Sunday 16th of December 2018

writing the truth: five difficulties...


Fascism Is the True Face of Capitalism

by Bertholt Brecht, 1935

The truth must be spoken with a view to the results it will produce in the sphere of action. As a specimen of a truth from which no results, or the wrong ones, follow, we can cite the widespread view that bad conditions prevail in a number of countries as a result of barbarism. In this view, Fascism is a wave of barbarism which has descended upon some countries with the elemental force of a natural phenomenon. According to this view, Fascism is a new, third power beside (and above) capitalism and socialism; not only the socialist movement but capitalism as well might have survived without the intervention of Fascism. And so on. This is, of course, a Fascist claim; to accede to it is a capitulation to Fascism.

Fascism is a historic phase of capitalism; in this sense it is something new and at the same time old. In Fascist countries capitalism continues to exist, but only in the form of Fascism; and Fascism can be combated as capitalism alone, as the nakedest, most shameless, most oppressive, and most treacherous form of capitalism.

But how can anyone tell the truth about Fascism, unless he is willing to speak out against capitalism, which brings it forth? What will be the practical results of such truth?

Those who are against Fascism without being against capitalism, who lament over the barbarism that comes out of barbarism, are like people who wish to eat their veal without slaughtering the calf. They are willing to eat the calf, but they dislike the sight of blood. They are easily satisfied if the butcher washes his hands before weighing the meat. They are not against the property relations which engender barbarism; they are only against barbarism itself. They raise their voices against barbarism, and they do so in countries where precisely the same property relations prevail, but where the butchers wash their hands before weighing the meat.

Outcries against barbarous measures may be effective as long as the listeners believe that such measures are out of the question in their own countries. Certain countries are still able to maintain their property relations by methods that appear less violent than those used in other countries.

Democracy still serves in these countries to achieve the results for which violence is needed in others, namely, to guarantee private ownership of the means of production.  [our emphasis]  The private monopoly of factories, mines, and land creates barbarous conditions everywhere, but in some places these conditions do not so forcibly strike the eye. Barbarism strikes the eye only when it happens that monopoly can be protected only by open violence.

Some countries, which do not yet find it necessary to defend their barbarous monopolies by dispensing with the formal guarantees of a constitutional state, as well as with such amenities as art, philosophy, and literature, are particularly eager to listen to visitors who abuse their native lands because those amenities are denied there. They gladly listen because they hope to derive from what they hear advantages in future wars. Shall we say that they have recognized the truth who, for example, loudly demand an unrelenting struggle against Germany “because that country is now the true home of Evil in our day, the partner of hell, the abode of the Antichrist”? We should rather say that these are foolish and dangerous people. For the conclusion to be drawn from this nonsense is that since poison gas and bombs do not pick out the guilty, Germany must be exterminated—the whole country and all its people.

The man who does not know the truth expresses himself in lofty, general, and imprecise terms. He shouts about “the” German, he complains about Evil in general, and whoever hears him cannot make out what to do. Shall he decide not to be a German? Will hell vanish if he himself is good? The silly talk about the barbarism that comes out of barbarism is also of this kind. The source of barbarism is barbarism, and it is combated by culture, which comes from education. All this is put in general terms; it is not meant to be a guide to action and is in reality addressed to no one.

Such vague descriptions point to only a few links in the chain of causes. Their obscurantism conceals the real forces making for disaster. If light be thrown on the matter it promptly appears that disasters are caused by certain men. For we live in a time when the fate of man is determined by men.

Fascism is not a natural disaster which can be understood simply in terms of “human nature”. But even when we are dealing with natural catastrophes, there are ways to portray them which are worthy of human beings because they appeal to man’s fighting spirit. After a great earthquake that destroyed Yokohama, many American magazines published photographs showing a heap of ruins. The captions read: STEEL STOOD. And, to be sure, though one might see only ruins at first glance, the eye swiftly discerned, after noting the caption, that a few tall buildings had remained standing. Among the multitudinous descriptions that can be given of an earthquake, those drawn up by construction engineers concerning the shifts in the ground, the force of stresses, the best developed, etc., are of the greatest importance, for they lead to future construction which will withstand earthquakes.

