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Washington’s delusion of endless world dominion

23 Mar

China and the U.S. struggle over Eurasia, the epicenter of world power.By Alfred W. McCoy -March 22, 2021

Empires live and die by their illusions. Visions of empowerment can inspire nations to scale the heights of global hegemony. Similarly, however, illusions of omnipotence can send fading empires crashing into oblivion. So it was with Great Britain in the 1950s and so it may be with the United States today.

By 1956, Britain had exploited its global empire shamelessly for a decade in an effort to lift its domestic economy out of the rubble of World War II. It was looking forward to doing so for many decades to come. Then an obscure Egyptian army colonel named Gamal Abdel Nasser seized the Suez Canal and Britain’s establishment erupted in a paroxysm of racist outrage. The prime minister of the day, Sir Antony Eden, forged an alliance with France and Israel to send six aircraft carriers to the Suez area, smash Egypt’s tank force in the Sinai desert, and sweep its air force from the skies.

But Nasser grasped the deeper geopolitics of empire in a way that British leaders had long forgotten. The Suez Canal was the strategic hinge that tied Britain to its Asian empire — to British Petroleum’s oil fields in the Persian Gulf and the sea lanes to Singapore and beyond. So, in a geopolitical masterstroke, he simply filled a few rusting freighters with rocks and sank them at the entrance to the canal, snapping that hinge in a single gesture. After Eden was forced to withdraw British forces in a humiliating defeat, the once-mighty British pound trembled at the precipice of collapse and, overnight, the sense of imperial power in England seemed to vanish like a desert mirage.

Two decades of delusions

In a similar manner, Washington’s hubris is finding its nemesis in China’s President Xi Jinping and his grand strategy for uniting Eurasia into the world’s largest economic bloc. For two decades, as China climbed, step by step, toward global eminence, Washington’s inside-the-Beltway power elite was blinded by its overarching dreams of eternal military omnipotence. In the process, from Bill Clinton’s administration to Joe Biden’s, Washington’s China policy has morphed from illusion directly into a state of bipartisan delusion.

Back in 2000, the Clinton administration believed that, if admitted to the World Trade Organization, Beijing would play the global game strictly by Washington’s rules. When China started playing imperial hardball instead — stealing patents, forcing companies to turn over trade secrets, and manipulating its currency to increase its exports — the elite journal Foreign Affairs tut-tutted that such charges had “little merit,” urging Washington to avoid “an all-out trade war” by learning to “respect difference and look for common ground.”

Within just three years, a flood of exports produced by China’s low-wage workforce, drawn from 20% of the world’s population, began shutting down factories across America. The AFL-CIO labor confederation then started accusing Beijing of illegally “dumping” its goods in the U.S. at below-market prices. The administration of George W. Bush, however, dismissed the charges for lack of “conclusive evidence,” allowing Beijing’s export juggernaut to grind on unimpeded.

For the most part, the Bush-Cheney White House simply ignored China, instead invading Iraq in 2003, launching a strategy that was supposed to give the U.S. lasting dominion over the Middle East’s vast oil reserves. By the time Washington withdrew from Baghdad in 2011, having wasted up to $5.4 trillion on the misbegotten invasion and occupation of that country, fracking had left America on the edge of energy independence, while oil was joining cordwood and coal as a fuel whose days were numbered, potentially rendering the future Middle East geopolitically irrelevant.

While Washington had been pouring blood and treasure into desert sands, Beijing was making itself into the world’s workshop. It had amassed $4 trillion in foreign exchange, which it began investing in an ambitious scheme it called the Belt and Road Initiative to unify Eurasia via history’s largest set of infrastructure projects. Hoping to counter that move with a bold geopolitical gambit, President Barack Obama tried to check China with a new strategy that he called a “pivot to Asia.” It was to entail a global military shift of U.S. forces to the Pacific and a drawing of Eurasia’s commerce toward America through a new set of trade pacts. The scheme, brilliant in the abstract, soon crashed head-first into some harsh realities. As a start, extricating the U.S. military from the mess it had made in the Greater Middle East proved far harder than imagined. Meanwhile, getting big global trade treaties approved as anti-globalization populism surged across America — fueled by factory closures and stagnant wages — turned out, in the end, to be impossible.

Even President Obama underestimated the seriousness of China’s sustained challenge to this country’s global power. “Across the ideological spectrum, we in the U.S. foreign policy community,” two senior Obama officials would later write, “shared the underlying belief that U.S. power and hegemony could readily mold China to the United States’ liking… All sides of the policy debate erred.”

Breaking with the Beltway consensus about China, Donald Trump would spend two years of his presidency fighting a trade war, thinking he could use America’s economic power — in the end, just a few tariffs — to bring Beijing to its knees. Despite his administration’s incredibly erratic foreign policy, its recognition of China’s challenge would prove surprisingly consistent. Trump’s former national security adviser H.R. McMaster would, for instance, observe that Washington had empowered “a nation whose leaders were determined not only to displace the United States in Asia, but also to promote a rival economic and governance model globally.” Similarly, Trump’s State Department warned that Beijing harbored “hegemonic ambitions” aimed at “displacing the United States as the world’s foremost power.”

In the end, however, Trump would capitulate. By January 2020, his trade war would have devastated this country’s agricultural exports, while inflicting heavy losses on its commercial supply chain, forcing the White House to rescind some of those punitive tariffs in exchange for Beijing’s unenforceable promises to purchase more American goods. Despite a celebratory White House signing ceremony, that deal represented little more than a surrender.

Even now, after these 20 years of bipartisan failure, Washington’s imperial illusions persist. The Biden administration and its inside-the-Beltway foreign-policy experts seem to think that China is a problem like Covid-19 that can be managed simply by being the un-Trump. Last December, a pair of professors writing in the establishment journal Foreign Affairs typically opined that “America may one day look back on China the way they now view the Soviet Union,” that is, “as a dangerous rival whose evident strengths concealed stagnation and vulnerability.”

Sure, China might be surpassing this country in multiple economic metrics and building up its military power, said Ryan Hass, the former China director in Obama’s National Security Council, but it is not 10 feet tall. China’s population, he pointed out, is aging, its debt ballooning, and its politics “increasingly sclerotic.” In the event of conflict, China is geopolitically “vulnerable when it comes to food and energy security,” since its navy is unable to prevent it “from being cut off from vital supplies.”

In the months before the 2020 presidential election, a former official in Obama’s State Department, Jake Sullivan, began auditioning for appointment as Biden’s national security adviser by staking out a similar position. In Foreign Affairs, he argued that China might be “more formidable economically… than the Soviet Union ever was,” but Washington could still achieve “a steady state of… coexistence on terms favorable to U.S. interests and values.” Although China was clearly trying “to establish itself as the world’s leading power,” he added, America “still has the ability to more than hold its own in that competition,” just as long as it avoids Trump’s “trajectory of self-sabotage.”

As expected from such a skilled courtier, Sullivan’s views coincided carefully with those of his future boss, Joe Biden. In his main foreign policy manifesto for the 2020 presidential campaign, candidate Biden argued that “to win the competition for the future against China,” the U.S. had to “sharpen its innovative edge and unite the economic might of democracies around the world.”

All these men are veteran foreign policy professionals with a wealth of international experience. Yet they seem oblivious to the geopolitical foundations for global power that Xi Jinping, like Nasser before him, seemed to grasp so intuitively. Like the British establishment of the 1950s, these American leaders have been on top of the world for so long that they’ve forgotten how they got there.

In the aftermath of World War II, America’s Cold War leaders had a clear understanding that their global power, like Britain’s before it, would depend on control over Eurasia. For the previous 400 years, every would-be global hegemony had struggled to dominate that vast land mass. In the sixteenth century, Portugal had dotted continental coastlines with 50 fortified ports (feitorias) stretching from Lisbon to the Straits of Malacca (which connect the Indian Ocean to the Pacific), just as, in the late nineteenth century, Great Britain would rule the waves through naval bastions that stretched from Scapa Flow, Scotland, to Singapore.

While Portugal’s strategy, as recorded in royal decrees, was focused on controlling maritime choke points, Britain benefited from the systematic study of geopolitics by the geographer Sir Halford Mackinder, who argued that the key to global power was control over Eurasia and, more broadly, a tri-continental “world island” comprised of Asia, Europe, and Africa. As strong as those empires were in their day, no imperial power fully perfected its global reach by capturing both axial ends of Eurasia — until America came on the scene.

The Cold War struggle for control over Eurasia

During its first decade as the globe’s great hegemon at the close of World War II, Washington quite self-consciously set out to build an apparatus of awesome military power that would allow it to dominate the sprawling Eurasian land mass. With each passing decade, layer upon layer of weaponry and an ever-growing network of military bastions were combined to “contain” communism behind a 5,000-mile Iron Curtain that arched across Eurasia, from the Berlin Wall to the Demilitarized Zone near Seoul, South Korea.

