Analysis of ‘The Omen’

The Omen is a 1976 supernatural horror film written by David Seltzer (who also wrote the novelization), directed by Richard Donner, and starring Gregory Peck, Lee Remick, David Warner, and Harvey Stephens. It is about a (secretly-adopted) five-year-old who, it turns out, is the Antichrist. Considered one of the scariest movies ever made, it spawned two not-so-well-received sequels, then an even worse-received made-for-TV attempt at a revival of the franchise, and finally, a competent but tepid remake of the original movie.

The soundtrack of the original trilogy, by Jerry Goldsmith, garnered especial praise, particularly with its use of the choral singing of a kind of Satanic (but ungrammatical) Latin liturgy. “Ave Satani” was nominated for the 1976 Best Original Song.

Here are some famous quotes:

Latin (as in the soundtrack) Correct Latin English translation
sanguis bibimus sanguinem bibimus We drink the blood
corpus edimus corpus edimus We eat the body
tolle corpus Satani tolle corpus Satanae Raise the body of Satan
ave, ave Versus Christus! avē, avē Antichriste! Hail, Hail Antichrist!
ave Satani! avē Satana! Hail Satan!

“I don’t know if we’ve got the heir to the Thorn millions here or Jesus Christ Himself.” –Keith Jennings

“Look at me, Damien! It’s all for you!” –young nanny, before hanging herself (Considered one of the scariest moments in horror movie history)

“Have no fear, little one. I am here to protect thee.” –Mrs. Baylock, to Damien

“When the Jews return to Zion / And a comet rips the sky / And the Holy Roman Empire rises, / Then You and I must die. / From the eternal sea he rises, / Creating armies on either shore, / Turning man against his brother / ‘Til man exists no more.” –Father Brennan

“Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast; for it is the number of a man; and his number is 666.” Book of Revelation Chapter 13 Verse 18 (last title card)

The focus for understanding this movie shouldn’t be on the Devil, demons, or spiritual/Biblical issues, but rather the material and political concerns that the religious elements symbolize.

A Brief Digression…

The Biblical Antichrist was, most likely, Nero–the most powerful man in the Graeco-Roman world at the time when the members of the early Church were writing the New Testament manuscripts–a man who persecuted Christians and was believed to be still alive when the Revelation was written. (For more information, see Mays, general ed., the commentary on Revelation chapter 13, page 1197.)

Even the early Church fathers could “count the Number of the Beast,” and with gematria calculated 666 through Aramaic, using Hebrew letters to render (the Greek version of his name as) Neron Kesar, or Nron Qsr in transliterated Hebrew:

Resh (ר) Samekh (ס) Qoph (ק) Nun (נ) Vav (ו) Resh (ר) Nun (נ) Sum
200 60 100 50 6 200 50 666

If you remove the Nun final, of numerical value 50, to spell Nro Qsr (‘Nero Caesar’), you get 616, an alternative version of the Number of the Beast, as given in some of the early manuscripts of the Revelation, which were acknowledged even by Irenaeus, though he preferred 666, and considered 616 to be a textual error.

Then, there was Robert Graves‘s idiosyncratic method of arriving at Nero (or Domitian, who was persecuting Christians around when the Revelation was written), as is found in The White Goddess, pages 342-348: DOMITIANUS [or DOMITIUS] CAESAR LEGATOS XTI [i.e., ‘Christi’] VILITER [or VIOLENTER] INTERFECIT. (i.e., DCLXVI, or 666) “Domitian [or Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus >>> Nero] Caesar basely [or violently] killed the envoys of Christ.”

One shouldn’t need to point out the validity of the preterist interpretation of Revelation, as over the futurist one, except that today’s Christian fundamentalist religious kooks like to link current problems with the Revelation’s cryptic verses.

There are so many interesting reasons why the futurist approach to interpreting the Book of Revelation is so tenacious and popular, though, in spite of how ludicrous it really is. One reason involves how self-absorbed futurists are in thinking everything in the Bible is about their world (in, for example, the US today), rather than about events in the Mediterranean and Middle East from about 1,920-1,950 years ago, when the Revelation was actually written (i.e., written about what the writers were concerned about at the time). I believe another reason for futurism’s popularity is a psychological one, based on an impatient need to believe God will come down and right the wrongs one is suffering right now, including all those modernists who laugh at and scorn the fundamentalists.

…Back to The Omen

I’d rather treat The Omen as an allegory of today’s political world in different ways than the fundamentalists do with the Books of Daniel and Revelation. The Latin text of “Ave Satani”, sung at the beginning of the movie and repeated throughout it, parodies the receiving of the Eucharist. Note the materialist focus: “We drink blood, we eat flesh, raise the body of Satan–hail!” It’s all about the body, not the spirit.

This Satanic parody of the Church represents the connection of the Church with evil (i.e., Church corruption). Such a connection continues with Father Spiletto and the nuns in the Italian hospital giving Robert Thorn (Peck) the baby Damien in place of his dead baby son, whom the priests and nuns have murdered. Spiletto tells Thorn, “God has given you a son.” (Seltzer, page 14)

The implied identifying of God with Satan should tell you something about the Church as understood in this movie. The fact that Fathers Spiletto and Brennan (the latter is Tassone in Seltzer’s novel), as well as Mrs. Baylock (B’aalock, as she’s also called in the novel), are Satanists shows the corruption in the Church (Seltzer, pages 130-131).

One key to understanding the political, materialist meaning of the movie is the poem Brennan/Tassone recites to Thorn (Seltzer, page 140): the Jews have returned to Zion (the creation of the state of Israel); the Holy Roman Empire rising is understood to be the Treaty of Rome and the establishment of the European Common Market, which would evolve eventually into the EU, which, as a capitalist entity, cannot be a good thing; for the EU in turn has gone hand in hand with US/NATO imperialism.

From the eternal sea, the Antichrist rises (‘he’ representing all that is evil in “the Eternal Sea”, the world of politics. “The Sea that constantly rages with the turmoil and revolution…The Devil’s child will rise from the world of politics.” (Seltzer, page 188) This child will be “creating armies on either shore”, like the buildup of NATO, its armies on one side of the North Atlantic Ocean, and the US army on the other side.

Now consider how, over thirty-five years since the original Omen trilogy was filmed, those “armies on either shore” are even bigger, more numerously manned, and more powerful than ever, with no more substantial ‘communist threat’ for the US/NATO to worry about. Yet we are in a new Cold War with Russia, with a NATO buildup on the Russian border. These tensions–along with the threat of war with North Korea, Iran, and China, and all of this added to the unending “War on Terror” that has destroyed lives in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and Syria–could very well lead to WWIII.

“Turning man against his brother/’Til man exists no more.”

Seltzer’s story is a true omen.

I argue that this movie is a political story, using Biblical prophesy as an allegory for a real warning of what will happen if we don’t change the direction our world is going in. It isn’t a religious prophesy; it’s an artistic prediction based on the material conditions of our world, the spiritual and supernatural being mere metaphors.

Consider Father Brennan’s admonition to Robert Thorn when they meet in Thorn’s office: Brennan emphasizes drinking Christ’s blood and eating His flesh; the priest means for Thorn to take Communion, of course, but note the implications of emphasizing it in graphic language that sounds like cannibalism. Sanguis bibimus, corpus edimus. This is a materialist salvation, the doctrine of the Real Presence, in stark contrast to the non-denominational emphasis on salvation by grace through faith, and the symbolic interpretation of the Eucharist, which are much more spiritual. Similarly, Brennan speaks of wanting to save Thorn, so Christ will forgive him: this is salvation by good works (material action), instead of by faith (spirituality).

So the battle between Christ and Antichrist in this movie is a material battle, not a spiritual one. The material battle between contradictions, one that has occurred throughout not just Biblical history, but history in general, is the basis of dialectical materialism. Marx said, “the history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles”. According to Mao Zedong, everything is made up of contradictions, and Lenin pointed out the paradoxical unity of contradictions.

Note the association I implied, in the paragraph preceding the last one, between Satanist and Christian cannibalism (bearing in mind how Romans from Nero’s reign and onward persecuted Christians because of, among other things, the pagans’ too-literal interpretation of “…eat; this is my body…Drink,…This is my blood.”). Then remember Spiletto telling Thorn that God, rather than the Devil, gave him a son. Then there’s Jennings the photographer (Warner), who–at Damien’s fifth birthday party–says he’s not sure if they have “the heir to the Thorn millions here or Jesus Christ Himself.” Are God and the Devil being, in a sense, equated in this film?

Brennan’s death is just outside a church, where one would think he’d have at least some protection from God: a lightning rod from the top of the church falls and impales him. This is during a brief thunderstorm, suggesting that a sky-father-god (a pagan one, like Zeus), in concert with the invisible demons chanting, “Versus Christus! Ave, Satani!”, has caused the priest’s death. Is the sky-father punishing Brennan for abandoning Christ, or Satan? Is it revenge for successively abandoning both?

Six is the number of the Devil, for it is incomplete, whereas seven is complete–hence the seven daggers of Megiddo, which Carl Bugenhagen gives Thorn to kill Damien. There were six days of physical Creation, and a holy, or spiritual, seventh day of rest–the Jewish Sabbath (Friday evening to Saturday night), or the Lord’s Day (Sunday). Six days of Creation without a day of rest suggest the Demiurge rather than the Biblical God; the Demiurge fashioned the physical world, and the physical is associated with evil, as opposed to the crucially missing spiritual world. In an evil world of class war (masters vs. slaves, as in the ancient world of Nero and the other Caesars; feudal lords vs. peasant serfs; and the bourgeoisie vs. the proletariat), the poor work and work, never resting (i.e., no Sabbath day). Did the Demiurge kill Brennan?

What makes this movie so horrifying is the seeming absence of the good, Christian God: Damien (Stephens) is given plenty of help, but what spiritual forces help those humans who recognize the boy’s evil? Killing Damien requires the use of the seven daggers; there is no sense of Christ doing battle with the Antichrist in this movie. As in The Exorcist, this is a world of only devils and no angels, of only Satan and no God, of only matter and no spirit.

The three sixes represent the diabolical Trinity: Devil, Antichrist, and false prophet. The Demiurge, though seen as benevolent according to Plato’s Timaeus, is pervasively seen as malevolent in Gnosticism, and thus could be equated with the Devil in this film; and the Demiurge is associated with physicality in how He created the material world. Damien (a pun on ‘demon’) is most physical, born of a jackal, and the dagger that extinguishes his physical life is, according to Bugenhagen, the most important one. The Holy Spirit’s Satanic counterpart is the false prophet, again, a physical being. The Omen‘s world is essentially material.

The materialism of conflicting opposites is symbolically clear in the gory, violent nature of each death. Thorn’s biological son, a newborn baby, is killed with blows to the head with a rock (Seltzer, page 133), smashing a hole in his skull. Damien’s first nanny hangs herself with a loving smile for the boy. Brennan is impaled. The fetus in Kathy’s womb is ‘aborted‘ by Damien making her fall from a balcony. Thorn and Jennings are attacked by Rottweilers in the cemetery, Thorn injuring his arm on a spike on the gate. Kathy (Remick) is thrown from a hospital window by Mrs. Baylock. Jennings is decapitated by a sheet of glass. None of this is overtly supernatural; but it’s all ever so materialistic.

In Seltzer’s novelization, more attention is given to the political issues allegorized with all the Biblical imagery. Thorn’s wish to postpone his trip to Saudi Arabia, just before Brennan/Tassone (Seltzer, pages 78-79) meets him in his office, is expanded on. His staff have worked hard to make the arrangements, and they are annoyed with the ambassador’s sudden changing of his mind. They remind Thorn of how important the US’s relationship is with the Saudis (all that oil!–see also page 107: “…the Arabs, with their oil, were now too powerful for anyone to stand against.”), and a postponement (or outright cancellation) would be seen as an insult.

