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Updated: 23 min 56 sec ago

U.S. Military Is World’s Biggest Polluter

Wed, 08/01/2018 - 13:54

via Ecowatch

By Whitney Webb

Last week, mainstream media outlets gave minimal attention to the news that the U.S. Naval station in Virginia Beach had spilled an estimated 94,000 gallons of jet fuel into a nearby waterway, less than a mile from the Atlantic Ocean.

While the incident was by no means as catastrophic as some other pipeline spills, it underscores an important yet little-known fact—that the U.S. Department of Defense is both the nation’s and the world’s, largest polluter.

Producing more hazardous waste than the five largest U.S. chemical companies combined, the U.S. Department of Defense has left its toxic legacy throughout the world in the form of depleted uranium, oil, jet fuel, pesticides, defoliants like Agent Orange and lead, among others.

In 2014, the former head of the Pentagon’s environmental program told Newsweek that her office has to contend with 39,000 contaminated areas spread across 19 million acres just in the U.S. alone.

U.S. military bases, both domestic and foreign, consistently rank among some of the most polluted places in the world, as perchlorate and other components of jet and rocket fuel contaminate sources of drinking water, aquifers and soil. Hundreds of military bases can be found on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) list of Superfund sites, which qualify for clean-up grants from the government.

Almost 900 of the nearly 1,200 Superfund sites in the U.S. are abandoned military facilities or sites that otherwise support military needs, not counting the military bases themselves.

“Almost every military site in this country is seriously contaminated,” John D. Dingell, a retired Michigan congressman and war veteran, told Newsweek in 2014. Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, North Carolina is one such base. Lejeune’s contamination became widespread and even deadly after its groundwater was polluted with a sizable amount of carcinogens from 1953 to 1987.

However, it was not until this February that the government allowed those exposed to chemicals at Lejeune to make official compensation claims. Numerous bases abroad have also contaminated local drinking water supplies, most famously the Kadena Air Force Base in Okinawa.

Between 1946 and 1958, the U.S. tested 66 nuclear weapons near Bikini atoll. Populations living nearby in the Marshall Islands were exposed to measurable levels of radioactive fallout from these tests. National Cancer Institute

In addition, the U.S., which has conducted more nuclear weapons tests than all other nations combined, is also responsible for the massive amount of radiation that continues to contaminate many islands in the Pacific Ocean. The Marshall Islands, where the U.S. dropped more than sixty nuclear weapons between 1946 and 1958, are a particularly notable example. Inhabitants of the Marshall Islands and nearby Guam continue to experience an exceedingly high rate of cancer.

The American Southwest was also the site of numerous nuclear weapons tests that contaminated large swaths of land. Navajo Indian reservations have been polluted by long-abandoned uranium mines where nuclear material was obtained by U.S. military contractors.

One of the most recent testaments to the U.S. military’s horrendous environmental record is Iraq. U.S. military action there has resulted in the desertification of 90 percent of Iraqi territory, crippling the country’s agricultural industry and forcing it to import more than 80 percent of its food. The U.S.’ use of depleted uranium in Iraq during the Gulf War also caused a massive environmental burden for Iraqis. In addition, the U.S. military’s policy of using open-air burn pits to dispose of waste from the 2003 invasion has caused a surge in cancer among U.S. servicemen and Iraqi civilians alike.

While the U.S. military’s past environmental record suggests that its current policies are not sustainable, this has by no means dissuaded the U.S. military from openly planning future contamination of the environment through misguided waste disposal efforts. Last November, the U.S. Navy announced its plan to release 20,000 tons of environmental “stressors,” including heavy metals and explosives, into the coastal waters of the U.S. Pacific Northwest over the course of this year.

The plan, laid out in the Navy’s Northwest Training and Testing Environmental Impact Statement, fails to mention that these “stressors” are described by the EPA as known hazards, many of which are highly toxic at both acute and chronic levels.

The 20,000 tons of “stressors” mentioned in the Environmental Impact Statement do not account for the additional 4.7 to 14 tons of “metals with potential toxicity” that the Navy plans to release annually, from now on, into inland waters along the Puget Sound in Washington state.

