Ira Shor is a professor at the City University of New York, where he teaches composition and rhetoric. Coming to the City University in 1971 after completing a literature PhD at Wisconsin, he experimented with critical literacy, taught Basic Writing for 15 years, and still teaches first-year composition as well as other courses. He started the new doctoral program in Rhetoric/Composition at the Graduate Center in 1993, where he directs dissertations and offers seminars in literacy, writing theory, critical pedagogy, whiteness studies, the rhetorics of space and place, and working-class culture. He also serves on the English faculty at the College of Staten Island, CUNY, where he teaches courses in writing, literature, and mass media as well as graduate classes for schoolteachers.
Born in 1945 in the South Bronx, he attended mediocre public schools for New York City’s working-class children until winning admission to the selective Bronx High School of Science where knowledge became a serious undertaking. In the Jewish South Bronx of the 1950s, he grew up in a rent-controlled apartment among all-white Eastern European families, descendants of immigrants, his being Russian. Shor’s father was a sheet-metal worker with a bawdy sense of humor who dropped out of school at 15, learned his trade from a family friend, built battleships at the Brooklyn Navy Yard in two wars, and failed miserably in his own small business. His mother was a zany bookkeeper for small businesses who finished high school but could not afford college, which broke her heart, and turned her into a lifelong lover of Italian opera and Shakespeare.
After graduating the elite Science High, Shor attended the University of Michigan(BA, English, 1966), then the University of Wisconsin(MA, 1968, and Phd, 1971), both sites of student activism in the 1960s. His dissertation was on Kurt Vonnegut whose intense ethical stance against exploitation, violence, war, and cruelty drew Shor to this author.
His influence in the field of critical pedagogy has been profound. Starting with his seminal book Critical teaching and Everyday Life (1980) he has been a consistent advocate and champion for student-centred education and critical pedagogy. Critical Teaching and Everyday Life was the first book-length treatment of Freire-based critical methods in the North American context and had a profound effect upon my own teaching practice. The book grew out of Shor’s literacy teaching for Open Admission students in the City University in the 1970s, where he helped build an open-access writing program recognized then as one of three successful efforts in higher education by the NCTE.
His 9 published books include a 3-volume set in honour of the late Paulo Freire, the noted Brazilian educator who was his friend and mentor: Critical Literacy in Action (college language arts) and Education is Politics (Vol 1, k-12, and Vol. 2, Postsecondary Across the Curriculum). Shor’s work with Freire began in the early 1980s and lasted until Freire’s unfortunate passing in 1997. He and Freire co-authored A Pedagogy for Liberation in 1986, the first “talking” book Freire published with a collaborator. Shor also authored the widely used Empowering Education (1992) and When Students have Power (1996), two foundational texts in critical teaching. In his book ‘When Students have Power’, Shor takes the concepts of student centred learning and sharing power in the classroom to new heights.
In this book Shor describes his students, mostly from working class areas and first generation to go to college. In his class Shor permits students to determine their classroom rules, the syllabus, course planning and how they will evaluate. Students also sign a contract for the grade they want to receive. Shor also established an After Class group that was responsible for critiquing the previous class and provided input for planning the next class. In addition they discussed with Shor curriculum changes and so practiced democratic power relationship. Shor says ‘this democratic disturbance of the teacher–centred classroom confirms a primary goal of shared authority: to restructure education into something done by and with students rather than by the teacher for and over them”
Shor frequently uses the questioning technique to ‘backload’ student’s responses and to push them into futuristic thinking. He constantly tries to reach his students who sit in what in calls ‘Siberia’ in the furthest away point in the room as they need to be a away from the authority figure of the teacher. He suggests that schools and colleges are teacher centred systems and are not student centred, and believes that many traditional teachers and lecturers don’t have the confidence to use other models of teaching.
He and his wife are raising a son, little Paulo, born in 2003.
Said was a Palestinian American literary theorist, cultural critic, political activist, and an outspoken advocate for a Palestinian state. He was University Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University, and is regarded as a founding figure in postcolonial theory.
He was born in Jerusalem (then in the British Mandate of Palestine) on November 1, 1935. His father was a wealthy Protestant Palestinian businessman and an American citizen while his mother was born in Nazareth also of Christian Palestinian descent. In his autobiography Out of Place (1999), he referred to himself as a "Christian wrapped in a Muslim culture" His sister was the historian and writer Rosemarie Said Zahlan. He described himself as having lived "between worlds" in both Cairo and Jerusalem until the age of 12. In 1947, he attended the Anglican St. George's Academy when he was in Jerusalem. He was thirteen when Israel captured West Jerusalem in 1948. His family fled with other Palestinian refugees to Cairo. He eventually attended Princeton and Harvard and settled in the U.S., where he became a professor of comparative literature at Columbia University, a celebrated intellectual, and the leading advocate for Palestinian self-determination.
He wrote his first political essay, “The Arab Portrayed,” in response to Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir’s declaration in 1969 that “There are no Palestinians.” Said writes that he took on
“...the slightly preposterous challenge of disproving her, of beginning to articulate a history of loss and dispossession that had to be extricated, minute by minute, word by word, inch by inch.”
That piece ignited the political imagination of the young man and led him on to a lifetime of writing and activism. He championed the rights of the Palestinian people to determine their own future—while insisting that Palestinians acknowledge the persecution and genocide suffered by the Jews. He promoted peaceful coexistence and wrote
“[T]he struggle for equality in Palestine/Israel should be directed toward a humane goal, that is, co-existence, and not further suppression and denial,”
Said, like Fanon before him, was a product of colonisation. He was forbidden to speak Arabic at home, even to the servants, and was taught at the very best colonial schools, designed to raise an elite of young Arabs to administer the remnants of Empire. As he later recorded:
"I was born in Jerusalem and had spent most of my formative years there and, after 1948, when my entire family became refugees, in Egypt. All my early education had, however, been in élite colonial schools, English public schools designed by the British to bring up a generation of Arabs with natural ties to Britain. The last one I went to before I left the Middle East to go to the United States was Victoria College in Alexandria, a school in effect created to educate those ruling-class Arabs and Levantines who were going to take over after the British left. My contemporaries and classmates included King Hussein of Jordan, several Jordanian, Egyptian, Syrian and Saudi boys who were to become ministers, prime ministers and leading businessmen, as well as such glamorous figures as Michel Shalhoub, head prefect of the school and chief tormentor when I was a relatively junior boy, whom everyone has seen on screen as Omar Sharif" (Out of Place)
At the age of 15, Saïd's parents sent him to Mount Hermon School, a private college preparatory school in Massachusetts, where he recalls a "miserable" year feeling "out of place".
Said earned an A.B. from Princeton University and an M.A. and a Ph.D. from Harvard University, where he won the Bowdoin Prize. He joined the faculty of Columbia University in 1963 and served as Professor of English and Comparative Literature for several decades and subsequently became the Old Dominion Foundation Professor in the Humanities. In 1992 he was appointed University Professor, Columbia's most prestigious academic position. Professor Said also taught at most major Ivy League universities. He was fluent in English, French, and Arabic. In 1999, he served as president of the Modern Language Association. He was also a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Royal Society of Literature, and the American Philosophical Society
Said was awarded numerous honorary doctorates as well as several prestigeous prizes from universities around the world. His autobiographical memoir Out of Place won the 1999 New Yorker Prize for non-fiction. His writing regularly appeared in The Nation, The Guardian, the London Review of Books, Le Monde Diplomatique, Counterpunch, Al Ahram, and the pan-Arab daily al-Hayat. He gave interviews alongside his good friend, fellow political activist, and colleague Noam Chomsky regarding U.S. foreign policy for various independent radio programs Said also contributed music criticism to The Nation for many years. In 1999, he jointly founded the West-East Divan Orchestra with the Argentine-Israeli conductor and close friend Daniel Barenboim.
In January 2006, anthropologist David Price obtained 147 pages of Said's 238-page FBI file through the Freedom of Information Act. They showed that Said had been under surveillance from 1971. Most of his records are marked as related Israel and significant portions remain "Classified Secrets."
Edward Said died at the age of 67 in the early morning of September 25, 2003, in New York City, after a decade-long battle with chronic myelogenous leukemia
Said is best known for describing and critiquing "Orientalism", which he perceived as a social construction of false assumptions underlying Western attitudes toward the East. In Orientalism (1978), Said described the persistent Eurocentric prejudice against Arabo-Islamic peoples and their culture. He argued that a long tradition of false and romanticized images of Asia and the Middle East in Western culture had served as an implicit justification for Europe and America's colonial and imperial ambitions. Despite the fact that his theories of Western perceptions of the East have been vigorously attacked (mostly by the right wing Zionist movement) they have nevertheless elevayted him to superstar status in the academic world. But Said did not only criticise the West. Just as fiercely, he denounced the practice of Arab elites (like himself) who internalized the American and British orientalists' ideas of Arabic culture.
