Bulletin. PLEASE READ: Chris Hedges: The Imperative of Revolt / democracy versus Capitalist Inverted Totalitarianism– TruthDig


Protesters chant as they are arrested at the intersection of Wall Street and Broad Street in New York on Sept. 22. The protesters, many of whom were affiliated with Occupy Wall Street, were pointing to the connection between capitalism and environmental destruction. AP/Seth Wenig

EXCERPT: “…we have undergone a corporate coup d’état and now live under a species of corporate dictatorship that Wolin calls “inverted totalitarianism,”

EXCERPT: “Democracy has been turned upside down,” Wolin said.

EXCerPT: “Our failure to grasp the new configuration of power has permitted the corporate state to rob us through judicial fiat, a process that culminates in a disempowered population and omnipotent corporate rulers. Inverted totalitarianism, Wolin said, “projects power upwards.” It is “the antithesis of constitutional power.”

EXCERPT: “But what is missing is a crucial, continuous opposition that has a coherent position, that is not just saying no, no, no, that has an alternative and ongoing critique of what is wrong and what needs to be remedied.”

EXCERPT: “The more ruthless and pronounced global corporate capitalism becomes, the greater the loss of democratic space.

EXCERPT: “The [capitalist’s] notion of an economy, while broadly based in the sense of a relatively free entrance and property that is relatively widely dispersed, is as elitist as any aristocratic system.”

EXCERPT: “The neoconservatives…have always been Bolsheviks. They are the Bolsheviks of the right.

EXCERPT: “[Meanwhile] The liberals sat around writing incomprehensible laws and boring policy papers. They were unwilling to engage in the real fight that was won by a minute group of extremists.”

TORONTO—I met with Sheldon S. Wolin in Salem, Ore., and John Ralston Saul in Toronto and asked the two political philosophers the same question.

If, as Saul has written, we have undergone a corporate coup d’état and now live under a species of corporate dictatorship that Wolin calls “inverted totalitarianism,” if the internal mechanisms that once made piecemeal and incremental reform possible remain ineffective, if corporate power retains its chokehold on our economy and governance, including our legislative bodies, judiciary and systems of information, and if these corporate forces are able to use the security and surveillance apparatus and militarized police forces to criminalize dissent, how will change occur and what will it look like?

Wolin, who wrote the books “Politics and Vision” and “Democracy Incorporated,” and Saul, who wrote “Voltaire’s Bastards” and “The Unconscious Civilization,” see democratic rituals and institutions, especially in the United States, as largely a facade for unchecked global corporate power.

Wolin and Saul excoriate academics, intellectuals and journalists, charging they have abrogated their calling to expose abuses of power and give voice to social criticism; they instead function as echo chambers for elites, courtiers and corporate systems managers.

Neither believes the current economic system is sustainable. And each calls for mass movements willing to carry out repeated acts of civil disobedience to disrupt and delegitimize corporate power.


“If you continue to go down the wrong road, at a certain point something happens,” Saul said during our meeting Wednesday in Toronto, where he lives. “At a certain point when the financial system is wrong it falls apart. And it did. And it will fall apart again.”

“The collapse started in 1973,” Saul continued. “There were a series of sequential collapses afterwards.

The fascinating thing is that between 1850 and 1970 we put in place all sorts of mechanisms to stop collapses which we can call liberalism, social democracy or Red Toryism. It was an understanding that we can’t have boom-and-bust cycles. We can’t have poverty-stricken people. We can’t have starvation. The reason today’s collapses are not leading to what happened in the 18th century and the 19th century is because all these safety nets, although under attack, are still in place.


But each time we have a collapse we come out of it stripping more of the protection away. At a certain point we will find ourselves back in the pre-protection period. At that point we will get a collapse that will be incredibly dramatic.

I have no idea what it will look like.

A revolution from the left?

A revolution from the right?

Is it violence followed by state violence?

Is it the collapse of the last meaningful edges of democracy?

Is it a sudden decision by a critical mass of people that they are not going to take it anymore?”

This devolution of the economic system has been accompanied by corporations’ seizure of nearly all forms of political and social power.


The corporate elite, through a puppet political class and compliant intellectuals, pundits and press, still employs the language of a capitalist democracy. But what has arisen is a new kind of control,

inverted totalitarianism,

which Wolin brilliantly dissects in his book “Democracy Incorporated.”

sheldon s wolin

democ incorporated cover


Inverted totalitarianism does not replicate past totalitarian structures, such as fascism and communism. It is therefore harder to immediately identify and understand.

There is no blustering demagogue. There is no triumphant revolutionary party.

There are no ideologically drenched and emotional mass political rallies.

The old symbols, the old iconography and the old language of democracy are held up as virtuous.

The old systems of governance—electoral politics, an independent judiciary, a free press and the Constitution—appear to be venerated.

But, similar to what happened during the late Roman Empire, all the institutions that make democracy possible have been hollowed out and rendered impotent and ineffectual.


The corporate state, Wolin told me at his Oregon home, is “legitimated by elections it controls.”

It exploits laws that once protected democracy to extinguish democracy; one example is allowing unlimited corporate campaign contributions in the name of our First Amendment right to free speech and our right to petition the government as citizens.

“It perpetuates politics all the time,” Wolin said,

“but a politics that is not political.”

The endless election cycles, he said, are an example of politics without politics, driven not by substantive issues but manufactured political personalities and opinion polls.

There is no national institution in the United States “that can be described as democratic,” he said.

The mechanisms that once allowed the citizen to be a participant in power—from participating in elections to enjoying the rights of dissent and privacy—

have been nullified.

Money has replaced the vote, Wolin said, and corporations have garnered total power

without using the cruder forms of traditional totalitarian control: concentration camps, enforced ideological conformity and the physical suppression of dissent.

They will avoid such measures “as long as that dissent remains ineffectual,” he said.

“The government does not need to stamp out dissent. The uniformity of imposed public opinion through the corporate media does a very effective job.”

[Along with a servile willingness to be “Good Germans” — the willingness to conform, to “stay out of trouble”.

I have often wondered since teen age years in the civil rights/anti-war Sxities whether the REAL “BACKSTORY” of Jesus and the crucifixion and all the trillions of crosses everywhere and the SIX weeks of Lent (only FOUR weeks of Advent) followed by the Seventh of revolt, tragedy and human suffering followed by a human’s bloody death — might not be a subtle WARNING TO “GOOD CHRISTIANS” TO NOT ROCK THE BOAT.

BACK TO CHRIS HEDGES:


The state has obliterated privacy through mass surveillance, a fundamental precondition for totalitarian rule, and in ways that are patently unconstitutional has stripped citizens of the rights to a living wage, benefits and job security. And it has destroyed institutions, such as labor unions, that once protected workers from corporate abuse.

Inverted totalitarianism, Wolin has written, is “only in part a state-centered phenomenon.”

It also represents “the political coming of age of corporate power and the political demobilization of the citizenry.”

Corporate power works in secret. It is unseen by the public and largely anonymous. Politicians and citizens alike often seem blissfully unaware of the consequences of inverted totalitarianism, Wolin said in the interview.

And because it is a new form of totalitarianism we do not recognize the radical change that has gradually taken place.


