Progressive Calendar 06.22.10
From: David Shove (
Date: Tue, 22 Jun 2010 11:52:21 -0700 (PDT)
              P R O G R E S S I V E   C A L E N D A R   06.22.10

1. Alliant vigil     6.23 7am
2. Girls/abuse/drugs 6.23 11am
3. Amnesty Intl      6.23 6pm

4. Eagan peace vigil 6.24 4:30pm
5. Northtown vigil   6.24 5pm
6. Neighborhoods     6.24 7pm

7. McChesney/Foster - Capitalism, the absurd system
8. ed               - bumpersticker
9. ed               - Curse capitalism  (haiku)

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From: AlliantACTION <alliantaction [at]>
Subject: Alliant vigil 6.23 7am

Join us Wednesday morning, 7-8 am
Now in our 14th year of consecutive Wednesday
morning vigils outside Alliant Techsystems,
7480 Flying Cloud Drive Eden Prairie.
We ask Who Profit$? Who Dies?
directions and lots of info:

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From: Andy Driscoll <andy [at]>
Subject: Girls/abuse/drugs 6.23 11am

TTT Weds, June 23: Girls in Trouble: A Web of Abuse, Drugs, the Streets -
and Jail

CivicMedia-Minnesota and TruthToTell are locked in a competition for
dollars from Chase Community Giving on Facebook. We need your votes to
have a chance of winning up to $250,000, but, more likely a second place
prize of $100,000, to carry on our mission of using broadcast journalism
as a tool for civic engagement, civic and media literacy.

 From the Preface to the Amicus Girls Study:

Any parent of a teenage girl can relate. At some point in even the best
relationships, the question comes up in a mothers or fathers mind: What am
I doing wrong? Those involved with girls in Minnesotas juvenile justice
system sometimes find themselves going through a similar self-inventory.
Some professionals tend to believe its just easier to work with boys.

But what about the other side of the relationship? Many girls in the
system feel they dont have a voice: that people are viewing them more as
the embodiment of their destructive behavior rather than as individuals
with insights and opinions that should be heard.

Despite the efforts of thousands of dedicated service providers, girls in
Minnesotas juvenile justice system have endured many hardships.

When compared to boys, research shows that girls have:
 experienced more significant sexual abuse and trauma history;
 engaged in more risky sexual behavior;
 experienced more significant physical and mental health problems;
 engaged in more self-defeating behaviors, including running away and
skipping school.
 worst of all, many victimized girls who run away from home are
revictimized through their recruitment into prostitution and
trafficked for the financial benefit of traffickers and pimps.

Any wonder that too many find themselves in the criminal justice system?

The cold statistics sometimes belie the poignant stories that reveal young
women - girls - caught in a web of troubles that leads them straight into
the juvenile justice system, often labeled "bad" girls by their family and

In the past few years, the number of girls entering the juvenile justice
system has increased at a faster pace than that of boys, and the trend
continues. In 2007, 33.5% of the juveniles arrested in Minnesota were
girls, almost 15,000 that year. Girls also represent over 44% of
Minnesotas out-of-home placement populationover 6,500 girls in 2007.
Resources for gender-informed corrections programs have not kept pace with
this expanding demand.

The study goes on to say that (no doubt, like the rest of us), girls need
to be heard - listened to in ways we don't always listen to young people -
or each other, sad to say, when the other is hurting, perhaps to the point
of self-destruction.

TTT's ANDY DRISCOLL and LYNNELL MICKELSEN bring together the Amicus
study's authors and advocates with professionals and policymakers to talk
about these issues and what comes next for the thousands of girls caught
up in the system.

 ALEXIS - One girl who became the product of The System
 JUDGE KATHRYN QUAINTANCE - Presiding Judge, Juvenile Court, Hennepin
County District Court
 LOUISE WOLFGRAMM - President, Amicus
 MARY PAT DUNLAP - Probation Officer, Ramsey County Community
 INVITED:  GAIL DORFMAN, Hennepin County Commissioner

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From: Gabe Ormsby <gabeo [at]>
Subject: Amnesty Intl 6.23 6pm

AIUSA Group 640 (Saint Paul) meets Wednesday, June 23th, at 6:00 p.m.
Merriam Park Library, 1831 Marshall Ave, Saint Paul.

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From: Greg and Sue Skog <family4peace [at]>
Subject: Eagan peace vigil 6.24 4:30pm

PEACE VIGIL EVERY THURSDAY from 4:30-5:30pm on the Northwest corner of
Pilot Knob Road and Yankee Doodle Road in Eagan. We have signs and
candles. Say "NO to war!" The weekly vigil is sponsored by: Friends south
of the river speaking out against war.

