Posts Tagged ‘Marxism’

“The United States is the most successfully repressed country in the world ” – Stokely Carmichael, Black power activist.

“Repression is when you can get 90% of the students in the U.S to name you all the Three Stooges but can’t tell you what the WTO is.” – Michael Parenti

“The People are the very substance of Power. We have to organise.” – Michael Parenti

A classic talk from 1999 by political scientist Michael Parenti.
It’s just as illuminating today as it was then–and often funny, too.

Parenti shows how the Western colonial powers un-developed the “Third-World”–increasing poverty there in order to enrich private corporations at home.
Indeed (Parenti argues), almost all U.S. foreign policy seems aimed at increasing the profits of the Fortune 500.

This is the real purpose of the hundreds of U.S. military interventions abroad–many of which overthrew democratically elected governments, replacing them with dictatorships friendly to U.S. corporate interests. Boosting corporate profits likewise is the reason behind “humanitarian” military interventions.

Parenti shows that imperialism’s current form is “multilateral free-trade agreements” such as NAFTA and GATT.
These draconian, anti-democratic treaties give corporations the power to veto any national laws that might interfere with their profits.

Parenti’s brilliant, passionate, and funny talk is as relevant today as it was in 1999.

Globalization And Democracy: 

Some Basics

By Michael Parenti

26 May, 2007

The goal of the transnational corporation is to become truly transnational, poised above the sovereign power of any particu­lar nation, while being served by the sovereign powers of all nations.

Cyril Siewert, chief financial officer of Colgate Palmol­ive Company, could have been speaking for all transnationals when he remarked, “The United States doesn’t have an automatic call on our [corporation’s] resources. There is no mindset that puts this country first.”[i]

With international “free trade” agreements such as NAFTA, GATT, and FTAA, the giant transnationals have been elevated above the sovereign powers of nation states. These agreements endow anonymous international trade committees with the authority to prevent, over-­rule, or dilute any laws of any nation deemed to burden the investment and market prerogatives of transnational corporations. These trade committees–of which the World Trade Organization (WTO) is a prime example—set up panels composed of “trade special­ists” who act as judges over economic issues, placing themselves above the rule and popular control of any nation, thereby insuring the supremacy of international finance capital. This process, called globalization, is treated as an inevitable natural “growth” development beneficial to all. It is in fact a global coup d’état by the giant business interests of the world.

Elected by no one and drawn from the corporate world, these panelists meet in secret and often have investment stakes in the very issues they adjudicate, being bound by no con­flict-of-interest provisions. Not one of GATT’s five hundred pages of rules and restrictions are directed against private corporations; all are against govern­ments.
Signatory governments must lower tariffs, end farm subsidi­es, treat foreign companies the same as domestic ones, honour all corporate patent claims, and obey the rulings of a permanent elite bureaucracy, the WTO. Should a country refuse to change its laws when a WTO panel so dictates, the WTO can impose fines or international trade sanctions, depriving the resistant country of needed markets and materials.[ii]

Acting as the supreme global adjudicator, the WTO has ruled against laws deemed “barriers to free trade.” It has forced Japan to accept greater pesticide residues in imported food. It has kept Guatemala from outlawing deceptive advertising of baby food. It has eliminated the ban in various countries on asbestos, and on fuel-economy and emission stan­dards for motor vehicles. And it has ruled against marine-life protection laws and the ban on endangered-species products. The European Union’s prohibition on the importation of hormone-ridden U.S. beef had overwhelming popular support throughout Europe, but a three-member WTO panel decided the ban was an illegal restraint on trade. The decision on beef put in jeopardy a host of other food import regulations based on health concerns. The WTO overturned a portion of the U.S. Clean Air Act banning certain additives in gasoline because it interfered with imports from foreign refineries. And the WTO overturned that portion of the U.S. Endangered Species Act forbidding the import of shrimp caught with nets that failed to protect sea turtles.[iii]

Free trade is not fair trade; it benefits strong nations at the expense of weaker ones, and rich interests at the expense of the rest of us. Globalization means turning the clock back on many twentieth-century reforms: no freedom to boycott products, no prohibitions against child labor, no guaranteed living wage or benefits, no public services that might conceivably compete with private services, no health and safety protections that might cut into corporate profits.[iv]

GATT and subsequent free trade agreements allow multinationals to impose monopoly property rights on indigenous and communal agriculture.
In this way agribusiness can better penetrate locally self-sufficient communities and monopolize their resources.
Ralph Nader gives the example of the neem tree, whose extracts contain natural pesti­cidal and medicinal proper­ties.
Cultivat­ed for centuries in India, the tree attracted the attention of vari­ous pharmaceutical companies, who filed monopoly patents, causing mass protests by Indian farmers. As dictated by the WTO, the pharmaceuticals now have exclusive control over the marketing of neem tree products, a ruling that is being reluctantly enforced in India.
Tens of thousands of erstwhile independent farmers must now work for the powerful pharmaceuticals on profit-gorging terms set by the companies.

A trade agreement between India and the United States, the Knowledge Initiative on Agriculture (KIA), backed by Monsanto and other transnational corporate giants, allows for the grab of India’s seed sector by Monsanto, its trade sector by Archer Daniels Midland and Cargill, and its retail sector by Wal-Mart. (Wal-Mart announced plans to open 500 stores in India, starting in August 2007.)
This amounts to a war against India’s independent farmers and small businesses, and a threat to India’s food security.
Farmers are organizing to protect themselves against this economic invasion by maintaining traditional seed-banks and setting up systems of communal agrarian support.
One farmer says, “We do not buy seeds from the market because we suspect they may be contaminated with genetically engineered or terminator seeds.”[v]

In a similar vein, the WTO ruled that the U.S. corporation RiceTec has the patent rights to all the many varieties of basmati rice, grown for centuries by India’s farmers.
It also ruled that a Japanese corporation had exclusive rights in the world to grow and produce curry powder. As these instances demonstrate, what is called “free trade” amounts to international corporate monopoly control.
Such developments caused Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad to observe:

We now have a situation where theft of genetic resources by western biotech TNCs [transnational corporations] enables them to make huge profits by producing patented genetic mutations of these same materials. What depths have we sunk to in the global marketplace when nature’s gifts to the poor may not be protected but their modifications by the rich become exclusive property?

If the current behaviour of the rich countries is anything to go by, globalization simply means the breaking down of the borders of countries so that those with the capital and the goods will be free to dominate the markets.[vi]

Under free-trade agreements like General Agreements on Trade and Services (GATS) and Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), all public services are put at risk. A public service can be charged with causing “lost market opportunities” for business, or creating an unfair subsidy.

To offer one in­stance: the single-payer automobile insurance program proposed by the province of Ontario, Canada, was declared “unfair competi­tion.” Ontario could have its public auto insurance only if it paid U.S. insurance companies what they estimated would be their present and future losses in Ontario auto insurance sales, a prohibitive cost for the province.
Thus the citizens of Ontario were not allowed to exercise their democratic sovereign right to institute an alterna­tive not-for-profit auto insurance system. In another case, United Postal Service charged the Canadian Post Office for “lost market opportunities,” which means that under free trade accords, the Canadian Post Office would have to compensate UPS for all the business that UPS thinks it would have had if there were no public postal service. The Canadian postal workers union has challenged the case in court, arguing that the agreement violates the Canadian Constitution.

Under NAFTA, the U.S.-based Ethyl Corporation sued the Canadian government for $250 million in “lost business opportunities” and “interference with trade” because Canada banned MMT, an Ethyl-produced gasoline additive considered carcinogenic by Canadian officials. Fearing they would lose the case, Canadian officials caved in, agreeing to lift the ban on MMT, pay Ethyl $10 million compensation, and issue a public statement calling MMT “safe,” even though they had scientific findings showing otherwise. California also banned the unhealthy additive; this time a Canadian based Ethyl company sued California under NAFTA for placing an unfair burden on free trade.[vii]

International free trade agreements like GATT and NAFTA have hastened the corporate acquisition of local markets, squeezing out smaller businesses and worker collectives. Under NAFTA better-paying U.S. jobs were lost as firms closed shop and contracted out to the cheaper Mexican labor market. At the same time thousands of Mexican small companies were forced out of business. Mexico was flooded with cheap, high-tech, mass produced corn and dairy products from giant U.S. agribusiness firms (themselves heavily subsidized by the U.S. government), driving small Mexican farmers and distributors into bankruptcy, displacing large numbers of poor peasants. The lately arrived U.S. companies in Mexico have offered extremely low-paying jobs, and unsafe work conditions. Generally free trade has brought a dramatic increase in poverty south of the border.[viii]

We North Americans are told that to remain competitive in the new era of globalization, we will have to increase our output while reducing our labor and production costs, in other words, work harder for less. This in fact is happening as the work-week has lengthened by as much as twenty percent (from forty hours to forty-six and even forty-eight hours) and real wages have flattened or declined during the reign of George W. Bush. Less is being spent on social services, and we are enduring more wage conces­sions, more restructuring, deregula­tion, and privat­ization. Only with such “adjustments,” one hears, can we hope to cope with the impersonal forces of globalization that are sweeping us along.

