Wednesday, January 31, 2007

How Marxism Leninism Drives People Away from Socialism

One of the major events of this holiday season for the US left was Freedom Road Socialist Organization member, Stan Goff's public rejection of Marxism-Leninism.
For those who aren't familiar with the US revolutionary left, Freedom Road is a Maoist organization bringing together a number of smaller Maoist groups. My own experience of FRSO was that they combined a bizarre loyalty to Stalin and the Cultural Revolution, solidarity with groups such as the "Shining Path" of Peru, and attempts to build coalitions with liberals within the Democratic party. Thus, they emulated the most pragmatic elements of Stalinism in their own practice, while simultaneously maintaining unquestioning support for far-flung groups of Maoist third-world guerillas (and recently in posts here, for the Baathist elements of the Iraqi resistance) in seeming total disregard for their liberal political associates, not to mention notions of universal human rights and democracy. This made for sometimes shocking experiences for those people who had been members of "coalitions" organized or led by FRSO. Some members of the group I was once a member of, Love and Rage Revolutionary Anarchist Federation, proclaimed their own disillusioning experiences with the FRSO front group, The Progressive Student Network, as their primary reason for rejecting the Marxist left and embracing Anarchism.
By the end of the 1990s, FRSO had split into two groups, one adhering more to the social-democratic practical politics called "refoundation", and the other focusing more on traditional M-L principles of revolutionary cadre organization and retaining solidarity with patently undemocratic movements and regimes. Goff was on the side of the refoundationists. Thus, his break from the movement has led to two responses among its members, summed up by a poster to the Maoist website redflags as:
from the refoundationists: "what connection?" [between Goff's rejection of Marxism and refoundation] and (from the cadres): "told you so, you Refoundation suckers. Now let us praise Kim Jong Il who descended from heaven (okay well, he didn't, but let's just pretend)."

Before discussing responses, it makes sense to quote Goff himself.
In his blog post Doctrine, Goff, a long-time anti-war activist & Maoist, announces that he has
concluded that neither Marxist-Leninist nor “Trotskyist” nor Maoist, nor Guevarist, etc etc etc, organizations are suitable to the task [of building a successful revolutionary movement] no matter the quality of the individuals who populate them. The history of these organizations has been, for more than six decades minimum, a string of failures, punctuated by periodic successes only in mass work that was self-organizing outside Marxism to some extent anyway. I have come to believe this is a failure of the structure and of the over-reaching scope of these organizations.

Marx himself began his career preoccupied not with questions of economics, but of human happiness. What he observed was oppression of one by another, and the sense of personal fragmentation — of alienation — that permeated modern society; and he determined that these two things were related.

Since then, the accumulation of historical experience has provided us with both confirmations and rebuttals of the “lessons” of Marx and Engels. A series of thinkers and leaders after them, in the same tradition, elaborated on that connection between social power and personal alienation.

Unfortunately, the struggle to give these intellectual and practical breakthroughs organizational assertion has been one of hostile encircelment — literal and figurative — which gave rise to a bunker mentality.

This bunker mentality led to the transformation of Marx’s analyticial toolbox into a quasi-religious organizing doctrine, and one that was fought out almost like an epoch religious struggle in painful cycles of orthodoxy and reformation, then reformation itself morphing into orthodoxy.

Marxism-Leninism is a term coined by Stalin to establish an imaginary line of predestination (Stalin had his opposition shot as a demonstration of his own ardency on the issue.) from Marx-the-Godhead to himself as a way of mapping his encircled-and-militarized state leadership onto the collective consciousness of Eurasian mass still steeped in the episteme of hierarchical and patriarchal religion, complete with its struggle-to-salvation teleology.

It was this disciplinary regime that inherited and ossified in its own image the notion of a Leninist Party as the last word in political organization, and “democratic centralism” as its organizing principle. It remains to this day the axiomatic faith of Marxism-Leninism and all the other variants.

From the very beginning, however, this principle that worked during the contingencies of the Russian and Chinese Revolutions — both still majority peasant societies (look at Nepal and Haiti today) — was never an organic match to the social conditions nor the prevailing consciousness in the United States. For this reason, I believe, the mismatch between the idea-driven M-L organizations and the lived experience of US society at large has consistently been a history of leadership sects without a solid, organic popular base, especially since the World War II.

** He goes on to say many other things, including these biggies.
Goff argues that the problem is with Marxism itself. He argues three significant big points: 1) Marxism is hopelessly bound up in a man-nature dualism and imagines an "industrial utopia" which current environmentalists tell us won't work. 2) Because of the first problem, Marxism doesn't address patriarchy, which Goff now sees as more fundamental than capitalism as a cause of the problems in the world, and 3) The industrial working-class is not the engine of the revolution because it is dependent on the very industries that are destroying the earth AND this class is privileged to the point that they share more interests with the ruling class than with oppressed racial minorities and third world people. Look at history, he says, and wake up socialists, the working-class is not he engine of socialist revolution.

As I see it, many of the points Goff makes, though couched in anti-ML language, come directly from existing Maoism, and reflect the Maoist-Soviet split of the 1960s about the respective roles of the industrial working-class and the peasantry, about the relative importance of national indepedence struggles against imperialism vs. the industrial working class struggle w/the international bourgeoisie. Other elements of his argument, particularly the emphasis on issues of ecology and anti-authoritarian radical feminism, are more closely connected to the anarchist tradition.
I don't agree with everything Goff says, and I agree with the critics that Goff is on solid ground when criticizing Marxism-Leninism, but not when talking about Marxism in general.
Despite this, when I see people trotting out the usual defenses of Marx with quotations from the original texts, they just seem to verify Goff's criticisms of the hidebound and quasi-religious nature of Marxism. In the article linked above, Louis Proyect argues that Goff isn't a good reader of Marx, because he ignores Marx's writings on technology and the environment. True, and it's fair to say that if Goff is going to criticize Marx and Marxism as the root of the problem, he ought to know what Marx actually wrote.
On the other hand, I don't think that reading Marx is the answer to our current environmental crisis, and I think Goff is right to say that Marxism doesn't have all the answers on this issue. Contemporary environmentalists have much to tell us - even if what they say contradicts Marx. Call me an apostate, but I, perhaps with Goff, think current environmental science is more relevant than what the Old Man wrote in a book more than 100 years ago. I'm sympathetic to Goff's critique of the Marxist parties' rigid adherence to Marx, because like fundamentalists who insist that the world is only a few thousand years old, doctrinaire Marxists refuse to pay attention to actual world circumstances, but cling instead to a holy book! What makes Marx's writings so useful and still applicable in many cases was the fact that he was himself a man of science, not religion. Doctrinaire Marxism, which insists, despite evidence to the contrary, on the truth of its holy books, is, as an anarchist friend of mine once said, "a fine religion, as religions go."
It is for this reason that I agree with the overall points in Goff's essay, which address the failures of the Marxist left to face realities and be flexible. It's for the same reason that I remain attached to anarchism, despite that movement's flaws, while embracing many of the insights and observations of Marx. Anarchism has more potential than Marxism-Leninism to overcome its flaws and to respond to the context of the times without sacrificing real principles because it's not based on doctrinal loyalty to a set of texts. In order for the radical left to succeed, I think it has to embrace the anarchist tendency (without the entire host of works by problematic anarchist philosophers) to creativly draw from and synthesize different movements and to reject dogma as a general rule. In 'Love and Rage" we called this "revolutionary pluralism."
Where Goff goes astray, in my view, relates to the major flaws in anarchism as well as to some of the more pragmatic elements of Stalinist practice. The major flaw of anarchism is its historic resistance to the materialism at the center of Marx's overall philosophy: the idea that the relations of production shape the entire structure of society. I think this point has been confirmed pretty well by historical evidence. If you see the world this way, there is no culture that operates outside of or independently from the class conflicts that shape it. If you neglect the conflict between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, or dismiss it, as Goff seems to, you wind up talking about "culture" in a "common sense" way, looking at the surface of the society, examining its appearance without knowing its roots.
Goff argues that "patriarchy" is a more fundamental problem in our society than capitalism. It is certainly true that patriarchy is older than capitalism, but I don't know that toppling it would end capitalism, stop war, or save the environment. There has yet to be a feminist analysis that is capable of seriously explaining or collectively responding to imperialism, war, or class inequality. The idea that we are currently at war in Iraq primarily because of "the rule of the father" remains unconvincing to me. Certainly, ideals of masculinity can support a war, and can aid it, but to say that male authority is the root of all war relies too much on naturalized categories of gender that I reject.
Another of Goff's major critiques of Marxism is that it is "alien" to the culture of the United States; this is where I think he borrows a bit from Stalinist pragmatism. On the question of indiginaety, Anarchism seems to have the advantage. Its roots in the varied reform movements of anti-slavery Quakerism, utopian socialism and women's rights struggles, gives it a firm foundation in American "soil." However, these movements, like the current feminist politics than Goff embraces, are also rooted in a society divided by class - and by the institution of slavery. Their advantage is that they address the role of slavery in the American economy in a more central way than Marxists of their time did, but some of the most energetic and radical ante-bellum reformers grew interested in socialism and labor activism in the post-Civil War years. John Swinton, Albert and Lucy Parsons and others chose Marx's theory because of its superior explanatory power on so many fronts.
There's another problem with the notion of Marxism as an "alien" philosophy in the US. The notion of a "native American culture" itself is based on a historical fallacy. The "culture" of America, like that of other countries, is a product of changing historical circumstances. The American working-class was and continues to be imported. The people who brought Marxism to the US were European workers such as Louis Lingg of Chicago via Germany. They chose Marxism because his theories fit their own experiences - in both America and in Germany. Marxism's continuing relevance for people all over the world, who have joined Marxist parties, suggests that Marx's analysis of capitalism, and the contradiction between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat will continue to exist internationally. Marxism has only incresed in relevance since the fall of the Soviet Union, as I see it.
Finally, Goff's intense pessimism about the revolutionary potential of the industrial working-class, where he enters an ideological battle that currently divides a good deal of the left, centers around the role of race and empire.
Goff at this point, quotes Joaquin Bustelo's rhetorical question:

I can’t imagine how it is possible to deny that there is not now nor has there been for a very long time a working class movement worthy of the name in the United States (a “class-for-itself” movement). Does anyone disagree? Does someone want to correct me on the half-century long decline in union membership, the decline in the number of strike-days, etc.? Does someone want to let me know about the thousands of Anglo workers who organized their workplaces to walk out last May Day in solidarity with Latino and immigrant protests?

Bustelo, who's a member of "Solidarity" a "non-sectarian" Trotskyist group, doesn't therefore wash his hands of the working class, but argues, much like new abolitionists, such as Noel Ignatiev and David Roediger, that whiteness must be destroyed before there can be a genuine working-class movement in the United States. FRSO, Goff's organization, has tended to be much more active and serious in dealing with race than the Trotskyists have on the whole, but even they, Goff implies, still fetishize the existing labor movement as if it were an expression of the "working-class."
On this point, I am in total agreement with Bustelo and Goff, and I think that the fetishization of the white/advanced European industrial working-class that you see in most Trotskyist formations is one of the biggest obstacles to working-class unity that exists today.


Lee Schere said...

hey there, can't believe no comments yet! you're so right that many of goff's critiques of marx sound so similar to those coming out of the anarchist world we were a part of. I especially appreciated the bookchin link, since much of the lefty, youthy, greeny wing I and other AWOL folks came out of were focused precisely on an ecological (hail to Ernst Bloch!) and feminist critique of Marxism. I confess to not having read the entire goff piece, so not sure what he proposes as an organizing approach if any.
Right now I find many revolutionary lefties younger than me looking for something more strategic to form themselves into. The various M and ML entities, including FRSO's remnants seem to appeal to their desire to build a revolutionary movement, despite real misgivings. One more little point. Despite agreeing with much of what LnR defined as revolutionary anarchism, I don't ID as an anarchist anymore. Libertarian socialist maybe, though I hate that term libertarian. just socialist I guess. Anarchist baggage (as opposed to anarchy boots) is too heavy to bear imho. Thanks for this! LS

Anonymous said...

You read Goff much more closely than did I, Rebecca. I can't say that I disagree with a word of your critique. When I did read Goff, I so sympathized with the anti-ML tone I was willing to write off his over-reaching conclusions as reactive and understandable. Indeed, Marxist-Lenisism is one of the Marxist left's biggest demons. Coming up from ML-left can give one a bad case of the bends. Maybe Goff will even out after he gets over his.


reb said...

Thanks so much for your comments, guys. Lee, I know what you mean about the anarchist baggage. I vacillate between calling myself a "libertarian socialist" and a "communist anarchist" or "socialist anarchist." But in thinking about Goff and some Marxist-Leninists I know, I thought the Anarchist trad. is just more adaptable to history - even though I was never completely persuaded by anarchism in the first place, not in the way that I was persuaded by Marx, at least.

the burningman said...

I'd say you hit the nail on the head with the melding of Stalinist popular frontism with "far flung" solidarity of the FRSOs.

In other words, if you work in a group where Marxism really is a doctrine, mostly used as a cohesive vocabulary rather than operating methodology, then of course you'd feel the need to dispense with it just like Stan.

The title of Stan's repositioning is "Doctrine" not "Science".

Marxism-Leninism is Marxism. There is no living Marxism outside of Leninism. It's a mirage that might help you get tenure, or as one "analytical tool" among many, a narrative or discourse – but this would of course miss what it is.

And in terms of "scaring people off" and being a "demon" – I'll have to take your word for it.

I was just down in DC at the UFPJ antiwar march, and most of the organized contingents I ran into claimed allegience to one or another form of ML politics – including from the stage, including the literature distributed, including the heart and spine of the movement.

So, no doubt is scares some people – just not generally the folks organizing and fighting for a revolutionary transformation. It's not for everybody, lol.

I'll settle for scaring off the liberals so long as we gather the folks willing to fight, ready to work and concerned with the world beyond their personal "what's in it for me".

To paraphrase Derrida, Marxism (Leninism) is a spectre of what's to come, not a ghost of what could have been. Despite the perenial "burying" of communism... it just keeps rising.


To call the responses on redFlags "typical" – well, I'd love to find a world where that kind of discussion is old-hat, but it's sure not this one!

ps – the verification password thing here is a pain in the butt, it's rejected this comment twice.

reb said...

the fact that some people equate Marxism-Leninism with Marxism is what makes MOST people (wrongly) say that Marxsm is an anti-democratic, irrelevant, & murderous ideology.
Interesting that you and Bill O'Reilly would probably agree that the "heart and spine" of the anti-war movement is Marxist-Leninst, and that you and Ron Tabor agree that there's no Marx without Lenin.
But you don't need to argue with me, because according to your comments here, the revolution should be coming any day, and I'm sure that the anarchists and academics will be up against the wall soon enough.

the burningman said...

I do love when the response to dialogue is the claim of "murderous" intent.

There seems to be precious little "murder" and a lot of struggle to build popular resistance.

Maybe I'm missing something...

The revolution is coming any day? Well, it's certainly here in Nepal, growing in India and spreading through South Asia like wildfire. Communists have even led general strikes recently in Iranian Kurdistan. But hey, what do I know? I'm just running scrimmage for the murder.

Chevez seems to have a different understanding of what Marxism-Leninism has to offer... and regarding the movements here: It's not just me and Bill O'Reilly who've noticed the infrastructure of the antiwar movement. Sorry.

Who mans the UFPJ national office? Who initiated ANSWER and Troops Out Now? Who organized the first antiwar march in NYC? And so on.

Doesn't seem too "murderous" to me. It has broken the "United We Stand" nonsense, and that took a fair amount of courage.

It's interesting to go back in history to when Lenin founded the communist movement out of the Social "Democratic" milieu.

The "Democrats" all supported WW1, which was certainly "murderous." It was death on an industrial scale.

Lenin opposed that war, and made good on his promise to pull Russia out. Meanwhile, the elected leader of the United States Wilson campaigned on an antiwar platform and then put the US right into war.

So, to be fair, maybe it's the librals and "democrats" who are anti-democratic and the Bolsheviks who actually led the most successful antiwar movement in human history.

Maybe, just maybe this claim of "murder" leveled at every revolutionary from Che Guevara to Ho Chi Minh, the claim of "terrorism" in the Philippines and South Asia today – maybe that's ideological and is used to put any radical challenge to the existing order off the table.

The ruling classes wave nukes around and the people are forbidden a match.

And maybe it's irresponsible and wrong to repeat those propaganda talking points as if they were true, or insightful.

BTW: When some "really" Marxist movement does something anywhere but get tenure (or serve the capitalist state) I'll take your word that it exists. In the meantime, I've never encountered it as a social force. Ever. Anywhere.

Anarchists up against the wall?

Sure. The fight against war and imperialism is all a ruse so we can dispense with one cranky subculture... Sure.

You know how communists kill anarchists? They recruit them.

In the meantime, my favorite commie Sunsara Taylor is on a national campus and military base speaking tour right now... talking to academics, soldiers and marines about what they can do to defend democratic rights, stop this war and take responsibility.

Those commie rats...

Last note: when Emma Goldman was driven into exile by this "democratic" government, it was the Soviet Union that gave her exile and let her come and go as she pleased. Prince Kropotkin got a state pension, and when he died the prisons were opened so anarchists (who had actively fought the Soviet government) could attend his funeral.

