A Voice From the Left
by Mikael Böök
“Quand on me demande si la division entre partis de droite et de gauche,
entre gens de gauche ou de droite, a encore une quelconque signification,
la première chose qui me vient à l’esprit est que quiconque
pose la question n’est certainement pas de la gauche.“
Let the spontaneous reflection of Emile-Auguste Chartier (also known as Alain) from circa 1925 on the difference between the political parties stand as the definition ad hoc for this essay about The Left in 2016. In other words, yes: the difference persists, and it is still as necessary as it was some ninety years ago to attempt a cleavage between ”Left” and ”Right” in politics. The people on the Left cannot accept the rule of Capitalism and Imperialism, while those on the Right prefer not to speak of those things, or to talk instead about the blessings of ”free markets” and ”globalization.” The Left still wants to put an end to the enormous (yet evidently increasing) economic and political power of the financial capital and the transnational corporations, and it definitely aims to deconstruct the military-industrial-academic complexes of this world. The Rightists, on the other hand, will somehow forget to tell you about their plans regarding their regime of the banks and the corporations. Therefore, we on the Left must suspect them of wanting to continue the Capitalist regime forever, and also that they are prepared to crush those who do not accept this, if needs be violently, if our alternative, which we call Socialism, seems to be gaining the upper hand. And, most importantly, the Right shows no inclination towards getting rid of the military-industrial-academic complex.
It is necessary to add that people both on the Right and on the Left are human. To be on the political Right, or on the political Left, is not a crime. But the world abounds with potential political criminals, Right and Left.
In the time of the philosopher Alain, the military-industrial-academic complex had not yet come into existence (if we subtract the last decade of his life; Emile-Auguste Chartier died in 1951). The term entered the political lexicon as late as the year 1961, when US President Eisenhower, a general from the Second World War, warned about this new phenomenon in his farewell address. One true novum justified this terminological complication, namely, nuclear weapons. The term refers, first and foremost, to the entanglement of government, academic institutions of science, and the military-industrial production of the fissile materials which are necessary to build atomic bombs.
If somebody asked me, in 2016, why I still consider myself to be on the Left, then I would undoubtedly start from my thoughts about the historical shift that occurred with the atomic bombings of two Japanese cities on 6th and 9th August 1945. Yet I would be the first to admit that the question of these weapons of mass destruction (and other such weapons) transcends the traditional spectrum of political ideologies, including those of the Left and of the Right.
However, the responsibility of the various historical Leftist formations, starting with the USSR, for the ever ongoing (and, as it seems, ever proliferating) production of enriched uranium, plutonium and nuclear weapons systems is overwhelming.
Because the Left did not manage to say no. The Communists, in particular, decided to add atomic weapons to their defence forces. So did the Social Democrats.
Now that the USSR is long gone, is it not about time for those who for many years let themselves be lulled into the belief that the Soviet nuclear buildup was justified, to admit that it was a terrible historical mistake, committed by the regime of Joseph Stalin? A strategical mistake, in the first place, because atomic bombs have never proved to be a viable defense against any enemy; nor is it likely that anybody could win a war that is waged with nuclear weapons.
Secondly, huge sections of the Left have adopted and practised the creed of nuclear deterrence, or the idea that the nuclear weapons are a blessing, at least for their own countries, because the ”deterrents” are believed to save their homelands from being attacked, or even to guarantee that a Third World War will never break out. The explicit endorsement of France’s national nuclear force by Socialist and Communist leaders such as Francois Mitterrand Georges Marchais (after 1977), Francois Hollande and Jean-Luc Melenchon is a major case in point. The leaders of the British Labour Party, even if more hesitant or critical in their attitudes towards the nuclear armaments, have hitherto not made much of an opposition to them, nor have they, once in government, proceeded to liberate the British armed forces from these un-strategical and a-strategical weapons. (Jeremy Corbyn might still take the chance to abandon the nuclear opportunism of his predecessors.)
Thirdly, the general refusal of consciousness on the Left about the nuclear weapons, which entails the more or less opportunistic choice to ignore this overdetermining issue both in their theories and programs, and in their deeds; overdetermining, because the advent of the nuclear weapons literally ”changed everything” long before Naomi Klein wrote her latest book about the climate crisis.
