Analysis of ‘Scanners’

Scanners is a 1981 Canadian science fiction/horror film written and directed by David Cronenberg and starring Stephen Lack, Michael Ironside, Jennifer O’Neill, and Patrick McGoohan. It is about people with mind powers (empathy, telepathy, telekinesis, etc.) who are wanted by a company, ConSec, that hopes to exploit their powers. Elsewhere, there’s a rogue scanner (Ironside) who also wants scanners to build an army and rule the world; any scanner who won’t join him…he kills, as he does any other enemies.

Here are some quotes from the film:

Cameron Vale: You called me a scanner. What is that?

Paul Ruth: Freak of nature, born with a certain form of ESP; derangement of the synapses which we call telepathy. […]

“My art… keeps me sane.” –Benjamin Pierce, gesturing at plaster head

“You are 35 years old, Mr. Vale. Why are you such a derelict? Such a piece of human junk? [pause] The answer’s simple. You’re a scanner, which you don’t realize. And that has been the source of all your agony. But I will show you now that it can be a source of great power.” –Paul Ruth

Darryl Revok: This was a test campaign used in 1947 to market a new product. The product was a drug, a tranquilizer called ‘Ephemerol’. It was aimed at pregnant women. If it had worked it would have been marketed all over North America. But the campaign failed and the drug failed, because it had a side effect on the unborn children. An invisible side effect.

Cameron: It created Scanners. […]

[striking at Cameron with scanner abilities] “All right. We’re gonna do this the scanner way. I’m gonna suck your brain dry! Everything you are is gonna become me. You’re gonna be with me Cameron, no matter what. After all, brothers should be close, don’t you think?” –Darryl Revok

“I’m here, Kim. We’ve won, we’ve won.” –Cameron Vale, in Revok’s body

What is particularly interesting about this film is the relationship between inner, psychic reality and outer, socioeconomic and political reality. There’s also how politics and economics affect family life, and vice versa.

ConSec, as a private security firm that wants to capitalize on scanners as a potential weapon, is a representation of capitalist, imperialist war profiteering, reminding one of Lockheed-Martin et al. That Vale’s and Revok’s father, Dr. Paul Ruth (McCoohan), has few qualms about using his sons for profit shows how politics and economics damage family life.

Ruth is the inventor of ephemerol–a drug he put on the market for pregnant women back in the 1940s, but which also had the surprising side effect of creating scanners. He gave his pregnant wife the strongest doses of ephemerol, making his two sons the most powerful scanners.

Ruth seems to know that Vale and Revok are his sons, but it doesn’t seem to matter much to him, for shows little fatherly attitude to them–he just wants to use Vale to hunt down Revok; and what’s more to the point is why he abandoned his sons when they were little, leaving Vale to become a derelict, and leaving Revok to become a psychopath. His fear of the ‘Ripe’ program creating new scanners gives him a jolt, but until this realization, he’s been content to use scanners like his sons for the sake of ConSec profiteering.

It’s often hell enough being an empath of the ordinary kind, always intensely feeling the emotions of others, especially their pain. But Vale’s sensory overload, his agony from hearing the whispers of others, from further off in a shopping mall, where two middle class women at a table look down on him as a ‘bum’…that’s excruciating. So connected to others he is, yet so alienated. So close to others…yet, so far away.

The point is that scanners are extremely sensitive, gifted people. The trauma of being separated from their parents and any normal, loving human contact is unbearable for them. It’s easy to see how Vale and Revok would go mad with their powers, though in almost opposite ways.

Revok went so insane he tried to kill himself by drilling a hole in his head. The mark is like a third eye of Siva; in fact, black-and-white video of him, interviewed by a psychiatrist, shows an eye drawn on the bandage where the drill mark is. His pain is his higher mystical knowledge, as it were. Later, instead of trying to destroy his own mind, he succeeds in destroying that of another scanner in the famous head explosion scene.

This scene perfectly exemplifies, in symbolic form, projection of Revok’s death drive onto someone else. All of his fragmentation and psychological falling apart, all of his inner pain thrown at another scanner.

ConSec staff try to control Revok by giving him a shot of ephemerol, the very drug that has given him his powers in the first place. (Vale has been calmed down with the same drug when Dr. Ruth has him in his custody.) A pun on ephemeral, the drug temporarily inhibits scanning ability; this paradox of giving and inhibiting the psychic powers exemplifies the dialectical relationship between opposites that I symbolize with the ouroboros. From the serpent’s biting head of maximum scanner powers, we shift to the serpent’s bitten tail of their suppression.

Similarly, there’s a dialectical relationship between the extreme sensitivity and empathy of scanners and their psychopathic opposite, as seen in Revok. When younger, he must have felt the agonizing of that extreme sensitivity and empathy, and the pain drove him to put that hole in his head. This self-injury was him crossing the serpent’s biting head of empathy over to its bitten tail of psychopathic lack of empathy.