In fact, there is nothing impersonal about these forces. Free trade agreements, including new ones that have not yet been submitted to the U.S. Congress have been consciously planned by big business and its government minions over a period of years in pursuit of a deregulated world economy that undermines all democratic checks upon business practices. The people of any one province, state, or nation are now finding it increasingly difficult to get their govern­ments to impose protective regulations or develop new forms of public sector production out of fear of being overruled by some self-appointed international free-trade panel.[ix]

Usually it is large nations demanding that poorer smaller ones relinquish the protections and subsidies they provide for their local producers. But occasionally things may take a different turn. Thus in late 2006 Canada launched a dispute at the World Trade Organization over the use of “trade-distorting” agricultural subsidies by the United States, specifically the enormous sums dished out by the federal government to U.S. agribusiness corn farmers. The case also challenged the entire multibillion-dollar structure of U.S. agricultural subsidies. It followed the landmark WTO ruling of 2005 which condemned “trade-distorting” aid to U.S. cotton farmers. A report by Oxfam International revealed that at least thirty-eight developing countries were suffering severely as a result of trade distorting subsidies by both the United States and the European Union. Meanwhile, the U.S. government was manoeuvring to insert a special clause into trade negotiations that would place its illegal use of farm subsidies above challenge by WTO member countries and make the subsidies immune from adjudication through the WTO dispute settlement process.[x]

What is seldom remarked upon is that NAFTA and GATT are in violation of the U.S. Constitution, the preamble of which makes clear that sovereign power rests with the people: “We the People of the United States . . . do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” Article I, Section 1 of the Constitution reads; “All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States.” Article I, Section 7 gives the president (not some trade council) the power to veto a law, subject to being overridden by a two-thirds vote in Congress. And Article III gives adjudication and review powers to a Supreme Court and other federal courts as ordained by Congress.

The Tenth Amendment to the Constitution states:

“The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

There is nothing in the entire Constitution that allows an international trade panel to preside as final arbiter exercising supreme review powers undermining the constitutionally mandated decisions of the legislative, executive, and judicial branches.

True, Article VII says that the Constitution, federal laws, and treaties “shall be the supreme Law of the land,” but certainly this was not intended to include treaties that overrode the laws themselves and the sovereign democratic power of the people and their representatives.

To exclude the Senate from deliberations, NAFTA and GATT were called “agreements” instead of treaties, a semantic ploy that enabled President Clinton to bypass the two-third treaty ratification vote in the Senate and avoid any treaty amendment process. The World Trade Organization was approved by a lame-duck session of Congress held after the 1994 elections. No one running in that election uttered a word to voters about putting the U.S. government under a perpetual obligation to insure that national laws do not conflict with international free trade rulings.

What is being undermined is not only a lot of good laws dealing with environment, public services, labor standards, and consumer protection, but also the very right to legislate such laws. Our democratic sovereignty itself is being surrendered to a secretive plutocratic trade organization that presumes to exercise a power greater than that of the people and their courts and legislatures. What we have is an international coup d’état by big capital over the nations of the world.

Globalization is a logical extension of imperialism, a victory of empire over republic, international finance capital over local productivity and nation-state democracy (such as it is). In recent times however, given popular protests, several multilateral trade agreements have been stalled or voted down. In 1999, militant protests against free trade took place in forty-one nations from Britain and France to Thailand and India.[xi] In 2000-01, there were demonstrations in Seattle, Washington, Sydney, Prague, Genoa, and various other locales. In 2003-04 we saw the poorer nations catching wise to the free trade scams and refusing to sign away what shreds of sovereignty they still had. Along with the popular resistance, more national leaders are thinking twice before signing on to new trade agreements.

The discussion of globalization by some Marxists (but not all) has focused on the question of whether the new “internationalization” of capital will undermine national sovereignty and the nation state. They dwell on this question while leaving unmentioned such things as free trade agreements and the WTO. Invariably these observers (for instance Ellen Wood and William Taab in Monthly Review, Ian Jasper in Nature, Society and Thought, Erwin Marquit in Political Affairs) conclude that the nation state still plays a key role in capitalist imperialism, that capital-while global in its scope–is not international but bound to particular nations, and that globalization is little more than another name for overseas monopoly capital investment.

They repeatedly remind us that Marx had described globalization, this process of international financial expansion, as early as 1848, when he and Engels in the Communist Manifesto wrote about how capitalism moves into all corners of the world, reshaping all things into its own image. Therefore, there is no cause for the present uproar. Globalization, these writers conclude, is not a new development but a longstanding one that Marxist theory uncovered long ago.

The problem with this position is that it misses the whole central point of the current struggle. It is not only national sovereignty that is at stake, it is democratic sovereignty. Millions, of people all over the world have taken to the streets to protest free trade agreements. Among them are farmers, workers, students and intellectuals (including many Marxists who see things more clearly than the aforementioned ones), all of whom are keenly aware that something new is afoot and they want no part of it. As used today, the term globalization refers to a new stage of international expropriation, designed not to put an end to the nation-state but to undermine whatever democratic right exists to protect the social wage and restrain the power of transnational corporations.

The free trade agreements, in effect, make unlawful all statutes and regulations that restrict private capital in any way. Carried to full realization, this means the end of whatever imperfect democratic protections the populace has been able to muster after generations of struggle in the realm of public policy. Under the free trade agreements any and all public services can be ruled out of existence because they cause “lost market opportunities” for private capital. So too public hospitals can be charged with taking away markets from private hospitals; and public water supply systems, public schools, public libraries, public housing and public transportation are guilty of depriving their private counterparts of market opportunities, likewise public health insurance, public mail delivery, and public auto insurance systems.

Laws that try to protect the environment or labor standards or consumer health already have been overthrown for “creating barriers” to free trade.

What also is overthrown is the right to have such laws. This is the most important point of all and the one most frequently overlooked by persons from across the political spectrum. Under the free trade accords, property rights have been elevated to international supremacy, able to take precedent over all other rights, including the right to a clean livable environment, the right to affordable public services, and the right to any morsel of economic democracy. Instead a new right has been accorded absolutist status, the right to corporate private profit. It has been used to stifle the voice of working people and their ability to develop a public sector that serves their interests.

Free speech itself is undermined as when “product disparagement” is treated as an interference with free trade. And nature itself is being monopolized and privatized by transnational corporations.

So the fight against free trade is a fight for the right to politico-economic democracy, public services, and a social wage, the right not to be completely at the mercy of big capital. It is a new and drastic phase of the class struggle that some Marxists–so immersed in classical theory and so ill-informed about present-day public policy–seem to have missed. As embodied in the free trade accords, globalization has little to do with trade and is anything but free. It benefits the rich nations over poor ones, and the rich classes within all nations at the expense of ordinary citizens. It is the new specter that haunts the same old world.

Michael Parenti’s recent books include The Assassination of Julius Caesar (New Press), Superpatriotism (City Lights), and The Culture Struggle (Seven Stories Press). For more information visit:

© 2007 Michael Parenti

[i] Quoted in New York Times, May 21, 1989.[ii] See Lori Wallach and Michelle Sforza, The WTO (New York: Seven Stories Press, 2000); and John R. MacArthur, The Selling of Free Trade: Nafta, Washington, and the Subversion of American Democracy (New York: Hill and Wang, 2000).

[iii] New York Times, April 30, 1996 and May 9, 1997;Washington Post, October 13, 1998.

[iv] See the report by the United Nations Development Program referenced in New York Times, July 13, 1999.

[v] Project Censored, “Real News,” April 2007; also Arun Shrivastava, “Genetically Modified Seeds: Women in India take on Monsanto,” Global Research, October 9, 2006.

[vi] Quoted in People’s Weekly World, December 7, 1996.

[vii] John R. MacArthur, The Selling of “Free Trade”: NAFTA, Washington, and the Subversion of American Democracy (New York: Hill & Wang, 2000; and Sarah Anderson and John Cavanagh, “Nafta’s Unhappy Anniversary,” New York Times, February 7, 1995.

[viii] John Ross, “Tortilla Wars,” Progressive, June 1999

[ix] For a concise but thorough treatment, see Steven Shrybman, A Citizen’s Guide

to the World Trade Organization (Ottawa/Toronto: Canadian Center for Policy

Alternatives and James Lorimer & Co., 1999).

[x] “US seeks “get-out clause” for illegal farm payments” Oxfam, June 29, 2006,

[xi] San Francisco Chronicle, June 19, 1999.




“Common sense is a chaotic aggregate of disparate conceptions, and one can find there anything that one like.”

“The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born”

“All men are intellectuals, but not all men have in society the function of intellectuals”

“I’m a pessimist because of intelligence, but an optimist because of will.”

“Ideas and opinions are not spontaneously “born” in each individual brain: they have had a centre of formation, or irradiation, of dissemination, of persuasion-a group of men, or a single individual even, which has developed them and presented them in the political form of current reality.”

