Chapter 8 – Was the Holocaust an aberration?
by Peter Cohen
Although Zionists were interested only in saving selected categories of European Jews from Fascist terror, they have memorialized the Holocaust in its entirety as their own, the ultimate proof that the “Jewish people” need a State of their own.
For decades the Zionists succeeded in promoting the idea that the Holocaust was a unique event, but over the past 20 years this has been subject to a good deal of discussion both within and outside Israel. It has been compared with other examples of genocide or mass murder, such as the reduction of the indigenous populations of Latin and North America from 1492 onward, the Atlantic slave trade, and the massacres of Tasmanians in the 19th century and Armenians in 1915.
There is apparently no generally accepted definition of genocide apart from
the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, which was adopted in 1948. Article 2 of this convention defines genocide as
…any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life, calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; [and] forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
Intent and calculation are central to this definition. But it is not always easy to show that e.g. the eradication of large portions of the indigenous populations of Latin and North America was the result of a calculated strategy. As in the Holocaust, death came in various forms – deliberate murder, slave labor, disease and undernourishment. Given that “mass murder” also implies a conscious aim, the term “crime against humanity” would be more appropriate.
It refers to the infliction of death, slavery, disease and misery on a large scale, separately or in combination. The actions that lead to these results may or may not be consciously aimed at the entire or partial destruction or immiseration of an ethnic, religious or political group. But the causal relationships are evident. The issue of intent becomes irrelevant.
“Crime against humanity” is more relevant than genocide or mass murder for the enslavement and subsequent deaths of Latin American indigenes in mines or Europeans, including Jews, in plants owned by German corporations. Irrespective of whether the Spanish and Portuguese colonizers or the German corporate managers intended to kill their slaves, the operations that they supervised were obviously causal.
Many but not all of the crimes against humanity that were committed previous to the Holocaust are described more or less accurately in the conventional Western chronicle of history, although they are not usually designated crimes. In general, the socio-economic context in which they occurred is ignored.
Systems and symptoms
Historical events and processes that have occurred or are said to have occurred within the framework of a given socio-economic system are sometimes interpreted as symptoms, i.e. they are perceived as reflecting the nature of the system itself. But some systems are rarely subject to such interpretation. One of these is the Western market economy, both before and after the development of industrial capitalism.
For example, World War 1 was the outcome of conflict between capitalist European powers, mainly France, Germany and the UK, as they competed for economic and political dominance that would ensure global access to markets, raw materials and investment opportunities.
A number of wars had been fought for similar reasons during the preceding 350 years. The market economy was the prevailing socio-economic system in Europe during the period in question, and previously as well. But World War 1 and the other wars are seldom interpreted as symptoms of the market-economy system, arising from the drive to maximize profits for the ruling classes in the countries involved, even in cases where the immediate causes are accurately described.
On a much smaller scale, the separation of the system from its symptoms is illustrated by the beating administered by several Los Angeles policemen to an Afro-American named Rodney King in the early 1990s. In itself this event was not unusual, given the long history of similar police behavior in the US. But it was perhaps the first such incident that was filmed on a video camera by an eyewitness. The videotape was given widespread coverage in the US and European mass media for many months. The policemen were tried in a predominantly white suburb of Los Angeles and were acquitted, to no one’s surprise.
To my knowledge, journalists in the Western mass media did not interpret the beating or the subsequent acquittal as typical symptoms of the capitalist socio-economic system that prevails in the US.
However, if a similar incident had occurred in the USSR it would have been immediately interpreted in the West as a symptom of the terror to which dissidents in the Soviet Union were subject. In subsequent years it would have been featured annually in the Western mass media on the appropriate date, as a reminder of the horrors of socialism.
The Guatemala case
In 1954 the US organized a coup in Guatemala and disposed of the government that had been legally elected in 1952. Guatemala had been controlled for many years by the US-based United Fruit Company (now Chiquita Banana), which ran the country as a private domain and was known by its subjects as el pulpo (the octopus). The new government had proposed a modest program of land reform, among other things, which United Fruit correctly regarded as a threat to its profits.
The proposal for the coup came from a number of people in the US administration who had connections with United Fruit. They included Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, whose law firm had prepared United Fruit’s contracts with Guatemala, his brother, CIA Director Allen Dulles, a member of the law firm that served United Fruit, John Moors Cabot, Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs and the brother of a former president of United Fruit, and President Eisenhower’s personal secretary, who was married to the head of United Fruit’s Public Relations Department.
In the decades following the coup, United Fruit reigned supreme with the aid of the CIA and the US military establishment, which supervised and actively participated in a continuous nation-wide campaign of terror and murder.
On 11 March 1999 the New York Times reported that president Clinton had been obliged to admit that the US had been responsible for the murder of more than 200,000 Guatemalan citizens since 1954.
Four days later, the Washington Post reported:
President Clinton made the most important policy statement of his career last week when he apologized to Guatemala for the United States’ role in the genocide there, in which 200,000 people were killed over the last few decades.
“’For the United States,” he said, “it is important that I state clearly that support for military forces and intelligence units which engaged in violence and widespread repression was wrong, and the United States must not repeat that mistake.’”
Clinton’s “apology” for the “mistake” was not followed by any offer of compensation to the families of the victims. A few days later, Clinton initiated the bombing of Yugoslavia, in clear violation of international law. Civilians were targeted “by mistake”.
The Clinton administration had been instrumental in establishing the so-called Hague Tribunal, “a rogue court with rigged rules” (John Laughland, London Times, 17 June 1999), to prosecute the perpetrators of an alleged genocide in Yugoslavia. But no one seemed interested in bringing to justice the people who were responsible for the officially admitted crime against humanity in Guatemala. Nor in identifying the crime as an outcome of the capitalist system.
It is exceedingly rare that conventional Western historians or the Western mass media interpret such phenomena as war, mass murder, starvation, poverty, unemployment, crime, prostitution, trafficking in women and children, the narcotics trade or torture as symptoms that reflect the essential nature of the traditional market economy or its modern manifestation, i.e. capitalism.
It appears that no crime against humanity which has been committed within the framework of the market economy could persuade the supporters and promoters of the system to consider whether a causal connection exists, or whether there is something wrong with the system.
Can these obviously contradictory approaches be reconciled? Is it appropriate or logical to condemn one socio-economic system on the grounds of events that occur within it and at the same time exempt another system from condemnation? The conventional Western view seems to approve the contradiction without discussion.
This involves implicitly reserving the right to condemn certain crimes against humanity and even label them as such, simultaneously ignoring their connections with the prevailing system. The Holocaust is an example of a crime against humanity and universally condemned, but is normally severed from its socio-economic context, e.g. by the Forum for Living History.
At best such events are deplored, but are usually treated as unavoidable or inexplicable aberrations arising from misunderstandings, misguided policies or evil-minded leaders. They are gradually, and sometimes rapidly, as in the case of Guatemala, consigned to the deep shadows of history.
Contriving the required theoretical foundation
On the more rarified levels of society, deep thinkers roam the wide intellectual spaces and devote their time to contriving arguments that justify the existing system and also buttress the general reluctance to link it to the crimes against humanity which are generated within it. These arguments are designed for use in simplified form at lower levels, e.g. within universities, the mass media, corporate information departments, so-called think-tanks, and the political establishment, in order to eliminate possible misgivings among the general public.
One of the leading such Western “thinkers”, i.e. apologists, of the last century was Karl Popper. According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of History as of 9 February 2009, “Karl Popper is generally regarded as one of the greatest philosophers of science of the 20th century. He was also a social and political philosopher of considerable stature… One of the many remarkable features of Popper’s thought is the scope of his intellectual influence. In the modern technological and highly-specialized world scientists are rarely aware of the work of philosophers; it is virtually unprecedented to find them queuing up, as they have done in Popper’s case, to testify to the enormously practical beneficial impact which that philosophical work has had upon their own.”
However, Popper’s “philosophical work” is invalidated by continuous elementary contradictions. A brief review of several of his key propositions is sufficient for the purposes of this discussion.
“All knowledge is hypothetical” – Popper, Objective Knowledge (1972).
“All knowledge is conjectural” – Popper, Realism and the Aim of Science (1992).
“We never know what we are talking about” – Popper, Unended Quest (1976).
These amazing assertions are very old wine in new bottles, like many other such variations on Plato’s claim that the world in which we think we live is an illusion. Objective knowledge of an illusion is of course impossible. We can therefore never be certain of the truth.
Popper’s statements are also demonstrably false. In the course of their lives human beings acquire a great deal of objective knowledge about the world they live in. For example, if I decide to stop writing and leave the room in which I am sitting, I am absolutely certain that I cannot do so by walking through one of the walls. I know that I will have to pass through an opening known as a doorway. I also know that if I attempt to leave by stepping through the window and off the balcony I will fall seven stories to the sidewalk below, with easily predictable results. If I return from my walk in the warm spring sunshine, fill a glass with water and turn it upside down I will not be able to drink it. The water will spill onto the floor. It is absolutely inconceivable that I could have survived to this day without extensive and reliable knowledge of the material world that I inhabit.
I know that my parents and my brother are dead, like some other human beings whom I have known. I am absolutely certain that sooner or later I will also die. Like most if not all other adult humans, I know that if I stop eating my death will come sooner. Farmers know that seeds have to be planted at the right time and under the right conditions in order to generate a crop. Every owner of an automobile knows that the engine requires a continuous supply of fuel in order to function. Without reliable knowledge of the real world, neither electrical generating plants nor central heating systems could have been developed.
None of the above statements are hypothetical or conjectural. The catalogue of knowledge that has been acquired by human beings in the course of the last 100,000 years is enormous, and cannot be dismissed with a few waves of a quasi-philosophical wand by Popper or any one else. We do not live by word games.
Anyone who is tempted to accept Popper’s mythology should immediately consult V. Gordon Childe’s Man Makes Himself (2003), which shows how our species can collect and apply knowledge of the real world. For example:
By 4000 B.C. the great tract of semi-arid lands round the East Mediterranean and eastwards to India was populated by a multiplicity of communities. Among them these diverse communities… had severally accumulated an imposing body of scientific knowledge – topographical, geological, astronomical, chemical, zoological and botanical – of practical craft-lore on agriculture, mechanics, metallurgy and architecture, and of magical beliefs that might also enshrine scientific truths. As a result of commerce and movements of peoples… such science, knowledge and skill were being widely diffused; knowledge and skill were being pooled.
If Popper is correct when he claims that “we” never know what we are talking about, it is difficult to understand why he spent a large part of his life telling people what he thought he knew.
