Marxism

28
Jul

Schafik Handal, Hugo Chávez, Fidel Castro and Evo Morales, in Havana in 2004

By Roger Burbach

Telesur, July 1, 2014

Something remarkable has taken place in Latin America in the new millennium. For the first time since the Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua, radical left governments have come to power in Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador, raising the banner of socialism. The decline of the US empire, the eruption of anti-neoliberal social movements, and the growing integration of the region on its own terms have created a space for the rejuvenation of socialism after the dramatic setbacks of the last century. Cuba is part of this transformative process as its leadership moves to update the country’s economy while the Cuban people experience new freedoms.

In what follows, the theoretical debates and the praxis of socialism in the twenty-first-century socialism will be explored. The intent is not to provide a singular theory of the new socialism, but to put forth some of the interpretations of the contemporary struggles that are taking place in Latin America.

Theories of Twenty-First-Century Socialism

Drawing on the wide-ranging discussions of twenty-first-century socialism taking place in the hemisphere, political theorist Marta Harnecker, who served as an informal adviser to Hugo Chavez, outlines five key components of what constitutes socialism. First, socialism is “the development of human beings,” meaning that “the pursuit of profit” needs to be replaced by “a logic of humanism and solidarity, aimed at satisfying human needs.” Secondly, socialism “respects nature and opposes consumerism – our goal should not be to live ‘better’ but to live ‘well,”’ as the Andean indigenous cultures declare. Thirdly, borrowing from the radical economics professor Michael Lebowitz, Harnecker says, socialism establishes a new “dialectic of production/distribution/consumption, based on: a) social ownership of the means of production, and b) social production organized by the workers in order to c) satisfy communal needs.” Fourthly, “socialism is guided by a new concept of efficiency that both respects nature and seeks human development.” Fifthly, there is a need for the “rational use of the available natural and human resources, thanks to a decentralized participatory planning process” that is the opposite of Soviet hyper-centralized bureaucratic planning.(1)

To construct a socialist utopia along these lines will be a long endeavor, taking decades and generations. Today different explorations, or counter-hegemonic processes, are at work throughout the hemisphere. As Arturo Escobar – a Colombian-American anthropologist known for his contribution to post-development theory– writes in ‘Latin America at a Crossroads’:

“Some argue that these processes might lead to a re-invention of socialism; for others, what is at stake is the dismantling of the neo-liberal policies of the past three decades – the end of the ‘the long neo-liberal night,’ as the period is known in progressive circles in the region – or the formation of a South American (and anti-American) bloc. Others point at the potential for un nuevo comienzo (a new beginning) which might bring about a reinvention of democracy and development or, more radically still, the end of the predominance of liberal society of the past 200 years founded on private property and representative democracy. Socialismo del siglo XXI, pluri-nationality, interculturality, direct and substantive democracy, revolución ciudadana, endogenous development centered on the buen vivir of the people, territorial and cultural autonomy, and decolonial projects towards post-liberal societies are some of the concepts that seek to name the ongoing transformations.” (2)

Orlando Núñez, a leading Marxist theorist from Nicaragua, amplifies our understanding of the long transition to socialism with a more orthodox approach. Rejecting 21st century socialism as a concept to describe what is occurring in Latin America today, he asserts that the region is in a very preliminary phase of “transitioning to socialism in which we should not pretend we are constructing socialism.” Rather we are confronting neoliberalism and each country in Latin America is “facing different conditions.” He adds, “new flags are appearing in the social struggle against the dominant system that cannot be resolved by the logic of capitalism.” It is “a post-neoliberal or post-capitalist struggle” against woman’s inequality and patriarchy, racial and ethnic discrimination, and the degradation of the environment. More fundamentally it is against “savage capitalism,” and “neo-colonialism,” both internally and externally. (3)

The Brazilian political scientist Emir Sader, in The New Mole: Paths of the Latin American Left, argues that the setback for socialism in the 20th century was so severe that it is still recuperating to this day. Socialism can be part of the agenda, but the priority must be on forming governments and political coalitions to dismantle neoliberalism, even if that means accepting the broader capitalist system for the time being.(4) This in part explains why the construction of socialism in the coming years and decades will be a diverse process – differing widely from country to country. There is no single definition or model–we are indeed witnessing, two, three, many transitions to socialism..

