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Some Notes On Mass Refusal: Kim Kelly Interview with IGD

By staff - It's Going Down, January 25, 2019

Recently, It’s Going Down was asked by Kim Kelly (who we have interviewed on our podcast) to talk about the history and impact of general strikes within the United States, as well as the possibilities of its current applications for an op-ed in the pages of Teen Vogue. You can read the finished article here. What follows is our complete responses.

KK: Historically speaking, how successful of a tactic is the general strike?

In the American context general strikes have historically been very important, leading to not only the winning of key demands or beating back this or that attack, but also in fundamentally changing society, and at times, creating a potentially revolutionary situation, as workers have used them as a staging point for the taking over of cities and regions, and large sections of industries, and running them themselves.

One of the most successful general strikes, as noted by Black liberation and socialist author W.E.B. Du Bois, was when millions of enslaved Africans during the Civil War in the American south left plantations en masse and headed for the North, crippling the economy and the war machine. This, coupled with mass desertion of poor white Confederate soldiers, led to a crippling of the Confederacy, as many poor whites refused to die for the rich, white planter class, who was excused from fighting if they owned enough slaves. This combined desertion and mass general strike, played a key role in the collapse of the Confederate State, and also highlights the power of mass refusal under a neo-colonial power structure that thrives on a regimented caste system.

In the contemporary period, in 2006, a wave of wildcat strikes and school walkouts began in response to HR-4437, a bill that attempted to criminalize both undocumented people but also anyone that willingly offered them aid; for instance teachers at school could be charged if they did not turn in undocumented students. Starting from schools and growing to include strikes at workplaces, this mass movement that was largely self-organized and not led by political parties and unions, culminated in a massive May 1st demonstrations that saw a general strike of immigrant workers under the banner, “A Day Without An Immigrant.” The legislation was defeated soon after.

The immigrant general strike of 2006 also revived in the US popular lexicon the importance of May Day, which began as a celebration of the anarchist Haymarket Martyrs, who were executed by the State for their role in strikes in support of the 8-hour work day and against violent attacks on strikers. In this struggle, a variety of tactics were used, including mass strikes, which finally secured the right to the 8 hour work day.

But beyond simply attacking unjust legislation or as a means to win a reform, general strikes have also been the kicking off point for workers in the US to go about seizing the means of existence; in some cases, entire cities and regions.

Food for Health Manifesto

By Renata Alleva, et. al. - Navdanya International, 2019

The Food for Health Manifesto aims to give voice, hope and future to all those who wish to commit themselves to act and consume in keeping with a new sustainable food for health paradigm. Additionally, this Manifesto is intended to be used as a tool to help mobilize the urgent transition to local, ecological and diversified food systems. The Manifesto asserts that health, starting with the soil, to plants, animals and humans must be the organizing principle and the aim of agriculture, commerce, science, of our lives and of international trade and aims to create convergence between consumers, producers and stakeholders for a common vision of sustainable development in line with the Millenium Development Goals.

Read the report (Link).

Building post-capitalist futures

By various - Transnational Institute - June 2018

Over several sunny days in June 2018, a diverse group of 60 activists and researchers from 30 countries convened for a multi-day meeting to discuss the collective building of post-capitalist futures. The meeting provided the opportunity for a rich exchange of perspectives and experiences, as well as deep discussion and debate. The goal of the meeting was not to achieve consensus both an impossible and unnecessary endeavour but rather to stimulate mutual learning, challenge one another and advance analyses.

One session of the meeting – Transformative Cities – was held not as a closed discussion but as a public event attended by 300 people at which prominent activists and academics engaged with municipal leaders and politicians on the role cities can play in building post-capitalist futures.

In line with the meeting, this report does not intend to advance one line of analysis, but rather summarise some of the key ideas and issues discussed and debated (not necessarily in the order they were articulated). To summarise necessarily means to leave things out. It would be impossible to fully capture the incredible richness of the discussion that took place, but hopefully this report provides a valuable sketch.

Read the report (PDF).

