Sunday, January 31, 2010


Thomas Riggins
(Engels and Philosophy III)

Frederick Engels discusses the state of natural philosophy in the nineteenth century in light of the views of Herr Eugen Dühring in chapters seven and eight of Part I "Philosophy" of his
classic work Anti-Dühring (Herr Eugen Dühring's Revolution in Science.)

Dühring doesn't have much to say about the transition from the inorganic to the organic world. He seems to favor a gradual transition whereas Engels thinks of things in terms of a leap, no matter how gradual it appears to outside observation. Again, Dühring appears to be borrowing his views from Hegel without giving the latter credit. Hegel at least recognized the leap involved-- a quantitative change leading to a qualitative one, so he is far in advance of Dühring.

Dühring also lifts the idea of teleology in nature from Hegel, but in an incorrect and mangled fashion. Teleological explanations, i.e., nature working towards ends, are no longer fashionable in natural science-- since God was kicked out as an explanatory device. But even as he dumps all over Dühring, Engels seems more supportive of Hegel's view. In his Logic (the section on the Doctrine of the Notion),Hegel appeals to "purpose" to explain life arising out of chemism.

For Hegel this is an "inner purpose" which, Engels points out, is completely within nature itself and to be explained from the nature of the elements at hand. It is not "purpose" coming from the outside from some other source than nature itself (such as God, or eternal wisdom, etc.) Confusion with regard to these different meanings of purpose results in people "thoughtlessly ascribing to nature conscious and purposive activity." Dühring, who calls Hegel "crude" himself makes this mistake and speaks of nature "knowing'' and indirectly "willing" such and such actions and results. Hegel would never make such an error. Yet Dühring even has the nerve to attack DARWIN for, in his own words, "pseudo-scientific mystifications " when that is just what he himself has done.

Darwin is attacked for using the ideas on population put forth by Malthus as part of his theory of evolution. Dühring also says Darwin got his ideas from animal breeders and copied the views of Lamarck. So Darwin's views are "frivolous." Dühring, according to Engels holds that if you take out Lamarck then Darwinism "is a piece of brutality directed against humanity." Dühring doesn't like the struggle for existence aspect of the theory.

Marx and Engels were early enthusiasts of Darwin so it is no surprise that Engels mounts a major assault against Dühring on this issue. He both explains Darwin's theory and gives a robust defense. Natural selection is analogous to animal and plant breeding. In the latter case humans select the traits that pop up and breed those individuals to the neglect of others until they have created a new breed of plant or animal.

In nature there is no conscious selection. If a trait turns up, and is useful, and the individual survives to breed and pass it on, then eventually, if it leads to better reproductive survival and success it will produce a new population with the trait and the older population will die out and be replaced (all other things being equal). This is the origin of species. And there is a struggle for reproductive success-- "the survival of the fittest." [This phrase was first used by Herbert Spencer as a synonym for natural section but was picked up and used by Darwin as well.]

It was true that Darwin did use Malthus' theory of population to illustrate the struggle for survival in the natural world and this was an error. Malthus' theories have long been discredited, Engels says, and all trace of them could be booted out of Darwinism without in any way harming the theory. It would only strengthen it.

It is strange, then, that Engels does not mention the work of Michael Thomas Sadler (1780-1835) whose The Law of Population (1832) was a major anti-Malthusian work. But there were many other critics as well and for Engels the most important would have been none other than Karl Marx. Engels notes "the organisms of nature also have their laws of population, which have been left practically uninvestigated, although their establishment would be of decisive importance for the theory of the evolution of species." Since Engels' day this has come about through the development of population genetics as part of the modern evolutionary synthesis developed by scientists such as Ernst Mayer, J.B.S. Haldane, R.A. Fisher, Sewall Wright, George Gaylord Simpson and others.

Another complaint Dühring brings against Darwin had, at the time, more substance. He complains that Darwin's theory "produces its transformations and differences out of nothing." Engels admits that Darwin does not explain the CAUSES which produce the changes brought about by natural selection. The laws of genetic inheritance had not yet been discovered by the science of Darwin's day. [Actually they had been by Mendel but his work was ignored and they had to be discovered all over again at the beginning of the last century.]

Engels says these causes, whatever they are "up to the present are in part absolutely unknown." He should have left the "in part " out because what he thought was the known part turned out to be wrong. Engels writes: "In recent times the idea of natural selection was extended, particularly by Haeckel, and the variation of species conceived as a result of the mutual interaction of adaptation and heredity, in which process adaptation is taken as the factor which produces variations and heredity as the preserving factor."

Engels had read Erst Haeckel's [1834-1919] Schöpfungsgeshichte which, since Haeckel didn't like natural selection, put forth a theory explaining evolution based on Darwin, Lamarck and Goethe. By using Lamarck, the notion of acquired characteristics, independent of genetic mutation, being inherited maintained its unscientific foothold in biology. Haeckel was also one of the founders of "scientific" racism. Haeckel's influence on Engels had some unfortunate unintended consequences for the history of Soviet science (e.g., Lysenko).

Engels is correct is criticizing Dühring for attributing "purpose" to nature, but he himself adds some confusion to this point when he writes, with regard to tree frogs being green and polar animals being white, that although "the colours can only be explained of the basis of physical forces and chemical agents" the animals are nevertheless, with respect to their colours, "purposely ADAPTED to the environment in which they live." This use of "purpose" is a relic of Lamarck's evolutionary theory. The animals were adapted due to random genetic mutations that happened to prove of advantage in their environments-- they were not PURPOSELY adapted. Natural selection is the only modality at work in evolution that we can so far state we know to be at work. If Engels had known about Mendel's discoveries he would never had expressed himself in this way. But Engels' main point is that Dühring's view of purpose in nature, being due to "ideas," leads to Deism and hence to mixing up spirit with natural processes.

Engels next takes issue with Dühring's claim that Darwin traced the origin of all life on earth back to a single common ancestor. Dühring finds fault with this view and Engels quotes The Origin of Species to show that Darwin actually said "SOME FEW BEINGS" were at the root of all life on Earth. That was then. Today many, if not most, biologists hold that there was indeed a UNIVERSAL COMMON ANCESTOR from which all life has descended. Darwin actually ends The Origin of Species with the following: "There is a grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved."

The view today, if it hasn't changed recently--science goes by so fast these days-- is that there are three great "kingdoms" of life, or FORMS. The first is the Archaea-- simple one celled critters without a cell nucleus. These are the oldest life forms. From them evolved the Eubacteria (bacteria) and also, a billion years later or so, the Eukarya-- critters one or many celled that have a cell nucleus-- this includes us and everything else that has a cell nucleus. Somewhere back there in the primeval soup the first Archaean cell started up and-- voíla--here we are and everything else too.

How do we know it came about this way? Well, we still don't know anymore than Engels, who wrote: "With regard to the origin of life, therefore, up to the present, natural science is only able to say with certainty that it must have been the result of chemical action."

The next attack on Dühring, in this first chapter on organic nature, concerns Dühring's characterizing Darwin as superficial for thinking the origin of new traits is sexual. Engels rejoins Darwin says natural selection is only concerned with the PRESERVATION of these traits not their origin. Without having Mendel's discoveries at hand, neither Darwin, nor Dühring, nor Engels have any idea how natural selection actually works. Basically there is a mutation in a gene making up the DNA in an X or Y (or both) chromosome[where sexual reproduction is concerned] and this is passed along to the off spring. If it is useful and the off spring lives to pass it on a new trait can become established and eventually a fish becomes a philosopher.

Dühring is also upset because he thinks Darwinists put down Lamarck and his theory of acquired characteristics. Engels says this in not true. Darwin and his followers do not "belittle" Lamarck and in fact recognize "his great services" and have "put him up again on his pedestal."

It is true that modern science does not "belittle" Lamarck. He was a great pioneer and the first one to advocate evolution based on natural law and a materialist framework. But his views on how evolution works and how new traits arise and are passed on-- just by the need for them or because animals acquire them from their environment-- has been basically disowned by modern science.

Engels still used some Lamarckian views in his scientific writings (Australian Aborigines can't learn geometry as easily as Europeans because Europeans have studied it longer) but that was the science of his day and it is difficult to jump out of your time and place 100% of the time. But he did write that "The theory of evolution itself is however still in a very early stage, and it thereby cannot be doubted that further research will greatly modify our present conceptions, including strictly Darwinian ones, of the process of the evolution of species."

Further research actually did modify the conceptions of Engels' day, but in the direction of strengthening and deepening our appreciation of the Darwinian theory. Engels would have been among the first to accept this.

This discussion is based on Part I Chapter VII of Anti-Dühring. Chapter VIII consists of some concluding remarks by Engels concerning Herr Dühring's views on the nature of life and consciousness, but the science is so out of date I don't think we gain much going over this chapter except to be reinforced in the view that Dühring was no match for Engels.

Engels does however make a methodological comment about definitions in science to which I want to call attention. In the antepenultimate paragraph of this chapter Engels says, "From a scientific standpoint all definitions are of little value." He means that to really understand a subject you have to have "an exhaustive knowledge" of it. In Marxism, I think, we have a lot of definitions from the classics. Definitions of the working class, of the capitalist class, of the state, of class struggle, of the dictatorship of the proletariat, etc., etc. These definitions are part of the common language Marxists use to communicate with each other and to explain Marxist ideas to non Marxists. There are some who get all upset with some of these definitions and want to to strike them out of the Marxist lexicon. Well, Engels has just said definitions are of little value in science because science seeks exhaustive knowledge. True, but we can't expect everyone to have digested all three volumes of Das Kapital before we can talk to them.

