“We must build an alternative” / by Matthew Cunningham-Cook

Philadelphia mayoral candidate Helen Gym. (AP Photo / Matt Rourke)

Originally published: The Lever  on May 15, 2023

When private equity threatened to destroy a 133-year-old hospital, Helen Gym, a former teacher and parent organizer turned first-term Philadelphia City Council member, sprung into action.

“How corrupt is it for an investment banker and a real estate company to come in and buy a major medical hospital in the poorest large city in the country?” Gym’s voice boomed out to a crowd of hundreds in front of Hahnemann University Hospital in central Philadelphia at a July 2019 rally with Sen. Bernie Sanders (Ind.-Vt.), one the first times Gym’s organizing work caught national attention.

And how wrong are our laws when Joel Freedman and his cohort of vulture capitalists can run this hospital into the ground in less than 18 months and now they’re going to flip it for a real estate deal?

Just three weeks before, Joel Freedman, a private equity executive, had announced that he was closing the hospital. It was one of just five hospitals that could treat trauma patients, and one of just six hospitals where people could give birth, in the sixth-largest city in America.

Now Gym, after two terms on city council, is running for Philadelphia mayor on an ambitious platform to invest in and expand public institutions, especially health care and schools. If she wins in the Democratic primary on Tuesday, overcoming an entrenched Democratic Party establishment and powerful billionaires opposing her insurgent campaign, she will also confront Philadelphia’s major health and housing disparities. These deep inequities are a microcosm of yawning nationwide problems of which the federal government has effectively washed its hands.

Gym’s campaign–which is currently leading in the most recent poll for the race–asks a far-reaching question: In the most unequal country in the industrialized world, what can one city do to address the national health care and housing crises fueled by global financiers?

“I’m not running for office because I want to be a mayor per se,” Gym told The Lever in January. “I’m running for office because we have to dramatically change the way this city takes care of its own people from babies to senior citizens.” Gym speaks warmly and deliberately, with a candor that has endeared her to the city’s splintered activist communities and made powerful enemies, including the local Chamber of Commerce and the editorial board of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

“I want to be able to show people that the government has a powerful role to play,” she added.

What’s transformative about that is to lead with a real people’s movement focused on the essentials of life: safety, housing, education, health care, the environment.

On the city council, Gym has fought the city’s business lobby to protect workers rights and promote safe schools. And while much of her campaign has been framed around public well-being and safety, her politics are actually best understood at an institutional level–in her unsuccessful but still transformative fight to save a century-old hospital.

Fighting To Save A Hospital

Philadelphia is the poorest big city in America. A progressive bastion in an increasingly blue state, the city is racially diverse and has growing inequality. It’s one of the few remaining American cities where organized labor plays a major role in political life, with more than 150,000 people represented by a union in a city of 1.6 million. In recent years, more than half-a-dozen progressives and socialists claimed victories in various offices.

In 2001, Gym was a mom sending her kids to public school, dismayed at the state takeover of the city’s education system–and joined other parent-activists seeking better resources for the city’s desperately underfunded public schools. In 2015, she ran for the city council, and in 2019, she was reelected as the highest vote-getter in the Democratic primary. In both campaigns, championing public schools and improving health care were central tenets of her platform.

When Hahnemann faced sudden closure in 2019, no elected official was more vocal than Gym about the dangers the shutdown foretold. Those warnings came to fruition less than a year later, when COVID-19 ravaged the city and killed more than 5,500 people.

Gym’s role in the effort to save Hahnemann from private equity managers who prioritized profits over patient care is a story that has never been fully told.

At the time, I worked as the staff researcher for the main nurses and health care professionals union in Philadelphia, the Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals (PASNAP), which represented 800 nurses at Hahnemann.

Hahnemann University Hospital was founded in 1885 as a teaching hospital for homeopathic medical students and later established itself as a center for traditional medicine in the city. In 1986, it became the city’s first Level 1 trauma center–the highest designation for treating trauma patients. The development was critically important in a city beset with a major gun violence epidemic.

In the late 1980s, a new nonprofit, the Pittsburgh-based Allegheny Health and Education Research Foundation (AHERF), began to transform the state’s hospitals. AHERF went on a Wall Street-backed buying spree of Pennsylvania health care assets, purchasing Hahnemann in 1993, but then filing for bankruptcy just five years later, in what was then the largest nonprofit health care bankruptcy ever.

AHERF’s Philadelphia assets were sold to Tenet Healthcare, what is now the second-largest publicly traded hospital firm. Hahnemann eventually affiliated with Drexel University, becoming the fifth-largest medical school in the U.S., and continued to serve vulnerable populations. Up to its closure, a majority of its patients had public health insurance or none at all.

By 2016, nurses at Hahnemann had become so frustrated that they overwhelmingly voted to unionize with PASNAP. But the following year, the hospitals were sold again, this time to Joel Freedman, a private equity manager backed by MidCap Financial, a subsidiary of Apollo Global Management, a major private equity firm with a long history of problems, including delivering subpar returns and associations with convicted pedophile Jeffrey Epstein.

Immediately, Hahnemann was saddled with onerous debt service payments several points higher than common commercial rates, leaving the hospital with fewer resources to shore up its troubled finances.

Freedman initially made pledges to invest in the hospital–and agreed to a contract with the nurses that contained precedent-setting language on safe staffing. But the hospital’s already-shaky finances were further stressed by the new private equity model. When MidCap sent in a notice of default to Freedman in May 2019, the hospital was on the verge of collapse.

When Freedman announced Hahnemann’s imminent closure the following month, hospital staff braced for the worst. Hahnemann employed nearly 10 percent of PASNAP’s membership, and the union’s research showed that the hospital’s closure would further stress the city’s already-overburdened emergency rooms.

Today, among the hospitals that ended up taking most of Hahnemann’s patients in Philadelphia, ER wait times are about a half hour longer than the average hospitals in Pennsylvania, according to a Lever analysis of federal health care data. Health care workers around the city reported that ERs near Hahnemann became burdened with additional patients in the immediate aftermath of the hospital’s closure.

Previous closures of hospital maternity wards in Philadelphia had led to increases in infant mortality as high as 50 percent, researchers from the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia found in 2012.

The Hahnemann workers quickly found an ally in Gym, who had long been close with PASNAP’s former president, Patty Eakin. Eakin, a recently retired emergency room nurse at Temple University Hospital, said that Gym immediately jumped into action.

“Helen was furious when they closed Hahnemann,” said Eakin.

Because Hahnemann was a safety net hospital. There were lots of patients who depended on it for care, and would now need to travel great distances. She was very sharp in her critique of a private equity company and a bottom feeder like Joel Freedman buying a hospital and running it into the ground.

Samir Sonti, a labor studies professor at the City University of New York, had just started as PASNAP’s political organizer when Hahnemann’s closure became imminent, and noted her response was very different from the common politician’s response. Sonti said,

[Helen] was one of the first electeds that we spoke to. From the first conversation onward she was strategizing with us over how we could build a campaign to save Hahnemann. At no point was it about her using it as a political opportunity–she used it as an organizer.

Gym appeared at every union event, pressed for financial resources to support Hahnemann, pushed the city and state Departments of Health to block Hahnemann’s closure, and pressured Freedman to stop the disorderly closure of the hospital.

But as financial pressure mounted, real estate vultures were circling: Hahnemann sat on valuable real estate in Center City Philadelphia. And other hospitals wouldn’t throw their weight behind saving Hahnemann, eager to absorb its patient population and lucrative medical residencies.

The CEO of Thomas Jefferson University, the city’s second-largest hospital network, Stephen Klasko, wrote an email in April 2019–prior to Hahnemann’s bankruptcy and subsequent closure–saying,

No, we don’t need Hahnemann. In fact, we need many less hospitals.

Despite routine marches in front of the hospital, including the July 2019 rally headlined by Gym and Sanders, real estate pressure and hospital competition was overwhelming. By the summer, it was clear that Hahnemann was not salvageable; more powerful politicians than Gym had largely given up on it while private interests moved in. By August, the hospital had no patients and was effectively shut down.

But Gym was energized to increase her efforts to fight for progressive values in Philadelphia. Today, she remains firm that public investment and ownership is the answer to privatization:

What is most important right now is a really strong government sector that looks out for the people. Local governments have an enormous amount of power, and an enormous amount of responsibility as well.

Gym went on to pass legislation that would crack down on disorderly hospital and nursing home closures, which the mayor signed in December of 2019.

Gym connected Hahnemann’s plight to poor state and national hospital regulations. Nationwide, hospital closures are major issues for cities and rural areas, reflecting a divestment of private interest in public health and the serious risks that come with for-profit ownership of hospitals.

“It is absolutely vital that local governments strengthen their responsibilities to the health and well being of our residents, because state and federal policies are so weak in this area” said Gym.

The Philadelphia region, meanwhile, is still vulnerable to hospital closures. In 2020, Mercy hospital in West Philadelphia substantially closed their inpatient operations and became an outpatient clinic, and private equity-owned Delaware County Memorial Hospital, right outside of the city in Upper Darby, closed at the end of 2022.

Gym’s Philadelphia

Inspired by what she learned in her fight to save Hahnemann, Gym said she sees Philly’s mayoral race as an opportunity to make the city a model for what can be accomplished in America as a whole: developing municipal responses to national problems.

“Progressives spent enormous sums of money and a lot of hair pulling to focus on Wisconsin, North Carolina, Georgia, and Florida in the 2022 elections,” Gym said.

But at the municipal level, we can actually see a blueprint for the nation written through America’s largest cities. Philadelphia is a Democratic city. And that means that it should demonstrate what the country could and should look like, in the next 10 to 20 years.

Critical to Gym’s overall perspective on Philadelphia’s public health is the city’s school system. Philadelphia’s public schools have been routinely closed to deal with lead issues, which United States Public Interest Research Group, a federation of state-based consumer advocacy organizations, calls a “widespread” problem in Philadelphia’s schools.

Instead of recognizing Philly’s school crisis for what it is: an emergency, the city council and the current Mayor Jim Kenney’s administration have kicked the can down the road, cutting business and wage taxes that could have been used for lead abatement.

Gym and her two main progressive allies Kendra Brooks and Jamie Gauthier were the only members of the council to vote against the tax cuts. Gym has proposed a $10 billion city-wide Green New Deal, funded by property taxes and the city’s bonding authority to address the lead crisis.

Gym has also focused on the city’s housing crisis, with 48 percent of the city’s renters being considered as rent-burdened. In December 2021, the city council passed Gym’s landmark eviction diversion program which has been praised by the Biden White House, building on earlier legislation that Gym and her allies on Philadelphia’s 17-member city council had passed in June 2020. The program appears to have reduced evictions by about one third compared to pre-pandemic numbers.

Buttressing Gym’s broader vision for the city is her emphasis on workers’ rights. In December 2018, Gym won passage of the Fair Workweek legislation, which cracked down on unfair flex scheduling practices for workers, particularly in the retail industry. The legislation affects an estimated 130,000 workers.

“What we have demonstrated is a real push by everyday people to see a government that truly works for them,” Gym said,

But it starts at the local level by making sure that schools are safe and functioning and open and staffed and funded, by making sure that libraries and recreation centers are open and vibrant, that health care is not about just hospitals, but that health care is about meeting people’s needs, on the ground, and really connecting the government to its people.

Building An Alternative

Of the three frontrunners in the race, Gym is the only mayoral candidate running who has won citywide more than once, and she brings a loyal set of volunteers as the city’s progressive insurgency has bloomed.

Since 2019, when Gym was reelected and Brooks and Gauthier defeated incumbents to win seats on the council, Philadelphia’s progressives have experienced a resurgence. In 2020, Nikil Saval, a socialist writer and organizer, won election to the state Senate, and Rick Krajewski, also an organizer, won a spot in the state House.

In 2022, Tarik Khan, a nurse practitioner who had been active in the fight to save Hahnemann, defeated an incumbent to win a spot in the Pennsylvania House. Larry Krasner, the city’s progressive district attorney who has overseen a 40 percent reduction in the city’s jail population, was reelected with 67 percent of the vote in 2021, along with a slate of seven progressive judges.

