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Home / Culture and Society / The Wretched of the Earth: Hidden Dimensions in Fanon’s Thought – Part 1, Economic Development
The jury is still out as to whether the South American experiment with decolonization is real revolutionary change or just another version of capitalism dressed up in socialist garb.

The Wretched of the Earth: Hidden Dimensions in Fanon’s Thought – Part 1, Economic Development

Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth (1963) remains a timely if not a prophetic work. Rather than focusing, however, on the well-renowned aspects of Fanon’s writing, his phenomenal command of detail, for one, or the depth of his analysis in the raw – aspects, in short, in which he clearly excelled – I’d like to draw the reader’s attention instead to what could be a lesser-known side of Fanon: as an abstract thinker in disguise.chavez

In this connection, I’d like to draw upon a couple of subthemes, both from the third chapter of The Wretched, “The Pitfalls of National Consciousness.” Let me state at the outset that neither theme is clearly articulated in any direct or immediate way; each is more or less embedded in the text, like an undercurrent. In the interest of space, I’ll concern myself here with Fanon’s views on economic development. The second undercurrent, concerning the unresolved tension between the universal and the particular, and more specifically, between the universal and the particular aspects of the human condition, will be taken up in the sequel.

The first subtheme, or leitmotif, emerges in the course of Fanon’s devastating critique of the postcolonial regimes; in particular, his critique of the bourgeois class which, even to this day, constitutes a formidable part of those regimes. In a nutshell, the critique runs as follows:

The bourgeoisie – and Fanon’s use of the term throughout his presentation is inclusive of the intelligentsia – have grown too accustomed to a life of privilege while serving the colonial powers in whatever administrative capacity, too addicted to that lifestyle to ever give it up and become instead a vanguard, the champion of the oppressed, this time while presiding over the critical transition period from the colonial to postcolonial home rule. Indeed, insofar as the indigenous people are concerned, the bulk of the populace which, as a matter of fact, has been exploited by and which has suffered under the colonial rule the most, their lot hadn’t changed all that much, if at all. Indeed, insofar as they are concerned, the old slogan, “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss!” could have been written in stone.

What of the subtext, however? Well, it’s pretty much a given in the form of Fanon’s more or less explicit assumption that it’s the bourgeois class, and no other, that, by virtue of its experience, education, whatever, is the most qualified to effect the necessary transition, end of story. His lament is that it failed to measure up to its inherent potential, that it sold out for the sake of personal gain; but his lament doesn’t alter his original conviction that for all intents and purposes, only the bourgeoisie can lead the emergent postcolonial nation-states to a life of political and economic independence.

How does this subtext play out on the stage of the 21st century geopolitical theater? Well, there is this nagging policy question concerning the diverse strategies which are available to non-Western, postcolonial nation-states as they go about trying to level the playing field in both the political and economic arenas. The nation-states which have spearheaded the so-called Bolivarian Revolution are a case in point. Consider.

There is no question that Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador are the most vociferous opponents of Western political and economic interests in South America. Inspired by the charismatic leadership of Venezuela’s late Hugo Chávez, the adjacent sister states have promptly followed suit with the likes of Evo Morales and Rafael Correa, each a strong populist leader in his own right. Moreover, the three states appear to have forged a coalition of sorts, not only in order to advance their own populist agenda but, just as importantly, to stave off, to the extent possible, Western interests in the region, U.S. interests in particular. That’s the essence of the Bolivarian Revolution in the making on both the domestic and international fronts; and with a little bit of luck, the chances are it may spread throughout the continent like wildfire.

What do we see, however, as we examine the manner in which these admittedly progressive, forward-looking states have gone about securing their economic independence? Not much new and different, I’m afraid! It would seem as though they’re all hell-bent on following the same old tired formula which, granted, had proven so successful in establishing Western political and economic hegemony worldwide, with the Industrial Revolution as the starting point. And you can’t really fault them for that. Still, considering that we’re talking about the most outspoken critics of capitalism, the main impetus, besides, behind colonization (and don’t forget now, mercantilism was a precursor of capitalism!), one would hope for something better or different, in any case something in a new key.

Fanon himself was rather ambivalent, if not conflicted, on the subject. In spite of his highfalutin rhetoric at the end of the last chapter of The Wretched – “For Europe, for ourselves, and for humanity, comrades, we must turn a new leaf, we must work out new concepts, and try to set afoot a new man” was his call to arms! – he was a conservative when it came to economic development. That’s one of the criticisms, in fact, that he launches against the postcolonial bourgeoisie: not being imaginative enough to carve out their respective countries’ futures in not following in the footsteps of their Western predecessors as the would-be captains of industry. They were too content to rest on their laurels, too complacent, venturing nothing and gaining nothing; personal enrichment, rather than risk and innovation, is all they were about. And the end result, naturally, was economic stagnation; in short, the perpetuation of the very same dependencies which had marked the colonial era, for that was the only way in which the postcolonial bourgeoisie had imagined themselves, serving as an intermediary between the colonial powers and the colonized. Hence, in spite of their de jure political independence, the postcolonial nations-states, in not charting their own economic futures, have remained Western economic colonies de facto.

There are two aspects to Fanon’s assumption on the subject of postcolonial economic development, and we had better distinguish between them. The first concerns the role of native bourgeoisie in the overall scheme of things; the second, the very nature as well as the course of economic development as such. In the first instance, we’ve seen that Fanon was rather partial when it came to the bourgeois class, imagining it, in spite of it having proven to be an abject failure in this instance or in that, as the end-all-and-be-all or, at any rate, as an indispensable catalyst to attaining any kind of economic progress or independence. I don’t think it would be an exaggeration to say that in Fanon’s view, the postcolonial nation-states had stood no chance of coming into their own unless the bourgeoisie was in the lead.

No question that Fanon was (unduly) influenced here by his own impeccable credentials and membership in that elite class. He was an intellectual first and foremost; consequently, it stands to reason that he’d espouse the virtues of the intellectual at all costs. Be that as it may, this remains the weak link in his chain of reasoning, especially since the recent history of a number of South American nation-states has proven him wrong. It’s arguable, in fact, that the very successes of the Bolivarian Revolution on the economic front have not come about as a result of native bourgeoisie involvement or prompting but in spite of it! – in spite, that is, of their best efforts to sabotage the process, to sabotage the laudable objective of attaining economic and political independence. The natives, and this certainly includes the indigenous folk of the region (aside from the natural-born leaders), have certainly proven to be quick learners, quite adept at picking up the slack Fanon had reserved for the bourgeoisie alone. If the conditions are right, they’ll always rise to the task, you can bet on it. Native ability, if the conditions are right, will always triumph.

Which brings us to the somewhat problematic aspect of Fanon’s two-pronged assumption, his ideas about economic development per se. We’ve seen that in spite of his protestations about turning a new leaf, setting afoot a new man, and so on, Fanon was thoroughly committed to the traditional, Western conception of economic development: What had worked so admirably for the West since the advent of the Industrial Revolution and on, surely must work, he figured, for the postcolonial nation-states as well, given that they’re no longer under the yoke of colonial rule and are therefore free to pursue their own economic independence and destiny. Naturally, there’d be a great deal of catching up to do, having been under the colonial thumb for some 400 years, a kind of process no different, really, from that of growing up, if you know what I mean. One thinks here of a child coming of age, of it struggling its way through puberty at first, then through adolescence, eventually to culminate in a full-blown adulthood, there being nothing mysterious about it, only a matter of ordinary honest-to-goodness human development, of maturation. We all do it as a matter of course, and with reasonable facility, one might add, without giving it a second thought, because it comes naturally.

Well, Fanon & company appear to have found a perfect substitute for the genetic script in the realm of the economic and the social: The postcolonial nation-states are no different, in effect, than children, wayward children or orphans, to be exact. So there’s no question that we’re dealing here with a “problem child,” a child that is in need of constant supervision, reassurance, and guidance. Even so, it is being assumed that barring any major DNA defects, the genetic code will eventually kick in and the child will be on her way.

Putting aside for now all questions concerning the validity of Fanon’s operative model, what I find perplexing about this aspect of his presentation, perplexing if only from a theoretical standpoint, is that the most vociferous critics of capitalism, Fanon included, apparently can do no better than to invoke the same old stale capitalist formula for economic development for the very nation-states that capitalism, under its many guises, had helped subjugate. Again, from the strictly purist, theoretical standpoint, alas, even an aesthetic one, one should hope for at least some articulation of an alternative theory of economic development, alternative, that is, to that which is being employed by the capitalists themselves. Well, it looks as though we’re in for a long wait, although in all fairness, the rock-bottom question is this: Can we arise like a phoenix and build upon the ashes or must we, if we’re keen on inventing a new future, resign ourselves to be working with old forms, however corrupt?

Be that as it may, there are also practical considerations which are pressing, pressing enough to trump anything else. Perhaps the exigencies of the moment, the dire need of catching up and leveling the playing field lest the emergent postcolonial nation-states be overrun both politically and economically and kept in subjugation, call for drastic measures, drastic enough to employ the very same rules of engagement that are so shamelessly employed by the enemy. Perhaps there’s no way to defeat the enemy other than by beating it at it its own game. Perhaps the very concept of “economic development” is a loaded one to begin with, making use of the capitalist notion of economic development as the end-all-and-be-all, which rigs the game, so to speak. Perhaps the very notion is way overrated, promising more than it can deliver. Perhaps it ought to be scrapped and done away with if we’re ever to see our way beyond this vicious circle.

However we may be inclined to respond to any of these questions, the fact remains that the postcolonial nation-states, indeed, even the most progressive of the postcolonial nation-states, have pursued this and no other course of action. And yes, I’m talking here even of Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia, the very nucleus of the much-heralded Bolivarian Revolution. Well, if the Bolivarian Revolution is supposed to stand for something, for anything, for a radical break with the past, and in particular, with the capitalist past and the capitalist ways of doing things, we’re yet to see in what respects ‘tis so. Thus far, it looks as though we’re witnessing but another experiment with socialism. Granted, it is being billed all ‘round as 21st century socialism, a kind of socialism, we’re led to believe, that is supposed to depart, and drastically so, from the 20th century Soviet model. And yet, one wonders in what respect the Soviets were in so different a predicament from the one which faces the progressive South American nation-states as they go about trying to carve out their political and economic futures. Both are and were engaged in a bitter dogfight with the West; both are and were fighting for their survival; both are and were on the brink of extinction.

But perhaps 21st century socialism carries a greater promise than its 20th century counterpart. For one thing, the logistics have changed. Today, no one any longer entertains any illusion about the West: It’s common knowledge by now that the West is corrupt to the core, that it’s only about endless conquest and acquisition, that its insatiable rapacity, its hubris, knows no limits. Consequently, the West no longer commands the kind of affinity and allegiance as when it confronted the budding Soviet Empire some hundred years ago or so, the idea being to bring it to its knees. The number of its die-hard supporters is dwindling, and rapidly. It is becoming, in fact, less and less fashionable to be siding with the West on ideological grounds, more and more in vogue to oppose it.

What’s the significance of this? Well, the end result could well be that the Venezuela-led coalition may yet garner considerable support from the international community, far greater, in any event, than that experienced by the then-solitary Soviets. It may yet emerge as a formidable opponent to the overreaching and overextended Empire, an equal or nearly-equal player in the region. In that sense, the Bolivarian Revolution may yet prove to be a success, but what of it? We’re still at the same old game of one power-center opposing another power-center, a capitalist bloc versus a socialist one. So unless Chávez-inspired 21st-century socialism will prove to be a bird of another feather, whereby the state will somehow transform itself and its citizens so as to inaugurate a brand-new set of social relations when it comes to production and distribution, relations that would be based on the spirit of mutual aid and willful cooperation, I’m afraid that history, along with its sordid lesson, is about to repeat itself.

Don’t get me wrong!  I should think that almost anything would be preferable to a colonized mindset, even if it be supplanted by the orthodox socialist mindset. Having said that, however, the jury is still out as to whether the South American experiment with decolonization is the real McCoy when it comes to procuring a true revolutionary change or whether it’s just another version of capitalism dressed up in socialist garb.

I suppose the future will tell.

About Roger Nowosielski

I'm a free lance writer. Areas of expertise: philosophy, sociology, liberal arts, and literature. An academic at a fringe, you might say, and I like it that way.

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  1. roger nowosielski

    A number of entries before I open the topic for general discussion.

    First off, I’d like to thank the editor, Jon Sobel, for a great editing job and the invaluable advice about streamlining the original submission to the present format: the realized advantage, due to sharper focus, speaks for itself.

    Secondly, I must state that prior to my submitting this article for publication, I sought a comment or two from two well-proven conspirators, partners-in-crime, if you like: Mark Eden (aka “troll’) and Marthe Raymond (aka “Moonraven.”) In the first instance, the idea was to get a feel about the overall tenor of the piece, whether or not he agrees with me as to the general direction I’m going; in the second, to make certain I wouldn’t be guilty of any gross inaccuracies or misrepresentations, having committed myself to comment as boldly as I have about the current events in South America.

    Marthe is a livelong student of South American affairs; she has her boots on the ground; she’s fluent besides in Spanish, her native language, if memory serves. I am none of those things, just a “gringo” trying to make sense of the world I know next to nothing about. It stands to reason that I would defer to Marthe’s expert knowledge of the situation, her experience, her native intuition and feel. It was the right thing to do. As to Mr. Eden, I believe we share the same philosophical temperament, though we don’t always agree.

    In any event, it behooves me to post their pre-publication comments before we proceed.

  2. roger nowosielski

    First, a comment from “troll,” dated March 18:

    “I agree with the broad strokes of Roger’s analysis of the ‘Bolivarian situation’. My orientation is anti-capitalist – while I appreciate the ongoing redistribution of ill-gained booty derived from the unsustainable exploitation of the earth and its creatures (a truly suicidal ‘sickness unto death’ and essential feature of capitalism) and its associated reshuffling of political power, it remains just that. Where, thus far, is the Revolution challenging global capital’s institutions and relations of production with a new paradigm?

    “By extension, from this perspective Fanon’s work is a masterpiece of apology and misdirection.”

  3. roger nowosielski

    A couple of responses. First, how else could I do it other than “with broad strokes”? The approach leave something to be desired. On the other hand, there’s something to be said for “broad strokes,” as it will become evident in my eventual response to Ms Raymond’s criticism, both forthcoming.

    And second, the phrase, “an abstract thinker in disguise” (see the first paragraph of the article), is a takeoff from troll’s astute comment about Fanon’s work as “a masterpiece of apology and misdirection.” Although I hasten to add, I don’t believe it was so by design.

  4. roger nowosielski

    Now, the next four posts are from Ms Raymond, all dated March 18. I’ll respond to some of Marthe’s well-taken criticism in due time.

    “Roger, the first part of your piece, where you stick to responding to Fanon’s chapter, is fine. Well, I say that with some reservation, as I am unable to locate my copy of The

    The second part, where you talk about the Bolivarian Revolution, is mined with problems, as it shows a lack of information and experience in regard to Latin America.

    First off, populism is a very loaded term here–and it is not a positive one. Populism here does not imply redistribution of wealth, nor a focus on social justice–both of which are components of the Bolivarian process as a means of shedding colonialism.
    It is a negative epithet used to label regimes or political parties which use
    corporativism (closest term used in this region is crony capitalism) as a means
    of gaining or retaining political control. And it calls up the negative aspects of Peronism. It is not confined to the political left, either. The use of monies designated for social programs supposedly to eliminate poverty and hunger here in Mexico but actually used to buy votes to maintain the government in power has increased greatly since 2000 with three right wing governments in succession and is what we call, perjoratively and euphemistically, populist strategy. It is for this reason that the
    presidents of Bolivia, Venezuela and Ecuador reject being characterized
    as populist. Your use of the term to characterize them derails your thesis.

    It would be more productive to contrast those three countries’ political and social strategies designed to extricate their societies from colonialism through the FORMAL alliance of ALBA as well as their leadership and influence in UNASUR and CELAC, all 3 integrative units having been spearheaded by Chávez, to the strategies of Chile, Mexico and Colombia in the ATP, Alliance of the Pacific, which are to maintain colonialism through neoliberalism via so-called free trade agreements which allow free access and control of those countries’ resources to multinational companies and which have traditionally constituted franchises of US power in the region.”

  5. roger nowosielski

    Part II:

    “I am going to send my response in pieces as I am having the usual problems with internet service.

    The Discreet and Not-So-Discreet Harm from the Bourgeoisie in Latin America would be a very useful book to write, Roger.

    And that means it is a very big chunk to chew on while masticating the fine points of the elusive concept of Twenty First Century Socialism.

    In fact it is the biggest chunk, the biggest obstacle to liberating peoples from colonialism.

    The bougeoisie in Chile was the group the CIA cultivated against Allende in bringing about the military coup led by the Navy (the Airforce, led by Pinochet was a johnny-come-lately just before the coup in 1973 promoted by Nixon-Kissinger). It is the sector or residence of Pinochetism today, and it is still very powerful since it controls the media, among other industries.

    The bourgeoisie in Argentina that maintained the last military dictatorship and promoted the privatizations under Menem also still has a lot of power. The Clarin conglomerate was finally forced by the supreme court to submit a scheme for breaking up its media monopoly and leads a constant battle of attrition against the center left government in which have figured various recent strikes and civil disturbances.

    The bourgeoisie in eastern Bolivia, aided and abetted by the US embassy, the
    DEA and USAID promoted a coup against Evo in 2008. The coup did not
    materialize and Morales expelled the ambassador, the DEA and more recently
    USAID for comspiring to overthrow the government.

    The bourgeoisie in Ecuador have been constant in their attacks against Correa and in fact he sued the big media owners for defamation and won. They connived with the CIA and the US military attaches as well as deposed president Gutierrez (I was in Quito when his government fell in 2005), an ex-army officer, in 2010 to attempt a coup and assassinate Correa.

    The bourgeoisie have been particularly rabid since Chávez took power in Venezuela
    in 1999. They led the US-backed 47 hour 2002 coup, as well as the PDVSA
    lockout in Dec 2002 and Jan 2003, the Recall Referendum against Chávez in 2004,
    the bogus student protests when RCTV’s license was not renewed in 2007 (I was
    there and provided on the ground coverage to various US journalists and when
    talking to university students discovered that many were paid money to protest,
    others were given high grades to skip classes and protest, while chavista students were given failing grades for demanding classes be given). The folks leading the current civil disturbances are from the wealthiest families, and the guarimbas in metropolitan Caracas have all been confined to the neighborhoods in the east where the wealthy and middle-class live. Given that those folks have been calling openly for a US military invasion since 2000 it is not hard to see why the task of any government to facilitate the release of its people from the grip of colonialism is a very
    difficult one indeed.

    The bourgeoisie in Latin America, with the exception of a few intellectuals, rejects any idea of joint efforts with mixed race or indigenous folks, claims to be white (I am a lot whiter in terms of blood quantum than the majority of those criollos), sees Miami as the promised land and the US as the provider of potentially large slices of the economic pie produced by the institutionalized looting of natural resources by transnational companies.

    Mexico’s government recently denationalized all natural resources at the request of the US and the Mexican bourgeoisie, the latter expecting juicy commissions for acting
    as intermediaries to secure looting contracts and for serving as figureheads in
    companies designed for capital flight and money laundering.

    Is the future for de-colonialization a hopeless one? Unless the economic model is changed, the answer is a loud YES, as the one real truth that has become patently obvious to way more than the majority of folks on the planet is that CAPITALISM and DEMOCRACY ARE INCOMPATIBLE.

    Hence the current rabid rise of fascism.”

  6. roger nowosielski

    Part III:

    “In short, Roger, comparing or contrasting 21st century socialism or whatever you want to call the Bolivarian process to the USSR is not on point. The USSR was never focused on liberation from colonialism.

    If anything, it promoted its own form as part of its defense in depth strategy for the Cold War.

    But it is critically necessary to compare apples with apples–in this case Latin American countries in alliances and the goals of those alliances.

    I think you have bit off way more than you can chew here, but I appreciate your efforts at doing so.”

  7. roger nowosielski

    Part IV:

    “The problem of the bourgeoisie in Latin America boils down to this: they are descended from the ragtag conquering hordes and from the folks sent as viceroys and other officials after the conquest and from folks who saw the region as a chance to make big money running mining operations for the Crown or serving as looters or intermediaries. They are a mixed bag racially, but all claim to be white.

    The case of South America, with visionaries such as Bolívar and San Martín, was in some ways different in the wars of independence than that of Mexico, whose insurgents were a mix of the bougeoisie and the corrupt clergy.

    They bougeoisie in Latin America, just like those in the british colonies which later became the US, wanted independence from the Crown in order to stop paying taxes and to be able to make more money for themselves. They wanted to run the show, not be subservient to weak monarchs in Europe.

    They succeeded in taking over and they have had the same goals ever since: increase personal wealth by every means available and keep the poorer classes and the not-so-white appearing folks under their heel by every means necessary.

    So, by definition, they are not going to change their stripes and become liberators. Bolívar was considered a traitor to his class, and many attempts were made against his life by the bourgeoisie who wanted to control the entire pie of economic and political power for themselves. He died from tuberculosis in Santa Marta, Colombia,
    at 47 years old, broke. He was buried in a borrowed shirt. The bourgeoisie of Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia still hate his guts–a very big reason why they hated Chávez for his admiration for Bolívar–along with Chávez’ obvious mixed-race ancestry and his contention that Bolívar was also of mixed race which were the last straw for the wealthy wannabe whites and they screamed Maten al mono! Which means Kill the monkey.