So, Engels continues by saying, "But for ordinary usage such definitions are very convenient and in places cannot well be dispensed with; moreover, they can do no harm, provided their inevitable deficiencies are not forgotten." So, maybe we should remember this before we start cleaning up our lexicon. There is a big difference between updating the lexicon and abolishing it. There are some people who no longer speak the common language at all and you would never suspect they were Marxists after listening to them.

In the next chapter of his book Engels will discuss "Eternal Truths." Let's see if he has found any other than death and taxes.

[Anti-Dühring 5]

The Philosophy of Economics Today:

by Gary Tedman

As if it were in retreat but wanted to deny it, after the encroachment of Marxism and Freudianism on what it felt was its own hallowed territory, yet embarrassed by its Idealist past and wanting the fruits of the new materialism into the bargain, academia produced Analytic Philosophy to carry its contemporary positivist message. Inward looking navel gazing was the new emperor’s clothes, and a love for looking at the wood rather than the forest. The mechanisms of philosophy were to be examined in their 'purity', in the guise of logic and language, bereft of those awkward problem areas, such as politics and the passions, which hitherto had, on reflection they felt, sullied their most special realm. Here they surely must be on a stronger footing. This territory belonged to them by rights, for centuries it was at the centre of their endeavour. It did not matter that logic and language alone could not furnish meaning or understanding by themselves, in fact this was to be considered an added bonus, and something to be aimed for as a high achievement.

They would partner science’s groom with this suitable bride, able to fulfil all the duties it could possibly require, especially that of denying meaningfulness to anything that might be considered dangerous to the powers that be, while simultaneously allowing any affirmative meaning to accrue to whatever was deemed subservient to the political ideology of the day.

Such a flexible philosophy, such a denegated position, would be perfectly suitable for today’s human subject, the ‘virtualised’ individual, the flexible worker who can have his education downloaded by a mobile phone, who has all the information, the ‘data’ at his fingertips, ready to leap into whatever assignment that calls. And it would also be perfect for the new stock market, for the ever expanding economy, for world of eternal ‘growth’, for the standards of unquestioned confidence in confidence as the root of all goodness, for total moral relativism, for global competition, for the free and flexible market in every sphere of human activity, and for the ‘services based economy’ in a universe that must correspond to computer models. - My god, it a ‘services based philosophy’!

And so it came to pass that positivist Analytic Philosophy triumphed in academia, and this must at all costs keep at bay the inroads of Marx and Freud. It reached its apotheosis recently, when it lurked behind the Neo-Liberal ideology of globalism as, it has to be said, a very grey eminence, shamefaced and unaccountable. The apotheosis of this ideology thus came just before its most severe debunking. Yet still, like the bankers who have not quite run off (though a few have tried) with the money and awarded themselves with even bigger bonuses after being bailed out, there is nobody to admonish the Philosophical scoundrels. They still lurk in back of the stage, not too quietly, but quieter than the bankers, as is their habit.

What are we to think? We are, in a sense, on the outside of this argument looking in. We wonder what the deeper reasons are, why the ‘powers that be’ and the ‘pundits that be’ failed so utterly miserably to see the crisis coming and do anything about it. But just as official philosophy is ‘hands-off’ the realms of Big Meaning, so mainstream politics is ‘hands-off’ the Big Economy. In tandem they represent the wilful abdication of control and which is therefore also an abdication of their responsibility. In all the attempts to officially analyse the failures of the main players in the crisis we thus find the same feeble and impossible to believe excuse: “we didn’t know what was going on”. Lack of understanding is thus now an extolled virtue, meriting giant financial rewards, but such rewards are glossed as if it were a case of mere technical feedback.

The logic of the market can hardly be backed by the actual logic of Analytic Philosophy, especially not now, when we see that the rewards are enormous for failure, and we see the reality of the crisis unfold, and its miseries, unless the logic is only formal and has nothing to do with life, and unless the logic is able to make moral hazard its secret god. And this is indeed the case.

This Philosophy is not, apparently, concerned anymore with life; it is concerned with science. But its science is also not understood as concerned with life, except perhaps externally, as ‘behaviour’. But what science is not concerned with life? In the end this Philosophy undercuts its own base and rationale; it fades away as something irrelevant, as something only determined by this historical period, as a contingent factor of its political expediency, exactly what it supposed it sought to avoid in the first place. It did not want to be a ‘mere ideology’ like it caricatured Marx’s theory, it wanted to be the modest truth, that was all, but now Marx is seen again to be the real provider of this modest truth, we are back at crisis, and the Philosophers are the ideologists again.

Marxism was always at risk of having its philosophical edges muddied by empiricism, or vulgar materialism as Lenin called it. This was not just true in the annals of official Philosophy, where we might expect it, but in areas like art practice too, where ‘realism’, once a progressive movement, degenerated into a kind of aesthetic behaviourism, a voyeuristic fascination with the external. There is a whole industry bent, today, on continuing to muddy the Marxist waters with pseudo versions of Marxism of this nature. The ‘good’ Marx becomes analytic, and we find we are meant to ignore his politics; for he is a ‘scientist’ now. Marx had his rational system and it is not impossible to look at his work from the point of view of its formalism. Indeed, this is a necessity sometimes (Althusser). Analytic Philosophy and Positivism has, however, made this its sole virtue, if they are the official saints of the new religion (as Comte envisaged), these are its catechisms: its logic, its ‘data’, its unflinching obsession with detail, a passionless quest for validity in ‘correct’ language and its essentializing of ‘grammar’ even, contradictorily, against actual linguistic science and Chomsky. So the very point where it apparently tries hardest to grasp science, science ‘in its essence’, is where it most completely loses touch with it. Like its offspring behaviourism, it only reaches a superficial depth in its idea of depth, it deliberately limits itself, or you might say it willingly puts on blinkers for its masters, lest it let slip a few meanings that might have more than a topical value.

All such meanings are meant to be suspect, which leads to today’s quotidian principles of ‘political correctness’, an ideological panacea for all seasons, a super liberal but scathingly dictatorial “thou shalt” completely rigid in its total flexibility in whatever situation the ‘great and good’ find themselves, flexible because it is contentless. It is not that analytic philosophy has not had its political moments. Bertrand Russell for example; and it is not that it does not produce some good work, some knowledge; it would be more surprising if all this energy and expenditure and swallowing up of talent gave birth to nothing.

But, we are entitled to be angry with it, and especially in these days of extremity. Today it sits behind the arguments of bankers, of speculators automatic deals and the ‘solutions’ of IT departments, the rationale of call centres and computer mailshots; it is behind the endless rhetoric of technocratic instrumentalism, the loss of discretion and passion and, in a way, that old fashioned humanism that at least had humanitarianism sitting next to it.

Maybe the latter was just the result of embarrassment, though. Today’s hard nosed, dullard, vacuous attitude, picked up from the right wing capitalists, has lost that. The new figures for the vast gap between rich and poor are almost unbelievable, they are gross, yet there is hardly a bat of an eyelid. What has Philosophy got to say about that? Clearly very little, it is not its territory; of those things it has basically washed its hands.

What, therefore, can the academies offer us about the crisis? - The economic one, the moral one, the political one, the pedagogic one? A deafening silence, that is about all. There are a few glimmers of hope in that there is some small recognition, for example in economics after the dramatic failure to predict the crisis , that all is not working properly. To quote an extract from ‘The Financial Crisis and the Systemic Failure of Academic Economics’ (from ‘Modeling of Financial Markets’ at the 98th Dahlem Workshop, 2008), which is worth a read:

“The global financial crisis has revealed the need to rethink fundamentally how financial systems are regulated. It has also made clear a systemic failure of the economics profession. Over the past three decades, economists have largely developed and come to rely on models that disregard key factors—including heterogeneity of decision rules, revisions of forecasting strategies, and changes in the social context—that drive outcomes in asset and other markets. It is obvious, even to the casual observer that these models fail to account for the actual evolution of the real-world economy. Moreover, the current academic agenda has largely crowded out research on the inherent causes of financial crises. There has also been little exploration of early indicators of system crisis and potential ways to prevent this malady from developing. In fact, if one browses through the academic macroeconomics and finance literature, “systemic crisis” appears like an otherworldly event that is absent from economic models. Most models, by design, offer no immediate handle on how to think about or deal with this recurring phenomenon.2 In our hour of greatest need, societies around the world are left to grope in the dark without a theory. That, to us, is a systemic failure of the economics profession.”


You would think from this we were in for some results, a breath of fresh academic air perhaps. Yet this effort unfortunately seems to be doomed before it is even begun because the task is understood already as fundamentally one of a ‘lack of communication’ of the difficulties they face (and have faced) and the limitations of the science, rather than anything inherent to their method; in other words it is seen as essentially a marketing problem! It is not our fault, they want to suggest, it is the media, the press, and so on, they all expect too much from us, they whine like the bankers: “…we may be the gods of today, but this doesn't mean all the problems should be placed at the foot of our doors, we cannot be held responsible”, “It is not the fault of our Economics, it is not the fault of our Philosophy, it is…”, they hurriedly look around for someone on which to pin the blame and see everyone looking back at them, for the moment they are waiting to see if there will be an answer dawning in their consciousness….

