Memo to Peace and Justice Activists: Can We Create a Movement for Change?

Weekend Edition
November 28-30, 2008

Memo to Peace and Justice Activists

Can We Create a Movement for Change?


“If you want peace, work for justice.”

– Pope John Paul IV

There are literally thousands of organizations in the United States alone working for peace and justice.  I would probably think of them as constituting a movement but for Alexander Cockburn’s occasional but repeated and for me, telling remarks to the contrary. A couple of recent developments lead me to think there may be an opening for an appropriate catalyst to move these disparate groups and their activists, and those of us who comprise their membership and support, in the direction of becoming a movement.  Or perhaps more than one.

What is a movement?  While I invite help with my working definition, it seems to me a movement is a humongous number of people able to move collectively, more or less together, and thus magnify exponentially the impact of their actions, because they are motivated by a common vision, comprised of common values, goals, and perceptions of reality.  Not only do they hold this vision and its integral components in common, but they also articulate these things to themselves and each other in common terms.  They not only share them, but are aware that they do.

Noam Chomsky says to produce change we need understanding, organizing, and action.  We arrive at understanding by research and other means of perceiving and analyzing reality – and learning to ignore the ubiquitous disinformation, including the overload of irrelevancies, dispensed by the instruments of propaganda.  Moving from understanding to organizing is a process of sharing that information and analysis, disseminating them to others who share our values, so that collective action becomes possible.  That’s what those thousands of organizations already are: groups of people with a common understanding of one or several problems and issues, organized by mutual understanding and shared values so as to be able to act together for their common goals.

Anyone with a mailbox who has ever made a donation to a few organizations dedicated to peace and/or justice has some idea what I have in mind.  Resist, Inc., alone has funded literally thousands of small organizations in its 40-year history, and receives hundreds of new grant applications every year.  And we all know of the big organizations.  They’re working for peace, or on environmental problems, or for social equity, for human rights, and so on.  But can we tie all this together?  And where to begin?  As Chomsky once remarked, in essence, in reply to someone who asked that question:  Anywhere is a good place to begin.  What we have been hearing for years now is that we have no interests in common, and that our own interests are best served by seeking wealth, ignoring all but self.  So any action that affirms that we have interests in common is a move against the spirit of the age and the machine, and for the common good.

As for how we might begin to move together, recent events have included several over-arching developments of enormous scale that may be making popular consciousness more receptive than usual to the idea that we have interests in common, and may even facilitate agreement on common goals and actions we might take, by defining the elements of a program as well as illustrating how it might be achieved.

In an extraordinarily illuminating and useful article in the November issue of Z Magazine (“Bush’s Ten Toxic Economic Legacies”), Jack Rasmus remarks that in the wake of the staggering expenditures occasioned by the global financial crisis, critical programs like health care reform, student loans, sustainable environmental initiatives, jobs creation and protection, mortgage foreclosure relief, retirement systems reform and funding, etc., will all likely be sidelined more or less permanently.  However, viewing this differently – and as I see it – Rasmus has outlined many of the core components of a comprehensive program.  And if you add tax reform, extended unemployment benefits and food stamp eligibility, plus funding to state and local governments to continue increasingly needed social welfare and other programs and at least slow down the process of contraction now accelerating throughout the economy, you have an agenda that would serve the needs and interests of young people, older people, workers, women, people of color, people with disabilities, people who breathe, eat food and drink water – all of whom the media and political elites call “special interests” – that is, the general population.

How is this comprehensive agenda a plus, without the funding?  Well, another key insight was provided in a recent column in CounterPunch, when Chris Floyd pointed out that perhaps the most striking fact revealed by the reaction to the global financial crash is the “staggering, astonishing, gargantuan” amounts of money that the governments of the world have at their command. As Floyd points out, this revelation gives the lie to the argument that’s been made nearly ad infinitum and certainly ad nauseam over the years, that “we” simply can’t afford programs that meet the needs and serve the interests of the general population, because there just isn’t enough money.

The Trillions that are being thrown at Wall Street and other investor servants and interests on a daily basis gives the lie to that argument.  Moreover, the general public is keenly aware of it, as evidenced by the veritable tsunami of opposition that arose overnight to the Bush-Paulson bailout plan – to the point where it was even defeated on the first go-round in Congress, before new, improved disinformation undermined the opposition.

Of course, some of these Trillions remain to be borrowed, and questions are being raised in some quarters as to whether foreign central banks and others who have thus far financed the already staggering US budget and current account deficits may throw a monkey wrench into the proliferation of bailout plans by withholding their cash.  In that case, the Treasury could wind up printing the money, leading to hyperinflation.  None of this is to be too easily denied, but I think there are no less than several plausible answers to it.

First, it’s becoming increasingly clear that at least near-term and for the foreseeable future, investors worldwide have become loathe to put their cash anywhere else but in government bonds, despite the massive pending supply and persistently low yields.  Financial Times 11/14/08, p. 25.  Second, perhaps investors being asked to finance continuing US deficits – I have in mind here foreign central banks in particular – might have less disincentive to do so if the payoff is to be a rebuilt America whose consumers can go back to buying their products. After all, a major reason for the global impact of our current slow-motion train wreck is that US consumers are totally tapped out, and thus no longer able to buy the foreign stuff, our purchase of which has been helping to keep the economies of Europe and emerging countries such as China going and growing.  Throwing Trillions down a rat hole in a vain effort to re-inflate the global bubble economy might well be an unwise investment.  On the other hand, genuinely rebuilding the US middle class, manufacturing base and infrastructure – in the process fostering the growth of community and a more equitable society – would be a much wiser use of capital, apart from its immediate benefits to Us the People.

Will that approach fly?  Well, it remains to be seen, of course.  But I think it has a lot more going for it than much of what is presently being done, which both serves the interests of no one but Wall Street and appears to be in the process of failing on a truly grand scale.

But there’s yet another place to look for the hundreds of billions it will take to rebuild our country (and of course, the two are not mutually exclusive):  the defense (sic: empire, hegemony and war; in a word, military) budget.  Granted, hundreds of organizations working to promote peace have been making this point for years.  But the general public wasn’t staring into the abyss of what may become the Really Great Depression until now.  Recent events should – with the right focus – throw a spotlight of a somewhat new and different hue on the $600 Billion we spend each year on goods and services that are wholly unproductive from an economic viewpoint, and indeed contribute massively both to our national decline and the destruction of “the environment,” aka planet Earth and the only home we have.  That’s where the hundreds of peace organizations come in:  There are many ways to promote peace, but perhaps right now a concerted focus on the military budget, on its gargantuan size and its utter uselessness (and worse), is the most productive approach and one on which there might be substantial agreement among peace organizers and activists.  There is also a natural potential symbiosis between peace and environmental preservation and restoration.

Finally, we have the promise of Change in which so many people came to believe that they almost seem to constitute a movement.  Perhaps they were, but it’s a movement that will not maintain coherence or momentum of its own accord, and I haven’t seen signs the Obama campaign that facilitated its creation is working to keep it intact.  Others have made the point that if the Obama administration is to achieve the potential its supporters among the general population (as opposed to elite interests) desire, those who supported Obama’s election will have to stay focused and active.  That means, in part, organized.

There you have it:  The power structure has disclosed it has access to truly vast amounts of capital.  Very recently, there was a mobilization of enormous popular opposition to a bailout focused on Wall Street, and more bailouts continue to unfold.  Pretty much the entire population has some understanding and considerable fear of the economic catastrophe in process of unfolding, and there is seemingly universal recognition of the need for massive government intervention to minimize its severity and duration.  Enter the thousands of organizations already working for peace and justice, who might – possibly? – perceive these events as the occasion for concerted focus and action on a common theme, and in particular, the hundreds of organizations specifically devoted to peace whose organizers and activists can highlight another source of funding for such programs.  Could we build a movement or two from these components, under these circumstances?

If we don’t do it, who will?  And if not now, when?

Robert Roth is a retired public interest lawyer who worked on civil rights for institutionalized people, antipoverty energy policy, and financial fraud and consumer protection during his 35-year career.  He can be reached at Robert.roth99@

There are of course other views.  For example, a special issue of WIN, the magazine of the War Resisters League, titled “Where To From Here?” reports on WRL’s Listening Process, a project of interviews with nearly 100 grassroots organizers and activists from across the country assessing the state of the antiwar movement.  Contact WRL at 339 Lafayette St., New York, NY 10012, (212) 228-0450.

It’s a question beyond this essay to articulate our common values, or even to assign labels to our politics.  In recent years I’ve come to think compassion and justice may cover it all, but you may have your own formulation.  Nor is it clear to me that “progressive” describes my vision entirely, since it has many conservative components.  While I don’t necessarily agree with him in all particulars, I recommend Robert Jensen’s articulation of his political philosophy in his Writing Dissent, pp. 9-16, both as an outline of values I find substantially congenial personally, and as a model of one way in which it’s useful to articulate our politics.  I also like Riane Eisler’s suggestions in The Real Wealth of Nations, and especially recommend the section at pp. 146-164 titled “From Capitalism to Socialism to Partnerism,” for a discussion of values and an alternative vision, as grounds for a politics that may be as useful as it is beautiful.  As for analysis, while there are of course many excellent ones out there, the best with which I’m familiar is Chomsky’s, whose Understanding Power, Hegemony or Survival, and Failed States (among his dozens of invaluable volumes) together present an analysis and critique of systems of power that is systematic, comprehensive and deep, and of course well documented.

“The God That Failed, 10/13/08.

Of course, such a rebuilt America, if it were as profligate and destructive as the old one, would present its own problems.  But those are issues for another day.  Getting from here to there is hard enough, and besides, there are bound to be differences, indeed fundamental ones, in an America rebuilt on the blueprints I’m suggesting.  See also and further, Eisler’s Real Wealth of Nations.  Another alternative vision I find helpful is presented by Sharon Astyk in Depletion and Abundance: Life On The New Home Front, or, One Woman’s Solutions to Finding Abundance for Your Family while Coming to Terms with Peak Oil, Climate Change and Hard Times. Sharon also has a great website at http://sharonastyk. com/.

And of course there are other promising places to look, such as the billions in annual subsidies to increasingly dysfunctional and destructive agribusiness.  See, e.g., the writings of Wendell Berry.

Apparently the Obama organization sent a survey to supporters on 11/18/08 asking how they would like to see “this organization move forward in the months and years ahead,” and asked them to rank four objectives:  helping the Obama administration “pass legislation through grass-roots efforts”; helping elect state and local candidates “who share the same vision for our country”; training others in the organizing techniques perfected by the campaign; and “working on local issues that impact our communities.”  This is not the place for a full discussion, but suffice it to say that, much as I wanted Obama to defeat McCain, I do not see him as having consistently articulated a progressive agenda, and am wary of the many Clinton people around him now.  For what I would call a real progressive agenda, I’d suggest the excellent outline of issues at the website of the Nader 2008 campaign, http://www.votenade  Nader’s issues constitute a comprehensive program, with which Obama was not in agreement on any point that I’m aware of.  So I’m thinking more in terms of encouraging or pressuring the administration and Congress from the left than of working with them, though of course the latter is preferable if we agree on goals.  It’s clear that even the sort of modest goals Obama did adopt during the campaign will encounter opposition of enormous force from the right.  See, e.g., Thomas Frank, “It’s Time to Give Voters the Liberalism They Want,” Wall Street Journal, 11/19/08 (regarding the business interests’ plans to oppose the Employee Free Choice Act, aka “card check,” which a Chamber of Commerce official has dubbed “Armageddon,” and Bernie Marcus, co-founder and CEO of The Home Depot, has lamented as “the demise of a civilization”).  I’m sure they’re not the only one, but Progressive Democrats of America is one group I’ve heard from that intends to try to maintain the momentum from the left.


“Anti-porn” bill could threaten Indonesian women

“Anti-porn” bill could threaten Indonesian women

by Soe Tjen Marching
25 November 2008

Jakarta – Two weeks ago, Indonesia’s parliament passed an “anti-porn”
bill, which bans anyone from wearing clothes or promoting material
that could incite “sexual desire”.

