Sunday, November 27, 2022

The Permanent War Economy (an old one)

 JANUARY 30, 2009

Harry Targ


In the Beginning

After suffering the greatest economic depression in United States history, this country participated in a war-time coalition with Great Britain and the former Soviet Union to defeat fascism in Europe and Japanese imperialism in Asia. As a result of the economic mobilization for war, the United States economy grew to become the most powerful one by war’s end. By 1945, Americans were responsible for three-fourths of the world’s invested capital and controlled two-thirds of its industrial capacity. Near the end of World War II, General Electric CEO Charles Wilson recommended that the U.S. continue the wartime partnership between the government, the corporate sector, and the military to maintain what he called a “permanent war economy.” He and others feared the possibility of return to depression.

To justify a permanent war economy-ever increasing military expenditures, bases all around the world, periodic military interventions, and the maintenance of a large land army, navy, and air force-an external threat was needed. In 1947 President Truman told the American people that there was such a threat, “international communism.”

Many liberals and conservatives remained skeptical about high military expenditures. But, just before the Korean War started, permanent war economy advocates threw their support behind recommendations made in a long- time classified document, National Security Council Document 68, which recommended a dramatic increase in military spending. NSC-68 also recommended that military spending from that point on should be the number one priority of the national government. When presidents sit down to construct a federal budget they should first allocate all the money requested by military and corporate elites and lobbyists concerned with military spending. Only after that should government programs address education, health care, roads, transportation, housing and other critical domestic issues.

When the United States entered the Korean War, Truman committed the nation to a permanent war economy. Each subsequent president did likewise. According to Chalmers Johnson (Blowback, Sorrows of Empire), between 1947 and 1990, the permanent war economy cost the American people close to $9 trillion. Ruth Sivard (World Military Expenditures) presented data to indicate that over 100,000 U.S. military personnel died in wars and military interventions during this period. And, in other countries, nearly 10 million people died directly or indirectly in wars in which the United States was a participant.

Some influential Americans raised criticisms of the new permanent war economy. For example, while he subsequently complied with many of the demands for more military spending, President Eisenhower declared in one of his first speeches in office that “every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.” After eight years in the White House Eisenhower gave a prescient farewell address in which he warned of a “conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry” which was new in American history. And, he proclaimed; “We must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex.” Incidentally, his original draft spoke of a “military-industrial-academic complex.”

Seven years later, in the midst of the Vietnam War, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. proclaimed “Somehow this madness must cease. We must stop now. I speak for those whose land is being laid waste, whose homes are being destroyed, whose culture is being subverted. I speak for the poor of America who are paying the double price of smashed hopes at home and death and corruption in Vietnam. I speak as a citizen of the world, for the world as it stands aghast at the path we have taken.”

The Permanent War Economy (2009)

So we find ourselves in the midst of two wars today-Iraq and Afghanistan-that are already more costly than any war except World War II, against an enemy magnified, demonized, and mythologized as much or more than the cold war enemy to justify a $3 trillion price tag, the deaths of more than 4,000 soldiers, ten times that number of disabled veterans, and casualties and deaths of Iraqis and Afghanis probably approaching a million people. 9/11 afforded the Bush Administration the opportunity to launch a “war on terrorism” and the justification of preemptive war on any human target defined as a possible threat to the United States.The “terrorists” became the post-Cold War “international communists.” This is what the permanent war economy has come to.

Did the vision of Charles Wilson and the framers and advocates of NSC 68 bear fruit in terms of the domestic economy? The answer to this question is complicated but in the end clear. The U.S. economy is subject to cycles of growth and decay; expansion and recession; and periods of increased consumerism and low unemployment versus periods of declining product demand, lower wages, and high unemployment.

Looking at the period since World War II, bursts of increased military spending brought the U.S. economy out of the recessions of the late 1940s and 50s. The 60s economy boomed as the Vietnam war escalated before the economic crises of the 1970s. The so-called Reagan recovery was driven by dramatic increases in military spending. 1980s military spending equaled the total value of such spending between the founding of the nation and 1980.