Our failure to grasp the new configuration of power has permitted the corporate state to rob us through judicial fiat, a process that culminates in a disempowered population and omnipotent corporate rulers. Inverted totalitarianism, Wolin said, “projects power upwards.” It is “the antithesis of constitutional power.”

“Democracy has been turned upside down,” Wolin said. “It is supposed to be a government for the people, by the people. But it has become an organized form of government dominated by groups that are only vaguely, if at all, responsible or responsive to popular needs and popular demands. At the same time, it retains a patina of democracy. We still have elections. They are relatively free. We have a relatively free media.

But what is missing is a crucial, continuous opposition that has a coherent position, that is not just saying no, no, no, that has an alternative and ongoing critique of what is wrong and what needs to be remedied.”

Wolin and Saul, echoing Karl Marx, view unfettered and unregulated capitalism as a revolutionary force that has within it the seeds of its own self-annihilation.

It is and always has been deeply antagonistic to participatory democracy, they said.

Democratic states must heavily regulate and control capitalism, for once capitalism is freed from outside restraint it seeks to snuff out democratic institutions and abolish democratic rights that are seen—often correctly—as an impediment to maximizing profit.

The more ruthless and pronounced global corporate capitalism becomes, the greater the loss of democratic space.

“Capitalism is destructive because it has to eliminate customs, mores, political values, even institutions that present any kind of credible threat to the autonomy of the economy,” Wolin said. “That is where the battle lies. Capitalism wants an autonomous economy. It wants a political order subservient to the needs of the economy.

The [capitalist’s] notion of an economy, while broadly based in the sense of a relatively free entrance and property that is relatively widely dispersed, is as elitist as any aristocratic system.”

Wolin and Saul said they expect the state, especially in an age of terminal economic decline, to employ more violent and draconian forms of control to keep restive populations in check. This coercion, they said, will fuel discontent and unrest, which will further increase state repression.

“People with power use the tools they have,” Saul said. “As the West has gradually lost its economic tool it has turned to what remains, which are military tools and violence. The West still has the most weaponry. Even if they are doing very badly economically in a global sense, they can use the weaponry to replace the economics or replace competition.”

“They decided that capitalism and the market was about the right to have the cheapest possible goods,” Saul said. “That is what competition meant.

This is a lie.

No capitalist philosopher ever said that. [Adam Smith, etc.] As you bring the prices down below the capacity to produce them in a middle-class country you commit suicide.

As you commit suicide you have to ask, ‘How do we run this place?’ And you have to run it using these other methods—bread and circuses, armies, police and prisons.”


The liberal class—which has shriveled under the corporate onslaught and a Cold War ideology [since 1917] that held up national security as the highest good [even as the nation was vastly protected by vast seas) —once found a home in the Democratic Party, the press, labor unions and universities.

It made reform possible.

Now, because it is merely decorative, it compounds the political and economic crisis.

There is no effective organized opposition to the rise of a neofeudalism dominated a tiny corporate oligarchy that exploits workers and the poor.

“The reform class, those who believe that reform is possible, those who believe in

humanism,

justice and

inclusion, has become incredibly lazy over the last 30 or 40 years,” Saul said. “The last hurrah was really in the 1970s.

Since then they think that getting a tenured position at Harvard and waiting to get a job in Washington is actually an action, as opposed to passivity.”


john ralston saul

unconscious civilization saul

“One of the things we have seen over the last 30 or 40 years is a gradual silencing of people who are doctors or scientists,” Saul said.

“They are silenced by the managerial methodology of contracts. You sign an employment contract that says everything you know belongs to the people who hired you.

You are not allowed to speak out. Take that [right] away and you have a gigantic educated group who has a great deal to say and do, but they are tied up. They don’t know how to untie themselves. They come out with their Ph.D. They are deeply in debt. The only way they can get a job is to give up their intellectual freedom. They are prisoners.”

Resistance, Wolin and Saul agreed, will begin locally, with communities organizing to form autonomous groups that practice direct democracy outside the formal power structures, including the two main political parties. These groups will have to address issues such as food security, education, local governance, economic cooperation and consumption. [This is the way Zapatisats in Chiapas, Mexico have succeeded despite military attacks by Mexico and this is the way local organizations -- I can't recall the name -- develop and functiuon in Chavezista Venezuela.]

And they will have to sever themselves, as much as possible, from the corporate economy.

“Richard Rorty talked about how you take power,” Saul said. “You go out and win the school board elections. You hold the school board. You reform the schools. Then you win the towns. And you stay there. And you hold it for 30 to 40 years. And gradually you bring in reforms that improve things. It isn’t about three years in Washington on a contract. There has to be a critical mass of leaders willing to ruin their lives as part of a large group that figures out how to get power and hold power at all of these levels, gradually putting reforms in place.”

I asked them if a professional revolutionary class, revolutionists dedicated solely to overthrowing the corporate state, was a prerequisite. Would we have to model any credible opposition after Vladimir Lenin’s disciplined and rigidly controlled Bolsheviks or Machiavelli’s republican conspirators? Wolin and Saul, while deeply critical of Lenin’s ideology of state capitalism and state terror, agreed that creating a class devoted full time to radical change was essential to fomenting change. There must be people, they said, willing to dedicate their lives to confronting the corporate state outside traditional institutions and parties.

Revolt, for a few, must become a vocation.

The alliance between mass movements and a professional revolutionary class, they said, offers the best chance for an overthrow of corporate power.

“It is extremely important that people are willing to go into the streets,” Saul said.

“Democracy has always been about the willingness of people to go into the streets. When the Occupy movement started I was pessimistic. I felt it could only go a certain distance. But the fact that a critical mass of people was willing to go into the streets and stay there, without being organized by a political party or a union, was a real statement.

If you look at that, at what is happening in Canada, at the movements in Europe, the hundreds of thousands of people in Spain in the streets,

you are seeing for the first time since the 19th century or early 20th century people coming into the streets in large numbers without a real political structure. These movements aren’t going to take power. But they are a sign that power and the respect for power is falling apart. What happens next?


It could be dribbled away.

But I think there is the possibility of a new generation coming in and saying we won’t accept this. That is how you get change. A new generation comes along and says no, no, no. They build their lives on the basis of that no.”

But none of these mass mobilizations, Saul and Wolin emphasized, will work unless there is a core of professional organizers.

“Anarchy is a beautiful idea, but someone has to run the stuff,” Saul said. “It has to be run over a long period of time. Look at the rise and fall of the Chinese empires. For thousands of years it has been about the rise and fall of the water systems. Somebody has to run the water system. Somebody [in modern times] has to keep the electricity going. Somebody has to make the hospitals work.”

“You need a professional or elite class devoted to profound change,” Saul said. “If you want to get power you have to be able to hold it. And you have to be able to hold it long enough to change the direction.

The neoconservatives understood this. They have always been Bolsheviks. They are the Bolsheviks of the right.

Their methodology is the methodology of the Bolsheviks. They took over political parties by internal coups d’état. They worked out, scientifically, what things they needed to do and in what order to change the structures of power.

They have done it stage by stage.

And we are living the result of that.

The liberals sat around writing incomprehensible laws and boring policy papers. They were unwilling to engage in the real fight that was won by a minute group of extremists.”