“The crisis creates situations which are dangerous in the short run, since the various strata of the population are not all capable of orienting themselves equally swiftly, or of reorganising with the same rhythm. The traditional ruling class, which has numerous trained cadres, changes men and programmes and, with greater speed than is achieved by the subordinate classes, reabsorbs the control that was slipping from its grasp. Perhaps it may make sacrifices, and expose itself to an uncertain future by demagogic promises; but it retains power, reinforces it for the time being, and uses it to crush its adversary and disperse his leading cadres, who cannot be be very numerous or highly trained.”

― Antonio Gramsci, Selections from the Prison Notebooks.


“I hate the indifferent. I believe that living means taking sides. Those who really live cannot help being a citizen and a partisan. Indifference and apathy are parasitism, perversion, not life. That is why I hate the indifferent.

The indifference is the deadweight of history. The indifference operates with great power on history. The indifference operates passively, but it operates. It is fate, that which cannot be counted on. It twists programs and ruins the best-conceived plans. It is the raw material that ruins intelligence. That what happens, the evil that weighs upon all, happens because the human mass abdicates to their will; allows laws to be promulgated that only the revolt could nullify, and leaves men that only a mutiny will be able to overthrow to achieve the power. The mass ignores because it is careless and then it seems like it is the product of fate that runs over everything and everyone: the one who consents as well as the one who dissents; the one who knew as well as the one who didn’t know; the active as well as the indifferent. Some whimper piously, others curse obscenely, but nobody, or very few ask themselves: If I had tried to impose my will, would this have happened?

I also hate the indifferent because of that: because their whimpering of eternally innocent ones annoys me. I make each one liable: how they have tackled with the task that life has given and gives them every day, what have they done, and especially, what they have not done. And I feel I have the right to be inexorable and not squander my compassion, of not sharing my tears with them.

I am a partisan, I am alive, I feel the pulse of the activity of the future city that those on my side are building is alive in their conscience. And in it, the social chain does not rest on a few; nothing of what happens in it is a matter of luck, nor the product of fate, but the intelligent work of the citizens. Nobody in it is looking from the window of the sacrifice and the drain of a few. Alive, I am a partisan. That is why I hate the ones that don’t take sides, I hate the indifferent.”
― Antonio Gramsci




Prison Notebooks

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Antonio Gramsci, depicted in 1922

The Prison Notebooks (Italian: Quaderni del carcere [kwaˈdɛrni del ˈkartʃere]) were a series of essays written by the Italian MarxistAntonio Gramsci. Gramsci was imprisoned by the Italian Fascist regime in 1926. The notebooks were written between 1929 and 1935, when Gramsci was released from prison on grounds of ill-health. He died in April 1937.

He wrote more than 30 notebooks and 3,000 pages of history and analysis during his imprisonment. Although written unsystematically, the Prison Notebooks are considered a highly original contribution to 20th century political theory. Gramsci drew insights from varying sources – not only other Marxists but also thinkers such as Niccolò Machiavelli, Vilfredo Pareto, Georges Sorel and Benedetto Croce. His notebooks cover a wide range of topics, including Italian history and nationalism, the French Revolution, Fascism, Fordism, civil society,folklore, religion and high and popular culture,

The notebooks were smuggled out of prison in the 1930s. They were not published until the 1950s and were first translated into English in the 1970s.

Some ideas in Marxist theory, critical theory and educational theory that are associated with Gramsci’s name:

  • Cultural hegemony as a means of maintaining the capitalist state.
  • The need for popular workers’ education to encourage development of intellectuals from the working class.
  • The distinction between political society (the police, the army, legal system, etc.) which dominates directly and coercively, and civil society (the family, the education system, trade unions, etc.) where leadership is constituted through ideology or by means of consent.
  • “Absolute historicism“.
  • A critique of economic determinism that opposes fatalistic interpretations of Marxism.
  • A critique of philosophical materialism.


For more details on this topic, see Cultural hegemony.

Hegemony was a concept previously used by Marxists such as Vladimir Ilyich Lenin to indicate the political leadership of the working-class in a democratic revolution, but developed by Gramsci into an acute analysis to explain why the ‘inevitable’ socialist revolution predicted by orthodox Marxism had not occurred by the early 20th century. Capitalism, it seemed, was even more entrenched than ever. Capitalism, Gramsci suggested, maintained control not just through violence and political and economic coercion, but also ideologically, through a hegemonic culture in which the values of the bourgeoisie became the ‘common sense‘ values of all. Thus a consensus culture developed in which people in the working-class identified their own good with the good of the bourgeoisie, and helped to maintain the status quo rather than revolting.

The working class needed to develop a culture of its own, which would overthrow the notion that bourgeois values represented ‘natural’ or ‘normal’ values for society, and would attract the oppressed and intellectual classes to the cause of the proletariat. Lenin held that culture was ‘ancillary’ to political objectives but for Gramsci it was fundamental to the attainment of power that cultural hegemony be achieved first. In Gramsci’s view, any class that wishes to dominate in modern conditions has to move beyond its own narrow ‘economic-corporate’ interests, to exert intellectual and moral leadership, and to make alliances and compromises with a variety of forces. Gramsci calls this union of social forces a ‘historic bloc’, taking a term from Georges Sorel. This bloc forms the basis of consent to a certain social order, which produces and re-produces the hegemony of the dominant class through a nexus of institutions, social relations and ideas. In this manner, Gramsci developed a theory that emphasised the importance of the superstructure in both maintaining and fracturing relations of the base.

Gramsci stated that, in the West, bourgeois cultural values were tied to religion, and therefore much of his polemic against hegemonic culture is aimed at religious norms and values. He was impressed by the power Roman Catholicism had over men’s minds and the care the Church had taken to prevent an excessive gap developing between the religion of the learned and that of the less educated. Gramsci believed that it was Marxism’s task to marry the purely intellectual critique of religion found inRenaissance humanism to the elements of the Reformation that had appealed to the masses. For Gramsci, Marxism could supersede religion only if it met people’s spiritual needs, and to do so people would have to recognise it as an expression of their own experience.

For Gramsci, hegemonic dominance ultimately relied on coercion, and in a “crisis of authority” the “masks of consent” slip away, revealing the fist of force.

Intellectuals and education

Gramsci gave much thought to the question of the role of intellectuals in society. Famously, he stated that all men are intellectuals, in that all have intellectual and rational faculties, but not all men have the social function of intellectuals. He claimed that modern intellectuals were not simply talkers, but directors and organisers who helped build society and produce hegemony by means of ideological apparatuses such as education and the media. Furthermore, he distinguished between a ‘traditional’ intelligentsia which sees itself (wrongly) as a class apart from society, and the thinking groups which every class produces from its own ranks ‘organically’. Such ‘organic’ intellectuals do not simply describe social life in accordance with scientific rules, but rather articulate, through the language of culture, the feelings and experiences which the masses could not express for themselves. The need to create a working-class culture relates to Gramsci’s call for a kind of education that could develop working-class intellectuals, who would not simply introduce Marxist ideology from outside the proletariat, but rather renovate and make critical of the status quo the already existing intellectual activity of the masses. His ideas about an education system for this purpose correspond with the notion of critical pedagogy and popular education as theorised and practised in later decades by Paulo Freire in Brazil, and have much in common with the thought of Frantz Fanon. For this reason, partisans of adult and popular education consider Gramsci an important voice to this day. (For the results of this kind of thought in education, see the latests reports of PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) on the education in Brazil).

State and civil society

Gramsci’s theory of hegemony is tied to his conception of the capitalist state, which he claims rules through force plus consent. The state is not to be understood in the narrow sense of the government; instead, Gramsci divides it between ‘political society’, which is the arena of political institutions and legal constitutional control, and ‘civil society‘, which is commonly seen as the ‘private’ or ‘non-state’ sphere, differentiated from both the state and the economy. The former is the realm of force and the latter of consent. He stresses, however, that the division is purely conceptual and that the two, in reality, often overlap.

Gramsci claims that hegemony lies under modern capitalism and that the bourgeoisie can maintain its economic control by allowing certain demands made by trade unions and mass political parties within civil society to be met by the political sphere.

Thus, the bourgeoisie engages in Passive Revolution by going beyond its immediate economic interests and allowing the forms of its hegemony to change. Gramsci posits that movements such as reformism and fascism, as well as the ‘scientific management‘ and assembly line methods of Frederick Taylor and Henry Ford respectively, are examples of this.

Drawing from Machiavelli, he argues that ‘The Modern Prince’ – the revolutionary party – is the force that will allow the working-class to develop organic intellectuals and an alternative hegemony within civil society. For Gramsci, the complex nature of modern civil society means that the only tactic capable of undermining bourgeois hegemony and leading to socialism is a ‘war of position’ (analogous to trench warfare); this war of position would then give way to a ‘war of movement’ (or frontal attack). Gramsci saw ‘war of movement’ as being exemplified by the storming of the Winter Palace during the Russian Revolution.

Despite his claim that the lines between the two may be blurred, Gramsci rejects the state-worship that results from identifying political society with civil society, as was done by the Jacobins and Fascists. He believes the proletariat’s historical task is to create a ‘regulated society’ and defines the ‘withering away of the state‘ as the full development of civil society’s ability to regulate itself.


