War is War on Mother Earth

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Second in a series on War and Climate Chaos. Read the first here.  Also find this article at Counterpunch.

“In order to achieve the massive systemic and cultural transformations required for mitigating climate change…we’re going to have to deal with the socially sanctioned, institutionalized violence perpetrated by U.S. foreign policy that is pouring fuel on the fire of global warming.” Stacy Bannerman

Climate Change Causes War 

There is the close relationship between war and climate change that can be seen in a cycle of feedback loops creating the interlocking crisis. 

Take the case of Syria, the perfect example with its direct relationship between war and drought. In an exacting statistical analysis of wars fought between 1980 and 2010 the connection between war and climate change is undeniable. 

The US military itself has long recognized climate change as a “threat multiplier.” The last three Pentagon Quadrennial Defense Reviews characterized climate change as a threat to national security.[1]

Since the idea of climate change as “threat multiplier” tends to encourage militarized responses, (like Elizabeth Warren’s recent proposals) this information is widely reported in the pro-war media and I will not repeat it here. The military and their media allies fall silent when it comes to a far more important truth: war causes climate change.

War Causes Climate Chaos

At the core of the corporate state is the war machine, the world’s largest polluter. Despite the exemptions from reporting on military pollution that the US demanded in the 1997 Kyoto Accords and continued suppression of information by the military, the general picture comes through. Consider the evidence linking fossil fuels and war making.

  • The US military is the world’s largest polluters of all forms of toxins. Almost 900 of the nearly 1,200 Superfund sites in the U.S. are abandoned military facilities or sites that otherwise supported military needs.
  • While there are many sources, a 2016 report by the GAO itself stated: “The Department of Defense (DOD) generally, and the military services in particular, are the largest consumers of fuel in the United States Government.”  
  • Military pollution is particularly poisonous. Fighter jets, destroyers, tanks and other weapons systems emit highly toxic, carbon-intensive emissions, not to mention the toxins released from the detonation of bombs including the forever-poison depleted uranium munitions.

Given the historically unprecedented size of the US empire and its permanent war- footing we can safely assume that the US military is the largest consumer of fossil fuels and largest producer of greenhouse gasses in the world.

“Possessing the world’s largest fleet of…aircraft, helicopters, ships, tanks, armored vehicles…– virtually all powered by oil — the Department of Defense is, in fact, the world’s leading consumer of petroleum… [A]n April 2007 report by a defense contractor…suggests that the Pentagon might consume as much as 340,000 barrels (14 million gallons) every day. This is greater than the total national consumption of Sweden or Switzerland.” Michael Klare

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The military guarantees the profits and political power of the oil giants. As Nick Turse, author of The Complex: How the Military Invades Our Everyday Lives, explains in an article about the military-petroleum complex: 

“[T]he DoD had some of the planet’s biggest petroleum dealers, and masters of the corporate universe, on its payroll. In 2005, alone, the Pentagon paid out more than $1.5 billion to BP (British Petroleum)…(on whose behalf the CIA…covertly overthrew the Iranian government back in 1953). In 2005, the Pentagon also paid out over $1 billion to…the Royal Dutch Petroleum Company (best known in the United States for its Shell brand gasoline) – and in excess of $1 billion to oil titan ExxonMobil. In 2005, ExxonMobil, Royal Dutch Petroleum, and BP ranked sixth, seventh, and eighth on the Forbes magazine’s list of the world’s five hundred largest corporations in terms of revenue.”

The subsidy to oil is so great it’s hard to tell where the military ends and the oil companies begin. And this does not even count other forms of direct and — the even more massive and hidden indirect subsidies — showered on fossil fuel giants by the US government.

Securing America’s Future Energy, a group of retired military and business leaders counter the official claims that the military spends zero dollars defending oil by making a conservative estimate that $81 billion a year funds oil capture and production.

Environmental engineer and Director of Traprock Center for Peace and Justice, Patricia Hynes captures the big picture in this excellent video.

“[T]he US military consumes fossil fuel beyond compare to any other institutional and per capita consumption in order to preserve strategic access to oil — a lunacy instigated by a series of post-WWII Presidential decisions.” Patricia Hynes

The war machine burns oil to capture oil to burn oil to capture oil. The empire is no marketplace: it’s both supply and demand. So while the consumption of oil by the military is a small percentage of the world’s total consumption, its role as coordinator and enforcer of the fossil fuel regime is what makes the US military a threat to our living planet. Hynes again captures the big picture in a recent article:

“The United States is the central actor and agent for more reasons than its historical megaconsumption of fossil fuels. The U.S. has functioned as the stimulant and model for social, economic and political systems driving GDP growth in other rich and newly rich countries, resulting in fossil fuel use spiraling “out of control since the mid 20th century.” Not only that, but the U.S. mode of consumption is continually being reproduced across the world.”

As the US empire grew around the world it held up the “American Way of Life” as proof of our superiority and a standard for others to follow. And that standard meant growth without limit and burning fossils, lot of them.

The Historical Context Reveals Everything: It’s an Oil Empire

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The fusion between the military and oil giants created a dramatic spike in fossil fuel use starting around 1950. This merger and its consequences occurred in a particular historical context: the supremacy of the US empire in the years following WWII. Elaine Graham-Leigh sets it out:

“The rapid rise in greenhouse gas emissions that created the current climate crisis began around 1950…in the period immediately following the Second World War…..The Allies would not have won had they not been able to cut off German access to oil and to maintain it for themselves. The lesson for the US…was that… monopolization of the world’s oil was essential if it was to be the world’s superpower. This made oil a central military priority, and also cemented the dominant position of the petroleum/automotive sector in the US.”

Oil became “a central military priority” and engine of seemingly unlimited economic growth. The US military became traffic cop for the oil trade.

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A Marriage Made in Hell

In the decades following WWII only two global superpowers were left standing: the neoliberal regime of huge transnational corporations that operated above and beyond national borders and the US empire with its vast global network of military bases and perpetual wars operating above and beyond international law. The global economy and the global empire were a perfect match. It was a marriage made in hell.[2]

In 1980, President Carter reasserted the connections between US policy, military force and oil. Shaken by the overthrow of a CIA-installed regime in Iran in 1979 and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Carter’s State of the Union Address proclaimed US control over Middle East oil.

The region which is now threatened by Soviet troops in Afghanistan is of great strategic importance: It contains more than two-thirds of the world’s exportable oil….Let our position be absolutely clear: an attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force.

The so-called “Carter Doctrine” was the work of Zbigniew Brzezinski (organizer of the Mujahadeen and father to corporate media star Mika Brzezinski). Apparently the US was not an “outside force” in the Middle East but there was nothing “outside” of its “vital interests.” Ronald Regan built on Brzezinski’s vision of limitless world hegemony by defining the security of Saudi Arabia as essential to US interests — to this day it still is.

