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Noam Chomsky: Government in the Future

I think it is useful to setup as a framework for discussion four somewhat idealized positions with regard to the role of the state in an advanced industrial society. I want to call these positions 1) classical liberal, 2) libertarian socialist, 3) state socialist, 4) state capitalist and I want to consider each in turn.

Also, I’d like to make clear my own point of view in advance, so that you can evaluate and judge what I am saying. I think that the libertarian socialist concepts, and by that I mean a range of thinking that extends from left-wing Marxism through anarchism, I think that these are fundamentally correct and that they are the proper and natural extension of classical liberalism into the era of advanced industrial society. In contrast, it seems to me that the ideology of state socialism, that is, what has become of Bolshevism, and of state capitalism, the modern welfare state, these of course are dominant in the industrial countries, in the industrial societies, but I believe that they are regressive and highly inadequate social theories, and that a large number of our really fundamental problems stem from a kind of incompatibility and inappropriateness of these social forms to a modern industrial society.

Well then let me consider these four points of reference in sequence, beginning with the classical liberal point of view.

Classical Liberalism

Classical liberalism asserts as its major idea an opposition to all but the most restricted and minimal forms of state intervention in personal or social life. Well this conclusion is quite familiar, however the reasoning that leads to it is less familiar and, I think, a good deal more important than the conclusion itself.

One of the earliest and most brilliant expositions of this position is in Wilhelm Von Humboldt’s “Limits of State Action”, which was written in 1792, though not published for 60 or 70 years after that. In his view: “The state tends to make man an instrument to serve its arbitrary ends, overlooking his individual purposes. And, since man is in his essence a free, searching, self-perfecting being, it follows that the state is a profoundly anti-human institution.” That is, its actions, its existence, are ultimately incompatible with the full harmonious development of human potential in its richest diversity. Hence incompatible with what Humboldt, and in the following century Marx, Bakunin, Mill, and many others, what they see as the true end of man. And for the record I think that this is an accurate description.

The modern conservative tends to regard himself as the lineal descendant of the classical liberal in this sense, but I think that can be maintained only from an extremely superficial point of view, as one can see by studying more carefully the fundamental ideas of classical libertarian thought as expressed, in my opinion, in its most profound form by Humboldt.

I think the issues are of really quite considerable contemporary significance, and if you don’t mind what may appear to be a somewhat antiquarian excursion, I’d like to expand on them.

For Humboldt as for Rousseau, and before him the Cartesians, man’s central attribute is his freedom. “To enquire and to create, these are the centers around which all human pursuits more or less directly revolve.” “But,” he goes on to say, “all moral cultures spring solely and immediately from the inner life of the soul and can never be produced by external and artificial contrivances. The cultivation of the understanding, as of any man’s other faculties, is generally achieved by his own activity, his own ingenuity, or his own methods of using the discoveries of others.”

Well, from these assumptions, quite obviously, an educational theory follows and he develops it, but I won’t pursue it. But also far more follows. Humboldt goes on to develop at least the rudiments of a theory of exploitation and of alienated labor that suggests in significant ways, I think, the early Marx. Humboldt in fact continues these comments that I quoted, about the cultivation of the understanding through spontaneous action, in the following way: He says, “Man never regards what he possesses as so much his own, as what he does and the laborer who tends the garden is perhaps in a truer sense its owner, than the listless voluptuary who enjoys its fruits. And since truly human action is that which flows from inner impulse, it seems as if all peasants and craftsmen might be elevated into artists, that is men who love their labor for its own sake, improve it by their own plastic genius and inventive skill, and thereby cultivate their intellect, ennoble their character, and exult and refine their pleasures; and so humanity would be ennobled by the very things which now, though beautiful in themselves, so often go to degrade it.” “Freedom is undoubtedly the indispensable condition without which even the pursuits most congenial to individual human nature can never succeed in producing such salutary influences. Whatever does not spring from a man’s free choice, or is only the result of instruction and guidance, does not enter into his very being but remains alien to his true nature. He does not perform it with truly human energies, but merely with mechanical exactness. And if a man acts in a mechanical way, reacting to external demands or instruction, rather than in ways determined by his own interests and energies and power,” he says, “we may admire what he does, but we despise what he is.”

For Humboldt then, man is born to enquire and create, and when a man or a child chooses to enquire or create out of its own free choice, then he becomes, in his own terms, “an artist rather than a tool of production or a well trained parrot”. This is the essence of his concept of human nature. And I think that it is very revealing and interesting compared with Marx, with the early Marx manuscripts, and particularly his account of “the alienation of labor when work is external to the worker, not part of his nature, so that he does not fulfill himself in his work but denies himself and is physically exhausted and mentally debased. This alienated labor that casts some of the workers back into a barbarous kind of work and turns others into machines, thus depriving man of his species character, of free conscious activity and productive life.” Recall also Marx’s well known and often quoted reference to a higher form of society, in which labor has become not only a means of life but also the highest want in life. And recall also his repeated criticism of the specialized labor which, “mutilates the worker into a fragment of a human being, degrades him to become a mere appurtenance of the machine, makes his work such a torment that its essential meaning is destroyed, estranges from him the intellectual potentialities of the labor process in very proportion to the extent to which science is incorporated into it as an independent power.”

Robert Tucker for one has rightly emphasized that Marx sees the revolutionary more as a frustrated producer, than as a dissatisfied consumer. And this, far more radical, critique of capitalist relations of production, flows directly, often in the same words, from the libertarian thought of The Enlightenment. For this reason, I think, one must say that classical liberal ideas, in their essence though not in the way they developed, are profoundly anti-capitalist. The essence of these ideas must be destroyed for them to serve as an ideology of modern industrial capitalism.

Writing in the 1780’s and early 1790’s, Humboldt had no conception of the forms that industrial capitalism would take. Consequently, in this classic of classical liberalism, he stresses the problem of limiting state power, and he is not overly concerned with the dangers of private power. The reason is that he believes in and speaks of the essential equality of condition of private citizens, and of course he has no idea, writing in 1790, of the ways in which the notion of private person would come to be reinterpreted in the era of corporate capitalism. “He did not foresee”, I now quote the anarchist historian Rudolf Rocker: “he did not foresee that democracy, with its model of equality of all citizens before the law, and liberalism, with its right of man over his own person, both would be wrecked on the realities of capitalistic economy.” Humboldt did not foresee that in a predatory capitalistic economy, state intervention would be an absolute necessity. To preserve human existence. To prevent the destruction of the physical environment. I speak optimistically of course.

As Karl Polanyi for one has pointed out: “The self-adjusting market could not exist for any length of time without annihilating the human and natural substance of society. It would have physically destroyed man and transformed his surroundings into a wilderness.” I think that’s correct. Humboldt also did not foresee the consequences of the commodity character of labor. The doctrine, again in Polanyi’s words, “that it is not for the commodity to decide where it should be offered for sale, to what purpose it should be used, at what price it should be allowed to change hands, in what manner it should be consumed or destroyed.” But the commodity in this case is of course human life. And social protection was therefore a minimal necessity to constrain the irrational and destructive workings of the classical free market.

