Moving Beyond the Bourgoise Politics of Empire
A vitally important discussion of strategy based in reality.
A Progressive Worker's Perspective on the political and cultural events of our time.
A vitally important discussion of strategy based in reality.
And now it's winter.
Winter in America
And all of the healers have been killed or been betrayed
Yeah, but the people know, people know . . .
– Gill Scott-Heron
As the days shrink into the deep darkness to come, it's important that we take some time to examine how we arrived here. Much of the responsibility for Donald Trump's ascension to the Presidency lies with the corporate media – not only the Ailes disinformation machine of FOX and talk radio but the Democrat connected New York Times, MSNBC and CNN who value ratings and narratives more than the reporting of facts. Their coverage of Trump exceeded that of all other candidates combined while candidates like Sanders were ignored. The omissions, bias and “fake news” they spread added to the electoral debacle. The corporate media has done more to divide us into warring tribes, based on biased reporting and misinformation, than any other force.
They are a big and continuing part of the problem, but much, if not most of the blame for Trump's success rests with the Democratic party. Partly it is the chasm between liberal rhetoric and the reality of the policies they have backed – polices not so different from those pushed by the GOP which have gutted and impoverished the working class.
Ronald Reagan set the stage for our economic decline. Bill Clinton continued and exacerbated Reaganomics or, neoliberal economics. In essence, the mainstays of neoliberal economics are; corporate deregulation, treaties like NAFTA and TPP and globalization of markets and capital. In the process, it empowers multinational corporations, leading to the export of jobs to where labor is cheapest. Neoliberal economics also require privatization of public infrastructure and services. These policies, enforced by the World Bank and IMF, have devastated countries around the globe. It has taken longer for us to feel the effects, but thanks to corporate-driven neoliberal economics, we have come to increasingly resemble third-word countries as the standard of living for most of us plummets.
Bill Clinton was, by their own definition, the best Republican of the 20th century. Not only did he legislate these corporate-friendly policies, he ensconced them at the core of the Democratic Party through the establishment of the Democratic Leadership Council which changed the party of FDR's New Deal into the party of Wall Street. Economic policy aside, though the Democrats have been better by far on social policy and protecting the rights of Women and minorities, they have also backed fracking, oil drilling on public lands, interventions, endless war and many of the same corporate-friendly policies a more moderate GOP would pursue. They became, in fact, moderate Republicans as the GOP drifted toward the fascist extremism that now defines it.
The devastating effects of the neoliberal economics pushed by both corporate parties played a big role in the influence populism had in this election. The Democrats could and should have easily beaten Trump by big numbers, if the party leadership had not been so arrogant and condescendingly deaf to the reality of what their own base was telling them. Bernie Sanders would easily have trounced Trump! He remains among the most popular politicians in the country because he tapped the real anger and dissatisfaction of those who took progressive rhetoric seriously. Sanders spoke the truth that many of us know. We are hurting for lack of decent paying jobs. We see a system owned by and representing the highest bidder and a planet on the brink of ecological collapse. It isn't just Bernie. Had the Democrats run Keith Ellison, Elizabeth Warren, Barbara Lee, Jim Hightower or Raul Grijalva it would have been an incontestable victory.
Instead, against all advice, they ran Hillary Clinton, baggage and all. They did this through electoral legerdemain during the primaries; the dumping of registered Democrats from the rolls in places like New York City, the undermining of polling places in California, the miscounting of votes and the use of “super-delegates.” They spread awful lies about Sanders, they hired trolls and generally treated progressives like the enemy. Then, rather than running on issues people really cared about, they ran on Hillary being a woman, they ran against Russia and they ran on not being Trump. This was not sufficient. As economist Thomas Piketty recently wrote, “Let it be said at once: Trump’s victory is primarily due to the explosion in economic and geographic inequality in the United States over several decades and the inability of successive governments to deal with this. Both the Clinton and the Obama administrations frequently went along with the market liberalization launched under Reagan and both Bush presidencies. At times they even outdid them: the financial and commercial deregulation carried out under Clinton is an example. What sealed the deal, though, was the suspicion that the Democrats were too close to Wall Street – and the inability of the Democratic media elite to learn the lessons from the Sanders vote.”
In this election and since, I've heard Democrats say the most ridiculous and offensive things which included denial of history, condemnation of truth-tellers like Edward Snowden and Julian Assange, red-baiting and even exhortations of “America love it or leave it.” Instead of listening to hard-hit working people in the post-industrial economic wasteland, I heard defense of trade deals and globalization. I heard denial of the painful realities of a failing economy at the ground level. Echoing the smug arrogance of the Clintons, Democratic party loyalists moved to the hard right against progressives calling us things like “Bernie Bros,” “Russian agents” and “spoiled basement dwellers” while assuring themselves of victory and denying the danger that was obvious; especially after the British Brexit debacle.
Journalist Glenn Greenwald wrote, “Put simply, Democrats knowingly chose to nominate a deeply unpopular, extremely vulnerable, scandal-plagued candidate, who — for very good reason — was widely perceived to be a protector and beneficiary of all the worst components of status quo elite corruption. It’s astonishing that those of us who tried frantically to warn Democrats that nominating Hillary Clinton was a huge and scary gamble — that all empirical evidence showed that she could lose to anyone and that Bernie Sanders would be a much stronger candidate, especially in this climate — are now the ones being blamed by the very same people who insisted on ignoring all that data and nominating her anyway.” In doing so, though Clinton still received over 2 million more votes, they gave us Trump and the rise of angry, bigoted irrational fascism.
Not that I'm bitter.
As for Trump, one can only judge a person by their history, statements and associates. The most dangerous and telling of Trump's close associates is Steve Bannon, founder of Breitbart "News" and Trump's chief strategist. Breitbart News unapologetically publishes racist and anti-Semitic opinion pieces. Bannon, associates aside, describes himself as an “economic nationalist” stating, “"I'm not a white nationalist, I'm an economic nationalist.” He describes himself as an “America First nationalist” saying about his “economic nationalism” that “It will be as exciting as the 1930s.” We know what nationalism in the 1930's looked like. Many died either as victims of it or in the struggle to defeat it.
Economic nationalism is Fascism, a form of corporate rule marked by extreme authoritarian nationalism. The progressive opposite is not globalism but internationalism. Internationalism places national pride in the context of global solidarity recognizing national interests and culture in the context of our global interdependence. Its about cooperation, not vicious competition. The idea of nationalism cannot be separated from competitive tribalism, bigotry or its extreme -- fascism.
As a textbook fascist, Trump not only pushes nationalism but is loading his administration with corporate lobbyists, political insiders and Generals. Far from the phony populism the press confers on him, Trump's cabinet picks include conspiracy theorist and hyper-nationalist Steve Bannon as Chief Strategist, former Goldman Sachs executive and “foreclosure king” Steven Mnuchin as treasury Secretary, billionaire investor Wilbur Ross as Commerce Secretary, Verizon consultant Jeff Eisenach and former Sprint lobbyist Mark Jamisonto to head the FCC, billionaire and former Michigan Republican Party chair and advocate for school privatization Betsy DeVos to head the Dept of Education and others, including a climate denier to head the EPA and Exxon-Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson for Secretary of State!
These people want to dismantle Social Security and Medicare. They want to privatize public education and undo climate progress including regulations on filthy fossil fuels and international treaties. They vow to undo Obamacare including healthcare access that many now have and to eliminate womens' right to control their own bodies and have life-saving abortions. They want to eliminate Civil Rights legislation and voting rights, to further empower and militarize our police, limit press and free speech freedoms and further deregulate inadequately regulated banks and big business, creating new tax breaks for the wealthiest.
The question for most of us is where do we go from here? Certainly, in the wake of a shameful defeat, the Democratic party desperately needs a major overhaul. In fact, it needs a serious purging. The era of the DLC must be over. As I write this, Senator Bernie Sanders is probably the most influential person in the Democratic party. There is a move to elect Representative Keith Ellison, member of the Progressive Caucus, to head the Democratic National Committee. This is a needed move if the Democrats are not to join the Whigs in the shadows of history. It is vital to our future that actual progressive populists take over the party's leadership, returning it to its roots as a party more representative of working people.
And then there are the rest of us.
Beyond resistance to the racism and reactionary politics Trump brings with him, outright defiance is called for. As reported in the New Yorker magazine:“On the day after the election, Kevin de León, the pro-tempore president of the California Senate, and Anthony Rendon, the speaker of the California Assembly, released a joint statement whose opening sentence – 'Today, we woke up feeling like strangers in a foreign land' – perfectly summarized the disorientation that millions of Americans were experiencing. More important, the statement pointed out that Trump’s bigotry and misogyny were at odds with California’s values of inclusiveness and tolerance, and, the authors vowed, 'we will lead the resistance to any effort that would shred our social fabric or our Constitution.'”
Three days later, Andrew Cuomo, the governor of New York, stated that New Yorkers “have fundamentally different philosophies than what Donald Trump laid out in his campaign.” He continued:“Whether you are gay or straight, Muslim or Christian, rich or poor, black or white or brown, we respect all people in the state of New York. It’s the very core of what we believe and who we are. But it’s not just what we say, we passed laws that reflect it, and we will continue to do so, no matter what happens nationally.”
