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Rebecca Solnit on the #MeToo Backlash

Sat, 02/17/2018 - 16:14

via Lithub

by Rebecca Solnit

This thing has gone too far. It has terrified people, driven them out of their workplaces and even professions, made them afraid to speak up and punished them for speaking. This thing, by which I mean misogyny and violence against women (and girls, and men, and boys, and even babies, but I’m going to skip the horrific baby story that was reported last week). The #MeToo upheaval is an attempt to address something old and deep and very destructive, and if you’ve forgotten how serious it is let’s take a visit to my favorite radical-feminist data center, the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics. There you can learn that there were an estimated 323,450 rapes or sexual assaults in 2016, as well as 1,109,610 reported incidents of domestic violence. Less than a quarter of those rapes are reported to police; slightly over half of the domestic violence incidents are.

Roughly 3,000,000 rapes over a decade is a lot of raping, and the figures are, for various reasons, a very low, conservative estimate. Here’s some Center for Disease Control estimates, a little out of date, but still illuminating about the scale of the problem we face: domestic violence—or as the CDC designates it, intimate-partner violence—against women costs the US more than $8.3 billion dollars, much of it for medical and mental health services; money is not a direct translation of anguish, but it may give some sense of scale. This violence causes its victims to lose more than eight million days of paid work annually. “Nearly 14 percent of women and 4 percent of men have been injured as a result of IPV that included contact sexual violence, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime.”

The latest wave of response to this brutality, known by the hashtags #MeToo and #TimesUp, has not gone far enough. It will have gone far enough when we are no longer a society in which 75 percent of employees don’t report harassment for fear of disbelief, blame, or retaliation, and 75 percent who do report it experience retaliation. Those figures mean that a quarter of a quarter of those harassed, or one out of 16, may get justice. It will go far enough when it’s no longer one out of four women who experience workplace sexual harassment, and more than a third of women in the restaurant industry, 80 percent of farmworker women according to one recent survey, enormous percentages of women in the military (and, of course, men are harassed and assaulted in all these sectors, in lower numbers).

It will have gone far enough when there are no longer realities like those behind a recent report that revealed 40 percent of women students and 18 percent of men students at Tulane University have experienced sexual assault, and a quarter of the women, 10 percent of the men have been raped. It will have gone far enough when rape is not an issue on campuses. It will have gone far enough when women scientists are no longer driven out of their fieldwork and research because, as a recent article put it, “26 percent of female researchers had reported assault at field research sites, and another 71 percent reported harassment.” It will have gone far enough when we look back at the levels of sexual and gender violence, at the pervasiveness of harassment, at the lack of adequate response, as the shocking sins of the bad old days. Getting there means changing things.

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An Anarchist Review of Michael Wolff, Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House

Sat, 02/17/2018 - 16:08


by Wayne Price

Fire and Fury by Michael Wolff is a popular book about Trump and his administration. It may be popular because it focuses on Trump’s bizarre personal peculiarities rather than the political context and the forces which led to Trump’s presidency.

If not the best book on the crazed Trump administration, this is certainly the most popular. Perhaps because it focuses on Donald Trump’s personal peculiarities rather than the political context, it has become a top best seller. It has been criticized because the author, Michael Wolff, says that he sometimes listened to contradictory reports of various events, given by the unreliable members of the administration, and then used his own judgment in integrating these reports into unified accounts. While this may lead us to wonder how accurate his reportage of specific White House events may be, there is no doubt that his overall account is accurate. It fits very well with what we have seen of Trump and his agents as they have acted out in public, in front of cameras and newspaper reporters.

Through his own observations of the president, and through the reports of Trump’s allies, supporters, family members, and minions, Wolff draws a picture of his behavior and personality. Trump is thin-skinned and easily hurt by criticism, desiring always to be liked and admired, yet insensitive to others’ feelings, desires, and needs. He is impulsive, and easily aroused to anger. He is highly distractible, unable to concentrate for extended periods, and readily bored. He has a need to constantly be winning. Women are seen by him as merely sex objects or as aides to his work if they are sufficiently obsequious-but then he sees everyone as objects, useful to him or not.

Trump knows very little and is generally incurious, including about what he should know to manage the presidency. He lies constantly, not necessarily for specific purposes but just for the sake of it. However, he may not know when he is lying, since he lives in a fantasy world of his own making, an alternate reality which is immune to facts. Most of those around him regard him as stupid (although it is hard to say if this is due to limited intelligence or to a personality-based unwillingness to think-or both). “Trump didn’t read. He didn’t really even skim…Some believed that …he was no more than semiliterate….Some thought him dyslexic….He didn’t listen. He preferred to be the person talking.” (113-4) He develops his views mostly through watching right wing television.

“Rupert Murdoch[was]…certain Trump was a charlatan and a fool.” (19) “The people who knew him best” regarded him as “careless, capricious, disloyal, far beyond any sort of control.” (223) “…Senior staff believed the president had a problem with reality….” (242) Rex Tillerson, the Secretary of State, called Trump “a fucking moron.” The Treasury Secretary, Steve Mnuchin regarded him as an “idiot.” H.R. McMaster called him a “dope.” (304) All the senior staff belittled Trump’s intelligence, openly or quietly. “Everyone…struggled to express the baldly obvious fact that the president did not know enough, did not know what he didn’t know, did not particularly care, and, to boot, was confident if not serene in his unquestioned certitudes.” (304) “…Staffers[were]concerned that his ability to stay focused, never great, had notably declined….” (309)

These observable traits have led some mental health professionals-and other people who could pick up a psychiatric manual-to diagnose Trump with various personality disorders, even though they have not personally examined him. I am not going to do that, precisely because I am a licensed psychologist (although I would love to see his responses to the Rorschach Inkblots). His publicly observed behavior is terrible enough for us to say that he should not be in office. Trump has responded to these reports by asserting that he is really “a stable genius.”

Wolff focuses almost entirely on these personal traits of Trump and of those around him. These others are also more or less batty in behavior, the administration being full of crackpots, clowns, ignoramuses, right-wing ideologues, and other strange people. “Few in the thin ranks of Trump’s inner circle….had almost any relevant experience. Nobody had a political background. Nobody had a policy background.” (25) They pride themselves on being saner and smarter than Trump but cannot keep him from engaging in bizarre and self-destructive behavior.

Besides personal behavior, Wolff looks at the court tensions among Trump courtiers. He observed three main factions: (1) family members, mainly son-in-law Jared Kushner and daughter Ivanka Trump, whom he peculiarly describes as New York “liberal Democrats”; (2) establishment Republicans, who were then represented by Reince Priebus, now fired.The pressure continues from the Republicans who lead in the House and Senate; (3) Steve Bannon, reflecting the extreme nationalist, nativist, right-wing. Bannon has also been let go, and since this book came out (with Bannon’s criticisms of Trump and his family members), has lost much of his influence-at least for now. But others carry the torch, such as Steven Miller, encouraging Trump to stick to his worst anti-immigrant policies. There is also the on-going influence of the ultra-right Mercers, father and daughter, who are described as among the “difficult, even sociopathic, rich people” pushing their agenda on Trump and his entourage. (177)

Beyond this, there is little consideration of politics or of the political context. These only come up in relation to the personal quirks or cliquish conflicts in the White House. For example, Trump’s decision to withdraw from the international climate treaty is discussed as a victory for Bannon and a defeat for Ivanka, rather than as an attack on the global climate. Trump’s continuation of the war in Afghanistan is considered in relation to his reluctance to make decisions as well as the differences between the generals’ desire to expand the war versus Bannon’s isolationist desire to withdraw.

Wolff downplays the issue of Russian collusion, looking more at Trump’s inept reactions. He speculates that Trump’s resistance to the investigation has mostly to do with the fear that it would uncover various illegal financial shenanigans by the family businesses (which may certainly be one aspect of Trump’s reaction). Trump has “come out of the real estate business; …based on substantial debt…it often…is a preferred exchange currency for problem cash-money laundering.” (17) “…If the unraveling began[it]would likely lead to the messy Trump (and Kushner) business dealings.” (102)

However, Wolff does describe the now-notorious meeting of Trump’s people with Russian agents as “one of the most preposterous meetings in modern politics” (253) and an “imbecilic meeting.” (254) He quotes Bannon as regarding the meeting as “treasonous or unpatriotic.” (255) Wolff expresses certainty that Donald Jr. would have told his father about it.

Much of what Wolff describes, while not completely new, is still fascinating. However, it is weak as a guide to understanding the political situation. While Wolff may be some sort of liberal, there is nothing in the book that a “Never Trump” Republican would disagree with. Wolff repeatedly describes the mainstream media as the “liberal media.” He accepts the right-wing view that most of the newspapers and television news programs are “liberal,” left versions of Fox News and right-wing radio talk shows. Actually, if we compare the views of really liberal journals (The Nation, Mother Jones, etc.) with most of the press and TV news, the mainstream comes off at least right-center. (The exception is the mildly liberal evening MSNBC shows of Rachel Maddow and others.) Noam Chomsky has demonstrated the pro-capitalist, pro-imperialist, bias of the media, and this has not changed. However, Trump is so bizarre in his behavior and so far to the right that the media cannot report on him without appearing hostile. As has been said, “Reality has a left bias.”

Trumpism is Republicanism

Much of President Trump’s politics and behavior is idiosyncratic, unique to him. His constant lying, bragging, misstatements, and other peculiarities, would not have appeared if other Republicans had been elected president-such as Mitt Romney, Jeb Bush, or even Mike Pence His reluctance to criticize Nazis is not a typical Republican attitude. (The U.S. ruling class is not ready for fascism.) The whole Russian imbroglio would not have appeared with any other politician. There are sections of the U.S. capitalist class which are for better relations with Russia (represented by Tillerson, the former head of Exxon). But even these would not have been so in denial about the Russian interference in the U.S. election. Also most of the U.S. capitalist class favors more “free trade” agreements with other countries and a more flexible immigration policy; they want to benefit from cheap labor. On these points they (and their hired politicians) have been in disagreement with Donald Trump.

