By Sven Beckert
Dec 12, 2014 – Few topics have animated today’s chattering classes more than capitalism. In the wake of the global economic crisis, the discussion has spanned political boundaries, with conservative newspapers in Britain and Germany running stories on the "future of capitalism" (as if that were in doubt) and Korean Marxists analyzing its allegedly self-destructive tendencies. Pope Francis has made capitalism a central theme of his papacy, while the French economist Thomas Piketty attained rock-star status with a 700-page book full of tables and statistics and the succinct but decisively unsexy title Capital in the Twenty-First Century (Harvard University Press).
With such contemporary drama, historians have taken notice. They observe, quite rightly, that the world we live in cannot be understood without coming to terms with the long history of capitalism—a process that has arguably unfolded over more than half a millennium. They are further encouraged by the all-too-frequent failings of economists, who have tended to naturalize particular economic arrangements by defining the "laws" of their development with mathematical precision and preferring short-term over long-term perspectives. What distinguishes today’s historians of capitalism is that they insist on its contingent nature, tracing how it has changed over time as it has revolutionized societies, technologies, states, and many if not all facets of life.
Nowhere is this scholarly trend more visible than in the United States. And no issue currently attracts more attention than the relationship between capitalism and slavery.
If capitalism, as many believe, is about wage labor, markets, contracts, and the rule of law, and, most important, if it is based on the idea that markets naturally tend toward maximizing human freedom, then how do we understand slavery’s role within it? No other national story raises that question with quite the same urgency as the history of the United States: The quintessential capitalist society of our time, it also looks back on long complicity with slavery. But the topic goes well beyond one nation. The relationship of slavery and capitalism is, in fact, one of the keys to understanding the origins of the modern world.
For too long, many historians saw no problem in the opposition between capitalism and slavery. They depicted the history of American capitalism without slavery, and slavery as quintessentially noncapitalist. Instead of analyzing it as the modern institution that it was, they described it as premodern: cruel, but marginal to the larger history of capitalist modernity, an unproductive system that retarded economic growth, an artifact of an earlier world. Slavery was a Southern pathology, invested in mastery for mastery’s sake, supported by fanatics, and finally removed from the world stage by a costly and bloody war.
Some scholars have always disagree with such accounts. In the 1930s and 1940s, C.L.R. James and Eric Williams argued for the centrality of slavery to capitalism, though their findings were largely ignored. Nearly half a century later, two American economists, Stanley L. Engerman and Robert William Fogel, observed in their controversial book Time on the Cross (Little, Brown, 1974) the modernity and profitability of slavery in the United States. Now a flurry of books and conferences are building on those often unacknowledged foundations. They emphasize the dynamic nature of New World slavery, its modernity, profitability, expansiveness, and centrality to capitalism in general and to the economic development of the United States in particular.
The historians Robin Blackburn in England, Rafael Marquese in Brazil, Dale Tomich in the United States, and Michael Zeuske in Germany led the study of slavery in the Atlantic world. They have now been joined by a group of mostly younger American historians, like Walter Johnson, Seth Rockman, and Caitlin C. Rosenthal, looking at the United States.
Oct. 27, 2014 – AMBERG, Germany–The next front in Germany’s effort to keep up with the digital revolution lies in a factory in this sleepy industrial town.
At stake isn’t what the Siemens AG plant produces–in this case, automated machines to be used in other industrial factories–but how its 1,000 manufacturing units communicate through the Web.
As a result, most units in this 100,000-plus square-foot factory are able to fetch and assemble components without further human input.
The Amberg plant is an early-stage example of a concerted effort by the German government, companies, universities and research institutions to develop fully automated, Internet-based "smart" factories.
Such factories would make products fully customizable while on the shop floor: An incomplete product on the assembly line would tell "the machine itself what services it needs" and the final product would immediately be put together, said Wolfgang Wahlster, a co-chairman of Industrie 4.0, as the collective project is known.
The initiative seeks to help German industrial manufacturing–the backbone of Europe’s largest economy–keep its competitive edge against the labor-cost advantages of developing countries and a resurgence in U.S. manufacturing.
Underpinning the effort is the Internet of Things, where the Web meets real-world equipment. Google Inc. made a big push on the consumer front this year with its $3.2 billion purchase of Nest Labs Inc., which makes thermostats that can be remotely controlled by smartphones and other connected devices.
Full-fledged smart manufacturing is still in the pilot phase. But the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence has worked with German industrial companies to engineer some of the most advanced demonstrations in the field.
