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Saturday, December 31, 2016


I M Flaud [!!] offers the following comment on the first part of my discussion of expropriation and exploitation:  “Perhaps the definition of labor value is incomplete, if by linear algebra anything true about labor value is true about iron value or corn value. To put it differently, if some assertion one is expressing about X-values in some restricted language L come out "the same" whether X is labor, iron or corn, then this is evidence that L cannot express essential features of labor that distinguish it from iron and corn.”

That is exactly, precisely the correct conclusion.  Bravo!  It is the conclusion to which I came after I had proved the inadequacy of the Labor Theory of Value to explain the manifest fact that in a capitalist economy the workers get screwed [a technical term – sorry for the jargon.]  “Clearly,” I said to myself, “workers in a capitalist economy are getting the short end of the stick, but Marx’s explanation, invoking the distinction between labor and labor-power and all the rest, is wrong.  So what is the explanation?  What is more, how can we capture in our explanation the central feature of capitalism to which Marx devotes so much time in the opening chapters of Capital, namely its mystification of what is going on?”

So I went back to Marx’s text and looked again.  And there it was, as plain as day.  The workers in a capitalist economy get only a portion of what they produce by their skill and labor, because by a long historical process of expropriation, they have been denied ownership of their own means of production – of their tools, of their machinery, even of their skills – until all they have left is their labor, which if they wish to live they are compelled to sell in the marketplace as though it were a commodity whose natural price is the cost of its reproduction.  Why don’t farmers get to eat all the food they grow, after setting aside what is needed for seed?  Because they do not own the land and the farm tools.  Why don’t factory workers get to wear the clothing they make or to sell it to buy the food they need?  Because they do not own the wool or the cotton or the thread or the machinery with which they turn these materials into clothing.

How, I asked, can we capture this situation in a set of formal equations that explains exactly how the workers are getting screwed and simultaneously explains why in a capitalist economy it seems as though the workers are getting a fair return for their labor?  Here is what I came up with:

If we look carefully at the price equations in a simple capitalist model, we see [I go into this at length in my article] that formally speaking, labor is not modeled differently from any other input on the left side of the equations.  Oh, to be sure, we use the letter L or l to stand for “labor” but that is just a labeling convention, not a formal distinction.  No wonder everything we show about labor also can be shown for iron or corn or cloth.  They are all represented formally in precisely the same way in the equations.  But in the real world, there is a fundamental structural difference, which we ought to be able to capture mathematically.

Consider:  The ideology of capitalism says the worker is a legally free producer of the commodity labor.  OK.  Then in our system of price equations, let us have an equation for the labor producing industry as well as equations for the corn, iron, and cloth producing industries.  [Notice that in this approach, there is no need to formulate labor value equations.]  Now, in each equation, there is a term [1 + π ] which stands for the profit mark-up.  [π or the Greek equivalent of p is the one standard symbol for the profit rate.]  And the profit rate is the same in every industry because competition and the movement of capital in pursuit of the highest rate of return equilibrates the profit rate.  If a capitalist who makes high end jewelry for sale to the carriage trade is making 5% on his invested capital while a junk dealer is making 8%, then the quality jeweler will move his capital out of gems and into junk, because in a capitalist economy, all any good honorable capitalist cares about is his rate of return, not the social acceptability of his product.  [You understand that I am laboring mightily to communicate the math in as palatable a fashion as possible.]

But there is a big problem with the labor sector.  The worker, who is in this model a labor manufacturer, cannot move his capital to a sector with a better rate of return, because his capital is his body, and the only way he can cash in his capital and move it is … by cashing it in, which is to say dying!  So the worker, who by an historical process of expropriation has been deprived of his true capital, his tools and skills and land and raw materials, is compelled to remain in the labor producing business.  In other words, the worker has no choice but to get a job working for a capitalist.

When we set up the equations along these lines, with a separate rate of return in the labor equation, we find that the prices, and hence the rates of return, in the other sectors are skewed up by virtue of the fact that one huge sector, the labor sector, is frozen and cannot move its capital to compete [and thus drive down the prices and the rate of return] in all the other sectors.

How much does the labor sector lose by this structural rigidity?  Well, not surprisingly, what the labor sector loses is exactly mathematically equal to what all the other sectors gain.  In short, profit in a capitalist economy is the extra value taken from the workers by virtue of the fact that they have been deprived of their ownership of their capital.  Which is to say:


That, my friends, is the connection between exploitation and expropriation.

Friday, December 30, 2016


In this lengthy essay, I will explain the relationship between the claim that capitalism arises through the expropriation of workers, and the claim, specific to Marx’s economic theory, that capitalism rests on the exploitation of the working class.  The term “exploitation” in Marx’s writings has a specific technical meaning which I shall explain in good time, but we should start by recalling that “to exploit” has two distinct and yet related uses in common speech.  To exploit something means to use it for some purpose.  “In his architectural designs, Frank Lloyd Wright exploited the particular physical and scenic characteristics of the site on which a building was to be constructed.”  To exploit someone means to take advantage of that person for one’s own purposes.  “Trump exploits contractors whom he hires on his construction projects by using the expense of legal proceedings to get out of paying the bills he has run up with them.”  The first usage has no obvious normative implications.  No one save a Mother Earth enthusiast would blame Wright for exploiting nature in his designs.  The second usage at least prima facie does have normative implications.  Marx deliberately plays on this ambiguity in Capital.

Recalling that the sub-title of Volume I of Capital is Critique of Political Economy [not Critique of Capitalism,] let us begin where Marx does with the earliest stage in the development of Political Economy [or, as we would say, Economic Theory] as he found it when he entered into the debates of the new discipline.

Political Economy was born through the combination of two powerful conceptual innovations.  The first, advanced by the French thinkers known as Physiocrats, was the observation that the year-by-year productive activities of a nation are circular in structure.  The output of one annual cycle of production serves as the input into the next cycle.  The Physiocrats had in mind agriculture, where manifestly this year’s harvest is the source of next year’s seed, but their observation holds true for non-agricultural production as well, a fact put to use by Piero Sraffa in his short but vitally important work, Production of Commodities By Means of Commodities [1960.] 

The second great innovation was Adam Smith’s introduction of the concept of natural price in his great work, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations [1776.]  Smith observed that in the English markets of his day, familiar commodities had usual or customary prices, well known to experienced traders, which he called natural prices.  On any given day, the actual price paid for a bushel of corn or a yard of cloth might vary, due to temporary variations in supply or demand, but the natural prices could, he said, be counted on to reassert themselves.  Drawing on the physical theories of Isaac Newton, then considered the gold standard for intellectual work, Smith described the natural prices as “centers of gravity” that drew the fluctuating market prices to them.  Smith set himself to discover the factors determining natural prices.

Smith was not really interested in the prices of linen and coal and wheat.  His real interest was in economic growth, but to understand that, he believed that he needed to understand what determined the way in which the annual output of a nation got divided among the three great classes of society, the Landed Aristocracy, the Entrepreneurial Class [or Capitalists], and the Working Class.  And in the England of his day, what determined that dividing up was three very special prices:  the price of land, or rent, the price of capital, or profits, and the price of labor, or wages.

Smith advanced a very simple explanation of the determination of natural prices:  goods exchange in proportion to the amount of labor it takes to produce them.  Since in the 18th and 19th centuries the natural price of a good was sometimes called its value in exchange, or simply its value, this explanation came to be known as a Labor Theory of Value.  Smith knew that this explanation was not true when there was private ownership of land or when goods were produced using capital, such as tools, etc., as well as labor, but he had no idea how to solve those problems.

