Essence of Political Science
|Feudalism||You have two cows. Your lord takes some of the milk.|
|Pure Socialism||You have two cows. The government takes them and puts them in a barn with everyone else’s cows. You have to take care of all the cows. The government gives you all the milk you need.|
|Bureaucratic Socialism||Your cows are cared for by ex-chicken farmers. You have to take care of the chickens the government took from the chicken farmers. The government gives you as much milk and eggs the regulations say you should need.|
|Fascism||You have two cows. The government takes both, hires you to take care of them, and sells you the milk.|
|Pure Communism||You have two cows. Your neighbors help you take care of them, and you all share the milk.|
|Real World Communism||You share two cows with your neighbors. You and your neighbors bicker about who has the most “ability” and who has the most “need”. Meanwhile, no one works, no one gets any milk, and the cows drop dead of starvation.|
|Russian Communism||You have two cows. You have to take care of them, but the government takes all the milk. You steal back as much milk as you can and sell it on the black market.|
|Perestroika||You have two cows. You have to take care of them, but the Mafia takes all the milk. You steal back as much milk as you can and sell it on the “free” market.|
|Cambodian Communism||You have two cows. The government takes both and shoots you.|
|Militarianism||You have two cows. The government takes both and drafts you.|
|Totalitarianism||You have two cows. The government takes them and denies they ever existed. Milk is banned.|
|Pure Democracy||You have two cows. Your neighbors decide who gets the milk.|
|Representative Democracy||You have two cows. Your neighbors pick someone to tell you who gets the milk.|
|British Democracy||You have two cows. You feed them sheeps’ brains and they go mad. The government doesn’t do anything.|
|Bureaucracy||You have two cows. At first the government regulates what you can feed them and when you can milk them. Then it pays you not to milk them. Then it takes both, shoots one, milks the other and pours the milk down the drain. Then it requires you to fill out forms accounting for the missing cows.|
|Pure Anarchy||You have two cows. Either you sell the milk at a fair price or your neighbors try to take the cows and kill you.|
|Pure Capitalism||You have two cows. You sell one and buy a bull.|
|Capitalism||You don’t have any cows. The bank will not lend you money to buy cows, because you don’t have any cows to put up as collateral.|
|Enviromentalism||You have two cows. The government bans you from milking or killing them.|
|Theocracy||You have two cows. You get all the milk. You love God, He loves you.|
|Monarchy||You have two cows. You give some milk to the King/Queen.|
|Political Correctness||You are associated with (the concept of “ownership” is a symbol of the phallo centric, war mongering, intolerant past) two differently – aged (but no less valuable to society) bovines of non-specified gender.|
|Surrealism||You have two giraffes. The government requires you to take harmonica lessons.|
|Talibanism||Nobody has anything. The government shoots you in the soccer stadium.|
A long time ago if someone was beginning to draw conclusions that all was not right with the world they might have bought a pamphlet or gone to a meeting, or debated with people down the pub or at work. Today unfortunately the path of least resistance for many people is to go on Youtube and watch some mental little video.
A few lads have told me that the problem with the world economy is interest-bearing debt. Everything flows from this and anyone who doesn’t highlight this, however radical they may seem on other issues, is either a coward or is in on the plot. They got this all from Youtube.
The ultra-monetarist arguments aren’t the worst of the theories, by a long shot, but there’s a point at which they shade into more sinister territory. From the financial system to Jewish people is for some reason often a short step for conspiracy theories. I found one video which started by touching on the history of the Jewish mafia in Illinois. Of course Obama has spent a lot of time in Illinois and Chicago’s zip code is 60606. The chilling conclusion, via some photoshopped images the author found online and some quotes from the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, no less, is that Obama was appointed president by the Rothschild family! And God tried to warn us..! At that point I changed to another video. Life’s too short.
The next video, The Money Masters, was a bit more sober, but only a bit. It laboured the point for ages about how the US Federal Reserve is bad and is a private institution. I started getting bored and skipped ahead two hours or so – the video is 3½ hours long! – and was greeted by grainy Russians waving placards of Lenin. But all was not as it seemed! I was informed that the Russian Revolution was financed and created by the Fed. “The Wall Street-London axis” controlled all Communist groups by “feeding them vast quantities of money when they obeyed”. The evidence for this was as follows:
1- A quote from a “Gary Allen, author”, in which by a superficial and abstract argument he proves that “Communism, or more accurately socialism, is not a movement of the downtrodden masses but of the economic elite” whose purpose is to concentrate all wealth and power in their hands.
2- A quote from Lenin saying “The state does not function as we desired… It moves as another force wishes.”
3- Evidence that international banks gave loans the Soviet government to build a hydroelectric dam in Ukraine in 1927-32.
Sound compelling? No? Well the massive gaps between these pinpricks of “evidence” are filled in by the narrator.
None of this is new, of course. Lenin spent 1917 under constant accusations of “German gold” from all his political opponents. Later the Nazis resurrected the charge in a new form, claiming that Communism was a Jewish conspiracy. This video rehashes the same charge: if you don’t like mass movements and revolutions, claim they are not authentic and are being funded by something else you don’t like. As well as the fact that it’s convenient, if you can’t conceive of history being decided by ordinary workers, soldiers and peasants then you’d rather invent a conspiracy, however far-fetched.
The “vast quantities of money” evidently supplied by the banks/Germans/Jews, by the way, was never in evidence. The Bolsheviks were incredibly cash-strapped and had to fund themselves off donations from supporters. Trotsky recalls Lenin poring over the party newspaper, counting every line to make sure it didn’t go over their financial limits.
