Belief in capitalism as a material force

Violence and coercion have driven the establishment and expansion of capitalism from its start, and continue to be an indispensable glue holding together what has become a world economic system. Yet no level of brutality can itself keep a system, or any ruling structure, in place for a long period of time, much less for centuries, unless there is some level of cooperation.

That cooperation must rest, at least partially, on belief. Why did so many people in the past believe that God picked one family to rule in perpetuity? Lack of education played no small part here but, whatever the reason, that peasants did believe helped keep monarchs on thrones. Today, with education so much more available, such a belief would be laughed at. Ideology accordingly must be much more sophisticated. There are no dynasties at the head of modern capitalist countries, nor even single political parties or groupings.

Black Lives Matter supporters inside Minneapolis City Hall on December 3, 2015, after an early morning raid and eviction of demonstrators occupying the space outside the Minneapolis Police Department's 4th Precinct, following the police shooting death of Jamar Clark. (photo by Tony Webster)

Black Lives Matter supporters inside Minneapolis City Hall on December 3, 2015, after an early morning raid and eviction of demonstrators occupying the space outside the Minneapolis Police Department’s 4th Precinct, following the police shooting death of Jamar Clark. (photo by Tony Webster)

But here we must distinguish between governing and ruling. Presidents, prime ministers and governors may govern for set periods of time, giving way to new officials, but these men and women do only that: govern. They manage the government on behalf of the dominant social forces within their borders, and those dominant social forces are in turn, depending where on the international capitalist pecking order the governed space lies, connected to and/or subordinate to more powerful social forces based elsewhere.

It is capitalists — industrialists and financiers — who actually rule. The more power capitalists can command, the more effectively they can bend government policy and legislation to their preferred outcomes. More aspects of human life are steadily put at the mercy of “market forces.” Those are not neutral, disinterested mechanisms sitting loftily above the clouds, as the corporate media incessantly promotes. Rather, market forces are nothing more than the aggregate interests of the most powerful industrialists and financiers. Thus capitalist fundamentalism is telling us that a handful of exceedingly powerful industrialists and financiers should decide social and economic matters; that wealth automatically confers on them the right to dominate society.

Is this so different from feudal beliefs in monarchs? Without significant numbers of people believing that the rule of capitalists is just and as natural as the tides of the ocean, capitalism would not endure. When people ceased to believe in monarchs, that system of rule crumbled. Feudalism was of human construction. Everything of human construction comes to an end.

Capitalism, another human construction, is no different. But as a global downturn stretches into its eighth year with no end in sight, as the period of stagnation, and associated cuts to wages and mounting inequality, is now measured in decades, belief in capitalism is becoming more difficult to sustain. Even that old bogey word, “socialism,” is losing its talismanic ability to stifle thinking about alternatives; among young adults in particular socialism is gaining attraction.

Counterposing new ideas for old beliefs

But let us not indulge in wishful thinking. Capitalism is as strong as ever today. Margaret Thatcher’s “there is no alternative” looms large in the popular psyche. For countless millions, capitalism is indistinguishable from society; being without it would be like a fish trying to live outside water. That a furious and never-ending propaganda barrage is necessary to maintain this is not in dispute. That it is still commonly believed is what matters here. Capitalism is what people know and belief that anything else would be worse widespread. Until that belief is broken down — through persuasion and, most likely in bigger portion, an economic breakdown serious enough to compel people to confront their deteriorating living conditions — capitalism will be nearly impossible to dislodge.

Thus belief is a material force, if a sufficient number of people hold that belief. I recently had my attention drawn to an interesting article published on the Waging Nonviolence web site (tip of the hat to regular commenter Alcuin) that discussed a couple of seemingly unrelated events in Uganda. The article’s title, “Did grandmothers kill a government minister, nonviolently?,” asks a provocative question. The incidents in question here center on a group of grandmothers who stripped naked while blocking a road to prevent two government ministers and their convoys from seizing communal lands on behalf of an “investor.”

