Home

The Hip Dictator and His Opponents

The Dictator' Learning Curve: Inside the Global Battle for Democracy. William J. Dobson. New York: Doubleday, 2012. 341 pp.

 

Leslie Evans

Former Foreign Affairs editor William J. Dobson has been making the rounds of dictatorial states for the last half decade, interviewing the autocrats' top functionaries as well as leaders of their democratic opposition. From Putin's Russia to Mubarak's Egypt, Mahathir Mohamad's Malaysia, Chavez's Venezuela, and, of course, the very model of the modern authoritarian state, China. He concludes that dictators have smartened up since the heavy handed days of yore, when they had to give themselves 99 percent in every election and sealed their borders, preventing people from leaving and trying to prevent information about the outside world from getting in.

 

The totalitarian regimes of the far right - National Socialism and fascism - were destroyed in World War II. Those of the left - the Soviet Union and its East European client states, Maoist China - collapsed at the beginning of the 1990s, or in the case of China, underwent major reforms. This has left North Korea as the sole indisputable exemplar of the totalitarian model. Cuba stands somewhere between there and the states labeled authoritarian.

 

 During Ronald Reagan's presidency the United States was excoriated by progressives for adopting UN ambassador Jeanne Kirkpatrick's Cold War doctrine of supporting authoritarian dictatorships against totalitarian ones, on the claim that they were more likely to be reformable. In those days right-wing military juntas were plentiful, from Greece to Argentina. Today the shoe is on the other foot, as a list of today's ten worst dictators would most likely comprise Kim Jong-un (North Korea), Bashar al-Assad (Syria), Omar al-Bashir (Sudan), Robert Mugabe (Zimbabwe), Islam Karimov (Uzbekistan), Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow (Turkmenistan), Seyed Ali Khamanei (Iran), Aleksandr Lukashenko (Belarus), Isaias Afwerki (Eritrea), and King Abdullah (Saudi Arabia). Of these, nine have a generally leftist or anti-imperialist origin, only King Abdullah being unequivocally of the political right. Dobson's subjects are drawn from the runners up, a lighter shade of pale due to the smarter tactics that are the subject of his book.

 

The murderous scale of the old tyrants seems to be a thing of the (recent) past. A hundred million murdered by the Communist states, 35 million of them deliberately starved to death during China's Great Leap Forward when Mao refused to call off grain seizures to meet impossible quotas, when doing so would lose him his post as head of the regime. Two million executed by Pol Pot in Cambodia, 500,000 killed by Idi Amin in Uganda, 250,000 by Saddam Hussein in Iraq, 25,000 in a single month in the Syrian city of Hama by Hafez Assad, Bashir's father. Bashir, over a somewhat longer time spread, is now around the 60,000 corpse mark in his determination to remain in power. The newer, gentler despots try to avoid this kind of Grand Guignol. In part this is because it is no longer possible to keep such carnage secret. It was decades before the true toll of the Great Leap Forward was established with any certainty.

 

After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1990 there was a sharp upturn in the number of liberal democracies, a trend that briefly seemed unstoppable. Then, in 2005, the reverse set in. Movements for democracy have become more widespread, but, as Dobson writes, today's dictators "are far more sophisticated, savvy, and nimble than they once were." Instead of arresting or shooting members of a human rights group, they send out health and building inspectors to shut down their offices. "Today's dictators pepper their speeches with references to liberty, justice, and the rule of law. . . . Today, the Kremlin's operatives typically stop stuffing the ballot boxes when they reach 70 percent."

 

In the old USSR a black van would drive up to a dissident's street in the night. They would be taken away and never seen again. Nowadays they have an accident or are the victim of a random mugging.

 

Back in the 1960s in its fight against Soviet and Chinese Communist influence, the United States backed whatever government or movement was fighting on the other side, commonly, but not always, something right-wing or dictatorial. Today most of the battles for democracy are internal to the country involved, while the U.S. is committed to strong economic or political ties to many of the more regressive leftist governments. As Dobson writes:

 

"The United States is one of China's largest trading partners, is the biggest buyer of Venezuelan oil, sends billions in aid to the Egyptian military, and courts Russian diplomatic support on a range of crucial strategic issues."

 

The pseudo democratic autocracy is becoming more the rule than the exception. Dobson writes:

 

"Forty years ago, before the beginning of the democratic wave that began in 1972, the line that separated democracies and dictatorships was clearer. At that time, only a handful of authoritarian states masked themselves behind a democratic fa̤ade. Today, several dozen states - many that were once thought to be on the road to democracy - have become only a few shades less dark than their authoritarian past. Asia, Africa, and central Asia are littered with governments that are more democratic in form than function."

  

Putin's Russia

 

Vladimir Putin began to housebreak other centers of power in Russia in 2003 with the arrest of oil billionaire Mikhail Khodorkovsky on trumped up charges. Khodorkovsky remains in prison. When Putin took office there were three major television networks, of which the government controlled only one. The two independent networks were forced to sell to the state under threat of imprisonment and their owners fled abroad. Dobson reports that the Russian government now controls 93 percent of all media outlets. Media editors are instructed on a daily basis on what to present and what to say about it. When Medvedev, due to term limits, succeeded Putin as president in 2008, the media were instructed to open each broadcast with a story about Medvedev, followed immediately by a story of equal length about Putin, whether or not Putin had done anything that day.

 

To sustain the illusion of a multiparty state, Putin's United Russia party itself invented loyal opposition parties to represent nationalists, the poor, and old people, with the Kremlin writing the scripts for them. The only actual opposition party of any size is the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, a neo-Stalinist, ultranationalist and antisemitic body thoroughly hostile to liberal democracy.

 

Dobson interviews Boris Nemtsov, a former provincial governor and Minister of Fuel and Energy in the national government, now a critic. Asked what is the difference between Communism and Putinism, Nemtsov puts his finger on the dividing line between the old totalitarians and the new dictators:

 

"Putinism looks smarter, because Putinism comes just for your political rights but does not touch your personal freedom. You can travel, you can emigrate if you want, you can read the Internet. What is strictly forbidden is to use TV. Television is under control because TV is the most powerful resource for ideology and the propaganda machine."

 

The Russian state has instituted punitive regulations for nonprofit organizations, which can be shut down at will for building code violations, use of pirated software, or even typos in documents, essentially at the government's discretion. Fire inspections are a favorite.

 

As they have done with political parties, the Putin government has created dummy nonprofits, officially independent of the government but actually controlled by the Kremlin. Notable here is the Moscow Bureau for Human Rights. When, in 2008, the New York-based Human Rights Watch issued a report on kidnappings, executions, and torture in the Russian republic of Ingushetia, Alexander Brod, the head of the Moscow Bureau for Human Rights, held a press conference to give the government a clean bill of health.

 

Between 2000 and early 2012 nineteen Russian journalists were murdered, the most famous, Anna Politkovskaya, in 2006. Scores more are beaten with impunity.

 

Russian functionaries defend the system by pointing to the economic success of authoritarian China and Singapore. This is a tricky case, that I will come back to. Dobson concedes that over the last forty years, planetwide, autocracies have matched the democracies in economic growth. But this parity disappears if East Asia is excepted. Outside of that region the autocracies displayed a median per capita growth rate 50 percent lower than poor states that were democratic. In the Russian case, Dobson notes, while the Asian authoritarians built their economies on manufactures, especially automobiles and high tech electronics, 70 percent of Russian exports in 2008 were gas and oil and only 1.7 percent were goods and services.

 

Moreover, while China nominally remains a Communist country, total state employment there in 2009 was only 10.2% of the working population, while in Russia it is almost 40 %, and the World Bank estimates that close to half of the Russian economy consists of bribes and other forms of corruption.

 

The Russian government at all levels rigs elections. One official told Dobson that Putin is popular enough that he doesn't need to do this, but that mayors and regional officials do it routinely to head off any sign that their power is weakening. In 2009, for example, in elections for the Moscow city Duma, Sergei Mitrokhin, the head of the liberal Yabloko party, was not credited with a single vote in his home district despite the fact that at minimum he, his family, and friends all voted there.

 

In 2009 Putin succeeded in abolishing elections for provincial governors, replacing popular votes with appointments from the Kremlin.

 

Dobson tells the story of Yevgenia Chirikova, who became an ecological activist in defense of Khimki Forest. The forest is part of the green belt surrounding Moscow, and abuts the suburb of Khimki on the city's northwest border. Comprising twenty-five hundred acres, the forest is supposed to be inviolate under Russian law. In 2008 the government, without public notice, began construction of a highway to go from Moscow to St. Petersburg and would run through the middle of Khimki Forest. Developers were also lined up to build housing along the roadway. Chirikova called meetings of her neighbors, set up a website, and began organizing demonstrations to save the forest. Mikhail Beketov, publisher of a small local paper, supported the protest. He was beaten with baseball bats almost to death, losing a leg and four fingers and suffering brain damage. He never regained the power of speech and died on April 8, 2013, at the age of fifty-five.

 

In July 2010 an environmentalist tent camp, set up in the forest to give advance warning if construction went forward, was attacked by almost a hundred masked men. When police finally came it was the environmentalists they arrested.

 

Construction was halted briefly while President Medvedev called for further study but was finally approved in December 2010. In March 2011 government agents raided Yevgenia Chirikova's husband's electrical engineering firm. Authorities threatened to take her children, on anonymous and false accusations of child abuse. Construction is still underway but the environmentalists won a case in a Moscow court in December 2012 that the construction company was cutting a swath more than three times wider than allowed under their permits.

 

Mubarak's Egypt

 

Dobson next turns to Mubarak's Egypt. He talks to Omar Afifi, now an attorney, but back in 1995 he was a cop. The night before parliamentary elections the Cairo police chief called a meeting of seven or eight hundred of his men. They were ordered to go to the polling places in plain clothes and hand out pre-marked ballots choosing the government party. They were instructed to start fights, and during the disturbances to go into the polling stations and stuff the ballot boxes. In later years as a lawyer he conducted classes in Egyptian law to help people defend themselves in court. When he published a book on this subject state security agents seized all the copies.

 

Ayman Nour, an attorney, founded El Ghad, a liberal secular party, in 2004. The following year he was arrested on spurious charges of improprieties in El Ghad's founding documents. He was released from prison and ran for president against Mubarak in the 2005 elections, getting 600,000 votes, or 7 percent. This was the second-highest total in the rigged elections. Nour was returned to prison in December 2005, where his case became an international issue. In November 2008 his party headquarters were burned to the ground. He was released from prison in February 2009, but the government ordered him dropped from the bar association. His contract to teach at a university was canceled. He was unable to sell a house he inherited from his father when the government ordered all of the country's notaries to refuse to notarize the sale documents.

 

El Ghad split going into the post-Mubarak parliamentary elections, held from November 2011 to January 2012. The official El Ghad Party ran as independents, while Nour formed the Ghad El-Thawra Party, which took part in the Muslim Brotherhoods slate.

 

Back in the United States, Dobson in March 2010, while Mubarak was still in power, talked to long-time Egyptian human rights activist Saad Eddin Ibrahim. The regime, Ibrahim said, uses intimidation, prison, and character assassination against its critics. And if those fail it tries to destroy its victim's livelihood. "They are draining my resources filing cases against me," he told Dobson. "At one time, there were twenty-eight cases filed against me by different people from different places around the country. . . . They filed a suit [against me] for inciting El Baradei to run and therefore destabilizing Egypt. I don't know the guy [who filed it] but for the next year or two it will be like a sword hanging over me."

 

Mahathir Mohamad's Malaysia

 

Dobson spends a day in February 2011 with Anwar Ibrahim, leader of the People's Justice Party, the principal opposition group to the authoritarian regime of Mahathir Mohamad in Malaysia. Anwar had been Mahathir Mohamad's deputy prime minister, 1993-1999, when he fell afoul of the dictator and spent six years in solitary confinement on almost certainly fabricated charges of corruption. He received an additional nine-year sentence in 2000 on the charge of sodomy, but he was eventually acquitted on that count. His party won more than a third of the seats in parliament and five of the thirteen state governorships in elections of April 2008.

 

Mahathir ruled Malaysia from 1981 until 2003, and has been replaced by his hand-picked successors. When in power he made wide use of the Internal Security Act that allowed him to arrest critics without filing charges and to hold them indefinitely. His arrests included ten members of parliament. He also closed down three opposition newspapers. He promoted an act of parliament that stripped the High Courts of the power of judicial review of laws. When the judges tried to appeal this, Mahathir fired five of them, effectively eliminating an independent judiciary. Mahathir is best known in the West for his antisemitic rants.

 

The regime remains relatively stable because the economy has been far more successful than in Egypt.

 

Chavez's Venezuela

 

Dobson visited two of Venezuela's most famous political prisoners: former Defense Minister Raul Baduel and Judge Maria Lourdes Afiuni. Baduel had joined with Chavez in founding the Chavista movement in 1982, used his units in the military to restore Chavez to power after the 2002 coup against him, and was commander-in-chief of the Venezuelan army from 2004 to July 2007, when he resigned in protest against the extensive constitutional amendments that would have made Chavez president for life. Chavez had him arrested at gun point, charging Baduel with responsibility for missing military funds. Baduel is treated as a political prisoner by both Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.

 

Dobson visited him in the Ramo Verde military prison in July 2010. He writes:

 

"Baduel told me he was bothered by what he saw: his longtime friend ruled like an autocrat and was surrounded by people who told him he could do no wrong." He quotes Baduel directly:

 

"They say I know him well, but now I think I met an impostor. He wanted power. He was able to hide that well through the years. He takes actions to sustain his only political project, which is to be president for life."

 

Judge Afiuni's case is even clearer. Under Venezuelan law people cannot be held without trial for more than two years. In December 2009, the case of businessman Eligio Cedeno came before her. He was accused of evading currency regulations. He had been illegally held for three years at that time. The government's tactic was to have the prosecutors repeatedly fail to show up for scheduled hearings. In their absence, Judge Afiuni granted Cedeno bail. This was the required action under the constitution. She was immediately arrested. Chavez went on national television to order that she be given a thirty-year sentence. The government accused Afiuni of taking a bribe to release Cedeno, but never produced any evidence.

 

William Dobson interviewed Judge Afiuni in her cell in the country's only women's prison, on the outskirts of Caracas, in July 2010. She told him about her arrest. She had just been placed in a jail cell when,

 

"A senior intelligence official came in and said, 'We have good news, and we have bad news. The good news is that we have found nothing against you. The bad news is that Chavez just condemned you to prison for thirty years on national television.'"

 

While in prison she contracted cancer, and was raped. She became pregnant from the rape and underwent an abortion that became a hysterectomy. After undergoing cancer surgery she was transferred to house arrest in February 2011. At the end of 2012 a trial began, which she refused to attend, as she said it was a political frame-up. It appears to have been suspended, as she remains under house arrest today, in April 2013, after Chavez's death.

 

Numerous human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, have demanded Maria Afiuni's release. Unusually, the United Nations has taken up the case. In February 2013, Margaret Sekaggya, the U.N.'s special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, issued a statement declaring, "Judge Afiuni's situation represents an emblematic case of reprisal." The U.N.'s special rapporteur on torture, Juan E. Mendez, also challenged the Venezuelan government's refusal to investigate Afiuni's affirmation that she was raped in the infirmary of the women's prison in 2010, saying, "Rape and other grave acts of sexual violence by state authorities" amount to torture.

 

Chavez came to power in popular reaction against the corruption of the traditional party governments, which catered to the rich and ignored the plight of the poor. Using the country's considerable oil wealth, he subsidized major improvements in the living standards of the bottom thirty percent of the population, and provided generous foreign oil aid to leftist governments in the hemisphere, most importantly, Cuba, whose economy had been in the doldrums after the fall of the Soviet Union at the beginning of the 1990s.

 

But along with the tilt toward the poor, Chavez increasingly tilted the system toward disfranchising voters of all classes and concentrating power in his own hands. In the process the economy, despite it oil wealth, descended into chaos, inflation mounted to the thirty percent annual rate, threatening the survival of both the poor, and the elderly who live on fixed incomes. In response, before his death this year, he rigged elections to less and less reflect the real wishes of the Venezuelan masses.

 

Dobson interviewed Teodoro Petkoff in November 2009. Petkoff, today the editor of Tal Cual, was, at different stages of his life, a leftist guerilla fighter under Douglas Bravo, a professor, a member of the Venezuelan Communist Party, and a government minister. He calls Chavez a fascist. He concedes that Chavez, at least early in his presidency, was wildly popular, but says that his support steadily eroded and by 2009 was below 50 percent. Chavez compensated by closing off avenues through which he could be challenged:

 

"Is this an authoritarian government? Of course. Is this an undemocratic government? Of course. There is not an inch of separation of powers. There are no checks and balances. Chavez has encroached on all political powers, all of them - parliament, justice, attorney general, comptroller, ombudsman, and the National Electoral Council."

 

So just how does this system work? Chavez established a new national assembly with rewritten rules, which, Dobson says, give him 93 percent of the seats with only 53 percent of the votes. The Senate was abolished, leaving a unicameral legislature. Public funding for political candidates was outlawed, but Chavista candidates, especially incumbents, have virtually unlimited access to the public trough. Exclusion of opposition candidates from television coverage, prohibition of some of the more popular ones from running for office, and free use of television by regime supporters, along with Chavez's initial popularity, left the government free to hold frequent elections and referendums with no need to stuff ballot boxes as other authoritarian regimes commonly do. One former member of the National Electoral Council told Dobson:

 

"Election Day is not a problem. All the damage - the use of money, goods, excess power, communications - happens beforehand." Dobson comments:

 

"While the new constitution had banned public financing for the political parties, the prohibition was only applied against the opposition. Government ministries openly flouted the ban, pouring millions of dollars into pro-Chavez banners, leaflets, and billboards, as well as sending state employees to convass for the president."

 

Other tools have been gerrymandering, and massive distribution of voter IDs. This last doesn't work the way American Republicans do it, to fight nonexistent in-person voter fraud in order to suppress minority voters. In the Venezuelan case all voters already had IDs. Between 2003 and 2009, the number of voter IDs issued jumped from eleven million to eighteen million, and 40 percent of the total in 2009 did not list an address. The fraud risk here is people who collect multiple, unverifiable IDs, to allow them to vote many times.

 

The gerrymandering strongly favored rural areas over the cities. There is no lack of poor people in Venezuelan cities, but there they tend to support the opposition while the rural poor are more likely to go with Chavez. Dobson gives as an example of the new districts, Amazonia, a rural state strongly pro-Chavez, where it takes 42,000 votes to get a member of parliament, compared to Zulia, where the opposition is popular, where it takes 708,000. In the September 2010 legislative elections, the Chavista candidates won 48.3 percent compared to the opposition's 47.2 percent. But the Chavistas got 96 seats while the opposition got only 64. In Carabobo and Caracas Capital District the Chavistas lost the popular vote but took seven of the ten seats in each district.

 

Chavez also used intimidation. In 2004, nationwide petitions qualified for a referendum calling for Chavez's recall. Before the vote Chavez had the names of all three million signers of the petitions posted to a public website. The health minister announced that any doctors or nurses who had signed the petition would be fired. Workers for the state oil company were also fired, as well as state bank workers. The next year the government distributed CDs with the names, addresses, and voting history of twelve million citizens, a list known as the Maisanta. One ninety-eight-year-old woman was denied her medical prescriptions because the Maisanta showed she had voted for the referendum. Others were turned away from hospital emergency rooms when admitting nurses checked their voting records.

 

The claim that the Chavez government has championed the poor, which has won it the admiration of leftists around the world, is a mixed bag. It is true that large numbers have been lifted out of poverty, mainly by subsidies from Venezuela's oil wealth. At the same time, Transparency International, an NGO that monitors political corruption, ranks Venezuela at number 164 out of 178 countries, on a level with Angola. There are more murders in Venezuela than in Mexico, and 91 percent are unsolved. Inflation is running at 30 percent. Government price controls require food stores to sell staples at fixed prices, but with the rampant inflation this is often below the price the merchants have to pay, leading to bankruptcies and empty shelves.

 

In North Korea loudspeakers blast continual propaganda that can't be shut off. In Venezuela while Chavez lived, all radio and television channels, including such apolitical venues as Animal Planet and National Geographic, were required to interrupt their programming to carry any presidential address, called a cadena, in full. In his first eleven years in office Chavez delivered almost two thousand of these addresses, some lasting for many hours. Dobson says the total of these speeches came to almost 1,300 hours. Apart from the cadenas Chavez had a weekly Sunday television show, Alo Presidente (Hello President), in which he monologued, on average, for just under five hours.

 

The law prohibits "defaming the president," which is punishable by thirty months in prison. People also face stiff fines for "offending" public authorities. When Chavez was first elected the government owned one television channel and two radio stations. When Dobson made his survey the government had six TV channels, two national radio stations, and three thousand community radio stations, as well as three print media companies. In December 2010 a law was passed making it a crime for any Internet provider to permit content that causes "anxiety or unrest among the public order."

 

Chavez's justification for his many antidemocratic measures was that he was defending the interests of the poor against the rich. But by 2008 large sections of the urban poor were starting to vote for the opposition, one reason why the electoral system was reconfigured to give greater weight to rural areas over the cities.

 

People who live in areas that vote for the opposition are severely punished. When in 2008 Henrique Capriles won the race for governor of the state of Miranda, with a population above three million, the central government retaliated by closing nineteen hospitals and 250 emergency and primary care centers. The state budget was cut by $200 million.

 

The Chavistas were shocked that same year when opposition leader Carlos Ocariz was elected mayor of Sucre Municipality, one of the poorest sectors of greater Caracas, home to two million people, 80 percent of whom are below the poverty line. Ocariz won 55.6 percent to 43.8 for the Chavista. He told Dobson, "The day after the election, the government took away sixteen garbage trucks, which was 60 percent of garbage collection." Water pressure for the hillside town suddenly dropped, leaving many residents without water. Ocariz said, "It's a mixture of negligence and political revenge."

 

Ocariz responded by getting water trucks to deliver to the poorest sections and installing stronger pumps.

 

Chavez, following an example set by the Iranian theocracy, on his personal authority alone ordered the government to ban candidates he disapproved of from running for public office. In February 2008, 400 political figures, 80 percent of them from the opposition, were declared ineligible to stand for election. A particular target was Leopoldo Lopez, mayor of Chacao, who was the favorite to become the next mayor of Caracas. By the time Dobson finished his book the number of the banned had reached more than 800.

 

After Lopez was forced out of the race, the Chavista candidate was defeated by another opposition figure, Antonio Ledezma. Chavez retaliated by effectively overturning the election, stripping the city of 80 percent of its budget and replacing the power of the mayor with a new, unelected, "head of government" for the Caracas Capital District. Dobson recounts how armed Chavez supporters "seized city hall and other municipal office buildings and refused to relinquish them. Offices were ransacked, equipment and city vehicles destroyed or stolen." In a meeting with Ledezma a year after his election the powerless mayor told Dobson, "Chavez wins when he wins, and he wins when he loses. If he doesn't win, he just takes it."

 

The death of Chavez, paired with the downward spiral of the Venezuelan economy, puts the future of the Bolivarian Revolution in doubt. The April 13, 2013, election was devastating for Chavez's successor, Nicolas Maduro, despite his eking out a paper-thin victory, 50.78% against 48.95% for opposition candidate Henrique Capriles Radonski. This was despite the fact that the ruling party totally controlled the airwaves, granting the opposition candidate four minutes a day. At the least the election dispelled the claim that the population, including the poor, are solidly with the Chavistas, as approximately half went for the opposition. Also notable was the fact that while Capriles carried only 8 of the country's 24 states, he won 6 of the 9 largest, Zulia, Miranda, Lara, Bolivar, Anzoategui, and Tachira.

 

The Rebels' New Style

 

From Serbia to Egypt to Venezuela, as dictators have learned to cloak their rule in trappings of populist pseudo democracy, their opponents have evolved as well. The old Marxism has largely gone by the board and with it notions such as the Leninist combat party and of revolution aiming at a proletarian overturn of private property. The goals are political rights, civil liberties, and democratic institutions, not overturn of property relations, much less a one-party dictatorship.

 

In Venezuela when students mobilized to oppose Chavez's May 2007 closure of the country's most popular television station, RCTV, followed later that year by his proposed constitutional referendum that would make him president for life, their demonstrations were attacked by the police and the national guard. In response, instead of large gatherings the students dispersed in small groups to a hundred Caracas subway stations to distribute flyers. They set up roadblocks where they would let people pass only if they could name one article of the Constitution Chavez was trying to change.

 

The government accused the students of being CIA agents. They in turn staged a rally outside a bank, protesting that the government was delaying their checks from the CIA.

 

Soon young rebels were exchanging information and training on an international level. Prominent in this effort were veterans of the revolt in Serbia in October 2000 that brought down Slobodan Milosevic. Central to that rebellion was the student group Otpor (Serbian for "resistance," formed in 1998). Otpor activists advised the leaders of the Rose Revolution in Georgia in 2003, and from there, the Orange Revolution in Ukraine at the end of 2004, which  compelled a presidential revote, giving the presidency to an opposition candidate who had in the first count been declared defeated.

 

The Russian government immediately saw this as a threat, and preemptively founded their own progovernment youth movement, Nashi ("Ours").  William Dobson attended a Nashi rally in Moscow in April 2010 where Vasily Yakemenko, the group's founding leader, declared, "Our movement knows no authority except the authority of the policies of Medvedev and Putin." Nashi act as thugs to intimidate and often beat critics of the regime. In 2010 they held a summer retreat where PhotoShopped posters were displayed with the heads of leading human rights activists impaled on spikes. Nashi members are given paramilitary training including weapons training. One reporter who had been covering Nashi was attacked with steel rods, had one finger amputated, his skull fractured, his jaw broken in two places, and one leg crushed.

 

While Russia seems fairly impervious, the tactics pioneered in Serbia and perfected in the color revolutions of Eastern Europe have since made their way to Egypt and Latin America. Dobson had discussions of this with Ahmed Maher, a founder of the April 6 Movement that helped bring down Mubarak, and another young Egyptian activist, Ahmed Salah. Two elements are prominent in their thinking: widespread use of social media and the Internet to quickly disseminate information, and use of nonviolent tactics. The thinking is that the repressive regimes already have a near monopoly of armed force and would prefer to move the struggle to that plane. Nonviolent movements can succeed, but generally only if they can win over or neutralize large segments of the police and armed forces.

 

A popular handbook is Gene Sharp's From Dictatorship to Democracy. Sharp highlights little-used nonviolent methods to supplement demonstrations and strikes. These range from mock funerals to mass withdrawals of bank deposits. It always helps to recruit some children of high ranking government, military, and police officials, as it makes their parents a little less likely to shoot into crowds of demonstrators where their kids are in the front lines. Sharp, eighty-five in 2013 and three times nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, runs his own organization, the Albert Einstein Institution, out of his home in East Boston. His books are banned in China and Russia, while the Iranian government has a special unit that studies Sharp's works in order to counter them. Hugo Chavez claimed Sharp is in league with the CIA.

 

Ahmed Salah in 2009 attended a five-day course in Boston by the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict.  Another player is the Centre for Applied NonViolent Action and Strategies (CANVAS). Based in Belgrade, its staff includes veterans of democratic struggles from Serbia, Georgia, Lebanon, the Philippines, and South Africa. It operates clandestine training centers and has provided advice to movements in more than fifty countries. They will not work with any group with a history of violence, and do not offer tactical prescriptions. But they teach their trainees the necessity of planning for themselves. Srdja Popovic, one of the leaders of the Serbian Otpor and now of CANVAS, tells Dobson, "There is no such thing as a spontaneous revolution. Spontaneity will only get you killed. The more you plan, the bigger your chance for success."

 

Asked how centralized the leadership of Otpor had been in the fight against Milosevic, Popovic replied, "The top eleven activists never met in the same place." Didn't the government have informers and collect information on its opponents? Popovic said,

 

"When we saw our dossiers after the revolution, we had like two hundred pages each. They knew our movements. But there was no analysis. So, so what?" How do you counter government shock troops? Popovic: "You need to create stronger bonds with the local police. We developed ties with the local police so they would warn us what streets to avoid. Every regime has a limited number of special units."

 

In Serbia Otpor had tried to win over every layer and group that it could, not automatically attacking them. Where it couldn't win them, it sought to neutralize them. In the case of a particularly brutal police chief, who personally beat and tortured prisoners, they got photos of him beating their members, then posted them where his wife shopped and where his children went to school.

 

Dobson cites a study by Erica Chenoweth that claims to show that between 1900 and 2006 something more than 50 percent of nonviolent insurgencies succeeded, compared to only 25 percent of violent ones.

 

While the mass tactics are nonviolent and seek to create a popular democracy, the thinking is that the movement during the struggle cannot be open and democratic, as an authoritarian regime will infiltrate and cripple it.  Dobson says there are no hard and fast rules on which side will win. Victory goes to the most agile. Mubarak's government in its last days began to talk about reform and to admit the existence of police and military brutality. It made overtures to opposition movement leaders to work for the government to help reform it.

 

Economics, though, seem to be a strong predictor of outcomes. The huge spike in oil and food prices in 2008 led to food riots across North Africa and contributed heavily to the movement against Mubarak. This was despite the fact that the Egyptian economy grew at above 7 percent between 2005 and 2008. And even the fall of the old despot did not settle matters, as the military had been the backbone of the ancien regime and it remained intact, engaging in attacks on demonstrators in Tahrir Square long after Mubarak was gone. The election of Mohamad Morsi in June 2012 posed a new set of issues: was Egypt under the Muslim Brotherhood to become a theocratic state like Iran? The popular movement through demonstrations of hundreds of thousands was able to beat back Morsi's attempt to grant himself virtually limitless power, a project he had to publicly abandon in December 2012.

 

One positive sign Dobson sees, writing before Morsi's election and its aftermath, was the formation of Officers for the Revolution, a prodemocracy group within the Egyptian army. This was started by First Lieutenant Sherif Osman with a Facebook page.

 

Egyptian scholar Maha Abdelrahman in an April 22, 2013, post on opendemocracy.net, critiques the limits of the new loose style of rebellion, at least for Egypt. While rejecting resurrecting the notion of the elitist Leninist vanguard party, she points out that the Egyptian opposition movements were focused on specific reforms, such as limiting presidential terms, ending the emergency law, calling free elections, and ending the Mubarak dynasty. They did not aim at taking over the government themselves. After their success in ousting Mubarak they confronted the two remaining entrenched powers in the country: the army and the Muslim Brotherhood.

 

The Brotherhood, while nominally illegal from the days of Nasser, was tolerated under Mubarak and had built a large infrastructure of social service and charity organizations. When elections followed the Mubarak era, the Islamic parties, through the Brotherhood's connections, had massive advantage over the many new and still unknown parties hastily created by the opposition groups. Abdelrahman also points out that the many opposition groups fall into three broad types that have little coordination between them: the mainly student and youth based movement that was most prominent in the Tahrir Square demonstrations; unofficial trade union organizations operating on the fringes of the state-controlled Egyptian Trade Union Federation; and the many small local protest demonstrations over the high cost of food and fuel and inadequate water and sanitation.

 

What to Make of China

A few days after Mubarak fell an anonymous post on social media called for a Chinese Jasmine Revolution, the name of the movement that had just toppled Tunisia's President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. China's top leadership quickly banned any use of the word jasmine on websites and discussion boards. Soon calls for a Jasmine Revolution spread anyway. Their demands were limited to reforms: that the ruling Communist Party fight corruption and that it accept "supervision" by the people. Messages called for protestors to come out for strolls on specific streets in a dozen cities. One designated location was in front of a Beijing McDonald's. William Dobson went to see what would happen. Hundreds of police, reinforced by security volunteers wearing armbands, lined the street while plainclothes cops with walkie-talkie ear buds circulated through the crowd of pedestrians. A street sweeper rolled up and down spraying water to keep people moving along, while police with dogs kept pedestrians on the sidewalk. A popular folksong about the jasmine flower was pulled from websites, while flower stores were prohibited from selling jasmines.

 

Dozens of dissidents and human rights lawyers were rounded up and detained before stroll day, some held for weeks afterward. Critics of the government routinely have their phones tapped and are followed around by the secret police. If they are too outspoken they end up in prison.

 

China's constitution requires that the country be governed by the Communist Party. The press and online media are heavily censored. Freedom House in its 2011 world survey ranked China's press as "not free." International mail is monitored. Fifty-five distinct crimes are subject to the death penalty, including embezzlement and tax fraud, with executions running at around 5,000 per year, though accurate statistics are hard come by.

 

By most standards, China is a police state. Yet it bears little resemblance to the totalitarian cult of Mao's Cultural Revolution. What has changed is a massive retreat of party control over people's personal lives, private beliefs, living standards, occupations, and places of residence. Political freedom does not exist, or is highly restricted, but the state, in contrast to the regime's first thirty years in power,  largely leaves people's private lives alone. The main exception is the one-child policy, which, given China's extremely limited arable land and potable water, has been a desperately needed necessity, no matter how much it outrages Western sensibilities.

 

Unlike the Mao era, or the Soviet Union in its heyday, China has a genuinely flourishing literary life and world-class film industry. But certainly it is its economic successes that have made the restrictive regime palatable and even popular. Unlike Chavez's Venezuela, which sought to sharply polarize its population, relying on unsustainable top-down subsidies to win the loyalty of the poor, China's leaders have promoted national unity and strongly encouraged their people's historic, but long-suppressed, bottom-up entrepreneurship. It is true that the children of high party functionaries got more than their share of privatized state assets and opportunities for insider trading that offered a short road to wealth. But by the UN standards of poverty, China has gone from 85% of its people in poverty in 1981 to 13.1% in 2008. Real average income for a Chinese household has grown from an annual $280 in 1980 to $3,000 in 2010. Ideology, once omnipresent, has been toned down, with national development given priority, and not in the ham-fisted manner of the old USSR.

 

William Dobson, for all of his championing of resistance movements to the new authoritarians, plainly admires the Chinese. He writes:

 

"The fact is that most Chinese have a far freer life today than ever before. Chinese citizens increasingly live where they want and with whom they want. Limits on one's personal lifestyle have all but disappeared. In the past two decades, more than 200 million people have opted to move from the countryside to one of China's new metropolises. They can own property, maybe even a car, and choose their own career or line of work. . . . The commercialization of Chinese media has led to a lively news and entertainment environment, with newspapers, magazines, and television stations pushing the boundaries to compete for audiences. As long as journalists tread carefully, government censors remain silent. . . . The party, unlike a couple of decades ago, no longer hounds citizens about their 'socialist purity.'"

 

The Chinese authoritarian state is certainly smarter than most of the others, as well as more successful. Unlike Russia or Venezuela, it is not built around the rule of particular individuals. They have instituted term limits and local elections. In the 2002 and 2007 party congresses more than half of the Central Committee and Politburo members were dropped and replaced by others. In contrast to the closed off Mao years, some 20 percent of the party leadership have spent at least one year at a foreign university.

 

Dobson interviews Yu Keping, deputy director of the Central Compilation and Translation Bureau, who is reputedly close to then-party general secretary Hu Jintao. Yu told him,

 

"The lesson we can learn from the chaos in the Middle Eastern countries is the need for better public service and people's participation - transparency, accountability, and social justice."

 

Dobson tries to understand how people committed to the Chinese system conceptualize their work. Professor Pan Wei at Beijing University argues that China's system is more effective than the American one, pointing to the paralysis in Washington by the Tea Party movement. He proposes that the American system is based on accountability while the Chinese is based on responsibility. For Pan this means a centralized balancing of three groups of competing interests:

 

"Number one is partial interest versus the interest of the whole. Number two is to balance the interest of the present versus the interest of the future, for example, the environment versus people's demand for wealth today. And thirdly, it is to balance the interest for change and the interest for order. . . . I think the politics of responsibility is much more sophisticated than the politics of accountability."

 

But what keeps the government honest when there is little accountability? Dobson notes that in 2005 there were 87,000 strikes, demonstrations, and marches in China. This may be surprising in an authoritarian state. Most of these were protests against corruption or abuses by local leaders, pollution by local companies, police brutality, bad working conditions, or disputed land ownership. The government has responded by larger investment in its security forces and stepping up arrests of dissidents.

 

Authoritarian regimes everywhere look to China as their justification. But few of them other than Singapore have China's cultural tradition of subordination of the individual to the group, its people's entrepreneurial and craft skills, and, even in a Communist state, its largely meritocratic rather than personal system of rulership. What works in China, and even there with considerable unease, doesn't work where these essential elements are missing.

 

Looking back on the triumphalism that swept the Western capitalist states after the collapse of Communism at the beginning of the 1990s, it seems that they were only half right. Totalitarian state socialism, the Marxist alternative to decentralized ownership of productive property, has remained dead. But within the broad parameters in which decentralized property forms operate, the idea that liberal democracy was also the inevitable future has faded. If the United States is the extreme variant of rampant individualism and the north European social democratic welfare states are the most democratic and humane, there is also clearly a third pole, the more or less stable undemocratic and authoritarian capitalist states. Some of these rest on religious theocracies of the far right, such as Iran and Saudi Arabia, others on varieties of leftism. In most cases people of humane and progressive sensibilities should find themselves on the side of the rebels trying to reform or bring them down. In the case of China, we should support democratic activists, but recognize that in this case, at least, the system functions far better and with greater fairness if not greater freedom, than a great many of the world's governments.

The Left and the Jews

 Leslie Evans

From Ambivalence to Betrayal: The Left, the Jews, and Israel. Robert S. Wistrich. University of Nebraska Press, 2012. 625 pp.

 

Mr Deasy to Stephen Dedalus: "Ireland, they say, has the honour of
being the only country which never persecuted the Jews.
Do you know that? No. And do you know why?"

"Why, sir?" Stephen asked, beginning to smile.

"Because she never let them in," Mr Deasy said solemnly.
A coughball of laughter leaped from his throat
dragging after it a rattling chain of phlegm.

-James Joyce, Ulysses

 

I first had to think much of anything about Israel, the Arab states on its borders, and the subset of Arabs who were beginning to be called Palestinians in June 1967 during the Six Day War. I was living in New York at the time, a member and staff writer for the Socialist Workers Party, the largest of the American Trotskyist groups, revolutionary Marxists who revered Lenin as well as Leon Trotsky. On June 5 war erupted between Israel and Egypt, Jordan, and Syria, three of the four countries on its borders, all vastly larger. Fighting on three fronts, the Israeli Jews in a few days defeated the massive Arab armies thrown against them.

 

The SWP leadership declared the party firmly on the Arab side, not shrinking from unreservedly endorsing the declared Arab war aims of destroying the Jewish state altogether. There were twenty-two Arab states and a single Jewish one. Forty-six years later the population of the Arab states stands at 350 million; Israel's is 8 million, of whom only 6 million are Jews.

 

What were the reasons my Trotskyist party advanced for exterminating this one tiny country, the only country in the world against which it raised such a draconian demand? Israel was, after all, composed of a historic Middle Eastern people, some of whom were refugees from a prolonged European exile but a majority were native Middle Easterners who had been driven out of Arab states after 1945? The grounds were summarized a few years later in a resolution entitled "Israel and the Arab Revolution" adopted by overwhelming vote at a party convention attended by more than 1,000 members and supporters.[1] It is worth examining, as its arguments have become the stock in trade of a large section of the Left, in both the United States and Europe, in the years since, as well as nearly universal in the Muslim world.

 

The resolution asserted that Israel could have been created "only at the expense of the indigenous peoples of the area," and that it could have "come into existence . . . only by relying upon imperialism." It affirmed that the "struggle of the Palestinian people against their oppression and for self-determination has taken the form of a struggle to destroy the state of Israel," a goal to which the SWP declared "unconditional support."

 

To defend itself against the likely charge that this position was antisemitic, the resolution assured its readers that "It is not justifiable to assume that a likely development of the Arab revolution will be the future oppression of the Israeli Jews." It advocated a Democratic Secular Palestine in which, after the Arab armies had smashed the Israeli state and imposed an Arab majority, the Jewish population would be guaranteed full civil, religious, and human rights. That this was not true in any of the existing Arab states did not phase my Marxist leaders. They added that while they defended the right of national self-determination for all Middle Eastern peoples, this did not apply to Jews, who should be content with the rights that the conquering Arabs would certainly be pleased to give them.

 

There were many essential falsehoods in this document, which were and remain typical of the progressive view of Israel. It is true that Britain, a major imperialist power, in the Balfour Declaration of 1917 promised to support the creation of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. This was drafted during World War I, in which the Ottoman Empire, which had ruled Palestine as an undifferentiated part of its territory for five hundred years, was fighting on the German side. There was at that time a large Jewish population that had been under Ottoman rule since the Turkish Muslim conquest. Some of these Jews lived in what became Palestine; others lived in the various pieces of Ottoman land that the Western governments carved into Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria, as well as in Egypt, which was an Ottoman colony. With the Ottoman collapse at the war's end, Palestine in 1920, only at this time separated from Syria, became a British Mandate, which status lasted until 1948.

 

The borders, drawn artificially by the European and American victors after World War I, on the whole fatally ignored deep ethnic differences, not only between Jews, a historically oppressed people in Muslim lands, and Arabs, but on a larger scale within Islam, between Sunnis and Shi'ites, as well as splitting the non-Arab Muslim Kurdish population between four separate states. In Iraq a Sunni minority dominated a Shi'ite majority; in Syria this was reversed, with an Allawite Shi'ite minority tyrannizing a Sunni population. And then there was the totally unworkable Lebanon with its incendiary tripartite mix of Christians, Sunnis, and Shi'ites. The whole construct has proven ever since to be in a permanent state of crisis and internecine slaughter. All of these states have at one time or another allied themselves with "imperialists" - Britain, France, the United States or another European power - or, before its collapse, with the repressive government of the Soviet Union, or both sequentially. Why, then, single out the Jews in particular as illegitimate and worthy of expulsion from their homeland?

 

Britain soon came to see the Arabs as a more important constituency than the Jews and reneged on the Balfour promise. During and after World War II it forcibly halted and turned back ships carrying refugees from Germany, condemning thousands to their deaths. The Jews in Palestine established their state, not with the help of imperialism but in a long armed struggle against British troops, an anti-imperialist struggle.

 

Further, on the declaration of the state of Israel in 1948, the Jewish area was invaded by five Arab states, by then established nations with large standing armies: Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, and Iraq. No imperialist power came to the aid of the Jews. They won this extraordinarily unequal battle mainly with weapons from Communist Czechoslovakia. Nor did any "imperialist" power come to Israel's aid in the Six Day War of 1967.

 

Did the Palestinians or the Arab states more broadly endorse the promises about human and civil rights for Jews the SWP made for them in New York? On May 27, Nasser stated, "Our basic objective will be the destruction of Israel."[2]

 

The Palestine Liberation Organization charter of 1964 declared that only those Jews who could prove that their ancestry in Palestine dated to "the beginning of the Zionist invasion" would be considered to be Palestinians. No date is attached to this clause, but in the later Hamas charter the date of 1917 is given, along with the pledge that all Jews who cannot date their ancestry in Palestine to 1917 will be expelled. Under this rule the Democratic Secular Palestine was going to be an almost purely Arab state, if there were any Jews in it at all.

 

There were more than 800,000 native Jews living in the Arab states in 1948. By 2008 there were barely 6,000, fewer than 100 each in the major states of Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq, where the great majority were expelled. Two hundred thousand more were expelled from Turkey and Iran.[3] There was no sign in any Arab country of tolerating even the existence of Jews, much less granting them equal civil and human rights with Muslims. The planned fate of the Jews, who had been concentrated from throughout the Muslim world into tiny Israel, was to be different only in being more final. Ahmad Shukeiri, the first chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization, on June 1, 1967, rather than promising Israeli Jews civil rights after the expected Arab conquest said instead, "I estimate that none of them will survive."[4]

 

The PLO Charter expresses opinions both about Zionism, a particular movement, which it brands "fascist," despite the fact that the founders of Israel were in large part quite moderate socialists, and about Jews more broadly. Here the Charter asserts: "Judaism, being a religion, is not an independent nationality. Nor do Jews constitute a single nation with an identity of its own; they are citizens of the states to which they belong." Clearly the Arabs do not feel the same way about Islam, which aspires not merely to rule in individual nations but to a supranational unification of its believers in a transnational caliphate.

 

Today each of the states newly carved out of the Ottoman Empire in the 1920s claims distinct nationhood. The Turks had ruled Syria and Palestine since 1516. In 1948 there were a million native Jews in the Arab countries plus Turkey and Iran. In the fluidity of boundary drawing why exactly were the Ottoman Jews, whose residence predated the Arab conquest by two and a half millennia, not entitled to a small piece of land? The anti-Jewish hostility of their Muslim opponents is understandable if not supportable. It is plainly more extreme than the Jewish attitude toward Arabs, as 20 percent of the population of pre-1967 Israel is Arab. There is no comparable tolerance toward Jews in any Muslim state, Arab, Turkish, or Persian. The Arab side has most often shown itself to be racist and exterminationist toward the Jews, as witnessed by the three major invasions of Israel by its surrounding Arab states, in 1948, 1967, and 1973. The question is why the ostensibly rationalist, secular, and progressive forces in the West have, to a disturbing degree, endorsed this framing of the Arab-Jewish clash.

 

It should be remembered that the readiness to "unconditionally" support the call for Israel's destruction was issued by these American Marxists while the Gaza strip was still part of Egypt and the West Bank belonged to Jordan. There had been no agitation for a Palestinian state in those places. And there was no Israeli occupation of the West Bank or a cordon sanitaire around Gaza, the focal points of much leftist excoriation of Israel today. And there was no talk about a two-state solution. The Marxist left endorsed Arab states in their military struggle to eradicate the one Jewish state outright. The reasoning behind this otherwise surprising position lies far back in the history of the relations between the socialist movement and the Jews, from the time when Jews were first gaining citizenship rights in Europe early in the nineteenth century. These were things of which I was entirely ignorant in 1967.

 

I voted for the party's resolution with the rest of my comrades. After all, as Lenin said, you can't make an omelet without breaking eggs. By way of disclosure, My father was Norwegian, with dashes of Irish, Scottish, and Dutch; my mother was Jewish. If she ever had any Jewish religious instruction she never mentioned it. I have never been inside a synagogue. I was raised in the New Age, semi-Christian, Church of Religious Science. My parents, insofar as they had any supernatural beliefs, were spiritualists. The only Jewish relative I ever met was my maternal grandmother, who was an evil woman who had last had any contact with my mother before I was born. She stayed with us for a few days when I was fifteen, then never spoke to any of us again.

 

I didn't return to these questions for many years. I left Marxism behind in the late 1980s, and began to look again at many issues I had considered settled. The Marxist attitude toward the Jews was one of them.

 

Over the decades since the Six Day War - and really long before that - prominent spokespeople for the Arab states and media, and, of course, among the Palestinians, fused opposition to the Israeli state with the history of Christian antisemitism in a general anathema of the Jews. A recent example is a television broadcast on Hamas's Al-Aqsa TV on November 5, 2010, by Mahmoud Al-Zahhar, a central founder of Hamas and its current foreign minister. He cites with approval and as precedent for Hamas's plans, the long series of expulsions of the Jews from Christian Europe: France in 1253, Britain in 1280, Hungary in 1360, Belgium in 1370, Germany in 1384, Austria in 1420, Holland in 1444, Spain in 1492. He adds the Russian pogroms of the 1880s and, without distinction as any worse than the others, Hitler's Nazis: "Germany expelled them once again in 1945." Merely expelled? And while the Holocaust was uniquely genocidal, the expulsions of the late Middle Ages that Al-Zahar cites with approval often included the slaughter of the entire Jewish population of cities, as many as 10,000 at a time, and the burning of hundreds at the stake in a single day.

