The billionaires, the cult of the entrepreneur and wealth creation

Let’s stop putting our hopes in the billionaire class to save humanity – they do not have the public welfare in mind.

In the previous article, we looked at the widespread and misplaced belief that the billionaires will create new technologies to rescue humanity from our current socioeconomic problems. In the current article, let’s elaborate further on this subject.

Two events highlight the importance of understanding why the billionaire class are not our saviours. Indeed, the current crop of billionaires have benefited from the inequities of the capitalist system, and so are incapable and unwilling to change it. Firstly, in early July, Amazon marked its 25th anniversary of operations. Why is this significant?

Amazon, and its billionaire CEO Jeff Bezos, are upheld as typical examples of the successful tech startup and model of entrepreneurship. Amazon, along with Apple, Facebook and Google, is a corporate behemoth, which has extended its operations around the world. IT is the area in which capital accumulation has resulted in the emergence of transnational corporations that are are similar to the steel and railway industrial giants of the 19th and 20th centuries.

Bezos has become a household name, and his elevation to billionaire-celebrity status is indicative of the esteem in which he is regarded by the corporate media. His achievement in making one of the largest corporations in the world is portrayed as the result of his unique motivation to succeed and entrepreneurial ingenuity. Bezos left the hedge-fund world, and began an early e-commerce business selling books. As of 2018, Amazon’s market capitalisation reached one trillion dollars.

The second event which is important for us occurred only in recent weeks – Amazon workers went on strike. Thousands of Amazon workers in the company’s factories – euphemistically named wish fulfillment centres – stopped work on Prime Day, a shopping holiday created by the company for its Prime member customers. While Bezos is one of the richest men in the world, his workers toil for long hours in exploitative conditions in poorly-paid jobs.

The Amazon workers strike is important because it punctures the aura of ‘human progress’ that has surrounded Amazon’s meteoric rise. The wealth that the billionaires like Bezos enjoy today, is not the result of the amazing intellect, drive to succeed or personal qualities of the entrepreneur. Amazon, and similar tech giants, became rich through the hard work and toil of thousands of workers.

Over the years, several undercover journalists have secured work at Amazon’s warehouse facilities, and have detailed the brutal, exploitive and humiliating working conditions endured by workers. Expected to perform tasks at lightning, split-second speeds, workers (called pickers) have to complete physically demanding schedules, and any slip-up, illness or injury results in accumulated penalties. Dismissal of workers is frequent, because Amazon can recruit from a large pool of unemployed.

In fact, Amazon and similar tech corporations are great at innovation – the innovation being in the area of exploitation. Amazon has updated the field of labour management – the new Taylorism. Named after the founder of worker-management techniques, Frederick Taylor, the supposedly scientific study and control of workers, the new Taylorism employs the latest technology to surveil and monitor worker performance.

Workers are monitored constantly, their walking speed measured, the seconds it takes for them to move from shelf to shelf, packing the ordered items, registering them and sending them on their way – and data metrics such as these are used to penalise those workers who are deemed too slow or inadequate.

Decades ago, Charlie Chaplin depicted assembly-line work in his comedy movie Modern Times. While Chaplin performed for comedic effect, there is an element of truth about the robotic nature of factory work – a depiction that is still relevant today. When Amazon workers demand that they be treated as persons, not robots, it speaks volumes about the continuity of ‘scientific’ Taylorism, then and now.

The cult of the entrepreneur has elevated a number of obfuscatory myths about the current process of capitalist production. Entrepreneurs are portrayed as courageous, innovative geniuses, who strive for the latest technologies and business efficiencies. This is usually contrasted with government-run industries and assets, which are routinely depicted as sclerotic, bureaucratic and resistant to innovation. The public versus private dichotomy is ubiquitous, but is false.

The technologies that tech companies use, such as Apple and Google, were developed by publicly-funded – government subsidised – agencies and departments. Marianna Mazzucato, economics professor at the University College London, wrote that government funded departments have put in the research and technological innovations underlying much of our current systems today.

It is not just the algorithms and gadgets used by Google and Apple that were initially developed by government agencies, only to be privatised later. The National Institute of Health (NIH) in the United States funds medical research and innovations in the life sciences to the tune of billions of dollars. The Human Genome Project would not have been completed were it not for the support of the NIH.

Even in the prime example of government-run industries, the prior Eastern Bloc, government institutions innovated – not just in space research, but also in health care, education, and heavy industry. The Soviets were not the first to land on the moon, but they were the first – and the last – to successfully land a spacecraft in the inhospitable and hostile environment on the planet Venus. Innovation is not the exclusive preserve of the private sector – but the latter is efficient at innovating new ways to spread rapacious individual consumerism.

Before we place our hopes in another round of billionaires promising to save us, as evidenced by the new political candidates in the upcoming American elections, it is time to dispense with the myth of the super-smart billionaire saviour. While personal qualities of ingenuity and motivation are important, they are not the determining factors in wealth creation. It is the work of thousands that made Amazon – or Uber for that matter – the ultra-wealthy companies that they are today.