Lesson #1 for conspiracy theorists: Ignore History
We’ll stick with the Russian Revolution just for a second, just to give an example of how very many conspiracy theories are formulated. Firstly, a total ignorance of the actual facts can lay the groundwork. But more than this is required to create a truly compelling conspiracy theory. Never mind that the Bolsheviks dispossessed, disenfranchised, exiled, imprisoned or killed the “economic elite” of their country; never mind that the landowners and capitalists returned in force and waged a vicious and bloody civil war to crush Bolshevism – to crush, apparently, their own conspiracy. Never mind that the Bolsheviks’ opponents in this civil war were bankrolled and supported by the “economic elites” of America, Western Europe and Japan. Never mind that the Bolsheviks’ base of support was indisputably the Russian working class.
For one thing, the intellectual climate of the last 20 years or so has made it possible to say pretty much anything you like about any socialist movement in history, as long as it’s bad. For another, an examination of the facts of history might necessitate and inconvenient re-thinking of one’s world-view. But more crucially a conspiracy theory must be creative, answering the immediate political needs of the day and according with a certain world-view which we’ll define later.
Today- a great time to be a conspiracy nut
Conspiracy theories of our time can spread very far, very fast through the internet. I own a book from the ‘80s which combines Catholicism, anti-Capitalism and a credulous attitude toward the anti-Semitic forgery The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. I can’t think where the average person would ever come across this book or have much time to read it. Youtube, because I watched a few of these mad videos out of curiosity, now drops something equivalent to this book into my lap every time I go online. This is one feature of the current period in history that affects the question of conspiracy theories.
The extreme difficulty for the majority of living a happy life under a crisis-ridden Capitalism, the widespread hatred of the banks and the absence of class-consciousness and socialist ideas are all outstanding features of people’s attitudes today. The sell-out of Social Democracy and the massive crimes of Stalinism have in the eyes of many discredited the ideas of Socialism, the logical solution to the failure of Capitalism. It is today’s special hopelessness and confusion that breeds belief in conspiracy theories, but Capitalism generally gives rise to them.
A feeling of being on the outside with no control over what happens in society; a sickened attitude towards parliamentary democracy; frustration at people around you who are just focused on their own lives, livelihoods and lifestyles without regard for the bigger picture; contempt for those who swallow the tales told by the media and politicians; above all a humiliating sense that you and all those around you are being played for fools.
All these feelings flow naturally from living in a society in which our “democratic rights” don’t seem to channel our needs at all; in which the economy is totally out of our control; in which a small class owns most of the wealth and makes most of the decisions.
But if you don’t try to get to the root of the problem from a scientific perspective of class and of the actual facts about the ownership of wealth and the conditions of survival under capitalism, you’re not going to understand what’s going on. On the points listed above the average Marxist is in full agreement with the conspiracy theorist; on the points below there is fundamental disagreement.
A Scientific World-View
While the owners of property and wealth are the most privileged and powerful class in society, they are not in control. Each capitalist competes against all others; each company against all others; each nation with all others. Conspiracies obviously exist in such a system but the system itself couldn’t be further from a conspiracy. It’s chaos and while some are more powerful, nobody is in control.
History is not determined by the wonderful plans of powerful people sitting behind closed doors. It flows through processes which we have to describe in terms of science and impersonal nature, because they involve so many people with such contradictory desires and ways of seeing the world. History is, like nature, observable and up to a point predictable, but not conscious.
The desires and consciousnesses of people living in similar conditions and playing similar roles in society and doing similar things to put bread on the table are, not all, but generally, identical in how they behave socially and politically. A Marxist speaks in terms of classes because we call a forest a forest even if there are a couple of clearings. Likewise we call a class a class because, while everyone is a beautiful and unique snowflake, etc, etc, we call a class a class because economics – questions of survival, prosperity, how you feed yourself and the kids – ensure that a class acts generally as a whole.
So Capitalists are not secretly evil lizards who sacrifice children; they are a class of normal warm-blooded human beings who are capable of doing great harm without ever bloodying their fingers, and without us having to prove that a single one of them is consciously evil. Competition and the profit motive punishes them for not acting in an anti-social way, for not exploiting and corrupting.
The predominant role in history is played by classes, and only by institutions and people insofar as they are representatives and instruments of a class. To be a Capitalist, an exploiter, demands of the human conscience a cycle of convenient myths that justify that position – rugged individualism, innovation, entrepreneurial spirit, job-creator, a rising tide lifts all boats, the wealth trickles down, all that crap. All classes in fact need myths to justify their position. These myths are the source of all off-the-wall conspiracy theories. A growing realisation that these myths are false can be the spur to the creation of a new myth that is fundamentally rooted in the same assumptions.
They Must be up to Something!
The next objection to the conspiracy-theory scene, not just of Marxists but of the vast majority of people, is: For fuck’s sake, leave the Jews alone. For every Jewish person occupying a high position in the US in business, media, finance or politics I’ll name you five Irish-Americans, five German-Americans, five Italian-Americans and twenty WASPs. If you follow the logic of “Jewish conspiracies” even two steps you’ll immediately multiply your first absurdity by a hundred. This might seem painfully obvious to a lot of people out there, but anti-Jewish attitudes permeate conspiracy theories. The Freemasons, a glorified old-boys’-network-cum-church, is another common target. Medieval mapmakers used to put scary monsters in to fill up the blank spaces on maps, and this is basically the same thing.
Power of the Working Class
The greatest objection of Marxists to conspiracy-theorising is that it’s a view of the world that totally ignores the potential power of the working, downtrodden majority. To return briefly to Russia: events there were not determined by “gold” from whatever sinister foreign source but by the self-organisation and activity of tens of millions of otherwise powerless and unremarkable people.
“Lectures, debates, speeches – in theatres, circuses, school-houses, clubs, Soviet meeting-rooms, Union headquarters, barracks… Meetings in the trenches at the front, in village squares, factories… What a marvellous sight to see Putilovsky Zavod (the Putilov Factory) pour out its forty thousand to listen to Social Democrats, Socialist Revolutionaries, Anarchists, anybody, whatever they had to say, as long as they would talk! For months in Petrograd, and all over Russia, every street-corner was a public tribune […] gaunt and bootless men sickened in the mud of desperate trenches; and when they saw us they started up, with their pinched faces and the flesh showing blue through their torn clothing, demanding eagerly, ‘Did you bring anything to read?’” (John Reed, Ten Days That Shook the World, Penguin, page 40).