 

Al-Zahhar concludes: "We have learned the lesson - there is no place for you among us, and you have no future among the nations of the world. You are headed to annihilation."[5]

 

We have a confluence here, of deep cultural animosity toward Jews as a group that goes back many centuries in many countries, rooted principally in religious absolutisms but resting also on ethnic and cultural differences, with present-day Arab antisemitism of an extreme kind, ending in a unique hatred, more pervasive and long-lasting than almost any other in history. While present-day leftists consider themselves unshakably anti-racist, there is a glaring exception, in their attitude toward Jewish nationalism and from there to Jews as sucyh.. Robert Wistrich puts it bluntly: "[B]y identifying with Islamist organizations like Hamas or Hezbollah which advocate and act upon an openly annihilatory form of antisemitism, radical leftists have in effect become complicit in what is a symbolic form of genocide."

 

A hostility to Jews as an ethnicity goes back to the very beginnings of the socialist movement, long before Zionism, much less the state of Israel, existed. It was imbibed from the societies in which the core doctrines of Marxism and other socialist leftisms were first forged. The socialist Left has been distinguished from the racist Right in one important regard: it has, generally, been accepting of assimilationist Jews who reject any claim of a national identity for the Jewish people.

 

The original socialists and Marxists were, with perhaps the sole exception of the long-forgotten followers of the utopian theorist Henri de Saint Simon, openly antisemitic. Liberal political groups and parties were usually better than the socialists, because they valued the rights of all citizens, while the socialists defended only proletarians, which didn't include the Jews in enough numbers to be noticed until early in the twentieth century.

 

Robert S. Wistrich was born in 1945 to leftist Polish parents in Soviet-ruled Kazakhstan. He grew up in England, and from 1982 has taught at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He is one of the world's foremost authorities on the history of antisemitism, having published on the subject since 1976, most importantly his magisterial study, A Lethal Obsession: Anti-Semitism from Antiquity to the Global Jihad, in 2010. In a certain way the almost 700 pages of From Ambivalence to Betrayal is a footnote to that larger work, focusing as it does on mainly European socialists and Marxists from the 1840s to the present.

 

The history of religious persecution and expulsion that Mahmoud Al-Zahhar cites cast a long shadow, still strongly affecting the popular perceptions of Jews in the years socialist groups were first forming, early in the nineteenth century. During the Black Death of 1348-49 the mass of the German population blamed the Jews, accusing them of poisoning the wells, or, alternately, explaining the plague as God's punishment for allowing the Christ-killing Jews to live among Christians. The great majority of German Jews were either murdered outright or driven eastward into what is now Poland, Ukraine, Lithuania, and Romania. Over the next four hundred years some were allowed to return, but usually with severe restrictions on their rights. Many of the petty German states prohibited Jews from living in the cities. Others confined them to walled ghettos. They were often required to wear special highly identifiable clothing, the predecessor of the yellow stars of the Nazi era. Jews were barred from the professions and usually from owning land.

 

The consequence was that the Jews to survive gravitated into occupations that were looked on by the Germans as disreputable. Most common were horse traders, used clothes dealers, rural peddlers, grain merchants, and petty money lenders. The Jews of France were emancipated in 1791 by the French Revolution. Napoleon carried Jewish emancipation with his march into the German states. Westphalia was the first to grant citizenship to Jews, in 1808, the North German Confederation only in 1869. (Jews in the United States were nominally given rights of citizenship in 1789, but many states continued to prohibit them from holding public office or imposed other restrictions. New Hampshire was the last state to lift the restrictions, in 1877.)

 

Contrary to what one might suppose today, European leftists were not at all happy about letting Jews become citizens.

 

Socialism in Germany

 

Germany had a distinct post-Enlightenment anti-Jewish tradition. The famed philosopher Johann Gottlieb Fichte in 1793, when he was an outspoken supporter of the French Revolution, wrote: "in the bosom of almost all the nations of Europe there spreads a powerful state driven by hostile feelings that is continually at war with all the others, and that in certain places terribly oppresses the citizens. I speak of Jewry." Wikipedia adds from Fichte's collected works of that period that he opposed granting civil rights to the Jews unless one managed "to cut off all their heads in one night, and to set new ones on their shoulders, which should contain not a single Jewish idea."

 

What was happening here, as in France of the same period, was the rise of nationalism. The forging of powerful, unifying nationalist sentiments almost invariably counterposed the ideal type true citizen against the inassimilable alien, and no group was more alien than the Jews. Marxists for generations theorized that antisemitism was a hangover from feudalism, from the once-dominant Church and from feudal landowners and peasants who had bad experiences with petty Jewish merchants. Instead, as modern states emerged, antisemitism became far stronger and was incorporated into the platforms of political parties and movements of both the Right and the Left.

 

Hegel (1770-1831), who had enormous influence on Marx and Marxism, explained the emergence of what we now call modernism in terms of a linear evolution in which different peoples, cultures, and religions each made a one-time contribution to the upward movement of the Absolute. Judaism for him was both inferior to Christianity but also a historical dead end whose adherents could not make any contribution to Western civilization beyond what they had done in biblical times. He supported granting civil rights to Jews on humanitarian grounds but saw no value in Jews as a group.

 

Marx's views on the Jews were more directly shaped by Bruno Bauer (1809-1882), the leader of the Young Hegelians. Bauer was a militant atheist but nevertheless shared Hegel's view that Judaism was inferior to Christianity. (The argument here was that Judaism supposedly bound its followers to rigid application of external laws and total subservience to God, with no concept of personal liberty, while Christianity sought through inner spirituality to raise its believers up to angelic levels.) Here nationalism of the Left raised its ugly head. Bauer opposed granting civil rights to the German Jews on the grounds that their "fossilized" beliefs and way of life made no contribution to the emerging German nation. They could be emancipated only when both Jews and Christians abandoned their religions in a new universal atheistic society. He added that this self-emancipation would be more difficult for Jews than for Christians because of his view of their negative way of life. The Jews, he said, "have nestled in the pores of civil society and taken advantage of the victims produced by the elements of insecurity in that society."

 

Marx largely agreed with Bauer's negative assessment of the Jews, but disagreed on how Jewish emancipation should take place. He spelled out his views in his 1843 "On the Jewish Question."[6] He begins by pointing to France and the United States to show that Bauer was wrong to suppose that granting the Jews civil rights must be deferred to the creation of a socialist future. However, while democratic France and America were an improvement on absolutist systems such as in Prussia, civil rights still allowed freedom of religion instead of outlawing it, and the right to property instead of abolishing it. I will resist the temptation to digress here on how efforts to do those two things have produced systems far worse than Prussia's of the 1840s.

 

Marx viewed as idealist Bauer's contention that Judaism persisted because of Jews' religious beliefs. He instead presented a "materialist" explanation. He writes:

 

"We are trying to break with the theological formulation of the question. For us, the question of the Jew's capacity for emancipation becomes the question: What particular social element has to be overcome in order to abolish Judaism?" The goal has suddenly shifted from ending the persecution of the Jews and their exclusion from even the limited civil rights enjoyed by German Christians to abolishing Judaism itself. Simple. If the Jews would just agree to abandon any distinguishing beliefs or culture they would be treated like everyone else. This in fact has been the core Marxist position on the Jews ever since.

 

Marx then explains what it is that characterizes the Jewish group if it is not their religion or culture:

 

"Let us not look for the secret of the Jew in his religion, but let us look for the secret of his religion in the real Jew. What is the secular basis of Judaism? Practical need, self-interest. What is the worldly religion of the Jew? Huckstering. What is his worldly God? Money. . . . An organization of society which would abolish the preconditions for huckstering, and therefore the possibility of huckstering, would make the Jew impossible. His religious consciousness would be dissipated like a thin haze in the real, vital air of society." (Emphasis in original.)

 

He goes on: "We recognize in Judaism, therefore, a general anti-social element of the present time, an element which through historical development - to which in this harmful respect the Jews have zealously contributed - has been brought to its present high level, at which it must necessarily begin to disintegrate. In the final analysis, the emancipation of the Jews is the emancipation of mankind from Judaism." (Emphasis in original.)

 

Marx's high economic theorizing here is just the retailing of the antisemitic tropes of the German nationalists. Other such gems from this same essay include: "Money is the jealous god of Israel, in face of which no other god may exist." For Jews, "even the lavatory [is] an object of divine law." And still more sweeping:

 

"Contempt for theory, art, history, and for man as an end in himself, which is contained in an abstract form in the Jewish religion, is the real, conscious standpoint, the virtue of the man of money. . . . The chimerical nationality of the Jew is the nationality of the merchant, of the man of money in general. The groundless law of the Jew is only a religious caricature of groundless morality and right in general, of the purely formal rites with which the world of self-interest surrounds itself."

 

Marx's hostility to Jews as a group persisted throughout his life. At best it can be said that he did not join in the racial theories of the right-wing antisemites. Instead he characterized the whole of the Jewish people as social parasites who, he believed, had invented capitalism and corrupted the Christian world with it. That situation could only be ended by Jews disappearing entirely, by renouncing anything distinctive about themselves. In an article on "The Russian Loan" of January 4, 1856, he wrote:

 

"Thus we find every tyrant backed by a Jew, as is every Pope by a Jesuit. In truth, the cravings of oppressors would be hopeless and the practicability of war out of the question, if there were not an army of Jesuits to smother thought and a handful of Jews to ransack pockets."

 

Thinking about this, there are far more tyrants than Popes, and their actions are far more oppressive than the limited power of the Pope, and Jesuits are a tiny fraction of the Catholic Church, who chose this role in life, while being a Jew is something one is born to. The apparent equivalence here is very lopsided indeed.

 

Marx was still more outspoken in his correspondence with Engels. In a letter of July 30, 1862, he said of Ferdinand Lassalle, one of the central leaders of German socialism,

 

"as the shape of his head and the growth of his hair indicate, he is descended from the negroes who joined in the flight of Moses from Egypt (unless his mother or grandmother on his father's side was crossed with a nigger). Now this union of Jewishness with Germanness on a negro basis was bound to produce an extraordinary hybrid. The importunity of the fellow is also niggerlike."[7]

 

Engels described Lassalle as a "greasy Jew, disguised under brilliantine and flashy jewels."[8]

 

But wasn't Marx himself a Jew? Genetically and by ancestry, yes. His father, to escape antisemitism, had converted to Lutheranism before Karlwas born. Throughout the history of the Jewish Diaspora, particularly after the consolidation of absolutist Christian states that carried out organized persecutions and expulsions of the Jews, there were always a certain number of Jews who sought to escape ostracism by rejecting their fellows, often vociferously, a phenomenon we see down to our own day in figures like Noam Chomsky.

 

For the record, the Lassallean socialists were even worse than the Marxists, notwithstanding their leader's Jewish descent, which Lassalle rejected. His General German Workers Association (Allgemeiner Deutscher Arbeiter Verein), founded in 1863, regularly attacked the Marxist Social Democratic Workers Party for their (assimilated) Jewish members. The editor of the Lassalleans' main newspaper, the New Social Democrat, Wilhelm Hasselmann, claimed that only his party truly represented the workers, while its socialist rivals, "spawned by the overheated imagination of arrogant Jew-boys and other mischief-makers, are falling apart." (September 18, 1872)

 

In an editorial against newspapers owned by Jewish publishers Hasselmann called for their elimination and that the workers should "lead the Jews altogether, with a few exceptions, not through, but into, the Red Sea."

 

For Marx and the Young Hegelians there was also their vision of a classless world government of the future that led them to, nominally, oppose nationalist and ethnic self-identities. The Communist Manifesto in 1848 famously declared "The working men have no country." This has proven in the hundred and sixty-five years since it was written to have been one of the greatest miscalculations of the Marxist credo. But even Marx and Engels did not mean this literally for their own time but as an expectation for some fairly distant future. The Manifesto in the same paragraph says:

 

"Since the proletariat must first of all acquire political supremacy, must constitute itself the nation, it is, so far, itself national, though not in the bourgeois sense of the word. . . . United action, of the leading civilised countries at least, is one of the first conditions for the emancipation of the proletariat."

 

This was the opening through which the rising German nationalism, which in real life was fused with a profound antisemitism, reinvaded the Marxist prospect through the back door. For Marx and Engels this reliance on the "leading civilized countries" to spark the move toward world government led them to condemn the lesser countries, which were not powerful enough to undertake such a mission. As it happened, these, along with the Jews, were the hated enemies of the German nationalists. This was developed extensively by Engels in his articles for the Neue Rheinische Zeitung during the revolutionary period of 1848-49.Wistrich summarizes:

 

"[B]oth Marx and Engels displayed a revolutionary Pan-Germanist contempt for the backward peasant peoples of Eastern Europe and the Balkans. Engels in particular denied the capacity of Slavs to create a viable State or achieve national independence, dismissing them as 'ethnic trash' destined for the rubbish bin of history. In contrast to the 'revolutionary' Germans, Magyars, and Poles, Engels considered the Czechs and South Slavs as 'counter-revolutionary' tools of Russian and Pan-Slavist ambitions. They were 'historyless peoples' (a concept later adopted by Otto Bauer) whose 'mission' was simply to disappear in the future revolutionary holocaust that would sweep them away along with other 'waste products' such as the Bretons, Basques, and Scottish Highlanders."[9]

 

Engels was particularly negative toward the Polish Jews, the "dirtiest of all races" whose essence was "huckstering, sordidness and filth."[10] In his later years he refrained from these kinds of sweeping characterizations, but held firm to the view that under communism Jews would have to disappear as an identifiable group.

 

One prominent exception to this view was Marx's close associate Moses Hess (1812-1875), who had converted Marx to communism. An assimilated Jew and Young Hegelian, in the 1840s he shared the hostility toward religious and ethnically identified Jews promoted by Hegel and Ludwig Feuerbach. He wrote on the subject himself, before Marx did, and helped formulate the ideas that found expression in Marx's "On the Jewish Question." By the 1860s Hess rethought these matters and came to reject the idea that assimilation would solve the Jewish problem or that the cohesion and persistence of Judaism lay, as the Marxists believed, in the Jews' commercial activities. It derived, he said, in a national consciousness and this could be resolved only by the self-emancipation of the Jewish people, retaining their identity. This made Hess one of the first theorists of Zionism. Wistrich writes:

 

"Antisemitism, [Hess] would later conclude, was an enigma for patriotic German Jews only because they insisted on denying their own nationality. Hence they had failed to understand that German nationalism with its endemic racialist features was fundamentally incapable of assimilating 'alien' groups. This unsparing analysis, published in 1862, condemning the new racist antisemitism, was to prove remarkably prescient."

 

The real history of the world that has unfolded since 1862 has seen class struggle as a highly subordinate phenomenon. The center of the stage has been firmly held by forces the Marxist movement expected to rapidly fade away even under bourgeois rule: nationalism and religion. This was an evil omen for the stateless Jews. Hess warned:

 

"The beautiful phrases about humanity and enlightenment which he [the modern Jew] uses so freely to cloak his treason, his fear of being identified with his unfortunate brethren, will not ultimately protect him from the judgment of public opinion."

 

Beginning in the 1880s antisemitism became a major issue in German electoral politics, promoted by the Christian-Social movement of Protestant preacher Adolf Stocker. Initially the German Marxists, organized in the Social-Democratic Party (SPD), which was then proscribed and operating underground, fought back, as attacks by the Christian-Social supporters and the government were directed at the socialists as well as the Jews. This became complicated in the 1890s, when a new brand of antisemitism arose in the form of anti-Christian left populism. This new movement was anti-government and anticapitalist as well as antisemitic.

 

The antisocialist laws were repealed in 1890 and the SPD was now a large legal party. The party opposed antisemitism, but wrongly theorized that it was based in soon-to-be extinct peasant and semi-feudal remnants and was not a serious problem. Worse, the Marxists viewed the anticapitalism of the antisemitic movement as a progressive step on the road to socialism.

 

August Bebel, the central leader of the SPD, crafted the party's long-term policy toward the antisemites and the Jews at the party's 1893 congress in Cologne. Unlike earlier Marxist writings, Bebel forthrightly described the European Jews as an oppressed people. He was opposed to attacks on the Jews, though he explained anti-Jewish prejudice as in large part a consequence of the role of some Jews in the "huckstering" trades, particularly buying and selling agricultural produce and lending small amounts of money. Bebel is famous in the Marxist movement for his declaration that "antisemitism is the socialism of fools." I have had that quoted to me in the last few months by an anti-Israel Marxist as proof that Marxists have always been total opponents of Jew hatred. This misses the meaning of this declaration in the context of its own time. It did not mean that antisemitism was a totally reactionary political view. It meant, rather, that in opposing principally Jewish capitalism it was only part way to opposing capitalism as a whole. This was spelled out in the resolution Bebel submitted to the congress, which was duly adopted, and said in part:

 

"Social-democracy fights antisemitism as a movement which is directed against the natural development of society but which, despite its reactionary character and against its will, ultimately must become revolutionary. This is bound to happen because the petty-bourgeois and small peasant strata, which are being whipped up by antisemitism against the Jewish capitalists, will finally realize that not merely the Jewish capitalist, but the capitalist class as a whole is its enemy."[11]

 

This decision, to meet the antisemites halfway and view them as inevitably a revolutionary force against capitalism, was a disastrous misreading, rooted in the Marxist dismissal of the importance of nationalism and the reduction of opposition to Jews by German nationalist to purely economic grievances. As the Nazis would demonstrate, the base of antisemitism was not at all confined to peasants and semifeudal landlords who had unhappy dealings with Jewish usurers. A very large part of the urban German working class voted for and supported the National Socialist movement, validating Bebel's prediction but in a horrific manner. There were in fact many elements of socialism in Hitler's program, a leftist populism that was an intensified version of the movement of the 1890s, fused with an exclusive, organic nationalism that in principle rejected any human rights to those who did not fit its racialist definition of the nation. Jewish capitalism, contrary to the Marxist theory, had nothing to do with this.

 

Through their false, reductionist theory, even as the German Marxists attempted to argue against the populist antisemites their insistence that capitalism was in essence "Jewish" but broader than only the Jews, played into the hands of the Jew haters. The SPD quoted Marx's declaration from "On the Jewish Question," that the "emancipation of the Jews was the emancipation of society from Judaism."[12] The antisemites were happy to oblige. Or here, from the SPD's main newspaper:

 

"Our solution consists in saying, that the so-called 'Jewish spirit' is the spirit of capitalism. Certainly not every Jew is a capitalist but every capitalist is a Jew - and therefore the emancipation of the Jews and the rest of mankind coincides with the emancipation of humanity from Jewish - and other capitalism."[13]

 

They even tried to argue that persecuting the Jews by prohibiting them from owning land or belonging to the professions was counterproductive because it concentrated the Jews in occupations dealing with money and thus allowed them to gain mastery over Germans:

 

"Behold, the oppressed [the Jews] have become the lords of this world, a powerful part of the dominant bourgeoisie, impregnated with the same spirit. The irony of history has turned everything upside down and punishment has brought its reward. It has made servants out of the persecutors and master out of the persecuted."[14]

 

The vast majority of German Jews were impoverished and stood below the lower middle class. This image of the alien Jews as "lords of this world" and "masters" over Germans was taken from the stock in trade of the antisemites and would be a central part of Nazi propaganda a few years later. Saying you opposed antisemitism was fatally undercut by incorporating essential antisemitic stereotypes into your argument, just reaffirming the beliefs of the Jew haters. The SPD's neutral position on antisemitism in the 1890s was far worse than it had been in the 1880s when Jew-baiting came from the far right and was combined with hostility to socialism. They went so far as to write that in the task of winning over the rural masses to socialism that "here Antisemitism has prepared the way. It has performed what should have been the task of the bourgeois democracy."[15] In the same period the liberals called for legal prosecution of the antisemites. The SPD in contrast publicly in an effort to discredit the liberals declared, "The progress of antisemitism is therefore not at all unwelcome to us. On the contrary, we know that we can only reap success from it."[16]

 

Very few of the German Marxist leaders dissented from this conciliatory view. Principally they amounted to Engels, living in England, who late in life had moved away from the anti-Jewish prejudices of his early and middle years, Edward Bernstein, the fountainhead of revisionist socialism, and Karl Kautsky. Kautsky, however, believed that antisemitism had no real deep roots but was just a tactic by politicians to distract the workers from more fundamental class issues. Engels, in his old age now firmly opposed to antisemitism, utterly misunderstand its source. In a widely reprinted letter of March 21, 1890, he affirmed:

 

"Antisemitism, therefore, is nothing but the reaction of the medieval, decadent strata of society against modern society, which essentially consists of wage-earners and capitalists. . . . If it is possible in a country, that is a sign that there is not yet enough capital in that country." Only a few years later, antisemitism would see its greatest flowering in the most advanced capitalist country of Europe, under the National Socialists, who both viewed themselves and were objectively one variant of the most determined antifeudal modernism, one of whose attributes has been ultranationalism. Engels, and the Marxist movement in his wake, supposed antisemitism to be essentially based on economic grievances, just as they imagined Jews to be defined as a particular economic entity. One did not need to wait for Hitler and the Nazis to prove this whole theoretical edifice to be hollow. The Dreyfus Affair in France just a few years later stirred a torrent of anti-Jewish hatred from all ranks of patriotic citizens, this in the homeland of the French Revolution, the leading edge of bourgeois modernism.

 

The narrow economic determinist schema was compounded by the expectation that the whole of the middle class and the peasant farmers were doomed to imminent dissolution into the proletariat, and therefore the Marxist movement should reject any support to their needs or demands. Engels wrote:

 

"If these peasants want a guarantee for the continuance of their businesses, we absolutely cannot offer it to them. Their place is with the antisemites, the Farmers' Unions and similar parties who take pleasure in promising everything and keeping to nothing."[17]

 

The underlying prediction, that the farmers and the middle class would disappear into a huge proletariat, essential to the Marxist project, never happened. Like the Physiocrats before them, who believed that agricultural labor was the key to human progress, the Marxist substitution of the industrial working class proved to be one more intermediate stage in social development in which advances in productivity first radically reduced the number of farmers and has since substantially reduced the number of industrial workers. This has in turn invalidated the promise that the "Jewish question" could wait to be resolved until the Jews disappeared as an identifiable group into the mass of a world socialist proletariat.

 

In the meantime the spread of nationalist modernism was escalating attacks on Jews. Wistrich cites "the pogroms in Russia, Romania, and Algeria, the election of the Christian-Social Judeophobe Karl Lueger as Mayor of Vienna in 1897, the virulent plebeian antisemitism in Germany, the Dreyfus Affair in France, and the anti-alien agitation in Great Britain." In response, the SPD, and most particularly its Jewish members and leaders, shrank from confronting the antisemites for fear that the party would be branded a Jewish defense group. Edward Bernstein, one of the few who saw the consequences of such a response, in 1894 castigated party members who "are the most frequently on hand with declarations against 'philo-semitism' - namely comrades of Jewish descent, who, precisely because of their origins, consider it their special duty to keep the party free of any suspicion of favoring Jewish interests."

 

A particular offender here was Franz Mehring (1846-1919), the authoritative biographer of Karl Marx, a central leader of the German SPD, and a founder with Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht of the German Communist Party, originally called the Spartacus League. Not himself Jewish, Mehring became the SPD's expert on the Jewish Question. He had been an antisemite before he became a socialist. As a leader of the SPD he warmly supported the hostile writings on the Jews by the nationalist historian Heinrich von Treitschke, who had written that "the Jews are our misfortune." Wistrich writes that Mehring "was openly contemptuous of those critics who accused Heinrich von Treitschke of antisemitism when he had simply ventilated the 'deep animosity against the Jewish character; felt in all cultivated circles of Berlin society.'"

 

In 1902 Mehring wrote:

 

"We have lived through enough examples during the last fifty years and still experience it every day, that Jewish fellow-citizens, whom we have even admired as unshakable flagbearers of bourgeois democracy, become corrupt reactionaries if the result of civil legislation harms any specifically Jewish interest. This phenomenon is as old as the participation of Jewry in political struggles."[18]

 

Mehring repeatedly insisted that philosemitism was a greater danger in Germany than antisemitism, going so far as to write:

 

"In considering the brutalities which antisemitism with words rather than deeds commits against the Jews, one should not overlook the brutalities which philosemitism with deeds rather than words is committing against everyone, be he Jew or Turk, Christian or pagan, who opposes capitalism."[19] Edward Bernstein tried unsuccessfully to have the party reconsider this attitude, pointing out that "philosemitism" was being used in the same way by both socialists and antisemites, equating opposition to persecution of the Jews or defending their civil rights with being procapitalist. Mehring ominously responded that the worst choice the SPD could make would be to support the liberal parties against the antisemites, because the antisemites were objectively anticapitalist while the liberals were not.

 

The SPD hailed the victories by the populist antisemitic parties in 1893 as a victory for socialism against the dominant capitalist parties. Heinrich Braun, a leader of the Austrian socialists, interpreted the big vote for the antisemites thus:

 

"Its rapid growth is not unlike that of Social Democracy … there can be no doubt that in antisemitism we are faced with a strong social movement and that together with the attacks upon Jewry a radical anti-capitalist trend of a general kind is more and more openly and consciously seeking to affirm itself."[20]

Wistrich concludes his discussion of Franz Mehring:

 

"[H]e tended to regard German Jewry not as an oppressed group but rather as the embodiment of the worst features of capitalist behavior. From the young Marx to Mehring (and beyond), this anti-Jewish stereotype had continued to haunt the socialist movement like a ghostly specter."

 

The main difference between traditional antisemitism, which was based in religion - the refusal to accept Jesus as God - and the several modern forms is that these are all secular. They begin with the original Young Hegelian "economic" form of hostility to the Jews. This insisted that Jews as a group were economic exploiters and that this was so intrinsic to Judaism that it could end only when Jews ceased to be Jews. This diverged to the later, still more modern, cutting edge "scientific" theories that commandeered the new Darwinism to claim an inassimilable racial difference between Jews and Aryans. Economic behavior could be changed by dispersing the group that practiced it. Unacceptable inbred racial differences could be expunged only by separation or extermination. Bruno Bauer, the leftist leader of the Young Hegelians who first persuaded Karl Marx that Jews were an anti-social people-class, himself by the 1860s made the transition to the more modern theory, that they were racially incompatible with true Germans. Notably, Marx's sharp criticism of Bruno Bauer in the 1840s did not dissent from Bauer's position on the Jews, his own writings quoted earlier being even more disparaging.

 

At the Second Congress of the Socialist International in Brussels in 1891 an American Jewish delegate asked for a resolution condemning anti-Jewish pogroms in Russia. This was opposed most strongly by Victor Adler, the central leader of the Austrian Marxists and himself a highly assimilated Jew with a strong admiration for German culture. The conference instead passed a resolution condemning equally "anti- and philosemitic outbursts" as "one of the means by which the capitalist class and reactionary government seek to divert the Socialist movement and divide the workers."[21] This ambivalence toward populist antisemitism infected such solid Marxists as Wilhelm Liebknecht, who in 1893 wrote, "Yes, the antisemites plough and sow, and we Social Democrats will reap. Their successes are therefore not at all unwelcome to us."

 

The German-speaking socialists generally ignored the class division within the Jewish mass and simply repeated Marx's formulation that "Jew" was a synonym for capitalists. The premise underlying Wilhelm Liebknecht's comment, Wistrich explains, ran:

 

"They argued that since the Judengeist (Jewish spirit) was identical with the 'spirit of capitalism,' it followed that a consistent antisemite should ultimately wish to join the only party (the Social Democrats) that was determined in both theory and practice to eliminate capitalism as a whole. Using this theory, the Austrian party leadership tried to appeal to an antisemitic mass constituency - presenting themselves as the most rigorous adversaries of 'Jewish' (and Gentile) capital." If even the most radical opponents of antisemitism proclaimed regularly that the Jews (undifferentiated) were the same as capitalist oppressors this validated what the antisemites were saying.

 

By the eve of World War I in Germany, and especially in Russia, secular Jews who had broken their ties with the Jewish community were welcomed into the socialist movement. This acceptance of assimilated Jews still went hand-in-hand with a strong reluctance to defend Jews as such from public hostility, particularly in the German-speaking lands. Wistrich writes:

 

"Thus in Austria the Socialists took a more opportunist position than in Imperial Germany, not infrequently exploiting Judeophobic nuances in their attacks on liberalism and even branding their Christian-Social rivals as 'agents of Jewish capital.' Efforts at Jewish self-defense were stigmatized as an attempt to justify the financial power of the Rothschilds."

 

The Austrian Marxists even tried to discredit the antisemite leadership by alleging that they were secretly pro-Jewish because of their commercial relations with Jewish businesses. On one had this amounted to claiming that their opponents were hypocrites, but at the same time conceding there was something shameful about dealing with Jews. A particular target of this self-defeating tactic was Karl Lueger, the violently antisemitic mayor of Vienna elected in 1897. The Vienna Arbeiterzeitung, founded by Victor Adler, on March 11, 1910, wrote: If there is anyone to whom one can apply the word 'Judaized' (verjudet) it is to the Viennese mayor." The Austrian Marxists continued to claim that the antisemitic parties and movements were really puppets of the rich Jews until Hitler came to power in 1933. A mirror image of this kind of stupidity are Marxist idiots who repeatedly try to prove that the Jewish Zionists in Germany who negotiated with the German government in the 1930s to get as many Jews out of the country as possible were on that account really agents of the Nazis.

 

Otto Bauer (1881-1938) , the principal theorist of Austro-Marxism, by the turn of the twentieth century had already seen the rise of strong nationalism among the disdained "historyless" peoples and largely abandoned the concept, with the notable exception of the Jews. Writing in a virulently antisemitic German culture, he faced powerful pressure to have nothing positive to say about Jews. Drawing on this old theory of Marx, that had to be abandoned for virtually every other ethnicity, Bauer branded the Jews alone as unable to constitute a nation. Wistrich quotes from Bauer's 1907 The National Question and Socialism:

 

"Imagine Jewish children being taught in Yiddish in their independent schools! There the children will be taught the culture of a nation without a history, the culture of a people totally isolated from the mainstream of European civilization, a people held together by the heritage of an outmoded system of thought and by the dead weight of observances transmitted from generation to generation."

 

The massive redrawing of the borders of Europe by World War I largely put an end to the "historyless peoples" theory, with the sole exception of the Jews. A very few prominent socialist leaders objected to this exclusion. Notable among them was Engelbert Pernerstorfer, a close associate of Victor Adler in the Austrian party. In a 1916 article for Martin Buber's journal Der Jude he argued that there were twelve or fourteen million Jews with a currently productive literature of their own in Yiddish and Hebrew. "Let us not lose sight of the fact that they are indeed a nation," he wrote, "a nation of outstanding intellectual endowment, like every internally coherent and civilized people. They have a right to exist as a nation." He pointed to rising Polish nationalism which was becoming more consciously hostile to the three million Jews in their midst, and made the simple point that the European Jews did not want to become Poles or Romanians or Germans, and those peoples did not want them to either. The natural consequence was the emergence of the Zionist movement as the voice of Jews who opted for separation. It was opposed by the Marxist movements of the major countries, as they themselves wanted uncontested control over the working class. Jewish national aspirations were received sympathetically, however, by the socialists of other oppressed nationalities, mainly the Ukrainians, Croatians, and Slovenians.

 

The principal early twentieth century Marxist theorist of the Jewish Question was Karl Kautsky. And even when most of his writings had been repudiated by Lenin and the Communists when Kautsky, prophetically, criticized the totalitarianism of the Bolshevik revolution, his formulations on Jewish nationalism were retained by the Comintern. In essence it was that antisemitism would be ended by having the Jews disappear into the population of the larger nations. No Jews, no antisemitism. It specified further that Zionism was counter-revolutionary because it warned Jews that they could not trust their German and Russian Gentile comrades. The Third Reich, and to a lesser extent the turn to anti-Jewish purges by the Stalin regime in Russia, should have definitively answered the validity of that judgment.

 

Kautsky, like Otto Bauer in Austria, discarded Marx's theory of the historyless peoples, doomed to national extinction, to be swallowed up by larger and more progressive ethnicities, again excepting the Jews. Even here, it was evident that the projected assimilation was taking place only in Western Europe, in Germany, Austria, and France, however false that assimilation would soon prove to be. There was no comparable process taking place in Russia and Poland. Kautsky propounded the theory that Jews were not a true ethnicity or nationality but a caste, differing from their surrounding populace only by their social-economic role, hypothesizing that it is "among the castes of India that we find phenomena which correspond to the status of the Jewish community as it has been constituted since the destruction of Jerusalem and the advent of Christianity."[22]

 

This reductionist notion, that Jews share nothing but a now- or soon-to-be outmoded economic role, originated with Marx and was carried forward after Otto Bauer and Kautsky by the Jewish Trotskyist Abram Leon (1918-1944) in his posthumous The Jewish Question: A Marxist Interpretation, still considered canonical by most present-day Trotskyist groups. Leon uses the term "people-class" rather than Kautsky's far-fetched Indian caste analogy. There is, of course, some truth to this as one element in Jewish cohesion. Modern sociology uses the term middleman minority for ethnic groups that occupy a distinct economic role in another ethnicity's country. Examples include Overseas Chinese in Southeast Asia and Indians in South Africa. But no one except these Marxist doctrinaires would argue that such Chinese or Indians have no attachment to others of their ethnicity in other countries, some preservation of their heritage languages, and strong cultural links to the long history of their peoples. To deny these factors to Jews, coming from theorists immersed in dominant states with strong and growing anti-Jewish prejudice, speaks for itself.

 

Viewed through this Marxist prism, Jews were and are divided into two groups: those who embrace revolutionary Marxism and reject all elements of Jewish identity, who are rated progressive, and those who do not do so, who are ranked among the reactionaries. As Kautsky put it in 1914:

 

"We have not completely emerged from the Middle Ages as long as Judaism still exists among us. The sooner it disappears, the better it will be for society as well as for the Jews themselves."[23] This unconscionable prejudice was the gold standard of the Marxist movement long before there was a state of Israel to hang it on. And think about what Kautsky is saying here about the Jews of his own country, that the only acceptable and progressive thing for them to do is - to become Germans! After Hitler came to power many of Kautsky's Marxist comrades switched sides and helped to murder their fellow socialist Jews who had followed Kautsky's advice. It did not help that Kautsky, and the socialists and leftists who have followed in his footsteps, from Lenin to much of today's anti-imperialist and antiglobalists Left, did and do not regard themselves as antisemites. They are perfectly ready to accept without qualm Jews who have repudiated Jewish ethnic identity, or in today's parlance, who are anti-Zionist.

 

What can be said is that the expectation of the nineteenth and early twentieth century Marxists, that an imminent world socialist revolution would quickly lead to the collapse of nationalism and with it of ethnic prejudice simply did not happen. Nationalism is stronger than ever, and, objectively, Jewish nationalism is just one more, not something special that must be done away with.

 

Interestingly, Rosa Luxemburg, herself a highly assimilated Jew, despite her defense of democratic rights against the repression exercised by Lenin's government, was the most extreme of the Marxist leaders of her generation in rejecting not only nationalism but the consequent right of self-determination. Not only the Jews were not entitled to a state of their own but neither were the Poles, Ukrainians, Lithuanians, Czechs, and Yugoslavs. In 1916 she castigated "the rotting corpses" trying to "climb out of century-old graves" to try to form new nations.[24]

 

A further Marxist argument against Jewish nationalism was that the Zionist prospect for Palestine allowed for the Jewish state to include capitalists. That may have seemed decisive to the early Communist movement, but in today's world only two states are not ruled by capitalists: Cuba and North Korea. And of all those capitalist states, only the Jewish one faces calls for its destruction from the left because of its capitalist leadership. It was much later that European Marxists thought to champion Arab nationalism against Jewish nationalism.

 

Socialism in Russia

 

In Russia, Mikhail Bakunin (1814-1876), the father of the anarchist movement, was a bitter enemy of the Jews. He and his followers joined the First International in 1868, where they contested with the Marxists for a more decentralized form of socialism. His supporters had a powerful influence in Russia in the Narodnik movement and in the Spanish workers' movement through the end of the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s. He called the Jews "an exploiting sect, a blood sucking people, a unique devouring parasite, tightly and intimately organized . . . cutting across all the differences in political opinion. . . . "[25] His followers among the Narodnaya Volya (People's Will) in 1881 publicly appealed for a pogrom against "the Tsar, the nobles and the Jews," contributing to a tradition that echoes on the Left to our own day as consigning the alien Jew to the camp of the oppressors and presenting a struggle to destroy them as serving human emancipation and progress. The continuity here with medieval Jew hatred sponsored by the Church, Orthodox as well as Catholic, hardly needs to be elaborated. The executive committee of Narodnaya Volya on August 30, 1881, issued a proclamation:

 

"The damned police beat you, the landowners devour you, the kikes, the dirty Judases, rob you. People in the Ukraine suffer most of all from the kikes. . . . Wherever you look, whatever you touch, everywhere the kikes. The kike curses the peasant, cheats him, drinks his blood."[26]

 

The Russian Marxists from the last days of the nineteenth century recruited large numbers of disaffected secular Jews, but at the same time strongly opposed any national rights for the five million Jews in Tsarist Russia. This view was shared in common by Bolsheviks and Mensheviks and endorsed by Kautsky in Germany. They denied that Jews were what we would call today an ethnicity but were only a caste, easily dispersed into society if the peculiar conditions of Tsarist and Polish persecution were removed. In his "Critical Remarks on the National Question" written in October-December 1913, Lenin wrote:

 

"Whoever, directly or indirectly, puts forward the slogan of Jewish 'national culture' is (whatever his good intentions may be) an enemy of the proletariat, a supporter of all that isoutmoded and connected with caste among the Jewish people; he is an accomplice of the rabbis and the bourgeoisie. '"[27] To be clear, Lenin had no objection to Jews contributing to any country's culture. His categorical objection here rests on conceding that Jews, especially those of Russia and Poland, constituted a national minority, even in the Austrian sense, where dispersed ethnic groups without a defined territory were granted rights as national minorities.

 

Trotsky agreed with this position at the time, but by the 1930s, when National Socialism had been firmly established in Germany, changed his mind. I will return to that later.

 

Once in power, the Bolsheviks soon had to confront the fact that they had inherited millions of Jews in the Pale of Settlement. Established by Catherine the Great in 1791, it comprised parts of Western Russia, Ukraine, and Poland (under Russian rule until the end of World War I). Jews were only allowed permanent residence in the Pale, and prohibited even there from living in large cities or in agricultural areas. The Pale was dissolved only by the Kerensky government in April 1917. The Bolsheviks in power changed their position, officially recognizing a Jewish nationality along with all the other ethnicities in the proverbial Tsarist prison house of nations. There was a flowering of Communist Party controlled and censored Jewish newspapers and theatres. Under conditions of one-party rule and total party control of the press, this was a culture heavily bent toward endorsing Communist orthodoxy. But it was not antisemitic. The Bolsheviks in power tried hard to suppress anti-Jewish activity by other parts of the population.

 

The Congress of the People of the East held in Baku in September 1920, in the aftermath of the failed revolutions in Germany and Hungary at the end of the war, marked the beginning of the Communist strategy of falling back on the colonial and undeveloped world as a force that could to some degree compensate for Communist weakness in the proletariat of the advanced countries. At the congress Zinoviev called for jihad by Middle Eastern Muslims against the European powers. Not until 1979 with the Islamic Revolution in Iran would it become clear that Islamic radicals have their own goals and agenda, based on extremely conservative and religious values that reject virtually all of the goals of progressive Western leftists, Communists included.

 

By the late 1920s much of the Soviet Jewish cultural activity was curtailed. In March 1928 the government adopted a decree to establish a territory for Soviet Jews. But instead of in the historic Jewish lands of western Russia, the new Jewish Autonomous Oblast was to be placed in the remotest part of Siberia near the Korean border. Known as Birobidzhan from its principal town, this place of exile, a frozen waste in the winter and a mosquito infested swamp in the summers, never had more than 30,000 Jews living there. In the 2010 census there were 1,628 ethnic Jews, 1% of the population.

 

During World War II, in seeking Western support against Hitler, the Soviet government took another turn, now endorsing Zionism and the effort to establish a Jewish state in Palestine. At home it established the Jewish Antifascist Committee, headed by the prominent Jewish actor and theatre director Solomon Mikhoels. The Stalin regime supported the establishment of Israel in 1948, while becoming increasingly distrustful of Russian Jews at home, who, Stalin feared, might out of sympathy for Israel dissent from other Soviet policies.

 

Internationally, the USSR had no allies in the Middle East. The central leader of the Palestinians, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al Husseini, had spent World War II in Berlin broadcasting Nazi propaganda to his people. At the war's end Egypt became, along with Latin America, one of the main destinations for Nazi war criminals fleeing prosecution. Additionally, one of the USSR's aims was to force Britain and France out of the Mandates they had held since the Versailles Conference. Support to the Israeli Jews in their guerilla war against the British fit well with this option. Later, with the rise of Arab nationalism, better options appeared to which the Middle Eastern Jews were happily sacrificed.

 

In January 1948 Stalin had Mikhoels murdered. That November he shut down the JAC. On August 12, 1952, five Yiddish writers and ten others associated with the JAC were secretly executed in the basement of Moscow's Lubyanka Prison.[28] This opened an era in the USSR and its then-East European satellites of public and virulent antisemitism. Jews, most of whom were loyal Stalinists, were purged from the professions and the sciences. Many Jewish writers were killed, and Holocaust denial became common despite the Great Patriotic War against Hitler. In November 1952 the leadership of the Czechoslovak Communist Party was purged on orders from Moscow. Rudolph Slansky, the party's head, and thirteen others, 11 of them Jews, were put on trial on trumped up charges that they were Zionists and Trotskyist spies. In January 1953 six prominent Russian Jewish doctors were arrested and accused of being part of a wide-ranging Jewish conspiracy to assassinate Soviet leaders. The purge was called short only by Stalin's death. In Poland after the 1967 Israel-Arab war, the Communist Party purged virtually the entirety of its remaining Jewish membership. All Jews in Poland were declared Zionists and prohibited from teaching in public schools or universities. Many had their Polish citizenship revoked. There were by that time, of the millions before the Holocaust, only 40,000 Jews left in Poland. Between 1968 and 1971, 14,000 of these fled the country or were expelled. The official campaign was supported by the Soviet Union.

 

Under Khrushchev, the USSR became a major military supplier of Nasser's Egypt and routinely denounced Israel as a "puppet" of the United States. A pattern emerged here that has been widespread in the self-proclaimed anti-imperialist Left after the fall of the Soviet Union. This was to support Third World dictators who had made some show of opposition to Europe or the United States while at the same time withholding support or even information about the dictators' repressions of democratic movements or even Communist parties. Domestically Khrushchev had any kind of Jewish protest denounced as Zionist. Notable was the 1963 publication of Judaism Unembellished by Trofim Kichko, endorsed by the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences. This rehash of traditional anti-Jewish canards was so extreme that even foreign Communist parties demanded it be withdrawn. The protesters included Gus Hall, head of the near moribund American CP. The March 22, 1964, issue of the CP's then daily Yiddish language Morgen Freiheit quoted Hall as saying:

 

"I have not read or seen the pamphlet. I have seen only reproductions of portions of it in papers and magazines. Nor do I have any way of knowing whether the copies circulating in this country are forgeries or not. There is no doubt in my mind, however, about the anti-semitic character of what I have seen. Such stereotyped, slanderous caricatures of the Jewish people must be unequivocably condemned, whatever their source."[29]

 

At the time of the Six Day War in 1967 the Soviet press trumpeted the line that the Israeli Jews were the same as the Nazis. Brezhnev himself while the war was still in progress in a speech to military graduates said:

 

"The Israeli aggressors are the worst of bandits. In their arrogance against the Arab Population, it seems they want to copy the crimes of the Hitler invaders."[30]

 

From 1967 it became obligatory in the Soviet press to refer to the Israelis as fascists and Nazis. One only has to look at an Israeli election and the difficulty of forming a government afterwards among its many quarreling parties to see how ludicrous is the charge that this is a fascist state. The Soviet authorities, like Hamas today, soon began to claim as rightful precedent for their animosity for Israel the whole history of European persecution of the Jews. In 1975 in response to a Central Committee directive, large state editions were issued of The Creeping Counterrevolution, published the year before in Minsk by Vladimir Begun. This described the Torah as "an unsurpassed textbook of blood-thirstiness, hypocrisy, treason, perfidy and moral degeneracy - all the lowest human qualities." The Jewish religion as such, it said, calls for the enslavement of non-Jews and it is these teachings that have historically "brought calamity on the adherents of Judaism." Finally, "Zionist gangsterism," Begun wrote, was a loyal reflection of the Torah, and the synagogue everywhere "remains a potential basis for subversive activity."[31]

 

Wistrich comments on this period and its wide influence in the Western Left:

 

"Twenty years after the collapse of Soviet Communism, this antisemitic trope still lives on, mutating into the lowest common denominator of contemporary left-wing hostility towards Israel and the Jews."

 

Articles in major Soviet periodicals appeared with titles such as "Zionist Heirs of the Gestapo."[32] And fantasies of Jewish world domination little different from the 1903 Tsarist forgery, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion (still a best seller in the Muslim world), became common in the land of Communism. Lev Korneyev in the official organ of the Komsomol youth organization claimed that Zionism rested on vast wealth "being pumped out from the gold, diamond and uranium mines of South Africa, the workshops and industrial plants of Europe, America and Australia. Zionists are trying to infiltrate into all the spheres of public life, into ideology, science, commerce. Even 'Levi's' jeans are part of their operation; the profits from selling the pants are used to help the Zionists. Most of the major monopolies producing arms are controlled by Jewish bankers. The business built on blood grants them huge profits. . . . Piles of dollars multiply in the safes of the Lehmans and Guggenheims while bandits in Afghanistan poison schoolchildren with gasses. It is understandable that peace in the world is the main enemy for Zionism."[33]

 

At the Soviet Writers' Congress in December 1990, Wistrich recounts, "one could find a large number of copies of Hitler's Mein Kampf, and the Protocols, and various antisemitic speakers publicly appealed to the Army and the Communists to save what was left of a disintegrating Soviet Union that was sinking into oblivion under the sheer weight of a new 'Jewish-Zionist yoke.'" He was in Moscow that year and says he saw a great deal of this kind of thing. (p. 442)

 

The Communist Party of Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union has become an openly antisemitic organization, using "Jew" and "Zionist" interchangeably.

 

An Agence France Presse dispatch of December 23, 1998, reported:

 

"Russian Communist party leader Gennady Zyuganov lashed out Wednesday at Russian Jews, accusing them of benefiting from privatization and controlling the audiovisual media. . . . In an open letter to the head of the presidential staff, Zyuganov attacked the 'aggressive and destructive role of Zionist capital in the collapse of the Russian economy and the looting of the people's goods.'

