Democratic Realism

We are defined by our opposition, in many ways. And a society is determined by the frame of opposition, the boundaries of allowable thought — such as right and left (or equivalent frame). This is how power has operated in the United States. In recent generations, this frame of the “political spectrum” has intentionally been kept extremely narrow. Sadly, it is precisely the supposed political left that has kept pushing right, such as the Clinton Democrats supporting the military-industrial complex, corporate deregulation, racist tough-on-crime laws, privatization of prisons, etc; not to mention supposed radical leftists like Noam Chomsky acting as sheepdogs for the one-party corporatist state.

In the past, right-wing reactionaries have often been successful by controlling the terms of debate, from co-opting language and redefining it (consider how libertarianism originated as part of the left-wing workers movement and how human biodiversity was conceived as a criticism of race realism) to the CIA in the Cold War funding moderate leftists (postmodernists, Soviet critics, etc) as part of a strategy to drown out radical leftists. This is how the most devious propaganda works, not primarily or entirely by silencing enemies of the state — although that happens as well — but through social control by means of thought control and public perception management. One might note that such propaganda has been implemented no matter which faction of plutocracy, Democrat or Republican, was in power.

This is how authoritarians create an oppressive society while hiding much of its overt violence behind a system of rhetoric. That is while the corporate media assists in not fully reporting on all of the poor and brown people killed abroad and imprisoned at home. Plus, there is systematic suppression of public awareness, public knowledge, and public debate about how immense is the slow violence of lead toxicity, poverty, inequality, segregation, disenfranchisement, etc). The propagandistic framing of thought control cripples the public mind and so paralyzes the body politic.

As such, any freedom-lover would not hope for an authoritarian left-wing to replace the present authoritarian right-wing. But we must become more savvy about authoritarianism. We Americans and other populations around the world have to become sophisticated in our intellectual defenses against rhetoric and propaganda. And we have to develop a counter-strategy to regain control of public fora in order to protect and ensure genuine public debate defined by a genuinely democratic public as an informed, engaged, and empowered citizenry. This would require a program of public education to teach what is authoritarianism, specifically how it operates and takes over societies, and also what relationship it has to the reactionary mind.

Before we get to that point, we need to free our minds from how the enforcement of authoritarian rhetoric becomes internalized as an ideological realism that is experienced as apathetic cynicism, as helpless and hopeless fatalism. So, let’s have a thought experiment and not limit ourselves to what the powers that be claim is possible. We could imagine a society where the right-wing and conservative opposition is represented by some combination of social democrats, progressives, bourgeois liberals, communitarians, and such. This far right and no further! There might be influential thought leaders acting as gatekeepers who would guard the ideological boundaries or else public shaming to maintain social norms in order keep out fascists, imperialists, and other outright authoritarians — ideological positions that would be considered immoral, dangerous, and taboo in respectable society.

Meanwhile, democratic socialists, municipal socialists, community organizers, environmentalists, civil rights advocates, and reformist groups would hold the position of moderate centrism. And on the other side of the equation, powerful social, economic and political forces of anarcho-syndicalism, radical liberationism, international labor movements, etc would constantly push the Overton window further and further to the the far left. This would allow the potential for center-left alliances to form strong political blocs.

This must require a strong culture of trust and a well developed system of democracy, not only democracy in politics but also in economics and as a holistic worldview that would be felt and practiced in everyday life. Democracy could never be part of the public debate for it would have to be the entire frame of public debate. Democracy is about the demos, the people, the public. Public debate, by definition, is and can only be democratic debate. Anything and everything could be tolerated, as long as it isn’t anti-democratic, which is why authoritarianism would be excluded by default. The public must develop a gut-level sense of what it means to live not only in a democratic society but as part of a democratic culture.

That would create immense breathing room for genuine, meaningful, and effective public debate that would be supported by a populist-driven political will with majority opinion situated to the left of what goes for the ‘left’ in the present ideological hegemony of the United States. That is our fantasy world, if not exactly a utopian vision. We could imagine many scenarios much more revolutionary and inspiring, but what we describe wouldn’t be a bad start. At the very least, it would be a more interesting and less depressing society to live in.

Rather than a political left always weakened and on the defense, often oppressed and brutalized and almost always demoralized, it would be an entire culture that had taken the broad ‘left’ as the full spectrum of ideological possibilities to be considered. As the revolutionary era led to the social construction of a post-feudal liberalism and conservatism, a 21st century revolution of the mind would imagine into existence a post-neo-feudal democratic left and democratic right. Democracy would be taken as an unquestioned and unquestionable given, based on the assumption of it representing the best of all possible worlds. In place of capitalist realism and fascist realism or even communist realism, we would have democratic realism.

* * *

This post was inspired by a strong left-wing critique of the failures of social democracy in Western countries (see below). The author, Stephen Gowans, is a foreign policy analyst with several books in print. In his recent article, he argued that social democracy has been, in practice, fundamentally conservative in how capitalist societies and their political systems are designed or shaped by elites and so serve elite interests. We don’t know what to think of Gowans’ own political proclivities of old school leftism, but he makes a good point that we find compelling.

The bogeymen of communists, both in the Soviet Union and in the West, kept capitalist power in line and so curtailed fascism and other authoritarian tendencies. If not for the ideological threat of the Soviets as a global superpower, there likely would have been no leverage for radical leftists in the West to force political and economic elites to comply with the reforms they demanded. Similarly, it was the Soviet attack on the American oppression of blacks that gave the civil rights movement the ability to influence an otherwise unsympathetic government ruled by rich whites who benefited from their continued oppression.

Social democrats often are given the credit for these reforms, but the actual social and political force came from radical left-wingers. This is not unlike why Teddy Roosevelt openly argued that conservative and pro-capitalist progressives should listen to the grievances of socialists and communists so as to co-opt them. In offering their own solutions, such leaders on the political right could steal the thunder of left-wing rhetoric and moral force. So, Roosevelt could throw out some significant reforms to reign in big biz at home while simultaneously promoting am American imperialism that defended and expanded the interests of big biz abroad. He only offered any reforms at all because left-wingers were a real threat that needed to be neutralized.

So, once the external pressure of a threatening geopolitical opponent was gone, those very same elites could safely reverse the reforms they had previously been forced to allow, in fear of the alternative of a left-wing uprising. The object of their fear was eliminated and so the elites could once again show their true face of authoritarianism. What we added to this line of thought was, if social democrats have acted like conservatives under these conditions, then we should more accurately treat them as an ideology on the political right. In that case, what follows from this is then how to define the political center and political left.