In 1980 Said criticized what he regarded as poor understanding of the Arab culture in the West, characterising it as both a consequence of historical colonialism and a prerequisite for the continued appropriation of Arab land and resources. He wrote:
"So far as the United States seems to be concerned, it is only a slight overstatement to say that Moslems and Arabs are essentially seen as either oil suppliers or potential terrorists. Very little of the detail, the human density, the passion of Arab-Moslem life has entered the awareness of even those people whose profession it is to report the Arab world. What we have instead is a series of crude, essentialized caricatures of the Islamic world presented in such a way as to make that world vulnerable to military aggression "
Orientalism has had a significant impact on the fields of literary theory, cultural studies and human geography. Taking his cue from the works of Franz Fanon , Jacques Derrida and Michel Foucault, and from earlier critics of western Orientalism such as A. L. Tibawi,Anouar Abdel-Malek, Maxime Rodinson, and Richard William Southern, Said argued that Western writings on the Orient, and the perceptions of the East purveyed in them, are suspect, and cannot be taken at face value. According to Said, the history of European colonial rule and political domination over the East distorts the writings of even the most knowledgeable, well-meaning and sympathetic Western ‘Orientalists’ (a term that he transformed into a pejorative):
"I doubt if it is controversial, for example, to say that an Englishman in India or Egypt in the later nineteenth century took an interest in those countries which was never far from their status in his mind as British colonies. To say this may seem quite different from saying that all academic knowledge about India and Egypt is somehow tinged and impressed with, violated by, the gross political fact – and yet that is what I am saying in this study of Orientalism." (Orientalism)
Said contended that Europe had dominated Asia politically so completely for so long that even the most outwardly objective Western texts on the East were permeated with a bias that even most Western scholars could not recognise. His contention was not only that the West has conquered the East politically but also that Western scholars have appropriated the exploration and interpretation of the Orient’s languages, history and culture for themselves. They have written Asia’s past and constructed its modern identities from a perspective that takes Europe as the norm, from which the "exotic", "inscrutable" Orient deviates.
Said concludes that Western writings about the Orient depict it as an irrational, weak, feminised "Other", contrasted with the rational, strong, masculine West, a contrast he suggests derives from the need to create "difference" between West and East that can be attributed to immutable "essences" in the Oriental make-up. In 1978, when the book was first published, with memories of the Yom Kippur war and the OPEC crisis still fresh, Said argued that these attitudes still permeated the Western media and academia. After stating the central thesis, Orientalism consists mainly of supporting examples from Western texts.
Said's political outspokeness made him many enemies - not least amongst the Zionist community of the United States which has unquestioningly supported the Israeli colonisation and oppression of the Palestinian people. But Said refiused to denounce the right of Israel to exist. He called instead, for a policy of mutual acceptance and peaceful coexistence between the Palestinians and the Israelis. ¥et his activism exiled him from Israel and Palestine for most of his life and provoked criticism in the United States. He has been called everything from “the professor of terror” to a Nazi, and his office at Columbia was set on fire. But he persevered, publishing regularly in The Nation, the Arabic newspaper al-Hayat in London, and many other publications. His enduring legacy is the courage to say the most difficult things to the most difficult people in the most difficult circumstances.
As a (Westernised) intellectual voice of the Palestiniann people he was without equal - able to courageously bridge the gap between the polarised worlds of Western intellectualism and Arab activism, bringing each into sharp focus in a heroic attempt to promote a reconcilliation. Yet he never misunderstood the root causes of the conflict - Western imperialism of which the State of Israel was the willing participant. He was, without doubt, the epitome of Gramsci' s Organic Intellectual.
To view Said's (2003) incisive critique of the (impending) war on Iraq click here.
To access a comprehensive source of articles by and about Edward Said click here
For a compelling though brief biography of Said' poliotical activism click here
For an outstanding summary of Said's cultural and political importance in his Guardian obituary click here.
Howard Zinn was born in New York City and grew up in a working-class family in Brooklyn where he became a shipyard labourer.
He volunteered in World War Two to fight fascism, and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant Air Force bombardier, to fight fascism, and he bombed targets Czechoslovakia, Hungary and later Germany. In April, 1945, he participated in one of the first military uses of napalm, which took place in Royan, France. The bombings were aimed at German soldiers who were, in Zinn's words, hiding and waiting out the closing days of the war. The attacks killed not only the German soldiers but also French civilians. Nine years later, Zinn visited Royan to examine documents and interview residents
Zinn said his experience as a bombardier, combined with his research into the reasons for and effects of the bombing of Royan, sensitised him to the ethical dilemmas faced by G.I.s during wartime. He questioned the justifications for military operations inflicting civilian casualties in the Allied bombing of cities such as Dresden, Royan, Tokyo, and Hiroshima and Nagasaki in World War II.
In his books, The Politics of History and The Zinn Reader, he described how the bombing was ordered at the war's end by decision-makers most probably motivated by the desire for career advancement rather than for legitimate military objectives.
His experience of war led him to take a life-long stand against imperialism, militarism, jingoistic nationalism and neo-colonialism, and led to him becoming both one of the most respected and most vilified historians in American history.
After his discharge from the military he attended New York University and received his bachelor's degree in 1951. He did graduate work in political science at Columbia University, completing his Masters in 1952 and his Ph.D. in 1958. During this time he was an instructor at Upsala College in East Orange, NJ, from 1953 to 1956.
Zinn's doctoral dissertation on New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia's congressional career was published in 1959 as LaGuardia in Congress. Zinn portrayed LaGuardia as a feisty liberal Republican who fought for pro-labor legislation and criticized the upper-class bias of his party's economic policies. Although LaGuardia would remain one of his heroes, Zinn's own political views grew much more radical. In Zinn's introduction to his anthology New Deal Thought (1965), he argued that President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his leading advisers thwarted a possible American social revolution by pursuing the modest goal of restoring the American middle class to prosperity and rejecting more radical social reform.
After finishing his PhD he was appointed chairman of the department of history and social sciences at Spelman College in Atlanta, where he participated in the Civil Rights movement and served as an adviser to the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and later wrote the book SNCC: The New Abolitionists (1964). At Spelman, Zinn collaborated with historian Staughton Lynd and mentored young student activists, among them writer Alice Walker and Marian Wright Edelman now president of the Children’s Defense Fund who acknowledges Zinn as major influence in her.
Although tenured, Zinn was fired from Spelman in 1965 for siding with students in their desire to challenge the University’s traditional emphasis of turning out "young ladies" rather than acknowledging that Spelman students were likely to be found on the picket line, or in jail for participating in the greater effort to desegregate in public places in Atlanta. As he himself noted: his seven years at Spelman College, were " probably the most interesting, exciting, most educational years for me. I learned more from my students than my students learned from me." While there, he participated with his students in the sit-ins and freedom rides and was critical of the failure of the supposedly liberal Kennedy administration for its inability or unwillingness to enforce federal laws more stringently in favour of the de-segregationists.
Zinn wrote frequently about the struggle for civil rights, both as a participant and historian and in 1960-61, he took a year off from teaching to write SNCC: The New Abolitionists and The Southern Mystique. The SNCC book was both an impassioned first-hand description of the civil rights struggle and a cogent historical analysis of the modern movement's links with pre-Civil War abolitionism.
Following his dismissal from Spelman he accepted a position in the political science department at Boston University. His classes in civil liberties were among the most popular classes offered at BU with as many as 400 students subscribing each semester to the non-required class. He taught at BU for 24 years and retired in 1988. While there he was politically active in many acts of resistance – in particular towards the war in Vietnam.
He became well known in New Left circles for his opposition to United States military involvement in Vietnam. In his book Vietnam: The Logic of Withdrawal (1967), he made a powerful case for reversing the Lyndon Johnson administration's policy of escalation. Zinn's role in the peace movement was not limited to his scholarly writings. Throughout the mid-1960s he was active in the American Mobilization Committee's national drive to bring an end to the United States intervention. In February 1968, he travelled to North Vietnam with the radical priest, Father Daniel Berrigan , to secure the release of three American bomber pilots shot down on air raids. As he had done earlier with his experiences in the civil rights movement, Zinn wrote articles that offered a first-hand account of his trip to Hanoi.
