The Specter of Authoritarianism and the Future of the Left: An Interview With Henry A. Giroux


By CJ Polychroniou,

Truthout | Interview  – 08 June 2014

Henry A. GirouxHenry A. Giroux (Screengrab via Disposable Life / Vimeo)"The commanding institutions of society in many countries, including the United States, are now in the hands of powerful corporate interests, the financial elite and right-wing bigots whose strangulating control over politics renders democracy corrupt and dysfunctional," says Henry A. Giroux.

To read more articles by C. J. Polychroniou, Henry A. Giroux and other authors in the Public Intellectual Project, click here.

C. J. Polychroniou, for Truthout: It is widely believed that the advanced liberal societies are suffering a crisis of democracy, a view you share wholeheartedly, although the empirical research, with its positivist bias, tends to be more cautious. In what ways is there less democracy today in places like the United States than there was, say, 20 or 30 years ago?

Henry A. Giroux: What we have seen in the United States and a number of other countries since the 1970s is the emergence of a savage form of free market fundamentalism, often called neoliberalism, in which there is not only a deep distrust of public values, public goods and public institutions but the embrace of a market ideology that accelerates the power of the financial elite and big business while gutting those formative cultures and institutions necessary for a democracy to survive.

"Neoliberal societies, in general, are in a state of war – a war waged by the financial and political elite against youth, low-income groups, the elderly, poor minorities of color, the unemployed, immigrants and others now considered disposable."

The commanding institutions of society in many countries, including the United States, are now in the hands of powerful corporate interests, the financial elite and right-wing bigots whose strangulating control over politics renders democracy corrupt and dysfunctional. Of course, what is unique about the United States is that the social contract and social wage are subject to a powerful assault by the right-wing politicians and anti-public intellectuals from both political parties. Those public spheres and institutions that support social provisions, the public good and keep public value alive are under sustained attack. Such attacks have not only produced a range of policies that have expanded the misery, suffering and hardships of millions of people, but have also put into place a growing culture of cruelty in which those who suffer the misfortunes of poverty, unemployment, low skill jobs, homelessness and other social problems are the object of both humiliation and scorn.

Neoliberal societies, in general, are in a state of war – a war waged by the financial and political elite against youth, low-income groups, the elderly, poor minorities of color, the unemployed, immigrants and others now considered disposable. Liberty and freedom are now reduced to fodder for inane commercials or empty slogans used to equate capitalism with democracy. At the same time, liberty and civil rights are being dismantled while state violence and institutional racism is now spreading throughout the culture like wildfire, especially with regards to police harassment of young black and brown youth. A persistent racism can also be seen in the attack on voting rights laws, the mass incarceration of African-American males, and the overt racism that has become prominent among right-wing Republicans and Tea Party types, most of which is aimed at President Obama.

At the same time, women’s reproductive rights are under assault and there is an ongoing attack on immigrants. Education at all levels is being defunded and defined as a site of training rather than as a site of critical thought, dialogue and critical pedagogy. In addition, democracy has withered under the emergence of a national security and permanent warfare state. This is evident not only in endless wars abroad, but also in the passing of a series of laws such as the Patriot Act, the Military Commission Act, the National Defense Authorization Act, and many others laws that shred due process and give the executive branch the right to hold prisoners indefinitely without charge or a trial, authorize a presidential kill list and conduct warrantless wiretaps. Of course, both [former President George W.] Bush and Obama claimed the right to kill any citizens considered to be a terrorist or who have come to the aid of terrorism. In addition, targeted assassinations are now carried out by drones that are more and more killing innocent children, adults and bystanders.

Another index of America’s slide into barbarism and authoritarianism is the rise of the racial punishing state with its school-to prison pipeline, criminalization of a range of social problems, a massive incarceration system, militarization of local police forces and its use of ongoing state violence against youthful dissenters. The prison has now become the model for a type of punishment creep that has impacted upon public schools where young children are arrested for violating something as trivial as doodling on a desk or violating a dress code. Under the dictates of the punishing state, incarceration has become the default solution for every social problem, regardless of how minor it may be. Discordant interactions between teacher and student, however petty, are not treated as a criminal offense. The long arm of punishment creep is also evident in a number of social services where poor people are put under constant surveillance and punished for minor infractions. It is also manifest in the militarization of everyday life with its endless celebration of military, police and religious institutions, all of which are held in high esteem by the American public, in spite of their undeniably authoritarian nature.

"The US has launched an attack not only on the practice of justice and democracy itself, but on the very idea of justice and democracy."

As Edward Snowden made clear, the hidden registers of authoritarianism have come to light in a trove of exposed NSA documents which affirm that the US has become a national security-surveillance state illegally gathering massive amounts of information from diverse sources on citizens who are not guilty of any crimes. To justify such lawlessness, the American public is told that the rendering moot of civil liberties is justified in the name of security and defense against potential terrorists and other threats. In reality, what is being defended is the security of the state and the concentration of economic and political power in the hands of the controlling political and corporate elites.


Category : Capitalism | Democracy | Fascism | Hegemony | Intellectuals | Youth | Blog

By Gavin Mendel-Gleason & James O’Brien


January 1, 2014

(Part I of II, for Part II see: ‘The Strategy of Attrition:
Conquest or Destruction of the State?’ further down)


Right from its beginnings in early 19th century, socialism has been bedevilled by debates over strategy in a way that right-wing ideologies have not. Would salvation come, as Fourier dreamed, from wealthy benefactors funding new communist colonies or maybe, as Proudhon envisaged, through workers founding their own mutualist enterprises and bypassing politics altogether? Or perhaps a more aggressive stance was necessary, as advocated by the proto-syndicalist wing of the British Chartist movement in the 1830s, who even then were cognisant of workers’ leverage at the point of production and supported the use of a Grand National Holiday — aka a general strike. Or was the mainstream Chartist emphasis on political action, i.e. taking control of state-power after having won universal suffrage be the centre of socialist activity the best way forward.

These strands and more were already manifest in England, then the most advanced capitalist country, in the 1830s — a long time ago. And they remain with us to this day because the problem to which they attempted to solve, namely minority rule, remains very much with us. The various tendencies correspond to available oppositional niches in a society dominated by capitalist production and therefore elite influence.

It seems obvious that an adroit mixture of the strategies, one which combined the strength of labour, the potential wealth of co-ops and the leverage of mass parties, is the goldilocks of political strategies and indeed that is the position we advocate. However, once we get into the details the obvious quickly becomes very blurry indeed. It’s hardly surprising that socialists have lacked the clarity of the right-wing since they, unlike us, are in driving seat and don’t need to change a whole lot while we are searching for a way to achieve our goals.

And it turns out that a combined arms strategy of unions, co-ops, and political party is not, in fact, the dominant orientation on the radical left, and has not been since 1917, at least in the English speaking world. There are, for example, proponents of an exclusively non-state orientation and there are supporters of political means, but who both deny that co-operatives can play a meaningful role before the working class has seized power and that tightly knit revolutionary groups are the key to success.

In this essay we are going to focus on the political arena and make case for a robust mass party strategy that aims to win political power via democratic elections, and only touch upon the role of trade unions and co-ops.

The Democratic Road

The case for choosing the democratic road is best teased out in comparison with alternative approaches, which for our purposes is going to mostly be the strategy of insurrection pursued by Anarchists and Trotskyists that is common amongst the revolutionary groups in the Anglo-phone world.

If the basic strategic choices first emerged in the 1830s, they became permanent features of the political landscape in the era of the First International (1864 – 1873) when the Anarchists and the Marxists parted ways replete with their own theoretical justifications. The Russian Revolutions of 1905 and 1917, which saw the emergence of workers’ councils, moved the debate from being one that separated Anarchists and Marxists and landed it into the heart of Marxism itself.

Let us lay our cards on the table at the outset: the political strategy advocated here involves attempting to win state power in the advanced capitalist countries through legal means, taking the democratic road if you will. In practice, this involves winning a majority through competition in elections which are broadly considered free and fair.

However, a simple description of this approach isn’t sufficient. In order to evaluate its worth, we need to compare it to alternatives, of which there is no shortage, from anti-consumerism, to back to nature primitivism, NGO lobbying, Third Worldism, and Occupyesque protesting to name some of the lesser lights. For reasons of space, we’re going to limit the alternative to the principal one offered by revolutionary socialists since 1917: the smashing of the existing state and its replacement by participatory workers councils, i.e. the primary strategy offered by both the Trotskyists and the Anarchists. Moreover, we need a way of choosing between the alternatives. As the debate between them has gone on since the days of the First International, it seems likely that both sides have valid points to make. For instance, James Bierly, in a recent article on the North Star catalogued the many practical advantages of electoralism, such as the opportunities to engage with regular people that simply aren’t there when you are hawking the Socialist Worker at a demonstration. On the other hand, the anti-parliamentary left highlights the limitations of parliament in being able to bring capital under control given the strength of the unelected bureaucracy.