Although regulations regarding pornography are important, there is
some concern that there will be other implications, for instance for
women’s rights, even down to what is permissible to wear in public. In
addition, the law also criminalises homosexual activities which
previously were not illegal in Indonesia.

The head of the special committee that drafted the bill, Balkan
Kaplale, insists that it will protect Indonesians’ morality, and guard
women and children against sexual exploitation.

But by putting the blame on the “cause” of sexual arousal, this law
victimises women rather than protects them, allowing perpetrators to
argue, for example, that the victim provoked incidents of rape or
sexual harassment.

In Indonesia, a passed bill becomes law after it is signed by the
president or 30 days after it is ratified by Parliament.

However, only three days after the law was ratified, three exotic
dancers in Mangga Besar, West Jakarta were arrested, while the
managers and owner of the club were left alone.

In fact, the police detained these women based on a provision from a
previous draft of this bill.

Unfortunately, this victimisation and negative stereotyping of women
in relation to sexuality is not new in Indonesia.

Under former president Soeharto’s “New Order” government, which was
dominated by the military and characterised by a weakened civil
society, emphasis was put on the purity of women, stressing the
importance of their roles as loyal wives and good mothers.

After Soeharto’s resignation in 1998, however, Indonesians took
advantage of their newfound liberties to express their opinions and
criticise authority.

Several female Indonesian authors, including Ayu Utami, Dewi Lestari,
Clara Ng, Djenar Maesa Ayu and Herlinatiens, gained popularity,
writing new roles for women, particularly when it comes to sexuality.
Similarly, Indonesian film directors, such as Mira Lesmana, Nia
Dinata, and Sekar Ayu Asmara, have become widely known in the
Indonesian film industry for portraying multi-faceted, complex
Indonesian women.

In their works, many of them expressed criticism against sexual
restrictions placed on women in Indonesia. If the anti-porn bill is
ratified, the works of these women may be affected, since the new law
could label their books pornographic.

Since early 2006, several women’s groups — Komnas Perempuan (Forum on
Women), Kapal Perempuan (Women’s Boat) and Aliansi Mawar Putih (White
Rose Alliance) — have protested against the bill, which has been
pending for several years. On 22 April 2006, thousands of artists,
activists, students and civilians gathered at Monas Monument in
Jakarta carrying giant posters which read: “Indonesia is not America,
but it is not Saudi Arabia either.

We reject the anti-porn bill.” And “We reject pornography, but we
reject the anti-porn bill.”

More recently, Ayu Utami wrote a play, Sidang Susila (Susila’s Trial),
which demonstrates how the bill could violate women’s rights.

A week after the bill was passed in parliament, a well-known actor,
Butet Kartaredjasa, performed the work in Sidang Susila Teater Gandrik
in Jakarta to protest the new law.

Despite the prevailing impression that this bill is widely supported
by all Muslims, Islamic organisations like the Liberal Islam Network
(JIL) in Jakarta, the Institute for Islamic and Social Studies (LKIS)
in Yogyakarta and the Institute for Religion and Social Studies (LKAS)
in Surabaya have voiced their strong opposition to the bill.

They claim that the bill will limit freedom of expression in art,
including film and literature, and that Islam has been inaccurately
used by certain groups to justify the ratification of the bill. These
groups have created blogs highlighting articles criticising the bill
and organised demonstrations and press conferences.

Non-Muslim minority groups, especially in West Papua, Bali, East Nusa
Tenggara and North Sumatra, have also fiercely opposed this law
because they claim that their local customs and traditions will be
threatened by it. In West Papua, for instance, men and women go

In Bali, nude statues proliferate and the Balinese people are also
worried that the new law will negatively affect their tourism
industry, as many foreigners may no longer be able to wear bathing
suits, sundresses or shorts at the beaches.

Recently, governmental officials from these regions have gone so far
as to threaten to split from the Republic of Indonesia in protest.

If the president signs the bill into law, the government may gain more
popularity amongst the conservatives. However, it will simultaneously
offend minority religious groups, as well as women, splitting its
support base and potentially threatening the unity of the nation.

To achieve common ground between different groups, the law must be
completely revised. The term “pornography” must be made more specific
and implicitly or explicitly encourage respect for women’s bodies.

A national dialogue with minority groups — as well as feminists — to
define exactly what pornography is will definitely help. The issue of
subordination of women in pornography must be the bill’s primary focus.


* Soe Tjen Marching is a researcher and tutor at the School of
Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) at the University of London, and a
composer of avant-garde music. This article was written for the Common
Ground News Service (CGNews) and can be accessed at

Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 25 November 2008,
Copyright permission is granted for publication.

http://www.commongr oundnews. org/article. php?id=24428& lan=en&sid= 1&sp=0&isNew= 1

Scholarship or Sophistry? Bernard Lewis and the New Orientalism

CounterPunch, June 28, 2003

Scholarship or Sophistry?
Bernard Lewis and the New Orientalism


It would appear from the fulsome praise heaped by mainstream reviewers on Bernard Lewis’s most recent and well-timed book, What Went Wrong? Western Impact and Middle Eastern Response (Oxford University Press, 2002), that the demand for Orientalism has reached a new peak. America’s search for new enemies that began soon after the end of the Cold War very quickly resurrected the ghost of an old, though now decrepit, enemy, Islam. Slowly but surely, this revived the sagging fort1unes of Orientalism, so that it speaks again with the treble voice of authority.

The mainstream reviewers describe Bernard Lewis as “the doyen of Middle Eastern studies,” the “father” of Islamic studies, “[a]rguably the West’s most distinguished scholar on the Middle East,” and “[a] Sage for the Age.” It would appear that Lewis is still the reigning monarch of Orientalism, as he was some twenty-five years back when Edward Said, in his Orientalism, dissected and exposed the intentions, modalities, deceptions, and imperialist connections of this ideological enterprise. This Orientalist tiger has not changed his stripes over the fifty-odd years that he has been honing his skills. Now at the end of his long career-only coincidentally, also the peak-he presents the summation, the quintessence of his scholarship and wisdom on Islam and the Middle East, gathered, compressed in the pages of this slim book that sets out to explain what went wrong with Islamic history, and that has so mesmerized reviewers on the right.

Who Is Bernard Lewis?

We will return to the book in a moment, but before that, we need to step back some twenty-five years and examine how Edward Said, in Orientalism, has described this Orientalist tiger’s stripes and his cunning ploys at concealment. Edward Said gets to the nub of Lewis’s Orientalist project when he writes that his “work purports to be liberal objective scholarship but is in reality very close to being propaganda against his subject material.” Lewis’s work is “aggressively ideological. ” He has dedicated his entire career, spanning more than five decades, to a “project to debunk, to whittle down, and to discredit the Arabs and Islam.” Said writes:

The core of Lewis’s ideology about Islam is that it never changes, and his whole mission is to inform conservative segments of the Jewish reading public, and anyone else who cares to listen, that any political, historical, and scholarly account of Muslims must begin and end with the fact that Muslims are Muslims.

Although Lewis’s objectives are ominous, his methods are quite subtle; he prefers to work “by suggestion and insinuation. ” In order to disarm his readers and win their trust and admiration, he delivers frequent “sermons on the objectivity, the fairness, the impartiality of a real historian.” This is only a cover, a camouflage, for his political propaganda. Once he is seated on his high Orientalist perch, he goes about cleverly insinuating how Islam is deficient in and opposed to universal values, which, of course, always originate in the West. It is because of this deficiency in values that Arabs have trouble accepting a democratic Israel-it is always “democratic” Israel. Lewis can write “objectively” about the Arab’s “ingrained” opposition to Israel without ever telling his readers that Israel is an imperialist creation, and an expansionist, colonial-settler state that was founded on terror, wars, and ethnic cleansing. Lewis’s work on Islam represents
the “culmination of Orientalism as a dogma that not only degrades its subject matter but also blinds its practitioners. ”

Lewis’s scholarly mask slips off rather abruptly when he appears on television, a feat that he accomplishes with predictable regularity. Once he is on the air, his polemical self, the Orientalist crouching tiger, takes over, all his sermons about objectivity forgotten, and then he does not shrink from displaying his sneering contempt for the Arabs and Muslims more generally, his blind partisanship for Israel, or his bristling hostility toward Iran. One recent example will suffice here. In a PBS interview broadcast on 16 April 2002, hosted by Charlie Rose, he offered this gem: “Asking Arafat to give up terrorism would be like asking Tiger to give up golf.” That is a statement whose malicious intent and vindictive meanness might have been excusable if it came from an official Israeli spokesman.

After this background check, do we really want to hear from this “sage” about “what went wrong” with Islamic societies; why, after nearly a thousand years of expansive power and world leadership in many branches of the arts and sciences, they began to lose their élan, their military advantage, and their creativity and, starting in the nineteenth century, capitulated to their historical adversary, the West? And, though Islamic societies have regained their political independence, why has their economic and cultural decline proved so difficult to reverse? Yet, although our stomachs turn at the prospect, we must sample the gruel Lewis offers, taste it, and analyze it, if only to identify the toxins that it contains and that have poisoned far too many Western minds for more than fifty years.

Where is the Context?

What went wrong with the Islamic societies? When this question is asked by our “doyen of Middle Eastern studies,” especially when it is asked right after the attacks of 11 September, it is hard not to notice that this manner of framing the problem of the eclipse of Islamic societies by the West is loaded with biases, value judgments, and preconceptions, and even contains its own answer. There are two sets of “wrongs” in What Went Wrong? The first consists of “wrongs,” deviations from what is just and good, that we confront in contemporary Islamic societies. Lewis undoubtedly has in mind a whole slew of problems, including the political, economic, and cultural failings of the Islamic world. In addition, this question seeks to discover deeper “wrongs,” deviations from what is just and good that are prior to and at the root of the present “wrongs.” Lewis is concerned primarily with this second set of “wrongs.”

The first problem one encounters in Lewis’s narrative of Middle Eastern decline is the absence of any context. He seeks to create the impression that the failure of Islam to catch up with the accelerating pace of changes in Western Europe is a problem specific to this region; there is no attempt to locate this problem in a global context. This exclusive Middle Eastern focus reveals to all but the blinkered the mala fides of What Went Wrong? Lewis cannot hide behind pious claims that a historian’s “loyalties may well influence his choice of subject of research; they should not influence his treatment of it.” His exclusive focus on the decline of the Middle East is not legitimate precisely because it is designed to-and it unavoidably must-“influence his treatment of it.”

Once Western Europe began to make the transition from a feudal-agrarian to a capitalist-industri al society, starting in the sixteenth century, the millennial balance of power among the world’s major civilizations shifted inexorably in favor of Western Europe. A society that was shifting to a capitalist-industri al base, capable of cumulative growth, commanded greater social power than slow-growing societies still operating on feudal-agrarian foundations. Under the circumstances, it was unlikely that non-Western societies could simultaneously alter the foundations of their societies while also fending off attacks from Western states whose social power was expanding at an ever-increasing rate. Even as these feudal-agrarian societies sought to reorganize their economies and institutions, Western onslaughts against them deepened, and this made their reorganization increasingly difficult. It is scarcely surprising that the growing asymmetry between the two
sides eventually led to the eclipse, decline, or subjugation of nearly all non-Western societies.

While Lewis studiously avoids any reference to this disequalizing dynamic, another Western historian of Islam not driven by a compulsion “to debunk, to whittle down, and to discredit the Arabs and Islam” understood this tendency quite well. I am referring here to Marshall Hodgson, whose The Venture of Islam shows a deep and, for its time, rare understanding of the interconnectedness, across space and time, amongst all societies in the Eastern hemisphere. He understood very clearly that the epochal changes under way in parts of Western Europe between 1600 and 1800 were creating an altogether new order based on markets, capital accumulation, and technological changes, which acted upon each other to produce cumulative growth. Moreover, this endowed the most powerful Western states with a degree of social power that no one could resist. In his Venture of Islam, Marshall Hodgson writes, Hence, the Western Transmutation, once it got well under way, could
neither be paralleled independently nor be borrowed wholesale. Yet it could not, in most cases, be escaped. The millennial parity of social power broke down, with results that were disastrous everywhere.

