Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The "Ignominy" of Jim Hoagland

The "Ignominy" of Jim Hoagland [Archival Material]
By Thomas Riggins
orignally from Political Affairs magazine

The dictionary defines "ignominy" as "disgrace" and it is the word recently used by Washington Post columnist Jim Hoagland to describe Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s decision to withdraw a 51 person contingent from Iraq in exchange for the life of a kidnapped Philippine national.

Far from being an "ignominy" this was a courageous and morally correct action on the part of the Philippine president who put the saving of a human life before the empty bravado and politically motivated hypocrisy of other members of the coalition put together by the Bush administration in its phony "War Against Terrorism."

If there is any "ignominy" it is the writings of columnists who use their access to the mass media to paint the craven self-serving policies of such coalition partners as Italy, Japan and others who standby and refuse to back away from their unwarranted support of the aggressive US policies in the Middle East while their nationals a re murdered or threatened. Hoagland, in fact, credits "refusing to bargain" to save human life with being a policy of "political solidarity and maturity."

By now everyone knows that Iraq has nothing to do with the attack on 9/11. That the war against Iraq was planned long before that attack and that it is part of a plan for US domination of the Middle East and its oil, and the coalition of the coerced that the US put together is made up of nations with ulterior motives having nothing to do with the fight against terrorism.

While Germany and France opposed the war from a principled position based on a commitment to the UN and a refusal to support what all knowledgeable observers consider an unnecessary war of choice, the coalition "partners" – mostly countries with right wing or even fascistoid regimes – have no more credibility as defenders of humanity against terrorists than does the pro-torture and civilian-killing Bush administration.

Hoagland admits the Philippine force was "symbolic" and "militarily insignificant." In fact it was simply another fig leaf to cover up the naked aggression launched against the Iraqi people. The actions of the Philippine President are condemned because she preferred to save a life rather than continue to be part of the killing machine unleashed against the civilian population of Iraq where over 25,000 people, including thousands of children, have become "collateral damage" – i.e., innocent victims of American aggression.

What motivates the countries Hoagland considers our true blue allies? He mentions Bulgaria and Poland – both of which are simply currying favor with the US hoping for financial aid and political pay offs in the future. Then there is Japan. Japan would not even admit its own terrorist behavior towards China in World War II. Its right-wing government wants to reconstitute the country’s armed forces and is using Iraq as an opportun ity to start this process. As for Italy – I hope Mr. Hoagland doesn’t seriously think a government that cooperates with ultra-right neo-fascists in its own country is committed to a fight against "terrorists."

The reason these so-called allies are refusing to negotiate to save their nationals is simply because they have no concern whatsoever for human life or dignity – any more than does the army which runs Abu Ghraib.

I am afraid the only "ignominy" to be seen in the withdrawal of the Philippine forces was that of being in Iraq in the first place. Let us also be reminded that the people of Italy, Japan and other coalition forces, including Great Britain, are overwhelmingly opposed to "their" respective government’s support of US policies – which means the support they give to the Bush administration is fundamentally undemocratic and thus immoral. The only government with the decency to respect the will of its own people, besides the Philippines, was Spain.

--Thomas Riggins is book review editor of Political Affairs and can be reached at

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Worker's Pay and the Election

Online at:

Workers' Pay and the Election [Archival Material]
By Thomas Riggins

With less than two months before the election a brief review of the economy shows that there can be no reason for working people to vote Republican. Nevertheless, an AFL-CIO official discussing union organization recently stated (on CSPAN 9/6/04) that about one third of union members typically vote Republican. If union members are the most class conscious workers what does this say about the voting habits of the vast majority of working people who are not unionized? If working people realized that their falling pay rates and other economic hardships were directly related to Republican policies directed against their interests there would be little likelihood of a Republican victory in November. Lets see how workers are faring in the economy on the eve of the election.

Eduardo Porter authored the main front page story for the New York Times back on July 18, entitled "Hourly Pay in U.S. Not Keeping Pace With Price Rises." A close look at this article affords us the opportunity of analyzing the current state of US capitalism’s exploitation of working people.

Porter points out that workers paychecks are falling behind the increases in inflation, but he optimistically predicts that wages will go up "if businesses continue to hire." That’s a big if, especially when he admits there is a large surplus of workers due to loss of jobs over the last three years (over a million lost jobs!).

Marx called this surplus the industrial reserve army of labor and its function is to keep wages low – so don’t look for any great amelioration of the working class. Porter quotes Jared Bernstein, a liberal economist, to the effect that higher wages won’t be on the agenda due to the higher unemployment rate (5.6 per cent according to the official figures – much larger in reality).

Wages are actually dropping. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported on July 16 a 1.1 per cent drop in June in the wages of production workers. The government’s definition of "production worker" is a little different from Marx’s as it may include both workers who do and who do not create surplus value. The government definition, according to Porter, is "non-management workers ranging from nurses and teachers to hamburger flippers and assembly line workers." For purposes of my article this is the pool from which surplus value is created, so this group, for all intents and purposes, corresponds to "the proletariat" – they account for about 80 per cent of the workers or "workforce" according to Porter.

These figures boil down to this – the working class is getting shafted by the capitalists and their wages are the lowest they have been since October 2001. While the capitalists are wallowing in money, the workers have regressed to the level of three years ago.

But, if the workers have less money to spend the capitalists will see their markets contract – this can’t be good for them, or so you might think.

Not to worry – the workers don’t make enough money to really effect the market. The bottom 50 per cent of households account for only a third of the spending according to another economist, Mark Zandi, cited by Porter.

This may be a ‘’big blow’’ for workers (Porter calls the proletariat the ‘’lower middle class’’) but things are not all that bad. Porter quotes Ethan Harris over at Lehman Brothers: ‘’Joe Six-Pack [another term for workers used by bourgeois economists] is under a lot of pressure. He got a lousy raise; he’s paying more for gasoline and milk. He’s not doing that great. But proprietor’s income is up [Thank God!]. Profits are up. Home values are up. Middle-income and upper-income people are looking pretty good.’’ Joe Six-Pack also has a death wish because he is flirting with the idea of voting for Bush.

The workers are suffering due to the laws of supply and demand. Our economic system does not see working people as human beings but as objects [hired hands] whose ability to work is bought and sold just as any other commodity on the market. There are still some 1.4 million missing jobs [jobs lost] under President Bush and a big surplus of unemployed workers to keep wages depressed. Porter quotes some other economists who think the low wage factor may still hurt the economy – poor people can’t buy the commodities the capitalists want to sell. The big crunch is out there even if it is not yet on the horizon. The market is being fed by big capitalist profits, tax cuts for the rich – plus the big money made by the upper classes – this money sucks commodities out of the market keeping over-production down – and the poor are spending too, but using credit cards and building up hard to control personal debts.

Mark Zandi opines that ‘’The recovery will likely continue’’ [there has been an up-tick in the market for the rich] ‘’despite the travails of the lower-income households, but it cannot flourish.’’ That means stagnation at some point with the majority of workers never really getting ahead – but that is what capitalism does for you.

The liberal Jared Bernstein told Porter that the working class won’t see wages ‘’at a level closer to that of productivity’’ until we get ‘’truly full employment.’’ That would mean, of course, no industrial reserve army to keep wages low – and that will never happen under capitalism. The quote also reveals another ‘’secret’’ of the capitalist system. It is the ‘’productivity’’ of the working class that ultimately produces all the wealth of capitalist society – and the earnings of the workers will never equal their productivity level. It is that gap, between levels of productivity and wages that is responsible for the wealth of the capitalists – and they will never cease to live off the sweat of others until their class is abolished.
Thomas Riggins is the Book Review editor for Political Affairs magazine.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Socialism Betrayed-- Book Review

Book Review - Socialism Betrayed, by Roger Keeran and Thomas Kenney (in print)
By Thomas Riggins

In Socialism Betrayed, Keeran and Kenny discuss the collapse of the Soviet Union (SU). While I think they fail to accomplish their aim they have produced a narrative history of the last years of the SU. Their thesis is the SU collapsed "because of the policies that Mikhail Gorbachev pursued after 1986." This is reminiscent of the Great Man Theory of history put to rest by Plekhanov’s "The Role of the Individual in History."

The book relates the Byzantine intrigues of the Politburo and a dozen or so men in the leadership. The authors’ heroes are Stalin (some qualifications are offered for his darker policies), Molotov, Malenkov and the early Brezhnev (who in his last five years "played no active part in state or Party life") and Andropov and finally Yegor Ligachev. The "axis of evil" that betrayed the SU runs from Bukharin through Khrushchev to Gorbachev.

These two trends were representative of two trends in the economy. The authors’ heroes represented the first economy – i.e., the state-controlled industrial economy. The "axis of evil" represented the illegal second economy, which was a black market in consumer goods: articles of clothing, household articles, sunglasses, rip-offs of Western "pop music" and knickknacks. How the knickknack market found representatives on the Politburo and was able to overcome the socialized industrial sector makes up a large part of the book.

This struggle is reduced to rivalries among the Soviet elite. The working class is barely mentioned in the recounting of events. Why this emphasis on individuals rather than historic forces always take a back seat to great personalities? Why hasn’t the Soviet working class more voice or participation in this book?

Economic problems, political and ideological stagnation and imperialist pressure did not cause the collapse, the authors say. That was the result of "the specific reform policies of Gorbachev and his allies" (as if the problems and stagnation were not the cause of the reform policies). They hold this view because they believe "the subjective factor is vastly more important in socialism than in capitalism." Elsewhere in discussing the economic problems of the Brezhnev era they write: "Even more important than the objective problems were the subjective ones: the problems of policy...." But policy is a reflection of objective reality. Policies are the result of objective circumstances and can never be "more important." In fact, "wrong" policies themselves have an objective basis.

