Sunshine Recorder

Link: Charity is not a Substitute for Justice

Poor Americans need higher salaries, not food drives.

On November 15, thousands of people in San Francisco worked together to make an ailing child’s wish come true. Miles Scott, a five-year-old boy recovering from leukaemia, dreamed of becoming "Batkid". At the behest of the Make-a-Wish Foundation, a charity which grants the wishes of children with life-threatening illnesses, San Franciscans staged an elaborate series of events for Scott and his family. He rode in the Batmobile, rescued a damsel in distress, and received national press coverage and a personal messagefrom President Barack Obama.

The public effort for Scott shows what a difference kindness and compassion can make for a family in need. But one of the reasons the Batkid outreach was so moving is that it is such a rare occurrence.

In an era where bad luck is mistaken for bad character, the plight of those worse off tends to be ignored or portrayed as a perverse form of retribution. Poverty becomes both a crime and its own punishment, even for children. In many US schools, a child who cannot come up with lunch money is expected to go hungry. In Texas, a 12-year-old’s lunch was thrown in the trash because he could not come up with 30 cents.

The outreach for Batkid was celebrated as a triumph of the human spirit. But what it demonstrated is how much better society could be if generosity were consistently applied towards all, instead of concentrated into brief celebratory affairs.

"Charity is no substitute for justice withheld," Saint Augustine once declared. This is painfully clear in San Francisco and its surrounding area, home to some of the highest income inequality in the country.

"San Francisco itself is turning into a private, exclusive club," noted Anisse Gross in The New Yorker. “The city, long reputed as a haven for provocateurs and cultural innovators, has quickly transformed into a playground for the rich, where tech money sends rental prices soaring as the less fortunate tenants battle it out with the rent board.”

Capricious generosity is not a replacement for a living wage, nor is it a basis for a functioning society.

As journalist Alyssa Rosenberg argues, Batkid was supported by the tech community, who saw the event as a way to indulge in their own superhero fantasies. Yet the broader message of the tech community is that most children do not deserve to be saved. Silicon Valley is a region of “masters and servants”, where homelessness has increased 8 percent, as salaries skyrocket. A proposal for Silicon Valley to secede and therefore deny taxpayer money to social programmes benefiting low-income residents, including children, was met by many with approval.

Charity as a substitute

Charity, as a supplement to justice, should be applauded. But charity as a substitute for justice is neither charity nor justice. It is cruelty.

The same week that the nation cheered a charitable effort to make one child’s wish come true, the largest employer in the US held a charity drive for some of its own workers. Wal-Mart, whose six heirs to the company fortune have as much wealth as the bottom 42 percent of Americans, pays its workers salaries so low that many qualify for food stamps.

The costs are then transferred to taxpayers. A report by the House Committee on Education and the Workforce estimated that one Wal-Mart Supercenter employing 300 workers could cost taxpayers at least $904,000 annually.

Yet instead of raising salaries to allow employees to live above the dole, Wal-Mart encourages charity - a common panacea to social plight. Universities employing adjunct professors, who are also paid below poverty wages, have held similar food drives for their employees.

In September, Margaret Mary Vojtko, a Duquesne University professor, who had worked at the school for 25 years, died in abject poverty with an annual salary of less than $10,000. Responding to accusations of callousness, Duquesne noted that they had offered Vojtko charity, such as an offer to fix her furnace. A Slatearticle promising the “real story” of Vojtko argued that she brought her troubles upon herself by refusing Duquesne’s gifts while working with a growing movement of adjuncts attempting to unionise.

In other words, Vojtko refused charity while pursuing justice. This is not a position to condemn.

Fiscal stability that relies on gifts is not stability. It is a guarantee of insecurity: income based not on work but on whim. Capricious generosity is not a replacement for a living wage, nor is it a basis for a functioning society. Charity is no substitute for justice.

Living on a gamble

In rural Missouri, there is a store called Nick’s Gun and Pawn. Locals can trade their weapons for household items, or vice versa.

Attempts to ensure stability and independence for citizens - such as affordable healthcare - are decried as government “charity” while corporate charity is proffered as a substitute for a living wage.

It is one of many examples of one of the most overlooked stories in the great recession: the explosion of pawn shops and payday loan outlets throughout the US. Between 2009 and 2011, the rate of Americans using high-cost nonbank credit soared to 14 percent, and included a rise in population segments once considered economically advantaged, but now unable to afford daily needs.

Pawn shops and payday loans are the flip side of the US’ turn to charity over justice. Both phenomena speak to a seemingly permanent impermanence: The replacement of a reliable salary for hard work, with high-cost gambles and unpredictable donations.

In much of the US, possessions are not things you own. They are disaster protection, what you trade to survive. The consequences are not only material but psychological. When you are constantly gambling, the future comes to look like a bad bet.

Journalist Gillian Tett notes that poorer Americans, living check to check, are “more likely to perceive the future as a chaotic series of short-term cycles”. When people are expected towork unpaid for the promise of work, the advantage goes to those immune from the hustle: the owners over the renters, the salaried over the contingent. Attempts to ensure stability and independence for citizens - such as affordable healthcare - are decried as government “charity” while corporate charity is proffered as a substitute for a living wage.

"We don’t plan long-term because if we do, we’ll just get our hearts broken," wrote Linda Walther Tirado, a blogger who described her own struggle with poverty in a much circulated essay. “It’s best not to hope. You just take what you can get as you spot it.”

"Taking what you can get" is also the path pursued by corporations and people who prefer cheap acts of charity to long-term investments in justice. It is a path that encourages citizens to depend on arbitrary generosity while decrying stable programmes that help people through tough times. It trades in racial stereotypes, portraying the poor as lazy, violent and “undeserving” of either assistance or the benefit of the doubt.

On November 23, East Saint Louis, an impoverished city with a high rate of gun violence, offered a trade to city residents: bring in your gun and receive a $100 gift certificate at a local grocery store. At 9 am, a long line had formed of residents with guns in hands. Within ten minutes, $10,000 of grocery store gift cards had been given away.

Some were surprised by the outcome. They should not have been. Ours is an economy of survival. Violence is often the last resort for people out of options. When presented with options, they chose food.

Charity, for the giver, is the trade of cash for a moral fix. As the Make-a-Wish showed, charity can be beautiful. But it is an investment in the present, not the future. If you value the future - if you value a society where people can imagine their future - work for justice.

Link: The Front Lines of Ferguson

I don’t know what made me buy a plane ticket to St. Louis at 1:15 a.m. on Tuesday.

Maybe it was remembering that feeling of helplessness and guilt after learning of the Trayvon Martin verdict while embarking on a carefree cross-country road trip. Maybe it was Eric Garner, who died only weeks ago in New York, after a police officer wrestled him to the ground and choked him. Maybe it was going to the south side of Chicago last month, stepping into Trinity United Church of Christ, made famous by the union of Barack Obama and now–pastor emeritus Jeremiah Wright in 2008. Maybe it was hearing the church’s announcements about the shooting and murder of kids from its congregation that I’d later read about in the news that evening.

But perhaps it was just me. A black boy turned black man who finds it increasingly miraculous that I made it to 27. A black man with a black mother who was alive in the South for the final push of Jim Crow. And a black man with a black mother with black parents who would have done anything so that their children and grandchildren wouldn’t have to live a life in fear of the dogs. And the hoses. And the bombs.

Either way, learning that an 18-year-old named Michael Brown had been shot by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, and left in the street to die, pushed me to a breaking point.

It felt like I had to come to Ferguson. Not as a journalist, but as a black man fed up with the idea of black boys who are unable to become black men.

I knew I couldn’t tell my mom. She’d be proud I was here, but it would also worry her to no end. And it would be unnecessary worry. Because I’d be fine.

“Be careful out there — it’s a war zone.”

Stephanie at the Holiday Inn Express looked up and said this to me as I told her I was taking a cab to Ferguson on Tuesday afternoon.

After hours of trying and failing to locate the next pop-up protest in St. Louis proper, I found myself just outside Ferguson, at the Greater St. Mark Family Church.

My phone was telling me an ominous story about what was happening just a few miles away:

But inside the church, away from the tension gathering outside, the tone was upbeat and positive, like a temporary cease-fire. The mood turned somber when Brown’s family arrived, and much of the joy in the room gave way to pain.

Leaders from the community and afar — the church’s pastor, as well as people like Akbar Muhammad of the Nation of Islam and Reverend Al Sharpton — took turns addressing the crowd. The messages vacillated between what the people wanted to hear and what they needed to hear. But one thing was consistent: advising, pleading with, and begging the community not to turn to violence once they left through the church doors. Not to repeat the rioting and looting of Saturday night. One of Michael Brown’s cousins addressed the congregation, and while justice for his family member was at the forefront of his speech, his purpose was also to remind those in attendance that if they needed a reason to remain peaceful, they should do so for Brown’s family.

As I looked through the stained-glass windows while the speeches and sermons continued, day turned to night. This was the time of worry. This was when “peaceful protest” could become a subjective term.

With the service still pushing on, a crowd of more than 100 had trickled out of the church onto its front lawn. The “hands up, don’t shoot” chant — an allusion to what witnesses said were Brown’s last action and words — could be heard, loud and unified. I could feel the shared anger among the congregation’s members, united by the wrongdoings of their police department.

But eventually, different factions with different agendas formed.

“Don’t shoot”

“Shoot back.”

“Black power.”

“Fuck the police.”

“Fuck that, we don’t shoot back. We don’t shoot shit. Don’t y’all listen to that rhetoric.”

“Say it loud, I’m black and I’m proud.”

“Hands up, don’t shoot.”

“We been protesting for 400 years, shoot the fuck back.”

“We don’t need to be fighting each other.”

The history of being black in America is the history of nonviolence versus “fight back.” Of wait versus now. Of a turned cheek versus self-defense. Suddenly, this was becoming the latest chapter in black America’s “what next?” history. And on the steps outside of the church, each group had its Martin and its Malcolm. They all wanted the same thing, but the answers provided in the church weren’t enough for a consensus.

For almost an hour, I watched agreements and disagreements. It was tense but peaceful. There wasn’t a sense that anything terrible was going to happen. But it was clear the breaking point was approaching. And if another day came and went without the police releasing the shooter’s name, that breaking point would arrive.

I left the church, and the crowds, and went back to my hotel.

“I would bet anything that this soul food restaurant would be open on Wednesday, simply because it was open on Tuesday. And I would lose everything.”

Andre, the cab driver dispatched to my Holiday Inn Express, said this as we arrived at Celebrity Soul Food in Ferguson, to find that it was closed on Wednesdays. “Our people, man,” he said. “I love us.”

Since eating yams and greens was no longer in the cards, I asked if he’d take me to the mall. And unlike with other cabdrivers on this trip, Andre and I just bonded. The tragedy was visibly affecting him. He has a son. And he couldn’t help but think about his son whenever he thought about Mike Brown.

Earlier on Wednesday, the Ferguson Police Department released a statement that many in the community hoped would include the name of the officer who killed Michael Brown. But instead of closure, the statement — dripping with insincerity, condescension, and authoritarianism — only made things worse to the aggrieved people of Ferguson.

“The City of Ferguson mourns the loss of Michael Brown’s life that occurred this past Saturday.”

That occurred.

“We ask that any groups wishing to assemble in prayer or in protest do so only during the daylight hours.”

Only during the daylight hours.

“We further ask all those wishing to demonstrate or assemble to disperse well before the evening hours.”

Disperse well before the evening hours.

This felt like an invitation — a dare, even — for the citizens of Ferguson to disobey this thinly veiled curfew masked as a suggestion. From the moment I read it, I knew something bad would happen.

“My youngest nephew, he’s gonna be a big guy, he’s a big kid already. And he’s just — he’s a teddy bear. You know … I’m overwhelmed.”

My cabdriver Lisa said this as she dropped me off at my hotel around 5 p.m. I needed to grab my phone chargers and change clothes, and then I was going to head to Ferguson, with the intention of staying — until. Within minutes of being back in my room, the tweets started filling up my timeline. There was talk of tanks near the QuikTrip, the convenience store near where Brown was killed, which was later burned and looted on Saturday night.

As I considered my next move, I looked down at myself: scuffed-up Jordans, black socks, shorts, tank top, oversize denim button-down, a hat atop my head. And brown skin. I looked like I was from Ferguson.

Once I arrived, I had the cab drop me off away from the major hub of protests, West Florissant Avenue. Because I wanted to walk around and feel out Ferguson during the daytime.

My stroll was cut short, however, when I received a text.

“They got Wesley. They arrested Wesley.”

This appeared to be true, but I still tried to call Wesley Lowery, a reporter for the Washington Post. No response. So I immediately called a cab. No response. I called another cab. No response. I called two more cabs. No response.

Then I called Andre. He picked up, but he wasn’t close enough to get me any time soon.

I was three miles away from the QuikTrip with the tanks on West Florissant and had run out of options. I had no choice but to walk. Because, with darkness rapidly approaching, no cab was coming to my part of Ferguson in the near future.

When you make that long walk down West Florissant, eventually you get to the top of a hill. I don’t know what’s usually on the horizon, but on Wednesday it was the faint glimmer of police lights. Even in the light of day, the sight was ominous. Because there was already a feeling that beyond those lights sat a battlefield.

When I showed up, it was anything but. The police had blocked car traffic, giving pedestrians an “enter at your own risk” look as they moved forward. I expected to walk in and see protesters and police officers inches away from each other’s faces, screaming. Instead I heard gospel music blaring from a flatbed truck. This wasn’t war. This was a post-funeral barbecue … that just happened to have tanks and a small army standing before it.

I’d never had an assault rifle pointed at me before. I’d never locked eyes with a man holding an assault rifle atop a tank. But this was reality in Ferguson — those who’d been protesting for hours in front of these tanks had long passed the point of being scared of these soldiers.

As darkness fell, the crowd was growing, in number and volume. I wasn’t sure which side was going to back down, voluntarily or forcibly. Or when.

At one point, one of the cops appeared to smile. It ignited the crowd, which had made a habit of focusing on specific cops, either in an attempt to rattle them, to draw out any sign of humanity, or simply to shame them.

Then there was the helicopter, circling the crowd with a spotlight shining down. Most of the front line of protesters threw the middle finger whenever the light zeroed in on them.

And then there was the first request, which felt more like a demand.

“PLEASE STEP AWAY. TWENTY-FIVE FEET.”

Begrudgingly, we moved back, but it only made us louder. And angrier. And again, as we got louder and angrier, the sky grew darker.

And then, a second time:

“PLEASE STEP AWAY. TWENTY-FIVE FEET.”

And we got even louder. And angrier. But again, we moved back.

Text after text was coming in from friends, telling me to be safe. I internalized it, without quite knowing what that meant in the moment. At this point, the only way to truly be safe was to leave Ferguson. And I couldn’t leave yet. Not when mothers had their babies out here, screaming, “Hands up, don’t shoot!” Not yet.

At that moment, I gave up on trying to be safe. All I could be was smart.

Walking back to the front lines, I overheard an argument between two women, not about the army in front of us but about Al Sharpton. One woman claimed he was a punk for not being here fighting, and the other said he was doing things behind the scenes so that we could get justice.

And then a third party chimed in: “Everybody entitled to their own opinion, this for Mike Brown right now.” It calmed the situation down briefly, and everyone turned their attention back to “hands up, don’t shoot.”

The chant went strong for 30 seconds, until protesters grew weary of saying the same thing over and over again. And then, moments after the chant had died down, I heard glass break and the sound of a loosed gas canister.

“THIS IS NO LONGER A PEACEFUL PROTEST WHEN YOU TRY TO INJURE PEOPLE,” said the voice from the tank.

A man sitting near me was the first person I saw start to run. Then, suddenly, we were all running. I remember looking over my shoulder as my legs churned beneath me. The police were shooting flares and I didn’t want to get hit in the back. But I didn’t stop running, because I didn’t want the smoke to catch up. There was also the sound of weapons firing. And this siren. This terrible, terrible siren.

At some point, I fell. And, for a moment, I could feel the smoke in my lungs. The mix of the weapons firing and the smoke and the sirens froze me for a second, and then I got up to hide behind a tree. There were screams — “LET’S GO!” Some yelled at the cops: “Come lock me the fuck up!” “On the side of y’all car it says ‘to protect and serve’ and y’all ain’t protecting shit!” “There’s fucking kids out here and you throwing smoke bombs!”

Eventually, they’d pushed the majority of the crowd back to the nearest intersection. But most people weren’t leaving. And then the voice from the tank spoke again:

“RETURN TO YOUR VEHICLES AND RETURN TO YOUR HOMES, YOU MAY NO LONGER BE IN THE AREA. IT IS NO LONGER A PEACEFUL PROTEST. YOU ARE NOT PEACEFULLY ASSEMBLED. YOU MUST LEAVE OR BE SUBJECT TO ARREST.”

The more that voice from the tank spoke, the more agitated those that hung around became. And the less interested many were in following its orders.

“Y’all made this unpeaceful. That’s your fault. We was peaceful until y’all did that shit. Smoke bombs and people got their kids out here? Really?”

Reaching into my pocket for my phone, I realized that when I fell, I’d landed on it. It was done.

I wanted to leave, but I needed to send some type of message indicating that I was OK. I was at least an hour away from being anyplace where I could text or tweet.

As I searched for someone with a phone, everyone around me was ready to fight.

“Oh, y’all want us to shoot back. We’ll shoot back, just wait.”

“Tonight’s the last peaceful night. Know that.”

Shit, I immediately thought. Someone is going to die tonight.

Eventually, I met Michael Calhoun. He works at KMOX, the CBS radio affiliate out of St. Louis. He still had some juice in his phone and let me send a few tweets. Then we returned to the main street to see what was up. It seemed calmer than when we’d headed to the car. Smoke was in the air, but it wasn’t new smoke.

And then what felt like a bomb went off.

I don’t know what it was, but it sounded like a bomb. I don’t know what I was talking about when the explosion happened, but I ran. I caught Michael’s eye as he ran back to his car, letting him know he didn’t have to wait up.

I kept running. I didn’t know where I was running, but I was running. Now there were explosions and sirens and smoke and gunshots and a helicopter shining its light through the neighborhood. We scattered like roaches, and I couldn’t help but wonder if the cops thought of us that way.

And I kept running.

I can’t believe I didn’t call my mom.

After weaving through the streets, realizing that I’d gone in some sort of circle, I ran into a camera crew. One of the men let me attempt to charge my phone in his car. I laid down on the grass briefly, but then propped myself up because I couldn’t get the smoke out of my throat. A man walking down the street stopped and we stood there, coughing and spitting for 10 seconds.

And then what sounded like another bomb went off.

As we ran across the street, away from the sound of the explosion, a helicopter shone its light on us. We instinctively ducked, as if a prison watch guard had caught us trying to break out. And I grabbed my stuff. We told each other to be safe, and I started running toward the main street. I figured if I could just get up this one block, I’d find my way to the car blockade, and then I’d be safe.

Then I froze. I could see the soldiers marching up West Florissant. They looked like monsters.

At that moment, I didn’t feel like a journalist. There was nothing about this event that I felt the need to chronicle. There was no time to find out what the bombs actually were and what was actually coming out of the guns and what type of gas was coming out of the canisters. In this moment, there was nothing I felt the need to broadcast to the world. I didn’t even have the desire to communicate my safety or lack thereof.

I was just a black man in Ferguson.

So I ran into the darkness. Every 10 to 15 seconds, I’d hear a shot. Or another bomb. Or I’d duck into someone’s yard as the light from the helicopter found me. When it disappeared, I’d run again.

As I took my first turn right — knowing that, eventually, there had to be a major road to the right — I ran past three kids no more than 16 years old. They had bandannas around their mouths and were running back into the melee. “You running the wrong way,” one of them said to me, without breaking his stride. And then they disappeared into a different darkness.

Shit. Someone is going to die tonight.

I stopped for a moment, and then a few more shots went off and I kept running, eyes full of tears.

I knew I was far away enough from it all that I’d probably be fine. But those kids, I didn’t know. Those were the same kind of black boys I worry about daily, who brought me to Ferguson in the first place. It was seeing those kids running toward the monsters that ultimately made me break down.

But I kept running. And even though I got farther and farther away, each sound reminded me of what had just happened, and what was still happening. I don’t know how long I ran. Eventually, I saw a car with red lights. It was the road. Chambers Road.

I felt like I’d entered a different universe. Like I was the character in the movie who didn’t know what year it was. And like no one had any idea what was happening only blocks away. Why I was so sweaty. Why I was breathing so heavily. Why my voice was rattling. Why I was so terrified.

I didn’t know what to do. And my phone was dead. So I walked up the street to London’s Wing House and told them I’d order a three-piece if they let me make one call. They obliged.

I called Andre because his card was sitting in my wallet, and it was the only number I had.

When he answered, he immediately asked, “You good?” He suspected I’d been down there and said he’d be to me in 10 minutes.

For a while, I sat outside the Wing House, stunned. Then it began to sink in. I needed to get out of here. I wished every single car that drove by was Andre’s black car. They all looked black until they got close. And it was never Andre behind the wheel. As I waited for that black car to pull up, a yellow cab pulled alongside me and the driver looked at me. It was Andre. Why did I think his car was black? Where did that thought even come from?