Benjamin Pierce (played by Robert A. Silverman) was similarly violent to his family because of the torment that scanner empathy gives him; now, he uses his art to stop the pain from driving him mad. When Cameron Vale learns how to control his scanner powers, he too can function without going mad; but Pierce knows that, apart from his art, the only way to avoid pain is to avoid contact with people–that closeness, in a world of alienation, causes his empathy to torment him. The serpent’s head of closeness, what we would normally find an emotionally healing thing, for Pierce too easily slips over to the serpent’s bitten tail of new wounds.

While ConSec’s exploitation of scanners as human weapons for profit is easily allegorized as capitalist commodification, Revok’s building up of a scanner army, not only to rival ConSec, but also to rule the world, can be allegorized as a form of fascism (i.e., the superiority of scanners, a new master race). Note how Revok’s company, Biocarbon Amalgamate, is a rival, not the opposite, of ConSec; Revok is also running his ‘Ripe’ program through ConSec. Note what this ‘love-hate relationship,’ if you will, between the rival companies also implies, symbolically, about the relationship between capitalism and fascism.

The real opposition to this pair of rivals is a group of scanners led by Kim Obrist (played by O’Neill), who meet in private. When Vale finds them, though, he unwittingly leads Revok’s assassins to them, too…as he had led them to Pierce.

Obrist’s group of scanners sit together in a circle, in a meditative state, and use their powers to connect with each other. The scene is proof of how empathy doesn’t have to be painful; when used among friends, it can cause a sense of communal love to grow. Indeed, the sight of them together meditating in that circle, looks almost like a mystical experience for them. Closeness to others can be a good thing, after all.

So, if ConSec represents capitalism, and Revok and his assassins represent fascism, then Vale and Obrist’s group of scanners can be seen to represent socialism…though, it must be emphasized, a libertarian, anarchist, form of socialism, since their group is poorly protected. Indeed, Revok’s assassins come in and kill everyone except Vale and Obrist; it’s like when Franco‘s fascists took over Spain and crushed the communists and anarchists within a mere three years.

Vale and Obrist learn of Revok’s rival company, whose ‘Ripe’ program is giving pregnant women ephemerol to make new scanner babies. Revok also has a corporate spy, Braedon Keller (played by Lawrence Dane), who is giving Revok information about ConSec, as well as trying to stop Vale and Obrist. Revok even has Keller kill Ruth: this goes to show you how capitalist success makes a failure of one’s home.

The whole point of the contrast between the communal oneness of Obrist’s scanners, as against ConSec and Revok, is to see how empathy should be used to hold us together, not drive us mad and tear us apart. Cooperation and mutual aid, not competition and destruction of perceived enemies, are what will move humanity forward.

We see how, in ConSec’s profit motive, capitalism manipulates our feelings to make us enemies of each other; here sensitivity is distorted into feelings of persecutory anxiety, a move from the ouroboros’s head of empathic feeling to the serpent’s tail of psychopathic lack of feeling. When the ConSec security guards try to apprehend Vale and Obrist, she makes the man pointing a gun at her think he’s threatening his mother with it; he breaks down and weeps. Here again we see the tense relationship between upholding the capitalist system and one’s family relations.

(Recall what Marx, in The Communist Manifesto, had to say about the family in relation to capitalism: “Abolition of the family! Even the most radical flare up at this infamous proposal of the Communists.

“On what foundation is the present family, the bourgeois family, based? On capital, on private gain. In its completely developed form this family exists only among the bourgeoisie. But this state of things finds its complement in the practical absence of the family among the proletarians, and in public prostitution.

“The bourgeois family will vanish as a matter of course when its complement vanishes, and both will vanish with the vanishing of capital.

“Do you charge us with wanting to stop the exploitation of children by their parents? To this crime we plead guilty.” [Marx, page 52])

Back to the movie. When Revok has Vale and Obrist in his custody, he hopes to make a last gasp at connection with someone, his own brother. Of course, his plan to dominate the world with his future scanner army is too insane an idea for Vale to accept, so Revok feels as betrayed by him as by all the others.

The ensuing final confrontation between the two most powerful scanners is symbolically a sublation of opposing ideologies–socialism and fascist domination–and thus it is, in a way, comparable to the USSR’s Great Patriotic War against Nazi Germany.

The war ended in a victory for communism over fascism, but a costly and even ambiguous one; for those on the west of divided Germany still had ex-Nazis in their government, and the US incorporated some ex-Nazis in their government, too, via Operation Paperclip. Small wonder Dr. Strangelove was a Nazi stereotype in Kubrick’s satirical 1964 movie, and small wonder East Germany called the Berlin Wall the “antifascist protective rampart.” When opposing forces come that close together, there’s bound to be tension.

