Jack Conrad’s ‘Neither meek nor mild’ (December 18) begins with an acceptable summary of (often forgotten by Christians) struggles of Palestinians/Hebrews, before and after the turn of the first millennium AD against the occupying Roman armies. Disappointingly, Jack’s essay degenerates, incredibly ‘joining forces’ with the later Christian apologists, virtually accepting there really was an individual as portrayed in the first three gospels, albeit one who was “a rabbi, a communist and a brave revolutionary”.
Jack’s comments relating to the putting together of the Christian Bible leave the reader without any comprehension of the hundreds of texts that existed at the time the so-called holy scriptures were being formulated; most of them deliberately destroyed by church founders. Today’s versions of the Christian scriptures are the end-products of the contemporary peoples and cultures inhabiting the so-called ‘holy lands’ over many centuries.
Jack is correct to highlight the Palestinian people’s longed-for ‘messiah’ of their scriptures. The messiah they sought was well described by the words often applied to the mythical Jesus - prophet, priest and king - words still sung in the churches, albeit with a very different meaning. Today’s singers are thinking of a ‘spiritual being’ in a distant ‘heaven’; the first-century freedom fighters were quite literally looking for a military commander.
The legendary Jesus was crucified by the Romans as a political revolutionary (as were the two who died with him). In so far as the Gethsemane incident, which Jack Conrad attempts to expand around a ‘literal Jesus personality’ to an unacceptable extent, the most telling evidence that the myth in part seems based on an actual incident is that John’s gospel specifically states a “cohort” of Roman soldiers (up to 600 troops) was sent to arrest him. In my Sunday school years, I had wondered why the ‘kiss of Judas’ had been necessary for identifying the sought after prophet. Reading between the lines of the fragments we have - that it was a mass gathering of hundreds of armed individuals, not just the small group of a few disciples depicted in most biblical translations - the story begins to make sense. Anticipating the number of followers assembled and the difficulty of identifying even such a well-known individual, the Romans needed to bribe Judas Iscariot and dispatch a strong military force.
That there was a multitude of ‘patriots’ leading the fight against the Roman aggressors goes without saying - but Jack is moving towards absurdity when he attempts to take gospel references as being quite literally grounded upon a specific Jesus. The essential source for the person of the Christian messiah, in spite of the multitude of ‘revisions’ and ‘editings’, remain the earlier Hebrew scriptures: all the miraculous cures performed by Jesus are forestalled in the texts of Isaiah. Older myths from other cultures were incorporated, but the Hebrew writings provided the essential ingredients for inventing the Passion myth.
Although today’s Christians continue to claim the Passion as a central theme of their faith, it just cannot have happened as portrayed by the gospels; and we have clear evidence that Jesus’ dying words, which so impress Jack Conrad, are a scribal insertion. Has Jack never looked at psalm 22 - clearly the original text of the ‘passion of Christ’? It opens: “My god, my god, why hast thou forsaken me?” - words later to become the cry of the dying Jesus. Even if he did repeat those words, who heard him? According to the oldest gospel, none of Christ’s ‘own people’ were present. All the apostles had fled.
The genesis of ‘bad guy’ Judas Iscariot is of special interest. Psalm 41 refers to a betrayal by a trusted associate, a friend with whom bread had been shared. Acts 1:16-18 interprets this passage as clear prophecy of the part destined to be played by Judas. The role of Judas as ‘betrayer’ is first known to Jesus, according to the Synoptics, at the last supper: that is, when his dastardly crime had virtually been perpetrated. However, according to John’s version, Jesus announces the coming betrayal at the time of the previous passover - a year before the event (Jn 6:70); in fact, Jesus knew from the beginning Judas was a devil who would betray him (v 64).
As has been emphasised, the original gospels - or rather, those we have inherited - date from the period following the sacking of Jerusalem and destruction of the temple. It was a defeated and demoralised people who sought compensation and the need for new faiths. Sects and cults proliferated and many fragments of writings from this period (the final years of the first century AD) continue to be discovered. The years of revolt and beyond are recreated in semi-spiritual terminology rather than the historical disaster stories - the mythological Jesus was no doubt an amalgam of several active campaigners. But the gospels, however reworked, have become depoliticised, transferring the responsibility for the killing of their hero from the Roman oppressor to the transgressing Semites.
