Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Leo Tolstoy: author and anarchist

Leo Tolstoy is famous not only for his novels but for his moral and political beliefs which have inspired, and continue to inspire, both anarchists and pacifists.

He was born on 9th September, 1828 into a family of rural aristocrats at their estate at Yasnaya Polyana, near Tula in Russia. His mother, a princess, died when he was barely eighteen months old and his father, a count, died when he was nine. A distant relative, Tatyana Yergolskava, brought up Tolstoy, his sister Maria and his three brothers.

From 1844 to 1847 Tolstoy studied oriental languages and law at the university of Kazan but failed to take a degree. He returned to his estate, his health in decline because of dissipation, where he stayed until 1851 when he went to live with a brother in the Caucasus who persuaded him to join the army.

In 1852 Tolstoy's first story, Childhood, met with considerable success and was followed by Boyhood in 1854 and Youth in 1857. His account of the fighting at Sebastopol made him a national celebrity and on the orders of the Czar he was sent back from the front to St Petersburg where his literary fame enabled him to meet the most distinguished writers and poets of that period.

From 1857 to 1861 Tolstoy traveled abroad, visiting Germany, Italy, France, Switzerland and England. During his travels he met the anarchist Proudhon, the author Auerbach (known for his stories of peasant life) and the Russian revolutionary Alexander Herzen.

His return home in February 1861 saw the emancipation of the serfs and, encouraged by the reforms of the times, he attempted to carry out educational experiments on his estate which ended in failure after two years.

On this day in 1862 Tolstoy married Sophia Andreyevna Behrs and for nearly twenty years he lived a settled life on his estate, raising thirteen children and writing some of his best known novels such as War and Peace and Anna Karenina.

During the last two decades of the nineteenth century, until the end of his life, Tolstoy became preoccupied with moral and ethical questions and much of his later works such as My Confession (1879); The Gospel in Brief (1880); What I Believe (1884) What Shall We Do Then? (1885); On Life (1887); The Kingdom of God is Within You (1889); What is Religion? (1902) increasingly concentrated on putting across his idiosyncratic theological views.

His last long novel, Resurrection (1899), written on behalf of the religious sect, the Doukhobres, was instrumental in ending their persecution and gaining permission for them to emigrate to Canada, but its hostile and outspoken criticisms of Church and State led to his excommunication from the Russian Orthodox Church in 1901. But even during this period of his Iife when Tolstoy the propagandist had largely taken over from Tolstoy the novelist, he was still able to produce such masterpieces as The Death of Ivan Ilyitch (1886); The Power of Darkness (1886); Master and Man (1895); Father Sergius (1898); Nedji Murat (1904); The False Coupon (1905.

Finally, on 28th October 1910, in a dramatic flight from his home, Tolstoy went to the convent of Shamardino near Kaluga, where his sister Maria was a nun. He then traveled towards Novo-Cherkask but developed pneumonia and died at Ostapovo railway station on 7th November, 1910.

Toistoy's political and ethical views developed partly as a result of his experiences in the Crimean war, his later pacifism resulting from his participation in the siege of Sebastopol. But it was the witnessing of a public execution in Paris in 1857 that led to his opposition to organised state rule. Woodcock states:

"The cold, inhuman efficiency of the operation aroused in him a horror far greater than any scenes of war had done, and the guillotine became for him a frightful symbol of the state that used it. From that day he began to speak politically - or anti-politically - in the voice of an anarchist." (Woodcock, G. 'Anarchism' 1963, Penguin Books, Harmondsworth.)

Tolstoy was influenced by the French anarchist, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon and his ideal of the free peasant life; on a trip to Western Europe he made a detour to visit him in Brussels. They talked mainly about education, a subject which had interested Tolstoy from an assiduous reading of his childhood hero, Rousseau. He was also impressed by Proudhon's book 'La Guerre et la Paix' which was nearing completion, the title of which he was to borrow for his longest and best known novel.

The years of Tolstoy's youth coincided with the economic and political changes arising from the ending of serfdom and the development of capitalism in Russia, which threatened to change the way of life for the landed gentry who found themselves dependent on hired labour in competition with industry.

