Thursday, December 21, 2017

Coups and History: An Interview on Zimbabwe

Coups and History: An Interview on Zimbabwe
By Brenan Daniels

This is a transcript of a recent interview I did with Abayomi Azikiwe of Pan African Newswire and Nefta Freeman, an Analyst and Events Coordinator for the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS), a longtime organizer in the Pan-African and international human rights movement, and former Liaison for the Ujamma Youth Farming Project in Gweru, Zimbabwe. He also hosts and produces the radio show Voices With Vision on WPFW 89.3 FM, on the recent coup on Zimbabwe, putting it in current and historical context.

1. The coup in Zimbabwe seemed to happen all of a sudden. What were the events leading up to it?

Abayomi Azikiwe: These factional dispute within the Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) ruling party have been coming to a head for over three years. With the expulsion of the former Vice President Joice Mujuru and her supporters in Dec. 2014, the stage was set for an intensified struggle between those aligned with the now Interim President Emmerson D. Mnangagwa on the one side and the forces surrounding First Lady Grace Mugabe on the other.
The Generation 40 Group aligned with the First Lady appeared to be gaining the upper hand when the-then Vice President Mnangagwa was expelled during early Nov.

Nonetheless, the Lacoste Group, the supporters of Mnangagwa, had strong backing within the military and this was the determining aspect of the struggle which shifted power toward the current leadership group. On the surface the conflict appeared to be an internal struggle within the ruling party itself although there have been suggestions and some documented proof that outside interests such as the United States and Britain may have played a role as well in forcing the resignation of President Robert Mugabe. It was quite interesting that the Voice of America reported on Nov. 21 that the State Department had already outlined the terms for the lifting of sanctions against Zimbabwe.

Whether the sanctions are actually lifted will remain to be seen. There have been western business-friendly statements made by some officials of the current leadership within the party such as a willingness to compensate the British settlers for land confiscated in 2000; the scaling down of government personnel including ministerial portfolios; the amendments already made to the indigenization policy; and the potential for Zimbabwe re-entering the Commonwealth.  

Nefta Freeman:
Some are disputing use of the term coup given that it doesn't fit other historical examples of coups in Africa. But getting into that would be too much and would deviate from the question.

First, nothing of this nature can happen all of a sudden. The context might be a little too complicated to explain in this interview but a synopsis seems to be that this was the culmination of power struggles within the ruling party ZANU PF that have been brewing since at least 2015 or 14. Contributing factors to their acuteness are the economic tensions largely due to imperialist sanctions imposed on the country and concerns over who would succeed the aging President Robert Mugabe now 93.

It should be no wonder that tensions about succession would arise and intensify.
As they say politics abhors a power vacuum. Factions formed, one delineated as a younger strain of ZANU PF party members known as G40 or Generation 40, led by Grace Mugabe and the other being the old guard of members many of whom fought in the liberation struggle for independence led by one of two Vice-presidents, Emmerson Mnangagwa. Some very contentious politburo meetings ensued with accusations being leveled against one another of plots to force a government take over. The tensions led President Mugabe to depose Mnangagwa of his post. This seemed to set off what seemed to be a contingency plan already in place by Mnangagwe and Defense Commander Constantino Chiwenga to use the military to constrain the police forces and anyone under the influence of G40. Then assume control of the various levers of the government.

I can't pretend to know which of the factions (G40 or Team Lacoste, as the other is known) were motivated by the more altruistic concerns or revolutionary principles. The lessons for African and the struggling world are many. What we do know now is that after initially holding out, Mugabe has resigned.

2. Generally Mugabe is seen as a dictator. Can you shed some light on who exactly Mugabe is?

Abayomi Azikiwe: President Mugabe's position in modern African history is secured as a liberation movement leader, progressive governmental head-of-state and an ideological contributor to the African revolutionary struggle for Pan-Africanism, Anti-imperialism and Socialist-orientation. Mugabe worked as an educator and youth leader during his younger years. In the 1960s he was imprisoned by the settler-colonial regime of Rhodesia for ten years. After being released in 1974 during an internal crisis within ZANU, he was able to steer the liberation movement to victory by 1979-1980.

After gaining independence in April 1980, he presided over a government of reconciliation and transition for five years as prime minister. The 1985 constitution made Mugabe president and by late 1987 he along with Joshua Nkomo, considered the "father of the movement", who headed the Zimbabwe African People's Union (ZAPU), merged the two groups into ZANU-PF which ended the initial instability which occurred in Matebeleland in the early 1980s after independence where a rebellion was ruthlessly suppressed by the Zimbabwe Defense Forces (ZDF) Fifth Brigade. The reconciliation with Nkomo was historic and can serve as a model for African governance moving forward.

The 2000 Land Reclamation program was key in consolidating the genuine independence of the country. However, it drew the ire of western imperialism which imposed sanctions that hampered the capacity for economic growth and development. In addition, the advent of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) parallels the land redistribution program debates and enactment from 1998-2000. MDC has been funded by the West along with other groups in a failed effort to reverse the independence process. These methods have failed due to the incompetence of the opposition leaders largely stemming from their lack of support among the people and gross opportunism.

Nefta Freeman: I can't agree with that. Generally seen by whom as a dictator? I do know that the West consistently refers the leaders of countries that do not bow to them economically and politically as dictators.

But if a dictator is defined as a ruler with total power over a country then how can one be a dictator in a country with a parliamentary system constitutionally consisting of Executive, Judiciary and Legislative structures? This is what has been in Zimbabwe. And on top of that it's been a multi-party system? Even if accusations were true that the system has been manipulated to give disproportionate power to Mugabe, it can’t be said that he held total power.

But to answer your question who is Mugabe; Robert Mugabe was the son of a carpenter and as a youth attended Roman Catholic mission schools. He won a scholarship to go to a Black University in South Africa where he achieved the first of his 6 degrees in one year and became an African nationalist. He returned home to what was then called Rhodesia to teach for 4 years before going to teach and study in Ghana and becoming influenced by Kwame Nkrumah.

Once he returned to Zimbabwe he involved himself in African nationalist politics advocating revolution through non-violent direct action, propaganda, and civil disobedience. At that time he considered himself a Marxist and staunch anti-racist. In the early years of the struggle he was arrested several times by the white minority regime. In a 1965 government crack down on the African nationalist movement Mugabe was incarcerated for 10 years without trial. While in prison he taught and also earned 3 law degrees.

During this time was when he and his comrades determined that armed struggle was the only way to liberation. After his release he was given refuge by the new revolutionary government in Mozambique where he founded ZANLA, Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army with many of his former fellow political prisoners and entered into the fray. ZANU, the Zimbabwe African National Union was formed later as the political arm.

To make a long story short, in 1979 the Rhodes as they were referred to were forced to the negotiation table in Lancaster. After the Lancaster House Agreement established elections for a new president in 1980 in which Africans ran for office, Mugabe won in a landslide victory.

