A Case for Jeremy Corbyn

Of course Trump tried to make cheap political capital from the blood on London’s streets. He quoted London’s mayor, Sadiq Khan, out of context in a flurry of tweets aimed at buttressing the case for his bigotry. The president of the United States just felt like insulting a prominent Muslim.

.. all that British pomp for His Neediness.

.. competing for the favor and lucre of despots. To heck with the European Union, there’s always Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Xi Jinping. So begins the post-American century.

.. His slogan — “For the Many not the Few” — was no less effective for having been borrowed from Tony Blair.

.. the urban under-30s, is remarkable. To them he is a near Messianic figure, the righter of capitalist wrongs; the proud socialist who will nationalize the railroads, make universities free again and inject billions into the National Health Service (while somehow balancing the budget)

.. I dislike Corbyn’s anti-Americanism, his long flirtation with Hamas, his coterie’s clueless leftover Marxism and anti-Zionism, his NATO bashing, his unworkable tax-and-spend promises. He’s of that awful Cold War left that actually believed Soviet Moscow was probably not as bad as Washington.

.. After the terrorist attacks, he said “difficult conversations” were needed with Saudi Arabia: Hallelujah! He would tackle rising inequality. He would seek a soft departure from the European Union keeping Britain as close to Europe as possible. His victory — still improbable — would constitute punishment of the Tories for the disaster of Brexit. Seldom would a political comeuppance be so merited.

Sensing Chaos, Russia Takes A ‘Wait-And-See’ Approach To Trump

David, you say in this new piece that Vladimir Putin’s resentment of the West is rooted not in ideology but in his experience of the decline and fall of Russian power and pride. So can you explain what that sense of the loss of Russian power and pride is about?

.. And Vladimir Putin was not a liberal intellectual. He was somebody who volunteered for the KGB as a teenager, whose father was a badly, badly wounded veteran of the – what’s called the Great Patriotic War, second world war in Russia. And he experienced that as a KGB officer who saw that Moscow had lost its grip not just on Warsaw and Budapest and Berlin, but also on Georgia and Azerbaijan and Armenia. And even within Russia there was talk of Russia itself breaking into smaller components. This is the drama he experienced.

And then in the ’90s, he saw the Yeltsin government, under the name of Demokratiya – Demokratiya kind of fail on its promise in so many ways. And an economic depression came along that for many people was incredibly painful, like the ’30s in the United States. So, again, a lot of people in Russia, exemplified by Putin, saw this as a crash followed by chaos, followed by poverty. And that’s a very different view than most Americans see 1991 as.

.. And Putin was blessed, you know, when he came to power in 2000 and eventually in 2003, 2004 not only by an increasing stability in society but also oil prices shot through the roof. And that benefited the Russian economy, especially the cities, especially people in the main industry, which is oil and gas. But it’s proved illusory because the Russian economy, once oil and gas prices have declined, showed its weakness. And so eventually, Putin not only became more and more disenchanted with the West, he also decided that he needed an operating ideology.

.. And I don’t know how sincere he is in this. But it’s certainly – there’s a greater sense of conservatism, that’s what that anti-gay legislation was about, to put it in opposition to the libertine, you know, decadent West, and growing nationalism, patriotic pride. You go turn on Russian television any night, there’s an enormous sense over and over of Russian-ness, of Russian pride, of patriotism in a way that there was not in the ’90s.

.. So when Americans giggle at him doing the butterfly in the middle of a roaring river or strip to the waist on a horse or, you know, kind of like a James Bond villain, you know, in some sort of weird craft in the ocean, Russians see that as a kind of machismo version of Russian statehood.

.. Here is our man. He speaks bluntly to the West. He doesn’t take any guff from the West. He’s not swallowing stuff the way Yeltsin did. He is standing up for us, for Russian-ness. And everything that we’re doing to them is something that they’ve been doing to us for generations. So the title of our piece is called “Active Measures.” This is not a one-way street. The United States has been fooling around in – it doesn’t take propaganda to say this is true.