Imagine any "democratic" government on earth that would extend the same courtesy.

So while Truman of the nukes and that captain of white supremacy Winston Churchill made the world safe for glorious democracy, it is of course Stalin who was the bad man.

That's right: the only government in WW2 that didn't run a Jim Crow army is the one that was "bad."

Got to love the post-McCarthy consensus... after all the academics, journalists and labor leaders were driven out of public life: everyone left agreed!

Until the 60s – when all those ugly ML forces from the Panthers to the Young Lords to the Revolutionary Union created a new realm of possibility... while liberal DEMOCRATS like LBJ conducted genocide against.... you guessed it! Murderous Marxist Leninists fighting colonialism in the face of arial bombardment and nukes.


What a fucking word.

reb said...

Oh, yawn. Let me count the number of times I've heard it from a Stalinist or a Maoist:

1. Democracy is ours alone (except for in our prisons, which are the most democratic prisons in the world). Anyone who tells you differently is a lying, capitalist pig. Those people we executed? We HAD to! They were enemies of the revolution! But hey, don't take MY word for it, just read our favorite books on the subject. They are all published by our party's press and I have a tidy stack in my basement.

2. Everyone who isn't in our club is a)a "liberal" b) a McCarthyite c) an irrelevant counter-culturalist bourgeois academic or c) a fascist symp.
d) a combination of all the above.
we'd call 'em gay too, but we finally changed our minds on that one, or at least a little bit.

3. We are leading the most heroic people's struggle of all time! We are leading the way to the revolution! We are already a huge success! Look at the masses in our camp! Look at em! Look at em I tell ya! (what, you don't see them yet? You mean you recognize EVERYONE at the demonstration from the last demonstration you went to? What's WRONG w/your eyes?)

4. If you criticize the USSR when trying to create a future revolutionary movement, just stop. Instead, defend the USSR, deny every criticism, and talk about how bad the US is. Because, obviously, anyone who criticizes the USSR LOVES The US. In other words, if you're not with us, you're with them, the EMPIRE!
(does anyone else find this particular style of "dialogue" all too familiar?)

How can otherwise intelligent people, such as Burningman, whom I'm pretty sure I've met quite a few times (because despite his contention that legions of revolutionaries are marching along, I think I've met a rather large proportion of the existing US Maoists and have even tipped a beer with some of them).
* I'd like to point out also that the word "demon" didn't appear in my original post, but in a comment by someone else, and that I never said that the problem was that M-L "scared" the uninitiated away, but that M-L, particularly of the Maoist variety, is so ultimately indefensible that it DRIVES people - like Stan Goff - the subject of the original post, who is, whatever else you may call him, a VERY committed activist, away from socialism.

reb said...

that was supposed to say "how can otherwise intelligent people" (such as Burningman, whom I know and who knows me) make such absurd arguments?
Oh, and thanks for the great recruiting job on the anarchists (and rival marxist-Leninists) in Spain. That was a HUGE step foward for democracy.

Mitchel Cohen said...

Hi Rebecca,
VERY interesting analysis, of this very important discussion. (and good to see Lee Schere posting here, too!)

I'd like to approach these questions obliquely rather than point by point, by sharing a talk I gave last month at a Marxist workshop at NYU hosted by Professor Bertell Ollman, that I think intersects with the points you are raising. This talk would be focused differently if I was giving it to a "community" group, or even an anarchist group. Here, I am especially concerned with the praxis of M-L organizations AND with shortcomings or undialectical aspects of Marx's thought itself.

Thanx for this great discussion!

Mitchel Cohen
Brooklyn Greens / Green Party, and
Red Balloon Collective

Notes on the Ecological Dimension:
Marxists and the Environment: Is Marx’s Critique of Science and Technology Radical Enough?

By Mitchel Cohen

"O, pardon me, thou bleeding piece of earth,
That I am meek and gentle with these butchers!"

- William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar

For years, as I’ve been active in social justice movements I’ve worked with people who call themselves Marxists. I taught an underground course at Stony Brook for 15 years called “Marxism for Beginners”. And the group that I founded with other students at Stony Brook in the late 1960s, the Red Balloon Collective, saw itself as an anarcho-marxist direct action organization.

And yet, as I became more and more involved in environmental and related issues, I found that the Marxists with whom I marched in antiwar demonstrations and social justice protests were nowhere to be found on certain issues and indeed were hostile to my attempts to raise these issues with them. I also found that as I wrote about these issues for various Marxist journals they would invariably be rejected, even though many of my articles and essays were being published by other publications and books. I had to find out why.
After years of experiencing what I can only call a major blindspot among Marxists, I came to several conclusions, and that’s what this talk will be about.

Let me give some examples of positions taken by many Marxist groups in our recent history, positions that have hurt the Left:

- U.S. communist parties (i.e., Marxist-Leninist parties) endorsed nuclear power plants in the 1960s, and so did not join the anti-nuke movements that came to a head in the late 1970s.

- they also endorsed fluoridation of drinking water, believing the government's assurances and as a result never realizing that fluoridation was actually a means for the burgeoning aluminum industry to get rid of its waste products in the 1940s and 50s by dumping them into the nation's water supply;

- they endorsed mass vaccination of children for diseases that children in societies like ours SHOULD get, we WANT them to get so that they don’t get these diseases as adults where they are far more dangerous -- diseases such as chicken pox, measles, mumps, etc. Of course, this requires that they have access to healthy food, clean water and adequate sanitation; otherwise children in impoverished or colonized countries would be victimized by these diseases. Measles, for instance, is among the top killers of young children in the so-called "Third World";

- the Communist parties also endorsed mass spraying of pesticides and over-application of antibiotics;

- they continue to endorse the torture of animals by cosmetic companies like Gillette under the guise of "scientific research," and refuse to hear, let alone heed, the wide-scale protests of young people involved in animal rights struggles, ruling them out as part of the Left;

- and, they even uphold genetic engineering -- rationalizing it, as they did with the Rockefeller-sponsored Green Revolution, as a technological means for ending world hunger! – yea, right! -- instead of examining the real causes of hunger to begin with.

In the early 1990s I was organizing with ACT-UP in New York City. Despite my pleadings with members of Marxist organizations, very few of them would get involved with this gay-organized but not exclusive organization, perhaps the most dynamic and large group in recent City history.

Which leads directly to the movement for universal health care -- or, should we call it, "Subsidize the Pharmaceutical Industry" cult.

We need to call for free universal health care -- of course! BUT we also need to engage in a continent-wide discussion of what that health care should consist of, instead of the factory model of healthcare that the Left promotes today! Where is that discussion, the understanding that free universal health care is by itself not enough and may even be counterproductive when not combined with those contextual demands, such as access to acupuncture, homeopathy, chiropracty, nutrition, and herbology? How about a movement to de-toxify the environment of the pollutants dumped there by industry which is causing us to be sick to begin with?

Why are there 3 times as many episiotomies performed on women in the U.S. than in Europe, percentage-wise? Is it that women in the U.S. are genetically inferior to those elsewhere in the world, or that they just don't know how to give birth properly? Obviously, that’s not the case; but I’m sure some enterprising corporation will soon try to market genetic implants to “correct” that “defect.” In reality, it's the ridiculous on-your-back feet-in-stirrups position -- the standard operating position in the U.S. hospitals -- that is the cause of the higher percentage here of difficult births. Yet doctors insist on that position because it is more convenient for them and for connecting all the technological gadgetry that now is part and parcel of giving birth in this country.

In Cuba, women squat in a sort-of rocking chair with the bottom removed and rock the baby out, a traditional method that generates a much lower need for C-sections.
Similarly with hysterectomies -- in the U.S. the removal of the uterus is performed at a rate that is at least double that of other industrialized countries. WHY AREN'T THESE AND SIMILAR ISSUES BEING RAISED BY THE LEFT as part of the demands for Universal Health coverage? Why doesn’t the Left address widespread concerns over what that coverage should consist of, instead of leaving that to the so-called capitalist-trained “experts”? Increasingly, the choice is the Capitalist system vs. the Immune system. The left needs to stand on the side of the Immune system -- don’t you agree?

Leftists have long thought that we could just take over Science and Technology as though they were “neutral” and run them communistically for the good of all. But we cannot, anymore than we can take over the State, which itself a form of "technology," as though it were an empty shell, an impartial mechanism. Technology is an ensemble of social relations, and as such every product, and every means for making it (whether it be an assembly line, State, or genetically engineered crop) is a crystallization of the history of the exploitation, organization of production, and destruction of the Commons that went into making it. But, like the state, the factory form has become a model that official Marxism seeks to emulate, take over and administer, not smash. Big mistake! So, stop treating science and technology as the answer to our problems. Let’s try to imagine a different kind of future, one that is not based on factories, assembly lines, industrial farming, and factory-type health care.

