Category Archives: Austerity

“Living above our means”: Macri, the IMF, and Other Victims of Austerity

Argentinian president Mauricio Macri speaking on September 3rd, 2018 (Youtube screenshot).

After a hectic weekend with speculation aplenty, Argentina woke up on September 3rd waiting for the announcements of president Mauricio Macri. After accomplishing the feat of being late in delivering a recorded video, the message of more than 20 minutes was finally broadcast, with Macri announcing new austerity measures to try and get an earlier disbursement of the funds contemplated in the agreement with the IMF that was signed in May.

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Argentina’s current context is one of economic contraction, inflation, an increase in interest rates and a strong devaluation of the currency, which has lost 50% of its value with respect to the US dollar so far in 2018. For all these woes the Argentinian president found the solution in resorting to the IMF. But he did manage to find a multitude of parties responsible for the current situation: the rise of oil prices, drought, the commercial “war” between the United States and China, troubles in Turkey and Brazil, and above all the corruption and bad policies of previous governments.

But while the Argentinian president did his best to assign blame to his enemies, near and far, the explanation for the crisis – the failure of neoliberalism – was right in the middle of the screen, since nobody embodies noeliberalism better than Mauricio Macri himself.

Finance minister Nicolás Dujovne later presented more details of the measures that the government wishes to implement, before departing to meet the IMF in order to secure an early release of funds. These measures include a tax on exports and a promise to reduce the 2019 deficit to 0. In the agreement with the IMF the goal was 1.3%, so this reduction will hinge on bigger cuts to public spending and hikes in energy and transportation prices.

It should be stressed that these measures do not represent a shift, but rather a doubling-down on the policies that have been implemented since the Cambiemos coalition took power. The past two years have seen brutal increases in electricity and gas prices, a pension reform, massive layoffs in the public sector, major cuts in areas such as science, education or healthcare, attacks against labour rights, etc., with disastrous consequences for the population.

The Argentinian government, who was represented by Dujovne in the US, hopes that this latest round of sacrifices to the almighty markets will slow down the currency devaluation and secure the blessing of the high priests of the IMF and Wall Street. Nevertheless, prophecies about market uncertainties do have a tendency to self-fulfil. Not only that, the Argentinian executive, now slashed in less than half, is a team of businessmen that will know which interests to protect when push comes to shove.1

Macri and Dujovne meeting with IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde on March 16, 2018 (Photo: Casa Rosada)

Discursive platitudes

Macri’s speech was littered with elements that would have sounded extremely familiar to anyone who followed the austerity programmes that were implemented since 2010 in countries like Portugal or Greece. When the Argentinian president said that “we have been living above our means”, any Portuguese person could have recalled listening to their own president in 2011 – Cavaco Silva – say exactly the same thing.

Along the same lines, this was also the verdict reached by the Greek prime minister – Georgios Papandreou – who signed the first bailout agreement, and the all-powerful German finance minister – Wolfgang Schäuble – has always harped on this string to justify the austerity imposed on Greece. In truth the sanctimonious discourse of “living within our means” is no modern invention, but rather something that has always closely followed the neoliberal doctrine, even going back to Thatcher.

Another common element was the admission, with dishonest concern, that these measures will result in increased poverty. In 2011, the Portuguese prime minister went even further, saying that only by getting poorer would the crisis be overcome. In exchange, there is always a pledge that “the most vulnerable will be looked after”, and that those with more resources will be called upon to make bigger sacrifices, when it is well known that, almost by definition, the purpose is quite the opposite.

The cases of Greece and Portugal

Keeping in mind the distances between the examples we discuss, the similarities in the official discourse demand that we at least examine what took place in Greece and Portugal. In these cases the IMF was not the only creditor institution: it was joined by the European Central Bank and the European Union to form the fearsome “troika”. These were perhaps the most extreme cases of the austerity that was imposed throughout the continent in response to the crisis that broke out in 2008.

Greek GDP contracted by more than 40% since 2008. After the implementation of the memoranda of agreement with the troika, unemployment has consistently topped 20%, and youth unemployment has been around 40%. More than that, 4 out of 10 children are at risk of poverty. These are but a few indicators, among many others, that showcase the devastation that was unleashed upon the Greek people, while billions of euros of bailout money ended up directly in the hands of foreign banks.

As for the stated goal of the austerity packages, Greek public debt grew from 146% of GDP at the time of the first “structural reform” programme (2010) to 180% of GDP in 2018. Although officially Greece has exited the bailout programmes, the debt remains absolutely unpayable, and the idea that Greece can go on for decades balancing budgets under this weight is an illusion.

The Portuguese case is slightly less tragic. The 2015 elections resulted in a defeat for the right-wing coalition – which had implemented the deal signed with the troika in 2011 – and the emergence of a new government solution, which from afar might seem like it is on the left. The new government put an end to austerity and managed to revert the economic tendency and register economic growth once more.

The mere action of putting an end to austerity, while slowly reverting salaries and pensions to their 2011 levels, was a demonstration that the path of harsh budget cuts and tax increases was not the only choice. However, Portuguese public debt remains unpayable and an obstacle, among others, which will have to be confronted sooner or later.

Carlos Latuff depicts austerity in Greece

Where austerity leads to

This small transatlantic detour is useful to illustrate that, despite some declaring them as successful, the bailout plans did not manage to bring debt under control in Europe’s peripheral countries. But that goal, as well as the sacred budgetary targets, are simply argumentative artefacts.

Austerity packages, which are often more eloquently branded as “structural reforms”, are nothing but mechanisms to transfer wealth from labour to capital, with an underlying logic that profits are private and losses are socialised. When salaries and pensions are cut, when healthcare and education budgets are shrunk, when public services are dismantled, when thousands of workers are laid off, in order to pay back creditors, the people are being sacrificed to safeguard the interests of a handful of shareholders, be they national or foreign.

This transfer of wealth also occurs under the form of privatisations. These can be blatant or hidden under the pretext of the inefficiency of public management, but bailouts and structural adjustment plans have always been tremendous opportunities for capitalists. In the Greek case, important state assets, such as airports or the port of Piraeus, one of the biggest in the Mediterranean, ended up in private hands.

In truth, the Macri government has already made its position quite clear on the issue of privatizations; for example, in the energy sector, where the state is looking to sell its stake in several projects. In addition, the Argentinian company that produced satellites, ARSAT, was sold to an American company. The agreement with the IMF, and especially the version on steroids that will allow for an early release of funds, is sure to bring a new wave of privatisations, much to the delight of investors, and reviving ghosts of a not-so-distant past in Argentina.2

But it is not just through privatisation that room is opened up for private companies, especially multinational corporations, to flourish. The mere reduction of the reach of the state and public services leaves an open space to be filled by the whims of the market. In this context, the suppression of the health ministry, now reduced to a secretariat in the new ministry for health and social development, is quite symbolic. That this happened at a time when the implementation of the Universal Healthcare Coverage (CUS), a programme with a mercantile view of healthcare, is being discussed, is not a good omen for public healthcare in Argentina.

At this point we should go back to the issue of “living within our means”. The evolution of capitalism, even in times of crisis, has seen an ever growing concentration of wealth. It is estimated that 8 men own about as much wealth as the poorest half of the planet’s population. Therefore there are people living above what should be their means. But these are not pensioners, or public workers, or trade unionists, etc., as some would have us believe.

Resistance and repression

The Cambiemos government offensive, which will be intensified in the coming months, has been met with resistance from the Argentinian people in the streets. For example, a faculty strike in the university system, in protest against cutbacks in higher education and reforms in the pension system, was joined in August by a strong student mobilization in support, with several universities throughout the country temporarily occupied.

Trade unions, contradictions notwithstanding, also look to resist, and have called a general strike which is taking place on September 24-25. And perhaps there has been nothing more surprising and inspiring than the mobilisation of several hundred thousand people to defend the legalisation of abortion. Despite the goal not having been achieved for now, the awakening of consciences and the scale of the street mobilisations are building blocks for the upcoming struggles. The challenge is to turn all these struggles into attractor poles of a single, unified battle front.

Demonstration in Buenos Aires during a National Day of Protest, September 12 (Photo: Resumen Latinoamericano)

While it is fair to say that the rapid development of the crisis has caught the Argentinian government by surprise, the fact is that preparations to contain and repress any resistance to austerity had long been on the march. The decree which allows the armed forces to intervene in internal security matters, something which had not happened since end of the dictatorship, is particularly significant, not to mention the installation of US military bases in Argentinian territory.

The government and its talking heads have put forward a fallacious argument; namely, that with a tremendous sense of duty, those in charge are doing what needs to be done with no concern for upcoming elections. In reality what they are doing is ensuring that the interests of capitalists are shielded for decades, way beyond next year’s elections. It is the purest defence of class interests. Because at the end of the day power is not confined to the presidential palace or to legislative chambers.

An important difference with respect to cases such as Portugal or Greece is that in Argentina, thanks to the hegemony of media conglomerates such as the Clarín group, a scapegoat to which attention can be diverted has been put in place. This is the (alleged) corruption of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and members of her government, which is presented as the root of all evils that befall Argentina. Similarly to what has happened in cases such as Lula’s in Brazil, the goal is to have the trial in the media for short-term political gain.3

The cases of Portugal and Greece, alongside many other recent examples of “rescue plans”, give an idea of what is to come. Under the excuse of “having lived above our means”, different mechanisms to transfer wealth to capital, brazen or hidden, will be implemented. And faced with the difficulty of meeting unrealistic budgetary targets that are imposed from the outside there will be no solution other than imposing more and more sacrifices on the majority of the people.

After its failure and exhaustion as a political project, neoliberalism resurfaced in Latin America essentially leaning on the media and on the (politicisation of the) judicial system. It now looks to contain any alternative, in the case of Argentina, by mortgaging the country’s future and reactivating repression mechanisms. All of this places Argentina in the front line of a battle that is not just about next year’s presidential elections. The task ahead is to resist, every day and in every way, against this renewed offensive, and at the same time to construct a true, and radical, alternative.

• Thanks to Luciana Daffra for her comments and corrections.

• First published in Investig’Action

  1. On September 17 Dujovne presented the 2019 budget before the Argentinian Congress. It is, in his words, an “austere budget”, with a 7% cut on public spending, a prediction of economic contraction of 2.4%, and a zero deficit goal.
  2. It is worth recalling that this is no pure ideological matter for Macri, since the Macri Group is one of the largest business conglomerates in Argentina, with activities over a range of sectors, and having directly benefited from privatisation of state assets in the past.
  3. Our goal is not to vouch for anyone’s innocence, rather to point out the clear manipulation of justice for political ends and the double standards (or lack of standards) of the media. In Argentina, for example, a large circus has been set up surrounding the famous “notebooks” which detail the corruption of a former official during the Kirchner governments. The notebooks came from a remorseful driver, but up until now only photocopies of the smoking gun have been presented. In exchange, Macri featuring in the Panama Papers did not seem to merit the same level of scrutiny from the media, and the same can be said about the “fake contributions” and money laundering in the campaign of Maria Eugenia Vidal, governor of the province of Buenos Aires and one of the main figures of Cambiemos.

The Working Class Strikes Back

Reading the daily headlines, it’s easy to forget that the corollary of a civilization in precipitous decline is a world of creative ferment, a new world struggling to be born. If you could have a God’s-eye view of all the creative resistance rending the fabric of political oppression from the U.S. to Indonesia to Colombia, you would surely be persuaded that all hope is not lost. This conclusion is borne out in detail by a book published earlier this year, The Class Strikes Back: Self-Organised Workers’ Struggles in the Twenty-First Century, edited by Dario Azzellini and Michael G. Kraft. The chapters, each dedicated to a different case-study, survey inspiring democratic activism in thirteen countries across five continents. The reader is left with the impression that the global working class, while facing an uphill battle in its fight against imperialism, business and state repression, and conservative union bureaucracy, may yet triumph in the end, if only because of its remarkable perseverance generation after generation. Its overwhelming numerical strength, too, bodes well.

In their introduction, the editors concisely state the book’s purpose: “This volume aims to examine how new, anti-bureaucratic forms of syndicalist, neo-syndicalist and autonomous workers’ organisation emerge in response to changing work and production relations in the twenty-first century.” Traditional unions, which they observe have been “part of the institutional setting to maintain capitalism” (my italics), have deteriorated on a global scale. In their place have sprung up more radical and democratic forms of resistance, such as blockades, strikes, and workplace occupations and recuperations. Workers’ actions have even made decisive contributions to the toppling of governments, as in Egypt in 2011.

In this article I’ll summarize several of the most compelling case-studies. Unfortunately I’ll have to pass over many interesting chapters, including ones on the workers’ movement in Colombia, the solidarity economy and radical unionism in Indonesia, the sit-ins and ultimately the worker cooperative at a window factory in Chicago (about which I’ve written here), and the South African miners who were attacked by police and massacred in August 2012. The book is too rich to do justice to.

Greece

The crisis in Greece that followed the economic crash of 2008 and 2009 saw a savage regime of austerity imposed on the population, which resulted in a “diffuse precariousness” across the labor force. Conventional unionism and national collective bargaining have been among the victims of this neoliberal regime. And yet the general strikes that the trade union bureaucracy was compelled to declare early on, particularly between 2010 and 2012, were the most massive and combative of the past forty years. “Long battles with the police, crowds which refused to dissolve and regrouped again and again, the besieging for hours of the house of parliament, self-organisation and solidarity in order to cope with tear gas and take care of the wounded—all have become part of the normal image of demonstrations during strikes, replacing the nerveless parades of the past.”

Outside the framework of conventional unionism there have arisen exciting new forms of struggle. Since early 2013, the Vio.Me factory has operated under worker self-management, after its initial owners abandoned the site. Aside from the lack of hierarchy, the job rotations, and the directly democratic structure of the business, one innovative practice has been to run the factory in cooperation with the local community and, indeed, the whole society. After taking over the factory the workers consulted their community about what they should produce; they were asked to stop making poisonous building chemicals and instead to manufacture biological, eco-friendly cleaning products. A “wide network of militants and local assemblies” around the country has supported the effort from the start, which has enabled even the distribution of the firm’s products to be done in a completely new way, “through an informal network of social spaces, solidarity structures, markets without intermediaries and cooperative groceries.”

