Letters to the Editors
Truthdig, and Socialist Viewpoint
Reply to Chris Hedges, “What it Means to be a Socialist.” Socialist Viewpoint, Vol. 15, No. 6
Amidst Chris Hedges’ many best-selling books and numerous articles, we have his “What It Means to be a Socialist,” on Truthdig and in Socialist Viewpoint for November-December 2015. Here we have a perspective on Hedges’ philosophy and perspective as a socialist. This is an important contribution among the many radical muckrakers and leftist critics and journalists who currently expose the crimes and contradictions of capitalism and imperialism. Hedges is in the forefront of these efforts.
Problem is however, Hedges’ claims to be presenting a socialist analysis of how to change the system fall way short, and exhibit contradictions.
Hedges’ article focuses primarily on what it truly means to be a socialist, with an antiwar perspective front and center. I was thrown off at first by his initial statement that, “all socialists are unequivocal anti-militarists and anti-imperialists,” which flies in the face of reality. Soon, however, Hedges clarifies this, and waxes eloquent on why “socialists,” such as Bernie Sanders, for instance, are not real socialists, due to, in Sanders’ case, his support for the Obama administration’s wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen. “You cannot be a socialist and an imperialist,” counters Hedges. That takes out almost all so-called “socialists.” Nevertheless, good, so far.
But Hedges fails to deal at all with the question of how Sanders’ (and others’) version of “socialism” came to be, and how that relates to the question of replacing capitalism with socialism, which for revolutionary socialists is, axiomatically, the biggest of the big questions. First and foremost, Hedges completely ignores the critical and historically-determined difference between so-called “socialism” and communism.
This starts with the fact that originally…there was no such difference!
Before the “Great War” (World War I,) socialism and communism were different words for the same thing: the overthrow of capitalism, and the establishment of the working class in power, which would soon produce a classless society based on the principle of “from each according to ability, and to each according to need.” Exploitation of labor, and imperialist war, would be abolished, and the state—the instrument of ruling class power—would eventually wither away. It would take a struggle for power and a revolution to accomplish this. Karl Marx, author of the Communist Manifesto, was a principal leader of the Socialist Second International, which brought socialist parties around the world together in one formation. The Second International of social-democratic parties was, in pronouncement at least, decidedly opposed to imperialist war... until 1914, that is.
The onset of World War I revealed the weaknesses that lurked within the social-democracy. Reformism, and the desire to preserve itself and its institutions within capitalist society, had corrupted the Second International. The vote in favor of war credits by the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) in parliament in August 1914, together with similar actions by socialist parties throughout Europe, was a defining betrayal. It has led to the pitiful decline, and formal abandonment of Marxism by the German SPD and other “socialist” parties today. Communism, represented by the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the Third (Communist) International—a continuity now carried forward by Trotskyists—became the true representation of Marx’s revolutionary socialism.
Chris Hedges: Are you aware of this crucial history of socialism and communism? Of course you are. Yet you have chosen to align yourself with the worst, most reformist and anti-communist “tradition” of the Social Democracy, by proclaiming that, “it is not our job to take power. It is our job to build movements to keep power in check.”
What is this if not a repeat of the philosophy of Eduard Bernstein, the German Social-Democrat who wrote, Evolutionary Socialism (1899), and advocated reforming capitalism as the “socialist” path. He said (paraphrasing), that the movement is everything, and the end goal is nothing. Although he was denounced by the SPD leadership, Bernstein’s reformist proscription was ultimately the defining characteristic of official “socialism,” as well as the reason for its endorsement of imperialist war in 1914, and its subsequent decline into political irrelevance.
Chris Hedges: where does all this leave you? You say that Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal was put in place “because socialists were a strong and serious threat.” You quote Roosevelt saying that “...it is time for the country to become fairly radical for at least one generation. History shows that where this occurs occasionally, nations are saved from revolution.” One waits expectantly for your revolutionary alternative to this miserably tepid prescription for the temporary “reform” of capitalism...in vain. There is none. In fact, although you admit that there are “no mechanisms to institute genuine reform...left within the structures of power,” you explicitly renounce any struggle for power by the working class. Eduard Bernstein could not have said it better.
