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As the “democracy uprising” spreads from Tunisia, to Egypt, and now to Wisconsin, it seems the whole world is starting to look a little more like Latin America. Social movements “south of the border” have been pumping out progressive change, and winning, for a couple decades now. This victorious and active Latin left goes back at least to the Venezuelan “Caracazo” of 1989, an uprising very similar to what we’ve been watching lately in Tahrir Square, Cairo. This was long before Chavez showed up on the scene, you may notice.

As the following interview of Ben Dangl highlights, leftist states such as Venezuela are not by themselves particularly revolutionary, and in fact often play a counter-revolutionary role. Democratic, participatory, grassroots social movements have always been the real engine of change. Political leaders can choose to follow those movements (“lead by obeying” in Zapatista language), or they can choose to be largely a facade for neoliberalism and reaction.  The question is not the quality of the leader, but the quality of the movement holding that leader’s feet to the fire.

This is the reason President Obama has been largely a flop.  As FDR said to labor organizers in 1932, “I agree with you, I want to do it, now make me do it.”  Real leadership comes from below.

Let’s hope we can follow the examples of Bolivia, Egypt, and Madison, WI and continue to work towards a global movement for justice. [alex]

Dancing with Dynamite in Latin America

by Nikolas Kozloff
Originally published by Huffington Post.
February 11, 2011.

Recently, I sat down with Benjamin Dangl, author of the recently released Dancing with Dynamite: Social Movements and States in Latin America, for an interview.

NK: You’ve written an extremely ambitious book which takes the reader all across South America. One of the most impressive things about the work is that it is largely based on your own personal interviews with political participants at the grassroots as opposed to mere secondary research. How long did it take to research and what was the most fascinating country that you worked in?

BD: The book is the result of over eight years of research, traveling and interviewing across Latin America. This period of time coincided with the rise to power of most of the region’s current leftist leaders, and so the interviews I draw from in the book reflect a lot of the initial hope and subsequent disappointment among many social movements. The most interesting place I’ve worked in is definitely Bolivia, where the power of the grassroots movements is the strongest, and the impressive relationship between these movements and the government of Evo Morales is constantly changing.

NK: It can be tough in many ways to conduct research in South America. What prompted your interest in the subject matter and what were some of the obstacles that you encountered along the way?

BD: The main things that drew me to writing about politics and social issues in Latin America were the impact US foreign policy and corporate activity had on the region, and the hopeful and relatively under-reported social struggles going on. On the one hand, the connection to the US in the so-called war on drugs, and the corporate looting of natural resources, were all issues I thought more readers of English-based media in the US should know about. And the sophisticated organizing tactics, grassroots strategies and victories of social movements in the region were stories I wanted to help amplify and spread in the US, for the sake of awareness, solidarity and lessons to be learned. The main obstacle in doing this research is the actual cost of the traveling. I’ve worked all kinds of odd jobs over the years, in construction, farming, and various kinds of manual labor, to pay for the plane tickets to get to Latin America in order to conduct research and writing on the ground.

NK: Here in the U.S., many on the left idealize Chávez and the like, yet you suggest that many ostensibly leftist regimes may sap the energy of today’s social movements. How has this happened, and could one say, therefore, that “Pink Tide” regimes may ultimately exert a counter-productive or even pernicious effect upon local politics in their respective countries?

BD: The way this relationship has played out is different in each country. Some Latin American presidents, upon taking power, have been more willing and able than others to collaborate with the social movements that help bring them into office. The relationships in Venezuela and Bolivia are probably the healthiest in this sense. In other countries, such as Brazil with President Lula and the Landless Farmers Movements, the Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa and the indigenous movements there, the relationship has been more difficult, with the governments repressing, criminalizing and demobilizing movements when possible. Dancing with Dynamite looks at how this relationship, this dance, has played out in seven different countries. It tells a story beyond what the presidents and major politicians have been doing or saying, and focuses more on the history of the past decade from the perspective of the grassroots. And this view from below is something I think more people in the US left would benefit from focusing on, if anything to understand the full picture of what’s been driving these momentous changes over the past ten years.