Besides the economic threat to the landed gentry Tolstoy saw encroaching industrialisation as a threat to the simple life, close to nature, which he loved and which is described in The Cossacks, written in 1852 but not published until ten years later:

"Oleninm had entered into the life of the Cossack village so fully that his past seemed quite foreign to him. As to the future, especially a future outside the world in which he was now living, it did not interest him at all. When he received letters from home, from re1atives and friends, he was offended by the evident distress with which they regarded him as a lost man, while he in his village considered those as did not live as he was living."

But even though the simple life is eulogised in 'The Cossacks', Tolstoy's natural exuberence breaks through the narrative:

"It's all nonsense what I have been thinking about - love and self-sacrifice and Lukaska. Happiness is the one thing. He who is happy is right", flashed through Olenin's mind, and with a strength unexpected to himself he seized and kissed. tbe beautiful Maryanka on her ternple and her cheek."

These two opposing tendencies were to plague Tolstoy for the greater part of his adult life. On he one hand was the sensualist; the lover of life; the dissipated youth who failed to obtain a degree at university; the father of thirteen children, with a strong sexual appetite. On other hand was the brooding moralist; the relentless critic of organised religion; the puritanical advocate of celibacy; the anarchist, castigating the rule of law, privilege and power.

Tolstoy put his own moral doubts into his characters in 'Anna Karenina' which was completed in 1877. The country-loving, goodhearted Levin, after a Titanic struggle to find meaning and purpose to life, eventually finds happiness and contentment with Kitty, whilst the lovers Anna Karenina and Vronsky are crushed by their adulterous relationship, which ends in despair and disaster with Anna's suicide.

In 'Anna Karenina' Tolstoy put political opinions into the mouths of his characters in addition to his moral views, in the character of Levin:

"You know that capitalism oppresses the workers. Our workmen the peasants bear the whole burden of labour, but are so placed that, work as they may, they cannot escape from their degrading condition. All the profits on their labour, by which they might better their condition, give themselves some leisure, and consequently gain some education, all this surplus value is taken away by the capitalists. And our society has so shaped itself that the more the people work the richer the merchants and landowners will become, while the people will remain beasts of burden for ever. And this system must be changed."

His views on education are also voiced by Levin:

"Schools are no remedy, but the remedy would be an economic organisation under which the people would be better off and have more leisure. Then schools would come."

But although 'Anna Karenina', 'The Cossacks' and also 'War and Peace' portray Toistoy's love of the countryside. a life' close to nature, his distrust of industrialisation and an occasional attack on capitalism they are not anarchist novels or propagandist novels in the same way that most of his later books were.

In 'What Shall We Do Then?' published in 1885, he attacked money:

"Money is the new form of slavery, distinguished from the old solely by its impersonality, by the lack of any human relation between the master and the slave.

..the essence of all slavery consists in drawing the benefit of another's labour force by compulsion, and it is founded upon property in the slave or upon property in money which is indispensable to the other man."

In his last long novel Tolstoy enlarged upon moral attacks under capitalism:

"People usually imagine a theief, a murderer, a spy, a prostitute, knowing their occupation to be evil, must be ashamed of it. But the very opposite is true. Men who have been placed by fate and their own sins in a certain position, however irregular that position may be, adopt a view of life as a whole which makes their position appear to them good and respectable. In order to back up their view of life they instinctively mix only with those who accept their ideas of life and their place in it. This surprises us when it is a case of thieves bragging of their skill, prostitutes flaunting their depravity or murderers boasting of their cruelty. But it surprises us only because their numbers are limited and - this is the point - we live in a different atmosphere. But can we not observe the same phenomenon when the rich boast of their wealth, i.e. of robbery; when commanders of armies pride themselves on their victories, i.e. on murder; and when those in high places vaunt their power - their brute force? We do not see that their ideas of life and of good and evil are corrupt and inspired by a necessity to justify their position, only because the circle of people with such corrupt ideas is a larger one and we belong to it ourselves."

