The race to replace a dying neoliberalism

In response to the cataclysm occasioned by the coronavirus, three lines of thinking are emerging.

One is that the emergency necessitates extraordinary measures, but the basic structure of production and consumption is sound, and the problem lies only in determining the moment when things can return to “normal.”

By Walden Bello

Photo credit yoni sheffer/Flickr/(CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

 

One might say that this is the dominant opinion among political and business elites. Representative of this outlook is the infamous Goldman Sachs-sponsored teleconference involving scores of stock market players in mid-March of this year, which concluded that “there is no systemic risk. No one is even talking about that. Governments are intervening in the markets to stabilize them, and the private banking sector is well capitalized. It feels more like 9/11 than it does 2008.”

A second line of thinking is that we are now in the “new normal,” and while the global economic system is not significantly out of kilter, important changes must be made to some of its elements, such as redesigning the workplace to accommodate the need for social distancing, strengthening public health systems (something even Boris Johnson now advocates after Britain’s National Health System saved his life), and even moving towards a “universal basic income.”

A third response is that the pandemic provides an opportunity for transforming a system that is ridden with deep economic and political inequalities and is profoundly destabilizing ecologically. One must not simply talk about accommodating a “new normal” or expanding social safety nets, but of decisively moving toward a qualitatively new economic system.

In the global North, the needed transformation is often articulated in the form of demands for a “Green New Deal” marked not just by “greening” the economy but by a significant socialization of production and investment, democratization of economic decision making, and radical reductions in income inequality.



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In the global South, proposed strategies, while addressing the climate crisis, stress the opportunity offered by the pandemic to tackle deep-seated economic, social, and political inequalities. An eloquent example is the “Socialist Manifesto for a Post-Covid 19 Philippines” by the Laban ng Masa people’s coalition, a detailed list of short and long-term initiatives the introduction to which proclaims:

The manner and disorder of these hegemonic players’ responses to the crisis proves beyond a shadow of doubt that the old order can no longer be restored and its ruling classes can no longer administer society in the old way. The chaos, uncertainties, and fears resulting from Covid-19, depressing and dreary though they may be, are also pregnant with opportunities and challenges to develop and offer to the public a new way of organizing and managing society and its attendant political, economic, and social components. As the socialist Albert Einstein pointed out: “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.

This Time is Really Different

The first two perspectives downplay the possibilities for radical change, with some predicting that the popular response will be much like that during the 2008 financial crisis — that is, people feeling dislocated but with no appetite for much change, much less radical change.

This view rests on mistakenly equating where people were at during the two crises.

Crises do not always result in significant change. It is the interaction or synergy between two elements: an objective one, meaning a systemic crisis, and a subjective one, that is, the people’s psychological response to it that is decisive.

The global financial crisis of 2008 was a profound crisis of capitalism, but the subjective element — popular alienation from the system — had not yet reached a critical mass. Owing to the boom created by debt-financed consumer spending over two decades, people were shocked by the crisis, but they were not that alienated from the system during the crisis and its immediate aftermath.

Things are different today.

The level of discontent and alienation with neoliberalism was already very high in the global North before the coronavirus hit, owing to the established elites’ inability to reverse the decline and living standards and skyrocketing inequality in the dreary decade that followed the financial crisis. In the U.S., the period was summed up in the popular mind as one where the elites prioritized saving the big banks over saving millions of bankrupt homeowners and ending large-scale unemployment, while in much of Europe, especially in the south, the people’s experience of the last decade was captured in one word: austerity.

And in much of the global South, the chronic crisis of underdevelopment under peripheral capitalism, exacerbated by neoliberal “reforms” since the 1980s, had already shredded the legitimacy of key institutions of globalization like the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and World Trade Organization, even before the 2008 crisis.

The coronavirus pandemic of 2020, in short, roared through an already destabilized global economic system suffering from a deep crisis of legitimacy. The sense that things had run out of control — certainly out of the control of the traditional political and economic managers — was the first shocking realization. This mass perception of astonishing elite incompetence is now connecting to the already deep-seated feelings of resentment and anger boiling over from the post-financial crisis period.

So the subjective element, the psychological critical mass, is there. It is a whirlwind that is waiting to be captured by contending political forces. The question is who will succeed in harnessing it.

The global establishment will, of course, try to bring back the “old normal.” But there is simply too much anger, too much resentment, too much insecurity that have been unleashed. And there’s no forcing the genie back into the bottle. Though for the most part falling short of expectations, the massive fiscal and monetary interventions of capitalist states during the last few weeks have underlined to people what is possible under another system with different priorities and values.

Neoliberalism is dying; it’s only a question if its passing will be swift or “slow,” as Dani Rodrik characterizes it.

Who Will Ride the Tiger?

Only the left and the right are serious contenders in this race to bring about another system.

Progressives have come up with a number of exciting ideas and paradigms developed over the last few decades for how to move towards a truly systemic transformation, and these go beyond the left-wing technocratic Keynesianism identified with Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Krugman. Among these truly radical alternatives are the already mentioned Green New Deal, democratic socialism, degrowth, deglobalization, ecofeminism, food sovereignty, and “Buen Vivir” on “Living Well.”

The problem is these strategies have not yet been translated into a critical mass on the ground.

The usual explanation for this is that people are “not ready for them.” But probably more significant as an explanation is that most people still associate these dynamic streams of the left with the center left. On the ground, where it matters, the masses cannot yet distinguish these strategies and their advocates from the social democrats in Europe and the Democratic Party in the U.S. that were implicated in the discredited neoliberal system to which they had sought to provide a “progressive” face. For large numbers of citizens, the face of the left is still the Social Democratic Party (SPD) in Germany, the Socialist Party in France, and the Democratic Party in the U.S., and their records are hardly inspiring, to say the least.

In the global South, leadership of or participation in liberal democratic governments also led to left-wing parties being discredited when these coalitions adopted neoliberal measures that came under the rubric of “structural adjustment,” even as the “Pink Tide” in Latin America ran into its own contradictions, and communist states in East Asia became state capitalist systems with a strong dose of neoliberalism. Once seen as a break with the past, the Concertacion in Chile, the Workers’ Party in Brazil, Chavismo in Venezuela, and the so-called Beijing Consensus are now seen as part of that past.

