Category Archives: Democracy

The Growth of Popular Democracy

In 1975 just 46 countries were considered to be electoral democracies; forty years later, according to The Global State of Democracy report 2017, the number had risen to 132, accounting for 68% of nations. The bulk of the increase occurred after 1989 following the collapse of the Soviet Union and what was to be the beginning of the global protest movement. While staging general elections every five years or so is an important step away from the autocratic alternative, unless democratic values are embraced and introduced, true democracy remains little more than a slogan, social injustice and suppression in various forms continue and concentrations of power persist.

Although the number of electoral democracies continues to increase, throughout the world democracy is in crisis; governments have become increasingly partisan, populism and extremism of all stripes have flourished, and people have lost confidence in democratic institutions as the means of solving the various crises confronting us. Politicians are viewed with suspicion or outright contempt, regarded as ambitious, ideologically compromised men and women with little concern for the majority, who make policy based on self-interest and party doctrine.

Democracy has been hijacked by ‘the economy’ – twinned with capitalism and the ‘free market’, and corrupted thereby. Democracy is, or should be, a living organism, an evolving form that sets the parameters within which society functions, based on principles that are rooted in and cultivate expressions of unity and love.

The democratic ideal seeks to guarantee basic freedoms, establish social justice and equality and ensure government accountability. It recognizes that human beings are equal, diverse but united, that their needs are universal and that meeting these needs is a right not a luxury. True democracy cannot exist where the ideology of commercialization, consumerism and greed resides. The crisis in democracy is inextricably linked to the socio-economic crisis; changes in one will trigger a revolution in the other. And this process is well underway.

Collective action

Despite the decline in civil liberties and deep disillusionment with the functioning of governments throughout the world, various studies, including The Economist’s Democracy Index 2018 have found that political participation is significantly increasing. Exasperation with politicians and institutions together with an intense desire for fundamental change has impelled huge numbers to unite and act; people, particularly the young, are engaging, joining political parties, taking part in demonstrations and online activism, signing petitions or joining local community groups.

This surge in democratic participation represents a major shift in attitudes, a new collective consciousness that tends towards unity and cooperation, and offers hope – not hope based on a distant belief that someone else, a government, institution or God will make all things new – such are the ways of apathy and self-deceit, but hope anchored in action, in committed consistent engagement.

At the heart of many of the protest movements that have swept the world since the Berlin Wall came down, is democracy. Demanding democracy where none exists, as was the case with the Arab Spring (widely put down), for example, and more recently in Algeria, Sudan and Ethiopia, or, in countries broadly aligned with democratic principles, calling for a deepening of democracy, the structures and institutions opened up, and for the voice of the people to be heard and concerns acted on.

As more people engage and the power of popular democracy grows, democratic platforms for engagement such as Citizens Assemblies will become increasingly relevant. In early 2018 the UK government commissioned a Citizens Assembly to discuss Social Care: 47 individuals chosen at random, and, with the support of experts spent two weekends discussing the subject. At the end of their deliberations a report was sent to the government and their views helped fashion government proposals.

In order for the collective voice to have increasing influence, people need to be educated about the issues/s of concern; this is an act of democratic responsibility. A well-informed populace free from ideological allegiance is required in order to reach views free from bias and prejudice, and contribute to discussions with decision makers. Ignorance, complacency and fear are fertile ground for propaganda; they are the friends of the duplicitous politician and the enemy of the people and common sense – a much-underrated quality.

Sharing, participation and responsibility

Within the evolving democratic environment the role of politicians as co-workers, as collaborators for the common good, becomes ever more important. They need to engage with activists, listen – not to the loudest flag-waving faction, not just to their own supporters, but to the broad consensus, and respond, and not, as has historically been the case, reluctantly and over decades, but swiftly and whole-heartedly. A positive example of this is the decision by the Scottish parliament to declare a ‘Climate Emergency’, in response “to young protesters who went on strike from school to urge action.” The declaration of a climate emergency by governments has been a key demand of environmental campaigners, including Extinction Rebellion (which staged huge, peaceful protests in London for two weeks recently), for some time.

Announcing the step on 29th April, Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon said, “they [environmental activists] want governments around the world to declare a climate emergency. They say that’s what the science tells us, and they are right … I am declaring that there is a climate emergency and Scotland will live up to our responsibility to tackle it.” The UK government followed Scotland’s example on 1st May, making it the first national parliament to declare a Climate Emergency.

Democracy is not in decline, as some believe; like all existing systems – social, economic, political and religious. Democracy in its current form is inadequate to the challenges and the nature of the present time, and is being fundamentally challenged. Democratic forms need to change, to be allowed to evolve – to be re-imagined. Crucially democracy needs to be unshackled from economics and the socio-economic system reexamined in light of the growing demands for social justice, environmental action and freedom.

The principle of sharing is a core democratic ideal that, if incorporated into all areas of life, would allow democratic values to be made manifest: students sharing in the organization of schools and the design of curricula; employees sharing in the management and standards of businesses; sharing animating the socio-economic systems under which we all live and coloring geo-political decisions. Sharing, responsibility and participation are interrelated; they sit together and reinforce one another. An unstoppable movement of change is being created by the growing inculcation and expression of these democratic principles; a momentum that may just be strong enough to save the planet and usher in a new and just way of living.

A Fully Automated Society is Science Fiction

May Day is one of the most important days to the exploited people. Michael D. Yates, director of Monthly Review Press and former Associate Editor of Monthly Review magazine, focuses on US labor and its movement in the following interview from April 2019 by Farooque Chowdhury. Professor Michael Yates, whose academic fields are labor economics and the relationship between capital and labor, also discusses labor’s new initiatives at grass roots level, defying and contesting “official” labor leadership.

 *****

Farooque Chowdhury: You have been closely associated with labor in the United States for more than 30 years. You have worked as a labor educator, as negotiator representing unions, as union organizer, and as labor activist. Moreover, you have covered labor widely in your articles and books. Based on these interactions and experiences, please tell us about the present state of labor in the US.

Michael Yates: If we look at some data, we see that, from a numerical standpoint, the U.S. labor movement is weak. Union density (the fraction of wage and salary workers who are in unions) is low. In January 2019, it was 10.5 percent. In 1983, the rate was 20.1 percent. And although the rates are not perfectly comparable for earlier years, when the data collection was not the same, at the time of the merger of the country’s two largest labor federations, the American Federation of Labor (AFL) and the Congress of Industrial Organization (CIO), in 1955, the fraction of workers in unions was much higher, probably in the neighborhood of 33 percent.

Thus, we see that there has been a long-term decline in union density, and this in a country that has historically had much lower percentages of union membership than almost every other rich capitalist country (by comparison, Scandinavian nations have rates in excess of 60 percent, with Iceland over 90 percent.) Even the absolute number of union members has been in decline over the past few years. What is more, the current union density hides the division between private-sector and public-sector workers. In private employment, a mere 6.4 percent of employees are unionized (lower than it was more than 100 years ago), while in the public sector the fraction is 33.9 percent.

However, even in public employment, rates have been falling, and there is a widespread effort, led by capital, to make it difficult for public employees to unionize or maintain membership in existing unions. Public-sector unions typically had contract clauses that compelled those who refused to join the union to still pay a “dues equivalent” to the union, since they too would benefit from whatever the union won in the collective bargaining. Capital waged a long campaign through the courts to nullify such contract clauses. Employers achieved success when the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that compelling non-members to pay dues was unconstitutional.

One last point with respect to public-sector workers is that among the highest union densities is that for “protective service” employees. These are police, prison guards, and the like, persons who only by a stretch of the imagination should even be included in the working class, given that their social role is to suppress workers. These employees overwhelmingly serve capital, unlike, for example, public school teachers, transit workers, and so forth.

Another measure of the strength of the working class is the incidence of strikes. There has been a marked decline in the number of strikes involving 1,000 workers or more (these are called “major work stoppages” by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, which is the source of the data I have been citing). In 2017, there were 7 of these, involving 25,000 workers, slightly higher than the all-time low set in 2009, when there were a mere 5 such strikes, with but 13,000 people out on strike. The trend in major strikes has been markedly downward. The last time there were more than 100 major strikes was in 1981. And the last year in which more than one million workers participated in major strikes was 1979. Compare these numbers to earlier years. Between 1947 and 1979, there was only one year with fewer than 200 major strikes, and years with at least 300 of these strikes were not that uncommon. Also, between 1947 and 1979 (32 years), fewer than a million workers walked off the job in only 7 years.

The year 2018 did see a bit of an upsurge in major strikes, due mainly to the aggressive actions of public-school teachers in the states of West Virginia, Kentucky, Arizona, and California. These strikes and a few others (mainly by healthcare workers) have shown that the strike tactic can still yield positive results, as the strikers won significant wage and other increases. The victories by teachers were the result of efforts by the rank-and-file to involve their communities and win their support for demanding better schools and education for the children of people in the communities. What these actions give us is a bit more hope for the revival of a labor movement in the United States.

Yet, overall, we are a long way from any sort of revival. At the top of the internal hierarchies of most unions, we have career bureaucrats interested mainly in their own advancement and security. High salaries abound, democracy is a rare commodity, and statements of principles (much less action on any set of principles) rarer still. Unions are wedded to the Democratic Party, which is at heart as much a party of capital as the utterly reactionary and proto-fascist Republican Party. Unions cannot even come to strongly support the Green New Deal that the more liberal wing of the Democratic Party supports as part of an effort to come to grips with the destruction of Mother Nature now so well underway. What is more, the union chiefs are still supportive of U.S. imperialism. I am afraid it will take more than rank-and-file protests to change things dramatically and in the direction of radical change.

FC: What’s the present condition of the U.S. labor movement?

MY: My answer to Question 1 provides my overall view. I will add here that the U.S. working class, like those everywhere in the world, is suffering from rising insecurity in employment (fueled by many things, including outsourcing of work, laws and court rulings, and sophisticated mechanization), stagnant wages, diminishing benefits such as health care, pensions, and paid leaves, seemingly endless speed-up at work, invasive monitoring/surveillance and drug-testing, unhealthful and unsafe working conditions, and rising temperatures that make working outside increasingly dangerous. Workers feel politically impotent, and all too often, the unions they do have ignored them or, worse, collaborated with employers and engaged in corrupt practices.

We see the unhappiness of workers reflected in several trends. Remarkably high percentages of young persons (ages 22-37) tell pollsters they are more favorable toward socialism than capitalism, and many even identify themselves as democratic socialists. Much of this is due to the success that Senator Bernie Sanders, who identifies himself as a democratic socialist, had his run for the Democratic Party’s nominee for president of the United States in 2016. This was followed by the election to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2018 of several persons, mainly women and ethnic minorities, who also declared themselves democratic socialists. In addition, a political organization, the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) has grown very rapidly over the past two year and now has in excess of 50,000 members, impressive in a country such as the United States. DSA members have supported many working-class efforts, including strikes, housing struggles, and environmental efforts that would greatly benefit workers, such as the Green New Deal.

It must be noted that what most mean by socialism is not what was envisioned by Marx and Engels and millions of radicals throughout the world ever since the two great communists wrote and worked. Rather, it is the social democracy that has marked mainly the Scandinavian countries, that is, a well-developed state-financed social welfare system buttressed by strong labor unions. Hopefully, as social democracy is found to be no longer possible, as it is faltering even in those nations where it has been strongest, working people will come to see that more radical struggle is needed. There are some groups in the U.S. that do have a radical perspective, such as Philly Socialists (“Philly” is slang for the city of Philadelphia), and they are deeply embedded in working class communities. Hopefully, these organizations will grow and flourish.

Unfortunately, there are workers who are too demoralized to do anything political or even to form labor unions. Depression, anxiety, drug and alcohol abuse, and suicide are growing more common, and among working-class white workers, life expectancies are falling. Anger and resentment also find an outlet in neo-fascist politics, as evident from the fact that some workers avidly support the criminal and thoroughly anti-working-class administration of President Trump. Trump has used his racism, sexism, and xenophobia to fuel widespread hatred for the “other,” whether the “other” be Black Americans, women, or immigrants. This rightward trend is troubling, and the labor movement, such as it is, must address this forcefully. Unfortunately, top labor union leaders met with Trump soon after he took office, and by no means all labor officials are as hostile to Trump as they should be.

FC: Which parts of the working class dominate the labor movement in the US, and what’s the reason?

MY: In terms of power within the national labor federation (the AFL-CIO), the most conservative unions, mainly in the construction trades, have power that belies their relatively small numbers. These unions typically oppose anything that might threaten the jobs and high pay of their (mainly white and male) members, such as the various oil pipeline schemes so detrimental to the environment. They oppose any sort of Green New Deal as well. Several large industrial, service, and catchall (many kinds of members, from various sectors of the economy) unions have influence based on their relatively large memberships. These would include the Teamsters union, the Service Employees Union, the American Federation of Teachers, and United Autoworkers. They might support more liberal policies and politicians, but they are mired in bureaucracy, hostile to the members’ interest, full of careerists, and often enough corrupt.

