Editor’s Note: We are quite aware that the author below is no Marxist. But his views on world affairs are always interesting, and have recently been taken seriously by both Obama and Sanders, but not Clinton. So with more than a grain of salt, he’s worth a read.
The American Interest
April 17, 2016 – As its era of global dominance ends, the United States needs to take the lead in realigning the global power architecture.
Five basic verities regarding the emerging redistribution of global political power and the violent political awakening in the Middle East are signaling the coming of a new global realignment.
The first of these verities is that the United States is still the world’s politically, economically, and militarily most powerful entity but, given complex geopolitical shifts in regional balances, it is no longer the globally imperial power. But neither is any other major power.
The second verity is that Russia is experiencing the latest convulsive phase of its imperial devolution. A painful process, Russia is not fatally precluded – if it acts wisely – from becoming eventually a leading European nation-state. However, currently it is pointlessly alienating some of its former subjects in the Islamic southwest of its once extensive empire, as well as Ukraine, Belarus, and Georgia, not to mention the Baltic States.
The third verity is that China is rising steadily, if more slowly as of late, as America’s eventual coequal and likely rival; but for the time being it is careful not to pose an outright challenge to America. Militarily, it seems to be seeking a breakthrough in a new generation of weapons while patiently enhancing its still very limited naval power.
The fourth verity is that Europe is not now and is not likely to become a global power. But it can play a constructive role in taking the lead in regard to transnational threats to global wellbeing and even human survival. Additionally, Europe is politically and culturally aligned with and supportive of core U.S. interests in the Middle East, and European steadfastness within NATO is essential to an eventually constructive resolution of the Russia-Ukraine crisis.
The fifth verity is that the currently violent political awakening among post-colonial Muslims is, in part, a belated reaction to their occasionally brutal suppression mostly by European powers. It fuses a delayed but deeply felt sense of injustice with a religious motivation that is unifying large numbers of Muslims against the outside world; but at the same time, because of historic sectarian schisms within Islam that have nothing to do with the West, the recent welling up of historical grievances is also divisive within Islam.
Taken together as a unified framework, these five verities tell us that the United States must take the lead in realigning the global power architecture in such a way that the violence erupting within and occasionally projected beyond the Muslim world—and in the future possibly from other parts of what used to be called the Third World—can be contained without destroying the global order. We can sketch this new architecture by elaborating briefly each of the five foregoing verities.
First, America can only be effective in dealing with the current Middle Eastern violence if it forges a coalition that involves, in varying degrees, also Russia and China. To enable such a coalition to take shape, Russia must first be discouraged from its reliance on the unilateral use of force against its own neighbors—notably Ukraine, Georgia, the Baltic States—and China should be disabused of the idea that selfish passivity in the face of the rising regional crisis in the Middle East will prove to be politically and economically rewarding to its ambitions in the global arena. These shortsighted policy impulses need to be channeled into a more farsighted vision.
By Sean Posey
Hampton Institute I Urban Issues I Commentary
April 13th, 2016 – During the winter of 2016, the ever-present visage of Donald J. Trump remained burned into television sets and computer screens across America. In the well-manicured lawns of the modest working-class homes of Austintown, Ohio, situated in long-struggling Mahoning County, “Team Trump. Rebuild America” signs began popping up everywhere.
Formerly a sparsely populated farming community, Austintown grew as a working-class suburb in the decades after World War II. Steel and autoworkers could commonly afford vacations and college tuition for their children; the community, in many ways, symbolized the working-class American Dream. By 1970, Austintown, along with the neighboring township of Boardman, was part of the largest unincorporated area in the state.  The township’s population peaked in 1980 at 33,000. Today, however, it’s a very different place. Job losses in the local manufacturing sector and the graying of the population led Forbes to label Austintown as the “fifth-fastest dying town” in the country in the midst of the Great Recession. The township’s poverty rate had already reached nearly 14 percent in the year before the meltdown of Wall Street.
The 2016 Ohio Republican primary in Mahoning County witnessed the largest shift of Democratic voters to the Republican Party in decades. “Most of them crossed over to vote for Donald Trump,” remarked David Betras, Mahoning County Democratic Party Chairman.
