Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Bertrand Russell vs Mao Zedong on the Fate of China

Russell, Mao and the Fate of China

Thomas Riggins

[I] In 1922 Bertrand Russell, then probably the most famous living philosopher in the world, published The Problem of China [POC]. This book was the result of Russell's being invited to China to give a series of lectures and conduct meetings with leading Chinese over a period of about six months. In POC Russell diagnoses the problems facing China as a result of its semi-occupation by European and Japanese imperialism. In the course of the book he also makes several recommendations and predictions concerning the future development of China.

The future leader of China, Mao Zedong, was either present at one of Russell's lectures or read a detailed account of it in the Chinese press. The purpose of this article is to discuss Russell's blueprint for Chinese liberation and compare it to what the Chinese, under the leadership of the Communist Party, actually did. Another purpose is to point out that many of Russell's comments about the role of the United States made over 90 years ago, as well as what was needed in China, are still relevant today.

A word of caution. Russell considered himself a radical and a "socialist", perhaps even a theoretical "communist" (although he was hostile to many of the actions of the Russian Bolsheviks) at this time. After WWII and up to the late 1950s Russell was a cold war anti-Communist, though not a ridiculous mindless one a la Sidney Hook and those in his milieu, before coming to his senses in the 1960s. I am only concerned, in this article, with Russell's political statements and opinions in the early 1920s. Some of Russell's views, while commonly held in the 20s, are completely politically incorrect by today's standards-- I will note them with explanation marks (!!) but otherwise I will not address them or pass over them in silence. These are usually remarks dealing with the nature of the "Chinese mind" or "character" as if all Chinese think a certain way.

This article will deal with Chapter One of POC: "Questions.''

In trying to understand China, Russell thinks he is dealing with a totally alien culture. He is forced to ask himself what his ultimate values are, what makes one culture or society "better" than another, and what ends does he wish to see triumph in the world. He says different people have different answers to these questions and he thinks they are just subjective preferences not amenable to argument. He will merely state his own and hope his reader will agree with him. Russell is no objectivist in morals. The ends he values are: "knowledge, art, instinctive happiness, and relations of friendship and affection." He believes in the goals, if not always the methods, of communism (although he is not a Marxist), and thinks a socialist society will best approximate the ends he wants. There are elements in Chinese culture that also reflect his ends better than they are reflected in Euro-American culture.

Russell thinks a nation should be judged not only on how its own people are treated, but also on how it treats others. He finds China, in this respect, better than the imperialist nations of the West. In the following quote Russell uses the word "our" and I want to stress that he does not intend to restrict its meaning to the British Empire but uses it inclusively to refer to the major imperialist nations of Europe and the English speaking world or even to "capitalist" nations thus including Japan.

"Our prosperity," he writes, "and most of what we endeavor to secure for ourselves, can only be obtained by widespread exploitation of weaker nations ." The Chinese, however, obtain what they have by means of their own hard work. China is radically different today but I think what Russell says about it is still basically correct and what he says about "us" hasn't changed very much at all.

What happens in China, he says will determine the whole future course of world history. There are tremendous resources in China and whether they are to be controlled "by China, by Japan, or by the white races [!!], is a question of enormous importance, affecting not only the whole development of Chinese civilization, but the balance of power in the world, the prospects of peace, the destiny of Russia, and the chances of development toward a better economic system in the advanced nations."

This remark is as true today as it was some 90 years ago. Chinese civilization, however, is now, at least, much more in the hands of the Chinese, the world balance of power remains in flux, the destiny of Russia is still undetermined, and a better economic system for the West (i.e., socialism) is still a distant dream but may be positively influenced by the economic development of China.

I didn't mention the "prospects for peace" and that is because in the short term Russell was absolutely correct: the civil war and revolution in China, World War II (in the Pacific), the Korean War, and the Vietnam War all had China, in one way or another, as their focus and the hope of eventually controlling her resources as a backdrop. Today as well many circles in the West, associated with international finance capital, see China as a future threat and the US military has contingency plans for a war with her. So, Russell was quite prescient to see the economic resources of China as the focal point of contemporary history.

[II] Russell discusses the internal state of China, as he understood it in 1920-21, in his chapter "Modern China" in The Problem of China. He thinks there are only two ways the Chinese can escape from imperialist domination. The first way is for China to become a strong military power. Russell thinks this would be a disaster.

However since "the capitalist system involves in its very essence a predatory relation of the strong towards the weak [a perfectly good Leninist proposition even if clumsily expressed], internationally as well as nationally" he proposes a second way for Chinese liberation. The foreign imperialist powers will have to " become Socialistic." Russell thinks this is the only real solution for the Chinese.

It didn't occur to Russell that China might free itself by military means and work towards socialism at the same time. It goes without saying that the Chinese would be waiting for kingdom come to be liberated if they had taken Russell's advice and expected Europe and America to turn socialist.

Russell, as did many in his generation, expected a major war to eventually break out between Japan and the United States over which would be top dog in the far east, but did not see that war as an opportunity for the victims of imperialism to break free and become independent. At any rate, in respect to his "only" solution to Chinese liberation, Russell was wildly off the mark-- despite his Leninist grasp of the nature of capitalism.

Russell did, however, urge progressives to support the fledgling government of Sun Yat-sen which was at this time battling the war lord system. No one at that time foresaw that the Kuomintang would degenerate into a fascist despotism under Sun's successor Chiang Kai-shek, or that the recently founded Communist Party of China would be the eventual vehicle both for Chinese liberation and regeneration.

Russell's next comment was completely correct and was about an issue that, after the success of the revolution, the Chinese took very seriously. Russell wrote that "in the long run, if the birth-rate is as great as is usually supposed, no permanent cure for their poverty is possible while their families continue to be so large."

The introduction of birth control and the one child policy, which was a drastic step and is now being reevaluated, probably helped to considerably contain the population from an unmanageable explosion (not to credit natural disasters and the unintended consequences of policies that turned out to be mistaken with respect to premature industrial expansion and agricultural reforms in the 1950s).

Another problem the Chinese would have to overcome before they could hope to compete with the West, according to Russell, was lack of a modern educational system for the masses. This too the CPC saw as a major problem and immediately after coming to power launched a mass literacy program and built schools and institutions of higher learning throughout China.

This was a prerequisite, Russell said, as Chinese workers would need education and skills in order to command decent wages (he did not foresee a socialist revolution in China). Nevertheless industrialization in China, as in all other countries, would begin to develop by methods that are "sordid and cruel." Intellectuals, he remarked, "wish to be told of some less horrible method by which their country may be industrialized, but so far none is in sight."

Whether you are capitalist or socialist, it appears, if you are starting from a primitive economic base the only way you can accumulate capital to make industrial advances is to take it from the surplus value created by the working class. As we will see Russell thinks state capitalism, or state socialism (they are the same for him), would be the best way for the Chinese to go-- but he doesn't envision a revolution.

Russell now hits upon a major problem which I think was responsible for some of the major errors of the Mao era. "There is one traditional Chinese belief which dies very hard, and that is the belief that correct ethical sentiments are more important than detailed scientific knowledge. This view is, of course, derived from the Confucian tradition, and is more or less true in a pre-industrial society."

One would think that Russell, with commitments to science as the basis for correct knowledge of the world, would hold that "detailed scientific knowledge" is always to be preferred; how would a pre-industrial society ever advance to a higher level without also developing science?

In the 1950s and 60s Mao pushed the line that politics ( "correct ethical sentiments") was the correct guide to action and could win out over any objections based on economic (scientific) considerations. This led to the twin disasters of the Great Leap Forward and the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. There was no basis in Marxism for the views he was espousing even though Mao used Marxist terminology to try and explain his thought. If Russell was correct, this would have been a case of the unconscious Confucian substrata in Mao's world view manifesting itself in Marxist guise.

Mao himself was ant-Confucian at this time so even he was blind to the real origins of the reactionary policies he was peddling in Marxist dress. I should also point out that it was only one wing of Confucianism that held to this view-- an Idealist trend that developed in the Ming Dynasty and that there were other wings of Confucianism that were materialistically motivated. Mao had indeed studied Ming Confucianism and was influenced by it in his youth, and, I think, unconsciously after he assumed power.

[III] Russell's chapter, "Present Forces and Tendencies in the Far East" (in The Problem of China) deals with the balance of power in this region in the 1920s and focuses on China, Japan, Russia and America. I will omit his comments on Japan here and concentrate on China's dealings with America and the influence of Russia. Russell points out that the interests of Britain are (leaving India to the side) basically the same as those of America-- at least its ruling sector of finance capital and NOT "the pacifistic and agrarian tendencies of the Middle West."

At this time Russell thought that the two most important "moral forces" in the Far East were those emanating from Russia and America. He thought the Americans to be more idealistic than the jaded imperialists running the European capitalist states. However he thought that cynical imperialist views were an inevitability as a nation's power increased and the Americans would abandon their idealism.

We must keep this in mind, he warns us, "when we wish to estimate the desirability of extending the influence of the United States." Today we can see that Russell was right. The United States has evolved into the most cynical and ruthless imperial power in the world, encircling the globe with its garrisons and fleets, and subjecting whole nations and peoples to its bloody domination in search of power, wealth, and resources.