Popper’s identification of knowledge with conjecture has obvious implications for his view of both the future and the past. In a lecture on “Prediction and Prophecy in the Social Sciences”, delivered at the 10th International Congress of Philosophy in Amsterdam in 1948, he flatly rejected “…the idea that we can know what the future has in store for us, and that we can profit from such knowledge by adjusting our policy to it”, since everything that we think we know is merely conjecture.
If this were true, governments and corporations could save huge amounts of money by dismantling their planning systems. Modern agriculture would come to an end and a large portion of the planet’s human population would expire in the near future. Games such as baseball would become much less interesting, since a manager who decided to call in a sinker-ball pitcher to face a batter who has difficulty hitting this type of pitch would have to be reminded that “adjusting his policy” would serve no purpose.
Looking backward in time, Popper observed that “Non-repetitive events are the most striking aspects of historical development”. He reflected the historical viewpoint of one of his favorites, David Hume, who wrote that events both past and present are “loose and separate…conjoined but never connected”, in An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding (1975).
This explains why Popper wrote “I have come to the conclusion that Darwinism is not a testable scientific theory, but a metaphysical research programme” (Unended Quest).
Naturally, if we limit the idea of “historical development” to non-repetitive events such as the death of Julius Cesar, the invention of the steam engine, the discovery of the laws of thermodynamics (which presumably are only conjecture) and the development of the 1-gigabyte memory stick, Popper could be said to have a somewhat acceptable argument, although births and deaths are surely repetitive events.
But if for example we were to examine the development and disappearance of slavery in ancient Greece and Rome, we would find not only that the institution of slavery comprised a virtually endless series of repetitive events, including rebellions, but that there were clear and verifiable connections between slavery and the economic goals of the rulers of the societies in question. As well as between the policies of the rulers, the dissolution of the Roman Empire, and the temporary end of slavery.
History is the recorded activities of human beings. But without agriculture and the societies that it enabled there would be no written history, since our species would have had to spend most of its time hunting and gathering food. Fortunately for us, our predecessors invented agriculture, which is the foundation of all subsequent historical development.
The crucial role of agriculture was recognized by a Greek named Hesiod, who wrote a long poem known as Works and Days around 750 BC. Among other things, it includes detailed instructions for successful farming, and leaves no doubt that the practice of agriculture is a very repetitive activity that is based on acquired knowledge of the real world. But it is probably too banal to be considered part of historical development by Popper and his followers.
The English, American, French, and Russian revolutions that have shaped the modern Western world to a great extent can be seen as non-repetitive only if we limit our examination to names, dates and places. But if we study the conflicts which gave rise to these revolutions, the conflicts between the social classes which were involved in them both during the revolutions and afterward, and the policies of the post-revolutionary governments, a number of clearly repetitive themes and events can be identified, as well as a continuous if uneven progression of changes in the existing socio-economic system.
For comments on Popper’s description of the theory of evolution as a metaphysical research program, I refer the reader to the nearest university faculty of biology.
It is strikingly evident that Popper’s view of history as a series of more or less random, unconnected, non-repetitive and inexplicable events provides support for the prevailing Western account of Fascism. A prime function of this account is to effectively obscure the reality of class conflict, as well as the interconnections between historical events, the results of such events, and the market economy.
The Vietnam case
The US-led war in Vietnam in the 1960s and -70s has been consistently described in the West as an unfortunate aberration resulting from such factors as “hubris” and a “tragic” misunderstanding of the situation within Vietnam.
Apart from the fact that the history of the second half of the 20th century comprises a repetitive series of wars and the US has a long tradition of repetitive military intervention in sovereign countries beyond its borders, the real-world causes and connections related to the Vietnam war are not hard to find.
In 1953, the year that Dwight D. Eisenhower became president of the US, he asked Congress to allocate 400 million dollars (about USD 3.3 billion in 2009) to help the French, who were fighting desperately to maintain their colonies in what was then called Indo-China and is now known as Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. For various reasons, there was opposition to this request within the US. Some Congressmen said it was a giveaway that served no purpose.
At a conference of state governors in August 1953, Eisenhower explained his administration’s interest in Indo-China:
Now let us assume that we lose (sic!) Indo-China. If Indo-China goes, several things happen right away. The Malayan peninsula, the last bit of land hanging down there (sic!), would scarcely be defensible – and the tin and tungsten that we so greatly value from that area would cease coming… All of that weakening position around there is very ominous for the United States, because finally if we lost all that, how would the free world hold the rich empire of Indonesia?… So when the United States votes $400 million to help that war, we are not voting a giveaway program. We are voting for the cheapest way that we can to prevent the occurrence of something that would be of the most terrible significance to the United States of America – our security, our power and ability to get certain things we need from the riches of the Indo-Chinese territory and from Southeast Asia. From Remarks, Governors’ Conference, August 4, 1953, Public Papers of the Presidents, 1953. (Emphasis added.)
It would be difficult to find a clearer statement of the imperialist imperative. These remarks should be seen in the light of the dependence of Western industrialized countries on imports of minerals from foreign sources. Eisenhower clearly indicated one of the main reasons for the murderous war in Vietnam. There are obvious conclusions to be drawn and applied to subsequent wars, e.g. in Iraq.
Eisenhower’s words can be seen as a complement to a statement by the British Foreign Secretary Lord Curzon in 1921 regarding the threat posed by the evil Bolsheviks. He claimed that Soviet Russia
was plotting against British rule in India [by encouraging] the creation of a powerful united Moslem movement (sic!) which would deal the final blow against… the colonial system upon which the power of Western European capital rests. (Douglas Little, emphasis added).
But if we adopt Popper’s approach – which does not deserve to be called “philosophy”, since philosophy means “the love of knowledge” – we should ignore Eisenhower’s remarks because like the rest of us he didn’t know what he was talking about. Since according to Popper there is little or nothing we can learn from history, or from anything else for that matter, we must turn our backs on the indecipherable past and continue on our not very merry way. This requires that we resign ourselves to an existence filled with supposedly non-repetitive events such as wars, bank and stock-market crashes, defaults on home mortgages, and continued job losses and rising unemployment.
We will also be obliged to continue regarding the Holocaust as a unique, non-repetitive event that is beyond our understanding.
For example, in The Holocaust Industry (2000) Norman G. Finkelstein quotes Eli Wiesel, a concentration-camp survivor who makes a comfortable living lecturing and writing about his experiences:
Thus Wiesel intones that the Holocaust ‘leads into darkness’, ‘negates all answers’, ‘lies outside, if not beyond, history’, ‘defies both knowledge and description’, ‘cannot be explained nor (sic!) visualized’, is ‘never to be comprehended or transmitted’, marks a ‘destruction of history’ and a ‘mutation on a cosmic scale’.
The Swedish government’s Holocaust Book does not provide much illumination. It tells us that
The Holocaust is a black hole in modern world and European history. It occurred because people like you and me chose to plan mass murder and then carried out the murder over many years [four years, 1941-45]. They could have chosen otherwise. They should have done so.
Explaining a murder by saying that someone chose to commit it doesn’t do much to enlarge our understanding of the crime.
Very few sensible people would claim that historical phenomena such as the English Revolution of 1642, the American Revolution of 1776, the French Revolution of 1789, the rise of the Western European slave trade, the institution of slavery in the US, the establishment of colonies by European nations, or World War 1 occurred because “people like you and me chose to make them occur”. We may disagree about the significance of these historical events, but the causes are real and identifiable, despite Karl Popper’s delusions.
However, the causes of an event or phenomenon cannot be explained if it is considered in isolation from its historical context. Only when we have identified the context, i.e. the essential relationships between a specific event or phenomenon and other events and phenomena, can we hope to understand it.
It can be shown that the Holocaust was only one in a long series of crimes against humanity that resulted in premature death and persistent widespread misery. All of them have a common denominator. They were generated by the Western market economy, most recently in its advanced form, which is known as capitalism.
If we restrict our view to Europe and the Mediterranean basin during roughly three millennia preceding 1945, a number of extensive crimes against humanity can be identified within the context of the Western market economy. A limited but representative sample is given below.
Slavery in ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome
By about 500 BC, market economies had emerged in Greece and other societies in the Mediterranean region. They were dominated by a ruling class of land-owners, some of whom owned mines as well. Trade within and between these societies had been growing for centuries, and a metallic coinage had been introduced in Greece around 600 BC in order to keep pace with the rising volumes of both agricultural and non-farm production.
Slavery had been in existence for some time. It originally comprised services to a household or an estate, but as technology continued to improve and trade continued to grow, slaves were employed on an increasing scale for production of commodities that could be sold for profit, such as wheat and other agricultural products, gold, silver and other metals, and manufactured goods such as ceramics.
By the time the first democratic constitution in Greece was established in 507 BC, Greek society consisted of a small class of landowners and merchants, a much larger class of free farmers and artisans, almost all of them poor, and a large and growing class of slaves. Some of them were bankrupt ex-farmers who had been enslaved for defaulting on debts, and others were non-Greeks who had been captured in war or purchased from other slave societies. None of them had the right to vote, which was restricted to male property owners.
In Greece and elsewhere, including the Roman Empire, the basic purpose of the slave system was to produce a surplus that was greater than the amount of food and other things required to sustain the lives of the slaves. The surplus was appropriated by the class that ruled the market economy. And since the ruling class grew richer when production by the slaves increased, the rulers naturally exploited the slaves as much as possible.
While a slave’s life is by definition miserable, the lives of slaves employed in mines were horrific. The silver mines at Laurion, southeast of Athens, were owned by the Athenian state and were part of the foundation of the prosperity and power of the ruling class. The profits were used among other things to finance their territorial ambitions. More than 2,000 shafts descended to depths of 30-50 meters, where the silver ore was extracted in long horizontal galleries. The noxious atmosphere in the mines, the brutal working conditions and the cruelty of the foremen were notorious.
A Greek historian named Diodorus Siculus gave an account of the gold mines in Egypt as of the second century BC. The slaves who worked them included condemned criminals, prisoners of war, and individuals who had offended the king, often together with their male and female relatives. Diodorus writes:
No one could look on the squalor of these wretches, without even a rag to cover their loins, and not feel compassion for their plight. They may be sick, or maimed, or aged, or weak women, but there is no indulgence, no respite. All alike are kept at their labor by the lash until they die in their torments, overcome by hardship. Their misery is so great that they dread what is to come even more than the present, since the punishments are so severe, and death is welcomed as a thing more desirable than life. (Cited in George Thomson, The First Philosophers: Studies in Ancient Greek Society, 1977.)
Diodorus described existence in silver mines on the Iberian peninsula that were owned by members of the Roman ruling class:
The workers in these mines produce incredible profits for the owners, but their own lives are spent underground in the quarries, wearing and wasting their bodies day and night. Many die, their sufferings are so great. There is no relief, no respite from heir labors. The hardships to which the overseer’s lash compels them to submit are so severe that except for a few whose strength of body and bravery of soul enables them to hold out for a long time, they abandon life because death seems preferable.