Part of the CCDS team at the conference: Kathy Sykes, Janet Tucker, Harry Targ, Paul Krehbiel
By Paul Krehbiel
Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism
"The capitalist class is in a serious crisis without solution," said David Schweikart at the Moving Beyond Capitalism conference held in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico from July 30-August 5, 2014. "But there is a solution," he said, "economic democracy, democratic socialism." Over 200 people from 15 countries discussed how to make this happen, organized by the Center for Global Justice.
Chronic high unemployment, depression of wages and benefits, cuts in social services, and growing inequality and repression, and social and political resistance are endemic to nearly all capitalist countries, said Schweikart, a Philosophy professor at Loyola University in Chicago, and author of After Capitalism.
Schweikart’s model of democratic socialism calls for a regulated competitive market economy, socialized means of production and democratic workplaces (he advocates worker-run cooperatives as an example), non-profit public banks to finance projects, full employment, and a guarantee that human needs will be meet for everyone.
Cliff DuRand, a conference organizer, said people are creating alternatives to capitalism today all over the world. "If we’ve built these alternative institutions, the next time the capitalist system collapses…we will be able to survive without it."
Gustavo Esteva, a former Mexican government official, founder of the University of the Land in Oxaca, and an advisor to the Zapatistas in Chiapas in southern Mexico, gave a good account of how the indigenous people of this region are creating a new democratic and socialist-oriented society that they control, within the borders of a capitalist Mexico. The Zapatistas launched an armed uprising in the mid-1990′s to stop NAFTA and the Mexican government from allowing multi-national corporations to come into Chiapas to extract minerals to enrich the corporations and destroy their lives and their local economy.
Ana Maldonado of the Venezuelan Ministry of Communal Economy could not attend, so University of Utah Professor Al Campbell filled in for her. Campbell has worked in Venezuelan with the Community Councils, a new form of grassroots democracy and socialism. Created in 2006 by the late socialist president Hugo Chavez, there are 20,000 Community Councils today, each holding meetings in neighborhoods where all residents can attend, discuss, and vote on decisions for their community.
Private, for-profit banks came under sharp attack for causing the 2008 Great Recession, and for ripping off billions of dollars from people world-wide, primarily through charging high interest rates. Ellen Brown, founder of the Public Banking Institute based in California, declared, "Without interest payments, there would be no national debt," which now stands at over $15 trillion. Politicians use the debt as an excuse to cut funds for education, health care and other social programs. An example of local bank rip-offs is a bank loan for the purchase of a house, where the homeowner pays the bank 2-3 times or more than the cost of the house due to interest payments.
Brown said the solution is to set up not-for-profit public or state banks — like the Bank of North Dakota. She describes how to do it in her book Democratizing Money: The Public Bank Solution. Since the 2008 economic crash, 20 other states including California have introduced bills to study or establish publicly-owned state banks.
"The US controls third world countries," Brown explained, "by putting them in debt and then forcing repayment with high interest rates," which they can’t afford to pay. Brown said the book, Confessions of an Economic Hitman, by John Perkins, explains how devastating this is.
Coops in Cuba
Camila Pineiro Harnecker, a leader of the cooperative movement in socialist Cuba, explained that her country is giving much more attention to the development of worker-run cooperatives as a way to help workers create jobs for themselves, and learn how to become masters of their work and work lives. The state socialist sector dominates the economy, but coops now comprise 12% of the workforce and are expected to increase in number.
By Liu Zhenying
CHINESE SOCIAL SCIENCES TODAY
September 24, 2014
The Chinese version of Capital in the Twenty-First Century (2014) by French economist Thomas Piketty hasn’t been published for good reason. It is inappropriate for Piketty to associate his book with Das Kapital, the 1887 critical analysis of political economy by German philosopher Karl Marx.
Difference in political tendency
The political leaning of Capital in the Twenty-First Century can be classified as left-wing. It suggests imposing a progressive tax each year ranging from 0.1 percent to 10 percent on returns on capital, or 80 percent of punitive capital holding tax on the revenue of over $5oo,ooo. This has led US right-wing pundits to label Piketty a Marxist. But Piketty isn’t a Marxist in the conventional sense, which can be seen from his proposition of not scrapping the capitalist system.
Capital in the Twenty-First Century examines the relations between rate of returns on capital and rate of economic growth, explaining the former is higher than the latter with existing materials. This indicates an analytical framework of confrontation between capital gain and labor income, whereby the increased portion must be the reduced portion of workers’ labor income. It is the same as Das Kapital, which is based on confrontation between labor and capital, specifically paid employment. This doesn’t prove Piketty is a Marxist, however, because classical political economics are also based on labor-capital conflicts.
Conflicts between labor and capital are common in classical political economics. Based on these conflicts, Piketty pivots from the stance of contemporary Western mainstream economics to classical political economics. He doesn’t draw such a conclusion from self-contradiction of the capitalist mode of production as Marx did in Das Kapital, which urged the overthrowing of the capitalist system and establishment of capital public ownership.