All this, however, was in the future. The benign United States that appeared to Russell was that of the Harding Administration and the Washington Naval Conference, presided over by Secretary of State Charles Evan Hughes. The conference was held from late 1921 to early 1922 and was the first disarmament conference in modern history. It was designed to reign in Japanese aggression in China, limit naval construction, and keep the Open Door Policy in place in China.

Russell thought America's policy at the conference was a liberal one, but only because the outcome of the conference was in line with American interests in the Far East. What Russell really believed was that "when American interests or prejudices are involved liberal and humanitarian principles have no weight whatever." Have we seen anything to contradict this assessment since the days of Warren Harding (or those of George Washington for that matter)?

If American plans for the future economic development of China should be successful Russell thought it would be disastrous for China. It would certainly be good for America and her allies, but would involve "a gradually increasing flow of wealth from China to the investing countries, the chief of which is America [the CPC appears to have reversed this flow]; the development of a sweated proletariat [still a problem]; the spread of Christianity [another great evil]; the substitution of American civilization for Chinese [not yet but McDonalds and KFC have secured beach heads];…. the gradual awakening of China to her exploitation by the foreigner [China was already awake when Russell wrote]; and one day, fifty or a hundred years hence [around 1972 or 2022], the massacre of every white man throughout the Celestial Empire at a signal from some vast secret society."

Well, the great awakening was already at hand when Russell wrote, he was just blind to it. China liberated itself in a little over 25 years, despite the best actions the US and its allies could do to prevent it, and no vast secret society sprang up to threaten every "white man." The Celestial Empire has become a People's Republic.

Well, Russell's vision of the future was off, but the definition he gave of what the West considers "good" government was spot on, even today: "it is a government that yields fat dividends for capitalists." This is still the game plan in the 21st century.

Russell now embarks on some ill founded speculations which, nevertheless, hint at a grain of truth. He predicts, for example "it is not likely that Bolshevism [as seen in Russia-tr] as a creed will make much progress in China." He gives the following three reasons: 1) China has a decentralized state tending towards feudalism whereas Bolshevism requires a centralized state. Russell doesn't seem to understand a successful socialist revolution would reverse this tendency.

2) China is more suitable for anarchism because the Chinese have a great sense of personal freedom and the Bolsheviks need to have (and do have) more control over individuals "than has ever been known before." This is strange. The Chinese had just emerged from an oriental despotism under the Manchus that had regulated everything including dress and hair styles for the population, and had no tradition of anything like "personal freedom" as had developed in Europe.

3) Bolshevism opposes "private trading" which is the "breath of life to all Chinese except the literati." But ninety percent of the Chinese at this time were basically illiterate peasants most of whom were under the control of a feudalistic landlord class. The Chinese masses had more in common with the Russian masses than Russell seemed to realize.

The greatest appeal of Bolshevism, Russell said, was to the youth of China who wanted to develop industry by skipping the stage of capitalist development. But Russia was now engaged in the New Economic Policy and Russell thought this signaled a slow return to capitalist methods which would disillusion the Chinese.

But, Russell said, the fact that as a creed Bolshevism [i.e., Marxism] would not hold any lasting appeal, Bolshevism "as a political force" had a great future. What he meant was that Bolshevik Russia would continue to play the Great Game in Asia and follow in the footsteps of Tzarist imperialism with Bolshevik imperialism since "the Russians have an instinct for colonization" [!!].

Here is where Russell becomes very confused in his analysis. He doesn't really define "imperialism." Marxists at this time defined it as the international policy of monopoly capitalism based on the control of the state by financial capital sometimes allied with industrial capital. In this sense Bolshevik imperialism was a contradiction in terms. As far as "the Russians," lumped together without any attempt at class analysis, having an "instinct" to become colonialists -- such general statements are useless in trying to describe social reality.

Regardless, Russell thinks it would not be so bad for Russia to become hegemonic in Asia. The Russians could enter into more nearly equal relations with Asian peoples because their "character" [!!] is more "Asiatic" than that of the "English speaking-nations." English speaking nations would not be able to have the same understanding and ability "to enter into relations of equally" with these strange inscrutable Orientals. As a result an Asian Block of nations would arise as a defensive block and this would be good for world peace as well as "humanity."

Russell recommends that outside powers leave off meddling with the Chinese and attempting to impose their own values on them as the Chinese will, left to themselves, "find a solution suitable to their character" for their own political problems. This idea is of "national character" is quite unscientific and if Russell had understood what he read of Das Kapital and other Marxist writings and substituted some such phrase as "find a solution based on their own historical development and class relations" he would have made better sense. POC would have been better understood, in fact, if "national character" had been replaced by "historical development" whenever it occurred along with a brief description of that development.

Russell goes on to predict what the future of China will most likely be. Marxists, as great predictors of the future themselves, especially its inevitable trends and outcomes, understand what a risky business this is and should have great sympathy for Russell's wrong headed prognosis.

Since the US emerged unscathed from WW I it had an excess of available capital to invest and would be the principal nation involved in China's future development. "As the financiers are the most splendid feature of the American civilization, China must be so governed as to enrich the financiers." The US will contribute greatly to building educational institutions in China so that Chinese intellectuals will end up serving the interests of the big Trusts just as American intellectuals do. As a result a conservative anti-radical reform system will be produced and touted as a great force for peace. But, Russell points out: "it is impossible to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear or peace and freedom out of capitalism."

The US will encourage the growth of a stable government, foster an increase in income to build up a market for American goods, discourage other powers besides themselves from meddling in China, and look askance upon all attempts of the Chinese to control their own economy, especially the nationalization of the mines and railroads, which Russell sees as a "form of State Socialism or what Lenin calls State Capitalism." The reference to Lenin is in respect to the New Economic Plan (NEP) in Russia.

The US would also keep lists of radical students and see to it that they would not get jobs, try to impose its puritan morality on the Chinese, and because Americans think their own country and way of life are "perfect" they will do great damage to what is best in Chinese culture in their attempts to make China as much as possible resemble what they call "God's own country."

As a result of all this a "Marxian class-war will break out" between Asia and the West. The Asian forces will be led by a socialist Russia and be fought for freedom from the imperialist powers and their exploitation. These views are very different from those Russell will be representing in his future Cold War phase.

Ever the pessimist, Russell sees this war as so destructive all around that probably "no civilization of any sort would survive it." When the actual war came is was very destructive, but it was a civil war between the bourgeois democratic capitalist powers and the authoritarian fascist capitalist powers into which the Russians were drawn against their will and from which the Chinese emerged as a free and independent people determined to build socialism.

Russell ends his chapter on a socialist note about the evils of the "present "(1920s)
system of world wide capitalist domination. Russell's conclusion is almost a perfect description of the world we live in today. "The essential evil of the present system," he says, "as Socialists have pointed out over and over again, is production for profit instead of for use." American power may, for a while, impose peace, but never freedom for weak countries. "Only international Socialism can secure both; and owing to the stimulation of revolt by capitalist oppression, even peace alone can never be secure until international Socialism is established throughout the world."

[IV] The last chapter in Bertrand Russell's The Problem of China is entitled "The Outlook for China." Russell, writing in 1922, thinks that China (due to its population and resources) has the capacity to become the second greatest power in the world (after the United States). Today the US seems to be slipping economically so maybe China will become number one in the world sometime in the present century.

Three things will have to about for China to reach its full potential. Russell lists them as: 1.) The establishment of an orderly government [the CPC has accomplished this requirement]; 2.) Industrial development under Chinese control [this too has been brought about by the CPC whether you call it "market socialism" or "state capitalism"]; 3.) the spread of education [ditto care of the CPC].

All three prerequisites put forth by Russell have been attained if not quite in the manner he imagined in his book. Let's look at some of Russell's elaborations on these prerequisites.

First, the problem of orderly government: Russell says that in the 1920s China was functionally anarchic with battling warlords and weak central governments in the north and south of the country. He envisioned an eventual constitutional setup and a parliamentary form of government. But he cautioned that even so the masses of the people (Russell uses the term "public opinion") will have to be guided by what amounts to a Leninist political party using democratic centralist methods.

Here is what Russell wrote: "It will be necessary for the genuinely progressive people throughout the country to unite in a strongly disciplined society, arriving at collective decisions and enforcing support for those decisions upon all its members." That is just what happened under the leadership of CPC.

Second, the problem of industrial development: China, or any country for that matter, to be truly free has to also be economically free and that requires that it has control of its own railroads and natural resources. He thus thinks the Chinese government should own the railroads and the mines of China. He also thinks that state ownership of "a large amount" of the industry in China should also occur. "There are many arguments for State Socialism, or rather what Lenin calls State Capitalism, in any country which is economically but not culturally backward."

Russell thinks that is possible for China, with a strong and honest government, to skip over the stage of capitalism and lay the foundations for socialism. This is tricky business as the Chinese would find out much later. If you skip too far and too fast you can trip and fall on your face. With the right government "it will be possible to develop Chinese industry without, at the same time, developing the overweening power of private capitalists by which the Western nations are now both oppressed and misled." We can only hope that China is heading in this direction.

Third, the problem of education: Russell says that "Where the bulk of the population
cannot read, true democracy is impossible. Education is a good in itself, but is also essential for developing political consciousness, of which at present there is almost none in rural China."

By "democracy" Russell then, and almost all Western governments and their intellectual tools today, mean "bourgeois democracy"-- i.e., "democratic" institutions and constitutions that guarantee the government will be controlled by, for, and of one of two contending classes that exist in the modern capitalist world, i.e., the capitalist class. Russell proclaimed his belief in "socialism" (Mao even said Russell believed in "communism") but he never transcended the bourgeois concept of "democracy" inculcated in him by the British ruling class by which he was educated.