Here is another thought, to extend the speculation about how our enemies shape us and hence the importance of carefully picking our enemies, which then defines our frame of reference. We are in another period of geopolitical contest that already is or is quickly becoming a second cold war, but this time the perceived enemy or rather enemies are no longer on the political left. What the ruling elites in the West offer up as a scapegoat for our anxieties are now all far right, if in a rather mixed up fasnion: Islamic Jihadists, Iranian theocrats, Russian oligarchs, Chinese fascists, and a North Korean dictator. In response to these right-wing threats, the Western authoritarians have pushed further right. This is different than in the past when, in facing down left-wing threats, the powerful interests of the time felt they had to relent in letting themselves be pulled left.

Apparently, according to this established dynamic of ideological forces, to make real our crazy fantasy of ideological realignment toward the political left what we need is a new left-wing bogeyman outside of the Western sphere, as a supposed threat to Western civilization. Better yet, make the perceived opposing left-wing ideology non-democratic or anti-democratic so that by being in knee-jerk opposition to it mainstream media and political figures in the West would be forced to be polarized in the other direction by adopting democratic rhetoric and democratic reforms. Sheer genius!

Social Democracy, Soviet Socialism and the Bottom 99 Percent
(text below is from link)

Many left-leaning US citizens are envious of countries that have strong social democratic parties, but their envy is based mainly on romantic illusions, not reality. Western Europe and Canada may be represented by mass parties at the Socialist International, but the subtitle of Lipset and Marks’ book, Why Socialism Failed in the United States, is just as applicable to these places as it is to the United States. For socialism—in the sense of a gradual accumulation of reforms secured through parliamentary means eventually leading to a radical transformation of capitalist society–not only failed in the United States, it failed too in the regions of the world that have long had a strong social democratic presence. Even a bourgeois socialism, a project to reform (though not transcend) capitalism, has failed.

This essay explores the reasons for this failure by examining three pressures that shape the agendas of social democratic parties (by which I mean parties that go by the name Socialist, Social Democrat, Labour, NDP, and so on.) These are pressures to:

• Broaden the party’s appeal.
• Avoid going to war with capital.
• Keep the media onside.

These pressures are an unavoidable part of contesting elections within capitalist democracies, and apply as strongly to parties dominated by business interests as they do to parties that claim to represent the interests of the working class, labour, or these days, ‘average’ people or ‘working families’. The behaviour and agenda of any party that is trapped within the skein of capitalist democracy and places great emphasis on electoral success—as social democratic parties do–is necessarily structured and constrained by the capitalist context. As such, while social democratic parties may self-consciously aim to represent the bottom 99 percent of society, they serve–whether intending to or not—the top one percent.

So how is it, then, that egalitarian reforms have been developed in capitalist democracies if not through the efforts of social democratic parties? It’s true that social democrats pose as the champions of these programs, and it’s also true that conservatives are understood to be their enemies, yet conservatives have played a significant role in pioneering them, and social democrats, as much as right-wing parties, have been at the forefront of efforts to weaken and dismantle them. Contrary to the mythology of social democratic parties, the architects of what measures exist in capitalist democracies for economic security and social welfare haven’t been social democrats uniquely or even principally, but often conservatives seeking to calm working class stirrings and secure the allegiance to capitalism of the bottom 99 percent of society against the counter-example (when it existed) of the Soviet Union. […]

Egalitarian reforms, however, have been achieved over the years in Western capitalist societies, despite these obstacles, and this reality would seem to call my argument into question. Yet the number and nature of the reforms have fallen short of the original ambitions of social democracy, and in recent decades, have been abridged, weakened and sometimes cancelled altogether, often by social democratic governments themselves. […]

The point, however, isn’t to explore the reasons for the Soviet Union’s demise, but to show that while it existed, the USSR provided a successful counter-example to capitalism. The ideological struggle of the capitalist democracies against the Soviet Union entailed the provision of robust social welfare programs and the translation of productivity gains into a monotonically rising standard of living. Once the ideological struggle came to an end with the closing of the Cold War, it was no longer necessary to impart these advantages to the working classes of North America, Western Europe and Japan. Despite rising productivity, growth in household incomes was capped, and social welfare measures were systematically scaled back.

Social democracy did nothing to reverse or arrest these trends. It was irrelevant. When strong social welfare measures and rising incomes were needed by the top one percent to undercut working class restlessness and the Soviet Union’s counter-example, these advantages were conferred on the bottom 99 percent by both social democratic and conservative governments. When these sops were no longer needed, both conservative and social democratic governments enacted measures to take them back. […]

Since capitalist forces would use the high-profile and visible platform of their mass media to vilify and discredit any party that openly espoused socialism or strongly promoted uncompromisingly progressive policies, social democratic parties willingly accept the capitalist straitjacket, embracing middle-of-the-road, pro-capitalist policies, while shunting their vestigial socialist ambitions to the side or abandoning them altogether. They planted themselves firmly on the left boundary of the possible, the possible being defined by conservative forces.

Conclusion

When social democratic parties espoused socialism as an objective, even if a very distant one, the socialism they espoused was to be achieved with the permission of capital on capital’s terms–an obvious impossibility. It is perhaps in recognizing this impossibility that most social democratic parties long ago abandoned socialism, if not in their formal programs, then certainly in their deeds. That social democratic parties should have shifted from democratic socialist ambitions to the acceptance of capitalism and the championing of reforms within it, and then finally to the dismantling of the reforms, is an inevitable outcome of the pressures cited above.

But the outcome is ultimately traceable to what history surely reveals to be a bankrupt strategy: trying to arrive at socialism, or at least, at a set of robust measures congenial to the interests of the bottom 99 percent, within the hostile framework of a system that is dominated by the top one percent. The best that has been accomplished, and its accomplishment cannot be attributed to social democratic parliamentary activism, is a set of revocable reforms that were conceded under the threat, even if unlikely, of revolution and in response to capitalism’s need to compete ideologically with the Soviet Union. These reforms are today being revoked, by conservative and social democratic governments alike. The reality is that social democracy, which had set out to reform capitalism on behalf of the bottom 99 percent, was reformed by it, and acts now to keep the top one percent happy in return for every now and then championing mild ameliorative measures that conservative forces would concede anyway under pressure.