David Ricardo did.  In a brilliant theoretical tour de force, he showed that the rent paid for the use of land played no role in determining the Natural Price, or Value, of the grain grown on it.  He also formulated the very powerful idea of “embodied labor,” meaning the labor expended in previous cycles of production in making the tools, etc., and then as it were “embodied” in them and passed along to the products made with their use.  This theoretical innovation solved Smith’s problem in one special set of cases, those that Marx would come to call cases of “equal organic composition of capital” and that later economist would call “equal capital intensity,” but alas, it did not solve the problem in the general case.  The problem, which even Smith understood quite well, was this:  Some techniques of production, like agriculture, might use a great deal of labor and relatively little machinery and tools [at least in Smith’s day], whereas others [a modern semi-automated automobile assembly plant is a great example] might use almost no labor and huge amounts of machinery.  The quantities of labor required, either directly or embodied, might be the same for wheat and cars, but because so much of that labor had been “embodied” machinery in earlier cycles in the case of the cars, competition would equilibrate the profit rate, so that the labor “sitting around” in the automobile plant machinery, earning as it must an annual rate of return, would drive up the price of the cars relative to the wheat.  In general, then, it is not the case that in a developed economy, goods exchange in proportion to the amount of labor required for their production.  Ricardo knew this, and spent the last years of his life unsuccessfully looking for a solution to the problem.

Marx believed he had solved this problem, which had been vexing Political Economists for half a century, but he did not reveal his solution in Volume I of Capital, because he perceived a deeper problem, present even in the special case for which Ricardo’s theory worked, a problem, Marx thought, whose solution would strip away the mystified surface of capitalism and reveal it for what it really is.  The problem is this:  Where does profit come from?  Think about it.  Suppose, as Marx would put it, goods exchange at their labor values.  That is to say, suppose everything offered on the market in a freely competitive capitalist economy exchanges for a price that is strictly proportional to the labor required either directly or indirectly for its production.  Well, the capitalist buys his inputs and machinery, paying their Natural Price, which by our assumption is proportional to their Labor Values.  He [the capitalist is always he in those days] then hires workers to work the inputs up into commodities, using the machinery he has bought.  How much does he pay them for a day’s labor?  Their labor is a commodity, like everything else, so its Natural Price or Labor Value is an amount of money with which the worker can purchase the food, clothing, and shelter that he or she needs [the workers, unlike the capitalists, were women as well as men] to “produce” the commodity he or she is selling to the capitalist, i.e., enough money to live for another day.

OK.  The capitalist combines the inputs and the labor in the factory [or rather, he commands that they be combined by the workers, but never mind.  We must be sensitive to the capitalist’s feelings and let him think he is actually doing something.]  The commodities exit the factory embodying the labor that has been expended directly or indirectly on their production, and, this being an ideal Ricardian world, they sell for their Labor Value.  Good show.  The capitalist gets back every penny he has laid out to get the process of production going.  BUT NOT A PENNY MORE!

So, Marx asks, How on earth does the capitalist make a profit?

It is at precisely this point that the concept of exploitation enters the discussion.

In a famous and bitterly ironic passage, beautifully translated by Aveling and Moore and Engels himself, Marx writes:  “Moneybags [geldbesitzer] must be so lucky as to find, within the sphere of circulation, in the market, a commodity, whose use-value possesses the peculiar property of being a source of value, whose actual consumption, therefore, is itself an embodiment of labor, and, consequently, a creation of value.”  [Opening paragraph of Chapter vi.]

Now, in economics, one sense of “to exploit” is “to extract extra value from something.”  Lo and behold, Marx says, descending almost into farce in his eagerness to force the reader to see what really happens in a capitalist economy, profit is the extra labor value that the capitalist extracts from the worker in the factory.  In short, CAPITALISM RESTS ON THE EXPLOITATION OF THE WORKING CLASS.

How does Marx know that the labor required somewhere in the system to produce the worker’s good and other necessaries for a day will actually be less than the number of hours the worker labors that day?  Marx doesn’t actually tackle that problem, not theoretically anyway, but he is quite right.  It is a mathematically necessary fact, easily provable with a little Linear Algebra, that if the entire economy generates any physical surplus at all of goods, over and above what is required to run the system for another cycle, then it is guaranteed that the Labor Value of a day’s labor will be LESS than the number of hours in the work day, no matter how many or how few hours that is.  What is more, the labor value of the physical surplus will exactly equal the excess labor extracted from the workers, over and above what is required somewhere in the system to produce the worker’s daily food, clothing, and shelter. All this is even true even for the general case, not just for the special case of “equal organic composition of capital.” 

So Marx is right, yes?  Capitalism really does rest on the exploitation of labor, on the extraction from labor of excess value.

Sigh.  Not so fast.  At this point, enter that intrepid Marxist scholar, Robert Paul Wolff.  [No kidding.]

To put it as simply as possible, I proved mathematically that the very same proposition is true for every single one of the inputs into production somewhere in the system.  If we define the “iron value” of as commodity as the quantity of iron required directly or indirectly to produce a unit of that commodity, then all of the propositions proved rigorously about labor values will be true for iron values, or corn values, or cloth values.  [Trust me, all of your immediate objections can be met.  It is all in my book and my article.]  Alas, although I proved it independently of anyone else, I was, it turn out, not the first person to prove it.  A Spanish economist named Josep Vegara proved it a year before I did.  Oh well.  So much for immortality.

Does this mean Marx is wrong?  I was convinced that he was right, but that he simply had the wrong proof.  So in my article I presented an alternative analysis, complete with proofs.  I am now going to tell you what I showed, without any of the math.  For the full-scale theory, which is indeed completely original with me, you have to read the article.

Tomorrow I will tell you what I proved.


Trump's hideousness continues to metastasize, and he is not even inaugurated yet.  I see some signs of life from OURREVOLUTION, and the Democrats in Congress are cranking up to try to protect Medicaid, which is the first social safety net program targeted by the Republicans.  I am still scheduled to fly up to DC for the Women's March [no longer the Million Woman March, inasmuch as there is no hope of their getting a million of us.]  So as a sort of self-protective act, to preserve my sanity, I will respond to Jerry Fresia by writing, today or tomorrow, an explanation of the connection between capitalist expropriation and capitalist exploitation.  I have no idea whether anyone other than Jerry is interested, but it will make me feel better to spend a little time writing about something I care about and am interested in.  What the hell, this is my blog, right?


Anonymous posts a witty comment, appended to a scholarly allusion to St. Thomas, the core of which is this:  “Because as much as I'm ashamed to admit it, I'm actually looking forward to those journalistic profiles of Trump voters who have their Obamacare plans canceled, and who subsequently come down with a serious illness that bankrupts them. Yes, this is terrible, I know. But can anyone deny that it'll be an example of people getting their just deserts?”

Since the New Year approaches, when we are enjoined to make resolutions of personal improvement going forward, I will confess that deep in the recesses of my mind, similar thoughts have been known to percolate up out of the cesspool of my pre-conscious.  I promise to try to repress them come Saturday.

The real problem is that although the congressional districts are gerrymandered, the states are not [or at least not lately], which means that along with those undeserving types who either voted for Trump or failed to vote, there are millions upon millions of decent folk, like myself here in benighted North Carolina, who did their damnedest to forestall disaster and simply fell short.  If I could figure out a way to make the harms Trump will cause fall solely on those who elected him, I would find it a good deal harder to turn over a new leaf and become a better person in the new year.

Thursday, December 29, 2016


This is good news.  Bernie is starting to make some moves.


The regular commentator who goes by the internet handle TheDudeDiogenes writes:  “I have been wrestling with the concept of exploitation/surplus labor for a while now; my issue is, if the Labor Theory of Value is false (as you hold, and I think so do I, though perhaps based on misunderstanding), then what, precisely, does exploitation consist in? How can surplus labor be extracted from the laborer if the LTV is false?”

When I replied by referring to a paper in which I answer the question mathematically, he said, “I am neither good at nor fond of maths (though I value highly those who do understand them), and my intellectual interests are often more "big picture", but if you could write a post for a humanities semi-expert but mathematical novice, I would surely appreciate it!”