In general, labor struggles in Greece have become more intertwined with social movements. Early in the crisis, structures of mutual aid sprang up everywhere:

Throughout the country collectives have established community kitchens and peer-to-peer solidarity initiatives for the distribution of food, reconnected electricity that was cut down to low-income households, organised “without middlemen” the distribution of agricultural produce, established self-organised pharmacies, healthcare clinics and tutoring programmes and organised networks of direct action against house foreclosures.

Later on, grassroots initiatives became more political, in an effort to create institutions that would be long-lasting and relatively independent of capital and the government. The Greek squares movement of 2011 spread to almost every city and village in the country, leaving behind a legacy of local assemblies and social centers. It also “unleashed social forces which boosted the social and solidarity economy and the movements for the defence and the promotion of the commons.”

All this flowering of alternative institutions has not occurred without significant problems and defeats. There has been little success in establishing solid organizations of the unemployed, and grassroots labor struggles have failed to form durable structures that can challenge institutionalized unionism. Certain victories, nevertheless, have been impressive. Social movements were able to prevent the government’s privatization of public water corporations in 2014. Even more remarkably, after the government closed down the influential public broadcaster ERT in 2013, ERT employees, together with citizens and activists, took over the production of television and radio programs by occupying premises and infrastructure. For almost two years the self-managed ERT transmitted thousands of hours of broadcasting on the anti-austerity struggle, serving as an important resource for the resistance. When Syriza came to power in 2015, it reestablished the public broadcaster.

Worker and consumer cooperatives exist all over the country. Cooperative coffee shops and bookshops, for example, exist in most neighborhoods of Athens and Salonica, functioning “as the cells of the horizontal movements in urban space and the carriers of alternative values and culture.” Broadly speaking, labor identities are becoming more socialized, “because more embedded in local communities and grassroots struggles.”

The Greek experience is of particular interest in that other Western countries, including the U.S., are likely to replicate important features of it in the coming years and decades, as economic crisis intensifies. We ought to study how Greek workers and communities have adapted and resisted, to learn from their failures and successes.

Egypt

The mass movement that felled Mubarak’s regime in 2011 received sympathetic coverage from the establishment media in the West, but the key role of workers’ collective action was, predictably, effaced. Strike waves after 2006 not only destabilized the regime but also gave rise to the April 6th Movement in 2008, which would go on to catalyze the 2011 rebellions. Even after the fall of Mubarak, the flood of labor actions didn’t let up.

As everywhere around the world, neoliberalism meant decades of pent-up grievances against working conditions, privatizations, low wages, and economic insecurity. Finally in December 2006, 24,000 textile workers went on strike at Misr Spinning. Within a few weeks, “similar strikes were spreading between public and private sector textile producers, and from there to civil servants, teachers, municipal refuse workers and transport workers.” In the next couple of years, many more strikes occurred, frequently taking the form of mass occupations of workplaces.

Workers even managed to form the first independent unions in more than fifty years, beginning with the Real Estate Tax Authority Union (RETAU), established in December 2008. The conservative and bureaucratic Egyptian Trade Union Federation was unable to cope with all the sit-ins, strikes, and waves of democratic organizing, and saw its influence over the labor movement wane. RETAU’s consolidation “accelerated the development of other independent unions and proto-union networks among teachers, public transport workers, postal workers and health technicians,” raising their expectations of what could be achieved through collective action.

After the steadily rising wave of worker and popular resistance crested with the resignation of Mubarak in early February 2011, labor actions didn’t cease. In fact, Mubarak’s fall was followed by “a new tidal wave of strikes and workplace occupations, with nearly 500 separate episodes of collective action by workers recorded in the month of February 2011 alone.” Strike waves ebbed and flowed over the following two years, and did much to undermine the military and Islamist governments that succeeded each other before the crisis of the summer of 2013, when, after Mohammed Morsi fell, a successful counterrevolutionary offensive was launched by the Armed Forces, the Ministry of the Interior, the judiciary, and the media.

After the fall of Mubarak, a ferment of self-organization resulted in the founding of many new independent unions, which often engaged in intense battles for tathir, or the “cleansing” from management positions of the ruling party’s cronies. This was especially the case in public institutions. Public hospitals in Cairo, for example, “were the scene of attempts to assert workers’ control over management to a much greater degree than had been possible before the revolution.” These experiments weren’t always successful, but in a number of cases they did at least force the resignation of old directors and were able to establish, temporarily, democratic councils to oversee work.

In the end, the workers’ movement was unable to impose its demands on the agenda of national politics. Its leaders “did not score victories at that level on the question of raising the national minimum wage, or forcing a lasting retreat from privatization, or even of securing full legal recognition for the independent unions themselves.” Still, the authors comment that the nationwide revival of self-organization was an astonishing feat. “Factory and office workers created thousands of workplace organisations, despite conditions of acute repression and the lack of material resources. There have been few examples on this scale of a revival of popular organisation in the Arab world for decades.” Memories of these uprisings will not be erased easily, and will inspire the next generation of activists.

Venezuela

Venezuela differs from the other cases in that its Bolivarian revolution has entailed a commitment to elevating the position and the power of workers. So how successful has this process been? In recent years, of course, Venezuela’s severe economic crisis has undermined the Bolivarian process, with increases in poverty and less money going to social programs. But the achievements have not all been destroyed. The account in the book goes up to early 2016, well into the crisis years.

Until 2006, the Chavez government focused on promoting cooperatives (in addition to nationalizing the oil industry and expropriating large landowners). In nationalized medium-sized companies, for example, workers became co-owners with the state. Whereas Venezuela had had only 800 registered cooperatives in 1998, by mid-2010 it had 274,000, though only about a third were determined to be “operative.” It had been hoped that these businesses would produce for the satisfaction of social needs rather than profit-maximization, but the mixed-ownership model, according to which the state and private entrepreneurs could be co-owners with workers, vitiated these hopes.

By 2006 a new model was spreading, which was more communally based. Its political context was that “communal councils” began to be recognized as a fundamental structure of local self-government: in urban areas they encompassed 150 to 400 families, while in rural areas they included a minimum of 20 families. “The councils constitute a non-representational structure of direct participation, which exists alongside the elected representative bodies of constituted power. Several communal councils can come together to form a commune. By the end of 2015, over 40,000 communal councils and more than 1,200 communes existed.” Councils and communes can receive state funding for their projects, which now began to include community-controlled companies instead of cooperatives. “In these new communal companies, the workers come from the local communities; these communities are the ones who, through the structures of self-government…decide on what kind of companies are needed, what organisational form they will have and who should work in them.”

In 2008 a new model for these companies emerged, the Communal Social Property Company (EPSC). “While different kinds of EPSCs can be found in the communities today, their principal areas of activity correspond with the most pressing needs of the barrios and rural communities: the production of food and construction materials, and the provision of transport services. Textile and agricultural production companies, bakeries and shoemakers, are also common.” Under the initiative of workers, even some state enterprises are partly under community control, at least regarding their distribution networks.

Despite Chavez’s commitment to workers’ control, it has not been easy to shift the orientation of a state and a private sector deeply hostile to workers. Workers’ councils and struggles for worker participation can be found in almost all state enterprises and many private ones—and workers have taken over hundreds of private businesses, sometimes after the state’s expropriation of the original owners—but even in the chavista state bureaucrats were apt to undermine the Bolivarian process. Whether through corruption, mismanagement, obstruction of financing to state companies with worker-presidents, or other means, ministerial bureaucracies and even corrupt unions impede workers’ control. In many state enterprises the situation is ambiguous: workers don’t control the company or even participate in management, but “they control parts of the production process, they decide on their own to whom they will give access to the plant, [and] they are in a full-scale conflict with the management.”

Despite all the advances made under Chavez, the fact is that the economy’s social relations of production have not really changed and capitalist exploitation remains the norm. Private interests are still too powerful and have too much influence over the government, promoting mismanagement and corruption. It is still a rentier economy. But a revolutionary process has begun and is being carried forward by communities and workers across the country. The transformation of a society from authoritarian to democratic does not happen overnight.

Bosnia-Herzegovina

Like the rest of the post-Soviet world, Bosnia-Herzegovina has suffered terribly from the privatizations, asset-stripping, marketization, and rampant corruption that have attended its transition to capitalism since the mid-1990s. Unemployment and economic insecurity are at epidemic proportions. In 2014, workers in Tuzla, Bosnia’s third largest city, organized a massive mobilization against their deteriorating conditions, the first since the 1992–95 conflict. While the movement didn’t last, its legacy may inspire further mobilizations in the future.

The 2014 demonstrations were a response to the wretched situation of workers in a laundry detergent factory, DITA, which at one time had provided 1,400 jobs. After its privatization in 2005, things started to go downhill. The company paid them minimal wages, issued meal vouchers only in bonds rather than cash, and eventually stopped paying them pension funds and health insurance. In 2011 they began a long strike, but in December 2012 the firm closed, having ignored all their demands.

Picketing the factory and filing lawsuits didn’t secure justice for the workers, so in February 2014 they teamed up with their counterparts from four other nearby factories to stage demonstrations in front of Tuzla’s canton court. All five work forces had similar demands: investigation of the questionable privatization processes that had destroyed their livelihoods; compensation for unpaid wages, health insurance, and pensions; and the restarting of production. Their demands didn’t get a very sympathetic hearing: during one of the demonstrations, riot police secured the entrance of the canton building and fired teargas and rubber bullets. This brutality only further inflamed the workers, who kept up their resistance the following couple of days. The number of demonstrators rose to 10,000 as students and other citizens joined the protests, finally setting the government buildings on fire.

Chiara Milan’s summary of the ensuing events is worth quoting:

The action [of burning government buildings] resonated throughout the country. Within days, rallies in solidarity with Tuzla’s workers took place across Bosnia-Herzegovina. Increasing discontent among the social groups suffering under government policies led tens of thousands to join in the main cities of BiH [i.e., Bosnia-Herzegovina]. Like a domino effect, the rage spread and the revolt escalated. On 7 February the government buildings of the cities of Mostar, Sarajevo, and Zenica were set ablaze by seething protesters. While politicians tried to hide the plummeting economic conditions of the country by constantly playing the ethnic card, the workers of Tuzla triggered wider social protests, arguing that rage and hunger do not recognise ethnic differences. The protests spawned a mass movement of solidarity that overcame the ethno-national divisions inside the country, travelling across the post-Yugoslav space. Rallies in support of the workers were reported in nearby Croatia, Montenegro, Serbia and Macedonia…

Soon, directly democratic assemblies called plenums were set up across the country. “The citizens gathered in leaderless, consensus-based assemblies where everybody had the right to one vote and nobody could speak on behalf of other people.” Each plenum had working groups addressing such issues as media, education and culture, and social problems. “Demands that arose during the plenums were collected and delivered to [these] working groups, in charge of reformulating them in a coherent way. Once reformulated, the demands typically returned to the plenum for a final vote [after which they were submitted to the cantonal government]. All the plenums were coordinated through an organisational body called interplenum…”

A new labor union was also formed in the wake of the protests, called Solidarnost, which quickly reached 4,000 members from dozens of companies. It was intended as an alternative to the conventional unions that had so signally failed to protect the interests of their rank and file. While it didn’t succeed in winning the battle for the workers, it did keep fighting for years afterwards, as by staging weekly protests in front of the canton court.

The moment of collective outrage slowly faded away, especially after the flood that hit the country in May 2014 turned into a national emergency. The workers at the DITA factory, however, still did not give up: in March 2015 they occupied the factory and restarted the production of cleaning products, publicly appealing for international support. Shops and retail chains decided to sell the “recuperated factory’s” products, and groups of activists volunteered to help the workers optimize production.

In general, Milan comments, the uprisings left a legacy of solidarity and activist networks, which challenge “the dominant rhetoric of ethnic hatred” and may be drawn on in future struggles.

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The path forward for the working class in an age of neoliberal crisis is tortuous and uncertain. Given the near-collapse of mainstream trade unionism and many left-wing political parties, it’s necessary for people the world over to forge their own institutions, their own networks, to fight back against the rampaging elite and construct a new, more equitable society. The stories collected in The Class Strikes Back are an encouraging sign that workers everywhere are already waging the war, that democratic institutions can germinate in even the most crisis-ridden of societies, and that the ruling class’s hold on power is, in fact, ultimately, rather tenuous.  The next generation of activism is sure to bring major changes to a morally corrupt civilization.

Trump, Trade Wars, and the Class Struggle

All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and [humans are] at last compelled to face with sober senses [our] real conditions of life, and [our] relations with [our] kind.

— Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, The Communist Manifesto

An unfolding trade war pitting the United States simultaneously against China, the European Union, Canada, and Mexico has begun. The economic and political consequences – intended and unintended – are now unfolding.  How this trade war develops and “ends” is a political question that cannot be predicted concretely. But the framework to foresee what is coming down the road is coming into focus.

There is no letup in the continued erosion and breakdown of the post-World War II, post-“Cold War” eras characterized at their core by the predominance of US capital in the institutions of world capitalism and in world politics.

China

On June 15, 2018 the Donald Trump Administration announced it will be adding a 25% tariff-tax on some $50 billion worth of Chinese goods imported into the United States. On June 18 Trump then threatened another 10% tariff-tax on $200 billion worth of additional Chinese commodities, raised to $500 billion on July 5, affecting virtually every Chinese product throughout the US-China production-to-exchange chain.

The first-round of tariffs, $34 billion worth, took effect on July 6, applying to 818 commodities and products. The second round, $16 billion on an additional 284 items, await “reviews,” that is vetting by the major industrial and financial oligopolies whose profits may be more or less directly affected. They are lobbying Trump and his enforcers for exemptions, waivers, and dilutions individually and collectively.

Trump’s threats to escalate were presented as being contingent on any Chinese government and state counter-tariffs on US goods and services. These, of course, were bound to happen; there could be no other political choice for the Xi Jinping government. The Chinese Ministry of Commerce immediately announced counter-measures “of the same scale and the same strength.” The statement further announced as “invalid” the recently reported “progress” on a deal that would have led to an additional $70 billion in US imports to China, based on a negotiated reduction of Chinese tariffs and other legal barriers to selected US commodities and services, including energy, agricultural, and high-tech products. Agricultural commodities were an initial focus of Chinese counter-tariffs, since China is a major market for US agricultural products, especially soy beans.