Category : Capitalism | Fascism | Organizing | Socialism | Strategy and Tactics | Blog

Behind the Bizarre Ideology That Fuels Adbusters Magazine

By Ramon Glazov

Jacobin Magazine

Oct 28, 2013 -  The easy narrative about Adbusters, accepted by its friends and enemies alike, is that it’s, at heart, an anarchist project. To those wishing it well, the magazine is one of the cornerstones of the Left, a wellspring of anti-authoritarian tools meant to revive progressive activism and shake things up for the greater good. For curmudgeonly detractors, “culture jamming” is little more than a powerless rehash of old Yippie protest tactics. Yet anarchism, nearly everyone assumes, is either the best or the worst part of Adbusters.

But those explanations miss a much weirder side of the magazine’s underlying politics.

This March, Adbusters jumped into what ought to seem like a marriage made in hell. It ran a glowing article [4] on Beppe Grillo – Italy’s scruffier answer to America’s Truther champion Alex Jones – calling him “nuanced, fresh, bold, and committed as a politician,” with “a performance artist edge” and “anti-austerity ideas… [C]ountries around the world, from Greece to the US, can look to [him] for inspiration.” Grillo, the piece gushed, was “planting the seed of a renewed – accountable, fresh, rational, responsible, energized – left, that we can hope germinates worldwide.”

Completely unmentioned was the real reason Grillo is so controversial in Italy: his blog is full of anti-vaccination and 9/11 conspiracy claims, pseudoscientific cancer cures and chemtrail [5]-like theories about Italian incinerator-smoke. And, as Giovanni Tiso noted [6] in July, Grillo’s “5-Star Movement” also has an incredibly creepy backer: Gianroberto Casaleggio, “an online marketing expert whose only known past political sympathies lay with the right-wing separatist Northern League.” Casaleggio has also written kooky manifestoes about re-organizing society through virtual reality technology, with mandatory Internet citizenship and an online world government.

Adbusters could have stopped flirting with Grillo at that point, but it didn’t. Another Grillo puff-piece appeared in its May/June issue. Then the magazine’s outgoing editor-in-chief, Micah White (acknowledged by theNation as “the creator of the #occupywallstreet meme”) recently went solo to form his own “boutique activism consultancy,” promising clients a “discrete service” in “Social Movement Creation.” Two weeks ago, in a YouTube video, White proposed that the next step “after the defeat of Occupy” should be to import Grillo’s 5-Star Movement to the US in time for the 2014 mid-term elections:

    After the defeat of Occupy, I don’t believe that there is any choice other than trying to grab power by means of an election victory … This is how I see the future: we could bring the 5-Star Movement to America and have the 5-Star Movement winning elections in Italy and in America, thereby forming an international party, not only with the 5-Star Movement, but with other parties as well.

The day after Adbusters ran its first pro-Grillo article, Der Spiegel compared [7]Grillo’s tone – and sweeping plans to restructure Italy’s parliamentary system – to Mussolini’s rhetoric. Ten days before that, a 5-Star Movement MP, Roberta Lombardi, faced a media scandal [8] after writing a blog post praising early fascism for its “very high regard for the state and protection of the family.”

Most progressives might reconsider their glowing assessment of a party as “the seed for a renewed left” when its leaders peddle absurd conspiracy theories and praise fascists. No such signs from Adbusters or White.

But Grillo may be more than a random ally for the gang at Culture Jammers HQ.

Just where did Adbusters get its defining philosophy? Why was it always so obsessed with ads and consumerism, while hardly focusing on class dynamics until the financial crisis?

In 1989, Adbusters founder Kalle Lasn claimed to have had an epiphany in a supermarket and started a movement to fight branding and advertisement. This wasn’t to be a repeat of Abbie Hoffman’s Steal This Book! [9]-style anarchism, with roots in Proudhon’s famous “property is theft” dictum. Culture jammers weren’t acting to communalize most products, but to “uncool” them by taking on those products’ ads, with their own slickly-produced spoofs.

To them, the brand names bearing the coolness were more important than what the branded products did. It wasn’t drinking itself that their anti-Absolut vodka ads seemed to target, but glamorous logo-brands – as if smokers and alcoholics were hooked solely on label prestige.

The earliest Adbusters website on the Wayback Machine reads like a tamer, more Canadian, version of Alex Jones’ operation. Greeting you on the intro page is a Marshall McLuhan quote about “guerrilla information war.” Above its table of contents is the All Seeing Eye engraving from US currency.

“There’s a war on for your mind!” is the current InfoWars tagline. Not too far from the early Adbusters (the “Journal of the Mental Environment”) which promised to “take on the archetypal mind polluters – Marlboro, Budweiser, Benetton, Coke, McDonalds, Calvin Klein – and beat them at their own game.”

Oddly for a site now considered left-wing, Adbusters 1.0. was cheesily evasive about its political position, claiming to be “neither left nor right, but straight ahead.”

There’s good reason to be suspicious of anyone who pulls that “neither left nor right” line. Though Alex Jones’ InfoWars may not have been directly based on early-days Adbusters, the two were undeniably similar in sentiment. Both take a hostile view to mass media and widely-available consumer products, pushing readers towards an ascetic alternative lifestyle that insulates them from “The System” and its toxic worldliness.

And, as luck would have it, both are also the merchants of the (rarer, more expensive) alternative products needed to live this lifestyle. Alex Jones expounds the virtues of food-hoarding and drives Truthers to amass his survival packs, anti-fluoride filters, and nascent iodine drops; Adbusters flogs Blackspot shoes, Corporate America protest flags, and overpriced culture-jamming kits to “create new ambiences and psychic possibilities.”

With Lasn as its guru, culture jamming became popular among activists in the 1990s. Behind all those “subvertisements” lay one big assumption: regular sheeple were so brainwashed by consumerism that they couldn’t even snicker at rose-petally tampon ads without an enlightened jammer to spell everything out for them. Every adbuster got to feel like Morpheus, unplugging Sleepers from the Matrix with the Red Pill of Situationism.

This view of society wasn’t Marxist, left-liberal, or anarchist, so much as Don Draperist: “We are the cool-makers and the cool-breakers,” Kalle Lasn told an audience of advertising “creatives” in 2006. “More than any other profession, I think that we have the power to change the world.”

Lasn might claim not to believe in leaders, but he believes in elites: marketing professionals with a higher calling, responsible for shepherding public consciousness to save humanity from brands, from themselves.

And by exaggerating the mass media’s ability to zombify the public, jammers could imagine that they, too, had Svengali-like powers over ordinary proles. For all the “tools” Adbusters offered to sway public consciousness – stencilling, stickering, page defacement, supermarket trolley sabotage – there was never much emphasis on social skills, on persuading people with politics instead of bombarding them with theater or treating them like hackable machines.

More than anything, what sets culture jammers apart from social anarchism and weds them to the Grillo camp of quacks is a unifying emphasis on a theory called “mental environmentalism.” Mental environmentalism, Micah White explains, is “the core idea behind Adbusters, the essential critique that motivates our struggle against consumer society.”

    For Adbusters, concern over the flow of information goes beyond the desire to protect democratic transparency, freedom of speech or the public’s access to the airwaves. Although these are worthwhile causes, Adbusters instead situates the battle of the mind at the center of its political agenda. Fighting to counter pro-consumerist advertising is done not as a means to an end, but as the end in itself. This shift in emphasis is a crucial element of mental environmentalism.


    Mental environmentalism is an emergent movement that in the coming years will be recognized as the fundamental social struggle of our era. It is both a unifying struggle – among mental environmentalists there are everything from conservative Mormons to far-left anarchists – and a struggle that finally, concretely explains the cause of the diversity of ills that threaten us.

    To escape the mental chains, and finally pull off the glorious emancipatory revolution the left has so long hoped for, we must become meme warriors who, through the use of culture jamming, spark a wave of epiphanies that shatter the consumerist worldview.

“The end in itself.” For culture jammers, posters and billboards don’t justrepresent exploitation, they are the tyranny (“the cause of the diversity of ills that threaten us”), and fighting them trumps all the progressive causes of their would-be allies.

That “neither left nor right” thing? It wasn’t just posturing. Not only is White equally willing to work with “far-left anarchists” and “conservative Mormons” but his mentor Lasn once hoped to guide Occupy into a merger with the Tea Party [10], producing a “hybrid party” that would transcend America’s “rigid left-right divide.”

White’s explanation of how mental pollution works sinks even deeper into conspiracy babble. Sounding a bit like a Scientologist, he tells us that humanity’s biggest problems are due to something called “infotoxins” which enter us through “commercial messaging”:

    If a key insight of environmentalism was that external reality, nature, could be polluted by industrial toxins, the key insight of mental environmentalism is that internal reality, our minds, can be polluted by infotoxins. Mental environmentalism draws a connection between the pollution of our minds by commercial messaging and the social, environmental, financial and ethical catastrophes that loom before humanity. Mental environmentalists argue that a whole range of phenomenon from the BP oil spill to the emergence of crony-democracy to the mass extinction of animals to the significant increase in mental illnesses are directly caused by the three thousand advertisements that assault our minds each day. And rather than treat the symptoms, by rushing to scrub the oil-soaked beaches or passing watered-down environmental protection legislation, mental environmentalists target the root cause: the advertising industry that fuels consumerism.

