Stabbing the Oligarchy in the Back

The Black Hundreds march in Odessa in 1905

Without socialist reform, every capitalist country is primed for civil war – including Russia

by Phil Hall

Russians are good chess players, but life is not a game of chess. It is far more complicated. Putin and his confreres correctly identify the real challenge they face – and that faces all the representatives of criminal capitalist oligarchies around the world. Vladimir Putin’s real enemy, and the enemy of the class he represents, are his own people. Any socialist worth their salt understands this. The spectre of class warfare is ever-present in every capitalist society: in the USA, China, the UK, Nigeria, South Africa and Brazil – in every capitalist country in the world.

In his speech, given during Wagner PMC’s attempted mutiny, the Bonapartist Russian president, Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, compared the attempted insurrection to the Bolshevik Revolution which caused the capitulation of the Russian regime to Germany in 1917. His speech was hardly an endorsement of egalitarian, internationalist, communist and socialist ideals.

Every capitalist country in the world is faced with intense internal contradictions arising out of increasingly accentuated class conflict, with greater and greater wealth accumulating in the hands of fewer and fewer people. Unless wealthy elites and corporations reform and sustain enlightened social democracies in every capitalist country, civil wars are primed and ready to be unleashed. We saw evidence of this in France over the pension reforms and now there is rioting over the brutal behaviour of the police -mainly towards migrants. The riots have now spread to more than one European country.

To understand the limitations in the analysis of Russian strategists and game players, one must understand the following: Russia has always been relatively insular. It is hard to govern as a whole because of its great size. Despite all the many achievements of Russia’s literature, art, science and technology, the majority of the country is rural and socially and culturally backward.

For example, Russia, in the time of the USSR, did not undergo the same cultural transformation in the 1960s that much of the rest of the developed world underwent. The increased tolerance, equality and individual liberty promulgated by young people in the 1960s was regarded as bourgeois decadence by the government of the USSR.

The USSR was not an advanced communist society, although it possessed some aspects of an advanced socialist society. On the whole, the communism of the USSR was a distortion and a sham. The USSR inspired the Orwellian idea. The dictatorship of Stalin installed a vacuous and frozen ideology into the Soviet educational system. It crammed this ideology into the heads of every school child. Any questioning of this ideology resulted in being blacklisted and marginalised. The government by the Soviet communist party was pharaonic, pyramidal and tolerated no opposition. After an initial period of hope, the USSR ended up being the exact opposite of the original ideal; that of a country governed by people’s Soviets. The people did not govern in the USSR.

Unscrupulous real-politick kept the nomenklatura in power. But when the moment came to transition to capitalism, the ‘communist’ nomenklatura was ready. It had absolutely no compunction or hesitation in seizing state assets. Yes, these were the personable ‘тунеядство’ that the African, Asian and Latin American socialists hob-knobbed with uncritically; grateful for the intelligence received, for Soviet jeeps, Kalashnikovs and SAMs. When it came to a critical evaluation of Soviet society, they looked away.

Since 1990, Great Russian chauvinism has raised its troll-like head. These can sometimes be very unpleasant people. Many of us had the experience of being cornered in a bar at an airport or in a hotel by some hard-drinking Russian in the 1970s or 1980s in the USSR. He (because it was always he) would then tell us how much he hated black people and Soviet Jews and how much he liked Apartheid South Africa and, oddly, Israel.

I lived and worked in the USSR. First in 1984 and then between 1990 and 1991. The slugs of the nomenklatura, who paid lip service to socialist ideals, then morphed into monster slugs in the 1990s. After 1991, the Black Hundreds were back on the march in the Russia. They became an acceptable part of the political mix.

Ukraine has the Banderites, but Russia has the new Black Hundreds. Pamyat are reactionary, monarchist ultra-nationalists. The current ruling elite rejects any of the progressive elements it may have inherited from the time of the USSR and, instead, takes care to reaffirm the older traditions of Russian autocracy, obeisance and pre-revolutionary religious bigotry. All the Russian empire’s greatest authors lamented Russia’s extreme backwardness during the 19th and early 20th centuries, and if people like Chekhov and Tolstoy and Goncharov were alive now, they would still be lamenting it.

Barge Haulers on the Volga (1870-73)

Turning to those who shout and tout uncritically for Russia, we see people among them who say they are socialists. These so-called socialists are the same people who punch down at immigrants and transgender people, and at the usual targets of the national socialists of the 30s, including homosexuals. They are demagogues with no respect for democracy who quickly turn into reactionary nationalists and supporters of Russian and Chinese nationalism. The loud-mouthed, demagogic narcissist George Galloway is a good example of one of these anti-democratic faux socialists. He plays to the ultra-right crowd.

Chavez, Lopez Obrador, Morales, Bolsonaro, Trump and Duterte. These are all populists who either bypass democratic institutions or traduce democracy when they achieve power. Demagogues pop up in lieu of anything better. They are political opportunists; flotsam and jetsam. They conveniently forget what Russia actually is and who controls it. They ignore the fact that the Russian people might actually hate their own oligarchy. These Europeans and Americans side with the Russian oligarchy and have the cheek to call the Russians who oppose their oligarchs ‘traitors’.

Falling for the old trick; the SUN newspaper on sinking the Belgrano

Whipping up nationalism is a useful tool to manipulate the masses of people. Nationalism binds societies together into a bundle perforce, into a fasci. The war on Russia for its resources by NATO, and the great Russian nationalism of the Putin government that opposes it (acquiring its neighbour’s territory in the process) binds Russian society together in its support of a Bonapartist-like leader. If some of the humblest Brits hanker for the glory days of empire and look admiringly at the pink on the old the maps, then so do some of the humblest Russians.

Nationalism is a temporary unifier. We have seen this trick before so many times, now. We should be wise to it. How does it go? Forget inequality. Forget exploitation. Forget injustice. Rally round. Rally round the billionaires: billionaire Putin, billionaire Sunak, multi-millionnaire Ramaphosa, multi-millionnaire Biden.

It is an unfortunate truth that wars and economic crises precipitate social chaos. But they also catalyse social change and revolution. Or, as Putin explained it, ‘stabs in the back’. Putin equated the Bolshevik revolution in 1917 to a stab in the back. Putin and his oligarchy would deserve it! Just as Sunak would and so would Biden. Socialists, what may be coming, what may be precipitating out is not a world war, but a world revolution of sorts – and a chance to eliminate an especially vampiric form of corporate capitalism.

A footnote: Despite all appearances, don’t count European social democracy out of a multipolar world. With our immigration policies, with the egalitarian education of our young, with Europe’s embrace of human rights, with its regret for past colonialism and nationalism, with its partial avoidance of fratricidal wars, European society has become advanced and comparatively tolerant. Tolerance and multiculturalism are precisely the values that recidivist nations like Russia reject. If any society is prepared for a multipolar world, then it is European society, not BRICS.