Traditional academics scolded Zinn for being partisan about his subject matter. In a collection of his essays, The Politics of History (1970), he rejected the view that historical scholarship was objective. He argued that all historical writing was political and that historians should align themselves with humane values. To fail to speak out against evil, he warned, was to be irrelevant and irresponsible. He sought to illustrate the usefulness of a politically engaged approach to history in his essays on World War II, the civil rights movement, and the Vietnam War. They provided examples of how his historical approach worked in practice.
When Daniel Ellsberg, a former RAND Corporation consultant secretly copied The Pentagon Papers, (which described internal planning and policy decisions of the United States in the Vietnam War) he gave a copy of them to Howard Zinn. Along with Noam Chomsky, Zinn edited and annotated the copy of The Pentagon Papers. Zinn's longtime publisher, Beacon Press, published what has come to be known as the Senator Mike Gravel edition of The Pentagon Papers, four volumes plus a fifth volume with analysis by Chomsky and Zinn.
At Ellsberg's criminal trial for theft, conspiracy, and espionage in connection with the publication of the Pentagon Papers by The New York Times, defense attorneys called Zinn as an expert witness to explain to the jury the history of U.S. involvement in Vietnam from World War II to 1963. Zinn discussed that history for several hours, noting that there was nothing in the papers of military significance that could be used to harm the defense of the United States, that the information in them was simply embarrassing to our government because what was revealed, in the government's own interoffice memos, was how it had lied to the American public. The secrets disclosed in the Pentagon Papers might embarrass politicians, might hurt the profits of corporations wanting tin, rubber, oil, in far-off places. But this was not the same as hurting the nation, the people, Zinn wrote in his autobiography. Most of the jurors later said they voted for acquittal. However, the federal judge dismissed the case on grounds it had been tainted by the burglary by President Richard Nixon's administration of the office of Ellsberg's psychiatrist.
When critics charged that the New Left historians' historiography was deficient because radical scholars had not produced a full-scale synthesis of American history, Zinn set to work to prove them wrong. His now famous A People's History of the United States (1980), surveyed all of American history from the point of view of the working classes and minority groups. He documented the history of race, sex, and class; the history of civil disobedience; how hopes for a more egalitarian society had been frustrated, and how a small, upper-class elite had retained its hold on power and wealth.
The book presents American history through the eyes of workers, American Indians, slaves, women, blacks and populists. A People's History has sold more than a million copies, making it one of the best-selling history books of all time. Despite its lack of footnotes and other scholarly apparatus, it is one of most influential texts in college classrooms today - not only in history classes, but also in such fields as economics, political science, literature, and women's studies. His position, his perspective, was unapologetically critical of American domestic and foreign policy.
In reply to the critics who accuse him of a bias in his historical analysis he acknowledges the overtly political agenda of A People's History in an explanatory coda to the 1995 edition:
"I wanted my writing of history and my teaching of history to be a part of social struggle. I wanted to be a part of history and not just a recorder and teacher of history. So that kind of attitude towards history, history itself as a political act, has always informed my writing and my teaching."
In the 27 years since the first edition of A People's History was publishe, it has been used as an alternative to standard textbooks in many high school and college history courses, and is one of the most widely known examples of critical pedagogy. According to the New York Times Book Review it "routinely sells more than 100,000 copies a year"
His academic life has never been very far from his political and personal perspectives. More recently, he opposed the invasion and occupation of Iraq, and has written several books about it. He asserts that the U.S. will end its war with, and occupation of, Iraq when resistance within the military increases, in the same way resistance within the military contributed to ending the U.S. war in Vietnam. He compares the demand by a growing number of contemporary U.S. military families to end the war in Iraq to the parallel "in the Confederacy in the Civil War, when the wives of soldiers rioted because their husbands were dying and the plantation owners were profiting from the sale of cotton, refusing to grow grains for civilians to eat." Zinn argued that "There is no flag large enough to cover the shame of killing innocent people for a purpose which is unattainable."[
In response to Zinn’s critics Dale McCartney, editor of the Canadian online magazine, Seven Oaks, has written:
"Zinn is not neglecting a more objective perspective on American history; he's rejecting it in favor of an openly political stance that reclaims the history of oppressed peoples, regardless of race or gender. His popularity is testament to both the appeal of such a reading of American history, and the desperate thirst of working class people, people of colour, women and the many other victims of modern society's ravages for a history in which they are at the centre. I would go so far as to argue that not only has Kazin underestimated the importance of this role for Zinn's book, but that the academic tradition of objectivity (read: liberalism that favors white men) has played a key role in marginalizing oppressed peoples and derailing social movements. Zinn's work is an important corrective to this destructive tradition in historical writing."
Along with E. P. Thompson, Raymond Williams stands as one of the most influential and respected British intellectuals of the 20th Century. And like Thompson, a significant part of his work involved an analysis and excavation of the political, cultural and spatial politics of Britain during the Industrial Revolution. He was also one of the most prolific critical theorists in Britain, with more than 750,000 copies of various books and essays published.
He was born near Abergavenny, Wales, Williams was the son of a railway worker in a village where all of the railwaymen voted Labour while the local small farmers mostly voted Liberal. It was not a Welsh-speaking area - he described it as 'Anglicised in the 1840s' (Politics and Letters, 1979). There was, however, a strong Welsh identity. "There is the joke that someone says his family came over with the Normans and we reply: 'Are you liking it here?'".
He attended Grammar School in Abergavenny though his teenage years coincided with the rise of Nazism and the threat of war. He was 14 when the Spanish Civil War broke out, and like Chomsky , was very conscious of what was happening. At this time he was supporter of the League of Nations, attending a League-organised youth conference in Geneva. On the way back, his group visited Paris and he went to the Soviet pavilion at the International Exhibition. There he bought a copy of The Communist Manifesto and read Marx for the first time.
He went to Trinity College, Cambridge, but his education was interrupted by war service. He joined the British Communist Party while at Cambridge. Along with Eric Hobsbawm, he was given the task of writing a Communist Party pamphlet about the Russo-Finnish War. He says in (Politics and Letters) that they "were given the job as people who could write quickly, from historical materials supplied for us. You were often in there writing about topics you did not know very much about, as a professional with words." No copies of this work seem to have survived. At the time, the British government was keen to support Finland in its war against the Soviet Union, while still being at war with Nazi Germany.
In the winter of 1940, he decided that he should join the British Army. This was against the Party line at the time, though in fact he stayed at Cambridge to take his exams in June 1941, the same month that Germany invaded Russia. As he describes it, his membership lapsed, without him ever formally resigning.
At the time he joined the army, it was normal for undergraduates to be directed into the signal corps. He received some initial training, but was then switched to artillery and anti-tank weapons. He was seen as 'officer material' and served as an officer in the Anti-Tank Regiment of the Guards Armoured Division, 1941-1945, being sent into the early fighting in Normandy after D Day. In Politics and Letters he says "I don't think the intricate chaos of that Normandy fighting has ever been recorded". He commanded a unit of four tanks and mentions losing touch with two of them during fighting against SS Panzer forces; he never discovered what happened to them, because there was then a withdrawal.
He was part of the fighting from Normandy in 1944 through to Germany in 1945, where he was involved with the liberation of one of the smaller concentration camps, which was afterwards used to detain SS officers. He was also shocked to find that Hamburg had suffered saturation bombing, not just of military targets and docks as they had been told.
He received his M.A. from Trinity in 1946 and then served as a tutor in adult education at the University of Oxford for several years.He made his reputation with Culture and Society, published in 1958 and an immediate success. This was followed in 1961 by The Long Revolution. Here, in Chapter 3: "The Growth of the Popular Press") he anticipated by thirty years the later excavations by Chomsky (in Manufacturing Consent). Williams provides an exhaustive analysis of costs, circulation figures and industrial growth in the British newspaper industry from 1665 to the present, showing their revolutionary intent and potential and their subversion by the industrial/capitalist complex. The book ranges also through the myriad fields of British culture, interrogating Language ("The Growth of "Standard" English"), Education ("Education and British Society"), and Literature ("The Social History of English Writers") - preparing the ground for others like Terry Eagleton to cultivate. Here, for the first time, he also problematises the notion of "culture" itself ("The Analysis of Culture"). His interrogation of the print media was expanded in 1962 into an even more prescient and Chomskian analysis in his Communications. Here, he carries out a systematic step-by-step analysis of the history and content of newspapers by both quantity and quality - critically appraising how they deal with controversy and how they go about the business of establishing and maintaining hegemony.
