Sunday, March 18, 2018

Hannah Arendt's "The Banality of Evil": Things Haven't Changed in 50 Years

Much debate in the U.S. boils down to whether domestic matters such as health care or social security should be prioritized or whether international issues are more important. Most people opt for the former. I place myself in the latter category. There are various reasons for this, among them the fact that military spending blocks the effort to improve the lives of people in the U.S. But there’s another reason which is ethical. Some may have already seen this video of the Baghdad airstrikes which Chelsea Manning turned over to Wikileaks. One thing is to read about what happened, another thing is to watch it on your screen and hear the voices and see the images. I just came across it as a link in a NY Times article (about the hacker Adrian Lamo) I was reading. Here it is:  

Watching it what comes to my mind is what Hannah Arendt (as a journalist working out of Jerusalem) said about Eichmann (which the Israeli establishment didn’t like at all). Evil people are not only madmen like Hitler. They’re also “normal” people (bureaucrats among others) who sit behind desks and talk a normal language with a normal voice pitch. Arendt called it the “banality of evil.” This is an example of that.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018


I am surprised and a bit disappointed that the podcast “Best of the Left” which I frequently listen to broadcasted an interview with academic Timothy Snyder (Council on Foreign Relations member) in their program titled “Understanding the Rise of the Right.” Snyder lumps Lenin and the left in general in the same bag with the right saying that the modus operandi of both ‘extremes’ is to focus on a utopian vision while ignoring the real issues. Snyder says: “Lenin said look, it’s not so much the actual facts that matter what really matters is the deeper truth that in the future there’s going to be a socialist utopia and if we have to bend the truth or even completely destroy the truth to get there that’s worth it…  because there’s a better world out there and that’s the deep truth.” (Lenin as a precursor of post-truth, anyone?)

That is to say, according to Snyder (and Karl Popper) the alleged deceptiveness of leftists (Lenin and before him Marx) stems from their imposition of a preconceived notion of change, if not dreams, and with no regard for reality. The narrative is reminiscent of Karl Popper’s condemnation of historicism and the association of Marx with Hegel, as if there were no difference between the two. The narrative is completely fallacious. It not only ignores Marx’s polemics with the Utopian Socialists (a movement which he never belonged to) but also the fact that he broke with the Young Hegelians, who he had been closely associated with (particularly Bruno Bauer). Although the young Hegelians rejected Hegel’s idealism and considered themselves materialists, nevertheless they failed to ground their thinking in the real structural basis of society – economy and class and not religious ideas which concerned Bauer and Feuerbach (in an attempt to undermine Prussian rule). Snyder would do well to read “The Holy Family” in which Marx and Engels critique the young Hegelians who (inspired by the early Hegel) felt that utopia was yet to be achieved. For those who are interested in the topic, I would highly recommend the fascinating movie on the young Marx (in German with English subtitles) (see photo above) which can be watched on YouTube at: 