.. Yes, it’s true that Russians have been involved in all sorts of Cold War missions, but so have we. We have given ample evidence to Russia and else and the world to show that in the past, the United States got involved in elections, got involved in regime change. And, you know, Iraq and Libya are only the most recent evidence of it. So as Ben Rhodes, a Obama administration official said to us, you know, we give him enough rope to hang us, in a certain sense.

.. What Vladimir Putin fears most of all is internal chaos. So when he looks at Tahrir Square…

GROSS: Like people defying him…

REMNICK: Absolutely. So when he looks at…

GROSS: …Rebelling against him.

REMNICK: When he looks at Tahrir Square in Cairo, when he looks at Maidan uprisings in Kiev, closer to home, and when he looked at the demonstrations in Moscow on the Bolotnaya Square, what’s called Swampy Square in 2011, he sees those as rehearsal for the – for a regime change in Moscow. And he thinks that not only is the United States a part of this and behind this, that Hillary Clinton gave, quote, unquote, “the signal” to demonstrators in Moscow in 2011. That’s why – that’s part of why he despised Hillary Clinton so very much.

.. He wants no more expansion of NATO to say the least, and he would like to see greater dissent and dissention within Western institutions.

He is delighted to see the rise of not only Donald Trump in the United States, which I think he sees as causing us chaos and for us to look more and more inward and to be more and more divided. He also is delighted to see the rise of nationalist politicians in France, in Germany, in Holland because what happens as a result is that there’s more, therefore, fractiousness and chaos within those countries. And institutions like NATO, the European Union are called more into question. That’s his motive.

.. But when it comes to television, it is neo-Soviet. There’s no question about it, and there are certain people that are just never going to be invited on television, and you are not going to hear Vladimir Putin criticized. That’s that’s the be-all and end-all.

And so when people go on and on, as does Trump, about how unbelievably popular Putin is and he has an 85 percent popularity rating, no small part of that is the information space of television. Now, there are other elements of it too. I have to readily admit his popularity is not just rooted in propaganda, but that’s a big element of it.

.. On February 17, he tweeted (reading) the fake news media, failing New York Times, NBC News, ABC, CBS, CNN, is not my enemy. It is the enemy of the American people.

REMNICK: Yeah, what a phrase, the enemy of the people.

GROSS: Yeah, I know. That goes back to Stalin, right?

OSNOS: I recognize that from somewhere.

REMNICK: Well, it goes back to Robespierre. It is an ugly, ugly phrase. I don’t know how self-aware Donald Trump is of that kind of phrase. I guarantee you Steve Bannon knows what enemy of the people means. Stalin used it to keep people terrified. If you were branded a vrag naroda, an enemy of the people, you could guarantee that very soon there would be a knock in the middle of the night at your door and your fate would be horrific.

To hear that kind of language directed at the American press is an emergency. It’s an emergency. It’s not a political tactic. And if it’s a political tactic, it’s a horrific one. And that needs to be resisted not just by people like me who are, you know, editors or writers but all of us. This is part of what distinguishes American democracy. And it’s untenable, immoral and anti-American.

.. it’s the kind of language that autocrats use in the beginning. And where it will go, we don’t know yet. But he is obviously – this is beyond dog whistles. He is signaling to the base that your enemy, your enemy is those people.

That’s how autocrats behave. They create an other. Whether it’s the press, whether it’s ethnic or otherwise, it’s the creation of an other. And I find it – I just, you know, it has to be stood up against.

.. Some of the worry of people who are concerned about our behavior vis-a-vis Russia now is who’s going to talk up about human rights? When Alexei Navalny, the one person who seemed to be ready to run against Putin in a presidential race in 2018, was eliminated from consideration by a court, which is very much under Putin’s control, and his political possibilities were erased – and by the way, Navalny’s brother is in a prison right now – when that happened, did the White House say a single word about this? Not a word, not a word.

.. It was very interesting to see George W. Bush, who was criticized quite a lot in the pages of The New Yorker for eight years and more, go on “The Today Show” the other day and in no uncertain terms – and this is a guy who was hammered by The New York Times, by The Washington Post, by The New Yorker and God knows who else – speak up for a free press, speak up for the role the press plays in the functioning of a flawed, yet healthy American democracy or any kind of democracy.