The real issue here is that there is no real labor movement to speak of. Plus, overall membership is so low relative to the number of workers in the country, that most laborers have no representation at all. And even where there are specific working-class movements, such as the effort to win at least $15 per hour for fast-food workers, the leaders of such movements are all too often tied to the same bureaucratic and corrupt unions. The only real hope, it seems to me, is for the mass of workers to forge new kinds of organizations. See the question below on what unions should do for more details.

FC: There are initiatives at the grassroots level in the US to go beyond or rise above the “official”/“establishment” labor movement or labor leadership. These seem to be sporadic and isolated. Most of these can’t go that far, but another part thrives. What are the reasons behind all of this – rise of new movement at grassroots level, failures of a part of these, and moving forward by the rest?

MY: The rise of new organizations and movements is due to the overall suffering of the mass of workers and the inadequacy of the current labor movement. These are, indeed, often isolated, but some like workers’ centers, operating inside communities and usually built by immigrant workers, have succeeded. Examples are the Chinese Staff and Workers Association in New York City, the New York Taxi Drivers Alliance, and the Coalition of Immokalee Workers in Florida. The last is an organization of farm workers, mainly immigrants. In these examples, we find dedicated leadership, a model based upon active members and real democracy, careful planning of strategy and tactics, and strong community support, built up over longer periods of time. The same rules for success apply as well to worker-managed cooperatives and urban farming ventures. An example worth studying is the Cooperation Jackson movement in the city of Jackson, Mississippi. Here is what I wrote about this organization in my book, Can the Working Class Change the World?:

“The movement in Jackson is called Cooperation Jackson (CJ), and it grew out of various efforts by blacks to build a socialist community in the heart of U.S. capitalism. The rallying cry of the people who began Cooperation Jackson — one of the most notable of these was black radical Chokwe Lumumba, who eventually became Jackson’s mayor, something remarkable in its own right — was ‘Free the Land.’ After doing some preliminary organizing in the area, they acquired land and began to develop an ambitious plan of eco-socialist production, distribution, and education. In the South, global warming is going to inundate low-lying areas with water. This fact and the disaster in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina made these leaders grasp that any scheme that doesn’t take ecology seriously cannot hope to change the world. Therefore, CJ maintained from the beginning that whatever they did had to be based upon the principle of sustaining the environment.”

“The CJ project has four goals: gaining black working-class control of the means of production in Jackson and the area close to it; building and advancing the development of the ecologically regenerative forces of production; making the working class the agent of combining the means of production into socially useful outputs; and democratically transforming Jackson, and then the state of Mississippi, and outward to the entire South. CJ has started cooperatives, a cooperative school, training center, union, and bank. Farms and grocery stores are an integral part of cooperative production. There is much more to CJ, including the use of technologies like 3D printers to make useful goods, the development of substantive political democracy, and eco-friendly public infrastructure. The industrialization plan is particularly ambitious. It can be criticized as not feasible, but in any conceivable future, goods will have to be made using one technology or another. CJ, by beginning to conceptualize this and then implementing it, will help show the way forward.”

Movements such as Cooperation Jackson may hold the key to the building of a radical labor movement in the United States, one concerned with all aspects of working class life and willing to engage in militant collective self-help activities.

FC: What obstacles do these grassroots movements of labor in the US face?

MY: There is the problem of funding. It is best to have members fund activities whenever possible, with solicitations from ordinary people supplementing the group’s treasury. Reliance on existing labor unions or NGOs is usually a mistake because such monies never come without strings attached. There is also the problem of antagonism from capital and the state, which will become worse the more successful the grassroots movement is. There is the problem of developing grassroots experts for all the technical work and organizing that has to be done. There is the problem of burnout from long hours and poor living conditions. There is the problem of turnover in the membership as people move away out of economic necessity, deportations (in the case of undocumented workers), and the like. There is the problem of internal ideological differences, which can split a group apart. Finally, any grassroots efforts must show some results quickly, so that workers benefit. And they must find ways to protect members from capital’s efforts to destroy what they are doing.

FC: What should be done now, in this perspective, by labor at grassroots level, and by writers of labor literature?

MY: I have addressed this above when I wrote about what needs to be done to have a chance at success. What writers can do is publicize all such efforts, writing for those involved and not just about them. Also, coalitions with other similar organizations are necessary, and certainly, education must be a primary component of any grassroots effort. A membership that has learned its history, the nature of the political economy, the struggles needed and the obstacles that will be faced, is more likely to succeed and more likely to have a radical perspective.

FC: What impact has monopoly finance capital, which has been identified and analyzed by John Bellamy Foster and Fred Magdoff, made on labor in the US?

MY: Well, monopoly finance capital has certainly increased the overall power of capital, and this, by definition, will inevitably harm the working class. Specifically, two things come to mind. First, as businesses are taken over by finance capital, they are seen merely as collections of assets, to be squeezed for maximum immediate return. Debt will be piled up and assets stripped for money. When as much money has been extracted as possible, the corpse left will be left to rot. All of this will result in shrinking employment, lower wages, reduced or eliminated benefits, and more unsafe working conditions. Finance capital works much like gangsters, who do the same things when they use direct violence to take over a business. Second, monopoly finance capital has meant the elimination of whatever autonomy the states of capitalist countries once had. States are now adjuncts of finance capital, and states are now run according to strict market principles. The state’s assets are stripped too, the result being a diminution of both public employment and public services. Everyone is presumed to be on his or her own, and no one will offer help. The rich will continually get richer and workers will suffer more and more. Good reasons for the working class to finally develop a radical consciousness and get rid of this insidious system once and for all.

One more point bears consideration. Monopoly finance capital, with its relentlessly short-term horizon, acts in such a way that financial bubbles become inevitable, as witnessed by the housing bubble and crisis that struck the United States and then much of the world, in 2007. These bubbles, when they burst, generate economic slowdowns, which now have become deep recessions, that wreak havoc on working-class life.

FC: Has capital’s capacity in the US to bribe workers eroded? If it has eroded, has monopoly finance capital played a role in the erosion? If not, then, is the bribing going on as usual?

MY: It is not so much that this capacity has eroded. What has happened (and see the previous question) is that capital no longer has to bribe labor, which in the past it did from the super profits extracted from workers in the Global South. Profits abound for capital in the Global North. However, labor is now so weak and disorganized, and capital so strong that workers do not have to be bribed to support Northern capital, as they, in effect, were in the past. Some workers support capital without any monetary advantage, and the rest are so habituated to the system that they do not know how to mount an attack on capital. Super profits have always helped to finance the states in the Global North (through taxation), but now even the state offers labor no protection. Tax revenues can be and are used to buttress capital’s profits and power. This situation will continue to prevail until such time as there is a united, global, and radical labor movement to challenge it.

FC: Automation is creeping in. Unionization rates are falling. What’s the impact of automation on labor in the US?

MY: Automation (robotization and other types of mechanization) always lowers employment, at least in the sectors most immediately affected, and thus increases the reserve army of labor. This reserve is now global in scope and mechanization occurs everywhere in the world. This reserve puts downward pressure on wages and every other condition of employment, and it generates some new (and old) types of employment that rely heavily on labor (as in service employment and work done from home). Automation also divides the working class into a tiny elite of scientific workers and everyone else, causing growing wage inequality, which itself impedes labor solidarity. Often enough, just the threat of automation (like the threat of moving operations to other countries) is enough to pressure workers into submission. Automation, by allowing for greater surveillance of workers and building what was once employee knowledge into the machines themselves, greatly enhances managerial control in the workplace.

At the same time, however, automation may make production more sensitive to disruption, just as complex supply chains and logistics do, but this requires that workers understand this, are organized, and willing to disrupt production. The irony is that, under a different, socialist system, more sophisticated technology, developed for the people rather than against them, could greatly ease the burden of many kinds of onerous employment and give rise to much shorter working hours. And freedom for each of us to fully develop our capacities.

I might add that profits derive from the exploitation of living labor and not from machines themselves. Given this, the idea of a fully automated society is science fiction. Machines would have to build and program machines! And there would be, in the end, no living labor to exploit. Automation would automatically end capitalism! This is an unlikely scenario.

FC: Are trade war(s) making any impact on labor?

MY: Trade is always a matter of politics and never just a matter of obvious and shared economic advantage. Thus, given that almost all governments, and certainly that of the United States, are now servants of capital, trade agreements will always benefit corporations and hurt workers. Such was the case with the North American Free Trade Agreement, which harmed workers in all three signatory nations: The United States, Canada, and Mexico, although, no doubt, Mexican workers (and peasants) suffered most. President Trump has begun trade wars with many countries, in part to satisfy his anti-immigrant and xenophobic base. These may upset markets and in that way damage workers in affected industries. Ironically, they also might hurt the bottom line of those economic sectors impacted most by tariffs and quotas. For example, trade wars with China mean that soybean farmers in the central United States will lose lucrative export markets. So far, Trump has always backed away from doing the damage he could do, no doubt because of protests from powerful capitalists. His base is largely ignorant of the nuts and bolts of this, so he can always claim he acted tough with the foreign countries he claims are out to get the United States. Full-scale trade wars can lead to real wars, so there is always a danger of that. And it is still true that corporations are headquartered and protected in the United States, so there is competition among national capitals, despite the fact that production is now so global. So, states will always be keen to protect their national capitals. From a working-class perspective, the struggle should be for as much worker-controlled and localized production as possible, if for no other reason than that trade is very damaging to the environment and wreaks havoc on the poorest workers and peasants worldwide.

FC: Factional fights within the US ruling class are surfacing, sometimes in ugly, crude, and dangerous form. The fight, at times, is questioning the credibility of a number of very essential institutions of class rule. The factions engaged in intra-class conflict are questioning its news-information-views media – the mainstream media or the imperialist media, in whatever way these are identified. Its external adventures, interventions, and aggressions in other lands are facing debacles. Its credibility and that of its media are declining. Today, its audience accepts little of whatever the MSM report. Is there any impact of these on the labor in the US?

MY: I wouldn’t put too much emphasis on ruling class splits. Of course, there are capitalists opposed to Trump. However, in the end, they will accept him because he has been good for their profits (tax cuts, for example, which overwhelmingly benefit capital the most). The situation may be different in other countries, but here I don’t see any segments of capital ready to revolt. In addition, as the Democratic Party has shifted significantly to the right, the center of political gravity overall in the United States has also shifted dramatically to the right, given that the Republican Party is to the extreme right. Trump is an evil maniac, without a shred of morality or compassion, and he is doing things most of us, naively I think, couldn’t imagine happening. And yet, the mainstream media have profited mightily from Trump’s insanity, with ratings going up every time they report on a new Trump scandal. The real danger is the rise of neo-fascism, with its inherent drive to annihilate the “other.” It is possible to imagine that this will continue with or without Trump. The capitalist class is facing unprecedented crises, foremost among them, ecological catastrophe. It faces constant wars too, although capital has never vehemently opposed wars, including the War on Terror. There will soon enough be hundreds of millions of climate (and war) refugees seeking shelter. Beset by unprecedented inequality (which they don’t mind for now, given that they have gotten so much money as wealth and income move from the bottom to the top), the rich will find it hard to hide. What will they do? Demand more democracy and better media? A more educated population? I don’t see this. They will want the state to crack the whip, and they will (and are now) build private, fortified and heavily policed enclaves for themselves. A society run on market principles must have violence at its beck and call. This is really what fascism is all about. Only an aroused working class, allied with peasants, has any chance of stopping this.

FC: The US ruling class is vigorously marketing divisive/sectarian/medieval politics. What’s the impact of this on labor in the US, and what’s to be done by the labor movement?

MY: The working class in the United States is divided along many dimensions: skill, location, education, wage rates, religion, gender, ethnicity, country of origin, and race, among others. Among these, gender, ethnicity, and race are most important. The capitalist political economy here has been patriarchal and racist from its beginning. The latter is the result of a vicious slavery that built the economy, not just through the production of cotton but from the slave-generated money that helped to fuel, and, in fact, led, the country’s industrial revolution. The unpaid labor of women in the home has been a gift to capital. And women could be drawn into market-based production when needed and discarded when not. Employers soon discovered that race and gender could be used to split workers, fomenting competition rather than solidarity among them. This has been done by the allocation of job, with racial and ethnic minorities and women given the worst jobs and white men the best. This along with constant racist and sexist propaganda soon gave rise to the notion that these groups deserved their fate. I have written much about this and refer readers to Can the Working Class Change the World? Here, however, consider some of the results of racism: “A brief look at some data from the United States shows the remarkable disparities between black and white members of the working class. Median black family income is barely 60 percent that of whites, a little more than ten percentage points higher than it was in 1949. Black median household net worth is just 5 percent that of whites. Blacks earn less than whites at all levels of education. Astonishingly, ‘a $10,000 increase in the average annual wage of an occupation is associated with a seven-percentage-point decrease in the proportion of black men in that occupation.’ Besides earnings, when we consider poverty, unemployment, health, education, housing, life expectancy, infant mortality, or the criminal justice system, we must conclude that ‘having a black skin, in and of itself, is a grave economic and social disadvantage, while having a white skin confers considerable advantage.’”