On Sunday, Gym reprised her 2019 rally with Sanders, as he stumped for her with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.).

This election comes on the heels of progressive Brandon Johnson’s April upset in Chicago’s mayoral election, backed by a comparable coalition of progressives and the city’s teachers union. There, Brandon Johnson campaigned on a platform that prioritized workers, emphasized investment in schools, and reimagined public safety. His trajectory could point to a similar opportunity for Gym.

Philadelphia, a city similarly hollowed out by disinvestment and energized by a progressive insurgency, can be a model for the nation. As corporate interests threaten the city’s future, Gym is naming and fighting privatization.

“We must build an alternative,” Gym concluded.

“I think that that is my life’s work, even before I ever came into office. It’s one of the most important things that I think politics needs to do right now. I think we’re very clear about our repudiation of Trumpism and the extreme right, but it will resonate if we live differently, as people deserve to live. And that is the most important thing for me in Philadelphia, that people’s lives have to actually be different.”

Matthew Cunningham-Cook is a researcher and writer focusing on capital markets, health care and retirement policy

Review of Russia without Blinders / by Roger Keeran

The Moscow Kremlin | Wikipedia

Originally published in Marxism Leninism Today on January 9, 2023

Russia without Blinders: From the Conflict in Ukraine to a Turning Point in World Politics [Original title: La Russie Sans Oeilleres: Du conflit en Ukraine au tournant geopolitique mondial] edited by Maxime Vivas, Aymeric Monville and Jean-Pierre Page. (Paris, France: Editions Delga, 2022.)

Today the conflict in Ukraine advances every day and intensifies with Russian destruction of the Ukrainian infrastructure, with the western gift to Ukraine of more and more sophisticated and destructive weapons, with provocations like the missile aimed at Poland, and the Ukrainian attacks within Russia. Presently, the conflict in Ukraine has brought the world closer to nuclear war than at any time since the Cuban missile crisis of 1962.

In 1962, U.S. leaders believed that Russian missiles in Cuba posed such a national security threat that they were willing to risk nuclear war to get them removed. Yet, the U.S. and NATO propose creating exactly this kind of threat to Russia.  The gravity of the current situation is obvious if one can imagine the reaction of Russian leaders at the prospect of American/NATO nuclear missiles in Kiev two hours flight from Moscow.  Thus, the lack of an outcry against the war in Ukraine and the almost complete absence of calls for a ceasefire and negotiations constitute one of the most glaring and dangerous aspects of the present moment.

Though Washington officials and the mainstream media always refer to this conflict as Putin’s “unprovoked war,” seldom has a conflict been so clearly provoked as this one. The expansion of NATO since 1991 and U.S. insistence that Ukraine be allowed to join NATO are the most obvious and proximate causes of this conflict.  By increasing economic sanctions against Russia, by arming of Ukraine with ever more sophisticated weapons, and by saying that Putin is a “butcher” who “can no longer remain in power” (Biden in March 2022) and by insisting that Ukraine’s right to join NATO is non-negotiable, the United States continues to escalate the conflict and place a negotiated settlement further out of reach.

In spite of this situation in the United States and Europe, no movement for peace in Ukraine has emerged. Aside from a few right-wing outliers like Senator Rand Paul and a hastily withdrawn letter to Biden from the House Progressive Caucus calling for negotiations, no elected officials have denounced American behavior or called for peace. Almost no intelligent and informed discussion of the war occurs in the media and none at whatsoever in the recent electoral debates. The entire nation seems plunging into the unknown with blinders on.

This makes the current volume an island of facts and reason in a sea of insanity. Russia without Blinders was edited by Aymeric Monville, the head of Delga Editions, the main Marxist publishing house in France, Maxime Vivas, author of a recent book on the anti-Chinese “ravings” in France, and Jean-Pierre Page, a writer and past director of the International Department of the French General Confederation of Labor (CGT). It has seventeen contributors mostly scholars, writers and activists in France, whose contributions fall under three headings: Russophobia, the Origins of the Conflict, and Russia and the World. While exposing the phobia and propaganda that has completely obscured the meaning of this war, the book, in the words of the editors, aims to be not pro-Russian but pro-truth.

To the extent that the book’s many authors and subjects could be reduced to a simple argument it would be this: The war in Ukraine did not begin with the Russian invasion of February 23, 2022, but was rooted in events at least as far back as the collapse of the Soviet Union. Its meaning is far more serious than the simpleminded notion that this is an “unprovoked” war driven by a madman’s desire to restore the Czarist empire. Rather, this war is symbolic of a seismic change in international relations and balance of forces that has occurred since the collapse of the Soviet Union and which has intensified in recent years with the economic recovery of Russia, now the world’s eleventh largest economy and the rise of China, which has become the world’s second largest economy. The United States and its European vassals are determined to hold on to their superiority and even expand their economic, military, and ideological dominance. The authors further argue that these imperial ambitions are doomed to fail and that the war is actually showing the limits of American power and the emergence of a multipolar world. That is, the machinations of American imperialism are giving rise to its opposite, a growing resistance to American dominance not only by  Russia and China and but also by much of Africa, Asia and Latin America. This resistance manifests itself by the rejection of American hypocritical espousal of democracy, sovereignty, and the rule of law, as well as the rebellion against the domination of the American dollar, American sanctions, and American neoliberal policies.

It is impossible for a short review to do justice to the array of topics and the wealth of information and the high quality of research contained in these articles, which unfortunately are only available in French. Therefore, I will focus on the book’s main arguments as to the origin of the war and the increasing isolation and weakness of the U.S. revealed by the war.

Bombarded as we are by daily horror stories of Putin’s madness and  authoritarianism and Russian war atrocities, torture, executions, mass graves, kidnappings, and civilian bombings, it is hard to focus on the causes of the conflict. Yet, without some factual understanding, it is easy to be swept up by war hysteria. The history reveals that far from this being an “unprovoked war,” it was provoked by the expansion of NATO and the longstanding designs on Ukraine by American policy-makers.

Several aspects of this “hidden history” of the war stand out. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, central Asia, especially Ukraine, has assumed major importance in the thinking of strategists concerned with preserving American world dominance. In The Grand Chessboard (1997), Zbigniew Brzezinski said, “For America, the chief geopolitical prize is Eurasia…. and America’s global primacy is directly dependent on how long and how effectively its preponderance on the Eurasian continent is sustained.” According to Brzezinski, on this international chessboard, Ukraine is the “geopolitical pivot.” Ukraine is a vast territory rich in gas, oil, wheat, rare minerals, and nuclear power. If “Russia regains control over Ukraine,” it automatically acquires the potential to become “a powerful imperial state,” and a challenge to the U.S.

Since 1990, the U.S. has tried to drive a wedge between Ukraine and Russia. In 1990, as the Soviet Union dissolved, the Ukrainians participated in a referendum in which some 90 percent voted to remain in a union with Russia. The United States, however, promoted Ukrainian leaders hostile to Russia. In 2010 Viktor Yanoukovitch was elected president. Yanoukovitch tried to weave a course friendly both to Russia and European Union. In the legislative election of 2012, Yanoukovitch’s party won more seats than the other three parties combined. The next year, however, when he refused to sign an agreement of association with the European Union, mass demonstrations encouraged by the U.S. broke out in what became known as the Euromaidan movement. The administration of President Barack Obama supported, financed and coached this movement, which was taken over by right-wing nationalists including neofascists and which eventually forced the president to flee the country.  On December 13, 2013, the U.S. State Department’s Undersecretary for Europe, Victoria Nuland, said that the U.S. had invested over five billion dollars in promoting democracy in Ukraine, that is to say in promoting the movement that ousted the democratically elected president. Nuland and Geoffrey Pyatt, the American ambassador to Ukraine, played an active role in choosing the new government of Ukraine that included neo-fascists.

In 2019, during the administration of Donald Trump, Vladimir Zelenskyy was elected president of Ukraine. The millionaire comedian, who is now lauded as the heroic defender of democracy, had a sordid past completely overlooked by the American media. The Pandora Papers exposed him as one of the corrupt world leaders with vast wealth stored in offshore accounts.  Moreover, Zelenskyy was closely connected to the corrupt oligarch, Igor Kolomoisky, the owner of the TV station where Zelenskyy’s show appeared and the owner of a major bank, Privat Bank, whose assets the government seized for corruption in 2016. In power, Zelenskyy made a leader of the neo-nazis the governor of Odessa. He also outlawed trade unions and a dozen political groups, including the Communist Party. Also, Zelenskyy pursued military action against the separatists in the Donbas, a pro-Russian and largely working class area of Ukraine. Since 2014, military strikes on the Donbas have killed 14,000 and wounded 40,000 citizens. The worst atrocities were linked to the neo-fascist army unit the Azov Battalion. Arseniy Yatsenyuk, who served as the American-picked Prime Minister between 2014 and 2016, referred to the citizens of Donetsk and Lugansk as “non-humans.”

According to Page, under Zelenskyy, the U.S. completely “colonized” Ukraine. It sent billions of dollars of military aid and advisors, built 26 laboratories for biological research, seized a big role in Ukrainian industry and media, allowed American agribusiness to buy huge tracts of farmland, and proposed Ukraine joining NATO. Zelenskyy in turn ended all relations with Russia and suppressed all political opposition.

This was the background to the Russian intervention of February 2022. Putin gave three objectives for this action: to de-nazify Ukraine, to de-militarize Ukraine, and to stop the massacre of citizens in the Donbas.

When NATO met on March 24, 2022, Biden said that the conflict in Ukraine meant that there was going to be a “new world order” and “we must direct it.” Biden also said that Putin was a butcher. The Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said: “Our special military operation is designed to put an end to the rash expansion and rash course toward the complete international domination by the United States and other western countries.”

The book’s argument that the imperial designs of the United States is important and incontestable. The other thrust of the argument–that the war symbolizes the decline of American power and a realignment of global forces–is equally important though more debatable. Jean-Pierre Page and other of the book’s contributors contend that the U.S. attempt to isolate Russia politically and weaken it economically is doomed to fail. In the first place, Russia is one of the most economically self-sufficient nations of the world. The Russian economy has rebounded from the Soviet collapse and privatization and represents one the world’s largest economies. Moreover, it is rich in natural resources — gas, oil, coal, gold, wheat, nickel, aluminum, uranium, neon, lumber among other things. The idea that economic sanctions, which have never proved an effective instrument of international policy (witness the Cuban blockade), are going to force Russia to relent in the face of NATO expansion, which it sees as an existential threat, is simply delusional.

Furthermore, the expectation that the rest of the world would go along with the unilateral economic sanctions, which are illegal under the United Nations charter, has proven to be phantasmagorical. In spite of a tremendous campaign of cajoling, pressure, and threats, the United States has not managed to win the backing of any countries outside of Europe. The countries constituting BRICS–Brazil, India, China and South Africa have rejected sanctions, but so have such other large regional economies as Mexico, Argentina, Saudi Arabia, and Indonesia, Algeria and Egypt. The resistance to U.S. sanctions is part of a larger resistance to the domination of American neoliberal policies and the U.S. dollar. More and more countries have agreed to buy oil and other commodities with rubles, yuans and gold in place of the once mighty dollar. In the words quoted by of one of the book’s contributors, Tamara Kunanayakam, the resistance to sanctions is the sign or a new more fragmented global order in which states are avoiding the geopolitical objectives of the grand powers to pursue their own economic needs.

For all of its merits, the book is not without limitations. For all its strengths in exposing the imperialist ambitions and machinations of the U.S., the book ignores the fact that Russia also has its monopoly capitalists with designs on expanding to Ukraine and elsewhere, and Russia, too, is also part of the imperialist stage of world history. For a book looking at Russia “without blinders,” the authors are strangely blind to Russian imperialism. Lenin argued that is not just a policy but a stage in the development of capitalism dominated by monopolies and finance. As Andrew Murray has pointed out (Communist Review Autumn 2022), Russia ticks off many of the boxes of Lenin’s description of imperialism.  It present “an astonishing degree of economic monopolization” with 22 oligarchic groups accounting for 42 percent of employment and 39 percent of sales. In finance, Sberbank provides banking for 70 percent of Russians, controls a third of all bank assets, and operates in twenty-two countries. Moreover, Russia has repeatedly used military interventions in Chechnya, Kazakhstan and other former Soviet republics as well as in Syria and (with the mercenary Wagner Group) west Africa. Simply put, in Murray’s words Russia “is an imperialist power.”