In 'The Kingdom of God is Within You' Tolstoy's anarchist ideas and his opposition to organised religion is clearly stated:

"Christianity in its true significance abolishes the state, annililates all governments.

Revolutionary enemies fight the government from outside; Christianity does not fight at all, but wrecks its foundation from within."

He attacked power in the same book:

"All men find themselves in power assert that their power is necessary in order that the wicked may not do violence to the good, and regard it as self-evident that they are the good and are giving the rest of the good protection against the bad. But in reality those who grasp and hold the power cannot possibly do the better.

In order to obtain and retain power, one must love it. But the effort after power is not apt to be coupled with goodness, but with the opposite qualities, pride, craft and cruelty. Without exalting self and abasing others, without hypocrisy, lying, prisons, fortresses, penalties, killing, no power can arise or hold its own."

In response to the inequalities of wealth and the injustices of the capitalist system Tolstoy proposed that the remedy should be:

"If you are a landlord, to give your land at once to the poor, and, if you are a capitalist, to give your money and your factory to the working-man; if you are a prince, a cabinet minister, an official, a judge or a general, you ought at once to resign your position, and, if you are a soldier, you ought to refuse obedience without regard to any danger." ('The Kingdom of God is Within You')

Three years earlier, in 1890, Tolstoy had tried to put his principles into practice by renouncing his property, although he continued to live in comfort on his estate, the management of which passed to his wife. In the following year he gave up the posthumous rights on his books written after 1881.

To the end of his life Tolstoy continued to propagate his views regardless of his personal safety, for it must be remembered that the Czarist government frequently imprisoned political opponents without trial for periods of twenty years more. The reason why Tolstoy remained unscathed is unclear but it is possible that the police did not wish to make a martyr of a writer of such international fame. Whatever the reason, Tolstoy took advantage of the situation to attack the government at every opportunity.

In 'Christianity and Patriotism'(1894)he stated:

"Patriotism in its simplest, clearest, and most indubitable mneaning is nothing but an instrument for the attainment of the government's ambitious and mercenary, aims, and a renunciation of. human dignity. common sense. and conscience by!the governed, and a slavish submission to those who hold-power, That is what is really preached wherever patriotism is championed. Patriotism is slavery."

And in his 'Address to the Swedish Peace Congress' in 1909 when he was turned eighty, he was still able (despite the emotional turmoil of his domestic life) to write eloquently in support of his views:

"...the military profession and calling, not withstanding all the efforts to hide its real meaning, is as shameful a business as an executioner's and even more so. For the executioner only holds himself in readiness to kill those who have been adjudged harmful and criminal, while a soldier promises to kill all whom he is told to kill, even though they be dearest to him or the best of men."

Tolstoy's influence is difficult to sum up: he advocated giving up one's personal wealth to help the poor in spite of having realised that it is the exploitation of workers' labour power which is the cause of poverty; he was a pacifist, but in practising non-violence his supporters were slaughtered and imprisoned by the Bolsheviks in the years following the Russian revolution; he wrote of "Christian love" but had a chauvinistic attitude to women and advocated celibacy which would lead to the extinction of the human race instead of its advancement; his simple, rural existence may be to the taste of some people but it avoids the problems of capitalism instead of solving them.

The most enduring Tolstoyan community has been the Catholic Worker group which was established in the USA in the 1930s. And in Britain the Christian anarchists who held meetings at St. Paul's Church, Bow, in East London in 1967 all belonged to established churches. And though this may seem surprising in view of Tolstoy's hostility towards organised religion, his own rationalist religious beliefs were so individualistic that they have been accepted less readily than his other teachings.

Socialists wish to end capitalism, only it will not be done by individuals withdrawing from society, but by the mass of workers understanding, wanting, and working for socialism.

Socialists reject religious beliefs because they postpone the struggle to achieve a better life in the hope of finding rewards in a mythical after-life. Such practices stop workers from questioning their exploitation, hence their enthusiastic endorsement by the state.