Naturally, in this text there is absolutely no mention of Marx. Are we surprised? - Of course not. Even in an essay which wants to address the question why ‘boom and bust’ has not been taken into account in the most up-to-date macroeconomic (etc., etc) economic models, Karl Marx is not mentioned. When you wear your philosophical blinkers so prominently we guess they must be very proud of them, or are they simply too afraid to grasp the nettle, even in amongst all this 'nettle grasping' that is supposed to be going on in the name of ‘getting real’? It would be hilarious if it were not so serious. But it is serious.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

DEVIN LEONARD: Stigltz and What Happened to Regulatory Reform?

January 31, 2010

What Happened to Regulatory Reform?

NEARLY two years ago, as a presidential candidate, Barack Obama gave a stirring speech at Cooper Union in New York about the need to reform the country's financial system. Joseph E. Stiglitz, the Nobel-winning economist, recalls it fondly in his powerful new book, "Freefall: America, Free Markets, and the Sinking of the World Economy" (Norton, $27.95).

But Mr. Stiglitz laments that the president failed to make good on such soaring rhetoric. He argues that Mr. Obama has continued for the most part to pursue the failed policies of George W. Bush. This, in the economist's view, has benefited Wall Street but has done little for ordinary citizens.

The results speak for themselves, Mr. Stiglitz says. He worries that "the best that can be said for the economy was that by the fall of 2009 it seems to be at the end of a freefall, a decline without an end in sight. But the end of freefall is not the same as a return to normalcy."

That raises a question: How is it that Mr. Obama the candidate understood the need for economic reform while Mr. Obama the president became a defender of the status quo in many unexpected ways?

Mr. Stiglitz, a former chief economist at the World Bank who spent time in the White House as an adviser to President Bill Clinton, thinks he knows the answer. He writes that Mr. Obama surrounded himself with an economic team whose members — Ben S. Bernanke, the Federal Reserve chairman; Timothy F. Geithner, the Treasury secretary; and Lawrence H. Summers, the director of the National Economic Council — have been reluctant to revamp the financial system.

Mr. Stiglitz says that these are some of the same people whose policies brought us the economic collapse of 2008. That is sure to rankle their supporters, but Mr. Stiglitz, a fine writer, makes a persuasive case.

He says that after Mr. Bernanke replaced Alan Greenspan in 2006, he had a chance to prick the credit bubble. Instead, as we all know, Mr. Bernanke continued the low-interest-rate policies of his predecessor. The results haven't been pretty.

Mr. Stiglitz writes that Mr. Geithner didn't rein in the financial industry's risky practices in his previous job, as chairman of the New York Fed. Yes, Mr. Geithner gave speeches warning of potential dangers, but he "was meant to be a regulator, not a preacher," Mr. Stiglitz says.

The author is especially critical of Mr. Summers, his former colleague in the Clinton White House, who helped thwart an attempt to regulate derivatives in the waning days of Mr. Clinton's second term. The same financial instruments, of course, played a devastating role in the recent crisis.

Perhaps it's not surprising, then, that the Obama team didn't take bold action on the economy right away, Mr. Stiglitz says. Instead, he writes, it doled out more bailout cash to banks and floated bad ideas. These included the Public Private Partnership Investment Program, which the author complains would have enabled "certain members of the Wall Street club" to buy toxic mortgages from ailing banks at inflated prices. Who would be burned if these deals went bad? The taxpayer, of course.

This was such a sweet deal that private investors shied away from it: "They worried that if they made too much money, the bureaucrats and the public wouldn't let them get away with it and would find some way of recouping the profits," Mr. Stiglitz says.

In his opinion, the White House tried to "muddle through" the crisis in the hope that the markets would improve and the public would eventually start spending again.

Mr. Stiglitz argues that this was fine with Wall Street and that bankers were also stalling for time. "The strategy of players in the financial markets was clear: let the advocates for real change in the banking sector talk and talk; the crisis will be over before an agreement is reached — and with the end of the crisis, momentum for reform will disappear," he says.

Delays by the administration, Mr. Stiglitz believes, will almost certainly prolong the recession. But he says that it's not too late to fix the financial system. He offers a long list of proposals to tame the banking sector and to foster a more humanistic style of capitalism in the United States and abroad.

Mr. Stiglitz argues that so-called too-big-to-fail banks like Citigroup are exactly that: too big. He says that they should be broken up, and that the government should regulate derivatives and discourage mortgage securitization.

What's more, he says, Americans need to get over the idea that higher taxes and more government involvement in the economy are a recipe for disaster. He points to Sweden as an example of a country that has a thriving economy but still provides its citizens with extensive social services.

THESE may all be worthy ideas. But at times, Mr. Stiglitz's call for a new economic order seems a bit fanciful. Can you imagine President Obama going before the American people and telling them they need to emulate Sweden? Imagine the fun Glenn Beck would have with that.

The irony is that just as "Freefall" appeared on bookstore shelves, the Barack Obama who spoke so eloquently about the need for reform at Cooper Union reappeared. Earlier this month, he proposed a tax on banks to recover bailout funds from banks and new regulations forbidding them from running internal hedge funds with their depositors' money. And in his State of the Union address last week, he followed this up with proposals to help people whose lives have been upended by the crisis.

It seems that the president has decided he can't afford to protect the status quo. Mr. Stiglitz is unlikely to have all his wishes granted, but it appears that the White House agrees with one of his arguments.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

R.I.P. Howard Zinn

Howard Zinn, author of 'People's History' and left-wing historian, dies at 87 in California

by HILLEL ITALIE AP National Writer
January 27, 2010
LA Times

Howard Zinn, an author, teacher and political activist whose leftist "A People's History of the United States" sold a million copies and became an alternative to mainstream texts and a favorite of such celebrities as Bruce Springsteen and Ben Affleck, died Wednesday. He was 87.

Zinn died of a heart attack in Santa Monica, Calif., daughter Myla Kabat-Zinn said. The historian was a resident of Auburndale, Mass.

Published in 1980 with little promotion and a first printing of 5,000, "A People's History" was — fittingly — a people's best-seller, attracting a wide audience through word of mouth and reaching 1 million sales in 2003. Although Zinn was writing for a general readership, his book was taught in high schools and colleges throughout the country, and numerous companion editions were published, including "Voices of a People's History," a volume for young people and a graphic novel

At a time when few politicians dared even call themselves liberal, "A People's History" told an openly left-wing story. Zinn charged Christopher Columbus and other explorers with genocide, picked apart presidents from Andrew Jackson to Franklin D. Roosevelt and celebrated workers, feminists and war resisters.

Even liberal historians were uneasy with Zinn. Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. once said: "I know he regards me as a dangerous reactionary. And I don't take him very seriously. He's a polemicist, not a historian."



Dahr Jamail' s new book

Reviewed by Paul J. Comeau [This review originally appeared on]

Haymarket Books’ 2009 release, The Will to Resist: Soldiers Who Refuse to Fight in Iraq and Afghanistan, by Dahr Jamail, is the most important nonfiction book published this year. In Will, Jamail captures the lives of our men and women in uniform, in their own uncensored words, as they relate the true situation of the occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan. He underscores the burgeoning resistance movement within the ranks of the armed forces.
Soldiers consistently face attacks from insurgents, supply shortages, and confusion about the purpose of their mission in Baghdad or Kabul. They question the ability of the US Military to push the restart button in Afghanistan, and Iraq is still a dismal place to be. Occupation duty is still in a dangerous region with a lack of infrastructure, clean water, or decent food.
The Obama White House promised to withdraw US forces from Iraq. That hasn’t happened to the extent people demanded. And while Defense Secretary Gates promised to review ’stop loss’ policies last year, the program continues to mean one deployment after another, longer tours, and exhaustion for men and women who have lost homes, spouses, and jobs in America.
All this leaves many US soldiers questioning the US war strategy and skeptical about the latest justifications from their superiors for remaining overseas. More potent forms of dissent arise, ranging from anti-war petitions to “seek and avoid” missions protesting the futility of their assignments. At their most resistant, soldiers refuse to deploy or seek to declare Conscientious Objector status. Jamail demonstrates that soldier’s stories are more than just isolated incidents of dissent, but rather, represent a growing resistance movement. Jamail cites a February 2006 Zogby poll that indicates that 72 percent of troops favored withdrawal within the year, and one in four favored immediate withdrawal.
The Will to Resist does more than reveal growing dissent against the wars within the armed forces. Jamail demonstrates resistance among service members to continuing social problems like racism, sexism, homophobia, and other dehumanizing conditions. Servicemen and women tell heartbreaking stories, and demonstrate that the institutions of the armed forces themselves perpetuate oppressive conditions. Meanwhile, the government does little to defend the rights of service members who find the courage to speak out against adverse conditions. Will also covers the struggle many veterans go through when they return from overseas, both to secure VA benefits, and to exercise their civil liberties. Says one soldier interviewed by Jamail: “There appears to be an ongoing effort by the U.S. military to censor overt displays of dissent by veterans upon their return to the United States.”
The Will to Resist is an essential read. Jamail captures the true conditions in Iraq and Afghanistan from the mouths of the American soldiers themselves, and the oppression they face from both the military apparatus and their fellow servicemen. The Will to Resist expresses our need to stand in solidarity with all active duty soldiers and veterans, in particular those who find the courage to speak out.
This review originally appeared on

Monday, January 25, 2010

What We Stand For

The War= 7,500 Million A DAY
Aid to Haiti 100 Million
[Democracy Now]

Friday, January 22, 2010


[FYI- a book review from a graduate student in Iran. This is an important book-- check it out on Google and]

Overruling Democracy: The Supreme Court vs. The American People is a controversial work by Doctor Jamin B. Raskin, professor of constitutional law at American university. His writings have been published in Washington post, Los Angeles Times, The Nation, The American Prospect, The Washington Monthly, The American Lawyer, Legal Times and George and Slate. Also he is author of We the Students. The present book had been published in 2003 by Routledge (Taylor & Francis Books Inc.) with the ISBN: 0415934397 and 27.50$ price in US.

