U.S. Moving Toward Abolition
|With the signing of a death penalty abolition law in |
The country is moving painfully slowly toward joining the developed countries of the world in eliminating official state killing of people in its charge. Although there are many arguments heard on both sides of the issue, it seems clear that knowing that one might be subject to the death penalty is not a deterrent to a crime of passion or a crime committed by an unbalanced personality.
A life sentence without possibility of parole would seem to serve the same purpose for those who believe that the death penalty is a preventive measure, but the debate rages on and Americans, in general, seem to be of many different minds about it. Depending on which polls are consulted, and how the question is presented, the country remains split rather evenly on continuing use of death as a punishment.
The continuing debate on the matter involves whether a sentence of death is justice or revenge. Often, when Americans are questioned about it and an alternative sentence of life without the possibility of parole is offered, the numbers jump considerably in favor of the alternative and against death. In that light,
There are just 33 states left to consider abandoning the death penalty, in the absence of a federal law to ban the practice. What is interesting is that the
The advent of the Innocence Project, in which DNA testing has been used in many high profile cases to secure the removal from the prison system of many persons wrongly convicted of crimes, including many on death row, has changed the way most people view the U.S. incarceration rate and the application of the death penalty. The “justice” in the justice system, itself, has been questioned, and there are innumerable examples of injustices that could have been prevented, but those in power refused in many cases to “rock the boat” and call for a new trial, based on new evidence or evidence that was suppressed in the original trial.
That’s why the Innocence Project is such a revelation: because it’s based on DNA, which provides truly scientific evidence of innocence. Building a case for finding a convicted person innocent is a time-consuming project, so the numbers are quite low, when compared with the number of inmates in
In 2010, there were some 2.2 million in
There is a persistent attitude that criminals, especially those who murder or commit other acts of physical harm to victims, “deserve to die,” and there are plenty of crimes which seem to warrant such a final disposition. This is especially true among the families and friends of the victims. But, remarkably, there are those victims’ families who can summon up the courage and compassion to forgive the perpetrator, although they might not want to see them out of prison for their lifetime.
Toward the end of the Age of Enlightenment, public opinion on the death penalty was affected in part by the publication of “On Crimes and Punishments,” written byCesare Baccaria and published in 1764. The young man’s (he was 26) writing had an effect on Enlightenment figures, such as Voltaire. It was not the only writing on crime and punishment, but it had great influence among the enlightened.
Baccaria’s opposition to the death penalty was twofold: Because the state does not possess the right to take lives; and because capital punishment is neither a useful nor a necessary form of punishment. Since that time, the arguments against capital punishment have been along the same lines, whether or not either side had ever heard of Baccaria.
Of great concern to death penalty opponents is the lopsided use of it against black citizens and other minorities. But then, the ratio of black prisoners to white prisoners in the various states’ prisons and jails might give an indication (leaving the philosophy of application of law for another discussion) of how the death penalty would be dispensed.
One would think that the “liberal” states of the Northeast and upper
Here’s a sampling of incarceration rates, black to white prisoners, in some other states: In South Carolina, it’s 4.5-1. In
What’s going on here in this disparity of rates should be a specific subject in the long-standing debate about racism in the judicial system. This is a tough debate, because there are 50 states and one national government, each with its own set of laws and its own set of applications of those laws and their own prison systems. Naturally, this would not include the privatized prisons and the question about who the owners of those prisons answer to, regarding issues of individual rights under the U.S. Constitution.
What we do know is that the incarceration rate destroys black families; it destroys family and community life among other minorities, as well. And, the diminishing use of the death penalty shows us that Americans are not exactly for it, but they haven’t decided to abolish it. Martin Luther King Jr. said that the “arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice…”
Like the justness of the wars which the U.S. continually wages, the death penalty should be in constant sight of Americans, debating not only the likelihood that we will engage in the former or carry out the latter, but we should be debating the morality of both. Politicians are made uncomfortable by discussing the morality or ethics of political acts, but the people must make them open the debate.
The abolition of the death penalty in
BlackCommentator.com Columnist, John Funiciello, is a labor organizer and former union organizer. His union work started when he became a local president of The Newspaper Guild in the early 1970s. He was a reporter for 14 years for newspapers in
Friday, May 11, 2012
WAR: The “Mutual Butchery” of the Poor and Working Class
“Voter Registration Here” the banner read, under which two people, seated at a long table covered with registration forms and folded brochures, smiled at all those on their way into the grocery store. Did you register to vote? .Did you register to vote?Some people stopped and others went on. When I finished chaining my bike and passed the table and the volunteers, I did not hear the question.
She is already a voter, they might be thinking. Of course, she is already a voter, and, as a voter, she is a Democrat, of course! She is ready to cast her vote against Gov. Scott Walker. She is eager to pull the lever, again, for Barrack Obama! Of course! (Although I never voted for Walker or Obama).
What Black is not ready to vote again, do his or her civic duty, except those either in prison or those who served time and are not eligible to vote against
When I left the store, I paused in front of the voter registration table. Are you registered to vote? Maybe she’s not, huh?