The authors end by discussing six alternative explanations of the collapse and then their own. The six explanations they reject are 1) flaws of socialism, 2) popular opposition, 3) external factors, 4) bureaucratic counter-revolution, 5) lack of democracy and over-centralization, and 6) the Gorbachev factor. Most agree that one and two were not factors. The remaining four, I think, should not be approached as independent categories. All four of these explanations should be seen as a dialectical unity. The external factors (imperialist pressure) plus the backward initial economic conditions led to a lack of democracy and over-centralization which resulted in an isolated Party leadership: a leadership that became bureaucratic and ultimately counter-revolutionary. The seeds of the collapse do not just go back to the Khrushchev era (or to Bukharin), but are to be traced back at least to 1919 and the failure of the revolutions in the West.

The authors maintain they have a different explanation. But the thrust of the book places it in category six – the Gorbachev factor. They write: "What caused the Soviet collapse? Our thesis is that the economic problems, external pressures, and political and ideological stagnation challenging the Soviet Union in the early 1980s, alone or together, did not produce the Soviet collapse. Instead it was triggered by the specific reform policies of Gorbachev and his allies."

The last pages of this book reveal a deeper cause in the bureaucratic counter-revolution theory. The authors maintain the collapse was not inevitable but was the result "of a triumph of a certain tendency within the revolution itself. It was a tendency rooted at first in the peasant nature of the country and later in a second economy, a sector that flourished because of consumer demands unsatisfied by the first economy and because of the failure of authorities to appreciate the danger it represented and to enforce the law against it." They end where one must actually begin. Why couldn’t the first economy satisfy the need for consumer goods, why did the bureaucracy foment counter-revolution? These are the important unanswered questions the international movement is still grappling with. I would also add that one of the weaknesses of this book is that there is no reference to the views of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation. In any event the discussion of why the SU collapsed has not been put to rest by this book.

Socialism Betrayed: Behind the Collapse of the Soviet Union.
By Roger Keeran and Thomas Kenny
New York, International Publishers, 2004.

--Thomas Riggins is book review editor of Political Affairs and can be reached at

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Lenin Goes to Market

from Political Affairs

Lenin Goes to Market
By Thomas Riggins

In 1891 the Russian economist V.Y. Postnikov published "Peasant Farming in South Russia." Two years later, while living in Samara, the young Lenin studied and reviewed Postnikov’s work. The resulting study, "New Economic Developments in Peasant Life", is Lenin’s earliest surviving work. Lenin’s interest in peasant farming was motivated by the desire to understand the capitalist relations penetrating the Russian countryside.

In his review, Lenin described the relationship of the market to capitalist relations of production. With regard to the prosperous peasants of South Russia, Lenin wrote that they "possess considerably more than the average quantity of means of production," and their labor is "more productive, [they] are the principle growers of agricultural produce in the district, and predominate over the remaining groups." Lenin considered their economic organization to be "commercial in character" and "largely based on the exploitation of hired labour."

In his review of Postnikov, Lenin observes that "the soil in which the above described phenomena grow is production for sale." At the root of "the struggle of economic interests arising among the peasantry is the existence of a system under which the market is the regulator of social production."

This early review of Lenin sheds light on the discussion of the socialist market economy. Two recent articles in Political Affairs indicate that more clarity is needed on the concept. For example we read that "The socialist market economy is designed for transition from an early capitalist or even pre-capitalist society and the focus is to create the prerequisites for socialism." But an observer of the situation in China, the leading proponents of the socialist market economy, state to the contrary that "China is already a socialist society."

One of the sources of this lack of clarity may be that some people base their notion of the socialist market economy on "classical" Marxism and may thus be very likely to view the socialist market economy as a euphemism for capitalism. But the Chinese Communist Party states that "Socialism with Chinese characteristics is based on yet different from [my emphasis] socialism as defined by Marx." Thus using only the "classical" theories of Marxism-Leninism the socialist market economy as practiced in China will not appear to be socialist. This conclusion is, I think, borne out by the following analysis of Lenin’s work on the market question.

Soon after his study of Postnikov in 1893 Lenin moved to St. Petersburg and became involved with a group of Marxists who called themselves "the ancients." Here he wrote his second major work On the So-Called Market Question. Krupskaya, Lenin’s future wife, tells us this work made a profound impression as the views being expressed in the Marxist study groups at the time were taking on abstract and mechanical characteristics. According to Krupskaya "The question of markets had a close bearing on the general question of the understanding of Marxism."

Early in this essay Lenin reminds us that Marx, in Capital, has established "that in capitalist society, the production of means of production increases faster than the production of means of consumption." But what is this "capitalist society" Marx writes about? In a brilliant sketch of its development, Lenin maintains that capitalism is the stage of commodity production in which, as discovered by Marx, human labor power becomes a commodity.

There are two stages in this development of capitalism. The first is the evolution of the natural economy developed by the producers themselves into an economy of commodity production. This first stage is the result of the division of labor. The second stage is the further development from commodity production into capitalism: an economy where commodities are specifically produced for a market where competition results in the ruin of weaker commodity producers, the creation of wage-workers from the ranks of the losers, and the growth of monopoly.

Lenin stressed the development of capitalism because the major social critics of his day were spokespersons for the interests of the peasantry – the so-called Narodniks. This term was a nickname for various groups attempting to prove that Russia would by-pass the capitalist stage of development and move into some form of peasant socialism based on primitive communal land ownership.
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In his analysis of the "market" Lenin makes three conclusions and two observations still relevant to contemporary discussions. First, the division of labor and the market are necessarily linked together. Thus we see that the market is the center of the economic system arising from commodity production which has, up to now, been called "capitalism."
Second, capitalism is based on the labor market and it produces, of necessity, an impoverished mass of actual and potential wage workers from the small producers who have been ruined by the growth of monopoly. This bloated labor market, where there are more workers than jobs, keeps labor costs low, leads to the enrichment of the capitalists, and an expansion of the market.

Third, due to ruthless competition between the capitalists they are forced to expand their system and gain control of new markets.

After drawing these conclusions, Lenin remarks that there are two supplemental points which must be noted: 1) the market needs the workers to buy the commodities it produces and at the same time it forces as best it can the worker’s wages down – that is, the market wants to pay as little as possible for the worker’s commodity – labor power. Marx called this one of the most fundamental contradictions of capitalism. 2) Even though the market impoverishes the workers, this is relative since as capitalism advances it must satisfy, more or less, the rising expectations of the population "including the industrial proletariat."

When Lenin wrote On the So-Called Market Question the Russian Revolution was 24 years in the future, but the progressive intellectuals could see that the Russian autocracy was doomed – it was politically and economically anachronistic in comparison to the general level of European development. What type of system would replace it was an open question. What Lenin clearly saw, even at the age of 23, was that before speculation on the future of Russia could be profitably indulged in, a thorough and accurate understanding of the real nature of Russian socio-economic conditions had to be mastered. Thus, without in-depth knowledge of the social conditions of the peasants, any transfer of Western models, especially the Marxist model, would be fruitless. Nor, on the other hand, would it be possible to refute the "home-grown" models of the Narodniks.

Are these reflections on the Russian peasantry and the market, now over 100 years old, still relevant? Is impoverishment going on in China today? A recent New York Times article observes that up to 200 million peasants have to find supplemental employment in China’s cities – but many are cheated out of their wages without any means of obtaining their rights. These workers, responsible for about 40 percent of the income in the countryside have been cheated out of $12 billion in wages.

At the same time the productive forces have developed dramatically. But Lenin recognized that this is just what capitalism is all about. He stated that living standards (requirements) do improve by the development of the market – at least for some sections of the population.

Is the socialist market economy a reversion to capitalism or the first step in the development of a new kind of socialism making classical Marxist theory obsolete? I don’t have an answer to this question but I hope the above observations concerning Lenin’s views on the market question will lead to further discussion.

--Thomas Riggins is book review editor of Political Affairs.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Was Lenin Defective ?

Was Lenin Defective?
Annals of Ideology

By Thomas Riggins

In a recent booklet, by Leo Panitch and Sam Gindin (P&G), "Global Capitalism and American Empire," Lenin’s theory of imperialism comes in for some heavy criticism. Let’s see if it is justified.

The authors, in a section entitled "Rethinking Imperialism," caution against considering "globalization as inevitable and irreversible." They quote the Communist Manifesto as follows: "The need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the whole surface of the globe." Curiously, they think Marx and Engels were exhibiting "prescience" when they wrote this – which they call a description "of a future that strongly matches our present."

But Marx and Engels were not prophesying the future. They were describing the historical reality of their own day – so manifest, already by 1848, was the imperial drive of capitalism. Incidentally, the fact that P&G can take an 1848 description of capitalism for a future prediction strongly matching the present explains one of the reasons why the classics of Marxism have not become outdated.

P&G look at history and discern three "great structural crises" in capitalism: 1) Post 1870s colonial rivalry leading to World War I; 2) the Great Depression, leading to World War II; 3) globalization rapidly advancing due to economic problems of the 1970s. Because the contours of these crises and the results produced by them could not be predicted in advance, P&G contend that globalization is "neither inevitable" re: classical Marxism, "nor impossible to sustain." Since Lenin’s theory of imperialism implies the opposite conclusions, the authors think his theory is mistaken.

