Showing posts with label religious fundamentalism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label religious fundamentalism. Show all posts

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

*Bob Dylan- A Side View –“Slow Train Coming"- A Review

Bob Dylan- A Side View –“Slow Train Coming"- A Review







CD Review

Slow Train Coming, Bob Dylan, Columbia Records, 1979



I have, in terms of the sheer number of musical reviews, probably done more on the work of the "king" of the 1960s folk revival, Bob Dylan, than any other performer. And rightly so, considering his place in the musical history of my generation, and of his place in the American musical pantheon. That said, not all of his work, as he himself has acknowledged, is worthy of a place in the American songbook. That is the fate in store for most of the work in this album, "Slow Train Coming", done in a period when he was coming to grips with some personal religious crisis, specifically, his bout with Christianity.

Now, many of us, have had our trials and tribulations over that doctrine- without trying to enhance a musical genre over it. This is one of those things that should have been left in the vaults for future folk/rock historians to "discover". But since Mr. Dylan decided that it was worthy of production and distribution in the here and now I will venture that the following songs might intrigue those future anthropologists-"Slow Train Coming", "I Believe In You", and, the best of the lot, "Got To Serve Somebody". But my reaction after listening to this one was to then get my old scratched up copy of "Desolation Row" out and listen to "real" Dylan.


Gotta Serve Somebody

You may be an ambassador to England or France
You may like to gamble, you might like to dance
You may be the heavyweight champion of the world
You may be a socialite with a long string of pearls

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody

You might be a rock ’n’ roll addict prancing on the stage
You might have drugs at your command, women in a cage
You may be a businessman or some high-degree thief
They may call you Doctor or they may call you Chief

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody

You may be a state trooper, you might be a young Turk
You may be the head of some big TV network
You may be rich or poor, you may be blind or lame
You may be living in another country under another name

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody

You may be a construction worker working on a home
You may be living in a mansion or you might live in a dome
You might own guns and you might even own tanks
You might be somebody’s landlord, you might even own banks

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody

You may be a preacher with your spiritual pride
You may be a city councilman taking bribes on the side
You may be workin’ in a barbershop, you may know how to cut hair
You may be somebody’s mistress, may be somebody’s heir

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody

Might like to wear cotton, might like to wear silk
Might like to drink whiskey, might like to drink milk
You might like to eat caviar, you might like to eat bread
You may be sleeping on the floor, sleeping in a king-sized bed

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody

You may call me Terry, you may call me Timmy
You may call me Bobby, you may call me Zimmy
You may call me R.J., you may call me Ray
You may call me anything but no matter what you say

You’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody

Copyright © 1979 by Special Rider Music

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

*Clinch Mountain Sweethearts, Indeed!- Ralph Stanley And Friends

In Honor Of The Late Ralph Stanley- Clinch Mountain Sweethearts, Indeed!- Ralph Stanley And Friends






A YouTube's Film Clip Of Ralph Stanley Doing "Oh Death".



CD Review

Clinch Mountain Sweethearts, Ralph Stanley and Friends, Rebel Records, 2001




In a recent DVD review of the now mountain music movie classic, George Clooney's "Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?", I mentioned in passing the name of the artist under review here, Ralph Stanley. I also noted that this grand master of mountain music as it derived from The Carter Family strain was eminently worthy of a separate review on his own merits. I make amends here. I think that this settles all debts by all parties.



That said, the following excerpt from that above-mentioned review can be used here to set the tone for a look at Ralph Stanley's work here:



"Sometimes a revival of a musical form, like the "talking blues", that highlighted the urban folk revival of the early 1960's is driven by a social need. In that case it was to provide a format for the "glad tidings" that a new political and social movement was a-bornin'. In the case of the revival several years ago of what is called "mountain music" it was the films "The Song Catcher" and, more importantly, the very popular movie starring George Clooney " O Brother, Where Art Thou?" The CD under review is a compilation of music from that movie, a not unnatural tie-in in the modern entertainment business. The movie deserves a separate review, however, this CD can stand on its own as a very nice cross section of "mountain music", some familiar most not so.



Without straining credulity "mountain music" is the music of the simple folk of Appalachia, those who worked hard in the coal mines, on the hard scrabble farms and in the isolated mills of the region. This was their Saturday night entertainment and with the advent of radio was a unifying cultural experience. The songs "speak" of hard and lonely lives, the beauty of the then pristine countryside, the usual vagaries of love and lost and the mysterious ways of a very personal, if arbitrary, god. Throw in a few upbeat tunes reflecting the love of "corn" liquor, women and the sometimes funny side of coping with life's trials and tribulations and you have the mountain version of the folk experience. Sound familiar? Sure it does, except, it is done with simple guitar, a blazing fiddle and, hopefully, a full-bodied mandolin."



After that introduction it would seem hardly necessary to do more than list the outstanding tracks on this CD. Except one thing. Ralph has gathered around his "good old boy" self a virtual who's who of female country singers, female folk singers, female folk rock singers, female rock folk singers and ..., well you get the drift. Most of the names here have popped up in other reviews, or will do so in the future. Start with my "Internet Sweetheart", Iris Dement on "Ridin' The Midnight Train" and "Trust Each Other". Folk legend Joan Baez on "Weeping Willow". Maria Muldaur, early on from the Jim Kweskin Jug Band and now a "blues mama" extraordinaire in her own right, on "This Memory Of Yours". Melba Montgomery on the classic country song " You Win Again". Lucinda Williams on "Farther Along". And last but not least Gillian Welch on the Stanley national anthem "Oh Death". Did I kid you? This as an All-Star A-list (excepting only Emmylou Harris and Bonnie Raitt). How did the old coot do it? Enjoy.




Ralph Stanley — Daddy's Wildwood Flower lyrics


INSTRUMENTAL INTRO



Mama was his Wildwood Flower, my Daddy used to say,
And to prove to her he loved her, he'd play it every day.
Mom would look at him and smile, she'd say, "God bless my man,
I don't regret one single time that I gave him my hand."

REFRAIN
The Wildwood Flower
(The Wildwood Flower)
Was his favorite song,
And when he played for Mama,
Her house became a home.

INSTRUMENTAL BREAK

Mom took sick and passed away, this was his darkest hour.
He came home that very day and he played the Wildwood Flower.
Time went by and he grew old, he'd sit and play for hours,
Mem'ries of Mom on his old guitar, he'd play the Wildwood Flower.

REFRAIN

INSTRUMENTAL BREAK

One night, as I walked by his house, I though I heard his song.
I heard Mama talkin', but Mom had long been gone.
I looked through the window and saw God's mighty power,
There sat Mom with Daddy, he was playin' the Wildwood Flower.

REFRAIN

INSTRUMENTAL BREAK

As he grew old, he could play no more, and his mind began to fail.
We'd often find him in the field, he seemed so old and frail.
One day, we couldn't find him, and after many days,
Found him lyin' with the wildwood flowers, up on Mama's grave.

REFRAIN



INSTRUMENTAL OUTRO

Sunday, July 03, 2016

*In Honor Of The Late Ralph Stanley-The Root Of The Matter-Putting Bluegrass and Gospel Together For Real- “We Are Family”

Click on title to link to YouTube's film clip of The Easter Family performing "Roses Will Bloom Again".

DVD Review

We Are Family, various artists from the Easter and Lewis families, Daywind Records, 2008




Sometimes when reviewing roots music CDs and DVDs you come across material that you are both somewhat unfamiliar with and that does not fit easily in the various known categories of roots music. That is the case here with the combination of bluegrass and white gospel presented by the Easter Brothers and their family, very extended family as its turns out. A regular reader of this space might be somewhat puzzled by this remark. Of course, particularly over the last few months, I have reviewed reams of bluegrass music from the old days with the likes of Roscoe Holcombe, Ralph Stanley and the like.



Certainly the bluegrass folk revivalists of the 1960s, like the New Lost City Ramblers and The Greenbriar Boys, have gotten plenty of space. Moreover, one cannot really review Harry Smith’s “Anthology Of American Folk Music”, as I have in this space without running into plenty of bluegrass and gospel music. What is rather startling in this presentation these days is that combination, present here, of true believers in the gospel who bring their message through their bluegrass concerts for the folks. Frankly, I am much more comfortable with a secular group like The Bluegrass Gospel Project, who belt out the old tunes with fervor but not fever. .



