Bull Sessions on the Internet

Let’s start with a definition of a “bull session.” As I browsed the internet for a definition, the following one seemed good enough:

An informal discussion. A bull session was originally a late-night college men’s dormitory conversation with a wide range of topics — politics, sex, sports, sex, religion, sex . . . The word “bull,” which meant something boastful or outlandish, came from — no surprise here — “bullshit.”

Why do I focus on the phenomenon of a bull session?

Because as I browse the internet to garner information, analyses, anticipations, and recommendations, I come across digital books, audio books, articles, and other visual and auditory media. I am also very attracted to lectures, speeches and interviews with prominent individuals. And since my interest is primarily political, I have come to appreciate the wisdom of such people as Chomsky, Hedges, Pilger, Kinzer, Sale, and others.

However, I am also curious to hear how a younger generation approaches political issues. And I have noticed that there are all these characters wearing headsets talking to other characters also wearing headsets. I think they are called political “podcasters,” as contrasted with the talk shows on television. And there are too many of them to even enumerate.

Since I consider myself in the anarcho-socialist spectrum, I tend to listen to would-be supporters and detractors within this spectrum.

A few years ago, I came across a young man, Cameron Watt, who made a number of videos about anarchism which were clearly and systematically presented at Libertarian Communist Platform. Here is one of his videos:

A Case for Revolution (2018)

By contrast to these clear and systematic expositions of libertarian socialism (aka anarchism), I came across a podcaster, Michael (Krechmer) Malice, who also calls himself an anarchist.

I tried very hard to understand the nature of his “anarchism” through the various podcasts which he does with others. But my endeavor to understand where he stands has so far been a failure.

So far, this is what I have learned. He is against a centralized State; and he is, as I am, for the right of secession. But when I try to find out a bit more by listening to his appearances on various podcasts, these podcasts turned into bull sessions. For example, in several podcasts when he was asked to characterize anarchism, he repeated that it is a matter of relating. He uses the phrase “you do not speak for me.” If paraphrased, it means that he requires getting an agreement from him on all matters.

On the Joe Rogan show, he proposed to substitute private security services for the police. But instead of pursuing the nature of anarchism further, the exchange with Joe Rogan turned into a gossip-like bull session.

On the Dave Rubin Report, he mentioned that he was a leftist against the State, and then the conversation turned to other things — more bull session.

In his podcast with Chris Williamson, confronted with the question: What Is The Hardest Question For Anarchism To Answer?, his answer was that he had no idea how to deal with parents who mistreat their children.

Also asked if there is anywhere an anarchistic territory, he answered that it is not a place but a relationship — i.e., of mutual agreement. But other then mentioning ancient Ireland, he could not mention any experiments with anarchism.

This makes me think that he is an anarcho-capitalist, because such a thing never existed, and, in my opinion, is an incoherent idea.

And, if he were an anarcho-socialist or an anarcho-communist, as Cameron Watt is, then he would have mentioned communism in primitive tribes, and anarchist communities which have escaped the State. And he could have mentioned the various communistic societies in the United States in the 19th century, he could also have mentioned Nestor Makhno and Makhnovchina in Ukraine (1918-1921), he could have mentioned the Spanish anarchism (1936-39), and today, the Zapatistas in Chiapas, Mexico; Rojava in Syria, and the town of Cheran in Mexico.

But whatever his position is, it is smothered by the bull sessions of the podcasters.

Cheran — an anarchist town of 20,000 in Michoacan, Mexico

Yesterday I discovered the existence of a town in Mexico which is a model of anarchism — meaning that it is a politically semi-autonomous town governed by direct democracy since 2011. It is not completely independent because it is subject, for one, to external taxation.

Here is an article about the town from BBC News: Linda Pressly, “Cheran: The town that threw out police, politicians and gangsters,” Oct. 13, 2016.

And here is one from Aljazeera: “How a Mexican town toppled a cartel and established its independence,”, 2014.