Chris Hedges: toward the end of your piece, you list 27 items marked as “If you do not do this, you are not a socialist,” including such items as, nationalizing public utilities, railroads and banks; declaring a moratorium on foreclosures and bank repossessions; demilitarization of police; abolishing the for-profit arms industry: and, perhaps most importantly, prosecuting “those leaders, including George W. Bush and Barack Obama, who engage in acts of pre-emptive war, which under post-Nuremberg laws is a criminal act.” And you say, “if you will not demand we dismantle our military establishment...you are not a socialist.”
Chris Hedges: Just how do you suppose that “we” can accomplish all these things without taking power in our own name, as revolutionary working people? Can we do it by electing some reformist politician? Ha! The political system in this country, as in all capitalist so-called “democracies,” is rigged, as you admit.
And what do you mean by “our” military establishment anyway? It is not “ours;” it belongs lock stock and barrel to the bourgeois ruling class, and it is there for enforcing their interests and repressing us, full stop. They are the ones that “we,” the working class, must overthrow in order to accomplish your 27 demands.
But then, you are not for overthrowing anybody, are you: you are for reforms that may last for one generation at best, like those of that “socialist” (read bourgeois aristocrat) Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
Chris Hedges: You have done much good work in exposing the crimes of the capitalist/imperialist system. Now it is time for you pony up to the reality of what we really need to do to get rid of it.
Comradely, Chris Kinder
Those terrible terrorists are killing our soldiers in their countries and killing us here at home. How can we stop them?
The answer is simple: Stop terrorizing them. We started this war. What we do to others comes back on us.
In the late 1940s the USA and Britain pressured the United Nations into confiscating Arab land to form the state of Israel, making the Arabs pay for the crimes of the Germans. They wanted Israel as a forward base for dominating the resources of the Middle East.
In the early 1950s the USA and Britain overthrew the government of Iran because it tried to nationalize its oil industry, which was under Western control. We installed the Shah as dictator, and he promptly gave the oil back to us. Then he began a 25-year reign of terror against his own people. His secret police jailed, tortured, or killed hundreds-of-thousands of Iranians who opposed him. Since they knew he was kept in power only by American military aid, they began hating the USA.
In the mid 1950s Egypt decided to nationalize the Suez Canal and use the income from it to help their people out of poverty. They were willing to pay its British and French owners the full market value for their shares, but Western governments and Israel responded violently, invading and bombing Egypt into submission.
Countries have the right to nationalize their resources as long as they pay a fair compensation, so what Iran and Egypt wanted to do was legal. The Western response, though, was illegal aggression in violation of international law and the United Nations charter. It roused in its victims a deep resolve for revenge.
The West has committed similar atrocities in Syria, Libya, Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, and Indonesia. We’ve overthrown their governments, installed dictators, undermined their economies—all to strengthen our business interests. In every nation where we now have terrorism, we had first assaulted them. We are under attack only because we are on the attack. It’s no wonder they hate us. Imagine how we would feel if a foreign country was doing this to us. We’d be fighting back any way we could.
Since they don’t have our military power, they’re resorting to guerrilla warfare. As Mike Davis wrote, “The car bomb is the poor man’s air force.” The rich have Stealth bombers, the poor have Toyota Corollas, both filled with explosives. The bombers are much bigger and kill many more people. Since 9-11 the USA has killed over three-hundred-thousand—a hundred times more than died in the World Trade Center. The overwhelming majority have been civilians. We are the top terrorists, armed to the teeth with weapons of mass destruction. As Martin Luther King stated: “The greatest purveyor of violence in the world today is my own government.”
Our politicians and media have created an image of fiendish terrorists who “hate us for our freedom.” But they really hate us for subjugating them. Since we started the aggression, the attacks won’t end until we leave their countries.
