Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Noam Chomsky On the National and Global Crisis of Capitalism And Its Critical Impact on Social and Economic Policy in the United States

--Eugene McDaniels, 1935-2011
(popularly known as the Left Reverend McD)
From: Outlaw, 1970 (Atlantic SD 8259)


"Take 9-11. That means something in the United States. The “world changed” after 9-11. Well, do a slight thought experiment. Suppose that on 9-11 the planes had bombed the White House… suppose they’d killed the president , established a military dictatorship, quickly killed thousands, tortured tens of thousands more, set up a major international terror center that was carrying out assassinations , overthrowing governments all over the place, installing other dictatorships, and drove the country into one of the worst depressions in its history and had to call on the state to bail them out Suppose that had happened? It did happen. On the first 9-11 in 1973. Except we were responsible for it, so it didn’t happen. That’s (Salvador) Allende’s Chile. You can’t imagine the media talking about this."
--Noam Chomsky


The relentlessly brilliant, absolutely tireless, and always deadly accurate Noam Chomsky--unlike far too many public intellectuals and activists these daze--is virtually incapable of telling anything but the WHOLE truth whenever he speaks or picks up the pen (even some extraordinary 40 books later!). At 82 years young the man simply remains more than ever what he has always been-- a towering force, fearless leader-by-example, and a true inspiration no matter what. Holla!


Noam Chomsky on America's Economic Suicide:
Interview on GRITtv
By Laura Flanders and Noam Chomsky
May 5, 2012

Noam Chomsky has not just been watching the Occupy movement. A veteran of the civil rights, anti-war, and anti-intervention movements of the 1960s through the 1980s, he’s given lectures at Occupy Boston and talked with occupiers across the US. His new book, Occupy, published in the Occupied Media Pamphlet Series by Zuccotti Park Press brings together several of those lectures, a speech on “occupying foreign policy” and a brief tribute to his friend and co-agitator Howard Zinn.

From his speeches, and in this conversation, it’s clear that the emeritus MIT professor and author is as impressed by the spontaneous, cooperative communities some Occupy encampments created, as he is by the movement’s political impact.

We’re a nation whose leaders are pursuing policies that amount to economic “suicide” Chomsky says. But there are glimmers of possibility – in worker co-operatives, and other spaces where people get a taste of a different way of living.

We talked in his office, for Free Speech TV on April 24.

LF: Let’s start with the big picture. How do you describe the situation we’re in, historically?

NC: There is either a crisis or a return to the norm of stagnation. One view is the norm is stagnation and occasionally you get out of it. The other is that the norm is growth and occasionally you can get into stagnation. You can debate that but it’s a period of close to global stagnation. In the major state capitalists economies, Europe and the US, it’s low growth and stagnation and a very sharp income differentiation a shift — a striking shift — from production to financialization.

The US and Europe are committing suicide in different ways. In Europe it’s austerity in the midst of recession and that’s guaranteed to be a disaster. There’s some resistance to that now. In the US, it’s essentially off-shoring production and financialization and getting rid of superfluous population through incarceration. It’s a subtext of what happened in Cartagena [Colombia] last week with the conflict over the drug war. Latin America wants to decriminalize at least marijuana (maybe more or course;) the US wants to maintain it. An interesting story. There seems to me no easy way out of this….

LF: And politically…?

NC: Again there are differences. In Europe there’s an dangerous growth of ultra xenophobia which is pretty threatening to any one who remembers the history of Europe… and an attack on the remnants of the welfare state. It’s hard to interpret the austerity-in-the-midst-of-recession policy as anything other than attack on the social contract. In fact, some leaders come right out and say it. Mario Draghi the president of the European Central Bank had an interview with the Wall St Journal in which he said the social contract’s dead; we finally got rid of it.

In the US, first of all, the electoral system has been almost totally shredded. For a long time it’s been pretty much run by private concentrated spending but now it’s over the top. Elections increasingly over the years have been [public relations] extravaganzas. It was understood by the ad industry in 2008 -- they gave Barack Obama their marketing award of the year. This year it’s barely a pretense.

The Republican Party has pretty much abandoned any pretense of being a traditional political party. It’s in lockstep obedience to the very rich, the super rich and the corporate sector. They can’t get votes that way so they have to mobilize a different constituency. It’s always been there, but it’s rarely been mobilized politically. They call it the religious right, but basically it’s the extreme religious population. The US is off the spectrum in religious commitment. It’s been increasing since 1980 but now it’s a major part of the voting base of the Republican Party so that means committing to anti-abortion positions, opposing women’s rights… The US is a country [in which] eighty percent of the population thinks the Bible was written by god. About half think every word is literally true. So it’s had to appeal to that – and to the nativist population, the people that are frightened, have always been… It’s a very frightened country and that’s increasing now with the recognition that the white population is going to be a minority pretty soon, “they’ve taken our country from us.” That’s the Republicans. There are no more moderate Republicans. They are now the centrist Democrats. Of course the Democrats are drifting to the Right right after them. The Democrats have pretty much given up on the white working class. That would require a commitment to economic issues and that’s not their concern.

LF: You describe Occupy as the first organized response to a thirty-year class war….

NC: It’s a class war, and a war on young people too… that’s why tuition is rising so rapidly. There’s no real economic reason for that. It’s a technique of control and indoctrination. And this is really the first organized, significant reaction to it, which is important.