Part 2: Rise of the Social Movements and New Theories of Social Struggle

The origins of twenty-first century socialism are found in the wave of social movements led by peasants and indigenous organizations that swept the rural areas of Latin America as state socialism was collapsing. By the mid-1990s they had assumed the lead in challenging the neoliberal order, particularly in Ecuador, Mexico, Bolivia, and Brazil. These new organizations were generally more democratic and participatory than the class-based organizations that traditional Marxist political parties had set up in rural areas in previous decades. In general, they came to fill the gap left by a working class that was fragmented, disoriented, and dispersed due to the assault of neo-liberalism. With a broad range of interests and demands, including indigenous and environmental rights, these new social movements transcended the modernist meta-narratives of both capitalism and traditional socialism.

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Category : Bolivia | Cuba | Marxism | Socialism | Solidarity Economy | Venezuela | Blog
18
Jul

China & Market Socialism: A Question of State & Revolution

 

By Vince Sherman

Return to the Source, May 20, 2014

Deng Xiaoping: A People’s Hero

After the fall of the Soviet Union, most of the socialist countries tragically fell to the onslaught of Western imperialism. Among the horrific blows dealt to the international communist movement, five socialist states resisted the tide of counterrevolution and, against all odds, maintain actually existing socialism in the 21st century.

Though each face very specific obstacles in building socialism, these five countries–the Republic of Cuba, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, and the People’s Republic of China–stand as a challenge to the goliath of Western imperialist hegemony. Among them, however, China stands unique as a socialist country whose economic growth continues to supersede even the most powerful imperialist countries.

Though an embarrassing number of Western “left” groups challenge the designation of any of these five countries as socialist, no country raises greater opposition than China. Many Western “left” groups claim that modern China is a full-fledged capitalist country. Owing their ideological heritage to bogus theoreticians like Leon Trotsky, Tony Cliffe, and Hal Draper, some groups argue that China was never a socialist country, claiming instead that the Chinese state is and has been state capitalist.

I counter their outrageous reactionary assertions with six theses:

First, Chinese market socialism is a method of resolving the primary contradiction facing socialist construction in China: backwards productive forces.

Second, market socialism in China is a Marxist-Leninist tool that is important to socialist construction.

Third, the Chinese Communist Party’s continued leadership and control of China’s market economy is central to Chinese socialism.

Fourth, Chinese socialism has catapulted a workers state to previously unknown economic heights.

Fifth, the successful elevation of China as a modern industrial economy has laid the basis for ‘higher’ forms of socialist economic organization.

And sixth, China applies market socialism to its relations with the Third World and plays a major role in the fight against imperialism.

From these six theses, I draw the conclusion that Marxist-Leninists in the 21st century should rigorously study the successes of Chinese socialism. After all, if China is a socialist country, its ascension as the premiere world economic power demands the attention of every serious revolutionary, especially insofar as the daunting task of socialist construction in the Third World is concerned.

Market socialism is a method of resolving the primary contradiction facing socialist construction in China: backwards productive forces.

Comrade Deng Xiaoping

The Chinese revolution in 1949 was a tremendous achievement for the international communist movement. Led by Mao Zedong, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) immediately charted a course of socialist reconstruction in an economy ravaged by centuries of dynastic feudalism and imperial subjugation from both Europe and Japan. The CCP launched incredible campaigns designed at engaging the masses in constructing socialism and building an economy that could meet the needs of China’s giant population. One can never overstate the incredible achievements of the Chinese masses during this period, in which the average life expectancy in China rose from 35 years in 1949 to 63 years by Mao’s death in 1976. (1)

Despite the vast social benefits brought about by the revolution, China’s productive forces remained grossly underdeveloped and left the country vulnerable to famines and other natural disasters. Uneven development persisted between the countryside and the cities, and the Sino-Soviet split cut China off from the rest of the socialist bloc. These serious obstacles led the CCP, with Deng Xiaoping at the helm, to identify China’s underdeveloped productive forces as the primary contradiction facing socialist construction. In a March 1979 speech at a CCP forum entitled “Uphold the Four Cardinal Principles,” Deng outlines the two features of this contradiction:

First, we are starting from a weak base. The damage inflicted over a long period by the forces of imperialism, feudalism and bureaucrat-capitalism reduced China to a state of poverty and backwardness. (2)

While he grants that “since the founding of the People’s Republic we have achieved signal successes in economic construction, established a fairly comprehensive industrial system,” Deng reiterates that China is nevertheless “one of the world’s poor countries.” (2)

