Democracy and the Future of the Quest for Freedom – Tenth Installment

Democracy and the Future of the Quest for Freedom

Tenth Installment

If you’re not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed,

and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.

                        • Malcom X

This final segment is going to be a little different, in that we will begin an attempt to layout some ideas that may point to a way forward, an exit, if you will, from the dire straits we find ourselves in. We don’t (and can’t) have all the answers, because the answers will really come from an engagement of every concerned person who wants the current madness of oppression and inequality we are living in to end.

Confronting Empire: New Challenges for Social Change

We need to keep ourselves cognizant that we are dealing with global capitalism and that, if you look at the history of the past 125 years, Foucault was right when he said “one has to invert Clausewitz’s formula so as to arrive at the idea that politics is the continuation of war by other means.”  Changing the existing socio-economic reality, changes that will free society from capitalist alienation and its tragic consequences will not happen in a peaceful transition.  Overthrowing the current global situation, in so many interconnected ways, is imperative as the situation has been dire for several decades. “As far as the overwhelming majority of humanity – the peoples of Asia, Africa and Latin America – are concerned, this need is vital, since they experience actually existing capitalism as nothing short of savagery.”[i]  Unless the criticism of today’s reality is linked to revolutionary change in the relations and structures of society (which on one level it implicitly denies) it remains in the service of the status quo.

If this is as far as we go, we have not moved beyond Marx’s main “Theses on Feuerbach”: “The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point, however, is to change it.” So, how do we start? A beginning is to have a complete calling into question of the limits of political struggle as being confined to electoral politics and incremental social change.

Postcolonial theory is a part and parcel of this “complete calling in question,” and serves to re-evaluate past inquiry and establish a new basis of inquiry for all who have been subjected to being determined to be the “other” – women, indigenous people, people of color, lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender, disabled, homeless, etc. – and to give them a voice in the world. In this way it has the project of becoming a valid and positive social and intellectual force.

But even as we attempt to incorporate the term “postcolonial” into our understanding of theory, we are reminded of the limits of such terminology to fully explain conditions of hierarchy, hegemony, racism, sexism, and unequal power relations.  Post-colonialism is unevenly developed globally . . . Can most of the world’s countries be said, in any meaningful or rigorous sense, to share a single ‘common past,’ or single common ‘condition,’ called ‘the post-colonial condition’ or ‘post-coloniality.’ Indeed, McClintock reminds us that “the term ‘post-colonialism’ is, in many cases, prematurely celebratory.[ii]

Indeed, while “old style” colonialism is pretty much gone (we still have Puerto Rico, Haiti, etc. in the U.S. sphere; all the former Soviet countries now under the thumb of Putin and the Russian oligarchy; Palestinians and Palestine; and other similar situations in other parts of the world), can we really speak or act as if the international inequalities and exploitation of smaller nation-states, and the people who live in them, by larger ones has really ceased?

The recent collapse of the world economy, from 2009 to 2012, which we are finally beginning to struggle out of, is a crisis which has revealed insights into the contradictions of capital in its fully globalized phase. Previously the analysis of late twentieth-century crisis was based on a view of “monopoly capital.” Recent writings point to “the transformation of the stage of monopoly capital into the new phase of monopoly-finance capital. Characteristic of this phase of accumulation is the stagnation-financialization trap, whereby financial expansion has become the main “fix” for the system yet is incapable of overcoming the underlying structural weaknesses of the economy.”[iii]

The driving ideology behind the current version of globalized monopoly-finance capital is neoliberalism, which is “aimed at promoting more extreme forms of exploitation . . . Far from being a restoration of traditional economic liberalism, neoliberalism is thus a product of big capital, big government, and big finance on an increasing global scale.”[iv]  Increased international exploitation, is based on the real contradictions of globalized monopoly-finance capital and is instituted by the policies justified by neoliberalist ideology in not only former colonies, but even the weaker economies and nation-states with the European Union and emerging economies of the Western Hemisphere, Southeast Asia and Africa and the Middle East. As such

imperialist divisions are becoming, in many ways, more severe, exacerbating inequalities within countries, as well as sharpening the contradictions between the richest and poorest regions/countries. . .. More and more, the financialization of accumulation in the center of the system, backed by neoliberal policy, has generated a global regime of “shock therapy.”  Rather than Keynes’s “euthanasia of the rentier,” we are seeing the threatened euthanasia of almost everything else in society and nature . . . (leading to) a set of consequences that can be described as “disaster capitalism.”[v]