Nor did Humboldt understand in 1790 that capitalistic economic relations perpetuated a form of bondage which, long before that in fact, as early as 1767, Simon Linguet had declared to be “even worse than slavery,” writing :”it is the impossibility of living by any other means that compels our farm laborers to till the soil, whose fruits they will not eat, and our masons to construct buildings in which they will not live. It is want that drags them to those markets where they await masters, who will do them the kindness of buying them. It is want that compels them to go down on their knees to the rich man in order to get from him permission to enrich him. What effective gain has the suppression of slavery brought him? ‘He is free,’ you say. That is his misfortune. These men, it is said, have no master. They have one, and the most terrible, the most imperious of masters: that is, need. It is this that that reduces them to the most cruel dependence.” And if there is something degrading to human nature in the idea of bondage, as every spokesman for the enlightenment would insist, then it would follow that a new emancipation must be awaited, what Fourier referred to as the third and last emancipatory phase of history. The first having made serfs out of slaves, the second wage earners out of serfs and the third which will transform the proletariat freemen by eliminating the commodity character of labor, ending wage slavery and bringing the commercial, industrial and financial institutions, under democratic control.

These are all things that Humboldt in his classical liberal doctrine did not express and didn’t see, but I think that he might have accepted these conclusions. He does, for example, agree that state intervention in social life is legitimate “if freedom would destroy the very conditions without which not only freedom but even existence itself would be inconceivable” which are precisely the circumstances that arise in an unconstrained capitalist economy and he does, as in remarks that I quoted, vigorously condemn the alienation of labor. In any event, his criticism of bureaucracy and the autocratic state stands as a very eloquent forewarning of some of the most dismal aspects of modern history, and the important point is that the basis of his critique is applicable to a far broader range of coercive institutions than he imagined, in particular to the institutions of industrial capitalism.

Though he expresses a classical liberal doctrine, Humboldt is no primitive individualist, in the style of for example Rousseau. So Rousseau extols the savage who lives within himself, but Humboldt’s vision is entirely different. He sums up his remarks as follows, he says “the whole tenor of the ideas and arguments unfolded in this essay might fairly be reduced to this: that while they would break all fetters in human society, they would attempt to find as many new social bonds as possible. The isolated man is no more able to develop than the one who is fettered.” and he in fact looks forwards to a community of free association, without coercion by the state or other authoritarian institutions, in which free men can create and inquire, achieve the highest development of their powers. In fact, far ahead of his time, he presents an anarchist vision that is appropriate, perhaps, to the next stage of industrial society. We can perhaps look forward to a day, when these various strands will be brought together within the framework of libertarian socialism, a social form that barely exists today, though its elements can perhaps be perceived, for example in the guarantee of individual rights, that has achieved so far its fullest realization (though still tragically flawed in the western democracies), or in the Israeli kibbutzim, or in the experiments with workers’ councils in Yugoslavia, or in the effort to awaken popular consciousness and to create a new involvement in the social process, which is a fundamental element in the third world revolutions, coexisting uneasily with indefensible authoritarian practice.

So let me summarize this first point. The first point of the state that I want to setup as a reference, classical liberal, its doctrine is that the state function should be drastically limited, but this familiar characterization is a very superficial one. More deeply, the classical liberal view develops from a certain concept of human nature: one that stresses the importance of diversity and free creation. And therefore this view is in fundamental opposition to industrial capitalism, with its wage slavery, its alienated labor and its hierarchic and authoritarian principles of social and economic organization. At least in its Humboldtian form, classical liberal thought is opposed as well to the concepts of possessive individualism, which are intrinsic to capitalist ideology. So it seeks to eliminate social fetters, but to replace them by social bonds, not by competitive greed, not by predatory individualism, not of course by corporate empires, state or private. Classical libertarian thought seems to me therefore to lead directly to libertarian socialism or anarchism, if you like, when combined with an understanding of industrial capitalism.

Libertarian Socialism

Well the second point of reference that I want to discuss is the libertarian socialist vision of the state. A French writer rather sympathetic to anarchism once wrote that “anarchism has a broad back, like paper it endures anything” and there are many shades of anarchism and I am concerned here only with one, namely the anarchism of Bakunin, who wrote in his anarchist manifesto of 1865 that “to be an anarchist one must first be a socialist”. I am concerned with the anarchism of Adolph Fisher, one of the martyrs of the Haymarket affair in 1886, who said that every anarchist is a socialist, but not every socialist is necessarily an anarchist.

A consistent anarchist must oppose private ownership of the means of production. Such property is indeed, as Proudhon in his famous remark asserted, a form of theft. But a consistent anarchist will also oppose the organization of production by government. I’m quoting: “it means state socialism, the command of the state officials over production and the command of managers, scientists, shop officials, in the shop. The goal of the working class is liberation from exploitation and this goal is not reached and cannot be reached by a new directing and governing class substituting itself for the bourgeoisie. It is only realized by the workers themselves being the master of production by some form of workers’ councils.” These remarks, it happens, are quoted from the left wing Marxist Anton Pannekoek and in fact radical Marxism, what Lenin once called infantile ultra leftism, merges with anarchist currents.

This is an important point, I think, and let me give one further illustration of this convergence between left wing Marxism and socialist anarchism. Considering the following characterization of revolutionary socialism: “the revolutionary socialist denies that state ownership can end in anything other than a bureaucratic despotism. We have seen why the state cannot democratically control industry. Industry can only be democratically owned and controlled by workers electing, directly from their own ranks, industrial administrative committees. Socialism will be fundamentally an industrial system. Its constituencies will be of an industrial character. Thus, those carrying on the social activity and industries of society will be directly represented in the local and central councils of social administration. In this way the powers of such delegates will flow upwards from those carrying on the work and conversant with the needs of the community. When the central administrative industrial committee meets, it will represent every phase of social activity. Hence the capitalist political or geographical state will be replaced by the industrial administrative committee of socialism. The transition from one social system to the other will be the social revolution. The political state throughout history has meant the government of men by ruling classes. The republic of socialism will be the government of industry, administered on behalf of the whole community. The former meant the economic and political subjection of the many, the latter will mean the economic freedom of all. It will be therefore a true democracy.”

These remarks are taken from a book called “The State: Its Origins and Function”, written by William Paul in early 1917, just prior to Lenin’s “State and Revolution”, which is his most libertarian work. William Paul is one of the founders of the British communist party, later the editor of British communist party journal. And it is interesting that his critique of state socialism resembles very closely, I think, the libertarian doctrine of the anarchists, in particular in its principle that the state must disappear, to be replaced by the industrial organization of society in the course of the social revolution itself. Proudhon, in 1851, wrote that what we put in place of the government is industrial organization and many, many similar comments can be cited. That, in essence, is the fundamental idea of anarchist revolutionaries.

What’s more important than the fact that many such statements can be cited, is that these ideas have been realized in spontaneous revolutionary action several times, for example in Germany and Italy after the first World War, in Catalonia in 1936. One might argue, at least I would argue, that council communism in this sense, in the sense of the long quotation that I read, is the natural form of revolutionary socialism in an industrial society. It reflects the intuitive understanding that democracy is largely a sham when the industrial system is controlled by any form of autocratic elite, whether of owners, managers, technocrats, vanguard party, a state bureaucracy or whatever. Under these conditions of authoritarian domination, the classical liberal ideals, which are expressed also by Marx and Bakunin and all true revolutionaries cannot be realized. Man will, in other words, not be free to enquire and create, to develop his own potentialities to their fullest, the worker will remain a fragment of a human being, degraded, a tool in the productive process directed from above.

