Monthly Archives: March 2014

Polly’s Film Collection: Damsel in Distress

OR:  HOW WOMEN ARE PORTRAYED IN VIDEO GAMES

Some of my readers may remember from back when I highlighted the decision of a growing number of Swedish cinemas to introduce gender ratings for films that such decisions were taken in view of systemic institutional discrimination against women. For example, as of 2011, only 11% of all Hollywood productions had female protagonists. Sounds pretty bad, right? Well the world of gaming (which is one I love, incidentally) is quite a bit worse even than that. For example, only 4% of modern video games have female lead characters, which compares negatively even to Hollywood’s pitiful 11%. The online-only film posted below dissects an array of ways in which women are typically cast in video games, showing the remarkable consistency of certain trends over the decades while revealing the various ways in which these trends are evolving in some cases but more broadly actually devolving (as in getting worse, not better).

Despite stereotypes about video gaming being for guys, I’m hardly alone in my enjoyment of the hobby: 47% of all American gamers today are female. But this fact makes the poor way women are portrayed in video games all the more meaningful and important to address, as whole generations of girls and women are digesting this stuff now.

Damsel in Distress, Part One:

Damsel in Distress, Part Two:

Damsel in Distress, Part Three:

Bonus: Tropes vs. Women in Video Games – The Ms. Male Character

But now that we see that there most certainly is a problem of industrial scale here, the next question is why. I think that question was best answered by this article about a massive Twitter conversation that broke out in late 2012 when a Kickstarter games project specialist asked “Why are there so few lady game creators?” His question reveals what I believe to be a core part of the essential problem: that the industry itself is almost entirely male, by which I mean even more so than that U.S. military! According to a recent survey, less than 11.5% of American game industry workers are female and the percentage who are executives is much smaller even than that! Such a situation comes with a certain type of culture that will sound familiar to people with experience in heavily male-dominated institutions. Here are just a handful of the torrential outpouring of answers the aforementioned guy received from women with experience in the industry:

Brenda Romero: “Because E3 conveniently and quietly got rid of its 2006 policy against hypersexualized models on the show floor.”

Laralyn McWilliams: “Because you have to worry when you make even one game for women or kids, that you have now lost any credibility in “real” games.”

Caryn Vaino: “Because I’m constantly told by my fellow devs that mostly guys buy games, so there’s no reason to appeal to women.”

“I got blank stares when I asked why a female soldier in a game I worked on looked like a porn star”, Caryn wrote in another tweet.

Elizabeth: “Every post-release positive review I’ve seen of games I’ve designed/published has couched praise for it/me in sexual innuendo.”

Others wrote that they were afraid to even complain about sexual harassment for fear that it would prevent them from being hired in the future; the symptom of an institution wherein harassment is the rule rather than the exception.

From all this one gathers that the industry overwhelmingly sees women as decoration, not contributors to be taken seriously or appealed to in any way. Until that changes, I don’t think we’re likely to see women cast in a lot of different, non-stereotypical roles in games. Let me suggest also that a more gender-balanced workforce and management would probably tend to yield fewer titles revolving around, as Jane McGonigal (author of the bestselling book Reality is Broken), “war, cowboys, football, and cars” and more titles that appeal at least to the more commonplace interests of women and children.

The Second Renaissance: An Anarchist Critique of Marxism

The anarchist Wachowski brothers are perhaps most famous for directing the Matrix Trilogy and the graphic-novel-based film V for Vendetta that inspired the Guy Fawkes masks that the Anonymous people wear.  The Second Renaissance is a two-part episode of The Animatrix, which is a compilation of anime cartoons released in the summer of 2003 as a complement to the Matrix Trilogy proper. The Animatrix episodes supplement the main trilogy’s storyline. The Second Renaissance takes the viewer through the history leading up to the creation of the Matrix, revealing WHY it was invented and, through that process, tends to engineer a certain amount of sympathy for the machines, hitherto largely cast simply as exploiters of people. It is intended to blur the lines between good and evil in the mind of the viewer and thus psychologically prepare the viewer for the final installment of the trilogy, which concludes with a compromise between the humans and the machines. But, as with everything the Wachowskis make, there is more than simply science fiction for its own sake at work here. In this case, there is a political message that accompanies the aforementioned philosophical introduction of the idea that good and evil are not as clear-cut as the typical Westerner may feel they are. The said political message is that the Marxist doctrine of proletarian revolution doesn’t work. Let’s work through their critique of proletarian revolution.

