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Silvia Federici is one of the most important political theorists alive today. Her landmark book Caliban and the Witch demonstrated the inextricable link between anti-capitalism and radical feminist politics by digging deep into the actual history of capital’s centuries-long attack on women and the body.
In this essay, originally written in 2008, she follows up on that revelation by laying out her feminist anti-capitalist vision, and how it extends beyond traditional Marxism. This piece is comprehensive – long but far-reaching. At times seeing the truth requires seeing in the dark – acknowledging the true horrors of the world as it currently is manifest.
This essay was updated and published in Silvia’s new anthology Revolution at Point Zero, and I have made a few small additional edits. Enjoy! [alex]
The Reproduction of Labor Power in the Global Economy and the Unfinished Feminist Revolution (2011 edition)
“It is clear that capitalism has led to the super-exploitation of women. This would not offer much consolation if it had only meant heightened misery and oppression, but fortunately it has also provoked resistance. And capitalism has become aware that if it completely ignores or suppresses this resistance it might become more and more radical, eventually turning into a movement for self-reliance and perhaps even the nucleus of a new social order.” – Robert Biel, The New Imperialism (2000)
“The emerging liberative agent in the Third World is the unwaged force of women who are not yet disconnected from the life economy by their work. They serve life not commodity production. They are the hidden underpinning of the world economy and the wage equivalent of their life-serving work is estimated at $16 trillion.” – John McMurtry, The Cancer State of Capitalism (1999)
“The pestle has snapped because of so much pounding. Tomorrow I will go home. Until tomorrow Until tomorrow… Because of so much pounding, tomorrow I will go home.” – Hausa women’s song from Nigeria
This essay is a political reading of the restructuring of the (re)production of labor-power in the global economy, but it is also a feminist critique of Marx that, in different ways, has been developing since the 1970s. This critique was first articulated by activists in the Campaign for Wages For Housework, especially Mariarosa Dalla Costa, Selma James, Leopoldina Fortunati, among others, and later by Ariel Salleh in Australia and the feminists of the Bielefeld school, Maria Mies, Claudia Von Werlhof, Veronica Benholdt-Thomsen.
At the center of this critique is the argument that Marx’s analysis of capitalism has been hampered by his inability to conceive of value-producing work other than in the form of commodity production and his consequent blindness to the significance of women’s unpaid reproductive work in the process of capitalist accumulation. Ignoring this work has limited Marx’s understanding of the true extent of the capitalist exploitation of labor and the function of the wage in the creation of divisions within the working class, starting with the relation between women and men.
Had Marx recognized that capitalism must rely on both an immense amount of unpaid domestic labor for the reproduction of the workforce, and the devaluation of these reproductive activities in order to cut the cost of labor power, he may have been less inclined to consider capitalist development as inevitable and progressive.
As for us, a century and a half after the publication of Capital, we must challenge the assumption of the necessity and progressivity of capitalism for at least three reasons.
I recently finished this fascinating book by C.L.R. James, detailing the Haitian Revolution of 1791-1803. This was the first (and only?) time in history that an entire colony of African slaves revolted against their masters and succeeded in establishing independence. The magnitude of such a feat, considering all the European backlash and repression, from no less than Napoleon, is shocking to this day.
C.L.R. James is famous for being one of the most outspoken anti-colonial Marxist thinkers of the 20th Century. His political career started in his native Trinidad, took him through Trotskyism to the Johnson-Forest Tendency, which defined the Soviet Union as state capitalist. After being deported from the US, he spent his final years living in London and married to Selma James, the influential Marxist feminist and founder of the Wages for Housework campaign.
The merits of this book are obvious, it is a blow-by-blow account of how the slaves of Saint-Domingue became the free citizens of Haiti. For its profound social history, it has become required reading for post-colonial theorists, pan-Africanists and anti-capitalists of all stripes. The book is made more relevant by the ongoing injustices against the Haitian people by the US government and international NGOs, which have kept Haiti in a state of poverty and dependence. It is important to remind ourselves that the Haitians are proud people with a history of self-empowerment.
