Category Archives: Marxism

The death of Fidel Castro

Castro outlived his vigorous, effective years, and was at the center of the Cuban Missile Crisis, but these aren’t reasons to forget his positive contributions to social justice. No world leader is perfect, and Fidel admittedly imprisoned thousands, executed hundreds, and kept Cuba under a tight rein, but this is what it took to counter the evils of capitalism in a capitalist-dominated world and US-dominated hemisphere. Overthrowing the US-supported, Mafia-infested Batista dictatorship was inspired by a desire to benefit the Cuban majority and took tremendous courage. Ditto for opposing US persecution for so many years. Though he ruled longer than any other world leader except Queen Elizabeth II, I don’t think personal power was Fidel’s main objective; preserving the social and economic equality of the revolution was. Little by little, capitalism is creeping back in Cuba, but that doesn’t mean the goals of the revolution were wrong, or that they can’t be achieved — hopefully less violently and more democratically — in more places in the future.

My personal connection to all this, apart from my being a confirmed socialist, is twofold. I first became aware of the Cuban revolution, which took place in 1959, a year after the fact when I asked a friend at the girls’ boarding school I attended what the words “26 julio” inscribed on her pencil case meant. She explained that it was the name of the revolutionary movement that had overthrown Batista. This wasn’t the only thing that made Buella different, and a year later she committed suicide. Bucking the tide isn’t easy.

Second, I was 18 years old, a freshman in college, in October 1962, when the Cuban Missile Crisis occurred. I believe that events that occur in one’s young adulthood can affect your thinking for the rest of your life. The Great Depression marked my parents, who always “saved for a rainy day,” and the Cuban Missile Crisis turned me into the opposite: “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we may be dead.” All that hiding under desks in preparation for possible Soviet bombers may have inspired these feelings, too, but the fear was more focused and intense in ’62. My parents were also strongly affected by World War II, as I was by the Vietnam War, which taught me to completely mistrust my own government — a lesson I’ve never unlearned.

Some of the news stories today seem to blame Castro for the Cuban Missile Crisis. No. He accepted the Russian missiles because of the threat the US posed to Cuba (the Bay of Pigs, over 600 attempts on his life, and a ridiculously long economic blockade). The US government can never allow a socialist government to succeed, especially in its own backyard. It also backed death squads in El Salvador and crushed the Nicaraguan revolution via economic blockade and the contras, who bombed newly built schools and hospitals and killed civilians right and left. And Vietnam…

To me, on balance, Castro and Ho Chi Minh are heroes. Viva la Revolución!

Some thoughts on history

I’ve always been amazed that a lot of people think history is boring, since to me it’s a series of great stories – kind of like the longest-running soap opera ever, replete with apparent “heroes” and “villains.”

Fascinated by the wide variety of ways humans behave and perceive their world, I wanted to major in anthropology in college. My school was too small to have an anthropology department, though, so my next thought was English, awash in stories about people. Looking at the courses I’d have to take, I saw too many on such ancient treasures as Beowulf, so, finally, I chose history, thinking, “That’s about people.” It really is…

You have to be a bit finicky about who’s written the history you’re reading, and why –  there’s always an ax of some kind being ground. That’s historiography – how history is written, a whole discipline in itself. But that’s just a matter of finding trusted sources, something you already do when reading the news. You want to get as close as you can to what really happened and why. That kind of history gives you a map of where you and others are, how it came to be that way, and where you might head next, given what you value. Another way of saying that is that it’s a lens through which you can view the past, the present, and the future.

History allows us to see what’s worked for people and what hasn’t. As the old saying goes, it allows us to avoid making the same mistake over and over, if we pay attention to it.

I write this to give a bit of background – or perspective – on the following announcement: There are now some world and American history pages on this website for you to read, under “Realities” at the top of the web page. I’ve taken my extensive notes on history and whittled them down into something I hope will be informative and interesting, food for thought on who we are as human beings and where we can go from here.

A lot of the world history is taken from A People’s History of the World by the British Marxist historian Chris Harman, and a lot of the American history from A People’s History of the United States by the late, and truly great, Howard Zinn. I heartily recommend that you look on YouTube or elsewhere for video or audio clips of Zinn speaking. He had a sense of humor and a timing to his speech that gave dimension and deeper meaning to what he had to say. You’ll love it – I guarantee.

I hope you’ll dip into these history notes as you have time. If you do, you’ll see that both Harman and Zinn – like Marx – emphasize issues of class and class struggles. They show that workers and peasants have often been successful temporarily in throwing off the masters’ yoke, but that nowhere have they kept the freedom and equality that’s rightfully theirs.