Yet in many ways, Trumpism is a symptom of the reaction by Republicans and Democrats to deep problems in U.S. and world society. These have caused a drastic turn to the right, to attacks on the working class. There is economic stagnation, increased inequality, and pressures on real profits (as opposed to financial speculation and overvaluation of stocks and bonds).

Basically, Trumpism is an extension of modern Republicanism. The Republican party is the cutting edge of the attack on the working class and the environment. This was pretty clear when virtually all the Republican politicians supported the unpopular Trump tax cut for the very rich. It is also apparent when almost all the Republican Representatives and Senators have doubled down on defending Trump against the Department of Justice investigation. They are attacking the investigators and trying to distract the public.

Big capitalists had not supported Trump in the election and had preferred Clinton. But with his election, there “was a surprising and sudden business and Wall Street affinity for Trump….An anti-regulatory White House and the promise of tax reform outweighed the prospect of disruptive tweeting and other forms of Trump chaos….” (87) (Note that Wolff uses the pro-business term, “tax reform,” instead of the accurate “big tax cuts for the rich.”)

Some sections of Trump’s popular base have become disillusioned with him, but polls have shown that the rank-and-file of the Republican Party overwhelmingly still supports Trump. (For the general public, he is the most unpopular first year president in the history of polling.) The Republicans have lied to a section of the population (white middle class and upper working class, especially males, in the suburbs and rural areas). These people have responded to real grievances of growing poverty and inequality, de-industrialization, loss of jobs, de-unionization, and rural stagnation-but mostly responded with false and misleading politics, being called on to blame African-Americans, immigrants, Muslims, Mexicans, environmentalists, feminists, and the “liberal elite.” The Republicans have whipped these people up to a nihilistic frenzy of despair. Then the Republican leadership was surprised when this hyped-up mass did not follow their lead but instead voted (in the primaries and in the general election) for the most unqualified person available, since he said what they believed. However, many other Trump voters were not attracted to his overt racism and nativism, but rather voted for him for change and because of a dislike of the Democratic candidate. But even these did not object to Trump’s racism, not enough to reject voting for him.

While the modern Republican Party, as well as Trump himself, leans far to the right, neither it nor he are fascist. Neither Trump nor the party leaders will ban all other political parties, shut down the newspapers, cancel elections, or declare Trump president-for-life. If the system seems increasingly repressive, well, that is what we have in the limited democracy of capitalism. Yet Trump has opened the door for the real fascists, given them a bit of respectability. After the Charlottesville march of Nazis and Klanspeople, “the president’s sympathies were muddled. However easy and obvious it was to condemn white racists…he instinctively resisted…and he continued to be stubborn about not doing it.” (293-4)

The “Lesser Evil” Democrats

If the Republicans were Trump’s “enablers,” as Paul Krugman has suggested, then the Democrats were the enablers of the enablers. After eight years of Barrack Obama’s presidency, there was more inequality than ever and continuing de-industrialization throughout much of the nation. This was even though the economy was in a long, slow, and shallow “recovery” from the Great Recession-which continues now, and will continue until the next crash. A not-very-good health plan was passed. More immigrants were deported than ever before. Climate catastrophe was recognized in words but an ineffectual minimum was done about it. Wars were continued and expanded abroad.

The two-party system encourages a certain type of amoral maneuverer, for whom political programs are not goals to be achieved so much as means to personal success. “A close Trump friend who was also a good Bill Clinton friend found them eerily similar-except that Clinton had a respectable front and Trump did not.” (23)

The Democrats ran the most business-as-usual figure they had, Hillary Rodham Clinton. She and her husband Bill had gotten rich in their years of “public service.” She was paid big bucks for speaking at gatherings of the biggest capitalists. She was known as the most hawkish member of the Obama administration. (There were also bad reasons for disliking her, including sheer misogyny, and the way a mountain was made out of a molehill over her emails.) The only reasons for voting for her came down to breaking the gendered presidential glass ceiling and that she was not Trump. These were reasons enough for her to win a thin majority of the popular vote, but then to loose in the archaic Electoral College.

For years the Democrats had been deliberately turning their backs on the unions and the working class in favor of appealing to the professional-managerial middle and upper classes. Thomas Frank had warned that this would have electoral and political costs (Price 2016a). In the event, many white workers and their families who had voted for Obama, now voted for Trump. Many others stayed home. (A little less than half of eligible voters did not vote.) Meanwhile large sections of African-Americans were disaffected; they would not vote for Trump but, again, many who had voted for Obama also stayed home. Latinos knew that Trump was viciously against them, but they also knew that “the Obama administration had been quite aggressive in deporting illegal aliens.” (63) Many Latinos also sat this one out.

For years the liberals had been opposing the greater political evil by supporting the lesser evil. Sometimes they won and sometimes they lost, but overall the greater evil got more and more evil, and so did the lesser evil. That is, the Republican Party became completely committed to far-right ideology, while the Democratic Party moved to where the “moderate Republicans” used to be. (For example, for a health care program they did not advocate the liberal “single-payer” approach but adopted the program developed by Mitt Romney when he was Massachusetts governor.) In brief, the politics of “lesser evilism” has not worked.

The liberal Warren-Sanders wing of the Democrats has no power. It serves as a shill to bring young people, labor, progressives, African-Americans, feminists, environmentalists, etc., into a party really ruled by corporate politicians such as the Clintons. Liberal Democrats and the MSNBC talking heads like to focus on the issue of Trump’s ties to Russia and his efforts to cover them up. While this is a real issue, it also has the effect of distracting from such U.S. matters as inequality, climate change, or the danger of nuclear war. It makes the Democrats look patriotic and proudly chauvinistic. It lets the liberals wallow in patriotic hypocrisy. The imperialist U.S. state intervened in 81 national elections and supported about 36 attempted military coups, from 1946 to 2000. (McCoy 2017) Who is the U.S. to denounce foreign intervention in elections?

The Republicans can fire up their middle class base. While these people may get out of hand and elect a Trump, they do not threaten the system. But the Democrats never could fire up their historic base of workers and People of Color. The demands of the working class and the oppressed for better standards of living and more public services immediately threaten the profits of the corporate rich. Brought to an extreme, their demands threaten the very basis of capitalism. This is why liberals constantly complain that the Democrats do not stand up to the conservative Republicans, and why the Democrats were so willing to turn away from the working class, the poor, and People of Color, in favor of the professional middle class.

According to Wolff, Trump and his campaigners never expected to get elected; he expected to improve his “brand” while he prepared to claim that he had been cheated. With the election of this accidental president here has been a major increase in popular struggles and movements. (Price 2016b) This includes forming thousands of local anti-Trump clubs, enormous mass demonstrations, and local demonstrations at “town hall” meetings and at airports. At this time, most of the movement has been channeled into electoral activities, electing more Democrats, especially women. Probably this was inevitable for now, but it is a dead end. There needs to be a radical, libertarian-socialist, wing of the anti-Trump movement, which rejects the Democrats in favor of independent, mass, direct action.

Many liberals and Democrats look forward to when Trump is gone (through losing the next presidential election or even being impeached). They think that the evil days will be gone and things will return to “normal.” It is true that the peculiarities of Trump’s behavior will be over. But the crazy right-wing politics of the Republicans will continue. The wishy-washy but pro-corporate capitalist politics of the Democrats will continue. And the underlying economic decay and stagnation and ecological catastrophe will continue. The system will escalate its attacks on the working class and the environment, and, through wars, on people around the world. No part of the political or economic system can be relied on; as with the weather under conditions of global warming, there is a “new normal.” Those of us who believe in ecological sanity, freedom, mutual aid, and radical democracy had better do all we can to build a popular movement for these goals.


McCoy, Alfred W. (2017). In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power. Haymarket.

Price, Wayne (2016a). “Party of Which People? Review of Thomas Frank, Listen, Liberal.”…Price

Price, Wayne (2016b). “Not My President! The New Resistance.”

Wolff, Michael (2018). Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House. NY: Henry Holt.

*written for


Climate Change, Peak Oil, and Globalisation – 3 Interlinked Problems

Sat, 02/17/2018 - 05:12

There are problems which are related but not very often discussed together. These are 1) climate change and pollution, 2) peak oil, and 3) globalisation – very large and complex problems which though not insurmountable require serious consideration.

What the author writes here is simplifying reality as the main purpose is to provoke thought in the reader and encourage further research.

1 – Climate Change and Pollution

Pollution and climate change are already causing many health and food insecurity problems in the world. Pollution and climate change are set to cause much larger problems in the near future, as was recently discussed at the annual UN climate summit COP23 (1)(2)(3)(4)(5).

During the summit 15,000 scientists signed a “Warning to Humanity” document, which insisted that

“To prevent widespread misery and catastrophic biodiversity loss, humanity must practice a more environmentally sustainable alternative to business as usual.” (21)

2 – Peak Oil

Different sources suggest different times when when ‘Peak Oil’ will occur. Peak oil, as the name suggests, is the point at which the rate of oil extraction will be highest – at its peak – thereafter declining slowly until the oil eventually becomes too uneconomical too extract. By some predictions, global peak oil should have happened already. By others, global peak oil should arrive in the near future, or quite far in the future. There are different forecasts on how quickly transportation (private and industrial), industrial production, agriculture, and heating would widely unaffordable after ‘peak oil’ (21)(31). And there is substantial debate over whether ‘unconventional’ oil (e.g. shale oil, tar sands) can properly substitute for ‘conventional’ sources, i.e. whether ‘peak oil’ refers to the peak of all oil extracting or really means ‘peak conventional oil’.