Even fanatics like al-Qaeda and ISIS are fighting a defensive war, trying to force us out. The Western media never publish their demands because they are so reasonable. They basically come down to, “Go home and leave us alone. Pull your soldiers, your CIA agents, your missionaries, your corporations out of Muslim territory. If you do that, we’ll stop attacking you.” Nothing about destroying the West or forcing it to become Islamic. Just that the West should stay in the West.
If people knew this—knew how easy it would be to stop terrorism—they wouldn’t want to fight this war. That’s why the media ignore the fundamentalist’s demands. Western leaders don’t want people to see that the war’s real purpose isn’t to stop terrorism but to control the resources of this region. They actually want the terrorism because that gives them the excuse they need—the threat of an evil enemy.
As Hermann Goering, Hitler’s assistant, declared: “Naturally the common people don’t want war.... But...it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship.... All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.”
Goering was right about the democracies that existed both then and now. In these, the people’s influence in politics is limited to ensure that only pro-capitalist parties have a chance. Corporate financing, winner-take-all elections, ballot-access laws, and slanted media coverage effectively exclude alternatives. Democracy means power is in the hands of the people. But the real power in our society—economic power—remains firmly in the hands of the rich elite, enabling them to control politics—and us—to a large degree.
Capitalism is always at war. The violence, though, is often abstract: forcing us either to accept low-paying, exhausting jobs or starve; denying us adequate healthcare, education, and economic security; convincing us that human beings are basically isolated, autonomous units seeking self gratification. But when this doesn’t suffice to keep their profits growing, the violence becomes physical, the cannons roar, and the elite rally us to war to defend “our” country and destroy the fiendish enemy. Motivating us to kill and die for them requires a massive propaganda campaign—The West is under attack!—which we absorb whenever we turn on their media.
Why do they do this? Are they monsters?
No, they’re not. They’re just human beings who are products of an inhuman system which they have chosen to serve rather than change. Capitalism is inherently predatory, so predatory personalities rise to the top. Since it demands aggressive growth, they must either dominate or go under.
The drive for domination is the root cause of war, and until we eliminate it, we’re going to continue killing one another. Eliminating it requires a global struggle to bring down capitalism and replace it with socialism. Political democracy must be expanded and extended into the economic sphere. We, the people of the world, have to take control of the forces that shape our lives. This is the basis for building a society in which we can all fully develop as human beings. Once we achieve this, we’ll have a real chance for lasting peace.
We can do this! It’s no more difficult than other evolutionary challenges humanity has mastered.
—William T. Hathaway
I write to express my deep sadness and heartfelt sympathy and solidarity with the French and Lebanese peoples in the wake of the awful and indiscriminate attacks by Daesh (Islamic State) extremists that killed so many innocent people in Paris and Beirut. My thoughts are with all the families of those who lost loved ones and those who were injured. But these are not the only innocent people suffering such ordeals. And the Daesh or IS group are not the only immoral and evil forces at work in the world carrying out horrific massacres and other abuses. I’m also very mindful and offer my utmost support to the brave brothers and sisters, Kurds, Syrians, Iraqis, Yazidis, Palestinians, Armenians, among others engaged in fighting these same cruel fascists of Daesh who are still massacring and repressing people (mostly Muslims, but also Christians and others) in Iraq and Syria. And I want to express my solidarity with others enduring war, terror and resisting oppression. Unlike some in the Western countries, I do not forget or neglect the fact that there are other courageous peoples in Palestine, Syria, Turkey and elsewhere also struggling for freedom, human rights and self-determination against vicious, fascistic regimes that have imposed brutal occupations, ethnic cleansing, appalling atrocities and tyranny on them. I grieve for the hundreds and thousands killed in these conflicts, for the many hurt, the millions of terrorized and displaced refugees and salute those continuing to struggle, sacrifice and refusing to give up their quest for justice.
Save Ashraf Fayadh, Palestinian poet sentenced to death in Saudi Arabia.
Ashraf Fayadh, Palestinian refugee poet and artist living in Saudi Arabia, has been sentenced to death by a Saudi court, on charges of apostasy or abandoning his faith in Islam. The charges appear to be based on his poetry and writing and also maybe a form of retaliation for posting an online video showing Saudi religious police lashing a man in public.