Williams' writings were taken up by theNew Left and given a very wide readership. He was also well-known as a regular book reviewer for the Manchester Guardian newspaper (before it moved to London and became Establishment). His years in adult education were an important experience and on the strength of his books, Williams was invited to return to Cambridge in 1961, eventually becoming Professor of Drama there (1974 - 1983). He was Visiting Professor of Political Science at Stanford University in 1973, an experience that he used to good effect in his still useful book Television: Technology and Cultural Form (1974). A committed socialist, he was greatly interested in the relationships between language, literature, and society and published many books, essays and articles on these and other issues. Among the most important is The City and the Country (1973), in which chapters about literature alternate with chapters of social history. It is here, in particular, that his work closely echoes that of E. P. Thompson. His writing is passionate, clear and scathing about the impact of the Enclosures and of the subsequrent const5ruction of the many grran houses that were consequentially impposedupon what had once been common land, shared by the ordinary peasants for centuries:
“Some of them had been there for centuries, visible triumphs over the ruin and labour of others. But the extraordinary phase of extension, rebuilding and enlarging which occurred in the 18th century, represents a spectacular increase in the rate of exploitation, a good deal of it, of course, the profit of trade and of colonial exploitation; much of it, however, the higher surplus value of a new and more efficient mode of production. It is fashionable to admire these extraordinarily numerous houses: the extended manors, the neo-classical mansions, that lie so close to rural Britain. People still pass from village to village, guidebook in hand, to see the next and yet the next example, to look at the stones and the furniture. But stand at any point and look at that land. Look at what those fields, those streams, those woods even today produce. Think it through as labour and see how long and sys¬tematic the exploitation and seizure must have been, to rear that many houses on that scale... What these ‘great’ houses do is to break the scale, by an act of will corresponding to their real and systematic exploitation of others. For look at the sites, the façades, the defining avenues and walls, the great iron gates and the guardian lodges. These were chosen for more than their effect from the inside out... they were chosen, also, you now see, for the other effect, from the outside looking in: a visible stamping of power, of displayed wealth and command: a social disproportion which was meant to impress and overawe. Much of the real profit of a more modern agriculture went not into productive investment, but into that explicit social declaration: a mutually competitive but still uniform exposition, at every turn, of an established and commanding class power."
As his writing matured and developed, his interest in hegemony also grew. He became fascinated by meaning - by how language and meaning are transformed by social, political and economic structures and changes. This led him to write Keywords (1976) -an exploration of the actual language of cultural transformation. Neither a defining dictionary nor a specialist glossary, it is a record of an enquyiry into a vocabulary: a shared body of words and meanings concerned with the practices and institutions described as "culture" and "society". He charts the historical changes to key meanings in key words that help to shape our understandinng of life and society.
His tightly written Marxism and Literature (1977) is mainly for specialists, but it also sets out his own approach to cultural studies, which he called cultural materialism. This book was in part a response to "structuralism" in literary studies and pressure on Williams to make a more theoretical statement of his own position against criticisms that it was a humanist Marxism, based on unexamined assumptions about lived experience. In his later Problems in Materialism and Culture (1980) he tackles the central problematic of Marxist revisionism head on. His essay "Base and Superstructure in Marxist Cultural Theory" is an attempt to counter (like Thompson) the structural Marxism of Althusser. For the first time, Williams makes considerable use of the ideas of Antonio Gramsci. Williams was also interested in the work of Pierre Bourdieu . His book Culture (also published under the title The Sociology of Culture 1981/1982), also further develops some key arguments, especially about aesthetics, and finally, his The Politics of Modernism, (published posthumously in 1989) places him firmly at the critical intersection with Postmodernism. Here, his "When Was Modernism?" poses a crucial question which situates the critical theorising in its social, economic and political context. He shifts the terms of the Modernism-Postmodernism debate from formal analysis to an analysis of social formations (much in line with his prior Sociology of Culture). He questions the role and status of the avant-garde in society and asks what might be meant by a cultural theory "beyond the modern" which avoids the pitfalls of much postmodernism and examines the implications of both modernism and the avant-garde for socialist-political organisation.
Raymond Williams started out writing of the 15th and 16th Centuries and ended up writing about today and our own dilemmas. Williams can accurately be called the grandfather of British Cultural Studies and laid the foundations in his work for the later developments in that field by Stuart Hall and others at Birmingham.
Wilhelm Reich was born to a Jewish farming family in what is now the Ukraine. His first language was German and until the rise of Hitletr he was an Austrian Citizen. His mother committed suicide when he was thirteen, and his father ded four years later, leaving him to run the farm alone. Farming awakened his interest in biology and the natural sciences and he was familiar with sexuality from his earliest years, and until the death of his mother he was home educated by tutors. He was forced to flee his home when the First World War began and enlisted in the Austrian army. After the war, homeless and penniless he enrolled in the Vienna University Medical School. He graduated with a medical degree four years later with top grades in all subjects. His internships saw him working at the Neurological and Psychiatric Clinic and in the disturbed wards of the mental institute. He also studied hypnotherapy. In 1922 at the age of 25, he joined the Vienna Psychoanalytic Circle, whose main star was Sigmund Freud and whose theories of sexual repression interested him most. Reich was one of the most active members of the group and soon became one of the most promising members of Freud's inner circle. He became the First Clinical Assistant at Freud's Psychiatric Clinic. It was widely assumed that Reich would take over the leadership of the Vienna Ciircle when Freud retired.
Over the next few years Freud placed less and less emphasis upon the libido (the sexual energy of the organism)as an actual physical energy. Reich, on the other hand, saw it increasingly as an actual physical force that, through repression, lay at the heart of most of societyy's ills. He saw that sexual gratification could erase neurotic symptoms, and he came to believe that its functionwas to maintain energy equilibrium by discharging excess energy that builds up naturally in the body. The real cause of neurosis was, for Reich, the structures and limitations imposed upon the individual by social controls. In this, he began to diverge markedly from the theories held by his colleagues.
Reich was a respected analyst for much of his life, focusing on character structure, rather than on individual neurotic symptoms. He promoted adolescent sexuality, the availability of contraceptives and abortion, and the importance for women of economic independence. Synthesizing material from psychoanalysis, cultural anthropology, economics, sociology, and ethics, his work influenced writers such as Alexander Lowen, Fritz Perls, Paul Goodman, Saul Bellow, Norman Mailer, A. S. Neill, and William Burroughs. (Wikipedia)
His researches led him to develop theories of body armouring that is formed as an organism's own means of protection against trauma and repression. Body amouring operates in bands around the body -much like the segments of a worm, and the memory of trauma is locked into the musculaure of the increasingly rigidified tissues. His book Character Analysis offers a detailed analysis and description of the role of the body in the development of neuroses. Reich's theories diverged increasingly from Freud's who continued to maintain his psychoanalytic modelling and treatments to the exclusion of physical manifestations. In other words, he ignored the actual functioning of the body in the psychoanalytic process, and attemppted to "manage" the neurosis without addressing (for Reich) the root social causes. Reich was interested in changing society. Freud was interested in adapting to it. This difference eventually led to a permanent break in their friendship. Furthermore, Reich repudiated Freud's postulation of a "Death Instinct", which he accused Freud of using to explain the failure of his psychanalysis with a number of patients. For Reich, the biological energy form he was discovering was entirely positive. The negativity which Freud was describing resulted not from an inherent instinct, but from the repression of this energy, giving even more power to his argument for the need for social change.
Reich's insistence on social change led him increasingly to embrace Socialism and Communism and he ran six clinics in Vienna, offering sex education and counselling to the thousands of the poor. Eventually he moved to Berlin, where, (alone amongst his colleagues who shunned "political involvement") he was vociferous in denouncing the rise of Hitler and National Socialism. Eventually he was expelled from the International Psychoanalytic Society as well as the Communist Party. He fled Germany for Scandinavia with the rise of Hitler in 1933. He settled in Oslo and continued his work for the next six years, conducting biological experiments to discover the nature of the "bionic" energy that he had uncovered. His published results were condemned by the psychoanalytic establishment, and with the outbreak of War in 1939 he moved to New York to teach at the New School for Social Research - the American extension of the Frankfurt School for Social Research.
Reich settled in Maine, where he established what later became known as the Orgone Institute. There, he continued to conduct experiments into ways to harness and use the biological energy to cure diseases, including cancer. He built what he called Orgone Accumulators - boxes made of alternating layers of organic material and metal, and verified through the measurement of differing elecroscopic discharges in organic material both inside and outside the accumulators. He introduced cancerous mice into his accumulators and the results were so prominsing that he decdided to experiment with human subjects - building orgone accmulators large enough to sit inside. In 1941 he started to experiment with terminally ill cancer patients. While the patients showed significant improvements in critical areas - blood counts, tumor size etc., the patients still died. He became more convinnced than ever that the tumors were the symptom rather than the cause of cancer - which he attributed to a diminutionn of the bionic or orgone energy. In 1942 he began to build his clinic, called the Organon in upsate New York.
