Category Archives: Economics

Getting inspiration from utopian/dystopian fiction

I’ve been meaning to write a post about this for a long time, and reading Afrofuturism: The World of Black Sci-Fi and Fantasy Culture by Ytasha L. Womack (2013) has gotten me to actually do it! Womack says that in 2011 she “attended the Think Galacticon conference. Unlike the typical science fiction conference, its creators hoped to use science fiction as a platform for broader changes in society. Held at Chicago’s Roosevelt University, the conference brought activists, science fiction writers, and fans together to share perspectives on social change and privilege. Panels included talks on classism in fantasy novels (why don’t the paupers ever challenge the prince for power?), the growing black independent comic book scene, and personal growth tools for revolution.

In her workshop, noted activist Adrienne Maree Brown said, ‘It’s amazing to change the world, but it’s heartbreaking, bone-cracking work, and you don’t often see the change in real time. For me as an organizer, what gets me through has been immersing myself in certain sci-fi worlds.’ She uses sci-fi to frame an inspirational perspective for youth that she works with too. ‘Your life is science fiction,’ she tells them. ‘You’re Luke Skywalker, but way cooler; you’re trans and black and you’re surviving the world of Detroit.’

Brown began her activism work in college. She’s a former executive director of the Ruckus Socity, a nonprofit that specializes in environmental activism and guerilla communication, and is heavily involved with the League of Pissed Off Voters. A Detroit resident, she describes herself as an organizational healer, pleasure activist, and artist, obsessed with developing models for action and community transformation.

She’s also a sci-fi fan. After discovering Octavia Butler’s work, she was inspired to develop new work of her own. Brown is using Butler’s pivotal Parables series and its post-apocalyptic tale as a template for change agency in desperate communities. Her workshop at Galacticon was titled ‘Octavia Butler and Emergent Strategies.’ The workshop description read as follows: ‘“All that you touch, you change. All that you change, changes you. The only lasting truth is change. God is change.” These words of Octavia Butler’s have impacted people seriously on a personal level, but how do we apply her wisdom on a political organizing level? How would accepting and coming to love the emergent power of changing conditions affect our strategic planning? This session will be half popular organizational development training and half inquiry into what the future of organizational development and strategic planning will look like.’

As far as Brown is concerned, many abandoned urban communities in New York City, New Orleans in the aftermath of Katrina, Cincinnati, and Detroit are post-apocalyptic and ripe for community-borne transformation. Seeing supports and humanity in Detroit, her new home town, made Brown look at other cities with blighted communities differently. ‘There are people living in places that we associate with the end of the world, but it’s not the end of the world – it’s the beginning of something else. An economy based on relationships and not the monetary value you can place on someone else.’

Brown now teaches activists how to use strategies from Butler’s books (like community farming, building relationships with neighbors, and essential survival skills) to build communities in areas where resources are scarce. She emphasizes that people in troubled areas need to have self-determination over their food supply, harking back to the Acorn communities in the Parables – intentional communities, ‘places where people come in an intentional way to build a life together. They’re farming with accountability to one another. They have a spiritual community. This is a strategy that could enable people to survive a future where our resources are unsure. Another is door-to-door relationship building that’s nonjudgmental. After the Acorn community is trashed, the main character goes door-to-door and starts to build a community of believers who aren’t rooted in one place, but in a shared ideology. It’s very similar to the Zapatista ideology. They went around for ten years building relationships one by one. Now a lot of organizing is done around the internet and tweeting each other. If we weren’t able to do that, what would we do? We would work with whoever is there with us.’

Brown is also a big advocate of teaching basic survival skills, including gardening, care for the sick and wounded, and midwifery. ‘I’m also looking at building homes and bathrooms. How do you make a bathroom where there is none?’ Her main point is to generate solutions. ‘We shouldn’t spend the majority of our time trying to get someone else to be accountable for what happens in our communities. Don’t wait for someone to do it for you; provide the solutions yourself…

What is the biggest story we can imagine telling ourselves about our future? It can be a utopia or a dystopia, but we want to get a perspective from people who are actually trying to change the world today. What do they think will happen? What’s the best-case scenario? How do we get people to think of themselves as the creators of tomorrow’s story?’”