This request was seconded by two other readers, which in my rather parochial world constitutes a tsunami of demand, so I shall make an attempt.  There are two ways in which I can respond.  The first way, which is most natural to me, is to render my mathematical treatment of this question in plain English, leaving the formal proofs for the cognoscenti.  This way has the great virtue of preserving one of Marx’s deepest insights, the mystified character of capitalist relations of production, which in my judgment is one of the greatest intellectual achievements of modern social theory.  The second way is to justify the use of the concept of exploitation to characterize capitalism without referring either to Marx or to the Labor theory of Value.  This way has the virtue of circumventing the sectarian squabbles that have absorbed so much of the energy and time of those who proclaim themselves Marxists – no labor/labor power distinction, no tendency of the rate of profit to fall, no negative labor values with positive prices [pace Ian Steedman], and all rest.  [I say this, of course, as one who wrote an entire book offering my take on these urgent issues.]

After some reflection [not aided by a morning walk – rain today], I have decided to adopt the second course first.  If, when I have finished, anyone has the stomach for more Marx shtick, I will attempt the first.  With that said, let me begin.

We human beings live by collectively and thoughtfully transforming nature so as to make it provide the food, clothing, shelter, and other things that we need to survive and flourish.  We also provide services to one another that are either needed for survival or are simply desired – medical services, entertainment services, banking services, communication services, accounting services, and so forth.  Over the millennia, we humans acquire skills and knowledge which we pass on to those who come after us, along with the physical objects we have created by our labor – tools, buildings, raw materials, and the rest.  These skills and this knowledge and these objects vastly increase our collective ability to carry out the process of transforming nature to meet our needs and desires.  I have deliberately cast this description in the most general fashion in order to make clear that it is true of every single human society that has ever existed or ever will exist. 

There is much to be said about this process of transforming nature, which I shall call “production,” but the single most important fact about it is that it is an irreducibly collective activity.  There is nothing, and I mean literally nothing, that is the product of a single individual alone.  The Theory of Relativity was not Einstein’s product alone, for it built on millennia of work by predecessors, including, let us not forget, those long forgotten men and women who invented the business of counting, one two three … Even when I make a fire in the forest by striking together two pieces of flint to get a spark, I am relying on the discovery and refinement of fire-making techniques first discovered at least two hundred thousand years ago on the African savanna.

Although human production is collective, a survey of human history reveals that everywhere [yes, even among the San of the Kalahari Desert], the products of that activity are not available equally and collectively to those whose action has produced them.  Instead, in one way or another, a small group of men and women take for themselves the lion’s share of what has been produced, excluding others from its enjoyment by physical force, by law, by the state, by religion, and by the force of established tradition.  Indeed, a little probing reveals that this exclusion is the principal rationale for the creation of systems of law, of religion, and of the state itself.  [This is one of Marx’s most profound discoveries, if I may break into my exposition for a moment to mention “he who must not be named.”]

In stages of European economic development previous to the present era, those occupying the commanding heights of society used the force of law, custom, religion, the army, and the state to seize and maintain control of the arable land, the forests, the seas, and the mines, which in that earlier time were the principal physical resources required for the collective activity of production.  Controlling these resources, they were able to compel those actually doing the farming, animal husbandry, mining, logging, and so forth to yield up a considerable portion of what they produce as the price of being able to get at those physical resources and thus to live.  However, to a considerable extent, those doing the work retained control of the knowledge and skills needed for production, passing them on from generation to generation through such social arrangements as apprenticeships.

The farming land was arable only because it had been transformed from virgin forest by a great deal of hard work, felling trees, removing tree stumps, tilling the land, endlessly weeding it and preserving it for cultivation.  But although an acre of arable land was the collective product of generations of collective labor, it was claimed as exclusive property by a handful of men and women, none of whom, in most cases, had done any of that labor.

This claim, successfully enforced, was the first act of expropriation.  By one of those linguistic transmutations whose irony would be amusing if it were not so filled with historical bitterness, “expropriation” has now come to mean the taking by the state for public use of privately owned property, whereas of course its proper use in economic theory is the taking by private individuals of property, collectively produced, that should by rights be publicly owned.  The economists and Jurisprudes, those High Priests of capitalism, are nothing if not humorists.

Beginning in the late Middle Ages [we are still talking about Europe, of course], a long, slow process began of depriving the great majority of productive men and women of even those elements of production over which they still retained some control – the traditional right to farm someone else’s land, the right to collect fallen tree limbs in the forest for firewood, and so forth.  Huge numbers of men and women were driven from the land they had traditionally farmed to make way for sheep, whose wool was more profitable to those who owned the land.  Flooding into the cities, these men and women became an utterly propertyless “proletariat,” available to be hired by entrepreneurs eager to turn a profit through the production of goods for sale in the market.  At first these workers brought with them their traditional skills, as weavers, spinners, and the rest, but the invention of machinery robbed them even of these skills, leaving them with nothing to sell but their ability to work.  Over time, the skills died out, no longer being passed from the old to the young.  This was the second act of expropriation

The food, clothing, shelter, and other necessaries and desiderata of life were still collectively produced, as they always had been and always will be.  But it had come to seem as though the legal owners of the means of production were also the actual producers, graciously and generously allowing the propertyless workers to work in the factories and the offices, on the farms, and in the mines for a pittance that was, by a combination of bad mathematics and high economic theory, declared to be, of all things, their marginal product.  This was the third act of expropriation.

And so we come to the present day, when those who take are declared makers, and those who make are declared takers.

What is to be done?  The answer leaps off the page.  Expropriate the expropriators

Well, that is a good start.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016


I need a little help from my blog community.  As most of you know, I have a tiny apartment in Paris which I try to rent out on a short term basis when we are not there.  Periodically, I get an inquiry almost word for word the same.  Here is one I got today.


     I'm Maria Lorenzo, During my search for rental, i will be staying for a short period of 1 Month on a research program,  As I was viewing rental adverts, I'm interested in your apartment, I would like you to email me the photos if available, I would also like to know the total cost for one month rental starting from 7th January until 30th January 2017, the rental will be paid in full amount, the company has agreed to pay in full, Furthermore, I would like you to know a Check will be issued to you in an excess amount by my sponsors this week for security deposit and my traveling expenses to avoid delay in traveling plans and other preparation for my arrival, According to my Client, it will only take your bank 24 hours/3 business days for the check to clears, Once you have cashed the check at your bank, you are going to deduct your total cost for rental and you will will be sending the balance of the check to the traveling agent Account/Via Western Union/Money Gram, Who will be taking care of my flight and transportation during my arrival and stay,  I will be more than grateful if you can render this assistance and I won't mind paying you extra $50 as compensation for your efforts.,  Also all necessary agreement form will be fill out by me when I arrive and set to move into the apartment, I would like to know how peaceful is the neighborhood and how close is the apartment from the bus/train station, My purpose of coming is based on my research proposal on (Financial Analysis); and I was granted a part time sponsorship on my accommodation and travel expense,  Please send me the name to be written on the check and  the address where the check should be mailed too. and send me your  phone number, mobile number the check will be sent Via FedEx/UPS courier service and it's safe and faster,  i will be waiting to hear from you.

Best Wishes,

It seems transparently to be a scam, and I never reply, but I cannot for the life of me figure out how the scam works.  Does anyone know?


LFC links to this piece which essentially says that on the basis of a big multi-part cross-national measure of how democratic a nation is, designed to assist us in evaluating the political character of various dictatorships, monarchies, failed states, and such, my very own state of North Carolina ranks so far down the list that it no longer qualifies as a democracy.  This is not a joke or a snarky bit of political commentary but a sober, serious social scientific judgment.

