A Basket of Oppressions
By James Hunter
Given the reality of the probable extinction of the human race, we are faced with two difficult questions: What kind of political action is possible and relevant at this point? How do we remain motivated to act with hope? This article suggests a way of understanding our situation that may enhance our capacity for energetic political action, despite the bleak circumstances within which we find ourselves.
I. The outside probability of survival.
The better informed we are, the more likely it is that we will despair. Anyone who follows the news, even in a cursory manner, is aware of the multiple threats that we face: nuclear war, ecological collapse, global warming, and a humanly facilitated or created pandemic. The odds at this point seem to be against the human race surviving as a viable species. Given the probability of the annihilation of human species, we are forced to ask two important questions:
What kind of political action is possible and relevant at this point?
How do we remain motivated to act with hope?
In 1942 Thornton Wilder wrote a play called "The Skin of Our Teeth." The central theme of this play was that again and again humanity comes close to annihilating itself, but then somehow, "by the skin of our teeth" we manage to save ourselves and move on. Perhaps this will continue to be true. And perhaps not. But if we are going to continue to engage in meaningful political action, we must entertain the possibility that, against all odds, we may survive. Otherwise the futility of making any effort at all will lead us to despair and inaction. In this essay I would like to share some thoughts about what this survival might look like, should it happen. If my conjectures about our possible future are even approximately correct, they do suggest some guidelines for ways in which we might best channel our efforts for political action.
That the Western world is totally dominated by a very small group of people who control the multinational corporations and banks is hardly news. This small elite group is frequently referred to as the "1%." I believe that the number of people who actually run things is considerably less than 1% of the population, but it's a useful term.
It appears to me that there are significant fault lines that are divide this apparently monolithic group. While many of the 1% are located within the United States, and the United States military is used as their police force, I think that a very large proportion of the 1% have no commitment whatsoever, either to the United States, or to any other nation. Their sole concern is that, as the world moves toward a single global system, it will be ruled by multinational banks and corporations. These could be called non-patriotic global capitalists. Another segment of the 1% are true (and rather fanatical) patriotic global nationalist s . These are individuals who are obsessed with the idea that one capitalist nation-state should gain dominance over all the others. Obviously the United State s, is, at present time, the primary contender for such a position.
It is possible that there is an additional fault line within the 1%. There may in fact be a minority of people within this group who actually wish for a more equitable distribution of resources, and would like to see a world run on democratic principles. In other words there may be a small group of people who have inherited a great deal of wealth, but nevertheless lean in the direction of socialism. Given the current dominance of neo-liberal thinking, these socialist-leaning people would probably keep most of their views to themselves. I'll call them closet socialist s . I knew one once. Beyond that, I confess that I am at a loss to produce very much evidence for the existence of these hypothetical closet socialist. Even so, I think it is unlikely that all wealthy people are sociopaths who are totally lacking in empathy for the rest of humanity. There must be more than a few Tolstoys hidden away among them.
The 1%s of the major powers
In an article in Global Reasearch, "The Federal Reserve Cartel: The Eight Families"1 Dean Henderson suggests that just eight families essentially own the Federal Reserve -- four of which reside in the US: the Goldman Sachs, Rockefellers, Lehmans and Kuhn Loebs, and four from Europe: the Rothschilds; the Warburgs ; the Lazards; and the Israel Moses Seifs.
An article in Bloomberg Business2 makes it clear that China as well as the United States is ruled by a few wealthy families. The article points out that "the income gap in urban China has widened more than in any other country in Asia over the past 20 years, according to the International Monetary Fund." This change, of course, was a result of its shift to capitalism.
An article in the New York Times, "Russia's Oligarchy, Alive and Well" by Andrew Weiss3 sums up the situation there as follows: " Yet Russia's oligarchy (that is, the control of the state and economy by a small group of well-placed, extremely wealthy insiders) is alive and well. The supposedly all-powerful Mr. Putin actually devotes much of his time to refereeing bitter disputes between oligarchs like Igor I. Sechin, the head of the state oil company Rosneft, and Gennady N. Timchenko, a co-owner of Russia's largest oil trading company and an independent natural gas producer..."
