It’s important to make a distinction between workers who produce surplus value and service employees, because the entire capitalist economy rests on the surplus value generated in the production of commodities. This is the only new value produced in capitalist society, and it is generated in the labor process itself, as the worker is making physical commodities that can be bought and sold. That’s what exploitation is: taking this value produced by the worker.
↓ Read the rest of this entry…
Archive for ‘Essays/Ideas’
Here’s an article I wrote for Salty Eggs.
Our worst nightmares reverberate with the prediction of respected scientist James Hansen: if we don’t stop TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline, then it’s “game over” for stabilizing the climate. With final US governmental approval (or not) to complete the pipeline looming, struggle over it is intensifying.
In late January, representatives from more than 25 First Nations in what is currently known as Canada and the US met in South Dakota to pledge mutual support in halting all Alberta tar sands oil production projects, including specifically the Keystone XL pipeline.
On February 17, tens of thousands rallied in Washington, DC, to demand that the Obama administration reject the XL pipeline. Even the members of the Sierra Club were sufficiently alarmed that the staid ENGO had to lift its 120-year ban on civil disobedience.
↓ Read the rest of this entry…
This is the text of the talk I gave at the Left Forum last weekend in NYC:
* * *
Environmental destruction is the most urgent and immediate problem we face. If we don’t solve it, nothing else will matter. I would argue that it’s the principle contradiction of the current period. Through it, the common ruin of contending classes is becoming increasingly likely, but as the economic and ecological crises converge, the possibility of liberation and social transformation also opens up. But only if we organize to make that happen.
The problem is accelerating because of capital’s constant need to expand into new areas. They have entered a period of extreme extraction, on a scale never before seen: fracking, oil from tar sands and deep sea drilling, mountaintop removal. Because of the falling rate of profit, capitalism can never economically catch up with itself and must constantly break through its limits in a vain attempt to resolve its own inherent internal contradiction.
Feudalism and all forms of class society have had internal contradictions that drove them to expand. But capitalism has taken this to a new level, because instead of just requiring more resources to continue existing (to feed an expanding agrarian population, for example), it requires constant growth of production to expand for its own sake. The needs of the population aren’t the point, and commodities aren’t even the point — accumulating surplus-value to expand capital itself is the entire point. This is what pushes it to exceed limits on a scale previously unimaginable.
↓ Read the rest of this entry…
In 2005, Hurricane Wilma crossed over South Florida. The destruction was substantial. A telephone/electric pole lay across my back yard, its transformer trailing wires. Most of a large tree had come down on my neighbor’s roof. Branches were everywhere. Bits of the corrugated fiberglass roof of a plant nursery littered the ground ten blocks away. The electricity stayed off for eleven days. The municipal water supply stayed off for three.
I still had to go to work. As I made my way around town on my bike in the following days, I saw a difference in the way the people of my neighborhood and the people of the next neighborhood over handled their respective difficulties.
In the best of times, my neighborhood – mostly populated by short-term renters who were only around when not out working on boats for weeks or months on end – enjoyed little-to-no social cohesion. Few people even recognized each other as neighbors. Each was generally on his or her own.
Residents made a rather pathetic scene as they used soda cans to scoop water from street puddles into plastic kitchen garbage bins, to use for flushing toilets. The general mood was testy. It was hot and humid. Everyone was sweaty, with no showering in the foreseeable future, and food was rapidly spoiling. A fight broke out at a nearby gas station over ice.
Did I mention that it was hot? It was hot. The air was heavy with moisture steaming from the soaked ground. And of course there was no salvation to be had from fans or air conditioners. So everyone opened their windows wide and prayed for a breeze.
The first night, the guy who lived behind me ran a generator. Lying on my bed in the dark (bored to tears, no light to read by), I waited for the roar to end. By 2 a.m., I realized it wasn’t going to stop. All hope of sleep died in a spasm of frustrated rage.
The next day I saw him cleaning up his yard. I didn’t want to start the conversation by accusing him of self-centered jerkitude – I assumed the best of intentions. “I noticed your generator was on all night. Do you have some sort of medication you need to keep cold, or…?”
“Nah, I wanted to watch the game,” he replied.
“Well,” I ventured, “It’s very noisy, and I’m sure I’m not the only person around here who can’t sleep when it’s running. Would you mind turning it off at a reasonable time? Midnight, say? I have to get up early in the mornings to go to work.”
He glared. He turned away. His generator ran all night, every night, for the next ten nights.
In response, I could do nothing but seethe. There was no law against running generators. He was bigger than me, and he didn’t care about the needs of anyone else. (I fantasized at great length about smashing his generator with rocks, a bat, or a barrage of bullets, but because I had complained he would have known instantly who’d done it, and was I prepared to go to war with him if he came for revenge? I decided not.)
* * *
Contrast this with the neighborhood next to mine. Long-time residents with families. People knew one another by sight, at least, probably because they were always out walking their dogs or jogging.
By the second morning, as I passed through, I saw a small group of people talking in the park. I didn’t stop.
On the third day, I saw them again. The group was larger than the day before. They had a sign board set up. One man was gesturing toward it, and announcing something to the others. I stopped to listen.
They were having a meeting. They were working things out.
The man told his neighbors that the sign board was there for them to exchange messages with one another in the absence of phone service. They could post requests for things they needed, and those who wanted to help could do so. They could combine forays to the store to save gas. They could share food that would otherwise spoil. Each morning, they were to have a meeting to address their concerns.
One person said, “There’s someone on my block who runs a generator all night.”
Several people grumbled – they too had been disturbed by this. One declared, “We have to make a rule: unless it’s an emergency, no generators after 10 p.m.”
So they made a rule. A small committee formed instantly, volunteering to have a chat with the offender. The neighborhood had spoken.