3.Talk about how the economic situation has changed and deteriorated over the past several years.

Abayomi Azikiwe: Zimbabwe has been hampered through the sanctions imposed by the United States, Britain and the European Union. There have been discussions held with Washington for a number of years around lifting the sanctions particularly after the acceptance of a Global Political Agreement and coalition government after the disputed 2008 national elections. Yet despite the bringing of opposition forces into the government between 2008-2013, the U.S., Britain and EU have maintained the sanctions.

This clearly reveals that the ultimate objectives of the sanctions were to either topple ZANU-PF or drastically shift the domestic and foreign policy of Zimbabwe. The impact of the sanctions have been compounded by the worst drought in recent history which exists throughout the entire Southern Africa region. Also there has been a precipitous decline in commodity prices over the last three years that was a direct result of U.S. economic policy under the administration of President Barack Obama. Prices are starting to rise again in the energy and strategic mineral industries.

Zimbabwe has large deposits of diamonds and platinum. Consequently, the imperialists are set on gaining favorable terms for any long term economic relationships with Zimbabwe and other states in the sub-continent.

Nefta Freeman: Yes there is hyper-inflation and high unemployment and the value of currency is very precarious. But what is often missing from the explanation are the effects of the EU, UK and US sanctions legislation explicitly designed to damage the economy. This is done by denying any extension of credit and loans to the government or any balance of payment assistance from international financial institutions. The sanctions also actively dissuade investments in, or trading with the country. All this has had devastating effects on the ordinary citizens of Zimbabwe in multitude of ways, a fact that Western media and liberal progressive pundits never fail to ignore.

I'm not denying that there is some mismanagement and corruption. The government officials in ZANU PF and Mugabe himself acknowledge it but this is not to blame for the magnitude of the economic problems. The economic warfare that had been being waged against Zimbabwe also included denying it access to foreign exchange which is needed to carry out diverse international business transactions.

4. There has been some talk of China possibly giving the green light to the coup plotters, what are your thoughts on this?

Abayomi Azikiwe: I have not seen any evidence that China was involved in the military intervention and the resignation of President Mugabe. Typically Beijing does not get involved in the internal affairs of African states. China is a large trading partner with Zimbabwe and its assistance along with the neighboring Republic of South Africa and Republic of Mozambique have been essential in maintaining stability in Harare. Relations between the People's Republic China, the ruling Communist Party of China, and ZANU-PF goes back to the era of the national liberation war. These ties have been maintained, strengthened and enhanced over the years since independence.
Nefta Freeman: This seems a mischaracterization.

As we know China has a strong and long relationship with Zimbabwe in many economic areas. And it has been further strengthened by ZANU's "Look East Policy" in response to the belligerence of the West toward them. Mnangagwa and General Chiwenga were simply assuring that China would not feel compelled by a change of forces to interfere in Zimbabwe's internal affairs and that the diplomatic and economic relationship would remain.

5. It was reported recently by the Australian Broadcasting Company that Zimbabwe is looking to go back into the British Commonwealth. Why would they do that? What about giving the white farmers back land?

Abayomi Azikiwe:
Zimbabwe under President Mugabe in 2002 did not leave the Commonwealth voluntarily. They were in effect expelled. London set terms for their return and these conditions were rejected by ZANU-PF. These are colonial institutions. ZANU-PF has developed a "Look East" policy. The objectives are to build economic relations with other African states, countries in Asia and Latin America. This is the future of the world. Britain is facing a tremendous crisis due to the vote by the electorate to withdraw from the EU in June 2016.

There maybe an attempt to re-enter the Commonwealth under Interim President Mnangagwa. Nevertheless, what will Zimbabwe have to sacrifice in order to re-enter this declining system? There are many other former British colonies in Africa who are Commonwealth members yet their people remain impoverished and uneducated. Zimbabwe has the largest literacy rate in Africa where over 95 percent of the people can read and write. This is a monumental achievement of the Revolution.

Nefta Freeman: First on the land question, no one could give back the land to the white farmers even if they wanted to. That process is past the point of no return. Besides doing that would be the easiest way to get the country to revolt against the new dispensation. The media is fond of showing images in the urban areas, particularly Harare the capital, of what are basically opposition forces to ZANU and Mugabe. But the majority of the population is in the rural areas, which are also the areas that benefitted most directly from the 2000 fast track land redistribution.

What Emmerson Mnangagwa did say was that the land reform would remain untouched but that they would continue to compensate the white farmers for certain upgrades they made to farms. That part really wasn't anything new and had already been part of the 2000 fast track land reclamation process.

About the British Commonwealth, I don't know. I've been hearing that said but not yet from the leaders of the new dispensation themselves. Every time i read it is Europeans saying that they would welcome them back if they meet certain conditions. If they are looking into it, i would be careful that we not have a knee-jerk reaction to it, as if that in and of itself is a sellout move. Zimbabwe was suspended from the Commonweath in 2002 based on imperialist hegemonic demonization that claimed among other things that Zimbabwe elections weren't free and fair. But this is bull for two reasons.

One is that those elections were certified by independent electoral observes, including a delegation of the NAACP that drafted a detailed report on how fair those elections were. The second reason is the West doesn't really care about democracy in other countries. They will invade and over throw democratic countries.

But many people, myself included, applauded Mugabe's response to them suspending Zimbabwe from the Commonwealth. He basically said Africans don’t need the approval of Europeans and then left the body all together. But because Member states have no legal obligation to one another and there are some benefits to being a part of it, like in trade agreements and working together to cooperate on things like migration policies for instance, I don't think it should be seen as principled position to stay out of it. It has a different history than the OAS, Organization of American States but essentially serves the same purpose. Countries just need to make sure rejoining is not based on compromising its sovereignty and revolutionary or socialist principles.

This is actually is the area that I am concerned about in the new developments

6. What are your thoughts on what lie with the future of Zimbabwe?

Abayomi Azikiwe:
This will depend on the policies coming out of the interim government between now and the elections slated for mid-2018. If the Party maintains its legacy it will do well in the elections. However, the imperialists now perceive an opening and will utilize the current situation in an attempt to influence domestic and foreign policy. As I have outlined in a previous report, there are four areas which are significant in assessing the direction of events in Zimbabwe.

The land question, indigenization, the country's commitments to regional institutions such as the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the African Union (AU), and the role of the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM). The developments in Zimbabwe should be a lesson as well for the African National Congress (ANC) in South Africa. There are factional problems within ANC and the imperialists along with their allies within the opposition parties inside the country are seeking to overthrow the ANC using similar methods.

Therefore, the situation in Southern Africa is at a critical stage and the next year will be important as it involves the region and the continent as a whole.