Nevertheless, despite my befuddlement and a natural inclination to write this stuff off, this group, or rather real life extended family (I never did really get all the relationships down), knows how to sing this white gospel bluegrass music. Not enough to make me jump up and run out and get their albums but enough to appreciate that this Georgia -based group had something to say. That certainly is the case with a couple of songs, “Roses Will Bloom Again” and “I Need You”.



Roses Will Boom Again

Written by Marsha Henry
performed by Jeff and Sheri Easter
From the album, “By Request”


Verse 1


I planted a little rose bush
I tended it with care
It’s buds began to blossom
Their fragrance filled the air
But when winter came it withered,
The petals drooped and fell to the ground
My heart sank as it faded
But I’d forgotten who had made it


Chorus
Roses will bloom again
Just wait and see
Don’t mourn what might have been
Only God knows how and when that
Roses will bloom again


Verse 2
Rose was his only sweetheart
A loving wife for forty years
Cherished every day they had
And held memories oh so dear
He never dreamed he’s bury love
And go to live alone
But he lay his Rose to rest
Looked up to heaven and tried his best
To believe that


Chorus
Roses will bloom again
Just wait and see
Don’t mourn what might have been
Only God knows how and when that
Roses will bloom again


Verse 3
The precious Rose of Sharon
Broken and bruised in cruel shame
Stained on the cross of Calvary
So that men might be saved
Oh, satan cheered as He died
While Mary and the others cried
Then God raised Him up from that sleep
And kept a promise only He could keep


Chorus
Roses will bloom again
Just wait and see
Don’t mourn what might have been

Monday, January 18, 2016

*From The "Renegade Eye" Blog- On Pat Robertson

Click on, if you dare tempt the fates, to the "Renegade Eye" blog for a pithy comment on one Pat Robertson.

Markin comment:

Pat Robertson is living proof, if we really needed any more, that not all our religious fundamentalist enemies are in the Middle East or elsewhere. And, in the end,they are all just as dangerous to our cause, the communist future. Viva Toussaint and his fight for Haitian independence against the French back in the day!

Saturday, March 03, 2012

On The 50th Anniversary Of Publication Of Michael Harrington's "The Other America"- A Personal Note On The Class Struggle

Reposted from the American Left History blog

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

*Labor's Untold Story- A Personal View Of The Class Wars In The Kentucky Hills And Hollows-At One Remove

Click on title to link to a YouTube film clip of Iris Dement performing Pretty Saro in the film Songcatcher. This song is presented just an example of her singing style as I could not find a film clip of her doing These Hills which, as will be explained below, was the song I was thinking of as background for what I am writing about in today's commentary. (I have placed the lyrics to These Hills below but the written words hardly do justice to her performance and mood of the song.)

As I end, for this year, the over month long series entitled Labor's Untold Story in celebration of our common labor struggles I am in something of a reflective and pensive mood. Well you know that every once in a while that happens even to the most hardened politico, right? I have heard that even President Obama had such a moment about four years ago although it literally was just one moment, sixty-six seconds according to one inside source, an anonymous source because he, or she, is not authorized to give such classified information in the interest of national security, the bourgeoisie’s national security to be exact. Rumor also has it that leading Republican presidential contender, former Massachusetts governor, Mitt Romney, thought about having a pensive moment for a moment and then changed his mind when some Tea Party-ers declared that pensive moments were against god’s will. I, on the other hand, as an intrepid communist propagandist can freely admit to such moments in politics, and as here reflecting on my roots.

What has gotten me into this reflective state is thinking about my father's background of coming from the hard-scrabble hills of Kentucky. That, my friends, means coal country, or it did in his time. The names Hazard, near Harlan County (the next county over to be exact) but, more appropriately "bloody Harlan" have, I hope, echoed across this series as a symbol for the hard life of many generations of workers and hard-scrabble tenant farmers who came out of those hills-some place. Some place in Appalachia, that is.

I have mentioned my father and his trials and tribulations, previously, when I did a series on the evolution of my youthful political trajectory from liberalism to communism. His hard-bitten, no breaks, no luck life was not a direct influence on that evolution, that is for sure. He was a strong anti-communist, if only of the reflexive kind coming out of that so-called “greatest generation” who survived the Great Depression of the 1930s and then, rifle over one shoulder, fought World War II. But something in the genes and in his character left an imprint. Let me sum up his life's experience this way- the tidbit that he imparted to me early on in life I will always remember and is probably why I am still struggling for our communist future to this day.

My father was certainly no stranger to hard times as a youth thrown into the coal mines early (or, as it turned out, in his work travails as an adult). My father, perhaps like yours, was a child of the Great Depression of the 1930's, scratching and clawing his way from pillar to post and entered into his manhood as a Marine in combat in World War II. Hard combat in the Pacific, and as anyone who has studied the period will know, where no quarter was given, or taken. Those two facts are important. Why? As a very young kid I asked him why he became a soldier, excuse me, a Marine. Well, the short answer was this- between the two alternatives, starve or fight, he was glad, no more than glad he was ecstatic, to quickly sign up at the Marine recruiting station in order to get out of the hills of Kentucky. And he, moreover, whatever happened later, never looked back.

That, my friends, is why I entitled part of the headline to today's entry- "at one remove". Those hills are in my blood, no question, no question now as much as I might have resisted such feelings before, but also the notion that those terrible choices had to be made by an honest working-class stiff. And that is why today I am in this mood thinking about how desperately we need to get down that socialist road. Pronto. And why I hear Iris Dement's voice singing of her own longings in These Hills, my father’s hills, as I write this, down deep in my own being.
*****
I have put together and reposted separately all the related entries around this many generational struggle to get away from the "coal"

"These Hills"-Iris Dement

Far away I've traveled,
To stand once more alone.
And hear my memories echo,
Through these hills that I call home.

As a child I roamed this valley.
I watched the seasons come and go.
I spent many hours dreaming,
On these hills that I call home.

The wind is rushing through the valley,
And I don't feel so all alone,
When I see the dandelions blowing,
Across the hills that I call home.

Instrumental Break.

Like the flowers I am fading,
Into my setting sun.
Brother and sister passed before me:
Mama and Daddy, they've long since gone.

The wind is rushing through the valley,
And I don't feel so all alone,
When I see the dandelions blowing,
Across the hills that I call home.

These are the hills that I call home.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Labor’s Untold Story- A Personal View Of The Class Wars In The Kentucky Hills And Hollows-"Our Mother, The Mountain- The Music Of Jean Ritchie"

Our Mother, The Mountain- The Traditional Mountain Music Of Jean Ritchie

CD REVIEW

Mountain Hearth And Home, Jean Ritchie, Rhino Handmade, 2004

The last time that the name of traditional mountain folk singer Jean Ritchie was mentioned in this space was as part of the lineup in Rosalie Sorrel’s last concert at Harvard University that spawned a CD, The Last Go-Round. At that concert she, as usual, she performed, accompanied by her sweet dulcimer, the mountain music particularly the music that she learned in the mountains of Eastern Kentucky and that she has been associated with going back at least to the early 1960’s. Here, in the CD under review, Mountain Hearth and Home, we get a wide range of those traditional mountain songs from those parts that provide something for every palate.

The songs, simple songs of the mountains that befit a simple folk with simple lyrics, chords and instrumentation representing what was at hand, many of which have their genesis back in the hills of Scotland and Ireland, never fail to evoke a primordial response in this listener. The songs speak of the longings created by those isolated spaces; and, occasionally of those almost eternal thoughts of love, love thwarted, love gone wrong or love disappearing without a trace. Or songs of the hard life of the mountains whether it is the hard scrabble to make a life from the rocky farmland that will not give forth without great struggle or of the mines, the coal mines that in an earlier time (and that are making a comeback now out west) represented a key energy source for a growing industrial society. Many a tale here centers on the trails and tribulations of the weary, worked-out mines and miners. Add in some country lullabies, some religiously-oriented songs representing the fundamental Protestant ethic that drove these people and some Saturday dancing and drinking songs and you have a pretty good feel for the range of experience out there in the hills, hollows and ravines of Eastern Kentucky.