The book includes ten chapters in 242 pages, bibliographical references as endnote and index. Each chapter begins with a prelude from famous Americans quotations on America. As it's obvious from the title, its debate in on political questions concerning the issue of democracy according to the Constitution and rulings of the Supreme Court in the United Stats of America. The books had been published in a hardback and strong binding which it self resembles the seriousness of legal issues. On front cover a standing double-headed hammer is figured which can be a metaphor for doubt and hesitation in Supreme Court decision making which is in dilemma on which head should be hammered.

Brian P. Marron in his review of the work asserts:

"In Overruling Democracy, Professor Jamin Raskin discusses how the Supreme Court has failed to enforce basic political rights by subordinating democratic principles inherent in the Constitution. The Court tolerates the usurpation of popular sovereignty through the manipulation of the electoral process. The Court also fails to protect the functioning of democratic principles in our everyday lives in cases dealing with schools and corporations. Throughout the book, Raskin offers several solutions to the democracy deficit, including several proposed constitutional amendments to clearly enshrine democratic rights. However, the issues are presented in such a manner that may undermine the book's effectiveness as a tool for building support for a democracy reform movement."

This book of course not as a handbook but as a really informative one can be useful for those with democracy concerns especially in modern United States context. As John Sweeney president of the AFL-CIO had echoed about this book:

"A gripping book about the Supreme Court's assault on the political rights of the people. This book is required reading for every citizen who cares about the fate of our democracy."

Raskin focusing on Bush vs. Gore (2000) "Taking on the elitist and reactionary impulses of contemporary conservatism, Overruling Democracy lays out a compelling plan for "we the people" to overrule the Court with some basic constitutional changes in the new century. Raskin's aggressive to "constitutional patriotism" shows the way forward to a more democratic constitution, judiciary and nation."

In his presentation Raskin asks for revising constitution by adding an amendment so called "Right to Vote" amendment, as he believes there is no real democratic franchise in a document which states 3/5 portion for Men. He also recommends for general election in presidency campaign in which the president must be chosen out of all 18-aged and older people direct vote and of course not in electoral system; in his suggestion every individual candidate who can gain at least 50% of the ballot regardless of his/her affiliation to any major, minor or no political party would be the President of the United States of America. Raskin offers that if none of candidates could get the half ballot, the last candidate's votes in ranking should be shared to others and this process should be continued till one can gain the criterion.

E.J Dionne author of Why Americans Hate Politics and They only Look Dead: Why Progressives Will Dominate the Next Political Era has a thinkable view about this book. He Says:

"American democracy thrives because people like Jamin Raskin, an eloquent, thoughtful, and provocative small-d democrat, insist on reminding us of our aspirations to equality and rule by the people. You may disagree with some of his ideas, as I do, and still come away refreshed and even electrified. The old issue was liberal judicial activism. The new issue is a conservative judicial activism that could constrain the ability of the democratic branches of our government to solve public problems. For liberals, Raskin says, 'it is time to let go of any lingering nostalgic enchantment with the Supreme Court.' He's right."

In general this work at least gives new visions on issue of American democracy and this point that whether it's is appropriate kind of peoples' consenting or just a mocking oligarchy in disguise of democracy.

I am MA student in American Studies program at INAES in Iran

Article Source:

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Health Reform Redux Post Mass. Vote

by Phil E. Benjamin

It is time to dump the Policy Wonks and Democratic Party wise guys.

Everyone said and now everyone knows that the SIMPLER THE BETTER. The more complicated, the more to make people worried about the details. And, that worry becomes grist for the Republican media machines.

So the first step for health reform is to Dump the Congressional Bills......both of them feed into the Republican machine for 2010 elections. Mass. showed that.

We must propose what we know people want and already like.

1. Maintain and expand the Veterans Medical and Hospitals Systems;

2 Expand the Federally Qualified Community Health Centers;

3. Drop the Medicare age to 55 to 64 ---- Republicans will not mess with that;

4. Elevate Medicaid to 150% of the Federal Poverty Level;

5. Open the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program for non federal employees to join;

6 Eliminate Pre-Existing Conditions Exclusions

By doing these actions; you are dealing with winners and known programs. Each of these programs is supported by those in them.

By dumping the Health Exchanges you eliminate the number one grist for the Republican mills, i.e., forcing people to buy insurance. And, to win working people back, voters they are; Dump the taxing of benefits.

These should be done waiting time.

Then in a year or two we do another step.

These can and will lead to larger reforms such as a federally administered Single Payer system; and, toward our ultimate goal of a National Health Service in our country.

A New Deal Administration or a Weimar Disaster? Recent Events in U.S. Politics

by Norman Markowitz

The immediate political trend in the U.S. is clearly not good. In 2008, Barack Obama won a huge victory, bringing millions of new people to the polls, flying in the face of nearly four centuries of institutional and ideological racism(the first Africans were "imported" to North America in 1619) becoming the first African-American president in U.S. history, something that few believed was possible until the last few years.

But these millions of new voters have not yet coalesced into a larger peoples democratic coalition that, like the anti-slavery coalition of the 1850s and 1860s and the New Deal coalition of the 1930s and 1940s, can bring about a new political reality. And of course, the right-wing dominated Republican party, the party of Reagan, Rumsfeld, Gingrich, Cheney, and Bush, those who increased the deficit over ten times in the last thirty years while the real living standards of the people stagnated and declined, hope to regain power by feeding off a crisis that they created. We should remember that these are the politicians who waved the American flag so much that they gave jingoism a bad name while they facilitated the export of hundreds of billions in U.S. capital and tens of millions of jobs in the name of "free markets" and globalization. These are the politicans and the party whose overall effect was to make the U.S. working class the most debt ridden and insecure of the working classes of the developed nations. Today, a grotesque expression of political chutzpah, they are winning elections with their old voodo economics(cut taxes and spending except for the military to revive the economy and "reduce" the deficit) and the usual attacks on "big government."

Let me state the obvious, although not so obvious to some on the left. The Obama administration is by any standard a huge advance over what we have seen in the Reagan-Bush era over the last thirty years. It has embarked upon the largest compensatory fiscal policy in history to prevent a catastrophic depression and so far its policies have done that. It is difficult to tell voters that official unemployment would be in the vicinity of 15 to 20 percent and gross domestic product much lower then it is today, but that for those of us who don't live in Milton Friedman land is the truth. Unfortunately, many voters see their own insecurity, their debt ridden state government reducing services and increasing regressive taxes and fees, and in our "two party system" are manipulated into shooting themselves in the foot by voting Republican
I heard Chip Berlet who has written a fine book on "right-wing populism" on WBAI in New York today deal with the victory of a right-wing Republcan Massachusetts and make the very good point that while "we" meaning the broad left should defend the Obama administration from the reactionary and racist attacks of the right, "we" should also give it a "kick in the butt" to move it to the left, for both its own sake and the sake of the people.

That got me to thinking about the dangers in the present historical moment. Millions hoped and still hope that Obama would be another Franklin Roosevelt and he has advanced progressive policies. But he, as he himself realizes(as his recent statements suggest) has been concerned with the enormous economic crisis of the moment, as Roosevelt was, and has followed those around him, who clearly lack the innovation and independence that Roosevelt's advisers had and which he desperately needs.

The danger of course in that the Obama administration will not advance and will face the kind of opposition that the liberal but weak Weimar Republic, an enormous advance over the German empire, faced in the 1920s, as it was attacked by both a sinister right, more vicious then it had ever been after losing a World War and the sort of power it had previously and a revolutionary left, which rejected reforms as cooptive devices to prevent revolution.

Just as GW Bush was far more destructive than Ronald Reagan, given the forces that supported him and where the nation was during his administration, a third Reagan era so to speak, which major Republican victories in the 2010 elections might help to usher in, would bring with it economic and political disasters, inclduing open racism, which, given the present world economy and balance of political forces, might very well lead to economic, political and military catastrophes that would threaten the very survival of the Republic.

What can the Communists, who in the U.S. even more than in most places represent both the most realistic politics and best hopes of the left, do to organize and educate the people to defeat forces of the Republican Right before they reach a critical mass that endangers the, the living standards, civil rights and civil liberties of the people.