LF: Are comparisons to Arab Spring useful?

NC: One point of similarity is they’re both responses to the toll taken by the neo lib programs. They have a different effect in a poor country like Egypt than a rich country like the US. But structurally somewhat similar. In Egypt the neoliberal programs have meant statistical growth, like right before the Arab Spring, Egypt was a kind of poster child for the World Bank and the IMF [International Monetary Fund:] the marvelous economic management and great reform. The only problem was for most of the population it was a kind of like a blow in the solar plexus: wages going down, benefits being eliminated, subsidized food gone and meanwhile, high concentration of wealth and a huge amount of corruption.

We have a structural analogue here – in fact the same is true in South America – some of the most dramatic events of the last decade (and we saw it again in Cartagena a couple of weeks ago) Latin America is turning towards independence for the first time in five hundred years. That’s not small. And the Arab Spring was beginning to follow it. There’s a counterrevolution in the Middle East/North Africa (MENAC) countries beating it back, but there were advances. In South America [there were] substantial ones and that’s happening in the Arab Spring and it has a contagious effect – it stimulated the Occupy movement and there are interactions.

LF. In the media, there was a lot of confusion in the coverage of Occupy. Is there a contradiction between anarchism and organization? Can you clarify?

NC: Anarchism means all sort of things to different people but the traditional anarchists’ movements assumed that there’d be a highly organized society, just one organized from below with direct participation and so on. Actually, one piece of the media confusion has a basis because there really are two different strands in the occupy movement, both important, but different.

One is policy oriented: what policy goals [do we want.] Regulate the banks, get money out of elections; raise the minimum wage, environmental issues. They’re all very important and the Occupy movement made a difference. It shifted not only the discourse but to some extent, action on these issues.

The other part is just creating communities — something extremely important in a country like this, which is very atomized. People don’t talk to each other. You’re alone with your television set or internet. But you can’t have a functioning democracy without what sociologists call “secondary organizations,” places where people can get together, plan, talk and develop ideas. You don’t do it alone. The Occupy movement did create spontaneously communities that taught people something: you can be in a supportive community of mutual aid and cooperation and develop your own health system and library and have open space for democratic discussion and participation. Communities like that are really important. And maybe that’s what’s causing the media confusion…because it’s both.

LF: Is that why the same media that routinely ignores violence against women, played up stories about alleged rape and violence at OWS camps?

NC: That’s standard practice. Every popular movement that they want to denigrate they pick up on those kind of things. Either that, or weird dress or something like that. I remember once in 1960s, there was a demonstration that went from Boston to

Washington and tv showed some young woman with a funny hat and strange something or other. There was an independent channel down in Washington – sure enough, showed the very same woman. That’s what they’re looking for. Let’s try to show that it’s silly and insignificant and violent if possible and you get a fringe of that everywhere.

To pay attention to the actual core of the movement — that would be pretty hard. Can you concentrate for example on either the policy issues or the creation of functioning democratic communities of mutual support and say, well, that’s what’s lacking in our country that’s why we don’t have a functioning democracy – a community of real participation. That’s really important. And that always gets smashed.

Take say, Martin Luther King. Listen to the speeches on MLK Day – and it’s all “I have a dream.” But he had another dream and he presented that in his last talk in Memphis just before he was assassinated. In which he said something about how he’s like Moses he can see the promised land but how we’re not going to get there. And the promised land was policies and developments which would deal with the poverty and repression, not racial, but the poor people’s movement. Right after that (the assassination) there was a march. [King] was going to lead it. Coretta Scott King led it. It started in Memphis went through the South to the different places where they’d fought the civil rights battle and ended up in Washington DC and they had a tent city, Resurrection Park and security forces were called in by the liberal congress. The most liberal congress in memory. They broke in in the middle of the night smashed up Resurrection Park and drove them out of the city. That’s the way you deal with popular movements that are threatening…

LF: Thinking of Memphis, where Dr. King was supporting striking sanitation workers, what are your thoughts on the future of the labor movement?

The labor movement had been pretty much killed in the 1920s, almost destroyed. It revived in the 1930s and made a huge difference. By the late 1930s the business world was already trying to find ways to beat it back. They had to hold off during the war but right after, it began immediately. Taft Hartley was 1947, then you get a huge corporate propaganda campaign a large part if it directed at labor unions: why they’re bad and destroy harmony and amity in the US. Over the years that’s had an effect. The Labor movement recognized what was going on far too late. Then it picked up under Reagan.

Reagan pretty much informed employers that they were not going to employ legal constraints on breaking up unions (they weren’t not strong but there were some) and firing of workers for organizing efforts I think tripled during the Reagan years.

Clinton came along; he had a different technique for breaking unions, it was called NAFTA [the North American Free Trade Agreement.] Under NAFTA there was again a sharp increase in illegal blocking of organizing efforts. You put up a sign – We’re going to transfer operations to Mexico… It’s illegal but if you have a criminal state, it doesn’t make a difference.

The end result, is, private sector unionization is down to practically seven percent. Meanwhile the public sector unions have kind of sustained themselves [even] under attack, but in the last few years, there’s been a sharp [increase in the] attack on public sector unions, which Barack Obama has participated in, in fact. When you freeze salaries of federal workers, that’s equivalent to taxing public sector people…

LF: And attacks on collective bargaining?