One of the two ministers died in a plane crash soon afterward. Was this an accident? Was it caused by the minister’s rumored falling out of favor with Uganda’s strong-willed president? Or, as the Waging Nonviolence article discusses, was it because of those grandmothers’ form of protest? The article’s author, Phil Wilmot, wrote, “the idea of a cultural omen or curse killing someone was hard to conceive.” He recounts his discussion of the death of the first minister, General Aronda Nyakairima, with a group of local activists:

“In November, I was participating in a training of activists in Kampala, Uganda’s capital. One young man was present who had organized [the grandmothers] and their community on that April day. Our group dialogue deviated from its intended path, and we found ourselves discussing the incident and its alleged relationship to Aronda’s death.

‘How many of you believe that Aronda died because he was poisoned by the government?’ I asked. A few hands rose.

‘How many of you believe that Aronda died because the women of Amuru stripped naked?’

‘Phil, we are Africans. Of course we believe that’s why he died,’ interjected activist Hamidah Nassimbwa, speaking on behalf of the mostly well-educated group. The majority of the room raised their hands to concur that Aronda’s fatality originated in Amuru in April.”

Beliefs in omens or curses are found in virtually every culture. The point isn’t where these believers are from or what culture they live in, but that these beliefs can have a material effect. The sight of the protesting grandmothers was enough to induce enough fear that high representatives of a government who could have easily used lethal force against them instead fled, and that the protestors’ action had further consequences in many minds. (The other minister subsequently lost his seat in the next election.) These are beliefs that likely arose organically in the distant past, and have survived into a time when science rather than magic or religious belief explains natural phenomenons or social interactions.

The hegemony of ideas that serve elites

How more powerful are beliefs that are intentionally inculcated by elites to maintain themselves in a position of power? Tsars and kings proclaimed they were representatives of God, and fear of divine wrath surely played a significant role in monarchal longevity, no matter how much violence was inflicted on those who stepped out of line. Belief works in the same way today, even if for a different ruling structure.

Antonio Gramsci’s concept of “hegemony” is useful to understand this concept. A definition found on the Marxist Archives web site provides this summation:

“Hegemony is a class alliance by means of which one, leading [hegemonic] class assumes a position of leadership over other classes, in return guaranteeing them certain benefits, so as to be able to secure public political power over society as a whole. … The term was … popularised by Antonio Gramsci who demonstrated that every nation state requires that some class is able to establish a hegemony capable of unifying the nation and resolving its historical problems. Gramsci posed the problem of the working class in Italy in terms of the need for the Italian workers, especially in the industrialised North, to understand the problems of the Southern peasantry and make the demands and aspirations of the Southern peasants their own, while refusing any corporatist bloc with the Northern industrial bourgeoisie.”

Gramsci, in his Prison Notebooks, himself wrote:

“The capitalist entrepreneur creates alongside himself the industrial technician, the specialist in political economy, the organizer of a new culture, of a new legal system, etc. … If not all entrepreneurs, at least an elite amongst them must have the capacity to be an organizer of society in general, including all its complex organism of services, right up to the state organism, because of the need to create the conditions most favorable to the expansion of their own class; or at least they must possess the capacity to choose the deputies (specialized employees) to whom to entrust this activity of organizing the general system of relationships external to the business itself.”

A result of this “social hegemony” is:

“The ‘spontaneous’ consent given by the great masses of the population to the general direction imposed on social life by the dominant fundamental group; this consent is ‘historically’ caused by the prestige (and consequent confidence) which the dominant group enjoys because of its position and function in the world of production.”

Capitalist ‘freedom’ can only be a formal freedom

Because in advanced capitalist countries there is formal democracy rather than an open dictatorship, it is easy to lose sight of where power derives and therefore the limits of formal democracy. In a series of lectures collected in his book The Unfinished Revolution: Russia, 1917-1967, the great historian Isaac Deutscher said:

“[I]n bourgeois society [freedom] can be a formal freedom only. Prevailing property relations render it so, for the possessing classes exercise an almost monopolistic control over nearly all the means of opinion formation. The working classes and their intellectual mouthpieces manage to get hold of, at best, marginal facilities for social and political self-expression. Society, being itself controlled by property, cannot effectively control the State. All the more generously is it allowed to indulge in the illusion that it does so. … Capitalism could afford to enfranchise the working classes, for it could rely on its economic mechanism to keep them in subjection; the bourgeoisie maintains its social preponderance even when it exercises no [direct] political power.” [page 106]