Karl Marx had envisaged the possibility of a situation where neither of the two main protagonists of the class struggle, the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, would annihilate each other. Yet he could not predict the ”mutually assured destruction” (MAD) scenarios of our nuclear age. The political Left, however, has preferred to think and act as if it did not understand that this threat of total annihilation is, and continues to be, real. Even after the fall and dissolution of the USSR, it has not dared to draw the necessary conclusions about its error.
What I have said so far might seem very unjust to those of us on the Left, who are of course counted in the thousands, and sometimes (in the 1980ies) hundreds of thousands, who have through the years tried to put up and maintain a real opposition to nuclear armaments.
But most of us have not been members of governments, or even members of parliaments, or if we have, we have been considered to be ”naive”, ”unrealistic”, ”idealists”, ”utopists”, ”unpatriotic”, ”controversial” etc. precisely for the reason that we have advocated nuclear disarmament and the conversion of the military-industrial-academic complex. As for Left party leaders of governments who acted to support the nuclear disarmament movement, only Olof Palme and David Lange, Palme’s counterpart in New Zealand, come to mind.
In more than one way, the case of Olof Palme is enlightening. Interestingly, the leader of Sweden’s Social Democrats was not at all opposed to nuclear weapons at the beginning of his long political career. On the contrary, in the 1950ies and 1960ies, Palme worked hard to create the political conditions for Sweden to become a nuclear weapons state, and he nearly succeeded—Sweden might even have produced some tactical a-bombs. However, under heavy pressure from the Swedish Social Democratic women, among others, and because of the general evolution of the public opinion on the nuclear weapons issue, Palme abandoned his previous position, and Sweden made its nuclear exit. Whereafter Olof Palme, the Prime Minister, morphed into a courageous and outspoken critic of the nuclear armaments, East and West, and continued to be one during the rest of his time in office, that is, before he was shot on a public street in Stockholm in 1986.
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I am absolutely aware of not being the first to condemn the nuclear Left. I only hope that I shall not be the last. Many words of wisdom were spoken by a long line of thinkers and writers such as Albert Einstein, Bertrand Russell, Albert Camus and George Orwell in the 1940ies and 1950ies, and by Alva Myrdal, E.P. Thompson, Mary Kaldor, Rudolf Bahro etc. in the 1970ies and 1980ies, just to name a few of the most famous Leftist critics of the ever increasing (2016) nuclear armaments and the dominating strategies for nuclear war of the USA, NATO, Russia, China, India, Pakistan, etc. Somebody who feels like being on the Right may wish to add some names of Rightist critics of the nukes. I’m willing to listen and press them to my heart!
The so called cold war has not ended; how could it ever end when the nukes, the military-industrial-academic complex, and the global war economy continue to exist?
The goal is clear. The goal is nuclear disarmament, the abolition of the nuclear weapons systems on land, at sea, in the air, and in the space.
I just read Karl Grossman’s piece int Counterpunch on the probability that the new Trump administration will (try to) invest heavily… in space weapons! Grossman builds, partly, on the findings of Bruce Gagnon, whose research and efforts to inform about this important issue are of course admirable. However, when Gagnon says that
“Russia and China will be left with only one option—they will have to respond in kind as the US attempts to ‘control and dominate space’ as is called for in the U.S. Space Command’s planning document Vision for 2020”,
I cannot agree. There certainly is also the option of responding, not ”in kind”, but in the opposite way. Russia or/and China (why not together?) could choose to respond with well measured and verifiable nuclear disarmament measures. The world is ripe for a strategy of that kind.
The internet and the M5S
”Mankind thus inevitably sets itself only such tasks as it is able to solve, since closer examination will always show that the problem itself arises only when the material conditions for its solution are already present or at least in the course of formation.” —Karl Marx, Preface to A Contribution to Critique of the Political Economy 1859
In the case of the internet, too, it is easy to present a Leftist critique of the Left, but it is not so easy to produce a constructive and realistic program. Everybody knows deep in their heart that the WMD should be abolished, and a conversion of the military-industrial-academic complex to peaceful and ecologically reasonable purposes must take place, but what is to be done to—and within—the internet?
This year, 2016, has seen three potentially transformative political votes: the so called Brexit vote; the electoral victory of Donald Trump; and, most recently, the massive no to the politics of Matteo Renzi in an Italian referendum. All three presupposed the spread of the internet, just as the Reformation could not have started in 1516 without the printing revolution. In these political bouleversements, the Net functions like the intermediate agent or mechanism in a chemical reaction.