“You have to understand power to reform things,” Saul said. “If you don’t understand power you get blown away by the guy who does. We are missing people who believe in justice and at the same time understand how tough power and politics are, how to make real choices. And these choices are often quite ugly.”

hedges front on

Corey Robin: Reclaiming the Politics of Freedom

corey robin

Since the ’70s, liberals and leftists have misidentified the source of conservatism’s appeal

EXCERPT: “If there is to be a true realignment—not just of parties but of principles, not just of policy preferences or cognitive frames but of deep beliefs and ideas—we must confront conservatism’s political philosophy. That philosophy reflects more than a bloodless economics or narrow self-interest; it draws from and drives forward a distinctly moral vision of freedom, with deep roots in American political thought.”

EXCERPT: “What conservatives fear above all else—more than higher taxes or lower profits—is any challenge to that power, any inversion of the obligations of deference and command, any extension of freedom that would curtail their own. FDR understood that. In his 1936 acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention, he was careful to take aim not simply at the rich but at “economic royalists,” lordly men who take “into their own hands an almost complete control over other people’s property, other people’s money, other people’s labor—other people’s lives.”

EXERPT: “Americans are notoriously uninterested in systemic notions of domination, but the struggle against slavery has left them with an abiding appreciation of—and visceral hostility to—individual forms of domination. And that is what the businessman, uncurbed and unchecked, portends: personal domination.”

Conservatives often complain that they’ve been exiled from power, whether in the corridors of the Capitol or the pages of the New York Times. Yet conservative ideas have dominated American politics for thirty years. The centerpiece of that dominance is the notion that the market equals freedom and government is the threat to freedom. Despite the Great Recession and election of Barack Obama, the most progressive candidate to win the presidency since 1964, that idea retains its hold. The ideological realignment we have been waiting for, in which that idea is repudiated, has yet to come.

One reason for the dominance of this idea is that since the ’70s, liberals and leftists have misidentified the source of conservatism’s appeal. Confident that no one short of a millionaire could endorse the right’s economic ideology,

everyone from Clintonite centrists to radical populists has treated conservatism as essentially a politics of distraction and delusion. Conservatives, it’s said, are just good salespeople, wrapping their ugly wares in the pretty paper of the culture wars. The way to combat them is not to challenge their ideas or defend ours but to use prettier wrapping paper.

Instead of confronting the allure of the free market, as conservatives understand it, liberals have tried to co-opt the discourse of traditional values. Painting themselves as the new Victorians, they’ve claimed, We stand for thrift and family, God and country. We put people to work rather than on welfare. We don’t spend recklessly; we reduce the deficit. We provide security: not just the physical security of cops on the street, crooks behind bars and troops in Afghanistan but the economic security of shared risk and protection from risk. We stand for responsibilities over rights, safety over freedom, constraint rather than counterculture.

This strategy might have something to recommend it if it worked. But it hasn’t.

When right-wing ideas dominate, we get right-wing policies. After the midterm elections in November 2010, it seemed the most natural thing in the world—to the right, the media, Obama and parts of the Democratic Party—to freeze the pay of federal workers and extend the Bush tax cuts for two years.

Incoherent as policy—the first presumes that the deficit is the greatest threat to the economy; the second, the lack of consumer spending—it makes sense as ideology. The best (and only) thing the government can do for you and the economy is to get out of your way.

There’s a second reason conservative ideas are still dominant. Many liberals have failed to overcome their sense that however much they might question the bona fides of the other side, they lack the intellectual wherewithal to manage the economy. Roosevelt’s Brain Trust had a self-confidence born of the widespread belief that the business class had discredited itself, and a conviction that it had the answers where the businessman did not.

That will to power, rooted in ideas, is hard to find on the left today. When it comes to the economy, too many liberals agree in their heart of hearts with conservatives: let the men of money decide.

If there is to be a true realignment—not just of parties but of principles, not just of policy preferences or cognitive frames but of deep beliefs and ideas—we must confront conservatism’s political philosophy. That philosophy reflects more than a bloodless economics or narrow self-interest; it draws from and drives forward a distinctly moral vision of freedom, with deep roots in American political thought.

* * *

From Emerson and Douglass to Reagan and Goldwater, freedom has been the keyword of American politics. Every successful movement—abolition, feminism, civil rights, the New Deal—has claimed it.

A freewheeling mix of elements—the willful assertion and reinvention of the self, the breaking of traditional bonds and constraints, the toppling of old orders and creation of new forms—freedom in the American vein combines what political theorists call negative liberty (the absence of external interference) and positive liberty (the ability to act).

Where theorists dwell on these distinctions as incommensurable values, statesmen and activists unite them in a vision of emancipation that identifies freedom with the act of knocking down or hurtling past barriers.

The secret of conservatism’s success—as any reading of Reagan’s speeches and writings will attest—has been to locate this notion of freedom in the market.

Conservative political economy envisions freedom as something more than a simple “don’t tread on me”; it celebrates the everyman entrepreneur, making his own destiny, imagining a world and then creating it. Speaking before Congress in April 1981, Reagan sold his package of tax and spending cuts with a line from Carl Sandburg, that emblematic voice of the Popular Front: “Nothing happens unless first a dream.” The entrepreneur is the scion of freedom, the reincarnation of Ben Franklin and Abe Lincoln; the welfare state, its most potent enemy, the successor to King George and the slaveholder.

We must confront this ideology head-on: not by temporizing about the riskiness or instability of the free market or by demonstrating that it (or its Republican stewards) cannot deliver growth but by mobilizing the most potent resource of the American vernacular against it. We must develop an argument that

the market is a source of constraint and government an instrument of freedom.

Without a strong government hand in the economy,

men and women are at the mercy of their employer, who has the power to determine not only their wages, benefits and hours but also their lives and those of their families, on and off the job. [Fascism.]

We must, in other words, change the argument from the abstractions of the free market to the very real power of the businessman.

More than posing an impersonal threat to the deliberations of a democratic polity—as the progressive opposition to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision would have it, or as liberals like Paul Krugman and Hendrik Hertzberg have suggested about the unionbusting in Wisconsin—the businessman imposes concrete and personal constraints on the freedom of individual citizens.

What conservatives fear above all else—more than higher taxes or lower profits—is any challenge to that power, any inversion of the obligations of deference and command, any extension of freedom that would curtail their own. FDR understood that. In his 1936 acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention, he was careful to take aim not simply at the rich but at “economic royalists,” lordly men who take “into their own hands an almost complete control over other people’s property, other people’s money, other people’s labor—other people’s lives.”

Mounting this kind of argument requires more than a strategic shift of frames; it calls for

deep immersion in a wellspring of American political thought: the language of opposition to personal dominion and rule.


Americans are notoriously uninterested in systemic notions of domination, but the struggle against slavery has left them with an abiding appreciation of—and visceral hostility to—individual forms of domination. And that is what the businessman, uncurbed and unchecked, portends: personal domination.

We must also change the argument about government. Government need not be a source of constraint, as conservatives claim. Nor is it designed to protect citizens from the vagaries of the market, as many liberals claim—a formulation that depicts citizens as needy and passive and opens liberals to the charge of paternalism and condescension.