The importance of the US/Saudi political relationship has become even more evident since the release of the movie; consider how Saudi Arabia, exporter of Wahhabism and home to 15 of the 19 men who hijacked the airplanes that crashed into the World Trade Centre and Pentagon, is never fought with in the “War on Terror”. Instead, the US and UK have sold the Saudis billions worth in weapons, and thus with the UK have aided the Saudis in the war in Yemen.

Elsewhere in Seltzer’s novel, Jeremy Thorn (as he’s called in the novel, not Robert) is giving a speech on the issue of world poverty, and a communist heckles him, asking why he doesn’t give of his own enormous wealth to feed the poor (pages 112-115). Liberal-leaning Thorn can’t help but agree with the communist (page 122), though he’d never want to be called a ‘commie’ by the press. Here we see the real, materialist basis of evil and political corruption symbolized by the rise of the Antichrist and his war with God: the material contradictions between the ruling class and the poor–capitalism.

As capital is accumulated, there is a fear that the tendency of the rate of profit to fall will endanger the survival of one’s business; therefore, business must expand, and markets must be sought out in foreign countries when the ability for capital to be accumulated in one’s own country dries up. Accumulating capital in foreign countries (which includes getting cheap, non-unionized labour) leads to imperialism, hence all this warmongering in the Middle East…for oil. The Biblical fundamentalists (who tend to be apologists for capitalism), instead of trying to prove that the Revelation’s prophesies are of things in today’s world, would do well to focus on such verses as this: “The love of money is the root of all evil.” (1 Timothy 6:10)

And as for those pro-Trump idiots who think that that lecherous narcissist is in any way religious: “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the Kingdom of God.” (Mark 10:25) Finally, consider what, according to Matthew 25:31-46, Jesus considers to be true Christian behaviour.

Being a good Christian ought to be about helping the poor, downtrodden, and unfortunate, rather than engaging in speculative nonsense about relating Biblical prophesy to today’s world; yet, in the opinion of far too many conservative Christians, helping the poor and disadvantaged is mere “socialism,” the ‘tyranny’ of the state (as if there were no such thing as unaccountable corporate tyranny). They speak of ‘voluntarily‘ helping the poor, but one wonders how often these people actually give this voluntary help, when they often propagandize against such moderate leftism as social democracy.

The conspiracy of devils in The Omen is symbolic of the machinations of the bourgeoisie and the state that protects their interests; in the real world, we needn’t (nor, in the case of the more bigoted manifestations, should we) believe in ‘Illuminati, NWO, Jewish, or Masonic conspiracies’ to see the great evil in the world today, and throughout history. Ignore the spiritual claptrap, and look at the material conditions of the world: whoever has the money, has the power; and whoever hasn’t money is powerless. The conspiracy theorists, again, all too often apologists for capitalism, distract us from the material contradictions that Christian dualism (God vs. Satan, good vs. evil, spirit vs. flesh) represents in the movie.

To give yet another example of the unity of opposites given allegorically in the film and novelization, consider what’s written on the headstones of the graves of the jackal and Thorn’s practically still-born baby son, “Bambino Scianna/Santoya…In Morte et in Nate Amplexrantur Generationes…In death…and birth…generations embrace.” (Seltzer, page 203) Death and birth unite in the embrace of generations (just before being killed herself [pages 132-133], the jackal gave birth to baby Damien in the same moment as Thorn’s newborn baby was murdered), as do God and Satan unite, the flesh and spirit unite, and good and evil unite. All material contradictions embrace, and are one.

In the novel, when Thorn meets Bugenhagen in Megiddo (associated with the word “Armageddon”), it’s pointed out that there have been many apocalypses in history (page 241); so the current one with Damien is merely the latest one (remember when Nero was the Antichrist, and it was believed that Nero would return, as Jesus is expected by Christians to return, even though He said all the events leading to and including the end of the world would pass by within His listeners’ own generation in the first century!)

The evil dealt with in The Omen is a banal, earthly one, not the grandiose one of the Revelation. Still, our mundane, materialist evil is a serious one that could lead to the end of all life here (i.e., global warming, often denied, ironically, by fundamentalist Christians and conspiracy theorists who fear a One-World Government, rather than warily watch the rapacious late-stage capitalism of the real globalists, the sovereignty-defying multinational corporations that, with the help of the bourgeois state, are quite possibly pushing us all [outside of mere fear-mongering to sell weapons and create jobs in the US military] to the nuclear brink of World War Three).

Damien’s birth is supernatural, but also most physical, as was Christ’s birth. Remember that The Omen‘s Satanism parodies every Christian dogma (Three sixes as a parody of the Trinity; the jackal’s name is Maria Scianna–Maria Avedici Santora in the novel [page 203]; “Ave Satani” parodies “Ave Maria” and the rite of Communion, etc.). The Orthodox Church rejected as heresy Gnosticism’s insistence on Christ being pure spirit for soteriological reasons; for Christ to die for our sins, He had to have a body, his literal, physical blood washing away our sins.

The Church is materialist; Satanism is materialist; the war between the two is materialist.

Dialectical materialism and class war: that’s the moral war that The Omen, however allegorically, is warning us about.

David Seltzer, The Omen, Signet, New York, 1976

Robert Graves, The White Goddess, Faber and Faber, London, 1948

James L. Mays, general editor, HarperCollins Bible Commentary, Harper, San Francisco, 1988

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The Patient Anarchist

I: Introduction

With the 100th anniversary of the Bolshevik takeover of the Russian government having just passed, I would like to share my thoughts on the relationship between the state, capitalism, and communism. There is a lot of propaganda floating around that treats the state and capitalism as mutually-exclusive opposites, and on the other hand, that treats the state and communism (and/or socialism in general) as so synonymous that they would seem indistinguishable.

I hope to cut through all this propaganda, and to explain the true relationship between these three, one that neither dichotomizes nor identifies any of the three in an absolute sense. Rather, capitalism is entirely enclosed within the state (contrary to the fantasies of the right-libertarians), that is to say, the bourgeois state; and there is some overlap between other aspects of the state (i.e., the proletarian state) and the socialist transition from capitalism to full communism, which involves–through the complete annihilation of capitalism–the replacement of class differences with the notion, “from each according to his (or her) ability, to each according to his or her need”, the withering away of the state, and the replacement of money with a gift economy.

What I’m saying now does not contradict what I’ve said elsewhere about the state and capitalism always being together; rather, what I’m saying now clarifies and refines what I said before. For me, the ultimate goal is still anarcho-communism, but I have grown more patient in my wish for all the world to achieve this goal.

II: Getting from A to Z

I still regard the transitional phase between capitalism and stateless communism to be the state capitalism complained about by George Orwell and Milovan Djilas; I just consider state capitalism to be necessary, and thus a good thing (or at least a necessary evil), an unavoidable part of the transition between today’s neoliberal nightmare and the socialist dream. To get from hell to heaven, one must pass through purgatory.

Anarchists typically complain of the ‘back-stabbing’ of Bolsheviks during such difficult times as the Kronstadt Rebellion, Lenin’s turning against Makhno, and Stalin’s meagre helping of the Republicans during the Spanish Civil War. Many anarchists fail to grasp that, for the revolution to succeed, it must be global, not just local; at the same time, local victories must be defended in the most organized way possible, and not have their defence diluted in the name of disorganized and weak ‘permanent revolutions’.

Revolution can’t and won’t be achieved all in one fell swoop; there will be many small revolutions whose gains must be protected while other revolutions are attempted elsewhere. And the danger of counter-revolution mustn’t be trivialized: much, if not most, of the ‘oppression’ of the Soviet Union in the 1920s and 1930s can be attributed to the difficulties and pressures caused during the aftermath of the Russian Civil War of 1918-1921, rather than to Lenin’s supposed ambition.

It is not only wrong-headed, but absurd, to think that we can go from A, a neoliberal capitalism led by an idiot man-child in the Oval Office, to B, full communism, with every business fully collectivized, no more money, and no more state. To achieve our goals, we can’t just go from A to B, but from A to Z, with every intermediate step of B, C, D, etc., fully considered, planned, and worked through. The B of Lenin’s New Economic Policy (NEP), openly acknowledged by him as ‘state capitalism’ (as stated in ‘On Cooperation’, Tucker, pp. 707-713), or the B of China’s “Socialism with Chinese Characteristics“, must be acknowledged. (I just wish the CPC would move on to C, D, and E some time soon [contrary to those leftists who think it has moved on]: even Job’s patience had limits.)

In the cases of such socialist states as the USSR and Cuba, though, that movement to C, D, E, F, and quite a few steps beyond, definitely happened. In the 1930s, Stalin moved past the NEP and collectivized agriculture, which, granted, was fraught with such problems  as the selfish hoarding of the kulaks (and selfishness is regarded with bizarre admiration by right-libertarians), especially troublesome during bad harvests (a peasant resistance that was from a much smaller part of the population than is usually assumed), forcing the Stalinist regime to suppress them as ruthlessly as it did. In industrializing the Soviet Union, however, and protecting it from such counter-revolutionaries as the Nazis (whom his Red Army defeated, and thus he deserves the lion’s share of praise for saving the world from fascism), as well as building a nuclear arsenal to defend the USSR against that other genocidal monster, the US war machine, he transformed Russia from a backward, agrarian society into a superpower in a matter of a few decades–no mean feat.

The USSR and Cuba created free healthcare, free education, and other social services. They also aided national liberation movements in Third World countries around the world. Similar benefits could be found in other socialist states, such as those in the Eastern Bloc, North Korea, and China during Mao’s rule. We may see states in these countries, and a not-yet-fully developed communism, but by any reasonable measure, their efforts showed remarkable progress towards Z.

Cuba, a Third World country with a US-imposed economic embargo stifling its growth for over fifty years, has almost 100% literacy and superbly-trained doctors that often go to other poor countries to help the sick there. Impressive.

Contrast these achievements with the truly backward movement of the US over the past thirty years. Reagan (as well as Thatcher in the UK) started our neoliberal nightmare with union-busting, deregulation, and tax cuts to the rich. Bill Clinton gave some crippling blows with the Welfare Reform Act of 1996, which essentially took away the social safety net; and his repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act is believed by many to have lead to the 2008 financial crisis, in the aftermath of which George W. Bush and Obama helped only the super-rich.

Today, consider all of Trump’s cuts to education (and poor quality US education/student performance is nothing new), the arts, etc., while the already bloated US military budget got a further bloating, thanks to support not only from the GOP, but the Democrats, too! Then there’s Trump’s brilliant (<<<sarcasm) idea to have, for every one new regulation, deregulation of two things…not that it’s a particularly workable idea, of course.

As if the situation weren’t bad enough, we have right-libertarians who delude themselves that our current neoliberal mess is somehow not at all capitalist, merely because of the existence of a state and some regulations; therefore, the solution is apparently to deregulate all the more! These right-wing ideologues fail to see how the “free market” creates the monopolies that result in the very crony capitalism they imagine to be the opposite of ‘true’ capitalism; thus capitalism can enlarge the state, rather than exist as its antithesis. They achieve this ideological sleight-of-hand by imagining that the state exists more or less in one form–some variation on socialism–rather than acknowledge how the state can serve the rich, or serve the people.

III: The Bourgeois State vs. the Proletarian State

In The State and Revolution, which opened my eyes and my mind to Leninism in ways nothing else could, Lenin clearly distinguished two kinds of government, either of which involves one class dominating the other. The wealthy and powerful will use the state to rule over the workers, or vice versa. The wealthy will never annihilate the workers, because they need workers to provide their wealth; but the workers could eventually obliterate the bourgeoisie, which would result in the withering away of the state. Anarchists must be patient in waiting for this end result.