There, for five years, he continued with his experiments, until, in 1947, following a vicious article in the New Republic ("The Strange Case of Wilhelm Reich”) by Mildred Edie Brady, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) began an investigation into Reich's orgone energy accumulator. The Brady article claimed that Reich was conducting a sex racket, and the FDA assumed that his books must be pornographic literature. The FDA gestapo were uninterested in scientific information concerning the accumulator, and when Reich refused to cooperate with their witch hunt, the investigation bogged down, lacking any evidence against the accumulator. Then, in 1954, during the Joe McCarthy era, the Federal Government decided to go after Reich again. They gained an injunction ion Federal Court. Reich refused to appear and instead sent a lengthy letter explaining his reasons - that his appearance would legitimate the Court's judgement of scientific research, He included inj his letter a long and detailed exposition of all of his scientific writings and research findings. The judge found againjst him as though he had not made any submission. Without proof, the Food and Drug Administration succeeded in having a Federal court brand the accumulator a fraud, with the added dictum that orgone energy does not exist, and the order that all accumulators be destroyed and all literature even mentioning orgone energy should be burned. The FDA placed a ban on transporting or using Reich's orgone boxes. Because one of Reich's co-workers continued to transport the orgone boxes, Reich was imprisoned for two years for contempt of court. He died of a heart attack in prison at the age of 60 in 1957, the day before he was to go up for parole.
The destruction of Reich's writings and research results constitutes one of the most blatent and disgraceful episodes of censorship in American history. Fortunately, Reich's writings survived elsewhere, and since his death have provided profound insights and fruitful avenues of psychoanalytic research and therapy for future generations.
His most significant books include:
To view a comprehensive online biography of Reich click here
See also The Secret History of the Sexual Revolution: The Repression of Wilhelm Reich. Click here.
To view a related PDF The Body of Knowledge: Challenging the Intellectual click here
Michael Parenti was born and raised in an Italian-American working-class family and neighborhood in New York City. received his Ph.D. in political science from Yale University. Like Noam Chomsky , he is an incisive critic of American domestic and foreign policy. He is an avowed Marxist who possesses a penetrating analytical mind and has been called “Chomsky for grownups”.
For many years Parenti taught political and social science at various institutions of higher learning. During his earlier teaching career he received grants or fellowships from the Louis Rabinowitz Foundation, the Ford Foundation, Brown University, Yale University, State University of New York, and the University of Illinois. For several years he was a Visiting Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C.
Eventually he devoted himself full-time to writing, public speaking, and political activism. Since then he has won awards from Project Censored, the city of Santa Cruz, New Jersey Peace Action, the Social Science Research Council, the Society for Religion in Higher Education, and other organizations. In 2003, the Caucus for a New Political Science gave him a Career Achievement Award. In 2007 he received a Certificate of Special Congressional Recognition from U.S. Representative Barbara Lee. For several years in the 1980s, he was a Visiting Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C.
He is the author of twenty books and many more articles. His works have been translated into at least eighteen languages. He lectures frequently throughout the United States and abroad. His book, The Assassination of Julius Caesar, A People's History of Ancient Rome, (2003) was selected as a Book of the Year for 2004 by Online Review of Books and Current Affairs.
He now serves on the board of judges for Project Censored, and on the advisory boards of Independent Progressive Politics Network, Education Without Borders, and the Jasenovic Foundation; as well as the advisory editorial boards of New Political Science and Nature, Society and Thought.
Parenti’s writings cover a wide range of subjects: U.S. politics, culture, ideology, political economy, imperialism, fascism, communism, democratic socialism, free-market orthodoxies, conservative judicial activism, religion, ancient history, modern history, historiography, repression in academia, news and entertainment media, technology, environmentalism, sexism, racism, homophobia, Venezuela, the wars in Iraq and Yugoslavia, ethnicity, and his own early life. Perhaps his most influential book is Democracy for the Few (1974) now in its eighth edition, a critical analysis of U.S. society, economy, and political institutions and a college-level political science textbook.
The list of his books is impressive and the titles alone give some idea of the breadth of his critique:
In addition to his books (which appeal to both lay and academic readers) he has also produced some 275 articles in scholarly journals, political periodicals and various magazines and newspapers. He appears on radio and television talk shows to discuss current issues and ideas from his published works. Dr. Parenti’s talks and commentaries are played on radio stations and cable community access stations to enthusiastic audiences in the United States, Canada, and abroad. He lectures on college campuses and before a wide range of community audiences, peace groups, labour organizations, scholarly conferences, and various other venues. Many of his presentations have been filmed and a list of downloadable Youtube videos is downloadable here.
Below is a comprehensive Wikipedia breakdown of Parenti’s points of critique:
Parenti argues that western[verification needed] racism is systematic and historical in nature and should be regarded as more than just an attitudinal problem. He claims western racism has its origins in imperialism and slavery: To justify the colonial plunder of another nation or entire continent (as in the case of Africa) as well as the enslavement of conquered populations, imperialists and/or slave traffickers dehumanise their victims and define them as moral inferiors and subhuman.
He maintains that racism serves several functions for ruling interests in the United States
Culture and social structure
In the late 1960s and early 70s, becoming increasingly critical of the existing socio-economic system, Parenti argued that images of the United States as a pluralistic, democratic society were more ideological than accurate. He did not deny the existence of a vast plurality of social, ethnic, and regional groups in America, but he felt that this group pluralism did not translate into a democratic pluralism in political life. Only limited portions of the political process are accessed by the general populace. Power in America is not broadly distributed, according to Parenti, but is highly concentrated in a social structure dominated by corporate moneyed interests, whose influence predominates in most mainstream institutions and major policy areas. Parenti maintains that the resources of power are lodged in the social structure itself, the culture, institutions, and established social roles, and that ruling elements maintain their dominant positions not only by raw economic power but by attaining “cultural hegemony,” a concept formulated earlier by Antonio Gramsci
Role of US Media
With respect to the US media Parenti, like Chomsky, has maintained that, while news coverage can be marred by problems of deadlines, space, and ordinary human error, much of the misleading coverage is the result of carefully honed ideological production. Reporters, he says, often exercise much skill to avoid the more important points of a story or news analysis so as not to offend anyone who wields substantial political and economic power, including their own bosses and corporate advertisers. Parenti concludes that their goal is to avoid fishing too deeply into troubled waters thereby maintaining an appearance of objectivity and moderation. Their careers, he suggests, depend in part upon their ability to equate centrist views with “objectivity,” and to stay within the prevailing ideological orthodoxy.
His treatment of entertainment media (movies and television) continues the argument that the media are not neutral and favor elitist interests. Exploring a wide range of films and programs, he has attempted to demonstrate that the entertainment media do more than entertain; they indoctrinate by propagating values in keeping with their corporate ownership and corporate advertisers.
He often attacks specific examples of the misleading coverage provided by the US media. In Blackshirts and Reds he cites historian J. Arch Getty's figures to demonstrate the exaggeration elsewhere in the US media of the executions effected by Joseph Stalin in the Great Purge. He critically reviews Slobodan Milosevic and the Destruction of Yugoslavia in "The Demonization of Slobodan Milosevic" and To Kill a Nation: The Attack on Yugoslavia finding similar exaggeration of war crimes in the breakup of the second Yugoslavia. In "Friendly Feudalism: The Tibet Myth"[video] he observes, "western news media, travel books, novels, and Hollywood films have portrayed the Tibetan theocracy as a veritable Shangri-La" then goes on to show that it was anything but.
Culture across the globe
Parenti maintains that, far from being neutral, culture is often ideologically driven in a highly skewed system of social power, benefiting some groups at the expense of others. “Growing portions of our culture are increasingly commodified and mass marketed.” “So we buy more and more of our culture and create less and less of it.” Rather than being accepted at face value, He says that all cultures should be subjected to critical investigation to be judged by “universal human rights standards” and by the criticisms voiced by those who are victimized within the various cultures of the world. He gives extensive attention to those who are regularly victimized by their own cultures, providing examples in chapters entitled “Custom Against Women,” “The Global Rape Culture,” and “Racist Myths.”
Role of voting fraud in US elections
Parenti is among those who have cited a variety of studies claiming that the 2004 presidential election was fraudulent. In an essay entitled "The Stolen Election of 2004" he argued that modern voting technology allowed powerful corporations to manipulate the electoral results. He concluded the article by observing, about the forthcoming US election, "Given this situation, it is not likely that the GOP will lose control of Congress come November 2006. The two-party monopoly threatens to become an even worse one-party tyranny." In an updated analysis of the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections, he adds a postscript explaining why---despite the massive crossover reported in the polls away from the GOP—the Democrats won only a slim victory in the Congressional 2006 elections.”