At the Ideological Seminar in Caracas, Venezuela, in the fall of 2022, the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) put forward a similar analysis (see MLToday.com, November 6, 2022): “Recently, in the face of developments and especially the imperialist war in Ukraine, other CPs have focused only on the obvious responsibilities of the US, the EU, and NATO, which has been advancing and encircling Russia for years. In fact, this was combined with the approach that Russia is a capitalist but not an imperialist power. This approach is detached from the fact that imperialism is not just an aggressive policy but capitalism in its modern stage, the monopoly stage. Today, large monopolies prevail in the entire world and in Russia. The plans of NATO, the US, and the EU in the past 30 years have clearly been a powder keg for this conflict, but when did this powder keg begin filling up? Did it not begin with the overthrow of socialism, the dissolution of the USSR —in fact through a coup d’état— against the will of the majority of its peoples? Wasn’t it then when factories, mines, oil, natural gas, precious metals, and labour power became a commodity once again? Wasn’t it then when, after 7 decades of socialist construction, all of the above became once again a bone of contention for the capitalists, for the big monopoly enterprises?”

If the authors of this volume are still wearing blinders with regard to Russia, some are also wearing rose tinted lenses with respect to the emergence of a “fragmented global order” or a “multipolar world.” Of course, the authors are right to point out the decline of American influence as represented by resistance to American sanctions against Russia and the domination of the American dollar and influence. Nevertheless, without actually saying so, some of the authors suggest that this shift in the global balance of forces represents something new and fundamental, and that it might provide a check on imperial expansion and imperial wars. Whether the authors really believe this and whether this idea has any validity remains to be seen, but it is helpful to recall the ideas of Lenin.

In 1916 Lenin wrote his classic analysis of imperialism, Imperialism: the Highest Stage of Capitalism. Lenin distinguished his view of imperialism from the leading competing view, that of the social-democrat Karl Kautsky. On the surface both Lenin and Kautsky had similar views of imperialism.  They both recognized the development of monopoly capital and finance capital, and saw it leading to expansion, exploitation and war.   For Lenin, however, imperialism was a stage, the latest stage, of capitalist development, the stage of monopoly capital that succeeded competitive capital.  For Kautsky, imperialism represented a policy adopted by the monopolists.  The implications of these different points of view were monumental. For Lenin, only revolutionary struggle against monopoly capital could end imperialism and end imperialist wars. Kautsky, however, thought it was possible to replace imperialist policies by other pacifist policies. Kautsky insisted that it was possible to imagine a new stage of economic development, “ultra-imperialism,” where the world would be divided up among a few great monopolies among whom peace would be possible.  The First World War and the Second World War effectively swept Kautsky’s ideas about ultra-imperialism and a pacific imperialist world into the dustbin. Kautsky is barely known let alone read today.

I would suggest that some of Kautsky’s ideas have been picked up or reinvented by contemporaries. The idea of an emerging new stage of multipolarity resembles Kautsky’s stage of super-imperialism. Some of those enamored by the emergence of multipolarity think that it represents a fundamental change in the global balance of forces and seem to think it can countervail the imperialist drive for expansion and war and thus provide a basis for peace within the framework of imperialism. Two of the writers of this volume even say that the time is coming when an alliance of Russia, China, India, Latin America and the Arab world can “prevent” the financial oligarchs of the world from “launching the third world war.”  The problem is that such thinking, however beguiling, avoids a tough-minded understanding of the fundamental nature of imperialism rooted in capitalism’s insatiable drive for profit, exploitation, and expansion. It may not be necessary for worldwide socialist revolution in order to stop any particular imperialist conflict, but under the imperialist stage of capitalism war is omnipresent and unavoidable. This understanding imperialism provides a better basis for struggle against it than social democratic illusions about the efficacy of multipolarity. Let’s hope that it will not take another world war to banish these illusions.

Socialism is not a Utopian ideal, but an achievable necessity / by Vijay Prashad

Philip Guston (Canada), Gladiators, 1940.

Originally published: Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research on January 5, 2023

Dear friends,

New Year greetings from the desk of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research.

Marcelo Pogolotti (Cuba), Siglo XX o Regalo a la querida (‘20th century or Gift for the loved one’), 1933.

In May 2021, the executive director of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, and the UN high representative for disarmament affairs, Izumi Nakamitsu, wrote an article urging governments to cut excessive military spending in favour of increasing spending on social and economic development. Their wise words were not heard at all. To cut money for war and to increase money for social development, they wrote, is ‘not a utopian ideal, but an achievable necessity’. That phrase—not a utopian ideal, but an achievable necessity—is essential. It describes the project of socialism almost perfectly.

Our institute has been at work for over five years, driven precisely by this idea that it is possible to transform the world to meet the needs of humanity while living within nature’s limits. We have accompanied social and political movements, listened to their theories, observed their work, and built our own understanding of the world based on these attempts to change it. This process has been illuminating. It has taught us that it is not enough to try and build a theory from older theories, but that it is necessary to engage with the world, to acknowledge that those who are trying to change the world are able to develop the shards of an assessment of the world, and that our task—as researchers of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research—is to build those shards into a worldview. The worldview that we are developing does not merely understand the world as it is; it also takes hold of the dynamic that seeks to produce the world as it should be.

Our institute is committed to tracing the dynamics of social transcendence, and how we can get out of a world system that is driving us to annihilation and extinction. There are sufficient answers that exist in the world now, already present with us even when social transformation seems impossible. The total social wealth on the planet is extraordinary, although—due to the long history of colonialism and violence—this wealth is simply not used to generate solutions for common problems, but to aggrandise the fortunes of the few. There is enough food to feed every person on the planet, for instance, and yet billions of people remain hungry. There is no need to be naïve about this reality, nor is there a need to feel futile.

Renato Guttuso (Italy), May 1968, 1968.

In one of our earliest newsletters, which brought our first year of work (2018) to a close, we wrote that ‘it is easier to imagine the end of the earth than to imagine the end of capitalism, to imagine the polar ice cap flooding us into extinction than to imagine a world where our productive capacity enriches all of us’. This remains true. And yet, despite this, there is ‘a possible future that is built to meet people’s aspirations… It is cruel to think of these hopes as naïve’.

The problems we face are not for lack of resources or lack of technological and scientific knowhow. At Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research, we believe that it is because of the social system of capitalism that we are unable to transcend our common problems. This system constrains the forward movement that requires the democratisation of nations and the democratisation of social wealth. There are hundreds of millions of people organised into political and social formations that are pushing against the gated communities in our world, fighting to break down the barriers and build the utopias that we require to survive. But, rather than recognise that these formations seek to realise genuine democracy, they are criminalised, their leaders arrested and assassinated, and their own precious social confidence vanquished. Much the same repressive behaviour is meted out to national projects that are rooted in such political and social movements, projects that are committed to using social wealth for the greatest good. Coups, assassinations, and sanctions regimes are routine, their frequency illustrated by an unending sequence of events, from the coup in Peru in December 2022 to the ongoing blockade of Cuba, and by the denial that such violence is used to block social progress.

Our institute is committed to tracing the dynamics of social transcendence, and how we can get out of a world system that is driving us to annihilation and extinction. There are sufficient answers that exist in the world now, already present with us even when social transformation seems impossible. The total social wealth on the planet is extraordinary, although—due to the long history of colonialism and violence—this wealth is simply not used to generate solutions for common problems, but to aggrandise the fortunes of the few. There is enough food to feed every person on the planet, for instance, and yet billions of people remain hungry. There is no need to be naïve about this reality, nor is there a need to feel futile.

Milan Chovanec (Czechoslovakia), Peace, 1978.

In one of our earliest newsletters, which brought our first year of work (2018) to a close, we wrote that ‘it is easier to imagine the end of the earth than to imagine the end of capitalism, to imagine the polar ice cap flooding us into extinction than to imagine a world where our productive capacity enriches all of us’. This remains true. And yet, despite this, there is ‘a possible future that is built to meet people’s aspirations… It is cruel to think of these hopes as naïve’.

The problems we face are not for lack of resources or lack of technological and scientific knowhow. At Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research, we believe that it is because of the social system of capitalism that we are unable to transcend our common problems. This system constrains the forward movement that requires the democratisation of nations and the democratisation of social wealth. There are hundreds of millions of people organised into political and social formations that are pushing against the gated communities in our world, fighting to break down the barriers and build the utopias that we require to survive. But, rather than recognise that these formations seek to realise genuine democracy, they are criminalised, their leaders arrested and assassinated, and their own precious social confidence vanquished. Much the same repressive behaviour is meted out to national projects that are rooted in such political and social movements, projects that are committed to using social wealth for the greatest good. Coups, assassinations, and sanctions regimes are routine, their frequency illustrated by an unending sequence of events, from the coup in Peru in December 2022 to the ongoing blockade of Cuba, and by the denial that such violence is used to block social progress.

As we begin the new year, I would like to express my gratitude to everyone who works at Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research, a team that is spread across the globe, from Buenos Aires to Shanghai, from Trivandrum to Rabat. If you would like to assist our work, please remember that we welcome donations.

We urge you to share our materials as widely as possible, to study them in your movements, and to invite members of our team to speak about our work.



Vijay Prashad is an Indian historian, editor and journalist. He is a writing fellow and chief correspondent at Globetrotter, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He is the chief editor of LeftWord Books and the director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research. He has written more than twenty books, including The Darker Nations: A People’s History of the Third World (The New Press, 2007), The Poorer Nations: A Possible History of the Global South (Verso, 2013), The Death of the Nation and the Future of the Arab Revolution (University of California Press, 2016) and Red Star Over the Third World (LeftWord, 2017). He writes regularly for Frontline, the Hindu, Newsclick, AlterNet and BirGün.

Jose Maria Sison, founding chair of the Communist Party of the Philippines / by Struggle-La Lucha

Originally published: Struggle-La Lucha on December 16, 2022

From the Philippine Revolution Web Central:

The greatest Filipino of the past century bereaved us peacefully last night.

Prof. Jose Ma. Sison, founding chair of the Communist Party of the Philippines, passed away at around 8:40 p.m. (Philippine time) after two weeks confinement in a hospital in Utrech, The Netherlands. He was 83.

The Filipino proletariat and toiling people grieve the death of their teacher and guiding light.

The entire Communist Party of the Philippines gives the highest possible tribute to its founding chairman, great Marxist-Leninist-Maoist thinker, patriot, internationalist and revolutionary leader.

Even as we mourn, we vow continue to give all our strength and determination to carry the revolution forward guided by the memory and teachings of the people’s beloved Ka Joma.

Let the immortal revolutionary spirit of Ka Joma live on!

December 17, 2022

Tribute of the 2nd Congress to Comrade Jose Ma. Sison

Resolution of the Second Congress of the Communist Party of the Philippines – November 7, 2016

The Second Congress of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) extends its profound appreciation and expresses deepest gratitude to Comrade Jose Ma. Sison for his immense contribution to the Philippine revolution as founding chair of the Party, founder of the New People’s Army and pioneer of the People’s Democratic Government in the Philippines.

Ka Joma is a Marxist-Leninist-Maoist extraordinaire and indefatigable revolutionary fighter. He applied dialectical and historical materialism to expose the fundamental nature of the semicolonial and semifeudal social system in the Philippines. He put forward an incisive class analysis that laid bare the moribund, exploitative and oppressive rule of the big bourgeois compradors and big landlords in collusion with the U.S. imperialists.

He set forth the program for a people’s democratic revolution as immediate preparation for the socialist revolution. He always sets sights on the ultimate goal of communism.

Ka Joma was a revolutionary trailblazer. In his youth, he joined workers federations and helped organize unions. Ka Joma formed the SCAUP (Student Cultural Association of the University of the Philippines) in 1959 to promote national democracy and Marxism-Leninism and wage ideological and cultural struggle against the religio-sectarians and anti-communist forces among the student intellectuals. Together with fellow proletarian revolutionaries, he initiated study meetings to read and discuss Marxist-Leninist classic writings.