Only a worker’s state is a socialist one: all others are properly understood to be variations on the bourgeois state. The neoliberal American state, as well as all those countries that bow to US interests (including Canada, South Korea, Taiwan, Japan, the countries of the EU, the UK, and the puppet governments in Brazil, etc.), are all bourgeois states. The social democrat states of the Nordic model are market economies with some concessions to the people (i.e., strong unions, welfare, free education, and universal healthcare), but are still bourgeois. And fascist, or quasi-fascist, states like Italy under Mussolini, Nazi Germany, Francoist Spain, and Chile under Pinochet, were bourgeois, not socialist.

What must be emphasized is not whether there is a state or not, but rather whose interests are served by that state: the rich, or the people? Countries with free healthcare and education, near 100% employment and nearly 0% homeless are clearly head and shoulders above countries whose states contribute to wealth inequality, and finance war and corporate welfare instead of healthcare, education, and a social safety net for the poor.

When the poor are oppressed, I feel every sympathy for them; when capitalists in socialist states are taxed appropriately, so the poor are provided for, I feel no sympathy for the ‘poor rich’. The issue of taxation is the next point I need to address.

IV: Two Needful Considerations Regarding Taxes

We often hear right-libertarians complain, “Taxation is theft!”, while giving no consideration to how the overworking and underpaying of workers, imperialism’s rape of other countries’ land and resources, and underfunding of taxpayers’ needed social services are all theft.

The petite bourgeoisie screams as loudly as does the moyenne/grande/haute bourgeoisie about lowering taxes, but it’s the latter who largely benefit from those tax cuts. It never occurs to those lower-to-middle class right-wingers that they get a return on their taxes through those social programs…provided they’re provided.

Whether taxes are a good or a bad thing depends on two important considerations: who is being taxed, the lower, or upper classes; and how is the tax revenue being spent. If there’s progressive taxation, taxing the wealthiest the most, the middle classes far less, and the lower middle to working classes hardly at all to not at all, you have a valid case for taxes. If the tax revenue is spent on such things as education, free healthcare, and unemployment insurance, even those in the middle classes get a return on their taxes, for they may benefit from those social services as well as the poor.

Contrast this validation of taxes against the system in the US. The middle classes pay a moderate level of taxes, and the moderately rich pay high taxes, while the super-rich pay far less in taxes than they should pay. (While the US’s taxation is kind-of-sort-of progressive, with the huge, egregious exception of the super-rich as pointed out above, in the UK, the tax system is the inverse opposite of progressive. On top of that, consider the income tax evasion of the super-rich worldwide, as well as their non-declaring of income.)

To make matters worse, way too much of US tax revenue goes into the military, while healthcare, education, and other social services are left in a totally ineffectual state. Obamacare was portrayed as ‘socialism’ in the mainstream media, when it was anything but. The neoliberal cuts to such vital things as welfare and social services that started with Reagan continued from Clinton to Bush (whose tax cuts for the rich hardly created jobs or boosted the economy), to Obama, and finally to Trump; at the same time, the military budget increased and increased, up till the gargantuan increase supported by both Republicans and Democrats. Such insanely high military spending, hardly a good use of tax revenue,  does result in a bloating of the state, but it’s a bloating of the bourgeois state, not the proletarian state.

Taxation in a workers’ state would be the opposite of the US way of doing things. The only qualification to this contrast would be a sizeable amount of tax revenue going to the military (in defence against counter-revolution, as North Korea has been doing, not for the sake of imperialism), and even this budget would be Lilliputian compared to the US military budget. This need to defend against counter-revolution is part of the justification for a temporary, transitional state, something anarchists must be patient about, and this leads me to my next point.

V: The Dictatorship of the Proletariat

One cannot establish socialism without a plan. All efforts to establish communism in one fell swoop have resulted ultimately in failure. As thrilling as the Paris Commune was, it lasted a mere two months’ time before it was brutally suppressed. Theorists like Marx and Lenin discussed what they thought were the fatal errors made by the Communards (not seizing control of the bank, not taking the fight to Versailles to secure their gains–Marx/Lenin, p. 97), and proposed ways to improve on future revolutions.

This learning from one’s mistakes, developing newer and better theory to raise the chances of success in future revolutions, is the basis of scientific socialism. There is often a poverty of theory in anarchism that results in sloppy acts of rebellion (e.g., Black Bloc members randomly destroying property in protest at G8 or G20 summits, etc.) instead of planning effectively.

We want direct action that brings results, not adolescent acts of defiance that ultimately do nothing to change the system. Was Makhno’s anarcho-capitalist experiment a valid one, or was it an exercise in thuggish banditry, one that ironically had all the authoritarianism it claimed to be opposed to? Is this latter possibility the real reason Leninist authoritarianism suppressed Makhno? Whichever is the correct interpretation of events, his anarchist experiment didn’t last–that we know for sure.

Anarchist Catalonia was another thrilling experiment during the Spanish Revolution of 1936-1939; but even Madrid’s socialist government wasn’t strong enough to fight off Franco’s fascists. I wish Stalin had given more help to the Spanish Republicans instead of fretting over the anarchists, or whether Trotskyists were, among them. Franco’s victory assuredly encouraged Hitler and Mussolini (who’d helped the Spanish Nationalists) to carry on their warmongering…and we all know what that led to.

But let’s contrast these failures with the successes of the 70-year existence of the USSR, with Cuba, with the Eastern Bloc, and with North Korea. The Soviet Union fought off a counter-revolution from 1918-1921, then fought off internal, treasonous dangers during the 1930s (revisionism that continued to exist right to the dissolution of the USSR), and finally did the lion’s share of fighting off and defeating the Nazis. Cuba foiled the Bay of Pigs invasion, and has successfully dealt with an embargo for over fifty years. The CIA and Cuban exiles tried to kill Castro over 600 times. The Eastern Bloc, gained after the defeat of fascism, lasted roughly forty-five years, in spite of all the West’s attempts to thwart it at the time. And North Korea, having been bombed to the Stone Age during the Korean War, lost 20% of their population, and been traumatized to this day, rose from the ashes, is, relatively speaking, a thriving country (in spite of how Western propaganda portrays it as a basket case), and has created a nuclear deterrent to make the US think twice before ever bombing it again.

While the Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc ultimately crumbled, they made the anarchist attempts look like still births in comparison. These are clear examples of how to bring about and protect a socialist revolution, Cuba and North Korea even more so. Consider also North Vietnam’s humbling of the US, while the latter’s cowardly napalm campaign only proves what murderers their army were and are.

Only a well-protected revolution can guarantee that transitional process of going from A (capitalism in its most brutal, naked form–i.e., today’s) to Z (full communism, with the withering away of the state, production to provide for everyone instead of just for profit, and the end of the use of money). The withering away of the state requires a temporary, transitional workers’ state to make the dream of socialist anarchy possible. Dialectics: a) an unregulated (or minimally-regulated) capitalist state, as we have over most of the world today, b) a regulated workers’ state, and c) stateless communism.

To bring about the final resolution of present-day contradictions, anarchists must be patient. Mao Zedong, who in his youth had anarchist tendencies (i.e., he’d been influenced by the ideas of Peter Kropotkin) before embracing Marxism-Leninism, said that the Chinese dictatorship of the proletariat would take one hundred years before the state finally withered away: now that is patient anarchism. (Marx and Engels were also patient anarchists; so were even Lenin and Stalin, properly understood. These four theoreticians simply accepted the exigencies of the time, namely, that a protracted period of class struggle to wipe out all traces of capitalism had to come first before full anarchist communism could come into being.)

One hopes that the current Chinese dictatorship would switch to that of the proletariat sooner rather than later, though, especially with the prediction that the hegemony of the American empire will have crumbled by the 2030s, and that China will be among those superpowers, like Russia, that supplant it (or at least they will all coexist), and that leaders like Xi Jinping will do more than just talk the Marxist talk. Then, who knows? Maybe…just maybe, the Chinese state really will wither away by 2049.

VI: The Aftermath of the USSR’s Catastrophic Collapse

When the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, the Western media portrayed it as a triumph of liberal democracy over totalitarianism. The Cold War was over! No more need to worry about nuclear war, because Russia and Eastern Europe were to join the capitalist world. It was seen as the “end of history”. Communism was seen as discredited.

The invalidating of communism was seen as further proved when we saw the economic turmoil Russia had been plunged into, for the Soviet planned economy was blamed for the debacle of the 1990s; but a more careful analysis will show that matters were more complicated…and more sinister…than met the eye.

Oligarchs rose up in Russia, buying up state property and assets under Boris Yeltsin’s incompetent, alcoholic leadership, and causing terrible wealth inequality, while the socialist safety net of the USSR was no longer there for the unfortunate to fall back on. Capitalism, not socialism, is what ruined Russia.

George Soros helped with this switch-around, and while he has been a vocal critic of the excesses of “free market” capitalism, his ‘left-leaning’ should be taken with a generous dose of salt: he’s a billionaire, so you should consider where his real class loyalties lie.

When the USSR collapsed, along with the end of the Warsaw Pact and the reunification of Germany, Moscow was promised that NATO would not expand or move eastward. Anyone who has been following politics for the past 25 years knows what a broken promise (translation–blatant lie) that was: NATO troops are currently lined up along the Russian border, after unsubstantiated stories of ‘Russian threats to the Baltic region’ started popping up in the media during the 2016 US election campaign. It should be clear who the real aggressors are.

The first signs of the US/NATO’s broken promise came with the Balkanization of the former Yugoslavia. The Serbs, Croats, Bosnians, etc. lived there in relative peace under the Titoist system. After the collapse of the Eastern Bloc, though, the IMF, the World Bank, Germany, the US, and NATO worked to undermine Slobodan Milošević’s efforts to maintain socialism by stirring up the old ethnic hatreds and blaming the killing on him, fabricating a charge of genocide (of which he was exonerated by the ICTY). Then came the US/NATO ‘humanitarian war’.

After NATO claimed the former Yugoslavia for US imperialism, they went after most of the other former Warsaw Pact members. An attempt was made to include Georgia (which was encouraged by the US to fight with South Ossetia, a country friendly with Russia) in NATO back in 2008, angering Russia and leading ultimately to the Russo-Georgian War. US imperialism interfered in the democratic process in Ukraine, getting rid of pro-Russia Viktor Yanukovych and replacing him with a government that includes neo-Nazis! In Russia herself, the US interfered with the democratic process by manipulating the 1996 Russian election to re-elect the hugely unpopular Yeltsin against what would have been a shoo-in re-election of the Communist Party.

…and US politicians complain about supposed Russian interference in the 2016 US election, an accusation they have never been able to prove.

What must be borne in mind is that the Soviet system, for all its flaws, was an effective counterweight against the depredations of Western imperialism. The Western welfare state of the prosperous 1945-1973 world was influenced by socialism, and was an attempt to stave off the ‘communist threat’. The USSR was frequently involved in helping national liberation movements in the Third World. With the Soviets gone, the US/NATO knows there’s been nobody significant standing in their way…at least not until Vladimir Putin pulled Russia out of the abyss Yeltsin helped put her in, and not until China began rising as a major global economic power.

Small wonder the US has been so hostile to these two countries lately!

Throughout her history, the US has been a warmongering nation, starting with the Revolutionary War, then the massacres of Native Americans, the taking of a huge chunk of Mexican territory, her imperialist bullying of the Philippines, the needless nuking of Japan, and the bombing of North Korea. But the so-called War on Terror takes the cake: look at what US imperialism has done to Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Somalia, and Niger. Iran, North Korea, Russia, and even China are next on the list.

With all this killing in mind, we need to explore all the killing that communists have been accused of.