The literary gifts of Tolstoy have assured him of a place in history. His work is rightfully admired by all who appreciate good literature, and will continue to do so for generations to come. But Tolstoy, the pamphleteer. is rapidly being forgotten and already many of his religious and political tracts are unobtainable.

Towards the end of his life Tolstoy said to Gorky:

"I write a lot and that's not right because I do it from senile vanity, from the desire to make everyone think as I do."

Perhaps that is why his pamphlets are being forgotten, because the imperious aristocrat in Tolstoy's personality dominated how he would have wished to be, and people do not like being bullied.

Nearly·eighty years after his death we can admire the moral courage of Tolstoy and his literary genius, and continue to do so long after Tolstoy the prophet has been forgotten.

(CARL PINEL, Socialist Standard, May 1987)

Democracy as a way of life

From the Socialist Standard, September 2004.

Unfortunately, democracy is one of those carelessly uttered words (like freedom, peace, love, justice etc.) that is constantly misused and prone to expedient adaptation. HL Mencken, for instance, mischievously declared: “Adultery is democracy applied to marriage.” Politically, however, its misuse is contemptuously cynical and rarely funny, so it is especially important for socialists to be as precise as possible when explaining it. For us it is the heartbeat of every activity and has been so ever since the party was founded in 1904.

Perhaps the best conventional definition is to be found in Chambers: “A form of government in which supreme power is vested in the people collectively, and is administered by them or officers appointed by them.” Replace the word government with society, or better still community – a word without what the Austrian philosopher, Martin Buber described as “the attendant structural poverty of society” – and, give or take a semantic quibble or two, it moves some way towards a basic definition that even socialists would find acceptable.

William Morris wrote very well about democracy and every place visited in his book about a future society (News From Nowhere) is veritably imbued with the democratic spirit. Points of view are exchanged in a charming, tough, frequently highly opinionated manner. Yet every discussion, as it should, displaying a deep and mutual regard for the right to differ. Here is a passage in which he explains the mechanism of democracy most beautifully:

“Said I ‘So you settle these differences, great and small, by the will of the majority, I suppose?’
‘Certainly,’ said he; ‘How else could we settle them? You see in matters which are merely personal which do not affect the welfare of the community – how a man shall dress, what he shall eat and drink, what he shall write and read, and so forth – there can be no difference of opinion, and everybody does as he pleases. But when the matter is of interest to the whole community, and the doing or not doing something affects everybody, the majority must have their way . . . in a society of men who are free and equal – the apparent majority is the real majority, and the others, as I have hinted before, know too well to obstruct from mere pigheadedness; especially as they have had plenty of opportunity of putting forward their side of the question.’”

Morris was well aware that democracy could not be left to mature on its own like a good wine but needs to breathe out of the bottle, kept fresh by continual practice. This is something we endeavour to do in the Socialist Party but we cannot honestly claim that it is easy to get everything right. Since we assert that a stateless society is a viable proposition and recognise democracy as essential to its function, we are obliged to pursue it now to better understand its complexities and the difficulties that can arise. Unquestionably, even in the most enlightened community, because it would depend upon the co-operation of free (and potentially awkward) individuals, minorities would sometimes experience dissatisfaction and frustration. Giving rise to what most anarchists darkly refer to as “the tyranny of the majority”. To deny the possibility, indeed, probably the likelihood of this problem, would be absurdly complacent and Socialists do not do so.

In a letter to Commonweal (the journal of the Socialist League) on 5 May 1889, Morris wryly observed: “. . . experience shows us that wherever a dozen thoughtful men shall meet together there will be twelve different opinions on any subject, which is not a dry matter of fact . . . and often on that too . . .”; an observation the accuracy of which may be swiftly confirmed whenever Socialists repair to the pub.

Anarchists, of course, might contend that in democracy the majority actually constitutes authority and Morris concedes that, for all it is worth, it might be so defined. But when free, uncoerced human beings voluntarily enter into a process where inclusive, open and (if necessary) prolonged debate concludes with a majority decision – to describe it as authoritative is the logic of the absurd. To call it tyranny, a word redolent with connotations of oppression and cruelty, makes a mockery of language. Later, in the same letter, a dagger thrust is delivered: “For if freedom means the assertion of the advisability or possibility of an individual man doing what he pleases in all circumstances, this is an absolute negation of society . . .”