Lets take a closer look. Lenin’s theory, according to the authors, made the "fundamental mistake" of assuming "capitalist economic stages and crises." Lenin was "defective" in his "historical reading of imperialism" as well as his understanding of capital accumulation and, lastly, his view that "inter-imperialist rivalry" was "an immutable law of capitalist globalization."

After having asserted all this, P&G conclude that, contrary to Lenin’s ideas, "A distinctive capitalist version of imperialism did not suddenly arrive with the so-called monopoly or finance-capital stage of capitalism...."

P&G accuse Lenin of "reductionism" in equating monopoly capitalism with imperialism. They maintain that "capitalism" and "imperialism" are independent of each other ("two distinct concepts"). History tells them that imperialism can be traced further back than the 1870s: that it goes at least as far back as mercantilism. This is just playing with words. The Romans were imperialists as far as that goes. Lenin was not discussing some universal ahistorical "imperialism" but the specific historical imperialism of his own epoch based on the domination of financial capital.

Lenin saw that after 1873 (as a result of crises) monopoly capitalism began to consolidate and replace so-called competitive capitalism: the imperialism of Lenin’s days was a direct outgrowth of this new type of, a higher type in his words, of capitalism.

We can, without accusing Lenin of having a defective historical understanding, agree with P&G that it is false to maintain that "the nature of modern imperialism was once and for all determined in the kinds of rivalries attending the stage of industrial concentration and financialization associated with turn-of-the [19th]-century monopoly capital."

But of course they are correct. No Marxist, especially Lenin, would maintain history gets frozen at a particular stage of its development. Lenin says of his definition of imperialism that it is convenient to sum up the principle aspects of the phenomena he is describing but "nevertheless inadequate" because all definitions [and theories based on them] are "conditional and relative" because all historical social events and formations are in flux.

P&G would have a better grasp of Lenin’s theory if they understood it in its own terms and did not misrepresent it as a "once and for all" statement of the nature of imperialism. Their mistake is in thinking Lenin’s view of imperialism in terms of an evolution of economic stages and crises within capitalism was itself a mistake.

P&G also deny that imperialism is the "highest stage of capitalism." They do this because they are historically situated in the 21st century phase of "globalization" and Lenin’s theory, now almost a century old, dealt with the capitalism of his era. Therefore they maintain that what he was observing was "a relatively early phase of capitalism." They could have saved themselves a lot of unnecessary Lenin criticism had they been more historical themselves. Capitalism is not going to go back to a previous stage of independent national capitalisms. It will continue to internationalize itself through the process we call "globalization" and what Lenin was describing was a relatively early phase of the highest stage of capitalism. What we call "globalization" is just a euphemism for the domination of the world by a handful of powerful states dominated by financial and monopoly elites that continue to plunder the world in their own interests. Lenin saw that this system was really a transitional system to an even higher form of economic development – namely socialism. This transitional nature of the "highest stage of capitalism" is presently obscured by the temporary world dominance of US monopoly capitalism.

We should be absolutely clear about this, Lenin meant by "highest stage" not that the historical features of capitalism in his epoch were fixed for all (capitalist) time, as P&G seem to imply, but only that capitalism had, as capitalism, no higher stage to evolve into that would renounce the need to export capital (finance capital especially) and find markets abroad. Globalization is just the latest stage of monopoly capitalism as it has transformed itself and developed since the days of Lenin, but it is still the logical outcome of the situation described by Marx and Engels in 1848.

It is also, I think, an error to hold, as do P&G, that Lenin and like minded theorists of the past did not recognize the role of the state in relation to the market: that they failed "to appreciate the crucial role of the state in making ‘free markets’ possible and then to make them work."

A strange accusation to make against someone who viewed the state as the executive committee of the bourgeoisie and thought that it functioned to further the interests of the capitalist class and its struggle to, among other things, build, acquire, and maintain markets both domestic and foreign.

It is true that Lenin could not foresee the specific historical development that has resulted in "neoliberal" globalization dominated by one "superpower." But it is also true that the theory laid out by Lenin in Imperialism the Highest Stage of Capitalism remains the best starting point for any attempt to understand the contemporary world.

--Thomas Riggins' online comment appears each week. He can be reached at

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Marxism, Liberalism or Communitarianism

Marxism, Liberalism or Communitarianism
By Thomas Riggins

Reflections on Thomas Nagel's critique of Michael Sandel's book Public Philosophy: Essays on Morality in Politics ("Progressive but Not Liberal," THE NEW YORK REVIEW OF BOOKS, May 25, 2006)

Thomas Nagel entitles his essay on the social philosophy of Michael J. Sandel "Progressive but Not Liberal." Non-liberal progressives are most often to be found in socialist and communist organizations but not Sandel who is a professor of government at Harvard and referred to as a "communitarian" by Nagel. Nagel is happy to be a liberal and takes Sandel to task for having "defective" views about "liberalism." Nagel in fact defends the liberal cause by his critique of Sandel. I intend to analyze Nagel's critique from a Marxist perspective.

Nagel points out that the political system in the US is more volatile and heterogeneous than what one would find in Western Europe. The US is, in fact, "radically divided over issues of war, taxes, race, religion, abortion, and sex." He maintains that these differences are deep rooted and about "ultimate values." Yet these divisions do not threatened the stability of our political system. He says that "the cohesion of American society is stronger than its divisions" can be seen by the fact that people with radically incompatible basic value systems cohabit in a common political system and strive to express those values legally through open political processes. And, he maintains, this can be done "only because of a general commitment to the principles of limited government embodied in the Constitution."

Nagel goes on to divide the US political universe into two broad sections—based on how they respond the the problems listed above-- i.e., war, taxes, race,etc.

The conservatives, we are told, "are more interested in enforcing moral standards [and they think their standards are the only right ones--tr] on the community and protecting private property, and less interested in protecting personal liberty [libertarian conservatives would dispute this--tr] and reducing inequality." It is just the opposite with progressives, he says.

Progressives have to decide how to pursue their principles-- as "first" or "second" order principles. First order principles are those deeply held "fundamental beliefs" or core principles. The second order principles are those "concerning what kind of first order-principles may be used to justify the exercise of political and legal power". For example, should we try and have the state outlaw capital punishment based on the first order principle that all killing by the state is immoral, or should we use a different principle such as the corruption of the legal system or the racism in the sentencing procedures without calling into question the ultimate moral status of capital punishment itself.

Nagel allies himself with liberalism which he identifies more or less with the political philosophy of another Harvard professor, the late John Rawls author of such books as "Political Liberalism" and "A Theory of Justice."
According to Nagel liberalism tends to rely on second order principles and not confront the conservative positions with head on challenges of first order magnitude. Nagel says, for example that gay rights can be defended by liberals on the principle that the government should not be controlling "private sexual conduct" without getting into the issue of the moral status of homosexuality.

The target of Nagel's article, Sandel, represents another school of progressives which Nagel says is "not liberal." These progressives want to argue their positions on first order principles and duke it out with the conservatives on core values. Sandel wants to replace "liberalism" with what he thinks the "communal" republican spirit of the early US was, which he contrasts with the present day liberal concern with "individualism." What Sandel is interested in is (his word) "soul craft." Nagel explains this as "the cultivation of virtue in the citizenry by the design of political, social and economic institutions."

Wait a minute! This sounds familiar. This sounds like a species of the program of social engineering embarked upon in the Soviet Union in the 1930s and subverted and fought with tooth and claw by the big capitalist powers, first with their rebellious cat's paw Hitler, then continued as the Cold War by Hitler's anti-communist successors. Nagel senses this as well, as we shall see.

More immediately, however, Nagel attacks Sandel for having a "defective" understanding of Liberalism and misinterpreting the social philosophy of John Rawls. Nagel tells us that there are many forms of "Liberalism" but he contrasts only two-- European and American. The former is characterized by "the libertarianism of economic laissez-faire" (which sounds to me suspiciously like current neocon thought) while the latter represents "the democratic egalitarianism of the welfare state" (the owl of Minerva really does take flight at dusk, someone should tell Nagel that the welfare state is history).

But, he tells us, "all liberal theories have this in common: they hold that the sovereign power of the state over the individual is bounded by a requirement that individuals remain inviolable in certain respects, and that they must be treated equally." Basically this means equality before the law and equal political status (one person one vote, unless you are Black or Hispanic and your votes are tossed) and in American Liberalism "equality of opportunity and fairness in the social and economic structure of the society." I don't know what planet Nagel is from, maybe a parallel universe where Sweden is the only superpower, but US definitely does not fit this description. Well, maybe not, but those are the goals to be reached and John Rawls represents this kind of Liberalism which stresses "distributive justice that combats poverty and large inequalities perpetuated by inheritance and class." Yes, Liberalism wants to combat poverty and inequality based on the observation that "the poor ye shall always have with you" but Marxism, unlike Liberalism which wants to tinker with the bad consequences of Capitalism without ever questioning the system itself, wants to eliminate poverty , not just combat it, by getting rid of the economic system that breeds it, i.e., capitalism.

Sandel rejects Rawls "Liberalism." He has, as Nagel says "spent his career" opposing Rawls and Rawls’ form of "egalitarian liberalism." What he contests is "Rawls’ central claim that individual rights and principles of social justice should take precedence over the broad advancement of human welfare according to some standard of what constitutes the good life." This is wrongly framed from the Marxist perspective. We certainly are in favor of "broad advancement of human welfare" but not based on some bourgeois idealist concept of "the good life" but based on what we claim to be a scientific understanding of the motive force of the capitalist system, its directionality and the real possibility of restructuring of society in such a way that classes are abolished and all people will truly escape from the realm of necessity to that of freedom. This may sound utopian, but it is actually more realistic than the schemes of Rawls, Nagel or Sandel.

