Saturday, July 14, 2012


To me the answer to the question "is it possible to be a communist without Marx" is obvious.  Not possible, no way, no how, not really.  I guess, in fact I know, there are people out there who say it is, but I ain't buying.  We aren't talking primitive times and primitive societies here.  Anyway, what follows below is from Antonio Negri and comes to us from the web site known appropriately as Negri In English  and is Scission's Theoretical Weekends presentation.

PS:  I had to go through and create the paragraphs because of the way the paper was laid out.  I may have messed up somewhere, but I am sure you will forgive me.

Is It Possible to Be Communist Without Marx?
Antonio Negri

Abstract: This paper explores the question of whether it is possible to be communist without Marx. This entails encountering the ontological dimension of communism, that is, the material tenor of this ontology, its residual effectiveness, the desire of human beings to go beyond capital, and the reality of the episode of statism.

Is it possible to be communist without Marx? Obviously. Notwithstand- ing I often find myself discussing this issue with comrades and subversive intellectuals from other traditions. This is the case above all in France – and the following considerations essentially concern the situation there. I must nevertheless admit that this discussion often ends up boring me a little. It refers to so many diverse orientations and contradictions, which are rarely pushed to the point at which they could be checked against verifications or experimental solutions. It often remains at the level of rhetorical confronta- tions that approach practical politics only in the abstract.

The Ontological Construction of the Common

It is true that one sometimes comes face to face with interlocutors that exclude radically the possibility of declaring oneself communist if one is Marxist. Recently, for example, an important scholar – who once, however, developed “Maoist” hypotheses that could not have been more radical – said to me that if we stuck to revolutionary Marxism, which anticipated the “withering away”, or “extinction”, of the state after the proletariat had conquered power (and it is clear that this did not eventuate), then nobody today could declare themselves to be “communist”. I objected that this amounted to saying that Christianity is false because the Last Judgement
did not come about “near in time”, as was announced in the Apocalypse of Saint John, and because we have still not seen the “resurrection of the dead”. And I added that, in the era of disenchantment, the coming end of this world, for the Christians, and the crisis of socialist eschatology both seemed, in their ambiguity, to be in the same pretty pass, or better, prey to epistemological injunctions of the same order – and yet these injunctions are completely false. And if communism is also false, it is certainly not because its eschatological hope was not fulfilled: I do not mean that this hope was not actually entailed in the premises of communism, but simply that so many Marxian communist prophecies (or better: theoretical apparatuses) did in fact bear out that today it is impossible, without Marx, to confront the problem of fighting against the slavery of capital. And it is no doubt for this reason that we ought to go back from Christianity to Christ and from communism to Marx.

So? The withering away of the State did not come to pass. In Russia and in China, the State became all-powerful and the common was organized (and falsified) in the forms of the public: statism thus won out and, under this hegemony, what was imposed was not the common, but a sovereignly centralized bureaucratic capitalism. It seems to me, however, that through the great communist revolutionary experiences of the twentieth century, the ideas of an “absolute democracy” and of a “common” for all humans demonstrated its possibility. I understand “absolute democracy” here as a political project that is built beyond the “relative” democracy of the liberal State, and therefore as the sign of a radical revolution against the state, as a practice of resistance and of construction of the “common” against the “public”, and as a refusal of the existing that signals the constitutive power exercised by the class of exploited workers.

Here is where the difference comes in. Whatever the conclusion may have been, communism – the one that found its support in the Marxist hypoth- esis – was put to the test (even though it nonetheless did not succeed) with a set of practices that were by no means purely aleatory, or transitory. For the practices at issue were ontological ones. Asking the question of whether it is possible to be communist without being Marxist means, in the first place, encountering the ontological dimension of communism, which is to say, the material tenor of this ontology, its residual effectiveness, and the irreversibility of this episode in the reality and the desire of human beings. Communism, Marx taught us, is a construction, an ontology; that is to say, it is the construction of a new society on the basis of productive man, or the collective worker, through an action (agir) which proves effective insofar as it is oriented toward the enlargement of being.

The process of construction came about in a chance-ridden way, and the experience of enlargement was partially realized. That it was defeated does not mean that it is now impossible: on the contrary, the facts show that it is possible. Millions of men and women acted and thought, worked and lived within this possibility. Nobody denies that the era of “real socialism” gave rise to, and was traversed by, horrible excesses. But did they occur to such an extent that they determined a cancelling out of this hope, of this enlargement of being, which was built by realizing the possible and through the power of the revolutionary event? If things had actually happened that way, if the predominant result of the negative, which so terribly marred the course of “real socialism”, had been the destruction of being, the experience of communism would have vanished into thin air, been dispersed into noth- ingness. But this is not what occurred. The project of “absolute democracy” and the reference to a construction of the “common” have retained their appeal and remain intact in our desire and our will. Does this permanence, this materialism of desire, not provide the proof of the validity of Marx’s thought? Is it not therefore difficult, indeed impossible, to be Marxist with- out Marx?

To the objection of statism, which, it is alleged, necessarily derives from Marxist practices, we must therefore respond by rearticulating our analysis. We must, that is, assume that the accumulation of being, the advances made towards “absolute democracy”, and the affirmation of freedom and equality, continually traverse and endure blockages, interruptions and catastrophes, but also that this accumulation is stronger than the destructive moments that it may come up against. Such a process has nothing finalist, nothing teleological about it; it has nothing to do with a philosophy of history – nothing of any of that. This accumulation of being, which, assuredly, lives only through the historical course of events, nevertheless is not to be taken as destiny or providence, since it is the result, the intersection, of the thousands and thousands of practices and wills, of transformations and metamorphoses that have constituted subjects. This history – or series of accumulations – is the product of concrete singularities (which history shows us in action) and of productions of subjectivity. We assume them and we describe them a posteriori. In the history that we recount nothing is necessary, all is contin- gent, but all is concluded; all is random but also accomplished. Nihil factum infectum fieri potest: would there be no philosophy of history wherever “the living” desired merely to continue to live, and for this reason expressed, from below, an intentional teleology of life? The “will to live” does not resolve the problems and the difficulties of “living”, but it is presented to us in desire as urgency and power of constitution of world. If there are discontinuities, or ruptures, then they are revealed within the historical continuity – which is always made of rendings, never of progressions, but nor is it globally, onto- logically catastrophic. Being can never be totally destroyed.