Under Ka Joma’s leadership, the SCAUP organized a protest action in March 1961 against the congressional witchhunt of the Committee on Anti-Filipino Activities which targeted UP faculty members accused of writing and publishing Marxist materials in violation of the Anti-Subversion Law. Around 5,000 students joined the first demonstration with an anti-imperialist and anti-feudal character since more than ten years prior. As a consequence, Ka Joma became a target of reactionary violence and survived attempts on his life. Unfazed, he and the SCAUP continued to launch protests against the Laurel-Langley Agreement and the Military Bases Agreement and other issues as land reform and national industrialization, workers rights, civil and political liberties and solidarity with other peoples against U.S. acts of agression up to 1964.

He and other proletarian revolutionaries eventually joined the old merger Socialist and Communist Party in 1961. In recognition of his communist and youthful fervor, he was assigned to head the youth bureau of the old Party and appointed as member of the executive committee. He initiated meetings to study the classic works of Marx, Lenin, Mao and other great communist thinkers which challenged the stale conditions of the old Party.

He founded the Kabataang Makabayan (KM) in November 1964 and led its development as one of the most important youth organizations in Philippine history. As KM chair, and as a young professor and militant, he went on campus tours and spoke before students as well as young professionals to espouse the necessity of waging a national democratic revolution. His speeches compiled in the volume Struggle for National Democracy (SND) served as one of the cornerstones of the national democratic propaganda movement. The KM would eventually be at the head and core of large mass demonstrations during the late 1960s up to the declaration of martial law in 1972.

As one of the leaders of the old party, Ka Joma prepared a political report exposing and repudiating the revisionism and opportunism of the successive Lava leadership as well as the errors of military adventurism and capitulation of the Taruc-Sumulong gang of the old people’s liberation army. The old party had deteriorated as an out-and-out revisionist party.

Despite Ka Joma’s effort, the old party proved to be beyond resuscitation from its revisionist death. Gangsters in the old party would carry out attempts on his life to snuff the revolutionary revival of the Filipino proletariat.

As Amado Guerrero, Ka Joma led the reestablishment of the Communist Party of the Philippines on the theoretical foundations of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism. He prepared the Party constitution, the Program for a People’s Democratic Revolution and the document Rectify Errors and Rebuild the Party and presided over the Congress of Reestablishment held in Alaminos, Pangasinan on December 26, 1968. In 1969, he authored Philippine Society and Revolution which presents the history of the Filipino people, analyzes the semicolonial and semifeudal character of Philippine society and defines the people’s democratic revolution. He prepared the Basic Rules of the New People’s Army and the Declaration of the New People’s Army and directed the Meeting of Red commanders and fighters to found the New People’s Army (NPA) on March 29, 1969.

He led the Party in its early period of growth. He wrote the Organizational Guide and Outline of Reports in April 1971 and the Revolutionary Guide to Land Reform in September 1972 which both served to direct the work of building the mass organizations, organs of political power, units of the people’s army and the Party, as well as in mobilizing the peasants in waging agrarian revolution. He authored the Preliminary Report on Northern Luzon in August 1970 which served as a template in the work of other regional committees.

While directing the development and training of the New People’s Army from its initial base in Central Luzon to the forests of Isabela in Cagayan Valley, he also guided the youth activists in waging mass struggles in Metro Manila against the U.S.-Marcos dictatorship.

Ka Joma was ever on top of the revolutionary upsurge of the students and workers movement in 1970 and 1971. Chants of Amado Guerrero’s name reverberates in Manila and other cities in harmony with calls to join the people’s war in the countryside.

The CPP grew rapidly in its first few years under Ka Joma’s leadership. The Party established itself across the country and led the nationwide advance of the revolutionary armed struggle. He personally supervised the political and military training of Party cadres and NPA commanders in the forested region of Isabela from where they were deployed to other regions.

In 1971, he presided over the Central Committee and presented the Summing-Up Our Experiences After Three Years (1968-1971). He prepared in 1974 the Specific Characteristics of Our People’s War which authoritatively laid out the strategy and tactics for waging people’s war in the Philippines. In 1975, he authored Our Urgent Tasks, containing the Central Committee’s report and program of action. He served as editor-in-chief of Ang Bayan in its first years of publication.

In the underground movement, Ka Joma continued to guide the Party and the NPA in its growth under the brutal fascist martial law regime of dictator Marcos. He issued advisories to underground Party cadres and mass activists. Inspired by the raging people’s war in the countryside, they dared the fascist machinery and carried-out organizing efforts among students and workers.

The first workers’ strike broke out in 1975 preceding the growth of the workers movement. Large student demonstrations against rising school fees and the deterioration of the educational system were carried out from 1977 onwards completely shattering the terror of martial law.

Ka Joma continued to lead the Party in nationwide growth until 1977 when he and his wife Julie were arrested by the wild dogs of the Marcos dictatorship while in transit from one guerrilla zone to another. He was presented by the AFP to Marcos as a trophy. He was detained, subjected to severe torture, put under solitary confinement for more than five years interrupted only by joint confinement with Julie in 1980-1981, and later partial solitary confinement with one or two other political prisoners from 1982-1985.

While in prison, Ka Joma was able to maintain contact with the Party leadership and revolutionary forces outside through clandestine methods of communication. With the collaboration of Ka Julie, lifelong partner and comrade of Ka Joma, they produced important letters and advisories. In 1983, Ka Julie released the article JMS On the Mode of Production which served as a theoretical elucidation and clarification of the nature of the semicolonial and semifeudal social system in order to cast away confusion brought about by claims of industrialization by the U.S.-Marcos dictatorship. It counterattacked claims made by pretenders to socialism who insist that the Philippines had become a developing capitalist country under the fascist dictatorship.

A powerful upsurge of the anti-fascist mass movement followed the assassination of Marcos archrival Benigno Aquino in 1983. This was principally propelled by the workers and student movement which could mount demonstrations of 50,000 or greater from the late 1970s and early 1980s. In 1984, Ka Joma released the paper On the Losing Course of the AFP under the pseudonym Patnubay Liwanag to assess the balance of forces and to signal to or sway the Pentagon to better drop Marcos, which would entail causing a split in the AFP. In September 1984, the Pentagon acceded to the Armacost formula and decided to join the U.S. State Department and other U.S. agencies to drop him. By early 1985 Reagan signed the National Security Directive with definite plan to ease out Marcos.

Ka Joma also asserted the need to weaken the reactionary armed strength in the countryside and expand the people’s army to a critical mass 25,000 rifles and one guerrilla platoon per municipality as constructive criticism of the plan to carry out a “strategic counter-offensive.”

The anti-fascist upsurge culminated in a people’s uprising supported by a military rebellion of elements in the reactionary AFP. The Party’s persevering and solid leadership of the anti-fascist movement and revolutionary armed struggle created favorable conditions that led to the overthrow the U.S.-Marcos dictatorship in 1986. Despite strong opposition by the U.S. and reactionary defense establishment, the Aquino regime was compelled to open the detested gates of the Marcos dungeons allowing Ka Joma to be released.

He wasted no time resuming revolutionary work. In a few months time, he mounted a major lecture series to propound a critical class analysis of the Corazon Aquino regime and expose it as representative of big bourgeois comprador and landlord rule. The series of lectures which later comprised the volume Philippine Crisis and Revolution countered the “political spectrum” analysis of populists which pictured the Aquino regime as a bourgeois liberal regime to goad the revolutionary forces along the path of class collaboration and capitulation.

These populists as well as other charlatans carried out a campaign to undermine the basic analysis of classes and production system in the Philippines to justify the convoluted concept of a strategic counter-offensive wishfully thinking that the people’s war can leapfrog to strategic victory bypassing the probable historical course. A number of key leaders of the Party and revolutionary forces were drawn to the self-destructive path of insurrectionism and premature regularization and military adventurism. This would later bring about grave and almost fatal losses to the Party and the NPA, as well as to the urban mass movement.

Forced to exile in 1987 by the Aquino regime which canceled his passport and travel papers, Ka Joma sought political asylum in The Netherlands while on a lecture tour. He eventually resided in Utrecht and work with other comrades in the international office of the National Democratic Front. Although thousand of miles away from the Philippines, he continued to maintain close contact with the Party leaders in the country and provide advise and guidance to help them in their work.

Ka Joma served as one of the steadfast exponent of the Second Great Rectification Movement launched by the 10th Plenum of the CPP Central Committee in 1992. The Party leadership actively sought Ka Joma’s theoretical insights and analysis. In preparing the key document Reaffirm Our Basic Principles and Rectify Errors, the Party leadership referred to Ka Joma and the Party’s founding documents which he authored. With Ka Joma’s full support, the rectification campaign of 1992-1998 united and strengthened the Party to ever greater heights.

Ka Joma also played a key role in authoring the paper Stand for Socialism Against Modern Revisionism which illuminated the path of socialist revolution during the dark hours of the complete restoration of capitalism in the Soviet Union in 1990 touted in the monopoly bourgeois mass media as the fall of socialism, a refutation of communism, and the “end of history” and final victory of the capitalist system.

Reflecting Ka Joma’s sharp Maoist critique of modern revisionism, the paper presented a clear historical understanding of the process of capitalist restoration in the USSR from 1956 onwards. This served as key to understanding the continuing viability of socialism and to inspiring the Filipino proletariat to persevere in the two-stage revolution and the international proletariat to carry forward the socialist cause.

Ka Joma’s Utrecht base eventually became a political center of the international communist and anti-imperialist resistance movements. He played an important role in the centennial celebration of Mao Zedong in 1993 which served as a vigorous ideological campaign to reaffirm Marxist-Leninist views and to proclaim Maoism as the third epochal development of Marxism-Leninism.

Up to the early 2000s, he also played a lead role in the formation of the International Conference of Marxist-Leninist Parties and Organizations (ICMLPO) which serves as a center for ideological and practical exchange among communist and workers parties which stood for socialism and opposed modern revisionism. He provided valuable insights and practical assistance to numerous communist parties from Asia to Europe and the Americas.

Over the past decade, he has led the International League of People’s Struggles or the ILPS which has served as coordinating center for anti-imperialist movements around the globe. He authored the paper “On imperialist globalization” in 1997 which clarified that the proletariat remains in the era of imperialism and socialist revolution.

Because of his role in guiding the advance of the international anti-imperialist struggle, Ka Joma was put in the crosshairs of U.S. imperialism. He was included in the U.S. list of “foreign terrorists”, together with the CPP and NPA. At 68 years old, he was arrested in 2007 by the Dutch police and detained for more than 15 days.

Since 1992, together with the NDFP Negotiating Panel, Ka Joma has also ably represented the interests of the Filipino people and revolutionary movement in peace negotiations with successive representatives of the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP). He has been appointed as Chief Political Consultant of the NDFP Negotiating Panel and has deftly guided it in negotiations with the GRP over the past 25 years.

Over the past several years, Ka Joma continued to provide invaluable insights into the domestic crisis and the situation of the revolutionary forces. He continues to provide advise to the Party and the revolutionary forces in the Philippines on resolving the problems of advancing the revolution to a new and higher stage.

He has set forth critical analysis of the objective international conditions. He has put forward a Marxist-Leninist critique of the capitalist crisis of overproduction which is at the base of the international financial crisis and the prolonged depression that has wracked the global capitalist system. He has reaffirmed that we are still at the historical epoch of imperialism, the last crisis stage of capitalism.

Ka Joma is the torch bearer of the international communist movement. Through the dark period of capitalist restoration, he has kept the flames of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism burning and inspired the proletariat to take advantage of the crisis of global capitalism, persevere along the path of socialism and communism and bring the international communist revolution to a new chapter of revival and reinvigoration.


The Second Congress of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) resolves to give the highest honors to Comrade Jose Ma. Sison, great communist thinker, leader, teacher and guide of the Filipino proletariat and torch bearer of the international communist movement.

In recognition of Ka Joma’s immense contribution to the Philippine revolution and the international workers movement, the Second Congress further resolves:
1. to instruct the Central Committee to continue to seek Ka Joma’s insights and advise on various aspects of the Party’s work in the ideological, political and organizational fields.