Materialism and the Critique of Energy

Edited by Brent Ryan Bellamy and Jeff Diamanti - MCM' Publishing, 2018

The critique of energy sits between two fields that condition the present — environmental catastrophe and capitalist crisis. Marx wrote that the past “weighs like a nightmare” on the living.1 With global warming and the interminable crisis of capital, it is not just the past but the future, too, which strikes fear into the human mind. During the ongoing industrialization of the planet under capitalism, fossil fuels have been the dominant source of energy to power economic expansion and political domination.2 The very fabric of today’s climate crisis is knit from the exhaust of intensive and extensive waves of capital accumulation. Typically framed as a consequence of bad consumer habits, the environmental problem of energy is and always has been deeply bound to the material origins of the commodity form — what it takes to make a thing and what it takes to move it.

Today, the lion’s share of emissions come from transportation and production sectors of the industrial economy. By almost every projection, the simple reproduction of existing systems of production and distribution, to say nothing of their growth, will doom the planet to a host of ecocidal developments — from rising sea levels and ocean acidification to desertification in some places and more intensely concentrated rainfall in others. Against the weaving of such catastrophic tapestries, pundits of the coming energy transition spread solace with the techno-future vision of a world that could be different than the one currently soaked in hydrocarbons. Yet these proponents of technologically smoothed energy transition miss the forest for the trees: the question is not simply one of engineering, but instead how to overcome the deep roots of capitalism’s ever-growing energy dependence.

Read the text (PDF).

Market Economy: Deep Roots Of Dysfunction

By Jane Roelofs - Global Justice Center, December 2, 2017

There is nothing new in the disaster anticipated from NAFTA. The market  economy hasn’t “broken down,” or suddenly reached environmental limits. Its inherent faults are simply more clearly manifest in an age of mass communication and heightened consciousness. Here I will focus on the conflict between the market—the backbone of capitalism—and Green values.

Many people, even some socialists, believe that both trade and  commodification are beneficial. These processes, essential to the creation of a market economy, are considered progressive because they offer both more choice and a larger amount of stuff. While these effects cannot be disputed,  their hidden costs in human and environmental terms must be taken into account. In contrast to conventional economics, Green economics does not measure progress in terms of expanded production and consumption. A further supposed benefit of markets, saving of labor and increased leisure, is highly questionable. Even consumption becomes “work”: e.g., driving to a shopping mall to purchase an exercise bicycle to compensate for a sedentary lifestyle.

International markets intensify the dysfunctions, although these effects may occur whenever there is trade. We are less aware of the conditions abroad, and we feel little responsibility for the labor and environmental policies (or lack of them) of other countries. However, the practices of the developed countries, and UN agencies controlled by them (e.g., the World Bank) are often directly responsible for production conditions in other countries. An obvious example is the foreign-trained “death squad” which  targets labor organizers in Third World countries. Even without outside prodding, countries anxious for export growth will intensify exploitation of workers and destruction of the environment. The Quayle-headed “Council on Competitiveness” was an instance of this operating in a “developed” nation.

International trade, and the consequent competition for markets and raw materials, has historically been the occasion for militarism and war. This remains true today, and now includes covert actions and counter-insurgency warfare.

Imagining a New Social Order: Noam Chomsky and Robert Pollin in Conversation

Interview by C.J. Polychroniou - Truthout, November 19, 2017

We live in an age of illegitimate neoliberal hegemony and soaring political uncertainty. The evidence is all around: citizen disillusionment over mainstream political parties and the traditional conservative-liberal divide, massive inequality, the rise of the "alt-right," and growing resistance to Trumpism and financial capitalism. 

Yes, the present age is full of contradictions of every type and variety, and this is something that makes the goals and aims of the left for the reordering of society along the lines of a true democratic polity and in accordance with the vision of a socialist reorganization of the economy more challenging than ever before.

In this context, the interview below, with Noam Chomsky and Robert Pollin, which appeared originally in Truthout in three separate parts, seeks to provide theoretical and practical guidance to the most pressing social, economic and political issues facing the United States today. It is part of an effort to help the left reimagine an alternative but realistic social order in an age when the old order is dying but the new has yet to be born.

