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Yesterday I had the honor of speaking alongside George Caffentzis to answer the question, “What is Capitalism?” Certainly this is one of the core questions of our era, as millions of people are becoming politicized during the unending economic crisis and looking for an analysis that can explain what is happening to them. In order to make a better world, we first need to define the system that dominates the current one, and that is capitalism.
[update 2/13: and here is the video of the talk, in two parts!]
Below is the outline I created for my talk (downloadable HERE). I tried to bring a holistic analysis of the system that could be understandable by the average person, but still contain a nuanced perspective of all the ways capitalism has screwed us over and screwed over our planet. I’ll be fleshing this out over the next several days to revamp the “What is Capitalism?” section of the website. [alex]
What is Capitalism?
“Know Your Enemy” – Rage Against the Machine
2/1/2012 – LAVA
Alex Knight, endofcapitalism.com
- Capitalism is a Global System of Abuse
- Common Sense Radicalism – speak to the core issue in a way everyone can emotionally understand
- How does it feel to live in a capitalist system? Like an abusive relationship.
- “The problem that has no name.”
- Social and ecological trauma
- BP Oil Disaster demonstrates system’s logic: profit over all, total lack of accountability
- Power, Abuse, Resistance
- Power-Over and Power-With
- Internalized Oppression vs. Inherent Need for Self-determination
- Systems of Abuse/Oppression: Patriarchy, White Supremacy, Class
- Some Features of Class Societies:
- Inequality – the few benefit at the expense of the many
- Economic production disconnected from human need
- Forced labor – slavery, wage slavery
- State violence – punishment, repression
- Warfare, Conquest
- Unsustainable ecological abuse
- Popular resistance
- Capitalism is the most advanced Class Society
- Capitalism: Pyramid of Accumulation
- Financial Speculation
- Commodity Trading, Commodities
- Wage Labor, Wage Labor, Wage Labor
- Enclosures: the largest, but invisible part of the iceberg
- any energy, resources or labor taken by force or without just compensation
- Stages of Capitalism: 1492 – Present
the following 12 songs were written/compiled by me for the People’s Victory Parade, hosted by Occupy Philly on 12/31/11.
they’re mostly Christmas/holiday tunes transformed into Occu-Carols, with a couple others thrown in as well. my favorite is #6 “Do You Hear What I Hear?”
let’s be a movement that sings!
OCCUPY PHILLY SONGBOOK
1. WE WISH FOR A REVOLUTION
(by Alex Knight to the tune of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas”)
We wish for a revolution
We wish for a revolution
We wish for a revolution
In the coming New Year!
Tunisia was first
Egypt heard the call
Then Occupy Wall St.
Inspired us all.
In Chile and Greece
Now Russia we see
The people are rising
Now Philly has joined
We’re ready to rock
We’re just getting started
And we’ll never stop!
We wish for a revolution
We wish for a revolution
We wish for a revolution
In the coming New Year!
2. THE TWELVE DAYS OF OCCUPY
(inspired by other versions, including one by Gina Botel)
On the first day of Occupy, my new friends gave to me
A tent and a community.
On the second day of Occupy, my new friends gave to me
Two woolen blankets and…
On the third day of Occupy, my new friends gave to me
Three warm meals…
On the fourth day of Occupy, my new friends gave to me
Four clarifying questions…
On the fifth day of Occupy, my new friends gave to me
FIVE LONG GA’s…
On the sixth day of Occupy, my new friends gave to me
Six working groups…
On the seventh day of Occupy, my new friends gave to me
Seven drummers drumming…
On the eighth day of Occupy, my new friends gave to me
Eight signs a-painting…
On the ninth day of Occupy, my new friends gave to me
Nine marchers marching…
On the tenth day of Occupy, my new friends gave to me
Ten locked arms…
On the eleventh day of Occupy, my new friends gave to me
Eleven cops a-raiding…
On the twelfth day of Occupy, my new friends gave to me
Twelve new encampments… Read the rest of this entry »
“To me, the struggle is a healing process. If the struggle itself is not a healing process, it’s not worth it! There’s something wrong with it. You struggle because you need to liberate yourself. If the struggle does not liberate you, if it doesnt carry that hope, why bother?”