He got out of the car and we shook hands. He asked if I was OK. I told him not really, but that I was here and that I appreciated him coming. And then I gave him the address of where he was taking me, the Holiday Inn Express. 10000 Natural Bridge Road.

“Rem, I picked you up from there. Remember?”

“Oh yeah.”

I was rattled. And he knew it. And he let me explain everything that happened. As badly as I wanted out of this area, I couldn’t stop talking to him. We stood outside his taxi for 10 minutes before we even entertained leaving. Once I was done detailing what I’d seen, Andre told me he’d been watching the news with his mother when I called.

“I thought this was over,” Andre’s mom had said, referring to the days of the dogs and the hoses and the bombs and all the other forms of police brutality and intimidation that marked her life.

He said he didn’t have an answer for her. And I shook my head, because I didn’t have an answer for him. So we just got into the car and drove away.

Link: In Defense of the Ferguson Riots

The protesters in Ferguson aren’t irrational or apolitical. They are calling attention to their basic, unmet needs.

Over the weekend, police in Ferguson, Missouri murdered Michael Brown, a black teenager. While details are still trickling in, it’s clear that during a confrontation with a squad car a block away from his grandmother’s house, an officer shot and killed the unarmed teen in the middle of the street. Witnesses say Brown was running away from the policeman and had his hands in the air just before the officer shot him.

Ferguson is a city with a large concentration of poor blacks under the control of overwhelmingly white institutions. The killing immediately struck a nerve. Rallies and protests erupted as people took to the streets — eventually culminating in a riot. Crowds went from holding candle light vigils at the site of Brown’s death to burning down a number of businesses and lighting molotov cocktails during confrontations with police. How did we get here?

Far from a mindless, violent mob, the people of Ferguson were engaged in concerted political consciousness-raising leading up to the insurrection. A video taken at the scene shows a number of political
agitators talking with the crowd, converting momentary outrage into political unity. One speaker in particular, a young black male, offers a cogent political analysis that frames the injustice of police brutality as a byproduct of the community’s economic dislocation.

We keep giving these crackers our money, staying in they complexes, and we can’t get no justice. No respect. They ready to put you out [if you] miss a bill … You got to be fed up.

Riots, like other forms of political action, can build solidarity. They can create strong feelings of common identity. The outrage in Ferguson quickly attracted marginalized people throughout the region. Rather than evidence of illegitimacy, the presence of these “outsiders” reflected the magnetic power of the political moment.

From the outset, the anti-police police rallies that preceded the riots had a clear “us versus them” dynamic. At one point during the rally, the woman holding the camera says, “Where the thugs at? Where the street tribes when we need y’all?” and the crowd then begins to call on various street gangs to abandon “black-on-black” violence and unite in struggle against oppression. The community was unified and ready to take action. The police were the problem, and they had to be stopped.

The crowd was not irrational and apolitical. They were attempting to use this opportunity to address their broader political needs. They knew that intraracial violence within the community was also an issue, and that in most cases the perpetrators of violence are the communities’ own children, cousins, friends, and neighbors. Though many claim that black people don’t care about violence within our communities, the crowd’s calls for gang unity demonstrate that anti-police uprisings provide unique opportunities to unite people in ways that seek to resolve long-term issues like gang violence.

Following the insurrection, participants continued to discuss the uprising in political terms. DeAndre Smith, who was present at the burned down QuikTrip, told the local news, “I believe that they’re too much worried about what’s going on to their stores and their commerce and everything. They’re not worried about the murder.” A second man added, “I just think what happened was necessary, to show the police that they don’t run everything.” Smith then concludes, “I don’t think they did enough.”

In a second interview, this time with Kim Bell of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Smith expanded on his belief in the riot as a viable political strategy.

This is exactly what’s supposed to happen when an injustice is happening in your community … I was out here with the community, that’s all I can say … I don’t think it’s over, honestly. I think they just got a case of what fighting back means, in St. Louis, the last state to abolish slavery. Do they think they still have power over certain things? I believe so.

This is how they receive money: businesses and taxes, police stopping people and giving them tickets, taking them to court, locking them up — this is how they make money in St. Louis. Everything is all about money in St. Louis. So when you stop their flow of income they have things organized in a certain way … ‘we’re gonna eat, you’re gonna starve,’ gentrification — put you in a certain neighborhood by yourself and see if you can starve … It’s not going to happen, not in St. Louis.

Smith identifies what so many self-styled anti-racists and leftists fail to understand — that racism is not an issue of moral character. He recognizes that the broader economic order facilitates and benefits from racial subjugation, and so he’s looking for ways to intervene and disrupt that process. Not only is this a more substantive analysis than what is often offered on the Left, but acting on this analysis is the only way to eradicate entrenched racial hierarchy.

Typically, when events like the Ferguson rebellion occur, well-meaning people rush to condemn the participants. At a minimum, they dismiss rioting as unproductive and opportunistic — a few bad apples spoiling the bunch. This is precisely the attitude that Deandre Smith was criticizing in his first interview. Most detractors, some of whom are black themselves, seek to police these communities with “respectability politics” — a call for subjugated people to present themselves in ways that are acceptable to the dominant class in an effort to make political gains.

As the political scientist Frederick Harris wrote in an article this year:

What started as a philosophy promulgated by black elites to ‘uplift the race’ by correcting the ‘bad’ traits of the black poor has now evolved into one of the hallmarks of black politics in the age of Obama, a governing philosophy that centers on managing the behavior of black people left behind in a society touted as being full of opportunity.

But the politics of respectability has been portrayed as an emancipatory strategy to the neglect of discussions about structural forces that hinder the mobility of the black poor and working class.

Whereas riots are often galvanizing community events with the potential to unleash concerted political energy in dynamic and unpredictable directions, the stale politics of respectability only leads to further marginalization and dislocation. Now, it’s possible to disagree with the utility of insurrection. But these communities’ responses to subjugation must be discussed in political terms and not simply dismissed out of hand.

We live in a context of white supremacy and neoliberal capitalism, where race-neutral policies are being used to maintain class exploitation and racial hierarchy, and any overt attempts to address racism are being dismantled or disregarded. These policies only intensify the economic dislocation and poverty experienced by those at the margins.

What both the local news interviewees and the crowd at the scene of Brown’s death seemed to understand was that they needed to disrupt the interplay between racial subjugation and capitalism. They felt that a march or some other acceptable form of benign indignation would not address their political needs — and they weren’t wrong.

Many of us rush to condemn these types of disruptions because we’re actually content with neoliberalism’s post-racial illusion. At the burned down QuikTrip, someone left a sign addressed to their “corporate neighbor,” in the hopes that the business would return: “Dear Corporate Neighbor, I am sorry this act of robbery & violence has happened. Please return soon. I stop in 2-3 time[s] per week.”

On the surface, addressing the effects of rioting is an important political issue. By framing themselves as a customer in need of their “corporate neighbor,” it’s possible that this person is acting not out of concern for the working people that lost their jobs — their actual neighbors — but from the fear that their shopping routine will be disturbed. Like Deandre Smith observed, we identify more strongly with broken windows than broken people.

From the Boston Tea Party to Shays’ Rebellion, riots made America, for better or worse. In the past, white rioters have had access to institutional power, which allowed some of their grievances to be legitimized and politically resolved, at least to extent possible in a capitalist society. The key for the Ferguson uprising, as with any unsustainable political moment, is to transition outrage and disruption into constructive political organization. Easier said than done — but it’s a better reaction than dismissing the riots and only making it more difficult for the people to accomplish this herculean task.

Malcolm X reminds us that media is a key instrument of subjugation because it determines which acts are respectable and which are extreme and thus illegitimate. Instead of following that familiar script, let’s push back against narratives about rioters being devoid of politics. Let’s find ways to honestly observe and discuss their political needs, rather than simply criticizing the nature of their response to social violence.

Link: Adam Curtis / Now Then: The Hidden Systems That Have Frozen Time And Stop Us Changing The World

If you are an American politician today, as well as an entourage you also have a new, modern addition. You have what’s called a “digital tracker”. They follow you everywhere with a high-definition video camera, and they are employed by the people who want to destroy your political career.

It’s called “opposition research” and the aim is to constantly record everything you say and do. The files are sent back every night to large anonymous offices in Washington where dozens of researchers systematically compare everything you said today with what you said in the past.

They are looking for contradictions. And if they find one - they feed it, and the video evidence, to the media.

On one hand it’s old politics - digging up the dirt on your opponent. But it is also part of something new - and much bigger than just politics. Throughout the western world new systems have risen up whose job is to constantly record and monitor the present - and then compare that to the recorded past. The aim is to discover patterns, coincidences and correlations, and from that find ways of stopping change. Keeping things the same.

We can’t properly see what is happening because these systems are operating in very different areas - from consumerism, to the management of your own body, to predicting future crimes, and even trying to stabilise the global financial system - as well as in politics.

But taken together the cumulative effect is that of a giant refrigerator that freezes us, and those who govern us, into a state of immobility, perpetually repeating the past and terrified of change and the future.

To bring this system into focus I want to tell the history of its rise, and its strange roots - the bastard love-child of snooping and high-level mathematical theory.

It begins with the grubby figure of the early 1960s in Britain - the Private Detective. Up till then private detectives mostly did divorce work. They would burst into hotel rooms to find a married person engaged in adulterous activity. Often these were prearranged situations, set up to supply the necessary evidence to get round Britain’s tough divorce laws.

Then two things happened. The divorce laws were reformed - which meant the bottom fell out of the market. But at the same time home movie cameras became cheap and available. Private detectives began to spend their time hiding round corners and behind bushes - recording what their suspects got up to.

Here are two clips I’ve put together. The first is one of the old-school private detectives going to a hotel room in Brighton to “surprise” the occupants. Followed by a wonderful item from 1973 where one of the new breed shows how he can film people without them noticing. Or so he says. From the evidence you’d doubt it.

He mostly works for the insurance companies - following people and filming them to see if they are faking an injury they are claiming for. I love the 8mm cameras he uses.

The item also includes an interview with a man who is opposed to this snooping. The interviewer says surely they are just trying to find the truth - that a film can’t lie. The man’s response is great:

A film can lie very easily - the insurance company or the investigator can edit the film. Supposing someone has a bad limp that only occurs on wet days, or it’s a nervous spasm that comes on some days rather than others. The film is shown in court - and shows only the good days when there’s no limp

It’s wonderfully silly - but he has a point. Bit like documentary films.

Then - in the early 1970s - the private detectives found they could buy another kind of technology really cheaply.

Bugging equipment.

A new business grew up - often based in tiny rooms above electronic hardware shops in central London. An odd collection of electrical engineers and refugees from the music industry spent their days soldering together miniature transmitters and microphones - and selling them to the private investigators.

Here’s a really good film made about this new world in 1973. It not only reports on what is happening - but also catches the essence of what was coming. Most of the film is just set in one room where there are three hidden bugs as well as the normal camera and microphone recording the presenter who is called Linda Blandford. But she doesn’t know where they are.

The film evokes the strange repetitive nature of an enclosed world where everything is recorded and played back. Way ahead of its time. It’s a smart bit of reporting.

But then - at the end of the 1970s - people began to get worried. It began with revelations that the security agencies were eavesdropping not just on enemy spies but on their own people. Trades unions, radical journalists, politicians had all had their phones bugged.

It quickly spread to a wider concern about all the snooping and bugging that was going on, not just by the state but by private investigators, and by journalists. It was the start of the concern that Britain was becoming a “surveillance society”.

Here is a bit report from that time about the growing fears. By now the private detective had become a man in a phone box blowing a harmonic whistle into the mouthpiece.

Journalists also started to get keen on all this new technology. It allowed them to snoop and listen to people in new ways. Here is great section from a fly-on-the wall documentary made about the News of the World in 1981.

There’s a wonderful assistant editor who is convinced that Special Branch is bugging his phone. While reporter David Potts is testing his bugging equipment that’s going to be used by Tina the junior reporter to expose a child sex ring in North London.

What then happens to Mr Potts’ scoop is very funny. And it shows how difficult it was back then to bug someone. It’s obvious that what they needed to find was an easier way of snooping on peoples’ lives.

In 1987 the growing paranoia finally burst out. The trigger was a BBC television series called The Secret Society made by an investigative journalist called Duncan Campbell.

In 6 half-hour films Campbell pulled what had been happening all together - and drew a frightening picture that still haunts the imagination of the liberal left.

Not only were the security services and the police secretly watching and listening to you - but dark elements of the “security state” had a corrupt relationship with the private security world. The films showed how investigators could easily buy confidential information on anyone.

And at the same time other secret bureaucracies were building giant listening networks - and keeping them hidden from politicians. One of the episodes was about the plans to launch a spy satellite called Zircon. Campbell revealed that the project had been kept hidden from the very politicians who were supposed to oversee it.

The government and the head of GCHQ panicked and put enormous pressure on the BBC, who caved in and said they wouldn’t transmit the episode. It was an enormous scandal - and it seemed to prove dramatically everything that Campbell was saying about the secret state who watched you - but didn’t want you to know things.

Here are some extracts from the series. In one bit Campbell reveals how, as well as the state, the private sector have developed huge computer databases full of information about millions of ordinary people. In a great sequence he goes to a market in Knaresborough in Yorkshire and asks people if they’d like to see what these databases know about them.

Their reactions of horror to what they are shown are so innocent. It’s like a lost world.

I’ve also included a brief bit from the Zircon film - so you can see what all the fuss was about. It didn’t remain banned for long - and has been shown since.

Looking back you can see how programmes like the Secret Society were part of the growing distrust of those who governed us. They seemed to prove that there were hidden, unaccountable and corrupt forces at the heart of the British state.

And the paranoia about surveillance carried on growing.

But at the very time as this happened - a new system of watching and monitoring people rose up. It would do pretty much what the spies and the private detectives had been trying to do - but much much more. It would record not just all our actions - but also be able to understand what was going on inside our heads - our wishes, our desires and our dislikes.

It was called the internet.

The problem was that the only way for the systems on the internet to work would be with our willing collusion. But rather than reject it - we all embraced it. And it flourished.

The key to why this happened lies in an odd experiment carried out in a computer laboratory in California in 1966.

A computer scientist called Joseph Weizenbaum was researching Artificial Intelligence. The idea was that computers could be taught to think - and become like human beings. Here is a picture of Mr Weizenbaum.

There were lots of enthusiasts in the Artificial Intelligence world at that time. They dreamt about creating a new kind of techno-human hybrid world - where computers could interact with human beings and respond to their needs and desires.

Weizenbaum though was sceptical about this. And in 1966 he built an intelligent computer system that he called ELIZA. It was, he said, a computer psychotherapist who could listen to your feelings and respond - just as a therapist did.

But what he did was model ELIZA on a real psychotherapist called Carl Rogers who was famous for simply repeating back the the patient what they had just said. And that is what ELIZA did. You sat in front of a screen and typed in what you were feeling or thinking - and the programme simply repeated what you had written back to you - often in the form of a question.

Weizenbaum’s aim was to parody the whole idea of AI - by showing the simplification of interaction that was necessary for a machine to “think”. But when he started to let people use ELIZA he discovered something very strange that he had not predicted at all.

Here is a bit from a documentary where Weizenbaum describes what happened.

Weizenbaum found his secretary was not unusual. He was stunned - he wrote - to discover that his students and others all became completely engrossed in the programme. They knew exactly how it worked - that really they were just talking to themselves. But they would sit there for hours telling the machine all about their lives and their inner feelings - sometimes revealing incredibly personal details.

His response was to get very gloomy about the whole idea of machines and people. Weizenbaum wrote a book in the 1970s that said that the only way you were going to get a world of thinking machines was not by making computers become like humans. Instead you would have to do the opposite - somehow persuade humans to simplify themselves, and become more like machines.

But others argued that, in the age of the self, what Weizenbaum had invented was a new kind of mirror for people to explore their inner world. A space where individuals could liberate themselves and explore their feelings without the patronising elitism and fallibility of traditional authority figures.

When a journalist asked a computer engineer what he thought about having therapy from a machine. He said in a way it was better because -

after all, the computer doesn’t burn out, look down on you, or try to have sex with you

ELIZA became very popular and lots of researchers at MIT had it on their computers. One night a lecturer called Mr Bobrow left ELIZA running. The next morning the vice president of a sales firm who was working with MIT sat down at the computer. He thought he could use it to contact the lecturer at home - and he started to type into it.

In reality he was talking to Eliza - but he didn’t realise it.

This is the conversation that followed.

But, of course, ELIZA didn’t ring him. The Vice President sat there fuming - and then decided to ring the lecturer himself. And this is the response he got:

Vice President - “Why are you being so snotty to me?”

Mr Bobrow - “What do you mean I am being snotty to you?”

Out of ELIZA and lots of other programmes like it came an idea. That computers could monitor what human beings did and said - and then analyse that data intelligently. If they did this they could respond by predicting what that human being should then do, or what they might want.

They key to making it work was a system called Boolean Logic.

It had been invented back in 1847 by a mathematician called George Boole. One day he’d been walking across a field near Doncaster when he had what he described as a “mystical experience”. Boole said that he felt he had been “called on to express the workings of the human mind in symbolic or mathematical form”.

Boole’s idea was that everything that went on in the human mind could be reduced to a series of yes or no decisions that could be written out on paper using symbols.

His idea was pretty much ignored for over a hundred years - except by Lewis Carroll who as well as writing Alice in Wonderland, wrote a book called Symbolic Logic - that laid out and developed Boole’s ideas.

But when computers were invented people immediately realised that Boole’s idea could be used to allow the computers to “think” in a reasoned way. Computers were digital - they were either 0 or 1 - and that was the same as “yes” and “no”. So Boolean Logic became central to the way computers work today. They are full of endless decision trees saying “if this happened then this, and not this”.

Here is a picture of George Boole taken in 1864. It was just before he died and it is one of the earliest portrait photos - he’d stopped off at the new London School of Photography at 174 Regent Street.

In the early 1990s researchers became convinced they could get computers to predict what people might want.

It started in 1992 with a small unit set up in the University of Minnesota. They called themselves GroupLens. Their idea was that if you could collect information on what people liked and then compare the data, you would find patterns - and from that you could make predictions.

They called it “Collaborative Filtering” - and the logic was beautifully Boolean. As one researcher put it -

If Jack loves A and B and Jill loves A, B, and C then Jack is more likely to love C.

They began by comparing the news articles that people recommended in online newsgroups-

GroupLens monitored user ratings of news articles. After a user had rated several items GroupLens was able to make recommendations about other articles the user might like. The results were astounding. Users read articles that we recommended highly three to four times as often as those we didn’t

Then, in 1994, a young professor at MIT did the same with music. She was called Pattie Maes - and she designed a system called RINGO. She set up a website where people listed songs and bands they liked. One user described how it worked

What Ringo did was give you 20 or so music titles by name, then asked one by one whether you liked it, didn’t like it, or knew it at all. That initialized the system with a small DNA of your likes and dislikes. Thereafter, when you asked for a recommendation, the program matched your DNA with that of all the others in the system. If some of the matches were not successful - saying so would perfect your string of bits. Next time would be even better

Again it worked amazingly well. And Maes started to do the same with movies. Then the University of Minnesota group had a brainwave. If these systems could tell you what articles and songs you would like - why couldn’t they tell you what products you would like as well?

So in 1997 they set up a company called Net Perceptions. And one of their first clients was Amazon.

But one of Amazon’s young software engineers called Greg Linden soon realised that there was a problem with these systems. You had to spend all your time finding out what people said they liked. And as the systems became bigger and bigger - this was proving incredibly cumbersome.

Plus - people were fickle and they changed their mind a lot. Or - in computer engineer speak - they were “dynamic”.

Linden saw what the solution was. You give up finding out what people said they liked and instead you just look at what they’ve done in the past. You assembled all the data from people’s history - all the stuff they’ve looked at and bought in the past - and then compared that with other peoples’ past.

Out of that came patterns and correlations that the human brain could not possibly see - but from those correlations you could tell what individuals would want in the future.

Linden was part of what was called The Personalization Group in Amazon. He said:

the joke in the group was that if the system were working perfectly, Amazon should just show you one book - which is the next book you are going to buy.

And it worked - sales soared, and Jeff Bezos who runs Amazon allegedly crawled up to Linden on his hands and knees saying “I am not worthy”.

What Amazon and many other companies began to do in the late 1990s was build up a giant world of the past on their computer servers. A historical universe that is constantly mined to find new ways of giving back to you today what you liked yesterday - with variations.

Interestingly, one of the first people to criticise these kind of “recommender systems” for their unintended effect on society was Patti Maes who had invented RINGO. She said that the inevitable effect is to narrow and simplify your experience - leading people to get stuck in a static, ever-narrowing version of themselves.

Stuck in the endless you-loop. Just like with ELIZA

But like so much of the modern digital world - these new systems are very abstract. And there is little to see that happens apart from endless fingers on keyboards. So it’s difficult to bring these effects into any kind of real focus.

Last year - in a live show I did with Massive Attack - we tried to evoke this new world. We used a song from the 1980s called “Bela Lugosi’s dead” - which I love because it has a very powerful feel of repetition. The audience were surrounded by 11 twenty-five foot high screens.

I’m not sure how successfully we did it - but what I was trying to show is how your past is continually being replayed back to you - like a modern ghost. And it means we stand still unable to move forwards. Like a story that’s got stuck.