In addition, military spending has benefited those industries, communities, and universities which have been the beneficiaries of such largesse. In our own day, Halliburton, Bechtel, and Kellogg, Brown, and Root have done quite well. For example, when Dick Cheney left his post as Secretary of Defense in 1993 to become the CEO of Halliburton, its subsidiary, KBR jumped from the 73rd ranked Pentagon contractor to the 18th.

Military spending pumped money into the economy to the advantage of selected multinational corporations and some communities. Usually recipients of defense dollars were part of what C. Wright Mills called, “the power elite,” those powerful individuals who, at the apex of government, corporate, and military institutions, influence policy. On the other hand, most citizens have not been beneficiaries of military spending.

“Indirect effects” of military spending, overwhelm the short-term stimulative effects of such spending. Military spending is “capital intensive,” that is the investment of dollars in military goods and services require less labor power to produce than the investment of comparable dollars in other sectors of the economy. Robert Pollin and Heidi Garrett-Peltier refer to spending on Iraq as a “job killer.” They estimate that $1 billion spent on investments in education, healthcare, energy conservation, and infrastructure would create anywhere from 50 to 100 percent more jobs than comparable spending on the war. They say, “Taking the 2007Iraq war budget of $138 billion, this means that upward of one million jobs were lost because the Bush Administration chose the Iraq sinkhole over public investment” (The Nation, March 31, 2008).

Further, military spending requires government to borrow money from private sources. Consequently, the more borrowing for the military, the less funds are available for non-military economic activity. Non-military spending gets “crowded out” by investment in arms.

Paralleling this, expanding investments in military reduce the resources of society that can be allocated for the production of goods and services that have use values. Military spending constitutes waste in that the resources that go into armies, navies, air forces, and weapons of human destruction cannot be put to constructive use. Looking at government spending alone, the 2008 federal budget increased by $35 billion in military spending, bringing the total to $541 billion. At the same time federal aid to state and local governments fell by $19.2 billion. The war on Iraq has already cost $522.5 billion and it was projected by distinguished economists that the total cost for the war, including paying debts, veterans benefits, and replacing destroyed equipment, will top $3 trillion (Linda J. Bilmes and Joseph Stiglitz, Washington Post, March 9, 2008, p.B01).

As a new administration enters office in the context of a deepening depression, 2009 military spending for two wars, over 700 military installations, and contracting with private armies operating everywhere, will push towards a trillion dollars. This prospective allocation of scarce government resources has to be evaluated in the context of President-elect Barack Obama’s call for a massive green-jobs economic stimulus package and bailout programs for some 40 states suffering from their own budget deficits.

The Permanent War Economy in One State (2009)

Citizens of Florida so far have spent $36 billion on the Iraq war. And, the National Priorities Project (www. national priorities.org) estimated that for one year of Iraq war expenditures the state of Florida could have provided 12.7 million people with health care, 25 million homes with renewable electricity, 575,000 music and arts teachers, 11.2 million scholarships for university students, and 613,000 elementary school teachers.

Looking at Broward County, taxpayers have paid $3.9 billion for the war so far. Instead of expenditures for the Iraq war, this money could have provided for one year the following:

-1,385,189 people with health care or

-2,760,979 homes with renewable electricity or

-90,432 public safety officers or

-62,714 music and art teachers or

-1,224,540 university scholarships or

-28,953 affordable housing units or

-2,169,806 children with health care or

-535,663 head start places or

-66,937 elementary school teachers

Andrew Bacevich summed up this tradition of permanent war in reviewing a biography of 1940s Secretary of Defense James Forrestal in The Nation (April 23, 2007):

“From Forrestal's day to the present, semiwarriors have viewed democratic politics as problematic. Debate means delay. To engage in give-and-take or compromise is to forfeit clarity and suggests a lack of conviction. The effective management of national security requires specialized knowledge, a capacity for clear-eyed analysis and above all an unflinching willingness to make decisions, whatever the cost. With the advent of semiwar, therefore, national security policy became the preserve of experts, few in number, almost always unelected, habitually operating in secret, persuading themselves that to exclude the public from such matters was to serve the public interest. After all, the people had no demonstrable ‘need to know.’ In a time of perpetual crisis, the anointed role of the citizen was to be pliant, deferential and afraid.”