No, responding as cheerfully as possible. I don’t vote.
I walk toward the library and reach for the door.
That’s why we are in the condition we are in today, the woman said.
What else is there if we do not vote?
Before December 8, 1941, when the
Activists such as James Yates and Alonzo Watson, (the first Black volunteer killed in action, February 25, 1937), did not hesitate to determine a course of action. They did not confer with “leaders” or the White House, and when Mussolini in 1935 invaded
These Black volunteers decided on their own to directly fight fascism, as they were doing so at home, abroad, not, as the Abraham Lincoln Bridge (ALB) website would have readers believe, as “idealistic,” childish dreamers or adventurers, but asinformed citizens in touch with the reality at home, a reality of oppression much akin to a Hitler or Mussolini brand of fascism.
These activists, thinkers, poets, writers, everyday Black citizens, were informed, the ABL website suggests by their embrace of “radical ideologies” and “new militancy” which particularly intensified after World War I.
The ABL website was thoughtful enough to mention the American pastime activity of lynching and the fear mongering that surrounded the Scottsboro case. But, all in all, these were the “radical” Blacks.
These so-called “radical” Black Americans could and did read and they were conversant with an international community of activists and organizers. They could read and they did, and they could interpret for themselves the meaning of Hitler’s unabashed references to the Black Diaspora, and particularly to Blacks in the
Then, those volunteers and “Negroes” and the “colored races, in general,” did not share with their white counterparts an illusion about freedom in the U.S. J.A. Rogers, a journalist, responded to comments by speakers who declared that Americans would not abide by fascism within their borders “as the American people were temperamentally opposed to it” (Defying). Paraphrasing
A review of Hitler’s “legal restrictions” of the Jews ran under the heading, “The Nazis and
Blacks, who survived combat or observed and reported on the war in
“Liberals, socialists, and communists” formed the Southern Popular Front (Defying). What was “radical” about wanting an end to oppression? About refusing to fight in a war with colonists against fascists? What was “radical” about ending imperialism?
Marxist theory provided a way for Blacks and the working class to struggle against injustice, and Communists, adherents of Marxist theory, had been strong supporters of the Black struggle. But Black Americans did not know what Rosa Luxemburg discovered a few years before: the revisionists and betrayers of Marxist theory were no less authoritarian and oppressive as their imperialist counterparts.
And certainly, no less deceptive: When the Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact (Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact) was signed in 1939 between Stalin and Hitler, Black communists, non-communist supports, and socialists awakened to their worse nightmare. Gilmore writes, “The politics of patriotism and citizenry became more complicated.”
Socialist or socialist-leaning Blacks activists and Black communist, supporters of the Russian Revolution were forced to confront the reality of a workers’ movement under siege in
Socialist or socialist-leaning Blacks activists and Black communist, supporters of the Russian Revolution were against the war not because they were supporters of Stalin and the
Few Black socialist activists analyzed how the centralization of power in a communist state averted a socialist movement of the working class. It was on to war and the self-repression of dissent.
Citizens sang and marched to the tune of Yankee Doodle Dandy in the
Where are we today?
How many Buffalo Soldiers served Empire in its determination to wipe out the Indigenous people?
And today, after bowing and capitulating to the State’s narrative of “democracy,” how much longer can Black Americans insist the collective holds the high moral ground when Barrack Obama impoverishes, furthers the militarization of the police, spies on citizens, tortures, imprisons, deports, and kills better than previous State leadership under the control of corporate rule? It is not just the devastation of life and Earth but the marketing and selling of the technological tools to end life on Earth.
Before December 8, 1941, when Marxist theorist and activist Rosa Luxemburg fought the good war against capitalistic imperialism, she warned: no compromise! What is the secret? Organization! It comes down to organization, Luxemburg warned. Agitation, protest, is sustained by organizing their tactics and strategies to bring about revolutionary change (“Organizational Question of Russian Social Democracy”). 
In her critique of the Russian Revolution, Luxemburg writes of the challenge facing the working class movement and warns of the resulting totalitarian state that usurps the momentum and struggle of the people to bring about an end to oppression and the staggering discrepancy between those who rip power from the people and the people themselves.
In Germany under Bismarck, she writes, the Anti-Socialist Law intended “only to place the working class beyond the bounds of the constitution,” and the government did this, Luxemburg continues, “in a highly developed bourgeois society where class antagonisms had been laid bare and fully exposed in parlimentarism” (“Organizational”). Whereas in Russian, she writes, “social democracy must be created in the absence of the direct political domination of the bourgeoisie.”
In Russia, she argues, we have the development of centralism, and she points to Comrade Lenin’s One Step Forward, Two Steps Back, in which he warns against “ultracentralism” of the Blanquist but nonetheless, defends a form of centralism that leads to the Central Committee, which has, as Luxemburg explains, “the right to organize all the local committees of the party and thus also to determine the membership of every individual Russian local organization…to provide them with a ready-made local statue, to dissolve and reconstitute them by fiat and hence also to exert indirect influence on the composition of the highest party organ, the congress.” Thus, “the Central Committee emerges as the real active nucleus of the party; all the remaining organizations are merely its executive instruments.”