In the Communist Manifesto, Marx & Engels explain that the internal dynamic of capitalism propels it to nestle everywhere, batter down all the so-called "Chinese Walls" that try to keep it out -- remember that? That phrase stuck in my mind the very first time I read the Manifesto, and we discussed it in SDS and in the Red Balloon Collective at Stony Brook. What does it mean? It means that capital, in its propulsion to expand, colonizes whole areas of the globe geographically and supplants their prior forms of production with forms more conducive to the extraction of raw materials, exploitation of labor, and the ideological dominance of America, Progress, and the "Good Life".

I've just had the privilege to read and grade dozens of Bertell's students' papers for his class on socialism. These included a section on the Communist Manifesto. After reading them, I feel the need to point out that capital's vast expansion, its mad denuding of forests and its privatization of everything we hold as beautiful, occurs whether individual capitalists like it or not. Except for certain instances, individual capitalists can't do anything about this so long as they wish to remain competitive with other capitalists in that industry. The system takes on a life of its own. The destruction of the natural environment is inevitably as much a part of capitalism as is the tendency for the rich to get richer and the poor to get poorer -- the polarization of wealth. This is all fundamentally a con­sequence of what economists call the "natural motion" of capitalism and not just a result of evil policies.

Let’s think about language for a moment, the way it, too, is being colonized. "Natural" motion of capitalism? Hmmm. And how about that "organic" composition of capital? Must be good for you, it's organic!

More about language: With what perverse irony did some alienated Urban Planner in Queens decide to cross Union Turnpike with Utopia Parkway? And, as long as we're speaking about highways, did you know that the first mention of the automobile was actually in the Bible? Remember, God DROVE Adam and Eve out of the Garden of Eden IN HIS FURY.

Some of the papers I examined were like that, but not as funny. Not all, but some. And I wondered "What is going on in this person's mind that they have no conception that a fundamentally different way of looking at life existed in the past? Some of the students are unable to get out of their own heads, at least to the extent needed to question their own assumptions about the world around them and their own part in it, and they transplant those assumptions -- the things they take for granted without even knowing it -- onto societies in the past. They're unable to appreciate different qualities of life, different ways of eating, making decisions, growing food, having sex, and relating to other people and to their natural environments. To some extent, this is true about many of the Marxists I’ve met; and, my friends from other countries tell me that this is true about me as well! Some of these alternative ways of experiencing the world persist even today, not only ELSEWHERE among, say, the remaining Mayan peoples of Chiapas and indigenous people in the South Pacific, but as residual memories within our OWN minds, our own relationships. They help generate our own hopes for the possibility of another world.

A specter is haunting this planet -- the specter of biological devastation and ecological catastrophe, and it is ravaging the ecosystems sustaining life. Butterflies, frogs, bees, whole familiar species are in sudden danger of being wiped out. And, mechanisms for propagation -- even seeds! -- are coming under the private ownership of a tiny number of very large agro-chemical corporations. These multinationals are, at this very moment, altering the reproductive capacities of entire species in order to further their control over land and monopolize the world's food supply.

All the good things that human beings have achieved, and all the natural beauty of the world around us are being grabbed, privatized and pillaged by corporate, technological and political powers. This colonization is legitimized by new Enclosure Acts similar to those of centuries ago, a legal framework validating the shameless orgy of conquest and profiteering.

In the last 40 years, fully one-half of the world's forests have been chopped down. Please think about that for a moment, what that means. Forests prevent floods, maintain soil health, defuse hurricanes, and detoxify drinking water. They oxygenate the air, and serve as habitats for millions of species. In Argentina and Brazil today, huge swathes of primeval rainforest are being cut down in order to monocrop genetically engineered soybeans for export to the United States and other countries. In Brazil this is occurring under the so-called "socialist" president, Ignacio Lula da Silva. In Indonesia millions of acres of forest have been burned for cattle grazing, and in Mexico the Lacandona forest -- the home of the Zapatista rebellion -- is under siege by international paper companies as much as it is by federal troops. Under Clinton and Gore more trees were clearcut in the U.S. than under any other administration in recent history. I'll repeat that: Clinton and Gore pres­ided over the clearcutting of more forests in the U.S. than George Bush, Richard Nixon, Dwight Eisenhower, John Kennedy, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Harry Truman, Franklin Roosevelt ... The destruction of the forests, along with automobile and CFC emissions from refrigerators, are the most important contributors to global warming.

Tell Al Gore to think about that the next time he preaches about global climate change! Why, if we didn't know better we'd think "hey, this guy might make a good Vice-President some day!"

We're beginning to learn about peak oil and its possible ramifications, but what about "peak forests"? Almost gone. And still the government, including the Democrats, allows the timber industry their "natural right" to cut down the rest. The media defend the corporations under the guise of "property rights," "protecting individual freedom" and "freedom of entrepreneurial spirit" -- the "freedom," that is, to exploit and to plunder. (The NY Times, for instance, cuts down 17,000 trees a week to publish its Sunday paper, so it can't stray too far from this mantra of "rights" even if it wanted to ... which it doesn't.)

The ideological spin dominates our language and shapes our thoughts. Suddenly we are no longer talking of global climate change or the murder of Nature, but of the so-called "rights" of corporations as though they are people. The paper and lumber industry's "Wise Use" movement spins the clearcutting for public consumption, and calls it a "salvage sale." Magnificent giant redwoods, the oldest living beings on the planet, are, to capital, merely "standing inventory." Beautiful mountain vistas are considered "view sheds." The last few clumps of trees stretched in a thin line along the highway en route to the mall to give the impression of the vast and wild nature on the other side are "scenic corridors." Carting the strip-mined carcasses of trees off the mountain is portrayed as "sanitizing a unit." Industry casts the technology required to do all that in the dubious forge of "Progress." And you don't want to be opposed to "Progress," do you?

Underlying it all is belief in GOD -- Grow Or Die -- which permeates every moment of production and reproduction under capitalism.

The bottom line? No more the once magnificent old growth forests; no more the pristine drinking water, healthy soils, seas teeming with fish -- the entire North Atlantic has been "fished out," if you can even call what industrial trawlers do these days "fishing" -- dragging miles of giant steel mesh through the ocean sweeping up everything in their path.

This critique is all straight Marxism. There's nothing in the mechanisms I've described here that Karl Marx didn't analyze 150 years ago. No, he didn't talk about automobile emissions, genetic engineering, television, nuclear power plants or the mass drugging of children; but he did analyze the mechanisms, the processes by which all technologies under capitalism would develop, and how capitalist relations would come to prevail over all other ways of experiencing our lives so that we would eventually take them for granted as "natural," as having always been this way -- Marx called it the move from the formal to the real domination of capital -- and as being this way everywhere.

Wasn't it Karl Marx who, in his earliest adult essays, spoke out forcefully in defense of the forest against privatization and in favor of the rights of peasants to glean dead wood from the Rhineland's trees -- lands traditionally unrestricted by law and used in common? Wasn't it Marx who railed against the jack-booted stormtroopers of the state, who were expropriating the Commons on behalf of the capitalist class in the 18th and 19th centuries? Wasn't it Marx who, despite some foolish and urban-centric comments, called this expropriation "primitive accumulation" and explained how the capitalists legalized their plunder after the fact, through legislation and their increasing control of the State? Wasn't it Marx who pointed out that by 1842, 85 percent of all prosecutions in the Rhineland dealt with a new crime: The theft of wood, which applied only to peasants while corporations were being freed to strip whole forests -- of all the trees in them with impunity?

How did it happen that public lands and early machinery were becoming privatized and re-shaped by the needs of capital? We can ask the same today: How did our once-public universities, hospitals, beaches, libraries and parks suddenly start disappearing, prisons become privatized and rivers so polluted that drinking water would be sold now in bottles, their sources owned by some of the hugest corporations in the world? Yes, it was Marx, especially, who explained how such "enclosures" came to receive acceptance socially and sanction by law. Remember, his entire critique of capital started with his analysis and denunciation of the enclosure of lands used in common and the criminalization of peasants for taking dead wood for heating and cooking.

One of the things I'm not going to do here is to go through all of Marx's writings and select quotations pertaining to ecology. I will just note here that Marx raised these questions in his earliest writings. This is how he got involved, how he began to develop his analysis when he was in his early 20s. On his birthday thirty-three years later, Marx -- at this time in his late 50s -- drew upon those early observations and wrote a blistering critique of his fellow Leftists for focusing solely upon the exploitation of labor. "Nature," Marx wrote, "is just as much the source of use values" as labor, "and it is surely of such that material wealth consists."(1)

So what happened? Since his death in 1883, Marx's followers have done exactly what Marx had warned against. They ignore his formulation of the twin sources of value, and concentrate narrowly on the exploitation of labor alone -- and even there, too often they do so within capital's framework. In omitting the expropriation of Nature, which was central to Marx's analysis of capitalist accumulation, Marxists have allowed capital's industrial form of production to go unchallenged.

