Dec 20, 2013
Chris Hedges Talks With Ronnie Kasrils (Full Transcript and Audio)
Posted on Jun 24, 2013
RK: And that’s where things go wrong in terms of the way socialism came to be practiced in what I do feel, in hundreds of years’ time, looking back people will say, “Well that was vital to understand what was needed, and it was in a primitive period of the 19th and 20th century.” And this is what we need today. We see a world torn apart very much like Engels wrote about the coming catastrophes [of] early 20th century Europe.
RK: It’s very similar. The ruthless struggles for ascendancy, the rivalries, the aggressive wars, and so on. That huge confusion and tumult of capital, and now finance corporate capitalism—we see people in the millions, as we speak we see the people of Istanbul ...
RK: ... suddenly pouring out and emulating Tahrir Square in Egypt. It’s a Turkish Spring suddenly on our radar. But it’s not just there. We’ve seen millions in Occupy Wall Street and Washington, D.C., and Minnesota, in the Occupy movement in London, in, a few years back, the anti-war movement, which engaged 10, 15 million just in the advanced capital countries. So, you know, we see the anger, the rebellious spirit of people not wanting to live in the way we’re being forced to live at present. But the question of how to come together, and the way ahead, and clarifying the enemy, is at present something we’re just striving for. There are obviously groups of revolutionaries and rebels and anti-war groups around the world, but what’s lacking is the ability to, to define what it is that needs to be replaced, and to define that for the vast multitudes, not just for those who are convening movements and protests. So we, looking at the phase now which Marx and Engels talk about, and Lenin himself, and that’s the question of the corporates coming into being, the vast differences, the gulf of poverty and wealth, the concentration of power, controllers of productive forces in fewer and fewer hands. So the 1 percent—which in fact when we analyze 1 percent it’s far less than 1 percent, it’s a fraction of 1 percent. Because, you know I was told this on a plane from Chicago to New York by a professor at one of the universities who I was chatting to, and he said, “You know, Mr. Kasrils, I’m actually, in definition, I’m actually part of the 1 percent because I earn more than $350,000 a year, but you know the real 1 percent are the people with billions. The real fraction, the real controllers of the media, of the corporate wealth, and behind the wars of aggression.” So rebels are needed, and rebels are detonators in terms of getting other people to understand what we’re up against and how we should be organized, and that’s where the Communist International of Marx, and then later with the 1917 revolution, emerged as a major tool in opposition to imperialism and developed as an anti-imperialist movement, socialist, and anti-imperialist movement: rise of Cuba, and, you know, the heyday of the ’60s, the ’70s. Decolonization, and today we see the re-colonization of Africa and the rest of the world.
CH: Is this, have we reached a point, when Marx talked about unfettered capitalism as a revolutionary force that has built within it the seeds of its own destruction, that within capitalist economies that were actually contained within national states, you could build competing power movements like labor unions, for instance, but now you can’t, because they play one country off of another. Are we reaching, do you think, that stage that Marx talked about?
RK: I think it is that. I think it is that. You know we call it today globalism ...
RK: ... and give it the name of the neoliberal agenda, but that’s exactly what Marx is talking about, you know, so globalism isn’t something that’s just emerged. There’s been the forces toward globalism on the basis of the replacement of feudalism into first industrial capital, which was the building up of separate empires. And obviously state powers, and empires, and interfinance capital, and the imperialism that we have today.
CH: And Marx is quite clear that the fuel for the industrial society came from the pilfering of the resources. I mean, I think at one point ...
CH: ... it [was] the Inca leaders’ gold that paid for [the imperial expansion by European states and the Industrial Revolution]—
RK: Uh-huh, yeah. Of course.
CH: I mean that—the whole system is built on theft from its beginning.
RK: Yeah, coming into being with bloodied tooth and claw and so on. And of course the rise under capitalism of Western Europe is directly as a result of the ability, time and place to colonize the, what we call the developing world today: Africa, Asia, Latin America. And it’s on that basis that the empires of Europe, and then of America—North America—grow.
CH: What about fear? We are a country utterly riven with fear, and the security and surveillance state is becoming ever more intrusive. We’re being stripped in America of our civil liberties. You know, the FISA Amendment Act, the Espionage Act, the National Defense Authorization Act, on and on and on. How effective, I mean there’s a kind of paralysis. I mean, people are not happy, the approval rating for the Congress is 9 percent. People are angry. But the security and surveillance state has imposed a system by which they keep people contained and frightened. How do you address that?