The right to property must not be inalienable*

Government limitation and enforcement of the duties of property ownership is one of the foundation stones of a good society, not an economic lever.

by Phil Hall

Rather than imagining they are powerful citizens, the ultra rich prefer to believe that they are naturally unconstrained and owe little to individual states. They fantasise they roam the world like Captain Nemo, and assume they have far more rights than duties. But they are only allowed to own what they own by our collective grace.

Everyone lives in a society. It is not possible to become wealthy outside society. The society regulates what people can and cannot own, and what duties those people who own property have to that society. If a person or corporation accumulates too much wealth, then they have done so by skimming off other people’s labour, or their forebears have. Society shouldn’t tolerate the theft and accumulation of other people’s labour by the few.

If a French aristocrat or a great land baron killed the peasants and stole their land, or colonialists conquered and stole the land of the people they colonised – Israel and South Africa and The USA and Australia come immediately to mind. Or a big developer lobbies local and national government and pays bribes and offers inducements to officials, they acquire land and wealth by force. The basis of ownership, hitherto, has been through the violent imposition of ownership by a minority. Therefore, legitimacy and the legitimacy of all forms of ownership can only be expressed and endorsed by a properly constituted democratic state, uncorrupted by the influence of powerful elites, where there is a representative economic, as well as political, democracy.

This need for control of property rights conditioned by the need to ensure the public interest is clearly acknowledged in the European Convention on Human Rights which states that:

(1) Every natural or legal person is entitled to the peaceful enjoyment of his possessions. No one shall be deprived of his possessions except in the public interest and subject to the conditions provided for by law and by the general principles of international law. (2) The preceding provisions shall not, however, in any way impair the right of a State to enforce such laws as it deems necessary to control the use of property in accordance with the general interest or to secure the payment of taxes or other contributions or penalties.

The problem lies in the very narrow definition of ‘public interest‘ that gives corporations a legalistic work around and allows them to send their superprofits to hide funk holes in The Caribbean in order to avoid paying a fair amount of taxation, or a definition of public interest that has loopholes in it that allow, for example, water companies to pour human waste in huge quantities into British rivers and the sea.

At the root of the problem of modern capitalist societies are the concepts governing property rights and duties. There should be severe limits set to what can be owned and what cannot be owned. Effectively, nothing is ever really fully privately owned. All property is on loan from a legitimately formed, democratic state.  You may buy your island from a country, but you are not buying a country.

Instead of simply re-nationalisating, (though a few re-nationalisations would be nice) we should reformulate property law. The problem with nationalisation is the problem of the Tragedy of the Commons. In other words, if no one owns something – fishing areas in international waters, for example – then that resource is exploited and exhausted. On a collectivised farm, everything goes to pot and no one takes full responsibility for maintenance.

What is the value of property ownership itself? Pierre-Joseph Proudhon was wrong when he said ‘Property is theft.’ Property is not just theft. Clearly, there is some value to giving people property rights. Property owners look after their property. Property ownership generates value; call it the value of good husbandry. When you complete a transaction, the good husbandry of property has a price tag. It is called Goodwill and people will pay well over the odds for it. Good ownership creates identity, cohesiveness, and permanence. It is worthwhile.

But, ultimately, all property is merely on loan from a legitimate national democratic state. At root, property is not an inalienable right. It is a right that depends on the agreement of others. Ownership is tolerated and the only permanent ownership – in the people’s name – can be ownership by a democratic state so long as that state lasts. Property changes hands when the state changes hands. From a constitutional monarchy to a republic, for example. After a revolution, the property of the aristocrats returns to the people. In Cuba, the casinos and brothels became hospitals and schools.

The public highway, the coastline, beaches, land held in trust. These are examples of things which should be owned only by the state and not by individuals or corporations. Individuals and corporate ownership would create privileged access and bottlenecks. It would be deeply unfair.

While trains were used to transport
Photo from Openverse: current regulations regarding ownership are a trainwreck.

Limit the right to own property

 Limit the right to property and expand the notion of the duties of property holders fully. There are effective ways of doing this.

Essentially, property ownership is a civil right, like other civil rights. However, contrast the way the rights and duties of property holders are handled with the way other civil rights and duties are handled. The duties of property owners seem far too ‘negotiable’ and flexible.

Parliament should have more to say on the duties and limitations on ownership. Property ownership should be treated as other citizens’ rights and duties are treated. The duties of people who own land, animals, machines, buildings and other resources should be based on principles of social good, they should not be bargaining chips to attract capital and generate investment.

The right to avoid paying taxes or to pollute the land, rivers and sea should not be framed in terms of ‘deregulation’ and ‘incentivisation’. The way the government enforces the duty of property ownership is one of the foundation stones of a good society, not simply an economic lever.

There must be severe limits on ownership. The reality of ownership should operate more like a renewable license. For example. If you own a certain number of shares in a company, then you should be licensed to own them. You should only be allowed to own a certain amount of shares in a defined set of circumstances. In this way, no one would be able to become unfairly, stinking rich.

Use this concept of extending a license, for example, in order to limit and regulate speculative activity in the financial and commodity markets. Curtail property rights that are overextended. Link property ownership much more closely to civic responsibility and, operating in the public interest, rescind property rights when there is evidence of civic irresponsibility.

The right to property ownership is not inalienable, it is a civil right and to own something carries with it a civic duty. Your car must be licensed and in good working order. It should not pollute. You need to be licensed to drive it. You must follow the highway code.

Property ownership raises moral questions. Certain levels of ownership cannot be licensed. This has always been the case, but it is a matter of degree. Democratically elected governments should adopt a new far tougher approach to the rights and duties of property ownership.

Treat property ownership more like other citizens’ rights and duties and reformulate them in terms of licenses and leases. If a company or an individual pollutes or makes super profits, or bribes, lobbying and corrupting politicians, then it should immediately be taken back into public ownership and stay there.

  • Article updated, amended and adapted from an original article I published in 2008

The Consciousness Economy

We need socialism if we don’t want to turn into capitalism’s cyborgs

The distinction between humans and intelligent machines is consciousness, so in future we must all seek jobs which require consciousness

by Phil Hall

Machines will soon be able to do a lot of the physical work and some of the intellectual work of human beings. At one end of the scale, machines will do machine-like tasks. They will also be able to build machines like themselves. At the other end of the scale, they will do complex things like detecting illnesses and then curing them, or arranging ameliorating treatments. Machines will have more advanced states of knowledge of different kinds modelled electronically in their systems, and they will be able to act on that knowledge.

But machines are not conscious. Everything machines do is without consciousness. And this is true for the foreseeable future. Almost all we know about consciousness, apart from the broad brush insights coming from anesthesia and neurology, invokes correlation, and rationalisation in hindsight, not causation. Consciousness is much better understood from the inside; from the perspective of subjectivity and the mind, not objectivity and the brain – or AGI (artificial general intelligence) homunculi.

Consciousness is much better understood from the inside; from the perspective of subjectivity and the mind, not objectivity and the brain – or AGI homunculi.

Consciousness has arisen in the universe in a kind of invisible, second Big Bang. At a certain point, it sparked off. The world was full of billiard balls and energy and then, bang! Consciousness! Consciousness, like life itself, doesn’t arrive randomly out of electronic circuits just as life doesn’t arrive randomly when amino acids are shaken together and electricity is pulsed through the swirling mixture.