On March 3 and 4, 2011, acclaimed radical feminist theorist Silvia Federici gave two talks in Philadelphia. On the 3rd, she spoke at the Wooden Shoe anarchist bookstore about her book, Caliban and the Witch, on “The True Nature of Capitalism.” That event literally overflowed with an audience eager to connect the pieces of the historical violence against women, and the ongoing crisis of capitalism.
The next night, on March 4, Silvia spoke at Studio 34 Yoga in West Philly to another packed crowd, on the subject of “Our Struggles, Ourselves: Rethinking Healing Work.” This was a more personal, and in many ways a much deeper talk, which touched on a multitude of subjects from capitalism’s attacks on humanity and the Earth, to how to build self-reproducing movements that avoid the mistakes of past generations.
Today I am posting the audio recording from that amazing event!
One of Silvia’s most powerful insights that continues to work its way through my brain was the distinction between “suffering,” which may be necessary in movement work, and “sacrifice,” which ultimately harms the movement because it harms us as individuals. She makes it clear that there should be no place for sacrifice in a movement for our liberation:
“What do we mean when we say sacrifice? Because, it’s very true, in many ways, when we say, ‘I’m not going to go into this career, and instead I’ll do the struggle. I’ll be poor, but eh!’ It may sound like sacrifice. But I would like to say that it’s not!
[Sacrifice] means that I’m taking away something vital from my life, something that I need, and then give it up for the struggle…
It doesn’t mean that the struggle does not make you suffer. But suffering is not sacrifice. It’s really different. There may be pain that comes too. But maybe it’s a pain that is better than the pain you would have if you didn’t struggle.
Maybe it’s a pain that prevents you from dying. Because we can die from numbness, irrelevance, wasting your life in triviality, despair, inertia, passivity, from giving up whatever creativity you have in yourself. So, sometimes it’s worth suffering not to see that in yourself. But i wouldn’t call that sacrifice.”
I am very proud to post this inspiring discussion, including the Question and Answer period, which we recorded in audio format. There are 2 video recordings which were also made, 1 of each of the talks, and I look forward to making those videos available in the near future. For now, please enjoy the audio!
This is a 2-hour recording, so you might want to download it and put it on your mp3 player or computer. There is a LOT here, so it may not be possible to get through it all in one sitting!
Also, here I’ll post some notes I’ve taken while re-listening to Silvia’s talk:
At 4 minutes – How can we build movements of resistance without destroying ourselves? How can we build self-reproducing movements?
5:15 – Thesis: We cannot liberate our individual selves without changing the world. At the same time, we cannot change the world without liberating ourselves. Read the rest of this entry »
The message of the march was “Invest in Caring, Not Killing,” and drew attention to the absurd budget cuts that our new Governor has proposed here in Pennsylvania, similar to what is going on in Wisconsin, as well as at the federal level as right-wing idealogues are given positions of power. The intention of these cuts appears to be to punish poor and working class families, especially women, for the failures of Wall St. So we see teacher’s unions under attack, as if teachers caused the stock market to crash?
Selma James, the author of the excellent article below, was founder of the Wages for Housework campaign in the 1970s, which brought attention to the fact that women’s labor is systematically unpaid, unrecognized, and undervalued. The same message, of putting resources and value into the caring and nurturing work that upholds the entire society, rather than into destructive activities such as wars and bailouts for the rich, continues to motivate the Global Women’s Strike today.