And the ideas of revolutionary libertarian socialism in this sense, they have been submerged in the industrial societies of the past half century. The dominant ideologies have been those of state socialism and state capitalism. But there has been an interesting resurgence in the last couple of years. In fact, the thesis that I quoted from Anton Pannekoek, these were taken from a recent pamphlet of a radical French workers group and the quotation that I read from William Paul on revolutionary socialism was taken from a paper by Walter Kendall at the national conference on workers’ control in Sheffield, England, last March. Both of these groups, the French and the English one, represent something significant. The workers’ control movement in England, in particular, has developed into a, I think, remarkably significant force in the last few years. It includes some of the largest trade unions for example. The Amalgamated Engineering Federation, which I think is the second largest trade union in England and which has taken these principles as its fundamental ideas. It has had a series of successful conferences putting out an interesting pamphlet literature and on the continent there are parallel developments. May 1968 in France of course accelerated the growing interest in council communism and similar ideas and other forms of libertarian socialism in France and Germany as it did in England.

Given the general conservative cast of our highly ideological society, it is not too surprising that the United States is relatively untouched by these currents. But that too may change. The erosion of the Cold War mythology, at least makes it possible to discuss some of these questions and if the present wave of repression can be beaten back, if the left can overcome its more suicidal tendencies and build on the achievements of the past decade, the problem of how to organize industrial society on truly democratic lines, with democratic control in the workplace as well as in the community, this should become the dominant intellectual issue for those who are alive to the problems of contemporary society. And, as a mass movement for revolutionary libertarian socialism develops, as I hope it will, speculation should proceed to action.

It may seem quixotic to group left Marxism and anarchism under the same rubric as I have done, given the antagonism throughout the past century between Marxists and anarchists, beginning with the antagonism between Marx and Engels, on the one hand, and, for example, Proudhon and Bakunin on the other. In the nineteenth century, at least, their differences with regard to the question of the state was significant, but in a sense it was tactical. The anarchists were convinced that capitalism and the state must be destroyed together. Engels, in a letter of 1883, expressed his opposition to this idea as follows: “The anarchists put the thing upside down. They declare that the proletarian revolution must begin by doing away with the political organization of the state. But to destroy it at such a moment would be to destroy the only organism by means of which the victorious proletariat can assert its newly conquered power, hold down its adversaries and carry out that economic revolution of society without which the whole victory must end in a new defeat and in a mass slaughter of the workers, similar to those after the Paris commune”. Now the Paris commune, I think it is fair to say, did represent the ideas of libertarian socialism, of anarchism if you like, and Marx, of course, wrote about it with great enthusiasm. In fact, the experience of the commune led him to modify his concept of the role of the state, as you can see, for examples, by looking at the introduction to the “Communist Manifesto”, the edition of which was published in 1872, and to take on something like a more anarchist perspective of the nature of social revolution.

Well the commune was of course drowned in blood, as the anarchist communes of Spain were destroyed by fascist and communist armies. And it might be argued that more dictatorial structures would have defended the revolution against such forces. But I doubt this very much. At least in the case of Spain, it seems to me that a more consistent libertarian policy might have provided the only possible defense of the revolution. Of course this can be contested and it is a long story, which I do not want to go into here, but at the very least it is clear that one would have to be rather naive after the events of the past half century to fail to see the truth in Bakunin’s repeated warnings that the Red bureaucracy would prove the most violent, terrible lie of the century. He once said “take the most radical revolutionary and place his on the throne of all Russia”, he said in 1870, “or give him a dictatorial power and before a year has passed he will become worse than the Czar himself.” I’m afraid, in this respect, Bakunin was all too perceptive and this kind of warning was repeatedly voiced from the left. For example the anarcho-syndicalist Fernand Pelloutier asked, in the 1890s: “Must even the transitory state to which we have to submit necessarily and fatally be the collectivist jail? Can’t it consist in a free organization, limited exclusively by the needs of production and consumption, all political institutions having disappeared?”

I don’t pretend to know the answer to that question, but I think that it is tolerably clear, that unless the answer is positive, the chances for a truly democratic revolution that will achieve the humanistic ideals of the left are perhaps rather slight. I think Martin Buber put the problem quite succinctly when he said: “One cannot in the nature of things expect a little tree that has been turned into a club, to put forth leaves.” For just this reason, it’s essential that a powerful revolutionary movement exist in the United States, if there are to be any reasonable possibilities for democratic social change of a radical sort anywhere in the capitalist world. And comparable remarks, I think, undoubtedly hold for the Russian empire. Lenin, till the end of his life, stressed the idea that: “It is an elementary truth of Marxism that the victory of socialism requires the joint effort of workers in a number of advanced countries. At the very least it requires that the great centers of world imperialism be impeded by domestic pressures from counter revolutionary intervention. Only such possibilities will permit any revolution to overthrow its own coercive state institutions as it tries to bring the economy under direct democratic control.”

Well, let me summarize briefly again. I have mentioned so far two reference points for discussion of the state: Classical Liberalism and Libertarian Socialism. They are in agreement that the functions of the state are repressive and that state action must be limited. The libertarian socialist goes on to insist that the state power must be eliminated in favor of the democratic organization of industrial society, with direct popular control over all institutions by those who participate in, as well as those who are directly affected by, the workings of these institutions. So one might imagine then, a system of workers’ councils, consumers’ councils, commune assemblies, regional federations and so on, with the kind of representation that is direct and revocable, in the sense that representatives are directly answerable to and return directly to the well defined and integrated social group for which they speak in some higher order organization, something obviously very different than our system of representation.

Now it might very well be asked whether such a social structure is feasible, in a complex, highly technological society. There are counter arguments and I think they fall into two main categories. First category is that such an organization is contrary to human nature, and the second category says roughly that it is incompatible with the demands of efficiency. I’d like to briefly consider each of these.

Consider the first that a free society is contrary to human nature. It is often asked: do men really want freedom? Do they want the responsibility that goes with it? Or would they prefer to be ruled by a benevolent master? Consistently, apologists for the existing distribution of power have held to one or another version of the idea of the happy slave. Two hundred years ago, Rousseau denounced the sophistic politicians and intellectuals “who search for ways to obscure the fact,” so he maintained, “that the essential and the defining property of man is his freedom. They attribute to man a natural inclination to servitude, without thinking that it is the same for freedom as for innocence and virtue. Their value is felt only as long as one enjoys them oneself, and the taste for them is lost, as soon as one has lost them.” As proof of this doctrine he refers to the marvels done by all free peoples to guard themselves from oppression. “True”, he says, “those who have abandoned the life of a free man do nothing but boast incessantly of the peace and repose they enjoy in their chains. But when I see the other sacrifice pleasures, repose, wealth, power and life itself for the preservation of this sole good, which is so disdained by those who have lost it, when I see multitudes of entirely naked savages scorn European voluptuousness and endure hunger, fire, the sword and death to preserve only their independence, I feel it does not behoove slaves to reason about freedom.” A comment to which we can perhaps give a contemporary interpretation.