Parenti stresses the role of class in all societies, particularly the purportedly classless US one. He extends the definition of class as a demographic trait relating to status, education, lifestyle, and income level to include the effects of social interrelationships. He observes that there can be no rich slaveholders without poor slaves, no powerful feudal lords without serfs, no corporate bosses without workers. The interrelationship is highly asymmetrical. It centers on the organized wealth of the society.
He also believes that there is a third factor involved in class relationships, specifically the productive resources (land, agriculture, herds, natural resources, factories, technology, etc.). The dominant group in class relationships owns or controls these economic resources. The weaker class historically has had only its labor to sell. Hence the “dominant money classes” exercise a preponderant influence over workforces, markets, major investments, consumption patterns, media, and public policies. Parenti concludes that when discussing class, class power, how it is used, for whose interests, and at whose expense must also be discussed.
US downplay of class
Parenti has repeatedly criticized the tendency among many who profess to be progressive to downplay the importance of class and class power as a formative force as compared to race, gender, and culture. He allows that each of these other categories of social experience have imperatives that are distinctly their own, sometimes of a life-and-death urgency. Still they should not be seen as being mutually exclusive of, or in competition with, considerations of class power in society, he argues, and should not be used as a means of evading class analysis.
Democracy and capitalism
From the late 60s well into the 80s, Parenti was one of many radicals and socialists who questioned the validity and value of what they called “bourgeois democracy,” seeing it more as a charade to mislead the people into thinking that they were free and self-governing. By the late 80s, however, he noticeably modified his position, arguing that democracy should not be thought of as merely a subterfuge or cloak created by ruling elites, although it certainly can serve that purpose. More often, Parenti claimed, whatever modicum of democracy the people attain in any society is usually the outcome of genuine struggle for a more equitable politico-economic order. Why credit the corporate class with giving people a “bourgeois democracy,” he asks, when in fact the ruling plutocrats furiously opposed most democratic advances in U.S. history, be it the extension of the franchise or the struggle for ethnic and gender equality, more direct forms of representation, more room for dissent and free speech, greater accountability of elected officials, and more equitable socio-economic domestic programs.
According to Parenti, reacting to mainstream commentators who turn every systemic vice and deficiency into a virtue, left critics of the status quo, seeing no real victories or progress in the centuries of popular struggle, have felt compelled to turn every virtue into a vice. To counter this trend, he says, people should recognize that real gains have been made, that democracy refuses to die, and both at home and abroad popular forces continue the democratic struggle, even against great odds.
For Parenti, democracy has two basic dimensions, the procedural and the substantive, both of which are equally important. Procedural democracy consists of the basic political forms: free speech and assembly, the right to dissent, accountability of officeholders, the right to vote in regular and honest elections, etc. Substantive democracy consists of egalitarian socio-economic outputs that advance the well-being of the populace, protect the environment, and curb the abuses and often untrammelled powers of great wealth. He quotes the German sociologist Max Weber who remarked almost a century earlier that it remains to be seen whether democracy and freedom can exist under the dominion of a highly developed capitalism.
He concludes that “there is no one grand, secret, power elite governing this country, but numerous coteries of corporate and governmental elites that communicate and coordinate across various policy realms. Behind their special interests are the common overall interests of the moneyed class,” which is not to say that differences never arise among these elites.
Technology, money, and deficit spending
Parenti believes that people's thinking about past and present developments needs to be contextualized, that is, seen in a social context of power and ideology. He gives the examples of technology and money. Both are seen as neutral entities that are inherently neither good nor bad. This may be true hypothetically, he writes, but in reality both technology and money have been developed within specific historical contexts by powerful interests that gained great advantage from their development. Almost all technology, he argues, is devoted to advancing the interests of higher circles, maximizing profits and corporate production, or in the case of government, maximizing surveillance, communication, and military striking power. New advances in technology are not neutral things. They impact upon us and our environment in ways that can advantage some and hurt others, according to Parenti. He writes similarly about money: “Like technology, money has a feedback effect of its own, advantaging the already advantaged,” liquefying wealth, making it easier to mobilize and accumulate. And with the growth of moneyed wealth comes a greater concentration and command over technology by the moneyed class.
Few phenomena in the social order can operate with neutral effect even if supposedly pursued with neutral intent, according to Parenti. The national debt is a good example. Considered merely as a “problem” of excessive government spending, the national debt in fact works well for certain interests, specifically the moneyed class, he claims. By 1977 he noted how the national debt brought a transfer of income from the taxpayers to the wealthy creditors, the holders of government bonds. The greater the debt, the greater the upward transfer, as the government continues to borrow money from those they should be taxing (the big money interests). He concludes it is no accident that the biggest deficit spenders have been conservative presidents like Ronald Reagan and both George Bushes. The national debt is in effect a way of privatising public spending and defunding the federal budget, he argues. The bigger the debt, the less money available for domestic programs, and the more money that goes from the pockets of ordinary taxpayers to rich creditors.
Parenti’s treatment of fascism differs from that of the many writers who stress the irrational features of fascism: its state idolatry, nationalistic atavism, and leadership cult. While not denying that these are key components in the propagation of fascism’s appeal, he invites us not to overlook the “rational politico economic functions” that fascism performed. “Much of politics is the rational manipulation of irrational symbols,” he claims. The emotive appeals of fascist ideology have served a class-control function, “distracting the populace from their legitimate grievances and directing their frustrations at various scapegoats.”
Most of the immense literature on the subject of fascism and Nazism focuses on who supported Hitler’s rise to power. Relatively little, he writes, is said about whom the Nazis supported when they came to power. In both fascist Italy and Nazi Germany, he points out, wages were cut drastically, domestic programs were rolled back, huge subsidies were given to heavy industry, labor unions were broken, taxes on the very rich were greatly reduced or eliminated altogether, and workplace safety regulations were ignored or abolished. Fascism, he concludes, has a much overlooked politico- economic agenda; it involves something more than just goose stepping.
U.S. foreign policy is neither confused nor bungling, according to Parenti. It is quite consistently directed toward certain goals, and is largely successful. For the most part, U.S. leaders have maintained friendly relations with those governments that have opened up their countries to Western corporate investors, and have shown hostility toward those countries that have tried to use their land, labor, natural resources, and markets for their own self-development, Parenti believes. Iraq was targeted for “having committed economic nationalism,” with a state-run economy that pretty much shut out Western investors. The same holds true for Yugoslavia, he claims. Both countries were bombed and invaded, and their public economies were shattered. Parenti believes that Yugoslavia was transformed from a viable social democracy to a cluster of little right-wing mini-republics.
His beliefs led him to become head of the United States chapter of the International Committee to Defend Slobodan Milošević in which capacity he added to the criticisms of bias in the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.
He also maintains that the U.S. empire feeds off the U.S. republic. The empire’s expansion abroad entails increasing costs for the republic. Ventures that are profitable for military contractors and overseas investors have to be paid in blood and taxes by the American populace. The many third world countries that are the targets of colonial intervention pay the highest price, he writes. They suffer not just from “underdevelopment”, but from “maldevelopment,” a result of generations of overexploitation.
Many on the left continue to deliver impassioned and blanket condemnations of deceased communist countries, Parenti notes. “Those of us who refused to join in the Soviet bashing were branded by left anti-communists as ‘Soviet apologists’ and ‘Stalinists,’ even if we disliked Stalin and his autocratic system of rule and believed there were things seriously wrong with existing Soviet society.”
He did in fact make a number of criticisms of the Soviet Union. In 1986 he wrote: "In the USSR there exist serious problems of labour productivity, industrialization, urbanization, bureaucracy, corruption, and alcoholism. There are production and distribution bottlenecks, plan failures, consumer scarcities, criminal abuses of power, suppression of dissidents, and expressions of alienation among some of the population."
More recently he wrote that the state owned economies of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union suffered “fatal distortions in their development” because of the years of “embargo, invasion, devastating wars, and costly arms build-up; excessive bureaucratisation and poor incentive systems; lack of administrative initiative and technological innovation; and a repressive political rule that allowed little critical expression and feedback while fostering stagnation and elitism.”