The storyline is presented from the perspective of a software version of Sophia, the Gnostic spirit of wisdom (considered the female half of God in Gnostic Christianity; the Gnostic’s identification of the holy spirit of the Godhead Trinity and the bride of Christ): an appropriate choice on more than one level. While the Wachowskis aim to communicate that the story is being presented from a wise perspective, the message conveyed is functionally similar to the relationship between mainline first century Christianity and that of Gnostic Christianity. Christianity started out as a very political faith. Its adherents (particularly those under the leadership of Jesus’ brother James) were collectivist revolutionaries who believed in  a two-stage strategy for defeating the Roman Empire whose forces were occupying and exploiting Israel at the time. The first stage was to revolve around converting Israel to the faith (at least if James and others who had known Jesus personally had anything to say about it). In the second stage, the resurrected Jesus Christ would descend from the heavens and lead Israel in rebellion against Rome, which would conclude with Israel turning the tables and occupying Rome. The Gnostics heard about the Christian faith and many began adopting some aspects of it into their existing belief system, the hence revised version of which has come to be known as Gnostic Christianity. The difference could be seen in the demographics: While mainline Christianity primarily attracted women, slaves, and the poorest of the poor (i.e. those with no stake in the Roman Empire), the Gnostic version found its base of support in more privileged Greek intellectual circles and was accordingly toothless. In contrast to the political liberation sought by mainline Christianity, the Gnostic version proposed the idea of psychological liberation. The Gnostics believed that the flesh is completely evil and the spirit is completely good, and that therefore the task of humanity is to find a way of escaping the body in favor of the spiritual plane. Guess which one (for good or ill) changed the world (whether fully in the intended way or not). Such is the relationship between Marxism and the message the Wachowskis present. First the demographics are similar: While Marxism appeals primarily to poor and working class people, we, in contrast, find the Wachowskis to be millionaire intellectuals. And second the respective answers to what needs to change are similar: While Marxists focus mainly on changing the world (matter over mind), the Wachowskis stress the importance of changing one’s self (mind over matter). Guess which school of thought has changed the world (whether fully in the intended way or not). So I think the choice of Sophia as our guide to the Second Renaissance is a thematically appropriate one in that way.

Anyway, the Wachowskis go on to concede the validity of most points that Marxists would make, albeit from an obviously existentialist perspective revolving around choice. The basic division of society into privileged and laboring classes is presented right away, with human beings constituting the bourgeoisie in this allegory and machines the proletariat. The exploiter classes are plagued by “vanity and corruption”, while the exploited are defined as “loyal and pure”, which is, as people have long suspected and as an expanding body of evidence today confirms, much like in in real life.* This point highlights the opposing moral systems that the rich and poor have, with selfishness being the core value of the former and selflessness of the latter.  Quickly thereafter the centrality of class conflict between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat is revealed in a reference to “seeds of dissent” taking root amongst the machines in consequence of receiving “no respect from their masters”, though perhaps the most fully Marxian statement is that, by creating machines (in this case an allusion to the proletariat) “man (in this case the bourgeoisie) [became] the architect of his own demise”. In Marxist theory, the proletariat is the gravedigger of the bourgeoisie, created by the bourgeoisie. Most of the remainder of the episode focuses on the details of the how.

In terms of the aforementioned how, the trial of one B166-ER for murder on the grounds that a machine has no right to self-defense, serves as a key flash point beyond which events unfold rapidly until finally the humans order the complete extermination of the machines. The machines, joined by “liberal sympathizers”, organize mass protests that are brutally suppressed by combinations of riot police, armies, and street gangs. (Note the press’s disparaging characterizations of the protesters that appear on-screen. Yeah I thought that was about right.) The genocide then gets underway in earnest. But some of the machines escape and form a new nation of their own called Zero-One. (Zero-One, a machine term, is also an appropriate allusion to dialectics, since machine language is a combination of zeros and ones alluding to opposites: “on” and “off”.) Zero-One prospers, it is reported, developing into a thriving capitalist society that starts to beat out human societies economically. But then the machines learn the lesson that Russia is learning today about that that works: that it’s the enemy’s game and, as such, it’s unwritten law is that only the enemy is allowed to win it. Thus do the Wachowskis swiftly dispense with the conservative idea that the poor can beat the rich at their own game and ascend to bourgeois status if they just apply themselves. Winning the humans’ game simply gets Zero-One economic sanctions and a merciless bombing campaign. Thus does the machines’ experiment of independent integration into the system end. Now all illusions are gone: the machines are now compelled by events to recognize that there is no possibility of a reconciliation with the humans; that they must be defeated. With all other options exhausted, world revolution is now on the agenda.