But the wider, and I believe correct, meaning of "democracy" (rule of the "demos" or people) includes other forms of government than those proclaimed by the bourgeoisie and their lackeys. It must refer to any form of government that objectively rules in the interests of its people i.e., the vast majority of its population composed of working people, called by old time communists "the toiling masses" and historically personified by the "people's democracies" and "people's republics" of eastern Europe and Asia, and by the only completely democratic state in the Western Hemisphere, Cuba.

In just a few years after Russell wrote the above words, hundreds of millions of the peasants of "rural China" would develop a political consciousness that would lead to the overthrow of the rule by landlords and capitalists in China and the establishment, however flawed, of a true people's republic. Then they learned to read.

Russell was both correct and incorrect in saying the following: "Until it has been established for some time, China must be, in fact if not in form, an oligarchy, because the uneducated masses cannot have any effective political opinion [or in the case of the US-- miseducated masses]. If that "oligarchy" is a real communist party (not one in name only) it will bring to the masses the correct political opinion that they and they alone control their own destiny and can abolish their subjection to a class that only lives off of their exploitation. The one party state may be the instrument leading to this liberation and its own eventual elimination, along with the state, but it also gives to the masses "effective political opinion" and if it doesn't it may find itself being eliminated ahead of schedule.

Russell hoped the Chinese, by combining "Western" science with their traditional culture, would create a new civilization free of the deficiencies of the capitalist West. What we are seeing now, in the 21st century, in China is perhaps the fulfillment of Russell's vision but it is a synthesis of Marx, left wing Confucianism, and modern science. Hopefully the coming century will see the end of Western "civilization" as we know it, a predatory war based imperialist system attempting to enchain the world, and the establishment of a real new world order. The values of Bertrand Russell will be better remembered and served in such a world.

Epilogue: What Mao thought of Russell's views on China.
Selected Works of Mao Tse-tung
November 1920. January 1921
[Extracted from. two letters to Ts’ai Ho-sen[1895-1932 a leader of the CPC, arrested in Hong Kong by the British and turned over to the Kuomintang which killed him- tr], in November 1920 and January 1921.]

In his lecture at Changsha, Russell .... took a position in favour of communism but against the dictatorship of the workers and peasants. He said that one should employ the method of education to change the consciousness of the propertied classes, and that in this way it would not be necessary to limit freedom or to have recourse to war and bloody revolution.... My objections to Russell's view point can be stated in a few words: 'This is all very well as a theory, but it is unfeasible in practice' .... Education requires money, people and instruments. In today's world money is entirely in the hands of the capitalists. Those who have charge of education are all either capitalists or wives of capitalists. In today's world the schools and the press, the two most important instruments of education are entirely under capitalist control. In short, education in today's world is capitalist education. If we teach capitalism to children, these children, when they grow up will in turn teach capitalism to a second generation of children. Education thus remains in the hands of the capitalists. Then the capitalists have 'parliaments' to pass laws protecting the capitalists and handicapping the proletariat; they have 'governments' to apply these laws and to enforce the advantages and the prohibitions that they contain; they have 'armies' and 'police' to defend the well-being of the capitalists and to repress the demands of the proletariat; they have 'banks' to serve as repositories in the circulation of their wealth ; they have ' factories', which are the instruments by which they monopolize the production of goods. Thus, if the communists do not seize political power, they will not be able to find any refuge in this world; how, under such circumstances, could they take charge of education? Thus, the capitalists will continue to control education and to praise their capitalism to the skies, so that the number of coverts to the proletariat's communist propaganda will diminish from day to day. Consequently, I believe that the method of education is unfeasible.... What I have just said constitutes the first argument. The second argument is that, based on the principle of mental habits and on my observation of human history, I am of the opinion that one absolutely cannot expect the capitalists to become converted to communism.... If one wishes to use the power of education to transform them, then since one cannot obtain control of the whole or even an important part of the two instruments of education — schools and the press — even if one has a mouth and a tongue and one or two schools and newspapers as means of propaganda.... this is really not enough to change the mentality of the adherents of capitalism even slightly; how then can one hope that the latter will repent and turn toward the good? So much from a psychological standpoint. From a historical standpoint.... one observes that no despot imperialist and militarist throughout history has ever been known to leave the stage of history of his own free will without being overthrown by the people. Napoleon I proclaimed himself emperor and failed; then there was Napoleon III. Yuan Shih-K'ai failed; then, also there was Tuan Ch'i-jui.... From what I have just said based on both psychological and a historical standpoint, it can be seen that capitalism cannot be overthrown by the force of a few feeble efforts in the domain of education. This is the second argument. There is yet a third argument, most assuredly a very important argument, even more important in reality. If we use peaceful means to attain the goal of communism, when will we finally achieve it? Let us assume that a century will be required, a century marked by the unceasing groans of the proletariat. What position shall we adopt in the face of this situation? The proletariat is many times more numerous than the bourgeoisie; if we assume that the proletariat constitutes two-thirds of humanity, then one billion of the earth's one billion five hundred million inhabitants are proletarians (I fear that the figure is even higher), who during this century will be cruelly exploited by the remaining third of capitalists. How can we bear this? Furthermore, since the proletariat has already become conscious of the fact that it too should possess wealth, and of the fact that its sufferings are unnecessary, the proletarians are discontented, and a demand for communism has arisen and has already become a fact. This fact confronts us, we cannot make it disappear; when we become conscious of it we wish to act. This is why, in my opinion, the Russian revolution, as well as the radical communists in every country, will daily grow more powerful and numerous and more tightly organized. This is the natural result. This is the third argument.....
There is a further point pertaining to my doubts about anarchism. My argument pertains not merely to the impossibility of a society without power or organization. I should like to mention only the difficulties in the way of the establishment of such form of society and of its final attainment.... For all the reasons just stated, my present viewpoint on absolute liberalism, anarchism, and even democracy is that these things are fine in theory, but not feasible in practice....

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Karl Marx on Eugen Dühring

Thomas Riggins

Anti-Dühring is Engels' enduring criticism of the mishmash of philosophy, science, and socialism published in Germany by Eugen Dühring (1833-1921) in the middle of the 19th century as an alternative to the thought of Karl Marx. Engels' book is divided into three parts-- philosophy, political science, and socialism. But Engels did not write every chapter in his famous book. Chapter 10, the last of the section on political economy, was written by his friend and life long collaborator Karl Marx. This article discusses Marx's opinions of Dühring in that chapter, entitled, "From the Critical History."

It is Dühring's 1871 work Critical History of Political Economy that Marx intends to critique, beginning with Dühring's claim that his work in Political Economy "is absolutely without precedent." Here we will find a definitive treatment of the subject in a scientific manner. The science is, he says, "peculiarly mine."

Dühring's first great "discovery" is that Political Science is a modern creation with no medieval or ancient roots. Marx points out, however, that this claim to modernity was already put forth by him in Capital and Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy. The difference is that Marx begins with the great founders of this science(from William Petty (1623-1687) and Boisguillebert (1646-1714) to Ricardo (1772-1823) and Sismondi (1773-1842) while Dühring begins with the "wretched abortions" of later bourgeois economists. Marx also has respect for the medieval and classical traditions.

Of course, since Political Science was founded in an attempt to scientifically understand modern CAPITALISM, you will not find it in the classical (slave) world , nor the middle ages (feudal). Capitalist societies are based on commodity production and exchange but there was limited commodity production and exchange in both the classical period and the Middle Ages and what the Ancients and other pre-moderns had to say about it is still worth while; Marx especially defends the economic writings of Aristotle (384-322 BC) and Plato (427-347 BC) from Dühring's unerudite "criticisms."

Dühring is also ignorant of the history and development of political economy in the modern period. For example, he takes a minor work [Antonio Serra's Breve trattato of 1613 as a defining work of Mercantilism-- the dominant economic theory of capitalism for its first 250 years of existence, ending around the time of Adam Smith (1723-1790)] while completely ignoring Thomas Mun's (1571-1641) A Discourse of Trade of 1609 which was "the mercantilist gospel" for the entire Seventeenth Century.

Worse than that is Dühring's treatment of William Petty, "the founder of modern political economy." After much hard thinking and many investigations, Petty in 1662
formulated one of the bed rock foundations of political economy as a science (Treatise on Taxes and Contributions). Here, Marx says he "lays it down in a definite and general form that the values of commodities must be measured by equal labour." Further, in a work of 1672 (Anatomy of Ireland) Petty has overcome "the last vestiges of mercantilist views."

These are great intellectual feats for the founder of the new science. Marx says about Petty, and this applies to Marx himself in our day, that what is "quite natural in a writer who is laying the foundations of political economy and is necessarily feeling his way, experimenting and struggling with a chaos of ideas which are only just taking shape, may seem strange in a writer who is surveying and summarizing more than a hundred and fifty years of investigation whose results have already passed in part from books into the consciousness of the generality." That Dühring fails to grasp this and thinks that "there is fair measure of superficiality" in Petty's thinking, only shows, Marx avers, that Dühring is a "vainglorious and pedantic mediocrity."