Capitalist countries can fund armies of millions, nuclear weapons and missions to the moon. They can’t fund that.They can only create such a situation by the unintended and unforeseen consequences of their own system.
“Look how that turned out,” says the cynic. The masses of the former Russian Empire, who made the Revolution, were destroyed, dispersed and demoralized by the Civil War and the isolation of Russia, which laid the basis for the Stalinist dictatorship. It was not the organisation and militancy of the working class but rather the absence of that mobilisation which allowed the Stalinist clique to rise to power. But the conspiracy theorist is generally demoralized and it does not occur to them that such mobilisations can take place at all, and they are willing to believe that the whole thing was a conspiracy.
Lesson #2 for conspiracy theorists: Create a compelling metaphor
If a conspiracy is being cooked up by those in power, and we find irrefutable proof of it, as for example with the contents of the Wikileaks cables, we should of course make it public. For instance, it would be fascinating to know what is said at the secret Bilderberg Group meetings. But it’s very different to believe a story which is not adequately proved, and which is inherently far-fetched because it assumes the Capitalists and their lackeys have more power, knowledge and foresight than they actually do. There is nothing rebellious or subversive in insisting, on flimsy or no evidence, that rich and powerful US citizens rape and kill children at Bohemian Grove, in between Satanic and Pagan rituals, and as a warm-up to plotting world domination.
Fundamentally this is an example of religious thinking. I mean that people who don’t understand the world try to explain it in terms that make sense to them. In ancient times, when as a species we had no way of scientifically understanding or explaining the natural world or human society, we invented myths. That’s why we needed a god of thunder, of the ocean, of war: to explain vast impersonal forces in simple, human, personal terms.
In the same way today in the mind of the conspiracy theorist a person or institution acquires godlike power and significance. The Federal Reserve caused the Russian Revolution! The US government controls the weather! Rothschild appointed Obama as president! The US government packed a building full of thousands of tonnes of explosives without anybody seeing, then flew a hologram plane into it! With a sweep of its mighty hand it knocked down the twin towers and WTC 7 and punched a hole in the Pentagon and swatted another plane right out of the sky.
What is thunder? A big man in the sky with a hammer. What is revolution? A conspiracy by Jews and financiers. Why do wars happen? Mars inflames the passions of mortals. Why did 9/11 happen? The US government did it.
A Conspiracy Theory is a Metaphor
A good conspiracy theory takes root because there is a demand for it. The 9/11 theories do not have their roots in any great amount of evidence. There are no more strange occurrences and coincidences than you would associate with any event so huge. I believe that to say “9/11 was an inside job” is unconsciously to speak in metaphors. What you want to say is “The establishment’s narrative of a ‘War on Terror’ is bullshit.” You can intuitively sense this latter point, but not prove it or spell it out because your political understanding is at a very low level. If you oppose US foreign policy but accept the establishment claim that the 9/11 attacks would justify invading another country, then you are compelled to believe that the 9/11 attacks were a false flag operation. One very prominent 7/7 conspiracy theorist told author Jon Ronson that it was racist to say that Muslims committed the 7/7 attacks (Jon Ronson, The Psychopath Test).
I should qualify my earlier comments about Bohemian Grove by making the point that Jimmy Saville was probably just the tip of the iceberg. Abuse flows from unaccountable power. But the Bohemian Grove myth is a fine example of the conspiracy theory as a metaphor. Yes, there is a ruling class that has inordinate control over our lives. Yes, their actions are largely hidden from us. Yes, in many indirect ways, they abuse our children, in some cases even literally and directly. People without a scientific understanding of how and why this happens, and how we can end it, follow their intuition further than anyone is supposed to. They dream up a “theory” which is actually a metaphor. They portray the rich literally meeting up and conspiring and raping children. For good measure they hedge this around with sinister rituals.
In ancient times people had a literal belief in gods that had been simply dreamt up as a substitute for science. Today liberal Christians cling to a god they freely admit has no substance except as a personalized metaphor for love. Likewise, today the conspiracy theorist actually believes their own metaphors. Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone described Goldman Sachs as a vampire squid latched onto the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money. Imagine if he meant this literally! Then you get an idea of what in my view a conspiracy theory is.
In at least two cases that I know of leading conspiracy theorists have also believed at some point in their lives that they were Jesus. This shows us not only an additional link to religion but proves that some of the most dogged compilers of conspiracy theories are in fact insane. However, perfectly sane people, because the metaphor and the symbol are attractive and confirm their world-view, and in no small part thanks to the vast array of “evidence”, believe.
The Conspiracy-Theorist Mindset
To conclude I should make it clear that I’m willing to believe anything that there is enough evidence for. I believe the US ruling class has done worse things than the September 11th attacks and are capable in a “moral” sense of carrying out such an atrocity. But there is no compelling and decisive evidence that they actually did and nor does it make much sense in context. I don’t want to say that everyone who believes in a conspiracy theory must fit my model, because I’m open-minded about what might happen at the top rungs of society where so much wealth and power are concentrated. The test is whether you can prove it by evidence.
My aim in this article has been to expose the conspiracy-theorist mindset itself, which rejects a scientific understanding of society in favour of symbols and metaphors. To this mindset I counterpose the Marxist method. If you want to understand what’s happening behind all the propaganda, you don’t need to prove that the elite are all paedophiles or that a secret society is controlling everything. Just look at what happens when you go to work and create wealth you only get a percentage of back. Look at the open division, which is absolutely no secret, between those born rich and the rest of us. Listen to the politicians when they say we have to satisfy the markets and incentivise investment, but when it comes to our jobs, our services and our pay, it’s “unpopular” and “a difficult decision” to slash it all to hell, so they deserve a pat on the back for doing so.