Gramsci, like the early Marx, was an emphatic proponent of historicism. In Gramsci’s view, all meaning derives from the relation between human practical activity (or “praxis“) and the “objective” historical and social processes of which it is a part. Ideas cannot be understood outside their social and historical context, apart from their function and origin. The concepts by which we organise our knowledge of the world do not derive primarily from our relation to things, but rather from the social relations between the users of those concepts. As a result, there is no such thing as an unchanging “human nature“, but only an idea of such which varies historically. Furthermore, philosophy and science do not “reflect” a reality independent of man, but rather are only “true” in that they express the real developmental trend of a given historical situation.

For the majority of Marxists, truth was truth no matter when and where it is known, and scientific knowledge (which included Marxism) accumulated historically as the advance of truth in this everyday sense. On this view, Marxism could not be said to not belong to the illusory realm of the superstructure because it is a science. In contrast, Gramsci believed Marxism was “true” in the socially pragmatic sense, in that by articulating the class consciousness of the proletariat, it expressed the “truth” of its times better than any other theory. This anti-scientistic and anti-positivist stance was indebted to the influence of Benedetto Croce. However, it should be underlined that Gramsci’s was an “absolute historicism” that broke with the Hegelian and idealist tenor of Croce’s thinking and its tendency to secure a metaphysical synthesis in historical “destiny”.

Though Gramsci repudiates the charge, his historical account of truth has been criticised as a form of relativism.

Critique of “economism”

In a famous pre-prison article entitled “The Revolution against Das Kapital“, Gramsci claimed that the October Revolution in Russia had invalidated the idea that socialist revolution had to await the full development of capitalist forces of production. This reflected his view that Marxism was not a determinist philosophy. The principle of the causal “primacy” of the forces of production, he held, was a misconception of Marxism. Both economic changes and cultural changes are expressions of a “basic historical process”, and it is difficult to say which sphere has primacy over the other. The fatalistic belief, widespread within the workers’ movement in its earliest years, that it would inevitably triumph due to “historical laws”, was, in Gramsci’s view, a product of the historical circumstances of an oppressed class restricted mainly to defensive action, and was to be abandoned as a hindrance once the working-class became able to take the initiative. Because Marxism is a “philosophy of praxis”, it cannot rely on unseen “historical laws” as the agents of social change. History is defined by human praxis and therefore includes human will. Nonetheless, will-power cannot achieve anything it likes in any given situation: when the consciousness of the working-class reaches the stage of development necessary for action, historical circumstances will be encountered which cannot be arbitrarily altered. It is not, however, predetermined by historical inevitability as to which of several possible developments will take place as a result.

His critique of economism also extended to that practised by the syndicalists of the Italian trade unions. He believed that many trade unionists had settled for a reformist, gradualist approach in that they had refused to struggle on the political front in addition to the economic front. While Gramsci envisioned the trade unions as one organ of a counter-hegemonic force in capitalist society, the trade union leaders simply saw these organizations as a means to improve conditions within the existing structure. Gramsci referred to the views of these trade unionists as “vulgar economism”, which he equated to covert reformism and even liberalism.

Critique of Materialism

By virtue of his belief that human history and collective praxis determine whether any philosophical question is meaningful or not, Gramsci’s views run contrary to the metaphysical materialism and ‘copy’ theory of perception advanced by Engels and Lenin, though he does not explicitly state this. For Gramsci, Marxism does not deal with a reality that exists in and for itself, independent of humanity. The concept of an objective universe outside of human history and human praxis was, in his view, analogous to belief in God; there could be no objectivity, but only a universal intersubjectivity to be established in a future communist society. Natural history was thus only meaningful in relation to human history. On his view philosophical materialism, like primitive common sense, resulted from a lack of critical thought, and could not, as Lenin[1] claimed, be said to oppose religious superstition. Despite this, Gramsci resigned himself to the existence of this arguably cruder form of Marxism: the proletariat’s status as a dependent class meant that Marxism, as its philosophy, could often only be expressed in the form of popular superstition and common sense. Nonetheless, it was necessary to effectively challenge the ideologies of the educated classes, and to do so Marxists must present their philosophy in a more sophisticated guise, and attempt to genuinely understand their opponents’ views.


External links

Further reading

His Observations on the Famous Novel (1937)

Written: 1937
First Published: Joan London, Jack London and His Times,
Source: The New International, Vol. XI No. 3, April 1945, p. 95.
Transcription/Mark-up: Einde O’Callaghan.
Copyleft: Leon Trotsky Internet Archive ( 2016. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0.

Trotsky’s commentary on Jack London’s great classic, The Iron Heel, was written in Mexico some time in 1937. Originally, it was published as part of the biography, Jack London and His Times, written by his daughter, Joan London, to whose courtesy we are obliged for its reproduction in these pages. Joan London writes us that an earlier letter from Trotsky explained why The Iron Heel struck him so forcibly, due to the fact that he had been unaware of its existence until she sent him a copy. It is not necessary to add anything else to what we print here by Trotsky, except to note that the abruptness of its opening sentence is due to the omission from the original published text of the first paragraph. – Editor

… The book produced upon me – I speak without exaggeration – a deep impression. Not because of its artistic qualities: the form of the novel here represents only an armor for social analysis and prognosis. The author is intentionally sparing in his use of artistic means. He is himself interested not so much in the individual fate of his heroes as in the fate of mankind. By this, however, I don’t want at all to belittle the artistic value of the work, especially in its last chapters beginning with the Chicago commune. The pictures of civil war develop in powerful frescoes. Nevertheless, this is not the main feature. The book surprised me with the audacity and independence of its historical foresight.

The world workers’ movement at the end of the last and the beginning of the present century stood under the sign of reformism. The perspective of peaceful and uninterrupted world progress, of the prosperity of democracy and social reforms, seemed to be assured once and for all. The first Russian revolution, it is true, revived the radical flank of the German social-democracy and gave for a certain time dynamic force to anarcho-syndicalism in France. The Iron Heel bears the undoubted imprint of the year 1905. But at the time when this remarkable book appeared, the domination of counterrevolution was already consolidating itself in Russia. In the world arena the defeat of the Russian proletariat gave to reformism the possibility not only of regaining its temporarily lost positions but also of subjecting to itself completely the organized workers’ movement. It is sufficient to recall that precisely in the following seven years (1907–14) the international social-democracy ripened definitely for its base and shameful role during the World War.

Jack London not only absorbed creatively the impetus given by the first Russian revolution but also courageously thought over again in its light the fate of capitalist society as a whole. Precisely those problems which the official socialism of this time considered to be definitely buried: the growth of wealth and power at one pole, of misery and destitution at the other pole; the accumulation of social bitterness and hatred; the unalterable preparation of bloody cataclysms – all those questions Jack London felt with an intrepidity which forces one to ask himself again and again with astonishment: when was this written? Really before the war?

One must accentuate especially the role which Jack London attributes to the labor bureaucracy and to the labor aristocracy in the further fate of mankind. Thanks to their support, the American plutocracy not only succeeds in defeating the workers’ insurrection but also in keeping its iron dictatorship during the following three centuries. We will not dispute with the poet the delay which can but seem to us too long. However, it is not a question of Jack London’s pessimism, but of his passionate effort to shake those who are lulled by routine, to force them to open their eyes and to see what is and what approaches. The artist is audaciously utilizing the methods of hyperbole. He is bringing the tendencies rooted in capitalism: of oppression, cruelty, bestiality, betrayal, to their extreme expression. He is operating with centuries in order to measure the tyrannical will of the exploiters and the treacherous rôle of the labor bureaucracy. But his most “romantic” hyperboles are finally much more realistic than the bookkeeper-like calculations of the so-called “sober politicians.”

It is easy to imagine with what a condescending perplexity the official socialist thinking of that time met Jack London’s menacing prophecies. If one took the trouble to look over the reviews of The Iron Heel at that time in the German Neue Zeit and Vorwärts, in the Austrian Kampf and Arbeiterzeitung, as well as in the other socialist publications of Europe and America, he could easily convince himself that the thirty-year-old “romanticist” saw incomparably more clearly and farther than all the social-democratic leaders of that time taken together. But Jack London bears comparison in this domain not only with the reformists. One can say with assurance that in 1907 not one of the revolutionary Marxists, not excluding Lenin and Rosa Luxemburg, imagined so fully the ominous perspective of the alliance between finance capital and labor aristocracy. This suffices in itself to determine the specific weight of the novel.

The chapter, The Roaring Abysmal Beast, undoubtedly constitutes the focus of the book. At the time when the novel appeared this apocalyptical chapter must have seemed to be the boundary of hyperbolism. However, the consequent happenings have almost surpassed it. And the last word of class struggle has not yet been said by far! The “Abysmal Beast” is to the extreme degree oppressed, humiliated, and degenerated people. Who would now dare to speak for this reason about the artist’s pessimism? No, London is an optimist, only a penetrating and farsighted one. “Look into what kind of abyss the bourgeoisie will hurl you down, if you don’t finish with them!” This is his thought.