NC: Attacks on collective bargaining in Wisconsin [are part of] a whole range of attacks because that’s an attack on a part of the labor movement that was protected by the legal system as a residue of the New Deal and Great Society and so on.

LF: So do unions have a future?

NC: Well, it’s not worse than the 1920s. There was a very lively active militant labor movement in the late part of the 19th century, right through the early part of 20th century. [It was] smashed up by Wilson and the red scares. By the 1920s right-wing visitors from England were coming and just appalled by the way workers were treated. It was pretty much gone. But by 1930s it was not only revived, it was the core element of bringing about the New Deal. The organization of the CIO and the sit-down strikes which were actually terrifying to management because it was one step before saying “O.K. Goodbye, we’re going to run the factory.” And that was a big factor in significant New Deal measures that were not trivial but made a big difference.

Then, after the war, starts the attack, but it’s a constant battle right though American history. It’s the history of this country and the history of every other country too, but the US happens to have an unusually violent labor history. Hundreds of workers getting killed here for organizing at a time that was just unheard of in Europe or Australia…

LF: What is the Number One target of power today in your view? Is it corporations, Congress, media, courts?

NC: The Media are corporations so… It’s the concentrations of private power which have an enormous, not total control, but enormous influence over Congress and the White House and that’s increasing sharply with sharp concentration of private power and escalating cost of elections and so on…

LF: As we speak, there are shareholder actions taking place in Detroit and San Francisco. Are those worthwhile, good targets?

NC: They’re ok, but remember, stock ownership in the US is very highly concentrated. [Shareholder actions are] something, but it’s like the old Communist Party in the USSR, it would be nice to see more protest inside the Communist Party but it’s not democracy. It’s not going to happen. [Shareholder actions] are a good step, but they’re mostly symbolic. Why not stakeholder action? There’s no economic principal that says that management should be responsive to shareholders, in fact you can read in texts of business economics that they could just as well have a system in which the management is responsible to stakeholders.

LF: But you hear it all the time that under law, the CEO’s required to increase dividends to shareholders.

NC: It’s kind of a secondary commitment of the CEO. The first commitment is raise your salary. One of the ways to raise your salary sometimes is to have short-term profits but there are many other ways. In the last thirty years there have been very substantial legal changes to corporate governance so by now CEOs pretty much pick the boards that give them salaries and bonuses. That’s one of the reasons why the CEO-to-payment [ratio] has so sharply escalated in this country in contrast to Europe. (They’re similar societies and it’s bad enough there, but here we’re in the stratosphere. ] There’s no particular reason for it. Stakeholders — meaning workers and community – the CEO could just as well be responsible to them. This presupposes there ought to be management but why does there have to be management? Why not have the stakeholders run the industry?

LF: Worker co-ops are a growing movement. One question that I hear is — will change come from changing ownership if you don’t change the profit paradigm?

NC: It’s a little like asking if shareholder voting is a good idea, or the Buffet rule is a good idea. Yes, it’s a good step, a small step. Worker ownership within a state capitalist, semi-market system is better than private ownership but it has inherent problems. Markets have well-known inherent inefficiencies. They’re very destructive. The obvious one, in a market system, in a really functioning one, whoever’s making the decisions doesn’t pay attention to what are called externalities,effects on others. I sell you a car, if our eyes are open we’ll make a good deal for ourselves but we’re not asking how it’s going to affect her [over there.] It will, there’ll be more congestion, gas prices will go up, there will be environmental effects and that multiplies over the whole population. Well, that’s very serious.

Take a look at the financial crisis. Ever since the New Deal regulation was essentially dismantled, there have been regular financial crises and one of the fundamental reasons, it’s understood, is that the CEO of Goldman Sachs or CitiGroup does not pay attention to what’s calledsystemic risk. Maybe you make a risky transaction and you cover your own potential losses, but you don’t take into account the fact that if it crashes it may crash the entire system. Which is what a financial crash is.

The much more serious example of this is environmental impacts. In the case of financial institutions when they crash, the taxpayer comes to the rescue, but if you destroy the environment no one is going to come to the rescue…

LF: So it sounds as if you might support something like the Cleveland model where the ownership of the company is actually held by members of the community as well as the workers…

NC: That’s a step forward but you also have to get beyond that to dismantle the system of production for profit rather than production for use. That means dismantling at least large parts of market systems. Take the most advanced case: Mondragon. It’s worker owned, it’s not worker managed, although the management does come from the workforce often, but it’s in a market system and they still exploit workers in South America, and they do things that are harmful to the society as a whole and they have no choice. If you’re in a system where you must make profit in order to survive. You are compelled to ignore negative externalities, effects on others.

Markets also have a very bad psychological effect. They drive people to a conception of themselves and society in which you’re only after your own good, not the good of others and that’s extremely harmful.

LF: Have you ever had a taste of a non market system — had a flash of optimism –– oh this is how we could live?