These are things we don’t have to theorize on; we don’t have to sneak into Bohemian Grove or examine every frame of every 9/11 video. We live in an oppressive, exploitative, unequal Capitalist society. But we are many while they, the Capitalist class, are few. The only thing standing between us and a democratic socialist society is a realisation that we can fight and win. The conspiracy-theory mindset pretends the rich and powerful are gods, and portrays the working class as sheep, not dormant lions.
Let them eat tax..
“I have today put into law a tax on revolution. This will be in addition to a tax rise of 95% on lemons, women’s breasts, pissing and farting,” he said to Ministers at the French parliament.
The taxation on revolution is an affront to French sensibilities and has been denounced as unpatriotic.
“I find it crazy that a socialist like Hollande would put a ridiculous tax on something like the French Revolution which in itself was a piece of socialist theatre. What’s next a tax on socialism? I know we are bankrupt and desperate for some bloody money but this is preposterous,” an angry socialist said from the steps of the parliament today.
Since Hollande came to power he has enraged millions of French people and destroyed all business in France with his massive tax rises and complete ineptitude.
“Hollande is insane. He is acting like king Louis XVI and soon his head will be in the guillotine and we do not care if he taxes us for that,” another enraged Frenchman shouted during a march in Hôtel de Ville on Monday.
The following will focus on the relationship between planned political education and left activism. If there is a justification for this, it lies in the history of the worker’s movement itself. Almost every significant step toward the self-emancipation of the working class has rested on a deep and thoroughgoing emphasis on the educational development of those indispensably involved.
Careful planning and organisation of political education among activists and workers, within and without their respective organisations, is always centrally important. In an attempt to provoke discussion, some questions are raised about the different strategies for the development of educational forms worthy of the movement the present generation of socialist activists hope to build.
The most influential socialists of the 19th and 20th centuries all realised the necessity of ensuring workers take ownership of, and develop, the knowledge necessary for self-emancipation. Certainly Marx, Engels, Lenin, Trotsky, Luxemburg, along with many other pioneers of the movement, were never prepared to neglect this necessary work, not under threat of exile, not in the midst of revolutionary upheavals, not during imprisonment, conditions of civil war and/or counter-revolutionary witch-hunts. Realising that action has to be theoretically informed, they never stopped studying, analysing and writing, throughout their lives. They have done much to prepare the ground, providing many useful signposts for subsequent generations, yet the necessity for intensive scholarship and focused dissemination of knowledge has not diminished in the slightest. Socialism is, after all, inherently educational; it is in essence one great international and intergenerational educational movement. The development of every new socialist activist rests on the materials purposely left for them by previous generations. The books and pamphlets left behind are essentially the materials to facilitate distance education; the goal of each contribution being to facilitate the creative power of the proletariat on an individual and collective basis. The task of socialist activists is to facilitate the working-class in its efforts to take its destiny into its own hands. Doing so presupposes a heightened political consciousness, which is perhaps why Rosa Luxemburg insisted ‘we shall hardly make any progress without a clear understanding of the work of proletarian self-education’.
Most present day socialists do recognise that political education is a major part of their role as political activists. Few really expect to fully develop their theoretical knowledge, their critical skills when applying political ideas to a changing system, through practical activism alone. Yet sometimes little thought is given to the kind of educational philosophy adhered to, or sufficient consideration given to what is most appropriate to the organisations being built. Where little thought is given to this the educational development of activists is dealt with in an ad hoc way; emphasis may be given to ‘learning through struggle’ – a key element of any organised attempt to facilitate the educational development of rank-and-file activists, but still only an element.
Assuming that attempts to remedy the general neglect will intensify in the immediate future, the question remains: what kind of education is appropriate to the self-emancipation of the working-class? The first concern must be, I would argue, to free activists (and all those they hope to influence) from what Latin American educators refer to as the ‘banking’ form. Brazilian Marxist Paulo Freire used the concept of banking to characterise educational practices in which intellectual leaders ‘deposit’ knowledge and then ordinary activists assume the passive role of ‘depositories’ of that knowledge. These relations of intellectual domination and subordination are analogous with Freire’s depiction of formal schooling, where oftentimes, instead of communicating, the teacher uses communiqués and makes deposits, which the students patiently receive, memorise and repeat. The scope of action allowed to the participant extends only as far as receiving, filing and storing the deposits.
It should be immediately obvious that educational practices that in any way resemble the above are not conducive to the self-education and self-determination of activists, and not particularly helpful to a working class struggling against bourgeois ideological forms. However, such relationships are not at all uncommon among the organisations of the left. Those that fail to prioritise and carefully plan political education inadvertently permit elements of the banking form to hold sway. This would not be so inappropriate if the goal were to help people blend seamlessly into the multiple bureaucracies that comprise contemporary capitalism. But something entirely different is required if the freest and fullest intellectual development is to be attained, if the levels of political consciousness required for self-emancipation are to be realised among any significant number. Conservative educational forms are generally repellent to workers in any case; they usually see enough hierarchy in the workplace, and very often, have had enough of education that rests on authority. An ‘education for liberation’ requires dialogical exchanges rather than communiques, collaborative learning rather than ‘top-down’ hierarchal instruction, and an emphasis on learning how to think rather than what to think.
It is often said that to change the world it is necessary to understand it first. To put it another way, the self-emancipation of the working class can only proceed through the self-education of the working class. But what is the best way to facilitate this? It goes without saying that socialists learn through experience. Of course they do. All human beings learn through experience, whether at the individual or the organisational level. However, an experience (through struggle or otherwise) does not teach anything in particular. The same experience can teach the socialist one thing, the religious fundamentalist another, the bourgeois economist yet another. What is learned largely depends on the vantage point in the structure of social economy, and on the level of political culture. Quite apart from class interests, the same set of experiences can lead socialist activists, within their respective formations, to draw very different conclusions from one another. This is because the significance and meaning of an experience has to be uncovered through its formulation within a particular communicative environment. It is no accident that groups with different theoretical and analytical means of interpreting an experience can draw different lessons from it. In the end it is theory, coupled with the level of political culture previously attained, that determines whether or not lessons appropriate to the goal of self-emancipation will be learned. The political consciousness of activists and workers advances through experience, but the potentiality for that development is something that has to be carefully planned and acted upon in advance.
