This is for the Guardian, NYT and the BBC: 1939 to 2018 By William Bowles

21 January 2018 — InvestigatingImperialism

Before I go any further with this let me state that I’m not a Trotskyist, or a Leninist, or a Stalinist or a Maoist (but I might have been all of the above, with exception of Maoist, at one time or another). However, I might be a Zapatista, at least in spirit, but I’m definitely a Socialist Revolutionary (or is that a Revolutionary Socialist?). I’m not sure if I’m a Marxist either, but I’m definitely an admirer of the old man, he was a great artist and thinker, and possibly, along with Charles Darwin, the greatest mind of the 19th century. Whatever you call it, we need a socialist revolution and we need one now, we are running out of time!

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The End of the road for capitalism or for us all? By William Bowles

13 January 2018 — InvestigatingImperialism

“…we have the certainty that matter remains eternally the same in all its transformations, that none of its attributes can ever be lost, and therefore, also, that with the same iron necessity that it will exterminate on the earth its highest creation, the thinking mind, it must somewhere else and at another time again produce it”. —
Frederick Engels, from the introduction to ‘The Dialectics of Nature’, 1883.

In 1945, following the second ‘war to end all wars’, or something like that, the people of Britain put their faith, at least temporally, in an alleged socialist, Labour government. A government that vowed that there would be no return to the ‘bad old days’ of prewar Britain. So we got the National Health Service, public housing, a nationalised transport system, even the canal network was nationalised (telecommunications was already a state-owned monopoly, the capitalists weren’t prepared to risk their capital in its development).

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Trashing the Planet for Profit By William Bowles

8 January 2018 — investigatingimperialism


Before I began this essay I read through some of my past forays that mentioned climate change and capitalism, the first I think, being in 2006 where I opined in a piece on the ‘War on Terror’:

Perhaps the impending climate catastrophe as well as the genocidal actions of the US will force us to finally start thinking and acting ‘outside of the box’ but without a clear idea of where we are heading or how to get there, currently the situation looks dire. — WOT is to be done?  2 November, 2006

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The Two-FacedBook By William Bowles

7 January 2018 — investigatingimperialism

At the end of the 1970s, when I first started using and investigating digital media, it quickly became apparent to me, that what became the World Wide Web, was very much a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it afforded independent journalists and investigators, a vehicle for reaching a public outside the control of corporate/state media and whose only parallel lay back in the 17th century, with the invention of the printing press and moveable type, broadsheets and later the so-called Penny Dreadfuls. Sold on street corners and in coffee houses, and produced in literally hundreds of small printing shops, they challenged the status quo in ways previously impossible. Often banned and their writers/publishers thrown in jail under the then new sedition laws, they heralded the arrival of modern capitalism.

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Capitalism: what a load of rubbish! By William Bowles

18 October 2011

Something has to be done about a world rapidly filling up with the (often poisonous) rubbish that capitalism produces in vast abundance. Rubbish that will be with us for hundreds, if not thousands of years. Even the middle of the Atlantic Ocean is carpeted with the stuff, mostly plastic waste of all kinds. Even the remotest corners of our once, largely pristine planet are now poisoned with the excreta of capitalism’s insane and so far, unstoppable and largely arbitrary productive capacity.

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Video review of ‘Plunder – the crime of our time’ By William Bowles

23 September, 2010

Review of Plunder – the crime of our time directed by Danny Schecter

The spirit of graft and lawlessness is the American Spirit. – Lincoln Steffens, The Shame of the Cities, 1902[1]

Capitalism – it’s a racket, literally:

“I’d like a fair shake at the American Dream” – foreclosure victim

This quote comes from near the beginning of Plunder – the crime of our time and illustrates one of the problems of dealing with the capitalist nightmare: everybody wants a piece of the action, even those who have lost everything they own believe incorrectly that everyone can share in the ‘American Dream’ if only they work hard enough. Worse, one victim of the sub-prime crisis even believes that it was his own fault!

Hedging your bets

Selling short, credit default swaps, credit derivatives, collateralized debt obligations (CDOs), mortgage backed securities…the same companies who created these exotic financial ‘instruments’ are also the same companies that profited from selling these worthless products to unsuspecting investors worldwide.

Even worse, these same companies, knowing that their ‘products’ were in fact worthless, actually bet on them being worthless! This is called hedging your bets, so they made money, trillions of dollars in fact out of betting against their own worthless bits of paper (actually nothing more than electrons).