It would appear that every major power in the world has its 1%, which is hardly surprising. Capitalism, after all, invariably produces a small elite of very wealthy people opposed to majority of people who live in various degrees of impoverishment. Probably a significant, but unknowable, proportion of these ruling families are more concerned about their own comfort and well- being th a n they are about which nation state gains control over the others. In other words they are non-patriotic global capitalists.
The IMF has now added the Chinese Yuan to its "basket of currencies" alongside the dollar, the euro, the pound and the yen. This basket of currencies has displaced the dollar as the world's reserve currency. This can only be understood as a step on the part of the non-patriotic globalists to establish the international banks and corporations, ruled by a tiny group of international elites, to be the undisputed rulers of the world. There can be little question that will weaken the dollar and along with it, the economy of the United States.
It remains to be seen whether the patriotic global capitalists of the United States will blow up the whole world in a temper tantrum as a reaction to the frustration of their dream of absolute power -- full spectrum dominance as they call it.
In the short term, probably the most serious threat to the survival of the human race is nuclear war. The non-patriotic global capitalists would prefer to avoid policies that will lead inevitably to such a war. They may not be committed to, or concerned about, any group of people other than their own class. They may even be quite happy to fund wars that are no danger to themselves. But they are not insane. They realize that a nuclear war would not be in their interest. Patriotic global capitalists, on the other hand do seem to be insane. The patriotic global capitalists in the United States are currently pursuing policies that will almost inevitably lead to a third world war, in order that the United States will be able to rule over all others. This is indeed the philosophy of mad people.
Although dialogues that the 1% have with one another are considerably less than transparent, I think it is safe to assume that a struggle between the patriotic globalists, and the non-patriotic globalists is a central aspect of the present political reality. From the point of view of non-patriotic global capitalists, the desired solution is actually fairly simple. Why should the ruling families and individuals of all of the major powers not simply join together for the exploitation of everybody else? If this group should prevail, we will probably avoid a third world war. However, the outcome will be far from desirable in most other ways. We will find ourselves ruled by a global fascist system of multinational banks and corporations.
A third possibility is that one or more collapse factor s might lead to a cataclysm that destroys an extremely high percentage of humanity, but leaves a remnant to start again. Scenarios that would lead to this outcome are so varied and complex we can only speculate what things might look like after the cataclysm. All that we can say with certainty is that such an event would mark the end of civilization as we know it. Perhaps in that case something resembling a hunter-gathering way of life might re-assert itself. Some might see hope in this, and some not. But few would wish the for the massive level of horror that would have to precede such a development.
So let us return to the establishment of the global fascist system. As dismal as this prognosis is, it does suggest that some new avenues for action may be opened up in the future.
II. The prospects for a successful revolution
If the direction of events more or less follows the global fascist trajectory that I have just outlined here, we may end up with a world in which the only significant fracture line remaining is social class. The destruction of national boundaries will have a devastating effect on the economies of small nations. It already is. However the destruction of national boundaries also opens up an opportunity. With these boundaries destroyed, it may be more likely that the mass of people might be able to set aside the hostile divisions that the ruling class desperately needs to keep in place. I refer, of course, to the divisions between the races, religions, nations and the sexes. Impoverished people of whatever nationality, religion, sex or race have the same interests: n amely, to establish a social system within which both wealth and decision-making are equitably distributed. A general recognition of th e need for class solidarity would lay the foundation for a true revolution that might ultimately transform the institutions of a global society.
III. The Hegemony of the Mind
One obstacle in the way of there being a revolution that will actually change the institutions of our society is that the level of political consciousness of the majority of people is not adequate to the task at hand.
I think that one of the insights of Antonio Gramsci , a Marxist philosopher, is relevant here. Gramsci asked why the revolution occurred in Russia and not in Europe. The class division was sharp and highly exploitive in Europe, and economically it should have been ripe for revolution. His answer was that the hegemony of the upper class is dependent upon the lower classes perceiv ing the current order of things to be normal, inevitable, and justifiable. This was not true in Europe. He termed the state of affairs in which the lower classes were trapped in a world view favorable to the ruling class, cultural hegemony. It is only when a wide spread understanding emerges that the present order of things is neither natural nor inevitable that a society becomes ready for real revolutionary action.