It is the task of the peace and justice activists today to build a mass movement, mobilizing the citizenry to reject the role of “pliant, deferential,” and fearful citizens. The people must insist that President Obama say “no” to the semi warriors.


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From the Cost of War Project 2022

SUMMARY OF FINDINGS

Some of the Costs of War Project’s main findings include:

  • At least 929,000 people have died due to direct war violence, including armed forces on all sides of the conflicts, contractors, civilians, journalists, and humanitarian workers.  
  • Many times more have died indirectly in these wars, due to ripple effects like malnutrition, damaged infrastructure, and environmental degradation.
  • Over 387,000 civilians have been killed in direct violence by all parties to these conflicts.
  • Over 7,050 U.S. soldiers have died in the wars.
  • We do not know the full extent of how many U.S. service members returning from these wars became injured or ill while deployed.
  • Many deaths and injuries among U.S. contractors have not been reported as required by law, but it is likely that approximately 8,000 have been killed. 
  • 38 million people have been displaced by the post-9/11 wars in Afghanstan, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Somalia and the Philippines.
  • The U.S. government is conducting counterterror activities in 85 countries, vastly expanding this war across the globe.
  • The post-9/11 wars have contributed significantly to climate change. The Defense Department is one of the world’s top greenhouse gas emitters.
  • The wars have been accompanied by erosions in civil liberties and human rights at home and abroad.
  • The human and economic costs of these wars will continue for decades with some costs, such as the financial costs of U.S. veterans’ care, not peaking until mid-century.
  • Most U.S. government funding of reconstruction efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan has gone towards arming security forces in both countries. Much of the money allocated to humanitarian relief and rebuilding civil society has been lost to fraud, waste, and abuse.
  • The cost of the post-9/11 wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria, and elsewhere totals about $8 trillion. This does not include future interest costs on borrowing for the wars.
  • The ripple effects on the U.S. economy have also been significant, including job loss and interest rate increases.
  • U.S. policymakers scarcely considered alternatives to war in the aftermath of 9/11 or in debating the invasion of Iraq. Some of those alternative paradigms for addressing the problem of terror attacks are still available to the U.S.

SOME DOMESTIC IMPACTS

  • War spending created fewer jobs than similar spending investment in clean energy, public education, and health care.
  • Federal investment in military assets during the wars made for a lost opportunity to significantly boost capital improvements in core infrastructure such as roads and public transit.
  • War spending financed entirely by debt has contributed to higher interest rates charged to borrowers such as new homeowners.

 WHAT PRESIDENT EISENHOWER SAID IN 1953 IS STILL TRUE

"Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities. It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population. It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals. It is some 50 miles of concrete highway. We pay for a single fighter plane with a half million bushels of wheat. We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people. This, I repeat, is the best way of life to be found on the road. the world has been taking. This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron."
Address "The Chance for Peace" Delivered Before the American Society of Newspaper Editors, 4/16/53 [
AUDIO]

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CCDS Peace & Solidarity Move the Money Task Force will present a Zoom webinar to address the widening "guns v. butter" trade-off.

"What's War Got to Do With It? Fund Human Need Not Pentagon Greed"

On Monday, November 28, 2022, 8:00 pm EST, the CCDS Peace & Solidarity Move the Money Task Force will present a Zoom webinar to address the widening "guns v. butter" trade-off. This will consider military and national security state expenditures and their effect on domestic social program funding and underserved human needs. As then-President Eisenhower famously expressed it in 1953: "Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies...a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed...". Emphasis will be placed on the significance of these expenditures with regard to contemporary poverty, inequity, and deprivation in the United States.  

Presentation speakers will be Sandy Eaton of CCDS and the Massachusetts Care Single-Payer Network and Deborah Weinstein, Executive Director for the Coalition of Funding Human Needs. 