Through its post-World War II occupation of the defeated Axis powers, Germany and Japan, Washington seized military bases, large and small, at both ends of Eurasia. In Japan, for example, its military would occupy approximately 100 installations from Misawa air base in the far north to Sasebo naval base in the south.

Soon after, as Washington reeled from the twin shocks of a communist victory in China and the start of the Korean war in June 1950, the National Security Council adopted NSC-68, a memorandum making it clear that control of Eurasia would be the key to its global power struggle against communism. “Soviet efforts are now directed toward the domination of the Eurasian land mass,” read that foundational document. The U.S., it insisted, must expand its military yet again “to deter, if possible, Soviet expansion, and to defeat, if necessary, aggressive Soviet or Soviet-directed actions.”

As the Pentagon’s budget quadrupled from $13.5 billion to $48.2 billion in the early 1950s in pursuit of that strategic mission, Washington quickly built a chain of 500 military installations ringing that landmass, from the massive Ramstein air base in West Germany to vast, sprawling naval bases at Subic Bay in the Philippines and Yokosuka, Japan.

Such bases were the visible manifestation of a chain of mutual defense pacts organized across the breadth of Eurasia, from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in Europe to a security treaty, ANZUS, involving Australia, New Zealand, and the U.S. in the South Pacific. Along the strategic island chain facing Asia known as the Pacific littoral, Washington quickly cemented its position through bilateral defense pacts with Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, and Australia.

Along the Iron Curtain running through the heart of Europe, 25 active-duty NATO divisions faced 150 Soviet-led Warsaw Pact divisions, both backed by armadas of artillery, tanks, strategic bombers, and nuclear-armed missiles. To patrol the Eurasian continent’s sprawling coastline, Washington mobilized massive naval armadas stiffened by nuclear-armed submarines and aircraft carriers — the 6th Fleet in the Mediterranean and the massive 7th Fleet in the Indian Ocean and the Pacific.

For the next 40 years, Washington’s secret Cold War weapon, the Central Intelligence Agency, or CIA, fought its largest and longest covert wars around the rim of Eurasia. Probing relentlessly for vulnerabilities of any sort in the Sino-Soviet bloc, the CIA mounted a series of small invasions of Tibet and southwest China in the early 1950s; fought a secret war in Laos, mobilizing a 30,000-strong militia of local Hmong villagers during the 1960s; and launched a massive, multibillion dollar covert war against the Red Army in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

During those same four decades, America’s only hot wars were similarly fought at the edge of Eurasia, seeking to contain the expansion of Communist China. On the Korean Peninsula from 1950 to 1953, almost 40,000 Americans (and untold numbers of Koreans) died in Washington’s effort to block the advance of North Korean and Chinese forces across the 38th parallel. In Southeast Asia from 1962 to 1975, some 58,000 American troops (and millions of Vietnamese, Laotians, and Cambodians) died in an unsuccessful attempt to stop the expansion of communists south of the 17th parallel that divided North and South Vietnam.

By the time the Soviet Union imploded in 1990 (just as China was turning into a Communist Party-run capitalist power), the U.S. military had become a global behemoth standing astride the Eurasian continent with more than 700 overseas bases, an air force of 1,763 jet fighters, more than 1,000 ballistic missiles, and a navy of nearly 600 ships, including 15 nuclear carrier battle groups — all linked together by a global system of satellites for communication, navigation, and espionage.

Despite its name, the Global War on Terror after 2001 was actually fought, like the Cold War before it, at the edge of Eurasia. Apart from the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, the Air Force and CIA had, within a decade, ringed the southern rim of that landmass with a network of 60 bases for its growing arsenal of Reaper and Predator drones, stretching all the way from the Sigonella Naval Air Station in Sicily to Andersen Air Force Base on the island of Guam. And yet, in that series of failed, never-ending conflicts, the old military formula for “containing,” constraining, and dominating Eurasia was visibly failing. The Global War on Terror proved, in some sense, a long-drawn-out version of Britain’s imperial Suez disaster.

China’s Eurasian strategy

After all that, it seems remarkable that Washington’s current generation of foreign policy leaders, like Britain’s in the 1950s, is so blindingly oblivious to the geopolitics of empire — in this case, to Beijing’s largely economic bid for global power on that same “world island” (Eurasia plus an adjoining Africa).

It’s not as if China has been hiding some secret strategy. In a 2013 speech at Kazakhstan’s Nazarbayev University, President Xi typically urged the peoples of Central Asia to join with his country to “forge closer economic ties, deepen cooperation, and expand development space in the Eurasian region.” Through trade and infrastructure “connecting the Pacific and the Baltic Sea,” this vast landmass inhabited by close to three billion people could, he said, become “the biggest market in the world with unparalleled potential.”

This development scheme, soon to be dubbed the Belt and Road Initiative, would become a massive effort to economically integrate that “world island” of Africa, Asia, and Europe by investing well more than a trillion dollars — a sum 10 times larger than the famed U.S. Marshall plan that rebuilt a ravaged Europe after World War II. Beijing also established the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank with an impressive $100 billion in capital and 103 member nations. More recently, China has formed the world’s largest trade bloc with 14 Asia-Pacific partners and, over Washington’s strenuous objections, signed an ambitious financial services agreement with the European Union.

Such investments, almost none of a military nature, quickly fostered the formation of a transcontinental grid of railroads and gas pipelines extending from East Asia to Europe, the Pacific to the Atlantic, all linked to Beijing. In a striking parallel with that sixteenth century chain of 50 fortified Portuguese ports, Beijing has also acquired special access through loans and leases to more than 40 seaports encompassing its own latter-day “world island” — from the Straits of Malacca, across the Indian Ocean, around Africa, and along Europe’s extended coastline from Piraeus, Greece, to Zeebrugge, Belgium.

With its growing wealth, China also built a blue-water navy that, by 2020, already had 360 warships, backed by land-based missiles, jet fighters, and the planet’s second global system of military satellites. That growing force was meant to be the tip of China’s spear aimed at puncturing Washington’s encirclement of Asia. To cut the chain of American installations along the Pacific littoral, Beijing has built eight military bases on tiny (often dredged) islands in the South China Sea and imposed an air defense zone over a portion of the East China Sea. It has also challenged the U.S. Navy’s long-standing dominion over the Indian Ocean by opening its first foreign base at Djibouti in East Africa and building modern ports at Gwadar, Pakistan, and Hambantota, Sri Lanka, with potential military applications.

By now, the inherent strength of Beijing’s geopolitical strategy should be obvious to Washington foreign policy experts, were their insights not clouded by imperial hubris. Ignoring the unbending geopolitics of global power, centered as always on Eurasia, those Washington insiders now coming to power in the Biden administration somehow imagine that there is still a fight to be fought, a competition to be waged, a race to be run. Yet, as with the British in the 1950s, that ship may well have sailed.

By grasping the geopolitical logic of unifying Eurasia’s vast landmass — home to 70% of the world’s population — through transcontinental infrastructures for commerce, energy, finance, and transport, Beijing has rendered Washington’s encircling armadas of aircraft and warships redundant, even irrelevant.

As Sir Halford Mackinder might have put it, had he lived to celebrate his 160th birthday last month, the U.S. dominated Eurasia and thereby the world for 70 years. Now, China is taking control of that strategic continent and global power will surely follow.

However, it will do so on anything but the recognizable planet of the last 400 years. Sooner or later, Washington will undoubtedly have to accept the unbending geopolitical reality that under girds the latest shift in global power and adapt its foreign policy and fiscal priorities accordingly.

This current version of the Suez syndrome is, nonetheless, anything but the usual. Thanks to longterm imperial development based on fossil fuels, planet Earth itself is now changing in ways dangerous to any power, no matter how imperial or ascendant. So, sooner or later, both Washington and Beijing will have to recognize that we are now in a distinctly dangerous new world where, in the decades to come, without some kind of coordination and global cooperation to curtail climate change, old imperial truths of any sort are likely to be left in the attic of history in a house coming down around all our ears.

A New Year. The Urgent Need For A Radically New World For The Emancipation Of All Humanity!

14 Feb

by Bob Avakian

  1. In my statement of August 1 of last year, I put forward the analysis that, in the particular circumstances of this presidential election and the truly profound stakes it posed, if the Trump/Pence regime remained in power at the time of this election, it would be necessary and important to vote for Biden to deliver a decisive electoral defeat to the fascism represented by this regime. At the same time, I emphasized that simply relying on voting would likely lead to disaster, and that it was vitally important for masses of people to take to the streets, in nonviolent but sustained, and growing, mass mobilization with the demand that this fascist regime must be OUT NOW!, as called for by RefuseFascism.org.

As it turned out, masses of people did vote in large numbers to oust this fascist regime—and, in doing so delivered a decisive enough electoral defeat to the Trump/Pence regime that its increasing, and then massively violent, attempt at a coup has been more difficult to pull off and has finally been defeated, with Trump forced to leave (while still refusing to acknowledge his loss in the election), even as Biden had to be inaugurated in a capital city that was a locked-down armed camp.