In Class Struggle in the Ancient Greek World (1981), G.E.M. de Ste. Croix points out that the system of slavery was maintained by terror, and provides examples to prove it. For example, a Roman prefect who was notorious for his cruelty was murdered by one of his slaves in 61 AD. According to the traditional punishment, all the prefect’s 400 slaves should have been executed. As the members of the Roman senate debated whether an exception from tradition was permissible, a lawyer named Gaius Cassius informed them that “You will not restrain that scum except by terror”. The executions were performed despite strong protests from the common people of Rome. Similar punishments were the rule whenever the wickedness of a slave led him or her to commit violence against the slaveowner.
Slave revolts were “mercilessly punished”. After the Romans suppressed the revolt led by Spartacus in 73-71 BC, the six thousand of his followers who had been captured were crucified “along the Via Appia from Rome to Capua”.
The logic of the historical record cannot be denied, irrespective of Karl Popper’s deluded beliefs. When a market economy reaches a level of technology at which a ruling class can enrich itself by seizing control of production and exploiting the people who actually produce the wealth of society, that class will use all available means to maintain its rule and its riches.
The logic is as valid today as it was in ancient Greece and Rome. When the inherent “wickedness” of the oppressed class leads it to revolt, the punishment will fit the crime as defined by the rulers of society. But the crimes of the rulers are not usually subject to punishment, or to condemnation by the adherents of the class society that is known as the market economy.
For many Western historians, there seems to be no contradiction between the concept of democracy and a market economy that includes slavery and is ruled by a class that comprises a small minority of the population. For example, although slavery was not abolished in the US until 1865, the country is nevertheless regarded as having been a democracy from 1789 onward. Democracy in Rome during the republic was restricted to the ruling class, which was not seen as a contradiction in terms by its members. Many of the common people had other expectations of “democracy”, however.
Ste. Croix points out that around 150 AD a Roman PR-man named Aelius Aristeides explained that the Roman Empire was actually the ideal democracy “because all the people have willingly resigned their powers of ruling into the hands of the one man best fitted to rule: the emperor!”
The importance of submission to a ruling class as a prime criterion of Roman democracy had been emphasized earlier by the emperor Augustus, who said that “Whoever does not want the existing state of affairs to be changed is a good citizen and a good man”. The relevance of these views to the world of 2011 is too obvious to require comment.
Slaughter of the peasants in Germany
The production structure of the European market economy remained basically agrarian and in the course of time evolved from slavery to other forms of servitude. In Germany at the start of the 16th century, peasants comprised the largest class of producers and were either serfs or bondsmen.
The serfs were without property but were bound to the land that they worked, which was owned by noblemen or the Church, who had absolute power over them. The bondsmen owned land but were tied to their superiors by legal obligations. They spent most of their time working on their masters’ estates, which included substantial amounts of land that had previously been owned in common by villagers. The small sums of money which the bondsmen could earn by selling their produce disappeared in the form of various types of rents and taxes collected by their masters. When a bondsman married he was required to make payment to the master, who also had first call for fornicating with the bride on the wedding night. When the bondsman died, the master collected a death duty from his family that was payable in cash or land. The master was entitled to appropriate up to one-third of the dead peasant’s holding. (See Frederick Engels, The Peasant War in Germany, 1984.)
In 1525 the peasants rose in revolt throughout the German states. They had prepared a list of demands that included abolition or reduction of taxes, abolition of serfdom, the right to hunt and fish on land owned by the masters, the right to collect wood from the forests, reduction of requirements for forced labor on the master’s land, adjustment of rents so that peasants could earn a reasonable living, abolition of the death duty, and return of the common lands to the villages that had owned them.
Faced with such devastating threats by the unwashed herd of servitors, the masters of the German market economy responded with the same zeal and severity shown by their predecessors in the Roman Empire as well as their successors in modern times.
They also enjoyed the comfort of divine authorization, which was assured by Martin Luther. He drew his inspiration from Romans 13, a text written by St. Paul and designed to instill the devout with the virtue of obedience to authority that is required for the smooth functioning of a class society. The text below is from the New International Version of Romans 13 published by the International Bible Society, which claims that it is the most widely read contemporary English translation.
Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong.
Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.
Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.
Inspired by God to do righteous battle against the forces of Satan, Luther outlined the procedures to be followed by the German lords and princes, who were evidently exempted from Christian strictures such as turning the other cheek or doing unto others as you would have them do unto you:
Pure devilry is urging on the peasants…Therefore let all who are able, mow them down, slaughter and stab them, openly or in secret, and remember that there is nothing more poisonous, noxious and utterly devilish than a rebel. You must kill him as you would a mad dog…
With the help of the Almighty the masters succeeded in accomplishing their divine mission and subduing the rebellion. Order and authority were restored and private property, the key to happiness on earth and presumably in heaven, remained in its rightful hands.
Historians are in general agreement that about 100,000 German peasants paid for the rebellion with their lives. Those who did not go to meet their Maker in battle against the masters were slaughtered by an ingenious variety of punishments that included intense forms of torture such as dismemberment on the rack, as well as disembowelment and/or impalement on pointed poles while they were still alive.
European civilization enlightens the savages of the Western Hemisphere
Accumulation and preservation of wealth by individuals is the core of the European market economy. After Christopher Columbus stumbled upon the islands of the Caribbean the practitioners of the system and their followers finally discovered something commensurate to their capacity for rapine, cruelty and bloodshed – the natural resources of the Western Hemisphere.
In only a few years they developed a template for extraction of wealth that would be applied on all continents over the next several hundred years, from the East Indies and Australia to Africa and the Middle East.
This precocious development was noted by several eyewitnesses, including a Spanish priest named Bartolome de Las Casas who was born in Seville in the late 15th century. In 1502 he moved with his father to the island of Hispaniola (now Haiti/Dominican Republic) where among other things he observed how the natives were exposed to enslavement, torture and slaughter by the Spanish colonists.
Some years later he accompanied the expedition that conquered the people living on the island of what is now called Cuba, where the pattern of slavery and slaughter was repeated. Las Casas commented that “I saw here cruelty on a scale no living being has even seen or expects to see.” (Bartolome de Las Casas: Indian Freedom, the cause of Bartolome de las Casas, Francis Patrick Sullivan, editor, 1995).
After about four decades in the so-called New World, Las Casas returned to Spain and in 1552 published a short account of “The Devastation of the Indies”. It is worth quoting at length.
…forty-nine years have passed since the first settlers penetrated the land, the first so claimed being the large and most happy isle called Hispaniola, which is six hundred leagues in circumference. Around it in all directions are many other islands, some very big, others very small, and all of them were, as we saw with our own eyes, densely populated with native peoples called Indians. This large island was perhaps the most densely populated place in the world. There must be close to two hundred leagues of land on this island, and the seacoast has been explored for more than ten thousand leagues, and each day more of it is being explored. And all the land so far discovered is a beehive of people; it is as though God had crowded into these lands the great majority of mankind.
And of all the infinite universe of humanity, these people are the most guileless, the most devoid of wickedness and duplicity, the most obedient and faithful to their native masters and to the Spanish Christians whom they serve. They are by nature the most humble, patient, and peaceable, holding no grudges, free from embroilments, neither excitable nor quarrelsome. These people are the most devoid of rancors, hatreds, or desire for vengeance of any people in the world…
Yet into this sheepfold, into this land of meek outcasts there came some Spaniards who immediately behaved like ravening wild beasts, wolves, tigers, or lions that had been starved for many days. And Spaniards have behaved in no other way during the past forty years, down to the present time, for they are still acting like ravening beasts, killing, terrorizing, afflicting, torturing, and destroying the native peoples, doing all this with the strangest and most varied new methods of cruelty, never seen or heard of before, and to such a degree that this Island of Hispaniola once so populous (having a population that I estimated to be more than three million), has now a population of barely two hundred persons.
The island of Cuba is nearly as long as the distance between Valladolid and Rome; it is now almost completely depopulated. San Juan [Puerto Rico] and Jamaica are two of the largest, most productive and attractive islands; both are now deserted and devastated. On the northern side of Cuba and Hispaniola lie the neighboring Lucayos comprising more than sixty islands including those called Gigantes, beside numerous other islands, some small some large. The least felicitous of them were more fertile and beautiful than the gardens of the King of Seville. They have the healthiest lands in the world, where lived more than five hundred thousand souls; they are now deserted, inhabited by not a single living creature. All the people were slain or died after being taken into captivity and brought to the Island of Hispaniola to be sold as slaves. When the Spaniards saw that some of these had escaped, they sent a ship to find them, and it voyaged for three years among the islands searching for those who had escaped being slaughtered, for a good Christian had helped them escape, taking pity on them and had won them over to Christ; of these there were eleven persons and these I saw.
More than thirty other islands in the vicinity of San Juan are for the most part and for the same reason depopulated, and the land laid waste. On these islands I estimate there are 2,100 leagues of land that have been ruined and depopulated, empty of people.
As for the vast mainland, which is ten times larger than all Spain, even including Aragon and Portugal, containing more land than the distance between Seville and Jerusalem, or more than two thousand leagues, we are sure that our Spaniards, with their cruel and abominable acts, have devastated the land and exterminated the rational people who fully inhabited it. We can estimate very surely and truthfully that in the forty years that have passed, with the infernal actions of the Christians, there have been unjustly slain more than twelve million men, women, and children. In truth, I believe without trying to deceive myself that the number of the slain is more like fifteen million…
Their reason for killing and destroying such an infinite number of souls is that the Christians have an ultimate aim, which is to acquire gold, and to swell themselves with riches in a very brief time and thus rise to a high estate disproportionate to their merits. It should be kept in mind that their insatiable greed and ambition, the greatest ever seen in the world, is the cause of their villainies. And also, those lands are so rich and felicitous, the native peoples so meek and patient, so easy to subject, that our Spaniards have no more consideration for them than beasts. And I say this from my own knowledge of the acts I witnessed. But I should not say than beasts for, thanks be to God, they have treated beasts with some respect; I should say instead like excrement on the public squares…
And never have the Indians in all the Indies committed any act against the Spanish Christians, until those Christians have first and many times committed countless cruel aggressions against them or against neighboring nations. For in the beginning the Indians regarded the Spaniards as angels from Heaven. Only after the Spaniards had used violence against them, killing, robbing, torturing, did the Indians ever rise up against them…
The Island Hispaniola was where the Spaniards first landed, as I have said. Here those Christians perpetrated their first ravages and oppressions against the native peoples. This was the first land in the New World to be destroyed and depopulated by the Christians, and here they began their subjection of the women and children, taking them away from the Indians to use them and ill use them, eating the food they provided with their sweat and toil. The Spaniards did not content themselves with what the Indians gave them of their own free will, according to their ability, which was always too little to satisfy enormous appetites, for a Christian eats and consumes in one day an amount of food that would suffice to feed three houses inhabited by ten Indians for one month. And they committed other acts of force and violence and oppression which made the Indians realize that these men had not come from Heaven.