Several time over the past year or so I have mentioned, as part of my remembrances of my youth and of my political and familial background, that my father was a coal miner and the son of a coal miner in the hills of Hazard, Kentucky (a town mentioned in a couple of the songs here) in the heart of Appalachia. I have also mentioned that he was a child of the Great Depression and of World War II. He often joked that in a choice between digging the coal and taking his chances in war he much preferred the latter. Thus, it was no accident that when war came he volunteered for the Marines and, as fate would have it, despite a hard, hard life after the war, he never looked back to the mines or the hills. Still this music flowed in his veins, and, I guess, flows in mine.

My Boy Willie

Traditional

Notes: This song has the exact same tunes as the song "The Butcher Boy" and is of a similar theme.

It was early, early in the spring
my boy Willie went to serve the king
And all that vexed him and grieved his mind
was the leaving of his dear girl behind.

Oh father dear build me a boat
that on the ocean I might float
And hail the ships as they pass by
for to inquire of my sailor boy.

She had not sailed long in the deep
when a fine ship's crew she chanced to meet
And of the captain she inquired to
"Does my boy Willie sail on board with you?"

"What sort of a lad is your Willie fair?
What sort of clothes does your Willie wear?"
"He wears a coat of royal blue,
and you'll surely know him for his heart is true".

"If that's your Willie he is not here.
Your Willie's drowned as you did fear.
'Twas at yonder green island as we passed by,
it was there we lost a fine sailor boy".

Go dig my grave long wide and deep,
put a marble stone at my head and feet.
And in the middle, a turtle dove.
So the whole world knows that I died of love.

"The L & N Don't Stop Here Anymore"

When I was a curly headed baby
My daddy sat me down on his knee
He said, "son, go to school and get your letters,
Don't you be a dusty coal miner, boy, like me."

[Chorus:]
I was born and raised at the mouth of hazard hollow
The coal cars rolled and rumbled past my door
But now they stand in a rusty row all empty
Because the l & n don't stop here anymore

I used to think my daddy was a black man
With script enough to buy the company store
But now he goes to town with empty pockets
And his face is white as a February snow

[Chorus]

I never thought I'd learn to love the coal dust
I never thought I'd pray to hear that whistle roar
Oh, god, I wish the grass would turn to money
And those green backs would fill my pockets once more

[Chorus]

Last night I dreamed I went down to the office
To get my pay like a had done before
But them ol' kudzu vines were coverin' the door
And there were leaves and grass growin' right up through the floor

[Chorus]


Come All Ye Fair And Tender Ladies

Come all ye fair and tender ladies
Take warning how you court your men
They're like a star on a summer morning
They first appear and then they're gone

They'll tell to you some loving story
And they'll make you think that they love you well
And away they'll go and court some other
And leave you there in grief to dwell

I wish I was on some tall mountain
Where the ivy rocks were black as ink
I'd write a letter to my false true lover
Whose cheeks are like the morning pink

I wish I was a little sparrow
And I had wings to fly so high
I'd fly to the arms of my false true lover
And when he'd ask, I would deny

Oh love is handsome, love is charming
And love is pretty while it's new
But love grows cold as love grows older
And fades away like morning dew

"BLACK IS THE COLOUR"

Black is the colour of my true love's hair
Her lips are like some roses fair
She's the sweetest face and the gentlest hands
I love the ground wheron she stands

I love my love and well she knows
I love the ground whereon she goes
But some times I whish the day will come
That she and I will be as one

Black is the colour of my true love's hair
Her lips are like some roses fair
She's the sweetest face and the gentlest hands
I love the ground wheron she stands

I walk to the Clyde for to mourn and weep
But satisfied I never can sleep
I'll write her a letter, just a few short lines
And suffer death ten thousand times

Black is the colour of my true love's hair
Her lips are like some roses fair
She's the sweetest face and the gentlest hands
I love the ground wheron she stands

Blue Diamond Mines

I remember the ways in the bygone days
when we was all in our prime
When us and John L. we give the old man hell
down in the Blue Diamond Mine

Well the whistle would blow 'for the rooster crow
full two hours before daylight
When a man done his best and earned his good rest
at seven dollars a night

In the mines in the mines
in the Blue Diamond Mines
I worked my life away
In the mines in the mines
In the Blue Diamond Mines
I fall on my knees and pray.

You old black gold you've taken my lung
your dust has darkened my home
And now I am old and you've turned your back
where else can an old miner go


Well it's Algomer Block and Big Leather Woods
now its Blue Diamond too
The bits are all closed get another job
what else can an old miner do?


Now the union is dead and they shake their heads
well mining has had it's day
But they're stripping off my mountain top
and they pay me eight dollars a day


Now you might get a little poke of welfare meal
get a little poke of welfare flour
But I tell you right now your won't qualify
'till you work for a quarter an hour.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

*Labor’s Untold Story- A Personal View Of The Class Wars In The Kentucky Hills And Hollows-"Bloody Harlan" In Song

Click on title to link to my entry for "Bloody Harlan In Song".

This commentary is part of a series under the following general title: Labor’s Untold Story- Reclaiming Our Labor History In Order To Fight Another Day-And Win!

As a first run through, and in some cases until I can get enough other sources in order to make a decent presentation, I will start with short entries on each topic that I will eventually go into greater detail about. Or, better yet, take my suggested topic and run with it yourself.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

From The Pages Of "Workers Vanguard"-In Defense of Marxism and Science

Markin comment:

It would seem impossible that in the early years of the 21st century as we are now deep into the age of the Internet, instant communications, and about twelve million other discoveries, inventions and human-made technological delights (stuff way beyond the capacity of god to understand never mind create) that we still would be fighting the now hoary battle between science and superstition (religious, mainly, but other forms as well). Under any circumstances. But we are, and we will continue to do as an elementary duty. In fact, although we will have our share of “angel” believers as the Bolsheviks did in the early days of their revolution, we cannot be successful in making the American socialist revolution until we can break a critical mass of the working class and their allies from that dependence. Simple, right? I wish, but I will take my chances with the scientific method any day.
********
Workers Vanguard No. 971
7 January 2011

In Defense of Marxism and Science

We print below, edited for publication, a presentation by T. Marlow of the Spartacist League at a Chicago forum last July 24.

When the French mathematician Pierre-Simon Laplace went to present a copy of his treatise on celestial mechanics to Napoleon, the latter is said to have stated: “M. Laplace, they tell me you have written this large book on the system of the universe, and have never even mentioned its Creator.” Laplace replied, “I had no need for that hypothesis.”

Two centuries later, any American politician caught on tape saying something like that would never be able to run for dogcatcher, let alone the Senate or presidency. The U.S. is peculiar among the advanced industrial countries in its level of religiosity—over three-fourths of respondents in an AP poll said they believed in angels. Worse still is an increase in the rejection of scientific thinking, from the millions seeking miracle cures from a panoply of snake-oil vendors to a politically cohesive and dangerous sector of religious fundamentalists out to turn the U.S. into a theocracy. I am not referring to the demented followers of Osama bin Laden. I am speaking of the Christian right, which has abortion and evolution as focus points of attack.

In the Communist Manifesto, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels state: “The ruling ideas of each age have ever been the ideas of its ruling class.” Well, we have a ruling class that could be described as drunk with power. The collapse of Stalinism in East Europe and the Soviet Union in 1989-92 was a world-historic defeat for the working class of the world. The American bourgeoisie declared the “death of Communism,” and even the “end of history.” With military power far greater than any of their imperialist rivals in Europe or Japan, the U.S. rulers have acted with little restraint on their predatory desires, as in Iraq and Afghanistan and recently in Haiti.

At the same time, the consciousness of the proletariat has been thrown back so far that even advanced workers and others involved in social struggle no longer identify their goal as building a socialist society. In the U.S. in particular, there is the question of race: black oppression is the bedrock of American capitalism; the notion of black people as being inferior, which survives to this day, was the ideological counterpart to black chattel slavery. America is if anything more segregated than 25 years ago.