Piketty once asserted that he has returned to the stance of classical economics due to his dissatisfaction with mainstream economics. However, it is a big leap to go from classical economics to Marxist economics.
Piketty imagines solving the problems caused by capitalist fundamentalism without solving core contradictions, which indicates he hasn’t realized the gap. Commentators accuse him of being a “utopian.” Indeed, Piketty makes the case that the bourgeoisie would rather see the collapse of capitalism than adopt his proposed tax reforms.
Difference in research methods
Capital in the Twenty-First Century shouldn’t be considered a modern Das Kapital. Both books differ in research subjects. More importantly, they have different research methods and both therefore draw inevitably different conclusions. Capital in the Twenty-First Century explains “polarization” with data, strongly refuting theories that distort so-called facts.
No matter how reasonable Piketty’s ideas are, the bourgeoisie will never acknowledge he is right nor accept his proposed policies.
Piketty’s proposed policies have historically been adopted and are even being implemented in some North European countries. However, whether these proposals will be adopted on a greater scale doesn’t depend on whether the ruling classes are clear that the rate of return on capital must conform to economic growth rate. It instead depends on whether their interests can be guaranteed. The capitalist system defines human nature as individualistic and selfish, with the bourgeoisie only caring about their own interests without considering greater mankind.
Without attempting to persuade the bourgeoisie to become reasonable, Das Kapital proposes not having any illusions about them. For this reason, Das Kapital presents an insurmountable critique without comparison.
This isn’t to say that Das Kapital, as a 19th-century book, can explain all phenomena in the 21st century. Marxist theorist Ernest Mandel thought Das Kapital was more suitable for the 20th century. Based on the inherent negativity of capitalism, however, it is in the 21st century that the logic of Das Kapital has been actually realized.
Marx researched virtual capital, but there was no virtual economy in his era. Marx realized the self-denial of capital would inevitably result in socialism, but he didn’t seesocialism which would have the same level of productivity under capitalism and even has lower level of productivity than developed countries . If a 21st-century adaptation of Das Kapital is written, its logic should follow Marxist theory.
The author is a teacher at the Shanghai Party Institute First Branch School at the Communist Party of China’s Shanghai Administration Institute.
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Employees of the Sanli Engine Company, a privately-owned company based in Jinjiang, Fujian Province, assemble lawnmowers for sale outside of China(Photograph taken on August 10, 2009). More than three decades of reform and opening up have fueled considerable advances in China’s state-owned and private sectors, enabling various forms of ownership to develop side by side in a mutually-complementary fashion. / Photo by Xinhua reporter Zhang Guojun
From:English Edition of Qiushi Journal
Journal of the CC of the Chinese Communist Party
Vol. 6 No.3 July 1, 2014
Modernization is the dream of all developing countries. While many countries have pursued dreams of modernization, pushing themselves forwards to achieve development and progress, none have overcome as many difficulties and obstacles as China, which has succeeded in putting an economically and culturally backward country of 1.3 billion people on the fast track to modernization. In light of this fact, we may say that the Chinese path represents a successful attempt to overcome difficulties that developing countries commonly face in modernization.
I. The success of the Chinese path indicates that developing countries no longer have to rely on Western approaches to modernization
All developing countries, including China, face the challenge of identifying a path of development. Following the Second World War, the majority of the world’s developing countries—with the exception of socialist countries, as represented by the Soviet Union—opted to emulate the Western model of modernization.
The path that Western countries have guided developing countries towards takes its roots in neoliberalism—an economic philosophy that emerged in the 1920s-30s, the core ideas of which are marketization, liberalization, and privatization. In 1989, the US government and the Western financial world formulated a set of ten policy prescriptions aimed at guiding economic reforms in Latin America. Later dubbed the “Washington Consensus,” these proposals were essentially a continuation of neoliberal thinking. However, with the introduction of this so-called “consensus” into Latin America in the 1990s, Latin American countries began to experience a phase of continued economic and financial crisis, and have since been confronted with serious economic recessions, polarization, and intense social conflicts. Moreover, following the drastic changes that occurred in the Soviet Union and Eastern European countries, the “shock therapy” of neoliberalism was at one point the cause of serious economic recession in Eastern Europe. Therefore, it is fair to say that the global spread of neoliberalism has been the cause of bitter suffering in many developing countries.
As an approach to modernization that has been developed outside the capitalist system, the Chinese path represents a fundamental departure from the Western model of modernization that has previously been relied upon. Through its glorious achievements, China has shown the world a path of development that differs completely from the one predetermined by Western countries. As a result, the world has begun to shift its gaze to the East.