* * *
I learned several lessons from this:
1) A group of people can meet each other’s needs together much more efficiently than individuals can meet their own needs separately.
2) Cranky self-centered jerks respond better to social pressure than to individual complaints.
3) For a group of people to be organized in a common effort, it takes just one person to decide to take responsibility for initiating it.
4) If no one does that, it won’t happen by itself.
5) Once that first person steps up, then it’s not that hard to persuade others to cooperate in a mutually beneficial endeavor. They want to do it.
6) It’s good to get to know your neighbors before crisis hits.
People coming into political motion often take a look at the field of activity on the Left and shake their heads. “Why are there so many small, disunited groups?” they ask. “Why can’t they get along and work together?”
Line differences within groups have come from practice, or responses to the practice of others. At certain points in history the line differences are worth splitting up over, because they lead to qualitatively different further practice. Sections of groups part ways because each believes their way is correct and the other way is going to lead to failure.
But most of the sects that exist today emerged out of a previous era of struggle, and their differences are rooted in the past. Many of the questions that were once crucial and defining, are irrelevant to people coming into political life today. They don’t want to (and shouldn’t have to) go through a long list of historical verdicts and ideological points that they have to agree with to join a group. It’s too hard – what if they agree on 60% or 80% but can’t come to agreement on the rest? Then they’d either have to suppress their differences and join anyway, or would have to form another sect with that minor difference as the distinction between them.
Instead, now people are seeking to organize new groups from the ground up, with people who generally agree on current issues and basic goals, and are willing to figure out the rest as needed.
This is why, I think, there are so many small collectives starting everywhere. People coming into political life for the first time, or getting back into it after a long break, or coming out of some of these sects, are figuring out what they think about our current conditions. They are putting aside the impulse to form verdicts on historical questions, and starting over.
This doesn’t mean they don’t learn from previous struggles. People are studying — not to just appropriate a finished system of thought in the abstract, but creatively, in order to see how others approached similar problems in different times and places, and to find solutions and methods that can help today. It’s great that they’re starting fresh, because when people define their own theories, ideologies and political lines, then they’re rooted in their own experiences, observations, and emotions. The ideas become an integral part of the people, who then become an integral part of a movement, in a way that can’t happen if they come in and rely solely on the previous work of others. The creative process of articulating beliefs and forming principles, incorporating what makes sense from past lessons, and testing what parts of the new mix works and what doesn’t, is part of the liveliness of an emerging movement.
The people coming into motion today don’t see the need to divide themselves along the same lines, or down to the same level of detail as those who have been around a long time — though divisions are still there based on very broad historical verdicts and deep scars. For example, in recent decades I haven’t noticed anyone refuse to work with someone who has a different opinion on Enver Hoxha’s break with Mao. Most people don’t know or care about it. On the other hand, many anarchists still feel betrayed by communists because of the Spanish Civil War and other blunders and won’t even consider working with them, or will only with extreme wariness and some expression of regret on the part of the reds.
Splits form along new lines: anarchists are splitting over being vegan or omnivore. Deep green environmentalists demarcate themselves from technotopians. Anti-war activists congeal into mutually frosty camps around whether or not to express support for the rulers of countries being attacked by the U.S.
So the splits and divides are more (not always, but much more) based on issues and events that are occurring and relevant today.
It’s like ecological succession. The groups that emerged from the 1960s are mature, solid, complex organisms. They’ve been through a lot and grown into big trees. The new collectives emerging everywhere are pioneer species, like the small plants that spring up on damaged ground, fast-growing and highly adaptive, but fragile and less formed. Some will be short-lived and not very well-defined. They’ll prepare the ground for stronger plants to take root and become established.
A revolutionary situation will require a lot of different kinds of forces working in tandem. Like in an ecosystem, there is strength in diversity, and a particular role for all of these types of groups in relation to the others. We should cooperate as much as possible. The elders of the movement have experience and wisdom. The new people have fresh views and energy. We should appreciate both, and all be learning from one another.
[edited 5/10/11: added #42, combined #23 & #26. Edited again 5/13: added #31, combined #26 and #27, changed wording of #35]
by Stephanie McMillan
The people of the United States are currently unprepared to seize a revolutionary moment. We must fix that.
How can we raise our levels of revolutionary consciousness, organization and struggle?
1) Raise consciousness with the purpose of building organization and raising the level of struggle.
2) Investigate before forming opinions. Research how the world and the system function.
3) Read foundational and historical works about revolution, by those who have participated in and led them.
4) Analyze the system’s current condition and trajectory.
5) Learn about the resistance, uprisings and revolutions going on in the world today.
6) Read the material that currently active groups are issuing and discussing.
7) Continuously develop, elaborate upon and refine principles, theories and strategies for our movement.
8. Raise our voices. Articulate revolutionary ideas, and give them a public presence.
9) Listen and speak in the spirit of mutual clarification.
10) Participate in discussion, to develop our ideas and hone our skills in expressing them, and to help others do so.
11) Figure out how to use all our various talents, positions, energy and resources as effectively as possible, to expose the system’s evil, irredeemable and unreformable nature.
12) Analyze and explain the many ways the system dominates and exploits.
13) Stand with the dominated, exploited, invaded, colonized, threatened and oppressed.
14) Display a revolutionary spirit and celebrate it in others.
15) Exercise patience in winning over reluctant potential allies and supporters.
16) Ridicule and discredit the enemy.
17) Create revolutionary culture. Make videos and art, speak, sing, and write blogs, books, comments, leaflets, rhymes, stories, and articles about the enemy s crimes and the people s resistance.
18) Exchange ideas locally, nationally and (within the law or safe channels) globally.
19) Encourage others to participate in the revolutionary process.
20) Organize as a way to raise consciousness more broadly and to build struggle.
21) Start with people we know.
22) If our friends discourage us, make new friends.