I’ve been inspired by Butler’s Parable novels too, and many others, including Starhawk’s Fifth Sacred Thing trilogy. In the next few days, I’ll put notes on these books and a list of utopian/dystopian fiction in the Resources section (see top menu bar).

Let’s get inspired!

Real socialism

The United States has gone so far to the right politically in the past 40 or 50 years that, except for its foreign policy, FDR’s administration – that went left to save capitalism and its ruling class – is still more radical than anything on offer today. And Bernie Sanders and up-and-coming members of the Democratic Socialists, who are reformists rather than seeking an entirely new system, are considered radical socialists.

True socialism is international, with workers of all countries working together to overthrow the rule of the capitalist bosses and refusing to fight each other in nationalist wars. Read your history to see how truly radical socialist and anarchist workers’ movements in the United States and Germany were suppressed and coopted prior to World War I. The mirror image of this was the 1917 Bolshevik revolution toward the end of that war that turned imperial Russia into the Soviet Union. Lenin used Marx’s supposedly temporary “dictatorship of the proletariat” to initiate a complete suppression of the worker democracy of the soviets, a dictatorship that Stalin made permanent.

True socialism has never been fully implemented on a country-wide scale, except perhaps in Spain in the 1930s – Russia, China, Vietnam, North Korea, and Cuba all became dictatorships, partly because of the fierce opposition of capitalists within and globally. That doesn’t mean, however, that Marxism and socialism have nothing to offer in turning our emphasis from individualism to cooperation and looking at the importance of collective ownership of the means of production. All of this is being obscured, often intentionally, by the current powers-that-be and by the average American’s ignorance of history and social and political analysis (it isn’t taught in our schools or promoted by our media – you have to go looking for it).

One of the many places I look for it is the World Socialist website, wsws.org, where I found an article posted today by Joseph Kishore entitled “Ocasio-Cortez and Sanders praise McCain: An object lesson in the politics of the pseudo-left.” I preface the following quotes taken from this article by saying that, especially compared to Trump, I respected Republican senator John McCain, who died Saturday, as an honest and principled man, even though I disagreed with his politics and actions. The article says that amid “the outpouring of praise from all sections of the political establishment for McCain, two statements stand out. The first was from Vermont senator and former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, who tweeted: ‘John McCain was an American hero, a man of decency and honor and a friend of mine. He will be missed not just in the US Senate but by all Americans who respect integrity and independence.’ The second was from Democratic Socialists of America member and New York congressional candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who tweeted, in part: ‘John McCain’s legacy represents an unparalleled example of human decency and American service.’ Ocasio-Cortez posted with her tweet the editorial from the Washington Post on McCain’s death, which praised him for his work on ‘national defense and deterrence of foreign aggression’ and for ‘[rising] above party politics to pursue what he honestly saw as the national interest.’

What, one is compelled to ask, are these two individuals, who present themselves as figures of the left and even socialists, talking about? What is McCain’s legacy of ‘human decency and American service?’ What made him an ‘American hero?’

Was his human decency on display when he was dropping bombs on the Vietnamese people, or when he was acting as one of the earliest supporters of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, which led to the deaths of one million people? Was his heroism expressed in his call for the bombing of Iran, his visit with Islamic fundamentalist organizations spearheading the CIA-backed civil war in Syria, or his demands, up to his last day, for stepped-up aggression against Russia? The list of countries McCain advocated bombing is a long one, and there was no war launched by the US that he didn’t support. Political positions have consequences, and McCain had the blood of hundreds of thousands of people on his hands.”

Kishore believes “the praise for McCain by Ocasio-Cortez and Sanders is a calculated political decision that reveals the politics of the Democratic Party.

Sanders’ declaration of solidarity with McCain is in line with his Democratic Party election campaign in 2016, in which he supported the foreign policy of the Obama administration, including its wars in the Middle East, and said that a Sanders administration would utilize Special Forces and drone strikes – ‘all that and more.’ After losing the primaries, Sanders endorsed Hillary Clinton, seeking to channel the social opposition reflected in support for his campaign behind the candidate of the military-intelligence establishment.

