The Failed Dream Of A Russian Revolution

Photo: Wiki Commons Exactly one hundred years ago today, in the evening of October 25, 1917, the Winter Palace in Petrograd (today’s St Petersburg) was stormed. This event marked the beginning of the Great October Revolution, one of the most significant political events of the twentieth century that shaped the course of history for decades ahead.

Leading up to the events of October 25 was another revolution in late February 1917, which brought to power a group of leaders from bourgeois political parties that formed a provisional government headed initially by Georgy Lvov, a liberal reformer, and then by Aleksander Kerensky, a socialist. In early March of that year Tsar Nicholas II, who had ruled imperial Russia since 1894, abdicated. Five months later, Russia was pronounced a republic.

Although the provisional government did introduce some reforms on the political front, prompting even Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin to declare Russia in April 1917 “the freest country in the world”, it was the Red October Revolution that turned the old order completely upside down by inaugurating a socialist regime and making Soviet-style communism a global ideological and political force that lasted until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the subsequent collapse of the Soviet Union at the end of 1991.

Still, one hundred years later, the rise of the Bolsheviks to power continues to divide scholars, the chattering classes and even the educated public. There are several issues that are particularly divisive, such as whether the October Revolution was a popular insurgency or essentially a coup, and whether Stalinism evolved naturally from the basic principles and political strategies of Lenin or was an unexpected development.

Likewise, there is still a great deal of ambiguity, disagreement and confusion over the nature of the regime that flourished in the Soviet Union after Lenin’s death in 1924. For example, did the Soviet Union represent an “actual socialist society”, a “degenerated workers’ state”, or simply a “totalitarian state economy” in which the communist ideology functioned as a mere instrument of political legitimisation and imperial rule?

When it happened, the Great October Revolution produced global hysteria, untamed enthusiasm and hope about the possibility of the creation of heaven on earth (a new utopia) in equal measures. For the bourgeois classes everywhere, the inauguration of the Soviet regime was anathema to core values of the “western civilisation”, while for radicals and communists it signified a natural culmination of the inevitable march of history towards human freedom and a social order devoid of exploitation.

No room for mourning or celebration

On the centenary of the Great October Revolution, an objective evaluation on socialism and the legacy of Soviet communism gives no room for mourning or celebration. It was essentially the epic story of an impossible dream that turned in due time into a political and historical nightmare because of the interplay of a vast array of factors that included “backward” socioeconomic conditions, outside intervention, an absence of democratic traditions, and misconceived notions about socialism and democracy. Hence, while you can easily romanticise about the October Revolution, the cold reality of history smacks you in the face.  Read more

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Imagining Our Way Beyond Neoliberalism: A Dialogue With Noam Chomsky And Robert Pollin

Prof.dr. Robert Pollin

This is part two of a wide-ranging interview with world-renowned public intellectuals Noam Chomsky and Robert Pollin. Read part one here. The next installment will appear on October 31.

C.J. Polychroniou: Noam, racism, inequality, mass incarceration and gun violence are pathologies that run deep inside American society. How would a progressive government begin to address these problems if it found itself in a position of power in, say, the next decade or so?

Noam Chomsky: Very serious problems, no doubt. In order to address them effectively, it’s first necessary to understand them; not a simple matter. Let’s take the four pathologies in turn.Racism certainly runs deep. There is no need to elaborate. It’s right before our eyes in innumerable ways, some with considerable historical resonance. Current anti-immigrant hysteria can hardly fail to recall the racist immigration laws that at first barred [Asians] and were extended in the 1920s to Italians and Jews (under a different guise) — incidentally, helping to send many Jews to gas chambers, and after the war, keeping miserable survivors of the Holocaust from US shores.

Noam Chomsky ~ Photo:

Of course, the most extreme case for the past 400 years is the bitter history of African Americans. Current circumstances are shameful enough, commonly held doctrines scarcely less so. The hatred of Obama and anything he touched surely reflects deep-rooted racism. Comparative studies by George Frederickson show that doctrines of white supremacy in the US have been even more rampant than in Apartheid South Africa.

The Nazis, when seeking precedents for the Nuremberg laws, turned to the United States, taking its anti-miscegenation laws as a model, though not entirely: [Certain] US laws were too harsh for the Nazis because of the “one drop of blood” doctrine. It was not until 1967, under the impact of the civil rights movement, that these abominations were struck down by the Supreme Court.

And it goes far back, taking many strange forms, including the weird Anglo-Saxon cult that has been prominent for centuries. Benjamin Franklin, the great American figure of the Enlightenment, pondered whether Germans and Swedes should be barred from the country because they are “too swarthy.” Adopting familiar understanding, he observed that “the Saxons only [are] excepted” from this racial “defect” — and by some mysterious process, those who make it to the United States may become Anglo-Saxons, like those already accepted within the canon.