As the New Yorker article goes on to point out, “Both Eric Garcetti and Bill de Blasio, the mayors of Los Angeles and New York, vowed to protect vulnerable populations in their cities. (Sanctuary cities across the nation, including Chicago, Seattle, and Denver, did the same. Charlie Beck, the chief of the L.A.P.D., added, “We are not going to work in conjunction with Homeland Security on deportation efforts. That is not our job, nor will I make it our job.”
Norfolk should join in defiance of the ugly racism engendered by Trump and appointees like Sessions (who should not be approved as Attorney General) Norfolk needs to become a Sanctuary city and we should pressure City Council to make it official.
As citizens, we need more than ever to reach out to one another. White people especially need to reach out to Blacks, Muslims, Gays, Hispanics and others threatened by bigotry, letting them know we stand with them. We need to strengthen and support our citizen organizations both locally and nationally. This is no time for cynicism, hopelessness or surrender.
Locally, we have grassroots organizations like Virginia Organizing, The Hampton Roads Justice Network, the Sierra Club, the Virginia Interfaith Center and the Norfolk Catholic Worker. Nationally, Sanders' organization “Our Revolution” continues to be a force legislatively as well as in support of progressive candidates at all levels. Now that we have no room for comfort and delusion, now that the mask has fallen from the monster of corporate oligarchy, there has never been a better opportunity or a more important moment for us to build an authentically populist progressive citizen movement to insure a future we can live in. We have no choice. In the darkest moments of winter, we must build for a new spring.
Many versions and interpretations of what kind of President Barack Obama has been and what legacy he leaves will be forthcoming. In my observed opinion, he is neither the best nor worst of Presidents. He came in on the cusp of an economic disaster wrought of record corruption stemming from finance deregulation; a burst real-estate bubble built on shoddy deals and financial games including the creation and selling of bad debt. These practices would have been illegal prior to the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act which separated and restricted affiliations between banks and investment institutions.
Our country's spirit along, with its economy, had also been drained by the illegal and ill-considered invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan on borrowed money amid record tax breaks. Our nation had been shamed by practices of torture and human rights abuse. Obama campaigned for office on changing that. His landslide election was a repudiation of the failed neoconservative leadership of the Bush years. Obama did, at least officially, put a stop to torture, though it has continued to a degree in secret prisons around the globe and at our gulag in Guantanamo, Cuba which he promised to shut down. He has to his credit reduced the population of prisoners there against stiff opposition.
As David Bromwich writes in Harper's Magazine, Any summing-up of the Obama presidency is sure to find a major obstacle in the elusiveness of the man. He has spoken more words, perhaps, than any other president; but to an unusual extent, his words and actions float free of each other. He talks with unnerving ease on both sides of an issue: about the desirability, for example, of continuing large-scale investment in fossil fuels. Anyone who voted twice for Obama and was baffled twice by what followed — there must be millions of us — will feel that this president deserves a kind of criticism he has seldom received. Yet we are held back by an admonitory intuition. His predecessor was worse, and his successor most likely will also be worse.
Though I thought initially that Obama came in with good intentions, he quickly showed himself to be corporate a centrist lacking intent or direction. His stated agenda was to bring an end to the wars begun by Bush. He was ill prepared for and not expecting the kind of resistance he has had to deal with from Republicans. He naively expected that once elected, a degree of good will would follow. But as we know, a cabal of Republican leaders met even before Obama was sworn in and agreed on a plan to obstruct him on every issue. No President has had to deal with the kind of obstruction he has faced since day one. We can now hope that obstruction and defiance will continue with the Trump Presidency.
In response to the corruption of Wall Street finance which wrecked our economy, Obama continued the bailout begun by Bush and went a step further in passing the Dodd-Frank Finance Reform and Consumer Protection Act. This legislation was instantly attacked and continues to be undermined by an army of lobbyists working for big finance houses like Goldman Sachs – at least nine lobbyists per Congressional representative with an unlimited financial arsenal. Dodd-Frank is in no way as effective as would be reinstating the protections against corruption provided by Glass-Steagall. Banks remain larger and more powerful than ever and continue with many of the same practices that crashed our economy in 2008.
President Obama is rightly credited for slowing the collapse of the economy. Unemployment has officially reached a 9-year low. The reality is that jobs remain scarce and wages inadequate. Though a far worse depression was averted, most economists agree that a larger spending package aimed at more than bailing out Wall Street and the auto industry would have been more effective. The economy has recovered for those at the top but it remains stagnant at best for the rest of us with 50% of working Americans at the poverty level. The vast divide between extreme wealth for a few and massive poverty has continued to grow during his tenure, reaching historic levels.
On the more damaging side, President Obama continues to push the Trans-Pacific Trade agreement which will hurt working people and cede national autonomy on labor and environmental laws to international corporate tribunals. This along with the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and the Trade in Services Agreement (TISA) would be disastrous to our economy and a mortal threat to government-run services and public infrastructure from utilities to the Post Office. These pacts follow and build on the disastrous trade deals passed by the Clinton administration that still hurt us today and are a large part of the reason for the rust belt rebellion which cost Clinton the election.
Where climate change and ecology are concerned, Obama, as journalist David Bromwich noted, speaks out of both sides of his mouth. On one hand, he acknowledges the seriousness of this issue imposing stronger limits on carbon emissions with his Clean Power Plan which aims to reduce carbon emissions by 32% by 2030. On the other hand, he pushes an “all of the above” policy increasing oil and gas drilling, shale oil projects and intensive fracking. To his credit, Obama did finally nix the XL Pipeline. He has also overseen the largest expansion of public land of any President, designating 3 new parks; Mojave Trails, Sand to Snow and Castle Mountains national monuments. To his discredit, he has allowed oil drilling and fracking on federally protected public land.
The promotion of fracking may be one of the worst legacies Obama leaves us. This dangerous process destabilizes our geography resulting in earthquakes. It seeps methane into the atmosphere where it is the most dangerous of greenhouse gases. It poisons our deep aquifers – possibly forever, and continues to poison many communities. I was horrified to learn that recycled fracking water contaminated with toxic chemicals like benzine, petroleum, acetone and methylene chloride are being sprayed on crops in California. Chevron sells this stuff to farmers struggling with drought for half the price of water. Those Halos glowing in the produce section and those “organic” leafy greens beckoning like sirens are a toxic legacy that will haunt us for years with unknown costs to our health.
Speaking of health costs, Obama ushered in a complicated version of insurance reform, “Obamacare” largely written by the insurance and pharmaceutical industries which has increased coverage to many and reduced costs for some. It is an important effort, though it leaves many without coverage and many others with coverage they cannot afford to use due to high deductibles and drug costs. At the time this was in discussion, people advocating for a simpler single-payer version were escorted out of public hearings by police for mentioning it. This was an indication of things to come.
The Obama administration has been hardest, at least domestically, on whistleblowers and truth telling journalists. As CNN's Jake Tapper accurately stated back in 2014, The Obama administration has used the Espionage Act to go after whistleblowers who leaked to journalists ... more than all previous administrations combined. Truth tellers like Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning, John Keriaku, Stephen Kim and Jeffrey Sterling have been prosecuted. All have served jail time with the exception of Edward Snowden who remains in exile for the crime of exposing government abuse and wrong-doing. Punishment is not evenly applied where leaking or mishandling classified information is concerned. General Patraeus and Hillary Clinton get off with minor wrist slaps. At the same time, for intelligence workers, simply going to one's superiors to report abuses can result in dismissal, arrest, and frozen bank accounts.
We witnessed during this administration the crushing of the Occupy encampments, the escalation of racist militarized police violence as well as the metastasis of the intrusive power of the CIA and National Security apparatus Edward Snowden exposed.
President Obama has, to his credit, been somewhat more reluctant than his predecessor and his advisers, including Secretaries of State John Kerry and Hillary Clinton, to engage troops in battle and to initiate foreign interventions. Though he ran promising to end Bush's wars and bring our troops home, he continued our presence in Iraq and in Afghanistan – now our longest historic war. He also oversaw the overthrow of Qaddafi in Libya followed by the continuing anarchy of warlords. In the recent past, we also initiated a coup in Ukraine helping to install an overtly fascist junta. We continue to amass military weapons on the border of Russia and are increasing a military presence in Asia.
Obama takes credit for killing Osama Bin Laden. As investigative journalist Seymour Hersh revealed in his in-depth exposé published by necessity in England, Bin Laden was an unarmed, ill old man under house arrest in Abbottabad, Pakistan. It was an organized hit for publicity, making sure Bin Laden would not be put on trial or speak publicly. It played much better to American audiences than to Pakistanis already upset by our drone presence and assassinations in their country.
Obama's most important legacy may well be the official codification of global political assassination and his use of drones. Barack Obama is the first President with an official “kill list” reviewed regularly. An excellent book, The Assassination Complex: Inside the Government’s Secret Drone Warfare Program by respected investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill deals with this reality and its implications for the future in detail.