Stella coffee maker, photo Phil Hall

But consciousness, once evolved, can spread order into the universe. It is a powerful force. Let’s think of a simple example: in the anthropocene, if we decide that we love our planet and all life in it then that has a powerful effect on the planet. Life, emotion and even the higher emotions like compassion and creativity can shape whole worlds.

Consciousness has arisen in the universe in a kind of invisible, second big bang.

You can say that once life evolved consciousness emerged through evolution. The survival mechanism at the core. But evolution doesn’t answer the question. Why survive? What is the point of survival? Survival for what? It is not enough to refer to evolution. One must ask what is going on? Where, reductio ad absurdum, some people argue that consciousness is at the service of the genetic code, I would argue that the meaning of the genetic code is to give rise to an expanded consciousness; the genetic code is at the service of consciousness.

The ‘Why survive?’ question behind the adaptive evolutionary mechanism will be, in my opinion, answered through understanding the nature of consciousness.

consciousness emerged through evolution. … But evolution doesn’t answer the question. Why survive? What is the point of survival? Survival for what?

We do not understand the nature of consciousness despite the attempts to plant flags of conquest in its undiscovered country. Consciousness cannot be broken down into smaller components. You can’t convincingly solve a problem by redefining that problem in your own image. Redefining the reality doesn’t change that reality. For example, a putative scale of consciousness conflates the notion of intelligence with awareness. Artificial General Intelligence is not consciousness. And consciousness is not superfluous to requirements. Just because something cannot be explained doesn’t mean it does not exist.

Who is convinced that a child, or an animal feels less pain? Who believes that suffering is more intense because a human can do more mathematics than a frog?

Rose, photo Phil Hall

Consciousness leaves a clear opening for human beings.

In future, we should all train for jobs that require human consciousness; where human consciousness adds or creates value – for other humans. Now, this may not sound very clear, but it really is.

All literature, all cinema, all theatre, all craft, all music, all philosophy, all spirituality, all teaching, the law, all mental health work, all, compassionate work, all world building, the cultivation o new varieties, all cooking, all sports, all architecture all design, all sociological work, all religion, all political work, all economic choices and creative hypothesis formation in the sciences are jobs that are in what I term the consciousness economy. This is not the same ‘consciousness economy’ as that depicted by the purveyors of mindfulness.

All kinds of work, even the most manual, can be consciousness work.

Take, for example, cooking. You know what you like. But what you like is also conditioned by your experience and your thoughts about food, about the world. So your choice of food is a question of consciousness, not merely nutritional optimisation and an analysis of the flavours human beings usually like. So now, when you cook, what you produce is the result of your consciousness. Think of a mother making food for her children. So something as basic as cooking, as practical, can be a job in consciousness. Now this goes for almost everything.

The reason why it would not be the case is simply convenience and affordability. A machine can produce a pastry, for example, every few seconds. But you love your mother’s pie, her pasty, her empanada. As AI progresses, in a socialist world, we will be in a society of surplus. And when we are, instead of always eating AI’s pastries, as humans we will prefer to visit the corner shop and try Ms Best’s famous pie, or Calum Franklin’s in the Holborn Pie Room.

The problem comes in a society of scarcity. In a society of scarcity we will buy the lamp in the shop. But in a society of surplus we will have the hand made lamp. Poorer Europeans shop at Iceland for frozen food and get prefab furniture kits from IKEA. Wealthy Europeans boast hand made and hand carved furniture and hand made furniture, and they shop at Harrods or Selfridge’s, where the food is usually fresh and hand made.

Chapel Matisse, photo Phil Hall

The reason why this has not been clarified is because of a failure in the general culture; a failure to understand of the meaning of the term AI and a failure to understand of the meaning of consciousness.

This distinction between intelligence and consciousness has been wilfully obscured for political, not scientific, reasons; the plan is not to replace humans with machines, that’s silly, but to turn humans into programmable units subservient to machines within the broader context of a capitalist economy.

The job of technology in capitalism is to subsume human behaviour into great networks to monitor and influence

The job of technology in capitalism is to subsume human behaviour into great networks, to monitor and influence, to modify human behaviour and adapt and incorporate our individual and group consciousnesses into the economy in such a way that it benefits our society’s apex predators. We see the process of capture all around us; algorithms are designed to capture attention and manipulate human behaviour.

My uncle, David Hall, was a pioneer of the computer human interface working at the Stanford research Institute in the 60s and 70s. He said that computing roboticises humans. That pogramming roboticises programmers. The danger then comes when we adapt. And this is precisely the nature of capitalism. It is a pecking order. The feeders at the top. They would like us to be embedded in their machine. This is becoming a new Procrustean world with no appeal or recourse. Kafka the prophet!

Sweets in a Venetian shop, photo Phil Hall

So, for example, all creative work is consumed. Artists create works to help expand and feed the consciousness of the wealthy. The capitalist consciousness of the super rich is a heightened, vampiric consciousness. The apex predators consume consciousness when they eat food prepared by a great chef, when they live in luxury bespoke houses, when they sit on designer furniture, or ride in elegant one off cars. The work of a thousand scientists takes them up in a rocket to experience weightlessness and have the unique feeling of seeing the Earth from space. Real wealth is measured in qualia.

They would like us to be embedded in their machine with neuralinks attached.

The difference between the extremely wealthy and you and I is that they feed on creative consciousness and on a delightful assortment of select, raw qualia. The rest of us survive on mass produced off the peg everything, on products designed for mass consumption. They feed on beauty and lives and the time of other people at their disposal, on products and services tailor made and created by talented souls for their consumption.

Guitarist in El Parque Nacional Uruapan, photo Eve Hall

In old-fashioned Marxist terms, the 0.1% feed on labour surplus, on other people’s creativity – and on the bounty of nature which they have a more exclusive access to.

Walter Benjamin tried to get close to the idea of the fruits of consciousness with his concept of ‘aura’. What is that special quality that differentiates a work of art from copies, or the objects produced through the computations of a machine?

That quality is consciousness.

Editorial: what is humane socialism?

By Phil Hall and the contributors of Ars Notoria

I dreamed of a world where people got together into families and then organised into neighbourhoods. From there they organised into districts, then towns and regions and larger regions. I dreamed that everything that was political and economic and social and artistic, and environmental and recreative was pushed down, and decided on at the lowest possible level. Then I woke up and told my father about my dream. He was going through a difficult patch at the time, so when I told him he said, roughly:

That’s been thought of before.

I knew that it had been thought of before, but that was not the point. The point was that my unconscious had offered it up to me as a solution in a dream. My unconscious was troubled and wanted to help me sort out the problems that my conscious mind was working on. I was reading so much about revolutionary change and different types of socialism. The inhumanity of some forms of socialism puzzled me. Aren’t socialists good people?

the inhumanity of some forms of socialism puzzled me

What is the obvious puzzle that all humane supporters of communism are faced with? The problem of authoritarian socialism. It claims to eliminate all forms of exploitation, while, at the same time, clamping down on all dissent, murdering opponents, violating habeas corpus, removing people’s creativity, restricting freedom of expression and free will, abolishing the possibility of multiple parties, taking away all the independence of the judiciary and taking over all the media. And those are only some of the visible problems.