When government is aligned with democratic movements on the ground, as Walter Reuther and Martin Luther King Jr. understood, it becomes the individual’s instrument for liberating herself from her rulers in the private sphere, a way to break the back of private autocracy.

* * *

In forging his realignment, Roosevelt was careful to identify the enemy

not as a political party but an economic aristocracy.

[Now, 2014 it is the opposite: Republicans, NOT the aristocracy/plutocracy are the enemy, NOT the One per Cent. One sees NO REFERENCES AT ALL in the frenzy of Democatic Internet postings about the fascism and tyrrany of the One Per Cent. NOTHING! It is all "sneer at the stupid time" yet again or fear the Republicans and NOT ONE DEMOCRAT RUNNING TALKS ABOUT WALL STREET! NOT ONE. Let alone Wall Street's hired hand, Barack Obama, recently well-criticized by Sen. Elizabeth Warren.]

Throughout the 1936 campaign, he barely mentioned Alf Landon. Instead, he denounced the Liberty League and the businessmen it represented. Realignments in America are like that: Jackson railed against the Bank; the Republicans ran against the slaveocracy; Reagan campaigned against the liberal elite. Part of this is strategic: it’s easier to peel away voters from the opposition if you can show that it is not their party you oppose but the interests it represents, which are not theirs.

But part of it is substantive, reflecting a conviction that the task at hand is not simply to defeat a party or win an election but to free men and women from a malignant social form. If we hope to forge a comparable realignment, we must stop talking about the Tea Party or even the Republicans and start talking about the business class that stands behind them.

Some of us might be tempted to frame the fight against business in terms other than freedom: as a campaign for security, perhaps, or for equality. In defense of the former, people could point to Social Security, the third and fourth of Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms (freedom from want and from fear), and the general idea of a safety net.

Lurking around such arguments, inevitably, is 9/11 and the desire to reclaim the meaning of security from the right. In defense of the latter, people could point to the new breed of superrich, galloping away with their billions while everyone from the pauper to the millionaire—suddenly thrown together in that great crucible of the middle class—gets left behind.

Lurking around these arguments is the age-old suspicion on the left that freedom is either hopelessly bourgeois or inherently antagonistic to equality. One must opt for equality over freedom—happily, says the radical; regretfully, sighs the liberal.

The problem with defending government as the guardian of security and equality is that

it endorses a passive conception of politics and people in which the citizen is a recipient of the state’s benevolence rather than an agent in her own right.

The government doles out protection or largesse, and she takes it in. In neither case does—or need—she do anything. Security and equality are also static ideals. How do you know if men and women are secure or equal? If each is fixed and fastened to a certain place or position? When men and women are boxed in like that, movement, the most basic form of freedom, can seem threatening.

Security and equality are critical values, but they are means to an end. The reason we value security is that it enables us to act freely, without fear. The reason we value equality is that inequality is the throughway of domination:

someone with vastly more resources than I—an employer, for example—can coerce and control me, abridge my freedom. By emphasizing security and equality, we focus on the means and lose sight of the end.

The politics of freedom does not dismiss the value or importance of state resources. But rather than conceiving of them as protections against the hazards of the market or indices of public compassion, it sees them as sources of power, as the tools and instruments of personal and collective advance.

Armed with universal healthcare, unemployment benefits, public pensions and the like, I am less vulnerable to the coercions and castigations of an employer or partner. Not only do I have the option of leaving an oppressive situation; I can confront and change it—for and by myself, for and with others.

I am emboldened not to avoid risks but to take risks: to talk back and walk out, to engage in what John Stuart Mill called, in one of his lovelier phrases,

“experiments in living.”

* * *

The politics of freedom is a politics of individual and collective emancipation. Frederick Douglass discovered his freedom, negative and positive, when he raised his hand against his overseer.
After that, he realized, though he might remain a “slave in form,” he would never again be a “slave in fact.” The politics of freedom similarly understands liberty as, above all, a claim against—and a movement to overcome—oppressive forms of power, particularly in the private spheres of the workplace and the family.

That is why the politics of freedom refuses to view the state as the conservative does: as a constraint. Or as the welfare-state liberal does: as a distributive machine.

Instead, it views the state the way the abolitionist, the trade unionist, the civil rights activist and the feminist do: as an instrument for disrupting the private life of power.

The state, in other words, is the right hand to the left hand of social movement.

The question for the left today is twofold. First, how do we formulate this argument in an age when capitalism goes unquestioned? At previous moments of liberal ascendancy, revolution was a potent threat and social democracy a viable alternative, if not in the United States, then at least elsewhere. For all its repressive effects, the cold war helped spur domestic reform.

Today the United States is the global hegemon;

China, its only potential competitor, offers no ideological threat to its economic system. Whether it is possible to mount a challenge to current economic arrangements without that threat remains to be seen.

Second, and perhaps more important, can we formulate this argument at all? During the Great Recession, much has been written about reviving the policies of the New Deal. Though well-intentioned,

this focus on policy suggests that thirty years of conservative control has left us ill-equipped to counter the power of the businessman with first principles.


It’s long past time for us to start talking and arguing about those first principles, especially the principle of freedom.

Corey Robin, who teaches at Brooklyn College, is the author of Fear: The History of a Political Idea, and The Reactionary Mind.

This article appeared in the April 25, 2011 edition of The Nation.

Corey Robin: Of Collaborators and Careerists

corey robinThe announcement of the death of David Greenglass has got me thinking a lot about collaborators. Though much of twentieth-century history could not be written without some discussion of collaborators—from Vichy to Stalinism to the Dirty Wars to McCarthyism—the topic hardly gets a mention in the great texts of political theory. Eichmann in Jerusalem being the sole exception.

In my first book on fear, [FEAR, THE HISTORY OF A POLITICAL IDEA] I tried to open a preliminary discussion of the topic. That discussion drew from a wide range of twentieth-century experiences, in Europe, Latin America, the US, and elsewhere, as well as from my reading of Eichmann and Montesquieu’s Persian Letters.

Reading over what I wrote, I’d say I failed. I was so intent on breaking apart the conventional understanding of the collaborator as someone who aids and abets a foreign enemy that I wound up broadening the category too much. So intent was I, also, on breaking apart the three-legged stool of perpetrator-victim-bystander—where was the collaborator in all this, I wondered—that I wound up conflating low-level perpetrators with collaborators; I now think there’s an important difference there.

That said, I thought I’d reprint my discussion here. As I said, political theorists have yet to grapple with the problem of collaboration. Or of careerism, which is a related topic.

One day, when I’m in my dotage, I’d like to write a book, a kind of

political theory of careerism and collaboration. Arendt thought we should take our theoretical cues from actual political experience; political theory was first and foremost an attempt to understand what we are doing.

That’s why she wrote books and essays on totalitarianism, revolution, action, and other political phenomena. But when it comes to careerism and collaboration, we have yet to understand what we are doing. So here goes.

• • • • •

By conventional understanding, a collaborator is one who assists an enemy, helping groups to which he does not belong threaten groups to which he does belong. (1) But this definition, it seems to me, is too restrictive. It presumes that a group is a discrete whole, that once in it, we can’t get out of it or have competing affiliations.