Morris readily acknowledges that a number of anarchists might well add a qualification: that in pursuing their own freedom they would feel obliged to consider the effect of their actions upon the freedom of others. Such an acknowledgement clearly recognises that it is not sufficient to regard democracy as a purely administrative, decision making, regulatory mechanism. Crucially, its very essence of principled and graceful conciliation needs to pervade the everyday interaction between members of any community aspiring to live co-operatively. One day, perhaps, it may no longer be considered necessary to use any. One day, perhaps, it may no longer be considered important to use any particular word to describe such eminently reasonable behaviour.

In another splendidly succinct passage in News From Nowhere, Morris explains that leaders have no role in a democratic society: “. . . a man no more needs an elaborate system of government, with its army, navy and police, to force him to give way to the will of his equals, that he wants a similar machinery to make him understand that his head and a stone wall cannot occupy the same space at the same moment.” Sadly, the idea that homo sapiens might co-exist harmoniously, without any kind of government or leaders – not to be confused with the essential administration of things – is dismissed by most people as impossible.

When Socialists speak of a community based upon co-operation, of free access, of democratic administration but the absence of government; a society where the fundamental needs of every human being could be met; often the listener will nod sagely and sigh: “Yes, that would be very nice but it’s impossible – it’s against human nature.” Yet such an exchange though seemingly fruitless is frequently redeemed when, oddly enough, the sage immediately excludes himself from this gloomy conclusion, protesting: “It’s not me, it’s the other people who would fail.”

A famous piece of graffiti states “Democracy is too good to share with just anybody.” It makes us smile but makes a sinister assumption which is all to prevalent – an elitist assumption – that most human beings are congenitally incapable of becoming free enough to co-exist without coercion. That only a select few will ever be able to develop their potential to the required level. This pernicious notion has been carefully nurtured by all those who control the system, whatever name they choose to call themselves. For capitalist ‘democracy’ depends on containing that potential.

In order to do so they rigorously maintain a callous, exploitative and hierarchical system based on domination and privilege. By means of increasing propaganda and economic control, the self-belief of most of the population is seriously undermined. Reluctant to assert themselves, the subservient majority seek security through conformity, mistakenly assuming that they lack the power to change things. An unhealthy situation largely accepted not only as ‘normal’ but also immutable and inducing a condition of political acquiescence; for which the ruling powers are extremely grateful.

Since the only possible basis for creating an enduring, truly democratic, community is through the conscious choice of strong, independent, politically aware individuals, it might seem to be, at best, a distant prospect; but it need not be. Thankfully, though, the shared capacity of human beings to develop their conscious potential may become dormant but it can never be eradicated. Our present predicament was perfectly expressed by Thoreau, who wrote: “millions are awake . . . but only one in a million is awake enough . . . We must learn to reawaken and keep ourselves awake . . . by an infinite expectation of the dawn, which does not forsake us even in our soundest sleep.”

Like all Socialists Morris was confident that this reawakening was within our grasp, once the last great illusion of our powerlessness had been overcome. In his lecture The Society of the Future, he said: “Therefore my ideal of the society of the future is first of all freedom . . ., the shaking off the slavish dependence, not on other men, but on artificial systems . . .” And later: “First you must be free, and next you must learn to take pleasure in all details of life; which, indeed, will be necessary for you, because, since others will be free you will have to do your own work.”

One of the most pernicious untruths ever perpetrated is that there is some kind of unbridgeable chasm between independence and co-operation. Socialists are right to emphasise the significant determining factors of our social and political environment but also to reject the discredited notion of absolute determinism. Democracy, far from being an impossible concept, is something – unconsciously – we frequently exercise. In the relationship we have with our families, friends and colleagues; in the common courtesies we regularly show to one another; in the underlying decency of the behaviour of most human beings. A concept far more practical and sensible than the lunatic world of market manipulation and state control that presently masquerades as reality.