From that time onward the Indians began to seek ways to throw the Christians out of their lands. They took up arms, but their weapons were very weak and of little service in offense and still less in defense. (Because of this, the wars of the Indians against each other are little more than games played by children.) And the Christians, with their horses and swords and pikes began to carry out massacres and strange cruelties against them. They attacked the towns and spared neither the children nor the aged nor pregnant women nor women in childbed, not only stabbing them and dismembering them but cutting them to pieces as if dealing with sheep in the slaughter house. They laid bets as to who, with one stroke of the sword, could split a man in two or could cut off his head or spill out his entrails with a single stroke of the pike. They took infants from their mothers’ breasts, snatching them by the legs and pitching them headfirst against the crags or snatched them by the arms and threw them into the rivers, roaring with laughter and saying as the babies fell into the water, ‘Boil there, you offspring of the devil!’ Other infants they put to the sword along with their mothers and anyone else who happened to be nearby. They made some low wide gallows on which the hanged victim’s feet almost touched the ground, stringing up their victims in lots of thirteen, in memory of Our Redeemer and His twelve Apostles, then set burning wood at their feet and thus burned them alive. To others they attached straw or wrapped their whole bodies in straw and set them afire. With still others, all those they wanted to capture alive, they cut off their hands and hung them round the victim’s neck, saying, Go now, carry the message, meaning, Take the news to the Indians who have fled to the mountains. They usually dealt with the chieftains and nobles in the following way: they made a grid of rods which they placed on forked sticks, then lashed the victims to the grid and lighted a smoldering fire underneath, so that little by little, as those captives screamed in despair and torment, their souls would leave them….
After the wars and the killings had ended, when usually there survived only some boys, some women, and children, these survivors were distributed among the Christians to be slaves. The repartimiento or distribution was made according to the rank and importance of the Christian to whom the Indians were allocated, one of them being given thirty, another forty, still another, one or two hundred, and besides the rank of the Christian there was also to be considered in what favor he stood with the tyrant they called Governor. The pretext was that these allocated Indians were to be instructed in the articles of the Christian Faith. As if those Christians who were as a rule foolish and cruel and greedy and vicious could be caretakers of souls!
And the care they took was to send the men to the mines to dig for gold, which is intolerable labor, and to send the women into the fields of the big ranches to hoe and till the land, work suitable for strong men. Nor to either the men or the women did they give any food except herbs and legumes, things of little substance. The milk in the breasts of the women with infants dried up and thus in a short while the infants perished. And since men and women were separated, there could be no marital relations. And the men died in the mines and the women died on the ranches from the same causes, exhaustion and hunger. And thus was depopulated that island which had been densely populated…
The Europeans who colonized the northern part of the hemisphere showed the same fascination with riches and the same disregard for human life. They were possibly encouraged by the example of the New England Puritans, who repaid the kindness shown them by the native tribes with a systematic campaign of mass murder.
Since the natives were regarded as savages and lacked the civilized concept of private property in land, the colonizers in both halves of the hemisphere had no scruples about appropriating large portions of the available territory in order to maximize the benefits for the owners of the market economy. Like the peasants in feudal Germany, the natives were deprived of access to areas where they had traditionally hunted and fished. They were also deprived of land that they had cultivated, and the cumulative effect on their ability to survive was intensely negative.
The pattern of brutal subjugation and extermination established by the Spanish conquistadores was repeated for centuries. As a result, between 1492 and 1800 the indigenous population of what is called Latin America was reduced by about 90%. The corresponding figure for North America 1600-1900 is about 98%.
The plundering of Latin America has continued to the present day on the basis of a variety of methods ranging from direct military invention to advanced financial manipulation. These methods include widespread use of the techniques for torture and murder that are taught at the academy established by the US in 1946 as the School of the Americas, currently called the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation.
Extreme poverty, malnutrition, disease, lack of medical care, high infant-mortality rates and short life expectancies have remained the staples of life for the majority of Latin Americans, while large profits have been extracted by the imperial masters of the Western market economy. A long series of bloody dictatorships were instrumental to the achievement of their goals.
Until the late 19th century the pillaging was led by British capitalists. They were later partly superseded by US corporations and banks. The link between profits and military violence was described in 1935 by Smedley. D. Butler, a retired US Marine Corps general, in Common Sense magazine, November 1935:
I spent thirty-three years and four months in active service as a member of our country’s most agile military force – the Marine Corps. I served in all commissioned ranks from a second lieutenant to major-general. And during that period I spent most of my time being a high-class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street, and for the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer for capitalism…
Thus I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in…I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers in 1909-12. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras ‘right’ for American fruit companies in 1903. InChina in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil (now Exxon, author’s note) went on its way unmolested.
During those years I had, as the boys in the back room would say, a swell racket. I was rewarded with honors, medals, promotion. Looking back on it, I feel I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three city districts. We Marines operated on three continents.
Adventurers representing the Western European market economy pursued similar goals and used similar methods in Africa and the Asia/Pacific region, with similar devastating results for those unfortunate enough to get in the way of the seekers after wealth, although the percentage annihilated in the Western Hemisphere is one of the highest.
The quantity of treasure extracted even in the relatively early stages of empire-building was impressive, and became a vital input for financing the growth of industrial capitalism in Europe. As industry developed, its captains spared no effort to obtain “certain things we need”, as president Eisenhower said, meaning the raw materials which industry requires but Europe cannot supply in sufficient quantities.
The flow of financial wealth and raw materials to Western Europe from the subjugated areas has continued to the present. The techniques for ensuring it before and after 1945 have varied in terms of technology but have been remarkably consistent in terms of method, as we shall see in Chapter 11.
Slavery in the Americas and the transatlantic slave trade
There is of course no question that the purpose of enslavement in North and South America was to generate maximum profits for the owners of the slaves. Slaves were imported from Africa at a very early stage for a number of reasons, including a lack of manpower resulting from mass slaughter. The transatlantic slave trade grew steadily and enriched the operators handsomely, which enabled them to largely ignore its hazardous effects on the human commodities that they were hauling.
Like the German corporations that profited from slaves supplied by the SS in the 1940s, customers who purchased slaves seemed to have no difficulty in adjusting their internal moral apparatus in light of the potential profits. The following is from Robin Blackburn’s The Making of New World Slavery (1997):
I was shock’d at the first appearance of human flesh exposed to sale. But surely God ordained ‘em for the use and benefit of us: otherwise his Divine Will would have been made manifest by some particular sign or token. (Attributed to John Pinney, planter and merchant, 1760s.)
Blackburn gives a good capsule description of slavery and the slave trade in the introduction to his book:
The acquisition of some twelve million captives on the coast of Africa between 1500 and 1870 helped to make possible the construction of one of the largest systems of slavery in human history. The Atlantic slave trade itself was to become remarkable for its businesslike methods as well as its scale and destructiveness. Over a million and a half captives died during the ‘Middle Passage’ between Africa and the New World; an unknown, but large, number died prior to embarkation; and once in the New World, between a tenth and a fifth of the slaves died within a year. Those who survived found their life drastically organized to secure from them as much labor as possible. The slaves met their own subsistence needs in one or two days’ work a week, working the remainder of the time for their owners – a rate of exploitation or surplus extraction with few parallels even among other slave systems. In most parts of the Americas overwork, malnutrition and disease took a grim toll, and the slave labour force had to be replenished by further slave purchases…The total slave population in the Americas reached around 330,000 in 1700, nearly three million by 1800, and finally peaked at over six million in the 1850s, probably exceeding the numbers of slaves in Roman Italy, who were most numerous in the first century BC
African slaves were brought to the Americas in the first place at a time when the indigenous population was suffering a terrible catastrophe. Thousands of Africans helped to strengthen the colonial apparatus and perform both menial and supervisory tasks. Once plantation development was under way, the slavery of the New World battened principally on those of African descent, with Indians being dispossessed and thrust to the margins, and Africans becoming highly concentrated in the most arduous employments.
The book contains ample statistics on mortality rates among the slaves and on the gigantic profits that they generated. It provides a detailed description and analysis of how “the peculiar institution” was established, and underlines its vital contribution to the development of industrial capitalism in Western Europe.
Narcotics trade finances colonial administration
Trade in opium and other narcotics was of no economic significance in Asia until the arrival of the Western European colonial powers. As in the pre-Columbian Western Hemisphere, the use of drugs was generally limited to religious rituals, medication and part-time recreational activities.
But the clever merchants who had learned their skills in the European market economy discovered that promoting the use of opium and its derivatives could generate profits that would offset or reduce the costs of administering the colonies. So they started pushing dope on an intercontinental scale. The British became the biggest dealers after they established domain over the Indian subcontinent in the 1770s.
The Chinese government prohibited the import and use of opium and opium-derived drugs. The British fought two wars that enabled them to break the barrier and turn China into a huge drug market. Opium became India’s main export for 130 years under a joint venture by the British administration and the privately owned East India Company, according to professor Alfred W. McCoy in The politics of heroin – CIA complicity in the global drug trade (1991). By 1900 there were 13.5 million opium addicts in China. The profits that accrued to the British colonial administration covered its costs in India for well over a century. The narcotics trade was also the basis for a number of private fortunes, such as those of the Jardine Matheson & Co., a highly respected trading and banking house in Hong Kong.
The Dutch, the Portuguese and the French benefited from similar crimes against humanity. According to McCoy, “The rise of large-scale heroin production in Southeast Asia is the culmination of 400 years of Western intervention”.
The price of narcotics abuse includes broken lives and premature deaths, but it is the users and not the dealers who pay it. Although the exact extent of the devastation caused by the Western-driven narcotics trade in Asia cannot be determined, given the number of users in China alone in a single year the awful results must be numbered in many millions. They reflect the fact that everything is a commodity in a market economy. Everything and everyone is for sale.
19th-century industrial capitalism in England
Extraction of profits from the exploited majority of the population was not limited to the colonies. Increasing amounts of capital became available for financing industrialization in England. Large numbers of agricultural workers were thrown off the land and searched for employment in the cities. Quick-witted entrepreneurs and bankers realized that machinery for mass production of cheaper commodities could be combined with the growing army of destitute human beings who were in no position to dictate wages or working conditions, in order to generate earnings on a vast scale.