“trading the paper…essentially creating liquid cash from nothing”

Plunder paints—after a couple of viewings—a very accurate picture of how the financialization of capitalism actually works. And this is part of the problem of getting the message across, it’s fiendishly complex, and this is also the problem with Plunder as I hope to show, crime though it may be, the criminal activities of the speculators are symptoms, not causes of a much deeper malaise that affects capitalism.

All those university trained whizzkids, the brightest of the bright, eager and hungry to succeed, were given free rein by their masters to dream up these complicated investment packages. So complicated in fact that even the bosses of companies such as Bear Stearns, Learmann Brothers, AIG, and the like, didn’t understand them either. But then they didn’t need to as long they worked, as long as they made a profit.

I have very mixed feelings about Plunder as Danny Schecter has decided to present the crisis of capital as a crime and Wall Street as the crime scene and investment brokers and hedge fund scam artists as the criminals. It’s a clever analogy but is it actually true? Is the crisis all down to a bunch of criminal fraudsters? Has there ever been a ‘free market’? Is not capitalism fraudulent by definition?

In 1929 the same scene unfolded, albeit using different ‘instruments’ (the computer didn’t exist in 1929, nor was the global circuit of capital up-to-speed). The crash resulted in the US government instituting some controls over how capitalism worked (largely because of the fear of a socialist revolution occurring).

And then, just as now, it was the banks that were at the centre of the crisis. One of the main reforms was to split off investment banking from retail banking as it was the banks, using depositors money, invested in all kinds of speculative schemes, that triggered the crisis. The deregulation that took place in the 1980-90s, reversed this, setting up the system for a fall all over again. Or is this really true? Is it lack of regulation or something systemic to capitalism itself, with or without regulation that is bound to happen? Crashes such as the current one have been occurring for hundreds of years with the same awful results.

It’s always happened this way and eventually it always pops” – Jim Rogers, George Soros’ hedge fund partner, talking about how financial speculation works.

“gambles on the market versus gambles in the market”

Jim Rogers knows of what he speaks. Rogers and Soros founded the very first hedge fund company, knowing full well that betting on the future ‘value’ of a share or securities package created money out of nothing. This is what hedge funds are all about. The creation of value is not predicated on the production of goods and services but on what a piece of paper will be worth in the future.

“$140 trillion of nothing”

There is no doubt in the minds of many who have actually tried to untangle the complex processes employed, that fraud has been and still is, being committed. Some, like Bernie Madoff whose multi-billion dollar Ponzi scheme finally unraveled, ended up in the slammer, but as Plunder points out, the federal oversight body charged with ‘regulating’ the financial sector (SEC), knew about Madoff’s fraud for at least ten years and did squat about it. And as one of the people in Schecter’s video points out, he only got thrown in jail because he’d ripped off the rich! The offending corporations that did get busted, got let off with fines, not even admitting to their criminal culpability. The ruling class looks after its own.

“$596 trillion, AIG’s total loan guarantees”

“$54 trillion, the world’s total gross national product”

The AIG figure needs some explaining: AIG was using investors’ money to guarantee loans made to all those fraudulent hedge funds on the basis that the investments were solid. Money would be made, and for a while money was made until the banks, pension funds etc who had bought the fraudulent financial ‘instruments’ realized they’d bought trillions of dollars of toxic debt, at which point the bottom fell out of the market and AIG was broke.

Insider trading and betting on ‘shorts’ (that a share price will fall) are intrinsic to the way the stock market works and insider trading especially, is impossible to stop no matter what regulations are in place as it’s extremely difficult to prove that an individual had inside information on a company’s activities except in rare cases.

“Criminal prosecutions over insider dealing have had an unhappy history in the UK. The Serious Fraud Office and the Department of Trade and Industry were involved in a series of flawed cases until the responsibility for prosecuting was handed to the FSA in 2001. But the City regulator has fared little better, mounting just one case in almost eight years. That ended earlier this month in the first conviction for Ms Cole and her team.” — ‘Net tightens on insider trading‘, The Independent, 6 April, 2010

And this is the one problem I have with Plunder. It accurately explains what triggered the current crisis and documents the awful consequences for millions of people around the world but ultimately it implies that had capitalism been properly regulated, the crisis would not have occurred.

However, buried in the movie are inklings of what really happened and the causes and herein lies the one, crucial weakness of the movie namely, unpacking why exactly, capital instead of investing in real products and services ‘chose’ instead to bank on financial speculation in all its weird and wonderful forms in order to maintain the level of profit.

Financialization of capitalism

Capital needs to keep on reproducing itself either through finding new markets or through keeping down the cost of wages (or both), hence the relocation of manufacturing to cheap labour areas such as China.