In response to concerns about these plans, a Navy spokeswoman said that heavy metals and even depleted uranium are no more dangerous than any other metal, a statement that represents a clear rejection of scientific fact. It seems that the very U.S. military operations meant to “keep Americans safe” come at a higher cost than most people realize—a cost that will be felt for generations to come both within the U.S. and abroad.

A spectre is haunting us: it’s the past weighing like a nightmare on the present

Wed, 08/01/2018 - 12:34


by Shawn Hattingh

The context we now exist in is one that is defined by glaring contradictions everywhere,
its fractured, changing, unstable and confrontational. It is a time of despair, but also
pockets of hope.

On the one hand, a spectre is haunting us, but it is not the one that Marx spoke of. Rather an authoritarian and extreme right wing form of capitalism, last seen on extensive scale in the 1930s, is rearing its hideous ghost-like head.

This right wing extremism has become an ‘acceptable’ form of politics amongst some people
in the context of the unresolved capitalist crisis. It is the ‘solution’ amongst sections
of ruling classes in many countries to a crisis that is not going away. As part of this,
many states are passing laws attacking basic rights that oppressed classes have won
through decades and even centuries of struggle (including in South Africa); states are
beginning to bare their teeth more often rather than being in a position to rule by
consent; toxic nationalisms based on exclusionary racial, ethnic and religious identities
(including within sections of the population in South Africa) have once again become
acceptable and even embraced by sections of the population (giving rise to the likes of
Trump, Le Pen and Duterte and xenophobia and other ills in South Africa); and bigotry and
hate are back.

Yet there is also hope. In many parts of the world, sections of the working class have
fought back. This has seen movements of protests in some parts, attempts to revive unions
in others and in some cases the re-emergence of left political parties and projects. But
it is also a restructured working class, a working class that is fundamentally different
from even the 1970s. New or different forms of organising happen next to the old. It is
thus also a working class in which the past weighs like a nightmare on the present in
organisational terms; experimenting with the new and different ways of organising, but
also falling back into the old.

Unresolved capitalist crisis

It is clear that the capitalist crisis is not over. It has its origins in the problems of
over- production and over-accumulation that arose initially in the 1930s. The problem was
exacerbated in the 1970s with the implementation of neoliberal policies and the rise of
financialisation, as ruling classes across the globe, including in South Africa, attempted
to restore profit rates-something which has not happened.
But the rise of financialisation has made the system extremely unstable. By some accounts
there have been over 70 different ‘financial’ crises in various parts of the world since
1970, with the biggest being in 2008/09.

The reality is that the legacy of 2008/09 is still firmly with us. Despite bailing out
corporations and undertaking Quantative Easing (QE), the underlying problems of
over-accumulation and over-production have not been solved. Hence, all the money
corporations have received from states has been used to continue to speculate-as this is
the only ‘profitable’ outlet for their vast surpluses.

Growth has, therefore, been anemic in most parts of the world over the last ten years.
Some countries, such as Greece and Venezuela, have experienced conditions akin to the
Great Depression. In South Africa growth has often hovered below 1%, and in the last
quarter the economy contracted by 2%.

In the last few months, countries such as South Africa, have in fact become extremely
vulnerable. The money provided to financial institutions via QE and bailouts was used to
speculate on bonds in so-called emerging or developing markets. With interest rates rising
in the U.S.-under the guise of controlling inflation, but in reality to keep wages low-and
with the tapering and ending of QE, speculators have been returning their money to the
U.S. and dumping bonds of so-called emerging markets. This has led to the Rand dropping in
the last two months and a full-blown crises in countries such as Argentina.

We are in a context, therefore, where the bubbles that have been created, and that have
led to minimal growth at best, will burst-it is not a matter of if, but when. When they
do, it is states such as South Africa that could be worst hit. This is not a reason for
celebration: the social, politcal and economic consequences for the working class could be
catastrophic. Misery does not lead like a straight line to revolution or even resistance.

An unraveling of traditional parties of the ruling classes

The fact that the capitalist crisis has been unresolved has led sections of the ruling
classes in countries such as the US, Britain, Italy, Philippines, Hungary and France to
begin to look for political alternatives to the status quo. That traditional parties of
the ruling classes, including social democratic and national liberations parties, have
imposed neoliberalism and austerity means they have also lost credibility in the eyes of
working class voters, meaning they cannot keep neoliberalism and austerity going by consent.