The national poet Walt Whitman, honored for his democratic spirit, justified the conquest of half of Mexico by asking, “What has miserable, inefficient Mexico … to do with the great mission of peopling the New World with a noble race? Be it ours, to achieve that mission!” — a mission accomplished by the most “wicked war” in history, in the judgment of General-President U.S. Grant, who later regretted his service in it as a junior officer.

Coming to recent years, Henry Stimson, one of the most distinguished members of the FDR-Truman cabinets (and one of the few to oppose atomic bombing) “consistently maintained that Anglo-Saxons were superior to the ‘lesser breeds’,” historian Sean Langdon Malloy observes in his book, Atomic Tragedy: Henry L. Stimson and the Decision to Use the Bomb — and again reflecting not-uncommon views, asked to have one of his aides reassigned “on the slight possibility that he might be a Hebrew,” in his own words.

The other three maladies that you mention are also striking features of US society — in some ways, even distinguishing features. But unlike racism, in all three cases, it is partially a contemporary phenomenon.

Take inequality. Through much of its history, the US did not have high inequality as compared with Europe. Less so, in fact. That began to change in the industrial age, reaching a peak in 1928, after the forceful destruction of the labor movement and crushing of independent thought. Largely as a result of labor mobilization, inequality declined during the Great Depression, a tendency continuing through the great growth period of regulated capitalism in the early postwar decades. The neoliberal era that followed reversed these trends, leading to extreme inequality that may even surpass the 1928 peak.
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Blueprint For A Progressive US: A Dialogue With Noam Chomsky And Robert Pollin

1902, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA — Child labor strike in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Photograph 1902 — Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

This is the first part of a wide-ranging interview with world-renowned public intellectuals Noam Chomsky and Robert Pollin. The next installment will appear on October 24.

Not long after taking office, it became evident that Donald Trump had engaged in fraudulent populism during his campaign. His promise to “Make America Great Again” has been exposed as a lie, as the Trump administration has been busy extending US military power, exacerbating inequality, reverting to the old era of unregulated banking practices, pushing for more fuel fossil drilling and stripping environmental regulations.

In the Trump era, what would an authentically populist, progressive political agenda look like? What would a progressive US look like with regard to jobs, the environment, finance capital and the standard of living? What would it look like in terms of education and health care, justice and equality? In an exclusive interview with C.J. Polychroniou for Truthout, world-renowned public intellectuals Noam Chomsky and Robert Pollin tackle these issues. Noam Chomsky is professor emeritus of linguistics at MIT and laureate professor in the department of linguistics at the University of Arizona. Robert Pollin is distinguished professor of economics and co-director of the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Their views lay the foundation for a visionary — yet eminently realistic — progressive social and economic order for the United States.

C.J. Polychroniou: Noam, the rise of Donald Trump has unleashed a rather unprecedented wave of social resistance in the US. Do you think the conditions are ripe for a mass progressive/socialist movement in this country that can begin to reframe the major policy issues affecting the majority of people, and perhaps even challenge and potentially change the fundamental structures of the US political economy?

Noam Chomsky: There is indeed a wave of social resistance, more significant than in the recent past — though I’d hesitate about calling it “unprecedented.” Nevertheless, we cannot overlook the fact that in the domain of policy formation and implementation, the right is ascendant, in fact some of its harshest and most destructive elements [are rising].

Nor should we overlook a crucial fact that has been evident for some time: The figure in charge, though often ridiculed, has succeeded brilliantly in his goal of occupying media and public attention while mobilizing a very loyal popular base — and one with sinister features, sometimes smacking of totalitarianism, including adoration of The Leader. That goes beyond the core of loyal Trump supporters…. [A majority of Republicans] favor shutting down or at least fining the press if it presents “biased” or “false news” — terms that mean information rejected by The Leader, so we learn from polls showing that by overwhelming margins, Republicans not only believe Trump far more than the hated mainstream media, but even far more than their own media organ, the extreme right Fox news. And half of Republicans would back postponing the 2020 election if Trump calls for it.

It is also worth bearing in mind that among a significant part of his worshipful base, Trump is regarded as a “wavering moderate” who cannot be fully trusted to hold fast to the true faith of fierce White Christian identity politics. A recent illustration is the primary victory of the incredible Roy Moore in Alabama despite Trump’s opposition. (“Mr. President, I love you but you are wrong,” as the banners read). The victory of this Bible-thumping fanatic has led senior party strategists to [conclude] “that the conservative base now loathes its leaders in Washington the same way it detested President Barack Obama” — referring to leaders who are already so far right that one needs a powerful telescope to locate them at the outer fringe of any tolerable political spectrum.