Collaborators, however, cannot be so neatly bound. Some do not entirely belong to the group they betray; others, like the French fascists of Vichy, have a deep affinity for the enemy they aid. Informers are perhaps the most common kind of collaborator, but they are notorious chameleons, making it virtually impossible to pin down their affiliations at all.

Knud Wollenberger, an East German dissident who secretly kept the Stasi apprised of his wife’s subversive activities, claims that his collaboration was entirely consistent with his membership in the couple’s oppositional circle. One way to challenge the government, he explains, was “through open dissidence, and the other way [was] through government channels. I was on the inside and the outside at the same time.” (2) [Jesus Christ! Talk about breaking fidelity; trust!]

Harvey Matusow joined the American Communist Party in 1947, began informing on it in 1950, recanted his testimony in 1954, and then lied about all three phases of his career in his memoir False Witness, published in 1955. So promiscuous were Matusow’s politics, it is impossible to know what he had been false to, except the truth. The title of another FBI informant’s memoir—I Led Three Lives (as Communist, informer, and “citizen”)—was more apt, suggesting the multiple identities the collaborator regularly assumes. (3)

I don’t wish to carry this notion of multiple affiliations too far. Wollenberger could very well be rationalizing a past of which he is ashamed, and Matusow may simply be the hollow man many at the time suspected him to be.

Whether we belong to one group or another in some existential sense, in the course of our lives we do incur moral obligations to our comrades and friends, whom we betray when we aid our opponents.

But to avoid the question of identity that restrictive definitions of collaboration entail, I will use the definition contained in the word’s Latin root collaborare:

“to work together.” By collaborator, I simply mean those men and women who work with elites and who occupy the lower tiers of power and make political fear a genuinely civic enterprise.

Collaborators may be low- or mid-level perpetrators; suppliers, like the warehouse in Jedwabne, Poland, which provided the kerosene local residents used in 1941 to burn a barn containing 1,500 Jews, or

Ford and General Motors, which funded a Brazilian security outfit that interrogated and tortured leftists;

attendants (cooks, secretaries, and other supporting staff); or spies and informers. (4) Though all are not equally compromised by their deeds, each is guilty of complicity.

The collaborator is an elusive figure. With the exception of The Persian Letters and Eichmann in Jerusalem, he seldom makes an appearance in the literature of political fear.

One of the reasons for his absence, I suspect, is that he confounds our simple categories of elite and victim.


Like the elite, the collaborator takes initiative and receives benefits from his collaboration.

Like the victim, he may be threatened with punishment or retribution if he does not cooperate.

Many collaborators, in fact, are drawn directly from the ranks of the victims.

Perhaps then we can distinguish between

collaborators of aspiration,

inspired by a desire for gain, and

collaborators of aversion,

inspired by a fear of loss. The first are akin to elites, the second to victims. But even that distinction is too neat. Elites also fear loss, and victims hope for gain, and as the

economist’s notion of opportunity costs

attests, the hope of gain often informs the fear of loss. (5)

Collaborators serve two functions. First, they perform tasks that elites themselves cannot or will not perform. These tasks may be considered beneath the dignity of the elite: cooking, cleaning, or other forms of work. They may require local knowledge—as in the case of informers, who provide information elites cannot access on their own—or specialized skills.

We often think of torturers, for example, as thugs from the dregs of society. But torture is a weapon of knowledge, designed to extract information from the victim, often without leaving a physical trace. The torturer must know the body, how far he can go without killing the victim. Who better to assist or direct the torturer than a doctor? Thus, 70 percent of Uruguayan political prisoners under that country’s military regime claim that a doctor sat in on their torture sessions. (6)

Second, collaborators extend the reach of elites into corners of society that elites lack the manpower to patrol. These collaborators are usually figures of influence within communities targeted by elites. Their status may come from the elite, who elevate them because they are willing to enforce the elite’s directives. (7)

More often, their authority is indigenous. Figures of trust among the victims, they can be relied upon to persuade the victims not to resist, to compound the fear of disobedience the victims already feel.

[HORRIFICATION ALERT and YOUR COUNTRY DID THIS:] During its war against leftist guerillas in the late ’70s and early ’80s, the Salvadoran army worked closely with such indigenous leaders. In 1982, a battalion officer informed Marcos Díaz, owner of the general store in the hamlet of El Mozote, with friends in the military, that the army was planning a major offensive in the region. To ensure their safety, the officer explained, the townspeople should remain in the village. Though many in El Mozote thought such advice unsound, Díaz was the local potentate who knew the army’s ways. His voice held sway, the villagers did as they were told, and three days later, some eight hundred of them were dead. (8 [Carter & Reagan if you must know. For me, Carter is the last to fall...])

Because their functions are so various, collaborators come in all shapes and sizes. Some travel in or near the orbit of elite power; others are drawn from the lower orders and geographic peripheries.

One common, though unappreciated, influence upon their actions is their ambition. While some collaborators hope to stave off threats to their communities and others are true believers (9),

many are careerists, who see in collaboration a path of personal advance. In Brazil, for example, torture was a stepping stone, turning one man into the ambassador to Paraguay and another into a general, while doctors advising the torturers in Uruguay could draw salaries four times as high as those of doctors who did not. (10)

Whether the payment is status, power, or money, collaboration promises to elevate men and women, if only slightly, above the fray. Nazi Germany’s Reserve Police Battalion 101, for example, was a unit of five hundred “ordinary men,” drawn from the lower middle and working classes of Hamburg, who joined the battalion because it got them out of military service on the front. All told, they were responsible for executing 38,000 Polish Jews and deporting some 45,000 others to Treblinka.

Why did they do it?

Not because of any fear of punishment. No one in the 101 faced penalties—certainly not death—for not carrying out their mission. The unit’s commander even informed his men that they could opt out of the killing, which 10 to 15 of them did. Why did the remaining 490 or so stay?

According to Christopher Browning, there were different reasons, including anti-Semitism and peer pressure,

but a critical one was their desire for advance.

Of those who refused to kill Jews, in fact, the most forthright emphasized their lack of career ambitions. One explained that “it was not particularly important to me to be promoted or otherwise to advance. . . . The company chiefs . . . on the other hand were young men and career policemen who wanted to become something.” Another said, “Because I was not a career policeman and also did not want to become one . . . it was of no consequence that my police career would not prosper.” (11)

Though ambitious collaborators like to believe that they are adepts of realpolitik, walking the hard path of power because it is the wisest course to take,

their realism is freighted with ideology. Careerism has its own moralism, serving as an anesthetic against competing moral claims. Particularly in the United States, where ambition is a civic duty and worldly success a prerequisite of citizenship, enlightened anglers of their own interest can easily be convinced that they are doing not only the smart thing, but also the right thing. They happily admit to their careerism because they presume an audience of shared moral sympathy.

How else can we understand this comment of director Elia Kazan in response to a colleague’s request that he justify his decision to name names?