In short, the center-left’s thorough-going compromise with neoliberalism in the North along with progressive parties and states going along with if not actively adopting neoliberal measures in the South tarnished the progressive spectrum as a whole — even though it was from the non-mainstream, non-state left that the critique of neoliberalism and globalization initially issued in the 1990s and 2000s.

It is a dark legacy that must be decisively pushed aside if progressives are to connect with the mass anger and ressentiment that are now boiling over and transform it into a positive, liberating force.

Advantage: Far Right

Unfortunately, it is the extreme right that is currently best positioned to take advantage of the global discontent, because even before the pandemic, extreme right parties were already opportunistically cherry-picking elements of the anti-neoliberal stands and programs of the independent left — for instance, the critique of globalization, the expansion of the “welfare state,” and greater state intervention in the economy — but putting them within a right-wing gestalt.

So in Europe, you had radical right parties — among them Marine Le Pen’s National Front in France, the Danish People’s Party, the Freedom Party in Austria, Viktor Orban’s Fidesz Party in Hungary — abandoning parts of the old neoliberal programs advocating liberalization and less taxation that they had supported and now proclaiming they were for the welfare state and for more protection of the economy from international engagements, but exclusively for the benefit of the people with “right skin color,” the “right culture,” the “right ethnic stock,” the “right religion.”

Essentially, it’s the old “national socialist” class-inclusivist but racially and culturally exclusivist formula, whose consummate practitioner at present is Donald Trump. But, unfortunately, it works in our troubled times, as shown by the unexpected string of electoral successes of the far right that have pirated large sectors of social democracy’s working class base.

Meanwhile in the global South, charismatic leaders with cross-class appeal, like Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines and Narendra Modi in India, harnessed for their authoritarian projects the popular discontent with long-time liberal democratic regimes whose severely unequal social structures belied their democratic pretensions, sidelining progressive parties that had either compromised with neoliberalism, were imprisoned in classist paradigms that failed to understand the new “populist” realities, or were debilitated by sectarian feuds. Now, using the coronavirus as an excuse, these authoritarian personalities have tightened their repressive hold on the political system with extremely high levels of mass approval of their measures.

…But Don’t Count Out the Left

But one would be foolish to count out the left.

History has a complex dialectical movement, and there are often unexpected developments that open up opportunities for those bold enough to seize them, think outside the box, and willing to ride the tiger on its unpredictable route to power — of which there are many on our side, especially among the younger generation.

But history is also unforgiving, and it rarely tolerates making the same mistake twice. Should progressives again allow discredited social democrats in Europe and Obama and Biden-type Democrats in the U.S. to drag progressive politics back to a new compromise with a dying neoliberalism, the consequences can be truly, truly fatal.

If that happens, then that chilling scene in the movie Cabaret, where ordinary people led by a young Nazi sing “Tomorrow belongs to me,” has a great chance of becoming reality… again.

Source: Transnational Institute

Closing the doors between governments and finance

Former Chancellor Sajid Javid’s new job at JP Morgan, marks yet another swing in the revolving door between our biggest financial and political institutions – one that desperately needs slamming shut. 

It was announced this week that Sajid Javid will join the US banking giant JP Morgan as a senior advisor. The move will be a return to banking for the one-time Chancellor of the Exchequer, who previously worked for JP Morgan in the 1990s. Javid’s career in banking lasted 18 years and ended with his rise to board member of Deutsche Bank International, before he entered politics in 2010.

by Hannah Dewhirst, Positive Money Institute

A near-perfect example of a revolving door, Javid’s new role highlights the danger of those who are tasked with legislating our financial sector being pulled into working for the opposite side. But he is sadly just the latest in a long line of politicians who have made the jump between Westminster and the City.

JP Morgan hired former Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair as a global advisor after leaving office in 2008, ex-PM Gordon Brown is an advisory board member of the investment firm PIMCO and three ex-Chancellors have also made the jump. George Osborne took up a £650,000-a-year advisory post at the investment bank BlackRock, Philip Hammond is currently a partner of the energy investment outfit Buckthorn Partners and Alistair Darling sits on Morgan Stanley’s board of directors. Javid’s move also mirrors the journey of our current Chancellor Rishi Sunak, who worked for the investment bank Goldman Sachs before taking up his parliamentary seat in 2015. Sadly this handful of past residents from Numbers 10 and 11 Downing Street only scratch the surface, countless other examples can be found across the civil service, the Cabinet and the House of Lords.


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But what makes today’s announcement even more concerning, is that Javid secured this role while still serving as Member of Parliament for Bromsgrove. While the role was approved by the advisory committee on business appointments (ACOBA), a Cabinet committee tasked with overseeing jobs taken up by former ministers and senior civil servants, the committee itself warned that the ex-chancellor’s “privileged access to information” meant accepting a job with JP Morgan carried “potential risks”. While they also advised Javid not to take up the job until six months after his last day in government, ACOBA’s lack of enforcement power infamously led to them being branded as a “toothless regulator” by a group of MPs back in 2017, after Osborne’s aforementioned jump to BlackRock. While representing your constituency strikes us as a pretty much full-time position, MPs are currently allowed second jobs. However, we cannot hope to radically reform our money and banking system while the big banks continue to entice politicians into their employ.

Beyond parliament, the revolving door between UK banking sector regulation and finance also reaches the Bank of England. A third of members of the monetary policy committee (the Bank’s most powerful decision-making body) previously worked in commercial banking and just last month Hanneke Smits resigned from the Bank’s Court of Directors to become CEO of BNY Mellon Investment Management.

As long as banks are guided solely by the need to churn out ever greater profits at the expense of our collective and environmental wellbeing – and their past and future employees keep passing through our corridors of power – we’ll never get the sweeping changes we need to fix the societal and ecological challenges we currently face. It’s time to close the door and break the link between politics and the financial sector for good.

Source: Positive Money Institute

Bite Sized Book Reviews II: Electric Boogaloo

Hello again, again!  I’m still far behind on my book reviews, and now there really is no excuse.  I do hope, gentle reader, that you can forgive my laziness.  Even so, here is a second batch of references for you.  This time we focus on “green energy” and how moving towards 100% De-Carbonization will help everyone, everywhere.  