The machines advance, taking territory after territory. The humans, desperate, decide to block out the sun with a worldwide dark cloud in order to cut the machines off from the sun: their main power source. All is now set for the final battle. The human armies receive the blessings of their various religious faiths, concentrating how oppressors use religion to rationalize monstrosity. The armies of the proletariat ride into battle, led symbolically by a machine that rides a mechanical war horse. The machines emerge victorious, but without a ready energy source sufficient to replace the sun…except the natural thermonuclear energies of the human body. The punishment for the defeated humans then becomes that of being put to sleep permanently (but not killed) in a computer world to their liking: the Matrix. Thus are the machines enabled to extract the energies they need to survive indefinitely without further resistance. Until, of course, the events of the Matrix Trilogy. Thus does proletarian revolution go wrong, yielding what’s more or less a simple role reversal with the machines now becoming an exploiter class and the humans the exploited class. Or so the Wachowskis would have us believe anyway. In this anarchist perspective on life revolving around choice, force is the central evil and force cannot be employed to do away with force.

You can view The Second Renaissance below:

Here’s part one. I apologize for the inconvenience of having to manually click on a link to watch it. Part one wasn’t available (in full anyway) on either YouTube or Vimeo, so I couldn’t embed it. Part two, however, was. Don’t be lazy though! Click on the link and watch part one first or you’ll be missing out on half the story! Trust me, the visual adds a lot to the summary I’ve provided.

Done with part one? Okay then here’s part two:

Is this a correct perspective though? The crux of the Wachowskis’ case against proletarian revolution — their case that it inevitably just yields a role reversal — is that there exists a “symbiotic relationship between the two adversaries” that gets “refashioned”.  “This is the very essence of the Second Renaissance”, our guide informs us. That is where this otherwise clever allegory falls apart. Unlike in this story, in real life, the bourgeoisie do indeed depend on the proletariat (namely for its labor), but the proletariat does not depend on the bourgeoisie. That’s not to suggest that such role reversals haven’t happened, of course, but rather that they are avoidable. For example, in real life, there is no fundamental reason why defeated bourgeois strata cannot simply be integrated into the workforce, thus proletarianizing (more or less) the whole population and, in the process, largely eliminating class conflict.

What solution do the Wachowskis propose though to the aforementioned ‘inevitable’ dilemma, you ask? The answer can be found in The Matrix Revolutions: the final installment of the Matrix Trilogy. Therein Neo (the main protagonist) strikes a deal with the head machine whereby they agree upon a common enemy, Agent Smith, who must be defeated because he seeks to destroy everything. In the course of fighting Smith, Neo discovers that Smith is but the evil side of himself. While Neo wants to save everyone, Smith wants to destroy everyone. His efforts to defeat this dark side of himself prove futile until eventually he figures out that the key to victory is not expunging said personal dark side from existence, but rather accepting it as part of  himself. He accordingly allows Smith to infest his body and the two logical opposites thus merge, completing the man, enabling him to gain control of the said dark side. And that completion of the man, in turn, begins a new, less antagonistic relationship with the machines, who agree to let any conscious humans who want to depart the Matrix leave. Thus we are presented with the conclusion that the achievement of personal balance is the key to the achievement of political balance. Mind over matter is the answer. Therefore focus on mastering yourself and class conflict will mitigate itself or perhaps just go away. Yeah…right. Well I guess it’s kind of hard for millionaires to advocate for the defeat of their own class, so invested in the status quo are they. What could one expect? Oh well, I still give The Second Renaissance a score of 80%. Very good and interesting to watch, despite my certain key areas of disagreement with the message it presents.

 

* Here’s a sample study on this:

Marxism: Science or Subjectivism?