Rather similar thoughts were expressed by Kant 40 years later, “he cannot”, he says, “accept the proposition that certain people are not right for freedom, for example the serfs of some landlord.” “If one accepts this assumption,” he writes, “freedom will never be achieved. For one cannot arrive at the maturity for freedom without having already acquired it. One must be free to learn how to make use of ones powers freely and usefully. The first attempts will surely be brutal and will lead to a state of affairs more painful and dangerous than the former condition. Under the dominance but also the protection of an external authority. However, one can achieve reason only through one’s own experiences and one must be free to be able to undertake them. To accept the principle that freedom is worthless for those under one’s control and that one has the right to refuse it to them forever, is an infringement on the right of God himself, who has created man to be free.”

This particular remark is interesting because of its context as well. Kant, in this case, was defending the French revolution during the terror, against those who claimed it showed the masses to be unready for the privilege of freedom. And his remarks too, I think, have obvious contemporary relevance. No rational person will approve of violence and terror, and in particular the terror of the post-revolutionary state, which has fallen into the hands of a grim autocracy, has more than once reached indescribable levels of savagery. At the same time no person of understanding or humanity will too quickly condemn the violence that often occurs, when long subdued masses rise against their oppressors or take their first steps towards liberty and social reconstruction.

Humboldt, just a few years before Kant, had expressed a view very similar to that. He also said that freedom and variety are the preconditions for human self-realization. “Nothing promotes this ripeness for freedom so much as freedom itself. This truth, perhaps, may not be acknowledged by those who have so often used this unripeness as an excuse for continuing repression, but it seems to me to follow unquestionably from the very nature of man. The incapacity for freedom can only arise from a want of moral and intellectual power. To heighten this power is the only way to supply the want, but to do so presupposes the freedom, which awakens spontaneous activity.” “Those who do not comprehend this”, he says, “may justly be suspected of misunderstanding human nature, and wishing to make men into machines.”

Rosa Luxemburg’s fraternal, sympathetic critique of Bolshevik ideology and practice was given in very similar terms. Only the active participation of the masses in self-government and social reconstruction could bring about what she described as the complete spiritual transformation in the masses degraded by centuries of bourgeois class rule, just as only their creative experience and spontaneous action can solve the myriad problems of creating a libertarian socialist society. She went on to say that historically the errors committed by a truly revolutionary movement are infinitely more fruitful than the infallibility of the cleverest central committee, and I think that these remarks can be translated immediately for the somewhat parallel ideology of the soulful corporation, which is now fairly popular among the American academics. For example Karl Casen who writes: “no longer the agent of proprietorship seeking to maximize return on investment, management sees itself as responsible to stock holders, employees, customers, the general public and perhaps most important the firm itself as an institution. There is no display of greed or graspingness; there is no attempt to push off on the workers and the community at large part of the social costs of the enterprise. The modern corporation is a soulful corporation.” Similarly, the vanguard party is a soulful party, and in both cases those who urge that men submit to the rule of these benevolent autocracies may, I think, justly be accused of wishing to make men into machines.

Now the correctness of the view which is expressed by Rousseau and Kant and Humboldt and Luxemburg and innumerable others, I don’t think that the correctness of this is for the moment susceptible to scientific proof. One can only evaluate it in terms of experience and intuition. One can also point out the social consequences of adopting the view that men are born to be free, or that they are born to be ruled by benevolent autocrats.

What of the second question, the question of efficiency? Is democratic control of the industrial system down to its smallest functional units incompatible with efficiency? This is very frequently argued on several grounds. Some say, for example, that centralized management is a technological imperative, but I think the argument is exceedingly weak when one looks into it. The very same technology that brings relevant information to the board of managers can bring it at the time that it is needed to everyone in the work force. The technology that is now capable of eliminating the stupefying labor that turns men into specialized tools of production, this technology permits in principle the leisure and the educational opportunities that make them able to use this information in a rational way. And, furthermore, even an economic elite which is dripping with soulfulness, to use Ralph Noloban’s phrase, is constrained by the system in which it functions to organize production for certain ends; power, growth, profit, but not in the nature of the case human needs. Needs that to an ever more critical degree can be expressed only in collective terms. It is surely conceivable and perhaps it’s even likely, that decisions made by the collective itself, will reflect these needs and interests as well as those made by various soulful elites.

In any event it is a bit difficult to take seriously arguments about efficiency in a society that devotes such enormous resources to waste and destruction. As everyone knows, the very concept of efficiency is dripping with ideology. Maximization of commodities is hardly the only measure of a decent existence. The point is familiar and no elaboration is necessary.

State Systems

Well let me turn finally to the two final points of reference: The Bolshevik or state socialist and state capitalist. As I have tried to suggest they have points in common and in an interesting respects they diverge from the classical liberal ideal or its later elaboration in libertarian socialism. Since I am concerned with our society let me make a few rather elementary observations, about the role of the state, its likely evolution and the ideological assumptions that accompany and sometimes disguise this phenomena. Its obvious, to begin with, that we can distinguish two systems of power, the political system and the economic system. The former consists in principle of elected representatives of the people who set public policy, the latter, in principle, is a system of private power, a system of private empires that are free from public control, except in remote and indirect ways in which even a feudal nobility or a totalitarian dictatorship must be responsive to the public will. There are several immediate consequences of this organization of society.

The first is that in a subtle way an authoritarian cast of mind is induced in a very large mass of the population, which is subject to arbitrary decree from above. I think that this has a great effect on the general character of the culture: the belief that one must obey arbitrary dictates and accede to authority, and I think that in fact a remarkable and exciting fact about the youth movement in recent years is that it is challenging and beginning to break down some of these authoritarian patterns.

Second fact that is important is that the range of decisions that are in principle subject to public democratic control is quite narrow. For example it excludes in law and in principle the central institutions in any advanced industrial society that is the entire commercial, industrial and financial system. And a third fact is that, even within the narrow range of issues that are submitted in principle to democratic decision making, the centers of private power of course exert an inordinately heavy influence in perfectly obvious ways, through control the media, through control the political organizations, or in fact by the simple and direct means of supplying the top personnel for the parliamentary system itself, as they obviously do. Dick Barnet in a recent study of this reports his study of the top 400 decision makers in the post war national security system, that: “most have come from executive suites and law offices within shouting distance of each other, in 15 city blocks in 5 major cities.” And every other study shows the same thing. In short, the democratic system at best functions within a very narrow range in a capitalist democracy and even within this narrow range its functioning is enormously biased by the concentrations of private power and by the authoritarian and passive modes of thinking that are induced by autocratic institutions such as industries, for example. It is a truism, but one that must be constantly stressed, that capitalism and democracy are ultimately quite incompatible. And a careful look at the matter, I think, merely strengthens this conclusion.

There are perfectly obvious processes of centralization of control taking place in both the political and the industrial system. As far as the political system is concerned in every parliamentary democracy, not only ours, the role of parliament in policy formation has been declining in the years since WWII as everyone knows and political commentators repeatedly point out. The executive, in other words, become increasingly powerful as the planning functions of the state become more significant. The house Armed Services Committee a couple of years ago described the role of Congress as that of a sometimes querulous but essentially kindly uncle, who complains while furiously puffing on his pipe, but who finally, as everyone expects, gives in and hands over the allowance. And careful studies of civil military decisions since WWII show that this is quite an accurate perception. Senator Vandenberg 20 years ago expressed his fear that the American chief executive would become “the number one warlord of the earth”. That has since occurred. The clearest decision is the decision to escalate in Vietnam in February 1965 in cynical disregard of the expressed will of the electorate. This incident reveals I think with perfect clarity the role of the public in decisions about peace and war. The role of the public in decisions about the main lines about public policy in general, and it also suggests the irrelevance of electoral politics to major decisions of national policy.

