Tag Archives: capitalism

Hard Truths and the ‘Indispensable Nation’

“Americans, like human beings everywhere, believe many things that are obviously untrue. Their most destructive untruth is that it is very easy for any American to make money. They will not acknowledge how in fact hard money is to come by, and, therefore, those who have no money blame and blame and blame themselves. This inward blame has been a treasure for the rich and powerful, who have had to do less for their poor, publicly and privately, than any other ruling class since, say, Napoleonic times.” – Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., Slaughterhouse-Five

“I am opposing a social order in which it is possible for one man who does absolutely nothing that is useful to amass a fortune of hundreds of millions of dollars, while millions of men and women who work all the days of their lives secure barely enough for a wretched existence.” – Eugene Debs

“The genius of our ruling class is that it has kept a majority of the people from ever questioning the inequity of a system where most people drudge along paying heavy taxes for which they get nothing in return.” – Gore Vidal

It was about a year ago that United Nation’s special rapporteur, Philip Alston, issued a report on the dire state of the American republic. It revealed that upwards of 40 million Americans live in poverty. Among its findings:

  • By most indicators, the US is one of the world’s wealthiest countries.  It spends more on national defense than China, Saudi Arabia, Russia, United Kingdom, India, France, and Japan combined.
  • US health care expenditures per capita are double the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) average and much higher than in all other countries. But there are many fewer doctors and hospital beds per person than the OECD average.
  • US infant mortality rates in 2013 were the highest in the developed world.
  • Americans can expect to live shorter and sicker lives, compared to people living in any other rich democracy, and the “health gap” between the U.S. and its peer countries continues to grow.
  • U.S. inequality levels are far higher than those in most European countries
  • Neglected tropical diseases, including Zika, are increasingly common in the USA.  It has been estimated that 12 million Americans live with a neglected parasitic infection. A 2017 report documents the prevalence of hookworm in Lowndes County, Alabama.
  • The US has the highest prevalence of obesity in the developed world.
  • In terms of access to water and sanitation the US ranks 36th in the world.
  • America has the highest incarceration rate in the world, ahead of Turkmenistan, El Salvador, Cuba, Thailand and the Russian Federation. Its rate is nearly 5 times the OECD average.
  • The youth poverty rate in the United States is the highest across the OECD with one quarter of youth living in poverty compared to less than 14% across the OECD.
  • The Stanford Center on Inequality and Poverty ranks the most well-off countries in terms of labor markets, poverty, safety net, wealth inequality, and economic mobility. The US comes in last of the top 10 most well-off countries, and 18th amongst the top 21.
  • In the OECD the US ranks 35th out of 37 in terms of poverty and inequality.
  • According to the World Income Inequality Database, the US has the highest Gini rate (measuring inequality) of all Western Countries
  • The Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality characterizes the US as “a clear and constant outlier in the child poverty league.” US child poverty rates are the highest amongst the six richest countries – Canada, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Sweden and Norway.
  • About 55.7% of the U.S. voting-age population cast ballots in the 2016 presidential election. In the OECD, the U.S. placed 28th in voter turnout, compared with an OECD average of 75%.  Registered voters represent a much smaller share of potential voters in the U.S. than just about any other OECD country. Only about 64% of the U.S. voting-age population (and 70% of voting-age citizens) was registered in 2016, compared with 91% in Canada (2015) and the UK (2016), 96% in Sweden (2014), and nearly 99% in Japan (2014).

These are staggering figures; but the report resonated with me on a visceral level. I’ve lived all over the United States for most of my life, but it was my crisscrossed traverse across the continent two years ago that opened my eyes to the scale of destitution of which so many have become desperately ensnared.

I drove across the north, south and middle of the United States with my sister several times because we had to care for my mother who resided in Florida. We finally decided to move her back to Canada with us after my father died because we knew she would not receive the care she needed in the States. In those many long days on the interstate I saw what America had transformed into.

The blight of corporate neglect and economic depression was nothing less than breathtaking. The main streets of town after town were boarded up, with only a smattering of dollar stores, payday loan shops, liquor vendors and storefront churches open. Hideously oversized franchise signs scraped the sky in an all too familiar impertinence. Big box stores and fast food restaurants were clustered around predictable junctions along the highways in an uninspired, formulaic pattern. It became apparent to me that these islands of banality offered some of the only employment for the people who lived in these regions. And the police patrolled every street constantly, making life feel rather like a prison camp.

These are the hard truths about America, a nation drowning in delusions, feckless nationalism and layers of supercilious bravado, where corporations, which siphon hundreds of billions of dollars from public coffers via tax evasion and subsidies are rarely held to account. Industry poisons the water, eviscerates ancient mountains, and devastates urban and rural communities with impunity. This is the “indispensable nation” where more of its citizens are locked behind bars than elsewhere in the world and usually for non-violent offenses. Where police murder unarmed people in stairwells, or hotel hallways, or for routine traffic stops and almost always get away with it. Where domestic violence often spills over to mass shootings which have become an almost daily occurrence. Where life expectancy is rapidly declining in a trend not seen since World War I. Where investment in military weaponry that terrorize the poor in other nations is exponential, but investment in veterans assistance is nil.

And yet despite this landscape of misery where inequity is exploding and infrastructure is failing at breakneck speed, the supremacist concept of “American exceptionalism” has managed to bamboozle millions into believing they live in the greatest nation on the planet. Social media has become a strange place to see this mythology in living colour. One comment on a Facebook post about the refugee crisis underscored this disconnect:

“These people need to clean up their own sorry countries. People all over the world just want to get into America because of its free stuff. It is the greatest nation on the planet!”

The sentiment echoed many others I read that exhibited an extraordinary lack of curiosity and willful ignorance about their nation’s enormous role in creating the miserable conditions these people were fleeing from in the first place. That the CIA supported and aided rightwing coups in these nations (and scores of others) was simply not in their orbit. Another comment parroted Donald Trump’s dehumanization of asylum seekers as “invaders.” Never mind the fact that it has been the US which has invaded dozens of nations, including several in Central and South America over its rather short history. And the reference to “free stuff” is shocking too, considering social services have been drastically cut in most places.

But it was this comment I read recently on a rightwing social media page that I found the most dumbfounding because it referred to one of its nearest neighbours:

“Canada compared to the United States is a third world nation. Roads full of potholes, slums, and terrible healthcare and short lifespan. They should let Trump work to save their sad nation.”