Well.  Not exactly news to those of us condemned to live here, but it does raise a number of interesting questions, doesn't it?  We are all accustomed to assuming that if we were so unfortunate as to find ourselves in, say, 1936 Germany or 1940 Italy, we would take one sniff of the air and say, unhesitatingly, "This is not a democracy."  But here I am in Chapel Hill, which seems to my naked eye not noticeably different from, let us say, Massachusetts or California or New York, save for the weather, the vegetation, and the unnerving tendency of everyone to smile and be friendly.

I am reminded that pre-liberation South Africa was the same way, if one were White.  Indeed, on the South African campuses I visited in 1986 and '87 and '88, everyone seemed to have read Marx and to be reading New German Critique.  Everything was so carefully laid out in South Africa that you could spend a month there and never actually encounter face to face the fact that five-sixths of the population was essentially enslaved.  That was the whole point of apartheid, which, after all, means "apartness."  But then, the same was true of the Old South.  A lovely place to visit, if you were White.

Why does this matter, other than as one more way to snark at the Republicans?  Because once Trump is president, there is going to be enormous pressure in the media to normalize his rule, and so long as you are not Muslim or a dissenting reporter or someone who actually needs Medicare and Social Security to live, so long in short as life for you personally goes on much as before, it will be harder and harder to recognize fascism until the police come for you.  

Those of us in the comfortable upper middle classes [i.e., people like me] don't in fact actually use on a daily basis the rights and protections that, taken as a whole, constitute a society a democracy.  We count on them to be available should they be necessary, but like automobile insurance or the safety overload switch on the circuit breaker panel in the laundry room, they come into play rarely.

It is going to require a special kind of vigilance for those of us who are safe to remember daily what harm Trump is doing to America.  [It wouldn't hurt for us also to recall what harm Obama and all previous presidents have already done, needless to say.]  This is not going to be fun.


When my distinguished son, Professor Tobias Barrington Wolff, was a little boy who went by the name of “Toby,” he found it hard to get a word in edgewise at dinner, what with his big brother talking about chess and his mother talking about literature and his father talking about philosophy and politics, so when there was a temporary lull at the table, he would stick his hand up and say, “Two things,” thus laying claim to enough air time to express a little bit of what was bubbling up in his fertile brain.

Lately, while I have been obsessing about turning eighty-three, there have been a number of comments posted on this blog that call for some response, so I feel like sticking up my hand and saying “Two things” before I am flooded with more interesting comments.

Let me start with a three-parter posted by Tom Hockett three days ago.  His first comment was a correction of my account of the death of Trotsky. I said hatchet, he says ice pick.  I am sure he is right.  I fear I was relying on family tradition rather than scholarship.  I have read Isaac Deutscher’s great biography of Stalin, but have never read his magisterial two-volume biography of Trotsky.

Here is his second comment:  “It might be well either to add a bit more to your provisional definition of 'socialism' at the start of the post, to define 'state capitalism' as employed toward the end of the post, or both. For one can readily imagine Soviet or, especially, contemporary Chinese leaders arguing that their polity-economies meet your 'collective control of the means of production' condition as stated in defining the former. I presume that you would distinguish between socialism and state capitalism (a) partly by reference to the degree to which the 'collectivity' or 'state' in question is democratic, (b) partly by reference to the degree to which the state or collective in question extracts surplus value from labor, or (c) both. I imagine that were we able to elaborate option (a) adequately, we would effectively address (b) - and hence (c) - as well in so doing.”

I agree with this pretty much completely, but I would add something that is often not emphasized, but which I think is crucial [and also completely in accord with Marx’s own views, for those to whom that matters.]  Socialism is an economic and political formation that is possible only after the means and social relations of production have reached a very advanced stage of development, something that was not at all true of either Russia or China.  This is a complex matter which I tried to address in at least a preliminary fashion in my essay “The Future of Socialism” [which, I am pleased to see, has been looked at 830 times by folks using the link at the top of this page to]  Socialism is not, at base, a set of moral principles or a vision of The Good Society.  It is a stage in the evolution of the economy, brought about by struggle but requiring in addition the development of the forces of production, including knowledge, organization of production and distribution, and the education of the working population.  It is not inevitable, not by any means, alas, but it is impossible without that prior development.

Tom Hockett’s third comment concerns socialism in one country.  He argues that the size and wealth of the American economy is such that it might very well be able to carry off a transition to socialism even in a capitalist world economic system.  About this I am really agnostic.  I do not have anything like the knowledge that would be required to make a useful judgment about the possibility.  I would certainly like America to try!  But Tom Hockett goes on to offer a suggestion about which I really am rather skeptical.  Here is what he says:

“The early Soviet Union of course didn't have quite the cards that the US has now, but it was not without vast human and other material resources; and the productive and military power that it had amassed by the early 1930s constituted a 'growth miracle' like few that have ever been seen. Against that backdrop, it is far from clear to me that the Soviet Union could not have sufficiently democratized over the course of the 1930s as to become truly socialist in your sense rather than state capitalist in your sense. Presumably the reason that this didn't happen is that the hostile environment into which the Soviet Union was born made the assumption of power by autocratically-minded and not altogether unjustifiably paranoid people - the kind who are least apt to relinquish power once internal and external threats objectively diminish - more likely. If I am right about that, then the US might well be the reason, not that Soviet socialism 'failed,' but that Soviet socialism never came to be.”

Now let us be clear.  I do not read or speak Russian, and I have never visited Russia, so my opinions are those of a rank amateur, but on the basis of what I think I know [including what I learned from that Deutscher biography], I very seriously doubt that the failure of democracy to develop in the Soviet Union can in any way be laid at America’s door.  I actually do think that is a plausible claim about Cuba, but there the circumstances were very different.

Well, that is quite an interruption to the dinner table conversation, and it is only the first thing!  I will let someone else speak up, and then return with my second thing.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016


I have some things to say about various matters, but I am dogging it a bit on my birthday.  I'll be back tomorrow.


I pause on my birthday to take note of the passing of Carrie Fisher at the untimely age of sixty.  Her death is especially startling since I just saw her in the latest Star Wars episode.  Princess Leia's reunion with Han Solo was, for old timers like me, a touching moment in a so-so movie.

Sunday, December 25, 2016


I received the following message from a reader.  I have edited out the writer's name:

"My name is ****. I've been a long time reader of your blog (and at least one of your books). I am writing to ask what you think of an idea that I had - what if alumni of American colleges and universities contacted their alma maters' presidents and demanded that they declare themselves sanctuary campuses. Personally, I regularly receive calls from mine (******) asking for donations, so presumably they care at least a little bit that I think favorably of them. What do you think?"

I thought it was a splendid idea, so I went online, and very quickly discovered that the President of my alma mater, Harvard, had already turned the idea down flat at a Faculty meeting which took place during a demonstration outside [surprise, surprise.]  So I wrote the following letter to the person in charge of raising Harvard's billions:

25 December 2016
Richard McCullough, Ph. D., Vice Provost for Research
The Richard A. and Susan F. Smith
Campus Center, Suite 836
1350 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138

Dear Dr. McCullough,

            I write both as an alumnus of Harvard [AB ’54 (53), AM ’54, Ph. D ‘57] and as a former Instructor in Philosophy and General Education to urge you to intercede with President Faust to urge her to declare Harvard a Sanctuary Campus for the protection of undocumented students and other undocumented members of the Harvard community, including undocumented employees.  I shall not take your time by rehearsing the reasons for this action, with which you are, I am sure, quite familiar.

            I have almost no way of swaying your decision on this matter, save to say that so long as Harvard continues its decades-long failure to act in a progressive and morally defensible fashion on this and many other issues before the public, I shall refuse even to consider making a donation through your office. 

            Unfortunately I am not rich, and my refusal will therefore carry little or no weight with you, I recognize.  However, it is just barely possible that enough of us will take this stand to affect your decision-making.