Instead of blaming mental illness rates on obvious culprits – workplace stress, problems at home, school bullying, bad genes, changes to DSM criteria – the “mental environmentalists” at Adbusters pin it all on subliminal infotoxins polluting our precious bodily fluids. How do they prove it? About as well as you can prove rock albums are demon-infested or that 70-million-year-old thetans cause influenza. White has decided that “external” environmentalism just doesn’t go deep enough – only “mental environmentalists,” with their meme wars, are fighting the “root cause.”

Lasn’s “mental environment” writings are just as L. Ron Hubbard-ish as White’s. (His epiphanies spawned the concept, after all.) In 2006, hesuggested to the Guardian [11] that advertising may be the cause of “mood disorders, anxiety attacks and depressions.” Four years later, he co-wrote an article with White repeating the same claims [12], along with new fears that TV was poisoning us with too many sensual images of “pouty lips, pert breasts [and] buns of steel”:

    Growing up in a violent, erotically-charged media environment alters our psyches at a bedrock level. … And the constant flow of commercially scripted, violence-laced, pseudo-sex makes us more voyeuristic, insatiable and aggressive. Then, somewhere along the line, nothing – not even rape, torture, genocide, or war porn – shocks us anymore.

    The commercial media are to the mental environment what factories are to the physical environment. A factory dumps pollution into the water or air because that’s the most efficient way to produce plastic or wood pulp or steel. A TV station or website pollutes the cultural environment because that’s the most efficient way to produce audiences. It pays to pollute. The psychic fallout is just the cost of putting on the show.

If “mental environmentalism” had a true ally in American political thought, it would be Allan Bloom, with his Platonist neocon fretting about Sony Walkmans and MTV reducing life to cultural impoverishment, a “nonstop, commercially prepackaged masturbational fantasy.” You can’t as easily picture Lasn agreeing with the “Anonymous” brand of anarchism or its “Information wants to be free!” maxims: whenever volume comes up in these mental environment articles, more infomation is apparently worse.

White made this explicit in a July blog post, “Toxic Culture: A Unified Theory of Mental Pollution,” writing:

    How do we fight back against the incessant flow of logos, brands, slogans and jingles that submerge our streets, invade our homes and flicker on our screens? We could wage a counteroffensive at the level of content: attacking individual advertisements when they cross the decency line and become deceptive, violent or overly sexual. But this approach is like using napkins to clean up an oil spill. It fails to confront the true danger of advertising … is not in its individual messages but in the damage done to our mental ecology by the sheer volume of its flood.

White has even theorized a much earlier spiritual forefather for Adbustersthan Kalle Lasn: Emile Zola [13], “who wrote what may be the first mental environmentalist short story, Death by Advertising, in 1866” and offered “a deeper look at advertising’s role in inducing a consumerist mindset” with his later novel, Au Bonheur Des Dames. Yes, Zola the social reformer who devoted his career to chronicling the fecund depravity and bestial desires of the underclasses. The guy who wrote a twenty-novel cycle promoting determinist psychology and Second Empire theories about hereditary animal passions of the colonized. Au Bonheur Des Dames is a cautionary tale about the nervous excitation big department stores can wreak on women’s fragile senses.

White hopes to take some morals from Zola’s shorter fiction:

    Like junk food can make us obese, junk thoughts and advertisements can make us moronic. …We are, in a literal way, poisoned each time we see an advertisement and that is the essential danger of a consumer society based upon advertising.


    Zola glimpsed a hundred and forty years ago…that advertising has poisoned our minds and corrupted our culture. As we march toward collapse, the question remains whether we will go passively toward our death and remembered only as a foolish civilization killed by advertising, or whether there remains within us a spark of clarity from which a mental environment movement may catch flame.

Advertising, to culture jammers, is virtually the same kind of universal scapegoat psychiatry became for Scientologists: an insidious, corrupting Demiurge responsible for all evils. But you’ll rarely find paranoia without self-importance. The grander vision, for Lasn, White, and their associates, is a world where marketers have the power to save humanity or destroy it with their “carefully-crafted imagery.” Instead of “clearing” the planet with Hubbard’s E-meter auditing, they hope Zen subvertisments, Buy Nothing Days, and strange hybrid political parties will be the answer.

Given the focus of their psychosis, it can often seem like culture jammers have the same concerns as anarchists and socialists: saving the environment, fighting capitalist exploitation, building a popular movement. But if they hate some of the things leftists also hate, it’s for the wrong reasons – and worse, their solutions are quack ones.

So don’t be surprised by White’s new alliance with Grillo, or Lasn’s dashed hopes for a merger with the Tea Party: Adbusters was never on our side.

See more stories tagged with:
adbusters [14]

Source URL: http://www.alternet.org/media/behind-bizarre-ideology-fuels-adbusters-magazine


[1] http://jacobinmag.com
[2] http://www.alternet.org/authors/ramon-glazov
[3] http://jacobinmag.com/2013/10/adbusted/
[4] https://www.adbusters.org/blogs/beppe-grillo.html
[5] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chemtrail_conspiracy_theory
[6] http://overland.org.au/previous-issues/issue-211/feature-giovanni-tiso/
[7] http://www.spiegel.de/international/europe/beppe-grillo-of-italy-is-the-most-dangerous-man-in-europe-a-889104.html
[8] http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/mar/05/beppe-grillo-mp-fascism
[9] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steal_This_Book
[10] http://www.canadianbusiness.com/business-strategy/interview-kalle-lasn-publisher-adbusters-magazine/
[11] http://www.theguardian.com/media/2006/jan/09/advertising.g2
[12] https://www.adbusters.org/magazine/90/ecology-mind.html
[13] https://www.adbusters.org/blogs/blackspot-blog/death-advertising.html
[14] http://www.alternet.org/tags/adbusters
[15] http://www.alternet.org/%2Bnew_src%2B

Category : Capitalism | Culture | Fascism | Intellectuals | Socialism | Youth | Blog



University of California, Santa Barbara, CA, USA

ABSTRACT This article analyzes and theorizes the global crisis from the perspective of global capitalism theory. The crisis is unprecedented, given its magnitude, its global reach, the extent of ecological degradation and social deterioration, and the scale of the means of violence. If we are to avert disastrous outcomes, we must understand the nature of the new global capitalism as well as its crisis. The system-wide crisis will not be a repeat of earlier such episodes of crisis in the 1930s and the 1970s precisely because world capitalism is fundamentally different in the early twenty-first century. Among the qualitative shifts in the global system this article highlights are: (1) the rise of truly transnational capital and the integration of every country into a new globalized production and financial system; (2) the appearance of a transnational capitalist class; (3) the rise of transnational state apparatuses; (4) and the appearance of novel relations of inequality and domination in global society. The current crisis shares several aspects with earlier structural crises of the 1970s and the 1930s but also several features unique to the present: (1) the system is fast reaching the ecological limits of its reproduction; (2) the unprecedented magnitude of the means of violence and social control, as well as the concentrated control over the means of global communications and the production and circulation of symbols; (3) limits to the extensive and intensive expansion of capitalism; (4) the rise of a vast surplus population inhabiting a ‘planet of slums’; (5) the disjuncture between a globalizing economy and a nation-state based system of political authority. The discussion draws on theories of over-accumulation and legitimization crises. It shows how in the face of stagnation pressures, the system turned to three mechanisms at the turn of the century to sustain the global economy: militarized accumulation, frenzied worldwide financial speculation, and the raiding and sacking of public budgets. The article discusses how diverse social and political forces are responding to the crisis, explores alternative scenarios for the future, and warns of the danger of a ‘twenty-first century fascism’. Finally, the article examines the role of organic intellectuals in public interpretations of the crisis and possible solutions.


Correspondence Address: William I. Robinson, Department of Sociology, University of California Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara, CA 93106 – 9430, USA. Email: wirobins@soc.ucsb.edu, # 2013 Taylor & Francis

I have been writing about world capitalism since the 1980s, about globalization since the early1990s, and about the notion of a transnational capitalist class (TCC) and transnational state (TNS) apparatuses since the late 1990s, as part of a broader collective research agenda in what some of us have referred to as the global capitalism school (see, inter alia, Robinson, 1996a, 1996b, 1998, 2004, 2005, 2007, 2008; Robinson and Harris, 2000). This work has put me in touch with a network of friends and colleagues also researching these matters, among them Leslie Sklair, Bill Carroll, Jerry Harris, and Georgina Murray. My thoughts on globalization have congealed over the past decade into a more synthetic theory of global capitalism as a new epoch in the ongoing and open-ended evolution of world capitalism, characterized by novel articulations of transnational social power, as laid out most explicitly in Robinson (2004) and Robinson (2008, ch. 1). Here I want to place the matter of such social power in the context of the global crisis. The fact is, our world is burning; we are facing a global crisis of unprecedented scale and proportions. In my view our very survival is at risk. The most urgent task of any intellectual who considers him/herself organic is to address this crisis—in our intellectual production and in our social activity.