As a compromise between creating a full syllabus (and detailed reviews), and the present urgency,  please accept these tiny blurbs about some very powerful and relevant books.  As well, even though the libraries are closed, and even though we should all be avoiding the evil Amazon Corp. when possible, it’s still possible to get your hands on these easily.  Archive.org has many available to ‘borrow’ for free.  Alibris and Bookshop also offer cheap used books (and supplies them to you via Mom and Pop bookstores, keeping your money in good hands).  


Last go-around, we covered some foundational texts.  There are plenty more of those available, but right just now it’s worth looking into 1 sector closely.  Energy.  How we generate it, how we use it, how it’s wastes affect us… all these aspects have been wrestled with for quite some time now.  In The Green Collar Economy, by Van Jones (Harper One); he pointed out how we can retrofit American homes and businesses and create millions of good steady jobs.  We sure do need that uplift right now, seven months into an economy-destroying pandemic.  I won’t rehash those points here, you can check out the other review if you desire.

I’d actually like to start you out here, with an up-to-the-minute report from someone who’s been on this beat for decades.  Saul Griffith has a new organization that aims to do what Jones called for, and so much more.  That link will take you to a 1 hour podcast, and also a short-read interview with him for those in a hurry.  Here as well is an in-depth handbook.  Fact is we can De-Carbonize entirely, without many sacrifices, and we have all the technology to be doing it right now.  We lack mainly political will, that’s all.  That’s where you can make a difference, both where you live, and on a larger scale.

The Hydrogen Age, by Geoffrey Holland and James Provenzano (Gibbs Smith Publishing), can be your next guidepost.  What the?  Hydrogen, are you mad?

Well, no.  It’s true, in 15 years of trying, hydrogen cars have only sold a few hundred units in this nation.  But please, think bigger.  Think trucks, busses, office buildings, power plants…. all things that can be massively effective at scale, all while doing the work that petroleum products used to do.  After all, why do we burn gasoline in the first place?  To get the Hydrogen locked up in it freed, which in turn does the work of making a motor turn.  Why not skip steps 1 and 2 and simply manage to get the work done while skipping all the pollution in the first place?  Holland and Provenzano argue that we’re actually well on that path, and it looks to become vital in the coming decade.


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I would argue, that in this week where we see the giant Exxon Corporation humiliated and removed from the Dow Jones Industrial Index, that they are more right than it might appear.  Fact is, despite all the travails of 2020, this surely has been the year where the power of the Fossil Fools (oops I mean Fuels) industry has cracked.  Oil was briefly selling for Negative $36 a barrel.  Coal mines are going bankrupt.  The greed and incompetence of the nuclear power industry has already brought about its’ own collapse.  Wind and Solar are steadily proving themselves to be more cost effective, and the market has responded accordingly.  Yet, there is much to do, if we hope to avoid the worst effects of Climate Change from spoiled air.  Hydrogen is going to be a big player in the solutions proffered.

It really does seem as if the planet has suddenly arrived at an inflection point.  While predictable on the ‘macro’ scale, the exact whys and wherefores of how this came to be sure have been a surprise to all.  No matter.  The moment is here, and you dear reader are well-positioned to leverage it to build a more fair world.

And one part of that world, a large part I hope, will be the one that abandons Late Stage Capitalism.  It has served it’s purpose, and is now mostly just toxic to all that it touches.  I’m not alone in this opinion.  Capitalism 3.0, by Peter Barnes (Barret Koehler Books), writes here and elsewhere about what can be done to get off this sinking ship and live a better life in community.

Here’s a pretty long quote.  I find it to be inspiring: “Once or twice per century, there are brief openings during which non-corporate forces reign.  … We must be ready when it comes to build a strong, self-perpetuating commons sector, not easily dismantled when the political wheel turns again.  Being ready then means getting busy now.  We should, first of all, start noticing and talking about our common wealth.  Whenever we see it, we should point to it and let the world know to whom it belongs.  Second, we should demand more birthrights and property rights than we have now.  Rights that belong to everyone.  Rights built into our operating system.  Rights that protect future generations as well as our own.  The reason I stress property rights is that, in America, property rights are sacred.  They’re guaranteed by the Constitution.  Once you have them, they can’t be taken without fair compensation.  Those protections have greatly benefited those who own private property; they should also benefit those who share common wealth.  Third, we should imagine and design multiple pieces of the commons sector – that is, organized forms of what we want the commons to take.  And we should build and test our models wherever possible.  Frequently in the past, models developed locally have both replicated on their own, and risen to the national level.”

Me again: I can’t improve on that.  If you come to understand Barnes’ points, then you will understand why I post here on Mobilized.  This site, this group of people we are connecting – that’s the model.  This is the test.  And we have every reason to believe that it’ll succeed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After Industrialism: Reviving Nature in the 21st Century

By Reinhard Olschanski

Ecologism as a school of thought emerges as a critique of industrialism, the ideology that binds liberalism, conservativism, and socialism. It develops these three dominant political traditions by recognising nature as the basis for the human’s existence and development. Two decades into a 21st century already defined by the crisis of the human in nature, the ecologisation of human society is an urgent imperative.

Hardly anything escaped the titanic forces of industrial modernity. It ploughed up the world and created it anew. It shaped a way of thinking that sees everything as dominated by the kinematic principles of machines. Humanity too became a kind of machine, with the relationship between the mind and the brain resembling that of bile and the gall bladder. The human spirit was banished, separated from the material world, which was subject to human control as a subordinate or yet to be subordinated space. One consequence of the naturalisation of human existence, or perhaps its banishment from nature, was the forgetting of the body.

The suppression of the ecological question

The great political concepts – liberalism, conservatism, socialism – were deeply influenced by industrialism. In the struggle over socialism, the market economy, and the “Third Way”, that human dominance over nature could be extended indefinitely was common sense. Since the emergence of great industry in the 19th century, industrialism has been the true ideology of the epoch, tying the three main political traditions and their representatives closer together than they ever thought possible.