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From: EKalamboki [at]
Subject: Northtown vigil 6.24 5pm

NORTHTOWN Peace Vigil every Thursday 5-6pm, at the intersection of Co. Hwy
10 and University Ave NE (SE corner across from Denny's), in Blaine.

Communities situated near the Northtown Mall include: Blaine, Mounds View,
New Brighton, Roseville, Shoreview, Arden Hills, Spring Lake Park,
Fridley, and Coon Rapids.  We'll have extra signs.

For more information people can contact Evangelos Kalambokidis by phone or
email: (763)574-9615, ekalamboki [at]

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From: Cam Gordon <CamGordon333 [at]>
Subject: Neighborhoods 6.24 7pm

Please join me, Marcea Mariani (8th District Neighborhood and Community
Engagement Commissioner) and other community leaders, for a roundtable
discussion on Thursday, June 24th 7-9pm at Matthews Park, 2318 29th Ave
S, about the state of neighborhood organizations in Minneapolis today.
We will look how changes in neighborhood funding will impact neighborhood
work, explore strategies for influencing the development of new policies,
and ways to improve and strengthen these critically important
organizations through the new Neighborhood Relations Department and
Engagement Commission (NCEC).
Let me know if you would like more information.

Cam Gordon Seward Minneapolis City Council Member, Ward 2

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Capitalism, the Absurd System
A View from the United States
Robert W. McChesney and John Bellamy Foster
Monthly Review June 2010

A few years ago, in a class one of us taught, a discussion arose about how
capitalism works as a system in which the need for the few to maximize
profit drives the entire political-economic structure. The students
appeared to grasp how the capital accumulation process has a strong
effect, often negative, on the course of a society's development. The
discussion then turned to Salvador Allende's Chile of the early 1970s,
where the goal was to develop a socialist political economy. "Knowing what
you do about how capitalism functions," the students were asked, "what
would a socialist system look like?" They were unusually quiet. Finally,
one of them blurted out: "I don't know how it could work. I guess the
government would have to kill everybody".

The question of how a socialist society would operate raised a horrible,
dystopian image in this student's mind. Such libertarian fears of a
totalitarian state imposing socialism by force, even to the point of
annihilation, on an unwilling people, who are presumed to be capitalist by
nature, are all too common. This brings to mind Fredric Jameson's comment:
"Someone once said that it is easier [for most people in today's society]
to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of capitalism".2

Perhaps nothing points so clearly to the alienated nature of politics in
the present day United States as the fact that capitalism, the economic
system that drives the society, is effectively off-limits to critical
review or discussion. To the extent that capitalism is mentioned by
politicians or pundits, it is regarded in hushed tones of reverence for
the genius of the market, its unquestioned efficiency, and its
providential authority. One might quibble with a corrupt and greedy CEO or
a regrettable loss of jobs, but the superiority and necessity of
capitalism.or, more likely, its euphemism, the so-called "free market
system".is simply beyond debate or even consideration. There are, of
course, those who believe that the system needs more regulation and that
there is room for all sorts of fine-tuning. Nevertheless, there is no
questioning of the basics.

This prohibition on critically assessing capitalism begins in the
economics departments and business schools of our universities where, with
but a few exceptions, it is easier to find an advocate of the immediate
colonization of Mars than it is to find a scholar engaged in genuine
radical criticism of capitalism. This critical dearth extends to our news
media, which have a documented track record of promoting the profit
system, and a keen distaste for those that advocate radical change. It
reaches all of us in one form or another. Anyone who wishes to participate
in civic life quickly grasps that being tagged as anti-free market (or
socialist) is a near-certain way to guarantee one's status as a political
outcast. To criticize the system is to criticize the nation and

This is a dream world for those atop the system. Such ideological
dominance is worth more than a standing army of a million troops to those
wishing to maintain their positions of power and privilege. But the
illegitimacy of addressing the nature and logic of capitalism handcuffs
almost everyone else. As long as serious treatment of capitalism, the
dominant social system, remains off-limits, social science itself is
deeply compromised.

The failure of a society so marked in myriad ways by capitalism to
confront this central reality can only be seen as a great evasion. It is
the refusal to engage in meaningful self-criticism, to seek
self-knowledge. Americans are like the proverbial fish unaware of the
water that surrounds and permeates their existence.