Marxists argue primarily for bringing technological development under public ownership and control, administered through centralized state planning; ecological anarchists argue for bringing development under the self-managed decision-making of workers at the industrial workplace and community town meeting. All of the Marxists and a number of Anarchists are agog over what the Committees of Correspondence (Campaign for Socialism & Democracy) terms “the genie of technology,” hop­ing that technology would bring what they consider to be “the good life” to workers through the wonders of con­spic­u­ous consumption and the factory production of ever more commodities in whose manufacture ever more natural and human-made resources are used up, permanently destroyed, and eventually just passed into the waste stream as garbage, poisoning the planet.
On the whole, anarchists have been far more challenging than Marxists about technolgy. One prominent anarchist tendency, typified by Fifth Estate -- the longest-surviving anarchist newspaper in the U.S. -- has made its skepticism about technology the centerpiece of its politics. (Fifth Estate's politics were shaped in Detroit during the hub and decline of automobile produc­tion there, and involved such luminaries as Fredy and Loraine Perlman, Peter Werbe and Peter Watson, to name a few.) They critiqued fellow anarchist (and long-ago Trotskyist) Murray Bookchin in the anarchist press for insisting there could be a new, liberatory technology, quali­tiatively different from capitalist technology. On the far end of that spectrum, there are the an­archo-primitivists -- Zerzan, in Oregon, for example -- who say they want to abolish civilization altogether.

In calling for expanding technology to achieve their laudable goals, Marxism, Anarchism, and other philosophies of liberation are transformed into their opposite: instruments of rapid industrial­ization. Here's the question I'd like to pose to you: Are the Marxist and Anarchist anti-capitalist, anti-patriarchal, and anti-Statist frameworks sufficient for turning back and repairing the destruction wrought on the natural environment, or is something more required -- the overthrowal of the technological industrial system itself?

Most of us think of technology simply as machinery; we see “progress” — social evolution — in terms of technological development and expanded production, which allows society to manipulate nature in a supposedly rational and planned manner to meet our needs. Tech­nology, for most activists, is an instrument needed to create abundance, and is as fundamental to a post-revolutionary society as a capitalist one. I'd like us to think about technology, its history, and its relation to capitalism more carefully.

One unexpected environmentalist posed this question: "Should we expect that densely populated countries such as China, India, Indonesia, will have as many automobiles in proportion to their population as North America and Western Europe?" He answered his own question: "Well, it's necessary; the expansion of capital requires it. It's also impossible; the earth cannot sustain it."

That was Cuba's president, Fidel Castro. Unfortunately, Fidel's concern has not been picked up by most of those in Marxist parties. In fact, the defense of the forests has been led not by Marxists, but by direct action anarchist groups like Earth First!, the Earth Liberation Front and the Greens. For the most part Marxists have not only taken a back seat on these fundamental issues of our time (hmm, even our metaphors are technologically derived), but they continue to chain all working class initiatives and the possibility of a qualitatively different world to the expansion of the factory form of production, furthering the environmental devastation already underway. Today, when radical environmental activists point to the devastation the earth is facing, Marxists just examine their finger.

With all of this in mind, I offer the following five proposals for greening Marxism, which is essential if we are going to both save the planet and transform in a socially and economically meaningful way the societies in which we live. I call this framework "Deep Marxism":

1. We, leftists, need to understand that the privatization of the biological cell, of natural genetic sequences, is the mechanism through which a new and fundamental expansion of capitalism is taking place. This is a new form of colonization.
Today, with the globalization of capital -- with the "help" of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank's "structural adjustment programs" (also known as "neo-liberalism") -- capitalism is colonizing not only other countries' economic, political, agricultural, and health care systems -- the natural world "out there" -- but it is now seeking to clone and to colonize the very cells of living organisms, the "nature within."

This is what genetic engineering is about. No more the democratic idea that people have the right to own and control our own bodies. We have been struggling to control our own reproductive capacities for many years; but now the legal authority to own and to sell our genes themselves has been handed to private corporations. What does it mean to speak of "self-determination" and "working class democracy" when our own cells, and the genetic sequences of whole societies (like Iceland, for example) -- that is, our "selves" -- can now be legally owned and sold by private corporations? Whose "self" is doing the determining?

Is nothing sacred? Is all life and every stretch of wilderness (and "the wilderness within") for sale? In my view Marxists must take on this and related issues, if we want to truly confront one of the key mechanisms upon which capitalism as a system relies. We must fight to:

a) Ban all genetic engineering of agriculture, plants, pesticides, and foods -- this demand becomes essential to the new anti-colonial movements of the 21st century, which are fighting everywhere to retain control of their indigenous plants and animals, and to their own biological legacies.

b) Abolish the private patenting of genetic sequences and seeds -- so-called "intellectual property rights."

c) Take private profit out of research and development of genetically engineered health-related drugs.

d) In the meantime, require all bio-engineered products and those derived from them to be clearly labeled.

e) Prioritize developing the theoretical framework to reveal the ways in which bio­technology is not just another interesting issue, but fundamental to the expansion of capitalism in this era. (Although limited by misunderstandings concerning Marxism (same as Stan Goff, maybe even worse), some really good work on this score has been done by Chaia Heller and her dissertation advisor, Arturo Escobar.)

Portions of the right wing grassroots have also rallied against genetic engineering, which they see as humans violating the sanctity of species and the sanctity of "God's work." Aside from all the economic, social, ethical, class and environmental questions involved, the Left is missing the opportunity to organize the right wing's base out from under its leadership. Marxists need to break with the liberal capitalist ideological framework and understand that opposition to genetic engineering is not just another issue but one of the crucial and heretofore hidden class issues driving the system -- the "color line" (in W.E.B. Dubois' words) of this new century.

2. We need to deepen Marxism so that it challenges the capitalist-manufactured consensus underlying what we mean by "Progress" and "the Good Life." We need to reject the notion that the "good life" is based on the mass production and accumulation of commodities, and its consequent massive and unregulated consumption of Nature.

"Progress," for capital and its apologists, is always technologically framed. We can hardly think of "progress" that does not involve production and accumulation of more stuff. Rarely do other aspects of what we'd like to see in a new and humane society ever get discussed, such as the way we treat each other or organize our lives. We need to think about the way the industrial form of production itself -- not just who owns it or how it is administered -- propels anti-social, anti-loving behavior.

Here's a relevant article from the New York Daily News. In 1995, two subway trains crashed in New York City. The driver was killed and dozens of passengers were seriously injured. The News describes the scene as follows:

"The nearly 200 passengers aboard the J and M trains [the newspaper wrote] survived two harrowing ordeals yesterday -- first the crash, then a nail-biting rescue marked by panic and chaos high above the East River. ... The crash left the suddenly terrified passengers stranded 15 feet above the inner roadway of the Williamsburg Bridge at a point where the aging bridge rises about 100 feet above the east side of the swirling East River.

"The first rescue workers arrived about 10 minutes after the collision. By then, a man in a business suit who was in the same car as [Eva] Grimes [a diet technician from Brooklyn] was beside himself with fear and screaming incoherently.

"He was cursing and banging on the walls," Grimes said. "He was saying, `I've got to get to work! I've got to get off this train! I've got to go make money.' "(2)

For workers under capitalism there's only one thing worse than being exploited -- not being exploited. Being unemployed in the United States is worse than in any other developed capitalist society. So much of the politics of the left has revolved around the demand for jobs. "Money for jobs, not for war!" was one chant that predominated the antiwar movement. What kind of job doesn't seem to matter.

How quickly Marxists forget the history of working class resistance around the world to the imposition of wage labor itself, and the wrenching and twisting of people's lives to make them fit into the factories capitalism needed for mass-production. In a society in which one needs money to buy basic necessities and pay rent, of course people end up willing to accept a job -- that is, wage labor; but it is only in recent years that acceptance of the reality of needing a job under capitalism has been seen not only as necessary but as desirable, as part of human nature.

Workers in the past had a very different conception of what work should be about, a different conception of "the good life." It took enormous effort by capitalists to coerce their potential workforce into accepting a different view of life. All the way into the 1940s workers in the U.S. fought against what today we take for granted, the imposition of the factory, the artificial rhythms that technology imposed upon the working class, the unnatural mechanical motions, the need to "make money."