Meanwhile, while Rawls subordinates the "broad advancement of human welfare" to "individual rights", Sandel maintains that, in his own words, "Principles of justice depend for their justification on the moral worth or intrinsic good of the ends they serve." Nagel doesn't like this formulation. Sandel would ban Nazis from holding rallies but uphold the rights of people demonstrating for equality and against racism, for example. But, Nagel says, using Sandel's principle, people opposed to homosexuality ought to be opposed to gay people holding rallies. But it is the state that guarantees the rights of citizens and decides which ends are ultimately of "moral worth or intrinsic good." Nazis and KKK folk fail on both counts besides the fact that they would on principle end the rights of others to demonstrate if they could while gay people are not demanding the suppression of heterosexuals they are only asking for civil rights. So, I don think the analogy a good one to use against Sandel.

What Nagel really objects too is that Sandel thinks "the priority of right as being intelligible only if it serves the good." Liberals would "bracket" the question about if abortion, for example, was "murder" and defend the right to it on the grounds that a woman's right to choose should not be denied because of the "religious convictions of the majority." Sandel thinks that in order to approve of or support abortion we must "first determine that the Catholic position is false." This is a requirement for bracketing the question of its mortal status. 'The more confident we are," Sandel writes, "that fetuses are, in the relevant moral sense, different from babies, the more confident we can be in affirming a political conception of justice that sets aside the controversy about the moral status of fetuses."

Nagel says this is begging the question not bracketing it but this is because of how he has set up the question in the first place. Being a Liberal he is looking for a Liberal answer, based on a second order principle, and Sandel, not being a Liberal, looks for first order principles. I think Marxists are more akin to Sandel than to Nagel. Surely we want to decide if abortion is murder or not before we support it. Do women have a right to commit murder? What are the Catholic reasons for thinking this is murder? When we find out that the reasons are not based on science or an intelligent open minded examination of the evidence but only upon superstition and close minded adherence to dogma this surely must be the basis for our rejection the ant-abortion viewpoint. This way of thinking does not make Sandel's views of Liberalism "obtuse."

There are many behaviors that can be sanctioned by the state, Nagel says, that the state does not have to have an official position on with respect to their rightness or moral status. The state can be neutral in other words. But Sandel, says Nagel, "thinks justice and rights depend on what is actually good, and what rules and institutions serve those ends; he is not a relativist." This is also good Marxism. Marxists should, to the best standards available, try to determine the actual states of affairs they are dealing with and not bracket truth conditions. This would have prevented many of the catastrophes of the 20th century socialist project.

These different positions lead, as Nagel points out, to a "deep issue." Namely, "Do all moral standards derive from a single principle, or are there different principles for different kinds of entities?" Rawls and Sandel have very different views on this. Rawls does not hold that there is a common moral principle from which both personal rights and public rights derive. Rawls "thought that justice, which is the special virtue of social institutions like the state, depended on the distinctive moral character of the state itself, as an immensely powerful form of collective agency." In a Liberal democracy we are subject to majority rule. Actually, however, this has ceased to be the case in the US. The last two elections were most likely won as a result of vote fraud consciously carried out in disregard for any moral commitment to democratic values and solely to attain state power for the personal enrichment of corporate class entities at the expense of the majority of the population. This looks like a trend that may further develop.

Nevertheless, Rawls thinks in terms of a functioning bourgeois democracy with majority will "coercively enforced." But Rawls also believes in "fairness." This means that in addition to political and civil equalities the state must also "combat racial, sexual, and socioeconomic inequality." With regard to this duty of the state, Nagel says, "This is the fairness that Sandel derides." But I don't think that Sandel is for racial, sexual and socioeconomic inequality, nor do I think his social philosophy (or Marxism) entails any such consequences.

Nagel says that the state has no special moral status for Sandel. Sandel thinks once the people have decided on the ends to be sought (for Marxists this would be the abolition of property. classes and the state as well as the construction of socialism and communism) which for Sandel are ("seems to be" Nagel writes, which shows some confusion on this) "an unmaterialistic culture of closely knit communities and strong family ties" then the state will be used to construct this type of social reality (under socialism being eventually abolished or "withering away)."

But this kind of thinking will also lead, says Nagel "to theocracy, fascism or communism for those who accept alternative conceptions of the human good." Nagel thinks this is a telling point against Sandel but it isn't. The same thing can happen under the limited constitutional state that Liberals like Rawls and Nagel think can be constructed or maybe is even exemplified by the US today. Constitutions and philosophical models are not what guarantee freedom and rights. Only an informed, educated and alert citizenry can do that, and that is what we currently lack, and lack by governmental and corporate design, in the US today.

Nagel concludes by saying that "A hunger that demands more from the state [than "constitutional patriotism"] will lead us where history has shown we should not want to go." I am afraid we are on that road already and we have got on this road not only by reading direction signs put up by non-Liberal progressives, but by following those posted by Rawls and his followers as well. To halt the current slide towards fascism ("the national security state") we will need the combined forces of the progressive left as well as the center of the political spectrum that still believes in democracy and takes the Bill of Rights seriously. Rawlsian Liberalism alone will not suffice.

--Thomas Riggins is the Book Review Editor of Political Affairs and can be reached at

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Krauthammer's French Follies (Archival Materials)

Against the Grain: Krauthammer's French Follies
By Thomas Riggins

It is interesting to read between the lines of some of the ultra-right’s more illogical proponents – such as Charles Krauthammer who regularly bloviates on the last page of Time magazine. His essay of July 12 ‘04 is a case in point. When properly interpreted it reveals how bankrupt and self-destructive the Bush administration’s Iraqi policy has become.

Krauthammer calls his screed "Why the French Act Isn’t Funny Anymore." He thinks the French used to be funny – playing at grandeur and all that, but not now. Now they are thwarting the best-laid plans of Bush and Blair and have become a pain in the derriere. So he treats us to a real Jeremiad against French President Jacque Chirac, a representative of French conservatism. But his article actually provides support for the French position that he is attacking as "anti-Americanism" (read "anti-Bushism").

So what’s got Krauthammer’s goat? He, along with the whole crew of the usual ultra-right suspects, is up in arms over Chirac’s refusal to be a willing puppet of George Bush and to aid and abet him in his treacherous and disastrous military interventions in the Muslim world (although he teamed up with him against the Haitians).

Here is a proof of French obstructionism, according to Krauthammer. At the recent NATO meeting in Istanbul who should show up but Hamid Karzai, former US-sponsored terrorist against the progressive (women have rights) Soviet-supported Afghan government and now "supremely courageous President of Afghanistan" (or al least a small part of it – maybe Kabul during the day).

Like that other product of "democratic reconstruction" ("re-"?), Iyad Allawi, CIA agent and Prime Minister of the American-controlled part of Iraq (the Green Zone) who was appointed to office as was Bush – Karzai is totally dependent on his US handlers for survival. His mission to Istanbul was "to beg for our troops to protect his country" as a big Taliban-Al Qaeda resurgence threatens the election choreography laid out for September. NATO agreed to send some troops to help out at election time but France vetoed the US demand to immediately dispatch special NATO forces.

So is it France’s fault that Karzai has insufficient military support to back up his government? Not! Krauthammer rants about the "war" in Afghanistan as "the good war," "the war of undeniable (sic) necessity," "the war everyone (sic) supported," etc., but Chirac "with a flick of a hand" (those effete French) dismisses both Karzai and the US.

The truth, however, is quite different. Revelations in recent books, films and the press, including Time magazine if Krauthammer would bother to read it, have shown that Bush and his unindicted co-conspirators, after making a lot of woop-de-doo about the tragedy of 9/11, cynically manipulated the emotions of the American people to justify not a so-called war on terror and thus an attack on the Taliban-Osama bin Laden forces in Afghanistan, which was used as a diversion to cover an imperialist take over of Iraq for the purpose of good old fashion geo-political domination of the Middle East and control of the natural resources (oil) of the Iraqi people.

To this end the Bush regime (an unelected cabal of unbridled reactionaries out to enrich their corporate masters at the expense of ordinary Americans as well as the people of the targeted countries they seek to control) diverted money and troops from the "real" war on terror to the invasion of Iraq.

If Karzai finds himself down and out in Istanbul and Kabul it is not the French who are to blame but the betrayal by Bush and his gang of their own puppet. Just as the bin Laden family flew out of the US after 9/11, courtesy of President Bush, so Osama himself was allowed to flee out of Afghanistan amidst all the smoke and mirrors of "the war against terror."

It wasn’t Chirac’s hand flick but George W. Bush’s ("Now watch this drive!") manipulations not only of Karzai and his followers, but of the American people as well, that has brought Afghanistan to the sorry mess it is now in.

Krauthammer, of course, knows all of this but as an ultra-right cheerleader his journalistic skills are addressed to the sixty percent of the population the mass media he works for has convinced that Iraq was in on 9/11. Nevertheless, he does admit that the French are not really acting out of "pique" over lost grandeur or personal "antipathy" to Bush. So what are the dastardly French up to?

The policy of France, Krauthammer says, is based on an attempt to look out for "its own safety and strategic gain." How shockingly un-American!

Krauthammer predicts "a radical change in the balance of power in the Mediterranean world" due to the future growth of Muslim populations both in Europe and the Middle East. France "does not want to be on the wrong side of this history." How near sighted could they be when they could join up with Bush on the wrong side?

Chirac has, with his right side of history outlook, engaged in "a classic policy of appeasement" consisting in not backing the US and its struggle to give "democratic futures to Afghanistan and Iraq."