This common foundation came into view wherever they evaded the ecological question. For example, in a Marxism that rejected ecological thinking as a fallacious critique tainted by mysticism because of its focus on the effects of modern technology on the environment and its out-of-hand rejection of nuclear power. Anyone guilty of this could only be a romantic and naïve technological pessimist, or worse, a Luddite. They had failed to understand that the “social determination of form”, the bourgeois system of property relations within which technology is used, is the real problem. This critique of ecology went so far as to claim that socialist nuclear power plants were safe because they were run to serve the wellbeing of the people, not capitalist desire for profit. The nuclear catastrophe at Chernobyl stands as a memorial to this way of thinking. It revealed that not only the defects of actually existing socialism had been ignored, but also the dangers inherent in the large-scale technology of nuclear power as such.

Industrialism has many faces. Western social democracy, too, was permeated by it.

 


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Industrialism has many faces. Western social democracy, too, was permeated by it. Industrialism fought for nuclear power, rebuilt cities for cars not people, and – to this day – obstructs a rapid phase-out of fossil fuels. Western conservatives and liberals reversed the Marxist argument about the social determination of form. In their view, the dangers of nuclear power were not down to the capitalist profit motive but “socialist inefficiency”. Fukushima proved to be the Chernobyl of market-liberal industrialism.

The critique of industrialism

But industrialism was not limited to such short-sighted forms. Much of the agenda put forward by the contemporary ecology movement was already prefigured during the golden age of industrialism. It can be found in the German late-19th century Lebensreform (life reform) movement. Or later in the sports and hiking trends that drew people away from the grey cities into the tamed wild of the Great Outdoors. Or in the Reformarchitektur (architecture of reform) movement in the early 1900s that brought air and sunlight into workers’ districts.

Philosophy too recognised the costs of modern industrialism. Starting with Romanticism and its aesthetic discovery of nature, via several variants of conservative cultural criticism, through to critical theory and the Frankfurt School, a thread questioning the model of progress and enlightenment associated with modernity can be followed. As different as these approaches were, what they shared was an attempt to assert an otherness to the instrumentalist-industrialist rationale of a kind that had been forgotten and repressed in the course of progress.

For all his admiration of modern productive forces, Marx knew very well that the human is and remains a part of nature.

Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno’s 1944 Dialectic of Enlightenment traced how the Enlightenment turned away from its original humanist ideals to arrive at a functional and instrumental rationalism, paving the way for technocracy, fascism, and tyranny. Related perspectives from the wider Frankfurt School are found in Herbert Marcuse’s One-Dimensional Man and in Erich Fromm’s To Have or to Be?.

The 1960s, the peak of the glorious golden years of growth, saw a strong revival of the conservative cultural critique of industrialism of the kind found in Arnold Gehlen’s 1957 Man in the Age of Technology. Those who would prefer not to relate to Martin Heidegger’s critique of technical thinking and the limits of the Enlightenment might prefer Karl Marx as a firmer starting point for ecological thinking. For all his admiration of modern productive forces, Marx knew very well that the human is and remains a part of nature. Indeed, the human is that special part of nature in which it becomes aware of itself. Ecological philosophy should take up this thought, found above all in Marx’s early writings, and develop it further. It should define itself as a philosophy that deals in depth with how nature, as human, encounters itself in practice and in theory.

The chain of thought that results from this understanding is not straightforward. It reminds us that human existence belongs in a continuum, given its context in nature. As an undeniably natural being, humans are part of the causal chains and relationships in which everything that exists is reflected in everything else that exists. At the same time, ecological thinking accentuates the difference resulting from the human’s conscious and purposeful awareness of its natural context. Humanity is nature, but within nature, it puts itself in an eccentric position. Humanity cannot escape nature, but neither is it rigidly determined by it.

Ecological critique is concerned with the blind spots of human intervention in nature and its repercussions, on nature as on society. It highlights how, first, nature is not simply building blocks of inert matter but a self-reflexive continuum of networks and complex chains. Second, how the human itself is a natural being by virtue of being flesh and blood. And third, that by intervening in nature the human is ultimately intervening in itself.

Work as a metabolic process involving nature

Human existence explicitly refers back to nature. In contrast to the relationship between animals and nature, humans make use of resources, tools, and techniques that are not merely found but are created specifically for a purpose. These instruments objectify human productive ends. A technical-cultural world emerges in which a way of living and interacting with nature is established and passed down through time.

In Being and Time, Heidegger showed how the relationship with nature, mediated by tools, is realised through routinised and ingrained contexts of meaning. Only when something is missing in the work process and is no longer on hand do these contexts come into question. To go a step further, an additional degree of alienation arises when everything necessary for success is on hand but the act of engaging with nature nevertheless fails. In this alienation, not only does the organising context of meaning become problematic but also the resistances and frictions that eluded the preceding structuring of meaning. Human engagement with nature encounters a hard residue that cannot be foreseen or interpreted away. Immanuel Kant referred to that residue as “thing-in-itself”, a largely hidden otherness that must always be taken into account.

Ecological thinking recognises this otherness in the relationship with nature. It accounts for adversity and obstacles, especially those that occur at an advanced level of industrial production. But the basic categories from which it develops can already be discerned in simple manual work. The elemental human engagement with nature – the practical synthesis in manual work that unites purposeful action, instrument, and the object of work – is thus the starting point for ecological reflection. The otherness appears wherever the thing does not want to do what the human wants it to do: when a form breaks before it can be given its intended shape or when the hammer strikes the finger rather than the nail. Even such small forms of adversity tend to be met with abstraction that ignores the reality of engagement with nature, to consider work as if it were exclusively a matter of ideas to be fashioned seamlessly in a product. A perspective that takes work to be a concrete form of engagement with nature, on the other hand, appreciates that a great deal happens on the journey from the possible, the preconceived purpose, to the actual, the product. From a simple engagement with nature, ecological critique learns that things often turn out differently than expected.

Ecological thinking recognises this otherness in the relationship with nature. It accounts for adversity and obstacles, especially those that occur at an advanced level of industrial production.