First, we must call for immediate practical solutions/demands to relieve the crisis as it effects the people. One important and radical state forward, but one in line with the New Deal tradition, would be for the federal government to begin to absorb much if not all of the state deficits and debt. The states in the U.S. pay for education and other basic social services which have been under attack for the last three decades as the federal government has in effect reduced/and or eliminated federal funding for programs that provide for peoples needs. State deficits and the state debts are relatively minor compared to the federal deficit and could be easily absorbed by the equivalent of a few months of the present 500 billion annual military budget or a few weeks of the multitrillion dollar bailout of finance capital During the 1930s, New Deal public works and other policies actually reduced state deficits significantly while the federal deficit rose. This would have an immediate positive effect on states and communities, preserving public jobs and services and protecting union contracts, and encouraging economic revival.

We should come forward with practical proposals/demands to enact new securities and exchange and national banking legislation to regulate the stock market and the banks in the peoples interest. For one thing, the banks, who have profited from the bank crisis, might be compelled by a reformed Federal Reserve to pay for the absorption of the state debts. Making the Chair of the Federal Reserve a cabinet member serving at the pleasure of the administration would go a long way to establishing effective public regulation over the banking system, which has literally taken its bailout money and hoarded it rather than re-investing in the U.S. economy.

We should also come forward with practical proposals/demands that the Obama administration begin to channel its aid money to the states and communities in very different ways, creating new public authorities as the New Deal did to create and provide jobs, moving around both the political machines and the stifling Reagan era formulas that have blocked this aid from reaching the people most in need and alleviating the crisis.

Obama's problems in many ways are more complicated then Roosevelt's, who faced a divided Democratic party, with corrupt political machines and powerful racist Southern Democrats whom he sought to buy off. But Roosevelt had progressive Republicans and real independent forces in politics with whom supporters of the administration could unite. Obama faces a Republican party that is a party of the right and the ultra-right and nothing else, a party which has responded to his administration in Congress with a scorched earth policy
The Republicans are organized as a party in a way that the Democrats are not. They have laughed at "partisanship" and passed legislation which gave spectacular tax cuts and other subsidies to the corporations and the rich with much smaller majorities than the Democrats now have and no fear of filibusters from the Democrats. It is late in the game to expect much more from the Democrats than we have seen, but it is important, as we fight the right-wing revival, to educate that the Democrats as a party and the Obama administration have not suffered these electoral defeats because they "moved too far to the left" but that they have at this point failed to deliver both the practical policies that their core constituents expected from them or give their core constituents a "fighting faith" that they will achieve those policies through political victories in the future.

If we are to build a new coalition in U.S. politics, we must also fight to elect in working class districts, urban districts often represented by Democratic party politicians who "vote the right way" but don't provide any effective leadership and are often ready to barter their votes for patronage, to elect trade unionists, independent progressives, candidates who will represent their constituents in a class conscious way. This is the only way that the left has advanced itself in electoral political and the only way that it has contributed to the creation of mass movements and political coalitions that have both produced and consolidated progressive policies.
Finally, the media, Democratic politicians, and President Obama are speaking about the anger people have and the need to here them. That is all to the good, but "hearing" them in the traditional way, that is saying that you "feel their pain" and retreating or putting on the back burner various social issues like immigrant rights, women's rights, and gay rights will only make matters worse and deepen a political vacuum that will only strengthen the right further. Economic Recovery, Relief, and Reform, to use the three Rs of the New Deal era which sound so trite but are so real and relevant to the needs of today, is what we must organize and educate for in the months ahead.

Monday, January 18, 2010

A Marxist and a Gentleman

A Marxist and a Gentleman
By Vijay Prashad
From Himal South Asian

Jyoti Basu (1914-2010) slipped into the night. He was a lifelong Marxist and Communist, and was the Chief Minister of Bengal from 1977 to 2000. Basu's service to Communism and to Bengal was equivalent: he wavered from neither.

Indian Communism reached an impasse in the 1970s, with the moderate CPI afflicted by its too close an association with the Emergency, and the reckless Naxalites undone by their misreading of the historical moment. The CPM, which was formed in 1964 with Jyoti Basu as one of its original Politburo members (the last to die), assessed Indian democracy as important enough to take seriously, to use its institutions and its Constitutional commitments to the fullest, while offering a sustained critique of its limitations. Mass organizing to build a viable alternative to the class domination of the democratic institutions was essential, and it was to this end that Basu and others like him had committed their lives over the course of the middle years of the Twentieth Century (Basu began his Communist work with the railway men's union).

In 1977, after ten years of united front work, opportunity knocked. The Communists had built a wide coalition in Bengal thanks to the grassroots work among the workers and peasants. This bloc presented the CPM and its allies with the majority in the State government. Basu was elected to lead the government. He held that post for twenty-three years, leading the Left Front to several successful elections. Aided by his comrades Harekrishan Konar and Benoy Choudhury, Basu initiated the most successful campaign of Indian Communism: the land reform and tenancy registration campaigns of the 1970s and 1980s. It was here that Basu's Bengal was able to demonstrate the vitality of a state government, even with its limited state powers (as opposed to the central government's power). A Communist government genuinely committed to the well-being of the masses was capable of much more than a bourgeois government, even when restricted by bourgeois legalism. In 1978, Basu told a reporter, "Under the Indian constitution, we cannot make the kind of basic changes that are needed. If we assumed national power in Delhi, things would be very, very different. But for now we must be content to make whatever small improvements we can in the lives of the poor people, to make life more livable."

Additionally, Basu's Bengal proved that the Naxalite adventure was unnecessary to push forward both reformist policies and non-reformist reforms; the latter are those that push the system to its limits. Mass enthusiasm for the land reforms and the tenancy registration campaign helped raise the productivity of Bengal's agriculture. Between 1950 and 1960, the compound annual rate of growth in rice production was a measly 1.01%; between 1980 and 1995, the rate rose to 5.03%. As Amartya Sen put it in 1992, "West Bengal - with a growth rate of over 7 percent per annum in agricultural value added - more than two and a half times the national average - can be described as the agricultural success story of the 1980s." Neither the Soviet Russian example nor the Chinese Maoist one was to be the model for India; the Indian Communists had to find their own method, and in the slogan of "govern and mobilize," they were able to establish a sensible path.

Read more...n

Sunday, January 17, 2010


ANTI-DÜHRING: Part One: Philosophy -- World Schematism
[Engels and Philosophy 2]

Thomas Riggins

There are eleven chapters in Part One of Anti-Dühring which deal with the topic of philosophy. This posting deals with chapters four, five and six.

Engels opens chapter four [World Schematism] with a couple of "oracular passages' from Dühring which amounts to about two pages of the latter's philosophical mumbo-jumbo which Engels translates for us. Dühring is trying to say that he begins by thinking about "being" and uses his thoughts to deduce the world since there can be nothing beyond his thoughts. Engels, shows that this belief in the "identity of thinking and being" is simply lifted from Hegel.

What is comical about Dühring is how he tries to prove the NON-EXISTENCE of God with this idea. He thinks Thought and Being form a unity (an identity of substance). He then uses the ONTOLOGICAL ARGUMENT to prove there is no God (this argument is usually used with the opposite intention.) The God version is like this: When we think of God we think of a Being that is Perfect. Existence is a perfection. Therefore when we think of a Perfect Being we are forced to think it must exist (otherwise we are not really thinking of a perfect being), therefore God exists.

Dühring's version: When I think of Being I think of one idea, i.e., of a Unity, therefore there is no God. This is because all the things having being are parts of the unified world of experience. God as a separate being would make two things, not a Unity. There is no problem for a pantheist-- God = Nature = the Material World, no problem. Religious people won't go for this since God is just anothet word for the universe-- who will answer prayers, etc.

Well, Engels believes in the unity of Being, i.e., of the material world, but he doesn't think it can be proved by Dühring's idealistic speculations. Engels says the unity of the world isn't due to its being, its existence, but it does have to exist before it can be a unity. Also note that beyond what we can observe being is "an open question." We can't discover world unity without "a long and wearisome development of philosophy and natural science."

Engels spends the rest of the chapter showing that Dühring, who is trying to deduce the world we live in from the first abstract notions of Being (unity), as against Nothingness, and the emergence of Becoming, has done no more than produce an inferior pilfering of Hegel's Logic, Part I, the doctrine of Being. And while Dühring speaks of the "delirious fantasies" of Hegel, he himself has taken all his ideas from him. Engels really resents Dühring for calling Marx more or less "ridiculous" for following Hegel in saying "quantity is transformed into quality." This from a man who stole almost all his ideas from Hegel.

Well, enough of this: on to the next chapter: Five-- "Natural Philosophy. Time and Space".
The first thing to keep in mind is that physics today is very different from the 1870s and 80s. There is no point in turning to Engels for a physics lesson. All I want to do is contrast Engels attitudes towards science with those of Dühring.

Dühring claims to answered all the questions regarding the nature of space and time . To this absurd claim Engels counters by pointing that he has only lifted his ideas from Kant's CRITIQUE OF PURE REASON (first part, Second Division, Book II, Chapter II, Section II: The First Antinomy of Pure Reason). There Kant says, "The world has a beginning in time, and with regard to space is also limited." Dühring rephrases this in his organ jargon and calls it (his great discovery) "The Law of Definite Number." As Aquinas with Aristotle, Dühring borrows what he likes from Kant and junks the rest.