23) Network sensibly with people online. Find local people online who express similar ideas, and meet with them.
24) Find a group that we basically agree with. Work with it.
25) If there’s no local group we want to work with, start one.
26) Write a leaflet with contact info. Pass it out in public to find potential comrades.
27) When we meet people, assess our points of agreement. If we agree on basic essentials, decide how to work together. If not, say goodbye for now.
28) Build strong ties locally and nationally, and build solidarity globally.
29) Define allies according to overall outlook and goals.
30) Don’t let secondary differences prevent cooperation. Handle differences between allies non-antagonistically.
31) Do not tolerate oppressive (sexist, racist, homophobic etc.) dynamics within the movement. Confront their expression and put a stop to it.
32) Refrain from saying anything aloud, on the phone or electronically that we wouldn’t want to hear played back in court.
33) Keep illegal drugs away from our political life.
34) Research and practice good security culture.
35) Prioritize the wellbeing of our organizations over personal benefit.
36) Ready our ranks to seize on any breaks in the legitimacy of the system.
37) Use struggle to spread revolutionary consciousness and build organization.
38) Collectively determine what we want, and declare our demands.
39) Act as far as possible within our capacity, not either beyond or below our capacity.
40) Continuously strive to expand and consolidate our capacity and strength.
41) Assert our rights and our responsibilities.
42) Bring our revolutionary perspective into struggles already occurring.
43) Defend, support, and encourage our allies.
44) As opportunities arise, weaken the enemy and its ability to rule.
45) Obey the small laws. Don t get taken out of the game for something unworthy.
46) For illegal acts, make sure you can trust your comrades with your life and the lives of everyone connected to you.
47) Avoid being distracted and diverted into symbolic action-for-action’s sake.
48) Don t expect the enemy to act against its nature. It has no mercy and can not be reasoned with.
49) Turn every attack by the enemy into an opportunity to speak out, organize, and grow more powerful.
50) Be willing to work hard. Be smart. Be brave. Remember we re all in this together.
Global capitalism is the economic system that dominates the planet. It runs on the exploitation of human labor to turn the living world into dead commodities, for the profit of a few. The small, powerful minority who own the means of production enforce their dominance through their control over political and cultural institutions, and their monopoly on force. They create a situation of dependency – forcing us to work for them to obtain basic needs like food and shelter. They annihilate those who resist or refuse to assimilate.
This system values profit over life itself. It has been built on land theft and destruction, genocide, slavery, deforestation and imperialist wars. It commits numberless atrocities as a matter of routine daily functioning. It kills 2.4 million children worldwide under age 5 each year by withholding adequate nutrition. It kills 100,000 people annually in the US by denying decent health care. More than 54% of the US discretionary budget is spent on perpetrating imperialist aggression, and recent casualties include more than a million civilians in Iraq, and more than 46,000 American soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq. Aside from outright murder, the economic and psychological violence wrought upon the world’s inhabitants is so extensive and comprehensive that it’s effectively all-encompassing.
The system is killing the entire planet, the basis for all life. It’s converted 98% of old growth forests into lumber. 80% of rivers worldwide no longer support life. 94% of the large fish in the oceans are gone. Phytoplankton, the tiny plants that produce half of the oxygen we breathe, have declined by 40% since 1950. 120 species per day become extinct.
Industries produce 400 million tons of hazardous waste every year. Recently, the water in 89% of US cities tested has been found to contain the carcinogen hexavalent chromium. To feed capitalism’s insatiable need for economic expansion, increasingly dangerous methods of energy extraction are being perpetrated: deep sea drilling, oil extraction from tar sands, fracking. No matter the consequences, no matter what the majority of people may want, those in power insist on (and enforce) their non-negotiable right to poison the land, water and air in pursuit of maximum profit.
The threat to our common existence on Earth is accelerating and intensifying. This is a situation of extreme urgency.
Clearly, a global economic system based on perpetual growth is unsustainable. A system characterized by oppression and coercion is pure misery for the majority. The obvious conclusion is that we need to get rid of it, and change to a way of life that doesn’t involve exploitation and ecocide. But first we must face one hard fact: this system won’t stop unless it’s stopped. It can not be escaped, reformed, redeemed, cajoled, abandoned, or rejected. It must be fought, defeated and dismantled.
The global economy is currently falling deeper into a convergence of deep crises. This presents us with a rare opportunity to build resistance. More than an opportunity, this is also a necessity, and our responsibility. This situation is crying out for action.
Yet our movement is weak and fragmented, unable to adequately respond. Our habitual modes of opposition (like protests and demonstrations) no longer seem to work in the ways they once did, and we are unsure how to best proceed. Currently there is no organizational formation that is capable of engaging this situation on the scale that is required. Yet there are countless individuals and small groups who, though we may disagree on much, share the desire for a sustainable, classless alternative to this omnicidal system.
If we are to survive, we must develop ways to work together to combat global capitalism and its crimes, and ultimately bring it down. Individually we are weak and ineffective; together we can be strong. We must build a movement that embraces our political and ideological diversity, and our independent autonomy, while creating mechanisms for common and complementary action. The struggles to end all forms of domination, oppression and ecocide are intertwined. If we can unite our energies, we will increase our chances for success.
Let’s unite and organize to destroy global capitalism, before it destroys us.
PARTIAL TRANSCRIPT OF CONVERSATION
Oct. 20, 2010
Participants: Victoria Guinea Pig, Kranti and Javier
Kranti: I’m willing to do *anything* to save the planet. But nothing works. The system keeps winning.
Victoria Guinea Pig: Failure is not an option. The system can not be permitted to kill the planet. You must stop it.
Kranti: But everything we try to do is ineffective.
Victoria Guinea Pig: Well. To be effective, you start with a goal. You have that already: save the planet. What is your overall strategy?