Hegemony is first and foremost an hegemony of the mind. It follows the a revolution must first of all be mental. It must be a matter of changing the minds of the people. Specifically it must be aimed at helping the the general public to see that the present order is not in fact in their interest, and that it is not inevitable. It was not laid down by God and meant to exist for eternity. It is for this reason that the Occupy Movement represented a serious threat to the establishment. They obviously represented no physical threat. But they focused on persuading the majority of Americans that wealth and decision-making should be shared in an equitable way, and not owned by a tiny minority that was interested only in increasing its already obscene degree of wealth. A change of perspective with regard to the naturalness and inevitableness of the present oppressive order of things, within a wide segment of the population, would indeed represent a threat.
It is because the 1% understands that hegemony is first and foremost an hegemony of the mind that they give so much attention to manufacturing consent, and that they were so anxious to crush what appeared to be a remarkably friendly revolutionary effort. Since the anti-war upheaval of the 60s, they have been careful to mold the mind of the American people around a core of false beliefs. They have gained control of every major media outlet -- from Hollywood to TV news, to the major newspapers -- for this purpose.
IV. Socialism and the new consensus
The revolution must centrally be about us, as a people, changing our mind. We need to view who we are and who we might become in a new way. Traditionally the kind of thinking we need to embrace has been called socialism. By socialism I simply mean an economic system that is committed to an equitable distribution of both decision making, and the society's resources. A socialism that allows the achievement of only one of these two conditions is an incomplete and inadequate socialism. At this point a viable global socialism would probably need to also have a commitment to the rights and needs of other species and of the earth itself. Finally it would need a clear and enforceable bill of individual right s to prevent the emergence of a tyranny of the majority. Socialism has come to mean many contradictory things, and and carries with it a lot of baggage. Perhaps we need a new term for what is needed. Whatever we call it, though, we need a society that is built upon the shared values of equity, democracy and freedom.
We are in desperate need of a non-violent movement in this country -- one that challenges the fundamental assumptions around which all our institutions are organized at the present time. The basic core ideas that need changing are fairly simple:
It is OK for a very small minority of people to control and own a hugely disproportionate share of the counties resources.
It is OK for a very small minority of people to control and own a hugely disproportionate share of the decision making power.
It is natural and inevitable that these extreme concentrations of wealth and power develop in this country, or in the world, as we become a more globalized society.
It is OK for those of us who are Americans to believe, and act as though, we are chosen by God, or by history or by our exceptional moral and intellectual superiority to be the rulers of the rest of the world.
It is acceptable to pursue any political or economic end by means of aggressive, preemptive, illegal and endless warfare.
But perhaps it is important to state these simple fundamental principles in a positive way as well.
We must insist on a society which distributes its resources in an equitable manner.
We must insist on a society in which participatory decision making determines the shape and practice of our institutions on every level.
We must see that a different kind of society is both possible and desirable for this country, and ultimately for the world.
We must work toward disarming the world, including ourselves. War is no longer an option.
We must understand that we are brothers and sisters to all the citizens of the world. All people and cultures are exceptional. We must help create and live within a true democracy of nations.
V. The Question of violence
A second major obstacle to a successful revolution is that the dispossessed w ill choose a violent means of pursuing it. Despite the sheer horror that is unleashed by a large scale revolution, two arguments are often put foreword for its use as one of the main instruments for effecting change: 1) that the outcome ultimately justifies that suffering, and 2) that there is no other way to throw off the yoke of the oppressors
A. The Probable outcome of a violent revolution.
The outcomes of armed mass rebellions, in fact, tend to be poor. In the first place most of them are simply crushed. I quick look at the article titled " List of Peasant Revolts" in Wikipedea will make this clear. In other words, in most cases violent revolutions create a massive amount of suffering that leads to no positive results. The few that do succeed are most often followed by a new form of tyranny. Stalin, Mao and Napoleon would be examples. I n a few cases a significant redistribution of land and/or wealth does take place. This is no small matter, but often, as in Mexico, this is reversed. Ultimately, even in Russia and China, this reversal took place. And I can think of no revolution that actually increased the sharing of decision making. History is complex. I cannot say with certainty that none of the major revolutions of the last two centuries led to some improvements in the lives of some of the people. But the odds are against violen t revolutions succeeding, and the generally poor outcomes following those that do succeed argue against the use of violence. So we must ask ourselves whether there is another way .