Ayn Rand’s Counter-Revolution

The prelude to all of that was the 1930s, when the nation’s intellectuals first grappled with the meaning and significance of Russia’s revolution. And it was in this decade that Ayn Rand came to political consciousness, reworking her opposition to Soviet Communism into a powerful defense of the individual

.. The Great Depression had cast its dark shadow over the American dream.

.. In this moment, Soviet Russia stood out to the nation’s thinking class as a sign of hope. Communism, it was believed, had helped Russia avoid the worst ravages of the crash.

.. Rand had taken for granted there would be “pinks” in America, but she hadn’t known they would matter, certainly not in New York City, one of the literary capitals of the world.

.. a drama that would shape American thought and politics for the rest of the century: a bitter love triangle between Communists, ex-Communists and anti-Communists.

.. another Soviet inheritance: agitprop novels, dedicated to showcasing heroic individualists and entrepreneurs.

 

Of Flying Cars and the Declining Rate of Profit

a particular generational promise—given to those who were children in the fifties, sixties, seventies, or eighties—one that was never quite articulated as a promise but rather as a set of assumptions about what our adult world would be like.

.. Where, in short, are the flying cars? Where are the force fields, tractor beams, teleportation pods, antigravity sleds, tricorders, immortality drugs, colonies on Mars, and all the other technological wonders any child growing up in the mid-to-late twentieth century assumed would exist by now?

.. In 1968, Stanley Kubrick felt that a moviegoing audience would find it perfectly natural to assume that only thirty-three years later, in 2001, we would have commercial moon flights, city-like space stations, and computers with human personalities

.. The usual move in science fiction is to remain vague about the dates, so as to render “the future” a zone of pure fantasy, no different than Middle Earth or Narnia, or like Star Wars, “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.”

.. The movie was terrible, but I couldn’t help but feel impressed by the quality of the special effects.

.. They thought we’d be doing this kind of thing by now. Not just figuring out more sophisticated ways to simulate it.”

.. The technologies that have advanced since the seventies are mainly either medical technologies or information technologies—largely, technologies of simulation.

.. The postmodern sensibility, the feeling that we had somehow broken into an unprecedented new historical period in which we understood that there is nothing new; that grand historical narratives of progress and liberation were meaningless

.. all this makes sense in a technological environment in which the only breakthroughs were those that made it easier to create, transfer, and rearrange virtual projections of things that either already existed, or, we came to realize, never would.

.. The postmodern moment was a desperate way to take what could otherwise only be felt as a bitter disappointment and to dress it up as something epochal, exciting, and new.

.. End of work arguments were popular in the late seventies and early eighties as social thinkers pondered what would happen to the traditional working-class-led popular struggle once the working class no longer existed. (The answer: it would turn into identity politics.)

.. What happened, instead, is that the spread of information technologies and new ways of organizing transport—the containerization of shipping, for example—allowed those same industrial jobs to be outsourced to East Asia, Latin America, and other countries where the availability of cheap labor allowed manufacturers to employ much less technologically sophisticated production-line techniques

.. an uneasy awareness that the postwork civilization was a giant fraud.

  1. .. Either our expectations about the pace of technological change were unrealistic
  2. .. or our expectations were not unrealistic (in which case, we need to know what happened to derail so many credible ideas and prospects).

.. the United States and the Soviet Union had been, in the century before, societies of pioneers, one expanding across the Western frontier, the other across Siberia?

.. If it wasn’t unrealistic in 1900 to dream of men traveling to the moon, then why was it unrealistic in the sixties to dream of jet-packs and robot laundry-maids?

.. Future Shock argued that almost all the social problems of the sixties could be traced back to the increasing pace of technological change.

.. by roughly 1850, the effect had become unmistakable. Not only was everything around us changing, but most of it—human knowledge, the size of the population, industrial growth, energy use—was changing exponentially. The only solution, Toffler argued, was to begin some kind of control over the process, to create institutions that would assess emerging technologies and their likely effects, to ban technologies likely to be too socially disruptive ..

.. One of Gingrich’s first acts on winning control of the House of Representatives in 1995 was defunding the OTA as an example of useless government extravagance

.. Auguste Comte, who believed that he was standing on the brink of a new age—in his case, the Industrial Age ..