    It is simply nonsensical to believe that folks out to take and defend economic and political power for their own class are going to liberate the wretched of the earth.

    As part of a rigorous analysis of this issue, I would find very interesting an analysis of just how much Fanon’s thinking not only criticized colonialism but exemplified it….”

  8. roger nowosielski

    I believe that Ms Raymond had certainly provided us with enough hard, down-to-earth facts and incisive analysis to get the discussion going. Let the games begin!

  9. Dr Joseph S Maresca

    The emphasis on lending to small third world entrepreneurs was championed by Dr.Muhammad Yunus. This method of helping the poor has had much greater impact , as well as, an actual payback of the loans. This is in contrast to lending huge sums of money to potentates at the top of the government nation-state superstructure in the third world. Eventually, the monies lent are squandered and the loans have to be repaid by sacrifices made by the working poor.

    For the West to have an effective poverty program in the third world, there must be a renewed partnership with small entrepreneurs who tend to do work more efficiently and without the accompanying perks extracted from high government officials in the third world countries. In addition, we now have the technology to bring the accounting standards and managerial know-how to the third world businesses and educational institutions.

  10. roger nowosielski

    In the interest of stimulating the discussion, I’ll post from private correspondence from Anarcissie, her gut reaction to the article:

    “I think Fanon’s subject matter probably ought to be revisited with regard to the
    changes now taking place in the capitalist world (that is, the world as a capitalist
    project). To wit: while there are ongoing struggles between various ruling classes,
    for example Putin and company versus NATO, the world is moving toward a
    single universal empire of Capital. The struggles are about who will wind up on
    top of the empire and who will be somewhat further down on the pyramid. Clearly,
    Capital — the capitalist ruling classes — will support those among the populations
    of Third-World countries who are most like them and are most cooperative. About
    whatever resistance or divergence can be generated in the Third World, I am
    almost totally ignorant. We have not been very successful here in the US thus

    March 27

    PS: I trust that increased participation by other commenters, “troll” and “Tolstoy Cat” most notably, will overcome whatever reservations some people might have about posting directly.

  11. I see no reason to think that many humans or other living things will survive a transition to a universal empire of capital.

  12. roger nowosielski

    I think this is a very astute comment. On one level, we can delimit our discussion only to the capitalist ruling classes; and in this instance, the bourgeois class of the post-colonial South American regimes fits the bill to a T. But to be more provocative, however, and I think this may be Anarcissie’s intention, we may enlarge on the scope of the discussion so as to include entire Third-World populations. And here, I’m afraid most of Third-World populations, whether in South America or Africa, are particularly vulnerable to a kind of allure that comes with capitalism, the abundance of material goods, for one. Just like children, they’re attracted to anything that glitters, false gold,

    Marx was on target as regards his original conception in that a full-scale program of implementing communism and communism-based set of social relations would have the greatest chance of success when implemented only in the most industrialized, decadent countries, You have to go the whole gamut and experience the most deleterious effects of capitalism before you can fully understand the nature of the beast and mount an effective counteroffensive,. Which is why Germany, one of the most industrialized nation-states at the time of his writing (why not England?), not the feudal Russia, was the proper crucible in which to enact the communist experiment,

    I’m certain that Marthe Raymond won’t appreciate the implications, but we’ll deal with that later. Ms Raymond, however, though having lived in those parts for twenty years or so, is completely Westernized. Surely she must appreciate the kind of naivete I’m alluding to.

  13. roger nowosielski

    What ties in with the comment below is the following article from VA: “The Decalogue of a Neoliberal Economist,” courtesy of troll.

    “Seems to me,” he comments, “that here, again, the Bolivarians confuse anti-neoliberalism with anti-capitalism.”

    Indeed, this speaks volumes to the kind of naivete I alluded to earlier.

    Stay tuned!

  14. roger nowosielski

    The hyperlink does work even though it’s not highlighted. Just click on the title,”The Decalogue of …” and the cited article will turn up.

  15. Dr Joseph S Maresca

    The socialism of the EU is closer to the Marxian view of the worker paradise than Stalin’s Russia. There are other worker experiments that provide a better result for people
    like the Israeli Kibbutz, private companies like Ben and Jerry’s, the “Forever Stock ”
    companies, companies with union representation on the Board of Directors, some
    religious groups like the Amish, successful Native American businesses like Mohegan
    Sun, the private entrepreneurs in the Muhammad Yunus experiment with small business
    lending and many others. Remember that small business has been the growth area in the United States. The larger businesses have downsized and sent business overseas
    through outsourcing. There is $2 trillion or more sitting in overseas bank accounts waiting for the money to be repatriated to the USA. The Congress has to revise the tax code to get that money back to the US where it belongs.

    In corporate America, there have been successes like Google, Microsoft, the fast
    food chains, major railroads, Jetblue, Cisco Systems and others.

    • Dr Joe – I think your orientation shouldn’t be ignored here. Please define “success” as you are using it.

  16. roger nowosielski

    The following is a comment by Les Slater, on FB, as a result of my prompting to have him join the discussion:

    Roger, you treat both socialism and capitalism as abstractions, of mostly form, with very little of the concrete basis. First, the socialism you envision is a society devoid of the social ills of capitalism, without first laying out what the basis of those social ills are. It leaves nothing but wishful thinking, no concrete prescription of what social forces might come into play and what methods might be used to obtain those goals.

    As far as economic development is concerned you leave us with ‘failed’ Western model, as opposed to something, maybe yearned for, but not defined or specifed in any way, except what it shouldn’t be.

    Concretely, this debate went on in the Soviet Union in the 1920s and again in the 1960s in Cuba. The 20s debate in the Soviet Union was whether the world proletariat, or a layer of bureaucrats in the Soviet Union, could, or should, lead the world revolution. We all know where that ultimately led.

    The debate in Cuba was between two opposing models, one patterned after the Soviet model, and one advocated by Che. Che was not only able to advocate but was in a position to put into practice within a large part of the Cuban economy. A good look at that debate, and process, can be found in the following book.…/dp/0873488768/ref=sr_1_13…

    In any case, no lasting progress can me made in any country until the world rids itself of the rule of capital.

    Che Guevara: Economics and Politics in the Transition to

    Quoting extensively from Guevara’s writings and speeches on building socialism, this book presents the interrelationship of the market, economic planning, material incentives, and voluntary work; and why profit and other capitalist categories cannot be yardsticks for measuring progress in the tra…


    Thanks, Les. You’ve certainly stopped me in my tracks for the time being, and I’m not being facetious.

    Help, anyone?

  17. (Those interested in a discussion of the Cuban/USSR ‘conflict’ should take a look at Che’s “On the Concept of Value” and particularly his notes published in “Cooperatives and Socialism: A View From Cuba” where he makes the case against hybrid economies.)

  18. Hi, long time no see.

    • Hi, Les. How go your efforts to form a workers’ party?

      • it’s getting to be like a high school reunion around here. hope you folks have been well

        • Still working within the Beast’s belly…hope all’s well with you.

          My plans to get some quinoa under cultivation in my area this year have gone to hell…for the first time in local memory there’s no run-off from the Picuris Mtns to work with.

  19. I’ve been trolling about looking for a more or less up-to-date text that might bring interested folks up to speed on Latin American politics and make meaningful conversation with Ms Raymond possible per her ‘apples and apples’ requirement. “Latin America’s Turbulent Transitions: The Future of Twenty-first Century Socialism” looks promising.

    With that I’ll stfu here.

  20. Reference to this piece might belong in the comments to Roger’s ‘One Size Doesn’t Fit All’ article rather than this one; I’m putting it here in an effort to get some discussion going.

    So…why did FARV “dissolve”?

  21. roger nowosielski

    Don’t feel like the lone ranger. so am I. Just had an extensive dialog with Marthe (since she can’t post here) and am about to transcribe it into this comments space, but it will have to take some editing.

  22. See

    The New Extractivism of the 21st Century: Ten Urgent Theses about
    Extractivism in Relation to Current South American Progressivism
    ; Eduardo Gudynas


    cited in the previously referenced Latin America’s Turbulent Transition

    • roger nowosielski

      About to finish an article, referenced earlier, on Guevara’s budgetary system for economic accounting: straight out of Stalin’s textbook on “Economic Questions”:

      Perhaps there’s a more precise, rigorous account of value in the socialist mode of organization than the one by Guevara. Admittedly, his account would be second-hand.

      Can you think of a text?

      • We have yet to see a socialist mode of organization.

        As I understand Marx’s description in his Critique of the Gotha Program, material socialist/communist production entails transcending commodity production and with it the law of value on which it is based.

        • Put another way – value implies compensation which has no place in communism.

          • roger nowosielski

            One way of visualizing the abandoning of the commodity-money exchange relationship would be to think in terms of a product which naturally lends itself to “not being a commodity.”

            Health care is one example.

        • roger nowosielski

          So it looks as though that’s the text to start with, no?

          • Our the earlier exchange between Proudhon’s Philosophy of Poverty and Marx’s Poverty of Philosophy.

  23. roger nowosielski

    The upcoming series of exchanges with Marthe Raymond has been prompted by the following comment, and I cite it in full:

    Roger, I am confused as to why Les’s comment stopped you in your tracks and mine failed to do so, considering that we said essentially the same thing. That is, the need to eliminate the dominant economic model in order to have democracy. IT DOESN’T MATTER whether you call that model neoliberalism, capitalism, imperialism or globalization: it is the same cancer fracking away at life on this planet in the name of white supremacy and its fuel of choice: MONEY.

    Socialism by definition is based on equal participation in wealth, politics, health care and education: that is, democracy.

    Capitalism and democracy are incompatible because capitalism requires the
    subordination of the many to the interests of the few.

    The situation in Venezuela is still one of capitalism–both at the level of the state and throughout the private business sector. Chávez tried for a “third way”, and it failed. His calling for a change of direction and an acceleration of the process towards a socialism for this century did not mean it happened from night to morning–the movement TOWARDS; and much less that he waved a magic replica of Bolívar’s sword and folks woke up to twenty first century socialism. All over Latin America there are folks who, at best, have been dragging, kicking and screaming into the 19th century, the century when folks began to resist the weak colonial powers of Europe, and when socialism started to circulate in the winds of change in Europe And they are dragging, kicking and screaming because Latin America did not experience The Enlightenment of the 18th century–for which reason Alejo Carpentier’s novel about the 18th century in the Caribbean basin is called, ironically, El siglo de las luces [The Century of Light.]:

    The kickers and screamers are doing just that in Venezuela,and being paid handsomely to do so by the US government. Sadly, we as a planet may have to wait until the dollar is defunct before entertaining realistic hopes for socialism.

    (email, March 28)

    Well, I seized upon this email as a unique opportunity to get clearer on the exact points of Les’ criticism, since Marthe was saying essentially the same thing: she practically says so herself. I wanted to know what that was since Les’ critique was still unclear to me, not to mention the fact he’s an infrequent visitor here. In any case, that’s the background.

    Without further ado, then, here’s a rough transcript of our conversation over the next two days. I’m making it public with her consent..

  24. roger nowosielski


    OK, let’s deal with this first. We’ll deal with definitions later.

    You say: “Chavez tried for a ‘third way’, and it failed. His call for a change of direction and an acceleration of the process towards a socialism for this century did not mean it happened from night to morning — the movement towards.”

    No one’s saying, Marthe, this could happen overnight. However, I find a problem with your statement that (1) Chavez failed and (2) that the situation in Venezuela is still one of capitalism …” SIMPLY BECAUSE, as you say later, “All over Latin America there are folks who, at best, have been dragging, kicking and screaming into the 19th century….” [It just doesn’t compute.]

    We don’t disagree on the facts of the case, but I don’t see how these facts had stopped Chavez’s brand of socialism to, how shall we say, “at least getting a foothold.” Surely, you can’t go from “there is formidable resistance and opposition to Chavez’s ideas” — which, of course, is the case — to the conclusion that “there’s nothing to show for the past efforts (insofar as Chavez’s achievements are concerned.)”

    So let’s deal with this first, OK?

  25. roger nowosielski


    Roger, this is another symptom of your not being Latin American, and of not having spent time in Venezuela during the past 12 years like I have. If in Venezuela the Chavistas say that the economy is still capitalist–a mix of state and private capitalism–and if Chavez in his Golpe del Timon (Change of Course) speech in October of 2012 says that there must be a deepening of the revolution and a real move towards socialism, and there is considerable discussion among intellectuals on the Left here in the region about the whys of why the economy is still capitalist and why socialism has not really materialized, frankly, If you disagree with this, what evidence are you offering to support your point of view.

    Venezuela is a social democrat government with aspirations of deepening participatory democracy and expanding the participation in communes and their autonomy as part of a move towards socialism.

    The problem identified by most folks in and out of the Venezuelan government is that it’s operation is still very much a military model of top down rather than bottom up leadership. Which is to say that the people’s lot is considerably better, but they still are not the decision-makers.

    There are other problems as well, including the fact that throughout the periods of economic growth as much as 10% per annum during the past 15 years, the private sector growth has always been considerably higher than that of the public sector, and the private sector is 100% capitalist. And in a large part controlled by a rabid opposition that also wants back the big slices of juicy pie they used to enjoy from the petroleum revenues. In fact, that’s what the coup attempts, the lockouts, the recall referendum and the rest of the agressive measures they have taken against the government are all about.

    These are just the most obvious problems.

    If you have evidence that I am incorrect in my reading of the situation, please present it.

    And please keep in mind that I am a Chavista. But like many other Chavistas, I believe I would not be doing the Bolivarian process any favors by setting aside my critical analysis.

    Don’t try to force consensus here, Roger. The implications of this moment in the situation in Venezuela have wide implications–not only for Latin America, but for the planet.

  26. roger nowosielski


    Let’s agree from a start that I’m not trying to force a consensus here And I basically agree with you insofar as the bare facts of the case are concerned.

    Still, my question remains: Can you point to at least some elements/vestiges/traces of Chavez’s 21st century socialism ideas which are emblematic of his vision? Surely, there’s got to be some. What are they?

  27. roger nowosielski


    I hadn’t finished my piecemeal replies, but will try to answer your most recent question.

    Many of the elements of Chávez’ vision can be boiled down to empowerment of the powerless. The Constitution which was written by the people elected to do so in 1999 is probably the most advanced on the planet in terms of inclusion. Especially the articles referring to indigenous peoples as well as those of African descent.

    The Constitution represents Chávez in the sense that the people are Chávez. He was of mixed indigenous and African origins. Now, it has not been easy enforcing
    the provisions of the Constitution–many indigenous groups are still fighting
    to get their land back and there have been many murders of indigenous activists
    and leaders by paid assassins on the payroll of wealthy ranchers, especially
    cattlemen, who usurped thousands of hectares of land belonging to indigenous
    groups; others find themselves endangered by mining interests (capitalism
    again), African-Venezuelans are still demanding that their rights under the
    Constitution be respected. It was Chávez’ goal to make those groups equal
    players in the game. Gains have been made. Most of the communes are
    made up of non-whites and they have created needs assessments and designed
    projects for housing and infrastructure that the government has funded. The communes are the result of Chávez’ vision, as are the rural doctors, the administrators and teachers in the Simoncitos for preschoolers. The eradication of illiteracy–still rampant here in Mexico–was a means of leveling the playing field in terms of access to education.

    Leveling the playing field was central to Chávez’ vision. Venezuela is the country in Latin America with the least inequality–as reflected by its having the best Gini coefficient ( in this hemisphere after Canada. And that major change took place in just over a decade.

    Conditions of workers have improved. Companies that were not producing for the Bolivarian process were intervened and/or expropriated for operation under worker control. Unfortunately, not a critical mass of them. And in some cases the workers have not been effective managers.

    The broadest effects of Chávez’ vision are visible in the development of progressive leadership in other countries throughout the region, as well as the ALBA, UNASUR; CELAC and the beefing up of MERCOSUR. But as Manuel Zelaya, who was
    overthrown in Honduras by a US executed coup, said yesterday here at a conference in Mexico City: Latin America is suffering an escalation of conspiracy by the most reactionary elements of the Right, promoted by the most reactionary hawks in Washington wanting to destroy what little advance has been made in the peoples’ struggle.

    Zelaya put it quite succinctly, I think. Yes, there have been advances–significant ones considering the forces operating against them–and Chávez caused those advances.
    When he entered Miraflores in 1999 the coffers were empty, and petroleum was selling for about 8 bucks a barrel. He got on a plane and went to Baghdad, Riyadh,
    Tripoli, etc. To revive OPEC. The US screamed bloody murder at his photos with Saddam Hussein and Ghadaffi. He revived OPEC anyway, which fueled in more than
    one sense the social programs he put in place, not only in Venezuela but in the Caribbean with his creation of PetroCaribe.

    He did more in 14 years in this region than anyone since Bolívar It remains to be seen if the Venezuelan people, and the people of other countries in the region, can begin to fill his footprints.

  28. roger nowosielski


    In regard to your final comments, I would be the last person to downgrade or dismiss Chávez’ achievements, not only for the previously disenfranchised people of Venezuela, but for aiding the development of other leftist leaders in the region as well as his successful work at creating integration models for the region as well as the south-south cooperative models with Africa. In Venezuela, during Chavismo poverty dropped by more than 50%, extreme poverty by closer to 80%, illiteracy was eradicated, education was expanded and is free from pre-school through graduate school–Venezuela is the 5th country in the world in terms of university students relative to total population. Chávez was a mover and shaker on a planetary scale. He
    was enormously popular in countries as diverse as Greece and Jordan. An inspiring figure.

    His death has created a real challenge for Venezuela’s leadership Maduro is a good guy–I only met him once but I was impressed by his sincerity. He is a synthesizer, and a good one. If Chávez’ death had not left so much of the field left to till, he’d be moving things ahead pro-actively instead of reactively, I’m sure. And that despite the corruption in the government that is the scourge of all countries in Latin America and one of the most foul products, along with racism, of colonialism.

    It remains to be seen if folks who are not used to leading can continue to lead when there is so much work to be done and when the US is willing to pay handsomely to obstruct that work to folks who are already wealthy from sucking the teat during all the years of white or wannabe white dominance and abject colonial subservience.

    I am crossing my fingers.

  29. roger nowosielski


    Great posts, Marthe. So you got your Magna Carta, the law of the land. Now, I don’t know about Venezuela, but in some countries which make up “the coalition,” Bolivia
    or Ecuador perhaps, the indigenous folk are becoming a rapidly rising proportion of the
    government, and not just central government but on the decentralized, local level. Again, I don’t know exactly what kind of situation obtains in this respect in Venezuela.

    But surely, the nationalization of the petrol industry, the country’s greatest natural resource, cannot exactly be seen as just another extension of the capitalist system. It’s anything but.It is socialism, or shall we say, the beginning of socialism. Which is why I think to say of Venezuela that it’s still capitalism — and I agree, in many respects it’s still so — is misleading.

  30. roger nowosielski


    It is what it is, Roger. State capitalism is still capitalism. Except for the funding for the communes’ projects, which are designed by the communes and implemented by them using funds from petroleum revenues, the other projects are designed and funded by the state. And I don’t believe it is misleading to say so.

    On point of your article, not this dialogue, they just posted an article on in English by a guy from the US called something like Beware of Venezuela’s False Anarchists, which treats at length the issue of whether only the middle class should be the leaders of revolutionary struggle. I think, although I spotted several errors that were not substantial, it is definitely worth reading, and you may wish to quote from it. It gives a lot of useful on the ground information.

    [For the reader’s information, Marthe’s reference here is to the selfsame article that troll referenced earlier, prior to the posts which make up this transcript.]

    [And as to your other point,] I don’t see nationalism of the petroleum industry as necessarily socialist, but of taking back control of the country’s resources that were being exploited by foreign companies with very little compensation to the state. Lázaro Cárdenas did the same thing in Mexico in 1938. Argentina recently did the same, as did Bolivia. Bolivia is moving towards socialism. It’s doubtful in the case of Argentina.

    Also, Chávez did not nationalize PDVSA. It was nationalized under the first term of Carlos Andres Pérez in 1976. Chávez took back control in 2003 after the lockout. And he changed the rules of the game for the big multinationals in that Venezuela would have majority share in all operations and the Big Oil guys would have to pay just shares of profits as well as taxes or pack their bags. Most of them stayed on as minority partners.

    As for the Constitution, it’s great. I have a copy. But you have to remember that the rule of law is not a characteristic of Latin American countries–here in Mexico it certainly isn’t, and the Constitution is a patchwork of articles that contradict each other and which are “reformed” every presidential term to suit the convenience
    of those in power as well as the convenience of the US. Rule of law is not a strong characteristic of the US either–Bush Jr. especially wiped his ass with the Constitution. In Latin America most presidents have never bothered to read theirs. Venezuela is
    ahead of the pack in terms of actually trying to maintain a rule of law. But enforcement is always hard. Latin Americans are scofflaws, and that attitude is not the exclusive possession of folks outside of governments.

    That Chávez made as much significant change as he did is miraculous.

    He didn’t enter the power as a socialist. He tried a Third Way approach–a la Tony Blair–and was honest enough to admit that it didn’t–and doesn’t–work. He didn’t try to disguise the failure. He opted to move towards socialism. That was only several years ago. So it’s not surprising that socialism for this century didn’t drop from the sky to replace old models. But if Venezuela follows his plan for the patria that he drew up after the Golpe del Timon speech, it will make progress.