Trump’s announcement was rolled out with provocative and jingoistic rationalizations. Uncle Sam as bumbling sucker, the victim of nefarious Chinese practices. They are stealing our technology. They carry out “state subsidies” of industries and dump surplus production stealing the jobs of American workers. And so on…as if the entire system of world capitalist production, finance, and exchange were not lubricated and dependent as a whole on such practices. Practices by which the most advanced capitalist states and industrialized economies – the United States, the former colonial powers of western Europe, and Japan – are the historic masters and mentors.

At a July 5 campaign rally in Montana which drew thousands, Trump thundered:

We are bringing back our wealth from foreign countries that have been ripping us off for years…For too long we watched and we waited and we saw as other countries stole our jobs, cheated our workers, and gutted our industry.

With his trademark national chauvinism and demagogy, Trump continued:

The United States of America was the piggy bank that everybody else was robbing. Our allies in many cases were worse than our enemies. We opened our country to their goods, but they put up massive barriers to keep our products and our goods the hell out of their country because they didn’t want that competition.

Trump is upending the decades-long, highly profitable arrangements between the US capitalist class, its various governments in Washington, and the Chinese state. US capital would invest in commodity production inside China for sales to the US and other developed capitalist markets. It has been an arrangement that has been crucial in the formation and accumulation of state and private capital in China by Chinese business owners and government officials.

While it is very difficult to calculate precisely balance-of-trade surpluses and deficits of nation-states within globalized production chains, as well as calculating so-called “services” onto the balance sheets, China’s trade “surplus” in finished goods with the United States has been in the low-to-mid 100s of billions of dollars range for many years. A good slice of which is recycled and parked in US Treasuries. This greatly cushions the impact for US debt markets, making it easier for US federal and private banking institutions to obscure, dilute, and hide dollar-denominated debt. It also helps the US Federal Reserve suppress higher interest rates, and keeps low or non-existent tax rates and outlays for billionaires, millionaires, and US-style oligarchs.

China today owns nearly $2 trillion in US Treasury securities, which makes it the largest US “foreign creditor” and the second largest owner of US bonds, after the Federal Reserve itself. No one can know for sure what the impact of the unfolding trade war will be on Chinese purchases of US Treasuries, insofar as the US-China balance of trade numbers and those of China’s purchases of US government debt have become the intertwined sine qua non of the entire economic and financial relationship. China’s vast holdings register both leverage and vulnerable dependency. China’s decades-long massive economic expansion and growth (high single-digit to low double-digit GDP rises every year since 1991!) has been strongly predicated on maintaining China’s access to US markets for the wholesale and retail sales of these commodities.

Over the decades US-China economic ties and exchange led to the massive expansion of Chinese factory manufacturing and industrial development, as well as huge profits for US capitalists and their Chinese state and private partners.

This process also contributed mightily to the large expansion of the Chinese industrial proletariat, including a super-exploited sector of migrant workers, and urban petty bourgeoisie, with the concurrent reduction in the size of China’s peasant population. All of this has led to the massive production and reproduction of surplus value in the country based on the application of labor power to produce commodities to be exchanged, that is, sold in the US and world markets.

This massive production and reproduction of real value, real social wealth, and real capital was certainly siphoned off disproportionately and corruptly by Chinese bureaucrats and capitalists. But it has also been massively invested in infrastructure and urban development projects, led by high-speed rail production and construction.

Two giant Chinese initiatives in the past period highlight these historical developments. First, the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative which promotes regional “connectivity” through infrastructure and other economic projects, and second, the China-initiated Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) which finances infrastructure and other economic projects in the Asian-Pacific region. AIIB is headquartered in Shanghai and has 86 members, including a number of US NATO “allies.”  Washington, from Barack Obama to Trump, has so far declined to be any part of it. Moreover, China has publicly issued its Made in China 2025 plan to be world leaders in future industrial applications in artificial intelligence, robotics, and chip manufacturing, which is viewed with hostility in Washington.

Looming Recession?

Washington – and this is a largely bipartisan cry – gets particularly worked up over so-called state aid and subsidies to Chinese industries and companies that are themselves state or quasi-state-owned or nominally private. China also attempts to get around efforts led by Washington to pressure companies to restrict Chinese access to some technologies by making such access a condition for sales and commercial exchanges in the vast Chinese markets themselves.

A June 29 column in the Financial Times (“Bond markets send signals of a looming recession”) by University of Chicago “Professor of Finance” Raghuram Rajan states:

[E]conomic metric estimates of the effects of one or two rounds of tariff rises are small. But the models do not capture the intertwined nature of global supply chains. Moreover, the effect on business sentiment, as well as the pall of uncertainty cast over investment will be considerable, A trade war will be costly.

Rajan points to the political difficulties for any governments and national leaderships today “to be seen [as] giving in to threats, making trade conflicts more likely.” He then continues with:

… a final reason for concern. China is cleaning up its financial system, an immensely complicated task given the debt that has built up. Growth has slowed, the cost of riskier loans has been rising, as have defaults. The Chinese authorities are working to spread losses across the system, but this needs to be managed carefully to avoid panic. If China is caught in a trade war while it is still restructuring its financial system, its difficulties could spread abroad.

If the dynamic of a large-scale US-China trade war is unleashed, then it will have critical economic and commercial – and therefore political — consequences for the trade and diplomatic regime that has been built up and stabilized over many decades between Beijing and Washington – and Wall Street and China.1

The EU, Canada, and Mexico

The tariffs on China set in motion by Trump and his Executive Branch team of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, White House National Trade Council Director Peter Navarro, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin came on top of tariffs on steel and aluminum exports carried out against Canada, the European Union, and Mexico, announced with great hoopla, earlier in the June month. These ostensibly aim at boosting US domestic steel and aluminum production, but also led to immediate retaliatory measures of equal reach and value by all. So far, every dollar-value of US tariff-taxes have been met with an equal value in counter-tariffs. Can that be sustained?

On June 29, 2018 Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freedland defiantly announced Canada’s response to the Trump tariffs on steel and aluminum. “We will not escalate — and we will not back down,” said Freeland. (Before her current gig as Foreign Minister for the Justin Trudeau government, Freedland was a leading editor of the Financial Times, the quintessential organ of British and world capital.)

She unveiled counter-tariffs on US goods entering Canada, including whiskey, toilet paper, washing machines, and motorboats. Altogether, Canada will tax $12.6 billion worth of American goods, which matched the value of the US tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum.

“I cannot emphasize enough the regret with which we take these countermeasures,” Freedland added. She emphasized that the only way Canada might reverse them would be if the Trump White House rescinded first. There are always political dangers when many faces need saving at once.

Trump’s Executive Orders were invoked under the cover of “national security.” This provoked umbrage from Canadian, EU, and other US post-World War II era NATO “allies.” They pointed to the various imperialist wars they fought over the years hand-in-glove with Washington.

The current framework and regime for the regulation of tariffs and the resolution of trade disputes is the World Trade Organization (WTO). The US tariffs are already being contested in WTO bodies in a likely bruising battle. The WTO as an “objective” arbiter and judge, is clearly in danger of losing authority and fraying under great pressure. Trump’s back-to-back measures are bound to accelerate a breaking down of world capitalist trading norms and stability.

Allies and Competitors

The EU bloc, most of its individual nation-state components, and Canada are military allies of Washington — still by far the predominant military power with the most firepower and global reach on Earth – through the NATO alliance. But, at the same time, all are home bases for some of the fiercest competitors of US based multinationals and other capitalist firms in world markets. In a time of intensifying, cutthroat global competition, with financial volatility and turbulent waters ahead, the “competitors” side is being more sharply expressed and rising to the fore. The political fallout from policy choices and decisions on trade, tariffs, currency manipulations, debt and capital flows are, at the very least, posed more sharply in today’s world. Old trading blocs and ties come under pressure and weaken, rebooting political policies and alliances.

Consequences, Intended and Unintended

While Trump’s public utterances – “Trade wars are good and easy to win” – exude typical flippant political confidence on his part, these policies are highly contentious within the broader US capitalist class. Within these circles there is growing anxiety and dread that Washington will not be able to drive things through without serious political consequences in the world arena.

The shift that Trump looks to realize registers the political erosion internationally of the “neoliberal globalization” regime which greatly benefited many US-based giant corporations, banks, and businesses – and the mounds of capital behind their brands – as they set up shop in China, Mexico, and elsewhere with greatly increased profit rates. The major benefit of this inside the United States for US capitalists was the lowering of the value of labor and the evisceration of industrial jobs and industrial unions. The decisive factor involved is relatively cheaper (usually very much so) labor costs, which outweigh other disadvantages and extra costs for US-based capital in production outside the US, such as in transport costs, management training, and so on.

Of course, US capitalists couldn’t care less about the social devastation in working-class communities in the US.2

US Capital is Divided

Opposition to Trump’s measures is strongest among business groups and elected officials from both the Republican and Democratic parties who have been identified with the general “free trade” neoliberal policies worldwide that have dominated trade pacts and mainstream bourgeois economics for decades. These anti-working-class policies have increased in unpopularity since the so-called Great Recession and financial crisis of 2007-08 and are now widely discredited and hated in the US and around the world, especially among working people. But the opposition to them takes varied “populist” forms – left and right — that have done and can do little to effectively counter them or provide any program and perspective of mobilization and independent working-class political action and power. In the face of popular hostility and battered credibility, almost by inertia, the “neoliberal model” limps on.

What will be the impact on world economic developments of Trump’s tariffs? Does it give a push to the next – inevitable – financial jolts and economic downturn-recession? Will the EU, Canada, and Mexico have the political will and strength to counter them? Is there space for increasing domestic US assembly and manufacture of commodities, finished products, and capital goods (machinery, etc.) that have been “farmed out” for decades now that US labor value and costs has been driven down in recent decades? Can increased US domestic manufacturing (up 36,000 in June 2018 according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics) sustain sales volume and profit rates?

Diminished US Political Power

There are wide layers in top US business, financial, and social circles who do worry that Trump is accelerating and deepening the deterioration in US political influence worldwide. They are anxious that Trump’s course, rather that restoring the post-World War II full-spectrum dominance of US capital – capsulized in his campaign slogan “Make America Great Again” – will do the opposite and actually accelerate US decline.

There is considerable substance to this anxiety. Under Trump there has been a striking US political isolation in world political forums on one major international political question after another: Washington’s withdrawal from the (fairly toothless, in any case) Paris climate change accords; Trump’s unilateral withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on Iran’s nuclear production and activity, an agreement which was ratified by China, France, Germany, Russia, the UK, and the EU as a body; Washington’s humiliating isolation every year in the UN over its criminal and hated blockade of revolutionary Cuba; and issues around Israel and Palestine that might ameliorate Palestinian conditions and advance a two-state solution.

Korea is Hardly a Trump Triumph

Trump’s escalating moves on US trade and exchange with China were announced when the ink was hardly dry on the document issued, amid great world attention and hoopla, after the June 12 Summit between Donald Trump and the Kim Jong-un government in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).

While the Trump White House has been eager to spin the Summit results as a feather in its cap, his ability to do so was necessarily predicated on the US suspension of “war games” and other joint US-South Korean military maneuvers off the North Korean coasts. Maintaining Washington’s “right” and political will to do so became politically untenable following the Kim government’s ending of missile launches, atmospheric and underground tests, and even the verified destruction of one nuclear site while at the same time the two Korean governments deepened relations through friendly encounters amid popular enthusiasm. No one can seriously doubt that the Moon Jae-in government in South Korea favored and pushed for the US suspension of the “joint” war games.

It seems apparent that China and South Korea forcefully intervened behind the scenes to keep the US-DPRK talks on track. In reality, Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (with National Security Advisor John Bolton kept in the shadows) found themselves in an isolated diplomatic and political corner and risked a politically unwinnable confrontation with both China, South Korea and the United Nations large majority. This became even more dangerous politically for Washington on the heels of the US withdrawal from JCPOA treaty with Iran.

As this article was being finished, the US-DPRK negotiations had a negative public eruption after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with top North Korean authorities in Pyongyang. The DPRK Foreign Ministry issued a detailed statement on July 7, calling the meetings “regretful” and Pompeo’s apparent sole focus on unilateral DPRK denuclearization “gangster-like.” The DPRK statement promoted, “in the spirit of” the Singapore Summit and its written statement signed by Trump and Kim, an interconnected focus on issues like a formal peace treaty replacing the “Armistice” ending military combat in 1953; improved US-DPRK bilateral relations; and building a “peace regime on the Korean Peninsula,” that is, building on the momentum of improving relations between the two Korean governments and states. Pompeo and Trump have both downplayed the DPRK statement, with Trump on July 9 spinning that China “may be exerting pressure on a deal because of our posture on Chinese Trade – Hope Not!”

Of course, as the DPRK statement said, “suspension of one action called exercises is a highly reversible step which can be resumed at any time or any moment as all of its military force remains intact in its previously held positions without scraping even a rifle.” Nevertheless, for the Trump Administration to revert to a “maximum pressure” policy while demanding North Korean capitulation and permanently subordinating all other political issues, starting with formal and actual bilateral and multilateral peace, is not politically tenable, starting with South Korea and China and, overwhelmingly, world public opinion.

Mexico

The July 1 landslide election in Mexico of left-wing “populist”Andres Manuel Lopez Abrador (AMLO) is also setting Washington’s nerves on edge. It is not Lopez Obrador’s political orientation and program, per se, that is setting off (mostly muted) alarms. While he is solidly progressive with anti-imperialist instincts flowing from Mexican and Latin American historical experience, AMLO has sent out clear signals that he is loath to directly promote anti-capitalist measures and policies. His campaign focused on the corruption of private capital and the Mexican capitalist state and the intertwined, massive violence and death associated with the illegal capitalist drug cartels.3

What is worrying for the US (and Mexican) ruling classes is the tremendous enthusiasm and mobilizations around AMLO’s campaign, which points to the rising expectations among Mexican working people and youth who want action and who are saying Enough is Enough! Rather than channel mass political combativity into harmless electoralism and parliamentary wrangling, it is more likely that any significant progressive measures promoted by the Lopez Obrador government and its clear majority in both houses of Mexico’s legislature, will spur on the class struggle. This is particularly worrisome for the guardians of US imperialism, given the remarkable history of gratuitous, patronizing insults and anti-Mexican demagogy employed by Donald Trump since the beginning of his campaign for US president. And his reactionary and brutal anti-migrant policies once in office.