Socialism and democracy are complementary; more than complementary – indivisible. In the sense that a democratic society can only result from free, conscious choice, it is a by-product of freedom. But in both a social and a political context freedom can only exist as a by-product of democracy. Whichever way round it is will not matter, when it is thriving in that community yet to be established, where though it still rains, we still quarrel and new problems confront us every day – we have learned to accept that, just occasionally, we may be wrong but rejoice in the fact that tomorrow we retain the incontrovertible right to be wrong again.


Sunday, September 13, 2009

Oil or democracy, what do you think?

Our rulers tell us they are fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan for democracy. Not true.

I n June 2009 in Afghanistan a group of heavily armed (with US weaponry) and masked Afghan thugs forced their way into the office of a Provincial Prosecutor and demanded that a detained prisoner be handed over to them. The Prosecutor refused and as the thugs became more threatening he called for the police. When the Provincial Police Chief along with the head of CID and other police arrived there was an escalation in the confrontation that culminated in the deaths of the chief of police, the head of CID and a number of others. The assailants fled the building and “vanished”.

Investigations led the police to a US Special Forces camp outside the town where US officers initially denied any knowledge of the incident or the perpetrators. Following several days of intense and very public pressure from the US installed puppet president, and former vice-president of Unocal (Union Oil Company), Hamid Kharzai, some 40 so-called “contractors” were eventually handed over to Afghani custody. (Kharzai, accused by the US of failing to run a tight enough ship, is not currently “flavour of the month”). The US Army and Special Forces washed their hands and denied any responsibility for these “civilians”.

Were these rogue elements outside of US control? History as well as current practice in Iraq make this unlikely. The US (and UK to a lesser extent) has a real penchant for creating, training and fully equipping foreign “special units”. From Nicaragua, where they called them “Contras”, to Colombia and most other Central and South American countries whose military officers were trained at the School of the Americas in Fort Benning, Georgia and who then went on to direct regular or irregular units that waged war against the supposed enemies of freedom and democracy; in Iraq they are called the Iraqi Special Operations Forces. In every case local people call them Death Squads.

As the occupation of Afghanistan drags on and the body count climbs inexorably the pressure on President Obama to stick with his oft stated plans of increased reliance on Special Forces, and to get results, will mount; the recent appointment of General Stanley McChrystal as commander in Afghanistan is a clear signpost in this direction. McChrystal was head of Joint Special Operations Command 2003-2008, he was also commander of US Special Operations Forces in Iraq for 5 years.

So, with Obama offering “Change we can believe in”, how does the future bode for Afghanis as the US and NATO bring peace, stability and good governance to their poor, benighted country? The occupation of Iraq offers a likely blueprint:

As Baghdad fell in early 2003 US Green Berets began a project at a facility in Jordan. There they trained young Iraqis with no prior military experience and moulded them into a Special Forces soldier's wet dream; a covert, deadly, elite brigade, fully kitted out with state of the art equipment, a brigade that could operate indefinitely under US command and unaccountable to any Iraqi ministry.

The head of the ISOF project is US General Trombitas, a 30-year veteran of Special Forces training teams in Colombia, El Salvador and Guatemala. Trombitas claims to be “very proud of what was done in El Salvador” where special forces/death squads trained by him and others killed more than 50,000 civilians. In Guatemala some US trained special forces took part in the killing of around 140,000 people. In Colombia special forces/death squads now form the backbone of the country's para-military police.

The ISOF, or the “Dirty Brigade” as they refer to themselves is, in reality, a covert all-Iraqi brigade of 9 battalions that is an integral part of the US military with US personnel embedded at every level of the command structure. It weeds out “unsympathetic” or “suspect” elements from wherever its own fully integrated intelligence units fingers them and that includes the Iraqi military, police, civil service and governing and opposition political parties. No one in Iraq is off-limits to them:

“All these guys want to do is go out and kill bad guys all day. These guys are shit-hot. They are just as good as we are. We trained 'em. They are just like us. They use the same weapons. They walk like Americans.” - Lt. Col. Roger Carstens, at the time a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, quoted by Shane Bauer, “Iraq’s New Death Squad”, The Nation, 3 June).