The invention of the cotton gin enabled slave-owners in the southern states of the US to deliver increasingly larger volumes of high-quality cotton to the British mills at attractive prices. Continuous improvements in machinery made production more efficient. Energy to drive the machines was readily available from coal and steam engines. Production volumes soared as the textile industry expanded. Improved technology for iron-making provided inputs for the machine-tool industry, and mechanization spread to other sectors, including everything from metal-working to pottery.
But the apparently endless supply of cheap labor-power was the key to the riches that were appropriated by the new class of industrial capitalists and the financial sector that supplied them with investment capital. The huge population of poor laborers was their equivalent of the Eldorado that European adventurers had searched for in the Americas. As in all other class societies based on a market economy, the minority battened on the poverty and the suffering of the majority.
The crime against humanity that enriched the minority was documented extensively by Friedrich Engels in The Condition of the Working Class in England, originally published in German in 1845. An English edition was published in 1887. His account of the misery, disease, oppression and premature death that ravaged the men, women and children of the English working class is based on his own observations as well as reports by doctors and public authorities, such as the Factory Inspectorate. For the majority, the outcome was a purgatory that matched the accomplishments of the European market economy on the other side of the Atlantic.
The city of Manchester was one of the centers of the booming textile industry in the mid-19th century. In a description of the housing in which the mill-workers were forced to live, Engels wrote:
In a rather deep hole in a curve of the Medlock [River] and surrounded on all four sides by tall factories and high embankments, covered with buildings, stand two groups of about two hundred cottages, built chiefly back to back, in which live about four thousand human beings…The cottages are old, dirty, and of the smallest sort, the streets uneven, fallen into ruts and in part without drains or pavement; masses of refuse, offal and sickening filth lie among standing pools in all directions; the atmosphere is poisoned by the effluvia from these, and laden and darkened by the smoke of a dozen tall factory chimneys. A horde of ragged women and children swarm about here, as filthy as the swine that thrive upon the garbage heaps and in the puddles. In short, the whole rookery furnishes such a hateful and repulsive spectacle as can hardly be equaled… The race that lives in these ruinous cottages, behind broken windows, mended with oilskin, sprung doors, and rotten doorposts, or in dark, wet cellars, in measureless filth and stench, in this atmosphere penned in as if with a purpose, this race must really have reached the lowest stage of humanity. This is the impression and the line of thought which the exterior of this district forces upon the beholder. But what must one think when he hears that in each of these pens, containing at most two rooms, a garret and perhaps a cellar, on the average twenty human beings live; that in the whole region, for each one hundred and twenty persons, one usually inaccessible privy is provided; and that in spite of all the preachings of the physicians, in spite of the excitement into which the cholera epidemic plunged the sanitary police…
Child labor and even child slavery were endemic, and the results were plain to see.
The children employed at spooling and hemming (in a textile mill) usually suffer grave injuries to their health and constitution. They work from the sixth, seventh, or eighth year ten to twelve hours daily in small, close rooms. It is not uncommon for them to faint at their work, to become too feeble for the most ordinary household occupation, and so near-sighted as to be obliged to wear glasses during childhood. Many were found by the commissioners to exhibit all the symptoms of a scrofulous constitution, and the manufacturers usually refuse to employ girls who have worked in this way as being too weak. The condition of these children is characterized as “a disgrace to a Christian country”, and the wish expressed for legislative interference…”
“Eye hath not seen,” says the stocking weaver, “ear hath not heard, the heart cannot conceive the half of the suffering endured by this poverty-stricken people.”
The benefits of mechanization included high-volume production of lace that could be sold cheaply and profitably to middle- and upper-class consumers. The actual producers included many children with dextrous fingers, especially young girls.
…the children, in consequence of sitting perpetually bent up, become feeble, narrow-chested, and scrofulous from bad digestion. Disordered functions of the uterus are almost universal among the girls, and curvature of the spine also…The same consequences for the eyes and the whole constitution are produced by the embroidery of lace. Medical witnesses are unanimously of the opinion that the health of all children employed in the production of lace suffers seriously, that they are pale, weak, delicate, undersized, and much less able than other children to resist disease. The affections from which they usually suffer are general debility, frequent fainting, pains in the head, sides, back, and hips, palpitation of the heart, nausea, vomiting and want of appetite, curvature of the spine, scrofula, and consumption. The health of the female lace-makers especially, is constantly and deeply undermined; complaints are universal of anaemia, difficult child-birth, and miscarriage. The same subordinate official of the Children’s Employment Commission reports further that the children are very often ill-clothed and ragged, and receive insufficient food, usually only bread and tea, often no meat for months together.
Birmingham and Sheffield also became major centers for mass production of metal goods, including needles. Children were often employed. Those who managed to reach adulthood were not very robust specimens.
The children are described as half-starved and ragged, the half of them are said not to know what it is to have enough to eat, many of them get nothing to eat before the midday meal, or even live the whole day upon a pennyworth’ of bread for a noonday meal — there were actually cases in which children received no food from eight in the morning until seven at night. Their clothing is very often scarcely sufficient to cover their nakedness, many are barefoot even in winter. Hence they are all small and weak for their age, and rarely develop with any degree of vigour. And when we reflect that with these insufficient means of reproducing the physical forces, hard and protracted work in close rooms is required of them, we cannot wonder that there are few adults in Birmingham fit for military service.
The working-men, says a recruiting surgeon, are shorter, more puny, and altogether inferior in their physical powers. Many of the men presented for examination are distorted in the spine and chest.
According to the assertion of a recruiting sergeant, the people of Birmingham are smaller than those anywhere else, being usually 5 feet 4 to 5 inches tall; out of 613 recruits, but (only) 238 were found fit for service.”
By far the most unwholesome work is the grinding of knife-blades and forks, which, especially when done with a dry stone, entails certain early death. The unwholesomeness of this work lies in part in the bent posture, in which chest and stomach are cramped; but especially in the quantity of sharp-edged metal dust particles freed in the cutting, which fill the atmosphere, and are necessarily inhaled. The dry grinders’ average life is hardly thirty-five years, ‘the wet grinders’ rarely exceeds forty-five.
Dr. Knight, in Sheffield, says: “Those who are to be brought up grinders, usually begin to work when they are about fourteen years old. Grinders, who have good constitutions seldom experience much inconvenience from their trade until they arrive at about twenty years of age: about that time the symptoms of their peculiar complaint begin to steal upon them, their breathing becomes more than usually embarrassed on slight exertions, particularly on going upstairs or ascending a hill; their shoulders are elevated in order to relieve their constant and increasing dyspnoea [difficult or labored breathing, OED]; they stoop forward, and appear to breathe the most comfortably in that posture in which they are accustomed to sit at their work. Their complexions assume a muddy, dirty appearance; their countenance indicates anxiety; they complain of a sense of tightness across the chest; their voice is rough, and hoarse; their cough loud, and as if the air were drawn through wooden tubes; they occasionally expectorate considerable quantities of dust, sometimes mixed up with mucus, at other times in globular or cylindrical masses enveloped in a thin film of mucus. Haemoptysis [expectoration of blood or blood-stained sputum from the bronchi, larynx, trachea, or lungs], inability to lie down, night sweats, colignative diarrhoea, extreme emaciation, together with all the usual symptoms of pulmonary consumption at length carry them off; but not until they have lingered through months, and even years of suffering, incapable of working so as to support either themselves or their families.” I must add that “all the attempts which have hitherto been made, to prevent or to cure the grinders’ asthma, have utterly failed”.
Manufacture of pottery and other ceramics was one of the great branches of industry in 19th century Britain. In Chapter 10 of Capital, Vol.1 “The Working Day”, Karl Marx wrote:
From the report of the Commissioners in 1863, the following: Dr. J. T. Arledge, senior physician of the North Staffordshire Infirmary, says: “The potters as a class, both men and women, represent a degenerated population, both physically and morally. They are, as a rule, stunted in growth, ill-shaped, and frequently ill-formed in the chest; they become prematurely old, and are certainly short-lived; they are phlegmatic and bloodless, and exhibit their debility of constitution by obstinate attacks of dyspepsia, and disorders of the liver and kidneys, and by rheumatism. But of all diseases they are especially prone to chest-disease, to pneumonia, phthisis, bronchitis, and asthma. One form would appear peculiar to them, and is known as potter’s asthma, or potter’s consumption. Scrofula attacking the glands, or bones, or other parts of the body, is a disease of two-thirds or more of the potters.”
The majority of the population who produced the wealth that the ruling class enjoyed were called the proletariat. The horrors of their existence did not seem to awaken much sympathy among their masters. In the chapter “The Attitude of the Bourgeoisie Towards the Proletariat”, Engels wrote:
In speaking of the bourgeoisie I include the so-called aristocracy, for this is a privileged class, an aristocracy, only in contrast with the bourgeoisie, not in contrast with the proletariat. The proletarian sees in both only the property-holder – i.e., the bourgeois. Before the privilege of property all other privileges vanish. The sole difference is this, that the bourgeois proper stands in active relations with the manufacturing, and, in a measure, with the mining proletarians, and, as farmer, with the agricultural laborers, whereas the so-called aristocrat comes into contact with the agricultural laborer only.
“I have never seen a class so deeply demoralized, so incurably debased by selfishness, so corroded within, so incapable of progress, as the English bourgeoisie… For it nothing exists in this world, except for the sake of money, itself not excluded. It knows no bliss save that of rapid gain, no pain save that of losing gold. In the presence of this avarice and lust of gain, it is not possible for a single human sentiment or opinion to remain untainted. True, these English bourgeois are good husbands and family men, and have all sorts of other private virtues, and appear, in ordinary intercourse, as decent and respectable as all other bourgeois…Ultimately it is self-interest, and especially money gain, which alone determines them. I once went into Manchester with such a bourgeois, and spoke to him of the bad, unwholesome method of building, the frightful condition of the working-peoples’ quarters, and asserted that I had never seen so ill-built a city. The man listened quietly to the end, and said at the corner where we parted: “And yet there is a great deal of money to be made here – good morning, sir”.
Here is Engels’ summary of the Age of Plenty:
In all directions, whithersoever we may turn, we find want and disease permanent or temporary, and demoralisation arising from the condition of the workers; in all directions slow but sure undermining, and final destruction of the human being physically as well as mentally.
It should be noted that subsequent improvements in the situation of the working class in England did not result from new-found benevolence on the part of their masters. As in all other Western market economies, it was only through class struggle that the workers were able to achieve changes in wages and working conditions. Class struggle was also the prime mover for the development of public-sector systems for health care, higher education, unemployment and sickness insurance, and pensions, among other things.