The rest of this chapter deals with Dühring's views on the nature of infininity and the science of mechanics as well as the nature of motion and rest. We need not bother ourselves with these speculations. Engels real point is to show that Dühring's views are borrowed from others and his treatment of the topics is not only derivitive but incoherent.

Don't forget, Engels wants to discredit Dühring's reputation as a great philosopher because he has joined the German socialist movement and is seeking to become a leader by down playing Marx. Engels' real targets are his views on economy and political science. By showing that he is a boob in philosophy and natural science it is more likely we will agree on his boobishness in these latter areas as well.

Let us move on to chapter six,"Natural Philosophy. Cosmogony, Physics, Chemistry."

Again we are dealing with outdated science, nevertheless Engels makes some general observations that are of interest. As far as Dühring is concerned he is out to lunch when it comes to understanding science. Even thoughthis chapter is dedicated to refuting his views we can just ignore him and concentrate on those things of general interest brought up by Engels.

Engels mentions that Kant's Nebular Hypothesis, that the all the celestial bodies were made out of rotating nebular clouds of dust and particles, "was the greatest advance made by astronomy since Copernicus." Engels thinks this so because Kant's theory for the first time allowed people to see that nature had a history. Thed stars and planets were not eternal fixtures of the heavens but had an historical development just as every thing else in nature. [While Kant certainly popularized the Nebular Hypothesis, some version of which is still taught in Astronomy today, it was actually the Swedish mystic theologian and scientist Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772) who first put forth the Nebular Hypothesis.]

Dühring dismisses Kant and has his own theory which Engels shows is completely unscientific. Dühring claims only matter "is the bearer of all reality." The old materialists spoke of matter AND motion. You can't just start with only matter because then you can't explain where motion comes from. The Marxist solution is summed up by saying, "MOTION IS THE MODE OF EXISTENCE OF MATTER." Engels has old fashoned physics in mind when he talks about the conservation of motion, etc., but his views can easeily be updated to a more modern vocabulary. Today science speaks of the conservation of energy, momentum, and angular momentum and that these three cannot be created or destroyed.

This chapter has a few more pages where Engels rags on Dühring's views on chemistry and some other topics but since the science here is outmoded we can pass on. Chapter seven begins Engel's discussion of the organic world and that is where the next section of this exposition will pick up.
[Engels 4]

Saturday, January 16, 2010


Right-Wing Populism in America: Too Close for Comfort (Paperback)
~ Chip Berlet (Author), Matthew N. Lyons (Author)

Review [reposted from]
"In its scope and breadth of coverage, Berlet and Lyons' book is particularly ambitious and impressive, and the events discussed in the book range widely....the book will serve as an important resource for those whose interests and viewpoints are largely consistent with left-wing methodologies, while simultaneously provoking much necessary debate and argument from those whose methodological orientation is grounded toward the political center or right-wing. Of particular interest is the fifty page bibliography contained in the book that serves as a valuable resource for locating additional materials related to populism in all its varieties and expressions. Strongly recommended for college and research libraries, although its primary audience will be upper-level undergraduates, graduate students and faculty in American political and social history, political science and sociology."--Counterpoise " interesting, informative book. Berlet and Lyons have forgotten more about right-wing politics in America than most of us know to begin with, and they put that knowledge to good use....a good book that merits close attention from scholars of the Right in America and of social movements generally."--Contemporary Sociology "...right-wing populist movements in the United States have long been part of our nation's social fabric, and they have influenced our values and policies to a much greater extent than most people recognize. Chip Berlet and Matthew N. Lyons argue this case persuasively in their illuminating new study, Right-wing Populism in America: Too Close for Comfort....according to the authors of this important book, right-wing populism reinforces existing ills by deflecting attention away from the structural causes of economic and social injustice."--Southern Poverty Law Center "Right Wing Populism in America challenges activists to be aware of broad movements for change that are repressive. It provides activists knowledge of the roots of these movements. Instead of scapegoating the right or dismissing them, people on the left need to start challenging the inequalities that provide fertile breeding ground for repressive movements."--Z Magazine "Rather than dismiss right-wing populist movements as 'lunatic fringe', the authors contend that we should consider them complex and dangerous: complex because of the way they blend issues, and dangerous because they lure and channel people into misguided efforts that 'only serve to heighten inequality and oppression.'"--Briarpatch "The history of the evangelical entry into politics is fascinating and complicated. There is an excellent account in Right-Wing Populism in America." --The New York Review of Books "...two leading political analysts provide the background and insights on conspiracy theory, ethnic scapegoating and other movement trademarks. From the Ku Klux Klan to nationalist cliques, this provides an important consideration of sentiments and motivations." --The Bookwatch "Berlet...and not see the racial, religious, social, and economic ideas of the Far Right as strictly marginal. Rather, they argue, right-wing populism is deeply rooted in American history. This detailed historical examination...provides a theoretical basis for understanding the actions and ideas of these movements....This work strikes an excellent balance between narrative and theory....Recommended for all public and academic libraries." --Library Journal -- Review

Friday, January 15, 2010

I have in my possession (smug old me...) a life size photocopy of Marx's 3rd 1844 manuscripts. This was part of research I started around 1981 (I published an essay in Rethinking Marxism journal on this research in 2004). Long ago I backed each page together and stuck them, and then turned them all into a big booklet. They are large pages and the faces are divided by Marx into (generally) two columns on which he has scrawled his characteristic hard to decipher writing (with his strange descending characters). You must read the text landscape with the hand sewn binding at the top.

I used to handle this and stare at it. It is not as unusual in structure as the 1st MS, but it is still unusual. A while ago I noticed the ink blots. Marx's pen left quite a few pools of varying densities, as well as swipes where he has wiped them, usually by accident.

Sometimes the blots went completely through the page and stained the other side. These blotches proved to me something empirically which I also thought from the rationale of the subject matter. Marx wrote this text in this way as it was planned and not in a haphazard manner just adding columns one after the other. The columns were meant to meet up and be juxtaposed at certain points given what was being stated by the words in each of them.

This has become a moot point in scholarship on Marx. You might say it is even repressed. Marx's works are meant to be taken like Bibles, as a long story in conventional form (at least). So publishers prefer to ignore this aspect of the MS and repeatedly put the text into conventional pages. It is also difficult for them to do anything else logistically, of course.

But some comrades say that this is after all easier for 'practical political purposes'. I disagree. The 1844 manuscripts are not, after all, minor election pamphlets, they are works of profound insight into the fundamental workings of capital and society and its philosophical view of itself. They are also a 'working out' and contain a kind of 'eureka' moment. It is necessary to understand Marx especially at this crucial point. What's more, the 1844 MS maintain a mystique precisely because of their poetic and unusual nature. Why the effort to diminish this and render it 'practical political'? If being 'practical political' means to dissolve this radical and deep aspect into the sea of the ordinary? To hell with it! for it is not really very practical or very politically aware to do that, is it?

I will take this opportunity to point up that I have recently been rushed (a bit) by an upsurge of this attitude to bring out the hypertext EBook version of Marx's 1844 Manuscripts (which I made freely available on the web here years ago

…). This new text reveals, probably in a better way, the columnar structure and pagination, but it can also be read conventionally, yet without prioritizing which column comes first (which is very important). EBooks have this capacity, which at least is a benefit for that mode of reading. It is available for the mobipocket reader but is best seen on a PC because it needs a wide screen. See here:

A materialist philosophical position means that we ought to take more note of such cultural objects as, yes, material objects, not just as repositories of 'floating meanings'.

Thursday, January 14, 2010


If we are serious about assisting this devastated land we must stop trying to control and exploit it

Peter Hallward [ Reposted from ]

Any large city in the world would have suffered extensive damage from an earthquake on the scale of the one that ravaged Haiti's capital city on Tuesday afternoon, but it's no accident that so much of Port-au-Prince now looks like a war zone. Much of the devastation wreaked by this latest and most calamitous disaster to befall Haiti is best understood as another thoroughly manmade outcome of a long and ugly historical sequence.

The country has faced more than its fair share of catastrophes. Hundreds died in Port-au-Prince in an earthquake back in June 1770, and the huge earthquake of 7 May 1842 may have killed 10,000 in the northern city of Cap Haitien alone. Hurricanes batter the island on a regular basis, mostly recently in 2004 and again in 2008; the storms of September 2008 flooded the town of Gonaïves and swept away much of its flimsy infrastructure, killing more than a thousand people and destroying many thousands of homes. The full scale of the destruction resulting from this earthquake may not become clear for several weeks. Even minimal repairs will take years to complete, and the long-term impact is incalculable.

What is already all too clear, however, is the fact that this impact will be the result of an even longer-term history of deliberate impoverishment and disempowerment. Haiti is routinely described as the "poorest country in the western hemisphere". This poverty is the direct legacy of perhaps the most brutal system of colonial exploitation in world history, compounded by decades of systematic postcolonial oppression.

