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This was written in the Fall of 2010. Although the complete series will remain unfinished for some time, I am publishing these finished sections because when you put hundreds of hours into something, it makes more sense to share what you’ve produced than to keep it in the closet forever. [alex]

Why Marxism Has Failed, and Why Zombie-Marxism Cannot Die
Or My Rocky Relationship with Grampa Karl

by Alex Knight,
Part 3.1 – September 19, 2011
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 and Part 2.]

What Marx Got Wrong

Marxism has ceased to be applicable to our time not because it is too visionary or revolutionary, but because it is not visionary or revolutionary enough” – Murray Bookchin, “Listen, Marxist!

Although Karl Marx provided us crucial and brilliant anti-capitalist critiques as explored in Part 2, he also contributed several key theoretical errors which continue to haunt the Left. Instead of mindlessly reproducing these dead ideas into contexts where they no longer make sense, we must expose the decay and separate it from the parts of Marx’s thought which are still alive and relevant.

I have narrowed down my objections to five core problems: 1. Linear March of History, 2. Europe as Liberator, 3. Mysticism of the Proletariat, 4. The State, and 5. A Secular Dogma.

I submit that Marx’s foremost shortcoming was his theory of history as a linear progression of higher and higher stages of human society, culminating in the utopia of communism. According to Marx, this “progress” was manifest in the “development of productive forces,” or the ability of humans to remake the world in their own image. The danger of this idea is that it wrongly ascribes an “advance” to the growth of class society. In particular, capitalism is seen as a “necessary” precursor to socialism. This logic implicitly justifies not only the domination of nature by humanity, but the dominance of men over women, and the dominance of Europeans over people of other cultures.

Marx’s elevation of the “proletariat” as the agent of history also created a narrow vision for human emancipation, locating the terrain of liberation within the workplace, rather than outside of it. This, combined with a naive and problematic understanding of the State, only dispensed more theoretical fog that has clouded the thinking of revolutionary strategy for more than a century. Finally, by binding the hopes and dreams of the world into a deterministic formula of economic law, Marx inadvertently created the potential for tragic dogmatism and sectarianism, his followers fighting over who possessed the “correct” interpretation of historical forces.

(These mistakes have become especially apparent with hindsight, after Marxists have attempted to put these ideas into practice over the last 150 years. The goal here is not to fault Marx for failing to see the future, but rather to fault what he actually said, which was wrong in his own time, and is disastrous in ours. In this section I will limit my criticisms to Marx’s ideas only, and deal with the monstrous legacy of “actually existing” Marxism in Part 4.)

Capitalism is "advancing" us right off a cliff.

1. Linear March of History

Rooted in early industrialization and a teleological materialism that assumed progress towards communism was inevitable, traditional Marxist historiography grossly oversimplified real history into a series of linear steps and straightforward transitions, with more advanced stages inexorably supplanting more backward ones. Nowadays we know better. History is wildly contingent and unpredictable. Many alternate paths leave from the current moment, as they have from every previous moment too” – Chris Carlsson, Nowtopia (41).

Much of what is wrong in Marx stems from a deterministic conception of historical development, which imagines that the advance and concentration of economic power is necessarily progressive. According to this view, human liberation, which Marx calls communism, can only exist atop the immense productivity and industrial might of capitalism. All of human history, therefore, is nothing but “progressive epochs in the economic formation of society,” as Marx calls it in his Preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy (1859):

“In broad outlines Asiatic, ancient, feudal, and modern bourgeois modes of production can be designated as progressive epochs in the economic formation of society. The bourgeois relations of production are the last antagonistic form of the social process of production… the productive forces developing in the womb of bourgeois society create the material conditions for the solution of that antagonism [communism].” Read the rest of this entry »


I just saw this film and was blown away by its realism and its heart.  “Land and Freedom” (1995) is roughly based on George Orwell’s experience as a volunteer in the Spanish Revolution / Civil War of 1936 – 1939, which he journaled in his fantastic book Homage to Catalonia.

David is a British radical who goes to Spain to fight the Fascists, and discovers the reality of revolution, counter-revolution, and love.  The film does an excellent job portraying the political debates, struggles and betrayals between the various factions (Fascist, Communist, Anti-Stalinist Marxists, and Anarchists). The entire film is available in one video on youtube (109 min). It is directed by Ken Loach, and is in English and Spanish. Highly recommended!

Also republished by The Rag Blog and OpEdNews.

A little fun while I take a short break from the Zombie-Marxism series. [alex]

Origins of English Words and Class!

Originally published in shorter form, September 1, 2008

by Alex Knight,

Would you rather receive a hearty welcome or a cordial reception?

Notice the imagery and feelings evoked by the two phrases. The first has a Germanic origin, the second, French. The English language is split along class lines — a reflection of the Norman invasion of England, almost 1000 years ago. German-derived English words carry with them a working class connotation, and French-derived words come off sounding aristocratic and slightly repulsive.

Even though cordial literally means “of the heart” in French (cor is Latin for heart), the picture that comes to my mind is a royal douchebag entering a hall of power amidst classical music and overdressed patrons and nobility. The image I get from hearty welcome is the extreme opposite: a single peasant reaching out to hug me and get me into their little hovel, out of the weather. Class is deeply embedded within our language, each word having its own unique history.

Wikipedia teaches many fun facts. The English language derives mainly from:

  1. Old German — the Angles and Saxons (from Saxony) conquered Britain in the 5th century, mixing with Scandinavians and developing Old English.
  2. Old French — the Normans (from Normandy) conquered England in 1066.

William the Conqueror, first Norman king of England, as depicted on the famous Bayeux Tapestry. His royal descendents would speak French until Henry V, 350 years later.

After the Norman invasion, England was dominated by a small French aristocracy, ruling over a much larger German working class. For more than three centuries, the rulers of England spoke French, while the common person spoke a Germanic language (Old English).

The two cultural groups began to intermarry after the Black Death of the 1340s wiped out half of the population, and over time the languages slowly merged, greatly simplifying the grammar of English, but also leaving a huge combined vocabulary.

The really interesting thing is that a lot of words in English carry a class connotation, based on whether they derive from French or from German. Words that mean basically the same thing will have either a formal, fancy, academic, upper-class connotation, or a casual, down-to-earth, gut-level, working-class feeling depending on the origin of the word.

Check out this list of synonyms! Read the rest of this entry »

Also published by Countercurrents and The Rag Blog.

Why Marxism Has Failed, and Why Zombie-Marxism Cannot Die
Or My Rocky Relationship with Grampa Karl

by Alex Knight,
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.]

A brilliant, critical mind in his own time. Not infallible.

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.)

1. Class Analysis

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 »

Also published by Countercurrents, OpEdNews and The Rag Blog.

Why Marxism Has Failed, and Why Zombie-Marxism Cannot Die
Or My Rocky Relationship with Grampa Karl

Image by Germ Ross,

by Alex Knight,
Part 1 – October 29, 2010

[Click to see Part 2]

“The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living.” – Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, 1852

“Once again the dead are walking in our midst – ironically, draped in the name of Marx, the man who tried to bury the dead of the nineteenth century.” – Murray Bookchin, Listen, Marxist!, 1969

A specter is haunting the Left, the specter of Karl Marx.

In June, my friend Joanna and I presented a workshop at the 2010 US Social Forum, an enormous convergence of progressive social movements from across the United States. The USSF is “more than a conference”, it’s a gathering of movements and thinkers to assess our historic moment of economic and ecological crisis, and generate strategies for moving towards “Another World”.

Our workshop, entitled “The End of Capitalism? At the Crossroads of Crisis and Sustainability”, was packed. A surprising number of people were both intrigued and supportive of our presentation that global capitalism is in a deep crisis because it faces ecological and social limits to growth, from peak oil to popular resistance around the wold. Participants eagerly discussed the proposal that the U.S. is approaching a crossroads with two paths out: one through neo-fascist attempts to restore the myth of the “American Dream” with attacks on Muslims, immigrants and other marginalized groups; the other, a path of realizing and deepening the core values of freedom, democracy, justice, sustainability and love.

Despite the lively audience, I knew that somewhere lurking in that cramped, overheated classroom was the unquestionable presence of Zombie-Marxism.1 And I knew it was only a matter of time until it showed itself and hungrily charged at our fresh anti-capitalist analysis in the name of Karl Marx’s high authority on the subject.

It happened during the question and answer period. A visibly agitated member of one of the dozens of small Marxist sectarian groups swarming these sorts of gatherings raised his hand to speak. I hesitated to call on him. I knew he wasn’t going to ask a question, but instead to speechify, to roll out a pre-rehearsed statement from his Party line. I called on others first, but his hand stayed in the air, sweat permeating his brow. Perhaps by mistake or perhaps from a feeling of guilt I gave him the nod to release what was incessantly welling up in his throat.

“I don’t agree with this stuff about ecological limits to growth. Marx wrote in Capital that the system faces crisis because of fundamental cycles of stagnation that cause the falling rate of profit…”

With the resurrection of Marx’s ancient wisdom, a dangerous infection was released into the discussion. Clear, rational thought, based on evaluating current circumstances and real-life issues in all their fluid complexities and contradictions, was threatened by an antiquated and stagnant dogma that single-mindedly sees all situations as excuses to reproduce itself in the minds of the young and vital.

Marx didn’t articulate his ideas because they appeared true in his time and place. No. The ideas are true because Marx said them. Such is the logic. If I didn’t act fast, the workshop could surrender the search for truth – to the search for brains.

I would have to cut this guy off and call on someone else. I knew better than to try to respond to his “question” – it would only tighten his grip on decades of certainty and derail the real conversation. Unfortunately, there is no way to slay a zombie. Regardless of the accuracy or firepower in your logic, zombie ideas will just keep coming. The only way out of an encounter with the undead is to escape.

I motioned my hand to signal ‘enough’ and tried to raise my voice over his. “Thank you. OK, THANK you! Yes. Marx was a very smart dude. OK, next?”

Karl Marx was without a doubt one of the greatest European philosophers of the 19th century. In a context of rapid industrialization and growing inequality between rich and poor, Marx pinpointed capitalism as the source of this misery and spelled out his theory of historical materialism, which endures today as deeply relevant for understanding human society. He emphasized that capitalism arose from certain economic and social conditions, and therefore it will inevitably be made obsolete by a new way of life.

For me, what makes Marx’s work so powerful is that he told a compelling story about humanity and our purpose. It was a big-picture narrative of economy and society, oppression and liberation, set on a global stage. Marx constructed a new way of understanding the world – a new world-view – which gave meaning and direction to those disenchanted with the dominant capitalist belief system. And in crafting this world-view, Marx happened to do a pretty good job wielding the tools of philosophy, political economy and science, aiming to deconstruct how capitalism functions and disclose its contradictions, so that we might overcome it and create a better future.

Brilliant ideas flowed from this effort, including his analysis of class inequality, the concepts of “base” and “superstructure”, and the liberating theory of “alienated labor.” Marx also showed that the inner workings of capital live off economic growth, and if this growth is limited, crisis will ensue and throw the entire social order into jeopardy. For all these reasons, Marxist politics – the Marxist story – remains popular and relevant today.

But due to serious errors and ambiguities in Marx’s analysis, Marxism has failed to provide an accessible, coherent, and accurate theoretical framework to free the world of capitalist tyranny. Read the rest of this entry »

Also published by OpEdNews, Countercurrents, and The Rag Blog.

Take Back the Land: Land, Gentrification and the Umoja Village Shantytown

by Max Rameau

Nia Press, 2008

Review by Alex Knight,

I first heard about a group called Take Back the Land, which was illegally moving homeless families into empty homes in Miami, in a study group about the Civil Rights movement and the grassroots organizing that made it so powerful. The reference was highly appropriate. In many ways, Take Back the Land is a direct heir of that bottom-up, Black self-empowerment, civil disobedient, movement-building tradition, and is one of the most inspiring examples of a group renewing and developing that tradition today.

In our moment of crisis and stagnation, here is a group full of creativity, improvisation, and highly potent political analysis. Through its actions, the group proclaims: ‘Families are being foreclosed on and kicked out onto the street? We’re not going to lobby Washington and hope for some crumbs to come down. We’ll take matters into our own hands and move people directly into homes!’ This is precisely the spirit of direct action and participatory democracy that kick-started the Civil Rights movement, and the spirit that we need if we are to escape the human suffering that the elite are imposing on the poor and working class in this economic crisis.

Max Rameau, author of this book and a principal organizer in Take Back the Land Miami, came and spoke in Philadelphia a few months ago. I was struck not only by how charismatic and effective a speaker he was (something I could say about many smooth-talking political or corporate salesmen of our age), but by how Max was able to break down complex, abstract theoretical questions into common language that was easily understood. In this way, he demystifies politics and translates concepts usually reserved for academics or professionals in such a way that average, everyday people can take away something new and useful from the exchange. It’s clear that his primary goal is not an ego-trip to show off his brilliance, or to sell books and make money, but to do something much more difficult and meaningful: to spark movement to force the US government to recognize housing as a human right.

This book is written in that same frank style. In fact, it’s basically a how-to on grassroots housing organizing. It’s short – only 132 pages – but all you need to know is laid out here: the political context of Miami and nationally in terms of lack of affordable housing and gentrification that drives poor and Black people out of their homes, the strategic decisions and organizing that go into launching a new organization and campaign, the challenges and joys of working with homeless people, and the difficult and deceptive terrain of interacting with politicians, who are often agents of larger and more powerful corporate forces. Max Rameau just tells the story of his group, but in such a provocatively specific way. He explains to us exactly how things were done, who did them, who interfered and how, and he’s not at all afraid to name names.

The book centers on the incredible story of the Umoja Village, a shantytown built by Take Back the Land and allies on a vacant lot in a poor Black section of Miami. Because “In South Florida… local governments responded to the [housing] crisis by actively decreasing the number of low-income housing units” (pg. 23), Take Back the Land took the initiative to seize land and invite homeless people to take up residence there. The purpose of the action was not only to house people, an immediate need, but to draw attention to the crisis and to the government’s inaction, thereby hopefully shaming them into creating more low-income housing. 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.

image from The Economist

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]

And the Most Inspiring Good News Story of the Year is…

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 »

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.

Ella Baker championed the idea of participatory democracy

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 »

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