NC: A functioning family for example, and there are bigger groups, cooperatives are a case in point. It certainly can be done. The biggest I know is Mondragon but there are many in between and a lot more could be done. Right here in Boston in one of the suburbs about two years ago, there was a small but profitable enterprise building high tech equipment. The multi-national who owned the company didn’t want to keep it on the books so they decided to close it down. The workforce and the union, UE (United Electrical workers), offered to buy it, and the community was supportive. It could have worked if there had been popular support. If there had been an Occupy movement then, I think that could have been a great thing for them to concentrate on. If it had worked you would have had another profitable, worker-owned and worker managed profitable enterprise. There‘s a fair amount of that already around the country. Gar Alperovitz has written about them, Seymour Melman has worked on them. Jonathan Feldman was working on these things.

There are real examples and I don’t see why they shouldn’t survive. Of course they’re going to be beaten back. The power system is not going to want them any more than they want popular democracy any more than the states of middle east and the west are going to tolerate the Arab spring… .They’re going to try to beat it back.

LF: They tried to beat back the sit-in strikes back in the 1930s. What we forget is entire communities turned out to support those strikes. In Flint, cordons of women stood between the strikers and the police.

NC: Go back a century to Homestead, the worker run town, and they had to send in the National Guard to destroy them.

LF: Trayvon Martin. Can you talk for a few minutes about the role of racism and racial violence in what we’ve been talking about? Some people think of fighting racism as separate from working on economic issues.

NC: Well you know, there clearly is a serious race problem in the country. Just take a look at what’s happening to African American communities. For example wealth, wealth in African American communities is almost zero. The history is striking. You take a look at the history of African Americans in the US. There’s been about thirty years of relative freedom. There was a decade after the Civil War and before north/south compact essentially recriminalized black life. During the Second World War there was a need for free labor so there was a freeing up of the labor force. Blacks benefitted from it. It lasted for about twenty years, the big growth period in the ‘50s and ‘60s, so a black man could get a job in an auto plant and buy a house and send his kids to college and kind of enter into the world but by the 70s it was over.

With the radical shift in the economy, basically the workforce, which is partly white but also largely black, they basically became superfluous. Look what happened, we recriminalized black life. Incarceration rates since the 1908s have gone through the roof, overwhelmingly black males, women and Hispanics to some extent. Essentially re-doing what happened under Reconstruction. That’s the history of African Americans – so how can any one say there’s no problem. Sure, racism is serious, but it’s worse than that…

LF: Talk about media. We often discern bias in the telling of a particular story, but I want you to talk more broadly about the way our money media portray power, democracy, the role of the individual in society and the way that change happens. …

NC: Well they don’t want change to happen….They’re right in the center of the system of power and domination. First of all the media are corporations, parts of bigger corporations, they’re very closely linked to other systems of power both in personnel and interests and social background and everything else. Naturally they tend to be reactionary.

LF: But they sort of give us a clock. If change hasn’t happened in ten minutes, it’s not going to happen.

NC: Well that’s a technique of indoctrination. That’s something I learned from my own experience. There was once an interview with Jeff Greenfield in which he was asked why I was never asked ontoNightline. He gave a good answer. He said the main reason was that I lacked concision. I had never heard that word before. You have to have concision. You have to say something brief between two commercials.

What can you say that’s brief between two commercials? I can say Iran is a terrible state. I don’t need any evidence. I can say Ghaddaffi carries out terror. Suppose I try to say the US carries out terror, in fact it’s one of the leading terrorist states in the world. You can’t say that between commercials. People rightly want to know what do you mean. They’ve never heard that before. Then you have to explain. You have to give background. That’s exactly what’s cut out. Concision is a technique of propaganda. It ensures you cannot do anything except repeat clichés, the standard doctrine, or sound like a lunatic.

LF: What about media’s conception of power? Who has it, who doesn’t have it and what’s our role if we’re not say, president or CEO.

NC: Well, not just the media but pretty much true of academic world, the picture is we the leading democracy in the world, the beacon of freedom and rights and democracy. The fact that democratic participation here is extremely marginal, doesn’t enter [the media story.] The media will condemn the elections in Iran, rightly, because the candidates have to be vetted by the clerics. But they won’t point out that in the United States [candidates] have to be vetted by high concentrations of private capital. You can’t run in an election unless you can collect millions of dollars.

One interesting case is right now. This happens to be the 50thanniversary of the US invasion of South Vietnam – the worst atrocity in the post war period. Killed millions of people, destroyed four countries, total horror story. Not a word. It didn’t happen because “we” did it. So it didn’t happen.

Take 9-11. That means something in the United States. The “world changed” after 9-11. Well, do a slight thought experiment. Suppose that on 9-11 the planes had bombed the White House… suppose they’d killed the president , established a military dictatorship, quickly killed thousands, tortured tens of thousands more, set up a major international terror center that was carrying out assassinations , overthrowing governments all over the place, installing other dictatorships, and drove the country into one of the worst depressions in its history and had to call on the state to bail them out Suppose that had happened? It did happen. On the first 9-11 in 1973. Except we were responsible for it, so it didn’t happen. That’s Allende’s Chile. You can’t imagine the media talking about this.

And you can generalize it broadly. The same is pretty much true of scholarship – except for on the fringes – it’s certainly true of the mainstream of the academic world. In some respects critique of the media is a bit misleading [because they’re not alone among institutions of influence] and of course, they closely interact.