This crisis, I reiterate, is unprecedented, given its magnitude, its global reach, the extent of ecological degradation and social deterioration, and the scale of the means of violence. We truly face a crisis of humanity. The stakes have never been higher. We have entered a period of great upheavals, momentous changes, and uncertainties, fraught with dangers if also opportunities. We now confront the growing threat of ecological collapse and of what I refer to as twenty-first century fascism as one of several political responses to crisis. If we are to avert such outcomes we must understand both the nature of the new global capitalism and the nature of its crisis. I aspire here to analyze and theorize the global crisis from the perspective of global capitalism theory. This perspective offers a powerful explanatory framework for making sense of the crisis. Following Marx, we want to focus on the internal dynamics of capitalism to understand the crisis, and following the global capitalism perspective we should look for how capitalism has qualitatively evolved in recent decades. The system-wide crisis we face will not be a repeat of earlier such episodes in the 1930s or 1970s precisely because world capitalism is fundamentally different in the early twenty-first century.

How specifically, is world capitalism different now than during previous episodes of crisis? There have been several qualitative shifts in capitalism that I have highlighted elsewhere (see, inter alia, the works referenced above) that here we can summarize as follows:

(1) The rise of truly transnational capital and the integration of every country into a new globalized production and financial system. This represents a transition from a world economy, in which countries and regions were linked to each other via trade and financial flows in an integrated international market, to a global economy, characterized by global circuits of accumulation, that is, transnational production and a single globally integrated financial system. This is a new global economic structure.

(2) The appearance of a new TCC, a class group embedded in new global circuits of accumulation rather than national circuits. As a class group the TCC has drawn in contingents from most countries around the world, North and South, and has attempted to position itself as a global ruling class. This TCC represents the hegemonic fraction of capital on a world scale.

(3) The rise of TNS apparatuses, loose networks composed of supranational political and economic institutions and of national state apparatuses that have been penetrated and transformed by transnational forces. The TNS functions to organize the conditions for transnational accumulation and through which the TCC attempts to organize and institutionally exercise its class power.

(4) The appearance of novel relations of inequality, domination, and exploitation in global society, including an increasing importance of transnational social and class inequalities relative to North – South inequalities that are geographically or territorially conceived.

I have been focusing in recent years on the occurrence and significance of accumulation and legitimization crises in the global system. It is clear that the collapse of the global financial system in 2008, what some called the Great Recession, was merely the straw that broke the camel’s back. This is not a cyclical but a structural crisis, a ‘restructuring crisis’, such as we experienced in the 1970s and before that in the 1930s (and even before that, in the 1870s). Cyclical crises are recurrent to capitalism about once every 10 years and involve recessions that act as self-correcting mechanisms without any major restructuring of the system. The recessions of the early 1980s, the early 1990s, and of 2001 were cyclical crises. Structural crises reflect deeper contradictions that can only be resolved by a major restructuring of the system. The crisis of the 1970s was a structural crisis that was resolved through capitalist globalization. And prior to that, the 1930s was a structural crisis that was resolved through the creation of a new model of Fordist – Keynesian or redistributive capitalism. This twenty-first century crisis has the potential to develop into a systemic crisis. A systemic crisis involves the replacement of a system by an entirely new system or by an outright collapse. A structural crisis opens up the possibility for a systemic crisis. But if it actually snowballs into a systemic crisis—in this case, if it gives way either to capitalism being superseded or to a breakdown of global civilization—is not predetermined and depends entirely on the response of social and political forces to the crisis and on historical contingencies that are not easy to forecast. This is a historic moment of extreme uncertainty, in which collective responses to the crisis from distinct social and class forces are in great flux.

The twenty-first century global crisis shares a number of aspects with earlier structural crises of the world economy of the 1970s and the 1930s, but there are also several features unique to the present. One is that the system is fast reaching the ecological limits of its reproduction. The world capitalist system is a truly global system and the transformations in natural systems brought about by human activity have now begun, in the words of ecologist Peter Vitousek, to ‘alter the structure and function of Earth as a system’ (as cited in Foster et al., 2010, p. 35). The ecological holocaust underway cannot be underestimated: peak oil, climate change, the extinction of species, the collapse of centralized agricultural systems in several regions of the world, and so on. According to leading environmental scientists, there are nine ‘planetary boundaries’ crucial to maintaining an earth system environment in which humans can exist, four of which are experiencing at this time the onset of irreversible environmental degradation and three of which (climate change, the nitrogen cycle, and biodiversity loss) are at ‘tipping points’, meaning that these processes have already crossed their planetary boundaries (see Foster et al., 2010, p. 14).

Another is that the magnitude of the means of violence and social control is unprecedented, as is the concentration of the means of global communication and symbolic production in the hands of a very few powerful groups. Computerized wars, drones, bunker-buster bombs, global surveillance, biometrics, data mining systems, star wars, and so forth have changed the face of warfare. Warfare has become normalized and sanitized for those not directly at the receiving end of armed aggression in this age of warfare as spectacle and asymmetric warfare, in which one side has overwhelming superior strength and the also the ability to control public perceptions of conflicts. At the same time, we have arrived at the panoptical surveillance society and the age of thought control by those who control global flows of communication and symbolic pro- duction (for discussion on these matters, see, inter alia Barkawi, 2005; Gilliom and Monahan, 2012; Graham, 2010; Hirst, 2011; Mattelart, 2010).

A third is that capitalism is reaching apparent limits to its extensive expansion. There are no longer any new territories of significance that can be integrated into world capitalism, de-ruralization is now well advanced, and the commodification of the countryside and of pre- and non- capitalist spaces has intensified, that is, converted in hot-house fashion into spaces of capital, so that intensive expansion is reaching depths never before seen. Capitalism must continually expand or collapse. How or where will it now expand?

A fourth is the rise of a vast surplus population inhabiting, to use the phrase coined by Mike Davis (2007), a ‘planet of slums’, dispossessed yet locked out of the productive economy, thrown into the margins, and subject to sophisticated systems of social control and to destruction—to a mortal cycle of dispossession – exploitation – exclusion. Proletarianization worldwide has accelerated through new waves of primitive accumulation as billions of people have been dispossessed and thrown into the global labor market. The global wage labor force doubled from some 1.5 billion in 1980 to some 3 billion in 2006 (Freeman, 2005). Yet those uprooted and dispossessed have not been absorbed into formal employment. The International Labor Organization (ILO, 1997) reported that at the end of century one-third of the world’s economically active population was unemployed—that is, idle labor, or what Davis terms the ‘outcast proletariat’ found in the world’s megacities; by the late 1990s, as Davis points out, for the first time in human history the urban population of the earth outnumbered the rural population. Fifth, there is a disjuncture between a globalizing economy and a nation-state based system of political authority. TNS apparatuses are incipient and have not been able to play the role of what social scientists refer to as a ‘hegemon’, or a leading nation-state that has enough power and authority to organize and stabilize the system (Robinson, 2004, 2007, 2008).

Development of the Crisis

Let us review how the crisis has developed and what it tells us about global capitalism and global society.

Emergent transnational capital underwent a major expansion in the 1980s and 1990s, involving: hyper-accumulation through new technologies such as computerization and informatics; neoliberal policies; and new modalities of mobilizing and exploiting the global labor force, including the flexibilization and casualization of labor and a massive new round of primitive accumulation, displacing hundreds of millions of people, especially in the Third World country- side, who became internal and international migrants. But hyper-accumulation was followed by renewed stagnation in the late 1990s as the system faced a new round of crisis. Sharp social polarization and escalating inequalities worldwide fueled the chronic problem of over-accumulation of capital. The concentration of the planet’s wealth in the hands of a few and the accelerated impoverishment and dispossession of the majority has been extreme under capitalist globalization.1 This pauperization of broad majorities has meant that transnational capital cannot find productive outlets to unload the enormous amounts of surplus it has accumulated; ceteris paribus, global output has expanded as the global market has contracted. By the twenty-first century the TCC turned to several mechanisms to sustain global accumulation in the face of over-accumulation.