Deborah Weinstein has served as the executive director of the Coalition on Human Needs since June 2003. Prior to coming to CHN, Weinstein served for nine years as director of the Family Income division of the Children's Defense Fund, where she worked to lift children and their families out of poverty, including Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), child support, jobs and wages, housing, nutrition, unemployment insurance, and equitable tax policy. From 1983 to 1993 Weinstein was executive director of the Massachusetts Human Services Coalition, a nonprofit advocacy organization focusing on people's needs, especially those with limited income

Register here

Co-sponsors include: CCDS Socialist Education Project, Massachusetts Peace Action, Wisconsin Peace Action, and the Online University of the Left.

This will be live streamed on the Online University of the Left Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/OULeft.org

 


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Sunday, November 13, 2022

THE BUSH YEARS AND THEIR CONSEQUENCES: WARS AND ECONOMIC DISASTER

Harry Targ

(an earlier version appeared on January 23, 2009)


Purdue Today, October 22, 2022.

 “President Bush to join President Daniels for final Purdue Presidential Lecture Series event” (December 6, 2022).

“Bush served as the 43rd U.S. president from 2001-09. As commander in chief, President Bush worked to expand freedom, opportunity, and security at home and abroad. At home, he championed the No Child Left Behind Act to raise standards in schools and cut taxes for every federal income taxpayer, restoring economic growth after the 2000-01 recession, and launching an unprecedented 52 straight months of job creation.”

“After a 15-year career in private business, Daniels was confirmed as President Bush’s director of the Office of Management and Budget by a U.S. Senate vote of 100-0, serving from January 2001 until May 2003. In this role, Daniels also was a member of the National Security Council and the Homeland Security Council.”

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Elisabeth Bumiller, “Threats and Responses: The Cost; White House Cuts Estimate of Cost of War With Iraq” New York Times, December 31. 2002.


The administration's top budget official estimated today that the cost of a war with Iraq could be in the range of $50 billion to $60 billion, a figure that is well below earlier estimates from White House officials….In a telephone interview today, the official, Mitchell E. Daniels Jr., director of the Office of Management and Budget, also said there was likely to be a deficit in the fiscal 2004 budget, though he declined to specify how large it would be.

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Dylan Matthews, “The enormous costs and elusive benefits of the war on terror.Vox. Com, September 11, 2021.

Meanwhile, according to the most recent estimates from Brown University’s Costs of War Projectat least 897,000 people around the world have died in violence that can be classified as part of the war on terror; at least 38 million people have been displaced due to these wars; and the effort has cost the US at least $5.8 trillion, not including about $2 trillion more needed in health care and disability coverage for veterans in decades to come.

 

An assessment of the Bush years (2001-2008) must be grounded in an understanding of the almost thirty years of a failed ideology that guided domestic and foreign policy. This failed vision of government and public policy has its modern roots in the so-called Reagan "revolution."


Domestically the Reagan administration embraced a governmental philosophy that claimed that government can never help solve social, political, and economic problems. Rather, government was the problem. In keeping with this philosophy, Presidents Reagan, George Herbert Walker Bush, Clinton, and the last Bush reduced government by cutting social services; redistributed more of society's wealth from the majority to the tiny minority by cutting taxes for the rich; reduced funding for mass transportation and public education and attempted to gut long-standing programs that have served the needs of the population well, such as Social Security. This century government became disabled such that when an enormous tragedy such as Hurricane Katrina occurred, the Bush administration was totally unprepared to come to the aid of people in need.


Twenty-first century government served the people less than government did thirty or forty years ago. The Bush administration through taxes and selective government programs tilted societal resources further toward the rich. The top 1% of wealth holders in the United States control over 42% of the country's wealth, an increase of about 10% over the 1970s. On foreign policy, Bush embraced the neo-conservative global vision. Basically, neo-conservatives in the Bush administration-­­- Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Lewis Libby, Richard Perle, and a host of others-- argued that as the last remaining superpower the United States has the right and responsibility to impose its wishes, its vision of government and public policy, and its institutions on the world. If people resist, the neo-conservatives said, the United States should impose its domination by force.