 

"He said the Russian people were asking 'a legitimate question: how the key positions in certain economic areas were essentially given to the people of a single nationality.'"

Zyuganov is further quoted as saying "Our people are not blind, they cannot but notice that the Zionisation of power in Russia has been one of the causes of its current catastrophic condition, its massive impoverishment and the extinction of its people." Agemce France Press added:

"His comments follow earlier virulently anti-Semitic remarks by party deputies Viktor Ilyukhin and General Albert Makashov. Ilyukhin drew fire last week when he said: 'There are too many Jews in President Boris Yeltsin's entourage,' calling for quotas of national groups – including Jews – in government offices. In October, Makashov had issued a similar call for such quotas, saying there were 'at least a dozen kikes, shylocks and bloodsuckers' he would like to 'ship off to another world.'"[34]

 

Zyuganov finished second in the 1996 Russian presidential elections. In 2005 the American Communist Party strongly disavowed the Communist Party of the Russian Federation for its antisemitism, writing in its West Coast newspaper The People's World:

 

"In January 2005, some 500 prominent Russians calling themselves 'Orthodox Christian patriots' signed a letter calling on the Russian prosecutor general to launch proceedings to ban all religious and ethnic Jewish organizations as 'extremist.' Among the signatories to the letter were six members of the Russian parliament from the Communist Party of the Russian Federation."[35]

 

In 2006 thugs from the Russian CP attacked a gay pride demonstration in Moscow.

 

Socialism in France

 

The socialist movement, and its close cousin, anarcho-syndicalism, which rejected political action in preference for trade unions and the general strike, began in France and Germany. The Enlightenment was supposed to have replaced religious intolerance with Reason, but the old attitude toward Jews persisted. A leftist tradition of antisemitism was fueled by Voltaire, the paragon of the French philosophes of the eighteenth century, who declared the Jews "an ignorant and barbarous people who have long united the most sordid avarice with the most detestable superstition," and that Jews were motivated "by the most invincible hatred for every people by whom they are tolerated and enriched."

 

Charles Fourier (1772-1837), with Henri de Saint Simon one of the two most prominent initiators of the socialist tradition in France, inspired socialist experiments in both his native France and in the United States, where the best known were Utopia, Ohio, and Brook Farm in Massachusetts. He was a bitter opponent of emancipating the Jews, declaring it "doubly impolitic in that it opens the door to parasites and unproductive people, all of whom are devoted to trade and not to agriculture. An enlightened policy would have excluded these people as a social contagion." He proposed that the Jews be bound to the land as agricultural workers and only one family in fifty be permitted to enter commerce.[36]

 

Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (1809-1865) is more central to the European socialist tradition. He was the most influential thinker of French leftism and the labor movement of his day. Son of a brewer and barrel maker, Proudhon had no formal education. He was a self-taught worker in the printing trades who eventually owned several small unsuccessful print shops before turning to journalism after the revolution of 1848. Declaring himself both an anarchist and a socialist, he was the effective father of the French socialist movement. He championed local workers' control in opposition to both capitalism and the state control advocated by the Marxists. But he shared with the whole of the far left a hostility to political democracy. Marx both admired Proudhon and disputed his economic theories, writing The Poverty of Philosophy as a critique of Proudhon's The Philosophy of Poverty. On the Jews, Proudhon in December 1847 in his diaries wrote:

 

"Jews - Write an article against this race which poisons everything, by meddling everywhere without ever joining itself to another people - Demand their expulsion from France, with the exception of individuals married to Frenchwomen - Abolish the synagogues; don't admit them to any kind of employment; pursue finally the abolition of this cult.

 

"It is not for nothing that the Christians call them deicides. The Jew is the enemy of the human race. One must send this race back to Asia or exterminate it. . . . By fire or fusion, or by expulsion, the Jew must disappear."[37]

 

These views propagated through the French socialist movement for generations. Proudhon's antisemitism was championed by central leaders who were his disciples, notably Alphonse Toussenel (1803-1885) and Pierre Leroux (1797-1871). A signal account of this history can be found in George Lichtheim's "Socialism and the Jews" in the December 1968 Dissent and included in his Collected Essays.

 

Toussenel, Lichtheim writes, "became the pioneer of a literature which linked the medieval image of the Jew as usurer to the populism of a society suddenly plunged into the maelstrom of early capitalism." In his pamphlet Les Juifs rois de l'epoque (The Jews, Kings of the Epoch, 1845 and 1847) Toussenel declared, "Europe is entailed to the domination of Israel. This universal domination, of which so many conquerors have dreamed, the Jews have in their hands."

 

Leroux was more complex. A lifelong socialist, he died during the Paris Commune and was buried by the Communards with high honors. A devout Christian, he studied Hebrew and admired the Jews of the Old Testament, but promoted the opinion that contemporary Jews had become possessed of "a spirit of greed and cupidity" and that as a group they lived by the exploitation of others.

 

In 1869 Proudhon's pupil George Duchene was to write of the Russian pogroms: "Citizens when you hear it said that in a notoriously barbarous country the population treats the Jews roughly, do not believe one treacherous word. What you have is simply a case of honest people chasing rascals, usurers, exploiters of labor; religion has nothing to do with this act of high justice."[38]

 

Louis Auguste Blanqui (1805-1881) became famous for the theory - and practice - of the revolutionary putsch. He took part in the July revolution of 1830, was imprisoned, released just in time to take part in the revolution of 1848. Imprisoned again, he sent a letter from prison to London social democrats that was published with an introduction by Karl Marx. While in prison again he was elected, in absentia, president of the Paris Commune of 1871. He spent half of his long life in prison. Despite these inspiring credentials, Blanqui and his followers were the ones to introduce the new racial antisemitism into the French labor movement. Blanqui's chief lieutenant, Gutave Tridon, in his Du Molochisme juif (On Jewish Molochisme), written in 1868 but published only posthumously, in 1884, branded the Jews the "evil genius of the world" and, in Wistrich's summary, accused them of "cannibalism, ritual murder, and human sacrifice."[39] He called on the "Indo-Aryan race" to do battle with the Semites. The Blanquists strongly opposed support to Dreyfus during his long fight for justice, which lasted from 1894 into the early years of the twentieth century.

 

The first Marxist party in France was the Parti Ouvrier Français (French Workers' Party), formed in 1880 by Jules Guesde and Paul Lafargue. Socialist groups to both its right and left held openly antisemitic views. On the left there were the putchist Blanquists, on the right the moderate socialist Benoit Malon with his Revue Socialiste. Malon was a good friend of Edouard Drumont, a leftist who soon became the country's most militant Jew hater. Drumont published his scurrilous pamphlet denouncing the Jews, La France juive, in 1886. Lichtheim writes:

 

"Thus when Malon introduced Drumont to Parisian workingmen, he followed a consistent line, just as he did in throwing his Revue socialiste open to the notorious anti-Semite Auguste Chirac." It is wrong to assume that this can be excused as just the general prejudices of the day. Open antisemitism was strong on both the Left and the conservative Right, but, as Lichtheim says, "Respectable bourgeois liberalism . . . had always been immune to the noisier and more vulgar forms of anti-Semitism."[40]

 

The French socialist Left was generally indifferent to or tolerant of antisemitism. It was compelled to take a position by the Dreyfus Affair, which broke out in 1894 and was not concluded until 1906. Captain Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish artillery officer, was convicted of treason for allegedly handing French military secrets to the Germans. He was sentenced to life in prison on Devil's Island. In 1898 new evidence showed that Dreyfus had been falsely accused and this then covered up by the military high command through a series of palpably forged documents intended to incriminate him. The main Marxist wing of the French Workers Party, led by Jules Guesde, took the position that the antisemitism in the case existed but was irrelevant and that the workers' movement had no interest in Dryfus. A strong majority of the party took this view, some of their parliamentary delegation even supporting Dreyfus' conviction. The minority was led by Jean Jaures, who campaigned with the Dreyfusards, those who declared Dreyfus innocent and demanded justice. The proletarians in the party mostly sided with Guesde, while, as Lichtheim writes, "Jaures acquired a larger following among schoolteachers and students than among manual workers."

 

Even those socialists (and anarchists, who were still a sizable current in late nineteenth century France) who campaigned for Dreyfus' release carefully skirted the issue of his Jewishness. Lichtheim explains their consideration:

 

"So far as the Jews belonged to any stratum of French society, it was primarily the middle or lower-middle class. To that extent the Jewish problem was of no particular concern to the labor movement. The way out of the dilemma was that adopted by the Anarchists in 1898-1900, when (after some soul-searching) they sided with the Dreyfusards in the name of liberty, while refusing to pay special attention to the Jewish issue."[41]

 

That is, even the best of the French socialists could only bring themselves to join with Dreyfus' defenders on the grounds of abstract justice, and shrank from taking the unpopular step of insisting that Jews should not be persecuted because they are Jews.

 

Wistrich devotes an entire chapter to the French Jewish anarchist Bernard Lazare (1865-1903). As a strongly assimilationist Jew, in his youth Lazare wrote bitter articles distinguishing the Jews who had long resided in France and absorbed its culture, who he called Israelites, from the more recent Jewish immigrants from Poland and Russia, declaring:

 

"Russian usurers, Galician tavern-keepers and money-lenders, second-hand peddlers from Prague, Polish horse-dealers, money-merchants from Frankfurt, what do they mean to me, a French Israelite? In the name of what supposed fraternity should I care about measures taken by the Tsar against subjects who appear to him as harmful?" He was even friends with Edouard Drumont, the self-proclaimed leftist whose populist left-seeming antisemitism was later perfected by Hitler.

 

Lazare was changed profoundly by the Dreyfus Affair. He became an early and prominent defender of the prisoner on Devil's Island. He concluded that the leftist demand for total assimilation and the dissolution of ties between Jews as a group simply reaffirmed the prejudices of the antisemites. Jews couldn't be any good if even the far Left wanted them to disappear. Further, assimilation disarmed the Jews, as the antisemites didn't care if the Jew they hated was religious or not, part of a Jewish community or an isolated secular individual. If, because he was assimilated and had no community ties, all the easier to strike him down.

 

In contrast to the socialists, of whom at least a significant minority defended Dreyfus, the anarcho-syndicalists, for whom Georges Sorel (1847-1922) was the principal ideologist, strongly opposed his acquittal, and explicitly because he was a Jew. After it was over, they called a mass meeting in Paris in April 1911 advertised as "a great anti-Jewish and anti-Masonic demonstration." Sorel, an iconic advocate of political violence, late in life was an outspoken admirer of both Lenin and Mussolini. His followers were a crossover current between trade union leftism and fascism. Wistrich writes of him:

 

"Between 1908 and 1914 he was one of the driving forces of the Cercle Proudhon which attacked democracy as a 'Jewish' invention that had substituted 'the laws of gold for the laws of blood.' Like the integral nationalists and monarchists of Action Français, the anarcho-syndicalist Sorel blamed Jews for the decomposition of traditional European culture, linking them to the nefarious impact of liberalism, capitalism, and rationalism."

 

It would be a mistake to think that the stereotypical Jew-hating views that proliferated in the Soviet Union and its satellite countries of Eastern Europe from the end of World War II were confined to the declining Soviet Empire. The French Communist Party, a loyal channel for Moscow propaganda, emerged from the war with 500,000 members. By 1959 it became the largest party in the country, with 26.2% of the vote and 159 seats in the National Assembly. Even in decline it remained in many ways dominant in the French Left, and still won 15% of the vote in the 1981 presidential elections. Hatred of Israel and uncritical endorsement of the Arab cause was and is virtually obligatory for any French progressive. In 2009 the French CP at an event where they were distributing face masks to protect against swine flu had the masks stamped "State of Israel.Criminal State"; 600,000 people attended the event.[42]

 

And on September 16, 2012, the director of the French CP's newspaper L'Humanite, Patrick Le Hyaric, in his closing speech to Fête de l'Huma, described the crude anti-Islam film ridiculing Muhammad, against which Muslim demonstrations had already cost many lives, as "produced by an Israeli fundamentalist." In fact it was produced by an Egyptian Coptic Christian. Bernard-Henri Levy in the Huffington Post asks of Hyaric, "isn't he also participating in the stigmatization that allows angry demonstrators to come to shout 'death to the Jews' in front of an embassy in Paris? Fighting the new antisemitism entails demanding an apology from Le Hyaric, the deputy, and beyond him, from the French Communist Party."[43] Levy makes it clear that this is not just a matter of words, as mounting physical attacks on French Jews, mainly by Muslim immigrants, have turned "synagogues, kosher grocery stores, Jewish schools . . . not only in Paris but throughout Europe" into "entrenched camps."

 

The Contemporary Left

 

I am dating the contemporary Left from the 1960s with the emergence of the New Left and of the various Maoist sects and a revival of Trotskyist groups that coalesced in that period, as well as fairly broad currents in Europe and the United States influenced by these tendencies, often without attribution. The most extreme of these various currents share what Wistrich calls Holocaust inversion, that is, referring to Israelis as Nazis, circulating cartoons in which swastikas have been painted on Israeli flags or political figures, and a preference for Hamas and Hezbollah, which fight for the eradication of Israel, in preference to the now more conciliatory Palestine Liberation Organization, which supports a two-state solution.

 

In the 1967 war it was the Arab side that threatened genocide, the Jews who fought a defensive war against multiple states whose stated aim was their destruction. Most analogies with Nazis are false, but this one is particularly vicious. For anyone who knows anything about the Nazis, even from watching old movies, they are distinguished from other repressive regimes above all other things by the Holocaust, the state organized murder of six million Jews. Any comparison to them implies that the target is guilty of committing or preparing to commit mass murder on a genocidal scale.

 

Even before the Holocaust, Nazi treatment of the German Jews went far beyond anything Israel has done to the Palestinians, even in Gaza. There were the Nuremburg Laws of 1935, which made it a crime for a Jew to marry a Gentile, which specified prison for a Jew having sex with a Gentile ("defilement of blood"). This was later changed to the death penalty. Jews were barred from employment as lawyers, doctors, or journalists, and prohibited from using state hospitals or entering a public park, library, or beach. It was illegal for Jews to be educated in a state school past the age of fourteen. Then there was Kristallnacht in November 1938 in which Jewish stores where smashed and 30,000 Jews were arrested and deported to concentration camps. From 1939 all Jews were required to wear the yellow star.

 

In the real world today, Jews, beyond a miniscule token number, are prohibited from living in any Arab Muslim state. That is not Nazism, but this Judenrein policy is closer to it in its racialist spirit than the legal system and practice of the Israeli Jews. And the attitude of the Arab states toward Jews has historically been shared to an even greater degree by the Palestinian groups. In Israel, 20 percent of the population, close to two millions, are Palestinians. There is some discrimination against them, but nothing to the degree of the treatment of Jews in the Arab countries, much less the treatment of the Jews by the Nazis in the 1930s, before the Holocaust. The Israeli Palestinians have their own newspapers, political parties, businesses, and elected members of the Knesset, the parliament. Even the Palestinians of the occupied territories, that were the outcome of the Arab attempt to destroy Israel in 1967, have their own businesses, schools and universities, mass media, choose their occupations freely, and have mutually consensual sex with whom they wish including with Jews.

 

As long as Yasser Arafat lived, which was until November 2004, thirty-seven years into the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, the official goal of the PLO, in Arabic if not always in English, was to destroy Israel and expel the Jews. Even the most liberal of the Jewish politicians in Israel, who were prepared to trade land for peace, had as a minimum that placing the West Bank and Gaza, for the first time in history, under Palestinian control, had to be in exchange for an agreement to leave the Jewish territory alone, not for this to be the first step in yet another Arab attempt at conquest.

 

Destruction of Israel and expulsion of virtually all the Jews remains the stated goal of Hamas in Gaza and of several of the lesser Palestinians organizations, such as Islamic Jihad, joined by Hezbollah on Israel's northern border, and Iran, as well as a great many authoritative political and religious figures even in the two Arab states that have peace treaties with Israel, Egypt and Jordan, not to mention Saudi Arabia, Syria, and elsewhere in the Muslim world.

 

Polls show that majorities of both Israelis and Palestinians support a peaceful settlement in the creation of two separate states. A Gallup poll published on March 21, 2013, found that 52% of Jewish Israelis, 70% of West Bank Palestinians, and 48% of Gaza Palestinians favored "a situation in which an independent Palestinian State existed alongside an independent state of Israel." Among non-Jewish Israelis, the two million Israeli Palestinians inside the 1967 borders, support ran to 85%.[44]

 

Why, then, doesn't it happen? While the status quo continues, the Palestinians have by far the worst of it, with checkpoints and restrictions in the West Bank and the far more severe embargo in Gaza. The two sides have come very close several times, starting with the Oslo Accords back in 1993. Once or twice the differences were almost as small as territory the size of a football field. On the Israeli side there is a right-wing minority, overly represented in the government, that still aspires to have Israel retain all or most of the West Bank. In part this is for religious reasons, looking back to biblical Israel, but also because 1967 Israel was only ten miles wide at its narrowest point, easily split in half by a concerted military drive from the West Bank.

 

On the Palestinian side the Fatah leadership even in the days of Oslo cherished the hope that if it waited long enough its allies in the Arab states would become strong enough to make one more assault and win for the Palestinians the whole of the land, from the river to the sea as they liked to put it.

 

Today the most promising sign has been the moderation of Fatah, its renunciation of armed struggle and its commitment to the two-state perspective. The problem on the Palestinian side is the split with Hamas. In the 2006 Palestinians municipal elections, an extreme rarety in Palestinian political life, Hamas won 76 seats to Fatah's 43. Hamas in its election manifesto offered Israel a ten year truce, a hudna in Islamic parlance, after which it pledged to resume the armed struggle to destroy it. When in June 2007 Hamas seized control of Gaza the unity government with Fatah collapsed. The joint parliament has not met since, and Mahmoud Abbas's term as Palestinian Authority president has long since expired. Hamas resumed its rocket and mortar shelling of Israel shortly after it took power in Gaza, rendering void the election pledges it had made. This makes it completely unclear what the future leadership of the Palestinians will look like.

 

Plainly the occupation is intolerable. The problem with Gaza from the Israeli perspective is equally so. If an end to the embargo would result in peace with Hamas, far more Israelis would support it than do now. Even under the embargo, Hamas and the still more radical Islamic groups to its right, used Gaza as a base for a steady rain of missiles - more than 3,000 had been fired by the time Israel invaded Gaza in 2009. Hamas remains pledged to armed struggle against Israel as a whole and would presumably use a lifting of the embargo to stockpile even more destructive weapons into the impoverished enclave. Then all of Israel's options would be bad ones.

 

A similar situation existed in Sri Lanka, where a twenty-five-year civil war was fought between the majority Sinhalese Buddhists and the minority ethnic Tamil Hindus, who were demanding independence. Like the Jewish-Palestinian dispute, religion inflamed the conflict and made it irresolvable except by the total crushing of the weaker combatant. Like the Palestinians, the Tamil Tigers used suicide bombers, and more than 100,000 people were killed in the course of the civil war, which reached its conclusion in the spring of 2009, just a few months after Israel's invasion of Gaza.

 

The Sinhalese dared to do what the Israelis did not. The Tigers in January 2009 were pushed back into a small area on the northeast coast around the town of Mullaittivu. They took with them some 300,000 of their followers. The government called on the Tamil civilians to leave and go to designated "no fire" zones. Once they had separated the civilians from the Tamil combatants they shelled the civilian camps mercilessly, while barring journalists from the area, denying humanitarian aid, and even shelling hospitals. The UN estimated that 40,000 civilians were killed in the shelling. Then the Sinhalese army sent in 100,000 soldiers to kill all the combatants.[45] That put an end to the ceaseless military strikes by the Tamils.

 

I give this example not to show that there are governments that commit worse atrocities than the Israelis, but to show that in a conflict between rival ethnicities in which the weaker combatant insists that it will fight to the death, even so famously pacifistic a people as the Buddhists finally end the combat on the terms set by their opponent.

 

Israel held back, far back, from this kind of action when it invaded Gaza in 2009 to end the missile strikes. Hamas' demands are infinitely more far reaching than the Tamils, who did not demand the whole of the island of Sri Lanka and the expulsion of the Sinhalese.

 

The world was briefly shocked at the inhuman brutality of the Sinhalese. Left groups, if they noticed it at all, devoted to it an article or two, then went back to their unrelenting condemnation of every action taken by the Israelis against Palestinian militants, while presenting as heroic resistance armed actions by what Palestinians continue to undertake them. Awful as the Gaza embargo is, Israel is trying to escape being faced with the options that faced the Sinhalese. Enabling the free importation of heavier armament into Gaza is likely to set the stage for a much bloodier confrontation than the one that took place in 2009. The best hope here, which would then shift the responsibility for the blockade clearly to the Israeli side, would be if Hamas would renounce its goal of establishing a Muslim state in what is now Israel.

 

Abbas is a very old man plainly near the end of his service as PA president. He lacks the credibility to negotiate a definitive peace with Israel, which unfortunately encourages Netanyahu's right-wing government to make no effort to try, while continuing to construct settlements in the West Bank that can only be a obstacle to peace efforts in the future.

 

I deplore the Israeli occupation and strongly support the creation of a Palestinian state and the removal of the settler enclaves (except for the few very close to Israel that the PA has already agreed to permit in exchange for land swaps elsewhere). But the failure to reach an agreement, as was the case in Sri Lanka, has many causes and both sides bear responsibility. While Fatah is a secular organization and can treat the conflict as one over land, for the religious Islamists of Hamas and their cothinkers in Hezbollah, in Iran, among the Wahabi fundamentalists of Saudi Arabia, and the Muslim Brotherhood throughout the region, it is a theological dispute in which loyalty to Allah does not allow for compromise.

 

Wistrich traces the Zionism-equals-Nazism claim to the Prague show trial of 1952. The defendants, the large majority lifelong Communist activists and anti-Zionist Jews, in traditional Stalinist frame-up scenarios were accused of being Israeli agents. One of them who survived, Eugen Lobl, afterward said that the Soviet advisor, Likhatchev, told him:

 

"[Y]ou are not a Czechoslovak. You are a dirty Jew, that's what you are. Israel is your only real fatherland and you have sold out Socialism to your bosses, the Zionist imperialist leaders of world Jewry. Let me tell you the time is fast approaching when we'll have to exterminate all your kind."[46] Part of the frame-up indictment was to brand the Jewish defendants "Gestapo agents." And in a theme that became prominent in left circles later, the officials declared:

 

"When the [Czech] nation raised its voice against Zionism, they cried 'anti-Semitism' in order to cover the help they were giving to the class interests of the Jewish bourgeoisie and their ties with the imperialists through World Zionism."

 

Wistrich comments: "The Prague trial set a precedent which has had countless imitators on the Left and in the Muslim-Arab world ever since."

 

The Soviet Union on October 14, 1965, formally tabled a motion in the United Nations stating that Zionism, Nazism, and neo-Nazism, in that order, were "racial crimes."[47] After the Six Day War, Soviet propaganda regularly referred to Israel as the "successor state" to the Third Reich. This view radiated from the official Communist parties into New Left, Trotskyist, and Maoist groups to their left, and seeped from there widely into progressive circles.

 

The short-lived anarcho-communist Black Rats/Tupamaros in West Germany on the anniversary of Kristallnacht in 1969 carried out the bombing of a Jewish communal hall in West Berlin, justifying it afterward by calling for an "explicit and unequivocal identification with the fighting Fedayin" and to go beyond verbal support to the Palestinians to "pitilessly combat the combination of Fascism and Israeli Zionism."[48]

 

In December 1972 during the trial of leftist attorney Horst Mahler, a founder of the Red Army Faction, originally known as the Baader-Meinhof Group, he praised the murder of Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympic Games by Palestinian terrorists. He read a declaration that said in part, "Israel weeps crocodile tears. It has burned up its sportsmen like the Nazis did the Jews - incendiary material for the imperialist extermination policy." Mahler had been an attorney for the famed German student leader Rudi Dutschke. He was on trial for bank robbery and aiding a prison escape. The Red Army Faction revived the old Marxist position that antisemitism was the first stage of anticapitalism.

 

Another, better-known, founder of the Red Army Faction, Ulrike Meinhof, also in prison, testified during Mahler's trial. Asked about her view of antisemitism, she said it "used the hatred of the people, of their dependence on money as a medium of exchange, their longing for communism. Auschwitz means that six million Jews were murdered and carted on to the rubbish dumps of Europe for being that which was maintained of them – Money-Jews."[49]

 

Mahler, after serving a long prison term, became a neo-Nazi.

 

Two former members of the Baader-Meinhof Gang, Wilfried Bose and Brigitte Kuhlmann, who had gone on to form the Revolutionary Cells, along with two Palestinians were the hijackers in June 1976 of Air France flight 139 from Tel Aviv to Paris, diverting it to Entebbe airport in Uganda. Significantly, these German radicals released all the non-Jewish hostages, but kept and threatened to kill all those who were Jewish, whether they were Israelis or not.

 

This Holocaust inversion and the obsession with pillorying or destroying Israel is not restricted to Muslim theocrats and fringe leftists. Following are a small sample of headlines a Google search of "Israel Nazi" turns up:

 

Israel is much closer to Nazi Germany than Iran is
U.N.-Sponsored Meeting Equates Israelis with Nazis
Now Israel is 'more loathsome' than the Nazis
[Israel] The Nazis of our time
Norwegian Envoy: "Israel", Nazis the Same (from the Hezbollah website)
Yes, they are vs. Yes, of courseAre Israel Nazis? (The only two choices, each with a Star of David with a swastika inside it; 88% had voted for the "of course" choice)
British MP compares Jewish treatment of Palestinians to Nazis
Professor's comparison of Israelis to Nazis stirs furor (at UC Santa Barbara)
Syrian president sticks by Israeli "Nazism" comment
Nazi Germany Then And Zionist Israel Today (a YouTube video)
Not So Cool Facts About Nazi Israel (a YouTube video)
Glenda Jackson: calling Israelis Nazis is not hate speech
Israel Follows In Nazi Footsteps
Stop Holocaust of Palestinians by Israeli Nazis
Israel - The new Nazi State
Roseanne Barr blasts Israel as 'Nazi state'
ISRAEL - The NAZI TERROR STATE (YouTube video)
In Norway, 38% believe Israel treats Palestinians like how Nazis treated Jews
Jewish MP exposes Israel crimes worse than Nazis (YouTube video)
Guardian readers and their inalienable right to make Israel-Nazi analogies (a criticism of the London Guardian)
What are some similarities between Nazi Germany and modern day Israel? (A Yahoo Ask question)
Israeli Persecution of Palestinians Exceeded Nazi Germany Persecution of Jews in Time and Severity (opinion piece in Al-Jazeerah, under the section on Cross-Cultural Understanding, December 3, 2011)
Rachel Corrie Lawyer: Israel worse than Nazi Germany
UN investigator stands by Israel 'Nazi' comparison
Noam Chomsky on Nazi Israel (YouTube video)
How to end Israel's Nazi-inspired crimes?
UK Judge reprimanded for Israel-Nazi remarks during landmark trial
Chavez equates Israel invasion of Lebanon and occupation of Palestine with Nazi oppression of Jews
Sinn Fein hurls Nazi smear at Shatter and Israeli ambassador (Alan Shatter is the only Jewish member of the Irish parliament)
Jose Saramago compares Israel with Nazis (this one is older than the others, from 2002, when the Portuguese Nobel Laureate novelist and poet, and former Communist Party activist, compared Israel's treatment of the Palestinians with Auschwitz)

 

There is a nice discussion of this mass phenomena in an interview with British academic David Hirsh. He points out that what was distinctive and abhorrent about the Nazis was their conceiving and carrying out the deliberate physical extermination of millions of people, mostly Jews. There has been nothing like that in the Israel-Palestine conflict. Wikipedia's detailed summary of Palestinian deaths from after the 1948 war to March 2012 come to about 12,000 that can be attributed to Israeli armed forces. And during almost all of this period the Palestinians were led by armed groups that tried to seize power in Jordan, took over southern Lebanon, and had running battles with Egyptian forces in addition to attacks on Israelis. In the same period as many as 5,000 Palestinians were killed by the Egyptian army, 20,000 by the Jordanian army (in 1970-71), and more than 10,000 by Lebanese Arab forces. This places the total dead at roughly 12,000 Palestinians killed in conflict with Israel over the whole of sixty-three years, but 35,000 killed by Arab armies.[50] Compare this to Saddam Hussein's Iraq, where Saddam murdered some 250,000 of his own people and killed a million in his war against Iran, with hardly a murmur from the humanitarian Left. The Palestinians during these years were not acting like the Jews of Germany, who never were trying with guns and bombs to destroy the German state. This hardly qualifies Israel as exterminationist Nazis. Hirsh comments on why this false label has stuck so widely and been repeated so regularly by leftist and more mainstream critics.

 

"It seems to me that one of the reasons people raise that as an analogy is because they think it has a particular effect on Jews when it is said that the Jews or Israelis have become similar to those who persecuted them. And of course it does have a particular effect on Jews. It has an effect of upsetting Jews. I think that that's really the point of it, the point of it isn't to come out with a serious [analysis]. There are all sorts of serious historical analogies for the rise of Jewish and Palestinian nationalism in the Middle East. One can look at Europe in the nineteenthcentury, one can look at the breakdown of the Ottoman Empire, one can look at the Balkans, one can look at many, many things. It's not similar to Nazism. Why do people say it's similar to Nazism? They say it's similar to Nazism in order to wind up the Jews, so actually the charge that the Israelis are the new Nazis is a kind of Jew-baiting."[51]

 

The European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights in the definition of antisemitism it adopted in 2005 included "Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis" as a specific example of antisemitism. Also specified was "Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of the State of Israel is a racist endeavor."[52]

 

Of course, for every reasonable thing the United Nations does, in some other part of its rambling structure it does the opposite. The UN, after all, is a haven for Third World ideologues and despots. The January 29, 2013, Jerusalem Post reports,

 

"The UN Human Rights Council has a permanent agenda of 10 items, one reserved for condemning Israel and one for considering all other 192 UN members. Almost 40 percent of all Council resolutions condemning specific countries have been directed at Israel alone. There have been more special sessions on Israel than any other country. Israel is the only UN state excluded from full membership in any of the UN's regional groups, where key negotiations and information-sharing occurs."[53]

 

And this is the new, improved model. The previous iteration, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, was disbanded in 2006 for its obsession with Israel and its ignoring far greater human rights violations in other countries. The old commission had as members at one time or another Zimbabwe, Libya, Syria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and, the final straw that led to its dissolution, Sudan, there to point the finger at Israel while absolving itself of the massacres in Darfur.

 

Wistrich cites, almost in passing, the attack on a Paris synagogue in 1980, the machine-gun assault on a Jewish restaurant there in 1982, Palestinian terror attacks on Jews in Frankfurt, Brussels, Antwerp, and Vienna in the early 1980s, the murder of a pro-Israel Socialist municipal councilor in Vienna in 1981, the regular beatings of Jewish school children by Muslim immigrants today, especially in France, demonstrations in the United States in 2009 where Israeli flags were burned and banners linking the swastika with the Star of David were displayed, or where demonstrators shouted things like "Go back to the ovens!" And one should really not leave out the various bombings by Al Qaeda affiliates in Spain, England, and elsewhere in Europe, claimed to be striking a blow against Crusaders and Zionists.

 

Toward the end of his long presentation, in the penultimate chapter, Wistrich steps back and summarizes his case. He points again to the million Jews expelled from the Arab, Turkic, and Iranian Muslim states:

 

"This forced mass exodus of Jews from Arab lands after 1945 has been erased by those left-wing ideologues who brand Zionism with the stigma of being a Western colonialist movement. While endlessly evoking the 'injustice' towards the Palestinian Arabs, they studiously ignore the ethnic cleansing of Middle Eastern Jews from Arab states. Post-1945 Zionism is as much a Middle Eastern as a European phenomenon. It is no less a product of the Muslim intolerance towards non-Muslims than it is of Christian or Nazi persecution of the Jews. Along with the Russian pogroms and the Nazi mass murder, the mob assaults of Arabs against 'Oriental' Jews contributed a great deal to forging the 'Zionist' consciousness of what is today half of the Israeli Jewish population."

 

And while Israel's enemies misrepresent the actual ethnic composition of the Israeli Jews,

 

"Whether the rhetoric of anti-Zionism happens to be Marxist, Muslim, Christian, Third Worldist, fascist, or openly neo-Nazi, it is replete with stereotypical notions of the perfidy and diabolical cunning of the Jews; their corrosive, manipulative will-to-power; their insatiable love of gold and intrigue, mastery of hidden forces and domination of the international financial system. The more radical anti-Zionists no less than the classical antisemites are obsessed with the ubiquity and malignant impact of the Jews on the modern world."

 

And finally:

 

"Anti-Zionism in the 1970s and 1980s increasingly began to look like the leftist functional equivalent of what classical antisemitism had once represented (in the interwar period) for the fascist Right. Not only was anti-Zionism clearly the historical heir of earlier forms of antisemitism, but it was steadily emerging as the lowest common denominator between sections of the Left, the Right, and Islamist circles. This has become even more true today than it was several decades ago."

 

Noam Chomsky and the Holocaust Deniers

 

Anti-Zionism has generally been linked on the far Left with anti-Americanism, but no Left organization called for the outright destruction of America or the expulsion of its people from the land. And the accusation of being Nazis has far more often been applied to the Israeli Jews than to the United States, even by militant anti-imperialists. As always in attacks on the Jews by non-Jews, a certain number of dissident Jews play a prominent part. Notable among these has been Noam Chomsky. His bitterly hostile books opposing Israel and the United States rarely mention Nazi Germany without making an analogy to suggest that America is worse. Chomsky's character and his attitude toward not just Israel but Jews in general appeared most clearly in the Faurisson Affair of 1989-1991. Wistrich mentions this only briefly but it is worth a bit more attention as it reveals a great deal of the character of this icon of the far Left.

 

Robert Faurisson was a professor of French literature at the University of Lyon in France. He is France's best known Holocaust denier, a promoter of the claim that the Diary of Anne Frank was a forgery, that there were no Nazi gas chambers, and even that the Jews were more responsible for World War II than Hitler. He was tried under French law prohibiting Holocaust denial as racial incitement. In 1979 Chomsky signed a petition in support of Faurisson, nominally only on the issue of free speech, although the petition described Faurisson as "a respected professor of twentieth-century French literature and document criticism." Chomsky later wrote an essay in Faurisson's defense, which Faurisson used as a preface to one of his books, allegedly without Chomsky's permission. This essay went far beyond defending the right of a vicious bigot to have his say. In it Chomsky wrote:

 

"[I]s it true that Faurisson is an anti-Semite or a neo-Nazi? As noted earlier, I do not know his work very well. But from what I have read - largely as a result of the nature of the attacks on him - I find no evidence to support either conclusion. Nor do I find credible evidence in the material that I have read concerning him, either in the public record or in private correspondence. As far as I can determine, he is a relatively apolitical liberal of some sort."[54]

 

In the same essay, however, Chomsky said that he had read an article about Faurisson in the September 1980 issue of Esprit. The article referred to was by the actually respected French historian Pierre Vidal-Naquet, summarizing with detailed sources Faurisson's views, beginning with Faurisson's statement, "Never did Hitler either order or accept that anyone be killed for reason of race or religion." Vidal-Naquet then summarized the core positions proposed by Faurisson and his group:

 

"1. There was no genocide and the instrument symbolsing it, the gas chamber, never existed.

"2. The 'final solution' was never anything other than the expulsion of the Jews towards eastern Europe. . . . it was never anything more than their repatriation. . .

"3. The number of Jewish victims of Nazism is far smaller than has been claimed. . . . a few hundred thousand deaths in uniform (which is a fine demonstration of valour) and as many killed in 'acts of war' (Verite, p. 197). As for the death statistics for Auschwitz, they 'rose to about 50,000' (ibid.).

"4. Hitler's Germany does not bear the principal responsibility for the Second World War. It shares that responsibility, for example, with the Jews (Faurisson in Verite, p. 187), or it may even not bear any responsibility at all. . . .

"6. The genocide was an invention of Allied propaganda, which was largely Jewish, and specifically Zionist, and which may be easily explained by the Jewish propensity to give imaginary statistics, under the influence of the Talmud."[55]

 

Finally, to explain somewhat more of the context of Chomsky's astonishing dismissal of this kind of stuff as not antisemitic but just liberal and apolitical, it should be said that Faurisson was part of a group led by Pierre Guillaume and Serge Thion called La Vielle Taupe (The Old Mole). This was an ultraleft split off from a French Trotskyist organization called Socialism or Barbarism. They had arrived at the position, not so far distanced from Chomsky's own writing, that the United States and its allies in World War II were ultimately worse than either Hitler Germany or Stalinist Russia, and they had gone into the business of publishing Holocaust denial material of all sorts. La Vielle Taupe was Faurisson's publisher. And Chomsky's association with this bizarre sect was not limited to his essay on Faurisson's non-antisemitism. He offered the group's founder and leader, Pierre Guillaume, the rights to his The Political Economy of Human Rights (coauthored by Edward Herman). Chomsky later vociferously denied this, saying that the French edition of his book was published by J-E Halier/Albin Michel, but the book itself lists Holocaust denier Pierre Guillaume as the director of the project.[56]

 

Chomsky carried on a fairly extensive correspondence pursuing his defense of Faurisson, quite explicitly going beyond the mere free speech issue he generally claims was his interest. In a letter to Australian William Robinson he wrote:

 

"I see no anti-Semitic implications in denial of the existence of gas chambers, or even denial of the holocaust. Nor would there be anti-Semitic implications, per se, in the claim that the holocaust (whether one believes it took place or not) is being exploited, viciously so, by apologists for Israeli repression and violence. I see no hint of anti-Semitic implications in Faurisson's work."[57]

 

This is not Chomsky's only connection to antisemitic publishers. He permitted the openly pro-Nazi Noontide Press to publish an edition of his The Fateful Triangle: The United States, Israel and the Palestinians. The blogosphere is full of denials of this by his loyal followers, but the proof is not hard to find. The first edition, in 1983, was by the left-wing South End Press, but the Noontide Press edition was dated June 1, 1986. It carried the ISBN number0317530240 and the national ISBN database retains a record of it.[58] It can also be found in Google Books, and I have seen two copies for sale at exorbitant prices through Amazon UK.

 

For the record, Noontide Press is the publishing arm of the Institute for Historical Review. Both press and institute were founded in 1978 by Willis Carto. The Southern Poverty Law Center lists them as hate groups, while the Wikipedia describes Carto as "the leading organizer of modern American anti-Semitism." Noontide's offerings specialize in Holocaust denial but include The Protocols of the Elders of Zion and Hitler's Mein Kampf. Their current catalog includes books opposing school integration and nonwhite immigration, proving the racial inferiority of nonwhites, supporting the European New Right's denunciations of existing democratic institutions, lots of white identity politics depicting American whites as the biggest victims of the present system, and even a book by Martin Luther King's assassin, James Earl Ray, claiming he was framed by the government. They used to also feature several of Chomsky's audio cassettes against Israel, but his work no longer appears.

 

To be exact, Chomsky is not himself a Holocaust denier, though he has been more than evasive on this subject. What he is is an antisemitism denier. As Oliver Kamm puts it, "His disaffection from genuinely progressive values - the values that the United States at its best effectively promotes . . . is so extreme that it leads him to see not only 'no enemies on the Left' but also 'no enemies amongst the enemies of my enemies' - even if it puts him alongside men who whitewash Nazi genocide."[59] Sadly Chomsky, this embittered left antisemite, retains his credibility with much of the far Left. He remains, for example, on the list of Advisory Editors of the American Trotskyist journal Against the Current, published by the Detroit-based Solidarity, which describes itself as "A socialist, feminist, anti-racist organization."

 

Trotskyists and Anti-Zionism

 

I began this review with the American Socialist Workers Party's call in 1967 for the destruction of the State of Israel. For historical reasons the Trotskyists have been among the worst on the left in their embrace of Islamic radicalism and hostility to the Jewish state. One reason for this is that, with the exception of Stalin's so-called Third Period, between 1928 and the consolidation of Hitler's power after 1933, when the Comintern expected imminent European revolution and adopted an ultraleft policy, the Trotskyists have always characterized the official Communist parties as class-collaborationist and conciliatory toward capitalism and imperialism. That is, the Trotskyist groups have on virtually every issue and for some eighty years, consciously positioned themselves to the left of the official Communist parties.

 

Rather than establishing true independence from Stalinism, there existed an undercurrent of rivalry in which the official stance of the pro-Moscow Stalinists (the pro-Peking variety were, in the Mao years, too crazy to become even a negative pole) became the starting point for a critique from further to the left. If Moscow insisted that Israel was an illegitimate bastion of imperialism, could the Trotskyists say less? And if Moscow supported Arab nationalism, then the Trotskyists would raise them one and at least impute to Arab militancy an inherently communist dynamic. This last had a very small plausibility in the days of Nasser and secular Arab nationalism. It became an unholy alliance when secularism gave way to right-wing theocratic Islamism. At the least it generated endless exercises among the English-speaking Trotskyists in patronizing the jihadi movement, forever insisting that they don't really mean anything they say about the Jews, they are just an oppressed people blindly responding to repression by Jewish agents of American imperialism.

 

The worst example of this has been the British Socialist Workers Party. The principal British antiwar group, the Stop the War Coalition, was founded and dominated by the British SWP. Like its American cousin, A.N.S.W.E.R. (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism), founded and run by another Trotskyist splinter, the Workers World Party, the Stop the War Coalition succeeded for some times after its creation, shortly after 9/11 back in 2001, in sponsoring some large antiwar rallies. Both are supporters of the Sunni-Al-Qaeda insurgents in Iraq against the Shi'ite majority and the large Kurdish minority. The British SWP also supports Hezbollah and calls for the destruction of Israel.

 

The Stop the War Coalition under SWP leadership formed a close alliance with the Muslim Association of Britain (MAB). The MAB was founded in 1997 by Egyptian-born Muslim Brotherhood member Kamal El Helbawy, together with former Hamas commander Mohammed Sawalha, Azam Tammimi, who had worked for the Brotherhood in Jordan, and Anas Al Tikriti, the son of the head of the Muslim Brotherhood in Iraq.[60] The MAB is not the most radical Islamic organization in Britain, which is known for its jihadi extremists, but it is an advocate of Sharia law to replace parliamentary democracy in national government, and advocates the slogan "Zionists out of Palestine." With Sharia law, the MAB is hostile to gays and proscribes women's rights. It is perhaps not surprising that in recent months the British SWP has been in deep crisis over accusations that one of its top leaders has been raping women members, then getting himself cleared by an investigating committee of his cronies.

 

Here I want to digress for a moment to return to Leon Trotsky's evolution on whether Jews legitimately constitute a nationality, and if so, where to put them. In an interview with Jewish correspondents in Mexico on January 18, 1937, the old revolutionary said:

 

"During my youth I rather leaned toward the prognosis that the Jews of different countries would be assimilated and that the Jewish question would thus disappear in a quasi-automatic fashion. The historical development of the last quarter of a century has not confirmed this perspective. Decaying capitalism has everywhere swung over to an exacerbated nationalism, one part of which is anti-Semitism. The Jewish question has loomed largest in the most highly developed capitalist country of Europe, in Germany. . . .

 

"And how, you ask me, can socialism solve this question? Once socialism has become master of our planet or at least of its most important sections, it will have unimaginable resources in all domains. Human history has witnessed the epoch of great migrations on the basis of barbarism. Socialism will open the possibility of great migrations on the basis of the most developed technique and culture. It goes without saying that what is here involved is not compulsory displacement, that is, the creation of new ghettos for certain nationalities, but displacements freely consented to, or rather demanded by certain nationalities or parts of nationalities. The dispersed Jews who would want to be reassembled in the same community will find a sufficiently extensive and rich spot under the sun. The same possibility will be opened for the Arabs, as for all other scattered nations."[61]

 

Trotsky was a brilliant individual who had become embedded in a system that claimed to be liberating but which left behind on its collapse, or transmogrification into a strange hybrid form of capitalism, as in China, more than a hundred million corpses, more than half of those after his death - in the USSR in Stalin's last years, in Mao's China, and, on a smaller scale, in Pol Pot's Cambodia. Trotsky was honest enough to see that the Jews genuinely were a nationality, not just a religion or an economic caste as the Marxists before him theorized. And he was perspicacious enough to see that reuniting any people currently dispersed among others in a single state or divided among several states - a condition that affects many more ethnicities than the Jews, although they are the extreme example - could be resolved only through the massive exchange of populations, to clear out one ethnicity from enough land to concentrate the one being newly established in a single territory. Where fantasy overwhelms his sense here is the idea that under socialism this would be "freely consented to." This was never true, in the Ottoman expulsion of the Greeks from what is now Turkey, although Byzantium had been there for a millennium before the Turkic tribes arrived, in Stalin's massive resettlement of entire peoples in the Soviet Union, such as the Volga Germans and Crimean Tatars, or in the religious partition of Cyprus, to mention just a few examples.

 

Trotsky, who had led the Soviet Red Army in the USSR's founding, certainly understood that, even under a socialist government, whole groups of people were likely to oppose losing their land to make room for others solely in response to arguments about the greater good. He confronted this directly in an interview first published in 1934 and included in the pamphlet quoted above. The interviewer asks Trotsky directly for his opinion about Palestine as a possible Jewish homeland. Trotsky responds:

 

"I do not know whether Jewry will be built up again as a nation. However, there can be no doubt that the material conditions for the existence of Jewry as an independent nation could be brought about only by the proletarian revolution. There is no such thing on our planet as the idea that one has more claim to land than another.

 

"The establishment of a territorial base for Jewry in Palestine or any other country is conceivable only with the migration of large human masses. Only a triumphant socialism can take upon itself such tasks. It can be foreseen that it may take place either on the basis of a mutual understanding, or with the aid of a kind of international proletarian tribunal which should take up this question and solve it."[62]

 

This is a remarkable statement. As we have seen, the Marxist movement of the past opposed Zionism on two grounds: first, that the Marxists disbelieved that Jews could still constitute themselves as a nation, and second, that Zionism, by establishing separate organizations for Jews in European countries and encouraging Jews to emigrate to Palestine interfered with the unitary command the Marxists tried to establish over the workers' movement. Also as we have seen, after the Russian Revolution, when the tasks at hand shifted from mobilizing an opposition to the existing government and became administering a multinational state, Lenin changed his mind and agreed that the Jews, in fact, were one of the constituent nationalities of the USSR, not just a religious denomination.

 

Trotsky takes this a step further here, agreeing that if the Jews should desire it, a world socialist government would allocate land for them to bring together those Jews who desired to from all over the earth, and that whatever peoples were already in the selected destination would have to move to make room. Further, that this could be done in Palestine. This plainly means the emigration of Russian, Polish, German, and other European Jews to join the existing Middle Eastern Jews dispersed among the Muslim countries, "the migration of large human masses." And when he states, in the context of considering the migration of large human masses of Jews into Palestine, there is no mistaking his meaning when he also says "There is no such thing on our planet as the idea that one has more claim to land than another." The future socialist ubergovernment will allocate territory according to its overall plan just as it will allocate means of production, not according to the wishes of local groups. If, in the most optimistic interpretation, everything was in accord with justice in the big picture the outcome would be justified.