Nefta Freeman: It is still too early to determine what lies ahead and to know where the heads are of those who have assumed leadership of the country. I’m very concerned over some things we're seeing. All the imperialist countries that have had Zimbabwe in their crosshairs are now pledging to help with economic recovery and sending emissaries to the country etc.

The new leadership seems to be working toward re-establishing dealings with institutions of neo-colonialism, like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. These institutions are notorious for imposing their "economic structural adjustment programs" (ESAPs) on underdeveloped countries. These programs obligate countries to surrender to foreign trade relations tilted to benefit multi-national corporate interests, like privatization of public goods and services, deregulations, wage caps, and all sorts of things not in the interest of the masses.

It is hard to pass judgment on the leaders for the decisions they make. I am not in the predicament they are in and don't know what decisions i would make if actually in their shoes. But history teaches us that Imperialism does not make such commitments unless they are certain that their economic interests are secured. So what is being worked out behind closed doors concerns me. I do think that peace and justice loving people outside of Zimbabwe should take the principled stand for the unconditional lifting of sanctions and for her people's right to national self-determination.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

The Question of Art (Part 2)

The Question of Art (Part 2)
By Devon Bowers

Originally published on the Hampton Institute

In a written portion of our series “The Question of Art,” we talk to artists Johnny Bentanamo and Kelly Ann Gonzales Boyle discussing art and it’s important to society. Part 1 is an audio portion and can be listened to here.

1. What kind(s) of art do you do? What/who got you into art in the first place?

Johnny: I specialize in musical recording & performance art as well as mixed media visual arts. 
Essentially, I write music on an acoustic guitar as well as accompanying lyrics that I perform live as a soloist, I also compose noise records {that I refer to as "grind-pop"} which I release online. As far as the visual arts go, I mostly use found items to create impressionistic & abstract paintings.

When I was 8 years old, I was downstairs at my Grandparents house & put on the MTV where I saw the music video for Guns N' Roses "Welcome to the Jungle"...that was the moment when I knew what I wanted to do with my life & it's been a struggle ever since.  Besides that important moment in my life, I've had many great friends that have doubled as teachers over the years & I own to them much thanks.

Kelly: I am a writer. I have been a writer since I first learned to read and write. Since I was a child, I loved nothing more than curling up and getting lost in a great book, and when you get lost, you often find yourself. My father always encouraged me to be an avid reader, writer, and lover of art. Each time he got me a book, he'd sign it, "Never stop leaning. Love, Papa."

I grew up in New Jersey, and my dad grew up in NYC, and he always wanted me to experience the city by bringing me to art museums. I tried my hand at drawing and painting, but while it's a medium I love and appreciate, I never quite honed my talent into it unlike writing which came much more naturally.

2. Why do you think that people nowadays seem to devalue art? We seem to live in this paradox where people will argue that art isn't important, yet they enjoy music, movies, theater, and the like.

Johnny: I think art is largely devalued by many because they don't see the most popular mediums as art.  Things like that popular tv show, big budget films, & major label musical releases are {mostly} made to make money & have little to no artistic value because they lack the intention to invoke emotion or challenge contemporary ways of thinking.  The people that seek out art for the sake of art can find it, but it takes research & I think that that's a little bit too much work for the common person who is consumed w/ work, school, family, etc.

Kelly: Art is a series of contradictions. It's like life. Moving, terrifying, strange, and sometimes just downright boring. Art, like life, is misunderstood. We can hate art like we can hate our lives, but we can choose to say, "You know what? Not for me today. Not for me right now. Let me try again tomorrow." The same art I may have passed by in a museum ten, five, maybe even one year ago, can have a totally different impact on me today. Just based on new experiences or my mood for the day.

I don't think that people devalue art. I think people value and crave art more than ever before. People want to be connected and to feel something. The advent of social media is an example of this. We can sit here and lament the dehumanizing aspects of social media, or we can appreciate its ability to teach us something about each other, even if it's just parts of each other.

We all make choices each day to say to others and to ourselves whether or not we want to live our lives to the fullest. Art helps to enrich our lives through music, movies, theater, and so forth.

3. What does art do for you, if anything, on a emotional and psychological level?

Johnny: For me, art is therapy, plain & simple.  If I didn't have a creative outlet I would be a miserable person to be around.  I grew up in a physically & emotionally abusive house so I have some "demons" that I battle on a daily basis & whenever I'm feeling lost or overwhelmed I can just pick up my guitar or paint brushes to wash away those negative feelings...I've become a much calmer & centered person since I began creating more consistently about 7 years ago.  Art is also a way to supplement my income since working a full-time job is not conducive to my medical disabilities, which are extensive.

Kelly: We are all part of a grand universe, and art is a means of connecting our selves to the world around us. Whether it's a fresco painting on the ceiling of a chapel or a black square on a large, white canvas, art speaks. It can speak a loud and grandiose volume for all to know its behemoth presence, or it can simply murmur and let its nearest passerby know that it's standing on the corner, too.

Art makes me feel everything. It has made me laugh and cry. It has angered me and plainly disgusted me. It keeps me begging for more and I find myself seeking out stranger and grander things. To better myself. To learn. To be a part of something greater than myself.

4. What is the most fun and most difficult part of being an artist?

Johnny: The most difficult part of arting for me is also the most fun part...performance.  I give everything I have in me during a live performance, it's like some otherworldly entity is channeled through me. It is the most cathartic thing I have ever experienced but w/ that said, afterwards I hurt & usually need to sit or lay down for a hour or more.

The most rewarding part of performing is not what it does for me though, it is what it does for others.  I'm a naturally open & overtly expressive person, which most people are not, so when attendees approach me after I'm off stage & express to me how the things I did or said spoke to them or made them feel like they weren't alone, I know I did something good...even if it comes from a place of selfishness as I do not make art for anybody but myself.

Kelly: I once argued with someone I dated--and I suppose you can already guess that the brief relationship ended quite rapidly--about whether or not writing was an art. He believed writing was simply a skill that could be taught and refined. I believe it was both an art and a skill. You learn the skills of the grammar, punctuation, and the nuisances of the language. The art of writing is a different and impatient beast.

The most difficult part of being a writer is like exercising. To get up each day and committing yourself to doing it continuously. You can write or exercise in private and no one will know the wiser, but eventually you may find yourself stepping out into the world where a stranger may glance at your open notebook or laptop. You coworker will comment on your new weight loss. You are flattered.
Then you are also terrified. You want the compliments, but with compliments come expectation and criticism. The opportunity and the realization that there is more. There is always more.

The fun part is also the terrifying part. Recognizing the difficulty of putting yourself out there and keeping up that momentum. The thrill of jumping out of a plane at 30,000 feet only to hurtle downwards with a parachute. That is writing. That is art. It's all part of the process.