    If the government compromises instead of going forward, it will lose ground, and may well lose power as well. The pressure is major heavy duty right now internally and externally to oblige the government to back off, back down and “share the power” with the right. If it does so, socialism for this century will be dead in the water.

  31. roger nowosielski


    Ready for the next session.

    First, I’d like to focus on what may look like a side point but isn’t, really.

    You say in an earlier email:

    “Conditions of workers have improved. Companies that were not producing for the Bolivarian process were intervened and/or expropriated for operation under worker control. Unfortunately, not a critical mass of them. And in some cases the workers have not been effective managers.”

    So my question is: What’s wrong with the fact that “the workers have not been effective managers”? Getting there is a process, so it’s only to be expected that there should be a learning curve. And who decides those things anyway and interferes with the workers’ management of their co-operatives? The very fact that apparently some people or some bodies do is the problem, not the relative effectiveness of the workers’ management. Let them do it their way until they get it right. We don’t want any central committees or bureaucratic structures overseeing those processes, like during the Soviet era.

    Don’t you agree?

  32. roger nowosielski


    I was simply mentioning that one of the reasons that growth in the private sector has always far outstripped that of the public sector has been inefficient management–with the government ministers and the worker management each pointing the finger at the other in terms of blaming. In many cases both have been at fault. There’s also the issue of ministers then sending new managers who have no history in the company or the industry, who are then rejected by the workers with subsequent work stoppages, lockouts and so forth.

    Sure there is a learning curve, but disorganization is also a factor in industries–the same as in the projects of the communes.

    Nevertheless, there may come a moment when petroleum prices start to go down and excess revenues won’t be there to continue underwriting poorly organized factories and communal projects. At some point folks have to get their shit together, even though we are talking about Venezuela–where all meetings, conferences and other events actually begin an hour and a half after the announced hour.

    In short, cultural issues that are largely the result of colonialism need to be addressed.

  33. roger nowosielski


    “There’s also the issue of ministers then sending new managers who have no history in the company or the industry, who are then rejected by the workers with subsequent work stoppages, lockouts and so forth.”

    But that’s [precisely] the problem [as I see it]. The co-ops should be allowed to be run by the workers without interference from central bureaucracies. I’m not talking about such critical industries as petrol, for this is Venezuela’s mother-lode: it enabled Chavez and other leaders to re-distribute wealth and level the playing field. But when it comes to less critical industries, hands-off should be the policy; otherwise, we’re doing exactly what the Soviets were doing: management by the technocrats/bureaucrats from top down – state-run socialism rather than Marx’s idea of communism. Let the private sector for the time being outperform the workers’-run public sector. That’s only to be expected at this stage of the game. But let the process continue without undue interference.

    Don’t you think?

  34. roger nowosielski


    In theory, I agree. In practice, I don’t think the current economical situation of Venezuela will allow for much more improvisation. Improvisation is the style for doing everything in Latin America. Sometimes it even works Most of the time it doesn’t–hence the backwardness throughout the region. My house is a good example: there’s not a level floor or a straight wall in this place. Electrical service is literally taped together with extensions of cables. Water, not much better.

    If you have never lived in the region it is almost impossible to imagine the chaos caused by improvisation in everything. Chávez was a past master of improvisation–IN HIS SPEECHES; in other areas he was a rigorous professor and student.

    Baling wire is the tool of choice throughout the region–for everything. Unfortunately, when you are trying to manufacture laptops and tablets and cell phones and automatic rifles–not to mention cars, precision instruments, etc. it is not very useful.

    It’s preferable to let workers who know their trade and at least a part of their industry run the show to having folks who have no clue but are plugged in politically turn up and improvise management, of course.

    Yesterday I mentioned that the top-down style that is used for the majority of decisions is a problem–and a major one–for moving forward towards socialism. You have to remember that Chávez was a military guy–that was the structure he knew. In the military loyalty matters more than ability, and in Venezuela, which has been in the crosshairs of the US government since Chávez was campaigning for president in 1998, loyalty to the Bolivarian process is critically necessary.

    The process is still standing, but it has a long way to go to arrive at a productive socialist model. And there are many of us on the Left who have questioned how it is going to get there from where it is now.

    My feelings are mixed. Perhaps that’s not correct–on the feeling front, I want them to succeed, and as a critical thinker, I am not sure they can.

    Maybe it’s because I have lived for 20 years here and studied the region extensively before I permanently moved here. I know the history of the region pretty much inside out, and am up to date on what’s happening now throughout the region. The positive changes in the region were all either directly driven by Chávez or inspired by him.

    Because he is no longer with us, the US and its lackeys of the bourgeoisie, is going full bore to stop Latin American integration in its tracks and to open the veins of its resources once again to their exclusive exploitation and control.

  35. roger nowosielski


    I don’t want this issue — of co-ops — to sidetrack us. I brought it up only as an example, an example to be considered within the larger context. Let’s not lose track of that context.

    What I getting at is this. To the extent that the co-ops (in non-critical industries, let’s grant that) are allowed to operate without the state’s interference, that’s an element of
    not-state-sponsored socialism — communism, to be more precise. That’s not innovation, that IS “the third way,” the communist way, and it’s only to be expected that it be a painstaking process because it’s a road not yet traveled, not on any large scale.

    However, when the state interferes with the working of the co-ops, inefficient as they may be, what we have is a state-sponsored socialism. I’m certain that, in the long run, that’s not what Chavez had in mind.

    Because things are not working as we all would have hoped for, people say that what we have in Venezuela is a state-sponsored capitalism. You said that, for one. Well, perhaps, but we also have state-sponsored socialism as well, to the extent that socialistic elements as regards production and distribution relations have trickled down as a result of Chavez’s vision and reforms. So let’s grant that what we have in Venezuela is both: a state-sponsored capitalism and to an extent, however minimally so, also a state-sponsored socialism.

    But here is my problem. To say that we don’t have socialism in Venezuela, only state-sponsored capitalism, is to rely on that move as a default position [a “fall-back” position may be closer to what I meant] just because things aren’t working yet as they’re supposed to, or the way we hoped they would. And this default position can be invoked whenever we please — as a way of saying that socialism hasn’t arrived just
    yet. It is precisely this kind of move that I find both suspect and dubious [and of little use other than to keep the true believers in their faith]; in effect, it’s nothing but a cop-out. And the problem is, it’s always used as a cop-out.

    Do you see what I am getting at?

  36. roger nowosielski


    Yeah, but you are beating a dead horse. The percentage of state-sponsored socialism compared to the state-sponsored capitalism and the private sector capitalism is VERY small. And it relies on resources from state-sponsored capitalism to operate. It is what it is, notwithstanding good intentions.

    [At this point, we both realized that we’ve reached an impasse, so we called it quits.]

  37. roger nowosielski

    As an addendum to the preceding discussion, I received the following email from Marthe:


    Synchronicity: after our discussion yesterday, today reprints an article from Monthly Review by Michael Lebowitz that includes 2 papers he wrote for Chávez several years ago. It’s called “Proposing a Path to Socialism: Two Papers for Hugo Chávez.”

    [See the link:

    It’s a must-read, Roger. Within the papers Lebowitz covers the points of our discussion and does so by addressing the nuts-and-bolts.

    Let me know what you think.

  38. roger nowosielski


    Just finished reading the article by Lebowitz, referenced below.

    Your gut reaction?

    • I find the notion of the beneficent selfless State fantastically utopian.

      • roger nowosielski

        My sentiments exactly. Besides, I find the very project disturbing on more than one level — in spite of the logical, rational argument, I’m all for “human development,” for each and everyone, the more the merrier; but this fellow allows for no exceptions, and this smacks of totalitarianism.

        At any rate, that’s not how I envisage communism.

        • The Venezuelans would do well to question Gramsci’s premise. ‘Meet the new hegemon same as the last.’

          • roger nowosielski

            Is this what you basically have in mind?

            “Storey turns to Gramsci to understand the hegemony section of the chapter. Through hegemony, “a dominant class (in alliance with other classes or class factions) does not merely rule a society but leads it through the exercise of intellectual or moral leadership” (p. 80). Thus, despite class oppression and injustice, the hegemonic system maintains the superstructure/base relationship.”

            as per

          • As I have commented before, I blame the dialectic.

            Gramsci is known for placing the ethical realm squarely within the contradictions and conflict required by the dialectic as the preeminent engine for and logic of movement and change. The ethical act of the revolutionary is that which is in solidarity with the ‘counter-thesis’ or new hegemon. The ‘absolute humanism of human history,’ wrote Gramsci, ‘does not aim at the peaceful resolution of existing contradictions in history and society but rather is the very theory of these contradictions’ quotes Harvey in his recent piece on ‘revolutionary humanism’ in The White Review, wherein he ends up with an ethical laundry list based on the ‘contradictions’ of capitalism. (Serendipitous note: a considerable amount of this article is devoted to reading Fanon’s humanism from this pov.)

            One can take perverse comfort in the idea that the dialectic along with its theory, the conflict it engenders and its iron grip on our imaginations will, by its own logic, be transcended.

          • roger nowosielski

            I’m not certain whether the following might count as a pertinent response:

            Wasn’t Christ, historical or otherwise, the consummate revolutionary?

          • roger nowosielski

            I suppose I’m having difficulty understanding your comment.

  39. roger nowosielski

    Let me cite an excerpt from “Che Guevara and the Political Economy of Socialism” by
    Rafael Martinez:

    (This is in partial response to Les Slater’s criticism of the article, see a number of comments below)

    The postulate about proportionality of portions of labour among branches of the economy was conceived as a general, non-historic law that would apply to all economic systems. Marx’s considerations about the need for the establishment of certain proportions in which labour is exchanged in every economic system, and revised in a mechanical fashion by Bogdanov/Bukharin had a simple consequence in practice: the application of the law of value as a regulator of production was to be perpetuated in the socialist economy under the abstract consideration about the need for proportionality. This abstract concept is shared by Bukharin and Trotsky:

    ‘The problem of the proportionality of the elements of production and the branches of the economy constitutes the very heart of socialist economy’. (The Soviet Economy in Danger, p. 265.)

    The ultimate goal of right-wing revisionism in questions concerning the transition to socialism is to provide every possible ideological means to perpetuate the economic relations of capitalism and to undermine the process of socialisation of the relations of production. In doing so, right-wing revisionism creates eclectic forms, Trojan horses in political economy. The postulate about the need of proportionality proved a euphemistic attack against the party line to curtail the operation of the law of value in the socialist sector and capitalist exploitation in the Soviet economy. By appealing to an abstract concept of proportionality without, leaving its concretisation as a loose end in the economic thinking, naturally leads to the perpetuation of relations of production existing hitherto. Abstract formulations in general, and in political economy in particular, without a concretisation within the concrete-historical framework inevitably render hollow abstractions, double-edged swords in the hands of revisionism.


    We need not pronounce upon Martinez’ critique of “the right-wing [Soviet] revisionism,” especially since his own critique, although in some respects both critical as well as sympathetic concerning Guevara’s economic thought, is riddled with ideology: the first paragraph or two of the cited matter has been provided in order to establish the context. I believe that the following, however, captures the essence of Les’ criticism:

    “Abstract formulations in general, and in political economy in particular, without a concretisation within the concrete-historical framework inevitably render hollow abstractions, double-edged swords in the hands of revisionism.”

    I would tend to agree, except that this very critique, as phrased, is as abstract as can be. I only wish that Les were here to throw light on the matter.

  40. roger nowosielski

    Another salient point from Martinez’ article, referenced below, and I cite:

    The concept of socialist planning in Guevara’s system is closely linked to the concept of profitability of the whole productive system. The effectiveness of the socialist economy is not the results of the mechanical summation of individual enterprises. A positive balance in the arithmetic sum of individual profits is possible in the capitalist system during times of expansion, although it becomes negative in times of recession. Regardless of the fact that the socialist productive system does not know recession or crises, the socialist productive system displays the greatest rates of growth not just because the arithmetic aggregation of individual profitability amounts to a positive balance. The advantage of the socialist mode of production over capitalism lies in the planned character of the economy, that the socialist state is in a position to decide at the scale of the whole productive system, not the coordination of individual producers but the regulation of labour flow among socialist enterprises. While it is of paramount importance that the productive unit be most profitable by means of maximum reduction of production costs, the efficiency of the economy needs to be assessed as a whole.

    ‘Since this system is based on the central control of the economy, the relative efficiency of an enterprise would become just an index; what really matters is the total profitability of the entire productive system’ (Che Guevara, op. cit. in ‘Considerations on Expenses’, p. 48. Translated from Spanish.)

    This concept, which is a more complex concept with respect to the profitability of the individual enterprise, had been stated explicitly by Stalin in Economic Problems. In arguing against the right-wing deviationists, the only way to understand that certain sectors of the economy may function without profit or even producing losses over a certain period of time is to introduce a more complex concept of profitability of the whole socialist economy:

    ‘If profitableness is considered not from the standpoint of individual plants or industries, and not over a period of one year, but from the standpoint of the entire national economy and over a period of, say, ten or fifteen years,… then the temporary and unstable profitableness of some plants and industries is beneath all comparisons with that higher form of stable and permanent profitableness which we get from the operation of the law of balanced development of the national economy and from economic planning…’ (J.V. Stalin, Economic Problems of Socialism in the USSR, Foreign Language Publishing House, Moscow 1952, pp. 28-29.)


    Needless to say, this is right-headed as far as it goes, and it forms the basis of Guevara’s “budgetary system” of accounting, versus the “financial self-management” system. I say “as far as it goes” because the entire concept of “planned economy” is being predicated here and made possible by the existence of a benevolent, well-meaning State.

    Which makes one wonder: which is the greater evil, capitalism or the State? Or to phrase this question differently, which of the two is more vulnerable, which must become the target of the most immediate assault in order to eradicate the other? What is the exact relationship between the two? Must we destroy the State first before doing away with capitalism or can we obliterate capitalism while the State is still intact?

    It’s something to ponder about!

    • Capitalism isn’t evil, it’s just a system, a process of transformation. Like all processes there are good implementations and bad ones. Just because we’ve seen quite a lot of bad examples doesn’t discredit it.

      I don’t believe the kind of planned system based on centralised control is either possible, desirable or even sustainable.

      Similarly, states are also just systems and again we see good and bad examples.

      What we actually need is more intelligence going in to systems and a greater awareness of the needs of we the people and the requirements for lighter controls of people and tighter controls of systems..

      None of this is represented in contemporary politics, which is why it is so dysfunctional…

      • I see no reason to think that capitalism – an essentially unstable process – can be regulated into submission to rationality to serve the greater good…

        • Why is capitalism “essentially unstable” and why can’t it serve the greater good? Genuinely puzzled…

          • A poor choice of words betraying a weakness for absolutes, perhaps. Would “historically and currently unstable” clear things up?

            I said that I see no reason to think that it can be harnessed. Do you?

      • roger nowosielski

        Good to see you on the threads, Chris.

        “I don’t believe the kind of planned system based on centralised control is either possible, desirable or even sustainable.”

        But it was sustainable in the Nazi Germany in the period leading to the breakout of World War II.

        Which isn’t to say it was desirable, unless you embraced the values and the objectives of the Third Reich.

      • roger nowosielski

        A partial response to your comment, Chris, up the thread.

  41. roger nowosielski

    Speaking of synchronicity, only yesterday Anarcissie alerted me to a recent book by Thomas Piketty, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, about which “there has been some noise on Crooked Timber.”

    I think it ties in nicely with Christopher Rose’s comment (see below), as per the following book review on

  42. roger nowosielski

    Here’s another review of Piketty’s book:

    Christopher Rose would love the following passage:

    Tax records are not the only available source of good inequality data. In research over twenty years, this reviewer has used payroll records to measure the long-run evolution of inequalities; in a paper published back in 1999, Thomas Ferguson and I tracked such measures for the United States to 1920—and we found roughly the same pattern as Piketty finds now.*

    It is good to see our results confirmed, for this underscores a point of great importance. The evolution of inequality is not a natural process. The massive equalization in the United States between 1941 and 1945 was due to mobilization conducted under strict price controls alongside confiscatory top tax rates. The purpose was to double output without creating wartime millionaires. Conversely, the purpose of supply-side economics after 1980 was (mainly) to enrich the rich. In both cases, policy largely achieved the effect intended.

    • Why would I love this? It’s interesting, but pretty much only confirms what many of us already thought…

      • roger nowosielski

        No doubt you and many others share the same picture of capitalism, even your ideological enemies, Kenn Jacobine, for instance. The only respect in which the two of you differ is on controls. Whereas he thinks that interference with the “free market” operations is undesirable and harmful, you think it’s necessary.

  43. roger nowosielski

    Good review. One is tempted to say that the only merit of Piketty’s magnum opus lies in having amassed a wealth of data demonstrating a (causal?) relationship between capitalism and income inequality. Somehow, I don’t think Christopher Rose would be convinced.

    On a side note, what is one to make, exactly, of Piketty’s inadequate (?) definition of “capital” so as to coincide with the Marxian dogma — exploitation of labor, the labor theory of value, etc? What exactly rides on this except for the well-known fact that labor is the ultimate source of value? — an ideological point, to be sure, but how exactly does it translate into brass-tacks economic analysis? How exactly does Piketty’s inadequate definition of the concept detracts from or invalidates Piketty’s conclusions. I’m asking in earnest.

    James Galbraith makes pretty much the same hullabaloo about Piketty’s use of the term, In his introduction to a fairly lucid review of Piketty’s work, he states:

    What is “capital”? To Karl Marx, it was a social, political, and legal category—the means of control of the means of production by the dominant class. Capital could be money, it could be machines; it could be fixed and it could be variable. But the essence of capital was neither physical nor financial. It was the power that capital gave to capitalists, namely the authority to make decisions and to extract surplus from the worker.

    Early in the last century, neoclassical economics dumped this social and political analysis for a mechanical one. Capital was reframed as a physical item, which paired with labor to produce output. This notion of capital permitted mathematical expression of the “production function,” so that wages and profits could be linked to the respective “marginal products” of each factor. The new vision thus raised the uses of machinery over the social role of its owners and legitimated profit as the just return to an indispensable contribution.

    Symbolic mathematics begets quantification. For instance, if one is going to claim that one economy uses more capital (in relation to labor) than another, there must be some common unit for each factor. For labor it could be an hour of work time. But for capital? Once one leaves behind the “corn model” in which capital (seed) and output (flour) are the same thing, one must somehow make commensurate all the diverse bits of equipment and inventory that make up the actual “capital stock.” But how?

    Although Thomas Piketty, a professor at the Paris School of Economics, has written a massive book entitled Capital in the Twenty-First Century, he explicitly (and rather caustically) rejects the Marxist view. He is in some respects a skeptic of modern mainstream economics, but he sees capital (in principle) as an agglomeration of physical objects, in line with the neoclassical theory. And so he must face the question of how to count up capital-as-a-quantity.

    His approach is in two parts. First, he conflates physical capital equipment with all forms of money-valued wealth, including land and housing, whether that wealth is in productive use or not. He excludes only what neoclassical economists call “human capital,” presumably because it can’t be bought and sold. Then he estimates the market value of that wealth. His measure of capital is not physical but financial.

    This, I fear, is a source of terrible confusion.


    For some reason, Galbraith fails to put his finger on what exactly does Piketty’s “confusion” amount to. Or to put it more simply, how would using the full sense of
    “capital,” in accord now with the Marxist understanding of the term, alter Piketty’s findings?

    As far as I am concerned, the point is ideological.

    • Piketty supplements Marxian analysis of capitalist production with that of
      capitalist distribution and arrives at the same place (more or less):
      expropriate the expropriators or face continuing social injustice . He suggests that this be done through
      taxation…that is, by the State (transformed through some revolutionary
      process, I guess) taking control of the lion’s share of the surplus
      that capitalism extracts with the goal of reducing wealth inequality.

      So…where’s the controversy?

      • roger nowosielski

        I don’t think there is any. It’s just a case of the neoliberal economists having fun.

  44. roger nowosielski

    Four more exhilarating reviews:

    One would think that Piketty had come up with the greatest invention since sliced bread, And of course it suits the neoliberals and academicians (mostly Keynesians, no doubt) just fine.

    Apropos of Piketty, Marthe Raymond queried me: “I don’t get the connect here,” she asks

    I don’t blame her, of course, so I respond:

    “Well, it’s somewhat tangential, but Lebowitz’s paper is hopelessly utopian (see troll’s remark, for instance), as though the only remedy against capitalism were a planned economy in every respect. And guess what entity can possibly undertake a completely planned economy. Only the state can, which makes one wonder — which is the greater evil, capitalism or the state?”

    And this leads to another conversation, the highlights of which I post up the thread.

  45. roger nowosielski


    Capitalism is the greater evil. The state can assume many forms and postures–from only the coordination of decentralized activity to a totalitarian form where there is zero room for dissent or plurality of indentity and model; examples of the latter abound, but the US is probably the most obvious.

    Capitalism is totalitarian in its essence, as it imposes and defends only one model of social interaction and commerce, which is the enrichment of the few at the expense of the increasing impoverishment of the many.

    There is no rising tide that floats all boats when it comes to capitalism. Nor do profits trickle down. Gravity has no application whatsoever.

    As for your statement that Lebowitz’ paper is “hopelessly utopian”, that’s a nonsensical term, as utopias by their definition are fanatsies well beyond actual implementation by our perverse and destructive species.

    The point of talking about inequality–currently a hot topic as the West waltzes its way into the dustbin of history–is that inequality occurs when power–in this case the state–prioritizes the profits of big capital, with which it exists in a symbiotic relationship–over the common good.