Today it sounds incomparably more real and sharp than thirty years ago. But still more astonishing is the genuinely prophetic vision of the methods by which the Iron Heel will sustain its domination over crushed mankind. London manifests remarkable freedom from reformistic pacifist illusions. In this picture of the future there remains not a trace of democracy and peaceful progress. Over the mass of the deprived rise the castes of labor aristocracy, of praetorian army, of an all-penetrating police, with the financial oligarchy at the top. In reading it one does not believe his own eyes: it is precisely the picture of fascism, of its economy, of its governmental technique, its political psychology! The fact is incontestable: in 1907 Jack London already foresaw and described the fascist regime as the inevitable result of the defeat of the proletarian revolution. Whatever may be the single “errors” of the novel – and they exist – we cannot help inclining before the powerful intuition of the revolutionary artist.

“One day I walked with one of these middle-class gentlemen into Manchester. I spoke to him about the disgraceful unhealthy slums and drew his attnetion to the disgusting conditions of that part of town in which the factory workers lived.

I declared that I had never seen so badly built a town in my life.
He listened patiently and at the corner of the street at which we parted company he remarked:

‘And yet there is a good deal of money made here. Good morning, Sir.'”– Friedrich Engels, THE CONDITION OF THE WORKING CLASS IN ENGLAND.

“The dreaming collective knows no history” — Walter Benjamin.

A critical review I’ve been reading.

George Orwell is often presented as a critic of any thoroughgoing attempt to change the world. Yet he was a socialist and a fighter against inequality, exploitation and oppression.

Orwell’s major writings – Homage to Catalonia, Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four – all address the question of whether it is possible to build a fundamentally different society. Orwell’s politics developed and shifted during a tumultuous period in world history – an era of war and revolution. To understand his works, we have to understand the times in which he wrote them.

Orwell was born into a middle class family of colonial administrators. He attended Eton, Britain’s most exclusive private school, before joining the Indian Imperial Police, stationed in Burma (Myanmar) in the early 1920s. The experience radically shaped his world view. Orwell was exposed to the ugliest and most brutal aspects of the system. “For five years I had been part of an oppressive system, and it had left me with a bad conscience”, he wrote in The road to Wigan Pier in 1936.

“I wanted to submerge myself, to get right down among the oppressed, to be one of them and on their side against their tyrants.”

Orwell returned to Europe in 1925 and worked in low wage jobs, living, observing and recording the conditions and experiences of the working poor. Down and out in Paris and London, written in 1933, is a powerful indictment of the way the rich thrive by pushing the vast majority downwards into poverty, drudgery and unemployment.

Orwell concluded that a socialist party had to be formed in Britain and capitalism overthrown. His socialism was rooted deeply in moral outrage. But he remained uncertain about whether exploited workers had the capacity to understand the need for a new world.

“The first thing that must strike any outside observer is that socialism in its developed form is a theory confined entirely to the middle classes … so far as my experience goes, no genuine working man grasps the larger implications of Socialism”, he wrote in 1936. The question was to be settled for Orwell in the space of year. Not in London or Paris, but in Barcelona in the heat of revolution.


On 17 July, the fascist general Francisco Franco launched a military coup to put an end to a seven-year worker and peasant revolt that had challenged the running of Spanish capitalism. The Spanish workers, aware of the fate of their comrades in Germany and Italy, were not prepared to go quietly. Their rallying cry became: “Better Vienna than Berlin!” (In Berlin Nazism had triumphed without a fight, while in Vienna workers armed themselves and resisted fascism to the last.)

Immediately, Franco was halted. His army was defeated in two-thirds of Spain. With the old Republican government crippled and the army in revolt, workers were in power across sections of Spain. Orwell travelled to the country to assist in the fight against fascism. He arrived in Barcelona just after Christmas. The scenes did away with his uncertainties about the capacity of workers to transform the world.

“It was the first time that I had ever been in a town where the working class was in the saddle”, he later wrote. “Practically every building of any size had been seized by the workers and was draped with red flags … Every shop and cafe had an inscription saying that it had been collectivised; even the bootblacks had been collectivised and their boxes painted red and black. Waiters and shop-walkers looked you in the face and treated you as an equal … I recognised it immediately as a state of affairs worth fighting for.”

Barcelona completely transformed Orwell’s understanding of socialism. At first hand he experienced the political maturity, courage and profound ability of workers to create a new society. Orwell had seen workers’ power and was not about to turn his back on it. He resolved to stay in Spain and join a working class militia.

Orwell’s sojourn in revolutionary militancy in Spain, his commitment to socialism, is an awkward fact for many of his conservative biographers. Robert Colls, for instance, decries Orwell’s role in the revolution as a flight of fancy, condescendingly stating that he “might have spent a little less time responding to his own experiences, and a little more time thinking about the art of the politically possible”.

Initially, Orwell had little understanding of or interest in the political differences between the groups fighting in Spain. But he would soon learn that the fate of the struggle hung on the debates between the working class organisations central to the resistance.

Orwell joined the POUM in early 1937. The organisation identified as Trotskyist and argued that the way to win the war against Franco was to complete the social revolution that was already under way. It would be possible to defeat fascism only if workers were aware that they were fighting for their complete liberation from all forms of exploitation.

The counter-argument came from the Stalinist Communist Party, which argued that the war needed to be won first, and that workers could make a revolution only after fascism had been defeated. Workers needed to keep Spanish capitalists on side, and this meant avoiding anything that would scare them off – such as taking control of production or arming themselves in the streets. The number one imperative for the Stalinists was therefore to put this revolutionary situation to an end as quickly as possible.

When Orwell arrived back in Barcelona from the front in May, the Communist Party was attempting to do just this. As troops tried to take back the worker-controlled Barcelona Telephone Exchange, workers rose up to defend themselves. Tragically, the other workers’ organisations, particularly the anarchist CNT and the POUM, refused to give a lead to the uprising. After days of fighting, workers began to take down the barricades, opening the way for a wave of repression. Orwell escaped across the border to France just as other members of the POUM were being rounded up by Stalinist secret police.

Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky had said that at the beginning of the revolution: “In its specific gravity in the country’s economic life, in its political and cultural level, the Spanish working class stood on the first day of the revolution not below but above the Russian workers at the beginning of 1917.” Now, a great workers’ revolution was crushed under the heel of fascism and Stalinism. A great hope vanished.

Orwell’s impassioned account of the war, Homage to Catalonia, written upon his return to Britain, was an attempt to expose the betrayals of Stalinism – this theme became a particular obsession for him in the years to come. Criticism came at a cost. The British left was dominated by Stalinism, and finding a publisher for the book proved very difficult.

Nonetheless, having witnessed a different kind of society, his determination to see socialism in Britain was intensified. Orwell planned to oppose the Second World War on internationalist grounds, and even made preparations to build an underground organisation to undertake “illegal anti-war activities”.

Based on his experience of the ease with which the Spanish capitalist class and the Republicans opened up to Franco, Orwell was convinced that the working class was the only force that would put up sustained opposition to fascism. He said in 1941:

“The feeling of all true socialists is at bottom reducible to the ‘Trotskyist’ slogan: ‘The war and the revolution are inseparable’. We cannot beat Hitler without passing through revolution, nor consolidate our revolution without beating Hitler.”

When workers’ revolution failed to materialise at the end of the war, Orwell collapsed into despair, writing in 1945:

“I wanted to think that the class distinctions and imperialist exploitation of which I was ashamed would not return.” It was in this period of disillusionment that Orwell produced his two best known works.

Animal Farm is a biting satire of the tragic defeat of the Russian revolution. It’s also a deeply humanistic text, with sympathetic characters: Old Major, the wise pig representing Marx; Snowball representing Leon Trotsky; Boxer, the sturdy farm horse standing in for the exploited Russian working class; and finally Napoleon, the representative of Stalin, who betrays the revolution, reconciles with the old rulers, and raises the slogan

“All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.”

The most common interpretation of Animal Farm is that it is a warning against any attempts to change the world. But rather than being a defence of the status quo, Animal Farm contains in allegorical form a damning critique of capitalist exploitation, as Old Major explains:

“We are born, we are given just so much food as will keep the breath in our bodies, and those of us who are capable are forced to work to the last atom of our strength, and the very instant that our usefulness has come to an end we are slaughtered with hideous cruelty.”

Orwell himself answered the question of whether Animal Farm was intended as an anti-revolutionary text in a letter to Dwight Macdonald, a former Trotskyist: “I did mean it to have a wider application … What I was trying to say was…

“You can’t have a revolution unless you make it for yourself; there is no such thing as a benevolent dictatorship.”

Nonetheless, in some respects Animal Farm falls well short of its stated intentions. Rather than presenting a radical alternative to Stalinist dictatorship, the book offers no substantial analysis of how the revolution was defeated, leaving the reader with no answer to the devastation of Soviet betrayals.