VII: A Re-examining of the Communist Death Count

Communists, admittedly, aren’t innocent of excesses when it comes to bloodshed. Millions died under their watch…but how many millions was it, really? And is there a context behind this killing that must be scrutinized to get at the real meaning behind it?

Mainstream sources tend to give figures of around 100 million dead due to communist repressions. But where do they get these gargantuan figures from?

While there is lots of documented evidence, including mass graves, photographs, etc., of the victims of the Holocaust (with six million Jews and five million non-Jews murdered by the SS), nothing in the Soviet archives indicates tens of millions killed during Stalin’s purges; actually, about 800,000 people were executed between 1921 and 1953. At worst, about 2-3 million died in the Gulag, while 20-40% of Gulag prisoners were released each year from the 1920s to the 1950s.

As for the ‘tens of millions’ supposedly killed under Mao’s initially problem-laden (i.e., bad harvests), but eventually successful Great Leap Forward, those exaggerated statistics are based on manipulations of censuses and death-rate figures from the 1953-1964 period. Right-wing writers like Robert ConquestJung Chang and Jon Halliday (authors of Mao: The Unknown Story), and Stéphane Courtois, editor of The Black Book of Communism, who seemed obsessed with arriving at a total of 100 million killed by Communists, are all responsible for these error-laden, anti-communist smears. (Of course, Deng Xiaoping helped with the anti-Mao slanders in order to further his reactionary agenda of reintroducing the market in the 1980s.)

Among this demonization is the nonsense surrounding the Holodomor, which was really little more than a famine in the Ukraine; but the political right insists on portraying the tragedy as a ‘communist Holocaust’, a supposedly deliberate murder of Ukrainians. (The same largely goes for the Great Leap Forward.)

Linked to this kind of anti-Soviet propaganda is how the ‘Forest Brothers’, an Estonian, Latvian, and Lithuanian anti-Soviet resistance guerrilla movement linked to Nazi Germany back in the mid-1940s, are being celebrated as heroes in a short film (as contemporary anti-Russian propaganda) published and promoted by none other than NATO! Only that puppet of US imperialism would be low enough to vilify Communists while lionizing pro-fascist Jew killers.

The far-left is often more or less equated with the far-right in the horseshoe theory, something I once believed in years ago, but now realize is hopelessly wrong. The points of comparison between fascism and Communism are, at best, superficial: their authoritarianism, collectivism, and propensity to resort to violence all serve totally different objectives. Fascists use these three to strengthen their respective nations at the expense of other nations, races, or ethnic groups; Communists use the three to emancipate the global proletariat from capitalism, of which fascism is an aggravated version.

One group commonly associated with Communism, but who would more accurately be described as a kind of Asian nationalism, were the Khmer Rouge. The atrocities perpetrated under Pol Pot‘s rule of Cambodia are, contrary to popular opinion, not to be associated with Communism.

The Khmer Rouge’s ideology had, at best, a mere smattering of Marxism; deserving of far more focus was their xenophobia and ultra-nationalism. Rarely was Marxism-Leninism discussed among them, according to Nate Thayer; only Nuon Chea referred to the ideology, once, as a guiding party principle, of all the senior or other party members of the CPK, in all the interviews Thayer had with them from the 1980s to the 1990s.

They were opposed to modernization, something so crucial to socialists–as the one true way of ensuring the productive forces can provide for everyone–that even critics of Communism like Milovan Djilas acknowledged the need for industrialization in socialist states (see Djilas, The New Class, pages 15-18). Pol Pot’s ideal, in contrast, was ‘primitive communism’; this, combined with the US bombings of Cambodia, which caused a frantic desperation to produce food directly, meant that urban dwellers were forced into farming in the rural areas, which led to famine and starvation.

The Khmer Rouge, far from being the comrades of socialist Vietnam, fought them. Normally, there is at least a reasonable level of solidarity between socialist states. If the Khmer Rouge were Communists, they were pretty strange ones.

Most importantly, though, to come back to a discussion of the genuine Communists, the deaths under Stalin and Mao must be understood within the context of class war, or the aggravation of class struggle under socialism. There was, and is, always the fear of re-establishing capitalism within socialist states (consider what Maduro’s and Kim Jong-un’s governments have been going through to see my point); and the neoliberal nightmare of today, with the exacerbated state of imperialism and neocolonialism rampant in the Third World, shows how justified those socialist fears are of the “free market” insidiously creeping back into our world.

Stalin inherited from Lenin a USSR that had not so long ago fought off the White Army in the Russian Civil War of 1918-1921. Added to that, Russia was an agrarian society, backward and lacking in modern industrialization. He also knew of the threat of the capitalists around the world (including revisionists within his own country!) were looming like a shadow over everything he’d tried to build.

Speaking of threats, several years into the implementation of his three Five-Year Plans to industrialize the USSR, Stalin had to deal with an especially formidable foe: Hitler, who hated Communists and considered them a Jewish conspiracy. And the Nazis weren’t across the ocean, but right next door to Russia. Stalin had no choice but to speed up the industrialization of the Soviet Union, including working the Gulag labourers like slaves, in time to be ready to withstand a Nazi invasion. Attempts were made to stall Hitler, such as the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, to buy time until the Red Army would be ready to face the SS.

Nazi Germany invaded in June 1941, and such battles as that of Stalingrad were among the bloodiest in military history. Far too few people in the West appreciate the huge sacrifice the Soviet Union made to rid the world of the Nazi menace: between 20-30 million Soviet Russians died, including 3.3 million POWs who were brutalized, given inadequate (if any) clothing–including in winter, and starved in Nazi concentration camps. We always hear of the heroism of the US and the UK who fought for our freedom in WWII, but their sacrifice was dwarfed by that of socialist Eastern Europe. The Red Army, who fought their way right into Berlin, making Hitler put a gun to his head, were the real heroes of WWII.

The Great Patriotic War was one of those few times one could truly speak of soldiers fighting for our freedoms. So many other wars have been thus rationalized, but usually they have only been imperialist competitions for land and resources, as WWI was. It is truly nauseating to hear anyone try to justify the current “War on Terror” as a fight for freedom, when the exact opposite has been fought for.

If there’s any one thing that shows Stalin as being in no way comparable to Hitler, it is his defeat of Nazi Germany. It is obscene how people, right-wingers in particular, try either to equate these two men, or to make Stalin seem worse, typically by basing their dubious assessment on not only grotesquely bloated statistics of those who died under Stalin (a ‘dictator’ who tried to resign multiple times, but couldn’t, because his people loved him too much to let him go [many Russians still love him, by the way]), but also minimized statistics of the victims of Nazi murder.

The SS brutalized and killed Jews, Roma, gay men, and the mentally and physically disabled because they hated them. Communists killed their political enemies, as did Nazis, of course, but consider the nature of those respective political enemies. Those who opposed Nazism were people of conscience, those who cared about the human rights of Jews, Roma, gays, women, and the mentally and physically disabled; many of these people of conscience were leftists, the first ones put in Nazi concentration camps. Communists’ political enemies were capitalists and traitors (those executed) and those leftists with otherwise reactionary views, the impatient leftists (typically those just put in the Gulag and then released).

All these political enemies of Communism were a danger to a political and economic system dedicated to human rights, equality, and anti-imperialism. Enemies of Nazi Germany were enemies of racism and imperialism. It shouldn’t be necessary to re-educate people on these matters, but fascist tendencies have been rising lately.

There is no denying that there were excesses during the Stalin era, some impatient leftists who suffered a far worse fate than the punishment they deserved; but Stalin’s wrongs were far fewer than those of Hitler. Part of the false moral equivalency of these two men is the fault of groups like the Alt-right; part of it is the fault of neoliberal capitalists who are doing everyone in their power to prevent a resurgence of socialism.

If there is any moral equivalence to be made with Hitler, it’s the kind of people who financed him…capitalists, who have been responsible for the deaths of far greater numbers than even the highest estimates given of those killed under Communism.

VIII: Conclusion

We leftists have a lot of work to do in fixing what is wrong with our world today; but fixing those problems won’t come about by dreaming of utopia without planning and doing the hard work of going from A to Z. In a transitional socialist state, do you fear state terror, surveillance, militarized police, prison slave-labour, an all-powerful oligarchy? Do we not already have all those things right now? If you fear things going wrong in a Marxist-Leninist system, I must ask you: do you think things could be any worse than they are now?

Now here’s a question that needs some kind of answer: have I, one who has called himself an ‘anarcho-communist’, and a ‘libertarian Marxist,’ become a tankie? I hesitate to label myself with that term, if for no other reason than because I find any such labels limiting (and the same goes for ‘anarcho-communist’ and ‘libertarian Marxist’, to be fair.)

I’ve done a number of ‘political compass’ tests, with slightly differing results, but here’s one I did for the sake of this article: take it however you will. Here’s another:

Screen Shot 2017-11-08 at 5.12.14 AM

In any case, I consider myself, however contradictory this may sound, to be a libertarian-leaning Marxist with moderate ‘tank’ sympathies. I very much believe in the idea of the dictatorship of the proletariat, and I see the need for some kind of vanguard to lead and educate the working class, though I’m not sure I’d define such concepts in as particular a way as the average Marxist-Leninist would. I prefer at least some elasticity in their application.

For me, anarchy is an aspiration, though, not an immediately realizable state (pardon the pun). So, to make the kind of progress towards a point when the state will no longer be needed, because no class war will exist anymore, we’ll have to be patient anarchists.

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

Milovan Djilas, The New Class: An Analysis of the Communist System, Harvest/HBJ Book, New York, 1957

Karl Marx & V. I. Lenin, The Civil War in France: The Paris Commune, International Publishers, New York, 2008

Analysis of ‘Planet of the Apes’

Planet of the Apes is a science fiction franchise based on Pierre Boulle‘s 1963 novel, La Planète des Singes (‘The Planet of the Monkeys’). Boulle’s novel was meant as a satirical look at the dangers of the people of a civilization growing complacent and intellectually lazy, resulting in the decline and fall of that civilization, which is then humiliated by its replacement with a new civilization of a previously inferior species; the movies that followed, however, were concerned with larger political and social issues, making the story an allegory of such things as racism, the fear of nuclear annihilation, and most obviously, cruelty to animals.

I will present an allegory of the class struggle of the proletariat (the apes) against the bourgeoisie (the humans). The films’ allegory isn’t told from my communist perspective, though, but rather from the viewpoint of reactionary, bourgeois liberals. All the same, a hidden communist meaning is there, buried under Hollywood’s liberal agenda. I will compare scenes from the novel and the early Apes films with significant political issues, past and present, to illustrate the validity of my allegory.

Here are some quotes from the first five movies:

Planet of the Apes (1968 film)

“Tell me, though, does man, that marvel of the universe, that glorious paradox who sent me to the stars, still make war against his brother… keep his neighbor’s children starving?” –George Taylor

“I can’t help thinking that somewhere in the universe there has to be something better than man. Has to be.” –Taylor

“Man has no understanding. He can be taught a few simple tricks. Nothing more.” –Dr. Zaius

“Dr. Zira, I must caution you. Experimental brain surgery on these creatures is one thing, and I’m all in favor of it. But your behavior studies are another matter. To suggest that we can learn anything about the simian nature from a study of man is sheer nonsense. Why, man is a nuisance. He eats up his food supply in the forest, then migrates to our green belts and ravages our crops. The sooner he is exterminated, the better. It’s a question of simian survival.” –Dr. Zaius

Take your stinking paws off me, you damn dirty ape!” –Taylor (ranked #66 in the American Film Institute’s list of the top 100 movie quotations in American cinema)

“It’s a mad house! A MAD HOUSE!!” –Taylor

“‘Beware the beast man, for he is the Devil’s pawn. Alone among God’s primates, he kills for sport, or lust, or greed. Yea, he will murder his brother to possess his brother’s land. Let him not breed in great numbers, for he will make a desert of his home and yours. Shun him; drive him back into his jungle lair, for he is the harbinger of death.'” –Cornelius, reading from the 29th scroll, sixth verse, of Ape Law

George: [brandishing rifle] Don’t try to follow us. I’m pretty handy with this.