Similarly, with Vale and Revok, we feel a chilling tension when the latter says, “brothers should be close, don’t you think?” as he begins sucking the former dry. This feeling of intense closeness, in a hostile world full of alienation, is the central theme of Scanners. This is why the scanners’ heightened empathy, with the attendant sensory overload, is so agonizing for them.

As Revok continues to “suck [Vale’s] brain dry,” pulling Vale into him, we see the dialectical resolving of contradictions. In this particular case, we see not only the symbolic sublation of fascism vs. socialism, but also of self vs. other, for it is through Revok’s introjection of Vale, and Vale’s projection of himself into Revok, that one sees oneself in others, and vice versa. This is Bion‘s container/contained, dramatized; it’s also apparent in the logo used for ephemerol.

At first, Revok seems to have the upper hand: Vale is cringing, his veins are popping out blood, and he even tears a gory scar on his cheek. Revok is grinning maniacally.

Then, Vale regains his composure, even as he’s covered in blood and set on fire psychically by Revok. Vale’s eyes explode in splashes of blood, while Revok’s show only the whites. By the end of the confrontation, we’re not sure who’s won.

Indeed, when Obrist wakes up and comes into the room, she sees Vale’s body lying in a silhouette of ashes, yet her scanning ability seems to detect Vale’s presence. Crouching in a corner and with a coat covering him, Revok is seen; but with Vale’s eyes instead of Revok’s dark ones, and without Revok’s forehead mark (his ‘third eye of Siva,’ as I like to call it), he says in Vale’s voice, “We’ve won.”

Obviously, Vale and Revok are one…but who won? Whose personality is dominating Revok’s body? Is that really Vale’s voice we’re hearing, or is Revok psychically forcing Vale to say he and Obrist have won, to trick her?

Revok is Siva, the destroyer. Ruth is Brahma, the creator (of all scanners). Vale is Vishnu, the preserver, the sustainer of his life throughout the film, in all his struggles to survive. By dying and resurrecting, with his mind put into Revok’s body, Vale is also a Christ figure, the spirit conquering the flesh. I, however, am a materialist, and I see mostly Revok’s body. So who won?

And as far as my political allegory for the film is concerned, who were the real postwar winners, the political left, or the right? Hitler, Mussolini, and Hirohito were defeated, but many fascists survived 1945. Only some Nazis went on trial at Nuremberg. Francoist Spain carried on unchecked until Franco’s death in 1975. Pinochet’s authoritarian, right-wing government, with the help of the CIA, replaced Allende’s in 1973. Israel, irony of ironies, has become a racist apartheid state. And fascism in Europe and Brazil has been on the rise in recent years, as against a largely impotent left.

And even if Vale is in control of Revok’s body, he and Obrist will still have to deal with ConSec, which hopes to make weapons out of that new generation of scanners about to be born. So, if that’s Vale’s real voice saying, “We’ve won,” what justification does he have to be so overconfident?

Dialectical thinking mustn’t be reduced to the cliché triad of thesis/negation/sublation, as even I’ve done in other posts, for the sake of brevity. With every sublation comes a new thesis to be contradicted, for the idea of dialectics is to give us all a sense that reality is a fluid, ever-changing thing, not permanent blocks of stasis. The sublation of socialism defeating fascism had merely lead to a new contradiction, the Cold War, which was resolved in the dissolution of the USSR and the rise of neoliberalism. If we’re lucky to triumph over this new variation in class war, there will be new contradictions to resolve under the dictatorship of the proletariat, such as the danger of a resurgence of capitalism.

The microcosm of such contradictions is in the family situation, where so much alienation is spawned, as we see in Ruth’s so troubled sons. He cared so little about the monsters he’d created, and their fusion in one body, one mind, could very well be a new battleground, all inside one body. Will Obrist be able to accept it? Will Vale and Revok be able to?

With the end of Siva/Revok, is Vishnu/Vale’s reincarnation the start of a new cycle of creation/preservation/destruction, a new thesis to be negated and sublated? It seems that way. Vale considers Revok to be a reincarnation of Brahma/Ruth: could Vale’s judgement be a projection, now that he’s reincarnated in the Ruth-reincarnation of Revok? The cycle of dialectics spins round and round, forever, it seems, with not only irresolution of class conflict, but also irresolution of family conflict.

And this irresolution in the family, who “should be close,” is the true horror symbolized in this film.

Analysis of ‘Viridiana’

Viridiana is a 1961 Spanish-Mexican film by Luis Buñuel, loosely based on the novel Halma by Benito Pérez Galdós, and starring Silvia Pinal in the title role, as well as Fernando Rey, Margarita Lozano, and Francisco Rabal. As usual, Buñuel criticizes the Church and bourgeois society in this film. It is about a novice soon to take her vows as a nun, but who finds it increasingly difficult–due to external pressure, or internal?–to reconcile herself with the moral ideals of the Church.