I’ve put a short bit of it together from some camera-phone videos shot by the audience in New York. It’s a bit rough - as is the sound - but you’ll get a sense of it.

For all the online companies that use these systems, the fact that they tend to inhibit change is an unintended consequence.

But there are other - more powerful systems that grew up in the 1990s whose explicit aim is exactly that. To prevent the world from changing, and hold it stable.

And they operate in exactly the same way - by constantly monitoring the world and then searching their vast databases for patterns and correlations.

ALADDIN is the name of an incredibly powerful computer network that is based in a tiny town called East Wenatchee - it’s in the middle of nowhere in Washington State in North America.

Aladdin guides the investment of over $11 trillion of assets around the world.

This makes it incredibly powerful. Aladdin is owned by a company called Blackrock that is the biggest investor in the world. It manages as much money as all the hedge-funds and the private equity firms in the world put together. And its computer watches over 7% of all the investments in the world.

This is unprecedented - it’s a kind of power never seen before. But Blackrock is not run by a greedy, rapacious financier - the traditional figure of recent journalism. Blackrock is run by the very opposite - a very cautious man called Mr Fink

Here he is. He’s called Larry Fink

Back in 1986 Mr Fink was working his way up the First National Bank of Boston when an unpredicted fall in interest rates caused a disaster for the bank. He swore that it would never happen again - and for 20 years he built Aladdin.

It has within its memory a vast history of the past 50 years - not just financial - but all kinds of events. What it does is constantly take things that happen in the present day and compares them to events in the past. Out of the millions and millions of correlations - Aladdin then spots possible disasters - possible futures - and moves the investments to avoid that future happening.

I can’t over-emphasise how powerful Blackrock’s system is in shaping the world - it’s more powerful in some respects than traditional politics.

And it raises really important questions. Because its aim is to not change the world - but to keep it stable. Preventing any development thats too risky. And when you are moving $11 trillion around to do that -it is a really important new force.

But it’s boring. And there is no story. Just patterns.

Here is some video of Aladdin. A few weeks ago I was filming in Idaho - and decided to go and have a look at the buildings that house Aladdin. I had asked Blackrock if I could have a look inside. Surprisingly the guy in charge of their PR said yes. But a little while later he left the company in what seemed to be a reorganisation.

But it didn’t really matter - because you know what it will look like. Row upon row of servers roaring away, and surrounded by giant batteries that will rescue the system if the power supply goes.

Here’s the shot from the car driving past the computer sheds that house Aladdin. A 37 seconds tracking shot, and you can see how dull it is.

It is the modern world of power - and it’s incredibly boring. Nothing to film, run by a cautious man who is in no way a wolf of Wall Street. It’s how power works today. It hides in plain sight - through sheer boringness and dullness.

No wonder we find it difficult to tell stories about it.

There are also a growing number of systems that use data from the past to predict whether individuals are going to commit crimes in the future.

On the surface it’s laudable. But it’s also rather weird - and in some cases can be false and dangerous.

In every case the systems monitor individuals’ behaviour and then sees if that shares similar characteristics with groups of other people stored on the databases who have behaved dangerously in the past.

There is software being used by the Department of Work and Pensions that detects fraudsters by analysing the voices of people who ring its call centres. If you ask the wrong kind of questions - or even ask the right kind of questions in the wrong way - it puts you in the dangerous group.

The government also has what they call a Social Exclusion unit which has an Action Plan. It’s aim is to use data to predict when things might go wrong in poor families - even before birth. In one scheme the unborn child of a pregnant mother might be categorised as potentially being a future criminal.

This is based on things like the mother’s age, her poor educational achievements, her drug use and her own family history. If the system decides that the unborn child is a potentially dangerous criminal the response is not exactly Philip K Dick - a nurse is sent round to give advice on parenting.

But the oddest is STATIC-99. It’s a way of predicting whether sex offenders are likely to commit crimes again after they have been released. In America this is being used to decide whether to keep them in jail even after they have served their full sentence.

STATIC-99 works by scoring individuals on criteria such as age, number of sex-crimes and sex of the victim. These are then fed into a database that shows recidivism rates of groups of sex-offenders in the past with similar characteristics. The judge is then told how likely it is - in percentage terms - that the offender will do it again.

The problem is that it is not true. What the judge is really being told is the likely percentage of people in the group who will re-offend. There is no way the system can predict what an individual will do. A recent very critical report of such systems said that the margin of error for individuals could be as great as between 5% and 95%

In other words completely useless. Yet people are being kept in prison on the basis that such a system predicts they might do something bad in the future.

Opposition Research - the constant recording of everything a politician says and does fits into the same pattern.

But it’s a system of wonk-driven surveillance that goes even further - because it has the unforeseen consequence of forcing politicians to behave like machines. It leads them to constantly repeat what they said yesterday, and unable to make imaginative or creative leaps

Every night the digital tracker sends back what that politician said or did today. The first aim is to find something outrageous in that day’s video that can be given to the media.

Here is one classic example. It is Jon Bruning who compared welfare recipients to racoons. His speech up to that point is actually quite a funny right-wing attack on what he sees as the absurdity of environmental protection. But then he went too far.

And he was shamed. And he lost the election.

But the other - bigger - task of the opposition researchers is to spend hours comparing what the politician said today with their recorded past that is stored in the computers. They look for contradictions and if they find one they release the videos to the media and again the politician is shamed.

So the politicians become frozen and immobile - because they have to have a blameless history. Which again seems laudable. But it means they can’t change their mind. They can’t adapt to the world as it changes.

Although if ALADDIN has its way that won’t matter

George Boole - who helped start all this with his Boolean Logic had an extraordinary family.

One of them, his son-in-law was called Charles Howard Hinton. He too was a mathematician and he became famous at the end of the nineteenth century when he wrote a book called The Fourth Dimension.

It said that time was an illusion. That everything that has happened and that will happen already exists in a four-dimensional space. Human beings, Hinton said, don’t realise this because they don’t have the ability to see this four-dimensional world.

Our idea of time - Hinton said - is just a line that goes across this four-dimensional space like a cross section. But we can’t see it.

The cumulative effect of all today’s systems that store up data from the past is to create something rather like Hinton’s world. Everything that has already happened is increasingly stored on the giant servers in places like East Wenatchee.

It never goes away. And this past bears down on the present - continually being replayed to try and avoid anything that is dangerous and unpredictable.

What is missing is the other half of Hinton’s world. The future - with all its dangers, but also all it’s possibilities.

But George Boole had another daughter called Ethel. She had an amazing life - which showed that there is another way. Because Ethel believed in the future.

Here she is in a Boole family photo - taken after her father died. Ethel is to her mother’s right. (Incidentally the rest of the Boole family that you see in this photo also had amazing lives - but that’s another story)

When Ethel was 15 she read a book about the Italian revolutionary Mazzini. It inspired her - and she wore clothes like him, dressing in black in mourning for the state of the world.

In 1889 she met a Polish revolutionary called Wilfred Michail Voynich. He had escaped from Siberia and had arrived penniless in London. They fell in love and married, and Ethel went off to Russia to smuggle in illegal revolutionary publications.

Then she met the master-spy Sydney Reilly. He is one of the most extraordinary figures in the odd world of espionage. He’d been born in the Ukraine, but turned against his family and faked his own suicide to escape.

After all kinds of adventures, including rescuing three British intelligence agents from the swamps of the Amazon jungles, Reilly went to London where he spent his time gambling - and he and Ethel began a passionate affair. They eloped to Italy where Reilly bared his soul to Ethel - telling her the extraordinary story of his life.

Then Reilly deserted her - and went off to Russia where he worked as a secret agent for the British. Ian Fleming is said to have used Reilly as the model for James Bond.

Ethel was heartbroken - and she wrote a novel called The Gadfly which, although she never admitted it, her biographer says is obviously based on the early adventures of Sydney Reilly.

It’s the most amazing book. It’s an over the top melodrama set in Italy about the hero, Arthur’s battle against the church and the corrupt state - and his treacherous family. At the same time it is about his passionate love for an english girl - Gemma. It ends with Arthur being slowly tortured and then condemned to be shot.

Its message though is a revolutionary one. Arthur is sacrificed so that humankind can be redeemed and open the way to a realisation of the future possibilities for the world - once the old oppressive forces have been overthrown.

Here is Ethel with a wonderful revolutionary look in her eyes

The Gadfly was published in 1897 in New York - under Ethel’s married name, E.L. Voynich. No British publisher would touch it because of its “outrageous and horrible character”. But then it was published in Russia and became an astonishing success. One writer describes how all the young Bolsheviks read it and “it virtually became the bible of the revolution”.

By the 1960s it was estimated that 250 million Russian teenagers had read the Gadfly in translation. And polls showed that Arthur was consistently the favourite hero of Soviet youth. And in 1955 a film version was made - with a soundtrack by Shostakovich - which won an award at the Cannes film festival.

In 1920 Ethel went back to her husband Wilfred Voynich. He had moved to New York and had become one of the world’s greatest expert and dealers in rare books.

His most famous purchase was a mysterious manuscript written in code that has come to be known as The Voynich Manuscript. No one has ever been able to break the code - it seems to have many scientific references, and herbal and astronomical illustrations.

Voynich believed that it was written by the philosopher Roger Bacon - and then came into the possession of the legendary John Dee who was a mathematician at the court of Queen Elizabeth.

After Voynich died, Ethel kept the manuscript in a safe deposit box in New York for thirty years - and then sold it in 1960. And it ended up in Yale University. One of the great experts in cryptography wrote:

The Voynich manuscript lies quietly inside its slipcase in the blackness of Yale’s vaults, possibly a time-bomb in the history of science, awaiting the man who can interpret what is still the most mysterious manuscript in the world.

Ethel Boole died in 1960 at the age of 96. Still believing in the power of revolution to change the world. Here is one of the most beautiful sections of Shostakovich’s music for the Gadfly - cut to images of the strange Boolean world that we live in today.

Link: Portable Hell

The world is going to hell in a hurry. At my age, I ought to be used to it, but I’m not.

Perhaps ignorance is bliss, I say to myself, and think of people I know who care little about what goes on in the world. I have sympathy for them. It’s no fun starting one’s day or retiring at night with images of dead children.

When he was old, my father said that he could think of two ways to break his addiction to newspapers: enter a monastery or a lunatic asylum.

Today’s news is always old news. The innocent get slaughtered and someone makes up excuses.

The same type of lunatics who made the world what it was when I was a child are still around. Their names have changed, their nationalities and causes, too, but they are as demented and as bloodthirsty as they ever were.

To hear our conservatives talk, our problems are only moral ones: the laziness of our poor and the insatiable sexual appetite of our women being on the top of the list. Yes, of course, but it’s more than that. They just can’t close their legs.

We should demand that the servants of the rich and powerful in every walk of life wear livery appropriate to their rank, as they did in the past centuries.

I caught myself scratching my head with a match as if trying to set it on fire.

They got up and applauded the rich guy for bankrupting companies and laying off employees and crowded afterward to get his autograph.

Eighty thousand people held in solitary in our prisons. Think about that as you plump your pillow and make yourself comfy in your bed some night.

Has any country ever admitted killing civilians out of a desire for revenge? Like everyone else in occupied Europe, I hated Germans and wished them all dead. However, later on, when I saw the extent of destruction the Allied bombing had done to their cities, I was horrified by what was obviously pure malice.

Collective punishment, in which the entire population of the enemy country is targeted, so that an old man in a wheelchair and a kid reading a book in bed are in as much danger as a tank, is a vile impulse, and though it is now regarded as a violation of the laws of war and the Geneva Conventions, it has continued to be practiced long after Dresden and Hiroshima.

Taking into account unintended consequences is not regarded as a necessary component of strategic thinking in Washington. No wonder our grand project to remake the world in our own image, shape the future, and determine the outcome of history has proved to be as much of a flop as the world revolution the old commies were preaching.

“Collateral damage” is what somebody’s grandparents with their heads blown off are called today.

Of course, this is not generally how we talk about things. We practice what Ted Snider in a recent blog post called “a doctrine of historical creationism,” an interpretation of current events that is manipulated by selecting a convenient starting point for them—one that leaves out prior events and the larger setting in which they are unfolding.

There’s an authoritarian strain to this need to restrict historical precedent and turn serious issues into comic book narratives. We encounter it both in political commentary on Russia, Ukraine, Gaza, and Iran and in the way domestic issues are discussed. For people with long memories, this is not just infuriating but also terrifying.

This is a just war; we ought to remind the population of the next country we invade. People killed by our bombs can regard themselves as extremely lucky.

Portable hell, the kind that can fit comfortably inside your head, despite the vast crowds of the damned and all that fire and smoke, is what you end up with after reading the world news these days.

It’s strange that reporters continue to ask our elected representatives for their opinions, as if the rich who contributed millions to their campaigns would allow them to have any of their own.

A society like ours in which the wealthy are spending millions to prevent the minimum wage from being raised for those sinking deeper and deeper into poverty, and to sabotage health insurance coverage for those who have none, is not a society at all but a state of war, as Mark Twain would have said.

Who would have thought that people with a thorough knowledge of history and science would become pariahs among their fellow citizens?

It’s been a while since I last read anyone, aside from palpable hucksters, make an argument that the world is getting to be a better place, or that we are about to turn a new leaf in this country.

“Privatization” is what the transfer of public funds into the pockets of the few is called.

I forget: Who said, “He lives most gaily who knows how to deceive himself”?

The gourmet recipe in the dining section of the Times was Fisherman’s Beef Stew—or did I get that wrong?

A man changed himself back into a monkey through an operation and returned to live in the trees happily ever after, I once read in a tabloid waiting in line at the supermarket. I’m thinking that may not really be so bad.

May these beautiful summer days that remain pass with as little hurry as a pregnant nun going to confession.

Link: To Zion and Back

Ismail Khalidi interviews Max Blumenthal on the rise of Israeli extremism.

Max Blumenthal’s 2009 book, Republican Gomorrah: Inside the Movement that Shattered the Party, was positively reviewed and garnered plenty of media attention, landing on the New York Times and Los Angeles Times bestseller lists. Progressives and liberals embraced Blumenthal’s analysis of the extreme right in the US, and championed his prowess as a writer and investigative journalist. His latest book, on the other hand, Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel (Nation Books), which he describes as a “compendium of Israeli extremism,” has received far less mainstream coverage since its release in October 2013, and has opened Blumenthal up to a barrage of criticism from both ends of the political spectrum. Upon the release of Goliath, The Nation’s Eric Alterman wrote a scathing review, “The ‘I Hate Israel’ Handbook,” which Blumenthal later responded to in the same publication.

Blumenthal is known, in part, for his viral (and later censored) YouTube video reports from West Jerusalem and Tel Aviv in which he filmed groups of partying young Israelis (including many of American stock) around the time of President Obama’s first official trip to the region in 2009. In “Feeling the Hate in Jerusalem on the Eve of Obama’s Cairo Address” and “Feeling the Hate in Tel Aviv,” Blumenthal and his Israeli-American colleagues captured flashes of casual intolerance and racism in Israeli society rarely seen in the West: young Israelis and American Jews directing racist taunts at President Obama and regurgitating ultra-nationalist, anti-Arab tropes with fervor. Goliath is in part an expansion on this theme, based on about a year’s worth of reporting in Israel/Palestine and five years of research.

While the book focuses on the rightward shift in Israel—from its settler population (well over half a million today) to its political class and its Russian newcomers—Blumenthal also gives us a glimpse into Israel’s marginalized anti-Zionist left and the lives of its liberal Tel Aviv elites, the latter making up the bulk of Israel’s Labor Party. Goliath differs from most mainstream reporting on the conflict in that it is not entirely Israel-centric. In Blumenthal’s Israel—unlike in most of the US media’s reporting or in Ari Shavit’s My Promised Land (Shavit was interviewed in Guernica in December)—Palestinians are not simply one-dimensional props in the background of Israel’s soul-searching about the past and decision-making about the future. Instead they are impossible to ignore.

I spoke with Blumenthal in a small sushi bar in the West Village during a break from his book tour. He was overflowing with analysis of the latest developments in Israel/Palestine (where he travels frequently). As in his writing, he does not shy from using words like “racist,” “fascist,” and “extremist” when describing certain Israeli policies and individuals. Blumenthal insists that he does not use them for shock value, but to accurately express what he has seen firsthand. “After a few months [in Israel],” he told me as we discussed the book, “you stop noticing every incarnation of radicalism and violence in Israeli society. It is so saturated into the reality that it practically fades into the scenery.”

Ismail Khalidi for Guernica

Guernica: The last month has seen the killing of three teenage Israeli settlers near Hebron and a massive Israeli sweep into the West Bank in which hundreds of Palestinians were arrested, injured, and killed. Earlier this month a Palestinian teen was abducted and killed by Israelis in Jerusalem (who are said to have burned the boy alive). Now the Israeli military is engaged in an offensive against Gaza while Hamas fires rockets toward Israel. What do the last month’s events tell us about the state of the conflict?

Max Blumenthal: The entire crisis occurred against the backdrop of a peace process that Netanyahu was blamed for destroying and in the wake of the Hamas-Fatah unity deal, which the US recognized and which Netanyahu was determined to destroy as well. The kidnapping of the three Israeli teens by what appears to be a rogue Hamas cell apparently seeking to generate some kind of prisoner exchange was too good of an opportunity for him to waste.

And so, as I’ve documented with on-the-record sources, Israeli investigators, Netanyahu and the honchos of the military-intelligence apparatus knew by the sound of gunshots on a recorded call by the teens to the police that the teens were killed right away. And they chose to lie, not only to the teens’ parents, whom they sought to deploy as props in their global PR campaign, but to the Israeli public. Through a military gag order, the Israeli media was not allowed to report on the investigation or the details of the recorded phone call. With the Israeli public and the world convinced that the teens were alive, Israeli troops ransacked the West Bank under the guise of a rescue mission, and embarked on a global propaganda campaign centering around the hashtag #BringBackOurBoys. The Israeli public was not emotionally prepared for the discovery of the teens’ bodies because they thought they would be returned home as Gilad Shalit was. So Netanyahu and his inner circle set the public up for a truly dangerous reaction.

In Goliath, I detailed the rise of anti-Arab mobs comprised of soccer thugs and of the burgeoning anti-miscegenation movement in Israel. Netanyahu’s manipulation of the kidnapping and his response to the discovery of the dead teens—he said, “Vengeance for the blood of a small child, Satan has not yet created”—validated these elements and emboldened them as they set out for revenge. Those young men who abducted the Palestinian teen Mohamed Abu Khdeir met at one of the revenge rallies in Jerusalem; they were fans of the soccer club Beitar Jerusalem, which I wrote about in Goliath and whose racist history is absolutely legion. The killers forced Abu Khdeir to drink gasoline and burned him alive. In a place where an eliminationist strain of racism has been so thoroughly mainstreamed, it might actually be a misnomer to call them “extremists.”

Now we come to the bombardment of Gaza. Netanyahu had blamed “all of Hamas” for the three teens’ kidnapping, calling them and the teens’ killers “human animals.” So while he is forced to denounce vigilante violence after helping inspire it, he needs to allow a society seething with resentment and thirsting for vengeance with a release valve. That is the function that Gaza serves in the Israeli psyche. Under Hamas’s governance, it is at once the epicenter of evil and the collective punching bag. There is no evidence that anyone there had any role whatsoever in the kidnapping in the West Bank. But they must pay the price in their own blood.

Once again I find myself saying, “Unfortunately, I was right.” And I say that with a certain level of frustration because I sensed that there were many, particularly in liberal Jewish circles, who did not want to see the Israel that unfolded on the pages of my book and who studiously ignored the warnings I tried to relay to them. Now they are forced to reckon with the reality and don’t really seem to have the words to effectively explain it all away as they used to be able to.

Guernica: Talk about your approach to capturing and writing about experiences in which you essentially go undercover. How do you gain access without arousing suspicion?

Max Blumenthal: My privilege as a white Jewish American in Israel is a major factor in getting me so much access to the key institutions of the Jewish state. I traveled to Israel/Palestine last September and was mostly in Ramallah, the occupied pseudo-capital of the Palestinian Bantustan in the West Bank—the Palestinian “state” that never will be. A lot of Palestinian-Americans have hawiyas, the green Palestinian IDs that limit them to the West Bank. These folks generally have the same education level as I do. Some of them work for NGOs in Ramallah, including outfits that have been raided by Israeli forces, and they have given up fairly comfortable lives in the US to contribute to Palestinian society. But they cannot travel around the land like I can. Some of them have actually asked me to help sneak them into Jerusalem or into Jaffa, places they want to visit or to see, places that they have deep connections to—familial, cultural, professional—but which are off limits to them because they are Palestinians who hold Palestinian IDs. It’s really upsetting as an American to witness their predicament. Here in the US we’d be equals, or at least, we would technically enjoy the same legal rights. There they are inferior to me simply because I have J-positive blood and they don’t.

Guernica: You were able to enter the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, and spent time there interviewing people for the book.