But for many Marxists the institutionalization of the factory was a progressive facet of capitalism, one in which the "good life" became increasingly defined in terms of ownership of things and access to services rather than as communal relationships among people. The memory of small town America with its idealized community-based relationships remains fixed in the American psyche, true, but the real communities of workers were uprooted and shifted to the shop floor where they was tightly regulated and controlled both by the boss, the needs of the massive technological infrastructure, and eventually by the workers' own union. The factory model jumped from the factory floor to the other institutions of society, coming to pervade education, recreation and all other areas of daily life. As Phil Ochs sang, "Every school is a factory of despair." He meant that literally. So do I.

How does Marx look at the process historically, by which entire populations were driven insane in this manner, torn from their lands and communities and "proletarianized"? Marx sums it up in this way: "Thus were the agricultural people first forcibly expropriated from the soil, driven from their homes, turned into vagabonds, and then whipped, branded, tortured by laws grotesquely terrible into the discipline necessary for the wage system." (Karl Marx, "Capital," Volume I, Chapter 28, International Publishers. p. 737.)

Wherever capitalism installs its newest pendulum of accumulation the pit of slave labor is never far behind. Its long knife ransacks the globe. Its emissaries -- Democrats and Republicans, bankers and corporate CEOs, media moguls and military contractors -- slash this way and that, shrieking at the workers, at the exploited and oppressed: "Get your cut throat off my knife! (That's beat poet Diane DiPrima's apt phrase).
But, as I wrote in the first pamphlet in my Zen-Marxism series ("Those Not Busy Being Born Are Busy Dying"), the Old Left -- by that I mean the Marxist-Leninist parties -- had for so long immersed itself in campaigns to win unionized North American workers a bigger piece of the pie at any cost that it began to see "the good life," and thus the purpose of its efforts, as gaining for the working class greater access to the glut of commodities produced under capitalism. As NY Green Party member John Moran puts it, "the world crisis of overproduction and the ecological crisis are converging, and socialism is necessary to make a serious start at a solution." But socialism alone is not enough.
We need to envision a society based on a very different organization of productive forces, one that projects a different way of producing the goods we need and desire. (We also need to investigate where our desires themselves come from. They are not innate, they're manufactured by the society we live in. Failing to apply a "ruthless critique to everything existing" in Marx's words -- i.e., failing to fully examine our own desires, ways of relating, the way we've been manufactured and spit out by the system -- will mean that we will find ourselves chaining all working class initiatives and the possibility of a qualitatively different world to those implanted dreams and the expansion of the factory form. As Che Guevara discussed so eloquently, unless we confront the desires manufactured in us by capitalism and patriarchy and begin to transform ourselves now into human beings fit to live in the new world we seek to create, we will end up undermining the revolutionary project, and further poison the earth even as we struggle to change it.

In projecting a superficial and ecologically destructive notion of “the good life,” official Marxists -- and many anarchists -- literally miss the forest for the trees, reprodu­cing the dominant paradigm of capitalism and technological progress even when meaning to oppose it. To start, they've forgotten that a non-capitalist society society need not accept efficiency per se as the measure of progress, nor labor alone as the measure of value.

Two hundred years ago, in 1811, the Luddites -- like the Iroquois and other American Indian communities -- offered a different measure of progress, one not defined by artificial discipline, efficiency or the expropriation of Nature or exploitation of Labor. Contrary to popular mythology, the Luddites did not oppose machines per se, but "machinery hurtful to Commonality." In England they wielded hammers against the newly installed giant mechan­ical looms; in France, their counterparts threw wooden shoes (called in French "sabots") into the gears. (From that came the term "sabotage"). The emerging industrial system found it needed to crush the Luddites, which was becoming a widespread and well organized mass movement. The bourgeois presses distorted and then obliterated memory of the Luddites' radical direct action “critique” of factory production from history texts. So did the Marxist parties, who falsely caricature the Luddites in order to dismiss them. So in that sense, I am proud to be a Luddite, an Iroquois, a Saboteur ... a Zapatista! And so should all of us.

In Havana, as far back as 1992 when I visited there along with Bertell and others from the Radical Philosophy Association, everyone not on bicycles would ride the old rickety Hungarian buses which got four miles to the gallon and were falling apart. The fare was only ten cents. To say that the buses were “overcrowded” is like saying there is but a slight tear in the ozone layer. Adults as well as kids, doctors, professors, construction workers, orange juice squeezers, seamstresses, municipal officials and clerks raced after the buses and jumped onto whatever toehold they could find, arms wrapped around the window posts, clinging like ants to the sugar cube as it hurtled down the streets.

Most buses had three, sometimes four sets of exit doors through which the sea of humanity attempted to board. Often the drivers wouldn't even bring their buses to a halt in the general vicinity of the bus stop, people would just sprint at them as they slowed down and leap hoping to grab a hold. The best analogy to our experiences here in New York that I could think of would be jumping headfirst off the stage at a punk rock concert expecting all the screaming maniacs below to catch you. Those able to enter through the back doors would voluntarily pass their 10 cents forward — sort of an honor system; no one even thinks of pocketing another worker’s money, even though everyone needs it. I had similar experiences in Nicaragua during the Sandinista government 9 years earlier, and in Harlem when Nelson Mandela first visited upon being released from prison in South Africa after 28 years. (There, in Harlem, I was at first astounded and then swept up in the mass emotion as the huge number of people on 125th Street emptied their pockets and passed tens of thousands of dollars over their heads to the stage, the entire crowd laughing and cheering the whole time. What a moment!)

Revolutionary success can be measured not only in government policies but in the morality and social consciousness of a people.
But why were the buses in Cuba so awful? Was it only due to the U.S. embargo, as many Marxists here make it seem? That's part of it, but I don't think that's the whole story.

In 1990, Cuba's president Fidel Castro blasted the shoddy Eastern European machinery, including the buses: “Let’s speak clearly once and for all ... We Cubans don’t export garbage. But often what we get back in trade [from the East] is junk! No one else in the world buys Bulgarian forklifts," Fidel said. "They are such garbage, only we bought them! How many hundreds, thousands of them stand idle today in our warehouses? The Hungarian buses ... pollute the city with fumes and poison everyone around. Who knows how many people have died from the fumes of those buses just because they put in a defective fuel pump? On top of it all, those buses have a two-speed Czech transmission that alone wastes 30 percent of the fuel! Oh, how happy I am to speak with such openness! It’s been difficult to talk about these things in the past, but thanks to these new circumstances” — the “new circumstances” being the collapse of the Eastern European socialist bloc — “we have been relieved of our previous compromises.”iii
Among other stop-gap measures taken to ease the transportation crisis, all government vehicles in Cuba are demarcated by red license plates, and people flag them down. They are required to carry people wherever they're going along the way. It is not unusual to find 7 or 8 people surrounding a government Toyota and somehow squeezing into it.

While I was there they also imported hundreds of thousands of bicycles from China, and distributed them around the country.

Cuba is an example of people being forced to make due with what they have. Because they have a social consciousness and a government that works for them and not for private corporations, they sometimes are able to take a different approach the problems their society is facing.

3. We in the industrialized capitalist world need to train ourselves to see "holistically". This is not something that will come about on its own within the capitalist or patriarchal frameworks -- nor will it come about in the kind of socialist framework based on industrial development.

Take this item, about a malaria outbreak in Borneo in the 1950s. The World Health Organization (WHO) sprayed DDT to kill mosquitoes. But the DDT also killed parasitic wasps which were controlling thatch-eating caterpillars. As a result, the thatched roofs of many homes fell down, and the DDT-poisoned insects were eaten by geckoes, which were in turn eaten by cats. The cats perished from the poisoning, which led to the multiplication of rats, and then outbreaks of sylvatic plague and typhus. To put an end to this destructive chain of events, WHO had to parachute 145,000 live cats into the area to control the rats.

The Left, like the rest of society, is steeped in the same linear thinking. It finds a problem and then looks for the magic bullet approach for addressing it. I talk about this in a number of other essays, grouped under the general heading, “Zen-Marxism.” Leftists need to practice holistic thinking. This will not occur automatically. It takes a lot of work; it takes conscious effort.

To begin with, holistic thinking attempts to look at entire ecosystems, at totalities, at their underlying Unity as the starting point. In the West, we're accustomed to examining pieces and trying to fit them together in some sort of totality. A holistic approach, on the other hand, invites us to examine how the Whole informs interactions of the "Parts." We need to do that with every issue. One important effect of that type of approach is the minimization of unintended consequences (which are rampant, as Edward Tenner informs us in his fascinating book, "Why Things Bite Back: Technology and the Revenge of Unintended Consequences"). But that’s not the only effect of looking at things holistically.
Reductionist science claims that our “sameness” over time is the result of genes, which pre­determine and program each cell. It tries to explain each level of causality by searching for ever-smaller determining factors. (This reductionist process occurs in reverse as well.