“All right, I earned over $400,000 last year from theater. But Skouras [the head of Twentieth-Century Fox] says I’ll never make another movie. You’ve spent your money, haven’t you? It’s easy for you. But I’ve got a stake.” (12)

elia kazan
He informed. And received an academy Award for “Lifetime Contribution”…

George Monbiot: Falling Apart / This Age of Loneliness — [TURN OFF THE TV!] UK Guardian

monbiot laughing

EXCERPT:”For this we have ripped the natural world apart, degraded our conditions of life, surrendered our freedoms and prospects of contentment to a compulsive, atomising, joyless hedonism, in which, having consumed all else, we start to prey upon ourselves. For this we have destroyed the essence of humanity: our connectedness.”

Competition and individualism are forcing us into a devastating Age of Loneliness

What do we call this time?

It’s not the information age: the collapse of popular education movements left a void now filled by marketing and conspiracy theories(1).

Like the stone age, iron age and space age, the digital age says plenty about our artefacts but little about society. The anthropocene, in which humans exert a major impact on the biosphere, fails to distinguish this century from the previous twenty. What clear social change marks out our time from those that precede it?

To me it’s obvious. This is the Age of Loneliness.

When Thomas Hobbes claimed that in the state of nature, before authority arose to keep us in check, we were engaged in a war “of every man against every man”(2),

he could not have been more wrong. We were social creatures from the start, mammalian bees, who depended entirely on each other.

The hominims of East Africa could not have survived one night alone. We are shaped, to a greater extent than almost any other species, by contact with others. The age we are entering, in which we exist apart, is unlike any that has gone before.

Three months ago we read that loneliness has become an epidemic among young adults(3). Now we learn that it is just as great an affliction of older people. A study by Independent Age shows that severe loneliness in England blights the lives of 700,000 men and 1.1m women over 50(4), and is rising with astonishing speed.

Ebola is unlikely ever to kill as many people as this disease strikes down.

Social isolation is as potent a cause of early death as smoking 15 cigarettes a day(5); loneliness, research suggests, is twice as deadly as obesity(6). Dementia, high blood pressure, alcoholism and accidents – all these, like depression, paranoia, anxiety and suicide, become more prevalent when connections are cut(7,8).

We cannot cope alone.

Yes, factories have closed, people travel by car instead of buses, use YouTube rather than the cinema. But these shifts alone fail to explain the speed of our social collapse. These structural changes have been accompanied by

a life-denying ideology, which enforces and celebrates our social isolation.

The war of every man against every man – competition and individualism in other words – is the religion of our time, justified by a mythology of lone rangers, sole traders, self-starters, self-made men and women, going it alone.

For the most social of creatures, who cannot prosper without love, there is now no such thing as society, only heroic individualism. What counts is to win. The rest is collateral damage.

British children no longer aspire to be train drivers or nurses, more than a fifth now say they “just want to be rich”: wealth and fame are the sole ambitions of 40% of those surveyed(9). A government study in June revealed that Britain is the loneliness capital of Europe(10). We are less likely than other Europeans to have close friends or to know our neighbours.

Who can be surprised, when everywhere we are urged to fight like stray dogs over a dustbin?

We have changed our language to reflect this shift. Our most cutting insult is loser. We no longer talk about people. Now we call them individuals.

So pervasive has this alienating, atomising term become that even the charities fighting loneliness use it to describe the bipedal entities formerly known as human beings(11).

We can scarcely complete a sentence without getting personal. Personally speaking (to distinguish myself from a ventriloquist’s dummy), I prefer personal friends to the impersonal variety and personal belongings to the kind that don’t belong to me. Though that’s just my personal preference, otherwise known as my preference.

One of the tragic outcomes of loneliness is that

people turn to their televisions for consolation: two-fifths of older people now report that the one-eyed god is their principal company(12).

This self-medication enhances the disease. Research by economists at the University of Milan suggests that television helps to drive competitive aspiration(13). It strongly reinforces the income-happiness paradox: the fact that, as national incomes rise, happiness does not rise with them.

Aspiration, which increases with income, ensures that the point of arrival, of sustained satisfaction,

retreats before us.

The researchers found that

those who watch a lot of television derive less satisfaction from a given level of income than those who watch only a little.

Television speeds up the hedonic treadmill, forcing us to strive even harder to sustain the same level of satisfaction. You have only to think of the wall-to-wall auctions on daytime TV, Dragon’s Den, the Apprentice and the myriad forms of career-making competition the medium celebrates, the generalised obsession with fame and wealth, the pervasive sense, in watching it, that life is somewhere other than where you are, to see why this might be.

So what’s the point? What do we gain from this war of all against all?

Competition drives growth, but growth no longer makes us wealthier. Figures published this week show that while the income of company directors has risen by more than a fifth, wages for the workforce as a whole have fallen in real terms over the past year (14).

The bosses now earn – sorry, I mean take – 120 times more than the average full-time worker. (In 2000, it was 47 times).

And even if competition did make us richer, it would make us no happier, as the satisfaction derived from a rise in income would be undermined by the aspirational impacts of competition.

The top 1% now own 48% of global wealth(15), but even they aren’t happy. A survey by Boston College of people with an average net worth of $78m found that they too are assailed by anxiety, dissatisfaction and loneliness(16).

Many of them reported feeling financially insecure: to reach safe ground, they believed, they would need, on average, about 25% more money. (And if they got it? They’d doubtless need another 25%). One respondent said he wouldn’t get there until he had $1 billion in the bank.

For this we have ripped the natural world apart, degraded our conditions of life, surrendered our freedoms and prospects of contentment to a compulsive, atomising, joyless hedonism, in which, having consumed all else, we start to prey upon ourselves. For this we have destroyed the essence of humanity: our connectedness.

Yes, there are palliatives, clever and delightful schemes like Men in Sheds and Walking Football developed by charities for isolated older people(17).

>But if we are to break this cycle and come together once more, we must confront the world-eating, flesh-eating system into which we have been forced.

Hobbes’s pre-social condition was a myth.

But we are now entering a post-social condition our ancestors would have believed impossible. Our lives are becoming nasty, brutish and long.

www.monbiot.com

Americans need to understand that their government is not merely incompetent and immoral, but that it is evil” — CounterPunch

Putin Reminds Obama That Sowing Discord Between Nuclear Powers Can Undermine Strategic Security but Will Washington Listen?

EXCERPT: THE AUTHOR, PAUL CRAIG ROBERTS, A FORMER US ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF THE TREASURY AND FORMER ASSOCIATE EDITOR OF THE WALL STREET JOURNAL ***NOT PUTIN*** STATES IN THIS ARICLE THAT

“Americans need to understand that their government is not merely incompetent and immoral, but that it is evil. Washington hides behind moral language but is itself devoid of moral conscience. There is no evil of which Washington is incapable. Those who support Washington support evil.”

by PAUL CRAIG ROBERTS

In an interview today with Politika, a Serbian newspaper, Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, said that it is futile and dangerous for the US and its European puppets to blackmail Russia and that the Exceptional Nation and its vassals should consider the risks that are inherent in aggressive disputes between countries heavily armed with nuclear weapons.

Putin noted that Obama took a hostile attitude toward Russia in Obama’s UN speech to the General Assembly on September 24 when Obama declared Russia to be one of the three threats to the world along with the Islamic State and ebola [IS THIS THE NEW "AXIS OF EVIL CRAP?"]. President Putin said that unilateral and punitive actions taken against Russia can provoke a crisis, and that if Washington’s purpose is to ”isolate our country, it is an absurd and illusory goal.”