What were these mechanisms? One is militarized accumulation. Making wars and undertaking interventions unleash cycles of destruction and reconstruction, and generate enormous profits for an ever-expanding military – prison – industrial – security – financial complex. We are now living in a global war economy that goes beyond such ‘hot’ wars as in Iraq and Afghanistan. A second is the raiding and sacking of public budgets. The TCC uses its financial powers to take control of state finances and to impose further austerity on the working majority. It employs its structural power to attempt to accelerate the dismantling of what remains of the social wage and welfare states. And a third is frenzied worldwide financial speculation. This involves turning the global economy into a giant casino. The TCC has unloaded trillions of dollars into speculation in housing and real estate markets, food, energy, and other global commodities markets, into bond markets worldwide (that is, public budgets and state finances), and into every imaginable

‘derivative’, ranging from hedge funds to swaps, futures markets, collateralized debt obligations, asset pyramiding, and Ponzi schemes. The extent of such speculation in fictitious value defies logic and the imagination: in 2006 financial markets were trading more in a month than the annual gross domestic product of the entire world (Graham, 2010, p. 4)!

Elsewhere I have discussed at some length how these three mechanisms have played them- selves out since the turn of the twenty-first century (see, inter alia, Robinson, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2012, forthcoming; Robinson and Barrera, 2012). The key questions I want to

pose here are: Where is this crisis headed? What are the possible outcomes? What does all this tell us about global capitalism and also about the prospects for confronting global capitalism?

How has the TCC responded to the crisis, both in terms of its direct class interests, and in pol- itical terms, that is, in terms of its relationship to political processes at the national and transna- tional levels? In fact, the TCC has used the crisis to pursue its class interests aggressively. Historically, dominant groups attempt to transfer the cost of crisis onto the mass of popular and working classes and in turn these classes resist such attempts. This appears to be the global political moment. Transnational capital and its political agents have attempted to resolve the structural crisis by effecting a vast shift in the balance of class and social forces worldwide in its favor, in an effort to deepen many times over and to consummate the ‘neoliberal counterrevolution’ that began in the 1980s. Here, ‘resolved’ does not mean that things get better for the mass of humanity but that there is a resumption of sustained accumulation. Europe and the United States now face the same neoliberal policies that have been imposed on the Global South since the 1980s.

While transnational capital’s offensive against the global working class dates back to the crisis of the 1970s and has grown in intensity ever since, the 2008 financial collapse and the ‘Great Recession’ that followed was, in several respects, a major turning point. The multi-billionaire Warren Buffett, chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, and one of the richest men in the world, famously stated in 2006 that ‘There’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning’ (as cited in Carroll, 2010, p. 1). In fact, the global crisis provided the TCC with an opportunity to intensify this war. As the crisis spread it generated conditions worldwide for new rounds of massive austerity, including a greater flexibilization of labor, slashing the social wage, speed-ups, and so on. The crisis allowed the money mandarins of global capitalism and their political agents to squeeze more value out of labor—directly, through more intensified exploitation, and indirectly, through state finances. Social and political conflict escalated around the world in the wake of 2008, including repeated rounds of national strikes and mass mobilizations in the European Union, uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East, and so on.

Although TNS apparatuses failed to intervene to impose regulations on global finance capital they did intervene to impose the costs of devalorization on global labor. Crises, moreover, provide capital with the opportunity to accelerate the process of forcing greater productivity out of fewer workers. According to one press report, the largest employers in the United States, for instance, ‘have emerged from the economy’s harrowing downturn loaded with cash thanks to deep cost-cutting that helped drive unemployment into double digits. . . . and [resulted in] huge gains in worker productivity’ (Petruno, 2010, p. A1).

Apart from the massive devalorizations of 2007 and 2008, the crisis has therefore involved less a devalorization of capital than a further transfer of wealth from labor to transnational capital and has set the stage for a new round of deep austerity. The crisis has in part been dis- placed to state budgets—bailouts, austerity, deficits, etc.—yet this needs to be seen in terms of class relations. The bailouts of transnational capital represent in themselves a transfer of the devaluation of capital onto labor. The budgetary and fiscal crises that supposedly justify spend- ing cuts and austerity are a matter of political decisions; they are contrived, literally. They are a consequence of the unwillingness or inability of states to challenge capital and their disposition to transfer the burden of the crisis to working and popular classes. Mass unemployment, foreclo- sures, the further erosion of social wages, wage cuts, furloughs, the increased exploitation of part-time workers, reduced work hours, informalization, and mounting debt peonage—including capital’s claim to the future wages of workers through public debt—are some of capital’s trans- fer mechanisms. Unless there is effective resistance, global capital is likely to make permanent the further flexibilization of labor and other concessions it is wringing out of workers through the crisis.

It seems clear that transnational finance capital was able to privately appropriate state bailouts and turn them into super profits. In 2009 Wall Street reported a resumption of massive profits, even in the midst of severe recession and low levels of consumption, a decline in productive investment, and a sharp rise in unemployment. By 2010 global corporations were registering record profits and corporate income escalated. After suffering losses in 2008, the top 25 hedge-fund managers were paid, on average, more than $1 billion each in 2009, eclipsing the record they had set in pre-recession 2007 (Freeland, 2011, p. 4). The Dow Jones, which had dropped from 14,000 to 6,500 in late 2008 and early 2009, rose to 13,000 in early 2012. In the United States, corporate profits in 2011 hit their highest level since 1950. Between 2008 and 2011, 88% of national income growth in the United States went to corporate profits while just 1% went to wages. In comparison, in the recovery from the 2000 – 2001 recession, 15% of income growth went to wages and salaries while 53% went to corporate profits, and in the recovery that began in 1991 50% of the growth in national income went to wages and salaries while corporate profits actually fell by 1% (Greenhouse, 2011). According to Federal Reserve data from late 2010, companies in the United States held $1.8 trillion in cash, more than it had at any time since 1956 (at adjusted prices) in uninvested cash—a powerful indicator of the persistence of over-accumulation (as cited in Parenti, 2011, pp. 228 – 9).

Here I want to comment further on a new structural feature of global capitalism, the rise of‘surplus humanity’, a mass of hundreds of millions, if not billions, of people who constitute a group distinct from the earlier ‘reserve army of labor’ about which Marx wrote. This rise of such a mass has major implications for political projects, both hegemonic and counter-hegemo- nic. As I have noted, the process of achieving greater productivity with fewer workers has accel- erated under globalization. The newfound mobility of transnational capital and new forms of spatial organization has allowed it to break free from earlier nation-state constraints to unbridled accumulation—that is, the power and ability of working and popular classes to impose those constraints within the bounds of the nation-state. Spatial reorganization helps transnational capital to break the power of territorially bound labor and to impose new sets of capital – labor relations based on fragmentation, flexibilization, intense discipline regimes, and the cheap- ening of labor, together with new forms of social control and reproduction. This is combined with a massive new round of primitive accumulation and displacement that has given rise to a global army of superfluous labor, to the marginalization of some one-third of humanity that has been dispossessed from the means of production, locked out of productive participation in the global economy, dehumanized, and subject to new forms of social control and repression—what I referred to earlier as a mortal cycle of dispossession – exploitation – exclusion. Iwill come back momentarily to the matter of surplus humanity.

Responses to the Crisis

Apart from the TCC, how have social and political forces worldwide responded to the crisis? Clearly, the crisis is resulting in a rapid political polarization of global society. Both left- and right-wing forces appear to be insurgent. There are three identifiable responses that are in dispute:

The first is reformism from above aimed at stabilizing the system, at saving it from itself and

from more radical responses from below. Transnational reformist-oriented elites have proposed regulating global financial markets, state stimulus programs, fomenting a shift from speculation to productive accumulation, and limited redistributive measures. Elites such as George Soros, Jeffrey Sacks, and Joseph Stiglitz, as well as representatives from the international financial institutions and some governments are now guided less by neoclassical than institutional econ- omics and pursue a ‘global neo-Keynesianism’.2 Nonetheless, in the years following the 2008 collapse it seems that these reformers have been unable, or unwilling, to prevail over the power of transnational finance capital. Moreover, such powerful transnational capitalists as Warren Buffett and Carlos Slim have advanced reformist – redistributive discourses, but their eagerness to take advantage of the crisis to make profits prevents them from playing a significant reformist role.

A second response is popular, grassroots, and leftist resistance from below. This resistance appears to be insurgent in the wake of 2008 yet spread very unevenly across countries and regions. Reflecting this insurgency are: mass uprisings in EU countries in the wake of the sover- eign debt crisis and the imposition of draconian new austerity programs; uprising in North Africa and the Middle East; the turn to the left in Latin America; the revival of labor militancy in the United States and the Occupy Movement; a major escalation of strike activity in China; and so on (on the global revolts, see inter alia Mason, 2012; and on Latin America in particular, see Robinson, 2008).