Dr. Zaius: Of that, I’m sure. All my life I’ve awaited your coming and dreaded it. Like death itself.

George: Why? I’ve terrified you from the first, Doctor. I still do. You’re afraid of me and you hate me. Why?

Dr. Zaius: Because you’re a man! And you’re right. I have always known about man. From the evidence, I believe his wisdom must walk hand in hand with his idiocy. His emotions must rule his brain. He must be a war-like creature who gives battle to everything around him…even himself.

George: What evidence? There were no weapons in that cave.

Dr. Zaius: The Forbidden Zone was once a paradise. Your breed made a desert of it ages ago.

George: It still doesn’t give me the why…a planet where apes evolved from men? There’s got to be an answer.

Dr. Zaius: [with surprisingly genuine sympathy] Don’t look for it, Taylor! You may not like what you’ll find.

[riding down the beach in the last scene] “Oh my God… I’m back. I’m home. All the time, it was… We finally really did it. [falls to his knees screaming] YOU MANIACS! YOU BLEW IT UP! AH, DAMN YOU! GOD DAMN YOU ALL TO HELL!!” –Taylor [camera pans to reveal the half-destroyed Statue of Liberty sticking out of the sand]

Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970)

“Our great Lawgiver tells us that never, never will the human have the ape’s divine faculty for being able to distinguish between evil and good. The only good human is a dead human! But those fortunate enough to remain alive will have the privilege of being used by our revered Minister of Science, the good Dr. Zaius.” –General Ursus

“Glory be to the Bomb, and to the Holy Fallout. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be. World without end. Amen.” –Mendez

Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971)

“Please, do not use the word “monkey”! It is offensive to us. As an archaeologist, I had access to history scrolls which were kept secret from the masses, and I suspect that the weapon which destroyed Earth was man’s own invention! I do know this: one of the reasons for man’s original downfall was your peculiar habit of murdering one another! Man destroys man. Apes do not destroy apes!” –Cornelius

“Mr. President, the people must be told that the killers of today could become the mass murderers of tomorrow!” –Otto Hasslein

Otto Hasslein: Cornelius. This is not an interracial hassle, but a search for facts. We do not deny the possibility of man’s decline and fall. All we want to find out is how apes rose.

Cornelius: Well, it began in our prehistory with the plague that fell upon dogs.

Zira: And cats.

Cornelius: Hundreds and thousands of them died. And hundreds and thousands of them had to be destroyed in order to prevent the spread of infection.

Zira: There were dog bonfires.

Cornelius: Yes. And by the time the plague was contained, man was without pets. Of course, for man, this was intolerable. I mean, he might kill his brother, but he could not kill his dog. So humans took primitive apes as pets.

Zira: Primitive and dumb, but still twenty times more intelligent than dogs or cats.

Cornelius: Correct. They were quartered in cages, but they lived and moved freely in human homes. They became responsive to human speech and, in the course of less than two centuries, they progressed from performing mere tricks to performing services.

Interrogator: Nothing more or less than a well-trained sheepdog could do.

Cornelius: Could a sheepdog cook, or clean the house, or do the marketing for the groceries with a list from its mistress, or wait on tables?

Zira: Or, after three more centuries, turn the tables on their owners.

Hasslein: How?

Cornelius: They became alert to the concept of slavery. And as their numbers grew, to slavery’s antidote which, of course, is unity. At first, they began assembling in small groups. They learned the art of corporate and militant action. They learned to refuse. At first, they just grunted their refusal. But then, on an historic day, which is commemorated by my species and fully documented in the sacred scrolls, there came Aldo. He did not grunt. He articulated. He spoke a word, a word which had been spoken to him time and again without number by humans. He said: “No”.

Hasslein: So that’s how it all started.

“Zira! I want that baby! If you won’t give it to me, I’ll shoot!” –Hasslein

Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972)

“Lousy human bastards!!” –Caesar

“If we lose this battle, that’s the end of the world as we know it!! We will have proved ourselves inferior!! Weak!! And all those groveling cowards who are alive, when the battle is over, will be the weakest of all!! This will be the end of human civilization!! And the world will belong to a planet of apes!!” –Governor Breck

Breck: Caesar!

Caesar: Your servant, your creature, your animal.

Breck: But I saw you die.

Caesar: The king is dead. Long live the king! Tell me, Breck, before you die, how do we differ from the dogs and cats you and your kind used to love? Why did you turn us from pets into slaves?

Breck: Because your kind were once our ancestors. Man was born of the ape. There’s still an ape curled up inside of every man, the beast that must be whipped into submission, the savage that has to be shackled in chains. You are that beast, Caesar. You taint us. You…you poison our guts. When we hate you, we’re hating the dark side of ourselves.

“Where there is fire, there is smoke. And in that smoke, from this day forward, my people will crouch, and conspire, and plot, and plan for the inevitable day of man’s downfall, the day when he finally and self-destructively turns his weapons against his own kind. The day of the writing in the sky, when your cities lie buried under radioactive rubble! When the sea is a dead sea, and the land is a wasteland, out of which I will lead my people from their captivity! And we will build our own cities, in which there will be no place for humans, except to serve our ends! And we shall found our own armies, our own religion, our own dynasty! And that day is upon you…NOW!!” –Caesar

Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973)

“In all our years of slavery to mankind, the word “No” was the one word we were electrically conditioned to fear. An ape may say “No” to a human, but a human may never again say “No” to an ape.” –Virgil

“We…want…guns! Guns…are…power! Now we go and get guns!!” –Aldo

The evidence has been revealed that Aldo murdered Cornelius, Caesar’s son

Apes: (chanting) Ape has killed ape.

Apes repeat the chanting for Aldo violating ape law, then march towards him

Jake: What’s the matter with them?

MacDonald: I guess you could say they just joined the human race.

I’ll be focusing on the novel and original five films, which, though the sequels–as opposed to the superb reboot trilogy of the 2010s–are all flawed to varying degrees, they still have lots of powerful social and political commentary that’s more than worthy of examination. Indeed, while the reboot trilogy is better overall, the original five films have even more political and social commentary, and are therefore of more interest in this analysis.

I: Planet of the Apes, the novel vs. the 1968 film

Boulle’s novel opens with a framing device involving two “sailing cosmonauts” (as they’re called on page 5–note the Russian/Soviet term, as opposed to the Western ‘astronaut’), Jinn and Phyllis, travelling in a spaceship, space travel being a common way to vacation at such a time, centuries into the future. They discover a bottle floating in space, with a written message of help from Ulysse Mérou (his equivalent in the 1968 film being George Taylor, played by Charlton Heston). Jinn and Phyllis read the message, which begins the story proper: thus do we see the beginning of the 1968 movie’s parallels with Boulle’s novel.

Mérou agrees to join Professor Antelle and his disciple, Arthur Levain (the latter two men paralleling Landon and Dodge, respectively, in the 1968 film; there is no female astronaut in the novel to correspond to Stewart in the movie, though the novel includes a chimpanzee astronaut, Hector, for which a corresponding chimp, ‘Pericles’, can be seen in the Tim Burton remake) on a journey, starting in the year 2500, to Betelgeuse.

In the film, Taylor is the misanthrope (see above, the second quote cited from the 1968 film); in the novel, the professor has misanthropic tendencies, or at least an apathy towards humanity (page 13: “I [i.e., Mérou] even felt that the prospect of escaping from his [i.e., Antelle’s] contemporaries was an added attraction to the professor. He often admitted he was tired of his fellow men…”; page 15: “It is certain that the learned Antelle, without being a misanthrope, was not interested at all in human beings. He would often declare that he did not expect much from them any more,…”).

This misanthropy, in accordance with my allegory, represents left-leaning liberals‘ dislike of the excesses of capitalism, even though they aren’t all that committed to putting an end to the profit motive’s deleterious effects on the world.

In the novel, after time dilation pushes them centuries into the future, the three men discover a habitable planet, which they name Soror (Latin for ‘sister’), a ‘sister’ Earth, but certainly not Earth, as it is in the films. After reaching the planet’s orbit, they launch a shuttle to land on the surface.

The men find a waterfall and go skinny-dipping below it. Nova appears early in the novel: the golden, mute beauty is insouciantly naked (the primitive humans of the novel don’t wear the animal skins of the 1968 movie). She sees Hector the chimpanzee and, frightened of him, strangles him to death. She’s also hostile to the men’s clothes and other man-made things, as are all the other naked humans, who destroy these unnatural things on sight. We’ll learn the reason for all this hostility soon enough.

Clothed gorilla hunters attack all the humans, killing Arthur Levain as they do Dodge in the movie. The survivors are taken away as captured animals.

In the film, prior to the hunt, Taylor and his two colleagues look on all the mute humans, seeing Nova for the first time, and imagine running the whole planet in short order. If man represents the capitalist class, here we see the talking grande and haute bourgeoisie wishing to rule over the mute petite bourgeoisie, in contrast to the ‘level playing field’ that the right-libertarians delude themselves into thinking “free market capitalism” will provide, with minimal state interference.

Instead, the visitors of this “upside-down civilization” discover the dictatorship of the proletariat, as the ape civilization can be said to symbolize. The ape civilization of Soror in Boulle’s novel has modern technology, including airplanes and satellites (page 154: “They have electricity, industries, motor cars, and airplanes, but, as far as the conquest of space is concerned, they have reached only the stage of artificial satellites.”). Only in the cartoon adaptation of the mid-70s do we see such modernity among the apes; as for the films and the short-lived TV show, which largely lacked the budget to create a modernistic ape society, there were precious few examples of apes understanding high technology.

In the forgettable Tim Burton remake of 2001, General Thade (Tim Roth) seems to learn modern human technology well enough not only to fire a gun and repair a spaceship, but also to fly it through an electromagnetic storm and time warp to reach Earth sometime back in history, to change the world into a planet of the apes before Captain Leo Davidson (Mark Wahlberg) returns in the baffling, but explicable ending.

In Escape From the Planet of the Apes, a genius ape scientist named Dr. Milo (Sal Mineo) implausibly figures out how to repair Taylor’s spaceship, just in time to fly himself, Zira (Kim Hunter), and Cornelius (Roddy McDowall) to safety, to escape the nuclear destruction of the Earth, triggered by the same Taylor who’d condemned humanity for the previous nuclear war that’s understood, at the end of the 1968 film, to have caused the reverse evolution of apes and man. How convenient that Milo, Cornelius, and Zira could have escaped without knowing what was happening underground at the end of Beneath the Planet of the Apes, in the struggle between the apes and the nuclear-armed telepathic humans!

Even with the improved budget of the reboots, we don’t see Caesar et al ever developing modern technology. Seen from the point of view of my allegory of class war as interpreted by revisionist liberals, we remember how critics of socialism always say “communism doesn’t work,” and propagandize about countries ‘destroyed’ by Marxist ‘totalitarianism’, symbolized in these films by the brutish treatment of the caged humans by the apes. What is often left unmentioned is the remarkable list of achievements by the Soviet Union, which went, in a few decades, from being a backward, agrarian society to a nuclear superpower: the first man (Yuri Gagarin)…and woman (Valentina Tereshkova) in space (and these Soviet glories were both achieved by 1963, the publication of not only Boulle’s novel, but also its translation by Xan Fielding), etc. In contrast, Americans may brag about Neil Armstrong.