I’ll admit I had to stop and read that one twice. Of course Canada has many problems, its Tar Sands, arms dealing, and abysmal treatment of the First Nations communities among them, but the one thing that stood out was the ignorance about so-called “socialized medicine.”  This is a recurring theme and is the tragic result of decades of indoctrination by the capitalist class of the country. Both ruling parties have long been in bed with the insurance industry and Big Pharma which has derailed every effort for universal, single payer healthcare. The result has been ridiculously high infant mortality compared with other developed countries, skyrocketing levels of bankruptcy and foreclosures due to medical expenses, and the resurgence of disease associated with poverty.

That some still think of Trump as a saviour may be risible, but there is a deeper wound that has been ignored by most establishment liberals too ensconced in their privilege to notice. Magical thinking is like a drug. It can easily become a balm to those who face a daily litany of miseries, humiliations and trials. As a medical social worker I attempted to assist scores of families and individuals navigate these miseries. My battles were with insurance companies refusing coverage, not doctors.

But I personally know what it is like to not have any kind of insurance and be fearful of getting sick or injured with no money to pay for exorbitant bills, and then to be handed an $11,000 bill for a few days stay in a hospital. I’ve felt the stigma myself of accepting county healthcare assistance which didn’t even cover a fraction of the costs and being treated like a social pariah because of it. I also know what it is like to watch loved ones who had no money and, although they were deathly ill, try to leave the hospital because they had incurred $80,000 in medical bills which they knew they would never be able to pay. It alters every aspect of a person’s life and leaves one in a state of perpetual anxiety where the only escape is often found in either addiction, magical thinking or some combination of the two.

In contrast I’ve taken a relative to the hospital in Canada for severe abdominal pain and saw her met with immediate care. She was rushed into emergency surgery without ever once having to worry about the cost. This not to say the Canadian healthcare system does not have its problems. It does. And we can discuss them at some other point. But there is no comparison to a nation where ordinary citizens put off vital treatment or medicine for fear of a staggering bill or where GoFundMe has fast become the go to source for assistance with exorbitant medical expenses.

Poverty is an imposed oppression, the byproduct of rampant greed and the bastard child of an ever decadent capitalist class. And the way it is imposed is through food, housing and healthcare insecurity. But Americans who are poor are ladled with both the torment of financial worry and the noxious guilt of feeling like they are defective human beings because of their predicament. The “Oprah Effect” has convinced many that their failure to succeed in this inherently unjust system is a personal flaw. It is all about the self and its deceptively cruel mantra of positive thinking. One can see this quite clearly in media and entertainment. Anyone who is wealthy is cast in an almost deified light while the poor become punchlines, demonized, pitted against one another or ignored completely. But both ruling political parties espouse these values too. Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi is on record chiding a young constituent for daring to question this inherently unjust economic order by stating with pride “We’re capitalists.” As if making a religious declaration of faith.

This arrangement as the late Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. alluded to has been a boon for the ruling classes who, year after year, strip away the last vestiges of a beleaguered social safety net while making it easier for them to amass even more wealth. They have managed to deflect analysis and criticism of the current order by constantly referring to “personal responsibility” as the source of the problem, and this has created what Sheldon Wolin called “inverted totalitarianism.”  A kind of partially self-imposed oppression of the corporate mind, where citizens are transformed into “consumers.” Civics and politics are reduced to spectacle. Every political leader is a millionaire or billionaire. Celebrity scandals dominate the media cycle. The wealthy are endlessly lauded for their “accomplishments” while societal infrastructure and works for the public good are neglected or demolished. Ecosystems are denuded and degraded for corporate profit. Each person becomes an island unto themselves without agency. And all of it is normalized by mass media.

 

 

History is replete with examples of how this framework often leads to fascism. Neglect of civic education and economic justice create the conditions that enable its rise. Trump, then, shouldn’t be regarded as an anomaly. He is the logical result of decades of neoliberal capitalist corruption in both ruling political parties. And he is pulling the levers that he knows will work in this machine: nativism, xenophobia, misogyny, conspiratorial thinking, racism, authoritarianism, demonization of the press, scapegoating, nationalism, confusion.

Distracting the populace (and the press for that matter) from the real threats to their existence and their day to day economic degradation has become Trump’s raison d’etre. Of course he is downplaying recent dire climate change reports despite the scorched earth in California or the flattened towns on the Florida panhandle because his focus must be on the other, the foreigner, the migrant. He can dehumanize, deport or easily exterminate them if politically necessary. In other words, deal with the “problem.” Climate change? Not so much.

Thankfully there has been push back, but the fundamental narrative must still be challenged. The US is textbook example of neoliberal, corporate capitalism run amok. Most taxes go for a bloated military that slaughters the poor in other countries and protects the interests of the wealthy. But there is entrenched illiteracy in the culture when it comes to this rather odious reality. The military is still adored in most precincts of society, from sports to education to religion. To criticize its’ size or the money ($716 bn) it receives is considered heresy in both ruling political parties. This might explain the impunity an increasingly militarized police force has when they crackdown on dissent or terrorize communities of colour. And there is little to no mainstream public discourse that addresses any of it.

It is the American mind that needs to be deprogrammed of this narrative for there to be any meaningful change. A mind rife with fallacies and delusions about its greatness. An attitude that ignores the reality of its dire condition and instead embraces national myths and fantasies. As long as the issue of class continues to be ignored or talked about in terms that obscure its role in political agency desperate people will look to authoritarian answers and despots that soothe their base fears and prejudices. The gap between the extremely wealthy and the rest will grow ever wider as the ecology and living standards degrade. Neglect in an age of biospheric crisis will become even more normalized. Civil rights and liberties will continue to be weakened and chipped away. As long as capitalism remains sacrosanct and considered irreproachable, the descent toward full blown fascism will eventually turn into a free fall.

Kenn Orphan  November 2018

The Power That Must Be Resisted

“We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art, and very often in our art, the art of words.” – Ursula Le Guin

 

When the outright fascist Jair Bolsonaro won the Brazilian presidency in October, it wasn’t just the poor, people of colour, LGBTQ, or indigenous peoples that lost. Indeed, the earth’s weakened biosphere and imperiled climate lost even bigger. The president elect of the world’s 4th largest democracy has vowed to open up vast swaths of the iconic rainforest to multinational logging, cattle, mining and agricultural industries. With this one political victory the world’s ruling capitalist elite saw more dollar signs than in their wildest dreams, and the earth’s “lungs” were given a terminal prognosis.