The noble "international community" which is currently scrambling to send its "humanitarian aid" to Haiti is largely responsible for the extent of the suffering it now aims to reduce. Ever since the US invaded and occupied the country in 1915, every serious political attempt to allow Haiti's people to move (in former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide's phrase) "from absolute misery to a dignified poverty" has been violently and deliberately blocked by the US government and some of its allies.

Aristide's own government (elected by some 75% of the electorate) was the latest victim of such interference, when it was overthrown by an internationally sponsored coup in 2004 that killed several thousand people and left much of the population smouldering in resentment. The UN has subsequently maintained a large and enormously expensive stabilisation and pacification force in the country.

Haiti is now a country where, according to the best available study, around 75% of the population "lives on less than $2 per day, and 56% – four and a half million people – live on less than $1 per day". Decades of neoliberal "adjustment" and neo-imperial intervention have robbed its government of any significant capacity to invest in its people or to regulate its economy. Punitive international trade and financial arrangements ensure that such destitution and impotence will remain a structural fact of Haitian life for the foreseeable future.

It is this poverty and powerlessness that account for the full scale of the horror in Port-au-Prince today. Since the late 1970s, relentless neoliberal assault on Haiti's agrarian economy has forced tens of thousands of small farmers into overcrowded urban slums. Although there are no reliable statistics, hundreds of thousands of Port-au-Prince residents now live in desperately sub-standard informal housing, often perched precariously on the side of deforested ravines. The selection of the people living in such places and conditions is itself no more "natural" or accidental than the extent of the injuries they have suffered.

As Brian Concannon, the director of the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, points out: "Those people got there because they or their parents were intentionally pushed out of the countryside by aid and trade policies specifically designed to create a large captive and therefore exploitable labour force in the cities; by definition they are people who would not be able to afford to build earthquake resistant houses." Meanwhile the city's basic infrastructure – running water, electricity, roads, etc – remains woefully inadequate, often non-existent. The government's ability to mobilise any sort of disaster relief is next to nil.

The international community has been effectively ruling Haiti since the 2004 coup. The same countries scrambling to send emergency help to Haiti now, however, have during the last five years consistently voted against any extension of the UN mission's mandate beyond its immediate military purpose. Proposals to divert some of this "investment" towards poverty reduction or agrarian development have been blocked, in keeping with the long-term patterns that continue to shape the distribution of international "aid".

The same storms that killed so many in 2008 hit Cuba just as hard but killed only four people. Cuba has escaped the worst effects of neoliberal "reform", and its government retains a capacity to defend its people from disaster. If we are serious about helping Haiti through this latest crisis then we should take this comparative point on board. Along with sending emergency relief, we should ask what we can do to facilitate the self-empowerment of Haiti's people and public institutions. If we are serious about helping we need to stop trying to control Haiti's government, to pacify its citizens, and to exploit its economy. And then we need to start paying for at least some of the damage we've already done.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Engels and Philosophy (1)

ANTI-DÜHRING: Part One: Philosophy -- Classification & Apriorism

Thomas Riggins

There are eleven chapters in Part One of Anti-Dühring which deal with the topic of philosophy. This part begins with Chapter Three: "Classification. Apriorism."

Dühring, Engels informs us, believes philosophy is the supreme form of the consciousness of all the PRINCIPLES of willing and knowledge and, since all the forms of being are studied by consciousness, then these principles must appear to consciousness as objects of philosophy. Being thus appears to us under three headings-- as the form of the universe, as Nature, and as the human world. Being appears to us in that order as a logical progression.

What Dühring proceeds to do is deduce the structure of the world system and the role of the human sciences from this logical structure produced by his philosophical consciousness. This is IDEALISM and quite the method used by Hegel half a century before. Dühring is quite confused as the facts relating to the nature of the universe and humankind are to be discovered by the study of Nature and History and the logical structure arrived at by philosophers is only valid, insofar as it is valid, because it is derived from experience of the external world not because it is imposed upon it.

Idealists were struck by the fact that the laws of thought and the laws of nature were in such close correspondence but failed to see that the laws discovered by the human brain were so discovered because the brain is a part of nature. Thus, "it is self-evident that the products of the human brain, being in the last analysis also products of nature, do not contradict the rest of nature's interconnections but are in correspondence with them."

Dühring's idealism leads him, Engels says, to view human consciousness as not human! Here are Dühring's own words: It's "a degradation of the basic forms of consciousness and knowledge to attempt to rule out or even put under suspicion their sovereign validity and their unconditional claim to truth, by applying the epithet 'human' to them." But consciousness (human) and knowledge (human) have only developed through the process of evolution in human brains. How can Dühring think they have some kind of transcendental existence?

Engels writes that "no materialist doctrine can be founded on such an ideological basis." But let us see if we can salvage some of Dühring's idea here. Granted that A=A is a human concept developed in a human brain. But A=A appears as a basic law of thought -- it would hold for any rational consciousness including non-human extraterrestrial rational beings. So we can agree that A=A or Reason may not be limited to just the human brain or to the Earth.

Engels says that Dühring, by separating thought from being a human product "has to sever it from the only real foundation on which we find it, namely man and nature." Well, maybe "thought" can be severed from the human brain-- how can we rule out that some other star system does not have intelligent life that reasons on the basis of A=A. But still this would be the result of a process of nature, the natural conditions of this other star system. So Engels is still basically correct, but Dühring too has his point: that rational consciousness may exist independently of humanity(even though we have yet to discover any other rational creatures in the universe). But it is no "degradation" to Reason to call it human.

Engels main point remains true-- we understand the world structure not from our minds but THROUGH our minds. In this sense we don't need philosophy "but positive knowledge of the world" that is "not philosophy, but positive science." I think Engels goes too far when he suggests "if no philosophy as such is any longer required, then also there is no more need of any system, not even of any natural system of philosophy." I want to suggest that we still need philosophy. DIAMAT itself is a philosophical system based on scientific realism or naturalism (materialism). Just a few sentences later in Anti-Dühring Engels himself makes some observations that suggest that we will still need philosophy.

I will argue that Engels, in fact, proposes ideas remarkably similar to what Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) the great English skeptic will say, some seventy years later than Anti-Dühring, is the nature of philosophy. Here is Russell, from the introductory remarks to his HISTORY OF WESTERN PHILOSOPHY: "Philosophy, as I shall understand the word, is something intermediate between theology and science. Like theology, it consists of speculations on matters as to which definite knowledge has, so far, been unascertainable; but like science, it appeals to human reason rather than to authority, whether that of tradition or that of revelation. All DEFINITE knowledge-- so I should contend-- belongs to science; all DOGMA as to what surpasses definite knowledge belongs to theology. But between theology and science there is a No Man's Land, exposed to attack from both sides; this No Man's Land is philosophy." Needless to say, when some kind of definite knowledge is discovered in No Man's Land it quickly moves on over into science leaving philosophy behind.

Now, what Engels has to say about knowledge is pretty much the same as Russell, so much so that Engels, save for stylistic differences, could have himself penned Russell's words. What does he say? Engels says that the goal of science is to give a complete description of nature. The mind, via perceptions of the external world, constructs a mental image of "the world system." The scientific world view is the result of an interconnection between the processes of nature and our mental image of them.

But, Engels says, it is not possible for us to attain a complete scientific description of this interconnection. If we ever attained a complete understanding of nature, the mind and history, it would mean knowledge "had reached its limit." If we made society in agreement with this absolute knowledge it would be the End of History ('further historical evolution would be cut short). "This is absurd, it is nonsense", says Engels.

Humanity faces a big contradiction. We strive to attain absolute knowledge, but due to the nature of the world system and of mankind, it is unattainable. "Each mental image of the world system is and remains in actual fact limited, objectively by the historical conditions and subjectively by the physical and mental constitution of its originator." This being the case every advance in knowledge brings about new conditions and new problems ad infinitum. So, as it were, there will always be a speculative No Man's Land where philosophy will be located between dogmas of the past on one side and definite knowledge on the other.

So, Engels rejects Dühring's concept of Being. He also rejects his ideas about mathematics. In pure mathematics, Dühring says, the mind works "with its own free creations and imaginations" with regard to figures and numbers it deals with ideas which are "the adequate object of that pure science which it can create of itself" and so with a "validity which is independent of PARTICULAR experience and of the real content of the world."

Engels agrees that the particular experience of individuals can be left out of account, 2+2=4 will still be 2+2=4, but rejects the idea that in mathematics the mind is only working "with its own creations and imaginations." Ideas of number and figure "have not been derived from any source other than the world of reality." [Since the "mind" is part of that world this would seem to follow ipso facto.] Engels means they are "borrowed exclusively from the external world" and do "not arise in the mind out of pure thought." [Whatever is "pure thought" anyway?]

Higher mathematics can become very abstract and seemingly removed from the empirical world but this is the result of the historical evolution of mathematical thought that seems to result in "the free creations and imaginations of the mind."

The truth is, Engels says, "Like all other sciences, mathematics arose out of the NEEDS of men." As knowledge evolves the concepts and laws derived from concrete reality become more and more abstract until they seem to be independent of their mundane origins. They then begin to appear "as something independent, as laws coming from outside, to which the world has to conform." This is what has happened with economics and political science. The economic laws of capitalism, an economic system created by mankind after a long social evolution, now appear as independent economic laws to which all economic life must conform. We make the idols we worship.