The Chinese path differs fundamentally from neoliberalism and the “Washington Consensus” in several regards. Firstly, the differences between the two can be seen from an institutional perspective. The socialist system with Chinese characteristics is founded on the fundamental political system of people’s congresses. This fundamental political system serves as the basis for China’s basic political systems, which include multi-party cooperation and political consultation. The socialist system with Chinese characteristics also comprises a basic economic system whereby public ownership is the mainstay while various forms of ownership are able to develop side by side. Secondly, the differences between the two are evident from the guiding principles they follow. China’s socialist market economy attaches great importance to the role of macro control, laying emphasis on exerting the strengths of both planning and market forces. Thirdly, the differences between the two are evident from the role of the government in economic activities. A great deal of research, including research by Western scholars, has argued that the success of the Chinese path is attributable to the fact that China not only boasts a “big government,” but also a “good government.” These features fundamentally distinguish the Chinese path from neoliberalism, which takes the capitalist political system and private ownership as its basic political and economic foundations, and which advocates “small government” that is governments that do not intervene in the economy. Other distinctive features of the Chinese path include export-oriented policies, high savings and investment rates, and an emphasis on education and human resource development. Together, the aforementioned features constitute the main aspects of the Chinese path.
Fact has demonstrated that the Chinese path—a path that differs from the developmental models advocated by the West—has been the strongest driving force behind China’s development. This path has enabled the Chinese nation to proudly reassert itself among the nations of the world. Moreover, it will guarantee that the Chinese dream of national rejuvenation will eventually come true. The Chinese path has delivered the message that every country should choose its own path of development in accordance with its own national conditions. It has demonstrated that the socialist system, a strong government, a mixed economy, and macro control are equally capable of becoming factors for successful modernization. In the future, the Chinese model will continue to shatter the myth that surrounds neoliberalism and the “Washington Consensus.”
II. The Chinese path has effectively overcome the “late starter’s disadvantage” that developing countries face in modernization
It is a widely-held view that developing countries enjoy a number of advantages as they are attempting to modernize: advanced scientific and technological achievements that can be borrowed from developed countries; a wealth of existing knowledge and experience with regard to modernization; open international markets; and abundant demographic and natural resource dividends. Capitalizing on these “late starter’s advantages,” some developing countries have formulated “catch-up” strategies, which have been successful in certain cases. However, in most circumstances, the “late starter’s advantage” is only seen during the early stages of modernization. Once a country has reached a certain level of economic and social development, this advantage will begin to diminish, being increasingly replaced by a “late starter’s disadvantage,” which severely obstructs the modernization process in that country. The “late starter’s disadvantage” is demonstrated in the following aspects.
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Venezuela’s president Nicolas Maduro with Marta Harnecker at the award ceremony.
The speech was given by Marta Harnecker on August 15, 2014, accepting the 2013 Liberator’s Prize for Critical Thought, awarded for her book, A World to Build: New Paths towards Twenty-first Century Socialism; translated by Federico Fuentes
By Marta Harnecker
August 24, 2014 – I completed this book one month after the physical disappearance of President Hugo Chávez, without whose intervention in Latin America this book could not have been written. Many of the ideas I raise in it are related in one way or another to the Bolivarian leader, to his ideas and actions, within Venezuela and at the regional and global level. Nobody can deny that there is a huge difference between the Latin America that Chávez inherited and the Latin America he has left for us today.
That is why I dedicated the book to him with the following words:
To Commandante Chavez, whose words, orientations and exemplary dedication to the cause of the poor will serve as a compass for his people and all the people of the world. It will be the best shield to defend ourselves from those that seek to destroy this marvellous work that he began to build.
When Chávez won the 1998 presidential elections, the neoliberal capitalist model was already foundering. The choice then was whether to re-establish this model, undoubtedly with some changes such as greater concern for social issues, but still motivated by the same logic of profit-seeking, or to go ahead and try to build another model. Chávez had the courage to take the second path and decided to call it “socialism”, in spite of its negative connotations. He called it “21st century socialism,” to differentiate it from the Soviet-style socialism that had been implemented in the 20th century. This was not about “falling into the errors of the past”, into the same “Stalinist deviations” which bureaucratised the party and ended up eliminating popular participation.
The need for peoples’ participation was one of his obsessions and was the feature that distinguished his proposals from other socialist projects in which the state resolved all the problems and the people received benefits as if they were gifts.
He was convinced that socialism could not be decreed from above, that it had to be built with the people. And he also understood that protagonistic participation is what allows people to grow and achieve self-confidence, that is, to develop themselves as human beings.