Below is one video out of many available on Youtube:

“In this video, Luke Rudkowski of WeAreChange gives you the latest on Cheran, Michoacan an anarchist town that’s followed by anarchy principles and over 30,000 anarchists. We talk to Jeff Berwick the dollar vigilante who organizes one of the largest anarchy conferences anarapulco.”

How is this possible within a State?
1. From the Mexican legal perspective, indigenous people have a right to a certain level of autonomy.
2. And this town is a homogenous one, consisting of Purepecha natives.
3. This town also has arms and a militia.

The situation of Cheran should be distinguished from that of the uprising of Zapatistas in Chiapas, Mexico in 1994. Here is a Democracy Now report in 2014 on its 20 year anniversary:

“On the same day North American Free Trade Agreement went into effect on January 1, 1994, the Zapatista National Liberation Army and people of Chiapas declared war on the Mexican government, saying that NAFTA meant death to indigenous peoples. They took over five major towns in Chiapas with fully armed women and men. The uprising was a shock, even for those who for years worked in the very communities where the rebel army had been secretly organizing. To learn about the impact of the uprising 20 years later and the challenges they continue to face, we speak with Peter Rosset, professor on rural social movements San Cristóbal de las Casas, Mexico.”

Thinking about assassinations

Yesterday’s assassination of Jovenal Moise, the President of Haiti, on July 7, 2021, made me think about assassinations in general.

To begin, what is an assassination? Of course, it is a type of killing. But whereas unjustified intentional killings are called “murders,” an assassination in some sense transcends that label. It is a targeted killing for some political, economic, or ideological reason; normally, of some prominent individual.

By contrast, in warfare, a sniper’s killing of a general or a king is not likely to be called an assassination.

Let me distinguish bottom-up and top-down assassinations. The assassination of a President or some government official is a bottom-up assassination, and these are the assassinations which we are familiar with. Here is a list: List of assassinations

However, when a ruler targets someone to assassinate, this goes by the euphemistic phrase of “targeted killing.” Lists of such attempted and successful assassinations (“targeted killings”) can be found here:List of assassinations by the United States; List of Soviet and Russian assassinations; List of Israeli assassinations.

See: Nils Melzer, Targeted Killing in International Law, 2008; Claire Finkelstein, Jens David Ohlin, and Andrew Altman (ed.), Targeted Killings: Law and Morality in an Asymmetrical World, 2012; Ronen Bergman, Rise and Kill First: The Secret History of Israel’s Targeted Assassinations, 2018.

Most such “targeted killings” have been covert. The first nearly overt one which caught my attention was the U.S. invasion of Panama by President George H. W. Bush on Dec. 20, 1989 in order to capture Manuel Noriega. To me this was worse than any “targeted killing,” because it involved the killing of needless American soldiers and some 500 Panamanian civilians.

After 9/11, with the so-called “war on terror” and the U.S. invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, “targeted killings” became something like a common practice. Under President Barack Obama, Osama bin Laden, Answar al-Awlaki and his son were assassinated, and killing by the use of drones became a standard procedure.

The other assassination which looms large in my mind was that of Jamal Khashoggi in 2018, approved by the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman.

This practice of “targeted killings” as a strategy, rather than being a “war on terror,” has tended to create something approaching a totalitarian state of terror!

Bottom-Up Assassinations

Given that most governments are in the hands of single rulers (be they monarchs, presidents, or prime-ministers), they tend to be ambitious, greedy, inept, or ruthless. And the intent of most assassinations of prominent officials is simply to get rid of a perceived evil vermin.

There is one prominent exception that I can think of. It is the assassination of Emperor Alexander II of Russia in 1881 by Narodnaya Volya. Their hope was not to kill a man, but to kill a system — to start a revolution, which did not materialize.

A Commentary on Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States”

Many years ago when I came across the first edition of Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States (1980), I was so amazed by its perspective and scholarship that I wrote to Zinn, and asked permission to put it on the Internet. He replied by simply referring me to his publisher. Well, not getting an outright refusal, I digitized the book and placed it on the Internet, and there it stayed until Zinn died in 2010. [I looked for the book on my site in the WaybackMachine, and I found it for Feb. 17, 2006]. Soon after Zinn’s death, I received an email from his publisher pointing out that the book was copyrighted and was requested to remove it from the Internet. I did. But by that time someone in China had placed my pages on their own web site. Well, whatever is going on with the copyright issue, an updated copy is available here: Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States.