The second feature of this contradiction is that China has “a large population but not enough arable land.” Deng explains the severity of this contradiction:

When production is insufficiently developed, it poses serious problems with regard to food, education and employment. We must greatly increase our efforts in family planning; but even if the population does not grow for a number of years, we will still have a population problem for a certain period. Our vast territory and rich natural resources are big assets. But many of these resources have not yet been surveyed and exploited, so they do not constitute actual means of production. Despite China’s vast territory, the amount of arable land is limited, and neither this fact nor the fact that we have a large, mostly peasant population can be easily changed. (2)

Unlike industrialized Western countries, the primary contradiction facing China was not between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie–the proletariat and its party had already overthrown the bourgeoisie in the 1949 revolution–but rather between China’s enormous population and its underdeveloped productive forces. While well-intended and ambitious, campaigns like the Great Leap Forward would continue to fall short of raising the Chinese masses out of poverty without revolutionizing the country’s productive forces.

From this contradiction, Deng proposed a policy of “socialism with Chinese characteristics,” or market socialism.

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Category : China | Marxism | Socialism | Blog
7
Jul

 

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

Introduction

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.[1]

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.[2] 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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Category : Capitalism | Democracy | Globalization | Marxism | Socialism | Blog
27
Jun

 

Farsi News Service Interviews Professor William I. Robinson

Prof. William I. Robinson: Global Capitalism Is In the Midst of Its Most Severe Crisis

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.”

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Category : Capitalism | Globalization | Hegemony | Marxism | Blog
4
Jun

(Photo: Arcady/Shutterstock)

By Kyle Chayka

Pacific Standard, May 28, 2014

“To the disappointment of my friends … I seem to have become a Marxist public intellectual,” begins the introduction of the novelist (and erstwhile Marxist public intellectual) Benjamin Kunkel’s new book, Utopia or Bust: A Guide to the Present Crisis. The short collection of essays introduces readers to a clutch of writers, economists, and philosophers who are pioneering what Kunkel sees as the next generation of Marxism, a rejuvenated wave of political thought focused on providing an alternative to the ideology of neoliberalism and the “going capitalist crisis,” which, to Kunkel’s eyes as well as those of a number of other observers, is a visible failure that will only fail harder in the future.

“Most of my youth went by during the end of history,” Kunkel continues, referencing Francis Fukuyama’s 1990s formulation that Western liberal democracy constituted a final step toward a peaceful, level world without conflict (spoiler: It didn’t). That end of history, Kunkel writes, “has itself now come to an end.” He structures his depiction of this post-non-apocalyptic purgatory around two decisive events: 9/11 and the financial crisis. The former knocked Western hegemony off the seemingly inexorable victory that Fukuyama prophesied while the latter underlined the global economy’s ballooning inequality, prompting new social movements like Occupy and disenfranchising the young generation, of which Kunkel is both a leader and a chronicler (see his gently mocking portrayal in New York magazine for a depiction of that role). “It will probably be decisive that capitalism has forfeited the allegiance of many people who are today under thirty,” he writes.

While unemployment remains in the double digits, corporations sit on trillions of dollars in cash, Kunkel explains. This run-up in both capital and labor is the “present crisis” of the book’s title—the problem is that while capitalism creates an ongoing expansion of the two, the world is increasingly unable to turn the capital factors and labor into profit at the same rate that it used to, like a factory with a broken-down assembly line. Income from capital is reproducing faster than income from profit, breeding inequality. So what should be done to solve this problem?

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Category : Intellectuals | Marxism | Blog
28
May

Robin Small

Karl Marx: The Revolutionary as Educator

Springer, New York, 2013. 85pp., £44.99

Reviewed by Patrick Ainley

This book meets a need illustrated by a recent poster advertising a meeting for students at the London University Institute of Education that asked ‘Who was Karl Marx?’

Such is the repetitive diet of Foucauldianism, augmented by the latest academic fashion for Deleuze and Guattari, that even postgraduate students of education are unaware that Marx was, as this book begins by asserting, ‘an important educational thinker’.

Although Marx wrote before the modern state school system was established, Small states ‘He is the greatest theorist of the society that gave rise to schools as we know them – and this is the society we still live in’ (1). As he adds, Marx wrote for people who needed to find out what was wrong with the society they lived in, and how to change it for the better, and so he was also an educator. More importantly, ‘Marx is an educator for us. He challenges us to develop our capacity to think critically about our own society’ (2). This is the seminal Marx presented in this book.