In response to the tragedy of 9/11 the Bush team launched a war on Afghanistan, began a campaign to convince the American people that Iraq was a threat to US national security, and the state needed to approve policies to give the administration the authority to make war overseas and endorse further surveillance at home, including the Patriot Act, to allegedly forestall any further acts of terrorism. 

Since the 9/11 wars, the Costs of War Project of Brown University reported that “at least 929,000 people have been killed by direct war violence in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, and Pakistan. …Thousands of United States service members have died in combat, as have thousands of civilian contractors…. More than 387,000 civilians have been killed in the fighting since 2001…. The U.S. post-9/11 wars have forcibly displaced at least 38 million people in and from Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, the Philippines, Libya, and Syria. This number exceeds the total displaced by every war since 1900, except World War II.” At the same time the 9/11 wars were a source of incredible profits for the five major US military contractors.


In the end, the Bush administration tried to undermine government domestically and expanded militarily all around the world. As 2009 dawned the United States was in the midst of an economic depression that reminded some people of the Great Depression of the 1930s with massive unemployment, growing mortgage foreclosures, and declining social services. And the United States was bogged down in two wars and lived in a world in which most nations and peoples no longer respected the United States.


The economic crises and unending wars of the twenty-first century are in many ways the result of Bush administration policies: a thirty-year tradition of government for the rich and visions of creating a global order based on US dominance. Those administrations that followed Bush inadequately returned to the view that government can and must help those in need. And subsequent presidents also failed to shift from a foreign policy based on threats and military interventionism to negotiation and working with other governments in international organizations. 

The twenty-first century world economically, politically, militarily, and environmentally was significantly shaped by the Bush Administration. To say as the Purdue Today states that “As commander in chief, President Bush worked to expand freedom, opportunity and security at home and abroad” is belied by the historical record.

      


                        
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Some enduring consequences of Bush policies on higher education: https://heartlandradical.blogspot.com/2019/08/universities-and-new-cold-war.html

The militarization of Purdue University:

https://covertactionmagazine.com/2022/06/15/while-its-humanities-programs-suffer-from-budget-cuts-purdue-university-increases-its-focus-on-the-military/

                     


                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    



Monday, November 7, 2022

MOVING BEYOND ELECTIONS

 Harry Targ


What Do They Want Us to Think?

We have been living with the 2022 elections ever since November 2020. Day after day the corporate media has speculated about which candidates for public office were in the lead and whether the Congress will continue in Democratic hands or Republicans will win majorities in one or both houses. And lurking behind every news story has been the ominous vision of Donald Trump, the threat of fascism. and the extent to which the 2022 elections will determine whether the US chooses “democracy” or “authoritarianism.” And finally, the trope suggests, on November 8 the election will determine whether progressives will declare victory and assume the battle is won or lose and retire in despair.

At least, that is what the corporate media and its clients hope will happen. And it will happen if progressives forget that social change is a long and arduous process with victories and defeats. But if it is true that majorities of Americans crave affordable healthcare, remunerative work, the hope of some reduction in environmental disaster, and access to food, housing, transportation, and education, they will continue the struggles to achieve these goals whoever wins at the polls. So while the finality of the election trope, victory or defeat, is what has pervaded public discourse for months it is critical to recognize that whatever the outcome the battle for a just and humane future will continue, irrespective of Tuesday’s outcomes.

Protest Movements in the United States:

Left Unity Projects

          Data confirms that there has been a continuation and expansion of activist groups and protest activities all across the face of the globe since the dawn of the twenty-first century. For example in the United States, Mark Solomon reported in an important essay “Whither the Socialist Left? Thinking the ‘Unthinkable’” that there has been a long history of socialism in the United States despite the brutal repression against it, damaging sectarian battles on the left, and the small size of socialist organizations. Yet paradoxically the growing sympathy for the idea of socialism among Americans, particularly young people, exists extensively today. For that reason, he called for “the convergence of socialist organizations committed to non-sectarian democratic struggle, engagement with mass movements, and open debate in search of effective responses to present crises and to projecting a socialist future.”  https://portside.org/2013-03-06/whither-socialist-left-thinking-unthinkable

Solomon’s call a few years ago stimulated debate among activists around the idea of “left unity.” The appeal for left unity he said was made more powerful by socialism’s appeal, the current global crises of capitalism, rising mobilizations around the world, and living experiments with small-scale socialism such as the construction of a variety of workers’ cooperatives.