Viridiana was the co-winner of the Palme d’Or at the 1961 Cannes Film Festival.

Here are a few quotes in English translation:

Viridiana: I know my own weakness, and whatever I do will be humble. But, however little it is, I want to do it alone.

Jorge: I always knew that you and I were going to end up playing cards together!

Verdiana was the name of a generous, charitable saint who secluded herself for 34 years to focus on her faith. The Viridiana of this film is similarly, if not so extremely, reclusive, but just as generous and charitable. Her name comes from a word meaning ‘green’: I think of an old meaning of green, from back in Shakespeare’s time, meaning ‘youthful, inexperienced, immature’; but also, ‘fresh, recent, new’ (Crystal and Crystal, page 205), strongly implying ‘pure.’ There is, indeed, a strong sense that this novice embodies all of these definitions, in more ways than one.

She also happens to be a beautiful young blonde, most desirable to men; her choice to become a nun seems to be, at least in part, motivated by a fear of sexually predatory men. Her virgin purity makes her all the more attractive to her uncle, Don Jaime (Rey), who finds that she reminds him of his late bride, who died before he could even consummate their marriage.

His preoccupation with her beauty and purity reminds me of Heinrich Heine‘s poem:

Du bist wie eine Blume,
So hold und schön und rein;
Ich schau’ dich an, und Wehmut
Schleicht mir ins Herz hinein.

Mir ist, als ob ich die Hände
Aufs Haupt dir legen sollt’,
Betend, dass Gott dich erhalte
So rein und schön und hold.
You are like a flower,
So lovely, fair and pure;
I gaze at you and wistful
Melancholy slips into my heart.

It’s as though I ought to place
My hands upon your head
And pray God to ever keep you
So pure, fair, and lovely.

This notion of extreme purity leads to an exploration of the themes of modesty, humility, and every other point on the circular continuum I symbolize with the ouroboros, including the dialectical opposites of pride (the serpent’s biting head) vs. shame (the bitten tail). Viridiana is so particular about her maidenly modesty, it’s a source of narcissistic pride for her. Thus, even the mere suggestion of male physical closeness feels like a violation to her.

This excessive modesty comes from her stern Catholic upbringing, once again Buñuel’s satirical target. She has no interest in visiting her Uncle Jaime, whom she’s met only once; but she’s pressured into visiting him by her mother superior. She’d rather stay secluded and cloistered, suggesting she regards the Church as more of a family than her biological one. I suspect she had an unhappy family upbringing, driving her to the Church for a replacement.

The Virgin Mary seems to be an idealized parental imago for Viridiana, the perfect mother who represents an ego ideal to which she aspires. We get a sense of this when she prays the Angelus with the homeless people. Mary is “full of grace” (κεχαριτωμένη), which the Catholic Church interprets as a kind of purity existing from birth, the Immaculate Conception. Viridiana would thus want to identify with Mary, for narcissistic reasons.

Any man even making a pass at her threatens this purity she so covets, causing her narcissistic injury. Viridiana, I suspect, has transferred her feelings of maternal love to Mary, just as Don Jaime, admiring Viridiana’s beauty and purity, transfers his love of his deceased bride onto her, especially since the two women look so alike. Indeed, transference is a major theme in this Freudo-Marxist film.

Normally, one thinks of transference in the psychoanalytical setting; the patient transfers the feelings of a powerful emotional bond, especially one from childhood, onto the therapist. Viridiana has made this kind of transference onto Mary, her ‘therapist.’ Similarly, Viridiana has become, however unwittingly, Jaime’s ‘therapist.’ They are using their transferences in an attempt to heal, though these attempts ultimately fail.

On the first night of Viridiana’s visit, we see her in her bedroom, taking off black stockings to reveal her delicious legs; Buñuel’s lustful camera does a closeup on them, another example of his irreverence towards Church authority. She unpacks a large wooden crucifix and a crown of thorns. She’s so devoted to her faith, she’d rather sleep on the hard floor, as Jaime’s servant, Ramona, notes.

Now, Ramona is an interesting character to compare and contrast with Viridiana. Jaime’s servant is dutiful, bashful, and modest, but also lacking in the novice’s religious pretensions. This is another of Buñuel’s jabs at the Church. And who, I’m curious, is the father of Ramona’s naughty, nosy daughter Rita? Jaime has been kind enough to take mother and daughter in: is the girl an illegitimate child, as Jaime’s son, Jorge, is? Again, we see Buñuel’s alternative morality to the hypocritical one of the Church.

I suspect that Ramona has a secret love for Jaime, an Oedipal feeling, perhaps, transferred from her father onto her master, but a feeling she’s too shy to express openly. In any case, after he hangs himself and she meets Jorge, she transfers her love from father to handsome son…and feels that love more overtly, this time.