Bolsonaro’s rise to power bears a strong resemblance to that of Donald Trump, Narendra Modi, Rodrigo Duterte and Viktor Orban. All of them have employed the techniques of classic fascism: demonizing political opponents and the media, rhetoric endorsing violence, stoking chauvinistic nationalism, scapegoating marginalized people. All them possess a disgruntled, demoralized, yet loyal base of supporters, and regularly connect with them through rallies that ridicule or bully those who dissent or disagree from their position. All of them manipulate information to spread confusion, false information or to obfuscate facts. But the most important thing these men share in common is their eagerness to wed corporate and state power, the hallmark of fascist governance. All of them sit atop treasure troves of “exploitable resources” and it is for this reason alone that they are lauded among the global capitalist elite.

Case in point, Bolsonaro received a lavish endorsement from the Wall Street Journal, the essential mouthpiece for the 1%. This should come as no surprise since their primary readership is the moneyed elite whose coffers only stand to burst with more spoils of the earth from this latest political disaster. But there are similar sentiments elsewhere. The financial newspaper Handelsblatt reported that German business leaders are “unfazed” by Bolsonaro’s election and are even “hopeful.”

Even the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), a media outlet that is supposed to be public, had the gall to suggest that this victory might be just what the Canadian economy needs. Of course, this “Canadian economy” is comprised of the wealthy mining and logging sectors alone which have already devastated vast swaths of Central and South America. Indeed, there are scores of multinational companies that must be salivating over the prospect of legalized looting they will be allowed to do under a Bolsonaro government. And they understand that they will likely get a pass for inevitable disasters. Companies like BHP, the Anglo-Australian mining company that is responsible for a massive dam break on the Doce River in 2015 that killed at least 17 people, displaced thousands, and polluted the river and beaches along the Atlantic coast. It was one of biggest environmental disasters in Brazil’s history.

To the 1% Bolsonaro’s sexism, racism and homophobia are a non-issue. His pining for the days of military dictatorship, endorsement of torture, or the slaughter of political opponents aren’t of concern either. On the contrary, these are minor footnotes on their blood soaked ledgers. While they might prefer a more polished figurehead to give inclusive sounding speeches that preserve the status quo of global capitalism with a pleasing face, they are completely fine with an outright fascist at the helm too. Look at the corporate leaders who have met with and gushed over India’s Modi to get an idea how this works. Given this, why would the complete destruction of the Amazon rainforest give them pause? To them this region of astounding biodiversity is a treasure trove of capital investment and extraction.

The Amazon rainforest loses an area the size of Costa Rica every year due to deforestation from the palm oil, soy, logging and beef industries. Illegal extraction activities, too, have defiled river ways and assaulted indigenous peoples on their ancestral lands. Indeed, the neoliberal economic policies of prior governments and championed by the liberal status quo had not prevented the ongoing destruction of the region or protected indigenous peoples. In fact they aided corporations who sought profits over the planet or people. But Bolsonaro stands to step up the carnage and open indigenous lands and areas that are now protected from the incursions of big industry. This will amount to genocide against those who live there and ecocide against the living biosphere itself.

From the Athabasca to Standing Rock to the Niger Delta to the Amazon and beyond, the earth and its peoples are under attack. Those who are leading this assault are without conscience or rationality. They are apathetic to the existential crisis we face as a species because they sincerely believe they can buy their way to higher ground; and they are virtually untouchable by the rule of law which in most cases has been constructed to protect their interests. They are a supranational capitalist class whose power lies in the dictatorship of money. But while they wield great power, they are not all powerful.

As the late Ursula LeGuin reminded us, “any power can be resisted,” and this truth is no more urgent to understand and take hold of than at this moment in history. But resistance cannot come from the status quo establishment. After all, this is the same machine that produced fascists like Trump and Bolsonaro in the first place. Resistance must be radical and it must be global because, given the circumstances and our collective predicament, only a radical paradigm shift offers a chance of creating a different world than the dystopic one we are seeing unfold before us.

 

Kenn Orphan   November, 2018

The Power of Language in the Anthropocene

“So we are left with a stark choice: allow climate disruption to change everything about our world, or change pretty much everything about our economy to avoid that fate. But we need to be very clear: because of our decades of collective denial, no gradual, incremental options are now available to us.” – Naomi Klein, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate

 

“The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum.” – Noam Chomsky

“We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art, and very often in our art, the art of words.” – Ursula K. Le Guin

 

“Let us wake up, humankind! We’re out of time. We must shake our conscience free of the rapacious capitalism, racism and patriarchy that will only assure our own self-destruction.”  – Berta Cáceres, Indigenous and environmental activist, murdered by a rightwing Honduran death squad.

 

At a certain point reality crashes headlong into toxic naivety. It is inevitable. One can only go on so long in denial before it intrudes. This is also true of societies. As I write, several “unprecedented” deadly hurricanes, typhoons and tropical storms are literally swirling around the world’s oceans. One of them has churned through the Carolinas. But this is a place where analysis of the threat of sea level rise was forbidden by a state determined to erase any public discourse on climate change in deference to its moneyed industries. Another one, the strongest on the planet, has devastated swaths of the Philippines and Hong Kong. On the opposite end of the spectrum wildfires have scorched huge swaths of North America, Greece and Spain and floods have inundated villages from Italy to India. Year after year the broken records and damages pile up, and it is becoming increasingly difficult for even the most irrational or dimwitted to ignore the unfolding climate chaos. Yet still the language of the Anthropocene remains a convoluted mess of obscurantism and outright denial.

For those living on the margins of empire no statement can be too exaggerated when it comes to the existential threats they are facing. Along with climate change they are on the frontlines of a war waged against them by the forces of capital. Along sacred rivers in the American Dakotas, in the life drenched rain forests of Ecuador, Peru and Brazil, the poisoned wetlands of the Athabasca, the unforgiving, mineral rich deserts of Western Sahara and Afghanistan, the melting tundra of the Arctic circle, the carcinogenic corridors of the American Midwest, the sun baked Niger Delta, the sullied waters of the Flint River, and in the misery laden, blockaded and besieged shanty’s of Kolkata, Manilla and beyond, battles are raging against the poor and time is running out.

 

These are the forgotten of the earth. The ones whose lives or struggles don’t register in a corporate press beholden to profits and enamored by spectacle. Their tragedies, though measured in the hundreds of thousands if not more, don’t spur hashtag movements, or generate round the clock coverage on network and cable news, or even cause the Eiffel Tower to dim. Facebook doesn’t have an option for safety check ins on these kinds of catastrophes either. Their poisoned fields, flooded villages and dried out crops pass away to more scintillating news about salacious celebrities or idiotic tweets from the bloated narcissist in the Oval Office. But they are the first victims of climate change and the merciless cupidity of the global capitalist class. The 1% whose corporations ransack and pillage the world leaving countless bodies and shattered communities in their wake.