At this point in time, my only criticism of Zinn’s book is that it did not focus sufficiently on land rights in the United States, as presented in such a book as: Charles Beard and Mary Beard, History of the United States, 1921; or such a book as: Roy M. Robbins, Our Landed Heritage: The Public Domain, 1776-1936, 1942. [A full copy is available for borrowing at Internet Archive.]

My point is that access to subsistence land is necessary for sheer animal existence, and such access in the British colonies was never free. Land was granted to individuals and corporations by the Kings of England, and these individuals and corporations had to create a profit for themselves and the King.

Below is an illustration of this from the Beards’ History:

Feudal Elements in the Colonies – Quit Rents, Manors, and Plantations. – At the other end of the scale were the feudal elements of land tenure found in the proprietary colonies, in the seaboard regions of the South, and to some extent in New York. The proprietor was in fact a powerful feudal lord, owning land granted to him by royal charter. He could retain any part of it for his personal use or dispose of it all in large or small lots. While he generally kept for himself an estate of baronial proportions, it was impossible for him to manage directly any considerable part of the land in his dominion. Consequently he either sold it in parcels for lump sums or granted it to individuals on condition that they make to him an annual payment in money, known as “quit rent.” In Maryland, the proprietor sometimes collected as high as £9000 (equal to about $500,000 to-day) in a single year from this source. In Pennsylvania, the quit rents brought a handsome annual tribute into the exchequer of the Penn family. In the royal provinces, the king of England claimed all revenues collected in this form from the land, a sum amounting to £19,000 at the time of the Revolution. The quit rent, – “really a feudal payment from freeholders,” – was thus a material source of income for the crown as well as for the proprietors. Wherever it was laid, however, it proved to be a burden, a source of constant irritation; and it became a formidable item in the long list of grievances which led to the American Revolution.

Something still more like the feudal system of the Old World appeared in the numerous manors or the huge landed estates granted by the crown, the companies, or the proprietors. In the colony of Maryland alone there were sixty manors of three thousand acres each, owned by wealthy men and tilled by tenants holding small plots under certain restrictions of tenure. In New York also there were many manors of wide extent, most of which originated in the days of the Dutch West India Company, when extensive concessions were made to patroons to induce them to bring over settlers. The Van Rensselaer, the Van Cortlandt, and the Livingston manors were so large and populous that each was entitled to send a representative to the provincial legislature. The tenants on the New York manors were in somewhat the same position as serfs on old European estates. They were bound to pay the owner a rent in money and kind; they ground their grain at his mill; and they were subject to his judicial power because he held court and meted out justice, in some instances extending to capital punishment.

The manors of New York or Maryland were, however, of slight consequence as compared with the vast plantations of the Southern seaboard – huge estates, far wider in expanse than many a European barony and tilled by slaves more servile than any feudal tenants. It must not be forgotten that this system of land tenure became the dominant feature of a large section and gave a decided bent to the economic and political life of America. (Chapter 2)

After the American Declaration of Independence in 1776, a question arose as to the status of lands westward of the colonies. These eventually became known as the public domain, and by the Ordinance of May 20, 1785, the following measures went into effect:

In line with the earlier abolition of feudal incidents, the ordinance adopted allodial tenure, that is, land was to pass in fee simple from the government to the first purchaser. After clearing the Indian title and surveying the land the government was to sell it at auction to the highest bidder. Townships were to be surveyed six miles square and alternate ones subdivided into lots one mile square, each lot consisting of 640 acres to be known as a section. No land was to be sold until the first seven ranges of townships were marked off. A minimum price was fixed at $1 per acre to be paid in specie, loan-office certificates, or certificates of the liquidated debt, including interest. The purchaser was to pay surveying expenses of $36 per township. Congress reserved sections 8, 11, 26, and 29 in each township, and one-third of all precious metals later discovered therein. In addition the sixteenth section of each township was set aside for the purpose of providing common schools.