The US government married its fortunes to oil — “until death do us part.” We shall see about that.

The Arctic as the “Last Great Frontier”

The other revealing context reaches to our oldest cultural mythologies of frontier and American exceptionalism. Only in the US could the disaster of climate change become a new frontier complete with profitable business opportunities.

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The Obama Administration discovered, in the melting Arctic, both our past glories and potential for future wealth.

The Arctic is one of our planet’s last great frontiers. Our pioneering spirit is naturally drawn to this region, for the economic opportunities it presents and in recognition of the need to protect and conserve this unique, valuable, and changing environment.” 

Are we supposed to believe that the very institutions that melted the polar ice caps can now be trusted to “protect and conserve” what’s left? The same document claims it’s going to “account for indigenous communities.” Right, just like natives were accounted for at Standing Rock (to name but one of many examples).

Falsehoods of this magnitude can only seem believable when they are part of a culture’s deepest mythologies. The “last great frontier” and “pioneering spirit” is code for empire, the colonial project and in this case — an updated version of the Doctrine of DiscoveryObama called forth the frontier spirits — a year later the US staked its claim to the newly “discovered” territory with a military strategy for the Arctic. 

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Then along comes Trump, another frontiersman — without the righteous pretensions — but still a product of the same myths each and every President has passed on to us.

Trump is rushing us toward destruction by escalating wars inherited from Bush and Obama even adding new fronts in Venezuela and Iran. He declared open season on Arctic oil production and native rights. Trump’s Secretary of State Mike Pompeo repeated the age-old formula seeing “opportunity and abundance and military advantage in the ice-free waters of the north pole. Trump’s new Arctic military strategy totally misses climate change while targeting Russia and China. Now we have a new arms race and record global military spending led by Trump but provoked by the Russia-obsessed Democrats and pro-war media.

It’s a perfect storm of a system. 

In elevating military power over climate change Trump takes his proper place as an All-American President much like the ones that came before him. Deal with it. Trump did not drop from the sky.

Unless we reckon with our past we will not have a future.

The war on Mother Earth demands the kind of transformative change that only a massive “movement of movements” can create. I hate being the bearer of bad news but we face an interlocking crisis of militarism and climate change driven by the interlocking institutions of corporate power  — all deeply rooted in national mythology.

Hope alone is not a strategy. Hope leads us to shallow moral politics that substitute our desires and dreams for the daily concrete work of organizing ourselves to confront power. A real political strategy begins with an honest assessment of the problems we face. Yes, we face a ruling class with a single-minded fixation on profit and power. No, there is no evidence that they will regulate themselves. In fact, they are driving us to the precipice.

Only we can steer us away from cliff. Grab the wheel.

1/For more on “threat multiplier” see Ben Hayes, “Colonizing the Future: Climate Change and International Security Strategies,” in The Secure and the Dispossessed: How the Military and Corporations Are Shaping a Climate-Changed World.

2/ The persistent idea that the Soviet Union was a superpower on par with the US was ultimately proven false by the collapse of the Soviet state. The massively researched and award-winning book by Melvyn Leffler, A Preponderance of Power, shows that during the early formative years of the Cold War the US was without rival.

Posted in American Culture, Capitalism, Climate Change, Corporate Power, Empire, Green Party, History, Movement Culture, organizing, revolutionary strategy, Socialism, Strategy, War, War creates Climate Change | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Interlocking Crisis: War and Climate Chaos

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Also in Counterpunch

“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” — James Baldwin

Climate change is the apex crisis of all time and the US military is the prime crisis multiplier.  

As we approach the horizon of climate disaster it certainly looks like the predatory phase of human history — of which war is just the most glaring example — is related to our predatory relationship with nature. At the center of the storm is the interlocking crisis of militarism and climate destruction.

We will evolve beyond perpetual war and global empire or face climate chaos.  

The climate crisis is rooted in a set of interlocking institutions with a common cause of power over others and a shared strategy of violence, plunder and deception. The military is the linchpin, playing a pivotal role intensifying the climate crisis.

Consider the basic facts. The US military is:

The war machine’s enormous consumption and strategic capture of fossil fuels and their behind-the-scenes management of the crisis hints at its true role: sponsor of big oil and co-creator of the climate crisis.

The dominance of fossil fuels and the supremacy of the US empire rely not on victory in war or on market savvy or “value added” to the economy but on their political power. That power makes destructive and wasteful industries extremely profitable. The Oil Empire relies on massive public funding, carefully crafted exemptions to law and immunity from the economic, social and environmental damages they inflict. 

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The military can only maintain the fiction that it protects our security by concealing its role as destroyer of the very things we really need to survive: a healthy environment and a democratic society. The fossil fuel giants can only maintain the fiction that they are profitable players in a free market by winning trillions of dollars in direct and indirect subsidies and by eliminating its major cost: pollution. 

Mark Jacobson, director of Stanford’s Atmosphere/Energy Program speaks to the true costs of the choices ahead.

“[A] wind-water-solar system uses half the energy as a fossil fuel system and also eliminates health and climate costs due to fossil fuels. U.S. consumers will pay only $1 trillion per year in energy costs with the GND, whereas under a fossil fuel system, they will pay $2 trillion per year in energy costs and $600 billion per year in air pollution health costs, and will incur $3.3 trillion per year in global climate costs due to U.S. emissions, for a total economic cost of $5.9 trillion per year. Thus a wind-water-solar system costs society one-sixth that of a fossil fuel system.”

The carbon, methane, oil spills and fracking fluids wrecking our one and only home are — by the wonders of capitalist accounting — simply made to disappear as a cost of doing business.

Get this: giant corporations claim legal ownership to the fossil fuels created by nature; they own the machines and labor to refine and transport it; they hide and control the formula for fracking fluids as a trade secret. But, the toxic chemicals themselves, the oil spills, the carbon and methane waste — without which no fossil fuels are produced or consumed — are not their property but ours. Only the profits remain with the corporations. Pollution is considered by both corporate and government actors as an “externality” that is not counted. But, its poisons are not external to nature or our bodies and we are already paying for it with the sixth extinction, premature death for millions and hundreds of billions of dollars each year.

If the true costs of oil, gas and coal were accounted for in the capitalists’ equation — including massive public subsidies — the fossil fuel giants would quickly go from being among the richest and most connected corporations in the world to bankrupt orphans. But, those costs are cloaked by the war machine because it is essential to the military’s own need to hide the true costs of war.

The power of the corporations and the military are by no means the product of some mythical free market. Instead it’s an economic system — well rigged, well maintained and well enforced by US military muscle. Like the hub in a giant wheel of misfortune, the US military is the central point anchoring and protecting the global corporate power that is pushing us toward the planetary precipice. 