 

And he goes further here and specifies what will happen under socialism if the Arab Palestinians don't agree to move elsewhere in the Arab lands to make room for the immigrant Jews: there will be an "international proletarian tribunal" which will impose a solution to the problem. These statements by Trotsky are the polar opposite of the post-1967 Trotskyist position of unconditional support to Arab nationalism and total rejection of Jewish national rights.

 

So we have Trotsky endorsing all the basic premises of Zionism, with the sole condition that they should wait to be carried out until the world socialist revolution has been completed. If, as he says, a Jewish homeland carved out of other people's land, including in Palestine out of Arab land, is a just and moral outcome, then is it unjust and immoral if it is accomplished when there is no reasonable hope of the particular agency Trotsky proposed to execute this task? At root, Trotsky plainly recognizes national rights of both Arabs and Jews, and since the Arabs have infinitely more land than just Palestine, his proposal is that justice requires them to make a population shift that will accommodate creating a territory where Jewish national rights will be dominant. It could be added that the whole experience with communism in power offers no grounds whatsoever to imagine, as Trotsky does, that a world communist government would be any more peaceful or humane than the capitalist ones that now exist in solving nationalist confrontations. In fact, quite the opposite, from the experience of the twentieth century.

 

In this same interview Trotsky refuses to regard Arab attacks on Jews in Palestine as by definition some kind of justified resistance, as his followers today generally do. That was the Stalinist position. The interviewer asks:

 

"The official Communist Party characterized, without question, the Jewish-Arab events in 1929 in Palestine as the revolutionary uprising of the oppressed Arabian masses.[63] What is your opinion of this policy?"

 

Trotsky replies:

 

"Unfortunately, I am not thoroughly familiar with the facts to venture a definite opinion. I am now studying the question. Then it will be easier to see in what proportion and in what degree there were present those elements such as national liberationists (anti-imperialists) and reactionary Mohammedans and anti-Semitic pogromists. On the surface, it seems to me that all these elements were there."[64]

 

Any mention of the existence of reactionary Muslims or Arab antisemitic pogromists, past or present, disappeared entirely from the press of all the major Trotskyist organizations after 1967.

 

A useful article tracing the American and British Trotskyists' evolution away from Trotsky's positions is Werner Cohn's "From Victim to Shylock and Oppressor: The New Image of the Jew in the Trotskyist Movement."[65] This was written in 1991, but little has changed since then.

 

Most of the American and British Trotskyist groups today have looked for some vehicle to go beyond just writing articles calling for Israel's destruction and try to do actual damage to Israel and its individual citizens through boycotts of Jewish-owned businesses or other stores that carry Israeli goods, or votes in faculty committees to bar Israeli scholars and artists from attending conferences in their field at major universities or perform or show their work outside of Israel.

 

In the United States, the currently largest Trotskyist group, the International Socialist Organization, calls for the destruction of Israel and is a strong promoter of the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement and the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (USACBI). That no other state, no matter how repressive, is the target of such a boycott effort should give people who consider themselves to be antiracist pause for thought. What is the aim of this boycott, that will satisfy its organizers? Is it directed at the settlers in the West Bank, or the Israeli embargo of Gaza? The ISO explains that the Academic and Cultural Boycott will not end "until the illegal Israeli occupation is ended, the 700-meter apartheid wall is torn down, and the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homeland is honored," that is, until the Jewish state is dismantled and replaced with a Palestinian Arab one.[66]

 

Even Mahmoud Abbas, head of the Palestinian Authority, has conceded that the long-held Palestinian demand for the return of all Palestinian refugees and their descendents, which would create an Arab majority in Israel, is not a reasonable demand. He and the Israelis have been arguing over the reduced numbers, with the Israelis proposing 50,000 and the PA proposing 500,000. The original demand by the Palestinians, which the ISO states as the goal without which the boycott will not be satisfied, would, with the natural increase of the original 800,000 or so refugees over sixty-five years, consist of some 3.9 million Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza, and some 4.5 million in neighboring Arab countries, including half the population of Jordan, which is geographically vastly larger than Israel.

 

The ISO occasionally, tongue-in-cheek, says that the boycott movement does not call for the destruction of Israel. An article, "Standing for the Right of Return" in the January 8, 2013, issue of their newspaper Socialist Worker is quite insistent that they mean all of the refugees. They cite as their authority an article by a Dr. Heidar Eid of Gaza who strongly opposes the two-state solution and sharply criticizes Mahmoud Abbas for agreeing to anything less than the whole of the Palestinian population being returned to Israel proper. This would, of course, immediately mean a government dominated by Muslims if not by Hamas, which calls for the physical expulsion of the Jews.[67]

 

The much smaller, San Francisco-based Socialist Action is also a strong supporter of the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions) movement,[68] frequently using analogies with Nazis and apartheid South Africa in its hostile coverage of Israel. They denounce both the Palestine Authority and Hamas as capitulating to Israel, reject the two-state solution, and call for the destruction of the Jewish state.

 

Even the Detroit-based Solidarity, which I helped to found and which I have long considered the best of the lot, is on board with the boycott movement. A November 2012 statement for its Political Committee declared "it is overwhelmingly important for the international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement to step up its grassroots activism."[69]

 

There is one curious exception to this pattern. It comes from the (American) Socialist Workers Party, the granddaddy of the destroy-Israel position on the American Left. Much shrunken since its heyday in the mid-1970s, it reputedly is down to barely a hundred members. In the spring of 2009 it began to back-pedal on its Israel position. In the April 6, 2009, issue of its newspaper The Militant it ran an article headed "Israel boycotts and divestment serve as cover for anti-Semitism."[70]

 

The article specifically singles out the International Socialist Organization and the Workers World Party. It points to the "Israeli Apartheid Week," then in its fifth year, as well as the BDS campaign, writing:

 

"The character of these activities - aimed increasingly at Jewish-owned businesses - is part of the deepening pattern of Jew-baiting and anti-Semitism in the middle-class left worldwide. It should be opposed." The author cites as a particularly bad example the looting by a BDS group of a London Starbucks. The owner of the Starbucks chain is Jewish. The Militant also, remarkably, disputes the continually repeated charge that Israel is an apartheid state similar to white South Africa:

 

"There are sweeping differences between the apartheid regime in South Africa and the capitalist regime in Israel - in terms of organization of labor, the character of the regimes, and the historical conditions under which they emerged. The attempt to paint them as the same simply obfuscates the real social and class relations in Israel and the tasks facing the toilers there to chart a revolutionary course forward. Applied to Israel the term 'apartheid' is simply an epithet, rather than a scientific description of a social structure." It also laments the "increasingly open support for Hamas" by the ISO, quoting from the Hamas charter the claims that Jews "were behind the French Revolution, the Communist revolution . . . . World War I," and etc.

 

The line of reasoning in this and subsequent articles seems clear enough. In South Africa the African National Congress of Nelson Mandela sought explicitly to make a place in a post-revolutionary South Africa for the formerly dominant whites. Hamas does not have the same perspective toward the Israeli Jews, instead promoting a classical exterminationist antisemitic line. The Militant in several articles dares to say what most anti-Israel leftists deny, that "increasingly the term Zionist has come to mean Jew"[71]

 

In the April 13, 2009, Militant long-time SWP leader Norton Sandler writes:

 

"T]he term 'Zionism' - or 'Zionists' - has become a synonym for 'Jewish' or 'Jew' no matter how much those who use it try to explain it otherwise.

 

"The leaderships of much of the petty-bourgeois left in the United States, the United Kingdom, and other countries often agree with or chose to ignore reactionary Jew-baiting remarks from the leaders of Hamas or Hezbollah, or worse, make Jew-baiting remarks of their own. It is also common for them to take the anti-working-class position that workers inside Israel who are Jewish are reactionary and can never be won to support the Palestinians' fight."

 

These positions are a great deal better than much of the Trotskyist and others of the antisemitic Left. The SWP still clings to the hope for its Democratic Secular Palestine in which Jews, Muslims, and Christians will happily coexist, and which would under any plausible circumstances have a Muslim majority. But it is evident that it is realistic enough to have stopped projecting these rosy intentions on the existing Palestinian leadership. And as the Democratic Secular Palestine would be a unitary state, the SWP gives the Palestine Authority no credit for its recent acceptance and work toward a two-state solution.

 

I don't know what caused the SWP to mellow its position on the Middle Eastern Jews. One likely possibility is Fidel Castro, who the party holds in high regard. Cuba has been pretty hard-nosed in support of the Palestinians and in befriending Third World governments that are hostile to the United States, most of which are also hostile to Israel. But Castro himself draws the line at actual antisemitism. Jeffrey Goldberg in the September 7, 2010, issue ofThe Atlantic recounts his recent lengthy interview with the old Cuban revolutionary. Castro had asked for the meeting after reading Goldberg's Atlantic article on Iran and Israel.

 

Castro told Goldberg he was concerned at the likelihood of war between the U.S. and Israel on one side and Iran on the other. But he sharply criticized Ahmadinejad for his antisemitism and Holocaust denial, a criticism that Castro asked Goldberg to deliver to Ahmadinejad through his report on their discussion. He said Israel could best guarantee its security by giving up its nuclear weapons, and that all the other nuclear powers should give up theirs as well. He said to tell Ahmadinejad that he had to understand antisemitism to understand why Israelis fear for their existence. Castro went on:

 

"I don't think anyone has been slandered more than the Jews. I would say much more than the Muslims. They have been slandered much more than the Muslims because they are blamed and slandered for everything. No one blames the Muslims for anything."

 

Further, the Jews "were expelled from their land, persecuted and mistreated all over the world, as the ones who killed God. In my judgment here's what happened to them: Reverse selection. What's reverse selection? Over 2,000 years they were subjected to terrible persecution and then to the pogroms. One might have assumed that they would have disappeared; I think their culture and religion kept them together as a nation. . . . The Jews have lived an existence that is much harder than ours. There is nothing that compares to the Holocaust."[72]

 

Caudillo he may have been, and dogmatic and authoritarian. But Castro comes from a different tradition than the European Marxists, who imbibed a negative attitude toward the Jews from their national cultures, and were from the beginning hostile to Jewish national aspirations and disdaining of Jewish culture, even when they accepted assimilationist Jews into their ranks. Castro, as much a nationalist as a communist, could see the legitimacy of Jewish nationalism and from that, of Israel's right to exist, whatever bad deeds its government performs. Many governments commit bad deeds, and their peoples are not eradicated on that account.

 

Predictably, the hard Trotskyist Left has denounced the SWP's apostasy. An online Canadian Trotskyist journal called Links in its August 6, 2010, issue declared that the SWP is now "in the Zionist camp."[73] Since this type of leftist also considers "Zionist" a synonym for Nazi, make of that what you will.

 

NOTES

 


[1] http://www.marxists.org/history/etol/document/swp-us/24thconvention/zion.... As this is mainly a book review I am primarily footnoting sources other than Robert Wistrich's book. In some cases where readers are likely to be particularly interested in his source I have included that in the notes.

[2] There are various sources for this quote. I am taking it from the BBC's "On This Day," its retrospective for each day of the year, for June 5.http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/june/5/newsid_2654000/2654251.stm. Retrieved March 23, 2013. A more extended discussion of Nasser's war aims is Moshe Gat's "Nasser and the Six Day War, 5 June 1967: A Premeditated Strategy or An Inexorable Drift to War?" http://www.paulbogdanor.com/israel/gat1967.pdf

[3] For a summary by country see the Wikipedia article on "Jewish Exodus from Arab and Muslim Countries"http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jewish_exodus_from_Arab_and_Muslim_countries. There is also a substantial literature on this issue, such as The Forgotten Millions: The Modern Jewish Exodus from Arab Lands, Malka Hillel Shulewitz ed. (London: Continuum, 1999). Both the Muslim world and much of the Western Left knows and cares only about the Arab exodus from what became Israel, a double standard that obscures both the recent treatment of Jews in Muslim countries and what amounted to an exchange of populations between Arab and Jewish communities.

[4] New York Times, June 2, 1967. Also cited by Theodore Draper, Israel and World Politics: Roots of the Third Arab-Israeli War. (New York: Viking Press, 1968).

[5] Translated by the Middle East Media Research Institute. Retrieved from their website on 2-28-2013, http://www.memritv.org/clip_transcript/en/2676.htm

[7] This is Wistrich's translation. For the full text in a different translation seehttp://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1862/letters/62_07_30a.htm

[8] Engels to Marx, March 7, 1856, in Engels: Selected Writings, edited by W.O. Henderson (London, 1967), pp. 129-30, cited by Wistrich, p. 89.

[9] Wistrich, p. 90.

[10] Wistrich cites for these quotes the Marx-Engels Gesamtausgabe, the definitive edition of their collected works, vol 1, 7:29, 165, 176, and 291.

[11] Protokoll, Cologne, 22-29 October 1893 (Berlin 1891), p. 224, cited by Wistrich, p. 119.

[12] Vorwarts, March 24, 1893. All quotes from the SPD's Vorwarts are taken from Wistrich in his chapter "German Social Democrats on the Volkisch Movement."

[13] Vorwarts, December 9, 1893.

[14] Vorwarts, December 8, 1892, cited by Wistrich, p. 123.

[15] Vorwarts, August 29, 1893.

[16] Vorwarts, June 17, 1893.

[17] Neue Zeit 1 (1894-1895: 303, cited by Wistrich, p. 138.

[18] In Mehring's Aus dem literarischen Nachlass von Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels und Ferdinand Lassalle (Stuttgart, 1902), 1: 354-55, cited by Wistrich, p.163.

[19] Mehring, "Anti- und Philosemitisches," Die Neue Zeit 2 (1890-1891), cited by Wistrich, p. 164.

[20] Archiv fur Soziale Gesetzbegung und Statistik (1893): 513-14, cited by Wistrich, p. 166.

[21] Wistrich, p. 213.

[22] Die Neue Zeit, Jan 18, 1908, cited by Wistrich, p. 304.

[23] Die Neue Zeit, Oct 30, 1914. Cited by Wistrich.

[24] Cited by Wistrich, p. 363, from the German edition of her collected works.

[25] Cited by George Lichtheim, "Socialism and the Jews," in his Collected Essays (New York: The Viking Press, 1974), p. 427.

[26] Wistrich, p. 188.

[27] Lenin, Collected Works, 1972, vol. 20.

[28] Joshua Rubenstein, "The Night of the Murdered Poets," The New Republic, August 25, 1997.

[30] Pravda, July 7, 1967, cited by Wistrich.

[31] Quotations are cited in Israel Yearbook on Human Rights, vol 17 (1987), p. 138.

[32] Za Rubezhom, October 3, 1973.

[33] Pionerskaia Pravda, October 10, 1980, cited by Wistrich, pp. 437-38.

[35] " CPUSA condemns anti-Semitism," The People's World, March 18, 2005. From the online edition: http://transitional.pww.org/cpusa-condemns-anti-semitism/

[36] Nicholas Valentine Riasanovsky, The Teaching of Charles Fourier (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1969), p. 167.

[37] Wistrich, pp. 186-87, quoted from Notebooks of P. J. Proudhon.

[38] Cited by Lichtheim, Collected Essays, p. 426.

[39] Wistrich, p. 197. He gives as source Tridon's Du Molochisme juif (Paris, 1884), p. 5.

[40] Lichtheim, Collected Essays, pp. 429-30.

[41] Wistrich, p. 433.

[42] Reported in European Jewish Press, September 15, 2009. Online:http://www.ejpress.org/article/38977

[46] Wistrich, p. 449. He cites Meir Cotic, The Prague Trial: The First Anti-Zionist Show Trial in the Communist Bloc (New York, 1987), p. 219.

[47] Wistrich, p. 455. He cites Ze'ev Ben-Shlomo, "Soviets and Zionism," Wiener Library Bulletin 20, nos. 1 and 2 (Winter 1965-66), pp. 7-9.

[48] Wistrich p. 467. Also discussed in "Anti-Semitism on the Left," August 3, 2006, in the online Workers Liberty, http://www.workersliberty.org/node/6705.

[49] From the Wikipedia article on Ulrike Meinhof,http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ulrike_Meinhof , retrieved March 20, 2013.

[51] "Chip Berlet interviews David Hirsh on Contemporary Antisemitism and Conspiracy Theory." An interview taken on June 29, 2009, but first published September 6, 2012 byEngagehttp://engageonline.wordpress.com/2012/09/06/chip-berlet-interviews-davi...

[54] http://www.chomsky.info/articles/19801011.htm. From Chomsky's own website, retrieved March 30, 2013.

[55] Cited by Oliver Kamm, "Chomsky and Holocaust denial,"http://oliverkamm.typepad.com/blog/2004/11/chomsky_and_hol.html, retrieved March 19, 2013.

[56] See http://www.wernercohn.com/Chomskydocs.html for a reproduction of the data page.

[57] W. D. Robinson, "Chomsky and the Neo-Nazis," Quadrant (Australia), October 1981.

[59] Oliver Kamm, "Chomsky and Holocaust Denial," November 1, 2004,http://oliverkamm.typepad.com/blog/2004/11/chomsky_and_hol.html

[61] Leon Trotsky on the Jewish Question (New York: Pathfinder Press, 1970), pp. 26-27.

[62] Ibid., pp. 23-24.

[63] The Arab-Jewish clashes began in the fall of 1928 with Arab protests against Jews praying at the Wailing Wall, which is both the last remaining wall of Solomon's Temple and attached to the Al Aqsa Mosque, built on the Temple's foundations. Tensions escalated the following year. On August 15, 1929, a peaceful Jewish march was held to the Wall. The following day an Arab counterdemonstration there burned Jewish prayer books. Minor clashes took place over the next week, then, on August 23, Arab groups launched an armed attack on Jews in Jerusalem that quickly spread throughout Palestine. On August 24, between 65 and 68 unarmed Jews were murdered in Hebron. The anti-Jewish riots lasted until August 29, leaving 133 Jews dead. The understaffed British police intervened and in clashes with Arab demonstrators were mainly responsible for the 116 Arabs who were killed during the riots.

[64] Leon Trotsky on the Jewish Question, p. 23.

[66] From the ISO newspaper, Socialist Worker, November 21, 2012.http://socialistworker.org/2012/11/21/time-to-divest-from-israel

[71] The Militant, April 13, 2009, http://www.themilitant.com/2009/7314/731465.html

[73] "Why the left should support the boycott of Israel -- a reply to the US Socialist Workers Party" by Art Young, August 6, 2010. http://links.org.au/node/1829

The Controversy over America's Oil Future

 

Leslie Evans

For the last decade there has been growing concern among petroleum geologists, energy specialists, the Defense Department, investors, and environmentalists over the radically rising price of oil. A 44 gallon barrel of oil that sold for $12 in 1998 is going today for $95, and that understates things, as that is the American, or West Texas Intermediate, standard. This is what many in the Midwest pay, but on both coasts and much of the South, oil is going at the European Brent price, which is now at $111 per barrel.

 

Unlike climate science, where the professionals have reached overwhelming consensus that global warming is caused by human use of fossil fuels, the constituencies concerned with America's energy prospects remain divided. Those who think this finite, precisely "fossil," material is running short of world demand are proponents of the peak oil thesis. They advocate strict conservation of fossil fuels and crash investment in energy efficient technologies and renewable energy sources. Their opponents call them doomsters, while the peak oilers refer to the deniers as cornicopians. The cornicopians maintain that there are large enough untapped resources still in the ground to delay indefinitely any need to change our high energy standard of living or our economy, which depends on perpetual growth. They got a huge boost last fall when the prestigious Paris-based International Energy Agency, the 28-nation consortium that reports to the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development, on November 12 released its World Energy Outlook for 2012, predicting:

 

"By around 2020, the United States is projected to become the largest global oil producer (overtaking Saudi Arabia until the mid-2020s) and starts to see the impact of new fuel-efficiency measures in transport. The result is a continued fall in US oil imports, to the extent that North America becomes a new oil exporter around 2030."

 

 What had changed from the long decline in American oil production since the early 1970s was the fracking boom in tight oil in North Dakota and Montana.

 

The Wall Street Journal ran an editorial headed "Saudi America," airing Republican talking points venerating fossil fuels: "This is a real energy revolution, even if it's far from the renewable energy dreamland of so many government subsidies and mandates."

 

These kinds of heady promises produced lots of headlines to the effect that peak oil is a dead idea for at least the next generation and possibly for a century to come. Before we abandon renewable energy and start to binge spend on the promised new oil wealth we should remember that deals that look too good to be true usually are.

 

What the IEA Report Did and Didn't Say

 

Even the most authoritative of the mainstream press made gross mistakes in what they claimed the IEA's World Energy Outlook for 2012 said, always on the side of presenting a more positive picture of U.S. energy prospects. Richard Gilbert in the November 21, 2012, Toronto Globe and Mail lists several of these.

 

The Wall Street Journal said that U.S. current domestic production is about 18 million barrels per day (mbd) now, will rise by 2022 to 23 mbd, and that U.S. imports are currently 20 percent of its consumption. In fact U.S. crude oil output hit 6.5 mbd in 2012 and imports are running at 56% of consumption.

 

(Another set of figures come from a December 28, 2012, Dow Jones newswire. This says that U.S. crude imports in October 2012 were 8.091 mbd with domestic production at 6.820 mbd, this last an increase of 935,000 mbd from the previous year.)

 

The Washington Post said the U.S. will be almost self-sufficient and will become a new exporter by 2035. The New York Times had the U.S. becoming a new exporter by 2030.

 

The IEA actually said that North America as a whole would become a net exporter by 2030, while America would still be importing 30% of its oil indefinitely. And to get that close, the IEA's chief economist, Fatih Birol, at a London press conference cited by Gilbert, said that 45% of America's expected reduced imports would be the result of improved conservation, while the IEA's projected American increase in oil output by 2035 is only 14%. Gilbert calculated that to meet the energy efficiency standard the IEA is expecting "would require per-capita oil use to fall by more than 40 per cent, which would represent astonishing changes in how people and goods move in the U.S."

 

Kjell Aleklett, professor of physics at Sweden's Uppsala University and president of the Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas (ASPO), offers an excellent analysis of World Energy Outlook 2012, released by ASPO International November 29, 2012. He stressed that the IEA report does not say that the U.S., as opposed to Canada and Mexico, will become self-sufficient in oil. It did say that the United States would, briefly, overtake Saudi Arabia, but this claim needs some unpacking.

 

On one side, it rests on a drastic and ominous decline from the IEA's prior estimates of Saudi Arabia's contribution to world oil supply. In their 2004 World Energy Outlook the IEA had predicted the Saudi's in 2030 would be pumping 22.5 million barrels a day. Now they have scaled that back to only 12.3, and in the period between now and then, only in the high 10s. Given that total world crude output today is around 68 mbd that is an enormous setback. The year where the U.S. is supposed to out-produce the Saudis is 2020, where the IEA expects Riyadh to come up with 10.6 mbd, with the U.S. slightly ahead at 11 mbd. There is a little trick in this number, as the Saudi's are turning out real crude oil, while the projected American figure is for all liquid hydrocarbons.

 

Counting all hydrocarbons as "oil" misrepresents what they can be used for, but also significantly overstates the total energy content. U.S. totals include between 25 and 28% natural gas liquids (NGLs). NGLs refine into propane, butane, and similar fuels, good for heating but not usable to run automobiles except for a small number of specialty fleet vehicles. Natural gas liquids, apart from their limited uses, have only 70% of the energy content of crude oil. The same is true for ethanol.

 

Ted Patzek, chair of the Department of Petroleum and Geosystems Engineering at the University of Texas at Austin, breaks down U.S. hydrocarbon output as follows, using the figures for 2011 provided by the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The EIA reported that total crude oil produced by the United States for 2011 amounted to 5.7 mbd, including fracked oil from the Bakken and Eagle Ford shales. The EIA claimed a total of 10.3 mbd of all "hydrocarbons." Patzek lists the components of this 4.6 mbd of other "oil." Some 1.1 million barrels a day is refinery gains. This is a form of double counting. When crude oil is refined into gasoline, which is a much thinner liquid, it expands, like adding water to a thick soup. It doesn't increase the total amount of oil, but is counted as though it did. Next comes corn ethanol, technically not a hydrocarbon at all, which adds .9 mbd. Patzek writes:

 

"Basically, ethanol is obtained from burning methane, coal, diesel fuel, gasoline, corn kernels, soil and environment. We destroy perhaps as many as 7 units of free energy in the environment and human economy to produce 1 unit of free energy as corn ethanol, and make a few clueless environmentalists happier and a few super rich corporations richer." He adds that "your mileage would drop by 33% if you were to use pure ethanol as a fuel for your car." And by diverting human food to car fuel the price of corn is driven up, increasing hunger and the risk of starvation in poor countries. (http://www.theoildrum.com/node/9619)

 

The remaining 2.6 mbd of "other oil," 25.2% of total U.S. hydrocarbons, is natural gas plant liquids, which cannot be used for transportation fuel for ordinary cars and trucks.

 

Another reason the comparison is misleading is that the Saudis claim to have a reserve of about 2 mbd that can be used as an emergency source to stabilize world oil prices. The American output is not even all oil and has no such reserve. In any case the IEA sees the U.S. putative supremacy as very short lived, with the Saudi's in 2035 pumping 12.3 mbd while the United States has declined back to 9 mbd. And of that amount, Aleklett adds, "Around 50% of the USA's crude oil production in 2035 is to come from fields yet-to-be found."

 

The graph below was published by the U.S. Energy Information Administration in 2009. This was before the current increase in tight oil, which to date amounts to only 1.5 mbd, 8 percent of U.S. consumption and 1 percent of world consumption. But by official government estimates U.S. tight oil will reach no more than 3-5 mbd in the 2020s, equal to 4 or 5% of world demand. The source of the remaining 43% shortfall is still unknown.

 

 

Kjell Aleklett summarizes the IEA predictions for 2035 and then critiques them. Current world liquid hydrocarbon production is 84 mbd, of which 68 mbd is crude oil, the rest NGLs, tar sands, and heavy oil from Venezuela. The IEA predicts that global crude oil will decline to 65 mbd in 2035, while overall liquid hydrocarbons will rise to 97 mbd, the 32 mbd difference made up entirely of nonconventional liquids. (Non-conventional refers to the methods of extraction and processing, not to the ultimate product. Fracking tight oil from shale produces real crude oil; heavy oil from Venezuela is not real crude and must be heavily processed to be used as such; natural gas liquids, a byproduct of fracking for both gas or oil, never becomes crude oil but ends as more limited-use hydrocarbons.)

 

Aleklett challenges this on several points. He is particularly dubious of their projection that crude oil will deplete by only 3 mbd. The IEA has the non-OPEC world (Europe, Asia, the Americas except for Venezuela) essentially flat through 2035, at around 50 mbd of all hydrocarbon liquids. But the mix within that amount is marked by a massive loss of crude oil, to be replaced by non-conventional liquids. The total loss is 40%, leaving the non-OPEC bloc with only 19 mbd of crude, a decline of 13 mbd from today's levels, and even to get the 19 will depend on large increases from current levels in Brazil and Kazakhstan. The sharp declines will come mainly from Russia, down about 2.25 mbd; China, down 2.1; the U.S. and UK down about 900,000 bd each; and slightly smaller losses from Canada, Norway, and Mexico.

 

How, then, to hold the global decline to only 3 mbd and end with 65 mbd in 2035? The IEA looks to OPEC to increase its ordinary crude by 10 mbd, from 36 to 46 mbd. This is supposed to come mainly from Iraq, which they foresee adding 5.3 mbd in output between 2011 and 2035.

 

Aleklett thinks that unlikely. Iraq has not achieved the stability to count on such a large boost in output, while the other half of the prediction has to come from existing fields in other OPEC countries. He points out that the majority of new oil fields discovered in recent decades have been in non-OPEC countries, where the IEA is expecting a 40% decline, while OPEC, working with old giant fields that have been in production much longer, not only do not suffer from noticeable depletion but are tasked with coming up with a 28% increase. He writes:

 

"That we will see declining production outside OPEC and increasing production inside OPEC during the next 25 years is not logical. Once again we see the IEA telling a fairy tale about OPEC that lacks any foundation in reality."

 

At least one U.S. government agency, the National Intelligence Council, in its Global Trends 2030, released in December 2012, prophesied that oil from fracking alone would be so plentiful that by 2020 there would be "a production breakeven price as low as $44-68 per barrel depending upon the fields." This startling claim is based on some rather extraordinary expectations for tight oil output. I will return to that.

 

One major Wall Street firm, Bernstein Research, challenged the idea that tight oil is going to result in any lower oil prices, much less the half-price sale the National Intelligence Council is hoping for. In a 180-page September 11, 2012, report, "Global Oil Prices: At 'Base Camp' Before the Final Ascent," their analysts projected that Brent oil would hold steady at around $113 a barrel through 2015, then escalate to $158 in 2020, with U.S. West Texas Intermediate only $5 lower. A Reuters summary said "new supplies are too small to meet emerging market demand growth. By 2015, shale oil is forecast to constitute just 3.2 pct of global supply, up from 1.5 pct now." And in a direct quote from the Bernstein report:

 

"Emerging market demand is still robust, rising with higher wealth and mobility; in developed markets the role of fuel economy in demand destruction is overstated; conventional non-OPEC supply is increasingly mature; OPEC capacity growth will likely lag its required rate." Bernstein estimates breakeven costs for new oil wells for the 50 largest publicly traded oil companies at $92 a barrel. Canadian tar sands breakeven is $100, and even OPEC oil production cost is $94 a barrel and rising fast. Those are costs before refining, transportation, marketing and distribution.

 

How Much Oil Can They Squeeze from the North Dakota Shale?

 

The IEA is bullish not only about holding world crude deliveries to a minimal decline, but even more so in their expectations for non-conventional hydrocarbons, which would have to increase by 16 mbd to meet their postulated 97 mbd global liquid totals.

 

The main candidate to replace declining conventional crude is tight oil. Conventional oil, by definition is found in liquid form in porous rocks from which it can be simply pumped. It has been on a plateau since 2005, and the IEA, as we have seen, expect it to decline from there.

 

Tight oil, as well as shale gas, is found in shale rocks from which it is unable to flow. Richard Vodra in the January 2, 2013, investor newsletter Advisor Perspectives describes the process:

 

"Shale is a very solid rock that forms numerous thin layers. When gas is present, it is found in pores barely larger than a single gas molecule. Oil engineers have combined several technologies developed over decades to drill horizontally along a shale layer, rather than vertically through it, and to apply a high-pressure mix of water, chemicals and sand through holes in the drill pipe to shatter, or fracture, the shale, allowing the gas or oil to move to the pipe and up to the surface. Fracked wells in oil country commonly produce a mixture of oil, gas, and natural gas liquids."

 

Given the extraordinary weight given to this source in hopes for America's oil future, the two principal agencies that study these matters each have important reservations about the available data. Energy securities analyst G. Allen Brooks in a November 21, 2012, posting to Rigzone.com writes:

 

"Fatih Birol, the IEA's chief economist, said his agency's forecasts to 2017 were based on data about existing reserves and production. He warned that the geology and reservoir performance of the oil shales were 'poorly known' and he said it was unclear whether new reserves would be found to sustain production levels, let alone grow them. This is a critical consideration that underlies all the bullish forecasts for a new petroleum age for North America."

 

Brooks notes the very steep decline rates of fracked gas wells compared to conventional oil and comments that "The IEA has conducted extensive research into oilfield decline rates in the past, but we sense little of that research was brought to bear in this study. . . . there are enough qualifiers to the assumptions underlying this long-term forecast to cast doubt on how firmly to embrace the report's conclusions."

 

Similarly, representatives of the American branch of the Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas held a December 17, 2012, meeting with senior officials of the federal government's Energy Information Administration. In their December 24, 2012, ASPO USA Peak Oil Review they report:

 

"Of relevance to our concerns, we learned that the EIA information on drilling costs and other costs of oil and gas production may not be very robust. Their projection models, therefore, may grossly underestimate the significance of increasing production costs as a constraint on oil or gas supply. EIA's projection models seem to be more demand-driven than supply-driven in general. . . . Perhaps most importantly, we learned that EIA's interaction with and input from experienced experts in technical oil and gas issues may not be as regular and rigorous as it should be."

 

The National Intelligence Council's Global Trends 2030 is the most optimistic projection I have seen, claiming that for oil from fracking alone, apart from ordinary crude or deep sea drilling, "Preliminary estimates for 2020 range from 5-15 million barrels per day." An accompanying graph is even more exuberant, proposing a range for tight oil output in 2020 between 12 and 19 million barrels a day, the high end more than twice Saudi Arabia's output for November 2012 of 9.5 mbd.

 

This kind of hype is prevalent in the press. In fact the upturn in U.S. oil output, due almost entirely to fracking tight oil, restores only a fraction of the decline that set in around 1972. Oil totals then were almost 10 mbd while today, after adding about 1.5 mbd from fracked wells, it is still at only 6.5 mbd.

 

 

Richard Vodra, in the article cited earlier, suggests some reasons this rosy picture may be far from the mark:

 

"Two aspects of shale production make it radically different from conventional production. First, it takes a lot more energy (including many miles of steel tubing per well, for example) to extract energy out of these wells. Traditional wells have a ratio of energy returned on energy invested (EROI) of 10- or 20-to-one, or an energy cost factor of 5 to 10%. The EROI with fracking is in the range of 5- or 10-to-one, or a cost factor of 10 to 20%. Professor Charles Hall of the State University of New York, a recognized expert in the field, claims that modern civilization will have trouble functioning with an average EROI under 10-15, so shale oil and gas alone could not support our civilization at its current standard-of-living. EROI roughly correlates with financial cost, and the typical fracking oil well in Texas now costs over $10 million to drill, compared to less than $1 million for a conventional well.

 

"The other thing about extraction from shale is that it ends quickly. A conventional well's production declines at about 5-8% per year, and it can remain productive for decades. By contrast, the first-year decline in shale wells is over 60%, and about 90% of a well's production occurs in the first five years. That creates a 'drilling treadmill,' as new wells are needed simply to replace production from wells drilled a few years before."

 

Even the treadmill only works if there is a very large physical area in which to keep drilling the wells. The total area of the Bakken Shale in North Dakota, Montana and Saskatchewan; the Barnett and Eagle Ford plays in Texas; and the Marcellus in West Virginia, New York, and Ohio are geographically vast, but drillers are discovering that only relatively small "sweet spots" within them produce significant output. Chemist Roger Blanchard in a November 11, 2012, post on the Resilience website cites data showing that in June 2012 80.8% of total Bakken output was coming from just four of North Dakota's 53 counties, while Bakken output in adjacent Montana has been in decline since 2006. In Saskatchewan it was flat for a decade from 2000 to 2010, followed by a 2.2% rise in 2011.

 

Stuart Staniford, physicist and chief scientist at the web security company FireEye, writes on the Early Warning blog spot:

 

"I am less persuaded myself that using a thousand oil rigs to generate an extra one million barrels per day of oil is necessarily a sign of a large and long-term sustainable increase in US oil production (as opposed to, say, frenzied scraping of the bottom of the barrel)." (November 12, 2012)

 

Tom Whipple, who writes regularly on oil issues, in his December 12, 2012, column in the Falls Church News-Press (Falls Church, Virginia) reports on the just-concluded annual conference of the Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas in Austin, Texas:

 

"There are now about 5,000 wells in North Dakota, one of the two major tight oil production 'plays' that are pumping out an average of 143 b/d for each well or some 700,000 per day. Our speaker's well-by-well study of the first 2500 wells in the Bakken discussed at the conference, however, concluded that this production would drop by 38 percent within a year unless more wells were drilled. At these depletion rates, it will take 1,600 new wells per year just to stay even. In the most recent 12 months of drilling available some 1750 new wells came into production in the Bakken - leaving very few to increase production.

 

"If we assume that the decline characteristics are similar in other tight oil formations, then if production were ever to reach 3 million b/d, well over 1 million b/d of production would have to be replaced through new well drilling each year to maintain production. For this reason, the skeptical presenter at the Texas conference estimates that tight oil production in the U.S. will only reach 1-2 million b/d by 2020 - depending on price - as compared to the 4 million b/d forecast by the optimistic presenters." No one but the people at the National Intelligence Council are mooting numbers past 4 or 5 mbd.

 

James D. Hamilton, writing in the November 15, 2012, issue of the UC San Diego Department of Economics journal Economics in Action, shows that for both the United States and the broader world the more or less steady rise in crude output from the mid-nineteenth century to 2005 depended overwhelmingly on the continual opening of new areas of exploration, far more than on improvements in extraction technology. The 113-year rise in total U.S. oil output from 1859 to 1972 appears on a countrywide graph as though wells were good for more than a century of increasing volume, presumably boosted by increasingly sophisticated technical innovation. This is not true. The initial wells were in Pennsylvania in the Oil Creek District. These peaked in 1874. Ohio peaked in 1896, West Virginia in 1900.

 

Total national output kept rising as exploration kept moving west. But even there, of the four most generously endowed states, Oklahoma peaked in 1927, Louisiana in 1971, Texas in 1972, and California in 1985. Hamilton points out that despite the new tight oil gains in North Dakota and Texas, "oil production in 2011 was still less than 60 percent of what it was in 1970. And a key unknown is how quickly production is likely to decline after the initial surge. The North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources estimates that production from a given fracking well will decline 80 percent within two years of initial production."

 

Hamilton sees a similar story at the world level, where drastic declines at the end of the 1990s were temporarily offset by new finds in the North Sea and Mexico, while today "the North Sea is now only producing at about half of its 1999 level, and Mexico is down 25 percent from its peak in 2004." The current plateau, which has held steady since 2005, is now resting on finds in central Asia, Africa, and Brazil, and after that, promises from Iraq. The rapidity with which similar large fields have depleted and the large part of the globe already in decline, combined with the far more rapid depletion rates for fracked oil, lead Hamilton to see only a short future for current output levels:

 

"Optimists may expect the next century and a half to look like the last. But we should also consider the possibility that it will be only the next decade that looks like the last."

 

 

 

So now let us look more closely at the International Energy Agency's projections for America's oil future through 2032. As their graph above shows, conventional crude, at around 5.7 mbd in 2012, will decline to a bit more than 4 mbd by 2032. Some 2.2 mbd will be natural gas liquids that do not convert to gasoline, while an optimistically large portion depends on extending the current rate of increase in tight oil uninterrupted to 2020 before it begins to decline, peaking at a little under 4 mbd.

 

If we set aside the natural gas liquids as special purpose products, even the hoped for peak in 2020 would be just 9 mbd useful for transportation. If the IEA's admittedly uncertain numbers for tight oil prove to be high, the usable 2020 production for transport would fall to less than half of current daily consumption, any improvement over that dependent mainly on government efforts to prod auto makers to scale up fuel efficiency.

 

The IEA's global figures also need to be scaled back. Apart from skepticism about volumes of tight oil, rates of decline, and other grounds to lower their estimates, the most indisputable is the World Energy Outlook 2012's treatment of hydrocarbons with lower energy content as the same as actual oil. Antonio Turiel, staff researcher at the Institute for Marine Sciences of Barcelona, in research reported in the January 3, 2013, Reliance website, recalculates the IEA's own figures for 2035, correcting for the fact that liquefied natural gas, bitumen (Canada's oil sands) and ethanol "have a gross energy content per unit volume that is approximately 70% of conventional crude oil, and, for this reason must be counted in terms of 'equivalent barrels.'" This is also true of tight oil in the sense that while the end product carries the same energy as conventional crude the energy used to extract and process it must be counted as an energy cost against it, putting it in the same category as far as net energy goes. Turiel presents two graphs, the first, the IEA's own projection for 2035, the second, the same data adjusted for actual comparable energy content:

 

 

 

 

To have effective energy of only just under 70 mbd when you had counted on 97 is a shortfall of almost 28 percent.

 

Prospects for Shale Gas

 

The issues around shale gas are different from those for oil. This material is not a substitute for crude oil, and cannot be made into gasoline to run cars. It is a principal energy source for generating electricity and for heating. But supply is currently outpacing demand, due to what is called "dry gas" fracking, which has created a glut that has tumbled prices. Unlike oil, which is easily transportable and therefore priced at the world level, natural gas is localized. It can only be exported by pipeline or by the expensive process of liquefaction at ultralow temperature. U.S. (natural) gas prices started to inflate around 2000 from under $3 a thousand cubic feet (tcf) and reaching $7-10 in 2008. Then, as fracking expanded, in 2012 prices fell to under $3 for most of the year. Today shale gas provides 25 percent of U.S. natural gas consumption and is being promoted as a reliably available and cheap energy resource for utilities and manufacturing.

 

Expecting, mistakenly, that they can count on these low rates indefinitely, utility companies and factories are in process of massively converting from coal, and some from oil, for generating electricity and for heating. The press frequently opines that there is a century of plentiful and low-cost natural gas, and it is even being considered as an alternative to gasoline to fuel automobiles, which would require a massive retrofit of the country's gas stations and automobile design. (In fact, only liquefied natural gas, with its requirement of constant refrigeration, can match ordinary gasoline for driving range. Simple compressed natural gas has very limited range, more like that of electric vehicles.)

 

The New York Times in mid-2011 began to raise red flags about the economics of shale gas production, saying they had uncovered "hundreds of industry e-mails and internal documents and an analysis of data from thousands of wells" that cast serious doubts on the industry's viability:

 

"In the e-mails, energy executives, industry lawyers, state geologists and market analysts voice skepticism about lofty forecasts and question whether companies are intentionally, and even illegally, overstating the productivity of their wells and the size of their reserves. Many of these e-mails also suggest a view that is in stark contrast to more bullish public comments made by the industry, in much the same way that insiders have raised doubts about previous financial bubbles.

 

"'Money is pouring in' from investors even though shale gas is 'inherently unprofitable,' an analyst from PNC Wealth Management, an investment company, wrote to a contractor in a February e-mail. 'Reminds you of dot-coms.'

 

"'The word in the world of independents is that the shale plays are just giant Ponzi schemes and the economics just do not work,' an analyst from IHS Drilling Data, an energy research company, wrote in an e-mail on Aug. 28, 2009." (June 25, 2011, NYT)

 

The Times cites data for more than 10,000 wells that reveal a pattern of a few high-producing wells "often surrounded by vast zones of less-productive wells that in some cases cost more to drill and operate than the gas they produce is worth. Also, the amount of gas produced by many of the successful wells is falling much faster than initially predicted by energy companies, making it more difficult for them to turn a profit over the long run."

 

Rolling Stone ran a major expose of the shale gas industry in its March 1, 2012, issue, titled "The Big Fracking Bubble." It profiles Aubrey McClendon's Chesapeake Energy Corp., which right-wing owner McClendon boasts is "the biggest frackers in the world." McClendon funded the Swift Boat attacks on John Kerry, was a big donor to Rick Perry's presidential campaign, and pumped $500,000 into efforts to make gay marriage illegal. Inconsistently, he voted for Barack Obama in 2008, but not in 2012.

 

A clue about the real value of fracked gas, as Rolling Stone puts it, is that for Chesapeake Energy, "the primary profit in fracking comes not from selling the gas itself, but from buying and flipping the land that contains the gas. The company is now the largest leaseholder in the United States, owning the drilling rights to some 15 million acres - an area more than twice the size of Maryland. McClendon has financed this land grab with junk bonds and complex partnerships and future production deals, creating a highly leveraged, deeply indebted company that has more in common with Enron than ExxonMobil."

 

As an example, in 2010 Chesapeake made $2.2 billion selling land it bought in Texas for $2,000 an acre to a Chinese company for $11,000 an acre. They also made $1 billion selling the future production rights for the next fifteen years to 4,000 wells to Deutsche Bank and a Swiss investment firm. Of course, at 42 or more percent annual depletion, the wells should all be worthless long before the leases expire. Caveat emptor.

 

And there is a caveat for Chesapeake as well. Government leases require that drilling be undertaken within three to five years or the lease is forfeit. Fracking wells cost $10 million each, and the more of the early output there is, the worse the current gas glut and the lower the prices, which, at less than $3 a thousand cubic feet, are already far below costs, so that no one is making money just now on all the fracked gas being produced. Chesapeake was $3.5 billion in the red at the beginning of 2012.

 

Rolling Stone concludes: "If the bubble bursts, Chesapeake's stockholders won't be the only ones who pay the price - the shock waves will be felt throughout the economy, from homeowners who rely on natural gas for heat to manufacturers who were betting on it to power their new factories."

 

This is apart from the millions of gallons of water diverted to fracked mines, then becoming a huge disposal problem when mixed with methane and toxic chemicals.

 

Wolf Richter, in the June 5, 2012, Business Insider, writes:

 

"The economics of fracking are horrid. All wells have decline rates where production drops over time. But instead of decades for traditional wells, decline rates in horizontal fracking are measured in weeks and months: production falls off a cliff from day one and continues for a year or so until it levels out at about 10% of initial production. To be in the black over its life under these circumstances, a well in the Barnett Shale would have to sell its production for about $8 per million Btu, pricing models have shown.

 

"At today’s price of $2.43 per million Btu at the Henry Hub—though up 28% from the April low - drilling is destroying capital at an astonishing rate, and drillers are left with a mountain of debt just when decline rates are starting to wreak their havoc. To keep the decline rates from mucking up income statements, companies had to drill more and more, with new wells making up for the declining production of old wells. Alas, the scheme hit a wall, namely reality."

 

Of course, $8 per million btu is not an economically impossible figure, but it would leave scores of utilities and hundreds of factories with energy costs a magnitude greater than they expected when they did their conversions to natural gas. Meanwhile, drillers have been fleeing the supposedly cutting edge industry, pulling out their rigs by the hundreds and relocating them where fracked wells have some chance of hitting oil or at least natural gas liquids.

 

In an interview on oilprice.com published November 12, 2012, oil geologist Art Berman adds:

 

"Shale gas has lost hundreds of billions of dollars and investors will not keep on pumping money into something that doesn’t generate a return.

 

"The second thing that nobody thinks very much about is the decline rates shale reservoirs experience. Well, I've looked at this. The decline rates are incredibly high. In the Eagleford shale, which is supposed to be the mother of all shale oil plays, the annual decline rate is higher than 42%.

 

"They're going to have to drill hundreds, almost 1000 wells in the Eagleford shale, every year, to keep production flat. Just for one play, we're talking about $10 or $12 billion a year just to replace supply. I add all these things up and it starts to approach the amount of money needed to bail out the banking industry. Where is that money going to come from?"

 

A commonly quoted claim, based on reports by the authoritative Potential Gas Committee, is that the United States has natural gas resources from all sources, including shale gas, that will last 100 years. Even President Obama has repeated this figure. The November-December 2012 issue of Public Power reports Art Berman's deconstruction of that number:

 

"'A resource is everything that is in the ground without consideration of economic value,' he said. 'People look at shale gas resources and say they are immense. However, the next question is, of that total volume of resource, how much can you make money on? And the answer is a much smaller percentage.'"

 

Public Power summarizes:

 

"Berman's math: If you divide the 'technically recoverable resource' of about 1,900 Tcf (trillion cubic feet) of gas, as identified by the Potential Gas Committee's (PGC's) report by annual U.S. consumption, you come up with 90 years. However, the PGC's report also says the 'probable recoverable resource' is only about 550 Tcf - approximately one fourth of the 'technically recoverable resource.'