The potential power of the ultra-right attack on the far right is [illustrated] by the fact that Moore spent about $200,000, in contrast to his Trump-backed opponent, the merely far-right Luther Strange, who received more than $10 million from the national GOP and other far-right sources. The ultra-right is spearheaded by Steve Bannon, one of the most dangerous figures in the shiver-inducing array that has come to the fore in recent years. It has the huge financial support of the Mercer family, along with ample media outreach through Breitbart news, talk radio and the rest of the toxic bubble in which loyalists trap themselves.

In the most powerful state in history, the current Republican Party is ominous enough. What is not far on the horizon is even more menacing.
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Hurricanes Make The Need To Dismantle Colonial Economics In The Caribbean Increasingly Urgent

Sint-Maarten, 6 september 2017
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Hurricanes have always been a part of life in the Caribbean. The destruction they cause and inhabitants’ subsequent recovery have been observed throughout human history. What is alarming now, however, is the apparent increased frequency and intensity of hurricanes due to climate change.

For the Caribbean territories, the climate change challenges are even more severe than they are for most other places around the globe because they have an impact on the entire coastal and terrestrial ecosystems. The already poor state of the Caribbean marine environment restricts the ability of habitats such as seagrass meadows and coral reefs to recover from the effects of severe storms. Poor water quality and over-fishing, for example, promotes the overgrowth of algae, preventing recovery. With repeated hurricanes occurring over time periods that are insufficient for recovery to occur, this will only get worse.

Moreover, climate change can be expected to have negative effects on the tourism and hospitality industry. According to the Caribbean Planning for Adaptation to Global Climate Change Project, virtually all the Caribbean territories are highly vulnerable to climate changes and can expect to experience a “linear increases in the number of storms and hurricanes … loss of land from rising sea level … increased susceptibility of coastal infrastructure … negative impacts in the tourism sector.”

In this context, the severity of hurricanes Irma and Maria, which caused catastrophic destruction, should be a wake-up call, even though the devastation was not equally distributed across the Caribbean, and it will be far more challenging for some countries than others to recover from their tragic situations.

Caribbean policy makers need a fundamental shift in how marine environments are protected to enable long-term sustainability for the food and income they provide. Many locations in the Caribbean — for example, Puerto Rico — have ineffective marine protection rules and so destructive practices continue unchecked, meaning that when a disaster does occur, the environment is unable to recover. Besides, previous hurricanes, cyclones and typhoons across the globe have shown the severe negative effects storms can have on the marine environment. Hurricane Irma — one of the strongest on record to hit the region — recently scoured the islands leaving catastrophic damage in its wake, even in Cuba, “a country that prides itself on disaster preparedness.”

And just as the Caribbean began to piece together the devastating and potentially long-term impacts of Irma, Hurricane Maria has now left another path of destruction. Puerto Rico, the British dependency of the Turks and Caicos, and many other Caribbean islands have suffered what have been described as “apocalyptic conditions.” More than 30 cruise ports were damaged by these two hurricanes.

Some of the most severely affected areas of the recent hurricanes in the Caribbean — Florida, Turks and Caicos, Cuba, the British Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico — all house extensive seagrass meadows. These shallow water marine habitats support valuable lobster fisheries, as well as shrimp, conch and finfish fisheries. Seagrass also stabilizes sediments and protects the white sand beaches that attract so many tourists to the region. The devastation of coastal environments, particularly seagrass meadows, can also result in long-term losses of the benefits that humans receive from them, such as fisheries support or coastal protection. Damage to these ecosystem services consequently impacts human well-being, because people can no longer rely on them for their livelihood and food supply. Read more

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The Future Of Europe And The New World Disorder: An Interview With Political Economist C.J. Polychroniou

Since the outbreak of the euro crisis, which was directly linked to the global financial crisis that erupted in 2007-08, Europe has been experiencing a host of contradictory trends and developments, which include efforts to contain the spread of systemic risk in the financial sector while the debt crisis remains unresolved for several eurozone member states, and calls for the creation of a European pillar of social rights while neoliberalism reigns supreme in EU’s economic policy agenda. In the meantime, a wave of extreme nationalism and xenophobia have spread in several European countries, challenging in the process not just globalization, but the foundation of an open, liberal society.

Yet it’s not just the state of Europe that raises concerns about the future political and social order. As political ​economist C.J. Polychroniou points out in this interview, in the US, Trump’s militaristic attitude and jingoistic mindset puts the world on a very dangerous path, adding extra pressure to regions already beset by conflict and creating potential conditions not only for a renewed arms race, but for the actual use of nuclear weapons. Polychroniou has taught and worked in universities and research centers in Europe and the United States, and is the author of the recently published book Optimism Over Despair: On Capitalism, Empire, and Social Change, a collection of interviews with Noam Chomsky that appeared originally in Truthout and have been published by Haymarket Books in the US and Penguin Books in the rest of the English-speaking world.