Robin Small, a philosopher of education at Auckland University who has previously written Marx and Education (Ashgate, 2005), is well qualified to introduce new readers to Marx’s revolutionary education in the concise form intended by Springer’s series on ‘Key Thinkers in Education’, edited by Paul Gibbs, in which each chapter is separately downloadable, although the overall price – in virtual form or hard covers – is exorbitant. Hopefully, however, the book will make its way into libraries, because it is an introduction to Marx’s life as well as to his thought. So Small begins with Marx’s own education at the Trier Gymnasium, quoting Marx’s prize-winning essay `Thoughts of a Youth on Choosing a Vocation’, which insists ‘worth can be assured only by a profession in which we are not servile tools, but in which we act independently in our own sphere’ (5). Then, in Bonn and Berlin Universities, Small introduces the ideas of Bauer, Feuerbach and Stirner, which influenced Dr Marx before ‘the theoretical mind, once liberated in itself, turns into practical energy’ (quoted 9) in the form of ‘Marx as Journalist’.

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Category : Education | Intellectuals | Marxism | Working Class | Blog
15
Apr

By Julia Ott

Publicseminar.org

April 9th, 2014

Family of African American slaves on Smith's Plantation, Beaufort, South Carolina, circa 1862. © Timothy H. O'Sullivan | learnnc.org

Family of African American slaves on Smith’s Plantation, Beaufort, South Carolina, circa 1862. © Timothy H. O’Sullivan | learnnc.org

Racialized chattel slaves were the capital that made capitalism. While most theories of capitalism set slavery apart, as something utterly distinct, because under slavery, workers do not labor for a wage, new historical research reveals that for centuries, a single economic system encompassed both the plantation and the factory.

At the dawn of the industrial age commentators like Rev. Thomas Malthus could not envision that capital — an asset that is used but not consumed in the production of goods and services — could compound and diversify its forms, increasing productivity and engendering economic growth. Yet, ironically, when Malthus penned his Essay on the Principle of Population in 1798, the economies of Western Europe already had crawled their way out of the so-called “Malthusian trap.” The New World yielded vast quantities of “drug foods” like tobacco, tea, coffee, chocolate, and sugar for world markets. Europeans worked a little bit harder to satiate their hunger for these “drug foods.” The luxury-commodities of the seventeenth century became integrated into the new middle-class rituals like tea-drinking in the eighteenth century. By the nineteenth century, these commodities became a caloric and stimulative necessity for the denizens of the dark satanic mills. The New World yielded food for proletarians and fiber for factories at reasonable (even falling) prices. The “industrious revolution” that began in the sixteenth century set the stage for the Industrial Revolution of the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

But the “demand-side” tells only part of the story. A new form of capital, racialized chattel slaves, proved essential for the industrious revolution — and for the industrial one that followed.

Book cover of Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History by Sidney W. Mintz © Penguin Books | Amazon.com

Book cover of Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History by Sidney W. Mintz © Penguin Books | Amazon.com

The systematic application of African slaves in staple export crop production began in the sixteenth century, with sugar in Brazil. The African slave trade populated the plantations of the Caribbean, landing on the shores of the Chesapeake at the end of the seventeenth century. African slaves held the legal status of chattel: moveable, alienable property. When owners hold living creatures as chattel, they gain additional property rights: the ownership of the offspring of any chattel, and the ownership of their offspring, and so on and so forth. Chattel becomes self-augmenting capital.

While slavery existed in human societies since prehistoric times, chattel status had never been applied so thoroughly to human beings as it would be to Africans and African-Americans beginning in the sixteenth century. But this was not done easily, especially in those New World regions where African slaves survived, worked alongside European indentured servants and landless “free” men and women, and bore offspring — as they did in Britain’s mainland colonies in North America.

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Category : Capitalism | Marxism | Racism | Slavery | Blog
8
Apr

Youth rebellion in the ‘banlieues’ of Paris

Contemporary Politics and the Crisis of the Negative

Interview by Filippo Del Lucchese and Jason Smith

FILIPPO DEL LUCCHESE and JASON SMITH: We would like to begin by asking you to clarify the relation between philosophy and politics. What do you mean when you speak, for example, of a militant philosophy?