The morning of the second day of Viridiana’s visit, she goes to a servant milking a cow. She tries pulling on one of the cow’s teats; but they are long, even phallic in length. She can’t bring herself to handle them, as doing so, it seems, far too much resembles masturbating a man to orgasm (i.e., the squirting out of the milk). Her pious modesty is so extreme, she cannot do anything even vaguely redolent of sexuality.

Then, naughty Rita agitates her by saying she saw her in her nightgown the night before, having sneaked a peek from a nearby terrace. Viridiana blenches at even having been spied on by a pre-teen girl.

That night, Jaime has been fetishizing the bridal clothes of his deceased wife; he puts his too-large foot into one of her high heels (symbolic intercourse wish-fulfillment), then stands before a mirror while almost trying on her girdle. Apart from the erotic overtones of these actions, we sense his pathetic yearning for his lost love, his unfulfillable wish to be at one with her.

Then he sees Viridiana sleepwalking in that white nightgown, with her pretty bare feet and lower legs exposed. She is doubly vulnerable before him, in a relative state of undress, and unaware of it. The thought of his predatory eyes on her will terrify her when he tells her what he’s seen the next morning.

During her sleepwalking, she’s also psychologically naked and vulnerable, for her unconscious is let loose, expressing her hidden desires, if only symbolically. Kneeling at his fireplace, she empties a basket of yarn and needles into the fire, representing an unconscious wish to be rid of clothing, the antithesis of a nun’s modesty. She has a bad habit, it seems.

Then she gathers ashes in the basket and takes them to his bedroom, then sprinkles them on his bed; the ashes, we learn the next day, are a symbol of penitence…and death. What has she to repent of…secret, repressed sexual desires? Death associated with his bed suggests once again the marriage of the life (e.g., sex) and death drives.

The next day, Don Jaime, so captivated by Viridiana’s beauty, her purity (So hold und schön und rein), and of course her resemblance to her deceased aunt, asks her to dress up in her bridal gown, another shocking thing to do, in Viridiana’s view. The deceased bride, having worn white to the wedding, was in all probability a virgin (especially given the conservative mores of the time); but Viridiana–though complying–still feels uncomfortable doing it, as she feels like a sex object.

She of course is being objectified and ogled by her uncle, who has Ramona drug Viridiana’s coffee. Ramona, wholly devoted to her master, will do whatever he wants her to do, even as wicked a thing as helping him take advantage of his unconscious niece! Why? I suspect because Ramona secretly wishes Jaime desired her in the same way…also, allowing Viridiana to be deflowered–and thus, shamed–would serve Ramona because of sexual jealousy. Hence, she doesn’t mind telling Viridiana of Jaime’s shameful wish to marry his niece. Still, he’s a good man, in Ramona’s mind.

Viridiana is already uneasy enough knowing her uncle is the father of an illegitimate child (Jorge), for such is her lofty moral ideal. Her purity is part of what makes her so attractive to him; she looks so sexy in that virginal white dress…and she knows exactly how he feels about her.

Being in that dress with him at night is, of course, a reenacting of his wedding night with her aunt, when she died of a heart attack before he could consummate the marriage. This lonely, reclusive man has yearned to have that night given back to him, and now he can have it back through Viridiana.

Even before Ramona has given her the drugged coffee, Viridiana can sense her uncle’s lust; wearing that bridal gown strongly implies a soon-t0-be-lost virginity, which is anathema, horrifying to her. By helping Jaime satisfy his desire, though, Ramona can satisfy hers vicariously through Viridiana. Meanwhile, little Rita is frightened by a bull she claims entered her bedroom; the animal represents a sexually predatory male…is this an omen of what’s to come between Jaime and Viridiana?

While sexual assault (of anyone, woman, man, or child) is of course never defensible, especially to a communist like Buñuel, Viridiana’s predicament can be seen unconsciously, symbolically as a wish-fulfillment in that it desecrates the Catholic ideal of sexual purity in a woman. Destroying this impossible ideal by demonstrating its unattainability can liberate women sexually, by making them give up on it. Indeed, Viridiana will be so liberated at the end of the film.

Note that Jaime never carries out his plan to deflower her. While she’s unconscious, and Mozart‘s Requiem Mass is playing (symbolizing a fusion of the libido and death drive), he kisses her on the lips, unbuttons her top to reveal her creamy cleavage, then kisses her there (and naughty Rita spies on them); but moral scruple makes him come to his senses, and he stops. He mustn’t stain such divine purity.

So hold und schön und rein.

The next morning, when he tells her he took advantage of her while she was out cold, even when he later insists he never actually penetrated her, she can’t be certain of which statement is the truth, and which the lie–has he, or has he not raped her? So she, “for mere suspicion in that kind, will do as if for surety,” and imagine the worst. But how can she be unsure of what’s happened? Surely she knows that she will feel vaginal soreness, pain from a ruptured hymen, that there will be blood, if he’s had her.