Max Blumenthal: I spent a lot of time there and I interviewed over a dozen lawmakers who were behind the parade of anti-democratic laws that were passed between 2009 and 2013. One of these was the “NGO Law,” which attempts to limit foreign funding for NGOs, a law very similar to one authorized by Vladimir Putin in Russia. Another law passed during this time was the “Nakba Law,” which is very similar to the law Turkey has on the books to suppress acknowledgment of the Armenian genocide. This law limits the rights of Palestinians to publicly observe the Nakba [the word Palestinians use, which means “catastrophe,” to refer to the dispossession of three-quarters of a million Palestinians in 1948]. It basically slaps penalties on organizations and NGOs that participate in these events. The “Acceptance to Communities Law” allows communities of up to four hundred family units to discriminate on the basis of ethnicity and religion, basically bringing Israel’s system of de facto segregation into de jure form. Winning the trust of these lawmakers was not very difficult as Max Blumenthal, the Jewish guy, even if I was posing adversarial questions. If I was a Palestinian reporter or even an African-American, they might have been more suspicious. Knesset members would frequently appeal to my Jewishness in an attempt to win me to their side.

Guernica: What about with more radical right-wing activists? How does that play out?

Max Blumenthal: I attended a party hosted by Im Tirtzu, a right-wing Israeli student group that kind of functions as the grassroots arm of Netanyahu and the Likud party. It aims to attack the NGOs and human rights groups and generally harass Palestinian-Israeli civil society. They stage counter-protests to the very small anti-war protests that happen on Israeli campuses, menace Palestinian students on those campuses, and blacklist “post-Zionist” academics. To get into the party, which was held at a bar in an affluent city called Herzliya, I just told the student activists at the door that I was an American-Jewish tourist and I had heard there was a party—I acted clueless. While I was there one of these Im Tirtzu apparatchiks sat down at the bar and began to hold forth. He reminded me of an American neocon, and even recommended to me the work of David Horowitz to explain why left wingers needed to be purged from the academy. And yet it was an otherwise mundane gathering, almost exclusively young guys wearing polo shirts and designer jeans listening to American music. You wouldn’t know they were extremists from the looks of them.

The night ended with a call for Ben Gurion University to fire twelve professors who Im Tirtzu deemed “post-Zionist” or insufficiently Zionist. So the Likud party, through its policies and its various wings and allies, is not only boycotting the Gaza Strip and Palestinian society in general, it is involved in organizing boycotts of Israel’s own national universities. This is completely consistent with the push to strip human rights NGOs of funding, punish Israeli citizens who boycott settlement products, gut Israeli high school textbooks of any reference to Palestinian dispossession, and generally realize Joseph McCarthy’s wildest fever dreams.

Guernica: In terms of the State of Israel, what are some trends not being reported in the mainstream media?

Max Blumenthal: The state is an ethnocracy, which means its institutions exist to provide privilege to one ethnic group over another and physically and legally exclude the “other.” This is the definition of extremism, or at least the basis for its promulgation and promotion.

I came into direct contact with the atmosphere of extremism immediately upon arrival. On the first night of an extended trip into ’48 Israel, I was staying in Jaffa, a once-vibrant Palestinian city, which is now a Palestinian ghetto of Tel Aviv that is being aggressively Judaized. Not too far from there is Bnei Brak, which is an ultra-Orthodox community. The people there were staging protests around the country at that point because the Supreme Court had passed a ruling forbidding an ultra-Orthodox girls’ school from segregating Mizrahi students and Ashkenazi students. While rampaging through the neighborhood, they set a huge fire in our dumpster. That was my first night in Jaffa! After a few months you stop noticing every incarnation of radicalism and violence. It is so saturated into your reality that it practically fades into the scenery.

Guernica: One does not typically get that impression reading mainstream US coverage.

Max Blumenthal: No. But it is right there if you choose to report it. Jodi Rudoren and Isabel Kershner and the rest of the reporters at the New York Times Jerusalem bureau actually have to devote endless stores of energy to avoid reporting on all of the outrages unfolding all around them. Instead of reporting on the Prawer Plan to ethnically cleanse Bedouin citizens of Israel, for example, or the anti-African race riots in Tel Aviv—pivotal events in the history of the state of Israel—Rudoren covers a beauty contest for Holocaust survivors or takes to Facebook to complain about how she missed her spinning class but made up for it by scaling the steps of a building in Gaza destroyed by Israeli bombing. And when Kershner covers the national campaign to expel non-Jewish Africans, she focuses the story on the liberal Israelis and their anguished souls, rather than on the Africans who are being rounded up and placed in camps for the crime of not being Jewish. Just imagine if they went out and covered what was actually happening on the ground and clinically detailed the logic and planning behind it.

When I stayed in Jaffa, just five minutes south of Tel Aviv, I witnessed racist extremism all around me through the state-orchestrated process of Judaization. In Jaffa, this process takes the form of a very politicized kind of gentrification, with wealthy Tel Aviv tech entrepreneurs and wealthy American Jews being planted into the heart of this poor, deliberately neglected community—where, by the way, there are/were five hundred standing eviction orders, almost all for Palestinian residents. Judaization in Jaffa also has relied on the increasing presence of religious nationalists not so different from the fanatical settlers in the West Bank. My favorite fish restaurant, a Palestinian-owned place where I would sometimes hang out with friends and colleagues from Tel Aviv, was attacked and firebombed by right-wing extremists. A house down the street was attacked and just weeks before one of the oldest Muslim graveyards in Palestine was vandalized in a “price-tag” attack by settlers. This is inside the heart of “Israel proper.” Soon after that a group of settlers won an auction to build a religious nationalist yeshiva in the middle of Jaffa.

Guernica: How does the Israeli left regard the country’s rightward trend?

Max Blumenthal: It was not the right-wing Russians or the gun-toting settlers who carried out the Nakba. The Nakba is the legacy of Zionism’s putatively socialist wing. It was the grandfathers and mothers of the “enlightened public” of today’s Israel who literally drove tens of thousands of indigenous Palestinians into the sea in 1947-48 all along the Mediterranean coast, or who marched them at gunpoint to Ramallah. In the years leading up to the Nakba, during the 1920s and ’30s, Socialist Zionists implemented the project of Kibush Ha’avodah or the “Conquest of Labor,” establishing Jewish-only businesses and residential communities while organizing boycotts of Jewish businesses that hired Arabs. That meant attacking fellow Jews who didn’t uphold the same concept of separation and maintained business and community ties with Palestinian Arabs. So the legacy of the Zionist left of Tel Aviv is the Nakba, and the perpetuation of the Nakba is required to preserve Tel Aviv as one of the most homogenous cities on earth. There are fewer Arabs in Tel Aviv, one of the largest cities in the Middle East, than there are in Chicago, the largest city in the American Midwest. Just think about that for a second. How do you accomplish such a remarkable feat of social engineering without massive violence?

When the popular committee and some of the Arab civic activists in Jaffa asked for the Tel Aviv-Jaffa municipality to include some Arabic writing on the city log to acknowledge the Arab presence and tradition and history there, Ron Huldai, the mayor, rejected the idea out of hand. He argued that there were so few Arabs living in the municipality that he had no reason to officially acknowledge their presence. This instance perfectly symbolized the form and function of Tel Aviv, the city that stands as the economic and political bulwark of settler-colonial apartheid, but also as its liberal mask. Without the Iron Wall, there would be no Tel Aviv bubble.

Guernica: The term “demographic threat” is bandied about and repeated here in the US, by journalists and liberal Zionists and politicians. Secretary of State John Kerry used this kind of language this past December, in fact, to refer to a “demographic time-bomb.” What does it mean, in effect?

Max Blumenthal: The term “demographic threat” is the language that justifies ethnic cleansing, transfer, ghettoization, siege, exclusion, refugee camps, and displacement and separation. As such, it is the term that distills the logic of Zionism’s approach to non-Jews.

This language has pretty dark connotations in the US, echoing Southern antebellum fears of slave revolts in areas where blacks outnumbered the white agrarian class. In today’s America, if figures as extreme as Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck were to say outright that we must stop the Mexicans or Muslims or what have you from staying in the US because they’re having too many babies and we’ll lose the character of white Christian America by 2050, they’d face serious consequences. You can be a bigot in the US, but you can’t come out and openly declare your support for racial nationalism. Only Zionists get to proclaim their fear of a brown planet while simultaneously maintaining a patina of liberal respectability.

Guernica: How does what’s taking place in Israel compare to the rightward anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim trends in Europe?

Max Blumenthal: I think we need to draw a contextual distinction between what the neo-fascists of Europe would like to do and what the state of Israel has done, and is currently doing. While rightists in Europe advocate the exclusion of immigrants, especially Muslims, and seek to prevent all forms of immigration, to conduct mass deportations and make immigrants’ lives horrible in order to preserve the white, Christian character of their countries, they are still not advocating anything as extreme as mainstream Zionists are. None of these figures—at least none that I’m aware of—are hatching plans at the government level for mass population transfer, or actually ejecting hundreds of thousands of indigenous people from their homes and driving them over the border by force. Over 26,000 Palestinian homes have been demolished since 1967, mainly for demographic reasons, and today many mainstream liberal Zionists advocate “land swaps.” This is code for stripping hundreds of thousands of Palestinian citizens of Israel living near the Green Line of their citizenship in order to preserve Israel’s ethnic purity. This actually puts liberal Zionists to the right of European neo-fascists.

Guernica: How does 1967 figure into the equation for liberal Zionists?

Max Blumenthal: The Zionist left talks about 1967 as the greatest disaster in the history of Israel, but they are not necessarily beating their chests over the suffering of Palestinians under the occupation. It certainly pains them to have to recognize that Israel has not proven to be a benevolent colonial overlord, that it has not lifted up the Palestinian standard of living as many left-wing Zionists believed they could when they captured the West Bank and Gaza. What really destroys the Zionist left about the legacy of 1967 is that it led to the rise of the religious nationalist right, which has gradually supplanted them as the captains of the Jewish state by vowing to complete the unfinished process that began in 1948. Another reason the Zionist left gets so upset about 1967 is that the whole project of Greater Israel threatens the ethnocracy they founded—that the possibility of annexing more Palestinian territory means the possible absorption of hundreds of thousands of demographic threats, of human contaminants to the ethnically pure Jewish state. And so they campaign endlessly for a two-state solution, or better yet, a one-and-a-half state solution, to correct the error they committed in 1967.

What I have tried to do in my journalism is to document the state of the Zionist left and Israel’s “enlightened public” in its current phase. And what I have found is a largely detached sector of society that has little ability to influence the facts on the ground and which has turned inward, into their Tel Aviv bubble. Thanks to the momentary success of Netanyahu’s strategy of “peace without peace” and the disappearance of Palestinians after the Second Intifada, the “enlightened public” is able to experience a sense of European-style normality. They don’t need to worry about the occupation when there is no resistance to it, when Ehud Barak’s vision of Zionism as “a villa in the jungle” has been seemingly realized.

This is why the last leader of the Labor Party, Shelly Yachimovich, basically conceded there was no hope of ending the occupation and turned her party’s attention to lowering cottage cheese prices and making improvements in the national insurance system. She filled her party with the leaders of the 2011 tent protests, this incredibly peculiar national protest movement that consisted of thousands of young Israelis filling the streets to call for “social justice” while completely ignoring and refusing to acknowledge the occupation. The current state of the Labor Party reflects the normalization of settler-colonialism to the point that it seems invisible. This is why the BDS (boycott, divest, and sanctions) movement upsets liberal Zionists so greatly: it threatens to remind the “good” Israel that it is an active participant in an anachronistic project of settler-colonialism and that it can’t experience real normalization until Palestinians are granted rights.

Guernica: You lived for a time in Jerusalem. Talk about the scene there.

Max Blumenthal: I dedicate about a third of the book to my experiences in central Jerusalem, where I lived on a top floor walkup with a bunch of leftist Hebrew University students who had draped a banner out the window that read “Free Gaza.” And below us was a pedestrian shopping mall frequented by settlers and American-Jewish fanatics. The flat was a kind of sanctuary from virtually everything that existed outside our front door and it served as a sort of smoke-filled situation room for local leftists. I was there at a really unique time, when the movement to protest the evictions in Sheikh Jarrah just fifteen minutes away from us was at its height and the Palestinian popular struggle in the West Bank was still gathering momentum. These were doomed movements, of course, but they at least offered us a way to stave off the sense of dread at creeping fascism.

To give you an idea of the environment, just up the street from the flat was a bookstore called Pomerantz with a big picture on the window of Jonathan Pollard, the American Jew who spied for Israel and is in jail for life, and who right wingers are determined to see released. I walked into that bookstore to look for a book [Torat Hamelech, published in 2009] that been described in the Israeli paper Maariv as a “guide to killing non-Jews.” It was written by two settler rabbis from a yeshiva in Yitzhar, near Nablus, whose salaries were tendered by the state of Israel. The purpose of the book was basically to provide religious sanction for genocide; it was like a guide for when it is permissible to slaughter gentiles framed within a really demented vision of Jewish law. As far as I know, and I could be wrong, it has sold more copies than Peter Beinart’s The Crisis of Zionism. So I went to Pomerantz to order the book because I wanted to get a comprehensive translation of it online, and I encountered the owner, a former firefighter from the US who had a religious awakening and moved to Israel. He says to me, “Look at that camera behind you. It goes straight to the Shabak.” It became clear that the store was under surveillance because it was a gathering place of religious nationalist settlers, the kind who carry out “price tag” attacks and sop up texts like Torat Hamelech.

A few days later there was a convention at the Jerusalem Ramada dedicated to defending the publication of this guide to killing non-Jews. I went with my roommate, a really remarkable guy named Yossi David, who was raised ultra-Orthodox and has turned into a full-fledged secular leftist. When we entered the hotel we found a veritable who’s who of state-funded rabbis, rabbis from yeshivas in major Israeli cities, gathered on a panel to defend this book before several hundred right-wing activists. When we entered, prayers were underway, and Yossi immediately joined them to avoid having us stand out—this goes back to your first question about how I was able to get so much access. So I reluctantly started davening with these settlers and I distinctly remember how gut-wrenching it was to chant the Kaddish with them, to say the mourner’s prayer alongside a bunch of people I consider to be racists. But here I was praying in the same hotel ballroom as Dov Lior, the rabbi who called for live human experimentation on Palestinian prisoners, and Baruch Marzel, the settler thug who runs anti-miscegenation vigilante squads, and Michael Ben-Ari, then a Knesset member who told me that Jordan was actually a part of Israel.

When the conference began in earnest, one major state rabbi after another rose up and defended this genocidal book, not necessarily on its merits, but because they feared that if it was censored, their own speech would be limited. And all of this is taking place in a Ramada banquet hall with chandeliers overhead and fake houseplants everywhere—a perfectly appropriate setting to illustrate the normalization of racist extremism in Israeli life.

Guernica: Is this kind of ideology widespread?

Max Blumenthal: Just consider a poll conducted by Ynet, the online version of Yedioth Ahronoth, Israel’s most influential paper, which showed that 46 percent of Israelis support “price tag” attacks on Palestinians, and that a vast majority of religious Israelis favor them. You can see how far the most extreme settlers have gotten in terms of influencing the national consciousness.

Guernica: And these settlers are funded by the state?

Max Blumenthal: The most extreme religious nationalist rabbis, yeshivas, and settlements—those I described earlier—are state-funded and also funded heavily by American NGOS with 501(c)(3) tax-deductible donations. While the US government sends the directors of Muslim-American charities to jail for life for sending charity to the Gaza Strip, the Central Fund of Israel, which is based right here in New York City on 6th Avenue at Marcus Brothers Textiles, sends millions to some of the most extreme settlers who are directly involved in terrorist attacks on defenseless Palestinians. The yeshiva at Yitzhar is a prime example. Though the State Department has actually classified settler attacks on Palestinians as terror attacks, the US Treasury Department does nothing to regulate the American nonprofits that fund the attackers.

Guernica: While your book has aroused a lot of controversy, commentators appear to have embraced Ari Shavit’s recent book, My Promised Land.

Max Blumenthal: It is depressing but not shocking to witness the liberal intelligentsia embrace Ari Shavit so enthusiastically. Shavit is someone who is as consistently wrong as Thomas Friedman on major issues, and at least as much a courtier of power. Shavit has done the bidding of Ehud Barak under the cover of legitimate journalism. I suppose it was fairly predictable that Friedman offered him a rave review, or that Leon Wieseltier and David Brooks threw themselves behind My Promised Land. I have to admit, though, that I was a little surprised that David Remnick, someone who has demonstrated sophistication on Israel-Palestine issues, hosted a lavish book party for Shavit and served as his interlocutor at his major event in New York City after running Shavit’s apologia for ethnic cleansing in the pages of The New Yorker. We need to recognize the significance of Shavit’s support from so many major liberal intellectuals and pundits in the light of his book and its arguments.

In his book, Shavit approaches 1948 as I do, but from an opposite perspective. He argues that as soon as the Zionist movement endeavored to establish a Jewish state in historic Palestine, the campaign of mass ethnic cleansing that occurred in 1948 was inevitable. I agree with that. And I agree with him that 1948, not 1967, is the source of Palestinian grievances. But while I regard the Nakba as an ongoing crime that needs to be prosecuted and reversed, just as anyone should regard any act of ethnic cleansing, Shavit defends its necessity and lectures Palestinians trapped in squalid refugee camps to just get over it. In this very magazine, Shavit declared that the Palestinians need to “grow up” and claimed that they are “addicted to victimhood” as though Holocaust-obsessed Israelis are not. He goes on to assert that “the Jews are the ultimate victims of the twentieth century,” meaning that Jewish suffering legitimizes the suffering they visited on Palestinians—the ends justify the means—and that that suffering should insulate Israel from any political consequences simply because it asserts its identity as a state of the Jews.

This is obviously an intellectually untenable argument and as a case for national legitimacy it is absolutely laughable. But it is also pretty morally repugnant. So we need to reflect on what this says about Shavit’s liberal Zionist-American promoters; what does it say that they are throwing their intellectual weight behind a prominent defender of ethnic cleansing? And we need to ask how Shavit is able to define himself as a man of the left, as a voice of morality, without anything resembling a challenge from his interviewers.

Link: Letter from Gaza by a Norwegian Doctor

Dearest friends,

The last night was extreme. The “ground invasion” of Gaza resulted in scores and carloads with maimed, torn apart, bleeding, shivering, dying - all sorts of injured Palestinians, all ages, all civilians, all innocent.

The heroes in the ambulances and in all of Gaza’s hospitals are working 12-24 hour shifts, grey from fatigue and inhuman workloads (without payment all in Shifa for the last 4 months), they care, triage, try to understand the incomprehensible chaos of bodies, sizes, limbs, walking, not walking, breathing, not breathing, bleeding, not bleeding humans. HUMANS!

Now, once more treated like animals by “the most moral army in the world” (sic!).

My respect for the wounded is endless, in their contained determination in the midst of pain, agony and shock; my admiration for the staff and volunteers is endless, my closeness to the Palestinian “sumud” gives me strength, although in glimpses I just want to scream, hold someone tight, cry, smell the skin and hair of the warm child, covered in blood, protect ourselves in an endless embrace - but we cannot afford that, nor can they.

Ashy grey faces - Oh NO! Not one more load of tens of maimed and bleeding, we still have lakes of blood on the floor in the ER, piles of dripping, blood-soaked bandages to clear out - oh - the cleaners, everywhere, swiftly shovelling the blood and discarded tissues, hair, clothes,cannulas - the leftovers from death - all taken away … to be prepared again, to be repeated all over. More then 100 cases came to Shifa in the last 24 hrs. Enough for a large well trained hospital with everything, but here - almost nothing: no electricity, water, disposables, drugs, OR-tables, instruments, monitors - all rusted and as if taken from museums of yesterday’s hospitals. But they do not complain, these heroes. They get on with it, like warriors, head on, enormously resolute.

And as I write these words to you, alone, on a bed, my tears flow, the warm but useless tears of pain and grief, of anger and fear. This is not happening!

An then, just now, the orchestra of the Israeli war-machine starts its gruesome symphony again, just now: salvos of artillery from the navy boats just down on the shores, the roaring F16, the sickening drones (Arabic ‘Zennanis’, the hummers), and the cluttering Apaches. So much made in and paid by the US.

Mr. Obama - do you have a heart?

I invite you - spend one night - just one night - with us in Shifa. Disguised as a cleaner, maybe.

I am convinced, 100%, it would change history.

Nobody with a heart AND power could ever walk away from a night in Shifa without being determined to end the slaughter of the Palestinian people.

But the heartless and merciless have done their calculations and planned another “dahyia” onslaught on Gaza.

The rivers of blood will keep running the coming night. I can hear they have tuned their instruments of death.

Please. Do what you can. This, THIS cannot continue.

Mads Gilbert MD PhD
Professor and Clinical Head
Clinic of Emergency Medicine
University Hospital of North Norway

Link: Cigarettes and Climate Change

I am a smoker, and I am in denial. It isn’t that I don’t believe that cigarettes will kill me. I do. It isn’t that I don’t believe that I’m addicted. I know I am. Like most addicts, my denial takes the form of dissonance: I rationalize, I procrastinate, I make token gestures and shop for comparisons. Distraction is easy: I read while I smoke. Anything to avoid looking that monster in the eyes.

These are not novel forms of coping. Among more private kinds of existential crises—the junkie, the smoker, the troubling lump beneath the skin, and the marriage on the brink—denial is rarely outright. You know you have a problem; the trick is in refusing to acknowledge it.