            Yours sincerely,

            Robert Paul Wolff
            Professor Emeritus, Philosophy and Afro-American Studies, University of Massachusetts

I will be happy to start a pool on the question when Harvard will declare itself a sanctuary campus.  I should warn you that one time is already taken, namely When Hell Freezes Over [that one is mine.]

It gives me great pleasure to report that my son, Tobias', employer, The University of Pennsylvania, has in fact so declared itself.  

Saturday, December 24, 2016


It is Christmas Eve and this year Santa brought us all a stick and a lump of coal and a great big pile of horseshit without a pony in sight.  I was idly wondering how long it would take Santa to visit every household in the world.  I figure one minute to slip down the chimney, distribute presents, wink, place his finger next to his nose, and disappear up the flue again [I mean, he has been doing this a long time, so he is pretty good at it.]  Seven billion people in the world, maybe 1.5 billion households, that makes 25,000,000 hours, not counting travel time [of course, the 1.5 billion Muslims would be rather startled by his appearance, but he is an equal opportunity elf.]   Call it 2700 years plus or minus.  It went faster when homo sapiens was just a couple of thousands hominids gathered around their fires.

Look at it this way.  It has got to get better, right?  Maybe Donald J. will become so fixated on the morning of January 20th looking at himself in the mirror that he will miss the ceremony.  Besides, in three days I will be eighty-three.  I figure I can’t last more than another seventeen years.  A man can stand anything for seventeen years.

Well, that is about as much Christmas cheer as I can muster.  Happy holidays, folks.

Friday, December 23, 2016


On the one hand, it is still a month until the Inauguration, and Trump has not actually done anything yet as President.  On the other hand, his loose-lipped [or twitchy fingered] remarks about nuclear weapons scare the living daylights out of me.  I do not believe he has a clue what he is saying, but I am damned sure some of the people whispering in his ear, like Steve Bannon, do.  As I have on several occasions explained on this blog, I have been openly and vocally critical of the fundamental orientation of American foreign policy since 1960, and there has in all time not been a single President [with the possible exception of Dwight Eisenhower] who exhibited what I consider an appropriate hesitation to project American military power abroad.  But for most of those fifty-six years, the men in the White House have treated nuclear weapons as essentially unusable [I say most, because the sainted John F. Kennedy brought the world within a hair's breadth of an all out nuclear war, a fact for which I could never forgive him.]

For all his bluster about being unpredictable as a tactic, I do not think Trump has any idea how destructive nuclear weapons are, nor do I think he cares, so long as they do not damage Trump properties.  Trump poses an existential danger to the world, and anyone ostensibly on the left who imagines that his unorthodoxy holds out the possibility of a better American world posture is being seriously delusional.


Tom Cathcart links to this very suggestive essay in the Nation.   Thank you, Tom.  Although I subscribe to the Nation, I am embarrassed to say that when it comes I only do the puzzle at the back, so I did not see the piece.  It poses a troubling and important question:  What am I prepared to do, aside from just talking and writing, to oppose the truly terrible things Trump gives every evidence of being likely to do?  The author of the piece, Harold Pollock, asks whether he would be willing to risk being arrested by taking direct, albeit non-violent, action.   

Well, I got myself arrested at an anti-apartheid demonstration thirty years ago, pretty much as a jeu d'esprit, but now I am the principal care-giver for my wife, who suffers from Multiple Sclerosis and is about to turn eighty-four.  Suppose I am not simply arrested and released on my own recognizance.  Who would look after her if I was sentenced, let us say, to three months in jail?  I might be willing to do it -- a relatively easy way to promote my own "Prison Notebooks," a la Gramsci, but I could not impose that on my wife.

And yet, and yet, do I really want my grandchildren to have to say, "My grandfather was a big talker, but when it came right down to it, and thousands were in the streets protesting that awful man, Trump, he stayed home."

I am afraid we really are only a month away from confronting this sort of question.

Thursday, December 22, 2016


Jonathan Culp offers the following comment:  “While we're on this topic, I think it would be wonderful if Bob could give us some commentary on Bruce Bueno de Mesquita's "The Logic of Political Survival" and/or "The Dictator's Handbook." Since Bob is well-versed in rat choice but not mystified by it, I think we could really learn a lot. BdM uses rat choice to build a theory of political incentives which could explain why Wallerstein is right about the need for constitutional limitations and why violent revolutions often end so badly.”

Far be it from me to pull back the curtain, like Toto in The Wizard of Oz, and reveal the Wizard to be nothing more than an old fraud pumping a smoke machine, but I had never so much as heard of “rat choice.”  So I went to Google and came up with this essay, which I have just finished reading.  I have to confess it did not inspire me to seek out the writings of Bruce Bueno de Mesquita.  Give me some time to look into it and see whether it is something I want to devote time to.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016


Something odd is going on.  First Ivanka offers folks a chance to bid on a half hour lunch with her, the bidding to start at $50,000, only to suddenly withdraw the offer when it gets some bad publicity.  Then Eric and Donald Jr. offer a private Oval Office meeting with the new President the day after the Inauguration, coupled with the opportunity to go hunting with the Trump boys, all for a cool million dollars, also “distanced” when the press catch wind of it.

Now look.  I get that the Trumps are planning to monetize the presidency, emoluments clause in the Constitution or no.  But this behavior by the Trumpkins, now in charge of daddy’s far flung empire, bespeaks a certain desperation for some immediate cash.  They may be the most corrupt people in public life since Richard J. Daly passed on to his eternal reward, but they are not stupid.  They know they are going to have four years to cash in.  What’s the rush?  And why these penny ante moves, when one would have expected them to think big about megadeals with foreign heads of state?

I offer a hypothesis, backed up by absolutely no knowledge whatsoever.  It looks to me as though Trump Enterprises is suffering a critical cash flow problem that poses so great a threat that anything, even lunch with sis or shooting elephants with the boys is worth marketing for whatever it can bring in.

It will be interesting to see what Melania brings to the table – a personalized shopping trip, a joint photo shoot, your very own plagiarized selection from one of Michelle’s speeches?


In the past few days, there has been a certain amount of talk on this blog about revolution and socialism, so perhaps it would be appropriate to say something on these topics.  Settle down.  This is going to take a while.  You might want to re-read the collected works of Marx in preparation.  It is only forty volumes or so.  At a bare minimum, I recommend that you read my essay, “The Future of Socialism,” archived on and accessible via the link at the top of this page.

First of all, let us be clear about the meaning of the words.  By “socialism” I mean, at its simplest, “collective ownership of the means of production democratically controlled and administered.”  The phrase “collective ownership of the means of production” did not, so far as I know, pass Bernie’s lips during the last election cycle, for all his talk about being a socialist, but that is what I mean.  I am not talking about Social Democracy, which is to say private ownership of the means of production, a relatively low Gini Coefficient, and a generous safety net with all the trimmings -- what we here in America like to think of as the Scandinavian way.

By “revolution” I mean the violent, extra-legal seizure of the means of production.  I do not mean “a really really big change,” such as the digital revolution, or the feminist revolution, or the revolution of rising expectations, and I certainly do not mean a revolution at the ballot box.  If all this talk of socialist revolution is just a way of proposing the election of socialist candidates to State and Federal legislative bodies, I am all for that, but it does not need any extended analysis or discussion.  It just needs for people to get off their asses and vote.

If that is clear, let us begin.  How might the American economy make a transition from capitalism to socialism?  There are three plausible ways, so far as I can see.  The first is expropriation with compensation.  The State seizes the factories, farms, mines, retail establishments, digital corporations, etc., and pays the legal owners a fair market price.  Forget about it.  We are talking multi-trillions of dollars, not a few paltry hundreds of billions.  Wikipedia tells us that “The financial position of the United States includes assets of at least $269.6 trillion (1576% of GDP) and debts of $145.8 trillion (852% of GDP) to produce a net worth of at least $123.8 trillion (723% of GDP) as of Q1 2014.”  Buying out the capitalists is not an option.