As kids grow­ing up in the Projects in Brooklyn in the late 1950s and early 1960s, we’d always argue about whether God exists. And for years the arguments would come down to: If God is all-powerful and all-knowing and created everything in the universe, then who created God?) Since each cell in an individual's body contains the same “genetic code” as every other cell in that body, how is it that the genes “know” which sequence of chemicals to turn on and which to turn off so that the cell becomes a particular kind? Scientists today attribute it to special “regulator” genes that tell the other genes what to do and when to do it. Well, you might wonder, what tells them?

That's the kind of infinite regression one gets bogged down in when trying to build up a picture of how a complex organism works by adding up the separate parts. In actuality, it is the position of each new cell with respect to the surrounding cells, and not its genetic component alone, that defines what each cell does. Will it be a muscle cell? A blood cell? A bone cell? A skin cell? The kind of cell each becomes is as strongly influenced by its context and location – its relationship to its surrounding environment — as much as by the type of parent cells it had.

Note, for example, the Mississippi alligator. Alligator eggs developing in the temperature range 26-30° C. hatch females; change nothing but the temperature, raise it to 34-36° C., and the same eggs will hatch only males. Eggs that develop between 31-33° C. produce alligators of either sex, with the probabilities changing from female to male as the temperature rises. What causes temperatures to change? Well, the macro temperature is important -- global climate change may play a role here and cause more male alligators to be born. On the other hand, there are counteracting factors, such as cooling rains -- also the result of global climate change.

For some reason, I'm fascinated by all of this, the unexpected implications of what we do on all sorts of seemingly unrelated factors. What about the temperature variations in the micro-environment around the egg? It turns out that the most important factor is the egg's location within the nest. Eggs surrounded by other eggs tend to be slightly warmer and, thus, tend to hatch males. Eggs around the circumference tend to be slightly cooler and tend to hatch females. (I hope this is not construed as a "potential female" alligator nurturing the "potential male" eggs.)

Clearly, genes are not strict determining entities as claimed by, among others, Richard Daw­kins in his popular book The Selfish Gene. They depend upon and interact with the surrounding micro-environment — in this case, the temperature of the air in the immediate vicinity — which, in turn, influences environments at other levels, such as the chemistry of the cell, the genes' im­mediate environment. The problem of where to draw the boundary of the immediate environ­ment or community, in this case the gene's, plays a critical role in what will actually happen.
One other important factor: the 3-dimensional configuration of DNA, something that's guided by non-transcribed segments of the genome that geneticists until recently called 'junk DNA'. How do these interact with the micro-environment in order guide the shaping the sequences of which they themselves are a part? I'm reminded of Escher's famous drawing of one hand drawing the other. Paradoxes on this recursive level abound, that cannot be addressed by the linear thinking that dominates much of Western science, and especially the magic-bullet approach of corporate science.

Understanding an organism's relationship to the ecosystem in which it lives (as well as the ecosystem within) requires ways of seeing that carry beyond the “cause and effect” linearity to which we are accustomed. The sex of individual alligators, as well as the sexual dispersal over the population, is not determined by one isolated “gene” but, at the very least, by environmental temperatures working in a sort of “feedback loop” with the full genetic complement; it is influenced by the interaction of variables from different levels of complexity: temperature, genes, location of the egg in the nest, and environment within the eggs.
Philosophically, it is not that the whole is more than the sum of its parts, but that by being parts of a particular whole the parts acquire new properties. And as the parts acquire new properties they impart new properties to the Whole, which are reflected in changes to the parts, and so on. Yet this essential relationship between parts and wholes, individual and environment, is generally given short shrift by many scientists, even ignored. Instead, they pursue a reductionist unidirectional causality – the parts, pieced together (they say) determine the whole in cause and effect sequence. Their linear framework provides the basis for the mechanistic formulations (such as reductionism, positivism, empiricism, and behaviorism) that, I would argue, are not only incorrect in application but are intrinsic to Science as it has emerged since the Enlightenment and particularly under capitalism. It is a framework that has come to dominate western rational thought.(4)

These meditations on Wholes and Parts, Holism and Reductionism, Freedom and Determinism, grew out of discussions of a paper I presented at the Radical Philosophy Association conference in Havana, Cuba, in 1992 titled “A Call for a Revolutionary Science.” I offered the radical idea that the Whole – any “whole” (an organism, a species, a political era, a set of numbers) — shapes and defines the parts and their interactions as much as the parts shape and define the whole. As well as being interactive and multi-dimensional, this relation is always in motion. I use the term “dialectical” to encapsulate all of this back-and-forth between different levels of complexity.

4. We need to stop fetishizing science and technology.

Have you heard about the efficiency expert who was hired to observe the work habits of a company's employees with the idea of streamlining the work process and getting more production out of each worker?

“You're a very good worker,” said the efficiency expert schooled in the time-and-motion studies of Frederick Taylor, as he watched a carpenter plane a piece of wood. “Now if we can just stick a buffer on your elbow you could plane and buff the wood with the same motion.”

“Yea,” the carpenter responded, “and if you'd stick a broomstick up your ass you could take your notes and sweep the floor at the same time.”

In the movie “Modern Times,” Charlie Chaplin plays an assembly-line worker whose job is to wrench bolts all day as they come flooding down the conveyor belt, faster, ever faster. Charlie has no idea why. He just gets paid for it, and it warps his mind as well as his body.

The film is a blistering indictment of industrial production under capitalism. Like other assembly-line workers, Charlie is a victim of the “science” of mass production. In the early 1900s, Frederick Taylor introduced Time-and-Motion studies into industry, examining the fragmentary repetitive motions of the industrial labor process with the aim of increasing output and efficiency by subdividing each task and reducing each worker's movements as much as possible to mimic the mechanical motions of a machine. Lenin became a huge fan of these studies and applied them to organizing production in the Soviet Union. (I review this fully in my Green pamphlet, "Big Science, Fragmentation of Work, & the Left's Curious Notion of Progress.")

Every moment of mass production reproduces capitalist and patriarchal relations in their entirety. It's like a "fractal" -- every piece, no matter how small you slice it, contains within it the totality of which it itself is a part. (Douglas Hofstadter addresses this relationship between holism and reductionism in his wonderful book, "Godel, Escher & Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, which I highly recommend.) The ensemble of capitalist and patriarchal and anti-ecological relations exist and are reproduced through every moment of industrial production, as much under socialist governments as capitalist ones, under state-centralized planning as what passes for "democracy" -- which is really just another name for the dictatorship of the "free market." Technology is not some "neutral force"; it is dripping with the ideology and power relations of the system in which it was manufactured.

Leftists, over and over again, fall for the "Technological Imperative" -- the attempt to tech­nolo­gize one's way out the contradictions of existence in a world shaped and controlled by capital­ism. In so doing they reproduce the very relations that they'd hoped to overcome.

Let me give one example of how these contradictions play out: The fight over stem cell research.
Some leftists believe that the primary struggle today is between science and theocracy. So when George Bush steps forward to ban stem cell research, they ally with the Democratic Party and the capitalist intelligentsia and argue for underwriting with public funds billions of dollars in stem cell research by giant biotech pharmaceutical corporations.
Bush has threatened to ban this research for theocratic reasons. Yes, the theocracy must be stopped. But does this mean that the reverse is true, that this new technology will cure the diseases we face today? Is it the proper way to proceed to address those diseases?

Since Richard Nixon declared the "war on cancer" in 1971 -- that's Nixon, mind you, now known fondly as the "environmental president"(!) -- childhood cancers have increased 26 percent overall. Rates of some specific cancers have increased even more dramatically: acute lymphocyte leukemia by 62 percent, brain cancer by 50 percent, and bone cancer by 40 percent.v Increased exposure to pesticides is seen as the main reason for this cancer explosion in children, NOT faulty genes. A growing number of scientists see pesticides, diet sodas (particularly aspartame) and cellphone towers as related to MS, Parkinson's, and other neurological and immune compromising diseases, and genetically engineered hi-fructose corn syrup to diabetes and overweight youth.

But of course neither the Left nor the government nor the corporations involved will address those diseases from that perspective. Gene therapies, cloning, and stem cell experimentation are patentable, and thus lucrative. Dealing with chemical pollution, pesticides, etc. as the real causes of disease are not.

What's often forgotten in this debate is that not only are the biotech companies eagerly seeking patents for any new products or processes (that is, privatizing them), but there's no discussion in this frenzy (Are you for or against it?) of the underlying causes of disease that stem cells are allegedly being developed to treat. Stem Cell proponents, including (unfortunately) a number of prominent Marxists, in effect are buying into the dominant corporate ideology that disease is caused by an individual's faulty genetics. Thus, the alternative to Bush's ban actually rewards billions of tax dollars to the same companies that are polluting the environment and causing these diseases to begin with ,to "cure" the very diseases that their activities have created.