Here are some of President Putin’s direct quotes:

“How can we talk about de-escalation in Ukraine while the decisions on new sanctions are introduced almost simultaneously with the agreements on the peace process?”

“Together with the sanctions against entire sectors of our economy, this approach can be called nothing but hostile.”

“We hope that our partners will realize the futility of attempts to blackmail Russia and remember what consequences discord between major nuclear powers could bring for strategic stability.”

If we don’t all die from nuclear blasts, radiation, and nuclear winter, it will be because of the humanity and common sense–both of which are missing in Washington–of the President of Russia.


Look around you. The economies and stock markets of Western civilization are in retreat. Stupid and incompetent public authorities have brought ebola into America. And what is Washington doing? The energies of the Exceptional Government are focused on combating the Islamic State, a creature created by Washington itself, and on demonizing Russia.

Has any country, anywhere on the fact of the Earth, at any period of history been so totally misruled as the United States?

Americans need to understand that their government is not merely incompetent and immoral,

but that it is evil.

Washington hides behind moral language but is itself devoid of moral conscience. There is no evil of which Washington is incapable. Those who support Washington support evil.

Paul Craig Roberts is a former Assistant Secretary of the US Treasury and Associate Editor of the Wall Street Journal.

Roberts’ How the Economy Was Lost is now available from CounterPunch in electronic format. His latest book is How America Was Lost.

american flag bombs

bleeding american flag shelby wilson

Andy Russell: The Tao of the Apocalypse — Resilience/AutonomyAcres

this is our future
This is our future, and we can choose which one becomes reality

A few nights ago I had a dream that would fall under the category of post apocalyptic. It took place in the present day, at my house, on what appeared to be a bright sunny summer day. My son and I were out back by the garage getting trailers hooked up to our bikes, collecting baseball bats and machetes, cans of food, and other supplies that have now left my memory. What the cause of our hasty retreat was I also can’t recall, but I knew we had to get going fast.

Throughout the dream I was also worried as to where my wife and daughter were. Maybe we were off to meet them, or worse yet to rescue them from some unseen and unknown antagonist. Either way, I missed the rest of my family very much, and I knew it was my job to keep my son safe.

Before awakening, the last thing I remember doing in the dream was getting the two dogs into the trailers, tying down the rest of our supplies, and then having to say goodbye to our two cats Charlie and Brown. It broke my heart to have to leave these two little guys behind. But even in the dreamtime, I realized that they would be fine without us and could fend for themselves living the rest of their days happily eating songbirds and mice.

I love dreams, but I usually cannot recall them as well as I can this one. And most of the time they are not nearly as involved or as intense. I have plenty of anxiety work dreams, and random fantastical ones with a rotating cast of familiar characters, but rarely do I have a dream that is so realistic and that is set in a familiar, yet somehow mystical and alternative apocalyptic world.

I couldn’t help but tell my son about this dream, and from that a great conversation was sparked. He was curious as to what a post apocalyptic world meant. Having just recently watched Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome for the first time with him, I told him to think back to that movie, but try to imagine it not quite so barren or destroyed. I think he understood what I was getting at and then proceeded to say something along the lines of

“like what happens to you after war comes to your country”.

I was amazed by the depth of his understanding and realized he had a good grasp of the idea. I responded with a “yeah, something like that…”

It was then that he asked me what else we would take with us. He automatically assumed I would take my Chromebook with us. And in hindsight I probably would take it if I knew it could be recharged and could access the internet! But I said “no, we wouldn’t take the Chromebook because what good would it do us if there were no power.” We could agree on this.

The conversation stayed on books. I took a quick look at our bookshelf, and pulled down an old, tattered copy of the Tao Te Ching that I have had for well over 20 years. I showed it to him, and he wondered why I would take a book like that, and not one of our foraging field guides or a wilderness survival book. The question was a good one, and now I had something else to explain to an inquisitive 8 year old.

While I am not an overly mystical person, the Tao has been one of those books that I found fairly early on in my journey. It has always been there for me, ready to be picked up, dusted off, and reread over and over again throughout the years.

The 81 passages contained within the Tao Te Ching are a manual of sorts that has helped me to walk lightly upon this Good Earth.

It is not a book filled with answers, or a God, or a map to a final destination. But more of a signpost. A compass. A star chart to the infinite. The book of the way.

So that is why I would grab that book if I found myself living in my recent dream. To help keep me centered and focused, but also fluid like water. But my son had a good point. If we were fleeing, not knowing when we would find safety, I would also pack my favorite field guides and survival manuals. I can identify many plants and fungi, but I don’t know a whole lot when it comes to cleaning an animal or making a splint for a broken leg.

In reality though, I try very hard to keep the post apocalyptic narrative from playing too big of a role in my day to day life. If I let it dominate my thoughts, it is hard to be productive or a positive role model. While it is a possible outcome for our world, especially if we stay our present course, I find it more helpful to focus on the present and how we can create a more fulfilling future for ourselves.

So even though post apocalyptic stories are my favorite ones to read and watch, it is the story of the Tao and a life lived in accordance with nature that I want to play a role in. When we take the time to observe our surroundings, draw our conclusions based on evidence, and implement solutions that are balanced and inspired by nature, that is when we can move forward and create a truly wonderful, and self sustaining world.

#80

If a country is governed wisely,

its inhabitants will be content.

They enjoy the labor of their hands

and don’t waste time inventing labor saving machines.

Since they dearly love their homes,

they aren’t interested in travel.

There may be a few wagons and boats,

but these don’t go anywhere.

There may be an arsenal of weapons,

but nobody ever uses them.

People enjoy their food,

take pleasure in being with their families,

spend weekends working in their gardens,

delight in the doings of the neighborhood.

And even though the next country is so close

that people can hear its roosters crowing and its dogs barking,

they are content to die of old age

without ever having gone to see it.

The above translation really resonates with me. For those who would like to see a more “KJV” version of Tao Te Ching Chapter 80, here it is from Taoism.net credit: Tao Te Ching: Annotated & Explained, published by SkyLight Paths in 2006.

Small country, few people
Let them have many weapons but not use them
Let the people regard death seriously
And not migrate far away

Although they have boats and chariots
They have no need to take them
Although they have armors and weapons
They have no need to display them

Let the people return to tying knots and using them
Savor their food, admire their clothes
Content in their homes, happy in their customs

Neighboring countries see one another
Hear the sounds of roosters and dogs from one another
The people, until they grow old and die
Do not go back and forth with one another

Tao

Bulletin. B.C. as in ‘Before Columbus': How Africans Brought Civilization to America — CounterPunch

south america africa Earth from space


[
[Hell, I had HEARD of the Olmecs but no details from the white "histories" which somehow failed to provide all the anal-retentive meticulous attention to minute atomic detail that whites always apply to their own racial civilizations. Imaginr that.

ALso knew, of course, about "continental drift" and the snug fit of Africa and SOuth America and had thought myself that this showed a marvelously short navigstion route between east and West lol. I never saw all these connections so well explained before -- "connecting the dots" so to speak.]