He lies about having intercourse with her while she slept (later admitting he’s lied) so she’ll think her ‘stained’ body will make her unworthy of being a nun, then she’ll have nowhere else to go but to live with him. She’s afraid of male sexual predation to a far greater degree than the average woman, religiously devoted or not—why?

I don’t think we’re supposed to believe she was sexually abused at an earlier period of her life (though she, in all likelihood, has endured men’s leers and groping hands on many occasions throughout her life); for if she was raped, given the strict Catholic morality of her world, she surely would have already considered herself too ‘unclean’ to be a nun.

Now, for her, the meaning of sexual assault is expanded to mean “that whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.” (Matthew 5:28) Furthermore, given the way rape victims tend to be slut-shamed, especially in Viridiana’s prudish world, she will feel as guilty, however unjustifiably, of having ‘tempted’ her attackers as they are of attacking her.

So her fears about whatever Don Jaime has done while she’s been unconscious are not based on a fear of possibly having been penetrated, nor do they seem to be a kind of PTSD reliving of what may have happened to her sometime before the beginning of this film. His having touched her, kissed her, and partially undressed her are rape enough. 

And how far did he undress her? She has no idea. We know he only unbuttoned her top: he saw her cleavage, but not her whole breasts. Still, how does she know he didn’t undress her further? Does he know what her whole naked body looks like? Did he fondle her nakedness? Taste it? How many of her anatomical secrets does he know of?

Even the few of those secrets that Don Jaime knows would be enough to make any woman cringe, because they have been divulged without consent (consider the complaints against lecherous Bill Cosby to see my point). But for a woman as proud of keeping her secrets hidden as Viridiana is, her uncle’s–however slight–‘breaking and entering,’ as it were, is all the more outrageous and unbearable.

She feels the shame, but don’t forget that he does, too. After all, he’s the sinner, not she…and no one is more aware of his exclusive guilt than he is. He’s so tearfully desperate to get her forgiveness that, when he doesn’t get it, he hangs himself.

What we must remember is that he doesn’t merely lust after her–he’s fallen in love with her (which is not to excuse him for his scurrilous scheming), out of her resemblance, in her looks, her walk, her voice, in every way, to his beloved late bride. He’s transferred that deep passion onto Viridiana.

Buñuel has been said to have valued sex over love: this seems to be a vulgar, bourgeois interpretation of his frank depiction of sexuality in his films, and it’s utter nonsense. Buñuel uses sex to enhance love, to free it from the bourgeois chains of Church morality.

Another theme in this film is that of solitude. Viridiana prefers being cut off from the larger society: if not hidden from it in the convent, then in the outbuilding section of late Jaime’s estate, which he’s left to her and Jorge. Her religious solitude, as I’ve said above, echoes that of the saint who shares her name; but is this solitude out of spiritual conviction, or social alienation?

Jaime’s solitude is certainly out of alienation, for he, as a bourgeois, rentier capitalist, is inevitably affected by the estrangement that capitalism causes. He has some goodness, though, as all the characters in Viridiana are each a mix of good and bad. For example, Jaime has taken in Ramona and Rita, and he even saves a bee from drowning.

His illegitimate son, Jorge, has a sexual interest in Viridiana that bothers both her and his jealous, live-in girlfriend, Lucia, who soon leaves him; but he isn’t the type to rape a woman. The worst he does is to walk into Viridiana’s bedroom without her permission. He kisses Ramona on the lips only because he knows, from the longing in her eyes, that she is aching for his kiss.

Still yearning to be a good Christian even though she feels unworthy of being a nun, Viridiana takes in a group of beggars to live in the outbuilding part of the house. As pitiable as these wretches are, though, they’re far from virtuous; they make one of them, a bald fellow without his upper front teeth, into a pariah because his varicose veins seem to them to be a symptom of leprosy.

Out in the field with Viridiana, they pray the Angelus with her while Jorge’s hired workers are renovating the house and surrounding area; in other words, the first group is engaging in faith, while the second group is actually working. Here is another example of Buñuel taking a jab at the Church, which values grace through faith over good works. She and the beggars are praying a useless prayer to her idol, Mary, while Jorge’s men are making themselves useful–working, because il faut cultiver notre jardin.

One of the beggars, El Cojo (‘the lame one,’ played by José Manuel Martin), fancies himself a faithful Catholic and not only helps Viridiana in leading the Angelus prayer, but also paints a portrait of the Madonna; still, he’s a bad, even violent fellow, for he threatens the ‘leper,’ and later Jorge, with a knife, and even tries to rape Viridiana toward the end of the film. Again, Buñuel demonstrates the emptiness of faith as against good works.