I always remember the first program of “Theoretical Aló Presidente”, which was broadcasted on June 11, 2009, when Chavez quoted at length from a letter that Peter Kropotkin, the Russian anarchist, wrote to Lenin on March 4, 1920:
Without the participation of local forces, without an organization from below of the peasants and workers themselves, it is impossible to build a new life.
It seemed that the soviets were going to fulfil precisely this function of creating an organization from below. But Russia has already become a Soviet Republic in name only. The party’s influence over people … has already destroyed the influence and constructive energy of this promising institution – the soviets.
That is why very early on I believed it necessary to distinguish between the socialist project and a model. I understood project to mean the original ideas of Marx and Engels, and model to refer to one form that this project has historically taken. If we analysis Soviet-style socialism, we see that in those countries that implemented this model of socialism, one that Michael Lebowitz has recently called the socialism of conductors and conducted based on a vanguardist mode of production, the people were no longer the protagonist, organs of popular participation were transformed into purely formal entities, and the party was transformed into an absolute authority, the sole depositary of truth that controlled all activities: economic, political, cultural. That is, what should have been a popular democracy was transformed into a dictatorship of the party. This model of socialism, that many have called “real socialism” is a fundamentally statist, centralist, bureaucratic model, where the key missing factor is popular participation.
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By John Ross
China.org.cn, August 22, 2014
August 22, 2014 is the 110th anniversary of the birth of Deng Xiaoping. Numerous achievements would ensure Deng Xiaoping a major position in China’s history – his role in shaping the People’s Republic of China, his steadfastness during persecution in the Cultural Revolution, his extraordinarily balanced attitude even after return to power towards the development and recent history of China, his all-round role after 1978 in leading the country.
But one ensures him a position among a tiny handful of people at the peak not only of Chinese but of world history. This was China’s extraordinary economic achievement after reforms began in 1978, and the decisive role this played not only in the improvement of the living standards of Chinese people but the country’s national rejuvenation. So great was the impact of this that it may objectively be said to have altered the situation not only of China but of the world.
China’s economic performance after the beginning of its 1978 reforms simply exceeded the experience of any other country in human history. To give only a partial list:
• China achieved the most rapid growth in a major economy in world history.
• China experienced the fastest growth of living standards of any major economy.
• China lifted 620 million people out of internationally defined poverty.
• Measured in internationally comparable prices, adjusted for inflation, the greatest increase in economic output in a single year in any country outside China was the U.S. in 1999, when it added US$567 billion, whereas in 2010 China added US$1,126 billion – twice as much.
• During the beginning of China’s rapid growth, 22 percent of the world’s population was within its borders – seven times that of United States at the beginning of its own fast economic development.
Wholly implausibly, it is sometimes argued that this success was merely due to "pragmatism" and achieved without overall economic theories, concepts, or a leadership really understanding the subject (particularly with no knowledge of U.S. academic economics!). If true, then the study of economics should immediately be abandoned – if the greatest economic success in world history can be achieved without any understanding of the subject, then it is evidently of no practical value whatever.
In reality this argument is entirely specious. Deng Xiaoping’s approach to economic policy was certainly highly practical regarding application – the famous "it doesn’t matter if a cat is black or white provided it catches mice." But it was extremely theoretical regarding foundations – as shown clearly in such works as In Everything We Do We Must Proceed from the Realities of the Primary Stage of Socialism, We Are Undertaking An Entirely New Endeavour, and Adhere to the Principle to Each According to his Work. Deng Xiaoping’s outstanding practical success was guided by a clearly defined theoretical underpinning, which can be understood particularly clearly in its historical context and in comparison with Western and other economists.
As is generally known, after 1949 the newly created People’s Republic of China constructed an economy, fundamental elements of which were drawn from the Soviet Union. It is important to understand that there was nothing irrational in this – the USSR, up to that time, had the world’s most rapidly growing economy.
Indeed, the immediate post-1929 success of the USSR was of extraordinary dimensions. During 1929-39 the USSR achieved 6 percent annual GDP growth, which until then was by far the fastest ever achieved by a major economy, and almost twice the historical growth rate of the United States. Despite colossal destruction in World War II, by 1949 the USSR had already regained its prewar production level.
The elements which produced such historically unprecedented economic growth were clear. From 1929, Stalin, with the First Five Year Plan, launched the USSR on an economic policy never previously attempted in any country – construction of a national basically self-enclosed administered economy. Resources were not allocated by price but by material quantities – a steel factory did not buy iron ore on the market but had it allocated by administrative decision. Foreign trade was minimized. State ownership was applied even to small scale private enterprises such as restaurants. Farmers’ small holdings were eliminated and agriculture organized into large scale collective farms.