 

"Furthermore, if you divide the 550 Tcf 'probable recoverable resource' by three, which represents the component of the resource that is actually provided by shale gas, you get about 180 Tcf. (The remaining 370 Tcf includes conventional reservoirs plus non-shale/non-coalbed-methane unconventional reservoirs.)

 

"The result: There is about eight years' worth of shale gas supply available in the United States, he said."

 

Conservation and Renewables

 

This section and the next, on climate change, are the subjects of other articles. All I am doing here is making a few basic points. The problem, as all but the most pessimistic peak oil theorists agree, is not that we will run out of oil soon, but that conventional crude oil is declining steadily while the replacements all require a much greater investment of money and energy to extract and the volumes that appear likely don't match rising world demand. This is most pressing on liquid fuels for transportation, somewhat less so for electricity generation. What, then, would be a prudent course? We can reasonably expect that oil for transportation will become gradually more and more expensive, placing a growing burden on expenditures for other essential needs, such as maintaining infrastructure, health care, and Social Security.

 

Frankly, world population growth, coupled with rapidly rising standards of living in the developing world, pose an essentially insurmountable problem on a planet on which a wide panoply of resources from oil to potable water to arable land and fish in the sea are all in sharp decline. Human societies, especially the most advanced, which make the most profligate use of our depleting resources, will have to sharply reduce a variety of resource demands, most especially oil and using living animals for meat. That reduction would be less wrenching if it were begun early and managed sensibly at the government level. Given the gridlock in American politics, the institutionalized denial promoted by the Republican Party and the fossil fuel companies, and disbelief by the majority of the citizenry it is pretty certain that these issues will be faced only when they irrupt at crisis proportions, in runaway prices or massive shortages. There are things that can mitigate the downward slide, and while it will be hard to implement them when the need is already on us, here are some.

 

First, there should be greatly increased investment in electric transport; in light rail, and electric trolleys and buses, for urban and interurban transport, and development of long-distance electric freight rail. Republican politicians bitterly oppose this fairly obvious step, which requires only existing technology already in wide use.

 

More than 80% of transportation depends on oil in the form of gasoline and diesel. But according to the EIA, non-fossil-fuel sources produced 31.4 percent of U.S. electricity during the twelve months ending in October 2012. This is good news, but doesn't solve all our problems. The lion's share of that was from nuclear, at 19.2%. There are 104 nuclear power plants in the United States, construction on all of which began in 1974 or earlier. No new plant has been built in thirty-nine years. For opponents of nuclear power that is a good thing, but as other sources of electricity become scarce, people may well reconsider their nuclear options. Still, it takes a very long time to get approvals and then to complete construction of a nuclear plant.

 

And for those who blithely toss off the idea that we don't have to worry about declining oil because there is always solar and wind power, they should consider that these sources provide only 5.3% of U.S. electricity. As for personal transport, through December 2012 a total of 75,000 highway capable plug-in electric vehicles had been sold in the United States.  Things look only slightly better when we include hybrids: 2.4 million hybrids were sold in the U.S. between 1999 and the end of 2012. Of course, not all of those are still on the road, and there are 254 million registered passenger cars in the United States, making hybrids something less than 1%.

 

This brings us back to the IEA's forecast, which now doesn't look so optimistic: that in 2030 the U.S. would be importing only 30% of its oil, provided Americans reduced their per capita consumption by 40%. The Obama administration in August 2012 ordered auto manufacturers to reach average fleet fuel efficiency standards of 54.5 mpg by 2025.

 

Environmentalist Chris Martenson in a December 19, 2012, interview with oilprice.com stressed the need to radically improve electric battery storage. Buildings need to be constructed or retrofitted to require less heating and cooling. Martenson is convinced that existing technologies can be used to greatly reduce both oil and electric usage, but that this is unlikely in an economy that requires constant growth to maintain its equilibrium. Further, that private enterprise is simply not equipped to fund or carry through a major reorientation of the country's energy usage. Only a major government effort of the kind that carried us through World War II can successfully confront such a grandiose undertaking.

 

Climate Change

 

Lastly, there was the worst bad news contained in the International Energy Agency's World Energy Outlook 2012, which the press largely passed over in silence. Kurt Cobb commented:

 

"Of all the findings in the 2012 edition of the World Energy Outlook, the one that merits the greatest international attention is the one that received the least.  Even if governments take vigorous steps to curb greenhouse gas emissions, the report concluded, the continuing increase in fossil fuel consumption will result in 'a long-term average global temperature increase of 3.6 degrees C.' [6.8 degrees Fahrenheit. Total warming to date since 1880 is .8 degree Celsius or 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit.]  

 

"This should stop everyone in their tracks.  Most scientists believe that an increase of 2 degrees Celsius is about all the planet can accommodate without unimaginably catastrophic consequences: sea-level increases that will wipe out many coastal cities, persistent droughts that will destroy farmland on which hundreds of millions of people depend for their survival, the collapse of vital ecosystems, and far more.  An increase of 3.6 degrees C essentially suggests the end of human civilization as we know it." (November 27, 2012 TomDispatch.com)

 

Taken together, America's energy future is more threatening than rosy. The comparatively small increments from tight oil look even smaller as part of the world supply.

Reflections on Gnosticism

Han Solo : Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match
for a good blaster at your side, kid.

Luke Skywalker: You don't believe in the Force, do you?

 

Leslie Evans

 

Ancient Gnosticism: Traditions and Literature. Birger A. Pearson. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2007. 362 pp.

 

The Gnostic Bible: Gnostic Texts of Mystical Wisdom from the Ancient and Medieval Worlds. Willis Barnstone and Marvin Meyer, eds. Boston and London: Shambhala, 2009. 880 pp.

 

Voices of Gnosticism . Miguel Conner. Dublin: Bardic Press, 2011. 225 pp.

 

Forbidden Faith: The Gnostic Legacy, from the Gospels to the Da Vinci Code . Richard Smoley. Harper San Francisco, 2006, 244 pp.

 

William Blake's "Elohim Creating Adam." Blake, a kind of Gnostic, believed that lower angels
created the Earth, while the true God was very far away.

 

Gnosticism, the Hellenistic mystery religion centered in Alexandria, Egypt, predated and then merged with Christianity, only to be rejected as heresy and violently suppressed. Gnosis is merely the Greek for knowledge, and Gnosticism - more or less, the Knowers - was a coinage that dated only from commentary literature in English in the seventeenth century. The Gnostics, to begin with a single one of their characteristics, rejected the Christian idea that salvation could be achieved by faith, as well as the Greek ideas that grew into materialism. They instead claimed that there was a special secret knowledge that, if sought and learned, could allow the spirit to escape the physical body and return after death to a remote realm of nonphysical existence.

 

 For two centuries, from roughly 100 to 300 CE, the founders of Christianity were locked in a fierce battle with the Gnostic current over who would define Christian doctrine. For those who believe in biblical inerrancy it should be recalled that there was no central accepted orthodoxy for centuries after the death of Jesus. The faction that became Catholicism confronted not only the Gnostics but endless other claimants within the Christian fold, and imposed their views only when Christianity became the Roman state religion after Emperor Constantine called the Council of Nicea in 325, and the tendency within Christianity that he endorsed gained the military power to physically crush their religious rivals. The twenty-seven documents composing the New Testament were not approved as canonical until long after that. They were first even proposed in a single list by St. Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria, in 367 CE and finally approved by the Catholic church only in 1546.

 

That said, even the most Christianized Gnostics, apart from making a prominent place for Jesus in their pantheon, remained an essentially different religion, rejecting even the God that Christians believe created the earth and humanity. The victorious faction within Christianity burned the Gnostics' books and their churches, and sometimes the Gnostics themselves. Thereafter, in Europe, the Gnostic current went underground. Echoes of its mystical views have persisted to our own day as the Western Esoteric Tradition. Its French adherents, the Cathars, were the victims of an exterminating crusade in the thirteenth century. In the seventeenth century Rosicrucianism revived ideas of the ancient Gnostics mixed with support to the Protestant Reformation against Catholicism.

 

In the century beginning in 1850 an occult revival, led by figures such as Helena Petrovna Blavatsky and her Theosophical Society, explicitly looked back to Gnosticism as an alternative mystic world view to Christianity, adding elements from Buddhism. Since the end of World War II, and quickening from the 1960s, there has been a new revival of many forms of ancient mysticism. Within that ferment has been growing interest in Gnosticism, fueled by the discovery, at the village of Nag Hammadi in Egypt in 1945, of the first large collection of Gnostic writings. These only became available to American readers with the publication of translations from the Coptic as The Nag Hammadi Library in 1978, popularized the following year by Elaine Pagels in her book The Gnostic Gospels .

 

For some eighteen hundred years all that was known of the Gnostics derived from the voluminous hostile polemics against them by the early Church Fathers, written mainly by Irenaeus (130-202), bishop of Lugdunum in Gaul (present day Lyons in France); Hippolytus of Rome (170-235); and Tertullian of Carthage in North Africa (160-225). The first actual document written by the Gnostics themselves to resurface in the West was the Pistis Sophia , discovered in 1773 in a Coptic translation from the original Greek. This was translated into Latin in 1856, into German in 1905, and the first English version, by Theosophist G.R.S. Mead, made from the Latin and German versions, was published only in 1921. Beyond this there were only two known original Gnostic documents, the Bruce Codex, which also sat ignored in the British Museum for centuries, from its acquisition in 1769 to its first English publication only in 1978. Lastly, there was the Berlin Codex, four short documents in Coptic, discovered in 1896 but not translated until 1955 and not widely circulated until the 1970s.

 

The subject was revolutionized by the Nag Hammadi collection. These took more than thirty years to translate and publish, and the work of analyzing them and trying to understand their meaning and historical context began really in the 1980s, with major revisions of our understanding emerging only in the last ten years. Birger A. Pearson's Ancient Gnosticism is one of the best summaries of our current knowledge about the Gnostics. William Barnstone and Marvin Meyer in The Gnostic Bible offer an exhaustive collection of the known Gnostic writings, grouped for the first time by the various Gnostic schools of thought, an essential aid in disentangling this difficult subject. Miguel Conner's Voices of Gnosticism is a transcript of a number of radio interviews with scholars in the field, a light chatty overview. Richard Smoley's contribution is a brief glimpse at the influence of Gnosticism on European esotericism down to our own day.

 

My Encounters with Gnosticism

 

I first heard of Gnosticism at the age of sixteen back in 1958 in reading Hermann Hesse's novel Demian . As you can see from the above, little that was reliable was known about this set of beliefs even when I ran into them, much less when Demian was published, in German in 1919. In the story, shy schoolboy Emil Sinclair comes under the influence of Demian, a mysterious older schoolmate. When the story of Cain and Abel is recounted by a teacher, Demian tells Sinclair that Cain was the real hero and Abel was a weakling who deserved to die. Demian gives Sinclair a note telling him that the soul is like a bird whose aim is to fly away from the Earth to find a God named Abraxas. One of Sinclair's teachers tells him that Abraxas was, in antiquity, the name "of a godhead whose symbolic task is the uniting of godly and devilish elements." Demian ultimately reveals that he and his mother belong to an ancient secret religion that traces its lineage back to Cain and reveres the God Abraxas, who presides over both good and evil. A teacher says that people who believed this in ancient times were a sect called Cainites.

 

Sinclair by accident discovers Demian's secret church. There he is befriended by the organist, Pistorius. He tells Pistorius that he has dreams of flying. Pistorius replies that this is the first step in teaching his spirit how to fly beyond the Earth to reunite with Abraxas, that the secret of surviving death lies in special spiritual knowledge and training, which most people will not bother to undertake. To jump ahead to the Nag Hammadi manuscripts, some of these contain accounts of astral travel. For example, in Zostrianos the character of that name is visited by "the angel of knowledge" who takes him on a journey through the heavens. Birger Pearson comments:

 

"Zostrianos can be seen as a detailed description of the heavenly world, populated by beings we have already encountered in other Sethian texts, including the heavenly Seth, and many more besides." I will come later to who the Sethians were. Marsanes is another of the tractates focused on astral travel.

 

Coming from a family of spiritualists who believed in the Astral Plane and its many ethereal denizens, I was intrigued by this tale of the ultimate secret society that claimed to know the mystery of soul travel. I didn't much care for the notion of embracing evil on a par with good, or see anything admirable in Cain, but I did want to find out more. Only on reading Birger Pearson more than fifty years on did I discover that Hesse had been conned by the old Church Fathers. The Cainites never existed. They were the malicious concoction of an anonymous Church heresiologist known as Pseudo-Tertullian in the 220s. His invention was picked up and imaginatively amplified by Epiphanius, Bishop of Salamis in Cyprus, circa 310-403 CE.

 

Hesse, who had been born in Germany but raised in Switzerland, appears to have acquired his knowledge of Gnosticism from Swiss psychologist Carl Jung. Hesse underwent psychotherapy with Jung's student Josef B. Lang in 1916-1917. He finished the manuscript of Demian in October 1917 (see Ralph Freedman's Hermann Hesse: Pilgrim of Crisis ). Jung in 1916 had penned his own version of a Gnostic myth, Seven Sermons to the Dead , in which he wrote: "Abraxas begetteth truth and lying, good and evil, light and darkness, in the same word and in the same act. Wherefore is Abraxas terrible." This was first published privately only in 1920 and circulated only to friends, but Hesse may have seen it or had discussions with Lang about its contents, as its ideas are strongly present in Demian .

 

The Core Gnostic Mythos

 

Around 1960 an older family friend with a large library gave me a copy of F. C. Burkitt's Church and Gnosis . This presented a wholly different vision from Hesse's Cainites, which I immediately abandoned. Burkitt, whose text was based on lectures given in 1931, was working with scant sources, mainly the Church heresiologists and the Pistis Sophia . This last was written later than most of the Gnostic texts found in 1945 and was consequently highly Christianized, claiming to recount eleven years that the resurrected Jesus spent with his disciples in Jerusalem after his crucifixion. Even from these limited materials it was plain that there were many varieties of Gnosticism.

 

According to the Church heresiologists, Gnosticism was founded by Simon Magus, a Samaritan contemporary of Jesus. The Samaritans are closely related to the Jews and lived in what is now southern Syria. There is a story about Simon in the New Testament book of Acts, where he is described as a wonder worker and prophet in Samaria. It claims that he was converted to Christianity by Philip on a mission there, but then was rebuffed by Peter on a later mission to Samaria, when Simon is said to have offered money to be given the gift of healing.

 

Birger Pearson accepts that Simon Magus was probably the first Gnostic teacher, but regards the story in Acts as an invention to magnify the importance of Peter and dismisses the idea that Simon had anything to do with Christianity as "obviously tendentious." He points to the fact that Christian apologist Justin Martyr (100- circa 165), himself a Samaritan, describes Simon as having moved to Rome, where he had a large following and preached his non-Christian theology.

 

According to this source, Simon Magus came from the village of Gitta, and had a companion named Helen, a former prostitute who Simon claimed was the reincarnation of Helen of Troy. Justin also states, mistakenly, that a statue in Rome was built in Simon's honor inscribed in Latin "to the holy god Simon." Birger Pearson tells us that the statue was found in 1574 and the inscription actually reads "to the faithful god Semo Sanco," a figure in the Roman religion associated with Jupiter.

 

Simon left no writings so it is impossible to know the details of his system. The element of the fallen Helen is similar to the Gnostic myth of the fall and redemption of Sophia. According a fourth century writing by Clement of Rome, Simon was the favorite disciple of John the Baptist. And while John is revered by Christians as the herald of Jesus as the Messiah, he is also treated as a revered authority by the Mandaeans, the only surviving Gnostic sect, who reject Jesus as a false prophet.

 

The two major Gnostic figures of the second century and focus of the heretic hunters were Valentinus of Rome (circa 100-160) and Basilides of Alexandria (dates unknown but he taught circa 117-138 CE). Valentinus' doctrines had strongly Christian elements. He was narrowly defeated to be the Christian bishop of Rome. Very little was known about Basilides except that he was the main Gnostic proponent of Abraxas (more commonly spelled Abrasax, a name that by numerology came out to 365, the number of days in the year). On this slim foundation I formed a lifelong dislike of Valentinus as a place-seeker in the world of conventional religion, and a great fondness for Basilides.

 

The Gnostic congregations were highly decentralized. Their core belief was a strong dualism: that the world of matter was deadening and inferior to a remote nonphysical home, to which an interior divine spark in most humans aspired to return after death. This led them to an absorption with the Jewish creation myths in Genesis, which they obsessively reinterpreted to formulate allegorical explanations of how humans ended up trapped in the world of matter. And they loved myth-making, each prominent teacher embroidering and changing the creation myths in ways large and small.

 

The basic Gnostic story, which varied in details from teacher to teacher, was this. In the beginning there was an unknowable, immaterial, and invisible God, sometimes called the Father of All and sometimes by other names. "He" was neither male nor female, and was composed of an implicitly finite amount of a living nonphysical substance. Surrounding this God was a great empty region called the Pleroma (the fullness). Beyond the Pleroma lay empty space. The God acted to fill the Pleroma through a series of emanations, a squeezing off of small portions of his/its nonphysical energetic divine material.

 

In most accounts there are thirty emanations in fifteen complementary pairs, each getting slightly less of the divine material and therefore being slightly weaker. The emanations are called Aeons (eternities) and are mostly named personifications in Greek of abstract ideas. Like the God, they are nonphysical light beings. They are described as androgynous or bisexual. The Aeons in turn generate large numbers of simpler entities, sometimes called angels. The first of the great emanations, according to several Gnostic groups, is named Barbelo. This is a predominately female persona. A common stipulation is that only Barbelo is able to see or communicate with the invisible Father God. Even the other nonphysical dwellers in the Pleroma have no contact with this remote entity, sometimes called the Silent God. Often there is a central trinity of Father, Mother (Barbelo), and Son.

 

The common outcome of the myth rests on the thirtieth emanation or Aeon, Sophia. This is both the Greek word for Wisdom and also a woman's name. Sophia becomes jealous of the power of the Father of All to create. Without permission of her consort, the other of her matching pair, she gives birth or otherwise creates an offspring. It proves to be monstrous, with the head of a lion and the body of a serpent. She names him Yaldabaoth. He is also called Saklas (in Hebrew, the fool), and Samael (the blind God).

 

Ashamed of her progeny, Sophia takes Yaldabaoth outside of the Pleroma and hides him in a cloud. There he matures alone, having no knowledge of his origins. Imbued from birth with a portion of the divine material he inherited from his mother, Yaldabaoth, now given the title Demiurge (Greek: craftsman), creates a dozen Archons (Commanders), and then, in a mirror image of the great emanations of the Pleroma, hundreds of lesser angels. Yaldabaoth then creates the cosmos, understood to mean, not the entire universe as in modern usage, but the known planets. These were, in the order then understood: Moon, Venus, Mercury, Sun, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, and the zodiac of visible stars. According to the new Ptolemaic system of astronomy, all of the stars were thought to be attached to a single crystal sphere.

 

Yaldabaoth assigns seven of his Archons to rule over the seven planetary spheres, then creates the Earth and decides to populate it. He has his angels make Adam, each of 365 angels contributing a single part. But Yaldabaoth and his Archons find that their creature is lifeless, or at least unable to stand. By this time Sophia has discovered what her offspring has done and is horrified at the fate of the humans he is in process of creating, who will be encased in deadening matter as in mobile tombs. In one version she and her consort come down from the Pleroma and trick Yaldabaoth into breathing life into Adam and Eve, thereby giving them and their descendants greater spirit power than the Demiurge is able to retain. In another version Christ or another Illuminator comes to earth disguised by a magic helmet and imbues the near-lifeless human prototypes with tiny divine sparks.

 

Yaldabaoth then creates the Garden of Eden, not on Earth as in Genesis, but at the level of the stars. He cruelly tells his human captives not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. In some versions, for example, in The Hypostasis of the Archons among the Nag Hammadi texts, the serpent is the agent of Sophia, urging Adam and Eve to disobey; in more Christianized accounts it is the Christ who comes to the garden to warn Adam and Eve of the Demiurge's plan to enslave them in deadening matter. As must be clear by now, Yaldabaoth is known by Jews and Christians as Jehovah, or just as God. The Gnostics frequently and ironically quote Yaldabaoth declaring that he is a jealous god, claiming in his ignorance that he is the only God.

 

The Gnostics similarly offer counter versions of the accounts of God's destructiveness in Genesis, where the vindictive Demiurge sends flood and fire in a vain effort to wipe out humanity, of which he has become jealous. Noah's flood is an act of blind vengeance thwarted not by Noah's ark but by entities from the Pleroma hiding the children of Seth in a cloud. Sodom and Gomorrah were holy cities destroyed out of Yaldabaoth's cruelty. In the Apocalypse of Adam , Abrasax is one of three angels who come from the Pleroma to save the people of Sodom and Gomorrah. In this and several other Sethian texts, so called because of the importance given to Adam's third son, it is the incorporeal Seth who provides salvation, and is called, not a savior, but an "Illuminator of knowledge." Note that unlike the God and Jesus figures of Christianity, such saving acts are not offered to individuals and are not scheduled for masses at the end of the world but are extremely rare events directed to groups of the people of Seth threatened by the Demiurge and his Archons. There are other illuminators mentioned in Gnostic texts, so its seems that Seth is primus inter pares, not the unique God figure Jesus is imagined to be, and his role, like that of lesser illuminators, is mainly to awake susceptible humans to their inner spark and prepare them for their cosmic journey.

 

Finally, the role of a savior, even in the later documents when this is (mostly) Jesus, is not to die for people's sins. Sin has little to do with the Gnostic vision, particularly the peculiar Christian concept of original sin borne by every human. The savior figures in Gnosticism try to wake people up from the deadening effect of being encased in matter and prepare them for the arduous nonmaterial individual flight through the cosmos after death to try to reach the Pleroma and re-merge their divine spark with the main mass located there.

 

In the Gnostic cosmos each of the "planets" is ruled by one of the Archons and the spirit released from matter by death must persuade the Archon to allow it to pass through that "planet's" crystalline sphere.

 

Burkitt has an interesting discussion of this cosmology that I have not seen reprised in the recent works. Burkitt proposes that the planetary cosmology so central to the Gnostic mythos was an effort by Jewish Christians to incorporate the latest science of their day into their belief system. It looks bizarre to us today only because the ancient science has been since discarded. The new science of the second century CE was the Ptolemaic model of the universe, the pride of Greek civilization of its day. This was the model in which the Earth was a sphere in the center of the universe. The Earth was thought to be surrounded by nested transparent crystal spheres, the "seven heavens" of proverb, one for each of the planet-type objects, which included the Sun and Moon. The eighth sphere, the ogdoad, contained all of the fixed stars. On the other side of this sphere of the zodiac were imagined various celestial locations, from Plato's realm of perfect ideas to the abode of gods, to the Christian heaven, to the Gnostic Pleroma.

 

That this was a wrenching ideological change was because the Hebrew scriptures, today the Old Testament, embodied the view general among not only the Jews but virtually all the surrounding peoples of the Eastern Mediterranean except the Greeks, that the world was not only the center of the universe but was flat, covered with a single hard bowl called the firmament. For example, in the book of Job, Elihu asks Job, "Can you beat out [ raqa ] the vault of the skies, as he does, hard as a mirror of cast metal (Job 37:18)?" The Jewish Encyclopedia expands on this:

Often see on the Internet as a "Gnostic" image this is actually a depiction of the ancient Hebrew
cosmology of the Old Testament with a flat earth and a single hard dome called the Firmament
containing the sun and stars. This is an 1888 engraving by French astronomer Camile Flammarion
illustrating a story of a medieval monk who claimed he came to the end of the Earth and found
a hole in the hard dome and stuck his head out.

 

"The Hebrews regarded the earth as a plain or a hill figured like a hemisphere, swimming on water. Over this is arched the solid vault of heaven. To this vault are fastened the lights, the stars. So slight is this elevation that birds may rise to it and fly along its expanse." (http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/4684-cosmogony#2736)

 

For the ancient Jews the planets and stars were all stuck to a single hard surface over a nearly flat Earth, so close that birds could bump into the stars. One could stop here and ask our present day Evangelical believers in biblical inerrancy who are so numerous in the American Congress how the God of the universe could have been so ignorant.

 

F. C. Burkitt points to the difficulty this bumptious cosmology posed for Jewish Christians living in cosmopolitan, Greek-dominated Alexandria:

 

"Towards the end of the first century of our era this new, scientific, 'Ptolemaic' view of the world had come to be held by most cultivated persons in much the same sort of way as most cultivated persons now believe in 'Evolution'."

 

In both systems the Earth was the center of a relatively tiny universe. The Hebrew cosmology with its one fixed dome could not explain the motion of the planets among the fixed stars. Ptolemy envisioned a set of nested transparent spheres, each of which could rotate independently of the others. This could explain the rising of the Sun, which in the Hebrew/Biblical cosmology simply hid behind a distant mountain every night, and the wanderings of the known planets.

 

Gnostic illustration of the Ptolemaic system. Behemoth and Leviathan appear in the book of Job, the
first guarding the land, the second the seas. In Genesis God divides the waters between those in the
heavens and those of the earth. Our cartographer places Leviathan at the end of the solar system to
be close to the heavenly waters.

 

Even a century after the heyday of ancient Gnosticism Catholic theologians were reluctant, on biblical grounds, to accept that the Earth was round, and still retained the old Jewish cosmology of a single solid sky. Saint Augustine (354‰ÛÒ430) on the nature of the firmament wrote, "We may understand this name as given to indicate not it is motionless but that it is solid." He also ridiculed the idea that the Earth was round and people on the other side of the globe walked upside down: "But as to the fable that there are Antipodes, that is to say, men on the opposite side of the earth, where the sun rises when it sets to us, men who walk with their feet opposite ours that is on no ground credible."

 

The Gnostics, then, sought to remain current with the science of their day. But in the Ptolemaic system the planets had been promoted from mere moving points of light to the central points on gigantic crystal spheres far larger than the Earth. Many of the Greeks now thought of the planets as minor gods. For the Gnostics in particular this posed the problem of how the escaping spirits were supposed to get through each of the eight transparent spheres to reach the Pleroma. Hence their concern with inventing verbal formulas and supposed passwords for the voyaging spirits to declaim to each planetary Archon or its minions to gain passage.

 

The Gnostics also differed from the Christians on how the material world would end. For the Christians it would come with the rise of the Anti-Christ, the battle of Armageddon, and the second coming of Jesus to hold the Last Judgment in which all of the dead would be raised at once in their physical bodies. For the Gnostics there was no general resurrection, only the departure of individual spirits, and never with their physical bodies, which the spirit was eager to escape. The material world would fade away as more and more of the divine sparks departed to rejoin the Pleroma, and would finally simply collapse when all of the divine material was gone. Humans whose spark was missing or too weak, or who lacked any consciousness of their true state and therefore made no effort to reach the Pleroma would simply be extinguished.

 

Insofar as Jesus is grafted onto this very different world view, the radical distinction the Gnostics made between matter and the nonphysical world made it impossible for them to accept the idea that any entity from the Pleroma was ever actually a human being, much less that any human being could possibly be a God. Their various groups found different solutions for this, all of which fall under the doctrine called Docetism, the belief that Jesus was never human and appeared on Earth as a kind of phantom. One version of this has the ghostly Jesus watching from a nearby hillside as some poor human is crucified in his place. In another the spirit of Seth "puts on" the body of Jesus like a costume or a case of spirit possession and leaves it before the crucifixion, making Jesus something of an animated puppet. In a related and nominally more Christian version the Christ of the Pleroma is the entity that enters and possesses the body of the mere human Jesus, usually at the time of Jesus' baptism, leaving it again just before the crucifixion.

 

In my youth I absorbed this mythos with fascination. I never took it literally, in part because the contrarian retellings of Genesis seemed so intentionally allegorical, and because of the obvious limitations of the science of the second century. I was always interested, if not quite a believer, in the possibility of realms of nonphysical entities and some kind of afterlife. I did not on that account ever become so world denying as the Gnostics. Reduced to its most minimal essentials, I read Gnosticism as resting on a few simple propositions:

 

‰Û¢ There is no God or savior figure that answers any kind of personal prayers. The Christian conceit that they can ring up God or Jesus for an uplifting chat on that huge switchboard that can handle millions of simultaneous very personal calls, or get results by praying to improve the health of their ailing uncle, win for them the coveted promotion at work, or improve their love life, is utterly absent from the Gnostic vision.

 

‰Û¢ Insofar as there is any survival of human personalities after death this is not guaranteed and cannot be secured by personal declarations of loyalty to any supernatural entity as Christianity maintains. But it may happen and this depends on a combination of one's innate nature, which is not changeable, modified by knowledge and concentration on that end.

 

‰Û¢ Insofar as anyone survives death, contrary to the Christian version, they do not take their body with them, and are not instantly transported to a post-death destination such as heaven. Instead, as an incorporeal shade, they must make their way by their own wits across the visible universe to a place beyond the stars where they would become part of the plane of nonphysical, bisexual energy beings.

 

‰Û¢ Life in one's physical body exaggerates the separation of subject and object, and even in one's most alert states of consciousness is like sleep compared to existence as a disembodied spirit.

‰Û¢ There are many kinds of nonphysical entity of the types the Greeks called daimons, as on Earth there are all kinds of people with many and complex motives. This differs from the Christian hard division of all supernatural entities into wholly good or wholly evil, angels or devils, although the Gnostics did pose an opposition between the entities from the Pleroma and those of the Demiurge, mainly on their different attitudes toward physical matter.

 

The Gnostic Canon Today

 The Nag Hammadi Codices

Birger A. Pearson, Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies at UC Santa Barbara, is a distinguished scholar of Gnosticism and one of the translators of the Nag Hammadi Codices. (A codice is something between a scroll and a book. They are leather bound sheets of handwritten text.) The Nag Hammadi discovery was of fourth-century translations into Coptic of older Greek originals. There were twelve codices or volumes, containing forty-four separate documents, called tractates, plus eight duplicates. The best guess on their origin is that they were part of the library of a Christian monastery and were buried by monks who sought to protect them from destruction during an intolerant purge by their superiors. There are by now numerous editions in English. The earlier ones simply present the whole collection. Recent scholarship has shown that the texts, as one would expect from a library collection, are from different sources, not all Gnostic, and among the Gnostic documents, from different schools. This is easier to follow in the most recent collection, The Gnostic Bible , compiled by Willis Barnstone and Marvin Meyer, which includes materials from other sources beyond Nag Hammadi.

 

Barnstone and Meyer break the texts, which appear in full, down into seven categories: Early Wisdom Gospels, in particular The Gospel of Thomas , which was long thought to be a Gnostic work but in fact is a version of Christian mysticism; the Literature of Gnostic Wisdom, which is Gnosticism proper, which they divide into four types; Hermetic Literature, the second century Egyptian writings attributed to Hermes Trismegistus, a staple of Renaissance mysticism and marked by strong Gnostic elements; and then on to independent Gnostic religions further removed from its Syrian-Egyptian origins: Iranian Manichaeanism; Mandaeanism, the only surviving Gnostic sect, among the Marsh Arabs of southern Iraq; Islamic mysticism; and the medieval French Cathars.

 

Birger Pearson provides a detailed survey of all of these sources with the exception of the Islamic and the Cathars. He critiques, summarizes, and quotes from all of the major documents. It is best to read Ancient Gnosticism with a copy of Barnstone and Meyer or one of the earlier Nag Hammadi collections at hand to look more closely at the full text of some of the core documents. Be aware, however, that the Barnstone and Meyer translations are much smoother and more polished than the earlier editions.

 

Now that the mass of writings has had time to be assimilated, a number of revisions in the Gnostic landscape emerge. First, none of the Gnostic teachers described by the Church heresiologists are mentioned. None of the tractates list an author or provide any history of the teachers or groups that produced them. At best it has been possible to distinguish Valentinian from other unnamed schools by a comparison of quotations in Irenaeus and Hippolytus to otherwise anonymous papyri. In the process a new category has emerged. These are the adherents of Seth. Barnstone and Meyer identify twelve tractates as Sethian, including the more recent separate discovery of The Gospel of Judas . Pearson classes thirteen of the Nag Hammadi scriptures as Sethian, which he also calls Classic Gnosticism, the school that was least Christianized and most clearly professed the Sofia myth. Nine of the others have been identified as Valentinian. Nothing of Basilides has survived except scattered fragments. And these, to my dismay, Pearson tells us, show him to have been even more militantly Christian, in the Gnostic manner, than Valentinus.

 

The most important of the Sethian documents is The Apocryphon (secret book) of John . It begins nominally with the resurrected Christ descending to Earth to instruct the Apostle John, the son of Zebedee. But the story he tells is of the invisible unknowable entity, the One. This invisible and incomprehensible entity's "thought became a reality, and she who appeared in the presence of the father in shining light came forth." This is Barbelo, "the mother-father." Barbelo asks the invisible great spirit for several qualities: foreknowledge, incorruptibility, eternal life, and truth. These all appear as separate creatures and stand beside her. She then becomes pregnant by the invisible One and bears a child, who in turn asks the invisible One to create more creature-attributes. Thence comes Mind, who in turn asks to have Will created, and then Word. The child is now referred to as the "self-created god." Four luminaries "derive" from the child-god. These are named Harmozel, Oroiael, Daveithai, and Eleleth.

 

Next come spirit versions of the later early mythical humans: Geradamas, the spirit of Adam, and his son, the spirit Seth.

 

The last of the great aeons is Sophia, "who is the wisdom of afterthought and who constitutes an eternal realm." She gives birth without the consent of her consort. "Something came out of her that was imperfect and different in appearance from her." Her progeny "changed into the figure of a snake with the face of a lion." This is Yaldabaoth, who Sophia casts outside the Pleroma and hides in a cloud. In this version, Yaldabaoth produces out of the power of his mother that is within him twelve authorities or Archons. Seven of these he stations at the seven planetary bodies, "one for each sphere of heaven." The remaining five "reign over the depth of the abyss." The twelve powers in turn create between them 365 angels.

 

Sophia repents her actions, which have dimmed her own powers by the share imbued in Yaldabaoth. The beings of the Pleroma have pity on her and she is restored some of her power but not allowed to return to the Pleroma, instead placed in the ninth heaven, just above the realm controlled by her son the Demiurge.

 

In the Gnostic cosmology there are three levels of being: matter, soul, and spirit. Soul is something intermediate between the spirit beings that inhabit the Pleroma and the physical creatures of the Earth. In later Western mysticism this is the astral body, different from the Christian idea which does not distinguish between soul and spirit. When Yaldabaoth and his Archons decide to create Adam they first make a soul body, what Barnstone and Meyer call a "psychical man with a psychical body." The 365 angels each make a part to compose the psychical Adam. The text names each of the angels and the part each was responsible for. Taphreo, for example, made the backbone while Boabel made the toes. When this psychical body is completed it remains lifeless.

 

In the Apocryphon of John it is five "luminaries" who are sent by Barbelo who trick Yaldabaoth into breathing into his inert creation. "He breathed his spirit into Adam. The spirit is the power of his mother, but he did not realize this, because he lives in ignorance. The mother's power went out of Yaldabaoth and into the psychical body that had been made to be like the one who is from the beginning." Yaldabaoth and his minions soon realize that Adam has become superior to themselves through the infusion of light energy so they throw Adam "into the lowest part of the whole material realm."

 

Barbelo takes pity on the divine material within Adam and sends a spirit-being to help him. This entity hides within Adam to advise him. In the earlier translations, such as the 1988 edition of The Nag Hammadi Library , such beings are identified by their Greek names, this one called Epinoia, which Pearson renders "reflection." Barnstone and Meyer choose to render all of the traditional Greek terms into simple English, so the Pleroma becomes just "the fullness." In some ways this makes the text more easily understood, but it tends to obscure the personifications conveyed by the Greek designations, as the texts treat these as both abstract ideas and actual beings. In Barnstone and Meyer the creature who hides inside Adam is just "afterthought."

 

Now the Archons mix up a batch of matter from the then-known elements - earth, air, fire, and water - and imprison Adam in a physical body, "the fetter of forgetfulness." Thus "Adam became a mortal being, the first to descend and the first to become estranged." The encased Adam is banished to "paradise," where the tree of life's branches are death and the "dwelling place of those who taste of it is the underworld." In this text it is Jesus, not the serpent, who tells Adam to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, which Yaldabaoth wanted to withhold from his creation.

 

The tale goes on, with Yaldabaoth creating, then raping Eve and throwing the primal couple out of paradise. Yaldabaoth, not Adam, is said to be the father of Cain and Abel. Seth, the third son, is the only true child of Adam and Eve. The consequences of Yaldabaoth's actions were to introduce sexual intercourse into the world and to make the humans forget their origins in the realm of light.

 

After relating this creation myth, Jesus and John discuss life after death. Jesus proposes that the spirits of light and darkness compete for influence over each soul. In those humans where the spirit of light predominates they will "be taken up to eternal rest." Those who do not know where they belong, that is who do not have the knowledge of the origins of their divine spark, will be imprisoned by the Archons until they awaken from their forgetfulness. Some "will be made to follow another in whom the spirit of life dwells, and she is saved through that one. Then she will not be thrust into flesh again." This seems to point to the idea of reincarnation. Those who reject the light entirely will suffer eternal punishment.

 

The document concludes with Jesus telling John the story of Noah's flood, in which Noah is warned by the emissary of the light, but not only his family but many other of the descendants of Seth were hidden in a cloud and survived the flood. Thereafter Yaldabaoth's angels disguised themselves as women's husbands and slept with them to produce humans in whom the spirit of light was very diluted and these descendents remain in ignorance to the present day. This seems to be derived from Genesis 6:4 in which the Nephilim, described as "sons of God," have sex with Earth women and produce a race of giants, though in Genesis this takes place before the flood rather than after.

 

What to make of all this? Birger Pearson points out that despite the incorporation of Jesus into the frame story, "the basic myth contained in it has no Christian feature in it at all." In fact, a shorter version of this text exists in which Jesus does not appear, strongly suggesting that it has pre-Christian origins and the Jesus element was "interpolated into the text by a Christian editor." His best estimate is that the first version dates from late first century, contemporary with the drafting of the Christian gospels. Most of the other Gnostic texts are from fifty to eighty years later, and by the time one gets to the third century and the Pistis Sophia they are heavily Christianized, but that generally means appropriating Jesus as a spokesman for the Gnostic mythos.

 

Pearson points to two other Nag Hammadi tractates that display the same pattern, Eugnostos the Blessed and Sophia of Jesus Christ . Of the fourteen known Sethian texts, six incorporate no Christian element. Pearson lists these as: Apocalypse of Adam Thought of Norea Three Steles of Seth Zostrianos Allogenes , and Marsanes . The first is strongly Jewish, the last four influenced by Middle Platonism. The remaining eight have been Christianized, but to various degrees. For example, in The Gospel of the Egyptians it is the spirit-being Seth who "puts on" the young Jesus to manipulate his body to carry out Seth's mission of illumination.

 

Who Were the Gnostics?

Despite the wealth of original documentary material now available, none of it contains any account of the Gnostic groups or teachers. Any deductions about their origins, apart from the limited and not always reliable writings of their enemies, depends on contextual analysis. This is leaning away from the traditional view that they were simply Christian heretics or, more generously, one of the many varieties of early Christians. Their central focus on the Hebrew creation myths and the extensive use of Hebraic names for many of the entities that are not Greek abstractions strongly suggests a Jewish origin, despite their hostile interpretation of the God of the Torah.

 

Pearson suggests that the Gnostic current arose either prior to Christianity or at least parallel to it. None of the existent texts appear to date earlier than around 90 CE and most are mid to late second century. This is after the Roman war on the Jews and the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE, the start of the Jewish Diaspora, followed by Rome's crushing of the Bar Kokhba Revolt (132-136 CE). These events must have been more shattering for ancient Judaism than the Holocaust of the twentieth century. The evidence then, as now, that people are on their own in face of an unpredictable and commonly hostile world was infinitely greater than the claim that a personal God is concerned with the fate of every sparrow.

 

One place of exile was the cosmopolitan Greek-dominated city of Alexandria, which developed a large Jewish community. There the exiled Jews would have come in contact with Plato's ideas as well as the Ptolemaic astronomy so marked in the Gnostic scriptures. Platonism is strongly evident in the concept of the Pleroma, as well as the description of its denizens as the embodiment of Greek abstractions about mental processes. Plato was a metaphysical dualist, dividing reality into a nonmaterial realm of ideal unchanging perfect forms and the lower material world of imperfect, changeable, and mortal copies. Plato in fact coined the usage of calling the creator of the material world the Demiurge ("craftsman"), often applied to Yaldabaoth, without the attendant mythology the Gnostics built onto this terminology.

 

Pearson concludes:

 

"Gnosticism is clearly dependent upon aspects of Platonist philosophy. It is also clearly dependent upon aspects of Jewish religion, most notably apocalyptically oriented Judaism. The most plausible way of explaining these dependencies is to posit a Jewish origin for Gnosticism, involving Jews who had imbibed a good deal of Greek philosophy."

 

While the Gnostics were disappointed in and rejecting of the Jewish God, they nevertheless based their speculations on Jewish writings and traditions. Pearson comments:

 

"The main difference between Gnostic eschatology [the part of theology concerned with death, judgment, and an afterlife] and biblical-Jewish eschatology is that the former is focused on the return of the individual soul to its divine origins."

 

Pearson regards as outmoded the view of scholars from before the Nag Hammadi publications who saw the Gnostics as anti-Jewish Christians who had incorporated Hellenistic ideas while rejecting the Jewish God and the Old Testament. Instead, Pearson maintains that the Gnostics were engaged in an extreme form of Jewish religious speculation. The obvious problem being confronted in separating the Earth and its creation from the transcendent God is the explanation for evil. Jews previously had explained it by demonic forces. And who created the demons? In Jewish literature these were angels who rebelled against God. Pearson takes the issue back one step: Why would God create angels who would rebel against him? The Gnostics conclude the speculation by surmising that the problem is not a handful of evil angels but that the creator of the world was an inferior being while the true God was too remote to pay attention.

 

I had always taken the Sophia myth as inspired by the Greeks or by a non-Jewish eastern Mediterranean mystery religion. In fact, as Pearson documents, it has a Jewish origin, which runs through the book of Proverbs. Here in Proverbs 3:18: "The Lord by wisdom [Sophia] founded the earth." And then Sophia (wisdom) is personified and speaks (8:22-31):

 

"The Lord created me at the beginning of his work,
the first of his acts of long ago.
Ages ago I was set up,
at the first, before the beginning of the earth.
When there were no depths I was brought forth,
when there were no springs
abounding with water.

Before the mountains had been shaped,
before the hills, I was brought forth -
when he had not yet made earth and fields,
or the world's first bits of soil.
When he established the heavens, I was there,
when he drew a circle on the face of the deep,
when he made firm the skies above,
when he established the foundations of the deep,
when he assigned to the sea its limit,
so that the waters might not
transgress his command,
when he marked out the foundations of the earth,
then I was beside him, like a master
worker [demiurge];
and I was daily his delight,
rejoicing before him always,
rejoicing in his inhabited world
and delighting in the human race."

 

(New Revised Standard Version. Note also that the skies were made "firm" and the earth had "foundations." And here in the Old Testament Sophia herself is the demiurge.)

 

This is clearly the material for a creation story differing from Genesis, and on which the Gnostic myths were built.

 

Similarly Pearson cites ambiguities in the original Hebrew of the account of Cain's birth in Genesis, where the conventional translation has Eve saying she bore Cain with the aid of YHWH but could be read "I have gotten a man, namely Yahweh." The Gnostics held that Cain's original name was Yahweh. This traces back to Rabbinic commentary where one school of Jewish thought held that Cain was fathered not by Adam but by Sammael, the Angel of Death, a name the Gnostics applied to the Demiurge along with Yaldabaoth and Saklas. Here we have another Hebraic origin of their mythological speculations.

 

The schools of Gnosticism are today divided into three broad categories, the Syrian-Egyptian, which we have been following, marked by the Sophia myth and including Sethians, Valentinians, and Basilidians; Hermetic, around the writings attributed to Hermes Trismegistus; and the Iranian, which encompasses Manichaeism and Mandaeanism, these last two beyond the scope of this survey. The followers of the prophet Mani were centered in Iran and powerful throughout the Roman Empire and its successor region until the seventh century. They retained many believers in south China until the seventeenth century. As a variant of the Gnostics, they professed a cosmology divided between a distant world of light and the realm of material darkness. The Mandaeans were not so widespread but are the only continually surviving Gnostic movement, limited today to southern Iraq.

 

Pearson ultimately views Gnosticism as a particular Jewish response to a flowering of individualism that began throughout the region in the first century BCE and ran through the third century CE, which combined both pessimism about the external world with a breaking away from communal orthodoxies and ties and a search for individual self-realization. For the Gnostics this was not only looking forward to their soul journey to the Pleroma on death but looking inward to discover the divine spark that gave them hope that such a journey was a possibility.

 

Miguel Conner's Interviews

 

Radio interviews by their brevity and absence of source material have their limitations, but this is an informative collection in adding some informal insights from specialists. Conner hosted a long-running radio show that specialized, improbably, in commentaries on Gnosticism, initially titled Coffee, Cigarettes & Gnosis . He captures the Gnostic ethos nicely in his introduction when he describes it as "a dualistic theme of existentialist despair yet ultimate, ecstatic liberation."

 

Stevan Davies, professor of Religious Studies at Misericordia College, Pennsylvania, comments on why the Gnostics were so focused on the creation story in Genesis:

 

"When you understand how the problem arose, of the spirit being trapped in the human body in the world, then you can reverse the process. That seems to be the reason why they're so obsessed with creation mythologies. It's not for its own sake, speculating about how the world came into being, it's the idea that you would want to reverse the process and send the world back into God where it came from." Davies himself is a nondenominational Christian and views Gnosticism from that perspective. He agrees with Birger Pearson that theApocryphon of John was a work of Jewish speculation before it was Christianized, not an anti-Jewish polemic, as some scholars have concluded from its hostile attitude toward the Jewish God:

 

"I think that the only people in the world who really had a serious concern for the Jewish Torah were the Jewish people. So I don't envision a bunch of pagan people, or any non-Jewish people, suddenly getting obsessed with revising the Jewish scriptures. I think Jewish people worked with the Jewish scriptures."

 

There is a nice interview with the ever-readable Bart Ehrman on the large number of variants in the surviving manuscripts that make up the Christian New Testament, of which no copies of any of the documents can be dated earlier than the year 200, some 150 years of hand copying after they were written, and some texts survived only in copies of considerably later date. In addition, many of the ultimately rejected gospels were considered canonical by Christians as late as 400 CE. He points out that there have been found more than 200,000 variations in the surviving manuscripts of the Gospels. In one case, the story in John of the adulteress about to be stoned where Jesus says "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone," is entirely missing from the earliest version of this document and was added by some scribe only centuries later. When the Bible was translated into English they did not have access to what are now known to be the earliest versions. These facts convinced Ehrman, who began as an Evangelical fundamentalist, that the New Testament could not possibly be the inerrant word of God.