When she, Jorge, Ramona, and Rita leave the house on business (the servants have also left, out of disgust with the beggars), the beggars decide to go in the house and have a party. They’ll clean up after, and no one will be the wiser…or so they imagine.

This party symbolizes a proletarian seizing of the means of production…though it’s a poorly planned ‘revolution,’ more like anarchist Catalonia, or the Ukrainian Free Territory under Makhno, than anything like the Bolshevik takeover of Russia. Accordingly, their ‘insurrection’ doesn’t last.

During their dinner, they take a group photo at the long table. Buñuel deliberately has the actors pose in a manner parodying Leonardo DaVinci’s Last Supper, with the blind Don Amalio (played by José Calvo) in the middle, in Christ’s place. When Enedina (played by Lola Gaos) takes the photo, her lifting up of her dress is the ‘flash!’

After that, the ‘leper’ puts on a record of Händel‘s Hallelujah Chorus, and he dresses up in some of Jaime’s bride’s clothing, repeating the suicide’s cross-dressing, though in a comical, rather than pathetic, way.  His dancing around to the music is more of Buñuel making fun of religious piety. He tosses to the floor the feathers of a dove, symbolic of the Holy Spirit, he found earlier.

Furthermore, this juxtaposition of these would-be lumpenproletariat revolutionaries with Christian music and iconography represents how the infantile disorder of ‘left’ communism is as unrealistic as is Viridiana’s idealization of Marian Catholicism. Just as there is no way to be a morally perfect woman, there is also no way to have a perfect communist revolution, all in one fell swoop. The beggars have no vanguard to educate and organize them, so their ‘revolution’ is practically still-born.

And so, because these people are, in varying degrees, degenerates, their party degenerates, too. A man takes Enedina behind the sofa and has her. An older beggar, Manuel, who has a penchant for gossip, tells Don Amalio about the screwing around, but he won’t lead the jealous blind man over to the sofa to beat the man for taking his woman; so Don Amalio smashes his cane on the dinner table, destroying the dishes.

As we can see, their ‘revolution’ is a bit too Makhnovist for comfort. Jorge, Viridiana, Ramona, and Rita return early to find out what’s been happening. El Cojo and the “leper” subdue Jorge while Ramona goes off in the car to get the police; this leaves Viridiana to the mercy of El Cojo’s lust. She fights the good fight to get him off of her.

All her efforts to be a good Christian, to show charity and compassion to the beggars and to give them moral instruction, have been for naught. Jorge, however, promises money to the “leper” if he’ll beat El Cojo on the head with a small shovel to stop him from raping her. Though El Cojo is stopped, she, overwhelmed with trauma, faints…just as she was unconscious when Jaime–almost–had her.

Note how, only when unconscious, will she allow any man to touch her. This shows how, only in her unconscious mind, will she allow herself any expression of sexuality. The conscious wish to be an imitator of Christ, of Mary, is clearly a reaction formation against her deepest, most repressed desires, expressed when she was sleepwalking.

The wish to lead a life of chastity rubs against its dialectical opposite, the secret wish to be sexual. Jorge, in contrast, is neither extreme: he accepts the ephemeral nature of sexual relationships, and is none too upset when Lucia leaves him. At the same time, he doesn’t force sex on anyone, unlike El Cojo, the ‘good Catholic.’

Viridiana’s trauma from the attempted rape has, for what it’s worth, one good side effect: she’s been liberated from her attachment to an impossible moral ideal–perfect chastity. As painful as this has been for her, at least she can now get off her high horse and join humanity…and become truly humble, not affectedly so.

She looks at herself in a small mirror, Lacan‘s mirror, as a tear runs down her cheek. That nun she’s seen in the reflection was an illusion, not the real her, but an idealization that has alienated her from herself. Her ability to be ‘pure’ cannot be eternal and unchanging. She must accept this painful truth.

She joins Jorge and Ramona in the main part of the house. He’s pleasantly surprised to see Viridiana at the door. Since Ramona is already his lover, Viridiana’s involvement is implying a ménage à trois, surely to the chagrin of the Francoist censors, but this ending was allowed nonetheless. Instead of listening to pompous religious music, the three would rather hear some fun popular music, Ashley Beaumont’s Shimmy Doll

Their sitting at table together to play cards suggests an equality the beggars couldn’t attain: that of male and female, of master and servant. Jorge’s moderate ‘socialism,’ if you will, is rather like Dengism; one incrementally moves from capitalism to communism, as Xi Jinping‘s government is doing. His sexuality is similarly neither prudish nor overly licentious. No idealistic rushes to extremes here, but rather a cautious creeping ahead.