Even allowing for the rise of the Internet, and the better ability for dissenting news and viewpoints to be circulated (Deutscher wrote those words a half-century ago), it is indisputable the corporate media remains dominant and allows only a narrow range of perspectives to be given a hearing. The very competitive nature of mass media ownership helps dominant ideologies prevail — if so many different outlets report the same news item in a nearly identical way, that “spin” can easily gain wide acceptance. Or if stories are reported differently by competing media outlets, but with the same dominant set of presumptions underlying them, those dominant presumptions, products of ideologies widely propagated by elite institutions, similarly serve as ideological reinforcement.

Anti-war demonstrators in London, September 2002 (photo by William M. Connolley)

Anti-war demonstrators in London, September 2002
(photo by William M. Connolley)

In a society where the state owns and controls the media, it is easy to disregard what is disseminated as all emanating from a single source, even when there is scope for differing opinions. In capitalist countries, the profusion of private ownership (even though increasingly concentrated into a few corporations) gives the appearance of competing multiple perspectives. Extremist, mad-dog outlets like Murdoch newspapers or Fox News do no more than provide reinforcement for maleducated holders of extremist viewpoints and conspiracy theories.

Public opinion is shaped by repetition, and not repetition in a handful of obviously biased publications or networks, but rather repetition of viewpoints, reporting angles and underlying themes and assumptions, across the entire corporate media.

An array of institutions to convey one basic message

There are a vast array of institutions, including corporations, “think tanks,” schools and armed forces, to suffice a society with the viewpoints of the dominant, which in a capitalist society are its industrialists and financiers. The admonishment that everything — including schools and especially government — should be “run like a business” is pervasive. This propaganda does not fall out of the sky; its seeming pervasiveness flows from the ability of capitalists to disseminate their viewpoints through a variety of institutions, those they directly set up and control, and those starved of funds that in an era of deepening austerity increasingly must accept corporate money to make up for the loss of state support.

Something as fundamental as who generates the wealth of society, and how wealth is generated, is obscured as part of this process of opinion formation. It can’t be otherwise, for this is the building block on which capitalist ideology rests. Incessant spin claims that profit is the result of the acumen of the capitalist and the capitalist’s magical ability to create profit out of thin air, when in actuality corporate profit comes from the difference between what an employee produces and what the employee is paid.

If the enterprise were a cooperative run by the workers, the product would be sold for the same price and thus the same profit would be achieved, but distributed equitably. Many people must be poor for one person to be rich, because the private profit of a few is taken from the underpayment of work to the many.

The modern working person has faced a lifetime of the most sophisticated propaganda, and the task of undoing it in ourselves and for others should not be under-estimated. Millions of people, nonetheless, have done it and more are doing it. The continuing stagnation, erosion of social protections, promise of more austerity and the looming environmental catastrophe of global warming are bound to open more eyes. Many more eyes will need to be opened, with a concomitant willingness to struggle and organize, if a better world is to be created. A “counter-hegemony” is necessary: We provide our own leaders or they won’t be provided at all.

Or, to put it another way, we have to believe that a better world is not only possible but can be created. Once a sufficient portion of society comes to believes in this, then belief in, or resignation to, capitalist exploitation goes the way of trembling at the feet of monarchs. A belief in ourselves, that cooperation rather than dog-eat-dog competition is the route to a stable economy with enough for all, becomes a new material force.

25 comments on “Belief in capitalism as a material force

  1. newtonfinn says:

    Thank you for a clear, cogent explanation of our current plight, where many (though still a minority) are awakening to not only the evil but the asininity of capitalism. I’m reminded of how Thomas Paine made monarchy a laughable concept, which helped to seal its doom.

    I know that this website is, for very understandable reasons, not religion-friendly. Right wing Christianity is certainly the unofficial (some might leave off the “un”) religion of the American Empire, and the history of Christianity, from Constantine on, is filled with horror stories.

