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What Really Happened to the 1960s: How Mass Media Culture Failed American Democracy
Edward P. Morgan
2010, University of Kansas Press
Who controls the past, controls the future. Who controls the present, controls the past.
– George Orwell, 1984
As a young and politically naïve college student, I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to take several of Ted Morgan’s classes. His “Movements of the Sixties” course was hugely influential for me, primarily because exposure to the upheavals of that era taught me that the project of transforming our world towards a more democratic, just, and ecologically balanced future has deep roots. Standing confidently atop those long, sturdy roots transmits the possibility and hope that we can indeed change the world, because we already have. Indeed, the black freedom, anti-Vietnam War, women’s liberation, gay and lesbian liberation, welfare rights and other movements of the 60s era so successfully challenged the dominant capitalist institutions of the U.S. that those institutions have been scrambling for the last forty years to systematically minimize the possibility of future freedom struggles.
In this book, Ted Morgan documents a key component of that reaction: the two-pronged mass media campaign to denigrate and obscure the democratic promise that the movements of the sixties still hold, while at the same time co-opting the symbols and imagery of the sixties to make Corporate America “cool” and thereby sell more products. This media reaction has gone hand-in-hand with material forces, such as student debt, coercing the population into inactivity and obedience. In Morgan’s words, the result is a “depoliticized society,” with a “diminished ability to make history” (pg. 7). This book therefore becomes a weapon against rootlessness and despair, which I especially urge young people to read.
The Promise of Democracy
The 1960s are typically remembered as a time of turbulence and change. We all know the iconic images: assassinations, war, protests, urban riots, men on the moon, long hair, drugs, sex, and rock ‘n’ roll. Yet, it’s a decade that Americans are still trying to make sense of, justifying an endless stream of retrospectives like CNN’s latest 10-part weekly series “The Sixties.” Ted Morgan’s necessary book What Really Happened to the 1960s provides answers you won’t find on primetime TV. In his writing, the underlying story of that decade was a clash between capitalism and democracy, one in which perhaps millions of Americans participated in social movements and challenged the country to become more just and more democratic (8). In some ways they succeeded and in others they failed. But as the book’s subtitle, How Mass Media Culture Failed American Democracy suggests, the true history of that struggle has been consistently distorted and hidden from view. What the media still cannot comprehend, or perhaps would seemingly most like to forget, is the democratic promise that formed the basis of those sixties social movements.
“[L]argely disappeared from memory [is] the surge in democratic empowerment in which large numbers of Americans of all ages organized themselves to confront and transform a range of injustices rooted in American institutions” (6, emphasis added).
Morgan goes on to define the phrase “democratic empowerment.”
“[D]emocratic empowerment means one’s unfolding ‘freedom to,’ a lifelong discovery of one’s authentic self, the discovery of which progressively frees one from manipulation by others and potentially by the disabling scripts of the unconscious” (51).
In other words, the sixties’ social movements, at their best, were not just about stopping racism or war on a systemic scale, but also about the self-realization of the millions of individuals involved on a personal level. Forty years later, I experienced the same rush of democratic empowerment when I attended my first organizing meeting and realized for the first time that in working with others I had the power to impact the world around me for the better. The meaningfulness and self-confidence that comes from a politically active and engaged life contrasts dramatically from the dominant modes of apathy and self-loathing inoculated into us by capitalist society and its mass media appendages. The experience of activism allows people to see themselves differently and to grow into their full potential, gaining courage as they take on greater and greater challenges – from speaking at a meeting, to holding a picket sign, to risking arrest in direct action.
As civil rights organizer Jim Lawson is quoted, “ordinary people who acted on conscience and took terrible risks were no longer ordinary people. They were by their very actions transformed” (51). Read the rest of this entry »
Upheaval Productions has produced some impressive documentary and interview footage on the most pressing issues of our day. Here I am reposting 3 of their courageous interviews with 3 modern-day visionaries: Malalai Joya, a heroic voice of reason from the warzone of Afghanistan, Charles Bowden, who continues to shed necessary light on the underlying causes of US-Mexico border violence, drug trade and immigration, and George Katsiaficas, who has spent his life studying revolutions and popular uprisings around the world, and how ordinary people make positive social change.
Each video is about 10 minutes. I learned a lot from all three interviews, and I’m sure you will too. Enjoy!
Malalai Joya is an Afghan activist, author, and former politician. She served as an elected member of the 2003 Loya Jirga and was a parliamentary member of the National Assembly of Afghanistan, until she was expelled for denouncing other members as warlords and war criminals.
She has been a vocal critic of both the US/NATO occupation and the Karzai government, as well as the Taliban and Islamic fundamentalists. After surviving four assassination attempts she currently lives underground in Afghanistan, continuing her work from safe houses. After the release of her memoir, A Woman Among Warlords, she recently concluded a US speaking tour. She sat down for an interview with David Zlutnick while in San Francisco on April 9, 2011. Read the rest of this entry »
Why Marxism Has Failed, and Why Zombie-Marxism Cannot Die
Or My Rocky Relationship with Grampa Karl
by Alex Knight, endofcapitalism.com
Part 2 – November 4, 2010
This is part of an essay critiquing the philosophy of Karl Marx for its relevance to 21st century anti-capitalism. The main thrust of the essay is to encourage living common-sense radicalism, as opposed to the automatic reproduction of zombie ideas which have lost connection to current reality. Karl Marx was no prophet. But neither can we reject him. We have to go beyond him, and bring him with us. I believe it is only on such a basis, with a critical appraisal of Marx, that the Left can become ideologically relevant to today’s rapidly evolving political circumstances. [Click here for Part 1.]
What Marx Got Right
Boiling down all of Karl Marx’s writings into a handful of key contributions is fated to produce an incomplete list, but here are the 5 that immediately come to my mind: 1. Class Analysis, 2. Base and Superstructure, 3. Alienation of Labor, 4. Need for Growth, Inevitability of Crisis, and 5. A Counter-Hegemonic World-view.
(It must be noted that many of these insights were not the unique inspiration of Marx’s brain, but were ideas bubbling up in the European working class movements of the 18th and 19th centuries, which was the political context that educated Marx. Further, Marx’s lifelong collaborator, Friedrich Engels, undoubtedly contributed significantly to Marx’s ideas, although Marx remained the primary theorist.)
In the opening lines of the “Communist Manifesto” (1848), Marx thunders, “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.”
In other words, as long as society has been divided into rich and poor, ruler and enslaved, oppressor and oppressed, capitalist and worker, there have been relentless efforts amongst the powerful to maintain and increase their power, and correspondingly, constant struggles from the poor and oppressed to escape their bondage. This insight appears to be common sense, but it is systematically hidden from mainstream society. People do not choose to be poor or oppressed, although the rich would like us to believe otherwise. The powerless are kept that way by those in power. And they are struggling to end that poverty and oppression, to the best of their individual and collective ability.
The Manifesto elaborates Marx’s class framework under capitalism:
“Our epoch… possesses this distinctive feature: it has simplified class antagonisms: Society as a whole is more and more splitting up into two great hostile camps…: Bourgeoisie and Proletariat” (Marx-Engels Reader 474).
Marx relayed the words “bourgeoisie” and “proletariat” directly from the French working class movement he encountered in his 1844 exile in Paris, when he briefly ran with the likes of “anarchist” theorist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon. Marx himself reminds us, “No credit is due to me for discovering the existence of classes in modern society or the struggle between them.” Class analysis pre-dated Marx by many decades. Yet he articulated the class divisions of capitalist society quite clearly.
The “bourgeoisie” are those who own and control the “means of production,” or basically, the land, factories and machines that make up the economy. Today we know them as the Donald Trumps, the Warren Buffets, etc., although most of the ruling class tries to avoid public scrutiny. In short, the ruling class in capitalism are the wealthy elite, who exert control over society (and government) through their dollars.
Opposing them is the “proletariat,” which Marx defines as “the modern working class – a class of labourers who live only so long as they find work, and who find work only so long as their labour increases capital” (479). The working class for Marx is everybody who has to work for a wage and sell their labor in order to survive.
The divide between the bourgeoisie and proletariat as seen by Marx impacts society in deep and rarely understood ways. However, it is clear that as the rich rule society, they design it for their own benefit through politics, the media, the school system, etc. Inevitably, through “trickle up” economics, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. As the class conflict worsens, for Marx there can only be one solution — revolution:
“This revolution is necessary not only because the ruling class cannot be overthrown in any other way, but also because the class overthrowing it can only in a revolution succeed in ridding itself of all the muck of ages and become fitted to found society anew” (193, “The German Ideology” 1845).
How could it happen? Marx rightly answers, “the emancipation of the working classes must be conquered by the working classes themselves.” Read the rest of this entry »
Learning about the exploitation of the factory workers of China is important not only because, as Johann Hari describes, their brutish toil produces most of our cheap consumer goods in the West. As I argued in my recent interview (Part 2B: Social Limits and the Crisis), we have an even more important connection to these Chinese workers – the hope that their liberation offers the possibility of our own.
Organizing outside the Chinese Communist Party’s official union, workers have initiated a series of crippling strikes that repeatedly shut down factories, among other forms of rebellion. They are openly defying the totalitarian state-capitalist government of China, as well as the Western corporations whose factories they are closing. And they are winning. Wages are being increased by 40, 60, even 100% at some plants.
If the Chinese workers’ movement continues to disrupt the sweatshops pumping out our electronics and car parts, they could throw a wrench into the China->U.S. cheap goods conveyor belt that has carried global capitalist growth for more than a decade. The destruction of this global trade alliance will not only free the Chinese workers from the abominable conditions Hari describes, but potentially free the entire planet from an economic system hell-bent on relentless growth and plunder.
In short, capitalism relies on China’s absurdly cheap labor for its profit margins. This unsanctioned frenzy of Chinese labor organizing is striking a blow in the heart of the system. More power to ’em! We should support these workers however possible. [alex]
by Johann Hari, August 6, 2010
At first, this isn’t going to sound like a good news story, never mind one of the most inspiring stories in the world today. But trust me: it is.
Yan Li spent his life tweaking tiny bolts, on a production line, for the gadgets that make our lives zing and bling. He might have pushed a crucial component of the laptop I am writing this article on, or the mobile phone that will interrupt your reading of it. He was a typical 27-year old worker at the gigantic Foxconn factory in Shenzen, Southern China, which manufactures i-Pads and Playstations and mobile phone batteries.
Li was known to the company by his ID number: F3839667. He stood at a whirring line all day, every day, making the same tiny mechanical motion with his wrist, for 20 pence an hour. According to his family, sometimes his shifts lasted for 24 hours; sometimes they stretched to 35. If he had tried to form a free trade union to change these practices, he would have been imprisoned for twelve years. On the night of May 27th, after yet another marathon-shift, Li dropped dead.
Deaths from overwork are so common in Chinese factories they have a word for it: guolaosi. China Daily estimates 600,000 people are killed this way every year, mostly making goods for us. Li had never experienced any health problems, his family says, until he started this work schedule; Foxconn say he died of asthma and his death had nothing to do with them. The night Li died, yet another Foxconn worker committed suicide – the tenth this year.
For two decades now, you and I have shopped until Chinese workers dropped. Business has bragged about the joys of the China Price. They have been less keen for us to see the Human Price. KYE Systems Corp run a typical factory in Donguan in southern mainland China, and one of their biggest clients is Microsoft – so in 2009 the US National Labour Committee sent Chinese investigators undercover there. On the first day a teenage worker whispered to them: “We are like prisoners here.”
The staff work and live in giant factory-cities that they almost never leave. Each room sleeps ten workers, and each dorm houses 5000. There are no showers; they are given a sponge to clean themselves with. A typical shift begins at 7.45am and ends at 10.55pm. Workers must report to their stations fifteen minutes ahead of schedule for a military-style drill: “Everybody, attention! Face left! Face right!” Once they begin, they are strictly forbidden from talking, listening to music, or going to the toilet. Anybody who breaks this rule is screamed at and made to clean the toilets as punishment. Then it’s back to the dorm.
It’s the human equivalent to battery farming. Read the rest of this entry »
check out this podcast of me being interviewed by Todd Curl. I’m excited to have my views recorded on audio for the first time. in this extensive 2-hour interview, I discuss:
- my hometown of Ambler, PA and its history with asbestos
- my life story of becoming politically aware and active
- peak oil and its interpretations
- the end of capitalism theory
- the nature of capitalism and enclosure
- resistance in China, Arizona, and around the world
- how radicals can use language to speak to everyday people
- healing from abuse and empowering ourselves to live better lives
here it is (click to play audio): Alex Knight Podcast
The Pigeon Post, August 2, 2010
Here is the interview I did with Alex Knight on Friday, July 30, 2010 at Alex’s home in Philadelphia:
At just 27 years old, Alex is already an accomplished writer and a full time activist for social justice. His site, The End of Capitalism, explores the theory of the unsustainable nature of a profit-driven global system that continues to exploit all of the earth’s resources for the sake of greed and power.
Having grown up in Ambler, Pennsylvania — the ‘Asbestos Capital of the World’ — Alex saw first hand the devastation of his home town through the greed of Keasbey and Mattison Corporation who continued to manufacture Asbestos through the 1970s despite the evidence that had existed for years that Asbestos causes Mesothelioma, a serious form of Lung Cancer.
Seeing the sickness of his community first hand eventually built the foundation for Alex’s future environmental and social activism. While at Lehigh University studying Electrical Engineering, Alex became more intellectually aware of the systemic patterns of exploitation and human/environmental devastation brought on by a long history of a Capitalist system concerned only with profit. Alex went on to get his Master’s in Political Science from Lehigh and now is a full-time activist in the Philadelphia area fighting for real and meaningful progressive change.
As Alex will tell you, there is nothing extraordinary about him. Being the quintessential “All American Boy” — he was born on the 4th of July — Alex discovered that real social change is ameliorated when we decide to join forces and fight the powers that are determined to keep us placated and in a constant state of fear so we will not question our own imprisonment of thought and continue to consume without thought or premeditation. For Alex, grassroots organizing and activism is the key to a sustainable future and when we define ourselves as left, right, Marxist, Anarchist, etc.. we just perpetuate petty semantic divides. Alex is proud to call himself “Progressive” as he is a tireless fighter for justice.
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 »
Sakura Saunders’ excellent article from ZNet exposing one form of the “modern Enclosures” – displacing communities from their land to make money for transnational corporations, in this case mining companies in Papua New Guinea. Read this closely!
As described by Silvia Federici’s excellent book Caliban and the Witch, the Enclosures are the violence and displacement that created the first class of landless workers in Europe, commodifying their labor with the wage. And these Enclosures have continued to expand and develop alongside the system of capitalism, in fact I will make the argument that this violence is the base, the foundation, for the system as a whole, and it could not function without it.
We must never forget that at every moment, capitalism is committing violence against poor and indigenous communities in order to make its profits. As Sakura cites, “more than 10 million people are involuntarily displaced every year to make room for development projects.” So much for ‘laissez-faire’! [alex]
Mining Through Roots
Displacement, Poverty and the Global Extractive Industry
In the highlands of Papua New Guinea, several villages rest on a man-made island literally surrounded by an open pit gold mine and its expanding waste dumps. As the waste dumps have grown, they’ve devoured homes, schools, and most of the areas once used for gardening, making the indigenous population rely on money to acquire food while crowding them into increasingly squashed living quarters. At the same time, these same communities – the original landowners of the mine site – are criminalized for what the company calls “illegal mining,” a practice of panning for gold that the local community considers its birthright.
This so-called illegal mining is used by the company as a pretext for detentions, killings, and even the burning down of an entire hillside of homes*. Meanwhile, public funds are diverted from schools and hospitals to deal with “law and order” issues and the construction of a multi-million dollar fence to surround the mine site.
This scenario – the protection of the have’s from the have-not’s by a process of criminalization, militarization and the construction of walls – is an all-too-familiar response to the social issues created by global capitalism and colonization. Immigration policies criminalize people, militarize borders, and separate communities along boundaries set up to trap people in an economic reality that conspires against them. Meanwhile, the developed nations that aggressively protect their borders against new entrants have created a global economic and military system that forces people out of rural areas that are then used by large industry to extract resources, be they cash crops, minerals, lumber, oil and gas, or the industrial infrastructure needed to produce and export these goods (such as dams, highways, and pipelines). This rural to urban migration turns cities into sweatshops with expendable labor and the corresponding rights, leaving few options for the dispossessed. Labor exploitation becomes codified in Temporary Foreign Worker Programs, where developed countries attempt to receive maximum benefit from the desperation of the world’s impoverished. Read the rest of this entry »
A nice short essay about for-profit education in the age of the end of capitalism. Schools are scrambling to turn themselves into little corporations just in time for the entire paradigm of profit to unravel. The question is, as the country bankrupts itself and the markets dry up, how will schools proceed? Not just universities, but high schools, kindergartens, technical schools, etc? What will education look like in a post-capitalist world?
Will it be more authoritarian, based on mindless discipline and punishments in order to train students to be soldiers or prisoners? Or will it be more democratic, based on the free development of the potential of each child, and preparation for service to the community? That choice is up to us. [alex]
Milton Friedman’s Dream
Something for advocates of public education to keep in mind now is the changed face of the enemy. The oligarchs; Gates, Broad, the Walton Family, the Bush Family, Bloomberg and the CEO’s represented in the Business Roundtable, had a plan for the destruction of the public schools. They were supremely confident they could bring to fruition Milton Friedman’s dream that education could become a highly profitable industry. Unbeknownst to them though, they had an Achilles Heel. Their plan was fatally flawed because it was inextricably bound up with the dynamic growth of a global capitalist economy.
That’s over with now. Why? For one, because globalization was so successful in its brief heyday. It penetrated every market on the planet. Who would have thought China could become the largest market for autos the way it has this year? It found the absolute lowest wage possible in the undeveloped world. They bumped right up against outright slavery and where possible went over the edge.
The effect of this success was profits on a scale heretofore unimaginable but it also exhausted the systems possibilities for growth. And growth is its lifeblood. Growth kept it healthy and dynamic. When that growth became impossible capitalism turned in on itself. It began to cannibalize itself. That’s when you get Wall Street turning investment banks into casinos and investment vehicles into logarithms. No more real wealth was being created so the bankers turned to magic tricks, in the form of derivatives, to give the appearance of wealth creation. That’s when you get some of the largest corporate entities ever created disappearing into the history books. So long General Motors!
The other thing a global economy had to have if it was going to work was a plentiful and cheap supply of oil. If the world is not now on the downside of the Peak Oil curve, its close enough for government work in the US, China, India, Russia, the EU. Rulers in these developed and developing countries have begun to act along those lines. For instance, the US won’t be getting out of the Middle East anytime soon for the oil supply it offers. US military presence there has nothing to do with silly bleatings over “underwear bombers” or terrorist threats. And for another instance, economic nationalism, in the form of US tariffs on Chinese steel to give one example, is the wave of the future. Globalization cannot withstand the end of free trade or oil driven trade but it faces both. Read the rest of this entry »