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by Alex Knight, 1/6/17
Republished on Countercurrents.
In 2000, I was 17 years old. I didn’t know the first thing about politics, history, or social change. My first preference in the U.S. Presidential Election was for George W. Bush.[i] Somehow in my ignorance I had figured out that the Democrats were the more popular party, and I reviled what was popular. The President for the last eight years had been a Democrat. I also knew that the society I lived in sucked. It sucked for teenage me, and it sucked in general. So, without any deeper thought on the subject, my infantile rebellion led me to the only alternative in a two-party system, the Republicans. Once again in 2016, “non-college educated white men” like my teenage self followed similar logic to give Donald Trump just enough votes to sneak into the White House. When asked in exit polls what was the “quality that mattered most” in deciding who to vote for, the number one quality voters sought was a candidate who “can bring change.” Of those change-seeking voters, 83% were captured by Trump.
After the election, it’s tempting to curl up into a state of shock and surrender to fear or apathy. The U.S. voting public just elected someone who is openly racist, sexist, and xenophobic. 30 states were won by a man who brags about sexually assaulting women, led a campaign to delegitimize the nation’s first Black president by questioning his citizenship, and wants to build a giant wall on the Mexican border to keep out poor immigrants who he called “rapists.” The people he’s now appointing to run organs of government are quite literally the very worst people in the country, whose entire careers have been based on undermining social and ecological protections. The future looks bleak. Is neo-fascism already here?
In our deeply cynical society, it is the task of revolutionaries to see the silver lining of hope that has just opened before us. We must appreciate that this moment is a great opportunity for radicalizing the millions of people who are dissatisfied with the status quo. Donald Trump is the most disliked major-party candidate to ever run for the Presidency. The election of a despised, buffoonish, billionaire capitalist to head the U.S. government provides anti-capitalists with a glaring demonstration that the system does not work.
In this article we will review how a figure as polarizing as Trump was propelled to become a viable candidate through the mass media’s obsession with celebrity and scandal. We will also explore how the failure of the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic Party reflects the collapse of legitimacy for the status quo and its neoliberal capitalist project. Finally, we will face the threat of neo-fascism and explore what progressive radicals can offer now that a uniquely dangerous, yet uniquely unpopular, man is about to become the face of the U.S. government.
In the years after Bush II was elected, I was fortunate enough to encounter anti-capitalists who showed me and invited me into the amazing tradition of grassroots organizing. I was able to discover an alternative path where my teenage frustrations were sharpened into anti-capitalist critique and a lifelong commitment to social justice. It is now my calling to pay forward the gift that was given to me. We have a choice on how to respond to the election. We can either spend the next 4-8 years wallowing in fears of how everything can go wrong, or we can recognize the special opportunity we have to provide a path for people to discover genuine change, community, and meaning that can only come through participation in radical social movements.
A Billionaire Cartoon Villain is About to Become US President
(In the next two sections, we will analyze how the election reveals the dysfunction of the electoral system and mass media. To jump to the repercussions and how to respond moving forward, click here.)
The system has failed and Donald Trump is the personification of that failure. Before the election, only 38% of the American public had a “favorable” opinion of Trump, as compared with 58% “unfavorable.” That -20% margin makes Donald Trump literally the most unfavorable candidate ever to get the endorsement of a major US political party. Significantly, Hillary Clinton was the second-most unfavorable candidate ever, with a -12.6% gap.
The historic unpopularity of the two major candidates drove down turnout for the two major parties:
The US adult population grows by about 10 million people per 4-year election cycle. While the raw vote totals have remained somewhat stable, support for the two major parties proportional to US population has decayed since 2008. Consequently, 8 million people voted for “third party” candidates in 2016, which is more than in any election since 1996. Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party and Jill Stein of the Green Party combined for nearly 6 million votes. By comparison, Ralph Nader in 2000 was attacked as a spoiler for getting less than half that total. Putting Trump’s victory in perspective: it’s important to remember that 54% of voters, and nearly 75% of American adults, did not vote for Trump.
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, endofcapitalism.com
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
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.)
“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 »
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 »
In fact it’s no mystery at all. It’s been well-documented for half a century now that the main cause of cancer is industrial pollution and the immense and growing quantity of toxic shit in our air, water, food, and bodies.