In immediate terms, the catastrophe has been narrowly averted that would have occurred if this fascist regime had been re-elected (or in some other way remained in power) and on that basis further consolidated its fascist rule and been more fully emboldened and unleashed to implement its horrific program. The fact that the Trump/Pence regime has had to leave office is of great importance and something in itself worth celebrating! Yet the reality is that, not only in relation to this election but throughout the four years of this regime’s rule and its mounting atrocities, there has not been the massive nonviolent mobilization called for by Refuse Fascism to drive out this regime—and, in the aftermath of the election, the streets were dominated by fascist mobilizations, and not by opposition to fascism. This has resulted in a situation where, despite the Trump/Pence regime’s loss in the election, the forces of fascism are still in many ways being strengthened, and the opposition to this has remained much too passive and reliant on the terms set by the Democratic Party.

The reality has to be confronted that, as expressed through the election, nearly half this country has passionately, aggressively and belligerently embraced what is represented by “Trumpism.” The unavoidable truth is that this country, the much-proclaimed “Shining City on a Hill,” is full of fascists!—in the government at all levels and in large parts of the society as a whole. And a defining characteristic of these fascists is their fanatical allegiance to demented distortions of reality, which is extremely difficult (and in many cases impossible) to penetrate with reason and fact, because these distortions serve to reinforce their sense of threatened entitlement and render long-standing prejudices and hatreds even more virulent. This fascism is deeply rooted, in the underlying dynamics of the capitalist-imperialist system that rules in this country and in the whole history of this country, from its founding in slavery and genocide. Related to this is another critical truth: Biden will fail miserably in his attempt to bring about “healing” and “unite the country.” As I have written previously:

Biden and the Democrats cannot “bring the country together,” as they falsely claim, because there can be no “reconciliation” with these fascists—whose “grievances” are based on fanatical resentment against any limitation on white supremacy, male supremacy, xenophobia (hatred of foreigners), rabid American chauvinism, and the unrestrained plundering of the environment, and are increasingly expressed in literally lunatic terms. There can be no “reconciliation” with this, other than on the terms of these fascists, with all the terrible implications and consequences of that!

There is no question that many of the policies of the Biden/Harris administration will be different than the blatant atrocities of the Trump/Pence regime, and things will definitely “feel different” with Biden and Harris, but the way they will try to “unite the country”—in line with the interests and requirements of this system of capitalism-imperialism—is something that no decent person should want, or be part of. In seeking to re-establish and reinforce “stability” at home, and to maintain the U.S. as the world’s number one oppressive power, Biden, Harris, and the Democrats (as well as other “mainstream” institutions, such as the New York Times and CNN), will make determined attempts to keep the masses of people who have righteously hated the fascism of the Trump/Pence regime, and who aspire to a more just world, firmly tied to this system—restricting their political vision, and activity, within the confines of this system, preventing them from acting in their own fundamental interests and those of humanity as a whole. And to the degree that things are maintained within the limits of this system, this will actually have the effect of furthering the horrors for humanity that are built into this system, while also reinforcing and giving further impetus to the underlying economic—and the social and political—forces that will strengthen the fascism that has already shown great strength in this country (and a number of others).

2. Even as it is critically important that the voting in this election has resulted in a decisive defeat for the Trump/Pence regime and its attempts to more fully consolidate fascist rule, this must not be allowed to obscure this crucial truth: The polarization, between Democrats and Republicans, as expressed through the electoral process in this country, involves contention over how to uphold and pursue the interests of the capitalist-imperialist system and rule by the capitalist class. It does not represent the fundamental divisions in society and the world, nor the fundamental interests of the masses of people, in this country and in the world as a whole. Nor can the profound problems confronting humanity be solved—in fact, they can only get worse—within the confines of this murderously oppressive and exploitative system and the chaos and destruction it will continue to unleash on a massive scale, so long as it continues to dominate the world.

This is fact-based, scientifically-established truth. Ignoring, denying, or trying to pursue individual escape from this reality will only make things worse and hasten disaster.

The electoral defeat of the Trump/Pence regime only “buys some time”—both in relation to the imminent danger posed by the fascism this regime represents, and more fundamentally in terms of the potentially existential crisis humanity is increasingly facing as a consequence of being bound to the dynamics of this system of capitalism-imperialism. But, in essential terms, time is not on the side of the struggle for a better future for humanity. So the time there is must not be squandered—mired in oblivious individualism and political paralysis or misspent on misdirected activity that only reinforces this system which perpetuates endless horrors for the masses of humanity and has brought things to the brink of very real catastrophe.

A profoundly different polarization must be brought about, in line with the potential for a radically different and better world, representing the actual interests of the masses of people and ultimately all of humanity. A radically different approach to understanding, and acting on, the relations and problems of society must be taken up—a thoroughly and consistently scientific method and approach.

3. Among many who have been outraged by the way Trump has consistently engaged in both pathological and purposeful lying, there has been a great deal of emphasis on the importance of science and truth, on facts and evidence-based reasoning. This has focused to a significant degree on the criminally anti-scientific approach that Trump and Pence have taken to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the encouragement of this anti-scientific madness among the fascist “base” in society at large—all of which has led to at least tens of thousands (or even hundreds of thousands) of unnecessary deaths as well as unnecessary hardship and suffering for masses of people. This emphasis on science and the scientific method is vitally important, but it is also necessary to emphasize the real need and great importance of being consistent with this, and following scientifically-determined truth wherever it leads, in order to correctly understand reality, in every sphere of life and society.

This means fully breaking with and moving beyond an approach of merely embracing truths—or supposed truths—with which one is comfortable, while rejecting, dismissing, or evading actual truth which may make one uncomfortable. One important dimension of this is rising above and repudiating methodologically the philosophical relativism of “identity politics,” which does a great deal of harm through its own version of reducing “truth” to partial, unsystematized experience and subjective sentiment (“my truth”…“our truth”…) in opposition to real, objective truth, which is correctly, scientifically arrived at through an evidence-based process, to determine whether, or not, something (an idea, theory, assertion, etc.) corresponds to actual material realityWhile politically this “identity politics” may be proceeding from a desire to oppose various forms of oppression—even if this is often characterized, and vitiated, by people of different “identities” seeking to claim “ownership” of opposition to oppression—in terms of epistemology (the approach to understanding reality and arriving at the truth of things) “identity politics” has a lot in common with the reliance on “alternative facts” (assertions that are in opposition to actual facts, often wildly so) that is the hallmark of the fascists. Even as it is important to recognize the political distinctions involved, the situation is far too serious, and the stakes far too high, to allow ourselves to fall into, or conciliate with, any form of opposing the scientific method and its pursuit of objective truth about actual reality.

To understand why we are confronted with the situation we are, it is necessary not merely to respond to—and in effect be whipped around by—what is happening on the surface at any given time, but to dig beneath the surface, to discover the underlying mainsprings and causes of things, and arrive at an understanding of the fundamental problem and the actual solution. This means coming to the scientific understanding that we are living under a system, and what that system actually is (the system of capitalism-imperialism); working to grasp the deeper relations and dynamics of this system and how this is setting the framework for how different sections of society spontaneously think and react to events in society and the world, and what is the possible way forward to transforming all of this in the interests of the masses of humanity and ultimately humanity as a whole. A crucial part of this is a scientific understanding of major changes, resulting from the very dynamics and functioning of this system, that have led to upheaval in society and have in significant ways fed this fascism: changes in the capitalist-imperialist economy and correspondingly in the social structure and “social composition” within this country, as well as internationally, which have undermined “traditional” forms of oppression without, however, leading to the ending of this oppression but establishing and enforcing it in new forms, while provoking what is truly a deranged, sadistic and often violent reaction on the part of the sectors of society who have identified their interests, and in effect their very being, with the traditional forms of oppression.

As an introduction, and overarching point, in regard to some of these important changes, it is important to emphasize that these changes, and especially those that have occurred in the last few decades, are bound up with the heightened parasitism of capitalism-imperialism in the contemporary world. As I explained in Breakthroughs: The Historic Breakthrough by Marx, and the Further Breakthrough with the New Communism, A Basic Summary, parasitism refers to

the fact that an increasingly globalized capitalism relies to a very great degree for production and for maintaining the rate of profit on a vast network of sweatshops, particularly in the Third World of Latin America, Africa, the Middle East and Asia, while capitalist activity in the capitalist‑imperialist “home countries” is increasingly in the realm of finance and financial speculation, and the “high end” of (not the production of the basic physical materials for) high tech, as well as the service sector and the commercial sphere (including the growing role of online marketing).

