentially political opportunists.  In the 20s, Hitler indeed railed against capitalism (as well as communism) to steal as much of the vote of the Left as he could, and gained the following of left-leaning men like Goebells, Ernst Rohm, and the Strassers.  But when he came to power, and had the backing of Big Business, he moved the German state decisively to the Right, and purged the Nazi Party of all left-leaning members, including Rohm and the Strassers, during the Night of the Long Knives.  The only remaining left-leaning Nazi, Goebells, was deeply saddened to see only the Nationalist agenda fulfilled, but not the Socialist aspect.  Rohm and the Strassers were similarly disappointed: hence their assassinations.  And the first people to be put into the concentration caps were socialists: communists, anarchists, and social democrats.  If Nazis were socialists, they were pretty strange ones.

Predictably, Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany backed the right-wing coalition of Nationalists led by Francisco Franco during the Spanish Civil War of 1936-1939; this coalition combined Catholics, monarchists and the fascist Falange party, all of whom felt it was their mission to ‘save’ Spain from the influence of new, modern ideas like…socialism!  When the Francoists won, all communists and anarchists were brutally repressed.

Since Fascism is supposed to be a Third Position between capitalism and communism (the closest it really comes to being socialist, which isn’t saying much), the Falangists were opposed to free market reforms.  But in 1959, Spain was forced to adopt such reforms because it was facing near bankruptcy, and while there was economic liberalization of a sort that right-libertarians love (the Spanish Miracle), all other aspects of Francoist repression and state brutality remained intact.  The free market and an oppressive state went hand in hand.

Francoist Spain isn’t an isolated case of the free market and a tyrannical government existing side by side.  Another noteworthy example is when the democratically elected Chilean socialist government of Salvador Allende was toppled by a CIA-backed coup that brought the brutally authoritarian Augusto Pinochet to power in 1973…the other September 11th.  Pinochet’s political opponents suffered terribly: between 1,200 and 3,200 people were killed, up to 80,000 people were put in concentration camps, and as many as 30,000 were tortured while he was in power.  Through the influence of the Chicago Boys, Pinochet’s government (1973-1990) also introduced free market reforms, which resulted in the ‘Miracle of Chile,’ but also created terrible economic inequality: wages decreased by 8%, budgets for education, health, and housing decreased by over 20% on average, and trade unions were restricted.  In 1988, 48% of Chileans lived below the poverty line, and a referendum paved the way for the reestablishment of democracy in 1990.

Finally, we must look at how Reagan’s and Thatcher’s economic reforms show the growth of the free market in the context of the state.  The four pillars of ‘Reaganomics‘ were a reduction in the growth of government spending, reductions in taxes, less government regulation, and a tightening of the money supply to reduce inflation.  He wanted a return to the free market economics that had preceded FDR’s New Deal and Keynesian economics.  As a result, there was a rise in homelessness during Reagan’s first term and a sharp rise in it just after his second had ended.

Free market ideas grew under the administrations of George W. Bush, Clinton (aspects of his administration, anyway–i.e., NAFTA, the Welfare Reform Bill of 1996, and the subsequent budget compromise of 1997), and Obama (the so-called ‘socialist’), in spite of (rather because of) Big Government.  Bear in mind NAFTA, which had its roots in the free trade agreement between the US and Canada in 1988, then came into full form, including Mexico, in 1994.  This sort of thing has ballooned into globalization, in which worldwide free trade benefits only the wealthy in all countries.  Indeed, free trade is really just thinly-disguised capitalist imperialism.

Thatcher similarly introduced free market reforms in the UK, restraining government spending and giving tax cuts to the rich.  Tony Blair and Gordon Brown largely continued these policies despite being of the Labour Party; indeed, the name of that party seems historically to have been little more than just a name.  This kind of catering to the capitalist class is the essence of the neoliberal agenda, and an-caps are willfully blind to all the evil it causes.

These free market reforms have also been made, to give a few examples, in Australia under Bob Hawke and Paul Keating in the 1980s and 90s; also, in New Zealand under Finance Minister Roger Douglas since 1984, continuing in the early 90s with Ruth Richardson; and in Japan under Koizumi from 2001 to 2006.  Also, free market influences came in the 1990s in the form of the Washington Consensus, forged by the World Bank and the IMF; free market ideology is also espoused in prominent media such as the Financial Times and The Economist.  There were a few moderately Keynesian changes in the 2000s, but things have nonetheless remained largely laissez-faire.

What again must be emphasized is that free market ideals like deregulation and tax cuts don’t have to be absolutes in order to exist in essence.  These laissez-faire ideas can, however, increase incrementally over the years, as they most obviously have.  Only someone who is either ignorant of history, or unwilling to have his or her an-cap biases challenged by simply doing some reading to see the abundant proof, would not be aware of the monster that laissez-faire has grown into over the past three or four decades.

The problem with an-caps is their absurd notion that the free market can only exist with absolutely no state.  No credible proof is ever given that such a state of affairs must be: it is ‘true’ merely because an-caps say it is true.  This sort of thing is the essence of religious dogma.  One must accept the idea of stateless capitalism on faith.  The idea cannot be tested or falsified, because it is only theoretical.  Like ‘praxeology,’ there is no empiricism used to verify its validity.

To anyone with a modicum of common sense, however, the free market, as opposed to heavy regulation and high taxes, exists on a continuum from a minarchist black to a Keynesian dark grey, then a social democratic light grey, then a Marxist white, if you will.  Minarchism, or capitalism with minimal state involvement, is the closest an-caps will ever come to realizing their chimerical dream…and even the realization of as little as that is highly doubtful.  For what is minimized in ‘minarchy’ isn’t the state’s monopoly on force per se, but socialist safety nets for the poor.

VI: As the Free Market Expands, the State Expands

Capitalism is all about growth and expansion: that’s why it’s called capitalism.  The capitalist is ever trying to acquire more and more capital.  Commodities are sold as exchange values, profits are made, there is reinvestment, and more factories, more branches of businesses, and more commodities are produced and sold, starting the cycle all over again.  This cycle goes round and round, and there are no limits to capital’s growth, or at least there mustn’t be any limits.

With this increase in the amount of private property, there must be a proportionate growth in the state apparatus to defend the capitalists’ gains.  Not that I agree ideologically with Lenin, but he was right to point out that imperialism is the highest stage of capitalism.  When capitalists have run out of markets in their own countries, they must seek out new markets in other countries.  This is the basis of modern-day imperialism.  It isn’t the state all by itself that causes all these horrible wars; it is the corporations, for which the state is a whore, that cause them.

Capitalist countries create, or propose to create, free trade deals like NAFTA, TTIP, and TPP to do such things as procure cheap labour from Third World countries.  Wars are fought because there are profits to be made off of them.  Small wonder America has military bases in countries all over the world: this is the state in the service of capitalism.

So, we have all this economic liberalization all over the world, laissez-faire capitalism with a fully intact state, and that state is expanding into the size of a monster in a Japanese kaiju film.  Hence the perpetual ‘War on Terror,’ NSA spying, and militarized police brutality in America.