Stem Cell developments should also require a much fuller discussion on this and other leftist listserves of the slippery slope of genetic cloning and organ cloning, and even animal and human cloning. How can we stop this profit making juggernaut once the Left has bought into the Biotech and Pharmaceutical companies' framework?

The recent Food and Drug Administration's ruling to allow the sale of meat and dairy from cloned animals follows an intersecting track, in the name of "Progress." One would have to be deaf dumb and blind not to see the direction the stem cell industry is moving in, with the Left's blessings.

The approach that the Left is taking is kind of like helping the ice to melt at the north pole so that we can help the oil companies find new shipping routes and enhanced opportunities for oil drilling in the arctic as the ice cap melts. According to Walter Gibbs in his July 11, 2000 Pre-Bush New York Times article Research Predicts Summer Doom for Northern Icecap: "While an ice-free Arctic Ocean would most likely disrupt the global environment, researchers said, it could have positive economic aspects. It could shorten shipping routes, for example, and expand the range of offshore oil drillers". A true visionary for our times. That's the kind of reductionist thinking we're stuck in.

The social and economic conditions in which the factory form of production developed have indelibly stamped the rapaciousness of capitalism into every moment of the production process. Capitalism -- the system of exploitation of people's work and of Nature -- is "in its genes," so to speak. The drudgery of the assembly line and office, the inferno of rancid relationships and rancid dreams, the privatization of everything and twisting of everybody into things to be bought and sold, the reproduction and consolidation of hierarchy, domination, exploitation and patriarchy, the subjugation of Nature (and of Nature within us) to the exigencies of production and the market, the exploitation of natural and human resources, the permanent destruction of the environment – all of these are embedded in technology as such -- not just in the end product, but in the social conditions that manufacture the instruments that make those commodities (which themselves are commodities one step removed), and not just the form it takes under capitalism. And we, raised in those same conditions, can barely conceive of human relations or modern societies producing to satisfy human needs in any other way. Industrial production seems, to us, most "natural" and integral to our notions of progress.

Unfortunately, many post-Marx Marxists believe in "developing the forces of production" at any cost, rarely going even as far as Marx in asserting -- let alone analyzing -- the central role played by the exploitation of Nature, along with Labor, in the production of capital and the reproduction of the capitalist system. Even when they fight to save the environment they do so from a liberal scientistic perspective. At best they attempt to curtail some of capitalism's more extreme abuses by relying with religious fervor upon "the genie of technology" to get us out of the social-ecological crisis we are in, seeing the politics of technology as merely a matter of which class owns it and to what use it's put. In so doing, they unwittingly reproduce the devastating conditions they had aspired to change.

Radical ecological movements such as Earth First!, on the other hand, offer a profoundly different analysis: Unless leftists also dismantle the factory form, capitalist and patriarchal relations will continue to be pushed up from within technology and destroy Nature, ecological and human alike, even under a "socialist" government. Even in the hands of well-intentioned people without competition or monetary profit as a motive, they assert, there is a complex internal dynamic within technology itself that goes beyond which class owns and controls it (the "social relations"), calling into question the whole industrial schema of what constitutes progress and challenging both bourgeois and traditional leftist notions of growth and development.
The idea that science and technology are (or could be) somehow "neutral" or "objective" is itself an ideological construct and a figment of capitalist mythology. Calls for more intensive technological development ignore the capitalist relations embedded in technology, and facilely peel away the critical Marxian category "forces of production" from the intricate constraints of its dialectical integuments.

5. We need to actively search for the ecological dimension in every social justice issue and raise it as part of that fight.

Bob Dylan sang: "I'll let you be in my dream if I can be in yours." For many years the left acted similarly; organizations made alliances that led to raising each others' issues and concatenating them into laundry lists of seemingly unrelated programmatic points. But the globalization of capital has changed all that. EVERY issue is multidimensional. Every issue has an ecological dimension that is fundamental to it. It is our job, as revolutionaries, to search for that green dimension and unpeel it, reveal it, and organize around it even when it does not seem obvious at first. This must become a fundamental component of every fight that we enter.

We need to practice unpeeling that ecological dimension to every issue so that it can be revealed and organized around. By this I do not mean frivolous or surface connections. We are not the kind of environmentalists who argue that police clubs must be made from organic, non-rainforest wood, or that police use non-GMO soy-based ink to take our fingerprints when we are arrested. Maybe we should demand that they use recycled paper for all tickets and citations, and that their bullets be made from recycled metal -- oops, they're already doing that in Iraq. None of that is what I’m proposing here -- although the ink may in fact injure people who suffer from Multiple Chemical Sensitivities.

Here's an example of what I mean: there is currently being organized an international boycott of CocaCola (, called to protest Coke's murder of indigenous working class organizers in Colombia. Green activists have brought to that struggle Coke's support for the mass herbicide poisoning of the entire countryside with Monsanto's RoundUp -- the same deadly herbicide that they are spraying to kill weeds in New York City, and on corn in Mexico. Monsanto has patented a procedure for genetically modifying what they call "RoundUp Ready" corn so that it is resistant to the mass-spraying of RoundUp and ONLY RoundUp. As a consequence, corporate farms pour thousands of tons of RoundUp onto the crops, killing every living organism -- weeds, butterflies, frogs, earthworms, bees. The only organism left standing is the corn itself. And then we eat it, saturated with poisons. The overwhelming majority of GMOs do nothing but aid the marketing of more herbicides! A liberal approach might be to demand an end to Monsanto's monopoly on this aspect of biotechnology, so that other company's herbicides would work on genetically engineered Round-Up Ready crops as well!
But we are not liberals. We are not seeking to make capitalism more fair for its corpora­tions. We are challenging the technology itself. And so we search out the deeper Green dim­ension, which reveals that Coke is one of the world's leading buyers of genetically engineered hi-fructose corn syrup; it permeates every processed food, and is responsible -- as I've already mentioned -- in large part for the epidemic of overweight children in the United States. So we raise THAT as part of the reason for boycotting Coca Cola even though that was not part of the organizers' original rationale.

I’ll give another example: When Greyhound went on strike a few years back, some of us not only did strike support -- of course, we all do that -- but also challenged the workers to begin thinking about how to reconfigure the entire transportation system, to raise the issue of alternatives to petroleum-based fuels, and to see such expansion of working class domain as valid and necessary.

Unpeeling the ecological dimension is crucial to expanding the Left, and in successfully vying for workplace democracy and reparation of the damages inflicted upon the communities we, as workers, live in.

Imagine, for instance, how different things would be if workers at General Electric’s plant in Schenectady N.Y. had fought against the company’s dumping of PCBs into the Hudson river and demanded that G.E. clean up its toxic wastes from the river as part of its union organizing and contractual demands.

The best example of actively looking for the ecological dimension of a particular issue occurred in Australia in the late 70s when unions issued “Green Bans” and refused to construct highways and malls unless they were first approved by the communities that would be impacted by such “development” at public meetings. [I talk about this more in my pamphlet “What is Direct Action?”] Nothing was built without both the workers and the community's approval regardless of the developers' plans.

We can, and must, teach ourselves to do the same with every issue -- even those that seem to have no ecological connections whatsoever at first glance. We need to (1) oppose genetic engineering not only as a social justice issue but from our understanding that it is a new and fundamental mechanism through which capitalism is colonizing and exploiting new dimensions of life. (2) We need to oppose and reframe what is presented as “the good life.” (3) We need to train ourselves in how to think holistically, and (4) stop fetishizing science and technology. (5) We need to practice how to bring out the ecological dimension to issues that are perceived solely as moral or economic social justice struggles.

All of these (and more, of course) are necessary in enabling our movements and the working class in general to reveal and explore the deeper connections, which then would allow us to take actions that strike more deeply into the system itself and provide the basis for more powerful, successful, and radical social movements.

Hic Rhodus! Hic Salta!
Here is the rose. Here we must dance.

folks can reach me at mitchelcohen(at)

1. "Critique of the Gotha Programme," May 5, 1875.

2. New York Daily News, June 6, 1995.

3. Village Voice, May 1, 1990.

4. See, among others who challenge reductionist constructs, Stuart Newman, “Idealist Biology,” Perspectives in Biology and Medicine, 31:3,Spring 1988, pp353-368; and Paul Weiss, “The Living System: Determinism Stratified,” in Beyond Reductionism: New Perspectives in the Life Sciences, ed. by Arthur Koestler and J.R. Smythies, Beacon Press, 1971.

5. Dr. Samuel Epstein, M.D., and Dr. Quentin Young, M.D., as quoted in Pesticides and You v.22 no.2, Summer 2002.