The Ouroboros of Capital

In The Ouroboros of Dialectical Materialism, I discussed how the ouroboros, a serpent coiled into a circle and biting its tail, can be an effective symbol of the relationship between opposites. The biting head represents one extreme, the bitten tail is the opposite extreme, and every point along the length of the snake’s body symbolizes a different point on the circular continuum, somewhere between the extremes.

In that other post, I discussed how the ouroboros can represent the class struggle in history and at the present. I mentioned how there is a tendency to shift counter-clockwise from the tail of communism to the liberal centre at the bottom of the serpentine coil, then to the right-libertarian front half of the serpent’s body, and ultimately to the fascist snake’s head. Since that counter-clockwise movement is in the interests of the capitalist class, we’ll now be exploring why the bourgeoisie is compelled to move in that direction, as well as what causes the clockwise movements that the ruling class must counteract.

The most basic dialectical opposition in capitalism, as Marx noted in Capital, Volume One, is the commodity, which is a use-value and an exchange-value. Seen as only a use-value, a commodity will gradually depreciate in value as it is used repeatedly over time, thus causing a clockwise movement from the head of the serpent to its tail; once its worth is reduced to nothing, it has to be replaced with a new use-value commodity, a movement from the bitten tail to the biting head. If, however, a commodity is to become an exchange-value, efforts must be made to improve and preserve its quality, thus making it saleable.

Here’s where the capitalist steps in. He ensures that the commodity’s quality moves counter-clockwise on the serpent’s body, moving towards the biting head. He does this through the application of abstract labour, as opposed to the concrete labour that produces mere use-values. This counter-clockwise movement, achieved through socially necessary labour time and effort, creates value by combining use-and exchange-value, pushing up to the biting head and past it to do another revolution past the bitten tail and counter-clockwise along the serpent’s body; for new units of the said commodity, or other new commodities in general, start the counter-clockwise cycle all over again.

This is why the labour theory of value (LTV) is so crucial to Marxian economics. Granted, many economists reject the LTV, but since they aren’t Marxists, it’s safe to assume that many, if not most (or, possibly, even all!) of them are working, on some level at least, in the interests of the minority bourgeoisie; so if they want to accuse us Marxists of bias, we can respond by saying theirs is a case of the pot calling the kettle black.

With successfully-achieved value, the capitalist has a business to run. His products are on the shelves of his store, and customers gaze on them with awe, then perhaps buy them. They see the finished product, as if its value were a magically produced presence, a spirit inhabiting an idol. This adoration of the finished commodity, ignoring the process of how it was made, is rather like contemplating Athena sprung fully-grown from the forehead of Zeus, complete with her armour, helmet, shield, and sword; and just as one may not have seen pregnant Metis swallowed whole by her Olympian lover, the consumer doesn’t see all the work put into the manufacturing of the commodity. The employees of the sated capitalist are hidden in his bloated belly, as it were.

Now we must examine the fortunes of the new businessman. There are several obstacles and dangers that he must overcome in his quest to make money, those forces that cause a clockwise movement from the biting head of success to the bitten tail of a bitter going-out-of-business. These include being outdone by the competition, the tendency of the rate of profit to fall (TRPF), workers’ demands for better pay and enforcement of safety standards, shorter hours, etc., and other potential problems.

Now the capitalist must find ways to minimize costs. There’s little he can do about the cost of constant capital (the means of production), but there’s much he can do to lower the cost of variable capital (i.e., minimizing his workers’ wages), as well as demand maximum hours of work from his employees, to maximize production and profit, a counter-clockwise movement towards the serpent’s head. As for the workers’ struggle to move things clockwise, read my condensed history of that here.

When the capitalist’s business succeeds to the point of going past the serpent’s head and into a new revolution counter-clockwise towards the head again, we see the circulation, reproduction, and expansion of capital discussed in volume two of Marx’s Capital: in other words, we encounter the reinvestment of some of the accumulated capital into even more commodity production, or, in the best of circumstances, the opening of new stores of the business.