Fayadh is a Palestinian refugee who was born in Saudi Arabia and has become a leading member of the young Saudi art scene. He was arrested in January 2014, his identity documents confiscated, and held for a lengthy period without charge. He was then sentenced to four years in prison and 800 lashes; after he appealed; he was re-tried last month and sentenced to death. He did not have legal representation.
Fayadh is being sentenced to death after having been jailed for more than 22 months in the Saudi city of Abha without clear legal charges beyond “insulting the Godly self” and having “ideas that do not suit the Saudi society.” These charges are based on the complaint of a reader’s interpretation of Fayadh’s 2008 poetry collection titled, Instructions Within.
“According to Fayadh’s friends, when the police failed to prove that his poetry was atheist propaganda, they began berating him for smoking and having long hair,” reported the Guardian. Fayadh said his poetry book, Instructions Within, is “just about me being [a] Palestinian refugee…about cultural and philosophical issues. But the religious extremists explained it as destructive ideas against God.”
This is not the first time that Saudi authorities have arrested Ashraf Fayadh. The poet was detained before after a Saudi citizen filed a complaint with the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice accusing Fayadh of having “misguided and misguiding thoughts.” Fayadh was bailed out of jail at the time, only to get arrested again. According to sources close to Fayadh, the poet has been denied both visitation and legal representation rights.
Amnesty International stated, “We condemn these acts of intimidation targeting Ashraf Fayadh as part of a wider campaign inciting hate against writers and using Islam to justify oppression and to crush free speech. We express our solidarity with Fayadh, hoping to increase support for the poet as well as pressure to release him. Our efforts should come together to ensure the proliferation of free speech and personal freedoms. We specifically call on Saudi intellectuals to express solidarity with Fayadh against Takfiris’ intimidation practices meant to silence poets, writers, and artists like him. Let the flag of creativity fly free and remain innovative. Remaining silent towards Fayadh’s detention is an insult to knowledge, literature, culture, and thought as well as to freedom and human rights.”
Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network joins the call for the immediate freedom of Ashraf Fayadh. His imprisonment, persecution and death sentence by the Saudi regime reflects the deeply reactionary and far-right role played by the Saudi regime in the region—alongside its close imperial partners in the United States, Canada and Europe—that threatens Palestinian and Arab culture, life, and movements and works to block and suppress any struggle for liberation.
One hundred Arab intellectuals have called for Fayadh’s release and so far over 10, 000 people have signed an AI petition to save his life. Please sign and share the petition. https://secure.avaaz.org/en/petition/Amnesty_international_Save_the_palestinian_poet_and_artist_Ashraf_Fayadh/?tUPvwdb
To take further action:
1. Call the Saudi Embassy in your area and demand freedom for Ashraf Fayadh. In the United States, call 202-342-3800. In Canada, call 613-237-4100. Find the embassy in your country here: http://embassy.goabroad.com/embassies-of/saudi-arabia
2. Protest at the Saudi Embassy in your area for freedom for Ashraf Fayadh. Print signs and materials, and gather outside the Saudi embassy with Palestine rights activists, artists and others to demand his freedom. See the list of Saudi embassies here: http://embassy.goabroad.com/embassies-of/saudi-arabia
3. Contact your government officials. The Saudi regime is a close partner of the United States, Canada and various European governments. Demand that your government pressure the Saudi regime to release Fayadh. In Canada, Call the office of the Foreign Minister, Stéphane Dion, at 613-996-5789 and demand Canada pressure Saudi Arabia to release Fayadh, or email: firstname.lastname@example.org. In the U.S., call the White House (202-456-1111) and the U.S. State Department (202-647-9572); demand the U.S. pressure Saudi Arabia to release Fayadh. In the EU, contact your Member of the European Parliament—you can find your MEP here:
Please also write letters, Facebook posts, emails or send Facebook messages to your local politicians, newspapers and friends to publicize this dire case and spread the information about the situation of Ashraf Fayadh.
*Information from Amnesty International, Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network and AVAAZ.