The billionaires are not going to rescue us

When billionaires advocate for social change, or adopt green issues, they are not doing so for the public good, but to reinforce an unequal status quo. The billionaire class, rather than providing solutions for societal problems, are themselves part of the plutocratic system that is generating civilisational dislocation.

Let’s dig deeper into this issue.

It is a telling sign of the capitalist culture of our system where we look to billionaires as inspirations for meaningful social change. The inequities of our times seem so intransigent, that billionaires are presented in the media – the corporate media – as agents of public good who will put up their money to solve today’s problems.

Let us consider two typical examples that illustrate this type of naive expectation of billionaire-saviours. CNN reported in 2014 that billionaire hedge-fund tycoon Tom Steyer was funding candidates that were pro-science and in favour of environmental issues to confront the heavily bankrolled and strong Republican candidates who were anti-science, global warming denialists and generally hostile to green causes. We can see the results of that effort – in 2016, the United States elected a global warming denier as President.

The other more recent example comes from the pages of Truthdig magazine. The latter is a wonderful magazine – but we have to be honest, and state that sometimes they get things wrong. In an article earlier in July 2019, writer Ilana Novick published a story commending the efforts of George Soros – a supposedly liberal billionaire – and Charles Koch, a conservative billionaire, in founding a new think tank to oppose the endlessly militaristic policies of successive American administrations.

Both billionaires have expressed opposition to American foreign interventions, and so what could be wrong about two politically-opposed billionaires teaming up to fight against these destructive predatory wars? It is the height of political naivety to believe that the billionaires will change, in any meaningful way, the very system which enabled them to achieve plutocratic status in the first place.

For a start, the ultra-wealthy are hoarding their riches in a vast network of tax havens, out of reach of public regulations, taxation authorities and governmental scrutiny. The billionaire class does its utmost to avoid paying taxes – the latter theoretically intended to subsidise public infrastructure, health care and education for the public. In fact, it is the ultra-rich who are most likely to use offshore tax havens and accounts, not the average citizen.

Taxation, and in particular progressive taxation, is one of the ways that a democratically elected government has – in principle – of raising revenue to fund the basic infrastructure of a society. Whether that process is effective is a matter that is up for constant debate. The political efforts of the conservative Right, and their billionaire supporters, is to wage a campaign demonising taxes as an undue burden, and push for tax cuts for the already-wealthy.

Of course taxation should be a matter for debate; that is part and parcel of a democratic process. The corporate billionaires conduct a politically-expedient anti-tax offensive to reduce the tax rates on the ultra-wealthy, and shift the discourse of supporting society onto philanthropy. Deploying their money to influence the political process, and buy political allegiances in the halls of government, remains out of the public eye – though this corrupting influence of the financial oligarchy is gaining attention.

Capitalist philanthropy is nothing new

Ben Brooker, writing in Overland magazine, makes the point that today, billionaires have become household name and have achieved a certain celebrity status. (Hat tip to Brooker – the title of the current article comes from his). Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Zuckerberg, Branson, Bill and Melinda Gates – these billionaires have attained a kind of heroic, liberal-celebrity status – talented, intelligent, driven to succeed, and creators of philanthrocapitalism.

The idea of capitalist philanthropy is nothing new – indeed, it is as old as the rise of the robber barons themselves. Andrew Carnegie, steel magnate and one of the first ultra-wealthy industrialists of the 19th century, had the foresight to admit that he was hoarding wealth, and thus contributing to the creation of a social order that produced teeming masses of working and unemployed poor.

His proposed solution was philanthropy; donating a small portion of his riches to found university libraries, endowed chairs at educational institutions, and establish pensions and annuities for friends and acquaintances. He never left the corporate world, and his philanthropic measures were but a drop in the ocean as compared to the astronomical fortune he acquired through industrial production.

Rex Tillerson, former CEO of ExxonMobil and previously Secretary of State under US President Donald Trump, supports the development of geoengineering solutions to climate change. What could be wrong about adopting new and innovative technologies to solve today’s problems? Injecting sulphate aerosols into the atmosphere will scatter sunlight and thus reduce the impact on Earth.

This solution, while deceptively appealing, does nothing to challenge the destructive impact of the extractive industrial practices and polluting output of the oil and energy corporations. Drawing or deflecting carbon dioxide from the atmosphere allows the energy companies – of which Tillerson is part – to continue using fossil fuels, and cause harm to the Earth’s atmosphere. Rapacious and predatory consumerism can continue unhindered – and the oil multinationals can continue to promote climate change denialism.

Ben Brooker, in his Overland article, quotes Naomi Klein as follows:

Trump’s assertion that he knows how to fix America because he’s rich is nothing more than an uncouth, vulgar echo of a dangerous idea we have been hearing for years: that Bill Gates can fix Africa. Or that Richard Branson and Michael Bloomberg can solve climate change.