If the expansion doesn’t happen in this way, then perhaps an entrepreneur will see the potential of a business, buy it off the original owner(s), and grow it into a business empire, all in accordance with the entrepreneur’s ambitious vision. This is how one store selling coffee beans in Seattle in the early 1970s grew into a worldwide gourmet coffee empire. It’s also how one burger joint in San Bernardino, California in the 1940s grew into an international fast food empire. So many counter-clockwise revolutions along the body of the ouroboros (granted, I’m oversimplifying here, for the sake of brevity; the ups and downs of these businesses’ fortunes will be expressed in the back-and-forth movement along the length of the ouroboros, too–like the swaying of a pendulum; but the general trend towards successful business empires is still clearly visible over time, and, succeed or fail, this trend is the aspiration of capitalists, the very reason to get into business in the first place).

Next, we must examine the ouroboros of the economic cycle. When business is booming, as it was in the Roaring Twenties and (to an extent) in the early-to-mid 2000s, speculators get overconfident and act as though the good times will last forever. Deregulation will continue in order to maximize profit, as a countermeasure against the TRPF. This will result in such things as overproduction and the housing-bubble recklessness that is believed to have come from Bill Clinton’s repeal of the Glass-Steagall legislation, and all of this will lead to economic crises: the counter-clockwise movement of the snake’s head of prosperity ends up passing over to the bitten tail of recession.

The movement out of the hind part of the serpent (recession) back to the front half (economic health) will be faster or slower in accordance with the severity of the given crisis. Hence the interminable length of recovery from both the Great Depression and the 2008 financial crisis. Marx predicted, in volume three of Capital, that one day, the crisis will be too great to recover from, and we’ll either have, as Rosa Luxemburg called it, socialism, or barbarism; one has a gut feeling that day may be soon upon us.

In the meantime, the capitalist class finds new ways to stave off that apocalypse. The days of free competition, the laissez-faire of the nineteenth century, pushed things to the limit by the first decade or two of the twentieth century, a counter-clockwise move past the biting head of the ouroboros and the beginning of capitalist imperialism, as Lenin noted: hence the competition for control of the largest portions of the colonized world in World War I.

Markets were drying up in the local countries, and so capitalists had to seek out markets in other countries, including underdeveloped countries. The merging of banks with industrial cartels resulted in finance capitalism (to provide capital, via investment, in the underdeveloped countries), which in turn led to the division of the world among monopolist business companies and the great powers. An example of this, the scramble for Africa, had already been going on in the latter half of the nineteenth century and in the early twentieth; hence, the counter-clockwise movement past the biting head (in the local success of capitalism) through another revolution from tail to head again (in the quest for profit abroad, through imperialism).

Today, this imperialism is in an exacerbated state, what with outsourcing, NAFTA, and sweatshops in the Third World. The proletariat in Africa, Latin America, and Southeast Asia are suffering what the English working class had endured in the nineteenth century. Third World attempts at resistance against imperialism, as with Ho Chi Minh and the Vietnamese communists, are more clockwise shifts towards the tail of the ouroboros.

The exploitation of the working class in the poorer countries is only the tip of the iceberg, though. Imperialist war is the far greater evil of our day, along with coup after coup, which the US has been guilty of ever since the end of World War II. There was the Iranian coup in 1953, in which the CIA helped MI6 overthrow the democratically-elected Mohammad Mosaddegh, who’d wanted to nationalize Iranian oil to provide for his people, thus limiting the profits the AIOC and making a clockwise movement away from the serpent’s head. Other coups were those in Guatemala in 1954 (after Arbenz’s policies ran afoul of the United Fruit Company) and in Chile in 1973, when Allende had wanted to nationalize industry.

The sweetest words to touch the tongues of US imperialists are these: regime change. By the late 1990s, a variation on this idea appeared: “humanitarian war”…what an abuse of paradoxes! Once the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc had catastrophically fallen, the West, lying that NATO wouldn’t advance “one inch eastward”, in this regard set its sights on its first prey: Yugoslavia. Consider the destruction and suffering the NATO bombings caused the people in Serbia–not just those who died, but also those exposed to the carcinogenic depleted uranium from the NATO bombs–all to pin a bogus charge of genocide on Slobodan Milosevic. Now, a huge US military base sits in Kosovo, the NATO headquarters for KFOR’s Multinational Battle Group East (MNBG-E).

Combine this Balkanization atrocity with the ruining of Russia in the 1990s, and we see the movement that US/NATO imperialism made, counter-clockwise (as in counterrevolution) past the biting head to the bitten tail, and around again, in preparation for the next set of conquests, all in the name of neoconservatism and neoliberalism, and all for the sake of the multinational corporations.