There’s no escaping it either. You can eat healthy and vegetarian, live out in a rural area where there’s no factories spewing death into the air, avoid filling your life with plastics and chemicals, and you’ll still be at risk, because even polar bears on the North Pole are getting dioxins built up in their fatty tissue. Dioxin, by the way, is the most toxic and carcinogenic substance ever seen on the face of the Earth. It can give you cancer from even a few parts per trillion – that’s 12 zeros. Dioxin is shot up into the air as a consequence of PVC production, and now it’s in our food, our bodies, and mother’s breast milk. (See “Dying from Dioxin” by Lois Marie Gibbs – on Google Books)
This article by Alan Grossman is succinct and clear. Studies show that cancer is caused by human activity, or more accurately, by industrial activity. I would go further and say that cancer is caused by the capitalist system, because in a human-scale and democratic economy, we could incorporate rational decision-making and say, “OK, if PVC is so fucking toxic, maybe we should make something that costs a bit more but doesn’t give us cancer.”
Unfortunately, in our capitalist system Big Business runs the show and their concern is not rationality, but profit. Period. That’s why capitalism is not only giving so many of us and our loved ones this deadly condition, capitalism is itself is a form of cancer. Capitalism sees ALL life, human or otherwise, through the lens of profit. “Can this make money?” is the bottom line for why our biosphere is under assault in so many forms – from the Gulf spill to the melting of the climate. As the late Edward Abbey once quipped, “Growth for growth’s sake is the ideology of the cancer cell.”
So I ask you, dear reader, is it fair to proclaim that the only cure for cancer is an end to the capitalist system? Because that’s what it looks like to me.
Cancer – The Number One Killer – And Its Environmental Causes
by Alan Grossman
Originally published by Huffington Post, August 17, 2010.
The World Health Organization projects that this year cancer will become the world’s leading cause of death. Why the epidemic of cancer? Death certificates in the United States show cancer as being the eighth leading cause of death in 1900.
Why has it skyrocketed to now surpass heart disease as number one?
Is it because people live longer and have to die of something? That’s a factor, but not the prime reason as reflected by the jump in age-adjusted cancer being far above what could be expected from increased longevity. And it certainly doesn’t explain the steep hike in childhood cancers. Is it lifestyle, diet and genetics, as we have often been told? They are factors, but not key reasons.
The cause of the cancer epidemic, as numerous studies have now documented, is largely environmental — the result of toxic substances in the water we drink, the food we eat, the consumer products we use, the air we breathe. (Some of the pollution is voluntarily caused — by smoking. But most is involuntary.)
As the President’s Cancer Panel declared in May, in a 240-page report titled “Reducing Environmental Cancer Risk: What We Can Do Now,” : “The American people — even before they are born — are bombarded continually with myriad combinations of these dangerous exposures.” It said: “With the growing body of evidence linking environmental exposures to cancer, the public is becoming increasingly aware of the unacceptable burden of cancer resulting from environmental and occupational exposures that could have been prevented through appropriate national action.”
It pointed to chemicals and radiation as major causes of cancer and stated: “Cancer continues to shatter and steal the lives of Americans. Approximately 41 percent of Americans will be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lives, and about 21 percent will die from the cancer. The incidence of some cancers, including some most common among children, is increasing…The burgeoning number and complexity of known or suspected environmental carcinogens compel us to act to protect public health.” Read the rest of this entry »
How can we move beyond capitalism? What kinds of economic models can we look to, to ensure that the economy is both sustainable in its relationship to the Earth, and empowering of communities on the ground level?
As YES! Magazine regularly does, this article highlights examples of people stepping up to answer these questions of our age. Here they describe how different communities around the US are creating solutions that are both locally rooted and cooperatively run. [alex]
by Marjorie Kelly and Shanna Ratner
Aug 03, 2010
Innovative strategies for cooperative local ownership make it possible for prosperity to be shared as well as sustainable.
Drive across southern Minnesota near the city of Luverne, and you’ll see clusters of wind turbines poking up through the cornfields. Climb into one of these sleek, gleaming, white towers, and you’ll find sophisticated computer controls monitoring dozens of factors every moment (wind speed, pressure on the blades, and so on). Yet the way the turbines are funded and owned is just as innovative as the technology that runs them.
These wind developments were created by Minwind Energy, a limited liability company that is structured as a cooperative. Back when only corn was harvested in these fields, Minwind invited hundreds of local residents to make investments of $5,000 apiece, eventually raising $4 million to fund the turbines. In return, the residents became owners of the project—alongside the farmers on whose land the turbines stand.
With a policy that no individual can own more than 15 percent, the ownership design is aimed at spreading wealth widely and keeping it rooted locally. According to the Government Accountability Office, keeping a project like Minwind locally owned means that local communities get three times more economic benefit than if the project had absentee owners. Rather than flowing to Wall Street investors or major companies, the dollars generated by these wind farms will flow first through local communities, going to pay local workers, local investors, and local suppliers of all kinds. Wealth stays local.
If sustainable technologies are about the what of the living economy, local and shared ownership designs are about the who: who will own the productive capacity of the nation, who will control it, and who will benefit from the wealth created.
Minwind Energy is also an example of shared ownership, an emerging, broad category of ownership design in which ownership is shared among individuals (as in cooperatives or employee-owned firms) or between individuals and a community organization (as in a community land trust, where families own their homes while a nonprofit owns the land they stand on).
Shared ownership, like local ownership, is a valuable tool for enhancing community wealth over the long term. Both represent the innovations in social technologies that must evolve alongside innovations in physical technologies—like wind turbines, organic agriculture, or sustainably managed forests—if we’re to create an economy in which prosperity is both sustainable and shared. If sustainable technologies are about the what of the living economy, local and shared ownership designs are about the who: who will own the productive capacity of the nation, who will control it, and who will benefit from the wealth created.
Shared ownership takes many forms. For example: Read the rest of this entry »
Climate chaos has gone to new extremes this summer, with Pakistan drowning in unprecedented floods due to the melting of the snow capped Himalayas, Russia cooking at 110 degrees, and an iceberg four times the size of Manhattan breaking off the top of northern Greenland. See Democracy Now!’s coverage of these climate catastrophes.
Why hasn’t the U.S. Congress done anything to stop global warming? The answer is capitalism. As the new website DirtyEnergyMoney.com documents, the oil and coal industries have spent over $100 million in the past decade to buy congressmen and stop legislation that threatens their profit margins. The environmental movement therefore faces a crossroads: continue to compromise and waste time talking to corrupt Senators, or go out to the streets and organize people for more radical solutions. Bill McKibben, one of the most respected voices in environmentalism, says: time for Plan B. [alex]
We’re Hot as Hell and We’re Not Going to Take It Any More
Three Steps to Establish a Politics of Global Warming
Try to fit these facts together:
* According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the planet has just come through the warmest decade, the warmest 12 months, the warmest six months, and the warmest April, May, and June on record.
* A “staggering” new study from Canadian researchers has shown that warmer seawater has reduced phytoplankton, the base of the marine food chain, by 40% since 1950.
* Nine nations have so far set their all-time temperature records in 2010, including Russia (111 degrees), Niger (118), Sudan (121), Saudi Arabia and Iraq (126 apiece), and Pakistan, which also set the new all-time Asia record in May: a hair under 130 degrees. I can turn my oven to 130 degrees.
* And then, in late July, the U.S. Senate decided to do exactly nothing about climate change. They didn’t do less than they could have — they did nothing, preserving a perfect two-decade bipartisan record of no action. Senate majority leader Harry Reid decided not even to schedule a vote on legislation that would have capped carbon emissions.
I wrote the first book for a general audience on global warming back in 1989, and I’ve spent the subsequent 21 years working on the issue. I’m a mild-mannered guy, a Methodist Sunday School teacher. Not quick to anger. So what I want to say is: this is fucked up. The time has come to get mad, and then to get busy.
For many years, the lobbying fight for climate legislation on Capitol Hill has been led by a collection of the most corporate and moderate environmental groups, outfits like the Environmental Defense Fund. We owe them a great debt, and not just for their hard work. We owe them a debt because they did everything the way you’re supposed to: they wore nice clothes, lobbied tirelessly, and compromised at every turn.
By the time they were done, they had a bill that only capped carbon emissions from electric utilities (not factories or cars) and was so laden with gifts for industry that if you listened closely you could actually hear the oinking. They bent over backwards like Soviet gymnasts. Senator John Kerry, the legislator they worked most closely with, issued this rallying cry as the final negotiations began: “We believe we have compromised significantly, and we’re prepared to compromise further.”
And even that was not enough. They were left out to dry by everyone — not just Reid, not just the Republicans. Even President Obama wouldn’t lend a hand, investing not a penny of his political capital in the fight.
The result: total defeat, no moral victories.
So now we know what we didn’t before: making nice doesn’t work. It was worth a try, and I’m completely serious when I say I’m grateful they made the effort, but it didn’t even come close to working. So we better try something else. 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 »
The tar sands are an abomination. In a desperate move to counteract peak oil, Canada and the United States are waging war on Alberta’s ecosystem and indigenous communities, as well as on the planet as a whole. This crime must be stopped.
Clayton Thomas-Muller also recently spoke on Democracy Now!, see the video. [alex]
Tar Sands: The World’s Largest Climate Crime
By Clayton Thomas-Muller
Published originally in Left Turn Magazine, Jan/Feb 2010
Often when one looks at the global climate crisis and the critical necessity of forests as carbon storehouses, we have visions of the Amazon rainforest in South America, or the vast rainforest cover in places like Malaysia, Indonesia, across south East Asia and Africa. What many don’t envision is the second largest carbon storehouse on Mother Earth located in Canada’s northern region known as the Boreal Forest.
This soggy, wet, biologically diverse region spreads across the continent east to west. It is home to hundreds of First Nations/Indigenous communities that have utilized these ecologically diverse regions for their livelihood from time immemorial. Many also do not know that the Boreal Forest is second only to the Amazon region in terms of daily forest loss due to industrial expansion. This tree loss is further exacerbated by an infestation of the spruce pine beetle, brought on by milder winters in the north, which has been destroying millions of hectares of trees from southeast Alaska all the way to western Alberta.
Also found beneath the pine-covered ground are vast stores of minerals and fossil fuel deposits, the most famous of which is known as Canada’s Athabasca Tar Sands in Northern Alberta. Second only to Saudi Arabia in terms of recoverable oil reserves, Canada’s tar sands have an estimated 177 billion barrels of recoverable oil. The main difference between these two sources is the fact that the tar sands in Canada are not a conventional form of oil; they are a tarry clay and sand like mixture that at room temperature is hard as a hockey puck.
To remove this oil, one of two methods must be used. The first is surface mining, where industry removes the top layer of muskeg, trees, clay and sand as well as lakes, streams and even rivers to depths of up to 300 feet. They then use the world’s largest steam shovels, earth movers and dump trucks (300 tons per load) to strip mine out the mix that is then hauled off to industrial upgrader facilities and processed into synthetic oil. In the end it works out to around 5 tons of earth for every barrel of oil. Every day they move enough earth to fill the famous home of the Toronto Blue Jays, the Rogers Sky Dome.
If the deposits are more than a depth of 300 feet, producers must use a deep well injection process called “In Situ” or Steam Assisted Gravity Drainage (SAG-D). This process is six times more carbon and water intensive then conventional oil extraction. The industry must also utilize vast amounts of natural gas to superheat fresh water to be injected into Mother Earth to “melt” the bitumen that then is sucked out of the ground with uptake pipes for upgrading.
Thanks to the 600 million cubic feet of natural gas is burned every day for this type of extraction, the tar sands is the single largest source of carbon dioxide emissions in Canada, and the primary reason Canada is not fulfilling its legally binding emission reduction targets under the Kyoto Protocol. By 2030 at the current rate of expansion, the tar sands will be responsible for an emission level between 100-187 million tons of CO2 every year.
Probably most disturbing part of this extraction process are the runoff streams created by the use of water in the separation process. Once water is no longer usable it is dumped into a vast network of ten tailings ponds that can be seen from outer space. Every day these tailings ponds leak eleven million liters of contaminated water into the Athabasca River and ground water in the surrounding area. By the year 2030 if the tar sands continue to grow at the current rate of expansion these tailings ponds volume combined will represent a body of water as large as Lake Ontario.
As a result of this “Tarmageddon,” many local Indigenous communities have seen an increase in the presence of deadly forms of cancers and other autoimmune diseases in their populations. Many have observed the negative effects on critical traditional food sources such as the fish, moose, muskrat, beaver and plants that they depend on for sustenance and cultural needs. Moose have been found to have levels of arsenic 400 times the acceptable level as well as sores and tumors. Muskrat have been found with bloody noses and their homes smelling of petroleum. Fish with lesions and deformities are a common thing for fisherman in the region. The effect this has on First Nations/Indigenous communities is amplified when considering our fundamental connection to the sacredness of Mother Earth expressed through our reliance on traditional hunting, fishing and gathering practices. Read the rest of this entry »