Alexandra Boutri and Marcus Rolle: C.J., let’s start with developments in Europe: Brexit, Catalonia independence, meteoric rise of extreme right in Germany, illiberal democracies in Hungary, Poland and elsewhere, and the ongoing crisis in Greece. Is Europe in crisis?

C.J. Polychroniou: There is no question that Europe is facing severe challenges these days on several fronts that can affect the future of the continent on the whole. Brexit remains something of a conundrum; the push for independence in Catalonia is probably a very bad idea (although Catalans should have the “right to decide” on their future); the presence of 90 Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) politicians in the Bundestag is yet the strongest indication that the far right’s views have become quite acceptable among a growing segment of the German population, and the specter of illiberal democracy is haunting Europe. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that it is highly debatable whether or not Europe’s road to integration can proceed any more the way it has over the last 20 or so years.

The future of Europe is definitely one of multispeed and multitier, although President Jean-Claude Juncker, in his State of the Union Address in Brussels on September 13, made the case for a more united, stronger and democratic Europe, which includes an all-powerful president and an EU army, while an even far more impressive and comprehensive plan for a “profound transformation” of Europe was laid out by French president Emmanuel Macron at a speech he gave at Sorbonne University in Paris on September 26. Macron’s vision has the potential to turn Europe into the center of the world, but it is most unlikely that Germans would go along with some of his key ideas, such as creating a centralized eurozone budget and having a European finance minister.

Yet, these are precisely the things that are needed to revamp Europe as the specter of another euro crisis is a distinct possibility in the near future. In contrast to what many seem to believe, the euro crisis is not over and it can be reignited without any notice. Take, for instance, the issue of public debt. In Italy, it stands over 130 percent, while France’s public debt rose to the highest level in the first few months of 2017, reaching close to 100 percent of GDP. Moreover, Italy’s banking crisis remains unresolved, and Europe’s banking system in general remains quite fragile. As such, the next financial crisis could crash those economies, and that would mean a euro crisis 10 times bigger than the one experienced between 2010-2013. In fact, I dare say that a crisis in Italy — the eurozone’s third largest economy — is waiting to happen. In the meantime, you have central banks in Europe embarking on what is called the “Great Unwind” — the winding-down of quantitative easing programs that have sustained the continent’s economies, financial markets and banking systems since the outbreak of the euro crisis. What happens next is anyone’s guess. Will this development put a brake on EU economic boost? Most economists are worrying that it will. And what would happen if Europe went into a recession? Extreme nationalism and fraudulent populism, xenophobia and authoritarianism will surely be further strengthened. Read more

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Greece and Economic Recovery: Fake News in Action

Ten years ago, the implosion of Lehman Brothers ignited a financial crisis whose impact and effects were felt virtually across the globe as banks and financial institutions everywhere that were exposed to subprime lending, formed part of a long chain of complicated and interconnected derivatives, and partook freely in Wall Street shenanigans.

In Europe, the global financial crisis that started in the United States did not reach shore until late 2009, and the first victim was the land that gave birth to democracy and laid the foundations for the emergence of Western civilization.

Enter Greece and an ongoing debt drama, with catastrophically spectacular economic, social, and political ramifications, that has no end in sight.

Indeed, now into its eighth year, Greece remains entirely dependent on international bailouts (three bailouts involving the European Union and the International Monetary Fund have been arranged since 2010), has lost a quarter of its GDP with no realistic expectations of recovering it for decades to come, experiences unemploymentlevels which have oscillated between a high 27.8 percent (in July 2013) and a low 21.2 percent (in June 2017), and has seen the standard of living decline to 1960s levels.

Worse, Greece’s debt-to-GDP ratio has exploded since the start of the bailout programs, rising from 128 percent in 2010 to over 185 percent in 2017, and, with no debt relief in sight, the small Mediterranean nation has become truly a permanent debt colony inside the world’s richest region. In the meantime, a mass exodus of young and educated people has been in motion for several years now (youth unemployment rate in Greece stands currently at 43.3 percent), a process that is bound to have long-term effects on demographic trends and a significant impact on future economic developments.

Nonetheless, the story line advanced these days from Athens, courtesy of a pseudo-leftist government that has not only reneged on every one of its promises to the Greek citizens since coming to power, but has ended up reinforcing the neoliberal agenda of the European Union/International Monetary Fund duo with more perseverance than all previous governments put together, is that the country has “turned page” and that the crisis is now practically over. Read more

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