One of Petty's great successors was the the philosopher John Locke (1632-1704) who, besides his works on the social contract and the foundations of epistemology, also wrote an important work in the fledgling science of political economy: Some Considerations of the Consequences of the Lowering of Interests and Raising the Value of Money, 1691.

Petty had already compared interest to "rent on money"-- i.e. to "rent of land and houses." His position was that all rent should be unregulated and determined by the market. This, of course, is a reactionary view today but not so in 1691. This was part of the fight against Mercantilism which progressives in those days rightly viewed as a system that held back social and economic progress by using the state to impose import duties and taxes to defend domestic markets and subsidize exports.

Trying to regulate interest rates, i.e., rent on money, Petty felt was "against the law of nature". Petty, Marx wrote, "declared that legislative regulation of the rate of interest was as stupid as regulation of exports of precious metals [a pillar of Mercantilism] or regulation of exchange rates." Ideas that are reactionary and unworkable today (just think of the ridiculous economic and philosophical bloviations of Ayn Rand and her followers) in the end stage of capitalism, were forward looking and progressive during its birth pangs.

Locke, whose economic essay, basically followed Petty's lead, had a great influence in those European countries struggling to go beyond the strictures of the Mercanilists or economic nationalists. Petty, who is, incidentally credited with the invention of the laissie faire school, was also supported by Sir Dudley North (1641-1691) in A Discourse on Trade, 1691, a contemporary of Locke's, whose work, Marx says "is a classical exposition, driven home with relentless logic, of the doctrine of free trade-- both foreign and internal…."

Locke and North deserve credit for furthering Petty's views and in developing them along new lines. But Dühring sees none of this. For Marx, the period 1691-1752 is crucial for the understanding of the development of political science. In was in this period that the writers influenced by Petty, Locke, North, and others, laid down the foundations for overthrowing Mercantilism. This period is a blank page for Herr Dühring. Dühring passes directly to David Hume (1711-1776) and the physiocrats. Marx has many interesting things to say about Hume as an economist (his philosophy is not mentioned) and why Dühring is so enamored with him.

Hume published his Economic Essays in 1752 and they are, in our current terminology, basically a plagerised version of the 1734 work of Jacob Vanderlint (died 1740) Money Answers All Things. While Hume almost literally follows Vanderlint, he is, according to Marx, "less profound." Dühring is unaware of Vanderlint and praises Hume while none the less failing to understand what he says.

Since Dühring doesn't have a real understanding of Hume I will just present Marx's views for the record. Hume's theory of money is that money is just a TOKEN of value and, ceteris paribus, "commodity prices rise in proportion to the increase in the volume of money in circulation, and fall in proportion to its decrease." Hume is basically saying that the increase in the amount of gold and silver in circulation, due to the imports from the New World, increases the prices of commodities. He also notes that this takes some time to spread through out the country until it finally trickles down to the working people: in Hume's words "it must first quicken the diligence of every individual before it increases the price of labour." So old is Reaganomics.

But Hume is not, according to Marx, addressing the "real scientific question" in this description-- i.e., how an increase in money "affects the prices of commodities." However, Marx does not answer this question here as he really wants to remark on Hume's theory of INTEREST. Hume says it is the not the money supply but the rate of profit that regulates the amount of interest (here he attacks Locke's view). Hume's theory is not original. Just as he got almost all his ideas from Vanderlint on most economic issues, his interest theory is just a rehash, and not as exact, of the work of J. Massie (died 1784) An Essay on the Governing Causes of the Natural Rate of Interest, 1750.

Hume, by the way, maintains a low interest rate means a nation is in a "flourishing condition." Well maybe in his day-- but we have low interest rates in the USA and we are hardly "flourishing", at least with respect to the majority of the population which is made up of working people.

There are other problems with Hume's ideas, according to Marx. Marx says "he had not the slightest understanding of the function of the precious metals as the measure of value." This is because he didn't know what "value" itself meant in terms of capitalist production. For example, he corrects Locke for holding that the precious metals only have "an imaginary value" by saying what they really have is "a fictitious value." These views are "much inferior" not only to those of Petty but to his contemporaries as well who were writing on these subjects-- esp. his friend Adam Smith.

Hume also is blind to the economic world coming into existence all around him. He holds to the outmoded view "that the 'merchant' is the mainspring of production." Despite these limitations, Marx concedes that in his day Hume was still a "respectable" political economist. His criticism is meant to dispel the over wrought praise Hume is given by Dühring. Because, while respectable, Marx adds, "he is anything but an original investigator, an even less an epoch making one."

Why does Marx think that Dühring likes Hume so much? It is because Dühring identified with Hume. Hume was denounced by the church for some of his views, but not so much as Gibbon was for his, Dühring too fell afoul of the authorities for some of his views. Hume attained a better reputation as a philosopher, and Dühring thinks that will also be his fate (it was not to be.)

Marx can't resist giving two quotes which many Hume fans would resent. The first is from a popular German world history book by Friedrich Schlosser (1766-1861): "In politics Hume was and always remained conservative and strongly monarchist in his views." He was also highly racist in his views on Africans. And William Cobbett (1762-1835) calls him "selfish" and a "lying Historian" [Hume wrote a history of England] and implies he was an hypocrite for attacking monks for their fatness, their not having wives or children and begging for their bread while he himself was without "a family or a wife and was a great fat fellow, fed, in considerable part, out of public money, without having merited it by any real public services."

Well, enough about Hume. Marx next turns his attention to Dühring and the physiocrats, especially the Tableau Economique of Francois Quesnay (1694-1744). Marx says Dühring's attempt to explain Quesnay's economic theories (the physiocrats were the first real school of modern economics, not counting the Mercantilists as modern!, and Quesnay was the founder) is completely mixed up and confused and shows, once again, that Dühring doesn't know what he is talking about. But so that WE can understand what the school was all about, Marx undertakes to explain it for our benefit.

The physiocrats divided society into three classes: the PRODUCTIVE class-- i.e., agricultural workers and farmers-- all wealth comes from a nation's agricultural production; the LANDLORDS [landowners, the nobility, the Church] who live off of the surplus produced by the farmers; and the STERILE class [the industrial bourgeoisie, merchants, etc, who live off of the raw materials and surpluses of the productive class. Where's the proletariat? Sorry, 17th century France was too backward to have noticed this newly developing class.

Quesnay is not describing the actually real existing economy of France-- he is constructing a simple MODEL that represents a starting point for understanding the actual economy (just as Marx did in Das Kapital). Marx says Quesday makes three premises to simplify the model: 1) he only looks at circulation between the classes and not within them; 2) he only deals with simple reproduction and constant prices; and 3) he treats all the annual purchases between the classes as a lump sum. Marx also notes that at this time almost all the non-food articles consumed by peasant families in Europe were home made and "treated as supplementary to agriculture."

Lets start the ball rolling: the Tableau (all figures are based on the value of French money in the 17th century) the total value of the harvest for one year is the starting point. This amount will be the "total reproduction" in France for that year-- let us refer to it as 5 economic units [5EU-- this was 5 million livres in those days].

Since the farmers are the only productive class they have the entire 5EU to themselves. They produced it by investing 2EU in seeds, etc., so they have a surplus of 3EU. They give 2EU to the landlords as RENT and the landlords then buy food from them in the amount of 1EU for the year so now the farmers have 2EU and the landlords 1EU.

With their 1EU left, the landlords buy the things they need to live on, etc., [other than agricultural goods] from the STERILE class. The farmers also buy from the Sterile class say 1EU but the sterile class has to buy food from the farmers but it does not buy back as much in EUs from the farmers as the farmers gave to it because, instead of a fair trade in equivalents, the sterile class has extracted a profit from the farmers by selling their commodities to them above the cost of production AND above their real value.

By the end of the year it is time to reap another harvest and the cycle continues. I have simplified Marx's exposition because the physiocrats are now only of historical interest and the main point has been shown-- i.e., that for them all wealth is produced by the farmers and is then distributed about society to the other classes.

Having finished with the physiocrats Marx makes two more observations on Dühring's incompetence. First, Dühring thinks that the physiocratic school ended with Turgot (1727-1781) the originator of the Idea of Progress and controller-general of France, 1774-76, in charge of economic reforms under Louis XVI. But Marx says the school actually ended with Mirabeau (1749-1791) "the leading economic authority in the Constituent Assembly of 1789."

Second, Dühring barely mentions Sir James Steuart (1712-1780) whose work was between Hume and Adam Smith and who "permanently enriched the domain of political economy" (with An Inquiry into the Principles of Political Economy, 1767). And what he does say about him is wrong.

Marx ends his chapter with the opinion that Dühring's Critical History is not worth reading, and he is particularly upset that Dühring begins his history with the large landlords of ancient history and doesn't know anything about "the common ownership of land in the tribal and
village communities, which is the real starting-point of all history."

And with that said, we conclude our review of Part II of Herr Eugen Dühring's Revolution in Science.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Notes on Fidel Castro (part 1) on Obama’s speech to the 60th Session of the United Nations General Assembly regarding Libya, Syria, Palestine, and the Arab Revolutions of 2011

by Gary Tedman

The Fidel text was published online in Granma (English) Havana, dated September 26, 2011


I would like to first point out that I have the utmost respect for Fidel, but at the moment I find the arguments of some socialists and communists to be mistaken, at least in part, and I would like here to focus on a text by him which gives the chance to approach the subject head on.

To begin with, Fidel asks the rhetorical and rather loaded question:

“…what position to adopt on the NATO genocide in Libya?”