There are several possible approaches to political education and to facilitating the development of political consciousness. One way is to encourage that key texts be read. Another is to attempt to teach the basic tenets of Marxism via semi-public lectures, debates etc. All are helpful. But the means by which an activist comes into contact with useful information is perhaps less important than how the process of self-education is facilitated. To begin that process the participant has to move beyond reading and listening, and on to the independent application of ideas to the world that needs to be understood / transformed. That presupposes the formation of dialogical and collaborative relationships with co-learners/facilitators, which presupposes a relative independence from bureaucratic control, formal leaderships and approved experts.
Unfortunately, sometimes on the left a teacher/learner dichotomy is allowed to emerge. When this happens a select few become intellectual leaders, and then education becomes rote. This is never appropriate. Where this happens, only the pretence of free discussion can remain. In the absence of progressively planned educational provision, knowledge tends to be treated as a possession to be handed down. In the process, basic egalitarian principles, such as ‘the fullest development of each must be the condition for the fullest development of all’ hardly feature, and much of the alienation that prevails in capitalist society is reproduced among activists. In some cases a rough division of mental and manual labour prevails, coupled with attendant justifications, which approximate the bourgeois myth of meritocracy.
It is difficult to learn to think critically, if pressured to uncritically accept analyses and positions handed down by a select few. Messy as it is, a culture of intellectual mistrust is always essential. It was not for nothing that Marx lived by the motto ‘doubt everything’. There can be no deferral to a leadership when it comes to investigating, questioning and setting knowledge against developments in the real world. It is not enough for a select few to take theoretical work seriously. Theory is what distinguishes Marxist organisations from other organisations, and only to the extent that ordinary members have managed to make the theory their own, developed it within themselves and in the struggles/campaigns they find themselves involved in. It is necessary that the vast majority learn how to apply theory to events, to develop themselves as Marxists. Any organisation committed to the self-emancipation of the working class must proactively facilitate this. The political consciousness of activists cannot be advanced by simply listening to and accepting the various positions developed centrally. To treat people as passive recipients of ‘correct ideas’ is to propagandise. As Freire puts it, it is to ‘domesticate’ rather than ‘educate’. It is to realise acceptance of the organisation’s analysis and various positions, but without adequately facilitating the activist’s own capacity to comprehend and analyse. Conversely, where self-education is facilitated, the activist builds him/herself up, necessarily drawing knowledge indiscriminately from every available source, growing with every position challenged and every contribution made to the memory of the organisation they are building.
Two questions immediately present themselves: (1) given the central importance of education in the worker’s movement, why is political education very often neglected on the far left? (2) given that we know the difference between educational forms that facilitate critical independent thought, and those that serve to stunt it, why do we opt for the latter?
I would suggest that these questions cannot be answered apart from the problem of left sectarianism, which is always and everywhere a major problem. The standard (though inadequate) definition of sectarianism is: putting the narrow interests of one’s own organisation ahead of the interests of the working class. Quite obviously, this is a major obstacle insofar as it prevents the necessary pooling of educational resources across the left and those available to the working class generally. In addition to preventing activists from working together to build the most effective struggle against the common enemy, it creates an inability on the part of activists to accept and/or build upon the ideas of other forces on the left. It severely limits exposure of activists to new ideas and undermines the possibility of constructive dialogue. It helps perpetuate group-think among leaderships, and directs rank-and-file members who are hungry for knowledge into intellectual strait-jackets, ultimately repelling them.
The more sectarian the organisation the more inclined it is to neglect rank-and-file education, or to adopt quite conservative educational practices. Insofar as intellectual leadership is conferred on particular individuals, insofar as a division between intellectual and practical activity is permitted to emerge, the goal of education becomes that of propagating the view among members that their own organisation is the repository of truth, that the perspectives of its leadership represent true socialist principles.
A closely associated problem with the development of activists on the left is a high turnover of members (excepting the few organisations that are comprised of a small number of lifelong members). Where a high turnover is expected any relaxation of the organisational focus on recruitment necessarily leads to decline. As such, many of the forces on the left are forced to enter into a perpetual competition for new ‘customers’. There are many laudable methods for ensuring that potential new members choose one organisation over another, but the easiest method seems to be to fetishize ‘our analysis’ and to paint competing organisations in as bad a light as possible. This is what lies behind a great deal of what passes for criticism. When this method is adopted by competing organisations a vicious circle of mutual suspicion and reaction develops. Thereafter, it becomes difficult to deal with the issue of sectarianism in any serious manner, since it is only ever raised in a sectarian way. The would-be activists among the advanced layers of the working class are understandably repelled by this. They are further repelled by the bureaucratic centralism that they experience when interacting with the left in campaigns. But to the activist fully caught in the logic of sectarianism, most other groups appear to be sectarian (one’s own group appears free of the problem).
Though particular organisations exhibit the effects of sectarianism in a more obvious way than others, it has to be understood as a systemic problem. It finds expression all across the left in so many different ways, with almost every activist, in (or outside of) every formation somehow affected – no matter how hard some struggle to rise above it.
The point is that associated practices are always and everywhere incompatible with the free exchange of ideas and the full exploitation of educational resources and supports otherwise available. The effects do not merely prevent collaboration among the organised left. They can take the form of blanket hostility to independent activists and fellow travellers, for example with respect to the perspectives of academics and independent scholars. As with every other expression of anti-intellectualism, this is something that socialists can have nothing to do. All too often ideas that need to be taken seriously are dismissed as ‘elitist’. Sometimes it is because the ideas run contrary to established positions and views, but occasionally it is simply a matter of ‘I don’t understand this discussion, I feel excluded by it – therefore it is elitist’.