Of course, much of this lack of awareness of the central
political-economic realities of today's society is a product of market
mystification, which cloaks capitalist property relations, and which
constitutes the system's primary advantage over all previous systems of
social repression. In John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath, an enraged
Okie tenant farmer, a victim of the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression,
wants to know, as he is being removed from his farm by the bank, whom he
can shoot. The tractor driver who comes to demolish his house says it
would do no good for the farmer to shoot him, since he's just an ordinary
working stiff doing his job and would be quickly replaced by another. When
the farmer counters that he will then shoot the person who gave the order,
the tractor driver replies that this too would be useless, since that
individual is simply a bank employee. "Well, there's a president of the
bank," continues the farmer. "There's a board of directors. I'll fill up
the magazine of the rifle and go into the bank".

The driver said, "Fellow was telling me the bank gets orders from the
East. The orders were, 'Make the land show profit or we'll close up'".

"But where does it stop? Who can we shoot? I don't aim to starve to death
before I kill the man that's starving me".

"I don't know. Maybe there's nobody to shoot. Maybe the thing isn't men at
all. Maybe, like you said, the property's doing it. Anyway I told you my

"I got to figure," the tenant said. "We all got to figure. There's some
way to stop this. It's not like lightning or earthquakes. We've got a bad
thing made by men, and by God that's something we can change". The tenant
sat in his doorway, and the driver thundered his engine and started
off..The iron guard rail bit into the house-corner, crumbled the wall, and
wrenched the little house from its foundation so that it fell sideways
crushed like a bug..The tractor cut a straight line on, and the air and
the ground vibrated with its thunder. The tenant man stared after it, his
rifle in his hand. His wife was beside him, and the quiet children behind.
And all of them stared after the tractor.3

The problem faced by Steinbeck's hapless tenant farmer is that there seems
to be no individual or group of individuals who are ultimately responsible
and accountable for the economic decisions that are harming people all
over the country. It is a system "made by men," and some are obviously
gaining at the expense of others. The relation between the haves and the
have-nots is clear, but the opacity of the market and the impersonality of
it all nonetheless seem to constrain the possibility of active rebellion.4

This opacity of the capitalist system and of the relations of class and
power that constitute it create the illusion of freedom, based on a
seeming lack of direct coercion. Who really is the boss? Who is making the
decisions? CEOs? Stockholders? Financial markets?

We come to believe that, as individuals, we are unconstrained in our
day-to-day activities, since we remain at liberty, except when the state
intrudes on our lives. Everything around us seems to function via Adam
Smith's invisible hand. What we lose sight of is the reality of an
alienated, commodified existence with its innumerable chains forged by
class and property relations.

Behind the Veil of Money

The question we should ask is: What is society actually like when the veil
of money is removed, and the real face of power is seen? Is society,
stripped of its ideological cover and reduced to nakedness, one of
equality - where four hundred individuals in the United States (the Forbes
400) own almost as much wealth as the bottom half of the population (150
million people)?5 Is this a rational society, when a trillion dollars each
year is spent on the U.S. military?6 Can it be justified when the system,
according to modern science, is pointing to mass extinction of the
species, quite possibly humanity itself?

Capitalism's main economic claim to being an indispensable system is that
it promotes economic growth, the benefits of which ostensibly trickle down
to the vast majority. Today, however, in the mature capitalist economies,
economic growth has slowed to a crawl (though sufficient to threaten the
environment). The gains of labor productivity flow upwards by myriad
pumps, after which they are seldom allowed to trickle down. The result is
a deeply unequal society and generalized economic stagnation, associated
with a dearth of effective demand - countered only in part by financial
bubbles, which eventually burst with disastrous effects. In the past five
decades, the U.S. economy has grown, but at slower and slower rates. The
stagnation of the last ten years resembles nothing so much as the
stagnation of the 1930s (i.e., the Great Depression years). (See Chart
One). The same is true to varying extents for all the other rich, mature,
capitalist economies.

This long-term slowdown is associated with growing structural inequality.
The economic surplus generated by society is amassed more and more at the
top. Worker productivity is much greater than it was back in 1975, but
very little of this increased wealth actually goes to workers themselves.
As Chart Two demonstrates, the wages of U.S. manufacturing workers have
fallen rapidly during the last three and a half decades as a share of
value added in U.S. manufacturing. The median wage of all nonagricultural
workers has stagnated over the same period.