The flaws of the book are perhaps more interesting. James wants to paint Toussaint L’Ouverture in the same stripe as Vladimir Lenin, who James sees as actually a heroic revolutionary leader. From this error stem all the peculiar sections of the book where Toussaint’s character become the main focus. Most interestingly, James also criticizes some of Toussaint’s worst moves, correctly charging them as cowardly or counter-revolutionary, yet does not hesitate to explain them away by referring to Toussaint’s “genius.”
For me the bottom line is that humans instinctively desire freedom. We don’t need any authorities to create it for us, we either all create it together or we lack it. Generals like Toussaint tend to want to appeal to authority, whether Napoleon or the bourgeois Jacobins in Paris. It is a simple fact that people in power are more concerned about what other people with power think, rather than what the people think. Here lies Toussaint’s mistake, and the mistake of Leninism as well.
None of this should discourage the reader from reading and absorbing the social history behind one of the greatest popular democratic victories of all time. The point is to read history critically.
One such critical reader is my friend Daniel, who wrote the excellent review which follows, and which brings the contradictions of James’ work to life. [alex]
The Black Jacobins
C.L.R. James, 1938
Review by Daniel Meltzer.
This book was an excellent read. The strengths included breathtaking battle scenes, rousing rhetoric for freedom and against slavery, brilliant stories of liberation, and page-turning political intrigue. The weaknesses in the book come from self-defeating politics of discipline for the sake of discipline, and the heart-rending compromises that Toussaint L’Overture makes with people who see him and the republic he created as nothing more than slaves to be punished for their insubordination.
The utter brutality and injustice of slave ownership, and the barbaric treatment of slaves is scandalous. You will literally shake your head at the stories of how slaves were treated under the law in Haiti. A particularly unnerving example is the slavemasters filling a slave up with gunpowder and lighting a fuse, exploding the body of the slave, perhaps for punishment, but seemingly just as often because the slavemasters could.
The slaves began creating a series of low-level daily resistance to such a situation that is tragic and fascinating. “The majority of the slaves accomodated themselves to this unceasing brutality by a profound fatalism and a wooden stupidity before their masters. [...]Through the shirt of [a slave] a master can feel the potatoes which he denies he has stolen. They are not potatoes, he says, they are stones. He is undressed and the potatoes fall to the ground. “Eh! master. The devil is wicked. Put stones, and look, you find potatoes.” Read the rest of this entry »
[There are a lot of thought-provoking ideas in this article, as we reflect on the Occupy movement, what it was, what it meant, and where we go from here in our movements against zombie-capitalism and for a better world.
I intend to write much more about my reflections on Occupy, don't worry. - alex]
Originally posted on Bay of Rage (May 16, 2012) (broken link 5/28).
For those of us in Oakland, “Occupy Wall Street” was always a strange fit. While much of the country sat eerily quiet in the years before the Hot Fall of 2011, a unique rebelliousness that regularly erupted in militant antagonisms with the police was already taking root in the streets of the Bay. From numerous anti-police riots triggered by the execution of Oscar Grant on New Year’s Day 2009, to the wave of anti-austerity student occupations in late 2009 and early 2010, to the native protest encampment at Glen Cove in 2011, to the the sequence of Anonymous BART disruptions in the month before Occupy Wall Street kicked off, our greater metropolitan area re-emerged in recent years as a primary hub of struggle in this country. The intersection at 14th and Broadway in downtown Oakland was, more often than not, “ground zero” for these conflicts.