There have been forces within the U.S. labor movement that have actively combated the divisions in the working class, sometimes with success. Usually, these forces have been radical; the Communist Party in the 1930s is a good example. The left-led labor unions, purged from the CIO during the anti-communist hysteria of the late 1940s, often did the same. However, much more needs to be done. Statements of principles of no toleration for racism and sexism by the AFL-CIO and all individual unions are essential, as is action to back these up. Collective bargaining agreements with strong “no discrimination” clauses and a willingness to strike, picket, and boycott over employer violations are necessary. Support for feminist and anti-racist groups in the larger society is a must, as is active participation in the protests and actions of Black Lives Matter and similar groups. Promotion of caucuses of women, Black workers, and ethnic groups, as well as LGBTQ workers, could give these groups of oppressed workers a strong voice in every labor organization. Militant actions on the political front, are badly needed. General strikes to support immigrants, oppose the rise of fascist groups, and the like would show a real commitment to equality.

FC: Is there any impact of the present condition of and trends within the labor movement in the US on the labor movements in other countries?

MY: Historically, U.S. organized labor has been, all too often, an adjunct of U.S. foreign policy, opposing left-wing unions and movements around the world. Therefore, it has been rare for the U.S. labor movement to have a positive, much less a radical, impact on workers’ movements in other countries. Anti-imperialism and opposition to U.S.-led wars on poor countries has never been very strong in the U.S. labor movement. This is still the case. Things may change as workers, especially younger ones, are drawn to social democracy. However, even in social democratic organizations, a U.S.-first view is common and a neglect of what is going on in the rest of the world is as well. Another positive development is the greater radicalism and willingness to organize and join unions of newly-arrived immigrants into the United States. Hopefully, these immigrants will, along with Black and other oppressed workers, succeed in building a labor movement with an international working-class perspective.

FC: What are your suggestions/proposals to labor as a whole and to the labor defying “official” leadership, to deal with the reality that you have pictured in the answers above?

MY: Here is a long quote from my book, Can the Working Class Change the World?, that I think answers this question:

“Labor unions have been a principal response by workers to capital’s exploitation. They are necessary defense agents, and as long as capitalism exists, they will form.

If unions mirror corporations in their structures, which all too many do, there isn’t much hope that they will confront capital. And this is all the more the case if they have entered into a compact with employers that views the two sides as cooperators interested primarily in the profitability of the owners’ businesses. This strategy has failed, the proof being in the deteriorating working conditions and life circumstances of union members and the sharp drop in union densities during the period in which partnership has marked much of the labor movement worldwide. To begin to reverse course, then, labor unions must become democratic, run by the membership, and they must abandon labor-management cooperation schemes. Since it is unlikely that current leaders will seek to do either of these things, the only way forward is to get rid of the leadership. In the United States, a perusal of the magazine Labor Notes shows that there have been frequent attempts by rank-and-file activists to take control of their unions and put them on a democratic and militant path. A few have been successful, most have not. No doubt, the fear of such insurgencies has made some unions willing to mobilize members and take on the companies with strikes, picketing, and boycotts. But reform has proved a daunting task, similar to efforts by political advocates to move the Democratic Party to the left. Those in power seldom want to relinquish control, and they will be as ruthless as necessary to beat back rivals. Still, labor rebellions have been successful, at all levels of unions. Corrupt criminal leadership was defeated in both the Teamsters and the United Mine Workers, for example, and though the rank-and-file victors were subsequently defeated or weakened, neither union is as awful as it once was. In addition, sometimes revolt has taken the form of a new union, one that breaks away from the parent organization. Or, if a group of workers have no representation and no existing union is willing to help them organize, they might establish an independent union. Again, in the United States, an example of the former is the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW). Tired of the Service Employees International Union’s (SEIU) top-down management, its embrace of labor-management cooperation and sweetheart deals with employers, its frequent impositions of trusteeships (the national union takes over the running of a local union) on recalcitrant locals with rebellious and independent leaders, and outright corruption, the NUHW broke away from SEIU in 2009.

Before asking what a democratic union looks like and what it should do, it is proper to say that there are now unions that work in a democratic manner. In the United States, the best example is the United Electrical Workers, an independent labor union that has the distinction of being kicked out of both the AFL and the CIO. Its national office and locals rest on the will of the members. It does not make deals with employers, and it has never been tainted with corruption. Officer salaries and expenses are strictly controlled, and its constitution is a model of democratic principles that the union has adhered to through good times and bad. Other U.S. unions have served their members well, too. The overall trajectory, however, has been toward bureaucratic, undemocratic structures and an increasingly unwarranted faith in labor-capital compromise.

Democracy means more than voting. The structure of the union must be democratic. There should be direct ballot casting by all the members for any office, as opposed to convention delegates, usually chosen by the leadership, voting for those same leaders, as is common in many U.S. unions. Term limits for officers are essential. No advantage of any kind should be proffered to incumbents seeking reelection. Strict limits should be placed on the salaries of union officers, and a careful open audit of expenses should be routine. The rank and file should participate in all union activities, from planning for negotiations, setting demands, strike preparation, and the striking and picketing. Union meetings should be open to all members, especially those with home responsibilities (almost always women), and also held at convenient times. Meeting discussions should be open, and criticisms should be welcomed and debated. Special attention should be paid, in all aspects of the union, to the concerns and needs of racial and ethnic minorities, as well as LGBT members. Retirees should be encouraged to take part in all union actions.

If a rank-and-file uprising is successful, a breakaway union is founded, or an independent union is created, and even if these result in more democracy, it is still necessary to ask: Democracy for what? What are the principles and goals of the organization? The NUHW lists these as its core beliefs:

  1. A strong union is led by its members.
  1. Worker power is the foundation of a just society.
  1. Quality patient care requires that caregivers have a voice in their workplaces and are protected from retaliation.
  1. Healthcare is a human right.

This is a good preliminary set of principles. But more needs to be said and done. First, education must be a priority. Compulsory classes should greet new members, teaching them about the union’s history and that of the labor movement as a whole. And regular short courses, summer schools, and longer learning experiences should be made available, with at least some courses required to maintain membership. In these classes, the construction of a broader array of principles and aspirations can be developed. Several come to mind:

  1. An examination of racism and patriarchy. The objectives here are ending discrimination in the union, building greater solidarity, compelling the employer to behave in a nondiscriminatory manner, and leading the union to play a positive role in combating these divisions in the community and society.
  1. A study of imperialism and militarism. For unions in the Global North, the purpose of this would be to build an understanding of the role of their governments and employers in subjugating the peoples of the Global South, and of the past complicity of unions in this. A radical labor movement cannot become a reality unless it is adamantly opposed to imperial wars, arms production and sales, the infiltration of the military into local economies and daily life, the patriotism of flags and national anthems, the mantra that we must all support the troops. In the Global North, nationalism is a disease that impedes the global working-class solidarity essential for human liberation. Unfortunately, it is so deeply embedded in the institutional structure of capitalist society that the task of eliminating it is formidable. Yet, if the effort isn’t made, there is no hope of the working class changing the world.
  1. A serious discussion of the multiple environmental crises we face. If these aren’t working-class issues, what are? Global warming is a workplace issue. Ecology professor and writer Andreas Malm writes:

    Physical labour makes the body warm. If it takes place under the sun or inside facilities without advanced air-conditioning systems, excessively high temperatures will make the sweat flow more profusely and the bodily powers sag, until the worker suffers heat exhaustion or worse. This will not be an ordeal for the average software developer or financial adviser. But for people who pick vegetables, build skyscrapers, pave roads, drive buses, sew clothes in poorly ventilated factories or mend cars in slum workshops, it already is; and the bulk of exceptionally hot working days are now anthropogenic in nature. With every little rise in average temperatures on Earth, thermal conditions in millions of workplaces around the world shift further, primarily in the tropical and subtropical regions where the majority of the working population — some four billion people — live their days. For every degree, a greater chunk of output will be lost, estimated to reach more than a third of total production after four degrees: in this heat, workers simply cannot keep up the same pace.’

    Given the magnitude of impending disasters, labor must make the environment a major concern. This means opposing all corporate and public actions that exacerbate global warming, the poisoning of air, soil, and water, and the extinction of species, among others. When construction unions lobby for ruinous shale oil pipelines, as happened in the United States, other unions must speak out and condemn such self-serving deeds.

    As democratic unions strengthen and their principles and goals become more class-conscious, they will naturally ally themselves with like-minded unions and community groups. In this way, a labor movement worthy of the name can begin and grow, one concerned with the entirety of the working class, including those in the reserve army of labor and the informal sector.

    A union’s most important immediate concern is with its members’ welfare. Here the question of “democracy for what?” can take concrete form. Labor-management cooperation should be immediately and permanently rejected, replaced by an adversarial relationship that makes no concessions to management. Instead, the union makes demands that challenge capital’s control of the workplace. Higher wages are always on the table, but so must be shorter hours, more paid time off, full parental leave for both parents (for at least a few months), a safe and nontoxic work environment, active union participation in decisions related to both technology and work intensity, an unrestricted right to strike over any issue, a shortened grievance resolution procedure (with rank-and-file participation at all levels), the right not to cross picket lines while on employer-related business, and high monetary penalties for plant closures and relocations. Whatever makes laboring less alienated and weakens capital’s control should be vigorously and relentlessly pursued. Unions should never allow the employer to play one plant off against another, much less cooperate in this, as the United Auto Workers has done. Strong protections for women and racial and ethnic minorities should be part of every contract. When a union faces a multi-plant employer, or more than one employer, it should organize coordinated communications and tactics among the officers on the shop floor, office, or store. Solidarity must be more than a word, and an injury to any worker should anger every sister and brother.

FC: What do you suggest to read/study to learners like me interested to know about labor?

MY: Two of my books might be useful: Can the Working Class Change the World? and Why Unions Matter. Others that are good are: any book by Kim Moody. His last is titled On New Terrain. Steve Early is an excellent analyst of U.S. labor. A google search should give many results. Save Our Unions is good. Paul LeBlanc’s A Short History of the US Working Class is a very good introduction. Joe Burns Reviving the Strike and Strike Back! Show the necessity and usefulness of strikes. Jane Slaughter’s A Troublemaker’s Handbook has great advice for making trouble for the bosses. Labor Notes, the magazine Jane helped to found, is devoted to reporting on strikes and rank-and-file efforts to democratize their unions, as well as the overall state of the U.S. labor movement. Priscilla Murolo’s From the Folks Who Brought You the Weekend is good, with much material on women’s labor. Robin Kelley has written excellent books on Black workers, including Hammer and Hoe and Race Rebels. On immigrant farm laborers and their union efforts, read the exceptional Trampling Out the Vintage by Frank Bardacke.

FC: Thank you for the interview with contemporary issues concerning the labor in the US.

MY: You are very welcome. And let me offer solidarity to the workers of the world on this May Day!

Grim Britain

If the whole ghastly debacle over Brexit has proven anything at all it’s how totally unfit for purpose the British parliament is. For those of us who have known that for a long time and campaigned vigorously for many years for its complete reformation this comes as no surprise. The whole shambolic system of Britain’s so-called democracy must be scrapped and replaced with a real democracy.

Somewhere at the heart of the Brexit farce lies the real nub of the problem – the fact that our parliament cannot cope with a truly democratic decision if it doesn’t like that decision. When the British people voted for Britain to quit the EU — a result that most of parliament opposed and never expected — the thing should have been quite straightforward: Britain quits the EU. But as everyone now knows that is not what happened. The last few weeks leading up to what was supposed to be the day Britain left the EU provided an endless series of incredible displays of parliamentary time-wasting and incompetence that turned Britain into a global laughing stock. Surely it is now abundantly clear that this whole creaking anachronism must go. Apart from being institutionally corrupt — its most important fault — the pseudo-democracy it practices is now clearly ludicrous.

Britain’s Green Party is the only significant political organisation I know of in the country which has not only known about this problem for many years, it also has a number of important radical policy proposals for putting it right. These include the drafting of a written constitution, scrapping the institution of monarchy and unelected parliamentarians, proportional representation, and creating direct democracy throughout a system of massively decentralised government. Far from being simply an environmentalist pressure group, their substantial policy document clearly states: “The Green Party isn’t just another political party. Green politics is a new and radical kind of politics”. And its proposals for total constitutional reform, creating real democracy for the first time in our history, clearly show their intentions.

Written Constitution

Possibly the most important item on this list of proposed Green changes is their intention to create a written constitution. Britain is almost alone in the world in terms of not having one of these. The thing itself is not necessarily significant. After all, most countries have written constitutions, but this doesn’t prevent many of them from being badly run. So at least as important as a written constitution itself is the need to ensure mechanisms are in place for enforcing its provisions.