“Perpetual motion keeps the dream in place.”

ImageKarl Marx: “The reform of consciousness consists in making the world aware of its own consciousness, in awakening it out of its dream about itself”

Chuang-Tzu: Dreams he’s a butterfly. Wakes up, finds he’s a man, & asks: “But who is dreaming who? Is the butterfly now dreaming me?”

Now replace Chuang-Tzu’s butterfly with capital.

We dreamt capital into being, it was a function of our imaginations, our social vision, our direction.

But at some point, the figure and ground flipped. Capital become the dreamer, and we, functions of its vision and (paltry) imagination.

This is one way I read Marx: we dreamt up capital (and thankfully so, it’s a necessary component to the dialectic of progress).

But then we fell inside our own creation, engulfed, and now live perpetually inside capital, confusing the means for the end.

The ‘reform of consciousness’ is a collective remembrance, a collective ‘waking up’ from the nap we’ve taken inside what was only ever meant to be a transitional phase.

But for Marx, this isn’t realized as some big ideological shift.

Rather, reforming the material environment is the precondition for reforming the collective consciousness.

This is why he takes shortening the working week as the prerequisite for “the true realm of freedom”. Perpetual motion keeps the dream in place.

 ~ Oshan Jarow, Twitter thread

The Violence of Bourgeois Revolutions and Authoritarian Capitalism

Why is there so little understanding of the French Revolution? I’ve previously pointed out that, “More people died in the American Revolution than died in the French Reign of Terror. The British government killed more people in their suppression of the 1798 Irish bid for independence. The Catholic Inquisition in just one province of Spain had a death count that far exceeded the number killed in the entire French Revolution. In criticizing revolution, such counter-revolutionaries were defending colonial empires and theocracies that were more violent and oppressive than any revolution in history. For example, the Catholic Church, that ancient bastion of traditionalism and conservative morality, ordered the death of millions over six centuries. At least, a revolution is typically a single event or short period of violence. Oppressive governments can extend such violence continuously generation after generation.” (The Haunted Moral Imagination; for specific figures, see this comment)

That isn’t meant to rationalize violent revolutions. Still, let’s be honest with ourselves. Who started the French Revolution or else co-opted the revolutionary fervor? Sure, there were the bread riots involving the restless peasants who were starving to death, but that alone would not have led to revolution. It was primarily the clerical elite and landed aristocracy who wanted to wrench power away from what they perceived as a failed and incompetent monarchy in order to increase their own power. The Jacobins, and later on Napoleon, weren’t democrats, much less socialists or even populists. Those who gained control of the French Revolution, as the Federalists did with the American Revolution, were mostly the upper classes who were aspiring to be the new ruling elite — as conspirators, leaders and beneficiaries of what were, in Marxist terms, bourgeois revolutions (different than proletarian revolutions; some Marxists argue that bourgeois revolutions are what create capitalism whereas proletarian revolutions as a following stage of development that happens within capitalism itself after it’s been established, since the latter requires a capitalist working class, the proletariat, to exist before they could revolt). Many of these bourgeois revolutionaries, from Maximilien Robespierre to George Washington, were a variety of what today we’d call right-wing reactionaries, at least going by Corey Robin’s use of that label.

This was the soon-to-be capitalist class. They were radically and violently enforcing capitalism upon a feudal society or what remained of it. We forget that this was the bloody birth of modern economic ideology, following its earlier conception in imperial colonialism and the centuries of privatization/theft of the commons. The French Revolution had everything to do with capitalism, something that would not exist in its present form if not for Napoleon having overthrown all across Europe the despotic pre-capitalist system and local idiosyncrasies of common law, having replaced it with a well-regulated civil law and a common monetary system. This created the groundwork for a certain kind of modern capitalism that has ever since defined mainland Europe. British mercantilism was even more violent, based on a variety of evils, including but not limited to genocide and slavery. Those were among the main models of modern capitalism. If you’re against violent revolution and radical ideologies, then that means you’re opposed to capitalism as we know it. There is no two ways about this. It didn’t emerge naturally and peacefully but was imposed by revolution and empire.

From the Jacobin takeover of the French Revolution to its culmination in the imperial reign of Napoleon, it was a right-wing backlash through and through. It had nothing to do with democracy as mobocracy. It was mostly controlled by wealthy men who were the elite both before and after the revolution. Thomas Paine in the French National Assembly was ignored when he suggested that they should write a democratic constitution ensuring equal rights, including voting suffrage, to all citizens. The ‘revolutionary’ elite thought egalitarianism that included the masses was ludicrous. Don’t forget that Napoleon gave the land back to the former landed aristocracy. Instead of aristocrats, they were then capitalists. Instead of imperialism justified by monarchy, it was an empire built on capitalism. And instead of a king, there was an emperor. It was the same difference. The authoritarian power of the system remained quite similar. Millions upon millions of feudal serfs and foreign populations were sacrificed on the altar of European capitalism.

The rhetoric of capitalism has often used the language of revolution and reform, but in practice those imposing capitalism were less than idealistic. This includes Napoleon in his claims of a civil society where everyone was on equal footing: “Overall, the is no consensus amongst modern historians about the legacy of French and Napoleonic reforms in Europe. The view of Grab (2003, p. 20) that “On a European level, the main significance of the Napoleonic rule lay in marking the transition from the ancien régime to the modern era,” is a common one. Yet there is disagreement about this point, with some, for example Blanning (1989), arguing that reform was already happening and the effects of Napoleon were negligible or even negative. Grab himself notes that Napoleon was “Janus faced”—undermining his reforms by his complicity to the rule of the local oligarchs. He writes: “Paradoxically, Napoleon himself sometimes undermined his own reform policies . . . In a number of states he compromised with conservative elites, allowing them to preserve their privileges as long as they recognized his supreme position” (Grab, 2003, p. 23)” (Daron Acemogluy et al, From Ancien Régime to Capitalism: The French Revolution as a Natural Experiment). Then again, this “Janus faced” tendency remains true of capitalism to this day, such as how the American empire will argue for rule of law in one case while at the same moment elsewhere aligning with local oligarchs or, if the desired local oligarchs don’t already exist, then creating them. That duplicity and complicity is the defining feature of capitalist regimes.