Former Air America Radio host, Laura Flanders is the host and founder of GRITtv with Laura Flanders, a daily talk show for people who want to do more than talk. She is the author of the New York Times bestseller BUSHWOMEN: Tales of a Cynical Species (Verso, 2004) and Blue GRIT: True Democrats Take Back Politics from the Politicians (Penguin Press, 2007). A regular contributor on MSNBC, Flanders has appeared on shows from Real Time with Bill Maher to The O’Reilly Factor. Flanders is the editor of At the Tea Party: The Wing Nuts, Whack Jobs and Whitey-whiteness of the New Republican Right… and Why we Should Take it Seriously (October 2010, OR books). For more information, go to LauraFlanders.com or GRITtv.org.

© 2012 GRITtv All rights reserved.
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David Harvey On the Modern City, the Occupy Wall Street Movement, Social Revolution, and the Political Economy of Capitalism


"One of the definitions of 'urban' is a contested site where there is a war going on, and where there has been a war going on forever, over the future identity of the United States. When we talk about political economy and the global capitalist economic system that rules us all, what we're really talking about--when we talk about all these racial and sexual identities and the conflicts and problems between classes and between men and women--is the urban as a site for the attempted resolution of those questions."
--Kofi Natambu, "The Urban Context"
Black Popular Culture Conference, December 8-10, 1991
Studio Museum of Harlem & Dia Center for the Arts (SoHo) NYC


Great interview with David Harvey! I just purchased his new book last week. I have always been a huge fan of Harvey's work in general and I can't wait to read it...Check out the interview below and all of Harvey's outstanding published work if/when you get a chance...


David Harvey: Taking Back the Streets for Anti-Capitalist Struggles
Friday, 04 May 2012
By Aaron Leonard, Rabble | Interview

David Harvey's latest explores how to organize cities to create a more just world.

Rebel Cities: From the Right to the City to the Urban Revolution
by David Harvey (Verso Press, 2012; $21.00)

David Harvey, anthropology professor, geographer and authority on Karl Marx's work Capital, has just published Rebel Cities: From the Right to the City to the Urban Revolution. The book addresses the state of inequality in capitalist society, the role of the city as concentration point of struggle around that, and the prospects for a different world.

Aaron Leonard spoke with him recently in his office at the City University of New York Graduate Center.

Aaron Leonard: Why do you call the book, Rebel Cities?

David Harvey: One of the questions I'm asking is what is the role of the city in anti-capitalist struggle. Clearly a lot of struggles against capitalism occur in the cities, but there is a lot of struggle going on about cities which are actually about the capitalist mode of urbanization. So it seemed to me, putting that all together, we ought to be rebelling against this through urban struggles as well as the struggles which we often hear talked, everything from peasant rebellions, to classical class-struggles around labor organizing and the like.

I am saying there is another terrain of struggle, which is over the city. In the same way there is a long history of peasant rebellions, there is a long history of rebellions going on in cities, general strikes and such. If you look at the American Revolution, while it ended up being fairly rural, it began in the port cites -- in the taverns where people would argue and debate -- that is where much of the thought of getting rid of the British came from. I thought that it would be a striking thing to insert that theme into the political dialogue right now.

AL: In the first part of your book, in discussing the concept of fictitious capital, you quote Karl Marx.

"All connection with the actual process of capital's valorization is lost, right down to the last trace, confirming the notion that capital is automatically valorized by its own powers." (Capital, Vol. III p. 597)

It seems that description gets at the nub of a number of points of confusion -- that somehow value, wealth, economic health, or whatever you wish to call it, gets ascribed to something other than what actually determines it. Could you talk about what this means and why Marx such an important reference in understanding our present circumstances?

DH: I have taught and written about Marx for many years and have a bit of a project to make Marx comprehensible to people. In my view Marx has one of the most sophisticated understandings of how capitalism works -- and the problems that are attached to the ways in which it works -- of any writer who has ever tried to really dissect capitalism.

You've got 11,000 economists in the United States and none of them saw the crisis coming. In Marx's theory you can see exactly where the tensions build up, in his words, where the contradictions come from. One thing I try to do is make it as comprehensible as I can while at the same time redirect people, to say you may want to go back and read Marx because he has these wonderful understandings.

For example, before the current [financial] mess, we would put our money in a savings bank and expect it to grow by three per cent. We put money in a pension fund and expect it to grow by four or five per cent per year. We don't ask, where did that four or five per cent come from? It seems magical, disconnected entirely from the people in the factories, fields and mines who made it. What Marx does is to connect the two and say look if there is an increase of some kind, then somebody's making it somewhere. Who's making it? Labour is making it down in the mine, out in the field and in the factories... and when you take it further in the home.

What then happens is in the financial system, banks lend to banks, they leverage on each other and magically they become incredibly richer. Hedge fund managers can get three billion dollars personal renumeration in one year. Where does that wealth come from? Marx is always asking that type of question. But we live in a world where this category of fictitious capital has really taken off, and much of Wall Street functions in a form of fictitious capital where nobody knows what really grounds it. It's magical, yet it produces this vast rate of return for all the people who are managing it. That is the kind of world that Marx is very good at penetrating and depicting. I am saying that we have to understand how that works, but by the way, Marx understood this very well. To the degree I understand it comes from my studies of Marx.

AL: You ask in the book: "Where is our '68?, or even more dramatically our version of the Commune?" [the Paris Commune of 1871]. What do you mean?