Orwell failed to identify the material limitations faced by Russian workers as they took control of society. Economic crisis gathered as the First World War took its toll. Besieged by commercial blockade and the might of 14 foreign armies, the industrial working class that made the revolution sharply diminished in size and political enthusiasm. The Bolshevik party grew into a massive bureaucratic apparatus, compelled to stand in for a working class too defeated to wield power directly.

Nineteen Eighty-Four is Orwell’s best-known work, and the meaning of the book is fiercely contested. It was intended by Orwell as a critique of bureaucracy and totalitarianism in both Britain and the Soviet Union. Indeed, increasingly it is becoming identified not with Stalinism, but with the surveillance state in the post-9/11 world.

The novel’s protagonist is Winston Smith, who lives under the watch of Big Brother and the thought police in a totalitarian state. What gives the novel its power is Winston’s growing consciousness and rejection of the existing state of affairs, summed up by the note he scrawls in his diary:

“Freedom is the freedom to say two plus two equals four. If that is granted all else follows”.

Orwell gestures to potential resistance, with the refrain: “If there is hope, it lies with the proles.”

Yet as he quietly opens this door, he shuts it quickly. Rather than being a source of resistance, of strength, cunning and self-sacrifice, as the Spanish workers appear in Homage to Catalonia, the working class in Nineteen Eighty-Four appears purely passive. The “proles” are described by Orwell as “like the ant which can see small objects but not large ones” and “people who had never learned to think”.

The sense of futility and abject despair deepens when the resistance movement that Winston dedicates himself to turns out to be a fabrication, an invention of Big Brother. Winston is captured, is tortured into submission and recants his oppositional views, declaring his undying love for Big Brother. His defeat is absolute.

Nineteen Eighty-Four is in many respects the most profound expression of Orwell’s pessimism.

“If you want a picture of the future”, Winston’s torturer tells him at the climax of the book,

“imagine a boot stamping on a human face forever”.

By the time of his death in 1950, Orwell had abandoned any hope for revolutionary change in the near future and had accommodated to the ruling Labour government as a “lesser evil”. But he never abandoned his visceral hatred of inequality and exploitation.

How did Orwell shift from putting his life on the line for socialism in Spain, to later falling into extreme pessimism? There were a number of factors.

First, Orwell’s embrace of socialist politics coincided with a period of horrific defeat for the working class internationally. The Trotskyist opposition was in the late 1920s imprisoned or exiled from the Soviet Union, and the gains of the Russian Revolution were being erased as a brutal dictatorship was consolidated. German and Italian workers were crushed under the heel of fascism, which annihilated their organisations and left their leaders languishing in concentration camps. This period, which the writer Victor Serge referred to as “midnight in the century”, was one of despair for the left internationally.

Second, Cold War hysteria divided politics into the two equally barbarous camps of Soviet totalitarianism and Western capitalism. Orwell’s opposition to Stalinism was fuelled by the conviction that the fraudulent socialism in Russia must be exposed in order to fight for the genuine article. However, lacking faith that the working class movement in both England and Russia provided an alternative to Stalinist dictatorship and British liberal capitalism, he increasingly threw his lot in with the latter as a lesser evil.

Compounding this, the anti-Stalinist left was too small to provide Orwell with any centre of gravity. His fleeting contact with British Trotskyists, who attempted to defend genuine revolutionary Marxism against the dictatorship in Russia, was not enough to negate the demoralisation that followed such crushing defeats. Had a substantial revolutionary organisation existed at the time, Orwell might have found hope through actively involving himself in renewed resistance to capitalism.

Only a couple of years after Orwell’s death, the monolith of Stalinism was cracked open. In 1953, construction workers went on strike in East Berlin and sparked a mass revolt. In 1956 workers across Hungary occupied factories, offices, railways and power stations and ran them themselves.

The revolts kept coming. In 1968 in Czechoslovakia, the brute force of Stalinist tanks was necessary to put down a revolutionary movement demanding change. In 1980, workers in Gdansk, an industrial city in Poland, occupied their factories and issued the following proclamation:

“We are different now, above all because we are united, and therefore stronger. We are different because in 30 years we have learned that their promises are illusions. We are different because we have understood that when we hear the words ‘financial reorganisation’, this means exploitation.”

The movement spread across the country, and it took the government more than a year to wrest power back from the workers.

Had Orwell seen these uprisings and the birth of a new anti-Stalinist left that followed, perhaps he would have been reminded of his earlier experiences. If he had been around to see the Egyptian revolution of 2011, the general strikes against austerity in Greece, the Baltimore rebellion, it’s safe to say he would have been on the side of the downtrodden.

And if Orwell was shocked by the inequality and class distinction that was so clearly observable in 1936 London, what would he say about a world where the richest 69 individuals now own more wealth than the bottom 3.5 billion people?

In 1942, he recalled a moment from Spain when he shook hands and locked eyes with an Italian militiaman, who like him had travelled to fight for the working class:

“The question is very simple. Shall people like that Italian soldier be allowed to live the decent, fully human life which is now technically achievable, or shan’t they? Shall the common man be pushed back into the mud, or shall he not?”

Seventy years later, the question remains a good one. As is Orwell’s answer:

“I myself believe that the common man will win his fight sooner or later, but I want it to be sooner and not later – sometime within the next hundred years, say, and not sometime within the next ten thousand. That was the real issue of the Spanish war, and of the present war, and perhaps of other wars yet to come.”

Shared from:’s-socialism

It’s worth noting, Orwell has been co-opted by every capitalist regime on Earth. They point to 1984 as the cautionary tale of what happens if you go totalitarian, claiming that the Orwellian society is modeled on Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany. But this general co-option and location of the text within a particular historical narrative is but another example of how the “Ministry of Truth” operates.

1984 seems to be accurately describing all the major regimes contemporary to Orwell, especially Britain and the USA. 

As has been pointed out by many before, 1984 is an anagram of 1948, the year that the book was published, indicating it is not a prediction of a potential future, but a veiled description of an actual present.

1984 has affected me since school, it is a cautionary tale (a blueprint?) against the total state after the warring life under capitalist states, with society swinging from one extreme to the other. It has been a cautionary tale, similar to the ‘Boy in striped Pyjamas.’ about use and abuse of power by any institution.

These institutions, once they gain power, whether they be in the name of capitalism or communism, and the form of a state, a multinational , a church, a media, a bank or anything. Too much power corrupts and total power corrupts totally. All people and all institutions need to be on their guard about the corruption, whether it be group think or just an individual. For me it was a book warning institutions to take care of their whistle blowers as they guard an institution’s health.

History is tainted by the historians of the State

For 75 years, the British state and right-wing commentators and historians like DC Watt have covered up the truth, allowing anti-Communists of every stripe to get away with the lie that the Soviets preferred a pact with Nazi Germany to one with the West.
Some of the most extreme right wingers today even use the pact to hold the Soviet Union jointly responsible for the Second World War.
Now, as the truth emerges thanks to Russian sources, it’s undeniable that it was the British and French ruling classes – as well as the reactionary Polish junta – who didn’t want a united front against facism, hoping they could appease Hitler and turn Nazi Germany against the Soviet Union.
What a catastrophic mistake, which capitalism’s intellectuals have been lying about ever since.

It’s worth noting that Blair/Orwell was criticised as an opportunist and anti-semite who assisted in the blacklisting of communists in post-war Britain.

My new art and philosophy project for 2015 will incorporate the Aesthetics of Resistance and Creative Destruction.

I came across a phrase in a recent debate on classical Marxism and modern Capitalism by Joseph Schumpeter (Austrian. Economist. 1919) “Creative Destruction” within Capital. Schumpeter was a supporter of capitalism and capitalist free market economics.

So decided to do some research (and thus prevaricating and diverting from my philosophy MA research yet again! Lol).

Joseph Schumpeter (1883–1950) coined the seemingly paradoxical term creative destruction, and generations of economists have adopted it as a shorthand description of the free market’s messy way of delivering progress.

In Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy (1942), the Austrian economist wrote: “The opening up of new markets, foreign or domestic, and the organizational development from the craft shop to such concerns as U.S. Steel illustrate the same process of industrial mutation—if I may use that biological term—that incessantly revolutionizes the economic structure from within, incessantly destroying the old one, incessantly creating a new one. This process of Creative Destruction is the essential fact about capitalism.” (p. 83)

Although Schumpeter devoted a mere six-page chapter to “The Process of Creative Destruction,” in which he described capitalism as “the perennial gale of creative destruction,” it has become the centerpiece for modern thinking on how economies evolve.

Schumpeter and the economists who adopt his succinct summary of the free market’s ceaseless churning echo capitalism’s critics in acknowledging that lost jobs, ruined companies, and vanishing industries are inherent parts of the growth system. The saving grace comes from recognizing the good that comes from the turmoil.

Over time, societies that allow creative destruction to operate grow more productive and richer; their citizens see the benefits of new and better products, shorter work weeks, better jobs, and higher living standards.

Herein lies the paradox of progress.

A society cannot reap the rewards of creative destruction without accepting that some individuals might be worse off, not just in the short term, but perhaps forever.