 

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We Knew This Once, Let’s Learn It Again

Over half a century ago Martin Luther King named the enemy: the evil triplets of racism, militarism and exploitation. In our time, the evil triplets have a new and monstrous brother: climate destruction. King was drawing our attention to the interconnections between all forms of oppression and exploitation. Fifty years later the links have become more intense and more obvious.

Along with the interlocking crisis and institutions, our troubled relationship with the planet is the single most revealing consequence of a deeply rooted culture of dominance. From the very beginning, European empires used the Doctrine of Discovery to claim ownership of “discovered” lands because the natives who lived there were pagan “others” with no rights Europeans should respect. Natives were threats to be assimilated or eliminated through war. The domination of “others” and the domination of nature have been linked ever since. Like our hostility to nature, war is not simply a policy or action — war is a culture — a way of understanding and acting in the world.

It’s the same culture that underlies our empire, our failed economy and failed political system. All the racism, the class exploitation, the misogyny, the homophobia, the inequality — all the hate and fear of “others”– are summarized, magnified and implicated in the degradation of the planet.

These ancient ideas of dominance live on in modern systems. Together they are like the “feedback loops” climate scientists warns us about. And, they are just as dangerous.

Today we face a constellation of powerful institutions that have magnified corporate power by merging the corporation and the state. It’s hard to see the boundaries between the big banks, oil companies, media giants and US government because they are united in purpose, design and culture. 

Where Do We Go From Here? Organize!

What is not obvious are the implications that the interlocking nature of corporate rule hold for our actions and strategies for change. What are the system’s weak links? Is there time for incremental change? I am afraid we have backed ourselves into a corner: it’s peace and revolution or climate catastrophe.

We can start by casting away illusions. The intertwined and escalating nature of the crisis will make it nearly impossible to fix within the existing order because the crisis was created by the current system of corporate governance. 

The evil triplets King identified were not simply free-floating ideas or bad attitudes. Each have a systematic and institutional foundation whose long history is both justified and hidden with cover-stories repeated thousands of times by the corporate media. These narratives are also related. “Free-market fundamentalism” is to corporate power what “colorblindness” is to the vast militarized penal system and “humanitarian war” is to empire: nice liberal sounding doublespeak that promotes the transition from old forms of dominance and exploitation to new ones. 

The interlocking nature of the crisis means the task ahead is monumental. Our actions must be truly historical in their sweep and consequences or we will be overwhelmed. We can begin by pushing back against the systematic interlocking crisis with a loosely interlocking movement of movements. As Michael Eisenscher wrote:

“What compels these different strands of progressive struggle to weave a new progressive tapestry is recognition that none of these movements can achieve their objectives without achieving the objectives of the others. We will not be able to successfully decarbonize our economy if we do not also demilitarize US foreign policy.”

We need each other to win.

Our rebellions against climate change and war should continue the work and extend the vision the black revolution started.

“[T]he black revolution is much more than a struggle for the rights of Negroes. It is forcing America to face all its interrelated flaws —racism, poverty, militarism, and materialism. It is exposing the evils that are rooted deeply in the whole structure of our society. It reveals systemic rather than superficial flaws and suggests that radical reconstruction of society itself is the real issue to be faced.” Martin Luther King Jr., “A Testament of Hope,” 1969

“Interrelated flaws.” “Rooted deeply rooted in the whole structure.” “Systematic rather than superficial.” We must see what King saw. Tell me the last time that elections alone accomplished the radical reconstruction of society.” Instead, the revolutionary project holds the greatest potential for overcoming the climate crisis. 

Ok, Smartass: But You And What Army?

Got me. In this article and those that follow, I look at the interlocking systems of war and climate crisis. If we don’t know the enemy we can never win. But what about knowing ourselves? The finest strategies, ideas, and analyses are barren without an army of organizers and activists to make ideas into real material forces that must be reckoned with.

While the fresh energies and creativity of new political movements are our best hope, we still face the same old problems of organizing: “you and what army?” Extinction Rebellion, Youth Climate Strike, and About Face are rallying the troops we need — as are many other trends and organizations. Occupy Sandy showed us how a people-centered adaptation to climate disaster might work. Actions against more oil wars in Venezuela and Iran have the potential to knit both issues together.

But, we still need to build an army of organizers. Face-to-face work is the most labor-intensive method, true, but also the most effective. That actually makes organizing the quickest path to base-building and movement-building. Slow is the new fast.

While the Green Party thought up the Green New Deal, it is Sanders — operating on the left edge of the dysfunctional two-party system — that has the closest thing to the raw numbers of volunteers change demands. That alone means we need continued engagement with, and coordination between, various tendencies aiming to challenge the system. We can become greater than the sum of our parts if we have the political skill to allow for both unity and struggle in our political relationships.

We also need to recognize that organizing is a practice not a science. We are all perennial beginners. Here is a place to start again: check out my blog at befreedom.co. You will find a series of articles on organizing. Face-to-face organizing remains the gold standard for raising consciousness, building organizations and taking action. There is no way to challenge the war machine and face the climate crisis without it.

 

 

 

 

Posted in American Culture, Capitalism, Climate Change, Corporate Power, Empire, Green Party, History, Martin Luther King, Movement Culture, revolutionary strategy, Strategy | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Howling Hypocrisy?

After two years of non-stop saber-rattling and war preparations against possible microscopic meddling by Russia, the mere mention of a verifiable truth that Israel meddles in our affairs on a continuous basis draws faux-righteous rebukes from the elites. With the next breath, plotting coup against Venezuela or waging the many wars we fight against the Middle East, is supported by the same party bosses and bankers as our god-given right.

So I am supposed to believe that the architects of perpetual war — at whose hands millions have died, trillions wasted and climate destroyed — are so sensitive to the evils of the world that they simply cannot tolerate hatred? No, they love hate. Hate is the inevitable product and precondition of war. That is what Russia-gate is about. This is why we bomb Muslim-majority countrys, not Christian ones, or run coups against brown peoples but suppress even the news of the French revolution. Show me an empire that does not rely on hatred and I will show you a belief in American exceptionalism. Of all the empires, in all the world, we are supposed to believe that only the American empire fights for democracy or for humanitarian reasons.  It is this belief — more than all the criticism of our imperial actions and allies — that will eventually lead to imperial decline because it prevents us from knowing ourselves. 

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By attacking critics of Israel as anti-semitic, the Democratic elites are simply doubling down on their most despicable (and failed) 2016 electoral strategy of using corporate-identity politics to attack dissent, limit free speech, and promote corporate power. This does incalculable damage to those who are actually struggling against racism, sexism and anti-semitism by masking the systematic nature of oppression —a system the party bosses have built and rule over.