I am not at all interested in the arguments for a so-called dictatorship of the proletariat, are you? Doesn’t it sound repulsive? That is the period in which all class distinctions are removed and people are re-educated into a sharing and into a collective frame of mind. We have seen the perverse results of these ‘proletarian dictatorships’ in China and the former Soviet Union.

The dead giveaway for an authoritarian socialist is that they despise democracy and political representation.

The dead giveaway for an authoritarian socialist is that they despise democracy and political representation. They believe in elites and vanguards and people being told what to do and think. When you think of communism, don’t find excuses for its failures. Look at it in the face.

Look at the man standing in front of the tanks in Tiananmen square. Go and talk to Jewish people, and to other people of different ethnicities, about the prejudice they experienced in the former USSR. Talk to the survivors of the Cultural Revolution. Talk to the survivors of the terror.

And even in the best of cases, in Cuba, while they have many benefits, there is no political freedom, no democracy, no freedom of expression and no freedom of belief. There is a deep residual homophobia and the toxic vestiges of all the fossilised values of the 1950s that remained when the Fidel and his band took power.

In contrast, we see what a sham socialism is in western Europe

But this is an old debate. In contrast, we see what a sham socialism is in western Europe. There is no need to go too deeply into it here. So-called socialist parties like Labour were intensely comfortable with people being stinking rich. They made war on Iraq in the hope of lapping up the scraps of looted oil wealth fallen from the table of the USA. People nominally calling themselves socialists in Britain proudly claimed the inheritance of Thatcherism: privatisation and low taxation. One rule for the rich, another for the ordinary citizens.

As soon as politicians of any type are elected, they are targeted and corrupted – often well before they are elected. To be a successful politician, you need support from business and the billionaire owned media; you need money and publicity.

Afterwards, if you behave like a good little boy or girl, you will be offered speaking engagements, a job with a corporation, a foundation might be set up in your name. You might even get a directorship or two on one of the boards of the companies you benefitted.

And that’s the problem. The problem is that, inevitably, if you have an uncontrolled capitalist system, certain people are more effective, for good or bad reasons, and they gather more profit – they steal more of the value of other people’s surplus labour. Real economic power produces real political power.

You may vote socialist until the cows come home in Britain, but any socialist government will be a pushover for the people with real power in our country, and a pushover for the global corporations. That is, unless we act in concert to support socialism. Jeremy Corbyn was a missed opportunity.

You can’t face down or threaten, or disembowel the companies that pollute and exploit and pay low wages and encourage war, and who profit from illness, without a fight.

Do you think voting makes a difference to a huge mining corporation, a vast bank or an armaments company? These are people who make money from the misery and exploitation of millions. These are people who produce weapons that kill and maim thousands. Do you think they are afraid of you? No. But they are afraid of us as a collective. They fear it when a socialist government has the full support of the people.

I have met Labour MPs in the pay of companies, who have gone on business tours of Saudi Arabia. What were they selling to the Saudis? And that’s just the Saudis. Let’s stop there before we spiral into despair.

The corporate wizards behind the curtain

Someone once said to me, a teacher called Paul, that all the answers to life are in the film The Wizard of Oz.

There is actually some very important wisdom along the yellow brick road that I can find. The corporations, with all their money and power, are like the wizards behind the curtain speaking in big booming voices using megaphones impressing us with tricks and wizardry into subservience, resignation and the worship of billionaires. These wizards are not that impressive as human beings. Look at them closely! Look at Bezos and Musk and Zuckerberg.

Yes, it is true that the power of the corporations is real. Yes, it is true that the armies they might use to repress us use real bullets. They may even have cameras everywhere and be watching you on the Internet. They may have killer robots and drones. One day They may have DNA coded weapons – one day.

But where the inequality and exploitation and powerlessness is really perpetuated is in our heads. We have to agree to everything. We have to agree that things should be the way they are; that it is right that they are the way they are.

where the inequality and exploitation and powerlessness is really perpetuated is in our heads

In response to the seemingly immoveable power and reality of the status quo, Angela Davis quoted her mother. Angela Davis, growing up in Birmingham Alabama, cried when she was told that she could not use the local library because she was black. But her mother took her aside and said something to her that stayed with her all her life. She said:

Just because things are this way doesn’t mean that they should be this way. And it doesn’t mean they will always be this way.

For me, the lessons of Karl Marx and all socialists boil down to one very simple fact that isn’t a scientific or difficult at all. We can all understand it. There is no need to read anything to understand this fact, not even Robert Tressell’s Ragged Trousered Philanthropist. It is not a mystery. That’s it!

So long as you have unfairness, prejudice and injustice anywhere, people will fight to stop it because they don’t like it. Because they are human. Humanism is at the heart of a fair and just, a kind and a free society.

How do we deal with the wizards behind the curtain, with their armed guards and their megaphones, their mass media, and all the paraphernalia in place that tries to guarantee that the relations to production are reproduced in a way that benefits them almost exclusively?

So long as you have unfairness, prejudice and injustice anywhere, people will fight to stop it because they don’t like it.

After the army, the Navy, the Air Force, the police and the prisons, the Internet is the most powerful weapon our masters control. They may monitor what people are thinking and target them.

But they can only obfuscate, confuse, misinform and persuade. They cannot stop people from thinking and sharing ideas. The weapon that we think is there to monitor and control us – the Internet – is a double-edged sword. It serves the purposes of socialists too.

Before we act, we must understand. Ignore those people who say that activists on the Internet are armchair activists. On the contrary. Thinking and politicisation is the first step before you join a trade union, before you join a social movement, before you act you think and understand.

There is an alternative (TIAA)

When the USSR fell, the ultra-right neoliberal ideologues in the pay of the corporations in the USA, the current centre of global capitalism, were pleased. They claimed that it was the end of history and that there were no alternatives to capitalism any more and that capitalism could easily be reformed into something better and kinder. Do you see that kinder capitalism in operation around you now?

Ignore those people who say that activists on the Internet are armchair activists

I know this is a childish reference, but it is a reference from my childhood. We were told that there was no alternative to capitalism. Margaret Thatcher was the witch who tried to hypnotise us in the UK into thinking this. There was even an acronym for it: There Is No Alternative (TINA).

And that makes me think of the witch in the Silver Chair, a book written by C. S. Lewis. The witch has tied prince Rilian to a chair and has thrown narcotic herbs onto the fire and she is saying.

“What is this sun that you all speak of? Do you mean anything by the word?” they were all still thinking how to answer her, she added, with another of her soft, silver laughs: “You see? When you try to think out clearly what this sun must be, you cannot tell me. You can only tell me it is. Slowly and gravely the Witch repeated, “There is no sun.” And they all said nothing. She repeated, in a softer and deeper voice. “There is no sun.” After a pause, and after a struggle in their minds, all four of them said together. “You are right. There is no sun.” It was such a relief to give in and say it.