The second way is to expropriate the expropriators, if I may borrow a phrase from Chapter 32 of Volume One of Capital.  One relatively peaceful mode of transition would be a one hundred percent estate tax on all estates above, let us say, one million dollars, which is equivalent to a generation of the median household income of an American family.  Over time, as huge accumulations of capital were taken over by the state, ownership of the means of production would become collective and social, not individual and private.  There would still be huge inequalities of income and wealth, but these could be diminished both by taxation and by changes in the wage structure.  What Thomas Piketty, reflecting the French usage, calls Patrimonial Capitalism, which is to say accumulations of inherited wealth, would disappear.

The third way is violent revolution, which is to say the extra-legal seizure, by force, of the means of production by the people.  It sounds quite exhilarating, and rather simple, although of course momentarily dangerous, but let us pause for a moment on our way to the barricades to ask exactly how we imagine this violent revolution to go down.  Those old enough to recall the Sixties, or romantic enough to wish they had been there, might suppose that what is called for is a sort of grand sit-in, with guns.  The People [it is always best to capitalize when talking about this subject] pick up their hunting rifles, their assault rifles, their shoulder operated grenade launchers, and their side arms [for close in work], and march to the nearest factory or office building.  Pushing their way past the terrified rental cops, whom they invite out of brotherly love to join them, they take possession of the executive office suite, shooting ruthlessly any Assistant Managers foolish enough to resist.  They put their feet up on the polished desks [I am drawing images here from the 1968 Columbia University seizure of the Admin Building by the SDS] and declare the corporation liberated in the name of the People.

What then?  Never mind the inevitable response by the State.  We will come to that in a moment.  Our intrepid revolutionaries, we may assume, have taken possession of the local production plant of PortaToilet Corporation [not everyone can be so fortunate as to be in the band that seizes the world headquarters of Apple.]   What next?  Well, first on the agenda is to gather the workers and inform them of the change in management.  Henceforward, they own the company.  After congratulations all around, the democratically elected leader of the corporate seizure [we are assuming that the man or woman who actually led the assault generously and selflessly submits to the will of all] tells everyone to get back to work, picks up the phone, calls the principal supplier of parts for PortaToilet’s production process, and orders another thousand dozen parts.  “Why isn’t my usual contact calling?” the executive at the other end asks.  “He has been deposed.  This is Comrade X, the new Commissar of the people-owned production facility previously called PortaToilet.”  The supply manager slams down the phone and places a call to the Governor.

Hmm.  It seems that “collective ownership of the means of production” does not mean “sitting in the Vice-President’s office with your feet on the desk.”  It means, at a minimum, being able to get everyone in the vast network of supply and distribution of which this one factory is a part to acknowledge one’s collective ownership, to honor one’s purchases, to accept one’s check, to get the local bank to cash the check, and so forth and so on.  That is a tiny part of what Marx meant when he talked about the progressive socialization of the processes of production coupled with the private ownership of the means of production under advanced capitalism.

Meanwhile, the Governor has been alerted to what is going down.  She activates the National Guard, which moves on the seized facilities across the state with tanks, assault rifles, light artillery, gas grenades, and as much of the Air National Guard as can be found.  The battle is fierce, and our revolutionaries fight nobly, but they are vastly out gunned, and pretty soon the mopping up begins.

“Ah,” you say, “you do not understand.  This will be a national uprising by scores of millions of working men and women.  They will bring over to their side the Army, the Marines, and even the Air Force.”  Never mind that these are by and large the folks who just voted Donald J. Trump into office.  We are taking a vacation today from that nightmare.  But just explain something to me.  If you can call on scores of millions of working men and women to lay down their lives for The Revolution, why don’t you save a lot of lives and just have them vote socialism into being?

And there’s the rub.  At least for the moment, this country is after all a democracy.  If the capitalist control of the media can be overcome, if the Republican efforts at voter suppression can be circumvented, if the Democratic betrayal of the Working Class can be successfully resisted, then why not just vote socialism in?  Why a violent revolution?  And if you cannot overcome the Capitalist control of the media and the Republican voter suppression and the Democratic betrayal, how exactly are you planning to mobilize scores of millions of men and women and bring the Armed Forces over to your side?  “But we are counting on young people, and we all know that young people do not vote.”  Oh fine.  You are counting on young people, who, as we all know, cannot be bothered to vote.  These same young people nevertheless are going to acquire weapons, learn to use them effectively [not as easy as it looks in the movies], and then stop texting long enough to march into battle from sea to shining sea.  That is your plan?

“But, but,” my imaginary interlocutor splutters, “what about Russia, China?”  What about them indeed.  Two of the greatest world-historical events of the twentieth century were the successful revolutions in Russia and China, among the world’s largest nations, and both in the name of Karl Marx.  These are no Scandinavian exceptions. 

Alas, a closer look cools one’s ardor.  Let us set aside China and look at the Russian Revolution, the quintessential proof, or disproof, of Marx’s theories, depending on whom you ask.  I am sorry to disappoint the enemies of socialism among you for whom Russia is proof positive of the inevitable defeat of Marx, but Russia is no proof of anything at all, save the capacity of the Russians to f**k up a free lunch.

The problem is that the Russian Revolution was the successful seizure, by a small but brilliantly led cadre, of a fatally war-weakened central government of a largely feudal society with a tiny nascent capitalist sector located in a few cities west of the Caucuses.  There was nothing even vaguely socialist about it, and it would have been impossible in any of the fully developed large nations of Western Europe.  Once in command of the organs of the state, and having successfully fought off the attempt by the American government to overthrow them, the Bolshevik leaders faced a problem both theoretical and practical.  [“Bolshevik,” by the way, means “majority.”  “Menshevik” means “minority”.]   Lenin and his comrades had read their Marx.  They knew that socialism, to which they were committed, could only grow out of advanced capitalism, and Russia was scarcely in the earliest stages of capitalist development.  Was it possible to “skip a stage” and go directly from feudalism to socialism?  The theoretical answer was clearly no, as some of the Bolsheviks argued.  But it is a little much to expect a group of revolutionaries who have just, at great personal risk, taken over a vast country to hunt up a handful of local capitalist wannabes, hand over the country to them, and say “Here, turn this into an advanced capitalist nation.  We will be back in a century or so to seize it from you.”  So the skip-a-stagers won, and the result, as could be predicted, was state capitalism, not socialism.

The Bolsheviks also faced a second problem which is equally pressing for any American socialists.  Marx had the wit to see that the further development of capitalism would necessarily involve its thoroughgoing internationalization.  He was convinced that the transition to socialism would be world-wide.  The reason is easy enough to see, and much more evident now than it was when Marx was writing.  The transnational ownership of productive capital and the world-wide flow of financial capital make it difficult to see how one country alone, even one as big and rich as America, could transition from capitalism to socialism in an otherwise capitalist world.  The Bolsheviks called this the problem of “socialism in one country,” and when Stalin’s henchman planted a hatchet in Trotsky’s head in Mexico, the advocates of socialism in one country won the argument in Russia.  But of course, they did not win the struggle, for, as Marx was fond of pointing out, “objective factors” rather than subjective desires are the determining forces in the economic sphere.

The conclusion is clear.  Our only hope for socialism in America is through the ballot box and the peaceful transition via expropriation of the expropriators.

Class dismissed.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016


Sigh.  This is just the sort of fruitless, heated debate I was trying to avoid.  Larry Hamlin writes:

About one thing I am quite sure. There will be no "revolution," if by that we mean something on the order of Russia or China. Any changes we make will have to be legislated, enacted, signed off on by a president, and all that. Therefore it seems to me we have no choice but to work with people we would normally view as enemies.

I think you are mistaken. And I think this is why people might be throwing Clinton in your face. I've heard this line since literally 1980 when Reagan was elected, and it has been used to excuse the Democratic party's 30 [year] assault on the working class. But you stand to lose nothing by abandoning the working class and focusing on the status, security, and prosperity of your own class, which the Democratic party surely will at least erode less quickly than the Republicans.