 

In their quest to maintain and indefinitely grow their coffers, they see all of these unfolding and looming catastrophes as economic opportunities. And if they do not employ think tanks to muddy the waters of public discourse with outright denialism, they use obscurantist language designed to rationalize the unfettered exploitation of capital. Dissolving ice caps are a strategic option for geopolitical and business advancement. Atmospheric warming gases are the chance to advance a scheme of carbon trading. Hunger and famine are economic and technological opportunities to litter the world with more profitable pesticides, chemically/genetically altered food, or factory farms. Flattened woodlands and fouled rivers become excuses for moving indigenous peoples into overcrowded, cordoned off corporate colonies for easier exploitation, social control, neglect and abandonment. They see the resulting unrest and political dissatisfaction as opportunities for technological advances in surveillance and security, selling arms and weapons to any faction or regime that is interested and can pay.

 

Sometimes it may be difficult to identify who they really are. And to some extent, we are all complicit in the destruction of the earth’s habitat, especially those of us in the global north. But we have been conditioned to perceive our world by the dominant culture of our time; and that culture is undeniably defined by the forces of capital. Historically, language has always served as a means for social control. Colonized indigenous peoples understand this all too well. One of the first actions by colonizers was to erase indigenous history. The next was to erase the language.

 

Today the 1% have imposed a culture of obfuscation and use language that is intentionally duplicitous. This isn’t that difficult to grasp when we are reminded that only a handful of corporations control at least 90% of the media. Their technicians are peddlers of meaningless, alienating or demoralizing jargon. And they are integrated into the highest precincts of power. The Pentagon and the Department of Defense have long dictated Hollywood propaganda, but now social media has emerged and taken it to a whole other level. Its algorithms are designed to prick neuro-signals that enable social control and conformity. It has been a boon to the surveillance state. In the meantime a parlance of pale, placating euphemisms numbs us to our own oblivion. And it is done with such staggering precision and ease that it has become ever more difficult to decipher and parse.  But in the end not even the most viral of memes or clever of hashtags will be able to eternally hide atrocity or cloak the stench of a dying world.

 

While there are cracks in the façade, the zeitgeist of the era still demands a kind of militant optimism and the denial of reality. One can see this in a simple test. Mention the words ‘climate change’ in the comment section of a report on a hurricane or wildfire on almost any mainstream news page and you will see a flurry of laugh emojis and comments of ridicule. Such coordinated assaults on reason have the fingerprints of denialist think tanks like The Heartland Institute all over it. But even many self-described progressives perpetuate a language that denies the lived reality of millions of people or pose solutions that do nothing to dislodge the failed and utterly corrupt capitalist paradigm. They insist on political solutions, even pseudo-socialist ones, within a bipartisan framework that has proven to be a sham. And how has this helped anyone? In the US most live in state of perpetual stress and distraction. Distracted by the demands of work, shrinking social safety nets and a political landscape that has merged with mass entertainment, the corporate surveillance state keeps the masses in line by neutralizing public opinion, policing thought and censoring dialogue. Many live in states that are destined to experience more and more catastrophic flooding or prolonged and entrenched drought thanks to climate change.

 

Hyperbolic? Perhaps to some. But in the global south, which often includes areas inside Western nations, dystopia is now. They inhabit capitalism’s sacrifice zones, places where ruthless exploitation, destruction and abandonment are considered acceptable. For them water is already scarce, food is already insecure, addiction is already an epidemic, cancer and other diseases are already the norm, and their homes are already sinking beneath the tide. They understand that denialism, false hope and language that cloaks reality only perpetuate the misery and maintains the status quo death march to extinction. They have taught us all how we must dissent to the madness of the Anthropocene. Thanks to centuries of massacre, exploitation and having their histories rewritten, from Chiapas to Sápmi, they have responded by nourishing solidarity and resistance. They have demonstrated to us that agency rests in a relentless drive to push back, build economies independent of the “free market,” foster independent media and journalism, create representative forms of governance despite cynicism, stand united against the violence of the state against the odds, paint murals that reflect the people’s history and speak in a language that boldly defies the ruling class narrative.

 

As a species we have either created, permitted or have been oppressed by an order that has been threatening our collective demise for decades in what amounts to a mere blip of geologic time. Indeed, it is this order that has already sentenced countless species to the halls of extinction, carpet bombed millions over the last century, justified slavery, devastated verdant regions, and enslaved millions of people around the world in for profit prisons, sweatshop fire traps, pesticide ridden fields and lung choking mines. But we should understand that the language of this era is no accident. It has been carefully crafted by the forces of capital to control the dominant narrative, condition our thinking, and dictate how we will act. It is designed to keep us distracted while they keep up their pillage. The beginning of dissent and resistance, then, lies in learning a different tongue.

 

Kenn Orphan   September 2018

Humanity vs. The Rule of Law

It was back in my early undergrad years when I first came to understand the broad reach of US foreign policy. I completed a social work internship in Los Angeles at a safe house in east LA in a largely immigrant community whose goal was economic justice and solidarity with working families. One morning I came down to the kitchen to find two sisters from the Missionaries of Charity sitting at the table with our house administrators. They had a similar home just down the street from us and they were well known for opening it up as a sanctuary for refugees. That day they greeted us with a choice.

A family of refugees from Central America were en route to LA and needed housing since the sisters home was already filled to capacity. Our house admins had already agreed to do this but we would be permitted to go to another program, without judgement, if we were not comfortable with this decision. This was the late 80s and providing sanctuary for people from certain nations in Central America was both controversial and illegal. We were nervous, but young and very eager to do something that seemed radical. Over the following month we learned that the risk we had taken paled in comparison to theirs. Nothing could remotely compare with the horrors they had endured or narrowly escaped; threats of rape, violence and being abandoned to die in agony in the desert, or the uncertain future they faced in a country hostile to their very existence.