“There never was a sun,” said the Witch.

“No. There never was a sun,” said the Prince, and the Marsh-wiggle, and the children.

“There never was a sun,” said the Witch.

For years, with all the power of modern corporate capitalism behind it, after the fall of the USSR, socialists were told there was no sun. They were told that people were not good, that they were evil. That sharing and kindness were just a disguise for self-interest. That the only reality was the reality of looking out for yourself. That collective action was evil because it automatically denied the rights of the individual.

This story, with so much money and power behind it, was disrupted by children. Stories about the impossibility of change are always disrupted by the young. The young people of the world are connected up now. They can see the wizards poking their heads through the curtains, those that do, and they don’t think that much of them.

They think there is the possibility of a better society and they really want it because they can’t get good, well-paid jobs easily, and because they see the dangers of automation, and because their health service is in the process of being defunded and outsourced and because property speculation has meant they have to live in tiny nooks and crannies give all their money away to landlords, and because they see the corporations externalising their costs madly and bringing us to the brink of environmental collapse. They know there must be a sun. There has to be a sun called socialism.

Stories about the impossibility of change are always disrupted by the young.

The contradictions of capitalism mean the people at the sharp end of exploitation and marginalisation, when they understand what’s happening and why and to the benefit of whom, will act collectively against weird cabals of clever and cold-hearted little wizards.  

Three painful jokes about capitalism 

There were three jokes that did the rounds. Each one illustrates a different aspect of awakening. There is the cartoon in the New Yorker where the chairman of the board stands in front of the other members of the board and says:

“While the end-of-the-world scenario will be rife with unimaginable horrors, we believe that the pre-end period will be filled with unprecedented opportunities for profit.”

Then there is the joke where a multimillionaire confronts a young person in the street and stares at them and says:

I am a multimillionaire.

And the young person responds:

Oh dear!

And then the man standing in front of the young person says:

And I want you to like me!

And the young person looks even more worried and says:

Oh dear!

The third wasn’t really a joke. I am sure you remember it. It was a question:

What would think if one member of the family hoarded all the family wealth and food in his room so that there was nothing left for anyone else, and refused to share it with the rest of his family and threatened them when they came near the stuff?

You would probably call the police, or the hospital. You would think they had gone mad.

Modern capitalism is like smoking. We all know it’s bad for us.

Modern Capitalism is like smoking or cars designed without any safety features. We know that smoking and poor safety features on cars have killed and maimed many millions, many innocents.

The companies that made a profit from cigarettes and unsafe cars knew that the world knew. They knew that scientists had exposed them as pushers and killers and that ordinary people also knew. Cigarette manufacturers were just playing for time.

Modern capitalism is playing for time, too. It is the cause of poverty and climate change and of nearly all the evils faced by people on this planet.

It’s very simple. This is what you get if you run a society based on greed and exploitation.

But capitalism’s number is up. The problem of climate change alone is enough to kill it. So many of us see the creeps behind the curtain for what they are. They are not gods or wizards, they are usually just incredibly rich, selfish, ruthless dodgy old white men.

Noam Chomsky, bless him, answered the question perfectly. When he was challenged with TINA, and someone said that socialism had failed and that it has no alternative to capitalism, he said that of course there was an alternative.

It was to not exploit, to not pollute, to not declare war, to not divide and rule, to not do all the things that are done to ensure the wealthy stay wealthy and get wealthier. And to do the things that socialists, and perhaps even communists, have always wanted. And what are they? Well what is humane socialism? Humane socialism, my friends, is the socialism we want it to be.

I asked my fellow socialists on Ars Notoria what they wanted humane socialism to be and this is what they said:

One said: quote Thomas Hardy’s poem:

A Plaint to Man

When you slowly emerged from the den of Time,
And gained percipience as you grew,
And fleshed you fair out of shapeless slime,
Wherefore, O Man, did there come to you
The unhappy need of creating me –
A form like your own for praying to?

My virtue, power, utility,
Within my maker must all abide,
Since none in myself can ever be,
One thin as a phasm on a lantern-slide
Shown forth in the dark upon some dim sheet,
And by none but its showman vivified.

“Such a forced device,” you may say, “is meet
For easing a loaded heart at whiles:
Man needs to conceive of a mercy-seat
Somewhere above the gloomy aisles
Of this wailful world, or he could not bear
The irk no local hope beguiles.”

But since I was framed in your first despair
The doing without me has had no play
In the minds of men when shadows scare;
And now that I dwindle day by day
Beneath the deicide eyes of seers
In a light that will not let me stay,

And to-morrow the whole of me disappears,
The truth should be told, and the fact be faced
That had best been faced in earlier years:
The fact of life with dependence placed
On the human heart’s resource alone,
In brotherhood bonded close and graced

With loving-kindness fully blown,
And visioned help unsought, unknown.

Another said: Quote Keir Hardie’s Bradford speech:

I shall not weary you by repeating the tale of how public opinion has changed during those twenty-one years. But, as an example, I may recall the fact that in those days, and for many years thereafter, it was tenaciously upheld by the public authorities, here and elsewhere, that it was an offence against laws of nature and ruinous to the State for public authorities to provide food for starving children, or independent aid for the aged poor. Even safety regulations in mines and factories were taboo. They interfered with the ‘freedom of the individual’. As for such proposals as an eight-hour day, a minimum wage, the right to work, and municipal houses, any serious mention of such classed a man as a fool.

These cruel, heartless dogmas, backed up by quotations from Jeremy Bentham, Malthus, and Herbert Spencer, and by a bogus interpretation of Darwin’s theory of evolution, were accepted as part of the unalterable laws of nature, sacred and inviolable, and were maintained by statesmen, town councillors, ministers of the Gospel, and, strangest of all, by the bulk of Trade Union leaders. That was the political, social and religious element in which our Party saw the light. There was much bitter fighting in those days. Even municipal contests evoked the wildest passions.And if today there is a kindlier social atmosphere it is mainly because of twenty-one years’ work of the ILP.

Scientists are constantly revealing the hidden powers of nature. By the aid of the X-rays we can now see through rocks and stones; the discovery of radium has revealed a great force which is already healing disease and will one day drive machinery; Marconi, with his wireless system of telegraphy and now of telephony, enables us to speak and send messages for thousands of miles through space.

Another discoverer, through means of the same invisible medium, can blow up ships, arsenals, and forts at a distance of eight miles.

But though these powers and forces are only now being revealed, they have existed since before the foundation of the world. The scientists, by sympathetic study and laborious toil, have brought them within our ken. And so, in like manner, our Socialist propaganda is revealing hidden and hitherto undreamed of powers and forces in human nature.

Think of the thousands of men and women who, during the past twenty-one years, have toiled unceasingly for the good of the race. The results are already being seen on every hand, alike in legislation and administration. And who shall estimate or put a limit to the forces and powers which yet lie concealed in human nature?

