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It’s the System Stupid

Structural Crises and the Need for Alternatives to Capitalism

On Thursday, December 13, 2012, The Guardian announced Queen Elizabeth finally received an answer to her question—”Did nobody see this coming?”—about the 2008 financial crisis.… Perhaps she could have also asked three more questions: Does nobody see the suffering and socioeconomic injustices of oligopolistic-finance capitalism? Does no one see that the problems are structural and systemic? And is there no alternative to a system that generates continuous “quadruple crises”—the socioeconomic, political, environmental, and personal/psychological?… The conventional wisdom is “There Is No Alternative,” or TINA. For this reason most Americans simply acquiesce to capitalistic social relations and, like Sisyphus, are resigned to performing eternal tasks while enduring the “endless” quadruple crises generated by a pathological system.… The most extraordinary aspect concerning the absence of an alternative is that it is fallacious. The capitalistic system itself must be transformed. To put it into a slogan: Capitalism Is No Alternative, or CINA.… | more…

Lessons from Iceland

Capitalism, Crisis, and Resistance

If we are to build support for an alternative to capitalism we need clarity on the causes and consequences of the contemporary capitalist drive for greater liberalization and privatization, as well as the benefits from and limits to state direction of capitalist economic activity. Although a small country, Iceland’s recent experience has much to teach us about capitalist dynamics and strategies of transformation.… | more…

Communications in Capitalist Society

In no field do the claims of democratic diversity and free political competition which are made on behalf of the “open societies” of advanced capitalism appear to be more valid than in the field of communications—the press, the written word generally, radio, television, the cinema, and the theatre. For in contrast to Communist and other “monolithic” regimes, the means of expression in capitalist countries are not normally monopolized by, and subservient to, the ruling political power. Even where, as is often the case for radio and television, agencies of communication are public institutions, or mixed ones, they are not simply the mouthpieces of the government of the day and exclusively the organs of official policy or opinions; opposition views are also heard and seen.… The importance and value of the freedom and opportunity of expression is not to be underestimated. Yet the notion of pluralist diversity and competitive equilibrium is, here as in every other field, rather superficial and misleading. For the agencies of communication and notably the mass media are, in reality, and the expression of dissident views notwithstanding, a crucial element in the legitimation of capitalist society. Freedom of expression is not thereby rendered meaningless. But that freedom has to be set in the real economic and political context of these societies; and in that context the free expression of ideas and opinions mainly means the free expression of ideas and opinions which are helpful to the prevailing system of power and privilege.… | more…

The Existing Alternatives in Communications

It matters greatly where you start, in thinking about communications. You may start, for instance, in a mood of excitement and even congratulation that at the present stage of civilization there is a communications system incomparably more vast and efficient than could ever have been imagined: that the voice of radio, the face of television, goes into millions of homes, and that we have the most widely distributed press in the world. You can feel this excitement even if you recognize certain little local difficulties such as a cigarette advertisement appearing just before Robin Hood, or a particularly shocking series in one of the Sunday papers, or even the overnight death of the News Chronicle.… On the other hand, you may be starting from the feeling that never in the history of the world has there been so much production of bad culture. Never, it is true, has there been so much production of any kind, but the percentage of this production which is bad is now appalling.… Many people, good people, have this image of a depraved, or largely depraved, population, whom they call the masses. The people are not profiting by the gleaming machine of communication, but are being reduced to what is usually called a near-moronic mass.… My own starting point is distinct from either of these attitudes. In my view you cannot understand the communications system unless you look at it historically, and this as yet we have not really enough evidence for. Very few people have been working on it.… and because of this, such history of the communications system as exists is mostly bad history, bad history which hides from us the factors which could lead to an understanding of the contemporary situation.… | more…

‘Libor’ing Under the Market Illusion

Sandwiched between revelations of mounting losses ($5.8 billion and rising) at JP Morgan in the face of bungled bets by a trader known as the London Whale, and allegations of money laundering for Mexican drug cartels and breaches of U.S. sanctions by HSBC, the disclosures of deliberate rigging of the Libor rate by Barclay’s Bank might appear mundane and a trifle boring in comparison. It is, however, this scandal about an arcane interest rate that most starkly exposes the rotten core of the global financial system.… [T]he scandal is not simply one of colossal greed and hubris. It is about systemic failure. It is about the fictions and illusions that form the basis of today’s complex global financial system.… | more…