    Ginis indicating a more equal distribution of wealth occur when the state prioritizes the common good over the profits of big capital. The state doesn’t have to be socialist, in any utopian sense, to do that; the example of how petroleum revenues are shared in Norway, which is a social democracy, is possibly closest to the state capitalist model in Venezuela for use of petroleum revenues.

    I think the real question may be: Is it desirable and advisable that countries in a very interconnected global situation try to implement a form of socialism?

    For me, the answer is yes. It’s the only way to move towards social justice and full inclusion of the elements that make up a nation’s population base.

    Yes, the curve of implementation can get pretty steep in countries such as Venezuela where the bourgeoisie believes it should maintain and increase the privileges it enjoyed under a colonial and purely capitalist model, and where the sponsor of big capital gives them hundreds of millions of dollars to pay for propaganda and “protesters” and paramilitary forces imported from Colombia as well as to sell on the black market to drive up inflation.

    April 10

    • Positing a State restricted to coordinating decentralized activity assumes that which is to be proved and is an example of ideologically driven utopian thinking. The construct buries the essence of the State – the monopolization of legitimized coercion by a ruling class – in the more pleasant sounding “coordination”.

      • roger nowosielski

        I couldn’t agree with you more. I tried to press this point with Marthe, but soon enough I realized that she’s coming from an entirely different perspective: her living there and being part of the culture makes for a very intimate and real connection with the situation on the ground which, try as I may, I couldn’t possibly experience. And she sees socialism as “the only way to move towards social justice and full inclusion of the elements that make up a nation’s population base.”

        Her concerns are indeed paramount, I’m certain for both of us as well; unfortunately, you can’t have socialism without the state, just as you can’t have capitalism without the state.

        My hunch is, second-world nation-state, the populations, I mean, must go the full circle and reach a post-industrial level of development before the “evils” which come with capitalism can be fully grasped; and by the same token, the disillusionment with socialism can only be fully realized once socialism is given a full reign.

        Obviously, I don’t believe in any viable “transition” paradigm from socialism to communism — the weakest element of the Marxian theory in Marx and since Marx — a situation, that is, when the state will voluntarily relinquish its prerogatives either on a piecemeal basis or “all at once.” Consequently, any viable strategy against capitalism must, at the very same time, be a strategy that will also be undermining, or bypassing, the institution of statehood.

  46. roger nowosielski

    Another communication from Marthe, shortly thereafter:

    I just looked at your thread here in the internet cafe.

    I don’t think it’s going anywhere. I don’t think any one of you knows enough about Venezuela’s process to create useful arguments and comments. Lebowitz’ papers are not utopian–they simply describe options for implementing socialism in the face of a fair amount of adverse conditions–which is what Chávez had asked him to do. It’s ponderous and plodding, but Chávez had the ability, as Lebowitz mentions, to boil things down to simple models and gte going with them. It helps enormously to actually KNOW the folks in the cast.

    I don’t know Lebowitz, but I do know his mentor, Martha Harnecker, a marxist writer from Chile about 8 years older than I am. I met her in 2003 when we contributed to a panel discussion during the first annual solidarity event in Caracas. I think Harnecker is probably too grounded in the twentieth century socialist model. A lot of folks when they get to be my age are too identified with the past to envision a future.

    My point is: For you folks this process of movement towards a new socialism is an intellectual exercise, as you have no experience that allows you to evaluate it otherwise.

    • Good post, Marthe/roger. Thanx.

      • roger nowosielski

        Thanks for visiting. In light of there being so little interest nowadays in the Politics section on BC, any new voice is like a breath of fresh air.

        • Hi Roger, I’m not sure there is a lack of interest in the BC Politics section, indeed currently there isn’t a section, just a sub section of Culture, more like it kind of withered away under the neglectful old regime.

          My understanding is that once the new owners have dealt with all the structural stuff around separating from the indifferent monster that is Technorati, which is mostly done, there are going to be a lot of changes and new initiatives taking place over the next few weeks, including the possibility of restoring Politics as a standalone section, encouraging new content and hopefully restoring Nils as Pol Ed too.

          The main thing it needs right now is probably more content and engagement, which will take a little time to build up. Thanks for doing your share of that task!

          • roger nowosielski

            Thanks, Chris, for taking the time to respond, I would sure hope that Dreadful would follow suit, and Clavos as well — especially since he might cure me of some of my misconceptions.

            As you know, I posted on Facebook, but thus far there had been no response from either or them.

            Shall see.

        • Incidentally, I read this book when it came out several decades ago and it has always been a factor in my thinking. Indeed, I’m having a big clear out at home and came across that very copy from back in the day just yesterday.

        • As to Marthe’s perspective, I find it to be long on theory and short on reality.

          The only way there is ever going to be anything like a socialist state is when capitalism has created enough abundance to lift everybody out of poverty, a process that is already happening, as those who pay attention to these things know.

          What we need is lots more and lots better capitalism until it becomes so ubiquitous as to effectively disappear as a factor, which I believe will happen this century, barring any catastrophic events like a major eco disaster or war.

          • What would a “lots better capitalism” look like on the ground? What features of the current economic/political regime would have to change to create a better capitalism?

            How much is enough abundance to lift everybody’s boat and allow something like a socialist state?

            How do you assess the risk of catastrophe in this century given what those who pay attention are saying about the state of climate change and the vulnerability of our nuclear infrastructure, for examples?

          • These aren’t easy questions to answer, troll, partly because they are so broad and partly because I don’t think they are really important. That said, I’ll do my best to answer as best I can.

            Better capitalism would be inclusive rather than exploitative; not sure if any change is required (try asking the same question about science, which is also just a process to see what I mean); can’t put a number on abundance but, based on a quick search of ye interweb, it would only take a couple of hundred billion dollars to eliminate global poverty, so let’s say 10-100 times that, which is still a tiny sum relatively speaking.

            As to the risk of catastrophe, don’t know what informed researchers would say, but my take is 65-35 in our favour, but I’m an optimist!

          • Capitalism is a process of wealth generation. As such it’s just a series of rather specific actions people can take which sometimes results in that end. A subset of these actions are the human interactions or relations that characterize the process as capitalist. These relations in production as we know them historically and as we see them today are exploitative thereby solving the problem of how to accumulate more wealth on balance than is consumed in the production process. While the optimal rate of exploitation might be debatable amongst capitalists, it has a history of pretty consistent increase; that it is a necessary relationship isn’t in question.

            I think it’s possible that including more people in the capitalist work force could increase the rate of wealth generation – at environmental and social costs yet to be determined and at some greater risk of continued general market crises. But what could we expect this increase to accomplish in terms of setting the stage for something like a socialist state?

            If 20 trillion actually were enough to raise all boats, then, given that the current GWP is on the order of 50 trillion, wouldn’t it be time to look to other controlling factors retarding socialism than scarcity?

          • Troll, sure, capitalism is a process but its actions or processes and its outcomes can be whatever the person setting up that process designs them to be.

            I don’t agree that all capitalist processes are exploitative; sure, some can be, but that goes back to the set up of the process, it’s not inherent.

            The rate of wealth generation – and the rate of poverty reduction – are both increasing, which is good, although there are environmental and social costs associated with some but not all instances of capitalist processes in action that are a cause for concern.

            According to Wikipedia, the GDP of the USA alone was $16.8 trillion last year and global GDP around $67 trillion, so $20 trillion is very doable over 5, 10 or 20 years.

            Once you get to a state of abundance, different criteria start to emerge as several of the motivators for cruder capitalist processes are eliminated, so what we would have then wouldn’t be anything like the present, although probably not socialism as we understand the term now either, but effectively more like it.

            I personally don’t find any points of traction in the capitalism v socialism debate as it is currently framed and see it is as largely irrelevant to what is actually going on.

  47. roger nowosielski


    Sure glad you’re around; because we’re pretty much on the same wavelength, we can make progress.

    The problem I’m having with Lebowitz’s project is that he leaves you with no middle ground: it’s either capitalism or socialism, there being nothing in between. Socialism is the only alternative to capitalism. You said pretty much the same thing in one of your emails, but I won’t hold you to it because you also said that we’re looking for a “third way.”

    Underlying this absolute dichotomy there is another one: market operations or no market operations whatsoever. That’s the religious dogma of socialism, and I know that by questioning it I may be accused by some of recidivism, but so be it.

    Two minor point: of course “hopelessly utopian” was a poor choice of words, but I was referring to Lebowitz’s program whereby, at the end of the rainbow, each and everyone will be a “fully-developed” human being. Even Jesus Christ didn’t make that claim. And second, surely they’re “waltzing around” in the West with all this talk about inequality: the neo-Keynesians, the neo-liberals, and the academicians, of course, all are having a field-day with Piketty’s paper. But I needed a breather.

  48. roger nowosielski


    Nope, never said I was looking for a Third Way. I said in his first few years in office Chávez was looking for a Third Way–a la Tony Blair–but that he failed. And failing, saw that he had no choice but to push for socialism, at the same time avoiding the pitfalls of what we saw in socialist experiments in the twentieth century. The idea of Twenty First Century Socialism was to make it clear that it wasn’t the socialism as practiced in the Warsaw Pact countries that so disillusioned Che Guevara, nor Mao’s form in China that led to widespread starvation and death during the so-called Great Leap Forward. One of the reason why Chávez didn’t put all of his eggs in the basket of agrarian reform was precisely to avoid what happened in China and Ukraine with the top down implementation of collective farms.

    Some folks criticized him for not moving more rapidly with the agrarian reform. Agrarian reform is actually one of my academic specialties and that is one reason why I was invited to Caracas 11 years ago to participate in the solidarity congress. (I was head of Languages and Culture at Universidad del Mar then and the rector let me go for a week to Caracas and paid my salary with the quid pro quo of my giving a seminar on agrarian reform on my return.) so I have an idea of the pitfalls of agrarian reform–from Mexico of course but also of its history in China, the Philippines, Vietnam, the USSR, Nicaragua, Cuba, Chile, Peru, etc.

    I wish I had an answer for pumping some effervence into your comments thread. But the reality of its audience being whites of European origin means that you are really pushing a heavy stone uphill. My experience of whites is that apart from a limited curiosity about folkloric elements, nonwhite cultures simpy don’t interest them. They are narcissists with no sense whatsoever of The Other.

  49. roger nowosielski


    I’m used to pushing a heavy stone uphill. Why don’t we talk about my concerns?

    The problem I’m having with Lebowitz’s project is that he leaves you with no middle ground: it’s either capitalism or socialism, there being nothing in between. Socialism is the only alternative to capitalism.

  50. roger nowosielski


    There isn’t any middle ground, really. I believe I have said that a number of times. If you can think of another option, feel free to describe it.

    You need to remember that his paper that Chávez requested was just a paper. Chávez isolated the core that he believed was communicable and workable and pushed for it. Chávez was a very skilled synthetic thinker and a very skilled communicator, as evidenced for all he did in such a very short time–and with the US government supporting political opposition with hundreds of millions of US taxpayers’ dollars, plotting to assassinate him and the whole bit.

  51. roger nowosielski

    Again, we reached an impasse and decided to call it quits.

    In conclusion, Marthe stated:

    “My concern is that however the socialist model shakes out, that it be genuinely
    inclusive of indigenous folks–in the sense that they maintain their autonomy
    and have full rights to participate as much as they want to in the process and
    share in the benefits of same.

    “No capitalist model will ever respect their rights or include them. They are seen as obstacles to increased profits who must be exterminated [with which statement I wholeheartedly agree].”

    So that wraps it up, folks.

  52. roger nowosielski

    In the next couple of posts or so, I’ll try to condense the modern history of Venezuela, as per Lander, to a number of salient points. Right off the bat, however, I’d like to draw attention to two important, if not unique, features about Venezuela, features which to this day continue to shape the particular course of the Bolivarian Revolution in progress.

    The first is that out of all the Latin America’s nation-states, Venezuela has the longest
    tradition of democracy. The second feature has to do with Venezuela petrol resources, again unequal to those by any of the Latin American nation-states and, what comes with it, the uttermost dependence of the entire Venezuelan economy on petrol — a dependence which has only increased over the years, down to the present day.

    With respect to the second-mentioned feature, I don’t think there is any need to document it: the facts speak for themselves, and the ramifications, as we shall shortly see, are enormous. As regards Venezuela’s, in my view, “long-standing democratic tradition,” I base my conclusion on two points. Again, in light of my first-person ignorance on the subject, I’m relying here entirely on Lander. If he’s wrong, so am I.

    The first is the so-called October Revolution in 1945, and I’m citing here from Lander, “in which Acción Democrática, which was a sort of quite left-leaning social democratic party, took power and there was a huge transformation in the Venezuelan political system. There was a new constitution. There were voting rights for the whole population for the first time in Venezuelan history, women were allowed to vote, etc., etc., and there was [incompr.] reform, like, high level of union organizing, and quite a bit of confrontation with the United States government in terms of the control of the oil industry and prices.

    “That ended with a coup in 1948 backed by the United States, a military coup that overthrew the government of Rómulo Gallegos, the first democratically elected government in Venezuelan history.” (see the first instalment)

    And the second is, the Caracazo protests in 1989 (e.g.,, or against the rise in the cost of petrol.

    As Lander describes it, “the Caracazo was a very sort of surprising event in the sense that it wasn’t really organized and it was highly unexpected. So people on the left in general weren’t aware of any sort of previous preparation or any sort of–the left was as surprised as the government.”

    Well, my take on this is that since “this whole system was based on high oil income and redistribution,” [Lander] these spontaneous protests were due to built-up expectations on the part of the populace of what was already a democratic/socialist government funded by the petroleum industry Something akin to food riots, one might say.

    This just about covers Lander’s exposition, parts 1 though 3.

  53. roger nowosielski

    Lander on the modern history of Venezuela, installment #8:

    A digression. When I spoke of “food riots” in connection with the Curacazo event in 1989 (see the end of the preceding post), I meant reaction to shortages. More specifically, it was a “protest against the Washington Consensus and IMF-imposed restructuring of the economy,” (installment #8) in short, against the austerity program as part of the daily diet of the neoliberal agenda.

    [I regard the above as a fairly sophisticated response, made possible by the existing democratic/socialist tradition.]

  54. roger nowosielski

    I continue with some of the highlights of the interview with Lander.

    1. The character and scope of Chávez’ reforms:

    “And his vision . . . was basically the idea that this representative democracy had failed and that we needed a new mode of democracy and we needed a new constitution. So the constitution was, like, his main flag for the–there wasn’t much of–it was an anti-neoliberal agenda, certainly not an anti-capitalist agenda.
    And this constitution is a sort of a very progressive social democratic–sort of social democratic constitution which highlighted rights. It was a sort of welfare state, sort of advanced, sort of radically advanced welfare state.
    And there was a sort of vision, according to which the Venezuelan economy should have three sectors: the state sector, the private sector, and the sort of communal or social–whatever.
    JAY: Co-ops and such. Yeah.
    LANDER: Co-ops and all that.. . . But I think the most important thing was oil, because it’s–if you control the oil company, you control the country. And so the attempt to control the oil company was sort of–was the thing that really led to the organization of the opposition as such and with the huge role that the meritocracy, I mean, the higher levels of management in the oil company, played in the coup.
    If you look at the 1999 constitution, it’s a sort of progressive welfare state, but a
    capitalist state. Nothing more. And even in terms of the transformation of representative to participatory democracy, it’s not a displacement of representative democracy by participatory democracy, but of democratization of the political system increasing other–introducing other levels of participation. So the whole basic framework of representative democracy was kept–the election of parliament, separation of powers, and the assemblies at the state level–and the whole structure of liberal representative democracy was kept, but a lot of sort of additional modes of participation–.
    JAY: And the point here wasn’t so radical. It was essentially–it was mostly reforms you could see in much of Europe and Northern Europe. But the idea that he would pry the oil company out of the hands that were making a killing on it, that was enough.” (installment #4)

    2. The oil strategy:

    “The Venezuelan oil company, which was a big player, wanted to get rid of limits on how much they could produce. So they were either trying to weaken OPEC or violate their agreements with OPEC to such an extent that OPEC would just be irrelevant.
    JAY: So PDVSA is doing this in alliance or connivance with the United States.
    LANDER: Yeah, yeah. So they started to produce a lot more oil than the quota. And so there was no way they could agree on control of quotas, which was the purpose of OPEC, and prices had just collapsed. So one of the first things that the Chávez government did was to call a meeting of OPEC heads of state and sort of try to recover. And as a consequence of a Venezuelan initiative, they managed to get–in spite of the disagreements on everything else, they managed to curtail the level of production, and prices just went up. In that year, prices just rose significantly, I don’t know, from $10 to $40 in just a few months.
    JAY: So this is a real strategic challenge to the United States.
    LANDER: Absolutely” (#4)

    3. Impact on the rest of Latin America:

    “And it’s also the case that Venezuela started to play a very important role in Latin America as a whole. Venezuela played a huge role in the defeat of FDAA, which was a main issue. FDAA was, like, a sort of–this free trade treatment of the Americas, which was like a new constitution for all of the Americas, in which the rights of capital were put over the rights of citizens all over, I mean, no matter where you looked.
    It was a huge issue, in terms of democracy and sort of autonomy of Latin American states.” (4)

    4. Leniency of the government towards the opposition, for the sake of greater stability:

    “In any country in the world where you had the main television networks actively calling on the military to have a coup, I mean, they would have been suspended. And in Venezuela nothing happened. They just continued with their license and as if nothing had happened.
    JAY: And why do you think he did that?
    LANDER: Because he thought it would bring stability. He thought that if he pressed
    more, it would probably lead to less stability.” (4)

    5. Innovation:

    “After the coup and after this oil strike, the economic situation in Venezuela was a mess. I mean, the economy collapsed by–I don’t know; it’s something like 17 percent from one year to another as a consequence of the oil strike. And there was a possibility of the recall referendum for the following year, 2004.
    And that’s when the so-called misiones [see started to work. The government realized that it didn’t have the capacity to carry out its proposals for social policies within the traditional bureaucracy. So it started to create parallel structures to carry out policies in different sectors of the society.” (4)

  55. roger nowosielski

    Continuing with the highlights …

    “JAY: What was achieved? And what remains undone?
    LANDER: Well, there’s many ways in which you could think about the aims and what has been achieved. You could think of issues in terms of sort of broad conceptions of socialism and what type of socialism and what–or you could look at more sort of detailed situations and sort of impacts in different areas.
    Let’s look at the impacts first. It’s certainly true that a lot of things have changed over the last 50 years in Venezuela.”

    The positives:

    (a) There’s state control over the oil industry, which there wasn’t before, even though the oil industry was always–I mean, for the last decades, controlled by the state 100 percent.

    (b) There has been social policies that have led to a very, very significant reduction of poverty and to greater degree of equality. Venezuela’s not today an particularly equal society, but it’s the least unequal in all of Latin America, which is the most unequal continent in the world. So that’s not saying that much, but there has been a significant reduction of inequality.

    (c) There has been a really significant transformation of popular political culture. And this is probably the most important thing that’s happened over [incompr.] years. For most of the Venezuelan popular sectors, the political system was alien. It’s something that they’d just given up hope on. They felt totally marginalized. They felt that they had no participation, no involvement, that the political system wasn’t responding to their needs. And that has changed dramatically. People feel empowered. People feel like they can self-organize to get things done. They feel like they have a possibility of a say in their own lives. And that’s huge, and that’s really, I’d say, the most important thing that has happened over those years. The level of political participation and political organization in Venezuela can’t compare with anything previously existing in Venezuela. There’s a widespread level of grassroots organizations around health, around water, around educational issues about–. So that’s–those are all huge gains.

    (d) From a more broader Latin American perspective, the Venezuelan process has had a huge impact. It has led to the possibility of challenging the United States
    politically and geopolitically. It has led to a new relation of Cuba to the rest of Latin
    America. It has led to important things like Petrocaribe, for instance. Petrocaribe’s an agreement between the Venezuelan government and most of the Caribbean and a few of the Central American governments in order to sell oil at subsidized prices for countries that are non-oil producers. And with the huge hikes in oil prices in the recent years, [we] would have been living in a very dramatic situation. And thanks to
    Venezuelan oil prices and to very low interest credits for long periods, they have managed to keep their economies going.

    (e) Venezuela has played a very important role in the creation of new mechanisms of
    integration, both political and economic integration in South America and in Latin America. UNASUR, which is the union of the South American states, was basically promoted by the Venezuelan government. In the case of CELAC, which is the community of Latin American and Caribbean Countries, which is a new organization which is an alternative to the Organization of American States, which includes, basically, all the countries except Canada and the United States. Venezuela has played a major role in the defeat of the free trade association treaty of the Americas, FTAA. Venezuela played a leading role in the sort of shift to the left that made new constitutions in Bolivia and Ecuador possible. So a lot of things have happened that are due to the transformations that began in Venezuela, which probably began with the Caracazos [incompr.] before, with sort of the first big popular reaction against neoliberal policies in the continent.

    (Installment #5)

  56. roger nowosielski


    The negatives:

    . . . there are also a lot of things that haven’t changed. And I say that the main thing that hasn’t changed is the structure of the Venezuelan economy, the rentier state, and the fact that the whole of the Venezuelan society and economy is based on oil. Not only hasn’t it changed, but dependence on oil has increased. As a consequence both of the rise in prices of oil and diminishing levels of exports of non-oil, the proportion of oil in Venezuelan exports has gone from something like 68 percent to 96 percent, which is the current level. So this is a level of dependency on oil that we never had before.