Especially since the September 11 attacks, the “war on terror” has been used to beat the working class into submission and squelch opposition to the predations of U.S. imperialism across the globe. It is not just the linguistically challenged George W. Bush—Obama was made Commander-in-Chief in part to give the image of U.S. imperialism a needed facelift. But smoother words have not changed American military rampaging in Iraq and Afghanistan, nor the extension of police-state measures at home. The American ruling class sees no reason why it cannot continue to literally get away with murder.

In these circumstances it is no wonder that religious reaction is ascendant and even the rationalism of the Enlightenment of the 18th century is under attack. You don’t have to be a Marxist to oppose things like creationism, but without a Marxist program you have no way out of the impasse in which society finds itself. Society is rent by class struggle, legal and extralegal, as the bourgeoisie seeks ever greater profit from the exploitation of labor and workers resist. As Marx showed, there is a fundamental contradiction between the private ownership of the means of production and the further advance of productive forces. The rule of capital must be smashed by the working class, organized and led by a revolutionary Trotskyist party.

Part of the process of building that party is to educate the proletariat as to its historic role and responsibility for the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism. That means a Marxist understanding of society, and that in turn means an understanding of the work of science and its defense against the purveyors of mystical and medieval rubbish. So first we have to review a bit of history.

The Middle Ages and Renaissance

The fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 to the birth of Leonardo da Vinci in 1452 (or the victorious siege of Constantinople by the Ottoman Turks a year later) marked about a thousand years. That’s about one-fifth of the entire history of human civilization since the first example of writing (the cuneiform tablets of southern Mesopotamia from about 3000 BC). In West Europe this period is called the Middle or Dark Ages. Not coincidentally, the dominant political and economic institution in this period was the Roman Catholic church. Along with the nobility, the church was a major landowner. The vast majority of the population was made up of serfs tied to the land of their lord, to whom they owed service as a feudal obligation. Illiterate, disease-ridden, all but slaves to their temporal and spiritual masters, the peasant masses faced, to quote Thomas Hobbes, “continuall feare, and danger of violent death; And the life of man, solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short” (Leviathan [1651]).

The Renaissance, which began in the city-states of northern Italy and was spurred by the growth of trade with the East, helped engender a new class of merchants, later to become the bourgeoisie of modern capitalism. As these merchants’ ships went further out into the world, they needed better knowledge on the workings of the natural world and the cosmos. In his 1883 Introduction to Dialectics of Nature, Engels succinctly notes:

“The main work in the first period of natural science that now opened lay in mastering the material immediately at hand. In most fields a start had to be made from the very beginning. Antiquity had bequeathed Euclid and the Ptolemaic solar system; the Arabs had left behind the decimal notation, the beginnings of algebra, the modern numerals, and alchemy; the Christian Middle Ages nothing at all.”

The church dogma on what we would call astronomy was what Ptolemy wrote in the second century AD. In his system, the Earth formed the center of motion, around which the Sun and planets rotated. The stars were fixed on a celestial sphere further out from the Sun and planets. What was on Earth was corrupt; what was in Heaven was perfect.

What passed for medicine also came from the Greeks, in particular, Hippocrates, in the 5th century BC. Human health was determined by the interplay of the four humors (blood, phlegm, yellow bile and black bile). Ill health meant an imbalance of the humors, which could require purging or bloodletting. These and other often fatal remedies continued to be used in the 18th and 19th centuries: George Washington himself died most likely as a result of bloodletting by his doctors when he fell ill in 1799.

In the 1500s, things started to crack for the feudal order and especially for the church. The Protestant Reformation is normally tagged to 1517, when Martin Luther posted his 95 theses on the cathedral door in Wittenberg. This doctrinal split would lead to no small amount of bloodletting not intended for medical purposes—for example, the Thirty Years War (1618-1648). Rather more unnerving to the feudal structure was the Peasant War in Germany, beginning about 1525. The same Martin Luther wrote a pamphlet on this occasion titled “Against the Murderous and Thieving Hordes of Peasants.”

Galileo was born in 1564 to a noble—but not rich—family. Like many children before and after, he was taken to church by his parents, and evidently the sermons were as boring then as now. Unlike other kids, he made some good use of the time. He observed the great chandelier in the church, which would swing when disturbed by a breeze. He timed the swings using his pulse and found that the period was independent of the amplitude of the oscillation. That’s now Physics 101, and laid the basis for the first accurate clocks based on pendulums.

Galileo was above all a keen observer and experimentalist. When he heard that spectacle lenses were being used in Holland to view distant objects, he immediately constructed a crude telescope. Spurred by the results, he worked out his own procedures for grinding lenses to the exquisite tolerances needed for higher magnification, and produced a relatively small 20X to 30X telescope. He viewed the Moon, and saw not a perfect luminous disk but a place with geologic features just like the Earth—mountains, valleys, plains. When he looked at Jupiter, he saw little stars nearby seeming to move across the planetary disk. He immediately realized these were moons. Subsequently he observed Venus and saw it go through phases like the Earth’s moon.

These observations shattered the Ptolemaic model of an Earth-centered system and convinced Galileo that Copernicus’ idea that the Sun was the center of motion was in fact correct. For publishing this belief, Galileo was tried by the church in 1633 and, not surprisingly, convicted of heresy. Threatened with torture by the Inquisition, he recanted and spent the rest of his life under house arrest. From there he wrote his Mathematical Discourses Concerning Two New Sciences and had it smuggled out of reach of the Vatican to Holland, where it was published in 1638. His observations on the motions of falling bodies anticipated Isaac Newton’s synthesis 48 years later.

Why did Galileo recant? One answer is that he was scared by what happened to Giordano Bruno, the itinerant ex-priest who supported Copernicus’ idea about the Sun at the center, and much else. He was accused of heresy, imprisoned and tortured for seven years during his trial and finally burned at the stake in 1600. And the man who had ordered Galileo to abandon Copernican ideas in 1616 was the same Cardinal Bellarmine who sent Bruno to the stake. From what I have read, it is unfair to say that Galileo was a coward. First, Galileo’s book, giving very thinly veiled support to Copernicus’ theory, had been published in 1632 and already had circulated throughout Europe. Second, he had no substantial religious differences with the church on matters of theology, so a refusal to recant would mean torture and death for no real purpose.

Giordano Bruno was another matter, and it is very doubtful whether his recantation would have saved his life—he actually offered to partially recant in an appeal to the Pope. Just to give you an idea, here are a few of the things with which he was charged: 1) erroneous opinions on the Trinity and the divinity of Christ; 2) belief in the reincarnation of souls in new bodies, human or animal; and (the kicker) 3) denial of the virginity of Mary. There are not a few Christians who would roast poor Bruno today for that! You can imagine how well it went down with the Pope in 1600.

Science and the Industrial Revolution

Following Galileo, Newton produced his three laws of motion and the law of universal gravitation. Along with Gottfried Leibniz, he also invented differential calculus—the mathematics needed to solve the problems of moving bodies with forces such as gravity acting upon them. In biology, Carl Linnaeus introduced the systematic classification of animals and plants, based on form and structure. And in 1785, the Scot James Hutton laid the basis for modern geology and showed that the Earth had to be much, much older than the 6,000 years deduced by Bishop James Ussher (1581-1656) from a study of the biblical sources.

The middle to late 1700s was a period of tremendous advances in science and technology, driven by (and pushing forward) the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution in Britain. Science was held in high esteem by the rising entrepreneurs, and in the growing manufacturing city of Birmingham there arose an informal grouping called the Lunar Society, which coalesced around 1765 and lasted about 30 years.

The name came from their routine of evening dinner meetings on the Monday closest to the full moon, a practical idea since many had a trip of several miles on horseback to their homes, and there were no streetlights. That would change—one of the Lunatics (as the Society members jocularly called themselves) was William Murdoch, who was developing the production of gas from coal to use for illumination. Other notable members included James Watt, inventor of the condensing steam engine (which made steam power practical and efficient enough for its later use in locomotives); Joseph Priestley, the preacher and chemist credited with the discovery of oxygen; Erasmus Darwin, grandfather of Charles and an evolutionist; and Josiah Wedgewood, chemist and mineralogist who made a fortune by making fine ceramics and pottery. Benjamin Franklin was a corresponding member—he was celebrated throughout Europe as an eminent scientist for his work on electricity.