Frozen and hemmed in by a cold, callous greed, the warming influence of Socialism is beginning to liberate them. We see it in the growing altruism of Trade Unionism. We see it, perhaps, most of all in the awakening of women. Who that has ever known woman as mother or wife has not felt the dormant powers which, under the emotions of life, or at the stern call of duty are even now momentarily revealed? And who is there who can even dimly forecast the powers that lie latent in the patient drudging woman, which a freer life would bring forth? Woman, even more than the working class, is the great unknown quantity of the race.

Already we see how their emergence into politics is affecting the prospects of men. Their agitation has produced a state of affairs in which even Radicals are afraid to give more votes to men, since they cannot do so without also enfranchising women. Henceforward we must march forward as comrades in the great struggle for human freedom.

The Independent Labour Party has pioneered progress in this country, is breaking down sex barriers and class barriers, is giving a lead to the great women’s movement as well as to the great working-class movement. We are here beginning the twenty-second year of our existence. The past twenty-one years have been years of continuous progress, but we are only at the beginning. The emancipation of the worker has still to be achieved and just as the ILP in the past has given a good, straight lead, so shall the ILP in the future, through good report and through ill, pursue the even tenor of its way, until the sunshine of Socialism and human freedom break forth upon our land.

Other recommendations were quite conservative:

Medical care for everyone, a good educational system, gender equality, reducing the gap between social classes, freedom of movement for individuals, a solid constitution to safeguard the people from dictatorship and corruption, freedom of speech and respecting human rights

Some people were clear about how they saw a future socialist society:

A humane, democratic and socialist society is one that is organised according to kindness, compassion and love. Its values and goals are that of unity, peace, equality and tolerance. These ideals are achieved by people living together as one community, abandoning our selfish, greedy and territorial ways, instead living for one’s neighbours and community, not oneself. A manifesto provides practical ways of how we can achieve this ideal. The overall aims of this manifesto is to fight injustice, poverty, climate change, war and capitalism, as these are the obstacles in the way of the world, we want to build.

Responsible and Sensible Leadership/Greater accountability of power

1. Pooling of sovereignty of all nations, so to prevent the outbreak of wars, international tensions and concerns for international security. It also ensures accountability of world governments, protecting democracy, human rights and civil liberties, as well as ensuring that governments commit to solving climate change, tackling poverty and dispensing social justice. Inspiration is derived from the European Union (EU), which has been credited for maintaining peace and protecting human rights for over sixty years.

2. Parliaments and governments to be elected by proportional voting. A “Swiss style” of government – a country led by a presidential council with equal representation of both men and women, rather than a single individual as head of state. Direct democracy, including more referendums.

Caring for our planet

3. Ban the use of fossil fuels and non-recyclable products and packaging. Invest in renewable energy, homes, products and transport. Use recyclable and reusable material in products and packaging. Improve and invest more into public transport. Plant more trees and create more green spaces in urban areas. Protect green belts, natural habitats, forests and fields. Stricter penalties for littering and causing pollution. Penalties to businesses and organisations that fail to cut carbon emissions. Sanction countries that fail to reduce carbon footprint.

4. Our planet is not only for humans, we also share it with animals and we should care more for them. Animal rights to have greater recognition and be taken more seriously. Reduce consumption of meat and move towards a more plant-based society. Stricter penalties for abuse of animals. Introduce more ethical farming.

No one is left behind

5. Nationalisation of all public services, making them accessible for all who need them. Improve these public services as well.

6. All citizens to be entitled to universal basic income and access to safe and clean accommodation, so that no one has to go without and have access to their basic needs.

7. Free healthcare, education and social services for all

A spiritually and emotionally healthy world

8. You work to live, not live to work. Workers rights to be protected. Four day working week to be introduced. More bank holidays to be introduced. Increase minimum wage. All employers must provide support for employees. Employees to be regularly motivated in their roles, by being made to feel appreciated and valued.

9. Make showing compassion and kindness to others, a social norm. Educate children and young people and encourage adults. An Inclusive World

10. Promoting diversity and ending discrimination. There is no place in society for discrimination and cannot be tolerated. Human rights are to be protected. Encourage society to be multicultural and accepting of difference. Introduce stricter penalties for discrimination on the basis of race, gender, religion, sexuality, disability and nationality.

Another person was heartfelt:

Compassion. Compassion even for those who may only be the figments of our deranged imaginations. Compassion even for those we will never meet, but whom we can imagine being. Compassion even for those who will never help us, and never even know of us. Compassion even for the lowliest ant, or fly. And gratitude for what we have.

Another said:

Justice for Palestine and for all oppressed people in the world, that the yoke of oppression be lifted.

Yet another person was a practical visionary:

  • There should be a commitment to a fair and open markets, recognising the dynamic, innovative role free enterprise can play.
  • Free expression through varied and free – but not corporate-dominated – mainstream media, including public media; controls on advertising
  • Commitment to strong government and public oversight, mediation and controls, to curb a free economy from becoming a casino economy.
  • Keep/restore the commanding heights of the economy including infrastructure and essential services, to the public sector, for example and specifically compensating private companies on the basis of value after tax, and reduction of total compensation by the amount of extra profit made.
  • Government and Unions each to make up 35 percent of Boards, 30 percent to be private sector owned.
  • Directors’ income in all forms to be strictly limited. This formula and these proportions to be followed in all case.
  • Renationalise BP, and reduce prices for petrol and diesel, compensating by value after tax, and reduced by amount of overpricing for the past five years.
  • Transform the economy into a CO2 zero emissions economy by 2030.
  • In stages, reduce investment in air transport dirty sea transport. Invest in expanding rail networks in the UK and in better transport links with Europe.
  • Prevent foreign investors from owning British properties and speculating with them or using them as a way to store wealth abroad. Investigate all the people who buy up property in Europe thoroughly.
  • Directors and executive incomes/expenses in all public sector or parastatal institutions to be capped.
  • All foreign investment to be for a minimum of three years, only half original investment to be returned if withdrawn before that.
  • Allow free movement of all non-resident EU citizens in the UK, with residence or new EU citizens subject to two-year renewable work permits until qualifying after ten years for permanent residence permits and/or dual citizenship.
  • Reciprocal arrangements to be negotiated with and between all EU countries and the UK.
  • All public works and parastatal/public sector institutions at national and local levels to increase job recruitment, and to reduce and strictly control tendering, consultant employment, outsourcing and sub-contracting
  • A Basic Income Grant (BIG) be provided to all adult UK citizens.
  • Affordable housing made available from through a massive building programme and through appropriating houses and flats left empty for speculative purposes.
  • Rents strictly controlled and  housing laws reformed to make Rackmanism a criminal offense
  • All student fees abolished and means tested grants made available to all students as they were with previous generations. All student debt to be cancelled.
  • All homophobic, transphobic, misogynistic, racist, and anti-religious attacks to be punished by hard sentencing.
  • Internet companies like Google and Facebook to be replaced, banned or strictly regulated, and companies like Uber and Amazon to be fully unionised by law and to pay decent wages and
  • Freedom of speech laws on for the Internet to be worked out and published and implemented. Policing and surveillance and data collection to be limited to criminal activity and organisations.
  • Free light and water be provided for all legally recognised high density/low income housing.
  • Small businesses to be provided with a grace period for taxation of two years and to pay much less tax proportionately than the large corporations that currently avoid paying tax.
  • All British tax havens to be closed down.
  • Playgrounds and municipal buildings restored to their rightful owners and the local councils and boroughs to be well funded.
  • Taxation from the wealthy and corporations to be increased to a maximum rate of 90% for the richest corporations and most well off.
  • NHS to be given massively increased funding from increased taxation of the wealthy.
  • Free fast Internet to be provided to everyone in the UK.  
  • All housing estates be provided, pro rata, with a park, a civic/community centre, sports fields, a library and a small shopping centre; these all to be built as public works schemes, employing small building teams under strict public works supervision; tenders, where necessary, be administered under strict central government supervision.
  • Technical/vocational and IT training institutes be increased and facilities and staff upgraded throughout the country, being given high status in education.
  • Film, theatre, art and culture production to receive full subsidies.
  • The history and origins of traditional practices in all UK communities be researched and libraries and museums established, including museums on slavery and colonialism, with collections and displays of literature, films, photographs, dances, art, crafts and artefacts.
  • All accused of violent crime to the level of grievous bodily harm and more to be tried within three months, to be given no bail and if convicted, to receive mandatory long sentences.
  • Cannabis to be legalised in the UK, while strong action taken against people who trade in more dangerous drugs are redoubled.
  • The police service to be overhauled to reduce the amount of racism and prejudice and the mental health services to be properly funded so that the police don’t have to deal with so many people with mental health problems.
  • All forms of gender and sex discrimination are outlawed, and full human rights protected, and legal aid to be provided free to everyone to pursue any discrimination case.
  • Solitary confinement of prisoners to be banned.
  • Convicted prisoners to work 40 hours weeks at jobs useful to the economy and society, with an element of training for rehabilitation. The prison service to be taken back into public control.
  • Sign up again to the EU social charter and coordinate economic policies more closely with the EU, and allow free movement of people and trade within all member states again.
  • Government endorses an economic and social programme of overseas aid that is not only tied to British strategic commercial interests.
  • Government maintains strong diplomatic and trade relations with the European Union, particularly with its original core members and with the Scandinavian countries, and strengthens relations with Russia.
  • In the Middle East, suspend diplomatic and trade ties with Israel unless:
  • Israel guarantees as a preliminary step to return to its 1967 borders, return East Jerusalem to Palestine, and agrees to the right of return for Palestinians.
  • An unless Israel guarantees to remove all racist laws and religious discrimination – or returns to its 1948 UN-recognised borders, and if it continues as a racist state, is subjected to total sanctions and isolation as were Rhodesia and white South Africa.

Humane socialism will be what we want it to be. Dare to dream. Prepare to act!

Socialist arguments against religion

Joe Hill

Will there be pie in the sky for us when we die?

By Phil Hall

Socialist arguments against the use of religion are not always arguments against the idea of an ordering presence in the universe, or against an Earth and a cosmos full of meaning, or against a transcendent expansive all including love, or against beautiful metaphors that equate prophets of love to sons and messengers of ‘God’.

Nowadays, socialist arguments tend to put questions of spirituality to one side and focus on developing practical ways to achieving social justice for believers and non-believers alike. Enlightenment socialists believe in the freedom of belief. Liberation theologists are welcomed with open arms into the socialist ranks.

The socialist argument against religion is that it has been used as an ideological tool to control ordinary people. The socialist argument against religion can be summed up like this: the rich tell ordinary people, using the megaphone of a church pulpit, that being a victim, that allowing themselves to be exploited, used and abused, makes them better people.

Ordinary people, robbed of control over their own lives, working like dogs for private companies and then cast aside onto the rubbish heap, according to religion, should comfort themselves with the possibility of receiving a future reward in heaven. The rich told ordinary people for centuries, through the religion they sponsored and supported, that there would be pie in the sky when they died.

People who own less, or little, or nothing usually feel that they have had their labour and human potential stolen. We work to make a profit which other people steal from us. This is a cause for depression and despair.

But we have our injured sense of self soothed by religion; by priests, ministers, imams and gurus. These religious authorities ask us to view our relative poverty and lack of power over the outcomes of our lives as a condition of moral superiority.

Of course, the wool of religion can only be pulled over people’s eyes so long as ordinary people are uneducated, and so long as they need religion as a mental refuge and way of self-comforting and justifying their feeling of failure and helplessness. As George Monbiot, the British journalist ecologist and social activist says: ‘If wealth were the inevitable result of hard work and enterprise, every woman in Africa would be a millionaire.’.

The poorest of us make great sacrifices and often work incredibly hard. But when ordinary people are uneducated and busy trying to survive, they don’t always have the time to study in order to identify the actual reasons and causes of their difficult economic situation, and rise up to change thier society to make it fairer. There is no time to read Paulo Freire or Robert Tressell.

Confronting the power of a mafias takes enormous courage, and support from your whole community; whether that mafia is a criminal organisation selling drugs under the counter or a criminal organisation selling drugs over the counter.

Religion asks you to have faith your life will get better if you ‘trust in God’, when the reality is different and contradicts the belief in things getting better. Things will not get better until we uproot capitalism! the whole aim of most companies is to pay you less for more work and make you work in worse conditions. It is easier to hide your head in the sand like an ostrich when facing corporate mafias that are so powerful. Some of these mafias own vast arms companies. They declare war at the drop of a hat and are responsible for the death of hundreds of thousands. Instead of opposing them and suffering the consequences, we prefer to imagine everything will get better.

Nowadays, religion is less and less the preferred ideological tool of the oppressor. They, the powerful and wealthy, own the mass media and exert most of their power to influence and persuade through that. But when religion was the preferred tool of the powerful, it taught nonviolence because a peaceful response to violent oppression (submission) is always preferred by the oppressor. The people who suggest it are lionised.

First, to throw off the chains of the slave drivers in factories and offices requires unionisation and solidarity: organised collective opposition to exploitation. There are only a handful of good capitalists and eventually, even these sell off their companies to people whose only motivation is to squeeze even more profit out of people.

Next, opposition to oppression requires the creation of political parties. You need new laws and political parties to push them through. Political parties who, alongside the Trade Unions, fight for pensions and safe work conditions, for free health care and education.

But when all that is achieved, we must face the cruel reality that changing the rules of the game is not enough, because there is no game. Ultimately, when ordinary people really try to get more control over their lives and the fruits of their labour and partially succeed under the existing rules of democracy, the response is a fist: subterfuge, targeted assassination, eventually a coup and then the imposition of tyranny. How do you confront this? Religion argues for submission. Socialism opposes that cop out.

The socialist argument against religion is also that it can sometimes prevent people from thinking clearly. If you are a mystic, lost in mystical thoughts and mumbo jumbo about nature and guardian angels, djinns, destiny and reincarnation, and the idea of a big angry eye in the sky judging your every little movement, then you are far less likely to behave rationally and in concert with others; far less likely to be able to develop a clear strategy to combat oppression and exploitation and change society.