This used to be Democrat country. But like so many other places in America, the brash billionaire’s message is remaking the local political landscape. Trump narrowly lost the Ohio primary to incumbent Governor John Kasich. However, he won the majority of Republican primary voters in Mahoning County and in neighboring Trumbull County, home to the city of Warren – one of the most embattled municipalities in the state. Winning his home state should have been a given for Kasich; instead, Trump pushed the twice-elected governor to the brink.
Ohio is not the only place in the heartland the Trump tornado is sweeping through. Scores of America’s most insecure communities are joining the once prosperous Buckeye State in flirting with or joining the mogul’s camp. Yet, for as much attention as has been paid to Trump and the often controversial movement behind him, far less has been said about the cracking core of a country that is currently looking for a savior, any savior, in such enormously troubled times.
Years before America’s most famous real estate and reality television personality descended a gold escalator at Trump Tower to announce his candidacy for president, long-time journalists Dale Maharidge and Michael Williamson began a cross-country journey to document America in the wake of the 911 attacks.
“On one trip,” Maharidge writes, “I drove from Chicago to Johnstown, Pennsylvania. In places like this, the abandoned shells of factories, all broken windows and rust, make this country look like it was bombed in a war. In other places it’s as if an economic neutron bomb hit-with trees and houses intact but lives decimated, gone with good jobs.”
Traditionally, this part of the heartland represented the economic engine of industrial America, filled with good-paying jobs in manufacturing. However, the great economic dislocations of the past forty-odd years have rendered much of this landscape a void, one more akin to the developing world than that of the United States. Even for the more outwardly normal communities, as Maharidge mentions, looks can be deceiving. Heroin is hitting the inner core of the country with a hammer force, destroying young lives already beset by economic insecurity and the end of upward mobility.
Perhaps even more disturbing is the declining life expectancy for a large swath of working-class whites, one of Trump’s key constituencies. For the past sixteen years, death rates have risen for Caucasians between the ages of 45 and 54 and also for those between the ages of 25 to 34.  These are notable exceptions to the overall increase in life expectancy for all groups, regardless of race or ethnicity. While working class whites in Europe continue to experience increases in life expectancy, their counterparts in America are dying from drugs, suicide, and despair.
Truthout | News Analysis
Jan 1, 2016 – We are nearing 2016, the year when the richest 1 percent of humanity will own more than the rest of the world, according to projections made by the nongovernmental organization Oxfam.
This is up from the 1 percent owning 44 percent of the world’s wealth in 2010 and 48 percent in 2014. If current trends continue, the 1 percent will own 54 percent by 2020.
The top 80 billionaires were worth $1.9 trillion in 2014, an amount equal to the bottom 50 percent. These 80 billionaires saw a 50 percent rise in their wealth in just four years, from 2010 to 2014, during which time the poorest 50 percent saw a drop in their wealth. In other words, there has been a huge transfer of wealth in a very short period of time from the poorest half of humanity to the richest 80 individuals on the planet.
What should we do in the face of these escalating worldwide inequalities? In his worldwide bestseller, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, French economist Thomas Piketty argued for a global tax on capital and redistribution through progressive tax reform. The book has gained traction globally perhaps because its prescriptions converge with the reformist agenda of a rising number of transnational elites and intelligentsia, who have become concerned that the turmoil sparked by such egregious inequalities may destabilize global capitalism and threaten their control. Like Piketty, they have been calling for mildly redistributive measures, such as increased taxes on corporations and the rich, a more progressive income tax, the reintroduction of social welfare programs and a "green capitalism."
This reformist approach to global inequality, however, is entirely inadequate because it bypasses the questions of power and of corporate control over the planet’s productive resources that are at the very heart of global capitalism and its crisis. Any resolution to this crisis requires a radical redistribution of wealth and power downward to the poor majority of humanity. Social justice requires a measure of transnational social governance over the global production and financial system as a necessary first step in this radical redistribution, which in turn must be linked to the transformation of class and property relations.
Seen in this perspective, the elites’ reformist approach has more to do with averting such a transformation than with resolving the plight of the poor majority. The power relations that are at stake become clear by exploring what accounts for social inequalities under capitalism.
Causes of Rising Inequality
What accounts for escalating worldwide inequalities that have so alarmed transnational elites? As Marx analyzed in Capital, there is something going on in the capitalist system itself beyond sets of government policies that generates inequalities. Simply put, capitalists own the means of producing wealth, and therefore appropriate as profits as much as possible of the wealth that society collectively produces. Capitalism produces social inequalities as a consequence of its own internal workings.