The phenomenon of “superexplotation” of members of the working class in various countries, especially those who work in factories supplying products that are essentially monopoly commodities, has grown over the last three decades. “Superexploitation” defined is essentially paying workers less than the historically determined value of labor power, i.e. the cost of their reproduction (what it takes to “produce” and supply a new worker as the “old” one wears out). Let me clarify this further. Today we have the exploitation of an international working class, working in countries all over the world for global mega-corporations. Superexploitation exists

because the value of labor power is determined globally, while actual wages are determined nationally, and are hierarchically ordered due to imperialism. In the global South therefore, workers normally receive wages that are less than the value of labor power. This is the basis of imperialist rent.[vi]

One last exploration, relevant to a discussion of “postcolonialism,” about the way in which the world is different today is to see that the globalization of capital under the political hegemony of neoliberalism has undermined individual nation-states ability to respond to this situation, due to their weaknesses and the way in which international monopoly-finance capital has invalidated any political response. The governments of countries throughout the world, from former colonies to even European nations (Ireland, Spain, Greece, Italy, Ukraine, etc.) have such devastated economies and/or are so burdened by sovereign debt that they are unable to resist politically. The global financial institutions have imposed policies of austerity, the collapse of any social safety net system, and onerous debt repayment, leaving the citizenry of these countries to try to make it on their own. Hence the rolling political and social crisis seen throughout these smaller European nations.

Countries in Asia, Africa and South America are even more peripheral to the main flow of capital accumulation and are in even more dire straits. In short hand, the ‘Rest’ did not follow the West to industrial growth and development, but in fact “Now, it seems, that it is the West following the Rest when it comes to the growing insecurity of work conditions.”[vii]  Due to this political impotency, movements of social resistance take on new and unique forms.

Self, culture, public, and private are all intertwined in modern society in a way that nearly defies analysis.  Nationalism, patriotism, colonialism and imperialism also create other levels of dialectical relationships and contradictions which need to be explored.   On “the ground” and not in the realm of theoretical positions, real world deconstructions are taking place.  The daily tolls of car bombings in Iraq continue the struggle between Sunni and Shi’ite, while ISIS expands its psychological control of brutal and ruthless anti-civilization, even though it has lost its geographical foothold. U.S. saber rattling against Iran, based on its incursion into both Afghanistan and Iraq heighten the tenuousness of the fragile regimes left after the United States removal of its main military forces.  Syria is left to its embroilment (both figuratively and literally through the use of chemical weapons) while the Western powers feign impotence in the face of Putin’s Russian intransigence, both there and in the Ukraine. The Ebola pandemic contracts and expands threatening to tear apart whole societies while the modern governments which are the homelands of globalized economic dominance give token medical and public health support to stem its tide.

Islamic fundamentalism, nationalist sectarianism, terrorist political and para-military organizations, the strangling of the Arab Spring in its infancy, pro-Russian movements in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine, Chechnyan Liberation movements, civil war in Syria, the ongoing sublimated civil war in Lebanon and Gaza, the co-optation of the democratic forces in Egypt (first by the Muslim Brotherhood, and subsequently by the military junta to re-instate Mubarak without Mubarak), ethnic and religious conflicts in sub-Saharan Africa, etc., etc..  Unable to link up across international borders to resist global capitalism in a united form of resistance, the lid is barely kept on the boiling cauldron of social and economic crisis and disarray.  And the very real oppression and misery of the populations in these areas goes on unabated, despite the best efforts of people who mean well through privately organized efforts to alleviate these conditions. At the same time many NGO’s have become extensions of neoliberal corporations that play a further role in the implementation of neoliberal policies and oppression.

And at home, whether it is in Europe, the United States, Russia, Japan, or in China, the suppression of resistance, the increase in surveillance (ostensibly to “protect our way of life”), goes on unabated.  And the gap between the “haves” and the “have-nots’ widens politically, economically, financially, morally and spiritually.