Clearly, Lewis’s presentation of his narrative of Middle Eastern decline without any context is a ploy. His objective is to whittle down world history, to reduce it to a primordial contest between two historical adversaries, the West and Islam. This is historiography in the crusading mode, one that purports to resume the Crusades-interrupte d in the thirteenth century-and carry them to their unfinished conclusion, the triumph of the West or, conversely, the humiliation and defeat of Middle Eastern Islam. Once this framework has been established, with its exclusive focus on a failing Islamic civilization, it is quite easy to cast the narrative of this decay as a uniquely Islamic phenomenon, which must then be explained in terms of specifically Islamic failures. Thus Lewis’s agenda in What Went Wrong? is to discover all that was and is “wrong” with Islamic societies and to explain their decline and present troubles in terms of these “wrongs.”

If Lewis had an interest in exploring the decline of the Middle East, he would be asking why the new, more dynamic historical system that lay behind the rise of the West had not emerged in the Middle East, India, China, Italy, or Africa. If he had asked this question, it may have directed him to the source and origins of Western hegemony. But Lewis ducks this issue altogether. Instead, he takes the growing power of the West-its advances in science and technology-as the starting point of his narrative and concentrates on demonstrating why the efforts of Islamic societies to catch up with the West were both too little and too late. In other words, he seeks to explain a generic phenomenon-the overthrow of agrarian societies before the rise of a new historical system, based on capital, markets, and technological change-as one that is specific to Islam and is due to specifically Islamic “wrongs.”

If one focuses only on the Middle Eastern response to the Western challenge, it does appear to be too little and too late. The Ottoman Empire, once the most powerful in the Islamic world, had lost nearly all its European territories by the end of the nineteenth century, and the remnants of its Arab territories were lost after its defeat in the First World War. At this point, the Ottoman Empire had been reduced to a rump state in northern Anatolia, with the British and French occupying Istanbul, the Greeks pushing to occupy central Anatolia, the Armenians extending their boundaries in eastern Anatolia, and the French pushing north in Silesia. Yet, after defeating the Greeks, the French, and the Armenians, the victorious Turks managed to establish in 1922 a new and modern Turkish nation-state over Istanbul, Thrace, and all of Anatolia. The Iranians were more successful in preserving their territories, though, like the Ottomans, they too had lost control
over their economic policies in the first decades of the nineteenth century. However, if one compares these outcomes with the fate suffered by other regions-barring Japan, China, and Thailand, nearly all of Asia and Africa was directly colonized by the Europeans-one has to conclude that the results for the Middle East could have been worse.

Uncurious Ottomans

There is even less substance to Lewis’s claims about Middle Eastern inertia in the face of Western threats, especially when we compare their responses to these threats with the record of East Asian societies.

First, consider Lewis’s charge that the Muslims showed little curiosity about the West. He attributes this failing to Muslim bigotry that frowned upon contacts with the infidels. This is a curious charge against “a world civilization” that Lewis admits was “polyethnic, multiracial, international, one might even say intercontinental. ” It also seems strange that the Ottomans, and other Middle Eastern states before them, were quite happy to employ their Christian and Jewish subjects-as high officials, diplomats, physicians, and bankers-traded with the Europeans themselves, bought arms and borrowed money from them, and yet, somehow, loathed learning anything from the same infidels. In addition, Muslim philosophers, historians and travelers have left several very valuable accounts of non-Islamic societies. One of these, Al-Biruni’s monumental study of India, still remains without a rival for its encyclopedic coverage, objectivity, and sympathy for its
subject. Clearly, Lewis has fallen prey to the Orientalist temptation: when something demands a carefully researched explanation, an understanding of material and social conditions, better pin it on some cultural propensity.

Lewis is little aware how his book is littered with contradictions. If the Muslims were not a little curious about developments in the West, it is odd that the oldest map of the Americas-which dates from 1513 and is the most accurate map from the sixteenth century-was prepared by Piri Reis, a Turkish admiral and cartographer. It would also appear that the number of Muslims who had left accounts of their observations on Europe were not such a rarity either. Lewis himself mentions no fewer than ten names, nearly all of them Ottomans, spanning the period from 1665 to 1840; and this is far an from exhaustive list. One of them, Ratib Effendi, who was in Vienna from 1791 to 1792, left a report that “ran to 245 manuscript folios, ten times or more than ten times those of his predecessors, and it goes into immense detail, primarily on military matters, but also, to quite a considerable extent, on civil affairs.” Diplomatic contacts provide another indicator of
the early growth of Ottoman interest and involvement in the affairs of European states. Between 1703 and 1774, the Ottomans signed sixty-eight treaties or agreements with sovereign, mostly European states. Since each treaty must have involved at least one diplomatic exchange, the Ottomans could hardly be accused of neglecting diplomatic contacts with Europe.

According to Lewis, the Ottoman decision not to challenge the Portuguese hegemony in the Indian Ocean in the sixteenth century was a failure of vision. Despite some early warnings from elder statesmen, the Ottomans did not anticipate that the Portuguese incursion would translate some 250 years later into a broader and more serious European challenge to their power. As a result, they chose to concentrate their war efforts on acquiring territory in Europe, which, Lewis claims, they saw as “the principal battleground between Islam and Europe, the rival faiths competing for enlightenment- and mastery-of the world.” It is of no interest to Lewis that the Ottomans, departing from their own tradition of land warfare, had built a powerful navy starting in the fifteenth century and created a seaborne empire in the eastern Mediterranean, the Black Sea, and the Red Sea. If the Ottomans chose to concentrate their resources on land wars in Central Europe rather than
challenge Portuguese hegemony in the Indian Ocean, this was not the result of religious zealotry. It reflected the balance of class interests in the Ottoman political structure. In an empire that had traditionally been land-based, the interests of the landowning classes prevailed against commercial interests that looked to the Indian Ocean for their livelihood. Although the decision not to contest the Portuguese presence in the Indian Ocean in the sixteenth century was fateful, that policy was rational for the Ottomans.

A Military Decline?

Several Orientalists- Lewis amongst them-have argued that the military decline of the Ottoman Empire became irreversible after its second failed siege of Vienna in 1683, or perhaps earlier, after its naval defeat at Lepanto in 1571. In an earlier work, The Muslim Discovery of Europe, Lewis declared that “[t]he Ottomans found it more and more difficult to keep up with the rapidly advancing Western technological innovations, and in the course of the eighteenth century the Ottoman Empire, itself far ahead of the Islamic world, fell decisively behind Europe in virtually all arts of war.”

This thesis of an early and inexorable decline has now been convincingly questioned. Jonathan Grant has shown that the Ottomans occupied the third tier in the hierarchy of military technology, behind innovators and exporters, at the beginning of the fifteenth century; they could reproduce the latest military technology with the help of foreign expertise but they never graduated into export or introduced any significant innovations. The Ottomans succeeded in maintaining this relative position, through two waves of technology diffusion, until the early nineteenth century. However, they failed to keep up with the third wave of technology diffusion, based upon the technology of the industrial revolution, that began in the mid-nineteenth century. The Ottomans fell below their third-tier status only toward the end of the nineteenth century, when they became totally dependent on imported weaponry.

If we put together the evidence made available by Lewis, it becomes clear that the Ottomans were not slow in recognizing the institutional superiority enjoyed by Europe’s military. A debate about the causes of Ottoman weakness began after the Treaty of Carlowitz in 1699, growing more intense over time. A document from the early seventeenth century recognized that “it was no longer sufficient, as in the past, to adopt Western weapons. It was also necessary to adopt Western training, structures, and tactics for their effective use.” The Ottomans began to dispatch special envoys to European capitals “with instructions to observe and to learn and, more particularly, to report on anything that might be useful to the Muslim state in coping with its difficulties and confronting its enemies.” Several of these envoys wrote reports, occasionally quite extensive and detailed, on their European visits, and these reports had an important impact on thinking in Ottoman
circles. The first mathematical school for the military was founded in 1734, and a second one followed in the 1770s.

While Ottoman military technology generally kept pace with the advances in Europe, at least into the first decades of the nineteenth century, it took the Ottomans longer to introduce organizational changes in the military since they ran into powerful social obstacles. As a result, the first serious attempts at modernizing the army did not begin until the late eighteenth century, during the reign of Selim III, who sought to bypass the problems of reforming the existing military corps by recruiting and training a new European-style army. Although, by 1806, he had raised a modern army of nearly twenty-five thousand, he had to abandon his efforts in the face of resistance from the ulama and a Janissary rebellion. The task of modernizing the Ottoman army was taken up again in 1826 after the Janissary corps was disbanded, and in two years, the new Ottoman army included seventy-five thousand regular troops. Simultaneously, the Ottomans introduced reforms in the
bureaucracy and also reformed land-tenure policies with the objective of raising revenues.

And yet these efforts at modernizing the Ottoman military-quite early by most standards-failed to avert the progressive fragmentation and eventual demise of the Ottoman Empire at the end of World War I. One might join Hodgson in thinking that this was inevitable, that agrarian societies in Asia and Africa could not modernize fast enough in the face of the ever increasing economic and military power of the modern Western nation-states. But, perhaps, this assessment is too fatalistic; and it is contradicted by the case of-among others-Russia, which was spared colonization or subjection to open-door treaties. A comparison of the two quickly reveals that the Ottomans’ efforts at modernization were undermined by several extraneous factors. The Ottoman Empire, which straddled three continents, lacked the compactness that might have made its territories more defensible. What proved more fatal to the Ottoman Empire was the fact that the Ottoman Turks, though
they constituted its ethnic core, made up less than a third of its population and occupied an even smaller part of its territories. Once nationalism reared its head in the nineteenth century, the fragmentation of the Ottoman Empire was well-nigh unavoidable. The Ottomans faced one insurrection after another in the Balkans, each backed by some European power, until the last of these territories had broken free in the early decades of the twentieth century. Not only did these insurrections reduce the revenues of the empire, but by diverting its attention and resources to war, they delayed the modernization of the military and economy. Eventually, during World War I, the Arab territories of the empire were wrested away by the British and French, with support from Arab nationalists.

The Egyptian program to modernize its military, started in 1815 under the leadership of Muhammad Ali, was more ambitious and more successful. It was part of an integrated program of modernization and industrial development financed through state ownership of lands, development of new export crops, and state-owned monopolies over the marketing of the major agricultural products. In 1831, Egypt’s Europeanized army consisted of one hundred thousand officers and men, and in 1833, having conquered Syria, it was penetrating deep into Anatolia when its march was halted by Russian naval intervention. When the Ottomans resumed the Syrian war in 1839, the Egyptians routed the Ottoman forces and were rapidly marching westward, poised to capture Istanbul for Muhammad Ali. At this point, all the great European powers, except France, intervened, forcing the Egyptians to withdraw, give up their acquisitions in Syria and Arabia, reduce their military force to eighteen
thousand, and enforce the Anglo-Ottoman Commercial Convention, which required the lowering of tariffs to 3 percent and the dismantling of all state monopolies. By depriving Egypt of its revenues and dramatically reducing the military’s demand for its manufactures, these measures abruptly terminated the career of the earliest and most ambitious program to build a modern, industrial society in the Periphery.

Lewis faults the Ottomans and Egyptians of the nineteenth century for seeking to build an effective military response on the foundations of a modern industrial economy. He thinks it odd that these countries “tried to catch up with Europe by building factories, principally to equip and clothe their armies.” Apparently, Lewis is unaware that the Ottomans-and especially Egypt-were breaking new ground in their efforts to modernize their manufactures, a road that would soon be taken by most European countries. Nearly every country that lagged behind in the nineteenth century and was forced to catch up with Britain, built its strategy around industrialization, and the military in many of these countries formed an important initial market for their nascent industries. Of course, Lewis had no choice but to demean the military and industrial responses to the Western threat. As we will see, he believes that the Ottomans should have been working harder to remedy
their cultural deficiencies, such as their less-than-enthusias tic appreciation for European harmonies.

Industrial Failure-But Why?

Lewis declares that the industrialization programs launched by the Ottomans and Egypt “failed, and most of the early factories became derelict.” These programs were doomed from the outset because their promoters lacked a proper regard for time, measurement, harmonies, secularism, and women’s rights-values upon which Western industrial success was founded.