Politically the Lunatics were pretty progressive for their day. Many had favored the colonists during the American War of Independence and also supported the revolutionaries in France. In fact, on 14 July 1791 they were having a dinner in Birmingham to celebrate the second anniversary of the fall of the Bastille when the inn was threatened by a mob howling “Church and King!” The mob’s main target was Joseph Priestley, whose support for the National Assembly won him an offer of French citizenship. Priestley’s house was set on fire by the mob, but fortunately he and his family escaped. They later emigrated to the U.S.

It is literally inconceivable to envisage something like the Lunar Society today. An approximation would be for the heads of U.S. Steel and General Motors to have joined with the leading professors of MIT and Harvard to sign a petition supporting Fidel Castro in his struggle against the U.S.-backed Batista dictatorship in Cuba in 1958!

The Lunatics mirrored capitalism in its youth, breaking down the barriers of feudalism as part of the practical struggle of the marketplace. Capitalism did bring a large increase in the productivity of labor and a corresponding vast increase in the amount of goods produced. Some of this trickled down even to the working class, whose labor created the surplus value pocketed by the capitalist as profit. However, exploitation of the most brutal fashion remained the lot of the masses, and the next economic dislocation causing a reduction or cessation of industrial production would (and did) throw the workers on to the street with no means of support. The scientific unraveling of the basis of capitalist production and profit was presented in detail by Karl Marx in his work Capital in 1867. But the core of Marxism—dialectical materialism—had been enunciated 20 years earlier in the Communist Manifesto.

The Science of Marxism

In his 1883 preface to the Communist Manifesto, Engels wrote:

“The basic thought running through the Manifesto—that economic production and the structure of society of every historical epoch necessarily arising therefrom constitute the foundation for the political and intellectual history of that epoch; that consequently (ever since the dissolution of the primeval communal ownership of land) all history has been a history of class struggles, struggles between exploited and exploiting, between dominated and dominating classes at various stages of social development; that this struggle, however, has now reached a stage where the exploited and oppressed class (the proletariat) can no longer emancipate itself from the class which exploits and oppresses it (the bourgeoisie), without at the same time forever freeing the whole of society from exploitation, oppression and class struggles—the basic thought belongs solely and exclusively to Marx.”

For the first time, the study of human society and its development had been given a firm scientific and materialist foundation. It is not surprising that Marx and Engels immediately appreciated the significance of Darwin’s Origin of Species, first published in 1859. The astounding variety of animals and plants in their myriad shapes and forms were not static sculptures made by a divine Creator, but had evolved from a common ancestor and differentiated over the expanse of geologic time. As Engels said in his 1883 speech at Marx’s grave:

“Just as Darwin discovered the law of development of organic nature, so Marx discovered the law of development of human history: the simple fact, hitherto concealed by an overgrowth of ideology, that mankind must first of all eat, drink, have shelter and clothing, before it can pursue politics, science, art, religion, etc.; that therefore the production of the immediate material means of subsistence, and consequently the degree of economic development attained by a given people or during a given epoch, form the foundation upon which the state institutions, the legal conceptions, art, and even the ideas on religion, of the people concerned have been evolved, and in the light of which they must, therefore, be explained, instead of vice versa, as had hitherto been the case.”

The philosophical scaffold of Marxism is called dialectical materialism. Materialism, meaning that the world exists in reality; it was not created within the realm of the human mind. Dialectical in the fact that the essence of our world (indeed our universe) is matter in motion. All things exist not in stasis but in a process of development. An analogy is the difference between a still photograph and a motion picture. We know this almost by instinct when we look at plants and animals—consider the bud of a cherry tree, from emerging green speck in spring to flower to tasty fruit. But from birth in a class-divided society, we are made to accept the idea that the social structures and norms of human relations are essentially static—there are rulers and ruled, usually with God blessing the whole arrangement.

The genius of Marx was to apply the dialectical materialist method to the study of society and economy. In a 1914 piece titled “Karl Marx,” V.I. Lenin quotes Engels, adding his own interpolations:

“‘Nature is the proof of dialectics, and it must be said for modern natural science that it has furnished extremely rich [this was written before the discovery of radium, electrons, the transmutation of elements, etc.!] and daily increasing materials for this test, and has thus proved that in the last analysis Nature’s process is dialectical and not metaphysical.

“‘The great basic thought,’ Engels writes, ‘that the world is not to be comprehended as a complex of ready-made things, but as a complex of processes, in which the things apparently stable no less than their mind images in our heads, the concepts, go through an uninterrupted change of coming into being and passing away…this great fundamental thought has, especially since the time of Hegel, so thoroughly permeated ordinary consciousness that in this generality it is now scarcely ever contradicted. But to acknowledge this fundamental thought in words and to apply it in reality in detail to each domain of investigation are two different things…. For dialectical philosophy nothing is final, absolute, sacred. It reveals the transitory character of everything and in everything; nothing can endure before it except the uninterrupted process of becoming and of passing away, of endless ascendency from the lower to the higher. And dialectical philosophy itself is nothing more than the mere reflection of this process in the thinking brain.’ Thus, according to Marx, dialectics is ‘the science of the general laws of motion, both of the external world and of human thought’.”

The Dialectic of Science

Scientists seek to be as objective as possible, to eliminate systematic errors and to require that facts be established by experiments which can be repeated by others to confirm the results. Theories are built upon testable hypotheses, which lead to more experiments and further refinements of existing theory or creation of a new and better one. Science has its own dialectic—it is not static, but ever-changing. It is also materialist. Nature and her workings are to be explained using natural causes. Things happen for physical reasons, not the whim of a Zeus, Yahweh, tree spirit or water nymph. On one side science, on the other superstition, and ne’er the twain shall meet.

Any human activity such as science is subject to error, sometimes conscious, sometimes not. The human brain is very good at finding patterns. This was selected for by evolution. Our ancestors did not have the luxury of extended observation time to determine whether that shadowy figure in the grass was a grazing gazelle or a Smilodon with 7-inch fangs. But that pattern-seeking neural circuitry can also fool us. When I look at the sky I don’t immediately see bulls and crabs and hunters with studded belts. But given enough boredom, or perhaps eating the right mushrooms, one could certainly explain the constellations seen by Greek shepherds 2,500 years ago.

Another common fallacy is that correlation implies causality, which actually is an offshoot of seeking patterns where none really exist. An amusing example of correlation not being cause comes from an open letter to the Kansas School Board written by Bobby Henderson on behalf of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, which was set up as a satirical protest against creationism:

“You may be interested to know that global warming, earthquakes, hurricanes, and other natural disasters are a direct effect of the shrinking numbers of Pirates since the 1800s. For your interest, I have included a graph of the approximate number of pirates versus the average global temperature over the last 200 years. As you can see, there is a statistically significant inverse relationship between pirates and global temperature.”

Above all, one must remember that scientists are human and work in the midst of a class-divided society. Even a religious physicist can be objective when measuring the distance between the Earth and Moon, but as one approaches social questions and research, ingrained bias emanating from the dominant social mores can sometimes overwhelm the best of objective intentions.

A striking case in point is given by the late Stephen Jay Gould in his book The Mismeasure of Man. He recounts the story of American physician Samuel George Morton, who had collected some 600 skulls representing populations on the continents of North and South America, Europe, Africa and Asia. Morton measured the cranial volume of the skulls (a good measure of the brain size of the person when alive) and published his results, including the original data. Just as Morton would have expected, Anglo-Saxons had the highest average (92 cubic inches), followed by Asians in the middle and blacks on the bottom (83 cu in). When Gould re-analyzed Morton’s data he found biases built into the specimens used for each racial group. For example, the aboriginal sample was heavily represented by skulls from Peruvian people who are short. Similarly, the black sample included proportionally more women than the Caucasian. Smaller bodies means smaller brain mass—it has nothing to do with intelligence, and should have been corrected (but wasn’t). As Gould noted, this was done “without conscious motivation; expectation is a powerful guide to action.”