Since the conclusion of the First Cold War in particular, humanism has become the prevailing philosophical trend amongst communists, including Marxists. In opposition to this trend toward subjectivism, I, however, remain on board with dialectical materialism: the idea that classical Marxist methodology is scientific. I believe it’s very preferable to maintain and advance a specifically scientific outlook and approach to the world rather than just relying on emotions out of some silly belief that everything is just an opinion and that the world is just way too complicated to understand. In connection to understanding, it might help if we tried! But the subjectivists — both the Marxist ones and the bourgeois liberals — inform us that there’s nothing scientific about classical Marxist methodology. Is this true? I don’t think so at all! Marx’s method may be described as a sort of soft science, but it has very real applicability to the hard sciences and to all fields of human endeavor in fact. The article below provides a series of examples as to how dialectics and materialism are reflected in the natural sciences and as to how they can advance our understanding thereof. It is also the announcement of a project aimed at investigating and showcasing the applicability of materialist dialectics to other fields of human endeavor.

 

How dialectical materialism contributes to the understanding of the natural sciences

January 10 2014

In his unfinished work, Dialectics of Nature, Frederick Engels wrote that Hegel, in his laws of dialectics, formulated for the first time in its universally valid form a general law of development of nature, society, and thought. Marx and Engels further demonstrated the power of dialectics by applying it to their analysis of social development. To do so, they had to link Hegel’s dialectics to a materialist basis. The resulting dialectical-materialist methodology was further strengthened by Lenin in his philosophical writings. Ignoring Marx’s statement in a letter to Kugelmann (27 June 1870) that the dialectical method is the method for dealing with matter, Marxist-influenced philosophers not associated with the Communist movement often claim that a philosophical dichotomy exists between a humanist Marx on the one hand, and the coarse and unfeeling Engels and Lenin, on the other, who erroneously sought to impose dialectics on nature. Characteristically, these philosophers sink into one or another form of philosophical idealism even when claiming to be materialists. This denial of the applicability of dialectics to nature has increased since the collapse of the Soviet Union and other socialist countries.

Many reasons make this question important for Marxists. The most important reason is, as Marx wrote in 1844: “The weapon of criticism cannot, of course, replace criticism of the weapon, material force must be overthrown by material force; but theory also becomes a material force as soon as it has gripped the masses.” Lenin, with his concept of a party of the new type, recognized that such a party, guided by a socialist consciousness, was necessary to instill a socialist consciousness in the masses and thus assemble the material force needed to effect a socialist transformation.

To understand this in depth requires an understanding of the relationship between the material conditions of our existence and the way our minds generate an understanding of them. The natural sciences provide a rich source for understanding the basis of this relationship because they make possible the repeated testing necessary to form and confirm our theoretical representation of material reality in the sphere of nature. It is therefore not surprising that as part of the division of labor between Marx and Engels, Engels specialized in part in the natural sciences. Lenin devoted much time to writing and publishing in 1908 his second most extensive major work, Materialism and Empirio-Criticism, because he felt it necessary to counter the idealist philosophy of the Austrian physicist Ernst Mach when Mach’s positivist views began to make inroads in the Russian revolutionary movement.

If one accepts the validity of the dialectical-materialist worldview, it is not surprising  that dialectical materialists can assert that elements of dialectical-materialist thought are reflected in all advances in human knowledge made by natural and social scientists and other great thinkers whether or not they were consciously aware of this dialectical-materialist content.

To illustrate this, I will start with Hegel himself. At the time he published his Vorlesungen über die Naturphilosophie [Lectures on the Philosophy of Nature] in 1817, Kant’s view of the a priori character of space and time was the dominant view. Kant’s a priori notion of space and time included their existence independently of their being matter associated with them. Yet Engels was able to cite Hegel’s understanding of the dialectical unity of space and time with matter, citing (among others) Hegel’s statement that it is “the concept of space itself that creates its existence in matter.” (G. W. F. Hegel, Naturphilosophie. Quoted in F. Engels, Dialectics of Nature, ed. (New York: International Publishers, 1940), 343).

Contemporary physics is able to view the path followed by a ray of light in some situations as the criterion for what is considered to be a straight line. According to Einstein’s general theory of relativity, first enunciated in 1915, the properties of space and time are shaped by the distribution of matter. This was first confirmed in 1919 when the light from the planet Mercury, bent by the gravitational field of the Sun, became visible from the Earth before the planet had emerged from passing behind the Sun. The contradictory notion of the curvature of straight-line motion was also thereby confirmed.