If anyone wishes to describe Fascism and war, great disasters which are not natural catastrophes, he must do so in terms of a practical truth. He must show that these disasters are launched by the possessing classes to control the vast numbers of workers who do not own the means of production. If one wishes successfully to write the truth about evil conditions, one must write it so that its avertible causes can be identified. If the preventable causes can be identified, the evil conditions can be fought.


Bertolt Brecht (1935). Writing the truth: Five difficulties. Translation by Richard Winston, for the magazine ‘Twice a Year’. Collected in William Wasserstrom, ed., Civil Liberties and the Arts: Selections from Twice a Year, 1938-48. Syracuse University Press, 1964.

reading classics

Picture at top by Gus Leonisky. Statue of Brecht, on Brecht platz, Berlin.

for many, bush senior was a nasty nasty man...

Ariel Dorfman, (born May 6, 1942, Buenos Aires, Argentina), Chilean American author and human rights activist whose plays and novels engage with the vibrant politically engaged Latin American literary tradition of Pablo Neruda and Gabriel García Márquez.

Dorfman’s family moved from Argentina to the United States while he was still an infant and then to Chile in 1954. He attended and eventually taught at the University of Chile in Santiago. From 1970 to 1973 Dorfman served as a cultural adviser in the administration of Salvador Allende, Chile’s first socialist president, whom the U.S. government actively opposed. In September 1973 Allende’s democratically elected government was violently overthrown in a military coup that put the dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet in power. Dorfman was forced into exile, living and writing in the United States until the restoration of Chilean democracy began in 1990. In 1985 he began teaching literature and Latin American studies at Duke University.

Dorfman’s play La muerte y la doncella (1990; Death and the Maiden), perhaps his best-known work, was completed in Chile as he observed his country’s painful transition from authoritarianism to democracy. The politically charged play follows Paulina Salas, a former political prisoner in an unnamed Latin American country, whose husband unknowingly brings home the man she believes to have tortured and raped her more than 20 years before. It is a drama rooted in Chile’s particular human rights crisis, yet the lyrical power of Dorfman’s writing made the play a touchstone for exploring similar issues around the world. In 1994 the play was adapted for film by the director Roman Polanski. La muerte y la doncella is one part of Dorfman’s Resistance trilogy, along with the play Reader (1995), adapted from an short storyby Dorfman, and the novel Viudas (1981; Widows). Dorfman also published the novels Konfidenz (1994), Terapia (1999; Blake’s Therapy), and The Nanny and the Iceberg (1999).

Dorfman wrote extensively on issues related to Latin American politics, American cultural hegemony, war, and human rights, publishing essays in both English and Spanish. He also worked with organizations such as Amnesty International, Index on Censorship, and Human Rights Watch.


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But our aversion had more personal roots: Bush had operated as head of the CIA from 30 January 1976 until 20 January 1977. As such, he was undoubtedly privy to exhaustive information about the devastation being inflicted by the US-supported Pinochet regime in Chile, at a time when opponents were being disappeared, concentration camps were still open and torture was rampant. During his tenure, the American government facilitated the infamous Operation Condor, run by the intelligence services of six Latin American dictatorships to coordinate their repression of dissidents. Perhaps most inexcusable was that Bush remained unrepentant of his country’s involvement in so much suffering. Had he not stated – when an American missile had blown up an Iranian aircraft with 290 innocent civilians aboard in 1988 – that he would “never apologize for the United States of America. Ever. I don’t care what the facts are.”


Read also: when our barron is a bannon... in come to daddy .....

statistical economics... you're screwed...


One of the oddest things about 2016, so far at least, is how economic common sense is being twisted in all sorts of ways to explain what’s going on in the global economy.