In an interview on DemocracyNow! Scahill states, What the Obama administration is doing right now is basically trying to rebrand and engage in historical revisionism about what is going to be one of the most deadly legacies of the Obama era, and that is that somehow they came up with a cleaner way of waging war. I would say that the most significant aspect of what President Obama has done, regarding drones and regarding the so-called targeted killing program around the world, is that Obama has codified assassination as a central official component of American foreign policy. He has implemented policies that a Republican probably would not have been able to implement, certainly not with the support that Obama has received from so many self-identified liberals.
Though the murder of women and children, of families, as well as of suspected militants, their relatives and unfortunate bystanders is poorly reported if mentioned at all in our press, it creates immense geographies of fear and resentment. It fosters political destabilization of dangerous, and in Pakistan's case, nuclear states and it creates enemies. As Scahill notes, What you really see come through in the military’s own assessments of the drone program is that the U.S. is creating self-fulfilling prophecies. Rather than stopping terrorism, the U.S., through its drone program, is encouraging terrorism and providing terrorist organizations with recruitment material. Our use of killer drones also opens up the very real possibility that they will be used here by other countries as well as by our own government.
In the final analysis, President Barack Obama was an inexperienced centrist not equipped to play the hard politics of standing up to corporate influence, neo-con militarists, or the organized resistance of the extreme right, too often preferring the path of least resistance. His policies, more often than not, are superficial bandaids that make better publicity than they do progress. His staff choices, people like Rahm Emmanuel, David Petraeus, Janet Yellen, John Kerry, and Hillary Clinton reveal his conservative corporatist leanings as does his vocal defense of American exceptionalism – of empire. Though he is likeable and quick on his feet, an ideal talk show host, he has been a weak often indecisive leader in tough times. His legacy of codifying drone assassination, of expanding the powers of the Presidencey, of solidifying corporate power, the growth of an intrusive National Security State and the poisoned earth left by fracking will continue to haunt us for the foreseeable future.
As our own country sinks into the dark times of a putrid fascism, it is all the more of a loss to us that comrade Fidel Castro has died. Beyond the borders of our truth-deprived empire and the filthy lies of the bourgeois press, the world's people mourn the loss of a great man. Fidel Castro may prove to have been the best leader of any country in history over his long lifetime and as important to the ongoing struggles for socialism as Lenin or Marx. Comrade Fidel brought economic justice, education, world class medical care for all and independence to Cuba. He developed and expanded a humane civilization and system which has become increasingly democratic. He showed by example that the other nations in our hemisphere and around the world need not be colonies exploited by wealthy nations like the US. His example and his creation of the non-aligned movement continues to be influential. Cuba, under his leadership stood with and defended oppressed countries. Cuba continues to train and exports doctors. Fidel and Cuba have been and will continue to be a shining example and a force for civilization in an increasingly dehumanized and brutal world.
On this sad occasion, and at the beginning of what promises to be a period marked by the unraveling of our civilization, I feel it is a good time to reflect on the deep wisdom and insight Fidel Castro brought to the battle of ideas. The following was his statement at the United Nations Millennial conference in 2000:
"There is chaos in our world, both within the country's borders and beyond. Blind laws are offered like divine norms that would bring peace, order, well being and the security our planet so badly needs. That is what they would have us believe.
Three dozen wealthy and developed nations that monopolize the economic, political and technological power have joined us in this gathering to offer more of the same recipes that have only served to make us poorer, more exploited and more dependent.
There is not even discussion about a radical reform of this old institution formed over half a century ago when there were few independent nations - to turn it into a truly representative body of the interests of all the peoples on Earth. An institution where no one would have the irritating and anti-democratic right of veto and where a transparent process could be undertaken to expand membership and representation in the Security Council, an executive body subordinated to the General Assembly, which should be the one making the decisions on such crucial issues as intervention and the use of force.
It should be clearly stated that the principle of sovereignty cannot be sacrificed to an abusive and unfair order that a hegemonic superpower uses, together with its own might and strength, to try and decide everything by itself. That Cuba can never accept.
The poverty and underdevelopment prevailing in most nations as well as the inequality in the distribution of wealth and knowledge in the world are basically at the source of the present conflicts.
It cannot be overlooked that the current underdevelopment and poverty have resulted from conquest, colonization, slavery and plundering in most countries of the planet by the colonial powers and from the emergence of imperialism and the bloody wars motivated by new distributions of the world. Today, it is their moral obligation to compensate our nations for damages caused throughout centuries.
Humanity should be aware of what we have been so far and what we cannot continue to be. Presently, our species has enough accumulated knowledge, ethical values and scientific resources to move towards a new historical era of true justice and humanism.
There is nothing in the existing economic and political order that can serve the interests of humankind. Thus, it is unsustainable and it must be changed. Suffice it to say that the world population is already at six billion, 80% of which live in poverty. Ages old diseases from Third World nations, such as malaria, tuberculosis and others equally lethal, have not been eradicated while new epidemics like AIDS threaten to exterminate the population of entire nations.
Nature is being devastated. The climate is changing under our own eyes and drinking water is increasingly contaminated or scarce. The sources of man’s seafood are being depleted and crucial non-renewable resources are wasted in luxury and triviality.
Anyone understands that the United Nations basic role in the pressing new century is to save the world not only from war but also from underdevelopment, hunger, diseases, poverty and the destruction of the natural resources indispensable to human life and it should do so promptly before it’s too late!
The dream of having truly fair and sensible rules to guide human destiny seems impossible to many. However, we are convinced that the struggle for the impossible should be the motto of this institution that brings us together today."
Fidel Castro -- Presenté!
What bothers me
is not so much that we
clever apes are driving ourselves to extinction.
There is at least some humor and
irony in that
and a lesson to be learned
by someone --
What really bothers me
is that we are taking
the rest of the living world with us
plants and animals of all kinds
life can never be the same --
is already changed
What drives me to distraction
is that we know better
that a very few of us
who know better
are destroying life on earth
for the most selfish shortsighted and venal
What bothers and puzzles me most
is why we let them.
I write this at a moment where a good portion of Norfolk, VA, the city where I live is flooded due to a relatively mild tropical storm. The flooding is thus far limited to the usual places. That there are usual places, a growing number of them, is symptomatic of a larger issue; the largest issue of our time. Aside from storm-driven tidal surges, our area has seen a significant increase in “sunny day” flooding over the last few decades. Norfolk and much of the east coast, due in part to geographical sinking resulting from subsidence, is especially vulnerable to rising seas resulting from global warming. That warming is not an abstraction happening in some future. It is now.
A gathering of climate scientists at the International Geological Congress in Cape Town, South Africa a few weeks ago declared that, based on all evidence, the Anthropocene Epoch has officially begun. In fact, it began in the mid 1950's. This is a planetary shift to a new geological state of existence beyond what has been called the Holocene: some 12,000 years of climate stability, which emerged after the last ice age, which allowed human civilization to create itself. In the process, especially in the last two centuries, human activity has altered planet’s geological infrastructure. These noted experts announced, “Changes to the Earth system that characterize the Anthropocene Epoch include marked acceleration to rates of erosion and sedimentation; large-scale chemical perturbations to the cycles of carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, and other elements; the inception of significant change to global climate and sea level; and biotic changes such as unprecedented levels of species invasions across the Earth. Many of these changes are geologically long-lasting, and some are effectively irreversible. These and related processes have left an array of signals in recent strata, including plastic, aluminum and concrete particles, artificial radionuclides, changes to carbon and nitrogen isotope patterns, fly ash particles, and a variety of fossilizable biological remains. Many of these signals will leave a permanent record in the Earth's strata.” Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies stated, “In the last 30 years, we've really moved into exceptional territory. It's unprecedented in 1,000 years. There's no period that has the trend seen in the 20th century in terms of the inclination of temperatures."
What does all this mean for us? Much depends on how we react to the information science provides us. 2016 has been the hottest year on record globally since records have been kept. The changes we are already seeing, that are happening now and rapidly building on themselves, include: massive storms and droughts, increased methane release, climate and geologic instability, increasingly acidic rising seas with growing dead zones, melting arctic ice and glaciers, rising disease rates and mass migrations. A recent report by the International Union for Conservation of Nature involving the work of 80 scientists from a dozen countries has found the ocean warming faster than expected with dangerous consequences including threats to sea life, fisheries, and coastal areas as well as the grave possibility of more powerful hurricanes and greater methane release. We are also witnessing animal and plant die-offs which have lead to this era being referred to as the sixth mass extinction. These climate-based changes have causes, most of which are directly related to our industrial way of life over the last two centuries.
The burning of fossil fuels is the primary cause but only a part of it. Our cultural view of the world around us as an accumulation of useful commodities to be exploited without a larger understanding of the connections and implications is the larger issue. This view has dominated our thinking since the 17th century. It has lead to slavery and brutal conquest, to colonialism, massive deforestation and the geological degradations of mining, massive monoculture farming, and toxic industrial sacrifice zones. Our material way of living, our expectations, and our economies continue to depend on this model. It is a model of unending growth in a finite reality. It is a model that equates happiness with material accumulation. It is a model of destruction for the elusive fantasy of wealth very few of us will achieve.