Organization with a socialist perspective is “radically different,” Luxemburg argues, in that it “operates within the dialectical contradiction that here it is only in the struggle itself that the proletarian army is itself recruited and only in the struggle that it becomes conscious of the purpose of the struggle.”
Luxemburg warns: “[s]ocial democracy is not linked to the organization of the working class; it is the working class’s own movement.”
And if Lenin’s intent is to “instill” discipline in the workers, she adds, it is already there. The workers are disciplined “not just by the factory but also by the barracks and by modern bureaucracy - in a word, by the active mechanism of the centralized bourgeois state.”
What is needed is “education” for a “new discipline,” one that is “voluntary self-discipline.” Only by “defying and uprooting” this discipline instilled in them by the capitalist state, Luxemburg explains, can the movement of workers avoid the road leading to a totalitarian state where the workers’ “spontaneous creative process of development” is sacrificed to the dictates of the leadership. Whether totalitarian or “democratic” government, citizens have been corralled fighting imperialist wars. In other words, Rosa Luxemburg warned against the legalization of repression, where protest, in a totalitarian or in a so-called “Democratic” State narrative, represents transgression, and workers, activists, and thinkers who dissent become the Emmanuel Goldstein of Orwell’s 1984, subject to derogation and marginalization.
Years before, in her essay, “The Junius Pamphlet: The Crisis in German Social Democracy,”  Luxemburg, in prison for opposing World War I, (and she was considered “radical” within the SPD) provides a narrative of the reality of war.
Capitalist rule, she writes, is caught in a trap, and “cannot ban the spirit it has invoked.” The disillusion that is the experience of the soldiers and the citizens also serves as the springboard for its re-awakening. Luxemburg describes the scene in
Oh, yes, she continues, “business is flourishing upon the ruins.”
And in this orgy a world tragedy has occurred, Luxemburg writes: “the capitulation of the Social Democracy.” But however “unspeakable” the suffering or the “countess mistakes,” the workers’ struggle is not lost and neither is socialism. “Self-criticism, cruel, unsparing criticism that goes to the root of the evil is life… [and socialism] is lost only if the international proletariat is unable to measure the depths of the catastrophe and refuses to understand the lesson that it teaches.”
Luxemburg recalls Friedrich Engels: “capitalist society faces a dilemma, either an advance to socialism or a reversion to barbarism.” Reversion to barbarism targets the enemy within and becomes visible in the “the police theory of bourgeois patriotism and military rule.” Luxemburg asks:
War is used to combat the “enemy within” as well as the enemy without. Did not Marx observe that wars, Luxemburg writes, are conducted for the “mutual butchery of the proletariat’”?
It is not an accident that pogroms such as COINTELPRO, the War on Drugs, Secure Communities, and drug disparity laws have targeted Black, Brown, and Red communities just as it is not an accident that
But no one state creates imperialism, as Luxemburg writes. Imperialism, she explains, “is a product of a particular stage of ripeness in the world development of capital, an innately international condition, an indivisible whole, that is recognizable only in all its relations, and form which no nation can hold aloof at will. From this point of view only is it possible to understand correctly the question of ‘national defense’ in the present war.”
Critical of the German Left’s interpretation of socialism, Luxemburg insists that their understanding of the workings of imperialism and their subsequent betrayal of the working classes’ struggle was in fact a betrayal of socialism. The Left did not put forth a “wrong” policy - it simply had “no policy whatsoever,” Luxemburg argues. Convictions were thrown to the wind in exchange for the acquisition of power.
But the working class will have the last word. Successful popular movements, Luxemburg writes, depends “on the very time and circumstances of their inception.” and is decided “by a number of economic, political and psychological factors.”
“Political slogans” from the established party claiming to be a party of the people, Luxemburg argues, are also suspect. We see today that the “two-party” system is but one party with two faces under corporate rule. The Democratic Party, “of the people,” as it claims, is “a leadership in a great historical crisis,” where the “technical leadership” provides the political slogan. Give us your fives and tens and then vote! In turn, “Change You Can Believe In” is answered by the people in struggle, shouting in unison, “We are the 99%!” We make the change!
Instead of “national defense” leading to more “national wars,” “fratricidal wars,” Luxemburg exclaims that the proletariat “of all lands” will come to recognize “that she or he shares “one and the same interests.” The struggle here for affordable and decent housing, for affordable and meaningful education, for health care for all, the struggle for Palestinian rights and homeland, the struggle for clean water, food uncontaminated by corporate pesticides or uncorrupted by their seeds, for an end to totalitarian and to the aggression of so-called “democratic” nations of the willing becomes The Struggle against imperialism - and for humanity and the survival of Mother Earth.
What else is there if we do not vote?
Our time is now!
BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board member, Lenore Jean Daniels, PhD, has a Doctorate in Modern American Literature/Cultural Theory. Click here to contact Dr. Daniels.