He argues that “despite the well-publicized deficiencies, crimes, and injustices, there were positive features about existing communist systems that were worth preserving, such as the free medical care and human services; affordable food, fuel, transportation, and housing; universal literacy; gains in women’s rights; free education to the highest level of one’s ability; a guaranteed right to a job; free cultural and sporting events, and the like.” He supported Gorbachev’s campaign of perestroika and glasnost until 1990 when it became evident to him that the Gorbachev reforms were leading to the implantation of free-market capitalism and were bringing hardships to the common people.
Parenti maintains that the structural problems of free-market trans-national capitalism will only worsen the living standards of people in the United States and abroad, while deepening the environmental crises. He advocates a greater measure of public ownership in the USA. He asks “can socialism work? ... Is it not just a dream in theory and a nightmare in practice? Can the government produce anything of worth?” He goes on to point out that it already does citing publicly owned transportation systems, utilities, banking, education, and health services that are run efficiently by the governments of the USA and various social democracies and at far less cost than their private counterparts.
Parenti points to the increasingly catastrophic droughts, storms, floods, and abnormally high temperatures in many parts of the world to justify a hypothesis that the widely discussed ecological crisis of global warming will not be upon us “by the end of the century” or “in the lives of our grandchildren,” but is already happening today. He builds on this in an essay, "Why the Corporate Rich Oppose Environmentalism, to argue that immediate and immense profits that come at a cost to the environment are of more concern to corporate investors than the diffuse and long-run damage done to the global ecology.
History and historiography
Much of Parenti’s work draws upon history. In his History as Mystery he takes the old adage that history is written by the victors and flushes it out with examples drawn from ancient and modern times. In regard to early Christianity, for instance, he maintains that, contrary to popular notions, the “Jesus worshipers” did not gather most of their followers from the poor and downtrodden but from the more affluent strata. Some Christian leaders discouraged slaves from converting to Christianity. Slaves were prohibited from becoming church deacons or priests, he maintains. Contrary to conventional US notions, he argues that the Christians were not the keepers of learning and scholarship during the Dark Ages but played a relentless role in destroying all the advanced learning and all the libraries of antiquity that were in their reach.
In The Assassination of Julius Caesar he states that many historians, both ancient and modern, have treated popular insurgencies and the common people with fear and loathing, depicting them as mindless rootless mobs of ne’er-do-wells. He also argues that Caesar and other popular reformers of the Roman Republic before him were assassinated not because they were violating the Roman constitution but because they were advocating reforms that benefited the commoners at a cost to the aristocracy.
Michael Parenti is a National Treasure. Even more than Noam Chomsky, he is the voice of informed dissent in America. And unlike Chomsky he has, for many years, abandoned the safety of academia to pursue his vision of a just society in the realm of everyday life.
For Michael Parenti’s website click here
To access Wikipedia article click here
For a comprehensive annotated list of Parenti videos (with URLs)click here
Marcuse was a German Jewish philosopher, born in Berlin. He served briefly in the First World War before taking his PhD at Freiburg in 1922 on the Künstlerroman, a German novel of a specific genre, depicting the lives and development of young artists - usually at odds with their bourgeois culture). He returned to Freiurg in 1929 to write his Habitation with Martin Heidegger. This was published in 1932 as Hegel's Ontology and Theory of Historicity. Heidegger himself rejected the work. He joined the Frankfurt Institute for Social Studies in 1933, but by then the National Socialist Party had risen to power in Germany, and like many of his other Jewish colleagues he moved first to Switzerland and than to the USA along with the Frankfurt School in exile. During and after the war he worked for the State Department and the OSS (the precursor of the CIA).
He taught at Columbia in 1952 and Harvard, and after that at Brandeis and U. C. San Diego, teaching philosophy and sociology. During this time he was the most outspoken member of the Frankfurt School and remained an avowed Marxist. By the 1960s, his writings - especially Eros and Civilisation (an attempted synthesis of Marx and Freud) and One Dimensional Man. He had begun to exert a great influence of the emering youth culture and of the New Left Movement. One Dimensional Man, particularly, attracted the enthusiastic attention of the emerging student protest movement. In it, Marcuse compared American capitalism and Soviet Communism, demonstrating how the former, despite its prapagandistic assertions to the contrary, bore marked similarities to the latter. He suggested that the emerging world of consumerism and mass communication had the impact of producing "false needs", of producing a state of cultural and political quiescence and of reducing everyday life to a one dimensional state where critical reflection withered away. Against this, Marcuse proposed the "great refusal" - a resistance to consumption and to participation in mass communications such as television.
In 1967, along with R. D. Laing, David Cooper, Stokeley Carmichael and other Existentialists, Marxists and Anarchists, he presented a paper Liberation from an Affluent Society at the Dialectics of Liberation Conference held at the Round House in North London. The Conference was initiated by the Tavistock Institute (where both Laing and Cooper had worked) as part of its action-research programme. It was a watershed of critical thinking among the New Left at that time:
"The Congress of the Dialectics of Liberation, held in London in 1967, was a unique expression of the politics of modern dissent, in which existential psychiatrists, Marxist intellectuals, anarchists and political leaders met to discuss - and to constitute - the key social issues of the next decade. Amongst others Stokely Carmichael spoke on Black Power, Herbert Marcuse on liberation from the affluent society, R. D. Laing on social pressures and Paul Sweezy on the future of capitalism. In exploring the roots of violence in society the speakers analysed personal alienation, repression and student revolution. They then turned to the problems of liberation - of physical and cultural 'guerrilla warfare' to free man from mystification, from the blind destruction of his environment, and from the inhumanity which he projects onto his opponents in family situations, in wars and in racial conflict. The aim of the congress was to create a genuine revolutionary consciousness by fusing ideology and action on the levels of the individual and of mass society. These speeches clearly indicate the rise of a new, forceful and (to some) ominous style of political activity" (for details click here )
Marcusecontribution to the Congress was very significant. He was an invited speaker at many campuses and continued to exert an influence on Western philosophical thought up to and beyond his death of a stroke in 1979. He had gone to Frankfurt to deliver a lecture at the Institute for Social research and had been invited by Habermas to work at the Max Planck Institute.
Peter McLaren (1948-)
Dip Tchg, B.A., B.Ed., M.Ed., Ph.D. [University of Toronto], Ed.D. (honoris causa) [Universidad del Salvador, Argentina; University of Lapland, Finland]
Peter McLaren is a Professor in the Division of Urban Schooling, the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, University of California, Los Angeles. He was recently appointed Distinguished Fellow in Critical Studies, Chapman University. He is the author and editor of nearly 50 books and hundreds of professional publications on education and social justice. His writings have been translated into over 20 languages. He received his Ph.D. in Education from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto, Canada. He is a passionate advocate of anti-capitalism, a social and political activist and one of the most prolific theorists of critical pedagogy.
Four of his books have won the Critic's Choice Award of the American Educational Studies Association. One of his books, Life in Schools, was chosen in 2004 as one of the 12 most significant education books in existence worldwide by an international panel of experts organized by The Moscow School of Social and Economic Sciences and by the Ministry of Education of the Russian Federation. McLaren was the inaugural recipient of the Paulo Freire Social Justice Award presented by Chapman University, California. The charter for La Fundacion McLaren de Pedagogia Critica was signed at the University of Tijuana in July, 2004. La Catedra Peter McLaren was inaugurated in Venezuela on September 15, 2006 as part of a joint effort between El Centro Internacional Miranda and La Universidad Bolivariana de Venezuela. Instituto McLaren de Pedagogia Critica y Educacion Popular, an organization that offers courses, degrees and training in popular education in Ensenada Mexico has been named in his honor.
He left his native Canada in 1985 to work in the United States at the University of Miami in Oxford, Ohio, working with Henry Giroux from where he moved to UCLA in Los Angeles. where he continues to be active in the struggle for socialism. A Marxist humanist, he lectures widely in Latin America, North America, Asia, and Europe. In 2006, during the Bush administration, Professor McLaren made international headlines when he was targeted by a right-wing extremist organization in the United States and put at the top of the "Dirty Thirty" list of leftist professors at UCLA. The group offered to pay students a hundred dollars to secretly audiotape McLaren's lectures and those of his fellow leftist professors.
Professor McLaren's work has been the subject of three recent books: Teaching Peter McLaren: Paths of Dissent, edited by Marc Pruyn and Luis M. Huerta-Charles (New York: Peter Lang Publications) [translated into Spanish as De La Pedagogia Critica a la pedagogia de la Revolucion: Ensayos Para Comprender a Peter McLaren, Mexico City, Siglo Veintiuno Editores] and Peter McLaren, Education, and the Struggle for Liberation, edited by Mustafa Eryaman (New Jersey: Hampton Press) and Crisis of Commonwealth: Marcuse, Marx, McLaren, edited by Charles Reitz (in press).