It’s important to bear in mind there is no complete version of what we today call the ‘New Testament’ surviving which is earlier than the reign of the Roman emperor, Constantine (274-337 AD). Let’s remind ourselves of his role. Remembered today as ‘Constantine the Great’ and ‘the first Christian emperor’, he came from an influential Roman royal family and proved himself a successful general, commanding an army full of Christians. Military successes encouraged the view that Israel’s war god smiled on Constantine. In private, however, Constantine had little commitment to Christianity. Indeed, he had earlier been initiated into a cult worshipping the sun god. The Roman Senate celebrated his military victory by erecting a triumphal arch in the Coliseum, with an inscription reading “through the prompting of the deity” - but the deity referred to was not Jesus, but Sol Invictus, the pagan sun god.
All this history is relevant, for it indicates that from its earliest days the church hierarchy did not really take the Bible seriously. It is the Catholic church, not the scriptures, that divulge god’s truth and purpose. One is perfectly free to accept the teachings of the church, but not to question or reject them. Freedom can only be expressed through submission - a curious definition of freedom!
Any theory on any topic can, at best, only be described as the ‘best guess’, given the information to hand. At the time the gospels began to be fabricated at the end of the first century, by definition the stance of ‘truth seekers’ was no longer based on continuous attempts at improving ‘best guesses’. The central aim of the church philosophers became obfuscation - to a great extent, for many centuries, it proved a very successful enterprise.
Mike Macnair mounts an unfortunate attack on my recent articles on Marxism and political party in capitalism, mistaking dialectical arguments for alleged “vacuous circularity” (‘Fantasy history, fantasy Marx’, December 18). This leads Macnair to draw conclusions from my writings that are the precise opposite of what I think.
I think that any socialist revolution will necessarily be a democratic revolution and so subject to bourgeois social relations and the crisis and contradiction of them in capitalism; and that the problem of political party was recognised by Marxism as expressing a new need evident after the industrial revolution and the crisis of liberal politics - a crisis in civil society expressed by the metastatic state. It was capitalism that caused Marx to critique liberalism for its evident inadequacy in the face of new problems. But Marx’s critique of the crisis of bourgeois society in capitalism was pursued by the immanent dialectical critique of liberalism, which Marx found socialism to follow. Dick Howard is not mistaken to draw the continuity between the young and mature Marx.
I use terms in their strict Marxist sense, which can be quite peculiar, rather than colloquially. Macnair thinks that finding coherence both within and among the thinking of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Luxemburg, Trotsky, Lukács and the Frankfurt School, among others, is either “fantasy” or “myth-making”. But Macnair disagrees with historical Marxists, or agrees with them only selectively, leaving him free to subordinate their main theses to relatively minor points. Macnair takes the same approach to my writing, making the error converse to cherry-picking, nit-picking: picking apart arguments, and thus losing the forest for the trees. But a whole cloth do not nits make.
Macnair’s anti-liberalism is striking. In denying what is new in modern, bourgeois society, Macnair doubts that free social relations could ever replace rule of force. Bourgeois society’s liberalism was not only ideology, but also promise. If ideology eclipses promise in capitalism, the task is to find the socialist promise in capitalist ideology. It is not discontinuous with the liberal promise of bourgeois society. Otherwise, we are left with what Kant called mere “civilisation”, which is barbaric. It was bourgeois civil society that meant to transcend the rule of law - to transcend the state as such. Socialism, too, wants this. As I pointed out in my article, Macnair elides the difference Marxists recognised between the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat and socialism: democratic republicanism as a necessary means and not a desirable end to emancipation.