I remember the backlash I and others received from several in my class. In their eyes we were subverting the rule of law. But what rule of law were they speaking of? Was it the one that informs virtually all of American foreign policy? The one that trains mercenaries at infamous places like the School of the Americas? The same one that fueled the genocide of 250,000 Mayans in Guatemala in 1954 at the behest of the United Fruit Company? Or the rule of law that created a brothel for US corporate interests in Havana? Or backed the genocide in Indonesia done by rabid fascists? Or supported coups that upended a democratically elected government in Chile? Or the Democratic Republic of the Congo? Or Iran? Was it the one that carpet bombed Cambodia, napalmed North Korea or tested nukes on US soldiers and the unsuspecting inhabitants of the Marshall Islands? Would that rule of law include Indian Removal? Or Jim Crow? Or state sponsored lynchings? Or internment camps for Japanese Americans during WW2? When it comes to the American Empire what rule of law is there outside of that which pertains to the rights of corporations, or the ruling Capitalist class, or the military industrial elite? How many crimes has the global north committed against the global south; and how many of them have been explained away using the sanctimonious parlance of the rule of law?

I fast forward to today and wonder what has changed? US foreign policy certainly hasn’t. It continues to punish Cuba and has not stopped its war mongering against Venezuela. It still promotes the racist “drug war” that makes life a misery for countless people. It still defends industries that pollute the waters and the soil that indigenous peoples depend on, like in the Amazon in Ecuador by Chevron. It still backs rightwing coups like the one recently championed by Hillary Clinton in Honduras which installed a government that terrorizes its population and is ultimately responsible for the murder of scores of Indigenous and environmental activists, like Berta Cáceres who understood well the reach, ramifications and scope of American foreign policy, especially its impact on the lives of those who live on the margins of empire.

And what has changed at the border? The same people terrorized by American foreign policy are still dehumanized, traumatized, deported and even murdered in cold blood when they manage to arrive there hoping for a better life. Even Hillary Clinton advocated for sending undocumented people back as a solution, and Obama is on record for deporting more immigrants than other presidents. But if there is anything that has changed in recent days it is the deepening depravity of such policies. Thanks to Trump’s inhuman policy of separation of children from their parents, the breathless cruelty of the US Border Patrol and ICE produce a virtual Sophie’s Choice every day. Even showing human kindness toward these children is grounds for termination from employment.

So the outrage I have today is not dissimilar to the outrage I felt years ago.  I still see the faces of those refugees I stood in solidarity with several years ago from Guatemala. And when I read about the migrants being detained and sent to cages with foil blankets or hear the recordings of inconsolable cries of children torn from their mother or father, I see their eyes peering through me. And I think of that “rule of law” argument waged by my classmates years ago. The same argument made by Jeff Sessions and Sarah Huckabee-Sanders who then buttressed it with Biblical references. Such a rationale only exists in the minds of those whose humanity has long been gutted. It’s one that has been used generously by scoundrels throughout time to ignore their complicity in creating the turmoil in the first place, and then defending the cruelest of policies against the human beings affected by that misery. And my response to such barbarity remains the same as it was back then: to hell with their rule of law.

 

Kenn Orphan   June 2018

 

 

Life, the Sea, and Big Oil

“It is a curious situation that the sea, from which life first arose, should now be threatened by the activities of one form of that life. But the sea, though changed in a sinister way, will continue to exist: the threat is rather to life itself.” – Rachel Carson

When I learned about the oil giant BP’s plan to drill off the coast of my home, my heart felt like it dropped out of my chest. As I write this the West Aquarius rig is well on its way to the Nova Scotian Shelf. By the time this is published, it might have already arrived. My thoughts went immediately to those oil sullied shorelines in the Gulf of Mexico, and to the fishermen there whose families and livelihoods were shattered to pieces, and the countless species of fish, mammals and marine birds suffocated in the earth’s primordial blood. BP forever damaged that region and not only in an environmental way. The scars, the untraceable diseases, the suicides and domestic conflicts induced by despair, the financial ruin, displacement and alienation persist to this day.

Many of my ancestors were fishermen here in Nova Scotia for generations. They negotiated the treacherous storms endemic to the North Atlantic and many of them perished in the icy waters which surround this rocky, unforgiving peninsula. I’ve several relatives whose livelihoods are still dependent upon the ocean. But it is more than just a job. The sea is entwined with one’s heart here. It informs the culture, the food, the language. The life of this province cannot be separated from it.

Until settlers stole their ancestral lands, Mi’kmaq, the region’s First People, lived in balance and harmony with this sea for thousands of years, carefully studying its character and respecting its surly and churlish mood swings. They still ply the currents of the deep cold inlets and hidden coves.Nova Scotia’s rugged and breathtaking coastline, often blanketed in fog and punctuated by ancient, craggy pines, has been sang about at cèilidhs (Celtic social gatherings) for centuries. The provincial license plates proudly bares the logo “Canada’s Ocean Playground.” Indeed, the ocean remains one of the chief economic engines of the region generating billions of dollars annually. Above all of this is the biodiversity this place is graced with. But none of this, no wealth of culture, nor livelihoods, or biodiversity, or even physical beauty is of concern when a region catches the covetous eye of Big Oil.

In the case of Nova Scotia, a sparsely populated province with an abundance of fossil fuel resources, BP saw an opportunity. And a neoliberal government beholden to the interests of Big Oil paved the way for exploitation. The drilling will be in over stormy waters that are 3000 metres deep (roughly 10,000 feet) and is in one of the primary spawning areas for fish like haddock. To add insult to this great injury: if there is a blow out the primary strategy for dealing with it will be the infamous toxic dispersant corexit, used in the BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. And it would take at least two weeks for the company to transport a “capping stack” from Norway under normal circumstances, not taking into account the strong currents and wild storms of the North Atlantic. If and when such a cap arrived there is absolutely no guarantee that such an intervention would even be workable in these deep and rough waters. After all, nothing like this has ever been attempted here. Nothing.In a world where the fossil fuel industry inhabits the precincts of policy making and regulation, no place is off the table for exploration and exploitation. And history has proven that Big Oil enjoys near impunity for its crimes. In the Niger Delta, one of the most biodiverse places on the planet, Royal Dutch Shell has spilled an estimated 1.5 million tons of oil into the rich ecosystem while simultaneously assisting the Nigerian military in the violent suppression of protest from the indigenous communities of the Ogoni. In the Ecuadoran Amazon, Chevron Texaco deliberately fouled huge swaths of the rain forest with at least 17 million gallons of oil and waste, and poisoned scores of indigenous communities with carcinogenic toxins. In the Alberta Tar Sands the fossil fuel industry has left a scar that is literally visible from space. There is no place on the planet that Big Oil will not sacrifice or future it will not jeopardize for money. No society or ecosystem will be spared its plunder for profit, large or small.