Sections of the ruling classes in a number of countries have come to realise this and have
begun to build and promote alternatives to these parties and politicians. Most, but not
all, have been extremely right wing parties and politicians, which these sections of the
ruling classes are hoping can restore profits through authoritarianism. This has led to
the rise of Duterte, Trump, the Front Nationale, Lega, Jobbik and the Five Star
Movement-politicians and parties that were solidly on the fringe as recently as a decade
ago. They portrayed themselves as outside the so-called ‘establishment,’ and as defenders
of the interests of the ordinary people. In reality they push a strongly pro-ruling class
agenda, including massive tax cuts for corporations and the rich. Some of these parties
and politicians, such as Lega and Jobbik, are neo-fascist; others, like the Five Star
Movement and Trump, have been described as right-wing ‘populists’.

In South Africa too we have seen that in the context of the unresolved capitalist crisis,
the unraveling of the party of the ruling class since 1994, the ANC, has also occurred to
a degree. This has seen other parties, such as the Democratic Alliance (DA) and to a
lesser degree the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), increasing the percentage of the vote.
The reality is that under this, the ANC could turn to some populist measures, whilst
maintaining the core of neoliberalism, to maintain its share of the vote. But should its
decline continue, and should Ramaphosa fail to revive the ANC, sections of the ruling
class too in South Africa will begin looking for an alternative that can shore up the
system. Already aspirant sections of the black middle class and black capitalists are
looking to the EFF as an alternative to the ANC, with the EFF being sold as a party that
will further the interests of the black working class, when in reality if it is in power
its agenda may be very different.

The rise of toxic nationalisms as a ‘solution’

To shore up the agendas of these parties and politicians-and to try and win over sections
of the working class-there has been an appeal to nationalisms based on exclusionary
notions of race, religion and ethnicity in many parts of the world. In the U.S., France,
Italy, and Britain there a rise in a form of white supremacist Christian nationalism and
even neo- fascism. Immigrants from Africa, the Middle East and Latin America have been
scapegoated as being the cause of the pressure and attack working and middle class people
face as a result of the capitalist crisis and the actions of states-in the form of
austerity to protect the interests and wealth of the ruling classes.

This to some degree has worked, as sections of the working and middle classes have bought
into these narratives. This has become possible partly because under neoliberalism, class
as a notion and form of politics has been under relentless attack from the ruling class,
the media and sections of academia. Linked to this, politics based on identity have been
promoted within public discourse-with the unintentional consequences in reality being an
opening of space for nationalism based on essentialised notions of race and
ethnicity-defined by the ideology that everyone belonging to certain race or ethnic groups
share the same innate characteristics. Few would have believed such overt racist politics
could and would become popular again, but sadly it is a spectre that has arisen from the

Along with this, postmodernism has also inadvertently opened space for demagogy. Blatant
lying, character assassination and scapegoating are the order of the day in such
‘populist’ politics, with facts at best being relative or not important at all. This too
has filtered into some of the politics in South Africa from the national level right down
to even sections of grassroots politics. Indeed, battles around positions in local
councils for example involve this type of politics and more frighteningly actual

This poses a major challenge for progressive politics, including in South Africa. The
reason is, it avoids dealing with the root causes of the problems faced within society,
namely class rule and capitalism. In fact, various nationalisms based on race and
ethnicity have once again risen to prominence in South Africa. A white form a nationalism
remains popular amongst large sections of white capitalist, middle, and working
classes-and it was the basis around which apartheid was built. Using identity based on
race and religion, a false cross- class alliance was built supposedly based on whiteness,
and the legacy of this remains in place. Today remnants of this politics influence
sections of the DA and groups such as Afriforum. This is stirring increased racial
tensions in South Africa with potentially explosive consequences.

The reality is that the class consciousness that underpinned sections of the
anti-apartheid struggle has been severely eroded in South Africa over the last 20 years,
partly due to the ideology of neoliberalism. In the mainstream media, academia and amongst
sections of the NGO sector, class has become something that is dismissed, denied and
downplayed; while identity politics has been elevated.