What might seem like howling hypocrisy really isn’t. They know the existing order is based on war and empire and will do everything in their power to defend it. We must do everything in our power to overthrow it.

Posted in American Culture, Corporate Power, electoral strategy, Empire, Racism, Red Scare, War, White Privilege, White Supremacy | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Beyond Corporate Power

Also in Counterpunch

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The problem is not that the corporations are “out of control,” the problem is that the corporations are so much “in control.” By seeing neoliberalism as Free Market Fundamentalism (FMF) rather than Corporate Power we underestimate the challenges ahead. FMF does not help us to know what tactics and strategies are best because it cannot tell us about the enemy we face: Corporate Power.

If the corporations have merged with the state, then the liberal-regulatory state is finished and our faith in it’s ability to protect us is a poor substitute for self-knowlege and self-determination. Instead, we should realize that we are finally on our own. Mass movements making revolutionary demands and organizing projects aimed at building independent people power will have the best chance at overthrowing the corporate power.

The tension between seeing the problem as FMF or as corporate power will only be resolved by the highest stakes gamble imaginable. Can we dismantle corporate power and stop climate change through normal electoral means or will revolutionary upheavals provide the answers we need?

Desperate Times Call for Desperate Measures

The recipes for action suggested by those writers who emphasize FMF give too much weight to elections and incremental change. Take Monbiot’s Out of the Wreckage for example. On the one hand Monbiot supports community projects. Agreed. Communal approaches are very important and benefit from being rooted in existing institutions and relationships.

Monbiot also calls for the return to the “protective,” liberal state including an intriguing call for a constitutional convention by citizens and important electoral reforms. But his proposals for recapturing the state are essentially a more energetic version of electoral campaigning. The mass upheavals and deep organizing that created the liberal state in the first place are largely absent. We need both the commune and revolution

Naomi Klein’s No is Not Enough, while full of good advise and insight, also shows just how hard it is to see a passage beyond the corporate order. The author’s vantage point shifts back and forth between FMF and corporate power and her strategic advice reflects that.

Klein’s re-telling of Standing Rock is moving and true. Standing Rock calls on us to take action by building transformative social movements against what Klein rightly calls “ecocidal capitalism.” She recognizes that native communities have the experience and knowledge to lead the new environmental movement. So far so good.

Klein’s other major example is the LEAP Manifesto. It’s another good start, as is the coalition-building it hopes to promote: but to what end? Utopian visions are important, as Klein argues, but the future LEAP calls for is not nearly utopian enough. LEAP calls for more rigorous corporate regulations, ending austerity and expanding social inclusion. It’s all fine, but how is that different from returning to a new and improved liberal-regulatory state?

Klein praises social movements but tends to distill them into their programs, platforms and manifestos, which can then be deployed in the electoral arena. Although Klein addresses the shortcomings of the electoral process she then writes, “But the real trick is going to be to get those dreams on the ballot with a winning strategy as quickly as possible.”

Programs and manifestos are half the story. The other half is the capacity of social movements for disruption. Martin Luther King’s take on this is classic:

“The purpose of our direct-action program is to create a situation so crisis-packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation.”

Yes, social movements are the true creators of ideals and visions but they are also the source of the kind of actions that put pressure on the system from the outside.

For Klein, recent “left-wing almost-wins” in US or French elections, took us “within an arm’s reach of power.” While a Sander’s win may well have been, and may well be, a huge step forward, his agenda would have been hamstrung by the corporate state and the war machine. The fact that corporate Democrats closed ranks to cheat Sanders out of the 2016 nomination was a very telling indication of what Sanders would have faced if elected — even from his own deeply corporate and pro-war party.

If we ever want to get closer than “an arm’s reach of power” we will need millions of people acting in ways that threaten the elite’s power and profit. The quest for limitless power and profit is the new rule underlying the corporate state and the main driver of climate disaster. We must overturn this rule knowing full well just how deeply entrenched corporate power is. No easy victories.

So instead of revolution — a word barely mentioned — or the stranglehold of the two-party system on government — a problem not analysed — or electoral fraud by both parties — an obstacle not considered — Klein’s understandable desire to instill hope, plus the focus on FMF, cycles us back to elections as the main strategy.

If only neoliberalism were simply an extreme form of capitalism we could turn off like a switch — instead of the final outcome of capitalism’s historical development — or just bad ideology and bad policies  — instead of a system of corporate rule exercised by the state — then maybe the people could take power using normal electoral means.

Solutions Need to Match the Scale of the Problems

Among the popular writers on neoliberalism Chris Hedges most persistently points to the need for massive non-violent civil disobedience as the way forward. Perhaps it was his 20 years as a war correspondent that allowed him to see the depths to which we have fallen and the heights to which we must climb — if we want to win. It is no coincidence that Hedges uses the concept of corporate power more than any other major popularizer of the neoliberal critique.

“The problem is not Trump. It is a political system, dominated by corporate power and the mandarins of the two major political parties….We will wrest back political control by dismantling the corporate state, and this means massive and sustained civil disobedience like that demonstrated by teachers around the country this year…”[5] 

Corporate power has produced multiple interlocking crises that cannot be resolved within the existing system. Consider the mountain of evidence on wealth inequality — a crisis responsible for much of the social dysfunction we face precisely because it combines and intensifies the inequalities of race, gender and class, threatens our environment and democracy and magnifies global inequalities produced by empire and colonialism.

Researchers from fourteen universities have studied wealth inequality over thousands of years finding that the US is one of the most unequal countries in all of history. In The Great Leveller, Stanford Universities’ Walter Scheidel has concluded that once inequality has grown to existing levels, history gives us no examples of it being resolved using normal means. Scheidel claims that mass warfare, plague, state collapse or transformative revolution are the most likely outcomes.  

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All the Means At Our Disposal

It’s hard to see that any movement against corporate power could succeed without using all the non-violent means at its disposal: social movement unionism, tenants unions, massive non-violent civil disobedience, strikes, communes, cooperatives of all sorts, occupations, rank and file groups, full-fledged social movement for peace and justice and all the forms of disruptive protest activities they can produce. Election do matter, but without these struggles and disruptions electoral efforts will fail to deliver. 

No one is going to save us. How do we save ourselves? It is impossible to know in advance, with any certainty, which tactic or strategy is best. Wild experimentation with strategy combined with disciplined, dedicated practice will resolve what debate alone cannot.   

We must also use all the visionary means at our disposal.  

We should make revolutionary demands that would lead to dismantling corporate power: abolishing the fossil fuel regime, ending empire and war, converting large corporations — the banks first of all — into public utilities placed under democratic control, expropriating billionaires, cancelling debts, abolishing the militarized penal system, returning large tracts of land to natives, paying reparations to populations once enslaved and no taxation without representation. We need many forms of experimentation in economic and workplace democracy, including worker ownership of enterprise and housing, public promotion of local economies and the transfer of significant political authority to local assemblies.  