Tadeusz Kowalik and the Accumulation of Capital

Tadeusz Kowalik, the doyen of Polish political economists, died at his home in Warsaw on July 30, 2012. Kowalik is best known as the last surviving coauthor of the great Polish economist, Michał Kalecki (1899–1970), as an advisor to the Polish trade union movement Solidarity when it played a key part in bringing down the Communist government in the 1980s, and subsequently as a fierce critic of the capitalism that was put in its place. He challenged both the commonly accepted view of the Keynesian Revolution and the inability of Polish Communists to come to terms with their revolutionary past and find a place for themselves in the modern world.… | more…

Repressing Social Movements

Amory Starr, Luis Fernandez, and Christian Scholl, Shutting Down the Streets: Political Violence and Social Control in the Global Era (New York: New York University Press, 2011), 207 pages, $23.00, paperback.

Shutting Down the Streets is not an ivory-tower book, situated a safe distance from its subject; the first appendix lists the seventeen anti-globalization summit protests which were directly observed by the book’s authors. And just as the authors were participants and not just spectators, they also refrain from merely presenting a comparative analysis of policing and repression at these summits. Examining the existing academic literature on social control, dissent, and social movements, they argue that existing works on repression mainly concentrate on protest policing. Instead they aim to develop a broader framework that examines social control by extending the object of analysis from the policing of protest events to the effects of social control on dissent, while also arguing that the unit of analysis needs to be changed from individual protests to the wider one of social movements. Repression then is not just police violence and coercion at protests but also includes a host of other methods of “soft” repression, such as psyops (psychological operations), infiltration, and surveillance.… | more…

Implosion of the European System

Majority opinion in Europe holds that Europe has all it takes to become an economic and political power comparable to, and consequently independent of, the United States…. I believe that Europe suffers from three major handicaps that rule out such a comparison. First of all, the northern part of the American continent…is endowed with natural resources incomparably greater than the part of Europe to the west of Russia…. Secondly, Europe is made up of a good number of historically distinct nations whose diversity of political cultures…has sufficient weight to exclude recognition of a “European people”… In the third place…capitalist development in Europe was and remains uneven, whereas American capitalism has developed in a fairly uniform way throughout the northern American area, at least since the Civil War. Europe, to the west of historic Russia…is composed of three unequally developed sets of capitalist societies.… | more…

Conduct Hard to Forget

Erich Honecker was the most revolutionary German I had ever known. Every man lives his own time. These are infinitely changing times if they are compared to any former time. I had the privilege of observing his conduct when he was bitterly paying the debt contracted by the one who had sold his soul to the devil for a few swigs of Vodka.… | more…

The 67th anniversary of the victory over Nazi fascism

NO political event can be judged outside of the period and circumstances in which it took place. No one knows even one percent of the fabulous history of human beings, but thanks to this history, we know about events which surpass the limits of the imaginable.

The privilege of having known persons, and even places where certain events related to the historic battle took place, increased the interest with which I awaited this year’s commemoration.

The colossal feat was accomplished by a group of nations which the revolution and socialism had united and linked in order to end the brutal exploitation endured by the world for thousands

Welcome to the Desert of Transition!

Post-Socialism, the European Union, and a New Left in the Balkans

The world’s attention has been on the political transformations in the Middle East, the wave of protests from Tel Aviv to Madrid to Wall Street, and the ongoing Greek crisis. But in the shadow of this unrest, the post-socialist Balkans have been boiling. Protests displaying for the most part social demands broke out throughout 2011 in Romania, Albania, Serbia, Macedonia and, most notably, Croatia. Post-socialist citizens today feel largely excluded from the decision-making process. Most elections have turned out to be little more than a reshuffling of the same political oligarchy with no serious differences in political programs or rhetoric. During the privatization campaigns many lost their jobs, or had labor conditions worsen and pensions evaporate, and most of the guaranteed social benefits (such as free education and health care) have progressively disappeared as well. Neoliberal reforms were portrayed as a necessary part of the EU integration process.… | more…

Genocidal Cynicism (Part 1)

No sane person, especially someone who has had access to the elementary knowledge acquired in primary school, would agree that our species, especially those who are children, teenagers or youth, should be deprived of the right to live, today, tomorrow and forever. Never have human beings, throughout their eventful history, as persons endowed with intelligence, ever heard of an experience like that.

I feel the duty to convey to those taking the trouble to read these Reflections the opinion that all of us, with no exception, are obliged to create awareness about the risks that humankind are running in an inexorable manner, towards a final and