We must correct these jaundiced observations. Far from being a failure, the Egyptian “program of industrialization and military expansion,” according to Immanuel Wallerstein (Unthinking Social Science), “seriously undermined the Ottoman Empire and almost established a powerful state in the Middle East capable eventually of playing a major role in the interstate system.” Muhammad Ali’s fiscal and economic reforms, between 1805 and 1847, brought about a more than ninefold increase in government revenues. At their height in the 1830s, Egypt’s state monopolies had made investments worth $12 million and employed thirty thousand workers in a broad range of industries that included foundries, textiles, paper, chemicals, shipyards, glassware, and arsenals. By the early 1830s, Egyptian arsenals and naval yards had acquired the ability to “produce appreciable amounts of warships, guns and munitions,” elevating Egypt “to a major regional power.” Naturally, these
developments in Egypt were raising concerns in British government circles. A report submitted to the British foreign office in 1837 sounded the right note: “A manufacturing country Egypt never can become-or at least for ages.” Three years later, when Istanbul was within the grasp of Muhammad Ali’s forces, a coalition of European powers intervened to roll back his gains, downsize his military, and dismantle his state monopolies. These measures successfully reversed the Periphery’s first industrial revolution.

The Ottomans launched an ambitious program of industrialization in the early 1840s, but it had little chance of success and was abandoned within a few years of its inauguration. Since the early nineteenth century, the unequal treaties limited the Ottomans to import tariffs under 3 percent, severely limiting their ability to protect their manufactures or raise revenues for investments in development projects. In 1838, the Anglo-Turkish Commercial Convention forced them to dismantle all state monopolies, dealing another blow to their fiscal autonomy. It speaks to the determination of the Ottomans that they sought to launch an industrial revolution despite their adverse fiscal circumstances. In the decade starting in 1841, the Ottomans had set up, to the west of Istanbul, a complex of state-owned industries that included spinning and weaving mills, a foundry, steam-operated machine works, and a boatyard for the construction of small steamships. In the words
of Edward Clark (International Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, 1974): “In variety as well as in number, in planning, in investment, and in attention given to internal sources of raw materials these manufacturing enterprises far surpassed the scope of all previous efforts and mark this period as unique in Ottoman history.” Several foreign observers saw in the Istanbul industrial complex the potential to evolve into “a Turkish Manchester and Leeds, a Turkish Birmingham and Sheffield,” all wrapped in one. In addition, other modern industrial, mining, and agricultural projects were initiated during the same period in several other parts of the Ottoman Empire. But these grand projects could not be sustained for long. Once the Crimean War started, the Ottomans were forced to borrow heavily from foreign banks, and, strapped for funds, they abandoned most of these industrial projects. Thus ended another bold experiment in industrialization, early even by
European standards, but whose failure was linked to the loss of Ottoman fiscal sovereignty.

It’s in Their Culture

The real culprit behind the political, economic, and military failures of the Middle East over the past half a millennium was their culture. Lewis identifies a whole slew of problematic cultural traits, but two are singled out for special attention: the mixing of religion and politics and the unequal treatment of women, unbelievers, and slaves. Both, according to Lewis, are Islamic flaws.

Lewis argues that secularism constitutes a great divide between Islam and the West: the West always had it and Islamic societies never did. Secularism, as the separation of church and state, “is, in a profound sense, Christian.” Its origins go back to Jesus-his injunction to give God and Caesar, each, their due-and to the early history of the Christians when, as a minority persecuted by the Roman state, they developed the institutions of the Church with its “own laws and courts, its own hierarchy and chain of authority.” This was quite unique, setting Europe apart from anything that went before and from its competitors. In particular, the Muslims never created an “institution corresponding to, or even remotely resembling, the Church in Christendom. ”

These claims about a secular Christendom- an oxymoron in itself-and a theocratic Islam are problematic. Lewis rests his case upon two propositions. First, he contrasts the presence of the Church in Christendom against its absence in Islamic societies. Second, he works on the presumption that the existence of a Church, a hierarchical religious organization different from the state, necessarily implies a separation between religion and political authority. For the most part, these claims are contestable.

The existence of a Church in Christendom is not in dispute, but the contention that there existed nothing like it in Islamic societies is contradicted by history. The Prophet and the first four Caliphs combined religious and mundane authority in their persons. In addition, most Islamic thinkers have maintained that the ideal Islamic state, modeled after the state in Medina, must be guided by the Qur’an and the Prophet’s Sunnah. The Islamic practice in the centuries following the pious Caliphs, however, departed quite sharply from the canonical model as well as the theory.

In one of his numerous attempts at distortion, Lewis asserts that the “pietists” retreated into “radical opposition or quietist withdrawal” when they failed to impose “ecclesiastical constraints on political and military authority.” This is only part of the picture. In the bigger picture, we find that the pietists turned vigorously to scholarship. Starting from a scratch, and independently of state authority and without state funding, the early pietists developed the Islamic sciences, which included the Traditions of the Prophet, biographies of the Prophet and his companions, Arabic grammar, and theology. Most significantly, these pious scholars elaborated several competing systems of Islamic laws-regulating every aspect of individual, social, and business life-on the premise that legislative authority was vested in the consensus of the pious scholars-or, in the case of Shi’ites, in the rulings of the imams. The state had executive powers but it
possessed no legislative authority. In effect, Islam had evolved not only separate political and religious institutions, but separate executive and legislative powers as well. It was the pious scholars-with their competing schools of jurisprudence- who constituted the informal legislatures of Islam, long before these institutions had evolved in Europe.

Lewis’s second proposition- that separation between religion and political authority flows from the presence of a Church-is equally dubious. There can be no separation between religion and political authority if religion is organized into a Church with power over the lives of people. If the Church itself commands power, ipso facto, it becomes a rival of the state. It follows that the Church can and will exercise its power directly to regulate the religious, economic, and social affairs of the community, and indirectly by using the state for its own ends. Once Christianity became the official religion of the Roman state, the Church progressively increased its power: it used the power of the state to eliminate or marginalize all competing religions; it gained the exclusive right to define all religious dogma and rituals; it acquired properties, privileges, and exclusive control over education; it expanded its legislative control over different spheres of
society. In time, since the Church and state recruited their higher personnel from the same classes, they also developed an identity of class interests. In other words, although they remained organizationally distinct, the Church and the state mixed religion and politics.

One expects that a separation of religion and political authority would produce a measure of tolerance. Yet, the adoption of Christianity as its official creed led the Roman state, hitherto tolerant of all religious communities, to inaugurate a regime of growing intolerance toward other religions, and even toward any dissent within Christianity. As Daniel Schowalter (Oxford History of the Biblical World) says, “By the end of the fourth century, both anti-pagan and anti-Jewish legislation would serve as licenses for the increasing number of acts of vandalism and violent destruction directed against pagan and Jewish places of worship carried out by Christian mobs, often at the instigation of the local clergy.” Although the practice of Judaism was not banned, by the end of the fourth century C.E., a variety of decrees prohibited conversion to Judaism, Jewish ownership of non-Jewish slaves, and marriage between Jews and Christians, and Jews were excluded
from most imperial offices. In dogma, theology, legislation, and practice, the Church and state crafted a regime that suppressed paganism and marginalized all other non-Christian forms of worship.

According to Lewis, modernization in Islamic societies was set back by a second set of cultural barriers-namely, the inferior status of unbelievers, slaves, and, especially, women. It is not that these groups labored under stricter restraints than their counterparts in Europe, but that their unequal status was “sacrosanct” in that they “were seen as part of the structure of Islam, buttressed by revelation, by the precept and practice of the Prophet, and by the classical and scriptural history of the Islamic community.” As a result, these three inequalities have endured; they were not challenged even by the radical Islamic movements that arose from time to time to protest social and economic inequalities.
Lewis’s claims are problematic for several reasons. The first problem is their lack of historicity. Implicitly, Lewis bases his case on a reading of European history that inverts causation between economic development and social equality. He would have us believe that Europeans developed because their flexible legal systems moved faster to create a more egalitarian society, a necessary basis for rapid progress. This shows a curious indifference to chronology. While Europe was establishing its global capitalist empire it was conducting the Inquisition, expelling the Moors and Jews from Spain, waging unending religious wars, burning witches at the stake, and granted few legal rights to women. In addition, they were creating in the Americas economic systems based on slavery that would be abolished only after the 1860s. In Russia, serfdom remained the basis of the economy at least until the 1860s. The equality Lewis speaks of began to arrive in slow
increments at the beginning of the nineteenth century, and it was a byproduct of economic development, not its precursor.

Lewis’s claims about inequalities in Muslim societies lack historicity on another score. It is a bit surprising that “the doyen of Middle Eastern studies,” who has spent more than fifty years studying the history of the region, is unaware of at least a few challenges to the alleged inferior status of women or unbelievers. In the early centuries of Islam, there were at least three groups-the Kharijis, the Qarmatians and the Sufis-that did not accept the legal interpretations of the four traditional schools of Islamic law as sacrosanct. Instead, they looked for inspiration to the Qur’anic precepts on the moral and spiritual equality of men and women, claiming that the early applications of these precepts were time-bound. The Kharijis and Qarmatians rejected concubinage and child marriage, and the Qarmatians went further in rejecting polygamy and the veil. In a similar spirit, the Sufis welcomed women travelers on the spiritual path, permitting women “to
give a central place in their lives to their spiritual vocation.” In sixteenth-century India, the Mughal emperor Akbar abolished the jizyah (the poll tax imposed by Islamic law on all non-Muslims) , banned child marriage, and repealed a law that forced Islam on prisoners of war.

The “most profound single difference” between Islam and the West, however, concerns the status of women. In particular, Lewis argues that Islam permits polygamy and concubinage and that the Christian Churches prohibit it. Once again, Lewis is exaggerating the differences. In nearly all societies, not excluding the Western, men of wealth and power have always had access to multiple sexual partners, although within different legal frameworks. Islam gave equal rights to all the free sexual partners of men as well as to their children. The West, driven by a concern for primogeniture, adopted an opposite solution by vesting all the rights in a man’s primary sexual partner and her offspring. All the other sexual partners-a man’s mistresses-and their children had no legal rights. Arguably, Europe’s mistresses might think that the Islamic practice favored women.

It would appear from Lewis’s emphasis on polygamy and concubinage that they were very common in Islamic societies. In fact, both were quite rare outside the ruling class. Among others, this is attested by European visitors to eighteenth-century Aleppo and nineteenth-century Cairo. A study of documents relating to two thousands estates in seventeenth- century Turkey could identify only twenty cases of polygamy. Keeping concubines was most likely even rarer.

Lewis quotes from the reports of Muslim visitors who were startled to see European men curtsying to women in public places; this is supposed to validate the “striking contrasts” in women’s status in Europe and Islam. Once the bowing and curtsying are done, we need to compare the property rights enjoyed by women in Europe and Islam, a quite reliable index of the social power of women inside the household and outside. In this matter, too, it is the Muslim women who had the advantage until quite recently. Unlike her European counterpart, a married Muslim woman could own property, and she enjoyed exclusive rights to income from her property as well as the wages she earned. In Britain, the most advanced country in Europe, married women did not acquire the right to own property until 1882.
The ownership of property gave Muslim women a measure of social power that was not available to women in Europe. A Muslim woman of independent means had a stronger hand in marriage: she could initiate a divorce or craft a marriage contract that prevented her husband from taking another wife. Muslim women often engaged in trading activities, buying and selling property, lending money, or renting out stores. They created waqfs, charitable foundations financed by earnings from property, which they also administered. A small number of women distinguished themselves as scholars of the religious sciences. According to one report from the early nineteenth century, women attended al-Azhar, the leading university in the Islamic world. Ahmed concludes, on the basis of such evidence, that Muslim “women were not, after all, the passive creatures, wholly without material resources or legal rights, that the Western world once imagined them to be.”

What Went Wrong?