Another issue: this accumulation of being builds the common. The com- mon is not a necessary finality; instead, it constitutes an increase of being, because man desires multiplicity, to establish relations, to be a multitude – unable to tolerate being alone, he suffers, above all, from solitude. In the second place, this accumulation of being should not be taken either as an identity, or as an origin: it is itself a product of diversity, of agreements/ contrasts between singularities, the fruit of encounters and confrontations. It is important to underscore here that the common does not present itself as a universal. It can contain and express a universal, but cannot be reduced to one, as it is vaster and more dynamic temporally. The universal is stated of each individual and of everyone together. However, the concept of a self- subsistent individual is contradictory. There are no individualities; there is only a relation of singularities. The common rearranges the set of singulari- ties. Herein the difference between the common and the universal is abso- lutely central: Spinoza defined it when he contrasted the generic vacuity of the universal and the inconsistency of the individual with the concrete determination of “common notions”. The universal is something that each subject can think in isolation, in solitude; the common, in contrast, is some- thing that each singularity can construct, ontologically, based on the fact that everyone is multiple but concretely determined in the multiplicity, in the common relation. The universal is said of the multiple, whereas the common is determined, is constructed through the multiple, and is thereby specified. Universality considers the common as an abstract and immobilizes it in the historical flow; while the common uproots universality from immobility and repetition, and, on the contrary, constructs it in its concreteness.

But all this presupposes ontology. Here, then, is where communism needs Marx – to establish itself in the common, in ontology. And vice versa. With- out an historical ontology, there is no communism.

Militant Apparatuses and History

Can you be a communist without being a Marxist? In contrast to French “Maoism”, which never frequented Marx (we will come back to this point), Deleuze and Guattari, for example, were communists without being Marx- ists, but they were so in an extremely effective manner, to the point that one could speak of Deleuze, in punctuo mortis, as the author of a book titled The Grandeur of Marx. Deleuze and Guattari constructed the common through collective assemblages and with a methodological materialism. This brought
them close to Marxism, but held them at a distance from classical social- ism, and from absolutely every organic ideal of socialism and/or statist ideal of communism. Deleuze and Guattari, of course, still proclaimed to be communists. Why? Because, without being Marxists, they were involved in movements of thought that opened continually onto practice, onto a com- munist militancy. In particular, their materialism was ontological, and their communism was developed through the thousand plateaus of transformative practice. What they lacked was history, positive history, which is so often useful in the production and intelligence of the dynamics of subjectivity (which is an apparatus that, with Foucault, ultimately becomes reintegrated into critical ontology). Sometimes such a history happens, of course, to con- sist in positivist historiography, but it can also be inscribed within a mate- rialist methodology, without the chronological airs and excessive insistence on events typical of Historismus. I insist on the complementarity between materialism and ontology. This is because history – which, from the perspec- tive of classical idealism as much as from that of positivism, was, it must be said, carried over from philosophy, before being diverted towards political or ethical figures that denied the dimension of ontology – can, on the other hand, sometimes be tacitly, but effectively, taken on. This is the case when the apparatuses comprising ontology are particularly strong, as could be seen with Deleuze-Guattari. In reality, it must not be forgotten that Marxism does not live on science alone: the experiences it accrues are developed “in situation”, and it is often made manifest through militant operations.

Things transpire wholly differently when, for example, we bring our prob- lem (communism/Marxism, history/ontology) to bear against the numerous variants of utopian socialism, and, above all, against that of the “Maoist” deviation. In the French experience of “Maoism”, we witnessed the spread- ing of a sort of “hatred of history”, which – and this was its terrible defi- ciency – betrayed an extreme malaise whenever it came to defining political objectives. In that way, in fact, by evacuating history, it evacuated not only Marxism, but also politics. Paradoxically, here there was a repeat, in an inverted sense, of something that occurred in France when Marc Bloch and Lucien Febvre founded the Annales school: in the latter instance, Marxism was introduced into philosophical discussion through historiography. And historiography became political.

Things occurred in a similar way for utopian socialism: we must admit that in many of its experiences (outside of its Maoist variants) it actually pro- posed materialist connections between ontology and history – not always, but often. To keep to the French experience, we need think here only of the formidable contribution made by Henri Lefebvre. The point, then, is to understand if, and to what degree, there sometimes emerge, from this set of
diverse positionings, stances that – in the name of the universality of the pro- posed political project – are opposed to ontological praxis. That is, stances which, for example, either deny the historicity of categories like “original accumulation” and, as a result, endorse a hypothesis of communism as some pure, immediate restoration of the commons; or else devalue the produc- tive metamorphoses that configure, variably, the “technical composition” of labour power – which comprises the real materialist production of subjectiv- ity in connection with the relations of production and the productive forces – only to return, radically, the origin of communist protestation to human nature (always equal, sub formae arithmeticae), etc. Such obviously amounts to the ambiguous reissuing of idealism in its transcendental figure.

With Jacques Rancière, for example, we have recently seen a pronounced emphasis placed on apparatuses that negate every ontological relation between historical materialism and communism. In fact, his research devel- ops perspectives for worker emancipation in terms of the authenticity of consciousness, and, as a result, it upholds subjectivity in individualistic terms, thus barring, prior even to getting started, any possibility of designating as common the production of subjectivity. In addition, emancipatory action is here untied from any historical determination and proclaims its inde- pendence from concrete temporality: for Rancière, politics is a paradoxical action which unties the subject from participation in history, society, and institutions, even though in reality, it is not possible to say anything about the political subject without this participation (an inherence that can be radically contradictory). The movement of emancipation – “politics” – is thus stripped of its antagonistic character, not in the abstract but on the concrete terrain of struggles. The determinations of exploitation also become invisible and, simultaneously, the accumulation of enemy power – of the “police” (always present in an indeterminate figure, not quantitate signata) – ceases to be a problem. When the discourse of emancipation is not based on ontology, it becomes a utopia, an individual dream, and leaves the state of things intact.