This might seem obvious, but to cite just one and perhaps the most important example — the United States, supposedly the global role model of freedom and democracy — serious breaches of its own constitution by its own rulers are not unusual. Henry Kissinger, for example, once the US Secretary of State, said, “The illegal we do immediately, the unconstitutional takes a little longer”.1 So it’s clear to see that having a written constitution is one thing, making sure it’s effective is often something very different.

A constitution is supposed to be a written statement of the rules of a country’s government, a legally binding document applying to ALL its citizens, listing the rights and responsibilities of the government, and usually the country’s people too. It’s interesting to speculate as to why Britain has resisted having one throughout its history. The most obvious possibility is that if there are no written rules of how a government should conduct itself, the rulers may conduct themselves anyway they like. Given Britain’s long and blood-soaked history of barbaric oppression, in its own country and all over the world, this is clearly not a strong recommendation for allowing rulers to have such uncontrolled powers.

Scrapping Monarchy and Unelected MPs

It’s patently obvious that a government whose head of state is unelected and appointed by hereditary right, and whose parliament comprises a large decision-making body of people who are similarly unelected (the House of Lords), cannot seriously call itself a democracy. Yet Britain has managed to trick the world into believing this falsehood for a couple of hundred years.

The main reason this ludicrous farce has been so successful is because Britain’s monarchy and its unelected House of Lords have always supported the interests of a tiny handful of super-rich individuals above the interests of billions of other people around the world, as well as tens of millions of British people. The great genius Tom Paine accurately nailed this phenomenon, as he accurately nailed so many others. Writing in the introduction to “Common Sense”, the booklet that stirred the hearts of American settlers to fight for their independence from Britain, he said,

[A] long habit of not thinking a thing wrong gives it a superficial appearance of being right, and raises at first a formidable outcry in defence of custom.

Because this tiny group of super-rich individuals have always been very careful to control the information that people receive they have nearly always been successful tricking people into thinking and acting against their own best interests. For many centuries this information-control was achieved by forging a tight alliance with religion. Priests were allowed to communicate with the masses, and profit from them, providing they communicated the right messages. Village churches throughout Britain, for example, occupied land owned by wealthy aristocrats. A priest was allowed to base himself in a church and extort impoverished parishioners — the position was called a “living” — providing he never upset the landlord. But given that most priests were themselves sons of rich fathers and landed gentry, that was seldom likely to be a problem. Therefore many generations of people came and went firmly believing in the divine right of monarchs and aristocrats to keep them in miserable subjugation – a widely-held view that survives to this day.

The scrapping of unelected monarchs and unelected MPs is, in itself, no guarantee of good government. After all, the most powerful rogue nation on Earth is ruled by an elected president, and there are many other failed states around the world that are ostensibly led by elected leaders. But the principle of elected leaders rather than unelected ones is unquestionably a superior concept. The very obvious flaws that currently exist are directly attributable to the corrupt practices of those supposedly democratic systems, rather than the principle itself. Therefore it’s very obvious that the constitution must be drafted, and enforced, in such a way that these anomalies are prevented.

Direct Democracy

No doubt many people would react with horror, given the farcical debacle over Brexit, to any suggestion that Britain should permanently be governed by a system of continual referendums – which basically is what direct democracy is. I mean, many people might reasonably argue that if direct democracy means more Brexit-type chaos, on a daily basis, then obviously we don’t want it. Although that reaction is perfectly understandable, it overlooks a couple of very important points.

Firstly, there’s the fact that direct democracy works perfectly well, as Switzerland, which has used the system for a long time, continually shows. Secondly, and possibly more importantly, providing that people are well and properly informed – which was not the case with the Brexit referendum – the people can usually be relied upon to make good and humane decisions. After all, trial by jury which, despite its numerous faults, is still better than any other way of resolving court cases, is direct democracy in miniature. So the principle of normal people, properly informed, making important decisions is clearly a very sound one.

The concept of democracy — as most people understand it — is not only a bad method of government. It’s also demonstrably corrupt. It’s based on the practice of people electing politicians who, in theory, are supposed to represent their best interests. So far from conforming to the widely used definition of democracy as being government for the people by the people, it is in practice government for the super-rich by the super-rich – which is pretty much how people have always been ruled – only the existing system is far more cynical and dishonest than outright tyranny, because it pretends to provide people with real political power whilst actually ensuring they don’t have it. Elected representatives who, for the most part, are simply paid employees of the super-rich, provide the veneer of democracy when what they’re actually doing is preventing it.

No doubt many who sincerely believe they live in a real democracy would react with horror to such a suggestion, but all they need to do is ask themselves who pays for election campaigns. Are they paid for by the people, or are they paid for by the super-rich? Given that democracy should be a public service, it should be paid for by the public like any other public service. But the reality is that the election campaigns of most governments have been bought and paid for by the super-rich. These people are not well known for their generosity or love of public service – which is why so many of them avoid paying their taxes — so why do they spend millions on election campaigns if not for the fact that they expect to be very well compensated by the winners? Which is, of course, exactly what happens  as countless accounts of corruption in high places verify on an almost daily basis.

Proportional Representation

Many people with progressive tendencies have long championed the cause of proportional representation. Many so-called democracies use the “first-past-the-post” method of deciding election winners and losers, a system whereby the person with the most votes wins and gets elected to public office whilst whoever else competed in the election is forgotten about. Proportional Representation, on the other hand, takes account of every vote cast in an election and then allocates seats in proportion to the numbers voting for each political party. It is unquestionably a much fairer way of deciding elections, and should be implemented in any country that calls itself a democracy. However, direct democracy, which effectively bypasses elected representatives altogether and allows the citizen direct control of their government’s decisions, is even better yet — providing the citizen is properly informed — and should be the primary goal for all political activists.

Subsidiarity

One of the Greens’ most important policies is that of subsidiarity – democratic decision-making provided at the source of wherever a decision needs to be made. It’s the polar opposite of centralised government — the model practised by most countries — where some all-powerful regime effectively controls all decisions throughout the country. Whilst Britain, like many other countries, has some decentralised government functions in the form of local councils, the effective decision-making powers of local councils is significantly controlled by central government. This is achieved by central government having considerable control of money supply, and by having the powers to simply overturn any decisions made by local councils if they feel like it.

Decentralisation, effectively another word for subsidiarity, is a fine principle for the simple reason that it provides real decision-making power to people organised in small communities, communities which, when added together, comprise society as a whole. Switzerland provides a good working example of the model in practice.

Swiss cantons are similar in size to some English counties, but there the similarity ends, for cantons have considerably more power than their English equivalents — particularly regarding tax collections. As with their federal government Swiss citizens use direct democracy to control their cantons too, and may initiate referendums or veto new laws they’re not happy with.

Contrary to what opponents of direct democracy may claim, no doubt citing the British Brexit debacle to reinforce their argument, this considerable and direct power that Swiss citizens have over their government has done Switzerland no noticeable harm whatsoever. In fact, it’s made Switzerland one of the most stable, free, peaceful and well-respected nations in the world. It has achieved this whilst being relatively poor in natural resources, completely landlocked, without doing any imperial looting of distant lands, and surrounded by two of the worst wars in human history. Therefore their political model obviously has useful lessons for almost every other country to learn from.

The Party’s Over

There is absolutely no justification for maintaining the anachronistic and institutionally corrupt system of government that Britain uses. It must be totally scrapped and a new model created based on the principles outlined in this essay. The seat of government should be moved away from London to somewhere more central to the whole country — like Northampton, say. Building a brand new parliament where no monarch or chamber of unelected MPs have any official role, and where a network of decentralised local councils controlled by direct democracy may be efficiently coordinated will be a huge step in the right direction.

But there are two other essential changes that need to be made. Although they’re very different to each other they are quite possibly equally important.

The control and supply of money must be removed from the private banking system and placed where it belongs — in the hands of the new democratic state. Although money may not be absolutely essential to an economy, it unquestionably enables the economy to work more efficiently. Throughout history the availability of money has always been ruthlessly controlled by a tiny handful of super-rich individuals. There is absolutely no economic necessity for this. It happens only because that’s how the super-rich controllers of money want it to stay. But money should be seen as a human right, and the supply viewed as public service totally controlled by the state.

The second vitally important change that needs to happen is that the supply of public information must be vastly improved. A successful system of direct democracy would be largely determined by the quality of information that voters receive upon which to form their opinions and make their decisions. Most people will make good decisions if they are given good information, and they will make very bad ones if given bad information — as the catastrophic Brexit fiasco proves beyond any reasonable doubt.

One of the most obvious pieces of evidence that the British state does not provide its citizens with good information — or even allow them to find it for themselves — is the fact that the state’s obsession with secrecy borders on the psychotic. As I write these words the outrageous treatment being meted out to the heroic publisher Julian Assange by the British state, probably on behalf of its US controllers, is providing graphic evidence of how the state treats those who try to reveal its secrets for public inspection. Ian Cobain’s The History Thieves, for example, is a fine study of the extent to which this problem affects us. It is quite impossible to obtain good information about the actions of the state when so many of those actions are deemed too secret for the public to know about for very considerable periods of time. Therefore two of the easiest steps to take to ensure the public receive good information is to scrap the odious Official Secrets Act, and for the state to open for public access all of its vast archives of secret files.

The ability to access good information is also dependent on a fundamental change to our system of education. British schools serve as an important first step in the process of brainwashing British people. The most obvious piece of evidence of this is the teaching of history. History is a vitally important subject because it teaches us about how our country became what it is. Or that’s what it should teach. But the history that’s taught in most schools, a history of Britain’s supposed greatness, is totally different from the history taught by historians such as EP Thompson, say, or Al Morton, or the Hammonds, John Newsinger, Mark Curtis or Ian Cobain. These writers all explain British history in a very different way to the history taught in most British schools, a way which would teach most children to understand that far from being the great champions of justice, liberty and humanity that they’re taught to see most British kings and queens, lords and ladies, general and admirals, they would learn instead how many of these people were indistinguishable from psychotic murderers and thieves.

It would teach people to acquire a far more humble belief about Britain’s true role in history and teach them a far more humane and tolerant attitude to others. It would also create a desperately needed contempt for the super-rich ruling classes of today – instead of the fawning sycophantic subservient attitude that is instilled by the existing education system. The obvious evidence of this institutionalised brainwashing is apparent in the very name of the country – “Great” Britain. There’s very little about British history which deserves to be called great. If the name Britain needed an adjective at all, “Grim” Britain would be closer to the mark.

Also badly lacking in our current education system is teaching the ability to think clearly and logically, but also with humanity, compassion for all living things, and awareness of the desperate existential threat our planet is enduring — mostly because of human overpopulation together with the capitalist economic model that drives it and which ridiculously demands infinite growth from finite resources.

To complete the picture of essential changes to make to the quality of public information we also obviously have to look at the providers of so-called news, the information about daily events that affect our lives. There is now a vast quantity of evidence that proves how the so-called news is manipulated by the rich and powerful to manipulate people to think and behave in a particular way. This must change. It should not be necessary to censor this information, which is actually mis-information. All that’s needed is to provide a more accurate, honest and humane alternative. The great journalist John Pilger, quoting the American historian and journalist TD Allman wrote.

Genuinely objective journalism’ is that which ‘not only gets the facts right, it gets the meaning of events right. Objective journalism is compelling not only today. It stands the test of time. It is validated not only by “reliable sources” but by the unfolding of history. It is reporting that which not only seems right the day it is published. It is journalism that ten, twenty, fifty years after the fact still holds up a true and intelligent mirror to events. (my emphasis)2

A state-provided news service, guided by this principle — or something very near it — is all we need to combat the vast quantities of misinformation and fake news provided by the mainstream media. Combined with the incredible new information technologies that are now available, and a totally reformed education system, people would be properly prepared and able to cope with sweeping constitutional changes to the way we have been misruled for thousands of years.

The one useful thing that the Brexit fiasco has done is to reveal how utterly useless and unfit for purpose the British parliament is. As I said at the start of this essay, that is not news to those of us who have long campaigned for reform. Our parliament has always been primarily about protecting the interests of the super-rich, rather than doing what’s best for most British people.

The future will not forgive us

One of the most obvious pieces of evidence of this is clearly visible in the vast array of antiquated procedures that accompany almost every action carried out in the Houses of Parliament. From the annual state opening of parliament, an ancient and highly ritualised performance designed to show the supremacy of an unelected head of state appointed by hereditary succession, to the daily routine business of parliament where supposedly serious debates take place in what sounds more like a children’s playground than the most important decision-making forum in the land.

This ridiculous farce of a system, ludicrously masquerading as a global model of democracy, must go. It has caused infinitely more harm than good, and now, with Britain and the world in general facing a perfect storm of the most serious existential crises since dinosaurs disappeared, we have to have an entirely new system of government — a system that is both wholly and truly democratic, as well as being compassionate and humane. If we do not do this, now, the future will not forgive us — and rightly so.