Unfortunately you can’t vote the rascals out, because you never voted them in, in the first place. The corporate executives and the corporation lawyers and so on who overwhelmingly staff the executive, assisted increasingly by a university based mandarin class, these people remain in power no matter whom you elect and furthermore it is interesting to note that this ruling elite is pretty clear about its social role.

As an example take Robert McNamara, who is the person widely praised in liberal circles for his humanity, his technical brilliance and his campaign to control the military. His views of social organization, I think, are quite illuminating. He says vital decision making in policy matters as well as business must remain at the top, that is partly though not completely, what the top is for, and he goes on to suggest that this is apparently a divine imperative. I quote: “God is clearly democratic. He distributes brain power universally, but he quite justifiably expects us to do something efficient and constructive with that priceless gift. That’s what management is all about. Management in the end is the most creative of all the arts for its medium is human talent itself. The real threat to democracy comes from undermanagement. The undermanagement of a society is not the respect of liberty. It is simply to let some force other than reason shape reality. If it is not reason that rules man, then man falls short of his potential.” So reason, then, is to be identified as the centralization of decision-making at the top in the hands of management. Popular involvement in decision making is a threat to liberty, a violation of reason. Reason is embodied in autocratic tightly managed institutions. Strengthening these institutions within which man can function most efficiently is in his words “the great human adventure of our times.” Now all of this has a faintly familiar ring to it and it is the authentic voice of the technical intelligentsia, the liberal intelligentsia of the technocratic corporate elite in a modern society.

There is a parallel process of centralization in economic life. There is a recent FTC report which notes that the 200 largest manufacturing corporations now control about two thirds of all manufacturing assets. At the beginning of WWII the same amount of power was spread over a thousand corporations. I quote the report. It says: “a small industrial elite of huge conglomerate companies is gobbling up American business and largely destroying competitive free enterprise.” Furthermore it says “these two hundred corporations are partially linked with each other and with other corporations in ways that may prevent or discourage independent behavior in market decisions.” What is novel about such observations is only their source: the FTC. They are familiar to the point of cliché among left-liberal commentators on American society.

The centralization of power also has an international dimension. It has been pointed out that, I am quoting from “Foreign Affairs”, “on the basis of the gross value of their output, US enterprises abroad in the aggregate comprised the third largest country in the world, with a gross product greater than that of any country except the United States and the Soviet Union. American firms control over half the automobile industry in England, almost 40% of petroleum in Germany, over 40% of the telegraphic, telephone, electronic and business equipment in France, 75% of the computers. Within a decade, given present trends, more than half of the British exports will be from American owned companies”. And furthermore, these are highly concentrated investments: 40% of direct investment in Germany, France and Britain is by three firms, American firms.

George Ball has explained that the project of constructing an integrated world economy dominated by American capital, an empire in other words, is no idealistic pipe dream, but a hard headed prediction. It’s a role, he says, into which we are being pushed by the imperatives of our own economy. The major instrument being the multinational corporation which George Ball describes as follows: “in its modern form the multinational corporation, or one with worldwide operations and markets, is a distinctly American development. Through such corporations it has become possible for the first time to use the world’s resources with maximum efficiency, but there must be greater unification of the world economy to give full play to the benefits of multinational corporations.” These multinational corporations are the beneficiary of the mobilization of resources by the federal government and its worldwide operations and markets are backed ultimately by American military force, now based in dozens of countries. It is not difficult to guess who will reap the benefits from the integrated world economy, which is the domain of operation of these American based international economic institutions.

Well, at this stage in the discussion one has to mention the specter of communism. What is the threat of communism to this system? For a clear and cogent answer, one can turn to an extensive study of the Woodrow Wilson Foundation and National Planning Association called the “Political Economy of American Foreign Policy”, a very important book. It was compiled by a representative segment of the tiny elite that largely sets public policy for whoever is technically in office. In effect, it’s as close as you can come to a manifesto of the American ruling class. Here they define the primary threat of communism as “the economic transformation of the communist powers in ways which reduce their willingness or ability to complement the industrial economies of the West.” That is the primary threat of communism. Communism, in short, reduces the willingness and ability of underdeveloped countries to function in the world capitalist economy in the manner of for example the Philippines, which has developed a colonial economy of a classic type after 75 years of American tutelage and domination. It’s this doctrine which explains why the British economist Joan Robinson describes the American crusade against communism as a crusade against development.

The cold war ideology and the international communist conspiracy function in an important way, as essentially a propaganda device, to mobilize support at a particular historical moment for this long time imperial enterprise. In fact, I believe that this is probably the main function of cold war. It serves as a useful device for the managers of the American society and their counterparts in the Soviet Union to control their own populations and their own respective imperial systems. I think that the persistence of the cold war can be in part explained by its utility for the managers of the two great world systems.

Well, there is one final element that has to be added to this picture, namely the ongoing militarization of American society. How does this enter in ? To see, one has to look back at WWII and to recall that prior to WWII of course we were deep in the depression. WWII taught an important economic lesson. It taught the lesson that government induced production in a carefully controlled economy, centrally controlled, could overcome the effects of the depression. I think that is what Charles E. Wilson had in mind at the end of 1944 when he proposed that we have a permanent war economy in the postwar world. Of course the trouble is that in a capitalist economy there are only a number of ways in which government intervention can take place. It can’t be competitive with the private empires for example, which is to say that there can’t be any useful production. In fact it has to be the production of luxury goods. Goods, not capital, not useful commodities, which would be competitive. And unfortunately there is only one category of luxury goods that can be produced endlessly with rapid obsolescence, quickly wasting and no limit on how many of them you can use. We all know what that is.

This whole matter is described pretty well by the business historian Alfred Chandler. He describes the economic lessons of WWII as follows: “The government spent far more than the most enthusiastic New Dealer had ever proposed. Most of the output of the expenditures was destroyed or left on the battlefields of Europe and Asia, but the resulting increased demand sent the nation into a period of prosperity, the like of which had never before been seen. Moreover, the supplying of huge armies and navies fighting the most massive war of all time required a tight centralized control of national economy. This effort brought corporate managers to Washington to carry out one of the most complex pieces of economic planning in history. That experience lessened the ideological fears over the government’s role in stabilizing the economy.” (This is a conservative commentator, I might point out.) It may be added that the ensuing cold war carried further the de-politicization of the American society and created the kind of psychological environment in which the government is able to intervene in part through fiscal policies and in part through public work and public services, but very largely of course through defense spending.