Effective campaigns around “left unity” in recent years have prioritized “revolutionary education,” drawing upon the tools of the internet to construct an accessible body of theory and debate about strategy and tactics that could solidify left forces and move the progressive majority into a socialist direction. The emergence of Online University of the Left (OUL), an electronic source for classical and modern theoretical literature about Marxism, contemporary debates about strategy and tactics, videos, reading lists, and course syllabi, constituted one example of left unity. The OUL is also one example among many of available resources for study groups, formal coursework, and discussions among socialists and progressives.

Mass Movements

The Occupy Movement, first surfacing in the media in September 2011, initiated and renewed traditions of organized and spontaneous mass movements around issues that affected people’s immediate lives such as housing foreclosures, debt, jobs, wages, the environment, and the negative role of money in U.S. politics. Perhaps the four most significant contributions of the Occupy Movement included:

1.Introducing grassroots processes of decision-making.

2.Conceptualizing modern battles for social and economic justice as between the one percent (the holders of most wealth and power in society) versus the 99 percent (weak, economically marginalized, and dispossessed, including the precariat).

3.Insisting that struggles for radical change be spontaneous, often eschewing traditional political processes.

4.Linking struggles locally, nationally, and globally.

During the height of Occupy’ s visibility some 500 cities and towns experienced mobilizations around social justice issues. While Occupy campaigns are gone today activists correctly ground their claims in the long and rich history of organized struggle and remain inspired by the bottom-up and spontaneous uprisings of 2011. And in 2020 the explosion of street actions to protest the police murder of George Floyd led to thousands of protest demonstrations around the country, inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement. https://acleddata.com/2020/09/03/demonstrations-political-violence-in-america-new-data-for-summer-2020/

 


 Building a Progressive Majority

Along with left unity projects and those who were inspired by Occupy, many have embraced a third approach to political change, “building a progressive majority.” This approach assumes that large segments of the U.S. population agree on a variety of issues. Some are activists in electoral politics, others in trade unions, and more in single issue groups. In addition, many who share common views of worker rights, the environment, health care, undue influence of money in politics, immigrant rights etc. are not active politically. The progressive majority perspective argues that the project for the short-term is to mobilize the millions of people who share common views on the need for significant if not fundamental change in economics and politics.

Often organizers conceptualize the progressive majority as the broad mass of people who share views on politics and economics that are ‘centrist” or “left.” Consequently, over the long run, “left” participants see their task as three-fold. First, they must work on the issues that concern majorities of those at the local and national level. Second, they struggle to convince their political associates that the problems most people face have common causes (particularly capitalism). Third, “left” participants see the need to link issues so that class, race, gender, the environment, and peace for example, are understood as part of the common problem that people face.

At this point in time, as the recent data set called “Start” shows there are 500 leading organizations in the United States working for progressive change on a national level. https://www.startguide.org/orgs/orgs00.html “Start” divides these 500 organizations into twelve categories based on their main activities. These include progressive electoral, peace and foreign policy, economic justice, civil liberties, health advocacy, labor, women, and environmental organizations.  Of course, their membership, geographic presence, financial resources, and strategic and tactical vision vary widely. And many of the variety of progressive organizations at the national level are reproduced at the local and state levels as well.


START Study, Think, Act, Respond Together

In sum, when looking at social change in the United States at least three emphases are being articulated: left unity, the legacies of the Occupy and Black Lives Matter movements and building a progressive majority. Each highlights its own priorities as to vision, strategy, tactics, and political contexts. In addition, the relative appeal of each may be affected by age, class, gender, race, and issue prioritization as well. However, these approaches need not be seen as contradictory. Rather the activism borne of each approach may parallel the others.