5. In your opinion, what is the purpose of art, if any?

Johnny:  Art has many purposes & can mean different things to many different people.  For me, as I stated earlier, art is therapeutic.  I create so that I can tolerate living but for many others it is simply something to decorate your house with or wear out to a fancy restaurant.

In The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde says  “We can forgive a man for making a useful thing as long as he does not admire it. The only excuse for making a useless thing is that one admires it intensely.  All art is quite useless.”  Now I don't agree w/ this sentiment but that's not the point, the point is that, what art is or what it does is completely up to the observer, it's relative to the person that is beholding the creation.  In summation I would say that the purpose of art is to create something that was never there so that all of existence can become a richer & more evolved place.  Art is life & just like all things, the individual works eventually cease to be.

Kelly: The purpose is to exist. The definition is up to the artist. Same thing with life. Don't think too hard about it.

Examine life in its present moment, but then move on. Don't overthink it. Just do. Keep going. Don't stop. Go live your life. Stop reading this and go make some art.

Mr. Bentanamo’s art can be viewed here and here.

Mrs. Gonzales Boyle is the author of the novel Video Games and is readying a forthcoming novel tentatively titled Through An Opaque Window.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

The Question of Steve Bannon

The Question of Steve Bannon

Originally published on AH Tribune.

Steve Bannon. It is a name that elicits anger or praise depending on who one is talking to. Some praise his leadership of, arguing that it is fights off against the liberal bias found in media. Others despise him, not only for his work at Breitbart, but his white nationalism, having been accused by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Congressman Cummings as being a white nationalist. Given this, many were overjoyed recently when President Trump fired Bannon from his role as White House chief strategist. While we are right to rejoice in his leaving, what should be explored is his influence in the foreign policy and economic sectors, something that the mainstream media has not really touched on.

On April 6, 2017, it was reported that President Trump had launched missiles on an airbase in Syria in response to allegations of the Syrian government engaging in a chemical weapons attack. While the media didn’t note the major, massive holes in this story, there also wasn’t much talk about Bannon’s push to avoid the strike.

Now, it should be noted, this wasn’t due to Bannon’s concern to avoid escalating the situation, finding out the truth of the matter, or anything like that, but it didn’t “advance Trump’s America First doctrine.” Chris Dixon of The Liberty Conservative noted that the strikes illustrated “the fall of the America First message within the Trump administration and the diminishing influence of nationalists such as Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller.” So we can see that in these internal White House politics, there is a kind of mainstream, war-oriented, globalist clique in the form of Secretary of Defense James Mattis, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Jared Kushner, and their allies, with Steve Bannon, Sebastian Gorka, Julia Hahn, and the Freedom Caucus pushing somewhat of a more nationalist, domestic-oriented state of affairs. This was one of Bannon’s first major losses in the White House, as not only did the strikes occur, but even more importantly, it bought people together across party lines, no matter if they were a politician or regular American.

Economically, Bannon went against mainstream conservative thought by arguing for a forty percent tax increase on the wealthy. Currently, the President’s tax plan includes a decrease in the business tax, from 35% to 15%, and benefits people who make $500,000 to $1 million annually with a 6.4% decrease; over $1 million is a 9.3% decrease. Specifically, Bannon pushed for “tax reform to include a new 44 percent top marginal tax rate, hitting people who earn more than $5 million a year, with the revenue paying for tax cuts for the rest.” It fits in with Bannon’s (white) populist ideology in that helps to alleviate the tax burden of the working (white) man, however, it clashes with the view of mainstream Republicans, economic adviser Gary Cohn who came from Goldman Sachs (although Bannon himself has a history with Sachs as well), and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin who quickly trashed the idea, as did the President himself.

Bannon attempted again to steer the boat in a different direction by proposing that sites like Google and Facebook be regulated like utilities. What that means is that it would get rid of the monopoly power Facebook, Google and other companies currently have. During Obama’s second term, competition investigations in the online sector disappeared with the placement of “Google-friendly appointees [being] installed across a range of agencies that govern Google's business, from the DoJ to the Library of Congress to the FCC.” Yet, Bannon went and fought against this, arguing that the aforementioned websites have effectively become necessities in modern day life and thus, such companies shouldn’t enjoy the monopoly status they currently have and should be more regulated.

The tech business community has spent record amounts lobbying the feds, mainly in order to avoid this. However, the fight is far from over as “House Republicans are asking the chief executives of tech and telecom rivals — including Facebook, Google, AT&T and Comcast — to appear before the U.S. Congress in September and help settle the debate over net neutrality once and for all.” We will see how the situation plays out.

Finally, this most recent war of words regarding North Korea is speculated as the comment that cost Bannon his job. Bannon talked to Robert Kuttner of The American Prospect. From the article:

Bannon said he might consider a deal in which China got North Korea to freeze its nuclear buildup with verifiable inspections and the United States removed its troops from the peninsula, but such a deal seemed remote. Given that China is not likely to do much more on North Korea, and that the logic of mutually assured destruction was its own source of restraint, Bannon saw no reason not to proceed with tough trade sanctions against China.

Contrary to Trump’s threat of fire and fury, Bannon said: “There’s no military solution [to North Korea’s nuclear threats], forget it. Until somebody solves the part of the equation that shows me that ten million people in Seoul don’t die in the first 30 minutes from conventional weapons, I don’t know what you’re talking about, there’s no military solution here, they got us.” (emphasis added)

It was this that Kuttner has speculated got Bannon fired as he going up against the US Defense and State Departments.

The leaders of both departments recently pushed back against Bannon’s argument, with Tillerson saying  “We are prepared. We’re prepared militarily, we’re prepared with our allies to respond if that is necessary.”  Mattis noted that “there would be strong military consequences for the North Korean regime, echoing past statements that an attack on Guam or any other U.S. land would mean war.” Bannon’s view that there is no military solution to the Korea situation also puts him in the crosshairs of the defense industry, where stocks in the United States had gone to record highs and in South Korea saw a major upsurge with the talk of military action against North Korea. This is on top of new information coming out that North Korea is sitting upon somewhere in the realm of $6-$10 trillion in mineral resources.

Effectively what Bannon did when he said that was to tell the American people that they needed to reject the hysteria and hype surrounding the North Korea situation and that there are ways to solve problems that don’t involve war, that don’t involve brute force. His proposal of a non-military solution, though its plausibility be questionable, had the possibility of taking the wind out of the sails of the war hawks and their funders.

Overall, Bannon, while having disgusting and reprehensible views, was something of a fighter against the status quo. While we should ignore his racist ideas, we may want to at least pay attention to his foreign policy and economic thoughts. As the saying goes, a broken clock is right twice a day.