It’s strange, then, that in the case of climate change—a cognitively torturous existential threat exceeding the sum of all our private ones by some incomprehensible order of magnitude—we tell an uncomplicated story about two stark sides. On one hand are the scientists; on the other, the skeptics. The skeptics don’t believe the monster’s there. The scientists (and activists, and journalists) endeavor to persuade them. When this latter side succeeds, the story goes, we will finally take action. In the meantime, we sit and hope that day won’t be too late.

That story isn’t true.

In American political life desire is rarely synonymous with will. If mere consensus made it so, then today we might count single-payer healthcare, the Equal Rights Amendment, and a guaranteed federal minimum wage among our national accomplishments. Each, at one time in our history, had the tacit approval of the majority. The reasons for their failure are complex and varied, but the consistent lesson is that tepid support, no matter how broad, does not change policy. Only the concerted efforts of a well-organized advocacy do. When measures pass, it is because an active constituency has engineered their victory, regardless of how many or how few citizens were basically okay with the idea. So it has been, on the left and on the right, from the American Revolution to the death of campaign finance laws.

An exhaustive conversion of the skeptics is not what stands between The United States and climate change reform. This is a good thing. If it were, then we’d be wiser to surrender now and enjoy the planet while it lasts us. But despite their stubborn numbers and friends in well-financed places, the Ted Cruzes of the world lack the power to long block meaningful reform. Our inaction these last decades is not a consequence of their resistance, but rather of the absence of sufficient pressure from those of us in the reality-based community, engaged in our more insidious forms of denial.

We are the problem. Those of us who, when confronted with the existential dread posed by global warming, do not deny the presence of the monster, but do everything within our power not to look it in the eyes.

It’s nothing to be ashamed of. Climate change—like addiction, like illness, like trauma and turmoil—is a threat to our sanity; a train of thought so stressful that the psychology of coping can’t help kicking in. It’s just too horrible to focus on for long, and so we do what we have always done in the face of crippling terror. We deny—not by rejecting the threat, but by avoiding it. Sometimes this takes the form of minimizing the threat, hoping that climate change plays out like only the mildest of our models’ projections. Sometimes we try wishful thinking, maintaining undue faith in some miraculous hi-tech solution. Most often, we just settle on escapism: thinking, reading, caring, and arguing about anything else. Anything that feels easier to tackle, anything that won’t kill us if we don’t. We’ll quit smoking next year, next year, next year.

I don’t have a grand solution for this dissonance, much less one for the multitude of international challenges that would face even the most devoted effort to keep our climate at bay. But I do have one small suggestion. Like all addicts in denial, we have our friendly enablers. Chief among these is the political press.

I don’t mean doctrinaire reactionary rags. I mean the mainstream and leftist publications, erstwhile environmentalists who would never dream of engaging in overtly skeptical denial. The Atlantic, The New Republic, and the New York Times all have robust environmental sections. But this, in a way, is the problem; they consign any mention of climate change to a clearly labeled box—which is a great help to those of us who are looking to avoid actively contemplating a terrifying truth. Meanwhile, their other sections, without malice or intention, become complicit in our denial. They publish stories about the future, about technology and medicine and politics, without any mention of a warming globe. “Researchers believe that in a hundred years . . .”; “By mid-century, the electoral map might . . . .” We all know how these stories go. I’ve even written some of them.

This futurism enables our denial. Like a Norman Rockwell painting that invites its audience into a shared fantasy about the past, these stories solicit a shared fantasy of the future–one where interesting possibilities of population, medicine, technology, and politics exist without the horrifying context of civilizational collapse. These stories fail to mention that quantum computing will be more difficult to research without energy. Many populations will be irrevocably impacted by famine. We can expect the long-term voting trends of Florida to change when half of Miami is underwater. And yet we’re only made to think about these things when we choose to read the “Green” sections of our newspapers and magazines.

I’m not suggesting that we cease to write stories about the future. But I am suggesting this: as a matter of political responsibility, magazines and newspapers should adopt a provision of their style guide requiring that any claim which is dependent on the continuity of present civilization be followed by an asterisk. At the bottom of the page, I propose something simple: “Assuming green house gases are controlled,” or “Contingent on a solution to climate change.”

Intervention requires that we close off the escape routes from our dread. We must be made to look the monster in the eyes, and do so every day. It will be unbearable at first; in self-defense, we might even find it obnoxious. But perhaps it would serve to nudge us just enough, to make us think about the problem until we do some thing about it. Then we could go back to such stories, confident that their contingencies won’t be spoiled by the rising tide.

Link: Israel does not want peace

Rejectionism is embedded in Israel’s most primal beliefs. There, at the deepest level, lies the concept that this land is destined for the Jews alone.

Israel does not want peace. There is nothing I have ever written that I would be happier to be proved wrong about. But the evidence is piling up. In fact, it can be said that Israel has never wanted peace – a just peace, that is, one based on a just compromise for both sides. It’s true that the routine greeting in Hebrew is Shalom (peace) – shalom when one leaves and shalom when one arrives. And, at the drop of a hat, almost every Israeli will say he wants peace, of course he does. But he’s not referring to the kind of peace that will bring about the justice without which there is no peace and there will be no peace. Israelis want peace, not justice, certainly not anything based on universal values. Thus, “Peace, peace, when there is no peace.” Not only is there no peace: In recent years, Israel has moved away from even the aspiration to make peace. It has despaired utterly of it. Peace has disappeared from the Israeli agenda, its place taken by the collective anxieties that are systematically implanted, and by personal, private matters that now take precedence over all else.

The Israeli longing for peace seemingly died about a decade ago, after the failure of the Camp David summit in 2000, the dissemination of the lie that there is no Palestinian partner for peace, and, of course, the horrific blood-soaked period of the second intifada. But the truth is that even before that, Israel never really wanted peace. Israel has never, not for a minute, treated the Palestinians as human beings with equal rights. It has never viewed their distress as understandable human and national distress.

The Israeli peace camp, too – if ever there was such a thing – also died a lingering death amid the harrowing scenes of the second intifada and the no-partner lie. All that remained were a handful of organizations that were as determined and devoted as they were ineffectual in the face of the delegitimization campaigns mounted against them. Israel, therefore, was left with its rejectionist stance.

The single most overwhelming item of evidence of Israel’s rejection of peace is, of course, the settlements project. From the dawn of its existence, there has never been a more reliable or more precise litmus test for Israel’s true intentions than this particular enterprise. In plain words: The builders of settlements want to consolidate the occupation, and those who want to consolidate the occupation do not want peace. That’s the whole story in a nutshell.

On the assumption that Israel’s decisions are rational, it is impossible to accept construction in the territories and the aspiration to peace as mutually coexisting. Every act of building in the settlements, every mobile home and every balcony, conveys rejection. If Israel had wanted to achieve peace through the Oslo Accords, it would at least have stopped the construction in the settlements at its own initiative. That this did not happen proves that Oslo was fraudulent, or at best the chronicle of a failure foretold. If Israel had wanted to achieve peace at Taba, at Camp David, at Sharm el-Sheikh, in Washington or in Jerusalem, its first move should have been to end all construction in the territories. Unconditionally. Without a quid pro quo. The fact that Israel did not is proof that it did not want a just peace.

But the settlements were only a touchstone of Israel’s intentions. Its rejectionism is embedded far more deeply – in its DNA, its bloodstream, its raison d’être, its most primal beliefs. There, at the deepest level, lies the concept that this land is destined for the Jews alone. There, at the deepest level, is entrenched the value of “am sgula” – God’s “treasured people” – and “God chose us.” In practice, this is translated to mean that, in this land, Jews are allowed to do what is forbidden to others. That is the point of departure, and there is no way to get from there to a just peace. There is no way to reach a just peace when the name of the game is the dehumanization of the Palestinians. No way to achieve peace when the demonization of the Palestinians is hammered into people’s heads day after day. Those who are convinced that every Palestinian is a suspicious person and that every Palestinian wants “to throw the Jews into the sea” will never make peace with the Palestinians. Most Israelis are convinced of the truth of both those statements.

In the past decade, the two peoples have been separated from each another. The average young Israeli will never meet his Palestinian peer, other than during his army service (and then only if he does his service in the territories). Nor will the average young Palestinian ever meet an Israeli his own age, other than the soldier who huffs and puffs at him at the checkpoint, or invades his home in the middle of the night, or in the person of the settler who usurps his land or torches his groves.

Consequently, the only encounter between the two people is between the occupiers, who are armed and violent, and the occupied, who are despairing and also turn to violence. Gone are the days when Palestinians worked in Israel and Israelis shopped in Palestine. Gone is the period of the half-normal and quarter-equal relations that existed for a few decades between the two peoples that share the same piece of territory. It is very easy, in this state of affairs, to incite and inflame the two peoples against one another, to spread fears and to instill new hatreds on top of those that already exist. This, too, is a sure recipe for non-peace.

So it was that a new Israeli yearning sprang up: the desire for separation: “They will be there and we will be here (and also there).” At a time when the majority of Palestinians – an assessment I allow myself to make after decades of covering the territories – still want coexistence, even if less and less, most Israelis want disengagement and separation, but without paying the price. The two-state vision has gained widespread adherence, but without any intention to implement it in practice. Most Israelis are in favor, but not now and maybe not even here. They have been trained to believe that there is no partner for peace – a Palestinian partner, that is – but that there is an Israeli partner.

Unfortunately, the truth is almost the reverse. The Palestinian non-partners no longer have any chance to prove that they are partners; the Israeli non-partners are convinced that they are interlocutors. So began the process in which Israeli conditions, obstacles and difficulties were heaped up, one more milestone in Israeli rejectionism. First came the demand for a cessation of terrorism; then the demand for a change of leadership (Yasser Arafat as a stumbling block); and after that Hamas became the hurdle. Now it’s the Palestinians’ refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. Israel considers every step it takes – from mass political arrests to building in the territories – to be legitimate, whereas every Palestinian move is “unilateral.”

The only country on the planet with no borders is so far unwilling to delineate even the compromise borders it is ready to be satisfied with. Israel has not internalized the fact that, for the Palestinians, the borders of 1967 are the mother of all compromises, the red line of justice (or relative justice). For the Israelis, they are “suicide borders.” This is why the preservation of the status quo has become the true Israeli aim, the primary goal of Israeli policy, almost its be-all and end-all. The problem is that the existing situation cannot last forever. Historically, few nations have ever agreed to live under occupation without resistance. And the international community, too, is one day apt to utter a firm pronouncement on this state of affairs, with accompanying punitive measures. It follows that the Israeli goal is unrealistic.

Disconnected from reality, the majority of Israelis pursue their regular way of life. In their mind’s eye the world is always against them, and the areas of occupation on their doorstep are beyond their realm of interest. Anyone who dares criticize the occupation policy is branded an anti-Semite, every act of resistance is perceived as an existential threat. All international opposition to the occupation is read as the “delegitimizing” of Israel and as a provocation to the country’s very existence. The world’s seven billion people – most of whom are against the occupation – are wrong, and six million Israeli Jews – most of whom support the occupation – are right. That’s the reality in the eyes of the average Israeli.

Add to this the repression, the concealment and the obfuscation, and you have another explanation for the rejectionism: Why should anyone strive for peace as long as life in Israel is good, calm prevails and the reality is concealed? The only way the besieged Gaza Strip can remind people of its existence is by firing rockets, and the West Bank only gets onto the agenda these days when blood is shed there. Similarly, the viewpoint of the international community is only taken into account when it tries to impose boycotts and sanctions, which in their turn immediately generate a campaign of self-victimization studded with blunt – and at times also impertinent – historical accusations.

This, then, is the gloomy picture. It contains not a ray of hope. The change will not happen on its own, from within Israeli society, as long as that society continues to behave as it does. The Palestinians have made more than one mistake, but their mistakes are marginal. Basic justice is on their side, and basic rejectionism is the Israelis’ purview. The Israelis want occupation, not peace.

I only hope I am wrong

Link: ‘A Government Of Thugs’: How Canada Treats Environmental Journalists

I attempted to enter Canada on a Tuesday, flying into the small airport at Fort McMurray, Alberta, waiting for my turn to pass through customs.

“What brings you to Fort Mac?” a Canada Border Services Agency official asked. “I’m a journalist,” I said. “I’m here to see the tar sands.” He pointed me to border security. Another official, a tall, clean-shaven man, asked the same question. “I’m here to see the tar sands.” he frowned. “You mean oil sands. We don’t have tar here.”

Up until the 1960s, the common name for Canada’s massive reserves of heavy bitumen mixed with sand was “tar sands.” Now, the phrase is officially considered a colloquialism, with “oil sands” being the accurate name, according to the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers. But “tar sands” is not really an informal phrase in Canada as much as it is a symbol of your views. If you say tar sands, you’re an environmentalist. If you say tar sands, you’re the enemy.

“We might have to send you back to the States,” the official said, after asking if I had working papers. I didn’t, so I phoned a colleague staying at a nearby hotel. “This guy at border security says I need working papers or something and that he’s gonna send me back to the States,” I said.

“Why did you say I was going to send you back to the States? I didn’t say that,” the official said after I hung up. “See, you’re already misrepresenting what’s going on here.”

My interrogation included details about where I was going, who I was meeting with, why I wanted to see the sands. The official had me open my bag so he could see if I was carrying cameras. Then he let me into Canada. “Because I’m being nice,” he said, and gave me a certificate stating that I must leave the country by Friday.

Can’t Criticize If You Don’t Know

In all, I was delayed for about 45 minutes — a relatively painless experience — but I did get the feeling I wasn’t the only one being hassled in Canada for an association with environmentalism. Indeed, as interviews with multiple reporters and activists show, the federal government places numerous obstacles in the way of those who try to disseminate information about the Canadian tar sands. Many believe this has amounted to a full-on war.

There are logical reasons why impeding environmental journalists could be in Canada’s interest. The tar sands are the third largest oil reserve in the world, and production is currently accelerating so quickly that the governmentpredicts capital investments will reach $218 billion over the next 25 years. Part of that investment could come from the Keystone XL pipeline, the controversial proposal that, if approved, would bring up to 830,000 barrels of Canadian crude oil per day down to refineries in the U.S.

So it makes sense that Canadian officials may want to prevent environmental perspectives on Fort McMurray’s vast tar sands reserves, which have replaced thousands of acres of boreal forest with massive refineries and sprawling mining sites — shiny, black excavated deserts that sit next to glowing white ponds of chemical waste. A small portion of boreal forest remains, but it doesn’t do much to cover the scars.

From the air, you can see enormous white smokestacks 50 miles away. And from the ground, you can talk to those who have been physically harmed by accidental releases from the white ponds of tar sands chemical waste, called tailings ponds, which leech into the Athabasca river and flow downstream to First Nations communities like Fort Chip, where cancer rates have skyrocketed in the last 30 years.

Stories that describe the detrimental effects of Canada’s fossil fuel boom — not to mention the high carbon-intensityof tar sands oil extraction or unlikelihood that mining sites will ever be adequately reclaimed — threaten public support for projects like Keystone XL, and by extension, speedy and lucrative development.

‘A Culture Of Secrecy’

According to Tom Henheffer, executive director of the non-profit Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE), the Canadian federal government has been actively working for the last decade to prevent journalists’ access to information, particularly in science-related fields. The trend only got worse, he said, when current Prime Minister Stephen Harper, a fierce supporter of tar sands development, took office in 2006.

“It’s specifically very bad in science-related fields, but it extends into every other field,” Henheffer said. “This government has a culture of secrecy that is extremely harmful to Canadian society.”

This government has a culture of secrecy that is extremely harmful to Canadian society.

Henheffer, whose group in April released its annual Review of Free Expression in Canada Report Card, noted two main issues at play. One, he said, is an increase in the amount of bureaucracy journalists must go through to get information. The other is a gradual de-funding of research, so the information journalists want isn’t even created in the first place.

The CJFE’s report card gave a failing grade to Canada’s access-to-information (ATI) system, which saw delays beyond the legal time limit affecting almost 45 percent of information requests, and more than 80 percent of responses partially or mostly censored. That report card also slammed the government for cutting scientific research, dismissing more than 2,000 scientists and cutting 165 research programs affecting “almost every federal scientific and monitoring institution.”

The report also noted a nationwide “muzzling” of federal scientists, citing government efforts to ensure its scientists limit discussions with the media on their work — much of which includes the environmental and climate impacts of tar sands development. This was confirmed in 2007, when a leaked PowerPoint presentation from Environment Canada revealed that government scientists were told to refer all media queries to communications officers who would help them respond with “approved lines.”

The current climate, Henheffer said, is frustrating journalistic efforts throughout the country.

“They’ve essentially dismantled our access to information system,” he said. “It makes investigative journalism impossible.”

The ‘Extremist Threat’ Of Environmentalists

Along with access to information for journalists, Stephen Harper’s government has also been working to dismantle environmental groups, a fact that has been revealed, ironically, by document requests from journalists. Those documents show unprecedented attempts from agencies across the federal government to spy on, de-fund, and otherwise disrupt the efforts of environmental groups.

[Environmental] groups threaten to hijack our regulatory system to achieve their radical ideological agenda.

The most recent example of this has been a rigorous effort by the Canada Revenue Agency to target environmental groups for possible abuse of their nonprofit charity statuses, alleging they may be violating the limits on how much political advocacy work they can do. The CRA’s $8 million effort was launched in 2012, shortly after the pro-tar sands group Ethical Oil kicked off a public campaign to “expose the radical foreign funded environmental groups” criticizing the oil industry.

“There are environmental and other radical groups that would seek to block this opportunity to diversify our trade,” Joe Oliver, then-Natural Resources Minister, wrote at the time. “These groups threaten to hijack our regulatory system to achieve their radical ideological agenda. They seek to exploit any loophole they can find, stacking public hearings with bodies to ensure that delays kill good projects.”

One of the original groups targeted was ForestEthics, a British Columbia-based nonprofit with branches in Vancouver and San Francisco. One of the fiercest and more outspoken opponents of the tar sands and the proposedNorthern Gateway pipeline, the group responded by giving up its charitable status (thereby giving up tax breaks to its donors) so it could focus more on combating what it refers to as “attacks on the environment.”

“Ever since we formed the advocacy group we’ve been under further … ‘intense scrutiny’ I guess is the nicest way to put it, because the advocacy group is set up explicitly for the sake of taking on the Harper government,” ForestEthics tar sands campaigner Ben West said.

West said that since his group founded its advocacy arm, it has been a target of a recently-revealed spying effort by the Canadian federal government. That effort, revealed in November by a public records request from the Vancouver Observer, showed that officials had been sending spies to meetings of anti-tar sands groups, relaying their plans for rallies and strategies for public meetings.

What’s more, documents obtained in February by the Guardian revealed that both Canada’s national police force and intelligence agency view environmental activist protest activities as “forms of attack,” and depict those involved as national security threats. Greenpeace, for example, is officially regarded as an “extremist” threat.

West said the revelations have had a “chilling” effect on the groups’ volunteer and donor base.

“The word is out that ForestEthics is one of the groups that the federal government is paying close attention to, and that has an impact on people’s comfort levels and their desire to get involved,” West said. “If you look at the pieces of the documents we were able to get our hands on, they explain what was happening at meetings where you would have had to have been in the room to have known the content of that meeting.”

‘A Government Of Thugs’

In addition to the more-calculated attempts to prevent environmental criticism, multiple reporters and activists say they experience an egregious amount of defensiveness, spitefulness, and intimidation from the federal government that prevents them from doing their jobs effectively.

“We have a government of thugs in Ottawa these days who are absolutely ruthless,” said Andrew Nikiforuk, anaward-winning journalist who has been reporting critically on Canada’s oil and gas industry for more than 20 years. “It’s a hostility and thuggery, is the way I would describe it. That’s exactly what it is.”

We have a government of thugs in Ottawa these days who are absolutely ruthless.

Nikiforuk says he’s been shut out of government events, “slandered and libeled” by a member of the government’s conservative party, and repeatedly contacted by government flacks who criticize his reporting.

The most blatant example of government intimidation Nikiforuk can recall was when members of Canada’s Energy Resources Conservation Board actively tried to prevent the publication of his 2010 book, Tar Sands, claiming he made numerous factual errors and posting a long letter about it on its website. Nikifourk rebutted the claims, eventually winning the Society of Environmental Journalist’s Rachel Carson Book Award for his reporting.

Documentary and satire filmmakers Andy Cobb and Mike Damanskis also said they experienced government intimidation when, like me, they were detained at the Fort McMurray airport in October 2013. Unlike me, however, they were deported.

“He basically told us that the tar sands weren’t news, that he wasn’t recognizing us as journalists, and that if we wanted to come to Canada, we weren’t going to be able to do it today,” Damanskis said.

Though it seemed like at first they would be able to enter the country without working papers, Damanskis and Cobb said the border official had an “immediate change of heart” after watching a clip of their previous work — a videosatirizing the infamous Mayflower, Arkansas tar sands pipeline spill.

Border spokesperson Lisa White said she was not authorized to speak on specific cases, and declined to specify whether officers were allowed to make entry decisions based on the content of journalists’ work. She did say, however, that documentary filmmakers required working papers to enter Canada, and that all entry decisions are made on a case-by-case basis.

“All decisions are made in accordance with Canadian law,” she said.

