As we write these notes at the beginning of November climate change is once again in the headlines in the United States and around the world. This is because of the devastating impact of Hurricane Sandy, not only on islands in the Caribbean, but also on the northeastern United States and particularly New York and New Jersey, with the impact of the storm dramatized by the damage to New York City. Coincidentally almost twenty-five years ago it was a heat wave experienced in New York, coinciding with climatologist James Hansen’s famous testimony to Congress, that first made global warming a public issue, and increasingly an international one with the formation that year of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Whether Hurricane Sandy’s destruction in New York and New Jersey will lead to a similar elevation of climate change as a public issue this time around remains to be seen.
Capitalism today is caught in a seemingly endless crisis, with economic stagnation and upheaval circling the globe. But while the world has been fixated on the economic problem, global environmental conditions have been rapidly worsening, confronting humanity with its ultimate crisis: one of long-term survival. The common source of both of these crises resides in the process of capital accumulation. Likewise the common solution is to be sought in a “revolutionary reconstitution of society at large,” going beyond the regime of capital.… It is still possible for humanity to avert what economist Robert Heilbroner once called “ecological Armageddon.” The means for the creation of a just and sustainable world currently exist, and are to be found lying hidden in the growing gap between what could be achieved with the resources already available to us, and what the prevailing social order allows us to accomplish. It is this latent potential for a quite different human metabolism with nature that offers the master-key to a workable ecological exit strategy.
Those who conclude that the working class is not a revolutionary subject because capitalism has changed the working class reveal that they do not understand the ABCs of Marxism. The working class makes itself a revolutionary subject through its struggles—it transforms itself. That was always the position of Marx—his concept of “revolutionary practice,” which is the simultaneous changing of circumstances and self-change. The working class changes itself through its struggles. It makes itself fit to create the new world.
In February 1967 came the Arusha Declaration. The ruling party, the Tanganyika African National Union (TANU), issued the Arusha Declaration and a policy of socialism and self-reliance. Our word in Kiswahili, Ujamaa (translated as extended family or familyhood), became the official policy. A number of companies in the commanding heights of the national economy were nationalized by the government. That started a whole new debate at the university. Walter Rodney had just come from SOAS (the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London) and became a young lecturer here. In the conference on rethinking the role of the university in now socialist Tanzania, he played a very important role.
On his most recent album, Wrecking Ball, Bruce Springsteen crafted a powerful statement of support for the working class, the existence of which barely penetrates contemporary art or politics. This is not an accident: the growing power of capital over public discourse has provided it a forceful means through which to shape individual consciousness, and establish an apolitical and at most technocratic understanding of power.… Even in the cultural realm, the art and voices of the working class are sidelined and squelched. Working people thus become invisible.
In 1929 Bronislaw Malinowski, the primogenitor of twentieth century anthropology, published an article extolling the merits of his science in the process of colonial administration.… It was essentially a fundraising pitch for the Institute, which was seeking a subsidy from the Rockefeller Foundation by demonstrating the workaday virtues of what was until then an obscure discipline with little apparent importance to the vast powers stretching outward from the heart of capitalism to envelope the world. Eight decades later anthropology’s quest for investment perseveres…. Yet the tables have strangely turned: it is now imperial powers, cash in hand, which turn to a reluctant anthropology, seeking scientific means of domination through a form of cultural warfare. In Weaponizing Anthropology, David Price documents the latest form of blood alimony proffered by the custodians of empire to the discipline which was once styled the “child of western imperialism.”
From September 10–18, 2012, …[the] rank-and-file-led Chicago Teachers Union went on strike in what is the third-largest school district in the nation with some 350,000 students.… Working-class communities in Chicago came massively to the aid of the strikers. More than a strike simply over wages, teachers were fighting against the corporatization, privatization, and degradation of schools, including: education cutbacks; school closings; teacher layoffs; merit-based pay and removal of teacher-seniority protections; loss of benefits; increased class sizes; shortages of textbooks and equipment; longer school days and longer working hours for teachers; excessive testing; teacher evaluation based mainly on student test scores…; the imposition of an increasingly standardized, corporate-derived curriculum; the charterization of schools; and a highly segregated school district.… The Chicago teachers won a number of partial victories as a result of the strike…. This struggle over elementary and secondary education…is at the very heart of class/social conflict in the United States today. Moreover, neoliberal attacks on public education are now occurring on a global level. Consequently, we intend to devote added attention to the battle over K–12 education in future issues of MR.
On the brink of the 2012 presidential election, and without considering that electoral contest itself, it is useful to comment on the state of U.S. democracy. The most striking lesson from contemporary U.S. election campaigns is how vast and growing the distance is between the rhetoric and pronouncements of the politicians and pundits and the actual deepening, immense, and largely ignored problems that afflict the people of the United States.… Mainstream politics seem increasingly irrelevant to the real problems the nation faces…. The degeneration of U.S. politics is a long-term process.… capitalism and democracy have always had a difficult relationship. The former generates severe inequality and the latter is predicated upon political equality.… Capitalist democracy therefore becomes more democratic to the extent that it is less capitalist (dominated by wealth) and to the extent to which popular forces—those without substantial property—are able to organize successfully to win great victories…. In the past four decades such organized popular forces in the United States—never especially strong compared to most other capitalist democracies—have been decimated, with disastrous consequences. The United States has long been considered a “weak democracy”; by the second decade of the new century that is truly an exaggeration. Today, the United States is better understood as what John Nichols and I term a “Dollarocracy”—the rule of money rather than the rule of the people—a specifically U.S. form of plutocracy.
While the global economy is mired in ever-deepening crisis, there is no abatement in the propaganda rationalizing free markets and perfect competition. In the world of “perfect competition” governed by the “invisible hand” of market forces, no single actor (or even a combination of a few) is in a position to influence the market equilibrium, and prices are determined by the balance of demand and supply. This is a win-win world, where actors have sufficient information for arriving at their respective choices, consumers are free to make the correct decisions, and this self-governing system leads to progressively increasing welfare for all.… In this mythological world, there is also a hell, whose name is monopoly or oligopoly, the exact opposite of perfect competition, where a few sellers or producers distort the markets and generate inefficiency, monopoly profits, and compromise consumer choice.… The only difficulty with this mythology is that, while we are constantly told that the world is increasingly being governed by competition and market forces, the real world of business and industry is moving rapidly away from such free competition, as concentration, domination, and control of most economic activities has become common place.… It might be that perfectly competitive markets will provide answers for all of our ills, but in the real world, there is an absence of “free markets,” with market rigging and failure everywhere in the economy.