Here we come to the heart of things, to the point at which one wonders whether, since 1968, there has been, in France, any communism linked to Marxism. There certainly has been (and still is) in the two variants of Stalin- ismandTrotskyism,butthehistorytheytakepartinisaremoteandesoteric one. When, in contrast, we come to the philosophy of 1968, the refusal of Marxism is radical. We are thinking essentially of Badiou’s positions, which have come to enjoy a certain popularity.

A brief point: when, after having taken part in a joint reading of Das Kapital, Rancière, in the immediate proximity of 1968, went on to develop a blistering critique of Althusser’s positions, he was fully right to show that
the critique of humanist Marxism (which, in Althusser, only opened up after 1968 onto a critique of Stalinism, and thus occurred with some delay!) contained not only the same intellectualist presuppositions wielded by the “man of the party” but also the structuralist abstraction of “the process with- out subject”. But from Rancière’s viewpoint should one not be levelling the same critique against Badiou? For Badiou, too, the independence of reason is alone that which, in reality, constitutes the guarantee of truth, and the coherence of ideological autonomy – and it is only under these conditions that the definition of communism is determined. “Is this not”, ask Deleuze and Guattari, “the return, under the guise of the multiple, to an old concep- tion of higher philosophy?”1 It is therefore difficult to understand in what, for Badiou, the ontological conditions of a subject and the revolutionary rupture actually inhere. For him, in reality, every mass movement is a petit- bourgeois performance, every immediate struggle of material or cognitive work, of class or of “social work”, is something that will never ever impact upon the substance of power. No enlargement of the collective capacity of production of proletarian subjects will ever amount to anything other than an enlargement of their subjection to the logic of the system. And, so, the object will never eventuate, and the subject will remain indefinable – that is, unless it is produced by theory, unless it is disciplined, unless it is adjusted to truth and made worthy of the event...beyond political practice, beyond history. Here, however, we have only scratched the surface of what Badiou’s thought holds for us: for him, even if attributed a power of subversion by theory and militant experience, every specifically determined context of struggle seems a pure dreamlike hallucination. To insist, for example, on “constitutive power” would be, for Badiou, to dream of the transformation of an imaginary “natural right” into a revolutionary political power. Only an “event” can save us: an event which remains outside of all subjective exis- tence able to determine it and outside of any strategic pragmatics that might constitute its operation. For Badiou, the event (Christ’s crucifixion and res- urrection, the French Revolution, The Chinese Cultural Revolution, etc.) is always defined a posteriori, and therefore constitutes a presupposition and not a product of history. As a result, paradoxically, the revolutionary event exists without Jesus, without Robespierre, without Mao. But, in the absence of an internal logic of evental production, how will one ever be able to dis- tinguish the event from an article of faith? Badiou, in reality, limits himself to repeating the mystical affirmation that the tradition attributes to Tertul- lian: “Credo quia absurdum” – I believe because it is absurd. Here, ontology
is completely brushed aside. And communist reasoning is reduced to a rush of madness or a business of the spirit. In a nutshell, for Badiou, in the words of Deleuze-Guattari, “the event itself appears (or disappears), less as a sin- gularity than as a separated aleatory point that is added or subtracted from the site, within the transcendence of the void or the truth as void, without it being possible to decide on the adherence of the event to the situation in which it finds its site (the undecidable). On the other hand, perhaps there is an intervention like a dice throw on the site that qualifies the event and makes it enter into the situation, a power of ‘making’ the event”.

The presuppositions behind these theoretical positions (which, however, set out from an assumed and shared critique of past revolutionary prac- tices) can now be better understood. In fact, the point, in the first place, was to get rid of all references to the history of a “real socialism”, a social- ism that, of course, had been defeated, but that was ever full of dogmatic premises and continued to have an organic predisposition to betrayal. In the second place, the point was to avoid establishing any relation between the dynamics of subversive movements and the contents and institutions of capitalist development. The union tradition proposed the performing of just such juggling acts (inside/against), and this undoubtedly brought about the corruption of revolutionary desire and the illusion of those in struggle. But to conclude from these – perfectly justified – critical objectives that every political attempt – tactical or strategic – to reconstruct a communist practice, with all the efforts that it involves, is foreign to perspectives for liberation; that no constitutive project can be formed, nor any transforma- tive foothold found in the immediately antagonistic and material dimension of struggles; that any attempt to account for current forms of domination, no matter how any such attempt develops, will be ultimately subordinated to, and absorbed by, capitalist command; and, lastly, that any references to struggles internal to the bio-political tissue, and therefore to struggles that consider the structures of Welfare from a materialist perspective, represent no more than some vitalist revival – well, all these conclusions can have only one meaning, and that is the negation of class struggle. In addition, accord- ing to Badiouian “extremism”, the communist project can be carried out in a privative manner only, inside forms that consist in subtracting themselves from power, and the new community produced only by those without com- munity (as Rancière also maintains). What is shocking about this project is the Jansenist purity that it manifests. Insofar as it considers that every form of intelligence produced in the concrete history of humans can be returned to the logic of the system of capitalist production, then, having been so extensively depreciated all forms of collective intelligence, nothing more can be done. Or, better put, we are simply left to reaffirm the observation
made above: namely, that the materialist pragmatics that Machiavelli and Nietzsche, Spinoza and Deleuze taught us – that is, a movement which holds exclusively for itself; a work which refers back only to its own power; an immanence which is concentrated on action and on the act of production of being – is in any case more communist than any utopia that entertains a schizoid relation with history and formal uncertainties with ontology.

We, therefore, do not believe that it is possible to speak about com- munism without Marx. Of course, communism is to be profoundly and radically re-read and renewed. But this creative transformation of historical materialism can also be undertaken using indications developed by Marx, as well as by enriching it with those deriving from “alternative” strands of modern thought, from Machiavelli to Spinoza, from Nietzsche to Deleuze- Foucault. If Marx studied the laws of movement of capitalist society, at stake today is to study the laws of working-class labour – better still, of social activity as a whole – as well as of the production of subjectivity in the framework of society’s subsumption under capital and of the immanence of resistance to the global horizon of exploitation. Today, it is not enough to study the laws of capital, we must work at expressing the power of rebellion of workers – and to do so from all sides. Still following in Marx’s footsteps, what interests us is work not as object but as activity; not as value itself but as the living emergence of value. In contrast to capital, in which the general wealth exists objectively, as reality, work is the general wealth as possibility and is confirmed, as such, in activity. It is therefore by no means contradic- tory to maintain that “labour is absolute poverty as object, on one side, and is, on the other, the general possibility of wealth as subject and as activity”.2 But how do we proceed in order to grasp work in this way, that is, not as a sociological object, but as a political subject? Such is the problem, the object of inquiry. It is only by resolving this problem that we will be able to speak of communism – and if necessary (and it nearly always is) by getting one’s hands dirty. All the rest is intellectualist chatter.