2. to endorse the five volume writings of Jose Ma. Sison as basic reference and study material of the CPP and to urge the entire Party membership and revolutionary forces to read and study Ka Joma’s writings.

The Second Congress of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) is certain that with the treasure of Marxist-Leninist-Maoist work that Ka Joma has produced over the past five decades of revolutionary practice, the Party is well-equipped in leading the national democratic revolution to greater heights and complete victory in the coming years.

MR Online, December 19, 2022, https://mronline.org/

Understanding the “Middle Class” / by Anita Waters

Middle Class USA

Who, or what, is the “middle class”? Most people identify themselves as middle class, but what does that mean, and what difference does it make?

This article’s first focus is on the concept of middle class, especially the way people understand it and use it, from the perspectives of those who answer survey questions to the analysts who study social inequality. The way “class” is defined and used has the effect of rendering some social processes invisible.

Second, Marxist analysis offers a much different conception of class, one that brings to light social dynamics hidden in the bourgeois perspective. Third, what are the material conditions and consciousness of the U.S. “middle class” today, and what are the political pressures that are bearing down on different segments of the economy?

Economists, pollsters, and many policy researchers define class with reference simply to individuals’ or households’ annual income. For example, the Pew Research Center arrays all income data points in a line, from lowest to highest. The very middle point is the median. Then, people with incomes of less than two-thirds of the median are labeled “lower income.” “Upper income” are those with incomes twice the median or more. All those in-between are “middle income” or “middle class.”

The advantage of this technique is that it offers a specific measure that can be used to compare inequality across time and place, data which the Pew Research Center regularly reports. The disadvantage is that it hides the impact of a host of other factors determining one’s relative position in the economy, like wealth and social status. And, unlike a Marxist analysis, this view of class, with its more or less arbitrary boundaries, doesn’t recognize that classes are collectivities that have a social reality over and above their individual members, and that act more effectively for social change than any individual member could possibly act.

Some use the term “middle class” simply to distinguish it from those with the least income, who become known collectively as “the poor.” Reverend William Barber of the Poor People’s Campaign, for example, criticized the Democratic Party’s sole focus on the middle class, which he contrasted with the interests of the poor, as he said about poverty at a recent online meeting:

Neoliberalism isn’t going to fix this. The middle class isn’t going to fix this. And as Pope Francis has said, trickle-down has failed us.

Sociologist Mary Pattillo, in her 2005 study of “Black Middle-Class Neighborhoods” in the Annual Review of Sociology, writes that defining the middle class is difficult and that her article might better be entitled “Black Non-Poor Neighborhoods.” Trade union discourse tends to rely on the term to describe the benefits of good union jobs. Columbus Ohio building trade union activist Dorsey Hagar, for example, says that union jobs get workers “on that direct path to the middle class where they’re providing for themselves and their family.”

Besides income, some people understand “middle class standing” as a social status, like occupational prestige and years of education. Sociologists today define the middle class as an ever-changing assortment of different occupational groups in “a heterogeneous and historically shifting middle class rather than distinct entities.”1 Others define middle class by levels of consumption, such as aspirations for home ownership, children’s education, health insurance and economic security, as in a 2010 Commerce Department document prepared for then Vice-President Joe Biden.

If being middle class were just a matter of self-perception, almost all Americans would be in the middle class, according to one 2015 survey, which found that well over 85% call themselves middle class. Racial identification matters too; whites are far more likely to define themselves as middle class than are African Americans with similar incomes.

In Marxist analysis, the understanding of “class” is very different. It starts by looking at large-scale social processes, and finds the basis of social classes in the relations of production in the economy. Those who own and control the means of production, and who are able to take ownership of all that is produced, form the ruling class; in capitalist society the ruling class is the bourgeoisie, while in feudal society, it was the landed aristocracy.

Those who sell their labor power to the owners of the means of production are the proletariat or working class. Instead of class as a characteristic of individuals, Marxist analysis studies the way classes act in society as collective actors. Struggle between classes is the “motor of history,” driving all social change.

Classes are rooted in the common material interests that derive from a similar relationship to the means of production. But that is not enough to unite or empower a class. To be a class “for itself” as well as “in itself,” a class needs a “community, … national bond, and … political organization,” as Marx said in The Eighteenth Brumaire of Napoleon Bonaparte.

The small-holding French peasants he studied had common material interests, but they lived apart from one another and were unaware of those commonalities. They were just, in Marx’s words, “the simple addition of homologous magnitudes, much as potatoes in a sack form a sack of potatoes.” As a class, the peasantry was only as powerful as the sum of its parts.

A class’s real power, over and above the sum of its members, is derived not just from common material interests, but from the class’s awareness of itself as a class engaged in struggle with other classes. That class consciousness was what empowered the industrialists of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries to defeat the landed aristocracy, and it will be what empowers the proletariat to defeat the capitalist ruling class.

Historical materialism predicts that society will become more and more polarized into two great classes, in conflict with each other. But other classes exist simultaneously. Some are vestiges of earlier stages of class relations, like the remnants of the landed aristocracy. Marx recognized that throughout history there are strata in society that are between the two great classes.

New technologies may bring changes in class relations that hasten the demise of the old system. One of these “middle” classes for Marx was the occupational group of merchants who emerged from the separation of production and commerce at the dawn of the industrial age.

When the Pew Research Center or the New York Times refers to the “middle class,” they are referring to a sector of the working class. Roberta Wood in her pamphlet “Marxism in the Age of Uber” has an expansive vision of the working class as 90 percent of the U.S. population:

The working class of the 21st century includes rideshare drivers, nursing home aides, baristas, warehouse workers, UPS package handlers, teachers, engineers, research scientists, and I.T. folks—alongside factory, construction and farmworkers and incarcerated labor.

Even before the pandemic, the non-poor working class was being squeezed financially. “The costs of housing, health care and education are consuming ever larger shares of household budgets, and have risen faster than incomes,” according to a 2019 article in the New York Times.

Today’s middle-class families are working longer, managing new kinds of stress and shouldering greater financial risks than previous generations did.

Then, the pandemic economy hit. The effects of loss of jobs and income have been severe and will reverberate for years to come. Working families face food insecurity, utility shut-offs, loss of health insurance, and eviction. According to a Pew Research Survey, about a quarter of all adults in the U.S., and one in every three low-wage workers, lost their jobs.

More women than men, and especially Black and Latinx women, report having trouble paying their bills, and are more likely than men to have borrowed money, used savings that had been set aside for retirement, and gotten food from a food bank.

Small business owners, the petty bourgeoisie in Marxist terms, is seen as a “middle” class, torn in their loyalty to the working class, which is closest to it in material conditions, or to the ruling class, to which it improbably aspires. Owners of small businesses and independent professionals may employ a handful of individual workers, whom they exploit by appropriating the surplus value of their labor in the same way that big corporations exploit workers.

In the U.S., this sector is very engaged politically; one study found that 98% of small business owners were registered to vote and 62% have contributed to campaigns. A survey from before the pandemic showed that a majority of small business owners benefited from the 2017 tax cuts and believed that their businesses would be better off if Trump were re-elected.

Some members of this group endorse the extreme right. As C. J. Atkins pointed out, the Atlantic documented that the insurrectionists who stormed the Capitol on January 6 were “a cavalry made up of ‘business ownersCEOsstate legislatorspolice officersactive and retired members of the military, real-estate brokers,’ and others.”

An article in the Washington Post revealed that almost 60% of those charged in the Capitol insurrection “showed signs of prior money troubles, including bankruptcies, notices of eviction or foreclosure, bad debts, or unpaid taxes over the past two decades.” Downward mobility no doubt fueled their anger.

But this sector is still powerless compared to big business. Like the working class, it is vulnerable to the vagaries of the capitalist economy of boom and bust. Small business owners were hit hard in the current recession. In September 2020 it was estimated that 100,000 small businesses that had shut down due to the pandemic had closed permanently. Black-owned businesses closed at twice the rate of white-owned businesses. That was even before the autumn surge in cases and further lockdowns.

These times remind me of the saying, “Every woman is six weeks away from welfare.” It recognized the vulnerability of working women in particular, who often had sole responsibility for their children as well as themselves. Even if comfortably situated today, lulled by the idea that they had joined the middle class, job losses or medical emergencies could quickly drive people into poverty. Only the ruling class is protected.

Originally published on CPUSA.org under a Creative Commons license.


Melanie Archer and Judith Blau, “Class Formation in Nineteenth-Century America: The Case of the Middle Class,” Annual Review of Sociology, 1993, vol. 19, no. 1.

Anita Waters is Professor Emerita of sociology at Denison University in Granville, Ohio, and an organizer for the CPUSA in Ohio.

MR Online, July 14, 2022, https://mronline.org/

Paris Marx: Improving the world is a political project, not a technological one / by James Wilt

Paris Marx is a socialist writer and host of the left wing tech podcast Tech Won’t Save Us. Photo supplied.

Tech Won’t Save Us host and ‘Road to Nowhere’ author on the many problems with Silicon Valley’s visions of the future

Paris Marx (https://parismarx.com/) is one of the leading authorities on all things “tech.” As host of the award-winning Tech Won’t Save Us podcast and author the upcoming Verso book Road to Nowhere: What Silicon Valley Gets Wrong about the Future of Transportation, Marx expertly dissects the countless promises—and far more often, failures—of Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, and fads like cryptocurrency and the Metaverse.

Canadian Dimension spoke with Marx, who’s based in St. John’s, Newfoundland, about their new book, some of the core claims made by the tech industry, and how “ultimately, improving the world is a political project, not a technological one.”

Canadian Dimension (CD)You’ve been writing and thinking about these issues for many years, including your essential Radical Urbanist blog and newsletter, your podcast Tech Won’t Save Us, and many articles for different publications. What was the process in forming a central argument and coalescing these critiques and analysis into the book?

Paris Marx (PM): It’s really the product of many years of working on and thinking about these issues. I really started to write about them around 2015. Then I did a master’s degree that was focused on the tech industry and transportation, and what was going on there. That obviously helped me to develop my perspective on it and the theoretical side of the argument.

When I went into actually shaping the book, I had this idea that I wanted to focus on these different proposals that the tech industry had for transportation. But I knew that it had to be more than that. It was really talking about it with my editor, Leo Hollis, that made me realize that it couldn’t just be about what has happened with these ideas over the past 10 years or so. It needed to stretch beyond that to give it that broader perspective, to historicize it, and to actually let us see it in an even more critical light than just looking at those past 10 or 15 years.

That’s where building out the history and looking more broadly at how these ideas—whether it’s electric cars, or ride-hailing services and the history of the taxi industry, or autonomous vehicles which were first proposed in some form around the 1920s—are not novel at all, have been around for a long time, and how looking at that history helps us to see it another way and get out of this mode where we believe that Silicon Valley is doing these things that are totally new and innovative when really it’s just making the same promises that have been made so many times before and not delivered on.

CDWhat is the ideology of tech? How does it differ from a more general concept of technology?

PM: It’s a big question and you can look at it from multiple directions. I think actually knowing the history of the tech industry really helps us to understand how it approaches problems and the ideology that underpins Silicon Valley. It’s really important to look back at that to see that Silicon Valley really comes out of all this public funding that went into the Bay Area around the Second World War and later the Cold War, how it was this really conservative place back then. And then how these ideas of the libertarian counterculture really start to infect it through the late 1960s, 70s, and 80s, and how those libertarian ideas about technology, particularly about how personal technology can empower the individual.

So you have this real individualization and really libertarian ideas around technology, and how this fuses with neoliberalism in the 1980s as Ronald Reagan is pushing it—and Reagan is certainly connected with the tech sector. You have these ideas pushed by people like Steve Jobs that the personal computer is going to empower the individual in the way that the mainframe computer empowered the hierarchical organization.

The idea is that by engaging with these technologies, we’re going to transform the economy and society, when what we see time and time again is that technology serves to further empower these existing power structures and elevate new ones in the place of old ones. Really, we see the same dynamics repeating themselves, even though this narrative is suggesting that’s not what happens.