In this Les Misrables economy, it is hardly surprising that the general
quality of life for most people has not improved - despite the continuing
growth of overall social wealth and the increase in human productive
capacities. The Happy Planet Index, developed by the New Economics
Foundation, examines how "happy" a country is - as measured by a
of life expectancy and life satisfaction in relation to its ecological
footprint. In the 2009 Happy Planet Index, the United States - the very
model of mature capitalism - ranked a dismal 114 out of 143 included
countries.7 The "greed is good," "shop 'til you drop," "whoever dies with
the most toys wins" ethos that marks free market capitalism is not
conducive to genuine human happiness. What it generates in ever-increasing
levels - even among its more successful strata - is stress, heart disease,
loneliness, depression, and the waste of human potential. "This crippling
of individuals I consider the worst evil of capitalism," Albert Einstein
wrote in "Why Socialism?" in volume 1, number 1 of Monthly Review (May

A lot of this damage to individuals has to do with our lack of concern for
collective needs. The physical infrastructure of the United States - the
built environment of our cities, roads, railroads, bridges, public water
and electrical systems, parks, etc - is crumbling. The per capita
ecological footprint of the United States far exceeds what can be
sustained at a global level, contributing to rapid degradation of the
earth system. Public education throughout the country is in marked
decline. Much of what we produce is nonessential, indeed waste, including
wasted labor. The United States has fully lived up to John Kenneth
Galbraith's observation half a century ago that modern U.S. capitalism
generates "private wealth" and "public squalor".8

Massive amounts of labor and resources go toward lethal military purposes,
while an increasing amount of human labor and productive capacity lies
idle. By virtually all accounts, economic stagnation will be the order of
the day for at least a decade, maybe decades, to come. In March 2010, USA
Today asked legendary financier Warren Buffett, the second richest
individual in the United States: "What if - the U.S. economy goes into a
prolonged period of stagnation and weakness, creating a Japanese-like lost
decade or two?" Buffett answered: "As long as it isn't a century, I'm

Young Americans are entering an economy in which they have little or no
creative or meaningful role to play. It is far truer today than when Paul
Goodman wrote his 1960 classic, Growing Up Absurd, that there are "fewer
jobs that are necessary and unquestionably useful; that require energy and
draw on some of one's best capacities; and that can be done keeping one's
honor and dignity". Today even the most wasteful, alienating, and
degrading jobs are difficult to get, with growing unemployment, and even
faster growing underemployment.10

We face the situation in the next generation of the continued development
of tremendous labor-saving technologies, many that are revolutionary in
impact. Yet, instead of leading to a higher quality of life for all or
most people, these new productive technologies will be deployed primarily
to maximize the profits of those atop the system. They will appear, in
some respects, to be the enemy of the workers and communities they help to
displace. Likewise, in the coming generation, large swaths of our
countryside will likely be torn up and developed for tacky residential
projects and gated communities, while a good part of our cities and
inner-ring suburbs rot. All of this, we are told, is basically
unavoidable, the price we pay for having the privilege of living in a free

No, it isn't. It is the price we pay for living in a capitalist society.
It is a system in which the "need" of the wealthy to make profit drives
everything else, and it is increasingly leading to irrational and
disastrous results.

The Plutocratic System

Boiled down, U.S. politics under today's mature capitalism are not about
the welfare of the demos (i.e., the people) as envisioned in classical
notions of democracy, but rather about which party can best deliver
profitability to investors and corporations. There are continuing debates
between those who simply want to slash labor costs, taxes, and regulations
for the rich, and those who want to do some of that but also use some
regulation and government spending to encourage higher wages and
demand-driven growth. Both sides, however, accept that making the economy
profitable for the owning class is the sine qua non of successful
administration. Within these constraints, there are occasional important
political fights and periodic bones to throw to the electorate. But, in
times of economic stagnation, the bones get smaller and even disappear.
What passes for genuine political debate often tends to be irrelevant
gibberish and blatant manipulation on side issues, or inconsequential
nitpicking on minutiae. The big stuff is off the table. The system is
democratic in theory, plutocratic (rule by the rich) in content.

The hollowness of democracy in today's capitalism is evident in the
blatant corruption of governance at all levels in the United States, and
the non-accountability of all the major players. The corruption we are
discussing is not about politicians getting inordinately great seats at
the World Series, but the degeneration of the system and the dominance of
a culture of greed that is now pervasive and institutionalized,
contaminating all aspects of life. The manner in which, during the current
Great Recession, the dominant institutions and investors were able to
coalesce and demand hundreds of billions, even trillions, of dollars in
public money as a blank check to the largest banks - and then shamelessly
disperse multimillion-dollar bonuses to individuals at the apex of those
very same corporations now on the public dole - was a striking reminder of
the limits of self-government in our political economy. When the Masters
of the Universe, as those atop the economic system have been called, need
money, when they need bail-outs, when they need the full power of the
state, there is no time for debate or inquiry or deliberation. There is no
time for the setting of conditions. There is only time to give them
exactly what they want. Or else! Egged on by the news media, all
responsible people fall in line or face ostracism. As for education and
the social services that mark the good society, well, they have to wait in
line and hope something is left after the capitalist master is fed. In
stagnant times, it is a long wait.

Marx's work provides searing insights on how to understand a society that,
at the surface, appears to be one thing but, at its deeper productive
foundations, is something else. Marx argued that a core contradiction
built into capitalism was between its ever-increasing socialization and
enhancement of productivity, and its ongoing system of private
appropriation of profit. In other words, one of the great virtues of
capitalism, in comparison to the relatively stagnant societies that
preceded it, is that it is constantly revolutionizing society's productive
capacity and the social interconnections between people within production.
But, at a certain point, private control over the economy comes into stark
conflict with the vast productive capacities of social labor that have
developed. These means of private control, the dominant class/property
relations, become "so many fetters" on the further development of society,
of human potential, of even the sustainability of human society. The
fetters must therefore be 'burst asunder," to allow for new stages of
human development.11

The Renewal of Socialism

It seems clear that this need for a "bursting asunder" is where the United
States is now. Capitalism, viewed as a system of generalized commodity
production motivated by the competitive pursuit of private gain without
limits, and thus driven to the amassing of concentrated wealth, even at
the expense of public welfare and environmental sustainability, is well
past its productive era - during which it could make claims to some degree
of rationality. We have reached "The End of Rational Capitalism".12 It
survives now on bubbles, bloated debt, military spending that borders on
suicidal, and a deadening hypercommercialism.

When we state that capitalism is off-limits to critical review and
analysis, what we really mean is that socialism, as the only rational
successor to capitalism, is off-limits. If there is no credible
alternative to capitalism, then there is no more reason to discuss
transcending capitalism than there would be to debate the means of
preventing lightning storms and earthquakes, as Steinbeck's farmer
observed. But in fact we are talking about relations and things made by
human beings, and these can be changed, and have been changed enormously
over the course of human history.

Since the dawn of class societies maybe five or six millennia ago, those
in power have decried and demonized the ideas that threatened the status
quo. Capitalism, as a specific form of class society, is no different. All
prospective post-capitalist societies are denounced as so barbaric as to
be beyond legitimate consideration.

No one today would say that socialism is inevitable. The odds indeed may
be heavily stacked against it. But we can say that it is necessary if our
species is to have much of a future. The old socialist slogan "Socialism
or Barbarism" made famous by Rosa Luxemburg, although meaningful in its
time, may need now to be replaced with "Socialism or Exterminism".13
Barbarism, it appears, is no longer the greatest danger. Science tells us
that, with a continuation of "business as usual," extermination of humans
as well as innumerable other species is the most probable result - and in
an extremely short historical period. The absurd thing is that we can't
seem to alter business as usual, even under these dire conditions. Why?
Because business as usual is capitalism, which has made the world prey to
its own self-expansion. As Steinbeck wrote in The Grapes of Wrath: "The
bank - the monster has to have profits all the time. It can't wait. It'll
die..When the monster stops growing, it dies. It can't stay one size".14
All of this suggests that socialism, which offers the possibility of a
more egalitarian, democratic, sustainable, and collective response to our
problems, is a necessity on both social and environmental grounds if we
expect to have a chance at a rational future - or indeed any long-term
future at all.

What is socialism? We cannot offer anything like a complete account here
(the story of socialism is a long one and is still in the making), but it
begins with the idea that society's resources should be directed to
serving the needs of people, not the profit dictates of the few. It is the
socialization (democratization) of the economic sphere, and also the
enlargement (de-privatization) of the political sphere. From that starting
point, we are open-minded. There is a broad range of options, much to be
debated, and enormous room for experimentation. There is a role for
markets alongside democratic planning (for example, consumer markets), but
not for a market society - that is, the Hayekian utopia of the
self-regulating market, which becomes merely a disguise for the
concentration of economic power and wealth.

The classical notion was that socialist movements would succeed, not in
opposition to democracy, but as its champions. Among the contributions of
the Soviet Union to our understanding of history is the confirmation of
the fact that if socialism is not grounded in popular power, it in effect
annihilates itself and capitalism is restored. Mere state ownership of key
productive forces is not enough to create a socialist society; the people
must exercise a sovereign rule over these productive forces and society as
a whole, and the society must be organized to promote collective needs.15
Just as democracy is not an accomplished reality unless the vast majority
of the people rule society, so socialism is not an accomplished reality
unless the associated producers control the productive forms of society
and use them rationally and sustainably in the collective interest. The
two, in fact, require each other for their fulfillment.

With the failures and successes of some of the early socialist experiments
in our rear-view mirrors, and the new socialism of the twenty-first
century, pioneered above all in Latin America, in front of us, we believe
that the classical notion of socialism has resumed its central role. This
is a period of socialist renewal and revolutionary democracy. To us, it is
encouraging to see the left victories across Latin America in the past
decade. Their significance is made evident by the vitriol they have
engendered in the mainstream and business press in the United States and

A key question thus arises: Has the moment for the renewal of U.S.
socialism arrived?

Some of our friends would respond: "No Socialism is permanently beyond our
reach. The best we can hope for is the reform of capitalism along
progressive lines". They argue that capitalism can be made into a kinder
and more rational system, increasingly in accord with the needs of
humanity and the earth. Popular pressure, they say, can bring about
enlightened government policies that will capture the benefits of
capitalist economics and minimize the negative consequences. They make the
case because they believe capitalism is so entrenched that it is
impossible to do anything but seek reform - and they fear any hint of
opposition to capitalism will marginalize them politically - or because
they genuinely believe that capitalism can be tamed and made into a
relatively benign and progressive society. The dream world from this
perspective tends to be Scandinavian social democracy, in particular the
Sweden of the Olof Palme era in the early and middle 1970s.

Sweden, during the decades of relative prosperity following the Second
World War, was, in many ways, an enviable society. It enjoyed a degree of
economic equality that has rarely been approached in a capitalist society,
associated with high wages, superior social programs, and progressive
taxation. It provided high-quality universal health care and free
education up through university. The condition of women - described by
Marx, after Fourier, as the measure of all human progress - was much
better in Sweden, in that period, than in most capitalist societies.16

To be sure, the Swedish model, when it was "viable," was heavily dependent
on Sweden's stature within the imperial global order. Sweden was clearly a
beneficiary of the imperialism of the North and West, and not innocently
so, given its substantial military budget and arms sales in these years.
It is well to remember that social democracy has never been even a remote
possibility for today's peripheral capitalist countries. It was
exclusively open to the club at the center of the world system, i.e.,
those countries that have continually benefitted from a system of
international plunder.

Sweden under Palme was not a socialist society, in our terms, but rather a
corporatist, social democratic one, in which the impossible of impossibles
seemed to occur for a short time under fortuitous circumstances: the
irreconcilables of capital and labor were apparently reconciled.

Self-described Marxist friends have told us that, if they could push a
button and move the United States to where Sweden was in the early 1970s,
they would gladly forgo any hopes of transcending capitalism and creating
a genuinely socialist economy. This attitude points to something of
practical importance: on many matters of contemporary political organizing
in the United States, the efforts of the explicitly socialist left
converge with those of Keynesian left-liberals and social democrats.
Together, both sides work for increased social spending, environmental
sanity, equitable taxation, increased regulation, reductions in
militarism, open governance, full employment, civil liberties, and
workers' rights. It is all about reducing the power of capital and
increasing the power of everyone else. This is the common ground that
defines the broader left in the United States, and that makes the Swedish
model of the Palme era seem so attractive to many.

But the main lesson to be learned from the Sweden of left-liberal and
social democratic dreams is not that capitalism can be reformed and
therefore need not be fundamentally challenged. Instead, the main lesson
is that those progressives who aspire to radical social reforms can only
hope to have sufficient leverage to win these reforms if the threat of
socialism is looming on the horizon. In Sweden's case: the Soviet Union
across the Baltic. The left can expect to achieve most in every respect
when the threat it represents is one to be taken seriously.

The current and pathetically weak state of the progressive forces in the
United States points to the dangers of political demobilization. On issue
after issue, progressives tend to garner a significant percentage of the
American people's support, yet they do not have anything remotely close to
commensurate political influence. The recent debacle over health care, in
which the Obama administration and its Congressional allies successfully
played the left-wing and voting base of the Democratic Party for patsies
and delivered on a gold platter a bill to the liking of the corporate
sector, is the most recent evidence. Of course part of the liberal-left's
weakness in U.S. politics is due to the news media, unfavorable election
laws, and a number of other factors with which progressives are all too
familiar. But a more significant reason for that weakness is that nobody
in power fears the liberal-left - and no one should. The liberal-left
tends to trip over itself as it establishes its pro-market bona fides for
decision makers. "Take us seriously, pretty please; we are not really
radicals and certainly not socialists, we want to make your free market
system work better, and don't we have some jolly-good ideas," they seem to

The only way to exact major reforms from those in power is to show them
that we really mean it; to convey the message that if the real demands of
the people, expressed in mass movements, are not met by the system (or are
met only in very limited ways), then we as a body will make serious
attempts to accomplish these ends by transcending the current system of
power. Think of the great progressive reforms in modern U.S. history. The
Wagner Act. Social Security. The Voting Rights Act. These came when those
in power were petrified. They arose because of mass revolts from below,
and because radicals recognized that it was the peculiar responsibility of
the left to help mobilize the working class to fight for their own
interests and their own needs - to take to the streets and fight power
head on.

Consider why rulers in other nations, like France or Greece, tend to have
greater difficulty implementing cutbacks in social programs during crises:
Because, when they look out the window, they see a mass of people who
would threaten the perpetuation of their system, if the vested interests
were to engineer a class war from above in an attempt to turn back the
clock. This makes the position of the capitalist class in such countries
much more tenuous. The ability of the Swedish Social Democrats to win
their tremendous reforms arose through the struggles of a working-class
movement that was always populated with "extremist" elements open to
expropriating private capital altogether.

>From the birth of democracy in antiquity, it has been true that those with
property will only concede fundamental rights to those without property
when they fear for the very survival of their own privileges. "If there is
no struggle," as Frederick Douglass said in 1857, "there is no
progress..Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it
never will..If we ever get free from the oppressions and wrongs heaped
upon us, we must pay for their removal. We must do this by labor, by
suffering, by sacrifice, and if needs be, by our lives and the lives of
others.."17 People arrive at more radical, revolutionary positions through
concrete struggle.

The unwillingness, so common among U.S. progressives, to embrace a
critique of capitalism, to take it to its radical conclusions, including
the necessity of a serious class struggle, has another unfortunate
political consequence. It opens the door to phony right-wing populist
movements seizing the mantle of "radical" opposition to the status quo.
With the economic system off-limits to criticism (even invisible in its
main power dimensions), attention necessarily gravitates to government as
the root of all evil. The state must therefore be the source of the
peoples' problems; and indeed, it seems very seldom to operate in their
real interests. It is the state, after all, that imposes taxes that seem
to provide ordinary people few benefits; runs deficits, the burden of
which falls disproportionately on those who gain the least; and controls
the military and police. In today's Tea Party ideology, engineered
principally by the right, capital is deemed natural, while the state is
unnatural - imposed from without on those who would otherwise be free. The
social crisis is then seen as a crisis of too much government, too much
interference by state interests in the natural order of things. Capitalism
is treated as an elemental force, like the wind and tides, or a mere
byproduct of human nature. The reality of power in today's society is
hidden behind the mist generated by this false "naturalism".

The underlying principle, therefore, is clear: progressives need a
fundamental critique of capitalism and an open discussion about the
possible advantages of socialism - even to attempt major reforms within
capitalism. And when they begin that critique, we believe, most
progressives and most Americans will come to the conclusion that C.B.
Macpherson, in his The Life and Times of Liberal Democracy, reached some
four decades ago: It is increasingly difficult to reconcile liberal
democratic values (much less anything remotely resembling genuine
democracy) with today's monopoly-finance capital. Something has to go. And
that is exactly why capitalism is off-limits to honest discussion, and why
the constraints placed on public debate in our political culture prevent
any real, permanent forward movement.18

We have not forgotten the basic realities of class. We know that most of
those self-identified as part of the U.S. liberal-left are very
privileged, relative to the larger working population. The liberal-left is
heavily entrenched in the professional-managerial stratum, or the upper
middle class. Many of them are employed by the state. Theirs is a class
reality that ties them in innumerable ways to the system. They may want
significant change, but most of the liberal-left is materially linked, in
a way that the vast majority of the population is not, to the existing
power structure. Nevertheless, there is no imaginable path toward
socialism in the United States today, in which a considerable portion of
those who currently constitute the "liberal-left" do not play an important
role as key initiators and supporters of a general revolt in society.

The current state of U.S. politics might be described as one in which the
right has gained more power by moving right. The left needs to gain more
power by moving left. If this means increased political polarization, so
be it.

Getting Serious

We were provoked to write this article because the possibilities in the
United States for a genuine, free-wheeling discussion of capitalism's
defects, and the merits of socialism, are greater today than at any time
in generations, and we must not let this historic moment pass. What is
striking, and a cause for optimism, is the current degree of criticism of
capitalism and the amount of support for socialism - in a media and
political culture where criticism of the former and support for the latter
have been all but forbidden. Back in 1987, a poll of the U.S. population
indicated that 45 percent of the population believed that Marx's famous
words from the Critique of the Gotha Programme delimiting communism -
"from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs" -
were enshrined in the U.S. Constitution. This, of course, said more about
the absolute ideals of most Americans, and what they thought they should
expect, than about the U.S. Constitution itself.19

Two decades of neoliberalism, far from eradicating radical ideas, appear
to have given them rebirth. A 2009 global survey, conducted by the BBC,
found some 15 percent of Americans agreed with the statement that free
market capitalism "is fatally flawed and a different economic system is
needed". Another 40 percent thought capitalism had problems that required
regulation and reform. A mere 25 percent thought capitalism was doing a
bang-up job and increased government regulation would be harmful.20 The
remainder weren't sure. A different 2009 survey found that only 53 percent
of Americans thought capitalism superior to socialism. Among adults under
the age of thirty, capitalism was preferred to socialism as the best
system, by a slim 37 to 33 percent margin.21

We are in no position to determine the veracity of these poll numbers,
though they arise from what are considered respectable sources. We also
can only imagine what people think when they hear the term "socialism,"
since it is either ignored or mangled in the mainstream culture. But we do
know that people experience capitalism and corporate power every day in
their lives, and these surveys demonstrate what we have seen repeatedly:
People don't like it very much, despite the endless exhortations about the
genius of "choice" made possible by the "free market" around them. To many
millions of Americans, if socialism is the nemesis of capitalism it must
by definition be a damn sight better.

To his credit, filmmaker Michael Moore was the first to tap into this
sentiment with his 2009 film, Capitalism: A Love Story. He toured the
nation, explaining that capitalism had failed and needed to be replaced.
Words like these had never been uttered on commercial news media, unless
they were part of some denunciation of the speaker.

Capitalism, as an economic, political, and social system based on private
ownership, directed to the greatest possible profits for particular
individuals and corporations, is, in our day, entirely absurd. It has no
rational or orderly relationship to human life or to the future of
humanity. Socialism, as its heir apparent, stands for the chance that
still exists to create a just, egalitarian, and sustainable world directed
at human needs, in which the people themselves are sovereign - once the
fetters of private profit are burst asunder.

Is this possible? Who knows? What we do know is that, as long as we
breathe air, we have no real choice but to rebel, because under capitalism
humanity has no future.

1.. See;; Entry for
capitalism is based on a combination of Merriam Webster Online and
Cambridge Advanced Learner.s Dictionary, using the latter for the actual

2.. Fredric Jameson, .The Future of the City,. New Left Review 21, second
series (May-June 2003), 76.

3.. John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath (London: Penguin Books, 2006),

4.. On the opacity of the market see especially Bertell Ollman, .Market
Mystification in Capitalist and Socialist Market Societies,. in Ollman,
ed., Market Socialism: The Debate Among Socialists (New York: Routledge,
1998), 81-121.

5.. Arthur B. Kennickell, .Ponds and Streams: Wealth and Income in the
U.S., 1989 to 2007,. Federal Reserve Board Working Paper 2009-23, 53, 63.

6.. John Bellamy Foster, Hannah Holleman, and Robert W. McChesney, .The
U.S. Imperial Triangle and Military Spending,. Monthly Review 50, no. 5
(October 2008), 1-19.

7.. Annie Leonard, The Story of Stuff (New York: The Free Press, 2010),

8.. John Kenneth Galbraith, The Affluent Society (Boston: Houghton
Mifflin, 1958).

9.. .Warren Buffett Sees Strong Rail System as Key to U.S. Growth,. USA
Today, March 5, 2010.

10.. Paul Goodman, Growing Up Absurd (New York: Random House, 1960), 17.

11.. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The Communist Manifesto (New York:
Monthly Review Press, 1964), 10-11.

12.. John Bellamy Foster, .The End of Rational Capitalism,. Monthly Review
54, no. 10 (March 2005), 1-13.

13.. Rosa Luxemburg, The Rosa Luxemburg Reader (New York: Monthly Review
Press, 2004), 350. On exterminism, see E.P. Thompson, Beyond the Cold War
(New York: Pantheon, 1982), 41-80; Rudolf Bahro, Avoiding Social and
Ecological Disaster (Bath: Gateway Books, 1994), 19; John Bellamy Foster,
The Ecological Revolution (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2009), 27-28.

14.. Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath, 32.

15.. See Michael Lebowitz, The Socialist Alternative (New York: Monthly
Review Press, 2010 [forthcoming]).

16.. Karl Marx, Early Writings (London: Penguin, 1974), 347.

17.. Frederick Douglass, Life and Writings, vol. 2. (New York:
International Publishers, 1950), 437.

18.. C. B. Macpherson, The Life and Times of Liberal Democracy (New York:
Oxford, 1977).

19.. Poll on Constitution, Boston Globe Magazine, September 13, 1987;
Jules Lobel, .Introduction,. in Jules Lobel, ed., A Less than Perfect
Union (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1988), 3.

20.. James Robbins, .Free Market Flawed, Says Survey,. BBC News, November
9, 2009,

21.. .New Poll: Socialism is Gaining Popularity in America,. Cleveland
Leader, April 9, 2009, | Top |

All material copyright 1949.2010 Monthly Review

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