B. Examples of non-violent revolutions
Can non-violent tactics actually change anything? Its easy to be cynical and say that only violence actually produces change. But history tells a different story. Just in the United States we have experienced at least three powerful non-violent revolutions that produced profound and long lasting or permanent changes in the society. The woman's movement is an astonishing example. The way in which women understand themselves, are understood by others and are treated by the society is radically different than it was 50 years ago. All of the techniques used by women, from consciousness-raising groups to the insistence on inclusive language, attacked the thought patterns that were dominant in the country. When the consciousness was changed, the changes in all of the institutions in our society w ere inevitable. People behaved differently because they understood reality differently. Another example, that was equally impressive, was the civil rights movement led by Marin Luther King Jr. While one can acknowledge that more change still needs to occur with regard to race relations, we have come a long ways since Blacks had to drink from separate drinking fountains at filling stations, and could not eat in the same restaurants with Whites. Changing how blacks saw themselves, and then how others saw them was, an continues to be, central to this movement. The union movement is a third example of the power of non-violent action. It was not, of course, without its violent moments, but, with all its ambiguities and complexities, the union movement was, for the most part, non-violent, and it produced real changes. In large part it was unions that created a middle class in the United States.
One looks at the revolutionary activities in a place like Greece with some degree of hope. The revolutionaries refuse to accept the current oppression of the wealthy through the IMF as either normal or inevitable. When the entire world begins to develop that kind of revolutionary energy, and when a sense of solidarity between nations and races emerges, then we will have hope for a true revolutionary transformation of the world.
VI. Techniques of none-violent revolution
Techniques must be appropriate to the overall goal. Our central goal at this point is not the overthrow of the government, but thee overthrow of the mind-set of the American people. If we think differently as a nation, we will begin to act differently.
Now that all major news outlets have been bought off by the 1%, and mainly exist to provide diversion and propaganda, alternative new sites such as this one are of central importance. But we must remember that, for the most part, the information and ideas posted on alternative news sites do not reach the general public. Techniques must be developed that will awaken the people from their media induced slumber. For this jarring, but not violent, techniques must be used to capture their attention. Non-violent does not mean passive. A number of methods exist for putting the kind of understanding one finds in good alternative news sites before the rest of the population:
Tweets (short messages that provide links to more information).
Social media (get lots of friends and post political materials).
Politically focused graffiti (Banksy is but one example).
Street theater (Bread and Circus is a great example, but it need not be so elaborate).
E-books (These can be distributed for free, to anybody).
Pamphlets (Good old fashion Tom Paine type stuff left in public places).
Direct conversation (Keep it polite, but insistent).
Use of Open Source technology (It ' s user friendly these days).
Ignore copyrights on important information (Ideas and information that might be trans formative and/or life saving must also be O pen S ource).
Political post cards (pined on bulletin boards, pasted inside toilet stalls, everywhere).
Teach-ins (Where did they go? Once they were beautiful.).
Occupying public sites of various sorts. (Occupy was on the right track.)
The development of cooperatives.
Posting replies after articles on conservative as well as progressive sites. (That's where people in need of a new understanding hang out.)
Insisting on participatory decision making wherever it is presently feasible.
Techniques that nobody ever thought of.
We must send out our messages like dandelion fluff in the breeze -- unstoppable seeds that are too many to collect and that can grow anywhere.