 Defying Dixie: The Radical Roots of Civil Rights, 1919-1950, Glenda Elizabeth Gilmore, 2008).
 “Southern politicians capitalized on the antialien hysteria to further their own down-home racist agendas…”
 Written between February and April 1915, The Rosa Luxemburg Reader, editors Peter Hudis and Kevin B. Anderson, 2004.
African Liberation Day 2012: Part II
This is the second of a two part series discussing the origin and development of African Liberation Day (click here to read Part I).
The month of May is very important in the worldwide African Liberation Movement. During this month, throughout the African world Community, African Liberation Day (ALD) is celebrated.
It is important that African Liberation Day be a vehicle to continue to highlight the problems, challenges and the future of African people everywhere. The challenges facing Africa and African people worldwide require that we remain dedicated to the cause of
The colonial period in Africa, as well as the enslavement of African people who were captured and brought to North America, had a devastating impact on
African people did not sit idly by. Just as we resisted our slave circumstances in
African people began waging a battle to reclaim their lands. This has been a long and bitter struggle. Resistance to white supremacy and colonial domination took many shapes and forms.
The Pan African meetings (1900-1945) provided a mechanism for a small group of African leaders to plan and plot strategy for African freedom. The Garvey Movement of the 1920s brought the idea of African freedom and independence to the masses of our people around the world. “
It was not until the early 1950s that the first African country gained political independence in the movement to reclaim
This independence movement sparked an onslaught of African people reclaiming their territories and led to the formation of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) in May 1963. (This is why we celebrate ALD in May.) It was during this period that Malcolm X linked the struggle of African people in this country with the struggle of African people worldwide.
It is interesting to note that the Civil Rights Movement in this country was sparked in
The call for support of our brothers and sisters fighting against the Portuguese in
African Liberation Day is a day when all Black people should come together. As I have emphasized many times before, whether you were born in Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, Ethiopia, South Africa, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Jamaica, Belize, Bahia, Germany, England, France, Alabama, Georgia, or on 47th Street in Chicago, as long as you are Black, you are an African with a common heritage and a common set of conditions. We must continue to fight against racism and white supremacy as we demand reparations for African people in
This is a new John Franklin Ganzer story I just first heard told, although, by now, it is 24 years old!
My youngest sister Marianne was in town last week (28 April, 2012 - 5 May, 2012). She spent about 50 hours doing all the things that needed to be done to create "Anne's Garden" along the south wall of the house, which overlooks the fence between us and the neighbors on the South side of the house, where resides Anne's lovingly crafted / created "John's Garden."
Marianne told a John Ganzer story I'd never heard before.
Very shortly before John died, he called Marianne and his partner Jay Poindexter together to tell them something "very serious." "Under no circumstances," began John, "is Kevin MacInerney to be allowed to serve nacho chips at my memorial service." John and Jay had attended so many memorial services, and they had decided there would be nothing "cheesy" about John's; nothing declassé!
And then a week or so before he died, John called Marianne into the room to tell her / show her, where his will was kept, because he knew the time was soon coming, and he wanted to make sure that she knew.
After he died, Marianne and Jay were having a meeting with Kevin (who had been tasked with making the memorial services preparations) and as he was joyously telling them everything that was to be for the celebration, Marianne had to put her foot down: Keven, John insisted that there be NO NACHO CHIPS! Jay supported her in this.
Keven went apoplectic! OH COURSE there are to be nacho chips. John had it written into h is will!
"Kevin," says Marianne, calmly, I KNOW where the will is located.
"But, it's right in there! It's right in there!" Kevin insisted.
"Keven, do you really want to force me to go and get out the will and read it to prove that you are badly off the mark and mistaken about this matter? Because I KNOW where the will is, and I WILL go and read it, right here and now!"
"It's in the will! It's in the will!" gasps Kevin.
"Okay," says Marianne, "You have brought this all upon yourself Kevin."
So, she gets it, and starts reading. "Page one, Kevin. No mention of nacho chips. Page two, Kevin; page three; page four."
And as she began to read page five, her eyes came upon an ink embossed, hand written note, saying, "And provided that Kevin PROMISES to use GLASS wine glasses, he can go ahead and also serve nacho chips."
For, you see, it was the PLASTIC WINE GLASSES that most terrified John, as leaving a mark of pastiche, of unsophistication, entirely unwarranted for one who had performed in all 743 on Broadway performances of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.
And simultaneously, Kevin, Jay, and Marianne start belly laughing so loudly, that the neighbors are afraid the cops have come to raid the whore house on the third floor of that rent-controlled New York City apartment that Jay and John shared. They are literally in tears, on the floor, rolling around, damn near like crazed beasts.
OH JOHN! You little rascal. Must been a pretty good day, you all alone here, thinking, to yourself, "hey, this is a pretty good day, all things considered. I'd like to do something FUN! I'd like to do something mischievous. What in the world can I do, to really trick my beloved sister, my beloved partner, and my dear dear friend, who are all doing so much for me, and will have so much to do after I am gone? I've GOT IT! I've GOT IT! I will pull the all time trick on them; not a one of them shall see it coming! Oh what joy and delight there will be in heaven as the angels and we all gother to watch the conversation that will ensue once Marianne and Jay insist to Kevin that there will be NO NACHOS to be served at my memorial. What delightful joy theree will be in heaven upon that glorious day. Hee hee hee! Ha ha ha! I just LOVE MY LIFE!"