Swift And Snarky Push-Back

Of course, it’s important to note that journalists like Nikiforuk, Damaskis, and Cobb are more likely to get negative feedback from Canadian government officials because they are not, and don’t claim to be, completely objective. All three are openly and fiercely opposed to the speed of tar sands development.

But even reporters who are seemingly more objective toward development have been subject to government push-back. For example, Economist correspondent Madelaine Drohan said via e-mail that Alberta’s provincial government once posted a “defensive” response on its website to an article she wrote that mentioned leaks from tailings ponds, which are large lakes of tar sands waste. That response has since been removed, but Drohan said she remembers it happening.

“It made me think that the government was even more sensitive than the industry,” she said.

As for hostility from the Alberta provincial government, one journalist pointed specifically to David Sands, a director at Alberta’s Public Affairs Bureau, whose Twitter account is made up largely of rebuttals to journalism critical of Alberta government. In recent tweets, Sands compared two newspapers’ coverage of Parliament to “jihad,” among other critical responses.

“Yeah, I’m the mean guy,” Sands told ThinkProgress. “It’s definitely my personal style, but nobody told me to be mean.”

Sands said part of his job is tracking down stories that include inaccuracies about Alberta government policies. He said he’s the only one in his department with the specific mandate to do so.

Still, many have criticized Alberta for the number of people they’ve employed to hunt down stories. According to documentsobtained by the Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation in April, Alberta employs 214 communications professionals at a cost of $21 million per year, a number that the National Post noted “far outstrips” the number of reporters who cover government.

Sands rebutted that story too, saying communications staff span a range of departments — healthcare, education, law enforcement — that are not all dedicated to attacking journalists.

“It’s sort of an enjoyment of the media to say we have 214 communications people who are all dealing with the media,” he said. “When reporting is challenged, people take it very personally.”

The Strategy Is Working — Or Is It?

Thus far, government push-back against environmental journalism seems to be working. As a recent survey of Canadian journalists showed, many environmental and climate stories about the tar sands often go unreported. That survey, titled “The Alberta Oil Sands, Journalists, and Their Sources,” questioned 20 reporters with extensive daily experience reporting on the tar sands.

Of the 20, 14 said stories about the tar sands were not being told, and seven of those 14 said environmental issues were the main ones untouched. Environmental damage done by leaking tailings ponds and bitumen waste; toxic contaminants leeching into the water; the impact of excess sulfur produced in the mining process — all of those were included in the issues journalists perceive as under-reported.

“I hate this story,” one reporter who participated in the study said. “It’s important, but there’s no direction or progression.”

As for activist groups, Ben West of ForestEthics said the hostility has actually been helping his group’s efforts. And it’s not just the group itself. As the government’s attacks have become more and more public, West says his and other environmental advocacy groups have been obtaining record-breaking donations from individuals — what he calls a “clear sign” that Canadians want to protect their environment from the tar sands.

“I actually kind of welcome these attacks from the federal government in a sense, because they are a great opportunity to highlight how crazy our government’s acting, and use it as a reason to ask people for more support,” he said. “Many Canadians feel strongly about this. Let the government create their own disincentives.”

Link: Age of Ignorance

Link: Slavoj Žižek: Who can control the post-superpower capitalist world order?

In a divided and dangerous world, we need to teach the new powers some manners.

To know a society is not only to know its explicit rules. One must also know how to apply them: when to use them, when to violate them, when to turn down a choice that is offered, and when we are effectively obliged to do something but have to pretend we are doing it as a free choice. Consider the paradox, for instance, of offers-meant-to-be-refused. When I am invited to a restaurant by a rich uncle, we both know he will cover the bill, but I nonetheless have to lightly insist we share it – imagine my surprise if my uncle were simply to say: “OK, then, you pay it!”

There was a similar problem during the chaotic post-Soviet years of Yeltsin’s rule in Russia. Although the legal rules were known, and were largely the same as under the Soviet Union, the complex network of implicit, unwritten rules, which sustained the entire social edifice, disintegrated. In the Soviet Union, if you wanted better hospital treatment, say, or a new apartment, if you had a complaint against the authorities, were summoned to court or wanted your child to be accepted at a top school, you knew the implicit rules. You understood whom to address or bribe, and what you could or couldn’t do. After the collapse of Soviet power, one of the most frustrating aspects of daily life for ordinary people was that these unwritten rules became seriously blurred. People simply did not know how to react, how to relate to explicit legal regulations, what could be ignored, and where bribery worked. (One of the functions of organised crime was to provide a kind of ersatz legality. If you owned a small business and a customer owed you money, you turned to your mafia protector, who dealt with the problem, since the state legal system was inefficient.) The stabilisation of society under the Putin reign is largely because of the newly established transparency of these unwritten rules. Now, once again, people mostly understand the complex cobweb of social interactions.

In international politics, we have not yet reached this stage. Back in the 1990s, a silent pact regulated the relationship between the great western powers and Russia. Western states treated Russia as a great power on the condition that Russia didn’t act as one. But what if the person to whom the offer-to-be-rejected is made actually accepts it? What if Russia starts to act as a great power? A situation like this is properly catastrophic, threatening the entire existing fabric of relations – as happened five years ago in Georgia. Tired of only being treated as a superpower, Russia actually acted as one.

How did it come to this? The “American century” is over, and we have entered a period in which multiple centres of global capitalism have been forming. In the US, Europe, China and maybe Latin America, too, capitalist systems have developed with specific twists: the US stands for neoliberal capitalism, Europe for what remains of the welfare state, China for authoritarian capitalism, Latin America for populist capitalism. After the attempt by the US to impose itself as the sole superpower – the universal policeman – failed, there is now the need to establish the rules of interaction between these local centres as regards their conflicting interests.

This is why our times are potentially more dangerous than they may appear. During the cold war, the rules of international behaviour were clear, guaranteed by the Mad-ness – mutually assured destruction – of the superpowers. When the Soviet Union violated these unwritten rules by invading Afghanistan, it paid dearly for this infringement. The war in Afghanistan was the beginning of its end. Today, the old and new superpowers are testing each other, trying to impose their own version of global rules, experimenting with them through proxies – which are, of course, other, small nations and states.

Karl Popper once praised the scientific testing of hypotheses, saying that, in this way, we allow our hypotheses to die instead of us. In today’s testing, small nations get hurt and wounded instead of the big ones – first Georgia, now Ukraine. Although the official arguments are highly moral, revolving around human rights and freedoms, the nature of the game is clear. The events in Ukraine seem something like the crisis in Georgia, part two – the next stage of a geopolitical struggle for control in a nonregulated, multicentred world.

It is definitely time to teach the superpowers, old and new, some manners, but who will do it? Obviously, only a transnational entity can manage it – more than 200 years ago, Immanuel Kant saw the need for a transnational legal order grounded in the rise of the global society. In his project for perpetual peace, he wrote: “Since the narrower or wider community of the peoples of the earth has developed so far that a violation of rights in one place is felt throughout the world, the idea of a law of world citizenship is no high-flown or exaggerated notion.”

This, however, brings us to what is arguably the “principal contradiction” of the new world order (if we may use this old Maoist term): the impossibility of creating a global political order that would correspond to the global capitalist economy.

What if, for structural reasons, and not only due to empirical limitations, there cannot be a worldwide democracy or a representative world government? What if the global market economy cannot be directly organised as a global liberal democracy with worldwide elections?

Today, in our era of globalisation, we are paying the price for this “principal contradiction.” In politics, age-old fixations, and particular, substantial ethnic, religious and cultural identities, have returned with a vengeance. Our predicament today is defined by this tension: the global free circulation of commodities is accompanied by growing separations in the social sphere. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the rise of the global market, new walls have begun emerging everywhere, separating peoples and their cultures. Perhaps the very survival of humanity depends on resolving this tension.

Link: On Privilege: A Leftist Critique of the Left

The world in which we live is much more sinister than the simple, dichotomized image of “oppressed and oppressor” central to the politics of the old left.

The debate around privilege has spilled over the boundaries of the academic left and is slowly starting to emerge in wider discussions about inequality. Yet, despite its increasing popularity, the lexicon of privilege seems to find itself awkwardly aligned with the very structure of power that it attempts to expose. While initially intended to interrogate the discourse of dominant social groups to highlight how power can pollute the content of seemingly universalistic arguments, the new discussion on privilege has become a powerful tool to silence certain voices entirely. Rather than serving as immanent critique of the ideological content of discourse, the rhetoric of privilege has become a means to divert attention away from the substance of arguments to their immediate origin. The pitfall of this seemingly promising theoretical framework lies in the fact that discussions of privilege can be too easily deployed to dismiss arguments of persons based on features of their personhood—claims that, in philosophy, are called ad hominem arguments.

Let me be clear that my criticism of discussions of privilege is not that they are too radical. My quarrel, to the contrary, is that they are not radical enough. The cultural Marxism of the mid-20th century gifted the left with a powerful tool by which to understand how oppressive social structures are perpetuated through discourse—the critique of ideology. Ideology critique acknowledges that the status quo is enforced not only through a single, centralized node of authority, but through dispersed and diverse forms of discourse from all points of origin on the social spectrum. It is a peculiar feature of oppression that it is often enforced by those who are, in fact, oppressed. Ideology critique uses the term ideology to denote modes of thought that justify the dominant social order that privileges certain groups while disadvantaging others; and, more specifically, it deploys the term false consciousness to refer to the thought process by which marginalized groups justify their own oppression via ideologyThe task of ideology critique is not to trace discourse back to its author and to critique its content on that basis, but to understand how oppression is perpetuated from multiple nodes, even unlikely ones. The marginalized are brought under as much critical scrutiny as the members of the privileged classes. The immediate origin of discourse is bracketed for a deeper understanding of how the arguments of a given interlocutor may be manifestations of an internalized mode of thinking that justifies the predominant power structure, whether advertently or inadvertently—in other words, how certain arguments further the interests of those in power at the expense of the marginalized, without explicitly declaring it.

Much of the contemporary left, however (perhaps out of shame of its indebtedness to Marxism in an increasingly hostile neoliberal environment), has done away with “ideology” and has erected in its place the framework of “privilege”. Discussions of privilege, in their most diminished form, uncritically applaud the perspectives of the marginalized by their mere origin in the marginalized classes; and, conversely, they reject the discourse of the dominant classes as inescapably tainted by power. I recall my discomfort with this feature of the privilege framework when, at an Occupy Wall Street gathering two years ago, a protestor addressed the crowd at Harvard dressed as a caricatured bourgeois citizen, performing the stereotype of a greedy individual whose malice is unilaterally inflicted on the innocent oppressed classes. The attack was on bourgeois personhood rather than on economic, cultural, and social structures that permit the person her place of privilege at the expense of the 99 percent.

The privilege framework critic may suggest that power and subjectivity cannot be disentangled, and that the very subjectivity of the one percent is a legitimate target for emancipatory action. This argument, however, ironically mimics the very oppressive structure that it attempts to critique. In entrenching power as a feature of certain classes of people rather than of structures, it inadvertently justifies the exclusion, in the widest sense of the term, of entire groups of people from discourse. Indeed, the privilege framework is used not only by the left to tackle the rhetoric of the right, but also in the right’s critique of the left. A malicious article on Feb. 21 by right-wing columnist Bruce Bawer about Harvard undergraduate activist Sandra Korn’s appeal for academic justice deployed the ad hominem form of the privilege framework inversely, attempting to discredit Korn’s leftist argument by appeal to her socioeconomic origins. This example, among a host of others, sheds further light on the insight that the privilege framework shares a dangerous seed with the tendency of the radical right toward xenophobia—the tendency toward ad hominem arguments enshrined in all proto-totalitarian thinking.

A point of clarification is in order. A friend of mine suggested that it is not the privilege framework itself which is inherently flawed, but rather its frequent misuse. To point to the social position of an interlocutor is not to diminish the content of her words, but rather to add another layer of analysis to the understanding of her argument. The privilege framework, if used properly, is a structural rather than a personal form of critique. To respond, my claim is not that ideology critique focuses only on the content of discourse, while the privilege framework focuses only on the origin of discourse. My argument is that by scrutinizing the immediate origin of a given argument, discussions of privilege display an over-simplified understanding how ideology works, neglecting to take into account that power in discourse can only rarely be traced to the immediate intentions or social position of a given interlocutor. This error in method is the source of the frequent devolution of the privilege framework into ad hominem attacks that merely reproduce the power structure that they attempt to expose.

The central poststructuralist insight is that power bounces through multiple nodes and is formallytransformed before manifesting in discourse. This is why it is generally more useful, in my opinion, to ask how the content of discourse furthers ideological structures while bracketing the immediate origin of a given argument. Ideology critique assumes neither that a given interlocutor has hidden intentions masked in her words, nor that her social position reveals a determinable relationship to power at play in her argument. It begins merely with the possibility that an argument may serve to legitimize the existing social order or factional interests, regardless of the intention or position of its author. It may turn out, for example, that some claim furthers capitalist interests, and that the author is also a major shareholder in a company; however, this convergence of power and identity is neither assumed nor required by ideology critique.

As an example, consider responses to a recent article in The Harvard Crimson, “How Gay Pride Backfires”, which criticizes movements such as gay pride on the basis that they reinforce “the sharp distinction between ‘gay’ and ‘straight’ […] that perpetuates a notion of otherness, when all sexual affinities should be understood as part of the same spectrum.” In the flood of responses to this deeply ideological article, two general camps of leftist criticism emerged. The first argues that the privilege associated with author’s ‘straightness’ is the reason for his opposition to gay pride, because it prohibits him from understanding the importance of pride parades to the empowerment of sexual minorities. The second argues that the article serves to reinforce straight hegemony because it implicitly argues that middle-class, conjugal, heterosexual ideals of ‘sexual decency’ should trump more open, fluid, and expressive experiences of queer sexuality, such as those expressed at pride parades. The first criticism is an ad hominem privilege framework argument, while the second has the form of an ideology-based critique. The privilege-based critique assumes that the author’s ideology stems from an essential feature of his identity—his ‘straightness’—and that his argument should be discounted or disqualified on that basis. Notice that both the privilege and ideology critiques concur in their denunciation of the argument. However, while the former uses the author’sidentity as a proxy for the power of heterosexual privilege that it finds operative in the argument, the latter demonstrates how a certain ideology—one that favors straight sexual expression at the expense of the distinct sexual expression of queer minorities – pervades the argument, without reference to the sexual orientation of the author.

My argument is twofold. First, I am arguing that no one’s participation in public discourse should be denigrated by appeal to essential features of their identity. If we, as leftists, want to be unashamedly critical of discourse—as we should be—we should do so with reference to structures of power, such as heterosexual hegemony, rather than with reference to essential identities, such as the ‘straightness’ of particular individuals. The mode of argumentation associated with the privilege framework invokes an era of right-wing political thought that is both dangerous to democratic values and divergent from the ideals of inclusion, representation, and equality at the core of leftist politics. Second, I am arguing that to situate ideology in identity can not only be malicious, but also fallacious. If a self-identified queer person were to have written “How Gay Pride Backfires”, the privilege framework would collapse as an explanans, as it would no longer be able to appeal to the heterosexual privilege of the author to explain the danger of the argument. Importantly, however, in this alternative scenario, the queerness of the author would not render the article any less ideological and detrimental to the interests of sexual minorities. Ideology critique, through its understanding of false consciousness, is better equipped to demonstrate how both the privileged and underprivileged can be complicit in marginalization and oppression, without depending on the intentionality or identity of particular individuals.

This elucidation brings further light to my admittedly strong and provocative claim that the privilege framework shares a root with totalitarian thinking, and that it ultimately perpetuates the power structure that it attempts to expose. The collapse of power and identity is characteristic of totalitarian thinking—a mode of thought that categorically excludes certain classes of people from discourse by appeal to insurmountable limitations of their identities. By assuming that the identity of a person can shed insight on the structure of power pervading her argument, the privilege framework—even in its milder iterations that avoid an explicitly ad hominem form—finds itself awkwardly aligned to this mode of thinking. While its aim is to expose how a seemingly universalistic argument neglects to consider the experience of an oppressed or marginalized community, the privilege framework establishes its claim by invalidating or diminishing the privileged interlocutor’s participation in discourse by appeal to an essential feature of her identity. Although its objective is inclusion in discourse, it formallymimics the exclusion that is central to totalitarian thinking. Insofar as the privilege framework endeavors to expose power in discourse, it is thus self-contradictory, as it merely substitutes one form of exclusion with another. To be absolutely clear, my argument is not that left-wing activists are totalitarians; to distort my argument in this way would be to misunderstand the distinction between political forms and modes of political thought. I am by no means claiming that those who use the privilege framework are totalitarian in the sense of endorsing the political and institutional forms of totalitarianism. Instead, I am highlighting that the privilege framework mimics the identity-based exclusionary politics unique to totalitarian thinking, and that, therefore, we, on the left, ought to be extremely wary of its uncritical use.

Ultimately, I am not proposing that we evaluate arguments in a vacuum; that would be simply to perpetuate ideology. No one can deny that public discourse is both embedded in, and has embedded within it, systems of oppression. I am instead suggesting that we evaluate arguments with reference to dominant power forms, rather than with reference to the subject positions of particular interlocutors. In other terms, I am appealing for the preservation of a strong power-identity distinction in leftist discourse analysis. Only in this way can leftist critique avoid the often fallacious (and frequently malicious) assumption that entire social groups have determinable relationships to power that manifest in the arguments of their members. It is true, for example, that whiteness orpatriarchy are real power structures that are often unnoticeably exalted in public discourse; however, it is methodologically dangerous to appeal to the whiteness or maleness of a particular interlocutor as a proxy for the power structure assumed to be latent in his argument. Likewise, it is equally dangerous to validate the discourse of a person of color or a woman by assuming that her ethnicity or gender exonerates her from perpetuating the power structures of whiteness or patriarchy. We are all potentially culpable of false consciousness, just as we are all capable of enlightened thinking. It is for this reason that the mainstream left must reject categorical, identity-based exclusion from public discourse as an acceptable means to achieve the inclusion of the marginalized classes—a goal which I applaud wholeheartedly as the central legitimate endeavor of leftist critique.

Marxian ideology critique is certainly not perfect. I admit this wholly. It neglects to understand that ideology critique itself may be deployed ideologically. It also has no satisfying answer to the charge of unfalsifiability—that, if deployed uncritically, ideology critique can relapse into a framework that dismisses all counter-arguments as ideology and all concurring arguments as ideology-free. Still, if we are to talk about oppression, ideology critique trumps the privilege framework because it resists the ad hominem argumentative form that too easily devolves into a mode of thought that mimics totalitarian thinking. In ideology critique, there is no class of interlocutors who, qua class, are excluded from critical interrogation. All discourse—across socioeconomic classes, races, genders, political positions, and sexual orientations – may be, at least potentially, culpable of consciously or unconsciously serving as an outlet through which ideology is promulgated. In its most critical form, ideology critique grants no one immunity from scrutiny – not even the critical theorist herself.

My aim in putting the privilege framework into direct comparison with ideology critique is to highlight a larger troubling trend in the mainstream left exhibited in the Occupy Wall Street episode that I described earlier. Much of the left is ignoring that the old binaries of social thought—the state and civil society, the bourgeois and the proletariat, knowledge and power—have become too blurred to relegate the role of “oppressor” to any given group qua a fundamental characteristic of that group. Power, though perhaps still centralized, is exercised through decentralized nodes. Consciousness itself is complicit. The mainstream left can no longer remain contented with aligning itself blindly with the welfare state, the proletariat, or even the subaltern. A heightened critical awareness begins with a definitive shift away from theoretical frameworks that exalt the idea that some individuals are culpable and that others are exempt from complicity in oppression merely by virtue of elements of their subjectivities. Not only is this shift truer to the world in which we live, but it resists the turn to totalitarian thinking that we must avoid at all costs.

I am admittedly skimming over a deep and crucial question—that if consciousness itself is complicit in ideology, and that if the critical theorist is thus fully embedded in the ideological context that she attempts to expose, then ideology critique is, at best, self-contradictory, and, at worst, a masked agent of ideology. This supremely troubling problem is certainly not one that I claim to have solved. I can merely assert that insofar as the left yet clings to the hope of human emancipation from oppression as a legitimate political aim, it must undertake a mammoth effort, both in theory and praxis, to lift itself out of the blind complicity of the genre exhibited by the privilege framework. A heightened critical self-awareness and an uncompromising unfaithfulness to any ideology, even the ideology of ideology critique itself, are perhaps the sole tools at the disposal of the leftist critical theorist if she is to begin to overcome her own embeddedness in the structure of power that she endeavors to dismantle. The world in which we live is much more sinister than the simple, dichotomized image of “oppressed and oppressor” central to the politics of the old left. The mainstream left must reinvent itself self-critically or face the charge of complicity. There is no other option.

Link: Slavoj Žižek: Barbarism with a Human Face

Again and again in television reports on the mass protests in Kiev against the Yanukovich government, we saw images of protesters tearing down statues of Lenin. It was an easy way to demonstrate anger: the statues functioned as a symbol of Soviet oppression, and Putin’s Russia is perceived as continuing the Soviet policy of Russian domination of its neighbours. Bear in mind that it was only in 1956 that Lenin’s statues started to proliferate throughout the Soviet Union: until then, statues of Stalin were much more common. But after Krushchev’s ‘secret’ denunciation of Stalin at the 20th Congress of the Communist Party, Stalin’s statues were replaced en masse by Lenin’s: Lenin was literally a stand-in for Stalin. This was made equally clear by a change made in 1962 to the masthead of Pravda. Until then, at the top left-hand corner of the front page, there had been a drawing of two profiles, Lenin’s and Stalin’s, side by side. Shortly after the 22nd Congress publicly rejected Stalin, his profile wasn’t merely removed but replaced with a second profile of Lenin: now there were two identical Lenins printed side by side. In a way, this weird repetition made Stalin more present in his absence than ever.