◆Since the end of World War 2 (75 years ago), the situation of Black people has dramatically changed. These changes were initially based in increased mechanization and other transformations in agricultural production, and the economy overall; they were driven by a powerful upsurge of struggle of Black people, wrenching concessions out of the ruling class in this country that was anxious to maintain its image as “the champion of democracy” and “leader of the free world,” especially in its confrontation with the Soviet Union for a number of decades after World War 2. As a result of these and other factors, Black people’s oppression is no longer centered around brutal exploitation in the rural south, in conditions of near slavery (and in some cases actual slavery) backed up by Ku Klux Klan terror, but instead involves a situation where masses of Black people are segregated and concentrated in urban areas throughout the country and subjected to systematic discrimination and continual brutality and murder by the police. Over the past several decades, due to heightened globalization and automation of production, interacting with continuing discrimination, there has been the elimination of a great deal of factory employment which provided Black men (and some women) with better-paying jobs in the urban areas. At the same time, as a result of the civil rights and Black liberation struggles of the 1960s/early ’70s, and other factors, there has been the growth of the Black middle class. But there has also been an increase of the so-called “underclass,” concentrated and contained in urban ghettos and more or less permanently locked out of regular employment in the “formal” economy.

Unable to provide a positive resolution to acute contradictions bound up with these changes—unable to end systemic racism which involves degrading discrimination against even economically better-off sections of Black people—unable to integrate large numbers of Black people into the “formal” economy—the ruling forces in society have responded to this situation with mass incarceration of millions of Black males (and growing numbers of females) with arrests, trials, convictions and sentences embodying yet more discrimination and injustice, and by unleashing and backing systematic police terror, which is especially directed against Black people in the inner cities but can target any Black person, anywhere, at any time. The attempt to brutally enforce “law and order,” given that a more just solution is impossible under this system, heightens the volatility of this whole situation, leading to further upheaval—including completely justified and righteous protest and rebellion—which, in turn, is seized on by fascist forces in promoting their grotesque white supremacist portrayal of the masses of Black people as “criminals” and “uncaged animals.”

The fact that, with all these changes, and regardless of who is occupying the seats of power, systematic discrimination and murderous oppression has persisted, has led some Black people to conclude that the Democratic Party is the problem, since it has consistently sought the support of Black people but has repeatedly acted against their interests. Even as the Republican Party has become the vehicle of overt and aggressive white supremacy, it is true that the Democrats, and not just the Republicans, have presided over the oppression of Black people. But what is the actual reason for that, and what is the real answer to it? The reality is that white supremacy is built into this system of capitalism-imperialism, and neither of these ruling class parties could put an end to this, even if they wanted to. The answer is not rallying to the fascist Republican Party, or trying to play these bourgeois parties against each other, or embracing “Black capitalism” and begging for a better “seat at the table”—all of which will only reinforce the existing system of oppression and perhaps benefit a few at the expense of the many. The answer is revolution, and establishing a radically different society that has the basis as well as the orientation to uproot and abolish white supremacy, and all oppressive relations.

◆There have been profound changes in the situation and social position of large numbers of women, both within this country and internationally. To cite one important dimension of this, much of the sweatshop labor in the Third World involves women, forced to work under horrific conditions. In this country, changes in the functioning and structure of the economy (as part of the increasingly globalized world economy) have led to extensive employment, and exploitation, of Black women (and other women of color), in the service and retail sectors in particular. At the same time, not only is there more opportunity for large numbers of women (especially white women, but some women of color as well) to find positions in the professions and in business, but this has also become a necessity in order for their families to maintain a “middle class way of life.” This situation where greater numbers of women are employed outside the home, including a significant increase in the number of women in better-paid middle class positions, has seriously strained and significantly undermined the “traditional” patriarchal (male-dominated) family and patriarchal relations in society overall.

All this has provided more favorable conditions for, and has been significantly influenced by, the struggle against the oppression of women, which was powerfully expressed as part of the overall radical upsurge of the 1960s and has continued in various forms since then. As I spoke to in Away With All Gods!:

Through the upsurge of the ’60s, many things were called into question—not just in the realm of ideas, although that was extremely important, but in practice, in the realm of political struggle—things that are foundational to this society. And many changes were brought about, partly as a result of mass political struggle and partly because of the changing features and needs of the economy. Once again, one of the most important dimensions of this was in relation to the role of women, particularly among professionals and other sections of the middle class, where it became both possible and necessary for women to work full time, in the effort to maintain a middle class standard of living. When you combine that with political and ideological expressions of feminism, and other movements that came forward out of the ’60s, this did pose a very direct challenge to traditionally institutionalized forms of oppression in this society.

Yet the elimination of male supremacy is impossible within the confines of this system. This is true because male supremacy has been deeply woven into the fabric of this society, and because this system is based on capitalist commodity relations and exploitation—things are produced to be exchanged (sold), through a process in which masses of people work, for a wage or salary, to create profit that is accumulated by capitalists who employ them and control their work—a system in which the patriarchal family unit remains an essential economic and social component and requirement, even as it is being put under increasing strains. And the fascist section of the ruling class has, over a number of decades now, waged a relentless attack on Constitutional rights, and mobilized their social base of religious fundamentalist fanatics, to forcefully and often violently assert “traditional” patriarchal oppression—with the assault on the right to abortion, and even birth control, a major focus of this attempt to essentially enslave women. What I wrote, 35 years ago, is today more true than ever:

Over the past several decades in the U.S. there have been profound changes in the situation of women and the relations within the family. In only one of ten families is there the “model” situation where the husband is the “sole breadwinner” and the wife a totally dependent “homemaker.” With these economic changes have come significant changes in attitudes and expectations—and very significant strains not only on the fabric of the family but of social relations more broadly…. The whole question of the position and role of women in society is more and more acutely posing itself in today’s extreme circumstances—this is a powderkeg in the U.S. today. It is not conceivable that all this will find any resolution other than in the most radical terms and through extremely violent means. The question yet to be determined is: will it be a radical reactionary or a radical revolutionary resolution, will it mean the reinforcing of the chains of enslavement or the shattering of the most decisive links in those chains and the opening up of the possibility of realizing the complete elimination of all forms of such enslavement.

What has gone along with all this has been an increased possibility and “space” for the assertion of gender “identity” and relations that run counter to the traditional oppressive gender relations—and, once again, there has been the often violent attempt to reassert and reinforce the traditional relations and to suppress anything that does not conform to this.

Religion, and especially religious fundamentalism, is a powerful factor promoting and reinforcing the patriarchal subordination of women, as well as other “traditional” forms of oppression. Here is an important insight by Kristin Kobes Du Mez, who grew up in a town in Iowa that was filled with white Christian fundamentalists (which she refers to as “white evangelicals”) who are the backbone of present-day American fascism. In her book Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation, she writes:

White evangelicals have pieced together this patchwork of issues, and a nostalgic commitment to rugged, aggressive, militant white masculinity serves as the thread binding them together into a coherent whole. A father’s rule in the home is inextricably linked to heroic leadership on the national stage, and the fate of the nation hinges on both. [emphasis added here]

Given the tight connection between militant patriarchy and fascism, it is not surprising that some (though clearly a minority of) Black and Latino men have been drawn to support for Trump, despite his overt white supremacy. (This includes some who are or have been prominent in rap music. While there have been positive forces and elements in rap and Hip Hop overall, what has been increasingly promoted is a culture that is full of, not to say dominated by, misogynistic degradation of women, as well as admiration for the kind of hustler gangsterism that is one of Trump’s defining “qualities.”) It is also not surprising that even significant numbers of women (mainly white women but also some Latina and other women of color) have been drawn to this fascism, as the phenomenon of the oppressed clinging to “tradition’s chains” that oppress them is unfortunately all too common. (Think of the mothers in the fatherland, written about by Claudia Koonz in her book with that title—women who actively worked for the aggressively male supremacist Hitler and the NAZIs in Germany during the rise of fascism there in the 1930s. Or listen to the words today of Black female fascist Candace Owens, who has praised Hitler for his efforts to “make Germany great”: “There is no society that can survive without strong men…. In the west, the steady feminization of our men at the same time that Marxism is being taught to our children is not a coincidence. It is an outright attack. Bring back manly men.” Of course, for fascists like Owens “strong” and “manly” men are those who embody and enforce traditional gender relations, exercising domination over women who submit to this domination—and men who do not conform to traditional gender roles and relations, men who support equality between men and women are somehow “weak,” “effeminate,” “emasculated.”) And for white women who are part of this fascist phenomenon, in which virulent male supremacy is a defining and cohering element, there is also the fact that these women can join in with the white supremacy which, particularly in a country like the U.S., is also a defining and decisive element of this fascism and is closely intertwined with the virulent male supremacy—as reflected in Kristin Kobes Du Mez’s formulation: aggressive, militant white masculinity.

◆As a result of the intensifying climate crisis, war and repression—and, as a driving force in all this, major changes in the capitalist-imperialist dominated world economy, including the further growth and increased impact internationally of corporate agribusiness and labor-displacing technology, increasingly monopolized control of seeds and chemicals, greater monopolization of marketing, and vast land-grabbing investments—there is massive dislocation and upheaval, particularly affecting people in the global South (the countries of Latin America, Africa, the Middle East and Asia—the Third World). An important feature of all this is mass urbanization: more than half of the world’s population now lives in urban areas, with huge shantytown slums, involving more than a billion people, in the urban areas of the Third World, even as tens of millions of people from the Third World have been forced to migrate to the U.S. and countries in Europe. And the situation has developed where, in some of these countries—with the U.S. a prime example—the economy could not function without the exploitation of large numbers of immigrants, while many are subjected to the constant threat of deportation, which also makes them even more vulnerable to extreme exploitation.