Co-Revolutionary Theory Becomes Practice: The Road Ahead


David Harvey has written about a “co-revolutionary theory” of change (The Enigma of Capital and the Crisis of Capitalism, New York: Oxford 2011). In this theory Harvey argues that anti-capitalist movements today must address “mental  conceptions;” uses and abuses of nature; how to build real communities; workers relations to bosses; exploitation, oppression, and racism; and the relations between capital and the state. While a tall order, the co-revolutionary theory suggests the breadth of struggles that need to be embraced to bring about real revolution.

Harvey’s work mirrors many analysts who address the deepening crises of capitalism and the spread of human misery everywhere. It is increasingly clear to vast majorities of people, despite media mystification, that the primary engine of destruction is global finance capitalism and political institutions that have increasingly become its instrumentality. Harvey’s work parallels the insights of Naomi Klein, Joseph Stiglitz, Robert Reich, Noam Chomsky, and a broad array of economists, historians, trade unionists, peace and justice activists and thousands of bloggers and Facebook commentators.

Of course, these theorists could not have known the ways in which the connections between the co-revolutionary theory and practice would unfold. Most agreed that we are living through a global economic crisis in which wealth and power is increasingly concentrated in fewer and fewer hands (perhaps a global ruling class), and human misery, from joblessness, to hunger, to disease, to environmental devastation is spreading.

But history has shown that such misery can survive for long periods of time with little active resistance. Even though activists in labor, in communities of color, in anti-colonial/anti-neo-colonial settings are always organizing, their campaigns usually create little traction. But sometimes, such as in 2011 (and in response to the police killing of George Floyd in 2020), mass mobilizations occur. And they facilitate the ongoing organizing that already is going on. In 2016 the Bernie Sanders candidacy inspired a generation of activists. Since then, many joined existing socialist organizations as a new round of militancy grew among youth, women, African Americans, workers, environmentalists, and peace activists. Since 2016 a broad array of people began to publicly say “enough is enough.”

Where do we go from here? I think “co-revolutionary theory” would answer “everywhere”. Marxists are right to see the lives of people as anchored in their ability to produce and reproduce themselves, their families, and their communities. The right to a job at a living wage remains central to all the ferment. But in the twenty-first century this basic motivator for consciousness and action is more comprehensively and intimately connected to trade unions, education, health care, sustainable environments, opposition to racism and sexism, and peace. So all these motivations are part of the same struggle. And activists are beginning to make the connections between the struggles. As Harvey suggests, “An anti-capitalist political movement can start anywhere…. The trick is to keep the political movement moving from one moment to another in mutually reinforcing ways.”

On Resistance

As this recent election season comes to a close, activists need to see their work as part of an historic process. Whatever the outcomes of the 2022 elections the multiple struggles for progressive change, and indeed movement towards socialism will continue. Electoral work will continue. Movement building work will continue. And addressing singular issues such as health care, the environment, workers’ rights, anti-racism, anti-patriarchy will also continue.

And some time these movements and campaigns will need to address the question of resistance. Gene Sharp, peace researcher, identified 198 non-violent ways in which activists can resist repression and build for social change. He and others have argued that in the long-run non-violent actions have yielded significant positive results. https://www.brandeis.edu/peace-conflict/pdfs/198-methods-non-violent-action.pdf


And Dr. King in his historic “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” has argued that some times resistance requires embracing a “higher law” when civil law does not address profound human grievances. In sum, education, advocacy, and organizing requires action as well and that action might pit the activists in contradistinction to those who resist humane and necessary change.

In the end, the election trope promulgated by the powerful and their friends in the corporate media serve to minimize the mass impulse to endorse and work for social change. If progressives lose, the message is that pursuing change is hopeless. If progressives win, the trope suggests, the need for waking the sleeping giant, the masses, is not necessary.

However, whatever the election outcome, the struggle must continue.

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"What the establishment says to you is that you are powerless. Let's prove them wrong. Let’s transform this country.” Bernie Sanders


Assessments of prior election outcomes: 2012-2022:

ANOTHER ELECTION ASSESSMEN1 (003).docx



https://fb.watch/gEb7qfWVNj/