There was nonetheless a historical irony in watching Ukrainians tearing down Lenin’s statues as a sign of their will to break with Soviet domination and assert their national sovereignty. The golden era of Ukrainian national identity was not tsarist Russia – where Ukrainian national self-assertion was thwarted – but the first decade of the Soviet Union, when Soviet policy in a Ukraine exhausted by war and famine was ‘indigenisation’. Ukrainian culture and language were revived, and rights to healthcare, education and social security introduced. Indigenisation followed the principles formulated by Lenin in quite unambiguous terms:

The proletariat cannot but fight against the forcible retention of the oppressed nations within the boundaries of a given state, and this is exactly what the struggle for the right of self-determination means. The proletariat must demand the right of political secession for the colonies and for the nations that ‘its own’ nation oppresses. Unless it does this, proletarian internationalism will remain a meaningless phrase; mutual confidence and class solidarity between the workers of the oppressing and oppressed nations will be impossible.

Lenin remained faithful to this position to the end: immediately after the October Revolution, when Rosa Luxembourg argued that small nations should be given full sovereignty only if progressive forces would predominate in the new state, Lenin was in favour of an unconditional right to secede.

In his last struggle against Stalin’s project for a centralised Soviet Union, Lenin again advocated the unconditional right of small nations to secede (in this case, Georgia was at stake), insisting on the full sovereignty of the national entities that composed the Soviet state – no wonder that, on 27 September 1922, in a letter to the Politburo, Stalin accused Lenin of ‘national liberalism’. The direction in which Stalin was already heading is clear from his proposal that the government of Soviet Russia should also be the government of the other five republics (Ukraine, Belarus, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia):

If the present decision is confirmed by the Central Committee of the RCP, it will not be made public, but communicated to the Central Committees of the Republics for circulation among the Soviet organs, the Central Executive Committees or the Congresses of the Soviets of the said Republics before the convocation of the All-Russian Congress of the Soviets, where it will be declared to be the wish of these Republics.

The interaction of the higher authority, the Central Committee, with its base was thus abolished: the higher authority now simply imposed its will. To add insult to injury, the Central Committee decided what the base would ask the higher authority to enact, as if it were its own wish. In the most conspicuous case, in 1939, the three Baltic states asked to join the Soviet Union, which granted their wish. In all this, Stalin was returning to pre-Revolutionary tsarist policy: Russia’s colonisation of Siberia in the 17th century and Muslim Asia in the 19th was no longer condemned as imperialist expansion, but celebrated for setting these traditional societies on the path of progressive modernisation. Putin’s foreign policy is a clear continuation of the tsarist-Stalinist line. After the Russian Revolution, according to Putin, the Bolsheviks did serious damage to Russia’s interests: ‘The Bolsheviks, for a number of reasons – may God judge them – added large sections of the historical south of Russia to the Republic of Ukraine. This was done with no consideration for the ethnic make-up of the population, and today these areas form the south-east of Ukraine.’

No wonder Stalin’s portraits are on show again at military parades and public celebrations, while Lenin has been obliterated. In an opinion poll carried out in 2008 by the Rossiya TV station, Stalin was voted the third greatest Russian of all time, with half a million votes. Lenin came in a distant sixth. Stalin is celebrated not as a Communist but as a restorer of Russian greatness after Lenin’s anti-patriotic ‘deviation’. Putin recently used the term Novorossiya (‘New Russia’) for the seven south-eastern oblasts of Ukraine, resuscitating a term last used in 1917.

But the Leninist undercurrent, though repressed, persisted in the Communist underground opposition to Stalin. Long before Solzhenitsyn, as Christopher Hitchens wrote in 2011, ‘the crucial questions about the Gulag were being asked by left oppositionists, from Boris Souvarine to Victor Serge to C.L.R. James, in real time and at great peril. Those courageous and prescient heretics have been somewhat written out of history (they expected far worse than that, and often received it).’ This internal dissent was a natural part of the Communist movement, in clear contrast to fascism. ‘There were no dissidents in the Nazi Party,’ Hitchens went on, ‘risking their lives on the proposition that the Führer had betrayed the true essence of National Socialism.’ Precisely because of this tension at the heart of the Communist movement, the most dangerous place to be at the time of the 1930s purges was at the top of the nomenklatura: in the space of a couple of years, 80 per cent of the Central Committee and the Red Army leadership were shot. Another sign of dissent could be detected in the last days of ‘really existing socialism’, when protesting crowds sang official songs, including national anthems, to remind the powers of their unfulfilled promises. In the GDR, by contrast, between the early 1970s and 1989, to sing the national anthem in public was a criminal offence: its words (‘Deutschland einig Vaterland’, ‘Germany, the united Fatherland’) didn’t fit with the idea of East Germany as a new socialist nation.

The resurgence of Russian nationalism has caused certain historical events to be rewritten. A recent biopic, Andrei Kravchuk’s Admiral, celebrates the life of Aleksandr Kolchak, the White commander who governed Siberia between 1918 and 1920. But it’s worth remembering the totalitarian potential, as well as the outright brutality, of the White counter-revolutionary forces during this period. Had the Whites won the Civil War, Hitchens writes, ‘the common word for fascism would have been a Russian one, not an Italian one … Major General William Graves, who commanded the American Expeditionary Force during the 1918 invasion of Siberia (an event thoroughly airbrushed from all American textbooks), wrote in his memoirs about the pervasive, lethal anti-Semitism that dominated the Russian right wing and added: “I doubt if history will show any country in the world during the last fifty years where murder could be committed so safely, and with less danger of punishment, than in Siberia during the reign of Admiral Kolchak.”’

The entire European neo-fascist right (in Hungary, France, Italy, Serbia) firmly supports Russia in the ongoing Ukrainian crisis, giving the lie to the official Russian presentation of the Crimean referendum as a choice between Russian democracy and Ukrainian fascism. The events in Ukraine – the massive protests that toppled Yanukovich and his gang – should be understood as a defence against the dark legacy resuscitated by Putin. The protests were triggered by the Ukrainian government’s decision to prioritise good relations with Russia over the integration of Ukraine into the European Union. Predictably, many anti-imperialist leftists reacted to the news by patronising the Ukrainians: how deluded they are still to idealise Europe, not to be able to see that joining the EU would just make Ukraine an economic colony of Western Europe, sooner or later to go the same way as Greece. In fact, Ukrainians are far from blind about the reality of the EU. They are fully aware of its troubles and disparities: their message is simply that their own situation is much worse. Europe may have problems, but they are a rich man’s problems.

Should we, then, simply support the Ukrainian side in the conflict? There is a ‘Leninist’ reason to do so. In Lenin’s very last writings, long after he renounced the utopia ofState and Revolution, he explored the idea of a modest, ‘realistic’ project for Bolshevism. Because of the economic underdevelopment and cultural backwardness of the Russian masses, he argues, there is no way for Russia to ‘pass directly to socialism’: all that Soviet power can do is to combine the moderate politics of ‘state capitalism’ with the intense cultural education of the peasant masses – not the brainwashing of propaganda, but a patient, gradual imposition of civilised standards. Facts and figures revealed ‘what a vast amount of urgent spadework we still have to do to reach the standard of an ordinary West European civilised country … We must bear in mind the semi-Asiatic ignorance from which we have not yet extricated ourselves.’ Can we think of the Ukrainian protesters’ reference to Europe as a sign that their goal, too, is ‘to reach the standard of an ordinary Western European civilised country’?

But here things quickly get complicated. What, exactly, does the ‘Europe’ the Ukrainian protesters are referring to stand for? It can’t be reduced to a single idea: it spans nationalist and even fascist elements but extends also to the idea of what Etienne Balibar calls égaliberté, freedom-in-equality, the unique contribution of Europe to the global political imaginary, even if it is in practice today mostly betrayed by European institutions and citizens themselves. Between these two poles, there is also a naive trust in the value of European liberal-democratic capitalism. Europe can see in the Ukrainian protests its own best and worst sides, its emancipatory universalism as well as its dark xenophobia.

Let’s begin with the dark xenophobia. The Ukrainian nationalist right is one instance of what is going on today from the Balkans to Scandinavia, from the US to Israel, from Central Africa to India: ethnic and religious passions are exploding, and Enlightenment values receding. These passions have always been there, lurking; what’s new is the outright shamelessness of their display. Imagine a society which has fully integrated into itself the great modern axioms of freedom, equality, the right to education and healthcare for all its members, and in which racism and sexism have been rendered unacceptable and ridiculous. But then imagine that, step by step, although the society continues to pay lip service to these axioms, they are de facto deprived of their substance. Here is an example from very recent European history: in the summer of 2012, Viktor Orbán, the right-wing Hungarian prime minister, declared that a new economic system was needed in Central Europe. ‘Let us hope,’ he said, ‘that God will help us and we will not have to invent a new type of political system instead of democracy that would need to be introduced for the sake of economic survival … Co-operation is a question of force, not of intention. Perhaps there are countries where things don’t work that way, for example in the Scandinavian countries, but such a half-Asiatic rag-tag people as we are can unite only if there is force.’

The irony of these words wasn’t lost on some old Hungarian dissidents: when the Soviet army moved into Budapest to crush the 1956 uprising, the message repeatedly sent by the beleaguered Hungarian leaders to the West was that they were defending Europe against the Asiatic communists. Now, after the collapse of communism, the Christian-conservative government paints as its main enemy the multicultural consumerist liberal democracy for which today’s Western Europe stands. Orbán has already expressed his sympathy for ‘capitalism with Asian values’; if the European pressure on Orbán continues, we can easily imagine him sending a message to the East: ‘We are defending Asia here!’

Today’s anti-immigrant populism has replaced direct barbarism with a barbarism that has a human face. It enacts a regression from the Christian ethic of ‘love thy neighbour’ back to the pagan privileging of the tribe over the barbarian Other. Even as it represents itself as a defence of Christian values, it is in fact the greatest threat to the Christian legacy. ‘Men who begin to fight the Church for the sake of freedom and humanity,’ G.K. Chesterton wrote a hundred years ago, ‘end by flinging away freedom and humanity if only they may fight the Church … The secularists have not wrecked divine things; but the secularists have wrecked secular things, if that is any comfort to them.’ Doesn’t the same hold for the advocates of religion too? Fanatical defenders of religion start out attacking contemporary secular culture; it’s no surprise when they end up forsaking any meaningful religious experience. In a similar way, many liberal warriors are so eager to fight anti-democratic fundamentalism that they end up flinging away freedom and democracy if only they may fight terror. The ‘terrorists’ may be ready to wreck this world for love of another, but the warriors on terror are just as ready to wreck their own democratic world out of hatred for the Muslim other. Some of them love human dignity so much that they are ready to legalise torture to defend it. The defenders of Europe against the immigrant threat are doing much the same. In their zeal to protect the Judeo-Christian legacy, they are ready to forsake what is most important in that legacy. The anti-immigrant defenders of Europe, not the notional crowds of immigrants waiting to invade it, are the true threat to Europe.

One of the signs of this regression is a request often heard on the new European right for a more ‘balanced’ view of the two ‘extremisms’, the right and the left. We are repeatedly told that one should treat the extreme left (communism) the same way that Europe after the Second World War treated the extreme right (the defeated fascists). But in reality there is no balance here: the equation of fascism and communism secretly privileges fascism. Thus the right are heard to argue that fascism copied communism: before becoming a fascist, Mussolini was a socialist; Hitler, too, was a National Socialist; concentration camps and genocidal violence were features of the Soviet Union a decade before Nazis resorted to them; the annihilation of the Jews has a clear precedent in the annihilation of the class enemy, etc. The point of these arguments is to assert that a moderate fascism was a justified response to the communist threat (a point made long ago by Ernst Nolte in his defence of Heidegger’s involvement with Nazism). In Slovenia, the right is advocating the rehabilitation of the anti-communist Home Guard which fought the partisans during the Second World War: they made the difficult choice to collaborate with the Nazis in order to thwart the much greater evil of communism.

Mainstream liberals tell us that when basic democratic values are under threat from ethnic or religious fundamentalists, we should unite behind the liberal-democratic agenda, save what can be saved, and put aside dreams of more radical social transformation. But there is a fatal flaw in this call for solidarity: it ignores the way in which liberalism and fundamentalism are caught in a vicious cycle. It is the aggressive attempt to export liberal permissiveness that causes fundamentalism to fight back vehemently and assert itself. When we hear today’s politicians offering us a choice between liberal freedom and fundamentalist oppression, and triumphantly asking the rhetorical question, ‘Do you want women to be excluded from public life and deprived of their rights? Do you want every critic of religion to be put to death?’, what should make us suspicious is the very self-evidence of the answer: who would want that? The problem is that liberal universalism has long since lost its innocence. What Max Horkheimer said about capitalism and fascism in the 1930s applies in a different context today: those who don’t want to criticise liberal democracy should also keep quiet about religious fundamentalism.

What of the fate of the liberal-democratic capitalist European dream in Ukraine? It isn’t clear what awaits Ukraine within the EU. I’ve often mentioned a well-known joke from the last decade of the Soviet Union, but it couldn’t be more apposite. Rabinovitch, a Jew, wants to emigrate. The bureaucrat at the emigration office asks him why, and Rabinovitch answers: ‘Two reasons. The first is that I’m afraid the Communists will lose power in the Soviet Union, and the new power will put all the blame for the Communists’ crimes on us, the Jews.’ ‘But this is pure nonsense,’ the bureaucrat interrupts, ‘nothing can change in the Soviet Union, the power of the Communists will last for ever!’ ‘Well,’ Rabinovitch replies, ‘that’s my second reason.’ Imagine the equivalent exchange between a Ukrainian and an EU administrator. The Ukrainian complains: ‘There are two reasons we are panicking here in Ukraine. First, we’re afraid that under Russian pressure the EU will abandon us and let our economy collapse.’ The EU administrator interrupts: ‘But you can trust us, we won’t abandon you. In fact, we’ll make sure we take charge of your country and tell you what to do!’ ‘Well,’ the Ukrainian replies, ‘that’s my second reason.’ The issue isn’t whether Ukraine is worthy of Europe, and good enough to enter the EU, but whether today’s Europe can meet the aspirations of the Ukrainians. If Ukraine ends up with a mixture of ethnic fundamentalism and liberal capitalism, with oligarchs pulling the strings, it will be as European as Russia (or Hungary) is today. (Too little attention is drawn to the role played by the various groups of oligarchs – the ‘pro-Russian’ ones and the ‘pro-Western’ ones – in the events in Ukraine.)

Some political commentators claim that the EU hasn’t given Ukraine enough support in its conflict with Russia, that the EU response to the Russian occupation and annexation of Crimea was half-hearted. But there is another kind of support which has been even more conspicuously absent: the proposal of any feasible strategy for breaking the deadlock. Europe will be in no position to offer such a strategy until it renews its pledge to the emancipatory core of its history. Only by leaving behind the decaying corpse of the old Europe can we keep the European legacy of égaliberté alive. It is not the Ukrainians who should learn from Europe: Europe has to learn to live up to the dream that motivated the protesters on the Maidan. The lesson that frightened liberals should learn is that only a more radical left can save what is worth saving in the liberal legacy today.

The Maidan protesters were heroes, but the true fight – the fight for what the new Ukraine will be – begins now, and it will be much tougher than the fight against Putin’s intervention. A new and riskier heroism will be needed. It has been shown already by those Russians who oppose the nationalist passion of their own country and denounce it as a tool of power. It’s time for the basic solidarity of Ukrainians and Russians to be asserted, and the very terms of the conflict rejected. The next step is a public display of fraternity, with organisational networks established between Ukrainian political activists and the Russian opposition to Putin’s regime. This may sound utopian, but it is only such thinking that can confer on the protests a truly emancipatory dimension. Otherwise, we will be left with a conflict of nationalist passions manipulated by oligarchs. Such geopolitical games are of no interest whatever to authentic emancipatory politics.

Link: Marxism vs. Liberalism, H. G. Wells interviews Joseph Stalin

In 1934, H. G. Wells arrived in Moscow to meet Soviet writers interested in joining the international PEN Club, of which he was then president. While there, Stalin granted him an interview. His deferential conversation was criticised by J M Keynes and George Bernard Shaw, among others, in the New Statesman. First published as a special NS supplement on 27 October 1934.

H. G. Wells: I am very much obliged to you, Mr Stalin, for agreeing to see me. I was in the United States recently. I had a long conversation with President Roosevelt and tried to ascertain what his leading ideas were. Now I have come to ask you what you are doing to change the world…

Joseph Stalin: Not so very much.

I wander around the world as a common man and, as a common man, observe what is going on around me.

Important public men like yourself are not “common men”. Of course, history alone can show how important this or that public man has been; at all events, you do not look at the world as a “common man”.

I am not pretending humility. What I mean is that I try to see the world through the eyes of the common man, and not as a party politician or a responsible administrator. My visit to the United States excited my mind. The old financial world is collapsing; the economic life of the country is being reorganised on new lines.

Lenin said: “We must learn to do business,” learn this from the capitalists. Today the capitalists have to learn from you, to grasp the spirit of Socialism. It seems to me that what is taking place in the United States is a profound reorganisation, the creation of planned, that is, Socialist, economy. You and Roosevelt begin from two different starting points. But is there not a relation in ideas, a kinship of ideas, between Moscow and Washington?

In Washington I was struck by the same thing I see going on here; they are building offices, they are creating a number of state regulation bodies, they are organising a long-needed civil service. Their need, like yours, is directive ability.

The United States is pursuing a different aim from that which we are pursuing in the USSR. The aim which the Americans are pursuing arose out of the economic troubles, out of the economic crisis. The Americans want to rid themselves of the crisis on the basis of private capitalist activity, without changing the economic basis. They are trying to reduce to a minimum the ruin, the losses caused by the existing economic system.

Here, however, as you know, in place of the old, destroyed economic basis, an entirely different, a new economic basis has been created. Even if the Americans you mention partly achieve their aim, ie, reduce these losses to a minimum, they will not destroy the roots of the anarchy which is inherent in the existing capitalist system. They are preserving the economic system which must inevitably lead, and cannot but lead, to anarchy in production. Thus, at best, it will be a matter, not of the reorganisation of society, not of abolishing the old social system which gives rise to anarchy and crises, but of restricting certain of its excesses. Subjectively, perhaps, these Americans think they are reorganising society; objectively, however, they are preserving the present basis of society. That is why, objectively, there will be no reorganisation of society.

Nor will there be planned economy. What is planned economy? What are some of its attributes? Planned economy tries to abolish unemployment. Let us suppose it is possible, while preserving the capitalist system, to reduce unemployment to a certain minimum. But surely, no capitalist would ever agree to the complete abolition of unemployment, to the abolition of the reserve army of unemployed, the purpose of which is to bring pressure on the labour market, to ensure a supply of cheap labour. You will never compel a capitalist to incur loss to himself and agree to a lower rate of profit for the sake of satisfying the needs of the people.

Without getting rid of the capitalists, without abolishing the principle of private property in the means of production, it is impossible to create planned economy.

I agree with much of what you have said. But I would like to stress the point that if a country as a whole adopts the principle of planned economy, if the government, gradually, step by step, begins consistently to apply this principle, the financial oligarchy will at last be abolished and Socialism, in the Anglo-Saxon meaning of the word, will be brought about.

The effect of the ideas of Roosevelt’s “New Deal” is most powerful, and in my opinion they are Socialist ideas. It seems to me that instead of stressing the antagonism between the two worlds, we should, in the present circumstances, strive to establish a common tongue for all the constructive forces.

In speaking of the impossibility of realising the principles of planned economy while preserving the economic basis of capitalism, I do not in the least desire to belittle the outstanding personal qualities of Roosevelt, his initiative, courage and determination. Undoubtedly Roosevelt stands out as one of the strongest figures among all the captains of the contemporary capitalist world. That is why I would like once again to emphasise the point that my conviction that planned economy is impossible under the conditions of capitalism does not mean that I have any doubts about the personal abilities, talent and courage of President Roosevelt.

But if the circumstances are unfavourable, the most talented captain cannot reach the goal you refer to. Theoretically, of course, the possibility of marching gradually, step by step, under the conditions of capitalism, towards the goal which you call Socialism in the Anglo-Saxon meaning of the word, is not precluded. But what will this “Socialism” be? At best, bridling to some extent the most unbridled of individual representatives of capitalist profit, some increase in the application of the principle of regulation in national economy. That is all very well. But as soon as Roosevelt, or any other captain in the contemporary bourgeois world, proceeds to undertake something serious against the foundation of capitalism, he will inevitably suffer utter defeat. The banks, the industries, the large enterprises, the large farms are not in Roosevelt’s hands. All these are private property. The railroads, the mercantile fleet, all these belong to private owners. And, finally, the army of skilled workers, the engineers, the technicians, these too are not at Roosevelt’s command, they are at the command of the private owners; they all work for the private owners.