For somebody on the political Left, the rapid growth and penetration of the Movimento cinque stelle in Italy provides a particularly instructive and inspiring example. Firstly, because Beppe Grillo and the M5S is closer to Leftist ideals than the British UKIP, not to speak of Donald Trump and the Tea Party movement of the American Republicans! Secondly, because of the intelligent political use of the internet which characterizes the M5S; in contrast to the Pirate Parties (to which is related), the M5S has skipped the traditional models of political parties in favour of ”meetups”, that is, local political groups formed with a kind of collective dating application (called Meetup) on the internet.
It is also promising that many (most?) supporters and exponents of the M5S are young, fresh, well educated, and intellectually sharp, although they are often unemployed, or otherwise victims of the Neoliberal policies of those in power (like Matteo Renzi, that spendthrift inheritor of the Italian Leftist legacy). I would like to mention some names: Virginia Raggi (b. 1978), the present Mayor of Rome, Chiara Appendino (b. 1984), the Mayor of Turin, and Dario Tamburrano (b.1969), who is one of the 17 Europarliamentarians of the M5S, and whose writings and translations I single out as particularly interesting in my attempts to understand (via the internet) what this new and successful political movement is, and is about. (Tamburrano, together with other grillini, translated Lester Brown’s Plan B: Mobilizing to Save Civilization into Italian 2008-9.)
But then, I have some personal background, not in Italian politics, but in trying to understand it. In the 1970s, I edited and prefaced a translation (from Italian to Finnish) of selected writings from Antonio Gramsci’s (1891-1937) Quaderni del carcere (the Prison Notebooks), among them the passage which he called elementi di politica (”first principles in politics”.) –The first thing to remember, according to A.G., is that there are those who govern, and those who are governed. We should by all means strive to a situation where this is no longer the case, but that situation is in a distant future, so for the time being, we need to take the division into leaders and led as our starting point. The second of the political elementa is that parties are the best way to educate the leaders and to maintain the necessary continuity of the ”state spirit” (spirito statale).
The five stars movement, with Beppe Grillo’s blog as its guide and all the local Meetups to connect to its social base certainly does apply the first of A.G:s principles. However, an important question remains unanswered: would the M5S be able to successfully govern Italy? And if it would, to what extent would it have to conform to more traditional party models?
Unless the M5S proves to be only a transient instant of political enthusiasm and direct democracy, the M5S will probably have to become more like its predecessors. Media revolutions may change many things, but they do not eliminate the need to use the old media together with the new, in order to complete the education and achieve the needed continuity.
Add to this a more general consideration: the internet is transformating the very nature of leadership if and when artificial intelligence is allowed to assume an ever greater role in human affairs. Hence also the urgent need to create a human governance over the internet itself. But these are global political problems.
European Summit on immigration crisis
What we are seeing is a breakdown of the political systems and the modern states that have existed since 1516, 1648, 1789 or 1815, depending on how you read their history. The global spread of the internet creates a situation of dual power, albeit one that is currently looming in the background rather than appearing at center stage. The rapid success of the M5S in Italy is only one symptom and confirmation of this ongoing process, albeit a rather good-natured one.
Another positive sign of systemic political change is the World Social Forum, which is also unthinkable without the services of the Net.
The internet has become a ”material condition” for the solution of the problems of mankind (in the sense indicated by the quotation from Marx at the beginning of this section.) It is also becoming a corner-stone of the much-needed new, and global, system of cooperation and political governance. While trying to figure out what the political institutions of that system will look like, how they shall function, and what roles shall be assigned to them, we must not forget that the digitalization of culture and communication is the digitalization of our memory. More precisely, of our external memory, the information that our species has laid out and preserved in the external world. It is my conviction that the specific memory institutions and their personnel—the librarians, documentalists, archivists and curators of museums—are bound to play a greater role in the political governments of the future than they do today. The wheel does not need to be reinvented; these memory institutions should of course continue to do what they have done so far in order to ”facilitate the knowledge creation in their communities” (R. David Lankes). But they should also build and govern the digital libraries, because this task is far too important to be left to corporate Empires like those of Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple. The librarians must become our guarantors of the transparency of politics, and the facilitators of political communication, both globally and locally.
As politics becomes truly global , the tasks and the power of the so called Fourth Estate (the journalists and publicists) will also undergo transformation. As an example of what this might mean, think of the most impressive document library created by WikiLeaks. A different example is the ever growing multilingual Wikipedia. Who are entitled to inherit the legacies of the Assanges, the Snowdens, the Wikipedians and the Elbakyans (Alexandra Elbakyan is the founder of the SciHub), if not the librarians?