(Kranti and Javier look at each other, blankly).
Victoria Guinea Pig: How do you think the planet can be saved?
Kranti: By smashing capitalism. Duh.
Victoria Guinea Pig: How do you think you can defeat a whole global economic system? A system with a monopoly on laws, police, armies, wealth, productive capacity, as well as cultural and political institutions?
Kranti: Um… we keep attacking it from all sides until it falls to its knees, cries like a baby and surrenders?
Javier: All by ourselves? We can’t do it alone, Kranti.
Kranti: Plenty of people all over the world are doing it. Look at MEND. They’re small but managed to force a 40% reduction in oil production in Nigeria. Look at the Greek anarchists. The revolution in Nepal. The Naxalites in India. Look at… um. There are a lot we don’t even know about.
Javier: But in the US there are too few. To attack from within the center of the Empire, we need some kind of movement here. Without at least some public support, we’re toast.
Kranti: Let someone else organize it. I hate working with people. Everyone’s stupid! They think politicians will listen to them. They think it makes a difference if they drive a hybrid car or use Sierra Club-endorsed bleach. They believe we’ll invent magical technology that will use no energy, sequester CO2 and bring everyone extinct back to life while still keeping all the air conditioners running. I don’t want to waste my time with the ideologically challenged.
Victoria Guinea Pig: People are not stupid. Propaganda has brainwashed them. After armed forces, culture and information are two of the system’s most effective weapons. People’s thinking is shaped by whatever system they live under.
Javier: We could start a study group…
Kranti: Please don’t ask me to embark on a long-term educational campaign. The planet doesn’t have time. Also: booor-ing!
Victoria Guinea Pig: Fortunately reality has a way of asserting itself. Especially in times of crisis. Many people are searching for real answers and ways to act effectively. Like you.
Kranti: So what should we target next? Something that will put a stop to commerce! Oil is the blood of the economy… how about we take out an oil pipeline? Are there any around here? There have to be! But to find out, we’d have to search online, and then they could track our searches and know who did it…
Javier: Wait –
Victoria Guinea Pig: You’re getting way ahead of yourself. I understand the urgency of the situation and your frustration. But you’re running ahead without a strategy. You can’t make a plan without a strategy. And you can’t decide on tactics before you even have a plan!
Kranti: I have passion! I don’t need anything else.
Javier: Passion wasn’t enough for the Red Army Faction. It wasn’t enough for the Weather Underground. It won’t be enough for you.
Kranti: I hate that.
Javier: When I disagree with you?
Kranti: When you’re right.
Victoria Guinea Pig: A strategy is determined by the goal. You want to stop the destruction of the planet.
Victoria Guinea Pig: You conclude that capitalism is responsible for its destruction.
Kranti: Anyone with eyes can see that.
Javier: Actually, a lot of people think that capitalism can *solve* environmental destruction, that the free market will spur the development of technological solutions to global warming….um…I mean…
Kranti: Javier. Are you kidding me? Are these words really coming out of your mouth?
Javier: I’m not saying *I* believe that. I just want to start with the basics…
Kranti: I don’t think we have to start with “Why Capitalism Is Bad 101” here. We have big wet mushy organs called brains. If preserving the Earth was profitable, they would have done it already. They wouldn’t be killing it in the first place. You can’t have an economy based on growth on a finite planet. It has to go. It’s simple, logical reality. Why do I even need to say this to you?
Victoria Guinea Pig: Actually, we do need to start with “Why Capitalism is Bad 101.” (She hands them each a book). Read chapter four.
Kranti (examining the book’s cover): “Heads Will Roll.” Hey. I didn’t know you wrote a book.
Victoria Guinea Pig: There’s much about me that you don’t know.
Javier: Victoria has many secrets.
(Victoria and Kranti stare at Javier).
Victoria: The first principle of war is to know your enemy. How well do you really understand capitalism?
Kranti: Enough to know it’s my enemy.
Victoria: But if you understand all its mechanisms, you can understand its weak points. From there, you can figure out a strategy. Take the books with you. We’ll discuss that chapter next week.
Here is something I wrote for the blog of the Amsterdam-based VJ (Video-Journalism) Movement.
* * *
When I draw editorial cartoons, I want them to do one or both of two things: expose the system and encourage resistance. In this era, when life on this planet is being systematically killed and converted into profit, and human beings are crushed by exploitation and oppression, to make a principle of creating apolitical art is worse than useless. In fact, in a time of acute crisis, there is no such thing as apolitical art. Whatever the intention of the artist, art that does not promote resistance (overtly or tacitly), in effect supports the status quo.
Purely decorative art does have its appropriate place and time: a time of peace, harmony and sustainability. Unfortunately, we don’t live in such a time. Today, the world cries out for a culture of resistance, art that contributes to building a movement to fight back. We are in a state of emergency, and conditions demand that artists (and everyone else, for that matter) be engaged in the process of putting an end to this system and transforming society.
Editorial cartoons are by nature critical. When asked why his work is always negative, one cartoonist points out that “a positive cartoon is called a greeting card.” I would add that a neutral cartoon is actually an illustration. The function of editorial cartoons is to attack and subvert those in power and their official pronouncements (which are, inevitably in class society, lies).
Editorial cartoons may not often be radical, and are rarely revolutionary, but if they are good, they are always oppositional. This is true even in parts of the world where open opposition is a death sentence. Under such conditions, a cartoonist’s opposition may be subtle or concealed, but it is always there. Readers perceive this. It is the reason readers love them.
Editorial cartoons reveal truths about current events and politics while making the reader laugh, usually in bitter recognition. The form – an image in a box, with or without a bit of text – forces the message to be pared down to its minimal essence. When done well, a cartoon reaches the reader’s consciousness with instant clarification, turning a previously complex or obscured concept into something now obvious.