If we look carefully at the history of these ultimately failed efforts we can see how they faltered, perhaps allowing our current and future actions to succeed. For me, it boils down to sticking to original principles – never letting go of that initial vision. Also, staying united on a class basis and appealing to “upper” classes to join us on the basis of our shared humanity, rather than being tricked into joining them, thinking that they have our interests at heart. Or frightened by their possession of the instruments of violence, because, after all, as the title of this blog reminds us, “We have the numbers.”

Also just put up on the static pages are the history unit I wrote on the California missions (in “Realities,” American history) and a proposal for a history unit on the relevance of Marxism today (in “Possibilities,” Marxism).

Happy reading!

What Marx was wrong about

As my previous post indicates, I think Marx’s economic analysis – based on the idea that ownership or control of the mode of production is all-important – was right on. So, was the social (class) analysis stemming from that concept: that in a capitalist society, workers will, by definition, be at odds with the bourgeoisie (owners of capital, capital being “durable goods” used to produce goods for purchase, via the labor of workers).

Marx’s political analysis – that violent revolution would be necessary to wrest ownership of the mode of production from the bourgeoisie in order for the workers (“the people”) to control it – has a fatal flaw in it, however: the means are the ends, and once you use violence for anything but self-defense, it just goes on forever, tit for tat. A quick look at the history of groups taking “power” from each other violently will show you that. Not only does the first group try to get its power back violently, the “revolutionary” group kills its own members if they “betray” the cause, and both groups kill ordinary citizens they perceive as helping the other side.

The only way to make change that will last, it seems to me, is to act from the spiritual realization that we’re all one/there is no “other,” and include everyone – then share the means of production equitably. We have some experience of this, having done it for 90% of human history as hunter-gatherers. (Hunter-gatherers can’t amass many possessions, because they have to be able to move around on foot or on horseback to find food. They also need to cooperate, especially in the hunt.) Equitable sharing – of power/control and stuff – will be harder now that we have more, but there has to be a way to do it.

In Escape from the Matrix, Richard Moore says that once people realize how easily common problems can be resolved in respectful, “talking-stick” sessions, they’ll put their differences aside for the common good…forever. I’m all for respectful “talking-stick” sessions (more on the how-to of that later) – in fact, I agree with Moore that a hierarchy of them should be our political system. I just don’t think getting from Point A to Point Z, or even Point B, will be that easy. The how-to of that is what I’m trying to explore in this blog. Your ideas are always welcome!

Marx was right

Marx was right

Apparently, things have gotten so bad economically that at least one mainstream analyst is willing to criticize capitalism. According to a recent article by Lee Sustar on, “Economist Nouriel Roubini, whose predictions of the financial crash of 2008 earned him the nickname Dr. Doom, has referred his patients to a specialist in capitalist crisis: Dr. Karl Marx. In a recent interview with the Wall Street Journal, Roubini said, ‘Karl Marx had it right. At some point, capitalism can destroy itself. You can’t keep shifting income from labor to capital without having an excess capacity and a lack of aggregate demand.’ In his interview with the Journal, Roubini argued that the U.S. economy is flagging because business is hoarding cash – more than $2 trillion by one estimate – rather than investing it in factories, new equipment and hiring workers. As he put it, ‘If you’re not hiring workers, there’s not enough labor income, enough consumer confidence, enough consumption. In the last two or three years, we’ve had a massive redistribution of income from labor to capital, from wages to profits.'”

Sustar goes on to  say, “That shift has taken place not during the crisis, but during the recovery, as economist David Rosenberg pointed out earlier this year when he noted that the ‘labor share of national income has fallen to its lower level in modern history,’ 57.5% in the first quarter of 2011, compared to 59.8% when the recovery began. While that might seem like a small change, given the $14.66 trillion size of the U.S. economy, it’s huge.

‘The ultimate reason for all real crises always remains the poverty and restricted consumption of the masses,’ Marx wrote in Capital, Volume 3. The unemployed want jobs, but during crises, capitalism can’t deliver, even when business has plenty of capital to invest. That’s because capitalists won’t put their money into building factories and offices and hiring workers – as Roubini pointed out – unless they have a reasonable chance of making a profit. Otherwise, they sit on their money. The result, Marx wrote, is both a ‘superabundance of productive capital’ and ‘paralyzed consumption’ – a fairly accurate description of recent trends in the U.S. economy. The root of these crises is in the unplanned and competitive nature of capitalist production. For the capitalist, what matters isn’t meeting social needs, but obtaining the maximum profit.

With mainstream economists fresh out of ideas about how to overcome the crisis, perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that Marx made news even in Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal. But don’t hold your breath waiting for a follow-up Journal headline: ‘Capitalism Isn’t Working: Socialism is the Alternative.’ That part is up to us.”

Is socialism the answer? What does “socialism” mean? Those are some pretty big questions — to be tackled here soon.