By the end of 2015 market commentators were clamouring for an interest rate rise from the Federal Reserve to restore confidence. Normally, the only reason to raise rates is if there is inflation in the economy and you want to squeeze it out.

Problem: there was no inflation in the US, or almost anywhere else, at the end of 2015.

So despite that rather obvious fact, the markets got the rise that they wanted and … it helped lower economic activity, precisely as one would expect, which has had a decidedly negative impact on confidence.

Generally speaking, when you make something more expensive – in this case, money – people buy less of it. But in this world, “the markets” were arguing that people would buy more of something if you made it more expensive, and that would produce confidence, so they would buy more, which is a bit odd, to say the least.

The next bit of oddness, apparent as we entered into 2016, was that the fall in commodity pricesespecially oil, was not good news. Yet falling commodity prices means that everyone who is not a commodity producer or an oil company pays less for their inputs, and can then spend more on other stuff, which has to be good – right?

But the markets, once again, figured different. Falling oil prices were now seen as a bad thing, with markets in January having a mini heart attack as oil prices fell below $30 a barrel. When pressed as to why this was a bad thing, no one in these markets seemed to have a clear answer. But the markets freaked out anyway.

A cause for this volatility had to be found, and it was, by the middle of January, in the form of China’s banking sector. And so for the past month the markets have been fretting about the non-performing Loans (NPL’s) in China … and their “dodgy” economic statistics.

But just last year the IMF, who has plenty of data on NPL’s everywhere, brought the yuan into its basket of reserve currencies, which is hardly what you would do if you thought it was all going to pot. After all, China’s statistics and loan book have been questionable for years … but so has Italy’s and Ireland for that matter. And China has literally trillions of dollars (and other currencies) in reserves to throw at the problem – not to mention a decidedly non-democratic state that can, and often does, just make things go away.

So why is China now the cause of all ills? Along with China, cheap money, and everything else? Quite possibly because the world has changed, fundamentally, and financial markets are incentivised not to recognise this. 

Today there is no inflation anywhere that isn’t due to a currency collapse brought on when the country that issues the currency is heavily dependent on imports, such as Russia and Brazil.

Globalisation, and concerted action for 30 years by the political right, has killed the ability of labour to demand higher wages, hence record inequalityand super low inflation. Meanwhile, yields on assets, and interest rates in such a world, will stay long and low well beyond 2016 as global savings outpace global investment, and everyone except the US tries to run an export surplus.

This is an ugly world for financial markets, used to delivering the types of returns that people thought normal before the crash: 6 to 8%, liquid, and abundant. That money was made in a period when interest rates and inflation rates across the world fell year on year from abnormally high levels. In that world it was hard not to make money.

But now we find ourselves in a post-crisis world in which the old tricks no longer work despite growth at 1.5%, inflation at 0.5% and interest rates in some places at minus 0.25%.

Rather than face this fact, the markets blame China, this week, or it’s the Fed’s rate policy, last month, or its quantitative easing (another bete noire for markets of long standing).

But here’s the bad news. It’s not their fault. Long and low as far as you go driven by ageing populations in developed countries that save more than they spend pushing down interest rates and consumption to the point of deflationas everyone tries to run a surplus is the reality of the world today.

So what will the rest of 2016 look like?

Just like we have seen so far – periodic inexplicable and what the heck moments as markets everywhere hunt for causes to explain away something very inconvenient. That the game has changed for financial markets – that there is no going back to the boom times – and that the world going forward is a much more boring, and much less finance friendly place, than the markets want to admit. Most of all to themselves.


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spherical argument about rights...

Since the trend toward rising economic inequality in the United States became apparent in the 1990s, scholars and commentators have heatedly debated its causes and consequences. What has been less evident is a vigorous positive discussion about what equality means and how it might be pursued.