The fossil fuel industry is the most profitable business the world has ever known and today it is accountable to virtually no one. Its executives sit atop a virtual Lazy Susan which glides them seamlessly and effortlessly from boardrooms to the halls of legislature and back. It fuels conflicts, spurs wars, and funds massively coordinated and aggressive campaigns of disinformation against climate change scientists and those who dissent. And in the end we are all being held hostage to its existential madness. It is the greatest tyranny humanity has ever known, to be deprived of a living earth for the avarice and shortsighted sake of a privileged few.

I have no happy ending to this story as it is written today. After countless “spills, incidents, and accidents” Nova Scotia may become just one more open wound this industry has inflicted on the living flesh of the earth. They will extract what they can and when they pollute they will do so with impunity. The Mi’kmaq and rural, working people will suffer the worst, as will countless species of marine birds, fish and mammals. Even in the absence of any particular “incident” with the West Aquarius rig, our fragile biosphere will lunge even further toward mass extinction thanks to the cumulative impact of industry’s rapacious extraction and reckless pollution. It will mean death by a thousand cuts. Or in this case, perhaps, a thousand climate change fueled catastrophes. The sea, as Rachel Carson said, will continue. Life, on the other hand, may not.Nova Scotians will take on BP and Shell and Chevron, and every manifestation of this future killing behemoth, building on the strength and courage of everyone else who has been mercilessly punished by this industry’s greed driven recklessness. Sadly, that list is growing longer by the day.

Kenn Orphan, May 2018

 

 

Whistling Past the Graveyard

I must begin with a confession. I have always been troubled by Earth Day. As a lifelong activist I understand and appreciate the concept and how it came to be. But over the years I’ve seen it morph from an almost spiritual movement for ecological consciousness and justice into an opportunity for corporations and politicians to tout their empty gestures at “saving the planet” all while they mercilessly plunder it.  Greenwashing has now taken center stage and the effect has often lead to the neutralizing of public outrage. Like so many things corporate, Earth Day has been tinged with a pathological optimism. The dominant message today exudes an all too pervasive “feel goodism” for a situation that is by all accounts truly monstrous, not only for countless other species on the planet, but for our own.

Nearly fifty years ago in April of 1970 people of conscience gathered to address the destruction of the planet. Since that time politicians, corporations, the fossil fuel industry and their mouthpiece think tanks have worked feverishly, not at addressing the crisis, but at polishing their image.  Today their lavish conferences and consortiums generally serve as window dressing and are a distraction to our collective, growing existential angst, as each passing year gives us a terrifying glimpse into a fast approaching future for our planet, one rife with super storms, floods, mega-droughts, crop failures and species demise.

Within the last decade alone there have been monumental shifts in climate models leaving even the conservative Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) shocked and bewildered. Indeed, record breaking temperature extremes have become a defining norm of the 21st century, with an ice free Arctic summer now on the horizon. It is becoming apparent that things are more dire than anyone had previously anticipated. We are beginning to see the first stirrings of climate chaos; and it is set against the ominous backdrop of an already ravaged biosphere.

This past year we witnessed an American west coast at once bathed in fire and then awash in mud. We saw the Amazon rain forest, the vaunted “lungs of the planet,” belch out smoke as it reeled from over 200,000 fires. We stood aghast at the hurricanes which decimated the Caribbean and the floods that killed thousands and displaced many more over the summer and into autumn and winter, from China to India and Nepal, to Southeast Asia and West Africa.

Other revelations were equally staggering. Recent studies have confirmed a catastrophic drop in insect populations worldwide. Bird populations are being decimated by loss of food sources, and marine plastic pollution is set to outweigh all fish in the ocean by mid-century. Fish stocks have plummeted and over 90% of Coral reefs, the ocean’s nurseries, will have disappeared by 2050 from bleaching thanks to warming waters and ocean acidification. Forests are being felled at a rate akin to a New Zealand sized areaevery year. Yet despite these staggering developments little to nothing of substance is being done on the global scale that is required.
To be sure, history has demonstrated that most politicians will never face unpleasant realities until they are literally upon us. Our current climate and ecological crisis is no different. As this century unfolds cities and towns will likely be lost to rising seas as governments eventually find that they are too expensive to salvage. Entire regions may become uninhabitable from deforestation, pollution and drought. The specters of famine and disease will undoubtedly haunt billions of people, in fact they already plague millions today. Mass migration could easily make today’s issue appear negligible and would put a strain on fragile social and economic systems that already suffer from vast, structurally imposed inequities. Rich, biodiverse areas could become graveyards. Those in power would undoubtedly answer the concomitant unrest in more Orwellian doublespeak and with insidious distraction, coupled with draconian crackdowns on dissent, protest or objection. None of this is fiction. It has all happened, and not only in civilizations throughout history which have faced socio-economic or ecological collapse. It is happening today in societies which purport to be democratic.

 

 

Here is where people of conscience, like those untarnished souls at the first Earth Day nearly fifty years ago, must be unabashedly truthful about our monstrous and collective predicament. We must face the painful fact that our species has exceeded its limits in growth, population and the exploitation of the natural world. We must also grapple with the fact that the global north is most responsible for the decimation of the biosphere and the ruthless subjugation and exploitation of the global south.

And that there will be no substantive actions taken by our political and corporate leaders to halt this plunder or stem the carnage of the planet’s rich biodiversity. After all, according to their economic ethos they have no vested interest since they profit handsomely from this global arrangement to begin with. They have demonstrated that they are both unwilling and incapable of addressing the issue with the integrity and impetus necessary. Instead, they will continue their bait and switch dance of empty placation and denialism while they stuff their coffers with coin, even as the earth rapidly transforms into another planet before our eyes.

Despite all this we still have tremendous agency to affect the future, both personally and collectively. We have the power to create communities of solidarity and to meet the looming catastrophes and calamities with dignity and humanity. We possess the moral authority to oppose the further defilement of the water and the soil, the very source and sustenance of our lives and that of countless other species. But that agency is diluted and made ineffectual so long as we continue to lie to ourselves and others about where we are as a species.

Earth Day should no longer be taken simply as a gentle, yet trite, reminder to recycle, or use canvas shopping bags, or cycle to work one day out of the week. It should no longer be diminished to “lifestyle choices” that let corporations and governments off the hook. It must quite literally be transformed into a rallying cry for the life of the biosphere. Because anything short of that is merely whistling past the graveyard.