To understand peak oil, let’s look at some real figures. The US and Europe are the largest oil consumers (6). US proven oil reserves are 48 billion (bln.) barrels and consumption is 7 bln. barrels a year, so without import reserves could last just under 7 years. European Union proven oil reserves are 5 bln. barrels (7) whereas consumption is 6.5 bln. barrels per year, so reserves couldn’t last even one year (8). Other countries have much larger reserves and much less consumption, and export oil. Petrol and diesel is imported in EU and US, but how reliable can this import be considered to be? (9)(10)

Global yearly consumption is about 35 bln. barrels. Based on data from OPEC in 2017, global oil reserves are about 1500 bln. barrels and the highest proven oil reserves including non-conventional oil deposits are in Venezuela 24%, Saudi Arabia 21%, and about another 40% in other Middle Eastern countries. The techniques for estimating oil reserves, however, aren’t entirely accurate and many oil-producing nations do not reveal their reservoir engineering field data, instead providing unaudited claims for their oil reserves (11)(12). In Ireland there may be up to 10 bln. barrels under the sea, but presently Ireland is importing almost all oil consumed and almost no oil is produced (13)(40).

3 – Globalisation

Here the term ‘globalisation’ really refers to ‘capitalist globalisation’. As Noam Chomsky put it:

‘Globalisation used neutrally just means ‘international integration’. Everybody is in favour of it. It’s been the core of left and working class movement since its origins … The term has been appropriated by a narrow sector of power and privilege to refer to their version of international integration, the investor rights version.’ (62)

The production and consumption cycle of each product has increasingly been spread around the world rather than happening locally. Large areas produce a highly specific range of goods for consumption elsewhere in the world . Because of this highly specific and interdependent system of production, it becomes increasingly difficult for an area, for example a nation, to switch to a largely independent, self-sustaining, local economy because industrial and agricultural production would need to be substantially re-organised for this to be possible.

There are 10 huge multinational companies which sell most food that can be bought in supermarkets and shops (14). Their production and distribution cycles are spread across many countries, generally starting in poorer, formerly colonised, countries where they often violate workers’ basic human rights, especially where workers can’t unionise, have few protections on their working conditions, and are paid very low wages (15)(16)(17). Large multinational companies control not only food but many sectors of the economy and rarely their production and distribution cycles are local. Often, for example, raw materials come from Africa (23), manufacturing and assembly is in south Asia (24), the final products are distributed in Europe and USA, and the financial transactions occur in some tax haven like the Cayman Islands (or Ireland!) (34).

In most cases, countries, rich and poor, import and export a very large volume of products, and produce a small range of different products. It would be a big change for any country to become even mostly self-sufficient, and it is debatable whether any country can become fully self-sufficient. Almost all countries are dependent on international trade of multinational companies (26)(27).

These very large multinational companies have in many cases a continuity with older imperialism in a less direct way and in states that are formally independent (25)(60).

With the further development of transportation technologies the economic volume of international trade has recently grown significantly, the annual global volume of imports and exports increased from $3 trillion in 1990 to $9 trillion in 2005 (28).

For example, Britain and Ireland import about 50% of food consumed (18)(19).

Recent statistics showed that only 2% of shoes bought in USA and 3% of other clothes were produced locally (20). Even if a product isn’t imported some part in its production and distribution cycle could be.

Large multinational companies also control the oil and energy market – one report stated that 70% of planet-wide carbon emissions since 1988 were attributable to merely 100 multinational corporations (29). This illustrates how the process of capitalist ‘globalisation’ has gone hand-in-hand with the deterioration of the Earth’s biosphere.

Here is an interesting example of just how complicated, energy intensive, and polluting, the production and distribution of a seemingly simple, everyday, food item is in the age of capitalist globalisation. The Swedish Institute for Food and Biotechnology recently examined the life cycle of a bottle of tomato ketchup. They found that tomatoes grown in Italy were sent to Sweden for processing before being poured into bottles imported from Britain made with ingredients sourced from Japan, Belgium, and the US. By the time the bottle traveled to a grocery store and finally to a kitchen table, the process had consumed 4,190 more units of energy than was contained in the ketchup. And it generated more than 5,000 pounds of CO2.

The Worldwatch Institute estimates that ‘dining globally’ can burn up to 17 times as much oil as ‘feasting locally’ (30). When producing a large number of products the unit cost is lower than producing a small amount (‘economies of scale’) so small local companies have a ‘competitive disadvantage’ under multinational corporations, which tend to monopolise the market in various ways. Indeed oligopoly is as familiar to us as Coke and Pepsi, but this is neither desirable nor all that is possible for humanity.

Large multinational corporations do not simply bring wealth, high quality products, or development, to the people of poor and rich countries. Rather, they bring a host of problems to societies. Their advantages come with a list of societal terms and conditions which overall disimprove the quality of life of residents both locally and globally. They should be replaced with means of production owned and run by workers and the people at large or at least, on a shorter time scale, cooperatives of workers and small companies that are inherently more sustainable forms of business. Currently farming and agriculture is where the co-operative business model is most widely utilised (co-operatives together have an estimated 32% of global market share). (32)

It would be best if each region produced necessities locally without depending on long distance import and fossil fuels and production was diversified enough to be able to manage different weather changes and emergencies. If this isn’t profitable in the current market conditions then the state should be funding it as part of the climate change prevention and adaptation and national security.

Outcome of the Three Issues

Let us now consider climate change and pollution, peak oil, and globalisation, and how they relate to each other. It is hard to emphasise just how urgent it is that we make substantial social changes in order to avoid calamity due to climate change. At this stage, in 2018, we are more realistically presented with the task of damage limitation, rather than preventing human-caused climate change altogether. That boat has sailed, but there is no less reason to act decisively today, and we can still make a big impact which our future selves and future generations will thank us greatly for.

Further to that, as said in the introduction, the following is primarily for the purpose of stimulating thought and further research. It is not to stimulate panic. As said in a WSM article on peak oil:

‘Panics are not the atmosphere in which a libertarian society can easily be built. Rather panic and the fear of collapse of civilisation are precisely the requirements of dictatorship and fascism when it comes to forcing populations to accept that the boot on the neck is better than the alternatives.’ (61)

Breakdown of Global Production Chain Due to Oil Prices

As described in the preceding sections, the economy of each nation, and province, is very dependent on fossil fuels and international trade (which also deeply depends on fossil fuels) and in Europe and other places with no local oil reserves it is at least possible that quite quickly prices could spike leaving masses of people in a much worse condition.

Food would be one of the main problems. Climate change itself will cause very large problems in food production. Furthermore, because of the globalised nature of production, a major and rapid increase in oil price due to oil scarcity would mean major disruption in the provision of necessities to a very large number of people (33). In large areas agriculture would have to be started almost from scratch due to lack of machinery (37)(38), unless machinery could be fully electrified and supplied with non-fossil fuel sources of energy, such as wind and solar, which thankfully is looking quite likely. Industries would need to be re-organised if possible to provide necessities without the use of oil, using renewable energy and other material and chemical inputs, probably at high cost.

In the worst case peak oil scenario, which isn’t necessarily likely, a generation grown in technological comfort could find itself quite quickly in a pre/post-industrial age without the knowledge or skills necessary to adapt or even any way to maintain a minimum quality of life.

What is more definite is the burden which climate change and pollution will bring, if not sharply mitigated against, such as extreme weather, acid rain, and air as carcinogenic as a pack of cigarettes. Indeed, the greatest and most predictable threat we face is in consuming current oil deposits and sending the Earth onto a path of runaway climate change. In that sense, climate change is the limiting factor. It would not be a victory or a relief to discover that we have more oil than previously thought.

Ireland’s Food Production

Let us now consider production in Ireland. Ireland is a large food producer and exporter per capita, but that production is almost only meat and dairy, which are exported mainly to Britain and then mainland Europe and the rest of the world (35). Meanwhile about 50% of the food consumed in Ireland is imported (36).

If there was a failure in international commerce due to the oil price rising, there could be a large overproduction of meat in Ireland while pretty much all other products became scarce and very expensive. That is not counting all the inputs and machinery used in agricultural production which are imported and if missing could break the production cycle (41).

If oil became more scarce and expensive, production depending on oil – which is a lot (37)(38) – would become more expensive and so the price of the final product would become higher.

Climate Change and Food Production

Similarly, climate change could be seriously damaging to production. The increased tropical storms, droughts, flooding, loss in biodiversity, rising sea level, desertification, etc, threaten to destabilise our societies. More diversified production would be less vulnerable as different products can tolerate different weather ranges (42)(43)(46). For example in India, after independence crop diversification helped to markedly increase production and prevent food shortages (44). Monoculture and lack of genetic variation was one of the causes of the Great Hunger in Ireland in the 1840s (apart from complicated political reasons) (45).

Farmers in the Netherlands for the past few decades have begun to use quite advanced techniques in growing food in greenhouses (49). Their food production is diverse, and they became a large food exporter. It would be beneficial if Ireland could organise part of its agricultural production this way, allowing local produce to replace some of that which is imported (47).

It is important to note that even if CO2 emissions stopped dead today, human-caused climate change would take many years to slow down and stop. Possibly at this stage we can only do damage control. (48)

Capital and Class

As usual, the poor will be worst affected by the problems described above, particularly those in the global south. The irony being that the problems will have been mainly caused by those at the top, the richest capitalists, owners of large multinational companies, and obsequious politicians pursuing short-term electoral incentives, and that the relatively wealthy global north more broadly has prospered disproportionately at the global south’s ecological expense. (29)

However, nobody can ultimately escape the effects of climate change as rich or poor we all live on this planet. Even many capitalists could lose a large part of their profits if there was a sudden spike in oil prices or due to climate change related emergencies. So with a few exceptions, such as capitalists which would probably speculate on the high demand for oil and the consequent high prices, most capitalists will have to switch their industries to renewables and improve energy efficiency as soon as they can, if not for the humankind and other life on this planet, then just for the continuation of their profits. Some large companies already committed to switch to 100% renewable energy, which is positive regardless of their motivations. (50)

If there was a real democracy, a direct democracy where people collectively owned and operated a large part of the means of mass production, a solution would be much easier because the producers would be also owners and consumers. The economy could be much more easily focused on stable, reliable, and sustainable, high-quality production, re-organising all industries, beginning with necessities, to use renewable energy and otherwise ecologically viable methods, and to operate as locally as possible. International trade would be depended on pretty much only for raw materials which couldn’t be found locally.