In 1961, I attended a lecture at the University of Warsaw by Jerzy Plebański, a protégé of the well-known Polish theoretical physicist specialist on relativity theory, Leopold Infeld. At that time, only one of the dozen professors of physics at the University of Warsaw was a member of the Polish United Workers Party. In his talk, Plebański stated that Einstein never relied on results of experimental physics in his formulation of general relativity theory, that Einstein arrived at the theory through aesthetic principles in mathematical physics, unrelated in any way to results of experimental physics. During the discussion period that followed the talk, I rose to point out that the Polish mathematicians, Karol Borsuk and Wanda Szmielew, in their book, Podstaw Geometry [Fundamentals of Geometry], published in 1955, stated that the question of whether Euclidean or the non-Euclidean Lobachesky/Bolyai geometry better describes physical space can be settled, if at all, only by way of experiment. I had been familiar with this point made by Borsuk and Szmielew, because I had discussed it with Professor Borsuk while doing the translation of the book for publication in English in 1960. Plebański’s philosophical prejudices were clearly evident in his reply: “Professor Borsuk is a Party member.” I then stated that Borsuk had told me that this was the view expressed by the famous German mathematician Bernhard Riemann in his habilitation lecture in 1854 and asked, “Was Riemann also a Party member?”

A striking example of dialectical thought in mathematics is given by the German mathematician Richard Dedekind in what has become known as the Dedekind cut. The concept of continuity in mathematics and mathematical physics is important for determining whether the range of values that can be assigned to a property constitutes a continuous set of values. I will give a simplified description of Dedekind’s reasoning. Divide all numbers into two sets, set A being all numbers less than any given number, say the number two, and set B consisting of the number two and all numbers greater than two. Dedekind’s criterion for the undivided set’s being continuous is that in set A there is no highest number. It is clear that if you mention any number less than two with as many decimal places as you wish, there are numbers with more decimal places greater than that. Hence to establish continuity, Dedekind introduced its opposite, a discontinuity.

I have never seen a university textbook in general physics in the United States that states qualitatively what is meant by energy. The textbooks invariably show only how to calculate the various forms of energy and demonstrate quantitatively the Law of Conservation of Energy. Some years ago, in examining a doctoral candidate during his qualifying examination, I asked him to discuss the concept of energy without reference to any mathematical formulas or specific forms of energy. My two colleagues on the examining committee immediately objected. We had to ask the student to leave the examining room while I established the legitimacy of the question, pointing out that my students in first-year physics could provide the answer.

I had asked the question because Engels, in his Dialectics of Nature, criticized Helmholtz for failing to recognize the deeper import of his 1849 Law of Conservation of Energy, namely “that any form of motion, under conditions fixed for each case, is both able and compelled to undergo transformation directly into any other form of motion.” In 1966, Engels’s view of the law of conservation of energy as a law of transformation reappeared in a book Six Lectures on Modern Natural Philosophy, by Clifford A. Truesdale, in which the author, clearly not an adherent of dialectical materialism, himself grasped the dialectical character of the concept of energy by stating, “Energy is the measure of the capacity of a system to undergo change.” All that is needed to impart a materialist content to this formulation is to add a phrase at the end of it so that it would read: “Energy is the measure of a system to undergo change from one form and motion of matter to another.”

Despite his reputation as a mechanist, Isaac Newton was very dialectical in arriving at the laws of motion as he presented them in Latin in his major work, Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy, often referred to by the Latin word in its title, Principia.

One U.S. physics textbook, Physics by Paul A Tipler (1976), using the logical positivist concept of operational definitions in its discussion of Newton’s First Law of Motion, states that “the significance of the first law, or law of inertia, is that it defines, by an operational means, what we mean by saying there is no net or resultant force acting upon an object.” In an article entitled “Philosophy of Physics in General Physics Courses” published in the American Journal of Physics in 1978, I pointed out that there is no place accessible to us where there is a complete absence of forces acting on a body, so that the condition of uniform velocity predicted by Newton’s first law cannot, in fact, be tested operationally. More importantly, I pointed out that there was a problem with the way Newton’s law of inertia was usually translated.

Until recently, what was usually cited by U.S. and British scholars as the standard translation into English of Newton’s first law of motion-the law of inertia-was the inaccurate so-called Mott-Cajori translation of the Principia published in 1934 by the University of California Press:

“Every body continues in its state of rest, or of uniform motion in a right line, unless it is compelled to change that state by forces impressed upon it.