Whatever you think of it, you can’t deny the result of these revolutions was capitalism. Napoleon was a visionary who sought to implement a continental-wide trade system that would make Europe independent. His was a different vision of capitalism than that of the British, but it was capitalism, maybe more akin to Thomas Jefferson’s vision as opposed the corporate hegemony and mercantilism of the British East India Company: “A vision of the peasant smallholder and modest bourgeois landowner – hard-working, self-sufficient leaders of tightly knit rural communities and small towns – to whom the ethos of his legal and financial reforms appealed so much” (Michael Broers, Napoleon was a European to his core – except when it came to England). These two visions, expressed as Federalism and Anti-Federalism, would struggle for power in post-revolutionary America, but what both had in common was the assumption that capitalism inevitably would be the new social order. Feudalism was decisively ended and, though proto-socialism had challenged the establishment as early as the English Civil War, no other alternative was able to challenge the dominance of capitalist realism until much later.

Napoleon was defending the new capitalist system. Yes, it is true that Napoleon was an imperialist, even if it was merely a variant of what came before. There was no conundrum in that. Capitalism, right from the beginning, went hand in hand with this revamped imperialism. This was seen with how colonial corporatism, indentured servitude, slavery, sharecropping, prison labor, company towns, etc were the various expressions of modernized neo-feudalism in carrying over some of the old practices and incorporating them into the emergent capitalism that was taking shape during that period and following it, although eventually many of these traces of feudalism would fade (e.g., the slave plantation and the company town, like the feudal village that came before, would prove to be less profitable than the hyper-individualism that destroyed community and consumed social capital; though feudal-style capitalism still seems to work well in countries like China where workers are locked into factories).

There were other elements during that revolutionary era. But genuine left-wing voices like Thomas Paine, they were silenced and eliminated. That was the case in both major revolutions, American and French, with Paine having failed to fully promote democracy in either one. His advocacy of a free society, a free citizenry, and free markets would not prevail. For the most part, the authoritarians won. In some ways, the post-revolutionary authoritarianism was less oppressive than the feudal authoritarianism. The reason the peasants were restless under the French monarchy is because they were starving to death and food shortages became less of an issue with the modern improvements and reforms of agriculture, trade, etc (when people did starve in the post-revolutionary era as they did in Ireland under British rule, it was done intentionally to weaken and eliminate the population, an artificially-created food shortage by stealing the food and selling it on the international market). But whatever you think of one kind of authoritarianism over another, the point is that it wasn’t left-wing ideology that came to rule in the United States and France, not even when the revolutions were at their height. Both countries sought their own versions of imperialism and attempted to spread across their respective continents, although one attempt was more successful than the other in the long term.

No rational, intelligent, and educated person could blame any of this on left-wingers. Even much of the so-called “classical liberalism” that came to define the capitalist class has since then been claimed by the political right, ignoring the more complex history of early liberalism such as that of the radicalized working class (Nature’s God and American Radicalism). The rabble-rousing left-wing of that era, limited as it had been, was so fully trounced that it took generations for it to regain enough force to be a threat later on in the 19th century (e.g., feminists). Capitalism won that fight, for good or ill, and it was a particular kind of capitalism, plutocratic and increasingly corporatist, mostly that of wealthy white male landowners. Those in favor of capitalism have to accept both credit and blame for what was created through that early modern period of violent revolution and brutal oppression. And, yes, the American Revolution involved a high death count.

The French Revolution was central to the rise of modern capitalism in its relationship to modern rule of law and well-regulated markets, as is rarely acknowledged. But admittedly, it was the American Revolution that was most fully led by a capitalist class, as the colonies were the site of the emergent capitalist mentality. The earliest British colonies, after all, were originally founded as for-profit corporations. That was something that had never before existed. That brand of capitalism, from that point on, would be marked by violence. That has been true ever since, as seen with big biz alliance with Nazis, Pinochet, Saudis, etc, not to mention the CIA overthrowing democratic governments to ensure that big biz can freely exploit foreign workers and natural resources. This continues with the wars of aggression in the Middle East for purposes of controlling oil fields, pipelines, and ports.

Within capitalism, the revolutionary is simply the precursor to the counter-revolutionary. But in a sense, all of modernity has been an ongoing revolution, a radical overthrow of traditional society, a piecemeal dismantling of the ancien regime, the elimination of the commons and the commoners. That revolution maybe is finally coming to its culmination, as there isn’t much left of what came before. The so-called creative destruction of this capitalist revolution, over the ensuing centuries, has consumed itself and what remains is transnational corporatocracy and kleptocracy, a brutal authoritarianism at a scale never before seen. The seed of that violence was apparent in those first modern revolutions. That isn’t to dismiss the genuine democratic reforms that followed in some cases, if less impressive than was hoped for at the time, but the democratic reformers of the revolutionary era could not have imagined how much worse authoritarianism would get. And with fascism returning to public imagination, I doubt we’ve yet seen the worst of it.

Enchantment of Capitalist Religion

We Have Never Been Disenchanted
by Eugene McCarraher, excerpt

“The world does not need to be re-enchanted, because it was never disenchanted in the first place.  Attending primarily to the history of the United States, I hope to demonstrate that capitalism has been, as Benjamin perceived, a religion of modernity, one that addresses the same hopes and anxieties formerly entrusted to traditional religion.  But this does not mean only that capitalism has been and continues to be “beguiling” or “fetishized,” and that rigorous analysis will expose the phantoms as the projections they really are.  These enchantments draw their power, not simply from our capacity for delusion., but from our deepest and truest desires — desires that are consonant and tragically out of touch with the dearest freshness of the universe.  The world can never be disenchanted, not because our emotional or political or cultural needs compel us to find enchantments — though they do — but because the world itself, as Hopkins realized, is charged with the grandeur of God…

“However significant theology is for this book, I have relied on a sizable body of historical literature on the symbolic universe of capitalism.  Much of this work suggests that capitalist cultural authority cannot be fully understood without regard to the psychic, moral, and spiritual longings inscribed in the imagery of business culture.”

Has Capitalism Become Our Religion?

“As a Christian, I reject the two assumptions found in conventional economics: scarcity (to the contrary, God has created a world of abundance) and rational, self-seeking, utility-maximizing humanism (a competitive conception of human nature that I believe traduces our creation in the image and likeness of God). I think that one of the most important intellectual missions of our time is the construction of an economics with very different assumptions about the nature of humanity and the world.”