But such inequalities end up undermining the stability of the system, since the mass of working people cannot purchase the wealth that pours out of the capitalist economy to the extent that capitalists and the well-off retain more and more of total income relative to that which goes to labor. If capitalists cannot actually sell (or "unload") the products of their plantations, factories and offices, then they cannot make a profit.
This is what in critical political economy constitutes the underlying internal contradiction of capitalism, or the overaccumulation problem. Left unchecked, expanding social polarization results in crisis – in recessions and depressions, such as the 1930s Great Depression or the 2008 Great Recession. Worse still, it engenders great social upheavals, political conflicts, wars and even revolutions – precisely the kinds of conflicts and chaos we are witnessing in the world today.
In the view of the reformers, however, it is not the capitalist system itself, but its particular institutional organization that is to blame for inequalities. They believe it can be offset by increased taxes, social welfare programs and other reformist measures.
The Class Warfare of the Transnational Capitalist Class
The sharp escalation in inequalities coincides with capitalist globalization from the 1970s and on. The high rates of inequality registered in the wake of the Industrial Revolution, and that reached a peak in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, had diminished somewhat in the heartlands of world capitalism in the wake of two world wars and the Great Depression. Inequalities in the rich countries were diminished in part thanks to colonialism and imperialism, which resulted in the transfer of surplus wealth from the periphery to the metropolitan centers of world capitalism and made possible the rise of a "labor aristocracy" in these centers.
What became known as the "Fordist-Keynesian" social order that took shape in the 30 years following World War II involved high growth rates, a rise in living standards for substantial sectors of the working class and a decrease in inequalities in the developed core of world capitalism.
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By Lauren Langman
The progressive social movements of 2011, followed by the rise of Left parties such as Syriza in Greece and Podemos in Spain, can be best understood as what Herbert Marcuse called the Great Refusal: rejections and contestations of domination reflecting a variety of grievances stemming from the multiple legitimation crises of contemporary capitalism. As Jürgen Habermas argued, the multiple legitimation crises of the capitalist system migrate to lifeworld, the realms of subjectivity and motivation that evoke strong emotions such as anger, anxiety, and indignation that dispose social mobilizations. What is especially evident as a goal of these movements is the quest for dignity as rooted in an emancipatory, philosophical, anthropological critique of alienation, domination, and suffering pioneered by the Frankfurt School—quite cogently argued in Marcuse’s analysis of Marx’s 1844 Manuscripts. But grievances and emotions do not lead to sustained social movements; there must be recruitment, organizing and organization building, leadership, strategy, tactics, and vision. The Frankfurt School’s critique of domination can be complemented by Antonio Gramsci’s theory of hegemony in which “organic intellectuals” understand how the system operates (with due attention to the salience of the cultural barriers to change), while also proffering counterhegemonic narratives, organizing subalterns, and initiating “wars of position.” A critical perspective on contemporary social movements provides a politically informed critique with visions of utopian possibility in which membership in democratic, egalitarian, identity-granting/recognizing communities of meaning allows for, indeed fosters, community, agency, creative self-realization, and the dignity of all.
I. Ideology, Hegemony, and Domination
Why do the vast majority of people “willingly assent” to the domination by the few, despite vast economic inequalities, growing hardships, and the thwarting of the self? This has long been one of the central questions for the Frankfurt School’s critique of ideology and character structure in which authority becomes embedded within the self, making possible uncritical acceptance and conformity. These insights provide the rich understanding of the conditions of our age, especially of those that enable (or thwart) emancipatory social movements.
The grievances that result from the contradictions and adversities of neoliberal capitalism need to be articulated by intellectually informed, radical activists. Quite independently of the Frankfurt School, a parallel line of analysis and critique was developed by Antonio Gramsci, the Italian Communist theoretician and organizer who conceptualized “hegemony” as the ideological control of culture, which produces the “willing assent” to the domination of the “historic bloc” (the capitalists) and through which the “naturalization” of the historically arbitrary is presented as normal, natural, and in the best interests of all. For Gramsci, the critique of hegemony and the development of counterhegemonic ideologies and organizational practices are the tasks of “organic intellectuals” who understand the role of culture in sustaining domination. They understand the ways in which the dominant culture thwarts political and social change, which in turn necessitates a cultural rebellion, mediated through the “wars of position” in which counterhegemonic discourses would overcome cultural barriers and the “normality” of social existing arrangements in order to achieve social transformation. One of the major tactics for such organization is so-called “popular education,” which enables people to understand how ruling class privileges are based on the exploitation of the masses. Gramsci’s analysis complements the Frankfurt School’s critiques, while his experiences as an activist provide insights and tools to envision and, indeed, make possible an alternative kind of society.