As for Ocasio-Cortez, in just two months since she defeated the incumbent Democrat in the primary election for the 14th Congressional District of New York, she’s distanced herself from any association with socialism, backtracked on her previous criticisms of Israel, pledged her support for ‘border security,’ stood beside Sanders as the latter endorsed the Democrats’ anti-Russia campaign, and now heaps praise on one of the biggest warmongers in American politics. At the time of Ocasio-Cortez’s primary victory, the World Socialist Web Site wrote that ‘anyone who suggests that her victory marks a shift to the left in the Democratic Party should be told, in no uncertain terms: Curb your enthusiasm! The DSA isn’t fighting for socialism, but to strengthen the Democratic Party, one of the two main capitalist parties in the United States.’ Those who may have been attracted to the DSA based on the impression that it’s a socialist or anti-war organization should draw the necessary conclusions.

The Democratic Party is engaged in a ferociously right-wing campaign in its conflict with the Trump administration. Its focus isn’t on Trump’s fascistic policies or warmongering, but on the claim that he’s insufficiently committed to war in the Middle East and aggression against Russia. The Democrats have used the death of McCain as part of a calculated strategy, elevating him – along with figures such as former CIA Director John Brennan – as political heroes. They, along with the corporate media and the Republican Party establishment, are seeking to use McCain’s death as an opportunity to shift public opinion in favor of war and political reaction.

In the 2018 midterm elections, as the WSWS has documented, the Democrats are running an unprecedented number of former intelligence and military operatives as candidates. The promotion of groups such as the DSA is an integral part of this strategy. ‘The politics of the “CIA Democrats,”’ the Socialist Equality Party noted in the resolution passed at its Congress last month, ‘is not in conflict with, but rather corresponds to, the pseudo-left politics of the upper-middle class, as expressed in organizations such as the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) and the International Socialist Organization (ISO).’ The role of Ocasio-Cortez, Sanders, the DSA, and the ISO, is to give a ‘socialist’ label to politics entirely in line with the right-wing, militarist, and imperialist character of the Democratic Party.

The elevation of the DSA doesn’t represent a movement toward socialism, but rather a defensive reaction by the ruling class against what it perceives as an existential danger. The corporate-financial elite is well aware of polls that show growing support for socialism and opposition to capitalism among workers and particularly among young people. The DSA is therefore promoted by the media (the New York Times published yet another prominent article on Sunday boosting Ocasio-Cortez and the DSA) even as genuine left-wing and anti-war publications face ever more direct forms of internet censorship.

The politics of the DSA and the broader pseudo-left has far more in common with the politics of McCain than it does with genuine socialism. There can be no question as to what role these organizations would play if brought into positions of power. A similar path has already been trod by the Left Party in Germany, which has implemented austerity measures and promoted the anti-immigrant policies of the far-right AfD, and Syriza (Coalition of the Radical Left) in Greece, which since coming to power in 2015 has implemented the brutal austerity measures demanded by the European banks.

The Socialist Equality Party is fighting to organize workers and youth on the basis of a socialist program. This means not mild and insincere reformist demands to provide cover for the right-wing, militarist Democratic Party, but the mobilization of the working class, in the United States and internationally, for the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism. The building of such a movement must be based on the exposure of and struggle against figures such as Ocasio-Cortez and Sanders and the treacherous politics they espouse.”

Wikipedia says, “According to the party’s website [socialequality.com], the SEP “seeks not to reform capitalism, but to create a socialist, democratic, and egalitarian society through the establishment of a workers’ government and the revolutionary transformation of the world economy. We seek to unify workers in the United States and internationally in the common struggle for socialism – that is, for equality and the rational and democratic utilization of the wealth of the planet. The Socialist Equality Party fights for the unity of the working class and opposes ‘identity politics.’ According to the party, the ‘shift from class to identity has been at the expense of an understanding of the real causes, rooted in the capitalist system, of the hardships that confront all working people. At its worst, it’s promoted competition among different “identities” for access to educational institutions, jobs and other “opportunities” which, in a socialist society, would be freely available to all people without such demeaning, dehumanizing and arbitrary distinctions… The Socialist Equality Party fights for the unity of the working class and opposes “identity politics”. According to the party, the “shift from class to identity has been at the expense of an understanding of the real causes, rooted in the capitalist system, of the hardships that confront all working people. At its worst, it has promoted a competition among different “identities” for access to educational institutions, jobs and other “opportunities” which, in a socialist society, would be freely available to all people without such demeaning, dehumanizing and arbitrary distinctions.’ The party opposes all forms of discrimination and asserts that only a politically unified working class, composed of all races, religions and sexual orientations, can bring forth a free society…

Political equality is impossible without economic equality.’

