An blog by a member of the Catholic peace movement, Pax Christi, to explore the nexus between contemplation and resistance. "The Christian must discover in contemplation, and in the giving of his life, those symbolic actions which will ignite the people's faith to resist injustice with their whole lives, lives coming together as a united force of truth and thus releasing the liberating power of the God within them." - James Douglass, Contemplation and Resistance.

Friday, February 19, 2010

The Fierce Urgency of Now

Raya Dunayevskaya - the founder of Marxist Humanism and a guiding light for those who dream of a rational and humane world.

Our intention is to help build a revolutionary movement that will end the current corporatist domination of all aspects of modern life. In particular, the government's role as handmaid to the corporate agenda must end. There are many current models that we can look toward for inspiration and guidance. Venezuela is one such model where the principles of social control of production are being implemented with great success. On the theoretical side, thinkers such as Micheal Albert are establishing a set of realistic, practical principles for participatory economics and democracy (see for some easy to understand articles on this philosophy). Many others could be named as well.

These voices are rarely heard on Common Dreams or most other liberal blogs such as the Daily Kos or truthdig. The reason is, I believe, that they remain dedicated to the job of restoring the original vision of American democracy. The American Revolution was a great vision and one that I believe in, but it overlooked certain elements without which it could never succeed. Specifically, the founding fathers did not understand that private control over the means of production would eventually lead us to the situation we see today in which democracy is effectively neutered. We are living in a "managed democracy" to use Sheldon Wolin's term (check out his book Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism ). Essentially, this means that while corporations purport to honor democracy, they so corrupt and manipulate the levers of power as to make democracy impossible.

Most of the authors that appear on these web sites would strongly agree with the latter sentiment. Where I differ from some of them is that I don't see a solution within the current system. I don't think there is a legislative solution, for instance. FDR passed strong legislation in the 1930s that put controls on the unmitigated greed that led to the Great Depression, but today virtually all of those regulations have been either rescinded or openly ignored because of corporate power. Notice that Obama isn't even trying to bring them back. In this, he may be wiser than some of his Democratic critics. As I've often posted on CD, Obama has a very realistic sense of power relations. He understands what his corporate masters want and how far he can go in deviating from those guidelines. The sad answer is not much.

With a few exceptions such as Chris Hedges, the liberal writers on these sites call for surface modifications of the old society instead of taking a stand for the establishment of a new society. They ask the powers that be to reform capitalism so that it is more humane, while remaining lucrative for the few. Such a project is futile. In the words of Frederick Douglass, "Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will." Their vision doesn't go far enough - they want to get rid of the abuses of capitalism without getting rid of capitalism itself. Capitalism will always revert to savagery because that is the nature of this beast.

Some might think this is too pessimistic, but I don't agree. There is actually a hidden core of optimism in this idea that I believe could lead to a second American Revolution. But before I get to that, let me explain further why I don't believe that capitalism can be reformed. The fundamental purpose of a corporation is to make profit and to do it in a way that allows it to gain an advantage over its rivals. Executives who fail to make the ruthless decisions required to make more profit no matter what the social or moral cost, will be replaced by others who don't have such quibbles. The simple reason for this is that they will bring more profit to their shareholders. This is not a hidden conspiracy, but a universally acknowledged fact.

The inherent dynamic of the corporation is to accumulate more and more capital without limit. This is what keeps the system alive. Without this constant forward motion, the system starts to weaken and die. While pundits rail about individual greed such as Bernie Madoff's, they will never acknowledge that such greed is actually the grease that keeps the system lubricated and efficient. Members of our economic system are greedy not because of eternal human nature, but because we live within an economic system that requires greed to stay healthy. The distinction that many writers make between Main Street and Wall Street, the productive economy and the parasites that bleed it dry, is a false one designed to legitimize the whole system. Greed, excessive consumerism, and privatizing profit while socializing loss is part of what it makes it work.

So, is that it? With no hope for reform, are we doomed to inverted totalitarianism? Not at all. Mankind finds itself in a spiritual and material cul-de-sac, as it has in the past. This time we are facing the absolute limits of the material nature on which our life depends. There is an inherent contradiction between ever-expanding accumulation and the fragile ecologies that provide us with everything necessary for life. Scientists of the highest reputation now agree that global warming is caused by human-based emissions and that the planet's ability to sustain life is rapidly eroding. We are now in the midst of an irreversible ecological crisis that will force a material change on the current economic system. Our job is to transform that material change into a demand for a new kind of society.

While capitalism appears all powerful today, it is actually a deeply flawed system that is currently displaying fatal weaknesses. Even on its own terms of promoting prosperity for the many, it has failed miserably. Far from being efficient, capitalism is the most wasteful system the world has ever seen. It destroys resources, both natural and human, without any regard for moral or even material values in the case of its insane destruction of the forests that produce the air we breathe. Billions of creative and intelligent people find their whole lives wasted with unemployment or jobs that use a tiny fraction of their real potential. Billions also starve, die from preventable diseases and live in violence and squalor while rich countries throw away 40% of all food produced.

Paradoxically, the monopolization of the capitalist system may be creating the most favorable opportunity in generations to expropriate it. Back in the 1960s, when the inherent monopolistic tendency of capitalism was held in check to some extent, you would have had to take over thousands of companies in order to plan the economy. Today, a takeover of the top 150 companies would suffice to control the vast majority of the world's resources. Thus, the corporate monsters that have seized control over so much human and natural wealth have set the stage for their own demise.

The same scientific planning which already takes place inside these corporations could be applied to the entire publicly owned economy. The results would be epic. There would be full employment with decent wages for every single human being on the planet, with much left over to reduce labor time and inaugurate a renaissance of humanistic values. Without the waste inherent to capitalist production, the cost of production would be cut and the price of goods dramatically reduced. Affordable housing, free healthcare and education could be provided for all. And that would only be the beginning.

So we see that stepping outside a failed system is far from a pessimistic stand, but the only basis for a real optimism. I hope you'll join us."

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

The Power Elite

One of the most widespread illusions propagated by media left and right is that politicians have a great deal of actual power to make changes. This illusion serves many useful purposes. It hides, however, the truth that at the very least several decades, politicians, including Presidents, have become mid-level functionaries in the power elite, essentially go-fers, not go-tos for that elite.

It's also important to understand that this is not a conspiracy theory. Conspiracy theories are a distraction from the study of the real power relations that exist in this country. Pointing out the class nature of American society is not equivalent to a "conspiracy theory." The inability to distinguish the two concepts is part of the stupidity which David Michael Green points out so ably in his recent article, "Just Gimme Some Truth.

"The rise of the elite, as we have already made clear, was not and could not have been caused by a plot; and the tenability of the conception does not rest upon the existence of any secret or any publicly known organization." - C. Wright Mills

However, mass stupidity doesn't just happen by chance. Green seems to think that if only we could get back to good old liberalism of FDR and Obama could throw a few punches like Harry Truman that we would be on the road to recovery. His astonishment at Obama's slow learning curve could be quickly overcome if he would drop the illusion of democracy and realize that we live in a managed democracy, as Sheldon Wolin put it. The sickness is much deeper than he suspects.