[I add the following table:

Township = 36 sections
[Robbins, Chapter I]

Land was, thus, not available for free, and those who illegally settled on any land were squatters, who, when the surveys reached their land holdings had to pay or be booted out. The other major problem was that land was sold only in huge chunks; so that only wealthy speculators could afford to buy it, which they then resold to settlers for a profit.

As to the Homestead Act of 1862 which granted 160 acres for free; although Zinn points out that only inferior land was made available, he does not mention the exorbitant cost to the pioneer to undertake such a possession. See: Clarence H. Danhof, “FARM-MAKING COSTS AND THE “SAFETY VALVE”: 1850-60,” The Journal of Political Economy, Volume XLIX, Number 3, June 1941: 317-359.

In conclusion, I think that Zinn was right on target in the following excerpt in realizing that freedom from slavery without a free access to subsistence land is just another form of slavery — wage slavery.

Many Negroes understood that their status after the war, whatever their situation legally, would depend on whether they owned the land they worked on or would be forced to be semi-slaves for others. In 1863, a North Carolina Negro wrote that “if the strict law of right and justice is to be observed, the country around me is the entailed inheritance of the Americans of African descent, purchased by the invaluable labor of our ancestors, through a life of tears and groans, under the lash and yoke of tyranny.”

Abandoned plantations, however, were leased to former planters, and to white men of the North. As one colored newspaper said: “The slaves were made serfs and chained to the soil. . . . Such was the boasted freedom acquired by the colored man at the hands of the Yankee.”

Under congressional policy approved by Lincoln, the property confiscated during the war under the Confiscation Act of July 1862 would revert to the heirs of the Confederate owners. Dr. John Rock, a black physician in Boston, spoke at a meeting: “Why talk about compensating masters? Compensate them for what? What do you owe them? What does the slave owe them? What does society owe them? Compensate the master? . . . It is the slave who ought to be compensated. The property of the South is by right the property of the slave. . . .”

Some land was expropriated on grounds the taxes were delinquent, and sold at auction. But only a few blacks could afford to buy this. In the South Carolina Sea Islands, out of 16,000 acres up for sale in March of 1863, freedmen who pooled their money were able to buy 2,000 acres, the rest being bought by northern investors and speculators. A freedman on the Islands dictated a letter to a former teacher now in Philadelphia:

My Dear Young Missus: Do, my missus, tell Linkum dat we wants land – dis bery land dat is rich wid de sweat ob de face and de blood ob we back. . . . We could a bin buy all we want, but dey make de lots too big, and cut we out.

De word cum from Mass Linkum’s self, dat we take out claims and hold on ter um, an’ plant um, and he will see dat we get um, every man ten or twenty acre. We too glad. We stake out an’ list, but fore de time for plant, dese commissionaries sells to white folks all de best land. Where Linkum?

In early 1865, General William T. Sherman held a conference in Savannah, Georgia, with twenty Negro ministers and church officials, mostly former slaves, at which one of them expressed their need: “The way we can best take care of ourselves is to have land, and till it by our labor. . . .” Four days later Sherman issued “Special Field Order No. 15,” designating the entire southern coastline 30 miles inland for exclusive Negro settlement. Freedmen could settle there, taking no more than 40 acres per family. By June 1865, forty thousand freedmen had moved onto new farms in this area. But President Andrew Johnson, in August of 1865, restored this land to the Confederate owners, and the freedmen were forced off, some at bayonet point.

Ex-slave Thomas Hall told the Federal Writers’ Project:

Lincoln got the praise for freeing us, but did he do it? He gave us freedom without giving us any chance to live to ourselves and we still had to depend on the southern white man for work, food, and clothing, and he held us out of necessity and want in a state of servitude but little better than slavery.