Note how the counter-clockwise movement around the ouroboros is a like a spiral, an upward spiral from the point of view of the capitalist class; but for everyone else, regardless of whether the lower classes can see it or not, it’s a downward spiral.

The US had armed the mujahideen in Afghanistan in the 1980s to bleed the USSR dry, and in the process, armed men like Osama bin Laden. Then, just before the USSR collapsed (and, with the-then collaboration of the weakening USSR with US interests in the Persian Gulf War, anticipating US unipolarity?), George HW Bush declared a “new world order”, not the NWO of the conspiracy theorists, but a neoliberal one, for no formidable leftist resistance would again exist; US/NATO imperialism could do anything it wanted to!

Military bases in Saudi Arabia, as well as such things as the US support of Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians and the crushing economic sanctions on Saddam’s Iraq in the 1990s, meant that imperialism’s having armed bin Laden would bite the US in the ass one day–September 11th, 2001, to be exact. The biting head of imperial conquest would result in the bitten tail of American humiliation, the double emasculation of New York’s skyline.

At first, the US received some global sympathy, so there was some support of the US/NATO invasion of Afghanistan a month after the terrorist attacks; but it wouldn’t take long for the US to squander the sympathy she’d garnered. Dubya’s invasion of Iraq, done under protest of most of the international community (except for America’s obliging lapdog, the UK), pushed the movement past the biting head of victory (long-desired regime change) to the bitten tail of international opprobrium.

The years have gone by, though, and the world has grown desensitized to the expansion of Bush-style imperialism; it helped having a charming black Democrat to do it for eight years, of course. For this reason, the ouroboros has felt another counter-clockwise revolution…or two, or three…from its tail to its head, with little, if any, protest from bourgeois liberals. Because of how much Trump is justifiably despised, George W Bush has been unjustifiably forgiven.

Now, with Trump’s appointment of Pompeo and Bolton, we can only assume that more war-mongering is in the near future. The rise in strength of Russia and China (add to that their beneficial acts and investments [though, in China’s case, this investment can be a double-edged sword, admittedly], to contrast with the meanness of the US ruling class), as well as Iran’s getting in the way of the US’s wish to control the oil market, means the US is worried about more clockwise movements to limit her profits (as well as an end to her empire). The ruling class is hoping that more imperialist conquests will ensure more profits for Raytheon, Lockheed-Martin, et al, while they all turn a blind eye to the ecological destruction they’re causing.

Bickering between the Dems and GOP continues to blind Americans, and western liberals in general, to the real problem: the juggernaut of capitalist accumulation, the cycles of the ouroboros of capital that never stop going round and round, a counter-clockwise reaction, making us all go backwards, as against real human progress.

So, how can we break these cycles? How can we end the alienation that causes this bickering? How can we get people to recognize the value of human labour, the process of making commodities that goes along the length of the ouroboros to create value, rather than contemplate only the value of the finished product (commodity fetishism)? How can we keep people mindful of the need to change from a profit-motive mindset to one geared towards production for the sake of providing for everyone?

Can we do this before the escalations of this current Cold War result in nuclear war? The counter-clockwise clock of the ouroboros of capital is ticking. The current time appears to be two minutes past midnight.

The Ouroboros of Dialectical Materialism

Marxism is based on the idea of historical materialism, that everything in our world is properly understood in terms of its material basis. Any people in their history have had the kind of culture and belief systems they have because of the prevailing material conditions in their world (Eagleton, pages 128-159).

Are they a wealthy nation, prospering, and with most of their people doing well, as in the Scandinavian countries? Then it’s likely they’ll be mostly a gentle, tolerant people. Are they a poor people, oppressed by Western imperialism, like those in the Islamic world (peoples often much more liberal and modern before war and imperialism tear their worlds apart)? Their religion, for example, will probably have more militant members (though even with that, still a small minority of all believers) than there are in developed countries. Are they a First World country, but with terrible wealth inequality, as in the US or the UK? Well, there will be lots of discontent, plus lots of division over what is considered the hated establishment, as well as a lazy, complacent attitude towards revolution.

Another important factor in Marxism is dialectics, not the idealist version of Hegel and Zižek, but the materialist version of Marx and Lenin. As Mao said, everything is made up of conflicting contradictions; furthermore, there is a yin and yang-like unity with all contradictions. One cannot have one thing without contemplating or observing its opposite.