.. The Industrial Age had developed its own system of ideas—science—but scientists had not succeeded in creating anything like the Catholic Church. Comte concluded that we needed to develop a new science, which he dubbed “sociology,” and said that sociologists should play the role of priests in a new Religion of Society that would inspire everyone with a love of order, community, work discipline, and family values.

.. The old, materialist Industrial Society, where value came from physical labor, was giving way to an Information Age where value emerges directly from the minds of entrepreneurs, just as the world had originally appeared ex nihilo from the mind of God, just as money, in a proper supply-side economy, emerged ex nihilo from the Federal Reserve and into the hands of value-creating capitalists.

.. existing patterns of technological development would lead to social upheaval, and that we needed to guide technological development in directions that did not challenge existing structures of authority—echoed in the corridors of power.

.. Marx argued that, for certain technical reasons, value—and therefore profits—can be extracted only from human labor. Competition forces factory owners to mechanize production, to reduce labor costs, but while this is to the short-term advantage of the firm, mechanization’s effect is to drive down the general rate of profit.

.. Back in the fifties, in fact, many United States planners suspected the Soviet system worked better. Certainly, they recalled the fact that in the thirties, while the United States had been mired in depression, the Soviet Union had maintained almost unprecedented economic growth rates of 10 percent to 12 percent a year—an achievement quickly followed by the production of tank armies that defeated Nazi Germany, then by the launching of Sputnik in 1957, then by the first manned spacecraft, the Vostok, in 1961.

.. We are used to thinking of the Politburo as a group of unimaginative gray bureaucrats, but they were bureaucrats who dared to dream astounding dreams.

The dream of world revolution was only the first.

.. most of them—changing the course of mighty rivers, this sort of thing—either turned out to be ecologically and socially disastrous

most were not military in nature: as, for instance, the attempt to solve the world hunger problem by harvesting lakes and oceans with an edible bacteria called spirulina,

  • or to solve the world energy problem by launching hundreds of gigantic solar-power platforms into orbit and beaming the electricity back to earth.
  • .. American victory in the space race meant that, after 1968, U.S. planners no longer took the competition seriously.

.. the direction of research and development shifted away from anything that might lead to the creation of Mars bases and robot factories.

.. the United States never did abandon gigantic, government-controlled schemes of technological development. Mainly, they just shifted to military research

.. by the seventies, even basic research came to be conducted following military priorities.

.. One reason we don’t have robot factories is because roughly 95 percent of robotics research funding has been channeled through the Pentagon, which is more interested in developing unmanned drones than in automating paper mills.

.. the technologies that did emerge proved most conducive to surveillance, work discipline, and social control.

.. provided the means by which employers have created “flexible” work regimes that have both destroyed traditional job security and increased working hours for almost everyone.

.. what will the epitaph for neoliberalism look like?

.. a form of capitalism that systematically prioritized political imperatives over economic ones. Given a choice between a course of action that would make capitalism seem the only possible economic system, and one that would transform capitalism into a viable, long-term economic system, neoliberalism chooses the former every time.

.. There is every reason to believe that destroying job security while increasing working hours does not create a more productive .. workforce.

.. It’s possible, in fact, that the very dead weight of the apparatus created to ensure the ideological victory of capitalism will sink it.

.. choking off any sense of an inevitable, redemptive future that could be different from our world is a crucial part of the neoliberal project.

.. the change shifted government-directed research away from programs like

  • NASA or alternative energy sources and
  • toward military, information, and medical technologies.

.. the preferred weapon almost everywhere remains the AK-47, a Soviet design named for the year it was introduced: 1947.

.. private enterprise is now funding twice as much research as the government

.. “Basic,” “curiosity-driven,” or “blue skies” research—the kind that is not driven by the prospect of any immediate practical application, and that is most likely to lead to unexpected breakthroughs—occupies an ever smaller proportion of the total

.. The Human Genome Project .. has mainly served to establish that there isn’t very much to be learned from sequencing genes that’s of much use to anyone else

.. Research and development is still driven by giant bureaucratic projects.

.. The increasing interpenetration of government, university, and private firms has led everyone to adopt the language, sensibilities, and organizational forms that originated in the corporate world.