Noam Chomsky is professor emeritus of linguistics at MIT and laureate professor in the department of linguistics at the University of Arizona. Robert Pollin is distinguished professor of economics and co-director of the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. These two thinkers are pathbreakers in the quest to envision a humane and equitable society, and their words can provide a helpful framework as we strive -- within an oppressive system and under a repressive government -- to fathom new ways of living together in the world.

C.J. Polychroniou: Noam, the rise of Donald Trump has unleashed a rather unprecedented wave of social resistance in the US. Do you think the conditions are ripe for a mass progressive/socialist movement in this country that can begin to reframe the major policy issues affecting the majority of people, and perhaps even challenge and potentially change the fundamental structures of the US political economy?

Noam Chomsky: There is indeed a wave of social resistance, more significant than in the recent past -- though I'd hesitate about calling it "unprecedented." Nevertheless, we cannot overlook the fact that in the domain of policy formation and implementation, the right is ascendant, in fact some of its harshest and most destructive elements [are rising].

Part of the 1st Ecosocialist International

By various - Ecosocialist Horizons, November 2017

It has been one year since “The Calling of the Spirits” in Monte Carmelo, Lara, when, with spirited minds and seeds in our hearts, we initiated a convocation titled “The Cry of Mother Earth.” Those who responded to this cry are now here: around 100 people from 19 countries and five continents, 12 original peoples from Our America, and ecosocialist activists from 14 states of Venezuela. We are here in the Cumbe* of Veroes, cradled in the enchanted mountains of Yaracuy, where the guardian goddess of nature lives. From the 31st of October until today, the 3rd of November, 2017, we have done the work demanded of us: the articulation of a combined strategy and plan of action for the salvation of Mother Earth.

We have made the decision and the collective commitment to constitute the First Ecosocialist International: To reverse the destructive process of capitalism; to return to our origins and recuperate the ancestral spirituality of humanity; to live in peace, and end war.

We recognize that we are only a small part of a spiral of spirals, which has the profound intention to expand and include others until all of us are rewoven with Mother Earth; to restore harmony within us, between us, and among all the other sister beings of nature.

The First Ecosocialist International is not just another meeting, nor another conference of intellectuals to define ecosocialism. We believe that ecosocialism will define itself to the extent that it is reflected and conceptualized in praxis; based on what we do and what we are. Nor is the First Ecosocialist International a single organization or a rubber stamp in constant danger of becoming a bureaucracy. It is a common program of struggle, with moments of encounter and exchange, which anyone may join, by committing themselves to fulfilling one or more of the various actions agreed upon here in order to relieve our Mother Earth. No person or process can be owner or protagonist of that which is done and achieved collectively.

We invite all peoples, movements, organizations, collectives and beings in the world to join the First Ecosocialist International, and to undertake the collective construction of a program for the salvation of Mother Earth. By restoring a lost spirituality we may arrive at a new one; a new and sometimes ancient ecosocialist ethic, sacred and irreverent, fed by the sun of conscience. We are recreating our spirituality with a new imagination and a new heartbeat, which may carry us to unity and diversity. The understanding and practice of this new spirituality will have the power to repel empire and capitalism which are powered by greed, and it will be able to strengthen our peoples and cultures which are conditioned by necessities. Because right now we are not living – we are merely surviving. We confront a contradiction: restore life, or lead it to extinction. We must choose.

We don’t have any doubts. We are radicals; we shall return to our roots and our original ways; we shall see the past not only as a point of departure but also as a point of arrival.

A collective birth towards a loving upbringing; we are an immortal embryo… Let’s dream, and act, without sleeping!

Read the report (PDF).

Why Libertarian Socialists Reject Free Market Liberalism

By Geoff R - Ideas and Action, October 4, 2017

Libertarian socialists’ political goals are both radical and ambitious: we seek to replace capitalism in its entirety with libertarian socialism. As a result, libertarian socialists do not just stand against capitalism as it exists today but also against positions in favor of increasing liberalism of markets; positions to reduce regulation of markets by external actors, including the government. This is largely because there is more evidence that increased market liberalism worsens problems of markets rather than improving or resolving them.