Monday, August 14, 2017

The Atlantic Alliance Part 1

The Atlantic Alliance: A History of the Anglo-American Relationship
Part 1: War and Peace

The history of the relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom is one of cooperation and friendship going back over a century, with both nations being fond of each other. It was noted in 2015 that 90% of Americans viewed Britain in a favorable light[1] and was reaffirmed officially during Brexit, when then US Secretary of State John Kerry stated that there was an “unbreakable' bond between the States and Britain” and said explicitly "The US knows it could not ask for a better friend and ally than the United Kingdom."[2] Given such close relations, a history of the ups and downs between the two nations should be examined in detail, seeing as how they overlap in many areas of politics and economics, especially in the realm of foreign policy.

False Start

As with most wars, the Revolutionary War didn't end with the final gun shot or cannon fire, but rather with a treaty. While the Treaty of Paris created an official peace between the two nations, there were still a number of left over problems, namely British warships attacking and robbing American merchant ships.

The British government issued an order on “November 6, 1793, whereby commanders of British warships and privateers were to arrest and bring to adjudication in an admiralty court vessels carrying the produce of, or supplies for, any French colony.” Within several weeks, it “resulted in the seizure within a few weeks of over two hundred fifty American vessels in the Caribbean.”[3] At the time of the order's issuance, an expedition of British army and naval forces left for the West Indies, commanded by Lt.-Gen. Sir Charles Grey and Vice-Adm. Sir John Jervis.

This order and the expedition were kept secret until December, as to avoid neutral shippers being on high alert. Once revealed, the US ambassador to Britain, Thomas Pinckney, actively fought against it, given the fact that the actions would eliminate the US exports to the French West Indies which would effectively cut the US out of the Carribean market entirely as they were already shut out of several markets due to the Navigation Acts. Were this to continue, the US would only have a slight handful of insignificant markets to sell to. Whether or not Pinckney's arguments had any effect is unclear, however, with in the next two weeks, the British replaced the original order, giving neutrals more favorable conditions. Unfortunately, the information took too long in getting to the British in the Carribean and the US vessels in the island of Martinque suffered for it: on February 19, 1794, Lt. Gen. Grey captured the island of Martinique and declared that the island and all ships in its harbor were prizes.

In response to this, the US sent John Jay, the first Chief Justice of the United States, to Britain to demand compensation for the damages done to US naval vessels and citizens. Jay argued that the original order ignored international law and as such the solution lied with the king rather than with the court system. Though tensions were high, “the British moved quickly to assuage American worries and investigated the Martinque seizures, even going so far as to submit the US demands for a joint US-Britain review commission, and awarded the costs of damages which included the value of the actual ships and the cargo.”[4] This very well may have been to avoid the opening of another front in their war with France as well as to ensure that the French didn't gain another ally.

There were some problems with Jay's negotiations though, as there was a complete lack of protection of American seafarers from British impressment and a “failure to secure a mutual hands-off policy with regard to Indians in each other's territory.”[5] The only way this treaty could even remotely be defended as being worthwhile was the argument that it would serve as British recognition of US sovereignty.

Domestically, the treaty was pushed by the Federalists, who “mounted an extensive pamphlet and newspaper campaign and undertook to circulate petitions to rally the public behind the treaty, the administration, and President Washington.”[6] While the treaty was generally unpopular, the Federalists, especially Alexander Hamilton who wrote over twenty essays defending the treaty in or part or another, that while it wasn't a particularly good treaty, it was the most the US could expect from Britain and helped to preserve peace. At the end of the day, the Jay Treaty did the following for the US:

  • The United States gained control of the Northwest forts and trading rights with India and the British West Indies (although only with ships of seventy tons or less, a severely limiting condition)
  • Established a commission to settle boundary disputes in the Northeast and other points of contention.
  • The United States agreed in exchange to surrender not only its traditional position on maritime rights, but also to accept commissions that would settle the question of prewar debts owed to English merchants.[7]

The Senate ratified Jay's Treaty on June 24, 1795. It seems that the situation was finally resolved and true peace could be had, however, it was not to last.

The War of 1812

Neither the Treaty of Paris nor the Jay Treaty defined the border between the US and the British colony of Canada, this resulted in both sides laying claim to the same pieces of land, thus leading to border skirmishes. Under the Treaty of Paris, the British were to “ evacuate Detroit, Niagara, Sandusky, and four other fortified posts south of the Great Lakes,”[8] however didn't due to their wanting to continue utilizing their forts in the fur trade with Native Americans. In order to keep this lucrative friendship with Native Americans going, the British actively funded them with weapons and ammunition as Americans moved into places such as the Ohio Valley and Kentucky. To add to this, as was noted before in the failures of Jay's Treaty, the British Navy continued utilizing impressment of American sailors to aid in their war against Napoleonic France. One incident in particular led to increased tensions.

In 1807 the frigate H.M.S. Leopard fired on the U.S. Navy frigate Chesapeake and seized four sailors, three of them U.S. citizens. London eventually apologized for this incident, but it came close to causing war at the time. Jefferson, however, chose to exert economic pressure against Britain and France by pushing Congress in December 1807 to pass the Embargo Act, which forbade all export shipping from U.S. ports and most imports from Britain.[9]

However, the Embargo Act ended up harming Americans more than the British, with many Americans outright ignoring it. Just before Jefferson vacated in 1809, Congress replaced the Embargo Act with the Non-Intercourse Act which expressly forbade trade with either Britain or France. This, too, proved ineffective and was replaced with Macon's Bill Number Two on May 1, 1810. The bill resumed trade with Britain and France, however, it stipulated that if either of the two nations attempted to intervene in trade (the US trading with Great Britain or the US trading with France), the non-intercourse would resume against the intervening nation.[10]

In August 1810, Napoleon said he would exempt American shipping from the Milan Decree of 1807 which “ordered that all ships touching British ports before sailing into French territorial waters were to be confiscated,”[11] putting US vessels at risk of being taken by the French navy. Despite being provided evidence by the British that US ships were still being confiscated by the French, President James Madison revived non-intercourse against Britain. This was done due to the fact that Madison was allied with many of the war hawks in Congress.

Those living in the Northwest Territory, encompassing what parts of what are now Ohio and Illinois, blamed the British for increased fighting between themselves and Native Americans. With war seemingly on the horizon, Maj. Gen. Isaac Brock, the British commander of Upper Canada, moved to augment his small British and Canadian forces with Native American allies, only serving to confirm the suspicions of many Americans.

In November 1811, Madison summoned Congress into session. This was a rather different Congress in many ways as there were a number of individuals such as Henry Clay, a Whig party Kentucky Senator, who was a strong supporter of US expansionism. There were also those who hated Native Americans due to their having lived on the frontier, such as Felix Grundy, a Tennessean Congressman, who grew up on the Tennessee frontier and lost three brothers to Native American raids.