The conclusion contained in this question is that genocide has in fact taken place in Libya, conducted by NATO.

Now, asking loaded questions are more a trick of bourgeois law than Marxist science (it seeks to win the argument through rhetorical means), but here we have it. Fidel asserts the intervention in Libya is essentially the same as that of Serbia, Iraq, and Afghanistan and uses the same reasoning to justify it. To justify these assertions, he uses the following evidence drawn from past history:

“Was it not precisely the government of the UN host state which ordered the butchery in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, the mercenary Bay of Pigs attack on Cuba, the invasion of the Dominican Republic, the "dirty war" in Nicaragua, the occupation of Grenada and Panama by the U.S. military forces and the massacre of Panamanians in El Chorillo? Who promoted the military coups and genocide in Chile, Argentina and Uruguay, which resulted in tens of thousands of dead and disappeared?”

Note that, while all these latter accusations are correct, this does not by itself prove or mean that by default today’s military intervention by NATO in Libya is the same. For each intervention and each revolution, conflict or war has to be judged according to its specific material situation and historical circumstance. This must be done according at least to Lenin’s principles.

“Socialists have always condemned war between nations as barbarous and brutal. But our attitude towards war is fundamentally different from that of the bourgeois pacifists (supporters and advocates of peace) and of the Anarchists. We differ from the former in that we understand the inevitable connection between wars and the class struggle within the country; we understand that war cannot be abolished unless classes are abolished and Socialism is created; and we also differ in that we fully regard civil wars, i.e., wars waged by the oppressed class against the oppressing class, slaves against slave-owners, serfs against land-owners, and wage-workers against the bourgeoisie, as legitimate, progressive and necessary. We Marxists differ from both the pacifists and the Anarchists in that we deem it necessary historically (from the standpoint of Marx’s dialectical materialism) to study each war separately.”

It is a slightly worrying sign when past history is used exclusively to damn certain actions, because history is undergoing development all the time, and things, especially political positions in a time of massive economic crisis, change and often invert. We must study each war separately.

Besides, military interventions by ‘western’ powers have not all been imperialist and negative in history: the most obvious example is the intervention against the Nazi’s in Europe in WWII.

Is NATO’s intervention in Libya genocidal? Did it seek to wipe out all Libyan citizens?

I think this is untrue, I suggest that there are two sides to the conflict in Libya, and this means the situation cannot be reduced to a simple ‘NATO genocide’, ‘against Libya’. It is only possible to assert such a thing by completely separating the popular revolution that began there from its roots in the Arab Revolutions across the region, in Egypt and Tunisia, and the other uprisings that began in Algeria, Morocco, Bahrain, Yemen, Syria and Oman, as well as the protests in Iraq, and by failing to even acknowledge that the ‘rebels’ in Libya were revolutionary and received de facto support from NATO (yes, not for ‘pure’ humanitarian reasons, but the reasons do not matter much to a materialist, what matters is the act). Does Fidel think that the siege of Misrata by Gaddafi’s forces and the attack on Benghazi should have been allowed to go ahead, to proceed to their conclusion? The answer seems sadly to be, yes. With the firepower available to a modern army it is possible for a relatively small unpopular contingent, a regime, to massacre very many protesting people, perhaps to commit genocide, in order to protect its position. What was possible in the Cuban revolution (the armed guerrilla struggle against the unpopular regime) was not possible in Libya, with its different landscape (desert), number of people, and large number of foreign workers and the pre-planned use by the regime of foreign mercenaries, as well as the particular history of the borders being created to corral the Arab people into different areas capable of being overseen by imperial powers. None of this can be passed over without comment, and, frankly, the attempt to do so points to problems.

Let me skip this next bit of Fidel’s piece, where he refers to the 'race' of certain South American political leaders, I find it embarrassing that a communist should worry about ‘race’ in this way, and refer to Evo Morales as “pure millenary indigenous origin” as if it were by itself a good thing, as proof of something. It is not.

Fidel quotes extensively Chavez’s message to the UN:

“I address these words to the General Assembly of the United Nations Organization […] to confirm, on this day and in this forum, Venezuela’s total support of Palestinian statehood: the right of Palestine to become a free, sovereign and independent country. It is an act of historical justice to a people who have carried within themselves, always, all the pain and suffering of the world…”

Of which this support for Palestinian statehood is an exemplary Marxist position, without any doubt. Of the rest of the quotations we can only agree too, Chavez provides a very good, clear analysis of the Israel/Palestine situation.

We move on here to Fidel’s analysis of Obama’s comments on Tunisia and Egypt and the Arab Revolutions.

It is perhaps noteworthy that Chavez, at least in the quotes that Fidel sets before us, do not contain any reference to these massive revolutions, which you might think a little surprising from a communist point of view, and which you might think would have a profound bearing upon the Palestinian situation.


“…A bit later he [Obama] mentions Tunisia and takes credit for the popular movement which overthrew the government in that country, which was an ally of imperialism.
Even more astonishingly, Obama fails to acknowledge that the Untied States was responsible for the installation of the tyrannical, corrupt government in Egypt of Hosni Mubarak who, absconding with the principles of Nasser, allied himself with the imperialists, stole billions from his country and tyrannized his valiant people.”

This is true, but again rather rhetorical, and what can be said of Mubarak can equally be said of Gaddafi, they follow the same mould. And can we really expect a President of the US, even if he were to disagree with past US actions, to openly criticise past US foreign policy under past Presidents? Not really. So a ‘failure to acknowledge’ is not surprising and beside the point. What matters is what this relatively new President of the US does and is doing today. We know that the US supported these tyrannical leaders during the post WWII period and they should be and are condemned for that. What’s harder to explain here is not Obama’s position, but the small element of sleight-of-hand and evasion in this argument of Fidel’s.

Fidel quotes from Obama’s speech:

“Day after day, in the face of bullets and bombs, the Libyan people refused to give back that freedom. And when they were threatened by the kind of mass atrocity that often went unchallenged in the last century, the United Nations lived up to its charter. The Security Council authorized all necessary measures to prevent a massacre. The Arab League called for this effort; Arab nations joined a NATO-led coalition that halted Qaddafi’s forces in their tracks.
"Yesterday, the leaders of a new Libya took their rightful place beside us, and this week, the United States is reopening our embassy in Tripoli.
"This is how the international community is supposed to work — nations standing together for the sake of peace and security, and individuals claiming their rights.
"All of us have a responsibility to support the new Libya — the new Libyan government as they confront the challenge of turning this moment of promise into a just and lasting peace for all Libyans.
"The Qaddafi regime is over. Gbagbo, Ben Ali, Mubarak are no longer in power. Osama bin Laden is gone, and the idea that change could only come through violence has been buried with him.”

This is the point where Fidel’s logic begins to show the strain of its position. There is an attempt in the following, while commenting upon Obama’s speech, to make us somehow feel sorry for Osama bin Laden and the manner of his killing, and then, the (unproved, even un-evidenced in this article) re-invocation of Libya as a NATO conducted genocide is used to defend the Syrian regime from similar intervention and interference. There is no real challenge to Obama’s remarks on Libya, no grappling with the detail of the story of the conflict in Libya.

In effect, this is an attempt to theoretically defend the very obviously fascist regime in Syria from revolutionary justice, from the same justice as has been meted out in Tunisia and Egypt, against Ben Ali and Mubarak and their regimes.

By implication Fidel’s justification for his position is that US –

“…intelligence services along with those of Israel, systematically assassinate the most outstanding scientists involved in military technology”

This is decidedly weak. In those countries, this, while it may be true, does not mean (pretty obviously) that the peoples uprising in Syria (like in Libya) is any less legitimate. It just means it is complicated.

It is in any case, as Obama’s speech demonstrates with its calls for ‘peaceful transition’, by no means certain that any military intervention on the side of the people of Syria or Yemen will happen from the direction of the US or Europe, and certainly the interests of the US are at this moment on the side of the repressive regime in Bahrain, where a hypocritical reformist agenda is being supported (Fidel notes the US has the naval base there). But it would seem that from the statements of Fidel he would not support any help to the Bahraini, Syrian or Yemeni people either, anyway, so in this sense would be in fact in the same essential (materially speaking) boat as Obama -: the people, through weak theoretical pseudo justifications, must be left to ‘their own’ brutal repression. This kind of conclusion I suggest is not worthy of a communist or Marxist, doing nothing is not an option.

We move on here rapidly to the question of Israel and Palestine in Obama’s speech.

Says Fidel of Obama:

“He then launches into a long lecture explaining and justifying the inexplicable and unjustifiable”

He is right about this, what follows is mealy-mouthed and half baked pseudo justifications for the status quo to remain as it is, and Fidel points out -:

“The least Obama could have done was acknowledge that Israel's own citizens are tired of the squandering of resources invested in the military, denying them peace and access to the basic means of life. Like the Palestinians, they are suffering the consequences of policies imposed by the United States and the most bellicose, reactionary sectors of the Zionist state.”

And Fidel rightly shows how Obama edges sneakily from talking about Palestine into talking about nuclear weapons, and from here brings in the argument against Iran and North Korea, as if this has a bearing (unstated in an open fashion) on what can happen, or be allowed to happen, with the Palestinian situation.