But, of course, this is not the case. The current capitalist economy is focused on the profit of the few and everything comes second to that. In order to stand a fighting chance, people must join forces with one another, organise themselves effectively, and pull no punches in rectifying what is undoubtedly a global emergency. The petrochemical industry is very powerful, which, apart from political inertia, explains why there has been such a lengthy delay in switching to clean renewable energies and not only has there been a lack of awareness about climate change but disinformation has spread so widely.

How to Prepare and Prevent Disaster

As a global society, in order to prevent a rather catastrophic scenario we need to achieve three main objectives: make production more localised, reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and pollution, and transition from oil to other sources of energy and material. Here are some more specific suggestions:

Switching as quickly as possible to renewable energies, which are in many places today actually cheaper than fossil fuels on a large enough scale to produce substantial quantities of electricity (51)(52)(53). Hence, increasing research on cheap green renewable energy sources, and other possible energy sources like LENR(54) and energy storage methods such as large-scale batteries, CAES, and hydrogen (55) especially for the production and distribution of necessities (39).
Switching to a much more local economy, at least for necessities. Diversifying local industrial and agricultural production – this will significantly reduce our carbon footprint and will be much safer if there’s an emergency or a sudden crisis that is blocking international commerce, especially buying directly from the producer like a farmers market.
Reducing our reliance on petrochemicals by developing a mature electric or hydrogen powered transport infrastructure, and other machinery such as agricultural machines (56).
Plant agriculture can feed several times more people than animal agriculture while reducing the associated ecological footprint, as well as being healthier (57)(58)(67). Similarly organic agriculture has a much better ecological performance than conventional methods.
Remote or local working where possible. Generally reducing reasons why people need to use a motorised vehicle, including facilitating bicycle usage. Ultimately requires re-structuring of cities, towns, and residency and infrastructure more broadly.
World population doubled since 1960 (63), this growth can be slowed and eventually halted by giving people more reproductive rights, including birth control, education, and freedom. In societies with less sexism and more reproductive rights the population growth becomes lower or negative. (64)(65)(66)
A direct democratic political system as well as democratically managed workplaces would allow for much greater control over issues of production and ecology and allow more substantial and rapid social changes.
Retrofit accommodation and industry with good insulation and electrical (rather than fossil fuel) heating.

Progress is being made, but it is not sufficient. Partially this is due to a lack of public awareness of the issues, partially it is due to a political and economic system highly resistant to the necessary changes.

These issues are undoubtedly social in nature. The ‘power of one’ approach to ecology promoted by many states, where the individual is supposed to attempt to minimise their own ecological impact by micromanaging consumer choices, will never be enough. However, communal solutions cannot exist without individual action.

Thus, at the individual level, we should be prepared as much as possible to:

Harvest water
Grow food in our neighbourhoods and at our homes.
Have solar panels and/or wind turbines for electricity.
Have sustainable heating (59)
Live a low-carbon lifestyle in case petrol/diesel becomes too expensive before being replaced by renewables – not just transportation but more sustainably produced commodities.
Switch to a more plant-based diet.


There are many reasons to change to a sustainable economy as soon as possible. If saving the planet from climate change wasn’t enough, it would improve energy and food security, as well as more efficiently use resources.

While it is not necessarily likely that global peak oil will mean catastrophe or major disruption, due to technological innovation and re-organisation in the meantime, humanity has set a clear course to ecological devastation due to climate change. Unless there is radical social change humans and other creatures on this planet will be forced to adapt to a very different climate and habitat. Many species have been unable adapt, and we have called this the Sixth Mass Extinction Event. There is no zero cost route here, and it is only logical that humans make serious material changes in the present rather than burying our heads in the sand.

Note: Some of the information sources below, of course, have completely different opinions from WSM and the author of this article, but they provide information related to parts of the article.

Another Mass Shooting. Another Case in Which Signs of White Violence Didn’t Raise Alarms.

Sat, 02/17/2018 - 04:12

via The Intercept

by Shaun King

It was true for Dylann Roof in Charleston. It was true about for any number of violent white men in Charlottesville. And it was true for Nikolas Cruz in Parkland, Florida.

Like these other young men who turned violent, lots of people who interacted with Cruz saw the day coming when he would do something drastic, maybe even one day shoot up a school.

He had long since been expelled from his high school. One student who had served with him in the Junior ROTC called him “a psycho.” Another student said he was a weapons enthusiast who tried to sell weapons at school. Yet another student said he had been banned from bringing a backpack to school as a student after bullet casings were found in it.

Classmates reported that he stalked someone in the school. Another student said he was physically abusive to his ex-girlfriend. His social media profiles were full of guns, ammo, bigotry, and threats. A teacher said he was a known threat. Neighbors knew something was up; Cruz talked constantly about killing animals.

Local law enforcement say they have not verified alleged ties to a white supremacist group, but it seems Cruz displayed a white supremacist ideology: A classmate said he talked about how white people were better than black and Latino people.

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Accusing Facebook of ‘Effectively Banning Professional Journalism,’ Brazil’s Largest Paper Ditches Platform

Sun, 02/11/2018 - 00:01

via Common Dreams

by Jake Johnson

Accusing Facebook of discriminating against “quality” content and accelerating the spread of “fake news” with its newly-unveiled algorithm, Brazil’s largest newspaper Folha de S. Paulo—which boasts a print and online subscriber base of 285,000 people—has announced that it will no longer publish its articles on the social media platform.

“Facebook became inhospitable terrain for those who want to offer quality content like ours.”
—Sérgio Dávila, Folha de S. Paulo

“In effectively banning professional journalism from its pages in favor of personal content and opening space for ‘fake news’ to proliferate, Facebook became inhospitable terrain for those who want to offer quality content like ours,” Sérgio Dávila, Folha’s executive editor, said in a statement.

In an article published on Thursday, Folha—which has over 5.7 million followers on Facebook—noted that over the past several months it had begun to detect a sharp decline in interactions not just with its own Facebook posts, but with those of other major Brazilian newspapers as well.

By contrast, the newspaper’s analysis found, “fake news pages received five times the number of engagements that professional journalism received.”

For this decline in engagement, Folha blamed Facebook’s new algorithm, which the paper said “privilege[s] personal interaction contents, to the detriment of those distributed by companies, such as those that produce professional journalism.”

“This reinforces the tendency of the user to consume more and more content with which it has affinity, favoring the creation of bubbles of opinions and convictions, and the propagation of fake news,” Folha argued. “These problems have been aggravated in recent years by the mass distribution of deliberately false content…as happened in the U.S. presidential election in 2016.”

The decision to abandon Facebook was ultimately “a reflection of internal discussions about the best ways to get the content of the newspaper to reach its readers,” the paper concluded. “The disadvantages of using Facebook as a path to this distribution became more evident after the social network’s decision to reduce the visibility of professional journalism on its users’ pages.”

Responding to Folha’s move, Jeff Benício, a columnist for the Brazilian news and entertainment website Terra, urged other organizations to do the same.

“Other news organizations should follow Folha de S. Paulo’s footsteps,” Benício wrote. “If there’s a mass exit, the social network will lose relevance and become…a virtual space for family and friends to joke around.”

Social networks are broken. This man wants to fix them.

Sat, 02/10/2018 - 21:13

via MIT Technology Review

by Rachel Metz

In the past, if you wanted to change the world, you had to pass a law or start a war. Now you create a hashtag.

Ethan Zuckerman studies how people change the world, or attempt to, by using social media or other technological means. As director of the Center for Civic Media at MIT and an associate professor at the MIT Media Lab, he tries to help his students make sense of these issues. Zuckerman is also writing a book about civic engagement during a time when we have a lot less trust in institutions—government, businesses, banks, and so on.

Maybe that lack of trust is reasonable. After all, we’ve spent the last decade-plus slowly turning our data over to large corporations like Facebook and Google without quite realizing we were doing it.

Zuckerman knows what it’s like to build technology that pisses a lot of people off. Back in the 1990s he created what became one of the most hated objects on the internet: the pop-up ad. The aim was to show an ad on a web page without making it look as though the advertiser necessarily endorsed the content on the page. “Our intentions,” he later wrote in an apology to the internet at large, “were good.”

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Black Americans mostly left behind by progress since Dr. King’s death

Fri, 02/09/2018 - 21:35

via The Conversation

by Sharon Austin

On Apr. 4, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee, while assisting striking sanitation workers.

That was almost 50 years ago. Back then, the wholesale racial integration required by the 1964 Civil Rights Act was just beginning to chip away at discrimination in education, jobs and public facilities. Black voters had only obtained legal protections two years earlier, and the 1968 Fair Housing Act was about to become law.

African-Americans were only beginning to move into neighborhoods, colleges and careers once reserved for whites only.

I’m too young to remember those days. But hearing my parents talk about the late 1960s, it sounds in some ways like another world. Numerous African-Americans now hold positions of power, from mayor to governor to corporate chief executive – and, yes, once upon a time, president. The U.S. is a very different place than it was 50 years ago.

Or is it? As a scholar of minority politics, I know that while some things have improved markedly for black Americans since 1968, today we are still fighting many of the same battles as Dr. King did in his day.

That was then

The 1960s were tumultuous years indeed. During the long, hot summers from 1965 to 1968, American cities saw approximately 150 race riots and other uprisings. The protests were a sign of profound citizen anger about a nation that was, according to the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, “moving toward two societies, one black, one white — separate and unequal.”

Economically, that was certainly true. In 1968, just 10 percent of whites lived below the poverty level, while nearly 34 percent of African-Americans did. Likewise, just 2.6 percent of white job seekers were unemployed, compared to 6.7 percent of black job seekers.