    There’s many arguments that can be made in terms of the relation between the aims of the Bolivarian Revolution and this oil-based model, and from my perspective, there are not only tensions but structural contradictions between the aims of the Bolivarian Revolution and the preservation of this oil structure. Those basic contradictions would be the following:

    (a) In the first place, if you’re talking about participatory democracy and grassroots organizations and communal state and all sorts of forms of alternative to the representative democracy and the sort of liberal forms of democracy, you need to have productive base for those forms of organization. You can’t have transformation of the political system that only occurs in the polity area; it needs a dimension at the economy, at the productive level. Otherwise, people get organized, they decide what they want to do with their lives, their plans, what are their investments, etc., and then
    [incompr.] from the state, which, of course, conditions the resources in terms of government policies, not in terms of what the communities might decide. So there’s a huge contradiction between this sort of expansion of forms of participation and forms of popular organization and the fact that there’s no productive base that corresponds to these alternative forms of organization. That’s one enormous issue.

    (b) There’s also the fact that one of the main issues in the Constitution is food sovereignty. You can’t have food sovereignty if you have a situation in which this oil structure leads to such an undervalue in the currency that it’s cheaper to import anything than to produce in Venezuela. So dependency on food imports is today as big as ever. And even when the government spends million and millions of dollars to try to increase agricultural production, whenever there’s a conflict of some scarcity or
    something, they immediately import massively, say, frozen chicken from Brazil, say, and that completely undermines the possibility of creating a chicken industry in the country. That sort of thing happens all the time.

    (Installment #5)

    In the next post, I’ll address the issue of “food sovereignty” and more generally, Venezuela’s problems with agriculture — both fairly self-evident symptoms of Venezuela one-dimensional economy due to its nearly total dependence on the petrol industry, in that virtually every aspect of its economy is intimately tied up with, by way of subsidies, with its oil production.

    Not a healthy situation by any means.

  57. roger nowosielski

    Problems with agriculture/toward a post-oil economy

    1. It’s not regarded as lucrative enough compared to other occupations. Thus, we have, for example, the failure of the co-op experiment:

    JAY: Why are they having so much trouble getting agriculture going? You would think the amount of revenue they have, instead of just subsidizing people in the barrios, you could create, you know, co-ops and help fund them to do agriculture. And something doesn’t compute here, why they can’t get–couldn’t have gotten a more independent food supply by now.
    LANDER: There’s different reasons. There’s a historical reason that has to do with oil again. Agricultural culture in Venezuela was destroyed by oil. People who were from–peasants migrated to the cities. In Venezuelan culture, agricultural production is sort of low-grade in the social scale. People don’t want to be in agriculture. On the other hand, the government has tried to implement several plans for agricultural production, but they always have been top-down. And agricultural production is always characterized by the fact that it’s diverse. It’s diverse because it’s in different regions, different regional cultures, different products, different ecological niches. I mean, it has to be diverse. It has to come from below. The government decided some ten years to create co-ops, for instance.
    JAY: Co-ops.
    LANDER: Yeah. And it created something like 287 co-ops in a year. It was basically financing for people that just got a piece of paper and sort of filled it in, and this is a co-op, and deal with financing. And, I don’t know, 95 percent of them disappeared within a couple of years.
    JAY: Why?
    LANDER: Because a co-op is not something you can just create with financing. A co-op is something that requires people’s involvement, some educational purpose, some outreach to the community. I mean, there’s a whole sort of philosophy and sort of type of practice that’s involved in a co-op. #5

    2 Not much of a peasant movement that’s really pressing to have access to land

    LANDER: if you compare, say, Venezuela to Brazil and you’ve got the Landless movement, you have a very strong Landless movement confronting a government that doesn’t want to carry out land reform and which hasn’t during all the Lula and the present period. In Venezuela, there really isn’t such a peasant movement that’s really pressing to have access to land. It’s small. It’s not–there aren’t that many people in Venezuela that are willing to work in the fields. So that’s a cultural issue. But it’s also the fact that with the relative prices of imports and agricultural production, there’s no way people can make a living out of agriculture unless it’s highly subsidized. And if it’s highly subsidized, then it’s sort of a repeat of the rentier model in which oil finances everything else. (#6)

    [Thus we have a vicious circle.] . . . on the other hand, one of the objectives of the
    Bolivarian Revolution is the need to have more autonomy in relation to financial capital, to sort of the global capitalist system, etc., etc. But if Venezuela concentrates all its resources into producing more and more of the basic commodity of current capitalism, it will just get more and more connected into the international networks of this capitalist model. There’s no way to break away if you sort of increase and increase and increase production–not only increase production, but to increase production in Venezuela you need huge investments and technology, which the government in Venezuela doesn’t have. So you need financing, you need foreign investment, you get into debt, and it’s sort of go deeper and deeper into the network of extractive models of the predatory modes of capitalism.

    3. The extractive model at cross purposes with agrarian reforms

    In the Venezuelan Constitution, the issue of indigenous rights is a main issue. There’s a whole chapter, Chapter VIII, of the Constitution that defines in very detail what are the rights of the indigenous people. And the whole structure of the rights are constructed around the notion of the recognition of the territories of the indigenous people, because only if people are recognized as a people, they have a right to a territory. And if they have a right to a territory, then there’s forms of self-government
    and whatever is decided within the territory. But that’s incompatible with this extractive model, because most of the indigenous territories are where the extractive activities will be carried out. So even if the Constitution said that the recognition of the territory should be done in two years (which was absolutely non-realistic), after 15 years nothing has happened.
    So unless the productive model based on–unless a transition towards a post-oil economy starts, there’s no way you can save the planet, which is one of the objectives that has been defined by the government. There’s no way you can create participatory democracy, sort of grassroots-based form of democracy, there’s no way you can possibly have food sovereignty, there’s no way you can have a democratic society with oil. And that’s not just the Venezuelan case; I mean, that’s across the board. That can’t–I mean, you can’t expect anybody to become a candidate and say, we’ll stop producing oil day after my election.

    4. Another false model: “you need to accumulate resources in order to be able to carry out further steps and eventually become less extractive”

    There is a lot of debate in Latin America today around alternatives to extractivism. There’s a lot of debate on the fact that these progressive governments–and I’m talking about Bolivia, Ecuador–assume that in the first stage of the transformation you need to accumulate resources in order to be able to carry out further steps and
    eventually become less extractive. But history shows that’s not possible. History shows that as you go into the extractive model, it transformed society. In a political sense, the economy got centered around the extractive model, the state became dependent on the extractive, and it goes deeper and deeper into that. Extractivism not only produces material–not only produces commodities; it produces subjects, it produces social relations, it produces agents. And once you have those agents, you can’t just sort of unwind history and turn it back.”

    To repeat: “Extractivism not only produces material–not only produces commodities; it produces subjects, it produces social relations, it produces agents. And once you have those agents, you can’t just sort of unwind history and turn it back.”

    That’s straight out of Marx’s playbook.

    5. An example of bucking the trend: the little engine that could

    There’s a wonderful case in a valley called Intag in Ecuador, where the Mitsubishi Company discovered that there were huge deposits of copper and they started to get the permits to exploit the copper. Eventually, the environmental impact done by the company itself was made public, and this led to an organization of the people against the mining company. The mining company was sold to a Canadian company, which now controls most of the mining, you know, all over Latin America and other part of
    the world, and people organized to resist the exploitation.
    But then they realized that if they just said no and they didn’t have any alternatives, their struggle wouldn’t be able to survive for very long. So they started to explore, in their valley, what are their options? What type of tourism is possible? What type of cattle raising is possible? What type of fishing is possible? What type of small-scale–what type of Fair Trade coffee, etc.? So they started to work on different areas to show that it is actually possible to be more productive than just producing copper, without the environmental destruction, keeping the communities, making the communities stronger than they were before.
    And, I mean, that sort of thing is happening at different levels all over the place in Latin America, in which alternatives are being constructed locally but they aren’t in the vision, in the radar screen of national governments.
    So the challenge of what would be a post-oil Venezuelan economy or post-Venezuelan [sic] society has to be confronted. And it’s not being confronted. What are the possibilities? That would [be] part of the challenge. (#6)

  58. roger nowosielski

    The following is the final, 9th installment of the interview with Lander re: the modern history of Venezuela:

  59. roger nowosielski

    An overview of Lander’s thoughts on the Bolivarian Revolution, “The Path for Venezuela can not be Neoliberalism or Stalinism,” 2011:

  60. roger nowosielski

    Links to articles in a similar vein.

    1) “An Assessment of Venezuela’s Bolivarian Revolution at Twelve Years”:

    2) “21st century socialism — the strategy of the left and the Latin American experience” by MICHAEL LEBOWITZ, MARTA HARNECKER:(video only)

    3) “The Decolonisation of Global Democracy” by Edgardo Lander:

  61. roger nowosielski

    An interview with Lander, in a different vein.


    The links to Lander’s references:

    1) Anibal Quijano:

    2) Wallerstein:

  62. roger nowosielski

    Now, a number of links to Fanon and decolonization.










  63. Roger – thanks for your efforts at informing this “intellectual exercise”.

    • roger nowosielski

      If you’re saying that I’m trying too hard, probably you’re right.

      • Not at all. I appreciate your efforts.

        • roger nowosielski

          I get your meaning, Anyway, it looks as though I’m going have to write a long footnote to this article, explaining the thesis, MR is under the impression that I’m trying to pose here as some kind of expert on Latin America’s affairs.

  64. roger nowosielski

    Another key work, by Enrique Dussel —,
    The Invention of the Americas: Eclipse of “the Other” and the Myth of Modernity.

    See the following link for a review (bottom of page):

  65. roger nowosielski

    For those who want to dig deeper into Enrique Dussel’s works available in English. The books are listed chronologically, and when indicated otherwise, they’re full pdf texts:

    1) History and Theology of Liberation (1976)

    2) Philosophy of Liberation (1977)

    3) Ethics and Theology of Liberation (1978)

    4) Ethics and Community (1986)

    5) A History of the Church in Latin America (1992)

    6) The Invention of the Americas (1995)

    7) The Underside of Modernity (1996)

    8) Towards an Unknown Marx (2001) — overview

    9) Beyond Philosophy (2003) — excerpts

    10) Coloniality at large. Latin America and the Postcolonial Debate (2008) — overview

    11) Twenty Theses on Politics (2008) — overview — full text

    12) Ethics of Liberation. In the age of globalization and exclusion (2013)



  66. Part of the subject here is the poverty of western anarchist analysis of Venezuela’s revolution and its ‘counter-revolutionary’ character. Here’s an example for evaluation – a north american anarchist’s take on events in Venezuela through early 2006 based on travel and networking in country at the time – a refocused history and less than totally positive take on Chavismo:

    The biggest consequence of Chavismo is that it has relegitimized the state and its political class, at the total cost of all gains made in extra-parliamentary struggle over the course of the 90s. Venezuela has been on the verge of popular revolution (even if only a “national democratic” one) for at least half a century, and the crisis of the last decade created a situation where only a non-traditional politician using leftist rhetoric could possibly have salvaged the crumbling state.

    • roger nowosielski

      And who is saying that?

    • roger nowosielski

      I suppose that by “the poverty of western anarchist analysis . . ” you mean that there aren’t enough people who are engaging in it — not that the analysis by the person named “Nache” leaves a great deal to be desired.

      In any case, I’m carrying the discussion forward by posting on the top of the page.

  67. roger nowosielski

    Aside from a number of memorable quotes from “Nache’s” analysis, let me cite this one:

    Support for the state, especially a “Bolivarian” one, is rooted in liberal doctrine, nationalism, and the Northern Left’s search for a “painless pill” (reformism) that will supposedly allow oppressed peoples to liberate themselves or “be” liberated without the occurrence of any fundamental ruptures in the capitalist mode of production. To support Chávez – and only Chávez – is to deny the whole breadth and trajectory of the Venezuelan and international revolution, effectively condemning class struggle to a supporting role subjugated by – and in justification of – the State and its executive. In a text well over a century old that many in the movement would now do well to remember, Karl Marx encapsulated this issue rather succinctly:

    “But the working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made state machinery, and wield it for its own purposes. The centralized state power, with its ubiquitous organs of standing army, police, bureaucracy, clergy, and judicature – organs wrought after the plan of a systematic and hierarchic division of labor – originates from the days of absolute monarchy, serving nascent middle class society as a mighty weapon in its struggle against feudalism.” – The Civil War in France

    Or to put it in simpler terms, there is no reason as to why the Venezuelan situation should call into question our core beliefs and strategies, especially in regards to non-participation in state politics and hierarchical organizations. If anything, now is the time to enhance our understanding of these anarchist/communist positions and, through exploring the material reality, reaffirm our commitment to both them and their practical implementation. This reflection has already been undertaken by every
    revolutionary movement of the last century, particularly those that were routinely sold out by Leninism, populism, and other forms of left-wing capitalism. We now have their shoulders and experiences to stand on, so the repetition of past mistakes is inexcusable – the decades of trial by fire which have led us to this point have also produced as good and uncompromising a slogan as we’ll ever need:

    Que Se Vayan Todos!

  68. roger nowosielski

    On related topic, also see Hal Draper’s, “Karl Marx and Simon Bolívar,” as per the following link:

  69. roger nowosielski

    The following disclaimer is in order since some of the interlocutors here appear to be less than clear about the main point(s) of this article.

    1. In spite of the numerous references and links in the comments space to Venezuela
    in particular and Latin-American affairs in general, this is not a thesis about the ongoing process of decolonization in the region. I don’t claim to be an expert on the subject, either from a contemporary or a historical perspective, only a student, learning on the go; consequently, what you see is what you get. The object, rather, is to examine the Venezuelan state and the prospects of socialism in Latin America and Venezuela in particular, the prospects of the much heralded 21st century socialism, especially since it has been and is being billed as such; and doing so is a fair game.

    2. Why Latin America and the Bolivarian Revolution? Simply put, it’s the most explosive region of the globe at the moment, the most fertile ground, more likely than any other to present Western style of capitalism and Western political and economic hegemony with a serious challenge. Just as importantly, however, it is also, because of its colonial past, the most significant ideological adversary of the West, more so than, say, the People’s Republic of China. Consequently, if we’re looking to eroding the Western stranglehold on the world’s political and economic affairs and the thus-far unchecked reign of capitalism throughout the globe, our sights had better be fixed on Latin America.

    3. In this connection, the nine-part interview with Edgardo Lander (see the links in the comments below), charting out the modern history of Venezuela, had proven an invaluable resource. Lander’s is an unbiased, objective, and critical account of the successes and the failures of the Bolivarian Revolution, the gains, the setbacks, and the challenges which lie ahead. One needn’t be a first-rate scholar or a historian of colonialism in order to be able to assess the state of the 21st century socialism in Latin America or to consider the prospects. (This isn’t to say that the colonial past has not been the chief motivating factor, the main force behind it.) Lander’s account makes that perfectly clear, as well as the anarchist-communist analysis of the situa-tion on the ground by “Nache,” as per a number of posts below. All that’s required of us is to have some understanding of what socialism has been historically and to compare it with what’s happening today.

    4. Mind you now, mine has been the lone voice from the anarchist camp, trying to cut the Venezuelan state some slack (see, for instance, my previous article, “One size doesn’t fit all”), for which transgression I was severely chastised by some of my fellow travelers, “troll” and Anarcissie, most notably. My thinking was – in view of the Venezuelan state’s rather short history, because of colonialism, we were dealing with a fairly new and developing structure, trying to take on the residual social formations which were paramount and over-determining during the colonial era and beyond. In other words, the Venezuelan state as a political structure or entity was, relatively speaking, a new phenomenon and given the kind of opposition it had to face from all quarters, it was necessary for it to assert itself, to grow stronger and stronger, if only temporarily, in order to become a truly revolutionary force, capable of reversing the debilitating effects of colonialism and setting the Venezuelan people on the road to true political and economic independence. All along, it was hoped, it was in fact the underlying presumption, that once the Venezuelan state made good on some of its objectives and set the course towards progress and the 21st century socialism aright, it would eventually relinquish its leadership role and its hold on “the revolution” so as to become subservient to the will and the desires of the people, a mere instrument rather than a driving force – in short, that it would miraculously transform itself beyond anything we’ve experienced before. Anyway, such was the hope and the misguided conception, but it’s not about to happen.

    We know, of course, that this scenario is an impossible one. A state, even an emergent state, such as the Venezuelan state, which it happens to be, is bound by its own logic, the logic of unceasing and endless competition. No matter how hard it may desire to be a force for good on behalf of its own people, it cannot possibly make good on this intent. Ultimately, when push comes to shove, it’s got to, it will, tend to its own survival first and foremost, before any other concern. Marx’s quote (see the comment below) and Nache’s analysis make that perfectly clear.

    That’s the logic, the logic of the concept, Consequently, all forms of resisting or
    defeating capitalism must, at the very same time, be striking at the very heart
    of statehood. There’s no other way.

  70. roger nowosielski

    Lander’s objective analysis of the situation on the ground, reinforced by Nache’s anarchist-communist analysis, make the point. There’s still the subjective analysis to consider, an analysis of the Latin America’s mindset. Understandably, we’re verging here into the gray area of the subjective. But insofar as the colonialism is still with us and it still exercises its influence on the hearts and minds of men, we’ve got to take it into account and regard it as one of the major factors.

    Consider the following link to “Savage Discourse” by J.M. Briceño Guerrero, presumably the foremost Venezuelan man of letters:

    Comment at will!

  71. roger nowosielski

    I tried to draw Anarcissie into the fray, but for the time being, she’s on a sabbatical, she tells me. I’m citing, however, the rest of her comment, which as usual, is spot on:

    “If you want to break new ground, you might consider constructing some form of economics which isn’t bullshit. Like, what is it about, anyway? As a prolegomenon I suggest the Crooked Timber discussion which evolved from a criticism of the New York Times (low-hanging fruit indeed) to a more general critique of economics and economists, focused vaguely on Piketty’s book. In following this discussion, I came to realize not only how little I know, but how little almost everybody knows and how weak the frameworks of the knowledge are. The fact that our Great Leaders and Big Men (and Women) are even more ignorant, irrational, and immoral than I is not encouraging. Before we can talk about economic development we must figure out what it is that is going to be developed. So there is your assignment [if you’re looking for one]. Even defining the universe of discourse will not be easy.”

    Of course she’s right, for the concept of “economic development” has been the latent, not much discussed subtopic of this article.

    In this connection, II started reading a little book by Jane Jacobs. “The Nature of Economies,” and I’m more than halfway through. She’s offering a rather novel, unorthodox approach to the subject, and I’ll share some of her thoughts when I’m done.

    Meanwhile, here’s a brief description, from Wiki:

    The Nature of Economies

    The Nature of Economies, a dialog between friends concerning the premise: “human beings exist wholly within nature as part of the natural order in every respect” (p. ix), argues that the same principles underlie both ecosystems and economies: “development and co-development through differentiations and their combinations; expansion through diverse, multiple uses of energy; and self-maintenance through self-refueling” (p. 82).

    Jacobs’ characters discuss the four methods by which “dynamically stable systems” may evade collapse: “bifurcations; positive-feedback loops; negative-feedback controls; and emergency adaptations” (p. 86). Their conversations also cover the “double nature of fitness for survival” (traits to avoid destroying one’s own habitat as well as success in competition to feed and breed, p. 119), and unpredictability including the butterfly effect characterized in terms of multiplicity of variables as well as disproportional response to cause, and self-organization where “a system can be making itself up as it goes along” (p. 137).

    Through the dialogue, Jacobs’ characters explore and examine the similarities between the functioning of ecosystems and economies. Topics include environmental and economic development, growth and expansion, and how economies and environments keep themselves alive through “self-refueling.” Jacobs also comments on the nature of economic and biological diversity and its role in the development and growth of the two kinds of systems.

    The book is infused with many real-world economic and biological examples, which help keep the book “down to earth” and comprehensible, if dense. Concepts are furnished with both economic and biological examples, showing their coherence in both worlds.

    One particularly interesting insight is the creation of “something from nothing” – an economy from nowhere. In the biological world, free energy is given through sunlight, but in the economic world human creativity and natural resources supply this free energy, or at least starter energy. Another interesting insight is the creation of economic diversity through the combination of different technologies, for example the typewriter and television as inputs and outputs of a computer system: this can lead to the creation of “new species of work”.

  72. roger nowosielski

    Marthe Raymond’s response (May 8, 4:21 pm) to a number of recent postings:

    I think the problem is that you are still viewing this as an intellectual exercise. In that I agree with troll.

    It seems to me that all these economic theories are just recycling hot air–no matter who is the blowhard in turn.

    A lot of it is reinventing the wheel. Which brings me to my central point, which is
    that indigenous peoples in this hemisphere for thousands of years developed
    sustainable agriculture and they did that without the wheel. The groups that used methods that were destructive and not sustainable died out, or were incorporated into other groups.

    Here in Mexico,one example was the use of Chinampas —
    — in canals and lakes in the Valley of Mexico, of which a small part of that system still exists. The Spanish managed to destroy most of it when they drained the
    lakes. So Mexico City was built on a lake-bed–which means buildings constantly sinking into the ground and which led to the massive destruction of buildings, infrastructure and 10 thousand deaths from the 1985 earthquake. And which is the cause of the ongoing water crisis in the Valley of Mexico today.

    Indigenous peoples, when they have been left to their own devices–not targeted for extermination, not hustled into concentration camps called reservations, and when their lands have not been constantly under attack from multinational capitalist companies trying to rip off their resources, have managed to live without destroying their environments.