VII: So, What Can An-Caps Hope For?

An-caps need to understand that unfettered capitalism is the problem, not the solution.  The free market is not the ‘liberating’ utopia they think it is.  Laissez-faire doesn’t free us from the state’s monopoly on force, it brings the state into existence, more and more.  They imagine that it’s a choice of either the free market or the state, so if one is opposed to capitalism, one must be a ‘statist.’  I don’t know how many times we an-coms have held our heads in our hands in sorrow from hearing such a ridiculous false dichotomy.

Though I consider a Keynesian-style mixed economy to be preferable to the grotesque income inequality caused by the free market, that is only because anything is preferable to laissez-faire.  An-caps seem to forget that the high standard of living enjoyed in the First World during the Golden Age of Capitalism in the mid-twentieth century was to a great extent due to Keynesian capitalism, not the free market variety.

That said, I don’t ultimately want Keynesianism, either, because it allows the ruling class to stave off revolution by throwing a few bones at the poor.  I worry that if Keynesianism is revived, and the wolf of the working class is kept at bay for a few decades, another economic crisis, like those of the 1970s, could bring the free marketeers back, reviving the neoliberal nightmare for ensuing decades.  For, regardless of whether Keynesian or laissez-faire, capitalism is still capitalism, resulting in wealth inequality and economic crises.  I want liberation from that roller-coaster forever, and I see anarchism as the cure.

Here’s what the an-caps miss: capitalism is an inherently unstable system, given to frequent economic crises or recessions, over and over again.  It may cause a rise in the standard of living, but this is enjoyed largely by the ruling class; those underneath get very little.

Also, the tyranny the an-caps fear of communism is largely the fault of state socialists (i.e., Leninists), who frequently went after other communists (i.e., anarchists, Trotskyists, etc.) as rapaciously as they did after capitalists.  The Bolsheviks didn’t just kill the tsar’s family and capitalists during the Russian Revolution and Civil War of 1918-1921: they also went after Nestor Makhno’s anarcho-communists.  The Bolsheviks also put down the anarchist Kronstadt Rebellion in 1921.  Finally, there was Stalin’s Great Purge in the 1930s, again killing off or imprisoning large numbers of communists, as well as pro-capitalist reactionaries.  Almost all the crimes of communism can be attributed to Marxist-Leninists, Stalinists, Maoists, and the like.  Extra-judicial shootings by the anarcho-syndicalist CNT/FAI during the Spanish Civil War resulted in a much smaller death count, and those were far more justified: after all, they were fighting fascists, who were guilty of much greater brutality when they won.

We anarchists do not advocate a transitional state to smooth over the shift from capitalism to communism: Leninists do.  We do not want a vanguard to lead us, as we consider such a thing too authoritarian, leading to the tyranny an-caps fear.  We want a revolution, but we don’t want anyone having power over us, financially or politically.

An-caps claim that, in the victory of anarchy (by their definition), they will allow an-coms and anarcho-syndicalists to coexist with them; but we see how disingenuous this claim is, considering how compulsively capitalism grows, trying to snatch up everything around it in its quest for more and more profit.  Whenever large groups of people live together, there will always be some element of making others conform, to some extent at least, to the community standards approved of by consensus; but anarchism at least strives for an egalitarianism (no racism, no sexism, no homophobia or transphobia, or any other forms of discrimination) that most an-caps couldn’t care less about.  We are the ones who want fairness and freedom, not them.

Still, if the an-caps are so terrified of the advent of Stalinism, and they want to debate with those who genuinely advocate authoritarian socialism, my suggestion to them is this: take it up with the tankies, not with anarchists.  People like Jason Unruhe (Maoist Rebel News) will go to the mattresses defending Stalin, Mao Zedong, or even North Korea.  Go debate with people like him; I promise you a lively discussion.  (I may have used some material from Unruhe, since I find his critiques of capitalism and the like useful for my purposes, but don’t be mistaken: I don’t agree with half of his ideas about implementing socialism.)

Don’t equate us anarchists with Leninists, though.  Stop painting all socialists with the same brush.  Put an end to your closed-mindedness and actually learn a few things about socialism; such an education will effect a much-needed cure to your prejudices.  Socialism is not ‘gummint, gummint, gummint.’  Socialism is worker control, sometimes attempted through the aid of the state, sometimes not, as is the case with anarchism.

And capitalism will not lead to the horn of plenty you an-caps think it will.  Capitalism is, in fact, a tyranny all its own.  Apart from overworking and underpaying workers in countries around the world, especially those in sweatshops in the Third World, capitalism–particularly the free market variety–has either directly or indirectly caused the deaths of at least ten times as many people as the highest estimates given to communism.  (For a fuller examination of this, please see my previous essay, The ‘Right’ Definition of Socialism?, under the sub-heading, ‘IV–Capitalist Crimes‘.)  The number of people, especially children, who’ve starved to death, in the Third World in particular, over the past twenty to thirty years–all preventable deaths, given how we can easily produce enough food to feed the whole world, but don’t because of the profit motive–is already a higher statistic than the highest estimate of deaths blamed on communism.

So my suggestion to an-caps is that if they really hate the state that much, they should rethink their support for ‘property rights,’ and understand that as long as private property (not personal property, which will remain as such under communism) continues to exist, so will the need for a state.  Abolish private property, and the state will either ‘wither away,’ or be abolished, too.

Here’s a secret: I used to be an an-cap (for about half a year or so), then I came to realize that private property had to be abolished in order to smash the state, and I opened my mind to the socialist criticism of capitalism.  I went from right to left (I’m not the only former an-cap, either), and I haven’t regretted it.  I suggest you an-caps consider doing the same: then you’ll be real anarchists.

The notion that the state and ‘true’ capitalism are incompatible is complete nonsense.  A state must exist to protect private property, and deregulation and tax cuts needn’t exist in an absolute sense, though there can always be fewer regulations (or fewer of the sort that are inconvenient to the more successful of capitalists, anyway) and more tax cuts for the rich.  Capitalism is always about more for us and less for everyone else.

Working for free is actually something some capitalists want to encourage.  Evil.  What will be next, I wonder: legalized human trafficking?  You see, here’s the thing that capitalists simply don’t want to admit–they’re selfish.  An-caps may want to be the bosses pushing for free labour, but I don’t think they’ll want to be the workers in such a situation.

Right-libertarians will never abolish the state, but they can keep on shrinking it, or more accurately, shrink those aspects of the state that serve the poor, while the other aspects of the state–those needed to protect private property at home and abroad (i.e., those of imperialism)–get more and more bloated.

An-caps say they’re anti-state.  How adorable: so do the Koch brothers, two of capitalism’s cronies who have been contributing to (right-) libertarian think-tanks and campaigns ever since the late 1970s.  Charles Koch actually co-founded the Cato Institute with Edward H. Crane and Murray Rothbard in 1977!  David H. Koch was a (right-) libertarian vice-presidential candidate in 1980.  They have advocated doing away with such things as Social Security and public schools, and lobbied against universal health care and climate change legislation.  They also fund and support organizations that contribute to Republican candidates.  David even supported Mitt Romney in 2012.