Sunday, March 4, 2018


The corporate media reached an all-time low this week in its one-sided reporting on Venezuela.  Wil H. Hylton in a lengthy article in New York Times' magazine section compared jailed opposition leader Leopoldo López with Martin Luther King. Throughout the article, Hylton weaves together the topic of King's employment of civil disobedience in the struggle to achieve equality for African-Americans and the protests promoted by López in 2014 known as the "guarimba." The comparison has to be seen as part of an ongoing effort promoted by international actors including the Trump administration to demonstrate that the Maduro government is a dictatorship, or a dictatorship in the making. The comparison falls short for a number of reasons. 
In the first place, the four-month "guarimba" in 2014 and again in 2017 had as its principal objective the achievement of regime change. This goal was embraced by the protesters in spite of the fact that the opposition parties (including López's Voluntad Popular party), which would have assumed power had the guarimba been successful, are highly unpopular – they are certainly not any more popular than the Chavista movement. Unlike King's civil rights movement with its well-defined concrete objectives, Lopez's guarimba protest was an insurrectional movement. López publicly declared that the guarimba would continue until the Maduro government was ousted. 
In the second place, the tactics employed by the “guarimberos” stood in sharp contrast with King's commitment to pacifism. Most important, there was no clear, well-defined separation between the "peaceful" guarimberos who built barricades consisting of boulders, trees and fires and placed oily substances on sidewalks resulting in numerous casualties of motorcyclists, on the one hand, and the violent guarimberos responsible for the death of six National Guardsmen in 2014 and the guarimberos of 2017 with their para-military appearance, on the other hand. 
In the third place, opposition leaders supported the violent guarimberos in concrete ways. One of the opposition's main slogans "freedom for the political prisoners" made no distinction between those who had engaged in violence and those who didn't. In 2017, Freddy Guevara, Voluntad Popular’s maximum leader in the National Assembly, met with and gave counseling to the hooded guarimberos who engaged in confrontational and at times violent tactics. By conveniently passing over these facts, Hylton is able to deny any tie-in between the “peaceful” and non-peaceful protests.
In the fourth place, the expressions of intolerance and even hatred also contrasts with everything that King stood for. Just one example was the incidents of the capturing of Chavistas and policemen to humiliate or inflict harm on them. Gurimberos in 2017 set fire to Chavista Oscar Figueroa resulting in his death. Hylton makes no mention of these incidents in his cherry-picking article.
Hylton’s article is replete with other deceptive statements and omissions. Just one will suffice. Hylton discusses López’s family lineage dating back to Simón Bolívar and Cristóbal Mendoza, the nation’s first president. But no mention is made of the fact that his grandfather was the brother and close business associate of Eugenio Mendoza, the Rockefeller of Venezuela for many decades. While Hylton recognizes López’s wealthy background, the fact that he was born into the richest family in the nation would detract from the author’s narrative of López as a champion of the poor. Are these omissions coincidental or are they part of an attempt to paint a glorified image of López even at the expense of basic journalistic principles?
By publishing the article the Times is not only sacrificing journalistic principles. It is helping to place on center stage an opposition radical who is well positioned to lead any movement that succeeds in removing Maduro from office. Opposition radicalism in the Venezuelan context is synonymous with the playbook that ousted Chávez on April 11, 2002, dissolved the nation’s main democratic institutions, delayed presidential elections for up to one year, hunted down Chavista leaders, and initiated bloody repressive actions against the popular movement. López, as mayor of Chacao (one of Caracas’ municipalities), played an active role in these events, a fact completely ignored by Hylton. The April 2002 strategy of effectuating a radical break with the Chavista past implied the implementation of neoliberal formulas, shock-treatment style. 
Hylton makes the dubious claim that in the U.S. political setting López “would probably land in the progressive wing of the Democratic Party.” In fact, the radical brand that López is identified with once in power will translate itself into witch-hunts of Chavistas at all levels under the slogan of "no to impunity," as well as purges of the armed forces, the state oil company and the state in general. The repression of the Chavistas will open the way for tough, unpopular neoliberal measures. The electoral road to power precludes such sweeping changes, thus explaining the policy of electoral abstention favored by the radicals on the right including López. The New York Times, by glorifying leaders of the ilk of López, is demonstrating that the support of the U.S. liberal establishment for popular pro- working class reforms on the nation's domestic front does not extend to third-world countries. 

Tuesday, February 6, 2018


The U.S. minimum wage in real terms is at the same level as in the1960s and 1970s in spite of the takeoff in productivity as a result of computer technology and artificial intelligence over the last half a century. Unions have been virtually rooted out of the private sector and consequently wages in real terms of workers in heavy industry have stagnated for several decades. And yet the first sign that wages are beginning to improve throws Wall Street stocks into a tailspin which in turn affects other stock exchanges throughout the world.  What’s curious is that establishment economists with exclusive access to the corporate media attribute the stock plunge of the last several days to the increase in wages and thus conclude that the world economy is basically healthy and that there is nothing to fear. Critical economists, both Marxists and non-Marxists, who ascribe stock volatility to systemic factors, are not given a word in the corporate media. But common sense tells you that a slight increase in wages for those at the lower rung of the economic ladder cannot be the root cause of such violent stock behavior and that the reaction to what is happening should not be one of complacency as has been the case with establishment economists. But then, of course, Herbert Hoover, reacted in similar fashion.