  1. New York Times, October 28, 1973.
  2. Hidden Agendas, John Pilger, p. 525.

To Brexit or Not to Brexit?



The main problem with the question of Leave or Remain is that it’s not the question most people in England, Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland are really interested in.  It’s just a very fraught proxy for the real question.

Every week as I engage in the by-now comfortably familiar process of following global news developments, thinking about what I want to address in this week’s missive, recording the podcast version of it, etc., it is a new weekly opportunity when I must once again observe that the world appears to be going to hell just as fast this week as it was last week. Catastrophic flooding on several continents at the same time, with an unknown and possibly vast death toll in Africa, where it appears entire cities may have drowned. Israeli missiles are once again raining down on the besieged outdoor prison known as Gaza. Christchurch is burying its dead. Trump has located the Golan Heights on a map. His Attorney General says he’s not working for Putin. And many other developments.

Prominent among them, of course, is the increasingly chaotic state of the farcically-named country known as the United Kingdom of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Soon perhaps to be known as the United Kingdom of England and Wales. The political class in the country is in the midst of a real meltdown, and life is uncertain for many millions of people within and outside of the UK right now.

The question of how people and politicians should react to this volatile situation is certainly an important one, and I personally don’t pretend to have any useful advice for anyone. For whatever little it may be worth, whether I’m stating the obvious or not, what I do have to offer is this: the main reason the whole question of Brexit is so incredibly fraught is that the question of whether or not to leave the European Union isn’t really the question most people were seeking to answer. I’m quite convinced from spending a whole lot of my life playing music with and for the English working class in places like Manchester, Sheffield, Birmingham or Leicester that the struggling English working class that is mainly responsible for the success of the Leave campaign is not actually interested in whether they’re governed from London or from Brussels.

Most of the people voting for Brexit probably knew that this wasn’t the choice they wanted to be voting on. They would much have preferred a vote between socialism and neoliberalism — in which case socialism would have won. They want a return to pre-Thatcher Britain, when most of the people governing the country at least believed in everyone in the country having the ability to live a dignified life with decent housing, education and health care. Their impression that the lobbyists in Brussels don’t have their best interests in mind is correct. They also know most of the politicians in London don’t have their best interests in mind either. Which is why the choice is so fraught — it’s the wrong choice.

Many of my left-wing friends in all corners of the United Kingdom voted both for and against Brexit. The campaign to Leave the EU may have been largely led by an assortment of nationalists and xenophobes, but those who voted to Leave are far from a homogeneous group. The notion that more local control might have more potential to lead to more local democracy is a sensible one. Having alliances and agreements with other nations makes sense for any country for so many reasons, but the question always is, what kinds of agreements, and for whose benefit?

Opposition to power shifting from national governments to Brussels has been widespread in many corners of European society, since the beginning of the EU, though listening to just about any of the English-language media these days you would be forgiven for thinking that the idea of local democracy is a racist conspiracy of the far right, funded by the Kremlin.

The first time I traveled around Europe as an adult was in 1995. I spent most of that trip in Ireland, England and Denmark. The trip began in Copenhagen. I knew I wanted to visit England and Ireland, but the fact that the trip included Denmark was an accident of Air Hitch. You could choose five different major European cities where you might end up, and you were only guaranteed that you’d end up in one of them within five days of your desired date of arrival. Copenhagen was where I ended up.

It was the spring of 1995, but it was literally only a matter of hours before I met people who were telling me about what had happened there on the streets of the city almost exactly two years earlier.

In 1993 a bare majority of Danish voters approved the Maastricht Treaty, which gave greater powers within the European Union to Brussels. It had to be passed by all the EU member states at the time, and the year before, Denmark had been the hold-out, rejecting the treaty in a vote in 1992. With barely any changes made, it was again brought to a popular vote the following year.

When it passed the second time, this was mainly because of voters from outside the only major city, Copenhagen. Most people in Copenhagen voted against it. In the diverse, largely left-wing neighborhood of Norrebro, protests turned to riots, with such intensity and mass participation that the vastly outnumbered riot police deployed for the occasion fired live ammunition at the people for the first time since the end of the Second World War, injuring eleven. None of those shot were members of the Right.

Psychopathology of Not Teaching, Not Feeding, Not Embracing Our Youth

Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.

We do not learn from experience… we learn from reflecting on experience.

Failure is instructive. The person who really thinks learns quite as much from his failures as from his successes.

Give the pupils something to do, not something to learn; and the doing is of such a nature as to demand thinking; learning naturally results.

We only think when confronted with a problem.

John Dewey, 1938, Experience and Education (Vol. no. 10). New York: The Macmillan Company &  1933, How We Think. Boston, MA: D. C. Heath and Co

Image result for outdoor education

There’s a lot of magical thinking going on in the world, largely laid at the feet of the marketers, arbiters of propaganda, the flim-flam of Capitalism and Consumerism.

Finding solace in the next President’s Day sale or Black Friday.

Except every day in America is a Black Friday. Fire sale for the social services, for all the safety nets, for the bedrock of a democracy – education, power of the people to hold the commons and to control the benefits of the community’s needs over some punk like Musk or Sir Richard or Zuckerberg or Trump-Clinton-Obama, all same sides of the one-sided coin.

More and more people I engage with are lost, really, pushing their little broom and lifting their little dustbin to attempt to clean up the smashed walls and halls and schoolhouses and hallowed things of the people.

Image result for outdoor education

Feudalism is back in style, and for each community – city block or city border or urban growth boundary – the endless brooming and dust-binning will never make a dent in what must be done: the cancer must be removed.

Oh, I know, the pacifists want the arc of social justice to come catapulting back and somehow laying bare and rendering impotent the millions of bad hombres who control the purse strings, who control the black ditches of polluting industries, who control the daily trillion loads of toxins and carcinogens and structural violence bombs put upon the majority.

The chaos and fluency of their penetration of pain on all levels of society and in all societies is amazing those rotten-to-the-core billionaires and multinational thugs who have the sociopath’s luxury of being extremely effective, especially in predatory-parasitic-extractive-casino Capitalism, where the burdens of externalities and the millions upon millions of negative and costly outgrowths of Capitalism are the burden of the masses while the extreme comforts/power bases/economic controls are privatized to a very small swath of humankind.

Image result for outdoor education

These traits are the characterizations of the typical CEO, typical of the boardroom winners, so typical of the so-called powerful:

  • Contemptuous of those who seek to understand them
  • Does not perceive that anything is wrong with them
  • Authoritarian
  • Secretive
  • Paranoid
  • Only rarely in difficulty with the law, but seeks out situations where their tyrannical behavior will be tolerated, condoned, or admired
  • Conventional appearance
  • Goal of enslavement of their victim (s)
  • Exercises despotic control over every aspect of the victim’s life
  • Has an emotional need to justify their crimes and therefore needs their victim’s affirmation (respect, gratitude and love)
  • Ultimate goal is the creation of a willing victim
  • Incapable of real human attachment to another
  • Unable to feel remorse or guilt
  • Extreme narcissism and grandiose
  • May state readily that their goal is to rule the world

Variations on a theme. Just put in a powerful and famous/infamous person’s name, and the fifteen traits above get checked off pretty easily and readily.

Erik Prince or Betsy Devos, or the Democratic Party honchos or the boot-licking Republican reprobates. Now, we are in a world where the sociopath and psychopath and self-aggrandizing are foisted upon the stage and klieg lights pointed at them so all of us in this barbarous spectacle have to be exposed to not only their felonious and pathological deeds and beliefs daily, but we now have to subvert our own humanness and life by their rules . . . all the while paying to follow their rules.

Unfortunately, most people are not crippled with a malignant personality disorder, yet the young and the disposed/dispossessed and the struggling and the downtrodden in a capitalist society have very few shields or antibodies to avert from these pathological souls who have infected all levels of the corporation, the legal system, the education system, the military industrial complex, government, national politics, religion:

These people are mentally ill and extremely dangerous! We can take many precautions to protect us from the destructive acts of which they are capable.

First, to recognize them, keep the following guidelines in mind.

(1) They are habitual liars. They seem incapable of either knowing or telling the truth about anything.
(2) They are egotistical to the point of narcissism. They really believe they are set apart from the rest of humanity by some special grace.
(3) They scapegoat; they are incapable of either having the insight or willingness to accept responsibility for anything they do. Whatever the problem, it is always someone else’s fault.
(4) They are remorselessly vindictive when thwarted or exposed.
(5) Genuine religious, moral, or other values play no part in their lives.

They have no empathy for others and are capable of violence. Under older psychological terminology, they fall into the category of psychopath or sociopath, but unlike the typical psychopath, their behavior is masked by a superficial social facade.

The psychopath’s world is one where the communal and cooperative laws of human interaction and also the more lofty laws of human emotion and interaction do not apply. It’s been said that psychopathy serves as a “reality” for a good portion of humanity. The hypothesis that one man in every 100 and one woman in every 300 are born a clinical psychopath is troubling, to be sure.

Some of the literature states that psychopathy is so common that each person reading this article knows one and then a significant proportion of readers are most likely psychopaths themselves.

Interesting, the age old battle of nature versus nurture, and vice versa!

I know this is beating a dead horse, but feminist and writer Susan Sontag, in a fit of lucidity, stated the obvious:

If America is the culmination of Western white civilization, as everyone from the Left to the Right declares, then there must be something terribly wrong with Western white civilization. This is a painful truth; few of us want to go that far…. The truth is that Mozart, Pascal, Boolean algebra, Shakespeare, parliamentary government, baroque churches, Newton, the emancipation of women, Kant, Marx, Balanchine ballets, et al, don’t redeem what this particular civilization has wrought upon the world. The white race is the cancer of human history; it is the white race and it alone—its ideologies and inventions—which eradicates autonomous civilizations wherever it spreads, which has upset the ecological balance of the planet, which now threatens the very existence of life itself.

Image result for outdoor education

So, who the hell knows about that 1 in 100/300 psychopathy in any given population. I might say, sure, for the white race, seems correct. Africa Source:

The pineal gland is responsible for the production of melatonin, a hormone that is secreted in response to darkness, and is also the site in the brain where the highest levels of Serotonin can be found (Sun et al, 2001). In the pineal, 5-HT (Serotonin) concentration displays a remarkable diurnal pattern, with day levels much higher than night levels. Serotonin plays an important role in sleep, perception, memory, cardiovascular activity, respiratory activity, motor output, sensory and neuroendocrine function.

Racial differences have been noted in the rate of pineal calcification as seen in plain skull radiographs. In Caucasians, calcified pineal is visualized in about 50% of adult skull radiographs after the age of 40 years (Wurtman et al, 1964); other scholars argue that Caucasians, in general, may have rates of pineal gland calcification as high as ­60-80% (King, 2001). Murphy (1968) reported a radiological pineal calcification rate of 2% from Uganda, while Daramola and Olowu (1972) in Lagos, Nigeria found a rate of 5%. Adeloye and Felson (1974) found that calcified pineal was twice as common in White Americans as in Blacks in the same city, strengthening a suspicion that there may be a true racial difference with respect to this apparatus. In India a frequency of 13.6% was found (Pande et al, 1984). Calcified pineal gland is a common finding in plain skull radiographs and its value in identifying the midline is still complementary to modern neuroradiological imaging.

Scholars believe the reduction in melatonin with age may be contributory to aging and the onset of age-related diseases. This theory is based on the observation that melatonin is the most potent hydroxyl radical scavenger thus far discovered (Reiter, 1995). Prominent theories of aging attributes the rate of aging to accumulated free radical damage (Proctor, 1989; Reiter, 1995), and as Caucasians have higher rates of pineal calcification, which produces melatonin which is a vital free radical scavenger, some suspect that people of European descent may actually age faster than those from other continents.

Pineal gland calcification has also been implicated in the onset of Multiple sclerosis. Multiple Sclerosis is an autoimmune disease that affects the central nervous system (CNS). The CNS consists of the brain, spinal cord, and the optic nerves. Neuroradiological research has shown the pineal gland to be involved in the pathophysiology of Multiple Sclerosis. In a 1991 study by Sandyk R, and Awerbuch G.I published in the “International Journal of Neuroscience”, it was shown that Pineal Calcification was found in 100 % of MS patients. The strikingly high prevalence of pineal calcification in Multiple sclerosis provides indirect support for an association between MS and abnormalities of the pineal gland (Sandyk and Awerbuch, 1991). Multiple Sclerosis tends to affect Caucasians disproportionately, and is nearly unheard of in Africa and is rare among African Americans. A high prevalence of pineal calcification has also been linked to bipolar disorder.

Now my article will boomerang back to my world directly – writing and teaching, this go-round inside the K12 arena; alas, the world of a teacher is a road strewn with broken-down trucks and scattered tailpipe assemblies and transmissions and oil slicks and sheared-off wheels.

The height of America now is the constant chatter and recriminations against the education system, against teachers, against students, against the entire project of working with the young to assist them in developing critical thinking skills.