More specifically, ecological critique is concerned with that aspect of otherness that recalls how nature is more than matter at humanity’s disposal. Nature encompasses both the human worker and the society to which they belong. The resulting frictions were already present in pre-modern forms of production, as in the toxic effects of dyes that decimated craftspeople and tanners for centuries and turned entire quarters of pre-modern cities into ecological no-go areas. The more far-reaching impacts characteristic of modern industry’s engagement with nature have their own long heritage, as in the ongoing process of deforestation that stretches back to ancient times. Such examples are no longer a matter of individual things and their particular difficulties, but of the repercussions of the general over-exploitation of nature that causes ecological systems to collapse and leaves landscapes desolate. Drawing on deforestation, Jean-Paul Sartre developed an important concept of ecological thinking, the “contra-finality”, to refer to the spatially and temporally extensive consequences of human engagement and their repercussions.

We are nature

Ecological thinking reminds us, individually and collectively, that nature is the basis of human existence. When applied politically and practically, it becomes a defence of nature whereby – emphatically speaking – nature defends itself. This extended understanding of nature is echoed in the activist slogan first heard in Australia in the 1970s: “We are not defending nature, we are nature defending itself.”

This is not to be understood in the sense of a naturalised engagement. Rather, the self-defence of nature refers to the dual process by which an impersonal and unconscious counter-finality visits revenge on the human instigators of ecological crisis to make them aware of their place in a wider context.

Human flesh and blood form the basis of this connection – that part of nature that centres human existence. They are the medium, torn apart into subjectivity and objectivity by modern industrialism, the basis that makes knowledge of what humanity is doing an urgent imperative.

Becoming ecological

For a long time, the parties of old industrialism regarded ecological thinking as “post-
materialist”, a way of thinking for the children of the bourgeoisie, First World problems. They constructed an opposition with ecology on one side and economics and social justice on the other. Ecological demands, according to this view, spelt economic ruin and robbed workers of their hard-earned money. This industrialist International spanned all camps and blocs, visible for decades in the alliance of Social and Christian Democrats protecting the car industry against environmental legislation.

Now, it is clear that ecological thinking situates the human in the modern world far more accurately than old industrialism ever did, with its propensity to abstract away from the effects of humanity’s engagement with nature. With regard to the social question, climate change has confirmed Friedrich Engels’s insight from The Condition of the Working Class in England: the poorest of the poor are always the first victims of ecological crises.

Traditional industrialism is already history in many developed countries. Swathes of the old industries have shut down, leaving rust belts in their place. Globalisation has shifted much of production to the Global South, while the service sector has expanded. Automation and digitalisation are transforming the industries that remain. This upheaval is full of opportunities and dangers.

Ecological thinking situates the human in the modern world far more accurately than old industrialism ever did.

The ecological turn is therefore a major opportunity; its absence a great threat. Green parties represent that concern. Meanwhile, traditional parties from the old triad of conservatism, liberalism, and socialism are modifying their stances. Economy and ecology are no longer understood as being in opposition but as cumulative, though usually in a half-hearted way that adds the ecological to economic only where possible. Yet the traditional parties are well placed to frame ecological aspirations much more radically.

Conservatives could recall the forgotten principle of “the preservation of creation”. Liberals could identify the market forces that could drive an ecological transition. Socialists could criticise the culture of accumulation standing in the way of such a shift. For their part, Greens need to understand the state apparatus better to allow its gradual and radical transformation towards the inclusion of nature. The ecologisation of the state is a fundamental condition for a successful paradigm shift.

What is needed is a change in the parameters to make ecology decisive for the economy and industry, the battleground on which the struggle over tomorrow’s technologies and products will be fought. Clever entrepreneurs and far-sighted trade unionists have long understood this challenge but often remained minority voices. For many scientists and engineers, the ecological agenda has long been part of their professional ethos. The parties of old industrialism have considerable catching up to do.

Populism and zombie industrialism

A third position has now emerged. It does not question the thesis of opposition between ecology and economy but strengthens and refines it, merging the rejection of migrants, feminists, and ecologists into the same reactionary chorus. It seeks to counter the ecological agenda with a “zombie industrialism”. Its advocates sit in the White House and the administrations of other countries under right-wing populist rule. Many more around the world prepare for an anti-ecological roll-back.

Populists are acting as cheerleaders for the carbon lobby, for unbridled calls to “Drill, baby, drill!” They fight for a radicalised extractivism and against decarbonisation. They blow open the path for fracking to squeeze the last drops of oil out of the planet. Following in their wake, industrial agriculture and mass cattle farming are contributing to climate change and the greatest mass species extinction since the end of the dinosaurs.

The social question appears to have been neglected once again. In the rare earth mines of the Global South, archaically exploited workers extract raw materials for advanced products found in high-tech countries. In the Global North, ethnic discrimination and exclusion have re-emerged. “Foreigners” are forced out to save resources for “our people”. It’s not only the relationship between human and nature that is being brutalised, but that between people too.

Once more: master-slave

To unpick the method behind the coincidence of these two brutalisations, it is worth returning to Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel’s master-slave dialectic. What can be abstracted from the resistance of things, which is what leads to the ecological question disappearing from view, is shown by Hegel to be part of a social relationship. It is the position of the master, who, unlike his slave, has little to do with the business of introducing purposes into things. Hegel’s master is not an innovative entrepreneur but someone who subjugates and enslaves both human and nature, just as slave owners and feudal lords used to do. The archaic subjugation of human and nature has not disappeared under modernity. It was an element of its rise in the form of “primitive accumulation”. Colonialism, slavery in the USA, and contemporary working conditions in many regions of the Global South are further examples. As is the militarisation of labour during Stalin’s industrialisation drive. Or the same militarisation under National Socialism that fought nature on an industrial “labour front” when it was not practising the annihilation of life through labour.

In the pursuit of short-term profit, industrialism risks the end of the world as we know it.

Today’s zombie industrialism combines ecological and social recklessness with a tendency to create mythicised enemies and fantasies of violence. Ecological activists are no longer simply naïve post-materialists but “climate Nazis”, as a German politician of the extreme right put it. They are monstrous children of evil to be driven out together with migrants, refugees, and Muslims. Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro, who threatens the remaining rainforests with ruthless slash-and-burn agriculture, follows the same line when he claims that it was environmentalists who set the jungles on fire.