Because wealth is tied to these destructive practices and because that wealth is so intimately woven with political power, it is difficult to address, much less change what we are doing to ourselves. Fracking is a good example of this. Hydraulic fracturing as a way of mining for natural gas makes people near the operations sick, even killing some. It poisons our water and deep aquifers, destabilizes the ground causing earthquakes as we've seen recently in Oklahoma, and it leaks massive amounts of methane, one of the most powerful greenhouse gasses, into the atmosphere. It is a prime driver of planetary warming with methane rich atmospheric areas over our continent visible from space. NASA reports observing a methane "hot spot" in the Four Corners region of the American southwest directly related to leaks from natural gas extraction, processing, and distribution. Yet, as many communities inundated with fracking wells have found, the billions spent by the fossil fuel industry have far more influence on policy than do citizen protests. State Regulatory Commissions have a monopoly on power when it comes to environmental issues and they are subservient to industry. This undue influence is also true of other climate-destructive industries like mining, agribusiness (Monsanto and Cargill), and the meat industry.
The corrupted politics of corporate and fossil fuel influence on both official parties is reflected in the election options we have from the state to the national level. Republicans deny the science and reality of the climate crisis and openly support fossil fuel use, drilling, mining, pipelines and fracking. They loudly condemn any efforts to address, much less mention the issue and even oppose the existence of the EPA. Democrats acknowledge the issue but like our Governor, generally support drilling, fracking, pipeline projects and fossil fuel use, though with some environmental protections. Clinton's history of promoting fracking and her choice of former Interior Secretary and supporter of fracking and piplines Ken Salazar for her transition team speaks volumes.
What is obvious is that we cannot entrust our health, our safety or the protection of our environment to politicians supported by fossil fuel interests. We as citizens must be actively involved in protecting ourselves and our future. There is still much that can be done to mitigate climate change and to adapt our infrastructure and way of living to the realities we cannot change. There are serious efforts happening to confront the corrupting influence of big money and to defend our rights as citizens as well as our health and local environment. One of the most important of these is the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund or CELDF. This organization focuses on communities facing direct harm from from polluting corporations, whether fracking, drilling, factory farms, mining or other toxic efforts. CELDF offers low cost, experienced legal assistance to empower communities in defending themselves. This includes passing ordinances recognizing the rights of nature to exist and evolve unharmed as similar to the rights of children to do so. These ordinances also challenge corporate personhood. Thus far, over 200 communities have adopted CELDF-drafted Community Bills of Rights laws that move from merely regulating corporate harms to stopping those harms by asserting local, democratic control directly over their communities.
Other citizen organizations active in addressing the climate issue are The Betty Kester Alliance for a Healthy Future, The Ohio Community Rights Network and Greenpeace.
Beyond the limitations of legal efforts in our corporate oligarchy, direct action is growing as well. As I write this the Standing Rock Sioux and dozens of other tribes from the U.S. and Canada are physically resisting the construction of a proposed four-state pipeline that, if completed, would transport about 500,000 barrels of crude per day across their lands, threatening their water supply. Pipeline construction crews have already destroyed indigenous burial and cultural sites on private land in North Dakota. The conflict is escalating as private security hired by the Dakota Access Pipeline Company attack Native Americans defending their lands with attack dogs and pepper spray.
Last month, in an ongoing effort, local climate activists in Bellingham, Washington blocked coal trains. An effort we, as the largest coal port on the east coast might learn from. That people around the country are engaged directly in both civic actions, protests and civil disobedience is something that gives me hope.
Citizen action is having positive effects on government policy. The U.S and China recently agreed to formally sign the Paris climate agreement, reducing carbon emissions. China is one of the most polluted places on earth as well as the largest and growing economy. Its leader, Xi Jinping vowed to to "unwaveringly pursue sustainable development" as part of China's climate plan. Greenpeace East Asia's senior climate policy adviser Li Shuo stated that the pressure was on for Xi to move from agreement to action. Due to growing earthquakes, Oklahoma, a state largely run by fossil fuel interests, ordered oil and gas operators to shut down three dozen wastewater disposal wells following a 5.6-magnitude earthquake tied directly to fracking. Last month, Australia's Premier Daniel Andrews announced that the state is set to introduce a permanent ban on all onshore gas exploration and fracking. In Brazil, 72 cities have approved bans on fracking since the launch of the No Fracking Brazil campaign by 350.org. There are indications that Alberta Canada will follow suit, curbing fracking due to earthquake activity and rising citizen activism.
Beyond reducing and stopping our use of fossil fuels, converting to sustainable energy sources like solar, wind, hydro, geothermal and other sources we need to reduce the carbon we have already emitted as well as the added water vapor our warmer atmosphere is holding which carries heat. This can be done by reforestation and by permaculture farming which returns carbon from the atmosphere to the soil.
Though we are seeing some progress, it isn't nearly enough. Time is not on our side. It is vital that we have leadership that puts public safety before corporate agendas and which has the ability to effectively protect us and to address the climate crisis. Politics and needed electoral reform aside, we must be that leadership. Citizen action is effective and crucial but it takes a lot of us to be heard. We must all be involved directly or in support of those who are.
What is most needed is a paradigm shift in our thinking, our cultural perspective and our way of living in this world, realizing that we are in fact the planet, you and I, the animals, plants and bacteria around us and within us -- inseparable and interdependent. That consciousness must be reflected in our moving away from thing-centric materialism, and species-centric thinking. It must shape how we act and what we eat. This change does not happen magically or in a vacuum. It happens by working with others for our common good. I see this conscious change happening, especially generationally. Beyond the construct of nation-states and tribal identities, the fate of our biosphere – of all living things that make up our small interdependent world depends on us.
Sanders is showing the corporate class what is possible when one tells the truth. This election, like his rhetoric, is not about him. It's about the rest of us -- the 99%. As he states, without all of us, he would be powerless even if elected. The following article by economist Robert Reich gets to that point. Reich worked in the administration of Bill Clinton. He's seen the system up close and knows it. I have seen him progress from a relatively liberal Keynesian economist to a more progressive social democratic position. He knows the power brokers and the obstacles. Like Sanders he is not so much an idealist as a progressive realist
It Takes a Movement
By Robert Reich
In 2008, when then-Senator Barack Obama promised progressive change if elected President, his primary opponent, then-Senator Hillary Clinton, derided him.
“The skies will open, the light will come down, celestial choirs will be singing and everyone will know we should do the right thing and the world will be perfect,” she said, sarcastically, adding “I have no illusions about how hard this is going to be.
Fast forward eight years. "I wish that we could elect a Democratic president who could wave a magic wand and say, ‘We shall do this, and we shall do that,’” Clinton said recently in response to Bernie Sanders’s proposals. "That ain’t the real world we’re living in.“
So what’s possible in “the real world we’re living in?”
There are two dominant views about how presidents accomplish fundamental change.
The first might be called the “deal-maker-in-chief,” by which presidents threaten or buy off powerful opponents.
Barack Obama got the Affordable Care Act this way – gaining the support of the pharmaceutical industry, for example, by promising them far more business and guaranteeing that Medicare wouldn’t use its vast bargaining power to negotiate lower drug prices.
But such deals can be expensive to the public (the tab for the pharmaceutical exemption is about $16 billion a year), and they don’t really change the allocation of power. They just allow powerful interests to cash in.
The costs of such deals in “the world we’re living in” are likely to be even higher now. Powerful interests are more powerful than ever thanks to the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision opening the floodgates to big money.
Which takes us to the second view about how presidents accomplish big things that powerful interests don’t want: by mobilizing the public to demand them and penalize politicians who don’t heed those demands.
Teddy Roosevelt got a progressive income tax, limits on corporate campaign contributions, regulation of foods and drugs, and the dissolution of giant trusts – not because he was a great dealmaker but because he added fuel to growing public demands for such changes.
It was at a point in American history similar to our own. Giant corporations and a handful of wealthy people dominated American democracy. The lackeys of the “robber barons” literally placed sacks of cash on the desks of pliant legislators.
The American public was angry and frustrated. Roosevelt channeled that anger and frustration into support of initiatives that altered the structure of power in America. He used the office of the president – his “bully pulpit,” as he called it – to galvanize political action.
Could Hillary Clinton do the same? Could Bernie Sanders?
Clinton fashions her prospective presidency as a continuation of Obama’s. Surely Obama understood the importance of mobilizing the public against the moneyed interests. After all, he had once been a community organizer.
After the 2008 election he even turned his election campaign into a new organization called “Organizing for America” (now dubbed “Organizing for Action”), explicitly designed to harness his grassroots support.
So why did Obama end up relying more on deal-making than public mobilization? Because he thought he needed big money for his 2012 campaign.
Despite OFA’s public claims (in mailings, it promised to secure the “future of the progressive movement”), it morphed into a top-down campaign organization to raise big money.
In the interim, Citizens United had freed “independent” groups like OFA to raise almost unlimited funds, but retained limits on the size of contributions to formal political parties.
That’s the heart of problem. No candidate or president can mobilize the public against the dominance of the moneyed interests while being dependent on their money. And no candidate or president can hope to break the connection between wealth and power without mobilizing the public.
(A personal note: A few years ago OFA wanted to screen around America the movie Jake Kornbluth and I did about widening inequality, called “Inequality for All” – but only on condition we delete two minutes identifying big Democratic donors. We refused. They wouldn’t show it.)
In short, “the real world we’re living in” right now won’t allow fundamental change of the sort we need. It takes a movement.
Such a movement is at the heart of the Sanders campaign. The passion that’s fueling it isn’t really about Bernie Sanders. Had Elizabeth Warren run, the same passion would be there for her.
It’s about standing up to the moneyed interests and restoring our democracy.
A thread worth following on a site I follow. Russel "Texas" Bentley is fighting US fascism on the front lines in the Donbass, now Novorossiyaas it demanded independence following a CIA installed fascist coup in Ukraine.
We cannot all be on the front lines in places like Ukraine, but we are on the front lines here in the US -- the heart of the beast, as well. We can spread the truths working class heroes like Bentley put out as well as real news from progressive sources like DemocracyNow!, Common Dreams, People's World and The Intercept. We can and should work to elect Bernie Sanders as well as to push for the abolition of the CIA and national security state. We can and must help our working class citizens understand which side they are on with exposure to working class literature like the Blue Collar Review.
Words have power, and often baggage as well. The thoughtful article in the last issue of Veer magazine by Tom Robotham regarding the “N” word was a good example of that. A confluence of events recently got me thinking of another word currently verboten due to its baggage. A recent article in “The Guardian” by the Indonesian writer Laksmi Pamuntjak reported a return of censorship and the heavy shadow of bloody dictatorship. As reported, Janet DeNeefe, director of the Indonesian Ubud Writers and Readers Festival stated, “I just wanted to let you know that the festival is being censored this year, and we have been told to remove all programs to do with ‘1965’,” she wrote. “Or else next year they will not give us a permit to hold the festival.” Ms. Pamuntjak writes, “I felt a chill when I read these lines, and a faint sense of absurdity that accompanied the sting. I was on my European book tour, having done almost nothing else in the past one and a half months but speak to German and Dutch audiences about my novel, an epic love story set against the backdrop of the Indonesian anti-communist purges of 1965.”
This, not coincidentally follows upon a film “The Look of Silence” in which a young Indonesian man begins to explore the history of the brutal slaughter of around a million people following the CIA orchestrated coup that brought Sukarno to power in 1965. The film is banned in Indonesia but making the rounds clandestinely. Even a decade after the removal of Sukarno the authorities, many of who were involved directly in the bloodletting, don't want it talked about. In an echo of that era, those who dare mention the terror of 1965 are being labeled “communists,” which was used as a justification for murder in the past.
Recent elections in Guatemala, a country with a very similar story, where most parties are hard-right and intimately connected with a recent dictatorship committing genocide, resulted in the victory of Jimmy Morales, an evangelical right-wing nationalist backed by the military. Guatemala is still living in the shadow of the genocide of Mayans by a the brutal dictator Rios Montt, installed in a coup orchestrated by the CIA and the Reagan administration in 1982. As in Indonesia, many government positions remain filled by the perpetrators of that genocide. And the violence continues.
This is a story that is repeated in many places around the world including Iran, Chile, El Salvador, Congo and many other countries in the CIA's bloody wake. The system they installed in those places is, to use the “F” word, fascism, or more precisely in those places, imposed fascism or fascism by proxy. What strikes me is how stubborn the grip of fascism is in many of those places even after the fall of those regimes.
As with all such heavy terms, a clear definition is needed. Fascism, as defined by its founder Benito Mussolini is The marriage of corporation and state. He clarified his vision saying “Fascism should more appropriately be called Corporatism because it is a merger of state and corporate power.” Georgi Dimitrov witnessed German fascism up close. He defended himself successfully in a Nazi court against charges of burning down the German capital or “Reichstag,” proving that it was done by the Nazis themselves. He described that system as “the dictatorship of the most reactionary elements of financial capitalism.” There are many kinds of authoritarian tyranny but in spite of efforts by our right-wing media to confuse the public, brutal corporate dictatorship what fascism actually is.
In poor countries, fascism can be imposed via military coups and puppet dictatorships by other more powerful countries in support of their corporate interests. This has been the pattern of US policy led by the CIA since the 1950's. In Guatemala, the coup was for the benefit of United Fruit, in Indonesia it was for the rubber industry, in Iran it was for the oil industry. There are many more examples but fascism and weapons have been our primary export for at least 70 years. We continue to arm dictatorships like Saudi Arabia, to train foreign armies and goon squads in brutality and at last count, have our special forces in over 130 countries. We are now escalating our presence in Syria in what looks like a proxy war with Russia echoing the insanity of the cold war.
Being the rule of corporations, fascist ideology always lurks at the heart of the market system. In our own country it has ebbed and come to the fore at different times. Right-wing nationalism, colonial aggression and racist reaction were strong from the 1890s through the 1920's and again in period following WWII, reaching a peak with the McCarthy red-scare of the 1950's. It raised its ugly head again in reaction to the civil rights reforms, social progress and anti-militarism of the 1960's and 70's with the ascension of Ronald Reagan.
Growing up Jewish with an awareness of recent history, I am particularly watchful for the symptoms of fascism. Beyond economics, fascism is a societal disease marked by undue corporate influence on government, militarism and a cultural military mindset defined by hyper-nationalism, suspicion of foreigners, fear of enemies, scapegoating of minorities, crushing of labor unions, anti-rationalism and rejection of science, intrusive government, a militarized police state and the prosecution of dissidents.
Over the last few decades we have seen the growth of corporate influence and power globally. Multinational corporations and global finance have become supranational powers, like countries of their own with loyalty only to their investors. Corporations rule small developing countries with private armies of their own to extract raw materials. Philosopher Jürgen Habermas, who grew up in fascist Germany observing the reality today states, “in our increasingly interdependent but still nationally fragmented world society, global financial capitalism, which has taken on a life of its own, still largely escapes the grip of politics. Behind democratic façades the political elites technocratically implement the imperatives of the markets almost without resistance. Trapped in their national perspectives, they have no other choice. Thus, they prefer to uncouple the political decision-making processes from the political public arenas, which are in any case dried out and whose infrastructure is crumbling. This colonialization of societies, which disintegrate from within and take up right-wing populist positions against each other, will not change as long as no political power can be found with the courage to take up the cause of achieving the political aim of universalizing interests beyond national frontiers.”
There is a quote (often misattributed to Sinclair Lewis) that, When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross. In 1938 professor Halford E. Luccock of the Divinity School of Yale stated that when fascism arrived here it would be called “Americanism” or “The American Way” and be use by those intent on profit to cover a multitude of sins such as lawless violence the denial of civil liberties. It seems that he had good foresight.
Corporate influence builds on itself. Thanks to corrupted justices on the Supreme Court, corporations are now “people” and their money “speech.” The Chamber of Commerce, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), Koch Enterprises, major industries and their lobbying fronts like the Heritage Foundation, Freedomworks and many others fund candidates loyal to them and write legislation that affects us all. The political leaders they back push trade pacts that undermine our food, environmental and job safety as well as our economic security to benefit their benefactors. The Trans-Pacific Partnership is the latest example.
Since the attacks of September 2011, we have seen the rise of an increasingly intrusive and militarized police state and the growth of paranoid xenophobia. Racism and hate-groups have increased as well. The recent campaigns in the lead-up to Presidential elections are especially telling in this regard. The GOP, always glad to exploit the ignorance, anger and prejudice of its base has become entrapped in fascist ideology as candidates compete to be more right-wing than each other – and it's more than just campaign jargon. Donald Trump demonizes Mexicans and Hispanic refugee immigrants as well as those fleeing Syria. He runs on the idea of massive roundups and deportations, war mongering and privatization. Ben Carson isn't much better pushing guns, anti-Muslim bigotry, and a toxic mixture of fundamentalist religion and militarist nationalism. Candidates Fiorina, Pataki, and Graham fall back on the fascist tradition of accusing those who disagree with them of being communists.
The entire Republican agenda has devolved to fascism though not all Republicans are on the same page. In fact, it is a party rife with major differences. The "Christian" Right and Libertarians have diametrically opposite views of the role of government in regulating morality and the business wing is averse to destroying the credit of the country over things like funding Planned Parenthood or to pushing draconian austerity that will crash the economy. Still, they all agree on the dominance of corporate welfare over citizen well-being and they all push hyper-nationalist xenophobia and a militarized police state. Paul Ryan, now House Speaker, is a prototypical fascist in his agenda and his connection to reactionary corporate interests.
To be fair, the GOP has no monopoly on American fascism. Some Democrats like Clinton are corporatist hawks even if they are better on domestic social issues. President Obama has pushed military aggression globally. He is the first President to have an international assassination program. He has overseen the record expansion of the National Security State, persecuted journalists and truth tellers as well as pushing the Trans-Pacific Partnership deal in subservience to corporate interests. As I've written before, the CIA and National Security State are now the most powerful and unaccountable wing of our government. In serving corporate interests, it foments strife, spreading and creating proxy fascist governments from Ukraine to the Middle East and it dictates foreign policy across administrations no matter the party.
I have given much thought to why people not served by this kind of ideology, people that actually bear the brunt of the corporate agendas that harm us and treat us as disposable commodities buy into it at all. I think for many it is just plain easier. The manipulation of culture, religion and hot-button issues are certainly part of it. It requires no thought, research or knowledge of history, science or of the world to simply accept this stuff and, unlike digging for uncomfortable truths, it's safe. Most of us struggle just to get by day to day fearing for our economic and real security. Fascist ideology stokes fear of change and of enemies, real or imagined. It also speaks to our frustration, to the lack of control we have over our lives and gives voice to our anger and resentments. Misplaced blame and the catharsis of judgment and hate, act as a pressure valve while protecting those actually responsible for our troubles. It must be the fault of Mexicans, Muslims, Gays, or Blacks and if you object than you must hate America. If you express any sense of economic and social justice or mention human rights or heaven forbid, the common good, then you're a godless commie! Just like in Guatemala or Indonesia.
Since the attacks on Paris, the fascist language, fear-driven bigotry, xenophobia, and calls for vengeance and an increased National Security State are at a fever pitch. The embedded media pumps up fear and the Presidential contenders dance to the tune in a chorus of bellicosity which ignores the terror of our drown wars and own complicity in training and arming fanatics and that or our "allies" in Saudi Arabia and Israel.
With fascist ideology all around us, what do we do? I've been distressed by the corrupt and crippled state of our political system but I see many encouraging signs as well. If you're still reading this and not foaming at the mouth and cursing my existence, that too is a sign of hope. If anything can derail the juggernaut of global corporatism, of fascism, it is awareness of the symptoms and a willingness to name the disease. We should call out candidates that run on anti-immigrant, racist, religious, science denial or hyper-nationalist platforms. Be aware of corporate agendas. Don't afraid to say the “F” word and to demand instead, real citizen representation that puts our common interests first – to insist on government of, by, and for the People.
In their historic 1848 Communist Manifesto, the great radical thinkers Karl Marx and Frederick Engels offered a curious dialectical celebration of rapacious industrial capitalism. To be sure, Marx and Engels had no illusions about the evil of that system. They observed that “the bourgeoisie” (the capitalist investors and manufacturers of the mid-19th century) undertook “the subjection of Nature’s forces to man” not to benefit humanity but to selfishly accumulate profits in accord with their soulless reduction of “personal worth” to “exchange value.” The venal capitalists “left remaining no other nexus between man and man than callous ‘cash payment,’…drown[ing society and culture] …in the icy water of egotistical calculation.” For economic exploitation “veiled” under feudalism “by religious and political illusions,” the founders of modern communism wrote, the bourgeois system “substituted naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation…In place of the numerous indefeasible chartered freedoms,” the profits system “set up that single unconscionable freedom – Free Trade.”
There was no freedom for working people behind and beyond factory walls, Marx and Engels knew. “As privates of the industrial army,” they wrote, wage-earners were “placed under the command of a perfect hierarchy of officers and sergeants. Not only are they slaves of the bourgeois class, and of the bourgeois State; they are daily and hourly enslaved by the machine, by the overlooker, and, above all, by the individual bourgeois manufacturer himself. The more openly this despotism proclaims gain to be its end and aim, the more petty, the more hateful and the more embittering it is.”
Still, the originators of “scientific socialism” were cheered by the emergence of a vast industrial laboring class toiling in the factories, shipyards, mines and mills that capitalism created. Competitively compelled to “constantly revolutioniz[e] the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production,” the Manifesto argued, capitalists generated their own gravediggers – the “embitter[ed]’” proletariat, the natural agent of socialist and communist revolution. “Not only has the bourgeoisie forged the weapons that bring death to itself [ultimately liberating forces of production too great to be channeled into bourgeois confines in Marx’s analysis]; it has also called into existence the men who are to wield those weapons — the modern working class – the proletarians.”
While Engels’ and above all Marx’s radical critique and analysis of capitalism remains remarkably relevant in the current era, subsequent history has not been terribly kind to their dialectical romance with industrial capitalism or to their faith in the eventual emancipating power of modern industry. Socialism on Marx’s radical-democratic model – or on any other kind – has not emerged out of working class movements in any of the most “advanced” industrial-capitalist nations of the world – in England, on the European continent, Japan, China, or in the United States. The industrial working class has joined and formed recurrent remarkable social and political movements in different times and places but it has not proved revolutionary in the sense anticipated with “scientific” certainty by the young Marx and Engels. The classic zones of bourgeois and industrial revolution have remained captive to capital and bourgeois rule, thanks in no small part to their privileged position atop the world capitalist and imperial state system.
Socialism of a kind very different from the radical and democratic sort embraced by Marx emerged during the last century not in the heartlands of capitalism, industrialism, and bourgeois revolution but in the mostly pre-industrialized, pre-capitalist, peasant-based, and autocratic nations of Russia and China. In the Soviet Union and empire, an authoritarian form of state socialism undertook the work of industrialization, reproducing Western capitalism’s class-based corporate and top-down division and command of labor though (no small differences) without capitalists and private corporate for-profit ownership of leading economic institutions and with the state in charge of the economy and the provision of basic social goods.
At the same time, modern mass-production/mass-consumer industrialism has proven itself less the midwife of socialism (democratic or otherwise) than a cancerous threat to life on Earth. The two great industrial and superpower rivals of the second half of the 20th century – the state-capitalist United States and the bureaucratic-collectivist and state-socialist Soviet Union – both engaged in colossal assaults on livable ecology. The leading environment-and health-mauler has by far and away been the western, U.S.-led bourgeois system of mass consumption and built-in obsolescence, always far more technologically “productive” (and destructive) than the now defunct Soviet system. This planet-wrecking socioeconomic regime has expanded its reach like never before across the entire planet in the neoliberal and post-Cold War age. Still, the vanguard/command model of industrial state socialism that prevailed in Stalinist Russia and the Soviet empire for many decades also engaged in significant fossil-fueled ecological criminality to advance its own model of Nature-attacking hyper-accumulation. Mao’s “communist” revolution ended up as the state-command dispossessor, assembler, and discipliner of a giant industrial proletariat created for monumental world-capitalist exploitation and eco-cidal, fossil-fueled mass production directed largely by giant multinational US and other Western corporations in China’s vast industrial frontier (the world’s leading zone of capitalist surplus value creation and accumulation since the 1980s.)
Together, with Western and Japanese state capitalism far in the lead, the great industrial powers of the last century and the current have brought humanity to the precipice of true environmental catastrophe courtesy of the industrial Greenhouse Effect (discovered by French and British physicists during Marx’s lifetime). Earth scientists today warn with increasing urgency and an army of terrible data that the modern, carbon-burning industrial civilization that Marx and Engels embraced in their own dialectical way in the mid-19th century (albeit long before the full “Anthropocene”-defining environmental ravages of capital were remotely evident) now raises the very real specter of human extinction. It is a curious climatological version of what The Communist Manifesto said befell societies where necessary revolutions failed to occur: “the common ruin of the contending classes.” (One plausible thesis holds that the remarkable growth and productivity dividend that the heedless drilling and burning of oil, gas, and coal afforded the West in the last two centuries has been a critical factor permitting capital to avoid the working class revolution that the two young Communists prophesized.)
Hope for survival – for that is what is at stake – seems to reside in spaces abandoned by the great industrial capitalist and socialist powers of the last century. In a recent Counterpunch essay, journalist Gary Leech recounts how the island nation of Cuba has “redefined socialism” in the wake of the decline of its former protector the Soviet Union. Over the past two decades, Leech shows, Cuba has moved towards a more participatory system that also happens to be an outstanding model of environmentally sustainable and healthy, permaculturalist economics:
“In the 1980s, Cuba more closely reflected the state socialist model that ultimately failed in the Soviet Union….But with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the disintegration of the socialist trading bloc, Cuba had to become more creative if it was to survive both literally and figuratively as an island of socialism in an ocean of capitalism. And it was the creative survival strategies that emerged during the 1990s that have helped to redefine socialism in Cuba today…. The collapse of the Soviet Union, in conjunction with a corresponding tightening of the five-decades-long US blockade, meant that Cuba could no longer import sufficient food or oil. The country responded to the shortage of petroleum-based pesticides and fertilizers by becoming the world’s leader in organic agriculture. It responded to the shortage of fuel by becoming a leader in urban agriculture to diminish the need to transport food great distances to markets. As a result, more than 80 percent of the country’s agricultural production is now organic… [and produced by] smaller worker-owned cooperatives. The new cooperatives not only increased production, they also constituted a shift away from state socialism by empowering workers who previously had little or no voice in the running of their workplaces…. This emerging worker democracy through cooperatives not only existed in agricultural production, it also occurred in the selling of products…”
“The shift to a more ecologically sustainable agricultural production has resulted in healthy organic food being the most convenient and inexpensive food available to Cubans. Because of the US blockade, processed foods are more expensive and not readily available. This reality stands in stark contrast to that in wealthy capitalist nations such as the United States and Canada where heavily-subsidized agri-businesses flood the market with cheap, unhealthy processed foods while organic alternatives are expensive and more difficult to obtain. The consequence in the United States is high levels of obesity, diabetes and heart disease.”
Thanks in no small part to these remarkable innovations on an island abandoned by 20th century Soviet industrial socialism and embargoed by US-led 20th and 21st century state capitalism, Cuba stands out among all nations (rich and poor) in a critical way. The makers of the United Nations Human Development Index (HDI) have found that Cuba is the only country on the planet to combine a standard of living and quality of life consistent with “high human development” with a globally sustainable carbon footprint. A report by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) includes a graph that shows two features for the nations of the world: the HDI (including measures of life expectancy, poverty, literacy, health care, and the like) and “ecological footprint” – the energy and resources consumed per person in each country. Only Cuba received a passing grade in both areas.
As the University of British Columbia notes, “In 2006, the WWF declared Cuba to be the only sustainable nation based on ecological footprint and human development index. The majority of food grown in Cuba is produced without chemicals. Good bugs fight bad bugs in the fields. Their soils – like their communities – are teeming with life….Today, Cuba’s agricultural cooperatives provide 80 percent of the food produced in Cuba and her system of urban agriculture is a model for the world. Building on the success of her agricultural cooperatives, Cuba is now taking bold new steps to build a more cooperative, just and people-centred economy.”
Call it Earth Science-friendly socialism – or maybe even earth-scientific socialism.
Meanwhile, up in the former industrial heartland of the North American superpower, something significantly similar has happened in Detroit – a city viciously disowned and discarded by capital in the world’s leading capitalist state. Over 20 square miles (a space nearly as big as Manhattan) of this former capital city of capitalist mass production (and of mass production unionism) now lay vacant – deserted by capital. On a recent trip to the onetime headquarters of the once dominant American auto industry – now home to concentrated and hyper-segregated mass Black poverty and joblessness on an epic scale – teleSur English’s Maria Sitrin found that “people in Detroit have been taking back their city…creating the new in the shell of the old.” Ordinary working people on the inner-city ground of capitalist abandonment have developed a health-nurturing urban farming and cooperative system that is planting the at once literal and figurative seeds of an alternative economic structure within the rotting urban residue of a profits system that turned Detroit into the ultimate Rustbelt city:
“people have been growing food in abandoned buildings, vacant lots, torn down structures and other cracks in the system. I learned… that the shell of abandoned buildings is good for keeping raised plant beds warm [and]….of students – thousands of them – learning about community, health, care and cooperation in their schools through working in school gardens [and]…of weekly fresh produce recipe swaps amongst dozens of seniors and regular neighborhood community potlucks [and that]…one can buy carrots, tomatoes, and other fruits and vegetables outside gas station stores – organized by teens. Detroit is building the new in the cracks of the old…. Over the past ten years, as the economic crisis deepens and people’s abilities to survive are challenged even more, they are turning to one another and looking around at ways to survive. In this case, the around is on the thousands of vacant lots, often abandoned by business who have long taken the jobs elsewhere, or landowners no longer able to pay taxes or mortgages. Rather than leave the land abandoned and fallow, people have been coming together to make it productive. This is no small task, and with the cooperation of thousands of people the urban farms and gardens in Detroit produce 200 tons of produce each year. The number of urban gardens has gone from fewer than 100 before the year 2000 to over 2000 in 2015. What this means in human terms is that those people who work the gardens eat 2.5 more servings of fruits or vegetables than those who do not….These numbers are especially important considering Detroit is a ‘food desert’ meaning that there are no major food retail outlets selling fresh produce. Those smaller ones that do exist are few and far between, and the produce they have is often terrible… While there is an ever growing number of networks organized by urban farms and gardens with people teaching others strategies for urban gardening, at the same time there are and continue to be many people who just learn themselves and teach one another in their neighborhoods.”
The synergy between Leech’s Cuba and Sitrin’s Detroit is undeniable and powerful. Faced with material, social, and political desertion (and embargo in Cuba’s case) by top-down, industrialized, and eco-cidal elites, the people themselves stepped in to craft new and healthy, environmentally sustainable bottom up strategies for survival. They have generated their own healthy, life-sustaining means of production and distribution at the most basic level – food. They have done so through methods that stand in harmonious and regenerative – rather than conflictual and extractivist – relations to the Earth we all share. Imagine.
This is not the path laid out in The Communist Manifesto. It’s not really about building on, or mimicking capital’s purported grand industrial triumph, understood as an ultimately welcome dialectical bridge to a world beyond exploitation, private profit, and the necessity of toil. It’s also not about the naïve bourgeois “utopian socialism” that Marx and Engels mocked in their historic document. It’s about people stepping naturally and organically outside of cancerous capitalism, in places abandoned and embargoed by capital, to engage in the hard but useful and cooperative work of building new modes of nourishing, life-upholding production and distribution from the Earthly bottom up.
There is of course an important difference between Cuba and Detroit, one that Marxists will appreciate. The Cuban example has taken place with the participation and encouragement of the Cuban government, consistent with the independent and truly radical-socialist impulses of the 1959 Cuban Revolution . The Cuban permaculturalist Roberto Pérez tells Leech that Cuba laid the basis for an environmentally sustainable society “when the revolution gained sovereignty over the resources of the country, especially the land and the minerals…You cannot think about sustainability,” Perez explains, “if your resources are in the hands of a foreign country or in private hands. Even without knowing, we were creating the basis for sustainability.” This is a critical point. As the New York City-based Marxist writer Louis Proyect noted last May, “capitalism and capitalist politics have to be superseded if humanity and nature are to survive. Once we can eliminate the profit motive, the door is open to rational use of natural resources for the first time in human history. How we make use of such resources will naturally be informed by our understanding that reason governs the outcome and not quarterly earnings. The alternative,” Proyect reminds us, “to this is a descent into savagery, if not extinction.” (The savagery, for what it’s worth, is well underway in the U.S., home to 290 mass shootings in the first 270 days of 2015 and to a global military Empire that regularly murders innocents – most recently 22 patients and doctors at a Doctors Without Borders facility in Afghanistan – abroad on a mass scale). Ecosocialists: do not throw out the anti-capitalist baby with the industrialist bathwater!
The cooperative urban farming movement described by Sitrin in Detroit and in other zones of bourgeois, exchange value-driven capitalist abandonment across the U.S. is occurring in the urban shadows of a nation that remains captive to the world’s most powerful capitalist class and its hidden, unelected and interrelated dictatorships of money, empire, race, patriarchy, and eco-cide. Its geographic positioning, however, makes it in one sense more significant than the wonderful Cuban developments captured by Leech. Detroit, after all, rests in the belly of the beast, the great capitalist and imperial state that continues to do the most by far to yoke the world to the deadly, exterminist, environmentally catastrophist “global treadmill” of mass production, mass consumption, and private, plutocratic accumulation. If we might turn the mass-production enthusiast Leon Trotsky on his eco-industrial head and then set him back on his feet in the United States, it is in this country above all where the duty of popular, permaculturalist and eco-socialist revolution is greatest and where the liberating potential of such revolution for humanity is most advanced.
. Leech notes that Cuba’s shift towards a less statist and more participatory model of socialism through the formation of cooperatives has been misunderstood by U.S. media as a shift to capitalism. “Unlike in capitalist nations,” Leech explains, “Cuba has not simply laid off thousands of public sector workers and left them to fend for themselves as unemployed desperately seeking private sector jobs. The layoffs are a multi-year process and, due to the 2011 economic reforms, many workers will continue to perform the same job. For instance, in many sectors, such as stores, bars, restaurants and transportation, workers have been offered the opportunity to establish cooperatives and to take over their existing places of business….In one such case, five workers in a state-owned restaurant formed a cooperative and now lease the property from the state and run the business as their own. So while they are part of the downsizing of the public sector because they no longer work for the state, they continue to do the same job as previously. In the eyes of many, such a transition actually constitutes a strengthening of socialism rather than a shift towards capitalism because it is empowering workers who now have a meaningful voice in their workplace—something they didn’t have under state socialism and would not have under corporate capitalism…The establishment of small private enterprises constitutes a redefining of Cuban socialism because it liberates workers from the hierarchical structures of state socialism by allowing them to become their own bosses. Further evidence that allowing small businesses and cooperatives to emerge does not necessarily represent a shift to capitalism is the fact that it remains illegal to establish a corporation. Because an individual is only permitted to own one place of business, corporate chains that monopolize production and markets cannot be established so the overwhelming majority of businesses remain locally-owned and rooted in the community…What Cuba is attempting to avoid are the gross inequalities that inevitably result from monopoly corporate capitalism where workers have no meaningful voice in their daily work lives. So while many mainstream analysts in the United States view the shift to small private businesses as a move towards capitalism, such a view ignores the reality that small privately-owned businesses are not unique to capitalism, they existed in societies long before capitalist model came into existence.”
Beyond understanding how small and fragile a world we live in and how tenuous and questionable our survival realizing the reality puts many things in context. Ask any survivor of cancer. As with the moon landing, this realization can serve as a paradigm shift in our consciousness: in how we see ourselves and each other. Let's face it, national loyalties, partisan conflicts, cultural differences, class struggles and military competitions all seem irrelevant in the face of extinction.
Rather than becoming depressed about the state of the planet and our odds, we can savor what we have while we have it. Maybe it will help us to realize that we are all more than family. We, and all the living creatures on earth, are cells in the larger organism of our small living planet's biosphere. Like the cells in our body, cooperation is vital to survival. We are truly one. All we have in the universe is each other. In realizing that oneness, we can live fuller lives with compassion and authenticity. We can honestly and openly be ourselves shedding those phoney pretenses donned for the sake of careers or social acceptance. In doing so, we can find personal peace and we may even reach some kind of enlightenment that vindicates our existence and makes the human experiment somehow worth the effort.
In a time when stupidity is promoted to protect the venal dictatorship of the 1% I find myself having to explain the basics of civilization to many who missed or were sheltered from the basic lessons of history. Fortunately, aside from publishing the Blue Collar Review I have a regular monthly column or two locally.
My newest contribution in this ongoing effort is entitled
Of Budgets and Priorities --
Reclaiming the Republic and the Social Contract
Governments are an invention of humanity going back to the New Stone Age between 12,000 and maybe 15,000 years ago. When we moved from nomadic hunting and gathering to agriculture, we settled into villages and city states which needed order and mutual protection. The social contract that is the basis of government evolved from family and clan loyalty and from the need for mutual responsibility and cooperation that made life possible for us as a species. Dictatorships aside, the basic idea of government was, and has remained at its root, mutual security. This meant that the strong looked after the weak, that everyone had food and water and that everyone was responsible for contributing to the common good and for defending against threats of aggression. These values basic to the idea of government are enshrined in the Preamble of our own Constitution; “We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity . . .” Though the interpretation of the social contract and the inclusiveness of all, especially women, African-Americans and the working poor, has been at issue throughout our national history, these are the values that brought many of our ancestors here – those who had a choice.
The primary powers of the nation state, beginning with the late 18th century break from Monarchy, were: the creation of roads and basic infrastructure, establishing and maintaining essential communication via the postal service, a common defense and the collecting of taxes to cover the cost of these government services. What to do with that public money has expanded as necessity dictated. Roads and modern infrastructure cost more, we have electronic communication, more advanced medicine and education requirements and ecological threats to public safety. As our society evolved from agrarian and craft-based to industrial and urban, dependence on wage work became the norm creating new problems. The mutual support of the extended family needed on the farm gave way to the smaller nuclear family because workers had to be more mobile. Issues including work place injuries, job shortages, growing personal debt and living beyond employability created strong popular movements demanding worker rights and basic social guarantees, resulting in worker's comp, unemployment insurance and Social Security.
The collection and use of public money continues to be a hot-button issue on state and national levels. The original idea of government would imply that public money be invested in that which benefits our common security and the public good. Yet, this has increasingly been affected by the power of corporate influence.
The influence of corporate power on public policy really took off after the Civil War with the ascendancy of the Robber Barons. President Lincoln once said he feared the rising rich more than he did the Confederacy, writing, “I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country. ... corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed.” The “Guilded Age” that followed his assassination brought home the truth of his words. It was rife with corruption and scandal from the rise of Tammany Hall's bribery cronyism and redistribution of public money to outright fraud and the diversion of funds allocated for Congress to Railroad companies.
In 1886 a ruling by the Supreme Court in the Santa Clara case was purposefully misreported to twist the meaning of Fourteenth Amendment, giving corporations the rights of “a natural person.” As Richard Robbins writes in his book, Global Problems and the Culture of Capitalism, “Thus corporations were given the same 'rights' to influence the government in their own interests as were extended to individual citizens, paving the way for corporations to use their wealth to dominate public thought and discourse.” The reality is that the Supreme Court ruled no such thing in 1886. It was a fiction created by the court’s reporter in contradiction to what the court actually said. There is a note to this effect in US National Archives by the Supreme Court Chief Justice of the time explicitly informing the reporter that the court had not ruled on corporate personhood in that case.
The present is a continuation of the past. The fiction of corporate personhood was strengthened by the Supreme Court in the Citizen's United Case by justices, particularly Clarence Thomas, who had ties to the plaintiff in the case. The ruling affirmed not only that corporations are people but that money is speech. That money talks seems to be unfortunately true in a system corrupted by it, which brings us back to that old fight over the spending priorities of public money.
The ongoing Congressional Budget struggle is a case in point. The Congressional Progressive Caucus has put forth a budget plan called The People's Budget that would increase the minimum wage, strengthen the rights and safety of working people, eliminate corporate tax loopholes, repeal Reagan era tax breaks for the wealthiest, reduce bloated defense spending and allow refinancing of student loans at lower interest rates, among other things.
As the CPC states in this budget plan, “The People's Budget fixes an economy that, for too long, has failed to provide the opportunities American families need to get ahead. Despite their skills and work ethic, most American workers and families are so financially strapped from increasing income inequality that their paychecks barely cover basic necessities. They earn less and less as corporations and the wealthy continue amassing record profits. It has become clear to American workers that the system is rigged. The People’s Budget levels the playing field and creates economic opportunity by increasing the pay of middle and low-income Americans. More customers and higher consumer spending advance American businesses, not tax cuts and relaxed regulations. The People’s Budget drives a full economic recovery by creating high-quality jobs and reducing family expenses, restoring the buying power of working Americans.”
The Economic Policy Institute analysis of this budget model concludes that, “The People’s Budget would increase spending on job creation and public investment measures by $528 billion in calendar year 2015, $454 billion in 2016, and $354 billion in 2017, relative to CBO’s current law baseline. The associated boost to aggregate demand would be enough to substantially reduce labor market slack, taking into consideration lesser economic headwinds from raising additional revenue. The People’s Budget would increase revenue by roughly $61 billion in calendar year 2015, $419 billion in 2016, and $632 billion in 2017.” At present, over 50% of House Democrats support this progressive budget plan.
Then there is the Budget pushed and recently passed along party lines by Republicans. As expected, the GOP budget is based on a failed neo-liberal economic model guided more by ideology and short-sighted corporate interests than by citizen interests. It would result in a $4 trillion in revenue loss over a decade that would have to be offset by spending cuts. Social safety net programs like Medicaid and SNAP, (or food stamps) are targeted for cuts. Where the Progressive Caucus budget would eliminate the economically destructive sequester cap, the Republican budget maintains it. It pushes austerity for you and I while maintaining tax breaks and subsidies for the wealthiest.
As the populist Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont stated,“At a time of massive wealth and income inequality, the Republicans apparently believe that the richest people in America need to be made even richer. It is apparently not good enough that 99 percent of all new income today is going to the top 1 percent. It is not good enough that the top one-tenth of one percent today own almost as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent. Clearly, in Republican eyes, the wealthy and the powerful need more help. Not only should they not be asked to pay more in taxes, the Republicans believe that we should cut tax rates for millionaires and billionaires. At a time when almost 20 percent of our children live in poverty, by far the highest childhood poverty rate of any major country on earth, my Republican colleagues think that maybe we should raise the childhood poverty rate a bit higher by cutting childcare, Head Start, the Child Tax Credit and nutrition assistance for hungry kids. In other words, this budget is more than just a very long list of numbers. The federal budget is about our national priorities and our values. It is about who we are as a nation and what we stand for. It’s about how we assess the problems facing our country and how we resolve them.”
That last line gets to the nitty-gritty of the issue of priorities and the role of government. As I wrote before, the reason governments exist is to protect the common security of citizens. Money collected from citizens through taxes is, our should be, required to serve the common good. Europeans understand this, paying more than we do in taxes, but getting much more social and economic security for their investment.
The power of corporate influence is key here. From the Republican budget, written largely by ALEC, the Kochs, and the Fossil Fuel industry to the larger global influence of multinationals in trade agreements like NAFTA and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, corporations are becoming unelected governments. As recently revealed by Wiki-Leaks from a leaked draft, the Trans-Pacific Partnership deal, as written, will dramatically expand the power of corporations to use closed-door tribunals to challenge and even supersede domestic laws including environmental, labor, public health, and other protections. Global corporations are becoming supranational governments, buying politicians, writing laws and dictating domestic policy not just to countries like Greece but to the U.S. – if we allow it.
Corporate influence is increasingly undermining and replacing the original purpose of government based on the citizen security with a system of serfdom, enforced poverty and global destruction. I am reminded here of what was written in our own Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the People to alter or to abolish it.”
At issue is, who is being represented, in short, whose government is this? We still have the power to take back a Representative Republic of, by, and for the People from those who would cede it to the self-serving tyranny of corporate dictatorship. Together, overcoming the false divisions of phoney partisan politics that we are cynically fed, we can insist that details of trade agreements like the TPP are made open to the public and that we have a say. We can unite demanding budget priorities that put People before Profits. Together we can target and defeat corrupt politicians who prioritize private interests and corporate agendas over the common good. We can support the Move to Amend effort demanding legislation that overturns corporate personhood, instituting electoral reform and anti-corruption laws that remove the money influence from politics. Our future, our real security and our freedom are ours to defend or to squander. The time to act is now or as Rep. Alan Grayson says, "Pucker up and kiss this country goodbye".