In this context, where class politics is extremely weak, sections of the black working
class too (but by no means a majority) are turning to nationalisms based on supposed
ingrained race and ethnic identities in the face of exploitation and oppression. This too
has lead some to adopt a toxic form of politics, including xenophobia. Indeed,
sections-but certainly not the whole of the working class-sometimes turn to blaming
‘foreigners’ from other parts of Africa for their oppression-instead of the ruling class
and the capitalist system. This has led to instances of violence towards people from other
parts of Africa. This is not surprising as the ruling class in South Africa has been
promoting xenophobia for decades now. It is not an accident that the vast majority of
refugees seeking asylum in South Africa are turned down, and so-called illegal immigrants
from the rest of Africa are effectively imprisoned in horrendous conditions by the state
before being deported.

We also see a toxic form of nationalism beginning to be expressed by political parties
such as the EFF whose leadership often subjects South African people of Indian decent to
racial slurs and insult. Likewise, sections of the so-called ‘coloured’ working class have
also begun to mobilise around a supposed shared ethnic identity against a so-called ‘black
African’ section of the working class. In KwaZulu-Natal, the remnants of the IFP, the Zulu
royal family, so-called traditional leaders and a faction around Zuma, have also been
stirring up the spectre of Zulu nationalism. Apartheid created fertile ground for such
forms of politics and in the recent period-marked by a profound social, political and
economic crisis-this is gaining ground unfortunately even amongst a minority of the
working class.

Internationally these toxic forms of nationalism, especially of the neo-fascist variety,
are also appealing to false mythic histories and ‘traditions,’ which incorporate
patriarchy and indeed embrace it, despite some of the extreme right-wing parties in Europe
having women leaders, such as Marine Le Pen.

The resurgence of imperialist rivalries

With extreme right wing nationalist politicians and parties gaining power in key
states-such as the U.S.-the push for yet more austerity has only strengthened. Under
Trump, social protection and welfare for the working class has been gutted-it was already
eroded under neoliberalism, but this has now deepened.

It has, however, not just been right-wing parties and politicians that have imposed
austerity but all parties that have been head of, or have come to head, states in this
period of crisis. For example, despite claiming left credentials, when in power and under
pressure from finance capital and EU institutions, Syriza in Greece has been imposing
harsh austerity. In South Africa too, the ANC has capped the state’s national budget, it
has reduced transfers to local government (where services are delivered) and has even
proportionately reduced its spending on housing over the last few years. This despite
undertaking its own populist actions like expanding free education to a degree, and under
pressure from #FeesMustFall. Thus growing austerity on state spending on the working class
is escalating, shifting the burden even more onto the shoulders of working class women in
terms of the reproduction of the class.

As the capitalist crisis has continued, rivalries amongst imperialist states has also
intensified at the behest of sections of the ruling classes of the most powerful states.
This has seen the U.S. begin to implement a form of protection, in terms of trade tariffs,
against up and coming rivals such as China and even its erstwhile allies in the EU.
Politically this has enabled the U.S. state, for example, to please sections working and
middle class people-who fear the loss of their jobs in terms of offshoring and competition
from imports-whilst still implementing austerity.

The Chinese ruling class for its part has responded to the U.S. state’s tariffs with their
own. In fact, China is attempting to build a trade block with countries, such as South
Africa, Brazil and even the EU, outside the influence of the US. The growing rivalry
between the U.S. state and the Chinese state is one of the key features internationally.
In Europe, sections of the ruling class, such as in France and Germany, are attempting to
ensure so-called Free Trade remains in place, but they too are reluctantly being drawn
into the possibility of a trade war by the onslaught of the Trump regime.

As inter-imperialist rivalries have intensified or renewed in the context of a capitalist
crisis, proxy wars-such as that in Syria-have become more vicious. These proxy wars have
and will destroy the lives of millions of people-forcing them to immigrate not so much for
a better life, but to survive. It is these refugees that are being scapegoated by the
extreme right in Europe.

The restructured working class

It is now common knowledge amongst progressive forces that the working class
internationally and in South Africa has been restructured under neoliberalism. Permanent
nine to five jobs, with the same employer for years, are becoming ever scarcer. Under lean
production, more and more jobs have been outsourced, shift work has become a feature of
production and precarious work has arisen. In South Africa too, labour brokering has
become very common.