Despite verbal claims that this policy was "Marxist," Stalin’s economic structure was in fact radically at variance with that of Marx himself. To use the Marxist terminology common to both China and the USSR, Soviet economic policy in 1929, in a single step, replaced economic regulation by prices (exchange value) by allocation by material use (use value).
By Harry Targ
Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism (CCDS)
For presentation at the upcoming “Moving Beyond Capitalism” Conference, Center for Global Justice, San Miguel de Allende, Mexico July 29-August 5, 2014
The deepening 21st century crises of capitalism-from growing economic impoverishment to neo-fascism to literal destruction of planet earth-demand movements and visions of change unparalleled in quantities and qualities of response. Anti-capitalist responses to these crises range from helplessness to spontaneous activism. Often political reactions ignore the history and context of the crises and the movements that have come before that have planted the seeds of fundamental social change. This paper will survey movements of social change in the era of neoliberal globalization suggesting both the breadth of such movements and the historical context from which they came. The tasks for today still require an analysis of the nature of existing systems and responses, visions of desirable alternatives, and contextualized discussions of moving from here to there. “Moving Beyond Capitalism” requires such a grounding of the future in the past and the present.
21st Century Imperialism: Post-Cold War Perspectives on Global Political Economy
The collapse of the Soviet Union transformed world affairs, scholarly analyses of international relations, punditry, and rationales for imperial foreign policies. A new buzzword became part of political discourse to describe the international system: “globalization.” Almost immediately a large literature was generated suggesting that the world had changed. Globalization was replacing the system of often hostile nation-states that had characterized the world since the sixteenth century.
While interpretations of globalization varied, the common conception of the term suggested that a process of relations was occurring in which interactions between nations, business and financial organizations, groups, and peoples had become so frequent and intense that they were creating one global society. Major globalizing institutions included multinational corporations, especially the 200 largest global corporations with production, distribution, and decision-making facilities in many countries, and international financial institutions engaged in speculative activities all across the globe. At the cultural level a handful of media conglomerates produced a large percentage of the cultural products, images, artistic endeavors, and print and electronic information that the world consumed. Finally, international institutions such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the newly created World Trade Organization brought international influence to bear on states that resisted the globalization process.
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Students in Milan took to the streets to protest against Italian austerity, October, 4 2013. (Photo via Shutterstock)
Reality always has this power to surprise. It surprises you with an answer that it gives to questions never asked – and which are most tempting. A great stimulus to life is there, in the capacity to divine possible unasked questions.
— Eduardo Galeano
By Henry Giroux
Truthout, July 2, 2014
Neoliberalism’s Assault on Democracy
Fred Jameson has argued that “that it is easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of capitalism.” He goes on to say that “We can now revise that and witness the attempt to imagine capitalism by way of imagining the end of the world” (Jameson 2003).
One way of understanding Jameson’s comment is that within the ideological and affective spaces in which the neoliberal subject is produced and market-driven ideologies are normalized, there are new waves of resistance, especially among young people, who are insisting that casino capitalism is driven by a kind of mad violence and form of self-sabotage, and that if it does not come to an end, what we will experience, in all probability, is the destruction of human life and the planet itself.
Certainly, more recent scientific reports on the threat of ecological disaster from researchers at the University of Washington, NASA, and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reinforce this dystopian possibility. 
As the latest stage of predatory capitalism, neoliberalism is part of a broader economic and political project of restoring class power and consolidating the rapid concentration of capital, particularly financial capital (Giroux 2008; 2014). As a political project, it includes “the deregulation of finance, privatization of public services, elimination and curtailment of social welfare programs, open attacks on unions, and routine violations of labor laws” (Yates 2013). As an ideology, it casts all dimensions of life in terms of market rationality, construes profit-making as the arbiter and essence of democracy, consuming as the only operable form of citizenship, and upholds the irrational belief that the market can both solve all problems and serve as a model for structuring all social relations. As a mode of governance, it produces identities, subjects, and ways of life driven by a survival-of-the fittest ethic, grounded in the idea of the free, possessive individual, and committed to the right of ruling groups and institutions to exercise power removed from matters of ethics and social costs. As a policy and political project, it is wedded to the privatization of public services, the dismantling of the connection of private issues and public problems, the selling off of state functions, liberalization of trade in goods and capital investment, the eradication of government regulation of financial institutions and corporations, the destruction of the welfare state and unions, and the endless marketization and commodification of society.