There does not appear to be any clear criteria for blanket dismissal of analysis produced by apparent rivals on the left. Evidence-based criticism tends to be dismissed as quickly as purely sectarian ‘criticism’. When judging the ideas of rival organisation the source often appears more important than the content. In some cases the fact that some of the necessary intellectual work takes place in third-level institutions is enough grounds for dismissal, even if those involved consciously subordinate their own interests, voluntarily spending a great deal of their time producing analyses that they hope will be of use to all forces on the left. No doubt third-level institutions produce esoteric trivia by the bucket-load. However, ideas should never be ignored because they appear impenetrable to most of us, or simply because of where they are produced. Ignoring any scholarly or scientific work, and failing to establish links with those developing it, is always a major mistake. There are after all socialists in third level institutions. Most may not be interested in joining the left as it exists, but many could still play a useful role in helping to build a left movement. On top of this they have considerable influence; quite apart from the public credibility they might command, they represent a bridge to the 150,000 students enrolled at third-level in Ireland (including Northern Ireland) at any given time.
Though the charge of elitism is very often justified, the sad reality is that educational practices in political organisations on the left can be far more elitist than anything existing (or tolerated) in third-level institutions. The exceptions to this tendency demonstrate that this does not have to be the case. Education can either foster an unquestioning adherence to the views advocated by an intellectual leadership, or it can function to facilitate each and every member to develop their theoretical, analytical and argumentative skills to their fullest possible potential. This can only be realised in an environment of dialogue, based on an equality of participation.
Every form of activism is communicative. Every form of activism is educative. People become active in order to change society, and know that this can only be realised by working with others to change people’s minds. When people become activists they are always partly motivated by their own quest for knowledge, for a heightened level of political consciousness, for understanding, meaning, self-determination and capacity to influence others positively. One of the great problems faced under capitalism is that of unrealised human potential; the system increasingly stands in the way of fulfilled lives, of a fully human development. It cannot be assumed that an activist will remain in a group where nothing is offered in response to this condition – in organisations that do not facilitate their development as activists (which has to be seen as a lifelong development), and that do not offer them the opportunity to make the meaningful and worthwhile contributions they are capable of making. Failures in this respect mean that both the activist/s and the organisation/s suffer. There is really no way around it; left parties/organisations have to use whatever resources are available to facilitate the fullest possible educational development of all that need it, which means everyone. An education that is hierarchical, limited according to the opinions of intellectual gatekeepers, or limited to approved lists of key classical readings can in no way suffice.
Insofar as the conditions touched upon here represent obstacles to effective political education across the left, the solution lies with group work, with dialogue, with inclusive and participative educational structures. It has to be acknowledged that members listen more, question more, contribute more and develop more, in small self-directing learning groups. If self-education is the goal then speechifying has to be replaced with spaces that permit, and require, all participants to practice formulating and verbalising thoughts in response to every event/topic/struggle. Education does of course require that the most useful knowledge be made available to participants, that there are educators/facilitators capable of providing initial guidance in this respect. However, participants can quickly learn how to do this by themselves on a collaborative basis. They do not need to know everything, or create the impression that they know everything. Since the goal is to begin, and thereafter foster, the process of self-education among activists, participants have to take responsibility for their own education, for evaluating existing perspectives, for learning to set perspectives against available evidence and developments, in this way building new knowledge, identifying gaps and further complexity, making a worthwhile contribution to individual and collective understanding.
There are, it should be noted, a considerable number of independent activists, a few party activists, and several newly formed forums/groups/initiatives, that recognise the immediate need to resolve the above issues. Even more fortunately, there is a growing appetite among a smaller but expanding group of activists to meet this challenge head on.
The question is not should we advocate reducing production within capitalist society but rather: How do we best relate to those struggles that are already occurring? Activists across the globe are challenging economic expansion which threatens the survival of humanity. It has never been more urgent to provide a vision of a new society that can pull these efforts together.
Climate change is justifiably the focus of concern in the early 21st century. The Earth is approaching the level of 450 parts per million (ppm) of atmospheric carbon, a level which must be averted if humans are to avoid a cataclysmic turning point when climate change will loop into itself and increase even without additional industrial activity.
Yet corporate politicians shriek blindly that the only solution to economic crisis is increasing production. This, despite crises in species extinction, toxins and depletion of oil and other resources.  Even though industrial growth is destroying the biology of existence, progressives often throw up a variety of objections to opposing economic expansion:
Reducing production would supposedly worsen the lives of working people.
The degrowth movement began with bourgeois liberals.
Since degrowth cannot occur within capitalism, discussing it should wait until “after the revolution.”
The concept of producing less is too abstract to build a movement around.
An anti-growth movement would easily be co-opted.
Each of these deserves attention.
1. Does lowering production mean a worse quality of life?
Most economic writers, even socialist ones, still seem to believe that there is a strong connection between production and consumption. Enormous changes during the twentieth century profoundly weakened the bond between them.
In 1880, Frederick Engels wrote:
“The possibility of securing for every member of society, by socialized production, an existence not only fully sufficient materially, and becoming day by day more full, but an existence guaranteeing to all the free development and exercise of their physical and mental faculties—this possibility is now for the first time here, but it is here.” (Emphasis in original) 
But capitalism would not stop expanding merely because it had the potential to meet human needs. Between 1913 and 2005, America’s GDP grew 300 fold. 
How did corporations manage to continue an enormous increase in production well after reaching the ability to meet human needs? In 1929, President Herbert Hoover’s Committee on Recent Economic Changes announced its conceptual breakthrough: Capitalism could be saved via the manufacture of artificial needs. The era of planned obsolescence was born. 