Globally, structural unemployment has been on the rise, especially amongst youth. This is
the case even amongst states in Europe, such as Spain, where youth unemployment stands at 35%. In South Africa, the problem of structural unemployment has been in place for almost two decades-with the expanded unemployment rate hovering between 35 and 40 percent over that period. There are in fact, some sections of the working class that have come to exist outside of the relations of production, not because they don’t want to sell their labour, but rather because they will never be able to.

Under this onslaught, wages for those who are employed have tended to stagnate and lose
value in real terms. To try and maintain a semblance of a decent lifestyle, sections of
the working and lower middle classes have become extremely indebted. This has been a
feature of financialisation and it has been a key weapon that the ruling classes
internationally have used to extract wealth from the working class. It has also been
ideologically seen as a way to explicitly discipline the working class-the notion being
workers that are heavily indebted are less likely to strike.

The burden of the reproduction of the working class-as noted above-has also fallen more
and more upon working class women. The days of states providing education, electricity,
water and decent housing for the working class as social services have gone. They were won
in struggle by the working class over decades; they have now been take away by the ruling
classes through their own political struggle against the oppressed and exploited. Today’s
services, including housing, have been commercialised or hollowed out at best-they are an
avenue for actual and potential profits for corporations. Those without money don’t get
the services and it is generally women that have to step in to ensure families can survive.

This state of affairs has been rationalised through the promotion of the ideology of
neoliberal restructuring. The state and sections of the media strongly reinforces
individualist ideology, which has consequently taken hold in sections of the working
class. Class consciousness has been eroded and even traditional social organisations of
the working class, such as sports clubs and workers’ clubs, have been undermined globally.
The goal is to atomise the working class and to break it into sections so that organising
becomes increasingly difficult, leaving workers disunited, fragmented and, therefore, more

With the unresolved capitalist crisis, the restructuring of the working class by the
ruling classes and their states has continued apace. As part of this, growing automation
and mechanisation-which is also a response to workers’ militant struggles in countries
such as China-has accelerated. This attack by the ruling classes has been camouflaged
under the ideological notion of the so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution.

It is more of the same

A number of states in the last few years too have attacked the rights workers have won. In
the U.S. the state has passed laws allowing greater over-time and in France the state
attempted to severely curtail rights. In South Africa too we have seen the state
attempting to amend the labour laws to undermine the right to strike and to curtail the
length of strikes. Ruling classes, using their control over states, are rolling out such
laws in an attempt to restore profits in manufacturing and mining and it is a feature of
the current context.

Likewise, most states are also strengthening their law enforcement arms and many,
including South Africa, have used the supposed threat of terrorism to do so. In the
process, human rights, won through decades and centuries of struggle by the oppressed
classes, are being rolled back at an ever alarming rate by many states in the context of
the capitalist crisis. This is so whether states are governed by extreme right wing
politicians and parties, traditional parties of the ruling class or so-called social
democratic and even leftist parties (such as Syriza)-the only thing that does differ is
the pace at which it is happening with the extreme right moving more swiftly under the
cover of nationalism.

The reality is that sections of the working class have resisted both the attacks and the
shift rightwards in many parts of the world. Prime examples of this have been the earlier
struggles of the Arab Spring, the occupy movement, the uprisings in Greece, and strike
waves in China. In South Africa we have also seen resistance at the point of production
and within communities. This has included Marikana and the continuing wave of community
protests against a lack of urban land, housing, water and electricity.

Many of the people involved in these protest movements have tried to find
ways-unconsciously-to organise in a new or different way to the traditional vehicles of
working class organisations, in terms of political parties and trade unions. As part of
this, these initiatives have tended to use direct action as their most potent weapon. It
must be stressed through that it has often not been a conscious choice to organise
differently, but was rather done out of necessity.