At the same time, attempts to soften the harsher aspects of creative destruction by trying to preserve jobs or protect industries will lead to stagnation and decline, short-circuiting the march of progress. Schumpeter’s enduring term reminds us that capitalism’s pain and gain are inextricably linked. The process of creating new industries does not go forward without sweeping away the preexisting order.

Transportation provides a dramatic, ongoing example of creative destruction at work. With the arrival of steam power in the nineteenth century, railroads swept across the United States, enlarging markets, reducing shipping costs, building new industries, and providing millions of new productive jobs. The internal combustion engine paved the way for the automobile early in the next century. The rush to put America on wheels spawned new enterprises; at one point in the 1920s, the industry had swelled to more than 260 car makers. The automobile’s ripples spilled into oil, tourism, entertainment, retailing, and other industries. On the heels of the automobile, the airplane flew into our world, setting off its own burst of new businesses and jobs.

Americans benefited as horses and mules gave way to cars and airplanes, but all this creation did not come without destruction. Each new mode of transportation took a toll on existing jobs and industries. In 1900, the peak year for the occupation, the country employed 109,000 carriage and harness makers. In 1910, 238,000 Americans worked as blacksmiths.

Today, those jobs are largely obsolete.

After eclipsing canals and other forms of transport, railroads lost out in competition with cars, long-haul trucks, and airplanes.
In 1920, 2.1 million Americans earned their paychecks working for railroads, compared with fewer than 200,000 today.

What occurred in the transportation sector has been repeated in one industry after another—in many cases, several times in the same industry.

Creative destruction recognizes change as the one constant in capitalism.

Sawyers, masons, and miners were among the top thirty American occupations in 1900. A century later, they no longer rank among the top thirty; they have been replaced by medical technicians, engineers, computer scientists, and others.

Technology roils job markets, as Schumpeter conveyed in coining the phrase “technological unemployment”, e-mail, word processors, answering machines, and other modern office technology have cut the number of secretaries but raised the ranks of programmers.

The birth of the Internet spawned a need for hundreds of thousands of webmasters, an occupation that did not exist as recently as 1990. LASIK surgery often lets consumers throw away their glasses, reducing visits to optometrists and opticians but increasing the need for ophthalmologists. Digital cameras mean fewer photo clerks.

Companies show the same pattern of destruction and rebirth. Only five of today’s hundred largest public companies were among the top hundred in 1917. Half of the top hundred of 1970 had been replaced in the rankings by 2000.

“The essential point to grasp is that in dealing with capitalism we are dealing with an evolutionary process,” – Schumpeter wrote (p. 82).

Schumpeter summed up how entrepreneurship and competition fuel creative destruction as follows:

“The fundamental impulse that sets and keeps the capitalist engine in motion comes from the new consumers’ goods, the new methods of production or transportation, the new markets, the new forms of industrial organization that capitalist enterprise creates.” (p. 83)

Entrepreneurs introduce new products and technologies with an eye toward making themselves better off—the profit motive.

New goods and services, new firms, and new industries compete with existing ones in the marketplace, taking customers by offering lower prices, better performance, new features, catchier styling, faster service, more convenient locations, higher status, more aggressive marketing, or more attractive packaging.

In another seemingly contradictory aspect of creative destruction, the pursuit of self-interest ignites the progress that makes others better off.

Producers survive by streamlining production with newer and better tools that make workers more productive. Companies that no longer deliver what consumers want at competitive prices lose customers, and eventually wither and die.

The market’s invisible hand—a phrase owing not to Schumpeter but to Adam Smith—shifts resources from declining sectors to more valuable uses as workers, inputs, and financial capital seek their highest returns.

Through this constant roiling of the status quo, creative destruction provides a powerful force for making societies wealthier. It does so by making scarce resources more productive. The telephone industry employed 421,000 switchboard operators in 1970, when Americans made 9.8 billion long-distance calls.

With advances in switching technology over the next three decades, the telecommunications sector could reduce the number of operators to 156,000 but still ring up 106 billion calls. An average operator handled only 64 calls a day in 1970. By 2000, that figure had increased to 1,861, a staggering gain in productivity. If they had to handle today’s volume of calls with 1970s technology, the telephone companies would need more than 4.5 million operators, or 3 percent of the labor force. Without the productivity gains, a long-distance call would cost six times as much.

The telephone industry is not an isolated example of creative destruction at work. In 1900, nearly forty of every hundred Americans worked in farming to feed a country of ninety million people. A century later, it takes just two out of every hundred workers. Despite one of history’s most thorough downsizings, the country has not gone hungry. The United States enjoys agricultural plenty, producing more meat, grain, vegetables, and dairy products than ever, thanks largely to huge advances in agricultural productivity.

Resources no longer needed to feed the nation have been freed to meet other consumer demands. Over the decades, workers no longer required in agriculture moved to the cities, where they became available to produce other goods and services. They started out in foundries, meatpacking plants, and loading docks in the early days of the Industrial Age. Their grandsons and granddaughters, living in an economy refashioned by creative destruction into the Information Age, are less likely to work in those jobs. They are making computers, movies, and financial decisions and providing a modern economy’s myriad other goods and services.

Over the past two centuries, the Western nations that embraced capitalism have achieved tremendous economic progress as new industries supplanted old ones. Even with the higher living standards, however, the constant flux of free enterprise is not always welcome. The disruption of lost jobs and shuttered businesses is immediate, while the payoff from creative destruction comes mainly in the long term. As a result, societies will always be tempted to block the process of creative destruction, implementing policies to resist economic change.

Attempts to save jobs almost always backfire. Instead of going out of business, inefficient producers hang on, at a high cost to consumers or taxpayers. The tinkering shortcircuits market signals that shift resources to emerging industries. It saps the incentives to introduce new products and production methods, leading to stagnation, layoffs, and bankruptcies. The ironic point of Schumpeter’s iconic phrase is this: societies that try to reap the gain of creative destruction without the pain find themselves enduring the pain but not the gain.

Author – W. Michael Cox senior vice president and chief economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. Richard Alm is an economics writer at the Dallas Fed. They are coauthors of Myths of Rich and Poor (1999).

Further Reading
Cox, W. Michael, and Richard Alm. “The Churn: The Paradox of Progress.” Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, annual report, 1992.
Davis, Stevens J., John Haltwanger, and Scott Schuh. Gross Job Creation, Gross Job Destruction. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1996.
Schumpeter, Joseph A. Business Cycles: A Theoretical, Historical, and Statistical Analysis of the Capitalist Process. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1939.
Schumpeter, Joseph A. Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy. 3d ed. 1942. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1950.
Schumpeter, Joseph A. The Theory of Economic Development: An Inquiry into Profits, Capital, Credit, Interest, and the Business Cycle.Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1936.




Why Socialism?


Is it advisable for one who is not an expert on economic and social issues to express views on the subject of socialism?

I believe for a number of reasons that it is.

Let us first consider the question from the point of view of scientific knowledge. It might appear that there are no essential methodological differences between astronomy and economics: scientists in both fields attempt to discover laws of general acceptability for a circumscribed group of phenomena in order to make the interconnection of these phenomena as clearly understandable as possible. But in reality such methodological differences do exist. The discovery of general laws in the field of economics is made difficult by the circumstance that observed economic phenomena are often affected by many factors which are very hard to evaluate separately. In addition, the experience which has accumulated since the beginning of the so-called civilized period of human history has—as is well known—been largely influenced and limited by causes which are by no means exclusively economic in nature. For example, most of the major states of history owed their existence to conquest. The conquering peoples established themselves, legally and economically, as the privileged class of the conquered country. They seized for themselves a monopoly of the land ownership and appointed a priesthood from among their own ranks. The priests, in control of education, made the class division of society into a permanent institution and created a system of values by which the people were thenceforth, to a large extent unconsciously, guided in their social behavior.

But historic tradition is, so to speak, of yesterday; nowhere have we really overcome what Thorstein Veblen called “the predatory phase” of human development. The observable economic facts belong to that phase and even such laws as we can derive from them are not applicable to other phases. Since the real purpose of socialism is precisely to overcome and advance beyond the predatory phase of human development, economic science in its present state can throw little light on the socialist society of the future.

Second, socialism is directed towards a social-ethical end. Science, however, cannot create ends and, even less, instill them in human beings; science, at most, can supply the means by which to attain certain ends. But the ends themselves are conceived by personalities with lofty ethical ideals and—if these ends are not stillborn, but vital and vigorous—are adopted and carried forward by those many human beings who, half unconsciously, determine the slow evolution of society.

For these reasons, we should be on our guard not to overestimate science and scientific methods when it is a question of human problems; and we should not assume that experts are the only ones who have a right to express themselves on questions affecting the organization of society.

Innumerable voices have been asserting for some time now that human society is passing through a crisis, that its stability has been gravely shattered. It is characteristic of such a situation that individuals feel indifferent or even hostile toward the group, small or large, to which they belong. In order to illustrate my meaning, let me record here a personal experience. I recently discussed with an intelligent and well-disposed man the threat of another war, which in my opinion would seriously endanger the existence of mankind, and I remarked that only a supra-national organization would offer protection from that danger. Thereupon my visitor, very calmly and coolly, said to me: “Why are you so deeply opposed to the disappearance of the human race?”