Then, when we look at that in the present, we need to recognize that the narrative we’re receiving about Silicon Valley does not reflect the real ideology that underpins it with these kind of libertarian ideas of what technology can do and how neoliberalism and this kind of entrepreneurial culture is so baked into the very foundation of the ideology of the tech industry.

I think when we look at the solutions being presented by people in the tech industry, we also need to recognize where these people come from. A lot of these people are from rather well-off backgrounds, a lot of white men who have a particular experience of the world. The way that they see how they can solve these problems is shaped by their experience of the world. You have Travis Kalanick of Uber finding it hard to get a taxi or black cab, so he has a really particular way of seeing the solution to that through Uber. Or Elon Musk, who gets stuck in traffic and all of a sudden wants to build a ton of tunnels under the city and that’s the solution to transportation.

Recognizing that the solutions that we’re being presented for the transportation system are shaped by the type of people who are proposing them. And they think that particular solutions are going to work because of how they perceive the problem with transportation, even if that isn’t actually the problem that most people face when they try to get around.

CDTech journalists obviously get very enthralled with new companies and technologies like Tesla. But in the big picture, many of the companies that will profit most from this transition are the huge established companies in auto manufacturing, road construction, real estate, and resource extraction. What continuities do you see between the last era of mobility and the future era?

PM: It’s so important to recognize. The narrative that we have is that these tech companies are entering into the mobility landscape and “disrupting” what was there before, completely altering it to make it better for people—at least that’s what they would say, even though we can very much see that’s not what happens.

But when we actually dig into their ideas for transportation and seeing what they’re actually doing in the city, you can see that they’re not actually disrupting very much. They’re trying to stick themselves and their technologies in the middle of a bunch of interactions that are already happening.

Verso, 2022

For the most part, there’s not really a fundamental challenge to the dominance of the automobile within the city, particularly here in North America. There’s also not a challenge to the way that our cities are constructed with these sprawling suburbs that have particular impacts on the way that we live. That is not really what they see as what they’re going to change because their idea is that to solve these problems we just need new technologies: we don’t need these larger-scale political solutions or transformations to the way that we live. Rather, we just need to stick a new technology within what already exists and then that this is going to solve these problems around traffic or emissions or equity or anything else.

We can see that’s not accurate but that is the assertion that gets made. The tech companies then serve to relegitimize what already exists, and we see that the auto companies are going to benefit immensely from whatever is happening because the automobile is still central to transportation. If we do have this shift towards electric vehicles, they’re going to sell a whole load of cars—or trucks and SUVs, more accurately—in a short period of time. There are a ton of companies that supply those automobile companies, there’s a ton of companies that rely on the construction of cities for the automobile that will continue to benefit from the existing structure because not a whole lot is changing.

There’s an example that Elon Musk gives when he’s talking about the Boring Company where he basically says you can have this transportation system, you can place it in your community, and your community is not going to change. The implication being that you can have this Boring Company and tunnel but you can still have your suburban auto-oriented landscape and it’s not going to change that.

CDThere’s been a lot of recent efforts by these tech companies to frame themselves as becoming more “progressive” or “responsible.” What do you make of these moves?

PM: The framing is the key piece. How much they’ve actually materially changed is something I would be very suspect of. I think the key is rebranding. If you look at Uber, in particular, they turfed Travis Kalanick and brought in Dara Khosrowshahi. The notion was “we need to change the culture of Uber because it has created all these problems.”

I am sure there have been some internal changes that have happened. But since Khosrowshahi took over, they have still gone to war against the drivers. They have still tried to ensure that they’re not regulated as a taxi company or anything else; they still fought for deregulation. They campaigned hard for Proposition 22 in California to ensure that drivers would be a subclass of workers and not get the same rights and benefits as an employee. In the UK, they have fought and got this court decision that went against them, but then they didn’t actually observe all of the rules that came out in the decision, so drivers have to take them back to court again just to get the original ruling. So I don’t think there’s been a significant change.

I think that’s particularly visible in the past year or so where there has been all this enthusiasm in some corners about Web3, crypto, and the Metaverse. And very much after five years of what people call the “techlash” where there was this more critical approach to technology and it felt like the tech companies had to accept that there might be some changes to their business models or rein things in. Then all of a sudden, there was a new attempt to rearticulate and reassert the values of Silicon Valley, and that was seen in particular with Marc Andreessen—a prominent venture capitalist—writing a blog post not long after the pandemic began saying that it’s “time to build.” The idea being that after these years, Silicon Valley needs to reassert itself and needs to build all these new technologies to transform the world and make its imprint on society.

You saw that language being used by other people in the tech industry to justify what they were trying to do, even though these were really harmful companies. The most prominent one is Mark Zuckerberg, who before his keynote address to introduce the Metaverse recorded a short video. This was just after the revelations from Frances Haugen about all the problems within Facebook and how it knew about all these problems. Zuckerberg basically asserted that there are some people who want to imagine a better future and other people who want to hold us back from that. He was with the “builders” and the people who were trying to “build” that better future. It was very much “I’m not accepting this criticism, I’m trying to change the world and sometimes you mess things up.”

There hasn’t actually been very much that has changed. I think that there’s kind of a renewed boldness, almost, or we have seen that more recently.

CDIn the final chapter, you contrast Silicon Valley’s ideology of tech with Ursula Le Guin’s thoughts or writings on technology. What drew you to Le Guin’s approach and what do you think it offers the left in terms of thinking about alternatives?

PM: I love Ursula Le Guin’s work. I can’t say that I’ve read everything but I’ve read quite a bit of her fiction and non-fiction. I think what’s great about Le Guin is you can read her fiction and she really is able to bring you into these other worlds and use fiction to have you reassess the world that we’re in. The Dispossessed is one that I always go back to, of course, because it contrasts these two different societies against one another, or The Word for World is Forest with these thoughts on imperialism.

But then you look at her non-fiction work that looks at the way that we conceive of history, certainly inspired by her upbringing by two anthropologists. And her writings on technology and science fiction, as well. She just challenges this idea that progress is achieved by developing these major new technologies that require all of this industrial work and that technological development is what drives society forward. She notes that we can think of technology in so many other ways but industry are purposefully narrowed what we think of as “technology” to serve its ideas of what progress and technology should be.

I drew upon her because I thought it was really important after a book digging into and criticizing the ideas of Silicon Valley—for transportation, for the future—her ideas really give you a way to say “just because these people are proposing new technologies, just because they’re saying they’re developing these big new systems, that doesn’t mean that things are going to automatically get better or that we’re going to have a better world as a result.”

Because ultimately, improving the world is a political project, not a technological one. We need to recognize that before we can actually start to make the world a better place. I feel like Le Guin’s work can help us do that.

CDFinally, what’s the main thing you want people to takeaway from the book?

PM: The core idea of the book is really to have people question these ideas that we get from Silicon Valley, and their ideas of what the future should be, what progress looks like, what it actually means to create a better transportation system or city. I think that we need to stop accepting that because a company in Silicon Valley or in the tech industry proposes something, that that’s naturally a positive addition to human society and world.

What we find again and again and again is after taking them at their word and believing the big promises they make initially, they very rarely follow through on those things and often they actually harm a lot of people and cause a lot of negative consequences while benefiting people who are already doing OK in society and don’t need the help. If we think about what, in the context of a transportation system looks better, it really requires a rethinking of how we think about mobility: to be less focused on the individual solution of the automobile and building cities around that, to thinking about the collective solutions that make mobility better for everybody.

That means investments in public transit, certainly. Investments in cycling infrastructure, so people can easily get around without having a car. And ensuring that our communities and neighbourhoods are walkable and accessible and have the services that people need within a reasonable distance of where they’re going to live.

The key to that is also recognizing that it’s not just about changing transportation, because transportation is just one factor in a much larger system of systems. Because if you make these transportation improvements but then they cause housing prices to skyrocket, that’s really not making life better for a lot of people who need it to get better. Better transportation is one piece of a larger framework that ensures that people can actually afford to live in these great neighbourhoods that we’re talking about and can actually see the benefits that come from these investments, rather than just being priced out and pushed out to the areas that don’t have them.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

James Wilt is a freelance journalist and graduate student based in Winnipeg. He is the author of Do Androids Dream of Electric Cars? Public Transit in the Age of Google, Uber, and Elon Musk (Between the Lines Books) and the upcoming Drinking Up the Revolution (Repeater Books). You can follow him on Twitter @james_m_wilt.

Canadian Dimension, June 29, 2022, https://canadiandimension.com/

Commentary – Culture and existence: the message from Silger / by Saroj Giri

A mandi woman in Adivasi day. (Photo: Biplob Rahman / Wikimedia Commons)

On May 17, 2021 three unarmed adivasi (aboriginal) protesters were killed by Indian police near the village of Silger, in the central Indian forests in the State of Chhattisgarh. They were protesting the building of a fortified camp by the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) on their land and without their consent. A movement in protest has convulsed Chhattisgarh, and culminated in a mass rally at Silger on the one year anniversary of the murders. Monthly Review author Saroj Giri, who teaches Politics at the University of Delhi, travelled to the forest for the event and has sent us his thoughts on its considerable significance. Eds., Monthly Review

It is quite common to think of the black man in the United States who finds himself in a moment of danger. But let us talk about the adivasi people in India who are in a similar situation. Not just danger, but they–their life, culture, forests and land–are facing a situation of accelerated danger.

In such a situation, as one can imagine, one tends to react with a bodily presence of mind, with heightened stimulation. You respond not really in a strategic or tactical manner, calmly thinking about winning but almost in a reflex, a corporeal reaction from each and every pore–which might still help you win. Your responses are immediate and unthought, but precise and cutting. In such a world, each object displays infinite powers even in their finite objectivity–a kind of corporeal enervation. What looks like a finite action in such a moment might be one of divination, utterly sublime.

In Frantz Fanon, the black man is in the moment of danger, of nonbeing and declivity. But this is not about being cast into victimhood and oppression. For it is like a prelude, the springboard from which a revolutionary subjectivity is born. Fanon writes,

there is a zone of nonbeing, an extraordinarily sterile and arid region, an utterly naked declivity where an authentic upheaval can be born.

The moment of accelerated danger and the zone of nonbeing are precisely what captures the situation in the adivasi lands of central India today. Places like Bastar, Gadchiroli in the Dandakaranya forests. But what you also find is that this is where “an authentic upheaval can be born”–or is born. The adivasi population has conjured itself into a form of divine corporeality and an authentic upheaval, speaking right from their pores and capillaries. Their culture, the struggle for the defence of adivasi culture, is enervated into a defence of their very existence. Never before has the question of culture become so fundamentally a question of the very existence of a people.

Culture whose defence necessitates an armed struggle to uphold the existence of the people is not culture in any simple sense. It is now a culture which plays a larger role of blocking the process of capital accumulation, undoing accumulation through dispossession, stalling capital in its tracks. 

“What will you do with adivasi (indigenous or aboriginal) culture, if there is no adivasi, if your very existence is under threat?” These are the words of Surju Tikam, a key member of the mainstream Sarva Adivasi Samaj (United Indigenous Society) in Chhattisgarh. He shared this thought in a conversation we were having in Silger on the 16th May 2022.

Thousands of adivasi masses had converged in Silger in Central India to mark one year of their movement against the killing of five people last year. The movement under the banner of Moolvasi Bachao Manch (Aboriginal Peoples Platform) is in protest against the paramilitary camps and disproportionately wide roads built for further infiltration in the region. The entire area is rich in minerals and ore that are being eyed by the rapacious corporations. Crushing the rebel Maoist movement and enabling “development” in the area is the stated rationale of the state for the spiralling militarisation and road building. Earlier, these “area domination” exercises took place under the rubric of Operation Green Hunt, now under Operation Samadhan-Prahar, of the Indian state.

What did Surju Tikam mean by his remarks?

| Adivasi 1 | MR Online

He meant that existence must be defended. The Silger resistance is about defending the very existence of the adivasi as a people in their land and habitat–and not just defending an abstract aboriginal “culture”. 

The refusal to turn one’s culture into a valorised good in the commodity spectacle, in the market of multiculturalism and non-binary, “two-spirit” branding–means that culture would now turn into a solid basis for its own defence. Culture becomes the terrain of resistance and must attune itself to the laws of war.