In this way, to use Alfred Chandler’s words, “the government acts as a coordinator of last resort when managers are unable to maintain a high level of aggregate demand.” As another conservative business historian, Joseph Monson, writes, “enlightened corporate managers, far from fearing government intervention in the economy, view the new economics as a technique for increasing corporate viability.” Of course, the most cynical use of these ideas is by the managers of the publicly subsidized war industries. There was a remarkable series in the Washington Post about this about a year ago, by Bernard Nossiter. For example he quoted Samuel Downer, financial vice president of LTV Aerospace, one of the big new conglomerates, who explained why the postwar world must be bolstered by military orders. He said: “It’s basic.” “Its selling appeal is the defense of the home. This is one of the greatest appeals the politicians have to adjusting the system. If you’re the president and you need a control factor in the economy, and you need to sell this factor, you can’t sell Harlem and Watts, but you can sell self-preservation, a new environment. We are going to increase defense budgets as long as those bastards in Russia are ahead of us. The American people understand this.” Of course, those bastards aren’t exactly ahead of us in this deadly and cynical game, but that is only a minor embarrassment to the thesis. In times of need we can always follow Dean Rusk, Hubert Humphrey and other luminaries and appeal to the billion Chinese armed with to the teeth and setting out on world conquest.

Again I want to emphasize the role in this system of the Cold War as a technique of domestic control, a technique for developing the psychological climate of paranoia and psychosis in which the tax payer will be willing to provide an enormous, endless subsidy to the technologically advanced sectors of the American industry and the corporations that dominate this increasingly centralized system.

Well, of course it’s perfectly obvious that Russian imperialism is not an invention of American ideologists. It’s real enough to the Hungarians and the Chezchs, for example. What is an invention is the uses to which it is put, for example by Dean Acheson in 1950 or Walt Rostow a decade later when they pretend that the Vietnam war is an example of Russian imperialism. Or by the Johnson administration in 1965, when he justifies the Dominican intervention with reference to the Sino-Soviet military bloc. Or by the Kennedy intellectuals, who, as Townsend Hoops put it in an article in the “Washington Monthly” last month, were “deluded by the tensions of the cold war years, and could not perceive that the triumph of the national revolution in Vietnam would not be a triumph for Moscow and Peking.” It was the most remarkable degree of delusion on the part of presumably literate men. Or, for example, by Eugene Rostow, who in a recent book that was very widely praised by liberal senators and academic intellectuals, outlined the series of challenges to world order in the modern era as follows: “Napoleon, Kaiser Willhelm, Hitler,” and continuing in the post war world, “general strikes in France and Italy, the civil war in Greece, and the attack on South Vietnam” where, he writes in 1968, “Russia has put us to severe tests in its efforts to spread communism by the sword.”

Now this is a very interesting series of challenges to World order: Napoleon, Kaiser Wilhelm, Hitler, general strikes in France and Italy, the civil war in Greece and the the Russian attack on South Vietnam. If one thinks it through he can reach some pretty interesting conclusions about modern history.

Well, one can continue with this indefinitely. I mean to suggest that the cold war is highly functional, both to the American elite and it’s Soviet counterpart, who in a perfectly similar way exploit Western imperialism, which they did not invent, as they send their armies into Czechoslovakia. It’s important in both cases in providing an ideology for empire and for the government subsidized system here of military capitalism. It’s predictable then that challenges to this ideology will be bitterly resisted, by force if necessary. On many ways American society is indeed open, and liberal values are preserved. However, as poor people and black people and other ethnic minorities know very well, the liberal veneer is pretty thin. Mark Twain once wrote that “it is by the goodness of God that in our country that we have those three unspeakably precious things: freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, and the prudence never to practice either of them.” Those who lack the prudence may well pay the cost.

Roughly speaking, I think it’s accurate to say that a corporate elite of managers and owners governs the economy and the political system as well, at least in a very large measure. The people, so-called, do exercise an occasional choice among those who Marx once called “the rival factions and adventurers of the ruling class”. And those who find this characterization too harsh may prefer the formulations of a modern democratic theorist like Joseph Schumpeter, who describes modern political democracy, favorably, “as a system in which the deciding of issues by the electorate is secondary to the election of the men who ought to do the deciding. The political parties”, he says, accurately, “is a group whose members propose to act in concert in the competitive struggle for political power. If that were not so, it would be impossible for different parties to adopt exactly or almost exactly the same program.” That’s all the advantages of political democracy as he sees it.

This program, that both parties adopt more or less exactly, and the individuals who compete for power, they express a narrow conservative ideology, basically the interests of one or other element in the corporate elite, with some modifications. Now this is obviously no conspiracy, I think it is simply implicit in the system of corporate capitalism. These people and the institutions they represent are in effect in power and their interests are the national interests. It is this interest that is served primarily and overwhelmingly by the overseas empire and the growing system of military state capitalism at home.

If we were to withdraw the consent of the governed, as I think we should, we are withdrawing our consent to have these men and the interests they represent; govern and manage American society and impose their concept of world order and their criteria for legitimate political and economic development in much of the world. Although an immense effort of propaganda and mystification is carried on to conceal these facts, nonetheless facts they remain.

We have today the technical and material resources to meet man’s animal needs. We have not developed the cultural and moral resources or the democratic forms of social organization that make possible the humane and rational use of our material wealth and power. Conceivably, the classical liberal ideals, as expressed and developed in their libertarian socialist form, are achievable. But if so, only by a popular revolutionary movement, rooted in wide strata of the population, and committed to the elimination of repressive and authoritarian institutions, state and private. To create such a movement is a challenge we face and must meet if there is to be an escape from contemporary barbarism.

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What’s the deal? Iran, Turkey, US and Nukes

Let’s get some shit straight:

Iran has maintained their program is for energy purposes. Much like the US strategy paper on the issue 35 years ago, Iran maintains that “nuclear power will both provide for the growing needs of Iran’s economy and free remaining oil reserves for export or conversion to petrochemicals.”

For years the IAEA has not found any evidence of a weapons program.

The US, has, for the last 20 years said “Iran is less than 5 years away from a bomb!”

Iran supports FISSBAN.

The US does not.

Last month Tehran hosted an international conference on nuclear disarmament.

Last month the US hosted an international conference on deterring nuclear terrorism, which President Obama used to threaten nuclear war (i.e. nuclear terrorism) against Iran.

A Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) conference is currently underway and we should expect the same bullshit as last time: US obstruction.

Here’s an example of our position at the United Nations General Assembly. In 2007 the world voted on no less than 15 resolutions dealing with nuclear disarmament. Only one nation voted against all of them. The US.

Back to the NPT

Turkey, an ally, is a signer of the NPT.

So is Iran.

Turkey has a nuclear power plant.

Because of US pressure and threats to world peace Brazil and Turkey struck a deal in which Iran agrees to exchange low-enriched uranium for Turkish higher-enriched fuel (which is of no nuke value).

The US still won’t back down. Even as Iran is willing to exchange their uranium for fuel the US still maintains they are trying to seek nuclear weapons.

It’s also worth bringing up that the US position of silence on Israel’s nuclear weapons has disturbed so many for so long that even the IAEA is now bringing it up.

Keep in mind that Israel is constantly waging what Zeev Maoz, a professor of Political Science and head of the International Relations Program at the University of California, calls “wars of choice” – i.e. aggression.

Iran, on the other hand, has not started a war in over a century!

Many on the left, like myself, see American support of an aggressive nuclear state and opposition to a relatively peaceful non-nuclear state as evidence that nuclear proliferation and world peace is not on the US agenda.

It is well known that the reason the US will not allow Iran to build a nuclear reactor is because Iran is an independent nation in a region dominated by the US.