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The case for erasing every last penny of student debt

Fri, 02/09/2018 - 21:05

via The Week

by Ryan Cooper

Student loan debt is a crushing problem in America. Over 44 million people have such loans, with an average balance of about $30,000 — making for a total debt pile of $1.4 trillion. Unsurprisingly, people often struggle to repay these debts with their entry-level wages after graduating. Student debt is now the most common form of troubled debt, with about 11 percent of them 90 days or more delinquent. Worse still, thanks to Republicans and neoliberal Democrats alike, they are almost impossible to discharge in bankruptcy.

We should try the most obvious solution: Congress should cancel all the debt and have the government pay back the lenders.

Perhaps that sounds radical and unworkable. But a new Levy Institute research paper by Scott Fullwiler, Stephanie Kelton, Catherine Ruetschlin, and Marshall Steinbaum demonstrates that it would be easily affordable and have powerfully positive side effects.

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Sporting Chance: How CTE Takes the Biggest Toll on Athletes of Color

Fri, 02/09/2018 - 16:40

via Bitch Media

by Beejoli Shah

Last Friday, just days before the New England Patriots and the Philadelphia Eagles tackled, fumbled, and battled their way through the last NFL game of the season, the New York Times published a heartbreaking op-ed from Emily Kelly, the wife of Rob Kelly, a retired NFL player struggling to live with Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). While CTE has largely been found in the brains of players who have already died, clinical research shows a growing number of players aren’t just dying from the disease; they’re seeing their post-NFL health and career prospects diminish at an alarming rate.

Kelly’s missive painted a stark picture of what CTE rhetoric often fails to mention—the myriad physical and financial costs associated with managing a traumatic brain injury over years and decades. Studies have found that former NFL players develop Alzheimer’s and dementia at a rate almost five times greater than the general population, and more than 4,500 NFL players have sued the league for willfully withholding knowledge about the impacts of repeated concussions on player health. But those anecdotes and studies often leave out a less-discussed piece of the equation: When it comes to CTE and NFL players, the scope of the problem is hardly color blind.

Black athletes make up almost 70 percent of NFL players. That racial disparity only deepens further when looking at the positions with the highest rates of strong collisions; the positions seemingly more likely to see repeated brain injury. Black athletes make up 80 percent of the NFL’s defensive tackles, and 81 percent of defensive ends. Eighty-five percent of running backs, who see the lion’s share of hits on offense, are Black as well. Black NFL players suffer the majority of concussions; they take the majority of on-field hits. Yet the majority of research done around the social and financial impacts of CTE  disproprotionately centers on white patients—like this study from the Journal of Neurotrauma, which analyzed the long-term costs associated with traumatic brain injury with a study population that was 90 percent white. Despite the higher incidence rate of brain trauma for Black athletes, reporting and research around CTE paint the issue with a broad brush that often ignores the increased risk and tangential problems for athletes of color.

In the study examining costs of healthcare for long term brain injuries, sufferers of chronic traumatic brain injuries pay an average of $4,900 more per year for their medical care than the average population, with excess, unplanned costs averaging almost $2,500 per year. That $7,500 increase in annual healthcare costs is by no means an upper limit. Depending on the severity of the brain injury a player faced, as well as his diminishing cognitive health over time, costs for home health aides, continued neurological studies, lost wages, and other medical treatments and therapies, those bills can easily shoot up to multiple tens of thousands of dollars per year.

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Review: Private Government

Fri, 02/09/2018 - 16:20

via Anarchist Writers

by Anarcho

This is both an important book which raises a key issue and one which simply states the obvious. It is both a well-researched work and one which ignores a school of thinkers who were pioneers on the subject. It is one which both challenges assumptions and takes them for granted. In short, it is both perceptive and frustrating.

Elizabeth Anderson is a Professor of Philosophy and Women’s Studies at the University of Michigan and her book seeks to raise the issue of workplace hierarchy and its negative effects. Her book comprises a preface, two essays (“When the market was ‘Left’” and “Private Government”) and a “Reply to the Commentators” plus an introduction by Stephen Macedo and four comments by various academics.

It states the obvious by chronicling the extensive power employers have over their workers both within and outwith the company. That she feels the need to provide substantial evidence for what should be an obvious fact speaks volumes – it is the elephant in the room of our so-called “free” (i.e., capitalist) economies: “in purchasing command over labour, employers purchase command over people.” (57) She rightly notes that workers in the new industrial economy called it “wage slavery” rather than the “free labour” of the liberals for they were well aware that it was “a relation of profound subordination to their employer” (35) She is also right to note that “[t]o be egalitarian is to commend and promote a society in which members interact as equals” (3) and so to be an egalitarian is to be a libertarian, someone who promotes liberty – there is little liberty when you are subject to hierarchy.

Anarchists have been noting all this since 1840, when Proudhon proclaimed property to be both “theft” and “despotism.” Yet, for all her impressive research, she almost completely fails to mention the libertarian analysis – “anarchism, syndicalism” are mentioned in passing. (6) Given that libertarians have placed the issues she raises at the centre of their ideas for nearly 200 years, it is simply staggering that Anderson ignores us. While she may bemoan how “workers largely abandoned their pro-market, individualistic egalitarian dream and turned to socialist, collectivist alternatives,” (59) she fails to discuss those like Proudhon with pro-market, collectivist egalitarian dreams in spite of his mutualism meeting her (unstated) criteria of being pro-market and being explicitly aware of the issues which arose with the rise of large-scale industry. Socialism appears to be equated with Marxism and this centralised system is, rightly, dismissed but there is no engagement with libertarian visions of socialism. Nor is there any mention of the work by Carole Pateman or David Ellerman, not even Noam Chomsky who regularly raises the same issues and is by far the best known libertarian writer today.

Anarchism is mentioned once more, when Hobbes’ brutish “State of Nature” is equated to anarchist communism, which is an “unregulated commons” were anyone can take anything from whoever they wish. (46) Yet simply consulting any libertarian communist thinker would quickly show that they advocate use rights combined with social overview. This would be a “regulated” communes for, regardless of myths, unregulated communes are rare in human history (and generally reflect a breakdown in society due to actions of State or wealth). So people would not expect their possessions to be arbitrarily taken from them in any anarchist system.

Anderson, then, seems blissfully unaware of the anarchist critique of property, equating property with the right to exclude others and proclaiming the arguments for property “impeccable.” (45-6) Surely an awareness of the ideas being critiqued should be considered as essential research before commenting upon it? Similarly, if she had read Proudhon’s What is Property? she would understand how the “impeccable” theory of property produces the very evils she indicates and denounces as well as the anarchist use-rights theory which ends them without creating a worse problem in State capitalism.

She does mention and discuss “libertarians” (60-2) but these are strange lovers of freedom because, as Macedo notes, these ignore that employment “brings with it subjection to arbitrary power that extends beyond their work lives.” (xi) Anderson herself notes that these self-proclaimed “libertarians” seem to have no problem with private tyranny and that “it is surprising how comfortable some libertarians are with the validity of contracts into slavery” (66) as well as non-compete contracts, yet at no point raises the obvious point that these people have no concept of what liberty actually is.

Again, this points to serious flaws in her scholarship in-so-far as she appears unaware of the American right’s deliberate theft of the word “libertarian” from anarchists in the 1950s. Worse, she makes no attempt to understand this obvious paradox of “libertarians” advocating deeply authoritarian social relationships. After all, it is not “surprising” at all that these “libertarians” advocate voluntary slavery for John Locke, founder of classical liberalism, did so under the term “drudgery” – amongst the many “subordinate relations” he defended, including actual slavery.

Anderson misreads Locke completely, proclaiming him an egalitarian (16) when in fact the equality he postulates at the dawn of his state of nature is simply the opening paragraph of a “just-so” story weaved justify current inequalities in wealth and power in order to secure the “subordinate” relationships of master-servant, husband-wife, governor-governed, these produce. Consent was the means to do this and, needless to say, she does not tarry over Locke’s contractual defences of slavery and serfdom: he did not contradict himself in defending slavery nor drafting The Fundamental Constitutions of Carolina as she claims. (176) For it is to Locke that we must trace the notion of “subjection as freedom” (62) as shown by yet another author who goes unmentioned, Carole Pateman (most obviously in The Sexual Contract).

Locke, then, sought to justify inequality by means of just-so stories and the liberal use of the word “consent.” So she is wrong to suggest that the advocates of laissez-faire “failed to recognise that the older arguments [premised on self-employment] no longer applied” after industrialisation and that it is from this “arose the symbiotic relationship between libertarianism and authoritarianism that blights our political discourse to this day.” (36) Read so-called “libertarian” writers like Nozick and Rothbard and you will see that private tyranny is recognised – and defended with gusto. In this they follow Locke and his defence of the hierarchical social relationships of the agrarian capitalism he was familiar with.

The selective perspective Anderson bemoans is more apparent than real, being more than an “error.” (57) It is not in fact a “bizarre combination” at all for the laissez-faire liberals to have “hostility toward state power and enthusiasm for hyperdisciplinary total institutions.” (58) This is because they were interested in property, not liberty – as seen by Locke and his ideological descendants. Indeed, it is the few classical liberals (most obviously, John Stuart Mill) who are notable exceptions in this who need to be accounted for, although she does not – Mill’s support for co-operatives is relegated to an end-note while his pioneering feminism goes unmentioned (perhaps his later market socialism is the reason for this?).

Still, her sketches of pre-industrial liberals – the Levellers, Adam Smith, Thomas Paine, Abraham Lincoln – are useful examples of her thesis on the changing nature of market freedom. She rightly reclaims Adam Smith from the right, noting his egalitarian tendencies and his obvious preference for self-employment. (17-22) She quotes him on how all have “an equal right to the earth” and how a “tenant at will” is “as dependent upon the proprietor as any servant” and “must obey him with as little reserve.” Similarly, Paine’s writings could be classed as “broadly libertarian” (24) in the paradoxical and self-contradictory American sense precisely because he lived in a pre-capitalist society yet he was well aware of the need for land reform and progressive income tax, anathema for today’s so-called “libertarians” of the right. His writings do “not display a trace of the anti-capitalist class conflict that characterised nineteenth century politics” because there was no industrial capitalism and this is why “it does not make sense to pit workers against capitalists.” (25, 26) In short, social context matters when evaluating ideas – as can be seen, most obviously, with certain aspects of certain (American) individualist anarchists within our tradition.