ALAIN BADIOU: Since its beginnings, philosophy’s relationship to the political has been fundamental. It’s not something invented by modernity. Plato’s central work is called The Republic, and it is entirely devoted to questions of the city or polis. This link has remained fundamental throughout the history of philosophy. But I think there are two basic ways of structuring this relationship.

The first way assigns philosophy the responsibility for finding a foundation for the political. Philosophy is called upon to reconstruct the political on the basis of this foundation. This current argues that it is possible to locate, for every politics, an ethical norm and that philosophy should first have the task of reconstructing or naming this norm and then of judging the relation between this norm and the multiplicity of political practices. In this sense, then, what opens the relation between philosophy and politics is the idea of a foundation as well as an ethical conception of the political. But there is a second orientation that is completely different. This current maintains that in a certain sense politics is primary and that the political exists without, before, and differently from philosophy. The political would be what I call a condition of philosophy. In this case, the relation between philosophy and politics would be, in a certain sense, retroactive. That is, it would be a relation in which philosophy would situate itself within political conflicts in order to clarify them. Today, in the extremely obscure situation that is the general system of contemporary politics, philosophy can attempt to clarify the situation without having any pretense to creating it. Philosophy has as its condition and horizon the concrete situation of different political practices, and it will try, within these conditions, to find instruments of clarification, legitimation, and so on. This current takes seriously the idea that politics is itself an autonomy of thought, that it is a collective practice with an intelligence all its own.

It is quite clear that today the question is particularly difficult because we are no longer in a situation in which there is a clear distinction between two opposed political orientations—as was the case in the twentieth century. Not everyone agreed on what the exact nature of these opposed politics was, but everyone agreed there was an opposition between a classical democratic bourgeois politics and another, revolutionary, option. Among the revolutionaries, we debated spiritedly and even violently what, exactly, the true way was but not the existence itself of this global opposition. Today there is no agreement concerning the existence of a fundamental opposition of this sort, and as a result the link between philosophy and politics has become more complex and more obscure. But, fundamentally, it’s the same task. Philosophy tries to clarify what I call the multiple situation of concrete politics and to legitimate the choices made in this space.

DEL LUCCHESE and SMITH: So you see your own philosophical interventions as taking place within this new situation that you describe as “more complex and more obscure” than the classical confrontation between two opposed political orientations?

BADIOU: Definitely. As a result, I see my philosophy as an inheritor of the great contestatory movements of the sixties. In fact, my philosophy emerged out of these movements. It is a philosophy of commitment, of engagement, with a certain fidelity to Sartre, if you like, or to Marxism.

What counts is that the intellectual is engaged in politics and commits to or takes the side of the people and the workers. I move in that tradition. My philosophy tries to keep alive, as best it can (it is not always easy), the idea that there is a real alternative to the dominant politics and that we are not obliged to rally around the consensus that ultimately consists in the unity of global capitalism and the representative, democratic state. I would say, then, that I work under the condition of the situation of political actuality, with the goal of keeping alive, philosophically, the idea of the possibility or opening of a politics I would call a politics of emancipation—but that could also be called a radical or revolutionary politics, terms that today are debatable but that represent all the same a possibility other than the dominant one.

DEL LUCCHESE and SMITH: You mention Sartre in this context where the name Althusser might have been expected. What is your relation to the Althusserian tradition?

BADIOU: The Althusserian tradition is extremely important, and I’ve devoted several texts to Althusser. If I mention Sartre it is simply because my philosophical youth was Sartrean before my encounter with Althusser. I think the Althusserian current was a particularly important one because it gave a new life and force to the link between philosophy and politics and in a less idealist mode—that is, a relation that no longer passed through the form of consciousness. In Sartre, of course, we still find the classical model of the intellectual understood primarily in terms of consciousness—an intellectual must make contact with the struggle and the workers’ organizations, be they the unions or the communist parties. Althusser’s greatness is found in the fact that he proposed a new schema in which the relation between philosophy and politics no longer passed through the psychology of the form of consciousness as it still did with Sartre. Althusser begins with the conviction that philosophy intervenes in the intellectual space of politics. When he proposes the formula “philosophy is the organization of class struggle in theory,” what does he mean? That class struggle exists and that philosophy certainly didn’t invent it. It exists and cuts across intellectual choices. Within the struggle between these choices, philosophy has a special role. It is to intervene and therefore to name, norm, classify, and finally choose in the field of intellectual or theoretical class struggle. Sartre and Althusser are very different, even opposed. But you can reconcile them on one point, namely, that philosophy is nothing if it is not linked to political commitment.