Revolutionary demands take on their ultimate power when linked to universal values — for it is with universal values that we can communicate with the millions. When such demands are carried by mass movements in the name of values like freedom and democracy, then the political climate changes and new horizons become visible. Whatever name you wish to call it, this would be transformative revolution.

A new political climate based on revolutionary expectations will be the conditions under which the demands for minimum standards and minimum reforms can best be gained — rather than relying on a slow build-up of reforms. Minimum standards such as universal health care, free and fair elections, living wages, decent housing, ending prison labor — these kinds of reforms are achievable only when we aim much higher. 

Revolutionary Reforms

We might bridge the gap between reform and revolution, developing better synergy and coordination between different wings of the movement, by pursuing “revolutionary reforms.” What issues will move millions by the self-evident righteousness and reasonableness of the cause but also be something that corporate power cannot agree to without undermining their own hegemony?

We need a special kind of intermediate program sometimes described as a transition program or revolutionary reforms. What kinds of struggles would allow millions of people to make the passage between what is and what ought to be?

Perhaps the best bet is the environmental crisis because it is so universal and so catastrophic. The Green Party’s Green New Deal recalls past periods of reform but since it must include an uncompromising call for an end to war and dismantling of empire — if it is to work — then we have a reform with revolutionary potential.

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Naomi Klein starts us off on the climate crisis with a focus on ideology and markets when she writes,

“To admit that the climate crisis is real is to admit the end of the neoliberal project….[T]o avert climate chaos, we need to challenge the capitalist ideologies that have conquered the world since the 1980s….[T]he oligarch class cannot continue to run riot without rules.”

But, Exxon the Davos elites, the IMF  the corporate Democratic Party leaders and the US Military “admit that the climate crisis is real.” That has not stopped their predatory practices.

Obama proved, with record oil production, that it takes more than admitting to problems — it requires sweeping and decisive action — and fast. Massive movements for a whole and healthy earth will finally reveal whether or not neoliberalism is more than just an “ideology” and whether or not it “runs riot without rules” or has created a new set of rules enforced by the state.

By recognizing corporate power Chris Hedges offers a strategic counterpoint:

“To assume that Obama or the Democratic Party, simply because they acknowledge the reality of climate change while the lunatic fringe of the Republican Party does not, is better equipped to deal with the crisis is incorrect. [B]oth parties have and will do nothing to halt the ravaging of the planet. If Sheldon Wolin is right–and I believe he is–then when we begin to build our mass movements–and…acts of civil disobedience…We have to understand that the corporate state, including the Democratic elite, will react the way all calcified states react. They will use the security and surveillance apparatus….If the response of the corporate state is repression rather than reform, then our strategy and our tactics must be different… We will have to view the state, including the Democratic establishment, as antagonistic to genuine reform, and we will have to speak in the language of overthrow and revolution.”

The corporate state is not just bad ideology. It’s a system of hard and fast structures that command violence, surveillance and propaganda to achieve its goals. When “the language of overthrow and revolution” is spoken, it will be given voice by mass movements to defend the planet and realize the promise of universal values.

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Finding Passage

While different interpretations of neoliberalism lead to different strategies, the point is to plot a course that can allow better synergy between reform and revolution — a course that will allow millions of everyday people to transition beyond the existing order. If people want to stop big oil’s pipelines thinking regulation is the answer — there is nothing wrong with that. Let’s test it out. Projects like the Green New Deal can draw support from reformers as well as revolutionaries. Let’s test that one out too.

Let’s be good organizers and start where people are at, not where we want them to be. If we do that we just might end up with a whole people fighting for a whole earth. And that would be enough to bring down the corporate empire we have bowed down to for far too long.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in American Culture, Capitalism, Corporate Power, electoral strategy, Green Party, History, Martin Luther King, Movement Culture, organizing, revolutionary strategy, Socialism, Strategy, Uncategorized, Working Class | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

You Can’t Go Home Again: The Liberal State Is No More

Also in Counterpunch.

In a previous article I argued that often confusing and divergent arguments within the neoliberal critique could be best understood as the tensions between two opposing currents of thought. One tendency understands neoliberalism as the unfettered reign of the free market, often called Free Market Fundamentalism (FMF), the other sees neoliberalism as the fusion of the corporation and the state sometimes called Corporate Power.

If it’s FMF what does that mean for activism. If it’s Corporate Power what does that imply for strategy?

The greater the emphasis on FMF then the more possible it might seem to re-regulate the corporations back to within tolerable limits after recapturing the state through elections. The greater the emphasis on corporate power the less possible incremental (primarily) electoral approaches seem, and the more likely that revolutionary measures will be required to abolish corporate power.

You Can’t Go Home Again

FMF remains such a popular idea among progressives precisely because it allows us to imagine an easy escape. That escape is a return to the liberal-regulatory state that governed the US between the mid-1930s and mid-1970s. The problem — and most likely an insurmountable one — is that the old liberal-regulatory state was dismantled and replaced by a new corporate-regulatory state.

This bit of wishful thinking also forgets that the now defunct liberal state was codified by law and mandated by election due to massive protest and organizing in the 1930’s and cemented into place only at the high human costs of world war. The construction of the liberal state required mass movements, some with revolutionary aspirations, and it’s reconstruction would require nothing less. 

Equally daunting is the fact that the decline of the liberal state wasn’t caused by the rise of neoliberalism alone but by urban rebellions and social movements. Why would we return to the liberal state that brought us the Vietnam War, COINTELPRO, environmental destruction and the urban crisis among other wonders?  

In Death of the Liberal Class, Chris Hedges argues that the liberals who once managed the regulatory state were marginalized or adapted to the corporate state.

“But the assault by the corporate state on the democratic state has claimed the liberal class as one of its victims. Corporate power forgot that the liberal class…gives legitimacy to the power elite. And reducing the liberal class to courtiers…who have nothing to offer but empty rhetoric, shuts off this safety valve and forces discontent to find other outlets…The inability of the liberal class to acknowledge that corporations have wrested power from the hands of citizens, that the Constitution and its guarantees of personal liberty have become irrelevant, and that the phrase consent of the governed is meaningless, has left it speaking and acting in ways that no longer correspond to reality.”[1]

The Bill of Rights is in tatters. “We the people” do not rule. Representative democracy is all but dead. Welcome to the real world.

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Q: What killed Democracy? A: Corporate Empire.

The corporate power destroyed the limited democracy of the liberal state because it was an obstacle to its insatiable need for power and profit.