I wish you the best of luck, because technocratic neoliberal oppression is better than absolute authoritarian rule, but I want to be an actual socialist, so I can neither join you nor support you.”

First of all, could we please cease with the insults.  I mean, really, I am sure it makes you feel good for a moment to write that, but is it necessary?   Now tell me, how have I abandoned the working class?  Abandoned.  What a powerful, freighted, but meaningless word.  How on earth am I “focusing on the status, security, and prosperity of [my] own class?”  What I have said repeatedly is that because I am secure and well-off, I have an additional responsibility to take action for what you and I both believe.  Do I vote for candidates who propose to raise my taxes in order to help those less well off?  Yes.  Big deal, you will say.  But what exactly would you propose I actually do?  My guess is that if you can come up with something, I am already doing it.

So, you want to be an actual socialist.  Fine, so do I.  Tell me what you propose doing as an actual socialist.  My guess is that it will be something I am enthusiastically in support of.  Why am I in support of it?  Because as I have explained again and again, real social change requires the endless efforts of millions of people – some doing one thing for one reason, others doing another thing for another reason.  We need everybody, because we are not now, and I predict will not be, in one of those historical moments when a small group of people can change a large nation.  If that is not obvious, ask and I will explain why.

Now, of course, it may be that you, Larry Hamlin, have a mobilized, organized, cadre of ten or fifteen million committed activists ready to march at your command, in which case I will happily join you in whatever capacity you think will serve you best.  But if not, then just go and do whatever it is that you have decided to do, but DO IT.  I am not asking you to join me.  I don’t have an organization for you to join.  And I am not asking you to support me.   I am not running for anything.  About the most I am doing is inviting you to read this blog, if it interests you.


I am back now from taking my wife to the doctor, and I wanted to share the initial reply I sent to Chris, who sent his lengthy response to me as an email.

Dear Chris,

Thank you for your long and thoughtful message.  I am afraid I owe you an apology.  It is really Robert Shore that I was irritated with, that and the general depression that hangs over us all these days.  I agree with much of what you say, and where I disagree, it is over tactics, where I do not think my opinion carrries any great weight.  I think, the realities being what they are, we shall have to work with a great many Democrats with whom we have profound disagreements, and I do not much like that, but it seems to me to be the reality we face.  It is, at this point, another month before the really bad things start, and already we can see a great many people weakening, making deals, trying to claim that everything is normal.

About one thing I am quite sure.  There will be no "revolution," if by that we mean something on the order of Russia or China.  Any changes we make will have to be legislated, enacted, signed off on by a president, and all that.  Therefore it seems to me we have no choice but to work with people we would normally view as enemies.  I think folks like me, whose personal circumstances make them relatively secure, have a greater obligation to fight and struggle than those, like you, who are less safe.  It takes very little courage for me to say what I do.  It takes a great deal more for you to do the same.

Well, I must take my wife to the doctor, but I felt you deserved some response right away.

More later.


Bob Wolff


Perhaps because I spent my entire career as a teacher, perhaps because I was in my teens before I even saw a television set, I have a rather old-fashioned sense of this blog as an on-going conversation, a grand seminar save for the fact that we meet here in cyberspace rather than face to face.  Some young friends have cautioned me that this entirely misunderstands the nature of what they call “social media,” and perhaps they are right, but I persist in my antique understanding.  It is because I understand my blog in this fashion that I strive to maintain a courteous and welcoming voice, even when disagreeing with those who honor me with their comments.  A few of you, like Tom Cathcart, I know personally [I persist in thinking of Mr. Cathcart, very much a senior citizen, as Young Tom because that is who he was when he sat in my Junior Tutorial at Harvard in 1960.]  Several of you I have exchanged email messages with, which is one step closer to actual personal contact.  But most of you are only web names to me – “Ed Barreras, S. Wallerstein, anonymous [a number of those, it seems.]

I say all this because after reading some of the comments posted yesterday, I grew so agitated that I lay awake for three or four hours last night, too upset to sleep.  Let me explain what had me so distressed.  No doubt it will make no sense to some of you who visit this blog, but were we all together in a seminar room, I would feel compelled to say something, so I have decided to do so now.  I am writing before my morning walk, before six a.m., before my wife has awakened.  Think of this, if you will, as my night thoughts.

Let me begin with a fact.  One month from today, Donald J. Trump will take the oath of office and become President of the United States.  I view this fact with horror, because I believe that Trump’s presidency will pose an existential threat to the future of such democracy as we still have in this country.  I believe he will do vast harm to many millions of Americans by cooperating with his Republican colleagues in shredding as much of the so-called safety net as has been created by three generations of Democrats.  I believe he poses a grave threat to many nations and peoples in the world.  For these reasons, I believe we must together do everything we can to mitigate the damage and recapture control of our nation.

You may think I am wrong.  If you do, I desperately hope you are right.  Time will tell.

Now, listen very carefully to what I say next.  You may think that Hillary Clinton, as president, would pose an existential threat to such democracy as we have.  You may believe that her presidency would do great harm to millions of Americans.  You may think her presidency would pose a grave threat to many peoples and nations in the world.  It does not matter, because she is not going to be the next President of the United States.

I would like to grab you by the shoulders and shake you and raise my voice as I say this, but this is a blog, not a seminar, so I will do the next best thing.  I will hit the capslock key, then I will type control-b, and I will retype what I have just written:


You may think that Clinton ran a terrible campaign, and lost for that reason.  I happen to agree, but it does not matter, because she is not going to be the next President of the United States.  You may think that Bernie Sanders lost the nomination because of DNC dirty tricks.  I think you are kidding yourselves.  You may think Bernie Sanders would have won had he been the nominee.  I tend to agree, but that also does not matter, because he was not the nominee, and Hillary Clinton, who was, lost.  You may think the Russians had nothing at all to do with the election.  It does not matter, because Donald J. Trump, for whatever reason, will be the next President of the United States.

Now, a word specifically to Robert Shore.  I have been publicly protesting America’s overthrow or attempted overthrow of foreign governments since 1960, which is now fifty-six years ago, probably since you were in whatever passed for knee pants when you were a boy.  I do not appreciate being lectured about the subject by you, and I very much wish you would just cut it out.

So I issue a challenge to you and to Chris.  I challenge each of you to write an entire lengthy comment about what you foresee as the character and consequences of Donald J. Trump’s presidency.   You may say anything you like.  If you think a Trump Presidency will be morning in America again, fine.  If you think Trump will advance the cause of socialism, fine.  Say so.  But whatever you choose to say, I challenge you to say it without mentioning, alluding to, linking to, or otherwise invoking, Hillary Clinton, Bill Clinton, Chelsea Clinton, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, the DNC,  Wikileaks, Wikitruth, Wikidirt, or any other Wiki.  Just state simply in declarative prose what you think Donald J. Trump will do as president.

Try it.  It might help you to focus your mind for the coming struggle.

Monday, December 19, 2016


1.  Google your two senators and get their office phone numbers.

2.  Call each one, identify yourself as a constituent [they love that], and urge the senator [by way of the staffer who answers the phone, of course] to support the call by Senators McCain and Schumer for a select bipartisan committee to investigate Russia's interference in the election.  Make it clear that you will not be satisfied with Senator McConnell';s proposal for a regular [i.e., Republican controlled] committee.

A tiny thing, but it takes no time at all.