A. Critical Theory
1. The Psychological Foundations of Politics
The Frankfurt School brought psychoanalysis into the critique of domination. From Wilhelm Reich and Erich Fromm, they subsequently developed a political psychology in which authoritarianism, an aspect of character acquired in childhood, made possible the embrace of conservative, indeed reactionary politics. The understanding of the superego as internalized authority, showed that people would passionately submit to “powerful,” authoritative leaders in order to gain their love and assuage feelings of anxiety, loneliness, powerlessness, and meaninglessness. Thus, authoritarians are psychologically disposed to embrace the elite’s political agendas that stress toughness, determination, and power. Authoritarianism is typically coupled with a sadomasochistic need to dominate, denigrate, and feel contempt toward the weak and the helpless, and authoritarians typically project aggression toward the out-groups (paranoia).
The early Frankfurt School studies of authoritarianism showed how these authoritarian character structures resonated with fascist propaganda and ideology. In a number of books, papers and empirical studies of working-class Germans, and a large postwar study of Americans, authoritarianism was shown to be highly correlated with the conservative to reactionary political positions that glorified authority, denigrated subordinates, and projected anger and aggression toward the out-groups, especially racial minorities and Jews. Authoritarians are thus generally patriarchal, homophobic, and racist, in addition to being highly conventional, conformist, and maintaining a rigid, black–white, either–or, cognitive stance. The enduring significance of these studies can be seen in the contemporary work of Robert Altemeyer. We might also note that, in many ways, these studies of authoritarianism anticipated some of the recent approaches in cognitive psychology and emotion research.
Nevertheless, while being a crucial aspect of political beliefs and actions, authoritarianism is only a part of the story of the internalization of various ideologies. Following what has been said, it is absolutely essential to underline the fact that people’s political beliefs are not shaped by rational considerations, logic, or evidence. Rather, the character structure and the patterning of various needs and desires shape the ways in which people perceive the world, evaluate events, and choose actions. For Gramsci, the ideological control of culture shaped the production of ideology to produce the “willing assent” to domination. But, without a theory of psychodynamics, he could not explain the motivation of people to assent to their own subordination. In 1930, Freud provides the first hint, claiming that the values, norms and laws of society that demand sexual repression and obedience to social dictates, are mediated through the identification with parents, and become sedimented within the superego. People subsequently develop identities that have been ideologically crafted, but not under the circumstances of their own choosing. The identities of prior generations, shaped by earlier authority relationships, weigh down upon the individual to colonize his/her consciousness and desires in the way that the values of the ruling classes/hegemonic blocs become internalized as essential parts of the individual’s identity and values. That this is not a rational process is also made evident by the studies of authoritarianism and anti-Semitism mentioned above.
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By Fu Ying
Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee of China’s National People’s Congress.
Dec 18, 2015 –CRI Online
At a time when Russian relations with the United States and western European countries are growing cold, the relatively warm ties between China and Russia have attracted renewed interest. Scholars and journalists in the West find themselves debating the nature of the Chinese-Russian partnership and wondering whether it will evolve into an alliance.
Since the end of the Cold War, two main views have tended to define Western assessments of the Chinese-Russian relationship and predictions of its future. The first view holds that the link between Beijing and Moscow is vulnerable, contingent, and marked by uncertainties—a “marriage of convenience,” to use the phrase favored by many advocates of this argument, who see it as unlikely that the two countries will grow much closer and quite possible that they will begin to drift apart. The other view posits that strategic and even ideological factors form the basis of Chinese-Russian ties and predicts that the two countries—both of which see the United States as a possible obstacle to their objectives—will eventually form an anti-U.S., anti-Western alliance.
Neither view accurately captures the true nature of the relationship. The Chinese-Russian relationship is a stable strategic partnership and by no means a marriage of convenience: it is complex, sturdy, and deeply rooted. Changes in international relations since the end of the Cold War have only brought the two countries closer together. Some Western analysts and officials have speculated (and perhaps even hoped) that the ongoing conflicts in Syria and Ukraine, in which Russia has become heavily involved, would lead to tensions between Beijing and Moscow—or even a rupture. But that has not happened.