Read Boulle’s novel…to the end…to see how far ape technology advances…

Zira, the first ape to take seriously the advanced intelligence of Taylor/Mérou, tries to get the conservative, narrow-minded orang-utans, led by Dr. Zaius, to open their minds to the idea of an intelligent, talking human. In Boulle’s novel, the orang-utans just smile in smugness at such a bizarre idea; in the 1968 film, Zaius is much more pointedly hostile (see his quotes above).

While the orang-utans, on the surface, seem to be a satire on the fanatical closed-mindedness of religious fundamentalists, though this be madness, yet there is method in’t. Zaius wisely recognizes the danger that intelligent humans pose, not only to ape hegemony, but to the whole world.

Similarly, those of us who are the more strident critics of Western, and especially U.S., imperialism see the danger of accepting conservative AND liberal attacks of ‘tankies’ too uncritically. For whatever faults can be seen in the rule of Stalin, Mao, Castro, Ceausescu, and the Kims (as well as the wildly exaggerated number of deaths attributed to communism), there is much more right-wing genocidal evil to be found in Churchill, Leopold II of Belgium, Hitler, and all the war-mongering presidents of U.S. history, especially those of the past 25 years.

The same comparison can be made favourably of ape civilization, ruled by the stodgy orang-utans, as against human society. Just hear Cornelius’ reading of the sixth verse of the 29th scroll, towards the end of the 1968 movie. Taylor, who had been going against his misanthropy in defending man against the orang-utans, suddenly reverts to his hatred of humanity on seeing the Statue of Liberty, knowing man really used nuclear weapons to wipe out human civilization.

The fear of nuclear war, when the 1968 film was made, was understood firmly in the context of the Cold War (i.e., the Cuban missile crisis); this is what makes it so easy to see Planet of the Apes as an allegory of communism versus capitalism. There were plenty of revisionists among the communists who endangered the Soviet system, however well-intentioned they may (or may not) have been. Zira and Cornelius, in their helping Taylor/Mérou, represent such ‘open-minded’ liberals.

Having Charlton Heston play Taylor was a perfect casting choice, not for his (over-wrought) acting, but for Heston the man. Consider the history of his political activism to see my point.

He started out a liberal supporter of the civil rights movement in the 60s, then drifted rightwards. He became a supporter of Reagan by the 80s, then became a mouthpiece for the NRA. The thing to understand about ‘left-leaning’ liberals is that, at their core, they conceal a pernicious centrism that easily shifts to the right the very second the left has ‘gone too far.’ Parallel this rightward move to Taylor’s condemning nuclear war in the 1968 film, then setting off the bomb at the end of Beneath the Planet of the Apes.

Consider how it was considered ‘progressive’ to vote for the psychopathic, war-mongering Hillary Clinton against Trump (Seriously? Anyone can be considered ‘progressive’ when compared to the orange ignoramus!). Liberals will grandstand and engage in virtue signalling about social justice, but they’ll never commit to it.

Similarly, Taylor/Mérou will scoff at Zaius’ closed-mindedness to any scientific discoveries deemed “scientific heresy” (Boulle, page 142), and Taylor will advise a young ape never to trust anyone over thirty; but kill Nova, as an ape does in Beneath the Planet of the Apes, and Taylor will nuke the entire Earth.

(What the orang-utans call “scientific heresy,” by the way, sounds a lot like deviation from what the tankies call “The Immortal Science of Marxism-Leninism.” Though I respect the notion of scientific socialism, the above verbiage, both that of the orang-utans and the Marxist-Leninists, does sound suspiciously more like religion than science. The Soviet Union, in spite of its great scientific achievements, was censorious of any science deemed out of league with the philosophy of dialectical materialism.)

So, maybe Dr. Zaius was morally justified in his repression of humans, and in his support of an ape religion he knew was fraudulent. At the same time, for all the flaws of the Soviet system, consider how much more destructive unfettered capitalism is–to the working class, to the environment, and to the suffering Third World.

In Boulle’s novel, Professor Antelle reverts to animalistic mutism (pages 160-161); his apathy, or antipathy, to humanity seems to be put to good use, as if knowing the evil that human speech can lead to, a conclusion Brent comes to in Beneath the Planet of the Apes. Also, nudity and the inability to speak symbolize powerlessness in the Apes universe. Antelle’s counterpart in the 1968 film, Landon, has received a lobotomy, depriving him of his ability to speak and taking away his identity, his very humanity…as we understand it.

Lobotomizing Landon represents Soviet censorship of any writing deemed counter-revolutionary. During the trial for “scientific heresy”, an orang-utan mentions how all apes are equal, an idea theoretically true in Boulle’s novel, too (page 150: “In principle they all have equal rights and are allowed to occupy any position.”); Taylor responds by saying, “Some apes, it seems, are more equal than others,” a reference to Animal Farm, a book banned by the Soviet Union.

There is some sense of class differences in ape society, with the orang-utans (in orange uniforms–these ape uniforms seem, if for no other reason than for their…uniformity, in a sense reminiscent of those worn by the vanguard) as defenders of the faith, chimpanzees (wearing green) as liberal intellectuals, and gorillas (in purple/black) as soldiers; and these three groups tend to look down on each other–this class structure is evident in Boulle’s novel and in the 1968 film. But these class differences aren’t gaping: as to what they represent in communism, they don’t lead to the kind of wealth inequality we see in today’s neoliberal world; similarly, the New Class that Milovan Djilas and George Orwell saw in the U.S.S.R. was never the huge class oppression it was assumed to be in the West.

The fear of ascendant capitalist hegemony justifiably feared by the Soviets, as symbolized by Zaius’ fear of intelligent, speaking men, seems to justify the suppression of literature critical of the U.S.S.R., or the brain surgery on talking humans; for consider the destruction unfettered capitalism has caused the world, or what man does to the earth with his modern brain intact, not lobotomized by apes.

In Boulle’s novel, there is no great fear of talking humans, apart from the orang-utans, at first; it’s only when Mérou and Nova have a baby, which shows clear signs of advanced intelligence, that almost all the apes of Soror are scared. (This ape vs. human fear is in reverse in Escape From the Planet of the Apes and Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, in which Zira and Cornelius have become parents to the evolved ape, Caesar, who threatens the survival of human civilization in the late 20th century.)

By allegorical analogy, repression of the market was far from absolute in socialist states. In Yugoslavia, Tito refused to do things as Stalin had wished, and Yugoslavia’s was a market socialism. China and Vietnam brought back the market in the 80s, and even Cuba has allowed a small amount of free enterprise on the island. They’ll only let capitalism go so far, though, as the apes would only allow Mérou so much freedom.

An impressive advance in ape technology, as seen in Boulle’s novel, is when Cornelius has Mérou see electrodes applied to humans’ brains, causing them to recite, from racial memory, the remote past of Soror. It is learned that, centuries ago, the human/ape relationship was the same as that of Earth. Apes on Soror were made to be human servants, who ultimately rebelled: this idea seems to have been the basis for what is seen in Escape From and Conquest of the Planet of the Apes. In the context of my allegory, we see the bourgeois ruling class’s oppression of the proletariat, who then rise in revolution.

But since the story of the rise of the apes is given from a human perspective (pages 242-247), we learn little, if anything, of the cruelty man has inflicted on the apes (allegorically, this represents bourgeois liberals’ laconic discussion of such things as wage slavery or capitalist imperialism).

Finally, Zira and Cornelius help Mérou, Nova, and their child to reach his spaceship via an ape satellite (pages 259-263). They return to Earth, but to Mérou’s horror, he learns that apes there have supplanted human civilization, too, as echoed in Burton’s 2001 movie. The framing device at the end of Boulle’s novel reveals that Jinn and Phyllis are themselves chimpanzee cosmonauts! Allegorically, could this not represent the fear of a global communist victory? Back in 1963, such a Western fear was palpable.

A rise in ape intelligence (representing a proletariat with raised, class consciousness) coincides with a “cerebral laziness” (page 243) causing a drop in human intelligence (studies have shown that those with conservative views are less intelligent, on average, than those with liberal, left-leaning views; now, remember that these movies present the class war from a bourgeois liberal perspective, so while humans [capitalists] are portrayed as dumb brutes, the orang-utans [religious fundamentalists] and gorillas [hard-line communists] are also portrayed as stupid, compared to the intelligent, open-minded liberal chimpanzees).

With this foundation in mind, we can now examine the 1970s sequels.

II: Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970)

When Brent arrives in the 3950s to look for Taylor, Nova leads him to the ape city, where the apes are discussing shocking discoveries in the Forbidden Zone, revealing the threat of humans, who might steal needed food from the apes. General Ursus (James Gregory–note the pun on Ursa for the link with communism) thus wants to lead his ape army to kill the humans.

While the bourgeois liberals who produced this ultimately inferior sequel would have us believe that Ursus, like narrow-minded Zaius, is an unthinking monster (the same goes for Aldo in Battle for the Planet of the Apes, and Koba in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes), actually, his concerns over protecting his fellow apes from famine are legitimate, as are communist concerns over counter-revolution and imperialism.

The collapse of the Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc made the U.S./NATO into the one, unchallenged superpower, meaning the capitalists have been able to do anything they want with impunity. The Warsaw Pact disappeared, but the no-longer-needed NATO (from a containment perspective) expanded to include most of the former countries of the Warsaw Pact, save Russia, of course. NATO, an extension of U.S. imperialism, has had troops lined up along the Russian border, ready to fight a possible war that could go nuclear, as could the crisis with North Korea.

Speaking of fears of nuclear war, the humans that the apes are worried about have a doomsday bomb. Brent discovers the advanced humans underground, where he sees the ruins of his old world, and thus surmises that his world was destroyed by a nuclear war. What’s worse, the underground humans are telepaths who actually venerate their atomic bomb. Consider the allegorical implications of such insanity.

The one thing that was preventing the use of nuclear weapons (after the U.S. used them on Japan, of course) during the Cold War was the notion of MAD. Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, though, those in the U.S. military-industrial complex have begun to think that MAD can be avoided if the U.S.’s nukes can wipe out Russia’s nuclear system before any of their nukes can be launched against the West. Such a breaking of the taboo against nuclear war can be seen as symbolized by the telepaths’ insanity of worshipping the bomb.

Currently, the U.S. has created a new Cold War against Russia out of baseless accusations of tampering in the 2016 U.S. election. The banging of the American war drums has gone on against China and North Korea, too, with little anti-war resistance from ‘left-leaning’ liberals. Indeed, just as the fear of Mérou and Nova having a speaking baby poses a threat to the simians of Soror, so is the emergence of China and Russia as global powers a threat to the hegemony of the American empire.

The human telepaths don’t directly kill anyone: they make their enemies kill each other. They try to make Brent kill Nova, and later they try to make Brent and Taylor kill each other. Similarly, the U.S.’s favourite method of flexing her imperialist muscles these days is to fight proxy wars (an idea started by that liberal, Carter, and his commie-hating National Security Advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski); while domestically, the capitalist class makes the proletariat fight each other through such fifth columns as identity politics–this way, the 99% won’t rise together in solidarity and fight the 1%.

The telepaths’ use of mind control (i.e, hallucinatory visions, etc.) is like how the mainstream media manipulates us and manufactures consent for all these imperialist wars, vilifying the leaders of every regime the U.S./NATO wants to replace with one that will kowtow to imperialist interests.

When General Ursus and the ape army try to grab the telepaths’ nuclear bomb (whose Alpha/Omega labelling is an idea echoed in the Colonel’s human army in War for the Planet of the Apes), this is symbolic of the arms race, with the USSR imitating the U.S.’s amassing of nuclear bombs. The apes’ behaviour is certainly reckless and dangerous (in this bourgeois/liberal presentation of the ape/human conflict), as was the communists‘ contribution to the arms race perceived to be; but the Soviets’ action was essentially defensive, as is Kim Jong-un’s right now. The U.S.’s use of nukes has been essentially aggressive, as a scan of the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki will show; furthermore, the capitalist West has a double standard as to who is allowed to have nukes (the imperialist powers) and who isn’t (the weaker, exploitable ones that are ripe for invasion).