In an earlier era, before the Zionists developed a proprietary interest in Palestine, the least bigoted voices in the field of Oriental studies were often those of European Jews. Ironically, Lewis himself has written that these pro-Islamic Jews “were among the first who attempted to present Islam to European readers as Muslims themselves see it and to stress, to recognize, and indeed sometimes to romanticize the merits and achievements of Muslim civilization in its great days.” At a time when most Orientalists took Muhammad for a scheming imposter, equated Islam with fanaticism, thought that the Qur’an was a crude and incoherent text, and believed that the Arabs were incapable of abstract thought, a growing number of Jewish scholars often took opposite positions. They accepted the sincerity of Muhammad’s mission, described Arabs as “Jews on horseback” and Islam as an evolving faith that was more democratic than other religions, and debunked Orientalist
claims about a static Islam and a dynamic West. It would appear that these Jews were anti-Orientalists long before Edward Said.

These contrarian positions had a variety of motives behind them. Even as the Jews began to enter the European mainstream, starting in the nineteenth century, they were still outsiders, having only recently emerged from the confinement of ghettos, and it would be scarcely surprising if they were seeking to maintain their distinctiveness by emphasizing and identifying with the achievements of another Semitic people, the Arabs. In celebrating Arab civilization, these Jewish scholars were perhaps sending a non-too-subtle message to the Europeans that their civilization was not unique, that Arab achievements often excelled theirs, and that Europeans were building upon Islamic achievements in science and philosophy. In addition, Jewish scholars’ discussions of religious and racial tolerance in Islamic societies, toward Jews in particular, may have offered hope that such tolerance was attainable in Europe too. The discussions may also have been an invitation to
Europeans to incorporate religious and racial tolerance in their standards of civilization.

Yet the vigor of this early anti-Orientalism of Jewish scholars would not last; it would not survive the logic of the Zionist movement as it sought to create a Jewish state in Palestine. Such a state could only emerge as a child of Western imperialist powers, and it could only come into existence by displacing the greater part of the Palestinian population, by incorporating them into an apartheid state, or through some combination of the two. In addition, once created, Israel could only survive as a military, expansionist, and hegemonic state, constantly at war with its neighbors. In other words, as the Zionist project gathered momentum it was inevitable that the European Jews’ attraction for Islam was not going to endure. In fact, it would be replaced by a bitter contest, one in which the Jews, as junior partners of the imperialist powers, would seek to deepen the Orientalist project in the service of Western power. Bernard Lewis played a leading part
in this Jewish reorientation. In the words of Martin Kramer, Bernard Lewis “came to personify the post-war shift from a sympathetic to a critical posture.”

Ironically, this shift occurred when many Orientalists had begun to shed their Christian prejudice against Islam, even making amends for the excesses of their forebears. Another factor aiding this shift toward a less polemical Orientalism was the entry of a growing number of Arabs, both Muslim and Christian, into the field of Middle Eastern studies. The most visible upshot of these divergent trends was a polarization of the field of Middle Eastern studies into two opposing camps. One camp, consisting mostly of Christians and Muslims, has sought to bring greater objectivity to their study of Islam and Islamic societies. They make an effort to locate Islamic societies in their historical context, arguing that Islamic responses to Western challenges have been diverse and evolving over time, and they do not derive from an innate hostility to the West or some unchanging Islamic mindset. The second camp, now led mostly by Jews, has reverted to Orientalism’ s
original mission of subordinating knowledge to Western power, now filtered through the prism of Zionist interests. This Zionist Orientalism has assiduously sought to paint Islam and Islamic societies as innately hostile to the West, modernism, democracy, tolerance, scientific advance, and women’s rights.

This Zionist camp has been led for more than fifty years by Bernard Lewis, who has enjoyed an intimate relationship with power that would be the envy of the most distinguished Orientalists of an earlier generation. He has been strongly supported by a contingent of able lieutenants, whose ranks have included the likes of Elie Kedourie, David Pryce-Jones, Raphael Patai, Daniel Pipes, and Martin Kramer. There are many foot soldiers, too, who have provided distinguished service to this new Orientalism. And no compendium of these foot soldiers would be complete without the names of Thomas Friedman, Martin Peretz, Norman Podhoretz, Charles Krauthammer, William Kristol, and Judith Miller.

In my mind’s eye, I try to visualize an encounter between this distinguished crowd and some of their eminent predecessors, like Hienrich Heine, Abraham Geiger, Gustav Weil, Franz Rosenthal, and the great Ignaz Goldziher. What would these pro-Islamic Jews have to say to their descendants, whose scholarship demeans and denigrates the societies they study? Would Geiger and Goldziher embrace Lewis and Kedourie, or would they be repelled by the latter’s new brand of Zionist Orientalism? ***

M. Shahid Alam is Professor of Economics at Northeastern University. A more complete version of this essay, with footnotes and references, has appeared in Studies in Contemporary Islam 4 (2002), 1:51-78. He may be reached at
Visit his webpage at http://msalam. net.

John Bellamy Foster: Ecology and the transition from capitalism to socialism

Walk Against Warming, Sydney, 2006.
Photo by Alex Bainbridge/Green Left Weekly

By John Bellamy Foster

[This article, which first appeared in the November 2008 issue of Monthly Review, is a revised version of a keynote address delivered at the “Climate Change, Social Change” conference, Sydney, Australia, April 12, 2008, organised by Green Left Weekly. It is posted at Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal with the author’s permission. Watch and listen to Bellamy Foster’s presentation HERE. For more articles on Marxism and and the environment, click HERE.]

The transition from capitalism to socialism is the most difficult problem of socialist theory and practice. To add to this the question of ecology might therefore be seen as unnecessarily complicating an already intractable issue. I shall argue here, however, that the human relation to nature lies at the heart of the transition to socialism. An ecological perspective is pivotal to our understanding of capitalism’s limits, the failures of the early socialist experiments, and the overall struggle for egalitarian and sustainable human development.

My argument has three parts. First, it is crucial to understand the intimate connection between classical Marxism and ecological analysis. Far from being an anomaly for socialism, as we are often led to believe, ecology was an essential component of the socialist project from its inception—notwithstanding the numerous later shortcomings of Soviet-type societies in this respect. Second, the global ecological crisis that now confronts us is deeply rooted in the “world-alienating” logic of capital accumulation, traceable to the historical origins of capitalism as a system. Third, the transition from capitalism to socialism is a struggle for sustainable human development in which societies on the periphery of the capitalist world system have been leading the way.

Classical Marxism and ecology

Research carried out over the last two decades has demonstrated that there was a powerful ecological perspective in classical Marxism. Just as a transformation of the human relation to the earth was, in Marx’s view, an essential presupposition for the transition from feudalism to capitalism, so the rational regulation of the metabolic relation to nature was understood as an essential presupposition for the transition from capitalism to socialism.[1] Marx and Engels wrote extensively about ecological problems arising from capitalism and class society in general, and the need to transcend these under socialism. This included discussions of the nineteenth-century soil crisis, which led Marx to develop his theory of metabolic rift between nature and society. Basing his analysis on the work of the German chemist Justus von Liebig, he pointed to the fact that soil nutrients (nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium) were removed from the soil and shipped hundreds and thousands of miles to the cities where they ended up polluting the water and the air and contributing to the poor health of the workers. This break in the necessary metabolic cycle between nature and society demanded for Marx nothing less than the “restoration” of ecological sustainability for the sake of “successive generations”.[2]

In line with this, Marx and Engels raised the main ecological problems of human society: the division of town and country, soil depletion, industrial pollution, urban maldevelopment, the decline in health and crippling of workers, bad nutrition, toxicity, enclosures, rural poverty and isolation, deforestation, human-generated floods, desertification, water shortages, regional climate change, the exhaustion of natural resources (including coal), conservation of energy, entropy, the need to recycle the waste products of industry, the interconnection between species and their environments, historically conditioned problems of overpopulation, the causes of famine, and the issue of the rational employment of science and technology.

This ecological understanding arose from a deep materialist conception of nature that was an essential part of Marx’s underlying vision. “Man”, he wrote, “lives from nature, i.e. nature is his body, and he must maintain a continuing dialogue with it if he is not to die. To say that man’s physical and mental life is linked to nature simply means that nature is linked to itself, for man is a part of nature”.[3] Not only did Marx declare in direct opposition to capitalism that no individual owned the earth, he also argued that no nation or people owned the earth; that it belonged to successive generations and should be cared for in accordance with the principle of good household management.[4]

Other early Marxists followed suit, although not always consistently, in incorporating ecological concerns into their analyses and embodying a general materialist and dialectical conception of nature. William Morris, August Bebel, Karl Kautsky, Rosa Luxemburg and Nikolai Bukharin all drew on ecological insights from Marx. The Ukrainian socialist Sergei Podolinsky’s early attempt at developing an ecological economics was inspired to a considerable extent by the work of Marx and Engels. Lenin stressed the importance of recycling soil nutrients and supported both conservation and pioneering experiments in community ecology (the study of the interaction of populations within a specific natural environment). This led to the development in the Soviet Union in the 1920s and early 1930s of probably the most advanced conception of ecological energetics or trophic dynamics (the basis of modern ecosystem analysis) in the world at the time. The same revolutionary-scientific climate produced V. I. Vernadsky’s theory of the biosphere, A. I. Oparin’s theory of the origin of life and N. I. Vavilov’s discovery of the world centres of germplasm (the genetic sources of the world’s crop plants). In the West, and in Britain in particular, leading scientists influenced by Marxism in the 1930s, such as J. B. S. Haldane, J. D. Bernal, Hyman Levy, Lancelot Hogben and Joseph Needham, pioneered in exploring the dialectics of nature. It is even possible to argue that ecological science had its genesis almost entirely in the work of thinkers on the left (socialist, social democratic and anarchist).[5]

Obviously not all major figures or all developments in the socialist tradition can be seen as ecological. Soviet Marxism succumbed to an extreme version of the productivism that characterised early twentieth-century modernity in general, leading to its own version of ecocide. With the rise of the Stalinist system the pioneering ecological developments in the Soviet Union were largely crushed (and some of the early ecologically oriented Marxists such as Bukharin and Vavilov were killed). Simultaneously, a deep antipathy to natural science emerging out of an extreme negation of positivism led to the abandonment of attempts to theorise the dialectics of nature in Western Marxism, seriously weakening its link to ecology—though the question of the domination of nature was raised by the Frankfurt School as part of its critique of science. If today socialism and ecology are once again understood as dialectically interconnected, it is due both to the evolution of the ecological contradictions of capitalism and the development of socialism’s own self-critique.

Capitalism’s world alienation

The key to understanding capitalism’s relation to the environment is to examine its historical beginnings, i.e., the transition from feudalism to capitalism. This transition was enormously complex, occurring over centuries, and obviously cannot be fully addressed here. I shall focus on just a few factors. The bourgeoisie arose within the interstices of the feudal economy. As its name suggests, the bourgeoisie had its point of origin as a class primarily in the urban centres and mercantile trade. What was necessary, however, in order for bourgeois society to emerge fully as a system, was the revolutionary transformation of the feudal mode of production and its replacement by capitalist relations of production. Since feudalism was predominantly an agrarian system, this meant of course transformation of agrarian relations, i.e., the relation of workers to the land as a means of production.