In any case, a window into the arrogance of the US ruling rich came with a short editorial in the July 3 Wall Street Journal, titled “The Peso Federales.” Acknowledging Lopez Obrador’s “landslide” and “mandate,” the Journal’s editors warn of the pressure coming from a “different sort of election – the one that takes place daily in financial markets.” Pointing to a 1% drop in the Mexican peso (that “recovered” the next day) following the election, the editorial continued “the president-elect now has to worry what the markets think if he wants to improve the lives of Mexicans.”

One of the biggest concerns for the academic, journalist, and big-business monitors of world economic developments today, prior to the next sharp economic crisis and recession-depression, is that there has been a significant and growing outflow of capital from so-called “emerging” countries into the capital markets of the most advanced capitalist economies, especially the US. This is reversing a mild trend otherwise in recent years.

Sharp turns down for the Argentine peso is the starkest expression of this tendency. In June 2018 the IMF came up with a $50 billion “loan,” a bail out for austerity package, that has already provoked the biggest labor mobilizations in that country for over a decade.

The Class Struggle Will Ratchet Up

When you enter a period like the current one, within the transition from one era-epoch to another, old truisms become stale, alliances and allies can and do change, traditional state-to-state relations become strained and even boil over. No one can doubt that class struggle, social polarization, and political volatility is likely to be ratcheted up considerably in the context of the coming global economic downturn. This will happen everywhere and anywhere. In the United States itself we can expect more massive working class and popular eruptions – seemingly coming out of nowhere – like the wave of solid, disciplined, and victorious teacher’s strikes in the US states of West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Arizona in early 2018.

The unfolding trade wars unleashed by Donald Trump are now facts on the ground. To cite the great socialist pioneer Frederick Engels:

Those who unleash controlled forces, also unleash uncontrolled forces.

  1. The origins of the contemporary US-China relationship and the deeply intertwined  economic ties between both came during the final period of the Vietnam War. US President Richard Nixon and his Secretary of State Henry Kissinger carried out a secret diplomacy with the Mao Zedong-Zhou Enlai Chinese government in the early 1970s to establish mutually beneficial ties. The context was the sharp crisis and looming defeat of the US war effort in Vietnam and Indochina. Nixon and Kissinger were under tremendous pressure to end all US military operations and withdraw US troops from Vietnam and Southeast Asia. They were keen to preserve the “South” Vietnamese neo-colonial state and hoped to manipulate China (and China’s fierce political antagonist, the Soviet Union) to pressure the Vietnamese revolutionaries – who they both gave crucial military aid to — to make concessions to Nixon. This failed and Washington went down to final military defeat in 1975. Nevertheless a de facto political alliance and the foundations for the massive expansion of economic exchange between the United States and China was consolidated over four decades under both Republican and Democratic White Houses and Congresses.
  2. Before retiring in 2016, I was a Locomotive Engineer for Amtrak and member of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and the teamsters Union. I operated the high-speed Acela and other passenger trains between New York city and Washington, DC. For some 25 years, I would see, along the main line tracks from the locomotive cab, on the Northeast Corridor tracks, especially along the stretches between Wilmington, Delaware and Philadelphia towards Trenton, New Jersey, mile after mile of rotted out and abandoned industrial facilities, factories, plants, mills, metal shop, giant behemoths and myriad smaller ones in what were once, in the world War 2 era and subsequent decades, I imagined thriving working-class communities employing many tens and hundreds of thousands of workers. Today they really look like documentary films from the Battle of Stalingrad on the World War 2 Eastern Front. The authorities, decade after decade, never even bothered to tear them down. I would joke to younger workers in my cab qualifying on the physical characteristics of the territory – track speeds, interlocking rules, industrial sidings, and so on – when we would pass these areas, that the state should put a giant bubble over it all and open up “The Museum of American Industrial Glory.”
  3. The stunning failure of Mexico’s “war on drugs” has left hundreds of thousands dead and mutilated without making a dent in the production, consumption, or the profits of the cartels, and the corrupt wealth of officials up and down the supply chain. The production, marketing, and commercial exchange of cannabis, cocaine, methamphetamine, cocaine, opium, and heroin is a major component of the Mexican capitalist economy as a whole, counting for perhaps up to 10% of GDP, as well as propping up Mexican banking.

Urban Madness: Inequality and the Right to the City

The weekend edition of the Financial Times dated April 7/8 featured a story in the House and Home section under the title ‘Barcelona hits the Brakes.’ The story describes the negative effect of last October’s Catalan independence referendum on Barcelona’s real estate market. The Times cites data from the Spanish property website Idealista. During the summer of 2017 (Q3 2017) properties in the city gained an impressive 018 percent compared to the previous year. In Q4 2017, in the midst of uncertainty stemming from the referendum, the prices fell 1.2 percent, with the sharpest drop taking place in the priciest neighborhoods.

The most interesting nugget of the story reads like this:

Foreign buyers’ sensitivity to Catalonia’s uncertainty political situation bode ill for the city’s property market in the mid-term since they form an increasing share of the market. Years of steady appreciation has meant that much of the city’s stock has become too expensive for locals. Salaries have been stagnant says Encinar (founder of Idealista). ‘Today, when you ask local agents about business, they talk to you about ‘investors’ rather than ‘clients.’

Meanwhile in February the British Columbia Finance Minister Carole James announced measures targeting foreign buyers and speculators. Foreigners now have to pay a 20 percent tax on top of the listing value (up from 15 percent), and a levy on property speculators will be introduced later this year. Starting this fall foreign and domestic investors who don’t pay income tax in the province where the property is will pay a speculator tax of 0.5 percent of the property’s assessed value in 2018 and 2 percent thereafter. The government also vowed to crack down on the condo pre-sale market and beneficial ownership to ensure that property flippers, offshore trusts and hidden investors are paying taxes on gains.

The flashpoint for the legislation is Vancouver where foreign, particularly wealthy Chinese capital, has been driving double digit gains in property value. Media accounts report that Vancouver casinos and real estate have in recent years become vehicles for laundering proceeds for Asian high rollers and drug dealers with ties to the fentanyl trade. There were also two seasons of the very corny reality TV show Ultra Rich Asian Girls which followed the exploits of daughters of wealthy Chinese families as they shopped and partied around the city. With Chinese capital flowing housing prices in Vancouver have skyrocketed-in 2016 CBC reported that price of a single family home shot up 30 percent in one year to an average of $1.4 million even as the city claims that over the past decade the housing stock has grown by 12 percent and the population by only 9 percent. Toronto and Montreal appear to be on the cusp of similar transformations.

This kind of thing is happening in cities all over the world. In Lisbon a flood of foreign investment and financial deregulation has in the city center up 30 percent over the past two years. Yet the average monthly wage in Lisbon is about €850. Over in London research conducted for mayor Sadiq Khan revealed foreign investors are buying up thousands of homes suitable for first-time buyers. Of the 28,000 new homes built between 2014 and 2016 3600 were scooped up by foreign buyers with the majority from Singapore and Hong Kong followed by Malaysia and China. Last year it was revealed that an entire new 81 unit complex in Southwark (on the site of the former Heygate council estate) was bought by foreign investors while the same was true for 87 percent of Baltimore Wharf, a development on the Isle of Dogs where apartments started at £400,000. Accounts of Russian oligarchs living the high life have filled the press, at one point in 2016 campaigners connected to Russia’s opposition leader Alexei Navalny organized London’s first ever ‘kleptocracy’ tour. Charles Moore, a former editor of the Telegraph, said a few years ago that London’s property market has become ‘a form of legalized international money laundering.’

In New York, early numbers from the latest Census Bureau’s Housing and Vacancy survey show unoccupied apartments ballooned by 35 percent in the three years since the last survey. Over 100,000 units are occupied temporarily or seasonally (74,945), basically meaning investments and vacation pads for the wealthy, or for unexplained reasons (27,000), no doubt a good number of the latter fit the former description.

According to data compiled by the firm PropertyShark, cited in the June 2014 New York magazine article titled ‘Stash Pad’, since 2008 about 30 percent of condo sales in large-scale Manhattan developments have been to purchasers who either listed an overseas address or bought through limited-liability corporations (a method favored by wealthy international buyers). The marketing firm Corcoran Sunshine, which specializes in luxury buildings, estimates that 35 percent of its sales since 2013 have been to international buyers, half from Asia, with the remainder about evenly split among the rest of the world. Data from the Census Bureau’s 2012 American Community Survey revealed 57 percent of apartments in the three block stretch from East 56th Street to East 59th Street, between Fifth Avenue and Park Avenue, are vacant at least ten months a year. From East 59th Street to East 63rd Street the vacancy rate is almost 50 percent.  Stretching it out further the Bureau estimates that 30 percent of all apartments in the entire quadrant from East 49th to East 70th Streets are vacant at least ten months a year. This coincides with New York’s homeless population reaching an all-time high.

It is difficult to conceive a more absurd reflection of global inequality than the building of cities specifically for elite investors at a time when urban homelessness is spiraling. Indeed global inequality has reached absurd levels. According to Oxfam’s report An Economy for the 99%, since 2015 the world’s 1 percent has owned more wealth than the rest of the planet. The richest eight men own the same amount as the poorest half and over the next 20 years 500 people will hand to their heirs over $2.1 trillion- a sum larger than the GDP of India. While global development is slowly narrowing inequality between countries, inequality is rising within countries everywhere. The World Inequality Report 2018 reports the share of income going to the top 10 percent has increased somewhat in Europe, remained high in Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East and has exploded in the United States, Russia, and Asia.

The city-as-investment dynamic is also a logical consequence of neoliberalism. Neoliberalism, defined as an economic system of liberated markets, free trade, deregulation, privatization, and the withdrawal of the state, emerged from the economic stagnation of the early 1970s. Neoliberalism hasn’t been good at producing productive profits as the rate of profit has remained low. U.S. productivity growth is at its lowest level since the 1800s.However, if production is producing profits at a reduced rate where are capitalists to go to increase wealth? Get the state to cut your taxes. Break unions and freeze wages. Invent and expand creative financial assets. Buy back your company’s stocks. Build and invest in urban properties.

Since the mid-1980s corporations have become by far the most important buyers of their own stock. The dirty fact is that money cannot be made as fast by actually investing in production, meaning new plants, equipment, workers, etc., as it can by pumping up stock prices. The price-earnings (P/E ratio) measures a company’s current share (i.e. stock) price relative to its per share earnings. Since the mid-1930s the median P/E ratio for the Standard & Poor 500 stock index is 17. It currently stands at about 25. Another metric is the CAPE index, ‘cyclically adjusted price-earnings’. It measures real earnings per share over a 10 year period and corrects for inflation. The historic median is 16. Currently it is at just almost 33.

For the U.S. this has caused inequality to explode. The World Inequality Report 2018 breaks down American income growth by selected percentile from 1980-2014. Income for the bottom 20 percent of the population grew by a mere 4 percent over that period. The bottom 50 percent grew at only 21 percent, less than 1 percent a year. The top 10 percent grew 113 percent, the top 1 percent grew 194 percent, the top .001 by 423 percent, the top .0001 by 616 percent.

As the planet grows more unequal it grows more urban. For the first time in history the world’s urban population outnumbers the rural population. Cities have absorbed about two-thirds of global population growth since 1950. In 1950 there were 86 cities in the world with more than one million inhabitants. As of 2016 there were 512 such cities, by 2030 there will be an estimated 662. Urbanization spans a vast gulf from the very wealthy neighborhoods of ‘International’ cities such as Shanghai, London, and New York to teeming slums all over the global South. Around one billion people, or roughly 1 in 8 people worldwide, live in slums. In this period cities have emerged as a key part of capital accumulation, absorbing surplus capital and labor. Gentrification has transformed from a local process, even an exception to urban disinvestment, to the pillar of global urban planning.

This inevitably makes the Right to the City movement of paramount importance to the International Left. The struggle against gentrification in London and San Francisco is easily linked to the struggle against displacement, and for basic human needs, in the pueblo jovens of Lima and favelas of Rio de Janairo. At bottom is the right for people to exist in space and time. This goes far beyond just an individual right to the resources a city contains. Since the process of urban change is a collective one, thus is the right to the city. Geographer David Harvey was surely correct when he wrote that ‘the question of what kind of city we want cannot be divorced from the question of what kind of people we want to be, what kinds of social relations we seek, what relations to nature we cherish, what style of daily life we desire, what kinds of technologies we deem appropriate, what aesthetic values we hold.’

This never will be easy.  As inequality deepens and urbanization expands, state militarization grows with it. Stephen Graham, in his important book Cities Under Siege: The New Military Humanism, shows boomerang effect of the War on Terror on policing in Western cities. Drones are now involved in crime patrol. Security Zones, based on efforts to build Green Zones in Baghdad, are prominent in big cities. Temporary Security Zones are set up around sports events and political conventions. Since the 1990s over $5 billion worth of surplus military equipment has been transferred to police departments across the country.  During the Obama years, before limits were put in place which have since been rescinded by the Trump administration, police departments received tens of thousands of machine guns, thousands of pieces of camouflage and night-vision equipment, along with hundreds of silencers, armored cars and aircraft. The number of SWAT teams has skyrocketed since the 1980s. Originally established to deal with hostage situations and heavily armed criminals, SWAT teams are now deployed tens of thousands of times a year, mainly for drug searches (well glamorized by the CBS show S.W.A.T.). There was a glimpse of these possible confrontations with social movements during the protests against police brutality in Ferguson in 2014. There is no reason to expect these trends will cease and every reason to think they will expand.

Such is the specter that justice movements may have to confront in the future. Still, future social revolutions will be in cities or nowhere.