In medicine today, researchers use the double-blind randomized clinical trial to eliminate such subjective biases from influencing the results. Double-blind means that both the study subjects and those providing the treatment do not know whether any particular patient is receiving the actual medicine or a sham control. Blinding the patients by randomization helps correct for the placebo effect—people want to be cured or get some relief from illness or pain and will respond just to the soothing voice of a caregiver or to a sugar pill (especially if brightly colored!). Blinding the caregiver prevents unconscious cues being given to the patient that would allow the latter to guess that they are receiving real treatment rather than the control.

Medical Quackery

It is true that what is now called science-based medicine is rather a recent innovation. Voltaire is credited with the aphorism, “Doctors are men who prescribe medicines of which they know little, to cure diseases of which they know less, in human beings of which they know nothing.” In 1891, the writer and physician Oliver Wendell Holmes acidly noted that if most of the drugs then in use were loaded on a ship and if it “could be sunk to the bottom of the sea, it would be all the better for mankind and all the worse for the fishes.”

Times do change, and procedures such as MRI or CT scans which are routine today would have seemed like science fiction a generation or two ago. As advances have been made in physics and chemistry, and especially molecular biology, they have dramatically affected the practice of medicine. Yet the popularity of “complementary and alternative medicine” (CAM) is great and rising. Many people can’t afford regular medical care, and patients will grasp at anything that promises a cure. I.e., CAM is a social problem.

What is alternative medicine? There are lots of definitions, but at bottom it is the same division that separates science from non-science. Real medicine is based on substances or procedures whose efficacy can be explained by purely natural causes. All the rest depends on something non-physical, be it divine intervention (prayer healing) or the invocation of some mysterious “energy” or “life force” outside the laws of physics. Medicine is real and the rest is faith-based, not unlike religion, though at times without the guy in the sky.

Buzzwords like “energy” and “life force,” which are at the heart of all alternative medicine nostrums, are really nothing but a cover for the idea of “vitalism”—i.e., that there is something unique about living systems. This was scientific mainstream until the 1820s when German chemist Friedrich W√∂hler accidentally synthesized urea from inorganic compounds. This was the first time a molecule previously only obtained from living organisms had been created in the laboratory, and it marked the birth of organic chemistry. Actually the division of chemistry into organic and inorganic is itself a vestige of the vitalist era. The laws governing chemical reactions are the same.

Edzard Ernst, an MD and also practitioner of CAM, and Simon Singh, a British science journalist, have written a useful book, Trick or Treatment: The Undeniable Facts about Alternative Medicine. If anything the authors bend over backwards to give CAM the widest latitude to show proof of some shred of benefit beyond the placebo effect. And what is the conclusion? Acupuncture and homeopathy: useless; chiropractic: maybe you could try it but only for lower back pain, though a physical therapist would be just as good, and cheaper; herbal medicines: a few have a mildly positive effect, but in most cases conventional drugs work as well or better.

So why is CAM still around? Here are 33.9 billion reasons: that is the number of dollars Americans spent out-of-pocket on alternative medicines in 2007, according to the National Institute of Health’s alternative medicine center. This does not even include charges to insurance. Out of that, about $15 billion went for supplements—that’s about one third of the out-of-pocket expenses for real prescription drugs. One possible reason is the odd belief that nature is this kind, gentle, holistic entity that has only your best interests at heart. This shows a profound ignorance of the natural world. I would suggest that those so believing pick up a good book on human parasitology, preferably with good color pictures!

Chiropractic Pseudoscience

I’ll pick on chiropractic. These guys not only fleece you but can cause great damage in the process. Chiropractic started in the 1890s when one Daniel David Palmer came up with the idea that diseases were caused by misalignments of the vertebrae that interfered with the flow of “innate intelligence” from the nervous system to the organs. These disruptions were called subluxations. Was this on the basis of systematic investigations of any kind? No. Palmer’s epiphany came one day when he claimed to have cured a person with hearing problems by adjusting his spine. One slight problem is that the cranial nerves controlling hearing and balance go directly from the lower brain to the middle ear—they do not emanate from the spinal cord at all. As for the “innate intelligence,” not a shred of physical proof has ever been given for its existence.

Chiropractors perform what they call manipulation to cure the subluxations in the vertebral column. This is a rapid acceleration thrust on the bone which moves it just past the point where muscles could conceivably move it on their own, but short of bone and tissue damage. Well, that’s the theory. For my book, it sounds more like what happens to your spine in an automobile accident. When applied to the cervical vertebrae—the seven vertebrae of the spinal column in your neck—the results can be vertebral arterial dissection. This can obstruct blood flow to the brain or throw a clot that leads to a stroke.

Chiropractors, like all purveyors of “alternative medicine,” like to portray themselves as little Davids struggling against the Goliaths of Big Pharma and the American Medical Association. But chiropractors pull in almost $4 billion a year—it’s a business, just like Big Pharma. Chiropractor Web sites are full of handy tips on “practice building”—roping in more patients, preferably for weekly or biweekly office visits. Even if you are well, they want you to get an adjustment—like a tune-up, I guess. Even cars only need an oil change every 6,000 miles, not every week!

Religious Obscurantism

Now we come to the granddaddy of all quackery: religion. I’m going to concentrate on the Christian fundamentalists, in particular the very political anti-science, anti-evolution movement now masquerading as Intelligent Design (ID). All three of the so-called Abrahamic faiths share a common creation myth. God created everything, and all the animals and plants have come from that creation pretty much unchanged. Some of the anti-evolution types allow for a bit of change within a species, but no speciation. So, it was no surprise that Darwin’s book was met with such hostility by the believers of theism: God was removed as the causative agent for the wonderful variety of living things, and man was an animal like the rest and descended from primate ancestors. And what the yahoos couldn’t stomach at all was Darwin’s speculation—now backed by overwhelming evidence—that the human ancestor had come out of Africa.

Intelligent Design is a relatively recent sprout on the Christian bush. Actually, it is an example of rapid speciation into a new environment. Prior to 1987, the creationists were touting “creation science” and demanding that it be taught in the public schools alongside evolution. That got shot down by a series of court decisions, starting with an Arkansas case in 1982, and then in the Supreme Court in 1987. So rather quickly—no evolution here!—“creation science” transformed itself into “intelligent design.”

Intelligent Design pretends that it is scientific, but its basic premises are very wrong and it is important to see why. Premise one is “irreducible complexity”—there exist things in nature like the eye, or with a nod to nanotech, cellular assemblages such as the bacterial flagellar motor. According to ID, such things have to be taken as a whole, with every part essential to function—remove one piece and it is non-functional. Supposedly there is no step-by-step way of building these structures, i.e., no Darwinian method. Since they are so complex, they couldn’t have come about by chance and therefore had to have been created by a Designer. They’re careful not to say God, but it’s pretty clear they are not referring to the Tooth Fairy.

In the Origin of Species, Darwin anticipated such problems, including the example of the vertebrate eye, and the creationists love to quote his sentence: “To suppose that the eye…could have been formed by natural selection, seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest possible degree.” But they never mention his answer in the very next sentence of the passage: “If any variation or modification in the organ be ever useful to an animal under changing conditions of life, then the difficulty of believing that a perfect and complex eye could be formed by natural selection, though insuperable by our imagination, can hardly be considered real.” Think about it: would you rather have blurred vision, or be totally blind? Even an imperfect eye gives an organism a selective advantage compared with no sight at all.

The second premise is the Anthropic Principle. There is such vastness to the universe. There is the beautiful, intricate motion of the planets around the Sun, moons around the planets, of the stars and the galaxies—they now agree with Copernicus and Galileo—and here is Earth, just right for living things to exist on. If the Earth were closer to the Sun it would be too hot—look at Venus. Further away and it would be too cold. It looks like the whole universe was created or fine-tuned with human life in mind, so to speak. Hence, there must have been a Creator. Sir John Polkinghorne, a respected British physicist and also a Christian minister, stated: “The fundamental parameters of the universe are such as to permit the creation of observers within it.”

Sounds profound, right? But physicist Robert L. Park translated Polkinghorne into something less pretentious, more along the lines of what Yogi Berra might have said: “If things were different, things would not be the way things are.” There is another amusing argument put forward by the late author Douglas Adams, who, among other things, wrote the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and was a script editor for the famous British series Doctor Who in 1979. He compared the Anthropic Principle to a “puddle waking up one morning and thinking, ‘This is an interesting world I find myself in, an interesting hole I find myself in, fits me rather neatly, doesn’t it? In fact it fits me staggeringly well, must have been made to have me in it!’”