The concerns of most of Congress may very well have been economic however. In 1807, the British issued the Orders in Council which caused major hassles for US suppliers “with a variety of requirement for special licenses, shipping material through British ports, and outright embargo.”[12] Madison attempted to talk with British ambassador Augustus J. Foster in July 1811 and out of the meeting, both Madison and the Secretary of State James Monroe became convinced that the only way the British would end their Orders would be by force. While there were those in Congress such as Tennessean Senator George Washington Campbell who stated “There appears at present no honorable ground upon which war can be avoided—a change in the measures of G. Britain towards us could alone preserve peace—and there is no stronger reason to calculate on such an event now, as than there has been for several years past,”[13] most of those in Congress were looking for a way to avoid war. The tipping point came when the House Foreign Relations Committee released a report going through the history of US attempts to get rid of the Orders, concluding that the only way to stop Britain was through force. It was not soon after that Congress began to move on a war footing. President Madison “sent a note to Great Britain demanding that it lift all restrictions against American shipping.When no answer was forthcoming by June 18, he asked Congress to declare war,”[14] with war being declared on June 18, 1812.

Strangely enough, though, all of it could've been avoided: by the time the US declared war on Great Britain, the British had already lifted their restrictions.

The winter of 1811–12 was the bitterest that the English people experienced between the Great Plague [of 1665] and 1940–41. . . . [A French blockade] had now closed all western Europe except Portugal to British goods. American non-intercourse shut off the only important market still open except Russia. . . .A crop failure drove up the price of wheat, warehouses were crammed with goods for which there was no market, factories were closing, workmen rioting. Deputations from the manufacturing cities besought Parliament to repeal [its laws against American shipping], . . . hoping to recover their American market.[15]

Due to the American government having no knowledge of this, they declared war. However, it is possible that a war still would have occurred or at least been encouraged as elements of Congress saw a link between the lowkey British-Native American alliance and their expansionist goals.

Not to soon after the war started, both sides realized that their problems could simply be negotiated with words rather than bullets and sent out feelers and in January 1814, ambassadors from their respective nations met in Ghent, Belgium to discuss how to end the war, with each side writing up a list of demands. The British/Canadians wanted the US to give up their fishing rights in British waters, return Louisiana to Spain, “cede northern New York, part of Maine, and control of the Great Lakes” to Canada, and establish “an Indian buffer nation along the Greenville Treaty line of 1795, to separate the United States from Canada”[15] whereas the Americans to take over Upper Canada. Eventually the British/Canadians gave up on their demand for a Native American nation and the Americans trashed their aspirations of taking Upper Canada. There was still contention regarding American fishing rights in Canadian waters and British claims to having the right to navigate the Mississippi River, the key to western trade, soon being kicked down the road to be solved at a later date. The Treaty of Ghent, signed on Christmas Eve 1814, ended the War of 1812, but didn't reach US shores until February 11th of next year. The Senate ratified the treaty, officially ending the war, on February 17, 1815 at 11 pm.

While the War of 1812 could've been avoided, it was still of extreme importance due to the fact that, rather than with the Jay Treaty, it forced the British to deal with the US as equals and showed that the Americans could go and push to protect their interests, even to the point of war.

Relations between the US and Britain would simmer somewhat, but would experience major tension when the US issued the Monroe Doctrine and the American Civil War broke out.


1: Jay Loschsky, Rebecca Rifkin, “Canada, Great Britain, Are Americans' Most Favored Nations,” Gallup, March 13, 2015 (    

2: Rebecca Perring, “UK Is Still America's greatest 'friend and ally' in wake of Brexit, John Kerry Declares,” Express, June 27, 2016 (    

3:  Joseph M. Fewster, “The Jay Treaty and British Ship Seizures: The Martinique Cases,” The  William and Mary Quarterly 45:3 (July 1988), pg 426
4: Fewster, pg 434

5:  Joseph Charles, “The Jay Treaty: Origins of the American Party System,” The William and Mary Quarterly 12:4 (October 1955), pg 594
6: Todd Estes, “Shaping The Politics of Public Opinion: Federalists and the Jay Treaty Debate,” Journal of the Early Republic 20:3 (2000), pg 397
7: Estes, pgs 398-399
8: Miriam Greenblatt, The War of 1812 (New York, NY: Facts on File Publishing, 1994), pg 16
9: Jeff Wallenfeldt, editor, The American Revolutionary War and the War of 1812: People, Politics, and Power (New York, NY: Rosen Education Service, 2010), pg 177

10: Tom Holmberg, United States. Macon's Bill, Number 2. 1 May 1810, The Napoleon Series,    

11: Majorie Bloy, A Web of English History,        
12: Indiana University Bloomington, War of 1812,    

13: Roger H. Brown, The War Hawk of 1812: An Historical Myth, Indiana Magazine of History, (1964)
14: John Stewart Bowman, Miriam Greenblatt, War of 1812: America at War (New York, NY: Facts On File, 2003),  pg 41
15: Ibid, pg 28
16: Bowman, Greenblatt, pg 137

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The Weakness of the Resistance

The Weakness of the Resistance
By Brenan Daniels

We’re soon going to have a one party system.”

The 'Resistance' as opponents to President Trump call themselves, have been busy fighting back against the President's policies, having recently kicked off a 'Resistance Summer' in order to “[counter] the agenda of President Trump and the GOP-led Congress.” However, while they are fighting back, they are having some serious problems information-wise, such as propogating false stories like the House Republicans celebrating the passing of a bill to repeal Obamacare with beer or that rape would be a pre-existing condition under this new healthcare bill. There are larger problems, though, primarily with the party they are supporting, the Democrats, and it very well may come back to haunt them in the near future.

Young people who would generally vote Democrat, overwhelmingly favored Bernie Sanders, coalescing around his promises to break up the big banks, Medicare for all, and free public college. Despite this, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said of her party: “ I have to say we’re capitalist and that’s just the way it is.” This is a major problem when the majority of young Democrats see themselves as socialists.

There is also the problem of the Dems having shown themselves to be a group of liars and cheaters. Currently, the Democratic National Committee is under a class action lawsuit alleging that they stole the Democratic Presidential nomination from Bernie Sanders. Some rather telling information came out, such as the fact that the DNC's legal representation said that the case should be thrown out on the grounds that “the Party has the freedom to determine its nominees by 'internal rule,' not voter interests, and thus the party 'could have favored a candidate.” This was later stated more explicitly:

“We could have voluntarily decided that, ‘Look, we’re gonna go into back rooms like they used to and smoke cigars and pick the candidate that way,’” Bruce Spiva, lawyer for the DNC, said during a court hearing in Carol Wilding, et al. v. DNC Services Corp. (emphasis added)

This is undeniable evidence that there are deep seated problems in the DNC, but there are further problems for the Democratic party itself: Russia.