 

Birger Pearson, who we have already spent some time with, makes an appearance, where he takes up the cudgels against present day scholars such as Karen King who deny that Gnosticism was a separate religion but see it as simply a Christian heresy. He comments:

 

"This was the standard view until the nineteenth century when historians of religion were interested in the comparative study of near-eastern and middle-eastern and Indian and other traditions [and] began to look at the bigger picture and could see that what was described at that time by the early Christian fathers as Gnosticism looked an awful lot like some of the stuff they were uncovering in ancient Babylonia or ancient Iran or ancient India."

 

He does say clearly in response to a question from Conner that he believes the Gnostics regarded their versions of stories about the events in Genesis as allegorical and never intended them to be taken literally.

 

John D. Turner, professor of Religious Studies and Classics at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, is another specialist in Sethian Gnosticism. He affirms that Sethianism is pretty certainly the earliest form of Gnosticism and that "we have no figure that we can identify as the founder of this movement." He believes it began among dissenting Jewish priests as early as the second century BCE. He suggests that they left Jerusalem in disgust at the corrupt Temple leadership and developed in exile their radical re-interpretation of the Old Testament.

 

Turner complicates the picture by proposing that the Apocryphon of John is a fusion of the views of two distinct early Gnostic groups. The Sethian theology, he says, is marked by a dominant trinity of the Invisible God, his consort Barbelo, and the self-generated child, and in their writings it is Barbelo who acts to rectify the damage done by Sophia. A different group, the Ophites, from the word for serpent, whose writings see the serpent in paradise as a positive figure, have a pantheon of five figures rather than three, and have Sophia herself arrange to have the divine spark instilled into the original humans.

 

Turner is more interesting when he turns to why the Gnostics settled on the obscure Seth as their central figure, about whom little beyond his birth and list of descendants is mentioned in the Torah. He proposes that they are confronting the favorable account in the Pentateuch of the creation by the God they now regard as ignorant and inferior and responsible for the deadening world of matter. The Pentateuch is credited to Moses, and Turner comments, "Moses was never in Paradise. Who was in paradise? Adam was in paradise." And his son Seth long predated Moses.

 

Turner elaborates this more fully in his "The Gnostic Seth" in Stone and Bergren's Biblical Figures Outside the Bible . Here he cites ancient Jewish sources of biblical commentary that regard Seth as the only biological child of Adam and Eve. The Targum Pseudo-Jonathanheld that Samael, the angel of death, was the father of Cain and Abel. The Midrash Genesis Rabbah held that Cain and Abel were sons of the devil. Genesis lists two genealogies, the descendants of Cain and those of Seth. The sources Turner quotes regard the descendants of Seth as the righteous and those of Cain as a wicked people. This view imbues the Gnostic Sethian writings where they regularly refer to themselves as "the seed of Seth." Turner adds that the Gnostic centrality of Seth seems to be because Seth is never credited with praising Jehovah or having any special relations with him, unlike his father Adam or figures like Moses.

 

Einar Thomassen, a professor of Religious Studies at the University of Bergen in Norway, was interviewed about the Valentinians. Thomassen says that it is a mistake to imagine that there was a central strong Catholic Church combating numerous small heretical Christian sects. "There wasn't really one Christian community, but a lot of Christian communities, all over the capitol [Rome], and they were all teaching their own adaptations of Christianity." Valentinus and his Gnostic variant was just one more. He sees the Valentinians as a compromise between Christianity and classic Gnosticism in that they did not think the material world all bad, believed that the remote God had some influence on the creation of the material sphere, and that there was a limited redemption possible for Yaldabaoth. He does not see a continuity between the old Gnostic trinity and the one that came to be central to Catholicism:

 

"I think that the trinity is actually an idea that was created in its present form in the fourth century when you have the various church councils, and so on, who have defined metaphysically the idea of a trinity. I don't think you have anything like that anywhere in the second century."

 

Thomassen is asked what finally happened to the Valentinians. He replies:

 

"You know, the last we hear of the Valentinians is very precisely dated. It's August 1, 388 C.E., where there was an incident in a village in upper Mesopotamia or eastern Syria where some of these fanatical monks - there were a lot of those in that time - were burning down the church of some Valentinians in that place. And this we know only because Bishop Ambrose tells us of the incident. He tries to persuade the emperor not to punish those monks who, in his opinion, acted quite righteously."

 

The Gnostic Legacy

 

Except for the Mandaeans in Iraq there is no proof that any Gnostic group survived continuously down to our own day. There are strong continuities mediated through Iranian Manichaeanism that re-penetrate Eastern and Western Europe over the millennium after the original Jewish-centered originators are gone. After that the connections with successive occult movements become more attenuated.

 

There is a substantial literature that seeks to trace Gnostic influence in Europe over the centuries. Richard Smoley's Forbidden Faith: The Gnostic Legacy is just one example, a brief survey that skims the surface of a large and complex topic and is not always as specific as could be desired. Smoley is not a learned scholar with command of the ancient languages but was the long-time editor of the journal Gnosis , which focused on Western spiritual traditions. I will skip his summary of the original Gnostics as we have covered that ground. And Manichaeanism is further afield than I care to go. The dualist doctrine of the remote god of light and the nearby one of evil who controls the world of matter returns to Europe with the Paulicians of Armenia, followers of the New Testament St. Paul, but with a Gnostic interpretation of the two rival Gods. The Paulicians flourished between 650 and 872, when Armenia was split between Persia and the Byzantine Empire.

 

Little is known of their doctrine except that they rejected the Old Testament, viewed the God of Earth as evil, and looked toward a good God in an afterlife. They saw Christ as a spirit being rather than a human and so did not venerate Mary.

 

A larger and more influential sect, the Bogomils, arose in Bulgaria around 900 CE and spread among the Balkan Slavs, remaining powerful into the early 1300s. Again, they believed in a dualism between good and evil gods. Like the original Gnostics they professed Docetism, claiming Christ was a spirit entity only. The Byzantine Empire tried to suppress them, and in the twelfth century the Orthodox Serbs drove them into Bosnia. The Bogomils won power in Bosnia in the fourteenth century. After the Muslim conquest by the Ottoman Turks in the 1450s, however, most of them converted to Islam. Smoley does not touch on this, but part of the reason for Islam's success in the Eastern Mediterranean was the widespread rejection by heterodox Christians such as the Bogomils of the Orthodox doctrine of the Trinity. Among the Gnostic-like sects the Christ was distinguished from the human Jesus, and even the Christ was viewed at most as a powerful angelic figure, not as God, while the human Jesus was mostly seen as a vessel for spirit possession.

 

Next in line were the Cathars, also called Albigensians, ultimately centered in Provence in southeastern France, the region whose capital is Marseille. Said to have been founded through conversions by Bogomil preachers, the Cathars first appeared in Cologne in Germany in 1143. Catholic officials had the archbishop of Cologne and his unrepentant followers, branded as Cathars, burned to death. This Gnostic Christian doctrine then took root in southern France, where it generated two somewhat different schools of thought, one that later scholars describe as "mitigated dualists," who followed the original Gnostic doctrine that the evil God had been produced from elements around the good God, and another school now called "absolute dualists" who believed good and evil principles existed separately from the beginning of eternity, which implied that the powers of the good God were limited. The two groups remained on good terms. The Cathars were also known for producing the romantic troubadours and the ideas of courtly love of the late Middle Ages.

 

Also informative on the Cathars are the few of their original documents to survive, reprinted in Barnstone and Meyer's The Gnostic Bible , as well as Willis Barnstone's introduction to that section of the anthology.

 

The pope declared a crusade against the Cathars in 1209, which raged for twenty years of brutal savagery. The Inquisition burned large numbers of the Cathar elite alive. The Cathars were destroyed in France with the long siege of their last fortress, at Montsegur at the edge of the Pyrenees. In March 1244 more than two hundred of the leading figures from the fortress were burned alive. A small remnant fled to Italy where they survived into the fourteenth century.

 

The Renaissance and After

 

Gnosticism revives again in Europe after the Turks captured Constantinople in 1453 and many Greek scholars fled to Italy, bringing copies of ancient manuscripts with them. At the request of Cosimo de Medici, Marsilio Ficino (1433-1499), best known for translating the whole of Plato's works into Latin, made a Latin translation of the documents known as the Corpus Hermeticum. These made a huge impact, not as a religious movement but among Renaissance intellectuals. These documents carried the authority they did because they were mistakenly attributed to an ancient Egyptian sage, thrice-great Hermes, or Hermes Trismegistus, who was identified with the Egyptian Ibis-headed god Thoth and believed to date back to the time of Moses. This was a non-Jewish, Egyptian source, actually written in the second century CE.

 

The first of the Hermetic texts is the Poimandres , the title taken from the name of the narrator, a being whose name signifies a personified attribute of God as Nous (intellect or intuition). Poimandres tells a disciple a creation story. As in Classic Gnosticism, " Nous , God, being male and female, beginning as life and light, gave birth, by the Word, to anotherNous , the Creator of the world." ( The Way of Hermes , p. 19). This second god, while not a negative creature like Yaldabaoth, is of a lower order. This bisexual entity creates the world of matter. And as in the Gnostic eschatology, humans contain an immaterial spark that must, after death of the body, transcend the eight spheres surrounding the Earth and make its way back to the realm of the higher God. The Hermetic writings do not include the mythology about multiple emanations and Sophia, but the general outline is very similar.

 

The Hermetic texts held their high position for a bit more than a century, until in 1614 the Swiss Calvinist Casaubon proved that they could be dated no earlier than the beginning of the Christian era. The use of the Ptolemaic system should have been a dead giveaway. Gilles Quispel, emeritus professor at Utrecht and Harvard, in his introduction to the text quoted above notes that two Hermetic texts were included among the Nag Hammadi tractates and one of these suggests the Hermetic writings in some form may have long predated the documents translated by Marsilio Ficino after all, though certainly not back to the eighth century BCE, which is the earliest mention of Moses.

 

The Corpus Hermeticum also contained materials about alchemy and astrology that prompted interests that contributed to the modern sciences of astronomy and chemistry, which in the sixteenth century were just emerging from their magical beginnings.

 

In the same period Jewish Kabbalah, which had absorbed Gnostic elements, attracted the interest of European intellectuals, particularly under the influence of the German scholar Johannes Reuchlin (1455-1522), who championed the teaching of Hebrew in German universities to gain access to these documents and to the Hebrew texts of the Old Testament.

 

The century following the publication of the Hermetic texts is a period of occult ferment in Europe. Giordano Bruno (1548-1600) called for a revival of what he thought of as the ancient Egyptian religion. He was also an early advocate of Copernicus's heliocentric theory of the solar system and, remarkably for his age, went beyond Copernicus by claiming that the Sun was just a star like all the others, drifting in an infinitely large universe filled with many other worlds. He was burned at the stake for these ideas on the order of Pope Clement VIII.

 

A contemporary in England was John Dee (1527-1608), Queen Elizabeth's court astrologer. Dee was a leading mathematician of his time and a prominent expert in navigation. He was influential in laying the groundwork for the British empire, but was most famous for his long experiments in communications with spirits and angels. Dee also made an expedition to Poland and to Prague, then the capital of Bohemia, where he met with rulers deeply interested in alchemy and communication with spirit beings. His interests have led scholars of today to regard him as an important predecessor to the Rosicrucian mysticism that emerged just a few years after his death. (See Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke, "The Rosicrucian Prelude: John Dee's Mission in Central Europe," in Matthews, et al., The Rosicrucian Enlightenment Revisited .)

 

A wonderful fictional account of both Bruno and Dee is contained in John Crowley's Ægypt series of novels: The Solitudes (originally titled Ægypt ), Love & Sleep, Dæmonomania, andEndless Things . The distinguished literary and religious critic Harold Bloom includes the first two of this series in his expanded list of The Western Canon, several hundred European and American works beginning with Gilgamesh and extending up to its compilation in 1994. Bloom considers himself a Gnostic and develops his somewhat idiosyncratic views on this inOmens of Millennium: The Gnosis of Angels, Dreams, and Resurrection . Crowley's series also shows a strong influence of Gnostic themes.

 

The Rosicrucian Temple of the Rosy Cross, 1618

 

 

In the seventeenth century we come to the great Rosicrucian furor, begun with the publication, in 1614 and 1615 in Germany, of two anonymous manifestoes claiming to speak for a secret occult society said to have been founded by Christian Rosenkreutz, who was supposed to have been born in 1378 and died in 1484. The manifestoes, published almost a century into the Reformation, affirm a strong anti-Catholic Protestantism merged with Hermeticism.

 

For a long time the Rosicrucian documents were dismissed by scholars as an irrelevant hoax. No one has ever established that the secret order of the Rosy Cross existed in fact. But historian Frances Yates in her The Rosicrucian Enlightenment established beyond doubt that there was a lively experimentation with occult matters linked to Rosicrucianism. A key center of this was the court of Frederick V, Elector Palatine (1596-1636), the young ruler of the German principality of the Palatinate. He strongly supported occult studies and Hermetic scholars at his court at Heidelberg. A number of Rosicrucian and Hermetic treatises were published at places in the Palatinate. Invited to become king of Bohemia, which was launching a Protestant revolt against the Catholic Holy Roman Empire, Frederick and his English bride accepted. He was crowned in Prague in August 1619. This touched off the Thirty Years War. Frederick was defeated and driven into exile in November 1620, the brevity of his reign earning him the nickname "The Winter King." His exile led to the dispersal of the mystical scholars who had gathered at his courts.

 

Smoley continues with figures and movements that, independently of the old Gnostics, adopted views that in part echoed theirs. He includes the German mystic Jacob Boehme, the original Freemasons, the Bavarian Illuminati of Adam Weishaupt, proclaimed in 1776, and the Swedish Christian mystic Emanuel Swedenbourg. From there he moves on to stock characters of occult speculation such as the adventurers the Comte de St.-Germain and Count Cagliostro. These were interesting figures but seem to stray from the point.

 

One of the major moderns to declare for Gnosticism was the poet and artist William Blake (1757-1827), a founder of Romanticism. Subject throughout his life to visions of angels, Blake considered himself a Christian but repudiated the official churches. He maintained that each human contained a portion of godlike material, which he interpreted to mean that God was not a separate and superior being. He also, in the full Gnostic spirit, claimed that the Earth was not created by the highest God but by Elohim, a lower angel, seemingly equivalent to the Gnostic demiurge.

 

Smoley comes finally to the Gnostic revival in the late nineteenth century, which begins with Madame Blavatsky (1831-1891) and her Theosophical Society and is carried on by her acolyte, the indefatigable independent scholar G. R. S. Mead. Blavatsky, dismissed by mainstream academics as a crank, had an influence on the twentieth century almost as great as that of Sigmund Freud. She was the principal initiator of Western interest in Eastern religions, mainly Theravada Buddhism, and the occult revival. She paved the way for major esoteric figures of the early twentieth century such as Rudolph Steiner, George Gurdjieff, Peter Ouspensky, and Krishnamurti, and ultimately the currents that coalesced as advocates of New Age spirituality.

 

The New Age covers a very diverse assortment of people and movements that have broken with conventional religion, particularly Christianity, but find scientific materialism inadequate, or incomplete, either on moral or ontological grounds. They have more than their share of insipid maundering about crystals and auras that makes it hard to take them seriously, but the countercultural spiritual movement also contains people seriously concerned with alternate states of consciousness, lucid dreaming, and, further afield, new efforts with the kind of research done a century earlier by the Society for Psychical Research. This and the preference within the New Age to rank personal empirical spiritual experience higher than received doctrine, knowledge ahead of faith, mark them as kindred to the old Gnostics. They have been unsatisfied with scriptural authority while feeling a need to explore expanded states of consciousness to see where these may lead.

 

Blavatsky taught a doctrine with a strong affinity for Gnosticism, depicting a cosmos whose higher levels were nonphysical consciousness and grading downward ending in its densest realm of physical matter. Individual human souls were said to be a spark that sought to unite with a remote "over-soul" in the nonphysical realm. She claimed that Gnosticism was the heart of a traditional ancient wisdom and that Christianity was "the usurper and assassin of the great master's doctrine." Smoley cites a key statement on this from Blavatsky's Secret Doctrine :

 

 

Madame Helena Petrovna Blavatsky with her associate Henry Steel Olcott. Olcott was a colonel in the Civil War and served on the investigating committee into the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. He lived in India from 1879 to his death in 1907. To this day he is honored in Sri Lanka for his contributions to Buddhism.

 

 

"It requires a lower order of creative angels to 'create' inhabited globes - especially ours - or to deal with matter on this earthly plane. The philosophical Gnostics were the first to think so, in the historical period, and to invent various systems upon this theory. Therefore in their schemes of Creation, one always finds their Creators occupying a place at the very foot of the ladder of spiritual Being. With them, those who created our earth and its mortals were placed on the very limit of mayavi [illusory] matter, and their followers were taught to think - to the great disgust of the Church Fathers - that for the creation of those wretched races, in a spiritual and moral sense, no high divinity could be made responsible, but only angels of alow hierarchy , to which class they relegated the Jewish God, Jehovah." (From The Secret Doctrine , 1888, her emphasis.)

 

I was never attracted to Blavatsky, because of her pseudo histories of humanity, which posit multiple sequential racial groups from the mythical continents of Atlantis and Lemuria. Also because it was one thing for people of the second century to think in terms of what we today call Creationism, however non-Christian, but it would seem that this would need a little distancing when writing about world origins in recent decades. I had a discussion of this last spring with John Michael Greer at a conference on peak oil in Pennsylvania. Greer writes widely on the threat posed to industrial civilization by the depletion of oil and other essential minerals, but he is also Grand Archdruid of the Ancient Order of Druids in America and one of the country's most prominent occultists. He insisted that Blavatsky intended her pseudo histories to be allegorical and figurative.

 

Which brings us down to the present. Science charts the history of the known universe from the Big Bang through the origin of life on this planet, and across the vast space of time it has taken for organic evolution to produce, pretty plainly by accident within the general framework of the rules of natural selection, we humans, who have been here for hardly a few moments of the geological timeline and seem unlikely to last a great deal longer the way we are heading. The dinosaurs lasted 165 million years. The earliest modern human appeared 43,000 years ago and agriculture goes back only 10,000 years. It is pretty difficult to have the chutzpah to claim that the Earth, much less the universe, was created by some supernatural spirit just for us.

 

We could add to that the effects on human personality of disease or injury to the organic brain as an obstacle to the idea that there is a personality independent of the physical body.

 

The Gnostics were prototypical rootless cosmopolitan Jews, eerily similar to the emancipated Jews in the late nineteenth century who, when freed from the stetl and allowed out of the Pale of Settlement, or offered citizenship in Germany, exploded in creative speculation beyond the bounds of rabbinic commentary. In their way the Jewish Gnostics were experimenters who relied on personal experience and refused to accept either faith or reason as the ultimate arbiters of truth. Many of their writings look foolish or bizarre because they are bound up with a long-outmoded science and they chose to try to explain their ideas by making allegorical use of Jewish creation myths that all but the most extreme Evangelical Protestants and Islamic and Jewish conservatives now see as fairy stories. If they had known modern science would they have given the whole thing up? That is, is there a loophole in the evidence that makes a place like the Pleroma conceivable?

 

Physics today is in another period of transition as consequential as the adoption of the Ptolemaic system, confronted by numerous rival theories of the underlying reality behind our perceptions of the physical world. Some of those theories, such as proposing the actuality to be a great hologram or the universe as an information system analogous to a computer program, begin to see the universe as physically immaterial, its physicality an artifact of the informational construct, like the images on your computer screen. Does this leave an opening for the Buddhist belief that the world is an illusion, or the Gnostic reversal of the priority of matter and energy? Were these not just foolish fantasies but intuitions drawn from the immersion of the brain in the holographic or information matrix? There are even a few scientists who think so.

 

Religions are as powerful as ever despite the Enlightenment, and at least some of the certainties of nineteenth century materialism look narrow and dogmatic. Is the persistence of religion just a sign of incorrigible human wishful thinking, perhaps hard-wired into the brain as an inability to fully conceive personal annihilation? Or is there some possibility that buried under the ossification of doctrine, religion survives because some transcendent experience occurs often enough to enough people to keep alive a belief that there are other planes of existence? If so, the Gnostic approach seems more likely to uncover it, while the faith-based scriptural dogmas of Christianity, Islam, and Judaism mostly reinforce earthly political and ethnic prejudices.

 

In the end, Han Solo is probably right, that a good blaster is more useful than the Force. But, just maybe, Skywalker has it right.

 

Further Reading

Bloom, Harold. Omens of Millennium: The Gnosis of Angels, Dreams, and Resurrection. New York: Riverhead Books, 1996.

Burkitt, F. C. Church and Gnosis: A Study of Christian Thought and Speculation in the Second Century. London: Cambridge University Press, 1932.

Ehrman, Bart D. Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.

Goodrick-Clarke, Nicholas. The Western Esoteric Traditions. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.

Hesse, Hermann. Demian. Translated from the German by Michael Roloff and Michael Lebeck. New York: Bantam Books, 1970. First German publication, 1919.

Matthews, John, et al. The Rosicrucian Enlightenment Revisited. Hudson, New York: Lindisfarne Books, 1999.

Mead, G.R.S., trans. Pistis Sophia: The Gnostic Tradition of Mary Magdalene, Jesus, and His Disciples. San Bernardino: SubliminalSelfHypnosis.com, 2012. This is the 1921 version based on a Latin translation from the Coptic in 1856 and a German version that appeared in 1905. Mead had done a less authoritative version in 1896 based only on the Latin.

Meyer, Marvin, ed. The Nag Hammadi Scriptures: The Revised and Updated Translation of Sacred Gnostic Texts Complete in One Volume. New York: Harper One, 2007.

Pagels, Elaine. The Gnostic Gospels. New York: Vintage Books, 1989 (originally published 1979).

Robinson, James M., ed. The Nag Hammadi Library in English. HarperSanFrancisco: 1988 (originally published 1978).

Rudolph, Kurt. Gnosis: The Nature and History of Gnosticism. Translated by Robert McLachlan Wilson. HarperSanFrancisco, 1987. First German edition, 1980.

Salaman, Clement, et al., translators. The Way of Hermes: New Translations of The Corpus Hermeticum and The Definitions of Hermes Trismegistus to Asclepius. Rochester, Vermont: Inner Traditions, 2000.

Segal, Robert A., ed. The Gnostic Jung. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992.

Stone, Michael E., and Theodore A. Bergren, eds. Biblical Figures Outside the Bible. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Trinity Press International, 1998.

Van den Broek, Roelof, and Wouter J. Hanegraaff, eds.. Gnosis and Hermeticism, from Antiquity to Modern Times. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1998.

Yates, Frances A. The Rosicrucian Enlightenment. Routledge, 2001 (originally published, 1972).

The Hunger Ahead

 Leslie Evans


The Coming Famine: The Global Food Crisis and What We Can Do to Avoid It . Julian Cribb. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2010. 248 pp.

The Race for What's Left: The Global Scramble for the World's Last Resources. Michael T. Klare. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2012. 306 pp.

Back in 1798, Thomas Malthus published his Essay on the Principle of Population . He put forth the simple proposition that, land being finite, the food supply increases only arithmetically, by small percentages, while humans have multiple births that in the next generation have multiple births so that population increases exponentially and will periodically, locally, and in the end globally, outrun the food supply. The premise would seem irrefutable, though the date when the ultimate bill comes due is uncertain. On the right, Malthus was rejected on the ground that God would take care of his own. On the left, for two centuries Malthus was dismissed with the argument that there would always be sufficient food if distribution were more equal. We are now in the endgame.



On one side of the ledger we have a human population that has just topped seven billion, headed for nine billion by 2050, with large sections of the underdeveloped world rapidly raising their standard of living. On the other we are now hitting the planet's limits of arable land, potable water, mineral nutrients required for agriculture, and severe depletion of sea life by global over-fishing. All of this while global warming lights a fire under the whole kettle, most immediately reducing the snowfall and mountain ice caps that feed the world's great river systems on which a large part of world farming depend, and temperatures rise, producing historic droughts. As the days of cheap oil have departed, the crisis is exacerbated as food crops are diverted to make biofuels.



Julian Cribb provides an excellent summary of what we are up against, along with many proposals that might improve our situation if governments were to act on them. Harvey Clare brings the survey two years ahead to where we are now, and offers a broader canvas on our limits, including oil and minerals. Since 2004 global food prices have more than doubled. Like oil, with which food prices run in close tandem, this has been an ascending roller coaster, with sharp rises followed by steep falls, but with the overall trajectory upward. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization's World Food Price Index stood at 100 in 2004. It hit some 240 in 2008 along with the spike in oil prices to $147 a barrel, touching off food riots in a dozen countries and sparking the Arab Spring, especially in Egypt. But when prices fell in 2009 they did not get below an index of 148, almost a 50% increase over 2004. The index has been above 200 since 2010 and is currently rising from there.

In America, where food is still a small part of the budget of the employed, despite the millions on food stamps, the effects of this shockwave are still little felt. In the third world, fifteen thousand children die each day of hunger-related disease.

World hunger was abated in the 1970s by the Green Revolution of more productive and pest resistant grains. That improvement has run its course, while population has continued to explode. Cribb reports that by 2009 a billion people were eating less than the year before.

Many currents are converging on the impending world famine. The rise in oil prices has compelled Thai rice famers to park their tractors and plow with buffalo. In China increasing meat consumption by the burgeoning middle class has led to a ten-fold increase in the need for feed grain. In eastern Australia there was a ten-year drought. Cribb writes: "This challenge is more pressing even than climate change. A climate crisis may emerge over decades. A food crisis can explode within weeks - and kill within days."

Population growth rates are declining, but not fast enough. World growth rates average at 2%, while food output is only going up by about 1%. There will be two billion more people by the time world population stablizes at mid-century. In the meantime, as living standards rise rapidly in China, India, Brazil, and other poor countries, pressure on world food supplies are heading toward a breaking point.



By 2050 total food output will have to double to meet the larger and more affluent population. This will have to be done, Cribb writes, "using far less water, less land, less energy, and less fertilizer."


Water

Drought only exacerbates a more fundamental problem. Only 2.5% of the water on earth is fresh water, usable for farming and drinking. All of that comes from rain and snowfall. The vast majority of the water that falls from the sky quickly disappears again, from evaporation and runoff to the sea. Perhaps 10% is usable by humans. Of that, today 70% is used for agricultural irrigation, power generation takes 20%, and urban water supplies take 10%. Much of the world's drinking water is contaminated. This kills 2-5 million people a year in poor countries.



The world's population is rapidly urbanizing, departing rural areas for the megacities. As urbanization expands, it concretes over adjacent farmland, reducing cropping area, and the urbanized people use more water. According to Cribb, "Urban demand for water may soar by as much as 150 percent by 2025 as the cities themselves burgeon."

The water needed to make our food varies hugely by what we eat. It take 7 gallons of water to grow a potato, 179 for a pound of grain, but 1,797 gallons for a pound of beef and 719 for a pound of chicken. As standards of living rise in developing countries there is more consumption of animal meats requiring far greater amounts of water in agriculture and stock raising.

At the same time, the total available amount of fresh water is rapidly declining. There are many causes: desertification from natural causes, climate change, or over cropping; removal of natural vegetation leading to rising saline groundwater or leaching of acidic soils into streams; concentration of toxins such as arsenic from humans pumping out ground water; and overuse of lake and river water for human uses that dry up reservoirs and even large rivers. Shockingly, Cribb reports, "In the last four decades of the twentieth century, the amount of fresh water available for each human being worldwide shrank by almost two-thirds. It is expected to be halved again by 2025." On a planetary scale, we have hit "peak water."

China faces one of the most serious water threats, "with 22 percent of the world's people and just 8 percent of its available freshwater. The Chinese Ministry of Water Resources has warned of a serious crisis by 2030 due to falling per capita water availability." The other areas facing the most serious shortages are the Indian subcontinent, the Middle East, North Africa, and parts of southern Africa. Lacking sufficient water to be self-sufficient in agriculture, these regions will have to import a large part of their food, a major drain on their economies, if world food markets are even able to provide what they need.

This is not just a problem for poor people in faraway places:

"In the United States . . . groundwater supplies more than half of all drinking water and more than one-third of all agricultural water needs. The huge Ogallala aquifer, which underlies eight states in the American Midwest and is extensively used to grow food, is being depleted at ten times the rate of natural recharge, and some experts fear it could dry up completely within twenty-five years." The situation is even worse in the arid Southwest.


Farmland

The amount of farmland per person on our planet has been in decline for fifty years. It was 1.1 acres in the 1960s. By the 2010s it had fallen almost by half, to .6 acre. It will keep heading downward as the next 2 billion people join us in the next 35 years. The margins for possible increased planting vary significantly by region. Asia already has 75% of potential land under cultivation; the Middle East and North Africa, 87%. Latin America is only at 19%, but the land not turned to crops is largely the Argentine pampas and the Brazilian and Peruvian rain forest. Russia is in perhaps the best position, with only 44% of potential farmland under cultivation and large stretches of Siberia expected to be more amenable to agriculture as global warming advances.


Cribb tells us that Asia will have to double its food supply by 2050 but has only 25% more land to do it in. The Middle East and North Africa will need 150% more food with only 13% more land to grow it on.

But even this gloomy picture hides worse news. Most potential farmland is not in use now because it would be environmentally destructive to use it, as in Brazil, or because the soils are very poor and would need extensive fertilizer and energy to grow crops there. At the same time existing productive land is degrading faster than new lands are put in service, through erosion, exhaustion of the water tables, salinization, and loss of soil nutrients. Cribb concludes:

"[T]he arable area, which produces most of the grain, oilseeds, fruit, and vegetables we eat or feed to livestock, is growing at only one-seventh the rate of consumption and one-forty-sixth the rate of population. Thus, from 1990 to 2005, world demand for food grew fifteen times faster than the area of land available to produce it."

A truly frightening response to this dire situation has been the purchase by arable-land-scarce nations of vast tracts of farmland in other people's countries, mainly in sub-Saharan Africa. This trend set in after the food price shock of 2008, when it became clear that world grain markets could not supply demand. China, Saudi Arabia, the Arab emirates, and some other countries decided for their food security to buy large pieces of other countries. China bought 3 million acres in the Philippines and 1.7 million in Laos. The United Arab Emirates bought 2.2 million acres in Pakistan and 934,000 in Sudan. South Korea also bought large acreage in Sudan. Even Russia, which wouldn't seem to need it, is buying up farmland in Africa. This neocolonial land grab has continued apace since Cribb went to press in 2010. Harvey Klare adds more on this trend and we will come to his findings later. Corrupt governments, for a one-time payment, sell off land essential to their people's future survival, usually in the process expelling indigenous subsistence farmers who have lived there since time immemorial.

Existing farmland is degrading at a devastating rate. In 1991 a UN survey found that 15% of the planet's land was no longer bearing vegetation. In January 2008 the FAO reported its own global satellite survey, which found that 24 percent of the world's land was now denuded. Cribb estimates at that rate 1% of productive land is reduced to unusability each year. On the same principle as compound interest this "will ruin two-thirds of the world's productive land by 2050." The United States is among the world's top five countries with the worst land degradation. The others are Russia, Canada, China, and Australia, all five key grain producers in the world economy.

Salt and acidic poisoning of farmland afflicts different regions. The Indus valley that feeds both India and Pakistan suffers heavy salinity, ruining 100,000 acres of Pakistan's irrigated land per year. Acidity is a product of cutting down tropical forests, leaving behind land good for only a year or two of planting. There is a lot of this in Southeast Asia and still more in South America. This puts severe limits on replacing Brazil's rainforest with farms. Arsenic poisoning is another threat, arising from pumping out too much groundwater, which concentrates naturally found arsenic as the soil dries. This is prevalent in China, the Indian subcontinent, Southeast Asia, Iran, Argentina, and the United States. Since Cribb published we have had the revelations of the high levels of arsenic in rice, with brown rice retaining seven times the amount of arsenic legally permitted in water, and the worst of this crop coming from the American South, where the natural arsenic is compounded by the residues of arsenic-based pesticides used when the land was given over in the past to cotton.

Cities and their suburbs are mostly built on prime farmland. Bedroom suburban communities and still further outlying recreational areas eat up still more land. New York occupies 4,349 square miles, while the Boston to Washington, DC, urban mega corridor has left very little room for farmland. The land further out is often of poorer quality and less productive. There is also a grave risk in this pattern. Cribb writes:

"[M]odern cities, which once supplied quite a lot of their own food, especially in the form of fresh fruit, vegetables, and poultry - notably in Asia - have largely been planned and developed in ways that expel agriculture from within the urban perimeter. This is a piece of extraordinary blindness on the part of today's urban planners . . . which could well turn some of these giant cities into death traps in the event of serious future disruptions to food supplies."

On the same page Cribb refers without qualifiers to "the coming famine of the midcentury."

Expected sea level rise from global warming is another cause that will diminish the world's arable land. Even a modest rise, of fifteen inches, at the conservative end of predictions for the end of this century, would displace thirteen million people around the Bay of Bengal and cut Bangladesh's rice harvest by a sixth.


The Limits of Fertilizer

The Green Revolution, which staved off starvation for the last half century - while population grew from 3 billion in 1960 to 7 billion in 2012 - depended on both new, more productive, varieties of grains, and also ample supplies of fertilizer. Commercial fertilizer is also essential to agribusiness production, the largest source of food for the American consumer. Cribb goes so far as to say that fertilizer has been "the principle cause of the human population explosion." Modern commercial fertilizer is commonly called nitrogen fertilizer after its largest ingredient. Commercial nitrogen is produced from natural gas as a feed stock, and this remains comparatively plentiful and, at least in the United States for a while, relatively cheap. Nitrogen can also be set in the soil at a smaller scale by planting legumes.



But there are three essential ingredients of functional fertilizer and the other two are more problematic: phosphorus and potassium. All three are essential. If one is missing plants are likely not to grow at all. Phosphate rock, the source of phosphorus, is the most at risk. Eighty-four percent of world phosphorous comes from only four countries: China (37 percent), Morocco and Western Sahara (32 percent), South Africa (8 percent), and the United States (7 percent). As this mineral essential to our lives becomes more scarce the price has been escalating. It sold for barely $3 a ton through the first half of the twentieth century. In 2000 it reached $44 a ton. During the oil and food spike of spring 2008 it shot up to $430 a ton. Now in late 2012 it has stabilized at about $185 a ton. Spurred by the higher price, world output, which had fallen to 120 million tons in 2009, was estimated at 186 million tons in 2010. Unlike oil, for which at least some partial substitutes are available, there is no substitute for phosphorus. "No phosphorus, no food." It seems at least unlikely that world phosphorus output can be doubled in the next thirty-eight years to feed the population expected to be here by 2050, not to mention the shift to greater meat in the diets of developing countries, necessitating vast increases in grain for feed compared to a principally vegetarian diet. Here price as well as sheer volume is an essential determinant of potential use. Already many poor farmers have been priced out of the fertilizer market by the price spiral after 2008.

Fertilizers are heavily overused, with little or no control of the runoff, which massively pollutes waterways and the broader ocean. The waterborne fertilizer provides food for algae blooms that rob the water of oxygen and can lead to mass extinction of sea life. On land, much fertilizer, to save costs, shorts the phosphorous and potassium and leans mainly on nitrogen, with the result that whatever quantity of the two shorted minerals does exist in the soil is leached away.

Cribb ranks the nutrient crisis as of similar weight to the far better known ones of climate change, peak oil, and water scarcity.

There is leeway in the system to expand food production, though the raw statistics would seem to overstate it. Some 40 percent of all food produced in the United States is thrown away. This ranges from spoilage before it can be shipped to unsold vegetables in the markets to canned and other goods that are tossed when they reach their sell-by date, though they are actually good for some considerable time after that. It would take a major organizational effort at many levels to improve this picture.

One option for recovering both nutrients and water is to recycle city sewage and human waste, which contain large amounts of recoverable phosphorous. This would require expensive processing, along with recycling waste water for reuse.

Cribb also advocates re-greening cities. His proposal is far more extensive than backyard and community gardens. He suggests planting foodstuffs on freeway and highway sidings, flat building roofs, and front yards, and even enveloping existing buildings in fruit-bearing vines. "It is time to recognize," he writes, "that regulations about waste disposal and urban farming, created with perfectly sound public health aims in view, threaten far more lives in the event of major food scarcities than they will save."

He cites approvingly a proposal by Japanese civil servant Makoto Murase for large-scale saving of rainwater by installing cisterns under buildings. A related idea is to replace ordinary concrete with permeable material to direct rainwater back into the water table instead of running it out to rivers or the ocean.


The Are Not So Many Good Fish in the Sea


"Worldwide, the evidence is mounting that the fish are running out. Almost one in three sea fisheries has collapsed or is in the process. . . . Most of the continental shelves have been swept clean and even miles down, in the deep ocean, the rapine is now taking its toll."

With the continental shelves nearly empty, deep-sea trawlers with vast nets scour the deeps. The ocean depths are dark and there is little food. Large predatory fish such as the cod, tuna, and orange roughy, have evolved to a long, slow existence. The orange roughy, fished to near extinction off the coast of Australia and New Zealand, lives to as much as 140 years. It doesn't reproduce until it is thirty or forty. Cleaning out one year's population can mean the fish is gone for a century, if it returns at all. Cod, once the commonest fish in the sea, is all but gone. Tuna is well on its way out. The November 3, 2006, New York Times reported:

"If fishing around the world continues at its present pace, more and more species will vanish, marine ecosystems will unravel and there will be 'global collapse' of all species currently fished, possibly as soon as midcentury, fisheries experts and ecologists are predicting." Disputed at the time, what can be said is that world marine fish catch plateaued at the end of the 1980s and has not risen since. Within the captured tonnage the size and value of the fish have sharply declined. Today it takes greater effort to catch many smaller fish as the larger ones are fished out. By 2004 farmed fish constituted two-fifths of the world's total harvest.

The greatest devastation has taken place off the coast of Southeast Asia, for whose people fish are a major staple. Cribb reports: "In the Gulf of Thailand, Thailand's most important fisheries location, the density of fish has declined by 86% from 1961 to 1991." In the world at large, the bigger fish, such as tuna, billfish, snappers, and dories, have become scarce and the total weight of the catch is being made up with anchovies, pilchards, and sardines. And world food consumption is supposed to double by 2050. At least for fish, it can't happen. And if land-grown meat were to be substituted for fish, the increased demand over the next 38 years would alone consume an additional volume of water "larger than all the irrigation water used worldwide in farming today." That is equally impossible.

As Cribb summarizes, even if we could continue world sea and freshwater fishing at today's level, if we could not increase that level and had to substitute land-grown meat to feed our growing population, it takes 22 pounds of grain to produce 2.2 pounds of meat. It would require a billion additional tons of grain a year, twice the current North American annual grain harvest.

But aren't farmed fish comprising an ever larger portion of the fish in our supermarkets? Yes. Farmed fish amounted to 29% of global fish consumption in 2008. But those fish have to be fed. It takes five tons of wild fish, ground into fish meal, to produce one ton of farmed fish. The only advantage is that farmed fish are easier to catch. Grain can be substituted, but on large scale this competes with all the other uses that are on the razor's edge of falling short.

There is a still greater threat to our sea life. That is the little-discussed effect on the oceans of the human-caused increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide. Cribb cites a 2005 report by Britain's Royal Society that determined that the oceans have, over the last two centuries, absorbed a full half of the carbon dioxide produced by human use of fossil fuels. This increases sea water's acidity, an effect the Royal Society says is "irreversible during our lifetimes. It will take tens of thousands of years for ocean chemistry to return to a condition similar to that occurring at preindustrial times." ("Ocean Acidification Due to Increasing Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide," Royal Society policy document, June 2005, cited by Cribb, p. 94.)

The increasing pH dissolves calcium, which is deadly to corals, algae, and plankton that draw carbonates from sea water to build their shells. These tiny organisms are the foundation of the ocean's food chain. The atmospheric level of CO2 that halts oceanic calcification outright is 500 parts per million; we are at 450 ppm now and headed for 550 in the next thirty-five or forty years.

Julian Cribb reminds us that the greatest extinction in the history of the Earth was not the extermination of the dinosaurs sixty-five million years ago, but the Great Dying at the end of the Permian, 251 million years ago. Then 96 percent of all sea life went extinct, including almost all fish. The cause is debated but is generally believed to have been volcanic eruptions in Siberia that released large amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. As the corals and other shelled organisms died, the way was cleared for giant bacterial colonies that drained the seas of their oxygen. We are seeing something similar on a smaller scale today as human pollution creates large dead zones in the seas. The recovery time from a mass oceanic extinction, of which there have been five in the Earth's history, is about ten million years. Cribb quotes Dr. Charlie Veron, Chief Scientist of the Australian Institute of Marine Science: "It cannot rationally be doubted that we are now at the start of an event that has the potential to become the Earth's sixth mass extinction. . . . It is a case of humans changing the environment."


What Are We Doing About It?

The Green Revolution of the 1960s and 1970s reduced world hunger from one person in three to one in eight despite population growth. Its success rested on the development of high-yield, disease-resistant wheat. American plant geneticist Norman Borlaug was the central figure in this effort, which was carried out in Mexico, jointly funded by the Mexican government and the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations.

Since the mid-1980s, funding for agricultural research in the United States has been drastically cut. It accounts now for only 1.8 cents of every science dollar. Even more serious, government policy has shifted support from public to private research, an approach almost obsessively endorsed by the Republican Party and its candidates. Julian Cribb is fully supportive of private corporate investment in improving crop yields. But there are key sides to the agrarian crisis in which food producing and marketing corporations have no involvement and to which they make no contribution. As Cribb writes:

"Public research bodies tend to select technologies to work on that deliver public good outcomes, like putting more food on the world's table, helping the poor, improving health, or curing the environmental impacts of agriculture, whereas private research tends to favor technologies that offer the greatest potential for profit to the investing company."

Corporate food production research works reasonably well with large, well-funded growers. High royalties on patented seeds and varieties that are sterile, where seeds must be repurchased from the corporation each year, are more likely to be prohibitive for small and subsistence farmers. These small fry may be marginal in the United States but remain the large majority of agrarian producers in sub-Saharan Africa and much of Asia and Latin America.

"These technologies are too costly, are unsuited to small farms, demand extensive training and high educational levels, depend heavily on scarce and expensive inputs based on fossil fuels, or else need to undergo prolonged and expensive adaptation for use in smallholder agriculture - which developing countries' national agricultural agencies rarely have the resources to carry out."


Oil for Food


Inevitably any discussion of rising food prices and impending shortages comes around to agriculture's dependence on oil and the effects of peak oil. As a fossil fuel, the world's oil is a once-in-a-lifetime treasure that, once spent, will never be there again. A sobering fact for our ever-exploding world population is that it takes 10 calories of fossil oil energy to come up with one calorie of food energy. And here we should turn to Michael Klare's The Race for What's Left . The central fact for our oil-dependent civilization is that crude oil, that is, oil that can be pumped out of the ground as a liquid, flatlined globally in 2005 and has not risen since, while both population and demand have continued to grow.

This essential fact has been obscured by a shift to supplement our insufficient crude output with various unconventional alternatives: Canadian tar sands, deep-sea oil, fracked "tight" oil, and corn-based ethanol. The salient point about these alternatives, as Klare explicates, is that they are all far harder to obtain, much more costly, have, with the exception of deep sea, much lower outputs per well, and in some cases lower energy content per barrel. These are the planet's dregs, after the good stuff is depleted.



As the northern polar ice melts away, a fatal consequence of fossil fuel combustion, the five nations that border the polar sea - Russia, Canada, the United State, Norway, and Greenland (administered by Denmark) - are scrambling to lay rival claims to the ocean floor. Compared to a Texas gusher of a century ago, the efforts to tap oil in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas off the northern coasts of Alaska and Canada say much about our limited options. Oil drilling has gone on for decades in shallow offshore waters on continental shelves. This is a technology not much different from drilling on land. Deep sea drilling is a wholly other technology. BP's Deepwater Horizon rig was drilling in 5,000 feet of water and was capable of reaching combined water and under sea land to depths of 30,000 feet. The April 2010 explosion that killed eleven workers took three months to cap, released 4.9 million barrels of oil, devastating sea life and damaging the Gulf tourist industry. The leak is still seeping today.

The point is that even with major cities nearby and clear water the explosion was a historic disaster. Imagine that same explosion in the ice-filled Arctic seas inaccessible to any human habitation larger than a village. Shell Oil has been several years trying to complete a salvage ship that would have some small capacity to confront a major leak, and even then was forced to close its preliminary predrilling preparations in the Chukchi Sea in late summer this year as ice floes threatened the stability of its exploratory operation. Klare writes:

"The pursuit of untapped oil and mineral resources in remote and hazardous locations is part of a larger, more significant phenomenon: a concerted drive by governments and resource firms to gain control over whatever remains of the world's raw materials base. Government and corporate officials recognize that existing reserves are being depleted at a terrifying pace and will be largely exhausted in the not-too-distant future. The only way for countries to ensure an adequate future supply of these materials, and thereby keep their economies humming, is to acquire new, undeveloped reservoirs in those few locations that have not already been completely drained."

It is mainly oil that has companies scrabbling in the most dangerous and inhospitable parts of the Earth. Klare continues:

"What we expropriate from these areas represents all that remains of the planet's once abundant resource bounty. In all likelihood, we are looking at the last oil fields, the last uranium deposits, the last copper mines, and the last reserves of many other vital resources. These materials will not all disappear at once, of course, and some as-yet-undeveloped reserves may prove more prolific than expected. Gradually, though, we will see the complete disappearance of many key resources upon which modern industrial civilization has long relied."

Central to the multifarious declines is the ravenous pace of extraction, as population burgeoned and standards of living ate up greater and greater resources per capita. Klare offers some figures on the increase in annual production of common minerals for the fifty years from 1950 to 2000. Bauxite went up 1,513%, copper 399%, iron ore 324%, and crude oil 618%.

The consequences are most apparent in oil. The world's top 10 oil fields have declined from their peak output an average of 30%. Europe's International Energy Agency estimates the annual decline rate at 6.7%. New discoveries plus unconventional add-ons have kept production flat and even shown a very small increase over the last seven years, but supply is matching demand only because much of the world is still in a steep recession that has driven demand downward.

Other essential materials are heading into decline as well. Klare gives one example:

"In 2005, Indonesia produced 1.1 million metric tons of copper ore, nearly as much as the United States, the world's second leading producer after Chile. But production has fallen substantially since then, largely as a result of diminishing yields at Freeport-McMoRan's giant Grasberg mine. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, Indonesia's net output in 2008 was just 650,000 metric tons, down more than 40 percent in only three years." Chilean copper output is stagnant despite rising world demand. 

The paucity of rare earths is particularly alarming. These are elements with little public recognition: cerium, europium, lanthanum, neodymium. These are essential components in flat screen TVs and computer monitors, lasers, aero-space components, arc lighting, camera lenses, energy efficient light bulbs, catalysts for oil refineries, and high capacity magnets and batteries. They are essential for making cell phones, laptop computers, iPods, and other devices with liquid crystal screens. Michael Klare in his survey tells us that every Prius battery requires two pounds of neodymium and between twenty-two and thirty-three pounds of lanthanum. Rare earths are also used in finishing fine mirrors and glassware. More than 95 percent of commercially available rare earth elements come from China. In November 2010 China cut its rare earth exports by 35 percent, after a three-month total embargo on rare earth shipments to Japan. 