Privatization Is Killing Us: Dispatches from the War on Society

As the capitalist elite continues to pour ever more resources into its crusade to dismantle society, it’s important to keep a tally of the damage done—if only to direct popular attention to where it’s needed most, and to where the Left’s own resources are needed most. High on the list of capitalist priorities, and thus of priorities for left-wing resistance, is the goal to privatize everything from education to nature to policing and soldiering. With that in mind, here’s a list of some recent “negative externalities” of privatization that I’ve culled from news sources.

Children, teachers, and rat feces

Let’s start with Rahm Emanuel’s Chicago, jewel of neoliberalism. In February 2014, the Chicago Public Schools decided to outsource management of custodians to Aramark and SodexoMAGIC. The rationale for privatization is supposed to be that it cuts costs and improves “efficiency” or effectiveness. Left unsaid is the means by which costs are cut: primarily from the fact that private companies have a freer hand than government in treating employees viciously. It’s easier for corporations to lay off employees, reduce wages and benefits, degrade working conditions, and destroy unions than it is for governments to do so, since corporations are totalitarian institutions. Whether the overall deal is a net financial gain for government is a difficult question, to which studies have given conflicting answers. Some have found that it actually ends up costing more money in the long run, while others have concluded privatization may in some cases yield savings of about 10 percent. But these reports don’t factor in all the extra costs, such as the time and money it takes to review proposals by companies, negotiate contracts, review contract terms, deal with the inevitable lawsuits, etc.

And then there are the costs to the public, which, of course, don’t count.

Tim Cawley, the chief administrative officer behind CPS’s decision to outsource custodial management, claimed it would indirectly improve “family and community engagement”—which in a sense it did, since parents have felt compelled to volunteer to clean up bathrooms and classrooms. Because of cutbacks in the number (and the pay) of janitors, it has been left to parents and teachers to clean up pools of urine in bathrooms, feces smeared on walls (in preschools), clogged toilet bowls, enormous amounts of trash, rat droppings, and the like. Toilet paper and soap supplies have repeatedly run out in many schools, forcing teachers to buy supplies themselves. (In some schools, students have been asked to bring in their own toilet paper, tissues, soap, and paper towels.) Leaky ceilings, cockroach infestations, rotting floors, outbreaks of bed bugs, exposed asbestos, the presence of dust and grime aggravating respiratory illnesses, and rotting garbage do not exactly “result in an enhanced learning environment,” despite Cawley’s assurances.

“It’s gross and disgusting and my health is being affected,” one teacher says. “I want to be outside the minute I’m in here. It smells. Everything smells and I can’t focus. If I can’t focus to teach, how can kids focus to learn?”

While these conditions have been known about for years, only a recent exposé by the Chicago Sun-Times has finally persuaded CPS to act—by hiring an extra 200 janitors this summer, of whom 100 will remain in the fall. The janitors’ union had asked for 500 more permanent hires.

There is good news on the legislative front, though: on April 10, the Illinois House Labor and Commerce Committee voted favorably on a bill that would allow members of the Chicago Teachers Union to bargain over non-salary issues such as crowded classes and filthy schools. (This is a right denied only to Chicago teachers.) The bill now heads to the House.

Barbarism, Inc.

Few business models can be as morally putrid as private prisons. The government pays the company a per diem rate per prisoner, so shareholders make more money the more people are incarcerated. Which gives them an incentive to lobby for harsh laws, as they have done effectively in recent decades. The company also has an incentive to keep conditions as bad as possible for both prisoners and employees, since, of course, cost-cutting is good for profit-making. Study after study has revealed the obvious and outrageous moral hazards of the private prison industry.

But with a creature in the White House who supports the expansion of this sociopathic industry, it’s useful to be reminded of just how horrible it is. A few weeks ago the New York Times published an article on the East Mississippi Correctional Facility, a privately run prison in which gang members have been allowed to beat other prisoners (for extended periods of time), a mentally ill man on suicide watch hanged himself, and inmates have to protect themselves with crudely made knives and other weapons because there aren’t enough guards to maintain order. And the ones who are there aren’t well-trained. One prisoner was charged by a man with a knife and a long section of pipe while he was being escorted to his jail cell; the two guards escorting him just ran away, and he was stabbed and hit for several minutes before other guards arrived. “They laughed and told [the assailant] not to do it again,” the victim recalled. The medical staff did effectively nothing for his wounds.

Meanwhile, the recent “crackdown” on undocumented immigrants has meant a bonanza for the profits of certain corporations. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, a private prison company called CoreCivic, Inc. that runs the Steward Detention Center in Georgia has been making money off people detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The scheme is to force immigrants to work for as little as $1 a day cleaning, cooking, and maintaining the detention center, which would otherwise have to be maintained by actual employees. Those who refuse to work are “threatened with solitary confinement and the loss of access to basic necessities, like food, clothing, products for personal hygiene, and phone calls to loved ones, in violation of federal anti-trafficking laws.” Lawsuits have been filed in several states to challenge these sorts of work practices.

For-profit Medicaid hindrance

Under the perpetual pretext of cutting costs and increasing efficiency, a number of states, including (among others) Illinois, Iowa, North Carolina, Florida, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Kansas, have in recent years partly or wholly privatized Medicaid. The “efficiency” pretext, incidentally, is ironic, given the likely truth of David Graeber’s “Iron Law of Liberalism,” that “any market reform, any government initiative intended to reduce red tape and promote market forces will have the ultimate effect of increasing the total number of regulations, the total amount of paperwork, and the total number of bureaucrats the government employs.” The explosion of bureaucracy in the market-obsessed neoliberal era bears out this law.

What have been the consequences of these privatizations? Iowa is an illustrative case. According to a series of editorials for which Andie Dominick of the Des Moines Register won a 2018 Pulitzer Prize, the results have not been pretty. Since April 2016, three for-profit insurers have taken over management of health care for more than 500,000 Iowans, many of whom have, as a result, now lost access to services, equipment (such as wheelchairs), and even nutritional supplements. Against the advice of medical professionals, the insurers simply refuse to pay for needed care.

Healthcare providers have been underpaid or not paid at all. A nursing home was forced to borrow $150,000 while waiting for reimbursements; a mental health facility was owed $300,000; a family planning clinic had to close. To take only three examples. The state has had to bail out the insurers and assume financial risk—which is ironic, since the supposed point of privatization was to provide state budget predictability in Medicaid spending. Before the privatization debacle, Iowa’s Medicaid had lower per-person spending than many other states and provided reliable reimbursements to providers and consistency in coverage for vulnerable people.

Because of problems similar to Iowa’s, Connecticut in 2012 fired the insurance companies managing its Medicaid programs and transitioned back to the traditional “fee for service” model, according to which the state reimburses providers directly. The results were what you’d expect: the monthly cost of care per patient dropped $718 in 2012 to $670 in 2015; the number of doctors willing to accept Medicaid patients increased; and administrative costs dropped from 12 percent to 5 percent.

Turns out market forces aren’t so “efficient” after all.

Nature for sale

Already in his short tenure in office, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has shown he can privatize with the best of them. There isn’t space here to list all the creative ways he’s trying to destroy the natural environment or restrict its enjoyment to a select few, but we can consider a few examples.

In December 2017, on Zinke’s recommendation and at the behest of the fossil fuel industry, Trump announced he was going to reduce Bears Ears National Monument by 85 percent and Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument by 50 percent. Legal challenges to these orders are currently winding through the courts.

Zinke has ordered the Bureau of Land Management to hold oil and gas lease sales of public lands every 90 days, in addition to “eliminating burdensome regulations” related to oil and natural gas development. He has started the process of opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and natural gas drilling, and is pushing for an expedited timeline of leasing land by 2019. Meanwhile, he’s trying to make drilling less safe by reversing safety regulations that were put in place after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster.

In January 2018 Zinke proposed an offshore drilling plan that would open 90 percent of the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf for oil and gas lease sales. By comparison, the current program puts 94 percent of the OCS off-limits. (Zinke said he’d exempt Florida from the plan, as a favor to his friend Governor Rick Scott, but it appears that this exemption wasn’t a formal action and that Florida is, in fact, being considered for offshore drilling.) Zinke’s draft plan also proposes the largest number of lease sales in U.S. history.

Selling land to corporations is one method of privatization; another is to restrict enjoyment of public parks to those who can afford to pay. Zinke is pursuing this second path as well. In 2016 the National Park Service offered 16 free-admission days at national parks; in 2017 the number was down to 10; this year it’s down to four. The Interior Department had also planned to massively increase entrance fees at the country’s most popular parks—from $25 to $70—but scrapped the plan due to public backlash. Instead, the department will enact a more limited increase at all parks that charge an entrance fee.

With the Trump administration’s term less than half over, we can expect a slew of similar predatory plans in the coming years.

Business as usual

None of these trends is at all surprising, since they emerge from tendencies fundamental to capitalism for centuries. These tendencies have simply been unshackled from prior restraints in the neoliberal era. The destructive, antisocial essence of capitalism has been given free rein, like a raging bull that has broken free of its yoke, such that society is approaching the literal realization of capitalism’s misanthropic telos.

In the long run, two outcomes seem possible. Either humanity will find itself in the Hobbesian state of nature—which is the inner logic and meaning of capitalism—or the crises into which we are fast plunging ourselves will call forth such massive global resistance that a revolutionary social transformation will, at length, come to pass. What it will look like can’t be foreseen (though informed speculations can be useful). All that can be predicted with certainty is that unless the generations now living devote their very existence to the Resistance, humanity won’t have much of a future.

Business as usual is no longer an option.

Privatization Is Killing Us: Dispatches from the War on Society

As the capitalist elite continues to pour ever more resources into its crusade to dismantle society, it’s important to keep a tally of the damage done—if only to direct popular attention to where it’s needed most, and to where the Left’s own resources are needed most. High on the list of capitalist priorities, and thus of priorities for left-wing resistance, is the goal to privatize everything from education to nature to policing and soldiering. With that in mind, here’s a list of some recent “negative externalities” of privatization that I’ve culled from news sources.

Children, teachers, and rat feces

Let’s start with Rahm Emanuel’s Chicago, jewel of neoliberalism. In February 2014, the Chicago Public Schools decided to outsource management of custodians to Aramark and SodexoMAGIC. The rationale for privatization is supposed to be that it cuts costs and improves “efficiency” or effectiveness. Left unsaid is the means by which costs are cut: primarily from the fact that private companies have a freer hand than government in treating employees viciously. It’s easier for corporations to lay off employees, reduce wages and benefits, degrade working conditions, and destroy unions than it is for governments to do so, since corporations are totalitarian institutions. Whether the overall deal is a net financial gain for government is a difficult question, to which studies have given conflicting answers. Some have found that it actually ends up costing more money in the long run, while others have concluded privatization may in some cases yield savings of about 10 percent. But these reports don’t factor in all the extra costs, such as the time and money it takes to review proposals by companies, negotiate contracts, review contract terms, deal with the inevitable lawsuits, etc.

And then there are the costs to the public, which, of course, don’t count.

Tim Cawley, the chief administrative officer behind CPS’s decision to outsource custodial management, claimed it would indirectly improve “family and community engagement”—which in a sense it did, since parents have felt compelled to volunteer to clean up bathrooms and classrooms. Because of cutbacks in the number (and the pay) of janitors, it has been left to parents and teachers to clean up pools of urine in bathrooms, feces smeared on walls (in preschools), clogged toilet bowls, enormous amounts of trash, rat droppings, and the like. Toilet paper and soap supplies have repeatedly run out in many schools, forcing teachers to buy supplies themselves. (In some schools, students have been asked to bring in their own toilet paper, tissues, soap, and paper towels.) Leaky ceilings, cockroach infestations, rotting floors, outbreaks of bed bugs, exposed asbestos, the presence of dust and grime aggravating respiratory illnesses, and rotting garbage do not exactly “result in an enhanced learning environment,” despite Cawley’s assurances.

“It’s gross and disgusting and my health is being affected,” one teacher says. “I want to be outside the minute I’m in here. It smells. Everything smells and I can’t focus. If I can’t focus to teach, how can kids focus to learn?”

While these conditions have been known about for years, only a recent exposé by the Chicago Sun-Times has finally persuaded CPS to act—by hiring an extra 200 janitors this summer, of whom 100 will remain in the fall. The janitors’ union had asked for 500 more permanent hires.

There is good news on the legislative front, though: on April 10, the Illinois House Labor and Commerce Committee voted favorably on a bill that would allow members of the Chicago Teachers Union to bargain over non-salary issues such as crowded classes and filthy schools. (This is a right denied only to Chicago teachers.) The bill now heads to the House.

Barbarism, Inc.

Few business models can be as morally putrid as private prisons. The government pays the company a per diem rate per prisoner, so shareholders make more money the more people are incarcerated. Which gives them an incentive to lobby for harsh laws, as they have done effectively in recent decades. The company also has an incentive to keep conditions as bad as possible for both prisoners and employees, since, of course, cost-cutting is good for profit-making. Study after study has revealed the obvious and outrageous moral hazards of the private prison industry.

But with a creature in the White House who supports the expansion of this sociopathic industry, it’s useful to be reminded of just how horrible it is. A few weeks ago the New York Times published an article on the East Mississippi Correctional Facility, a privately run prison in which gang members have been allowed to beat other prisoners (for extended periods of time), a mentally ill man on suicide watch hanged himself, and inmates have to protect themselves with crudely made knives and other weapons because there aren’t enough guards to maintain order. And the ones who are there aren’t well-trained. One prisoner was charged by a man with a knife and a long section of pipe while he was being escorted to his jail cell; the two guards escorting him just ran away, and he was stabbed and hit for several minutes before other guards arrived. “They laughed and told [the assailant] not to do it again,” the victim recalled. The medical staff did effectively nothing for his wounds.

Meanwhile, the recent “crackdown” on undocumented immigrants has meant a bonanza for the profits of certain corporations. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, a private prison company called CoreCivic, Inc. that runs the Steward Detention Center in Georgia has been making money off people detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The scheme is to force immigrants to work for as little as $1 a day cleaning, cooking, and maintaining the detention center, which would otherwise have to be maintained by actual employees. Those who refuse to work are “threatened with solitary confinement and the loss of access to basic necessities, like food, clothing, products for personal hygiene, and phone calls to loved ones, in violation of federal anti-trafficking laws.” Lawsuits have been filed in several states to challenge these sorts of work practices.