Last week Silvia Federici, author of Caliban and the Witch, spoke in Philadelphia on many of these themes, and how the attack on women has been a key part of the structure of capitalism since its origin 500 years ago in the fires of the European witch burnings. Silvia’s work has opened my eyes to the ways in which capitalism is dependent on the division between (predominantly male) paid labor and (predominantly female) unpaid labor, which she calls the realms of production and reproduction. It turns out that capitalist profits could not be made if women’s labor was valued the same way as men’s – taking care of children, the elderly, and men’s emotions just isn’t very profitable, even though it is absolutely essential to society.
It’s also important to recognize that the unpaid labor holding up capitalism goes far beyond housework, to slavery, prison labor, the self-disciplining of the body, and the theft of resources and destruction of ecosystems that result from capitalist exploitation of Mother Earth.
I hope to upload the video or audio of Silvia’s inspiring events in the coming days. In the meantime, check out this article by Selma James.
International Women’s Day: how rapidly things change
by Selma James
March 8, 2011
Originally published by The Guardian.
A century ago International Women’s Day was associated with peace, and women’s and girls’ sweated labour – which votes for women were to deal with. Not a celebration, but a mobilisation. And because it was born among factory workers, it had class, real class. Later it came to celebrate women’s autonomy, but changed its class base and lost its edge. This centenary must mark a new beginning.
We live in revolutionary times. We don’t need to be in North Africa or the Middle East to be infected by the hope of change. Enough to witness on TV the woman who, veiled in black from head to foot, led chants in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, routing sexism and Islamophobia in one unexpected blow. She and the millions moving together have shaken us from our provincialism, and shown us how rapidly things can change. Women in Egypt have called for a million women to occupy Tahrir Square today. Who would have predicted that a month ago?
Feminism has tended to narrow its concerns to what is unquestionably about women: abortion, childcare, rape, prostitution, pay equity. But that can separate us from a wider and deeper women’s movement. In Bahrain, for example, women lead the struggle for “jobs, housing, clean water, peace and justice” – as well as every demand we share.
The revolution is spreading. Read the rest of this entry »
check out this podcast of me being interviewed by Todd Curl. I’m excited to have my views recorded on audio for the first time. in this extensive 2-hour interview, I discuss:
- my hometown of Ambler, PA and its history with asbestos
- my life story of becoming politically aware and active
- peak oil and its interpretations
- the end of capitalism theory
- the nature of capitalism and enclosure
- resistance in China, Arizona, and around the world
- how radicals can use language to speak to everyday people
- healing from abuse and empowering ourselves to live better lives
here it is (click to play audio): Alex Knight Podcast
The Pigeon Post, August 2, 2010
Here is the interview I did with Alex Knight on Friday, July 30, 2010 at Alex’s home in Philadelphia:
At just 27 years old, Alex is already an accomplished writer and a full time activist for social justice. His site, The End of Capitalism, explores the theory of the unsustainable nature of a profit-driven global system that continues to exploit all of the earth’s resources for the sake of greed and power.
Having grown up in Ambler, Pennsylvania — the ‘Asbestos Capital of the World’ — Alex saw first hand the devastation of his home town through the greed of Keasbey and Mattison Corporation who continued to manufacture Asbestos through the 1970s despite the evidence that had existed for years that Asbestos causes Mesothelioma, a serious form of Lung Cancer.
Seeing the sickness of his community first hand eventually built the foundation for Alex’s future environmental and social activism. While at Lehigh University studying Electrical Engineering, Alex became more intellectually aware of the systemic patterns of exploitation and human/environmental devastation brought on by a long history of a Capitalist system concerned only with profit. Alex went on to get his Master’s in Political Science from Lehigh and now is a full-time activist in the Philadelphia area fighting for real and meaningful progressive change.
As Alex will tell you, there is nothing extraordinary about him. Being the quintessential “All American Boy” — he was born on the 4th of July — Alex discovered that real social change is ameliorated when we decide to join forces and fight the powers that are determined to keep us placated and in a constant state of fear so we will not question our own imprisonment of thought and continue to consume without thought or premeditation. For Alex, grassroots organizing and activism is the key to a sustainable future and when we define ourselves as left, right, Marxist, Anarchist, etc.. we just perpetuate petty semantic divides. Alex is proud to call himself “Progressive” as he is a tireless fighter for justice.