Democrats seem to be obsessed with accusations of Russia-Trump collusion, such as with MSNBC host Rachel Maddow who spent the majority of her time earlier this year focusing on Russia or a recent protest that took place in which people demanded that Trump's ties to Russia be investigated. This line of thinking continues despite the fact that a number of high level individuals on their own team, such as Former Acting CIA Director Michael Morell, who stated that "On the question of the Trump campaign conspiring with the Russians here, there is smoke, but there is no fire, at all” and "There’s no little campfire, there’s no little candle, there’s no spark.” As well as Dianne Feinstein who had the following exchange with CNN's Wolf Blitzer:

WOLF BLITZER, CNN: The last time we spoke, Senator, I asked you if you had actually seen evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians, and you said to me -- and I am quoting you now -- you said, ‘not at this time.’ Has anything changed since we spoke last?

SEN. FEINSTEIN: Well, no -- no, it hasn't...

BLITZER: But, I just want to be precise, Senator. In all of the -- you have had access from the     Intelligence Committee, from the Judiciary Committee, all of the access you have had to very     sensitive information, so far you have not seen any evidence of collusion, is that right?

SEN. FEINSTEIN: Well, evidence that would establish that there's collusion. There are all kinds of rumors around, there are newspaper stories, but that's not necessarily evidence. (emphasis added)

There is such a dearth of evidence that mainstream organizations such as Bloomberg and even MSNBC's Chris Hayes are questioning that narrative.

While the Democratic Party is obsessed with thoughts of Russians, the Republicans are doing actual damage. Case in point: while everyone was obsessing over the recent Comey hearing, the Republicans went and gutted the Dodd Frank Act which “was designed to protect taxpayers by ending wholesale government bailouts of banks and non-bank financial institutions that encouraged indiscriminate lending.” Furthermore, the Democrats have also been on the side of Trump, with many Dems praising him for his airstrike on a Syrian government air base over a questionable chemical weapons attack. (This shouldn't be surprising given the fact that Hillary Clinton argued for a no fly zone over Syria, which could very well have caused a military engagement with Russia.)

So, why does any of this matter? It is important due to the fact that it shows that the Democrats are completely fine with and work to uphold the status quo. The same status quo that has led us to war and put us on the brink of war numerous times and have no problem with engaging in activities that could very well lead to a world war scenario. The support of the 'Resistance' for the Democrats is a serious problem as they are supporting a party that isn't going to actually do much of anything to combat the major problems that are facing us and in many cases have pushed to exacerbate them.

On a structural level, both parties are loyal to their corporate owners and push a foreign policy that seeks to confront any nation it sees as a threat to US hegemony, problems at home, potential for larger conflicts be damned.

The Resistance should seriously be pushing the Democrats to actually propose policies rather than obsessing over Russia and supporting war, for if not, they may find themselves 'resisting' for another four years.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Marxism, Psychiatry, and Capitalism

Marxism, Psychiatry, and Capitalism

This is the transcript of a recent email interview I did with Dr. Bruce M. Z. Cohen, senior lecturer at the University of Auckland and author of Psychiatric Hegemony: A Marxist Theory of Mental Illness (Palgrave Macmillan, 2016), where we discuss capitalism, psychiatry, and view psychiatry under a Marxist lens.

1. What made you want to apply a specifically Marxist view to psychiatry and psychology?​ Are you personally a Marxist and how did you come to be one?

That’s a good question. I didn’t expect to ever be writing such a book, but thanks to my students I realised that someone had to take responsibility for filling a current gap in the literature. I run a postgraduate course on the Sociology of Mental Health, in which my students complete project essays on topics of their own choosing. As it is a sociology course, they are obviously required to apply different theoretical approaches to their chosen issue. I always encourage the students to consider the wide range of theoretical approaches available to them including structural functionalism, labeling, social constructionism, Foucauldian, critical feminist and race theory, as well as Marxist scholarship. Regarding the later, my students complained that they couldn’t find anything much out there. As a lecturer, I am always a little skeptical of such claims, but –hats off to my students!– they were correct on this occasion. With all the literature on mental health and illness currently in circulation, I found it astounding that there was no standard Marxist account available. Hence, the main reason for writing Psychiatric Hegemony: A Marxist Theory of Mental Illness.

To answer the second part of your question, yes I am a Marxist! Though I grew up in a very conservative –large as well as small ‘c’– part of England in the 1980s, my parents were members of the CPGB (Communist Party of Great Britain). (In fact, my mother became the first communist parish councilor in the area, kicking out a Tory in the process). So I was politically conscious and politically active from a young age thanks to my family, imbued with a strong sense of social justice, and particularly incensed by Thatcher’s attacks on the trade unions and the working classes at the time (which most people in my area thought was just fantastic!). But I think being a sociologist has really made me a fully committed Marxist; whichever area you are studying or working in, be it religion, education, health, crime, the family, or whatever, it doesn’t take long to uncover evidence that the needs of capital determine the priorities of these institutions– they reproduce inequalities, oppress the majority of the population, and produce surplus value for a privileged minority. Is this a kind of society that, in good conscience, I or any sociologist can accept or support? Of course not! That’s why I’m a Marxist. Human beings can do better.   

2. Discuss the connection between psychiatry, psychology, education, and capitalism and how the former institutions have been influenced by the latter, historically speaking.

Following my point above, the mental health system (I use this as an umbrella term here to bring together psychiatry, psychology, and the various support professions and agencies working in the area of mental health including therapists, counselors, psychiatric nurses, and social workers) and the education system in their contemporary forms are both products of industrial capitalism. Briefly, compulsory schooling developed across western societies in the nineteenth century due to the needs of capital for higher skilled workers as well as to socially control working class youth (through, for example, socializing them into the norms and values of capitalism as the only “correct” way to think and understand the world). As I discuss in my book, the mental health system develops during the same period as another institution of social control: the asylums separate the able from the non-able bodied, it pathologises and confines problematic populations (primarily working class groups).

In neoliberal society, I argue that the connections between the mental health system and the education system (as well as many other areas of public and private life) have become much stronger and more explicit. For example, my socio-historical case study of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in the book demonstrates that the origins of the diagnosis began with psychologists’ concern for deviant working class youth who failed to “adapt” to the demands of compulsory schooling. A hundred years later, we can still see in the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) that the symptoms of ADHD have nothing to do with having a mental illness but rather denote the requirements for more productive and efficient students and workers (for instance, forgetting or losing homework, failing to complete assigned tasks, poor time-management, and so on). As the demands on young people to stay on at school and go further in education have increased, so we have seen an increase in mental health experts in this area, and thus the increasing medicalization of “at risk” (I would argue, non-conforming) children. The expansion in the use of diagnoses such as autism and “oppositional defiant disorder” by psychiatry can also be theorized as serving a similar purpose here.

3. In what way does capitalism utilize psychiatry and psychology to demonize and ridicule those who have politics that don't fit with the status quo? (This has been talked about somewhat before and I would be interested in hearing you expand upon it.)