By the time Reagan had been elected at the beginning of the 1980s, the ‘neo-liberal’ agenda was well underway and the process of deindustrializing the economy was established.


Accompanying this was the (fortuitous?) arrival of the IT revolution that enabled the true, real-time globalization of the financial sector, that along with its deregulation created exactly the right conditions for the invention of the above-mentioned financial ‘instruments’, all of which are based on the invention of wealth but without adding any real value to the economy. Trillions sucked out of the real economy and transferred to hedge funds, private equity companies and the results are all around us: massive unemployment, collapse of entire sectors of the real economy.

The paradox is surely obvious: as capital fled into the fantasy world of speculation, the entire basis of the economy that produced the capital in the first place, collapsed. Without consumption, fueled not only by credit but by the incomes from (the now non-existent) jobs, the real economy collapses. It’s so obvious that it’s inconceivable that the ‘experts’ were not aware of the consequences and undoubtedly they were aware as the comments by Jim Rogers above illustrates.

The question to ask of Plunder is: without recognizing the fundamental contradictions of capitalism, that regardless of whatever ‘safeguards’ are put in place, or removed for that matter, does Plunder convince viewers that capitalism is a broke-down system that needs to be replaced?

Watch the trailer for the movie here.


1. For an historical overview of capitalism as organized crime see my review, ‘Gangster Capitalism – The United States and the Global rise of Organized Crime‘ by Michael Woodiwiss.

Danny Schecter, Editor,
Author, The Crime of Our Time
Globalvision PO Box 677 NY NY 10035

Keynes with a neo-liberal twist? By William Bowles

10 November 2008

dollars“Just imagine saying, “production for use leads to stagnation; production for death leads to exchange value and profits.” Now don’t jump on me! Wait, I have to go into capital expansion and its being “the breath of capitalism” and, as yet, no forseeable future opportunities for capital reproduction to the magnitude needed for its expansion.”

The above excerpt from a short note from my compadre Patricia in the am triggered a thought about how the state, at least in the UK and in much of the EU, has reacted to the latest, and undoubtedly the worst crisis capital has yet faced. For unlike earlier crises, especially those of the 1970s which presaged the so-called neo-liberal revolution, the nature of Britain’s working class has undergone a profound transformation (along with other ‘advanced’ economies). And, at the risk of repeating myself, or anyway repeating the quote I’ve used before, I think it speaks reams about the real fear the ruling political class feels about the current situation.

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Does a leopard change its spots? By William Bowles

7 November 2008

black-pantherWell, miracles of miracles Obama has made it through thus far. And given just how reviled the Cheney/Bush pirates are by more than half the population, the deep sense of relief is palpable and not just in the US:

“Hello history (to use the word of the times). What a staggering and indescribable moment this is. Barack Obama’s graceful acceptance of what had seemed both inevitable and impossible is up there equalling any political event since the downing of the Berlin Wall and the release of Nelson Mandela.” — Channel 4 News Email, 5 November, 2008

And such adulation is not confined to the corporate media:

“The changes will spread through American life in ways we cannot yet fully imagine. Let us congratulate ourselves on being alive at such a promising moment.” — William Greider, the Nation, ‘President Obama: This Proud Moment’

“From this day forward, politics, politicians and the people they serve will never be the same.” — Ron Fournier, Yahoo News, ‘Obama’s transcendence is beyond race’

But before we get completely carried away with the euphoria of the moment let us not forget what we’re talking about here, hence the comparisons with Mandela frankly makes my blood boil, especially as in the fourteen years since the democratic election in South Africa took place (something I participated in directly working for the ANC), Black South Africans are actually materially worse off now than they were under Apartheid, thus the vote per se is no measure of real democracy nor of real change. Under the ANC’s neo-liberal programme aka ‘New Labour’ over one million people have been made unemployed and the promises of the ‘revolution’ have not materialized for the Black masses.

Understandably of course, the corporate/state media have picked up on the comparisons with Mandela, and herein lies the danger of getting carried away by the moment. But does a leopard change its spots?

I have been reading some very stimulating essays on Black Agenda Report as well as the responses to them, I recommend them to you as between them (and others) they deal with the complex and not the least emotional state that many Americans (both black and white) are in as a result of Obama’s success.[1]

Thus enjoy it while you can as very soon (if not already) the reality of Obama as president of a totally unreconstructed USA will become apparent. And the signs are all there, as his appointment of Rahm Israel Emanuel as his White House chief of staff (see ‘Obama picks pro-Israel hardliner’ for top post as White House chief of staff indicates. This is the man who is effectively Obama’s ‘gatekeeper’, and along with David Axelrod, they will control what Obama gets to read and who he gets to talk to.