So, what the reactionary liberals who produced this film would call the madness of a ‘holy war’ led by power-hungry General Ursus, my interpretation would call the aggravation of class struggle under socialism, a necessary defence against an insidious creeping back of the cruelties of capitalism. For however brutish and cruel the apes may have been to the humans throughout the first and second movies, it is Mendez and, ultimately, Taylor who set off the bomb and destroy all life on the Earth; just as the continuation of unfettered capitalism is bringing about the ecological catastrophes that are accelerating an end to life as we know it.

Charlton Heston personally influenced the ending of Beneath the Planet of the Apes, insisting that he didn’t want to be involved in sequels. So Taylor died killing all the apes, all of life on Earth, and, Heston hoped, the Apes franchise. As I said before, Heston was perfectly cast as Taylor, for Heston was Taylor.

Boulle wrote a draft for a script, Planet of the Men, which was rejected in favour of Paul Dehn‘s Beneath the Planet of the Apes. Boulle’s sequel would have been about a counter-revolution of humans, led by Taylor, overthrowing ape civilization, the contemporary parallel of which would be the collapse of the Soviet states and the metastasizing of neoliberal capitalism. Instead, the class war would be allegorized according to Dehn’s vision for all four sequels.

Now, one thing to remember is that, while the apes may–to humans–look ugly, the good looks of the telepaths is only on the outside–when they reveal themselves to their god, the bomb, they are much worse-looking than the apes could ever be…and their actions in the movie show how ugly their thinking is, too.

III: Escape From the Planet of the Apes (1971)

Early in the movie, after Dr. Milo, whose advice has been to imitate primitive apes instead of talking and asserting their intellectual equality with 20th century humans, is killed by a gorilla in a cage (like a proletarian killing a liberal revisionist traitor) neighbouring the one Zira and Cornelius are in, the two remaining evolved chimps are freed and allowed to live in the human society of the early 1970s, in which they’ve arrived aboard Taylor’s repaired spaceship after escaping the nuked Earth of the 3950s and passing through a time warp.

The arrival of the three evolved chimpanzees in human society parallels the arrival on Soror of Mérou, Antelle, and Levain. Similarly, Zira’s and Cornelius’ brief freedom and celebrity–as talking ‘animals’ in the civilization of those that the two chimps have always regarded as animals–also parallels Mérou’s experience in Boulle’s novel (Part Three, from Chapter 27 onwards).

Zira and Cornelius briefly enjoy the material pleasures of [capitalist] human society, wearing high-fashion clothing, living in a luxury hotel, and Zira’s taking a bubble bath. However, when the chimps tell the humans of the future destruction of Earth following the supplanting of human civilization with that of apes, the human authorities, especially Dr. Otto Hasslein, get paranoid.

We can see an allegoric parallel in our world in how the writings of Marx, Lenin, et al are allowed to be published in the West, and unions and communist parties are tolerated (provided the numbers are small); but when these groups get too powerful, unions are busted, anarchist, communist, and other socialist pages on social media get brutally trolled, and in extreme cases, like during the Red Scare of the 50s, communists (and those merely accused of sympathizing with communism) are persecuted. Consider also what happened to communists in Indonesia in the mid-1960s, as well as the bombing of North Korea, Vietnam, and Cambodia.

When Zira is discovered to be pregnant with Caesar (originally named Milo, after their dead friend), she and Cornelius are deemed a threat to human civilization (as Mérou and Nova are to simian society). Zira and Cornelius, seeming to regret their having helped men like Taylor, quickly realize how few good humans there are, as any revisionist or reactionary who sees the light will know of capitalists: indeed, I imagine how rueful Orwell and Djilas would be if they saw the depths to which neoliberal capitalism has brought the world since the collapse of the ‘oppressive’ Soviet system those two liberals propagandized against, a system many Russians and east Europeans look back on nostalgically. The reasons for such nostalgia should be easy to see, provided one isn’t blinded by Western propaganda: socialist states provide full employment, free education and health care–a very odd way for a government to oppress its people.

In contrast, consider the terrible wealth inequality in the U.S. and U.K., and how many Americans go hungry; also, think of how many Americans die from lack of adequate health care, and how many American millennials are deeply in debt for their university education. Is this ‘democracy’?

Back to the story. Hasslein chases and kills Zira; Cornelius is also shot by a sniper. Hasslein thinks he’s shot their baby, too, but it has been switched with a circus chimp. Caesar will now be raised by Armando (Ricardo Montalbán), a circus owner.

IV: Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972)

Armando and MacDonald (Hari Rhodes) are the only humans to show kindness to Caesar (Roddy McDowall) in the authoritarian police state of 1991; but even their sympathy to apes has limits, for Armando takes Caesar around on a leash instead of even trying to defy human authority, he shushes the chimp whenever he wants to talk (remember, inability to speak–as well as nakedness–symbolizes a lack of power in these films), and he advises Caesar to get naked and join the slave apes…for his safety (consider circus animal cruelty), if Armando won’t be able to protect him anymore; similarly, at the end of the ape uprising, MacDonald tries to dissuade Caesar from shedding human blood.

This limited sympathy is allegorical of how left-leaning liberals like Bernie Sanders would give poor Americans more free stuff, but not end the depredations of Western imperialism. Theirs is a ‘kinder, gentler’ capitalism.

The police state governed by Breck (Don Murray) is brutal in its enslavement of apes. This is the only Apes movie without a pre-title scene. When the film was screened to an audience prior to its release, viewers were appalled by the, in their opinion, excess blood and violence, so Conquest was censored; it is believed that a pre-title scene was filmed of a slave ape, covered in bruises and welts, trying to escape, and then either beaten to death or shot.

This censored footage, if it’s ever existed, has never been found: finding it would be like the Holy Grail to Apes fans, since the uncut, unrated version of Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (available only on Blu-ray) was clearly better than the tamed, sanitized theatrical version; the original version’s dark ending, in which Governor Breck is beaten to death by gorillas while Caesar looks on and gloats, is pure, cold-blooded bad-assery.

A police state enslaving apes (a similar situation is seen in the ‘ape concentration camp’ in War For the Planet of the Apes, a movie in which there’s another connection with fascism: the ape ‘donkeys’ are clearly symbolic of class collaboration), in the context of my allegory, is easily explained: whenever there’s a danger of the working class [apes] rising against the capitalist class [humans], the latter uses some form of fascism to suppress the former. Britain’s MI5 used none other than Mussolini to keep Italians involved in the imperialist First World War; the German bourgeoisie, aided by American big business, used Hitler and the S.S. against the Jews and the German proletariat, and the first ones put in Nazi concentration camps were leftists (don’t believe that nonsense about Nazis being socialists!); Franco and the Falange party suppressed the leftists in Spain, with help from Fascist Italy and the Nazis; and a 1973 coup in Chile, aided by the CIA, replaced the democratically elected Salvador Allende with Pinochet’s brutal authoritarian regime.

Breck is afraid that Zira’s and Cornelius’ baby wasn’t killed after learning that Armando’s chimpanzee may have spoken, so Breck interrogates him. Don Murray practiced Breck’s lines, translated into German, so that, when he said them with crisp, articulate English, he’d sound more like a Nazi.

Note the contrast between the city life in Escape and Conquest as symbolic of the bourgeoisie, that is, the people of the borough, or self-governing, walled town, as opposed to the small ape village surrounded by fields, trees, and forests–suggestive of rural, peasant life–in the first two films and in Battle for the Planet of the Apes. For communists, the peasants have been essential to revolution. Hence, to go from the first two movies to the third and fourth is to leave the dictatorship of the proletariat to that of the bourgeoisie.

Apes are conditioned to obey and to fear the word “No!” through such tortures as having to dodge flamethrowers and receiving electric shocks. In this way, their slavery is not only an allegory of wage slavery, but also of the suffering of those in concentration camps, as when Amon Göth shot at Jews to stop them from resting on the job and frighten them to make them get back to work. Remember that fascism is capitalism in decay.

Caesar leading the apes in rebellion is, of course, echoed in the thrilling ape revolution in Rise of the Planet of the Apes, a reboot essentially based on Conquest, but one concerned more with issues of cruelty to animals and science lapsing into recklessness than with an allegory of racism and classism.

Rise deftly combines two important quotes from the original series of films: Taylor’s “damn dirty ape” with “No!”, taken from Escape, Conquest, and Battle for the Planet of the Apes. In the original series, “No!” was originally supposed to be spoken by Aldo, the leader of the ape revolution prophesied in the scrolls, centuries after the time of Conquest; but the repercussions of Zira’s and Cornelius’ time travel have (implausibly) sped up evolution, and Caesar’s love interest, Lisa, says no to him, to stop the gorillas from killing Breck in the theatrical release, a real revisionist let-down that brought a potentially great film down several notches.

[One odd thing to be noted during Caesar’s revolutionary speech at the end of Conquest: he refers to his fellow apes not as such, but as “my people.” He says this twice; in Beneath the Planet of the Apes, one’s fellow apes are also referred to as one’s “people.” This doesn’t seem to be an oversight on Paul Dehn’s part. Given how these apes walk more or less upright and erect, their anthropomorphic form, as opposed to the more realistic apes in the reboots, seems to be more than just a case of the limits of the technology of the time; these humanoid apes are most emphatically representative of the people.]

Played by Natalie Trundy–who also played Albina, the telepath in Beneath, and Dr. Stephanie Branton in Escape–Lisa shows a misguided, soft-hearted compassion for Breck (a dangerous authoritarian ape-hater who is as little deserving of compassion as anyone could be) at the end of the film, when he’s about to be killed by the gorillas. Lisa thus represents the stereotype of woman as the ‘civilizing influence’ on warlike males. Actually, this changed ending, with Caesar implausibly switching from bloodthirsty revengefulness to “dominat[ing] with compassion”, merely from hearing her say, “N-n-no,” is an example of liberal reactionaries preferring reforms over committing to revolution.

I know it’s not my place to prescribe what women should do, but if I may, I’ll state my preference that they stand at men’s sides in revolutions against every Breck in the world, not shying away from violence when it’s necessary to end oppression. In today’s neoliberal world, millions die of hunger/malnutrition in developing countries every year (especially children under five); imperialist wars multiply, so capitalists can profit from weapons sales, to the point of risking nuclear annihilation; and if we don’t wipe out all life on Earth that way, then climate change and global warming, always denied by capitalists, will likely do the job instead. I must quote Caesar in response to those who claim a socialist revolution will create a worse world than what we have now: “Do you think it could be worse?”

V: Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973)

The story should have ended with Conquest: that’s what Dehn had intended with the original, violent version of that movie. In fact, they’d intended to end it with a nuclear war, to link it more completely with the 1968 film, but budget constraints thwarted that plan. What’s worse, an ‘audience-friendly’ version of Conquest was wanted for a PG rating and, therefore, a selling of more tickets (once again, capitalism ruins art).

As a result, the fifth and weakest Apes film was made to milk as much money as possible out of the pockets of Apes fans, child and adult alike. So what we have in this film is pure reactionary liberalism, allegorically, an attempt to reconcile communism [ape society] with capitalism [humanity]–in other words, social democracy.

Caesar tries to rule as a gentle, benevolent dictator. Apes may say no to humans, but not vice versa–classic liberal political correctness and identity politics, instead of ending class contradictions. Aldo, who hates humans and despises Caesar’s softer rule, is more like a hard-line communist; and in this bourgeois liberal film, that means he can only be a villain. When Aldo speaks of wanting guns to gain power, he reminds us of what Mao Zedong once said: “Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.”