I have often used the phrase “resistance through ridicule.” When we use humor to expose absurdity and hypocrisy, and inspire our readers to laugh at those in power, then we help our readers to be less afraid. When our respect for the powerful switches to contempt, we can better imagine them toppling from their lofty positions. We can imagine toppling them ourselves.
Someone asked me this question (on Kasama, here: http://kasamaproject.org/2010/08/25/our-planet-our-people-are-not-expendable/):
“Obviously the destruction [of the planet] already occurring hasn’t been enough to bring us to the tipping point [of resistance]. What will it take for the masses to unite behind an effective solution?”
* * *
“What will it take?” is something I wonder about all the time. How far does the murder of the planet have to go? Do we really have to be starving and gasping for breath before we break through denial? We’re almost at that point now, and denial is still rampant.
Part of the problem is that most people in this culture don’t have any idea how to live without industrial production — without water from the tap, without food from grocery stores. If the only source of basic necessities is this system, and people don’t know any other way to live, then they will continue to defend the system that provides them.
It’s like the demand for jobs. In the context of this society, most of us can’t live without jobs, though they’re the arena in which our exploitation takes place. So until we understand that the whole system must be done away with, and until we can live some other way, we end up demanding that the system provide more jobs.
I saw a TV program where someone showed common vegetables (eggplant, tomato, etc) to schoolchildren, and none of them could identify them. In the last couple generations, most of us have lost the ability to grow food (even when we can still identify it). More importantly, most people have no access to land.
A lot of people argue that we should form communes, permaculture “eco-villages,” community gardens and so on to serve as examples of how we could live sustainably. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with doing those things, but they’re not going to be what’s needed to defeat this system.
There were many cultures who used to live sustainably on this continent, and they’ve been systematically all but wiped out. So it’s not enough to withdraw. As soon as the system wants what you have, or demands your participation, they will violently destroy anyone who doesn’t cooperate.
What will it take? The same things it’ll take to make revolution to uproot all forms of exploitation and oppression.
In the first stages:
* Broad realization that this system is killing the planet, and that to save all life, including our own, we need to defeat and dismantle the system.
* A recognition of who the enemy is.
* The sense that it is more dangerous to let things go on as they are than it is to rise up and fight back.
* A vision of a viable future.
These ideas are spreading, and we need to spread them more, to unite as many as possible in a powerful movement to take this system on. We need to connect the struggle for saving the planet with the struggles for social justice — the enemy is the same.
On Monday, a small group went inside the BP command center in New Orleans to confront those responsible for the spill.
This protest was symbolic; a small number of people couldn’t really disrupt the activities of BP.
Imagine, though, if they had a few hundred angry and determined people. Then they could have shut that place down.
Small numbers + confrontation = symbolic (with potential for effectiveness)
* * *
Hundreds or thousands of people will hold hands on beaches worldwide this weekend, protesting the catastrophe in the Gulf and demanding an end to offshore drilling.
This might be personally cathartic for some, but how will this stop the atrocities? Will the oil companies and governments of the world care about what people want, and respond accordingly? They have demonstrated time and again that they do not, and will not.
Large numbers – confrontation = symbolic (without potential for effectiveness)
* * *
On Sunday in Oakland, CA, hundreds of people blockaded an Israeli ship to protest Israel’s blockade of Gaza. The union workers at the docks refused to cross the picket line, and commerce was disrupted.
Large numbers + confrontation = effective action!
This is why it’s important to confront the actual centers of power. Location, location, location.
* * *
How will the people overthrow those in power, and put a stop to exploitation and ecocide?
Large numbers + organization + a plan + confrontation = revolution
by Stephanie McMillan
The moment is ripening. Can you sense the building tension? The simultaneous unease and anticipation? The global capitalist system is breaking apart at last. Millions of angry, dispossessed, exploited, poisoned people the world over are beginning to challenge its existence, are making their decisions and steeling themselves to kick it down and keep it down. They are ready to go all in, to confront the system no matter what the consequences to themselves, to do whatever it takes to destroy the evil machine that’s sucking the life out of this planet and all its people. With the revolution in Nepal to the Naxalites in India, to the anti-capitalists and anarchists of Europe, the indigenous rebels of Latin America and Africa, the discontent rumbling barely under the surface here in the US – the global uprising is gaining steam.
The system is flailing in weakness and panic. Even its escalation of frantic shoveling of cash into the pockets of the rich is a sign that the party’s almost over. There’s no more attempt to hide or soften the plunder of the planet of its last remaining bits of life. Those in power are scrambling, knowing they have no solutions, no way out of this situation, nothing to offer us but fire and blood.
We must brace ourselves and cast aside our fear, if we are to seize this rare opportunity. The moment is approaching, the moment that we’ve been waiting for all our lives. It’s time for each of us to decide where we stand, to step up and do whatever it is we’re going to do to push this situation forward as hard as we can. For the first time since the late 1960s the system is stumbling, exposed in all its horrors, and the people of the world are standing up in defiance, with dreams of freedom. We might actually stand a chance. Finally, finally.
In this time of escalating exploitation, poverty, imperialist wars, torture and ecocide, we don’t need a piece of art that consists of a mattress dripping orange paint, cleverly titled “Tangerine Dream.” In this time, as countless multitudes suffer and die for the profits and luxuries of a few, as species go extinct at a rate faster than we can keep track of, we don’t need an orchestra composed of iPhones. In this time, when the future of all life on Earth is at stake, spare us the constant barrage of narcissistic tweets juxtaposing celeb gossip with quirky food choices.
If we lived in a time of peace and harmony, then creating pretty, escapist, seratonin-boosting hits of mild amusement wouldn’t be a crime (except perhaps against one’s Muse). If all was well, such art might enhance our happy existence, like whipped cream on a chocolate latte. There’s nothing wrong with pleasure, or decorative art.