For-profit Medicaid hindrance

Under the perpetual pretext of cutting costs and increasing efficiency, a number of states, including (among others) Illinois, Iowa, North Carolina, Florida, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Kansas, have in recent years partly or wholly privatized Medicaid. The “efficiency” pretext, incidentally, is ironic, given the likely truth of David Graeber’s “Iron Law of Liberalism,” that “any market reform, any government initiative intended to reduce red tape and promote market forces will have the ultimate effect of increasing the total number of regulations, the total amount of paperwork, and the total number of bureaucrats the government employs.” The explosion of bureaucracy in the market-obsessed neoliberal era bears out this law.

What have been the consequences of these privatizations? Iowa is an illustrative case. According to a series of editorials for which Andie Dominick of the Des Moines Register won a 2018 Pulitzer Prize, the results have not been pretty. Since April 2016, three for-profit insurers have taken over management of health care for more than 500,000 Iowans, many of whom have, as a result, now lost access to services, equipment (such as wheelchairs), and even nutritional supplements. Against the advice of medical professionals, the insurers simply refuse to pay for needed care.

Healthcare providers have been underpaid or not paid at all. A nursing home was forced to borrow $150,000 while waiting for reimbursements; a mental health facility was owed $300,000; a family planning clinic had to close. To take only three examples. The state has had to bail out the insurers and assume financial risk—which is ironic, since the supposed point of privatization was to provide state budget predictability in Medicaid spending. Before the privatization debacle, Iowa’s Medicaid had lower per-person spending than many other states and provided reliable reimbursements to providers and consistency in coverage for vulnerable people.

Because of problems similar to Iowa’s, Connecticut in 2012 fired the insurance companies managing its Medicaid programs and transitioned back to the traditional “fee for service” model, according to which the state reimburses providers directly. The results were what you’d expect: the monthly cost of care per patient dropped $718 in 2012 to $670 in 2015; the number of doctors willing to accept Medicaid patients increased; and administrative costs dropped from 12 percent to 5 percent.

Turns out market forces aren’t so “efficient” after all.

Nature for sale

Already in his short tenure in office, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has shown he can privatize with the best of them. There isn’t space here to list all the creative ways he’s trying to destroy the natural environment or restrict its enjoyment to a select few, but we can consider a few examples.

In December 2017, on Zinke’s recommendation and at the behest of the fossil fuel industry, Trump announced he was going to reduce Bears Ears National Monument by 85 percent and Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument by 50 percent. Legal challenges to these orders are currently winding through the courts.

Zinke has ordered the Bureau of Land Management to hold oil and gas lease sales of public lands every 90 days, in addition to “eliminating burdensome regulations” related to oil and natural gas development. He has started the process of opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and natural gas drilling, and is pushing for an expedited timeline of leasing land by 2019. Meanwhile, he’s trying to make drilling less safe by reversing safety regulations that were put in place after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster.

In January 2018 Zinke proposed an offshore drilling plan that would open 90 percent of the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf for oil and gas lease sales. By comparison, the current program puts 94 percent of the OCS off-limits. (Zinke said he’d exempt Florida from the plan, as a favor to his friend Governor Rick Scott, but it appears that this exemption wasn’t a formal action and that Florida is, in fact, being considered for offshore drilling.) Zinke’s draft plan also proposes the largest number of lease sales in U.S. history.

Selling land to corporations is one method of privatization; another is to restrict enjoyment of public parks to those who can afford to pay. Zinke is pursuing this second path as well. In 2016 the National Park Service offered 16 free-admission days at national parks; in 2017 the number was down to 10; this year it’s down to four. The Interior Department had also planned to massively increase entrance fees at the country’s most popular parks—from $25 to $70—but scrapped the plan due to public backlash. Instead, the department will enact a more limited increase at all parks that charge an entrance fee.

With the Trump administration’s term less than half over, we can expect a slew of similar predatory plans in the coming years.

Business as usual

None of these trends is at all surprising, since they emerge from tendencies fundamental to capitalism for centuries. These tendencies have simply been unshackled from prior restraints in the neoliberal era. The destructive, antisocial essence of capitalism has been given free rein, like a raging bull that has broken free of its yoke, such that society is approaching the literal realization of capitalism’s misanthropic telos.

In the long run, two outcomes seem possible. Either humanity will find itself in the Hobbesian state of nature—which is the inner logic and meaning of capitalism—or the crises into which we are fast plunging ourselves will call forth such massive global resistance that a revolutionary social transformation will, at length, come to pass. What it will look like can’t be foreseen (though informed speculations can be useful). All that can be predicted with certainty is that unless the generations now living devote their very existence to the Resistance, humanity won’t have much of a future.

Business as usual is no longer an option.

Privatization Is Killing Us: Dispatches from the War on Society

As the capitalist elite continues to pour ever more resources into its crusade to dismantle society, it’s important to keep a tally of the damage done—if only to direct popular attention to where it’s needed most, and to where the Left’s own resources are needed most. High on the list of capitalist priorities, and thus of priorities for left-wing resistance, is the goal to privatize everything from education to nature to policing and soldiering. With that in mind, here’s a list of some recent “negative externalities” of privatization that I’ve culled from news sources.

Children, teachers, and rat feces

Let’s start with Rahm Emanuel’s Chicago, jewel of neoliberalism. In February 2014, the Chicago Public Schools decided to outsource management of custodians to Aramark and SodexoMAGIC. The rationale for privatization is supposed to be that it cuts costs and improves “efficiency” or effectiveness. Left unsaid is the means by which costs are cut: primarily from the fact that private companies have a freer hand than government in treating employees viciously. It’s easier for corporations to lay off employees, reduce wages and benefits, degrade working conditions, and destroy unions than it is for governments to do so, since corporations are totalitarian institutions. Whether the overall deal is a net financial gain for government is a difficult question, to which studies have given conflicting answers. Some have found that it actually ends up costing more money in the long run, while others have concluded privatization may in some cases yield savings of about 10 percent. But these reports don’t factor in all the extra costs, such as the time and money it takes to review proposals by companies, negotiate contracts, review contract terms, deal with the inevitable lawsuits, etc.

And then there are the costs to the public, which, of course, don’t count.

Tim Cawley, the chief administrative officer behind CPS’s decision to outsource custodial management, claimed it would indirectly improve “family and community engagement”—which in a sense it did, since parents have felt compelled to volunteer to clean up bathrooms and classrooms. Because of cutbacks in the number (and the pay) of janitors, it has been left to parents and teachers to clean up pools of urine in bathrooms, feces smeared on walls (in preschools), clogged toilet bowls, enormous amounts of trash, rat droppings, and the like. Toilet paper and soap supplies have repeatedly run out in many schools, forcing teachers to buy supplies themselves. (In some schools, students have been asked to bring in their own toilet paper, tissues, soap, and paper towels.) Leaky ceilings, cockroach infestations, rotting floors, outbreaks of bed bugs, exposed asbestos, the presence of dust and grime aggravating respiratory illnesses, and rotting garbage do not exactly “result in an enhanced learning environment,” despite Cawley’s assurances.

“It’s gross and disgusting and my health is being affected,” one teacher says. “I want to be outside the minute I’m in here. It smells. Everything smells and I can’t focus. If I can’t focus to teach, how can kids focus to learn?”

While these conditions have been known about for years, only a recent exposé by the Chicago Sun-Times has finally persuaded CPS to act—by hiring an extra 200 janitors this summer, of whom 100 will remain in the fall. The janitors’ union had asked for 500 more permanent hires.

There is good news on the legislative front, though: on April 10, the Illinois House Labor and Commerce Committee voted favorably on a bill that would allow members of the Chicago Teachers Union to bargain over non-salary issues such as crowded classes and filthy schools. (This is a right denied only to Chicago teachers.) The bill now heads to the House.

Barbarism, Inc.

Few business models can be as morally putrid as private prisons. The government pays the company a per diem rate per prisoner, so shareholders make more money the more people are incarcerated. Which gives them an incentive to lobby for harsh laws, as they have done effectively in recent decades. The company also has an incentive to keep conditions as bad as possible for both prisoners and employees, since, of course, cost-cutting is good for profit-making. Study after study has revealed the obvious and outrageous moral hazards of the private prison industry.

But with a creature in the White House who supports the expansion of this sociopathic industry, it’s useful to be reminded of just how horrible it is. A few weeks ago the New York Times published an article on the East Mississippi Correctional Facility, a privately run prison in which gang members have been allowed to beat other prisoners (for extended periods of time), a mentally ill man on suicide watch hanged himself, and inmates have to protect themselves with crudely made knives and other weapons because there aren’t enough guards to maintain order. And the ones who are there aren’t well-trained. One prisoner was charged by a man with a knife and a long section of pipe while he was being escorted to his jail cell; the two guards escorting him just ran away, and he was stabbed and hit for several minutes before other guards arrived. “They laughed and told [the assailant] not to do it again,” the victim recalled. The medical staff did effectively nothing for his wounds.

Meanwhile, the recent “crackdown” on undocumented immigrants has meant a bonanza for the profits of certain corporations. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, a private prison company called CoreCivic, Inc. that runs the Steward Detention Center in Georgia has been making money off people detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The scheme is to force immigrants to work for as little as $1 a day cleaning, cooking, and maintaining the detention center, which would otherwise have to be maintained by actual employees. Those who refuse to work are “threatened with solitary confinement and the loss of access to basic necessities, like food, clothing, products for personal hygiene, and phone calls to loved ones, in violation of federal anti-trafficking laws.” Lawsuits have been filed in several states to challenge these sorts of work practices.

For-profit Medicaid hindrance

Under the perpetual pretext of cutting costs and increasing efficiency, a number of states, including (among others) Illinois, Iowa, North Carolina, Florida, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Kansas, have in recent years partly or wholly privatized Medicaid. The “efficiency” pretext, incidentally, is ironic, given the likely truth of David Graeber’s “Iron Law of Liberalism,” that “any market reform, any government initiative intended to reduce red tape and promote market forces will have the ultimate effect of increasing the total number of regulations, the total amount of paperwork, and the total number of bureaucrats the government employs.” The explosion of bureaucracy in the market-obsessed neoliberal era bears out this law.

What have been the consequences of these privatizations? Iowa is an illustrative case. According to a series of editorials for which Andie Dominick of the Des Moines Register won a 2018 Pulitzer Prize, the results have not been pretty. Since April 2016, three for-profit insurers have taken over management of health care for more than 500,000 Iowans, many of whom have, as a result, now lost access to services, equipment (such as wheelchairs), and even nutritional supplements. Against the advice of medical professionals, the insurers simply refuse to pay for needed care.

Healthcare providers have been underpaid or not paid at all. A nursing home was forced to borrow $150,000 while waiting for reimbursements; a mental health facility was owed $300,000; a family planning clinic had to close. To take only three examples. The state has had to bail out the insurers and assume financial risk—which is ironic, since the supposed point of privatization was to provide state budget predictability in Medicaid spending. Before the privatization debacle, Iowa’s Medicaid had lower per-person spending than many other states and provided reliable reimbursements to providers and consistency in coverage for vulnerable people.

Because of problems similar to Iowa’s, Connecticut in 2012 fired the insurance companies managing its Medicaid programs and transitioned back to the traditional “fee for service” model, according to which the state reimburses providers directly. The results were what you’d expect: the monthly cost of care per patient dropped $718 in 2012 to $670 in 2015; the number of doctors willing to accept Medicaid patients increased; and administrative costs dropped from 12 percent to 5 percent.

Turns out market forces aren’t so “efficient” after all.

Nature for sale

Already in his short tenure in office, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has shown he can privatize with the best of them. There isn’t space here to list all the creative ways he’s trying to destroy the natural environment or restrict its enjoyment to a select few, but we can consider a few examples.

In December 2017, on Zinke’s recommendation and at the behest of the fossil fuel industry, Trump announced he was going to reduce Bears Ears National Monument by 85 percent and Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument by 50 percent. Legal challenges to these orders are currently winding through the courts.

Zinke has ordered the Bureau of Land Management to hold oil and gas lease sales of public lands every 90 days, in addition to “eliminating burdensome regulations” related to oil and natural gas development. He has started the process of opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and natural gas drilling, and is pushing for an expedited timeline of leasing land by 2019. Meanwhile, he’s trying to make drilling less safe by reversing safety regulations that were put in place after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster.

In January 2018 Zinke proposed an offshore drilling plan that would open 90 percent of the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf for oil and gas lease sales. By comparison, the current program puts 94 percent of the OCS off-limits. (Zinke said he’d exempt Florida from the plan, as a favor to his friend Governor Rick Scott, but it appears that this exemption wasn’t a formal action and that Florida is, in fact, being considered for offshore drilling.) Zinke’s draft plan also proposes the largest number of lease sales in U.S. history.

Selling land to corporations is one method of privatization; another is to restrict enjoyment of public parks to those who can afford to pay. Zinke is pursuing this second path as well. In 2016 the National Park Service offered 16 free-admission days at national parks; in 2017 the number was down to 10; this year it’s down to four. The Interior Department had also planned to massively increase entrance fees at the country’s most popular parks—from $25 to $70—but scrapped the plan due to public backlash. Instead, the department will enact a more limited increase at all parks that charge an entrance fee.

With the Trump administration’s term less than half over, we can expect a slew of similar predatory plans in the coming years.

Business as usual

None of these trends is at all surprising, since they emerge from tendencies fundamental to capitalism for centuries. These tendencies have simply been unshackled from prior restraints in the neoliberal era. The destructive, antisocial essence of capitalism has been given free rein, like a raging bull that has broken free of its yoke, such that society is approaching the literal realization of capitalism’s misanthropic telos.

In the long run, two outcomes seem possible. Either humanity will find itself in the Hobbesian state of nature—which is the inner logic and meaning of capitalism—or the crises into which we are fast plunging ourselves will call forth such massive global resistance that a revolutionary social transformation will, at length, come to pass. What it will look like can’t be foreseen (though informed speculations can be useful). All that can be predicted with certainty is that unless the generations now living devote their very existence to the Resistance, humanity won’t have much of a future.

Business as usual is no longer an option.