Of course the whole geological record shows that the Earth is much older than 6,000 years, and that thousands of species have come and gone over the ages. Creationists used to wail on about the lack of transitional forms for whales—how could a terrestrial mammal smoothly evolve into one now at home only in the oceans? Well, in the last 15 or so years, a whole string of fossils have been discovered showing in beautiful detail all those “missing forms.” In any case, the creationists aren’t about to let facts get in the way. Henry Morris, founder of the modern creationist movement, stated: “No geological difficulties, real or imagined, can be allowed to take precedence over the clear statements and necessary inferences of Scripture.”

While the creationists may seem fringe oddballs (comedian Lewis Black described them as the people who are “watching The Flintstones as if it were a documentary”), they are very political and they have supporters with deep pockets. In 1998, the Discovery Institute, a major think tank for creationism/ID, produced an internal memo called the “Wedge Document.” It was called that because they considered their attack on Darwin and evolution as the “thin edge of the wedge” for their broader “Governing Goals”: “to defeat scientific materialism and its destructive moral, cultural and political legacies” and “to replace materialistic explanations with the theistic understanding that nature and human beings are created by God.”

Science and Communist Liberation

Human evolution happened in such a way that no hominid ancestor survived; it could have been otherwise but wasn’t. All humans are genetically members of the same species and there is no biological basis for the separation into races. It should be noted that Darwin was a staunch abolitionist, and during the U.S. Civil War hoped that the North would put emancipation on its banner and eliminate slavery no matter the cost in blood. As we wrote in “Hail Charles Darwin!” (WV No. 854, 16 September 2005):

“America’s other peculiarity among advanced capitalist countries is its deeply religious character. Nowhere else—not even in Italy where the Vatican still heavily influences civil society—is there such refractory religiosity and visceral hostility to the long-established facts of Darwinian natural selection as the motor force of evolution. Why? The absence of even a mass reformist workers party that expresses in even a blurry way that working people have needs and interests counterposed to those of their exploiters is a large part of the explanation for political backwardness in the U.S. But like everything else in this country, it also boils down to the central intersection of race and class. Religion in the U.S. supplies an ideology that can seemingly harmonize conflicting class interests while keeping this society with two races firmly ordered: capital above labor and white above black.”

Liberals worry about the denigration of science and rationalism—how is the country to maintain a competitive position in the world if the next generation knows more about the Book of Numbers than about algebra? Marxists are materialists and take it as a given that science and religion are incompatible.

Here we come to the fundamental difference between Marxists and liberals. At bottom, liberals accept the existence of the capitalist order and their most radical demand is for reforms. Their high point was the French Revolution—liberty, fraternity, equality. All abstract ideals, behind which lurk the sanctity of private property and the class rule of the bourgeoisie. Liberals, it is true, will recognize the class struggle, but what they reject is that the proletariat should actually seize state power from the bourgeoisie.

The “liberty” so beloved by a capitalist is his liberty to make a profit, which necessarily comes through the exploitation of the workers he employs. Such exploitation is built into the capitalist system, a system that is at bottom irrational. Economic competition inevitably leads to military competition, and imperialist war. Imperialism can’t be reformed—the whole system of private property has to be overthrown. The goal of the Marxists is the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat, which on a global scale can lay the basis for a classless communist society.

Science can open up as yet undreamt possibilities for humanity. But under capitalism today, vast resources devoted to research are for military purposes. The American ruling class was the first to own and so far the only one to use nuclear weapons, and the warheads in the U.S. arsenal are now each 20 or more times more powerful than the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima. Even a “limited” nuclear war could have catastrophic consequences, beyond the initial effects of the explosions. Climactic changes could wreak havoc on key agricultural areas, putting the survival of the human species at risk.

The imperialists have to be removed from power and disarmed by the workers before the rulers kill us all. That will require building a revolutionary workers party, independent of all the parties of capital, including the Democrats. Obama has continued to carry on all the essential policies of the administrations before him. That is actually why the bourgeoisie put him in power. The whole racist, murderous edifice of American imperialism has to be smashed by the multiracial working class, organized into democratically elected councils and led by its Leninist-Trotskyist vanguard party.

As this talk has been in defense of Marxism and science, it is worth noting Marx’s words at the end of the preface to the first German edition of Capital: “The present society is no solid crystal, but an organism capable of change, and is constantly changing.” This dialectical mode of thought inspired Lenin, Trotsky and the whole Bolshevik Party that made the October Revolution in Russia in 1917. It remained a cornerstone of Trotsky’s thinking until the day he died.

In The Prophet Unarmed (1959) Marxist historian Isaac Deutscher cites a revealing sample of Trotsky’s vision of a future society, after capitalism’s demise: “The drudgery of feeding and bringing up children…will be lifted from the individual family by social initiative…. Woman will at last emerge from semi-slavery…. Socio-educational experiments…will evolve with a now inconceivable elan. The communist way of life will not grow up blindly like coral reefs in the sea. It will be built consciously. It will be checked by critical thought. It will be directed and corrected…. No sooner will one crust begin to form itself on the human existence than it will burst under the pressure of new inventions and achievements.”

The men and women of the future will no longer need religion, what Marx described as solace, the “opium of the people.” And the key to unlock human potential will be science, not superstition.

Monday, July 05, 2010

*"From The "We Are Wide Awake" Website- Hear The Heroic Israeli Class- War Mordechai Vanunu Speak-Free Vanunu! Let Him Leave Israel!

Click on the headline to link to the We Are Wide Awake Website to hear more about Mordechai Vanunu

Markin comment:

I received this comment in response to a posting that I did on July 3, 2020 (reposted below) concerning the case of Israeli class-war prisoner Mordechai Vanunu. I am linking to that site in this post for the purpose of letting others hear from Brother Vanunu himself.

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1 Comments:
eileen fleming said...
Please listen to Vanunu speak for himself in 2005, 2006, 2008 video interviews and learn all about his FREEDOM OF SPEECH Trial and why Israel persists to persecute him @ http://wearewideawake.org/
THE VANUNU SAGA 2005-2010!

8:19 PM


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Markin comment:

Every person in the world, and I mean literally every person, owes a great debt of gratitude for Brother Vanunu's courageous acts in exposing the Israeli nuclear arsenal. Such men are dangerous to the imperial order-and we know why. Thanks, Brother. All Honor To Vanunu.

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This is passed on from the Partisan Defesne Committee.

Workers Vanguard No. 960
4 June 2010

Thrown Back in Prison

Free Vanunu! Let Him Leave Israel!


On May 23, Mordechai Vanunu, the whistle-blower who spent 18 years in prison for exposing the extent of Israel’s nuclear arsenal, began serving a three-month prison sentence that stems from his December 29 arrest for meeting with a Norwegian woman in Jerusalem. Despite serving his entire prior sentence, Vanunu remains barred from talking to non-Israelis and going near airports, ports and embassies, subject to 24-hour surveillance and prevented from leaving the country.

Following his December arrest, Vanunu was sentenced to six months of “community service” in overwhelmingly Jewish West Jerusalem. Fearing his life would be threatened by right-wing Israelis who consider him a “traitor,” Vanunu requested that his sentence be served in predominantly Palestinian East Jerusalem. When the court rejected his request, Vanunu declined to carry out his community service. On May 11, he was sentenced to prison once again.

The vindictive, blood-soaked rulers of the Zionist state will not rest until Vanunu, a former technician at the Israeli nuclear weapons facility in Dimona, is forever silenced for having revealed that Israel had upwards of 200 nuclear warheads. This arsenal, built up with the active support of the French and then the U.S. imperialist powers, was enough not only to incinerate every Arab capital but to bomb major cities in the Soviet Union as well.

Vanunu was born to a Sephardic Jewish family that emigrated from Morocco to Israel, where he experienced discrimination at the hands of the European-derived Ashkenazi establishment. As a student at Beersheba’s Ben-Gurion University, he joined protests against Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon and actively fought for the rights of Palestinian and Bedouin students. Fed up with the Israeli garrison state, Vanunu left the country in 1986 and later converted to Christianity while in Australia.