As far as the evidence and logic of her case go, Anderson has done an excellent job with both even if she ignores the anarchist tradition. In terms of the conclusions she draws from these, there is less to recommend. However, before discussing this, the other contributors to the book should be mentioned. Three of the commentators (Hughes, Bromwich and Kolodny, particularly the latter) bring little to the discussion, the fourth (Tyler Cowen) is of interest simply because as an economist (and quasi-“libertarian”) he shows that her account of the mental-blinkers associated with workplace hierarchy is correct. His reply – “Work Isn’t So Bad After all” – is staggering in its unwillingness to understand the point being made. By definition workers do toil under the supervision of communist dictators, regardless of Cowen’s smug final sentence.

His defence of factory fascism is replete with the invocation of “very often” – “very often” workers are fired for putting racist, sexist comments on the internet to protect other workers (ignoring, for example, the well-documented firings for political opinion Anderson provides) – while “abuses are relatively few in number” and the gains “outweigh those costs.” (112-3) No evidence is provided, unlike with Anderson who provides overwhelming evidence to support her position. Likewise, he asserts that co-operatives and such like are often “less efficient” (115) when the empirical evidence suggests otherwise, which raises the awkward question of why a less efficient mode of production dominates society.

Cowan is dismissive of the notion that workplace tyranny is an issue, for if it says what he wants to hear then the voice of the people is truly the voice of god: “I do not see the evidence that suggests such events are a major concern of the American public.” (113) It would be churlish to note that indifference is one of the issues Anderson raises – why do we not talk about it? – and would not the threat of being fired for raising such issues explain this? Likewise, concerns can and do change, particularly if advanced minorities raise the issue. After all, we can be sure that sexual and racial inequality did not concern “the American public” much before the rise of the civil rights and women’s movements.

It is worth discussing one paper Cowan draws upon to show the flaws of his comment. He suggests that German codetermination “costs about 26 percent of shareholder value” which he puts down to “lower productivity.” (116) Yet German workers are more productive than American ones in terms of GDP per hour worked. Nor does the paper he cites argue this. It does suggest “codetermination reduces MTB [Market-To-Book] by 27% and ROA [Returns On Assets] by 5 basis points” but notes this due to the “transfer of some control rights from equity holders to employees [which] results in a different set of choices for the firm.” (Gary Gorton and Frank Schmid, Class Struggle inside the Firm: A Study of German Codetermination, Working Paper 7945, National Bureau of Economic Research, 25) The MTB ratio suggests that a company’s share value will be greater than its book value because the share price takes into account investors’ estimate of the profitability of the company.

Productivity, as Cowan surely knows, is different than profitability. Profitability is the difference between costs and prices. Productivity is the value workers create – how it is distributed is where it intersects with profitability. Any arrangement which increases the workers’ bargaining power will by definition reduce profitability (because workers keep more of the value they create) but may increase productivity (for precisely the same reason). Thus Cowan completely misunderstands the paper he cites, for Gorton and Schmid are discussing the distribution of surplus rather than its size. They conclude that “codetermination does empower employees, and that they use their power in ways that contradict the desires of shareholder” and “the ability to influence decision-making via supervisory board seats is valuable to employees, allowing them to redistribute firm surplus towards themselves.” (6) Also “unionisation is associated with lower firm profitability” for “unions are successful in redistributing firm surplus towards workers.” (8-9)

In other words, Cowan is attacking codetermination because German workers retain more of the value they produce instead of funnelling it upwards into the hands of shareholders – and Anderson makes the same obvious point. (142) Apparently the German 1% is being exploited by the 99% and “liberty” means that inequality there should rise to US levels. Sadly for Cowan, Gorton and Schmid are not as strong in their conclusions: “None of this is to say whether codetermination is socially optimal or not.” (32)

Overall, Cowan’s comments show that it takes substantial educational effort to become so blinkered. Of course he is fine with wage-labour – at least for other people, he being a tenured economics professor at George Mason University. As Anderson notes (134), being near the top of the wage-labour hierarchy, obviously he would be happy with it and she writes a wonderful response to his platitudes which is well worth reading for its focused anger and destructive power. An example:

“He worries that we can’t have nice things if workers don’t submit to the dictatorial power of their employers. This is the same argument British West Indies sugar growers made in Parliament in defense of slavery, during the debates over abolition.” (142)

Kolodny’s comments are of note purely because he gets Anderson to admit to not endorsing full workplace democracy, a decision based on “pragmatism” and because there “are enough disanalogies between state and workplace governances.” (130)

So in spite of her detailed and well referenced account of workplace tyranny, she fails to advocate its abolition and while talking of “republican freedom” (64) she baulks at (to use Proudhon’s words) “industrial associations, small worker republics” – and for no good reason beyond the rather vague comment that “some of its costs may be difficult to surmount” (66) and a cryptic reference. Few would so easily dismiss a move from (political) dictatorship to democracy by noting it “is challenging” and those involved may “have a hard time agreeing”! (131)

While it is right to say that she cannot propose what the workplace constitution ought to be (133) for that is up to workers to determine how to manage their affairs, we can outline principles for a solution. Yet her suggestions are woefully weak. After chronicling how wage-labour is private tyranny, she dismisses the obvious solution of workers control in favour of co-determination on the German model. This is about as convincing as a critic of slavery or monarchy proclaiming the solution cannot involve ending them but somehow tempering them with forums for discussion. Indeed, those who opposed these purely on the “pragmatic” position that it was not economically efficient or hard to abolish would be considered almost as bad as the aristocrats and slave drivers (who could, at least, call upon god to justify their position).

Another option mooted is something like a company union, dismissing independent unions because they are “adversarial” and so misses her own point. (70) Any union activist will tell you that being “adversarial” is essential otherwise the union becomes another extension of management’s power and, as she proves, there is a lot to be “adversarial” about! Similarly, while suggesting that firms “vigorously resist unionisation to avoid a competitive disadvantage with non-unionised firms” (70) perhaps a more realistic analysis would be that bosses like to be dictators and like to appropriate as much as they can from their employees labour? After all, the decline of unions since 1980 has been marked by productivity and wages separating, with the latter stagnating as the former grows (so disproving the platitudes of free market economists who had suggested in the 1950s and 1960s – and even today! – that unions were not required to secure decent wages).

Needless to say, she does not address the issue of reform or revolution – a topic which provoked some debate amongst the libertarians who long ago noticed the problem she raises. She proclaims that worker ownership “is far out of reach for most firms, given the size of capital investment needed.” (131) This is true but this option is hardly the only available – there is also expropriation (direct action) and nationalisation (political action) – and so a bit like suggesting that the only way to end slavery was for the slaves to buy themselves back from their masters.

Similarly, there is no discussion of socialisation and instead we get “independent contractors acting without external supervision, who rent their capital” postulated – and rightly rejected – as an alternative. (51) Strangely, she proclaims this universal self-employment as “amount[ing] to anarchy as the primary form of workplace order” before dismissing this because organisation is needed for “large-scale production” rather than “market relations within the firm.” (64) Here are lack of research becomes (again) obvious as no anarchist thinker has ever suggested such a solution to the social question. Indeed, Anarchists have been aware than collectivism “decisively” defeated individualism in production (65) since 1840 and advocated workers associations as a result.

A similar blindness can be seen from Anderson’s (correct) comment that many of the earliest radicals and socialists were “artisans who operated their own enterprises” but that does not mean “they were simultaneously capitalists and workers.” (25) Failing to recognise capital is a social relationship, she fails to see that this description of meaningless: it is like saying in 1865 that all American workers were now simultaneously masters and slaves.

Ultimately, it is her apparent unawareness of the authoritarian roots of liberalism which makes her comments against the so-called “libertarians” of the right ultimately toothless. She may bemoan the perspective that “wherever individuals are free to exit a relationship” then “authority cannot exist” (55) but she can only completely reject it by moving beyond liberalism into socialism (as Mill did), something she refuses to do along with refusing to advocate workplace democracy (and the socialisation that requires). In short, while lamenting the abuses of wage-labour she has no principled objection to it.

Yet she unknowingly restates Joseph Déjacque’s reasoning for coining the term libertarian for “employers have always been authoritarian rulers, as an extension of their patriarchal rights to govern their households.” (48) Listing the horrors of the patriarchal marriage contract, (61) she does not suggest that feminists were wrong to call for its abolition rather than be “pragmatic” and ponder “trade-offs” – why is wage-labour considered different? Perhaps because she, like Cowan, is not directly affected by it but is by patriarchy? If Déjacque urged Proudhon to be consistent in extending his opposition to workplace hierarchy to the family, can we not urge Anderson to be consistent in extending her opposition to household hierarchy to the workplace?

Also, it is worth noting that she equates decision making with government, government with hierarchy – much like Engels, so showing the liberal nature of “On Authority”. Yet agreeing does not equate to authoritarian, no matter what Engels asserted, and “governance” (how decisions are made) does not equal “government” (delegation of power into the hands of a few). This uncritical perspective on forms of organisation is a significant limitation, particularly in a work interested in what freedom means and extending it. Still, unlike Engels she recognises that “[n]o production process is inherently so constrained as to eliminate all exercise of authority. Elimination of room for autonomy is the product of social design, not nature.” (128) This is a significant, if undeveloped, step forward from Engels.