The Koreas Unified and at Peace?

Peace in the Koreas is what the world expects; and Peace in the world is what humanity expects, the vast majority. 99.9% of the world population wants peace, but it’s the 0.1% that commands war and destruction, since war and destruction is what runs the western economy. Literally. If peace would break out what we in the west still call economy — though it’s a fraud, every day more visible — would collapse. In the US the war industry with all the associated production and service industries, including the Silicon Valley and banking, contributes more than 50% to GDP. Nobody notices and nobody says so. Naturally. Everything that might be revealing and thought-provoking, is lied about or hidden from the public.

This enormous Korean Peace Initiative is a flare of hope. The two Presidents, Moon Jae-in from the South and Kim Jong-un from the North have met last Friday, 27 April 2018, at the Peace House at Panmunjeom, near the 38th Parallel North, or the so-called Military Demarcation Line. It is the first time in more than 60 years that leaders of both Koreas have crossed the line — Mr. Moon to the North, and Mr. Kim to the South. They have declared their willingness to establish Peace, to sign a real Peace Agreement before the end of this year. At present, technically the two nations are still at war, a war sustained by the United States. The DPRK survives from day to day on a shaky armistice agreement from 1953. The American ferocious military forces and those of their NATO allies have totally destroyed, bombed to rubble and ashes North Korea at will, killing one third of her population, between 1950 and 1953. US-NATO did this despite North Korea’s offer to surrender long before the country was but a heap of ruins. Killing for spite, indulging in and enjoying the causing of horrendous suffering and death, is the sadistic and satanic way of the west.

This must be said and never forgotten. Although we look forward now, we, the world at large, want Peace, a live peace experience of Korea which could be replicated. The two leaders promise a number of joint actions and undertakings, including ridding the Peninsula of nuclear weapons – a very ambitious plan. Not because the two are not genuine in their endeavor but will Washington with more than 30,000 troops stationed in the South and a fleet of navy vessels and aircraft carriers as well as fighter jets and bombers, and a nuclear arsenal, withdraw their murderous toys? South Korea is a sovereign nation, she could request the departure of foreign occupiers, what the US is – but will the occupiers leave? – Or will the Pentagon, CIA or the White House invent a false flag event to nullify this peace effort?  Nothing is beyond Washington’s evil intention to hegemonize the world.

And for DPRK’s President Kim Jong-un to recall – John Bolton, Trump’s National Security Advisor, said just a couple of days ago, referring to North Korea’s denuclearization – “Libya should serve as a model”. You may remember in 2003/2004 Gaddafi was accused of hiding weapons of mass destruction (WMD); i.e., a nuclear arms development program. The west blackmailed him to get rid of it, against some ‘economic aid and favors’, of course. Gaddafi accepted. The western sicko leaders all became friends with him, the French then President Nicolas Sarkozy on top, who is now accused in French Courts of receiving up to €50 million ‘illegal money’ (what is legal money by western standards?) from Muammar Gaddafi for Sarkozy’s 2007 campaign. Well, we also remember how in 2011 he was miserably tortured and slaughtered anyway, despite his concessions to the west on his alleged WMDs, by NATO forces led by France and viciously supported by Hillary Clinton, then Obama’s Secretary of State. Had Gaddafi kept his weapons, he may be still be alive and Libya and Libya’s people may still be prospering as they did before the US-NATO onslaught in 2011.

For now, the US of A seems to go passively along with the Peace Initiative. There’s more — the Donald is actually claiming credit for it. It is unbelievable but true. There is even a group of Trump supporters who will propose Trump for the Nobel Peace Prize. Imagine! But why not? After all, Obama got the prize before he really started his Presidency, and then he bombed more countries and killed more people than any other US President in recent history. Yes, all is possible. We are living in a world where war is peace, where you are made believe that bombing a country to rubble will bring peace. Seriously. And the western people, brainwashed to the core, believe it.

However, despite Trump the “peacemaker”, be on your guard. Iran’s Foreign Minister, Bahram Qassemi, so pointedly said, never trust any agreement or promise made by Washington. He referred, of course, to the 5+1 (Permanent Security Council Members, plus Germany, and, of course, Iran) Nuclear Deal that Trump wants to abolish, or at best renegotiate, for which he engaged his new friend, Macron, to call Mr. Rouhani to please agree to re-discuss the Nuclear Deal and the issue of Iran’s long-range missiles. Of course, Mr. Rouhani turned him off.

And, as I’m writing these lines, Netanyahu comes to the fore with the most flagrant of lies — but he knows with enough propaganda the west will buy them — accusing with a bland PowerPoint presentation of Iran not adhering to the nuclear agreement and of running a secret nuclear program; he has allegedly ‘tons’ of documents to prove it. And he comes out with this absolute blatant falsehood 12 days before the deadline Trump set to decide whether or not to scrap the Iran Nuclear Deal. As the west, especially Europe and, of course, Master Trump, are all submissively on their knees in front of Israel’s guru, his message, repeated at nauseatum since the 2015 deal was signed, may catch on — and this, despite Europe’s (commercially inspired) adamant wish to adhere to the 5+1 Accord.

Iran is on her guard, and North Korea should be too.

Peace in the Koreas, and in the future a unified Korea, unified families after more than 65 years; certainly, a dream for almost all Koreans. Yet, have the US motives to keep the DPRK under constant threat of war, under permanent fear, to keep the small country as an eastern entry point to Asia – to China and Russia – the same motive that started the war in 1950, has that motive gone?

What does that mean for Syria, Iraq, Iran and Venezuela? Trump at one point within the last weeks has said that the US is going to withdraw her troops from Syria. Really? Or is this a well-orchestrated but little veiled game to give people hope for peace and then let them drop back into the ruins? Remember this little ‘schmoozer’ guy, Macron, went to Washington with one of his priority requests:  Donald, please do not leave Syria, we need you there.

Can you imagine? This little Rothschild implanted ‘call-me-president’ rascal has the nerve to say “we need you there”. Who in heaven does he think he is? Let him militarize ‘his own’ (sic) country. France is already militarized and police patrolled like no other European nation, with the State of Emergency – effectively Martial Law – engraved in the French Constitution. Let the French people deal with Washington’s new baby poodle.

France and the UK, of course, along with Washington, are also following Israel’s cue – destroy and partition Syria and Iran – to create a Greater Israel, from the Euphrates to the Red Sea. And the EU, miserable vassals of Washington, will keep their stranglehold with sanctions on Venezuela — Venezuela that has arguably, together with Cuba, the best democratic system in the world, has never done any harm to anyone, let alone to those sanctioning countries. Even Switzerland had the audacity to join the EU’s sanction regime against Venezuela, a country that has been among the most pleasant partners of Switzerland in the past. One can only wonder how low do these countries pull down their pants to please their ruthless Atlantists neofascist masters.

Will this noble Korean peace spirit stretch through the world and bring about a higher consciousness, one that strives for peace instead of war?

France is engaged in strikes, after strikes, after strikes against the Macron-imposed new labor reform laws that would literally strip French workers of most of the social and labor rights and benefits they have achieved since WWII.  For what?  To make the rich richer, and the poor poorer. That’s what austerity is all about, has always been. The west calls it “structural adjustment”. What a euphemism! And the people haven’t caught-on yet. Or is it the corrupt politicians that go along with it against the will of the people?

Peace in Korea, uniting again a historically peaceful and absolutely non-violent people, may be way more than a political act. It is a social compact of people; a vision to enshrine the non-violent nature of their culture upon Mother Earth, on a tiny fleck of land in eastern Asia, on the Continent where the future lays; the East that brings human values back to the world, the OBI (One Belt Initiative) of China, the broad economic and cultural cooperation enhanced by the SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organization) led by China and Russia, and is already encompassing about half the world’s population, producing about a third of the globe’s economic output.  Could Korea be just that spark that ignites the engine to turning the massive ocean liner around, slowly but steadily, and foremost, peacefully?

Global Weirding

Oh, what fun it truly was to experience the “bomb cyclone” in January in New England: the snowfall gave a sense of peace and calm, the winds were less strong than predicted, and the snow, while heavy, was not dense enough to take down trees and power lines in most areas. The following period of intense cold through February and March in the eastern half of the US, on the other hand, seems a harbinger of climate instability which will most likely worsen in upcoming years. As the jet stream weakens and buckles due to climate change, storm intensity and temperature fluctuations are certain to get worse.

The biggest danger for East coasters will remain the hurricane, as September 2017 registered as the most active month in recorded history for the Atlantic.

On the West coast, things are getting a bit Biblical: raging fires alternate with intense flooding and mudslides in Montecito and southern California a few months ago. The 2017 fire season set aflame over eight million acres mainly in the Western states. It’s not just a domestic issue: Portugal faced an epic firestorm in June of last year, killing close to 100, partly due to the monocultures of eucalyptus trees planted across the country. Millions face conditions of famine and drought worldwide.

Sadly, most reporting and discussion of global warming and climate change serves to abstract the issues into a diversionary attitude that the Earth is in crisis. Well, the planet, as a self-regulating super-organism, will do just fine without us, even if it takes millennia to recover from our misdeeds. It is stable and abundance-providing ecosystems that are in crisis, species that are going extinct at 1000 times the background rate, and humanity is the culprit.

Even though man-made global warming is acknowledged by most people, there is still a conflation going on in the West that the all-devouring Earth-mother is out to get us. Rather, it is Western civilization which is stalking any chance for future generations to live and prosper.

Ecosystems in Crisis

In Germany, a study was done measuring insect populations in nature reserves, and it was discovered that there was a 75% drop in total insects collected in only 25 years. Scientists estimate that 30-50% of all species may become extinct by 2050.

Tragically, regarding honeybees, scientists have discovered an important link between fungicide use and the herbicide glyphosate (Round-Up), showing a negatively synergistic effect on bee colonies and resistance to fungal infection. Bees seem to actually prefer honey set in traps with a small percentage of Roundup or fungicides added. Humans are not the only species to enjoy mind-altering drugs, even poisonous ones.

All of our problems involving the destruction of habitat are ultimately bound up in the fact that there are too many of us, conditioned to respond in violent outbursts, consuming too many resources, leading to stress, war, and unimaginable acts of cruelty. These acts are often sanctioned by the state or the corporation or religion or patriarchal vertical hierarchies.

The exponential population growth from the industrial revolution is already slowing and bound to top off at anywhere from 10-12 billion people by 2050-2100, if we manage to avoid the many catastrophes hurtling our way. Thus the growth curve will resemble an S-curve barring unforeseeable circumstances, with small waves and ripples due to the complexities of changing times, food sources, and a multitude of variables. In theory this population model could then lead to a steady decrease in total population due to a voluntary decision by humanity to slowly and carefully have fewer children due to stresses on ecosystems and natural resources. If we don’t convert to decentralized renewable energy and organic, communal-based agriculture, however, there is another model we may follow, and it’s not pretty one. Fossil fuel use is the habit that must be kicked for humanity to help recreate a sustainable world.

One of the most famous examples from studying mammalian populations is the debacle of St. Matthew Island, a warning to humanity. A tiny island located in the Bering Strait, with no carnivores, some lonely US coast guard officers decided to introduce reindeer onto the island. From a starting population of 29 in 1944, the hungry caribou ate through the entire island’s many lichen species, ballooning to 6,000 by 1963. Within two years and no other food source, the die-off was drastic, and only 42 remained in 1965. The entire population vanished by the 1980s. If our coal, gas, and oil run out without a democratic and scientific plan to make the leap to renewables, we are doomed to the same path.

The Unspoken Links

It would be simplistic to relegate these new and unprecedented levels of strangeness to the spheres of ecology and climate science. The deep wounds Western man has inflicted on fellow species and the planet are also inflicted on ourselves. From everything to decreased attention spans, the rise of xenophobia and mistrust towards minorities and immigrants, and billions living in poverty, these are by and large self-inflicted wounds. We must learn to see ourselves in the other, and see the other in ourselves

Cell phone, TV, tablet, and computer use, dubbed “screen time”, can now be understood to have a net-negative effect on human communities when consumed in vast quantities, as it drives anti-social behavior and isolation from the wider community. A recent study concluded the average screen time for US adults was around 70 hours per week. Keep in mind, that means for every person getting 40 hours of screen time there is another getting 100 hours per week.

The rising rates of cancer, autism, diabetes, auto-immune diseases, heart disease, and many other chronic conditions may be partly due to the stressors and conditions of modern life, including longer lifespans, but they do not account for the majority. Our polluted world and environmental crises play a mostly invisible role in the West, as our federal agencies such as the EPA and FDA have become corrupted by pharmaceutical and corporate interests.

With no way to systemically study or properly account for the rise of ill health and mental stupefaction of the public, medical and health professionals, shackled in their dim caves staring at shadows, have designated the “genetic” component to dis-ease as the Holy Grail. There is some truth to this: undoubtedly certain forms of breast cancer are linked to specific areas on chromosomes, etc. The idea, however, that billions of dollars in research must be shunted into the reductionist model of DNA manipulation and gene therapy is a huge waste of time, resources, and brainpower. (No, I don’t have mainstream “credentials” or a PhD, but I was happy to have my suspicions about targeted gene therapy confirmed straight out of the mouth of a former top researcher at the National Cancer Institute.)

The best way I’ve heard it phrased, regarding chronic disease and our toxified world, is like this: genetics is the loaded gun, and the environment is the finger pulling the trigger. Yes, many people are at risk due to genetic inheritance for many forms of cancers, diabetes, and the list goes on, but magnifying the capacities of the double helix as the primal cause of these conditions is not only dubious, it’s intellectually dishonest and dangerous. One may be at higher risks for certain disorders, but a healthy lifestyle can often slow, negate, or reverse chronic disease.

Many of today’s chemical dangers are invisible and thus fly under the radar of doctors and scientists. Yet, there are visible changes in our bodies that have manifested with the rise of industrial agriculture after World War Two. One change being the rise in obesity worldwide. Yes, we have increased meal portion sizes and live more sedentary lifestyles, and yes, food serves as a palliative for depression and anxiety.