How can we interpret the relationship between one opposite and the other? In ‘On Contradiction,’ Mao gave some good examples of that relationship. For example: “…at every stage in the development of a process, there is only one principal contradiction which plays the leading role.” (Mao, page 157) Also, ‘Why is it that “the human mind should take these opposites not as dead, rigid, but as living, conditional, mobile, transforming themselves into one another”? Because that is just how things are in objective reality. The fact is that the unity or identity of opposites in objective things is not dead or rigid, but is living, conditional, mobile, temporary and relative; in given conditions, every contradictory aspect transforms itself into its opposite. Reflected in man’s thinking, this becomes the Marxist world outlook of materialist dialectics.’ (Mao, page 166)

I would like to offer my own ideas of how all contradictions relate to each other, as well as give examples from history as to how my ideas have manifested themselves. I mean the below ideas as only a guideline as to how the events of history can be seen, though, not as a prescription of how these things must be seen every time. The following is only a contribution to dialectical materialism; it’s not meant as any kind of dogma. Anyway, here’s my idea: I see opposites as on the ends of a continuum that is coiled into a circle, like the ouroboros, normally a symbol of eternity. For me, it symbolizes the dialectic.

Imagine, at the top of this coiled continuum, the snake’s head biting its tail. There we have the two extreme opposites meeting. At the bottom, the middle of the snake’s body, is the moderate, middle point between the extremes; and of course, everywhere on the snakes’s body approaching the head is a movement toward the one extreme, and movement toward the tail is an approaching of the other extreme.

To give a simple example, imagine the ouroboros as the political spectrum, the head as Fascism and the tail as Communism. Do not confuse this with the horseshoe theory: the biting head and bitten tail are not to be understood as similar, but as one opposite phasing into the other as a result of the aggravation of class struggle.

When the Russian Revolution shook up the world, and (failed) attempts at Communist revolution happened in Germany, Hungary, and Italy from about 1918 to the early 1920s, the capitalist class got nervous, and Fascism arose to divert the working class’s attention from class issues to scapegoating such targets as foreigners, Jews, Communists, etc. Hence, broadly speaking, Communism led to a Fascist reaction–the serpent’s bitten tail to its biting head.

In the particular case of Germany during the 1920s, though, the move from an attempt at Communism to the rise of Naziism went in the other direction, since the progressive policies of the Weimar Republic, though irritatingly insufficient for the far left, were enough to bring Germany from the tail to the bottom middle of the ouroboros’s body. Then, the Nazis manipulated their way into power through the very democratic process they would soon destroy from within. From the bottom middle, Germany slid up to the serpent’s head.

Then, the rise of Fascism in Italy, Naziism in Germany, and imperialism in Japan led to the USSR’s crushing of Naziism and the defeat of imperial Japan by the protracted war in China, the victors there being a coalition of Chiang Kai Shek’s Nationalists and Mao Zedong’s Communists, the latter ultimately ousting the former from China in 1949 and establishing Communist China. Similarly in Eastern Europe, the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany led to the creation of the Eastern Bloc. Fascism led to a Communist reaction–head to tail.

Now, consider the middle of the tail, to which most ‘liberal democracies’ gravitate. Here, we’ve usually seen a moderate level of social liberalism mixed with a ‘free market’: in other words, the class structure of the bourgeoisie is firmly intact, while lip service–and usually not much more than that–is paid to acknowledging the rights and needs of people of colour, LGBT people, and to attaining equality of the sexes (hence, the ‘ideal’ of being ‘socially liberal’ and ‘fiscally conservative’). The swaying between Democrats and Republicans in US elections reflect this swinging of the pendulum from ‘moderate left’ to ‘moderate right’. This is a sliding back and forth along the middle of the serpent’s body at the coil’s bottom…indeed, it is the lowest of the low, for it is a terrible state of affairs where little substantive change ever happens. As awful as the threat of Fascism is, at least–theoretically–it could prompt real change, one hopes, in the form of a socialist reaction to it, as it did in the bloody aftermath of WWII.

Most people prefer the moderatism of that middle of the serpent’s body, where things are ‘stable’. People are scared of instability, and thus are willing to endure a number of injustices as long as their whole familiar world doesn’t get torn apart before their horrified eyes. The capitalist class thrives on our complacency.