Tuesday, May 8, 2012
On OWS, Anarchism, Labor, Racism,
Corporate Power and the Class War
Talking With Chomsky
by LAURA FLANDERS
A CounterPunch Exclusive
Noam Chomsky has not just been watching the Occupy movement. A veteran of the civil rights, anti-war, and anti-intervention movements of the 1960s through the 1980s, he’s given lectures at Occupy Boston and talked with occupiers across the US. A new publication from theOccupied Media Pamphlet Series brings together several of those lectures, a speech on “occupying foreign policy” and a brief tribute to his friend and co-agitator Howard Zinn.
From his speeches, and in this conversation, it’s clear that the emeritus MIT professor and author is as impressed by the spontaneous, cooperative communities some Occupy encampments created, as he is by the movement’s political impact.
We’re a nation whose leaders are pursuing policies that amount to economic “suicide” Chomsky says. But there are glimmers of possibility – in worker co-operatives, and other spaces where people get a taste of a different way of living.
We talked in his office, for Free Speech TV on April 24.
LF: Let’s start with the big picture. How do you describe the situation we’re in, historically?
NC: There is either a crisis or a return to the norm of stagnation. One view is the norm is stagnation and occasionally you get out of it. The other is that the norm is growth and occasionally you can get into stagnation. You can debate that but it’s a period of close to global stagnation. In the major state capitalists economies, Europe and the US, it’s low growth and stagnation and a very sharp income differentiation a shift — a striking shift — from production to financialization.
The US and Europe are committing suicide in different ways. In Europe it’s austerity in the midst of recession and that’s guaranteed to be a disaster. There’s some resistance to that now. In the US, it’s essentially off-shoring production and financialization and getting rid of superfluous population through incarceration. It’s a subtext of what happened in Cartagena [Colombia] last week with the conflict over the drug war. Latin America wants to decriminalize at least marijuana (maybe more or course;) the US wants to maintain it. An interesting story. There seems to me no easy way out of this….
LF: And politically…?
NC: Again there are differences, In Europe there’s an dangerous growth of ultra xenophobia which is pretty threatening to any one who remembers the history of Europe… and an attack on the remnants of the welfare state. It’s hard to interpret the austerity-in-the-midst-of-recession policy as anything other than attack on the social contract. In fact, some leaders come right out and say it. Mario Draghi the president of the European Central Bank had an interview with the Wall St Journal in which he said the social contract’s dead; we finally got rid of it.
In the US, first of all, the electoral system has been almost totally shredded. For a long time it’s been pretty much run by private concentrated spending but now it’s over the top. Elections increasingly over the years have been [public relations] extravaganzas. It was understood by the ad industry in 2008, they gave Barack Obama their marketing award of the year. This year it’s barely a pretense.
The Republican Party has pretty much abandoned any pretense of being a traditional political party. It’s in lockstep obedience to the very rich, the super rich and the corporate sector. They can’t get votes that way so they have to mobilize a different constituency. It’s always been there, but it’s rarely been mobilized politically. They call it the religious right, but basically it’s the extreme religious population. The US is off the spectrum in religious commitment. It’s been increasing since 1980 but now it’s a major part of the voting base of the Republican Party so that means committing to anti-abortion positions, opposing women’s rights… The US is a country [in which] eighty percent of the population thinks the Bible was written by god. About half think every word is literally true. So it’s had to appeal to that – and to the nativist population, the people that are frightened, have always been… It’s a very frightened country and that’s increasing now with the recognition that the white population is going to be a minority pretty soon, “they’ve taken our country from us.” That’s the Republicans. There are no more moderate Republicans. They are now the centrist Democrats. Of course the Democrats are drifting to the Right right after them. The Democrats have pretty much given up on the white working class. That would require a commitment to economic issues and that’s not their concern.
LF: You describe Occupy as the first organized response to a thirty-year class war….
NC: It’s a class war, and a war on young people too… that’s why tuition is rising so rapidly. There’s no real economic reason for that. It’s a technique of control and indoctrination. And this is really the first organized, significant reaction to it, which is important.
LF: Are comparisons to Arab Spring useful?
NC: One point of similarity is they’re both responses to the toll taken by the neo lib programs. They have a different effect in a poor country like Egypt than a rich country like the US. But structurally somewhat similar In Egypt the neoliberal programs have meant statistical growth, like right before the Arab Spring, Egypt was a kind of poster child for the World Bank and the IMF [International Monetary Fund:] the marvelous economic management and great reform. The only problem was for most of the population it was a kind of like a blow in the solar plexus: wages going down, benefits being eliminated, subsidized food gone and meanwhile, high concentration of wealth and a huge amount of corruption.