EXCERPT: “The Olmec civilization, which was of African origin and dominated by Africans, was the first significant civilization in Mesoamerica and the Mother Culture of Mexico.”

by GARIKAI CHENGU

On Monday, America’s government offices, businesses, and banks all grind to a halt in order to commemorate Columbus Day. In schools up and down the country, little children are taught that a heroic Italian explorer discovered America, and various events and parades are held to celebrate the occasion.

It has now become common knowledge amongst academics that Christopher Columbus clearly did not discover America, not least because is it impossible to discover a people and a continent that was already there and thriving with culture. One can only wonder how Columbus could have discovered America when people were watching him from America’s shores?

Contrary to popular belief, African American history did not start with slavery in the New World. An overwhelming body of new evidence is emerging which proves that Africans had frequently sailed across the Atlantic to the Americas, thousands of years before Columbus and indeed before Christ. The great ancient civilizations of Egypt and West Africa traveled to the Americas, contributing immensely to early American civilization by importing the art of pyramid building, political systems and religious practices as well as mathematics, writing and a sophisticated calendar.

The strongest evidence of African presence in America before Columbus comes from the pen of Columbus himself. In 1920, a renowned American historian and linguist, Leo Weiner of Harvard University, in his book, Africa and the Discovery of America, explained how Columbus noted in his journal that Native Americans had confirmed that “black skinned people had come from the south-east in boats, trading in gold-tipped spears.”

One of the first documented instances of Africans sailing and settling in the Americas were black Egyptians led by King Ramses III, during the 19th dynasty in 1292 BC. In fact, in 445 BC, the Greek historian Herodotus wrote of the Ancient Egyptian pharaohs’ great seafaring and navigational skills. Further concrete evidence, noted by Dr. Imhotep and largely ignored by Euro-centric archaeologists, includes “Egyptian artifacts found across North America from the Algonquin writings on the East Coast to the artifacts and Egyptian place names in the Grand Canyon.”

In 1311 AD, another major wave of African exploration to the New World was led by King Abubakari II, the ruler of the fourteenth century Mali Empire, which was larger than the Holy Roman Empire. The king sent out 200 ships of men, and 200 ships of trade material, crops, animals, cloth and crucially African knowledge of astronomy, religion and the arts.

African explorers crossing the vast Atlantic waters in primitive boats may seem unlikely, or perhaps, far fetched to some. Such incredible nautical achievements are not as daunting as they seem, given that numerous successful modern attempts have illustrated that without an oar, rudder or sail ancient African boats, including the “dug-out,” would certainly have been able to cross the vast ocean in a matter of weeks. [Americans who go to Hawaii and pay attention to the tourism docents also learn that the islands were populated by humans from Tahiti which is a hell of a long navigation in outerigger canoes.]

As time allows us to drift further and further away from the “European age of exploration” and we move beyond an age of racial intellectual prejudice, historians are beginning to recognize that Africans were skilled navigators long before Europeans, contrary to popular belief.

Of course, some [RACIST] Western historians continue to refute this fact because, consciously or unconsciously, they are still hanging on to the 19th-century notion that seafaring was a European monopoly.

After all, history will tell you that seafaring is the quintessential European achievement, the single endeavor of which Europeans are awfully proud. Seafaring allowed Europe to conquer the world. The notion that black Africans braved the roaring waters of the Atlantic Ocean and beat Europeans to the New World threatens a historically white sense of ownership over the seas. [Of course the ancient Phoenicians -- who lived where what we call "Palestine" now -- were also great seafarers.]

When most people think about ancient Mexico, the first civilizations that come to mind are the Incas, Aztecs and the Maya. However, during the early 1940?s archeologists uncovered a civilization known as the Olmecs of 1200 BC, which pre-dated any other advanced civilization in the Americas.

The Olmec civilization, which was of African origin and dominated by Africans, was the first significant civilization in Mesoamerica and the Mother Culture of Mexico.

Olmecs are perhaps best known for the carved colossal heads found in Central Mexico, that exhibit an unmistakably African Negroid appearance.

olmec collossal heads negroid

olmec 20041229-Olmec_Head_(Museo_Nacional_de_Antropología)

Ancient African historian Professor Van Sertima has illustrated how Olmecs were the first Mesoamerican civilization to use a written language, sophisticated astronomy, arts and mathematics and they built the first cities in Mexico, all of which greatly influenced the Mayans and subsequent civilizations in the Americas. “There is not the slightest doubt that all later civilizations in [Mexico and Central America], rest ultimately on an Olmec base,” once remarked Michael Coe, a leading historian on Mexico.

Africans clearly played an intricate role in the Olmec Empire’s rise and that African influence peaked during the same period that ancient Black Egyptian culture ascended in Africa.

A clear indicator of pre-Columbus African trans-Atlantic travel is the recent archeological findings of narcotics native to America in Ancient Egyptian mummies, which have astounded contemporary historians. German toxicologist, Svetla Balabanova, reported findings of cocaine and nicotine in ancient Egyptian mummies. These substances are known to only be derived from American plants. South American cocaine from Erythroxylon coca and nicotine from Nicotiana tabacum. Such compounds could only have been introduced to Ancient Egyptian culture through trade with Americans.

Similarities across early American and African religions also indicate significant cross-cultural contact. The Mayans, Aztecs and Incas all worshipped black gods and the surviving portraits of the black deities are revealing.

For instance, ancient portraits of the Quetzalcoatl, a messiah serpent god, and Ek-ahua, the god of war, are unquestionably Negro with dark skin and wooly hair. Why would native Americans venerate images so unmistakably African if they had never seen them before?

Numerous wall paintings in caves in Juxtlahuaca depict the famous ancient Egyptian “opening of the mouth” and cross libation rituals. All these religious similarities are too large and occur far too often to be mere coincidences.

Professor Everett Borders notes another very important indication of African presence, which is the nature of early American pyramids. Pyramid construction is highly specialized. Ancient Egypt progressed from the original stepped pyramid of Djosser, to the more sophisticated finished product at Giza. However, at La Venta in Mexico, the Olmecs made a fully finished pyramid, with no signs of progressive learning. Olmecian and Egyptian pyramids were both placed on the same north-south axis and had strikingly similar construction methods. Tellingly, all of these pyramids also served the same dual purpose, tomb and temple.

Ancient trans-Atlantic similarities in botany, religion and pyramid building constitute but a fraction of the signs of African influence in ancient America. Other indicators include, astronomy, art, writing systems, flora and fauna.

Historically, the African people have been exceptional explorers and purveyors of culture across the world.

Throughout all of these travels, African explorers have not had a history of starting devastating wars on the people they met. The greatest threat towards Africa having a glorious future is her people’s ignorance of Africa’s glorious past.

Pre-Columbus civilization in the Americas had its foundation built by Africans and developed by the ingenuity of Native Americans. Sadly, America, in post-Columbus times, was founded on the genocide of the indigenous Americans, built on the backs of African slaves and continues to run on the exploitation of workers at home and abroad.

Clearly, Africans helped “civilize” America well before Europeans “discovered” America, and well before Europeans claim to have civilized Africa. The growing body of evidence is now becoming simply too loud to ignore. It’s about time education policy makers reexamine their school curriculums to adjust for America’s long pre-Columbus history.

Garikai Chengu is a scholar at Harvard University. Contact him on garikai.chengu@gmail.com