Capitalism therefore required for its development a new relation to nature, one which severed the direct connection of labour to the means of production, i.e., the earth, along with the dissolution of all customary rights in relation to the commons. The locus classicus of the industrial revolution was Britain, where the removal of the workers from the land by means of expropriation took the form of the enclosure movement from the fifteenth to the eighteenth centuries. Under colonialism and imperialism an even more brutal transformation occurred on the outskirts or the external areas of the capitalist world economy. There all preexisting human productive relations to nature were torn asunder in what Marx called the “extirpation, enslavement and entombment in mines of the indigenous population”—the most violent expropriation in all of human history.[6]

The result was proletarianisation within the centre of the system as masses of workers were thrown out of work and moved to the city. There they were met by the capital being amassed through organised robbery, giving rise to what Marx called “modern industry”. Simultaneously, various forms of servitude and what we now call precarious work were imposed on the periphery, where social reproduction was always secondary to the most rapacious imperialist exploitation. The surplus forcibly extracted from the periphery fed industrialisation at the centre of the world economy.[7]

What made this new system work was the incessant accumulation of capital in one cycle after another, with each new phase of accumulation taking the last as its starting point. This meant ever more divided, more alienated human beings, together with a more globally destructive metabolism between humanity and nature. As Joseph Needham observed, the “conquest of Nature” under capitalism turned into “the conquest of man”; the “technological instruments utilised in the dominance of Nature” produced “a qualitative transformation in the mechanisms of social domination”.[8]

There is no doubt that this dialectic of domination and destruction is now spiraling out of control on a planetary scale. Economically, overall inequality between the centre and periphery nations of the world system is increasing together with the intensification of class inequality within each capitalist state. Ecologically, the world’s climate and the life-support systems of the entire earth are being transformed by a process of runaway global warming.[9]

In addressing this planetary environmental problem it is useful to turn to Hannah Arendt’s concept of “world alienation”, introduced fifty years ago in The Human Condition. “World alienation” for Arendt began with the “alienation from the earth” at the time of Columbus, Galileo, and Luther. Galileo trained his telescope on the heavens, thereby converting human beings into creatures of the cosmos, no longer simply earthly beings. Science seised on cosmic principles in order to obtain the “Archimedean point” with which to move the world, but at the cost of immeasurable world alienation. Human beings no longer apprehended the world immediately through the direct evidence of their five senses. The original unity of the human relation to the world exemplified by the Greek polis was lost.

Arendt noted that Marx was acutely aware of this world alienation from his earliest writings, pointing out that the world was “denatured” as all natural objects—the wood of the wood-user and the wood-seller—were converted into private property and the universal commodity form. Original or primitive accumulation, the alienation of human beings from the land, as Marx described it, became a crucial manifestation of world alienation. However, Marx, in Arendt’s view, chose to stress human self-alienation rooted in labour rather than world alienation. In contrast, “world alienation, and not [primarily] self-alienation as Marx thought”, she concluded, “has been the hallmark of the modern age”.

“The process of wealth accumulation, as we know it”, Arendt went on to observe, depended on expanding world alienation. It “is possible only if the world and the very worldliness of man are sacrificed”. This process of the accumulation of wealth in the modern age “enormously increased human power of destruction” so “that we are able to destroy all organic life on earth and shall probably be able one day to destroy even the earth itself”. Indeed, “Under modern conditions”, she explained, “not destruction but conservation spells ruin because the very durability of conserved objects is the greatest impediment to the turnover process, whose constant gain in speed is the only constancy left wherever it has taken hold”.[10]

Arendt had no final answers to the dire problem she raised. Despite tying world alienation to a system of destruction rooted in wealth accumulation, she identified it with the development of science, technology, and modernity rather than capitalism as such. World alienation in her view was the triumph of homo faber and animal labourans. In this tragic conception, her readers were called upon to look back to the lost unity of the Greek polis, rather than, as in Marx, toward a new society based on the restoration at a higher level of the human metabolism with nature. In the end world alienation for Arendt was a Greek tragedy raised to the level of the planet.

There is no doubt that the concrete manifestations of this world alienation are evident everywhere today. The latest scientific data indicate that global emissions of carbon dioxide from fossil fuels experienced a “sharp acceleration…in the early 2000s” with the growth rate reaching levels “greater than for the most fossil-fuel intensive of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change emissions scenarios developed in the late 1990s”. Further, “the mean global atmospheric CO2 concentration” has been increasing “at a progressively faster rate each decade”. The most rapid acceleration in emissions has been in a handful of emergent industrialising countries such as China, but “no region” in the world is currently “decarbonising its energy supply”. All ecosystems on earth are in decline, water shortages are on the rise, and energy resources are becoming more than ever the subject of global monopolies enforced by war.

The “man-made fingerprint of global warming” has been detected “on 10 different aspects of Earth’s environment: surface temperatures, humidity, water vapor over the oceans, barometric pressure, total precipitation, wildfires, change in species of plants and animals, water run-off, temperatures in the upper atmosphere, and heat content in the world’s oceans”. The cost now descending on the world if it doesn’t radically change course is a regression of civilisation and life itself beyond comprehension: an economy and ecology of destruction that will finally reach its limits.11

Socialism and sustainable human development

How are we to meet this challenge, arguably the greatest that human civilisation has ever faced? A genuine answer to the ecological question, transcending Arendt’s tragic understanding of world alienation, requires a revolutionary conception of sustainable human development—one that addresses both human self-estrangement (the alienation of labour) and world alienation (the alienation of nature). It was Ernesto “Che” Guevara who most famously argued in his “Man and Socialism in Cuba” that the crucial issue in the building of socialism was not economic development but human development. This needs to be extended by recognising, in line with Marx, that the real question is one of sustainable human development, explicitly addressing the human metabolism with nature through human labour.[12]

Too often the transition to socialism has been approached mechanistically as the mere expansion of the means of production, rather than in terms of the development of human social relations and needs. In the system that emerged in the Soviet Union the indispensable tool of planning was misdirected to production for production’s sake, losing sight of genuine human needs, and eventually gave rise to a new class structure. The detailed division of labour, introduced by capitalism, was retained under this system and extended in the interest of higher productivity. In this type of society, as Che critically observed, “the period of the building of socialism…is characterised by the extinction of the individual for the sake of the state”.[13]

The revolutionary character of Latin American socialism today derives its strength from an acute recognition of the negative (as well as some positive) lessons of the Soviet experience, partly through an understanding of the problem raised by Che: the need to develop socialist humanity. Further, the Bolivarian vision proclaimed by Hugo Chávez has its own deep roots of inspiration drawing on an older pre-Marxian socialism. Thus it was Simon Bolívar’s teacher Simón Rodríguez who wrote in 1847: “The division of labour in the production of goods only serves to brutalise the workforce. If to produce cheap and excellent nail scissors, we have to reduce the workers to machines, we would do better to cut our finger nails with our teeth.” Indeed, what we most admire today with regard to Bolívar’s own principles is his uncompromising insistence that equality is “the law of laws”.[14]

The same commitment to the egalitarian, universal development of humanity was fundamental to Marx. The evolution of the society of associated producers was to be synonymous with the positive transcendence of human alienation. The goal was a many-sided human development. Just as “all history is nothing but a continuous transformation of human nature”, so “the cultivation of the five senses is the work of all previous history”. Socialism thus appears as the “complete emancipation of the senses”, of human sensuous capacities and their wide-ranging development. “Communism, as fully developed naturalism”, Marx wrote, “equals humanism, and as fully developed humanism equals naturalism”.[15]

The contrast between this revolutionary, humanistic-naturalistic vision and today’s dominant mechanical-exploitative reality could not be starker. We find ourselves in a period of imperialist development that is potentially the most dangerous in all of history.[16] There are two ways in which life on the planet as we know it can be destroyed—either instantaneously through global nuclear holocaust, or in a matter of a few generations by climate change and other manifestations of environmental destruction. Nuclear weapons continue to proliferate in an atmosphere of global insecurity promoted by the world’s greatest power. War is currently being waged in the Middle East over geopolitical control of the world’s oil at the same time that carbon emissions from fossil fuels and other forms of industrial production are generating global warming. Biofuels offered up today as a major alternative to pending world oil shortages are destined only to enlarge world hunger.[17] Water resources are being monopolised by global corporations. Human needs are everywhere being denied: either in the form of extreme deprivation for a majority of the population of the world, or, in the richer countries, in the form of the most intensive self-estrangement conceivable, extending beyond production to a managed consumption, enforcing life-long dependence on alienating wage labour. More and more life is debased in a welter of artificial wants dissociated from genuine needs.

All of this is altering the ways in which we think about the transition from capitalism to socialism. Socialism has always been understood as a society aimed at reversing the relations of exploitation of capitalism and removing the manifold social evils to which these relations have given rise. This requires the abolition of private property in the means of production, a high degree of equality in all things, replacement of the blind forces of the market by planning by the associated producers in accordance with genuine social needs, and the elimination to whatever extent possible of invidious distinctions associated with the division of town and country, mental and manual labour, race divisions, gender divisions, etc. Yet, the root problem of socialism goes much deeper. The transition to socialism is possible only through a revolutionising practice that revolutionises human beings themselves.[18] The only way to accomplish this is by altering our human metabolism with nature, along with our human-social relations, transcending both the alienation of nature and of humanity. Marx, like Hegel, was fond of quoting Terence’s famous statement “Nothing human is alien to me”. Now it is clear that we must deepen and extend this to: Nothing of this earth is alien to me.[19]

Mainstream environmentalists seek to solve ecological problems almost exclusively through three mechanical strategies: (1) technological bullets, (2) extending the market to all aspects of nature, and (3) creating what are intended as mere islands of preservation in a world of almost universal exploitation and destruction of natural habitats. In contrast, a minority of critical human ecologists have come to understand the need to change our fundamental social relations. Some of the best, most concerned ecologists, searching for concrete models of change, have thus come to focus on those states (or regions) that are both ecological and socialistic (in the sense of relying to a considerable extent on social planning rather than market forces) in orientation. Thus Cuba, Curitiba and Porto Alegre in Brazil, and Kerala in India, are singled out as the leading lights of ecological transformation by some of the most committed environmentalists, such as Bill McKibben, best known as the author of The End of Nature.[20] More recently Venezuela has been using its surplus from oil to transform its society in the direction of sustainable human development, thereby laying the foundation for a greening of its production. Although there are contradictions to what has been called Venezuelan “petro socialism”, the fact that an oil-generated surplus is being dedicated to genuine social transformation rather than feeding into the proverbial “curse of oil” makes Venezuela unique.[21]

Of course there are powerful environmental movements within the centre of the system as well to which we might look for hope. But severed from strong socialist movements and a revolutionary situation they have been constrained much more by a perceived need to adapt to the dominant accumulation system, thereby drastically undermining the ecological struggle. Hence, revolutionary strategies and movements with regard to ecology and society are world-historical forces at present largely in the periphery, in the weak links and breakaways from the capitalist system.

I can only point to a few essential aspects of this radical process of ecological change as manifested in areas of the global South. In Cuba the goal of human development that Che advanced is taking on a new form through what is widely regarded as “the greening of Cuba”. This is evident in the emergence of the most revolutionary experiment in agroecology on earth, and the related changes in health, science, and education. As McKibben states, “Cubans have created what may be the world’s largest working model of a semisustainable agriculture, one that relies far less than the rest of the world does on oil, on chemicals, on shipping vast quantities of food back and forth… Cuba has thousands of organopónicos—urban gardens—more than two hundred in the Havana area alone.” Indeed, according to the World Wildlife Fund’s Living Planet Report, “Cuba alone” in the entire world has achieved a high level of human development, with a human development index greater than 0.8, while also having a per capita ecological footprint below the world’s average.[22]

This ecological transformation is deeply rooted in the Cuban revolution rather than, as frequently said, simply a forced response in the Special Period following the fall of the Soviet Union. Already in the 1970s Carlos Rafael Rodriguez, one of the founders of Cuban ecology, had introduced arguments for “integral development, laying the groundwork”—as ecologist Richard Levins points out—for “harmonious development of the economy and social relations with nature”. This was followed by the gradual flowering of ecological thought in Cuba in the 1980s. The Special Period, Levins explains, simply allowed the “ecologists by conviction” who had emerged through the internal development of Cuban science and society to recruit the “ecologists by necessity”, turning many of them too into ecologists by conviction.[23]

Venezuela under Chávez has not only advanced revolutionary new social relations with the growth of Bolivarian circles, community councils, and increased worker control of factories, but has introduced some crucial initiatives with regard to what István Mészáros has called a new “socialist time accountancy” in the production and exchange of goods. In the new Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA), the emphasis is on communal exchange, the exchange of activities rather than exchange values.[24] Instead of allowing the market to establish the priorities of the entire economy, planning is being introduced to redistribute resources and capacities to those most in need and to the majority of the populace. The goal here is to address the most pressing individual and collective requirements of the society related in particular to physiological needs and hence raising directly the question of the human relation to nature. This is the absolute precondition of the creation of a sustainable society. In the countryside preliminary attempts have also been made to green Venezuelan agriculture.[25]

In Bolivia the rise of a socialist current (though embattled at present) embedded in the needs of indigenous peoples and the control of basic resources such as water and hydrocarbons offers hope of another kind of development. The cities of Curitiba and Porto Alegre in Brazil point to the possibility of more radical forms of management of urban space and transportation. Curitiba, in McKibbens’s words, “is as much an example for the sprawling, decaying cities of the first world as for the crowded, booming cities of the Third World”. Kerala in India has taught us that a poor state or region, if animated by genuine socialist planning, can go a long way toward unleashing human potentials in education, health care, and basic environmental conditions. In Kerala, McKibben observes, “the Left has embarked on a series of ‘new democratic initiatives’ that come as close as anything on the planet to actually incarnating ‘sustainable development.’”[26]

To be sure, these are mainly islands of hope at present. They constitute fragile new experiments in social relations and in the human metabolism with nature. They are still subject to the class and imperial war imposed from above by the larger system. The planet as a whole remains firmly in the grip of capital and its world alienation. Everywhere we see manifestations of a metabolic rift, now extended to the biospheric level.