Cloaked and fired up by populism, industrialism is arming itself for the final battle. It wants, in a radical step, to exclude all of the ecological and social costs of production. As it destroys nature and disintegrates societies, industrialism is declaring, “Après moi, le déluge”. The price is to be paid by posterity. In the pursuit of short-term profit, industrialism risks the end of the world as we know it. This calls for a resistance that can unite social, economic, and ecological common sense. An alliance for democracy and sustainability, against the new barbarians of populism and zombie industrialism, is the great mission of our time. The task for Green parties and movements is clear.

 

Dr Reinhard Olschanski studied philosophy, music, politics, and German language and literature in Berlin, Frankfurt, and Urbino (Italy). His doctoral thesis was written under the supervision of Axel Honneth. In addition to having held a range of teaching posts, Dr Olschanski has many years’ experience as a political advisor in the German Bundestag, the State Parliament of North Rhine-Westphalia, and the State Ministry of Baden-Württemberg. Dr Olschanski has published widely on a variety of topics including politics, philosophy, music, and culture.

Source: Green European Journal

Cities vs. Multinationals

25 June 2020

This publication takes a comprehensive look at the confrontation between cities and multinationals’ power, which is played out in many different ways in different sectors. It includes articles written by activists, journalists, officials and academics from different European countries.

Authors:   Max Carbonell Ballestero, Déborah Berlioz, Igor Lasić, Kenneth Haar, Yago Álvarez Barba, Maria Maggiore, Benoît Collet, Olivier Petitjean, Rachel Knaebel, Hazel Sheffield, Maxime Combes, Barnabé Binctin, Guernica Facundo Vericat, Radek Vrábel, Olivier Hoedeman, Lina María González Correa, Mónica Vargas, Eleonora de Majo, Blanca Bayas Fernández, Alfons Pérez , Laia Forné, Nuria Alabao, Sol Trumbo Vila, Emma Avilés

In collaboration with:  Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO), Observatori del Deute en la Globalització (ODG), Observatoire des multinationales (OMAL)

Programmes:  Corporate Power, Public Alternatives

All over the world, and especially in Europe, cities have become a key battleground against the growing reach and power of multinational corporations, and all the social and environmental ills they entail.

This has become increasingly visible in traditional urban sectors such as construc- tion and public services, but also in the increasingly destructive tourism industry, in the “disruptions” caused or planned by tech and platform companies and in the speculative take over of cities’ living spaces. It is also visible in the countless obstacles that multinationals and their allies put in the way of city councils, communities, urban groups and movements seeking to tackle the climate emergency through decisive action or develop alternatives for providing basic services, protecting rights, or ensure a resilient energy or food supply.

From water privatisation to Airbnb and Uber, from fighting against cars and diesel pollution to promoting a “relocalised” economy that does not leak cash for the benefit of remote shareholders, a battle is brewing in Europe, one that pits cities and citizens against multinationals and the power of finance.

This is also a battle that cities and urban movements are increasingly conscious of, as they seek to gather their forces through networks and alliances to share their experience and develop common strategies. The “municipalist” movement, particularly vibrant in Spain but which has spread across the planet, is the expression of that consciousness (although it is a label that not all groups and people featured in the articles below would spontaneously use).

This publication is a first attempt to take a comprehensive look at the confrontation between cities and multinationals’ power, which is played out in many different sectors, and in different ways. It includes articles written by activists, journalists, officials and academics from different European countries. It tells stories of resistance and construction, of collective awakening and mass movements, of courageous social or political leaders. These are not only stories about mayors and city councils, but also stories about urban social movements, civil society groups, and impoverished communities and workers taking a stand and claiming their “right to the city”. We limited our scope to Europe, for pragmatic reasons and to emphasise the shared experience of European cities in recent years, but of course the same stories, or similar ones, could be told across the planet.

We are aware of the fact that “cities” is a highly contested term, both from a scientific and a political perspective. Our emphasis on cities does not come from their urban configuration or administrative qualification, but from recognising them as a political space of struggle and articulation of social majorities that, in the current era, has facilitated the articulation of new forms and practices to rein in the power of multinationals. We are also aware of the dependence of cities on extracting resources from the rural world. Cities as a space of political transformation cannot be romanticized without an analysis that acknowledges this fact.

Ultimately, this publication is about the confrontation between democracy and corporate power. In Europe, there is an increased sense that the current political system, which is based on the checks and balances model inherited from the liberal revolutions, has lost its legitimacy. Multinationals and their unparalleled economic and political influence lack effective accountability mechanisms within the existing decision-making processes of our democracies. Their unbridled power has great effects on the way we live as individuals and urban denizens, and on what we are capable of deciding collectively to manage our shared interests and expectations.

Contents

Introduction

RESIST.

#RavalVsBlackstone: The right to the city against the finance-real estate-tourism complex – MAX CARBONELL

The German Cities and Activists Rising Up Against the Car Industry – DÉBORAH BERLIOZ

“What is Dubrovnik Today?”: A golf course, free trade agreements, and the battle for the soul of a city – IGOR LASIĆ

Box : Airbnb Lobbyists in Brussels: Curbing Cities from Above – KENNETH HAAR

Debt: The straightjacket on municipalism – YAGO ÁLVAREZ

“Stop 5G”: Residents, doctors and judges going against the grain of Italy’s infatuation with smartphones – MARIA MAGGIORE

From Public Refuse to Private Profits: Does Belgrade really need a costly, corporate-built incinerator? – BENOÎT COLLET

Tech Giants, Privatisers and the Arms Industry: Fighting the “smart city” in France – OLIVIER PETITJEAN

Box : The Berlin Neighbourhood Which Forced Google Out – RACHEL KNAEBEL

RELOCALISE.

The “Preston Model”: A UK city takes the lead in progressive procurement – HAZEL SHEFFIELD

Loos en Gohelle, From Coal to Renewables: Is there a future for a small town without resources – MAXIME COMBES

Box : Good Meals Out of Freshwater in Rennes – BARNABÉ BINCTIN

Showcase Cities, Agora Cities: A vision of Barcelona built on solidarity – GUERNICA FACUNDO

Good News from the Brink: The story of Horní Jiřetín, a small North Bohemian town that defied the coal industry – RADEK VRABEL

Energy Transition: A small German district shows the way – DÉBORAH BERLIOZ

Cities with a Cause: Are EU rules an obstacle to the growing movement of progressive local procurement? – OLIVIER HOEDEMAN

Box : Progressive Procurement and Corporate Accountability in Barcelona – MÓNICA VARGAS, LINA MARÍA GONZÁLEZ

(RE)MUNICIPALISE.