 

 

On Democracy and Corporatocracy

“Whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”
~U.S. Declaration of Independence

“Democracy was once a word of the people, a critical word, a revolutionary word. It has been stolen by those who would rule over the people, to add legitimacy to their rule…The basic idea of democracy is simple . . .
“Democracy is a word that joins demos—the people—with kratia—power . . . It describes an ideal, not a method for achieving it. It is not a kind of government, but an end of government; not a historically existing institution, but a historical project . . . if people take it up as such and struggle for it.”
~Douglas Lummis, Radical Democracy

“It is that right to local self-government – a right that we’re told that we already have, but which people discover is not there when they need it most – that serves as the guide-star of this slowly gathering movement.
“To stop them, corporate and governmental officials will be forced to slay their own sacred cow – the ‘rule of law’ – which they have used since time immemorial as their own version of ‘God said so’” Thus, governmental and corporate officials will be forced to bring the power of the system’s own courts, legislatures, and regulators crashing down on them, in the face of clear and overwhelming evidence that our food and water systems, our energy systems, and our global climate are themselves crashing as a result of policies created by those very same institutions…
“These communities’ new rule of law – made in the name of environmental and economic sanity – believes that people and nature have rights, not corporations; that new civil, political, and environmental rights must be recognized; and that we must stop (immediately) those corporate acts which harm us.”
~Thomas Linzy, Local Lawmaking: A Call for a Community Rights Movement

“The main mark of modern governments is that we do not know who governs, de facto any more than de jure. We see the politician and not his backer; still less the backer of the backer; or what is most important of all, the banker of the backer. Enthroned above all, in a manner without parallel in all past, is the veiled prophet of finance, swaying all men living by a sort of magic, and delivering oracles in a language not understood of the people.”
~J.R.R. Tolkien, quoted in Contour magazine

“The large extent of bank influence is not easily seen. We seldom see an identified bank or a money corporation candidate running for office; but when questions arise which affect them, the banks have agents at work, whose operations are the more effective because they are unseen.”
~William M. Gouge, Advisor to President Andrew Jackson, Editor fot the Philadelphia Gazette, Publisher of the “History of the American Banking System” and a “Fiscal History of Texas”

“Civil government, so far as it is instituted for the security of property, is in reality instituted for the defense of the rich against the poor, or of those who have some property against those who have none at all.”
~Adam Smith, 1776, Wealth of Nations, book V, ch.I, part II

“[T]he basic problem of legal thinkers after the Civil War was how to articulate a conception of property that could accommodate the tremendous expansion in the variety of forms of ownership spawned by a dynamic industrial society…The efforts by legal thinkers to legitimate the business corporation during the 1890’s were buttressed by a stunning reversal in American economic thought – a movement to defend and justify as inevitable the emergence of large-scale corporate concentration.”
~Morton Horwitz, The Transformation of American Law

“What did he [Bingham] think about the conversion of the Fourteenth Amendment from a protection of all constitutional rights for all citizens to a bulwark of corporate power against the protests of farmers and workers? Here we have a bit more information. Bingham later wrote that the amendment had been designed to protect natural persons, not corporations.
“That seems quite reasonable, particularly since the first sentence of Section one refers to persons ‘born or naturalized in the United States.’”
~Michael Kent Curtis, John A. Bingham and the Story of American Liberty: The Lost Cause Meets the ‘Lost Cause’, The Akron Law Review
(John Bingham was a Republican Congressman from Ohio and principal framer of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution which granted due process and equal protection under the law to freed slaves.)

“I think we would agree to describe the reality that flows from this corporate power as anti-democratic, anti-community, anti-worker, anti-person and anti-planet…Given our relative consensus on this situation, what should we be asking and doing about the corporation?…To effectively begin the work of countering what amounts to global corporate tyranny, we’ll need to do two kinds of defining: what we wish to see in the future, and what we are seeing in the present…We’ll never move these corporate behemoths out of our way with the poking sticks and thin willow reeds available to us through regulatory action…Nor will we gain their everlasting mercy with pleas for social responsibility or requests to sign a corporate ‘code of conduct,’ or the pitiful pleading for side agreements on free-trade pacts…Our colonized minds make it difficult to cut through our experience and envision real democracy. We’ve got a ‘cop in our head,’ and the cop comes from corporate headquarters…What must be done?
“When those of us who believe in an empowered citizenship see corporations spewing excrement and oppression with ever greater reach, we need to ask, ‘By what authority can corporations do that? They have no authority to do that. We never gave them authority.’ And we must work strategically to challenge their claims to authority…”
~Virginia Rasmussen, “Rethinking the Corporation”, Program on Corporations, Law & Democracy (POCLAD) principal, talk given during Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom conference, July 24-31, Baltimore, MD

Source – REAL Democracy History Calendar: July 22 – 28, July 15 – 21, & July 8 – 14

A Plutocrat Criticizing Plutocrats in Defense of Plutocracy

On C-SPAN’s After Words, Koch lobbyist and Catholic conservative Matt Schlapp interviewed self-avowed elitist Tucker Carlson from Fox News. The purpose of the interview is Carlson’s new book, Ship of Fools. I don’t know much about him nor have I read his book. The only reason I watched it was because my dad cajoled me into doing so. Even though my dad strongly dislikes Carlson on his new show, he took this interview as important and to the point. I might agree.

Carlson regularly states that he isn’t that smart and he is right. His intellect is rather mundane, he offers no new insights, and he admits that he was wrong about so much of what he has believed and supported. But what makes the interview worthwhile is that, if one ignores the right-wing talking points, he expresses something resembling honesty. He poses as a humble Christian speaking the truth and, as easy as it would be to dismiss him, I’m feeling generous in taking him at face value for the moment.

Much of what he says has been said better by left-wingers for generations. Some of these criticisms are so typical of the far left that, in the Democratic Party, they are beyond the pale. The message is essentially the same as Nick Hanauer, another rich white guy, warning about the pitchforks coming for plutocrats (Hanauer once said of his fellow Democrat and former business associate, Jeff Bezos, that he’ll do the right thing when someone points a gun at his head). Carlson himself not that long ago, if he had heard someone say what he is saying now, would have called that person radical, unAmerican, and maybe evil. Instead, as a defender of capitalism, he literally called evil those CEOs who wreck their corporations and then take large bonuses.