The Gates foundation, Howard Buffett and others can contribute money to privatised projects in Africa as much as they like, but until the systemic inequalities that keep African nations in a state of poverty are addressed, no amount of philanthrocapitalism will seriously address these stark inequities. Ghana is an independent nation in sub-Saharan Africa, but 98 percent of its gold is controlled by multinational corporations.

We can blame corruption and greedy politicians, but focusing on these factors serves only to distract our attention from the rapacious corporations – and their billionaire owners – who are extracting natural resources to generate super-profits. In fact, in this age of tech giants, such as Apple or Amazon, wealth creation and the hoarding of profits is not all that different from the practices of the steel, iron and industrial concerns of the 19th and 20th centuries.

We will explore those subjects, and the Amazonisation of the economy, in the next article. Stay tuned.

Aung San Suu Kyi’s alliance with Hungary’s Orban – a combination of political lampreys

Aung San Suu Kyi, the State Counsellor of Burma (Myanmar) and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, met up with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban in early June this year. State Counsellor is the equivalent position of prime minister. The meeting in Budapest is significant because both leaders bonded over their shared hostility towards Muslim immigration. Both leaders agreed that immigration from Islamic nations presents a threat to their respective countries.

One can only imagine the howls of outrage if these leaders had expressed their mutually agreed disdain towards Jews, or other ethno-religious minorities. Be that as it may, Aung San Suu Kyi, upheld as an icon of democracy and human rights in the West, has provided credibility to Islamophobic bigotry by forming a cross-continental alliance with Orban, a far-right and anti-immigration politician known for his hateful views.

Lamenting the growth of Muslim populations in Europe has long been a staple lie recycled by Orban. A viciously anti-immigrant politician, Orban has called for the expulsion of asylum seekers from Hungary, demanded that the European Union impose harsh restrictions against refugees from Muslim-majority countries seeking entry into Europe, and has praised the Hungarian wartime fascist regime of Admiral Horthy. The latter, allied with Nazi Germany, persecuted and killed members of another ethnic-religious minority, the Jewish people.

Orban is on record endorsing the neo-fascistic ‘Great Replacement‘ conspiracy theory, promoted by racist and white nationalist groups internationally. This paranoid racial fantasy holds that white populations face the threat of being swamped by non-white – and in particular Muslim – immigrants. The Hungarian Prime Minister has spoken of Europe as a Christian entity under existential threat from Islam and Muslim minorities.

It is beyond the scope of the current article to analyse the many flaws and falsities promoted by ultra-rightists such as Orban regarding Muslim immigration. However, for Aung San Suu Kyi to lend a platform for such views is not only reprehensible, but a perverse inversion of reality. It is the Rohingya minority in Burma – a largely Muslim population – that has been the target of ethnic cleansing and state-sanctioned violence in that country.

In fact, Suu Kyi has consistently downplayed, and outright denied, the plight of the Rohingya people in Burma. While not using as explicitly Islamophobic language as Orban, Suu Kyi has refused to use the term Rohingya when describing the problems in Rakhine state, the region where the Rohingya are located. The Burmese military, motivated by an ideology of Buddhist supremacism, has been carrying out a genocidal campaign against the Rohingya for many years.

However, since assuming office in 2016, Suu Kyi has remained silent on the Rohingya issue, and has done her utmost to whitewash the actions of the Burmese military. The Rohingya have been forcibly displaced, with thousands fleeing into neighbouring Bangladesh, or forming makeshift refugee camps as internally-displaced persons. The United Nations has documented the homicidal campaign against the Rohingya by the powerful Burmese military – which includes the tactics of rape, burning villages and denial of basic social services.

Suu Kyi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize back in 1991, ostensibly for her commitment to nonviolence and peaceful dialogue. Yet here, by combining with Hungary’s Prime Minister, she is providing a ‘peaceful’ face for an underlying campaign of hate and ethnic violence. Promoted by the Nobel committee as an outstanding voice of the powerless against power, she became an icon of universalist human rights and peace from the 1990s onwards.

Leading the National League for Democracy, Suu Kyi was feted by Britain, the United States and other imperialist powers as a democratic alternative to the rule of the generals. From 1989 until 2010, she spent in one form of detention or another, or under arrest by the junta. Her willingness to stay in Burma, and face imprisonment for her purported commitment to democratic principles, invited comparisons to Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi.

The Burmese regime, playing the political game, released Suu Kyi, held elections in the country, and the NLD took office. While keeping a firm grip on power, the junta made enough concessions to at least maintain the pretence of a democratic transition. Suu Kyi, hardly a political novice, saw her moment to lead Burma – and she is not an innocent bystander with regard to the machinations and policies of the Burmese regime.

Hailing the 2015 elections, the United States and Britain rapidly dropped their criticisms of the Burmese regime, and welcomed it as a ‘developing democracy’ under Suu Kyi. The latter duly reciprocated, allowing Western investment in the country, pushing for the privatisation of state-owned assets, and demanding that the US and Britain not refer to the Rohingya minority as a distinct ethnic group.