It follows that there is little real prospect for the needed global ecological revolution unless these attempts to revolutionize social relations in the struggle for a just and sustainable society, now emerging in the periphery, are somehow mirrored in movements for ecological and social revolution in the advanced capitalist world. It is only through fundamental change at the centre of the system, from which the pressure on the planet principally emanates, that there is any genuine possibility of avoiding ultimate ecological destruction.

For some this may seem to be an impossible goal. Nevertheless, it is important to recognize that there is now an ecology as well as a political economy of revolutionary change. The emergence in our time of sustainable human development in various revolutionary interstices within the global periphery could mark the beginning of a universal revolt against both world alienation and human self-estrangement. Such a revolt if consistent could have only one objective: the creation of a society of associated producers rationally regulating their metabolic relation to nature, and doing so not only in accordance with their own needs but also those of future generations and life as a whole. Today the transition to socialism and the transition to an ecological society are one.

1. Karl Marx, Capital, vol. 3 (New York: Vintage, 1981), 959.
2. Karl Marx, Capital, vol. 1 (New York: Vintage, 1976), 636–39, Capital, vol. 3, 754, 911, 948–49.
3. Karl Marx, Early Writings (New York: Vintage, 1974), 328. Documentation of Marx and Engels’s ecological concerns listed above can be found in the following works: Paul Burkett, Marx and Nature (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1999); John Bellamy Foster, Marx’s Ecology (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2000); and Paul Burkett and John Bellamy Foster, “Metabolism, Energy, and Entropy in Marx’s Critique of Political Economy”, Theory & Society 35 (2006): 109–56. On the problem of local climate change as it was raised by Engels and Marx in their time (speculations on temperature changes due to deforestation) see Engels’s notes on Fraas in Marx and Engels, MEGA IV, 31 (Amsterdam: Akadamie Verlag, 1999), 512–15.
4. Marx, Capital, vol. 3, 911.
5. On ecological insights of socialists after Marx see Foster, Marx’s Ecology, 236–54. On early Soviet ecology see also Douglas R. Weiner, Models of Nature (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1988). On Podolinsky seek John Bellamy Foster and Paul Burkett, “Ecological Economics and Classical Marxism”, Organisation & Environment 17, no. 1 (March 2004): 32–60.
6. Karl Marx, Grundrisse (London: Penguin, 1973), 471–79, and Capital, vol. 1 (London: Penguin, 1976), 915.
7. On precarious work see Fatma Ülkü Selçuk, “Dressing the Wound”, Monthly Review 57, no. 1 (May 2005): 37–44.
8. Joseph Needham, Moulds of Understanding (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1976), 301.
9. Branko Milanovic, Worlds Apart (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005); John Bellamy Foster, “The Imperialist World System”, Monthly Review, vol. 59, no. 1 (May 2007): 1–16.
10. Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1958), 248–73; Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Collected Works (New York: International Publishers, 1975), vol. 1, 224–63.
11. Michael R. Raupach, et al., “Global and Regional Drivers of Accelerating CO2 Emissions”, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 104, no. 24 (June 12, 2007): 10289, 10288; Associated Press, “Global Warming: It’s the Humidity”, October 10, 2007.
12. See Paul Burkett’s “Marx’s Vision of Sustainable Human Development”, Monthly Review 57, no. 5 (October 2005): 34–62.
13. Ernesto “Che” Guevara, “Man and Socialism in Cuba”. Che was referring to bourgeois criticisms of socialist transition but it was clear that he saw this problem as an actual contradiction of early socialist experiments that had to be transcended. See also Michael Löwy, The Marxism of Che Guevara (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1973), 59–73.
14. Rodríguez quoted in Richard Gott, In the Shadow of the Liberator (London: Verso, 2000), 116; Simón Bolívar, “Message to the Congress of Bolivia”, May 25, 1826, Selected Works (New York: The Colonial Press, 1951), vol. 2, 603.
15. Karl Marx, The Poverty of Philosophy (New York: International Publishers, 1963), 146, and Early Writings (New York: Vintage, 1974), 348, 353.
16. István Mészáros, Socialism or Barbarism (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2002), 23.
17. A powerful critique of biofuel production has been authored by Fidel Castro Ruiz in a series of reflections over the past years. See
18. See Paul M. Sweezy, “The Transition to Socialism”, in Sweezy and Charles Bettelheim, On the Transition to Socialism (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1971), 112, 115; Michael Lebowitz, Build it Now (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2006), 13–14.
19. G. W. F. Hegel, Introductory Lectures on Aesthetics (London: Penguin, 1993), 51; Karl Marx, “Confessions”, in Teodor Shanin, Late Marx and the Russian Road (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1983), 140.
20. See Bill McKibben, Hope, Human and Wild (Minneapolis: Milkweed Editions, 1995), and Deep Economy (New York: Henry Holt, 2007).
21. Michael A. Lebowitz, “An Alternative Worth Struggling For”, Monthly Review 60, no. 5 (October 2008): 20–21.
22. McKibben, Deep Economy, 73. See also Richard Levins, “How Cuba is Going Ecological”, in Richard Lewontin and Richard Levins, Biology Under the Influence (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2007), 343–64; Rebecca Clausen, “Healing the Rift: Metabolic Restoration in Cuban Agriculture”, Monthly Review 59, no. 1 (May 2007): 40–52; World Wildlife Fund, Living Planet Report 2006,, 19; Peter M. Rosset, “Cuba: A Successful Case Study of Sustainable Agriculture”, in Fred Magdoff, John Bellamy Foster, and Frederick H. Buttel, eds., Hungry for Profit (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1999), 203–14.
23. Levins, “How Cuba is Going Ecological”, 355–56 in Lewontin and Levins, Biology Under the Influence, 367.
24. Lebowitz, Build it Now, 107–09; On the theory of communal exchange that influenced Chávez see István Mészáros, Beyond Capital (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1995), 758–60. On “socialist time accountancy” see Mészáros’s Crisis and Burden of Historical Time (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2008).
25. David Raby, “The Greening of Venezuela”, Monthly Review 56, no. 5 (November 2004): 49–52.
26. McKibben, Hope, 62, 154.


Beware The Obama Hype: What “Change” In America Really Means

Beware The Obama Hype

What “Change” In America Really Means

By John Pilger

November 12, 2008 “Information Clearinghouse – -My first visit to Texas was in 1968, on the fifth anniversary of the assassination of president John F Kennedy in Dallas. I drove south, following the line of telegraph poles to the small town of Midlothian, where I met Penn Jones Jr, editor of the Midlothian Mirror. Except for his drawl and fine boots, everything about Penn was the antithesis of the Texas stereotype. Having exposed the racists of the John Birch Society, his printing press had been repeatedly firebombed. Week after week, he painstakingly assembled evidence that all but demolished the official version of Kennedy’s murder.

This was journalism as it had been before corporate journalism was invented, before the first schools of journalism were set up and a mythology of liberal neutrality was spun around those whose “professionalism” and “objectivity” carried an unspoken obligation to ensure that news and opinion were in tune with an establishment consensus, regardless of the truth. Journalists such as Penn Jones, independent of vested power, indefatigable and principled, often reflect ordinary American attitudes, which have seldom conformed to the stereotypes promoted by the corporate media on both sides of the Atlantic. Read American Dreams: Lost and Found by the masterly Studs Terkel, who died the other day, or scan the surveys that unerringly attribute enlightened views to a majority who believe that “government should care for those who cannot care for themselves” and are prepared to pay higher taxes for universal health care, who support nuclear disarmament and want their troops out of other people’s countries.

Returning to Texas, I am struck again by those so unlike the redneck stereotype, in spite of the burden of a form of brainwashing placed on most Americans from a tender age: that theirs is the most superior society in the history of the world, and all means are justified, including the spilling of copious blood, in maintaining that superiority.

That is the subtext of Barack Obama’s “oratory”. He says he wants to build up US military power; and he threatens to ignite a new war in Pakistan, killing yet more brown-skinned people. That will bring tears, too. Unlike those on election night, these other tears will be unseen in Chicago and London. This is not to doubt the sincerity of much of the response to Obama’s election, which happened not because of the unction that has passed for news reporting from America since 4 November (e.g. “liberal Americans smiled and the world smiled with them”) but for the same reasons that millions of angry emails were sent to the White House and Congress when the “bailout” of Wall Street was revealed, and because most Americans are fed up with war.

Two years ago, this anti-war vote installed a Democratic majority in Congress, only to watch the Democrats hand over more money to George W Bush to continue his blood fest. For his part, the “anti-war” Obama never said the illegal invasion of Iraq was wrong, merely that it was a “mistake”. Thereafter, he voted in to give Bush what he wanted. Yes, Obama’s election is historic, a symbol of great change to many. But it is equally true that the American elite has grown adept at using the black middle and management class. The courageous Martin Luther King recognised this when he linked the human rights of black Americans with the human rights of the Vietnamese, then being slaughtered by a liberal Democratic administration. And he was shot. In striking contrast, a young black major serving in Vietnam, Colin Powell, was used to “investigate” and whitewash the infamous My Lai massacre. As Bush’s secretary of state, Powell was often described as a “liberal” and was considered ideal to lie to the United Nations about Iraq’s non-existent weapons of mass destruction. Condaleezza Rice, lauded as a successful black woman, has worked assiduously to deny the Palestinians justice.

Obama’s first two crucial appointments represent a denial of the wishes of his supporters on the principal issues on which they voted. The vice-president- elect, Joe Biden, is a proud warmaker and Zionist. Rahm Emanuel, who is to be the all-important White House chief of staff, is a fervent “neoliberal” devoted to the doctrine that led to the present economic collapse and impoverishment of millions. He is also an “Israel-first” Zionist who served in the Israeli army and opposes meaningful justice for the Palestinians – an injustice that is at the root of Muslim people’s loathing of the United States and the spawning of jihadism.

No serious scrutiny of this is permitted within the histrionics of Obamamania, just as no serious scrutiny of the betrayal of the majority of black South Africans was permitted within the “Mandela moment”. This is especially marked in Britain, where America’s divine right to “lead” is important to elite British interests. The once respected Observer newspaper, which supported Bush’s war in Iraq, echoing his fabricated evidence, now announces, without evidence, that “America has restored the world’s faith in its ideals”. These “ideals”, which Obama will swear to uphold, have overseen, since 1945, the destruction of 50 governments, including democracies, and 30 popular liberation movements, causing the deaths of countless men, women and children.

None of this was uttered during the election campaign. Had it been allowed, there might even have been recognition that liberalism as a narrow, supremely arrogant, war-making ideology is destroying liberalism as a reality. Prior to Blair’s criminal warmaking, ideology was denied by him and his media mystics. “Blair can be a beacon to the world,” declared the Guardian in 1997. “[He is] turning leadership into an art form.”

Today, merely insert “Obama”. As for historic moments, there is another that has gone unreported but is well under way – liberal democracy’s shift towards a corporate dictatorship, managed by people regardless of ethnicity, with the media as its clichéd façade. “True democracy,” wrote Penn Jones Jr, the Texas truth-teller, “is constant vigilance: not thinking the way you’re meant to think and keeping your eyes wide open at all times.”