This is drawing a line in the sand. It is the conviction that there is a moral order that trumps all else. He didn’t say that these money-mongers are psychopathic, narcissistic, or Machiavellian. Such terms have no moral punch to them. Carlson didn’t merely call something bad or wrong but evil. And he didn’t say he hated the sin but loved the sinner. No, these corrupt and selfish individuals were deemed evil, the ultimate moral judgment. When I pointed out this strong language to my dad, he said it was in line with his own Christian views.

For many conservatives and also for many establishment liberals, this is a rare moment when they might hear this message in the corporatist media, whether or not they listen. If they won’t pay attention to those who have been warning about this sad state of affairs for longer than I’ve been alive, let us hope they will finally take notice of those in positions of wealth, power, and authority when they say the exact same thing.

Tucker Carlson is basically telling the ruling elite that the game is up. The only reason he is warning his fellow plutocrats, as he states in no uncertain terms, is because he fears losing his comfortable lifestyle if the populists gain power. And his fear isn’t idle, considering that a while back protesters gathered outside of his house and chanted, “Tucker Carlson, we will fight! We know where you sleep at night!” The natives are restless. I guess he is hoping for a plutocrat like Theodore Roosevelt to ride into power and then reign in the worst aspects of capitalism in order to prop it up for another generation or two.

Good luck with that…

What If Our Economic System Conflicts With Our Human Nature?

What if much or even all of modern advances and wonders happened in spite of capitalism, not because of it?

What if social democracy and political democracy, if a free economy and a free society is ultimately in complete opposition to everything that has come to be associated with capitalism: hyper-individualism and aggressive competition, consumer-citizenship and worker-citizenship, neoliberal exploitation and resource extraction, theft of the commons and destitution of the masses, education and healthcare disparities, high inequality and economic segregation, rigid hierarchies and permanent under class, inherited and concentrated wealth, cronyism and nepotism, plutocratic ruling elite, psychopathic corporate model, corporatism and corporatocracy, oligopolies and monopolies, fascism and inverted totalitarianism, revolving door between big gov and big biz, law and policy determined by big money lobbyists, elections determined by big money donors, etc?

What then?

Income Accelerates Innovation by Reducing Our Fear of Failure
by Scott Santens

Studies have shown that the very existence of food stamps — just knowing they are there as an option in case of failure — increases rates of entrepreneurship. A study of a reform to the French unemployment insurance system that allowed workers to remain eligible for benefits if they started a business found that the reform resulted in more entrepreneurs starting their own businesses. In Canada, a reform was made to their maternity leave policy, where new mothers were guaranteed a job after a year of leave. A study of the results of this policy change showed a 35% increase in entrepreneurship due to women basically asking themselves, “What have I got to lose? If I fail, I’m guaranteed my paycheck back anyway.”

None of this should be surprising. The entire insurance industry exists to reduce risk. When someone is able to insure something, they are more willing to take risks. Would there be as many restaurants if there was no insurance in case of fire? Of course not. The corporation itself exists to reduce personal risk. Entrepreneurship and risk are inextricably linked. Reducing risk aversion is paramount to innovation.

Such market effects have even been observed in universal basic income experiments in Namibia and India where local markets flourished thanks to a tripling of entrepreneurs and the enabling of everyone to be a consumer with a minimum amount of buying power.

Children’s Helping Hands
Felix Warneken

Young children are also willing to put some effort into helping. Further studies showed that they continue to help over and over again, even if they have to surmount an array of obstacles to pick up a dropped object or stop playing with an interesting toy. We had to be inventive in creating distracting toys that might lower their tendency to help— flashy devices that lit up and played music; colorful boxes that jingled when you threw a toy cube into them and shot it out the other end. We decided that if we couldn’t sell the scientific community on our results, we could at least go into the toy business.

As noted, the behavior of our little subjects did not seem to be driven by the expectation of praise or material reward. In several studies, the children’s parents weren’t in the room, and thus the helping cannot be explained by their desire to look good in front of Mom. In one study, children who were offered a toy for helping were no more likely to help than those children who weren’t. In fact, material rewards can even have a detrimental effect on helping: During the initial phase of another experiment, half the children received a reward for helping and the other half did not. Subsequently, when the children again had the opportunity to help but now without a reward being offered to those in either group, the children who had been rewarded initially were less likely to help spontaneously than the children from the no-reward group. This perhaps surprising result suggests that children’s helping is intrinsically motivated rather than driven by the expectation of material reward. Apparently, if such rewards are offered, they can change children’s original motivation, causing them to help only because they expect to receive something for it.

The Case Against Rewards and Praise
A Conversation with Alfie Kohn

by Sara-Ellen Amster

Rewards kill creativity. Some twenty studies have shown that people do inferior work when they are expecting to get a reward for doing it, as compared with people doing the same task without any expectation of a reward. That effect is most pronounced when creativity is involved in the task.

Rewards undermine risk-taking. When I have been led to think of the “A” or the sticker or the dollar that I’m going to get, I do as little as I have to, using the most formulaic means at my disposal, to get through the task so I can snag the goody. I don’t play with possibilities. I don’t play hunches that might not pay off. I don’t attend to incidental stimuli that might or might not turn out to be relevant. I just go for the gold. Studies show that people who are rewarded tend to pick the easiest possible task. When the rewards are removed, we tend to prefer more challenging things to do. Everyone has seen students cut corners and ask: “Do we have to know this? Is this going to be on the test?”

But we have not all sat back to reflect on why this happens. It’s not laziness. It’s not human nature. It’s because of rewards. If the question is “Do rewards motivate students? The answer is “Absolutely. They motivate students to get rewards.” And that’s typically at the expense of creativity.

Rewards undermine intrinsic motivation. At least seventy studies have shown that people are less likely to continue working at something once the reward is no longer available, compared with people who were never promised rewards in the first place. The more I reward a child with grades, for example, the less appeal those subjects will have to the child. It is one of the most thoroughly researched findings in social psychology, yet it is virtually unknown among educational psychologists, much less teachers and parents.