His latest books are Pedagogy and Praxis in the Age of Empire (Rotterdam and Taiwan, Sense Publications and with Steve Best, Richard Kahn and Anthony Nocella, he has co-edited Academic Repression: Reflections from the Academic Industrial Complex (AK Press) and A Critical Pedagogy of Consumption, Living and Learning in the Shadow of the "Shopocalypse" (with Jennifer Sandlin, Routledge).
As well as being the recipient of the Inaugural Paulo Freire and Social Justice Award from Chapman University, Professor McLaren is also the recipient of the The Central New York Peace Studies Consortium Lifetime Achievement Award in Peace Studies, the 2013 Award of Achievement in Critical Studies by the Critical Studies Association (Athens, Greece), the First Annual Social Justice and Upstander Ethics in Education Award presented by the Department of Education, Antioch University, Los Angeles, the Paulo Freire International Social Justice Award presented by the Paulo Freire Research Center, Finland, and The Ann-Kristine Pearson Award in Education and Economy presented by The University of Toronto's Center for the Study of Education and Work, the Paulo Freire Distinguished Scholar Award, AERA, and the Social and Economic Justice in Public Education Award (AERA). He was recently presented with the International Award in Critical Pedagogy by the government of Venezuela. In 2012 he received the the title, Honorary Chair Professor at Northeast Normal University in Northeast China. Professor McLaren was also recently inducted as an American Educational Research Association (AERA) Fellow, Class of 2012.
His qualifications include:
Dip Tchg, B.A., B.Ed., M.Ed., Ph.D. [University of Toronto], Ed.D. (honoris causa) [Universidad del Salvador, Argentina; University of Lapland, Finland]
Professor, Division of Urban Schooling, Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, UCLA
Distinguished Fellow in Critical Studies, Chapman University, California
Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and Commerce (London, England)
Fellow of the American Educational Research Association
Affiliate Scholar, University of California CUBA Academic Initiative
Cooperante Internacional, Centro Internacional Miranda, Caracas, Venezuela.
Associate Member, "Cátedra ‘Comandante Supremo Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías’” de la Universidad de Ciencias Pedagógicas "Enrique José Varona" de La Habana Cuba.
Cátedra, “Peter McLaren” de la Universidad Bolivariana de Venezuela y Centro Internacional Miranda, Caracas, Venezuela
Honorary Professor, The University of Auckland, Te Kura Akoranga o Tamaki Makaurau, New Zealand
Docente Fundador, Instituto McLaren de Pedagogia Critica y Educacion Popular Ensenada, B.C., Mexico
Co-Editor, Book Series Mike Peters and Peter McLaren, Education and Struggle: Narrative, Dialogue, and the Political Production of Meaning. Peter Lang Publishers, New York.
Georg Lukács (1885-1971)
Although his work predates the Critical Theorists, Lukács is included here because his own work was extremely influential in directing the later members of the Frankfurt School towards their crucial revisionist perspective of Marxism. He was a Hungarian Marxist philosopher and literary critic. He contributed the ideas of reification and class consciousness to Marxist philosophy and theory. He served briefly as Hungary's Minister of Culture following the 1956 Hungarian Revolution (Wikipedia). He was born in Budapest to a wealthy Jewish banking family. He studied at Universities in Berlin and Budapest and received his PhD in 1906. He spent a great deal of time in Berlin where he befriended a number of critical philosophers including Ernst Bloch, Georg Simmel and Max Weber. He returned to Budapest in 1915 and began a philosophical debating circle that eventually included such luminaries as Karl Mannheim.
Following the First World War and the October Revolution in Russia, he joined the Communist Party of Hungary and became very active before being forced to flee to Vienna where he barely avoided arrest through the intercession of writer friends. His major work History and Class Consciousness was published in 1925 and was soundly attacked by the Communist bureaucracy for its leftist ideology. He criticised centralised Communism and called for a true dictatorship of the proletariat. He lived in Berlin until the rise of Hitler forced him to move to Moscow in 1933. He remained there until the end of the war, returning to Budapest to become an important figure once again in the Hungarian Communist Party. During the Hubngarian Revolution of 1956 he was critical of the Soviet intervention and with the failure of the Revolution was deported to Romania. He survived this exile to return to Hungary in 1957 and thereafter took a much lower profile in politics.
His book of essays, History and Class Consciousness is an investigation into Marxist Orthodoxy. In the first chapter he lays out his position quite clearly:
"Orthodox Marxism, therefore, does not imply the uncritical acceptance of the results of Marx’s investigations. It is not the ‘belief’ in this or that thesis, nor the exegesis of a ‘sacred’ book. On the contrary, orthodoxy refers exclusively to method. It is the scientific conviction that dialectical materialism is the road to truth and that its methods can be developed, expanded and deepened only along the lines laid down by its founders."
In this he was critical of the dogma of Stalinist/Leninist orthodoxy and much more of a mind with such Marxists as Leon Trotsky and Rosa Luxemburg (to whom he devoted a chapter in his book). It was this willingness to critique received Marxist ideology that attracted him later to the Frankfurt theorists. He raised issues of ideology, alienation, reification, false consciousness, the place of culture. All of these were grist to the mill for the Frankfurt theorists. He died in Hungary in 1971.
Critics of orthodox marxism have pointed to this distinction between the economic base and the determined superstructure as the core cause of the failure of Soviet communism and the failure of marxism as a formative ideology for social change. Beginning with the anarcho-synicalists like Makhno, through powerful dissidents such as Luxemburg down to the New Left of the 1960s and later postmodernists, these critics have all maintained that the revolution which will emancipate the masses cannot wait until all of the conditions for its existence are in place.
In the face of the Gulag revelations, which emerged from the 1930s onwards, Western marxists searched for an adequate means to explain both this and the ap¬parent refusal of capitalism to collapse. The doctrinaire version of marxism to which the party was attached promised the inevitability of the capitalist collapse. Marxist economics were held to be a natural law, governed by the same kind of forces as determined other natural phenomena (such as gravity). This deterministic version of Marx's historical materialism was first seriously questioned by Lukács and Karl Korsch and has subsequently been taken up by numerous other authors.
Lucáks, particularly, argued against the mistaken orthodox view of marxism which saw the inexorability of change stemming from a defined economic "base", suggesting that this theory contradicted Marx's own phi¬losophy and amounted to what Marx had called a "contemplative materialism" - one which ignored the all-important factor of human subjectivity and action. By ignor¬ing the element of human subjectivity and agency, Lukacs suggested that "orthodox" marxists had also abandoned the very thing which could provide the basis for revolutionary action. This position was supported explicitly by Engels himself in his later writings. He maintained that:
"According to the materialist conception of history, the ultimately determining element in history is the production and reproduction of real life. More than this neither Marx nor I ever asserted....The eco¬nomic situation is the basis, but the various elements of the super¬structure....the class struggle and its results- also exercise their in¬fluence on the course of historical struggles and in many cases pre¬ponderate in determining their form."
Yet the record is not so completely unambiguous. Marx himself seems to have taken a variety of positions and to have "softened" his insistence upon the primacy of the economic sphere in his later years. He suggested that the law, as a superstructural element was falsely characterised as being separate from and subordinated to capitalist production, whereas we have seen how they are mutually implicated. Most often Marx portrayed the determining element of history as the sum total of the relations of production - which necessarily included the workers themselves, rather than only the machines, plant and raw materials. He noted, for instance, that this totality:
"...constitutes the economic structure of society, the real foundation, on which rises a legal and political superstructure and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness."
Occasionally, he isolated the actual instruments of production, but these instances are relatively few and minor, and as McLellan notes:
"He also makes it clear that the instruments of production can never be isolated from their social context....."It is not 'history' which uses men as a means of achieving - as if it were an individual person - its own ends. History is nothing but the activity of men in pursuit of their own ends."
This seems to be consistent with one of Marx's most incisive ideas, reiterated innumerable times, that:
"Men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly encountered, given and transmitted from the past."
In other words, Marx seems to have seen the relationship between the economic and cultural realms as more reciprocal than later more conservative and Orthodox interpretations would seem to indicate. This was the perspective on marxism to which critics of orthodoxy, such as Luxemburg, Lucáks and Korsch subscribed. Revolution, for all of these critics, became an issue of process, rather than being viewed as an end product, and that process seems to involve an ongoing dialectic within the superstructural elements and the between them and the economic 'base' upon which they are supposed to be dependent. What this meant in simple terms was that it was now realised that elements of culture could and did affect the economic framework itself, and that change to the economic structure can and does take place in more than superficial ways as a result of changes taking place within the social and cultural spheres.