When UNICEF confirms Cuba as the only Latin American country with no child malnutrition I consider this as more important to Cuba than the above theoretical disagreement. However, to the people suffering and fighting in Syria and Yemen, their own circumstances and the foreign support they get is more important to them, even if it is only theoretical support, and I think the position as regards much of the South American progressive leaderships towards their comrades in the Middle East and North Africa is inconsistent and mistaken in many crucial respects.

The Libyan intervention was and is a complex event. It did not happen in isolation from the people of Libya, who were uprising against the Gaddafi regime, nor did it happen in isolation from the revolutions that happened in neighbouring Arab countries, Tunisia and Egypt. This in itself is a great difference, and a crucial one, to that of Afghanistan and Iraq, which were imposed under false pretences. Also the method that NATO and the US used to intervene was different in terms of tactics and strategy: there was to be no occupying force, and the intervention sought approval from the Arab League and not only the UN Security Council.

Whilst the intervention was put forward ideologically as to be on ‘humanitarian grounds’ to protect the civilians from massacre and genocide (from Gaddafi’s forces and their threats), you cannot bomb people in a humanitarian fashion, and so we can see here the limits of the bourgeois understanding of its intervention as far as the UN is concerned. Yet this does not of itself de-legitimise the intervention. It had to be sided, and in fact it was sided. The notion of humanitarian protection was and is a myth that is always present in bourgeois ideology – the myth of the universal middle line, countering the false dialectic of opposed forces of good and evil, and the UN has to stick to this

The reasons for the NATO intervention were probably ‘impure’, in the sense that one consideration was probably the oil resources and that they (the nations represented by NATO) might lose access to them if they lost. Another reason was probably that Gaddafi often pretended to socialist credentials, and the intervention could ostensibly appear as also an anti-socialist intervention at a time when capitalist democracy was under severe threat from internal strife due to the economic crisis, i.e. in Spain and Greece in particular, and it wanted to portray itself as progressive but anti-socialist (famously Gaddafi was thought to perhaps be escaping to Venezuela in a mischievous comment by Hague). That Gaddafi was not socialist in any genuine sense seems to have been shown up even more through the revelations about western collusion with the regime since the liberation of Tripoli and since Gaddafi has reverted to being the terrorist that he always aided while keeping up the rhetoric against terrorism.

But to understand the reasons for the intervention we must understand what it would have meant had the western powers generally sided with the forces of reaction in the Middle East and North Africa, against specifically the Egyptian people. Faced with such an obvious and open reactionary stance, the people of Europe, already angry at the austerity measures being thrown at them, would be far more sure of who their social enemy was. After the Libya intervention, the global bourgeoisie have for once shown a small progressive side, and we must give credit to the people of Europe for pressurising for this. At the same time, though, if the Tunisian and Egyptian people had not struggled quite so hard and not been so brave and resolute, the western powers would have continued to support these regimes in total.

It is clear at the moment that the Arab revolution is not over, that it has many facets, and that the position of the advanced western powers towards them vacillates. The circumstances, however, of the Palestinian people are now greatly enhanced. No longer do they need to see the endless almost ritual violence between the Israeli rightist government and the Palestinian factional leaders as the only ‘solution’, or the fake ‘peace negotiations’. Now the solution appears to be happening by default through the revolutions in the region, and it is with these revolutions that the Palestinians will find their goal, as too will the Israeli ordinary people, who have shown that their voice is also being ignored and that they too are part of the movement.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Greek Crisis (June 2011)

by Gary Tedman

"Berlin, backed by the Dutch, Austrians, and Finns, have been arguing for weeks that there can be no new bailout of Greece without the country's private creditors being forced to suffer losses on their loans. Otherwise, they argue, European taxpayers will be shouldering the costs while the international banks pocket the proceeds.

The ECB, the European Commission and other EU countries led by France argue that this could pave the way to disaster, with the financial markets decreeing the compulsory "haircuts" on private bondholders a Greek default, a "credit event" that could lay waste to the single currency.

"We are against any sort of default with haircuts and any form of private-sector event that could lead to a credit event or a rating event," Constancio said."

So we have an impasse, both positions make no sense. This was bound to happen sooner or later. They do not want default, but they do not want 'haircuts' on the loans, and they do not want the single currency to fail. But Germany also does not want to keep bailing out the bad loans that it and the other Euro big nations have made. In effect, what they are saying is that they wanted the Eurozone if it meant they win from it financially, but not if they have any responsibility for losses. This represents the position of the German ruling class, but not all, because some German banks will want the endless bail outs, because it is they who need bailing out. And some big French banks too. But anyone can see that this must come to an end somewhere. The debts are unsustainable and so are its bailing out. Something has to give. The ordinary people cannot keep being made to give up their public wealth to the private banks. Even if they did, at the end of that road exists a notional single private bank owning all public debt and assets (i.e. owning Greece), and thus becoming effectively the state, i.e. that would be de facto socialism of one type or another, probably national socialism. No capitalist wants that solution in general, for this is why they break up monopolies (because they in the end mean the death of capitalism as such), but each individual capitalist entity, fighting for their share and to avoid taking the hit, will not try to prevent it, they only want to protect themselves.

So what will happen? What can happen? Greece will default one way or another. Either Germany or Greece or both will have to effectively withdraw from the Eurozone, at least as a financial structure. Or can it be fudged, they take on the option of the haircuts but try to call it something other than a default?

This seems to have been tried, but it does not fool anyone, it is still a default. And even if suiccessful, Greece still defaults. In fact the bail outs would have to be a permanent feature of a united European currency for the long term, as for instance California in the USA is a part of the USA. But Europe is not united in this way, it is just set up for the benefit of the big nations, and these do not want the responsibilities of a real central government, so they will each go their separate way if this is political issue is left unresolved. So the German project of a unified Europe flounders on its own selfishness and the profligacy and greed of its banks. Its 'sober' and 'successful' capitalism eats itself.

How the mighty have fallen from their self made pedestals.

It looks like they might just try to stave off the culmination of this crisis, yet again In a sense they seem to be waiting for the Greek people to decide what they will do, given it is only they who have any choice and power at this time, the politicians are too hampered by their masters the banks, who want two things at the same time which are in contradiction to each other. Yet the politicians also fight the Greek people with all the forces at their disposal, because they wish to blame the people for their plight, so they are also hampering any (albeit temporary) conclusion to the crisis in this way too. So even on this front there is an unsustainable stasis. An event is awaited, a spark that will change things, some fortuitous or unfortuitous happening. The bourgeoisie keep things the same, they prolong, and cross their fingers, shuffling the lame parliament, trying to reinvigorate the semblance of democracy, for no particular reason than their is nothing else left to do.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Guantanamo Cover Up

Thomas Riggins

On April 26, 2011 ScienceDaily reported the results of a new study made of the medical records of GTMO prisoners ("Medical Evidence of Torture Neglected in Guantanamo Bay Detainees, Suggests Review of Records"). The study was first reported in the online journal PLoS Medicine. The researchers, Vincent Iacopino (Physicians for Human Rights) and Stephen Xenakis, a retired US Army brigadier general, found that the medical personnel responsible for looking after the GTMO prisoners neither documented nor asked the causes for either the physical or mental injuries of the people they were supposed to "care" for. The researchers only had access to nine case files but the evidence they uncovered was considered "compelling" with respect to this dereliction of duty.

The GTMO prisoners described treatment by the US soldiers and other personnel that is torture according to the UN Convention Against Torture. The US says it doesn't torture prisoners and so uses a narrower definition than the UN and calls its techniques "enhanced interrogation." And Saddam Hussein didn't "gas" people, they were victims of "enhanced atmospheric pollution."

Here is what the US did, call it what you will. The prisoners were beaten really severely, bones were fractured, they were sexually assaulted, some were told they would be raped, they were water boarded to the point of asphyxiation, they were taken to be executed then spared at the last moment, they were "disappeared" then returned, they were not allowed to sleep, they were subject to extreme temperatures, they were put in stress positions, and forced to be nude. This last, by the way, is now used on the mainland --e.g, Pvt. Manning.

All these injuries, and the psychological results were in the medical records, without saying how they occurred, and the injuries are all CONSISTANT with torture techniques the prisoners reported being subject to. The Department of Defense medical personal failed to document any of the causes of the prisoners injuries and any psychological problems resulting from torture they attributed to "personality disorders" or "routine stressors of confinement" according to SD.

This evidence shows that the government's medical personnel FAILED both professionally and personally in their duty to their patients. It appears to me that they were complicit in covering up crimes against humanity in the treatment of these prisoners and in violations of basic human rights. And not only to me. The editors of PLoS wrote:"This paper adds new evidence that will bolster calls for further investigation into the complicity of medical personnel in torture at Guantanamo Bay, which clearly breaches fundamental human rights."

Friday, May 27, 2011

Science, Republicans and the Future of Earth

Thomas Riggins

ScienceDaily for April 19, 2001 has a disturbing news report ("Democrats and Republicans Increasingly Divided Over Global Warming, Study Says"). While scientists around the world are coming to a growing consensus concurring on the reality of global warming Americans are being polarized along political lines with Democrats accepting the scientific consensus and Republicans rejecting it.

Dr. Aaron M. McCright of Michigan State University published "a first-of-its-kind"
study of the politics of global warming. McCright, who was named in 2007 as a Kavli Frontiers Fellow in the National Academy of Sciences for his work on the sociology of climate change, says that it is "depressing" to see the gap growing between Democrats and Republicans on the issue of climate change. The gap jumped by 30% between 2001 and 2010. SD says McCright concludes that this gap keeps "meaningful national energy policies from being considered."