Turkey can have their power plants, and Israel their nuclear weapons because they are a US ally – i.e. subservient state.

Iran is not allowed because they refuse to be.

In 2003 they offered a peace deal to both the US and Israel which included cutting off support to Hamas and Hizbollah, and tighter IAEA controls that included “full access” to their nuclear program.

Former President Bush refused to even permit a reponse.

Iran once was an ally and was working on nuclear energy.

And the US helped.

Back in 2005 when the Washington Post talked to Henry Kissinger about this it was reported,

In 1975, as secretary of state, Kissinger signed and circulated National Security Decision Memorandum 292, titled “U.S.-Iran Nuclear Cooperation,” which laid out the administration’s negotiating strategy for the sale of nuclear energy equipment projected to bring U.S. corporations more than $6 billion in revenue. At the time, Iran was pumping as much as 6 million barrels of oil a day, compared with an average of about 4 million barrels daily today.

The shah, who referred to oil as “noble fuel,” said it was too valuable to waste on daily energy needs. The Ford strategy paper said the “introduction of nuclear power will both provide for the growing needs of Iran’s economy and free remaining oil reserves for export or conversion to petrochemicals.”

Asked why he reversed his opinion, Kissinger responded with some surprise during a brief telephone interview. After a lengthy pause, he said: “They were an allied country, and this was a commercial transaction. We didn’t address the question of them one day moving toward nuclear weapons.”

The Ford strategy paper reflects Iran’s argument today and which we currently say is bogus.

It should be apparent that the issue with Iran is not nuclear, it’s imperial.

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Imaginative Thoughts on the BP Spill

Imagine if you will an economy that is not capitalist.

No markets encouraging people to fleece each other in a race for the bottom.

No private enterprises allowing a minority of affluent people using bargaining power to aggravate social inequalities.

In our existing economy we can already see what happens when the true costs of our activities are excluded. The ecological and economic risks of offshore drilling (i.e., the BP spill) much like the risks bankers and financiers take often don’t find their way into the prices of our activities. The results are perpetual crises.

But we are thinking about a different economy – a Participatory Economy.

But before we go on let’s set the tone of the philosophy that underlies this alternative economy.

The philosophy is that everyone should be nurtured by social institutions that are self-organized and self-managed, to actively participate in the management of their own lives, in accordance with others, to the degree they are affected.

This philosophy recognizes that there are and will be various social institutions designed to meet our desires and needs, to assist in their fulfillment, not curtail, block, pervert, subvert or undermine as institutions sometimes can do, and that these institutions should first and foremost be self-organized and self-managed, which simply means they should be controlled, built and structured to serve specific purposes by those who want them and are affected by them.

This philosophy of individual autonomy also recognizes that while we are individuals, we also belong to a social species and that our actions often affect others. And since this philosophy is to be employed universally, all those affected by our actions, by default have a fundamental right to participate with us in formulating our options and making decisions.

This philosophy recognizes as well that not all actions, or decisions, effect everyone equally, and to ensure optimal fairness those affected more by a decision should have more of a say throughout the process.

So, in this alternative economy all productive assets are owned collectively. No one can claim to own the land or the tools and then use that to take more than their fair share. We are paid for how hard and long we work. If we expend an equal amount of effort and sacrifice, as judged by our peers, then we will receive the same pay.

This economy has democratic planning. Workers and consumers via their respective councils plan their activities democratically. And in this planning process we reveal the true costs and preferences of our activities. If consumers want X amount of something but find it costs more than they are willing to pay then they may choose to alter their plans until a final plan can be agreed upon.

Every able body works a job that, while not the same as everyone else, is comparable in conditions and pay to everyone else. In every work place there is an array of tasks that are not all equal. Some are empowering and some are not. The idea is that everyone should have an equal access to a combination of tasks over a period of time that empowers each worker and enables them to be more able to participate democratically in work-place management.

Now imagine this economy considering offshore drilling and the risks that come along with it.

I bet that this economy would not even consider the proposal once the risks and costs are revealed. Consider the work going on at MIT. If this economy was being born in 1776 then by 2010 this work would have likely advanced considerably by the twenty-first century.

The point here is that when thinking about this oil spill and connecting it to the existing economic system we need to address one important thing: how the risks and costs of these ecologically destructive activities are currently not accounted for and the tasks of how to remedy that.

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A Super Brief Introduction to Anarchism

At its simplest anarchism is:

the philosophy that everyone should be nurtured by social institutions that are self-organized and self-managed, to actively participate in the management of their own lives, in accordance with others, to the degree they are affected.

That is it.

This philosophy recognizes that there are and will be various social institutions designed to meet our desires and needs, to assist in their fulfillment, not curtail, block, pervert, subvert or undermine as institutions sometimes can do, and that these institutions should first and foremost be self-organized and self-managed, which simply means they should be controlled, built and structured to serve specific purposes by those who want them and are affected by them.

This philosophy of individual autonomy also recognizes that while we are individuals, we also belong to a social species and that our actions often affect others. And since this philosophy is to be employed universally, all those affected by our actions, by default have a fundamental right to participate with us in formulating our options and making decisions.

This philosophy recognizes as well that not all actions, or decisions, effect everyone equally, and to ensure optimal fairness those affected more by a decision should have more of a say throughout the process.

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Lambs being led to slaughter

Social Security is gone. It will go bye-bye not because the program is insolvent but because (1) the rich want the dough; and, most importantly, (2) we won’t stop them.

It’s amazing that an entire generation of children is being raised without knowing what it’s like to not occupy another country. Scratch that. The way our system works these little brats already have no idea what it’s like to occupy and certainly no clue as to what it’s like to be occupied. I bet my house that most kids can’t spot Iraq and Afghanistan on a map.

Shit, I bet they can’t spot Alaska.

George Orwell originally wrote a preface to Animal Farm that recognized that in so-called civilized countries there is a propaganda system in place to manage the thoughts and opinions of others.

The British press is extremely centralized, and most of it is owned by wealthy men who have every motive to be dishonest on certain important topics. But the same kind of veiled censorship also operates in books and periodicals, as well as in plays, films and radio. At any given moment there is an orthodoxy, a body of ideas which it is assumed that all right-thinking people will accept without question. It is not exactly forbidden to say this, that or the other, but it is ‘not done’ to say it, just as in mid-Victorian times it was ‘not done’ to mention trousers in the presence of a lady. Anyone who challenges the prevailing orthodoxy finds himself silenced with surprising effectiveness. A genuinely unfashionable opinion is almost never given a fair hearing, either in the popular press or in the highbrow periodicals.

We’re literally being raised to be stupid.

When I was in high school I had a wiry teacher who taught economics. Two things stood out about his class. The first was how hyper this guy way. Looking back from an older age he must have been on some form of stimulant. No man has the metabolism to jump up on desks and hoot and holler about what is to come. The second thing was the shit he hooted and hollered about. In particular: Social Security.

He was the first person I ever knew that told us, “You will pay into it for years but the program will be gone long before you have a chance to withdrawl from it.” That is to say, we are fucked.

Years later, and still not understanding what he was telling us, I thought he was wrong. Even now the program is paid up for through 2030-something. That was not his point. He was being subtle. He was telling us it would be gone but leaving us to explore why that is.