A third response is twenty-first century fascism. The ultra-right is an insurgent force in many countries. In Latin America, a neo-fascist right is present in Colombia, Honduras, and Mexico. In the EU and the United States, such groups as the Tea Party, Christian fundamentalism, skin- heads, the anti-immigrant movement, and so on are on the rise. My fear is that if reformism from above fails and popular and leftist forces are not able to seize the initiative then the road may become open for a twenty-first century fascism. The proto-fascist right seeks to fuse reactionary political power with transnational capital and to organize a mass base among historically privileged sectors of the global working class—such as white workers in the North and middle layers in the South—that are now experiencing heightened insecurity and the specter of downward mobility. The proto-fascist response has involved militarism, extreme masculinization, racism, the search for scapegoats (such as immigrant workers and Muslims in the United States and Europe), and mystifying ideologies, often involving race/ culture supremacy and xenophobia, embracing an idealized and mythical past, as well as racist mobilization against scapegoats. We should recall that fascism is a particular response to capitalist crisis, one that seeks to contain any challenge to crisis that may come from subordinate groups (for further discussion, see Robinson and Barrera, 2012, and Robinson, forthcoming, ch. 5).

It is in this regard that we must now return to the matter of surplus humanity. What has taken place through capitalist globalization is the severing of the logic of accumulation from that of social reproduction. Central to the story of global capitalism and crisis, as well as to the specter of neo-fascism, is the mass of humanity that has been expropriated from the means of survival yet also expelled from capitalist production as global supernumeraries or surplus labor, relegated to scraping by in a ‘planet of slums’ and subject to all-pervasive and ever- more sophisticated and repressive social control systems. From the vantage point of dominant groups, the challenge is: how to contain the mass of supernumeraries, the marginalized, and the resistance of downwardly mobile majorities?

We are witnessing transitions from social welfare to social control states. The need for dominant groups around the world to assure widespread, organized, mass social control of the world’s surplus population of rebellious forces from below gives a powerful impulse to a project of twenty-first century global fascism. Simply put, the immense structural inequalities of the global political economy cannot easily be contained through consensual mechanisms of social control, that is, through hegemonic domination.

There is an explosive growth of social inequality and intensified crises of survival for billions of people around the world. This involves the breakdown of the social fabric at the same time as the state’s ability to function as a ‘factor of cohesion’ (Poulantzas, 1968) within the social order breaks down to the extent that capitalism has globalized and the logic of accumulation or com- modification penetrates every aspect of social life—the ‘life world’ itself. As a result, ‘cohesion’ requires more and more social control in the face of the collapse of the social fabric.

The inability of national states to meet the contradictory functions of accumulation and legit- imization means that economic crisis intensifies the problem of legitimization for dominant groups, so that accumulation crises appear as spiraling political crises; ‘governability’ becomes more and more elusive. States resort to a host of mechanisms of coercive exclusion, among them: legal changes to criminalize the excluded—often racialized—and to subject them to mass incarceration and the punitive whip of prison – industrial complexes; repressive anti-immigrant legislation; manipulation of space in new ways so that both gated communities and slums are controlled by armies of private security guards and technologically advanced sur- veillance systems; ubiquitous, often para-militarized policing; mobilization of the culture indus- tries and state ideological apparatuses to dehumanize victims of global capitalism as dangerous, depraved, and culturally degenerate; ideological campaigns aimed at seduction and passivity through petty consumption and a flight into fantasy. This last aspect is crucial: the culture of global capitalism attempts to seduce the excluded and to channel their frustrated aspirations into petty consumption and fantasy as an alternative to placing political demands on the system through collective mobilization.

All this provides fertile bases for projects of twenty-first century fascism. Images of what such a political project would involve span from: the late 2008/early 2009 Israeli invasion of Gaza and its ongoing ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians; the scapegoating and criminalization of immigrant workers in the United States, Europe, Australia, and many other countries; genocide in the Congo; the spread of neo-Nazis and skinheads in Europe; the UN/US occupation of Haiti and the Indian occupation of Kashmir; the trashing of Somalia; and the explosive spread of the Tea Party and far-right Christian fundamentalism in the United States.

With regard to the TCC, I believe we can identify three sectors of capital in particular that stand out as most aggressive in pursuing accumulation strategies that make them most prone to supporting or even promoting neo-fascist political arrangements. These are: speculative finance capital; the military – industrial – prison – security complex; the extractive and energy complexes. Capital accumulation in the military – industrial – security complex, for instance, depends on never-ending conflicts and wars, including the declared wars ‘on crime’, ‘on drugs’, and ‘on terrorism’, and the undeclared wars on immigrants and on gangs (and poor, dark-skinned, and working class youth more generally), among others, as well as more generally on the militarization of social control. Financial accumulation requires ever greater austerity that is hard, if not impossible, to impose through consensual mechanisms.

If the imperative of social control gives a powerful impetus to the militarization of global capitalism, this militarization has another key function, that of sustaining global accumulation in the face of stagnation. Militarization as response to the crisis of global capitalism achieves the simultaneous objectives of social control and repression and of coercively opening up opportu- nities for capital accumulation worldwide, either on the heels of military force or through the state’s contracting out to transnational corporate capital the production and execution of social control and warfare. The examples abound: the invasion and occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan; the transnational intervention in Libya’s internal conflict; the above-mentioned wars on drugs, terrorism, and immigrants; mass incarceration, including in prisons and detention centers constructed and often run by private corporations; the building of border walls (in Pales- tine, between the US and Mexico, in green zones in Iraq and elsewhere, between South Africa and several of its northern neighbors, and so on). Hence the generation of conflicts and the repression of social movements and vulnerable populations around the world becomes an accumulation strategy independent of any political objectives. This type of permanent global warfare involves both low and high-intensity wars, ‘humanitarian missions’, ‘drug interdiction operations’, ‘anti-crime sweeps’, and so on.

The US state as the most powerful component of the TNS has mobilized vast resources and political pressures, taking advantage of the dollar’s role as the global currency and therefore of the extraordinary power of the US Treasury, to absorb surpluses and sustain global accumulation by militarizing that accumulation and creating a global war economy under the pretext of a ‘war on terror’ and a ‘war on drugs’ (note also that wars accelerate the turnover time of the circuit of militarized accumulation).3 In sheer monetary terms, the escalation of US state military spending in the wake of September 11, 2001 is stunning (Table 1).

Table 1. US military spending, 1997 – 2012 ($billions, 2005)

clip_image004Year Amount

1997 ……………………………..325

1998 ……………………………..323

1999 ……………………………..333

2000 ……………………………..360

2001…………………………….. 366

2002…………………………….. 422

2003 ……………………………..484

2004…………………………….. 544

2005…………………………….. 601

2006 ……………………………..622

2007…………………………….. 654

2008 ……………………………..731

2009 ……………………………..795

2010 ……………………………..848

2011 ……………………………..879

2012 ……………………………..902∗

∗ Projected

Source: http://www.usgovernmentspending.com/spending_chart_1997_


A twenty-first century fascism would not look like twentieth century fascism. Among other things, the ability of dominant groups to control and manipulate space and to exercise unprecedented control over the mass media, the means of communication and the production of symbols, images, and messages means that repression can be more selective and also organized ‘juridi- cally’ so that, for example, mass ‘legal’ incarceration takes the place of concentration camps. Such caging removes surplus labor from society and turns that surplus labor into a source of ongoing profits (see, inter alia, Alexander, 2010; Gilmore, 2007). The ideological and policing processes involved in the mass warehousing of ethnically oppressed groups and the poor have the effect of displacing social anxieties over crisis, economic destabilization, and downward mobility into the population targeted for marginalization, police repression, and caging.4 In this regard, vast new powers of cultural hegemony open up novel possibilities for atomizing and channeling grievances and frustrated aspirations into escapism and consumerist fantasies. Fashion and entertainment industries market anything that can be converted into a commodity. With this comes depoliticization at best, if not the ability to channel fear into flight rather than fight-back. The ideology of twenty-first century fascism often rests on irrationality; the promise to deliver security and restore stability is emotive, not rational. Twenty-first century fascism is a project that does not—and need not—distinguish between the truth and the lie.

Interpreting the Crisis

In conclusion, barring the overthrow of capitalism, any resolution of the crisis from the vantage point of the vast majority must involve a global redistribution downward of income. This, in turn, would have to involve establishing a measure of state intervention, regulation, and redis- tributive capacities that state elites, so far, have been unable or unwilling to undertake. It would mean reining in transnational finance capital—the most globalized and most globally mobile fraction of capital. We see here the contradiction between globalized capital and a nation-state based system of political authority. We see the structural power this disjuncture gives to the TCC, especially to transnational finance capital, as well as the obdurate penetration of national state apparatuses that the TCC has achieved in pursuit of its interests. In the United States, let us recall, corporations are legally considered ‘people’ and can now provide unlimited funding to political parties and campaigns. As never before, economic power translates into political control, or the power to determine political outcomes.

The most enlightened among transnationally oriented political and economic elites have been clamoring for TNS apparatuses with a transnational regulatory and interventionist capacity as a requisite for restabilizing the system. It remains to be seen if such efforts will come to fruition. Even if they do, it is unlikely, in my view, that a global capitalism ‘with a human face’ is possible—indeed, an oxymoron. A transnational neo-Keynesianism can do little to resolve the ecological holocaust. The reformist interpretation of the crisis as resulting from a lack of institutional regu- lation together with the unfortunate greed of the wealthy ignores, as it must if it is to remain true to its defense of capitalism, the contradictions of accumulation that generate the underlying causes of the crisis. Yet this reformist interpretation which is quite compatible with global capitalism may become hegemonic in the absence of an alternative anti-systemic interpretation put forward by organic intellectuals identified with the global popular and working classes and their interests.

