The date was December 28th, 1922. A group of over 2,000 delegates from all over the former Tsarist empire of Russia gathered in Moscow to consolidate the new socialist republic they had fought so hard for over the last five years. Two days later, from the stage of Bolshoi Theatre, they presented to the Russian people the Treaty on the Creation of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Thus began the first true socialist nation in the history of the world.
But the country’s birth was not without strong labor pains. Indeed, the three biggest names associated with the advent of the Soviet Union-Vladimir Lenin, Joseph Stalin, and Leon Trotsky- all had very different ideas for structuring the new government and how best to continue the worldwide socialist uprising they started. In this entry of “The Complete Noob’s Guide to the Left,” we’ll examine the philosophies of these three men to see how the future of socialism may have progressed had either one may have done things differently, as well as how Russia fared when Stalin became the victor.
Part 1: Lenin vs. Stalin
Lenin had already been in poor health for about a year before the December 30th declaration. He had been showing signs of hyperacusis, insomnia, and headaches that were so bad that he tried to get his wife and sister to purchase potassium cyanide so he could kill himself. To this day, no one is exactly sure what was wrong with him; theories include neurasthenia, cerebral atherosclerosis, and even syphilis.
In any case, Lenin’s poor health worsened significantly when he suffered a stroke in May of 1922. He had largely recovered by July but then suffered another stroke in December. It has been reported that this second stroke was caused by an argument with secret police chief and Stalin loyalist Feliks Dzerzhinsky over a crackdown in the Caucasus region. Another Stalin loyalist, Sergo Ordzhonikidze, had been sent into Stalin’s homeland of Georgia to quell protest movements against the “autonomization model” that Stalin advocated for. Lenin was angry that Dzerzhinsky had exonerated Ordzhonikidze for any wrongdoing, but the stroke left him unable to do anything about it.
Perhaps I should explain what this “autonomization model” is. Autonomization was Stalin’s proposed solution to the problem of what relationship the former states of the Russian Empire would have with the Bolshevik ruling class in Moscow. He offered to incorporate the Russian regional republics into the new Soviet Federation, with the ethnic minorities of each respective region allowed autonomy within the boundaries of Soviet law. Many republics protested this approach, especially Ukraine, Belarus, and the Caucasian states of Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Armenia.
Lenin sided with the regional republics, arguing that Stalin was pursuing an imperialistic goal. Remember that Lenin’s principal innovation in Marxist thought was combatting the new capitalist model of imperialism, which Marx had failed to foresee. He was worried that autonomization would undermine the Soviet Union’s credibility as the vanguard of the worldwide socialist revolution. The regional republics’ right to self-rule must be preserved, he argued.
Stalin and Lenin managed to reach a compromise before Lenin’s second stroke. Stalin, aware of how powerful Lenin still was within the Bolshevik Party system, agreed to Lenin’s terms, allowing the new socialist republic to come into being as the USSR on December 30th. After the second stroke, however, Stalin quickly set about limiting Lenin’s activities under the pretense of not exacerbating Lenin’s poor health.
But Lenin wasn’t finished with Stalin. He wrote letters protesting against Stalin’s power grabs throughout 1923, even after suffering a third stroke in March. His anti-Stalin complaints became especially vociferous after Stalin insulted his wife, Nadezhda Krupskaya, when she refused to let him see an ailing Lenin in his bedroom.
The biggest one was “Lenin’s Testament,” which he finished in January of that year, which notably argued for the removal of Stalin from the position of general secretary in favor of Leon Trotsky. He also argued that the centralization of the new socialist government functions should be limited solely to defense and international relations to keep thuggish personalities like Stalin from taking advantage.
Sadly, after Lenin finally passed away on January 21st, 1924, at the age of 53, Stalin managed to persuade the other party leaders to ignore these suggestions. Of course, one must wonder what would have become of the Soviet Union if Trotsky had taken power.
Part 2: Stalin vs. Trotsky
I think the best way I’ve heard to explain the differences in Leninism, Stalinism, and Trotskyism comes from this Quora article by historian Cameron Greene: Stalinism was the conservative side of Bolshevism, Leninism the moderate/centrist side, and Trotskyism the radical side.
Stalin advocated the “socialism in one country” policy, which argued that Russia should not focus on leading socialist revolutions in other countries until it has perfected socialism in the Russian state. He also pursued rapid industrialization and collectivization of agriculture, intensification of class conflict (especially with kulaks or property-owning peasants), a one-party totalitarian police state to crush counter-revolutionary movements, and subordination of socialist movements across the globe to the interests of the Soviet vanguard. Stalin was also willing to seek the advice of private enterprises like the Ford Motor Company to help the Soviet Union get its state-owned enterprises off the ground.
On the other hand, Trotsky argued for a global socialist revolution in multiple countries to overwhelm the international capitalist order more quickly. He also argued that the bureaucratic police state that Stalin was developing was antithetical to the working class self-determination and mass democracy that Marx advocated for. He was also a harsh critic of Stalin’s willingness to cooperate with capitalists to help jump-start Soviet industrialization, as he was determined not to negotiate with capitalist nations.
Unsurprisingly, Stalin did not take kindly to this criticism. After Lenin’s death, Stalin and the Politburo gradually stripped Trotsky of his government positions until he was formally exiled from the Soviet Union in February 1929. He had been living in Alma-Ata (now Almaty, Kazakhstan) for a year at that point. He spent the rest of his life dodging assassination attempts as he traveled the world railing against Stalin’s betrayal of the socialist revolution, even forming the Fourth International in France in 1938. Stalin’s assassins finally caught up with him two years later. Trotsky died at the age of 60 on August 21st, 1940, in Mexico City from brain injuries caused by the blunt end of an ice ax wielded by Ramon Mercader.
It is tempting to argue that the Soviet Union would have been a true worker’s paradise if Trotsky had come to power instead of Stalin. Let’s face it: even if his rapid industrialization did bring Russia into the modern era, Stalin was a terrible ruler by any standard. While there is still debate over whether or not the great famines of 1930-33 (the Ukrainian Holodomor being by far the most infamous) were deliberately engineered by Stalin or whether it was an unintended side effect of rapid collectivization, there is no question that it is a large black stain on his character. The dekulakization program, which took place around the same time and may have led to over half a million deaths, is a lot less excusable, as is the Great Purge of Stalin’s political enemies in 1937, which some estimate killed over a million. His religious persecutions and the roughly 1.6 million who died in the gulags should also not be dismissed.
That being said, however, there isn’t much reason to believe that Trotsky would have been any less of a dictator. Okay, that is kind of a lie. He did believe that the Soviet Union should be more of a union of worker’s councils, which does appeal to my personal preference for anarcho-communism (even if all the communes would still have been required to report to Moscow). However, as the YouTube channel Alternate History Hub explains in their video “What If Stalin Never Came to Power,” Trotsky wasn’t any less bloodthirsty than Stalin. Indeed, Stalin’s rapid industrialization ideas in his Five-Year Plans were actually stolen from Trotsky. The only difference was that Trotsky wanted to share the profits with all Russian citizens, not just a privileged few. There is no reason to believe that a Trotskyist Russia would have avoided the famines and purges that plagued Stalin’s Russia.
In addition, Trotsky would have had a whole nation at his disposal to pursue his goal of a worldwide socialist revolution. Indeed, given that Trotsky was of Jewish heritage, it is highly likely that Trotsky would have been a lot tougher on Nazi Germany than Stalin was. Of course, this could have backfired on the Soviets, as this might have led to fascists being seen as martyrs to the anti-communist cause and leading to the Soviet Union being the main Allied antagonist of World War II instead of the Axis Powers. Then again, it may also have led to socialism gaining a solid foothold in many more countries than just Cuba, Vietnam, and others. Or maybe I’m just being too optimistic.
Some fellow socialists have gone further, arguing that Bolshevism itself was its own worst enemy, that Soviet Russia was doomed to an oppressive dictatorship no matter which leader it ultimately chose. For instance, the October 1973 issue of The Socialist Standard (the official magazine of the Socialist Party of Great Britain) includes an article titled “Trotskyism, Stalinism: What’s the Difference,” where the author argues that Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin, and all of the other Bolsheviks were operating off a grievous misinterpretation of Marx. He contrasts Lenin’s view that “on its own, the working class cannot go beyond the level of trade union consciousness” with Marx and Engel’s view that “the proletarian movement is the self-conscious, independent movement of the immense majority.” He also points to how Trotsky handled the Kronstadt rebellion as proof that he was no better than Stalin.
The Kronstadt rebellion was one of the most prominent left-wing uprisings against the Bolsheviks. Thousands of Soviet sailors, soldiers, and civilians seized control of the port city on the island of Kotlin near St. Petersburg for sixteen days in March of 1921. The rebels were disillusioned by the direction of the Bolshevik government. They demanded more civil rights and economic freedom for the working class, that more libertarian socialist groups receive government representation, and that the bureaucratic systems implemented by the Bolsheviks be dismantled. The Bolshevik party leaders, Trotsky included, dismissed their rebellion as a capitalist false flag and invaded the island on March 18th, slaughtering thousands. This move was widely criticized even by contemporary leftists, perhaps most notably Emma Goldman in her essay “Trotsky Protests Too Much.”
In the end, if you ask my opinion, the Bolsheviks ended up falling prey to the same trap that the Founding Fathers of the United States fell into when they created the United States; they were not confident enough in the decision-making capabilities of the working class to allow them to exercise true democracy. True, the Bolsheviks had a leg up on the Founders in that half of them weren’t slave owners, but it’s hard for me to argue that they were any more altruistic than the Founders in the end, given how little tolerance they gave towards leftist ideologies that differed from their own.
However, that leads me to think about the other factions of the Russian socialist movement. Indeed, the Bolsheviks were only one of three main factions in the Russian revolution. So join me on the next episode, where I compare and contrast the Bolsheviks with the Mensheviks and the Socialist-Revolutionaries. See you then!
In the time since I wrote my last article debunking common climate change denier myths, I’ve come across several more that I feel need to be addressed. Some I heard from my Dad or other family members and others from documentaries specifically trying to debunk some of these myths. I figured I’d throw my two cents in the ring to maybe help science win out over the short-sighted greed of Big Oil, Big Coal, and the lying politicians that help keep them in business. No need for a grandiose intro; let’s just jump right into it!
1. It’s the volcanoes, stupid!
Over the past 250 years, humans have added just one part of CO2 in 10,000 to the atmosphere. One volcanic cough can do this in a day.
Ian Plimer, “Legislative time bomb,” ABC News Australia, August 13th, 2009
It is undoubtedly true that there is far more carbon stored in the rocks of the Earth’s crust than there is in the atmosphere or the ocean. It is also true that volcanoes expel anywhere from 65 to 319 million tons of CO2 into the atmosphere every year.
Here’s the catch, though. Scientists have demonstrated that the amount of CO2 pumped into the air due to the burning of fossil fuels equates to an average of 34 billion tons, about 100 times greater than the volume produced by volcanoes.
Yes, volcanoes do influence climate patterns, but that has far more to do with sulfate aerosols than carbon emissions, and those tend to cause cooling rather than warming as they reflect sunlight.
Speaking of which…
2. Warming is caused by a lack of volcanic activity.
It is true that the early twentieth century was largely bereft of big explosions between the eruption of Novarupta in Alaska in 1912 and the eruption of Mount Agung in Bali in 1963. It is also true that recent eruptions (most notably Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines in 1991) caused global temperatures to decrease as much as 0.3 degrees Celsius.
However, scientists have demonstrated that the comparative lack of volcanic activity between 1925 and 1960 cannot account for the warming that has occurred since the 1970s. Indeed, measurements of aerosol optical thickness, or AOD, data since 1979 has shown that only about 0.12 degrees Celsius at most of the 0.5 degrees of surface warming observed during that period can be attributed to volcanic activity.
3. It’s the solar cycles, stupid!
I already discussed solar cycles, specifically the solar magnetic activity cycle, in the previous climate change myths article, in which I debunked the common myth that sunspots have more to do with warming climate than the greenhouse effect. I especially made clear that the gap between Cycle 23 and Cycle 24 displayed above should have meant a global drop in temperature between 2000 and 2008 (albeit with a different graph than this one), which clearly did not happen. However, there are other solar cycles deniers have turned to in trying to prove their “superior knowledge,” including the Milankovich cycle.
Unlike the magnetic activity cycle, which has more to do with varying solar radiation levels, the Milankovich cycle has more to do with eccentricities in the Earth’s orbit around the Sun. First hypothesized by Serbian astronomer and geophysicist Milutin Milankovich in the 1920s, this theory has helped planetary climatologists demonstrate how changes in Earth’s orbit can affect planetary climate patterns.
Naturally, climate change deniers have seized on this cycle to try to explain away the recent warming trend. Indeed, I recently remember hearing my Dad explain to Mom about some kind of thousands-year-long cycle (I want to say 30-40,000 years) that the Earth was going into again as yet another reason why there’s nothing to worry about.
However, there’s one big reason why this assumption is way off base, as NASA’s climate blog demonstrates. The changes caused by any of the variables covered by the Milankovich cycle (changes in orbit shape, in Earth axial precession or “wobbling,” and changes in the planet’s tilt) work on geologic time, meaning that they take thousands of years to have any noticeable effects. It is exceedingly evident that the warming that has occurred since the Industrial Revolution has risen far too fast to be caused by anything other than the burning of fossil fuels.
Furthermore, the planet is currently in an interglacial period, which means that global temperatures should have continued on a 6,000-year downward trend. But the sheer amount of CO2 we’ve been adding to the atmosphere has canceled much of that out. The same NASA article I linked above mentions that natural concentrations of atmospheric CO2 tend to vary between 180 and 280 parts per million (or PPM for short). The current concentration rests at around 417 PPM, the highest levels we’ve seen in 650,000 years. Be afraid, people!
4. Other planets are warming.
This argument has been applied to eight other large bodies orbiting around our Sun. Most of these arguments tend to focus on four in particular: Mars, Jupiter, Neptune, and Pluto. Deniers argue that if these other planets are warming, it is proof positive that it is solar radiation and not CO2 warming the Earth.
Let us examine each of these planets, in turn, to see if these arguments hold up to scrutiny:
First of all, collecting climate data from Mars is problematic since we know so little about the Red Planet. Still, there are various factors that scientists point out that we should take into account when assessing its climate patterns:
First, the Red Planet’s orbital eccentricities are five times greater than that of Earth’s.
Second, unlike Earth, Mars has no oceans and a very thin atmosphere, making its climate much more suceptible to extraterrestrial influences.
Third, Mars frequently experiences massive dust storms which have an enormous impact on climate patterns.
Finally, we have little to no historical data prior to the 1970s to compare with current observed changes, so we have no way of knowing if these changes are frequent trends or infrequent outliers.
Jupiter has not actually experienced any observed warming. Such warming is predicted based on the idea that several of the gas giant’s famous storms along the equator are merging into one humungous super-storm, which is projected to cause warming around the planet’s equator and cooling at its poles.
The argument that Neptune is warming is based on an observed increase in the planet’s luminosity around 2007 and that of its largest moon, Triton. However, this was a case of seasonal change: Neptune takes around 165 years, which means that it only completed its first orbit since it was discovered in 1846 in 2011. What scientists observed was summer coming to Neptune’s southern hemisphere.
As for Pluto, determining its climate patterns is even more problematic than with Mars. Its orbit takes 248 years, and it was only discovered in 1930. It has only been briefly visited one space probe, the New Horizons, in July of 2015. Indeed, the only “evidence” that the dwarf planet is warming comes from two observations made in 1998 and 2002. As SkepticalScience.com points out, that would be equivalent to making observations about Earth’s climate based on data collected over just three weeks out of a whole year! We simply do not know enough about Pluto to make these kinds of judgments.
Finally, I reiterate that solar radiation levels have been on a downward trend for the last forty years! The Sun is not causing this abnormal warming!
5. There was no warming during the Industrial Revolution.
Why didn’t we have global warming during the Industrial Revolution? In those days you couldn’t have seen across the street for all the carbon emissions and the crap coming out of the chimneys.
Alan Titchmarsh, quoted in “Back to nature,” The Telegraph, October 6, 2007
I remember my grand-uncle making a similar argument around Thanksgiving. He claimed that we would have seen it long before contemporary times if CO2 really were causing a worldwide increase in temperature. But here’s a good question for people who make this kind of argument: How much CO2 do you think it takes to cause a noticeable warming trend?
I don’t know what their answer would be, but, as always, scientists have crunched the numbers. In the late 18th century, during the first fifty years of the Industrial Revolution, emissions averaged out to about 3-7 million metric tons. By about 1850, the average had increased to 54 million. And what’s the current emission rate? Ten billion metric tons of CO2 a year, I shit you not!
As for Titchmarsh’s quote up above… you do realize that carbon emissions are different from soot, right?
6. The switch to renewables will destroy the economy.
One major study that pushes this myth was complied by Spanish economist Gabriel Calzada Alvarez in 2009, who claimed that for every new job created in the alternative energy sector, Spain lost 2.2 jobs in other economic sectors. Let’s put aside the fact that Calzada is involved with a libertarian think tank that takes money from Exxon Mobil (which alone should discredit him) and instead examine the multiple ways the study fails with even a cursory glance.
First, the study underestimated the number of jobs created by renewable energy in Spain since 2000. Calzada claims the number of jobs created was less than 50,200, whereas the United Nations Environmental Programme puts the number closer to 188,000.
Second, Calzada’s arguments should mean that the Spanish province of Navarre, which currently obtains 70% of its energy from renewable sources, should be experiencing high unemployment. However, Jose Maria Roig Aldasoro, the province’s Regional Minister of Innovation, Enterprise, and Employment, pointed out in direct response to Calzada’s study that unemployment in Navarre decreased from 12.8% in 1994 to less than 5% in 2007.
Third, Calzada was discovered to have cherry-picked data in order to support his conclusions. Perhaps most egregiously, he claimed that solar energy destroyed 15,000 jobs in the previous year, seemingly ignoring that that is a drop in a bucket compared to a 500% increase in the sector over the previous three years.
Fourth, Calzada seems to operate under the belief that government subsidies into the creation of green jobs crowd out private investments, which he believes are more efficient at job creation. This ignores the fact that private investments are at an all-time low thanks to economic stagnation and that this only really works when all economic resources are being utilized, which very rarely happens.
Finally, Calzada is proven wrong by the fact that many studies, including one done in 2004 by UC Berkeley, have shown that the renewable energy sector creates more jobs than fossil fuels, mostly because renewable energy tends to involve more labor-intensive manufacturing, installation, and maintenance than coal or oil extraction and transportation. True, renewable energy tends to be more expensive than nonrenewable, but that’s only because fossil fuel companies do not account for the air pollution and health effects that their products produce.
In short, Calzada’s study was clearly reaching for excuses to support oil over solar to make its Exxon donors happy. Speaking of being paid off…
7. Climate scientists are being paid off.
It is, of course, very tempting to dismiss this argument as a case of psychological projection. After all, it’s common knowledge by now how Exxon-Mobil, Koch Industries, and other fossil fuel companies have spent years lobbying politicians and the public to sow doubt about the scientific consensus behind anthropogenic climate change. But for the sake of argument, let us see how conservatives justify this narrative in their own words:
In truth, the overwhelming majority of climate-research funding comes from the federal government and left wing foundations. And while the energy industry funds both sides of the climate debate, the government/foundations monies go only toward research that advances the warming regulatory agenda. With a clear public policy outcome in mind, the government/foundation gravy train is a much greater threat to scientific integrity.
Henry Payne, “Global Warming: Follow the Money,” National Review, February 25, 2015
How do skeptics claim that scientists acquire such funds? Mainly research grants, which sometimes can reach millions of dollars. However, Scott Mandia, writing on his WordPress blog, has a question for deniers who follow this line of reasoning:
How many climate scientists are driving a Mercedes sports coupe or other $100,000+ car into a three car garage in a posh gated neighborhood?
Scott Mandia, “Taking the Money for Grant(ed)- Part 1,” Global Warming: Man or Myth?, updated on March 22, 2010
Mandia uses a NASA grant proposal he and his team received the month he wrote that article to demonstrate how grant money is usually spent. Out of the $437,232.67 his team receives over three years, the total costs come out to:
$152,678.50 to pay the 135 participants and trainees.
$4000 for consulting services to assess the cirricula being developed.
$76,064.25 for adminsitrative fees and others that are not collected by those named on the grant.
$204,489.92 to actually pay the investigators over the three years.
Mandia himself only receives $16,088.25 per year, while the PI, or principal investigator, at $16,391.77, barely gets over $300 more. Not exactly Mercedes money.
Meanwhile, oil companies like Exxon Mobil and BP made profits in excess of $20 billion in 2020, far more than any company solely investing in green energy, which is certainly enough to sway more unscrupulous scientists into selling their souls to live in the lap of luxury.
Climate scientist Richard Alley also made this salient point regarding this point in this interview:
If we could overturn global warming; if we could prove that CO2 was not a greenhouse gas; if we could prove that we could burn all we want and not worry about it, how exciting would that be?… Is there any possibility [that out of] tens of thousands of scientists, there isn’t one of them that’s got the ego to do that?! It’s absurd! It’s absolutely, unequivabably absurd! We’re people and we’ve got it in us the way people do.
“What drives scientists- Richard Alley,” published by the YouTube channel UQx Denial101x Making Sense of Climate Science Denial on August 25, 2015
Trust me, if any scientist ever found definitive proof that CO2 emissions weren’t causing climate change, everyone from National Geographic to ExxonMobil to the New York Times and everyone in between would be hailing them as the hero or heroine of the century. But none has arrived so far, and until then, we have to treat anthropogenic warming as an absolute certainty.
8. Why are we focusing on America and ignoring China?
It’s easy for deniers to cry hypocrisy when it comes to comparing America’s CO2 output with China’s. After all, China has had the dubious honor of being the largest emitter of greenhouse gases since 2006. Take this graph from 2017, for instance.
Indeed, since China’s total CO2 emissions far outpace those of the United States, you might understand at first glance why deniers might be incensed by environmentalists giving the U.S. such a hard time when China is clearly so much worse.
But notice the right-hand side of the graph. That side shows the tons of CO2 per person that were released into the atmosphere in 2017. When one looks at the data there, one can easily see that America’s CO2 emissions are far greater than China’s (which is rather impressive, given that China’s population of over 1.4 billion is far larger than America’s).
One also has to look at the cumulative amount of CO2 each country has historically emitted from 1850 in order to truly make the comparison fair. When looking through the lens of this metric, it becomes obvious that the U.S. once again outpaces China by a wide margin.
But even if all of this wasn’t true, so what? Do any other countries’ CO2 emissions absolve us of our own climatological sins? As the biggest global superpower, don’t you think we should be setting a good example for others to follow? I’m just saying, maybe those three-quarters of a trillion dollars that we spend on our military every year might be better spent on building up instead of breaking down.
9. CO2 limits will hurt the poor.
Climate change skeptics love to argue that enforcing restrictions on CO2 emissions would have a dangerous impact on the GDP of developing nations like India and many countries in Africa and South America. Of course, as my debunking of myth no. 6 on this list demonstrates, investment in renewables is likely to help these countries more than hurt them. But, of course, the real question here is, “Which will hurt the Global South more? CO2 limits or climate change itself?”
To answer this question, James Samson led a team of climate scientists in creating a new metric known as the Climate Demography Vulnerability Index (or CDVI for short) in 2011. First, they measured how much a population in any region on Earth is predicted to grow as well as how much the local climate is expected to change to determine which areas are most vulnerable. This showed that the areas most vulnerable to climate change were central South America, Eastern and Southern Africa, and the Middle East.
They next compared this metric to the amount of CO2 emissions that each country produced per capita and found that the countries that contributed the least to greenhouse gas emissions were the ones most affected.
It is also highly unlikely that these countries will have the infrastructure necessary to handle these drastic climate impacts. In this light, Skeptical Science.com argues that the assertion that “CO2 impacts will hurt the poor” is just a dog-whistle for “Rich, developed countries should be allowed to pollute as much as they want.”
This kind of entitlement, along with the massive waves of immigration that are likely to result from climate impacts in the Global South, lead to the final climate myth I will cover here, which is by far the darkest of them all.
10. Overpopulation is causing the warming trend.
Here is where the ugly specter of fascism rears its ugly head once again.
Many experts have noticed that the far-right is starting to turn away from outright climate denial and finding an alternative source for the warming trend. They blame overpopulation, immigration, and multicultural attitudes towards certain populations they see as inferior.
“But Preston,” I imagine you must be asking from beyond your computer screens, “isn’t environmentalism a left-wing ideology.” Not always. Many ecofascists today (perhaps most notably Anders Brevik) have cited Madison Grant as an influence. You may remember Grant as one of the founders of the wildlife management discipline, but he is far more infamous for his influence in the fields of eugenics and scientific racism. Perhaps the most damning indictment of Grant’s legacy is the fact that none other than Adolf Hitler referred to his 1916 book The Passing of the Great Race as “my Bible.”
Speaking of the Nazis, much of their ideology also contained ecological undertones. Social ecologist Janet Biehl has argued that the Nazis had a deep abiding interest in “traditional agrarian romanticism and a hostility to urban civilization.” Indeed, the infamous white nationalist slogan “Blood and Soil” was first popularized by prominent Nazi ecologist and race theorist Richard Walther Darre, explicitly tying the Aryan race’s ancestry to the land that is “rightfully” theirs.
Ecofasict tendencies have continued to flourish through the writings of radicals like Ted “the Unabomber” Kaczynski, and Pentti Linkola. You may remember me mentioning Linkola in my Halloween article on Deathspell Omega, where their suspected vocalist, Mikko Aspa, cited him as an influence on his politics. Allow me to provide you with some more context as to why Aspa’s support of this man is such a red flag.
Linkola, who died in April 2020 at the age of 87, believed that democracies were ineffectual at preventing large-scale ecological collapse and that the only way to save humanity was mass murder to curb exponential population growth. He was a devout believer in “lifeboat ethics,” a philosophical concept developed by Garrett Hardin, an American ecologist well known for his anti-immigrant activism. Indeed, this Linkola quote succinctly (and chillingly) summarizes what lifeboat ethics is all about:
What to do when a ship carrying one hundred passengers suddenly capsizes and only one lifeboat? When the lifeboat is full, those who hate life will try to load it with more people and sink the lot. Those who love and respect life will take the ship’s axe and sever the extra hands that cling to the sides of the boat.
Pentti Linkola, The Doctrine of Survival and Doctor Ethics, 1992
We’ve seen similar expressions of a need to stop overpopulation even in more left-wing philosophies like anarcho-primitivism and the deep ecology movement, who also often argue for a drastic reduction in human population growth to prevent ecological catastrophe.
But I think all this is missing an important question: Does human overpopulation even exist in the first place? Leaving aside the fact that I already demonstrated that the Global South has little to no impact on greenhouse gas emissions, many environmentalists have argued that people arguing this Malthusian rhetoric are painting a reductive picture of what is really going on.
United Nations statistics have pointed out that population growth has actually slowed worldwide since the 1960s and will likely start to level out sometime later this century. Other critics have argued that issues like world hunger aren’t caused by overpopulation; they’re caused by late-stage capitalist inefficiency leading to resources not getting where they need to. Still others have argued that fears of overpopulation in the Global South have racist and colonialist undertones to them (for example, American biologist Paul Ehrlich claimed that his 1968 book The Population Bomb was first inspired by a trip he took to Delhi, India). As environmentalist David Roberts notes in this article he wrote for Vox, “where you find concern over ‘population,’ you very often find racism, xenophobia, or eugenics waiting in the wings.”
Indeed, Roberts also correctly notes that population growth often slows whenever women become more educated and start entering the workforce. He also points to income inequality as a major driver of greenhouse gas emissions.
So once again, the problem turns out to be capitalism all along. Why am I not surprised?
And that’s the end of this second go-round at helping to put paid to several more climate change myths. Once again, a big thank you to SkepticalScience.com for helping inform the critiques of these new myths. Join me next time for some more debunking as I dive into the mysterious waters of the Bermuda Triangle to uncover the truth behind some of its most famous disappearances. Until next time, friends.
Marxism-Leninism was by far the most widespread strain of socialist thought to emerge in the 20th century. It was the form of government that the Soviet Union took after the death of Vladimir Lenin, as Josef Stalin sought to combine Lenin’s philosophy with that of Karl Marx. The results were wildly successful for a time; at its height in the early to mid-1980s, thirty countries followed Marxist-Leninist principles when setting up their socialist governments. But today, only four are still considered bona fide Marxist-Leninist states: Vietnam, Laos, Cuba, and China. But did these states fail on their own merits, like capitalist propaganda would have us believe? Or did capitalism end up strangling the baby in its crib to stop the working class from seeing a better way?
Before we answer those questions, we must first examine what Marxist-Leninists actually believe. The main difference between Marx and Lenin was that Lenin thought that Marx had been mistaken when he predicted that the working class would achieve solidarity as poverty got worse and more jobs were replaced by machines. Lenin instead argued that by outsourcing hard labor to overseas colonies during the age of imperialism, the capitalist ruling class had managed to instill workers with a false sense of solidarity with the bourgeoisie. They did this mainly by providing the workers with enough benefits to satisfy them and forestall a populist uprising.
Lenin argued that the solution to this problem was to form a political party composed of intellectuals to show the misguided working class that their bourgeois solidarity is wasted on rich people who don’t care about them. With this vanguard party in place, a revolution would overthrow the old bourgeois class and be ruled under a dictatorship of the proletariat, which Marx predicted in his original writings. Lenin interpreted this “dictatorship of the proletariat” as a one-party political system that would determine what was good for the workers and establish a strong law enforcement arm to suppress counterrevolutionaries (something that many other socialist thinkers disagreed with; more on that later).
With all of this in place, the path to the classless, stateless society that Marx originally dreamed of would eventually be realized as the rest of the world saw how well the citizens of the Soviet Union were doing under the newer, better communist regime. But sadly, as history has demonstrated, capitalism doesn’t like competition as much as it claims it does.
History and Principle Figures
Russia did indeed have its socialist revolution in October of 1917 that established the very first non-capitalist nation in the modern-day. Some sources, like the Libertarian Socialist Wiki, have divided the subsequent history of Marxism-Leninism into six phases.
Phase One starts with the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 and ends with the invasion of the USSR by Nazi Germany in 1941. This period saw the establishment of the Soviet Union as a formal state in 1922, Josef Stalin coming to power in 1924 after Lenin’s untimely death, Mongolia becoming a socialist republic the same year, and Stalin pursuing a policy of isolationism as he pursued independent industrial development.
Phase Two lasted from 1941 to 1959. This period saw the Allied Powers’ defeat of Nazi Germany and the Japanese Empire with significant help from the Soviet Union and the beginning of the Cold War between the USSR and the United States. This period also saw the first big wave of new socialist republics as the USSR sought to spread its foreign influence. Yugoslavia was the first to join in 1943, followed by Poland (1945); Albania and Bulgaria (1946); Romania (1947); Czechslovakia (1948); East Germany, Hungary, and China (1949); North Korea (1950); and Cuba (1959). Stalin died in 1954, and his successor, Nikita Krushchev, pursued a policy of de-Stalinization. Meanwhile, the capitalist countries begin covert military operations to destabilize emerging communist governments like those in Iran (1953) and Guatemala (1954).
Phase Three lasted from 1960 to 1973 and saw the creation of several Marxist-Leninist organizations that failed to seize power in their home countries. Examples include the Naxalite movement in India, the Red Army Faction in West Germany, and the Japanese Red Army. Others successfully achieved socialism, like Yemen in 1967 and Congo and Somalia in 1969. It also saw tensions between the US and Soviet Union reach a fever pitch during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. Meanwhile, tensions between the USSR and China led to the Sino-Soviet Split, as Mao Zedong accused Nikita Krushchev’s policies of de-Stalinization and attempts at peaceful coexistence with the West as a betrayal of Marxist principles. Even so, Mao himself eventually established friendly relations with the US after Nixon’s famous visit in 1972. During this period, the US would also pursue much more hostile relations with other Marxist-Leninist nations, most infamously with its toppling of Salvador Allende’s government in Chile in 1973 and the Vietnam War (1964-1975).
Phase Four lasted from 1974 to 1988 and saw the second big wave of states joining the Marxist-Leninist cause. These included Ethiopia in 1974; Benin, Angola, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, and Mozambique in 1975; Afghanistan in 1978; Nicaragua and Grenada in 1979; and Burkina Faso in 1983. Indeed, one might call this the golden age of Marxism-Leninism, as not only did the philosophy hold sway over 30 nation-states at this time, but revolutionaries were conducting insurrections against their capitalist regimes all over the globe, albeit with little success. Meanwhile, the US continued its fight against the rise of communism. First, it seized upon the assassination of socialist prime minister Maurice Bishop to lead an invasion that toppled Grenada’s Marxist-Leninist government in 1983. Then it joined France, Libya, Israel, and several other nations in assassinating Burkina Faso’s Thomas Sankara in 1987. This period also saw American president Ronald Reagan become involved in the Iran-Contra affair, in which he was outed as using money from illegal arms sales in Iran to fund the Contra movement to oust the Communist government of Nicaragua.
Phase Five, lasting from 1989 to 1992, was when the bottom dropped out of the old communist regimes, as the contradictions inherent in the centralized economies of places like the Soviet Union caused them to start falling apart, partly thanks to Mikael Gorbachev’s policies of perestroika and glasnost. The age of neoliberalism formally codified itself as authoritarian governments, communist or otherwise, were replaced by capitalist representative democracies. Only five countries still operated on Marxist-Leninist principles when it was all over; China, Vietnam, Laos, North Korea, and Cuba.
Phase Six, which started in 1993 and continues today, sees the remaining five socialist governments struggling to adapt to the neoliberal era. Vietnam, Laos, and Cuba remain steadfastly Marxist-Leninist despite often overbearing international pressure. Meanwhile, China has adopted more and more capitalist elements as the years have gone by, while North Korea devolved into an authoritarian hellscape. What major socialist movements are left have mostly turned to social democracy or libertarian socialism (like the Zapatista movement in Chiapas, Mexico, or the PKK and Rojava movement in Turkey, Iraq, and Syria).
I have rather complex feelings about the Marxist-Leninists. On the one hand, Marxism-Leninism has a lot to answer for in terms of some of their actions, some of which might even rise to human rights violations. Indeed, the millions of deaths that occurred under events like the Holodomor in Stalinist Russia, the great famines that happened under Mao Zedong’s watch in China, and the millions of people murdered by Pol Pot’s regime in Cambodia could make a strong case that trying to centralize the entire economy under government control never works.
Even many contemporary leftists had a lot of negative things to say about how Lenin and co. were handling things in Russia. For example, Polish communist Rosa Luxemburg heavily criticized Lenin’s idea of a vanguard, which she thought would lead to a one-party totalitarian state (something that would prove all too true once Stalin took power). My personal political hero, Pyotr Kropotkin, also criticized the Marxist-Leninists as being too centralized and authoritarian. The great American anarchist Emma Goldman, deported to Russia for her radical views, even wrote a two-volume book entitled My Disillusionment in Russia, in which she excoriated the Marxist-Leninists for their suppression of independent voices (something that was brilliantly depicted in the 1981 film Reds during her argument with John Reed (see my review of that film here)).
However, as my literacy of the history and philosophy of the political left has increased, I’ve also come to realize two things. The first is that, in many cases, the supposed crimes of the Marxist-Leninist regimes have often been grossly exaggerated or even outright fabricated by capitalist propagandists. Much capitalist propaganda would have us believe that all communist nations were Stalinist or Maoist hellholes where everyone was crushed under famine and economic stagnation and anyone who dared to speak out about it was deported to a life of hard labor in the gulags. Of course, this ignores the fact that the gulags were discontinued under Krushchev’s administration as part of his de-Stalinization policies. It also ignores the fact that the Soviet Union became an industrial superpower that vastly increased living standards. Many egalitarian achievements, in the form of social programs for education, housing, health, and jobs, helped lift up much of the population.
Speaking of which, that leads me to the second thing I’ve realized: that capitalism is far deadlier than communism could ever hope to be. Let’s say we take 1997’s The Black Book of Communism at its word and assume that communism has indeed killed 94 million people in the 100+ years since the Bolshevik Revolution. That doesn’t change the fact that capitalism kills just as many, if not more, people every five years!
Of course, that’s not including all the atrocities that capitalism wrought on the world during the age of imperialism. Let’s go through some of these atrocities one by one and see how long it takes to surpass The Black Book’s death toll, shall we?
The Atlantic slave trade is estimated to have directly killed around 17 million, according to the United Nations, although many estimates place the death toll much higher.
Colonial negligence by the British resulted in the Irish Potato Famine of 1845-1852, which some have estimated killed as many as 1.5 million.
The colonization of North America in the wake of Christopher Columbus’ arrival lead to genocide of the Indigenous population, resulting in anywhere from 50 to 100 million deaths.
King Leopold II of Belgium’s infamously brutal treatment of rubber laborers in the Congo Free State between 1885 and 1908 resulted in the deaths of 15 million, according to the highest estimates.
Adolf Hitler’s Holocaust against the Jews, the Romani, the homosexuals, the disabled, and several other groups (resulting in over six million deaths) is a direct legacy of the systems of racism created by capitalists to justify the Atlantic slave trade.
One direct rebuttal of The Black Book by noted leftist philospher Noam Chomsky noted how deaths from hunger in India typically exceeded 4 million deaths even in non-famine years, in contrast to the 15-55 million figure death toll often applied to China’s Great Famine of 1959-1961.
Of course, that doesn’t cover nearly all the people killed by capitalism and all the genocides, wars, and just plain negligent actions that it propagates, but the point still stands. In all, I think the last paragraph of this article from the eco-socialist journal Capitalism Nature Socialism puts it best:
Leftists who object to communism will hardly put an even infinitesimal dent on the capitalist killing machine by reproducing anti-communist propaganda. It only helps intensify the threat of burgeoning anti-communist legislation and fascist street actions against the left as a whole… Let us then consciously reorganize and struggle for economically tenable classless egalitarian ends before capitalists obliterate most of humanity and other beings with another world conflagration or simply conducting their regular buisness.
Indeed, from what I’ve gathered, it seems that the ultimate end goal of Marxist-Leninists and anarcho-communists is ultimately the same: a classless, stateless society devoid of any and all forms of coercive power. The former just disagree that such a society can be achieved without some form of centralized government, no matter the risk of it turning just as authoritarian and repressive as the capitalist society it is trying to replace.
Still, though, Vietnam and Cuba seem to have managed to achieve stable systems under Marxist-Leninist principles, even despite pressure from the capitalist West to “reform,” so maybe I’m overstating my case. Even so, I still think it’s imperative to remind my dear readers that arguments about what kind of socialist government should replace the current capitalist world order should wait until after we gain the upper hand. Arguments over whether Marxists, anarchists, primitivists, or syndicalists are correct should wait until after we’ve extricated ourselves from under the crushing weight of income inequality and climate change. What matters now is that the capitalists are hurting people, and we need to make them stop!
And that’s another episode of The Complete Noob’s Guide to the Left in the bag! Join me in future installments as I look at the various communist ideologies that directly spun off from Marxism-Leninism, like Stalinism, Trotskyism, Maoism, Titoism, Guevarism, and others. Stay tuned for those, and maybe keep an eye for this year’s Christmas special sometime later this month. See you then, beautiful watchers!
Welcome to my new multi-part series on this blog! You could view this in some ways as a continuation of my “How Anarchism Works” post that I wrote way back around the time I first started this blog. I still think it holds up splendidly as an excellent introduction to the kind of things that anarchists like myself believe in.
However, I do feel there is one big issue with the piece as a whole: It’s far too narrow in scope, as it doesn’t cover the beliefs of every different strand of anarchist thought. In “How Anarchism Works,” I mostly only covered the strand known as “anarcho-communism” and its closely related partner “anarcho-syndicalism.” That’s not necessarily a bad thing. For starters, social anarchism, of which the above-stated ideologies are a part, is the most popular anarchist ideology. And, of course, trying to cover the beliefs of all anarchist doctrines would turn the post into a book, and that would be far beyond the scope of someone like myself who only discovered this stuff mere months before I started this blog.
For these reasons, I have decided to start a series dedicated to individually examining the different ideologies of the political left to see how they compare and contrast with one another. This won’t be restricted to just the libertarian socialist left, however. I also want to examine several leftist ideologies that don’t fall under the anarchist umbrella. I want to understand, for example, how the Marxist-Leninists differ from the Maoists, or Stalinists from Trotskyists, or what separates collectivist anarchism from mutualism. This is just as much for my benefit as for my readers since I’m still a complete noob at this myself. I fear that my affinity for anarcho-communism might make me somewhat biased in my coverage of several of these ideologies, especially non-anarchist ones. However, I still need to know, and I want to share whatever knowledge I have gained with whoever might be interested in hearing it.
But enough about explaining my motivations for starting this series. For now, let us begin with the very first ideology I wish to profile in this series: anarcho-primitivism.
Anarcho-primitivism is often considered to be the most extreme wing of the larger “green anarchism” movement. Green anarchism (which also includes schools of thought like anarcho-naturism, green syndicalism, and social ecology) is often contrasted with classical anarchism (sometimes referred to as “red anarchism”). Green anarchists tend to argue that classical anarchists do not place enough emphasis on the human relationship with the natural world and that we must think about how we may liberate the non-human plants and animals of the world from the same hierarchical forces that led humans to dominate other humans.
Anarcho-primitivists (who I will call “an-prims” for short from this point) go a bit further than that. Their basic thesis is that the problems with human civilization are rooted in the very creation of civilization itself. Specifically, they believe that the shift from hunter-gatherer to agricultural societies during the Neolithic Revolution is at the root of the widespread coercion, social alienation, and social stratification that socialists of every stripe want to see eliminated from human society.
An-prims thus advocate for eliminating all technology developed after the advent of agriculture and especially after the Industrial Revolution in favor of hand tools, minimalist housing, and wild food sources. It is from an-prims, as well as the green anarchist movement as a whole, that we get the term “rewilding,” which refers to the process of undoing not only the domestication that humans inflicted on wild plants and animals during the Neolithic Revolution but also the domestication that agricultural (and later industrial) societies have inflicted on humanity.
Suppose you want a picture of what an ideal an-prim society might look like. In that case, one essay I found in The Anarchist Library quotes a passage from Chuck Palahniuk’s classic novel Fight Club:
Picture yourself planting radishes and seed potatoes on the fifteenth green of a forgotten golf course. You’ll hunt elk through the deep canyon forests around the ruins of Rockefeller Center, and dig clams next to the skeleton of the Space Needle leaning at a forty-five degree angle. We’ll paint the skyscrapers with huge totem faces and goblin tikis, and everything what’s left of mankind will retreat to empty zoos and lock themselves in cages as protection against the bears and big cats and wolves that pace and watch us from outside the cage bars at night.
Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club, 1996 (pgs. 125-126)
Now, eliminating technology doesn’t necessarily mean “literally everything we’ve created since 12,000 BCE needs to be destroyed.” The primitivist view of technology tends to be more ambiguous than outright evil. They don’t tend to think that it’s their duty to take the destruction of modern civilization into their own hands. They tend to believe that our current technology-based society is inherently unsustainable and prone to collapse any day now. When that happens, they see themselves being there to lead the wayward sons and daughters of Mother Earth into a new and more harmonious age.
History and Prominent Figures
Some have argued that the roots of anarcho-primitivism go back to Henry David Thoreau’s classic Transcendentalist work Walden which advocates for a self-sufficient lifestyle in harmony with nature in opposition to the then-current Industrial Revolution. Thoreau’s work (and that of Leo Tolstoy and Elisee Reclus) would influence the anarcho-naturist movement in the early 1900s, which shocked more conservative onlookers in Europe and Cuba with their proclivities toward nudism and free love.
In the United States, an-prim is generally best known for its association with the Philadelphia-based MOVE organization and Ted Kaczynski, better known as the Unabomber. MOVE, founded in 1972 by John Africa (born Vincent Leaphart), can be understood as the missing link between the Black Panthers and the naturalist communalism of the hippie movement. It is especially infamous for its involvement in the May 13, 1985 incident in which the Philadelphia Police Department dropped C-4 explosives on a house with thirteen MOVE members (six of them children) holed up inside, John Africa being one of them. Not only did the ensuing fire kill all but two of the MOVE members (Africa being one of them), but the fire department simply let it burn until sixty-five houses in the surrounding neighborhood burned with it. Unsurprisingly, subsequent investigations and lawsuits found that the city had used excessive force and violated the MOVE members’ Fourth Amendment rights.
As for Kaczynski, his writings, especially the 1995 essay “Industrial Society and Its Future,” were embraced by an-prims for its core thesis that the Industrial Revolution ushered in a harmful process that destroyed nature and human freedom by making them slaves to advanced technology. As such, his bombing campaign was his way of attempting to topple this industrialized society to mitigate the devastation it wrought. However, even though he was friends with prominent an-prim John Zerzan for several years, Kaczynski has criticized the primitivist movement as having an overly romanticized view of hunter-gatherer cultures, as well as leftists politics as a whole for, in his view, simply trying to replace the current organized, technological society with a different, collectivist one. As such, several eco-fascists like the Christchurch and El Paso shooters have cited Kaczynski as an inspiration, although Kaczynski has also condemned fascism as a “kook ideology.”
From what I’ve gathered, the most popular writers in the field of anarcho-primitivism are the aforementioned John Zerzan and Derrick Jensen (Daniel Quinn’s 1992 novel Ishmael also seems to be highly regarded amongst their ranks). Zerzan is best known for his essay collections, including a 1994 compilation of his own writings titled Future Primitive and Other Essays and 2005’s Against Civilization: Readings and Reflections, which collects writings of others who have influenced primitivist thought.
Derrick Jensen, for his part, is probably best known for his two-volume book Endgame, published in 2006, in which he advocates for the overthrow of our unsustainable civilization through violence, in a similar manner to the 1917 Bolshevik revolution. I confess that I haven’t read either of these men’s work, although even with the somewhat cursory research I’ve done on this philosophy, I feel comfortable in sharing my opinions on what I’ve seen.
As someone with strong romanticist leanings, I will admit that there is a certain appeal in the prospect of going back to a bygone age where humanity lived in harmony with nature instead of trying to strangle it into submission. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve seen abandoned houses or other buildings on the side of the road during a drive in the country and wished we would just let the buildings rot and let the lots they lie on be reabsorbed back into Gaia’s bosom. But when looking at the primitivists’ ultimate end goal, my rational side immediately kicks back and says, “Now hold your horses there, buddy”!
First of all, there’s no way of getting around the fact that achieving the kind of civilizational collapse that an-prims seek would undoubtedly condemn millions, if not billions, to premature death. True, an-prims generally don’t want to perpetrate deliberate genocide to achieve a Malthusian cull of human overpopulation. Still, the simple fact remains that they want to abolish the current technological infrastructure that has made modern living standards possible. Do an-prims seriously believe that humanity will just give up indoor plumbing just like that?
This brings me to my second significant objection: I find the entire foundation of the primitivist worldview, that all technological development since the Neolithic Revolution has been nothing but bad for humanity and the world, to be ridiculous on the face of it. I mentioned indoor plumbing above, and the modern medical system is another thing that has benefited humanity (well, at least when it’s not driven by profits like here in America). Yes, technology has several bad effects, like war and the harmful effects of social media, but it’s not civilization itself that is to blame here. It is the capitalist perversion of it, seeking human suffering and misery and ecological collapse on a scale we’ve never seen for the sake of the ruling class’s bank accounts.
Finally, an-prims don’t seem to realize (or don’t care) that systemic racism and classism inherent in the capitalist system would mean that marginalized communities would be disproportionally affected by the kind of civilizational collapse that the primitivists advocate for. Indeed, not only has the an-prim movement as a whole faced several accusations of transphobia in the past, but it often seems disturbingly easy to draw a direct line between anarcho-primitivism and eco-fascism, even if, as stated above, an-prims aren’t seeking deliberate genocide or to deny certain ethnic groups resources so the “superior race” can keep them for themselves.
All that said, though, I generally don’t think the an-prims are a significant threat to the world in the same way that fascism as a whole is. Even many an-prims seem to be self-aware that their philosophy is far too extreme even for most leftists and that it has more utility as a critique of late-stage capitalism than a practical alternative to it.
I’m still doggedly in the anarcho-communist camp myself, but I’m by no means dogmatic about it. Anyone who wants to make their own communes based on their own philosophies are free to do with them as they wish. Make it Marxist-Leninist if you wish, or black separatist, or even anarcho-primitivist. I really don’t care. I just care about overthrowing the capitalist system so we can finally be free to make those choices for ourselves.
So that was my first entry in this new series about leftist ideologies. Let me know how well I did, and join me for the next episode in the series. I haven’t decided what the next philosophy I will discuss is yet, although I have been leaning toward Marxism-Leninism. We’ll see about that, but first, Halloween is coming, so I will be delving back into the mysterious world of paranormal triangles for the next blog post. Until then, stay golden, my beautiful watchers!
It was, without a doubt, one of the worst tragedies to happen to the United States since the end of World War II. Twenty years ago, on September 11th, 2001, 19 Islamic extremists, employed by the terrorist organization al-Qaeda, wrested control of four American jet airliners from their pilots and proceeded to cut a swath of destruction that would leave nearly 3,000 innocent Americans dead. Two of the jets slammed into New York City’s iconic Twin Towers at the World Trade Center, both of which soon collapsed. Another jet crashed into the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia. Yet another was presumably headed for a target in Washington D.C. but ended up crashing in a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania after the passengers heroically fought back against their captors. In the aftermath, the U.S. government took the offensive, declaring war on terror that resulted in some successes, not the least of which was the assassination of al-Qaeda’s founder, Osama bin Laden.
That is the official story, but some Americans believe the whole event was a false-flag operation; that is, an operation made to look like it was perpetrated by someone other than the actual perpetrator. In other words, the U.S. government carried out the attacks, not Middle Eastern terrorists. In honor of the twentieth anniversary of the attacks, I would like to take some time to debunk some common myths about that infamous day, mostly from the 9/11 Truth movement but also some myths spread by the U.S. government itself in the wake of the attacks.
First of all, though, I feel it is important to examine what the Truthers think the government’s motives were in murdering its own citizens in such a barbaric manner. According to Monte Cook in his book The Skeptic’s Guide to Conspiracy Theories, “a poll in 2007 indicated that about 5% of Americans believed that the U.S. government was involved with the attacks in some way.” One page on 911truth.org titled “40 Reasons to Doubt the Official Story of 9/11” lists several possible motives, including but not limited to “The Need for a New Pearl Harbor” (the government had been waiting for an excuse to invade the Middle East and achieve “worldwide military hegemony”), “Perpetual War on Terror” (so the government can attack anyone it perceives as an enemy), and “Resource Wars” (so that the government can more easily obtain oil from the rich fields of the Middle East). But as the old saying goes, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and unfortunately, much of the Truthers’ so-called “evidence” simply does not hold up to scrutiny.
1. Flights 11 and 175 were unmanned military drones.
According to the official story, American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into the North Tower at 8:46 a.m., leading to its collapse at 10:28. United Airlines Flight 175 crashed into the South Tower at 9:03, leading to its collapse at 9:59. This led to the deaths of over 2,700 people, including the terrorists and other occupants of the planes. This account is backed up by cockpit recordings, mobile phone calls from passengers, and the simple fact that none of those passengers or crew returned home.
But that hasn’t stopped Truthers from arguing that several photographs of Flight 175 show an anomaly under the base of the right wing that could be construed as a missile, bomb, or piece of equipment consistent with something one might find on an air-refueling tanker. One of these photographs is Rob Howard’s infamous photograph of Flight 175’s final descent toward the South Tower (pictured above).
However, when Popular Mechanics sent the photograph to be analyzed by Ronald Greely, director of the Space Photography Laboratory at Arizona State University, he came away with a much different conclusion. He discovered that the “pod” was actually the right wing faring, a pronounced bulge common to all Boeing 767s which contains the landing gear. It was simply a trick of the sunlight glinting off it that gave it an exaggerated look.
Some other Truthers have seized on statements by witnesses of Flight 175’s crash, perhaps most notably that by FOX employee Marc Birnbach, to claim that there were no windows on the planes that crashed. They also point to video footage that apparently shows that the planes had no windows.
Of course, these claims ignore the fact that a) Birnbach was nowhere near the WTC site when the plane crashed, b) that the video footage only seems to show no windows because of low resolution, and c) we have photographic evidence of windows in the plane wreckage.
2. Flight 93 was shot down.
United Airlines Flight 93 was the last plane to crash that day, slamming upside down into a field that had once been a coal strip mine at 10:03 a.m. The official story was that the passengers fought back against the hijackers, sacrificing themselves to stop the plane from reaching Washington D.C.
But the Truthers have come to believe that inconsistencies in the evidence suggest that Flight 93 was brought down by a heat-seeking missile. For example, they argue that there was no way that one of the plane’s engine fans could have ended up 300 yards south of the crash site unless there was a pre-crash breakup. This ignores the fact that the plane was heading south at the point of impact, meaning that it’s perfectly reasonable to suspect that the force of the impact threw it that far.
Other Truthers have pointed out the presence of wreckage floating in Indian Lake, which they claim should be impossible because a) Indian Lake is six miles from the crash site, b) the plane crashed west southwest of the lake, and c) a cold front moving from south to north was passing through the area, meaning that the wreckage would have had to travel perpendicular to the wind.
The problem is that none of these statements are true. Indian Lake is only 1 1/2 miles away from the crash site, the plane came down to the northwest of the lake, and the wind was blowing in the same direction in which the plane was traveling. Therefore, lightweight debris finding its way to the lake’s surface is perfectly consistent with the official account.
Of course, if Flight 93 was downed by a heat-seeking missile, one must wonder if any other planes were around to fire it. Truthers have pointed to two candidates: a mysterious white jet seen in the area shortly after the crash and a General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon piloted by North Dakota Air Guard Major Rick Gibney. Retired Army Colonel Donn de Grand-Pre made the latter accusation on Alex Jones’ radio show in 2004.
First of all, the white jet was a Dassault Falcon 20 business jet owned by the apparel and footwear company VF Corp. that happened to be in the area at the time and was asked to survey the crash site by the FAA.
As for Lieutenant Colonel (not Major) Rick Gibney, he was indeed flying an F-16 that morning, but he was nowhere near Shanksville. He first traveled from Fargo to Bozeman, Montana, to pick up Ed Jacoby Jr., the director of the New York State Emergency Management Office, and then flew him to Albany so he could coordinate the 17,000 rescue workers engaged in the state’s response to the attacks on the Twin Towers. Jacoby, in particular, had some nasty words for those implicating Gibney in the plane’s crash:
It disgusts me to see this because the public is being misled. More than anything else it disgusts me because it brings up fears. It brings up hopes- it brings up all sorts of feelings, not only to the victims’ families but to all the individuals throughout the country, and the world for that matter. I get angry at the misinformation out there.”
Ed Jacoby Jr., Interview with Popular Mechanics, Feb. 3 2005.
So basically, the theory that Flight 93 was shot down has itself been shot down. Ironic, isn’t it?
3. The military was ordered to stand down.
This myth comes from the Truthers’ lack of comprehension of how the U.S. military could have possibly let these attacks go unimpeded. Indeed, considering the fact that there were no less than 28 Air Force bases within range of the four hijacked flights, it’s no wonder that some conspiracists suspect foul play. The only logical explanation, they say, is that NORAD either issued a stand-down order or deliberately delayed the scrambling of the fighter jets to allow the attacks to proceed.
The problem with this theory is that it assumes that NORAD and Air Traffic Control had systems in place to automatically warn those on the ground of planes going off course. The truth was that there was no such system in place before the events of September 11th, especially since there had been no hijackings in American airspace since 1979. As Major Douglas Martin, public affairs officer of NORAD said, Air Traffic Control “had to pick up the phone and literally dial us.”
Not helping matters was the fact that, except for Flight 175, the transponders on all the planes were turned off by the hijackers, which made it extremely difficult for ATC to track down the missing planes, especially in some of America’s busiest air corridors. Not to mention that NORAD’s radar only looked outside of U.S. airspace for threats (remember: not since 1979).
That should also explain why no military jets intercepted the flights before they crashed, and even if they could actually find the planes, they wouldn’t have reached them in minutes, as conspiracists claim. Take the only NORAD intercept of a civilian plane in the previous decade, for instance. In October 1999, a Learjet belonging to golfer Payne Stewart experienced a cabin decompression, rendering all six passengers and crew unconscious. It took an F-16 intercept about one hour and 22 minutes to reach the derelict plane, mostly because supersonic flight was forbidden on intercepts. The plane eventually crashed in a field in Edmunds County, South Dakota, after it ran out of fuel.
Keep in mind that there were only 14 fighter jets on alert over U.S. airspace on September 11th. Also, keep in mind that the warning time that NORAD got before each flight reached their targets was eight minutes for Flight 11, nothing for Flight 175, three minutes before for Flight 77, and three minutes after for Flight 93. It really shouldn’t be a mystery why the military was so slow to respond.
4. The Twin Towers’ collapse was a controlled demolition.
The reason why the Twin Towers eventually collapsed should seem fairly straightforward. Two large jet airliners loaded with fuel crashed into them, virtually gutting the interiors and starting fires that weakened the structures to the point that they could no longer stand. But conspiracy theorists are convinced that the crashes alone could not have brought the towers down. They insist that the crashes were covering for a controlled demolition project.
One piece of evidence they cite is the extensive damage documented in the lobbies of both Towers shortly after the planes hit, especially by Jules Naudet in his acclaimed documentary 9/11 that came out the following March. At first glance, it doesn’t make sense how impacts on the 94th-98th floor of the North Tower and the 78th-84th floor of the South could wreak havoc on the buildings’ lobbies. But keep in mind that the burning fuel carried by both jets would have inevitably started flowing downward after the initial impacts. Also, the impacts would have most certainly severed elevator cables, leading to several of them plunging all the way down to the ground floor. Indeed, Naudet even saw people on fire in the lobby, which didn’t make it into the final film for obvious reasons.
Conspiracists also insist that the fire couldn’t have brought down the Towers because the melting point of steel (2,750 degrees Fahrenheit) was higher than the highest temperatures recorded in the buildings (1,832 degrees). However, experts agree that the steel frames didn’t need to melt to make the Towers give way; they just had to lose their strength. At 1,832 degrees, the steel in the frames lost 90% of its strength, which wasn’t helped by the fact that the impact of the jets likely blasted the fireproofing insulation off the beams.
Other conspiracists point to strange puffs of debris being ejected from the Towers as they collapsed, like in the above photo. They insist that only explosive devices, not the force of the collapsing buildings, could have created those puffs. However, as Popular Mechanics points out, “Like all office buildings, the WTC Towers contained a huge volume of air. As they pancaked, all that air, along with concrete and other debris pulverized by the force of the collapse, were ejected with enormous energy.”
Yet another piece of evidence cited by conspiracists is the presence of iron-rich spheres found among the dust clouds kicked up by the collapse. They claim that these spheres could only have been produced by temperatures hotter than a typical office fire, such as a thermite charge explosion. However, other engineers have pointed out that thermite reacts far too slow to be a practical tool in building demolition. Also, the type of iron-rich spheres found in the dust of the Towers can be produced by temperatures much lower than Truthers claim.
5. WTC 7 is the smoking gun for the demolition theory.
A little-known fact about the World Trade Center complex was that it didn’t just consist of the Twin Towers. There were seven buildings at the WTC site, all of which were destroyed or damaged beyond repair by the attacks. WTC 7, in particular, interests conspiracists because of how it collapsed without the aid of burning jet fuel. Indeed, it’s not unusual to see Truthers claiming its collapse as the smoking gun for their controlled demolition theory.
The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) begs to differ: “…[T]here was, in fact, physical damage to the south face of building 7. On about a third of the face to the center and to the bottom-approximately 10 stories- about 25% of the depth of the building was scooped out.” The problem was exacerbated by an unusual design which caused columns and trusses near the damaged areas to support an impossibly large amount of weight. And if that wasn’t bad enough, a fire on the fifth floor burned for seven hours until the building collapsed at 5:21 p.m., fed by diesel fuel that many tenants in the building used for their generators.
Perhaps Popular Mechanics puts it best: “WTC 7 might have withstood the physical damage it received or the fire that burned for hours, but those combined factors- along with the building’s unusual construction- were enough to set off a chain reaction collapse.”
6. The fact that no steel-framed building had ever collapsed due to fire proves demolition was involved.
There are two main reasons why this argument doesn’t hold up. First of all, the argument that no steel-framed high-rises have ever collapsed due to fire is simply not true. There have been plenty of steel-framed buildings that have collapsed due to fire, even before 9/11. Some examples, in chronological order, include:
1967: The heavily steel-constructed McCormick Place exhibition hall collapsed only 30 minutes after a small electrical fire broke out.
February 1991: Firefighters evacuated the 38-story One Meridian Plaza in Philadelphia due to fear that the fire compromised the structure. While it did not collapse, it was still written off as a total loss and remained abandoned until it was demolished in 1998. Three firefighters died of smoke inhalation.
December 20, 1991: Four firefighters are killed when part of a floor from a burning unprotected steel-frame building in Brackenridge, Pennsylvania, collapses on top of them.
May 10, 1993: The Kader Toy Factory fire in the Sam Phran district of Thailand’s Nakhon Pathom province claims 188 lives and injures a further 469, thus making it the worst industrial factory fire in history. The disaster is exacerbated by the fact that the doors were locked and fire escapes not even built, but by the fact that the steel frames holding up the facilities’ three buildings were uninsulated, causing one of them to collapse.
January 28, 1997: The state-of-the-art Sight and Sound Theater in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, collapsed due to fire despite having similar fireproofing insulation to the Twin Towers, albeit newer and higher quality. And yet, it still managed to be knocked off the steel beams by normal renovation work. It makes you wonder how it would have fared against a crashing 767, doesn’t it?
The second reason why this argument doesn’t hold up is that the conspiracists aren’t taking certain abnormalities of the Twin Towers’ construction into account. They assume that the Towers were built with a steel web like most steel-framed buildings.
The Twin Towers were instead built with what is called a “tube within a tube” design, with most of its steel web built into the skin and around a central core to make more room for office space.
This just goes to show the obvious: the Twin Towers weren’t constructed like other steel-framed buildings, so it’s not reasonable to assume that they would behave like other steel-framed buildings given the unique factors that led up to their collapse. Indeed, none of the other buildings had their fireproofing insulation sheared off by an errant Boeing 767, as well as had its vertical load-bearing columns removed in such a violent manner.
7. The Pentagon was hit by a satillite-guided missile.
American Airlines Flight 77 smashed into the first floor of the Pentagon’s west side at 9:37 a.m. 189 people were killed as a result; 64 on the plane and 125 in the building itself. There are dozens of witness testimonies and well-publicized security footage showing a passenger plane crashing into the Pentagon. But again, the Truthers insist on a different set of events, mainly that a radar-guided missile hit the Pentagon.
One thing that the conspiracists seem to have trouble wrapping their heads around is the fact that the holes left by the crashing aircraft seem to be way too small for a Boeing 757. For example, the hole in the exterior wall was 75 feet wide, which seems awfully small for a plane with a 155-foot wingspan. A hole left in Ring C seemed even smaller, at only 16 feet across.
Several experts justifiably ask if the conspiracists expected the plane to leave an “impact silhouette,” which is TV Tropes.com’s name for the cartoon trope involving a character or object passing through a solid leaving a perforation shaped exactly like that character or object.
Indeed, given that the holes left by the planes that hit the Twin Towers were shaped like planes, wings and all, you might be forgiven for seeing this as a logical complaint… until you factor in that a) the plane had struck the ground before impact and thus had reduced its speed, b) one wing had been partially severed by hitting the ground, and c) unlike the Towers, the Pentagon’s concrete walls are specifically designed to withstand being shelled at point-blank range by enemy battleships, meaning the wings likely just disintegrated on impact.
Meanwhile, the fuselage “flowed into the structure in a state closer to liquid than a solid mass,” as Popular Mechanics puts it. This can help explain the 12 ft. (not 16 ft.) hole in ring C; it wasn’t made by the whole fuselage, merely a piece of the plane’s landing gear.
Conspiracists are also puzzled about how some windows even right above the impact point remained intact even though they’re part of a military facility and were obviously designed to be blast resistant. Indeed, if they were still intact after an outside impact from a derelict Boeing 757, that means they were doing exactly what they were designed to do.
Finally, for any Truther who insists that there was no plane wreckage found at the site, take the testimony of blast expert Allyn E. Kilsheimer, the first structural engineer to arrive at the crash site to coordinate the emergency response:
It was absolutely a plane and I’ll tell you why. I saw the marks of the plane wing on the face of the building. I picked up parts of the plane with airline markings on them. I held in my hand the tail section of the plane, and I found the black box. I held parts of uniforms of the crew members in my hands, including body parts. Okay?
Allyn E. Kilsheimer, CEO of KCE Structural Engineers PC, Washington D.C.
Or if you want a more concrete example, try this photograph on for size:
8. Insider traders knew in advance.
This is admittedly going to be tricky for me to comment on since, at least for me, trying to understand the stock market is like trying to understand how people think Donald Trump was in any way qualified to be President of the United States. Snopes.com summarizes the gist of the theory like this: “In the days just prior to the September 11 attacks, large quantities of stock in United and American Airlines were traded by persons with foreknowledge of the upcoming 9/11 attacks.”
Market analysts have indeed confirmed that unusual trading activity involving the two airlines was noted in the month before the attacks, with put and call options being 25 to 100 times normal. Bloomberg’s electronic trading system also registered the options volume of UAL (United Airlines’ parent company) as 36% higher than normal. These abnormalities reached their highest spike on September 6th, when the number of options on UAL jumped from 27 the previous day to 2,000. And if that wasn’t weird enough, the investment firms Merryl Lynch and Morgan Stanley, which were significantly damaged by the attack, experienced a downturn in value.
But is this necessarily evidence of foul play? According to investigators, no. Per the 9/11 Commission’s official report:
…[F]urther investigation has proved that the trading had no connection with 9/11. A single U.S. based institutional investor with no concievable ties to al-Qaeda purchased 95% of the UAL puts on September 6 as part of a trading strategy that also included buying 115,000 shares of American on September 10. Similarly, much of the seemingly suspicious trading in American on September 10 was traced to a specific U.S. based options trading newsletter, faxed to its subscribers on Sunday, September 9, which recommended these trades.
The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States
Once again, I must admit, I don’t know jack about how the stock market works, so I have no way of checking whether this is true. But considering that most of what the 9/11 Commission seems to be verified by what I’ve debunked so far, I’m tending to think they may know what they’re talking about here as well.
9. Israeli employees knew in advance.
Here’s where the conspiracy theories take an uncomfortable turn into anti-Semitic territory. Once again, Snopes.com summarizes the basic gist of this theory: “Four thousand Israeli employed by companies housed in the World Trade Center stayed home on 9/11, warned in advance of the impending attack on the WTC.”
This rumor apparently started with a September 12th report from the Israel-based newspaper The Jerusalem Post commenting on how there were 4,000 Israelis believed to be in the area of the WTC and the Pentagon around the time of the attacks. Somehow, Syria’s state-owned Al Thawra newspaper spun that into the “4,000 Israelis mysteriously failed to show up for work” claim as little as 3 days after the attack. The Lebanon-based television news station al-Manar soon followed suit.
However, if Israel really was that bent on making sure no Jews died due to terrorist attacks it knew in advance about, they did a rather poor job. Estimates of the number of Jews who died in the World Trade Center run from as low as 270 to as high as 400. At least five have been confirmed to have been Israeli citizens, and at least one Manhattan synagogue reported to have lost six members. It just goes to show that the 9/11 attacks affected everyone equally. Be they Christian, Muslim, Jew, atheist, or agnostic, no person of any faith (or lack thereof) was spared the wrath of the hijackers that day.
10. The government had advance knowledge of the attack but chose not to act on it.
Perhaps one of the more reasonable conspiracies to come out of the Truther movement is the theory that the government didn’t directly perpetrate the attacks, but they knew the attacks were coming and didn’t do anything about it. It’s very similar to the conspiracy that Franklin Roosevelt’s administration knew in advance that the Japanese would attack Pearl Harbor but chose not to act because they wanted to join World War II.
Indeed, Wikipedia lists several potential warnings about the possibility of terrorists using planes as missiles that the government received in the years before 9/11. A lot of conspiracists are baffled as to why the Bojinka plot didn’t ring any alarm bells. For those who are curious, the Bojinka plot was another planned al-Qaeda escapade involving planes set to go forward in January 1995. The plan was to assassinate Pope John Paul II, destroy 11 airliners en route from America to Asia to shut down air travel and crash a plane into CIA headquarters in Fairfax County, Virginia. Fortunately, the plan was foiled by an inopportune chemical fire drawing the attention of the Philippine National Police, but not before one of its architects, Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, was able to escape and help plan the 9/11 attacks.
Indeed, that seems like a major oversight, especially in the eyes of the conspiracists. However, while this may just be my inner anarchist talking again, I think these people are vastly overestimating the competence of the U.S. government, as well as its ability to keep a secret. Former National Security Advisor Sandy Berger testified that “We heard of the idea of planes being used as weapons, but I don’t recall being presented with any specific threat information about an attack of this nature, or highlighting this threat, or indicating that it was more likely than any other.” NORAD, for its part, reported that “The threat of terrorists hijacking commercial airliners within the United States and using them as guided missiles was not recognized by NORAD before 9/11.”
Perhaps it would be wise for conspiracy theorists to keep Hanlon’s Razor in mind before they go accusing the government of hiding things: “Do not attribute to malice that which can be easily explained by stupidity.”
But still, out of all the different ways that we can debunk the conspiracies of the 9/11 Truth movement, I don’t think any is more devastating than the sheer number of people who would have to be sworn to secrecy to stop the truth from coming out. As this writing, the list includes President Bush’s administration, the NYC firefighters, the NYPD, the courts, the NYC Port Authority, everyone who works at the Pentagon, the more than 1,600 widows and widowers of 9/11, the media, the photographers, Popular Mechanics, PBS Nova, the NIST, then New York Governor George Pataki, the NYC scrapyards, every single structural engineer in the world, the CIA, FBI, FEMA, NORAD, the FAA, the American Society of Civil Engineers, American Airlines, United Airlines, every airport that the planes took off from…
Yeah, I think you get the idea. I think Jason Pargin, writing about the Truther movement for Cracked.com, put it best when he wrote that “Covering this [controlled demolition of the Twin towers] up would be like trying to keep the atomic bomb a secret after Hiroshima.” He especially questions the common Truther narrative that everyone in on the conspiracy could possibly be paid enough to keep quiet about the whole affair, especially the NYC fire department who, need I remind you, lost 343 firefighters in the attacks.
Indeed, when you really examine the implications of the Truther conspiracists, it really seems that they think everyone except them is willing to take any amount of money to cover up a deadly false-flag operation and subsequent government cover-up. It really makes them seem to have a view of humanity as a whole so cynical that it would make even Thomas Hobbes go, “Dude, that’s messed up!”
Indeed, when viewed through that light, it’s probably easy to see how the 9/11 Truth movement may have led to the proliferation of even darker conspiracy theories like the QAnon movement. Pargin even mentions in the Cracked article how the infamous Truther documentary Loose Change was funded by a man who “says the world is run by a massive Satanic cult that enslaves prominent politicians by delivering kidnapped boys for them to molest and then blackmailing them about it later.” Did I mention this article was written in 2007?
Perhaps the most succinct summary of everything wrong with the 9/11 Truth movement comes from this 2006 interview with Noam Chomsky:
I think the Bush administration would have to be utterly insane to try anything like what is alleged, for their own narrow interests, and do not think that serious evidence has been provided to support claims about actions that would not only be outlandish, but that would have no remote historical parallel.
Noam Chomsky, 2007, What We Say Goes, Allen & Unwin, New Zealand
He even speculated that the government itself might be secretly fueling the conspiracy theories to draw attention away from more pressing humanitarian concerns. What sort of humanitarian concerns, you may ask? To answer that question, let us examine another 9/11 related myth, one that we know for sure the government has been pushing for years:
Bonus Myth: The terrorists did it because they hate our freedom.
Americans are asking, “Why do they hate us?” They hate what we see here right in this chamber- a democratically elected government. Their leaders are self-appointed. They hate our freedoms- our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other.
President George W. Bush, Address to a Joint Session of Congress and the American People, September 20, 2001
It certainly is a nice thought that Bush is expressing here- that the terrorists attacked us simply because we’re the good guys. But it’s a blatant lie that relies on us believing that the real world operates on fantasy novel “black and white morality.” But, as even CIA operative Michael Scheuer (leader of the agency’s bin Laden unit) was quick to admit:
Bin Laden has been precise in telling America the reasons he is waging war on us. None of the reasons have anything to do with our freedom, liberty, and democracy, but everything to do with U.S. policies and actions in the Middle East.
Michael Scheuer, quoted in Lies My Teacher Told Me by James W. Loewen
In a 1998 fatwa titled “Jihad Against Jews and Crusaders,” bin Laden listed three main grievances against the United States. First, he criticized the U.S. occupation of the Arabian Peninsula, the Muslim holy land. Second, he criticized its embargos against Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq. Third, he criticized America’s continued support of the state of Israel in the face of its continued persecution of the Palestinian people.
Let me make something explicitly clear here: I am not saying that the September 11th attacks were in any way morally justifiable. Bin Laden and his recruits willingly murdered innocent Americans who had nothing to do with his people’s oppression in the course of committing these attacks. Plus, his characterization of all Jews as morally responsible for Palestinian oppression rather than just the Israeli government is wildly anti-Semitic and wrong on so many levels.
But that doesn’t mean he wasn’t right about the United States’ culpability in horrific crimes of imperialism in the Middle East. The U.S. has been ruining democracy overseas ever since the Age of Imperialism, as has been documented as early as 1935’s War is a Racket, where former Marine Corps Major General Smedley Butler recalls his services in Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean, and China helping American corporations secure profits in foreign markets through the art of war. Indeed, September 11th is also the anniversary of the fall of Salvador Allende’s government in Chile in 1973, engineered by the CIA to install the murderous right-wing junta of Augusto Pinochet, who was more amenable to U.S. corporate interests. It happened in the Middle East, too, most infamously when the U.S. and U.K. teamed up to oust Iranian prime minister Mohammad Mosaddegh after he moved to nationalize Iran’s oil fields in 1953.
And to whoever 9/11 Truthers who may still be reading this, I want to ask you: Why do you think the U.S. would need to engineer 9/11 to justify blowing up brown kids overseas? When has the United States ever needed an excuse like that to maim and kill nonwhites? Do you forget that this country was literally built on the backs of African slaves? Do you forget that America only has as much land as it does because we slaughtered the indigenous populations to get it? Do you forget that these peoples are still overwhelmingly kept in poverty because we refuse to acknowledge that the racist ideas of our forefathers are still enshrined in our laws and institutions, and our lionized view of them means we are still, after two and a half centuries, unwilling to face up to this fact?
To this, I have only one thing to say, my friends.
And that’s the end of this article. I actually based it on an essay I wrote for a high school English class in May of 2012. It was very loosely based, though; for instance, one of the sources I cited in the original was a book called 48 Liberal Lies About America. It was written long before I managed to extricate myself from the philosophical cul-de-sac that is American neoconservatism, so don’t judge me!
As for the sources of this article, those include:
Jason Padgin’s Cracked article “Was 9/11 an Inside Job?” which focuses on the sheer lunacy of the conspiracy theories (be warned, though: the writer is a bit cavalier with the word “retard.” Did I mention this article was written in 2007?).
The website Debunking911.com, which has sadly gone defunct in the nine years since I wrote the original essay.
www.911truth.org, which was my main resource for the Truther side of the argument.
In addition to calling myself an anarcho-communist, I’ve also come to think of myself lately as a “recovering conservative.” My relationship with anthropogenic climate change is a big reason why. My family used to accept the narrative that recent warming trends resulted from humanity’s use of fossil fuels pretty easily. But then around November 2009, the email server at the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit was hacked, leaking several emails that seemed to incriminate the scientists involved as deliberately fudging data to make the warming trend seem worse than it actually was. I’m not sure whether my Dad had had doubts before this story leaked or whether it was the story that planted the seeds in the first place. Either way, my family, my dad and grandfather, in particular, became strident climate change deniers.
I followed suit for several years afterward. But toward the second half of my college tenure, I began to see that I had been grossly misled. I learned that the so-called “Climategate” emails had been totally taken out of context, that the Medieval Warm Period wasn’t really that warm at all, and that the real reason I didn’t believe in global warming was because the Koch Brothers didn’t want me to believe.
So allow me to present some of the most popular claims conservatives make to “debunk” anthropogenic climate change and show you how the science proves them wrong in ten easy points. Perhaps the best place to start would be the one that put me on this journey in the first place…
1. Climategate proved that the scientists were frauds.
As stated above, the scandal occurred in November of 2009 when the servers of the C.R.U. at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England were hacked. The result was over 1,000 emails and 2,000 scientific documents being released to the public. The denial crowd took certain quotes out of context to implicate leading climate scientists, including Dr. Michael E. Mann…
…of deliberately suppressing data that conflicted with the scientific consensus. One particular favorite of the denial crowd was this quote from an email by fellow scientist Phil Jones:
I’ve just completed Mike’s nature trick of adding in the real temps to each series from the last 20 years [1981 onward] and from 1961 for Keith’s to hide the decline.”
Phil Jones, C.R.U. Director
What the deniers failed to realize, however, was that Jones was not referring to a decline in temperature, but what is known to science as the “divergence problem.” This refers to the fact that temperature estimations gathered from tree rings are reliable until around 1960 when they diverge wildly. Some deniers have latched onto this to discredit the so-called “hockey stick” graphs that show unprecedented warming in the 20th century. However, actual scientists widely agree that the divergence problem is also anthropogenic in nature since it is a phenomenon unique to the last few decades.
Another quote widely cited by deniers is this one from Kevin Trenberth:
The fact is that we can’t account for the lack of warming at the moment, and it is a travesty we can’t.
Trenberth isn’t admitting that the warming trend has stopped. He is lamenting how the climate observation systems cannot comprehensively track all energy flowing through the climate system, leading to cases where surface temperatures sometimes show short cooling trends.
Of course, despite the deniers ranting and raving about how these scientists should be sacked for their lies and duplicity, eight separate committees investigating the case could find absolutely no evidence of fraud or misconduct. Still, like many other deniers, my family didn’t realize the truth that science is fucking complicated, and the damage was done.
2. Scientists were worried about global cooling in the 70’s.
That’s certainly what the newspapers at the time say they did, but I’m sure we’re all aware of the news media’s penchant for sensationalism.
The global cooling scare largely came from many temperature readings from the three decades before the 1970s that suggested a cooling trend. Some scientists ended up jumping the gun and started warning that our planet’s 10,000 year-long inter-glacial period might be ending, and thus we were in for a new ice age.
By around 1980, however, reexaminations of the data showed that the cooling trend was only true in parts of the Northern Hemisphere and that global temperature trends had actually held steady throughout that period. Of course, if one looks at all the scientific studies on climate done when the cooling scare was at its height, we see that there were still far more scientists worried about warming.
But sadly, the news media couldn’t help themselves, and they blew the “global cooling” story out of proportion. Thus, when the global warming phenomenon became more mainstream in the late 80s, it’s not hard to see why so many people saw the scientists contradicting themselves and decided they didn’t know what they were talking about. Couple that with oil companies like Exxon and Koch Industries leading denial campaigns, and we have the endlessly frustrating situation we find ourselves embroiled in today.
3. CO2 lags behind temperature.
I think I’ll let Republican Representative Joe Barton explain the denier narrative here:
An article in Science magazine illustrated that a rise in carbon did not precede a rise in temperatures but actually lagged behind temperature rises by 200 to 1000 years. A rise in carbon dioxide levels could not have caused a rise in temperature if it followed the temperature.
Joe Barton (R-Texas (1985-2019)
Scientists do concede the ‘lagging’ point. However, they are also quick to point out that people like Barton are not telling the whole story. The warming trends back then were initiated by slight changes in the way the Earth orbits around the Sun. With more sunlight hitting Earth, the planet starts to warm up. As it warms, more CO2 is released into the atmosphere. And of course, more CO2 means higher rises in temperature. This is an important and perfectly natural state of affairs since it is necessary for the planet to transition out of glacial periods and into interglacial periods.
So yes, CO2 was not the cause of those particular warming spells. No, that does not mean that CO2 is not the cause of this particular warming trend. And no, that does not mean the sun is causing us to warm up now.
Speaking of the sun causing global warming…
4. It’s the sunspots, stupid.
This is my dad’s current go-to explanation for what is causing the warming trend. The last time I challenged him on this, he showed me this graph:
He made sure to highlight the Dalton Minimum as well, noting how temperatures were at lower than average levels during that period.
However, you may notice that the graph ends in the year 2000. What went on with the sunspots after that point? SkepticalScience.com has the answer:
Seem pretty self-explanatory to me. Over the last 35 years, the Earth’s temperature and solar activity have actually diverged. If the sun was indeed the main cause of Earth’s temperature, we should have seen a cooling trend between 2000 and 2008. But we didn’t. Sorry, deniers, but you’re gonna have to do better than that.
Also, the coldest part of the Dalton Minimum, the Year Without a Summer, was directly connected with the eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia in 1815, but that’s neither here nor there.
5. It’s the Urban Heat Island effect, stupid.
The Urban Heat Island effect, or U.H.I., is a phenomenon where areas with a more highly concentrated human population are slightly warmer than rural areas. This is mainly caused by the fact that buildings significantly modify the original land surface, as well as waste heat from things like internal combustion engines and air conditioners.
Given the rapid growth of urban environments after the Industrial Revolution, it’s not hard to see why some may conclude that it is the extra heat produced by these cities that may contribute to warming trends. However, scientists have been careful to include data from stations located far away from human activity. Take this graph gathered from stations in China, for instance:
As you can see, both urban and rural observation stations have recorded almost identical rises in temperature over the last three decades. This is very significant, as China has probably had the most rapid urban growth over the last few decades. If that doesn’t convince you, take a look at this graph, courtesy of NASA:
As you can see, the highest rises in temperature have mainly occurred in the Arctic regions and Siberia, which isn’t where most urbanization is occurring nowadays. So yeah, not really convinced by this one either.
6. Polar ice caps/glaciers are recovering.
Okay, there’s a lot to unpack with this one, so I’ll split it into three sections, dealing with Antarctica, the Arctic, and glaciers, respectively.
Deniers have seized on certain scientific articles suggesting that Antarctica is gaining ice to discredit the warming narrative. What these deniers don’t realize, however, is that these articles are referring to sea ice, not land ice.
This is significant because sea ice has a very negligible effect on rising sea levels, whereas land ice has a very significant effect. Scientists believe that rising sea ice levels are due to a combination of the hole in the ozone layer closing and an increasing rate of meltwater from land ice causing the Southern Ocean to cool.
Yes, you heard, right. More sea ice around Antarctica means less land ice on the continent. Less land ice means less Florida to go around. Got it? Good! Moving on.
Meanwhile, Greenland is not gaining ice, as some anecdotal evidence claims, but is, in fact, losing it at seven times the rate it was thirty years ago. True, the melting is mostly limited to coastal regions around the southern part of the island (for now at least), but there is no evidence that the melting will stop as the ice sheet shrinks inland.
As for Arctic sea ice, we also have two different ways of talking about it: first, how far it spreads (aka extent), and second, how thick it is (aka volume). One also has to consider multi-year ice, which has accumulated over time and is thus much thicker than first-year ice. No matter which way you look at it, though, it is clear that sea ice in the Arctic is vanishing, and very rapidly at that.
Finally, let’s discuss the myth that glaciers have gained ice for the first time in 250 years, according to some deniers. While it certainly is true that some glaciers have gained ice in recent years (as in southwestern Norway in the 90s), these are only because of local weather conditions, like increased snowfall. This in no way disproves the overall trend of glaciers melting all over the world.
If you would like a less abstract representation of the shrinking glaciers, take a gander at these photos of glaciers in my home country’s Glacier National Park:
More like Glacier-less National Park, am I right?
7. 500/31,000 scientists have refuted the consensus.
Now and again, certain conservative news sites will break stories claiming to have found enough peer-reviewed scientific papers to help shatter the so-called consensus on climate change. For example, the now-defunct American Conservative Daily website claimed in 2007 that it had more than 500 scientific papers that refuted anthropogenic climate change. Of course, close scrutiny revealed that of the ones that actually did do such a thing (which were few and far between), all of them simply repeated myths that had long since been debunked, like the aformentioned sunspot connection.
Of course, 500 is nothing compared to the thirty-one thousand who allegedly signed the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine (O.I.S.M.) Petition compiled by Oregon State Representative Art Robinson in opposition to the Kyoto Protocol in 1997. The petition stated in part that “there is no convincing scientific evidence that human release of carbon dioxide will, in the foreseeable future, cause catastrophic heating of the Earth’s atmosphere.”
And sure, 31,000 sounds like a lot, but there are several issues with the petition:
The petition had a very lax verification process, allowing pranksters to add Star Wars characters, a member of the Spice Girls, and even Charles Darwin to the list.
Petition cards were only sent to U.S. citizens, and 31,000 equates to only around 0.3 percent of all science graduates in the entire U.S.
The organizers never revealed how many people they canvassed, thus making the response rate impossible to determine.
They also never revealed their sampling methodology, a glaring omission since scientists tend to be sticklers about being transparent in gathering data (and rightly so).
O.I.S.M. is not a real scientific institute; Robinson founded it as a 501 (c)(3) non-profit in 1980.
8. The Medieval Warm Period was warmer.
This argument is one that my grandfather in particular is very fond of. Any time the subject of climate change or global warming pops up, you can almost always expect some variation of the following to come out of his mouth:
What really gets me is that the world was warmer than this during the Middle Ages, and the world didn’t go to hell then.
For those who aren’t aware, the Medieval Warm Period was a period of time in Europe that lasted from 800-1400 CE, where temperatures were warmer than today. This allowed the colonization of Greenland and North America by the Vikings and increased agricultural production in Northern Europe.
However, this was not the case in all parts of the world during that period. While some other areas of the world also showed higher temperatures during that period (China and parts of North America, for instance), other areas, particularly the tropical Pacific, showed cooler temperatures. If one was to even out all the temperature readings across the globe during that period, we get an average temperature roughly equivalent to what it was in the 1950s.
So, yeah. That one’s off the table.
9. Nature produces more CO2 than man.
The oceans contain 37,400 billion tons (GT) of suspended carbon; land biomass has 2000-3000 GT. The atpmosphere [sic] contains 720 billion tons of CO2 and humans contribute only 6 GT additional load to this balance. The oceans, land, and atpmosphere [again, sic] exchange CO2 continuously so the additional load by humans is incredibly small. A small shift in the balance between oceans and air would cause a CO2 much more severe rise than anything we could produce.
Jeff Id on noconsensus.wordpress.com
If one was to get past the rather poor grammar on Jeff’s comments here, you might think he has a point here. After all, six additional gigatons of CO2 isn’t so bad, right? Right?
But here’s a better question: Where does all that extra CO2 go when it gets in the atmosphere? The I.P.C.C. estimates that about 40% gets absorbed into the ocean and plant life, but the rest just hangs around in the atmosphere, contributing to the greenhouse effect. Sure, 6 additional GT’s of CO2 might not seem like much, but if Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life has taught us anything, sometimes it only takes a wafer-thin mint for the whole system to go code Chernobyl.
10. Baby, it’s cold outside.
Okay, now this argument is really fucking stupid. What the hell does one cold day in the Adirondacks region of New York have to do with climate change? It’s local weather patterns versus global climate patterns! One snowy day in New York or Australia or Washington D.C. or wherever the fuck else does not disprove the global warming trend that’s been going on for over half a fucking century now!
Sorry, I got a little tense there for a second. Let me end this with a meme to lighten the mood.
In the end, though, I think the biggest reason why I don’t buy into climate change denialism is simply because of Occam’s razor. Maybe it’s just because I have a really optimistic view of human nature, but I fail to see why scientists would raise such a big stink about anthropogenic climate change unless the data shows that it’s actually happening. Think about it: if all the CO2 we pumped in the air really didn’t affect temperature, then no one would care about what they were pumping into the atmosphere in the first place. We probably wouldn’t have even heard of renewable energy if that was the case.
Not only that, but the Pope, the leaders of Fortune 500 companies, every other government in the developed world, and even the goddamned U.S. military seems to agree with them. I think the only way you could dismiss those kinds of voices is if you believe that our society is becoming something like Mike Judge’s Idiocracy. Fortunately, I don’t.
The facts are in. The only provable hypothesis to the question of “What would happen if we pumped a whole bunch of extra CO2 into the atmosphere?” is anthropogenic climate change. We need to act on this information now before it’s too late.
Much love and appreciation to the hardworking folks over at SkepticalScience.com for supplying all of the scientific data for this article. Remember, SkepticalScience.com, for all your denialism debunking needs.
There is probably no political philosophy in history that has been so thoroughly and completely misunderstood as anarchism. As with virtually every leftist philosophy, this is especially true in America. Ask any average Joe in my home country what anarchism is and what its adherents believe. Chances are that the answer will be something like this:
Basically, a bunch of people who have no real beliefs besides 1) total abolishment of all government and 2) everyone being free to do whatever the hell they want free from consequences.
Of course, it’s nowhere near as simple as that. As I have discovered the past several months, anarchism is actually a vibrant philosophy with very sophisticated ways of operating a socialist society that doesn’t suffer the centralized bureaucracies of places like Soviet Russia. Indeed, I have come to believe that this “libertarian socialism,” as some call it, might be the only way forward as capitalism slowly begins to collapse under its own weight. But first, a little of my personal history.
My Political History (Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Support Socialism)
Back in the years when I was still, as my grandfather calls it, a “brain-dead teenager,” I used to think that Glenn Beck was one of the greatest men who ever lived. He exposed me to shocking revelations about people like Barack Obama, George Soros, and Van Jones who were ruining our country with lies about global warming, systemic racism, and the need to redistribute wealth so they could undermine American freedoms. I loved tuning in every weekday at 5 to watch his entertaining deconstructions of everything that was consuming America from within like a gangrenous cancer. I even borrowed his novel The Overton Window as soon as it made its way to my local library. It seemed I was well on my way to becoming a full red-blooded Trump-supporting constitutional conservative like my father and his father before.
But then Beck left his daily show on Fox News in June of 2011, and I didn’t follow him onto the Internet where he continued his show. I did follow his online newspaper The Blaze for a little while, but I didn’t really know where to watch his new show, so I just drifted apart from him. I stopped paying attention to politics except whenever Dad ranted about something Obama did that pissed him off. Then I rediscovered Watership Down during my senior year of high school and decided to dedicate my following college tenure to honing my writing talents. Throughout much of my college tenure, I kept my center-right beliefs, safe in the knowledge that America would always remain the greatest country in the world.
Then everything changed when the MAGA nation attacked.
I didn’t leap to full-blown leftism immediately upon Trump’s election. It was a rather gradual process that didn’t complete itself until about a year after I graduated. I spent a rather large part of this period as a “social liberal, fiscal conservative” (i.e., right-wing libertarian) because while I found pretty much all conservative views on social issues like abortion, drug policy, criminal justice, and LGBTQ+ rights to be morally repugnant, I was still under the impression that the only economic alternative to capitalism was Soviet-style communism.
However, my pathological need to hear some of my favorite personalities on YouTube dunk on Trump eventually led me to the so-called “Breadtube” or “Lefttube” creators, who began introducing me to left-leaning philosophies that differed from the Soviet dystopia that Glenn Beck warned me that all leftists wanted to turn the U.S. into. The turning point for me came when Leon Thomas of Renegade Cut recommended a book called After Capitalism on a comment to one of his videos. Although he didn’t really specify which one he was talking about, I ended up choosing the one authored by Dada Mahesvarananda, which blew me away. And it’s all been downhill since.
But enough about me. Let’s actually talk about what anarchism is.
Why Anarchists Believe the Current System Blows
In contrast to its chaotic public perception, anarchism is really libertarian socialism, as opposed to the authoritarian socialist systems of places like Soviet Russia, Maoist China, and present-day North Korea. Whereas those places pretend to be collectivist societies while placing all economic and political decisions in a governing elite’s hands, anarchism proposes to place trust in the individual to make those decisions. You know, what American libertarianism pretends to do while actually handing power over to ruthless multinational corporations whose CEOs take all the profits for themselves while underpaying their workers and taking every loophole they can to avoid paying taxes?
“But how exactly do you anarchists propose to do that?” you might ask skeptically.
An anarchist society at its core rejects unjust hierarchies like the ones that have formed under capitalism. In their view, capitalism is inherently unjust because it naturally leads to a tiny number of people gathering an obscenely large amount of wealth.
Conservatives will argue that all that wealth is justified because they believe that more money in the rich’s hands means more money to invest in new business ideas. I remember Glenn Beck in particular (in his book Arguing withIdiots) comparing it to a mountain where water trickles down from the snowy top to sustain people’s villages below. Pretty nice metaphor, Glenn, but what happens when the rich decide to dam up that water so they can store it in tax havens and gamble it in the stock market instead of, you know, actually paying their workers?!
Seriously, what’s what the rich people of this world are. They’re like Immortan Joe from Max Max: Fury Road.
And do you know what all that money buys? Politicians, who will do whatever you want for all those sweet, sweet campaign donations. Want to build an oil pipeline that cuts through Native American land? Boom, done! Want to stop an uppity leftist political party from undermining your business prospects in a foreign country? Send in the military! Want to convince people that anthropogenic climate change is a hoax, despite overwhelming scientific evidence to the contrary? You literally have all the money in the world! What the hell is stopping you?
Speaking of which, environmental devastation is also an inevitable consequence of a system like capitalism that is constantly seeking infinite growth in a finite system. The big multinationals are either too lazy or too uncaring to move away from oil and other nonrenewable resources because they have become increasingly averse to risk. That’s a big reason why they invest money in the stock market instead of new business ventures: most new businesses end up failing, so why risk losing money on something that probably won’t go anywhere?
All of this adds up to pretty much everything that’s wrong with the world right now. Politicians are spending massive amounts of money on military interventions to satisfy their corporate backers’ whims. All that money ($721.5 billion, last time I checked) adds to our national debt ($25 trillion, last time I checked), which undermines our economic stability. Meanwhile, Congress passes tax cuts on the wealthiest individuals so they can steal more money from people who actually need it.
Poverty grows, and with it, crime. And instead of actually fixing the social problems that led to that increase in crime in the first place, America takes the easy way out by throwing them all in prison. And since prisons in this country are shitholes, they do not rehabilitate criminals. They just make them more violent and antisocial. Plus, America has a deeply racist past that it has failed to face up to time and time again, so about 60% of the male prison population consists of black and Hispanic men.
And the right wonders why we want a change.
How Anarchism Proposes to Fix It
But enough about how capitalism sucks. Why don’t we answer the real question here that I intended to answer in the last section but then got sidetracked by my anti-capitalist screed, which is this: What do anarchists believe is the best system to replace it?
That is, admittedly, kind of a tricky question for two reasons. The first is that no true anarchist society has managed to survive for a long period of time. This isn’t because of any flaws in the systems themselves. Usually, it’s because an outside power came along and destroyed it. Probably the most famous anarchist society was founded in Catalonia, Spain, during the Spanish Civil War. That one only lasted three years before the fascist government of Francisco Franco and Soviet volunteers sent by Josef Stalin crushed it in February 1939.
The Bolshevik revolutionaries also dismantled several worker-owned collectives in Russia in the wake of the 1917 overthrow of Nicholas II, including the Makhnovia Free Territory in Ukraine because it would not submit to the U.S.S.R.’s authoritarian regime. French troops also crushed the famous Paris Commune of 1871 in May of that year. Many indigenous tribes around the world also operated on what could be described in hindsight as anarchist principles until white European imperialists came along and “civilized” them.
The second reason is that many anarchists favor an experimental approach to forming new societies. I think Noam Chomsky put it best in response to an interview question in which he was asked what kind of society he would establish to replace capitalism:
I think that the economic institutions ought to be run democratically-by their participants and by the communities in which they live. And I think that through various forms of free association and federalism, it’s possible to imagine a society that works like that. I mean, I don’t think you can lay it out in detail- nobody’s smart enough to design a society; you’ve got to experiment. But reasonable principles on which to build such a society are quite clear.
Noam Chomsky, Understanding Power
What exactly are those principles? In Pyotr Kropotkin’s The Conquest of Bread (often considered the Bible of libertarian socialism), he argues for two main principles that an anarchist society should be based on; mutual aid and voluntary cooperation. This entails the flattening of all unjust hierarchies into a decentralized, egalitarian social order. Anarchists propose to achieve this via popular assemblies and worker-controlled cooperative enterprises.
Indeed, this is in every way the complete opposite of the “government should be run like a business” philosophy of many conservatives. In fact, many anarchists would argue that businesses should be run like the government. Wouldn’t it be amazing if workers were able to vote out their supervisors instead of simply suffering under incompetent or capricious ones?
Another way of explaining the basic philosophy of anarchism can be found in this essay from the website The Anarchist Library, which lists the tenants of anarchism as an escalating “if X then Y” statement that goes like this:
If mankind is born free, then slavery is murder. If slavery is murder, then property is theft. If property is theft, then government is tyranny. If government is tyranny, then anarchy is liberty.
Albert Meltzer, Anarchism: Arguments for and against
I should probably clarify that anarchism does not view all governments as tyrannical or even all hierarchies as unjust. Indeed, it would be hard to argue that, say, the captain of a ship doesn’t deserve his or her authority over their less experienced crew.
An anarchist government would probably be similar to the US Congress but on a much smaller scale. Societies would no longer be organized into countries. Rather, they would form into communes with a maximum population of about 10,000 each. These communes would be further divided into about 70 wards, with each sending two representatives to the commune’s governing council. This would result in a governing council totaling 150 representatives.
This model is based on the studies of anthropologist Robin Dunbar, who studied various human societies and how they were organized. He argues that the maximum number of humans that can successfully work together is 150.
Why is it limited at 150? The answer is twofold, actually. Partly, it’s a cognitive challenge just to keep track of more people. The other side of this is a time budgeting problem. You just don’t have time in everyday life to invest in each of those people to the extent where you can have a real relationship with them.
Another reason for this relatively small number is because issues with trust and familiarity tend to arise in larger groups.
Of course, communes can also join together in unions of communes, including millions or even billions of people. This is similar to the various cooperative enterprises that multinational corporations enter into under capitalism. Of course, the difference is that those cooperatives only help the capitalist class’ profits while anarchist cooperatives would work for the social welfare of everyone.
How Anarchist Workers Would… Well, Work
Unlike a capitalist workplace where a person is held under the whim of a boss who can fire you for basically any reason he or she can think of, an anarchist workplace would seek mutual aid for all parties. No person would be able to wield power over another.
Money would be abolished in favor of contracts. A new member joining an anarchist commune would make a contract with that commune, agreeing to perform a rotating series of jobs in return for life’s basic necessities. No one would be stuck in a single soul-sucking job for their entire life like they are under capitalism. A commune member will alternate relatively normal jobs like desk work and construction with the kind of stuff you’d see on Dirty Jobs, both to break up the monotony and out of fairness to the rest of the commune.
This system would not just uphold traditional human rights like freedom of speech and religion. Anarchists also believe in positive human rights, meaning that every human being is entitled to have their material needs met in full. This includes everything we humans need to survive, like food, water, shelter, clothing, electricity, running water, healthcare, Internet, etc. Any commune member would receive this through the form of a reasonable contribution, like working a maximum of 5 hours a day and participation in the local government, barring any physical, mental, or developmental disabilities or personal circumstances.
Naturally, a capitalist might balk at these ideas, accusing anarchists of rewarding lazy people who won’t work. Of course, the anarchists would argue that that argument stems from the Protestant work ethic, which states that being a hard worker means you are valuable in the eyes of God, something that certainly wouldn’t fly in a more secular anarchist society. They would also argue that the widespread laziness that conservatives decry in modern society is actually a product of capitalism. As those who struggle to keep up with the system eventually give up as they realize that they will never reap the rewards, they turn either to crime or the hikikomori lifestyle as a result.
This anarchist overhauling of the workplace would also help eliminate what anthropologist David Graeber rather bluntly calls “bullshit jobs” in his 2018 book of the same name. These “bullshit jobs,” like receptionists, telemarketers, lobbyists, survey administrators, and others, came about as a result of capitalism twisting the benefits of automation to their own ends, Graeber says. In contrast, an anarchist system would utilize automation in a way that helps take the burden off the working man, reducing his or her workday so that he or she has more time for leisure.
Anarchist Police and Military
As stated above, police officers are not the heroic defenders of the innocent that capitalist propaganda portrays them as. Rather, they are defenders of the capitalist hegemony, punching down at those who wish to change the system while protecting white-collar criminals from prosecution.
Anarchists propose a policing system based on these four principles: harm prevention, emergency response, forensics, and rehabilitation over revenge.
Harm prevention means preventing crimes before they happen by curing the social ills that cause them, like income inequality and a lack of social capital.
Emergency response will be needed to deal with sudden and unexpected acts of violence that will certainly be inevitable given the centuries of oppression and coercion that have preceded this current century.
Forensics will be essential in helping to solve violent crimes like murder and sexual assault.
And finally, rehabilitation over revenge means getting rid of prisons, where 2.3 million Americans are now detained, half of them due to drug offenses, non-violent or otherwise.
My grandfather has stated his belief that prisons should be places that you never want to go back to, that they need to be Hell on Earth because, otherwise, the prisoner gets so comfortable that they commit crimes upon release so that they can get back in. However, anyone who knows anything about human behavior would realize that it’s those harsh conditions that cause recidivism, not humanitarian aid.
Have not prisons- which kill at will and force of character in men, which enclose within their walls more vices than are met with in any spot on the globe- always been the universities of crime? Is not the court of a tribunal a school of ferocity?
Pyotr Kropotkin, Anarchism: Its Philosophy and Ideal
Again, though, America’s single-minded focus on individuality and personal responsibility means that all crime is viewed as a moral failing rather than a social illness.
Anarchists instead propose a law enforcement system that focuses on education and psychotherapy instead of vengeance and torture. They want to work with the criminal to understand why they did what they did instead of just locking them away and being done with it.
Of course, there will still be special hospitals for the Ted Bundys of the world who commit crimes out of incurable mental or biological defects rather than social ills.
As for the military, anarchists propose a service based on voluntary contracts rather than coercive drafts. Of course, hierarchy would be necessary for the military like it is now, but officers would be voted out if they abused their power.
George Orwell describes an anarchist military based on his experiences fighting for the anarcho-syndicalists of Catalonia during the Spanish Civil War:
The essential point of the system was social equality between officers and men. Everyone from the general to the private drew the same pay, ate the same food, wore the same clothes, and mingled on terms of complete equality. If you wanted to slap the commanding general on the back and ask him for a cigarette, you could do so, and no one thought it was curious. In theory, at any rate, each militia was a democracy and not a hierarchy… Of course, there was no perfect equality, but there was a nearer approach to it than I had ever seen or that I would have thought conceivable in time of war.
George Orwell, Homage to Catalonia
Other models for an anarchist military might include the Black Panthers, the American Indian Movement, Rojava’s freedom fighters, and many others.
At the most basic level, anarchists think both the military and police departments should operate more like the fire department. After all, firefighters don’t constantly patrol the streets looking for fires that might start. So why are the police doing the same with crime?
Art and Luxury Under Anarchism
Before I end this essay, I want to talk about art and luxury and how they might be achieved under anarchism.
Once again, capitalists may balk at such a suggestion. We’ve never had so much luxury under any other system, they might say. Did communism ever give their citizens king-size mattresses or pearl necklaces? Pyotr Kropotkin highlights similar critiques in chapter 9 of The Conquest of Bread:
How will men act in a society, whose members are properly fed, to satisfy certain individuals desirous of possessing a piece of Sevres china or a velvet dress?
Pyotr Kropotkin, The Conquest of Bread
If one was to replace “Sevres china” and “velvet dress” with, say, “PlayStation 4” or “iPhone,” you basically get what criticism of anarchist or any other leftist ideology might look like today.
Similarly, capitalists ask how artists would create art under a system that lacks capitalism’s nonconformist nature. They either don’t realize or don’t care about the fact that capitalism breeds its own form of conformity.
This type of conformity makes itself very clear in the realm of art and science. An artist can create art only if they have a lot of capital or are willing to sell their art to those who have the capital to commodify it as they see fit. Art as pure expression has no place in this system.
One can try to join a neoliberal type “artistic improvement program,” but those usually focus on making the art more “marketable,” i.e., more palatable to the capitalist class. One can also go independent, but that would put you in a more financially precarious position unless you are willing to still work within market trends.
As for science, capitalism stymies that too, if any scientific innovations that happen under its watch are innovations they cannot profit from. For example, pharmaceutical companies will only fund drugs that they can profit from. Tech companies tend to focus on profit problems instead of technical ones. In particular, Uber notoriously stole workers from one of the nation’s top robotics labs to make better self-driving cars.
Most humans agree that we need art, entertainment, and scientific innovation to be truly happy. As Breadtuber Angie Speaks says:
…art serves a higher purpose that fulfills the abstract spiritual needs of human nature, but cannot be quantified by its material merit.
Angie Speaks, Dadaism: Art as a Political Weapon
Meeting material but not spiritual needs in humans works something like locking them up in solitary confinement. Sure, we give the prisoner materials to stay alive, but eventually, the solitude reduces them to caged and mentally unstable animals.
Capitalism, driven by the Protestant work ethic, seeks to make sure that whatever little free time the worker has is spent resting and or preparing for the next day’s work. While capitalism usually provides physical needs to those who work, it leaves little to no time for the worker to explore their own subjective needs. The Protestant work ethic stipulates that the act of just goofing off and having fun is a waste of time and a sin in the eyes of God. But it’s not! It’s a vital concern for any society to survive and thrive.
In the end, capitalism is so focused on profit that the worker’s identity is often reduced to how they make their money. It makes us waste our time on jobs we care little to nothing about instead of things we would much rather be doing, like spending time with our families, for instance.
No doubt, nowadays, when hundreds and thousands of human beings are in need of bread, coal, clothing, and shelter, luxury is a crime; to satisfy it the worker’s child must go without bread! But in a society in which all can eat sufficiently the needs which we consider luxuries today will be the more keenly felt.
Pyotr Kropotkin, The Conquest of Bread
Anarchists propose that artist/scientist-owned organizations not beholden to any larger government agency or corporation are the solution. Their members will be working members of the anarchist commune who pursue literature, musicianship, printing, painting, engraving, etc. They all pursue a common aim- the propagation of ideas that are dear to them.
The worker will discharge first his task in the field, the factory, and so on, which he owes to society as his contribution to the general production. And he will employ the second half to his day, his week, his year, to satisfy his artistic or scientific needs, or his hobbies. Thousands of societies will spring up to gratify every taste and every possible fancy.
Pyotr Kropotkin, The Conquest of Bread
Of course, capitalists would argue that certain people are just naturally destined to work all their lives in fields or sweatshops. If geniuses were equally distributed among all social classes in all nations, they say, then the system would surely recognize that talent and lift them out of their poverty. And yet none seem to show up in the inner city ghettos or the developing nations of the world.
However, these capitalists fail to recognize that it is not an inherent flaw in these people’s nature that keeps them in poverty. It’s the centuries of systemic racism that many countries (America especially) have failed to deal with properly. I think Stephen Jay Gould puts it best:
I am, somehow, less interested in the weight and convolutions of Einstein’s brain than in the near certainty that people of equal talent have lived and died in cotton fields and sweatshops.
Stephen Jay Gould, “Wide hats and narrow minds,” New Scientist, March 8th, 1977 (pg. 777)
I hope, by now, I have made my case that better things are possible in a world beyond capitalism. I especially hope that I’ve convinced you that there is far more to socialist philosophy than what capitalist propaganda would have us believe. Make no mistake: capitalism is going to end someday, just like feudalism did before it. At this point, we have only two choices in the future: socialism and fascism.
Do we flatten the unjust hierarchies that have ruled over us for centuries, as leftists like myself want? Or do we double down on them even as they spiral further and further into chaos and discord, thus letting the capitalists rule over us forevermore?
I don’t know about you, but I think more happiness and less poverty is a good thing. A life of luxury and leisure is possible for more than just the privileged few. As Pyotr “Bread Santa” Kropotkin says once again in The Conquest of Bread:
We see that the worker compelled to struggle painfully for bare existence is reduced to ignorance of these higher delights, the highest within man’s reach, of science, and especially of scientific discovery; of art, and especially of artistic creation. It is in order to obtain these joys for all, which are now reserved for the few; in order to give leisure and the possibility of developing intellectual capacities, that the social revolution must guarantee daily bread to all. After the bread has been secured, leisure is the supreme aim.
Pyotr Kropotkin, The Conquest of Bread
Of course, Bread Santa’s book was only one of the inspirations that helped me write this piece. Emerican Johnson of the YouTube channel Non Compete was the one who really made this possible, as he explained anarchist societies better than anyone else I’d listened to over the years in his How Anarchism Works playlist.
If exploitation could be taken out of the equation, everyone could have a lot more fun. If we weren’t living so precariously close to financial ruin, we would all have much better faculties and much higher expectations for enjoying life.
Emerican Johnson, How do Anarchists LUXURY? How Anarchism Works Part 5
While his work wasn’t as big an influence on this article, I still want to give a shout-out to Matt from Thought Slime, who has been a major help in demystifying anarchist philosophy for me. Also, he has a segment on his show called “The Eyeball Zone,” which showcases small leftist projects on YouTube and elsewhere, which he thinks deserve more attention. So that’s pretty cool.
And that’s all I have to say about that, folks. Next time, I’ll talk about my own artistic endeavor I’ve been working on in the last few years; an epic urban fantasy/horror saga called The Divine Conspiracy. Until then, stay safe, take care, and death to capitalism!