Modern Western existence rests atop a mountain of commodities that play no role whatsoever in making our lives better but do threaten the biology of our existence.  Fabricated desires for electronic gadgets and in-style fashions create massive waste. But consumer choices are barely the tip of the iceberg of unnecessary and destructive production.
No one eats bombs for breakfast, and Americans never get to vote on the unending stream of wars and military bases which pervade the globe. This accounts for up to 15% of the US GDP. 
The vast majority of economic waste occurs during production processes over which workers and consumers have little to no control. The simultaneous growth of starvation and obesity is the hallmark of a food industry where the production of a speck of nutritious food is dwarfed by the gargantuan resources devoted to chemicalizing, processing, packaging, preserving, transporting, marketing, sugarizing, genetically modifying, discarding from grocery shelves and convincing people that they need to eat meat three times a day.
It is similar with medicine. Why does Cuba spend 4% of what the US does for each citizen’s health care when both have the same life expectancy of 78.0 years? It is much more than the 30% overhead of insurance companies. It is also because of the huge amount of over-treatment by a profit-driven industry, under-treating patients whose illnesses get worse, creation of illnesses and treatments, exposure of patients to contagion through over-hospitalization and disease-oriented instead of prevention-oriented research. 
Capitalism is now producing an ever greater quantity of things while a decreasing proportion of what is produced is actually useful. This means that it is now possible to (1) increase the manufacture of necessary goods, and simultaneously (2) decrease the total volume of production.
2. Babies, bathwater and bourgeois liberalism
It is not unusual for the degrowth movement to be rejected because it is based in the liberal ideology of personal life style changes. But people can make an observation that is brilliant even if their overall world view isn’t. Pointing to the philosophical weaknesses of those advocating degrowth does not disprove their concept that the economy must shrink.
Fracking, tar sands extraction, and deep sea oil drilling are inherently dangerous — they are not dangerous only when done for profit. Workers control of production will not prevent the expansion of land use from causing species extinction. Nor will it render uranium non-deadly.
Hostility towards obvious truths espoused by liberal authors is very different from Marx’s approach to Hegel. As Engels wrote, “That the Hegelian system did not solve the problem it propounded is here immaterial. Its epoch-making merit was that it propounded the problem.”  If Marx had refused to learn from Hegel because of his idealism, Marx never would have turned Hegel on his head to conceptualize dialectical materialism.
Even more to the point is Engels’ treatment of “the three great Utopians” (Saint-Simon, Fourier and Owen) in Socialism: Utopian and Scientific. Engels praises the contributions of each, paying particular homage to Owen:
“Every social movement, every real advance in England on behalf of the workers links itself on to the name of Robert Owen. He forced through in 1819, after five years’ fighting, the first law limiting the hours of labor of women and children in factories. He was president of the first Congress at which all the Trade Unions of England united in a single great trade association.”
Before delving into scientific socialism, Engels rakes all three across the coals, explaining that “To all of these socialism is the expression of absolute truth, reason and justice, and has only to be discovered to conquer the world by virtue of its own power.”  Engels held onto their goal of socialism while throwing out their method of utopian idealism.
3. Waiting until “after the revolution”
In contrast to those who fail to recognize the need to reduce the total volume of production, John Bellamy Foster suffers no confusion about the need not merely to slow down but to reverse the trends of capitalism.  His quarrel is not with the goal of reducing the enormous waste of capitalism but with the pathetic inability of “green technology” to accomplish this, and even more so, the failure of “degrowth” theorists to come to grips with the relentless drive for capital to expand.
But Foster could be used to support either of two answers to the critical question: “Should we work to lower production while living in capitalist society?” On one hand, his title “Capitalism and degrowth: An impossibility theorem” can be interpreted as implying “No, it is diversionary to work for what obviously cannot be obtained” (a sustained decrease in the mass of production over an extended period of time within capitalism). On the other hand, he advocates a “co-revolutionary movement” which would synthesize struggles of labor, anti-imperialism, social domination and ecology (anti-growth).
Ever since the beginning of the labor movement, capitalists have sought to divide workers by ethnicity and gender. Despite enormous advances, it is not possible to eliminate either racism or sexism within a mode of production that feeds on maximizing profit. But it would be hard to find progressives who would abstain from these struggles because they cannot be won until “after the revolution.” Quite the opposite: A social movement changes consciousness and the new awareness of oppression plants the seeds for fully overcoming it in a post-capitalist society.
Similarly with imperialism. One of the greatest consciousness-altering epochs in US history was opposition to the Vietnam War. Though a mass movement forced an end to that war, US imperialism was hardly abolished. Lenin explained in great detail how capitalism without imperialism would have been an impossibility theorem—imperialism had become the epoch of capitalism when finance capital reigned supreme. Indeed, Lenin railed against those socialists who saw imperialism as a bad policy of one group of parliamentarians. He thoroughly denounced Kautsky for suggesting that “imperialism is not modern capitalism. It is only one of the forms of policy of modern capitalism.” 
Imperialism is economic growth uncorked. Lenin saw that the merging of finance and industrial capital pushed the economic system beyond its national boundaries and forced it into other countries to increase the rate of accumulation:
“The more capitalism develops, the more the need for raw materials arises, the more bitter competition becomes, and the more feverishly the hunt for raw materials proceeds all over the world, the more desperate becomes the struggle for the acquisition of colonies. “
To state the obvious: Lenin did not use his understanding of the inherent link between capitalism and imperialism to conclude that it was pointless to oppose imperialism as long as capitalism existed. The ravages of wanton growth are leading an entire generation of environmental activists to see the intrinsically destructive nature of capitalism.
Imperialism and economic growth are both manifestations of the same phenomenon—the irresistible urge of capitalism to expand after basic needs have been met. Refusal to oppose growth makes no more sense than refusal to oppose imperialism. If “attainability” within capitalist society were a litmus test for supporting a movement, then virtually all progressive movements would be a waste of time.