Can we rely on “liberal democracy and democratic discourse” as some argue, to change and correct society?  Is it enough to know that democracy has been thwarted by the inversion of the public and private?  Can the women’s movement and feminism push (or pull) all the other marginalized voices and liminal populations to “justice and the good life” as some implore?  In short, can the arguments on the idealistic and intellectual level have the impact required to change our existing reality to where we need to be, however that is defined, by the “have-nots,” (the 99%) of today’s world system?

In the face of this, do the anarcho-liberal positions of some thinkers of this vein merit serious consideration?  Someone once said that a liberal will do everything in the world for the oppressed, except climb down off their backs. One can wait for incremental change when the knife of history is not at your throat. Privileged positions allow time to be bought.  For the “rest,” perhaps, time has run out. The terror of life let alone death, in the current situation in these locales, where the domination of events is based on the interests of global powers, leaves local solutions as nothing more than hopeless chimeras and shattered dreams. Where is the “Arab Spring,” the Egypt without Mubarak, the “Mission Accomplished” in Iraq, etc.?  If the dark where hope lies is in the holding tank of solitary confinement, listening to the moans and screams of the victims of torture, or the unending fear of suicide bombings, then being impatient with waiting for change is not pessimistic, defeatist, or utopian.  Maybe this becomes the time to no longer tolerate the intolerable and demand that it ends – now.

In the final analysis, we guess we have to say it. Without the elimination of capitalism and the war economy the world is under the thumb of, no substantive change is possible. We must move to a social, political and economic system that is essentially internationalist, inclusive, environmentally responsible, non-hierarchical, uncompromisingly democratic, and socialist in the ownership of the means of production and distribution. This will take social movements with broad ambitious goals of challenging the existing power structure. Alternate beliefs, values and narratives must be come the dominant consciousness of the majority of people so that they can realize that not only is the current reality untenable and unsustainable, it is morally and ethically bankrupt and leading to the destruction of the planet. People will have to become audacious in their stance and in their belief that any other path offers just more of the same.

So, the next questions are: How do we get from where we are to this new understanding and commitment? How will this be created? How will it grow? It won’t be easy, but the dialectic of freedom and necessity compels us all to begin the process. The answer lies in the actions of everyone who decides to say, “Do we really have any other choice?”

Our strategy should be not only to confront empire, but to lay siege to it. To deprive it of oxygen. To shame it. To mock it. With our art, our music, our literature, our stubbornness, our joy, our brilliance, our sheer relentlessness – and our ability to tell our own stories. Stories that are different from the ones we’re being brainwashed to believe. Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.                                                                            Arundhati Roy, War Talk


[i] Amin, S. (2014). Capitalism in the age of globalization: The management of contemporary society. New York. Zed Books

[ii]Billings & Donnor, 2005, in Denzin, Lincoln & Smith, 2008, p. 67.

[iii] Foster, J.B & McChesney, R.B. (2012). The endless crisis. New York. Monthly Review Press.

[iv] Ibid.

[v] Ibid

[vi] Ibid

[vii] Breman, J. (2013). A bogus concept. New Left Review, 84, p. 130-138.


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1 Comment

  1. Galen McKibben on July 8, 2019 at 7:36 pm

    “How do we get from where we are to this new understanding and commitment? How will this be created? How will it grow? It won’t be easy…” Agreed! It won’t be easy because it calls for a fundamental shift in much of humankind’s perceived relationship with the Earth… indeed, with the universe. Shift from the hierarchical to the even distribution of power; from “dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth” to recognition of the absolute interdependence of all; a shift from greed driven economic inequality to equal shares for all.
    I am watchfully hopeful. According to the Mayan calendar, we have entered a time to re-establish our connection with the Earth and to open our hearts and minds to the wisdom of the feminine in order to restore long lost balances on Earth. We are seeing changes that promote hope. More women among our social and political leaders, for example. Growing recognition that the Earth cannot support the kind of greed- and consumption-driven economies that have developed during the past two centuries. The fundamental question is whether enough can change in the next decade to avoid what scientists say is the looming tipping points that will render the Earth uninhabitable.

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