It goes back to 1848 and its ideology. Bonapartism was for Marx characteristic of the entire revolutionary cycle of 1848 in France, in which Napoleon’s nephew, Louis Bonaparte, as the first elected president of the Second Republic (1848-52), and then, after his coup d’état, as emperor of the Second Empire (1852-70), could not be characterised as expressing the interest of some non-bourgeois class (the ‘peasants’, whom Marx insisted on calling, pointedly, “petit bourgeois”), but rather of all the classes of bourgeois society, including the “lumpenproletariat”, in crisis by the mid-19th century.
Furthermore, Bonaparte’s Second Empire was an international phenomenon, receiving support from British capital. When he took power, Bismarck announced: “The great questions of the time will not be resolved by speeches and majority decisions - that was the great mistake of 1848 and 1849 - but by iron and blood.” Marx wrote of Bonaparte’s coup: “Every demand of the simplest bourgeois financial reform, of the most ordinary liberalism, of the most formal republicanism, of the most insipid democracy, is simultaneously castigated as an ‘attempt on society’ and stigmatised as ‘socialism’ … Bourgeois fanatics for order are shot down on their balconies by mobs of drunken soldiers, their domestic sanctuaries profaned ... in the name of property, of family ... and of order ... Finally, the scum of bourgeois society forms ... the ‘saviour of society’.”
This is what, according to Marxism, has repeated since 1848. Trotsky was repeating Marx word for word when he called Stalin an “outstanding mediocrity” - what allowed Stalin like Bonaparte to succeed. This expressed politically the greater failure of the “general intellect” of society, its crisis in capitalism.
Liberalism is not merely a mistake facilitated or trap abetted by “material class interests” of elites; socialism is not proletarian collectivism, as against the alleged individualism of property. Bourgeois society has been, and so socialism will be, an intrinsic relation - a “dialectic” - of the individual and the collective, not some balance between the two. As opposed to Hobbes, Locke, with his profound influence on Rousseau, formed the basis not only for Adam Smith, Kant, Hegel and hence for Marx’s own thought, but indeed for American and French revolutionaries (among others) in the 18th century. Bourgeois society has not been mere market relations, but those of labour, as “first property”, according to Locke and those who followed him, such as the Abbé Sieyès, in the revolt of the Third Estate.
And labour is a social relation. Modern democracy is based on the social relations of commodity production, including politically. The question is what becomes of this in capitalism, and how the latter marks a potential qualitative change in history.
The dialectical crisis and contradiction of liberalism and socialism means that they are inextricable from each other: socialism must, according to Marxist Hegelianism, be the Aufhebung (sublation) of - must realise, as well as overcome, complete as well as transcend - liberalism in modern democracy. Marx thought that this was a new problem of the 19th century that made it impossible to proceed according to either the Jacobinism of the French Revolution, the liberalism of the UK’s Glorious Revolution of 1688-89 or the July Revolution of 1830. Something new was revealed in the crisis of the 1840s, leading to 1848 - and to its failure.
When Macnair recommends Chartism as model, he acknowledges that we still live in that failure. What Macnair doesn’t recognise, however, is how Marx and later Marxists tried to diagnose as well as work through the problem of political party, which went beyond Chartism.
Regarding the purpose of my arguments, this may indeed be pursuit of “self-knowledge” in “small-e enlightenment”. Marxism historically may have been right or wrong, but it can yet be food for thought. I apologise if my ruminations appear obscure.
I think Jack Conrad underplays the need for space exploration (‘Mission Mars and the final frontier’, December 11). After all, if the human race is to live beyond the lifespan of this planet and this solar system, we have nowhere else to go but space.
True, the massive leap forward will not come until we achieve global communism. The much maligned J Posadas had put forward a simple proposition regarding this in the 1960s, a time of many alleged UFO sightings. Posadas said that in order to traverse the universe it was probable such intelligent beings had solved the basic problem of wage-slavery and achieved a communist world, freeing technological innovation. Which is a sensible enough Marxist hypothesis.
Sadly, an overenthusiastic comrade in Belgium, during a nationwide foundry strike, put out leaflets appealing to the intergalactic comrades to come to the aid of the workers! A bit premature indeed.
Andrew Northall raised some interesting points about what he regards as the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s continued obsession with the three ancient Egyptian gods and goddesses: Osiris, Isis and Horus (Letters, December 18).