Part of the reason for the arise of new or different forms of organising is because left
parties and trade unions have proved to be largely ineffective in resisting neoliberalism,
let alone new challenges such as the rise of extreme right wing nationalisms and even
neo-fascism. But these experiments with new or different forms of organising have largely
not been sustained. The mass assemblies and protest movement, which was the Arab Spring
for example, was crushed by a counter-revolution throughout the Middle East. In South
Africa, in the face of the labour law and state repression, the workers at struggles-such
as Marikana-drifted back into a union, AMCU, despite it being as equally bad as NUM.

A problem which also plagued many of the experiments with new or different forms of
organising internationally is that progressive alternative politics did not fully
emerge-it existed only amongst small sections of these movements and never became
hegemonic-and neither did a counter-culture to capitalism fully emerge. This was a
weakness that had consequences, including the fact that in some cases initiatives, such as
the Arab Spring, could not be held together and lost momentum in the face of electoral
politics and state repression.

On the other hand, when sections of the working class have drifted into parties, militancy
has tended to decline-for example in Greece. While the protest movement to a degree gave
birth to Syriza, once in the state power-defined by the pressures of the state’s
hierarchical structure, its bureaucracy and under pressure from capital-its leadership
capitulated, were co-opted and in reality abandoned their political principles. Indeed, a
class that needs to desperately go beyond old ways of organising often can’t seem to
escape the hangover of the past, resorting to what is known, despite the glaring limitations.

It is clear, new or different forms of organising are vital to working class resistance
under the current context and given the classes’ restructuring. But there are also
challenges in creating these for activists and those that wish to support them, including:

  • The question of how to begin to sustain these or even should there be attempts to make
    such forms lasting (or are they forms that by definition only arise when there is mass
    struggle and hence will rise and fall with the rhythms of struggle?)
  • The need to begin to bring class analysis back in to such movements and re-build progressive class politics as a force in the face of a context where it has become extremely marginalised-this too is vital even for the co-ordination of struggles in cities, let alone provincially or nationally
  • The need to explore how to build a working class counter-culture in a context where it has been decimated
  • The need to build and contest space for a progressive anti-capitalist politics, principles and visions that not only inform the future, but how we build movements, practice politics and conduct ourselves in the present.

Israeli intervention in US elections ‘vastly overwhelms’ anything Russia has done, claims Noam Chomsky

Tue, 07/31/2018 - 23:25

via The Independent

Veteran activist Noam Chomsky has accused Israel of “brazenly” interfering in US electoral politics in a way that vastly outweighs any efforts that may have been carried out by Russia.

In comments in which he accused much of the media of concentrating on stories he considered marginal and ignoring issues such as the “existential threat” of climate change, the 89-year-old linguist said in much of the world, the US media’s focus with Russia’s alleged interference in the 2016 was “a joke”.

“First of all, if you’re interested in foreign interference in our elections, whatever the Russians may have done barely counts or weighs in the balance as compared with what another state does, openly, brazenly and with enormous support,” he said.

Speaking to Democracy Now, Mr Chomsky added: “Israeli intervention in US elections vastly overwhelms anything the Russians may have done, I mean, even to the point where the prime minister of Israel, Netanyahu, goes directly to Congress, without even informing the president, and speaks to Congress, with overwhelming applause, to try to undermine the president’s policies – what happened with Obama and Netanyahu in 2015.”

In March 2015, at the invitation of then Republican House Speaker John Boehner, and assisted by Israel’s Ambassador to the US, Ron Dermer, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed the joint houses of Congress about the yet to be signed Iran nuclear deal. He did so without formally informing the White House, something said to have infuriated Barack Obama, whose administration would the following month join a seven-party agreement to limit Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons ambitions.

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Communism: A short guide for confused journalists

Thu, 07/26/2018 - 17:58

via Freedom (U.K.)

Following Ash Sarkar’s recent “I’m literally a communist” moment on Good Morning Britain, there’s been a lot of fairly messy attempts by media names to explain what communism is — hopefully the following will help them out (apologies for the elderly Drake meme).

From Matthew Parris suggesting “communism means State control of the means of production, distribution and exchange, it means no private property, it’s perfectly clear” to Suzanne Moore’s odd suggestion that “the really great stuff being discussed by young leftists is not communism, it is anarcho-syndicalism – participatory local democracy” there is clearly an educational deficit at the heart of media punditry.