But in times like these, for an artist not to devote her/his talents and energies to creating cultural weapons of resistance is a betrayal of the worst magnitude, a gesture of contempt against life itself. It is unforgivable.
The foundation of any culture is its underlying economic system. Today, art is bullied to conform to the demands of industrial capitalism, to reflect and reinforce the interests of those in power. This system-serving art is relentlessly bland. It is viciously soothing, crushingly safe. It seduces us to desire, buy, use, consume. It entertains us and makes us giggle with faux joy as it slowly sucks our brains out through our eye sockets.
The system exerts tremendous pressure to create art that is not only apolitical but anti-political. When the dominant culture spots political art, it sticks its fingers in its ears and sings, “La la la!” It refuses to review it in the New York Times or award it an NEA grant. Political art is vigorously snubbed, ignored, condemned to obscurity, erased. If it’s too powerful to make disappear, then it is scorned, accused of being depressing, doom-and-gloom, preachy, impolite, and by the way, your drawing style sucks. Also by the way, you can’t make a living if your work’s not vacuous, cynical and therefore commercially viable, so go starve under a bridge with your precious principles.
We’re taught that it’s rude to be judgmental, that to assert a point of view violates the pure, transcendent and neutral spirit of art. This is mind-fucking bullshit designed to weaken and depoliticize us. In these times, there is no such thing as neutrality — not taking a stand means supporting and assisting exploiters and murderers.
Let us not be the system’s tools or fools. Artists are not cowards and weaklings — we’re tough. We take sides. We fight back.
Artists and writers have a proud tradition of being at the forefront of resistance, of stirring emotions and inspiring action. Today we must create an onslaught of judgmental, opinionated, brash and partisan work in the tradition of anti-Nazi artists John Heartfield and George Grosz, of radical muralist Diego Rivera, filmmaker Ousmane Sembène, feminist artists the Guerrilla Girls, novelists like Maxim Gorky and Taslima Nasrin, poets like Nazim Hikmet and Kazi Nazrul Islam, musicians like The Coup and the Dead Kennedys.
The world cries out for meaningful, combative, political art. It is our duty and responsibility to create a fierce, unyielding, aggressive culture of resistance. We must create art that exposes and denounces evil, that strengthens activists and revolutionaries, celebrates and contributes to the coming liberation of this planet from corporate industrial military omnicidal madness.
Pick up your weapon, artist.
Today’s NYT contains an outrageous op-ed piece by corporate cheerleader Jared Diamond, who states, “I’ve discovered that while some businesses are indeed as destructive as many suspect, others are among the world’s strongest positive forces for environmental sustainability.” The examples he provides? Wal-Mart, Coca-Cola and Chevron.
His title asks, “Will Big Business Save the Earth?” That’s not a difficult question to answer: No. No, big business will not save the Earth. Instead of being honest, though, Diamond, answers the question in the affirmative and subjects us to a poorly-argued, mind-warping, illogical and denial-drenched apology for some of the most destructive corporations that curse our planet with their existence.
His overall argument doesn’t hold up to even the most casual scrutiny. He spends the whole column arguing that we shouldn’t hate big corporations because market forces are causing them to make changes to help the planet. “Lower consumption of environmental resources saves money in the short run. Maintaining sustainable resource levels and not polluting saves money in the long run.” He attempts to show that Wal-Mart, Coca Cola and Chevron are transforming their production practices to reflect their concern for the natural world (and that this also improves their bottom line, so it’s a big win-win).
His actual agenda is revealed in the last paragraph, which is partly a plea for the government to give corporations incentives like tax breaks and money for research to facilitate these changes. But if they’re already modifying production practices to help the environment because that is good for profits, then why do they require incentives? I don’t get it.
Mainstream liberal environmentalist groups lack credibility among real environmentalists for many reasons, one of which is the presence of corporate executives on their boards, and another of which is the huge amounts of money that they accept from corporations. The World Wildlife Fund, for example, landed a $3 million contract with Chevron in the early 1990s to implement an “Integrated Conservation and Development Project” in Papua New Guinea, where Chevron’s oil drilling was vehemently resisted by the affected indigenous people. (See “Shilling for Chevron: Jared Diamond Greenwasher” at: http://www.counterpunch.org/proyect05092005.html).
Diamond happens to serve on the WWF board. I’m sure it’s purely by coincidence that he praises Chevron’s efforts to improve the environment in his book “Collapse,” and again in this NYT op-ed piece. I can imaging him hanging out with his fellow board members, business execs who complain of being misunderstood while sending him meaningful glances brimming with unspoken promises of millions of dollars in donations. I can imagine him deciding, “Hey, these guys aren’t so bad! I’m going to convince the American people to give them some love, damn it!”
In his op-ed piece he states, “I … have had frank discussions with oil company employees at all levels. I’ve also worked with executives of mining, retail, logging and financial services companies.” In contrast, he seems to have carefully avoided speaking with even one of the countless victims of these companies. There’s not a single quote by an indigenous person in the Amazon whose forest home was leveled for oil exploration and contaminated by oil spills. Not a single statement by a farmer in India whose crops died because Coca-Cola depleted and contaminated the village ground water. Not a peep from a single exploited factory laborer in China suffering with illnesses caused by the pollution generated by producing cheap plastic crap for Wal-Mart to import and sell to us.
The motivations for these companies to reign in their destruction of the world are, without exception, self-serving and purely concerned with the bottom line. It costs too much to clean up oil spills, retrofit factories, and crush angry natives. Diamond’s sympathies are 100% in line with this, and his only desire is to assist these corporations in their accumulation of profit. “We should reward companies that work to keep the planet healthy,” he urges. He doesn’t express the slightest concern for the well-being of the natural world itself or for the living beings who comprise it.