So all of this ‘anti-state’ but pro-capitalist thinking not only keeps the state alive and well, but it also reinforces the insidious neoliberal agenda.  We anarchists may find a lot to laugh at in the ideology of an-caps, but their support of the status quo and its intensification is no laughing matter.

The ‘Right’ Definition of Socialism?

[NOTE TO READER: Though I personally am an anarchist, the following is a defence of socialism in general.  In particular, while I mention social democracy and anarchism, my focus is on defending communism against right-wing bias.  My criticisms are mostly of neoliberalism, but in general I am writing here against all forms of capitalism.]

Introduction

Several months before the time of this writing, on a Facebook page for debates, a question was asked: what is the definition of socialism?  The answer I gave was that the means of production are to be put into the hands of the workers, as opposed to being owned privately or by the state.  I felt that this was about as objective a definition as one could come up with: I still do.

Then I started getting trolled by someone who is obviously stridently anti-socialist.  (For the sake of discretion, I’ll refrain from revealing his name.)  So much for objectivity in the discussion.  The usual straw-man arguments were used, including the use of force to try to realize the unrealizable: utopia ‘at the point of a gun’.

Apparently, the anti-socialist troll wasn’t aware of the existence of democratic socialism, let alone its remarkable success in such places as Scandinavia (in Sweden, they’re actually experimenting with the idea of a six-hour workday).  Still, imagine his response had I brought that up.  He would probably have responded by saying the capitalists there are being ‘forced’ into paying high taxes–a kind of government robbery.  The notion that overworked, underpaid workers are being robbed of the full fruits of their labour presumably doesn’t exist as a concept to him, nor that the taxes just give back what was taken from the poor.

Anyway, I responded to his cliche critiques by sharing a YouTube video called Why You’re Wrong About Communism.  Perhaps this video, with its rather brief, seven-minute defence of what’s considered a more extreme form of socialism, wasn’t the best choice for a rejoinder.  [The communist speaker, Jesse Myerson, gives a fuller treatment of his argument in this Salon article, Why you’re wrong about communism: 7 huge misconceptions about it (and capitalism).]  Still, to anyone who is reasonably knowledgeable about labour issues, the video was a fair response.

This was my troll friend’s word-for-word response to the video:

First there is a difference between capitalism as it is today and free market capitalism.
The capitalism that we have today is a top down government directed sort, which moves money and power to the elite, same as communism. The proletariat are merely the worker bees for the elite.
“THE TYRANNY OF WORK”, What an ass. You don’t work you don’t eat. If enough people stop working how there will be enough of anything for anybody. They can fire you, you can also quit, I don’t hear anyone raising arms to protect the employer about that.
What a stupid, stupid man, such a dreamer, how do you make it function so that there is enough supply for everyone. Answer a top down, government controlled police state. Orwell was right, “If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face…FOREVER.
His demeanor belies his belief is nothing more than a dream.
Communism is the dream the eventually becomes the nightmare.

The ironic thing about what the troll said is that, as recent as about two years ago, I would have eagerly agreed with him, more or less 100%.  I have, however, since learned more about labour issues and therefore now understand that whatever is ‘impressive’ about his argument is only superficially so.  Looked at with greater scrutiny, his response shows appalling straw-manning and ignorance, to say nothing of its callousness toward the plight of the poor.

My response to his argument, given below point for point, was not posted on the Facebook page for him to read (nor do I wish it to be) for several reasons: first, it is too long, and would read like a rant (for indeed, there are so many weaknesses in his logic that such a lengthy response is unavoidable); second, he is obviously so biased against my position that he’ll never listen or open his mind to it (right-wing propaganda will do that); and finally, his kind of opinionated, obnoxious attitude (“what an ass…What a stupid, stupid man…”) is something I have little patience for, and what follows below would assuredly just be answered with more of his aggressive, closed-minded rudeness and straw-man arguments.  Thus, I write this response for those willing to listen and open their minds.

My Response:

I–The Free Market

By contrasting “free market” capitalism against “capitalism as it is today”, namely, “a top down government directed sort”, he is suggesting a number of utterly absurd ideas: the free market isn’t a top-down sort of capitalism, it doesn’t involve government at all (or involves only a minimal amount of government intervention), and what we have today isn’t laissez-faire capitalism.

He also, fantastically, more or less equates the crony capitalism of the Obama administration with communism, showing his obvious ignorance of even the most basic of Marxist ideas (it’s always amusing to know that those most hostile to socialism are those totally ignorant of its most elementary ideas).  Socialist governments do not redistribute wealth and power to the rich, unless they’re so corrupt as no longer to deserve to be called socialist; they redistribute it to the poor–the point should be obvious.  What we have today in America is the exact opposite of communism, in almost every conceivable way.  More on that later.

Communism is a system involving a classless, stateless, and money-less society; socialism, according to the definition given by Marxist theory, is the transition between capitalism and communism, using a socialist state (the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat‘) to effect that transition.  This transition is what socialist states like the USSR and China under Mao tried to achieve.  Anarcho-communists like me, on the other hand, want full communism immediately after the proletarian revolution, with no transitional state in between.

This stateless preference is, as I see it, for two reasons: first, because the state capitalism of socialist states tends to be self-perpetuating rather than effecting a real transition to full communism (the state becomes the new capitalists); either this self-perpetuation occurs, or we have a relapse into capitalism (i.e., Russia in the 1990s, or China from Deng Xiaoping onward).  The second reason for preferring no transitional state is to avoid the kind of totalitarianism my trolling friend is so terrified of, but can’t imagine existing in the free market, which I must examine now.

The so-called ‘free market’ is something fetishized by many Americans (including my American troll friend), more than a few British, and sporadically others (i.e., Stefan Molyneux in Canada), people who either allow themselves to be taken in by right-wing propaganda, or try to con others with it.  These people imagine that an unregulated, or at least minimally regulated, economy will result in prosperity for all.  In their world (as well as that of the conspiracy theorists), government is apparently the only evil to be vanquished.  Capitalism, on the other hand, is perfectly OK and should be left alone.  Minimized taxation, ‘freedom’ to pay lower wages, and reduced benefits for workers will result in maximized profits (of course!), which will in turn result in maximized reinvestment, creating more jobs.  The wealth of the rich will therefore ‘trickle down’ to the poor. (Notice how, apparently, ‘trickle down‘ economics is in no way connected to a “top down” sort of capitalism.)

This idea is not merely ridiculously untrue; it is an outright lie.  Wealth inequality is now reaching levels comparable in many ways to those of the 19th century, largely because of neoliberal policies advocated in the 1970s and begun during the Reagan and Thatcher years.  We aren’t lacking in laissez-faire capitalism: we’ve been drowning in it for over thirty years now.  Only readers of right-wing propaganda would have missed that fact.  I once did, because I used to read conservative agit-prop; I, indeed, was once a right-libertarian, much like my troll friend seems to be–but like Will Moyer, I’m not anymore.