Antonio Negri is the author of many publications including Empire, with Michael Hardt (2000); Time for Revolution (2003); Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire, with Michael Hardt (2004); Subversive Spinoza: (Un)Contemporary Variations (2004); Political Descartes: Reason, Ideology and the Bourgeois Project (2007); Goodbye Mr. Socialism, Antonio Negri in Conversation with Raf Valvola Scelsi (2008); The Por- celain Workshop: For a New Grammar of Politics (2008); In Praise of the Common, with Cesare Casarino (2009); Insurgencies: Constituent Power and the Modern State (2009); Commonwealth, with Michael Hardt (2009); The Labor of Job: The Biblical Text as a Parable of Human Labor (2009).
2. K. Marx, Grundrisse: Foundations of the Critique of Political Economy, M. Nicolaus (trans., and Foreword) (London and New York: Penguin Books, 1993), 296.

Deleuze, G. and F. Guattari. 1994. What is Philosophy? H. Tomlinson and G. Burchell (trans.), New York: Columbia University Press.
Marx, K. 1993. Grundrisse: Foundations of the Critique of Political Economy. M. Nicolaus (trans. and Introduction). London and New York: Penguin Books.

Thursday, July 12, 2012


I think it probably best that I not sit around and mull over my problems, and more importantly those of my doggie.  I think it is best that I try my best to just move on as normal. So Scission will be here some days, and some days not so much.

 Anyway, you should know that Whitney is sleeping right here next to me now.

Black Lung Disease.  Weren't we sort of done with all that.

Apparently not.

A primer: 

"Black lung diseaseis simply a common name used to describe any lung disease that can be contracted by inhaling coal dust.  The name is derived from the appearance of a person’s lungs, which normally appear to be pink.  There are two types of black lung disease, also known as coal workers’ pneumoconiosis: coal workers’ pneumoconiosis (CWP or the “simple” form); and progressive massive fibrosis (PMF or the “complicated” form)."

The UMW tells us:

Late in 1968, a number of miners organized the West Virginia Black Lung Association, which successfully led a campaign to introduce a bill in the 1969 session of the West Virginia legislature making coal workers' pneumoconiosis a compensable disease. The compensation bill was quickly made a major issue by the Black Lung Association and militant miners in February when the legislation ran into opposition from the coal-operator-dominated legislature. Most of the 40,000 miners in West Virginia walked out of the mines, and a large number of them marched on the state capitol in Charleston demanding passage of the bill. Three weeks later, after the Governor signed the bill, the miners went back to work. This was one of the largest and longest strikes ever on the single issue of occupational health. This strike played a vital role in the ultimate passage of similar legislation in three more states in 1969 and one in 1971, and the enactment of the Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act of 1969.

These laws and new regulations (and other similar to them)  were supposed to, if not eliminate Black Lung, at least greatly reduce the incidence of the capitalist produced disease primarily afflicting coal miners.  It seems that isn't the case at all.

It should be pointed out that the once powerful United Mine Workers now represents less then 25% of mine workers.  With the UMW greatly weakened and with jobs scarce, the companies have returned to take on environmental and health activists with the old stand bys that such regulations are costly, hurtful, and are already sufficient.  Workers desperate for jobs have offered little resistance in some instances to the Coal industries attack upon their very lives.  They need the work.  They live under capitalism.  They have to sell their labor.  Workers are thus too often pitted against their allies...and stand with their enemy.

Surface mining is little better then any other type.  Need we here  mention the horror known as Mountain Top Removal.  Yes, we need.  Writes the New York Times, just the other day:

According to several recent studies, people living near surface mining sites have a 50 percent greater risk of fatal cancer and a 42 percent greater risk of birth defects than the general population.

Despite the evidence, the coal industry and its allies in Washington have persuaded the majority of their constituents to ignore such environmental consequences, recasting mountaintop removal as an economic boon for the region, a powerful job creator in a time of national employment distress.

Of course, since mountaintop removal is heavily mechanized, the coal industry is the real job killer — and, until recently, miners would have been suspicious of any claim to the contrary. For decades the companies had fought the miners’ efforts to unionize, resulting in violent strikes.

 Like all occupational related diseases this disease could be brought to bay, but it just seems the masters of global capital and the mining industry aren't really all that concerned.  Why should they be?  They don't work around coal dust.

The following comes from IWatch and contains lots of information and lots of links to keep you busy for a while and to make you a little sick at your stomach and very, very pissed off.