He talks about the challenges that Coca-Cola faces in finding acceptable sources of water, and tries to convince us that “Hence Coca-Cola’s survival compels it to be deeply concerned with problems of water scarcity, energy, climate change and agriculture.” But the obvious point remains unsaid: Coke is not a necessity. It is in fact harmful to those who drink it. We don’t NEED to solve the problem of how Coca-Cola obtains water, or provide incentives for them to do it less destructively, because they could just fucking stop making it. Now there’s a simple solution.
Diamond tries to confuse us by conflating slightly restrained rates of massive destruction with a net positive effect. Even if companies make changes that cause them to destroy nature at a slower speed than they have been accustomed to, this is hardly the same thing as not destroying it at all (which is what sustainability means), and the exact opposite of helping the planet heal.
As a collaborator with and propagandist for ecocidal corporations, Diamond should not be granted space to spread his lies. Both he and the NYT deserve scathing contempt for this op-ed piece.
I’ve started posting over on Ted Rall’s blog (rall.com). A couple of people there, in response to my repost of “Capitalists Can Never Stop Killing the Planet,” have asked what I think we should do. I get asked that sometimes, so here are some ideas right off the top of my head:
1) As individuals, figure out how to use our talents, positions and resources in the most effective ways possible to expose the system’s oppressive nature, and physically undermine its ability to function. Strengthen, encourage and support those who want to defend the planet; ridicule, discredit and weaken those who want to destroy it.
2) Form affinity groups and connections with trusted friends to do the above more effectively and on a larger scale.
3) Network with allies and other groups, unite with them as broadly as possible, and find ways of stirring up large-scale disruptions and social disorder to weaken governments’ (plural) ability to rule.
4) Debate and discuss on all levels of society (small to large scale), to develop the principles, theory and strategy we need to form a cohesive movement to defeat those in power, dismantle this system and re-organize human activity to be socially just and sustainable.
How’s that for a start? The hard part isn’t to figure out what to do. The question is, are we willing to do the necessary work?
In a discussion group I participate in, someone asserted that capital, as a unified entity, could act to save itself by reducing its damage to the environment, even if it had to sacrifice significant profit to do so. I’m sure that for many people, this belief underlies their hopes for progress at the Copenhagen talks. But these talks are now falling apart before they even happen, which was inevitable given the fundamental nature of global capitalism.
I’m revising some of my comments to the group for re-posting here:
Because of the globalization of production and consumption, the intertwining of complex financial markets, and because capitalists employ mechanisms (like the UN or World Bank) for uniting for particular cooperative purposes, they can seem essentially multinational in character. But the ruling class is not in fact globally unified and can not act as such, even in this final stage of the imperialist era. They are still separate blocs rooted in nations, competing over resources and markets. China vs. India vs. U.S…. these are still real rivalries. Capitalists still require their national governments and armies to defend their interests as they persist in trying to expand their global reach.
One might argue that national governments act as international representatives to facilitate relationships between blocs of capital that are more cooperative than competitive. But let’s see what happens when the value of China’s investments in US treasuries dissolves when the dollar collapses. Let’s see what happens when China builds a dam that blocks a major river from reaching India. Or how the current struggle over Central Asia’s oil plays out. On an individual level, the national character of capital blocs becomes obvious during the simple act of attempting to buy or use foreign currency.
Any talk by governments, individually or collectively, of managing the environmental crisis is either 1) lies to pacify the people and divert the energy of more potentially radical environmental movements or 2) schemes for making more profit while actually making the crisis worse (carbon offsets, for example, actually increase carbon emissions).
Those in power can and do collectively make minor specific adjustments in policy, and trumpet these as evidence that they really won’t destroy the planet, or at least will try very very hard not to. But these are meaningless — it’s the trend overall that matters. Who cares about adjustments when they’re still killing everyone? They congratulate themselves for these plans and schemes and agreements, while their rate of destruction actually accelerates.
Those who run this system are not stupid. They know that their system is unsustainable and will result in omnicide, and in their own demise. Yet they will fight over the last bit of profit from the last bit of earth, until it’s too late to save anything. They have little control over this — the economic mechanism that brought them into existence and keeps them in existence *as capitalists* makes it impossible to stop, as impossible as it would be for me to tie a knot in a rainbow.
The ruling class can not decide to stop competing and give up capitalism deliberately in favor of a sustainable global new order. Francis Fukuyama argued in “The End of History” that that had happened in an economic/political sense after the fall of the Soviet Union — he turned out to be wrong. New blocs of capital coalesce, strengthen and face off once again.
Capitalism has an inherent law of expansion that can not be reformed, even by itself, even to save itself. It is only when capitalism is in crisis, like crisis of overproduction, that contractions must happen, but these are only times of regrouping to expand even further still. Capitalism, if not overthrown, will end up destroying itself along with us. It can not do otherwise. It’s not because capitalists are bad people, it’s because of mechanisms in the system (that are still described best by marxists) of competition and the constantly falling rate of profit. Though there is also a mechanism leading toward increased monopolies, competition remains primary — there can never be a situation where one corporation swallows all the rest into one overarching global über-bloc of capital.
Governments can, though, sacrifice some capitalists to save the system, as happened with the New Deal, and has happened in the recent financial crisis too. But this is to preserve a system with competition at the core, and they will always protect the interests of “their” blocs of capital first. The best that capitalists can hope for is to get as much as they can while they can get it. They can’t make the system stop even if individuals among them might wish to; the only way for it to stop is for those with opposing interests (that’s us) to stop them.
It might seem counter-inituitive that some members of the ruling class like Al Gore are helping to expose that the planet is in trouble. But the ruling class needs spokespeople to convincingly address the concerns of the people, or they risk social disorder. These spokespeople may even personally care very deeply about reforms. Unfortunately they are incapable of calling the system that causes all this into question, so their net effect is negative.