The ruin of much of traditional small-scale farming in Third World countries and the dramatic increase of an urban population there (as well as in the U.S. and some other imperialist countries) which in large numbers is unable to find work within the “formal economy”—this has also fostered the growth of an illegal economy and of gangs (and, particularly in Third World countries, cartels) based on this illegal economy, in particular the drug trade, but also the trafficking of human beings, especially women and girls viciously victimized in prostitution, the “sex industry,” and literal sexual slavery.

This dramatically changed and often highly volatile situation has also been a major factor in the rise of religious fundamentalism, in the Third World and notably in the U.S., where Christian fundamentalism is a powerful negative social and political force. Interconnected and interacting with these economic and related social changes in a way that has contributed to the increased influence of religious fundamentalism, particularly in the Third World, has been the defeat, or abandonment, of movements in the Third World led by communists or revolutionary nationalists against old-line colonialists and neo-colonial oppressors, above all the U.S., in the period after World War 2—with the greatest setback being the reversal of socialism and the restoration of capitalism in China in the 1970s, which transformed China from a powerful socialist country and a beacon and bastion of support for revolutionary struggle throughout the world, into a rising imperialist power and itself an exploiter of masses of people in Africa and other parts of the Third World.

The rise of religious fundamentalism has occurred together with, and in opposition to, the increase of secularism (people who are not religious, or at least not part of traditional religions), especially among the more educated urban populations. This secularism is not in itself conceived or intended as an attack on people who continue to hold religious beliefs, but it does objectively undermine religion—and it is taken as an attack “on everything holy” by religious fundamentalists who refuse to even attempt to reconcile religious belief with the results of scientific inquiry, as strongly reflected in their irrational attack on the solidly established scientific fact of evolution.

What is essentially involved in this division is the acceptance, or the denial and rejection, of evidence-based rational thought, including the importance of critical thinking,that has, in a broad sense, been the extension of the Enlightenment, which arose in Europe (in particular France) several centuries ago. In that time, and since, the advance of science and important discoveries this has brought forward have given impetus to the questioning of religion in a way that was not really possible before, since many of these scientific discoveries clearly contradict long-entrenched religious scripture and dogma, and the scientific method rejects the recognition of things as “real” if concrete evidence for their existence cannot be shown, in the real material world. And, as emphasized by Ardea Skybreak, author of the very important book The Science of Evolution and the Myth of Creationism: Knowing What’s Real and Why It Matters, science provides plenty of evidence that human beings have invented every religion that exists anywhere in the world. (In a book consisting of an interview with Skybreak, Science and Revolution, she also emphasizes that, although at times “bad science” has been used for very negative purposes, including to promote racism, the actual scientific method itself provides the means for refuting this: “you can use rigorous scientific methods to prove that was all bad science.”)

It is true that science itself cannot put an end to religious belief, as shown by the fact that there are large numbers of religious people who consider themselves advocates of enlightenment and accept the discoveries and conclusions of science (up to a point at least) but insist that there is a realm of existence—involving a supernatural being, or beings—which is beyond the scope of science. And it is a fact that in general the representatives of the ruling class in this country, whether they are “liberal” or “conservative”—and whether they themselves personally believe in god or not—definitely regard religion as a crucial part of maintaining the “social cohesion” of the country on a capitalist basis, and work to promote religion, in particular Christianity, in one form or another. (They are all essentially practitioners of the statement attributed to Napoleon: society is impossible without inequality; inequality is impossible to maintain without a morality to justify it; and such a morality is impossible without religion.) Nevertheless (to paraphrase an important statement by the physicist Steven Weinberg), although science itself does not eliminate religious belief, it does provide a basis for people not to believe in god and to reject religion. This is in conflict with those who believe religion is necessary for an orderly and “moral” society, and all the more so with those who insist on a religious fundamentalism that is wildly out of keeping with reality and with a rational approach to reality.

Yet, while it is true that, in order to win their full emancipation, the masses of people in the world will ultimately need to cast off religious belief in general, it is important to emphasize that, in the world today, the polarization does not simply come down to those who have rejected religion in the name of enlightenment vs. those who cling to religious belief. An important polarization now is that between what can rightly be called decent people (including large numbers of religious people) who are opposed to injustice, and on the other hand those who are determined to revive and enforce traditional forms of oppression. In regard to all this, one of the important questions is whether people come to embrace, or reject, two distinguishing qualities: largeness of mind and generosity of spirit.

4. All this provides an important foundation and “backdrop” for understanding what happened in the recent election, why, and what are the implications of this, now and in terms of the future. The following, from a November 9, 2020 article by Leonard Pitts Jr (“The election of 2020 has ended at last, but the celebration has caveats”) contains some important insights. The result of this election, he writes, “strips bare all the glossy claims about who we are as a country, underscoring the fact that in a meaningful sense, we are not one country at all anymore, but two sharing the same borders.” He continues:

The last time that happened [with the Civil War], it took four years and 750,000 lives to force us back into some semblance of oneness. Even then, the seams of the fracture were always visible.

Unlike that break, this one is not starkly geographic: South versus North. No, this one is city versus country, college educated versus high school educated and, most significantly, future versus past. Meaning that yesterday, this was a nation where white people were the majority, and tomorrow it will be one where they are not.

Although Pitts is correct that the division today is more rural vs. urban than strictly South vs. North, it is the case that the old (and new) Confederacy—and in particular rural white southerners—remain the anchor for an ill-founded and ill-intended attempt to restore the past (in the name of “Making America Great Again”). As I pointed out in the 2017 talk The Trump/Pence Regime Must Go!:

There is a direct line from the Confederacy to the fascists of today, and a direct connection between their white supremacy, their open disgust and hatred for LGBT people as well as women, their willful rejection of science and the scientific method, their raw “America First” jingoism and trumpeting of “the superiority of western civilization” and their bellicose wielding of military power, including their expressed willingness and blatant threats to use nuclear weapons, to destroy countries.

At the same time, the divide, and the clash, between the past and the future goes deeper than demographic changes and the prospect of a majority non-white U.S. population. The forces fighting for the past are aiming to reverse, with a vengeance, even the modest concessions that have been made to the fight against social injustice and institutionalized inequality and oppression, and to enforce a form of capitalist dictatorship that is overt and unrestrained by the Constitution and the rule of law (or which turns the Constitution and the rule of law into merely instruments of fascist tyranny and atrocity).

As I put it in my August 1 Statement, fascism is “open and aggressive dictatorship, trampling on and perverting the rule of law, relying on violence and terror, on behalf of the predatory capitalist system and as an extreme attempt to deal with profound social division and acute crises (both within the country and in the global arena).” While this might hold things together, in an extremely negative way, for a certain period, in the final analysis this cannot succeed—cannot indefinitely preserve this system of capitalism-imperialism, and cannot lead to any future but one of horrors for humanity, if indeed we have a future at all. And the supposed “alternative,” as represented for example by the Democratic Party in the U.S., involving a “more democratic” means of exercising the rule of this system, will also continue to embody and enforce terrible and completely unnecessary suffering for the masses of humanity and pose an existential threat to humanity as a whole, even if not always through the same brute and unmitigated juggernaut of horrors as the fascist form of capitalist dictatorship.

What was expressed through this recent election—what, in fact, is expressed through all elections under this system—is not “democracy” and “the will of the people” in some abstract sense but specifically a choice that is made between different representatives of this system of capitalism-imperialismwhich is the only “realistic” choice that is, or can be, offered under this system. In this particular, extraordinary situation, that choice—between fascist and bourgeois democratic capitalist rule—actually made a real difference, to the point where it was right to support one side, the Democrats, in order to deliver a defeat to the attempt to more fully consolidate fascism. But that does not change the fact that this was a vote on the terms of the very system that has produced this fascism and will continue to provide fertile soil for this fascism at the same time as it continues to generate horror after horror for humanity—horrors that are hidden only from those who do not, or will not, look. The “liberal” (or “mainstream”) version of this system’s rule involves the enforcement of the exploitation and oppression of masses of people in this country and throughout the world (including the more than 150 million children in the Third World who are cruelly super-exploited in sweatshops and mines). Enforcing all this, and defeating attempts by rivals to gain a larger share of this plunder and to replace the USA as the world’s dominant power—that is what “liberal” (and other) representatives of this system mean when they speak of the “national interests” of this country. And this is the foundation for the “progressive” approach of allowing for some more “diversity” and “inclusiveness” for previously excluded sections of this society, and the promotion of certain aspects of science, on the basis of and especially for the purposes of this international plunder, of people as well as the environment.