Sunday, February 4, 2018


Never before has a top official in the U.S. government traveled throughout Latin America in such a well-publicized trip to gain support for measures against a nation in the region. Tillerson’s Latin American tour may be well received by reactionary and conservative heads of state (Chile, Colombia, Peru, Argentina, Brazil) but it is particularly objectionable for Latin Americans for various reasons:
First, because it follows on the heels of an obviously rigged presidential election in Honduras. The Trump government refuses to recognize the legitimacy of the electoral process in Venezuela at the same time that it validates the elections in Honduras. Tillerson said in Colombia that there is no comparison between the elections in Honduras and the to-be held ones in Venezuela, without explaining why. Making no attempt to explain why the elections in Honduras were legitimate, in spite of the fact that even the OAS does not recognize the results, demonstrates a glaring aspect of the Trump administration: its complete contempt for the truth. 
Second, Latinos fully agree that Trump’s blatantly racist remarks about Mexicans are not just insulting to the people of that nationality, but to all Latin Americans. 
Third, because Latinos particularly object to members of the U.S. capitalist class telling them what to do. When Nelson Rockefeller undertook his 20-nation “Presidential Mission” in 1969 organized by the government of Richard Nixon, the trip turned into what a speech writer at the time called “Rocky Horror Road Show.” Anti-U.S. protests including violent confrontations with security forces followed Rockefeller throughout the continent. In Argentina 14 Rockefeller-owned supermarkets were bombed and in Venezuela, President Rafael Caldera told Rockefeller to cancel his stay in that nation. Tillerson is also a member of the capitalist class, not just a representative of it. For over 3 decades Tillerson worked for Exxon which was formerly the Rockefeller-owned Standard Oil of New Jersey. For 10 years of those 3 decades, he was Exxon's CEO.

Fourth, neither Tillerson nor Trump has made any effort to prove that the 2018 Venezuelan presidential elections are illegitimate. Washington’s position (as well as that of the conservative government’s of Spain and Great Britain) undermines the efforts at negotiations between the Maduro government and the opposition. Many believe that an agreement between the opposition and the government is Venezuela’s best hope, as both sides lack the popular support necessary to ensure stability. Trump’s position also pressures the parties of the opposition to pull out of the presidential race, even though many, if not most, of the opposition parties are intent on participating in them.
Critics can point to aspects of the Venezuelan elections that do not accord to the spirit of democracy, such as the decision to hold them anticipatively. But there is a fundamental difference between objectionable electoral practices and rigged elections, such as those held in Honduras and the 2000 U.S. presidential elections (with regard to the decisive state of Florida). One can point to objectionable practices in many other nations as well, beginning with the U.S. In the U.S. over 6 million felons (that is, ex-prisoners who have served their prison time) are denied the right to vote; “voter suppression” affecting minority groups has been well documented: widespread gerrymandering is a well known fact; and two of the three presidents in the twenty-first century have been elected while receiving less votes than their rival for the office.  
Washington’s position on Venezuela is comparable to the Trump administrations rejection of negotiations between the Afghanistan government and the Taliban in spite of the fact that the protracted civil war in that nation is at a deadlock with no end in sight. Both sides lack popular support and so it’s hard to imagine a best-case scenario of peace and stability. It would seem that Washington is not interested in peaceful resolutions of conflict anywhere in the world. Could it be that the arms industry which is a large part of the bedrock of the U.S.’s unhealthy economy has something to do with Washington’s tendency to block peaceful agreements throughout the world? In short, Venezuela is just one example of Washington’s efforts to foment discord and confrontation including armed confrontations. Just look at Syria, Afghanistan and Korea.      

Monday, January 22, 2018


You don’t have to be a Marxist to realize that there is an economic war being waged by private capital against Venezuela. All you have to do is to recognize that the state is not “autonomous” but is inextricably tied to the existing economic system. Nearly all political scientists (from Robert Dahl to Guillermo O’Donnell, the exception being Theda Skocpol) recognize the tight nexus between the two. The opposition to the Venezuelan government by Washington under the Bush, Obama and Trump administrations has been overtly aggressive and unyielding. The same can be said of the commercial media, from “liberal” (NY Times, Washington Post and CNN) to ultra-conservative (Fox News).