Neoliberalism has put an enormous effort into creating a commanding cultural apparatus and public pedagogy in which individuals can only view themselves as consumers, embrace freedom as the right to participate in the market, and supplant issues of social responsibility for an unchecked embrace of individualism and the belief that all social relation be judged according to how they further one’s individual needs and self-interests. Matters of mutual caring, respect, and compassion for the other have given way to the limiting orbits of privatization and unrestrained self-interest, just as it has become increasingly difficult to translate private troubles into larger social, economic, and political considerations. As the democratic public spheres of civil society have atrophied under the onslaught of neoliberal regimes of austerity, the social contract has been either greatly weakened or replaced by savage forms of casino capitalism, a culture of fear, and the increasing use of state violence. One consequence is that it has become more difficult for people to debate and question neoliberal hegemony and the widespread misery it produces for young people, the poor, middle class, workers, and other segments of society — now considered disposable under neoliberal regimes which are governed by a survival-of-the fittest ethos, largely imposed by the ruling economic and political elite. That they are unable to make their voices heard and lack any viable representation in the process makes clear the degree to which young people and others are suffering under a democratic deficit, producing what Chantal Mouffe calls “a profound dissatisfaction with a number of existing societies” under the reign of neoliberal capitalism (Mouffe 2013:119). This is one reason why so many youth, along with workers, the unemployed, and students, have been taking to the streets in Greece, Mexico, Egypt, the United States, and England.
The Rise of Disposable Youth
What is particularly distinctive about the current historical conjuncture is the way in which young people, particularly low-income and poor minority youth across the globe, have been increasingly denied any place in an already weakened social order and the degree to which they are no longer seen as central to how a number of countries across the globe define their future.
The plight of youth as disposable populations is evident in the fact that millions of them in countries such as England, Greece, and the United States have been unemployed and denied long term benefits. The unemployment rate for young people in many countries such as Spain, Italy, Portugal, and Greece hovers between 40 and 50 per cent. To make matters worse, those with college degrees either cannot find work or are working at low-skill jobs that pay paltry wages. In the United States, young adjunct faculty constitute one of the fastest growing populations on food stamps. Suffering under huge debts, a jobs crisis, state violence, a growing surveillance state, and the prospect that they would inherit a standard of living far below that enjoyed by their parents, many young people have exhibited a rage that seems to deepen their resignation, despair, and withdrawal from the political arena.
Interview by Kourosh Ziabari
June 24, 2014 – TEHRAN (FNA)- Prominent American sociologist Prof. William I. Robinson believes that the United States government is the biggest perpetrator of terror in the world and its military adventures across the globe have claimed the lives of millions of innocent citizens.
According to Prof. William I. Robinson, “if we define terrorism as the use of violence against civilians for political objectives, then the US state is the world’s leading terrorist.”
“US intervention abroad in the 20th century – the forging of a US empire – claimed tens of millions of victims, inflicted untold suffering, and set back the aspirations of freedom and democracy in dozens of countries,” said Prof. Robinson in an exclusive interview with Fars News Agency.
Prof. Robinson also went on to say that capitalism, which is the predominant economic and political worldview of the United States and other imperial powers is in the midst of its most severe crisis in close to a century, even worse than the crisis in the 1930s, “because we are on the precipice of an ecological holocaust that threatens the very earth system and the ability to sustain life, ours included, because the means of violence and social control have never before been so concentrated within a single powerful state, and because the global means of communication is also extraordinarily concentrated in the hands of transnational capital and a few powerful states.”
William I. Robinson is a professor of sociology, global and international studies, and Latin American studies at the University of California at Santa Barbara. His latest book entitled “Global Capitalism and the Crisis of Humanity” was just published in 2014. In the early 1980s, he worked as a journalist in the war-torn Nicaragua. From 1984 to 1990 he was a member of the Union of Nicaraguan Journalists. His articles and writings have appeared on such news websites as Al-Jazeera, Huffington Post and Truth Out.
Prof. Robinson took part in an exclusive, comprehensive interview with FNA and responded to our questions about the demise of capitalism, the future of globalization, the setbacks and failures of the US foreign policy and the human consequences of Washington’s military adventures. What follows is the text of the interview.
Q: What’s your viewpoint regarding the consequences of the US military expeditions across the world, including the devastation of the natural resources of the countries that are attacked, the killing of the unarmed civilians, the forced migration and displacement of the war-hit population, the pollution of the air, the infliction of irretrievable damages on the environment and the erosion of democratic institutions in these countries? Who is going to compensate for these losses?
A: The US state is acting as the gendarme for global capitalism at a time when global capitalism is in deep crisis. It is the core institution in what I have referred to as the transnational state, and in my view it represents at this time the interests of transnational capital, of a transnational capitalist class.
The United States has committed successive war crimes and crimes against humanity in recent years. However, let us recall that this is the continuation of a long historical pattern, what we used to call imperialism, and some still do refer to as imperialism. The United States as a country was born on the basis of the slavery of Africans and other peoples and genocide against the native populations of North America.