Over the past three decades the rulers of the European market economy have been working hard to depress wages, eliminate controls on working conditions, dismantle social-insurance systems and return the working class to its previous condition, as the Nazis attempted to do in the 1930s. These changes will be discussed in Chapter 15, The New Fascism.
Slavery in the US 1865-1965
It is generally supposed that enslavement of African-Americans in the United States of America ended with the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution in 1865. It did not. For about 75 years following the end of the Civil War, millions of them were trapped in a system of unofficial slavery. Like the Nazi SS, the directors of prisons in the southern states supplied privately owned corporations with slaves. The customers who leased Black convicts from the prisons included the owners of mines, lumber mills and steel corporations. The leasing system was not new and was not limited to Black Americans.
The first penitentiary in the US was established in Auburn, New York in 1817. Within a short time, the prison started leasing convicts, mostly white, to anyone who could pay the fees. The system spread across the country.
The convict slave-labor system in the US has continued to the present day and is very big business indeed. Among other things it involves locating production for and by privately owned companies behind prison walls, as in other Western countries including Sweden, where IKEA has made use of slave labor in public prisons.
The nature and extent of post-Civil War enslavement of Black Americans is documented in Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black People in America from the Civil War to World War II, by Douglas A. Blackmon (2008). The author is currently the Atlanta Bureau Chief for the Wall Street Journal.
After African-Americans became nominally free, their former masters soon invented laws that enabled imprisoning the former slaves on trivial charges, such as loitering on a street corner, using obscene language, or vagrancy. They were often framed for crimes they had not committed.
Blackmon points out that “the combination of trumped-up legal charges and forced labor as punishment created both a desirable business proposition and an incredibly effective tool for intimidating rank-and-file emancipated African-Americans and doing away with their most effective leaders.” The institution of leasing prisoners was endemic in the southern states.
The authorities who supplied the convicts “had no reason for concern about how they were treated by their new keepers or whether they survived at all.” And the corporations were willing to work their slaves to death.
For example, about one in five of the convicts leased in Alabama died during the first two years that the system was in operation. The death rate rose to 45% by the end of the third year.
The reality of incarceration in the slave mines became so ubiquitously understood for African-American men that landlords and local sheriffs – equipped with almost unchecked powers of arrest and conviction and enormous financial interest in providing labor to the mines and other enterprises – could make almost any demand upon any black man. More often than any other that demand was that they remain on the land of specific white farmers, living lives of supposedly voluntary serfdom.
Black women were lawful prey in the slavery system.
At the lumber camps in southern Alabama, women seeking the freedom of their men were simply arrested when they arrived, chained into their cells, and kept to serve the physical desires of the men running the camps… And the laws of the South were interpreted explicitly to ensure that the rape or coercion of a black woman by a white man would almost never be prosecuted as a crime.
Blackmon estimates that in 1930 there were 4.8 million African-Americans living in the so-called Black Belt region of the South. About half of them were subject to “some form of coerced labor”.
The web of slaveholders included companies owned by Northern investors, such as US Steel, one of the nation’s biggest corporations, which early in the 20th century was “the largest customer of the Alabama slavery system.”
As in other capitalist countries, the working class in the US struggled continuously against the owners of the production system. They were at a great disadvantage in the southern states. “Coal mines, timber camps, and farms worked by imprisoned men couldn’t be shut down by strikers, or have wages driven up by the demands of free men.”
But black and white workers in the South never gave up. In 1908 the interracial United Mine Workers union took more than 10,000 workers out on strike. The mine owners tried to break the strike with convict slave labor. They also started an “aggressive campaign to divide the union along racial lines”, which included lynching a Black union leader. The governor of Alabama informed union leaders that authorities were “outraged at the attempts to establish social equality between black and white miners” and that he would not tolerate “eight or nine thousand idle niggers in the State of Alabama.” He called in troops to break the strike, a standard tactic in the US.
Blackmon describes the slavery system as “knitting together the interests of capitalists, white farmers, local sheriffs and judges, and advocates of the most cruel white supremacy – all joined and served by an unrelenting pyramid of intimidation.”
The political ecology of famine
“The Almighty, indeed, sent the potato blight, but the English created the Famine.”[ John Mitchel, The Last Conquest of Ireland, available at http://www.libraryireland.com/Last-Conquest-Ireland/Contents.php
The disastrous effects of profit-driven colonization were not limited to death by violence, overwork and disease. The ruinous toll exacted by the Western European market economy in the colonies repeatedly took the form of famine, as illustrated by the Great Irish Famine of 1847-48, in which more than a million people died, or about 12% of the population. But the famine “killed poor devils only”.
The economy of Ireland, like that of all colonies, was controlled by the ruling class in the imperial power. Among other things, complying with the demands of this class involved maintaining exports of food from Ireland to England throughout the famine. In A Death-Dealing Famine (1997), Christine Kinealy shows that the volume of livestock and meat exported during the famine actually increased. Given the structure of the market economy, there was no mechanism that could be activated to ensure that a reasonable portion of the agricultural output of the country would be consumed by the people who inhabited it.
From the mid-19th century onward, extensive famines accompanied the expansion of capitalism as new colonies were integrated into the Western market economy. In Late Victorian Holocausts (2001), Mike Davis analyzes “the political ecology of famine” and shows how the operations of the so-called free market caused the deaths of multitudes.
When food shortages threatened the lives of poor people in India in the 1870s, enterprising merchants began buying and hoarding large stocks of grain in order to ensure future profits. The British colonial government refused to intervene on the grounds that doing so would violate the principles of free trade which had been defined by the Manchester school of economists whom Benito Mussolini admired (see above). The rulers of India would not give in to “humanitarian hysterics”.
The resulting famine in 1876-79 killed between 6.1 and 10.3 million Indians (Davis cites estimates from three different sources). In India, China and Brazil alone, estimates of famine victims 1876-1902 vary between 31.7 and 61.3 million.
The undernourishment and starvation that results from the implacable logic of the Western market economy is still claiming victims today, and was neatly summarized by Susan George: “Only the poor go hungry”. (See her How the Other Half Dies.),
World War 1 and the War of Intervention
Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Tifi on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.
Gas! GAS! Quick, boys ! – an ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.*
* How sweet and fitting it is to die for one’s country (Horace, Odes)
Dulce et Decorum Est, Collected Poems of Wilfred Owen (1968).
President Eisenhower understood (see above) that the survival and enrichment of the ruling class in a modern Western industrial nation depend on its ability to control sources of raw materials – the things “that we so greatly value” – which lie beyond the national borders.
The masters of the Western market economy had discovered long before Eisenhower that they also have to control markets for the products that their companies manufacture, and to identify and exploit profitable investment opportunities. There is no workable alternative to colonial domination.
The trouble was that the masters of several different Western countries wanted to get in on the act, and still do. By the end of the 19th century it was evident that the rulers of Britain and France were on a collision course with the rulers of Germany. The collision was extremely violent. It is called World War 1.
The preceding 350 years or so were scarred by other conflicts with similar causes, but the weapons technology that had been developed by 1914 generated results which were unique at the time.
Approximately 9 million soldiers were killed in battle, and 7 million civilians died directly or indirectly as a result of the war. More than 21 million soldiers were wounded, often crippled or blinded for life.
Many of us have been taught at one time or another that people should generally be held accountable for their actions. It therefore seems appropriate that those who make the decisions that lead to wars should be responsible for the resulting damage.
It was not the European working class that decided to go war in 1914. As mentioned before, they were warned repeatedly by V. I. Lenin and James Connolly, the great Irish socialist, that their masters were scheming to start a conflict in which they as subjects would pay the supreme price.
As Wilfred Owen pointed out, their masters did not explain the real cause of the war that was to come. In Europe their masters told them that they were fighting for “their country”, which it would be sweet to die for. In the US their masters told them that they would be fighting “to make the world safe for democracy,” in the words of President Woodrow Wilson.
Many American working-class people believed him, including my father, who luckily made it through the war intact. Wilfred Owen was killed in action seven days before the fighting stopped. The war set an indelible mark on my father and millions of others who had had the misfortune to be drawn into it. He told me that no one who had not experienced a war could possibly imagine the horror.
But World War 1 did not seem to leave a mark on the people who had started it. Before it was over the rulers of the West launched a new war, this time against Russia, where the people had overthrown the Czar and set up a socialist government that threatened the prosperity of Western capitalists. Winston Churchill was one of the main instigators of the attack.
The British journalist Morgan Philips Price came from a wealthy background. His family had been active in politics for some time, as representatives of the Liberal party. In 1914 he went to Russia as special correspondent for The Manchester Guardian, and remained there until the end of 1918. He returned to the UK in 1923 and later served as a member of Parliament for the British Labour Party from 1935 to 1959.
In an article entitled “The truth about the allied intervention in Russia”, reprinted in Dispatches from the Russian Revolution (1997), Price wrote that the revolt of the Russian people
…is supported by a vast majority, The democracy has the vast majority on its side but a small body of industrialists and bankers is, with foreign assistance, fighting a stubborn battle for its existence as a class…
I begin from the beginning. The Russian Revolution in March 1917 was nothing less than the first practical step taken by the working classes of a European country to protest against the indefinite dragging on of the war for objects hidden in the Chancelleries of secret European diplomacy. There is no better proof of this than in the fact that the first act of the first All-Russia Soviet conference in May 1917 was an appeal to the workers of the world to lay down their arms and make peace with each other over the heads of their governments. The Russian workers and peasants were brought to this conviction by their intense sufferings during the previous two-and-a-half years. The war in fact had brought their economically poorly developed country to ruin, the industries were at a standstill, famine was raging in the towns and the villages were filled with maimed soldiers. Long before the March Revolution one could see that the Russian army was no longer capable of the offensive, even if it had the inspiration to affect one, and meanwhile all the towns in the interior of Russia were, even in 1916, filled with deserters…
The ‘Bolshevik’ Revolution of October 1917 was the second protest of the Russian workers and peasants against the continuation of a war which they had not the physical strength to carry on, nor the moral justification to support. It seemed better for them to risk the dangers of making peace single-handed with the Prussian warlords than be ruined by being dragged along in a war for objects which were disclosed in the secret treaties between the Allies. The October Revolution differed from the March one. For the first time in the history of the world a people realized that only by radically altering the whole form of human government was it possible to put down war. Declining all ideas of a compromise peace between the rulers of the countries at war (a solution which would only have led to another war) the workers and peasants of Russia dared to create a government which, by putting an end to the political and economic power of landlords and financial syndicates, definitely rooted out that poison in human society which alone is the cause of war.