Divide and Rule (Divide et Impera)

Let’s imagine that there is a land of foragers living in scattered tribes. Well, actually you don’t have to imagine this, because that was the situation in America and Africa before the arrival of Europeans. These Europeans came and simply declared that such and such territory belongs to the king of X. If there were any objection from the natives, the Europeans rattled their sabers, and that settled the matter. The territory was conquered!

Franz Oppenheimer, in his book The State,(1919) saw no other way of turning tribal territories into States except through conquest. The conquerors became the rulers and the conquered, the ruled. Since humans need food to live, the rulers required of the ruled to provide them with food and whatever else they wished.

But here comes the most clever of all stratagems: the division of the ruled into two groups. One group of workers is given the job of enforcement, and the other workers remain enforced workers. The enforcers are called “police,” “soldier,” “sheriff,” “deputy,” “marshal,” “bodyguard,” “security guard,” “national guard,” etc. The non-enforcers are forced into wage-labor by forbidding them free access to subsistence land. This is true from the time of recorded history. Allowing occupation of land was conditional on some kind of payment and service. At first this is called feudalism, but in a sense, feudalism still exists in the form of payment of property and other taxes to the State, and military service when required.

The ease of dividing people into enforcers and non-enforcers was dramatically demonstrated by the Stanford prison experiment by Philip Zimbardo, in which students were randomly divided into prison guards and prisoners.

What this — as well as my general independent knowledge — shows me is that people will do almost anything for a job and money. Perhaps the book by Philip Zimbardo, The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil, 2007, captures this phenomenon as does Hannah Arendt’s description of Adolph Eichmann by the phrase the “banality of evil” — that people will sell themselves easily as slaves of others.

I have always wondered — and still do — how soldiers were recruited to fight in massive face-to-face battles, where death and the known probability of death was so extensive. I can understand the willingness of people to fight in a defensive action; but I am utterly disturbed by how easily the police and national guards comply to quell people with justifiable grievances; or even how an organized war of Americans against Americans (1861-1865) was possible.

Below is a documentary about what took place in Chicago during the August 1968 Democratic National Convention. Thousands of young people congregated in Lincoln and Grant Parks in protest against the Vietnam War. Mayor Daley ordered the police to clear the parks and stop any illegal marching, and the police brutally complied, with the national guard standing in the background.

“Totalitarianism” as understood by Hannah Arendt

Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism, 1951, 1958, 1968.

All abstract political terms — especially those ending in “ism” — as used by particular individuals have to be defined. Otherwise the tendency is to psittacism — talking like a parrot without understanding.

Hannah Arendt, in her book, recognized only two recent governments as being totalitarian dictatorships — that of Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin. And because other writers include other dictators, such as Benito Mussolini and Mao Tse-tung as being totalitarian, it helps to clarify her use of the term “totalitarian” by understanding why she explicitly refused to use this label with them.

To begin with, we are talking about dictators. And it is the policy of typical dictators to eliminate criticism and opposition through censorship, incarceration, and execution. A higher level of control is achieved through spies and a secret police, as was the case in the 19th century especially with the Russian tsar’s Okhrana.

In these respects, Mussolini was a typical dictator. She writes: “… Mussolini, who was so fond of the term “totalitarian state,” did not attempt to establish a full-fledged totalitarian regime11 and contented himself with dictatorship and one-party rule.

11 Proof of the nontotalitarian nature of the Fascist dictatorshp is the suprisingly small number and the comparatively mild sentences meted out to political offenders. During the particularly active years from 1926 to 1932, the special tribunals for political offenders pronounced 7 death sentences, 257 sentences of 10 or more years imprisonment, 1,360 under 10 years, and sentenced many more to exile;12,000, moreover, were arrested and found innocent, a procedure quite inconceivable under conditions of Nazi and Bolshevik terror. See E. Kohn-Bramstedt, Dictatorship and Political Police. The Technique of Control by Fear, London, 1945, pp. 51 ff. [pp. 308-9]

More surprising is Arendt’s refusal to label Mao Tse-tung’s killing of 15 million Chinese (3% of the population) in 1949 as totalitarian. She writes: ” … after the disappearance of organized opposition, there was no increase in terror, no massacre of innocent people, no category of “objective enemies,” no show trials, though a great deal of public confessions and “self-criticism,” and no outright crimes.” [p. xxvi]

So, it would seem, that the term “totalitarian” is being used not specifically for killing opponents but for killing and controlling people for some other reason.