Expansion from the original East Coast colonies began from the very inception of the Republic. Texas was annexed from Mexico in 1836 by white Southern slavers who were seeking to expand cotton plantation based on the slavery of Africans. This expansion continued in 1848 as the United States annexed one half of Mexican territory in a war of aggression justified by “Manifest Destiny”. US rulers then launched extra-territorial expansion, starting with the invasion, occupation, and colonization of Puerto Rico, the Philippines, and Cuba in 1898, and followed by literally hundreds – perhaps thousands – of interventions in the 20th century, including convert operation, the orchestration of coup d’etats, counter-insurgencies, military invasions, occupations, and so forth – throughout Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia, but also in Southern and Eastern Europe. US intervention abroad in the 20th century – the forging of a US empire – claimed tens of millions of victims, inflicted untold suffering, and set back the aspirations of freedom and democracy in dozens of countries – yet US rulers had the arrogance and cynicism to claim that its aggression against the world’s people was in the name of freedom and democracy.
Of course the United States does not hold a monopoly on such expansionism and interventionism in the modern era of capitalism. Over the past two centuries, and even earlier, England, France, Spain and other European powers were carving out their own colonial empires, unleashing unfathomable brutality and suffering. The culprit here, beyond a particular nation-state, is an outwardly expanding capitalism involving imperialism and colonialism. The United States stands out because it became the dominant world power in the wake of World War II and set about to construct a truly global empire, the likes of which the world had not previously seen.
However, and this is the key point I wish to highlight here, US intervention around the world clearly entered a qualitatively new period after September 11, 2001. This new period should be seen in the context of emergent 21st century global capitalism. Global capitalism is in the midst of its most severe crisis in close to a century, and in many ways the current crisis is much worse than that of the 1930s because we are on the precipice of an ecological holocaust that threatens the very earth system and the ability to sustain life, ours included, because the means of violence and social control have never before been so concentrated within a single powerful state, and because the global means of communication is also extraordinarily concentrated in the hands of transnational capital and a few powerful states. On the other hand, global inequalities have never been as acute and grotesque as they are today. So, in simplified terms, we need to see the escalation of US interventionism and the untold suffering it brings about, including what you mention – the killing of unarmed civilians, the destruction of the environment, forced migration and displacement, undermining democracy – as a response by the US-led transnational state and the transnational capitalist class to contain the explosive contradictions of a global capitalist system that is out of control and in deep crisis.
You ask me who is going to compensate for these losses. That will depend on how the world’s people respond. There is currently a global revolt from below underway, but it is spread unevenly across countries and has not taken any clear form or direction. Can the popular majority of humanity force the transnational capitalist class and the US/transnational state to be accountable for its crimes? Mao Zedong once said that “power flows through the barrel of a gun.” What he meant by this, in a more abstract than literal way, I believe, is that in the end it is the correlation of real forces that will determine outcomes. Because the United States has overwhelming and “full spectrum” military dominance, it can capture, execute, or bring to trial people anywhere around the world… it has “free license”, so to speak, to act as an international outlaw. We don’t even have to take the more recent examples. In December 1989 the United States undertook an illegal and criminal invasion of Panama, kidnapped Manuel Noriega – whether or not he was a dictator is not the point, as the United States puts in power and defends dictators that defend US and transnational elite interests, and brought him back to US territory for trial. What country in the world now has the naked power “flowing through the barrel of a gun” to invade the United States, capture George Bush, Dick Chaney, Donald Rumsfeld, and other war criminals, and bring them somewhere to stand trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity?
Q: In your writings, you’ve warned against the growing gap between the rich and the poor, the slant accumulation of the global wealth in the hands of an affluent few and the impoverishment of the suppressed majority. What do you think are the reasons for this stark inequality and the disturbing dispossession of millions of people in the capitalist societies? You wrote that the participants of the 2011 World Economic Forum in Davos were worried that the current situation raises the specter of worldwide instability and civil wars. Is it really so?
A: We have never in the history of humanity seen such a sharp social polarization between the haves and the have-nots, such grotesque levels of inequality, within and among countries. There have been countless studies in recent years documenting the escalation of inequalities, among them, the current bestseller by Thomas Piketty, “Capital in the Twenty-First Century.” The pattern we see is that the notorious “1 percent” monopolizes a huge portion of the wealth that humanity produces and transnational corporations and banks are registering record profits, but as well that some 20 percent of the population in each countries has integrated into the global economy as middle class and affluent consumers while the remaining 80 percent has experienced rising levels of insecurity, impoverishment, and precariousness, increasingly inhabiting what some have called a “planet of slums.”