... More guff. Conclusion:


How, then, can we build institutional frameworks in the social and economic domains that guide our associational practices in the direction of social equality and our economic practices in the direction of egalitarianism? We need a virtuous circle in which political equality supports institutions that, in turn, support social and economic equality ― for without those frameworks, the result could well be the emergence of social castes or economic exploitation, either of which would feed back to undermine political equality.

Rising to such a challenge is clearly difficult, but the basic issues involved can be sketched simply. The two fundamental sources of power in a democracy are numbers and control over the state's use of force. The media have access to eyeballs and ears, and therefore to numbers. Wealth, celebrity and social movement organisation can also provide access to eyeballs and ears. Wealth secures that access indirectly, by buying media resources; celebrity brings it directly. Organising can also achieve such access, but only by dint of hard work. And wealth can also sometimes buy access to institutional control.

Many argue that the most important step needed to restore political equality now is to check the power of money in politics through campaign finance reform or to equalise the resources available to political actors by publicly subsidising campaigns. They have a point, but by themselves such remedies are insufficient because they focus on only part of the broader picture. Reformers should be considering not merely how to check the power of money in politics, but also how to rebuild the power of organisers and organising as a counterbalance to wealth.

A particularly productive path toward this goal has been identified by Yale law professor Heather Gerken, who argues for a new federalism that maps out consequential policy domains at all levels of the political system and supports citizen engagement at each level. Gerken's project is not about states' rights ― the federal rights enforcement structure would continue to establish the rules of the game for engagement at the local level. But she correctly points out that significant power resides throughout the various layers of U.S. politics and that there are rich egalitarian possibilities in all sorts of areas, from zoning, housing and transportation to labour markets, education and regulation. Policy contestation at the local and regional levels, she notes, can drive changes at the national level, with the case of marriage equality being only the most recent prominent example.

Bolstering political equality throughout the lower and middle layers of the U.S. federalised political system is a not an easy or sexy task, but that is what is required to redress the outsized power of money in national life that has been both the consequence and the enabler of rising economic inequality. Liberty and equality can be mutually reinforcing, just as the founders believed. But to make that happen, political equality will need to be secured first and then be used to maintain, and be maintained by, egalitarianism in the social and economic spheres as well.

Danielle Allen is the James Bryant Conant University Professor at Harvard University, and Director of Harvard's Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics. She is the author of The World of Prometheus: The Politics of Punishing in Democratic AthensTalking to Strangers: Anxieties of Citizenship since Brown vs. the Board of EducationWhy Plato WroteOur Declaration: A Reading of the Declaration of Independence in Defense of EqualityEducation and Equality and, most recently, Cuz: An American Tragedy.


Gus: In democracy, we struggle with numbers.This is why Morrison (Scummo) got his totally undemocratic rule passed in the Liberal (CONservative) party that 2/3 of the caucus was needed to overthrow the Prime Minister of the said party, unlike the more democratic 50 per cent (1/2) plus one, of the past. The more people we have in our social networks, the more rules and regulations "we need" — in increments, (not so much in progressive values) — to make sure the social things we don't like don't happen — though they will on incidental levels — but not on a revolutionary scale nor on a level of uncertainty, nor on large numbers... And things we'd like to happen (and should happen) are negatively caught in this maelstrom of incremental rules. Our rulers know this, but they can stop themselves from using a big stick. 

No matter where you turn, rights have been eroded around the world — if ever they existed. Often we survive with the illusion of rights rather than their true application. We have displaced and rebranded slavery. We are racist, sexist, warriors, discriminatory and insular in our individual and collective decisions. We rob others from their ancestral lands, but we blame "history". We manage our hypocrisy rather than accept rights...


We can do better. Join the "yellow jackets"? Have we got the stuff?


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Note: I have argued in the past that "capitalism" isn't a form of government, but a facilitator of whichever government one chooses, in various value. Capitalism will facilitate fascism and neoconservatism in this fashion. Capitalism will only enter socialism on a much smaller local scale... but still exist as long as people are able to "trade money".