.. the last thirty years have seen a veritable explosion of the proportion of working hours spent on administrative tasks at the expense of pretty much everything else.

.. In my own university, for instance, we have more administrators than faculty members, and the faculty members, too, are expected to spend at least as much time on administration as on teaching and research combined.

.. The growth of administrative work has directly resulted from introducing corporate management techniques.

.. everyone winds up spending most of their time trying to sell things: grant proposals; book proposals; assessments of students’ jobs and grant applications; assessments of our colleagues; prospectuses for new interdisciplinary majors; institutes; conference workshops; universities themselves

.. No major new works of social theory have emerged in the United States in the last thirty years. We have been reduced to the equivalent of medieval scholastics, writing endless annotations of French theory from the seventies, despite the guilty awareness that if new incarnations of Gilles Deleuze, Michel Foucault, or Pierre Bourdieu were to appear in the academy today, we would deny them tenure.

.. It is now the domain of professional self-marketers.

.. Jonathan Katz

.. You will spend your time writing proposals rather than doing research. Worse, because your proposals are judged by your competitors, you cannot follow your curiosity, but must spend your effort and talents on anticipating and deflecting criticism rather than on solving the important scientific problems. . . . It is proverbial that original ideas are the kiss of death for a proposal, because they have not yet been proved to work.

.. tell those same people they will receive no resources at all unless they spend the bulk of their time competing against each other to convince you they know in advance what they are going to discover.

.. the spread of the corporate ethos within the academy and research institutes themselves has caused even publicly funded scholars to treat their findings as personal property.

.. Those thinkers most likely to make a conceptual breakthrough are the least likely to receive funding, and, if breakthroughs occur, they are not likely to find anyone willing to follow up on their most daring implications.

.. the United States and Germany, the two rival powers that spent the first half of the twentieth century fighting two bloody wars over who would replace Britain as a dominant world power—wars that culminated, appropriately enough, in government-sponsored scientific programs to see who would be the first to discover the atom bomb. It is significant, then, that our current technological stagnation seems to have begun after 1945, when the United States replaced Britain as organizer of the world economy.

.. the moment we stop imagining bureaucracy as a phenomenon limited to government offices, it becomes obvious that this is precisely what we have become.

.. cemented the dominance of conservative managerial elites, corporate bureaucrats who use the pretext of short-term, competitive, bottom-line thinking to squelch anything likely to have revolutionary implications of any kind.

.. No population in the history of the world has spent nearly so much time engaged in paperwork.

.. we need to rethink some of our most basic assumptions about the nature of capitalism. One is that capitalism is identical with the market, and that both therefore are inimical to bureaucracy, which is supposed to be a creature of the state.

.. they were right to insist that the mechanization of industrial production would destroy capitalism; they were wrong to predict that market competition would compel factory owners to mechanize anyway.

.. the current form of capitalism, where much of the competition seems to take the form of internal marketing within the bureaucratic structures of large semi-monopolistic enterprises

Defenders of capitalism make three broad historical claims:

  1. first, that it has fostered rapid scientific and technological growth;
  2. second, that however much it may throw enormous wealth to a small minority, it does so in such a way as to increase overall prosperity;
  3. third, that in doing so, it creates a more secure and democratic world for everyone.

It is clear that capitalism is not doing any of these things any longer.

.. many of its defenders are retreating from claiming that it is a good system and instead falling back on the claim that it is the only possible system

.. they mean to convince us that technological progress is indeed continuing, that we do live in a world of wonders, but that those wonders take the form of modest improvements (the latest iPhone!)

there’s the problem of trying to convince the world you are leading the way in technological progress when you are holding it back. The United States,

  • with its decaying infrastructure,
  • paralysis in the face of global warming, and
  • symbolically devastating abandonment of its manned space program just as China accelerates its own,

.. it will not happen within the framework of contemporary corporate capitalism—or any form of capitalism. To begin setting up domes on Mars, let alone to develop the means to figure out if there are alien civilizations to contact, we’re going to have to figure out a different economic system.

.. whatever replaces capitalism is based on a far more egalitarian distribution of wealth and power—one that no longer contains either the super-rich or the desperately poor willing to do their housework.