The socialist argument against religion is not a spiritual argument, and socialists are only concerned with the spiritual beliefs of religion when they are disempowering. It is true that socialism, as a product of the enlightenment, looked down on religion as obscurantism, but they were not concerned with debunking unprovable ideas that were intrinsic to people’s culture and well-being, rather they were concerned to oppose the use of religion by the powerful as a tool of social control.

When religion ceases to be a useful tool for social control and instead starts to become a rallying cry against oppression, when progressive religious ideas that stress social solidarity and social justice come to the fore, then that is the moment when the powerful abandon religion as a useful tool of social control and rely more on the mass media and think tanks. When religion begins to oppose the powerful and wealthy, that’s they begin to search for a new kind of priesthood to oppose it.

The Preacher and the Slave

By Joe Hill

Long-haired preachers come out every night,
Try to tell you what’s wrong and what’s right;
But when asked how ’bout something to eat
They will answer with voices so sweet:

You will eat, bye and bye,
In that glorious land above the sky;
Work and pray, live on hay,
You’ll get pie in the sky when you die.

And the starvation army they play,
And they sing and they clap and they pray,
Till they get all your coin on the drum,
Then they tell you when you’re on the bum:

Holy Rollers and Jumpers come out,
And they holler, they jump and they shout
“Give your money to Jesus,” they say,
“He will cure all diseases today.”

If you fight hard for children and wife,
Try to get something good in this life,
You’re a sinner and bad man, they tell,
When you die you will sure go to hell.

Workingmen of all countries, unite,
Side by side we for freedom will fight:
When the world and its wealth we have gained
To the grafters we’ll sing this refrain:

You will eat, bye and bye,
When you’ve learned how to cook and to fry;
Chop some wood, ’twill do you good,
And you’ll eat in the sweet bye and bye.

Black Lives Matter a lot in Cuba … since 1959

Cuban culture vigorously celebrates its African-ness

by Francisco Dominguez

When in 1868, Cuban slave-owner Manuel de Céspedes embarked on a 10-year nationalist uprising against Spain, the colonial master, he did not imagine he would be building not only the political bases of an independent Cuba but also the ideological blocks of a new Cuban identity.

Scholars correctly point out that Ten Years War (1868-78) turned out to be the “crucible of mass [Cuban] nationalism” since for the first time ever “blacks and whites… joined together” in the struggle for independence. About 70 percent of the fighters and officers were black or mulatto, and therefore, racist concerns that could make Cuba another Haiti, arose among the reluctant pro-independence white elite. In the second independence war (1895-98) Blacks may have contributed with over 85 percent of the rank and file soldiers, thus exacerbating white elite misgivings about independence.

It is well known that Cuba’s elite, upon being conceded a heavily US-protected independence in 1903, robbed blacks of the fruits of the victory they did more than anybody else to achieve. They were excluded from the police force (officers “had to be White, with fucking blue eyes…” – ex-slave in 1968 interview), but also from the civil service, parliament, and from just about every public sphere. Thus black people rebelled against discrimination in 1912, which was brutally crushed with about 3,000 of them were slaughtered.

Thus by 1959, on the eve of Fidel’s Revolution, the Black population was overwhelmingly poor, were overrepresented among the prison population, had the lowest educational levels, including high levels of illiteracy and chronic unemployment, inhabited squalid lodgements and neighbourhoods or tenements (solares), and were de facto discriminated in every other sphere of social, political and cultural life, which included even public spaces such as parks, i.e. they suffered from institutionalised racism. The promise of equality proclaimed by the republic was by 1959 thoroughly unfulfilled, despite formal laws that abstractly condemned racism and discrimination.

Additionally all forms of discrimination were abolished by the Cuban Revolution starting from an open debate on the issue

Fidel’s revolution ensured full employment on egalitarian bases, many of the jobs created where in industry, social services, health, education and high technology sectors, which recruited year after large number of skilled labour that the comprehensive, universal and free education system was churning out, year in, year out. The significance of this was monumental since by 1959 Cuba’s Black population was about half of the total. In this period 106 social programmes were implemented and instituted.

Cuba has contributed in very practical ways to the liberation struggle of Algeria, Ghana, Congo, Mozambique, Angola, Namibia, South Africa, and a few others

Additionally all forms of discrimination were abolished by the Cuban Revolution starting from an open debate on the issue to which Fidel invited intellectuals, academics, activists, workers, social organizations, members of political parties, and others. Among the many conclusions and decisions coming out of the debate came books, articles, and the promotion of important national and international events in Black History. The constitution prohibits any form of discrimination based on race, gender or ethnic origin, and all relevant institutions educate Cubans from a tender age on the ethical and philosophical principles that all human beings are equal.  Cuban culture vigorously celebrates its African-ness through music, carnivals, and the very widespread practice of Santería, an Afro-Cuban religion brought by slaves to Cuba in the 17th century.

José Antonio Aponte Ulabarra
José Antonio Aponte Ulabarra

Many Black men and women since 1959, have had access to the highest levels of politics, science, education, technology and social life in general. A former British MP struck a powerful chord when he said this truth: Cuba is the only country on earth where the daughter of a sugar cane cutter, could become a medical doctor. Yet some racist social and cultural attitudes persist, but they pale into insignificance compared to advanced countries, such as the U.S. or the U.K. The current Cuban government led by Miguel Diaz-Canel has launched a comprehensive government programme, called Aponte Commission, after José Antonio Aponte, leader of the 1812 slave rebellion, to combat it. Unlike ‘civilized’ countries where statues for slave traffickers and racist generals have been erected.

Cuba is the only country on earth where the daughter of a sugar cane cutter, could become a medical doctor.

And, there is the role socialist Cuba has played in Africa, where its manifestations of solidarity have, on more than one occasion risked the very existence of the revolution itself, such as in Angola both in 1975 and 1987 when Fidel, at the request of the MPLA pro-independence movement requested military assistance, of which he sent sufficient to defeat both Western powers intervention and Apartheid South African elite troops.

Cuba has contributed in very practical ways to the liberation struggle of Algeria, Ghana, Congo, Mozambique, Angola, Namibia, South Africa, and a few others. No wonder, the very first country Nelson Mandela visited after its release from prison in 1991,even though he received red-carpet invitations to many ‘weighty’ countries in the world, was Cuba. At the gigantic rally held in Havana to welcome him Mandela said:

The Cuban people hold a special place in the hearts of the people of Africa. The Cuban internationalists have made a contribution to African independence, freedom, and justice, unparalleled for its principled and selfless character.From its earliest days the Cuban revolution has itself been a source of inspiration to all freedom-loving people.”

Yes, for Socialist Cuba Black Lives Do Matter.

Dr Francisco Dominguez is a senior lecturer at Middlesex University, where he is head of the Research Group on Latin America. He is National Secretary of the Venezuela Solidarity Campaign. Dominguez came to Britain in 1979 as a Chilean political refuge. Ever since he has been active on Latin American issues, about which he has written and published extensively. He is co-author of Right wing politics in the New Latin America, Zed Books.

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