Jorge doesn’t like the degenerate beggars any more than the other workers in his home. He considers Viridiana’s charitable duties to them pointless; he does, however, tolerate them for a while…until they commit their crimes on him and her. He also takes compassion on a dog, Canelo, and he offers money to the “leper” to stop lustful El Cojo. Though Jorge, representing industrial capitalism, is the bourgeois owner of the house given to him by his father, he’s clearly more generous than the average capitalist.

So, Jorge’s morality is a comfortable middle ground between Viridiana’s Catholic idealism and the reckless anarchism of the beggars. It’s like a Marxist sublation of the Christian thesis of an unattainable moral perfection, and its Makhnovist negation. This is the alternative morality Buñuel is proposing, and it’s a refreshing alternative to all the rubbish we’ve had thrown in our faces for so long.

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)

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 so-calledMiracle 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.

Anarchist Communism

I am an anarchist: recently, I’ve come under the influence of the anarcho-communist ideas of Peter Kropotkin.  I consider the State and capitalism to be the two great evils of society, and greed is the worst of the deadly sins.

A truly good society, and a good world, would be made up of federations of freely associating communities that rule themselves.  Thus no one would have power over others.  No hierarchies or power systems would exist: in other words, there would be no boss/employee, royalty/peasant, bourgeois/proletarian, or leader/follower relationships.  Businesses would be collectively owned.  As far as religion is concerned, though all religions would be tolerated, there would be no coerced belief in a monotheistic God who would rule over us or judge us.  No gods, no masters.

With the end of capitalism would also come the end of the wage system and of money: a gift economy would replace it.  With the end of private property would also come the end of a need to pay rent to landlords.  A society of competition would be replaced by one of cooperation and mutual aid.

By eliminating money and its seductive power over mankind, there’d be little incentive to start wars, since war is essentially a racket anyway (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/War_is_a_Racket), a plundering of foreign lands for oil, etc., to fill the pockets of the rich with money.  With the end of hostilities against foreigners would come the end of racism, or at least a drastic reduction of xenophobic feeling.  Indeed, with the end of all hierarchies, fully realized in every conceivable way, one could quite possibly see the gradual withering away of patriarchy, since the political and monetary basis of male domination (the State and capitalism) would be annihilated.  But even if some inequalities were to linger, I’m confident that eliminating them would become much easier without the divisive propaganda of the media, which is controlled by the State and the corporations.

Instead of monotheistic religion, perhaps people might find pantheistic mysticism more appealing, its monism more catering to an egalitarian mindset.  Still, conventional religions would be tolerated, as long as they don’t try to impose themselves on those who don’t share their beliefs.  Atheism and agnosticism would also be fully respected.  People’s beliefs would be no one’s business but their own.

The evils of capitalism and government continue to exist because their minions have learned clever techniques to keep the people in line.  Unhealthy food and time-wasting online nonsense saps the people of their energy and sense of purpose in life.  Charismatic leaders lull the masses into submission, making them love and hate whomever Big Brother wants them to love or hate.  The media selectively presents world events in a way to make the people believe what it is required of them to believe.  Heroes are vilified, and scoundrels are celebrated.

And when the people rebel?  Militarized police, those bullies with their bullets and batons, thrash the masses.  Innocent people are incarcerated for the smallest of misdemeanours, or for habits, such as the recreational use of marijuana, that shouldn’t even be deemed crimes.  It’s all a depressing spectacle to see on the news.

For these reasons, I see no hope in any future government or in any reform of capitalism.  Those two villains have been lovers throughout history: they’ll never be separated.  State socialism is no answer–the failure of the Soviet Union, as well as that of the European State-generated social programs, many of which have crumbled in the present economic crisis, proves that Bolshevism, in whatever guise it comes, moderate or extreme, is a fool’s idol.  But neither is so-called ‘anarchist capitalism’ an acceptable alternative.  Its supporters imagine a cleaning up of corruption in the free market, but under such a contradictory way of doing things, I predict the speedy build-up of a plutocracy, a government to protect the nouveaux riches and their coveted privileges.

No, one can’t have the one power structure without the other: capitalism and the State are like conjoined twins, sharing one avaricious heart.  If one wants the one to stay alive, the other must live, too.  If one truly wants one of them to die, one must accept the death of the other.

These beliefs of mine come from years and years of watching one corrupt government after another, on both the Left and the Right, as well as everywhere in between on the ideological continuum.  I’ve never seen a government, or a corporation, or a church, sufficiently without fault that I could wholeheartedly stand behind it.

Anarchist communism, brought about by the trade unions seizing control of the means of production, is the only answer.  May a repeat of the 1936 Spanish Revolution come, and soon; and may it not be crushed by the forces of Fascism, as it so tragically was in the Spanish Civil War.  Let us unite, comrades, and free ourselves.  As Marx and Engels said years ago, ‘You have nothing to lose but your chains.  You have a world to win.  WORKERS OF THE WORLD, UNITE!’

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