While the printed press and the media have throughout history been prime manipulators of the public opinion and chauvinistic war-mongers, the librarians usually function beside or even beyond the current class struggles and wars between nations. Is it because librarians are different, better, or more ”objective” people than journalists? Of course not. The reason is inherent in the nature of their respective institutions. Librarians are not running after scoops, bigger audiences and richer advertisers; basically, they patiently strive to preserve and organize all the memory of mankind and to present it all with as little delay as possible to everybody. And the library is a nearly universal public institution. Libraries, consortiums of libraries, librarians, and associations of librarians, are everywhere, just like the internet, although in different numbers and amounts of nodes, depending on the country or region.
The library continues to be ”a growing organism” (Ranganathan’s fifth law of library science). Seen in a longer historical perspective, the internet is above all a current extension of the library, a new technique for the preservation, the organization and the distribution of the external memory of the human species. A steep reduction of the present corporate (capitalist) control over the software and the hardware of the internet is of course needed. The task of the Left and the librarians together is ”to kill the corporation” in order to liberate the internet . Otherwise the internet risks to be more of a problem than of a solution.
And the librarian’s ethic is in near perfect harmony with the original spirit of the internet.
11th September 2001 and Political Islam
This year has also seen at least two significant developments concerning the investigation of what actually happened in New York and Washington on 11th September 2001. The first: ”Declassified on July 15, 2016, the 28 pages revealed a web of interconnections linking Saudi government officials, members of the Saudi royal family, suspected Saudi intelligence operatives and 9/11 hijackers”, as the matter is described on https://28pages.org/ . Those 28 pages were originally included in the US congressional Joint Inquiry into Intelligence Community Activities Before and After the Terrorist Attacks of September 11, but censored and excluded from the report when it was published in 2004. Whatever the role of the Saudis in the astounding operations really was, is still not entirely clear, to say the least. But it certainly remains a matter in need of clarification.
Secondly, the editors of the newsletter of the European community of physicists, have chosen to publish the substantial article ”15 Years Later: On the Physics of High-Rise Building Collapses” (EuroPhysicsNews, Volume 47, Number 4, July-August 2016.) The lead paragraph reads as follows: ”On September 11, 2001, the world witnessed the total collapse of three large steel-framed high-rises. Since then, scientists and engineers have been working to understand why and how these unprecedented structural failures occurred.”
According to this article, written by phycisist Steven Jones, engineers Robert Korol and Anthony Szamboti, and Ted Walter of Architects & Engineers for 9/11 Truth, ”the available evidence indicates that the airplane impacts and ensuing fires did not cause the collapse of the Twin Towers.” This statement alone, made by real experts who have studied the issue during more than a decade, should be enough to shake the widespread belief in the story, spread and repeated by all major TV channels and newspapers, including those of the political Left, that the WTC towers indeed fell precisely because of the airplane impacts and the ensuing fires. The authors also discuss the case of the third WTC-building which was not even hit by any airplane; and yet it ”dropped in absolute free fall for the first 2.25 seconds of its descent over a distance of 32 meters or eight stories”, as the authors of the article note. About the ”implosion” of this building, the WTC-7, they write: ”Given the nature of the collapse, any investigation adhering to the scientific method should have seriously considered the controlled demolition hypothesis, if not started with it.”
The news, in this case, as in the case of the Saudi involvment in the crimes of 11 September 2001, is not in the content of the above-mentioned texts. The news is not in what it is being said, but in the authority—political, in the case of the Saudi connection; scientific in the case of EuroPhysicsNews–that allows it to be said, or admitted. Perhaps the time has finally come for the so-called Left to risk their own investigation of the so called 9/11?
I hope so, because I do not believe that the present situation can be analysed and understood, and that a way out from this situation can be found without that investigation, and without a massive refutation, not only of the official lies that the peoples have been fed about the crimes of 11 September 2001, but also of the false explanation, common among Leftists, that the ”terrorist attacks” (this description is taken for granted) were a ”blow-back”, a revenge for decades, if not centuries, of oppression and exploitation of the peoples of the global South in general, and the peoples of Moslem faith, in particular.