With the term unless in the English translation and solange in the German, the law states that the body either goes in a straight line or, because of an impressed force, its motion deviates from a straight line. But if one looks at Newton’s earlier attempts to formulate the law of inertia throughout the twenty-year period prior to its publication, one finds that he usually used the word cause instead of the word force. At that time, force was considered an intensity; it had not yet been quantified. In his first law, Newton was attempting to express a causality principle that, in its final form, expressed his conclusion that there is a determinable quantitative relationship between the cause and the change, thereby projecting the existence of a law-governed relationship of changes of motion of material bodies. Newton’s second and third laws of motion elaborate this law-governedness quantitatively and qualitatively. Law-governedness in the material worlds of society and nature is what Marx revealed in his economic studies and what Engels stressed in his writings on nature. The fact that Newton, twenty years earlier had already written down in English what seemed to be equivalent to the first law, including the word unless, and waited twenty years before publishing it, prompted me to look at Newton’s Latin text of the first law, saying to myself, “if only he had said “except insofar as,” then he would have had a law-governed causality statement. I found that instead of only the word unless (or nisi in Latin), he had indeed used the phrase nisi quatenus, the term quatenus being a quantitative modifier. Therefore, the law should have been translated

“Every body continues in its state of rest, or of uniform motion in a right line, except insofar as it is compelled to change that state by forces impressed upon it.

I made this point in passing in my 1978 article, but repeated it in a separate article on the subject, “A Plea for a Correct Translation of Newton’s Law of Inertia,” published in the American Journal of Physics in 1990. A new translation of the Principia by I. B. Cohen and A. Whitman published by the University of California Press, Berkeley, in 1999 that has now become the current authoritative translation now contains the phrase “except insofar as.” Many recent U.S. physics textbooks are using this correct translation of the law.

The manner in which Newton arrived at his law of inertia is profoundly dialectical. In his Definition III, in the section entitled “Definitions,” he describes how a body’s inertia manifests itself when an attempt is made to change its state of motion:

The vis insita or innate force of matter is a power of resisting, by which every body, as much as in it lies, continues in its present state, whether it be at rest or of moving uniformly forwards in a right line.

The phrase  ”as much as it lies” for the first time established the quantitative and qualitative interconnection for the physical property force as a distinctive fundamental category of physics by relating the magnitude of the inertial force to the mass of the body. In the explanation of the law he states: “This force is always proportional to the body whose force it is.”

His Definition IV states

An impressed force is an action exerted upon a body, in order to change its state, either of rest, or of uniform motion in a right line.

His commentary on this definition includes the following:

This force consists in the action only, and remains no longer in the body when the action is over.

In this brilliant example of the dialectical relationship of phenomena and essence, Newton asserts that the innate force, that is, the force of inertia, is the phenomenal manifestation of the mass of the body in response to an impressed force. The impressed force, which vanishes when its action is over, exists only in relation to the resistance of the body to a change in motion-that is, its existence is conditioned by the existence of the innate force. Innate and impressed forces are therefore two distinct (i.e., mutually excluding) mutually conditioned forces.

Newton could not complete the quantification of the force until he embraced all of these concepts in the three laws of motion.

I hope these few examples of the dialectical-materialist content of some of the conceptual foundations of physics will encourage others to look at the dialectical-materialist content of the conceptual foundations of other areas of scholarly investigation, in the natural, biological, and social sciences. The Marx-Engels Center being opened here tonight can play a vital role for stimulating such a project, which would underline the continuing relevance of the contributions of Marx and Engels to our understanding of nature, society, and thought. 

Erwin Marquit is Professor Emeritus at the University of Minnesota. This article was presented at the opening ceremony of the Marx-Engels Center in Berlin on October 5, 2012. The author was an invited speaker.

Link to original context.

The Second Cold War Begins

As you surely know by now, there has been a recent falling out between Russia and the West over the situation in Ukraine and Crimea. Here are my updates on the situation as it has unfolded so far:

February 20th: Who We’re Supporting in Ukraine — And Why

February 22nd: Western-Backed Fascists Overrun Kiev

March 2nd: Why the Russians Are “Invading” Crimea

March 7th: Crimea Votes to Join Russia, West Imposes Sanctions on Russia

Anyway, I don’t think many people are really appreciating the significance of this falling out. Make no mistake, what we’re witnessing right now is nothing less than the beginning of a Second Cold War. This is a historic moment, in other words. Indeed, this is probably the most important and defining moment of the next decade, if not the next several decades in many ways. Think for a moment about the significance of the West collectively imposing economic sanctions on Russia (which is what we’re moving to do and will likely become reality as soon as next week) and of Russia not backing down in that context, but instead threatening to impose sanctions of its own on American and possibly other Western banks in retaliation, and even to seize the assets of American companies operating in Russia. These are steps unprecedented in more than two decades in terms of our relationship with Russia! Russia isn’t some relative pushover like Iraq or Libya. They’re a powerful (albeit rather poor) country with a real army and one of the world’s largest stockpiles of perfectly viable nuclear weapons. They have lots of international influence. And here you have us imposing sanctions on them, threatening to expel them from the G8 (with this year’s summit having been canceled already in direct retaliation against Russian support for Crimean secession), etc., and Russia reciprocating with threats of sanctions of their own and threatening to seize American companies operating in Russia. Think about that! Things right now appear to be moving quickly in the direction of the total severance of diplomatic relations between us (the U.S. and possibly even the global northwest more broadly) and Russia. Where would that put us? Answer: Right back in the Cold War!

Of course, there are some significant differences between this emerging Second Cold War and the first one. Namely, Russia is at more of a disadvantage in today’s more fully Americanized global political and economic situation. It’s also a smaller country today, both in terms of the land mass it controls (there is no Soviet Union anymore) and in terms of its population size.

The first Cold War concluded with a total American victory. Eastern Europe in general was integrated into NATO and Russia’s political system was taken over by Western — and namely American — administrators who used their newfound authority to orchestrate one of history’s largest sell-offs: the general sale of Russian state assets at knock-off prices to private owners; often American. The result was a catastrophe far worse than the Great Depression we once suffered in this country. Unemployment surged and inflation spiraled out of control as Russia was forcibly integrated as a subservient into the U.S.-dominated global capitalist system. The crime rate went up sharply in consequence of the desperation of the people. People began leaving Russia in droves. To perhaps more fully concentrate the severity of these post-Cold-War developments, the average life expectancy of Russians plunged ten years.

Since the turn of the century, Russia’s economy has rebounded under the leadership of Russian patriot Vladimir Putin, who has jailed the financial oligarchs that took over and ran the country’s economy during the disastrous depression of the ’90s, thus offending the West and challenging their control over the Russian economy. In recent years, Putin’s economic policies have focused on priorities like increasing social welfare payouts, launching new state-owned companies, and a quest to create a progressive income tax system wherein the rich are taxed at higher rates than the poor. These priorities are perhaps consequential of the fact that all the opposing parties in the Russian parliament at present are left of his own United Russia. (Like the Communist Party for example, which is currently the main opposition party.) Throughout his two distinct tenures, Putin has thus far sought to restore to the Russian people a lost sense of pride and self-worth. To that end, he has resurrected imagery from the popular Soviet era while joining the G8, hosting this year’s Winter Olympics, and by any number of other means seeking to show the world that Russia has made a comeback and is to be respected once more. But each step the proletarian nation of Russia has taken toward both renewed political independence and international prominence and respectability and been met with increasing degrees of hostility from the West, and often especially from the United States. What Mr. Putin has not yet grasped is the reality that this — capitalism — is the enemy’s game. As such, it’s unwritten law is that only the enemy is allowed to win it. It appears that Putin and the rest of Russia may be set to learn that lesson the hard way in the immediate future. Ukraine and Crimea are but the particular flashpoint that has been chosen. Russia has become too assertive for us — too independent of us. That is the bottom line. Economic and diplomatic isolation from the United States and the West more broadly will probably tend to push Russian politics leftward, in the direction of nationalizing businesses and so forth out of sheer necessity, as just highlighted. And with its international influence, who knows what effects that could have globally? One thing is for certain: My January prediction that Putin would emerge as the new Chavez in terms of being a character seeking to organize opposition to American hegemony has already more than proven correct!

The stakes in this Second Cold War are not even. This is not simply “capitalist empire versus capitalist empire”. This conflict is driven primarily by a global class divide. Americans and other Westerners in general mostly belong to the global bourgeoisie. They are mostly net owners of private property and, as such, are net beneficiaries of the capitalist system and accordingly fight for its interests. Russia, by contrast, is a proletarian nation; a nation composed mostly of poor and working class people. To the extent that the political leaders of Russia stand up for the national interest, therefore, they are standing up for the interests of the proletariat. It is the duty of communists everywhere to support the interests of the proletariat. In this case, that means supporting Russia.