I devote a chapter to this issue in my book, but to be honest I think a whole monograph is required on the subject. It’s a fascinating (and, as you do the research, shocking) issue. I can follow many other scholars by reiterating that the mental health system is highly effective in neutralizing threats through pathologising political and social dissent. I think it’s more effective than say the criminal justice system because the courts are usually questioning the legality of the person’s actions alone, rather than the rationality or sanity on those actions. Imprisonment of a protester, for instance, does not fundamentally undermine his or her actions or beliefs in the same way as being labeled as mentally sick does.

There are many examples of this process in operation. In the late nineteenth century, the suffragette movement was a frequent target for the “hysteria” label. During the civil rights movement in the US, there was a significant increase in the labeling of young Black men with “schizophrenia” (psychiatrists sometimes referred to this as “the protest psychosis”). Similarly, young African-Caribbean protesters in the deprived inner cities of 1980s Britain were theorized by psychiatrists as prone to “cannabis psychosis.” As I mention in the book, I think an increasingly popular diagnosis which the mental health system is utilizing to pathologize those involved in civil disobedience or political violence today is antisocial personality disorder (APD): post-9/11, you can see that psychiatry is taking a much greater interest in medicalising any behavior which breaks the legal or moral status quo within capitalist society, particularly acts which involve perceived or actual violence.

4. How is psychiatry not an actual science in some ways? May people assume it is just by virtue of its utilization of ‘experts’ and ‘quantitative studies’?
This is really at the heart of the matter. To be considered as a valid branch of medicine, psychiatry has to reach the medical “gold standard,” which is to observe and identify real pathology on the body. And, though they’re tried repeatedly to do this, so far psychiatry has failed in this fundamental goal. Most recently, for example, the American Psychiatric Association’s (APA) DSM committee (which was responsible for producing the DSM-5) came to the following conclusion: the causation of mental disease remains unknown (for example, there is no useful biological marker or genetic test that has been identified) and psychiatrists still cannot distinguish between mentally healthy and mentally sick people. And of course without accurate identification of disease, a medical discipline cannot claim proof of causation or evidence of successful treatment, and they certainly cannot predict future cases of that disease.

So, to answer your question, no psychiatry is not a valid medical science. However, I argue in the book that progressing knowledge on madness (if such a thing is even possible) was not the reason for the establishment of the psychiatric profession or the continuation and expansion of the mental health system today. Rather, it’s a discipline that has supported capitalism, both in the pursuit of surplus value as well as being an institution of ideological control, responsible for reinforcing the norms and values of this society and punishing deviations from them.

5. In what ways does this massive increase in the labeling of people having psychological disorders affect us on a personal, familial, and community level? How does this increase the alienation from ourselves and our larger communities that has been going on for some time now?

The biggest issue is that it individualizes what are fundamentally social and political issues in this society. This obviously suits capitalism, it follows a neoliberal ideology that you need to work on yourself and look nowhere else for solutions to your problems. As I argue in the book, this is why the psychiatric discourse has been allowed to become all-encompassing (effectively “hegemonic”) over the last few decades; it has become highly useful in de-politicizing the oppressive reality of our lives. The involvement of the mental health system here is only one factor in the bigger issue though, which is of course the way the neoliberal project has attempted to destroy the social and the collective.

6. What are the negative aspects of self-diagnosing and how does that reinforce the status quo?

As with Marx’s famous comments on religion as the opium of the people, I think we can understand self-labeling and people desiring to have such a label as a way of coping with the alienating tendencies of capitalism. It’s no solution to the fundamental issues they have, but it can be a means of survival and maybe a limited form of “emancipation” at times. For example, the parents of a child who is underperforming in school may desire a mental illness diagnosis so that they can claim extra funding for study assistance, or someone who doesn’t enjoy socializing in large groups may seek a psychiatric diagnosis so that they can legitimately take antidepressants which dull their inhibitions.

There are a number of significant problems with self-labeling: most obviously, you cannot solve the social and political problems of capitalism with a mental illness label or by being subjected to talk therapy, drugs, or electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). It can obviously be dangerous to your health (for example, long-term users of antidepressants tend to die at a considerably younger age than non-users), and it can be stigmatizing. Further, it falsely legitimates the mental health system as a valid medical enterprise.

7. How do you see the working class overcoming this system?

Ultimately it’s a case of abolishing the mental health system and all its supporting apparatus. As with the criminal justice system, this is not an institution that has ever functioned in the interests of the working classes. At the end of my book I suggest a few practical things that can be done immediately to challenge and weaken the power of the mental health experts, these include: campaigning to remove psychiatry’s compulsory powers to confine and drug people against their will, withdrawing their prescription rights, and outlawing ECT.  I also think it is crucial to form closer alliances between academics, left wing activists, community groups, and progressive psychiatric survivor organizations to build a strong abolitionist alliance against the psychiatric system.

8. Tell us about your upcoming book and where you and others argue that “the best form of treatment for mental disorder is no treatment at all, and the causation of mental illness itself has yet to be established.” It would be great to hear about those last two parts in-depth.

Well, I’ve hopefully addressed those two specific issues previously in this interview – what passes for “treatment” at the hands of the mental health system is, ironically, very bad for your physical and emotional health. Perhaps that is unsurprising given that mental disorders are fabrications produced by psychiatry without real evidence for their existence.

The Routledge International Handbook of Critical Mental Health (due out later this year) is an edited collection of original contributions from colleagues in the US, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada, which systematically problematizes the practices, priorities, and knowledge base of the western system of mental health. Basically, I have constructed a comprehensive resource manual which offers a variety of ways in which to theorize the business of mental health as a social, economic, political, and cultural project. So, for instance, the book provides updates on critical theories of mental health such as labeling, social constructionism, antipsychiatry, Foucauldian, Marxist, critical feminist, race and queer theory, critical realism, critical cultural theory, and mad studies. But it also demonstrates the application of such theoretical ideas and scholarship to key topics such as medicalization and pharmaceuticalisation, the DSM, global psychiatry, critical histories of mental health, and talk therapy. I’m very pleased at how it has turned out.

9. Is there a way to bring back a form of alternative psychiatry or psychology at all?

Some scholars are positive about the development of a post-revolutionary “Marxist psychology” or similar. I don’t think that’s possible, and I worry about giving these professions any sort of way out. My analysis points to these professions as agents of social control; they have always been responsible for policing the population not for emancipating them. So my answer to that question is an emphatic “no!"

Bruce M.Z. Cohen is a Senior Lecturer in Sociology at the University of Auckland, New Zealand. His other books include Mental Health User Narratives: New Perspectives on Illness and Recovery (Palgrave Macmillan, 2008) and Being Cultural (Pearson, 2012).