 

Kenn Orphan,  April 2018

A Stampede Against Time

It’s inspiring to see so many young people in the United States rise to action against gun violence, especially in response to the mass shooting phenomenon which has dominated news cycles and the American psyche itself. But unless the link is made to militarism, police brutality, ecological destruction, economic disenfranchisement and state violence it will be reduced to mere spectacle and cynically used by the Democratic Party, that infamous graveyard of social movements, for political advancement.
The so-called “March for Our Lives” was emblematic of this. Held on a weekend, permits were easily granted. The corporate media portrayed it favorably. There were celebrities, pundits and political hacks galore. There were no major police incidents. And nothing was disrupted politically, economically or socially. Essentially, it was a state sanctioned “day of rage” which did not upend anything nor have any consequential effect on the underlying societal inequities or maladies that create a violent society in the first place.
Compare this weekend’s events to the reaction of the state to Black Lives Matter rallies, the Occupy Movement or Standing Rock Sioux and you get a clear picture of which movements are allowable or even smiled upon and which ones they will brutally crush. The Democrats showed little interest in those latter movements because they represented a real threat to the repressive capitalist, ecologically devastating and thoroughly racist status quo of which they are a part.
And then there is the privilege. The very name “March For Our Lives” reflects a kind of cooptation in relation to Black Lives Matter, and this is especially troubling since most of the participants have been largely from the white petit bourgeois (middle class). Similar comparisons can be made to the #metoo movement because although it was founded by a Black woman (Tarana Burke), it was co-opted by a white celebrity (Alyssa Milano) and gained steam via an exposé on the powerful producer Harvey Weinstein. And thus far it has shown few, demonstrable, real life benefits for working class women of colour because the systems of class exploitation persist undisturbed and unabated.
But highly organized and moneyed events like the one this past weekend are not really meant to effect change. They take place only within the confines of acceptable dissent, rattling few cages and causing no one (especially the wealthy and powerful elite) too much inconvenience. And they often mask more nefarious and insidious motives of the state for increased control and the suppression of actual dissent.  For instance, the main focus of animus at this weekend’s march was the National Rifle Association, arguably a lobby group that actively defends white nationalist terror. But nothing was uttered about Grumman Northrup, or Lockheed Martin, or Halliburton, or the Pentagon, or the Department of Defense, or the police for that matter, all of which cause substantially more deaths globally. And this is by design. These “movements” generally act as a valve to let off steam; and the action they call for all too often come in the form of draconian legalism, surveillance and authoritarian overreach.

Indeed, the US has always been supremely authoritarian but it is rapidly slipping into outright fascism with each passing day. Military analysts and generals are running the show behind the scenes of the narcissist in the Oval Office and are salivating at the next geopolitical assault (see quagmire) be it against Iran, North Korea, Venezuela or even Russia or China, all while a complex police state has been meticulously constructed domestically.

It is an empire where the ruling class create a narrative to serve the purpose of maintaining their power while they continue to hack through what is left of the rag we call a social safety net and fill their already bloated private coffers with stolen public coin. And it enforces it all through coercion, intimidation, marginalization and violence, both at home and abroad. This is why social movements cannot have real success if they are largely generated and sustained by members of the elite or the establishment.  They serve only as an illusion of agency, not true power; and often end with more terrifying results.

It is my sincere hope that many of the young people rising up today make this crucial connection and the #NeverAgain movement will grow to encompass US militarism, the prison/surveillance/police industrial complex and systemic economic inequality, because the failure to do so will only speed them toward an even more terrifying totalitarianism within a deeply unequal and warrior society neutered of its political agency and chomping at the bit for more war and a militarized world. But they will need to do this quickly. This isn’t simply a march for their lives; it is a stampede against time for us all.

Kenn Orphan, 26 March 2018

The Canaries We Ignore

The images and video that have come out of Southern California this past year have been nothing less than apocalyptic. Raging fires consume dry chaparral up to the edge of bloated freeways with 10 lanes. Entire neighbourhoods have been reduced to smoldering ash. And the lives of countless residents changed forever.
          I lived in Southern California almost half my life. Wildfires and hot, dry Santa Ana winds were a part of every autumn. But something palpable shifted in the last few years I was there. The fire season became year round, wildfires became more like firestorms and those desert winds, which I had loved so much in the early years, became more like infernal blasts from an open furnace, mercurial and desiccating to everything they touched.

Like the record breaking storms, floods and hurricanes of late, these fires are more canaries in the collective coal mine we all inhabit. And with each passing year and every accumulating catastrophe their clarion call becomes more urgent and shrill. Yet in spite of their insistence the global order remains relatively unchanged and alarmingly unperturbed.

It is becoming increasingly undeniable that human beings are now at a crossroad as never before encountered in history. In its relatively short time, industrial civilization has brought amazing technological advances. Diseases have been cured, massive feats of agriculture have fed millions, and we were able to break the gravitational bonds of this planet and become a spacefaring civilization. But its marriage to corporate capitalism was one made in hell. And the Faustian bargain that fossil fuels offered humanity unleashed a boundless and insatiable greed which blinds all who profit from it to their ruination.

The result has been the despoiling of the living biosphere on which we all rely. We have entered into the Sixth Mass Extinction where at least 150 species are lost every day to human activity. Recent studies have confirmed a catastrophic drop in insect populations worldwide thanks to petro-based pesticides used in industrial scale agriculture, climate change, and destruction of habitat. Marine life is suffering a similar fate with bird populations being decimated by loss of food sources and plastic pollution which is set to outweigh all fish in the ocean by mid-century. Fish stocks have plummeted and over 90% of Coral reefs, the ocean’s nurseries, will have disappeared by 2050 from bleaching thanks to ocean acidification. Forests are being felled at a rate akin to a New Zealand sized area every year. Yet despite these staggering developments little to nothing of substance is being done on the global scale that is needed.

Here is where people of conscience must be brutally truthful about our collective predicament. We must face the painful fact that our species has exceeded its limits in growth, population and the exploitation of the natural world. We must also grapple with the fact that the global north is most responsible for the decimation of the biosphere and the ruthless exploitation of the global south. And there will be no substantive actions taken by the corrupt political and business leaders who profit from this global arrangement, to halt this plunder or stem the carnage of the planet’s rich biodiversity. They are both unwilling and incapable of addressing the issue with the integrity and impetus necessary. Instead, they will continue their bait and switch dance of empty placation and denialism while they stuff their coffers with coin, even as the earth rapidly transforms into another planet before our eyes.