Believe you me, I should be where Betsy DeVos is, but billionaires have no expertise, no 10,000 hours of practice to give them some level of mastery, whether it’s tennis, general scholarship, educating youth, doing anything worthy of a worthwhile society. Hence, the ones leading the so-called education debate, Gates or DeVos, have zilch experience in the classroom, zero experience working. You’ll never see a fellow like me at any table.

Image result for Native American outdoor education

The idea of my time on earth has always been being on the ground, and some people liken it to ground truthing, the realities of intellectual thought sewn in the fields of those areas where we as a people consider disciplines. What better way to understand what needs to be done to fix (sic) the US education than being in it, albeit like a hired gun going from school to school grade as a substitute teacher.

Hands down, after doing this educational ground truthing a large part of my life, since 1983 when I first started a teaching assistanceship at the University of Texas-El Paso, through to today, this society will never put me at the table, so to speak, of the policy wonks and political operatives. Do they want the real minds there, those of us who just might be able to inject reality and true systems thinking in how to solve the so-called “education problem.”

Image result for Native American teepees and public schools

I know it’s easy to see that anything associated with neoliberalism, libertarianism, the assault of communities large and small by the elite, the super-super minority, is part of the failings of education, and all parts of society, the so-called intellectual, spiritual, built environment, natural, community commons.

The reality is capitalism IS the failure, and CAPITALISM is the education PROBLEM, and my years parachuting into schools and into school districts have shown me there are many deficits, many shortcomings and many hurdles around our public schools.

A raft of problems can be rattled off and highlighted in white paper after special NPR report. The brain trust is the children, however, not Mark Cuban and his ilk. Certainly, the systems of oppression and structural violence and mob rule of the late stage consumer culture and forced acquiescence as a pound of flesh carved out for the elites, the marketers, the flimflam artists who have wrested control of all branches of government, the Fourth estate, the Shadow Government, the corporate heads with their sycophants and armies for hire HAVE done their deep-deep damage.

As if the cultural DNA has been stripped of any normalcy, these citizens — elementary, junior and high schoolers — they already have three strikes against them, yet somehow in the chaos and poorly delivered education there are standouts.

The problem is we need education for the children and for the adults, cooperative education and co-ops of learning, for all generations. How stupid is it to continue feeding mush to children? How stupid is it to have them penned up in classrooms? How ridiculous is it to have a few disruptive youth and inattentive students run wild in a classroom? How is it that the major industries and the business roundtable folk and the movers and shakers and the parents aren’t held to task for not getting truly involved in their futures? These young people’s futures?

Experiential learning, outside the box, far-far away from standardized teaching, common core, rote memorization.

Even in this onslaught of crass, creepy psychologically-damaging crap youth have to step through daily – a land mine field every day – we can still get back the narrative, and flip the script, so to speak.

I have been in 1st grade classes, and been teaching music to elementary aged students and science and math to high school students, and everything in between. The vast majority of youth feel and know and sense they have been sold a bill of goods, and lies, and they want leaders and mentors, people who can bring to them a sense of destiny, a sense of rebellion for the good of humankind, and a real set of educational tools to help them educate themselves for life.

It is not some hippie or alternative new age spasm to say that students need hands on reality – how to grow food, how to paint murals, how to build tables, how to construct solar panels for their homes, how to chart the stars, how to speak several languages, how to wire a short wave radio, how to set up and nurture a catfish pond, how to cut flowers and how to talk to old people and the disabled in situ.

We could be using our smarts and collective action and solving our rural communities’ issues and those of our cities; problem solved by having youth brigades with their mentors and their parents working daily to make the changes necessary for resiliency. The youth want to know why they can’t give me hugs or display hugs in the school yard, so we talk about the newer research on the skin and on touching people, daily, as a way of healing, of pushing melatonin in the body, as a way to heal inflamed arteries.

On the surface or to a passerby, the children might be lost causes, already colonized by Big Mac, Disneyland, Marvel Comics, glittery inept millionaire performers and fancy falling pixels in their next orgasmic video game.

They may already be too far gone to weather climate disruption, economic wars, the battlefields coming soon, because of their multiple issues tied to chronic diseases and mental disturbances.

Ah-ha, so wrong, so wrong!

I guarantee if a school house and school grounds were set up like great rendezvous points for artists, acrobats, farmers, trades people, international visitors, under the direction of First Nations elders; I guarantee if students were there with their parents part of the week learning about history, untold stories, about how to tell a story and film a documentary; I guarantee if we shifted ground by enforcing the philosophy that we are what we eat, what we read, what we do, what we think, what we believe, what we hope for, what we want, what we imagine, and that there are direct repercussions (negative) to the individual’s mental, intellectual and physical well being with the wrong stuff in, which leads to the wrong stuff out. . . . I guarantee the conversations will change, the enlightenments will spark, the involvement on every level of the community will increase, and the individual and collective narratives will move toward that arc of not only social justice, but humanity living within our means, and understanding the value of simplicity, small ecological footprints and smelling the roses and watching the stars through the flight patterns of owls, fireflies and moths.

What a silly set of idealistic ideas on how to re-form the education system.

The fact is that students are hungry for honesty, and hungry to see how it all connects, how one piece of the puzzle is actually the link to the whole, and how all things are related. They get it, and many times there are 10-year-old skeptics, grizzled in their thinking, scabbed over in their imaginations.

Everything in school, now, under the current models of suppression, then, is to learn 9 to 5, Monday through Friday enslavement.

Children and juveniles and late age teens want nothing of that enslavement, but they have no choice in a hobbling system of people like the Gates duo or the Betsy-Donald duo, coming up with insane and self-fulfilling concepts to keep kids so down that they will abide by anything the levelers and capitalists demand of them – demands (pistols to the heads, rather) in their communities, in their purchases, in their indebtedness, in their reading and eating material, in their subservience to the company or corporation or organization.

We need legions of nurses, social workers, teachers, solutions-driven people with their heads screwed on tight and their hearts alight in the shine of innocence lost and new innocence gained. We need a world of STEAM – daftly blended Sciences Technology Engineering Arts Math for more than capitalist survival, but rather for the impending systems of collapse we have wreaked havoc on the planet, on our own souls, and now on young souls not even given a chance to push out of chrysalis.

We know what must be done: rework all public schools. Add greenhouse, ponds, rows of corn, second and third floor ropes courses, commercial kitchens, husbandry stalls, more. Rip up the pavement, get the kids to use rickshaws, learn how to be entrepreneurial geniuses with coffee stands and juice stands run by parents and students. Outdoor education on our beaches, in our city parks, inside empty warehouses.

We know what to do! And we can do it. Again, cut away the cancer — destroy capitalism!

Image result for john dewey education

A Political Renaissance in Ethiopia: What should change look like?

This is an extraordinary time in Ethiopia’s history, a time of tremendous opportunity and hope. Long overdue reforms initiated by Prime-Minister Abiy Ahmed, who took office on 2nd April 2018, offer the prospect that democracy and social unity could at last become a reality in the country.

Before PM Ahmed took office Ethiopia was ruled by one of the most violent and repressive regimes in the world; freedom of the media, freedom of expression and assembly, political dissent and the judiciary, were all tightly controlled by the TPLF regime, which had been in power since 1991. Miraculously, all of this has now changed, and within a very short space of time, it offers hope not only for Ethiopia, but for the region and the wider world.

The new governments reform program has three main ‘pillars’ as they are called: 1. A vibrant democracy. 2. Economic vitality. 3. Regional integration and openness to the world. All very general and nothing extraordinary, but positive actions have followed and good will built. If democratic change can occur in Ethiopia it can take place anywhere, but, over and above the obvious elements, such as the observation of human rights, political pluralism, freedom of the media, independent judiciary etc., what should that change look like?

Impressive start

After undertaking a nationwide tour in which he stressed the need for forgiveness and reconciliation, PM Ahmed and his team swiftly began work. All exiled opposition parties were invited to return to Ethiopia and engage in dialogue, thousands of ‘political’ prisoners were released, including all journalists; the torture chamber known as Maekelawi Prison in Addis Ababa was closed, constitutional amendments were announced to limit the length of time anyone could hold the office of prime-minister, and the draconian state of emergency was lifted. The PM met the Eritrean president and began discussions to end the twenty-year conflict, and in a broader sign of how this cooperative approach is impacting on the region, the Djibouti and Somalia authorities have since held peace talks with Eritrea.

A series of historic actions followed: the military occupation of the Ogaden or Somali region has been brought to an end, all prisoners held in the notorious Jail Ogaden released and the prison closed down. A new regional president, Mustapha Omer, who was critical of the region’s authoritarian leadership, was appointed. A new cabinet was announced and gender parity established. Women now hold the two key security positions – defense and the Ministry of Peace, which oversees the police, the intelligence services and the information security agency. All this and more within months of assuming office. Remarkable by any standards. It shows what can be achieved if and when the political will exists.

While the new government attempts to build unity and social harmony, there are others, bitter remnants of the past that continue to work to aggravate ethnic divisions and ferment violence. As a result of inter-communal conflict there are estimated to be over two million internally displaced people in the country. Other than providing some humanitarian aid, the federal government has done nothing to relocate these people, whose homes have been destroyed. This is a national emergency and needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency.

What kind of democracy?

Despite a decade of economic growth averaging 10% per annum, Ethiopia remains one of the poorest countries in the world and ranks 173rd out of 186 countries on the UN Human Development Index. Around 26% of the population lives in extreme poverty (less than $2 a day), and a much larger percentage struggle to survive on under $5 a day. While the government claims that 50% of the population has been lifted out of dire poverty in recent years, the principle beneficiaries of growth have been those in high office and the already comfortable few. With growth the cost of living has rocketed, food, accommodation and transport prices have all increased dramatically, impacting on the poorest sections of society.

Whether in Ethiopia or elsewhere in the world, sharing is key to overcoming poverty and establishing social justice; sharing wealth, resources, skills and knowledge based on need. Sharing also cultivates trust, encourages cooperation and helps to build peaceful communities. Participation is a form of sharing and a cornerstone of democracy.

In addition to poverty, within the catalogue of challenges facing the new government, health care and education stand out, as well as environmental issues – Addis Ababa e.g. is the third most polluted city in Africa, after Cairo and Casablanca.

As Ethiopia enters into what Prime-Minister Ahmed describes as a ‘political renaissance’, the opportunity to discuss what kind of nation it wishes to become presents itself; what values and ideals should be pursued, what methods employed? In the demonstrations that brought down the previous regime protesters cried out for democracy, for freedom and justice. In response the government’s first reform ‘pillar’ calls for the creation of a ‘vibrant democracy’. What form should that democracy take?

The corporate state democracy of the west, in which political power is married to economic wealth, is a far cry from true democracy. While a level of freedom exists and, in some countries, civil society is strong, there is no social justice and participation by employees in the workplace, students in education and the general public in politics is weak or non-existent. Western democracy has been conditioned by government’s ideological devotion to an economic system rooted in competition and commercialization. It is a model that has failed the vast majority of people and poisoned the planet. True democratic values such as tolerance, sharing, understanding of others, cooperation and kindness, are incompatible with the ideals of the market – profit at any cost – human or environmental, separation, personal success, greed.

So, what type of democratic country do the people of Ethiopia and their government want to create, and, given the international pressure to conform to the economic stereotype, do they have any choice? Listening to the PM’s speech at the World Economic Forum it would appear not. He made clear his government’s intention to embrace the Neoliberal circus; he sounded more like the CEO of a medium-size electronics company looking for investors, rather than a national leader. Perhaps the audience conditioned his remarks, but there was no real vision, other than the usual economic ambitions; it was all disappointingly familiar.

Like all of sub-Saharan Africa the population of Ethiopia is young, the median age is just 18, around 60% of the country is under 25. More children are attending schools than ever and although Internet connectivity is poor and until recently access was heavily restricted, young people are in touch with the wider world in a way that was not possible for previous generations. Hundreds of thousands of under 25 year olds took part in public protests, which began in November 2015 and led to the collapse of the government. They risked their lives for change, they deserve more than a market led democracy.

This is a truly historic time for Ethiopia, general elections are scheduled to take place in 2020, between now and then the opportunity exists for a national debate to take place. For too long the people were silenced, now their voices must be heard. Platforms within the media – state and independent – in universities, schools and within the church, need to be established that allow the community as a whole and young people in particular, to express their views and share their aspirations for the future of their country and indeed the wider region.

America’s Power Elite and their False Facts

America’s power elite are a tiny but very mighty fraction of America’s total population. The power elite belongs to America’s corpocracy, the “Devil’s” marriage between corporate America and government America, with the former firmly in the driver’s seat.1

The primary aims of the power elite are to monopolize the world’s dwindling resources by whatever means necessary, usually by force, and to control all peoples’ and nations’ way of life and their conditions of life. That’s a tall order for America’s power elite, but it’s a far taller order for Americans and the rest of the world to stop them.