A fundamental promise of free market liberalism is that market share becomes more equitable among competing firms due to increased competition. This means firms are both created and go out of business at a higher rate than that which currently exists. Assuming this is true, it would mean that both employers and workers would face extreme economic uncertainty and therefore have trouble planning economically for the future. It’d be harder for workers to plan personal economic decisions and harder for employers to make business decisions regarding their firms. Meeting the demand economic actors have for stability is one of the many areas where markets particularly fail.

But this argument – that market share would be more equitable among competing firms due to increased competition – lacks evidence. All firms seek to increase their market share to compete and often firms end up dominating and even monopolizing markets simply by buying up their competition. Early industrialists in the U.S. were known for doing this and that was a time where there was far less regulation in markets by the government than there is today.

Early American industrialism is also known for company towns where one company owned nearly everything; from stores to housing to the local government. As a result, all law and public policy in these towns was solely for the benefit of the employer and kept the rest of the town under complete subjugation. Such was famously the case in West Virginia, the site of the mine wars including the Battle of Blair Mountain which was the largest insurrection in the United States since the American Civil War.

Red and Green: The Ecosocialist Perspective

By Michael Löwy - Radical Ecological Democracy, September 27, 2017

The contemporary international political economy is marked by a great contradiction. On a planet characterized by finite resources, the economy is predicated upon an absurd and irrational logic of infinite expansion and accumulation. With its fossil fuel based operations continually spewing carbon into the earth’s atmosphere, the capitalist system’s productivist obsession with profit has brought humanity to the brink of an abyss. Climate change is accelerating much faster than predicted – the accumulation of CO2, the rise in temperature, the melting of the polar ice, the drought, and the floods: everything is happening too quickly. In fact, the scientific assessments are now perceived as being too optimistic. The question is: after a certain level of increase in temperature – say six degrees – would the planet still be inhabitable for our species?

How should we respond to this enormously frightening scenario? We have seen that partial reforms are completely inadequate. The failure of the Kyoto protocol, for instance, illustrated that it was impossible to meet the dramatic challenge of global warming with the methods employed by the capitalist free market, such as the emission rights stock exchange. What is needed is the replacement of the micro-rationality of profit by a social and ecological macro-rationality, which demands a veritable change of civilization. It is, however, impossible to work towards that change without a profound reorientation aimed at replacing contemporary energy sources by clean and renewable ones, such as wind or solar energy. The first question, therefore, concerns the issue of control over the means of production, especially decisions on investment and technological change, which must be taken away from the banks and capitalist enterprises in order to serve the society’s common good.

 Ecosocialism is an attempt at providing a radical civilizational alternative, based on the fundamental arguments of the ecological movement and combining them with the Marxist critique of the capitalist political economy. It’s an economic policy founded on non-monetary and clearly articulated extra-economic criteria: ecological equilibrium of the earth and fulfillment of the social needs of its people. Ecosocialism, thus, questions the Marxist notion of destructive progress inherent in capitalism. This new dialectical synthesis has been well articulated in the works of a broad spectrum of authors, from James O’Connor to Joel Kovel, Ian Angus and John Bellamy Foster, and from André Gorz to Elmar Altvater. It is as much a critique of “market ecology”, which does not challenge the capitalist system, as much as that of “productivist socialism”, which ignores the issue of natural limits.

The root of the climate crisis is capitalism, not demographics

By Michael Friedman - Monthly Review, August 15, 2017

Growing concerns about climate change and other environmental trends have set off the next round of old Malthusian diagnoses and solutions.

As a case in point, ecological economist William E. Rees recently wrote in the Canadian alternative magazine The Tyee (“Staving Off the Coming Global Collapse” July 17, 2017):

The “competitive displacement” of other species is an inevitable byproduct of continuous growth on a finite planet. The expansion of humans and their artifacts necessarily means the contraction of everything else. (Politicians’ protests notwithstanding, there is a fundamental contradiction between population/economic growth and protecting the “environment.”)

As a first sweep, one might assert that “common sense” would dictate that as a population increases, so does pressure on resources, all else being equal. This is the logic behind the ecological concept of the “carrying capacity” of an ecosystem. It is the basis for the old Club of Rome report, “Limits to Growth.” And it is also associated with some versions of the “planetary boundaries” concept.

All else is not equal.

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