So much for chapter three of Anti-Dühring. But I should remark that Engels makes a few more remarks about mathematics that, while they are not crucial to his argument, have been attacked as showing confusion with regard to his understanding of the axiomatic method and the relation of mathematics to logic. Anyone wishing to pursue these criticisms should start with a paper by Jean van Heijenoort, "Frederick Engels and Mathematics" available on the internet.

Stay tuned.
[Anti-Dühring 3]

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Senate health bill is launch pad

by Jacob Hacker

The Senate’s dramatic vote on health care reform early Monday morning [Dec. 24 -- ed.] was a bittersweet moment for those who have been fighting to increase competition and accountability for private health plans.

On the one hand, the vote moved the United States a major step closer to joining the company of other affluent democracies and ensuring every American is guaranteed affordable, quality health care. After nearly a century of defeated attempts, we stand on the threshold of historic changes that will provide major new subsidies for health insurance, impose new requirements on insurers and create a new means — the so-called exchanges — through which individuals and small employers can gain access to the same sorts of group health plans that workers at large companies take for granted.

On the other hand, the Senate bill fails to include a public health insurance option to provide an affordable, secure alternative to private insurance. This gaping hole in the bill would have greatly pained me even if the opposition had not been led by my home-state Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.). As the thinker most associated with the idea, I have long argued that the public option was the best hope for creating accountability for insurers, holding down premiums and ensuring Americans had access to a plan that didn’t deny needed care or shift costs onto them. Now, thanks to Lieberman, the institutional dysfunction that is the Senate filibuster and hundreds of millions in medical industry spending, the public option that a strong majority of Americans consistently supported is gone — in this round.

But while the public option is gone, it has not been forgotten. To compensate for its loss, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s manager’s amendment puts a series of stronger regulatory checks on the insurance industry. The manager’s amendment sets a floor on the number of premium dollars insurers must spend on care and requires insurers to issue rebates to policyholders if they do not live up to this standard — a strong new regulatory check on insurer behavior.

And, for the first time, the federal government will require insurers to disclose many of their claims-payment policies and related practices, allowing consumers to understand more about the insurance products they are buying than ever before.

All of these steps represent a good beginning — but only a beginning. The gaping hole left by the removal of the public option must be filled, at least partially before the final bill is passed and more fully every year thereafter.


Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The New New Anti-Communism

by Joh Feffer
From Foreign Policy in Focus

Hillary Clinton is a commie symp.

That's a familiar line from the rabid right, which hasn't yet gotten the news that the Cold War is over. Google the secretary of state's name and "communist," and you'll get over a million links, some of them to neo-Nazi websites. Folks say the craziest things on the Internet. I just didn't expect The Washington Post to make the same argument.

In a recent editorial, the Post lambasted Clinton's speech on human rights in which she quite sensibly added "oppression of want" to the traditional concerns with the oppression of tyranny and torture. "Ms. Clinton's lumping of economic and social 'rights' with political and personal freedom was a standard doctrine of the Soviet Bloc, which used to argue at every East-West conference that human rights in Czechoslovakia were superior to those in the United States, because one provided government health care that the other lacked," the Post opined.

I can just visualize Hillary Clinton and her speechwriters over at State sifting through arcane historical texts for inspiration. They pull a book from the shelf. It's old and hasn't been touched in quite a few years. Is it Marx's Capital? Lenin's State and Revolution? No, it's the collected speeches of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. In his famous "four freedoms" speech from 1941, FDR identified "freedom from want" as "economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants — everywhere in the world." Sounds a lot like "oppression of want" to me.

Read more here....

Political Affairs Podcast #113 - In transition: An interview with Sam Webb on the economic crisis, politics, and struggle

Political Affairs Podcast #113 - In transition: An interview on the economic crisis, politics, and struggle

It's January 6th, 2009. On this episode we discuss national politics with Communist Party chair Sam Webb, focusing on some of the ideas in his recent report to the Communist Party's national committee. This interview was recorded in December 2009. Stay with us.

Download the mp3 version of episode #112 here

A Program That Can Work

A program to address the economic crisis


Editor's note: Excerpted from report to CPUSA National Committee November 13, 2009 [reposted from The People's Daily World]

Only direct and indirect government intervention to stimulate and restructure the economy along democratic lines stands a chance of lifting the working class and nation out of the present and persistent economic morass.

The elements of such an intervention could include:

* Assist democratically elected municipal and regional authorities to plan and organize major projects;

* Channel investment dollars to small and medium sized businesses, worker/community cooperatives, and financially starved state and local governments;

* Adopt an industrial policy that will renew and convert to new uses our nation's manufacturing sector;

* De-militarize and go over to peacetime production;

* Facilitate the formation of cooperative owned plants and workplaces, which the steelworkers are currently exploring;

* Initiate massive public works jobs for infrastructure development, environmental cleanup, and green industries, ranging from power turbines to windmills to non-polluting public transportation systems;

* Democratize the Federal Reserve system;

* Insist on the passage of EFCA and other legislation to enhance the rights and conditions of workers and communities;

* Review trade pacts, such as NAFTA, CAFTA, and others;

* Restructure global economic institutions or construct new ones that take into account the new economic and political circumstances on a global level;

* Reduce the work day with no cut in pay; raise the minimum wage; and apply consistent and robust affirmative action hiring guidelines;

* Tax capital movements, especially short-term movements that are so destabilizing to the economies of many countries;

* Shift taxes to the wealthiest individuals and corporations;

* Reform the financial sector and turn the "too big to fail" banks into public utilities under democratic control. (Many of the regulatory proposals already under consideration are positive, but some of the sticky issues like democratic control over the Federal Reserve Bank, the hyper concentration of the banking system, the future of hedge funds and equity firms, the loopholes in derivative trading, etc, are not part of the conversation. Nor is the placing of the "too big to fail" banks under public democratic control a consideration.)

The likelihood of passage of the above measures has little to do with their feasibility; it hinges by and large on the ability of working people and their allies to frame the national conversation and win active popular majorities for them.

In the 1930s, the Great Depression convinced millions of people that the old model of unrestrained capitalism was bankrupt. But it was only in the course of fierce battles that significant democratic reforms were passed.

As a result, a new set of institutions, rules, and legislation - a new model of governance, the New Deal - took deep root in our nation's political economy and psychology.

What was missing, however, was an adequate stimulus and investment frontier to revive the economy. The Roosevelt administration was going in that direction, but under pressure changed course in the name of budget balancing (sound familiar) and the economic recovery stalled. And it wasn't until the war mobilization that included government borrowing, industrial conversion, and national planning that that the economy fully recovered and a sustained expansion, lasting for roughly three decades, began.

Much the same combination of restructuring and re-inflating the economy, albeit in a very different circumstances, is necessary again. So far the administration has junked some of the economic assumptions and practices of neoliberalism, but much more needs to be done to re-inflate, restructure, and democratize the economy, to lift it onto a dynamic growth path. But as mentioned earlier, a full recovery and sustained growth could be an elusive goal, because economic conditions are so very different than were at the close of WW II.

In any event, the struggle for radical reforms and a new model of governance is imperative. While neither will resolve the contradictions (and its main contradiction between private appropriation and socialized production) and crisis tendencies of capitalism, both will mitigate capitalism's impact on the conditions of life and work of working people.

Furthermore, in struggles for radical democratic restructuring the working class and its allies not only come up against the insufficiencies of capitalism, but also gain the experience, desire, and unity to transform themselves and society.

Jobs and immediate relief

A starting point is the struggle for immediate relief for victims of the economic crisis. The accent should be on action -to provide unemployment benefits to every job seeker, to open livable homeless shelters and more food pantries, to prevent evictions, to support collective bargaining and strikes, to create jobs, to build health care clinics, schools, and public and cooperative housing, to halt utility cut offs, and to aid decimated cities. Some of this is happening, but much more needs to be done.

Such actions, led by the victims of the crisis as well as mass leaders and activists in unions, churches, neighborhood and ethnic organizations, block clubs, and social groups, are the roar from below that will give an urgency to the legislative process above.

No one should be overwhelmed by the scope of the problems, or held back by the idea that mass action has to mean thousands of people. Mass is a relative term.

The labor movement can play a special role. Ditto for the churches.

Special attention should be given to the struggle for multi-racial, multi-national unity and equality - the struggle for the latter is a condition for the former.

Recently, the AFL-CIO, NAACP, National Council of La Raza, Leadership Conference on Civil Rights and the Center for Community Change rolled out a proposal for a jobs and infrastructure program. It includes five critical points:

1. Extend the lifeline for jobless workers.

2. Rebuild America's schools, roads and energy systems.

3. Increase aid to state and local governments to maintain vital services.

4. Fund jobs in our communities.

5. Put TARP funds to work for Main Street.

The campaign for such a program can become a channel for millions of people - unemployed and employed - to become participants in the jobs struggle. It can turn frustration, isolation, and despair into action, community, and hope. And it can be a yardstick by which to measure candidates in the 2010 election.

And it can also help to strip from the extreme right their claim to be "fighting for ordinary Americans."

This campaign should be the bread and butter of every people's organization. No one should sit it out. While the intended effect is economic - to create jobs - it will also have a political effect, deepening, broadening, and energizing the people's movement and in so doing, shaking up Washington.