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Category : Intellectuals | Marxism | Organizing | Philosophy | Blog
7
Apr

Reforming China’s State-Market Balance

 

Joseph Stiglitz, ChinaBy Joseph Stiglitz

Social Europe Journal

March 3, 2014- No country in recorded history has grown as fast – and moved as many people out of poverty – as China over the last thirty years. A hallmark of China’s success has been its leaders’ willingness to revise the country’s economic model when and as needed, despite opposition from powerful vested interests. And now, as China implements another series of fundamental reforms, such interests are already lining up to resist. Can the reformers triumph again?

In answering that question, the crucial point to bear in mind is that, as in the past, the current round of reforms will restructure not only the economy, but also the vested interests that will shape future reforms (and even determine whether they are possible). And today, while high-profile initiatives – for example, the government’s widening anti-corruption campaign – receive much attention, the deeper issue that China faces concerns the appropriate roles of the state and the market.

When China began its reforms more than three decades ago, the direction was clear: the market needed to play a far greater role in resource allocation. And so it has, with the private sector far more important now than it was. Moreover, there is a broad consensus that the market needs to play what officials call a “decisive role” in many sectors where state-owned enterprises (SOEs) dominate. But what should its role be in other sectors, and in the economy more generally?

Many of China’s problems today stem from too much market and too little government. Or, to put it another way, while the government is clearly doing some things that it should not, it is also not doing some things that it should.

Worsening environmental pollution, for example, threatens living standards, while inequality of income and wealth now rivals that of the United States and corruption pervades public institutions and the private sector alike. All of this undermines trust within society and in government – a trend that is particularly obvious with respect to, say, food safety.

Such problems could worsen as China restructures its economy away from export-led growth toward services and household consumption. Clearly, there is room for growth in private consumption; but embracing America’s profligate materialist life-style would be a disaster for China – and the planet. Air quality in China is already putting peoples’ lives at risk; global warming from even higher Chinese carbon emissions would threaten the entire world.

There is a better strategy. For starters, Chinese living standards could and would increase if more resources were allocated to redress large deficiencies in health care and education. Here, government should play a leading role, and does so in most market economies, for good reason.

America’s privately-based health-care system is expensive, inefficient, and achieves far worse outcomes than those in European countries, which spend far less. A more market-based system is not the direction in which China should be going. In recent years, the government has made important strides in providing basic health care, especially in rural areas, and some have likened China’s approach to that of the United Kingdom, where private provision is layered atop a public base. Whether that model is better than, say, French-style government-dominated provision may be debated. But if one adopts the UK model, the level of the base makes all the difference; given the relatively small role of private health-care provision in the UK, the country has what is essentially a public system.

Likewise, though China has already made progress in moving away from manufacturing toward a service-based economy (the GDP share of services exceeded that of manufacturing for the first time in 2013), there is still a long way to go. Already, many industries are suffering from overcapacity, and efficient and smooth restructuring will not be easy without government help.

China is restructuring in another way: rapid urbanization. Ensuring that cities are livable and environmentally sustainable will require strong government action to provide sufficient public transport, public schools, public hospitals, parks, and effective zoning, among other public goods.

One major lesson that should have been learned from the post-2008 global economic crisis is that markets are not self-regulating. They are prone to asset and credit bubbles, which inevitably collapse – often when cross-border capital flows abruptly reverse direction – imposing massive social costs.

America’s infatuation with deregulation was the cause of the crisis. The issue is not just the pacing and sequencing of liberalization, as some suggest; the end result also matters. Liberalization of deposit rates led to America’s savings and loan crisis in the 1980’s. Liberalization of lending rates encouraged predatory behavior that exploited poor consumers. Bank deregulation led not to more growth, but simply to more risk.

China, one hopes, will not take the route that America followed, with such disastrous consequences. The challenge for its leaders is to devise effective regulatory regimes that are appropriate for its stage of development.

That will require the government to raise more money. Local governments’ current reliance on land sales is a source of many of the economy’s distortions – and much of the corruption. Instead, the authorities should boost revenue by imposing environmental taxes (including a carbon tax), a more comprehensive progressive income tax (including capital gains), and a property tax. Moreover, the state should appropriate, through dividends, a larger share of SOEs’ value (some of which might be at the expense of these firms’ managers.)