Need more proof? Take the case of Palestine. Instead of following the Israeli-US lead in "shunning Yasser Arafat for supporting terrorism and obstructing peace" (we all know how Israel and the US have such clean hands in this regard) – the French foreign minister actually visited Arafat and (gasp!) shook his hand! Zut alors!

This shows that France is on "a collision course with America." Rather, I think, it’s just an example of the US being on a collision course with most of the world. Oh, did I forget to mention that Yasser Arafat, unlike George W. Bush, is actually a democratically elected leader of his people. But of course, the Palestinians would be much better off if they had another leader – perhaps they could ask Paul Bremer to appoint one for them (in consultation with Ariel Sharon, of course).

--Thomas Riggins is book review editor of Political Affairs.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Safire's Hollow Musings (Archival Material)

Against the Grain: Safire's Hollow Musings
By Thomas Riggins

William Safire, one of the ultra-right luminaries featured regularly in the New York Times', has decided that NATO is now a "hallow alliance." In two recent Times’ columns, "The Hallow Alliance" (6/28) and "Beware of Certitude" (6/30), he tells us why NATO is in trouble, and at the same time reveals by his subtext the imperial ambitions of his far right buddies.

The problem with NATO, according to Safire, is the French and the Germans, but especially the French. These two alliance members "fled from the fight" when it came to the war for the "liberation of Iraq." Mr. Safire, who prides himself on English usage, should know that its difficult to "flee" from a fight one never signed on to, or was a part of, in the first place: a unilateral fight to insure US dominance in the Middle East and control of the oil resources masquerading as a struggle for freedom and democracy.

Safire’s articles reflect his take on the recent NATO meeting in Istanbul where Bush had hoped to get more support for his Iraq schemes, especially from the "Chirac-Schroder Bloc." He was disappointed that neither the French nor the German leader was willing to play the role of lap dog that so suits Tony Blair.

NATO,is now presenting a "facade" of unity, since the C-S Bloc is refusing to allow the use of NATO troops to bail out Bush’s sinking Iraqi policy, according to Safire. The reason, he says, for this lack of unity is the absence of a "common purpose" since the destruction of the USSR. After all, NATO was set up to undermine and facilitate the overthrow of the European socialist countries and with their demise what unified interest do all of its members now have?

The new raison d’etre, Safire says, is "to defeat imperial terrorism." But what is this "imperial terrorism"? It is a wholly artificial construct of ultra-rightists such as Safire and his confreres to justify military intervention and aggression anywhere and anytime the US claims it is in the "national interest" to do so. As is now clear to almost everyone with a functional brain, the Bushites used 9/11 and the attack on Afghanistan as a cover for their own prior imperial plans regarding the conquest of Iraq - something the left pointed out at the time.

What upsets Safire is the fact that neither France nor Germany see it as in their "national interests" to play second fiddle to US imperialism. These junior imperialists have their own interests to look out for. Lenin is still relevant in understanding what's happening here. In Imperialism the Highest Stage of Capitalism, still a must read, he points out how inter-imperialist rivalries for the financial control of world markets and resources are inevitable. While, for example, the US rattles its saber at Iran, we see stories headlined in the Times such as "France Steps Up Its Investments in Iran" (6/23).

The US may be, as the French say, the only "hyper-puissance" (superpower) but that doesn’t mean that only the interests of the US bourgeoisie counts. The imperialist nature of capitalism and the struggle for markets now is once more becoming evident since the contradictions between the imperialists is no longer masked by the struggle against socialism. With no socialist threat immediately facing them, the "great powers" are reverting to type.

Safire is also incensed that Bush was publicly rebuked for trying to influence the European Union to admit Turkey as a member. This is essentially a European and Turkish affair and France’s President Chirac rebuffed Bush’s meddling by stating, "He not only went too far, but he has gone into a domain that is not his own. He has nothing to say on this subject."

Safire, an enthusiastic Bushite, cannot control himself over this putdown. This, plus the refusal to send troops to Iraq, makes France (and presumably Germany as well) "a former ally." The only thing that will mollify Safire is one hundred percent kowtowing obeisance to the US. France is even now, however, cooperating with US in Afghanistan and recently both France and the US connived together to overthrow the democratically elected government of Aristide in Haiti. So only someone who has lost all sense of reality would go so far as to call France (or Germany) a "former ally." NATO is still an alliance! It was set up as a "defensive" alliance (in theory) and the fact France and Germany don’t want to take part in patently aggressive wars cooked up by the neocon fringe of the US bourgeoisie does not make them "former allies. With all their contradictions and rivalries they are still presently allied in the great "peacetime" effort of picking the bones of the Third World clean - they only differ in method.

--Thomas Riggins is book review editor of Political Affairs and can be reached at

Monday, May 22, 2006

The Verala Project and the CIA [Archival Material]

The Verala Project and the CIA
By Thomas Riggins

There is an amazing attack on John Kerry in Saturday’s (6/19) New York Times, authored by one of the Times’ newly appointed columnists recruited from the ultra-right fringe. David Brooks, whose articles would be right at home in the Washington Times, has attacked Senator Kerry for saying the CIA funded and directed Varela Project to destabilize the Cuban government was "counterproductive." Unlike his opposite number at USA Today (DeWayne Wickham) who two years ago recognized that the "Varela Project is a nonstarter" with Cubans, Brooks is trying to peddle the line that this CIA scheme is actually a homegrown popular Cuban initiative for "democracy."

Brook’s appointment at the Times further solidifies the newly gained reputation of the "paper of record" as an unreliable source of news and information (Jason Blair, WMD’s, etc.). The article in question, "Kerry’s Cruel Realism" reads like a press release from a PR firm for the anti-Cuba lobby or the Miami Mafia.

Here what Brook’s says about the Varela Project. It is "one of the most inspiring democracy movements in the world today." It is led by Oswaldo Paya who, according to Brooks, models himself after Martin Luther King, Jr. To my knowledge Dr. King was not funded by the US government.

Brooks alleges that due to a "loophole" in the Cuban Constitution, Paya’s Varela Project (named after a 19th century Cuban priest who was in the independence movement) collected over 10,000 signatures (he needed notarized signatures which he didn’t get) to force a referendum that would lead to real "democracy" in Cuba. Anyway, it is myth that the Cuban Constitution permits the kind of Referendum Paya is calling for as Wickham’s piece in USA Today reveals.

As a result of a "crackdown" by Cuban authorities, Brooks says, the referendum did not take place and 75 "dissidents" (but not Paya) were sentenced to jail. Kerry, Brooks writes, has shown "his true nature" by calling the Varela Project "counterproductive" thus betraying the hopes of the Cuban people – boo-hoo.

Kerry, it seems, wants to play down "promoting democracy" abroad in favor of "focusing narrowly" on national security. The US promoting democracy! What planet is Brooks from? Every basic democratic movement I can think has been opposed and/or violently destroyed by the US. Who overthrew the democracy in Iran to reinstall the Shah in the 1950s, or the Arbenz government in Guatemala, who invaded Vietnam to prevent the holding of elections to reunify the country because Ho Chih Minh might win, who colluded to overthrow Allende, and created the contra terrorists in Nicaragua? The list of the US attempts to "promote democracy" abroad goes on and on.

As for the Varela Project, both its name and its program were created by the CIA and Oswaldo Paya was hand picked by the Agency to be the leader of this Washington sponsored farce. With all of the resources of the Times, Brooks cannot be ignorant about this.

The 75 so-called "dissidents" were all people who were funded right out of the American Interest Section located in Havana by the American section chief James Cason. Some $20 million, according to press reports, was funneled to the "democracy movement" through organizations associated with the misnamed National Endowment for Democracy a surrogate CIA front which, even though its money mostly comes from the US government, masquerades as an NGO.

How would Attorney General Ashcroft react if he found 75 American citizens carrying on with demonstrations and demanding "real" democracy in the US, who were secretly on the payroll of a foreign government openly dedicated to the destruction of the US government? Would he go for indefinite detention without access to a lawyer or a trail maybe?

Brooks also faults Kerry for turning his back on future "humanitarian interventions" such as the one "to promote democracy in Iraq" (over 16,000 innocent civilians murdered by the US, the torture and killing of defenseless prisoners most of whom were innocent of any crimes, "humanitarian" suspension of the Geneva Accords, etc.).

And to top off his ridiculous article, Brooks says that unlike Kerry, Carter, Reagan and Bush (41) "understood that democracy advances security, kowtowing to dictators does not." Brooks is so ideological he can’t include Clinton in his list. Carter, Reagan, Bush promoted democracy! They funded the worse murdering thugs since the Nazis! The Taliban and their like in Afghanistan, the contras in Latin America (over 200,000 poor peasants and indigenous people killed courtesy of your tax dollar at work – or by illegal funds that democracy promoter and all around humanitarian Ronald Reagan got from the Ayatollahs through illegal arm sales.

That the New York Times prints such nonsense as is churned out by Davis Brooks is reason enough to look to the independent alternative press, such as Political Affairs or the People’s Weekly World for basic information as to what’s happening.

--Thomas Riggins is book review editor of Political Affairs and can be reached at

Sunday, May 21, 2006

128,000 Reasons to Defeat Bush (Archival Material)

Online at:

128,000 Reasons to Defeat Bush
By Thomas Riggins

Archives - Dates and Topics Online Edition Archive Online Edition 2004 archive click here for related stories: Democracy matters

The enormity of the crimes of the capitalist system never cease to amaze me. Marx describes in Capital the cost in human lives of unregulated capitalism as it developed in Great Britain and elsewhere in the mid-nineteenth century. The truncated lives and early deaths of the young women and children working 18 hours a day in the spinning mills, the death from lung diseases and overwork in factories and mines Marx meticulously detailed.