    But consumerism/capitalism is the enemy of life. It is like a giant parasite that finally
    consumes its host. A dead end.

    Is socialism any better? Not if it is merely a spin-off of capitalism/consumerism.

    And what about anarchy? I suppose a case may be made that indigenous
    folks are anarchists, in that they don’t believe in the necessity or advisability of any kind of state. But unlike most self-professed anarchists, they believe in cooperation. Anarchy, as presented in the west, is competitive in many aspects, including who can come up with the best model of anarchism and so forth.

    Our species is now twinkling its toes on the edge of the abyss, confronted by the wreckage we have created on the planet, the folks that call themselves leaders have no other scenario than to drum up another world war to avoid defaulting on their debt.

    The old saying “war is good for the economy” is still the prevailing mentality on the planet. Well, yeah, it might be good for the winner’s economy for a few years–if they managed to avoid war in their own territory with the concomitant destruction of their infrastructure. The US hit it lucky, and from 1945 to the mid-60’s the economy was expanding. Then the economy sagged, they drummed up Vietnam, and the old saying didn’t work. The US economy has been on the skids since the Nixon years.

    So long as leaders continue to do the same destructive shit over and over while expecting different results every time, the world as we know it–politically, socially and economically–is fucked.

    The only wheel that matters is not the wheel that supposedly created “civilization”, but the wheel of life. Without respect for life in all of its forms, we as a species are choosing death, and we are condemning a lot of other species to death right along with us.

    • The problem with Marthe’s perspective is it is wholly retrospective and doesn’t indicate any kind of way forwards.

      We can’t go back to the way things were pre-colonialism, so a new way forward has to be found.

      I also don’t accept this clichéd and lazy critique of capitalism. As I’ve pointed out before, it is just a process and is no more evil or than any other process. It is how it is applied that matters.

      I don’t know of any major nation government that conducts itself on a war is good for the economy basis and most of them seem to have learned how false that is.

      I would agree that the “wheel of life” is more important than our current civilization but would also suggest that it is our current civilization that is going to resolve these problems if we manage to avoid any major fuck ups along the way….

      • roger nowosielski

        A couple of points in response, Chris:

        (1) Agricultural self-sustenance is not necessarily a dream, nor does it have to be retrospective or retroactive, especially if we’re talking about parts of Latin America. Is it necessarily desirable that all of Latin America become as industrialized as the West happens to be?

        (2) Perhaps capitalism is “just a process,” as you say. But it’s a process whereby capital and profitability are the supreme values which happen to inform most of the decision-making, with the often concomitant result that some of those decisions may not be in the best interests of the people. Some of the merits of socialism are that it puts profitability in the back seat, so to speak, that the economic decision- making is presumed to be geared in such a way so as to benefit the larger, public good; but socialism, at bottom, is an authoritarian system. The decisions are made from top-down; and so, in spite of what may be best intentions, again, the final results may not be what’s in accord with what people may want. The ideal system, of course, would be one in which it’s the people themselves who make the economic decisions, right or wrong. The freedom of individuals and of communities to write their own ticket, their respective futures, ought to be the supreme value.

        (3) Perhaps troll will be able to come up with a more poignant response.

        • 1. I don’t see how agricultural self-sustenance is possible for entire populations.

          2. Capital and profitability are important because money is energy and if you lose energy then action is impossible. That doesn’t mean to say that they are the supreme or only considerations.

          In those cases where they are to the extent that there are negative impacts on other people, we can say that those are examples of poor capitalism, just as we can define cases of other actions that have negative outcomes as poor implementations.

          • Chris – not poignant but here’s my response:

            The problem with Marthe’s perspective is it is wholly retrospective and doesn’t indicate any kind of way forwards.

            We can’t go back to the way things were pre-colonialism, so a new way forward has to be found.

            Marthe proposes positively that part of any successful way forward must be support for indigenous populations.

            “I also don’t accept this clichéd and lazy critique of capitalism. As I’ve pointed out before, it is just a process and is no more evil or than any other process. It is how it is applied that matters.”

            And I don’t accept that processes are as open-ended and as you imply. Processes have limiting material historical contexts.

            “I don’t know of any major nation government that conducts itself on a war is good for the economy basis and most of them seem to have learned how false that is.”

            Government funded military applications remain the primary driving force behind technological development in the US and account for a significant portion of its GDP.

            “I would agree that the “wheel of life” is more important than our current civilization but would also suggest that it is our current civilization that is going to resolve these problems if we manage to avoid any major fuck ups along the way….”

            The singularity will not save us no matter how cool Johnny Depp sees himself.

            “1. I don’t see how agricultural self-sustenance is possible for entire populations.”

            Yet expanding indigenous populations were able to sustain themselves for thousands of years without depleting their resources. (See, for example, the anthropological studies of the indigenous peoples of (what is now) NW North America and their management of the salmon population on which their existence depended.)

            “2. Capital and profitability are important because money is energy and if you lose energy then action is impossible. That doesn’t mean to say that they are the supreme or only considerations.”

            Money is not energy – it’s just one way to account for energy.

            “In those cases where they are to the extent that there are negative impacts on other people, we can say that those are examples of poor capitalism, just as we can define cases of other actions that have negative outcomes as poor implementations.”

            People are starving amidst plenty right now. The “good capitalism”/”poor capitalism” distinction is nothing more than a circular word game.

          • There’s nothing inherently special about indigenous populations; why should they have special treatment above anybody else? Plus which, even if they did, how is that relevant to managing a better future for people?

            Processes don’t have any limiting concepts at all except the laws of physics, so I couldn’t disagree more with this point. People and their preferred ways of doing things might, but that’s a human issue not a process issue.

            I didn’t deny that governments spend money on military R&D and it’s quite right that they should, as protecting its people is one of the primary functions of government. That doesn’t mean that they think that war is good or profitable though.

            Although the singularity will be an important and very significant milestone, it isn’t inherently going to solve all problems. Don’t understand what Johnny Depp has to do with this, nor do I get how this remark is in any way on point to mine.

            Yes, indigenous populations were able to support themselves. Unfortunately the global population has increased from 1 billion in 1800 to over 7 billion now, with most of that growth happening outside of North America and Europe for several decades, so it is irrelevant.

            I think money is energy and don’t understand how it could be seen as a way to “account for energy”. As with most of the arguments you, Marthe and, to a lesser extent, Roger, are putting forth, to me they seem rooted in a perspective that lost its relevance several decades ago and you are largely tilting against windmills that no longer exist.

            There are plenty of hungry people now, but there are less of them – and less poor people than there were 30, 20 and 10 years ago.

            Evidence of you guys missing the point is that you seriously assert that good capitalism v bad is just a word game; I think it is entirely the point of what is going on in capitalist development right now. Shame you can’t apparently see any way to get involved and influence the process and just want to be a critic…

          • roger nowosielski

            Some more of her comments, in this instance on the “war is good for the economy” question and the modern governments:

            You might want to mention, since neither of us addressed
            CR’s pomposity that HE doesn’t know of any governments that conduct foreign policy on the basis of the old saw that war is good for the economy, that the first 3 countries whose governments come to mind are the US, France and the UK. It has been amply documented that they are also among the countries which manufacture and sell the most arms, but more to the point all 3 countries’ governments dove headlong into making war during the past 10 years precisely with the aim of boosting the economies of their countries. Some of these wars have involved massive invasions to grab resources: Iraq and Libya, for sure. The fact that the objective was not met does not mean it was not the objective. In Iraq the UK made out slightly better in its former colony than the US, as they did grab some petroleum in Basra. All 3 countries supplied and continue to supply money, arms and “technical assistance” to insurgent and mercenary forces in Syria, where they also did their damnedest to blame the use of chemical weapons
            supplied by the Saudis to Al Qaeda on the Syrian army in order to order “bombs away” over Damascus. The number of videos showing the mercenaries with their chemical weapons and the geopolitical chess skills of Putin prevented that, so now they are going after the same goal in Ukraine, where they have followed the capitalist mandate that you have to spend money to make money by shoving billions of dollars and euros into the pockets of Neonazi mercenaries, and where again the Saudis are helping out

          • This is more nonsense.

            Although I have always been opposed to the involvement of the USA, the UK and anybody else for that matter in various countries over the last 10 years and have been a vocal critic of various governments’ failure to resolve the Palestinian question since the 1970s, a failure that has probably done more than anything to cause more recent political and religious conflicts, that doesn’t mean that I buy into the argument that these countries have got involved for primarily economic reasons. Personally I see it as evidence of the wisdom of the perception that the road to hell is paved wit good intentions.

            Also, as Marthe has leapt to conclusions about what I know or think without ever bothering to trouble herself to finding out, albeit by your proxy, I am not remotely troubled or challenged by her petulance.

            She also seems to make the novice mistake of assuming that the UK et al are unitary states that don’t have significant amounts of opposition to what has happened over the last few decades.

            If the UK dove into war 10 years ago to boost its economy, it seems odd to that it fell into recession 4 years alter and remained in recession until just last month. France remains in recession and the USA came out just before the UK. Seems the facts don’t support the rhetoric.

            There haven’t been any resource grabbing in Iraq or Libya, although there are obviously huge questions remaining about what has happened in those two countries since their dictators were deposed and any net benefit to their populations.

            Syria is another mess, where neither the government or the opposition seems an attractive proposition and I, like many others, think we shouldn’t get involved at all.

            The Saudis are to blame for a lot of what is going on in the region and I wish they didn’t get any support from our countries at all, but to say they are worse than the other factions in this stupid latter day “catholics” v “protestants” religious schism is naive. A curse on all their religious houses as far as I am concerned, and any other faith based government too.

            Trying to portray Putin in any kind of positive light is hilarious though. Does she expect to be taken seriously? Rich comedy from somewhere back in the 20th Century…

          • There’s nothing inherently special about indigenous populations; why should they have special treatment above anybody else? Plus which, even if they did, how is that relevant to managing a better future for people?

            This question might better be put to Marthe. My point was that her perspective is not simply retrospective as you stated.

            Processes don’t have any limiting concepts at all except the laws of physics, so I couldn’t disagree more with this point. People and their preferred ways of doing things might, but that’s a human issue not a process issue.

            Your god’s eye point of view is irrelevant to human processes such as capitalism.

            I didn’t deny that governments spend money on military R&D and it’s quite right that they should, as protecting its people is one of the primary functions of government. That doesn’t mean that they think that war is good or profitable though

            I responded to your statement concerning the conduct of governments, not what they think.

            Although the singularity will be an important and very significant milestone, it isn’t inherently going to solve all problems. Don’t understand what Johnny Depp has to do with this, nor do I get how this remark is in any way on point to mine.

            Depp plays the singularity in his new movie. One reading of Kurweil, Diamondis, et al is that the singularity will be required to solve our seemingly intractable problems.

            Yes, indigenous populations were able to support themselves. Unfortunately the global population has increased from 1 billion in 1800 to over 7 billion now, with most of that growth happening outside of North America and Europe for several decades, so it is irrelevant.

            It’s the attitude that allowed long term sustainability that is at issue, an attitude currently lacking in the dominant culture.

            I think money is energy and don’t understand how it could be seen as a way to “account for energy”.

            And I think money is simply an accounting system.

            There are plenty of hungry people now, but there are less of them – and less poor people than there were 30, 20 and 10 years ago.

            The observation there are fewer deaths due to starvation and malnutrition as a percentage of the world’s rapidly increasing population than there were a few years ago is not responsive to my point. There is no good (based on physics) reason for a single such death given our current level of production.

            Evidence of you guys missing the point is that you seriously assert that good capitalism v bad is just a word game; I think it is entirely the point of what is going on in capitalist development right now

            You will need to clarify the difference in some non-circular manner if your argument is to hold water.

          • Troll, Marthe’s argument is silly because we can’t go back to self-sufficient populations, so it is retrograde and nostalgic, to say nothing of totally unachievable, to say nothing of most people not actually wanting that kind of lifestyle. Farming is boring and being self-sufficient far too time-consuming.

            I have no idea what your “god’s eye” comment means or is meant to mean, it just seems like jibber-jabber to me. What do you mean? All processes outside of nature are human processes and their implementation is just a design issue, so obviously there will be a range of different types, not one simple and unalterable model.

            Your remark about military is confusing. The original remark was about governments using war as a profit centre, your original remark was about government spending on military r&d; they aren’t the same thing.

            One reading of Kurzweil’s concept of the singularity as required for the solution to all our problems is to make up a pile of crap. I’m not sure that Kurzweil has ever made that point. Are you saying that he has?

            If you think money is an accounting system, then you don’t know what either money or accounting systems are. Really?

            Physics has no relevance to the questions of hunger or poverty. Are you just making this up?

            I’m not making a circular argument; if anybody is it would be you as you keep on objecting to things that aren’t actually the issue. You seem to think that there can only be one type of capitalism and as long as you think that, for you there can indeed only be one kind. I see that as a failure of imagination.

          • There is nothing retrograde in demanding the end to the genocide of indigenous peoples. Farming is exciting, and our human population had best become self-sufficient.

            Capitalism is an example of what you call a process outside of nature. It is conceptually limited by those human foibles you pointed to earlier and by its historical context.

            If you think that US military R&D is solely intended to protect the US population without consideration for capitalist profit, you are being naive.

            You should take a look at what’s going on at Singularity U.

            Really. Calling money energy is silly.

            We currently are able produce enough food to feed the world’s population.

            Your definitions that good capitalism is that which produces good results and bad capitalism is that which produces bad results is hardly enlightening. I await a meaningful definition from you.

          • I can’t decide if you’re trying to wind me up or are really talking the largest pile of poo I’ve ever seen from you.

            The genocide of indigenous people isn’t happening, unless you count things like the Burmese Budhhists murdering local Muslims or some tribal things in various parts of Africa, none of which have anything to do with the Western nations.

            Farming is anything but exciting and is mostly hard work and there is simply no way that 7 billion people are going to become self-sufficient.

            As I said in my previous comment that capitalism was a human process, are you actually starting to agree with me now? What you don’t appear to want to understand is that it doesn’t inherently have to be exploitative or one sided.

            It is the first duty of a government to protect its people, so yes, military production is primarily produced without a concern for profit and financed by taxation; please note that is primarily, but not necessarily exclusively. I think you are being obtuse rather than me naive.

            As I’ve been aware of Singularity U since before it actually launched, I think I’m as aware of it as most. That said, what about it and how does it in any way support your argument?

            Calling money energy may be silly to you, but that says more about you than anything else. I see it as a fuel to get work done and that is clearly energy. Perhaps you are just having a failure of imagination?

            I’m aware that we can produce enough food to feed the global population. What does that have to do with anything that I’m saying?

            I don’t think you actually want to accept the notion that capitalist implementation is largely a matter of purposing and design; it seems to suit you to treat it as a single thing, so maybe it is for you, but it isn’t for me.

            Finally, I didn’t say “good capitalism is that which produces good results and bad capitalism is that which produces bad results”; I said that capitalism doesn’t inherently have to be exploitative or necessarily produce bad outcomes. You need to scrape off some conceptual skin and look at things through fresh eyes and/or stop being a commentator and get involved in the process, which is easier now than it has ever been…

          • roger nowosielski

            “Calling money energy may be silly to you, but that says more about you than anything else. I see it as a fuel to get work done and that is clearly energy.”

            Do you mean as the motivator?

          • Sorry, Roger, I don’t understand your question.

          • roger nowosielski

            What I mean, Chris, is that money, aside from what we, humans, vested it with, is just a piece of paper. It’s the act of vesting which makes money valuable, or desirable. So the money itself is not “energy,” it’s our placing value on it, the things we think we can do with it, which vests it with energy. We, humans, are the ones who bring energy into the equation.

          • I take it as a given that money has value placed on it, which is why it is energy and can be put to work.

            It’s more like electricity, which can be generated from many different sources, than biomass like coal, oil or gas.

          • Chris –

            The genocide of indigenous people isn’t happening, unless you count things like the Burmese Budhhists murdering local Muslims or some tribal things in various parts of Africa, none of which have anything to do with the Western nations.

            You clearly haven’t spent much time on reservations. I don’t know a better word to describe the systematic destruction of cultures, habitats and peoples that I witness and hear about when I ply my trade in such places.

            Farming is anything but exciting and is mostly hard work …

            To each his own, I guess.

            …and there is simply no way that 7 billion people are going to become self-sufficient.

            We are capable of producing enough to feed the 7 billion; is that not grounds for claiming self-sufficiency already?

            As I said in my previous comment that capitalism was a human process, are you actually starting to agree with me now? What you don’t appear to want to understand is that it doesn’t inherently have to be exploitative or one sided.

            I understand that ‘when you use a word, it means just what you say it means – nothing more and nothing less’, Humpty Dumpty. This attitude doesn’t facilitate communication. Some examples of non-exploitative capitalist processes might help me grasp your usage. I took on an apprentice once and allowed him the same amount of money for his support that I charged for the jobs he did. Would you call this a capitalist process?

            It is the first duty of a government to protect its people, so yes, military production is primarily produced without a concern for profit; please note that is primarily, but not necessarily exclusively. I think you are being obtuse rather than me naive.

            As a one time military contractor I can tell you that the US government will not grant military contracts to anyone who is not out to make a profit. The perpetuation of the profit system is a primary concern to contract monitors. Further, I don’t see how a claim that the US economy depends significantly on arms sales and profits off of wars around the the world is controversial. The government is complicit in and critical to this process.

            As I’ve been aware of Singularity U since before it actually launched, I think I’m as aware of it as most. That said, what about it and how does it in any way support your argument?

            We must read these people differently. My take is that they are saying that the singularity is a requisite tool for developing complex solutions to issues that we now see to be intractable and that this tool will be developed unless we fall off a cliff first. I will waste my time digging for quotes to support my interpretation only if you insist.

            Calling money energy may be silly to you, but that says more about you than anything else. I see it as a fuel to get work done and that is clearly energy. Perhaps you are just having a failure of imagination?

            So your saying that money is essentially the same as the slave master’s whip and the pimp’s heroin? Each is simply a fuel to get work done and is therefore energy, right? I can almost agree with this.

            I’m aware that we can produce enough food to feed the global population. What does that have to do with anything that I’m saying?

            See above. Doesn’t the fact that we don’t feed the hungry sufficiently to end starvation despite our production ability say something to you about the nature of the dominant economic system?

            I don’t think you actually want to accept the notion that capitalist implementation is largely a matter of purposing and design; it seems to suit you to treat it as a single thing, so maybe it is for you but it isn’t for me.

            I must have too much in common with residents of the show me State. Again, some examples to mull over please. Is a usury free micro-loan (meeting the definition of a gift) a capitalist process?

            Finally, I didn’t say “good capitalism is that which produces good results and bad capitalism is that which produces bad results”; I said that capitalism doesn’t have to be exploitative or necessarily produce bad outcomes.

            Then I’m not sure what to make of your: “In those cases where they are to the extent that there are negative impacts on other people, we can say that those are examples of poor capitalism, just as we can define cases of other actions that have negative outcomes as poor implementations.” Please explain where I went wrong in my rephrasing?

            you need to scrape off some conceptual skin and look at things through fresh eyes and/or stop being a commentator and get involved

            What a pleasant way to tell someone to fuck off.

          • So you’re claiming that reservations are places where genocide is happening? I can’t take such abuse of language seriously, so have nothing more to say on this point.

            In fact, you mangle the meaning of words all through your latest post, but I’ll do my best to untangle your mangle.

            My neighbours are farmers and so are some of my relatives, including one of my sisters. They assure me that it may be rewarding in more than one way but it is not exciting and takes a lot of hard work. Perhaps you’ll accept the words of actual farmers over your own notions?

            No, producing enough food to be able to feed 7 billion is not self-sufficiency unless you are assigning some other meaning to the term that only you understand.

            I don’t actually see why I have to provide examples of non-exploitative capitalist processes. Why don’t you stop talking rhetorical rubbish and go take a look at what some people are doing?

            Whilst you’re at it, please do fuck off with the Humpty Dumpty bullshit argument as it is you that is making up meanings of words, as we have already seen with your absurd genocide comment. I can assure you that if you knew me, rather than your own fertile imaginings, I speak very plainly and simply as a matter of policy and preference.

            The nature of contracts between the government and the private contractors it uses isn’t the same thing as governments themselves being primarily interested in weapons dealing for profit, so you have once again failed to make your point.

            As to arms exports, I’ve criticised defence manufacturing choices and the nature, scope and location of arms sales by the USA and UK many times and continue to do so, but that doesn’t mean that I confuse this issue with the primary reason as to why military spending takes place.

            We should also not lose sight of the fact that Marthe’s remark was about governments conducting foreign policy on the basis that war is good for the economy, which I don’t believe is happening in terms of Western governments and, if it was, has been clearly shown to be a policy failure.

            Your original remark about the singularity was that “the singularity won’t save us”, although you didn’t say from what and I suspect you were just being glib rather than having any serious or fundamental point; in your most recent comment you say that the folk at SU see it as “a requisite tool for developing complex solutions to issues”, which is very different. Do you think such a landmark development won’t be a good achievement?

            I don’t really know why I’m bothering to respond to your absurdity about money, whips and heroin but, for the record, no I don’t see them as the same at all. If you do, I think this again says more about you and your preconceptions than anything else.

            No, the fact that we don’t feed everybody properly says more to me about the deficiencies of political systems than capitalism.

            I don’t think an interest free micro-loan is a capitalist process but I think an interest charging one is.