If we had chosen to follow the specific trajectory prescribed by Adbusters and the Zucotti-based organizers of Occupy Wall Street, we would have staked out our local Occupy camp somewhere in the heart of the capitol of West Coast capital, as a beachhead in the enemy territory of San Francisco’s financial district. Some did this early on, following in the footsteps of the growing list of other encampments scattered across the country like a colorful but confused archipelago of anti-financial indignation. According to this logic, it would make no sense for the epicenter of the movement to emerge in a medium sized, proletarian city on the other side of the bay.
We intentionally chose a different path based on a longer trajectory and rooted in a set of shared experiences that emerged directly from recent struggles. Vague populist slogans about the 99%, savvy use of social networking, shady figures running around in Guy Fawkes masks, none of this played any kind of significant role in bringing us to the forefront of the Occupy movement. In the rebel town of Oakland, we built a camp that was not so much the emergence of a new social movement, but the unprecedented convergence of preexisting local movements and antagonistic tendencies all looking for a fight with capital and the state while learning to take care of each other and our city in the most radical ways possible.
This is what we began to call The Oakland Commune; that dense network of new found affinity and rebelliousness that sliced through seemingly impenetrable social barriers like never before. Our “war machine and our care machine” as one comrade put it. No cops, no politicians, plenty of “autonomous actions”; the Commune materialized for one month in liberated Oscar Grant Plaza at the corner of 14th & Broadway. Here we fed each other, lived together and began to learn how to actually care for one another while launching unmediated assaults on our enemies: local government, the downtown business elite and transnational capital. These attacks culminated with the General Strike of November 2 and subsequent West Coast Port Blockade.
I’ve been meaning to post this for a while! It’s a great short essay / pamphlet on race and racism, written for the Occupy movement. Please read! Race is an issue we ignore at our own peril. [alex]
Whiteness and the 99%
By Joel Olson
Occupy Wall Street and the hundreds of occupations it has sparked nationwide are among the most inspiring events in the U.S. in the 21st century. The occupations have brought together people to talk, occupy, and organize in new and exciting ways. The convergence of so many people with so many concerns has naturally created tensions within the occupation movement. One of the most significant tensions has been over race. This is not unusual, given the racial history of the United States. But this tension is particularly dangerous, for unless it is confronted, we cannot build the 99%. The key obstacle to building the 99% is left colorblindness, and the key to overcoming it is to put the struggles of communities of color at the center of this movement. It is the difference between a free world and the continued dominance of the 1%.
Left colorblindess is the enemy
Left colorblindness is the belief that race is a “divisive” issue among the 99%, so we should instead focus on problems that “everyone” shares. According to this argument, the movement is for everyone, and people of color should join it rather than attack it.
Left colorblindness claims to be inclusive, but it is actually just another way to keep whites’ interests at the forefront. It tells people of color to join “our” struggle (who makes up this “our,” anyway?) but warns them not to bring their “special” concerns into it. It enables white people to decide which issues are for the 99% and which ones are “too narrow.” It’s another way for whites to expect and insist on favored treatment, even in a democratic movement.
As long as left colorblindness dominates our movement, there will be no 99%. There will instead be a handful of whites claiming to speak for everyone. When people of color have to enter a movement on white people’s terms rather than their own, that’s not the 99%. That’s white democracy.
The white democracy
Biologically speaking, there’s no such thing as race. As hard as they’ve tried, scientists have never been able to define it. That’s because race is a human creation, not a fact of nature. Like money, it only exists because people accept it as “real.” Races exist because humans invented them.
Why would people invent race? Race was created in America in the late 1600s in order to preserve the land and power of the wealthy. Rich planters in Virginia feared what might happen if indigenous tribes, slaves, and indentured servants united and overthrew them. So, they cut a deal with the poor English colonists. The planters gave the English poor certain rights and privileges denied to all persons of African and Native American descent: the right to never be enslaved, to free speech and assembly, to move about without a pass, to marry without upper-class permission, to change jobs, to acquire property, and to bear arms. In exchange, the English poor agreed to respect the property of the rich, help them seize indigenous lands, and enforce slavery.