If democracy is dead, what is the new reality we face? By the 1980s a new version of the two-party system emerged: the extreme right-wing takeover of the Republican Party accomplished largely by the “Reagan revolution” on one hand and the rise of “third way” or corporate Democrats represented by the Clinton machine on the other — both wings of one duopoly dedicated to establishing and maintaining the new corporate order.

Along with the earlier restructuring of the US government in order to wage our imperial wars — it was this corporate takeover of the political parties and the government they have a chokehold on that killed American democracy. And, both parties championed policies that were responsible for a steep decline in the power of the working class.  

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Follow the Money

This new corporate political class managed the fusion of the state and corporation — as can be clearly seen in the history of finance capital. Banks are the executive branch of corporate power dispatching capital, natural resources and labor in a war for profits. To the degree that capitalism is planned, bankers do the planning. During the exceptional period of limited economic democracy from the mid-1930s to the mid-1970s, capital was forced to share the wealth. But by the 1970s big changes were underway. As a response to the upheavals of mid-20th century, the ruling elites reasserted their class power and bankers were their vanguard.

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In All the Presidents’ Bankers: The Hidden Alliances That Drive American Power, Nomi Prins documents the relationships between presidents and bankers. By the 1980’s that relationship had grown less personal and more institutional. Not only were bankers routinely appointment to powerful government posts but all agreed that free-market neoliberal ideology was the best rhetorical strategy to maintain US hegemony — even as they created the corporate state.[2] 

Before long the power of capital grew to such proportions that it overshadowed even presidential power, as well as the other branches of government. The bankers’ supremacy was based on the remarkably rapid concentration of capital and control in the hands of a few. Between 1960 and 1979 there were 3,404 bank mergers, from 1980 to 1994 there were 6,345, but in a short period from 1995 to 2000 — in the middle of the Clinton presidency — 11,100 banks merged, crushing competition, centralizing power and overtaking the state in the name of the free market.[3]

Corporate Coup or Merger of the Corporation and the State?

The rise of the corporate state was nothing so sudden or confrontational as a coup. Nor will it be undone easily. Corporate power is the outcome of a century of growing corporate influence, imperial war and the historical development of capitalism itself. There was no hostile takeover — the economic policies of Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush, Obama and Trump — and the parties they led — fully supported the aims and ambitions of the largest bank and corporations. 

[T]he federal government and Fed response to the third world debt crisis, S&L bailout, and 1987 stock market crash was to subsidize the banking system with federal and multinational money. The bankers had succeeded in pushing the presidency to back losses….They had succeeding in privatizing their profits and socializing the costs of failure.  This fiscal policy had officially become US domestic and foreign policy.[4] [emphasis added]

Socializing costs and privatizing profits reached new heights after the 2008 crisis but the instruments of corporate power were already well in place. On a few days notice the elites launched a global bailout of unprecedented scale and scope that rescued banks “too big to fail.” Few asked how we were going to pay for it but during the height of the crisis 19 $trillion was made available in subsidies and bailouts to bankers.[5] Profits and wealth inequality soon returned to record levels while permanent austerity for millions was sold as the cost of “shared sacrifice.”

The faux reform of the Dodd-Frank bill was a revealing response to the crisis because it only further cemented the corporate state while preserving the largest concentration of capital in US history.

The bill was riddled with holes punched out by bank lobbyists with Washington connections: forty-seven of fifty Goldman Sachs lobbyists had previously held government jobs (or were “revolvers”). In addition forty-two of forty-six JPMorgan Chase lobbyists in 2010 were revolvers, as were thirty-five of Citigroup’s forty-six. President Obama signed the bill into law on July 21, 2010.[6]

Dodd-Frank was the corporate-regulatory state in action.

The unprecedented concentration of capital through mergers, loan guarantees, massive bailouts to investors, enormous subsidies, tax breaks and virtually free cash infusions — while shielding the same bailed-out bankers from prosecution for fraud — made the US government the agent and guarantor of vast wealth inequality. If these payments were cash transfers to the poor it would clearly be understood as part of the liberal-regulatory state but cash transfers to finance capital are seen as what? Free market fundamentalism? No, its corporate power.

The merger between corporations and government was accomplished at the pinnacles of power. Antonio Gramsci showed us the right place to look when he wrote, “The historical unity of the ruling classes is realized in the state.”

The great wall between public and private, between government and corporation has come tumbling down. Maximizing profit and power are the new rules shaping the regulatory environment because under the dictates of the corporate state, power = money and money = power. The 2010 Supreme Court decision Citizens United simply legalized the existing order by protecting corporations as people and money as free speech. The consequences? Corporations are the only “people” who matter and money the only form of “speech” heard by politicians.  

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This fusion of finance capital with national executive power may well be the economic foundation of fascism. In order to secure the equivalence of money and power, the corporate state seeks to weaken democratic institutions, such as trade unions, and institutionalize austerity — paving the way for the rise of fascism. The concept of corporate power helps us better understand that neoliberalism and fascism are blood kin. One cannot save us from the other — that much should be clear. 

What is the Passage Beyond Corporate Power?

The corporate capture of the state means any return to the liberal-regulatory state — let alone genuine economic democracy — would require something more like revolution. History would suggest that the kinds of popular unrest and social movements responsible for the long period of reform from the Great Depression to the end of the Vietnam War are the true engines of history and should be the true goals of strategy. For it was those movements that both created the liberal state and began a transition beyond it.

In the last revolution, the civil rights/black power and the peace/anti-imperialist movements provided transition beyond what was then called the “liberal consensus.” Many people started out from a straightforward moral perspective wanting something that seemed like an achievable and reasonable reform: peace and racial justice. Later many discovered that the entire system was largely based on racism and empire and that both Democrats and Republicans were guardians of the establishment. So to win those seemingly simple reforms people had to build disruptive movements that raised the question of capitalism, white supremacy and empire itself as a necessary part of challenging power. What will allow us passage beyond today’s neoliberal consensus?

Climate Crisis and War

The return to the liberal state would require us to literally live on a different planet. The environmental crisis will prohibit returning to past ways of reforming capitalism because past models were also based on permanent war, unsustainable growth and the insatiable drive to plunder earth’s resources and human labor. It’s unlikely that legislation or even significant electoral victories are going to be enough to re-regulate the corporations and scale back, let alone dismantle, the world’s largest empire. Show me an empire dismantled by legislation or an ecosystem saved by the profit motive. Show me an example from history when a crisis — of similar proportion and scale to what we currently face — was resolved by “normal” electoral means.

When the people of Standing Rock stood up against some of most powerful corporate interests in the world, their prayers, their prophecy, their vision was not to cage the “black snake” but to kill it. We defeat corporate power or it will defeat us.

Climate destruction may just be our last stand, our greatest opportunity and most dangerous crisis. But, to make the most of it we’ll have to raise revolutionary demands and adopt the movement-building strategies that have the best chance of challenging corporate power.