Because pundits have short attention spans the list below isn’t intended as a comprehensive or nuanced rundown, think of them more as flash card notes.


Amazingly, every part of what Parris said was wrong. In defence of the Cambridge and Yale scholar, former MP and senior political journalist of 30 years’ standing, perhaps he’s just ignorant of his subject matter. The key problem is actually in his last line “it’s perfectly clear.” This literally could not be further off the mark. In reality there are two working definitions of communism, one being the popularly-understood summary he repeated (the result of decades of deliberate mislabeling), the other being used by actual communists and most good dictionaries.

In this second definition, we find that communism means public, communal control of the means of production and distribution (exchange largely being eliminated through the core concept of “from each according to ability, to each according to need”) and owning stuff is absolutely fine, no-one’s getting carte blanche to commandeer your favourite jumper.

The italics are quite important, because the use of the State to achieve this is not required. The communist society is one in which we, as communities, decide how the resources and machinery of producing our collective wealth is used. We decide what the factory makes, how much we want, if we fancy doing big projects like say, a space programme or converting our homes to solar, rather than leaving it to the “will of the market” (ie. whatever makes profit regardless of need or long-term consequences), the whims of Jeff Bezos, or the decisions of distant national institutions.


Is again, much more complicated than the definitions pundits tend to work with, but broadly Karl Marx’s ideas about capturing State power to enforce working-class control over the means of production on the way to achieving communism is the point Matthew Parris is starting from.1

Marxism is not the same thing as communism however, more some key ideas and an approach towards achieving it, and even when he was first talking about his concepts there were numerous dissenting opinions from other communists, which led to major splits within the broader movement, most famously from the First and Second Internationals.


Also known as Marxist-Leninism, Bolshevism and most confusingly, Communism (note the capital C, I’ll get back to this in a moment), this is where we get to what’s really meant by Mr Parris, Suzanne Moore and every loudmouth under the sun who thinks communism = gulags and mass murder.

Lenin had a very specific, brutal interpretation of Marx in which he substituted the needs of his Communist Party for those of the working classes. For him, capturing the State was the means of achieving communism, and once he had, it became the ends for maintaining “Communism” (which was not, as explained above, in fact communism at all but just State power).

The USSR’s “Communism” was not just rejected by capitalism but by many communists, from the anarcho-communists such as Alexander Berkman and Emma Goldman to Rudolf Rocker and the anarcho-syndicalist IWMA, to the council communists and libertarian socialists such as Maurice Brinton. Quite a lot of Russian anarcho-communists died at Bolshevik hands. Unfortunately, due to the habit of the USSR (China, North Korea , etc) of calling their national command economies Communist (capitalise that C!), and the enthusiastic acceptance of this by capitalists everywhere, we ended up with a wacky linguistic compromise throughout the Cold War where communists would regularly berate Communists for their many outrages against human life and decency.


“Aha!” I hear some of you cry, “this is an oxymoron!” Well you’re an oxymoron. Because anarcho-communism has been around for nearly as long as Marxism. And the important thing here is that the main difference between the two is in the means to the end (remember, full communism does not involve State control, I can’t believe you forgot that already, it’s been like six paragraphs mate, get it together).

Marx, on the one hand, believed that working-class capture of the institutions of the State — a dictatorship of the proletariat — would clear the way towards implementing the structures required for communism proper. His direct opponent Bakunin (a collectivist, which kind of pre-empted anarcho-communism as an idea) made the extremely good point that capturing State power merely changes who rips off the workers, rather than abolishing the process of ripping them off altogether. Anarcho-communism therefore suggests a direct path, in which the State is abolished by the revolution, rather than the revolution taking place in an effort to capture the State so it can then eventually abolish … er … itself.



This is a strategy to implement (usually communism but also potentially other social forms) by organising labour unions and community organisations along the lines of the society desired and using them as tools to end capitalism via general strike, armed rebellion and suchlike. Think of it as building the new world inside the old and then busting free like the Alien out of Kane’s rib cage. Or something more wholesome I guess. A version of this approach can be seen in the collectives which sprang up in the Spanish Revolution.