Leaving Water Privatisation Behind: Paris, Grenoble and the advent of a water remunicipalisation movement in France – OLIVIER PETITJEAN

A City Against Established Powers: Neomunicipalism in Naples – ELEONORA DE MAJO

Defending Life in Cities through Feminist Action: Taking care services out of corporate hands – BLANCA BAYAS

Residents on the Front Line in Berlin’s Housing Revolution – RACHEL KNAEBEL

Switching off Spain’s Electricity Oligopoly: Three proposals to dismantle the corporate power of Spain’s electricity companies – ALFONS PÉREZ

France’s New “Municipal Farmers” – BARNABÉ BINCTIN

LOOKING FURTHER.

Public-Community Municipalism in Defence of the Commons – LAIA FORNÉ

Local Democracy and Feminism, Tools Against Neoliberalism – NURIA ALABAO

Source: Transition International

Counter-terrorism and the Arts

Counter-terrorism and the Arts is a framing paper, aiming to set out the main concerns regarding the impact of counter-terrorism policies, legislation and national security measures on freedom of expression, specifically in relation to the arts.
Authors: Jane Kilpatrick
Editors: Arun Kundnani, Niamh Ni Bhriain
Europol’s Terrorism Situation and Trend Report 2019 considers five categories of terrorism, dividing the concept into “jihadist terrorism”, “ethno-nationalist and separatist terrorism”, “left-wing and anarchist terrorism”, “right-wing terrorism” and “single-issue terrorism”. The fear of terrorism and the “increasing polarization and rise of extremist views” has seen States amend and introduce laws on combatting terrorism or protecting victims, many of which interact directly with the right to freedom of expression by introducing restrictions to acts found to glorify or encourage terrorist offences. The 2015 Joint Declaration on Freedom of Expression and Responses to Conflict Situations warned against over-broad restrictions relating to terrorism and against the vague concepts of “glorifying”, “justifying” and “encouraging” being included in definitions of terrorism-related offences in legislation.

Misuse of anti-terror legislation can threaten freedom of expression both directly, through judicial and procedural application of the law, and via the changes in individuals’ behaviour that the expectation of this can create. Laws criminalizing vaguely defined “extremist activities” or offering too wide a definition of offences “may lead to unnecessary or disproportionate restrictions on the right to freedom of expression”. Three common qualities are necessary in legislation to insure against the misuse of anti-terror legislation to restrict the right to freedom of expression:

    • Precision of national law, allowing media and individuals to reasonably foresee the consequences of any expression;
    • Restrictions only strictly necessary to protect national security, proportionate to legitimate aims pursued and applied only to content or activities that directly imply the use or threat of violence with the intention to spread fear and terror;
  • No undue interference with the role of the media in imparting information of public interest, nor with individuals’ right to seek and receive that information.

This paper will firstly explore the contexts of freedom of expression and counter-terrorism legislation, establishing the importance of both and their development and interaction in national and international law. Then, the application of restrictions to freedom of expression under counter-terror measures will be introduced and the legitimate grounds for doing so, in general and during states of emergency, will be analysed. The case studies of laws passed in Turkey, France, Spain and the United Kingdom are then briefly used to demonstrate a cross section of approaches to the threat of terrorism across the continent, before analysing how these approaches have impacted on freedom of expression, especially in the arts, in these and other European States. Finally, the scoping paper ends with a brief synthesis of trends and impacts across Europe, suggesting further research and recommendations.

Source: Transnational International

 

From Defunding the Police to Alternatives to Policing with Community-based Approaches

Project Censored researcher and author Amber Yang, a Restorative Justice and Wellness Coordinator in Northern California rejoins the show along with Phoebe Smith, a long-time public-school teacher, teacher trainer, and consultant to school districts on restorative-justice practices in the greater San Francisco Bay Area. As the concept of “defunding the police” is discussed nationwide, this week’s program offers alternatives to policing with community-based approaches. Mickey’s guests also discuss the school to prison pipeline and explain the theory, practice, and benefits of using ‘restorative justice’ in the context of public schools.

[Editor’s note: This program was edited to excise 6 minutes of the broadcast to potentially protect the identity of a minor student, who while not named, was still edited out in keeping with the spirit of FERPA.]

Change Finance (not the Climate)

“‘Green finance won’t save us — but fundamentally transforming the global financial system just might. Oscar Reyes is one of our indispensable experts on climate and finance, and I’ve long relied on his work. If you want to know how we can democratically marshal the resources for a Global Green New Deal, this is the place to start.” – Naomi Klein, author of On Fire: The Burning Case for the Green New Deal

The financial system must be completely overhauled to stop climate chaos. Fossil fuel lending can be redirected towards green energy to protect people and the planet. Challenging the role of “big finance” will require political intervention rather than mere technical fixes. Public finance can take a lead by bankrolling a Green New Deal, placing democratic control and equitable access to common goods and
services at the heart of investment.

This book presents progressive proposals to build a fair financial system that can respond to the climate crisis, assess their potential impact, achievability and any associated drawbacks. Climate activists are presented with a variety of financial tools to power a just transition, including: green bonds for public investment in a Green New Deal; credit policies by central banks and financial regulators to increase fossil free lending and cut the flow of finance to the worst polluters; the creation of green development banks with a clear climate and social mandate to prioritize public and local initiatives; reforming company boards and introducing corporate charters that offer a legal vehicle to hold companies to account for the pollution they cause; divestment from fossil fuels, targeting insurance companies underwriting the coal sector  as a first priority, and the development of climate investment strategies by public pension funds.

Decades of austerity have stripped the state of much of its capacity to invest through debt financing and undermined the tax base, allowing transnational corporations and a growing billionaire class to shift their profits and wealth beyond the reach of tax authorities. These trends must be reversed urgently, and power shifted back to democratically accountable public enterprises, to move rapidly towards a fossil free world.