Prosperity in our current economies depends on constant economic growth and our species is still in a cycle of constant population expansion. Klare writes: 

"According to a projection by the U.S. Department of Energy, worldwide GDP will grow by an estimated 3.4 percent per year between 2008 and 2035, climbing from $66 trillion to $162 trillion over the course of this period (in constant 2005 dollars). Demand for basic resources is bound to expand at a comparable pace, placing extraordinary pressure on energy and mineral producers to find and develop new sources of supply." 

He adds: "According to one estimate, global REE [rare earth elements] demand will jump from 124,000 tons in 2010 to 185,000 tons in 2015, an increase of nearly 50 percent. With consumption increasing so swiftly and Chinese output unlikely to grow, many observers expect to see a high-stakes race among potential REE suppliers around the world."


The Limitations of Unconventional Oil


The oil companies have chosen, unwisely for our future, to proclaim that their turn to unconventional oils and oil substitutes will compensate for the decline in traditional crude. They have launched a propaganda campaign centered on a wildly overoptimistic "study" by Italian oil executive Leonardo Maugeri, a visiting scholar at Harvard, which allowed him to get Harvard's name on his product. Mitt Romney cited this study in his first debate with Barack Obama. Another hustler for the oil companies has been the ultraconservative Wall Street Journal, owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation, which also owns the far right wing Fox News.

 

 



Inasmuch as most Republican politicians are Bible literalists who reject both evolution and geology in favor of young Earth creationism, they are disbelievers in the source of oil in the first place, as the time scales required for its production and the flora and fauna that decomposed to form oil all fall outside of their 7,000 year time frame for the age of our planet, and their reading of the Bible tells them that God would not let us run out of such an essential material. This puts them in a poor position to judge objectively the facts of this issue. 

Klare's summary is as good as any, and represents the views of oil geologists and other experts in this field. Let's begin with Canadian tar sands. Saudi crude is simply pumped out of the ground. The substance up there in Alberta is not crude oil but bitumen, otherwise known as asphalt, the thick gooey material used to repair roads. It is found mixed with sand, and, in Canada's chilly climate, is firmly solid. It has to be mined like coal, or heated underground to get it to flow. This requires a large amount of external energy and creates a large amount of environmental damage. 

First, the native forest has to be leveled. Then the topsoil is removed, and open pit mining begins. The chunks of asphalt and sand are trucked to a plant where they are ground up and mixed with chemical solvents to create a liquid called syncrude. The wastewater tailings ponds are toxic and kill birds that alight on them. 

The alternative method, used where the deposits are too deep for open-pit mining, is to heat vast quantities of water, using steam to melt the underground deposits. The used water is toxic, from chemicals and contact with the liquefied bitumen, so must be stored somewhere indefinitely so it does not contaminate waterways and ground water. Large amounts of natural gas are used to heat the water to make steam. 

Another alternative fuel, Venezuela's heavy oil, presents similar high costs and problems. Heavy oil is found as shallow deposits, formed when regular crude, far in the past, seeped up near the surface, where bacteria and weather removed the lighter components, leaving a thick, viscous material with a high proportion of sulfur and other impurities. Like bitumen, heavy oil must be heated to make it flow, then it is mixed with lighter hydrocarbons such as regular crude to allow it to be run through a pipeline to refineries. Klare adds: 

"The necessary amount of such dilution can be quite substantial, with as much as one barrel of diluents required for every three or four barrels of extra-heavy oil produced." 

Deep sea drilling, tar sands, and heavy oil, despite their environmental risks, high costs, and low net energy because of the energy inputs required for their extraction and processing, are known stable technologies. There are two remaining potential fossil fuel energy resources: oil shale and shale oil. The unfortunate reverse terminology can obscure the fact that these are entirely different materials. Oil shale is a name given to kerogen, a substance a few million years short of being naturally cooked into oil. There are vast deposits of this stuff in eastern Utah and western Colorado. Kerogen is a solid. It takes huge quantities of water to extract it, and it is found in mostly desert areas where that volume of water is not available. It must be heated to between 530 and 930 degrees Fahrenheit to become liquid. To date no one has found a way to do anything with it commercially. 

For some reason, Klare does not spend any time on shale oil, real oil embedded in limestone shale, being fracked in the Bakken shale of North Dakota and Montana, and the Eagle Ford formation in south Texas. This source accounts for a significant but still relatively modest increase in U.S. crude output that has turned around an almost forty-year decline. It is being vastly overhyped by the media with claims that this will mean oil independence or that the United States will soon be out-producing Saudi Arabia. 

Of course the addition to U.S. output is needed and welcome, but it falls far short of the hype. Total production in the Bakken, the largest shale oil play, reached 546,000 barrels per day (b/d) in January 2012, up from 187,000 b/d in 2009. The United States uses 18 million barrels of oil a day, about 40% of that imported. Oil analyst Tom Whipple comments: 

" It took the production from 6,617 wells to produce North Dakota's 546,000 b/d in January. Divide the daily production by the number of wells and you get an astoundingly low 82 b/d from each well. I say 'astounding' because a good new offshore well can do 50,000 b/d. BP's Macondo well which exploded in the Gulf a couple of years ago was pumping out an estimated 53,000 b/d before it was capped. (http://www.fcnp.com/commentary/national/11418-the-peak-oil-crisis-parsin..., March 21, 2012) 

Not only is the output per well extraordinarily low, the depletion rate of these wells is prohibitive over time. Whipple continues: 

"Although a few newly fracked wells may start out producing in the vicinity of 1,000 barrels a day, this rate usually falls by 65 percent the first year; 35 percent the second; and another 15 percent the third. Within a few years most wells are producing in the vicinity of 100 b/d or less which is why the state average for January is only 82 b/d despite the addition of 1300 new wells in 2011. From here on the path ahead seems clear. We seem on course to drill another 2,000 or so in 2012. As long as the price of crude stays up, this pace can continue for a while. The drilling can spread into Montana and Canada until diminishing returns set in. While recently drilled wells may be producing well, the vast bulk of the wells will be close to depletion. While some predict that the Bakken will be producing a million b/d within a few years, it will not stay there long as depletion rates are simply too high." 

Another false hope appeared in a widely reprinted October 23, 2012, Associated Press dispatch by Jonathan Fahey headed "US May Soon Become World's Top Oil Producer." It claimed America would soon be out-producing Saudi Arabia. The Saudis pump 11.6 million barrels of crude a day. Fahey gleefully reports that "Driven by high prices and new drilling methods, U.S. production of crude and other liquid hydrocarbons is on track to rise 7 percent this year to an average of 10.9 million barrels per day. . . . the biggest single-year gain since 1951." He adds an Energy Department forecast that U.S. output will reach 11.4 million barrels a day in 2013.

 

 



U.S. output of crude oil, including the recent upturn, is only slightly above 6 million b/d, little more than half of Saudi Arabia's average, and only amounting to a third of U.S. consumption. The rest of the current 10.9 million daily barrels are those "other" hydrocarbons. Though useful, they are not oil. They include natural gas liquids, mainly propane; biofuels, mainly ethanol; and refinery processing gains. This last doesn't add any oil; it is the fact that when refining oil into less dense gasoline the total volume increases somewhat as you thin the oil. 

And while politicians, particularly Republicans, make a great issue of energy independence, with the United States consuming 25% of the world's oil it is not going to be free of significant need for imports in the foreseeable future, though it can reduce the current percentage. And oil prices, the main component of gasoline prices, are set globally, so even if we were producing all of our oil needs domestically it would not reduce the price of gasoline.


Getting a Stranglehold on Other Countries' Farmland


We return at the end here to the world food crisis. Michael Klare expands on and updates our picture of land-grabs by food-stressed countries of other people's arable land. The global leap in food prices in 2008 left Saudi Arabia at the mercy of international grain merchants, many of whom had run out and could not ship anything. Several Saudi companies, backed by the government's King Abdullah Initiative for Saudi Agricultural Investment Abroad, have bought up large foreign landholdings. Saudi Star owns 750,000 acres in Ethiopia, where it is producing rice on one 25,000 acre parcel. Hadco is growing wheat, corn, and soybeans on 22,800 acres in Sudan. Klare writes: 

"The proliferation of Saudi agricultural projects in desperately poor African nations such as Sudan and Ethiopia has produced some striking scenes. Nancy Macdonald of Maclean's , who visited the Saudi Star pilot operation in Alwero, described guards with AK-47s protecting humidity-controlled greenhouses that are watered by computerized irrigation systems - high-tech plantations set in the middle of a country where farming is still conducted with sickles and ox-drawn plows and where millions suffer from chronic malnutrition." 

Sudan has sold or leased 245,000 acres to Qatar and 700,000 to the United Arab Emirates, which also controls 100,000 acres in Egypt. The UAE's Minerals Energy Commodities Holding Company has leased 245,000 acres in Indonesia. Bigger players - China, India, and South Korea - are also buying up or leasing acreage. Klare reports that the South Korean government is providing backing to some sixty South Korean companies running farms in sixteen foreign countries. In Madagascar, the Daewoo Logistics Corporation, part of the giant Daewoo conglomerate, in 2008 secured a lease on 3.2 million acres of farmland, where it planned to grow 50 percent of South Korea's corn. This sparked a popular rebellion that forced President Marc Ravalomanana out of office in March 2009. His successor canceled the contract. 

South Korea then moved on to Sudan, where its companies gained control of 1.7 million acres. Hyundai Heavy Industries Company is acquiring thousands of acres in Siberia. "Another branch of the same conglomerate," Klare writes, "is planning to buy large parcels of farmland in Brazil. With strong government support, South Korean firms aim to control a combined one million acres of foreign farmland by 2018, enabling them to supply 10 percent of the country's annual imports of corn, wheat, and soybeans." 

India and China between them have 2.6 billion people and rising. India is expected to add 300 million by 2050. And the Green Revolution has reached its limits. Making any noticeable contribution to the food resources of such giants could drain many small countries dry. But India, through its state-owned Minerals and Metals Trading Corporation of India, is buying up land across Africa: in Tanzania, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, and Mozambique. One private Indian firm, Karuturi Global, based in Bangalore, has bought 770,000 acres in Ethiopia. 

China has adopted a "go outward" strategy that Klare says is being carried out "on an enormous scale and with blistering speed." The state-owned Chongqing Grain Group Company is investing $2.5 billion in soybean production on 500,000 acres in Brazil. They expect to process two million tons a year. Another company is investing $7 billion in another area in Brazil. China is also pursuing large tracts of land in Africa, in Mozambique, Benin, Cameroon, Mali, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. They have leased 250,000 acres in Zimbabwe to grow corn. The Beidahuang Land Cultivation Group, the major agricultural power in Heilongjiang province, is making large investments in leasing or purchasing farmland in Venezuela, Zimbabwe, Australia, Brazil, Argentina, Russia, and the Philippines. 

Some of the largest land transfers have taken place in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which has ceded 7 million acres to a Chinese company; Kenya, where Canadian, British, and Qatari companies have heavy investments; Liberia, where a Malaysian company has a sixty-three-year lease on 545,000 acres; and Senegal, where the Saudis are acquiring a million acres. 

Former Soviet collective farms, abandoned since the fall of communism, are also on the block to foreigners. 

Private companies, including American hedge funds, are making similar investments. One securities consultant has coined the term "peak soil" to describe the world scramble for the last remaining farmland. Klare points to Susan Payne, CEO of the British giant Emergent Asset Management, which is making extensive investment in foreign croplands and holds 370,000 acres of good farmland in southern Africa: 

"Payne's views on global food availability combine the nineteenth-century precepts of Thomas Malthus - who predicted that overpopulation would inevitably lead to mass starvation - with twenty-first-century statistics showing declining water levels in China and India, increasing desertification from global warming, and, of course, global population levels rising by some 80 million people per year. All of these factors, Payne explains, could lead to significant food shortages by 2020, giving anyone who controls large areas of farmland the chance to accrue colossal profits." 

With 100,000 acres here and 500,000 there, the global totals of foreign cropland purchased have become enormous. A World Bank study reports that these trades were running at 10 million acres a year until 2008, then leaped to 110 million acres in 2009, an area, as Klare notes, the size of Sweden. ( Rising Global Interest in Farmland , Klaus Deninger and Derek Byerlee. Washington, DC: The World Bank, 2011, 264 pp.) 

Klare concludes: 

"For all the importance and forthcoming scarcity of oil, gas, and vital minerals, perhaps the fiercest resource struggle in the coming decades will involve food and the land it is grown on." 

A bitter struggle is implicit between the governments of the land hungry nations that are laying claim to other people's land, and the indigenous populations, often forced off their traditional lands by their own corrupt governments to complete these transactions. And these are only the trigger points of a far wider threat of famine. As population growth, water scarcity, and global warming press harder on our limited and declining resources terrible contests, literally for survival, will be waged. Even rich America, though it may not see the worst of this, is not likely to be spared. 

The Strange Career of Ahmad Kamal and How He Helped the CIA Invite Radical Islam into Europe

 Leslie Evans

A Mosque in Munich: Nazis, the CIA, and the Muslim Brotherhood in the West. Ian Johnson. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010. 318 pp.

Oh what a tangled web we weave,
When first we practise to deceive!
- Sir Walter Scott




Ahmad Kamal in 1935

Everyone is familiar with the disastrous after effects of the American effort to mobilize radical Islam to defeat the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s, a project that gave birth to Al Qaeda. Ian Johnson's A Mosque in Munich is an account of a much older, less violent, and smaller-scale chapter in Western attempts to co-opt Islam in the battle with Communism, tracing ill-considered U.S. help to radical Islam in establishing a base in Western Europe. It opens with Nazi use of Soviet Muslim defectors and prisoners of war to try to incite revolt against Soviet rule among the Turkic peoples of Soviet Central Asia. During the war the center of this operation was Berlin; in the postwar period it moved to Munich in West Germany, where, as the Cold War blossomed, both the West German government and the American CIA took over the group of aging Soviet Muslims who had fought on the Nazi side, as well as their German handlers, to use as propagandists to the world's Muslims, exposing Soviet oppression of Central Asian peoples.


Ultimately, the CIA concluded that the ex-soldiers were too compromised by their history of collaborating with the Nazis to serve as effective spokespeople. The Americans, thinking that religious zealots were just the thing to toss at the godless Russians, then turned to more authentic representatives of Islam, inviting in the radical Muslim Brotherhood, helping it to establish its first foothold in Western Europe. Communism fell but radical Islam lives on, not least in its European incarnation, from which emerged the 9/11 hijackers and, more broadly, the multi-millioned and little-integrated population of Muslim immigrants, strongly influenced by the network of extremist mosques whose first node was the one in Munich planned by ex-Nazis and the CIA as a front for anti-Soviet agitation. Unintended consequences.

Ian Johnson organizes his story around long-drawn-out plans to build the mosque in Munich as a political front. The Americans, the West Germans, and various Islamists competed for years over who would ultimately complete the building and control it. The idea came from a German ex-Nazi who had run the Muslim exile propaganda operation for Hitler during World War II. The CIA adopted the plan and was instrumental in handing it over to Islamic radicals, who in turn saw it as an instrument for expansion. Johnson writes that "Munich was the beachhead from which the Brotherhood spread into Western society."

Nothing in the thirty years of Johnson's narrative worked out for the Germans or Americans quite as they hoped. The people we meet along the way are fascinating. And in some ways the whole history is a shaggy dog story. The Nazis, and later ex-Nazis, never got very close to the mosque-building project. Even the CIA had left the scene years before ground was broken in 1967 to actually start construction. One of the most interesting characters, the American adventurer who called himself Ahmad Kamal, was never really connected to the mosque project at all, but won inclusion in the story because the West German government for several years erroneously thought he was the project's leader, an assumption apparently fostered by the CIA for its own ends.

It may seen counterintuitive that Soviet citizens, no matter their religion, would choose to fight on the side of the Nazi invaders. The brutal Stalin dictatorship in the USSR, which had killed tens of millions of its own citizens in the forced collectivizations and mass purges of the 1930s, was particularly harsh toward its non-Russian subjects. It sought to forcibly eradicate religion, most especially Islam. Large numbers of Turks, Uyghurs, Uzbeks, Tatars, Cossacks, and Caucasians went over to the Germans after Hitler invaded in June 1941. A million Soviet Muslims fought on the German side, 250,000 of them as combat soldiers, most in all-Muslim units such as the SS East Turkestani Armed Formation, which took part in crushing the Warsaw city uprising in 1944. The all-Muslim 13th Handschar Division of the Waffen SS participated in exterminating the Bosnian and Croatian Jews (Encyclopedia of the Holocaust, vol. 2, Israel Gutman, 1990 edition). The central leader of the Palestinians of that period, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, spent the war in Berlin and recruited to the 13th Handschar SS Division. He was also closely involved with the psychological war operation directed at the Soviet Union, the precursor of the mosque project.

Throughout the war al-Husseini broadcast regularly from Berlin a profoundly anti-Semitic, Nazified version, of Islam that had a powerful influence on Islamic militants in North Africa and the Middle East, particularly on Hassan al-Banna, founder of the Muslim Brotherhood. This story is told elsewhere, in Paul Berman's The Flight of the Intellectuals . This Nazified Islam was reimported to Germany at the end of the 1950s with the help of the American government.

 

Haj Amin Al-Husseini, Grand Mufti of Jerusalem and central leader of the Arabs in Palestine reviewing Bosnian Muslim SS Nazi troops during World War II.



Hitler's effort to expand Nazi influence among Soviet Muslims was run by Gerhard von Mende, a one-time professor and former SA storm trooper, who worked for the Reich Ministry for the Occupied Eastern Territories, known as the Ostministerium, headed by Alfred Rosenberg, a Baltic German. A gifted linguist, von Mende spoke several of the Central Asian Turkic dialects as well as Arabic, in addition to German, French, English, Russian, and Swedish. Through the Ostministerium he built a staff of displaced Soviet Muslims. His first recruits came from an anti-Soviet group of Caucasus exiles called Prometheus that had been operating in Germany since 1925. Rosenberg and von Mende hoped to offer the non-Russian Central Asian peoples some form of nominal independence as an incentive to come over to the Germans. Hitler opposed this, so the Ostministerium Muslim operation never got very far. Von Mende employed Veli Kayum, a leader of the Prometheus group and a Central Asian exile, to scour prisoner of war camps to seek out talented Muslim recruits for his network.


Gerhard von Mende

Von Mende set up liaison offices for each of the major non-Russian ethnic groups from Ukraine and Central Asia. Their miniscule staffs posed as governments in exile. The Ostministerium used them to recruit to the Nazi army in territories they occupied as they moved deeper into the USSR. In the Crimea, virtually the entire able bodied male Tatar population, some 20,000, signed up, for which Stalin never forgave them. At the war's end he had the whole of the Crimean Tatars deported to Siberia.

Von Mende was high enough in the Nazi bureaucracy that he attended the 1942 conference on Lake Wannsee where the Holocaust was planned.

As the war progressed the Ostministerium set up puppet parliaments for Azerbaijanis, Volga Tatars, and Turkestanis. They needed some common glue to hold these disparate peoples together, and believed they found it in Islam. Von Mende persuaded the Palestinian Grand Mufti, Haj Amin al-Husseini, to authorize Islamic seminaries run by Nazi-approved clerics.

Gerhard von Mende survived the war. In the chaos of bombed out Germany, occupied by the USSR in the East and by the U.S., Britain, and France in the West, he managed to hide his years in the Storm Troopers and present himself as a harmless academic bureaucrat. He was soon on the payroll of British MI5, once again living well, and building his own intelligence apparatus among Soviet Muslim former soldiers and other exiles. He moved his operation to Munich, the country's most important postwar city. Soon the West German government also established a paying relationship with von Mende's intelligence group as part of their Cold War efforts to influence people and events behind the Iron Curtain.

The American consulate in Munich was said to be the second largest anywhere. It served as a listening post for all things Soviet. The Americans ran two radio stations out of Munich. The famous one was Radio Free Europe, which began broadcasting in 1949 and which still operates today from the Czech Republic. RFE was aimed at the Soviet satellite countries of Eastern Europe. It was acknowledged to be an agency of the American government. It 1951 it was supplemented by the less-well-known Radio Liberty (originally Radio Liberation), which beamed shortwave transmissions aimed at the Soviet Union itself. This posed as a civilian nonprofit, operated by the American Committee for Liberation (Amcomlib). It was chaired by former Reader's Digest editor Eugene Lyons. It had its headquarters at Munich's Oberwiesenfeld Airport, where, Ian Johnson writes, it commanded "more than a thousand writers, producers, technicians, accountants, and advisers." Amcomlib and its broadcasting arm were fronts for the CIA. The staff included many legitimate American journalists who chose not to be too squeamish about their secret bosses. But it needed announcers and news anchors who could speak not only Russian but the wide variety of languages of the Soviet minority peoples. Here Amcomlib recruited liberally from von Mende's Muslim operatives, who could handle the linguistic problems of translating scripts and broadcasting in multiple Turkic languages.

In addition to Radio Liberty, Amcomlib ran a think tank that published papers by its staff, and "also had an emigre relations department that recruited agents, mostly in Munich, and sent them around the world on covert propaganda missions. U.S. government involvement was carefully masked."

The Ostministerium Muslim agents were mostly able to hide their Nazi past at the end of the war by getting rid of their ID papers and claiming to be Turkish students or refugees from China's Xinjiang province. Amcomlib and its Radio Liberty aimed at the Soviet Union as a whole, so it had a Russian section and a section representing the many non-Russian peoples in the USSR. Of the latter, Johnson writes, "The people on the desks had almost all worked for von Mende in the Ostministerium." He adds: "Radio Liberty relied so heavily on Nazi collaborators that the station would have closed without them. One estimate put the proportion of Radio Liberty employees who had worked for the Nazis at 75 to 80 percent." These were no ordinary soldiers, but people trained as skilled propagandists under the Hitler regime. At least two of them were murdered by Soviet agents shortly after Radio Liberty officially went on the air in 1953.

How the CIA first located this small group of Central Asian exiles is a story that no doubt deserves a book of its own. In November 1944 in the last days of the war the CIA's predecessor, the Office of Strategic Services, sent an agent code-named "Ruppert" into Nazi-occupied France to try to find out what the Germans were planning. Ruppert headed for Berlin, where he spent five and a half months posing as a Nazi security officer. There "he recruited a group of people who would at once repulse and fascinate his American employers: Nazis eager to fight the Soviet Union. Ruppert's top recruit was von Mende." When the Third Reich collapsed, von Mende brought his cadre of Turkic Soviet exiles over to the Americans. They were debriefed by the OSS at a safe house in Frankfurt.

The downside of becoming dependent on ex-Nazi collaborators was two-fold. First, the Soviet Union quickly discovered who they were, and relentlessly exposed them. Second, aiming their propaganda at a milieu where the common denominator was devout Islam, these were people who had grown up in the USSR where religion was banned and had then lived in Nazi Germany, so their knowledge of Islam and credentials for piety were more than thin. The CIA struggled with this problem for a number of years. Finally it gave up and sought out more authentic Islamists.

The most immediate issue within Amcomlib was hostility between the Russian staff and the Muslims. The latter, no matter how tenuous their religious training, were deeply hostile to the Slavs. Several times the CIA brought in von Mende himself for consultation. His advice, Johnson writes, was to "support the Soviet minorities - and forget about the Russians." By this time von Mende was running his own network and was principally working as a contractor for the West German government in Bonn, out of upscale offices in Dusseldorf. Von Mende maintained his own moles inside Amcomlib who kept him up to date on the Americans' problems.

The CIA agents were Russophiles, which made von Mende's recommendation hard to stomach. But they did send two of their Muslim employees, Rusi Nasar and Hamid Raschid, on the 1954 Hajj to Mecca. Actually Soviet defectors, they pretended to be Turks. They harassed Soviet Muslim pilgrims, even throwing tomatoes at them, shouting "You serve the Moscow atheists!" Time magazine and the New York Times reported the incident as an example of spontaneous opposition to Soviet oppression.

The CIA next sent Rusi Nasar to the Bandung nonaligned nations conference in Indonesia in April 1955, as a representative of the National Turkestani Unity Committee, a front group run by von Mende's henchman Veli Kayum. The Soviet press denounced Nasar as a "U.S. agent sent from West Germany." Many years later Rusi Nasar became a respected leader of the Uzbek community in the United States. He was interviewed by Ian Johnson in 2006, at the age of eighty-nine. Nasar acknowledged that he had fought on the German side in World War II, saying it was his way to break the Russian hold over his people. He denied he had ever been an employee of Amcomlib, saying that Isaac Don Levine, author of The Mind of an Assassin, an account of Trotsky's assassination, had tried to recruit him but he had refused.

By 1956 the CIA began to focus on how to employ a wider range of Muslims in the West. It sent an agent to Turkey to meet with Muslim refugees from the USSR to see if it could broaden its stable, to get away from that taint of men who had fought on the Nazi side. The West Germans were still committed to von Mende's crew. They had their minister for refugee affairs, Theodor Oberlander, contact von Mende to see if his network of Muslim exiles could put any weight in the scales in Germany's effort to regain East Germany and territories it had lost to Poland after World War II. Oberlander went way back in the Nazi party, even participating in Hitler's beer hall putsch in 1923. He had helped plan the extermination of Jews in Eastern Europe. His get-out-of-jail-free card was that he had supported the Ostministerium plan to establish puppet governments for the USSR's non-Russian minorities, which put him afoul of the SS, which favored outright slavery. This gave him just enough credentials as a critic of Hitler to return to the government, in 1953.

Von Mende proposed that the government unify Germany's Muslims by selecting a chief imam to lead them. His candidate was hard-core Nazi Nurredin Namangani, who had just arrived in Munich in March 1956. Namangani had been arrested by the Soviets in Turkestan before the war. He was freed by the German invasion and became the imam of the SS East Turkistani Armed Formation. The United States had kept him in a prisoner of war camp for two years.

The West German government embraced this plan. Von Mende had a group of his Muslim exiles, all of whom had worked for the Ostministerium, stage a meeting in a beer hall in March 1958, where they formed the Ecclesiastical Administration of Moslem Refugees in the German Federal Republic. They elected Namangani its head. It was then funded by Oberlander's ministry for refugees.

Namangani began to collect funding to build a mosque in Munich. His first significant backer was former SS Major Wilhelm Hintersatz, who had commanded the SS Muslim unit in which Namangani had served as chief imam. Hintersatz had himself converted to Islam after World War I and changed his name to Harun el-Raschid. The plan to build the mosque was announced at a meeting of the Ecclesiastical Administration in December 1958. A Mosque Construction Commission was formed with Namangani as chairman.

The American government meanwhile was looking elsewhere in the Islamic world for potential allies against Communism. In 1957 the interagency Operations Coordinating Board for U.S. covert intelligence activities set up an Ad Hoc Working Group on Islam. This body decided its best candidates were the more militant "reform" currents within Islam, most notably the Muslim Brotherhood. That same year the CIA dispatched Robert Dreher to run Amcomlib in Munich. Dreher soon began to cultivate a newly arrived Muslim personality: Said Ramadan. Ramadan was the son-in-law and former secretary of Hassan al-Banna, the Egyptian founder in 1928 of the Muslim Brotherhood. Al-Banna had close ties with the pro-Nazi Grand Mufti. In 1937 and 1938 the Brotherhood attacked Jewish shops in Cairo and became a channel for Nazi anti-Semitic propaganda, still circulated by the Brotherhood today. In 1948, at the announcement of Israel's founding, the Grand Mufti appealed to the Brotherhood to raise soldiers for the Arab armies that were launched against the new Jewish state. Hassan al-Banna entrusted that task to Said Ramadan.

Robert Dreher

The Americans first came in contact with Ramadan when he attended a ten-day Princeton University conference on Islam in 1953. He came as an official delegate of the Muslim Brotherhood. Ian Johnson cites a CIA report on the conference that made the assessment "Ramadan seems to be a Fascist." Fascist or not, in those years the Muslim Brotherhood regarded Communism as a greater evil than Western capitalism, because the USSR prohibited religion outright. That was good enough for Washington.

By the end of 1958, Ramadan was in Munich attending meetings of Mosque Construction Commission, where he made grandiose claims about big donations he could command from Saudis and other rich Arabs. Johnson says that by this time Ramadan was working closely with Dreher of the CIA. Von Mende was angry that his associate, Namangani, was being outmaneuvered by the Americans. In 1960, when the Mosque Construction Commission registered with the government as an official nonprofit, Ramadan, not Namangani, was listed as chairman. Johnson writes:

"Ramadan was suddenly at the helm of the legal entity charged with building the mosque." Von Mende responded by secretly asking the Bavarian ministry to raise bureaucratic obstacles to halt the mosque project. According to Ian Johnson, the Americans countered by moving one of their assets to Munich to simulate a broad Muslim clamor to see the mosque project move ahead. Ahmad Kamal showed up in town with a small staff claiming to represent a major world Muslim charity called Jami'at al Islam (this had no connection to the radical Pakistani Islamic group with a similar name). "Within less than a year," Johnson writes, "Jami'at was so successful that the local media assumed it was running the mosque project," including printing a photo of a Jami'at official inspecting plans for the mosque. The government caved in and withdrew its objections.

Said Ramadan

 

Here I stopped cold. I had not heard of von Mende or Said Ramadan, but Ahmad Kamal was a different matter entirely. Back in 1979, when I was still a member of a small Marxist organization, I had moved on party assignment from New York to Virginia, Minnesota, up on the Mesabi Iron Range, to look for a job in the iron mines. Virginia was a tough little town of 12,000 sixty miles north of Duluth, closer to Canada than to Minneapolis. Its one bookstore was a disappointing B. Dalton. I discovered that once a year a women's group in Hibbing, thirty miles away, would have an outdoor book sale on a few tables. Desperate for something new to read, I went each of the three years I lived on the Range. One year I picked up Ahmad Kamal's 1940 Land Without Laughter .

It was one of those fascinating, slightly archaic, off-beat adventure books set in that mysterious region, Chinese Turkestan. It has a place on my bookshelves next to the romantic To Lhasa in Disguise of William Montgomery McGovern (1924), William Seabrook's Adventures in Arabia: Among the Bedouins, Druses, Whirling Dervishes, & Yezidee Devil Worshippers (1927), and Beasts, Men and Gods by Ferdinand Ossendowski (1921). A Pole of Lithuanian Tatar descent, Ossendowski's book chronicles his 1918-1920 flight from the Bolshevik Revolution, eastward across Siberia and Mongolia, including his failed efforts to reach Tibet. All of this literature verges into the fantastic. Ossendowski became famous in occult circles as a principal source of the legend of the King of the World and the underground kingdom of Agharti. He recounts meetings with Tibetan lamas and Mongolian princes who tell him of an underground kingdom of wise priest scientists who secretly guide the world's affairs and predict that their ruler, the King of the World, will emerge after a series of devastating world wars to establish a reign of peace and spiritual advancement.

Though Ahmad Kamal's role in the Munich mosque history was transitory, lasting from 1960 to 1962, he is the most interesting character in Ian Johnson's book, and Johnson provides the most detailed biography currently available of this strange man. First of all, Ahmad Kamal was an American, and probably a convert to Islam. Johnson under the Freedom of Information Act retrieved Kamal's FBI file, which states that he was born on February 2, 1914, in Arvada, Colorado. His name was Cimarron Hathaway. His mother was Caroline Grossmann Hathaway, his father, James Worth Hathaway. According to an interview Johnson obtained with a daughter, James was a stepfather and Cimarron's biological father was Qara Yusuf, a Uyghur from Turkestan who was much older than Caroline - he was sixty-four and she sixteen when they married. Yusuf had other wives in his homeland, to which he returned when Cimarron was very young.

Johnson suggests Land Without Laughter was a novel, in part by pointing to several obvious falsehoods in the back cover text of the 2000 paperback reprint edition, prepared by Ahmad Kamal's son, such as the claim that Kamal "commanded" the Basmaci rebellion against the Soviets, which ended when he was ten years old. The version published in 1940 when Kamal was alive makes no such claim. The Kirkus review when it was first published treats it as nonfiction. It is true that, despite the plethora of authentic sounding detail, Land Without Laughter rates an extremely high score on the improbability index.

The book lists its author and protagonist as Ahmad Kamal and includes no suggestion that it is fiction. It makes no mention of the name Cimarron Hathaway. "Ahmad Kamal" says his father died when he was an infant and that he was raised on Indian reservations, where his mother, never named, was writing histories of the various tribes. While living in Houston, Texas, his mother had him home schooled, hiring a "disinherited son of a Prussian nobleman," Lothar von Richter, as his tutor. Von Richter happened to be a student of ancient Turkish and fortuitously taught the young "Ahmad" this obscure language, as well as military tactics. The family moved on to Tucson, Arizona, where his next tutor was one Musa Jan, a Muslim scholar from Kazan, who continued his education in the same vein.

Coming of age knowing nothing but military tactics, the Uyghur language, Islam, and the history of Tartary, Ahmad finds himself unfit for anything but a military career in Sinkiang (Chinese Turkestan, present-day Xinjiang). So in late 1935 he sets sail from the Los Angeles port at San Pedro for India, landing first in Bombay. According to his FBI file he had turned twenty-one earlier that year. In his book he claims he was twenty-three. From Bombay he treks across the subcontinent to Delhi, then northwest into what is now Pakistan, and finally to Kashmir. Here, as he tells it, he hires several servants and horses, and, defying a prohibition by the British authorities, sets off in the dead of winter to cross the Himalayan passes into Tibet.

He finds the high passes littered with the corpses of dead pack animals and human travelers, some frozen to death, others killed and stripped by bandits. After many hardships his small party emerges into western Tibet. They travel on by horse and mule into Xinjiang. His goal was to connect with the Chinese Muslim garrison that controlled most of southern Xinjiang from their fortress in the town of Khotan (now Hotan).

Even today Xinjiang's Muslim people maintain a tumultuous opposition to Han Chinese rule, staging frequent riots, bombings, and acts of sabotage against the Beijing government. In the 1930s the situation was far more chaotic and complex. China was weakly governed by the corrupt Kuomintang (KMT) of Chiang Kai-shek. Mao Zedong's Long March (1934-1935) established the Communists permanently in Shaanxi in north central China. The northwest provinces of Gansu and Qinghai were ruled by Muslims, three families of Hui (Muslim) Chinese known by their enemies as the Ma Clique (Ma is the Chinese rendering of Muhammad). The Mas offered ostensible allegiance to the Kuomintang. Adjacent Xinjiang to the west was ruled until 1928 by an independent warlord. After his assassination he was succeeded first by Jin Shuren (1928-1933), then Sheng Shicai (1933-1944). Though nominally representing the KMT, both Jin and Sheng were de facto puppets of the Soviet Union.

Chiang Kai-shek in 1933 authorized the formation of the 36th Division of his national army, an all-Muslim corps in Gansu, to invade Xinjiang to overthrow Jin Shuren. The unit was commanded by Ma Zhongying, seconded by his half brother, Ma Hushan. As these troops entered Xinjiang, a Muslim Tatar uprising broke out in the south, known as the Kumul Rebellion. Jin's main troops were White Russians who had settled in north Xinjiang to escape the Russian Revolution. In a bizarre turn, Stalin sent regular Soviet troops in disguise to secretly join the White Russian units to reinforce Jin Shuren's position. Ma's forces defeated Jin Shuren in a series of pitched battles in 1933 and early 1934, culminating in Ma's capture of Kashgar in February 1934. The USSR responded with a full-scale invasion.

Ma Zhongying retreated into Xinjiang's southern prefectures, where he confronted the First East Turkestan Republic, the product of the Kumul Rebellion, a breakaway effort by the local Turkic people to establish an independent state. The locals made a sharp distinction between Turkic Muslims and the Hui Chinese Muslims. Ma mercilessly crushed his fellow religionists and established his own stable base at Khotan in the far south. Then, inexplicitly, Ma Zhongying is said to have defected to the Soviet Union, after having battled the Russian troops for more than a year. He was never seen again. The Khotan base was thereafter commanded by Ma Zhongying's half brother, Ma Hushan.

This was the situation when Ahmad Kamal, as I should now call him, rode into town in 1936, eight months after he left Los Angeles. Ahmad for some reason refers to Ma Hushan as Ma Hsi Jung, but it is clear from everything in his text, including a specific identification of the two names in an appendix, that it is Ma Hushan he claims to have met. (He says he was first told the general's name by a Mongol in Ladakh on the Indian side of the Himalayas, and that may have permanently tainted his sonic spelling. Alternatively, many Chinese have multiple given names bestowed at different times in their lives and used in different contexts.)

Ahmad Kamal claims that at their first meeting "Ma Hsi Jung" appointed him an officer in the Tungan (Chinese Muslim) 36th Division army. Almost immediately he was dispatched with a squad of thirty-five men to capture or kill a group of 181 deserters. Two battles with machine guns, rifles, and grenades ensued, in which Kamal's second-in-command was killed along with several others of his unit. A few days later he took part in the storming of Kizil Kurgan, a fortress two hundred miles southeast of Khotan that had been occupied by the Russians and their Chinese allies. This involved storming the walls on siege ladders and hand-to-hand combat with scimitars.

A few weeks after this encounter, Ma Hsi Jung meets with Kamal, telling him he is appointing him to go back to America to buy airplanes for the Tungan army. When the planes arrive, General Ma says, he "will take all of Sinkiang. First, Kashgar, then north to Urumchi, and when he is ruler of all of Sinkiang, he will conquer Kansu and Tibet. And then the balance of Asia!" No megalomaniac he! But his ambition did not stop at the borders of Asia. He dreamed the same dream as Gerhard von Mende and the American CIA, of calling forth a rising of the oppressed Turkic peoples of Soviet Central Asia, and still more broadly, the old Muslim goal of submitting the entire world to Islam. General Ma imagined, erroneously as it turned out, that he held in his hands the match that could set off the Second World War, which fit nicely into his plans of conquest:

"While the bulk of the Russian army would be occupied with the millions of Muslim fighting men besieging their frontiers, other governments would probably take advantage of the moment to throw an army into the field. Ten of every hundred men in Siberia and Russian Turkistan could be relied upon to revolt against the Soviet regime . . . Then, God willing, Ma Hsi Jung would march into the Kremlin!"

In fulfillment of these fantasies Ma Hushan sends Ahmad Kamal up the northern string of towns in western Xinjiang to begin a journey back to America to purchase his air force. Ahmad got as far as Aksu (Aqsu) before being arrested. Jailed under appalling conditions, he was eventually transferred to Urumqi, Sheng Shicai's capital. There he spent four months in a dungeon, where he lost forty-three pounds. His three traveling companions, casual acquaintances, were executed, apparently solely because they could testify that the pro-Russian government was holding an American citizen. Finally he was ordered released. On his way out of the city a counter order was received when some spy had discovered Kamal was in fact working for Ma Hushan. The telegram was garbled and Kamal succeeded in convincing the commandant that it didn't apply to him. He was out of the province before the truth caught up with him.

Ahmad Kamal crossed the Gobi desert, Mongolia, then China, and finally returned to the United States. He hints in closing that he intends to secretly purchase the aircraft he had been commissioned to buy.

Ma Hushan staged a new offensive in June 1937. He captured Kashgar and held it until October. Defeated, he fled to British India. In 1939 he returned to China. In his native Gansu he fought alongside the Chinese Communists against the Japanese invaders. Then, in 1950, he led an uprising in Xinjiang against the new Chinese Communist government. This lasted until 1954, when the redoubtable general was captured. He was executed by the Chinese at Lanzhou. He never marched in glory into Moscow's Red Square at the head of a Tatar host.

How much, if any, of Cimarron Hathaway's swashbuckling tale is true? It is filled with images of barbaric cruelty: floggings, beheadings, rapes. He says he is speaking mainly in Uyghur, which may or may not explain why every conversation comes through as flowery and stilted. His companions - soldiers, merchants, travelers - quote more quaint proverbs than Sancho Panza. And his own bravery often seems over the top, from cutting off men at the ankles with his scimitar from the top of a scaling ladder to throwing a bowl of slops he had been given to eat back in a guard's face or tossing a cup of hot tea into the face of an interrogator who could easily order him shot.

Ian Johnson cites Hathaway's FBI file, which confirms that he did go to Central Asia in 1935, and that he was arrested by the Chinese authorities in Xinjiang and escaped. It also states that he was married while in Xinjiang and his seventeen-year-old wife died of some act of violence during the turbulence there. In Land Without Laughter one of the author's soldier companions without his knowledge negotiates an arranged marriage for him, but it is with a fourteen-year-old and he manages to get out of it the same night, unconsummated, returning the girl to her parents. Whatever passport he was carrying in that adventure would have borne the name Cimarron Hathaway, as he did not officially change his name to Ahmad Kamal until he was back in the United States, in a Hollywood court in 1938.

In 1941, Ahmad Kamal returned to China. There he did marry a Tatar woman named Amina, who had worked as a linguist and correspondent for Russian newspapers. They were both imprisoned by the Japanese in the Weihsien internment camp in Shandong, where they spent almost four years. On their return to the United States after Liberation the Los Angeles Times ran an article with their pictures. Kamal said he had gone back to Chinese Turkestan to retrieve his notebooks from his 1935-36 trip. He told the Times that at the time he and Amina were detained by the Japanese he had three manuscripts, a novel, a history, and a political study. Prohibited from keeping anything but a Bible, he and Amina transcribed the three manuscripts into ornate Turkic script and passed them off to the Japanese guards as a copy of the Koran. ( LA Times , November 11, 1945)

There is yet another curious side tale here that Ian Johnson did not pick up. This one involves the mystery of Amelia Earhart, the famed woman pilot who during an around-the-world flight disappeared over the Pacific in July 1937 with her copilot Fred Noonan,. One theory was that she had been spying for the United States and was captured by the Japanese. On August 21, 1945, as the Weihsien camp was shutting down, a radiogram was sent from there to Earhart's husband, the publisher George Putnam, in North Hollywood, California. The telegram read:

"Camp liberated; all well. Volumes to tell. Love to mother."

It was unsigned. Forty-two years later, on June 28, 1987, the Los Angeles Times reported that a State Department employee had found a copy of this message in the Earhart files in the National Archive. This sparked a renewal of the theory that Earhart had been captured by the Japanese and interned in the Weihsien camp. "Love to Mother" was widely assumed to be some kind of secret code, and the conspiracy literature soon abounded with the abbreviation for it: LTM.

A recent post by Ron Bright and Laurie McLaughlin clears up the mystery. The sender of the mysterious unsigned message was our Ahmad Kamal. It seems that one more of the improbable claims about Cimarron Hathaway that appear on the back cover of the 2000 edition of Land Without Laughter was true, or partly so. This was the claim that he had been a combat pilot. Ron Bright and Laurie McLaughlin in 2001 located his son, who confirmed that Ahmad Kamal had been a licensed pilot and that he kept a plane at the Burbank airport, also used by Amelia Earhart. The son added that Kamal knew both Earhart and her husband, George Putnam, and that when he left for his trip to China in 1941 he had asked Putnam to regularly look in on his mother, who lived nearby. Beyond these facts this account is full of misinformation, claiming, for example, that Ahmad Kamal served as a guide for the famous dinosaur hunter Roy Chapman Andrews, the purported model for Indiana Jones. But Andrews' expeditions in the Gobi Desert and Central Asia took place between 1922 and 1930, when Cimarron Hathaway was still a boy. It appears that Kamal's son has a thin grasp of his father's history and has expanded his legend into myth. (http://tighar.org/Projects/Earhart/Archives/Forum/FAQs/ltm.htm)

There is always something uncertain surrounding everything claimed about Cimarron Hathaway/Ahmad Kamal. His Jami'at al-Islam charity, which he invented while living in Indonesia in the 1950s, issued brochures claiming it had been founded in Turkestan in 1868-69 to promote revolution against tsarist Russia. Ahmad's son, the source of the information about Amelia Earhart, was born in 1950 so events in 1937 took place long before he was around. Cimarron had left for Xinjiang the first time when he was only twenty-one. He had been back in the United States only a few months when Amelia Earhart left on her fatal flight. Surely he was not a licensed pilot then, much less with his own plane in a hangar at the Burbank airport. In the years after her disappearance he became an author and sought out contacts with various publishers, including Scribners, who published his Land Without Laughter in 1940. Earhart's husband, George Putnam, was also a publisher. As the Weihsien camp was shutting down in 1945, Kamal sent two messages, not just one. The second was to Maxwell Perkins at Scribners.

Ahmad Kamal lived in Los Angele between 1945 and 1951. During that period he wrote and published three novels: Full Fathom Five , about Greek sponge divers in Florida, One-Dog Man about a boy and his dog, and The Excommunicated , a romance thriller set in pre-Communist Shanghai. He marketed a number of short stories and worked in Hollywood as a screen writer. Then he abandoned literary work and turned to Islam in a serious way, publishing The Sacred Journey: A Pilgrimage to Mecca in Arabic. Thereafter his life was bound up with intelligence work for the United States on behalf of Islamic, and in particular, Turkestani causes.

In the early 1950s he moved to Indonesia, where he lived in Bandung. The U.S. government lent him the money for his passage, and Johnson says that Kamal told a friend he would be working for the U.S. government. Kamal established the world headquarters for his Jami'at charity in Jakarta. Von Mende's files claim Kamal was working for the Americans in providing support to an anticommunist minister in the Indonesian government. After two assassination attempts Kamal fled to Barcelona. Von Mende's files also record that Ahmad Kamal refused to work for the CIA, because he claimed it was heavily infiltrated by Soviet spies. Instead he was paid by the National Security Council, at the personal request of Richard Nixon, then Eisenhower's Vice President. Kamal tried to have the famous 1955 Bandung nonaligned nations conference canceled, and when that failed he returned from Spain to attend for a day, but left for fear of a physical attack. Throughout all of this his primary goal remained what it had been in Xinjiang in 1936: to inspire Islamic opposition to Communist rule.

There were unproven claims that Kamal's Jami'at charity supplied funding for arms for Islamic insurgencies, including the Algerian revolution for independence from France and the Palestinians in Jordan, from which the Jami'at offices were expelled in 1961. Then in October 1961, at a conference at the New York Sheraton hotel, the Jami'at began to fall apart. It issued a declaration that it was withdrawing its pledge to refrain from "extreme methods" because of the failure of Western governments to support the Islamic cause. It also fired its principal representative in Munich, Ahmet Balagija, who, like von Mende's operatives, was a former Muslim soldier in the Wehrmacht.

The Americans now regarded Ahmad Kamal as too troublesome. They retaliated by ordering an audit of the funds they had been supplying to the Jami'at charity. Jami'at was being paid to care for some 4,000 refugees. On inspection it proved there were only 400 and the money was being used for its general propaganda work. In March 1962 Jami'at al-Islam International, to use its full name, announced that it was leaving Germany to do work in sub-Saharan Africa. It was never heard of again.