NK: Of all the South American countries you describe, Bolivia seems to have the most revolutionary potential. Why is this so, and what new radical developments can we expect from Bolivia in the coming years?

Read the rest of this entry »

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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, endofcapitalism.com

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 »


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.

Unprecedented floods in Pakistan have killed thousands and displaced over 1 million. These catastrophes will become more common as global warming worsens.

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

By Bill McKibben
August 4, 2010
TomDispatch

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.

Now What?

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 »


hey all,

check out this podcast of me being interviewed by Todd Curl.  I’m excited to have my views recorded on audio for the first time.  in this extensive 2-hour interview, I discuss:

  • my hometown of Ambler, PA and its history with asbestos
  • my life story of becoming politically aware and active
  • peak oil and its interpretations
  • the end of capitalism theory
  • the nature of capitalism and enclosure
  • resistance in China, Arizona, and around the world
  • how radicals can use language to speak to everyday people
  • healing from abuse and empowering ourselves to live better lives

here it is (click to play audio): Alex Knight Podcast

[alex]

Is Capitalism Approaching the Darkness of Knight?

Todd Curl

The Pigeon Post, August 2, 2010

Here is the interview I did with Alex Knight on Friday, July 30, 2010 at Alex’s home in Philadelphia:

Alex Knight Podcast

At just 27 years old, Alex is already an accomplished writer and a full time activist for social justice. His site, The End of Capitalism, explores the theory of the unsustainable nature of a profit-driven global system that continues to exploit all of the earth’s resources for the sake of greed and power.

Having grown up in Ambler, Pennsylvania — the ‘Asbestos Capital of the World’ — Alex saw first hand the devastation of his home town through the greed of Keasbey and Mattison Corporation who continued to manufacture Asbestos through the 1970s despite the evidence that had existed for years that Asbestos causes Mesothelioma, a serious form of Lung Cancer.

Seeing the sickness of his community first hand eventually built the foundation for Alex’s future environmental and social activism. While at Lehigh University studying Electrical Engineering, Alex became more intellectually aware of the systemic patterns of exploitation and human/environmental devastation brought on by a long history of a Capitalist system concerned only with profit. Alex went on to get his Master’s in Political Science from Lehigh and now is a full-time activist in the Philadelphia area fighting for real and meaningful progressive change.

As Alex will tell you, there is nothing extraordinary about him. Being the quintessential “All American Boy” — he was born on the 4th of July — Alex discovered that real social change is ameliorated when we decide to join forces and fight the powers that are determined to keep us placated and in a constant state of fear so we will not question our own imprisonment of thought and continue to consume without thought or premeditation. For Alex, grassroots organizing and activism is the key to a sustainable future and when we define ourselves as left, right, Marxist, Anarchist, etc.. we just perpetuate petty semantic divides. Alex is proud to call himself “Progressive” as he is a tireless fighter for justice.


Republished by Energy Bulletin, 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 »


Republished by Energy Bulletin, OpEdNews, and Countercurrents, and translated into Turkish for Hafif.org.

The following exchange between Michael Carriere and Alex Knight occurred via email, July 2010. Alex Knight was questioned about the End of Capitalism Theory, which states that the global capitalist system is breaking down due to ecological and social limits to growth and that a paradigm shift toward a non-capitalist future is underway.

This is the third part of a four-part interview. This part is a continuation of Alex’s response to the second question. Click here for Part 2A. Scroll to the bottom for links to the other sections.

Part 2B. Social Limits and the Crisis

MC: Capitalism has faced many moments of crisis over time. Is there something different about the present crisis? What makes the end of capitalism a possibility now?

AK: As I described in the last section, the current crisis can be understood as resulting from a massive collision between capitalism’s relentless need for growth and the world’s limits in capacity to sustain that growth. These limits to growth are both ecological and social. In this section I’ll discuss the concept of social limits to growth.