Black lung surges back in coal country 

PRESTONSBURG, Ky. — Ray Marcum bears the marks of a bygone era of coal mining. At 83, his voice is raspy, his eastern Kentucky accent thick and his forearms leathery. A black pouch of Stoker’s 24C chewing tobacco pokes out of the back pocket of his jeans. “I started chewing in the mines to keep the coal dust out of my mouth,” he says.
Plenty of that dust still found its way to his lungs. For the past 30 years, he’s gotten a monthly check to compensate him for the disease that steals his breath — the old bane of miners known as black lung.
In mid-century, when Marcum worked, dust filled the mines, largely uncontrolled. Almost half of miners who worked at least 25 years contracted the disease. Amid strikes throughout the West Virginia coalfields, Congress made a promise [3] in 1969: Mining companies would have to keep dust levels down, and black lung would be virtually eradicated.
Marcum doesn’t have to look far to see that hasn’t happened. There’s his middle son, Donald, who skipped his senior year of high school to enter the mines here near the West Virginia border. At 51, he’s had eight pieces of his lungs removed, and he sometimes has trouble making it through a prayer when he’s filling in as a preacher at Solid Rock Baptist Church.
There’s James, the youngest, who passed on college to enter the mines. At 50, his ability to breathe is rapidly declining, and his doctor has already discussed hooking him up to an oxygen tank part-time.
Both began working in the late 1970s — years after dust rules took effect — and both began having symptoms in their 30s. Donald now has the most severe, fastest-progressing form of the disease, known as complicated coal workers’ pneumoconiosis. James and the oldest Marcum son, Thomas, 59, have a simpler form, but James has reached the worst stage and is deteriorating.
Men with lungs like the Marcums’ are not supposed to exist. In the hard-won 1969 law, Congress demanded that dust be controlled and new cases of disease be prevented. The idea was that, even if black lung didn’t disappear, there would be a small number of mild cases and virtually no one like Donald and James Marcum, said Dr. Donald Rasmussen, a pioneer in recognizing and diagnosing black lung.
“In 1969, I publicly proclaimed that the disease would go away before we learned more about it,” Rasmussen, now 84 and still diagnosing miners, said in a recent interview at his office in Beckley, W.Va. “I was dead wrong.”
Throughout the coalfields of Appalachia, in small community clinics and in government labs, it has become clear: Black lung is back.
The disease's resurgence represents a failure to deliver on a 40-year-old pledge to miners in which few are blameless, an investigation by the Center for Public Integrity and NPR has found. The system for monitoring dust levels is tailor-made for cheating, and mining companies haven’t been shy about doing so. Meanwhile, regulators often have neglected to enforce even these porous rules. Again and again, attempts at reform have failed.
A Center analysis of databases maintained by the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration found that miners have been breathing too much dust for years, but MSHA has issued relatively few violations and routinely allowed companies extra time to fix problems.
MSHA chief Joe Main [4] issued a statement in response to the findings: “The current rules have been in effect for decades, do not adequately protect miners from disease and are in need of reform. That is why MSHA has proposed several changes to overhaul the current standards and reduce miners' exposure to unhealthy dust.” Similar attempts at reform have died twice before.
From 1968 through 2007, black lung caused or contributed to roughly 75,000 deaths in the United States, according to government data.  In the decades following passage of the 1969 law, rates of the disease dropped significantly. Then, in the late 1990s, this trend reversed.
Many of the newer cases have taken a particularly ugly form. While rates of black lung overall have increased, incidence of the most severe, fast-progressing type has jumped significantly. These cases, moreover, are occurring in younger and younger miners. Of particular concern are “hot spots” identified in central Appalachia by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, NIOSH [5], a government research agency. Though levels of disease are still below what they were before 1970, medical experts and miners’ advocates are alarmed.
“I think any reasonable epidemiologist would have to consider this an epidemic,” said Scott Laney, a NIOSH epidemiologist. “All cases of [black lung] are preventable in this day and age, but these cases of [the most severe form] are just astounding … This is a rare disease that should not be occurring.”
The National Mining Association [6], the main trade group representing mining companies, disputes some of NIOSH’s data but agrees that black lung’s resurgence is a problem in need of attention. To the association, however, it is primarily a regional phenomenon of central Appalachia — one that doesn’t justify new national rules. What’s needed, the group says, is further study and better enforcement of current standards [7].
Researchers are struggling to explain what, after years of progress, has caused the backsliding and why black lung, traditionally viewed as an old man’s disease, is striking younger and younger miners and robbing them of their breath faster and faster. They are trying to figure out why men like the Marcums are the new face of black lung.
‘A diabolical torture’
“They call me Lucky,” retired miner James Foster says as he takes off his shirt and presses his chest against an X-ray machine in the back of an RV in Wharton, W.Va. “Worked 37 years in all kinds of mines. Been covered up twice. Been electrocuted.”
His brushes with death aside, he’s here because he fears there may be one hazard he can’t dodge. “I come in here to file for my black lung,” he says. During a recent heart surgery, he says, doctors said they saw what appeared to be signs of the disease.
He’s one of a handful of miners on an April afternoon to move through the RV parked at the fire department in Wharton, in the heart of coal country. Inside, a team of NIOSH workers shepherds them from station to station: medical history, questionnaire, breathing test, chest X-ray. Foster hopes the tests will provide evidence he can use to submit a claim for benefits. Other miners are still working and want to make sure their lungs are clear.
It is from this rolling medical unit, in part, that NIOSH has documented the return of black lung. For decades, miners have been entitled to free X-rays every five years, and this has helped track the drop in the disease’s prevalence. After the data started showing a reversal, NIOSH sent its RV [8] out to gather more data in 2005.
What these researchers found [9], combined with data from routine medical monitoring, was worrisome: From the 1970s through the 1990s, the proportion of miners with signs of black lung among those who submitted X-rays dropped from 6.5 percent to 2.1 percent. During the most recent decade, however, it jumped to 3.2 percent.
Even more disturbing: Prevalence of the most severe form of the disease tripled between the 1980s and the 2000s and has almost reached the levels of the 1970s.
In a triangle of Appalachia — southern West Virginia, eastern Kentucky and western Virginia — the numbers were even higher. The rolling unit found a disease prevalence of 9 percent in Kentucky from 2005 to 2009, for example.
A wake-up call for some came after the Upper Big Branch explosion in southern West Virginia in April 2010, which killed 29 miners. Of the 24 who had enough lung tissue for an autopsy, 17 had signs [10] of black lung. Some had fewer than 10 years of experience in mines; they ranged in age from 25 to 61.
The disease leaves miners’ lungs scarred, shriveled and black. They struggle to do routine tasks and are eventually forced to choose between eating and breathing.
“No human being should have to go through the misery that dying of [black lung] entails,” said Dr. Edward Petsonk, who treats patients with black lung and works with NIOSH. “It is like a screw being slowly tightened across your throat.  Day and night towards the end, the miner struggles to get enough oxygen. It is really almost a diabolical torture.”
Underpinnings of an epidemic
There are theories about why the disease has returned, but no definitive answers. One likely explanation: Miners are breathing a more potent mix of dust. Coal seams are surrounded by rock, much of which contains the mineral silica. When ground up, silica is more toxic to the lungs than coal dust and can cause faster-progressing disease.
With larger coal seams becoming mined out, companies are turning to thinner seams surrounded by more rock. At the same time, because of the price of coal and advances in mining equipment, it now makes more sense economically for companies to cut through large amounts of rock to get at the coal. Companies haul it all out and then separate the rock from the coal at processing plants.