The truth is, Nasa’s obsession with ancient Egyptian mythology is neither bizarre nor inexplicable. This is because the foundations of ancient Egyptian religious tradition and, in fact, the religious traditions of much of the ancient world - at least from around 3,000 or 3,200 BC - is mostly based on the Sirius star system. Why this ancient obsession with Sirius and Mars?
A possible reason for this may be found in Robert Temple’s 1967 book - republished in 1999: The Sirius mystery - new scientific evidence for alien contact 5,000 years ago. What is the Sirius mystery? The mystery is that the Dogon tribe of Mali, west Africa, has possessed for thousands of years detailed knowledge, preserved in their religious tradition, about the Sirius system, knowledge which is not possible for humans to know without advanced radio telescopes. There have been attempts to undermine the work of Robert Temple regarding the Dogon tribe and the Sirius mystery, but in my view such attempts can only influence those who are not versed in the issues concerned and, furthermore, the general outline of much of what the Dogon believe finds corroboration in other traditions. When working on The Sirius mystery, Temple had a paper stolen by someone connected to the CIA, and the question naturally arises: why would this work attract the attention of the US intelligence service?
Ancient traditions worldwide claim that extra-terrestrial beings visited this world in the remote past and Dogon claims about beings from the Sirius system represent a particular expression of the general belief. The Dogon tradition also claims that another star, Sirius C, exists within the system, but science remained divided over this until Sirius C was discovered in 1995, thus confirming the Dogon claim. In relation to Sirius B, which the Dogon regard as the most important star within the system, the Dogon claimed for thousands of years that its orbit around the main star, Sirius A, was egg-shaped - in other words, elliptical. Johannes Kepler (1571-1630) only discovered that planets orbit elliptically around stars in the 17th century.
A connection has been found between the Dogons and the ancient Egyptians, and we know that Sirius was the foundation of the religious traditions of ancient Egypt and much of the world from 3,200 BC at least. And it is also quite possible that the name Assyria, or Syria, was derived from Sirius worshippers in ancient times.
The Dogon say their detailed knowledge of the characteristic of the Sirius system came from beings , which they describe as amphibians, who visited Earth thousands of years ago. Intelligent amphibious beings are described in other traditions. Also described in other traditions around the world is that beings, taking reptilian form, mixed their genes with humans. In the Bible (Genesis 6), we are told that the sons of ‘god’ interbred - ie, mixed their genetics with human women, creating the Nephilims who ruled ancient humanity. In most ancient traditions the gods took reptilian form, which would explain why ancient and modern culture is so preoccupied with reptilian, serpent or dragon themes.
This theme of reptilian control of humanity is taken up again by Zulu tradition. In Children of the Matrix - how an interdimensional race has controlled the world for thousands of years - and still does, David Icke relates how Credo Mutwa, the South African Zulu historian and shaman, was initiated throughout his life into the secret knowledge of the reptilian control. This, by the way, is the same Credo Mutwa who princess Diana phoned from London in March 1997, claiming she had information on the royal family which would shake the world, before she died in August the same year. What was Princess Diana doing phoning a man who was initiated into a secret knowledge about reptilian control of the world?
Unlike the ancients, I know that many people today would find the theory of reptilian control of humanity, using reptilian-human genetic hybrid bloodlines, too bizarre to take seriously. But we can’t deny that the old rulers claimed descent from the gods, and the divine right to rule by bloodline. We have only to establish who these ‘gods’ really were, before we can truly begin to understand the ancient past and its relation to the present world. So I would agree with Andrew Northall that Nasa may be studying the ancient Egyptian text for hidden astronomical reasons, which may relate to the ancient past and present. Or is Nasa trying to hide what it already knows?
Back to Jurassic
With next summer’s release of Jurassic world, I think it’s worthwhile to revisit the original film in the paleontological franchise in light of the 2013 documentary Blackfish, with a focus on the inherent abuse captivity represents for wild animals and the potential dangers it creates for human handlers.