    Yet the teaching of Jesus, as best it can be reconstructed by New Testament scholarship, is arguably more anti-capitalist than Marx himself, and there has always been a marginalized voice of the Christian left, from early church communism to liberation theology to Pope Francis’ condemnation of capitalist exploitation of both people and planet.

    It is my belief that humanists both secular and religious need to join forces to slay the global capitalist monster. Given the pervasiveness of Christianity in the United States, South America, and increasingly in Africa, what remains of the Christian left has the obligation to take on popular but perverse forms of the faith, essentially asserting the teaching of Jesus over that of Paul and the institutional church of empire that followed him.

    To that end, as one professionally trained in this area and conversant with the various schools of New Testament scholarship, I wrote and published on the Kindle a new version of the gospel that brings home one of Jesus’ principal themes–the stark juxtaposition of God and money–and tied that theme directly to global capitalism in the preface.

    If any of my atheist brothers and sisters, or fellow unorthodox believers, are interested in taking a look at the booklet, its title is “Life of Truth: a synoptic gospel,” and there is a book description and free sample available on the Amazon bookstore. That description and sample are probably all you need to understand where I’m coming from and why.

    Again, let me express my appreciation for your explanation of the material force of capitalism. Although this malignant system did not exist when Jesus taught, the exploitation and oppression of the Roman Empire was in full force and effect. When he took it on (through its Temple collaborators), it did him in as if swatting a fly. But words like this live on:

    “Beware of all greed and envy, for a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions. What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world at the cost of his soul?”

    • I participated in the School of Americas Watch’s annual march on Fort Benning for several years, so I have seen first-hand the power of Left Christianity to organize for a good cause. Non-believers and believers will always have areas of disagreement, but that shouldn’t be a block against working toward the goal of a better world. Different folks come to understanding through different philosophies.

      • newtonfinn says:

        I appreciate the open-minded response. Thought I’d share a pertinent, provocative quote from Albert Schweitzer: “it is an interesting fact that it is among the representatives of scientific materialism that enthusiastic ethical idealism is often to be met with, while the adherents of spiritualistic philosophy are usually moralists with an unemotional temperament.” This has also been my experience. The most idealistic person I know is my atheist socialist adult son.

  2. Paul Gilman says:

    George Bernard Shaw in his brilliant though flawed play “Major Barbara” touches upon the theme of who really runs England.

    from “Major Barbara”

    (Undershaft is a ruling class arms manufacturer discussing what kind of career his son, Stephen should go in to)

    UNDERSHAFT. Oh, just what he wants to do. He knows nothing; and he thinks he knows everything. That points clearly to a political career. Get him a private secretaryship to someone who can get him an Under Secretaryship; and then leave him alone. He will find his natural and proper place in the end on the Treasury bench.

    STEPHEN [springing up again] I am sorry, sir, that you force me to forget the respect due to you as my father. I am an Englishman; and I will not hear the Government of my country insulted. [He thrusts his hands in his pockets, and walks angrily across to the window].

    UNDERSHAFT [with a touch of brutality] The government of your country! I am the government of your country: I, and Lazarus. Do you suppose that you and half a dozen amateurs like you, sitting in a row in that foolish gabble shop, can govern Undershaft and Lazarus? No, my friend: you will do what pays US. You will make war when it suits us, and keep peace when it doesn’t. You will find out that trade requires certain measures when we have decided on those measures. When I want anything to keep my dividends up, you will discover that my want is a national need. When other people want something to keep my dividends down, you will call out the police and military. And in return you shall have the support and applause of my newspapers, and the delight of imagining that you are a great statesman. Government of your country! Be off with you, my boy, and play with your caucuses and leading articles and historic parties and great leaders and burning questions and the rest of your toys. I am going back to my counting house to pay the piper and call the tune.

    STEPHEN [actually smiling, and putting his hand on his father’s shoulder with indulgent patronage] Really, my dear father, it is impossible to be angry with you. You don’t know how absurd all this sounds to ME. You are very properly proud of having been industrious enough to make money; and it is greatly to your credit that you have made so much of it. But it has kept you in circles where you are valued for your money and deferred to for it, instead of in the doubtless very oldfashioned and behind-the-times public school and university where I formed my habits of mind. It is natural for you to think that money governs England; but you must allow me to think I know better.