DH: I am struck by the enormous disparities and inequalities that exist in society. To give you a simple case study about New York City. The top one per cent earns on average something like $3.7 million dollars a year. That means that they are earning about $10,000 a day. There are a million people in New York City who are trying to live on $10,000 a year. Half of the population of the City are earning less than $30,000 a year. We haven't seen such disparities since the 1920s.

In the past, these inequalities have generated, at some point, a revolt and I have been looking for the last few years to see, where is the revolt? We saw some of it in the anti-globalization movement in Seattle and Montreal and now we have such things as Occupy Wall Street. But we haven't seen a mass of the population rising up and saying, "Enough is enough! Stop it." Part of the reason is politics is entirely ruled by money power. The top one percent dominate all political discourse, the media and [exercise control] through Congressional influence.

I think underneath it there is this sort of volcano waiting to explode. I am waiting for it to happen and am surprised it hasn't. Where is our '68, Where is our Paris Commune? It hasn't come. We are beginning to see signs of it coming in various parts of the world.

The place where it has really come big time, is in Chile. The Chilean student movement has occupied all the universities. They are attacking Pinochetism. Here we've got to get rid of Reaganism -- Reagan's gone, the Republican party however, now looks much worse than Reagan. The same is true in Britain, Thatcher is gone but Thatcherism remains. I think at some point there has to be a coherent counterattack upon the tremendous concentration of political and economic power that now exists all around the world.

It is going to have to be by using the only power that we have, which is to take back the streets and take back the cities. Which is why I get into the question of how can we organize whole cities to create a more just world, a different and alternative form of society? That is the question I am very interested in posing in the book. The answer is I don't really know quite how to do it, but let's talk about it and let's think about it
AL: Zbigniew Brzezinski -- a friend of U.S. global domination -- in his book, Strategic Vision writes, "If America continues to put off instituting a serious reform plan that simultaneously reduces spending and increases revenue, the United States will likely face a fate similar to previous fiscally crippled great powers, whether ancient Rome or 20th-century Great Britain."

How do you see the implications of the 2007-08 crisis in terms of its more far-reaching global ramifications?

DH: Look at the data. The United States has been stuck with massive unemployment, stuck with very low growth. What has China been doing? China lost 30 million jobs in the crash, but the end of the year they had recuperated 27 million of them and they were growing again at 10 per cent. There is a tremendous shift of wealth and power to the Far East. It used to be the West was draining the East now its the other way around. Giovannia Arrighi has this thesis about hegemonic shifts which occur and they usually occur after periods of rapid financialization.

The shift from Dutch hegemony to British hegemony was preceded by a certain financial expansion. The shift from British to U.S. hegemony was preceded by a financial expansion. The financial expansion of the United States in the last 30 years was complicitous in the deindustrialization of the United States and the shift of economic power in many ways toward the Far East. So yes we are seeing those shifts. Saying that, I don't belong to that particular group that would say this is the end of America at all. In fact one of the problems is the United States still has a preeminent military power, even as its economic power and moral influence and all the rest of its is considerably on the wane.

But look at the urban side of that. Go to a place like Shanghai or some of these new cities that are being entirely built in China, the urbanization of China is phenomenal. The urban dimension to it is very significant. Then the question rises, what urban model is being followed. For instance in the Chinese case, sadly in many ways, its a version of what happened in the United States in the 1950s and 1960s. The Chinese are building gated communities, they are building suburbs, the automobile is going everywhere. It's an environmental disaster, and social inequality is escalating. There is a real set of problems there that is creating a good deal of unrest. I wouldn't be at all surprised if people don't see urban rebellions going on in China. In other words there's much talk about what's happening differently between nation states, but to shift the conversation a bit, let's talk about what's going on in the cities.

AL: Is it enough to just be "anti-capitalist?" Isn't a different paradigm of organizing society going to require a much bigger break than we might imagine, at once, more audacious and more visionary -- with all the risk involved in that?

DH: Yes it will take a radical break. To be anti-capitalist is to talk about finding a way to displace the fundamental ways that breakfast gets put on your table; which is through the market system, through corporate power, corporate agriculture, advertising and all the rest of it. So to be anti-capitalist is to be anti all of that.

This then says we have to find an alternative way in which we can figure out how to feed the seven billion people on planet earth; how do they get housed, how do they have a reasonable standard of living without resort to capital accumulation, without resort to market processes of the sort we now utilize? I can't see that just being engineered by going on the barricades or storming the Winter Palace. We have to talk about a whole generation which is going to actually work through creating this entirely different configuration in the world economy.

We have reached this point in capitalist history, and I have argued elsewhere, I think we are at an inflection point where capital cannot continue to accumulate at its compounding rate of growth and be sustainable in a social or political way. There are a lot of stresses inside it and what we are seeing is now the last gasp of traditional capitalism going on in the Far East and stagnation effectively hitting North America and Europe. This means an alternative is going to have to be found. We have to collectively start to think about it.

The trouble right now is that we have universities dominated by neoliberal ideology, a managerial corporatist ideology, and most of the media is dominated by all of that. We cannot even have a conversation about what it would would mean to be anti-capitalist, or a broad discussion amongst intelligent people about how are we going to change this system so that seven billion people can have a reasonable lifestyle without the inequality I mentioned earlier, in New York and in fact every American [and other] city.