All these recent exposure movies like “Inconvenient Truth,” “Food Inc.,” “Capitalism: A Love Story” do not really challenge the system’s fundamental nature, or exploitation as a way of life. They serve (whether intentionally or not) as ways of making people think their issues are being addressed while bringing them back into the fold. They soothe and divert percolating discontent before it has a chance to break the surface as open rebellion. The election of Obama was used for this too — it drew millions of disillusioned people back into the system’s political orbit, changed them from outsiders into participants and defenders. NGOs do this, all reformers do this, even if their intentions are good.
There are always contending ideas within the ruling class about how best to preserve and expand their rule. They’re not one united monolith. They have differences about how it’s best to rule and protect their capital. Some of them think it’s best to try to minimize the damage, prevent social disorder, make reforms; while others are more in favor of raw exploitation and the iron fist. These opinions contend, and sometimes reforms are made when the ruling class as a whole finds them necessary for the continuation of their ability to exploit. But their fundamental activity is the exploitation, not the reforms. It always will be, as long as they hold power.
For those upset by the failure of the Copehagen talks, they were doomed from the start. Even if agreements had been reached, the nations involved would have been incapable of going against their own nature. Agreements would have been unavoidably broken, limits regretfully breached.
Our future should not be thrown away on impossible wishes and hopes. For us, there’s no dodging responsibility — we must stop omnicide ourselves, by overthrowing those in power and dismantling their system.
I have an essay appearing with many others in ZNet’s “Reimagining Society Project,” here: http://www.zcommunications.org/znet/viewArticle/22022. Regular readers of my blog will recognize parts of it — it’s mostly a mash-up of previous things I’ve written, concentrated and adapted for an activist audience.
“As a people, a people diverse in countless ways yet united in the need to overthrow a mighty empire, we haven’t very well articulated what we want, in a way that corresponds to what’s possible and necessary. Our energy has been diverted into denial, faith in techno-fixes, fixations on individual lifestyle changes, and secondary conflicts, all of which keep us in thrall to those in power (who know very well what *they* want).”
“Food, Inc.” had intense painful scenes of factory farms and poor families forced to eat cheap crappy food. It showed the suffering of animals and workers, the dispossession and control of small farmers, the injustice and depravity of our food system, the cavalier poisoning of the population for profit. It made me cry, and it made me hate capitalism even more than I already did. It made me indulge in fantasies of mobs of furious people busting into the offices of CEOs and the politicians who help them, and dragging them out for some righteous punishment.
Like “Inconvenient Truth,” the film presented the problems in a strong, compelling way.
It’s unforgivable that, also like “Inconvenient Truth,” the ending completely ruins it.
“Food, Inc.,” started going bad in the last half hour or so. When the upbeat, happy-signifying music started during a scene of an altie-foods fair, my heart sank. I knew the film was doomed and that once again we would be served up a plate of bullshit instead of the truth about what we need to do.
The key turning point of the film was when the President/CEO of Stonyfield yogurt made the outrageous (and self-serving) declaration “Capitalism will not go away,” and explained that the way to stop evil corporate food production was to build even bigger (yet non-evil) corporations to produce America’s food. From that moment, the film became an advertisement for Stonyfield, and a celebration of the fact that Wal-Mart carries it. People demand good food, and Wal-Mart is giving the people what it wants! Yay, Wal-Mart and Stonyfield!
So to re-cap, the totally evil industrial food industry, which controls the vast majority of what we eat in this country, and as the film just made a compelling case for, is irredeemably corrupt, disgusting, Earth-destroying, rapacious, merciless, and inherently self-expanding, can be fought by:
1) Supporting different big businesses that offer healthier choices (Stonyfield is owned by Group Danone of France, which also owns Evian water — thanks for the plastic bottles).
2) Doing TEN SIMPLE THINGS (I am NOT kidding — look at their web site!) — aka making easy individual lifestyle changes — aka “voting with your dollars” — aka make “wise consumer choices.”
3) Signing petitions (yes! look at the website!) begging the very government that was just exposed in the film itself as being tightly intertwined (indeed indistinguishable from, indeed the SAME PEOPLE) with corporate agribusiness, to pass laws for healthier and safer food.
Once again, our power is reduced to that of consumer. Change is up to each of us as an individual. Change is NOT, heaven forbid, to come from organizing into a mass protest movement or guerrilla army or revolutionary party or network of saboteurs or any other political formation that actually has a prayer to force the industries to stop poisoning us and destroying the planet.
Another part of the movie’s web site lists its “NGO associates.” I’ve talked with activists from Haiti, Bangladesh and other oppressed nations who used to spit in contempt when they talked about NGOs, and insisted that they were a not just a non-neutral, but in fact a counter-revolutionary force. They’re groups designed to “help” people while siphoning off, buying off and interfering with revolutionary aspirations.
That’s how this film and others like “Inconvenient Truth” function. Everyone (everyone who’s sane and awake) knows we are in trouble with climate change. Everyone knows the Standard American Diet is killing us. To deny these truths after they become obvious to everyone would make the system lose credibility. People are grumbling already. So these spokespeople for the system decide to “educate” us about the problem, make a great important (widely publicized) statement about how dire it is, for the sole purpose of diverting our energy into ineffective activities that leave the system in place.
The people who run and benefit from this system know that they will never solve these problems. The problems are embedded in the mechanics of industrial capitalism and even civilization itself. The system functions by converting the natural world (including humans) into resources, and resources into cash — it’s very defining purpose is to turn life into dead, storable wealth. It can not be reformed. It must be destroyed. They know this. They try very very hard to hide this reality from the rest of us. They use very convincing propaganda that often SEEMS oppositional, to make sure that we never come to this conclusion.