As I have mentioned before, picking Obama was a stroke of genius on the part of the ruling elite, though obviously it was not without its detractors nor its dangers given the role of racism in shaping people’s perceptions. But with the assistance of the corporate media (and helped by the Republicans when they chose Palin) the deal has been done. The ‘break’ with the past has been made.

“We have learned that even in failure and collapse, the Lords of Capital are smart enough to know they desperately need a new face, and are willing to bankroll the Black man who can provide it. During this election cycle we learned that capital can switch its party allegiances in an instant, first vetting and then jump-starting the Black candidate who would become the biggest campaign spender in U.S. election history, by far. In 2008, the Democrats became the party of Big Capital, whose choice was Barack Obama. We have learned that capital is never blind to color, when it can be used to capital’s advantage.” — ‘Glen Ford: The Obama ‘08 Phenomenon: What Have We Learned?’

The question of course is, will it work? How long can the pretence be maintained before the tens of millions of voters realize that they have been royally duped? Or, just as with the Bush regime, will the corporate press continue to peddle its lies about the real causes of the crisis and the role of US capital in its cause?

All the indications are that the Obama presidency will differ only in presentation from that of Bush and crucially, electing Obama will not affect the deep economic crisis confronting the capitalist world. A crisis that has now caught up with all those futures and derivatives traders with losses now estimated in the billions if not eventually trillions of dollars:

“NEW YORK (Reuters) – While September was brutal for hedge funds, October was even worse. Hedge funds themselves do not announce their results, but three industry trackers — Barclay Hedge, Hedge Fund Research Inc and Hennessee Group LLC — will disclose over the next few days just how poorly the $1.9 trillion (1.2 trillion pound) industry performed last month.” — ‘Hedge fund results could go from bad to worse’, Reuters, 7 November, 2008

Goldman Sachs for example has lost around $1 billion out of $7 billion invested since January 2008 due to “bad bets on commodities, metals, energy and agriculture” (ibid)

And what holds for Goldman Sachs is true for virtually all the hedge fund and derivatives traders with some announcing even bigger losses.

So how should we respond to the election of Barack Obama? How do you convince the millions of Americans who have pinned their hopes on the election of Barack Obama that it represents a return to no more than (hopefully) business as usual?

The short answer is that we should respond to Obama in exactly the same way we should have responded to Bush, that is to say through mobilization and now even more so given that he was elected on a platform of “change” (without ever defining what this change consisted of).

But instead of mobilizing behind a programme of real change, we allowed the ruling elite to mobilize us on their behalf!

I think Glen Ford over at BAR put it best and thus the last word belongs to him:

“We have learned that this generation will have to learn from damn near scratch what a real social movement looks like – which will be doubly hard, since they have been misled to believe that this year’s frenzied electioneering was actually a ‘movement.’ Now it is over, and one Black man is moving – into the White House, having never promised his Black supporters a single thing of significance. But of course, hardly anyone Black made any demands of Obama.”


1. ‘Ishmael Reed: Morning in Obamerica: Change, Change, Change?’ and,

‘Bruce Dixon: Cashing the Obama Check: Will It Come Back Marked “Insufficient Funds”?’

See also,

‘The Wolf Report: An Event of Immense Significance’

Larry Pinkney: ‘An Obama Presidency: More of the Same – Only Worse (Part 1) Keeping it Real’

‘A Paradigm Shift In America’s Intellectual Community By Pablo Ouziel’

Let us speculate By William Bowles

28 October 2008

There’s an awful lot of speculation going on right now, from both the left and right about where the latest crisis of capital is headed, chief amongst them is the notion that this signals the end of the US Empire, that the so-called uni-polar world is over, that a new multi-polar world, headed by China, Russia, India and Brazil is emerging.

The theory is based upon the fact that the US is no longer the world’s numero uno economic power and it’s true that even an overwhelming military force is dependent on the economics that fuels it. But how true is this idea and even if it is true, over what timescale are we talking about here?

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How about socialism for the rest of us By William Bowles

15 October 2008

“Come back Michael Foot, all is forgiven, could be the cry from the (old) Left as – who’d have thought it – the British state seizes the Queen’s overdraft or the state seizes the Queen’s bank account… (yes, Coutts bank, her bank, is part of RBS)” — Channel 4 News Email, 13 October, 2008

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