Hand in hand with the profits that made Victorian England the worlds leading economic power, and its consequent imperial ambitions, we find this not so hidden underside of death and misery for millions of workers and poor people.

Now we live in more enlightened times. How advanced we are here in America. The dismal horrors of nineteenth century unregulated capitalism are of blessed memory, or so our modern apologists for this rotten and inhuman economic system assure us.

But wait! Buried inside the pages of a recent edition (6/10) of the newspaper of record, The New York Times, a headline at the bottom of the page catches the eye: "Study Ranks Bush Plan to Cut Air Pollution as Weakest of 3." It seems, as we shall soon see, that death comes from our friends the capitalists in many forms.

The Bushites, it turns out, have been exposed by a report on air pollution from a commission they themselves authorized to study the effects of their anti-pollution proposals. Needless to say, Bush’s anti-pollution plan is really a pro-industry plan.

the commission then compared the Bush plan (to lower pollution caused by coal burning power plants), called the Clear Skies Act – by now you should know when the Bushies come with a name like that the skies will be dirtier than ever – to two different plans put forth by members of the Senate.

Needless to say, Bush’s anti-pollution plan is really a pro-industry plan. Not even the Republicans can ignore completely the deadly effects of increased air pollution – the cause of the now epidemic spread of childhood asthma in the inner-cities (code word for "slums"), and untold thousands of deaths annually from lung diseases and other breathing complications (stress, cardiac conditions, etc.).

The problem is not to help out the afflicted, but how to do something that has the least possible negative effect on the power and pollution industry. Ergo, the Clear Skies Act which requires the least amount of commitment from the industry and lets it avoid the expenditure of the necessary money to develop anti-pollution devices to clean up the garbage they pump into the air 24/7.

As of today, according to the Times article, pollution from coal burning power plants kills about 24,000 people a year – the majority of whom live in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Florida.

Let us hope they don’t drag themselves to the polls to cast their dying votes for Bush.

Bush’s plan would reduce the death toll to 10,000 a year. The Senate plan of Thomas Carpers (Dem/Del) cuts the toll to 8,000 annually. The plan of Senator James Jeffords (remember him, the Republican from Vermont who jumped ship and became an Independent thus briefly giving the Democrats control of the Senate) reduces the death toll to 2,000 a year. This plan is co-sponsored by Senator Kerry.

The Times quotes Sen. Jeffords as saying, "Rather than move forward on legislation to make our air cleaner, we have spent the last three and half years trying to prevent the Bush administration from weakening clean air standards." Evidently 24,000 deaths a year are not enough for the Bush administration.

Well, those are the plans. Its an election year so nothing is happening on the pollution front right now other than 2,000 people a month coughing and suffocating to death so power plants can make their profits without having to come up with pesky pollution control devices. In fact, however, the plans won’t even go into effect until 2020 – a sixteen year breathing spell for the power industry. During these sixteen years 384,000 people will be killed off by the capitalists and their coal burning power plants. If the Bush plan were put in force today that number would be 160,000 as opposed to the Jeffords-Kerry plan’s 32,000 (you can’t have capitalism completely free of needless deaths and diseases).

So, the Republicans would kill off an extra 128,000 people. That is why I think there are at least 128,000 reasons to defeat Bush.

--Thomas Riggins is book review editor of Political Affairs and can be reached at

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Remembering Ronald Reagan (Archival Material)

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Remembering Ronald Reagan
By Thomas Riggins

Archives - Dates and Topics Online Edition Archive Online Edition 2004 archive click here for related stories: right wing watch

The 40th president of the United States has passed away. His supporters claim he was the greatest president of the past century. They want to carve his head on Mt. Rushmore and put him on the ten-dollar bill – displacing the hapless non-presidential Alexander Hamilton. But the truth is Reagan was a horrible president. Consider some of the following "accomplishments" of the late president.

Two of his favorite projects were trying to deprive women, especially poor women, of their rights to control their own bodies by banning abortions and trying to remove as many restrictions as possible to the dispersal of guns of all kinds to whomever wanted them. Since the Supreme Court stood in the way of banning abortions, Reagan had to content himself with trying to prevent federal money being used for abortions needed by poor women. It is a great legacy to discriminate against and try to undermine the health of poor women.

He also opposed gun control. How allowing a flood of handguns to engulf the country squares with respect to "the right of life" is hard to see.

Similar to the current Republican disaster in the White House, Reagan’s "voodoo economics" was based on cutting taxes for the rich and increasing the budget of the military machine.

As for the poor – the New York Times reports that Reagan "had some successes" with his economic policies such as 1) he got rid of a federal program that gave employment and training to over 300,000 people in poverty; 2) he was able cut food stamps so that more people could go to bed hungry; 3) he succeeded in cutting many children off of welfare (to make up for that extra Pentagon money); 4) and by "trimming" the Medicaid roles he was able to swell the ranks of people with no health insurance.

A really nice man, he was concerned with the health and well being of America’s school children. His Agriculture Department wanted to count ketchup as a vegetable when providing school lunches for poor children. Another "success" was eliminating 300,000 people from Social Security disability payments. Tax cuts for the rich, suffering and degradation for the poor. And what of the homeless whose numbers mushroomed under his watch? He suggested that many of them might be homeless "by choice."

His creature at the Federal Reserve Bank, Alan Greenspan, thought that Reagan had many positive achievements such as, according to the Times, slowing down programs to help the poor and disadvantaged- "social benefit programs." If you are going to increase federal spending for the military and cut taxes – someone has to pay. Reagan wanted the poorest and weakest elements of our society to shoulder the burden his millionaire backers would never assume.

He also worked against the civil rights movement. Worried about the oppression of upper class white folk, Reagan’s Attorney General fought against many antidiscrimination plans. The NAACP claimed, the Times wrote, that Reagan "showed a clear hostility to civil rights aspirations." No one would accuse Reagan of wanting to be the president of "all the people."

Who can forget Iran-Contra and Reagan’s support of policies that led to the murder of thousands of peasants (mostly children and women - as usual) throughout Central America.

The leaders of the terrorist death squads Reagan said were "the moral equivalent of our founding fathers."

According to the Times, the historian C. Vann Woodword observed that he had never seen any administration with such a "magnitude of irresponsibility and incompetence."

Former Speaker of the House Thomas O’Neill thought that of the eight presidents he had known Reagan was "the worst" and that it was "sinful" he became president!

I don’t want to end on a negative note. O’Neill didn’t live long enough to know the current president of the US. Had he, he might not have thought of Ronald Reagan as the "worst" president he ever knew.

--Thomas Riggins is book review editor of Political Affairs.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Materialism, Contradiction and the Philosophy of Art

Materialism, Contradiction and the Philosophy of Art
By Thomas Riggins

In any attempt to understand contemporary culture and its artistic manifestations in a materialist manner it is absolutely essential that we attempt to do so in the light of a Marxist critique. There is not, however, only one "official" Marxist approach to the understanding of art. Past attempts to force creative thought into a narrow official mould by means of state sponsored interpretations of Marxism resulted in a separation between genuine materialist theory and the social reality that was being presented. My purpose is not to present the "correct" theory of a materialist philosophy of art but to attempt to lay down what I think to be the four basic features that anyone trying to work out a Marxist aesthetic must keep in mind. These four features will also be useful to those who propose to write materialist criticism of both contemporary "pop culture" as well as so called "high culture."

First, it is well known that neither Marx nor Engels consciously worked out a philosophy of art as part of their general worldview. Nevertheless, they made particular judgments on art and their overall positions on historical materialism (in conjunction with these judgments) have been appealed to by their followers in order to support aesthetic theories that were developed later within the context of the Marxist movement.

Second, based on the general notions of historical materialism, the social context of art takes on the most important aspect in any Marxist aesthetics. That is to say, approaching art in a materialist spirit, a Marxist philosophy of art bases itself on the social, cultural, and biological factors of human life as the foundation upon which art arises. This, of course, does not distinguish a Marxist approach from a materialist approach in general. This further determination can be made when we consider the following.

Third, the notion of contradiction in the dialectical logic inspired by Hegel, as developed by Marx and Engels, and its relation to struggle and the overcoming of such at higher developmental levels are necessarily linked to the basic materialist approach fundamental to a Marxist aesthetic. In this we find the main difference between traditional philosophical materialism and Marxist historical materialism. Traditional materialism, while recognizing the primacy of matter, tended to interpret the world in unchanging mechanical categories. The materialist philosophers of the French Enlightenment, while disposing of religious, spiritual and mystical explanations for the events of the natural world, had no real theory of historical or natural change and development.

The materialist philosophy developed by Marx and Engels, on the other hand, by adapting the Hegelian concept of contradiction to materialistically inspired categories of explanation, was able to provide a non-mechanistic explanation of natural and historical change, development and progress. In this combination of materialist philosophy and dialectical method, of which the notion of contradiction is central, can be found the difference between "materialism" and "historical materialism."

The correct application, as well as understanding, of contradiction is one of the most vexing problems in the history of Marxist thought. Its abuse led to Marx’s famous comment about his not being a Marxist. I do not intend to go into all of the different interpretations which have been given to Hegel’s views on this subject. I will, rather, briefly outline what I consider a useful way of looking at contradiction as used by Hegel and Marx and Engels and relate this to my claim that it is the basis of any Marxist philosophy of art by showing how one of the most original Marxist thinkers, Christopher Caudwell, employed contradiction in his great work on the origin of poetry: Illusion and Reality.