Is Shame Necessary?
by Jennifer Jacquet
Kindle Locations 626-640

Some evidence from work on moral licensing disagrees with this assumption that buying green is a good first step. People who buy eco-products can apparently more easily justify subsequent greed, lying, and stealing. A 2009 study showed that participants who were exposed to green products in a computer-simulated grocery store acted more generously in experiments that followed, but that participants who actually purchased green products over conventional ones then behaved more selfishly. 7 A 2013 study confirmed suspicions about slacktivism when research showed that people who undertook token behaviors to present a positive image in front of others— things like signing a petition or wearing a bracelet or “liking” a cause— were less likely to engage with the cause in a meaningful way later than others who made token gestures that were private. 8 This research suggests that linking “green” to conspicuous consumption might be a distraction and lead to less engagement later on. If this is true, we should not be encouraged to engage with our guilt as disenfranchised consumers, capable of making a change only through our purchases, and instead encouraged to engage as citizens. Markets might even undermine norms for more serious environmental behavior. In some cases, as has been noted in Western Australia, eco-labeling fisheries may even be giving fishing interests leverage against establishing marine protected areas, where fishing would be prohibited or more heavily regulated, on the grounds that protection is not needed if the fisheries in those areas are already labeled eco-friendly. 9 The market for green products might sedate our guilt without providing the larger, serious outcomes we really desire.

Strange Contagion
by Lee Daniel Kravetz
Kindle Locations 1157-1169

Grant’s research is at the forefront of work motivation and leadership. Oddly, despite teaching in a school dominated by economists, he’s landed at a surprising place in terms of the one social contagion he grudgingly propagates. “The study of economics pushes people toward a selfish extreme,” he tells me after his class lets out. More to the point, he says, “The scholarship of economics is responsible for spreading a contagion of greed.”

The Cornell University economist Robert H. Frank has discovered many examples of this, Grant says. Consider that professors of economics give less to charity than professors in other fields. Or that students of economics are more likely to practice deception for personal gain. Then there’s the fact that students majoring in economics routinely rate greed as generally good, correct, and moral. In fact, says Grant, simply thinking about economics chips away at one’s sense of compassion for others. Studying economics also makes people become less giving and more cynical. Students who rank high in self-interest might self-select for degrees and careers in economics-related fields, but by learning about economics they wind up catching more extreme beliefs than those they possess when they first register for class. By spending time with like-minded people who believe in and act on the principle of self-interest, students of economics can become convinced that selfishness is widespread and rational. Self-interest becomes the norm. Individual players within the whole unconsciously model and catch behaviors, in turn pushing ethical standards.

Marxism Within Capitalism

As explained in an article celebrating Karl Marx’s birthday, “Marx’s vision of socialism had nothing in common with one-party dictatorships like the former Soviet Union that declared themselves to be socialist or communist. For Marx, the key question was not whether the economy was controlled by the state, but which class controlled the state. A society can only be socialist if power is in the hands of workers themselves.”

This is why the Soviet Union and Maoist China were never Marxist or ever attempted to be Marxist, in spite of Marxist rhetoric getting caught up in Cold War debates. Then again, capitalist rhetoric of ‘free markets’ has for generations been used to defend plutocracy, fascism, corporatism, and inverted totalitarianism. If we don’t differentiate rhetoric from reality, then any ‘debate’ is about declaring power rather than discerning truth.

To clarify an alternative perspective that was excluded from Cold War propaganda on both sides, Marx explained that, “No social order is ever destroyed before all the productive forces for which it is sufficient have been developed, and new superior relations of production never replace older ones before the material conditions for their existence have matured within the framework of the old society.”

He had no interest in starting a revolution to replace one system of centralized authoritarian power structure with another. He saw the only way forward was through the system already in place. This is probably why, in writing for the leading Republican newspaper in the United States, he supported a capitalist like Abraham Lincoln. The last of feudalism in the form of slavery had to be eliminated and capitalism fully established before the new system could demonstrate what it was.

Such a system can’t be destroyed from without, until it has already weakened itself from within, based on the assumption this is the life cycle of all socioeconomic orders. Only by pushing the dominant system to its furthest extreme form and its ultimate conclusion could the potentials and flaws be fully seen for what they are. There is no short cut to avoid this difficult transition.

The dominant system either would collapse under its own weight, as happened with the decline of the ancien regime, or it would not. From a Marxist perspective, shifting control of the ‘capital’ in modern economy from plutocrats to oligarchs is the same difference. It’s still capitalism in both cases, although slightly different varieties (difficult to tell them apart sometimes, such as with China’s mix of statist communism and statist capitalism, demonstrating that there is no inherent contradiction between the two).

As Chris Saunders simply stated, “Marx had said that Capitalism was a necessary stage along the road to socialism. Those attempts by the USSR and China to by-pass capitalism, have instead necessitated the resort to state capitalism.” Capitalist rhetoric obscures the real world functioning of capitalism. It never required free markets. If anything, it’s easy to make the argument that capitalism is by definition and intent the opposite of free markets. The concentration of capital within the capitalist class, whether plutocrats or oligarchs, inevitably means the concentration of all else: power, influence, opportunities, resources, education, rights, privileges, and of course freedom itself. It should go without saying that markets can’t be free when people involved in and impacted by markets aren’t free.

Marxism has never exactly been implemented and certainly never failed. That is because Marx never offered an alternative utopian scheme. He assumed that only after the breakdown or during the process of weakening and decline could some other system organically arise and take form. Then the lower classes, hopefully, might begin to assert their own power for self-control and authority for self-governance. As far as a Marxist perspective is concerned, everything so far has been happening as Marx predicted it would.

Full steam ahead! Let’s find out what comes next. And that means understanding what is happening right now within the present society and economy. New developments are already taking root in the cracks of the edifice.

* * *

Should we celebrate Karl Marx on his 200th birthday?
by Barbara Foley

In the wake of World War II, various economists heralded the narrowing of the gap between the richest and the poorest as evidence of the disappearance of class antagonisms.

But the long curve of capitalist development suggests that has widened, as illustrated in economist Thomas Piketty’s book “Capital in the Twenty-First Century.”

The candle of the 2012 Occupy movement may have guttered, but its mantra of the 99 percent opposing the 1 percent is now a truiusm. Everyone knows that the super-rich are richer than ever, while for most of the working-class majority – many of them caught in the uncertainty of the “gig economy” – belt-tightening has become the new normal.

Those laboring in the formal and informal economies of much of Asia, Africa and Latin America, needless to say, face conditions that are far more dire.

Marx was correct, it would seem, when he wrote that capitalism keeps the working class poor.