It matters not to the power elite that the U.S. is seen by people around the world as the greatest threat to world peace.2  It matters not to the power elite that distinguished scholar/activists agree about the deplorable state of America, with, for example, one calling it a “rogue nation,” another calling it “the leading terrorist state,” and another calling it a “sociopathic society.3   It matters not that most Americans don’t like them.4 The power elite are very adept at loosening the political pressure valve just enough to allow dissidents like me to blow off steam without blowing off the lid.

Ever since their invasion of the Native Americans’ land, one of the trademarks of the power elite is their constant lying to the public about what they are doing and why and the true conditions of America. They specialize in giving the rest of us “false facts.” While I suspect that most Americans realize they are being hoodwinked, I think it’s still useful to summarize here what the most salient false facts are and to contrast them with the true facts.

False Fact: The American Revolution was fought to free the people from suppression by King George and his chartered corporations.

True Fact: The war was fought for the benefit of the power elite who subsequently had the new president, George Washington, start military operations to expand the newcomers’ territory. George dutifully did so. One of his military orders was to attack civilians of all ages who belonged to the Six Nations of the Indigenous Peoples in New York.5

False Fact: “We the people of the United States—do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

True Fact: The power elite who contrived the Constitution had no intention of letting “we the people” govern themselves, as evidenced, for instance, by the long delay in allowing women to vote and by the contrived “electoral college,” an obstacle to a popular vote. Former President George W. Bush once said the Constitution is just a piece of paper. And for once he was telling the truth!

False Fact: America is a democracy.

True Fact:  America has never been a democracy. From the start it was and remains a corpocracy. Truth be known, the power elite has turned America into a fascist state. The late fascist dictator of Italy, Benito Mussolini, knew what he was talking about: “Fascism should more properly be called corporatism because it is the merger of state and corporate power.” “Precisely!” is what I imagine Professor Lawrence Brit, a political scientist, would say. He has concluded from his studies that America has all of the following 14 characteristics of a fascist state: “Disdain for the Recognition of Human Rights; Identification of Enemies/Scapegoats as a Unifying Cause; Supremacy of the Military; Rampant Sexism; Controlled Mass Media; Obsession with National Security; Intertwining of Religion and Government; Protection of Corporate Power; Suppression of Labor Power; Disdain for Intellectuals and the Arts; Obsession with Crime and Punishment (of all but the power elite); Rampant Cronyism and Corruption; and Fraudulent Elections.6   If you can’t find evidence in America of any of these 14, then you must be living on an isolated island.

False fact: America’s Civil War was fought to free the slaves.

True Fact: Our Civil War killed more Americans by far than any other of our wars. “Honest” Abe started the war to preserve the “union” for a stronger defense against foreign enemies and to strengthen the power elite’s hegemonic aspirations. Furthermore, Abe was a self-proclaimed racist. Don’t believe me? Maybe you will when you read this piece of what he wrote to a correspondent: “I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races—and I as much as any other man am in favor of having superior position assigned to the white race.7  Abe is just one of all but two US presidents (who died shortly after inauguration) whose legacies America’s power elite have had to spin over time to prevent popular uprisings.8

False fact: America’s wars have been unavoidable and just.

True Fact: America’s wars have been contrived by America’s power elite and have thus been unavoidable and unjust. America’s wars are the lies of America’s power elite.9  America’s wars and any wars are also, Albert Einstein once said, “an act of murder,” an irrefutable declaration in my opinion.10 That being so, does it also mean that any U.S. president except for two U.S. presidents in office too short of a stay to have done any harm, are surrogate murderers? And since the murders were done in our name what does that make us?

False Fact: Whistleblowers are traitors.

True Fact: It’s the power elite’s excuse for locking up conscientious dissidents. The true traitors are the corrupt politicians who by having people killed in other lands are violating our Constitution and International Criminal law and thereby endangering our nation.

False Fact: Our nation’s military represents the best this country has to offer.

True Fact: The drone operator who guides a bomb that kills people during a wedding procession in a far-away land certainly doesn’t represent the best this country has to offer. The military responsible for the deaths of millions of people over the years certainly doesn’t represent the best this country has to offer. What does, then? A nation of people that values and supports a caring society and economic system that encompasses “caring for children, the sick, the elderly, employees, customers and our environment.” That is the view of one of the best authors of all time in my opinion, Rianne Eisler. Everyone should read her book, The Real Wealth of Nations.11

False Fact: America’s war veterans are heroes.

True Fact: Some are, and some aren’t. People need to be sensitive to the difference. Referring indiscriminately to all war veterans as heroes only perpetuates what is indefensible, namely the glorification of war, the most ignoble of all human enterprises. Exalting the young men and women going overseas and risking their lives, limbs, and minds to kill foreigners in our name for the benefit of America’s power elite is indefensible.

Consider the sentiments of an Army officer being medically evacuated from battle in Afghanistan: “I’ve been in the Army twenty-six years and I can tell you it’s a con.” He goes on to say that his two young sons in college won’t have to serve,” and then adds, “Before that happens, I’ll shoot them myself.” He says he won’t deploy again. “War is absurd. Boys don’t know any better. But for a grown man to be trapped in stupid wars — it’s embarrassing, it’s humiliating, it’s absurd.”12 If only he could be a US president!

False Fact: To rationalize its own excesses, including its hand-outs from the government, corpocratic capitalists spout the theory of trickle-down economics as a rationalization for their own hefty welfare benefits, arguing that more money at the top will eventually trickle down to the bottom in the way of jobs.

True Fact: The evidence clearly shows it to be false.13 The excesses gush upwards. What small residual trickles down stops at the back door of the shrinking middle class, never going down farther to “the projects,” a euphemism for public housing where the poorest of poor who aren’t homeless live in dangerous and fetid conditions.

False Fact: The rich say the poor get what they deserve.

True Fact:  A distinguished professor of social welfare refutes the popular belief that poor people are primarily responsible for their own poverty. Poverty instead, this professor contends, “is largely the result of structural failings at the economic, political, and social levels.”14 In other words, we should blame the corpocracy and its power elite, not poor, jobless people.

False Fact: Public services need to be privatized because government is inefficient and costly.

True Fact: Michael Edwards, activist and author, explains in his book Small Change that the inherent nature of business with its profit-seeking motive and its short-term perspective and demands makes business unable to come even close to solving hardcore problems like poverty, epidemics, war, social discord, and the like.15 I would simply add this question: How many business firms, large or small, can you name that are making significant inroads on such problems?

Yet the public sector is increasingly being taken over by the private sector. Privatization, argue Si Kahn and Elizabeth Minnich, co-authors of The Fox in the Henhouse, is the private sector’s way to “undercut, limit, shrink, or outright take over any government and any part of the public sector that stands in the way of corporate pursuit of ever larger profits and could be run for profit.16

There you have it, at least 11 of the power elite’s false facts repudiated. It will take far more than a massive effort to educate the public. Just what additionally would be required is beyond the scope of this short article.

If you want to know what more I have to say about America’s power elite and whether the living field can be leveled so that power is more evenly distributed among the citizenry, you can e-mail me (ten.ttanull@rewopycarcomed) and I’ll e-mail you in return an advance copy of my new book when its galley proof is ready.

  1. Brumback, GB. The Devil’s Marriage: Break Up the Corpocracy or Leave Democracy in the Lurch. Author House, 2011.
  2. See, e.g., Post Editorial Board. U.S. Is the Greatest Threat to World Peace? New York Post, January 5, 2014.
  3. Blum, W. Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower. Common Courage Press, 2005; Chomsky, N. Noam Chomsky: “The Leading Terrorist State”, Truthout, November 3, 2014; and Derber, C, Sociopathic Society: A People’s Sociology of the United States, Routledge, 2013.
  4. Ellis, C. “Americans: Government Corrupt, Elite Serving Only Themselves”, WND, March 3, 2016.
  5. Schwarz, J. “A Short History of U.S. Bombing of Civilian Facilities”, www.theintercept.com, October 9, 2015.
  6. Brit, L. “The 14 Characteristics of Fascism,” Free Inquiry, Spring, 2003.
  7. Zinn, H. A People’s History of the United States, Harper Perennial, 2005, p. 188.
  8. Brumback, GB. Spinning the Legacies of America’s Presidents, Dissident Voice, July 31; OpEdNews, August 1, 2016.
  9. Swanson, D. War is a Lie, David Swanson publishing. 2010.
  10. Einstein, A. Original source unknown.
  11. Eisler, R. The Real Wealth of Nations. Berrett-Koehler, 2007.
  12. Jones, A. “A Trail of Tears: How Veterans Return from America’s Wars.” Best of TomDispatch: “Ann Jones, War Wounds.” February 14, 2016.
  13. Sowell, T. “The Trickle-Down Lie.” National Review, January 7, 2014.
  14. Rank, MR. One Nation, Underprivileged: Why American Poverty Affects Us All. Oxford University Press, 2005, p. 64.
  15. Edwards, M. Small Change: Why Business Won’t Save the World. Berrett-Koehler, 2010.
  16. Kahn, S. & Minnich, E. The Fox in the Henhouse: How Privatization Threatens Democracy. Berrett-Koehler, 2005.

A Question Every American Must Confront: Apartheid Israel or US Democracy?

Bahia Amawai is a US citizen and Texas-based language specialist who helps autistic and speech-impaired children overcome their impairment.

Despite the essential and noble nature of her work, she was fired by the Pflugerville Independent School District, which serves the Austin area.

Every year, Amawai signs an annual contract that allows her to carry on with her tasks uninterrupted. This year, however, something changed.

Shockingly, the school district has decided to add a clause to the contract that requires teachers and other employees to pledge not to boycott Israel ‘during the term of their contract.’

The ‘oath’ is now part of Section 2270.001 of the Texas Government Code, and it is stated in the contract with obvious elaboration so as those wishing to work, or keep their jobs with the Texan government find no loophole to avoid its penalties:

“‘Boycott Israel’ means refusing to deal with, terminating business activities with, or otherwise taking any action that is intended to penalize, inflict economic harm on, or limit commercial relations specifically with Israel, or with a person or entity doing business in Israel or in Israeli-controlled territory ..”

The fact that Texas considers unacceptable even the boycott of businesses operating in the illegal Jewish settlements in the Occupied West Bank puts it at odds with international law, and, subsequently with the vast majority of the international community.

But don’t rush to judgment yet, condemning Texas for being the infamous and stereotypical ‘wild west’, as portrayed even in the United States’ own media. Indeed, Texas is but a small facet in a massive American government campaign aimed at stifling freedom of speech as enshrined in its country’s own constitution.

25 US states have already passed anti-boycott of Israel legislation, or have issued executive orders targeting the boycott of support networks, while other states are in the process of following suit.

At a federal government level, the Congressional Israel Anti-boycott Act, which is being received with enthusiasm among US legislators, vows to fine and imprison those who boycott Israel.

While there is strong civil society opposition to such obvious violations of the basic tenets of freedom of speech, the pro-Israel campaigners are unhinged.

Texas – which has passed and enacted laws criminalizing support for the boycott of Israel, as championed by the Palestinian Civil Society Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS) – continues to lead the way for other states.

In the Texan town of Dickinson, which was devastated by hurricane Harvey last year, hurricane victims were asked to sign a pledge not to boycott Israel in exchange for life-saving humanitarian aid.

It must have been a complete shock for displaced residents of the town to learn that the meager supplies they were about to receive hinged on their support of the far-right government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

But this is the sad state of democracy in the US at the moment, where the interests of a relatively small, distant country are made the centerpiece of US government policies, at home or abroad.

Israel’s wealthy supporters are working hand in hand with Israel’s influential lobby groups in Washington DC, but also at state, and even city levels to make the boycott of Israel punishable by law.

Many US politicians are answering the unreasonable lobby call of criminalizing political dissent throughout the country. While in reality many of them could care less or even truly understand the nature of the debate concerning BDS, they are willing to go the extra mile (as in violating the sanctity of their own democratic system) to win lobby favors, or to, at least avoid their wrath.

The anti-BDS campaign started in the US in earnest a few years ago, and, unlike BDS’ own tactics, it avoided grassroot efforts, focusing instead on quickly creating an official body of legal work that places boycotters of Israel in the dock.

Although the hastily composed legal language has been bravely challenged, and, at times, reversed altogether by civil society lawyers and organizations, the Israeli strategy has managed to place BDS supporters on the defensive.

That limited success can be accredited to powerful friends of Israel who have generously and forcefully responded to Tel Aviv’s war drums.

Las Vegas gambling mogul, Sheldon Adelson, took the helm of leadership. He moved into action, establishing the “Maccabee Task Force”, which raised millions of dollars to fight against what Israeli officials define as an existential threat to Israel and the delegitimization of the country as a “Jewish state.”

A major strategy that the Israeli camp has advanced in the discussion is the misleading notion that BDS calls for the boycott of Jews, as opposed to the boycott of Israel as a state that violates international law and numerous United Nations resolutions.

A country that practices racism as a matter of course, defends racial segregation and builds apartheid walls deserves nothing but complete boycott. That is the minimal degree of moral, political and legal accountability considering that the US, as with other countries, are obligated to honor and respect international law in that regard.