We have a structural analogue here – in fact the same is true in South America – some of the most dramatic events of the last decade (and we saw it again in Cartagena a couple of weeks ago) Latin America is turning towards independence for the first time in five hundred years. That’s not small. And the Arab Spring was beginning to follow it. There’s a counterrevolution in the Middle East/North Africa (MENAC) countries beating it back, but there were advances. In South America [there were] substantial ones and that’s happening in the Arab Spring and it has a contagious effect – it stimulated the Occupy movement and there are interactions.
LF. In the media, there was a lot of confusion in the coverage of Occupy. Is there a contradiction between anarchism and organization? Can you clarify?
NC: Anarchism means all sort of things to different people but the traditional anarchists’ movements assumed that there’d be a highly organized society, just one organized from below with direct participation and so on. Actually, one piece of the media confusion has a basis because there really are two different strands in the occupy movement, both important, but different.
One is policy oriented: what policy goals [do we want.] Regulate the banks, get money out of elections; raise the minimum wage, environmental issues. They’re all very important and the Occupy movement made a difference. It shifted not only the discourse but to some extent, action on these issues.
The other part is just creating communities — something extremely important in a country like this, which is very atomized. People don’t talk to each other. You’re alone with your television set or internet. But you can’t have a functioning democracy without what sociologists call “secondary organizations,” places where people can get together, plan, talk and develop ideas. You don’t do it alone. The Occupy movement did create spontaneously communities that taught people something: you can be in a supportive community of mutual aid and cooperation and develop your own health system and library and have open space for democratic discussion and participation. Communities like that are really important. And maybe that’s what’s causing the media confusion…because it’s both.
LF: Is that why the same media that routinely ignores violence against women, played up stories about alleged rape and violence at OWS camps?
NC: That’s standard practice. Every popular movement that they want to denigrate they pick up on those kind of things. Either that, or weird dress or something like that. I remember once in 1960s, there was a demonstration that went from Boston to
Washington and tv showed some young woman with a funny hat and strange something or other. There was an independent channel down in Washington – sure enough, showed the very same woman. That’s what they’re looking for. Let’s try to show that it’s silly and insignificant and violent if possible and you get a fringe of that everywhere.
To pay attention to the actual core of the movement — that would be pretty hard. Can you concentrate for example on either the policy issues or the creation of functioning democratic communities of mutual support and say, well, that’s what’s lacking in our country that’s why we don’t have a functioning democracy – a community of real participation. That’s really important. And that always gets smashed.
Take say, Martin Luther King. Listen to the speeches on MLK Day – and it’s all “I have a dream.” But he had another dream and he presented that in his last talk in Memphis just before he was assassinated. In which he said something about how he’s like Moses he can see the promised land but how we’re not going to get there. And the promised land was policies and developments which would deal with the poverty and repression, not racial, but the poor people’s movement. Right after that (the assassination) there was a march. [King] was going to lead it. Coretta Scott King led it. It started in Memphis went through the South to the different places where they’d fought the civil rights battle and ended up in Washington DC and they had a tent city, Resurrection Park and security forces were called in by the liberal congress. The most liberal congress in memory. They broke in in the middle of the night smashed up Resurrection Park and drove them out of the city. That’s the way you deal with popular movements that are threatening…
LF: Thinking of Memphis, where Dr. King was supporting striking sanitation workers, what are your thoughts on the future of the labor movement?
The labor movement had been pretty much killed in the 1920s, almost destroyed. It revived in the 1930s and made a huge difference. By the late 1930s the business world was already trying to find ways to beat it back. They had to hold off during the war but right after, it began immediately. Taft Hartley was 1947, then you get a huge corporate propaganda campaign a large part if it directed at labor unions: why they’re bad and destroy harmony and amity in the US. Over the years that’s had an effect. The Labor movement recognized what was going on far too late. Then it picked up under Reagan.
Reagan pretty much informed employers that they were not going to employ legal constraints on breaking up unions (they weren’t not strong but there were some) and firing of workers for organizing efforts I think tripled during the Reagan years.
Clinton came along; he had a different technique for breaking unions, it was called NAFTA [the North American Free Trade Agreement.] Under NAFTA there was again a sharp increase in illegal blocking of organizing efforts. You put up a sign – We’re going to transfer operations to Mexico… It’s illegal but if you have a criminal state, it doesn’t make a difference.
The end result, is, private sector unionization is down to practically seven percent. Meanwhile the public sector unions have kind of sustained themselves [even] under attack, but in the last few years, there’s been a sharp [increase in the] attack on public sector unions, which Barack Obama has participated in, in fact. When you freeze salaries of federal workers, that’s equivalent to taxing public sector people…
LF: And attacks on collective bargaining?
NC: Attacks on collective bargaining in Wisconsin [are part of] a whole range of attacks because that’s an attack on a part of the labor movement that was protected by the legal system as a residue of the New Deal and Great Society and so on.
LF: So do unions have a future?