Sholto Byrnes, longtime journalist and commentator, writes that the halo that once crowned Suu Kyi, has not only slipped, but has been replaced by a badge of shame. Her failure to condemn the Burmese military’s murderous rampage against the Rohingya is a serious failing in itself. Her exemplary reputation as a beacon of human rights has taken a battering.

Actively seeking an alliance with the ultra-rightist and racist Orban, is not just a dereliction of duty. Suu Kyi has demonstrated her true colours as an ethnic chauvinist. Suu Kyi’s fall from grace, and the demolition of her anointed status as a democracy icon, exposes the fraudulent pretext that is ‘human rights’. This is not a denial of human rights per se, but a realisation that ‘human rights’ is a cynical ploy used by calculating politicians to promote predatory agendas.

The comparisons of Suu Kyi with Mandela and Gandhi are woefully inaccurate and misleading. The more appropriate historical comparison, and one that highlights the similarities in political outlooks, is between Aung San Suu Kyi and former Israeli prime minister Golda Meir. Both political figures are characterised by an ethnic chauvinism that denied human rights to the Rohingya and Palestinian peoples respectively.

The political trajectories of both these political leaders demonstrate a ravenous egotism and sense of entitlement. Rather than govern for the promotion of gender and ethnic solidarity, they both display a narrow commitment to building states based on ethnic-supremacist exclusivity. Suu Kyi and Orban have found common ground – racial and ethnic exclusion. It is high time to build bonds of solidarity and break down falsehoods and fear.

Anti-Russia hysteria – a new type of ‘normal’ xenophobia

In the previous article, we examined how, in the official 75th anniversary D-Day commemorations, the role of Russia in defeating Nazi Germany was completely ignored. This official snub of Russia, while disappointing, is not entirely unexpected. This behaviour on the part of the US and Britain is completely in line with the latest round of Russophobia, encapsulated in the purported ‘scandal’ of ‘Russiagate’.

Since the election of Donald Trump in 2016, the American political elite – lead by Democratic party leaders and former members of the military/intelligence apparatus – have waged an unrelenting campaign to portray Trump’s election victory as a product of Russian meddling in the American electoral process.

The Mueller report, released to the public in April this year, examined the main allegations of the ‘Russian interference’ conspiracy theory – and found no evidence whatsoever that there was any collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian business and political entities. The Mueller report was a stinging rebuke to the proponents of the Russiagate conspiracy hoax, and Matt Taibbi stated that the ‘Russian interference’ trope is this generation’s equivalent of the WMD lie of the 2003 Iraq war.

This is not a defence of Donald Trump – even though the latter has been gloating about the ‘vindication’ of his administration offered by the Mueller report. While there is no Presidency-destroying conspiracy, there are many reasons to oppose Trump. His misogyny and enabling of white supremacy, his attacks on refugees and migrants, his policies that help billionaires accumulate wealth at the expense of working people – Trump is definitely no friend of the working class he claims to represent.

The allegation that the Trump campaign is a servant of the Kremlin derives from a long-standing practice in American politics – smearing your political enemies as puppets of a foreign power. The former Soviet Union was a convenient scapegoat – no need to listen to domestic critics, just slander them as dupes of the Communist Kremlin. Since the end of the Cold War, Russia – in particular under President Vladimir Putin – has assumed that role of foreign bogeyman.

Chris Hedges, writing in Truthdig magazine, notes that since the election of Vladimir Putin in Russia, replacing the Western-subservient (and frequently drunk) Boris Yeltsin, Russia has become more assertive on the world stage. Russia is no longer the economic basket-case that it was in the 1990s, but it is not an aggressive super-petro-state about to gobble up the entire world either. The US establishment now began to treat Russia with open hostility.

Russophobia was back in fashion, replacing the expressions of goodwill and friendship that marked relations between Moscow and Washington in the 1990s. Domestic criticism of Washington was yet again portrayed as subsidised and manipulated by the overarching activities of the Kremlin. Political opponents of the Democratic party, particularly those from the Left of the spectrum, were smeared as willing apologists of the nefarious Russians.

Russian Jews and the anti-Russia hysteria

One of the interesting consequences of the Russophobia of the American political and economic elites has been the impact of a group of formerly privileged white migrants – Russian Jews from the former Soviet Union. In the late 1980s, as the Gorbachev premiership implemented its policy of glasnost (openness), Jews from the former USSR began emigrating in large numbers to the United States. The plight of Soviet Jews (if the stories are to be believed) became a major cause celebre in the West, and in particular in the United States.

Numerous American political figures, writers and cultural spokespeople advocated for the ‘liberation’ of Soviet Russian Jews, and lobbied the American government to open its doors to the refugees. One such prominent and educated Soviet Jewish figure, Natan Sharansky, became an emblematic example of the struggle by these ‘refuseniks’ to achieve their much desired liberation.

Sharansky, a mathematician by training, settled in Israel and has spent his political career as a rightwing advocate for Zionism and the suppression of the Palestinian people. But what of the thousands of other Russian Jews, who went to the United States, an allegedly altruistic nation extending a helping hand to those trapped by tyranny? For an answer to this question, let us look to Yasha Levin, a Soviet-born Jew who grew up in America.

Levin writes that as a fresh young immigrant, it was all too-easy to view America as the ‘land of opportunity’, where anyone could make it if they worked hard enough. Surely Russian Jews would be welcomed – had not the liberal establishment fought for them to leave the USSR? After all, Russian Jews occupied a special, privileged place at the apex of the migratory pyramid – they are white.

Not for them was the experience of xenophobic and racist attacks by a bigoted law enforcement establishment. They were not black, Hispanic or indigenous American. Of course settling into a new country was full of challenges and difficulties – every migrant group confronts problems as they adjust to a new culture, language, political and economic system. However, the Soviet Russian Jews surmounted difficulties – had not all the lobbyists and lawmakers in America advocated for them?

Occupying a special place in the official folklore of American immigration, Soviet Jews were upheld as an example of the willingness of the United States to welcome foreigners, particularly those immigrants who were seeking liberty. Here was a clear-cut case of American altruistic superiority winning out over Soviet cruelty. But all that began to change in the 2000s, and especially with the 2016 victory of Trump.

The Soviet Russian Jews find themselves in the crosshairs of the American ruling elite’s bigotry – a spot previously occupied by other ethnic and religious minorities. The Russians became the internal enemy, a potential fifth column working to subvert American liberalism.

The cloud of xenophobic suspicion is cast over the entire Russian community in the US – quite a change from the initial welcoming days. Russians are devious, treacherous and deceitful; as the American media helpfully and frequently reminds us, is not Putin himself a former KGB agent? The pall of conspiratorial suspicion casts a large shadow.

Blaming the country’s economic woes on the presence of groups of foreigners only serves to distract attention from the root causes of social and economic breakdown. The convenient excuse of ‘the Russians did it’ enables us to avoid examining our own failures, and indeed conditions the population for a possible future military confrontation with Russia. As Jacobin magazine’s staff writer Branko Marcetic says, it is time to end this national hallucination – close the gate on Russiagate.

The deep roots of respectable racism in America

The 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings earlier this month was an occasion for solemn reflections on the bravery and sacrifice of the D-Day veterans. It is timely to consider a largely forgotten episode of that particular conflict – the plight of the African American D-Day veterans, who gave of themselves fighting Nazism in Europe, only to face the institutionalised white racism of Jim Crow legislation when they returned home to the United States.

In an article published by Voice of America news, the experiences of black D-Day veterans were recounted by the remaining survivors. While the American military at that time remained segregated, the dangers and horrors of warfare were faced equally by all US soldiers. The 320th Barrage Balloon Battalion, a unit composed of African American soldiers, had the job of making and launching explosive-laden balloons to protect Allied troops from attack by Nazi aircraft.

A number of the black American veterans recounted their experiences of heavy fighting, the dead bodies, trauma and tensions of that invasion. Many struggled with nightmares and PTSD after the war was over. Haunted by their harrowing ordeal, they survived, only to return home to a nation unwilling to accept them as equals.

They risked their lives fighting violent white supremacy in German-occupied Europe, only to be forced to sit at the back of the bus upon their arrival home. One black veteran recalled that he could not sit with the very same soldiers he had served with on the battlefield. This juxtaposition of Nazi white supremacy and legalised white racism in America is not my invention, nor is it meant to be malicious.

Creating a whites-only homeland

It is instructive, when looking at the intellectual precursors to German fascism, how the United States and its system of racial segregation inspired the Nazi party and its co-thinkers. The Nazi objective of a pure white race, purging the undesirable elements from the society, conquering much-needed land from the interior races, and cultivating the land for the preservation of said race, found its best expression in the policies and history of the United States.

Adam Serwer, writing in The Atlantic magazine, states that these ideas – preserving the white race against the migratory influx of blacks, Jews and other ‘inferior’ stock – were considered mainstream and respectable by the ruling class of American society. Denounced as extreme today, these notions of racial purity – and its corresponding eugenic goal of restricting the numbers of ‘lesser stock’ – were advocated by influential and scholarly circles in the early part of the 20th century.

The book that Adolf Hitler called his ‘bible’ was authored by an American – The Passing of the Great Race by Madison Grant. The book, published in 1916, provides a scholarly, respectable veneer to pseudoscientific racism, advocating a racialised interpretation of European and American history. Grant, a lawyer, amateur anthropologist and eugenics advocate, stated that the intellectually superior white race was being diluted by intermixing with racially inferior stock.

Grant never used the word ‘genocide’, because that term was coined after World War Two. However, his warnings about the white race being swamped by black, Jewish and other inferior breeds finds resonance today in the mythical ‘white genocide’ allegation recycled by the conspiratorially xenophobia Alternative Right.

It is noteworthy that Grant deliberately classified humans into distinct ‘races’ – fixed biologically-determined categories, and from there drew firm conclusions about their social and intellectual characteristics. He lamented the fact that America continued to allow people from poorer nations entry into the United States. He condemned, for instance, the presence of swarms of Eastern European Jews as exerting a deleterious effect on the country.

He advocated the increased immigration of white ‘Nordic’ types to sustain the purity and intellectual growth of the white race. He denounced the darker, swarthy and Mediterranean peoples, and proposed tough legislative immigration restrictions against those he considered inferior breeds. Notice that while never used the word ‘genes’ in his work, he deliberately drew conclusions about the intelligence capacities of different hereditarily-fixed races – a debate that also has modern implications.

Grant was certainly not the first person to advocate ‘race science’, however, his theories found a receptive audience among American political and economic elites. Politicians of various stripes proposed strict eugenics legislation to reduce the numbers of people they deemed to be ‘feeble-minded’ – and they based themselves on the works of Grant and his co-thinkers.

Willing co-thinkers in Europe

Doctrines of white supremacy found a willing audience not only in the United States, but also across the Atlantic – in Germany. To be sure, Germany had its own tradition of volkisch nationalism – a racist and populistic appeal to a mythical German past of racial purity and sturdy agrarian connection with German soil. However, German ultra-rightists and white supremacists found inspiration in the legalised racial discrimination, and whites-only doctrines, of the United States.

Ta-Nehisi Coates, writing in The Atlantic, elaborates that Hitler and the Nazi party used the United States as an example of how to successfully construct a white supremacist economic and legal edifice. When the Nazi theorists were planning their eastward expansion, the depopulation of the Eastern European Slavic cities and their replacement with German settlers, we can see the striking analogues with the white American experience of settling indigenous lands and transatlantic racial slavery.

When the Nazi authorities were considering implementing eugenics legislation to reduce the numbers of the ‘feeble-minded’, they were drawing from the American experience. When Nazi race theorists were debating how to enact racial-exclusion legislation – which they did for instance, with the 1935 Nuremberg Laws – they were inspired by similar American models of legalised racial discrimination. James Whitman, a law professor at Yale University, made a detailed study of the similarities between the race laws implemented by the Nazis, and the American precursors which inspired them.

None of this is to suggest that America was responsible for the rise of Hitler. After the horrors of the Second World War were exposed to the world, the likes of Grant and his white Nordic idolatry were forgotten. Indeed, American economic and industrial support for Germany in the 1930s was also quickly forgotten. American racism, having found a monstrous reflection of itself in Nazi Germany’s crimes, was relegated to a place of historical amnesia. The successful export of white American racism was soon forgotten.

Speaking of historical amnesia…..

One of the disappointing, but not entirely surprising, aspects of the official 75th anniversary D-Day commemorations was the deliberate snubbing of Russia and its contribution to the defeat of Nazism. The role of the Soviet Union was decisive in beating Nazi Germany, yet you would not know this going by the official commemorative ceremonies. This is not the first time that Russia was pointedly excluded from D-Day activities – former US President Barack Obama purposefully disregarded the Soviet contribution to the Allied victory during his term in office.

What is noteworthy is that the most recent example of disdain towards Russia occurred in the context of a malignant Russophobic campaign of conspiratorial xenophobia mounted by the American (and British) ruling classes. The Russiagate paranoia has enveloped American society, and has kindled a kind of respectable racism – not overt like the racial segregation of yesteryear, but an insidious kind of xenophobic boosterism nevertheless.

What does this mean? Russiagate and the resurgence of xenophobia will be the subject of the next article.

Stay tuned.

Navigating our way through Islamophobia, toxic conservative media and criticism of religion

One of the questions that I face on a semi-regular basis is why I spend so much time writing about Islamophobia and the Middle East. The question that is asked – sometimes politely but usually obnoxiously – is ‘why do you defend Muslims?’ There is normally an accusatory undertone to the question – an accusation of wrongdoing or wilful blindness on my part. When the questioner discovers that I come from a philosophical tradition of secular humanism and skepticism, the accusation becomes louder and the degree of sneering contempt even greater.

By this stage, I am calculating whether I should take the question seriously, or whether I should make the questioner familiar with a comatose condition. Be that as it may, it is a question that is faced in the current political and economic climate. How does a secular humanist and socialist navigate their way through criticism of religion, while calling out the Islamophobia that underlines much of the commentary on the Middle East in the corporate media?

Phil Zuckerman, professor of sociology and commentator, has written of the dilemmas faced by contemporary secular humanists when confronted by the bigotry, and consequent hate crimes, against Muslim communities. The incidence of hate crimes and attacks against the Muslim community has increased since the election of current US President Donald Trump – and such crimes have steadily increased in Canada under the nominally liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. White nationalist terrorism is very similar on both sides of the US-Canada border.

It is no secret that former US President Barack Obama – portrayed in the corporate media as a progressive champion for human rights – escalated the programme of drone strike warfare during his terms in office. While he inherited the military practice from George W Bush, Obama increased the bombing campaign – primarily against Muslim-majority nations. This unceasing war from the skies – carried out largely behind the backs of the US and Australian populations – only increases the sense of victimhood among Islamic communities.

The architecture and underlying rationales for the ‘war on terror’ have remained in place until today. Targeting Muslim communities has been elevated to the level of state policy, both in the United States and in Australia. We may question particular attacks or the tactics pursued by the Anglo-American axis, but Canberra largely follows the same logic in its foreign and domestic policies as its larger cousins. The lack of scrutiny surrounding this lethal policy only contributes to a sense of anxiety and alienation among the Islamic community.

We can also see that the Easter 2019 bombings in Sri Lanka, mainly targeting Christian churches and their congregants, was a horrifying terrorist atrocity. We can all see the sustained attacks against the Christian communities in Pakistan – similar to other minorities, they are attacked by religious fanatics and their places of worship desecrated. The ancient Christian communities of Iraq are being driven out by the terrorist actions of Islamic State.

There is no question that Christian communities are subjected to persecution by terrorist groups. As Mehdi Hasan wrote in The Intercept e-magazine, we all need to stand together in the face of barbaric murders, such as the Easter 2019 bombings in Sri Lanka. Are Christian lives less worthy or valuable than Muslim lives? Of course not. Are Muslim people superior to other religious minorities, who require special privileges and consideration? No, they are not.

There is no single ‘holy book’ whose contents must be followed literally. Claims of supernatural intervention in the world, miraculous occurrences and non-material forces must be approached skeptically. Nothing should be believed without evidence and rationality-based reasoning. There is no interest on my part to elevate one set of monotheistic claims and associated theology over another.

We can only begin to imagine what it must be like to be an atheist and humanist in Pakistan or Bangladesh, where the fear of violent death at the hands of fanatics is very palpable and serious. The LGBTQIA community is practically under siege from homophobic attackers in Bangladesh. There is no underestimating the threat of religious fanaticism.

When we turn on the corporate media and listen to the right wing commentariat – typified by the literary mercenaries from Fox or Sky News – we can hear denials of human-induced global warming, tirades against stem cell research, attacks on women’s reproductive rights, shrill denunciations of the LGBTQIA community, racist attacks on ethnic and religious minorities – in other words, the kind of shrieking racism and misogyny that is winding the clock back in our own societies.

When the conservative commentariat warn about the supposed threat of Islam taking over Western societies and imposing a theocratic order, they expose their utter inability – or unwillingness – to face a glaring hypocrisy in their own worldview. The journalistic footsoldiers of the tribal right have missed the theocratic project that is taking over and reshaping our society – from the evangelical Christian right.

The supporters of the evangelical Christian right – the nearest thing that the English-speaking world has to a Taliban-type force – has been waging a political battle since the Reagan-era 1980s to transform American society into a theocratic state based on their interpretations of biblical scriptures. Rejecting science and humanistic values, the American Christian Taliban have been influencing Republican and conservative politicians to change legislation along what they regard as biblically-based concepts.

Current US Vice-President Mike Pence, and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, are two leading figures in the Trump administration who are supremacists of the religious type, seeking to influence domestic and foreign policies, blending practical politics with the Armageddon and Rapture. Trump commands the loyal support of the evangelical support base, even though his serial philandering and casino-mogul lifestyle are a violation of traditional Christian values.

When calling out the growing influence – and hypocritical posturing – of the evangelical Christian right, this is not a ‘war on Christians’ or a case of singling out Christians for particular persecution. In elevating and defending Trump, the religious right’s hypocrisy has been exposed for all to see. The machinations of the American Taliban have less to do with advocating a particular theology, and more to do with a cynical political project intent on redesigning American society along theocratic precepts.

When the militants from the Islamic State (IS) group carry out a terrorist attack, the wider community and government authorities ask the Islamic communities to condemn terrorism, and also to examine what kind of theological contortions produced something as barbaric as IS. It is time for us in the English-speaking countries to ask what kind of theology motivates the religious right to endorse the white nationalist bigotry of ‘Make America Great Again’.

The San Diego shooting, Christchurch, and the deadly consequences of white nationalism

In the aftermath of the Christchurch mosque attacks, serious questions were asked as to why the police and intelligence authorities were unable to prevent the operations and criminal actions of the Australian-born gunman. He emerged from a far-right and fascistic milieu. The chief of the Australian Security and Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) Duncan Lewis, was asked this very question – and his response was indicative of the skewed way the problem of terrorism is approached.

Lewis explained that there was no need for a dramatic reset of intelligence gathering, nor a requirement to refocus on collecting information about domestic ultra-rightist terrorism after the Christchurch shootings. This response is rather puzzling, given that fascistic domestic terrorism driven by the ideology of white supremacy has been increasing over the last decade. This type of terrorism does not prompt reexaminations of our political and intelligence-practices in the way that attacks from Muslim perpetrators do.

Police and intelligence agencies continue to insist that the Christchurch gunman was a ‘lone wolf’ who acted on his own. However, even lone wolves emerge from and operate within packs. The fascistic Australian gang, the Lads Society, attempted to recruit the Christchurch killer before he carried out his attacks. This group is only one of several neo-Nazi outfits that operates in Australia. This information discredits government claims that the Christchurch gunman was a ‘lone wolf’.

The Christchurch mosque attacker provided the direct inspiration for the anti-Semitic gunman who killed one person and injured three at the Chabad of Poway synagogue near San Diego. The shooter, John Earnest, had fifty rounds of ammunition when he walked into the synagogue in April this year. More casualties were prevented because Earnest’s gun jammed.

President Trump issued a lukewarm condemnation of the San Diego synagogue shooting – only after he insisted that his description of the anti-Semitic white supremacists who rallied at Charlottesville in 2017 as ‘very fine people’ was accurate. In fact, Trump and his administration has downplayed the threat of anti-Semitism, all the while recycling anti-Semitic tropes.

Trump has not only failed to condemn anti-Semitism, he has recycled the underlying logic of bigoted white supremacist killers in the immediate aftermath of anti-Semitic attacks. The Pittsburgh synagogue attack, while attracting outrage from around the world, received only mild criticism from the Trump administration. The latter’s continued support for the state of Israel has provided a convenient excuse for Trump and his supporters to deflect charges of anti-Semitism.

White supremacist terrorism does not induce nation-wide anxieties and moral panics about the nature of the terror threat and the ideology motivating it. Adam Serwer, writing in The Atlantic magazine makes the following observation in contrasting our responses to Islamic versus white nationalist attacks:

When white extremists kill, politicians do not demand that they be racially profiled. They do not call for bans on white people coming to the United States. They do not insist that white people’s freedom of movement be restricted, their houses of worship be surveilled, their leaders be banned from holding public office, or their neighborhoods be “secured” and occupied by armed agents of the state.

It would be morally outrageous and ethically bankrupt to racially profile white persons, demand their detention in internment camps and deny their human rights because of the criminal actions of white supremacists. It is legitimate to demand that white nationalist killers be prosecuted as terrorists – something that rarely occurs. Trevor Aaronson, writing in The Intercept e-magazine, writes that the US Department of Justice has, since September 11 2001, routinely declined to press terrorism charges against ultra-right terrorists, even when their crimes meet the legal definition of domestic terrorism.

The San Diego shooter, John Earnest, penned a ‘manifesto’ in the days prior to his attack. He combines a noxious mix of Islamophobia and anti-Semitism, blaming Jews for allegedly plotting the demise of white civilisation, and expressing his contempt for non-white immigrants. This rationale is nothing new in white supremacist and fascistic circles – the ‘great replacement’ theory purports to expose a Jewish plot to bring non-white immigrants into the United States for the express purpose of ‘replacing whites’.

What is interesting to note is that Earnest regularly attended an evangelical Christian church – the Orthodox Presbyterian denomination, a conservative force that is countering what it perceives to be the liberal drift of the mainstream Presbyterian church. The pastor of the group, Reverend Mika Edmondson, has spoken of his soul-searching quest to understand how one of his congregants espoused a virulent anti-Semitism. Edmondson admitted that Earnest was radicalised into white nationalism in the very midst of his group.

Before concluding with this subject, let us address the predictable and tiresomely shrill response from conservative pundits – what about the attacks against Christian communities? Of course the Easter 2019 Sri Lanka bombings, targeting Christian worshippers in churches, were acts of horrific terrorism. We can all see what is happening to the Christian communities in Pakistan – similar to other minorities, they are attacked by religious fanatics and their places of worship desecrated. The ancient Christian communities of Iraq are being driven out by the terrorist actions of Islamic State.

There is no question that Christian communities are subjected to persecution by terrorist groups. As Mehdi Hasan wrote in The Intercept e-magazine, we all need to stand together in the face of barbaric murders, such as the Easter 2019 bombings in Sri Lanka. Are Christian lives less worthy or valuable than Muslim lives? Of course not. Are Muslims super-fantastic people who require special privileges and consideration? No, they are not.

Our objection here is against the co-thinkers of the conservative far-right such as Australian National Party politician George Christensen – or indeed former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott. The latter, and his ultra-rightist fellow thinkers, usually play the ‘Christians are persecuted’ card when discussing questions of white nationalism. Please, stop lecturing others about morals and values, because the Australian tribal conservative Right has no moral compass.

If you regard the colonisation of indigenous society in Australia as a ‘good thing’ – as former PM Abbott and George Christensen do – then you are not only woefully ignorant of Australian history, but lack a moral or ethical compass with which to address white nationalism. You have no credibility in lecturing others about morals and ethics if you cannot recognise that white nationalism was built on a criminal enterprise. Let us address the underlying ideology of white nationalist hatred and how it leads to lethal consequences.