4. Motion against growth is not an abstraction
European fur traders documented some of the first resistance to growth in North Americans. They were quite annoyed with Native Americans who would trap only the amount needed to purchase goods such as knives and cooking pots. Then they would stop trapping.
Fast forward several centuries. The brilliant movie Story of Stuff mirrors the massive awareness that life is not made better by throw-away junk and never-ending style changes.
Hostility is intense toward the extractive industries. At the core of accumulating capital is ripping trees off the land, minerals from beneath the surface, and water from everywhere. Recent decades have seen opposition grow as fast as growth itself, whether to save the last 5% of US redwoods or to protect indigenous lands in South America and Asia.
Realization that tar sands extraction may create the tipping point for climate change has led thousands into the streets opposing the Alberta pipelines. Many more thousands have marched, often fought and not infrequently died in battles in the global South to protect their land and communities from mining gold, silver, diamonds, and coltan, to mention a very few.
Industrial processes require water. Manufacture of a single car requires 350,000 liters. Water is now being pumped out of aquifers at 15 times the rate it soaks into them. Lakes are being drained and/or hopelessly contaminated. 
There is indeed a strong connection between imperialism and the growth economy. Imperialism and wasteful production are two sides of a corporate economy that is compelled to grow, regardless of what individual stockholders and politicians desire. Global domination is the way that corporations obtain materials to produce mountains of useless and destructive junk. Marching against endless wars to corner the market on raw materials means marching (consciously or unconsciously) against economic growth.
5. Making the connections
Foster very effectively demonstrates the fallacies of Latouche, who “tries to draw a distinction between the degrowth project and the socialist critique of capitalism.”  Degrowth theory is weakened every time one of its advocates seeks to show that shrinking the economy is compatible with a market economy. This was certainly true of Herman Daly, a major prophet of the theory of a steady-state economy. 
Does this liberalism of many supporters make the concept of shrinking the economy in any way unique? In fact, capitalism has massive experience corrupting liberation movements. Twisting idealistic desires to improve the environment into behavior that contributes to environmental destruction is no exception.
Anyone who has ever challenged an incinerator, landfill, toxic manufacture or extraction industry has confronted the danger of stagnating in the NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) mentality. Politicians are quick to suggest that victims can save themselves by backing efforts to dump the toxic threat on some other community with less power. The critical factor becomes consciousness-linking: explaining that the social and ecological destruction dictated by the economics of growth cannot be resolved by pushing the problem off to another location or to future generations.
The struggle for a shorter workday is an integral part of any effort to shrink production. But capitalism has long since figured out how to transform it into a tool for maintaining or even increasing production. Liberals often argue that being at the job for fewer hours can invigorate workers to produce the same amount in less time. Speeding up an assembly line or putting 20 students in a class instead of 15 both increase the rate of exploitation.
Even if bosses were to grant the same pay for fewer hours of work (such as “30 for 40”) they could cut social wages (free parks and roads, education, Social Security, Medicare). And/or they could increase the rate of inflation, diminishing what workers could buy with that pay. Most important, they could increase the rate of planned obsolescence, thereby decreasing the durability of goods and forcing more purchases. Corporate countermeasures illustrate that the same process (fewer hours of work) can have opposite effects, depending on whether it is part of a movement that accepts capitalism or is part of a revolutionary project to replace it.
That capitalism could only grant a reduction of production in the most negative way does not make this demand distinctive. It verifies the desire of capitalism to transform any movement into its opposite. The central issue is how to keep a worthwhile goal from being perverted by capitalism. This can be accomplished only if the movement expands its focus from a particular struggle into a universal struggle for human liberation.
There is nothing that strikes to the heart of capitalism more than confronting its primal urge to grow. A failure to identify the culprit as capitalist growth is the major limitation of liberal movements to halt climate change, protect biodiversity, guard communities from toxins and preserve natural resources. Rather than being dismissive toward ongoing struggles against growth, socialists should enthusiastically participate and point to their anti-capitalist essence.
It makes no sense to abstain from ongoing challenges to growth with a claim that anti-growth cannot begin tomorrow. Today’s anti-extraction (i.e., anti-growth) conflicts are the most intense they have ever been. If those who stand back from supporting them claim that they wish to build a new society, the society that they would create would be one whose economy grew and grew until it made human existence impossible.
Many who participated in the Occupy Wall Street movement were well aware that the problem is not just opportunities denied the 99% but the active destruction of the planet by the 1%. The great strength of socialists is their grasp of the unique power of labor to create a new society. A movement which merged the enthusiasm of Occupy, the workplace strength of labor, and the understanding that reducing production is essential for preserving human life would be a powerful movement indeed.
Don Fitz produces Green Time TV in conjunction with KNLC-TV in St. Louis and is active in the Greens/Green Party USA. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Comment: These posters remain a valid commentary on capitalism and its rapacity, exploitation and illusory promises. If you are not part of the capitalist class, it is a bargain with the devil who promises wealth down the road but instead delivers economic destruction and caprice with no way out. It is a system propped up by the psychology of the lottery: there are most certainly winners and one is asked to believe that you will be one of them in exchange for your labor and (most importantly), time. What is not revealed is that the “reward” if at all forthcoming, is outrageously minuscule compared to the time and effort expended. In short, freedom to work in capitalist hell.
About 20 millions of American people don’t have enough money to buy more than 1 liter of milk per month and 6 kg of meat per year.
They have plenty of goods for rich people only, and we are going to give goods to all the people.
Who has the national income?
Exploiters have the majority of it in capitalistic countries.
Working people – in USSR.
n the countries of capitalism – the violation of working people rights
In the countries of socialism – the right to work
In the countries of capitalism – the path of the talent…
In the countries of socialism – the path to the talent!
May 1 celebrations
Have a look, all the Soviet country is singing and dancing…
Our red spring is the most beautiful one!