He was also spot-on about capital’s inherent instability. There is some validity to the joke that “Marxists have predicted correctly 12 of the last three financial crises.”

Marx’s reputation has made a startling comeback, however, at times in unexpected circles.

In discussing the 2008 financial meltdown, one Wall Street Journal commentator wrote: “Karl Marx got it right, at some point capitalism can destroy itself. We thought markets worked. They’re not working.”

In 2017, the National Review reported that a poll found as many as 40 percent of people in the U.S. “now prefer socialism to capitalism.”

Notably, too, the C-word – Communism – has been making a reappearance, as is indicated by recent series of titles: The Idea of Communism,“ ”The Communist Hypothesis,“ ”The Actuality of Communism,“ and ”The Communist Horizon.“ Until recently, the word was largely avoided by neo- and post-Marxist academics.

Class analysis remains alive and well. This is because capitalism is no longer as seemingly natural as the air we breathe. It is a system that came into being and can also go out of being.

American Corporatocracy Has a Long History

March 5, 1877 –
Corporate CEO Thomas Scott brokers deal to end Reconstruction and install Rutherford B. Hayes as U.S. President

The 1876 presidential election was arguably the most controversial in US history. Samuel Tilden, a Democrat, won the popular vote and seemingly the electoral vote over Hayes. Twenty electoral votes, however, were in dispute. A special commission was formed. It was controlled by Thomas Scott, CEO of the Pennsylvania Railroad, and composed of Supreme Court justices and members of Congress. Scott delivered the votes to Hayes in the “Compromise of 1877” in exchange for a federal bailout of failing railroad investments. Hayes also agreed to pull federal troops from the South (ending Reconstruction and the launch of Jim Crow). Those troops were shifted to the North to put down the first national labor strikes in 1877 in which over 100 strikers were killed.

March 11, 1888 –
Former U.S. President Rutherford B. Hayes on corporate power

“The real difficulty is with the vast wealth and power in the hands of the few and the unscrupulous who represent or control capital. Hundreds of laws of Congress and the state legislatures are in the interest of these men and against the interests of workingmen. These need to be exposed and repealed. All laws on corporations, on taxation, on trusts, wills, descent, and the like, need examination and extensive change. This is a government of the people, by the people, and for the people no longer. It is a government of corporations, by corporations, and for corporations. — How is this?” From his diary on this day.

From REAL Democracy History Calendar: March 5 – 11

Eating the Poor

Early in their careers, the Wachowski brothers (or rather sisters) wrote a movie script about eating the rich. “The script was too disturbing,” Andy (now Lilly) Wachowski said, as quoted in a 1999 New York Times piece. “We showed it to some people in Hollywood who said: ‘This is a bad idea. I can’t make this. I’m rich.’ ” They never could find anyone to fund it and so it was never made.

What immediately occurred to me simply reversing the roles in the script make it perfectly acceptable to the moneyed interests in Hollywood. A quarter century earlier in 1973 the novel Soylent Green was made into a major movie with a well known lead actor, Charlton Heston. It received multiple awards and honors and, remaining popular, has had repeated releases in every format. At this point, it has made immense profit.

So, why is it that Hollywood is fine with portraying poor people being eaten but not rich people? Well, as one Hollywood figure explained, “I can’t make this. I’m rich.”

Hollywood is a business, but not everything is about profit. Even if a movie about eating the rich could make more money than hundreds of other movies that get made every year, the profit motive can only go so far. The rich are as or more concerned with maintaining their position in society, which means maintaining the image that the dirty masses can’t touch them, literally and metaphorically. The Wachowskis didn’t only make a movie about the rich being eaten but specifically eaten by the poor and homeless. That is a step too far in a capitalist plutocracy.

Fantasies are fine, except when they hit too close to home. Class war isn’t something we are supposed to talk about. Or rather we are only supposed to talk about it when it portrays the rich winning. Hollywood companies are fine with rich people being portrayed as evil, as long as they are also portrayed as dominant and powerful. But even making portraying the reality of plutocratic rule too starkly can be considered unacceptable.

When Jonathan Swift wrote “A Modest Proposal”, many criticized the eating of babies. In his defense, he pointed out that the killing of babies was what was already happening to the poor, specifically in Ireland, and he simply made it explicit. The sensitive souls in respectable society were fine with mass torture and murder. They simply didn’t want to be forced to acknowledge it. Even so, he was able to get his writing published and widely read. But if he had written a similar piece about eating the rich, he would have been censored, his career destroyed, and probably imprisonment following. Although considered in bad taste, it was acceptable for him to write about eating the poor. As true then, still true today.

In a talk, William McDonough spoke of a visit to Birkenau in Auschwitz: “I stood in the center Birkenau camp which is a mile in diameter three, miles in circumference. And I realized that engineers and architects had come together to design a giant killing machine. If design is the worst, the first signal of human intention, this was the signal of the worst of human intention. And I thought to myself at what point is a designer standing there say wait a minute you’re asking me to do this.”

He describes how every aspect of the camp and all that supported its functioning was carefully designed by architects, engineers, and scientists. This included how humans would be processed and used, including the bodies. From slave labor in the factories to stacking the bodies, it all had to be carefully calculated and planned out. Efficiency was key. It was a modern project embodying scientific principles. Many of the chemicals still in use today were first experimented on humans in these camps.

McDonough came to the realization that this mentality applied to the modern world in general. The way we design buildings and infrastructure is toxic and self-destructive. Our society is a highly efficient killing machine that results in illness, suffering, and early death. He wasn’t being merely dramatic for effect. We see this in the increasing use of carcinogenic chemicals and the rise of cancer. The modern world is designed to be efficient and profitable, not to be sustaining of life and well being.

One might note that the greatest victims, as always, are the poor. The rich can escape the pollution of old industrial centers, distance themselves from toxic dumps, and hide away from environmental destruction. The poor, on the other hand, are trapped. In the Swiftian sense, the poor are being eaten by this system that processes and uses their life and labor to build the beautiful world of the rich. According to the Social Darwininan aspirations and capitalist realism dreams of plutocrats, that is how it should be. But you won’t find a well-funded blockbuster Hollywood movie portraying this real world dystopia in all of its gory details, much less such a movie that radically imagines an inversion of power and a reversal of victimization.

To understand how this society operates, you have to notice not only what is present but also what is missing, what is allowable and what is not.