5. To emphasize this crucial point once again: It is necessary to confront the fundamental reality that there is no future worth living for the masses of people and ultimately for humanity as a whole under this system—which has given rise to a powerful fascism; which is the source of horrendous, and unnecessary suffering, not only for masses of people in this country but for billions of people throughout the world; and which poses a growing threat to the very existence of humanity, through its massive stockpiles of nuclear weapons as well as its accelerating destruction of the environment. It is true—an important truth—that the Trump/Pence regime (and others like it, for example the rule of Bolsonaro in Brazil) has made the environmental crisis far worse—has, so to speak, accelerated the acceleration of environmental destruction. But the dynamics and requirements of this system are driving the climate crisis toward the point of no return, regardless of which particular person or regime is acting as its dominant political representative. Capitalism is often extolled for being a “dynamic” system, constantly bringing about changes. But this is a “dynamism” based on exploitation for privately-accumulated profit, and driven by anarchy (and anarchic competition between capitalists), and that very anarchy is rapidly propelling things toward an existential threshold—past which humanity could well be irreversibly hurtled—if this system of capitalism, in its imperialist globalized expression, continues to dominate the world.

Given how much the fascist social base in this country has been conditioned to falsely and ridiculously identify the Democrats (even “centrist” Democrats like Biden) as “radical socialists” (or even “communists”) and to viscerally hate them on that basis—largely because of the Democrats’ limited concessions to the struggle against racial and gender oppression, to the need to address the climate crisis, and to a reckoning with the real history of this country—it is highly ironic that it is only a powerful movement aiming for actual socialism, as a radically new and emancipating society and the transition to the fundamental goal of communism on a global scale, that could create the basis for significant numbers of those, and in particular youth, who have been caught up in this fascism to break with that and become part of the struggle aiming for a positive resolution of the contradictions that this system of capitalism-imperialism continually intensifies. (As any rational person can readily determine, the relatively small number of “democratic socialists” who are part of the Democratic Party are in no way “radical socialists”—or really socialists at all—but are social-democrats who are aiming not for the abolition of the capitalist system and its replacement by a socialist system, but for reforms within the capitalist system which would not change, or significantly affect, its basic nature and functioning.)

The fact is that there is no bringing back (or newly bringing into being) an idealized way of life that supposedly existed in the late 19th century and the first part of the 20th century in this country, no return to an imagined idyllic America, characterized by “traditional values” which somehow fairly rewarded “virtues” such as hard work, and where people occupied the place in society they deserved (or were intended by god to occupy)—something which has really existed only in the minds of those who seek an illusory “restoration” of this, and who have been conditioned to irrationally hate everyone and everything that has supposedly destroyed it. And there is no bringing back the situation that existed for several decades after World War 2 where large numbers of people (especially, though not only, white men) without a college education could have jobs in major industries like auto and steel at a wage that made possible a “middle class standard of living.” That there is no basis for this is true not because of conspiracies by “satanic liberals who drink the blood of trafficked children” but, once again, because of the workings of this system of capitalism-imperialism, which have led this world to be shaped as it is, and to be heading for the environmental disaster it is rapidly bringing into being, if it does not first extinguish humanity through nuclear war unleashed by the powerful possessors of massive nuclear arsenals.

And no one should want to go back to the actual past: to a world marked by massive poverty and disease, even beyond the terrible toll this takes today, especially in the Third World; with the horrendous destruction and suffering brought about through two world wars in the 20th century, in which tens of millions of people were slaughtered, and atomic bomb attacks were unleashed by the U.S. on two Japanese cities at the end of the second world war, immediately incinerating hundreds of thousands of Japanese people and ushering in the “nuclear age”; with the USA marked by open, institutionalized segregation, discrimination and “second class” status for people of color and women, and a brutally suppressed existence for LGBT people, and Black people in particular subjected to continual terror, marked by repeated lynchings and other depraved acts accompanying them. The future lies not with the (real or imagined) past but in going forward, to an actual socialist society, and ultimately a communist world, where the fundamental orientation and practical policy are geared to meeting the material, intellectual and cultural needs of the people, while giving increasing scope to individual initiative, on the basis of and within the framework of the collective and cooperative foundation and ethos of society, where age-old economic and social relations of exploitation, inequality and oppression are surpassed, and no longer does the well-being of some rest on the misery of others.

It should be clear that the present polarization and the profound problems that must be faced cannot be solved by trying to “adjust” things within the confines of this system. The example of the “Occupy” movement of the last decade is another illustration of this. This attempt to in effect repolarize the 99 percent against the 1 percent of super-rich failed, in significant part because social relations (such as the oppressive relations between different “races” and genders), and not just economic relations, are powerful material forces, and a good part of that “99 percent” is determined to maintain those unequal and oppressive social relations from which they benefit (or strongly believe they benefit), especially in this capitalist society which sets people against each other in often ruthless competition.

It is only on the foundation of a radically different economic system—a socialist economic system (mode of production), where society’s productive resources are collectivized, marshaled and utilized, in a planned way, to meet the material, intellectual and cultural needs of the people, on a continually expanding basis—that there can be a favorable basis for uprooting and transforming social relations that embody oppression, and the ways of thinking that go along with and reinforce that oppression, moving beyond the situation where (as Lenin so aptly put it) people are not merely encouraged but are compelled to calculate, with the stinginess of a miser, what their position is in relation to others.

All this strongly points, once again, to the need not simply to “face reality” but to consistently apply the principle that science matters and truth matters, and therefore to seriously engage the scientific analysis (which I have outlined here) of the problem facing humanity, and the solution: where the world is heading now, under the domination of this system, and the radically different direction it needs to, and can, take. It calls for a willingness to apply this same approach—that science and scientifically-determined truth matter—to communism and the historical experience of the communist movement, and in particular to the new communism which has resulted from decades of work I have carried out. This new communism is a continuation of, but also represents a qualitative leap beyond, and in some important ways a break with, communist theory as it had been previously developed. Unlike those who slander and condemn, or simply ignore, communism and the historical experience of the communist movement, I myself have done, and have led others in doing, extensive, serious scientific, study—investigation and analysis—of the history of the communist movement and the socialist societies it has brought into being (as well as countries that have called themselves “socialist” but in fact are not, such as Cuba since 1959, Venezuela in recent decades, and the Soviet Union and countries of Eastern Europe, where capitalism was restored and has reigned for more than 60 years, well before they became openly capitalist countries a few decades ago). This scientific approach has led to the conclusion that with the actual socialist societies that have been brought into being, with the leadership of communists, first in the Soviet Union and then in China (before capitalism was restored in the former in the 1950s and in the latter after the death of Mao in 1976), this experience of socialism has been mainly—and in the case of China overwhelmingly—positive, while secondarily there have also been significant, in some cases serious or even grievous, errors.

Drawing from this historical experience of the communist movement and a broad range of human endeavor, the new communism, as its defining method and approach, emphasizes the critical importance of science and applying the scientific method to everything—to society as well as nature. It firmly rejects any approaches that amount to applying and justifying the bankrupt and extremely harmful notion that “the ends justify the means,” and that “truth” is just an “instrument” of desired objectives, rather than what it actually is: a correct reflection of objective reality.

It is this same method and approach that has been applied to continually deepen the understanding of the nature and functioning of the system of capitalism-imperialism that continues at this point to dominate the world, with terrible consequences and implications for humanity and its future. And this work is continuing as an important part of developing the revolutionary movement that is needed in order to finally abolish this system and bring a radically different and much better world into being. While much remains to be done and many challenges remain to be met, a scientific analysis and synthesis of fundamental questions relating to the situation facing humanity and the possibility of human emancipation can be found—in both more concentrated and popular forms and in works of considerable depth—in talks and writings of mine and other materials that are available at revcom.us. And a sweeping vision and concrete blueprint for a radically different and emancipating society, on the road to the final goal of a communist world, is set forth in the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America, which I have authored.

It is a fact that, nowhere else, in any actual or proposed founding or guiding document of any government, is there anything like not only the protection but the provision for dissent and intellectual and cultural ferment that is embodied in this Constitution, while this has, as its solid core, a grounding in the socialist transformation of the economy, with the goal of abolishing all exploitation, and the corresponding transformation of the social relations and political institutions, to uproot all oppression, and the promotion, through the educational system and in society as a whole, of an approach that will “enable people to pursue the truth wherever it leads, with a spirit of critical thinking and scientific curiosity, and in this way to continually learn about the world and be better able to contribute to changing it in accordance with the fundamental interests of humanity.” All this will unchain and unleash a tremendous productive and social force of human beings enabled and inspired to work and struggle together to meet the fundamental needs of the people—transforming society in a fundamental way and supporting and aiding revolutionary struggle throughout the world—aiming for the final goal of a communist world, free from all exploitation and oppression, while at the same time addressing the truly existential environmental and ecological crisis, in a meaningful and comprehensive way, which is impossible under the system of capitalism-imperialism.