If the connection between state and private sector is tight, then who can deny that the multinationals, as well as local private capital that is closely tied to the global chain, are also doing their best to create a situation of economic, social and political instability in Venezuela. Even without much knowledge about the specifics of Venezuelan politics, one can readily conclude that the private sector is not at all on the sidelines, but is acting in unison with international political actors such as the U.S. government, and that it is a major player in the economic war being waged in Venezuela.

Sunday, January 7, 2018


In 1979, Ernesto Laclau published “Politics and Ideology in Marxist Theory: Capitalism, Fascism, Populism” in which he stated that populist movements emerge in a moment of crisis in which one sector of the ruling class (which can be located anyplace on the political spectrum) attempts to gain the upper hand vis-à-vis other fractions by appealing to popular sectors. That juncture is a moment of risk for those in power because with the mixture of political and social instability, infighting among the elite and widespread discontent, any outcome is possible. Populist leaders who call for reform within the system often lose control of the movement they helped initiate. In other cases, populists end up riding the radicalization wave, as was the case of Chávez (as I argued in “Revolutionary and Non-Revolutionary Paths of Radical Populism: Directions of the Chavista Movement in Venezuela” Published by Science & Society in its April 2005 issue - For these reasons, ruling class ideologues have always so forcefully denounced populism of all stripes.

Laclau’s thesis is applicable to the current state of U.S. politics which is characterized by a legitimacy crisis in which the entire political class along with leading government officials from Supreme Court judges and congresspeople to the corporate media are held in disrepute by the vast majority of people. There is a head-on clash between the right (represented by Trump and Bannon) and the center represented by the national leadership of the Democratic Party. The rejection of establishment politics voiced by the right discredits the system. The disrepute is now exacerbated by infighting within the right itself, between Trump and Bannon. Many people react to the discord by embracing a plague on both your houses attitude. In this case the two “houses” are the right (the Trump-wing of the Republican Party) and the center (the Clintons, Obama, etc.). 
When White House senior advisor Stephen Miller makes a complete a** out of himself on CNN by refusing to answer any of journalist Jack Tapper’s questions and instead insisting that he be given three minutes to espouse the virtues of his boss Donald Trump, it’s hard not to sympathize with Tapper. But the fact is that Miller is right (though for the wrong reasons) when he talks of CNN’s consistent distortion of news. Miller is tapping into the widespread belief that the establishment media presents news in a misleading if not deceptive manner, as is demonstrated by public opinion polls. 
Prior to the 2016 elections, Julian Assange argued that the Trump candidacy presented the left with an extraordinary opportunity to advance, as the representatives of the status quo knock themselves out or shoot themselves in the foot. For expressing this viewpoint, Assange was trashed by the Guardian which unjustly accused him of favoring Trump. I myself would have preferred Clinton and I don’t underestimate the danger that Trump and his cronies represent. But obviously Trump is benefiting from widespread and deep discontent. As his supporters or those who voted for him come to realize that he is not delivering and is reneging on all of his reformist proposals and promises, they will not necessarily return to the center, be it that of the Republican or Democratic Party. Indeed, the Democratic Party pro-establishment leaders have refrained from focusing on the real issues that affect people’s lives and instead harp on Trump’s gaffes and Russian interference in the U.S. 2016 elections (as if Washington doesn’t do the same in countries throughout the world).
It’s quite possible that with the “death of the liberal class” (as liberal-turned-leftist journalist Chris Hodges put it), large numbers of people will realize that the populist right represents more of the same, or is even worse than the political class that is so discredited, and will begin to consider the proposals put forward by the socialist left, be it those of Bernie Sanders or of other leaders and groups which represent a real alternative to the current system that is incapable of reforming itself. The same scenario may play itself out in Europe as well, as discontent members of the popular sectors come to realize that the right-wing populist alternative is no alternative at all, and if it is, it’s not one to be embraced.