Yes it's going to be a radical break, but one that will take a whole generation to accomplish. We have to start thinking about organizational alternatives. There are many organizations out there who are trying to do such things; creating solidarity economies, communes... little bits and pieces of organization out there. The difficulty is to scale them up from local solutions to a mass global solution, which is going to be a real challenge.

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license.

Aaron Leonard is a writer and freelance journalist and regular contributor to the History News Network. His writings can be found at www.aaronleonard.net.


Ahead of May Day, David Harvey Details Urban Uprisings From Occupy Wall Street to the Paris Commune
By Amy Goodman, Democracy NOW! | Video

On Tuesday, May 1st, known as May Day or International Workers' Day, Occupy Wall Street protesters hope to mobilize tens of thousands of people across the country under the slogan, "General Strike. No Work. No Shopping. Occupy Everywhere." Events are planned in 125 cities. We speak with leading social theorist David Harvey, distinguished professor of anthropology at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, about how Occupy Wall Street compares to other large-scale grassroots movements throughout modern history. "It's struck a chord," Harvey says of the Occupy movement. "I hope tomorrow there will be a situation in which many more people will say, 'Look, things have got to change. Something different has to happen.'" Harvey's most recent book is "Rebel Cities: From the Right to the City to the Urban Revolution."

Rush Transcript:

AMY GOODMAN: Tuesday is May Day, May 1st, also known as International Workers' Day, a holiday that celebrates workers' rights and achievements of organized labor, such as the eight-hour workday. This year, the Occupy Wall Street campaign is hoping to mobilize tens of thousands of people across the country under the general slogan, "General Strike. No Work. No Shopping. Occupy Everywhere". Events are planned in 125 cities. The Occupy campaign plans to protest in 99 targets alone in Midtown Manhattan, including the offices of JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America.

Activists gathered last Thursday in New York City's Union Square to announce plans for the massive May Day protest that will include immigrant groups, workers' unions, members of Occupy Wall Street. Chris Silvera is Secretary-[Treasurer] of Teamsters Local 808.

CHRIS SILVERA: We want the immigrant community. We want Teamsters. We want laborers. We want the RSDWU. We want the United Food and Commercial Workers. This is a day that should be represented by hundreds of thousands marching like they did in 1886. We have to turn back the clock on Mr. Romney, on Mr. Obama, on the Congress, on Mario Cuomo, on Bloomberg. And the 99 percent has to get their share.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, to talk more about May Day and the Occupy campaign, we're joined by leading social theorist, David Harvey, distinguished professor of anthropology at the Graduate Center of City University of New York. He has been teaching Karl Marx's Capital for nearly 40 years, is the author of a number of books, including The Limits to Capital and A Brief History of Neoliberalism_. His most recent book is called Rebel Cities: From the Right to the City to the Urban Revolution_ Explain, David Harvey.

DAVID HARVEY: I'm trying to look at the history of urban uprisings. And actually, if you look at the situation around the world right now, you see examples in Berlin. You see them in Cairo. You see them going on with the indignados movement in Spain, and of course in Greece. And you see them in Chile. And in recent years, we've seen uprisings in places like Los Angeles 20 years ago. And so, this—and I'm interested in the sort of political significance of these movements. And I think, in some ways, Occupy Wall Street is in that tradition.

And tomorrow's actions, which are going to be decentralized all over the city, in a way is saying, "Let's take back the city and call it our city, instead of being the city that belongs to the 1 percent." And so, it's a bit like saying, "Let's have our city, and we'll make it our city." And, of course, one of the instances where that happened most emphatically was back in the Paris Commune of 1871. And so, I wanted—

AMY GOODMAN: What was the Paris Commune of 1871?

DAVID HARVEY: The Paris Commune was an uprising against the government in an attempt to create an alternative form of urban governance in Paris in 1871 under conditions of war and the like. And, of course, it was ruthlessly suppressed, as we see going on in Syria right now, in Homs, in fact, so that—so these urban movements can sometimes work, and sometimes they get savagely repressed.

AMY GOODMAN: Moving forward from the Paris Commune, you talk about the right to the city. What does that mean?

DAVID HARVEY: The right to the city means—who has the right to New York City? Who can affect things here? Who can really change life here? And when we talk about the power of the 1 percent, we're talking about an extremely powerful group that actually dominates much of investment in the city, much of rebuilding of the city. We have a billionaire mayor who allies with them. But it's hardly a city that is run by Picture the Homeless or the impoverished population. So, in claiming the right—in reclaiming the right to the city, what we're really trying to talk about is the way in which ordinary people can affect urban life and define a different kind of urban environment in which they're going to live.

AMY GOODMAN: Earlier this month, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg compared the city council's living wage bill to communism. The bill would raise workers' wages at city-subsidized developments. Bloomberg made the comment in an interview on WOR radio.

MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: If you think about it, the last time you really had a big managed economy was the USSR, and that didn't work out so well. You cannot stop the tides from coming in. We need jobs in the city. It would be great if all jobs in the city paid a lot of money and had great benefits for the workers—not good for the employers—but if you force that, you will just drive businesses out of the city.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Mayor Bloomberg. David Harvey?