NC: Well, it’s not worse than the 1920s. There was a very lively active militant labor movement in the late part of the 19th century, right through the early part of 20th century. [It was] smashed up by Wilson and the red scares. By the 1920s right-wing visitors from England were coming and just appalled by the way workers were treated. It was pretty much gone. But by 1930s it was not only revived, it was the core element of bringing about the New Deal. The organization of the CIO and the sit-down strikes which were actually terrifying to management because it was one step before saying “O.K. Goodbye, we’re going to run the factory.” And that was a big factor in significant New Deal measures that were not trivial but made a big difference.
Then, after the war, starts the attack, but it’s a constant battle right though American history. It’s the history of this country and the history of every other country too, but the US happens to have an unusually violent labor history. Hundreds of workers getting killed here for organizing at a time that was just unheard of in Europe or Australia…
LF: What is the Number One target of power today in your view? Is it corporations, Congress, media, courts?
NC: The Media are corporations so… It’s the concentrations of private power which have an enormous, not total control, but enormous influence over Congress and the White House and that’s increasing sharply with sharp concentration of private power and escalating cost of elections and so on…
LF: As we speak, there are shareholder actions taking place in Detroit and San Francisco. Are those worthwhile, good targets?
NC: They’re ok, but remember, stock ownership in the US is very highly concentrated. [Shareholder actions are] something, but it’s like the old Communist Party in the USSR, it would be nice to see more protest inside the Communist Party but it’s not democracy. It’s not going to happen. [Shareholder actions] are a good step, but they’re mostly symbolic. Why not stakeholder action? There’s no economic principal that says that management should be responsive to shareholders, in fact you can read in texts of business economics that they could just as well have a system in which the management is responsible to stakeholders.
LF: But you hear it all the time that under law, the CEO’s required to increase dividends to shareholders.
NC: It’s kind of a secondary commitment of the CEO. The first commitment is raise your salary. One of the ways to raise your salary sometimes is to have short-term profits but there are many other ways. In the last thirty years there have been very substantial legal changes to corporate governance so by now CEOs pretty much pick the boards that give them salaries and bonuses. That’s one of the reasons why the CEO-to-payment [ratio] has so sharply escalated in this country in contrast to Europe. (They’re similar societies and it’s bad enough there, but here we’re in the stratosphere. ] There’s no particular reason for it. Stakeholders — meaning workers and community – the CEO could just as well be responsible to them. This presupposes there ought to be management but why does there have to be management? Why not have the stakeholders run the industry?
LF: Worker co-ops are a growing movement. One question that I hear is — will change come from changing ownership if you don’t change the profit paradigm?
NC: It’s a little like asking if shareholder voting is a good idea, or the Buffet rule is a good idea. Yes, it’s a good step, a small step. Worker ownership within a state capitalist, semi-market system is better than private ownership but it has inherent problems. Markets have well-known inherent inefficiencies. They’re very destructive. The obvious one, in a market system, in a really functioning one, whoever’s making the decisions doesn’t pay attention to what are called externalities,effects on others. I sell you a car, if our eyes are open we’ll make a good deal for ourselves but we’re not asking how it’s going to affect her [over there.] It will, there’ll be more congestion, gas prices will go up, there will be environmental effects and that multiplies over the whole population. Well, that’s very serious.
Take a look at the financial crisis. Ever since the New Deal regulation was essentially dismantled, there have been regular financial crises and one of the fundamental reasons, it’s understood, is that the CEO of Goldman Sachs or CitiGroup does not pay attention to what’s calledsystemic risk. Maybe you make a risky transaction and you cover your own potential losses, but you don’t take into account the fact that if it crashes it may crash the entire system. Which is what a financial crash is.
The much more serious example of this is environmental impacts. In the case of financial institutions when they crash, the taxpayer comes to the rescue, but if you destroy the environment no one is going to come to the rescue…
LF: So it sounds as if you might support something like the Cleveland model where the ownership of the company is actually held by members of the community as well as the workers…
NC: That’s a step forward but you also have to get beyond that to dismantle the system of production for profit rather than production for use. That means dismantling at least large parts of market systems. Take the most advanced case: Mondragon. It’s worker owned, it’s not worker managed, although the management does come from the workforce often, but it’s in a market system and they still exploit workers in South America, and they do things that are harmful to the society as a whole and they have no choice. If you’re in a system where you must make profit in order to survive. You are compelled to ignore negative externalities, effects on others.
Markets also have a very bad psychological effect. They drive people to a conception of themselves and society in which you’re only after your own good, not the good of others and that’s extremely harmful.
LF: Have you ever had a taste of a non market system — had a flash of optimism –– oh this is how we could live?
NC: A functioning family for example, and there are bigger groups, cooperatives are a case in point. It certainly can be done. The biggest I know is Mondragon but there are many in between and a lot more could be done. Right here in Boston in one of the suburbs about two years ago, there was a small but profitable enterprise building high tech equipment. The multi-national who owned the company didn’t want to keep it on the books so they decided to close it down. The workforce and the union, UE (United Electrical workers), offered to buy it, and the community was supportive. It could have worked if there had been popular support. If there had been an Occupy movement then, I think that could have been a great thing for them to concentrate on. If it had worked you would have had another profitable, worker-owned and worker managed profitable enterprise. There‘s a fair amount of that already around the country. Gar Alperovitz has written about them, Seymour Melman has worked on them. Jonathan Feldman was working on these things.