    UNDERSHAFT. And what does govern England, pray?

    STEPHEN. Character, father, character.

    UNDERSHAFT. Whose character? Yours or mine?

    STEPHEN. Neither yours nor mine, father, but the best elements in the English national character.

    UNDERSHAFT. Stephen: I’ve found your profession for you. You’re a born journalist. I’ll start you with a hightoned weekly review. There!

    Stephen goes to the smaller writing table and busies himself with his letters.


    There is a great movie version of the play, Major Barbara (1941) directed David Lean, staring Wendy Hiller and Rex Harrison. Robert Morely plays Undershaft. Walter Hud plays Stephen. Shaw’s doesn’t mention revolution, the factory is presented as more wholesome then they really are, and the ruling class bourgeois is presented as more socially conscious then they really are, it is still a good movie.

    • George Bernard Shaw’s larger point — who actually runs a country — nonetheless shines through. The ending of the scene, that the son will make a marvelous (corporate) journalist really caps it.

  3. The factoid that’s significant for me is that 81% of young Democrats between 18 and 24 supported “socialist” Bernie Sanders in the Iowa caucuses. Unlike older Americans, young people have largely abandoned the corporate media. Reich (in The Mass Psychology of Fascism) maintained that real revolution would be initiated by young adults.

  4. John Sirk says:

    Your final paragraph describes “class consciousness.”

  5. robertmgold says:

    Capitalism as a material force was the very point that the great German sociologist Max Weber made in his most famous work,more than one hundred years ago, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Although he referred to it as a spiritual force. It is rare that leftists agree with Weber. For many years, Weber was considered the Bourgeois Marx. This was utter nonsense, as there are many points in Weber’s other masterpiece,Economy and Society, where he showed that he learned much from Marx. Herbert Marcuse’s great work, One Dimensional Man, made a similar point about fifty years ago. I would like to thank Paul Gilman for citing George Bernard Shaw, and reminding me of how great an influence he was on making me a socialist fifty years ago. Robert

    • Max Weber shouldn’t be simply dismissed, true. Nonetheless, Robert, I’m afraid I will have to disagree with your assessment of him. I did discuss Weber at some length in my book It’s Not Over: Learning From the Socialist Experiment, and so I’ll quote a snippet from that discussion:

      “[H]e argued that the asceticism of Calvinism, Puritanism and other Protestant sects, and the individual links these religions posit between believers and God, as opposed to the centralizing medium of the Roman Catholic Church, produced a work ethic that induced people to develop enterprises and accumulate wealth. Weber argued that these religions discouraged luxuries and wasteful spending, giving rise to savings that created the investment pools needed to develop capitalism.”

      That idealism is very far removed from Marx, and is at the core of Weber’s classic work The Protestant Ethic. Weber asserted that consciousness exists only at the individual level. I argue that, although Weber properly rejected the idea that rationality is restricted to privileged people or classes, as competing philosophical schools falsely asserted, he believed that a class can have no clearly defined interest or collective consciousness. In this formulation, society is composed of individuals with no permanent common interests.

      And although Max Weber acknowledged the effect of dislocation imposed by capitalism, he also was the great tribune of bureaucracy. So I think it is a stretch to say Weber “learned much” from Marx. Weber sometimes had points of commonality with Marx, and did regard Marx as an important philosopher, but his work ultimately greatly diverged from Marx.

  6. troutsky says:

    I think you can say Weber diverged from Marx in much the same way as did Ernesto Laclau, sometimes described as post-Marxian, and another theorist whose interpretation of the Gramscian notion of hegemony is integral to his project of radical democracy.

    What I find interesting is the intense critique capitalism subjects itself to in popular culture and myth, for instance Pixar children’s classic Wally or more recently, Wolf of Wall Street. The rich industrialist and financier is the perennial villain of film and literature in a way seemingly antithetical to Chomsky’s notion of ‘Manufacturing Consent’ or a standard propaganda model.

    My point is, capitalist ideology is flexible enough to recognize criticism (of a certain kind) as a key component of maintaining legitimacy. And it acknowledges and incorporates the fact that consciousness operates on more than the surface level.