“In central Appalachia, you look at what’s coming out of the mines, and it’s probably 60 percent rock on a good day,” said Rick Honaker [11], a University of Kentucky professor who consults for mining companies and has seen their data.
NIOSH research [12] suggests this may be having an effect. A particular marker on a chest X-ray is often indicative of silica-related disease. Comparing miners’ X-rays taken from 2000 to 2008 with those taken during the 1980s, researchers found that the proportion bearing these markers had nearly quadrupled and, in central Appalachia, had increased almost eight times over.
Rules [13] are supposed to limit the amount of silica in the air in mines, but a Center analysis of MSHA’s dust sampling database, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, shows that the agency has long failed to control silica dust.
In each of the past 25 years, the average of all silica samples — taking into account only those deemed valid by MSHA — has been higher than the allowed limit. Last year, for example, roughly 40 percent of the valid samples were above this limit. What’s more, the limit MSHA enforces is already twice the level NIOSH determined [14] to be safe in 1974.
The National Mining Association contends that what appears to be a nationwide increase in black lung is actually a spike in silica-related disease in Appalachia. “The problem here is, look, these people were overexposed to horrendous levels of silica, for God’s sake,” said Bob Glenn, an expert hired by the association. “Why hasn’t something been done?”
To the association, this means there is no need for a new rule on coal dust, just better enforcement of the silica standard.
Another possible explanation for the uptick in disease:  The number of hours worked by miners has steadily increased over the past three decades, MSHA data show. Ten- and 12-hour shifts and six- or seven-day workweeks are now common.
“I have stayed [in a mine] sometimes two days and never come out,” said Donald Marcum. Sometimes, he said, “you’d just lay down beside the power box, sleep an hour or two and stay right there.”
Longer hours mean more exposure to dust and less recovery time. The lungs can clear some dust by themselves if given the chance, and many miners said in interviews that they often spit up a mixture of mucus and dust.
At the same time, production has increased, thanks in part to powerful new equipment. A longwall shearer, for example, can carve out huge swaths of coal in little time.
Mark McCowan ran one of these behemoths for the final years of his career. “By the time I was 40 years old, I had mined more coal than most miners mine in a lifetime,” he recalled, sitting in his living room in Pounding Mill, Va. “You would get in some areas of the coal face where, when you mine, you can’t see the hand in front of your face. … I would eat so much dust I would throw up.”
McCowan was diagnosed with black lung at age 40. His disease has progressed to the most severe form; now 47, he finds it harder and harder to breathe. He pointed to a photo of a beaming, blond-haired 2-year-old on his wall — his grandson, Haiden. McCowan sees him two or three times a week and plays with him for as long as his lungs can take. “My biggest fear,” he said, “is I won’t live long enough for him to remember me.”
Decades of cheating
Donald Marcum knew he was at least a passive participant in something that was against the rules, maybe even criminal. Every couple of months, his bosses had to send MSHA five samples showing they were keeping dust levels under control. The man with the greatest potential exposure — often Donald because he was running a continuous mining machine, which chews through coal and rock and generates clouds of dust — was supposed to wear a pump to collect dust for eight hours.
That almost never happened. Most  of the time, he said, the mine foreman or someone else would take the pump and hang it in the cleaner air near the mine’s entrance.
When MSHA inspectors showed up to take their own samples, it wasn’t so easy to cheat. Donald would actually wear the pump, but he and his co-workers would mine only about half as much coal as they normally did, generating far less dust.
“We just done what we was told because we needed to feed our families and really didn’t look at what it might be doing to our health,” he said.
Donald’s experience echoed what Center and NPR reporters heard from retired miners throughout West Virginia, Kentucky and Virginia who had worked underground as recently as 2008. Dust pumps ended up in lunchboxes or mine offices. Mine officials stalled regulators who had shown up for a surprise inspection and radioed to the men underground, who fixed the ventilation and cleaned up the work site.
It’s difficult to tell how widespread such practices are, but many former miners described some variation of cheating occurring regularly at almost every mine where they had worked — and a culture of fear fostered by the companies. “We always set and thought, you know, maybe if we didn’t do it this way, that they’d come in and shut the mines down.  Then we'd be out of work,” said David Neil, a 52-year-old West Virginia miner with black lung who now drives a coal-hauling truck.
Tim Bailey [15], a lawyer in Charleston, W.Va., zeroes in on this type of cheating when he sues a coal company on behalf of a miner with black lung. In general, the only option for miners who get the disease is to file a claim with the state or the U.S. Department of Labor to try to get benefits [16].  But Bailey takes a different tack, drawing on a state law that allows workers to sue their employer in cases of knowing exposure to dangerous conditions.
This often amounts to proving that the company manipulated its dust samples. In depositions, miners have described hanging dust pumps in cleaner air or getting advance warnings of inspections. Over the past eight years, he’s handled about 40 such cases. In each case, he said, the coal company eventually settled.
“These are criminal acts,” Bailey said. “What’s different about these black lung cases is that the cheating is such a part of everyday practices.”
Then there are the numbers themselves. For decades, the average sample submitted by a coal company has been far below the limit. NIOSH researchers used a formula to estimate the prevalence of black lung that would be expected based on the dust samples and compared this with the disease rates actually occurring.
What the researchers found [17] was surprising: The two didn’t match up at all. In some areas of the country, there was actually less black lung than they’d predicted. But in central Appalachia, the disease rates were much higher — more than three times the predicted levels in eastern Kentucky, for example.
It was possible, researchers concluded, that the nature of the dust had become more potent. Another possibility: The dust samples reflected the results of rampant cheating.
Many of the games described by miners today remain unchanged from those outlined by miners who testified at a 1978 MSHA hearing. The early 1990s saw the “abnormal white center” scandal, in which MSHA figured out that many coal company officials had blown dust off the sampling filters, leaving a white center, before submitting them. A spate of criminal convictions of companies and some employees  and contractors followed. This time period accounted for the bulk of the 185 guilty pleas or convictions for dust sampling fraud between 1980 and 2002, according to data provided by MSHA to the Center and NPR.
The agency said it had no records of criminal convictions or guilty pleas since 2002 and wouldn't say whether any criminal cases had been pursued. MSHA did provide data indicating that it had decertified 14 mine officials since 2009, pulling their authority to conduct dust samples.
“I don’t know if any [cheating] is going on today,” said Bruce Watzman, the National Mining Association’s senior vice president for regulatory affairs. “I hope not. We encourage our members to fulfill their obligations under the law.”
Cheating aside, the system for monitoring dust levels is almost designed not to detect problems. Nor has MSHA always been swift to act when violations do surface.
From 2000 to 2011, MSHA received more than 53,000 valid samples — both from companies and its own inspectors — that showed an underground miner had been exposed to more dust than was allowed, yet the agency issued just under 2,400 violations, a Center analysis of MSHA data showed.
This may be attributable, in part, to the way the rules are written. When companies submit five samples to MSHA, some are allowed to be above the limit. Only the average of these five has to be low enough, allowing companies to negate high samples taken from miners enshrouded in dust. What’s more, the pump runs for only eight hours, even if the miner works 10 or 12.
While an inspector is sampling, a company is allowed to mine as little as half the amount of coal it normally does. Companies that typically cared little about hanging curtains to keep air flowing through the mine or making sure water sprays used to suppress dust were working suddenly did when it came time to sample, several miners said.
Even when a company gets caught with samples that are too high, all it has to do to make the citation go away is take five of its own samples that indicate compliance. “The analogy I use is, if I pull you over for speeding, going 80 in a 50,” Bailey said, “and I tell you … here’s a journal, and I want you to record your speed on this same piece of road for the next five days. And, if at the end of those five days, your speed is below the speed limit, then I am going to tear your ticket up.”
Sometimes MSHA has allowed dust citations to go uncorrected for weeks or even months, potentially leaving miners overexposed, a Center analysis of agency data shows. MSHA sets a date by which a violation must be fixed, but, from 2000 to 2011, the agency granted extensions for 57 percent of the violations.
Long extensions have been particularly common in southern West Virginia, one of the key “hot spots” of disease resurgence identified by NIOSH. In this area, which accounted for about 30 percent of the nation’s dust sampling violations, MSHA gave companies an extension about two-thirds of the time and allowed, on average, about 58 extra days to prove compliance.
Asked about these numbers, the agency said in a statement, “The majority of these extensions … are for good reasons such as getting approved dust controls implemented or allowing the operator time to collect additional samples to submit to MSHA.”
A roadmap for reform
Even before the reappearance of black lung, the need for change was apparent. A proposed MSHA rule led to hearings in 1978, during which miners testified to widespread manipulation of dust samples. That proposal stalled and was withdrawn by the Reagan administration.
In 1995, NIOSH reviewed [18] the scientific evidence and concluded that the limits for both coal dust and silica should be cut in half and periodic medical exams for miners should be enhanced. The same year, the secretary of labor appointed a committee to determine how to eliminate black lung.
The committee’s report [19] offered a roadmap for reform. It recommended that MSHA consider lowering the coal mine dust standard. It suggested the agency reduce miners’ silica exposure and establish a separate limit for this more potent type of dust. Samples should be taken while the mine was producing at least 90 percent of what it normally did, the panel said, and samples should be adjusted to reflect longer work shifts.
Perhaps its strongest recommendation: “The committee believes that the credibility of the current system of mine operator sampling to monitor compliance with exposure limits has been severely compromised. … One of MSHA’s highest priorities should be to take full responsibility for all compliance sampling.”
In July 2000, MSHA proposed a rule that would have adopted some of these recommendations. Before the rule became final, though, George W. Bush took office, and the rule died.
“It’s really fairly remarkable that we came up with these recommendations back in 1996 during a Democratic administration, and nothing has happened,” said David Wegman [20], who was chairman of the committee and is now an emeritus professor at the University of Massachusetts Lowell’s School of Health and Environment.
History may be repeating itself. MSHA proposed a rule [21] in 2010 that would cut the overall limit for dust in half and require companies to use continuous personal dust monitors [22], which would provide real-time measurements. The current pumps have to be sent to a lab, where analysis can take weeks.
Under the rule, the samples would be weighted to account for shifts longer than eight hours, and companies could be cited for a single sample over the limit — rather than an average of five — or a weekly accumulation of exposure above a certain limit. The rule would also expand the free X-ray monitoring program to include lung function tests and medical assessments.
Still, the rule leaves much of the sampling in the hands of the coal companies themselves. Asked why, Main said, “It’s an enormous task for the government to take on.”
Even industry favors MSHA’s taking over all compliance sampling. “We need to get to a point where we remove this cloud of controversy and instill in the minds of everyone that the samples are accurate,” the National Mining Association’s Watzman said.
There isn’t much in the rule that the association supports, however. The real-time dust monitors — a centerpiece of the proposal — are still not accurate enough to be the basis of citations, Watzman argued. Dennis O’Dell, safety director for the United Mine Workers of America, said the few problems with the monitors are “little things that can be tweaked.” The union favors the proposed rule, though it would like to see portions of it changed.
All of this may be moot. A presidential election is approaching, and many fear a change in administrations could mean what it meant in the early 1980s and the early 2000s: the death of reform.
‘I never said nothing’
In coal country, weakness is a sin. Mining is just about the only career choice, and one generation often follows another underground.
Convincing a miner to go to a clinic, get an X-ray or file a claim for benefits can be a challenge. “They're not going to come and complain about how they feel, just because that's part of our culture,” said Debbie Wills, sitting in the clinic in tiny Cedar Grove, W.Va., where she helps miners get evaluated and file for black lung benefits.
At the same time, fear is almost as deeply rooted. Many miners don’t want their employers to know they have signs of black lung — or even that they’ve been X-rayed. Anita Wolfe, who runs NIOSH’s surveillance program and is often out with the RV that screens miners, said she has seen men approaching on foot from miles away because they didn’t want anyone to see their cars parked nearby.
Thanks to a rule [23] MSHA issued in 1980, a miner whose X-ray shows signs of black lung receives a letter that requires his employer to transfer him to a less dusty job and pay him the same as before. The miner alone sees the letter, and he can use it whenever he wants.
Only about 30 percent of the nearly 3,000 letters issued to miners since 1980 have been used, according to MSHA data provided to the Center and NPR.
Sometimes miners avoid screening because they just don’t want to know. A diagnosis of black lung would likely mean having to leave the mines — the best-paying job around and the only way they know to provide for their families. “It's very known throughout the coal community there's no cure for this,” Wills said. “They want to pretend like everything's OK until they just can't do it anymore.”
All of this has led NIOSH to believe that the resurgence of black lung may actually be worse than its numbers reveal. “We know that there is disease out there that we are not identifying because miners are avoiding participation based upon disease status,” NIOSH epidemiologist Laney said.
Take James Marcum: He spent his last semester of high school taking a class at the University of Kentucky because he already had enough credits to graduate. His father, having filed for black lung benefits a few years earlier, encouraged him to go to school and stay out of the mines.
Nonetheless, James took a summer job at a mine to earn money for college. “I started earning them $800-a-week paydays and said, ‘Why would I want to go to college when I’m earning this kind of money?’ ” he recalled, standing in the shadow of Dewey Dam at the family’s annual picnic at Jenny Wiley State Park in Prestonsburg, Ky.
He spent about 90 percent of his 20-year mining career, he estimated, operating a continuous miner. In 1991, the motor of the machine he was running caught fire, and smoke overcame him.
When doctors examined him and took X-rays, they found what appeared to be black lung. James kept the news to himself and didn’t file for benefits, afraid he’d lose his job if he did. “It was good money,” he said. “I had my kids to raise, and I just had to work. … I never said nothing. I just went on and done my job.”
About six years later, James found himself back in the hospital. He’d been caught between two pieces of the continuous miner and injured his back. Alone in that section of the mine when the accident happened, he finished his shift and went to the hospital the next morning.
Doctors again took X-rays, and, this time, his lungs were so bad he had to see a specialist. A biopsy confirmed that he had black lung.
Since then, breathing has become more and more difficult for him, especially during the past year. “I miss hunting bad,” he said. “I used to take my boys hunting. But I just ain’t able no more. … I ain’t got the air to do it.”
The youngest of the three Marcum brothers, he has shown the worst decline in lung function. At the family’s picnic, while Donald socialized and Thomas talked to their father, Ray, over plates of fried chicken, coleslaw and potato salad, James sat quietly.
He glanced at his oldest son, 26, who now works in a mine. Without realizing it, James paraphrased his father: “I tried to get him out. He won’t come out. He loves the job.”

Wednesday, July 11, 2012


As some of you may remember, my greyhound Whitney was diagnosed with bone cancer in february.  Then it never grew and we assumed it wasn't cancer after all.  Now, it appears to be growing.  I am still hoping like hell it is something else we are seeing on the x ray, but she will begin taking some stuff and some treatments which are aimed at pain relief starting right away.  I can't express how much I hate this.  Our first greyhound, Sasha died of bone cancer.  It is not uncommon amongst greyhounds.  There is not much that can be done except alleviate pain.  

I intend to take a break from SCISSION now as I just don't feel like doing it.  

Perhaps, that will change in a few days.  Perhaps, doing SCISSION actually helps, if you know what I mean.  We'll see.

I'll be back when I am back.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012


Bishoy, a 25-year-old Egyptian asylum seeker, at an anti-racist demonstration in the southern Athens suburb of Kallithea, where he was a victim in one of two separate racist attacks in May 2012 that left four migrants injured.

Forget just for a moment about austerity and left wing, anarchist, and labor marches in Greece for just a moment.  Forget about the election results and new governments and all that for just a moment.  Focus instead on the rising tide of racist and fascist violence (and the lack of any action against it from the State) overwhelming Greece today.  Migrant workers are being targetted for attack, vicsous pogroms, and it has to be confronted head on.

Want to read something scary and disgusting.  How about this from the NY Times:

 A week after an extremist right-wing party gained an electoral foothold in Greece’s Parliament earlier this summer, 50 of its members riding motorbikes and armed with heavy wooden poles roared through Nikaia, a gritty suburb west of here, to telegraph their new power.

As townspeople watched, several of them said in interviews, the men careened around the main square, some brandishing shields emblazoned with stylized swastikas, and delivered an ultimatum to immigrants whose businesses have catered to Nikaia’s Greeks for nearly a decade.

“They said: ‘You’re the cause of Greece’s problems. You have seven days to close or we’ll burn your shop — and we’ll burn you,’ ” said Mohammed Irfan, a legal Pakistani immigrant who owns a hair salon and two other stores. When he called the police for help, he said, the officer who answered said they did not have time to come to the aid of immigrants like him.

Doctors and nurses in hospital emergency rooms confirm the seriousness of what is happening.  “During every shift we treat six or more cases of beatings of foreigners,” an unnamed surgeon at Evangelismos Hospital told media representatives, adding that most victims were treated for bruises, abrasions and knife wounds.

The Greek police are doing nothing to oppose the wave of racist and downright fascist violence which is sweeping Greece. 

Ekathimerini reports that last Thursday night immigrant shopkeepers demonstrators from the Pakistani community, leftists and anti-racists groups joined together to demonstrate against the rising attacks against immigrants .  Following their really they marched to the local police precinct station and charged the police with cooperating with Golden Dawn's thugs by covering up their racist attacks.

Amazingly, perhaps,the former head of the police officers' union seems to agree. The former head of the Panhellenic Confederation of Police Officers (POASY), Dimitris Kyriazidis, is the first with experience of the force to make a clear accusation against the police with respect to its handling of cases involving Golden Dawn, writes Ekathinmerini.

“The police leadership has to take immediate measures against incidents of vigilantism, which are taking place across the country with immigrants as the target,.The heads of the police cannot turn a blind eye to far-right groups that are affiliated to Chrysi Avgi and which are rampaging through the country.”

“The crime of vigilantism, such as that carried out by groups who want to replace law enforcement, should be treated separately and carry tougher sentences.”

Good luck with that.    

On Monday night  a group of nazi thugs from Golden Dawn gathered in a cafe in the city of Agrinion in Westen Greece.  What happened next has to happen every time these storm troopers come together.  The blog From the Greek Streets tells us a group of anti-fascists found out about the meeting and stormed the cafe.  The nazis fled in terror.  Hooray!  

The post below from Human Rights Watch is appearing today all over the net and all over the media.  Usually, I avoid things that everyone else is reporting, but not this time.  This news has to get around everywhere.