The question is whether China can maintain rapid growth (though somewhat slower than its recent breakneck pace), even as it reins in credit expansion (which could cause an abrupt reversal in asset prices), confronts weak global demand, restructures its economy, and fights corruption. In other countries, such daunting challenges have led to paralysis, not progress.

The economics of success is clear: higher spending on urbanization, health care, and education, funded by increases in taxes, could simultaneously sustain growth, improve the environment, and reduce inequality. If China’s politics can manage the implementation of this agenda, China and the entire world will be better off.

© Project Syndicate

Category : China | Green Economy | Marxism | Socialism | Blog
11
Mar

Water and Soil, Grain and Flesh

A Review of Walter Johnson’s ‘River of Dark Dreams.’’

By Robin Einhorn

The Nation, Feb 11, 2014

For decades, historians have been attacking the shopworn idea of Northern industrialists as the dominant figures of American capitalism in the first half of the nineteenth century. Resting on a rich array of misconceptions and a few outright lies, this idea has withstood even the most severe factual challenges because, as an explanation for the Civil War, it has been useful no matter how the war is remembered. It has licensed romantic interpretations of the War of the Rebellion, the War Between the States and even the War of Northern Aggression. One could assign all kinds of political faults to the antagonists but still commemorate the fratricidal tragedy of Billy Yank and Johnny Reb because the notion of an industrial North dragging an agrarian South into the capitalist future offered magically offsetting historical alibis. By divorcing the North from slavery and the South from capitalism, it ennobled all of the white men involved.

On the Southern side, the stereotype has permitted a misinterpretation of the war’s economic circumstances and consequences. After the war, and largely because of it, the South was the poorest region of the United States. Even today, the states that had very large slave populations in 1860 tend to have low per capita incomes, with Mississippi perennially at the bottom. If, however, wealth is assessed the way most white people calculated it at the time—by counting enslaved African-Americans as valuable property rather than as victims of the desperate poverty that slaveholders imposed on them—the South was the nation’s wealthiest region before the Civil War. Two-thirds of all Americans who owned estates worth more than $100,000 lived in the South in 1860; Mississippi and Louisiana boasted more millionaires per capita than Massachusetts and New York; and more capital was invested in enslaved African-Americans than in railroad and industrial assets combined.

But the Southern slaveholders were more than just rich. As the Harvard historian Walter Johnson explains in his bracing new history of slavery and capitalism in the Deep South, River of Dark Dreams, the slaveholders were the quintessential American capitalists. They were early adopters of technology, avid consumers of financial data, expert manipulators of legal arcana and aggressive speculators in everything, including not only human chattel and cotton but also unstable paper money and exotic credit arrangements. Above all, the slaveholders of the Cotton Kingdom were rapacious—and highly effective— masters of the essential capitalist process of converting labor into commodities. The whole point of plantation slavery, Johnson explains, was this chain of capitalist mutations: from “lashes into labor into bales into dollars into pounds sterling.”

Much of the North’s wealth also depended on the exploitation of slave labor, even though the Northern states abolished slavery within their boundaries in the decades after the American Revolution. Many of the early Northern factories turned Southern cotton into cheap textiles, which were then sold to the slaveholders as low-grade “negro cloth.” But the factories were not the big story, since they remained relatively small in this period. Most Northerners were farmers rather than industrialists or industrial workers. The serious profits were made in commerce, especially shipping, financing and insuring the cotton that accounted for roughly half the value of all US exports from 1820 to 1860. Southern cotton, even more than the grain hauled through the Great Lakes and Erie Canal, fed the rise of New York to commercial eminence.

The slave-labor economy of the Mississippi Valley endowed the masters at the top of its pyramid with fabulous wealth and a profoundly exaggerated sense of their power in the world. Because the American South supplied 80 percent of the world’s cotton, the planters believed that the world economy depended on them instead of the other way around. They thought riches and ruin were theirs to mete out, not only to the American North but also to the major European powers. They were wrong. When they acted on their imperial fantasies by engaging the North in the Civil War, they lost their wealth, their slaves and their market power, as their erstwhile customers turned to competing cotton suppliers in Egypt and India.

But the imperial fantasies that interest Johnson had nothing to do with the North.

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Category : Capitalism | Marxism | Racism | Slavery | Blog