Source: Transnational Institute

The latest from AI research: automated fake news trolls

In February, OpenAI touted a new artificial intelligence program that the research outfit described as “chameleon-like” in its ability to produce coherent paragraphs of text based on a given input. The program known as GPT-2 can write essays or craft poems; it can even answer reading comprehension questions. But it may also be able to do something much more troubling: produce credible fake news at the click of a button. Sarah Kreps, a professor at Cornell University, tested this proposition, and what she and a colleague found alarmed her.

 

By Matt Field, Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, October 29, 2019

Russia’s effort to disrupt the 2016 US presidential election required, among other elements, hiring a small army of internet trolls. Now it may be possible to automate a significant amount of that work, a technological development that could make it harder to discern truth from fiction.


Editor’s note: Sarah Kreps, featured in this video, has been collaborating with OpenAI to explore the potential impacts of GPT-2.

Source: The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists

What the protests tell us: Invest in social equity, not nuclear weapons

Vandals looted the New Balance store on my corner Monday night, while others targeted the AT&T store a few blocks away.  This was the second night of helicopters flying low above our house monitoring the unfolding situation in the normally quiet neighborhood of Lincoln Park. One night earlier, a mob had turned the Old Town neighborhood, just a few blocks south, into a staging ground, and there were reports of homes broken into and a school damaged. Almost every local business has boarded up its windows with what seems like a bottomless supply of brown speckled plywood. The National Guard is deployed, and while I haven’t seen their presence, my colleague at the Bulletin can see trucks filled with sand right outside her window, a Humvee parked on the corner making its presence known.

By Rachel Bronson, June 3, 2020

Vandals looted the New Balance store on my corner Monday night, while others targeted the AT&T store a few blocks away.  This was the second night of helicopters flying low above our house monitoring the unfolding situation in the normally quiet neighborhood of Lincoln Park. One night earlier, a mob had turned the Old Town neighborhood, just a few blocks south, into a staging ground, and there were reports of homes broken into and a school damaged. Almost every local business has boarded up its windows with what seems like a bottomless supply of brown speckled plywood. The National Guard is deployed, and while I haven’t seen their presence, my colleague at the Bulletin can see trucks filled with sand right outside her window, a Humvee parked on the corner making its presence known.

I live in Chicago, one of the most segregated cities in America, but also a city of neighborhoods, home to some of the country’s most innovative education experiments and violence-reduction policies. It is led by a black female mayor determined and well equipped to right decades of wrong. As I write, a peaceful protest that started just north of me at Wrigley Field has swept up my two teenage daughters, who have disappeared into a flowing sea of humanity chanting “Black Lives Matter” and “George Floyd,” the name of the African American man who was killed by police just a week or so ago in Minneapolis. How as a society do we balance the need of a public health system that requires social distancing and a justice system that requires intense social mobilization?

We are faced with this Solomonic choice on the domestic front because our 20th century security strategies are proving  ineffective in addressing America’s 21st century threats. But this failure to match security policy to security challenges does not stop at the water’s edge. The United States’ approach to international relations may work if the country ever finds itself in the two simultaneous and unlikely land wars in Asia and Europe that our military planners have envisioned in their budget requests. But that approach seems wildly ill-conceived, if the goal is to lessen the human toll that will be caused by an array of new threats—from climate change and fast-spreading viruses to the technologies behind cyber hacking and information warfare—that are undermining trust in institutions and have the potential to stop whole societies in their tracks.

To tackle these emerging challenges the United States will need to make significant investments in new security arrangements and forge new types of global coordination, because no one country alone can deal with this wide and expanding array of global threats. Alas, the United States is neither investing nor coordinating. It is walking away from global arms control arrangements without even planning a next step, in a vicious international form of the “repeal and replace” that has so dramatically failed to work with the US health care system. Now, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, the Trump administration has set its gaze on the global public health system, announcing plans to defund the World Health Organization without doing the hard work needed to create a better, more agile institution to support or replace it—something that many experts would agree is required.

Our increasing retreat to nationalism and nativism in the face of problems that are global in nature will be unnecessarily expensive, leaving less and less money to spend on newly emerging threats and on our own domestic society, where equity gaps of many sorts have been growing ever wider. It is no coincidence that as the United States walks away from arms control agreements that have been put into place over the last 50 years to slow a nuclear arms race with Russia, the United States is also set to invest gobs of money in new nuclear weapons. In fact, such a result is predictable. Today, the United States is on the cusp of spending somewhere between $1.2 and $1.8 trillion over the next 30 years on new nuclear weapons, a large portion of which is unnecessary from a military security point of view and could be better invested elsewhere.

Back in the 1960s, African American leaders recognized that money spent on weapons reduced resources that could be distributed domestically. In 1967, Martin Luther King pointed out that “a nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual doom.” It is the same argument that has compelled many African American leaders to advocate for nuclear disarmament.

Today, well into a new century, the United States government appears to be deaf to such common-sense arguments. But citizens could demand a different path. The pandemic provides important lessons that we would do well to heed. These include: inequities in public health make societies less, not more stable; prevention is always cheaper than reaction; science matters, and just because you can’t see a problem—germs in the air, say, or increasing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere—doesn’t mean it is inconsequential; and individual action can make a big difference, whether the action be social distancing, demonstrating for social justice, reducing one’s carbon footprint, or demanding a rethink of our current nuclear strategy. As we deal with the COVID pandemic, breadcrumbs are being laid out for us, showing the way toward better decisions about how to use our resources in this no-longer-new 21st century. Shouldn’t we follow them?

A placard carried by a woman walking by my house just now reads “Disarm Dismantle Defund.” I suspect it was written with the police department in mind, but it is equally applicable to our broader national security paradigm, especially as it applies to nuclear weapons and their limited ability to combat a growing set of global challenges. Our current strategies and investments are anachronistic and do not seem to be making us safer. Twenty years in, isn’t it time to acknowledge the century we live in?

Editor’s note: Martin Luther King Jr. pointed out that “a nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual doom” in 1967, not the 1950s, as this article originally suggested.

Source: The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists

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