Nevertheless, China has no interest in a formal alliance with Russia, nor in forming an anti-U.S. or anti-Western bloc of any kind. Rather, Beijing hopes that China and Russia can maintain their relationship in a way that will provide a safe environment for the two big neighbors to achieve their development goals and to support each other through mutually beneficial cooperation, offering a model for how major countries can manage their differences and cooperate in ways that strengthen the international system.
TIES THAT BIND
On several occasions between the end of the nineteenth century and the middle of the twentieth century, China entered into an alliance with the Russian empire and its successor, the Soviet Union. But every time, the arrangement proved short-lived, as each amounted to nothing more than an expediency between countries of unequal strength. In the decades that followed, the two powerful communist-led countries muddled through, occasionally cooperating but often riven by rivalry and mistrust. In 1989, in the waning years of Soviet rule, they finally restored normalcy to their relations. They jointly declared that they would develop bilateral relations based on “mutual respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, mutual nonaggression, noninterference in each other’s internal affairs, equality and mutual benefit, and peaceful coexistence.” Two years later, the Soviet Union disintegrated, but Chinese-Russian relations carried on with the principle of “no alliance, no conflict, and no targeting any third country.”
Soon thereafter, the newborn Russian Federation embraced the so-called Atlanticist approach. To win the trust and help of the West, Russia not only followed Western prescriptions for economic reform but also made concessions on major security issues, including reducing its stockpile of strategic nuclear weapons. However, things didn’t turn out the way the Russians had hoped, as the country’s economy tanked and its regional influence waned. In 1992, disappointed with what they saw as unfulfilled pledges of American and European assistance and irritated by talk of NATO’s eastward expansion, the Russians began to pay more attention to Asia. That year, China and Russia announced that each would regard the other as a “friendly country” and issued a joint political statement stipulating that “the freedom of people to choose their own development paths should be respected, while differences in social systems and ideologies should not hamper the normal progress of relations.”
Ever since, Chinese-Russian relations have gradually improved and deepened. During the past 20 years or so, bilateral trade and investment have expanded on a massive scale. In 2011, China became Russia’s largest trading partner. In 2014 alone, China’s investment in Russia grew by 80 percent—and the trend toward more investment remains strong. To get a sense of the growth in economic ties, consider that in the early 1990s, annual bilateral trade between China and Russia amounted to around $5 billion; by 2014, it came close to $100 billion. That year, Beijing and Moscow signed a landmark agreement to construct a pipeline that, by 2018, will bring as much as 38 billion cubic meters of Russian natural gas to China every year. The two countries are also planning significant deals involving nuclear power generation, aerospace manufacturing, high-speed rail, and infrastructure development. Furthermore, they are cooperating on new multinational financial institutions, such as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, the New Development Bank BRICS, and the BRICS foreign exchange reserve pool.
Meanwhile, security ties have improved as well. China has become one of the largest importers of Russian arms, and the two countries are discussing a number of joint arms research-and-development projects. Extensive Chinese-Russian defense cooperation involves consultations between high-level military personnel and joint training and exercises, including more than a dozen joint counterterrorism exercises during the past decade or so, carried out either bilaterally or under the auspices of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. In the past 20 years, thousands of Chinese military personnel have studied in Russia, and many Russian military officials have received short-term training at the National Defense University of China.
As economic and military links have strengthened, so, too, have political ones. In 2008, China and Russia were able to peacefully resolve territorial disputes that had troubled relations for decades, formally demarcating their 2,600-mile-plus border and thus eliminating their single largest source of tension—a rare achievement for big neighbors. In recent years, the two countries have held regular annual meetings between their heads of states, prime ministers, top legislators, and foreign ministers. Since 2013, when Xi Jinping became president of China, he has paid five visits to Russia, and Russian President Vladimir Putin has traveled three times to China in the same time period. All told, Xi and Putin have met 12 times, making Putin the foreign head of state whom Xi has met most frequently since assuming the presidency.
For all this progress, differences still exist between the two neighbors, and they don’t always share the same focus when it comes to foreign policy. Russia is traditionally oriented toward Europe, whereas China is more concerned with Asia. The two countries’ diplomatic styles differ as well. Russia is more experienced on the global theater, and it tends to favor strong, active, and often surprising diplomatic maneuvers. Chinese diplomacy, in contrast, is more reactive and cautious.