    • Excellent point as to capitalism’s flexibility; the ability to stretch and bend to accommodate new challenges before absorbing the challenge is part of the system’s staying power.

      Criticism of capitalism, even from within its own institutions, is acceptable as long as the criticism does not touch the workings of the system itself. This criticism is ordinarily based on personal behavior, and the critique of Wolf of Wall Street in fact presents its moral opprobrium that way, and even humanizes the “wolf” main character at points. One can regularly read critiques and even condemnations in, for example, The Wall Street Journal, but these are almost invariably based on flaws of personalities who give capitalism or markets a “bad name” by their unacceptable behavior.

      I can tell you from my own personal experience that reporters even on the Journal see themselves as journalists, and not cheerleaders for finance, even if they do believe in the system. It is within their mission as they themselves see it, nor at all outside the Journal‘s mission, to investigate irregularities. Doing so also, whatever any individual reporter’s or editor’s intention, upholds the system by seeming to show that the system can police itself and correct excesses.

      As long as the investigations, or the critique, stay within “acceptable” boundaries, these can be argued strenuously. So in fact all this is not at all antithetical to the Manufacturing Consent propaganda model. What matters to the model is that the appearance of lively debate is maintained, and in fact is encouraged as long as it does not stray out of bounds. This is of critical assistance to the system as details are debated sufficiently to give the appearance of a free and full debate, while implicitly making discussions that challenge the system “unthinkable” or at least beyond the bounds of any reasonable thought. And, of course, if a criticism of a particular detail is valid, or if a reform will make the system more stable, there will always be someone who sees an advantage in adopting that change. And when substantial reforms are required to quiet mass agitation, the reforms can always be taken back later, under the guise of “modernization” or whatever buzz word is dreamed up.

  7. Robert says:

    This articled seemed to be more a critique of crony capitalism than the capitalism I “believe” in.

  8. Sky Wanderer says:

    Yet another outstanding piece in this increasingly crucial area of discussion.

    It is fascinating to realise how powerful thoughts and ideas can be, how profoundly they can shape our actual reality. This works both positive and ways. The capitalist-owned state and mass-media are creating a vastly negative reality at present, yet by the same token we can preserve the hope that independent and unbiased journalism will indeed define a new ideological basis for a better future. Your work is so relevant and so needed, for so many reasons – I do my best to keep sharing your blog on social media.

    • Thank you so much. I am most pleased if my work helps to get us a bit closer to understanding our world, which is my aim. As long as we are willing to use our brains to analyze instead of simply accepting the propaganda that we are barraged with, there is hope.

      • Sky Wanderer says:

        On the one hand it is indeed true that we can unite only along the line of the Leftist values; how to pull the Rightist part of the deceived masses is another challenge.

        It is interesting to realise retrospectively, I never actually believed in Capitalism. For a long time I have been convinced however that there is no alternative to this system, not because Thatcher et al declared ‘TINA’, but because of the false dichotomy that narrows down our choice of systems between a Stalinist and a Corporatist sort of fascism to be justified upon a version of junk economics. Following my own experience of having been deceived on this crucial point I find it essential to show the others how they are forced into false dilemmas based on misinformation on the present and history. Also, because we can’t win this battle without uniting the 99% – from both Left and Right – on a basis we both share.

        As article on Iceland’s revolution puts it: “we should instead find ways to agree on more unifying issues.”

        • We’ve long been presented a choice between Chicago School market fundamentalism and overly centralized Soviet orthodoxy, as if these are the only two possible ways to organize an economy. Interestingly, party leaders in the Soviet bloc offered the same exact choice, one factor in why shock therapy was imposed on those countries when Communist rule collapsed and why the Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia in 1968 to put down the Prague Spring. Indeed this is a false dichotomy.

          Without downplaying or denigrating the growing popular movements in Iceland, I would be cautious in holding up Iceland as a model. It’s not really true that the Social Democrat/Left Green coalition government of Jóhanna Sigurđardóttir “stood up” to the IMF or to European creditors. To the extent that Iceland did resist, it was due to grassroots pressure.