There are real examples and I don’t see why they shouldn’t survive. Of course they’re going to be beaten back. The power system is not going to want them any more than they want popular democracy any more than the states of middle east and the west are going to tolerate the Arab spring… .They’re going to try to beat it back.
LF: They tried to beat back the sit-in strikes back in the 1930s. What we forget is entire communities turned out to support those strikes. In Flint, cordons of women stood between the strikers and the police.
NC: Go back a century to Homestead, the worker run town, and they had to send in the National Guard to destroy them.
LF: Trayvon Martin. Can you talk for a few minutes about the role of racism and racial violence in what we’ve been talking about? Some people think of fighting racism as separate from working on economic issues.
NC: Well you know, there clearly is a serious race problem in the country. Just take a look at what’s happening to African American communities. For example wealth, wealth in African American communities is almost zero. The history is striking. You take a look at the history of African Americans in the US. There’s been about thirty years of relative freedom. There was a decade after the Civil War and before north/south compact essentially recriminalized black life. During the Second World War there was a need for free labor so there was a freeing up of the labor force. Blacks benefitted from it. It lasted for about twenty years, the big growth period in the ‘50s and ‘60s, so a black man could get a job in an auto plant and buy a house and send his kids to college and kind of enter into the world but by the 70s it was over.
With the radical shift in the economy, basically the workforce, which is partly white but also largely black, they basically became superfluous. Look what happened, we recriminalized black life. Incarceration rates since the 1908s have gone through the roof, overwhelmingly black males, women and Hispanics to some extent. Essentially re-doing what happened under Reconstruction. That’s the history of African Americans – so how can any one say there’s no problem. Sure, racism is serious, but it’s worse than that…
LF: Talk about media. We often discern bias in the telling of a particular story, but I want you to talk more broadly about the way our money media portray power, democracy, the role of the individual in society and the way that change happens. …
NC: Well they don’t want change to happen….They’re right in the center of the system of power and domination. First of all the media are corporations, parts of bigger corporations, they’re very closely linked to other systems of power both in personnel and interests and social background and everything else. Naturally they tend to be reactionary.
LF: But they sort of give us a clock. If change hasn’t happened in ten minutes, it’s not going to happen.
NC: Well that’s a technique of indoctrination. That’s something I learned from my own experience. There was once an interview with Jeff Greenfield in which he was asked why I was never asked ontoNightline. He gave a good answer. He said the main reason was that I lacked concision. I had never heard that word before. You have to have concision. You have to say something brief between two commercials.
What can you say that’s brief between two commercials? I can say Iran is a terrible state. I don’t need any evidence. I can say Ghaddaffi carries out terror. Suppose I try to say the US carries out terror, in fact it’s one of the leading terrorist states in the world. You can’t say that between commercials. People rightly want to know what do you mean. They’ve never heard that before. Then you have to explain. You have to give background. That’s exactly what’s cut out. Concision is a technique of propaganda. It ensures you cannot do anything except repeat clichés, the standard doctrine, or sound like a lunatic.
LF: What about media’s conception of power? Who has it, who doesn’t have it and what’s our role if we’re not say, president or CEO.
NC: Well, not just the media but pretty much true of academic world, the picture is we the leading democracy in the world, the beacon of freedom and rights and democracy. The fact that democratic participation here is extremely marginal, doesn’t enter [the media story.] The media will condemn the elections in Iran, rightly, because the candidates have to be vetted by the clerics. But they won’t point out that in the United States [candidates] have to be vetted by high concentrations of private capital. You can’t run in an election unless you can collect millions of dollars.
One interesting case is right now. This happens to be the 50thanniversary of the US invasion of South Vietnam – the worst atrocity in the post war period. Killed millions of people, destroyed four countries, total horror story. Not a word. It didn’t happen because “we” did it. So it didn’t happen.
Take 9-11. That means something in the United States. The “world changed” after 9-11. Well, do a slight thought experiment. Suppose that on 9-11 the planes had bombed the White House… suppose they’d killed the president , established a military dictatorship, quickly killed thousands, tortured tens of thousands more, set up a major international terror center that was carrying out assassinations , overthrowing governments all over the place, installing other dictatorships, and drove the country into one of the worst depressions in its history and had to call on the state to bail them out Suppose that had happened? It did happen. On the first 9-11 in 1973. Except we were responsible for it, so it didn’t happen. That’s Allende’s Chile. You can’t imagine the media talking about this.
And you can generalize it broadly. The same is pretty much true of scholarship – except for on the fringes – it’s certainly true of the mainstream of the academic world. In some respects critique of the media is a bit misleading [because they’re not alone among institutions of influence] and of course, they closely interact.
LAURA FLANDERS is the host of The Laura Flanders Show coming to public television stations later this year. She was the host and founder of GRITtv.org. Follow her on Twitter: @GRITlaura.