China’s rise has produced discomfort among some in Russia, where some people have had difficulty adjusting to the shift in relative power between China and Russia. There is still talk in Russia of “the China threat,” a holdover expression from past eras. A poll conducted in 2008 by Russia’s Public Opinion Foundation showed that around 60 percent of Russians were concerned that Chinese migration to Far Eastern border areas would threaten Russia’s territorial integrity; 41 percent believed that a stronger China would harm Russian interests. And as China’s quest for new investment and trade opportunities abroad has led to increased Chinese cooperation with former Soviet states, Russians have worried that China is competing for influence in their neighborhood. Partly as a result, Moscow initially hesitated to support Beijing’s Silk Road Economic Belt initiative before ultimately embracing it in 2014. Meanwhile, some Chinese continue to nurse historical grievances regarding Russia. Despite the resolution of the border issue, Chinese commentators sometimes make critical references to the nearly 600,000 square miles of Chinese territory that tsarist Russia annexed in the late nineteenth century.
By Chip Berlet,
The candidacy of Donald Trump has prompted a vigorous public debate over whether or not Trump is flirting with fascism. Some analysts suggest his political dance partner is leading him to the tune of right-wing populism. Other analysts say Trump’s marriage to fascism already has been consummated. Either way, Trump is stomping on the dance floor of democracy in a way that could collapse it into splinters. It’s a “scary moment for those of us who seek to defend civil rights, civil liberties, and democracy itself,” warns political analyst Noam Chomsky.1
Back in 2010 Chomsky started lecturing about the collapse of the Weimar Republic in Germany into the abyss of Hitler’s totalitarian Nazism.2 There are parallels to our current political climate than need to be examined cautiously, even though conditions in the U.S. are not nearly as bad as those faced by the Weimar Republic.
Is it really fair to suggest Trump—neofascist or not—poses a danger to civil society itself, as occurred in Germany at the end of the Weimar Republic? A review of Trump’s rhetoric makes this a legitimate question. Trump keeps gaining ground. As New York Daily News columnist Shaun King wrote in November:
For nearly six straight months, no matter how racist, sexist, anti-immigrant, or anti-Muslim Trump gets, he has maintained his lead in the polls. In fact, from all indications, it appears the more his public talk resembles that of a white supremacist, the more rabid and entrenched his support gets.3
The examples of Trump’s fascist-sounding rhetoric are numerous. In June, Trump tweeted, “I love the Mexican people, but Mexico is not our friend. They’re killing us at the border and they’re killing us on jobs and trade. FIGHT!”4 In July Trump falsely asserted, “The Mexican Government is forcing their most unwanted people into the United States. They are, in many cases, criminals, drug dealers, rapists, etc.”5
Trump’s sexism was displayed at the Republican debate on August 6 when he was asked by Fox News reporter Megyn Kelly about referring to women as “fat pigs, dogs, slobs and disgusting animals.” Trump later attacked Kelly on CNN, saying, “You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes. Blood coming out of her wherever.” The London Guardian reported that the “insinuation that Kelly was menstruating crossed a line for organisers of the Red State Gathering, a conservative event featuring GOP presidential hopefuls.” That group cancelled an appearance by Trump.6
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David Harvey: ‘The Left Has to Rethink Its Theoretical and Tactical Apparatus.’
FROM ROAR MAGAZINE. David Harvey, one of the leading Marxist thinkers of our times, sits down with the activist collective AK Malabocas to discuss the transformations in the mode of capital accumulation, the centrality of the urban terrain in contemporary class struggles, and the implications of all this for anti-capitalist organizing.
AK Malabocas: In the last forty years, the mode of capital accumulation has changed globally. What do these changes mean for the struggle against capitalism?
David Harvey: From a macro-perspective, any mode of production tends to generate a very distinctive kind of opposition, which is a curious mirrored image of itself. If you look back to the 1960s or 1970s, when capital was organized in big corporatist, hierarchical forms, you had oppositional structures that were corporatist, unionist kinds of political apparatuses. In other words, a Fordist system generated a Fordist kind of opposition.