The real problem isn’t that people are claiming benefits. Not starving or being a burden to our successors is not a problem. The problem is how the goddamn program is taxed. As it stands just over $100,000.00 of your annual earned income is taxed. If you make $200,000.00 a year then only half of your income will be taxed. If you are Bill Gates or Warren Buffett then less than half of once percent of your annual income is taxed for the program. But, if you are a single-mom working double shifts at some local diner then all of your income will be taxed.

The rich are not paying their fair share.

So now we got these assholes like Mr. Peterson stirring up scare stories about how the program is insolvent. Even the beloved Obama is playing his part. But don’t expect them to ever utter the words “remove the cap.” These bastards will kill the program before they do that. And that is what they aim to do!

In 2008 over $800 billion was collected.

That’s a lot of money.

Think of all the corporate welfare that this could be used for.

Think of all the banks that are too big to fail that could be bailed out with this kind of revenue. If you are a billionaire banker like Mr. Peterson then it gives you blue balls just thinking about it.

Hey, I’m just playing the odds with the previous male-centric statement: most billionaire bankers are (white) males. I’ll leave it to you to ponder as to why that is but I will give you a clue: it’s not because (white) men are superior. We’re not. As Tim Wise recently pointed out: white men, with no help from black or brown people, gambled and lost trillions of dollars, and tanked the global economy while they were at it.

Anywho…

You will not hear a peep about our military and police state expenditures which surpass what we spend on Social Security.

We already saw how the healthcare crisis was treated – the government passed corporate welfare disguised as reform. Sadly, many of us fell for this trick.

We will not tax investment income as earned income.

And we certainly won’t put the tax rate for the rich back to what it was during the Golden Age of Capitalism: 91%

Social Security is gone. It will go bye-bye not because the program is insolvent but because (1) the rich want the dough; and, most importantly, (2) we won’t stop them.

Look at how we responded to getting fucked by the banks during the last administration: we voted in a dipshit whose biggest campaign contributor was Goldman Sachs. The American Way of expressing our outrage by getting screwed by the banks was to vote in a guy bankrolled by the banks and who, upon taking office, surrounded himself with bankers and financiers to shape his economic policy.

In Greece, just the thought of the working class paying for the risks the banks took has caused nearly 200,000 to take to the streets – many of them violently fought with the police. Imagine if five million Americans stormed Capitol Hill in which many of whom fought the police. Imagine stray dogs joined in.

The idea the Peterson’s of the world present is simple: expenditures are growing beyond tax revenue. No mention about the costs of imperialism and a police state, or Medicare and Medicaid being burdened by the private healthcare system, or how the rich have seen their income taxes reduced by 60%, or how investment and corporate taxes are too low, or how regressively Social Security is taxed. There certainly is no talk about abolishing markets and capitalism and building an equitable economy where the richest 1% doesn’t own half of the world’s wealth!

Nah, it doesn’t work like that here. We are sheep and we should know our fate: we are lambs being led to slaughter.

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Adam Smith and Private Property

The following quote comes from The Wealth of Nations (B.V, Ch.1, Of the Expences of the Sovereign or Commonwealth) by Adam Smith, the so-called father of modern economics. And while it is true, as Noam Chomsky likes to point out, that Smith also exposed the “vile maxim of the masters of mankind” (“All for ourselves and nothing for other people…”) the quote makes me wonder if he was okay with it.

Wherever there is great property there is great inequality…

So far so good. Thomas Jefferson also realized that property and inequality are related. In a letter to one of the founding rich white dudes he wrote that, “Another means of silently lessening the inequality of property is to exempt all from taxation below a certain point, and to tax the higher portions or property in geometrical progression as they rise.”

Progressive taxation has always been a commonsense approach. In fact, the first three measures numerically listed in The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Frederich Engels, and to be implemented upon the success of a working class revolution are: (1) abolish private property; (2) institute a heavy and progressive tax; and (3) abolish the right of inheritance.

… For one very rich man there must be at least five hundred poor, and the affluence of the few supposes the indigence of the many….

Amen! It reminds me of President Eisenhower’s remark that, “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.”

… The affluence of the rich excites the indignation of the poor, who are often both driven by want, and prompted by envy, to invade his possessions….

Hmm. Instead of “want” I would have used “need” since as Smith knew, the poor are… well, “poor.” Envy? How about “prompted to right an injustice”? We are getting to the root of exploitation now, but let’s keep going…

… It is only under the shelter of the civil magistrate that the owner of that valuable property, which is acquired by the labour of many years, or perhaps of many successive generations, can sleep a single night in security….

Yup, exploiters need force to protect them from the exploited. “Valuable property” is also often “acquired by the labour” of others, and what right does someone have to inherit “valuable property”? Why should Paris Hilton potentially stand to inherit the hotel empire?

By allowing anyone to have private property (not to be confused with personal property) we give them a bargaining power to exploit others in terms of compensation and decision-making. I can only put it so simply: people should only be rewarded for what is within their power to control and that is how hard and long they work at socially valued labor. And everyone should be entitled to a fair say in decisions in proportion to the degree they are affected. These two principles, fair say and fair pay, are not compatible with private property.

… He is at all times surrounded by unknown enemies, whom, though he never provoked, he can never appease, and from whose injustice he can be protected only by the powerful arm of the civil magistrate continually held up to chastise it…

Unknown? Never provoked? Can’t appease? The “injustice” is the permitting of property to be used to create inequalities, not those who seek to remedy it. It’s not the impoverished who need to be chastised, but the affluent! It’s like what Gustav Flaubert said in a letter to a friend, “I have always tried to live in an ivory tower, but a tide of shit is beating at its walls, threatening to undermine it.”

… The acquisition of valuable and extensive property, therefore, necessarily requires the establishment of civil government…

No disagreements. If we acknowledge that private property produces inequality and we know that these inequalities produce uprisings and if we side with the propertied then, yeah, we will need some muscle to fight off the rabble.

… Where there is no property, or at least none that exceeds the value of two or three days labour, civil government is not so necessary.

Eh, it’s not the size that is the issue. It’s the ownership. “Extensive property” that is socially owned and managed is not problematic or in need of a “civil magistrate” to “chastise” the now non-existent poor.

It’s amazing how Smith can see the relations between property and social inequalities but draw the opposite conclusion: defend the ivory tower. I can see Smith being one of those Marx and Engels have in mind when they said,

You are horrified at our intending to do away with private property. But in your existing society, private property is already done away with for nine-tenths of the population; its existence for the few is solely due to its non-existence in the hands of those nine-tenths. You reproach us, therefore, with intending to do away with a form of property, the necessary condition for whose existence is the non-existence of any property for the immense majority of society.

In one word, you reproach us with intending to do away with your property. Precisely so; that is just what we intend.

Hear, hear!

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What We DO Know About Human Nature

[Note: I wrote this paragraph several years ago for an article that never got published and it has always stuck with me. Each word is hyperlinked to a graphic image detailing the realities of war. The idea behind this is that “a picture is worth a thousand words” and I want these words to convey – visually – their true strength. There is a lot we do not know about “human nature” and in a response to those who say war is in our nature I said that what we do know is…]

There is no law of nature which dictates that man must act with such brutality. There is no law that says men must create B-52 Stealth Bombers equipped with MOAB’s, depleted uranium and/or cluster bombs. Just like there was no law of nature that said the Germans must create Zyklon B.

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