            You went wrong in your rephrasing by the act of rephrasing; please don’t do that and try to be more precise.

            If I wanted to tell you to fuck off, I would, and did above; again, please knock it off with the rephrasing. You are just commenting about something that you aren’t involved in. Why don’t you get out there and try to set up some capitalist processes that you feel good about and have positive outcomes? That way, you’ll have actual examples all your own and you can mull over them as long as you like….

          • Chris –

            OK. We don’t need to talk about the genocide.

            I, too, know farmers, Small world.

            Primarily, I’ve been trying to get you to clarify what you mean by ‘capitalism’ beyond your references to ‘process’. Like what is and isn’t capitalism on-the-ground. Particularly, I’d like to know how to differentiate good and bad instances from your viewpoint. Your advice that I go look isn’t helpful. First, it assumes that I haven’t, and, second, that there is something I’d see that would clarify your position.

            Supporting arms sales to warring factions – “governments conducting foreign policy on the basis that war is good for the economy,” – is a significant (primary) part of US policy. I haven’t seen a big change in this recently and don’t think our governors have decided such a policy is a failure. I think it’s generally the case that policies can have more than one primary goal. You seem to be saying that an unspoken policy isn’t a policy…is that right?

            I don’t know whether or not the singularity would be a “good” achievement. The possibility of severely negative unintended consequences concerns me.

            In my opinion, economic activity and political policy are inseparable and have intertwined deficiencies. The failure to feed is an indictment of both, in my opinion.

            By rephrasing I was trying to make some sense of and clarify what is vague to me in your comments. Perhaps I should have simply dismissed your comments that seemed unclear to me as nonsense and avoided the conversation.

            Isn’t usury exploitative? Perhaps ‘exploitative’ is another word the meaning of which we disagree on.

            I don’t know why either of us is bothering with this; we don’t seem to be communicating

            As for going out and starting a business based on capitalist processes, I see no reason to get more deeply involved with a system that I see to be literally murderous than I have to. (I don’t participate in our faux-democratic elections either.) I’m more interested in exploring non-capitalistic ways of organizing production and distribution.

            Finally, telling me that I should stop being a commentator sounds like a fuck off to me. (Your comment, if you remember, was: “You need to scrape off some conceptual skin and look at things through
            fresh eyes and/or stop being a commentator and get involved in the
            process, which is easier now than it has ever been…”[emphasis added]) “And/or” has a pretty precise logical meaning. Did I fail to understand you, or were you unclear?

            In any case, stopping our exchange of comments sounds fine to me. Perhaps in the future we’ll find some common understanding to base a conversation on.


          • I take your latest comments about genocide and farming to be retractions of your original remarks. Well done on that at least.

            As it is you that has a problem with understanding capitalism, why don’t you define what you mean? I don’t have any hangups about a system that has been useful to many despite some negative outcomes. If your point is to object to any system that doesn’t manage to have zero imperfections, then you object to everything that has ever happened on this planet, which is absurd.

            My point is that capitalism doesn’t inherently have to have any kind of outcome, unless you object to any kind of transactional arrangement, but again, if you do that you object to everything that has ever happened as all of life depends on transactions at every level.

            As it is just a process, I don’t see where citing any one specific example gets us as you will almost certainly go off on the tangent of trying to pick that exemplar apart and find its defects.

            With regard to military production you are once again confusing things. I don’t really know how repeating what I’ve already said will improve your perception, so let’s leave that for now,

            Your remark about the singularity sounds very like historic remarks like “I don’t know if the printing press will be a good thing”. It too had “unexpected consequences”…

            I see your inability to distinguish between political and economic policies and seeing them as inseparable as a failure of perception on your part, not the actual reality as I see it. The very fact that they have different names and processes confirms their uniqueness. Do you also see chemistry and physics or chemistry and biology as inseparable?

            I think you should restructure your thinking rather than my words. Smart people adapt to the environment they are in…

            Usary can be exploitative but not necessarily. You seem to like this very black/white approach but I find it lacking in nuance. The real world is actually simultaneously based on duality and infinite shades of grey.

            You keep asserting that capitalism is murderous but you haven’t provided any examples or made any kind of case that it is an inherent characteristic. That’s not necessary though because as I’ve already pointed out, there can be bad and good implementations, as with any other activity.

            I’d agree with you that there is very little real choice in our current political options in either the USA or the UK but that doesn’t mean that politics is bad, it just means that the current implementation is. Are you saying that you can’t imagine a better politics? I certainly can, just as I see the current system as better than a religious state or a royalist state.

            Not participating, in politics or capitalism, is basically just sulking, rather like the boy playing football who, on being tackled, gets in strop and goes home with the ball. I don’t see how that can be a process for change or improvement.

            So, yes, you should stop being a commentator and a critic and get involved. That’s how progress happens, not by refusing to get our hands dirty.

            I’m philosophically opposed to stopping communication, but if you want to take you bal home, that’s your choice…

          • Chris –

            Thanks for your response.

            Take my willingness to put genocide and exciting farming aside as you will.

            I still have no idea what you mean by non-exploitative capitalist processes. If you think that I’ve been asking simply to play attack games, I’m sorry. Along the same lines, I see that it will be useless to try to get a handle on what you mean by non-exploitative usury, so I won’t bother. As you’re unwilling to go beyond airy sounding theory and discuss matters as the are on the ground, I will leave it at that, putting discussion of political economy on the ‘don’t bother’ list. I’ve started three successful businesses in my time and understand what’s involved having worked with innovative capitalists. None was every so naive and unclear as you seem to be. I currently work on non-capitalist projects free of passive income.

            I was thinking disintegrating nuclear power plants and stockpiles of nuclear waste when I mentioned unintended consequences. Don’t bother with futurist arguments – ‘great minds’ coming up with positive uses for the crap saving mankind from its past excesses; I’m interested in the here and now.

            That you can’t see that one might have legitimate reasons for non-participation and attempting to delegitimize the status quo rather than trying to build from within it shows me little more than your closed mind. Asking me for what I see as examples of how capitalism is murderous after our exchange over starvation is just more of your denseness.

            If you have something constructive to add, I’d be happy to proceed. As it is, I think that you’re talking crap and ruling class propaganda.

          • Troll, the way I see it, you want to have a debate about political philosophy, which is the last thing I’m interested in.

            I’m only interested in things that can be done and I can see how “good” capitalism can be implemented, whereas you seem to think that all kinds of capitalism are bad, without being willing to get your hands dirty to make a difference or having anything at all to propose as a workable alternative that would encompass everybody.

            What are “non-capitalist projects free of passive income”? Sounds like a job to me!

            I can’t see any connection between your worries about a thing that hasn’t happened yet and disintegrating nuclear plants or stockpiles of nuclear waste. I’m not happy about our nuclear problems either but don’t think that means we shouldn’t be using the technology. Just because we can’t see the end of a road does not mean that we shouldn’t go down it.

            As to the here and now, it seems to me that you are more interested in talking about it and hand wringing than doing anything constructive, which is why you seem to be trying to pretend to yourself that you aren’t playing but you are involved in capitalism unless you are living in a cave and personally providing for all your needs. As you are on the internet, that’s clearly not the case…

            As to denseness, as you seem to be incapable of grasping how iconoclastic new ways of doing business can be; are fixated on blaming capitalism for political problems and have failed to take on board my many prior critiques of the status quo and/or the ruling classes, I am pretty sure as to which one of us is talking crap…

          • roger nowosielski

            Just a silly little question, but I can’t help and must ask.

            Why must there be a “workable alternative that would encompass everybody.”? Is it necessary for it to have so comprehensive a scope? Is it desirable?

          • It’s just jive, Roger. Everyone selling capitalists’ shit to everyone else online from what I’ve been able to glean. The boy doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

          • roger nowosielski

            To change gears somewhat, I’m posting a new link on top.

          • No, troll, old man, what is jive is your silly position about a process rather than its implementation. You are being as trite and banal as someone like Alex Jones.

            Your argument is absurd, entirely theoretical, and nothing but empty posturing; deep down you know it, which is why you want to carry on an argument rather than shut up and do something. You’re no different than any of the talking heads we see in the media, moaning about their pet beefs, which, Gollum-like, they actually cherish. Welcome to prison planet…

          • Actually, Chris, I wouldn’t call what I’ve presented or our exchange much of an argument. I’ve been trying to get you to clarify what your talking about when you speak of capitalism. You’ve refused. I’ve given you two real-world examples of non-capitalist processes and one criterion to help one differentiate between capitalism and non-capitalism. Turn around would be fair play.

          • …so show me non-exploitative capitalist processes, please.

          • Let’s change the frame of reference. I don’t like the assumption on your part that capitalism is exploitative. It CAN be, of course, but it doesn’t have to be. I see your use of the term as a value judgement that you seem to be applying across the board. I don’t accept that frame of reference.

            Would you accept that capitalism can take place in which none of the stakeholders are unhappy, feel exploited or are exploited?

          • I haven’t seen a capitalist enterprise free of exploitation. I have seen businesses where workers are happy in their work.

            Exploitation of resources is necessary in any productive process.

          • Try replacing “exploitation” with “use”…

          • To what end should I use a synonym?

          • Oh, apart from the fact that the two words are not actually synonyms if you care about meaning, how about the end of actually grasping the ability to be accurate about things or the end of letting go of your prejudice, especially as prejudice, unlike bias, is one of the worst crimes against intelligence?

          • Nonsense.

          • Roger, the original remarks were about the perceived need for self sufficiency. I pointed out that it was neither possible or desirable and since then troll has been sulking about it because he can’t accept the ludicrous nature of the notion.

          • roger nowosielski

            Must have taken it out of context, then. But if you mean that absolute self-sufficiency is not possible, of course I agree. For better or worse, all our lives are interdependent. We cannot altogether shed this interconnection, nor do I believe that we should.

          • Just more squirrelly bullshit from you, Chris. Not unexpected. I see little reason to be open with you about my activities. Talk about setting myself up for attack games!

            A job requires a boss, doesn’t it? I’ve been free of such for years.

            No one living in capitalist society escapes capitalism completely – duh.

            How many square miles of Japanese land was take out by the accident?

            I’ve seen no significant critique of the status quo from you.

            Get constructive or give it up.

          • And here the cranky old man loses it because his pet little theories are all worn out.

            It really makes me laugh when you have the gall to tell me to get constructive, without knowing anything about what I am doing, whilst you are trying to convince yourself that you’re not complicit in the things you are moaning about, presumably to assauge your feelings of guilt about it, whilst refusing to get your hands dirty to do anything about it.

            Empty words and posturing, typical of the modern philosopher. Until you can and are willing to “put your hands in your head”, it all amounts to nothing. No wonder you’re having a tantrum…

          • Your assumptions are interesting.

          • Why do you assume I’m assuming anything?

          • You assume that I am trying to avoid acknowledging my complicity. You assume that I’m not trying to actualize my theory. You assume that I mean more than getting constructive within our conversation.

            Good enough?

          • roger nowosielski

            Can’t we find some common ground, guys, and take it from there?

            Let’s forget ’bout capitalism for the time being and concern ourselves with the idea that “protecting its people is one of the primary functions of government.” Of course, no one is going to disagree with you, Chris, that this ought to be the case. But let’s ask a hard-nosed question: Has this really been the case?

            Excepting perhaps the World War II, in the course of which the survival of both Britain and the US, one can reasonably argue, was at stake because of the German and Japanese aggression, all the big or little wars since, on the part of the West, have been wars of aggression. In what sense was the Vietnam War, for example, launched in order to protect the American people? One can, of course, go here and invoke the so-called “domino-theory,” according to which the Communists have got to be stopped wherever and whenever, lest their sphere of influence spread throughout the “free world,” but I am very doubtful, Chris, that you would make that kind of connection between stopping the Communist influence with the defense of one’s homeland. And wasn’t the Korean conflict, in essence, similar in nature?

            And how do the Iraq and the Afghanistan war fare in this regard? Were either Saddam Hussein or the Taliban a direct threat to the Americans or the Brits? Of course not. But here, again, we can make the George W. Bush kind of connection that since 9/11, the “free world” has been under the assault by the Islamist extremist and, therefore, we had better fight the terrorist abroad than at home.

            So for starters, and discounting for the time being the World War II, can we truly say that the wars which had been launched by the West were so launched in order to protect its peoples?

            I don’t think so. What I would rather say that these wars were launched in order to protect Western interests? So now, my question is: Is this one and the same thing? Can we truly say that protecting Western interests is equivalent to protecting the people?

          • Roger, I am opposed to all wars except defensive ones and even then reluctantly but of necessity.

          • roger nowosielski

            I am aware of the fact, Chris, that generally speaking, you’re rather opposed to most wars, which is precisely why I had taken the tack I did. I was hoping, however, that we might be able to carry the ball somewhat further, beyond simply restating what both of us know.

          • Apparently you’re better at remembering stuff than the cranky troll, Roger…

            I don’t really know why any of these wars were started, but I do know that none of the official justifications for them were very convincing.

            Only the other day I saw the British Minister of Defence marking the occasion of the UK’s withdrawal from Afghanistan by saying that our presence there had been in the national interest, but of course he failed to explain why.

            I personally don’t feel any safer now than before, just that a lot of money has been spent and a lot of people killed for no apparent benefit.

            I think if a war was conducted in order to protect Western interests that has to be seen as a different thing than protecting the people. Interests is normally code for investments and I don’t see it as a government’s responsibility to protect corporate commercial investments in other countries.

            Where there might be a case for that would be if governments and corporations collaborated on something like a large scale solar power plant.

            You may know that a very large scale solar power plant in the Sahara desert would be capable of supplying all the power we need.

            Ignoring any power distribution management issues, let’s say that for redundancy, safety and political reasons, there were actually several of these built around the world but all countries became dependent on these facilities for all their power needs.

            If a host nation then tried to hold such an installation to ransom and blackmail the world, there would be a legitimate case for protecting the national interest that also coincided with protecting the people.

            This would be a very different scenario to protecting corporate investment in oil fields.

          • Chris –

            I see that I missed a few items this morning in my rush to get off to work. I’ll mention a couple that most concern me and then leave it be.

            First, why did you respond negatively when I wrote this: “One reading of Kurweil, Diamondis, et al is that the singularity will be required to solve our seemingly intractable problems”, but not when I repeated myself with this: “My take is that they are saying that the singularity is a requisite tool for developing complex solutions to issues that we now see to be intractable…”?

            Second, you wrote, “I don’t actually see why I have to provide examples of non-exploitative capitalist processes.” Isn’t the fact that I asked you to in order to help me understand what your getting at a good enough reason?

          • roger nowosielski

            The proposition that “money is energy” is an interesting concept I have yet to come to grip with: would it perhaps be more accurate to say that some uses of money involve energy transfers or transformations?

            In any case, I encountered some such idea in the little book I made reference to earlier up-thread, “The Nature of Economies,” by Jane Jacobs. (See the link above)

            In the first place, she views the very concept of “development,” and it includes “economic development” as a species, as a natural process, and she talks specifically, at least on the point which may relevant here, of imports and exports: she views those two activities in terms of the enthalpy-entropy mechanism. In particular, imports result in an infusion of energy to the country which imports the goods, whereas exports call for/require an expenditure of energy. Is that way we’re energized when we buy stuff?

            In any case, it’s something to think about? Are Chris and Ms Jacobs both guilty of the “naturalistic fallacy”?

          • roger nowosielski

            Marthe has a thing or two to say about “going back,” and an interesting analogy. I cite parts of her response:

            That is the retrograde position, that nothing behind us matters and we must turn the page and scamper forward like lemmings for the cliffs . . .

            Both Foucault and Niezsche were adamant that when something goes wrong in the historical process that continuing forward on the same track is a dead end, and that we must go back to the point where things went wrong,assemble the elements and fix it.

            I often use the analogy of walking for on a leg so severely
            broken that the leg and the walker become grotesquely deformed. What’s needed at that point, painful though it may be, is to go back and re-break the leg and set it and STOP lurching forward while the leg heals.

            In terms of colonialism in this hemisphere, it means cancelling the Vatican’s Right of Discovery bogus and monarch-serving justification of genocide and land theft–as it was not a discovery when this hemisphere was quite well-populated and had been for thousands of years. 500 years ago what is now Mexico City, then Tenochtitlan, was the most populated city on the planet.

            Other God-on-our-side cynically bastardisms also must be
            rejected, such as Manifest Destiny.

            The colonial/genocidal process must be declared as the
            collosal crime that it was and REPARATIONS MUST BE MADE.

            I am not disposed to racist drivel on the order of “all that happened a long time ago and YOU must shut up and move on”, because genocide and land and resource theft are STILL going on all over this hemisphere. Canada, where my people come from, has passed some Supreme Court rulings in the past couple of years on issues regarding land ripoffs and has unraveled the ball of string that separated status folks from
            non-status natives–much of the legwork done to bring the issues to the SC was done by a couple members of my family–a Mohawk activist and a Métis activist. Canada still has a long way to go cutting loose the money for reparations, as we don’t want to administer Winnipeg. Thank you very much.

            So folks who are promoting covering up genocide and
            landtheft by saying “we can’t make it right” are full of shit. Sure they can, they just don’t want to contribute to the cost–despite all the benefits they have reaped from their share of the ill-gotten gains.

          • As I didn’t say that nothing behind us matters, Marthe’s response is as pointless as it is off target. She isn’t engaging with my words but her own preconceptions.

            Her analogy is more anal than ogy, it is cute but also pointless. Burbling on about events from hundreds of years ago is absurd.

          • roger nowosielski

            She also would like to remind Chris that “It was the English, after all, who had so much fun scalping the Irish that they brought the practice with them to this hemisphere.”

          • So what? How is this relevant to anything? Marthe is fighting wars that most everybody else has moved on from. Basically she displays an actor’s rage; it’s all good dramatic stuff, but essentially much ado about nothing.

  73. roger nowosielski

    To which I answer, excellent post, Marthe, except that:

    (1) I don’t believe I indicated any commitment to defending the Western Civilization, not to the extent that it has been built on the backs of slavery or the colonizing, imperialistic practices. So in that respect, I think we’re in perfect agreement in that the only wheel that matters is the wheel of life.

    (2) Also, I haven’t been defending any Western economic theories (though Marx’s critique of capitalism was spot on). I think that was precisely Anarcissie’s point, I concur with her.

    (3) I don’t know much about the competitive character of Western brand of anarchy (“anarchism” is a term I prefer), but insofar as it is imbued with the kind of mindset you’re attributing to it, then I also agree with you. And yes, you’re right that the indigenous folk are anarchists de facto, believing in no rule, meaning no “state rule” but in mutual aid and cooperation. But so was Kropotkin.

    (4) And lastly, I don’t think troll accused me of engaging in mere “intellectual exercise”: he had put it in scare quotes. I may be wrong, of course, in which case I’ll always stand to be corrected; I have no problem with that. But what I believe is at the bottom of all this: Is it a futile question, merely an exercise, to be asking about what exactly is going on in Venezuela and your hemisphere at large? Well, I still happen to think these are hard-nosed questions and that they ought to be asked.

  74. Okay, Roger, I read this article. Interesting points on things I hadn’t thought about, not being informed about what’s happening in South America.

    • roger nowosielski

      Yes, Cindy, but I’d like to go further than that. The West is lethargic and my thinking is, there’s not much that’s will issue from this quarter by way of opposition to the current trends. Latin America, however, happens to be the most fertile ground — in great part, no doubt, because of its long history of colonialism. Which is why its fight against Western interests may yet prove to be of great consequence and carries the greatest promise.

      On a related note, I also don’t think it’s a coincidence that the thus-far the greatest successes when experimenting with anarchism — the Zapatista movement, for instance — have been carried out and are still thriving on the Latin America’s soil.

  75. roger nowosielski

    The following is a link to what I take it to be an interesting article in The Nation, “Thomas Piketty and Millennial Marxists on the Scourge of Inequality”:

    (The link was provided by one of the commenters on the CT’s article on “How we do intellectual history …,” spoken of earlier by Anarcissie)

    I find the article interesting for a number of reasons, but for starters, let’s just take up the author’s quite an unorthodox take on the genesis of the term “capitalism” in the English vernacular. It’s a refreshing account, I say, somewhat reminiscent of my earlier article on BC, on Hobbes and Locke and the foundations of the modern liberal state — the article which inaugurated the entire series:

    What do you make of this genesis, Mark, just curious?

    • I’ll have nice cup of tea and start to work my way through it. It might take me a bit as my time online is limited – spring planting and all.

      Have you seen Michael Hudson’s work on financial capitalists vrs industrial capitalists and the working class? Interesting take on Marx’s analysis.

    • As a gesture of goodwill to you, I read this article, Roger, although not clear as to why you find it of particular interest.

      Clearly, we can see the problem with socialism encapulated in this “According to socialism’s pioneering theorists, society was more than a collection of individuals. It was an organism, and it had a distinctive logic of its own—a singular object that could be understood, and controlled, by a singular science. Socialists claimed to have mastered this science, which entitled them to act in society’s name. One of their first tasks would be to replace Christianity, liberating humanity from
      antiquated prejudices that had undermined revolution in France and could
      jeopardize future rebellions in Europe.”

      The mixture of naivety, arrogance and superficiality is depressingly familiar and common to many political critics across the political spectrum, especially the type we tend to encounter online…

      I was mildly interested to see how Marx shifted his focus from bourgeois society to the process known as capitalism. I wonder if it explains how some others, okay, the troll, are so misguidedly focussed on it too?