Since Dawn of the Planet of the Apes has a similar premise to Battle, Aldo’s equivalent in the reboot trilogy is the vicious Koba, whose name, incidentally, is from an old nickname of Stalin’s. Here we see typical liberal propaganda: neither Aldo’s/Koba’s pro-ape, anti-human [left-wing] extremism, nor the [right-wing] human extremism of Kolp/the Colonel is acceptable; only Caesar’s ‘centrism’ is desirable. The problem is that this ‘centrism’ leads to neoliberalism, exemplified in Macron, Obama, and the Clintons.

There is always a drift to the right in politics, against which the dictatorship of the proletariat is a necessary bulwark. Nicolás Maduro‘s government has been under siege from a violent, U.S.-backed opposition reminiscent of that which toppled Allende [think of Kolp’s men attacking the ape village]; yet Maduro, like human-friendly Caesar in Battle (or the reboots, for that matter), is trying to preserve his democraticallyelected, social democratic government (which isn’t the ‘dictatorship’ the U.S. media slanders it as being) in a bourgeois-legal, democratic way, compromising with the demands of the capitalist class, which can only spell danger for all the Bolivarian revolution has tried to build for the Venezuelan poor.

Battle ends with humans demanding equal rights, and Caesar relents. But the only way to end the evil of capitalism, which is synonymous with inequality, is to crush the bourgeoisie and keep them down, as Lenin’s conception of the dictatorship of the proletariat was elaborated in The State and Revolution. First, you smash the bourgeois state [end human rule over apes, as Caesar did in the original version of Conquest]; then the workers’ state [ape city] represses the capitalists [humans are kept in cages, etc., as happened in the 1968 film] until all of capitalism is crushed [no more humans to threaten the apes], then we can have the withering away of the state [the apes finally have power, and freedom].

If the revolution isn’t carried out to its conclusion, we have, at best, the tense irresolution represented in the ending of Battle, with its statue of Caesar, a tear ludicrously running down its cheek. At worst, we have total destruction of all life on Earth. Surely, the apes–representative of the common people of the world–can do better than that.

Pierre Boulle (translation by Xan Fielding), Planet of the Apes, Ballantine Books, New York (Del Rey), 1963

Analysis of ‘The Godfather’

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

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

Here are some famous quotes from all three movies:

Part I

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Part II

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

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

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

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

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

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

Part III

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Third World Is the First Priority

Introduction

An odd thing often happens whenever I post a meme on Facebook to raise awareness–and, I hope, concern–about suffering in the Third World. Comments are often made to the effect of distracting people from the issue raised. When the Ice Bucket Challenge was a trend last year, I posted memes criticizing the frivolous waste of water, and reminding First Worlders of how difficult it is for people in Africa to get access to potable water.

People responded with the usual snark, like advising saving water while showering, or saying it’s bad to guilt-trip people who are trying to ‘make a difference’ by raising awareness about ALS. The notion that people can save water by just donating money to the cause, without making soaking-wet buffoons of themselves, apparently was too difficult for them to grasp. But of course, that was all beside the point: raising sympathy for Third World suffering isn’t about making people feel guilty for dumping freezing cold water on themselves; nor is it about distracting us from other charitable work. The reverse, on the other hand, seems very true to me. Criticizing the memes’ criticism of the Ice Bucket Challenge seems to shame those who would raise sympathy for the Third World, and to distract us from focusing on how we can try to end the suffering of people in developing countries.

Another meme I posted was of two emaciated Africans, a mother giving her child water to drink. The caption read, “So, you think you have problems?” Here’s another one with the same in-your-face message.

Some may say this kind of caption is tactless and poorly-worded, but I still consider its message valid, for as I interpreted the meme, it was referring to these kinds of problems. One response I received was from someone who obviously reads too much right-wing propaganda. He spouted the usual ignorant nonsense: “They [i.e., the poor in the Third World] should stop breeding!” That these people earn so little a day they’re forced to reproduce just to help them survive (i.e., to have their sons and daughters raise money as child labourers for their families) was lost on this guy, as was the reality of Western imperialists exploiting Africa for resources. He blamed their woes on their local, corrupt governments, ignoring how those dictators are simply the puppets of Western imperialism.

Now, I expect such twaddle from conservatives. Far more depressing it is, however, when fellow Leftists and anarchists deflect us from the needed focus on the plight of the poor in developing countries. Comments I received on one of the anarchist pages I manage on FB included a statement to the effect that one shouldn’t guilt-trip others about being preoccupied with things like “crippling depression” by making them seem insignificant compared with Third World suffering.

To assess this comment fairly, the person in question acknowledged the seriousness of poverty in the developing world: also, it would be wrong to reduce to nothingness such problems as depression, the plight of LGBT people, etc., just because many of these sufferers live in the First World. That said, however, the purpose of the post was not to make those people feel guilty: it was to tell all of us in the West, regardless of how large or small our problems may be, to put our suffering in perspective.

A Brief Digression, If You’ll Indulge Me

Perhaps my mentioning the following won’t convince the reader that I don’t have a dismissive attitude towards depression or the troubles that transgender people go through; but recently I found myself having lengthy conversations with two FB friends of mine, one from Iceland who was struggling with a chronic depression, the other having bravely revealed to me that she is a trans-woman. The time I spent listening to these two women tell me what was troubling them, and the effort I made to encourage them certainly deepened my friendship with them.

The Icelandic woman, actually quite a photogenic model, was unhappy because she felt she hadn’t done much with her life; she told me she has repeatedly had these self-doubts over quite a long period of time. I reminded her of the many impressive modelling photo shoots I’ve seen of her, and of her beautiful daughter, I’m guessing about 8 or 9, someone my sad friend can only be proud of as a mother. Judging by her more recent posts, she seems much happier now. I don’t know how much my little pep talk helped in this overall recovery, but by the end of our IM chat, her spirits seemed much raised.

As for my second friend, her problems seem much more serious. She suffered terrible physical and emotional abuse from her religiously conservative guardian, hardly any kind of a father, who insisted she was a ‘boy’.

Since then, she–quite a talented guitarist and singer, whose music I’d gladly share here for you to enjoy, except that I don’t want to expose her identity to trolling from bigoted cyberbullies–has been in the middle of sexual reassignment surgery, and hasn’t enough money to finish it. She is extremely unhappy because she wants to move to France, but her passport says she’s ‘male,’ and she can’t get the authorities to change the sex on the page. She’s already too feminine-looking, in physical appearance and mannerisms, to fake looking like a man while going through customs.

While my chats with her have hardly brought a solution to her problems within reach, they have certainly made us become closer friends; they have also helped me appreciate the unique problems that transgender people go through day to day.

Perspective

Now that I have acknowledged such issues as regrettably affect many in the developed world, let’s have some real perspective. Let us begin by considering this: did my meme’s critics consider that some people in the Third World are transgender, too? That many there also suffer from crippling depression? I assure my readers that the impoverished have much more to be depressed about than, say, people in G8 countries. And women’s oppression? Consider women in the Third World, suffering such problems as genital mutilation, honour beatings, denial of education, and the like. With regard to issues concerning the sexes, what do people in the First World tend to complain about? Men sitting on NYC subways with their legs spread too wide! (I plan to deal with issues of this sort in my next blog entry; its complexity is beyond the scope of this essay.)

But let’s consider some real problems, those suffered in developing countries. People starving to death by the millions each year (especially children under five), when we produce enough food to feed the whole world, easily–food that often goes to waste in G8 countries. Consider the inaccessibility of potable water in, for example, much of Africa. Consider how children are forced to work instead of going to school, just so their families have enough money–barely enough–to live on? We in our well-lit, air-conditioned rooms tend to forget this. Again, my purpose in saying all of this is not to ‘shame’ First Worlders (after all, I’m one of them): it is to provide perspective on our problems. And maybe to teach us a little humility.

Consider Third Worlders, including children, those who are lured into lives of slavery, for example, those in Ivory Coast who make chocolate or coffee for us as we sit in comfort in such places as Starbucks, which, though it doesn’t (to my knowledge) have slave labour produce its coffee, does exploit child coffee growers in the Third World to produce their coffee cheaply. Women and girls who are forced into prostitution. Imagine the sexual, physical, and emotional abuse they are subjected to; I was subjected to emotional abuse and gas-lighting by a bullying bourgeois family when I was young; but I realize that the poor in African, southeast Asian, and Latin American countries suffer far worse when they’re subjected to the same abuse, and they haven’t the money or wherewithal to escape as I had. I don’t shame myself when I realize their greater suffering–I enlighten myself with that realization.

Consider the lack of medicine in the Third World: AIDS victims in Africa who die out of a lack of antiretroviral drugs. How many die of diseases, perfectly curable diseases, provided one has access to proper medical care, mind you? With the trillion dollars that the US spends building up its military to kill people, imagine how all that money could be spent to save people. Because we must remember that all this pillaging of the Third World is done to ensure our comfort in the First World, a comfort that allows us to delude ourselves into thinking that a ‘shaming’ meme causes a suffering worthier of our attention than a suffering caused by poverty, malnutrition, and disease. Apparently, ‘shaming’ is a worse fate than death.

Indeed, another ‘comment’ made about that second FB meme, one made on both of my anarchist pages, was made by someone who actually had the presumptuous arrogance to say that such memes “invariably” are made to shame people, and that such memes’ distraction from other forms of oppression are a form of oppression in themselves. That’s extraordinary: raising awareness of poverty in the world is “invariably” a form of oppression, rather than an attempt to fight it. (Seriously: the commenter used the word “invariably”.) Frankly, I must say that the kind of self-absorption the commenter showed, pitted against the plight of millions of starving people, is genuinely deserving of a good shaming. But that’s none of my business…

To be sure, there are all kinds of suffering and oppression in the world, all problems that need remedying as soon as possible. But some problems are clearly more urgent than others, and those people who simply point out this reality don’t deserve to be shamed for saying so, let alone have their perspective ignored. When (I hope when, and not if) a socialist revolution finally happens, regardless of it being one of libertarian socialism (as I’d prefer) or of the Leninist variety, our comrades’ first priority will be to get food, medicine, and proper educational institutions to all developing countries. They need these things as soon as possible. They. Are. Dying.

We must also remember that, while helping those in the Third World is a must, leaving the Third World alone is, too. Western imperialism is what caused the Third World: all the plundering and exploitation of cheap labour is what caused their poverty in the first place. Some like to blame the victim (like that right-wing dolt I referred to earlier), and claim their problem is just their own supposed backwardness. Nothing could be farther from the truth: their people thrived and did well before the white man came along and ruined everything for them. One of the best ways we can help them is by getting out of their countries, and letting them develop for themselves.

I’m no Third-Worldist or Maoist, and I hope my all-too-easy conflating of concepts like Third World, developing countries, First World, and developed countries (or G8 countries, for that matter) doesn’t irritate the reader too much. If my terminology isn’t too precise, I hope that doesn’t distract too much from the general message.

We must always be mindful of the fact that, though we in the West are irked by the hegemony of the 1%, we First Worlders are the 1% of the world. Our global privilege, all at the Third World’s expense, has made us so comfortable and complacent that our own revolutionary potential is severely crippled, if not virtually nonexistent. The wars that imperialism fights may benefit the super-rich most of all, but we in the developed countries also benefit, if to a lesser extent, from the looting of natural resources from the Third World. Even the poor and the starving in, for example, America, though admittedly in a terrible plight, aren’t anywhere near as bad off as those in the least developed countries of the world. Informing us of this isn’t shaming: it’s an opening of our eyes, and a turning them away from our navels.

The ‘Right’ Definition of Socialism?

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

Introduction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Response:

I–The Free Market

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

II–The Tyranny of Work

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

III–The Sins of State Socialism

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

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

Back to my main argument.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now for some real perspective.

IV–Capitalist Crimes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

V–Ignorance Is Strength

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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