 And their criminal ineptitude has never stopped at non-humans. As this century unfolds, cities will be lost to rising seas as governments will eventually find that they are too expensive to salvage. Regions will become uninhabitable from pollution and drought. The specters of famine and disease will haunt billions of people. And mass migration will put a strain on fragile social and economic systems that already suffer from vast, structurally imposed inequities.

Their answer to the concomitant unrest will be more Orwellian doublespeak and insidious distraction, coupled with draconian crackdowns on dissent, protest or objection. They will aggressively mock, smear and persecute truth tellers and peddle in jingoism, xenophobia and nationalism. War mongering, austerity and the scapegoating of vulnerable people will become their preferred method of deferring from their culpability. None of this is fiction. It has all happened, and not only in civilizations throughout history which have faced socio-economic or ecological collapse. It is happening today in societies which purport to be democratic.

Although “knowledge is power” is a cliché, it still holds some truth. We still have tremendous agency to affect the future, both personally and collectively. We have the power to create communities of solidarity and to meet the looming catastrophes and calamities with humanity, dignity and grace. But that agency is diluted and made ineffectual so long as we continue to lie to ourselves and others about where we are as a species. The risk we take includes being labeled an alarmist in a society lulled into a hypnotic trance by the slick marketing tactics of the consumerist wizards of Wall Street. But that risk pales in comparison to ignoring the screeching canaries in our midst.

 

Kenn Orphan  2017

On Identity Politics and the Struggle Against Capitalism

“I am human, and I think nothing of which is human is alien to me.” ~ Publius Terentius Afer, Roman playwright  (195/185 – c. 159 BC)
Recently, I’ve seen the topic of identity politics coming up in certain forums. Without a doubt this is commonly misunderstood concept that has been deliberately manipulated for political reasons. But the so-called “alt-right” (see far right, white supremacists) have seized on this confusion with a vengeance. Even some on the left have decried its influence because to them it serves as a distraction and undermines the importance of fighting classist exploitation under late stage capitalism. It should not come as a surprise that many of them are white, heterosexual men with Christian European ancestry who have never experienced oppression, systemic discrimination or state violence based on their skin pigment, gender, religious expression, sexual orientation, disability, language or ethnicity. As a white man myself I concede that this is indeed a luxury most of the planet does not enjoy.
          Human beings are not a mono-crop. We have personal and shared identities based on how we look, speak, act, who we love, how we worship (if we choose to worship) and from our experiences of being different from the dominant group in our society. And it is undeniable that many are mercilessly persecuted for those differences. While it is undoubtedly true that cynical political operatives of the American Democratic Party use identity to curry support and distract from the oppressive economic structure of capitalism, it does not make the reality of white supremacy, patriarchy or oppression based solely upon identity, any less true.
          Racism and sexism, for example, are existential realities faced by the vast majority of humans on the planet every single day. Women endure the most violence of any group and while it must be understood that there is no such thing as “race” in a biological sense, there is indeed such a thing as racism. And both forms of oppression work in similar ways, through violence, loss of status, and coercion or the threat of these things. These forms of oppression predate capitalism, but as a descendant of colonialism it makes them an easy fit for an economic model which places human beings (and other species for that matter) into categories of hierarchy and class for easy exploitation. So it is undeniable that since capitalism is the dominant economic and political global order it is also the primary engine for persecution, discrimination and even genocide against the oppressed in the world today.
           It should therefore go without saying that capitalism is at the root of the problem, but even given this truth or that identity is cynically manipulated by certain political parties, it does not make the reality of oppression based upon ones identity any less real or existentially threatening. I believe anarchists, radicals and socialists offer the best solution to these monstrous problems, but not if they dismiss, ridicule or deny the existence of identity within the human species or the brutal persecution people face because of them. Recognizing ones own privilege and extending solidarity to oppressed, marginalized or disenfranchised people is not a distraction from the struggle against capitalism. On the contrary. It offers us the best bridge toward societal transformation that no stale ideology could even dream of.
Kenn Orphan  2017
Title image is “Capitalism and Racism” by Paul Domenick.

100 Years Later, to Move Beyond Our Chains

This year is the 100th anniversary of the October Revolution which brought about the USSR and as usual I’ve seen the same banal hit pieces and smug denunciations of Marxism bandied about on social media that I do every year around this time. “Communism failed, just look at the Soviet Union.”
          Of course nothing is said about the horror that Russia was for most of its people under Czarist dictatorship for three centuries. Or that after the Czar was jettisoned the new coalition had to cope with their legacy of crushing poverty, illiteracy and famine. Or that they had to deal with the onslaught of foreign invasions, embargoes, blockades by the far wealthier empires of Europe and the US, and lost over 20 million people thanks to Nazi barbarism. Or that despite all of this they managed to become a super power in just a matter of decades.
This kind of thing is unsurprising to many of us. After all, poor and obtuse analysis of historical movements are a dime a dozen, particularly in the US where the public discourse is tightly managed and capitalism has been elevated to religious status. But I’ve noticed something different of late. The arguments aren’t flying as much as they used to except in elitist circles.
          Maybe this is due to greater awareness of how capitalism ultimately always benefits the .01% to the detriment of the rest of us, and that now a mere handful of men own as much wealth as half of all humanity on earth. Maybe it is because more people are realizing their enslavement under a system of perpetual credit debt, student loans, healthcare costs and a brutalizing judicial and police state which is all too eager to crush dissent. Perhaps this is thanks to the fact that the biosphere has been brought to the brink of destruction thanks to the rampant greed of corporations which commit ecocide with impunity.
Whatever the reason might be it is, nonetheless, refreshing. As the great Rosa Luxemburg said: “Those who do not move, do not notice their chains.” I would only add that sometimes the forces of history compel us to move and that we should be grateful when this happens in a manner that shows us both our power and agency at once.
          Soviet Russia was a long, painful experiment in socio-economic justice that was far from perfect. In fact many pages of this legacy were undeniably written with the cruel ink of totalitarianism, including a bloody counter-revolution that undid much of the progress made by the early soviets. But it gave us a glimpse into the potential of ordinary people to be agents of societal and civilisational change. If there is anything we can glean from this remembrance 100 years later is that when the oppressed, marginalized and disenfranchised unite in solidarity against tyranny they are far more powerful than the powers that be would ever want them to realize.
Kenn Orphan  2017

(Title artwork for this essay isThe Bolshevik,” 1920, by Boris KustodievOil on canvas. 101 x 140.5 cm. State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow)