November-December 2014 … The Global Online Magazine of Arts, Information & Entertainment … Volume 10, Number 6
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Category — Economics

Deep State/Politics-Henry Giroux


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The Specter of Authoritarianism

and the Politics of the “Deep State”

by Henry A. Giroux

Mike Lofgren, a former GOP congressional staff member for 28 years with the Senate and House Budget committees, has written an essay for Bill Moyers & Company titled “Anatomy of the ‘deep state’.”[1]  The notion of the “deep state” has a long genealogy and serves to mark the myriad ways in which power remains invisible while largely serving the interest of the financial elite, mega-corporations, and other authoritarian regimes of commanding power. The form the “deep state” takes depends upon the historical conjuncture in which it emerges and the forces that drive and benefit from it can either be at the margins or at the center of power and control.[2] The notion of the “deep state” also points to different configurations of power. President Eisenhower’s warning about the military-industrial complex is one example of the elements of the “deep state” ikethat emerged in the post-World War II period. Another register can be seen in the coming of age of corporate power in combination with various forms of religious, military, and educational fundamentalisms in which war becomes aligned with big business, corporate power replaces state-based political sovereignty, religious extremism shapes everyday policies, and the punishing state works in tandem with the devolution of the welfare or social state.

Lofgren argues that the “deep state” “has its own compass regardless of who is in power.”[3] This suggests that democracy itself and its modes of ideology, governance, and policies have been hijacked by forces that are as deeply anti-democratic as they are authoritarian. One instance of the undermining of democracy is evident in the overreach of presidential power by Obama is not only on full display, as Lofgren points out,  in the power of the government to “liquidate American citizens without due processes, detain prisoners indefinitely without charge, conduct dragnet surveillance on the American people without judicial warrant and engage in unprecedented—at least since the McCarthy era—witch hunts against federal employees (the so-called ‘Insider Threat Program,”[4] but also in the failure of  Republican and Democratic party members, with a few exceptions, to  raise their voices in opposition to this not so invisible form of authoritarian rule. The silence of the political and intellectual clerks speaks to more than a flight from moral, social, and political responsibility, it speaks directly to the political extremism that has imposed a new and savage order of cruelty and violence on vast members of the American public.

I am not quite sure what to say about Lofgren’s essay, because while I agree with much of it in pointing to the anti-democratic tendencies undermining democracy in the U.S., I find the language too constrained and the absences too disturbing.  The notion of the “deep state” may be useful in pointing to a new configuration of power in the United States in which corporate sovereignty replaces political sovereignty, but it is not enough to simply expose the hidden institutions and structures of power. What we have in the United States today is fundamentally a new mode of politics, one wedded to a notion of power removed from accountability of any kind, and this poses a dangerous and calamitous threat to democracy itself, because such power is difficult to understand, analyze, and duckcounter. The collapse of the public into the private, the depoliticization of the citizenry in the face of an egregious celebrity culture, and the disabling of education as a critical public sphere makes it easier for neoliberal capital with its hatred of democracy and celebration of the market to render its ideologies, values, and practices as a matter of common sense, removed from critical inquiry and dissent.

With privatization comes a kind of collective amnesia about the role of government, the importance of the social contract, and the importance of public values. For instance, war, intelligence operations, prisons, schools, transportation systems, and a range of other operations once considered public have been outsourced or simply handed over to private contractors who are removed from any sense of civic and political accountability. The social contract and the institutions that give it meaning have been transformed into entitlements administered and colonized largely by the corporate interests and the financial elite. Policy is no longer being written by politicians accountable to the American public. Instead, policies concerning the defense budget, deregulation, health care, public transportation, job training programs, and a host of other crucial areas are now largely written by lobbyists who represent mega corporations. How else to explain the weak deregulation policies following the economic crisis of 2007 or the lack of a public option in Obama’s health care policies? Or, for that matter, the more serious retreat from any viable notion of the political imagination that “requires long-term organizing—e.g., single-payer health care, universally free public higher education and public transportation, federal guarantees of housing and income security?[5] The liberal center has moved to the right on these issues while the left has become largely absent and ineffective.

Lofgren’s conception of the “deep state” is a certainly useful concept for exposing the dark shadows of power but it does not go far enough in explaining the emergence of a society in an era of failed sociality, one in which the state has not only become suicidal and violent, but also cruel to the extreme. This a state dedicated to governing all aspects of social life, rather than just commanding economic and political institutions. Americans now live in a time that breaks young people, devalues justice, and saturates the minute details of everyday life with the constant threat, if not reality, of state violence. The mediaeval turn to embracing forms of punishment that inflict pain on the psyches and the bodies of young 1984-2people is part of a larger immersion of society in public spectacles of violence. The Deluzian control society[6] is now the ultimate form of entertainment in America, as the pain of others, especially those considered disposable and powerless, is no longer an object of compassion, but one of ridicule and amusement. Pleasure loses its emancipatory possibilities and degenerates into a pathology in which misery is celebrated as a source of fun.  High octane violence and human suffering are now considered consumer entertainment products designed to raise the collective pleasure quotient.  Brute force and savage killing replayed over and over in the culture now function as part of an anti-immune system that turns the economy of genuine pleasure into a mode of sadism that saps democracy of any political substance and moral vitality, even as the body politic appears engaged in a process of cannibalizing its own young. It is perhaps not farfetched to imagine a reality TV show in which millions tune in to watch young kids being handcuffed, arrested, tried in the courts, and sent to juvenile detention centers. No society can make a claim to being a democracy as long as it defines itself through shared hatred and fears, rather than shared responsibilities. Needless to say, extreme violence is more than a spectacle for upping the pleasure quotient of those disengaged from politics, it is also part of a punishing machine that spends more on putting poor minorities in jail than educating them. As Michelle Alexander points out, “There are more African American adults under correctional control today — in prison or jail, on probation or parole — than were enslaved in 1850, a decade before the Civil War began.”[7]

I would suggest that what needs to be addressed is some sense of how this unique authoritarian historical conjuncture of power and politics came into place, especially with the rise of Ronald Reagan’s anti-government policies in the 1980s and Margaret Thatcher’s announcement that there is no such thing as society, only individuals and families. This was the beginning of the war on responsible government and the elimination of the welfare state and the celebration of a stripped down radical individualism motivated by an almost pathological narcissism and self-interest.  More specifically, there is no mention by Lofgren of the collapse of the social state which began in the seventies with the rise of neoliberal capitalism–a far more dangerous form of market fundamentalism than we had seen since the first Gilded Age. Nor is there a sustained analysis of what is NSAnew about this ideology. How, for instance, are the wars abroad related increasingly to the diverse forms of domestic terrorism that have emerged at home? What is new and distinctive about a society marked by militaristic violence, exemplified by its war on youth, women, gays, public values, public education, and any viable exhibition of dissent? Why at this particular moment in history is an aggressive war being waged against not only whistle blowers, but also journalists, students, artists, intellectuals, and the institutions that support them?  And, of course, what seems entirely missing in this essay is any reference to the rise of the punishing state with its massive racially inflected incarceration system, which amounts to a war on poor minorities, especially black youth.

What is not so hidden about the tentacles of power that now hide behind the euphemism of democratic governance is the rise of a punishing state and its totalitarian paranoiac mindset  in which everyone is considered a potential terrorist or criminal. This mindset has resulted in the government arming local police forces with discarded weapons from the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan, turning local police into high-tech SWAT teams.[8]  How else to explain the increasing criminalization of social problems from homelessness and failure to pay off student loans to  trivial infractions  by students such as doodling on a desk or violating dress code in the public schools, all of which can land the public and young people in jail. The turn towards the punishing state is especially evident in the war on young people taking place in many schools, which now resemble prisons with their lockdown procedures, zero tolerance policies, metal detectors, and the increasing presence of police in the schools. One instance of the increasing punishing culture of schooling is provided by Chase Madar. He writes “Though it’s a national phenomenon, Mississippi currently leads the way in turning school behavior into a police issue.  The Hospitality State has imposed felony charges on schoolchildren for “crimes” like throwing peanuts on a bus.  Wearing the wrong color belt to school got one child handcuffed to a railing for several hours.  All of this goes under the rubric of “zero-tolerance” discipline, which turns out to be just another form of violence legally imported into schools.”[9]

Zero tolerance policies are only one example of the rise of the punishing and surveillance state which has transformed everyday life in the United States into a war zone.[10] John Whitehead captures the militarized culture of everyday life well in arguing that how Americans are now treated by government officials has taken a dangerous turn. He writes:

You might walk past a police officer outfitted in tactical gear, holding an assault rifle, or drive past a police cruiser scanning license plates. There might be a surveillance camera on the street corner tracking your movements. At the airport, you may be put through your paces by government agents who will want to either pat you down or run scans of your body. And each time you make a call or send a text message, your communications will most likely be logged and filed. When you return home, you might find that government agents have been questioning your neighbors about you, as part of a “census” questionnaire. After you retire to sleep, you might find yourself awakened by a SWAT team crashing through your door (you’ll later discover they were at the wrong address), and if you make the mistake of reaching for your eyeglasses, you might find yourself shot by a cop who felt threatened. Is this the behavior of a government that respects you? One that looks upon you as having inviolate rights? One that regards you as its employer, its master, its purpose for being?[11]

Central to the new authoritarianism that Lofgren hints at but does not address is the culture of fear that now rules American life and how it functions to redefine the notion of ciasecurity, diverting it away from social considerations to narrow matters of personal safety.  In a post-9/11 world, fear has become the reigning organizing principle in the United States. Fear is now embodied in the militarization of everyday life, the rise of the surveillance-mass, the notion of permanent war, the expanding incarceration state, and the crushing of dissent.  Shared fears have replaced any sense of shared responsibilities. And much of this has taken a racist turn. For instance, the war on drugs and terrorism has been joined by the war on dissent and has become the new face of racial discrimination and the destruction of all viable democratic public spheres.[12] In this instance, a culture of surveillance, punishment, and repression have become the bedrock of a new mode of authoritarianism while collective modes of support are increasingly vanishing from public life.

Similarly, any viable challenge to the “deep state” and the new mode of authoritarianism it supports needs to say more about the notion of disposability and a growing culture of cruelty brought about by the death of political concessions in politics–a politics now governed by the ultra-rich and mega corporations that has no allegiance to local politics and produces a culture infused with a self-righteous coldness that takes delight in the suffering of others. Evidence of such a culture is on full display in the attempts by extremists to cut billions of dollars from the food stamp program, lower the taxes of the rich and corporations while defunding social security and Medicare, passing legislation that openly discriminates against gays and lesbians, the attempts to roll back voting rights, and women’s reproductive rights, and this is only a short list. The war on poverty has morphed into a war on the poor, and human misfortune and “material poverty into something shameful and repellent.”[13]

* * * * *

“Democracy is on life support in the United States and working within the system to change it is a dead end … except for gaining short term reforms. The struggle for a substantive democracy needs more, and the American people expect more…”

* * * * *

Power is now separated from politics and floats, unchecked, and uncaring. Power is global and politics is local and points to a new form of hybrid global financial authoritarianism. This points to something connected to the “deep state” and that is the emergence of global neoliberalism and its savage willingness in the name of accumulation, privatization, deregulation, dispossession, and power to make disposable a wide range of groups. Such groups include but are not limited to low income youth, poor minorities, unemployed workers, and elements of the middle class that have lost jobs, social protections, and hope.

Increasingly, in the United States, poor minority and low-income youth, especially those from marginalized ethnic and indigenous groups, are often warehoused in schools that resemble boot camps, dispersed to dank and dangerous work places far from the enclaves of the tourist industries, incarcerated in prisons that favor punishment over rehabilitation, and consigned to the increasing army of the permanently unemployed.  Rendered redundant as a result of the collapse or absence of the social state, pervasive racism, a growing disparity in income and wealth, and a profit-at-all-costs neoliberal mindset, an increasing number of individuals and groups are being demonized, criminalized, or simply abandoned because they lack status as middle-class “taxpayers.” Their ranks are filled with non-citizens (immigrants and refugees), poor minorities, low-income youth, the elderly, the poor, the unemployed, the disabled, the homeless, and the underemployed and working poor who cannot secure a living wage. These people become invisible in the public discourse and occupy what Joao Biehl has called those “zones of terminal exclusion” which accelerate the disposability of the unwanted.[14]

Central to a failed state and a politics of disposability is the central question: How does culture work to insure the workings of dominant power? That is, how does the “deep state” function to encourage particular types of individualistic, competitive, acquisitive and entrepreneurial behavior in its citizens? The biggest problem facing the U.S. may not be only its repressive institutions, modes of governance, and the militarization of everyday life, but also the interiority of neoliberal nihilism, the hatred of democratic relations, and the embrace of a culture of cruelty. That is, how is subjective life itself now shaped according to the logic of the market, commerce, and the privatization and commodification of everything? The role of culture as an educative force, a new and powerful force in politics is central here and is vastly underplayed in the essay (which of course cannot include everything). For instance, in what ways does it use the major cultural apparatuses to convince people that there is no alternative to existing relations of power, that consumerism is the ultimate mark of citizenship, and that making money is the essence of individual and social responsibility.

In other words, what is missing from Lofgren’s theory of the “deep state” is a sustained analysis of cultural domination–an understanding of how identities, subjectivities, and values are shaped in the narrow and selfish image of commerce, how exchange values have become the only values, and how the vocabulary of the market has hijacked public values, and the discourse of solidarity, community, and social responsibility.   In my estimation, the “deep state” is simply symptomatic of something more ominous, the rise of a new form of authoritarianism, a counter-revolution in which society is being restructured and advanced under what might be called the neoliberal revolution. This is a counter-revolution in which the welfare state is being liquidated, along with the collective provisions which supported it. It is a revolution in which economics drives politics.

The question of resistance haunts almost all theories of the “deep state,” which often conflate power with domination and offer nothing less than a dystopian vision of society and the future. Resistance either degenerates into nostalgia for the good old days of the past or it suggests that those who wish to change the world should work within the current bankrupt political system. Or, even worse, it suggest that the call for radical change is ultimately an act of bad faith, if not a form of political infantilism. Rather than dissolve power into unshakable forms of domination, I think these new modes of power have to be understood in terms of their limits and strengths and challenged accordingly not as an act of reform but as an act of revolution—a going to the root of the problem in order to create strategies for fundamental social, political, and economic transformation.

I don’t believe the system is broken. I think it works well, but in the interest of very privileged and powerful elite economic and political interests that are aggressively waging a war on democracy itself. If there is to be any challenge to this system, it cannot be made within the discourse of liberal reform, which has largely served to maintain a repressive status quo.  Occupy and many other social movements recognize this. These groups have refused to be defined by the dominant media, the dictates of the security state, the financialization of everyday life, and forms of representations that are utterly corrupt. Hope and resistance will only come when the call for reform and working within the system gives way to imagining a very different understanding of what democracy means.

capitolThe new authoritarianism with its diverse tentacles is the antithesis of democracy, and if we are going to change what Lofgren calls the “deep state”, it is necessary to think in terms of an alternative that does not mimic its ideologies, institutions, governing structures, and power relations. Two things are essential for challenging the new authoritarianism. First, there needs to be a change in collective consciousness about what democracy really means and what it might look like. This is a pedagogical task whose aim is to create the formative culture that produces the agents and subjects necessary for challenging a range of anti-democratic practices and neoliberal values, ideologies, and modes of governance that impoverish democratic values, experiences, and civic responsibility.

This suggests making education central to any viable notion of pedagogy and working diligently to develop public spaces, particularly alternative spaces, where new ideas, modes of exchange, and forms of critical analysis can be produced and circulated. Clearly, this would include using the Internet, new digital media, journals, magazines, screen culture, films, newspapers, and all of the cultural apparatuses available to address and develop new modes of subjectivity. Secondly, there is a need for a massive social movement with distinct strategies, organizations, and the will to address the roots of the problem and imagine a very different kind of society, one that requires genuine democratic socialism as its aim.

The left is too fractured around single political issues and needs to develop alliances in which broad based organizations can be developed with long term strategies and goals. This will not happen quickly but the foundations can be laid for new modes of organizing in which the totality of society is addressed and diverse struggles can be aligned in ways that expand their reach and political power outside of the specificity of differences that drive them. Democracy is on life support in the United States and working within the system to change it is a dead end, except for gaining short term reforms. The struggle for a substantive democracy needs more, and the American people expect more. The “deep state” is an important concept but it needs to be expanded so as to address the dark shadow of authoritarianism that now haunts American society.

 

About the author:

Henry A. Giroux is the Global TV Network Chair at McMaster University and is a Distinguished Visiting Professor at Ryerson University in Canada. His latest book is Neoliberalism’s War on Higher Education published by Haymarket (2014).


[1] See Mike Lofgren, “The ““deep state”” – How Much Does It Explain?,” Truthout (February 26, 2014). Online: http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/22075-anatomy-of-the-deep-state

[2]  See, Jim Palombo, “Deep State” Ragazine ( March 2014)

[3] Ibid. Lofgren.

[4] Ibid. Lofgren

[5] Adolph Reed Jr., “Nothing Left: The Long, Slow Surrender of American Liberals,” Harper’s Magazine (March 2014), p. 29.

[6] Giles Deleuze, “Societies of Control,” October, 59, 1992, pp. 3-7.

[7] Michelle Alexander, “Michelle Alexander, The Age of Obama as a Racial Nightmare,” Tom Dispatch (March 25, 2012). Online: http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175520/best_of_tomdispatch%3A_michelle_alexander,_the_age_of_obama_as_a_racial_nightmare/

[8] Radley Balko, The Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces (Jackson, Tenn.: Perseus Books, 2013).

[9] Chase Madar, “Everyone Is a Criminal: On the Over-Policing of America”, Huffington Post (December 13, 2013). Online:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/chase-madar/over-policing-of-america_b_4412187.html

[10] I address this issue in detail in Henry A. Giroux, America’s Education Deficit and the War on Youth (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2013) and Henry A. Giroux, Youth in Revolt: Reclaiming a Democratic Future (Boulder: Paradigm Publishers, 2013).

[11] John W. Whitehead, “Paranoia, Surveillance and Military Tactics: Have We Become Enemies of the Government?” The Rutherford Institute (February 17, 2014). Online: https://www.rutherford.org/publications_resources/john_whiteheads_commentary/paranoia_surveillance_and_military_tactics_have_we_become_enemies_of_t

[12] Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow (New York: New Press, 2012).

[13] Jonathan Crary, 24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep (London: Verso, 2013), p. 113.

[14]. Joao Biehl, Vita: Life in a Zone of Social Abandonment (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005).

 

 

 

March 1, 2014   1 Comment

Jim Palombo/Politics

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On the Topic of Work 

by J. Palombo

I was recently invited to participate in the “The Economy of the Workers” conference in Joao Pessoa, Brazil. The invitation came via a colleague, Professor Andres Ruggeri from the University of Buenos Aires, who happens to be one of the directors of the gathering. Unfortunately I will not be able to attend as there is an important meeting stateside which happens to fall on the same dates – you will read more about this particular conference in an upcoming edition.  In any event, the invitation prompted several thoughts which I reasoned might be worth your consideration, so I thought I would pass them along.

One of the first things that came to mind when I got the conference review was a memory from my youth and my work as a paperboy in my predominantly immigrant neighborhood. Along my route, and only two doors up from the large tannery that employed many of the people in the town, there was a tavern called Workers Lunch. I knew the place fairly well as I delivered the morning paper there for several years and also had to collect the weekly fee usually every Thursday after school. In this context I was able to see both the environment and the bar-patrons close-up. In terms of the former, I can still recall the sour smell of beer, cooked vegetables and boiled meat and see the spittoons scattered along the bar floor. As to the latter, the mostly Polish, Czech and Russian people all seemed a little worse for wear, generally covered in the sweat and soot of their own daily labor. Their jobs promised hard work with little pay but it none the less provided them with a camaraderie which that style of life often brings.  I guess that noting the clarity in which I can recollect the place points to the fact that along with my own family history (many relatives worked in that tannery) the experiences in my youth provided me with a sensitivity for working class concerns, something that continues to this day. And I think it’s safe to say that although the workplace and the nature of work have changed over the years, I am not alone in carrying this sentiment.

Importantly, these memories made for an interesting backdrop in considering the tenor of the conference. In short, I was struck by how the elements of the conference, although clear in substance, did not really “fit” within our contemporary U.S. frame of worker-related considerations. (It seems that they might have made more sense to those at Workers Lunch.) In other words, and as an example, the listing of “topics of debate,” which includes the “historical trajectory of self-management from traditional communities to labor movements” and the “challenges of trade union experiences in neoliberal global capitalism” appears to speak to different terms pointed toward different experiences, different times and differing cultural instincts. Said another way, it’s as if the U.S.’s particular connection to both the industrial and technological revolutions as well as to the intricacies inherent in being the most advanced/modern capitalist system, made for a different language in terms of the issues being raised in the “other Americas.” And it naturally follows that these predominantly ideological-level differences would make for some discussion related challenges between the countries, challenges which may not be evident at first glance. In fact this was going to be my topic theme at the conference. The thought was that despite the U.S.  links to issues like union movements, unemployment, wage stagnation, income inequality, immigration and the overall notion of a work ethic, it seems reasonable to inquire into what extent the workers in the U.S. could actually identify and/or understand the “topics of debate” for this predominantly South and Latin American conference. In essence, my contribution would not be to say that one system is better than the other, or to infer that one is devoid of problems or pitfalls. Rather, my point would be to highlight the differences, encouraging that we better interpret them to bring our common and uncommon ground better into focus.

I will certainly be in contact with Professor Ruggeri in the future, as I am most interested in the outcome of the conference and what might happen in the years to follow. For now, I hope that you will take a moment to read through the conference review – I trust you will find it of interest. Of course, please feel free to offer your own thoughts – it would be great to know to what extent this type event, including the topics on the table and the comments I’ve offered, work for you.

* * * * *

 IV INTERNATIONAL GATHERING “THE ECONOMY OF THE WORKERS”

Alternatives for worker self-management and employment in response to the global economic crisis

9th to 12th July, 2013, Joao Pessoa, Brazil

 

In an international context where the global capitalist crisis is increasingly affecting European countries, especially along the Mediterranean, the only response from governments has been to implement a series of strict austerity measures. These austerity measures have been tried and tested in other parts of the world and have proven not only to fail to regenerate economies, but have lead to further impoverishment, structural unemployment, marginalization and insecurity for the majority of society who must work to earn a living. In response, large protest movements have begun to emerge in “developed” countries that are feeling the effects of the crisis the most, reinforcing the need for change in the management of the economy that not only contemplates the welfare of the working masses, but assures that they have a role in its management too.

In often-labeled “developing” countries, particularly throughout Latin America, social movements, popular organizations and labor movements have been developing processes of organization at a grass-roots level that in many cases take the form of worker self-management of economic units of goods and services. Such is the case of the worker-recovered businesses managed by the workers in Argentina, and other forms of worker-control, both urban and rural. In some instances, these movements have gained some recognition and support at a governmental level, bringing into question of the role of the state and the relationship between state power and the autonomy of the popular movement: on the one hand the state can be understood as a potential enhancer of these processes of worker-control, while on the other hand it can be perceived as an antagonistic instrument of traditional power with the potential to compromise the autonomy of self-management.

The IV International Gathering “The Economy of the Workers” seeks to explore these and other questions relating to the struggle of the workers from different perspectives and in different national contexts. It seeks to provide a space for discussion and debate using the experiences of worker economic control and self-management as a point of departure, bringing together the perspectives of academics, social activists, and the workers themselves. Together with worker-recovered businesses, cooperatives, labor movements and organizations, social movements, political groups and academics, among others, we have been developing the International Gathering and the themes explored within it, with representatives from over 20 countries participating in the previous gatherings. We reiterate here what we have emphasized in the previous conferences: ‘In non-hegemonic, if uneven, ways, workers are also inventing alternatives that are not limited to the economic, but that delve into wider cultural processes as well, which, based on non-capitalist relations of production, have opened more and more spaces for pre-figurative politics. These alternative economic institutions are affording workers spaces to discuss issues such as internal power and gender structures, as well as the relationship between workers, workplaces, and their surrounding communities. These processes, visible for example in the recovered factories, workers’ cooperatives, and micro-enterprises of the world, although incipient, show that workers can present and self-manage a more humane and sustainable alternative to corporate globalization’.

The IV International Gathering will be held in the North Eastern state of Paraíba, Brazil, hosted by the Incubator for Social Entrepreneurship (INCUBES), Federal University of Paraiba and the Open Faculty Program of the University of Buenos Aires.

History of the International Gathering “The Economy of the Workers”

The International Gathering “The Economy of the Workers”, whose first edition was held in Buenos Aires in July 2007 under the theme “Self-management and distribution of wealth”, was organized by the Open Faculty Program of the Faculty of Philosophy and Letters, University of Buenos Aires, in conjunction with academic institutions, social organizations and workers in Argentina and around the world. The Gathering emerged as a forum for the exchange of ideas and experiences between academics, activists and workers about the problems and possibilities of self-management, a regeneration of a political, economic and social project by the working class and social movements, as well as to critically discuss and analyze the practices of academic investigation into these topics.

The Argentine experience of worker-control and self-management provided a solid basis for discussion for the first Gathering in 2007. These discussions evolved to take on an international nature by the second and third Gatherings (held in Buenos Aires in 2009, and in Mexico City in 2011) looking at, and learning from, the different experiences of the working class and social movements around the world, with an ultimate objective in mind of producing an alternative economic, social and political project than that which neoliberal global capitalism presents. In this sense the themes and discussion topics of the Gathering became more diverse, expanding to different areas of social struggles and critical thinking, yet still remaining true to the spirit of the Gathering that that its title suggests: how to think about, debate and construct an economy from the workers and worker self-management.

 

Topics of Debate:

1. Analysis of capitalist management of the economy and proposals for self-management

2. The new crisis of global capitalism: analysis from the perspective of the economy of the workers

3. The historical trajectory of self-management: from traditional communities to labor movements

4. Self-management in its actual stage: problems and possibilities. Worker-recovered businesses, cooperatives, and attempts at self-management by indigenous communities, peasants and social movements.

5. Self-management and Gender: creating democracy

6. Analysis of the socialist experience: past and future

7. The challenges of trade union experiences in neoliberal global capitalism.

8. Informal, precarious and degrading employment: social exclusion or reconfiguration of labor in global capitalism?

9. New movements in response to the global economic crisis: perspectives from the struggle for self-management

10. Challenges facing popular governments in the social management of the economy and the state

11. The university, workers and social movements: debate over methodologies and practices of mutual construction

12. Pedagogy of self-management

 

Organizational structure for the IV International Gathering “The Economy of the Workers”

The IV International Gathering will take place on 9th thru 12th July, 2013, with morning and afternoon sessions, and will be open to the public. There will be plenary sessions and workshops with the presentation of papers, videoconferencing, and a final plenary session with discussion and conclusions.

Organizing Committees:

Incubator for Social Entrepreneurship (INCUBES) Universidade Federal da Paraíba, Brazil; Department of Social Relations of the Autonomous Metropolitan University-Xochimilco, Mexico; Open Faculty Program, Faculty of Philosophy and Letters of the University of Buenos Aires, Argentina, Núcleo de Solidariedade Técnica (SOLTEC/UFRJ)

* Professor Andres Ruggeri is Director of the Open University Program, University of Buenos Aires, Argentina. He can be reached at: Andres.Ruggeri@gmail.com

 

About the author:

Jim Palombo is politics editor of Ragazine.CC. You can read more about him in About Us.

June 29, 2013   Comments Off on Jim Palombo/Politics

Pandora’$ Music Box

The Ever-changing Landscape

(and How to Pay for It)

By Jeff Katz

I’m not going to cover, in 500 words, the overwhelming and constant change that has revolutionized the music listening and buying experience since Napster emerged over 10 years ago and began the music business’ death spiral. I’ll try to cover just one: The Internet Radio Fairness Act.

Congress is taking up a new bill, sponsored by R’s and D’s alike, to lower the royalty rate that Internet radio stations like Pandora pay, from over 50% of total revenues, to the less onerous 7ish% of revenues that satellite titans like SiriusXM pay, or even the cable rate of 15%. It’s all about the fairness, no?

But it’s not quite that simple. For sure Pandora feels unjustly put upon in comparison to other corporate giants, but when I hear the trickle down economic argument they put forth it strikes me as empty. In an LA Times article, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in support of The Internet Radio Fairness Act cites that lowering of royalty payments by Pandora et. al. would allow the industry to grow and, in turn, there’d be more consumers and more payments for artists.

I’m still pretty old school. For God’s sake, I buy more records now than I did in the 1970s, but I do like Pandora. On more than one occasion I’ve sat on my front porch reading and listening to one of my self-created jazz stations. But with Pandora omnipresent on every smart phone, tablet and whatever device you may have nearby, could it be any more available? Why would a lower royalty to the artist result in more business for the radio station? Has anyone ever listened to the radio more or less frequently based on what the royalty rate is? Would it surprise you to know that AM and FM pay no royalties for regular radio broadcast?

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“Pandora is asking listeners to support the Internet Radio Fairness Act.
What they neglect to mention is another bill, The Interim
First Act, introduced by New York Rep. Jerrold Nadler.”

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The artists see it for what it is. Ted Kalo, of musicFIRST, a pro-artist group, makes it clear that Pandora is not some small mom and pop outfit. They have a market cap of nearly $2 billion and bending over to accommodate their claim only further hurts those who make the music in the first place.

Pandora is asking listeners to support the Internet Radio Fairness Act. What they neglect to mention is another bill, The Interim First Act, introduced by New York Rep. Jerrold Nadler. It’s referred to as the “willing buyer/willing seller” standard, and what it proposes is bring the satellite radio operations to internet radio levels of payment. That’s fair too, right? musicFIRST likes Nadler’s idea, as, I imagine, do the artists themselves.

The music business is just that, a business, and over the years one thing has remained constant – the suits do well, the artists get screwed. Even in our supercool, live streaming, iTunes downloading, internet radio world, that’s still the case. So help Pandora if you’d like. It’s of little relevance to the music makers. You want to support music, go see a band live, pay for your ticket and buy their CD/album directly. That’ll help the performer continue to create. Anything else just buys more sharkskin suits and fancy cars for the business class.

October 28, 2012   Comments Off on Pandora’$ Music Box

Kari Polanyi Levitt / Politics-Interview

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Kari Polanyi Levitt, photo from her website

Politics in Motion – Karl Polanyi

and my chat with his daughter,

Professor Kari Polanyi Levitt

by James Palombo, Politics Editor

In 1957, Karl Polanyi’s book, The Great Transformation, was published by Rinehart and Company. Its focus was on interpreting the changes in the world by referencing the implications of the market-capitalist system that was in intricately tied to and dominating the political and social exchanges of the day. In describing the book, R.M. MacIver writes in the Foreword: “Here is a book that makes most books in its field seem obsolete or outworn. Here, at a crucial hour, is a fresh comprehension of the form and meaning of human affairs. We stand at a new vantage point, looking down after the earthquake, on the ruined temples of our cherished gods. We see the weaknesses of the exposed foundations – perhaps we can learn how, and where, to rebuild the institutional fabric so that it may better withstand the shocks of change. So the message of the book is not only for the economist, though it has a powerful message for him; not only for the sociologist, though it conveys to him a deepened sense of what society means; not only for the political scientist, though it will help him to restate old issues and to evaluate old doctrines – it is for every intelligent man who cares to advance beyond his present stage of social education, for every man who cares to know the society in which he lives, the crisis it has passed through, and the crises that are now upon us.”

The masterwork received its due consideration when released as it referenced, among others: regulated and unregulated market concerns; labor issues; the struggles between economic and social man; war; and importantly, the primacy of society. (This “primacy” was an important component as it presented an economic analysis in a way different from Karl Marx, especially in that it presented a view more in terms of societal evolution than economic revolution.) In short, it was most complete and informative in its nature, especially given the fact that the world, particularly the Western world and particularly given the post WWII state of affairs, was indeed in ‘transformation.’

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“There is a crying need for creative thinking and new initiatives to protect the gains of development from devastation by financial hurricanes fed by institutional investors who freely move funds in and out of countries at the tap of a keyboard with no responsibility for the impact of their operations on host countries.”

 From Reclaiming The Right To Development by Professor Kari Levitt, www.ianrandlepublishers.com 2005

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Now fast forward to today, with the issues of the market, labor, social welfare, war, etc. on the table and the nature of ‘globalization’ being what it is. For anyone involved with political, economic and social issues, at either micro, mid and macro levels, it would make sense to think that Karl Polanyi’s work  would be widely referenced in terms of framing and discussing contemporary issues. As I can attest to, it seems “a must” for these purposes. (Granted, the world appears to be moving away from Western frames of thought, i.e., “transforming” in a more Easterly direction than in Polanyi’s time. And the effects of the Technological Revolution, although similar to those of the Industrial Revolution, may be a bit different. But it is hard to argue that the elements for consideration as well as the manner in which they are framed in Polanyi’s work are not as important now as they were then.)

Yet, as I continued to read various compelling and significant treatises on the difficult problems of the day, in particular, Michael Moran’s The Reckoning (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012), Thomas Byrne Edsall’s The Age of Austerity (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012) and Nobel Prize Winner Michael Spence’s The Next Convergence (Random House, 2011) I noticed a strange lack of note to Mr. Polanyi’s work. **

Of course, having been significantly impacted by this work, particularly in my travels to different parts of the world and my writings tied to what I experience, this happenstance made me want to inquire why this was so. Could it be that these individuals, even at their expert levels, were not versed in his work? This of course seemed hardly likely, especially in that they noted, in similar fashion, many of the same concerns that Polanyi raised in terms of the transformation (globalization) that was happening. Could it be that they were aware of his work but refuted his analysis? This might be the case, but this would have certainly warranted some comparative mention.

Or could it be that, like with others (most notably Karl Marx), Polanyi was seen as somehow anti-American, someone implying that rather than the advanced democracy that many U.S. experts tend to rely on, it is rather an advanced capitalist system, one that by the consequences of its own devices actually infringes upon the ideals of democracy? In other words, even though Polanyi’s analysis might be of value when discussing the American “experiment,” he could certainly be considered an uncomfortable partner, perhaps even implying that the authors were tied to some form of “radical” ideological thought. Could this be the case – despite that this omission would seem short-sighted or even misleading?

In sorting through my thoughts on all this, I decided to look further into Polanyi’s personal history, looking for someone who might offer some better insight into what had and hadn’t happened with his work. And it didn’t take long before I discovered that he had a daughter, an important thinker, scholar and author in her own right, Kari Polanyi Levitt, Professor Emeritus of Economics at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. I proceeded to contact her and as luck would have it she graciously agreed to have a chat with me about things connected to both her and her father’s work. So what follows is a review of what she and I discussed.

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 “We have to take into account the real value of human effort and work, and that is very different from its market value. We have to protect nature and our social and cultural heritage. People do not like to be valued and respected only for the income which they can earn, and to be totally disrespected if they are not able to earn income for whatever reason.”

From Development and Regionalism:
Karl Polanyi’s Ideas and the Contemporary World System
by Professor Kari Levitt, www.blackrosebooks.net 1990

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I started our conversation by asking about one of her own books, Silent Surrender (Carleton Library, 1970), which I had just recently reviewed. This was an interesting starting point for her, in that the book, which described her country then as being in a state of national disintegration and losing its sovereignty primarily due to U.S. influence and ownership of Canadian industry, seemed not particularly relevant in current times. Although it had been re-released in 2002, her reasoning was that many of the thinkers of that day had left or no longer participated in the field, so that most people no longer attached to what she offered. For her, this was coupled with the fact that Canada had become so infected with the “virus of consumerism” (which included for her the dismantling by the Canadian government of the social protections that had previously existed) that her analysis and points raised therein seemed out-of-date in terms of public policy considerations.  In short, she felt that Canada had now become the country she feared it might.

Of course, the nature of this “looking back” led me to inquire about her father’s work, offering my observations and thoughts on the lack of attention to his work. In essence, I had to ask her whether this might have been what happened to her father’s analysis as well.

She expressed that her father’s work had indeed been receiving more and more attention over the past decade, but that most of it was coming from Europe, Asia and the “other” Americas (Latin, Central and South) but not from the United States. She was in fact well aware of his absence in the economic and political dialogue coming from the States. On this point, I asked her what she thought might be the reason for this. She referenced the idea of a certain “backwardness” in the context of U.S. dialogue, an almost “mindless acceptance” of the frames of reference concerning particular economic and political issues and concerns.

She indicated that along with the educational processes that might not focus on more broad-based considerations, the U.S. media had its part in this circumstance, as well. In particular, she had her doubts as to what extent media players (save a few like Chris Hedges and Bill Moyers) might actually be examining issues consistent with the notion of helping the public understand the difficult problems being faced by the U.S. – prompting a situation where emotion and speculation continually trump reason.

Her comments, not always easy to hear, nonetheless made sense. Her points had been ones of immediate concern for me as well, especially in the context of asking how it could be expected that we move beyond the “business as usual” without discussing what that “business” might entail.

As we talked more about what is occurring in other parts of the world, with the economic crisis in Europe and the differing growth models being offered in countries like India, China and Brazil, it was clear from our discussions the U.S. has a lot on its plate. In fact, it seemed that – given its fortunate history, and the cultural instincts developed in the context of its history, especially its successes tied to economic/market conditions, and the information that was and wasn’t being disseminated/discussed – it was uncertain whether Americans could gather the will to seek out, then internalize, then respond to what may need to be done in terms of stabilizing the country and moving on in the world accordingly.

In the end, I asked Professor Polanyi how she might perceive the world by 2050, and if she had any advice she could provide to the young people headed in that direction. In terms of the former, she made it clear that she has her worries, that even with the different and seemingly more advanced growth models developing, the burgeoning middle classes may become too enamored with the “brand-names and misspent resources” that have now debilitated the Western processes. She also noted that as countries develop their resources, more and more regional blocks will most likely develop around those resources (like in South America), which may spell trouble for efforts that speak to “unifying” global concerns. For her, the choices and policies that develop will depend to a significant extent on how much the economic side of the “economic versus social man” balance gets weighted as the world continues to turn.

As to the latter, like with many of us who have toiled with contemporary issues, she expressed hope that future generations will “slow” the tendencies toward economic growth, that they will “pull back” from consumerism to make market choices and policy more “social/society friendly” with what could be considered “sustainable growth.” This should be the way of the “new world” – as both her and her father would encourage.

I can’t say that I categorically agreed with all that Professor Levitt said.  But there was no doubt that her points referencing both her and her father’s work were provocative and resonate in terms of   contemporary challenges. Suffice it to say, this was one of my most engaging interviews. Professor Levitt not only provided some great food for thought but, in her easy yet thoughtful manner of speaking, she gave rise to hope for the kind of dialogue that we need more of. On that note, I trust that she and I will continue our exchanges. And you can read more about her, her writings and her current endeavors at her website – www.karipolanyilevitt.com.  Of course don’t hesitate to send along your thoughts to me as well. As always, we can’t go wrong by talking with each other, especially in regards to the problems we are all currently facing.

** In terms of the three books by Moran, Edsall and Spence, I want to stress that although Karl Polanyi’s work was not of note in their work, each of them presented a significant interpretation of the matters at hand, especially in the context of global market considerations. I would also like to emphasize that each one of the authors stressed a sense of urgency – that given our perilous circumstances in the U.S. we need to move away from the “business as usual” syndrome that seems to have stunted both our people and processes. Professor Levitt was also clear on this point, so I wanted to be sure that this concern was underscored – even though I know most everyone already realizes its importance. 

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About the interviewer:

Jim Palombo is politics editor of Ragazine.CC. He is founder of the Campaign for an Informed Citizenry. He makes homes in Endicott, N.Y., and San Miguel Allende, Mexico. You can read more about him on the “About Us” page.

 

August 25, 2012   Comments Off on Kari Polanyi Levitt / Politics-Interview