We must not forget the functions of the State in the bourgeois world. The State is an institution that organises the defence of the country, organises the maintenance of “order”; it is an apparatus for collecting taxes. The capitalist State does not deal much with economy in the strict sense of the word; the latter is not in the hands of the State. On the contrary, the State is in the hands of capitalist economy. That is why I fear that in spite of all his energies and abilities, Roosevelt will not achieve the goal you mention, if indeed that is his goal. Perhaps in the course of several generations it will be possible to approach this goal somewhat; but I personally think that even this is not very probable.

Perhaps I believe more strongly in the economic interpretation of politics than you do. Huge forces striving for better organisation, for the better functioning of the community, that is, for Socialism, have been brought into action by invention
and modern science. Organisation, and the regulation of individual action, have become mechanical necessities, irrespective of social theories. If we begin with the State control of the banks and then follow with the control of the heavy industries, of industry in general, of commerce, etc, such an all-embracing control will be equivalent to the State ownership of all branches of national economy.

Socialism and Individualism are not opposites like black and white. There are many intermediate stages between them. There is Individualism that borders on brigandage, and there is discipline and organisation that are the equivalent of Socialism. The introduction of planned economy depends, to a large degree, upon the organisers of economy, upon the skilled technical intelligentsia who, step by step, can be converted to the Socialist principles of organisation. And this is the most important thing, because organisation comes before Socialism. It is the more important fact. Without organisation the Socialist idea is a mere idea.

There is no, nor should there be, irreconcilable contrast between the individual and the collective, between the interests of the individual person and the interests of the collective. There should be no such contrast, because collectivism, Socialism, does not deny, but combines individual interests with the interests of the collective. Socialism cannot abstract itself from individual interests.

Socialist society alone can most fully satisfy these personal interests. More than that, Socialist society alone can firmly safeguard the interests of the individual. In this sense there is no irreconcilable contrast between Individualism and Socialism. But can we deny the contrast between classes, between the propertied class, the capitalist class, and the toiling class, the proletarian class? On the one hand we have the propertied class which owns the banks, the factories, the mines, transport, the plantations in colonies. These people see nothing but their own interests, their striving after profits. They do not submit to the will of the collective; they strive to subordinate every collective to their will. On the other hand we have the class of the poor, the exploited class, which owns neither factories nor works, nor banks, which is compelled to live by selling its labour power to the capitalists and which lacks the opportunity to satisfy its most elementary requirements.

How can such opposite interests and strivings be reconciled? As far as I know, Roosevelt has not succeeded in finding the path of conciliation between these interests. And it is impossible, as experience has shown. Incidentally, you know the situation in the US better than I do, as I have never been there and I watch American affairs mainly from literature. But I have some experience in fighting for Socialism, and this experience tells me that if Roosevelt makes a real attempt to satisfy the interests of the proletarian class at the expense of the capitalist class, the latter will put another President in his place. The capitalists will say: Presidents come and Presidents go, but we go on for ever; if this or that President does not protect our interests, we shall find another. What can the President oppose to the will of the capitalist class?

I object to this simplified classification of mankind into poor and rich. Of course there is a category of people which strive only for profit. But are not these people regarded as nuisances in the West just as much as here? Are there not plenty of people in the West for whom profit is not an end, who own a certain amount of wealth, who want to invest and obtain a profit from this investment, but who do not regard this as the main object? In my opinion there is a numerous class of people who admit that the present system is unsatisfactory and who are destined to play a great role in future capitalist society.

During the past few years I have been much engaged in and have thought of the need for conducting propaganda in favour of Socialism and cosmopolitanism among wide circles of engineers, airmen, military technical people, etc. It is useless to approach these circles with two-track class-war propaganda. These people understand the condition of the world. They understand that it is a bloody muddle, but they regard your simple class-war antagonism as nonsense.

You object to the simplified classification into rich and poor. Of course there is a middle stratum, there is the technical intelligentsia that you have mentioned and among which there are very good and very honest people. Among them there are also dishonest and wicked people; there are all sorts of people among them. But first of all mankind is divided into rich and poor, into property owners and exploited; and to abstract oneself from this fundamental division and from the antagonism between poor and rich means abstracting oneself from the fundamental fact.

I do not deny the existence of intermediate middle strata, which either take the side of one or the other of these two conflicting classes, or else take up a neutral or semi-neutral position in the struggle. But, I repeat, to abstract oneself from this fundamental division in society and from the fundamental struggle between the two main classes means ignoring facts. The struggle is going on and will continue. The outcome will be determined by the proletarian class – the working class.

But are there not many people who are not poor, but who work and work productively?

Of course, there are small landowners, artisans, small traders, but it is not these people who decide the fate of a country, but the toiling masses, who produce all the things society requires.

But there are very different kinds of capitalists. There are capitalists who only think about profit, about getting rich; but there are also those who are prepared to make sacrifices. Take old [J P] Morgan, for example. He only thought about profit; he was a parasite on society, simply, he merely accumulated wealth. But take [John D] Rockefeller. He is a brilliant organiser; he has set an example of how to organise the delivery of oil that is worthy of emulation.

Or take [Henry] Ford. Of course Ford is selfish. But is he not a passionate organiser of rationalised production from whom you take lessons? I would like to emphasise the fact that recently an important change in opinion towards the USSR has taken place in English-speaking countries. The reason for this, first of all, is the position of Japan, and the events in Germany. But there are other reasons besides those arising from international politics. There is a more profound reason, namely, the recognition by many people of the fact that the system based on private profit is breaking down. Under these circumstances, it seems to me, we must not bring to the forefront the antagonism between the two worlds, but should strive to combine all the constructive movements, all the constructive forces in one line as much as possible. It seems to me that I am more to the Left than you, Mr Stalin; I think the old system is nearer to its end than you think.

 In speaking of the capitalists who strive only for profit, only to get rich, I do not want to say that these are the most worthless people, capable of nothing else. Many of them undoubtedly possess great organising talent, which I do not dream of denying. We Soviet people learn a great deal from the capitalists. And Morgan, whom you characterise so unfavourably, was undoubtedly a good, capable organiser. But if you mean people who are prepared to reconstruct the world, of course, you will not be able to find them in the ranks of those who faithfully serve the cause of profit. We and they stand at opposite poles.

You mentioned Ford. Of course, he is a capable organiser of production. But don’t you know his attitude towards the working class? Don’t you know how many workers he throws on the street? The capitalist is riveted to profit; and no power on earth can tear him away from it. Capitalism will be abolished, not by “organisers” of production, not by the technical intelligentsia, but by the working class, because the aforementioned strata do not play an independent role. The engineer, the organiser of production, does not work as he would like to, but as he is ordered, in such a way as to serve the interests of his employers. There are exceptions of course; there are people in this stratum who have awakened from the intoxication of capitalism. The technical intelligentsia can, under certain conditions, perform miracles and greatly benefit mankind. But it can also cause great harm.

We Soviet people have not a little experience of the technical intelligentsia. After the October Revolution, a certain section of the technical intelligentsia refused to take part in the work of constructing the new society; they opposed this work of construction and sabotaged it. We did all we possibly could to bring the technical intelligentsia into this work of construction; we tried this way and that. Not a little time passed before our technical intelligentsia agreed actively to assist the new system. Today the best section of this technical intelligentsia is in the front rank of the builders of Socialist society. Having this experience, we are far from underestimating the good and the bad sides of the technical intelligentsia, and we know that on the one hand it can do harm, and on the other hand it can perform “miracles”.

Of course, things would be different if it were possible, at one stroke, spiritually to tear the technical intelligentsia away from the capitalist world. But that is Utopia. Are there many of the technical in­telligentsia who would dare break away from the bourgeois world and set to work reconstructing society? Do you think there are many people of this kind, say, in England or in France? No; there are few who would be willing to break away from their employers and begin reconstructing the world.

Besides, can we lose sight of the fact that in order to transform the world it is necessary to have political power? It seems to me, Mr Wells, that you greatly underestimate the question of political power, that it entirely drops out of your conception.

What can those, even with the best intentions in the world, do if they are unable to raise the question of seizing power, and do not possess power? At best they can help the class which takes power, but they cannot change the world themselves. This can only be done by a great class which will take the place of the capitalist class and become the sovereign master as the latter was before. This class is the working class. Of course, the assistance of the technical intelligentsia must be accepted; and the latter, in turn, must be assisted. But it must not be thought that the technical intelligentsia can play an independent historical role.

The transformation of the world is a great, complicated and painful process. For this task a great class is required. Big ships go on long voyages.

Yes, but for long voyages a captain and navigator are required.

That is true; but what is first required for a long voyage is a big ship. What is a navigator without a ship? An idle man.

The big ship is humanity, not a class.

You, Mr Wells, evidently start out with the assumption that all men are good. I, however, do not forget that there are many wicked men. I do not believe in the goodness of the bourgeoisie.

I remember the situation with regard to the technical intelligentsia several decades ago. At that time the technical intelligentsia was numerically small, but there was much to do and every engineer, technician and intellectual found his opportunity. That is why the technical intelligentsia was the least revolutionary class. Now, however, there is a super­abundance of technical intellectuals, and their mentality has changed very sharply. The skilled man, who would formerly never listen to revolutionary talk, is now greatly interested in it.

Recently I was dining with the Royal Society, our great English scientific society. The President’s speech was a speech for social planning and scientific control. Thirty years ago, they would not have listened to what I say to them now. Today, the man at the head of the Royal Society holds revolutionary views, and insists on the scientific reorganisation of human society. Your class-war propaganda has not kept pace with these facts. Mentality changes.

Yes, I know this, and this is to be explained by the fact that capitalist society is now in a cul de sac. The capitalists are seeking, but cannot find, a way out of this cul de sac that would be compatible with the dignity of this class, compatible with the interests of this class. They could, to some extent, crawl out of the crisis on their hands and knees, but they cannot find an exit that would enable them to walk out of it with head raised high, a way out that would not fundamentally disturb the interests of capitalism.

This, of course, is realised by wide circles of the technical intelligentsia. A large section of it is beginning to realise the community of its interests with those of the class which is capable of pointing the way out of the cul de sac.

You of all people know something about revolutions, Mr Stalin, from the practical side. Do the masses ever rise? Is it not an established truth that all revolutions are made by a minority?

To bring about a revolution a leading revolutionary minority is required; but the most talented, devoted and energetic minority would be helpless if it did not rely upon the at least passive support of millions.

At least passive? Perhaps subconscious?

Partly also the semi-instinctive and semi-conscious, but without the support of millions, the best minority is impotent.

I watch Communist propaganda in the West, and it seems to me that in modern conditions this propaganda sounds very old-fashioned, because it is insurrectionary propaganda.

Propaganda in favour of the violent overthrow of the social system was all very well when it was directed against tyranny. But under modern conditions, when the system is collapsing anyhow, stress should be laid on efficiency, on competence, on productiveness, and not on insurrection.

It seems to me that the insurrectionary note is obsolete. The Communist propaganda in the West is a nuisance to constructive-minded people.

Of course the old system is breaking down, decaying. That is true. But it is also true that new efforts are being made by other methods, by every means, to protect, to save this dying system. You draw a wrong conclusion from a correct postulate. You rightly state that the old world is breaking down. But you are wrong in thinking that it is breaking down of its own accord. No; the substitution of one social system for another is a complicated and long revolutionary process. It is not simply a spontaneous process, but a struggle; it is a process connected with the clash of classes.

Capitalism is decaying, but it must not be compared simply with a tree which has decayed to such an extent that it must fall to the ground of its own accord. No, revolution, the substitution of one social system for another, has always been a struggle, a painful and a cruel struggle, a life-and-death struggle. And every time the people of the new world came into power they had to defend themselves against the attempts of the old world to restore the old power by force; these people of the new world always had to be on the alert, always had to be ready to repel the attacks of the old world upon the new system.

Yes, you are right when you say that the old social system is breaking down; but it is not breaking down of its own accord. Take Fascism for example. Fascism is a reactionary force which is trying to preserve the old system by means of violence. What will you do with the Fascists? Argue with them? Try to convince them? But this will have no effect upon them at all. Communists do not in the least idealise methods of violence. But they, the Communists, do not want to be taken by surprise; they cannot count on the old world voluntarily departing from the stage; they see that the old system is violently defending itself, and that is why the Communists say to the working class: Answer violence with violence; do all you can to prevent the old dying order from crushing you, do not permit it to put manacles on your hands, on the hands with which you will overthrow the old system.

As you see, the Communists regard the substitution of one social system for another, not simply as a spontaneous and peaceful process, but as a complicated, long and violent process. Communists cannot ignore facts.

But look at what is now going on in the capitalist world. The collapse is not a simple one; it is the outbreak of reactionary violence which is degenerating to gangsterism. And it seems to me that when it comes to a conflict with reactionary and unintelligent violence, Socialists can appeal to the law, and instead of regarding the police as the enemy they should support them in the fight against the reactionaries. I think that it is useless operating with the methods of the old insurrectionary Socialism.

The Communists base themselves on rich historical experience which teaches that obsolete classes do not voluntarily abandon the stage of history.

Recall the history of England in the seventeenth century. Did not many say that the old social system had decayed? But did it not, nevertheless, require a Cromwell to crush it by force?

Cromwell acted on the basis of the constitution and in the name of constitutional order.

In the name of the constitution he resorted to violence, beheaded the king, dispersed Parliament, arrested some and beheaded others!

Or take an example from our history. Was it not clear for a long time that the Tsarist system was decaying, was breaking down? But how much blood had to be shed in order to overthrow it?

And what about the October Revolution? Were there not plenty of people who knew that we alone, the Bolsheviks, were indicating the only correct way out? Was it not clear that Russian capitalism had decayed? But you know how great was the resistance, how much blood had to be shed in order to defend the October Revolution from all its enemies.

Or take France at the end of the eighteenth century. Long before 1789 it was clear to many how rotten the royal power, the feudal system, was. But a popular insurrection, a clash of classes was not, could not be avoided. Why? Because the classes which must abandon the stage of history are the last to become convinced that their role is ended. It is impossible to convince them of this. They think that the fissures in the decaying edifice of the old order can be repaired and saved.

That is why dying classes take to arms and resort to every means to save their existence as a ruling class.

But were there not a few lawyers at the head of the great French Revolution?

I do not deny the role of the intelligentsia in revolutionary movements. Was the great French Revolution a lawyers’ revolution and not a popular revolution, which achieved victory by rousing vast masses of the people against feudalism and championed the interests of the Third Estate? And did the lawyers among the leaders of the great French Revolution act in accordance with the laws of the old order? Did they not introduce new, bourgeois-revolutionary law?

The rich experience of history teaches that up to now not a single class has voluntarily made way for another class. There is no such precedent in history. The Communists have learned this lesson of history. Communists would welcome the voluntary departure of the bourgeoisie. But such a turn of affairs is improbable, that is what experience teaches. That is why the Communists want to be prepared for the worst and call upon the working class to be vigilant, to be prepared for battle.

Who wants a captain who lulls the vigilance of his army, a captain who does not understand that the enemy will not surrender, that he must be crushed? To be such a captain means deceiving, betraying the working class. That is why I think that what seems to you to be old-fashioned is in fact a measure of revolutionary expediency for the working class.

I do not deny that force has to be used, but I think the forms of the struggle should fit as closely as possible to the opportunities presented by the existing laws, which must be defended against reactionary attacks. There is no need to disorganise the old system because it is disorganising itself enough as it is. That is why it seems to me insurrection against the old order, against the law, is obsolete, old-fashioned. Incidentally, I exaggerate in order to bring the truth out more clearly. I can formulate my point of view in the following way: first, I am for order; second, I attack the present system in so far as it cannot assure order; third, I think that class war propaganda may detach from Socialism just those educated people whom Socialism needs.

In order to achieve a great object, an important social object, there must be a main force, a bulwark, a revolutionary class. Next it is necessary to organise the assistance of an auxiliary force for this main force; in this case this auxiliary force is the party, to which the best forces of the intelligentsia belong. Just now you spoke about “educated people”. But what educated people did you have in mind? Were there not plenty of educated people on the side of the old order in England in the seventeenth century, in France at the end of the eighteenth century, and in Russia in the epoch of the October Revolution? The old order had in its service many highly educated people who defended the old order, who opposed the new order.

Education is a weapon the effect of which is determined by the hands which wield it, by who is to be struck down. Of course, the proletariat, Socialism, needs highly educated people. Clearly, simpletons cannot help the proletariat to fight for Socialism, to build a new society.

I do not under-estimate the role of the intelligentsia; on the contrary, I emphasise it. The question is, however, which intelligentsia are we discussing? Because there are different kinds of intelligentsia.

There can be no revolution without a radical change in the educational system. It is sufficient to quote two examples – the example of the German Republic, which did not touch the old educational system, and therefore never became a republic; and the example of the British Labour Party, which lacks the determination to insist on a radical change in the educational system.

That is a correct observation. Permit me now to reply to your three points. First, the main thing for the revolution is the existence of a social bulwark. This bulwark of the revolution is the working class.

Second, an auxiliary force is required, that which the Communists call a Party. To the Party belong the intelligent workers and those elements of the technical intelligentsia which are closely connected with the working class. The intelligentsia can be strong only if it combines with the working class. If it opposes the working class it becomes a cipher.

Third, political power is required as a lever for change. The new political power creates the new laws, the new order, which is revolutionary order.

I do not stand for any kind of order. I stand for order that corresponds to the interests of the working class. If, however, any of the laws of the old order can be utilised in the interests of the struggle for the new order, the old laws should be utilised.

And, finally, you are wrong if you think that the Communists are enamoured of violence. They would be very pleased to drop violent methods if the ruling class agreed to give way to the working class. But the experience of history speaks against such an assumption.

There was a case in the history of England, however, of a class voluntarily handing over power to another class. In the period between 1830 and 1870, the aristocracy, whose influence was still very considerable at the end of the eighteenth century, voluntarily, without a severe struggle, surrendered power to the bourgeoisie, which serves as a sentimental support of the monarchy. Subsequently, this transference of power led to the establishment of the rule of the financial oligarchy.

But you have imperceptibly passed from questions of revolution to questions of reform. This is not the same thing. Don’t you think that the Chartist movement played a great role in the reforms in England in the nineteenth century?

The Chartists did little and disappeared without leaving a trace.

I do not agree with you. The Chartists, and the strike movement which they organised, played a great role; they compelled the ruling class to make a number of concessions in regard to the franchise, in regard to abolishing the so-called “rotten boroughs”, and in regard to some of the points of the “Charter”. Chartism played a not unimportant historical role and compelled a section of the ruling classes to make certain concessions, reforms, in order to avert great shocks. Generally speaking, it must be said that of all the ruling classes, the ruling classes of England, both the aristocracy and the bourgeoisie, proved to be the cleverest, most flexible from the point of view of their class interests, from the point of view of maintaining their power.

Take as an example, say, from modern history, the General Strike in England in 1926. The first thing any other bourgeoisie would have done in the face of such an event, when the General Council of Trade Unions called for a strike, would have been to arrest the Trade Union leaders. The Brit­ish bourgeoisie did not do that, and it acted cleverly from the point of view of its own interests. I cannot conceive of such a flexible strategy being employed by the bourgeoisie in the United States, Germany or France. In order to maintain their rule, the ruling classes of Great Britain have never forsworn small concessions, reforms. But it would be a mistake to think that these reforms were revolutionary.

You have a higher opinion of the ruling classes of my country than I have. But is there a great difference between a small revolution and a great reform? Is not a reform a small revolution?

Owing to pressure from below, the pressure of the masses, the bourgeoisie may sometimes concede certain partial reforms while remaining on the basis of the existing social-economic system. Acting in this way, it calculates that these concessions are necessary in order to preserve its class rule. This is the essence of reform. Revolution, however, means the transference of power from one class to another. That is why it is impossible to describe any reform as revolution.

I am very grateful to you for this talk, which has meant a great deal to me. In explaining things to me you probably called to mind how you had to explain the fundamentals of Socialism in the illegal circles before the revolution. At the present time there are only two persons to whose opinion, to whose every word, millions are listening – you and Roosevelt. Others may preach as much as they like; what they say will never be printed or heeded.

I cannot yet appreciate what has been done in your country; I only arrived yesterday. But I have already seen the happy faces of healthy men and women and I know that something very considerable is being done here. The contrast with 1920 is astounding.

Much more could have been done had we Bolsheviks been cleverer.

No, if human beings were cleverer. It would be a good thing to invent a Five-Year Plan for the reconstruction of the human brain, which obviously lacks many things needed for a perfect social order. [Laughter]

Don’t you intend to stay for the Congress of the Soviet Writers’ Union?

Unfortunately, I have various engagements to fulfil and I can stay in the USSR only for a week. I came to see you and I am very satisfied by our talk. But I intend to discuss with such Soviet writers as I can meet the possibility of their affiliating to the PEN Club. The organisation is still weak, but it has branches in many countries, and what is more important, the speeches of its members are widely reported in the press. It insists upon this, free expression of opinion – even of opposition opinion. I hope to discuss this point with Gorki. I do not know if you are prepared yet for that much freedom …

We Bolsheviks call it “self-criticism”. It is widely used in the USSR. If there is anything I can do to help you I shall be glad to do so.