As long as science is rejected for pseudo-science how can we meaningfully solve our problems. How could we have funded cancer research if Republicans rejected the scientific view that cancers exist? This is pretty much where we are at today on the issue of global warming.

McCright says, "Instead of a public debate about different policies to deal with global warming, a significant percentage of the American public is still debating the science. As a result, we're failing to significantly address one of the most serious problems of our time."

By going over 10 years of Gallup Poll results the study found that people on the political right are increasingly rejecting the scientific consensus on global warming while people on the political left basically accept it.

Other finding were that in 2001 49% of Republicans thought global warming was already having effects but this number dropped to 29% in 2010. In 2001 60% of Democrats thought global warming was under way, a number that grew to 70% by 2010. In 2001 the gap between Republicans and Democrats was 11% and in 2010 41%.

If people did not call themselves Republicans or Democrats, but used the terms conservative and liberal instead then the gap grew from around 18% in 2001 to 44% in 2010.

Having a college degree makes it more likely that liberals and Democrats accept the scientific view but more unlikely that Republicans and conservatives will. If even college educated Republicans and conservatives are rejecting science then we are in real trouble. However, since we don't know how many of them got their degrees from bible colleges we can't really know for sure what's going on with them.

McCright explains these figures from the "prevailing" theory of how the American people get their political ideas-- from "political elites." McCright says, "In the last few decades political elites have become polarized on climate change. This has driven the political divide on this topic within the American public, as regular citizens have taken cues from ideological and party leaders they trust."

People also tend to turn to media outlets that reinforce what they already think. Think of Fox news vs NPR (which itself has more conservative than liberal viewpoints expressed, yet is deemed liberal). People who like one rarely pay attention to the other. Yet one actually reports scientific findings and the other prefers pseudo-science (take your pick).

Well, "this is not a recipe," McCright says, "for promoting a civil science-based discussion on this very serious environmental problem. Like with the national discussion on health care, we don't even agree on what the basic facts are."

Are things looking better? Not according to Dr. McCright. SD quotes him as follows: "Many Republican Party leaders have moved further to the right since the 2008 presidential election. We've also seen attacks on climate science by Tea Party activists. It seems like climate change denial has become something of a litmus test for Republican candidates. This continued elite polarization on climate change means that the general public will likely remain politically divided on climate change for a while."

So, the future does not portend well for the US to do anything serious in the realm of climate change. With many scientists convinced that 350 Parts per million of atmospheric CO2 is the upper limit that our air can take that is compatible in the long run with most life on Earth (we are already at 391 ppm and growing by 2ppm every year) the longer the Republicans ignore science and cater to special interest groups [i.e., the big capitalist corporations] the more damage they do to the entire planet for their personal short term agendas. This is a real crime against humanity now and in the future.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Monkeys and Human Prejudice

Human See Human Do
Thomas Riggins

Where does human prejudice come from? What causes one group of humans to dislike and look down on another? Is this phenomenon inherent in the human species, or is it the result of cultural conditioning? What do scientists (or maybe "scientists") have to say about this?

Well, some scientists think they have the answer, as reported in ScienceDaily online on March 18, 2011 in an article entitled "Human Prejudice Has Ancient Evolutionary Roots."

As an introduction SD tells us that monkeys show prejudice "like humans" and that they are also "flexible" when letting others join their group. Now that monkeys can be territorial and hostile to outsiders is not disputable but that this is "like humans" is disputable. Now if the expression means outwardly and superficially similar-- as in "humans make love just like monkeys" that is one thing, but without knowing the inner cognitive state of monkey lovers it seems negatively anthropomorphic to say their love making is the "same" as humans. In the same way it is probably not correct to draw equivalencies between monkey and human "prejudice."

OK, what do the scientists actually have to say about this? SD reports that researches at Yale, headed by Laurie Santos, a psychologist, by conducting "ingenious experiments" have shown that monkeys treat outsiders "with the same suspicion and dislike" as humans do. This leads to the suggestion the "roots" of human prejudice and inter group conflict go deep into our evolutionary past.

"Pretty much every conflict in human history," Dr Santos said, "has involved people making distinctions on the basis of who is a member of their own race, religion, social class, and so on. The question we are interested in is: Where do these types of group distinctions come from?" Well, one answer may be that they come from the fact that there are really different religions and social classes. We should also note that some of the greatest conflicts in history were between members of the same "race" (a really outmoded term for a scientist to be using) conflicts between various European nations for example; the same religion (conflicts between various Christian nations, also within Islam) and the same social class as in the feudal conflicts between various kings and nobilities with each other. There are even many examples of people with the same "race", religion and social class fighting with each other. So insiders are just as likely to suffer "prejudice" as outsiders as far as humans are concerned.

Dr. Santos agrees that human culture is a factor, but she also thinks 25 million years of evolutionary development is also a factor. She came to this conclusions by studying the rhesus macaques [Macaca mulatta] living on Monkey Island (Cayo Santiago) off the coast of Puerto Rico. These are the descendents Old World monkeys who were transplanted to Monkey Island from India in 1938. They have the island to themselves and they serve as a research station for scientists. The website states, "Because of almost 70 years of research at this field site, subjects are well habituated to human experimenters." They also get free monkey chow provided by the scientists. Presumely the monkeys act the same way as their ancestors in the forests of India who were not habituated to humans and getting free monkey chow.

Santos' group gave various psychological tests to the monkeys and determined that, by looking at pictures of other monkeys, both in group and out group, monkeys looked longer at the pictures of out group monkeys and this suggested that they "spontaneously" detected strangers. This is because there is a "well known tendency" for animals to look longer at "novel or frightening things than at familiar or friendly things." Well, humans do that too I would think, so maybe the scientists are on firm ground in this respect.

Neha Mahajan, a team member, stated: "What made this result even more remarkable [why is a "well known tendency" remarkable?] is that monkeys in this population move around from group to group, so some of them who were 'outgroup' were previously 'in-group.' And yet, the result holds just as strongly for monkeys who have transferred groups only weeks earlier, suggesting that these monkeys are sensitive to who is currently to be thought of as an insider or an outsider. In other words, although monkeys divide the world into 'us' versus 'them,' they do so in a way that is flexible and is updated in real time." What is "flexible" about reacting just as strongly about former in, and now out, group monkeys as about monkeys that have always been out group. It seems to me this a "rigid" response: You are all the same, outies!

Using a test they devised based on the IAT (Implicit Association Test) which claims to test humans for "implicit biases" against others, the research group concluded, according to SD, that, "Like humans, monkeys tend to spontaneously view ingroup members positively and outgroup members negatively."

As a result of the Monkey Implicit Association Test they devised, the researchers think "the roots" of human prejudice may be 25 million years in the making since that is how long it has been since we shared a common ancestor with the rhesus monkeys.

Mahzarin Banaji, another group member, says, "Social psychologists introduced the world to the idea that the immediate situation is hugely powerful in determining behavior, even intergroup feelings. Evolutionary theorists have made us aware of our ancestral past. In this work, we weave the two together to show the importance of both these influences at work."

Santos herself concludes that "The bad news is that the tendency to dislike outgroup members appears to be evolutionarily quite old, and therefore may be less simple to eliminate than we'd like to think. [This reinforces those who think prejudice, racism, etc., are "natural" rather than learned behaviors]. The good news, though, is that even monkeys seem to be flexible [we saw above there is no basis for this statement] about who counts as a group member. If we humans can find ways to harness this evolved flexibility, it might allow us to become an even more tolerant species [assuming we are a "tolerant" species in the first place]." Anyway, being tolerant means respecting people in other groups not just accepting them into your own--"How white of you" does not indicate tolerance.

It should be noted that if the monkeys can simply change groups when they feel like it, and be accepted, there is no "prejudice" at all going on. Before I give up the view that human prejudice is 99% cultural I want to have both a "prejudice gene" and an example of monkeys gassing each other. A friendly welcoming manner is just as likely as prejudice toward the "other"-- cf. how the Caribs welcomed Columbus, granted this was their mistake, and Squanto helped out the Pilgrims. Native Americans had to learn to dislike Europeans.

As for the Implicit Association Test, its critics charge that it lacks empirical evidence of its efficacy and that its reliability measure is low-- i.e., when the same subjects are retested they give different responses. The IAT is not therefore a really strong scientific tool to use for the claims made on the basis of its results. What is true of the IAT would follow for the Monkey IAT as well.

A final quote from a Science News article: William von Hippel a psychologist at the University of New South Wales has said, "Rarely has a methodological tool garnered such strong adherents and detractors. The IAT should be vigorously researched and debated, but we still do not really understand what it reveals.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Hero Workers

Gary Tedman

Worker, firefighter Toyohiko Tomioka and his men, heroes.

The French press have noted the lack of images and coverage of these men in the press, the 'Fukushima 50' and later workers at the stricken nuclear plant.

Radiation Confusions from Scientists and Press

Gary Tedman

1 Sv (Sievert) is 1000 mSv (millisieverts) or 1,000,000 μSv (microsieverts).

These are the scientific measurement units for radiation. Note that a microsievert is a smaller unit than a millisievert, perhaps counter intuitively, in a scale of thousands. I have recently made this mistake (math is not my strong point and I am no nuclear expert, I must say, but this investigation might still help here, given the experts recalcitrant attitude, please check these figures).