In 1986, he was kidnapped in Italy by the Israeli Mossad secret police, thrown into a desert prison in Ashkelon and sentenced by a secret military court. In prison, Vanunu was given the kind of treatment Israel’s rulers reserve for those they deem “subhuman”—the Palestinians imprisoned within the electric fences that surround Gaza, those confined behind the concrete walls and checkpoints of the West Bank, the thousands who languish in Israel’s prison torture chambers. He spent more than eleven years in solitary confinement, entombed in a six-by-nine cell in a high-security complex built for Palestinians.

When Vanunu walked out of prison in April 2004, he said that he was “proud and happy to do what I did.” He was arrested later that year and, in 2007, he was sentenced to another six months’ imprisonment. He remains defiant, declaring before he was dragged away to his cell last month, “You didn’t get anything from me in 18 years; you won’t get anything in 3 months. Shame on you, Israel.” Defenders of the Palestinian people and opponents of capitalist repression everywhere must take up the call to free this courageous opponent of Zionist terror and demand that he be allowed to leave Israel.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

*From The "SteveLendmanBlog"- On The Continuing Heroic Struggle To Break The Seige Of Gaza By Sea

Click on the headline from the "SteveLendmanBlog"- On The Continuing Heroic Struggle To Break The Seige Of Gaza By Sea.

Markin comment:

Defend the Palestininan People! End the blockade! End U.S. aid to Israel! Lift the Seige of Gaza!

Monday, June 07, 2010

*Hands Off Helen Thomas!- Down With The Blockade Of Gaza!

Click on the headlines to link to an Associated Press (AP)article about the retirement of Washington press corps correspondent Helen Thomas.

Markin comment:

Look, on most days I would be totally non-plussed by the resignation of the dean of Washington bourgeois press correspondents and more so of an old battle axe/gadfly like Helen Thomas who has been around at least since the Andrew Jackson administration. But not today, and not for the flap that caused her resignation. A remark, perhaps made in haste, about Israelis “getting out of Palestine” and going elsewhere (basically back to where they came from- Poland, Germany, or where there is a large cluster of Jews like the United States. She did not mention Russia but, perhaps, there as well.). She has, moreover, made public apologies over the remarks. Under most circumstances that would seem be case closed.

Now I will not pretend to dissect Ms. Thomas’ remarks, or her motivation. However, in the context of the hellhole of a situation in Palestine and particularly of the siege of Gaza over the past few years and of other intractable problems I, for one, can understand her exasperation with the Israelis. Helen Thomas, rightly or wrongly, has spoken her version of “truth to power.” In the aftermath of the Israeli atrocities at sea on May 31st (after her remarks were made), moreover, is she really that far off base?

No one questions the right of national self-determination, the right to their own state, for the Hebrew-speaking people of Israeli, or no one should if for no other reason that to take the national question off the agenda and place the class programmatic solutions up front there and in the whole Middle East. All the talk of driving the Israelis into the sea, or wherever, is crazy talk, or worst. But today, today June 7, 2010, is not a day to address that aspect of the national question. That right is not seriously in jeopardy today for the armed-to-the-teeth Israeli regime, except perhaps to some crazed Zionist who has been spending his or her time kicking Palestinians out of their homes so that they can move in.

Today all our sympathies must stand with the defense of the Palestinian people, especially the benighted, undernourished people of Gaza. Today we stand with those who call for an end to U.S. aid to Israel. Today we stand with those who call for an end to the blockade of Gaza. Today we stand with those (few, too few) Israelis who stand in solidarity with the aspirations of the Palestinians for their own state. Today we stand in solidarity with, and admiration for, those courageous souls who have attempted to lift the blockade of Gaza by sea (and, especially, those who have lost their lives in the attempt). And today we stand in solidarity with Helen Thomas for not just swallowing the “party line” on the struggle in the Middle East.

Monday, May 31, 2010

*From The SteveLendmanBlog"-Brave Israeli Commandos Slaughter Aid Activists at Sea

Click on the headline to link to a "SteveLendmanBlog" entry- "Brave Israeli Commandos Slaughter Aid Activists at Sea."

Markin comment:

As I have said previously today- Defend The Palestiian people!-By Any Means Necessary!

*From The "Green Left Global" Blog- Israel attacks Gaza aid fleet

Click on the headline to link to a "Green Left Global" blog entry on the latest Israeli atrocity against the Palestinian people.

Markin comment:

No one should be surprised by this latest Israeli atrocity against the Palestinian people and their supporters. This is an act of war even under bourgeois conventions. Defend the Palestinian People!-By Any Means Necessary! Down With The Blockade! End The Siege Of Gaza!

*From The "Renegade Eye" Blog-Iran: On the character of the present lull and the tasks of the Marxists- A Guest Commentary

Click on the headline to link to a "Renegade Eye" entry- "Iran: On the character of the present lull and the tasks of the Marxists"- A Guest Commentary From The IMT.

Markin comment:

Very interesting to draw the analogy with Spain on the question of Trotsky's theory of Permanent Revolution. However, the two obvious weakness in the article are the lack of analysis of the relationship between the events today and those in 1979 by the left in Iran (and internationally) for and their responsibility for the "lull" (lack of revolutionary party and leadership). Nor do I see any serious criticism of the current movement's still rather heavy subservience to "moderate" Islamic fundamentalist forces. You have to make the break sometime. And that sometime is now if you want to coalesce a Marxist cadre. This Green (not the eco-green although the same proposition is true on both counts) and Red do not mix. As thousands of leftists in Iran have learned the hard way- with their lives.

*From The Boston UJP Website- Emergency Demo Against Israeli Atrocities At Sea

Click on the headline to link to a "UJP-Boston" entry for an emergency demo against the latest Israeli atrocities at sea.

Markin comment:

Defend The Palestinian People Now!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

*The Latest From The "SteveLendmanBlog"-Obama's Gulf Commission: Distortion, Obstruction and Whitewash Assured - A Guest Commentary

Click on the headline to link to the latest from the "SteveLendmanBlog"-"Obama's Gulf Commission: Distortion, Obstruction and Whitewash Assured."

Markin comment:

This blog is indispensable for those who need hard information about the subjects of pressing subjects of the day. Moreover, brother Lendman covers material that I either don't know much about or don't want to deal with, especially the perfidies of bourgeois politics here in America (and in Israel). Thanks.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

*From The "Green Left Global News & Info" Blog-Al Jazeera Interview with Noam Chomsky: "We were denied entry"

Click on the headline to link to a "Green Left Global News & Info" Blog entry-"Al Jazeera Interview with Noam Chomsky: "We were denied entry."

Markin comment:

On a day when I an reviewing a Noam Chomsky documentary (Noam Chomsky: "Rebel Without a Pause) it seems right to give the devil his due.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

*From “The Rag Blog”- “Bob Feldman 68” Blog- A People’s History Of Afghanistan, Part Ten

Click on the headline to link to a “The Rag Blog” entry from the “Bob Feldman 68” blog on the history of Afghanistan

Markin comment:

This is a great series for those who are not familiar with the critical role of Afghanistan in world politics, if not directly then as part of the history of world imperialism. Thanks, Bob Feldman.

And, speaking of world imperialism, let us keep our eyes on the prize- Obama- Immediate, Unconditional Withdrawal Of All U.S./ Allied Troops And Mercenaries From Afghanistan!

Thursday, April 08, 2010

*From The "SteveLendmanBlog"-Indoctrinating Israeli Youths to be Warriors -A Guest Commentary

Click on the headline to link to the "SteveLendmanBlog" entry noted in the headline above.

Markin comment:

I am, as I have mentioned before, always happy to link to this blog, especially when the subject is the intractable Palestinian situation, and the ever-expanding, provocative Israeli settlements. Every time that I even think about this situation it is clear that nothing short of socialism, and all that means about the changes in political consciousness on every side that would put that solution on the agenda in this situation, will settle this thing. But let us be clear, today the obligation of every leftist militant is encapsulated in this slogan- "Defend the Palestinian People"- and I would, add, the best way we can. More on this later.