VII. What would the implementation of the socialist principles outlined above look like?
Americans live under the yoke of a wide array of false believe s: we are an exceptional people destined to rule the world; unregulated capitalism is an essential aspect of a free society; socialism is a four letter word; A merican lives are of more value that the lives of non-Americans; war is a normal and heroic human activity, and is usually fought for noble purposes; etc. One is tempted to say that no revolution will be possible until this collection of absurd beliefs is abandoned by the majority of Americans, but that represents a misunderstanding of revolution.
Overcoming the hegemony of the old mind is the revolution. Only with the shattering of the old mind will significant large scale changes in our institutions become possible. This revolution can begin today.
The implementation of a new understanding, when its time comes, will be a complex and evolving thing, but perhaps it is possible to mention in passing some of the things that might be needed.
The creation and supervision of money needs to be under public control. T he central banks must be nationalized so that monetary policy benefits the majority of people.
The rules that guide economic activity must be under public control, and created in a visible manner. (This does not mean that all economic activity must be centrally micromanaged.)
Society as a whole must provide universal access to health, educational and welfare services.
A limit must be placed on the size of corporations.
Policies must be in place that prevent huge disparities of wealth.
Elections must be real, and not sham affairs controlled by a small portion of the population.
Warmongering must not be tolerated.
This is not meant to be a comprehensive list. The central point that is being made here is simply that the specific policies that are implemented on all levels and within every sphere of society must, in fact as well as word, implement the shared values o f our nation. I might mention in passing that it seems to me that a mixed economy will lead to the most desirable outcome in that sphere. Small and middle sized capitalist enterprises can be quite creative. But we also need many more worker owned businesses, cooperatives, and a large public sphere. These are matters of implementation that can be debated on an ongoing basis. But clearly, a world being run for the benefit of the wealthy 1% by a few too-big-to fail corporations and private banks cannot be an option.
As an American, I am appalled at the domestic and foreign policies of my own country. While the revolution ultimately needs to be an international, or even transnational movement, Americans probably need to begin with a focus on what is happening here at home. We need to view who we are and who we might become in a new way. At this point the United States is a plague to all the nations of the earth. That need not be. We, as a nation, can become a blessing both to ourselves and others. But in order to do so, we must revolutionize our individual and our collective minds. This revolution can and must begin now. Some groups and individuals are already at work; many are doing courageous and creative work, but the efforts being made are too few, and in general too timid. The ideas that support the current hegemony of the 1% should be attacked with all the aggressiveness that we can muster, and they must be attacked publicly where the people live. As the mind of the American people changes, the possibilities for a fuller implementation of the values that most of us adhere to, becomes possible. I refer to the values of equity, democracy and freedom.
It should be emphasized that the proposals put forth here are not untested or extremist ideas. Most of the economic ideas have been implemented to one degree or another in the United States throughout its history. Almost all of these ideas have been successfully applied in the Scandinavian countries which ha s led to their being some of the most successful societies on earth. Nor are we talking about ideas that limit individual freedom. Indeed, individual freedom is facilitated by a greater sharing of the wealth. How useful is it, for example , to tell a person "you are free to do as you please. Here's how you can make $1.75 a day (working long hours) to pursue your dreams."
It is the neo-liberal agenda that is extremist. The criminals who have gained control of this country, and of the world in general, are taking us into extremely dangerous waters for the sole purpose of gaining quick profits for the already rich.
I remain highly skeptical about the ability of the human race to survive. If we are irrevocably destined to go the way of the dinosaurs, very little will have been lost by making an effort create a social order in which both the resources for satisfying life, and the decision making processes that guide the culture are equitably shared. If, however, there is a possibility that somehow, by the skin of our teeth, we might pull through these highly dangerous times, and we have not made the effort to bring a more viable social order into existence, then a great deal will have been lost. Therefore I believe that we should place our hope in what appears at this point to be improbable -- that we do not simply eliminate ourselves as a species. If we are willing to hope against the odds, we will need to engage the enemy in a struggle on the only battlefield where we are likely to prevail -- the battlefield of mind. If we win on this battlefield, the guns and bombs of the elite will not be able to prevent the transformation of the world into a viable society in which resources and decision-making is equitably distributed.