Republished by 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.
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.
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.
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?
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 »
A short article I wrote for local Philly paper The Defenestrator, with a few tips on how to avoid paying back student loans. Student debt functions as an enclosure on youth – it keeps post-college youth from pursuing their dreams or working with others for a better world, because they feel pressured to pay their debt back. This affects students even before they graduate – rather than study what they care about, students feel immense pressure to study a subject that will land them a good job.
A few statistics:
- By 2008 average college tuition had increased by 439% since the 1980s, meaning it’s over 5 times as expensive as a generation ago. This doesn’t include books, housing, meal plans, etc.
- Graduating college seniors in 2008 had an average debt of $23,200. 67% of seniors graduated with student debt. (Project on Student Debt)
- As recently as 1993, less than half of seniors graduated with debt.
- Prior to 1980, 80% of government financial aid was given in the form of grants and scholarships that did not have to be repaid. Today, 80% of gov’t financial aid comes in the form of loans.
- 78% of undergraduates worked full or part-time jobs while taking classes in 2003-04. In 1984, it was 49%.
- In 1970, 40% of new college students considered “being very well-off financially” to be very important, and about 70% considered “developing a meaningful philosophy of life” to be very important. In 2005, 70% considered “being very well-off financially” to be very important, and about 40% considered “developing a meaningful philosophy of life” very important.
Please comment if you have other suggestions on how to break free of student debt! [alex]
Break the Chains of Student Debt!
Alex Knight, June 3, 2010
Paying back student loans can be a real downer. Loans can make organizing after college virtually impossible as they force debtors to work a full-time corporate or nonprofit job, or join the military just to pay them off. When I graduated from college, I had $50,000 worth of student loan debt. I felt I was forced to get a full-time job, and pay them off as quickly as possible so in the future I could finally dedicate myself to social change work. Luckily I didn’t have to make this choice, as there are other options available! Here are a few worth knowing about.
First, you can defer or get a forbearance, to delay payments. Often with these you can delay paying your loans for years, although interest may accrue during that time, and you may be forced to make special payments. For example Sallie Mae used to require you to pay $100 for a 6-month forbearance on private loans, but now they’ve chopped this to $200 for only a 3-month forbearance, which often makes it almost pointless. Nevertheless, you can often easily qualify for an “unemployment” deferment, even if you are working part-time.
Second, you can try to run from your loans altogether and go into default. The only problem with this, besides destroying your credit rating, is if you have co-signers on your loans, such as parents. If you go into default, you’d also be screwing them over.
A third option has recently emerged, which should be taken advantage of as much as possible. It’s called Income-Based Repayment, and it can be used to reduce or eliminate your monthly payments for most Federal loans (not those pesky private ones, unfortunately). Through the federal government’s Direct Loan program, which was recently enlarged by Obama’s Health Care reform, you can consolidate your federal loans into an IBR (or Income-Contigent Repayment – ICR) plan. Payments then become “based” or “contingent” on your income, so if you work part-time and don’t make a lot of money, you won’t have to pay a lot, and you could even eliminate your monthly payments entirely if you earn less than 150% of the poverty line. If you’re a full-time activist like me, you almost certainly qualify. And after 25 years, your debt will be forgiven.
So check out IBR, and don’t let student loans stop you from dedicating your life to building the social movements our communities and world so desperately need!
Income-Based Repayment (IBR) is a new payment option for federal student loans. It can help borrowers keep their loan payments affordable with payment caps based on their income and family size. For most eligible borrowers, IBR loan payments will be less than 10 percent of their income – and even smaller for borrowers with low earnings. IBR will also forgive remaining debt, if any, after 25 years of qualifying payments.