[NOTE TO READER: My use below of a book by economist Ha-Joon Chang–who advocates a ‘reformed’ capitalist economy with extensive government regulation of a sort essentially like the kind advocated by mainstream liberals or social democrats–must not be misconstrued as an endorsement of such suggestions for a solution to our present economic woes.  I want absolutely no compromises with capitalism.  I use Chang’s book only to show the hopeless flaws of free market capitalism, for his book gives a devastating critique of it.  He himself considers capitalism to be “the worst economic system except for all the others.” (his emphasis)  So, like Keynes, who allegedly once said capitalism is, “the astonishing belief that the nastiest motives of the nastiest men somehow or other work for the best results in the best of all possible worlds,” Chang can be seen as an example of how even some capitalists admit that capitalism is a terrible system.]

23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism, by Ha-Joon Chang (Penguin Books, 2010), is a timely book that thoroughly examines how the free market is not only responsible for all the appalling wealth inequality we’ve been suffering, but is also ineffective in improving the economy–the one rationale for adopting laissez-faire.  The one virtue it supposedly has, which its advocates claim will compensate for wealth inequality, even that virtue is lacking.

To keep the economy going, people need to have money to buy things; they can’t do that if the vast majority are so poor that they can barely subsist.  During the mid-twentieth century, the so-called ‘Golden Age of Capitalism’ (between 1950 and 1973), when the economy enjoyed the highest-ever growth rates in most of the rich capitalist countries (Chang, page 142), unions were strong, there was rapid growth in progressive taxation and social welfare spending, and wages were higher.  The free market had nothing to do with this prosperity.

What Chang’s book shows (page 145) is how, with the rise of neoliberalism from the 80s to the present, economic growth in the top capitalist economies has actually slowed.  The free market is clearly bad for the economy, and bad all around.  It is clear to all thinking people that laissez faire benefits the rich, and only the rich.  It’s also easy to see that free market advocates, who routinely dupe ‘anarcho’-capitalists with their anti-government (and only anti-government) rhetoric, are not only wrong, they’re outright lying.

It is so sad to know that many people are still deceived by these lies, to this day, even after the 2008 economic crisis (which prompted Chang’s book).  To say that a freer market, or a non-governmental, absolutely free market (of the sort that the ‘anarcho’-capitalists propose), is the solution to the world’s ills makes as much sense as saying that Naziism would have benefitted the world had it been allowed to run its course, with no resistance at all!

There are, of course, some examples of badly planned economies in socialist countries: for example, the Soviet-type planned economy, with its systemic undersupply, anti-innovation bias, and low quality of goods, among many other problems; and the disastrous Great Leap Forward of Maoist China.  Social Democrats in northern European countries, however, have proven much more capable (see Chang, pages 104-105, to learn how Norway, Luxemburg, Switzerland, Denmark, Iceland, Ireland, and Sweden all had higher per capita incomes, in US dollars, than the US in 2007.  Remember that these countries are largely social democratic).

Just as there are different kinds of capitalism, there are also different kinds of socialism, as opposed to the troll’s straw-man characterization of them by painting them all with the same brush.  Now, which ideology’s differences are more significant, and which more negligible–those of socialism, or those of capitalism?  These differences we will now explore.

The troll’s notion of a “top down government directed sort” of capitalism is crony capitalism, or ‘corporatism’, where certain big, powerful corporations are given preferential treatment over other businesses, such as Mom and Pop ones–in other words, favouritism through government regulation.  I assume he imagines that the ‘free market’ will result in a level playing field in which all businesses compete equally.  Then happiness and harmony will reign.  Speaking of utopian dreaming…

Since capitalism requires a state to protect private property, and since capitalism’s driving motive is always gain–no matter who among the poor gets hurt, then it is easy to see how capitalism quickly degenerates into cronyism.  If the state can benefit certain companies against others–for a price–by regulating in the formers’ favour, then those richer companies will gladly forsake fairness to make even greater profits.  With capitalism, the key word is profit, not freedom.

Also, as Chang explains in his book, there is no such thing as an objectively defined ‘free market’ (pages 1-10).  What some consider necessary regulations, others consider hindrances to the free market.  Some regulations are ‘invisible’, as it were, and taken for granted, but are absolutely necessary to hold a capitalist society together.

Capitalism requires state protection of private property just to exist (I’m sorry to disillusion the ‘anarcho’-capitalists, but if they had their way, the capitalists would become the state, more or less immediately), and where there’s a state, there will always be regulations of one kind or another.  That is part of the state’s raison d’être.

So the question shouldn’t be whether there should be government regulation at all, or none at all, but rather how much–or how little–regulation there should be.  Put another way, how far shall we take deregulation, if government–and government alone–is such an evil bogeyman?  Shall we, for example, legalize child labour, or even child pornography, just for the sake of the free market?  What about slavery, when human trafficking already exists in a huge way, if illegally?  Won’t decriminalizing those moral monstrosities maximize profits and boost the economy?  It is ‘job creation’, after all, isn’t it?

Just to give you an idea of how scary some ‘anarcho’-capitalists envision a stateless capitalist society, remarks were made on a page called ‘AnCap 101’ on Reddit.com: on the comments page answering the questions of ‘Left Anarchist here, can somebody give me some answers?’.  Scroll down to where it says “Are laws different from town to town?”  Thanks to SLANCAP for bringing this to my attention:

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Here we see how the free market is a dream that eventually turns into a nightmare.

When free market advocates promote deregulation, they aren’t talking about ending government oppression (quite the opposite, as we’ll see): they just want to hog as much money to their avaricious selves as they can.  They wish to annihilate only those aspects of government that they find inconvenient, i.e., socialism.

II–The Tyranny of Work

The next thing my free marketeer friend took issue with was the notion of “the tyranny of work”, as described by Jesse Myerson in the YouTube video.  The quintessential trolling tactic for stifling dissent and ‘winning’ an argument cheaply–through rudeness and emotion instead of through a carefully constructed counter-argument–is epitomized in this cocky retort: “What an ass…what a stupid, stupid man, such a dreamer…”

What can I say, but that I love the smell of ad hominem attacks in the morning.  To the troll, I suppose it smells like victory.

When Myerson spoke of involuntary employment and involuntary unemployment, and of the need to liberate ourselves from that, he wasn’t advocating a world where people don’t have to work at all.  He spoke of coupling the idea of a guaranteed minimal income with guaranteed work, so under socialism we wouldn’t have droves of people living in total idleness, while everything is being produced for them like magic.  Myerson’s idea could be compared to what is being experimented with in Sweden, with the six-hour work-day.

Myerson was advocating a more flexible lifestyle where, of course, people work, but they don’t have to find themselves so chained to their job that they can’t even leave it alone on weekends (e.g. the boss calling you on your smartphone over and over again when you’re trying to enjoy a relaxing weekend with your family).