The Extraordinary Power of Social Movements

Social limits to growth function alongside the ecological limits but are drawn from a different source. By social limits we mean the inability, or unwillingness, of human communities, and humankind as a whole, to support the expansion of capitalism. This broadly includes all forms of resistance to capitalism, a resistance that has arguably been increasing around the world through innumerable forms of alternative lifestyles, refusal to cooperate, protest, and outright rebellion.

As a disclaimer it’s important to recognize that not all resistance is progressive. There are right-wing, fundamentalist, and undemocratic forces that also resist capitalism, for example the Taliban, or North Korea. These are not our allies. They do not share progressive values, we cannot condone their attacks on women, or on freedom more generally, and I don’t see anything to be gained by working with them. However it is important to recognize how these forces are aligned against capitalism and U.S. imperialism, in addition to being aware of the danger they present to our own hopes and dreams.

Progressive resistance, on the other hand, has always taken its strength from grassroots social movements. Silvia Federici writes about the immense and varied peasant movements in medieval Europe that fought for religious and sexual freedom, challenging both feudal lords and emerging capitalist elites. I like to think of these rebels as my European ancestors – they were just commoners but they rose up to fight for a better world. This is the nature of social movements. Ordinary folks, daring to pursue their deepest aspirations, interests and dreams, join together with others who share those desires, and thereby create something extraordinary. The magic exists in the joining-together. Isolated individuals lack the power to accomplish what a group can achieve.

We can appreciate this extraordinary power if we look at how social movements have transformed our lives. A century ago, millions of American workers joined the labor movement and won the 8-hour day, Social Security, and workplace safety. Regular folks carried forward the Civil Rights Movement and broke Southern segregation. The feminist and LGBT movements have transformed the way gender and sexuality are viewed all over the world. It’s hard to overstate how dramatically these and other social movements have improved society. While capitalism has invented ways to co-opt social movements and redirect them into outlets that do not challenge the system on a deep level (like the “non-profit industrial complex”), movements have remained alive and vibrant by empowering people to reach towards a different world.

Have social movements limited capitalist oppression recently? To answer this we need to learn the story of the Global Justice Movement.

Demonstrators tear down a section of security fence in the Mexican resort city of Cancun to confront the World Trade Organization’s Fifth Ministerial summit on Sept. 10, 2003.

The Global Justice Movement

David Graeber, anarchist anthropologist, wrote a remarkable essay called “The Shock of Victory” in which he looks at this movement that suddenly flared up at the turn of the millennium and seemed to disappear just as quickly. Although most Americans may not remember the Global Justice Movement, and those who participated in it may feel demoralized by the fact that capitalism still exists, Graeber points out that many of the movement’s ambitious goals were accomplished. Read the rest of this entry »


Republished by Countercurrents, OpEdNews, Alliance for Sustainable Communities – Lehigh Valley, The Pigeon Post, Dissident Voice and The (Grace Lee) Boggs Blog!

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.

The interview will be available in four parts. Scroll to the bottom to read all of Prof. Carriere’s questions.

Part 1. Crisis and Opportunity

MC: The current financial crisis is clearly a moment of peril for both individuals and the broader system of capitalism. But would it also make sense to see it as a moment of opportunity?

AK: Absolutely. I see opportunity springing from every crack in the structure of capitalism. For all those who wish to see a different world, this moment is dripping with opportunity because the old order is crumbling before our eyes.

Shock and Awe on the New York Stock Exchange

The crisis extends far beyond the broken financial system. Millions of people are losing their jobs, homes, and savings as the burden of the crisis gets shifted onto the poor and working class. Public faith in the system, both the government and the capitalist economy, has been shattered and is at an all-time low. And it’s not just the economic crisis. The bank bailouts, the endless wars in the Mid East, the BP spill and the meltdown of the climate, and about a dozen other crises have shaken us deeply. It’s become common sense that the system is broken and a major change is needed. Barack Obama was elected in the US precisely by promising this change. Now that he is failing to deliver, more and more people are questioning whether the system can provide any solutions, or whether it’s actually the source of the problem.