 

 

[1] Hedges, Death of the Liberal Class, p.9

[2] Prins, All the Presidents Bankers p. 319-323 

[3] Prins, 382

[4] Prins, 356

[5] Prins, 411-414

[6] Prins 415

 

 

 

Posted in American Culture, Capitalism, Corporate Power, electoral strategy, Empire, History, Organizing Strategy, Racism, revolutionary strategy, Socialism, Strategy, War, White Supremacy, Working Class | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Neoliberalism: Free Market Fundamentalism or Corporate Power?

Also in CounterPunch.

I’ve been hearing about neoliberalism for a long time now and never could make much sense of it. It turns out the story we tell about neoliberalism is as contradictory as neoliberalism itself. Two currents within the critique of neoliberalism offer different analyses of the current economy and suggest different strategies for dealing with the gross exploitation, wealth inequality, climate destruction and dictatorial governance of the modern corporate order. 

These opposing currents are not just different schools of thought represented by divergent thinkers. Rather they appear as contradictions within the critiques of neoliberalism leveled by some of the most influential writers on the subject. These different interpretations are often the result of focus. Look at neoliberal doctrine and intellectuals and the free market comes to the fore. Look at the history and practice of the largest corporations and the most powerful political actors and corporate power takes center stage. 

The most influential strain of thought places “free market fundamentalism” (FMF) at the center of a critical analysis of neoliberalism. The term was coined by Nobel Prize winner and former chief economist of the World Bank itself –Joseph Stigliz. FMF is usually how neoliberalism is understood by progressives and conservatives alike. In this view, an unregulated free market is the culprit and the oft cited formula — de-regulation, austerity, privatization, tax cuts — is the means used to undermine the public commons.

David Harvey’s, A Brief History of Neoliberalism, is perhaps the single most influential book and the author begins with the free market. Harvey sets it up like this:

And it is with this doctrine…that I am here primarily concerned. Neoliberalism is…a theory of political economic practices that proposes that human wellbeing can be best advanced by liberating individual entreprenaurial freedoms and skills within an institutional framework characterized by strong private property rights, free markets and free trade. The role of the state is to create…an institutional framework appropriate to such practices. [1]

Not a mention of the massive modern corporation just those 19th century individuals and institutions that are the stock characters of FMF. But to be fair, Harvey moves on to the “paradox:” neoliberalism is a political project that needs state power.

This creates the paradox of intense state interventions and government by elites and ‘experts’ in a world where the state is supposed not to be interventionist.[2]

The idea that the “free market” is an accurate description of reality or a good basis for strategy has worn thin. What started as the less influential reading of the neoliberal critique is gaining ground. The market economy and the state changed over time into something quite different — something we might call Corporate Power. And that is a far cry from a fundamentalist return of the liberal free market of the 19th Century. 

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Instead, we confront a new form of capitalist order: the merger between the biggest corporations and the state. The corporate power dominates nations by hollowing out and commandeering the institutions that were supposed to represent people. Economic decisions are made behind closed doors at the Treasury Department or Federal Reserve where bankers rule and regular citizens dare not go. The same power operates on the global stage through international institutions and regulatory bodies that do not even pretend to be democratic such as WTO, IMF, and World Bank. Corporate power tends toward fascism by destroying democracy and imposing austerity — the very conditions that give fascism mass appeal.

The national and global institutions that have been so essential to the creation of the neoliberal order provide rich evidence that we can no longer tell where governments end and corporations begin.

The Shock Doctrine, by Naomi Klein, remains very influential and delves deeply into both critiques. But the closer the author got to the military-industrial complex and war —the core functions of the state — the clearer the corporate power argument became.  

[T]he stories about corruption and revolving doors leave a false impression. They imply that there is still a clear line between the state and the complex, when in fact that line disappears long ago. The innovation the Bush years lies not in how quickly politicians move from one world to the other but in how many feel entitled to occupy worlds simultaneously ….They embody the ultimate fulfillment of the corporatist mission: a total merger of political and corporate elites in the name of security, with the state playing the role of chair of the business guild—as well as the largest source of business opportunities…[3] 

Exactly. But, FMF and “a total merger of political and corporate elites” are completely at odds with one another. Another widely read author puts it this way:

“There is a profound irony here: In that neoliberalism was supposed the get the state out of the way but it requires intense state involvement in order to function.” — George Monbiot

'Is it irony, parody, paradox, satire or what when we earn a profit despite our many plunders?'

If the contending ideas of FMF and corporate power were strictly academic it would not matter so much but we will not develop a successful strategy to counter corporate power without knowing what the actual material conditions are. While FMF obscures the current state of our economy, corporate power helps us to see through the seemingly ironic fact that the so-called free market relies upon regular government interventions and support.

We’re dealing with irony or paradox only in as much as we’re dealing with modern mythology. Myths endure because their stories resolve contradictions that logic, reason and facts cannot.

Let’s Stop Repeating the Bosses’ Propaganda.  

The emphasis on FMF has unwittingly contributed to the deeply rooted mythic aura of free markets. Adam Smith, the first philosopher of markets, had to resort to an unexplainable “Invisible Hand” to argue that capitalism was good for everyone. This faith lives on in the neoliberal portrayal of global markets as omnipotent, unknowable forces that work in mysterious ways. If that sounds like the god of capital — it is.

But we need to come to terms with the fact that the free markets’ mythical and mystical nature is precisely why it has such a grip on the popular imagination — and on our own. If we believe free markets actually exist then even our critiques are offerings to its god-like power. When we say “free market” it works like an incantation summoning a complete worldview into being. 

For example, critiques of the free market too often internalize the neoliberal claim that it’s the natural form of human exchange and production. According to this view, the market exists independently somewhere “out there” in human nature or society. Lack of regulation allows market freedom to run to its logical or natural conclusion even if it’s prone to excess and crisis. So the role of the regulatory state, in this argument, is to control the natural freedom and drive of the market actors.

But corporate power imposes its ideology by force and often violence. It exploits people in accordance with law. It plunders resources and poisons water without consequence. This is not freedom. It is dominance and supremacy which puts us on a path to environmental destruction, oligarchy — maybe even fascism. If your “freedom” is my exploitation then you are my master, I your slave, but neither of us are free. Corporate power is the opposite of freedom.

Market ideology has always hidden authority, power and responsibility behind a screen of individual freedom and anonymous actions. If the free market is the outcome of millions of interactions between free individuals, and no one is really in charge, well, what is wrong with that? Plenty, starting with the fact that this utopian ideal in no way describes the dominant form of capitalism in our time — if ever.