Ten reasons to visit Indonesia

Ten reasons to visit Indonesia

Paul Smith suggests ten reasons, in no particular order, to consider a trip to Indonesia, one of the lesser visited destinations in Asia.


About 30km to the west of Bali’s capital Denpasar, Tanah Lot is a special place where Hindu temples sit on outcrops of rock along the volcanic coastline.
The black sand, craggy rocks and white spray from the pounding sea look strangely like Auckland’s west coast beaches but the temples, thought to date from the 15th century, add a mystic feel especially at sunset.
Eating outside dinner at the Melasti Restaurant as the sun goes down is a wonderful experience.
Anyone who snorkels or scuba-dives will enjoy the wonderful coral reef at Bunaken in the province of North Sulawesi.
Boats go out from the mainland each morning for the reef, set just off the palm tree-lined shore of the island.
Hundreds of varieties of fish and marine life can easily be seen in the warm, clear water.
Lunch is available on the island at a basic, sand-floored restaurant.
Meals often start with an excellent soup, often a salty, vegetable broth but sometimes in a more spicy, Thai-style. Main dishes include barbecued fish – skewered and cooked over hot coals with chilli, satay chicken, or beef cooked in a vegetable stock and coconut milk. Green beans cooked in chilli and garlic is a mainstay vegetable dish.
There is a link to Thai food but less in the way of curry as meat is often prepared with an almost dry sauce. You’ll probably need to like chillies because there is some heat in most dishes, though it is not usually overpowering.Dessert leans towards the super-sweet.
Although the dreaded Nescafe rears its ugly head from time to time, the standard of coffee is usually excellent.
Often made in the filter-style favoured in the US, rather than the espresso-base of New Zealand and Australia, the coffee is usually very smooth and gently invigorating rather than a morning energy bolt.
Coffee beans can be bought direct from plantations in places including Bali for as little as about $3. (Or you can always get some prized luwak coffee beans, which cost about US$55 having been eaten by civet cats and passed through them before being collected.)
As long as you like it hot and humid, Indonesia’s climate is for you.
Running roughly 5000km along the equator, the country is very warm all year round. Jakarta’s temperatures range from around 23C at night to 31C in the day with a wet season from November to March.
Whether you want Western designer goods at the plush Grand Indonesia mall in the city centre, or one of the more traditional mall-cum-markets dotted around the city, shoppers should be happy.
Obvious targets for the credit card are Indonesian-made batik clothing and textiles, while you might just be able to find a new mobile phone at malls which have an entire floor of cellphone stalls one after the other.
Some of the main shopping centres in the city are: Elite Plaza Indonesia, Plaza EX and the Plaza Semanggi in central Jakarta, Taman Anggrek Mall in the west, Kelapa Gading Mall in the east, WTC Mangga Dua in the north, Plaza Senayan and Pondok Indah Mall in the south.
If there is a price displayed it’s probably fixed, but otherwise bargaining is expected.
Yogyakarta in central Java is one of the historical and religious centres of Indonesia.
The Prambanan and Borobudur temples just outside the city are both Unesco World Heritage sites. The thousands of pieces of volcanic rock they are built from make them an arresting sight.
The Buddhist Borobudur temple is a national icon covering a surface area of 2500 square metres. It was built in the 8th and 9th centuries and restored with Unesco’s help in the 1970s.
An earthquake in 2006 partially destroyed the Hindu Prambanan temple and set back the restoration by several years, but work continues and the site is very much visitable. (A viewing platform at the site collapsed a year later with a tour party of Russians on it, initially sparking fears of another earthquake before it was realised 90 people had been on a structure built for a maximum of 30.)
Almost too surreal for words, the biscuit factory attraction in Manado, North Sulawesi – bizarrely housed in a place called the Merciful Building – has to be checked out.
The crowd of workers who welcome you with big smiles, megaphones and shirts proclaiming “the group the never the sleeps” (I think this translates as “we work 24/7”) are just so Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
They take you down the four floors of the factory (or at least a simulation of what is presumably a real factory somewhere else), explaining how all the biscuits and confectionery are made.
It’s actually quite interesting, and the produce is very good. Funnily enough, you end up at the bottom in the shop where you can then buy to your heart’s content. Which, as the prices are cheap and the taste good, is no bad idea.
You can expect a warm welcome wherever you go in Indonesia.
Though the hawkers at tourist sites can become annoying, elsewhere you are likely to be greeted with smiles and genuine friendship.
The governor of the North Sulawesi region even calls his region “The Land of Smiling People” with some justification.
This is the great unknown of Indonesian travel. Following the Bali bombings of 2002 and 2005 many tourists are understandably wary of visiting.
At the time of writing, the Australian and New Zealand governments are warning against travel because of fears of repercussions following the execution of the Bali bombers.
On the other hand, more than 5m tourists visited Indonesia last year without serious incident. I didn’t see anything to concern me about either terrorism or crime during my visit, but that does not mean dangers do not exist.
* Paul Smith visited Jakarta, Manado, Bali and Yogyakarta courtesy of the Indonesian government.

An Open Letter to Barack Obama: Between Hope and Reality

CounterPunch, November 3, 2008

An Open Letter to Barack Obama
Between Hope and Reality


Dear Senator Obama:

In your nearly two-year presidential campaign, the words “hope and change,” “change and hope” have been your trademark declarations. Yet there is an asymmetry between those objectives and your political character that succumbs to contrary centers of power that want not “hope and change” but the continuation of the power-entrenched status quo.

Far more than Senator McCain, you have received enormous, unprecedented contributions from corporate interests, Wall Street interests and, most interestingly, big corporate law firm attorneys. Never before has a Democratic nominee for President achieved this supremacy over his Republican counterpart. Why, apart from your unconditional vote for the $700 billion Wall Street bailout, are these large corporate interests investing so much in Senator Obama? Could it be that in your state Senate record, your U.S. Senate record and your presidential campaign record (favoring nuclear power, coal plants, offshore oil drilling, corporate subsidies including the 1872 Mining Act and avoiding any comprehensive program to crack down on the corporate crime wave and the bloated, wasteful military budget, for example) you have shown that you are their man?

To advance change and hope, the presidential persona requires character, courage, integrity– not expediency, accommodation and short-range opportunism. Take, for example, your transformation from an articulate defender of Palestinian rights in Chicago before your run for the U.S. Senate to an acolyte, a dittoman for the hard-line AIPAC lobby, which bolsters the militaristic oppression, occupation, blockage, colonization and land-water seizures over the years of the Palestinian peoples and their shrunken territories in the West Bank and Gaza. Eric Alterman summarized numerous polls in a December 2007 issue of The Nation magazine showing that AIPAC policies are opposed by a majority of Jewish-Americans.

You know quite well that only when the U.S. Government supports the Israeli and Palestinian peace movements, that years ago worked out a detailed two-state solution (which is supported by a majority of Israelis and Palestinians) , will there be a chance for a peaceful resolution of this 60-year plus conflict. Yet you align yourself with the hard-liners, so much so that in your infamous, demeaning speech to the AIPAC convention right after you gained the nomination of the Democratic Party, you supported an “undivided Jerusalem,” and opposed negotiations with Hamas– the elected government in Gaza. Once again, you ignored the will of the Israeli people who, in a March 1, 2008 poll by the respected newspaper Haaretz, showed that 64% of Israelis favored “direct negotiations with Hamas.” Siding with the AIPAC hard-liners is what one of the many leading Palestinians advocating dialogue and peace with the Israeli people was describing when he wrote
“Anti-semitism today is the persecution of Palestinian society by the Israeli state.”

During your visit to Israel this summer, you scheduled a mere 45 minutes of your time for Palestinians with no news conference, and no visit to Palestinian refugee camps that would have focused the media on the brutalization of the Palestinians. Your trip supported the illegal, cruel blockade of Gaza in defiance of international law and the United Nations charter. You focused on southern Israeli casualties which during the past year have totaled one civilian casualty to every 400 Palestinian casualties on the Gaza side. Instead of a statesmanship that decried all violence and its replacement with acceptance of the Arab League’s 2002 proposal to permit a viable Palestinian state within the 1967 borders in return for full economic and diplomatic relations between Arab countries and Israel, you played the role of a cheap politician, leaving the area and Palestinians with the feeling of much shock and little awe.

David Levy, a former Israeli peace negotiator, described your trip succinctly: “There was almost a willful display of indifference to the fact that there are two narratives here. This could serve him well as a candidate, but not as a President.”

Palestinian American commentator, Ali Abunimah, noted that Obama did not utter a single criticism of Israel, “of its relentless settlement and wall construction, of the closures that make life unlivable for millions of Palestinians. …Even the Bush administration recently criticized Israeli’s use of cluster bombs against Lebanese civilians [see for elaboration] . But Obama defended Israeli’s assault on Lebanon as an exercise of its ‘legitimate right to defend itself.'”

In numerous columns Gideon Levy, writing in Haaretz, strongly criticized the Israeli government’s assault on civilians in Gaza, including attacks on “the heart of a crowded refugee camp… with horrible bloodshed” in early 2008.

Israeli writer and peace advocate– Uri Avnery– described Obama’s appearance before AIPAC as one that “broke all records for obsequiousness and fawning, adding that Obama “is prepared to sacrifice the most basic American interests. After all, the US has a vital interest in achieving an Israeli-Palestinian peace that will allow it to find ways to the hearts of the Arab masses from Iraq to Morocco. Obama has harmed his image in the Muslim world and mortgaged his future– if and when he is elected president.,” he said, adding, “Of one thing I am certain: Obama’s declarations at the AIPAC conference are very, very bad for peace. And what is bad for peace is bad for Israel, bad for the world and bad for the Palestinian people.”

A further illustration of your deficiency of character is the way you turned your back on the Muslim-Americans in this country. You refused to send surrogates to speak to voters at their events. Having visited numerous churches and synagogues, you refused to visit a single Mosque in America. Even George W. Bush visited the Grand Mosque in Washington D.C. after 9/11 to express proper sentiments of tolerance before a frightened major religious group of innocents.

Although the New York Times published a major article on June 24, 2008 titled “Muslim Voters Detect a Snub from Obama” (by Andrea Elliott), citing examples of your aversion to these Americans who come from all walks of life, who serve in the armed forces and who work to live the American dream. Three days earlier the International Herald Tribune published an article by Roger Cohen titled “Why Obama Should Visit a Mosque.” None of these comments and reports change your political bigotry against Muslim-Americans- – even though your father was a Muslim from Kenya.

Perhaps nothing illustrated your utter lack of political courage or even the mildest version of this trait than your surrendering to demands of the hard-liners to prohibit former president Jimmy Carter from speaking at the Democratic National Convention. This is a tradition for former presidents and one accorded in prime time to Bill Clinton this year.

Here was a President who negotiated peace between Israel and Egypt, but his recent book pressing the dominant Israeli superpower to avoid Apartheid of the Palestinians and make peace was all that it took to sideline him. Instead of an important address to the nation by Jimmy Carter on this critical international problem, he was relegated to a stroll across the stage to “tumultuous applause,” following a showing of a film about the Carter Center’s post-Katrina work. Shame on you, Barack Obama!

But then your shameful behavior has extended to many other areas of American life. (See the factual analysis by my running mate, Matt Gonzalez, on http://www.votenader. org). You have turned your back on the 100-million poor Americans composed of poor whites, African-Americans, and Latinos. You always mention helping the “middle class” but you omit, repeatedly, mention of the “poor” in America.

Should you be elected President, it must be more than an unprecedented upward career move following a brilliantly unprincipled campaign that spoke “change” yet demonstrated actual obeisance to the concentration power of the “corporate supremacists. ” It must be about shifting the power from the few to the many. It must be a White House presided over by a black man who does not turn his back on the downtrodden here and abroad but challenges the forces of greed, dictatorial control of labor, consumers and taxpayers, and the militarization of foreign policy. It must be a White House that is transforming of American politics– opening it up to the public funding of elections (through voluntary approaches)- – and allowing smaller candidates to have a chance to be heard on debates and in the fullness of their now restricted civil liberties. Call it a competitive democracy.

Your presidential campaign again and again has demonstrated cowardly stands. “Hope” some say springs eternal.” But not when “reality” consumes it daily.

Ralph Nader