The official 9/11 doctrine teaches that a bunch of fanatical Arab Muslims decided to deal a grandiose blow against ”our values”, with hijacked aeroplanes that took down skyscrapers full of innocent people and crushed parts of the Pentagon, etc. No wonder then, if people who believe in this story get a little bit more afraid of Islam and the Muslims than they had been hitherto! On the other hand it is being explained, more often than not by people on the Left (or Liberals, as they are called in the USA), that Islam is one of the world religions (which is true), and just as peaceful as the other world religions (well, religions happen to more of this or that, depending on the times) , but, unfortunately, containing some very militant elements, such as the fanatics who perpetrated the terrist attacks of 11 September, and that fino in fondo those attacks were just what had to be expected, considering ”our” horrendous colonial and imperialist history.
In spite of not holding myself any a degree in psychiatry, I should like to call this situation a kind of collective double bind, and a truly vicious circle of violences and wars. The Westerners have been manipulated into such a fear of Islamist terrorists that they are ready to accept whatever misdeeds, usually directed against Muslim nationals, that heir governments and militaries commit on a daily basis in their ongoing ”war against terrorism.” Or they are already so afraid of being labelled as ”Islamophobic” that they forget to encourage and support the real defenders of freedom and democracy in the Muslim lands, namely, the critics and adversaries of political Islam, who often risk their lives in their civic fight for the separation of the religion (Islam) from the state, and for the rights of women, in Saudi Arabia, Iran, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, Afghanistan, and other countries where political Islam, a particularly reactionary kind of regime, is in place. Those in power, who are more or less of the Right (the likes of Tony Blair and the Clintons, not to speak of the Bushes and Donald Trump) are bound to be waging imperialistic wars, including their never-ending ”war on terror”; those on the Left, to shamefully betray their own ideals and allies.
As for the Muslims, the vicious circle is closed when the guilt for 11th September continues to be placed on their shoulders without any proper criminal and juridical investigation. Muslims are either bound to feel that they are innocent, and very unjustly accused for heinous acts which religious Muslims would never commit, and that they themselves and all other Muslims have ever since been under attack in a permanent ”war on terror” that is being justified precisely with that unjust accusation. Or they might actually have become entirely convinced by the daily repetition of the fable (because the mass media in all countries adhere to ”the truth” of it ) that the 9/11 crimes were indeed perpetrated by religious Muslims, and by Muslims alone. Hence they might as well start to consider that 9/11 was quite an achievement, and a significant victory in a henceforward inevitable jihad against their treacherous oppressors.
The European Union
La via da percorrere non è facile né sicura, ma deve essere percorsa e lo sarà.
– Il manifesto di Ventotene
This writing already touches on many things. Yet I should like to add a few words about the Left-wing critics of the European Union, because I happen to live in Europe and consider myself a European. (But who—after all the geographical conqests of the Europeans, including the more or less direct, but truly global intellectual conquests of the European thinker Karl Marx—is not to some extent Europeanized?)
The road to pursue is neither easy nor certain, but it must be followed and it will be, wrote Eugenio Colorni, Ernesto Rossi, Altiero Spinelli and Ursula Hirschmann in their famous Manifesto ”for a free and united Europe.” ( I don’t know whether Ursula Hirschmann actually put her pen to it, but without her smuggling the text to the continent from the island of Ventotene during during WWII and the still ongoing Fascist period in Italy, it would probably have been lost, anyway.)
The Constitution of such a European Union was outlined and published more than thirty years ago. See www.spinellisfootsteps.info. It is called Projet de traité instituant l’Union Européenne–Draft Treaty Establishing the European Union, and was endorsed in the European Parliament by 237 votes to 31 with 43 abstentions in February 1984.
The mountains were in labour, and out came an absurd mouse (The Single European Act of 1985). Then the mouse grew into a monster.
For a free and united Europe! Only add: a Europe that is freed from nuclear weapons! Nigel Farage, Marine le Pen, and other nationalists may be totally opposed to the ideas in the Manifesto of Ventotene and to European nuclear disarmament. The Left has to prevail over them as well as over the pseudo-federalists in the European Commission led by Jean-Claude Juncker.
It must become possible and legitimate for member countries to abandon the failed currency, the Euro. The financial markets must be regulated and the tax havens suspended As for the rest of the necessary economic reform, quite a bit of what needs to be done seems to be laid down in the above-mentioned Plan B by Lester Brown.
Leftists of all countries, secure the success in 2017 of the UN initiative for the outlawing of nuclear weapons which has already won the support of 123 state governments out of 193, while 16 have abstained from taking stand! More on the UN initiative at the UN General Assembly (starts on December 9, 2016 ,while I am finishing this article,) and at http://www.icanw.org/.