Ultimately, for a book which, at bottom, is about class, it is woefully lacking in class consciousness. She seeks to explain our current societal blindness to workplace despotism by suggesting it is a misapplication of pre-capitalist market positions to post-industrial revolution realities. Yet is no “misdeployment” (65) for it is hardly in the interests of capitalists to acknowledge the source of their power and profits – hence a pre-capitalist vision of the market being used to describe a much different, capitalist, reality would be encouraged by those with an interest in obscuring the authoritarian and exploitative social relationships produced by property. So you would expect given class interest that this would not be discussed – and so the peculiar condition she deplores and explores is easily explained. So it is no coincidence that – as she notes – these questions rose with organised labour and declined with it. (40-1)

Likewise, her main thesis – that a pre-capitalist perspective is being grafted upon a capitalist reality – is hardly new. As Marx noted long ago, from “Locke to Ricardo” the defenders of capitalism invoke “a mode of production that presupposes that the immediate producer privately owns his own conditions of production” while “the relations of production they describe belong to the capitalist mode of production.”(Capital [Penguin Books: London, 1976] I: 1083) Her account of pre-industrial America would have benefited from Marx’s writings on “Primitive Accumulation” in Capital (Part 8, Chapter 33) and how, to quote Marx, “the anti-capitalist cancer of the colonies [was] healed,” (938) but then she does not draw upon any socialist writers – libertarian or authoritarian – who discuss these issues. Marx is quoted on the nature of the workplace (4-5) but the earlier, market-based, perspective of Proudhon goes unmentioned – a strange omission given her position.

Another flaw in her argument arises with the State. She rightly notes that the American State determines the power of the employer, given its support for “employment at will” and the power that goes with it. (53-4, 57) Yet she downplays the obvious point that changes in this situation would involve changes in property rights – in the direction of the use-rights and socialisation advocated by Proudhon in 1840. Yet this discussion makes it clear that she thinks the State is some neutral body above classes, representing the people and so could be used to empower the many at work. This ignores that the State is currently a capitalist State and it will not pursue a transformation in the bargaining power of classes just because it would be fairer or because we ask nicely. Yes, the German capitalist State has decided upon a different set of options to secure the exploitation of labour but this was a product of many things, not least a mass Social-Democratic movement. Co-determination and strong unions were forced upon it from outwith. This was the case in America as well, with direct action being the means by which labour issues came to the fore in the 1930s. So if we do take private government seriously (and Anderson shows why we must, assuming you need more than the daily grind of wage slavery to convince you) then we must look to our fellow workers for its solution – then the public government will belatedly catch up (assuming we are unable to get rid of both once and for all). In other words, class struggle – something Anderson does not discuss as much as she should.

Anderson, to conclude, has produced a well-documented account of something libertarians have been arguing since 1840 – proprietor despotism –without mentioning this tradition. Like us, she recognises that social relations matter, that equality and inequality matter, that liberty and equality are mutually supportive rather than mutually exclusive. Yet, by failing to discuss anarchism, she has failed to do the research an academic of her level would be expected to do. Much worse, she fails to embrace the obvious conclusions of her evidence against wage-labour in favour the kind of mealy-mouthed “pragmatism” she would rightly denounce if applied to chattel-slavery or patriarchal marriage. Still, she should be thanked for the evidence and arguments she provides if not for her conclusions.

Private Government: How Employers Rule Our Lives (and Why We Don’t Talk about it)

Elizabeth Anderson

Princeton University Press


Bone idol: the Shard provocateur is my kind of anarchist

Thu, 02/08/2018 - 20:18

via The Guardian

by Suzanne Moore

This week the Qatari royal family is taking a pensioner who walks with a stick to court to stop him protesting outside the Shard. The Shard is owned by this family via funds held in Jersey. They also own Harrods, the Olympic village and half of One Hyde Park. They reportedly own more property in London than our own royal family.

At the top of the Shard are 10 flats with the price tag of £50m each, and they are currently empty. This is partly what has upset the protester, who lives on his pension of £154.56 a week. The Qatar royals are taking him and “persons unknown” to the high court on Thursday and also asking him to pay costs. He was served with an injunction because of his intention to protest. He had encouraged supporters to “ask at the door to see the £50m flats”, or “make a reservation at one of the Shard restaurants and ask if you can bring your own food”. If any made it inside he suggested shouting about the injustices and the empty flats. And Grenfell.

“We also want musicians to come down and play, sing, dance, rant,” he said. “Need yer own amps.”

He, however, needs no amps. For the pensioner is Ian Bone of Class War who has been protesting about gentrification and social cleansing since the 80s. I adore the man. To me he is the best tabloid journalist this country has ever produced. Provocative, hilarious, scathing.

His Class War slogans are full of bile and bite and angrily brilliant. Described by actual tabloids at times as a dangerous insurrectionary, Bone is full of life and fun, someone who monsters the pieties of the left and simply refuses to play any game that involves subservience to the right.

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Michael Moorcock: Why banning opioids has been a disaster for me

Thu, 02/08/2018 - 19:45

via The Spectator

by Michael Moorcock

Returning to the United States a short while ago I received a stern talking to from an immigration officer. Why had I been in Paris longer than usual? I’ve lived in the US for nearly 25 years. I originally moved to be closer to my son, who was being educated nearby, and to my American wife’s relatives in Houston. We bought an old house in a small town about an hour from Austin. Built for his new bride by the only Confederate governor of Texas after he came back from the civil war, it’s rather eccentric. We fell in love with it immediately, planning to live there for at least as long as my son was in the US. What I hadn’t reckoned on, in moving from London to rural Texas, was that my immune system, developed to deal with the particulate-laden air of the city, would turn on me and deliver a pretty nasty autoimmune disease. I’d always said it was a serious mistake to leave the city.

My son returned to London. Linda’s sister moved away. By then I was receiving outpatient treatment and it was impractical to leave. However, I routinely returned to Europe to see my children and grandchildren. On this last trip I stayed a little longer because I was working on a variety of projects. Why, demanded the armed officer as I peered up from a wheelchair, had I not yet taken US citizenship? People, she continued grimly, might become suspicious of my motives for remaining British. She snapped my passport shut. ‘Better get that citizenship!’ She seemed unaware I can hold dual citizenship, but getting it is expensive, time-consuming and I’m terrible at tests. So I kept my mouth shut. This was another example of the rise of the officious little Trumps who now feel free to act and speak according to their petty prejudices. Once, when entering the States, I felt I really was breathing the air of freedom. Now, that air is polluted with intolerance and ignorance. Even my rejuvenated immune system isn’t up to dealing with them much longer.

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How the Black Panthers’ Breakfast Program Both Inspired and Threatened the Government

Thu, 02/08/2018 - 19:37


By Erin Blakemore

In 1969, a group of children sat down to a free breakfast before school. On the menu: chocolate milk, eggs, meat, cereal and fresh oranges. The scene wouldn’t be out of place in a school cafeteria these days—but the federal government wasn’t providing the food. Instead, breakfast was served thanks to the Black Panther Party.

At the time, the militant black nationalist party was vilified in the news media and feared by those intimidated by its message of black power and its commitment to ending police brutality and the subjugation of black Americans. But for students eating breakfast, the Black Panthers’ politics were less interesting than the meals they were providing.

“The children, many of whom had never eaten breakfast before the Panthers started their program,” the Sun Reporterwrote, “think the Panthers are ‘groovy’ and ‘very nice’ for doing this for them.”

The program may have been groovy, but its purpose was to fuel revolution by encouraging black people’s survival. From 1969 through the early 1970s, the Black Panthers’ Free Breakfast for School Children Program fed tens of thousands of hungry kids. It was just one facet of a wealth of social programs created by the party—and it helped contribute to the existence of federal free breakfast programs today.

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More than 60 women have filed sexual harassment complaints against IHOP, Applebee’s restaurants

Thu, 02/08/2018 - 03:01

via Vox

By Alexia Fernández Campbell

In late 2011, a 16-year-old girl from suburban St. Louis landed her first job as a waitress at a local IHOP restaurant. She needed to work there for at least a year to complete her high school co-op program. At first, it made her uncomfortable when her boss repeatedly complimented her appearance. Within a few months, his behavior made her terrified to go to work.

The Illinois teen’s fear of getting fired — and not graduating on time — led her to put up with escalating sexual harassment from the restaurant’s general manager, according to allegations described in federal court documents filed in September. At one point, the manager allegedly threatened to “get violent” if she didn’t have sex with him.

Ten of the waitress’s female co-workers described similar experiences with two male cooks at the restaurant in a sexual harassment lawsuit they filed together in September 2017 against the IHOP franchise owner. They all accused the general manager and other supervisors of ignoring their complaints — and even condoning the behavior in some cases.

Those complaints were just a few of the nearly 7,000 sexual harassment reports against employers that were reviewed in 2017 by the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which enforces federal civil rights laws. Sexual harassment at work is a form of illegal gender discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. The women each filed a separate EEOC complaint, and the EEOC decided to file a class-action lawsuit on their behalf.

Sexual harassment is a particularly serious problem in restaurant and hotel jobs. From 2005 to 2015, hotel and restaurant workers filed at least 5,000 sexual harassment complaints with the EEOC — more than any other industry, according to an analysis from the Center for American Progress. This number represents only a fraction of all complaints filed by restaurant workers, as only about half of the 85,000 sexual harassment complaints filed with the EEOC in that time frame designated a specific industry.

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Where Did It All Go Wrong?

Wed, 02/07/2018 - 18:58

via The Nation

By Gabriel Winant

Who can remember a time when labor wasn’t losing? Every seeming strategic opportunity turns out to be largely a mirage; the legal and economic environment only gets ever worse. In each of the past four decades, observers and organizers have heralded some new turning point—only for membership to keep falling and campaigns to keep failing. Take, for example, the past few years: Organized labor has made a run at a series of high-profile workplaces, the kinds it hasn’t been able to break into before. The United Automobile Workers set out to organize foreign-owned assembly plants in the right-to-work South—Volkswagen in Tennessee, Nissan in Mississippi. The International Association of Machinists did much the same, pursuing Boeing from Washington to South Carolina. And in the Northeast, unions have sought to expand their foothold in higher education by organizing thousands of graduate employees across a couple dozen private universities. But all of these efforts, and many others beyond them, have come—or appear to be in the process of coming—to grief. The autoworkers lost at the plants in Tennessee and Mississippi, the machinists in South Carolina. Graduate employees lost elections at Harvard, Cornell, and Duke universities—and while they won at Columbia, Yale, and the University of Chicago, the administrations have made it clear that they intend not to negotiate contracts, because under the Trump administration the National Labor Relations Board will likely overturn its earlier rulings. So even when workers win, they don’t win. As a result, a consensus has emerged among many activists and scholars of organized labor: No matter what American workers do, no matter the scope or ingenuity of their union campaigns, they are trapped in the rusty legal armor of the NLRB. The National Labor Relations Board is suffocating us, but we’d be naked and exposed without it. When did it all go wrong?