For the Russian people under Tsarism saw more clearly perhaps than the workers of England and Germany that the competition between the great banking and industrial trusts of London, Paris, Berlin and New York for spheres of influence, mining, and railway concessions in undeveloped countries like their own, was the root cause of all modern wars and that therefore, to put an end to war, the social and political system which breeds the exploiting trust must be once and for all overthrown…
From this it follows that the workers and peasants of Russia, after the October Revolution, were forced to undertake a task which the weak Kerensky government (controlled, as it was, mainly by landlords and bankers) could not even attempt to solve, namely to take directly under its authority the principle means of production, distribution and exchange. For this reason the railways, waterways and mines were declared State property and the banks taken under Government control. But Russia was bankrupt. Exhausted by the cruel war through which Tsarism had dragged her for three tortuous years, her economic power was completely broken down. Food and the raw materials of industry in the country were reduced to a minimum and the land flooded with valueless paper money. To repay the bankers of London and Paris the war debts of Tsarism, the Russian workers and peasants would have to export annually for many years to come, in gold or raw material, a sum not less than one milliard roubles (30,000,000 pounds sterling) without obtaining any return. To bear this burden in addition to others brought about by the ruin of the industries, the collapse of the railways and famine, was impossible without reducing the people to slavery. The Russian workers and peasants therefore could no longer admit the principle that they should pay tribute to foreign bankers for the doubtful honor of serving as their cannon fodder. So the repudiation of the debts of Tsarism and the nationalization of all the natural resources of the RussianRepublic to serve the interests of the people was the first and most essential of the principles of the October Revolution. But no sooner was this done than the governments of England and France began to plot for the overthrow of the Russian Soviet government…
The governments of England and France, in order to recoup themselves for the losses of the London and Paris bankers incurred by the Russian Revolution, are now trying to overthrow the Soviet government and re-establish a government with the aid of armed hirelings, which will impose again the milliard tribute of the loans of Tsarism upon the backs of the Russian workers and peasants. They are also trying to force the Russian people to fight in the war against Germany against their will, to use them as cannon fodder, although one of the main motives of the Workers’ and Peasants’ Revolution was to free themselves from the war, which was ruining them and condemning them to starvation. To impose fresh tribute upon the Russian people, to force them to fight against their will, to still further increase their misery, indescribable as it is at present, that is the task which the British government asks the British soldier to perform when he fights on the Murman; that is the object for which the British munitions worker is toiling when he makes shells which are to be fired upon his Russian comrades.
As one who has lived in Russia for four years, has seen the sufferings of her people and their heroic efforts to free themselves, I categorically assert that the anarchy and famine now raging in Russia is the deliberate work of the Imperialist governments of Europe, and in this respect the governments of the Allies and of Germany behave like vultures of the same brood. For what Germany has done in the Ukraine the Allied governments have done in Siberia and the territories east of the Volga.
The Western War of Intervention in Russia resulted in the deaths of 14 million people by violence, disease and undernourishment, according to Colin McEvedy och Richard Jones, Atlas of World Population History (1978). Approximately 80% of agricultural and industrial productive capacity was destroyed, according to Alec Nove in An Economic History of the USSR (1992), which crippled the Soviet economy for years to come. None of the leaders of the West ever apologized for the war, or offered to pay compensation.
In accordance with the teachings of the so-called “philosopher” Karl Popper, World War 1 is rarely associated with the dynamics of capitalism. The War of Intervention is either ignored or trivialized. It is often referred to as the Russian Civil War, as if there were no foreign troops involved. The nature of the wars as capitalist conflicts is seldom stated. But they were crimes against humanity none the less.
The strangulation of the Spanish Republic
In 1936 the national election in Spain was won by the Popular Front, a coalition that included the moderate Republican Union, the Republican Left, which advocated democratic reform, the Socialist Party, which corresponded to the British Labour Party, the Socialist Youth party, the Communist Party, the Catalan Left Party, which was similar to the Republican Left and also advocated an independent Catalonian Republic, and the UGT, the largest trade union in Spain.
The program of the Popular Front included amnesty for the estimated 30,000 political prisoners who had been jailed by the previous administration, reinforcement of the Republic’s constitutional guarantees, protection of small industries against big capital, a large public works program that would among other things reduce unemployment, tax and credit reforms, labor-market legislation that included a minimum wage and reinforcement of the rights of labor unions, and educational reform that included more schools and opportunities for working-class youngsters.
The program was aimed at reinforcing the reforms enacted by the SecondSpanishRepublic in 1931, which included labor rights and suffrage for women, and also legalized divorce and abortion.
The program was not revolutionary. It did not aim at eliminating capitalist relations of production and property. The government formed by the Front did not include any Communists. However, the success of the Popular Front was enough to frighten the Spanish ruling class and its representatives in the armed forces.
In July 1936 General Francisco Franco and several of his colleagues launched a revolt intended to protect and promote the rights of Spanish capitalists and large landowners. Franco had been stationed in the Canary Islands. He was transported to Morocco in a British plane, together with Commander Hugh. C. B. Pollard of Scotland Yard, according to an article by the pilot of the plane that was published in the British News Chronicle, 7 November 1936.
Army garrisons in mainland Spain started the rebellion. But Spanish workers and farmers along with loyal troops and officers showed unexpected resistance, and made it clear that they had no intention of allowing their legally elected government to be overthrown.
Franco called for help, and both Germany and Italy obliged. The German air force supplied transport planes to ferry Franco’s troops from the Spanish colony in Morocco to the mainland. German and Italian army, air force and naval units were soon fighting alongside the rebellious generals.
The Western powers regarded Republican Spain as a Communist state in the making and had no objections to the German and Italian legions. They participated in the strangulation of the legitimate Spanish government by inventing a policy of ”non-intervention”, which involved intervening in the war by establishing an embargo that prevented the Republic from purchasing war materiel on the international market.
The British and the French also prevented the Republic from obtaining many other types of supplies, including medical material and trucks. In La Choix de la Défaite: Les Elites Françaises Dans les Années 1930 (2006). Professor Annie Lacroix-Riz confirms that the British and the Americans assigned the Germans and the Italians the task of crushing the Spanish Republic (see also Douglas Little, Malevolent Neutrality: The United States, Great Britain and the Origins of the Spanish Civil War, 1985).
Winston Churchill had previously urged that Bolshevism be strangled in its cradle in Russia. It was clear that the strangulation of the SpanishRepublic was a primary aim of the Western powers.
As in so many other contexts, Churchill expressed the capitalists’ view of Spain in unambiguous terms. In August 1936 he wrote that the Republican government was “falling into the grip of dark, violent forces coming ever more plainly into the open, and operating by murder, pillage and industrial disturbances”. The government and its supporters were “a poverty stricken and backward proletariat demanding the overthrow of Church, State and property and the inauguration of a Communist regime”. They were opposed by the “patriotic, religious and bourgeois forces, under the leadership of the army, and sustained by the countryside in many provinces…marching to re-establish order by setting up a military dictatorship”.
He referred to alleged massacres of civilians and prisoners by government forces as “butcheries” But Franco’s executions of prisoners were not the same as the “atrocities” committed by the Republicans. In 1937 he told his fellow MPs that Britain should officially recognize Franco’s forces as the legitimate government of Spain.
As mentioned in Chapter 3, Churchill told a bare-faced lie in his memoir The Gathering Storm (1948), claiming that “in that conflict I was neutral”. (Ponting, Churchill, 1994.)
The Soviet Union was the only European country that came to the aid of the Republic, contributing military equipment, personnel, aircraft and pilots. The government of Mexico sent war materiel. The government was also helped by more than 30,000 men who volunteered to fight in defense of the Republic against the Fascists. They came from over 50 countries.
The Fascists finally prevailed after three years of bloody struggle. More than one million people lost their lives. The war was the overture to the cataclysm known as World War 2.
As in Italy and Germany, the urban working class and the peasants were quickly subjected to bloody repression that lasted for many years. About 200,000 people were murdered by the Franco government, and about 30,000 more “disappeared”. During the 36 bloody years from Franco’s seizure of power in 1939 until his death in 1975, there were no objections from the Western governments, who posed – and still pose – as the champions of freedom and democracy.
The conflict in Spain conformed to the pattern of the War of Intervention in Russia and the Finnish civil war, a pattern that has been repeated many times since then. If the class struggle within a country erupts into open armed conflict and the domestic capitalist-backed forces appear to be losing, other capitalist countries will intervene militarily in order to ensure that the domestic capitalist structure is maintained. Various types of intervention are also ordered if the domestic capitalists lose or appear to be losing an election.
In the mainstream media, such intervention is normally justified in the name of freedom, democracy and the need to keep the world safe from Communism.
The Holocaust and the Second World War
World War 2 was a war of aggression. According to the judgment of the Nuremberg Tribunal in 1945-1946,
To initiate a war of aggression, therefore, is not only an international crime, it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.
The mass killings of Jews that are collectively termed the Holocaust were part of this “supreme international crime”, which involved a far greater holocaust. Estimates of the death toll from World War 2 are as high as 60 million, of whom half or more were civilian deaths.
The Fascist forces led by Germany killed about 15 million Soviet civilians, of whom about 1.5 during the siege of Leningrad. About 9 million Chinese civilians were killed as a result of the war launched by Japan for the purpose of establishing a capitalist empire in Asia, which was to be known as the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere.
It was previously shown that the Holocaust cannot be separated from Fascism, and that Fascism cannot be discussed intelligently without discussing capitalism. Nor can World War 2.
The imperial ambitions of German capitalists did not expire with the armistice on 11 November 1918. Fulfilling their ambitions would require renewing the conflict with the British, the French and the Americans. It would also require attacking and defeating the Soviet Union.
This was evident to Western capitalists, whose fear and loathing of the Soviet Union had previously led to the War of Intervention discussed above. Those outside Germany hoped that Hitler would attack the USSR, that the war would result in mutual destruction, and that they could then pick up the pieces and return to the status quo ante 1914. The support and encouragement that they provided to Nazi Germany was discussed in Chapters 3 and 4. Their role in the preparation and launching of World War 2 inEurope will be discussed in the next chapter.
The Nazi attack on the Jews that is known as the Holocaust was not based on religious grounds. In Chapter 5 it was shown that in Germany the Jew had been identified as both the inventor of Communism and the bearer of the “Bolshevik plague”, and that is why the Nazis attacked them.
The Nazis did not object to Jews as such. It was shown in Chapter 6 that they were willing to negotiate with Zionists, to exempt them from punishment, and to praise them.
Like the citizens of the Soviet Union, the Jews were political targets. The Holocaust was part of the greater holocaust of World War 2. It was inextricably linked to the ideological and economic framework of the war, i.e. the campaign against Communism that the rulers of the West promoted and financed. The campaign has never ended.