No socialist in his or her right mind imagines that communism will create a perfect society where we never have any problems.  The way I’ve heard some right-libertarians [i.e., Molyneux] speak, on the other hand, of how free market competition–free of government interference–will naturally cause us [via ‘the invisible hand’] to drift away from buying the products of any companies that we suspect are, for example, racist or exploitative, sounds a lot more utopian…and stupid…to me.

As Myerson says in his Salon article: “For me, communism is an aspiration, not an immediately achievable state.”  Most socialists and communists agree that our ideal is ultimately something far off in the future, when better conditions (i.e., better technology, a post-scarcity economy) will finally be available for the society we want.

The troll imagines that if one doesn’t like one’s job, one can simply quit; and since no one is “raising arms to protect the employer about that”, the bosses are presumably the ones to be pitied in such a situation.

Given the miserable state of the economy over the past six years since the 2008 economic crisis, out of which the world is still only slowly crawling, and may crawl back into if we’re unlucky, the troll’s cockiness–about workers simply quitting undesirable jobs–is bizarre in the extreme.  Is he not aware of how difficult it is to find decent work right now…in his own country, America?

One does not simply quit one’s job during a bad economy, when replacement jobs are scarce.  Even during a strong economy, if one has a limited skill set, quitting a job exposes one to the risk of not finding an adequate replacement, and therefore to the risk of homelessness and starvation.  Socialists knew this reality during the 19th century; socialists know this now; we’ve always known this.

Millions of people in such G8 countries as the US, the UK, and Russia–where the free market is in full swing–are living on subsistence wages; if they even can make ends meet (which they frequently can’t), they can only barely eke it out.  These are people, real people, not just “worker bees for the elite”.

These people do not just work eight-hour, five-day-a-week shifts; they are frequently over-worked and underpaid.  Those working for the current sorry excuse for a minimum wage, far below what they need to earn to survive, are forced to take on extra jobs just to make ends meet.  Then there are those working in sweatshops in the Third World, a world I suspect my troll friend doesn’t know even exists.

Many people in the world work ten or twelve-hour days, if not more, and often on weekends, too–without compensation.  I see engineers in Taiwan, where I’ve lived for almost two decades now, who are experiencing this ongoing problem.  Quitting at best leads to another such miserable job; at worst, quitting leads to starvation, homelessness, and death.

My free marketeer friend is probably thinking about straightforward jobs in the First World, like working in a bookstore; he probably never thinks of how the smartphone or computer he uses to type his anti-socialist rants was put together by overworked, underpaid Chinese, or southeast Asians, in sweatshops, those “worker bees” who barely make enough money to feed their families, and are terrified of being fired.

No one rushes to protect the rights of the employer who must replace workers who quit because, often enough, there are others from the reserve army of labour, eager to take the quitters’ place (an eagerness that comes only out of desperation to find a job).  My parents owned a pancake restaurant back in the 80s, and whenever an employee quit (which was not infrequent), getting a replacement was admittedly a pain.  But to compare that inconvenience to the plight of workers under capitalism is a sick joke.

That plight, as I described above, is essentially what Myerson meant by “the tyranny of work”, or what other socialists call wage slavery.  Capitalists like the troll only scoff at that tyranny, though: they care more about the tyranny of Stalinism and Maoism (more accurately, they gleefully point it out to make straw man arguments and generalizations about all socialism, in order to invalidate it).  Now I must come to my next point.

III–The Sins of State Socialism

Anyone who has done at least a cursory learning of the history of communism has read about the atrocities of the various socialist governments, especially those of Stalin, Mao Zedong, and Pol Pot.  Estimates of the total death toll range from 85 million to 100 million, as the political right portrays it.

It is beyond the scope of this article to do a detailed analysis of what happened during, for example, the collectivization of the USSR during the late 20s and early 30s, and such events as the Great Leap Forward, the Cultural Revolution, and the Killing Fields.  For Maoist and Stalinist perspectives on these events (largely not my views), you can look at Raymond Lotta Takes on Lies about Mao’s Great Leap Forward.  Also, you can read this article in the Monthly Review: Did Mao Really Kill Millions in the Great Leap Forward?  A video by Jason Unruhe (Maoist Rebel News) deals with Stalinism: On The Alleged Deaths in Stalin’s USSR.  Here’s Unruhe’s perspective on the Cultural Revolution.  Here’s more on the Cultural Revolution.  Finally, there’s Unruhe’s video, Truth about Pol Pot and Maoism.

Back to my main argument.

It is not at all my wish to whitewash, trivialize, or rationalize away the deaths that did occur during the above-mentioned regimes, which make up the bulk of the death toll attributed to communism.  For me, socialism is about human rights and justice, the opposite of totalitarianism. Still, there was a lot of ugliness that occurred during those years.

Victims were executed, overworked in labour camps (a chilling irony for a movement dedicated to ending the tyranny of work), or starved to death (though generally as a result of unintended consequences).  These sad chapters in the history of socialism will always embarrass the Left, with the added feature of right-wing propaganda and its Schadenfreude over that embarrassment.

While admitting that terrible things happened, we must nonetheless put these tragedies in perspective, not to excuse them in the least, but to give them a context for better understanding what happened and knowing the world they came from.  Such an understanding will not only show that such evil is neither exclusive nor essential to socialism, it will also, I believe, improve our chances of not repeating those horrors.

First, we must consider the perpetrators; let’s start with Stalin.  He was hardly a garden variety communist: he was a paranoid psychopath, not much different from the despots who preceded him in feudal history.  Many of his victims, by the way, were dedicated communists; Stalin had whole communist parties executed during the Great Purge.  A lack of psychopathy in him would have been a huge improvement, undoubtedly.

Stalin grew up in a Russia inured to tsarist tyranny; autocratic authoritarianism was a norm against which there was hardly an egalitarian alternative to emulate.  Knowing this, we shouldn’t be too surprised that his rule would be gripped with the same fear of losing power as the tsars of the past had.  Any suspicion of treason or counter-revolution would thus inevitably lead to many killings.  The problem is that Stalin, in killing communists as well as wealthy kulaks, took his suspicions way too far.

Furthermore, he deviated from Marxism/Leninism in such striking ways that, in the opinion of many on the Left, he wasn’t a real communist.  (In anticipation of being accused of the ‘no true Scotsman’ fallacy, I will say that yes, I do believe real socialism did exist at one time at least: among the Catalonian anarcho-syndicalists of the Spanish Revolution of 1936; incidentally, Stalin–in his paranoia of the spread of Trotskyism, as well as in his belief that Spain had first to go through a capitalist phase before embracing socialism–betrayed the Spanish communists, hence their defeat by Franco and the forces of Fascism.)

Among the non-communist elements of Stalinism were his use of American private enterprises (such as the Ford Motor Company) to industrialize Russia, under strict state supervision; once the firms had finished their stints, they left, and the USSR took over.  In the opinion of many on the Left, what Stalin and, earlier, Lenin were doing wasn’t real communism–it was a kind of state capitalism.