Who can use IBR? IBR is available to federal student loan borrowers in both the Direct and Guaranteed (or FFEL) loan programs, and covers most types of federal loans made to students, but not those made to parents. To enter IBR, you have to have enough debt relative to your income to qualify for a reduced payment. That means it would take more than 15 percent of whatever you earn above 150% of poverty level to pay off your loans on a standard 10-year payment plan. Use our calculator to see if you’re likely to be eligible.
How does IBR make payments more affordable? IBR uses a kind of sliding scale to determine how much you can afford to pay on your federal loans. If you earn below 150% of the poverty level for your family size, your required loan payment will be $0. If you earn more, your loan payment will be capped at 15 percent of whatever you earn above that amount.
Except for the highest earners, that usually works out to less than 10 percent of your total income. Read the rest of this entry »
by Kristin Campbell
Reposted from Organizing Upgrade, March 1, 2010
Organizing Upgrade is honored to offer a preview of this insightful reflection on organizing – Engaging the Crisis: Organizing Against Budget Cuts and Building Community Power in Philadelphia – which will appear in Left Turn magazine #36 (April/May 2010). You can subscribe to Left Turn online at www.leftturn.org or become a monthly sustainer at www.leftturn.org/donate.
On November 6, 2008, just days after Philadelphians poured onto the streets to celebrate the Phillies winning the World Series championship and Barack Obama the US presidency, Mayor Michael Nutter announced a drastic plan to deal with the cities $108 million budget gap. Severe budget cuts were announced, including the closure of 11 public libraries, 62 public swimming pools, 3 public ice skating rinks, and several fire engines. Nutter also stated that 220 city workers would be laid off and that 600 unfilled positions would be eliminated entirely, amounting to the loss of nearly 1,000 precious city jobs. In classic neo-liberal style, the public sector was to sacrifice, while taxpayer money would bail out the private banking institutions.
City in crisis
Well before the economic crises of 2008, a decades-long process of economic restructuring and deindustrialization had left Philadelphia, with a population just over 1.4 million, an incredibly under-resourced city. Philadelphia has the highest poverty rate out of the ten largest cities in the US, an eleven percent unemployment rate and a high-school dropout rate that hovers dangerously around 50 percent.
The proposed budget cuts sparked waves of popular outrage especially concerning the closure of the libraries, many of which are located in low-income communities of color and serve as bedrock institutions for many basic resources. Eleanor Childs, a principal of a school that heavily relies on West Philadelphia’s Durham library, and later a member of the Coalition to Save the Libraries, recalls “a groundswell of concern about the closing of the libraries… people rose up. We had our pitchforks. We were ready to fight to keep our libraries open.”
Nutter’s administration set up eight townhall meetings across Philadelphia, designed to calm the citywide uproar. Thousands of people filled the townhall meetings poised to question how such drastic decisions were made without any public input. Under the banner “Tight Times, Tough Choices,” Mayor Nutter and senior city officials attempted to explain the necessity of such deep service cuts. They explained that the impact of the economic crisis on the city had only become apparent in recent weeks, and because the city could not raise significant revenue to offset its financial loses in the timeframe that was needed, rapid cuts were mandatory and effective January 1, 2009.
In the following days and weeks, Philadelphians quickly mobilized against the decision that their public services and city workers pay for the fallout of a economic system that had already left so many of them struggling. Neighborhood leaders organized impromptu rallies at the eleven branch libraries. Along with organizing people to turn out at the Mayor’s townhall meetings, these rallies gained media attention on both the nightly news and in the major newspapers, demonstrating widespread opposition to the budget cuts. Sherrie Cohen, member of the Coalition to Save the Libraries and long-time resident of the Ogontz neighborhood of North Philly remembers her neighbors coming together to say, “We are not going to let this library close. It’s not gonna happen. We fought for 36 years for a library in our neighborhood.” Read the rest of this entry »