While I think it’s safe to assume most readers have seen Jurassic Park, for those not familiar with the other title, Blackfish centres on Tilikum, an orca currently living in SeaWorld Orlando, who has been held captive for more than 30 years. During that time, he has killed three humans. The movie, which was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival, suggests Tilikum’s aggression was the result of his imprisonment. As journalist Jane Velez-Mitchell asked, “If you were in a bathtub for 25 years, don’t you think you’d get a little irritated, aggravated, maybe a little psychotic?” Since the documentary’s release, SeaWorld has posted dramatic financial losses.
Interestingly, the inciting incidents for Steven Spielberg’s 1993 blockbuster and Blackfish are remarkably similar. Jurassic Park opens on an island off the coast of Costa Rica with a captive velociraptor killing an employee of InGen, the bioengineering company responsible for the titular resort. It’s this specific action that puts the entire plot of the film in motion. Paleobotanist Ellie Sattler, mathematician Ian Malcolm and palaeontologist Alan Grant are invited to the island in the wake of this episode to assess the park’s safety. Correspondingly, Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s documentary begins with the brutal drowning of an experienced SeaWorld trainer, Dawn Brancheau, by Tilikum. From there, the remainder of the film seeks to answer the question of why this happened.
Dismissing conservative accusations of anthropomorphism, historian Jason Hribal encourages us to see such acts of violence not as random occurrences, but as intentional rebellions against speciesist confinement: “Through my research, the resistance became ever more evident. Captive animals escaped their cages,” Hribal said. “They attacked their keepers. They demanded more food. They refused to perform. They refused to reproduce. The resistance itself could be organised.”
Obviously there are differences between real-life orcas and fictional dinosaurs. As researcher Howard Garrett states in Blackfish, there is no record of orcas attacking humans in the wild. And, given the speculative nature of Jurassic Park, we have no idea how various ancient species would interact with humans. Existing predators, such as tigers, generally attack humans only if they can’t meet their dietary needs. But say we concede, for the sake of argument, that free-living prehistoric animals would choose to hunt and kill us, absent unique circumstances. I don’t think such predation would invalidate the view that specific non-human violence in Jurassic Park could be interpreted, to one degree or another, as an intentional form of resistance.
Jeffrey Ventre, a former SeaWorld trainer, says that Tilikum, an animal who should be travelling 100 miles a day, is kept in what amounts to a small, concrete swimming pool. Similarly, in Jurassic Park, the resort’s ‘game’ warden, Robert Muldoon, states that, like cheetahs, velociraptors can run 50-60 miles per hour, which presumably means the species would be accustomed to free access to large swaths of land. And yet the velociraptors are kept in a ludicrously small cage, about the size of a hockey rink, which they clearly do not enjoy. “She had them all attacking the [electrified] fences when the feeders came,” Muldoon says, referring to the leader of the pride. “But they never attack the same place twice. They were testing the fences for weaknesses systematically. They remembered.”
Indeed, the desire of these animals to escape is so great, the owner of the resort, John Hammond, concedes InGen has been forced to take extreme precautions to prevent this from happening: “The viewing area below us will have eight-inch tempered glass set in reinforced steel frames,” Hammond says.
One must assume that Spielberg and others involved in the creation of the box-office smash that was Jurassic Park did not intend it to be a sci-fi parable of non-human revolt against captivity. The filmmakers’ view appears to be expressed through the voice of Dr Malcolm, who has nothing to say regarding animal treatment or use, and sees the threat posed by the island’s dinosaurs purely as a result of scientific arrogance run amok. But I’m not sure that authorial intent matters that much. Ultimately, there’s enough evidence in the film to make credible an anti-speciesist interpretation of Jurassic Park as a sort of fictionalised Blackfish.
Nick Tan’s letter (December 18) proposing a “blanket ban” on employers hiring non-permanent residents cites a demand of Jules Guesde and his wing of pre-World War I French Social Democracy as historical justification. But Guesde’s demand does not correspond to comrade Tan’s: obviously, demanding that employers be banned from employing migrant workers at lower rates is a demand for equality of payment and thus rights, whereas comrade’s Tan’s demand for a ban on employing workers who lack permanent residency rights is a demand for inequality of rights.