Far too many have rejected this—or, more often, failed or refused to even seriously engage it—because of ignorance and prejudice which have their ultimate source in the distortion relentlessly propagated by guardians of the present order, and which serve to reinforce this highly oppressive order. Here, it has to be said (and can be readily demonstrated) that the “liberal” bourgeois attack on communism is, in its own way, as ludicrous and outrageous—crudely in violation of the scientific method and blatantly in opposition to the actual facts—as the fascist mangling of truth which the “liberals” are forever decrying. This does great harm to humanity: Refusing to apply, and acting in opposition to, an honest, scientific approach to communism, the actual history of the communist movement, and the development of the new communism contributes to closing off the only real alternative to this truly monstrous system of capitalism-imperialism—the only viable alternative that represents the fundamental interests and a future worth living for the masses of humanity and ultimately humanity as a whole.

The road to a better world is not, and will not be, an easy one—this cannot be accomplished without determined struggle and, yes, great sacrifice. But continuing on the current course, under the domination of this system of capitalism-imperialism, means a continuation of the horrors already being perpetrated in the world today, the far worse horrors that are immediately threatening, and the very real existential danger that is increasingly looming.

In the face of the fascist juggernaut that is still threatening and gaining strength, large numbers of us who are deeply sickened and outraged by this, and who aspire to something much better, have raised and rallied to the call that science and truth matter and must be our guide. Let us now be brave enough, and bold enough, to apply this in an unhindered way, determined to seek the truth and follow the truth wherever it leads, overcoming all obstacles to this, including any cherished illusions and ingrained prejudices that run counter to reality and scientifically-established truth. Let us dare to act to make a reality of what science reveals as possible: a radically different and far better world and future for humanity. by

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Capital and ideology: interview with Thomas Piketty.

27 Dec

by Thomas Piketty on 23rd December 2020 @PikettyLeMonde

Thomas Piketty tells Robin Wilson how wealth and power can be transferred from capital to workers and citizens.

Robin Wilson: If Capital in the Twenty-First Century made you famous for one thing, it was the equation ‘r>g’: the rise of inequality in recent decades has been linked to the excess of profit accumulation over economic growth and so to huge rents for shareholders and chief executives. Redressing such inequality then implies taxing heavily capital assets as well as high incomes. But in Capital and Ideology you raise a problem: a feature of globalisation has been the transnationalisation of wealth and the failure of nation-states to keep up—even in terms of the data they collect. So what is to be done?

Thomas Piketty: We have to rethink the way we organise globalisation. Free capital flow is not something that came from the sky—it was created by us. It was organised via particular international treaties and we have to rewrite these treaties. The circulation of investment is, of course, not bad in itself but it has to come with an automatic transmission of information about who owns what and where. It has to come with some common tax system, so that the most mobile and most powerful economic actors have to contribute to the common good—at least as much a proportion of their wealth and of their income as the middle class and the lower socio-economic groups.

Otherwise, we have created a very dangerous system, where a very large part of the population feel that they are not gaining from globalization—they are not gaining in particular from European integration—and that people at the top, large corporations or people with high wealth and high income, get a better deal because the system in a way was organize so that they can just click on a button and transfer their wealth to another jurisdiction and nobody can follow them. It doesn’t have to be this This is a very sophisticated international legal system, in particular in Europe, which has made it possible that you accumulate wealth by, in effect, using the public infrastructure of a country—the public education system and everything—and then you can go somewhere else and nothing has been planned so that we can follow you. This has to be changed.

I voted yes in the Maastricht treaty referendum in 1992. I was very young but still I am part of the many people who maybe did not realise at the time that this would lead us to a very unfair system. Some other people realised very well what they were pushing for: we should have more competition between countries so that countries will make an effort to be more ‘efficient’ and not tax too much.

To some extent, I can understand this argument. Except that, at the end of the day, this is a mistrust of democracy—this attempt to go around democratic choices by forcing the rules of the game to deliver certain types of distributional outcomes, mainly by making it possible for the most mobile and most powerful economic actors to avoid taxation in effect. This is a very dangerous choice for globalisation and for democracy and it is putting our basic social contract under a very dangerous threat.

Let’s focus on the European Union. We are up against a race to the bottom in corporate taxation in Europe as individual states have pursued beggar-my-neighbour approaches, rather than collaborating to match collectively the power of capital. One of the features of the current EU architecture, to which you have alluded, is the constraint of unanimity operating hitherto against action at EU level to reverse this race to the bottom. So how can it be reversed?

We cannot wait for unanimity to change the rule of unanimity. So at some point we need to have a subset of countries, ideally including the largest countries—Germany, France, Italy, Spain, as many countries as possible—which decide to sign a new treaty between them whereby they will take a majority-rule decision on a certain number of tax decisions: to create a common tax on the profits of large corporations, on large carbon emissions and on high-income, high-wealth taxpayers.

This will be done through majority rule among these countries. Ideally, I would like this to be done through a new European assembly made up of national parliament members—a little bit like the German-French parliamentary assembly created last year as part of the new bilateral treaty between France and Germany. Which, by the way, illustrates that it’s perfectly possible for two countries or more to stay in the European Union—France and Germany are still in the EU, of course—and to have a bilateral or trilateral or whatever treaty, in order to create some special co-operation for countries that want to move ahead into more political and fiscal integration.

I very much hope that a subset of countries will put this proposal on the table—and not only make this proposal but say ‘Okay, six months from now, 12 months from now, this will come into force and we will have majority-rule decision-making to have this recovery plan with this new common tax system’ and so on. I very much hope that most of the 27 countries that are currently members of the EU will join, but probably what will happen is that at least for a certain number of years some countries will choose to remain aside from this mechanism.

This is what happened with the creation of the euro, of course. I’m not saying this is perfect—I would prefer all 27 countries to be part of the full process of integration. I would also like Britain to come back and I think at some point this will happen. But if we wait for all countries to agree before moving in this direction we are going to wait forever. So it’s very important that a subset of countries moves in this direction—if we are always waiting for unanimity to make progress, at some point the cost of unanimity is enormous.

We’ve seen that recently with the new recovery plan, which has finally been adopted. But as we all know it has been adopted under the threat that if some countries put in their veto then there would be a separate agreement between 25 countries instead of 27. You cannot rule a large federation forever in this manner. It is not working because, in effect, it takes too much time.

If we decide in three months, in six months, that the recovery plan was too small—which is very likely to be the case—what are we going to do? Are we going to play this game another time, forcing unanimity to happen behind-closed-doors without public parliamentary deliberation, without majority-rule decision-making? We have to move to something else.

In Capital and Ideology, you paint a fairly unforgiving picture of the evolution of the EU, as effectively the only quasi-federal entity in the world to define itself so narrowly in terms of market-clearing measures rather than social policy or a political community. This has, you claim, fuelled alienation from the European project among les classes populaires, as their socio-political aspirations have not been addressed—as evidenced by the Brexit referendum, the earlier referendum defeats on the proposed EU constitution, or indeed the controversy over Maastricht which you mentioned. How can citizen trust in Europe be rebuilt?

Let me first say that I am a European federalist—I believe in Europe. Before describing everything that should be improved, it’s important to remember that European nation-states have been able to build, especially in the decades after World War II, the best social-security system in the world, the least unequal, social-market economic system in the world. This is a great achievement. I am not here to say that everything is bad in Europe—that would be ridiculous. We have built a social system which, by and large, is the least unequal in history, and this is a huge achievement, but this achievement is fragile.

For a long time we thought that it was possible to have the welfare state within each nation-state and then the EU would just be in charge of enforcing the common market and the free flow of goods, services and capital. We realise today that this is not sufficient and if we don’t harmonise tax legislation—and, more generally, if we don’t have some common public policy to regulate capitalism and to reduce inequality—then indeed there is a risk that the divorce between the European project and les classes populaires at some point will just destroy the project itself.

I am very shocked by the fact that, as I show in Capital and Ideology, if you look, referendum after referendum—whether it is in Britain, France or Denmark—wherever you have a referendum over Europe, it’s always the bottom 50 or 60 per cent of income, wealth or education groups which vote against Europe and only the top 10, 20 or 30 per cent which vote for Europe. This cannot be a coincidence.

The explanation according to which the bottom 50 or 60 per cent group are so nationalist, or they don’t like internationalist ideas, is just wrong. There are many examples in history where, in fact, the more disadvantaged socio-economic groups are more internationalist than the elite.

It entirely depends on the political project—the political mobilisation around internationalist ideas—that you present. The problem is that over time the European project has been viewed more and more as being built in the interest of the most mobile and most powerful economic actors. This is indeed very dangerous.

With the Covid crisis, we have an opportunity to try to show to the public opinion of Europe that Europe can be here to reduce inequality. But this will require some deep change in the way we conduct economic and tax policy.

Who is going to repay the large public debt? For now we put everything on the balance sheet of the European Central Bank but at some point we will have to discuss who is going to pay for that. There are solutions which, in fact, come also from the history of Europe itself. Let me remind you that after World War II, in the 1950s, many countries—including in particular Germany—invented some very innovative ways to reduce large public debt, including very progressive tax on very high-wealth individuals.