The Cold War era brought about an interesting development, though, where we found ourselves in the area of the back half of the serpent’s body: not quite at the bitten tail, but in that hind area, approaching the bitten end. The Soviet Union, the Eastern Bloc, Mao’s China, Castro’s Cuba, North Korea, and North Vietnam together posed a formidable threat to the capitalist West, so much so that even they made a number of left-leaning concessions to their citizens–higher taxes for the rich (high enough, at least, to curb greed), a welfare state, strong unions, and the like, coupled with Keynesian economics–in spite of their long-standing imperialism.

The ruling class soon grew weary of all this growing social justice, and they recruited the aid of right-wing economists like Milton Friedman, who advocated a return to classical liberalism and the ‘virtues’ of the so-called ‘free market’. The seductive appeal of that hack writer, Ayn Rand, was also used. (The Canadian rock band, Rush, whose otherwise brilliant music was progressive only in the musical sense, fell under her Siren song back in the 1970s; to be fair to drummer/lyricist Neil Peart, though, he later saw the error of his youth, and has since renounced Rand’s ‘virtue of selfishness’.)

When even Keynesian economics couldn’t fix the economic crises of the mid-1970s, the stage was set to ‘relax’ government influence over the market economies of the West, starting with Carter. Then, Reagan and Thatcher came along with their talk of ‘smaller’ government (translation: a strengthening of the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, through a weakening of unions, plotting–if not yet succeeding–to cut social welfare, and cutting the taxes of the 1%). We began moving from the hind half of the serpent to the front half…and we’ve been inching closer to the head ever since.

Right-libertarians, imagining they understand economics far better than they actually do, are living in a fool’s paradise if they think that unfettered capitalism will lead to a horn of plenty for everyone. Unregulated capitalism produces less growth, it rarely makes poor countries rich (Chang, pages 62-73), and it doesn’t reduce government interference in the world (consider the bloated US military budget, all in the service of capitalist imperialism); it merely gives the rich more power over everyone, by allowing them to keep the money (profits) that they steal from their overworked, underpaid workers, who increasingly have been in outsourced operations in Third World countries.

The notion of the ‘free market’ as creating a level playing field, where all businesses, big or small, can compete fairly, is a chimera. Capitalists eat each other up all the time, without apology. As Karl Marx said, “…as soon as the capitalist mode of production stands on its own feet, the further socialization of labour and the further transformation of the soil and other means of production into socially exploited and therefore communal means of production takes on a new form. What is now to be expropriated is not the self-employed worker, but the capitalist who exploits a large number of workers.

“This expropriation is accomplished through the action of the immanent laws of capitalist production itself, through the centralization of capitals. One capitalist always strikes down many others.” (Marx, Capital, Volume One, pages 928-929).

Capitalism is competition, but it isn’t a sport: there are no rules, and regulation-hating right-libertarians should know this better than everyone else. The purpose of rules is to create fairness, and to keep monopolistic capitalism from destroying itself via its own contradictions; capitalists hate regulations, because they hate fairness, and they refuse to contemplate the consequences of their own rapaciousness. Capitalists cheat all the time.

The only law in capitalism is the need for endless accumulation. Regulations limit profits and accumulation, hence right-libertarians feel ‘fettered’ by rules. They speak of the ‘freedom’ that capitalism supposedly brings, but their ‘freedom’ is really just licence, and it’s used for selfish ends. Talk to the labourers in sweatshops in Third World countries, people who slave away for minuscule amounts of money, about the ‘freedom’ of capitalism.

The whole point of capitalist competition is that somebody wins, and everyone else loses.  In capitalism, the winners keep a maximum of wealth and profits (thanks to all those tax cuts), and this extra money is used to buy political power. It is naïve to assume that most of this wealth will be reinvested to grow their businesses and strengthen the economy. We know from such scandals as the Panama Papers and the Paradise Papers that huge amounts of this wealth is put into offshore bank accounts, not that many of us didn’t already know about that.

Much of the money is also used to buy political influence: just watch how those two ‘libertarians’, the Koch brothers, have been wooing (and bankrolling) right-wing causes for decades. It’s not about ‘less’ government; it’s about more bourgeois government. The ‘less’ government myth is a lie to suck in the petite bourgeoisie.