The idea of putting the onus on employers for the prohibition, and not the migrant workers themselves, changes little. It is a very similar demand to that of some of the more reactionary feminists concerning sex workers: that their clients be criminalised instead of the sex workers themselves. In reality, despite a degree of sophistry and even self-deception in such stratagems, they are still aimed at stopping a stigmatised part of the working class from earning a living, and are hence reactionary, divisive and anti-working class.
The only way to stop undercutting is to abolish the pariah status of illegality and semi-illegality that drives migrant workers to accept exploitative conditions, by abolishing all restrictions on migrants and refugees. This demand has to be advanced with that of abolishing all restrictions on trade union organising, and for working class union and political organisation across national borders that can unite ‘indigenous’ and migrant workers internationally and bring an end to both undercutting and workers being set against migrants by racist demagogues like the UK Independence Party.
The social-chauvinism of those who seek to ‘protect’ the jobs and working conditions of ‘indigenous’ workers by demands for restrictions on migrants only plays into the hands of the right. It won’t lead to victories for the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition or any other putative socialist campaign, and even the Labour Party can only retreat further from working class interests though bending to such agitation.
What this underlines is that we do not need loose coalitions like Tusc, but a party that can unify the most advanced, revolutionary-inclined sections of the workers’ movement, where these ideas can be fought out freely without worrying about upsetting those whose politics are limited by trade union narrowness, as is true with many in Tusc. Nor, for that matter, upsetting the prejudices of those like the CPGB leadership, whose posture of being in favour of the freedom of migration has a curious exception where it comes to some who need it most: Palestinians expelled from their homeland by Zionist Israel, whose territorial integrity - created through ethnic cleansing - the CPGB supports.
Ted said so
Of course the demand should be for “Syriza to take power” and “form a workers’ government with socialist policies” (‘Troika demands more blood’, December 18). Marxist should mobilise to get Syriza elected. Now, Marxists understand that Syriza will not carry out a proletarian revolution - at best it will be a reformist government - but Marxists should support all reforms of the government, and put forward their own programme in contrast to the reforms.
The mass of the working class support Syriza. If we say that Syriza is going to let us down, then the Marxists will be sidelined. Eddie Ford says: “Surely it is reckless and irresponsible to spread illusions in Syriza. As it is, the party subscribes to a mealy-mouthed left Keynesianism that is utterly doomed to failure.” Surely it is the duty of Marxists to contrast their programme to that of Syriza. Marxists should support the left government, but campaign for their programme, thereby exposing the false policies of Syriza.
“Quite clearly, a Syriza-led coalition, enjoying minority support across the country, would have problems of legitimacy from the very beginning. It would too come under extraordinary pressure from the markets, and would be relentlessly demonised by the media domestically and internationally. Under such circumstances would its leadership not be tempted to make all sorts of unprincipled compromises?”
Any government that fought for the working class would come under pressure from the capitalist class, both in Greece and internationally. Of course, the leadership would come under such intense pressure, and they would make rotten compromises. This again would give the Marxists the opportunity to contrast their policies with that of the left reformists.
“We argue in the strongest possible terms that as a general principle the left should avoid the temptation of prematurely taking power. Till we have a clear majority, till there is the strong likelihood of the working class in other countries forming their own governments - ie, the conditions where we have a realistic possibility of fulfilling our entire minimum programme - then it is best to constitute our forces as those of the extreme opposition. In other words, we fight to enlarge the democratic space available to us in society. Under these conditions our forces can organise, be educated and further grow.”
So if there was a huge vote for Syriza, but they don’t gain a majority, even though they may have the most votes they should say, ‘We will not take power’. This would not go down well amongst the workers, who would see it as a defeat. As for “enlarge the democratic space”, Eddie, you are talking bollocks.
The masses learn through events, not by Marxists standing on the sidelines slagging off the left government and putting forward a pure revolutionary programme. As Ted Grant used to say, “Events, events, events will teach the masses”.