Germany in 1952 put in place a very ambitious, exceptional, progressive wealth tax, which applied between 1952 and the 1960s: very high-wealth taxpayers had to pay a very large amount of money to the German treasury. This was very successful in the sense that this policy not only helped reduce public debt—it paid for public investment, public infrastructure, and it was part of the very successful postwar growth model.

We are going to have to find something similar in the future, except that now we cannot do it alone. It cannot be just Germany or France or Italy. We will have to have some common tax policy.

Europe has to show its citizens that Europe can mean solidarity—Europe can mean asking more of those who have more and, in particular, of very high-wealth individuals who have more than €1 million or €2 million in assets. They should make an exceptional contribution in the coming years, to repay some of the Covid debt. Some proposals have been put on the table in various countries, including in Germany—very similar in fact to what was actually done in Germany in 1952, when it was a big success.

At some point, we will have to add this up at a transnational level. Through the kind of European assembly I was describing earlier—it could be Germany and France but it would be better if it was Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Belgium, as many countries as possible—we will have to change the course of Europe, so as to convince the middle class and lower socio-economic groups of Europe that Europe can work for them and Europe can be here to reduce inequality, and not only be in the interest of the wealthiest citizens.

Continuing that point about les classes populaires, you have some very striking sociological graphs in Capital and Ideology where you show how the support base for the parties of the left in Europe, which was historically among les classes populaires, has shifted dramatically in recent decades, so that they have come to represent the better-educated and even to some extent the better-off in Europe. And, in the process, you say what you call the ‘classist’ politics of the past risks being substituted by the identitarian politics of nativist movements in the Europe of today. How has such a dramatic transformation come about and can it be corrected?

The biggest part of the explanation has to do with the fact that we have stopped discussing the transformation of the economic system. We have stopped discussing reducing inequality between social classes. For many decades now, we have been telling the public that there is only one possible economic system and one possible economic policy, that governments cannot really do anything to change the distribution of income and wealth between social classes—and that the only thing that governments can do is control their borders, control identity.      

We should not be surprised that 20 or 30 years later the entire political conversation is about border control and identity. This is largely the consequence of the fact that we have stopped discussing the transformation of the economic system.

That’s partly due, of course, to the gigantic historical failure of communism, which has contributed to a general disillusion towards the idea of changing the economic system. I was 18 at the time of the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989 and I can remember, in the 1990s, I was much more a pro-market believer than I am today, and so I can very well understand the feeling that came after the fall of communism.

But not only has this gone too far. We have forgotten that on the other hand you have all the many achievements of social democracy, including progressive taxation of income and wealth, including co-determination in companies, including social-security systems. This big success of the 20th century can be taken further in the future. New thinking about a new form of economic system—more equitable, more sustainable—is the discussion we now need to have.

In the book, you conclude with your version of an alternative, which you describe as ‘participatory socialism’. It involves a progressive tax on all wealth—the proceeds of which, you say, should go to a capital endowment for every 25-year-old, as well as the extension of existing co-determination arrangements in Germany and elsewhere to change the balance of corporate power. You’re saying this would be a way to transcend capitalism without repeating the Soviet nightmare, so can you finally elaborate on that?

The system of participatory socialism I describe at the end of Capital and Ideology some people would prefer to call social democracy for the21st century. I have no problem with this but I prefer to talk about participatory socialism. In effect, this is the continuation of what has been done in the20th century and what was successful. This includes equal access to education, to health, to a system of basic income, which to some extent is already in place but needs to be made more automatic; educational justice needs to be more real and less theoretical, as it is too often the case.

Regarding the system of property, which has always been the core discussion about socialism and capitalism, the proposal I am making relies on two main pillars: one is co-determination, through change in the legal system and the system of governance of companies, and the other part is progressive taxation and the permanent circulation of property.

Regarding co-determination, let me remind you that in a number of European countries—including Germany and Sweden, starting around the 1950s—we’ve had a system where 50 per cent of seats on the governing boards of large companies will go to elected representatives of employees, of workers, even if they don’t have a share in the capital of the company, and the other 50 per cent of voting rights will go to shareholders.

Which means that if, in addition, the workers and employees of the company have a capital share of, say, 10 or 20 per cent, or if some local or regional government, as sometimes happens in Germany, has a share of 10 or 20 per cent in the capital stock of the company, then in effect this will shift the majority, even if you have a private shareholder who has 70, 80 or 90 per cent of the capital. So this is quite a big change, as compared to the usual rule of one share, one vote, which is supposed to be the basic definition of shareholder capitalism. In France, Britain or the United States, or in other countries where this system was not extended, shareholders don’t like this idea at all.

But, in the end, it was pretty successful in Germany and Sweden. I don’t want to idealise the system but it has to some extent made it possible to involve workers in the long-run strategy of companies, in a way that is not perfect in Germany or Sweden but is a bit better at least than in France, Britain and the US.

We can go further in this direction, so the first pillar of participatory socialism I propose is to say ‘Okay, let’s extend this co-determination system to all countries’—all countries in Europe to begin with but all countries in the world, ideally. Let’s also extend it to small companies and not only the large companies where it applies in Germany. In Sweden it applies to a bit smaller companies but the very small companies are excluded. Let’s apply it to all companies, no matter the size, and let’s go further by assuming, for instance, that with the 50 per cent of the vote going to shareholders, a single shareholder cannot have more than 10 per cent of the vote in large companies—say of over 100 workers.

The general idea is that we need to share power. We need more participation by everybody. We live in very educated societies, where lots of people—lots of wage-earners, engineers, managers, technicians—have something to contribute to decision-making in the company.

When you are in a very small company where there’s only one individual who put in the small capital to create the company and hires one or two people, you can see where you want the majority of the vote with the one individual, the founder of the company. But, as the company gets bigger and bigger, you need more deliberation, and you cannot be in a system where one individual, because he or she had a good idea or was very lucky at the age of 30, is going to concentrate all the decision-making power at the age of 50, 70, 90—including in a huge company with thousands or tens of thousands of workers.

So that’s the first pillar of participatory socialism. We start from the co-determination system, as it has been applied, and we try to extend it.

The second pillar is progressive taxation. Again, we start from what has been experimented with during the20th century. Some countries, like the US, for instance, went pretty far in the direction of progressive taxation: the top income tax rate at the time of Roosevelt was 91 per cent and on average between 1930 and 1980 it was over 80 per cent.

And in fact it was very successful, in the sense that productivity growth at this time was much higher than it has been since the 1980s. So the view that was put at the time of Reagan—that in order to get more innovation, more growth, you need more and more inequality at the top—is simply wrong if you look at the historical evidence.

The big lesson from history that I push in my book is that economic prosperity historically comes from equality and, in particular, equality in education. The US was the most educated country in the world in the middle of the20th century, with 80-90 per cent of the generation going to high school, at a time when it was maybe 20-30 per cent in Germany, France or Japan. You had this huge educational advance and the US was also the most productive economy.

The top income-tax and top inheritance-tax rates were divided by two by Reagan, but in fact the per capita national-income growth rate was also divided by two in the three decades after the Reagan reform. So I propose large-scale progressive taxation—not only of income and inherited wealth but also of wealth itself and on an annual basis, so as to avoid excessive concentration of wealth at the top.

And indeed so as to pay for a minimum inheritance for all: I propose €120,000 at the age of 25. This is still quite far from complete equality. In the system I propose, the people who today receive zero euro, which are basically the bottom 50 or even 60 per cent of societies, would receive €120,000, and the people who today receive €1 million, after the tax and everything, would still receive €600,000—which is less than €1 million but a lot more than €120,000.

So we are still very far from equal opportunity, which is a theoretical principle that people pretend they like but in practice—when it comes to concrete proposals—many people have a problem with. We need however to go in this direction. This proposal is actually very moderate—we could go further.

I am not saying this platform should be applied next week in every country. This is a general view of how the economic system should be transformed in the long run. The system I am describing, which I call participatory socialism, of course is different from the welfare or social-democratic capitalism we have today. But it’s very much a continuation of the transformation that already took place over the past century.

The welfare or social-democratic capitalism we have today is very, very different from the colonial capitalism that we had in 1900 or 1910, where the rights of property owners—at the world level, the colonial level, but also the domestic level—were much, much stronger. You could fire a worker when you wanted, oust a tenant when you wanted. This has nothing to do with the system we have today. So there is a long-run process towards more equality, towards justice. And this comes with a more balanced distribution of economic and social rights between owners and non-owners, with the regulation of property and the transformation of property relations.

This evolution will continue. It has already been very strong in the past century and it will continue in the future. This is a discussion we need to reopen—to shift the political conversation away from identity politics and border control towards economic and social progress and transformation.

This is part of a series on Corporate Taxation in a Globalised Era supported by the Hans Böckler Stiftung

Thomas Piketty is professor of economics at the Paris School of Economics and author of Capital and Ideology and Capital in the Twenty-First Century (both Belknap Press).

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