Here I want to interject my own succinct explanation of why Hitler and Stalin killed people which would warrant for distinct labels — though “totalitarian” does not seem quite appropriate.

Hitler killed people because of his fanatical perverted eugenic program, which included exterminating races, the deformed, and the disabled. Hitler viewed his mission similarly to that of the robot, Nomad, depicted in the TV series Star Trek, whose mission was to destroy “biological infestation.”

Here is a clip:

Stalin, on the other hand, was a fanatic of a different stripe. He had an obsessive paranoia which required a rationalization by having his victims confess their “crimes.” And his mind-set was like that of the United States when it waged a preemptive war against Iraq, or the rationalization of an Israeli soldier when he shoots a Palestinian child because the child may grow up to be a terrorist. Typical dictators kill only their enemies; Stalin killed and terrorized possible enemies as well.

P.S. Hannah Arendt believed that the best studies about Hitler were by Alan Bullock, Hitler, A Study in Tyranny, 1952; and Konrad Heiden, Der Fuehrer: Hitler’s Rise to Power, 1944. About Stalin, Boris Souvarine, Stalin, A Critical Survey of Bolshevism, 1939; and, Isaac Deutscher, Stalin: A Political Biography, 1949.

Disambiguation of “socialism”

Instead of a heading such as “types of socialism” as is found on Wikipedia, which assumes there is a common genus, a better heading would be “the different uses of the word socialism.” I think that for the non-reflective public, the word “socialism” — as also such words as “fascism” and “communism” — are just words of derision, as are the words “asshole” or “bastard” — and nothing more. So when a country or the government of a country is called “socialistic,” “communistic,” or “fascistic,” it is enough for the unreflective person to condemn the country or its government as evil. [In a previous blog “The Tyranny of Words” I posted the findings of Stuart Chase about the use of the word “fascism.”]

Here I would like to make distinction between the use of “socialism” as applied to States (i.e., the governments of countries) and as applied to, what today are called, “intentional communities.” I believe that ‪Marx and Engels referred to speculation about such communities as “utopian socialism.” That is an unfortunate phrase because it suggests that these communities saw themselves as living in the best of all possible communities — which I don’t think they did. They simply thought this was a better way to live for them.

Anyway, there are three early books about these communities. They are:

John Humphrey Noyes, History of American Socialisms, 1870;
Charles Nordhoff, The Communistic Societies of the United States, 1875;
William Alfred Hinds, American Communities, 1878, revised 1902

The earliest of these books is by Noyes, and it is about types of communities as “socialisms.” And he distinguishes two types of socialistic communities: communistic and joint-stock communities. (Joint-stock communities are what Richard Wolff refers to as “worker-owned enterprises.”)

It is interesting to note which communities succeeded and which failed. To find out, read at least one of the books!

What Marx and Engels call “scientific socialism” has nothing to do with communal societies, but is rather a phrase equivalent to “social science,” which includes sociology, economics, and political study. But, in short, it is a critique of capitalism.

“Socialism” nowadays is used to refer to State interference with “laissez-faire capitalism.” Because the term “capitalism” is used in the sense that an individual should be free to trade with anyone for anything, “socialism” is seen as a constraint on this freedom. And this constraint can take the form of a government either taking over production, restraining and regulating trade and ownership, or providing welfare. From this perspective, a State is socialistic if it takes over the industries (nationalizes them), if it regulates production and distribution, and if it provides for people such things as old age pensions, free health care, free food, or free anything.

The most pernicious form of socialism to capitalism is a State which gives a free access to subsistence land. The reason this is so pernicious is that such a measure deprives capitalists (i.e. people with money to invest) from obtaining cheap laborers or even laborers at all.