          The article to which you linked has some interesting ideas, but my own opinion is that to call for a constitutional convention is premature, given the strength of corporate power and the right-wing apparatus that it wields. Opening up the constitution could easily backfire, given the current totality of forces in the U.S.

          Finding ways “to agree on more unifying issues” and to begin by advocating a few concrete steps, such as nationalizing banks, is a basic program that many of us can agree with in principal, and we must start somewhere. But we should be realistic in timing demands, and that requires a sober assessment of what the alignment and strength of social forces are. And at this point, we have a lot of work to do in getting people unified and to understand why their living conditions are deteriorating. When real change does come to a country from mass grassroots movements, the question of revising or replacing a constitution will naturally come to the forefront.

          • Sky Wanderer says:

            We do agree on several points, such as establishing a conceptual unity, considering timing and graduality. Opening up and CLOSING the constitution in a democratic way is something we should have done yesterday rather than tomorrow. In each country the constitution is de facto open – it is under constant engineering as per the will of the capitalist class. In 2008 Ireland’s constitution suffered drastic anti-democratic changes so that Ireland could accept the sovereignty-abolishing EU constitution (Lisbon treaty). How grave is the situation in EU under a dictatorial neoliberal federal constitution is explained in an earlier post.

            A historical fact buried by the mass media: the EU has been USE since the end of 2007

            Iceland – although as imperfect as an country must be under the constant neoliberal international and domestic pressure – is relevant as a case study to demonstrate it is possible to stand up to these monstrous powers yet survive and recover, even when other countries in the region don’t follow their step. Iceland stands alone, it is outside Eurozone and EU itself, it suffered the worst hit in the first waves of the crisis, it was approached by EU but Iceland rejected membership, and as a revenge its financial system was crushed by the financial oligarchy. Yet they recovered and their current state of the economy is far better than of any country within the neoliberal banker-owned dictatorial EU-empire. These are objective facts.
            The reason why the entire EU acted as rabid dogs during the Greece debt crisis is to put on an intimidating show that they allow no second Icelandic case.

            In such regard the time is NOW, or rather, YESTERDAY, to move towards the direction as Iceland did, and draft a new constitution to protect our country as a basic democratically organisable unit. The somewhere we can all unify our stance versus the neoliberal destruction is rolling back privatisations, renationalising central banks and all strategic public services (healthcare, education, postal services etc), writing off all odious national debts, breaking up the large private banks and introduce localised public banking, starting government projects to accommodate needs for housing, reintroduce welfare systems, etc. These are all feasible, immediate goals we the 99% could agree about.

            As far as timing is concerned, the longer we are ‘waiting’ for realising above, the more we are failing and the more we are losing the chance of survival. There is no outside forces to do it for us, only each country one by one. Indeed, via grass-roots as in Iceland.

            • We should be strategic in our timing. The time to organize was yesterday, so today we should be organizing to the fullest extent we are able. As far as raising demands to change the constitution, today is as good a day as any other. However, it is one thing to advance an amendment (such as the proposal to say that money does not equal speech and enable campaign contribution limits) that is narrowly tailored, and another to open the entire constitution to possible revision at a convention.

              A narrowly worded amendment can be, and should be, put forth today. There is no potential harm there because either we get an advance should it pass, or it doesn’t pass and we are no worse off than when we started. But a convention would inevitably be dominated by the dominant social forces of that moment, and today the corporate ruling class — industrialists and financiers — firmly have the upper hand. So opening up the constitution today would likely lead to changes that would make it even worse; I wouldn’t exclude that they would put in some of the wish list of religious fundamentalists as a way of gaining support.

              A constitutional convention, in my opinion, should be an abstract goal for now, until such time as grassroots movements have gained considerably in strength, and probably not even a public demand. A better tactic for now, given that popular movements are at early stages (otherwise the Occupy movement would not have been wiped out so easily) would be to promote specific ideas that can be addressed by a specific amendment. The idea that money does not equal speech and that there should be limits on campaign contributions is one that has resonance with large swathes of the general population, and thus a good concrete demand.

  9. Robert says:

    I’m interested in buying your book “It’s not over” and will be in NYC this week. Do you know any book stores which will get it? Thanks.

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