Right-libertarians’ fantasy about a return to the simpler capitalism of 19th century laissez-faire, without all these foreign wars, the cronyism, and government favouritism to the multinational corporations, is also anachronistic. The deregulation of the 1990s and 2000s, ironically (and dialectically), led to the cronyism of today–the bitten tail of the ‘free market’ leading to the biting head of the Big Government that we now have. There will be no movement back in the other direction.

Imperialism, with its monopolies, finance capital, and corrupt banks, is a natural outgrowth of its opposite, the free competition of the 19th century, a move from the serpent’s tail to its head. Imperialism is not only the ineluctable reality of today’s late-stage capitalism, but has been that reality for the past one hundred years or so. Lenin wrote about it, and he would be horrified to see how much imperialism (i.e., US imperialism) has metastasized by now.

Other examples of the ouroboros of dialectical, historical materialism can be seen in the shifting from feudalism to capitalism, then from the latter into socialism. Consider the terrible state of poverty in late feudal France and China, which was one of the factors that led to their bourgeois revolutions in 1789 and 1911 respectively. Extreme want and powerlessness (the bitten tail), as well as the contradiction between the aristocracy and the rising bourgeoisie, led to a seizing of power (the biting head).

Similarly, the want of the Parisian workers at the end of the Franco-Prussian War led to the proletariat protecting themselves with cannons and declaring the Paris Commune (Marx/Lenin, pages 47-48). The threat that this thrilling proletarian experiment posed to the European bourgeoisie led, in turn, to a brutal suppression two months later. From tail to head, then back to tail again.

Decades later, the repressive tsarist autocracy was pushing the Russian proletariat ever closer to the biting head of the serpent; then a kind of reprieve happened with the abdication of Tsar Nicholas II and the creation of the Provisional Government in early 1917. But the new state’s refusal to pull out of the most-unpopular First World War pushed things along the length of the tail all the way back to the head again, with angry demonstrations that summer, and the seizing of power by Lenin and the Soviets in November (New Style). From biting head to bitten tail.

The capitalist class never tolerates a communist revolution, regardless of whether the ruling class is in the form of the relatively progressive Weimar Republic, Mussolini’s Fascists, or the White Army, the last of these having invaded Russia in 1918 and starting the Russian Civil War. The pressure this put on the Bolsheviks forced them to go to the authoritarian measures they went to (i.e., top-down decision-making, instead of Soviet egalitarianism).

Let’s superimpose the ouroboros–with the biting head to the right of the bitten tail, and both extremes at the top, as we conceived of it earlier in this essay–on top of the four-way political compass, not only with the self-explanatory left and right, but with the top representing authoritarianism and bottom indicating libertarianism. Thus, the top left box would be for the Marxist-Leninists, the bottom left the anarchists, the bottom right the ‘free market’ fetishists (including the ‘anarcho’-capitalists), and the top right everything from the Trump-lovers to the idolizers of the likes of Pinochet, Franco, Mussolini, and Hitler. The neo-con, neoliberal Clintons, Obamas, and Bushes would be near the bottom-middle-right.

Another reality must be considered before we go on: there is a natural tendency to slide counter-clockwise, from the tail, along the middle of the body, and up towards the head of the serpent. We saw how free competition led to imperialism a century ago (then to the rise of Fascism); then how the post-war combination of Keynesian economics with a strong welfare state gave way to the ‘free market’ and deregulation, which in turn has led to the aggravated imperialism of the ‘war on terror’, as well as to Trump and the rise of the alt-right. It all goes round and round, a cycle of increasing suffering.

Capitalist accumulation leads to exacerbated class conflict and internal crises, which in turn lead to more right-wing authoritarianism and imperialism, as noted above. This problem, exacerbated by the capitalist class’s machinations (i.e., their attempted or successful coups of socialist states, or of those otherwise opposed to US interests; their sabotage, spying, and propagandizing against leftist governments, too), means that countries like the USSR, the Eastern Bloc, Mao’s China, and the DPRK were and are forced to take a hard line against reactionaries and revisionists.

In the language of the ouroboros, this means one must aggressively counteract that tendency to slide counter-clockwise from the tail around to the head, a kind of vomiting up of the snake’s past. Revisionism is regurgitation of capitalist hegemony. To keep socialist society on the left side, one must push back clockwise and keep it in the top left, to be safe, for as long as capitalism continues to exist.