Shattered faith is the dominant sentiment today. You can see it in people’s faces – the disappointment, grief, worry, and anger. To me, this loss of faith presents an enormous opening for putting forth a new, non-capitalist way of life. People are ready to hear radical solutions now, like they haven’t been since the Great Depression.

Historic Crossroads

If we go back to 1929, we’ll see some interesting parallels to our current moment. When that depression started, millions lost their livelihoods to pay for the bankers’ crisis. Faith in capitalism sunk to rock bottom. The public flocked to two major ideologies that offered a way out: socialism and fascism.

Socialism presented a solution to the crisis by saying, roughly: “Capitalism is flawed because it divides us into rich and poor, and the rich always take advantage of the poor. We need to organize the poor and workers into unions and political parties so we can take power for the benefit of all.”

Socialism attracted millions of followers, even in the United States. The labor movement was enormous and kept gaining ground through sit-down strikes and other forms of direct action. The Communist Party sent thousands of organizers into the new CIO, at the time a more radical union than the AFL. Socialist viewpoints even started getting through to the mass media and government. Huey Long was elected Senator from Louisiana by promising to “Share Our Wealth,” to radically redistribute the wealth of the country to abolish poverty and unemployment. (He was assassinated.) Socialism challenged President Roosevelt from the left, pushing him to create the social safety net of the New Deal.

On the other side, fascism also emerged as a serious force and attracted a mass following by putting forth something like the following: “The government has sold us out. We are a great nation, but we have been disgraced by liberal elites who are pillaging our economy for the benefit of foreign enemies, dangerous socialists, and undesirable elements (like Jews). We need to restore our national honor and fulfill our God-given mission.”

When people hear the word fascism, they usually think of Nazi Germany or Mussolini’s Italy, where successful fascist movements seized state power and implemented totalitarian control of society. Yet fascism was an international phenomenon during the Depression, and the United States was not immune to its reach. General Smedley Butler, the most decorated Marine in US history, testified before the Senate that wealthy industrialists had approached him as part of a “Business Plot” and tried to convince him to march an army of 500,000 veterans on Washington, DC to install a fascist dictatorship.

Today we are approaching a similar crossroads. When I hear the story of the Business Plot I think about the Tea Party, which has sprung from a base of white supremacist anger, facilitated by right-wing elements of the corporate structure like Fox News. This is an extremely dangerous phenomenon. The “teabaggers” have moved from questioning Obama’s citizenship, to now trying to reverse the gains of the Civil Rights Movement, such as the ability of everyone, regardless of color, to enjoy public accommodations like restaurants.

I think it’s fair to name the Tea Party, Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, the Christian Right, etc. parts of a potential neo-fascist movement in the United States. Their words and actions too often encourage attacks on people of color, immigrants, Muslims, LGBT folks, and anyone they don’t see as legitimate members of US society. Ultimately, many in this movement are pushing for a different social system taking power in the United States: one that is more authoritarian, less compassionate, more exploitive of the environment, more militaristic, and based on a mythical return to national glory. This is not a throwback to Nazi Germany. It’s a new kind of fascism, a new American fascism. And it’s a serious threat.

Tea Party racism in Denver, April 15, 2009

On the other hand, this crisis is also an opportunity for all of us who see capitalism as a destructive force and believe the message of the recent U.S. Social Forum that “Another World is Possible. Another US is Necessary.”  “Socialism” in the post-McCarthy/Cold War era of the United States is a dead word, because it carries a lot of baggage from the Soviet Union. Rightly so, the USSR was a terrible dictatorship that is hardly an example to follow. The question is, how do those of us who are progressive and anti-capitalist articulate our ideas to resonate with a mass audience in this moment?

Common Values

I argue that we need to speak to the population in a language of our common values: democracy, freedom, justice, and sustainability. Read the rest of this entry »

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