This cross-class alliance between the rich and the English poor came to be known as the “white race.” By accepting preferential treatment in an economic system that exploited their labor, too, the white working class tied their wagon to the elite rather than the rest of humanity. This devil’s bargain has undermined freedom and democracy in the U.S. ever since.
As this white race expanded to include other European ethnicities, the result was a very curious political system: the white democracy. The white democracy has two contradictory aspects to it. On the one hand, all whites are considered equal (even as the poor are subordinated to the rich and women are subordinated to men). On the other, every white person is considered superior to every person of color. It’s democracy for white folks, but tyranny for everyone else. Read the rest of this entry »
This is one of the most striking and intelligent articles I’ve ever read, encouraging a total reconfiguring of how to view capitalism and revolution. Russell Means was a leader in the American Indian Movement (AIM) of the 1960s and 70s, and remains one of the most outspoken Native Americans in the U.S.
I came across this essay while researching for my upcoming critique of Marxism, and was blown away by its clarity. This is Means’ most famous essay. It was published in Ward Churchill’s book “Marxism and Native Americans”, under the title “The Same Old Song”, and has appeared elsewhere under the names “Marxism is a European Tradition,” and “For America to Live, Europe Must Die.” Yet, it is actually not very available on the internet. I hope by republishing it I will raise some much-needed debate on the nature of the revolutionary project today.
I want to point out one difference I have with the essay, namely that the “European culture” Russell Means criticizes is capitalism, and before it could commit genocide and ecocide on the rest of the planet, this social system had to be imposed upon Europe first. Silvia Federici’s book Caliban and the Witch is key to my understanding of these violent origins of capitalism. The importance of this distinction is to clarify what Means says at the end of the essay, that he is not making a racial argument, but a cultural argument. For me, we need more than that, we need a political/economic argument which cuts to the core of why capitalism is destroying the planet and making us all miserable. Only then does revolutionary change appear possible. [alex]
“For America to Live, Europe Must Die”
Reproduced from Black Hawk Productions.
The following speech was given by Russell Means in July 1980, before several thousand people who had assembled from all over the world for the Black Hills International Survival Gathering, in the Black Hills of South Dakota. It is Russell Means’s most famous speech.
“The only possible opening for a statement of this kind is that I detest writing. The process itself epitomizes the European concept of “legitimate” thinking; what is written has an importance that is denied the spoken. My culture, the Lakota culture, has an oral tradition, so I ordinarily reject writing. It is one of the white world’s ways of destroying the cultures of non-European peoples, the imposing of an abstraction over the spoken relationship of a people.
So what you read here is not what I’ve written. It’s what I’ve said and someone else has written down. I will allow this because it seems that the only way to communicate with the white world is through the dead, dry leaves of a book. I don’t really care whether my words reach whites or not. They have already demonstrated through their history that they cannot hear, cannot see; they can only read (of course, there are exceptions, but the exceptions only prove the rule). I’m more concerned with American Indian people, students and others, who have begun to be absorbed into the white world through universities and other institutions. But even then it’s a marginal sort of concern. It’s very possible to grow into a red face with a white mind; and if that’s a person’s individual choice, so be it, but I have no use for them. This is part of the process of cultural genocide being waged by Europeans against American Indian peoples’ today. My concern is with those American Indians who choose to resist this genocide, but who may be confused as to how to proceed.
(You notice I use the term American Indian rather than Native American or Native indigenous people or Amerindian when referring to my people. There has been some controversy about such terms, and frankly, at this point, I find it absurd. Primarily it seems that American Indian is being rejected as European in origin–which is true. But all the above terms are European in origin; the only non-European way is to speak of Lakota–or, more precisely, of Oglala, Brule, etc.–and of the Dineh, the Miccousukee, and all the rest of the several hundred correct tribal names.
(There is also some confusion about the word Indian, a mistaken belief that it refers somehow to the country, India. When Columbus washed up on the beach in the Caribbean, he was not looking for a country called India. Europeans were calling that country Hindustan in 1492. Look it up on the old maps. Columbus called the tribal people he met “Indio,” from the Italian in dio, meaning “in God.”)
It takes a strong effort on the part of each American Indian not to become Europeanized. The strength for this effort can only come from the traditional ways, the traditional values that our elders retain. It must come from the hoop, the four directions, the relations: it cannot come from the pages of a book or a thousand books. No European can ever teach a Lakota to be Lakota, a Hopi to be Hopi. A master’s degree in “Indian Studies” or in “education” or in anything else cannot make a person into a human being or provide knowledge into traditional ways. It can only make you into a mental European, an outsider.
I should be clear about something here, because there seems to be some confusion about it. When I speak of Europeans or mental Europeans, I’m not allowing for false distinctions. I’m not saying that on the one hand there are the by-products of a few thousand years of genocidal, reactionary, European intellectual development which is bad; and on the other hand there is some new revolutionary intellectual development which is good. I’m referring here to the so-called theories of Marxism and anarchism and “leftism” in general. I don’t believe these theories can be separated from the rest of the of the European intellectual tradition. It’s really just the same old song.
The process began much earlier. Newton, for example, “revolutionized” physics and the so-called natural sciences by reducing the physical universe to a linear mathematical equation. Descartes did the same thing with culture. John Locke did it with politics, and Adam Smith did it with economics. Each one of these “thinkers” took a piece of the spirituality of human existence and converted it into code, an abstraction. They picked up where Christianity ended: they “secularized” Christian religion, as the “scholars” like to say–and in doing so they made Europe more able and ready to act as an expansionist culture. Each of these intellectual revolutions served to abstract the European mentality even further, to remove the wonderful complexity and spirituality from the universe and replace it with a logical sequence: one, two, three. Answer!
This is what has come to be termed “efficiency” in the European mind. Whatever is mechanical is perfect; whatever seems to work at the moment–that is, proves the mechanical model to be the right one–is considered correct, even when it is clearly untrue. This is why “truth” changes so fast in the European mind; the answers which result from such a process are only stopgaps, only temporary, and must be continuously discarded in favor of new stopgaps which support the mechanical models and keep them (the models) alive.
Hegel and Marx were heirs to the thinking of Newton, Descartes, Locke and Smith. Hegel finished the process of secularizing theology–and that is put in his own terms–he secularized the religious thinking through which Europe understood the universe. Then Marx put Hegel’s philosophy in terms of “materialism,” which is to say that Marx despiritualized Hegel’s work altogether. Again, this is in Marx’ own terms. And this is now seen as the future revolutionary potential of Europe. Europeans may see this as revolutionary, but American Indians see it simply as still more of that same old European conflict between being and gaining. The intellectual roots of a new Marxist form of European imperialism lie in Marx’–and his followers’–links to the tradition of Newton, Hegel and the others. Read the rest of this entry »
One of the most descriptive and disturbing articles I’ve yet read about the Tea Party and the rise of neo-fascist movement in the United States. Max Blumenthal does not name it fascism, but it’s clear to me that the “Take Back America” crowd are striving to purify the US and return it to a mythical lost golden era, and they are not afraid to attack immigrants, Arabs, African Americans, queer folks, women, and anyone else that would deny their messianic mission of restoring white male supremacy.
The fabricated outrage over the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque” is only the latest in a long string of xenophobic lies to divide, distract, and diffuse the legitimate outrage of working class Americans. Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin are leading these poor Tea Party suckers to destroy everything they claim to want to protect.
Wearing a tri-corner hat does not make you a patriot. Speaking the truth, and challenging the forces of tyranny, that makes a patriot. The tyrants of today are the corporations and banks that own our country, the Pentagon and security apparatus that violently impose their will, and the lying media like Fox News and CNN that fill our heads with propaganda 24/7. In short, the Tea Party are the unwitting pawns of tyranny.
Only a powerful grassroots progressive movement can blunt their hatred and redirect the public’s outrage towards the capitalist system which has bankrupted us. [alex]
Days of Rage — The Noxious Transformation of the Conservative Movement into a Rabid Fringe
Crusading to restore a holy social order, Tea Partiers have promoted disorder. Claiming to protect democracy, they smashed windows of elected representatives.
“He will tell you that he wants a strong authority to take from him the crushing responsibility of thinking for himself. Since the Republic is weak, he is led to break the law out of love for obedience. But is it really strong authority that he wish? In reality he demands rigorous order for others, and for himself disorder without responsibility.” — Jean-Paul Sartre, “Anti-Semite and Jew”
I am not sure when I first detected the noxious fumes that would envelop the conservative movement in the Obama era. It might have been early on, in April 2009, when I visited a series of gun shows in rural California and Nevada. Perusing tables piled high with high-caliber semi-automatic weapons and chatting with anyone in my vicinity, I heard urgent warnings of mass roundups, concentration camps, and a socialist government in Washington. “These people that are purchasing these guns are people that are worried about what’s going on in this country,” a gun dealer told me outside a show in Reno. “Good luck Obama,” a young gun enthusiast remarked to me. “We outnumber him 100 to 1.” At this time, the Tea Party movement had not even registered on the national media’s radar.
In September 2009, I led a panel discussion about this book inside an auditorium filled with nearly 100 students and faculty at the University of California-Riverside. Beside me sat Jonathan Walton, an African-American professor of religious studies and prolific writer, and Mark Takano, an erudite, openly gay former Democratic congressional candidate and local community college trustee.
In the middle of our discussion, a dozen College Republicans stormed the front of the stage with signs denouncing me as a “left-wing hack” while a hysterical young man leaped from the crowd, blowing kisses mockingly at Takano while heckling Walton as a “racist.” Afterward, university police officers insisted on escorting me to my ride after the right-wing heckler attempted to follow me as he shouted threats.
Who was this stalker? Just a concerned citizen worried about taxes? His name was Ryan Sorba and he was an operative of a heavily funded national conservative youth outfit, the Intercollegiate Studies Institute. Besides founding dozens of Republican youth groups across the country, Sorba has devoted an exceptional amount of energy to his interest in homosexuals. His intellectual output consists of a tract titled The Born Gay Hoax, arguing that homosexuality is at once a curable disease and a bogus trend manufactured by academic leftists. Adding to his credentials, Sorba has a history of run-ins with the law, he explained when I called him about the order.
My encounter with this aggressive right-wing cadre seemed a strange, isolated event. But the hostility turned out to be symptomatic of the intensifying campaign to delegitimize President Obama and his allies in Congress. The Right’s days of rage were only beginning. Read the rest of this entry »
Republished by Energy Bulletin, Countercurrents and OpEdNews.
The following exchange between Michael Carriere and Alex Knight occurred via email, July 2010. Alex Knight was questioned about the End of Capitalism Theory, which states that the global capitalist system is breaking down due to ecological and social limits to growth and that a paradigm shift toward a non-capitalist future is underway.
This is the final part of a four-part interview. Scroll to the bottom for links to the other sections.
Part 3. Life After Capitalism
MC: Moving forward, how would you ideally envision a post-capitalist world? And if capitalism manages to survive (as it has in the past), is there still room for real change?
AK: First let me repeat that even if my theory is right that capitalism is breaking down, it doesn’t suggest that we’ll automatically find ourselves living in a utopia soon. This crisis is an opportunity for us progressives but it is also an opportunity for right-wing forces. If the right seizes the initiative, I fear they could give rise to neo-fascism – a system in which freedoms are enclosed and violated for the purpose of restoring a mythical idea of national glory.
I think this threat is especially credible here in the United States, where in recent years we’ve seen the USA PATRIOT Act, the Supreme Court’s decision that corporations are “persons,” and the stripping of constitutional rights from those labeled “terrorists,” “enemy combatants”, as well as “illegals.” Arizona’s attempt to institute a racial profiling law and turn every police officer into an immigration official may be the face of fascism in America today. Angry whites joining together with the repressive forces of the state to terrorize a marginalized community, Latino immigrants. While we have a black president now, white supremacist sentiment remains widespread in this country, and doesn’t appear to be going away anytime soon. So as we struggle for a better world we may also have to contend with increasing authoritarianism.
I should also state up front that I have no interest in “writing recipes for the cooks of the future.” I can’t prescribe the ideal post-capitalist world and I wouldn’t try. People will create solutions to the crises they face according to what makes most sense in their circumstances. In fact they’re already doing this. Yet, I would like to see your question addressed towards the public at large, and discussed in schools, workplaces, and communities. If we have an open conversation about what a better world would look like, this is where the best solutions will come from. Plus, the practice of imagination will give people a stronger investment in wanting the future to turn out better. So I’ll put forward some of my ideas for life beyond capitalism, in the hope that it spurs others to articulate their visions and initiate conversation on the world we want.
My personal vision has been shaped by my outrage over the two fundamental crises that capitalism has perpetrated: the ecological crisis and the social crisis. I see capitalism as a system of abuse. The system grows by exploiting people and the planet as means to extract profit, and by refusing to be responsible for the ecological and social trauma caused by its abuse. Therefore I believe any real solutions to our problems must be aligned to both ecological justice and social justice. If we privilege one over the other, we will only cause more harm. The planet must be healed, and our communities must be healed as well. I would propose these two goals as a starting point to the discussion.
How do we heal? What does healing look like? Let me expand from there.
Five Guideposts to a New World
I mentioned in response to the first question that I view freedom, democracy, justice, sustainability and love as guideposts that point towards a new world. This follows from what I call a common sense radical approach, because it is not about pulling vision for the future from some ideological playbook or dogma, but from lived experience. Rather than taking pre-formed ideas and trying to make reality fit that conceptual blueprint, ideas should spring from what makes sense on the ground. The five guideposts come from our common values. It doesn’t take an expert to understand them or put them into practice.
In the first section I described how freedom at its core is about self-determination. I said that defined this way it presents a radical challenge to capitalist society because it highlights the lack of power we have under capitalism. We do not have self-determination, and we cannot as long as huge corporations and corrupt politicians control our destinies.
I’ll add that access to land is fundamental to a meaningful definition of freedom. The group Take Back the Land has highlighted this through their work to move homeless and foreclosed families directly into vacant homes in Miami. Everyone needs access to land for the basic security of housing, but also for the ability to feed themselves. Without “food sovereignty,” or the power to provide for one’s own family, community or nation with healthy, culturally and ecologically appropriate food, freedom cannot exist. The best way to ensure that communities have food sovereignty is to ensure they have access to land.
Similarly, a deeper interpretation of democracy would emphasize participation by an individual or community in the decisions that affect them. For this definition I follow in the footsteps of Ella Baker, the mighty civil rights organizer who championed the idea of participatory democracy. With a lifelong focus on empowering ordinary people to solve their own problems, Ella Baker is known for saying “Strong people don’t need strong leaders.” This was the philosophy of the black students who sat-in at lunch counters in the South to win their right to public accommodations. They didn’t wait for the law to change, or for adults to tell them to do it. The students recognized that society was wrong, and practiced non-violent civil disobedience , becoming empowered by their actions. Then with Ms. Baker’s support they formed the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and organized poor blacks in Mississippi to demand their right to vote, passing on the torch of empowerment.
We need to be empowered to manage our own affairs on a large scale. In a participatory democracy, “we, the people” would run the show, not representatives who depend on corporate funding to get elected. “By the people, for the people, of the people” are great words. What if we actually put those words into action in the government, the economy, the media, and all the institutions that affect our lives? Institutions should obey the will of the people, rather than the people obeying the will of institutions. It can happen, but only through organization and active participation of the people as a whole. We must empower ourselves, not wait for someone else to do it. Read the rest of this entry »
Republished by Energy Bulletin, OpEdNews, and Countercurrents, and translated into Turkish for Hafif.org.
The following exchange between Michael Carriere and Alex Knight occurred via email, July 2010. Alex Knight was questioned about the End of Capitalism Theory, which states that the global capitalist system is breaking down due to ecological and social limits to growth and that a paradigm shift toward a non-capitalist future is underway.
This is the third part of a four-part interview. This part is a continuation of Alex’s response to the second question. Click here for Part 2A. Scroll to the bottom for links to the other sections.
Part 2B. Social Limits and the Crisis
MC: Capitalism has faced many moments of crisis over time. Is there something different about the present crisis? What makes the end of capitalism a possibility now?
AK: As I described in the last section, the current crisis can be understood as resulting from a massive collision between capitalism’s relentless need for growth and the world’s limits in capacity to sustain that growth. These limits to growth are both ecological and social. In this section I’ll discuss the concept of social limits to growth.
The Extraordinary Power of Social Movements
Social limits to growth function alongside the ecological limits but are drawn from a different source. By social limits we mean the inability, or unwillingness, of human communities, and humankind as a whole, to support the expansion of capitalism. This broadly includes all forms of resistance to capitalism, a resistance that has arguably been increasing around the world through innumerable forms of alternative lifestyles, refusal to cooperate, protest, and outright rebellion.
As a disclaimer it’s important to recognize that not all resistance is progressive. There are right-wing, fundamentalist, and undemocratic forces that also resist capitalism, for example the Taliban, or North Korea. These are not our allies. They do not share progressive values, we cannot condone their attacks on women, or on freedom more generally, and I don’t see anything to be gained by working with them. However it is important to recognize how these forces are aligned against capitalism and U.S. imperialism, in addition to being aware of the danger they present to our own hopes and dreams.
Progressive resistance, on the other hand, has always taken its strength from grassroots social movements. Silvia Federici writes about the immense and varied peasant movements in medieval Europe that fought for religious and sexual freedom, challenging both feudal lords and emerging capitalist elites. I like to think of these rebels as my European ancestors – they were just commoners but they rose up to fight for a better world. This is the nature of social movements. Ordinary folks, daring to pursue their deepest aspirations, interests and dreams, join together with others who share those desires, and thereby create something extraordinary. The magic exists in the joining-together. Isolated individuals lack the power to accomplish what a group can achieve.
We can appreciate this extraordinary power if we look at how social movements have transformed our lives. A century ago, millions of American workers joined the labor movement and won the 8-hour day, Social Security, and workplace safety. Regular folks carried forward the Civil Rights Movement and broke Southern segregation. The feminist and LGBT movements have transformed the way gender and sexuality are viewed all over the world. It’s hard to overstate how dramatically these and other social movements have improved society. While capitalism has invented ways to co-opt social movements and redirect them into outlets that do not challenge the system on a deep level (like the “non-profit industrial complex”), movements have remained alive and vibrant by empowering people to reach towards a different world.
Have social movements limited capitalist oppression recently? To answer this we need to learn the story of the Global Justice Movement.
The Global Justice Movement
David Graeber, anarchist anthropologist, wrote a remarkable essay called “The Shock of Victory” in which he looks at this movement that suddenly flared up at the turn of the millennium and seemed to disappear just as quickly. Although most Americans may not remember the Global Justice Movement, and those who participated in it may feel demoralized by the fact that capitalism still exists, Graeber points out that many of the movement’s ambitious goals were accomplished. Read the rest of this entry »