Increasingly, many have looked to the 1970s as the period when labor’s slide started. The idea of the ’70s as labor’s lost decade is old, emerging out of the fissures—real and imagined—between the New Left and the working class. The scenes are familiar, even to the point of cliché: the 1970 hard-hat riot, when construction workers beat up antiwar protesters in Lower Manhattan; the enthusiasm of the AFL-CIO for the Cold War in general and the Vietnam War in particular; the violent resistance to racial integration among blue-collar white ethnics; and the union bosses like George Meany, who could be found backslapping Richard Nixon on the golf course. But conspicuously absent from such accounts is a later generation of labor activists who fell outside the Meany mold: young, black, and women workers, whose activism was informed by their participation in the protest movements of the 1960s. They were labor’s last hope—a militant new generation of activists, drawn from the professional and working classes, who might have saved organized labor from itself—and by recalling their history, we can get a much better sense of the suppressed alternatives to our current situation.

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Steward’s Corner: Challenge Unilateral Changes

Wed, 02/07/2018 - 16:39

via Labor Notes

When management changes an established working condition or adopts a new policy that adversely affects employees, stewards should alert union leaders quickly. By submitting a demand to bargain or filing a grievance, the union may be able to stop, modify, or at least delay harmful developments. Pressure tactics such as petitions, rallies, and picket lines add leverage.


Employer bargaining duties do not end with the execution of a labor agreement. During the term of the contract, before making a material change in a matter not fixed by the agreement, the employer must provide the union timely notice and a meaningful opportunity to bargain. (Matters fixed by contract language may not be changed even if the employer offers to bargain.)

For example, even if the contract does not have language regulating workplace safety, management may not adopt a new safety rule without notifying the union ahead of time and, if the union requests, bargaining the change to agreement or a good-faith impasse.

Unfair Labor Practice charge. A policy or rule that is instituted without consultation with the union is called a “unilateral change.” Such changes violate Section 8(a)(5) of the National Labor Relations Act. If the union files a ULP charge within six months, the National Labor Relations Board can order the employer to rescind the change, compensate employees for any lost wages or benefits, remove any discipline imposed as a result of the change, and bargain in good faith before reinstituting the policy or condition.

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The Boss Recovery

Wed, 02/07/2018 - 16:32

via Jacobin

by Doug Henwood

Stock markets have been swooning, in no small part because last Friday’s US employment report showed that average hourly earnings (AHE) — the average wage, excluding benefits, received by private sector workers — rose smartly in January. This prompted fears that inflationary pressures are mounting, wages will eat into profits, and the Federal Reserve might raise interest rates more aggressively than had been thought as recently as last Thursday. Or, as the New York Times put it in a headline, with its patented mix of dullness and alarm: “Powell Becoming Fed Chief as Economy Starts to Show Strain.”

What these scaremongers aren’t telling you is that it’s only bosses that are getting the raises.

Here’s a graph of the yearly growth in AHE.

You may notice that this series begins in March 2007. That’s because the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) only started reporting hourly earnings for “all workers” in March 2006. It has been reporting monthly AHE stats for “nonsupervisory” or “production” workers since 1964. Nonsupervisory workers — defined by the BLS as “those who are not owners or who are not primarily employed to direct, supervise, or plan the work of others” — are about 82 percent of the private sector workforce, a share that has hardly changed over the last fifty-three years.

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Illustration by Clifford Harper

Cincinnati experiments with co-op/union hybrid

Wed, 02/07/2018 - 15:47

via U.S. Solidarity Economy Network

In Cincinnati, Ohio, a city with high levels of unemployment, new models of co-operation are being developed, based on examples in US history as well as current projects overseas.

The Cincinnati Union Co-op Initiative (CUCI) is a no-profit union co-op incubator founded in 2009. It develops union co-ops – a hybrid business combining elements of the democratic worker ownership of a single co-op business with the principle of workers’ solidarity.

As in a worker co-op, worker-owners in a union co-op own and democratically run their business on the principle of one worker, one vote.

And as in a unionised business, worker-owners are members of a union and elect a union committee to negotiate a collective bargaining agreement.

The union also promotes and instills solidarity between workers in different businesses, industries and countries.

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The Hermit and the Empire: China after the Collapse of the Developmental Regime

Wed, 02/07/2018 - 15:11

via Chuǎng


When the nomadic armies swept down from the north to conquer the splintering Western Jin dynasty, the upper classes fled across the Yellow River into the southern hinterland of their collapsing empire. In the South, they re-established the imperial court at Jiankang (within present-day Nanjing), decreeing the ascent of a new dynastic capital. But the new empire of the so-called Eastern Jin existed more in edict than reality. Power was extremely decentralized, defined by a constant tension between factions of the refugee northerners who had settled in different regions, each with its own largely autonomous military and economic base. These factions themselves were dependent on tenuous alliances with the culturally distinct southern gentry and various indigenous groups, all slowly wrought through intermarriage and military conquest. In the midst of such balkanization, the desire to regain the lost northern homeland only loosely unified a paranoid court, hardly able to muster the central power required to collect taxes, much less field a new army capable of fighting the militarized “barbarian” kingdoms that had arisen in the north. This short-lived dynasty was, in retrospect, merely one of the lower stages in the multi-century imperial decline following the collapse of the Han.[1]

But it was also in this context of imperial decline and decentralization that the “hermit” of the East Asian eremitic tradition took on its archetypal form. Though the cultural practice of reclusion has a long history stretching back well before the imperial era,[2] it was under the Eastern Jin that empire and eremitism would become inseparably symbiotic. With little to do at the crippled court in Jiankang, most of the refugee elites retreated to their large estates in the humid southern forests. Attended by servants, slaves and concubines, they created relatively self-sufficient rural compounds, complete with trails and parkland cultivated for aesthetic effect. Freed from the drudgery of imperial administration, they spent their time gathering with friends on beautifully carved pavilions above their parks and plantations, feasting, drinking wine and writing poems on the beauty of a simple life in communion with nature. Poets like Xie Lingyun, the wealthy son of two prominent Eastern Jin families, were thus able to portray themselves as hermits in the style of the ancient sages, even as their (often willing) exile from court was spent within luxurious estates built on brutal hierarchies of bonded labor. The relationship between hermit and empire was never one of true opposition, then. Xie himself saw these estates as miniature empires unto themselves, modeled on the fallen Han dynasty.[3] Meanwhile, almost all the major rural poets of the period were in reality constantly cycling between court life and rustic exile, with reclusion becoming an increasingly regular stage in imperial administration.

By the time of true reunification under the Tang, eremitism had become a pervasive practice in which would-be officials competed against one another in their virtuous seclusion, hoping to secure a position at court. Famous poet-scholar-officials such as Li Bai crowded into hermitages in places like Zhongnan Mountain, frequently toured by imperial recruiters. The recentralization of political power thus saw a more rigorous fusion of the eremitic and the imperial, in which even hermits exiled from court were tasked with managing the smooth flow of tribute from the empire’s periphery. Throughout the process, however, literati still took on the outward attributes of their Eastern Jin predecessors, praising the religious solitude of rural life and condemning the capital and its courtly intrigue. Even though he served as a trusted aid to the Emperor during the Tang, Li Bai could imagine himself in a “world beyond the red dust of living,” a metaphor for both Buddhist religious detachment and rustic reclusion far from the bustle of urban streets.

Hermit Nation

It’s not coincidental, then, that the forging of China via the socialist developmental regime played on similar contradictions. Simultaneously the beachhead in a global socialist revolution and an autarkic nation sealed off from the capitalist economy (and later even from trade with its old Soviet allies), socialist China’s seclusion was both contradictory and deceptive. As the developmental regime reached its later stages, language of “self-reliance” (自力更生) proliferated at every level. But alongside the drive for self-sufficiency, the ossification of production created numerous local pressures to break this autarky at both domestic and international scales. The economy had undergone a pervasive decentralization, with rural collectives and urban industrial enterprises transformed into their own eremitic cloisters—workers and peasants dependent on local production units for food, housing and basic consumer goods, rather than on direct provision by the central government or indirect provision through a national market. But in the same period black markets had begun to proliferate, much-needed producer goods were increasingly unavailable or obsolescent, and the Sino-Soviet split had ensured that almost the entirety of China’s border had become a potential war front. These later, hermit-like decades of the socialist era were therefore also the gestation period for China’s unprecedented opening to global trade.

The Reform Era is often portrayed as an unprecedented shift led by a nearly rogue party faction, ending in a “Chinese Miracle” that would see the nation catapulted to the forefront of global production. But the reality is that China’s rapid subsumption into the material community of capital was prefigured by the structural conditions pervading and encircling the hermit nation, its autarkic developmental drive ultimately only as distant from the drives of global capital as the autarkic hermit estates of the medieval literati were from the courtly intrigue of their own capitals. Whereas “Sorghum & Steel,” the first part of our economic history,[4] explored the internal character of the developmental regime and the forging of China as a nation, this second part focuses on the global conditions that would ultimately drag the hermit socialism of the developmental regime out into the red dust of global capitalist production. Our basic thesis is that, as with the hermits of the Eastern Jin, reclusion and imperial expansion are not necessarily opposed terms. The rise of the reform faction within the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) appears sudden or unexpected only for those who take the hermit’s own poetry at face value, forgetting that the recluse is merely a stage in the life of the imperial administrator.

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