ISOF operations usually take place without any coordination with local security forces whose members are considered suspect. When police or army units show up in response to gunfire they are often targeted. Local commanders admit to turning away because if they intervene, report abuses or serious crimes by ISOF personnel they and their families are targeted. This US-created monster operates above and beyond any law. At present it answers to its master in the same way that the Taliban once answered to the ISS in Pakistan, Hamas was once supported by Israel and the Afghan war-lords once danced to the tune of the US dollar. How long beyond the supposed draw down of US forces will it be before the Iraqis at the head of this modern day SS assert their ruthless power and assassinate all in their path to seizing total control?

Iraq has something the US wants – oil and long-term strategic bases; what about Afghanistan? A suppressed and cooperative Afghanistan is strategically vital to the US goal of bypassing Russia by piping gas and oil from the Caspian region through Pakistan to the sea. Originally they were very happy to do business with the Taliban government, it was considered stable and pragmatic; then came 9-11 and even the grasping, venal oil barons baulked at the probable public back-lash from doing business with those who were “with the terrorists”.

So, today – Iraq; tomorrow – Afghanistan; and the day after tomorrow? If I were a Pakistani I'd be afraid, I'd be very afraid.

Policy has changed little, the means of achieving policy goals has changed little but it has become much more sophisticated.

Corporate state politician

Obama has delivered speeches around the world extolling the virtues of his new US policy of respect and tolerance for others – former enemies stand and cheer his every word. The contrast between words and deeds is plain to see for those who will take the trouble to look beyond the rhetoric. “Fine words butter no parsnips!” As the front-man of Corporate America, and in recognition of how thinly stretched its forces are, Obama is presently speaking of friendship, trust, respect, tolerance and cooperation whilst at the same time clearly wielding the big stick of consequences should anyone fail to recognise or respect the US's manifest Divine Destiny. US foreign policy is not about furthering US interests to benefit its citizens it is about furthering US corporate interests to benefit its elite – very different from its publicly stated objective. To say that Obama came to “power” in the US is a misnomer, power is bedded within the “Corporate State” yet his electoral propaganda of “Change we can believe in”, his apparent charm and chalk and cheese difference from Bush has millions around the world believing that the universe is a better place for his being elected – it is no different.

Despite the world economic crisis capitalism is not weakened, it can still fund its institutions and fulfil the fantasies of the elite, it can still fund its imperialist wars and it can still fund its formidable forces. We moan that we are not being paid enough to forge the chains and then cooperate in putting the shackles on our own ankles by voting for the myth that is the latest slick marketing ploy coming from the mouth of the newest political product of Corporate State Inc (or Plc). There has been no change!

Obama wrote a best-selling book called Audacity of Hope. I, for one, dare to hope but my hope lies not in some charismatic, middle-of-the-road corporate state politician. My hope lies in the set of principles that defines socialism and guides my vision of a future world. My hope lies in my belief in basic human decency and our shared humanity. We are the ancestors of those unborn – believing in false dreams will not bring about change for them. Shuffling paper or our feet will not further our objectives. Doing nothing or having a “they got us into this mess, they can get us out” attitude is, quite simply, not an option. Change will come when enough people decide that enough is enough. When enough people have done enough of the right things.

We need the world to be free of hunger, discrimination and fear. We need it to be free of thugs and mercenaries acting in the name of unrepresentative regimes. Should we wait for socialism or should we each do what we can as individuals? I know what my gut tells me. But until enough of “us” do enough of the one thing of which each of us is capable – sharing our vision and what we believe in; until we make a lot more socialists - any difference will be transitory. To bring real and lasting change for the benefit of all, the world needs socialism. Is that too audacious to hope for?


Sources: Shane Bauer “Iraq’s New Death Squad”, The Nation, 3 June (. Dahr Jamail, “The Dirty War”, Mideast Dispatches, 9 July (