Nor is it about culture as “radical art” or the avant garde “political art”, detached from the living reproduction of society, the mode of interchange between humans and nature. How to bury the dead, welcome the new born, the rites of marriage, harvest and festivals–such is the culture at stake here, furthest from the deracination typical of “radical art” today. Hence existence is vital. But the defence of existence cannot be done without culture. There comes a moment when culture and war of resistance becomes inseparable.

Silger today stands for adivasi culture which is inseparable from the existence of the adivasi people as adivasi, from their astitva (existence). This is “existence” which is more fundamental than even self-determination and autonomy–more in tune with the Black Panther’s emphasis on the existence and self-defence of the black people in the U.S..

| Adivasi 2 | MR Online

Culture, defetishized and tied with existence, seems to make capital nervous and desperate. For here is culture which denies capital that on which it feeds, the vital mineral resources and primary materials and “unfree labour”. Remember how the anthropologist Maurice Godelier formulated that in certain indigenous societies, kinship relations themselves take the form of production relations. In Bastar with the movement in Silger, we have a case where kinship relations, being the very form of production relations, now as culture interlaced with existence in the ongoing resistance, work towards impeding the penetration of big capital and mining interests. 

Adi-vasi, as the first (adi-) inhabitants are the first people not just in the temporal or chronological sense, but also in the spatial sense–that is, they started human settlements and social life in the region. The spatial aspect is more complicated as surely the adivasi way of life, even if it were chronologically the first, is not the only possible way of life and, moreover, it is itself subject to change and motion. There is no reason to romanticize the adivasi way of life. And yet in the dynamic political battle raging in Bastar today the convergence of culture and existence as a bulwark against capital accumulation means that the adivasi way of life is a political banner of resistance and a way of life rolled into one. The Moolvasi Bachao Manch is right in defending it.

There is another dimension. For what is inescapable, in the Indian debate on indigeneity, is that “adivasi” denotes a prior register of resisting the Hindu-Brahminical hegemonic social-civilisational framework which aligns closely with the ruling establishment.

| Adivasi 3 | MR Online

We know where B. R. Ambedkar identified the revolution and counter revolution in India. He identified it in what he called the “Buddhist revolution and Brahminical counter-revolution” going back to ancient India. Then you have Jyotirao Phule who would propose the almost socio-civilisational divide between the Aryan invaders who defeated and subjugated the native adivasis and instituted the Brahminical caste system. The Buddhist is not to be conflated with adivasi. But there are good reasons to believe that, in the struggle between contending forces in Indian civilisation, the Buddhists were on the side of the adivasi in opposition to the Brahminical/Aryan social order.

Now these civilisational-socio-ideological formulations must be provided a material basis in the active relationship between culture and the defence of existence. They must be freed from the essentialist racialization of Aryan vs. non-Aryan and cast onto the furnace of capitalist accelerationism and class formation which is not about fixating on a sociological working class as a separate category, but one which striates the whole social body–this means that class forces would also internally differentiate and constitute the adivasi or the bahujan (lower caste majority) itself or for that matter the Brahminical sections. This is not about the working class as a group to be venerated but class forces that animate and structure the social body, including existence and culture.

The resistance against military camps and spooky roads in Silger (as also in several other parts of central India) is therefore of major significance today.

| Adivasi 4 | MR Online

Silger poses the question of culture in such a way that it prevents the dissolution of the adivasi people into the mass of heavily underpaid cheap labour dotting the industrial towns and cities of India. Here is a cultural resistance which stops feeding the machine of capitalist accumulation with mineral resources and cheap precariat labour.

This also means that it is not about opposing all mining or “development” as such. It is about opposing mining in its present form–for even within adivasi culture/existence, we find the persistence of living traditions of mining and metallurgy. Walk into any fancy high-end store in Indian cities and you will find the famous artefacts of adivasi metalworks, most famously, the Dhokra art. Art galleries in cities too display such artefacts and similar archaeological finds from the region.

Cabral, Fanon and the armed struggle

Surju Tikam’s formulation connecting culture with existence and the war of resistance, resonates with the views of Amilcar Cabral from Africa during the 1960-70s who was faced with a similar situation with regards to the culture and existence of the people. In his famous essay called “National liberation and Culture” (1970), Cabral foregrounded the question of culture and the armed struggle of the people against Portuguese colonial domination in Guinea-Bissau. We can also think of Frantz Fanon’s emphasis on culture and its interrelationship with the anti-colonial resistance, most famously the role of the Islamic veil worn by women in the armed struggle in Algeria. In his The Wretched of the Earth, Fanon asked:

There now remains one fundamental question. What is the relationship between the struggle, the political or armed conflict, and culture?

Cabral is very aware that complete domination of a people “can be maintained only by the permanent, organized repression of the cultural life of the people concerned”. And then,

For, as long as there continues to exist a part of these people retaining their own cultural life, foreign domination cannot be sure of its perpetuation.

But culture might as well escape enslavement and can serve as the basis of resistance and armed struggle. He writes:

At any moment, depending on internal and external factors determining the evolution of the society in question, cultural resistance (indestructible) may take on new forms (political, economic, armed) in order fully to contest foreign domination.

At the same time, the armed struggle also further develops the culture in new and creative directions: “the armed liberation struggle is not only a product of culture but also a determinant of culture”. So the armed struggle also influences culture thereby strengthening the relation between culture and existence of the people.

Culture is not just the basis for the armed struggle, but also “an inexhaustible source of courage, of material and moral support, of physical and psychic energy which enables them to accept sacrifices—even to accomplish ‘miracles’.”

There is also a warning here as culture can also entrap the resistance struggle:

But equally, in some respects, culture is very much a source of obstacles and difficulties of erroneous conceptions about reality, of deviations in carrying out duty, and of limitations on the tempo and efficiency of a struggle that is confronted with the political, technical and scientific requirements of a war.

There are of course many differences between the situation in Africa in the 1970s and what is unfolding in central India today. And yet in the very concrete specificity of the adivasi situation today there is so much resonance of the precise relation between culture and existence, culture and the war of liberation of the people, if not as nation, but as a people. That Cabral’s views resonated so much with what Surju Tikam was saying is not entirely incidental.

As a mainstream platform, the Sarva Adivasi Samaj in Chhattisgarh today has members from the adivasi community who are from both the lower classes and the middle class and a small section of the more moneyed upper classes. It is split between focusing one-sidedly on defending adivasi culture in an abstract or essentialised culturalist sense, or integrating the culture question with that of existence. If it does the latter, that is integrates culture with existence, then it might have to reckon with the ongoing battle and armed struggle in Bastar. In order to avoid the question of armed struggle, it might be tempted to close its eyes and only focus on an essentialised and abstract idea of culture, removed from the lives of millions of adivasi masses—that however might not be the right thing to do.

The message from Silger is to go forward on the path of a strong people’s resistance movement which would uphold adivasi culture without abandoning the task of defending the very existence of the adivasi people without displacing and splintering them into the ranks of the impoverished urban proletariat. Ambedkar, Phule, Kabir, Ravidas all emphasised on the moolvasi’s rejection of Brahminical ideology–now Silger takes that struggle, and its cultural-ideological fight, into the very terrain of big capitalist interests and state repression that profess the idea of “development” and “growth”. Silger, as the open movement of the masses, is able to “balance” itself between the state and the Maoists and yet is able to attack the overwhelming injustice and exceptional violence of the state and its connivance with big capitalist interests.

Saroj Giri writes for Monthly Review and teaches Politics at the University of Delhi

MR Online, June 6, 2022, 2022, https://mronline.org/

Lenin’s ‘The State and Revolution’ / by Louise O’Shea

If they do me in, I ask you to publish my notebook: Marxism on the State (it got left behind in Stockholm). It’s bound in a blue cover… There are a number of remarks and notes… I believe it to be important.

So wrote Lenin with characteristic modesty in July 1917. He was referring to what later became known as The State and Revolution, one of the most important contributions to Marxist thought of the last century.

The short pamphlet was written in response to the turmoil that engulfed the socialist movement following the outbreak of World War One. Many socialist organisations that had previously professed to be revolutionary, and aligned themselves to the ostensibly Marxist Second International grouping, succumbed to the nationalist hysteria sweeping Europe at the time.

The slow drift towards accommodation to capitalism resulted in 1914 in open support for their national governments and bourgeoisies. Where they held seats in Parliament, such as in Germany, socialist MPs voted to support the bloodshed and mass murder of workers. This abandonment of principles on the part of professed socialists horrified Lenin, along with other genuine Marxists.

The State and Revolution represented his attempt to reassert the Marxist attitude to the state in order to show why the capitalist state needed to be destroyed—not tamed—and replaced with workers’ power. Such a restatement was important not simply to discredit the so-called socialists of the Second International, but also as a guide to action for the millions of workers across Europe whose struggles against war and the accompanying deprivation were beginning to rock the foundations of European capitalism.

As Lenin wrote in the preface to the first edition:

The unprecedented horrors and miseries of the protracted war are making the people’s position unbearable and increasing their anger. The world proletarian revolution is clearly maturing. The question of its relation to the state is acquiring practical importance.

The starting point for his argument was the class nature of the capitalist state. Drawing on the writings of Marx and Engels, Lenin demolishes the idea that the state is a neutral body standing above social classes. Instead, he argues that the state exists as a means for one class to maintain its dominance over another. Far from being able to legislate away the conflict between workers and bosses under capitalism, “the state is a product and manifestation of the irreconcilability of class antagonisms. The state arises where, when and insofar as class antagonisms objectively cannot be reconciled. And, conversely, the existence of the state proves that the class antagonisms are irreconcilable… The state is an organ of class rule, an organ for the oppression by one class by another; it is the creation of ‘order’, which legalizes and perpetuates this oppression by moderating the conflict between the classes.” The arbitration system, courts and prisons, insofar as they legitimise wage labour and enshrine the property rights of the rich, are all examples of this today.

Coercion is also central to the power of the capitalist state. As Lenin puts it:

What does this power [of the state] mainly consist of? It consists of special bodies of armed men having prisons, etc. at their command… A standing army and police are the chief instruments of the state power.

Given the capitalist state exists to enforce the interests and property rights of the capitalist class, it cannot be taken over by representatives of the working class and used to introduce socialism as the reformists of the Second International ultimately argued. It must instead be destroyed and dismantled in order that the power of the capitalist class be neutralised, and the capitalists prevented from reasserting their dominance following a successful workers’ revolution.

For this to happen, workers must become the dominant class in society. As Lenin described: “The overthrow of the bourgeoisie can be achieved only by the proletariat becoming the ruling class, capable of crushing the inevitable and desperate resistance of the bourgeoisie, and of organising all the working and exploited people for the new economic system.

“The proletariat needs state power, a centralized organisation of force, an organisation of violence, both to crush the resistance of the exploiters and to lead the enormous mass of the population—the peasants, the petty bourgeoisie, the semi-proletarians—in the work of organising a socialist economy.” So it is not enough to simply abolish the capitalist state, it must be replaced with organisations that embody and defend workers’ control of society.

But such a state would have little in common with all previously existing states which have enshrined minority rule. The Paris Commune of 1871 provided the first example of what workers’ power might ultimately look like. A keen observer of the Commune, Marx described how:

The first decree of the Commune… was the suppression of the standing army and its replacement by the armed people… The Commune was formed of the municipal councillors, chosen by universal suffrage in the various wards of Paris, responsible and revocable at any time. The majority of its members were naturally working men, or acknowledged representatives of the working class… The police, which until then had been the instrument of the government, was at once stripped of its political attributes and turned into the responsible and at all times revocable instrument of the Commune… From the members of the Commune downwards, public service had to be done at workmen’s wages. The privileges and the representation allowances of the high dignitaries of state disappeared along with the dignitaries themselves.

The significance of the Commune and its contrast with the capitalist state for Lenin could not be overstated:

The Commune [has] replaced the smashed state machine ‘only’ by fuller democracy: abolition of the standing army; all officials to be elected and subject to recall. But as a matter of fact, this ‘only’ signifies a gigantic replacement of certain institutions by other institutions of a fundamentally different type.