      This line in particular made me laugh out loud “men of science, who do not invent societies but who will rescue them from capitalism.” Orwell would be appalled at the doublespeak…

      On a more positive note, I found more in common with my thinking in references to post-capitalism, although I think the term is inherently misleading, but clearly the advances in reducing poverty achieved in the last 30 years is something we need to continue working towards until everyone is lifted.

      I don’t share the opposition of many of what might seem like my natural outsider allies to globalization, although obviously a certain degree of regulation, as with any process, is required. The so called “millenial marxists” are hilarious in their superficiality though, as is the “Occupy” movement, which I simultaneously like and deplore as it focusses on symptoms not causes, presumably because of its “Marxist” co-opting, and doesn’t offer any real solutions, rather like the self sufficiency argument some endorse.

      I was, of course, delighted to see a dismissal of the “it’s capitalism, stupid” notion some seem determined to cling to…

      In case there is any lingering doubt, I’m not, as troll seems to think, defending capitalism per se, I’m trying to move that one dimensional point forwards and show that it isn’t the system it is specific implementations of it that are the challenge, and I’m also not ignoring the problems inherent in the extreme polarization of wealth which is particularly noticeable in the USA.

      That said, I wouldn’t support any top down enforced wealth redistribution, although I would support such initiatives as greater investment in education and its provision to all. This is particularly important to countries like the USA, which spends far more on policing and punishing its people than it does on educating them.

      Getting back to the article, I don’t agree that politics is a class war at all; indeed, I would see any such analysis as shallow and entirely missing the point. The internet and other new technologies are demolishing much of the established order and empowering people far beyond anything that could have been achievable.

      My own case is one such, as I am now able to enter any industry I choose, literally from anywhere I want to be, and pretty much do whatever I want however I want, rather than being shut out of entire industries by profound barriers to entry. This enables me to reconfigure capitalism to suit my own goals and purposes, none of which conform with any expectation of any political process at all.

      The opportunity here is that thanks to this relatively recent empowerment of people and relative weakening of corporate control, capitalism can be used in service to anything anybody wants it to be put to, which in my case is animal rescue and welfare and poverty emancipation, all without any governmental involvement of any kind. That’s a double plus as the distinctions between the main political parties in almost every functioning democracy have become too small to care about.

      I think Western politics, rather like the San Andreas fault or the Yellowstone supervolcano, is overdue a major re-profiling and for me that can’t come soon enough. It’s much easier to say what’s wrong, as troll and Marthe like to do, than actually come up with coherent methodologies for change.

      Steps I’d like to see are the breakup or banning of political parties, which I think are destructive, in favour of ad hoc issue based alliances based on elected politicians being held directly responsible and answerable to their constituencies, along with significant changes in the way politics is financed and a far greater transparency at every level and stage, along with other measures such as the complete removal of religion from politics.

      As the article confirms, economic growth, which if it continues accelerating the way it has in recent decades is what is really going to solve many of the issues of poverty and inequality, is a key factor and that is primarily due to improved capitalism, not despite it.

      That’s about as much theory as I can stomach for one day, so I’m getting back to the digital coalface where so much of this new economic and political future is being mined.


      • “Steps I’d like to see are the breakup or banning of political parties,
        which I think are destructive, in favour of ad hoc issue based alliances
        based on elected politicians being held directly responsible and
        answerable to their constituencies, along with significant chang
        es in the way politics is financed and a far greater transparency at
        every level and stage, along with other measures such as the complete
        removal of religion from politics.”

        Here, at least, we agree.

      • roger nowosielski

        Not to drag you into theoretical considerations any further than you’d care to go, let me respond, however.

        What I find about the referenced article enlightening is that it cures me of some of my misconceptions. For instance, I had no clear and distinct idea that the term “capitalism” was coined by the socialists; and further, that the term, as used in the present, to describe an economic system and the target of an all-out attack by some, is, relatively speaking, of recent vintage.

        Consider the following, for example, and I’m citing here:

        “With the riddle of prosperity solved, many on the left assumed that the time had come to address loftier questions: eliminating poverty, expanding civil rights, protecting the environment, and more existential concerns like nurturing individuality in a bureaucratized society. No wonder radicals in the 1960s could insist that “capitalism” wasn’t large enough to capture their critique. Paul Potter, former president of Students for a Democratic Society, complained that the word summoned images of an old left mired in archaic battles from the Great Depression. For Potter, ‘the system’ was larger than capitalism, and ‘rejection of the old terminology’ was ‘part of the new hope for radical change.’ ”

        Well, I grew up in the 60’s, so I ought to know, but I didn’t really. But come to think of it now, however, given the benefit of hindsight, that’s exactly right. The brunt of the 60’s “counter-culture” revolution — centered of course around the anti-war protests and only marginally so, the Civil Rights movement — was not against capitalism as such but against the Establishment — the perception of the US government and US policies as essentially imperialist in character. Indeed, it was, in a manner of speaking, a continuation of the C. Wright Mills’ critique in The Power Elite — a critique against the “military-industrial complex” — — surprise, surprise, coined by no other than the Republican President, Dwight D. Eisenhower. Consequently, it’s the Establishment which was the object of an all-out attack, in short, a kind of collusion between the economic and political interests, and not capitalism as such.

        We must of course remember that socialism was more or less invented in England (at any rate, it has a much longer tradition there than in the US) — the Fabian Society, for instance, around the turn of the 20th century — — and George Bernard Shaw was one of the members. Indeed, even the outcries by some of the more enlightened voices in the late nineteen century were not against capitalism, as such, but against some of the early excesses of the Industrial Revolution. So that’s for starters.

        On a side note, however, I do wish than you and troll could restore some civility to the general tone of the discourse, because as things stand right now,I think it’s getting too-personal. There’s no communication going on that I can detect, and that’s too bad.

        • Saying that the poverty problem has been solved would be getting ahead of the facts, but clearly if current trends continue it is going to be, almost certainly during the lifetimes of those who are just getting started in adult life and possibly even within the next 20-30 years. That is being achieved by capitalism and would be an incredible achievement given how recently even most Westerners were largely living in poverty.

          I think part of the problem is the way capitalism is framed within the debate about politics, possibly because the ability to harness capitalism and put it to work has, until very recently, been the preserve of the already affluent and many, but not all, of those tend to be conservative, socially and politically.

          Nowadays though, anyone can be a capitalist if they want to, even you or me, and in that sense capitalism can be de-politicised, which makes sense to me.

          As I don’t engage with politics in terms of the left/right debate and don’t have much time for most mainstream politics, I see all this as progress and get frustrated by regressive political arguments that focus on things that I see as irrelevant. I am not the world’s most patient person and am the “I want the world and I want it now” type, so guess I can get overly frustrated by such irrelevancies and that can lead to a less graceful presence than is perhaps optimal.

        • Roger, Roger. I am willing to treat Chris’ pronouncements and predictions as empirical issues, stick to trend analyses and stop being a pushy bastard.

        • This is not a new history to me, Roger. I do sense a new spin on it emerging from the academic world.

    • The problems with capitalism in both its laissez faire and statist forms aren’t centered around income inequality, but rather exploitation, alienation, and instability/unsustainability.

      Piketty and the modern academics are merely building a new ruling class ideology…again.

      • And to continue – I find the whole notion of socialism as practiced (and by extension the capitalism vrs socialism debate) bizarre based as it is on a bogus identification of The State with The People.

      • This is where you go wrong from my point of view. I don’t accept your assertion that “exploitation, alienation and instability/unsustainability” are features of capitalism.

        • I understand that you’re resistant to analyzing capitalism and attributing features to it.

          • Well you’re wrong again. I’m resistant to your analysis because it doesn’t accord with the reality I see.

            Any features you may perceive would be features of a specific implementation but are not inherent. Until you understand that, you will never understand capitalism.

          • We perceive different realities.

          • Except that my reality is based in the real world whereas yours is based on, well, nothing except a subjective interpretation of a process…

            Tell me something, do you see eating as exploitative?

          • More nonsense.

      • roger nowosielski

        I’m not certain I agree with you, Mark. I took care to re-read the subject article and I still have questions. If it’s a “new ruling class,” and a “new ruling class ideology,” then what are we talking about? The “statist bureaucracy,” no doubt, and I concede this point. Don’t forger, however, that even Michael Hudson, as per the two of his articles, linked to above, is a statist — and that’s in spite of his biting critique of “financial capitalism.”

        Granted that capitalism isn’t essentially about “income inequality” but about the very things you indicate. And for one thing, the very idea of
        income equality,” as opposed to unconditional equality, income or not, presupposes a capitalist mode of production — again, the statist presumption which happens to underlie the whole article — as though income equality were the all-important consideration. But with these reservations aside, I think we can safely posit human equality, pure and simple, as one of the most desirable of human values — perhaps transcending the entire debate of socialism vs. communism. Indeed, how could you have capitalism if human equality were the norm?

        • There’s a material equivalence between equality and freedom that transcends our current mode of production (historically speaking, that is.)

          My fuzzy point was that the academics – ever the handmaidens of the elites – aren’t questioning but are working hard to justify passive income as an acceptable premise.

          • roger nowosielski

            If you mean that the entire article posits the reduction of income inequality as the ultimate value/objective (and what’s broken as well as the sufficient condition of freedom, then of course you’re right, because the entire schema takes the capitalist mode of production for granted. Consequently, what must be done then is simply to fix what’s broken in the system, and we can do that by taxing the return on capital so that it wouldn’t exceed the rate of growth. Problem solved! And the remedy is a perfect welfare state which transcends the capitalist vs. socialist debate. BTW, Michael Hudson is of the same mind, as I suggested earlier: he, too, is a statist.

            What, then, is the “new elite”? Arguably, it’s the bureaucratic, administrative class, the technocrats, which would be empowered to redistribute income through taxation, and be in charge of social planning. But, admittedly, it’s also the old ruling class, the capitalists, who, in spite of being taxed, would still be controlling the dominant mode of production. And in the later instance, we’re dealing with a rather sophisticated mode of apologia.

            Has it always been so? I believe that from its very inception, the class of scribes has been the mouthpiece of the ruling class, the main proselytizer of the ruling class values, the keepers of the gate and the guardians of its brand of knowledge. Which makes one wonder about Auguste Comte, the presumed founding father of sociology, the positivist science of society, and by derivation, of socialism. Was he a sellout as well?

            As a point of clarification, what exactly do you mean by “passive income”?

          • Income based on “property” ownership…rent, interest, roi.

            I understand that Hudson is a statist; what I found most interesting in his work was his description of the extent to which Marx was, as well.

            I’ll consider Comte for awhile before formulating an answer.

          • …I forgot to put taxes on my list though they are important examples.

          • As a friend of crazy people I’ve always had a soft spot for Comte.

            Little wonder that the ‘father of sociology’ was a paranoid subject to delusional breaks with reality. This fact helps explain the many seeming contradictions one finds in his work, the rigid hierarchical structure that he imposed on the the world, and to some extent his inability to follow Saint-Simon’s later development when he (S-S) drew away from advocating a technocracy. Note, also, the Comte never attained a position in the Academy system of his day.

            Was he a ‘sell-out’? I don’t know that he ever could bring himself to buy-in.

          • roger nowosielski

            I like that. Moreover, we could say pretty much the same of the ever-paranoid Rousseau, I think.

          • roger nowosielski

            I was looking for some connection between the two, Comte and Rousseau, insofar as both were advocating a totalizing system of sorts, the latter in the realm of politics/political philosophy, the former as a science of society, but couldn’t find any references.

          • roger nowosielski

            The following is one possible area of fruitful comparison, on the subject of education, but it’s an analysis by a third-party.

            “Auguste Comte and J.J. Rousseau On Education”:

  76. roger nowosielski

    One of the links suggested by the article in The Nation, see below:

    Utopia or Bust by Benjamin Kunkel, billed as the eighth wonder of the world.

    Exclusive extract, Chapter One:

    • I don’t understand why everyone is so befuddled by the idea of economic life without a ‘counter’. Money is the property of the State and ‘demands’ its existence.

      ‘From each according to her ability to each according to her need’ seems a simple, straight-forward concept to me, and experience tells me it’s not so difficult to implement. Far more obtuse is our formula – from each according to her ability to each according to the amount of money she has obtained on reasonable terms.

      • roger nowosielski

        I think it goes deeper than that. The roots are psychological. Money is power, and it’s especially addictive in the age of domination, It’s like a shot in the arm.

  77. roger nowosielski

    The following deserves a special mention for its critique, just or unjust:

    Two things come to mind. First, it’s the author’s assertion that Marx’s labor theory of value is “erroneous.” No argument whatsoever is being advanced to substantiate this counterclaim, so we shall leave it at that.

    The second is more interesting, and I quote:

    “Conventionally trained neoclassical economists [as opposed to Marxists] deal not in contradictions to be overcome but in trade-offs to be calibrated. Unlike Marxists, they assume that a social outcome can be found that perfectly balances any “contradictory” considerations – where the increased risk to the planet is exactly offset by the value of the extra growth, for example. (Whether free-market capitalism can implement the “optimal” solution to this problem in practice is another question.)

    “The difference matters. Even if we can all agree that something has gone badly wrong with financial capitalism, we might reach very different political conclusions depending on whether the source of the problem is a fundamental contradiction in the Marxian sense or just a bungled trade-off.”

    Although the theorist/purist in me would like to subscribe to the notion that the capitalist system is riddled with contradictions, I see little practical/pragmatic value in holding on to this article of faith, as though nothing else was required of us since the capitalist system, so the story goes, eventually is going to self-destruct. If that’s the cash value of insisting on the inherently contradictory, self-destructive character of the capitalist system, then I’m afraid it can’t amount to very much: we may as well wait till kingdom come, if not longer, to see its demise. So from this standpoint, the idea of speaking of trade-offs, instead of contradictions, does seem to have some merit.

    Finally, the author concludes, and once again I cite:

    “Both Kunkel and Harvey overlook a middle class of people who are at once wage-labourers and capital owners. The omission is serious: if there is a fundamental contradiction (rather than a trade-off) between the interests of capital and labour, how this group resolves it is surely crucial.”

    Quite a statement, I say, and it plays straight into Christopher Rose’s hands: everyone is or can be a little capitalist, if they only try.

    But don’t you think you’re a lone ranger, Christopher, for this is quickly becoming an old idea whose time had come. Notice, for instance, a book review published only days ago on BC: “How The Poor Can Save Capitalism,” as per this link:

    One surely must also extend thanks to Mr. Bill Sherman, the BC Books editor, who had given the review the thumbs-up, for doing his damndest to reawaken the American Dream.

    • This latest round of ‘creative destruction’ certainly has hollowed out the center. Whether or not this situation will play itself out as in the fifties and sixties in a spate of social programs and upward mobility remains to be seen. If you follow economists like Stiglitz, this is unlikely without extensive government intervention.

    • In a less generous mood this morning, I’ll add only that the idea that if only the impoverished would pick up the slack in the debt department all will be well for the economy strikes me as absurd.

      I’ll leave it to you to examine the ideological underpinning needed for such development.

      • roger nowosielski

        It didn’t occur to me that you were bequeathing anything in the first place. I just thought it interesting to point out how the conventionally-trained economists tend to write off the inconvenient consequences of the system in terms of trade-offs, as if they were the consequences of wrong decisions.

  78. roger nowosielski

    More stuff by Kunkel, from London Review of Books “Forgive Us Our Debts”:,

    Agree with him or not, he’s an erudite fellow.

  79. roger nowosielski

    I should have included this sooner, but better late than never. Anyways, here’s a must-read primer by Benjamin Kunkel on “capitalism in crises” (the crisis theory of capitalism).

    Again, it’s from London Review of Books, an article “How Much Is Too Much?”
    See this link:

    As a bonus, here’s a review of Chris Harman’s last book, Zombie Capitalism: Global Crisis and the Relevance of Marx by Guglielmo Carchedi, himself an author of a topic-related book, Bonfire of Illusions, a review by none other than our own Bob Lloyd, as per this link:

    It’s a small world indeed!

    • roger nowosielski

      The following is the link to Mr. Carchedi’s review of Zombie Capitalism:

      • roger nowosielski

        I’d like to cite a significant passage from Carchedi’s book review:

        . . . for Marx lower wages always increase profit rates. It is for John Maynard Keynes that lower wages can decrease profits through the
        workers’ underconsumption. What follows shows the fallacy of this
        underconsumption thesis.

        Let us consider the most favourable case for underconsumption.
        Suppose workers’ wages are cut. This provides extra surplus value for
        the capitalist class. At the same time, workers’ purchasing power falls by the amount of the wage cut. Commodities (consumption goods) with a value equal to the whole decrease in the workers’ purchasing power go unsold. Suppose that the excess commodities cannot be purchased by the capitalists either. This is a loss for the capitalists producing consumer goods. Under these assumptions, the wage cut represents at the same time the maximum possible loss for the capitalist class. What is the effect on the average rate of profit? The extra surplus value accruing to capital due to lower wages is
        cancelled because of the unsold commodities: “the labourer has been
        indeed exploited, but his exploitation is not realised as such for the
        capitalist”. The extra profit and the loss due to lower wages cancel each other out and the numerator of the profit rate (the surplus value) returns to the level prior to the wage cut. But the average rate of
        profit does not return to this level because the denominator (the constant and variable capital) is now lower by the amount of the wage cut. Thus the average rate of profit is higher than its previous level even in the case of maximum loss (all the wage goods corresponding to the wage cuts are unsold). At the same time there is nderconsumption. This is sufficient to reject the underconsumptionist thesis that crises (lower profit rates) are caused or aggravated by ower wages and thus by underconsumption.

        If underconsumption cannot cause the crisis, it must be a
        consequence of the crisis. For Marx the ultimate cause of crises should be sought in the introduction of new technologies. On the
        one hand, they increase labour’s productivity (units of output per unit of capital invested); on the other hand, they reduce the labour power relative to the means of production employed per unit of capital. If less variable capital and more constant capital are employed percentage wise, the average rate of profit falls. It falls, not “because labour becomes less productive, but because it becomes more productive”.


        Now, this seems to fly in the face of conventional wisdom, which considers undercumption as one of the causes rather than manifestations of the crisis. So if the author’s reading of Marx is correct, it would appear that it’s the efficiency of the capitalist system is what it ultimately does it it — an increase in productivity, in that it needs less and less labor power and labor hours to produce what it used to produce prior to the introduction of the innovation. And this crisis, which amounts to the general lowering of the ARP (average rate of profit) is the direct consequence of innovation, since only labor hours result in surplus value.

        If this analysis is correct, then one can understand some of the proposals which are floating about about a universal guaranteed wage — in order to avert underconsumption. So this, again, must be seen as one of the measures to be implemented in some near or distant future in order to save the capitalist system.

        One wonders, of course, why some people might not consider the condition of there being a universal minimum wage to be allotted to everyone, whether employed or not, as a virtual utopia. They’d be paying you for your leisure.

        • Keep in mind that the assumptions underlying the first book of Capital are those of ‘classical economics’. The underconsumption argument that Carchedi addresses is Sismondi’s – significantly predating Keynes. Per Harvey, if you stick with Marx into the latter volumes where these assumptions are loosened and replaced with historical analysis you find his crisis theory centers more on the capitalists’ problem of what to do with ballooning surpluses.

  80. roger nowosielski

    In case anyone thinks they’ve had enough of Bob Lloyd, here crops up another one of his book reviews, this time of Zombie Capitalism, as per link:

    Talking about serendipity!

    There’s an extra bonus, here, however. The comments space features some of the usual suspects, again, dating back to 2010.

    It’s memory lane.

  81. roger nowosielski

    And here’s a brief interview with the author on youtube:

  82. Those interested in Richard Wolff’s entertaining (as always) presentation on Piketty’s book see the May installment of his Global Capitalism report here:

  83. roger nowosielski

    This is somewhat peripheral, but I think you’ll find it interesting. I was perusing the archives of the LRB, and had come across this gem. It’s a review of The Communist Manifesto by Stephen Holmes, (If I’m not mistaken, we discussed him way back) had as per link. The article’s title is “The End of Idiocy on a Planetary Scale.”

    See the response by one reader (there’s only one response).

    Consequently, I looked the author up as located another gem, this time an entire book, Passion and Constraint: On the Theory of Liberal Democracy. Near-full pdf from Google books follows:

    Now, I know it’s kinda tedious, but do look through the initial pages, or if you can stomach it, the first chapter. I think there’s something very unsound about this work, not just the author’s system of beliefs but the entire procedure. And yes, his first doctorate is, surprise surprise, in Political Philosophy, and only secondarily in law.

    In any case, give me your gut reaction. Just curious . . .

  84. roger nowosielski

    More stuff on Mr. Piketty, this time another CT article by Henry, “Political Economy is Political [stupid],” as per link:

    Also see my comment (#33).

  85. roger nowosielski

    I’m sort of running ahead of myself, because I’m not quite done yet with my reading, but the following is a definite must: Architecture as Metaphor by Kojin Karatani.

    The entire text is available in pdf form from, and I shall provide the appropriate link shortly. Meanwhile, it’s just to give you a head start.

  86. roger nowosielski

    The following should be a workable link to Karatani’s work, a pdf file, as per post below:

  87. roger nowosielski

    Another text in “radical economics” from CT’s Bob McManus’ collection:

    Marx and Non-Equilibrium Economics, Alan Freeman & Guglielmo Carchedi, editors, a collection of essays, as per link:

  88. roger nowosielski

    I’d be delinquent if I failed to provide a link to Joan Robinson’s classic, Economic Philosophy. So without any further ado, here it is:

    Joan Robinson: