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This is one of the most timely and insightful articles I’ve read in a long time – the editorial from the new issue of Turbulence magazine. They discuss the economic crisis within the frame of the collapse of the neoliberal order that has been the standard-bearer of global capitalism for the last 30-35 years, resulting in a state of “limbo” where no “deal” exists tying the system together. Nevertheless, the system persists like a zombie, dead and discredited but carried forward by sheer momentum and the fact that nothing else has shown itself capable of replacing it. Our job then, is to hold up an alternative way of life (a new “common ground”) that values communities and the planet above narrow profit, and that job becomes easier by studying analysis like this. Thanks, Turbulence! [alex]

Life in Limbo?

By Turbulence

We are trapped in a state of limbo, neither one thing nor the other. For more than two years, the world has been wracked by a series of interrelated crises, and they show no sign of being resolved anytime soon. The unshakable certainties of neoliberalism, which held us fast for so long, have collapsed. Yet we seem unable to move on. Anger and protest have erupted around different aspects of the crises, but no common or consistent reaction has seemed able to cohere. A general sense of frustration marks the attempts to break free from the morass of a failing world.

There is a crisis of belief in the future, leaving us with the prospect of an endless, deteriorating present that hangs around by sheer inertia. In spite of all this turmoil – this time of ‘crisis’ when it seems like everything could, and should, have changed – it paradoxically feels as though history has stopped. There is an unwillingness, or inability, to face up to the scale of the crisis. Individuals, companies and governments have hunkered down, hoping to ride out the storm until the old world re-emerges in a couple of years. Attempts to wish the ‘green shoots’ of recovery into existence mistake an epochal crisis for a cyclical one; they are little more than wide-eyed boosterism. Yes, astronomical sums of money have prevented the complete collapse of the financial system, but the bailouts have been used to prevent change, not initiate it. We are trapped in a state of limbo.

Crisis in the middle

And yet, something did happen. Recall those frightening yet heady days that began in late 2008, when everything happened so quickly, when the old dogmas fell like autumn leaves? They were real. Something happened there: the tried and tested ways of doings things, well-rehearsed after nearly 30 years of global neoliberalism, started to come unstuck. What had been taken as read no longer made sense. There was a shift in what we call the middle ground: the discourses and practices that define the centre of the political field.

To be sure, the middle ground is not all that there is, but it is what assigns the things in the world around it a greater or lesser degree of relevance, validity or marginality. It constitutes a relatively stable centre against which all else is measured. The farther from the centre an idea, project or practice is, the more likely it is to be ignored, publicly dismissed or disqualified, or in some way suppressed. The closer to it, the more it stands a chance of being incorporated – which in turn will shift the middle more or less. Neither are middle grounds defined ‘from above’, as in some conspiratorial nightmare. They emerge out of different ways of doing and being, thinking and speaking, becoming intertwined in such a way as to reinforce each other individually and as a whole. The more they have become unified ‘from below’ as a middle ground, the more this middle ground acquires the power of unifying ‘from above’. In this sense, the grounds of something like ‘neoliberalism’ were set before something was named as such; but the moment when it was named is a qualitative leap: the point at which relatively disconnected policies, theories and practices became identifiable as forming a whole.

The naming of things like Thatcherism in the UK, or Reaganism in the US, marked such a moment for something that had been constituting itself for some time before, and which has for the past three decades dominated the middle ground: neoliberalism, itself a response to the crisis of the previous middle, Fordism/Keynesianism. The era of the New Deal and its various international equivalents had seen the rise of a powerful working class that had grown used to the idea that its basic needs should be met by the welfare state, that real wages would rise, and that it was always entitled to more. Initially, the centrepiece of the neoliberal project was an attack on this ‘demanding’ working class and the state institutions wherein the old class compromise had been enshrined. Welfare provisions were rolled back, wages held steady or forced downwards, and precariousness increasingly became the general condition of work.

But this attack came at a price. The New Deal had integrated powerful workers’ movements – mass-based trade unions – into the middle ground, helping to stabilise a long period of capitalist growth. And it provided sufficiently high wages to ensure that all the stuff generated by a suddenly vastly more productive industrial system – based on Henry Ford’s assembly line and Frederick Taylor’s ‘scientific management’ – could be bought. Bit by bit, the ferocious attack on the working classes of the global North was offset by low interest rates (i.e. cheap credit) and access to cheap commodities, mass-produced in areas where wages were at their lowest (like China). In the global South, the prospect of one day attaining similar living conditions was promised as a possibility. In this sense, neoliberal globalisation was the globalisation of the American dream: get rich or die trying. Read the rest of this entry »

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http://www.democracynow.org/2009/12/17/bolivian_president_evo_morales_on_climate

AMY GOODMAN: Just before we went to air today, I interviewed Evo Morales, Bolivia’s first indigenous president. He was re-elected in a landslide victory earlier this month. On Wednesday, Evo Morales called on world leaders to hold temperature increases over the next century to just one degree Celsius, the most ambitious proposal so far by any head of state. Morales also called on the United States and other wealthy nations to pay an ecological debt to Bolivia and other developing nations.

AMY GOODMAN: President Morales, welcome to Democracy Now!

PRESIDENT EVO MORALES: [translated] Thank you very much for the invitation.

AMY GOODMAN: You spoke yesterday here at the Bella Center and said we cannot end global warming without ending capitalism. What did you mean?

PRESIDENT EVO MORALES: [translated] Capitalism is the worst enemy of humanity. Capitalism—and I’m speaking about irrational development—policies of unlimited industrialization are what destroys the environment. And that irrational industrialization is capitalism. So as long as we don’t review or revise those policies, it’s impossible to attend to humanity and life.

AMY GOODMAN: How would you do that? How would you end capitalism?

PRESIDENT EVO MORALES: [translated] It’s changing economic policies, ending luxury, consumerism. It’s ending the struggle to—or this searching for living better. Living better is to exploit human beings. It’s plundering natural resources. It’s egoism and individualism. Therefore, in those promises of capitalism, there is no solidarity or complementarity. There’s no reciprocity. So that’s why we’re trying to think about other ways of living lives and living well, not living better. Not living better. Living better is always at someone else’s expense. Living better is at the expense of destroying the environment.

AMY GOODMAN: President Morales, what are you calling here—for here at the UN climate summit?

PRESIDENT EVO MORALES: [translated] Defense of the rights of Mother Earth. Read the rest of this entry »


Review by Dana Barnett
Originally published by Toward Freedom.
Nov. 25, 2009.
Reviewed: Arm the Spirit: A Woman’s Journey Underground and Back, by Diana Block. Published by AK Press, 2009.

“We had gone underground in the early eighties, not a high-tide period for revolutionary activity in the US. Unlike the people who had formed the Weather Underground Organization in the sixties, we were not swept into clandestinity as a response to the Vietnam War or the militancy of the Black Panthers…As we saw it, armed struggle was still a necessary component of every revolutionary movement, and the movement within the US was no exception.” – Diana Block

How do we decide where to put our political energy? For many of us on the left our politicization began with critiques of the dominant ideology. Our critiques may have been a result of formal education, though for many our critiques were lifeboats we clung to keep from drowning in the chasm between what we were told and what we experienced. Upon confronting contradictions we look for explanations. We attempt to deconstruct the world and then reconstruct it to make sense of it and find our place in it. We make our underlying ideologies conscious. We develop our analysis and principles and then attempt to act in a way that is aligned with their logical conclusions.

As leftist revolutionaries we ask ourselves the same questions at different times in our history. What is to be done? What does revolutionary work look like in our time and what is my role within it?

Diana Block’s memoir, Arm the Spirit: A Woman’s Journey Underground and Back, is an example of a leftist making sense of the world around her, attempting to act with integrity, and searching for political strategy and home. The memoir moves easily back and forth between two aspects of her story. The book begins with Block’s partner, Claude Marks, finding a bug in their car in 1985 after several years of organizing and living clandestinely, and only two months after she gave birth to their first child. This main narrative details her life underground and her re-emergence and re-engagement with organizing from 1995 to the present. It is interspersed with the back story of Block’s experiences, politics, and the context that led to her decision to form a clandestine revolutionary collective to support Third World anti-colonialist armed struggles. Block’s book is her answer to the question of what it means to be a revolutionary in one’s own time. In particular, Block analyzes her role as a white person in the US with feminist, lesbian/queer, anti-imperialist, and anti-racist politics.

I do not feel compelled to use this book, or this review, as a site to evaluate the usefulness of clandestine work, or the question of armed struggle. Read the rest of this entry »


This essay, written following a listening tour across the US, asks some of the most important questions facing social movements today, including “How Do We Build Intergenerational Movements?”, “What About Multiracial Movement Building?” and “How Do We Develop Strategy?”

I read this when it first came out in the summer of 2006 and it pretty much rocked my socks off and made me excited to get involved in the new SDS, so I figured I’d repost it for folks who never got to read it. [alex]

Ten Questions for Movement Building
by Dan Berger and Andy Cornell

Originally published by Monthly Review Zine.

For five weeks in the late spring of 2006, we toured the eastern half of the United States to promote two books — Letters From Young Activists: Today’s Rebels Speak Out (Nation Books, 2005) and Outlaws of America: The Weather Underground and the Politics of Solidarity (AK Press, 2006) — and to get at least a cursory impression of sectors of the movement in this country.  We viewed the twenty-eight events not only as book readings but as conscious political conversations about the state of the country, the world, and the movement.

Of course, such quick visits to different parts of the country can only yield so much information.  Because this was May and June, we did not speak on any school campuses and were unable to gather a strong sense of the state of campus-based activism.  Further, much of the tour came together through personal connections we’ve developed in anarchist, queer, punk, and white anti-racist communities, and, as with any organizing, the audience generally reflected who organized the event and how they went about it rather than the full array of organizing projects transpiring in each town.  Yet several crucial questions were raised routinely in big cities and small towns alike (or, alternately, were elided but lay just beneath the surface of the sometimes tense conversations we were party to).  Such commonality of concerns and difficulties demonstrates the need for ongoing discussion of these issues within and between local activist communities.  Thus, while we don’t pretend to have an authoritative analysis of the movement, we offer this report as part of a broader dialogue about building and strengthening modern revolutionary movements — an attempt to index some common debates and to offer challenges in the interests of pushing the struggle forward.

Challenges and Debates:

The audiences we spoke with tended to be predominantly white and comprised of people self-identified as being on the left, many of whom are active in one or more organizations locally or nationally.  We traveled through the Northeast (including a brief visit to Montreal), the rust belt, the Midwest, parts of the South, and the Mid-Atlantic.  Some events tended to draw mostly 60s-generation activists, others primarily people in their 20s, and more than a few were genuinely intergenerational.  Not surprisingly, events at community centers and libraries afforded more room for conversation than those at bookstores.  Crowds ranged anywhere from 10 to 100 people, although the average event had about 25 people.  Even where events were small gatherings of friends, they proved to be useful dialogues about pragmatic work.  Our goals for the tour were: establishing a sense of different organizing projects; pushing white people in an anti-racist and anti-imperialist direction while highlighting the interrelationship of issues; and grappling with the difficult issues of organizing, leadership, and intergenerational movement building.  The following ten questions emerge from our analysis of the political situation based on our travels and meetings with activists of a variety of ages and range of experiences.

1. What Is Organizing?

Every event we did focused on the need for organizing.  This call often fell upon sympathetic ears, but was frequently met with questions about how to actually organize and build lasting radical organizations, particularly in terms of maintaining radical politics while reaching beyond insular communities.  There are too few institutions training young or new activists in the praxis of organizing and anti-authoritarian leadership development. Read the rest of this entry »


shock“The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism”

by Naomi Klein

2007 Metropolitan Books

I feel confident saying that The Shock Doctrine is one of the most important political non-fiction works of the last decade. This should be a high school textbook, or at least required reading in college. Naomi Klein applies her extensive vision and intellect to present us with a way of seeing our world that is extremely relevant and powerful: in the pursuit of enormous profits, those running the global economy intentionally exploit terrible catastrophes, or even create them, to take things for themselves that only shocked and traumatized populations would give up. This ambulance-chasing strategy of those in power is defined as the “shock doctrine,” and “disaster capitalism”, alternatively known as “neoliberalism” is the dominant social paradigm it has created.

Although there are flaws here, which I will mention, this book is both timely and well-written; Klein carries the reader through a story about grandiose topics like neoliberalism, torture, psychology, and international politics that is fundamentally readable.

The most important contribution made by this book in my view is the dismantling of the myth that capitalism’s global dominance is a function of democracy or destiny. This is the notion that with the defeat of the Soviet Union, all alternatives to “the free market” have naturally faded into history, presumably because capitalism is so irresistible. To the contrary, Naomi Klein provides numerous case studies to show us the exact opposite is true – the temporary triumph of global capitalism has been fertilized by the victims of natural disasters, terrorist attacks, wars, campaigns of torture, and economic calamity. In short, alternatives to capitalism have been shocked into submission wherever they’ve appeared.

This is no accident, it is part of a conscious crusade by market fundamentalists, those devoted to the pseudo-religious belief that “the market solves all.” Klein explains that the shock doctrine was developed (at least in part) by the patron saint of neoliberalism, free-market economist Milton Friedman. In his words, “only a crisis – actual or perceived – produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around.” And he intended to provide those ideas. It was Friedman’s opus “Capitalism and Freedom” that proclaimed neoliberalism’s core edicts: deregulation, privatization and cutbacks to social services.

Since the 1970s, these teachings have been vigorously applied across the globe by the “holy trinity” of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, and the World Trade Organization (WTO). Read the rest of this entry »


For up-to-date coverage of these events, check out Narco News.

As the demonstrations in Iran continue despite mounting repression, another dramatic showdown between military and public has broken out in Honduras after a violent coup organized by the country’s wealthy elites kidnapped left-leaning president Manuel “Mel” Zelaya and removed him from the country.  This action has not only been condemned by much of the international community, it was immediately resisted by Hondurans taking to the streets in large numbers.

Image from Narco News

Image from Narco News

Image from School of Americas Watch

Image from School of Americas Watch

Image from the BBC

Image from the BBC

Even before the coup had taken place, anxious pedestrians shouted and cursed the approaching soldiers. In this video, one woman hits every soldier passing her. The surging protesters than begin to block military vehicles and surround a tank!

I’ve also reposted an article giving some background on the situation, this one from the School of Americas Watch. The “School of Americas”, now called the “Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation,” is a combat and torture training institute in Fort Benning, Georgia that has trained thousands of Latin American paramilitary soldiers to return to their countries and terrorize peasant and student movements. Many of these “graduates” have gone on to become fascist generals or dictators in their home countries, as in the current coup in Honduras. The institute remains open to this day, but every year SOA Watch organizes large protests to shut it down.

From: SOA Watch <info@soaw.org>
Date: June 28, 2009 1:26:08 PM EDT
Subject: Military Coup in Honduras

Military Coup in Honduras

A military coup has taken place in Honduras this morning (Sunday, June 28),

led by SOA graduate Romeo Vasquez. Read the rest of this entry »


Salt of the Earth is a classic organizing movie about striking Mexican-American miners and their wives. Based on an incredible true story, the 1953 film follows the organizing efforts of the town’s women, who must overcome the company’s classism, the sheriff’s racism, as well as their own husband’s sexism, to win the strike (while the men stay at home and take care of the house and children). Highly recommended!

This is just the first segment of the movie, make sure to click the Up-Arrow button to watch the rest!


“The war on population always has been, and will continue to be, a war on women’s bodies.”

After reading this article by Betsy Hartmann rebutting recent psuedo-environmental hysteria surrounding overpopulation, I wanted to investigate further how fears of overpopulation facilitate sexist, racist and imperialistic policies by Western countries and NGOs against poor women of color in the Global South.

As Hartmann states with clarity:

“The population controllers have blinders on their eyes when they attribute the cutting down of forests, the polluting of water supplies, and the extinction of species to too many poor people, rather than the unchecked power of large corporations to monopolize resources and ravage the land. Missing from the picture is the question of technological choice: for example, reducing the population of automobiles and investing in public transport worldwide would do much more to curtail climate change than imposing limits on family size.”

This seems to me fundamentally correct. It’s clear that human civilization has overshot the capacity of the Earth to provide for it, that’s not in question. The question is about what forces are responsible for this, and what can we do about it?

For Hartmann and myself, the number of people alive is not nearly as important as the structure of the economic system in which we live. The planet could support 6, or maybe even 9, billion people living a low-impact lifestyle, based on community subsistence and a diet full of fruits and vegetables. But the planet cannot possibly support 6 billion people living like Americans, with their cars, and their computers, and their wars.

As with all things, the debate on “overpopulation” is a political debate, because its a question about who has power and who doesn’t. Placing the blame on poor women is just a way of ignoring the real power-holders: Large multinational corporations and Western capitalist governments.

Below are excerpts from an article that I found helpful in explaining this more clearly. [alex]

10 Reasons to Rethink “Overpopulation”

By the Population and Development Program at Hampshire College

Fears of overpopulation are pervasive in American society. From an early age we are taught that the world is overpopulated and that population pressure is responsible for poverty, hunger, environmental degradation and even political insecurity. If we don’t get population growth under control now, the argument goes, our future is in danger.

Conventional wisdom, however, is not always wise. Placing the blame on population obscures the powerful economic and political forces that threaten the well-being of both people and the planet. It leads to top-down, target-driven population control programs that undermine voluntary family planning and women’s reproductive rights. It reinforces racism, promoting harmful stereotypes of poor people of color. And it prevents the kind of global understanding we need in order to reach across borders to work together for a more just, peaceful and environmentally sustainable world.

Here are ten reasons why we should rethink ‘overpopulation.’

2. The focus on population masks the complex causes of poverty and inequality.

A narrow focus on human numbers obscures the way different economic and political systems operate to perpetuate poverty and inequality. It places the blame on the people with the least amount of resources and power rather than on corrupt governments and economic and political elites. It ignores the legacy of colonialism and the continuing unequal relationship between rich and poor countries, including unfavorable terms of trade and the debt burden. It says nothing about the concentration of much wealth in a few hands. In the late 1990s, the 225 people who comprise the ‘ultra-rich’ had a combined wealth of over US $1 trillion, equivalent to the annual income of the poorest 47% of the world’s people.

3. Hunger is not the result of ‘too many mouths’ to feed.

…There is enough food for every man, woman and child to have more than the recommended daily calorie intake. People go hungry because they do not have the land on which to grow food or the money with which to buy it. Read the rest of this entry »

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