The most notably non-communist element of Stalinism, however, was the notion of ‘Socialism in One Country‘.  This idea–involving focusing on socialism only in the Soviet Union, while the rest of the world had first to be industrialized and subjected to a capitalist phase before embracing socialism–runs totally against the socialist idea of promoting proletarian revolutions around the world.

Small wonder that the much more genuinely communist Leon Trotsky (the lesser of the Bolshevik evils, in my opinion)–with his notion of ‘Permanent Revolution’ contrasting with Stalinism, as well as Trotskyism’s somewhat more democratic nature–was defeated and even murdered with a blow to the head from an ice ax, held in the hand of a Soviet agent.

Whether Stalinism is genuinely communist or not is a major point of contention among the various factions of the Left: what is of little doubt is that psychopaths’ jealous love of power, a Machiavellian trait, is far from being an exclusively socialist vice.

It is interesting to note that, despite Hitler’s fanatical hatred of communists, he considered the Stalinist Russia of the 1930s to be strikingly similar to the Nazi way of doing things (thanks in no small part to Stalin’s purging the Communist Party of Jews like Trotsky, of course).  Mussolini, too, spoke well of Stalin’s ‘Slavic Fascism’.  The similarity to Naziism is not hard to see: totalitarianism, state capitalism, focusing on one’s own country rather than on internationalism, and the purging of political dissidents and Jews were all hallmarks of Naziism.

Contrary to what some right-libertarians like to believe, though, Naziism and Fascism were not socialist–certainly not in practice.  (Years back, I read Jonah Goldberg’s book Liberal Fascism, and even then wasn’t convinced of his arguments, back when I was sympathetic to conservative ideas.)  The National Socialist German Workers Party may have had left-leaning members in Joseph Goebbels, Ernst Roehm, and Otto and Gregor Strasser, but all left-wing elements were purged from the Nazi Party as soon as Hitler came to power.  With the backing of big business in Germany, Hitler naturally moved the Nazis to the far right; indeed, the first people to be put in the concentration camps were communists, social democrats, anarchists, and other leftists.  National Socialism was capitalist in practice, and that’s what really matters.  Indeed, capitalists on many occasions in history have used Fascism to further their agenda.

And who played a crucial role in defeating Nazi Germany at the end of World War II, thus ending the rising death toll in the concentration camps (which included the deaths of 3.3 million Soviet POWs)?  Stalin’s Red Army, strengthened by the rapid industrialization of his three Five Year Plans!

This leads us to another indispensable point: the good that Stalin did.  His modernization of Russia helped bring the country from a backward, agrarian one to a superpower in a matter of decades (so much for the stereotype of communists who never work).  America, in contrast, took much longer to grow as strong as it did.  Naziism similarly strengthened Germany economically, industrially, and even environmentally, but Hitler’s reckless pursuit of lebensraum, which caused WWII, made this strengthening so short-lived as to be negligible in the face of Nazi atrocities.  Stalin’s successes offset his evils far better, if imperfectly.

As for Chairman Mao, much of the failures and deaths that resulted from his rule can be explained by bad harvests in the late 1950s and early 60s, and by power struggles between his leftist faction and the rightist faction led by Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping, who made the implementation of Mao’s plans very difficult to say the least.  The death toll, though probably exaggerated by right-wing propaganda, was surely in the tens of millions at least.  That said, we must ask: were the catastrophes of the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution the fault of communism per se, or of the particular rule of one idealistic but failed leader?

Regardless of whether one chooses to judge these failures as harshly as the Right does, or to mitigate them as many on the Left do, one thing cannot, and must not, be denied (though conservatives always deny it): capitalism’s death toll, by the most conservative of estimates, is at least ten times higher than the highest estimates of the communist death toll.

Now for some real perspective.

IV–Capitalist Crimes

If socialist governments have caused famines, so has capitalism–ultimately, on a much larger scale, in spite of what Steven Rosefielde, author of Red Holocaust, thinks.  An important aspect of capitalism is imperialism; Lenin pointed this out in his essay, “Imperialism: the Final Stage of Capitalism”, as well as in his efforts to get socialists to oppose WWI.  In order to find fresh, new markets, the capitalist must go out to other countries, plunder their resources, and exploit local labour.  America has always done this, as did the British and other European empires in the last few centuries.

In Late Victorian Holocausts, Mike Davis shows how laissez faire and Malthusianism exacerbated food shortages caused by El Nino in the Third World, resulting in famines that killed 30 million to 60 million locals in such countries as India, China, Brazil, Ethiopia, Korea, Vietnam, and the Philippines, back in the late 19th century.  Capitalists gave food only to those with money.  Here’s the free market: a dream for the rich, which turned into a nightmare for the poor.

Also, there was the Bengal Famine of 1943, in which 1.5 to 4 million people died of starvation, malnutrition, or disease.  This happened during the last years of the British Raj, when British authorities refused to help, assuming hoarding was the cause.  Churchill had food diverted from the locals to British troops and Greek civilians.

On top of these and other famines caused by imperialism, millions die of starvation every year, when enough food can be produced to feed the whole world.  This starvation is preventable, and has been preventable, for decades at least; yet food producers don’t want to reduce profits, so the food goes only to people with money.  Ergo, capitalism causes starvation.

(It has been noted in several online sources that there’s enough food produced to feed the whole world, but instead it just gets wasted in the First World.  Here is a Wikipedia source: scroll down to where it says ‘Starvation Statistics’; here’s another source; as I said, there are many other online sources confirming this fact.  This should answer my troll’s question of how it is possible to provide for everybody.  He thinks socialism will result in scarcity, through people living in idleness; but it’s actually capitalism, with its private property, that creates an artificial scarcity.  He says, “You don’t work you don’t eat”, but many work, or try to work, and still don’t eat…or don’t eat enough, anyway.  He may think only a government controlled socialist police state can provide for everybody, and that, apparently, only socialist governments are police states; but many of us on the Left realize that many laissez faire governments have been authoritarian police states: the Pinochet government, the Franco regime, and the US under Bush [with his tax cuts for the rich], and Obama, who may have talked the socialist talk, but is anything but a socialist.  Anyone who thinks Obama is a communist or socialist is clearly, visibly stupid.)

If one calculated the preventable deaths of starvation of the past twenty or thirty years alone, one would already have a death toll much higher than the highest estimates of those who died under communist rule, be they of famine or of execution.  According to this site, over 7.5 million people died of hunger in 2013.  The total number of hungry people gets lower year by year, so in other words, the total number of deaths would have only been higher before 2013.  Check this link (scroll to the bottom) to see how many children have died of hunger over the 1990s.

These are not, however, the only deaths directly or indirectly attributable to capitalism.

We have to consider the many imperialist wars fought over the years, wars exploited by capitalists through various forms of war profiteering.  These profiteers include international arms dealers, scientific researchers (corporations and the state profit from the demand for military technology modernization), commodity dealers (who take advantage of shortages, thereby setting higher prices and getting higher revenues), politicians (who take bribes from corporations involved with war production), civilian contractors (think of Bechtel, KBR, Blackwater, and Haliburton, who’ve supplied coalition forces in the Iraq War and were accused of overcharging for their services), and black marketeers, among others.