Now from the viewpoint of those from below, the objective is not merely a project of redistribution within the prevailing global power structure and socioeconomic system; it is to redistribute power downward and transform the system. What type of a transformation? In my view, any transformative project would need to place democratic socialism back on the agenda. It would require new forms of production, collective laboring, and consumption that is in harmony with nature. We would want to—and must—develop new modalities of political organization in which the grassroots base and social movements are empowered to exercise democratic control from below. And any emancipatory project must involve building cultures of solidarity and transnational resistance.

Times of crisis open up space for collective agency and for contingency to influence the course of history in ways that are not possible in times of relative stability, and in ways that are less predictable than in such times. How the masses of people understand the nature of global crisis becomes itself a critical battleground in the struggle for alternative futures. Hence crucial to any struggle in global society to resist the war unleashed against the global working and popular classes is putting forward a coherent explanation of the crisis and of possible solutions from a working class, leftist, ecological, and democratic socialist-oriented perspective.

This is where organic intellectuals and socially committed scholars come in. In my view, and in conclusion, the only viable solution to the crisis of global capitalism is a massive redistribution of wealth and power downward to the poor majority of humanity along the lines of a twenty- first century democratic socialism, in which humanity is no longer at war with itself and with nature. Otherwise, humanity may be headed for what Chew (2007) has termed a new dark age.


This article is based on a keynote speech delivered at the International Conference on ‘Global Capitalism and Transnational Class Formation’, jointly sponsored by the Global Studies Center of the Czech Academy of Sciences, the Global Studies Association North American branch, and the globalization research unit of the International Studies Association, September 16 – 19, 2011, Prague. The ideas on global crisis developed here can be found in further detail in Robinson (2008, 2010, 2011, 2012, forthcoming), and Robinson and Barrera (2012). I would like to thank Globalizations special issue editor Jason Struna and two anonymous reviewers for their suggestions.


1 One of the most notorious outcomes of globalization is an alarming widening of the gap between the global haves and have-nots, as, among countless studies, the annual Human Development reports of the United Nations Development Program show (UNDP, 1992 – 2011). The annual World Wealth Report published by Merrill Lynch and Capgemini identifies what it terms High-Net-Worth Individuals, or HNWIs, those people who have more than $1 million in free cash, not including property and pensions. The 2011 report identified some 10 million of these HNWIs in 2010, concentrated in North America, Europe, and Japan, but with the most rapid growth among the group taking place in Asia-Pacific, Latin America, Eastern Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. The collective wealth of the HNWIs surpassed $42 trillion in that year, well over double of what it was 10 years earlier, and 10% higher than the previous year (Merrill Lynch and Capgemini, 2011). Beyond the growth of the superrich, however, is social polarization between some 20% of humanity that has been able to enjoy the fruits of the global cornucopia and some 80% that has experienced downward mobility and heightened insecurity and lies outside what McMichael (2007) refers to as ‘global consumer networks’.

2 On such reformist, institutionalist, and neo-Keynesian thinking, see inter alia, Soros (1998), Stiglitz (2003), and

Sacks (2006). These three are neither anti-capitalist nor anti-globalization; they speak of a capitalist globalization ‘with a human face’.

3 I cannot here expand on the matters of militarization and intervention as accumulation or on the role of the US state, but see inter alia, Robinson (2007, 2012, and forthcoming, esp. chs 3 and 5).

4 On these themes, the modern classic 1970s’ study by Stuart Hall and his colleagues, Policing the Crisis (1978) still bears remarkable pertinence.


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Parenti, C. (2011) Tropic of Chaos: Climate Change and the New Geography of Violence (New York: Nation Books). Petruno, T. (2010) Big companies are awash in cash as economy picks up, Los Angeles Times, 24 March, p. A1. Poulantzas, P. (1968) Political Power and Social Classes (London: Verso).

Robinson, W. I. (1996a) Promoting Polyarchy: Globalization, U.S. Intervention, and Hegemony (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).

Robinson, W. I. (1996b) Globalisation: nine theses of our epoch, Race and Class, 38(2), pp. 13–32.

Robinson, W. I. (1998) Beyond nation-state paradigms: globalization, sociology, and the challenge of transnational studies, Sociological Forum, 13(4), pp. 561–594.

Robinson, W. I. (2004) A Theory of Global Capitalism (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press).

Robinson, W. I. (2005) Gramsci and globalization: from nation-state to transnational hegemony, Critical Review of Inter- national Social and Political Philosophy, 8(4), pp. 1–16.

Robinson, W. I. (2007) Beyond the theory of imperialism: global capitalism and the transnational state, Societies Without Borders, 2, pp. 5–26.

Robinson, W. I. (2008) Latin America and Global Capitalism (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press).

Robinson, W. I. (2010) The crisis of global capitalism: cyclical, structural, or systemic? in M. Konings (ed.) Beyond the

Subprime Headlines: Critical Perspectives on the Financial Crisis (London: Verso). Robinson, W. I. (2011) Global capital leviathan, Radical Philosophy, 165, pp. 2–6.

Robinson, W. I. (2012) ‘The Great Recession’ of 2008 and the continuing crisis: a global capitalism perspective, The International Review of Modern Sociology, 38(2), pp. 169–198.

Robinson, W. I. (2014, forthcoming) Global Capitalism, Global Crisis (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press). Robinson, W. I. & Barrera, M. (2012) Global capitalism and twenty-first century fascism: a U.S. case study, Race and Class, 53(3), pp. 4–29.

Robinson, W. I. & Harris, J. (2000) Towards a global ruling class? Globalization and the transnational capitalist class, Science and Society, 64(1), pp. 11–54.

Sacks, J. D. (2006) The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for Our Time (New York: Penguin Books). Soros, G. (1998) The Crisis of Global Capitalism: Open Society Endangered (New York: PublicAffairs). Stiglitz, J. (2003) Globalization and its Discontents (New York: W.W. Norton).

United Nations Development Program (UNDP) (1992 – 2011) Human Development Report (New York: Oxford Univer- sity Press/UNDP).

William I. Robinson is professor of sociology, global and international studies, and Latin American and Iberian studies at the University of California at Santa Barbara. His latest book, Global Capitalism, Global Crisis, will be published by Cambridge University Press in 2014.

Category : Capitalism | Ecology | Fascism | Hegemony | Keynes | Marxism | Socialism | Blog

Egypt’s unions join protests.

By Bill Fletcher Jr.

Via The Progressive Magazine

August 24, 2013 – One of the most striking features of the current Egyptian crisis has been the response by most of the US Left and progressives. It is not that US leftists and progressives are ignoring the crisis, but that there has been an utter failure to engage with Egyptian leftists and progressives despite the fact that the latter have been writing regular analyses of events, analyses that frequently differ from that created on this side of the Atlantic.

In a political situation that ranks as among one of the most complicated and contradictory of our lifetime, the points of view of Egyptian leftists and progressives have been largely ignored here in the USA or treated as if they are mouthpieces for the Egyptian military if they have stood against the Morsi government.

In order for us—in the USA—to get a better sense of the complications and tragedies connected with the ongoing struggle in Egypt, one must recognize that there has been an on-oing battle for much of the last century between two distinct “projects.” Those projects, and their progeny, help to set the context for the engagements underway.

National populism vs. Islamism

Beginning with the 1952 Egyptian Revolution, which overthrew the monarchy and ultimately led to the rise of Gamal Abdel Nasser as president, a particular current emerged that has been described by Egyptian Marxist theorist Samir Amin as a “national populist project.” Arising out of the Egyptian anti-monarchist/nationalist movement that had begun much earlier, this project was a nationalist initiative at progressive change that aimed at moving aside classes and formations that were compromised with colonialism and proceeded to engage in progressive and anti-imperialist development. It was not, however, the same thing as socialism. In national populist projects, as witnessed in Egypt under Nasser, there was limited political democracy, capitalism as such went unchallenged, and the process of change was led by a small group. Though Nasser had considerable popular support, there were very restricted means for the grassroots to involve themselves in the change process. Similar change processes were untaken in other states in the global South including in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, the Sudan and much later, Libya.

Operating within the national populist coalitions was generally to be found the political Left, though the relationship was almost always rocky. Nasser, for instance, had a strong relationship with the Soviet Union, but would periodically turn on the domestic Egyptian Left. This tension resulted, throughout the Arab World, in constant debates and struggles within the Left as to how best to relate to nationalist leaders, such as Nasser in Egypt and Qassem in Iraq, who were perceived as anti-imperialists while at the same time being unwilling (and sometimes unable) to advance the domestic change process very far. This tension resulted in historic miscalculations by the Left, including in Iraq and the Sudan where the Left constituted a significant force but held an almost uncritical stand toward nationalist leaders.