With the breakdown of this form of industrial organization, particularly in the advanced capitalist countries, you ended up with a much more decentralized configuration of capital: more fluid over space and time than previously thought. At the same time we saw the emergence of an opposition that is about networking and decentralization and that doesn’t like hierarchy and the previous Fordist forms of opposition.
So, in a funny sort of way, the leftists reorganize themselves in the same way capital accumulation is reorganized. If we understand that the left is a mirror image of what we are criticizing, then maybe what we should do is to break the mirror and get out of this symbiotic relationship with what we are criticizing.
In the Fordist era, the factory was the main site of resistance. Where can we find it now that capital has moved away from the factory floor towards the urban terrain?
First of all, the factory-form has not disappeared—you still find factories in Bangladesh or in China. What is interesting is how the mode of production in the core cities changed. For example, the logistics sector has undergone a huge expansion: UPS, DHL and all of these delivery workers are producing enormous values nowadays.
In the last decades, a huge shift has occurred in the service sector as well: the biggest employers of labor in the 1970s in the US were General Motors, Ford and US Steel. The biggest employers of labor today are McDonalds, Kentucky Fried Chicken and Walmart. Back then, the factory was the center of the working class, but today we find the working class mainly in the service sector. And why would we say that producing cars is more important than producing hamburgers?
Unfortunately the left is not comfortable with the idea of organizing fast-food workers. Its picture of the classical working class doesn’t fit with value production of the service workers, the delivery workers, the restaurant workers, the supermarket workers.
The proletariat did not disappear, but there is a new proletariat which has very different characteristics from the traditional one the left used to identify as the vanguard of the working class. In this sense, the McDonalds workers became the steel workers of the twenty-first century
If this is what the new proletariat is about, where are the places to organize resistance now?
It’s very difficult to organize in the workplaces. For example, delivery drivers are moving all over the place. So this population could maybe be better organized outside the working place, meaning in their neighborhood structures.
There is already an interesting phrase in Gramsci’s work from 1919 saying that organizing in the workplace and having workplace councils is all well, but we should have neighborhood councils, too. And the neighborhood councils, he said, have a better understanding of what the conditions of the whole working class are compared to the sectoral understanding of workplace organizing.
Workplace organizers used to know very well what a steelworker was, but they didn’t understand what the proletariat was about as a whole. The neighborhood organization would then include for example the street cleaners, the house workers, the delivery drivers. Gramsci never really took this up and said: ‘come on, the Communist Party should organize neighborhood assemblies!’
Nevertheless, there are a few exceptions in the European context where Communist Parties did in fact organize neighborhood councils—because they couldn’t organize in the workplace, like in Spain for example. In the 1960s this was a very powerful form of organizing. Therefore—as I have argued for a very long time—we should look at the organization of neighborhoods as a form of class organization. Gramsci only mentioned it once in his writings and he never pursued it further.
In Britain in the 1980s, there were forms of organizing labor in city-wide platforms on the basis of trades councils, which were doing what Gramsci suggested. But within the union movement these trades councils were always regarded as inferior forms of organizing labor. They were never treated as being foundational to how the union movement should operate.
In fact, it turned out that the trades councils were often much more radical than the conventional trade unions and that was because they were rooted in the conditions of the whole working class, not only the often privileged sectors of the working-class. So, to the extent that they had a much broader definition of the working class, the trades councils tended to have much more radical politics. But this was never valorized by the trade union movement in general—it was always regarded as a space where the radicals could play.
The advantages of this form of organizing are obvious: it overcomes the split between sectoral organizing, it includes all kinds of “deterritorialized” labor, and it is very suitable to new forms of community and assembly-based organization, as Murray Bookchin was advocating, for example.
In the recent waves of protest—in Spain and Greece, for instance, or in the Occupy movement—you can find this idea of “localizing resistance.” It seems that these movements tend to organize around issues of everyday life, rather than the big ideological questions that the traditional left used to focus on.
Why would you say that organizing around everyday life is not one of the big questions? I think it is one of the big questions. More than half of the world’s population lives in cities, and everyday life in cities is what people are exposed to and have their difficulties in. These difficulties reside as much in the sphere of the realization of value as in the sphere of the production of value.
This is one of my very important theoretical arguments: everybody reads Volume I of Capital and nobody reads Volume II. Volume I is about the production of value, Volume II is about the realization of value. Focusing on Volume II, you clearly see that the conditions of realization are just as important as the conditions of production.