Indeed, in his book War Is a Racket (1935), Major General Smedley D. Butler drew on his experiences as a career military officer to explain how business interests commercially benefit from war through war profiteering.  This problem is an old one that’s lasted for decades and decades, thus indicting capitalism further.

With that knowledge, let’s look at some more statistics.  In World War Two, 50 million to 85 million people died.  The number of Iraqi deaths due to the 2003 US invasion are over 1.4 million.  Add to these all the other capitalist imperialist wars after the Russian Revolution, as well as all the deaths from starvation mentioned above, and you already have a much higher total than the 100 million estimate for the victims of communism.

Let’s add to this all the deaths from tobacco; according to the WHO, 100 million people died of tobacco over the course of the 20th century, and 5.4 million deaths in 2004.  Also, according to the Surgeon General’s report of 2014, 20 million people died of smoking over the past 50 years.  This is after a clear link was made between smoking and cancer in 1950 in the UK.  Unfortunately, the tobacco industry seems to think too much about its own profits to care about those addicted to their products.

In other health-related news, since the creation of anti-retroviral drugs for AIDS, the drugs have been denied to millions of AIDS sufferers in Africa, because Big Pharma cares more about profits than people.  10 million Africans died between 1997 and 2003 because they did not get the needed drugs.

We must also consider the cost of capitalism on the environment, something for which there are sources all over the internet and in volumes of books to back up this dire fact (and remember the consensus in the scientific community on global warming); but alas, capitalists experience nothing but cognitive dissonance and denial about these facts.  Despicable.

If executions disturb my troll friend’s sense of morality, he might want to consider how the CIA-backed Suharto regime killed 500,000 to 1 million communists in the mid 1960s.

Now these are only a selection of the many millions of deaths attributable either directly or indirectly to capitalism.  There are also millions more, prior to the 20th century.  I’ve already mentioned the ‘Late Victorian Holocausts’.  There was also the Atlantic slave trade, in which about 10 million blacks died over the course of four centuries; they died of disease on the boat ride across the ocean.  This was all so the plantation owners of the South could profit off of blacks’ totally unpaid, backbreaking labour.

Then there was the killing off (through disease or massacres) of as many as 100 million aboriginals due to European settlement of North and South America between 1492 and 1900.  Capitalism has to expand in order to develop new markets.  Anyone who gets in the way, dies.

Finally, there have been all the strikers and unionists who have suffered violence and deaths over the years (remember how strong unions strengthen productivity, a fact the free marketeers ignore).  One example was the Banana Massacre of 1928 in Colombia, in which 2,000 to 3,000 workers were killed.  Anti-union violence in general can be read about here.   Here we see capitalism growing out of the barrel of a gun.  If socialism uses force, capitalism does so even more.

(Now, any capitalist reading this may doubt whether these deaths I’ve described can justifiably be all attributed solely to capitalism, as opposed to other factors.  Such critics may want to remember that while they can make excuses for these deaths, and in attributing non-capitalist factors to many of the deaths, they can thus reduce the total, Leftists can play the exact same reduction game with the 85 million to 100 million death count blamed on communism.)

V–Ignorance Is Strength

Of course, no anti-socialist diatribe can be complete without quoting George Orwell out of context.  (It is indeed nauseating how the Right misuses Orwell to advance their agenda.)  Since the anti-socialist troll wasn’t letter perfect in his quote, I’ll correct it here: “If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face, forever.”

Yes, I’ve read Nineteen Eighty-four, too (twice, actually; I’ve even lectured on the novel).  I’ve read (and lectured on) Animal Farm more than once, too.  I’ve also read another of Orwell’s works: Homage to Catalonia.  In that non-fiction book, Orwell recounts his experiences fighting against the Fascists during the Spanish Civil War.  When he got to Spain, he was quite impressed by what he saw–a town where socialism was being practiced:

“It was the first time that I had ever been in a town where the working class was in the saddle.  Practically every building of any size had been seized by the workers and was draped with red flags or with the red and black flag of the Anarchists…Every shop and cafe had an inscription saying that it had been collectivized…There was much in it that I did not understand, in some ways I did not even like it, but I recognized it immediately as a state of affairs worth fighting for.”

When Orwell wrote Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-four, he wasn’t attacking socialism per se, which he ardently supported.  He was attacking Stalinism, Fascism, and totalitarianism in general, which he had just experienced in a big way not only during the Spanish Civil War (see above for Stalin’s betrayal of the Spanish leftists), but also saw during World War Two, with the onslaught of Nazi Germany.  Orwell was a believer in democratic socialism, which has always existed alongside communism.  Yes, my free marketeer friends, there actually is something called democratic socialism.  Now I’m no supporter of social democracy any more than I am of state communism; but the very existence of social democracy should ultimately show how wrong-headed my right-wing friend’s understanding of socialist ‘totalitarianism’ is.

Furthermore, if it’s government that is the real evil, and if that troll insists that socialism always equals government, then I have one word to say to him: anarchism.  This form of socialism is the one I espouse, and like Orwell, I too am impressed with the anarcho-syndicalist socialism I’ve read about during the Spanish Revolution.

As an anarchist, I’m opposed to all forms of authoritarianism.  I oppose the authoritarianism of government (the tyrannical sort, or the pampering sort social democrats offer, often at the expense of the Third World).  I oppose the authority of vanguardism (hence, even if the Right is correct to damn Stalinist and Maoist communism as harshly as they do, it makes little difference to me).  I oppose the illegitimate authority of one sex or racial group over another, and that of any privileged group over another, especially that of bosses!

I believe that the means of production should be held firmly in the hands of the workers, neither in those of private owners, nor in those of the state.  And that brings me back to my definition of socialism: it isn’t totalitarian tyranny, it isn’t about extensive government intrusion in our lives, and it isn’t any more about forcing one’s agenda on the populace than capitalism is.  It’s about social justice.  It’s about sharing.  It isn’t the right-wing definition of socialism, but it is, by any reasonable standard of objectivity, the right definition of socialism.

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Bring It On

We all want a just society, and disaffection with the increasingly fascist nature of the world is reaching epidemic–nay, pandemic–proportions.  There have been demonstrations in the streets of America, Brazil, Greece, Turkey, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Egypt, and elsewhere.  More and more people are getting fed up.  Some call our oppressors ‘The Illuminati’; others, like me, simply call them the ruling class.  Many of us want revolution, and find the usual political, ‘democratic’ solutions no longer valid.  We certainly don’t want things to get worse.

Well, maybe I shouldn’t include myself in that last sentence…at least not fully.  I’d hate to have to put up with even worse injustice, but at the same time, I’d also hate it if things got ‘comfortable’ again, and we all got used to the situation, and were no longer agitating.  The ruling class thrives on our apathy and laziness, and if we become content with a ‘tolerable’ level of oppression, they can continue getting away with their crimes against us.