Countering the national populist projects were two main forces. The obvious one was external and was represented by the imperial interests of the global North. They and their domestic allies were constantly trying to undermine independent development and turn these various nation-states into neo-colonies.

The other opponents were those forces who came to be known as Islamists. This movement has its origins in the 19th century and early 20th century where an intellectual movement emerged against both Western imperialism and republican-nationalism (and the imperialism of the Ottoman Empire). The Islamists of the 21st century, led by organizations such as the Muslim Brotherhood, had a very different project. Their project was Pan-Islamist in nature and thoroughly reactionary at its core. It called for a return to a mythical caliphate state.


Category : Fascism | Middle East | Blog

By Bob Wing*


*Bob Wing has been a social justice organizer and writer since 1968. He was the founding editor of ColorLines magazine and War Times newspaper. Bob lives in Durham, NC and can be contacted through Facebook. Special thanks to my lifelong colleagues Max Elbaum and Linda Burnham and to Jon Liss, Lynn Koh, Carl Davidson, Ajamu Dillahunt, Raymond Eurquhart and Bill Fletcher, Jr. for their comments, critiques and suggestions.


August 1, 2013 – The heartless combination of the Supreme Court’s gutting of the Voting Rights Act, the House Republicans flatly shunning the immigration bill and the Trayvon Martin outrage should be a wake up call about the grave dangers posed by the far right and may give rise to a renewed motion among African Americans that could give much needed new impetus and political focus to the progressive movement.

The negative policies and missteps of the Obama administration are often the target of progressive fire, and rightly so. But these take place in the context of (and are sometimes caused by) an extremely perilous development in U.S. politics: an alliance of energized rightwing populists with the most reactionary sector of Big Business has captured the Republican Party with “the unabashed ambition to reverse decades of economic and social policy by any means necessary.” (1)

The GOP is in all-out nullificationist mode, rejecting any federal laws with which they disagree. They are using their power in the judiciary and Congress to block passage or implementation of anything they find distasteful at the federal level. And under the radar the Republicans are rapidly implementing a far flung rightwing program in the 28 states they currently control. They have embarked on an unprecedented overhaul of government on behalf of the one percent and against all sectors of the poor and much of the working and middle classes, undermining the rights of all.

The main precedent in U.S. history for this kind of unbridled reactionary behavior was the states rights, pro-slavery position of the white South leading up to the Civil War. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called out the attempts at nullification in his famous “I Have a Dream Speech,” and the movement of the sixties defeated it. As shown in the ultra-conservative playground that is the North Carolina legislature, the new laws and structures of today’s rightwing program are so extreme and in such stark contrast to the rest of the country that I believe both their strategy and their program should be called “Neo-Secession.”

This nullification and neo-secession must be met by a renewed motion for freedom and social justice. The great scholar-activist Manning Marable, the leader of the powerful fightback in North Carolina NAACP President Rev. William Barber II, MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry and others have called for a Third Reconstruction that builds on the post-Civil War first Reconstruction and the Civil Rights/Second Reconstruction. (2)

We are now at a pivotal point in this fight. The battlelines are drawn: Reactionary Nullification and Neo-Secession or Third Reconstruction?

Like the first secession, this second neo-secession is centered in the South even though it is a national movement with unusual strength in the upper Rocky Mountain and plains states in addition to the South. (3) Similarly racism, especially anti-Black racism, lies at its foundation even as the rightwing assaults all democratic, women’s, immigrant and labor rights, social and environmental programs. Progressives in the South are rising to the challenge. But, deplorably, most Democrats, unions, progressives and social justice forces barely have the South on their radar and rarely invest in it. This must change, and change rapidly.


Category : Elections | Fascism | Racism | Strategy and Tactics | US History | Blog

For Benjamin, religion was a vessel that contained within its authoritarian history and structures the spark of liberation

Walter Benjamin

Walter Benjamin: "The tradition of the oppressed teaches us that the ‘state of emergency’ in which we live is not the exception but the rule" Photograph: EPA

By Peter Thompson

The Guardian, UK April, 22, 2013

Quoting Hegel, Walter Benjamin reminds us that before all philosophy comes the struggle for material existence: "Secure at first food and clothing, and the kingdom of God will come to you of itself – Hegel, 1807", or as Brecht – Benjamin’s greatest and closest friend – put it "first bread, then morality". But this precisely did not mean that abstraction, speculation and thought per se had to be rejected in favour of an entirely mechanistic historical materialism. What sets all of the thinkers in this series apart from many of their more orthodox Marxist contemporaries is precisely their concern with those issues which cannot be measured, tested and decided upon but which remain undecided and undecidable.

As Benjamin puts it in his On the Concept of History: "The class struggle, which always remains in view for a historian schooled in Marx, is a struggle for the rough and material things, without which there is nothing fine and spiritual. Nevertheless these latter are present in the class struggle as something other than mere booty, which falls to the victor. They are present as confidence, as courage, as humour, as cunning, as steadfastness in this struggle, and they reach far back into the mists of time. They will, ever and anon, call every victory which has ever been won by the rulers into question. Just as flowers turn their heads towards the sun, so too does that which has been turned, by virtue of a secret kind of heliotropism, towards the sun which is dawning in the sky of history. To this most inconspicuous of all transformations the historical materialist must pay heed."

On this reading, history escapes a linear or teleological path around a fixed point and becomes a mixture of points at which possibilities are either realised or rejected but never disappear completely. Again, this continues the theme that Marx took up in his 1844 letter to Ruge, which I have quoted before, about the realisation of a long-held human dream. Benjamin calls this "messianic time" in which historical possibility is resurrected over and over again in order to inform our choices at specific historical junctures. For this reason his historical materialism called upon the services of theology, which, however, had to be kept well-hidden from public view even though it was often pulling the strings. To those who criticise communism and Marxism as "merely" a new form of religious belief, Benjamin’s position – as with Ernst Bloch, whom I shall look at next week – was that religion was actually a vessel that contained within its authoritarian history and structures the spark of liberation which could only be fully realised through historical materialist transformation. In that sense religion is "merely" an old form of a future and as yet unrealisable dream.

Until this unrealisable future becomes realisable its traces have to be read into the symbolic forms of human expression in various different historical epochs. To return to Adorno’s take on history in Negative Dialectics, Benjamin’s position is that we find the solution to the apparent non-identity of the material and the transcendental within the symbolic. We can see here quite clearly another point of contact between Marx and Freud where transcendental thoughts exist not as something separate from material reality but as something both produced by and also affecting and influencing that material reality. In Marx this is the interpenetrating relationship between base and superstructure, to put it at its simplest, and in Freud it exists in the relationship between the conscious and the unconscious realms. In Freud the symbolic plays the role of expression of that which is unknown to us but which we secretly know; namely, the unconscious. In Marx this symbolic expression is present in ideology, which, far from being a straightforward linear relationship between base and superstructure is constantly in flux and which can be captured and changed by the attempted realisations of human possibility. Ideas change as society changes but ideas also create social change.

For Benjamin the role of the symbolic in art thus takes on a transitional historical role. His work on the Baroque, for example, posits it as the turning point between medieval religiosity and renaissance secularisation and the Trauerspiel (Mourning-Play) of that period, with its obsession with violence and death, reflects the growing yet still largely unconscious realisation that there is no happy end in heaven and that – as Bloch puts it – death becomes the harshest of all anti-utopias. Art and culture in his era though, in the era of what he hoped was the transition from capitalism to socialism, had to grasp the dual possibilities of technology so that it could be harnessed not to master nature but to master the relationship between humanity and nature.

This means that art had to take on a political role in increasing the awareness of what was at long last the real human potential for the realisation of the old dreams. It could go either way though; down the Adornian route from the slingshot to the megaton bomb or onwards and upwards to the sunlit uplands of social liberation. Art and technology therefore become interlinked and politicised, predominantly in film. The "aura" of traditional art may have been destroyed by modernity but the future "aura" of liberated humanity as a living work of art had to take its place. If fascism represented the aestheticisation of politics then the fight against fascism had to involve the politicisation of aesthetics and the active creation of the aura of potential.

This is why Benjamin states that "the tradition of the oppressed teaches us that the ‘state of emergency’ in which we live is not the exception but the rule. We must attain to a conception of history that is in keeping with this insight. Then we shall clearly realise that it is our task to bring about a real state of emergency, and this will improve our position in the struggle against fascism." In other words, all class society is a permanent state of emergency in which the rulers are always under threat. Fascism is thus not some sort of breakdown of tradition but a continuation of traditional class rule by other means. Overcoming it thus requires not just anti-fascist attitudes but also a destruction of its roots in class oppression. Or, as Horkheimer put it in 1939: "If you don’t want to talk about capitalism then you had better keep quiet about fascism." 

Category : Capitalism | Fascism | Philosophy | Blog