Yet, this does not explain the study (summarized in an Atlantic article here) which concluded that between 1988 and 2006 a person with the same diet, nutrient and exercise routines would be 10% heavier in 2006. This is a historic finding, and I can find nothing in the literature which reports a change in size of any other species in such short a time frame (18 years), other than weight gain in the abhorrent factory farming conditions of chickens, pigs, and cows.

The problem is, as the authors of the study note, there are so many factors it’s nearly impossible to determine what the culprit is. There are persistent organic pollutants, hormones in our food which act as endocrine disruptors, prescription drug overuse which leads to weight gain, and the possibility of a change in our gut bacteria due to mass antibiotic use in animal produce. In all likelihood, it is a combination of all of these factors that is driving the obesity and cancer epidemics. While many researchers are waking up to effects from increasing use of digital technology and social media, hardly anyone in the scientific community and academia have bothered to think about the huge changes to our bodies in the past few decades.

For every one human cell in our bodies, there are about 10 symbiotic bacterial cells. We are in very real sense super-organisms, and the huge influx of herbicides, pesticides, and antibiotics in our food is forming a negatively synergistic effect on our ability to reason, to exercise, to relax, and to resist these new forms of genetic-biologic oppression.

This comes down to the nexus of corporate agribusiness, complicit federal health “experts”, lack of funding for research and grants for responsible scientists, and a poisoned food and water supply which has hijacked and somehow rewired our metabolism, endocrine system, and immune-response pathways. Have no doubt, this is an uncontrolled experiment being run on us all, without our permission.

The rise in cancer in particular can be tied to the atmospheric nuclear tests in the 1950s, as I and many others have posited. Estimates range that anywhere from 1 million to 50 million or even higher have already died/may die in the coming century earlier than they otherwise would have, because of cancer due to nuclear radiation from these tests.

The chance of getting cancer in one’s lifetime is expected to rise to a 33% chance for women and a 50% chance for men by 2050. This is the microcosm within the macrocosm of a world system based on infinite growth on a finite planet. The ideology of capitalism is death, and there should be no mystification as to why the clear unhealthiness of the hegemonic socio-economic system has been transported into our very bodies via cancer.

A major problem is that modern medicine has become ideological and insular, with predictably deadly results. There can be no patents for plants, herbs, mushrooms, meditation, yoga, and mindfulness practices, thus no conglomerate, multinational, corporate money to be made.

If it becomes clear on a mass scale that traditional practices including, but not limited to, herbal medicine, meditation, yoga, holistic traditional healing, Ayurvedic and Traditional Chinese Medicine has immense value beyond the instrumental rationality of allopathic medicine, the gig is up for mainstream pill-pushers. Most health professionals would be unveiled as the educated fools that they are, drug pushers promoting dangerous drugs for children and the elderly, not to mention endless unnecessary tests and procedures which make billions for Big Pharma and medical technology companies.

Let me be clear here: I am not by any means trying to scapegoat every medical professional, as researchers and people who treat medical emergencies, trauma, surgeons, and doctors dealing with acute medical conditions do amazing work every day. What I’m driving at is the allopathic way of treating most chronic conditions is a farce, and our society should return to promoting preventative, holistic treatments.

Thanato-politics

Sadly, there is a legitimate reason why so much of society is organized around ignorance, fear, violence, denial of the body, and consumption: the death-drive. One does not have to subscribe to Freud’s exposition of thanatos to understand this: the proliferation of nuclear weapons, the desertification of our world, the razing of habitat shows this quite clearly.

Modern civilization does not only lead to obedience, submission, and structural violence, but also to a certain form of captivity. Humans tend to rebel against such a depraved social order, even if only symbolically, with varying amounts of success. Some do so constructively, forming social movements and protests, yet masses have fallen prey to the siren-songs of nationalism, consumerism, addiction, and war. Along with the enclosure of public land and the destruction of the commons (“There is no such thing as society”) comes a culture of fear, cruelty, and ultimately projections of the outer world as scary and downright evil.

Captivity in action: consider the recent missile alert in Hawai’i. Was this not an example of a captive audience, doomed by elites to worry and scatter over a phantom nuke over the horizon? None of us asked for this. Most of humanity simply wants to be left alone from the vagaries of government and corporate rule to live stable, happy lives. Yet the sad truth of the matter is the elites are not going to leave us alone. Their appetite is insatiable, and they will, in fact, drag down the entire biosphere, because in their current state of mind, they hate life, and want to transcend this world, either to heaven (the Christian fundamentalists) or have their consciousness uploaded or bodies cryogenically frozen for future immortality (the Kurzweillian techno-futurists).

Evil, or rather, a disdain for authentic living, is banal in many senses: one of these is the utter unimaginativeness resting in the dark hearts of our political leaders. Evil is a lack, a poverty of the soul. It is incapacity to create, an absence of imagination, spontaneous creativity, and compassion. You can sense this in our “technocratic” leadership, pushing us ever closer to the abyss of economic depression and ecological ruin.

It often conjures up a chuckle when I remind people of David Graeber’s comments (paraphrasing here) on the elitist corporate/managerial/bureaucratic mindset: “These are the most unimaginative people ever.” This is basically a gallows humor, as the elite are numbing citizens of the will, mental capacities, and physical abilities to organize and resist effectively, and are setting up the masses for collapse of our civilization.

Reclaiming Eros

If there does exist some sort of death drive (most explicitly recognized in Nazi, Italian, and Spanish fascist ideology: “¡Viva la muerte!”) that modern civilization is imposing on us, is there a countervailing force?

Countering the bleak pessimism of Freud’s Civilization and its Discontents, Herbert Marcuse’s Eros and Civilization offers clues. We can extrapolate and widen their focus on libido to consider Eros as an analogy for life-force or life-energy, similar to Eastern notions of prana and chi. If modern society has, in fact, regimented our lives around a Marcuse-esque performance principle, it does so at the cost of our very souls. It was no mythological coincidence that the ancient Greeks wedded the god Eros in immortal bliss with Psyche. One cannot exist without the other.

Alienation in the workplace is so all-pervasive it often goes unnoticed or unremarked upon. Perhaps this orientation around surplus repression is most visible in leisure activities such as today’s gyms, the insular form of physical exercise for the corporate workers and bosses. Regimenting the mind in the office is not enough: bodies must be splayed across endless rows of treadmills and metal strength-enhancing machines like legions of marching ants, with the requisite phone or Ipod and headphones attached. As for the flabby and out-of-shape, it is once again a lack of discipline and failure to take individual responsibility, rather than any oppressive social structure which is the causal factor.

These are the pod people, exemplified in a New York Times piece about a former Nike exec and artist who has refused to watch or read any news since Donald Trump became elected, who even goes to far as to use noise-canceling headphones blaring white noise in coffee shops to not overhear any chatter about world affairs. Why not just play music? “Stray conversation can creep in between songs.” The same game goes for the power elite: stray news about the poor and oppressed, and any possibilities of social transformation, are simply shushed away.

Thus, when the business and political elite blurt the snide “Be reasonable!” they are at the same time using the cynical trope of “no grand ideologies” (read: Marxism) which, of course, hides behind the moral relativism and lack of conception of the good life which liberal democracy has always played at, which is ideology at its purest: “the end of history”, “there is no such thing as society”, “there is no alternative”.

These people, whose ideas simply parrot the cultural hegemonic ruling class framework, are asserting the “logic of domination”. Drawing on Arendt and Orwell, Alexander Stern has dubbed this “Bingespeak”. Following Marcuse:

Reason is to insure, through the ever more effective transformation and exploitation of nature, the fulfillment of the human potentialities. But in the process the end seems to recede before the means: the time devoted to alienated labor absorbs the time for individual needs- and defines the needs themselves. The Logos shows forth as the logic of domination. When logic then reduces the units of thought to signs and symbols, the laws of thought have finally become techniques of calculation and manipulation.1

This corrupted Logos seems to have pushed aside Eros in the modern world. Nietzsche would call it Apollonian overtaking the Dionysian. As the socially-constructed ego has developed under patriarchy, civilization, and capitalism, it has done so with the fear of the maternal-based clan, and the Earth-based tribal modes of life. Returning to Marcuse:

The Narcissistic phase of individual pre-genitality ‘recalls the maternal phase of the history of the human race. Both constitute a reality to which the ego responds with an attitude, not of defense and submission, but of integral identification with the ‘environment.’ But in the light of the paternal reality principle, the ‘maternal concept’ of reality here emerging is immediately turned into something dreadful, negative. The impulse to re-establish the lost Narcissistic-maternal unity is interpreted as a ‘threat,’ namely, the threat of ‘maternal engulfment’ by the overpowering womb. The hostile father is exonerated and reappears as savior who…protects the ego from its annihilation in the mother.2

Does this fear not play out between the lines of today’s discourse around the environment? It cannot be the patriarchal, murderous version of global capitalism which is at fault, but rather, an all-consuming mother planet bent on destroying us all (even though it’s all our own fault due to rampant fossil fuel use). In fact, the father figure of global capital now swoops in to act as a savior for everything he has destroyed.

Contrast, for example, the rush to space and immortality that the Silicon Valley techno-utopian folk seem to prefer, or even the “pragmatism” of Steward “we are as gods and have to get good at it” Brand; with the ecocentric approach of Lynn Margulis and James Lovelock, co-creators of Gaia theory. Corporate-funded mainstream environmentalists would have us geo-engineer the planet and proliferate dangerous 5G technology via an internet-of-things around the globe. Rather, we should convert to small scale, decentralized renewable tech, and attempt to live in harmony with the biosphere by adhering to an ecological precautionary principle.

Thus, the “primal father” version of the future which Brand and his “green capitalist” (an oxymoron) acolytes believe in necessarily involves sacrifice of the masses and more exploitation of natural resources We are told this everyday: “austerity” is needed for economic recovery; delay gratification to pay off debts; foreigners must be killed and are simply collateral damage to protect the world from terrorism, public land is off-limits or only for recreation, not sustainable agriculture and agroforestry; etc.

Reconciling Apollo and Dionysus, Logos and Eros, a less repressive society would not simply focus on what we must sacrifice, but allow space for passion, imagination, and desire. A democratic society would allow for collective decision-making regarding the scale and scope of a host of socioeconomic issues, including sustainable agriculture, genetic research, preventative medicine, animal testing, as well as chemical use in farming and industry.

With a healthy balance between Logos and Eros, we can transcend the deadly framework of instrumental reason and positivism to build a livable future. Some like to call this a “supra-rational” outlook, a transpersonal and holistic view of the world, where emotional intelligence is blended with the analytic, intuition with abstract logic.

What lessons can we draw here? There must be a concerted effort to blend work and play, especially in regards to communal farming, collective home building, and low-scale renewable energy, to create the grounds for authentic liberation from capitalism.

Sustained and coordinated efforts to build autonomous zones free from governmental and hierarchical organization are paramount: indigenous movements throughout South America and worldwide, the mass strikes in France, Christiania in København, freedom fighters in Chiapas and Rojava, and the MST in Brazil offer models of resistance.

We are going to have to adopt a type of bricolage (Levi-Strauss) culture, scavenging what has not been absorbed by global capital, to create beauty in the ruins of empire. Thus, we can begin the Herculean effort to deterritorialize (as in Deleuze and Guattari) and thus reassemble a heterogeneous, co-evolving, transformational commons; to decolonize our minds from a simulated, mechanical mode of life; to detach from the Spectacle; to unlearn and deschool ourselves (Illich) from the oppressive social systems designed to rob and eventually destroy everything we know and care for.

  1. Marcuse, Herbert. (1974) Eros and Civilization: A Philosophical Inquiry into Freud. Boston: Beacon Press. Originally published 1955. pp. 111-112.
  2. Ibid., p. 230.

Austerity Is Economically Illiterate And Morally Bankrupt

Following the economic crash of 2008, Tory governments have put cutting the budget deficit (the difference between what the government receives in taxes and what it spends) and reducing the national debt at the centre of their economic policy. Austerity, principally, was their method of doing that. That is cutting government spending on our vital services and additionally freezing public sector pay. Austerity has caused untold misery to millions of our citizens; meanwhile Britain’s national debt now stands at 86% of GDP, an increase from 40% just before the economic crash.

Cutting government spending as a way of reducing the deficit comes from the fallacy of treating the government budget as if it were a household budget. The argument that as a family: “you would want to pay your debts and live within your means” is a very appealing proposition. However, there is a fundamental difference between running a household budget and a government budget.

In a previous article in Dissident Voice I explained the difference as follows:

In science if you want to study the behaviour of a system under different conditions, you put a boundary around it and examine its interaction with its surroundings. For a household, let us put a boundary around the house (the system). Money flows through the boundary into the house by what the family earns and out of the house by what the family spends. It is obviously desirable to have these balanced. Most families, however, will still be in debt, primarily in terms of a mortgage to buy their house. No one would suggest that a family should wait until they saved the whole value of the house before they bought it. Student members of the family would also incur debts to finance their higher education. So having debts to invest in the future of the family is necessary and desirable. If we look at the government budget, our system is now the whole country, and the government is within it. Government money comes from other parts of the system in the form of taxes. The amount it gets depends on the economic activities within the country.

Thus eliminating the deficit by cutting government spending would dampen economic activities within the system (the country) to the extent that government revenues drop by more than the money saved through cutting spending. Government debt consequently increases rather than decreases. This is in addition to the hardship caused to the poorest and most vulnerable members of our society.

Portugal has now demonstrated that austerity as a response to economic depression is economically illiterate. Their economy is now thriving, thanks to the socialist government that took over in 2015. It abandoned the austerity pursued by the previous government and increased wages thus boosting demand for goods and services. Consequently this has substantially reduced the deficit as a percentage of GDP

Money is what sustains economic activity within the country. Following the economic crash of 2008, money dried up as the banks stopped lending. The correct response would be to pump money into the economy, through properly funding our vital services, with adequate pay for our public sector employees. And building energy efficient affordable housing the country so desperately needs. Austerity takes money out of the economy leading to a downward spiral, totally the wrong response as Portugal has clearly demonstrated.

Britain’s chancellor, Philip Hammond, however, is still wedded to austerity, albeit with minor loosening of the purse strings. When, oh when will this morally and economically bankrupt policy end? The evidence is clear, chancellor, put the welfare of people at the heart of your economic policy, and the budget deficit together with the national debt will take care of themselves.