Let begin by asking the following question: What happens when one makes a mistake in philosophical reasoning? One of the most common occurrences is that we have been guilty of over-generalization or have dealt with our subject without sufficient knowledge that might have effected the outcome of our reasoning. It is the presence of a contradiction in our reasoning which signals that this faulty way of reasoning has occurred. The function of philosophy is to deepen the analysis, make it less general, and overcome the contradiction while at the same time preserving what is true and valuable in the previous view. This method is then repeated on the new views, and on the views that replace them and is continued as long as we can. Hegel uses the German verb aufheben which means "to lift up," "to cancel," and "to preserve" to describe this process. No one English verb quite catches all these meanings. Contradictions are not therefore mutually exclusive after all. In The Science of Logic Hegel maintained it was very important to keep in mind that such seemingly contradictory opposites as positive and negative, virtue and vice, truth and error, and one could add, illusion and reality, only had their truth "in their relation to one another; without this knowledge not a single step can really be taken in philosophy." Ivan Soll puts it this way in his An Introduction to Hegel’s Metaphysics: "The dialectic preserves parts of putatively opposed categories as the necessary elements (Momente) of more concrete categories. But as necessary elements of a more concrete category their mutually exclusive character is removed or negated. These categories are both preserved and negated - they are aufgehoben."

This method was taken over by Marx and Engels and applied to the analysis of history as well as to natural phenomena. The difference in their materialist, as opposed to Hegelian application, is that, as Engels points out (The Dialectics of Nature), in the former the contrdictions are derived from the actual study of history and nature while in the latter they "are foisted on nature and history as laws of thought."

When it comes to Caudwell, we see his use of contradiction throughout all the major discussions of Illusion and Reality. According to David N. Margolies (The Function of Literature), "Caudwell had to take a fully dialectical view of literature, seeing literature not as static works but as a process. Literature and society exist in a dialectical unity and thus not only does social existence determine literature, but literature also influences society."

But Caudwell uses contradiction in other realms besides literature. For example, he takes Freud’s category of "the instincts" (the source of humankind’s free natural existence) and contrasts it with the category of "the environment" (the source of the repression and crippling of the instincts) and derives the higher category of "civilization" which, Caudwell says, was evolved "precisely to moderate and lessen" the conflict between the other two antagonistic conceptions.

We should further note that illusion and reality, which we create and study by means of art and science are not for Caudwell absolutely contradictory conceptions. It is true, he notes, that in many theories these concepts "play contradictory" even if intermingled roles but they are really unified and reflect different (but equally important) aspects of our common world. Our human biological make up and "external reality exist separately in theory, but it is an abstract separation." Caudwell continues, "The greater the separation, the greater the unconsciousness of each." By which he means the more distance we put between "art" and "science" the less we really understand either of them.

Contradiction, as used by Caudwell, consists in the refusal to isolate the world into a system of mutually exclusive categories. What appears on one level of analysis as contradictory or exclusive is seen, on a higher level of analysis, to be complementary. He uses this method or argumentation and discussion when he deals with poetry, psychology, epistemology, language, communism, and in virtually every aspect of his philosophy. For this reason he can be located in the tradition of classical and contemporary Marxism.

Fourth, one last feature seems to me to be necessary for a Marxist philosophy of art. The fundamental purpose, the raison d’etre of Marxism is to be the leading philosophy of the worker’s movement in the class struggle to overthrow the economic system of capitalism. Therefore, a Marxist philosophy of art must, as I define it, link up with the class struggle, directly or indirectly, and, whatever else it may seek to do or explain, provide insights and guidance in that struggle.

--Thomas Riggins is the book review editor of Political Affairs and can be reached at

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Threatening Democracy in Caracas

Threatening Democracy in Caracas
By Thomas Riggins

The essential nature of the national question in Latin America and the Caribbean is that of national self-determination and the right to pursue independent policies beneficial to the overwhelming majority of the people. It is a struggle for freedom and against US imperialism. (Blade Nzimande, “Imperialism, the Crisis of Neo-Liberalism and the Struggle for an Alternative in Latin America,” The African Communist, No. 159, 2002)

A demonstration in caracas
On April 11, 2002, a US-backed coup was staged in Venezuela in an attempt to overthrow the progressive democratic government of President Hugo Chávez Frías.

To the surprise of the Bush administration as well as the oligarchical right-wing business and banking circles in Venezuela, the coup failed as a result of a split in the military occasioned by the mass mobilizations and demonstrations by hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans in Caracas and other major cities throughout the country.

President Chávez was restored to power within a few days. But even now the country is awash with rumors of a future coup. The press openly talks of the imminent fall from power of the Chávez government and discusses the various problems of “the transition.”

Why this determination to destroy the Chávez government? The Chávez administration is neither socialist nor communist. Chávez is trying to institute bourgeois democratic reforms – equitable land distribution, political and social rights for indigenous peoples, expansion of educational opportunities and health programs for the poor. Over 80 percent of Venezuelans live in poverty.

The small but powerful business class, aided and abetted by a right-wing trade union leadership, had its monopoly of power and privilege broken by the election of Chávez as president in 1999.

Chávez’s political party, Movement for the Fifth Republic (MVR), is a new phenomenon independent of the two dominant bourgeois parties that have largely alternated in power for the last 40 years or so.

Even though Chávez was democratically elected, the fact that he does not represent the pro-US business elite but the overwhelming majority of Venezuelan workers and rural poor, as well as patriotic forces in the military, is seen as a threat. A threat to whom?

Jon Lee Anderson (The New Yorker, 9-10-01), quotes former US Ambassador to Peru (1996-99) Dennis Jett who says Chávez is “the greatest threat to democracy in Latin America, with the possible exception of the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia).”

Jett states this even though, as Anderson points out, the election was fair, Venezuela has no political prisoners, the press is free and opposition parties openly operate. So what “threat to democracy” can Jett and his ilk be talking about?

The answer comes from Alberto Alesina, an economics professor at Harvard, and Francesco Giavazzi, economics professor at Bocconi University, Milan, and one of the Group of Economic Advisers to the president of the European Commission (European workers: Look out!).

These fine representatives of bourgeois economics published an article, “Latin America’s Never Ending Story” in The Daily Journal (Caracas’ English Language Tory paper) of 8-27-02. Here is what they say.

The problem of Latin American governments is that they “are too large compared with their ability to raise revenue.” So, they fall into debt, have to be bailed out by the IMF, etc., over spend again, and etc. This cycle goes on and on. But why can’t they raise revenue to fund government programs?

What prevents normal taxation is lax tax enforcement, due to corrupt public administration and a bourgeoisie with a well-developed culture of tax evasion. What can be done about this?

Alesina and Giavazzi approvingly discuss the ideas of Domingo Cavallo (the economic genius behind Argentine President Menem’s disastrous economic policies), who concluded that without the taxes (which are going to overseas bank accounts and spending sprees in Miami) “the only way out was to reduce the size of government drastically” [the IMF’s and Washington’s answer to everything].

“If raising income taxes to the standard of industrial economies is impossible [because of the clever tax-evading bourgeoisie] then you must accept a lower level of public services." It is unclear who the “you” are who must accept this, probably the not-so-clever regular citizens. In other words, since the bourgeoisie and its corrupt government refuse to pay or collect even “normal” taxes (and, we are told, it is impossible to do anything about this) then the people have to get it in the neck. It’s only logical.

So you need a radical privatization program and also Cavallo’s “assault on public sector employees with their European style [what a horror] salaries and benefits.”

What other solution can we hope for? Alesina and Giavazzi say, “The problem of Latin America lies in its high level of government spending [not with IMF policies – it takes tax money to feed starving children], the lack of a solid upper and middle class ready to pay taxes to support it, and the ability to produce politicians able to use tax revenues prudently [say, for the military and police and most especially for debt service] and so break the cycle of populist demagoguery.”

So that's “the never-ending story.” The bourgeoisie wants to generate its wealth from the exploitation of the urban and rural workers but doesn’t want to pay taxes to alleviate poverty. You need some ultra-right extremist to run the government and keep the masses in their place, otherwise you get a populist “demagogue.”

This is why Chávez is considered a “threat to democracy.” He actually wants to institute normal taxation rates to fund social programs for the benefit of the majority of the population. Demagoguery stalking the land.

Anderson points out that when Chávez took office he “initiated a vast national development program, the Plan Bolivar, to build roads, schools, hospitals, and low income housing for Venezuela’s poor citizens.” Ambassador Jett must have flipped out!

Chávez also started to deal with tax evasion – the real assault on democracy. With what result? Anderson says that by the year 2000 “more than 200,000 members of the upper and middle classes have emigrated to the United States, Australia, and Western Europe, taking ‘their’ [author’s quotes] money with them. And $8 billion was removed from the country.”

They got to the US just in time for Bush’s big tax cut coming on top of the cutbacks in welfare and other social programs, and to see the embezzlement and tax evasion activities of Enron and other big corporations. At least one country is still following the IMF model for Latin America.

Chávez is a threat for the same reason Cuba is and Allende’s Chile was. If he succeeds, there will be more evidence that a government committed to the needs of working people can survive and prosper without having to kowtow to Washington, the IMF or the World Bank. Another bad precedent indeed.