While participatory democracy can be part of how anarcho-syndicalist groups operate, they are not one and the same concept and you don’t have to be either a communist or an anarchist to do it. Which Suzanne Moore, as a former Marxism Today writer, should probably know. I guess it was just hard to get the staff back then.

I think that’s enough droning on, but in sum, bear all this in mind for future Newsnight “analysis”.

~ Robbie Tomminson

1. Though Parris’s active sneering over the last few decades has mainly been aimed at Russia, China, Cuba etc, which were of course Leninist, Maoist and Castroleum in their early stages and now are mostly just bizarre hybrids of State diktat and neoliberalism (eg. China is quite happy to have free trade zones throughout the country).

Cooperating with Chaos: Portraits of Anarchists at Studio Place Arts

Thu, 07/26/2018 - 16:06

From Montpelier Bridge

A philosopher leans with his right elbow against a table, looking broodingly into space. His ruffled, gray beard and receding hairline, possibly encouraged to withdraw after years of pensive pulling, contrasts his formal suit. Though still, the painting feels active as a flurry of colorful brushstrokes swirl about him, illustrating some sort of creative ether.

“Hazen,” is just one of the 24 pieces of art that make up Storm: Nihilists, Anarchists, Populists and Radicals, an exhibition at Studio Place Arts (SPA) in Barre. The exhibition, located on the second floor, includes oil paintings, classical drawings, and watercolors by Nitya Brighenti.

The paintings mostly focus on figures of the 19th century and feature portraits of writers and political thinkers such as Mikhail Bakunin and Fyodor Dostoevsky, as well as a few of Brighenti’s visions, such as the oil painting, “The Russian Bear.”

Brighenti also brings extensive knowledge of the figures he had chosen to paint. As he walked through the gallery, speaking about each featured philosopher as if he were talking about a friend, he finally settled in front of the mixed media piece, “Itinerary.” With lines linking over the face of German philosopher, Georg Hegel’s face, the piece resembles a spider web, connecting small, circular images of different political, literary, and philosophical figures.

For Brighenti, engaging in the literature that these political thinkers wrote was as essential part of his creative process. At the opening, he explained, “I like to paint something that I feel some passion about. I feel passionate about Bakunin, about these stories, and I want to see the faces, but I also want to risk a new interpretation. I’ve painted Bakunin many times, and I still I feel as though I didn’t really get him.”

The term “anarchy” brings a very specific set of wild images to mind. Its very definition seems to invoke chaos. The anarchist movement led to bombings and assassinations. It is a series of images that invoke fear and fire, but this is not true for Brighenti, as none of the paintings in this exhibition feature the destructive fire that sometimes came with anarchy. When asked why, Brighenti highlighted the difference between the original ideas of anarchy and what the movement later became:

“Anarchism, unlike communism, as far as I know, didn’t have many theories about the dictatorship of the proletariat. Anarchism is about cooperation among the people, owning the means of production. For example, if you work in a factory, wouldn’t it be good if all the workers owned the factory, organized the factory, and shared the profits?”

While Brighenti finds himself attracted to the idea of business shaped and owned by the workers, he is not sympathetic to the thinkers who did incite violence. For him, there seems to be two anarchisms: the philosophical side reflected in the portraits and a destructive movement that ultimately failed. This rejection is evident not only in how Brighenti speaks about these violent insurgents, but also in how he has rejected the presence of these figures in his collection.

This exhibition coincides with the Barre Heritage Festival, which is more than serendipitous. Indeed, Barre has its own history of Anarchism. Amongst the Italian community of Barre anarchists was Luigi Galleani, writer and publisher of the Anarchist newspaper, Cronaca Sovversiva. When asked about Barre’s most famous Anarchist, Brighenti said that he found Galleani to be a complicated figure. “They had this idea of connection, mutual support, and helping each other. There is a newspaper in New York that chronicles the arrest of Galleani. All of the Italian people got out on the street to protest. He was a leader, an important leader. He was the guy who was supporting their hopes.”

When asked if Brighenti saw Galleani as a positive figure, he responded, “I would see him as positive, but I disagree with the type of violence he was inciting because if I were an anarchist, and I’m not too sure I am, I would be a pacifist.”

Storm: Nihilists, Anarchists, Populists and Radicals runs until August 24 at Studio Place Arts