Such is the true meaning of the aggravation of class struggle under socialism; such was the real intention of Stalin, Mao, and the Kim dynasty. Doing things the left-libertarian way would have resulted in a swaying to the right, and thus a wasted communist revolution. Stalin’s and Mao’s ‘excesses’, on the other hand, meant a swaying from the tail to the bottom left corner–in other words, a success.

Only once all capitalism has been wiped off the face of the earth can the Marxist-Leninist states relax their control over everything. Then the state can wither away, and we’ll naturally incline toward the middle-to-hind area of the serpent, the libertarian bottom left.

To create a world where all production is for the sake of providing for everyone, we have to do more than just remove the political and economic obstacles (the ruling class and their bourgeois state): we also have to wean ourselves from old, bad habits, i.e., production for profit, exploiting labourers, hoarding food, etc. If these bad habits aren’t broken, the libertarian left of the hind half of the serpent will slide towards the ‘libertarian’ right of unfettered capitalism, the front half of the serpent.

Stalin’s push for rapid industrialization, collectivization,  ruthless punishing of grain-hoarding kulaks, execution of traitors, spies, and other enemies within the USSR, as well as defeating the Nazis and building up of a nuclear arsenal, were all needed measures to keep the USSR from slipping from the hind area of the ouroboros to the front half. The same can be said of Mao’s Cultural Revolution and the DPRK’s development of nukes, a perfectly reasonable reaction to the US bombing of the Korean Peninsula, Iraq, and Libya.

The fact that, ultimately, both Russia and China backslid into capitalism doesn’t invalidate Stalin’s and Mao’s efforts: it proves, all the more, the urgent necessity of those efforts. More of that effort was needed, not less.

The error of liberalism is assuming that an easy-going acceptance of the moderate bottom middle of the ouroboros will result in the world staying there. Nothing stands still forever; all things flow. Our material conditions won’t stay in the bottom middle: they will slide from there to the front half of the serpent, and continue to slide up to the head, as they have for the past forty years. It’s easy to see how Reagan, the Bushes, and Trump have contributed to this trend, but many remain willfully ignorant as to how Carter, the Clintons, and Obama have contributed to it.

The ‘free market’ policies began under Carter, who–under Brzezinski‘s influence–also provoked the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, which was a major factor leading to the USSR’s weakening and collapse (to say nothing of the provocation of contemporary Islamic terrorism). I have, in previous posts, gone over many of the egregious things the Clintons did: NAFTA, the Welfare Reform Act of 1996, repealing the Glass-Steagall legislation, the Telecommunications Act, etc., and right-wingers claim the Clintons are ‘left-leaning’! That ‘socialist’ Obama not only continued Dubya’s evils, but expanded them; small wonder liberals are nostalgic about Bush Jr. these days.

And look at our world today, with Fascist tendencies taking root again, and Trump’s excesses are just the tip of the iceberg. Consider the UKIP’s influence on Brexit, the neo-Nazis in the Ukraine, Fascism in Austria, the Front national almost winning in the French elections, Golden Dawn in Greece, nostalgia for Franco in Spain, and the far-right marching in Poland.

We can go in either of two directions to fix these evils, and neither will be pleasant. We could go insane with accelerationism to the right, leading to a violent reaction against extreme Fascism, which–assuming a left-wing victory–we would hope in turn will lead to Marxism-Leninism (from the serpent’s head to its tail); but will we be able to live with the horrors we’ll have allowed to happen? Or we could engage in a kind of protracted war against the bourgeoisie, an adapting of Mao’s tactics (those against imperial Japan in the 1930s) to our present struggle against neoliberalism (go along the length of the ouroboros from its head to its tail); but will we have the stomach and the patience to see it through?

We have a tough choice ahead of us, don’t we?

Terry Eagleton, Why Marx Was Right, Yale University Press, New Haven, 2011

Mao Zedong, Selected Works of Mao Zedong, Marx-Engels-Lenin Institute, 2014

Karl Marx [Ben Fowkes (Translator)], Capital, Volume I, Penguin Classics, London, 1990

Ha-Joon Chang, 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism, Penguin Books, London, 2010

Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin, The Civil War in France: The Paris Commune, International Publishers, New York, 2008

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.