--Thomas Riggins is book review editor for Political Affairs.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Pol Pot: Anatomy of a Nightmare-- Book Review Essay

Online at:

Reviewed by Thomas Riggins


BOOK REVIEW ESSAY: POL POT: ANATOMY OF A NIGHTMARE by Philip Short, Reviewed by Thomas Riggins

Who was Pol Pot and how did he come to symbolize one of the most horrible and repressive regimes in the history of modern times? The subtitle of Philip Short’s biography says it all-- a nightmare! Short knows his subject well, having been a reporter for the BBC, the “Times” (London) and “The Economist” and living in China and Cambodia during the 1970s and 80s.

His book is more than a biography of Pol Pot. It is a history of modern Cambodia as well. He attempts to explain the rise and fall of the Khmer Rouge, also known as the Communist Party of Kampuchea (CPK).

As a Marxist, I was particularly interested in what Short had to say about the origins of the political party, the CPK, that Pol Pot headed. How could it be possible for a Marxist party to do what the Khmer Rouge did in Cambodia. That is, to be responsible for the killing one and a half million people-- at least-- 500,000 outright by mass executions of whole villages including women, children and old people and another million through malnutrition and disease.

Could it be that the Khmer Rouge was not really a “Marxist” party at all? Was it possible that the CPK’s relation to “Marxism” was analogous to the relation that the National Socialist German Worker’s Party had to “Socialism” or Pat Robertson to “Christianity? That is to say, the word was used but it was empty of any of its traditional content. To me this was a distinct possibility as all the folks I know who consider themselves Marxists or Marxist-Leninists are repulsed by the actions of the Pol Pot government.

I had read Jean-Louis Margolin’s essay “Cambodia: The Country of Disconcerting Crimes”, chapter 24 in The Black Book of Communism the new anti-communist Bible (and just as historical) and he maintains that the CPK is part of the history of the international communist movement. If Margolin was correct my theory would be insupportable.

So, I read Short’s book with great anticipation to see if there was any evidence to support my thesis. Before going any further, let me define what I mean by “Marxism” or “Marxism-Leninsm,” and most especially what I consider a “Marxist” ( “Communist”) party to be. This is a definition based both on history and theory.

Needless to say a Marxist or Communist party will have its program rooted in the theories of Marx, Engels, and Lenin as a minimum. It will be a party based on, and in, the working class and represent the material and spiritual interests of that class, especially its industrial component. It will be internationalist in outlook and represent the most historically advanced ideas based on an objective materialist and scientific outlook.

According to these criteria, I would conversely consider a party to be in various degrees “anti-communist” in so far as it deviated from them. Since the term “anti-communist” has already been
associated with the fascist movements and other right-wing political groupings, I will use the term “non-communist” or “non-Marxist” to describe ostensibly radical parties that fail to reflect the criteria expressed above. Now I will try to show, on the basis of Short’s research, that Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge associates were “non-communists” and in fact, their values and actions were diametrically opposed to the teachings of Marxism.

That this is the case has been hinted at by the leadership of the Khmer Rouge. Consider the following statement by Ieng Sary (vice-premier) who claimed, quoted by Short, the Khmer Rouge would rule “without reference to any existing model” and would go where “no country in history has ever gone before.” They certainly did that!

Margolin, in his anti-communist essay, writes: “The lineage from Mao Zedong to Pol Pot is obvious.” This is a superficial observation. Short argues that the Pol Pot regime morphed into what it became as a result of the cultural background unique to Cambodia. This cultural backdrop was the Khmer version of Theravada Buddhism “which teaches that retribution or merit, in the endless cycle of self-perfection, will be apportioned not in this life but in a future existence, just as man’s present fate is the fruit of actions in previous lives.”

There was a “cultural fracture” between Khmer culture and the cultures of China and Vietnam, based as they are on Confucian values. Throughout the history of Cambodia this fracture has led to “mutual incomprehension and distrust, which periodically exploded into racial massacres and pogroms” by the Khmers against the Chinese and Vietnamese inhabitants of the country.

Short presents a picture of Khmer society as having within it all the violence and brutality that the Khmer Rouge so horribly displayed. Previous movements and governments engaged in the same type of murder and mayhem that the Khmer Rouge indulged in-- the difference was one of magnitude. A case of quantitative change leading to qualitative change.

Pol Pot and his associates were conditioned as children into Khmer culture (naturally) and when they joined in the nationalist and anti-colonial struggles of the 50s through the 70s they naturally allied themselves and identified with the Communist movements in Asia which were their only possible allies. But, as Short, points out: “Marxism-Leninism, revised and sinified by Mao, flowed effortlessly across China’s southern border into Vietnamese minds, informed by the same Confucian culture. It was all but powerless to penetrate the Indianate world of Theravada Buddhism that moulds the mental universe of Cambodia and Laos.”

The Pol Pot leadership, made up of former students who had been educated in France as well as local anti-colonialist elements based themselves on the class of the poorest peasants and this was reflected in the ideology of the leadership. Here is Pol Pot talking about his “Marxism”-- “the big thick works of Marx... I didn’t really understand them at all.” Ping Say (one of the founders of the CPK ) remarked “Marx was too deep for us.” In fact, although influenced by their own version of “Marxism,” only two Cambodians ever attended the French CP’s school for cadres. For Pol Pot and his cronies “Marxism signified an ideal, not a comprehensive system of thought to be mastered and applied.”

The tragedy that befell Cambodia was that a basically ignorant leadership gained control of the Cambodian revolution and carried out an atavistic racially based program against non-Khmer nationalities inside Cambodia as well rooting itself in the values of the lower peasantry (abolishing money, formal education, traditional arts and technology).

The policies of the US government, as well as those of China and Vietnam, helped this leadership come to power. The US aggression in Vietnam, as well as its attacks on Cambodia, were primarily responsible. In sheer numbers of people killed and mutilated the US aggression was twice as deadly as the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge.

As for the support from China and Vietnam, it is only fair to point out that, as Short says, until 1970 Pol Pot had not done “or permitted to be done by the Party he led any intimation of the abominations that would follow.” But after Lon Nol overthrew the Sihanouk government (1970) the Khmer Rouge waged, with Chinese and Vietnamese help, a guerilla war that eventually, after much bloodshed and indiscriminate killing (including massive bombing of civilians by the US) on all sides, led to their victory (1975). Short points out that, “The United States dropped three times more bombs on Indochina during the Vietnam War then were used by all the participants in the whole of the Second World War; on Cambodia the total was three times the total tonnage dropped on Japan, atom bombs included.” The US claimed to be bombing Viet Cong and Khmer Rouge troops, “but the bombs fell massively and above all on the civilian population.”

But why were the Khmers so violent? Short maintains that the Chinese and Vietnamese communists treated their prisoners and enemies under the Confucian expectation that human beings are capable of change and reform. He also says that in Khmer culture there is no such expectation. Enemies will never change and have to be destroyed. “In the Confucian cultures of China and Vietnam, men are, in theory, always capable of being reformed. In Khmer culture they are not.” It was, as one Pol Pot’s bodyguards put it, a “struggle without pity.”

After they came to power, the Khmer Rouge became xenophobic nationalists. Turning against the Vietnamese as the “hereditary enemies” of Cambodia they became anti-Vietnamese as Vietnamese of no matter what ideology. They also distrusted China and struck out on a path to be completely self-sufficient and dependent on no one (“independence-mastery” was the slogan). This is of course completely contradictory to any Marxist theory. Marxism stress internationalism and cooperation of fraternal and working class parties. It was that very internationalism which the Khmers Rouge banked on to get into power and which they immediately betrayed.

What followed was disaster. By 1979 the Khmer Rouge had driven hundreds of thousands Vietnamese out of Cambodia and created a “slave state” at home. They finally began attacking across the Vietnamese border and this resulted in their being attacked in return and deposed from power.

Earlier I quoted Ieng Sary to the effect of making a revolution that would be unique in history. He also said that theory was to be avoided and that the Khmer Rouge would just rely on revolutionary consciousness. In other words, they are a revolution now and will make their own reality. Short says this calls into question whether “Cambodian ‘communism’.... could be considered Marxist-Leninist at all.”

I think it clear that it could not. Here is Pol Pot remarking that “Certain [foreign] comrades take the view that our party... cannot operate well because it does not understand Marxism-Leninism and the comrades of our Central Committee have never learnt Marxist principles.” His reply was that the CPK “did ‘nurture a Marxist-Leninist viewpoint’ but in its own fashion.”

Its own fashion was not good enough. Short remarks that the “Cambodian Party had never been an integral part of the world communist movement... and it took from Marxism only those things which were consonant with its own worldview.” That worldview was narrow, insular and constricted and completely incompatible, I believe, with the ideas we usually, and properly, associate with the names of Marx, Engels and Lenin.

After the Khmers Rouge were deposed by the Vietnamese, and the whole world could no longer pretend not to know what type of regime they had been running, how did that world react? The US, China, and the UN General Assembly sided with the Khmer Rouge and condemned the Vietnamese!

As for the CPK, in 1981 it abandoned its claim to being a “communist” party and turned to the West and Sihanouk as allies. Pol Pot said “the communists are fighting us [i.e., the Vietnamese and the anti-Khmer Rouge Cambodians]. So we have to turn to the West and follow their way.”

Short writes that this action by Pol Pot “provided confirmation, were any needed, that the veneer of Marxism-Leninism which had cloaked Cambodian radicalism had only ever been skin- deep.” Q.E.D.

The rest of Short’s book continues the history of the Khmer Rouge to the death of Pol Pot and the final end of the movement in 1999. This is a book that should be read by everyone who wants to understand what happened to the Cambodian Revolution. It should also help to remind us that Marxism-Leninism is not just a name-- it is a working class movement not a movement to be dominated by petit bourgeois intellectuals and peasants.

--Thomas Riggins is the book review editor of “Political Affairs” and can be reached at