DAVID HARVEY: That's the usual story. But look at the situation. The top 1 percent in New York City earns—on income tax returns, earns something like $3.75 million a year. That's what the top 1 percent earns, on average. There are 34,000 households, nearly 100,000 people, who are trying to live in the city on $10,000 a year. Half of the population of New York City is trying to live on $30,000 a year. This is—the levels of inequality in the city are absolutely stunning, and they've increased immensely since the 1970s.

And then [inaudible] say, who dominates urban life? Who dominates the decisions? Well, it's the 1 percent. And so, I think what Occupy Wall Street and the rest is saying is that we only have one form of power, which is people on the streets, actions in the streets. We don't have the power to dominate the media. We don't have the power, the money power, to dominate politics. And this is the situation we are in. So Occupy Wall Street is trying to give a different mode of political expression to politics as usual.

AMY GOODMAN: The Occupy movement has faced increasingly brutal police responses. In November, Democracy Now! spoke to Stephen Graham, who wrote Cities Under Siege: The New Military Urbanism, which looks at the increasing influence of military technology on domestic police forces.

STEPHEN GRAHAM: Well, there's been a longstanding shift in North America and Europe towards paramilitarized policing, using helicopter-style systems, using infrared sensing, using really, really heavy militarized weaponry. That's been longstanding, fueled by the war on drugs and other sort of explicit campaigns. But more recently, there's been a big push since the end of the Cold War by the big defense and security and IT companies to sell things like video surveillance systems, things like geographic mapping systems, and even more recently, drone systems, that have been used in the assassination raids in Afghanistan and in Pakistan and elsewhere, as sort of a domestic policing technology.

AMY GOODMAN: That's Stephen Graham, who wrote Cities Under Siege: The New Military Urbanism. You know, we have a law, Posse Comitatus, that says soldiers can't march in the streets, but it seems the way authorities get around this is simply by militarizing the police. Professor Harvey?

DAVID HARVEY: Yes, this is—but I take this as a sign of how nervous the 1 percent is. I mean, we've gone through this crisis, and effectively, the 1 percent has done very well out of this crisis. Nobody has gone to jail for all of the things that we know went wrong. And I think the 1 percent is rather terrified that actually people will start listening to the rhetoric of Occupy Wall Street. And to some degree, people already have, because the conversation has shifted a little bit towards the question of social inequality and poverty. And I think that the repressive moves of the police are not just simply in New York City, but across the nation. It seems almost to be coordinated, seems to me to be almost a direct line of instruction from, you know, the JPMorgans of this world and all of the rich folk to kind of say, "You've got to keep these people quiet, you've got to squash it in the bud. In the bud."

AMY GOODMAN: And the police did end all of the encampments.

DAVID HARVEY: And the police have been doing it. And I think Occupy Wall Street is taking some inspiration, it seems to me, from the courage of the people in Tahrir Square or in Bahrain and all the rest of it, to say, "Look, things have to change. And we're going to try to make this change come about in a peaceful way." I mean, this is, again, one of the signal things it's about. This is a peaceful form of demonstration, and it has been ruthlessly sometimes turned into a police riot.

AMY GOODMAN: You talk about the creation of the urban commons.

DAVID HARVEY: Yes. Well, amazing thing about New York City, for example, is there are all these public spaces, but is there a public space where we can set up the equivalence of the Athenian Agora and have a political discussion? And the answer to that is no. You have to apply for, you know, all kinds of permits, and it's highly regulated. So the public space is not really open to the public. A lot of it is now, of course, turned into flower beds, and so we have a great place for the assemblage of tulips and so on, but we don't have a place where people can assemble. And so, one of the things we're going to try to do tomorrow is to set up places of assembly where we can talk about things. So there's a sort of a free university in Madison Square Park. I'm going to be participating in that. Then many other actions of that kind, one aim of which is to try to liberate spaces in the city where we can have political discussions and where we can have open political dialogue.

AMY GOODMAN: You talk about the party of Wall Street meeting its nemesis.

DAVID HARVEY: Well, I think Occupy Wall Street has really been onto something. It's struck a chord. And the big—and I talked about the repression of it, but—and I think the chord it struck is, in effect, measured by the speed and fierceness of the repressive moves that have been taken. So I think it's beginning to be listened to, and I hope tomorrow there will be a situation in which many more people will say, "Look, things have got to change. Something different has to happen."

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, the art of rent. There is a big anti-foreclosure movement all over this country. In Minneapolis, there is a protest right now—


AMY GOODMAN: —happening to prevent another foreclosure. Why do refer to the "art of rent"?

DAVID HARVEY: Well, one of the things that's happened is the attempt to turn cultural activities into industries to try to commodify history, and you get a sort of commodified form of history. And that allows people to claim that this is a very unique configuration. So, there's an attempt to create something very, very special, to which tourists are drawn, and then that gives you what I call "monopoly rent," that the uniqueness of cultural configuration is being commodified. But as you know, with the environmental—

AMY GOODMAN: Five seconds.

DAVID HARVEY: —commons and everything else, the tendency is for the uniqueness actually to be destroyed by commercialization.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor David Harvey, thank you for joining us.

DAVID HARVEY: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: We'll put part two on our website. Rebel Cities: From the Right to the City to the Urban Revolution.

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license.