RK: Well, every single dictatorship builds up the surveillance mechanisms and the control system of its society, of its people. Right throughout history—from ancient times—it becomes absolutely necessary the moment the state based on classes emerges. So the slaves are kept under control, fear is put into their hearts on a minute-to-minute basis. The sword, the ax, is always over your head, and that applies in modern times where it’s not just the club over your head but it’s also the other threats of losing job, losing profession, of being ruined or being thrown onto the streets. But the question of, the use of, rather, of the Hezbollah, as the Arabs come to fear the word, their military intelligence machine to keep them in a state of fear. We’ve seen how dependent those oil states have been in relation to that. Comparing, certainly, in essence what’s happened all over the world, we’ve seen … [the] savage[ness] ... [of] the Gestapo-type states, the police states and so on. And of course people fear what they see emerging, and it has happened before under McCarthyism, communist witch hunting in Europe, Britain, yeah. So, to keep people in line, whether it’s schoolboys under disciple or sailors on the deck of a ship, or the unemployed, or the factory worker, there’s always been that element of fear to control, to reinforce the control through socialization, education and the hegemony of ruling-class thought, prayer, religion and so on. But in history, as Spartacus or any rebel movement shows, and as we’ve seen in the Arab Spring—Tunisia, and Egypt are the particular models—the point comes when people lose fear, and that emerged very starkly in the police state of [Egypt’s Hosni] Mubarak, where fear was everywhere and people didn’t dare to speak or to step out of line. The few rebels were always crushed on the torturer’s wheel, their tongues cut out, metaphorically, sometimes actually in reality. So the contradictions of the few ruling the many in terms of injustice brings to my mind the great lines of Shelley, the poet, at the time of the Peterloo Massacre, 1819 thereabouts: “Rise from your slumbers like lions, we are many they are few.” [Paraphrase.] And, you know, when I read that I was amazed at the similarity in South Africa when in 1976 young people, 12-year-olds, teenagers in the schools, rose against the apartheid police state, with all of the fear factor, including that of the myth of white supremacy, and were prepared to take it on in the streets and were prepared to die, and those who weren’t shot down were prepared to look for the organizational form to fight back and instead of stones to seek guns and bullets, and the ANC was the organization that they turned to because it had always been the rebel organization. It had never died, it was always there and always strove to resist. So, fear, as we’ve seen, can keep people in check for many, many years. Decades. And there comes a time when, when the weakest link snaps, and people suddenly lose fear and find courage and stand up. And that’s what we’re seeing.
CH: That’s what we’re seeing now.
RK: We see—.
CH: What is the trigger, what do you think? What is it, is it a mysterious force, what is it that—?
RK: No, it’s not mysterious, but it’s, it’s certainly complex in the sense that what might have triggered it is something simple like simply lighting a match, a single spark ...
RK: ... starting a prairie fire. So I recall in the long, dark years of our struggle against apartheid where we were being hammered, or imprisoned, or we were in exile, and we would always speculate what would start the fire again. And it’s like what’s happened actually as we speak in the square in Istanbul. Quite a small, insignificant square which was the only parkland with trees in a huge district. And young people and old people wanted to defend this park as one of their lungs. We’re reading about it as we speak, yeah, and seeing it on our TV screens this very day. That’s, that’s a kind of poetic beauty about rebellion and revolution, that it’s the straw that breaks the camel’s back, it’s that dialectic—the drip of water that wears away a stone, and what is it, this is where you use the term “mystery,” it’s happening over many, many years and it’s wearing away a chain that’s imprisoning people. But it’s, it’s, it’s melting somehow, it’s breaking the fetters. And that happens suddenly from a trigger like the demand, the protection of the park, and the Turkish despot, [Recep Tayyip] Erdogan, saying, “No matter what you do or say, the development of the shopping area on your blessed park is going ahead.” And that’s just one bridge too far.
RK: So I think the only way this can be understood is in that Marxian sense of dialectical materialism, ... often the unseen, complex forces of society just as the forces of nature of the drops of water cracking a stone in the end, turning rock into beach sand over so many millennia. But it’s that that happens in society, and there are laws, this is where one sees in Marx the best explanation for the forces of change in society, historical change coming out of class struggles and the struggles for ascendancy and contractions that bring this to a head. So it’s contradictions, this is why, for me, if we go looking at the planetary, the global system now, how is it possible, it cannot be possible that a 1 percent, or a fraction, can go on concentrating wealth into their hands and the billions now starving ...
RK: ... without. It’s not possible. There’s got to be a break at some point. So there’s a simplicity in that arithmetic, or math, but of course the complexities are enormous within, because human beings in society are incredibly complex now.
CH: Let me ask a question about Marx, because Marx put his faith for revolution essentially in the working class, in the factories, in the industrial working class, not in the Lumpenproletariat, and now we have a situation where, in this country, we virtually have no labor unions, we don’t make anything except weapons anymore. What’s manufactured is manufactured in Dickensian sweatshops of prison-like conditions in China, Vietnam, Philippines, Bangladesh, and what we define as the working class is essentially the service sector—often with more than one job working hours a week. As Barbara Ehrenreich says, you know, being poor in the United States is one long crisis, one long emergency. It’s a different kind of organizing. How do you, how do you build consciousness and how do you build an organization when the indigenous mechanisms that were there during the Industrial Revolution are no longer there?
RK: Well, you know Marx lived 150 years back, and one doesn’t use him as the mantra.
CH: Right, right.
RK: So please don’t misunderstand me. I’m using their example. I’m saying there are incredible elements there of a scientific approach of how we should seek to understand the forces of change, the mechanisms of change, the motor forces of history, the class forces. And, he was studying society and capitalism at a particular point in time. Lenin came upon the scene decades later and actually made Marxism look again at a particular fact. You remember that Marx and Engels thought that socialism would come to the most advanced capitalist countries ...
CH: Right, German, that’s right.
RK: ... that they thought it would come in Britain.
RK: It was the revelation that the poorest, and the most backward ...
CH: Right, right.
RK: ... of the empires—.
CH: Which was Bakunin.
RK: Yeah, yeah.
CH: Bakunin knew that.
RK: Sure, so it’s not just one man or a couple of men or women who have the answers.
CH: But it is that problem ...
CH: ... of how—.
RK: No, definitely, I agree, and you know so we’re living at a different time and of course it’s even more complex, and our society is much more complex. So where is it the force is coming, and how to organize, but at the same time, as you say that industrial organization is on the decline—Britain, the unions were crushed, the USA, South Africa’s going that way now.
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