Waiting patiently today while the Electoral College, with far too few “faithless electors,” officially chooses Donald J. Trump as our next President, we would do well to recall that we won this election by any rational measure.  We won it by almost three million votes with a candidate whom none of us liked, a candidate with so many weaknesses and flaws as a candidate that it is remarkable she did so well.  Our first and overriding task is to find ways to minimize the harm Trump is going to do to the nation.  We must support all efforts in Congress to block his destructive moves and those of the Republicans.  We owe that to the most vulnerable among us.  It is useful to remind ourselves that in every state casting its electoral votes today for Trump, there are millions of men and women who voted against him.  It is convenient to think of the nation as divided into blue and red states, but in Alabama, in South Carolina, in Texas, and yes, in North Carolina, benighted though it is, there are strong men and women who fought against the narcissistic fascist buffoon as hard as those who fought successfully in California, New York, or Massachusetts.

We each need to find some one thing that we enjoy doing in the coming struggle, something that we can be counted on to continue doing for years on end.  For some of us, it will be organizing.  For others, it will be following the lead of someone else who is doing the organizing.  Some of us will give money, some will write and circulate petitions, still others will seek out and participate in public demonstrations.  It will be easy to do this at first, when our blood boils at each offense, each assault on freedom, each act of grotesque buffoonery.  But after a while, quotidian life will reassert itself and we will grow weary of efforts that seem not to bear fruit.  This is why it is so important to discover ways of acting politically that one enjoys for themselves.

I learned this myself through my involvement with the struggle against apartheid.  I marched, I protested, I demonstrated, I managed to get myself arrested, but it turned out that none of those modes of action was, as they say in the trade, ego-syntonic for me, so when the spotlight shifted elsewhere, I stopped.  But I did discover that I rather enjoyed raising money by mailing thousands of letters generated out of my home computer, so I stuck to that, and for twenty-five years raised enough money to send sixteen hundred poor Black young men and women to historically Black universities in South Africa.  This was, by no stretch of imagination, the most important thing I could have done, but it was after all, worth doing, and because I enjoyed it, I kept at it for a quarter of a century.

Nowadays, of course, mostly what I do is express opinions on this blog, and though that no doubt has some value, the market for opinions is currently experiencing a glut, so I shall have to find some additional mode of action to supplement my bloviating.  Whatever I find, I had better enjoy it, because this is going to be a long march.

Sunday, December 18, 2016


Having somewhat incautiously announced the reappearance of my inner Tigger, I find that I must take my optimism slow, as it were, what with the constant drumbeat  of appalling news from our President-Elect.  There seem to be innumerable progressive individuals and groups and organizations making plans and working to keep up our collective spirits, which I take to be a good sign.

Tomorrow, the members of the Electoral College will disappoint us all by choosing Trump as president, and then we can put that fantasy behind us and get down to work.  We are, after all, the majority, and that is supposed to count for something in a Democracy.

I have been working my way through my book of NY TIMES crossword puzzles, to take the place of MSNBC, which I can no longer bear  to watch [I am on puzzle Number 103, which is a pretty good measure of how much time I waste.]

We now have conclusive and irrefutable proof that the Constitutionalists in the Senate [such as Orrin Hatch] could not care less about the actual Constitution.  Indeed, the only opposition Trump will face on the Republican side of the aisle will come from those, like McCain and Graham, whose love for the military and hatred of Russia take precedence even over party loyalty.

I am unable to respond with even gallows humor to the "basket of deplorables" Trump has pulled out of the dark corners and recesses of the American scene with whom to fill his Cabinet.

But enough.  I feel Eeyore pushing his nose out of the closet, his ears flopping about his head.  I shall stop, breath deeply, and practice bouncing up and down Tigger fashion.


Is it possible to be a citizen of California without also being a citizen of the United States?  I would be willing to pay a hefty entry fee if it were.  I mean, as Jerry Brown keeps pointing out, California has something like the fifth largest GDP among the world's nations.  

Friday, December 16, 2016


As I have often remarked, I am a Tigger in a world of Eeyores, a fact that is, in the words of W. S. Gilbert, a “source of innocent merriment” for my friends.  Alas, Tigger has of late been hiding in his den, fearful of showing his face lest he suffer public ridicule.  In the past two days, as some of you are no doubt aware, the Republican majority in the North Carolina State Legislature, its collective nose out of joint as the President-Elect siphons off the calumny that it feels is rightfully theirs, have taken steps to strip the Governorship of all its powers before a Democrat, Roy Cooper, is sworn in to that office.  Ashamed to show their faces while they engage in this act of blatant theft, the legislators have barred the press from the hurry-up special session they called [they cannot actually keep what they are doing secret – they are enacting laws, after all].  I am ashamed to admit that Tigger, a soul of indefeasible cheerfulness though he is, thought seriously of taking a baseball bat and going down to the State Capitol to beat them senseless.

These are hard times for the few remaining Tiggers.  The president-elect seems intent upon filling each cabinet office with the person in America who is most unalterably opposed to the functions of the government office he [or in startlingly few cases, she] is designated to lead.  In what can only be judged a beau geste, he has even tapped one feckless person to head a department that he famously could not even recall the name of.  I think Trump will go down in history as a fascist with a sense of humor, something for which neither Hitler nor Mussolini was noted.  Inexorably, I have felt the long ears and doleful countenance of Eeyore descending upon me.

But then, a thought occurred to me, and as it did, Tigger stuck his nose out, sniffed the air, and felt irrepressible hope beginning to stir deep in his breast.  As I reflected on the actions of the Carolina Legislators, the thought came unbidden to my mind, “They are desperate!  These are not the actions of a triumphant conquering army.  They are the scorched earth tactics of those retreating in disarray.”

As I walked in the twenty degree weather [-6.666 Celsius, for S. Wallerstein], I began to run down the list of the truly horrible things the Republicans have done or are now proposing to do.  The rampant voter suppression laws are the desperation moves of a party that knows it can no longer count on winning an honest election.  The attack on the rights of LGBT Americans is a lost cause, both legally and in the court of public opinion.  Two generations of women have grown up in an America that legally guarantees the right of an abortion.  The appalling state laws being passed and re-passed will do hideous harm to millions of women, but they will fail to reverse the established fact that abortion is legal.  Not even the appointment of another Scalia will accomplish what the original Scalia could not.  The demand for a raise of the minimum wage, which was not even on the public agenda until this election, now commands almost majority popular support.

The fact is that even after nominating the most unpopular candidate ever to be put forward by the Democrats, they still won three million more votes than their opponent.  [The one good thing to come from this appalling election is that I never have to think about a Clinton again.]  Demography is destiny, as someone should have said, and demography ineluctably favors the progressive forces in America.  White Privilege may fuel an intensity that burns with white heat, but in a few more electoral cycles, a party built on that passion will have all the salience of a party of farmers, once the backbone of America.

Let us be clear.  Terrible harm will be done by the Republicans as they struggle desperately to hold off their inevitable demise.  Tens of millions of men, women, and children will be grievously hurt, and many hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of them will die because of what the Republicans are doing.  Only if we are strong and fight with unyielding determination will we win, but we will win.
What of the last and greatest battle, the battle against capitalism itself?  Here, alas, Eeyore reemerges triumphant.  We are not losing that battle.  We lost it almost a century ago.  It is now only a few days before the centennial of my grandfather’s election to the New York Board of Alderman on the Socialist ticket, together with six comrades [the “seven honest men,” they were called.]  Those were the glory days of the Socialist movement in America.  Now “collective ownership of the means of production” is a phrase never uttered even by a presidential aspirant who bills himself a “Democratic Socialist.”  Like Lord Voldemort, he who shall not be named, Marx lurks in the dark corners of American politics, unable to be acknowledged even as an enemy.  When a scholar can win universal acclaim with a book entitled “Capital in the Twenty-First Century,” and without apparent irony never mention the name of Marx, we are forced to admit that true socialism is a bridge too far even for American progressives.

And so, my friends, on this darkest day in modern North Carolina history, I reassume my mantle as the Tigger of the Left.  Dangerous as this moment is, terrible as the consequences will be of the actions of the Republicans, we can win, we must win, we will win, if we do not lose faith and never cease to fight.