The Communist movement was and is aimed at putting an end to the class society in which a minority seek to enrich themselves at the expense of the majority. The historical track record shows that the minority will use any means available to ensure the continuation of their rule.
Capital eschews no profit, or very small profit, just as Nature was formerly said to abhor a vacuum. With adequate profit, capital is very bold. A certain 10 per cent will ensure its employment anywhere; 20 per cent certain will produce eagerness; 50 per cent positive audacity; 100 percent will make it ready to trample on all human laws; 300 per cent and there is not a crime at which it will scruple, nor a risk it will not run…If turbulence and strife will bring a profit, it will freely encourage both… T. J. Dunning, Trades’ Unions and Strikes: Their Philosophy and Intentions, London 1860, cited in Capital Vol. 1.
The crime against humanity that was World War 2 and the crimes “contained within it”, which include the Holocaust, were thus rooted in the Western market economy. Neither the war nor the Holocaust was an aberration. Like the other crimes discussed in this chapter, they arose from the ineluctable exigencies of the system. Like the victims of those crimes, the Jews and non-Jews who met premature deaths during World War 2 died as a result of violence, enslavement, forced labor, disease and starvation. Like them, they died in the name of profit maximization.
The crowning atrocity of World War 2
The large-scale incineration of Japanese civilians February-August 1945 was the crowning atrocity of World War 2. On 24-25 February a flotilla of 174 B-29 aircraft dropped incendiary bombs on Tokyo and destroyed about 3 km² of the city. On the night of 9-10 March a force of close to 300 B29s dumped incendiaries on the city, destroying about 41 km² of it.
Various estimates put the number of deaths in the resulting firestorm at 100,000-125,000, and the number of homeless at 1 million. Wikipedia quotes Mark Selden in Japan Focus, a “peer-reviewed academic journal”: “The figure of roughly 100,000 deaths, provided by Japanese and American authorities, both of whom may have had reasons of their own for minimizing the death toll, seems to me arguably low in light of population density, wind conditions, and survivors’ accounts. With an average of 103,000 inhabitants per square mile and peak levels as high as 135,000 per square mile, the highest density of any industrial city in the world, and with firefighting measures ludicrously inadequate to the task, 15.8 square miles (41 km2) of Tokyo were destroyed on a night when fierce winds whipped the flames and walls of fire blocked tens of thousands fleeing for their lives. An estimated 1.5 million people lived in the burned out areas”.
In an article published in the Japan Times on 7 May 2010, the napalm attack on Tokyo was described as “the greatest air offensive in history” as well as “deliberate, indiscriminate mass murder.” The U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey is quoted as stating that “probably more persons lost their lives by fire in Tokyo in a six-hour period than at any time in the history of man.” The bombing was orchestrated by Maj. Gen. Curtis LeMay, who said “If we’d lost the war, we’d all have been prosecuted as war criminals.” According to US Brig. Gen. Bonner Fellers, the air raids on the Japanese cities were “one of the most ruthless and barbaric killings of noncombatants in all history.” (Emphasis added) http://www.google.fr/search?q=War+epics+on+screen+&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&aq=t&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&client=firefox-a
The US continued to bomb Japanese civilians until the end of the war. The most highly publicized attacks were the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki early in August.
In addition to about 110,000 civilians who were killed immediately, another 100,000 died of their injuries by year-end 1945. More than 300,000 survivors were severely injured, and approximately 10,000 of them died annually in the following decades.
The Nazis needed almost six years to kill 6 million Jews. The Truman government needed only four days (5-9 August 1945) to annihilate 110,000 Japanese, which is equivalent to about 10 million per year.
According to the mainstream version, the effects of the atomic bombs convinced the Japanese emperor that the war was hopeless and surrender was the only option, which eliminated the need for the US to invade Japan and thus saved many thousands of American lives.
In The decision to use the atomic bomb and the architecture of an American myth, (1995), the American historian Gar Alperovitz shows that this version of history does not correspond to reality.
The bombings were of no military value whatsoever, since the US government had known for some time that the Japanese were willing to capitulate. The Truman government could easily have obtained a Japanese surrender after the defeat of Hitler Germany in May, 1945.
The real reason for the bombings was Truman’s determination to send a warning to the Soviet Union that the US was willing and able to use the new weapon to ensure its superiority.
Instead of shortening the war, the decision to use the bomb prolonged it, since the weapon could not be ready until August. Truman was thus responsible not only for the unnecessary death and suffering of hundreds of thousands of Japanese civilians, but also of thousands of American and Japanese soldiers, including a number of American prisoners of war whom the US government knew were being held in Hiroshima when the A-bomb was dropped.
The Truman government and subsequent US governments deliberately lied to the American public about the real reason for the a-bombings.
Many high-ranking officers in the US armed forces have indicated that the atomic-bombings were unnecessary from a military point of view. The following quotations are from Alperovitz.
Dwight Eisenhower: “…the Japanese were ready to surrender and it wasn’t necessary to hit them with that awful thing.” Newsweek, 11 November 63.
Admiral William D. Leahy, who was Chief of Staff to Presidents Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman:
It is my opinion that the use of this barbarous weapon at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our war against Japan. The Japanese were already defeated and ready to surrender because of the effective sea blockade and the successful bombing with conventional weapons.
The lethal possibilities of atomic warfare in the future are frightening. My own feeling was that in being the first to use it, we had adopted an ethical standard common to the barbarians of the Dark Ages. I was not taught to make war in that fashion, and wars cannot be won by destroying women and children.
Norman Cousins in The Pathology of Power, Norton 1987:
MacArthur’s views about the decision to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were starkly different from what the general public supposed… When I asked General MacArthur about the decision to drop the bomb, I was surprised to learn he had not even been consulted. What, I asked, would his advice have been? He replied that he saw no military justification for the dropping of the bomb. The war might have ended weeks earlier, he said, if the United States had agreed, as it later did anyway, to the retention of the institution of the emperor.
Alperovitz quotes US Brigadier General Carter Clarke, who as a military intelligence officer was in charge of preparing reports of intercepted Japanese cables for Truman and his government:
…we didn’t need to do it, and we knew we didn’t need to do it, and they knew that we knew we didn’t need to do it, we used them [the Japanese] as an experiment for two atomic bombs.
Alperovitz quotes from former president Herbert Hoover’s account of a meeting with General Douglas MacArthur:
I told MacArthur of my memorandum of mid-May 1945 to Truman, that peace could be had with Japan by which our major objectives would be accomplished. MacArthur said that was correct and that we would have avoided all of the losses, the Atomic bomb, and the entry of Russia into Manchuria.
The following text by Alperovitz is available at
In any event, in the six weeks or so before Hiroshima the situation in Japan changed dramatically. First, the intensity of Japanese peace initiatives increased – in Switzerland, Sweden, and, we now know, in Portugal. As early as May 12, 1945, almost three months before Hiroshima, William Donovan, the head of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) personally advised the president of indications that Japan might surrender if the terms included a provision that the emperor (regarded as a deity) would not be removed. Thereafter others – including, most importantly, Acting Secretary of State Joseph Grew and Stimson – urged such a change at different times. And we know from several sources that although Truman may have preferred to make no change, he had no objection in principle to the provision, and, of course, ultimately accepted it.
The United States had also, of course, cracked the Japanese code early in the war. In mid-June, and then very actively on into July, the emperor became involved in attempting to arrange a surrender, using Moscow as the negotiating channel. The evidence on this –and U.S. leaders” knowledge of the emperor’s initiative – is now well established. (Robert C. Butow’s Japan’s Decision to Surrender is the classic work.) The mere fact that the emperor, traditionally aloof from politics, instigated the diplomatic move was extraordinary. We also know that Truman clearly understood what was happening; afterwards he confirmed his awareness of the main cables. The new evidence from the diaries adds to our sense of the president’s personal assessment; in these pages Truman straightforwardly terms the most important intercepted message the “telegram from Jap Emperor asking for peace.”
In a new edition of Atomic Diplomacy, I have reviewed additional intelligence and other information which helps clarify how U.S. officials understood what was happening, especially in the six or seven weeks before Hiroshima. It is enough to say here that many top officials understood that Japan’s situation had changed drastically… Admiral Leahy’s diary entry of June 18, 1945, just short of two months before Hiroshima: “It is my opinion at the present time that a surrender of Japan can be arranged with terms that can be accepted by Japan and that will make fully satisfactory provision for America’s defense.
Even Air Force General Curtis LeMay, who later proposed turning North Korea into a parking lot, on 20 September 1945 stated in the New York Herald Tribune that the atomic bomb “had nothing to do with the end of the war”.
However, the mass incineration of civilians at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was not enough for some military leaders. On August 14, 1945, after the two atomic bombs had been dropped, General Henry Harley “Hap” Arnold decided that more terror had to be applied. The details are given in Cate, James L. and Craven, Wesley F., The Army Air Forces in World War II:
Arnold wanted as big a finale as possible, hoping that USASTAF could hit the Tokyo area in a 1,000-plane mission: the Twentieth Air Force had put up 853 B-29’s and 79 fighters on 1 August, and Arnold thought the number could be rounded out by calling on Doolittle’s Eighth Air Force. Spaatz still wanted to drop the third atom bomb on Tokyo but thought that battered city a poor target for conventional bombing; instead, he proposed to divide his forces between seven targets…From the Marianas, 449 B-29’s went out for a daylight strike on the 14th, and that night, with top officers standing by at Washington and Guam for a last-minute cancellation, 372 more were airborne. Seven planes dispatched on special bombing missions by the 509th Group brought the number of B-20’s to 828, and with 186 fighter escorts dispatched, USASTAF passed Arnold’s goal with a total of 1,014 aircraft. There were no losses, and before the last B-29 returned President Truman announced the unconditional surrender of Japan.
I have not been able to find reliable estimates of how many thousands of civilians were killed in these bombings at Osaka and the other cities that were targeted. An interesting account of the Osaka bombings is available at http://www.zcommunications.org/znet/viewArticle/14337
The Holocaust in historical perspective
The judeocide known as the Holocaust was obviously not an aberration. It was yet another manifestation of the widespread destruction generated by the Western market economy over several thousand years. The form of these manifestations has varied, but the content has been substantially the same. And the judeocide was certainly not the last of the holocausts, as shown in subsequent chapters.
The Holocaust can be considered unique in that it was ostensibly directed at the Jews who allegedly invented Marxism and plotted to establish global Communist hegemony. But as such it was part of the even greater holocaust known as World War 2 in Europe, which was aimed at the annihilation of the Soviet Union and the Communist movement.
The burden of guilt for the World War 2 holocaust lies with the leaders of the capitalist world and is discussed in the next chapter.