The Socialist Equality Party asserts that capitalism leads inevitably to war as imperialist states seek geo-political dominance, spheres of influence, markets, control of vital resources, and access to cheap labor.”

 

What really matters

David Korten, author of books like “When Corporations Rule the World” and “The Great Turning: From Empire to Earth Community,” is one of our wise elders, if anyone is. He has an article in the current “Yes!” magazine that cuts through all the chatter and gets us back to what is perhaps the key question: Why are we knowingly heading toward the extinction of our (and many other) species? The answer is probably that one of the traits of our species is to focus on the short rather than the long term. But, like Korten, I believe we can, if we really want to, make some very important, much saner choices that will enable us to avoid falling off the cliff. As Korten says in his article, “Transformation begins with clarity on the nature of the choice that confronts our species.”

Korten believes we’ll survive only if we answer the following question: “Why does the current system deprive so many of opportunity for a fulfilling life [or life at all] that could and should be everyone’s birthright? Our prevailing cultural choices favor extreme individualistic competition for material goods. Our institutional choices reward the destruction of Earth’s capacity to support life and concentrate control by fewer and fewer people over what remains of that capacity. The many are thus pressed into lives of desperate servitude to the few. The obvious alternative begins with the recognition that individually and collectively, we survive and thrive only as interdependent, sharing, and mutually contributing members of Earth’s community of life. We’re better served by working together to create a world that works for all, than by competing for what remains of a shrinking pool of real [natural] wealth. Our defining cultural value must become cooperation. And we must transfer power from institutions that reward predatory competition to ones that facilitate and reward cooperation in service to the common good.”

Of course, the big question is how to make these changes? I think it’s pretty obvious that we earthlings can only do it by creating grassroots, bottom-up democracies all over the world like the kind the United States has always crushed at home and abroad. Of course, other regimes have and are crushing democracy, too, but I focus on our country because that’s where I live and because the US is so powerful. (Check out other articles on this site for examples of its democracy-crushing — US policy in Nicaragua and the rest of Central America comes to mind — as well as ideas about creating real democracy. One definition of the latter would be a system in which if a decision affects you or your community, you have real input in making it.

These are changes that can only take place in the long term. So take your eyes off most of the short term — like the daily “news” stream — and focus on what makes it all happen: what really matters.

The answer to almost all our problems

The answer to almost all our problems, according to Helen Norberg-Hodge, is to wiggle out of the corporate economic and political dictatorship of the current global economy by re-localizing economically and politically. If you’ve heard this before and thought it sounded too hard, read Norberg-Hodge’s long, but extremely important article at http://longreads.tni.org/localisation-solution-authoritarianism. You can also listen to her speak on the subject on thisishell.com (the June 15th show). Best of all, go to the mothership website: localfutures.org.

It’s a matter of understanding how the corporate global economy disrupts people’s lives, creating fertile ground for hatred between ethnic and religious groups and authoritarianism; makes it impossible for the majority to earn a living wage, or in many areas even feed themselves; and is destroying the earth and its climate. What can we do? — the perennial question — is answered, at least in introductory fashion, in the above-mentioned article and at local futures.org.

Please give this important thinker and activist and her colleagues a bit of your time and attention. They’ve been working on these issues for decades and know what they’re talking about. If what they say seems to go against the grain of commonly accepted “truths,” that’s because the media most of us are exposed to are corporate-dominated. The parameters of the discussion are too narrow — let’s open them up!

The land that must be!

Speaking to the crowd of Poor People’s Campaign demonstrators in front of the Supreme Court building 6-13-18, Reverend William Barber II, co-leader of the campaign, said, “I heard a friend of mine. He’s dead, but I heard him in a book. He was gay. He’s a powerful brother. And he said something like this in the 1930s, in the middle of traumatic times, that still has relevancy today to us:

O, let America be America again—
The land that never has been yet—
And yet must be—the land where every person is free.
The land that is mine—the poor man’s, the Indian’s, the Negro’s, ME—
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

Call me any ugly name you choose—

But the steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people’s lives,
We must take back our land again,
America! America!

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath—
That America will be!