Imagine a full economic recovery…until the next crisis, say, five or ten years later.  By that time, most of our present anger will have probably subsided, and we’ll have to build up the revolutionary spirit all over again.  The ruling class would love that.

Imagine we re-elected some kinder, moderately left-wing parties, and they brought back social programs for the poor, and everyone was happy again, except the conservatives, of course.  But after a decade or so of socialism, what if the leftist parties were to suffer scandals, and right-wing parties got re-elected?  And what if they were to take away those social programs, and the poor were right back to where they are now.  Again, the ruling class would win another ten years or so of no real threat to their power.

Now let’s imagine another possible scenario: the ruling class, instead of temporarily backing off, gets even more arrogant, and continues trampling on our rights, paying the cops extra well to give us the beatings even more ruthlessly when we try to protest; they ratchet up the internet surveillance to nab more dangerous agitators; wages continue to go down for workers; union activity is crushed; we’re increasingly poisoned by Monsanto ‘food’; more foreclosures increase the number of the homeless; and the mainstream media continue to lie and distract, even though most of us finally know they’re lying.  What then?

In our hopelessness, knowing we have nothing to lose, we, after careful planning, finally rise in worldwide revolution.  Part of me is scared at the thought, for indeed, it would be bloody, chaotic, and violent.  But part of me would love that courageous fight for liberation, too.  Before that can really happen, though, we anarchists have to deal with an annoying group who has bastardized the words ‘anarchist’, ‘libertarian’, and now, even, ‘exploitation’.

This problematical group, one that either fancies themselves as, or pretends to be, revolutionaries, call themselves ‘anarcho-capitalists’ (an-caps).  They euphemistically call capitalism the ‘free market’, imagining that consumer preference will magically steer businesses away from corruption by choosing not to buy products from exploitative companies, as if most consumers are motivated primarily by anything other than the desirability of the product, or are even aware of exploitation in its various forms.

Worse than that, many an-caps are trying to invalidate the Marxist idea that bosses exploit workers by keeping the surplus value (profits) instead of sharing it with workers.  An-caps, in what amounts to nothing more than a word game (and a clumsy one at that), try to turn the Marxist argument upside-down and claim that, when a business suffers a loss and workers continue to be paid the same wages, the workers must be exploiting the boss!  Since even an-caps know this to be a ridiculous assertion, the Marxist inverse, apparently, is equally absurd.

It shouldn’t be necessary to disprove this laughable an-cap idea, but what is not so laughable is how this disingenuous assertion is not only being taken seriously by many, it’s also being used to justify keeping workers’ wages low.  So I’ll debunk the argument now.

An-caps are essentially denying the hierarchical, power-based relationship between boss and worker, imagining instead that being hired to work for wages is ‘voluntary’ (an-caps love that word) and therefore fair.  Workers, apparently, are free to accept or reject any job offers they are given.

The problem with this argument is that workers, when ‘freely’ rejecting bad job offers, put themselves at risk of poverty or starvation, a problem that gets more pressing during harsh economic times.  In other words, workers have little choice, whereas bosses can freely choose from potentially many other people ‘willing’ to work for less pay, and bosses can obviously take advantage of, or exploit, this situation.  Workers’ ‘willingness’ to work for less comes from nothing other than their desperate need to survive, not from a lack of greed.  Greed is far more often the boss’s vice than it is the worker’s.

The boss, being the one with the power, has much more choice than the workers: he or she makes the decision as to how much to pay the workers–the workers have no such choice.  Accordingly, he pays them as little as he can get away with.  If the business succeeds or fails, he’s the one who makes the decisions as to the company’s direction, not his workers.  If the business suffers losses, his incompetence or bad luck is what’s at fault.  As for incompetence or laziness in his workers, he’s free to fire them.  They have no choice.

Profit or loss does not determine the direction for exploitation to go in: power does.  The closest workers have ever come to having power is when in strong unions; the strongest they ever get is when companies are collectivized, when everyone’s equal–even in such an optimal situation, individual workers still don’t have ascendancy over individual managers, because worker and manager are one and the same thing.

One cannot debunk the idea that the profit-making boss exploits workers by turning it upside-down and saying workers exploit the boss in a company that’s losing money, but not lowering wages.  Workers gain no financial advantage just because the boss isn’t making profits.  In such bad times, he isn’t the only one at risk of losing something; they are also at risk of losing something–their jobs.

When profits, especially big profits, are being made, that the boss is exploiting his workers–by continuing to pay them a paltry wage–is so obvious that the argument shouldn’t need to be spelled out to the an-cap.  It’s not that an-caps cannot see this reality (Why else would they want to preserve capitalism?  They either are bosses, or hope to be filthy-rich bosses in the future.); it’s that they are in deep denial.

All we need to see is the wealth and opulence super-successful businessmen enjoy–wearing Armani suits, buying jewelry and fur coats for their wives, driving in Porsches, etc.–and to know that this wealth comes from the sweat of their inadequately remunerated employees, to see the obvious exploitation.  Then we see the squalor so many of those workers live in, and the exploitation is even more obvious.

There is no parallel exploitation, nor is there a parallel non-exploitation, between profit-making and loss-suffering in companies.  When a company is suffering losses, it’s not like the workers are getting wages for nothing–they’re still working.  That an-caps would see paying workers, while not making profits, as ‘exploitation’ shows what worth capitalists see in their employees: we are nothing more than profit-making machines to them; we’re not even human.

Of course, an-caps will throw the rationalization at us that, since the boss puts up the money to start the business, the profits made are rightfully his.  But here’s a crucial question: where did the boss get the money to start the business?  Did he or she get a bank loan?  Did he get it from his rich Mom and Dad, the profits from their business having come from underpaying their employees?

In the case of the bank loan, the money owed can be reimbursed through the profits of the company, properly understood as money rightfully owned by the workers collectively, as a product of their labour; then the business can be seen as collectively owned, rather than privately so.  If there is to be compensation for the rich Mom’s and Dad’s money, the money should be repaid to the workers that Mom and Dad ripped off, not to Mom and Dad.

If it’s proven that the boss actually paid for the means of production from money he scrimped and saved, every cent being earned by the sweat of his own brow, and not somebody else’s, an appropriate portion of the profits can be given to him to reimburse him, then the business can be collectively owned; for any profits after that compensated amount should be considered collectively owned.  When we consider how difficult it is to scrounge up the money to start up a business without assistance from anyone, it is safe to assume that the great majority of businesses are initially financed through either bank loans or help from one’s wealthy family; this is why the poor usually stay poor, and the rich tend to stay where they are, too.

Put another way, the problem of poverty will be solved not through the poor working harder–that only helps the rich.  The problem will be solved in a meaningful way only through the abolition of private property.  Yet, if the capitalists and their friends in government still have a problem with this radical solution, then I say to them, “Bring it on!  Hit us with as much exploitation as you like.”  For one day, we workers will all get fed up with them, and losing our chains at last, we’ll gain the world.  The ruling class’s arrogance being more outrageous will only accelerate the inevitable revolution.

WORKERS OF THE WORLD, UNITE!!!