And if we believe there is a free market then how do we deal with the widely held belief in the morality of the market? Millions still believe the economy to be moral because it works like a true and transparent regulator of merit. The good rise, the weak fall. The Protestant Work Ethic remains the most powerful spiritual belief shoring up capitalism. If we accept the market as the actual basis of our economy then how can we oppose the idea that hard work is in fact justly rewarded?  

No wonder millions of American workers don’t embrace or cannot understand the neoliberal critique: who can really oppose nature — or society, or freedom, or morality? But unlike the “free market,” which everyday people often associate with small entrepreneurs and mom and pop shopkeepers, millions of people can oppose corporate power.

By shifting to the idea of corporate power we can make claims in keeping with day-to-day experience of the working class: work is not about freedom but instead compulsion and coercion; the economy is not based on merit but rigged to favor the powerful. The common understanding that the economy is rigged has outpaced the viewpoints offered and believed by many progressives. The people are leading, let’s catch up.

There is no market in pure or natural form. Instead market forces and political power interact to create the economy, in other words we have a political-economy. Corporations were born political actors. And the corporate power, not the free market, is the only form of capitalism worth overthrowing.   

Does History Matter?

The irony or paradox at the heart of the FMF critique is really a failure to give history its due.

When societies reach this kind of end stage, the language they use to describe their own economic and political and social and cultural reality bears no relation to that reality…. The language of free market laissez-faire capitalism is what they feed business students and the wider public but it is an ideology that bears absolutely no resemblance to that reality…..In a free market society all those companies like Goldman-Sachs would have gone into bankruptcy but we do not live in so-called free market….Chris Hedges 

So where did the free market go? The modern corporation itself overcame the many inefficiencies of 19th century free market capitalism; it replaced “cutthroat competition” with the coordination, cooperation and economies of scale to destroy smaller firms or consolidate them into monopolies. Over time competition evolved into monopoly power. Individual entrepreneurs were dwarfed by concentrated wealth’s immense power. The free market was replaced with a public/private mix where both public policy and market signals regulated and promoted economic activity. [4]  

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This long historical shift away from free markets and toward corporate power has left such a clear trail of evidence it’s a wonder it’s not self evident. How else can we interpret the corporatization of war and the military and the billions in direct and indirect subsidies to corporations? Government shelters banks, guaranteeing loans and mortgages while bailing out stupid investors.[5] Wealth is redistributed to the top though massive tax breaks and cuts to social programs. Legally enforced starvation wages push workers to public assistance ultimately subsidizing their bosses. Tax codes encourage the rich to shelter trillions in tax havens while the unrepresented masses make up the difference. Federal programs like “quantitative easing” pumps free money into the financial system. The risk and losses from environmental destruction are for us to reckon with while the rule of law has been suspended for corporate criminals of all kinds. Major economic decisions have largely migrated from national governments to even more dictatorial global bodies. The IMF, WTO and World Bank do the bidding of the largest corporations that are the foundation of the US imperial alliance.

But this history holds opportunity as well. This is what it’s come to:

[P]rivate forms of corporate ownership are “simply a legal fiction.”* The economic requirements of the modern corporation no longer justify its completely private control, for “when we see property as the creature of the state, the private sphere no longer looks so private.”**….In this regard, property reassumed the form it took at the dawn of the capitalist era when “the concept of property apart from government was meaningless.”*** [6]

By merging with the state the largest corporations have turned themselves into a new form of social and public property. It’s up to us to take what is ours.

Everything lives and everything dies. The most important lesson from the history of capitalism is this: It has sown the seeds of its own destruction. 

The critique of neoliberalism as FMF unconsciously promotes what it intends to criticize precisely because it imagines the current system as essentially the same system that existed in the 19th Century. This critique smuggles in the lack of historical thinking that is so essential to maintaining dominant culture in the US.  

FMF is a form of American exceptionalism. If the current economy is essentially the same as more than a century ago, then it is truly exceptional and outside of history — just like America itself. Isn’t it? Does capitalism have a history or doesn’t it? In general, the lack of historical consciousness lies at the heart of American exceptionalism. It hobbles our capacity to think and act. This denial of history is the masters’ mythology, not ours. Corporate power is not eternal but historical. It too shall pass — but only if we make it so.

 

[1]Harvey, A Brief History of Neoliberalism, p. 2.

[2] Harvey, p.69 Over time Harvey has tended to highlight the political not doctrinal aspects. See  Neoliberalism as a Political Project

[3] Naomi Klein, Shock Doctrine, p. 398-399.

[4] I borrow the idea of a public/private mix from the work of the underappreciated new left historian Martin Sklar see: United States as a Developing Country.  For more on Sklar look here or here.

[5] Nomi Prins All The Presidents Bankers, see p. 372-375 for an account of the so-called Mexican bailout and the role of former Goldman-Sachs executive Robert Rubin in saving the bankers.

[6] Richard Moser, Autoworkers at Lordstown: Workplace Democracy and American Citizenship” in The World the 60s Made, p. 307 *Bell, The Coming of Post-industrial Society, p. 294. **Jennifer Nedelsky, Private Property and the Limits of American Constitutionalism, p. 263. ***Arthur Porter, Job Property Rights, p. l.

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Propaganda Hall of Fame

The corporate media has been inducted into the Propaganda Hall of Fame. Their recent performances have far exceeded all international measures for lies, distortions and manipulations. After a rousing two year non-stop tour of blaming evil Russian meme-bombers for dividing us, suppressing the vote, promoting radical candidates and destroying this otherwise “great democracy,” this feisty band of corporate executives and secret police have stolen the hearts and minds of millions with the absolute minimum of actual evidence.  Kudos!

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Then in a dramatic turnabout they directed a simultaneous performance in defense of the many US-led regime change wars waged with real bombs, that killed hundreds of thousands of real people, scattered refugees to the wind, and have overthrown governments through the direct use of military violence. The stirring climax of this passion play has people believing that all these wars are not only necessary for our national security but are motivated by (drumroll) humanitarian compassion and the support of democracy! Bravo! All the while these gripping tales of good and evil cloak the true existential threat of climate destruction and war. This is propaganda to die for! Well done! Joe McCarthy, Joseph Goebbels, Edward Bernays — your students have outdone their masters.  

People who believe that continued US intervention in the Middle East will somehow solve anything “this time” or is anything other than a continuation of the long devastating history of western imperialism in the region, are not simply misguided, they are acting out deeply held beliefs. 

If you have any doubt that American mythology lives on you can rest those doubts. Our sense of ourselves as the chosen people, truly an exception to the long history of war and empire is just so much raw material for the cunning propagandist. All they have to do is to tell us how evil the enemy is for us to believe once again in our own exceptional greatness. Myths endure because they settle contradictions and paper over crisis that cannot be resolved by facts, reason or logic. But beneath this drama lies the true object of propaganda: distraction from the growing existential threats of climate change, corporate power and empire.

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