A radiation dose of 6000 millisieverts (mSv) is usually considered lethal pretty soon, and 9000 to be immediately lethal (human individual bodies react slightly differently).

The standard unit used is millisievert, or mSv, since it relates fairy well to the range in which it affects humans. I will try to stick to this unit here.

According to Encyclopaedia Britannica:-

"The average total dose received from all three [natural] sources by a person residing at sea level is approximately 0.91 mSv per year (Table 6); however, a dose twice this size [which makes 1.82 mSv per year] may be received by a person residing at a higher elevation such as Denver, Colo., where cosmic rays are more intense (Table 3), or by a person residing in a geographic region where the radium content of the soil is relatively high (Table 4). In the latter type of region, the radioactive gas radon, which is formed in the decay of radium, may enter a dwelling through its floor or basement walls and accumulate in the indoor air unless the dwelling is well ventilated periodically; occupants of such a dwelling may therefore receive a dose as high as 100 mSv per year in their lungs from inhalation of the entrapped radon and its disintegration products "

Today, as I write this at 18 March, NHK World TV reports (Japan) claim that at a reactor at Fukushima 1 plant the hourly rate is 20 mSv, and at the gate it is 3 mSv (we are left to assume per hour, given this is standard), while 30 km away it is reportedly 0.15 mSv (we assume per hour).

While a single chest scan may be up to about 18 mSv for the short duration, the reported 0.15 mSv at 30 km in Fukushima prefecture is somewhat less than that. But it is, at a cumulative rate (0.15 x 24 x 365 =) 1314 mSv per year, which is not good. The yearly 1.82 mSv possibly received in a fairly high natural radiation dwelling in Denver Colorado (as according to Britannica) is in fact a lot less. Also even the higher 100 mSv per year in a stuffy dwelling with radon gas coming out the floor is less. But it is still not highly dangerous, if the figures are correct.

I have been wondering therefore why are people being made to stay indoors between 20-30km if this is within this relatively low range? Will this radiation quickly fade away or not? Why are other nations recommending evacuating to a much greater distance from the plant? Questions and questions, and for me they are not urgent (perhaps), but I can imagine for anyone nearby they are crucial and they want, more than anything, clarity.

If this reading was instead actually 150 mSv at 30 km (not 0.15 mSv), then it would be perhaps more understandable but highly dangerous, because in only 48 hours it cumulatively becomes 7200 mSv and that is lethal. 6000 mSv, remember, is lethal.

Or, if it actually meant 1.5 microseiverts per hour as on the later graphic from the New York Times that I refer to below, it is quite low but not normal. 0.10 microseiverts would I think be a standard hourly rate (micro not milli remember).

Consider this: an earlier report on NHK last week quoted 400 'something', possibly 400 mSv (which was what I and others understood it to mean) read at the gates of the Fukushima 1 plant. But I was not absolutely sure if this meant mSv or microseiverts. Some press reported this as millisievert and were duly shocked. If millisieverts it would indeed be very worrying. But today a similar reading was reportedly only 20 mSv (definitely stated as millisievert) at a reactor and 3 mSv at the gates of the plant, which is quite a difference and a lot less alarming. With the figure of about 0.15 mSv at 30 km, this then tallies and makes some sense, because the figures are reducing steadily at a greater distance. But could the readings have been reduced so dramatically over the intervening time from 400 mSv (if correct) to 3 mSv? We will assume this must in fact be the apparent reduction from 4 mSv to 3 mSv at the gates and the 400 in fact meant microsieverts not millisieverts.

I hope the latter is so, for it would be some good news for the Japanese people given the figure is reducing. But it looks as though the calamity has worsened rather than improved, so it does run counter intuitive. Also, we can understand being advised to stay indoors except for necessary trips at this distance in this case.

But the figure still seems a bit low to cause such serious concern, while the 400 mSv might make more sense given the attitudes being demonstrated by most of the commentators and the foreign experts. But it seems too alarmingly high and makes the other readings also seem highly suspicious and inaccurate. Is this just evidence of media sensationalism?

If occupants of a stuffy dwelling up a hill in Denver Colorado can receive 100 mSv a year naturally as Britannica says, certainly (to repeat, 0.15 mSv x 24 hours x 365 days =) 1314 mSv per year at 30 km from Fukushima 1 would not be too much to be concerned about if it were to reduce anyway in the year, as it has already been reported to have done a little at the gates of the plant.


19 March 2011: -

To quote the BBC live blog at 0933: "Outside the exclusion zone around Fukushima nuclear plant, radiation levels are absolutely miniscule and nothing to worry about, points out the BBC's Tim Willcox in Tokyo. That's interesting, he says, given how many foreign nationals have left Tokyo and other parts of the country."

from http: news="" world-middle-east-12307698="" www.bbc.co.uk=""

By 19 March 2011, BBC reports say readings of 0.05 microseiverts in Tokyo, which if per hour (the reporter does not give this crucial information), is extremely low but a very tiny bit higher than normal (apparently this is about 0.03 microseiverts according to a blogger! - I can get next to no trustable information from official sources). In fact it seems so low as to be a bit unlikely, since a sum of 0.10 microseiverts would be standard safe reading per hour at sea level. A figure of 0.10 microseiverts per hour (or 0.91 mSv per year - Britannica) is considered about normal.

The NY Times reports with a graphic expressed in microseiverts per hour. It implies it comes from the Japanese government and the data appears to be for Thursday 17 March 2011 (two days ago). It says on Friday levels of 150 microseiverts per hour were reported 19 miles (about 35 km) northwest of the plant, down slightly from 170 per hour on Thursday.

150 microseiverts (0.15 mSv) per hour is quite worrying given it is significantly higher than a standard rate. In the graphic one area reports 18.3 microseiverts per hour (0.018 mSv) not far from Fukushima city at about 55 km from the plant, but only 2.1 microseiverts in the stay-indoors zone only 30 km from the plant. This could be the wind factor given that along that line are some other higher readings. The graphic gives an example: 23 microseiverts per hour cumulating for a year gives 200,000 microseiverts. By my calculation that is 200.0 mSv per year. This is not very high but would be of concern if it remained at that level because it is associated with slightly higher cancer risks, it is about twice the naturally produced higher level in our fictional 'Denver' hovel.

However the same graphic says the maximum level so far recorded at the gates of the Fukushima 1 plant was 647 microseiverts per hour (the graph was published today 19 March, and it looks as though the English text is written over the top of a Japanese (?) graphic by the NYT, but it may be reporting the figures for Thursday 16 and Friday 17 March), or 0.64 mSv per hour, but this last figure contradicts the 3 mSv (3000 microseiverts) per hour reported at the gates of the plant from the verbal TV report yesterday 18 March, unless this is now an out of date maximum and this new maximum has risen quite significantly, which would make intuitive sense given we see the greater destruction but contradicts claims about falls in readings.

From all this I suggest the government seems to be giving out some correct and some incorrect data, and in ways that are confusing, and these figures are reported in confusing ways after that. Radiation levels have generally increased, but the Tokyo figures are suspiciously too low.

See NY Times:


My figures are, apart from newspapers websites, from sites such as the IAEA (which in fact is useless since it has little hard data) and the BBC, but are mostly drawn from Japanese NHK TV presented by a commentator as well as presented through an interpreter of Japanese to English, so there may be mistakes, but these reports are repeated in video so can be written down, also they are direct translations of the figures that Mr. Edano of the Japanese government reports from TEPCO (the managers of the plants), and some are also written on the boards that the presenters use in the diagram of the exclusion zones of the radiation figures for Japan.

One thing I must conclude: the constant unnecessary changing from micro to millisieverts, coupled with the figures of the authorities fluctuating (apart from when they do), as well as not stating the time periods that apply for dosage and exposure, cumulative or not, leads to great confusion, which the Japanese people, suffering in this truly awful situation could really do without. The government has an undeniably difficult task and is trying very hard, but remember what this industry has promised the world in safety and accountabiity terms.

I must also say the measurement of radiation seems also to be deliberately shrouded in techno babble at the outset, and has changed so many times that it is already hard to understand. This adds to the sense that the Nuclear industry has a lot to hide even before such a calamity as this possible meltdown of no less than six reactors existed.

In this context Professor David Spiegelhalter, of the Public Understanding of Risk, Cambridge University, says:

"Radiation does, however, feel acceptable when used in benign circumstances such as medical imaging. You can pay £100 ($160) and get a whole-body CT scan as part of a medical check-up, but it can deliver you a dose equivalent to being 1.5 miles from the centre of the Hiroshima explosion."

from http: news="" world-asia-pacific-12785274="" www.bbc.co.uk=""

Which is decidedly disingenuous (if not actually ridiculous) considering it once more blithely leaves out the factor of the length of time of the exposure and any actual dosage figures, and if you do that you can almost claim anything. And, you see, he is a scientist!

But to be fair he also notes:

"The electricity company appears to be as secretive as its reputation suggested and although the Japanese media are mostly giving the government an easy ride, individuals able to follow western sources are faced with a barrage of conflicting opinions."

from BBC: - http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-pacific-12785274

With the gaps in communication between the big corporations, the Japanese government, and the media being exposed, as it seems to be here, as well as being compromised already by the vested interests involved, confusion and then anger results.

I cannot find an expert who will lay out the bare facts and figures in a convincing and straightforward manner. This alone tells us something.