I am sure that as little as a century ago no one would have so lightly made a statement of this kind. It is the statement of a man who has striven in vain to attain an equilibrium within himself and has more or less lost hope of succeeding. It is the expression of a painful solitude and isolation from which so many people are suffering in these days. What is the cause? Is there a way out?

It is easy to raise such questions, but difficult to answer them with any degree of assurance. I must try, however, as best I can, although I am very conscious of the fact that our feelings and strivings are often contradictory and obscure and that they cannot be expressed in easy and simple formulas.

Man is, at one and the same time, a solitary being and a social being. As a solitary being, he attempts to protect his own existence and that of those who are closest to him, to satisfy his personal desires, and to develop his innate abilities. As a social being, he seeks to gain the recognition and affection of his fellow human beings, to share in their pleasures, to comfort them in their sorrows, and to improve their conditions of life. Only the existence of these varied, frequently conflicting, strivings accounts for the special character of a man, and their specific combination determines the extent to which an individual can achieve an inner equilibrium and can contribute to the well-being of society. It is quite possible that the relative strength of these two drives is, in the main, fixed by inheritance. But the personality that finally emerges is largely formed by the environment in which a man happens to find himself during his development, by the structure of the society in which he grows up, by the tradition of that society, and by its appraisal of particular types of behavior. The abstract concept “society” means to the individual human being the sum total of his direct and indirect relations to his contemporaries and to all the people of earlier generations. The individual is able to think, feel, strive, and work by himself; but he depends so much upon society—in his physical, intellectual, and emotional existence—that it is impossible to think of him, or to understand him, outside the framework of society. It is “society” which provides man with food, clothing, a home, the tools of work, language, the forms of thought, and most of the content of thought; his life is made possible through the labor and the accomplishments of the many millions past and present who are all hidden behind the small word “society.”

It is evident, therefore, that the dependence of the individual upon society is a fact of nature which cannot be abolished—just as in the case of ants and bees. However, while the whole life process of ants and bees is fixed down to the smallest detail by rigid, hereditary instincts, the social pattern and interrelationships of human beings are very variable and susceptible to change. Memory, the capacity to make new combinations, the gift of oral communication have made possible developments among human being which are not dictated by biological necessities. Such developments manifest themselves in traditions, institutions, and organizations; in literature; in scientific and engineering accomplishments; in works of art. This explains how it happens that, in a certain sense, man can influence his life through his own conduct, and that in this process conscious thinking and wanting can play a part.

Man acquires at birth, through heredity, a biological constitution which we must consider fixed and unalterable, including the natural urges which are characteristic of the human species. In addition, during his lifetime, he acquires a cultural constitution which he adopts from society through communication and through many other types of influences. It is this cultural constitution which, with the passage of time, is subject to change and which determines to a very large extent the relationship between the individual and society. Modern anthropology has taught us, through comparative investigation of so-called primitive cultures, that the social behavior of human beings may differ greatly, depending upon prevailing cultural patterns and the types of organization which predominate in society. It is on this that those who are striving to improve the lot of man may ground their hopes: human beings are not condemned, because of their biological constitution, to annihilate each other or to be at the mercy of a cruel, self-inflicted fate.

If we ask ourselves how the structure of society and the cultural attitude of man should be changed in order to make human life as satisfying as possible, we should constantly be conscious of the fact that there are certain conditions which we are unable to modify. As mentioned before, the biological nature of man is, for all practical purposes, not subject to change. Furthermore, technological and demographic developments of the last few centuries have created conditions which are here to stay. In relatively densely settled populations with the goods which are indispensable to their continued existence, an extreme division of labor and a highly-centralized productive apparatus are absolutely necessary. The time—which, looking back, seems so idyllic—is gone forever when individuals or relatively small groups could be completely self-sufficient. It is only a slight exaggeration to say that mankind constitutes even now a planetary community of production and consumption.

I have now reached the point where I may indicate briefly what to me constitutes the essence of the crisis of our time. It concerns the relationship of the individual to society. The individual has become more conscious than ever of his dependence upon society. But he does not experience this dependence as a positive asset, as an organic tie, as a protective force, but rather as a threat to his natural rights, or even to his economic existence. Moreover, his position in society is such that the egotistical drives of his make-up are constantly being accentuated, while his social drives, which are by nature weaker, progressively deteriorate. All human beings, whatever their position in society, are suffering from this process of deterioration. Unknowingly prisoners of their own egotism, they feel insecure, lonely, and deprived of the naive, simple, and unsophisticated enjoyment of life. Man can find meaning in life, short and perilous as it is, only through devoting himself to society.

The economic anarchy of capitalist society as it exists today is, in my opinion, the real source of the evil. We see before us a huge community of producers the members of which are unceasingly striving to deprive each other of the fruits of their collective labor—not by force, but on the whole in faithful compliance with legally established rules. In this respect, it is important to realize that the means of production—that is to say, the entire productive capacity that is needed for producing consumer goods as well as additional capital goods—may legally be, and for the most part are, the private property of individuals.

For the sake of simplicity, in the discussion that follows I shall call “workers” all those who do not share in the ownership of the means of production—although this does not quite correspond to the customary use of the term. The owner of the means of production is in a position to purchase the labor power of the worker. By using the means of production, the worker produces new goods which become the property of the capitalist. The essential point about this process is the relation between what the worker produces and what he is paid, both measured in terms of real value. Insofar as the labor contract is “free,” what the worker receives is determined not by the real value of the goods he produces, but by his minimum needs and by the capitalists’ requirements for labor power in relation to the number of workers competing for jobs. It is important to understand that even in theory the payment of the worker is not determined by the value of his product.

Private capital tends to become concentrated in few hands, partly because of competition among the capitalists, and partly because technological development and the increasing division of labor encourage the formation of larger units of production at the expense of smaller ones. The result of these developments is an oligarchy of private capital the enormous power of which cannot be effectively checked even by a democratically organized political society. This is true since the members of legislative bodies are selected by political parties, largely financed or otherwise influenced by private capitalists who, for all practical purposes, separate the electorate from the legislature. The consequence is that the representatives of the people do not in fact sufficiently protect the interests of the underprivileged sections of the population. Moreover, under existing conditions, private capitalists inevitably control, directly or indirectly, the main sources of information (press, radio, education). It is thus extremely difficult, and indeed in most cases quite impossible, for the individual citizen to come to objective conclusions and to make intelligent use of his political rights.

The situation prevailing in an economy based on the private ownership of capital is thus characterized by two main principles: first, means of production (capital) are privately owned and the owners dispose of them as they see fit; second, the labor contract is free. Of course, there is no such thing as a pure capitalist society in this sense. In particular, it should be noted that the workers, through long and bitter political struggles, have succeeded in securing a somewhat improved form of the “free labor contract” for certain categories of workers. But taken as a whole, the present day economy does not differ much from “pure” capitalism.

Production is carried on for profit, not for use. There is no provision that all those able and willing to work will always be in a position to find employment; an “army of unemployed” almost always exists. The worker is constantly in fear of losing his job. Since unemployed and poorly paid workers do not provide a profitable market, the production of consumers’ goods is restricted, and great hardship is the consequence. Technological progress frequently results in more unemployment rather than in an easing of the burden of work for all. The profit motive, in conjunction with competition among capitalists, is responsible for an instability in the accumulation and utilization of capital which leads to increasingly severe depressions. Unlimited competition leads to a huge waste of labor, and to that crippling of the social consciousness of individuals which I mentioned before.

This crippling of individuals I consider the worst evil of capitalism. Our whole educational system suffers from this evil. An exaggerated competitive attitude is inculcated into the student, who is trained to worship acquisitive success as a preparation for his future career.

I am convinced there is only one way to eliminate these grave evils, namely through the establishment of a socialist economy, accompanied by an educational system which would be oriented toward social goals. In such an economy, the means of production are owned by society itself and are utilized in a planned fashion. A planned economy, which adjusts production to the needs of the community, would distribute the work to be done among all those able to work and would guarantee a livelihood to every man, woman, and child. The education of the individual, in addition to promoting his own innate abilities, would attempt to develop in him a sense of responsibility for his fellow men in place of the glorification of power and success in our present society.

Nevertheless, it is necessary to remember that a planned economy is not yet socialism. A planned economy as such may be accompanied by the complete enslavement of the individual. The achievement of socialism requires the solution of some extremely difficult socio-political problems: how is it possible, in view of the far-reaching centralization of political and economic power, to prevent bureaucracy from becoming all-powerful and overweening? How can the rights of the individual be protected and therewith a democratic counterweight to the power of bureaucracy be assured?

Clarity about the aims and problems of socialism is of greatest significance in our age of transition. Since, under present circumstances, free and unhindered discussion of these problems has come under a powerful taboo, I consider the foundation of this magazine to be an important public service. – Albert Einstein, 1949.

This statement rings as true today as it did when Einstein wrote it in May 1949.

The only thing that dates it in the slightest, is the fact that television, global multi-media and the Internet are absent from the listed sources of information.