The US, however, encouraged by the lack of accountability, continues to behave in the same manner as countries that Washington relentlessly attacks for their undemocratic behavior and violation of human rights.

If such bizarre happenings – firing teachers and conditioning aid on taking a political stance – took place in China, for example, Washington would have led an international campaign condemning Beijing’s intransigence and violation of human rights.

Many Americans have yet to fathom how the United States’ submission to Israel’s political will is affecting their everyday life. But with more and more such legal restrictions, even ordinary Americans will soon find themselves fighting for basic political rights that, like Bahia Amawai, they have always taken for granted.

Sure, Israel may have succeeded in coercing some people not to openly vow support of BDS, but it will eventually lose this battle as well.

Muffling the voices of civil society rarely works over long periods of time, and the anti-BDS campaign, now penetrating the very heart of US government, is bound to eventually resurrect a nationwide conversation.

Is protecting Israeli Apartheid more important to Americans than preserving the fundamental nature of their own democracy?

That is a question that every American, regardless of how they feel about a supposedly distant Middle Eastern conflict, must answer, and urgently so.

Gilets Jaunes Referendum by Initiative of Citizens (RIC): Push to Revive a Democracy


The illusion of democracy

The Gilets Jaunes movement took most observers and so-called experts in France and worldwide entirely by surprise, but it was actually completely predictable. The crisis simmered below the radars of France’s politicians, media, as well as those who considered themselves the enlightened figures of the intelligentsia for 50 years. By their sometimes raucous revolt, the Gilets Jaunes understand that the current democratic process is a farce, and that democracy itself has become an illusion. France is hardly an exception but more the rule in a system where citizens are not truly represented or even heard: a corrupt and opaque system, where most politicians are in the back pockets of global corporate interests which, despite campaign regulations, have found loopholes to rig elections through large money contributions and pseudo-neutral mainstream media coverage to influence public opinion. In France, the Macron administration should view the Gilets Jaunes and their bright yellow vests as thousands of irate canaries flying off a coal mine before an explosion. France’s new Sans-Culottes will not be satisfied any longer with crumbs, or even loaves of bread: instead they want control of the bakery. The Gilets Jaunes want more than money, food and stuff, they demand respect, dignity, and attention. The Vox Populi shall not be silenced! Not for trinkets or any price.

Lesser-of-two-evil elections in USA and France: dialectic of rejection

Democracy is moribund elsewhere. The United States, which is supposed to be the greatest democracy on earth, offers the unsavory option of two parties, Republican or Democrat, on its electoral menu. This difference, however, has become largely fictional, as the political class all belong to a cozy inbred Republicrat party of hand-picked plutocrats that serve corporate imperialism. This democratic illusion was duly represented in 2016 with two fake options, either Clinton or Trump, both disastrous. Which one was less repulsive to American voters? As we know, it was Trump who “won” the US empire’s election. In France, by the same powerof the negative vote, Macron was elected more as a rejection of Marine Le Pen than an adhesion to his neoliberalism, youth, or vague impulse to modernize France, whatever it meant at the time. So the second round of the French presidential election of 2017 was also a futile exercise of lesser-of-two-evils. Democracy was dead in France, and one could take RIP to mean Rest In Peace instead of Referendum d’Initiative Populaire. Can the Gilets Jaunes’ key proposal of a Referendum d’Initiative Citoyenne save a comatose political system?

Trouble in France’s imperious fifth Republic

France’s fifth Republic is 60 years old. It was established by General Charles de Gaulle on October 4, 1958. This proud military man, without political ambition at first, had already salvaged France from the ignominy of the pro-German Vichy government, and he was called during the war in Algeria to rescue the Republic again from the preliminary stages of a coup plotted by a junta of four French generals. These generals were against Algerian independence and wanted to topple the French government. De Gaulle set his conditions clearly, as he wanted to reestablish the power of the executive. Some critics viewed this constitutional change as establishing some sort of hybrid republic-monarchy, but de Gaulle’s genuine love of France commanded respect, inside and outside the country’s borders, and France’s fifth Republic resembled its imposing father-figure general: short of being imperial, it was imperious.

The Gilets Jaunes movement could mark the end of an era and the beginning of a French sixth Republic, where the excessive power in the executive branch is diminished. The French constitution has currently two types of referendums, both of them essentially top heavy. The first type, which can only be called by the president, has been used nine times during the fifth Republic; the second one, which was established in 2008, in Article 11 of the French Constitution, is a “referendum of shared initiative” and has never been used. It can be organized at the initiative of one fifth of the parliament and must be supported by at least 10 percent of the registered voters, currently 4.5 million citizens. However, this unused referendum cannot challenge the constitution.

What is the RIC requested by the Gilets Jaunes?

The Gilets Jaunes are calling for four types of RIC. Firstly, the ability for any French citizen registered voter to propose a law; secondly, the right to propose the abrogation of any legislation; thirdly, the ability for any citizen to petition for the destitution of any elected official; and finally the right to call for an amendment to the constitution. The Gilets Jaunes demand that the RIC become enshrined in France’s Constitution. Citizens would propose legislation through an independently monitored website. If such a legislative initiative garners at least 700,000 signatures from registered voters, it would have to be discussed, and potentially amended, by the National Assembly, which would be legally obligated, exactly one year after receiving the 700,000 signed petitions, to bring it to a national referendum. This type of direct democracy by referendums exists in the world elsewhere, in countries such as Switzerland or in the US in California. Recent examples are the BREXIT saga that is still unfolding in Great Britain and the fiasco of Catalonia’s independence vote. Referendums are not a universal panacea and can potentially be manipulated either by local political players or even foreign interests.

Vox populi or wrath of angry mobs: cautionary tales about RIC

Switzerland, which has a population of 8 million, has applied direct democracy through referendums of popular initiative since 1848, with a staggering 309 referendums! While this has been overwhelmingly beneficial, as it keeps a constant citizen check and balance on government at all levels, it has on occasion drifted into unsavory Islamophobic and Orwellian measures. For example, in 2009, the country approved, through a popular referendum, a law that forbids the construction of minarets on Mosques. More recently, Switzerland’s citizens approved, by 65 percent of the votes, a state surveillance, including at home, of recipients of social benefits if they are suspected of fraud. In California, citizens’ initiatives put on the ballot made the use of marijuana legal, but on the flip side, such initiatives have also installed extremely repressive legislation such as the infamous “three strikes, you’re out,” which made recidivists of sometimes petty crimes, like shoplifting in a supermarket, rot in jail for 20 years.

Many Gilets Jaunes have been chanting “Macron Demission!” Therefore, one can assume, and they are already gathering signatures to that effect, that forcing Macron to resign is at the top of their RIC shopping list. Another item, a double-edged sword to say the least, would be a FREXIT, or BREXIT made in France. Will Corsicans or Bretons petition for their independence like Scotland did a couple of years ago? Direct democracy in France is a thrilling proposition, providing that it is not motivated by meanness, anger, racism or is secretly financed by various entities. A reasonable system of checks and balances is the key to good laws, because often people are motivated to vote with their guts and not their brains.

Gilets Jaunes Referendum by Initiative of Citizens (RIC): Push to Revive a Democracy


The illusion of democracy

The Gilets Jaunes movement took most observers and so-called experts in France and worldwide entirely by surprise, but it was actually completely predictable. The crisis simmered below the radars of France’s politicians, media, as well as those who considered themselves the enlightened figures of the intelligentsia for 50 years. By their sometimes raucous revolt, the Gilets Jaunes understand that the current democratic process is a farce, and that democracy itself has become an illusion. France is hardly an exception but more the rule in a system where citizens are not truly represented or even heard: a corrupt and opaque system, where most politicians are in the back pockets of global corporate interests which, despite campaign regulations, have found loopholes to rig elections through large money contributions and pseudo-neutral mainstream media coverage to influence public opinion. In France, the Macron administration should view the Gilets Jaunes and their bright yellow vests as thousands of irate canaries flying off a coal mine before an explosion. France’s new Sans-Culottes will not be satisfied any longer with crumbs, or even loaves of bread: instead they want control of the bakery. The Gilets Jaunes want more than money, food and stuff, they demand respect, dignity, and attention. The Vox Populi shall not be silenced! Not for trinkets or any price.

Lesser-of-two-evil elections in USA and France: dialectic of rejection

Democracy is moribund elsewhere. The United States, which is supposed to be the greatest democracy on earth, offers the unsavory option of two parties, Republican or Democrat, on its electoral menu. This difference, however, has become largely fictional, as the political class all belong to a cozy inbred Republicrat party of hand-picked plutocrats that serve corporate imperialism. This democratic illusion was duly represented in 2016 with two fake options, either Clinton or Trump, both disastrous. Which one was less repulsive to American voters? As we know, it was Trump who “won” the US empire’s election. In France, by the same powerof the negative vote, Macron was elected more as a rejection of Marine Le Pen than an adhesion to his neoliberalism, youth, or vague impulse to modernize France, whatever it meant at the time. So the second round of the French presidential election of 2017 was also a futile exercise of lesser-of-two-evils. Democracy was dead in France, and one could take RIP to mean Rest In Peace instead of Referendum d’Initiative Populaire. Can the Gilets Jaunes’ key proposal of a Referendum d’Initiative Citoyenne save a comatose political system?

Trouble in France’s imperious fifth Republic

France’s fifth Republic is 60 years old. It was established by General Charles de Gaulle on October 4, 1958. This proud military man, without political ambition at first, had already salvaged France from the ignominy of the pro-German Vichy government, and he was called during the war in Algeria to rescue the Republic again from the preliminary stages of a coup plotted by a junta of four French generals. These generals were against Algerian independence and wanted to topple the French government. De Gaulle set his conditions clearly, as he wanted to reestablish the power of the executive. Some critics viewed this constitutional change as establishing some sort of hybrid republic-monarchy, but de Gaulle’s genuine love of France commanded respect, inside and outside the country’s borders, and France’s fifth Republic resembled its imposing father-figure general: short of being imperial, it was imperious.

The Gilets Jaunes movement could mark the end of an era and the beginning of a French sixth Republic, where the excessive power in the executive branch is diminished. The French constitution has currently two types of referendums, both of them essentially top heavy. The first type, which can only be called by the president, has been used nine times during the fifth Republic; the second one, which was established in 2008, in Article 11 of the French Constitution, is a “referendum of shared initiative” and has never been used. It can be organized at the initiative of one fifth of the parliament and must be supported by at least 10 percent of the registered voters, currently 4.5 million citizens. However, this unused referendum cannot challenge the constitution.

What is the RIC requested by the Gilets Jaunes?

The Gilets Jaunes are calling for four types of RIC. Firstly, the ability for any French citizen registered voter to propose a law; secondly, the right to propose the abrogation of any legislation; thirdly, the ability for any citizen to petition for the destitution of any elected official; and finally the right to call for an amendment to the constitution. The Gilets Jaunes demand that the RIC become enshrined in France’s Constitution. Citizens would propose legislation through an independently monitored website. If such a legislative initiative garners at least 700,000 signatures from registered voters, it would have to be discussed, and potentially amended, by the National Assembly, which would be legally obligated, exactly one year after receiving the 700,000 signed petitions, to bring it to a national referendum. This type of direct democracy by referendums exists in the world elsewhere, in countries such as Switzerland or in the US in California. Recent examples are the BREXIT saga that is still unfolding in Great Britain and the fiasco of Catalonia’s independence vote. Referendums are not a universal panacea and can potentially be manipulated either by local political players or even foreign interests.

Vox populi or wrath of angry mobs: cautionary tales about RIC

Switzerland, which has a population of 8 million, has applied direct democracy through referendums of popular initiative since 1848, with a staggering 309 referendums! While this has been overwhelmingly beneficial, as it keeps a constant citizen check and balance on government at all levels, it has on occasion drifted into unsavory Islamophobic and Orwellian measures. For example, in 2009, the country approved, through a popular referendum, a law that forbids the construction of minarets on Mosques. More recently, Switzerland’s citizens approved, by 65 percent of the votes, a state surveillance, including at home, of recipients of social benefits if they are suspected of fraud. In California, citizens’ initiatives put on the ballot made the use of marijuana legal, but on the flip side, such initiatives have also installed extremely repressive legislation such as the infamous “three strikes, you’re out,” which made recidivists of sometimes petty crimes, like shoplifting in a supermarket, rot in jail for 20 years.

Many Gilets Jaunes have been chanting “Macron Demission!” Therefore, one can assume, and they are already gathering signatures to that effect, that forcing Macron to resign is at the top of their RIC shopping list. Another item, a double-edged sword to say the least, would be a FREXIT, or BREXIT made in France. Will Corsicans or Bretons petition for their independence like Scotland did a couple of years ago? Direct democracy in France is a thrilling proposition, providing that it is not motivated by meanness, anger, racism or is secretly financed by various entities. A reasonable system of checks and balances is the key to good laws, because often people are motivated to vote with their guts and not their brains.