Lenin also argued that a workers’ state differs from previous forms in its transitory nature. Societies in which the ruling class relies on the day-to-day exploitation and oppression of the majority require a permanent state structure to ensure social stability and compliance.

Once in control, the working class does not have to oppress any other social class in order to run society effectively and provide for people’s needs. Without class divisions, there is no need for a state. In the long run therefore, a genuine socialist society would be one without the need for an oppressive state structure.

The main function of a workers’ state then is to ensure the defeat of the capitalist class, and to prevent it being able to regroup or rearm to destroy the revolution and workers’ power.

As Lenin explained:

The organ of suppression, however, is here the majority of the population, and not a minority, as was always the case under slavery, serfdom and wage slavery. And since the majority of people itself suppresses its oppressors, a ‘special force’ of suppression is no longer necessary! In this sense, the state begins to wither away.

For the organisations of the Second International, that had integrated themselves into the capitalist state and ruling structures in a way that did not incline them towards its smashing, Lenin’s arguments were somewhat unwelcome. The State and Revolution was decried as Blanquist and anarchist amongst the mainstream of the socialist movement.

By contrast, among left-wing critics of the orthodox socialist movement of the time, including some anarchists, The State and Revolution was a revelation. Syndicalist Alfred Rosmer recalled its reception in France:

for revolutionaries situated outside the mainstream of orthodox Marxism, for the syndicalists and anarchists, this… was a pleasant revelation. They had never heard such language from the Marxists they knew. They read and re-read this interpretation of Marx, which was quite unfamiliar to them.

The all-too-common characterisation of Lenin as an authoritarian by anarchists today is thus both ironic and woefully inaccurate. Again and again throughout his political life, including in The State and Revolution, Lenin stressed the conscious activity of workers as crucial to the struggle to create a new and better world. In 1906, he wrote of his eagerness to see the working class “smash all the instruments for oppressing the people, seize power, and take what was regarded as belonging to all kinds of robbers of the people—in short, when the intellect and reason of millions of downtrodden people awaken not only to read books, but for action, vital human action, to make history.”

The revolution Lenin lived through and led shortly after completing The State and Revolution is a testament to this. John Reed, and American journalist who was in Russia during the revolution described how “for the first time, millions of ordinary workers and peasants found themselves able to participate in the major decisions that affected their lives. Control of the factories was taken over by the workers, land was seized by the poor peasants, the embryo of an entirely new form of society was created.”

The official structures of workers power reflected this: “At least twice a year delegates are elected from all over Russia to the All-Russian Congress of Soviets… This body, consisting of about two thousand delegates, meets in the capital in the form of a great soviet, and settles upon the essentials of national policy.” According to Reed, “no political body more sensitive and responsive to the popular will was ever invented.”

The contrast between the participatory democracy of the most advanced form of workers’ power ever seen and the oppressive nature of the capitalist state could not be greater. It makes a mockery of those who reject state power as authoritarian regardless of which class is in control.

More than one hundred years after it was written, The State and Revolution remains the clearest exposition of the role of the state and the need for the masses to destroy it in order to bring about a society without class divisions of any sort.

Originally published: RedFlag on April 18, 2022

MR Online, April 25, 2022, https://mronline.org/

Understanding war: Lenin’s ‘imperialism: The highest stage of capitalism’ / by Tom Bramble

The outbreak of World War I ushered in a new age of barbarism in Europe. It also triggered the collapse of the Second International, the international league of socialist parties that purported to be staunch opponents of war, but which lined up behind their own ruling classes when it broke out. Lenin’s pamphlet Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism, published in the middle of the horror and brutality of the Great War, aimed to answer two questions: why this imperialist war, and why the collapse of the Second International?

Every nation involved in the war had a ready explanation for it, of course. Each accused its enemy of provocations and blood lust. Even the socialist parties took up some of these themes. In Imperialism, Lenin identified capitalism as the culprit. War was the product of the anarchic and competitive character of the capitalist world order.

Lenin wrote that “If it were necessary to give the briefest possible definition of imperialism, we should have to say that imperialism is the monopoly stage of capitalism”.

What were the characteristics of “monopoly capitalism”? First, the tremendous concentration of industry into fewer and fewer hands. In the mid-nineteenth century, what Lenin called “free market capitalism” had predominated. By the turn of the twentieth century, successive periods of economic boom and bust had led to waves of takeovers and bankruptcies that allowed the strong to destroy the weak. The victorious companies, on their own or organised into trusts or cartels, now dominated entire national markets.

Second, monopoly capitalism was characterised by an enormous growth in the significance of banks, from mere intermediaries lending money to firms expanding their operations, to overseers of the advanced economies. By fuelling credit growth and liquidating bankrupt businesses, the banks contributed to the process of concentration of capital, the growth of bigger and bigger monopolies.

What Lenin called “the coalescence of bank and industrial capital” that resulted from these trends created a new phenomenon, finance capital. The dawn of the twentieth century marked a “turning point, from the old capitalism to the new, from the domination of capital in general to the domination of finance capital”. Henceforth, finance capital and the “financial oligarchy” would rule.

As finance capital grew more powerful, so it became more concentrated in a small number of countries. By 1910, four countries—Britain, the U.S., France and Germany—accounted for 80 percent of the world’s financial securities (loans, bonds, shares etc). Lenin wrote: “In one way or another, nearly the whole of the rest of the world is more or less the debtor to and tributary of these international banker countries, these ‘four pillars’ of world finance capital”.

The big creditor nations amassed a huge surplus of capital that could not be profitably invested at home. They invested it instead in colonies and less developed countries where the rate of return was higher because capital was scarce, the price of land was low, wages were low and raw materials were cheap.

The biggest monopolies boosted their profits by organising market-sharing schemes to minimise competition and jack up prices. Such arrangements could not last, however. Inevitable disturbances in the balance of power resulting from differential rates of economic development, wars and crises led to constant battles for hegemony between the big companies, with governments weighing in to boost the fortunes of “their” monopoly capitalists. The outcome was new spheres of influence.

This jockeying for control over international markets and raw materials between the rival powers drove the partitioning of Africa and Asia. By the close of the nineteenth century, this rivalry between various finance capitals backed by their states had led to the seizure of all those territories not occupied by one or another of the big powers. From this point on, one great power could advance its sphere of influence only by seizing territory from another.

Lenin summarised imperialism as follows: “Imperialism is capitalism at that stage of development at which the dominance of monopolies and finance capital is established; in which the export of capital has acquired pronounced importance; in which the division of the world among the international trusts has begun, in which the division of all territories of the globe among the biggest capitalist powers has been completed”.

Imperialism was not, therefore, a “policy” adopted by governments but arose out of tendencies that were inherent in capitalism. In Imperialism, Lenin poured scorn on Karl Kautsky, the leading theorist of the Social Democratic Party of Germany, who had provided political cover for the party’s betrayal when it voted in 1914 for war credits in the German parliament. Kautsky argued that there was nothing inevitable about imperialism. It was only a “policy” of annexation preferred by finance capital and the arms industry and could be combated by another capitalist policy that did not involve annexation of territory and which would be advantageous for other sections of capital. Further, Kautsky argued, as blocs of finance capital came to dominate ever larger parts of the world, they might eventually unite in the form of “ultra imperialism”, what he called the “joint exploitation of the world by internationally united finance capital”. The big powers would no longer need to go to war to settle disputes.

Lenin took apart Kautsky’s “ultra imperialism”, for both its logical flaws and its political implications. The international cartels that Kautsky believed could be the basis for a peaceful division of the world were only an example of the division and constant re-division of the world. Specifically, the old imperial powers Britain and France controlled vast swathes of Africa and Asia; Germany, by contrast, had very few colonies. But Germany was the far more dynamic industrial power by the early twentieth century; it was inconceivable it would be content with its exclusion from large areas of the world. There could, therefore, be no “internationally united finance capital” sharing out the spoils of colonialism.

This very dynamism of the world system meant that periods of peace could only give way to periods of war. How else could Germany break into markets currently dominated by Britain and France? Or, for that matter, the U.S. and Japan, two other latecomers to colonialism? Only force would allow them to build the kind of empires befitting their economic weight. That meant that alliances were constantly torn apart by internal tensions, the outcome of which would be decided in the ultimate instance by force. As Lenin put it, “Peaceful alliances prepared the ground for wars and in their turn grew out of wars; the one conditions the other, producing alternating forms of peaceful and non-peaceful struggles”.

By appealing to the capitalists to come together to share markets peacefully, Kautsky was only trying to prettify capitalism. Monopoly capitalism, far from paving the way for peace, just heightened political reaction at home and national oppression abroad. Kautsky, Lenin argued, was only giving cover to those in his party who said that capitalism did not need to be overthrown. Kautsky must be condemned for “obscuring and glossing over the fundamental contradictions of imperialism” and, as a result, muddying the process of clarification in the workers’ movement between revolutionary and reformist politics.

Lenin believed that the emergence of monopoly capitalism helped explain the material basis for the Second International’s capitulation in 1914. Monopoly profits earned from investments in the colonies allowed the capitalists to “bribe the upper strata of the proletariat”. This bribe was the material basis for reformism, the adaptation by the workers’ movement to its own ruling class, and explained why the workers’ parties of Europe supported their “own” ruling classes at the outbreak of World War I. Revolutionaries must do battle with these traitors in the labour movement and drive them out.

Lenin’s pamphlet soon became a canonical text in the international revolutionary movement. Although only, as Lenin stated, a “popular outline” of theories that had been developed earlier by the English liberal John Hobson, the German socialist Rudolf Hilferding and Lenin’s own comrade Nikolai Bukharin, the Bolsheviks’ triumph in the October Revolution and the subsequent formation of the Communist International meant that Lenin’s work was by far the best known.

Imperialism has tremendous strengths. In the midst of the carnage on the battlefields and misery on the home front, Lenin pointed out that capitalism was squarely to blame for the horrors unfolding across Europe. Capitalism could not exist without war. It therefore had to be overthrown not just to end this war but also to prevent future wars. For those fighting colonialism, Imperialism gave some theoretical underpinning to their struggles. They faced not just a particularly bloody government in London, Paris or Berlin, but a whole system of colonial oppression fuelled by capitalism. This was the basis for the formation of the Communist International in 1919—to bring together revolutionaries all over the world for a joint struggle to smash capitalism. Imperialism also pointed to the complicity of socialists like Kautsky who said that they were against war but who made excuses for the system that kept generating wars.

Imperialism had tremendous predictive value. Lenin argued that unless capitalism was destroyed, any peace agreement between the imperialist powers to end the Great War would only give way to more wars in the future. And that is exactly what happened. Just two decades after the 1918 armistice, the world was plunged into a new world war that proved even bloodier and which was genuinely a world war, with whole areas of the Asia-Pacific drawn into the fighting. And, today, Imperialism helps us understand the new military tensions between the U.S. and China and now Russia, each trying to carve out or defend their spheres of influence.

There are weaknesses with Imperialism. Its reliance on the “labour aristocracy” to explain working class reformism did not stand up to scrutiny even in Lenin’s day, and has little relevance in a world where the working class even in the imperialist countries is being constantly squeezed like it is today. The emphasis on the banks, capital export and the colonies again did not entirely fit the picture in all the main imperialist powers at the time—capital export, for example, was a big factor only briefly for Britain and nowhere else. And over the course of the 20th century, the imperial powers got rid of their colonies, driven out forcefully or otherwise, and did not collapse as imperial powers. The world’s biggest imperialist power, the U.S., is actually a debtor nation, not a creditor. And so on. But the basic argument, that the competitive and anarchic nature of capitalism constantly drags the world into wars and will do so until it is overthrown, still stands up. As in Lenin’s day, the duty of revolutionaries, and all those who want to see an end to bloody imperialist wars, is to overthrow capitalism.

Tom Bramble is a socialist activist, author and retired academic based in Queensland, Australia. He taught Industrial Relations at the University of Queensland for many years and has authored numerous books and articles on the Australian labour movement. He is a member of Socialist Alternative.

MR Online, April 23, 2022, https://mronline.org/