According to Johnson, "A few years later, Kamal would move back to California to continue his covert work." He is said to have traveled extensively in Burma. Johnson adds, "In 1969, he offered the Burmese opposition leader U Nu $2 million if he would depose the country's dictator, Ne Win." The back cover text of the 2000 edition of Land Without Laughter , repeated in reprints of his three novels, say that Ahmad Kamal was the "commanding General of the Muslim liberation forces of the Union of Burma into the 1980's." Searches trying to confirm this turn up only the back covers of the reprint editions of his books. Ahmad Kamal died on October 13, 1989, in Santa Barbara, California.

The mosque project continued without him. Now safe from the threatened government prohibition, a decisive meeting was held on November 26, 1961, where the young students from the Muslim Brothers, with support from the CIA, backed Said Ramadan to head the project while von Mende's old soldiers supported one of their own, the half-blind Ali Kantemir. Kantemir won a majority, but Ramadan, who was the incumbent, won the day when a German bureaucrat pointed out that the group's charter required a two-thirds majority for such a decision. Ramadan held on to his position.

With his American backing and his beachhead in Germany secure, Said Ramadan in May 1962 went to Mecca to help create the Muslim World League, still today one of the most important international Islamic organizations. Ramadan's agenda was to make the group sharply political, in particular to declare itself the enemy of Israel.

It didn't take long for the Americans to discover that when they bought Ramadan they didn't get what they had bargained for. Johnson writes:

"The Germans and the Americans had the same idea: control the mosque, control the local Muslims, and then use them to fight communism. The local Muslims were still in Munich and to that extent could still be used for covert propaganda purposes, but . . . it seems that Ramadan hadn't cared about uniting Muslims to fight communism." Ramadan wanted instead to promote the Muslim Brotherhood's version of militant Islam, focused on a world revolution to impose Islam and Sharia law not only on the Communist lands but everywhere. And for that he had no use for the old Nazi soldiers. He wanted young, impressionable disciples. As Johnson puts it, "He didn't want an umbrella group; he wanted a cell."

By 1962, as Holocaust studies began to cast light on ex-Nazis still active in German political life, von Mende was snubbed by being refused an invitation to a major Washington conference on Islam and the Soviet Union. He died in December 1963. From 1964 on, Amcomlib and its Radio Liberty concentrated on broadcasting and abandoned trying to manipulate Germany's Muslims through their religious leaders. In the 1970s, when it was exposed as a CIA front, Radio Liberty was merged with Radio Free Europe.

The Islamic Center of Munich



The Islamic Center of Munich opened to the faithful on August 24, 1973. By this time control had passed to an alliance between Saudi Arabia's militant Wahabis and the Saudi branch of the Muslim Brotherhood. Said Ramadan, an Egyptian, was squeezed out in 1966. Acting on a well-financed, expansionist vision, over the next twenty years it established branches throughout Germany, promoting the Brotherhood's version of Islam. It recruited fighters for jihad in Bosnia and inspired Islamic militancy in other world hot spots.

Figures intimately associated with the Munich mosque's operation such as Youssef Nada and Ahmed Totonji helped to spread the Brotherhood to the United States. Totonji was a central founder of the Muslim Student Organization in 1962, which Johnson writes is "widely regarded as the first Brotherhood organization in the United States."

That the radical Muslim Brotherhood got there first in establishing its network of religious houses of worship has had an incalculable effect as Europe's Muslim population has mushroomed over the last three or four decades. According to Ian Johnson's figures (circa 2009-2010) there were fifteen to twenty million Muslims living in Western Europe; of these, 3.5 million were in Germany, as many as 6 million in France, and just under 2 million in Britain.

Evidence that the Munich mosque has ties to actual terrorism is thin. A regular worshipper in the 1980s was Mahmoud Abouhalima, later convicted in the attempt to blow up the World Trade Center in 1993. Mamdouh Mahmud Salim, believed to be Al Qaeda's finance chief, sought spiritual counseling at the mosque before being extradited to the United States in 1998. Somewhat less clear are long-standing accusations that two central figures of the mosque helped finance terrorism. These are directed at Ghaleb Himmat, the mosque's chief imam for twenty-nine years, and the mosque's principal financial figure, Youssef Nada. They concern the al-Tarqwa Bank, of which Nada was a co-founder and Himmat served as a director. There is little dispute that the bank is a Muslim Brotherhood enterprise, or that the Brotherhood supports terrorism at least in Iraq against the government and its American supporters and against Israel.

The bank's European functionaries include some very unsavory characters. Headquartered in Switzerland, its officers include Swiss Islamic convert Ahmed Huber, an enthusiastic admirer of Hitler, and Francois Genoud, a central manager of Nazi assets in the years after World War II. Jordan accused the bank of funding Musab al-Zarqawi, the since-deceased head of Al Qaeda in Iraq, while the United States insists they laundered money for Osama bin Laden and Hamas. The UN joined the U.S. in declaring the bank and its officers terrorist financers, though the UN withdrew the designation in 2010. Nada denies the charges, but Himmat was forced to resign from his long-held position at the mosque in 2002.

More indisputable is the role of the mosque and its siblings in other cities in spreading anti-Semitism and promoting a version of Islam that rejects integration in European societies and aspires to replace secular regimes with Islamic Sharia law governments. This has created a huge existential problem for Western Europe and generated a large anguished literature on the subject, to mention only Robert S. Keiken's Europe's Angry Muslims and Walter Laqueur's The Last Days of Europe and After the Fall .

One creation of the Munich mosque is the European Council for Fatwa and Research, said to be the most influential body in setting the norms of Islamic attitudes in Europe. Johnson cites a 2004 meeting of this body where German Muslim scientist Mohammad Hawari received no objection when in a lecture he explained that the Jews are responsible for the sexual revolution, with the aim of destroying the morals of Islamic youths in order to take over the world. He cited as his authority for this claim the notorious Russian tsarist forgery The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a mainstay of Nazi anti-Jewish propaganda and today widely reprinted in Arabic throughout the Middle East. .

Johnson adds:

"Far from setting up rules to govern a fringe group, the fatwa council issues guidelines aimed at tens of millions of European citizens and residents - members of Europe's second-biggest religion." The head of this organization, Mahdi Akef, is a past head of the Munich mosque, the Islamic Center of Munich. He calls the Holocaust a myth and is a public sympathizer of Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

So where have we arrived? This tale is something like Rashomon, being able to see the same events from opposite and irreconcilable points of view. During World War II two evil totalitarian systems were locked in a death struggle, each looking for any weakness in the other that would let it get a grip on its opponent's throat. The captive Turkic peoples of Soviet Central Asia had their own aspirations for independence, which the Nazis exploited. The majority of these Muslim nations finally won their goal, not with the help of Nazi Germany or even the American CIA, but only with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990. The Muslim peoples of China's Xinjiang province, the central concern of Ahmad Kamal's life, are the exception. They remain under the domination of an alien people. In that story Ahmad Kamal is an admirable outsider, bridging American and Turkic Muslim cultures, devoted to a people that were by birth, or perhaps only in his vivid imagination, his forebears and blood kin. If he invented many details about his life and history, enough is true to validate him as a patriot to the Muslims of Xinjiang.

At the same time, in the broader world beyond Chinese Turkestan, Islamic radicalism is a declared enemy of most of the essential values of the advanced democracies. Islam as a whole does not accept the separation of church and state essential to maintain harmony among peoples of different creeds and sects. It stands where Christianity did in the fifteenth century. Moderate and reform-minded Muslims are in a decided minority, while a more militant minority at the other end of the spectrum enforces its view by violence. Giving one of the more extreme variants of this authoritarian and intolerant current a hand up in establishing itself in Western Europe ahead of the flood of Islamic immigrants that followed, and came under its influence, was a disastrous mistake that we will pay for for generations to come. Part of how that part of the story will unfold is being written now in Egypt, where the Muslim Brotherhood finally has governmental power, and is proving to have within it some more moderate elements. One wing is seemingly willing to work with the West, to extend toleration to Egypt's Coptic Christian minority - who long predate the invasion of Islam - and to retain the peace treaty with Israel. Others hew to the traditional view of Hassan al-Banna and Sayyid Qutb, that the whole of the world that is not under strict Sharia law is jahiliyyah, degenerate barbarians, who must be forced to submit to Islam, while the Jews are fit only for extermination. Much rides on how this contest plays out.

Symptoms of U.S. Decline

 Leslie Evans

In his State of the Union address this year President Obama declared, ''Anyone who tells you that America is in decline, or that our influence has waned, doesn't know what they're talking about.''

 

Mitt Romney says the same thing, excepting a few admissions of slippage he feels he can blame on Obama, harping on America's "exceptionalism" and the supposedly pending new "American Century," the last one, proclaimed by Time magazine's founder Henry Luce in 1941, having run a bit shorter than planned.

 

The counter argument was voiced by Jeff Daniels as the fictional news anchor in HBO's new series The Newsroom, in a clip widely circulated on YouTube. Asked why America is the greatest country in the world he responds, "It's not the greatest country in the world. We lead the world in only three categories: number of incarcerated citizens per capita, number of adults who believe angels are real, and defense spending, where we spend more than the next twenty-six countries combined, twenty-five of whom are allies."

 

 In graduate school twenty-five years ago we learned that people in different occupations will turn conversation to define status to their benefit. Stock brokers tell how much money they make, artists about galleries where their work is displayed. The discussion of whether the United States is doing well or badly runs the same way. Conservative historian Victor Davis Hanson in an April 26, 2012, post to National Review Online assures us that "Never in the last 70 years has the U.S. military been so lethal." He defines the symptoms of apparent decline quite narrowly: the large federal deficit, high oil prices, and self-pitying claims of poverty ("The underclass suffers more from obesity than malnutrition") from people who by world (or at least third world?) standards have adequate housing and medical care. The deficit can be cured by "a new tax code, simple reforms to entitlements, and reasonable trimming of bloated public salaries and pensions," while oil prices can be lowered by drilling off both coasts and in Alaska.

 

We could quibble about how deep the cuts would have to be to eliminate the deficit, given Republican calls for more big tax cuts for the rich, or whether all the oil in and around the United States could free the country from its current 8 million barrels a day import habit or change the international price, or whether the problems of the American under class can be reduced to bad eating habits. I would start somewhere else entirely, as Hanson, like the hypothetical stock broker we heard of in graduate school, wants to define decline solely by issues for which his party has neat talking points.

 

To suggest the broader terms of the problem here is Time magazine editor Fareed Zakaria:

 

"The U.S. remains the world's largest economy, and we have the largest military by far, the most dynamic technology companies and a highly entrepreneurial climate. But these are snapshots of where we are right now. The decisions that created today's growth - decisions about education, infrastructure and the like - were made decades ago. What we see today is an American economy that has boomed because of policies and developments of the 1950s and '60s: the interstate-highway system, massive funding for science and technology, a public-education system that was the envy of the world and generous immigration policies. Look at some underlying measures today, and you will wonder about the future.

 

"The following rankings come from various lists, but they all tell the same story. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), our 15-year-olds rank 17th in the world in science and 25th in math. We rank 12th among developed countries in college graduation (down from No. 1 for decades). We come in 79th in elementary-school enrollment. Our infrastructure is ranked 23rd in the world, well behind that of every other major advanced economy. American health numbers are stunning for a rich country: based on studies by the OECD and the World Health Organization, we're 27th in life expectancy, 18th in diabetes and first in obesity. Only a few decades ago, the U.S. stood tall in such rankings. No more. There are some areas in which we are still clearly No. 1, but they're not ones we usually brag about. We have the most guns. We have the most crime among rich countries. And, of course, we have by far the largest amount of debt in the world."[1]


These suggestions of a downhill slide have various causes. In some cases other countries are making investments in education, health, and infrastructure that the United States has cut back on. The promotion of extreme inequality in the United States compared to other advanced countries has had an impact on a wide range of measures of productivity and well being of the lower quintiles of the population. Offshoring much of American industry has driven down domestic wages, which in turn affects the sales of businesses, including the ones saving on wages by doing the offshoring. The severe distrust in government by both left and right that set in at the end of the sixties spills over into attitudes toward public education, religious on the part of the Right, which tries to defund "anti-Christian" public education and remove its children to parochial schools or home study. Some negatives result from the financialization of the American economy in the 1990s, the long debt bubble, followed by the economic collapse of 2007. The Republican strategy of gridlocking and discrediting the federal government has for some years stalled government attention to a range of at least partial potential fixes. And still other negative statistics result from the growing global scarcity of cheap oil and many metallic ores that have driven prices relentlessly upward since around 2000, affecting most countries.

 

Let's look at some of the parameters.

Education

 

On the bright side, the United States still ranks number one internationally in the quality of its universities. When it comes to graduation rates, however, the U.S. shows dramatic slippage. According to a November 2011 report by the Council of Graduate Schools:

 

"In 2009, the United States ranked third among OECD countries in the percentage of 55-64 year-olds who had attained tertiary [college] education. In the U.S., 41% of individuals in this age group had attained tertiary education in 2009, trailing only behind the Russian Federation (44%) and Israel (45%), and considerably higher than the OECD average of 22%. Among 25-34 year-olds, however, the United States ranked 16th in the percentage who had attained tertiary education, indicating that educational attainment is increasing faster in other OECD countries than in the United States. In the U.S., 41% of 25-34 year-olds had attained tertiary education in 2009, higher than the 37% OECD average, but considerably lower than top-ranked South Korea (63%). Canada (56%), Japan (56%), and the Russian Federation (55%) also had educational attainment rates for 25-34 year-olds that were considerably higher than the rate in the U.S."[2]

 

The other countries with substantially higher percentage of college graduates among 25-34 year olds were Ireland, Norway, New Zealand, Luxembourg, United Kingdom, Australia, Denmark, France, Israel, Belgium, and Sweden.

 

 

When we turn to K-12 the picture is even worse. The OECD international test scores for fifteen-year-olds for 2009[3], where the U.S. came in 27th in math and 22nd in science, showed the U.S. below even the OECD average in both subjects, out-performed not only by Western Europe and Japan but by most of Eastern Europe and a formerly third world country like South Korea. A few samples: In math, South Korea scored 547, the Czech Republic 510, Poland 495, the U.S. 474. In science: Finland 563, South Korea 522, the Czech Republic 513, Hungary 504, the U.S. 489.

 

A March 2012 Council on Foreign Relations report on "US Education Reform and National Security"[4] prepared by Joel I. Klein, former head of New York City public schools, and Condoleezza Rice, former U.S. secretary of state, warned, "Educational failure puts the United States' future economic prosperity, global position, and physical safety at risk." The report noted that "More than 25 percent of students fail to graduate from high school in four years; for African-American and Hispanic students, this number is approaching 40 percent." And "only 22 percent of U.S. high school students met 'college ready' standards in all of their core subjects; these figures are even lower for African-American and Hispanic students."[5]

 

The Global Innovation Index, an annual international study by the INSEAD Graduate Business School and the World Intellectual Property Organization, in its 2012 rankings placed the United States 31st out of 125 countries in education overall and 46th for its low per capita expenditure compared to GDP. On pupil-to-teacher ratio in secondary education, at 13.8:1, the U.S. ranked 61st. In higher education, the U.S. ranked second in enrollment, but 74th in students graduating with science and engineering degrees.[6]

 

Then we have Fareed Zakaria again:

 

"In 2008, the U.S. high school graduation rate was lower than the rates of the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Norway, South Korea, Japan, Italy, Ireland, Germany, Finland and Denmark. That same year, the U.S. was the only developed nation where a higher percent of 55- to 64-year-olds than 25- to 34-year-olds had graduated from high school."[7]

 

Not surprisingly the slackening of educational standards and participation is reflected in a shocking level of ignorance by our country's adult population. The Christian Science Monitor reports: "Only one-third of Americans can name all three branches of government; another third cannot name any. The United States ranks 120th out of 169 democracies in voter turnout."[8]

 

A 2008 survey by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute found that among elected officials, "43% do not know the Electoral College is a constitutionally mandated assembly that elects the president. One in five thinks it 'trains those aspiring for higher office' or 'was established to supervise the first televised presidential debates.'"[9]

 

A Marist Institute for Public Opinion poll of American adults found that 26 percent did not know that the United States won its independence from Great Britain. Six percent named a different country, including France, China, Japan, Mexico and Spain. Twenty percent said they werent sure.[10]

 

Another survey, by the American Revolution Center, devoted to the study of the American Revolution, found that more than a third of American adults "did not know the century in which the American Revolution took place, and half of respondents believed that either the Civil War, the Emancipation Proclamation or the War of 1812 occurred before the American Revolution."[11]

 

These kinds of gaps are discouraging enough, but when we come to science things quickly get worse. Jeff Daniels quips that one of the three measures in which America leads the world is the number of people who believe that angels are real. That is not a joke. An Associated Press-GfK poll at the end of last year found that 77 percent of American adults believe angels are real, a number that rises to 95 percent among Evangelical Christians.[12]

 

There is an inverse connection between this religion-based world view and knowledge of science, and, like the social and economic effects of the dominance of Islam in Muslim countries, it does not bode well for a nation in a highly technological and competitive world.

 

A Gallup poll in June 2012 found that when asked to choose whether humans are the product of evolution from lower animals, the product of such evolution guided by God, or if God created humans as they now exist within the last 10,000 years, 46 percent of Americans chose the 10,000-year version, a world view held by most peasants in the Middle Ages.[13] If the Earth is less than 10,000 years old, virtually everything known by biology, paleontology, geology, astronomy, and physics is impossible. Is it any wonder then that the United States is 74th among nations in the percentage of science and engineering degrees?

 

While I am not particularly fond of scriptural religions I would add here that both mainstream liberal Protestantism and most of the Catholic Church would choose evolution guided by God, a viewpoint that carefully avoids a clash with the known facts of science.

 

 

A national survey commissioned by the California Academy of Sciences and conducted by Harris Interactive in 2009 found that 47% of American adults did not know how long it takes the Earth to go around the sun, and 41% believed that humans lived at the same time as the dinosaurs.[14]

 

Our national ignorance of science, exacerbated by religion and right-wing politicians, has huge consequences in preparing for our future. A 2010 Yale University study found that "more than two-thirds of those surveyed believe that reducing toxic waste or banning aerosol spray cans will curb climate change. And 43 percent believe that 'if we stopped punching holes in the ozone layer with rockets, it would reduce global warming.'" Just 1 in 10 of those surveyed said they were "very well informed' about climate change and 45 percent said they were not very worried or not at all worried about it.[15]

 

In contrast, an August 2012 survey in Canada found that only 2 percent of Canadians deny climate change and only 9 percent deny human actions as a major cause.[16]

 

Finally on this point, UCLA scientist Jared Diamond, in an August 1, 2012, response to Mitt Romney's misunderstandings of Diamond's book Guns, Germs, and Steel, disputed Romney's one-dimensional pronouncements that culture determines national success:

 

"We Americans fail to provide superior education and economic incentives to much of our population. India, China and other countries that have not been world leaders are investing heavily in education, technology and infrastructure. They're offering economic opportunities to more and more of their citizens. That's part of the reason jobs are moving overseas. Our geography won't keep us rich and powerful if we can't get a good education, can't afford health care and can't count on our hard work's being rewarded by good jobs and rising incomes. Mitt Romney may become our next president. Will he continue to espouse one-factor explanations for multicausal problems, and fail to understand history and the modern world? If so, he will preside over a declining nation squandering its advantages of location and history."[17]

 

Infrastructure

 

The United States was once a world leader in its highway system, network of bridges, advanced telecommunications. This is not true today.

 

According to a University of Virginia study, "America's infrastructure is in grave disrepair. Analysts have determined that one-third of the nation's roads are in poor or mediocre condition, and the Federal Highway Administration recently estimated that one out of every four bridges is either structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. Every infrastructure sector, from rail, air and seaways, to water supply, sewage and irrigation, to energy pipelines and the electric grid, are in need of significant capital."[18]

 

This decline can't be explained as typical of the developed world. World Economic Forum rankings for 2011 place the United States 23rd out of 139 countries on measures of transportation, telephony, and energy, tied with Spain, noticeably behind the major European countries, but also Singapore, the United Arab Emirates, South Korea, and Portugal, and even a bit below Barbados and Taiwan.[19]

 

The Urban Land Institute in a May 2011 report said that the United States has underfunded infrastructure over the last 30 years, while international competitors China, India, and Brazil have been heavily investing in theirs. The American Society of Civil Engineers has estimated that the U.S. would need to spend some $2 trillion just to repair deteriorating infrastructure networks and maintain roads, bridges, water lines, sewage treatment plants, dams and other infrastructure.[20]

 

Former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell recounts that when he came into office in 2003 his state had 5,600 structurally deficient or obsolete bridges. He tripled his capital budget, from $200 million to $700 million a year, plus a special appropriation of $200 million for each of the next four years. By 2008 the number of deficient bridges had gone from 5,600 to 6,000.[21]

 

American waterways, on which a vast amount of material is transported, are in even worse shape. As an example, the main lock on the Ohio River near Warsaw, Ky, broke in July 2011. This jumped the delay for ship and barge traffic from 40 minutes to 20 hours. The lock is supposed to reopen in August 2012, more than a year later. Fourteen major locks are rated to fail between now and 2020, at a repair cost of billions. Freight bottlenecks from faulty locks, too-narrow-highways, and other congestion are costing a minimum of $200 billion a year, with the conservative U.S. Chamber of Commerce putting the estimate at $1 trillion.[22]

 

The same article gives as another example an 83-year-old lock on the Ohio River near Olmsted, Ill.:

 

"Congress set aside $775 million to replace it and another nearby lock in 1988. The project began in 1993 and was scheduled to be finished by 2009 but still isn't complete [in May 2012], in part because of engineering modifications intended to save $60 million. Now, the cost has ballooned to $3.1 billion, and the new lock won't be ready until 2020 or later."

 

The president-elect of the American Society of Civil Engineers in June 2012 confirmed that the organization will probably repeat their near- failing "D" grade in its next report on U.S. infrastructure projects such as roads, railways and airports due in 2013 A group of municipal bond experts were polled on this and shared this opinion.[23]

 

Another aspect of infrastructure is communications. On cell phones, the U.S. ranks third in the world with 327 million, topped only by China with a billion and India with 934 million. The U.S. has slightly more phones out there than it has people, at 103.9% of population. That would seem to be enough, but perhaps this includes old units that no longer work. In any case many countries have far more cell phones per capita. America is 34th, after such unexpected rivals as Indonesia, Malaysia, Ukraine, and Guatemala. Brazil has phones for 132% of its population, and the United Arab Emirates for 197 percent.[24]

 

A quarter of the world's 584 million Internet addresses in 2011 were in the United States. At the same time, neither the private companies that control access to the net nor the federal government have kept up with world standards in Internet speed. The United States ranks 14th, with an average connection speed of 5.6 megabits per second, compared to South Korea at 14.4, Hong Kong at 9.2, and Japan at 8.1. Other countries ahead of the U.S. here include Romania, Czech Republic, Latvia, and Ireland.[25]

 

Our space program saw a high profile advance with the Curiosity rover's landing on Mars August 6. Less well known is the drastic decline of the U.S. orbital satellite system, which began in the mid-1990s. The satellites are used to track storms, contain oil spills, monitor flooding, forecast weather, measure the strength of hurricanes, manage fisheries, and check security in shipping lanes. A new study from the National Academies of Science says that the U.S. has lost all of its wind sensors and no longer has any sensors capable of measuring ocean currents. The Christian Science Monitor summarizes: "the number of in-orbit and planned NASA and NOAA [National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration] Earth observing missions will decline from 23 in 2012 to only six in 2020. And the number of Earth observing instruments mounted on such satellites will fall from about 110 in 2011 to fewer than 30 in 2020."[26]

 

While the American space program is being sharply cut back, the Monitor reports that "China, India, Russia, South Korea, Japan, European nations, and several other countries are aggressively developing oceanographic satellite sensors. . . . The American science community is often told by NASA managers to go look elsewhere for information and to use the foreign sensors if they can get the data."

 

The problem is compounded by the Republican Party's bizarre decision to oppose federal efforts to repair our infrastructure, apparently out of an animus toward Barack Obama that outweighs their concern for the country. As US News reports:

 

"Many Republican lawmakers have in the past decried spending on infrastructure. When President Obama introduced the idea of a national infrastructure bank in September 2010, Representative Eric Cantor called it 'yet another government stimulus effort' and House Speaker John Boehner called it 'more of the same failed "stimulus" spending.'"[27]

 

Poverty and Homelessness

 

The United States among advanced countries has pretty much the highest poverty rate, the greatest percentage of children in poverty, and the most homeless. According to the Economic Policy Institute, based on the Census Bureau's Current Population Survey, "Poverty rates in the United States increased over the 2000s, a trend exacerbated by the Great Recession and its aftermath. By 2010, just over 46 million people fell below the U.S. Census Bureau’s official poverty line." Looking at OECD data, the U.S. has a higher poverty rate than any OECD country, at 17.3%, compared to 6.1% for Denmark, or the strongest European countries, France at 7.2%, Germany, 8.9%, and the United Kingdom at 11.0%.[28]

 

Thinking of Victor Davis Hanson's snide dismissal of American poverty as unreal compared, I suppose, to sub-Saharan Africa, we should note that 17.3% of Americans is 52.7 million people, while the U.S. Census Bureau draws the poverty line these millions fall at or below at an annual income of $11,702 for a single person under 65 and $22,811 for a family of four.[29] In Los Angeles it is rare to find a one bedroom apartment for less than $1,000 a month. The median price is $1,117.[30]

 

The graph below shows that the U.S. ranked 26th among developed countries in child poverty in 2009, with 23.1% of its children living in poverty, compared to 5.3% for Finland. Germany was at 8.5%, France, 8.8%, and the UK at 12.1%.[31]

 

 

 

 

The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), ranking nations by children's well being in 20 rich countries for 2007, based on six criteria, placed the U.S. at number 19, with the UK last. The criteria were material well-being, health and safety, educational well-being, family and peer relationships, behaviors and risks, and subjective well-being. With the lower the score the better, the U.S. scored 18.0, while the Netherlands was 4.2 and Sweden 5.0. Germany was at 11.2 and France at 13.0. In this comparison the UK trailed at 18.2.[32]

 

Homelessness in the United States and generally in Europe is defined most narrowly as people living on the streets or in temporary emergency shelters. There are three different statistics to define this problem. The most common is "point in time," how many are, on the average, homeless on a given day. Then there is the number for how many are homeless for some part of a given year, a much larger number. And finally, there is the number for the chronic homeless, those without regular shelter for more than a year.

 

The most recent national survey of homelessness in the United States, "The State of Homelessness in America 2012" by the National Alliance to End Homelessness and the Homeless Research Institute, put the point-in-time daily average for 2011 at 636,017.[33]37% of that number are in homeless families. The chronically homeless numbered 107,148. The number of homeless veterans in 2011 was 67,495.[34] All these numbers showed a slight reduction from 2009, the worst  year of the recession. The declines were aided by a federal assistance program that provided aid to a million people. And while homelessness was reduced in 26 states, it increased between 2009 and 2011 in 24 states.[35] There were huge increases in the northern "Red" states: Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, North Dakota, and Utah.

 

Only the point-in-time statistics are comprehensive, but a standard extrapolation of how many people are homeless for part of each year is approximately 4 times the point-in-time number, or about 2.5 million for the United States.

 

The report adds:

 

"A majority of homeless people counted were in emergency shelters or transitional housing programs, but nearly 4 in 10 were unsheltered, living on the streets, or in cars, abandoned buildings, or other places not intended for human habitation. The unsheltered population increased by 2 percent from 239,759 in 2009 to 243,701 in 2011.[36]

 

How does America's homeless problem compare with other rich countries? Statistics on this are not widely available, so I will limit the comparison to Germany, France, and the UK.

 

All four countries have somewhat comparable numbers of homeless people: Germany, with a population of 81.8 million has 272,000 homeless; France at 65.4 million has 133,364, and the United Kingdom with 62.3 million has 86,781. As a percentage of total population, homeless on a given day, in the U.S. and France are .002%, Germany .003, and the UK .001.[37]

 

If the gross numbers are similar, there the comparison ends. The British report cited above adds:

 

"England is highly unusual in providing, for some homeless groups, a legally-enforceable right to 'suitable' temporary accommodation which lasts, in most cases, until 'settled' housing becomes available. However, legislation has recently been passed by the French Parliament (March 2007) which attempts to establish a legally-enforceable right to housing for those who have experienced 'an abnormally long delay' in being allocated social housing."[38]

 

In the United States, 38% of its homeless population, 243,701 on an average night in 2011, live on the streets.[39] In Germany it is only18,000, 6% of the total. The rest are in temporary housing. In France, out of its 133,244, 74,000 are in hostels, 39,000 are in temporary accommodations, and the remaining 19,854 combine both those who are "roofless" and those in emergency shelters. In the UK, out of a total of 86,781 counted as homeless, 70,730 were in temporary housing on an average night in 2008, 6,286 were in hostels, 8,852 in overnight emergency shelters, and only 813 people known to be still out on the streets.

 

If we look at the measure of how each country has treated its homeless and how it has tried to reduce the problem, the United States is the most cold hearted and with the most severe problem.

 

Health

 

The United States in unique among advanced countries in not providing health care for all of its citizens. It consumes the highest proportion of GDP for health expenses of any country in the world, 15.2% in 2005, with the least to show for it. In comparison, France spends 11.2%, Germany 10.7%, Sweden, 9.2%, and the United Kingdom 8.2%.[40]  The Kaiser Family Foundation estimated that for 2010, 16% of the U.S. population, or 56.8 million people, had no health insurance.[41] The Commonwealth Fund, a health-promotion foundation created in 1918 by a Standard Oil heiress, in an April 2012 survey found that during 2011 an even more shocking 26 percent of Americans between 19 and 64 had no health insurance during all or part of the year, the increase due mainly to people losing their jobs.[42]

 

 

 

 

The World Health Organization in 2000 conducted an in-depth survey of health care in 191 countries. In its ranked list the United States came in 37th, behind such countries as Colombia, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, and Costa Rica. Standings for the major advanced countries showed   France as number 1,  Japan 10, United Kingdom 18, and Germany 25.

 

The U.S. on one hand has the most technically advanced health facilities and technology in the world. But it fails dismally to make this available to large segments of its people. There are significant consequences for America's very large omitted population and poor delivery system. The U.S. has the highest incidence of diabetes of any advanced country, 10.3% of the whole population. Germany stands at 8.9%, France at 6.7, and the United Kingdom at the remarkably low 3.6%.[43]

 

According to the CIA's World Fact Book, the U.S. in 2012 ranks 50th among the world's countries in life expectancy, at 78.49 years, behind such similar economies as Japan, 83.91 years, Canada 81.48, France 81.46, Germany 80.19, and the United Kingdom 80.17.[44]

 

Infant mortality tells a similar story. The CIA's World Fact Book for 2012 ranks the U.S. worse than 48 other countries in infant deaths. The U.S. rate is 5.8 deaths per 1000 live births (down from 6.6 a few years earlier). The European Union rate is 4.49, but some countries are significantly better: Germany 3.51, France 3.37, Sweden 2.74, and Japan 2.21.[45]

 

Yet another measure is the number of deaths that could have been prevented by better health care. The numbers come from a major data study by the Commonwealth Foundation in 2008 and are for 2002-2003, limited to deaths before age 74. The U.S. ranked dead last out of 14 countries studied, with 110 unnecessary deaths in every 100,000 citizens for that year, compared to only 65 for France.[46] The U.S. number adds up to 335,500 Americans who die each year because of inadequate health care. In ten years the government's savings on health care, so dear to Republican hearts, causes the unnecessary deaths of 3.35 million of our people. This compares to total U.S. military deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan up through the beginning of 2012 of 7,959.[47]

 

The study table compares preventable deaths in 1997-1998 to the 2002-2003 period. The authors make the following comment on the numbers from the United States:

 

"The decline in amenable mortality in all countries averaged 16 percent over this period. The United States was an outlier, with a decline of only 4 percent. If the United States could reduce amenable mortality to the average rate achieved in the three top-performing countries, there would have been 101,000 fewer deaths per year by the end of the study period."

 

The authors also write, "[I]t is difficult to disregard the observation that the slow decline in U.S. amenable mortality has coincided with an increase in the uninsured population."

 

Further they quote Commonwealth Fund Senior Vice President Cathy Schoen:

 

"It is startling to see the U.S. falling even farther behind on this crucial indicator of health system performance. By focusing on deaths amenable to health care, [researchers] Nolte and McKee strip out factors such as population and lifestyle differences that are often cited in response to international comparisons showing the U.S. lagging in health outcomes. The fact that other countries are reducing these preventable deaths more rapidly, yet spending far less, indicates that policy, goals, and efforts to improve health systems make a difference."

 

It's also worth looking at the graph below, from The Lancet, on the numbers and causes of violent deaths of young people, aged 10 to 24, where the United States also leads the advanced countries of the world.

 

 

 

 

Before leaving this topic we should mention obesity in the United States. An August 1, 2012, article in the Philadelphia Inquirer states:

 

"Obesity is a uniquely urgent crisis in the United States. Americans are the fattest people in the world. The prevalence of obesity is significantly greater in America than in all the world's other wealthy nations. Americans are about twice as likely as Western Europeans or Canadians to be obese, three to four times more likely than Scandinavians, and 10 times more likely than the Japanese, who enjoy the world's greatest longevity."[48]

 

This problem is quantified in a 2010 report by the International Association for the Study of Obesity. It is not quite true that Americans are the fattest people in the world. In a table ranked by female obesity the U.S. comes in at number 18, behind such places as Samoa, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Albania. 35.5% of American females and 32.2% of males are obese. The first European country to make the list is Scotland, number 32, with 26.5% of its women and 24.9% of its men too fat. By the time we get to Germany it is 21.1 and 20.5, France at 17.6 and 16.1, or Japan at 3.4 and 2.3. It is, after all, a cliche about declining empires that their people cease to be warriors and become fat and decadent.

 

The Republican argument on healthcare, as on the whole of the social safety net, is that there is no way to pay for it and that the proof is the lingering economic crisis in Europe, whose form of capitalism is based on a strong welfare state. A good example is this summation by Republican columnist David Brooks:

 

"[M]any Republicans have now come to the conclusion that the welfare-state model is in its death throes. Yuval Levin expressed the sentiment perfectly in a definitive essay for The Weekly Standard called 'Our Age of Anxiety': 'We have a sense that the economic order we knew in the second half of the 20th century may not be coming back at all - that we have entered a new era for which we have not been well prepared. ... We are, rather, on the cusp of the fiscal and institutional collapse of our welfare state, which threatens not only the future of government finances but also the future of American capitalism.' To Republican eyes, the first phase of that collapse is playing out right now in Greece, Spain and Italy - cosseted economies, unmanageable debt, rising unemployment, falling living standards."

 

If there is any truth to this idea, what should be debated is the Republican solution, of funneling vast amounts of money to the rich while abandoning the middle class and the poor. Still, we are not yet where the Republican punditocracy claim. U.S. social spending as a percentage of GDP is running at 16.2% a year. Greece, Europe's basket case, is at 21.3%. Spain, in slightly better shape, spends more, at 21.6%, and Italy, better yet, spends still more at 24.9%. But the strongest and most stable of European countries spend even more than these countries on their social safety net: Sweden, 27.3%, Germany, 25.2%, France, 28.4%. The UK falls between the U.S. and the stressed European economies, at 20.5%.[49]

 

Unhappily, on health as on so much else the Republican Party, while proclaiming out of one side of its mouth that we are still number 1, essentially admits the decline by insistently claiming that nothing can be done about it and funding for any government effort to try should be slashed.

 

Ed Kilgore writing in the online June 10, 2012, Washington Monthly, looks at the partisan issues in this election year debate over health care:

 

"By now we should all understand that if you put together GOP plans to repeal the Affordable Care Act and also 'block-grant' Medicaid, tens of millions of Americans would quickly lose access to affordable health care. . . . There is a natural partisan-political and ideological affinity for today's Republicans to pursue this old folks versus poor folks strategy, of course. With the two parties increasingly polarized by age and race/ethnicity, GOPers have every political reason to place the vitiation of Medicare (and for that matter, Social Security) on the back burner, and treat health care for non-seniors as 'welfare,' designed for those improvident and/or darker people, to be devolved to the tender mercies and inflexible budgets of state governments."[50]

 

Opportunity, Inequality, Incarcerations

 

For two hundred years the great merit and attraction of America was its chance for individual advancement, endlessly contrasted to the deadening class barriers of old Europe. The era of the Robber Barons in the nineteenth century displayed uncontrolled power of the ultra rich, at the same time most of the great capitalists were examples of the promise the country offered. Standard Oil founder John D. Rockefeller's father was a travelling salesman, steel magnate Andrew Carnegie worked in a bobbin factory. Banking lord J. P. Morgan was an unusual exception, his father a wealthy banker before him. There are a few recent examples to keep hopes alive, such as Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. But the class lines have hardened in the United States while easing in Europe. As Nobel laureate in economics Joseph Stiglitz writes,

 

"There is less equality of opportunity in the United States today than there is in Europe - or, indeed, in any advanced industrial country for which there are data. . . . America has the highest level of inequality of any of the advanced countries - and its gap with the rest has been widening. In the 'recovery' of 2009-2010, the top 1 percent of US income earners captured 93 percent of the income growth. Other inequality indicators - like wealth, health, and life expectancy - are as bad or even worse. The clear trend is one of concentration of income and wealth at the top, the hollowing out of the middle, and increasing poverty at the bottom."[51]

 

Stiglitz dates the freeze in upward mobility to around 1980, from the first Reagan administration. It has been marked by the dominance of rent-seeking companies such as Bain Capital at the expense of companies that actually manufacture something, the off-shoring of jobs, and the radical reduction in tax rates for the superrich. He continues:

 

"Many at the bottom, or even in the middle, are not living up to their potential, because the rich, needing few public services and worried that a strong government might redistribute income, use their political influence to cut taxes and curtail government spending. This leads to underinvestment in infrastructure, education, and technology, impeding the engines of growth."

 

A 2006 study found: "Both the United States and Great Britain have significantly less economic mobility than Canada, Finland, Sweden, Norway, and possibly Germany; and the United States may be a less economically mobile society than Great Britain."[52]

 

Distinguished investigative journalists Donald L. Barlett and James B. Steele in their recent book, The Betrayal of the American Dream, offer some figures:

 

"From 2002 to 2007, the income gains of the top one percent rose 62 percent, compared to just 4 percent for the bottom 90 percent of households. . . . Among the richest of the rich - individuals and families with incomes in the top one-tenth of one percent - the gains were even more astronomical: their income rose 94 percent, or $3.5 million a household."[53]

 

Barlett and Steele point squarely to the capture of Congress by special interests of the wealthy as the cause of rapidly advancing inequality and stagnation of the American economy:

 

"Over the last four decades, the elite have systematically rewritten the rules to take care of themselves at everyone else's expense. As postwar U.S. history shows, it doesn't have to be this way. For decades after World War II, personal income in the United States grew at roughly the same rate for the rich and everyone else, all except for the poorest Americans. During this period, the gap between the rich and the middle class remained about the same.

 

"The rich would have you believe that high taxes are a damper on the economy, but the postwar economic boom was marked by the highest personal income tax rates on the wealthy in peacetime U.S. history. At one point in the early 1950s, the top rate was 92 percent. . . .the wealthy paid a much higher percentage in taxes than they have paid for many years since. The federal government collected that tax money and routinely reinvested it in the American people. Veterans were able to go to college, families bought homes for the first time and government invested in infrastructure projects such as the interstate highway system."[54]

 

Joseph Stiglitz in another article explains why our country's gross inequality is not only unfair, but is a principal cause of the miserable economy:

 

"Those at the top spend a smaller fraction of their income than do those in the bottom and middle - who have to spend everything today just to get by. Redistribution from the bottom to the top of the kind that has been going on in the United States lowers total demand. And the weakness in the U.S. economy arises out of deficient aggregate demand."[55]

 

Barlett and Steele show that the top 10% of American households have an average income of $930,000 while the bottom 90% average $36,000.[56] With such huge numbers of people circling the drain toward the poverty level it shouldn't be surprising that another study has found that 46 percent of Americans die with less than $10,000 in assets. "Many of these households also have no housing wealth and rely almost entirely on Social Security benefits for support." One consequence is that those in this income bracket have no resources for more than the most minimal health expenditures, and have health quality rated at half that of people whose income is even as much as $30,000 and who have assets of $25,000 to $50,000.[57]

 

Economic inequality particularly affects women. On the measure of gender equality, as on so many others, the United States ranks far below the more prosperous and egalitarian north European countries - and many from other parts of the world that should surprise people. A 2008 study of 130 countries by the World Economic Forum ranked nations on women's wage levels compared to men, female participation in the labor force, and the percentage of female legislators, officials, and technical specialists. The U.S. came in at 27. The first three places were taken by Norway, Finland, and Sweden. But other countries that treat women more equally than the United States included the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Lesotho, Mozambique, and Cuba.[58]

 

Even on our much vaunted freedom of the press the U.S. is a distance away from the best world examples. A 2008 ranking by Freedom House put the United States in the 9th category from the top. Rankings from 0 to 30 were rated free, 31 to 60 partly free, and 61 to 100 unfree. The best scores went to Finland and Iceland at 9. The U.S. was rated 17.[59]

 

While the United States does not lead the pack in positive measures it does better in some of the negative ones affecting the life chances of those at the bottom of the economic heap. According to the United Nations Development Program, with a prison population of 2,186,230 in 2007 the U.S. led the world. It was tops also in the number incarcerated per 100,000 of population, at 738, followed by Russia at 611. Cuba, a Marxist police state, came 5th, at 487, Iran, a Muslim theocracy, at 214. By the time we reach a major European country it is Spain, with incarcerations running 145 per 100,000. Germany is at 95 and France at 85; India jails only 30.[60]

 

And should you dodge prison and pauperization there remains the risk of simply being murdered. Among developed countries for 2000 to 2004 you would have been the safest in Greece, however bad its economy. There, fewer than one person per 100,000 (.8) faced intentional homicide. In Germany it was 1, France 1.6, the UK 2.1, but in the United States 5.6. On this measure, however, the rates are much higher in most of Latin America, Argentina at 9.5 and Mexico at 13. Russia was the worst for an advanced country, at 19.9.

 

Conclusion

 

The far left has always described the United States as a plutocracy. It in fact became that over the last thirty years. Much of this is a consequence of policy. Manufacturing accounted for 30% of American jobs in 1950. In 2011it was only 9%.[61] Good-paying factory jobs were replaced by minimum wage service jobs, much of this in sectors that relied on discretionary spending and wilted during recessions. The static or falling income of the majority shrank demand, so while companies saved on wages by moving to China, India, or Malaysia, their customers at home had less to spend. As college tuitions escalated fewer people went or graduated, reducing the quality of the country's human capital. The economy became dominated by financial speculators who created no value except numbers in computer spreadsheets. The country's politics, through the ever more right wing Republican Establishment, has mirrored the values of the old white South, which believes deeply in the morality of an aristocracy ruling over a pauperized peon class. It was a decision of the new plutocracy to defund the training of human capital at home, to encourage governmental and private debt, to allow China to become the nation's chief creditor.

 

Democrats have not been angels in all this. To blunt the Republican attacks they have sidled from classic welfare-state-defending liberals to centrists. And for the most part they have been unwilling to confront or try to do much about the mounting ecological threats. In their defense, in countries with large numbers of religious dogmatists democracy produces less than happy results. The overthrow of semi-secular tyrants in the Middle East more often than not opens the door to Islamic fanatics with a genuine mass base.

 

In the United States the militant Evangelical Christian Right with its vision of a pre-scientific theocracy commands a sizable portion of the electorate and has proven capable of setting serious limits to reform through electoral or congressional channels. That this movement, heavily composed of older racist whites, sees the poor as its enemy and our common government as an un-Christian evil, says a great deal about how far this movement has strayed from anything you might find in the New Testament outside of the bloodthirsty Book of Revelations, the favorite text of the supposed Bible literalists.

 

There are factors beyond policy and its woes that are shaping our dilemma. The rise of China, India, Brazil, and Russia have all promoted variants of strong-state capitalism, which is proving more able to compete in today's world than the ultra-market American variety (which hypocritically includes almost limitless corporate welfare for companies that have providentially bought ties to American politicians).

 

Another element is the deepening environmental crisis, composed of overpopulation, resource depletion, and the early effects of global warming. As demand for finite materials such as oil, iron ore, phosphorus, rare earth metals, potable water, and arable land come up against physical limits, prices have been escalating and scarcities looming, contributing strongly to repeated deeper and deeper world recessions and threatening governments in the less prosperous parts of the third world, especially in the Middle East.

 

Oil, essential to transportation and agriculture, has escalated in price from $18.64 a barrel in 1997[62] to $97 in August 2012, with much of the country importing European oil at a current cost of $115 a barrel. Ravenous demands for many forms of metals are running ahead of world production as larger and easily mined deposits are tapped out. Prices consequently have been skyrocketing, placing heavy stresses on world economies. Here are some examples from the U.S. Geological Service of prices in 1997 compared to 2011[63]:

 

Iron and steel scrap: $124 a ton in 1997, in 2011, $500.

Tin: $2.65/lb in 1997, in 2011, $12.60/lb

Tungsten: $66/metric ton in 1997, in 2011, $250

Copper: $108/lb in 1997, in 2011 $405

 

Rampant inflation of such raw materials, matched to the depressed American economy, is producing symptoms more typical of the worst of the third world. The Los Angeles Times reports, "Burglars around California have torn up train tracks, carted off bleachers, nabbed park statues and helped themselves to copper wiring serving neighborhoods, hospitals and airports."[64] They even stole a 200 pound brass bell from a Catholic church. Cities are taking down and hiding their historical brass plaques Six people have been electrocuted in the last two years stealing copper wire from street lights. The wiring from the Modesto Airport runway lights has been stolen twice. 10,000 street lights in Sacramento, the state capital, a quarter of the city's total, went dark when thieves ripped out the wiring. The other side of this Banana republic picture is that cutbacks of inspectors have been so severe that there are only two detectives in the whole of Los Angeles County to try to monitor the scores of legal and illegal metal recycling yards where the stuff is sold.

 

The Republican Party, while it publicly denies virtually every specific of this growing crisis, founds it whole current economic policy on their reality, promoting a vision of the future that all too much resembles the last days of Rome, when, in face of social collapse, the Senators retreated to their rural villas and abandoned the public sphere, ruling as despots over vassals who had once been citizens.

 

I believe the ecological crisis is real and will only get worse. Thus far the North European welfare states have met it far better than the United States. On every measure of prosperity, well being, and fairness they come in at the top of the lists while America has fallen to the bottom. If we are going to see hard times ahead caused by objective forces such as global warming and price wars over scarce natural resources we should want to face this with a government we can trust to act in the interests of all of us, not only in the interests of an ever-richer and more arrogant minority.

 

Notes

[1] Time magazine, March 3, 2011.

[7] Fareed Zakaria, CNNWorld, November 3rd, 2011.

[8] Christian Science Monitor, July 16, 2012

[9] Reported by USA Today, Nov 21, 2008.

[10] Washington Post, July 3, 2010.

[11] The Atlantic Wire, June 3, 2010.

[12] CBS News online, December 23, 2011.

[14] Science Daily, March 13, 2009.